Category Archives: Diplomas

Why College?

The rhetoric in my school is that every child needs to go to college. Instead of saying that we should prepare every student to have options after high school, the end-all, be-all has now become a college education.

Of course, this comes at a time when university prices in Washington State will have doubled in some schools inside of five years and in-state college spots are lessening.

Now, I must admit my bias. I don’t believe every student should go to college. I was a hair’s breadth from joining the military instead of enrolling in college, a worthy choice in my biased mind. Other members of family became electricians, carpenters, farmers, and engineers without ever stepping foot on a college campus.

And then, there’s this. Some intelligent and talented students are being encouraged to skip the university level completely.

An then, there’s this advocate of those “dirty jobs.” Why not go into trades which can support families, have steady employment, and do not require college teachings?

Options are out there.

Unfortunately, I’m watching the shrinking of our vocational programs in my school. Plus, some of the classes which remain are being reduced to almost meaningless sessions. TA classes have popped up (to maintain the vocational funding by having vocational classes) where the students meet once a week to fill out forms like how to file papers alphabetically, filling in the political structure of the school district, and other inanities. Another technology class has been reduced to playing video games, using a word processing document, and playing with PowerPoint.

What is happening to your programs? What is your school’s philosophy?

Check out Mike Rowe speaking to Congress here.

“We’re Mediocre! We’re Mediocre!”

Critics of education often tout the idea that the U.S. was once the greatest nation in the world in math and science, and that might be true in pockets, but as a nation we really haven’t topped many lists. Consider this statement which is included in a study of international test results since 1964:

“The United States never led the world. It was never number one and has never been close to number one on international math tests. Or on science tests, for that matter. It is more accurate to say that the United States has always trailed the world on math tests.”

The U.S. has remained economically, socially, and militarily powerful no matter the education rankings and the perceptions about American education. Tom Loveless, at the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, says this about America:

If we have managed to be the world’s most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as film documentaries and political party platforms claim. And if, after so many decades of being shown up by much of the rest of the developed world, we are improving, it might be time to be more supportive of what we already doing to fix our schools.

Loveless went on to say that Shanghai, often mentioned as one of the most successful nations in the education world, is not all it’s reputed to be. He mentions that 83.8% of Shanghai’s high school graduates attend college, but only 24% of its total population does. 66% of Americans do. For a nation that educates all of its citizens this is an impressive number. Imagine how many students in Shanghai are not even graduating high school.

In short, the United States does quite well educating its citizens. The system isn’t “broken” but does have pockets of problems around the country. I have faith in our system and have watched it work very well for most of our children; plus, we continue to innovate. It’s the American way: no matter what others say or do, we persevere and succeed.

The State of Education Today

Washington State, like many other states, is hurting financially. No one questions this; however, the recovery methods and suggestions do cause me to pause and worry about the state’s and nation’s education futures.

One column’s composer basically says teachers should be able to overcome all odds to create student success. Granted, the author states that parents are the most difficult group to involve in education, and he also thinks that schools should focus on what they can control (as if that hasn’t been happening for years). However, he concludes with the lazy argument of getting rid of “weak teachers” and “better compensating” the better teachers as if these two ideas are novel and haven’t been a part of the educational landscape.

Ironically, at a time when so many call for this better compensation and merit pay for effective teachers, the state is looking to cut the stipends for National Board certified teachers and freezing pay for all. Once again the highest striving and most vulnerable in the profession are being hurt by the cuts. Those who were promised extra pay for achieving what is perceived to be the most prestigious teaching accomplishment and those who are in the early stages of their careers are losing pay–up to 10-20% depending on years of service and NB certification. Broken promises and hypocrisy are not helping the debate.

The state is still fighting the case it lost when a judge ruled that the state is failing education. Instead of increasing funding or services to education, the state is wasting money fighting the ruling.

Still, legislative leaders and the media are calling for the raising of standards without clearly thinking through what is happening with those standards. The mess of higher standards, testing, and holding kids accountable has created a quagmire of regulations and inanity that threatens the graduation of students caught in the middle.

All the while the state and nation call on educators to raise those standards, expect more of our teachers, and pay them less. “Highly qualified” has been a major focus of the so-called reform and ensuring that a minimum standard is in place…until a private industry wants the standards lowered to allow their people in, despite having no shortage of available and qualified teachers. And then, to make matters even worse, the feds agree that trainees should be deemed “highly qualified” even with no experience. The question seems obvious: why not let people into classrooms who have taken a 5-6 week training course instead of people with education degrees, a 3-6 month internship, and (normally) multiple endorsements or degrees (I wrote on this topic here.)? Besides being an issue of sensibility and professionalism, it’s a civil rights issue!

Oh, but let’s not forget the “blame everything on the unions” crowd. Their flags fly just as high. Even though the article means well, look at this title: “How a teachers’ union actually helped kids (not just adults).” Or, how about this one? A writer calls on the public with his editorial to “Professionalize the teaching profession” by treating teachers as professions and “not union workers.” How did professional and union worker become mutually exclusive? In fact, in Washington State, about the only group truly advocating for living wages and research-based education initiatives is the union. This second article writer, of course, blamed less effective teachers being in the work force on the unions–a group with no power to terminate its own members (and why would it?)–instead of placing the blame where it should lie, on those with this power, the administrators.

In an era of blaming the teacher, cutting teacher salaries and incentives, raising standards, increasing testing, devaluing the profession, and demonizing the unions, what do we do? How do we effect change? How do we protect our profession and our kids?

I know Brian from Stories from School is advocating talking to legislators. I know many of my colleagues are writing and visiting legislative offices.

I’m thinking of advocating a new tactic: accepting a couple furlough days. I know, I know. It costs the teachers money. That’s true. But it costs everyone money: teachers, support staff, administrators, the district, and–most importantly–the parents. If we continue to absorb the effects of these cuts quietly, no one will care or listen.

But, by sending Timmy and his pals home for a few extra days and by forcing parents to deal with the problem, we might just see some change. Make the public deal with this mess too. Let the public outcry arise not just from the educators but those at home. They outnumber us any way. Plus, I have seen very little to alter the glacial rate of change more than angry parents.

Here’s another idea: instead of considering strikes, consider getting everyone to work their hours and go home. Show people what their money gets them.  No more extra tutoring sessions, no more recommendation letters, no more enrichment sessions, no more grading and planning at home, no more meeting parents outside the work day, no more calls home at night, no more independent research, and so on. Until the public feels the effects, the public will not advocate for us during these times of unjust cuts.

“Waiting for Superman” Got It Wrong

According to Rick Ayers in a blog post on The Answer Sheet (a fantastic daily must-read), the filmmakers got it wrong in Waiting for Superman.

Here is his list, and you can check out his full explanations at the source.

  1. Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education.
  2. Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress.
  3. Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty.
  4. Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem.
  5. Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.
  6. Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement.
  7. Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation.
  8. Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them.
  9. Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning.
  10. Waiting for Superman says good teachers are key to successful education. We agree. But Waiting for Superman only contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession.
  11. Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.”
  12. Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads.
  13. Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world.
  14. Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways.
  15. Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers.
  16. Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds (plus D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom) to come to the rescue.

Please read the full article. It details the reasons educators become frustrated with the slanted debate and preconceived agendas of the people in power. Education is being taken over by businessmen and profiteers, and the media war is only beginning.

Great Stat

According to the College Board (the AP creators) presentation I watched the other night, only 12% of high school graduates entering college have take an adequate college-prep course load. Yikes!

I Guess Academics Don’t Always Matter

Charlie Weis was fired from his head coaching job at Notre Dame. I’d have to say that it was a justifiable firing although I also think Notre Dame has too high expectations, but that’s a post of a different color.

What interests me about Weis’ dismissal is that the Notre Dame Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, stated that Charlie Weis “did win a national championship at Notre Dame because the Irish finished first in graduation success rate this year.” However, Swarbrick also noted that the Weis firing was justifiable because “it is critical to this program and to its place in this University and college football that we compete at the highest level, that we compete for National Championships.”

Academic successes, however, could not save Weis’ job. Academic success is not the goal. In fact, most college football experts will say that winning football championships and having the highest of graduation rates do not go together (as they have been discussing this week on ESPN Radio and on ESPN’s TV shows). The best athletes in football rarely have the best grades.

Still, I like the bitter and revealing irony of Swarbrick’s comments. Collegiate athletic programs are more concerned with victories than they are with graduates. Perhaps this is a statement which is overly obvious, but it still resonates with me.

A part of me feels like this situation is somewhat analogous to the pressure applied to teachers in the classroom. Having high standards for students is ultimately important, but we’re asked to focus on passage or graduation rates. I have posted previously that I have been pressured to pass kids or make deals with kids rather than holding them to the requested high standards. This, to me, again shows that academics and learning are not the priority but numbers are. It sometimes comes down to a win/loss record first and foremost.

Or maybe I’m just feeling a bit cynical today. 🙂

Dropouts Are Expensive

The high school dropout rate is an issue of national concern, but now a study reveals how expensive those dropouts really are. According to an Education Week article:

If half the students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had graduated, they would have generated $4.1 billion more in wages and $536 million in state and local taxes nationally in one average year of their working lives, according to a new analysis.

Dropouts obviously make less money than diploma-earners and pay fewer taxes into the system, but my larger worry is how those in charge go about reducing the dropout rate. I know I get a lot of pressure to “pass” kids or to “make sure” a provide “deals” to help with the graduation rate in my school.

A discussion about dropout rates without including student capacity in the conversation misses the point of why a diploma is ultimately important.

In the past I have asked “what is an acceptable graduation rate?” and wondered if multiple types of diplomas would help address concerns in education. I don’t believe a diploma should be a guarantee; it should be earned, but I am also beginning to believe that four years progress from entry could suffice.