Category Archives: PR

The Sad But True Story

It’s sad to me that Jon Stewart of The Daily Show has become perhaps the best watchdog in journalism today, but he does get to the heart of the Wisconsin fight for collective bargaining rights and the hypocrisy of this partisan issue.

I only hope your state is not fighting this same battle, but I have a feeling this struggle will be yours soon too.

Check out the video here.


Someone Likes Me

The more I watch the evening news or read magazines and newspapers, the less I feel valued. However, Diane Ravitch–who spoke to the NEA-RA last July and received a standing ovation–wrote a response to her original article on CNN this week.

Sometimes I feel like she’s the only public figure who respects my profession. Read her response and the original article. It’s worth your time.

Boiling Over

If you want an accurate analysis of the Wisconsin teacher protests as a microcosm of the nation’s teaching force’s feelings, read Diane Ravitch’s CNN editorial.

Not only does she discuss the growing anger of teachers everywhere, but she points out the hypocritical nature of the “reformers” and those elected officials who claim to be improving the system:

One must wonder how it is possible to talk of improving schools while cutting funding, demoralizing teachers, cutting scholarships to college, and increasing class sizes.

One point I might add to her article, especially about the value of collective bargaining, is this: five states currently do not have collective bargaining rights, and they rank near or at the bottom of the ACT and SAT rankings. Take a look for yourself:

  • South Carolina – 50th.
  • North Carolina – 49th.
  • Georgia – 48th.
  • Texas – 47th.
  • Virginia – 44th.

What teachers and their bargaining bodies advocate are not simply about pay, benefits, and pensions; they advocate for research-based ways to improve student learning as well, and the results are favorable to both teachers and students.

“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.

Find An “In”

I have many, many areas in my teaching that needs work, and I try to do something each year that improves my effectiveness. However, one area in which I’ve had great success is creating a rapport with students. Of course, no one method works well, so I try to reach my students in various ways.

I posted previously about my first day of school where I allow my students (anonymously) to guide the first day by asking questions about my classes and my background. One year I started with a classroom version of The Match Game. These types of activities are great introduction activities, but I prefer some indirect ways of talking with students.

One of my favorite rapport builders is having a couple items of trivia on the board each day. At first I thought it was really for me more than students–since I’m a huge trivia nut–but one day I forgot to put up the new trivia and student after student walked in and asked me where the trivia facts were. They were genuinely disappointed that the factoids were not on the board. More importantly, the kids’ curiosity would sometimes initiate brief discussions on different topics or entice them to look up additional information on the bits of trivia. I now receive suggestions for topics and even receive requests to put up their own factoids. I included a fun link to a trivia site for the The Simpsons on Friday.

I also really like an idea by Dana Huff at that I may explore.

Another rapport builder in my classroom is what I call my Happy Wall. I take a corner of my classroom every year and reserve it for pictures and notes I have received from students. Having taught for slightly over a decade, I now have amassed a fairly large collection, and my students enjoy looking at my former students’ pictures and their messages to me as well as their reflections on the class. Some of them like looking for their older siblings and seeing what their experiences were like.

Lastly, I try to rotate the posters in the room, the student works I display, and the themed bulletin board I keep. I started the year with a Harry Potter wall which became a Lord of the Rings wall. It became a science fiction wall and then a student project wall. The students enjoy expressing their enjoyment of the themes and exploring the articles, pictures, maps, and brochures centering on the chosen theme. Right now it’s blank and I need to decide on the next theme to be displayed to start the 2nd semester.

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.

The PAC-10, the SEC, and the SAT

I’m a college football fan who watches every Saturday, and I love it (even though a playoff system is sorely needed). I also admit that I’m a West Coast kid who loves PAC-10 football and who tires of having to hear SEC fans always claim their conference is tops. I live in a time zone where our games frequently begin after the East Coast has gone to sleep, and I live in a region where the teams are spread far apart and must travel great distances unlike the East where teams are bunched. And, I hate to admit it, the SEC has faired very well in the BCS era of football championships.

However, there is an argument I have yet seen an SEC fanatic counter. Each PAC-10 team plays nine conference games while the SEC plays only eight conference games. Why does this matter you ask? Well, let me tell you this: this means the PAC-10 will incur 5 more losses than teams in the SEC. The conference is guaranteed that more teams will end the season with no shot at a national title and most likely will be eliminated from any BCS contention.

This means that a team like Florida (who has done this multiple times recently) will schedule four patsy non-conference games usually at home, play their 8-game conference schedule, and attempt to schedule their toughest 2-3 games at home. This is quite an advantage over the PAC-10 whose non-conference schedules are generally tougher, whose teams play an extra in-conference game against a tough opponent and whose conference will be adding a conference title game soon (which will again guarantee a top-conference team suffering a season-ending loss).

Granted, the SEC has its share of good and very good teams; however, when a team plays more tough games, it is more likely to lose more games. This makes titles more difficult to win.

This relates to the SAT (and AP testing for that matter). I was at a meeting where my high school was critiqued for having the average SAT score dip slightly in the last three years. Apparently, a sign of success at a school is to track the SAT scores of its students–even though the SAT has no correlation to any state standard or state test used–and then compare those scores to classes of years past. In fact, my high school has eliminated the only class designed specifically with SAT success particularly in mind in its quest for all block classes.

To a degree I agree with score comparisons. However, what I pointed out is that we are testing 15% more students than we did 5 years ago, and most of those students are from the poverty and ELL cells in the measurement matrix. If we aren’t only testing our best students, of course the scores will fall. Some may say that I’m making excuses, but I don’t think so. Having a larger, more diverse pool of students taking the SAT is absolutely going to affect the results.

I’ve made the same argument about the AP tests our students take. We have more students taking AP English (my department’s sole AP option), and more of those students have never attempted any sort of honors class previously. We are not seeing as high of a percentage of  students scoring a 5 (the top score), and more students being tested means the average score has dropped slightly. I’m fine with this. (I have also noticed that the AP essay questions have altered slightly and the scoring appears to have changed a bit too, but that’s an entirely different discussion.)

But again, if more students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds are involved in the testing, the results will be different than when it was easier to achieve higher average scores with only the best being tested. We probably need to adjust our expectations if we want to test everyone.

More tough games played results in more losses. More students tested results in more lower scores.

And besides all this, no SEC team wants to play Stanford in the postseason this year.