Modern School's Journal
Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794
Number of posts: 794
A 14-year-old student at Correia Middle School, in the affluent San Diego neighborhood of Point Loma, was tasered twice by police officers as he was arrested on suspicion of possessing of a stolen iPod. According to police, they had been alerted to a theft of $5000 worth of iPods and were questioning several students when one of them began to resist. The teen is being charged with theft and assaulting a police officer.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 150-pound teen produced two of the stolen iPods during the questioning, according to the OB Rag. When an officer told him he was under arrest, he refused to cooperate, telling the officers, “No, you’re not putting handcuffs on me.” Police say he thrashed and kicked so much that one of them was hospitalized with a knee injury.
School administrators were present during the questioning and the incident is being investigated to determine if the police used excessive force.
It reminds me of the time when I was a teenager and a cop accused me of resisting arrest, hit me in the head, and then sued me because his finger broke.
These were supposedly professional cops and a scrawny 150 pound teen. They couldn’t get cuffs on him without resorting to weapons?
Posted by Modern School | Fri Feb 17, 2012, 10:17 PM (5 replies)
It is commonly believed that public education in the U.S. is in miserable shape, with terrible teachers causing high dropout rates and worse educational outcomes than our trading partners. There are test scores (PISA) that confirm this, with the U.S. ranking lower than countries like South Korea, Finland, Japan and Hong Kong. And Ed Deformers have glommed onto such data as proof that the system needs a dramatic makeover and use the data to justify everything from privatization schemes to the dismantling of teachers’ unions.
A new analysis of international data by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution suggests that the U.S. may not be as far behind their counterparts as previously thought, according to U.S.A. Today.
The rankings tend to be given in raw numbers such that countries with statistically indistinguishable scores appear to have different rankings. Thus Hong Kong (607) and Singapore (599) were listed has 1st and 2nd place for fourth-grade math scores in 2007. This is misleading, as their scores were virtually indistinguishable statistically. By grouping together in first place, all the other nations would move up in rank.
Loveless examined the scores and rankings more closely and grouped nations together that had statistically indistinguishable scores. By doing so, Hong Kong and Singapore were grouped together as tied for 1st, while Netherlands (535), Lithuania (530), U.S. (529), Germany (525) and Denmark (523) were grouped together in fifth place.
Posted by Modern School | Fri Feb 17, 2012, 12:45 AM (10 replies)
The Virginia House of Delegates voted to end tenure-related job protections for public school teachers on Monday, the Washington Post reported, a measure that was pushed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in order to “improve” public education. The Senate, however, rejected the measure on Tuesday. The Senate could still vote on the House’s version of the bill, but approval would be unlikely without garnering more votes.
Virginia teachers currently must work for three years without any job security or due process rights. After three years on probation with good evaluations, they can earn tenure and receive “continuing contracts” which guarantee due process hearings before they can be dismissed.
Under the new bill, probation would be extended to five years and continuing contracts would be replaced with three-year contracts. Any teacher could be let go at the end of a three-year contract for any reason, even a good teacher who consistently has good evaluations, thus obliterating due process and job security. The new rules would only apply to current first-year teachers and future hires, according to the Post.
One consequence of laws like this will likely be a worsening of the teacher shortage. Teaching is already a difficult and stressful job. It also does not pay very well. Why should young people want to invest two or more years into a credential and master’s degree and then work for five years at low pay with no job security, without any confidence they will have a job at the end of the five years?
Another consequence is that administrators will be able to use their new leeway in firing to get rid of teachers who are active union members, who disagree with them or who advocate too strongly for their students. It will stifle dissent and squelch free and open dialogue and collaboration. Workers who can be fired for any reason have to be extra cautious of what they say publicly and how they say it, even when it is for the safety and wellbeing of children. However, when someone has invested so much time, money, heart and soul into obtaining a teaching job and becoming part of a school community, they may be even less willing to risk it all by speaking out.
Twelve states have enacted tenure reforms linking teachers’ employment status to student achievement since 2009. Tenure “reform” laws are also being considered in Connecticut, New Jersey, Missouri, South Dakota and Louisiana this year.
Posted by Modern School | Fri Feb 17, 2012, 12:44 AM (8 replies)
In a rare moment of lucidity and honesty, the Los Angeles Times published a piece last week criticizing tech giants’ play for billions of federal and state K-12 public education tax dollars. Reporting for the Times, Michael Hiltzik attended a Digital Learning Day Town Hall meeting sponsored by Google, Comcast, AT&T, Intel and others, with speakers that included Education Secretary Arne Duncan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Duncan and Genachowski called for laptops for every child because textbooks will ostensibly soon become a thing of the past. While there are certainly benefits to switching to digital textbooks, like allowing students to “write” in the margins or to interact with multimedia presentations, the real driving force, not surprisingly, is the huge profits to be made by tech giants like Apple, which announced last month that it “dreams of a world in which every pupil reads textbooks on an iPad or a Mac,” according to Hiltzik.
In reality, the medium makes no difference to education outcomes, according to Richard Clark,
from the Center for Cognitive Technology at USC. And with school districts already incapable of retaining teachers and purchasing printed textbooks due to budget cuts, the idea of buying $500 ipads for every child seems outlandish (unless they are donated by Apple in order to get school districts hooked on their software and support services, for which they could collect hefty yearly fees).
This possibility is not just Luddite paranoia, but standard business practice. Consider the desktop publishing app iBooks Author, which allows users to create textbooks. While the software is free to use, products made with iBooks Author can only be sold through Apple's iBookstore, with Apple keeping 30% of the purchase price. And since the books are only readable on an Apple device such as an iPad, the software also helps guarantee more Apple hardware sales.
It is also questionable whether digital books will actually save school districts money. If the laptops or ipads are donated or purchased by parents and the districts only have to pay for subscriptions or site licenses, then maybe they will save money, as digital copies are not subject to ripping, graffiti, water damage or getting lost. However, the notion that ipads are somehow more durable than textbooks is absurd. If students treat their digital hardware as cavalierly as many treat their textbooks, many will destroy all of their “textbooks” simultaneously with a single toss, instead of just one at a time as is currently the case.
Posted by Modern School | Wed Feb 15, 2012, 10:08 PM (0 replies)
The Noble Network, which runs 10 charter high schools in Chicago, raised nearly $200,000 last year (and $400,000 since 2008) from discipline penalties, the Chicago Tribune reported this week. The Network, which has been praised by Ed Deformer Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has been charging students $5 per violation for such trivial infractions as having untied shoelaces, bringing chips to school or dozing off in class.
Critics are accusing the network of using the fines to cull low performing (and lower income) students in order to boost graduation rates. Last year the network lost 473 students, more than twice as many as the previous year.
The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Noble CEO Michael Milkie believes that by enforcing all rules, even the little ones, he has made the school safer. He has also said that students who behave poorly should be forced to pay, arguing that bad behavior takes away teacher attention and resources from those who are behaving appropriately, thus justifying the fines to recoup students’ costs to the school.
In addition to the fines, students must serve three hour detentions, even for little infractions like not having their shirts tucked or being caught with potato chips or energy drinks. Furthermore, if behavior doesn’t improve, the costs go up. Students with more than 12 detentions must pay $140 to take a discipline class. One student was forced to take a night behavior class for not shaking a visitor’s hand.
Posted by Modern School | Wed Feb 15, 2012, 10:06 PM (1 replies)
Los Angeles teachers have approved an initiative calling for a new teacher-evaluation system and a moratorium on layoffs, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. The initiative was approved by 56% of the vote. However, only 11,412 teachers voted, or roughly one-third of the membership.
The initiative was sponsored by Teachers for a New Unionism (TNU), who immediately claimed that the vote indicated growing support by teachers for using student test scores to evaluate them, despite the low turnout. TNU, it should be pointed out, is not a true grassroots opposition movement within UTLA, but an Astroturf opposition supported by the Future is Now Schools project—a spinoff of Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter management organization that receives funding from the Gates Foundation and New Schools Venture Fund—and by NewTLA co-founder Mike Stryer (see Our Place in History and LA Teachers Seek to Put Evaluations to Referendum, for more).
Additionally, the initiative made no direct mention of student test data. The actual text was:
"Shall UTLA’s contractual negotiations with LAUSD include a moratorium on all RIFs (Reduction in Force—AKA layoffs) for all UTLA bargaining unit members through June 30, 2014, as part of a revised, phased-in, teacher-driven evaluation system mutually agreed upon by UTLA and LAUSD?"
United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher endorsed the initiative and the union declined to submit a statement in opposition. Though Fletcher has opposed using student test scores to evaluate teachers, the union leadership has supported using such data to help teachers improve instruction—an irrational, copout position intended to mollify those who call the union an impediment to progress. Standardized test scores and improvement on the tests are dependent primarily on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and provide very little data on the quality of teaching.
While it is true that teachers can sometimes help some students improve their scores, this cannot be considered “improved instruction.” On the contrary, the biggest gains in test scores can be made by teaching to the test and giving students repeated practice with standardized test questions. This does little to improve students’ critical thinking, literacy or mathematical skills. It takes away class time from other types of learning and curriculum. It is also tedious and mind-numbing and could contribute to students’ alienation from learning and school.
Several Important Unanswered Questions
---What will a “teacher-driven evaluation system” actually look like, especially one that is mutually agreed upon by a district that has been pushing for the use of student test scores and a union that is so conciliatory?
---If LAUSD lacks the funding to retain all its teachers (a prerequisite for the moratorium), how will it resolve its deficit? Pay cuts? Furloughs? Shortened school year? Benefits cuts?
Posted by Modern School | Wed Feb 15, 2012, 10:05 PM (0 replies)
President Obama has unveiled a plan to spend $100 million to train 100,000 new science teachers over the next decade, according to the Washington Post. During his State of the Union speech he said that “Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job,” a problem he blames on the dearth of quality science teachers.
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Yet training is only a tiny piece of the picture. With low (and declining) pay for teachers and difficult (and worsening) working conditions, why should science majors want to go into teaching in the first place when they could earn so much more with so much less stress and aggravation working as scientists?
Standards Undermine Scientific Inquirey and Comprehension
At the same time, what are we doing about the poor state of science education among existing teachers? Even the best science teachers are hamstrung by an overwhelming number of standards—most of which emphasize rote memorization of facts over actual scientific inquiry and analysis—and high stakes exams that dictate a narrow curriculum and limit depth. Consequently, many good science teachers rely on the expedients of multiple choice exams, worksheets and “cookbook,” proof-of-concept labs which allow quick and easy assessment of the standards, but which also dull students’ curiosity and turn many off to science completely.
Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
This is true even in states like California, which was the only state in the nation to earn an “A” for its science standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s “The State of Science Standards 2012.“ In many states, the science standards go much further to undermine students’ understanding of science concepts and their ability to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. Ten states, including Alaska, Oregon and Wisconsin, earned an F in the survey
Many states earned their D’s or F’s because their content was minimal, poorly written and/or contained errors. Some states, like Louisiana and Texas, have undermined or discredited solid science with legislation requiring the teaching of creationism or mandating that teachers provide “both” sides of the evolution or climate change “debate.” Others failed to emphasize the link between math and science.
No Child Left Behind and the “accountability” mania that has swept the nation over the past decade have also contributed to the poor state of science education in the U.S. Many schools have forsaken science entirely at the K-5 level either to make room for more test preparation and English and math support, or because the multi-subject credentials required for teaching K-5 do not emphasize science standards, labs, and inquiry-based activities sufficiently for teachers to feel confident and competent teaching them. Some middle schools have also jettisoned science curriculum for similar reasons. Every year I get a handful of 9th graders who say they never took science in 6th-8th grades and their background knowledge and success in my class often reflect this.
Poverty Undermines Academic Achievement in All Disciplines, Including Science
The biggest cause of U.S. students’ poor showing in science has little to do with the quality or quantity of science teachers. U.S. students rank poorly compared to students in most other wealthy nations in numerous disciplines, not just science, while their poverty rate is among the highest. Placing more good science teachers in the classroom will have little benefit for students who come to school hungry, homeless, sick and several years behind their affluent peers in literacy and prerequiste skills.
A class-based achievement is already firmly in place before kids have entered kindgergarten, (see Burkam and Lee and Hart and Risely) and it worsens over time. This leads to significant differences in vocabulary and pre-reading skills which can reduce children’s self-efficacy and confidence and limit their ability to access high level content, especially science.
Though good science teachers can make science engaging, fun and tangible, even to students with low literacy and prerequisite skills, they will have only limited effect on students’ perseverance, ability to concentrate for sustained periods and study habits, all of which are correlated with social class.
Obama’s plan is just another example of blaming teachers for low student achievement while ignoring the larger societal causes. Students are struggling in science primarily for the same reasons they are struggling in other disciplines, with teacher quality being one of the least significant causes.
Nevertheless, more money for the training of good science teachers is not a bad thing. On the contrary. We should be spending more to train teachers in all disciplines and especially in science, but not at the expense of other investments that could provide a bigger bang for the buck in terms of educational outcomes for children, like programs and policies that reduce poverty, support low income families and promote early childhood education.
We should also make sure that once we have invested millions of dollars into training new teachers we also encourage their continuation in the profession with generous pay and benefits packages, on-site mentoring, professional development, respect and academic freedom. Otherwise, high attrition rates will continue and the investment will be a waste. Likewise, we need to give these professionals more autonomy and decision-making authority and not quash their motivation and creativity (nor that of their students) with high stakes exams and lousy standards, or their expensive training will be for naught.
Posted by Modern School | Fri Feb 10, 2012, 09:36 PM (2 replies)
Unions and union busting are big news lately. Thus, it should be no surprise that much of the media jumped upon a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the state of union membership in America. The only thing surprising about the report was how differently it was parsed by various news sources.
The Los Angeles Times excitedly proclaimed that “Union membership grew nationally in 2011,” with unions picking up 49,000 new members. However, before you crack the champagne, the New York Times gloomily declared that “Union Membership Rates Fell Again in 2011.” The NY Times went on to say that the decades-long drop in union membership continued in 2011, falling to just 11.8% of the American workforce, a 0.1% decline from 2010. Life, however, saw this 0.1% as a sign that things were becoming less bad, posting the following headline: “Union Membership Rates Are No Longer Falling.”
Of course all three conclusions can be true. A drop of 0.1% may indeed be a leveling off after years of sharper declines (after all, 1.4 million union jobs were lost between 2008 and 2010). And if the number of total number of workers increased by more than the number of new union members, then the 49,000 increase reported by the LA Times could still result in a net 0.1% decrease overall, which was in fact what happened.
So is there any real news here at all?
Union membership is still the lowest it’s been in decades and the reasons for the decline have not substantively changed. The biggest recent drops in union membership resulted from the massive layoffs and cuts that accompanied the recession, while the longer term trend has been driven largely by downsizing and outsourcing, combined with union busting, none of which shows much sign of abating. Furthermore, even if the decline has leveled off for the moment, continuing state and local budget crises will likely result in more waves of public sector layoffs and consequently more declines in union membership.
It is not just the vagaries of capitalism that have caused the decline in unionism. Unions themselves must take much of the blame for clinging to antiquated, nationalistic and selfish tactics and perspectives that alienate younger workers and divide the working class. The AFL-CIO, for example, has consistently jumped on the nationalistic and racist bandwagon accusing China and other countries of stealing our jobs, rather than working in solidarity with international unions to improve wages and working conditions worldwide.
Or consider the Keystone XL Pipeline that has pitted environmentalists against unions. Why should anyone support a pipeline that will carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico? It is dangerous, dirty and will actually increase oil prices because the oil is so expensive to extract from the Canadian tax sands. It will run through one of the richest agricultural tracts in the world, placing the water and food for millions of Americans at risk. Meanwhile, it will worsen climate change by increasing the amount of petroleum being extracted and consumed.
Of course the economy sucks and people want jobs and this project could provide some. But this is like saying that gangs provide jobs and should be encouraged or that child pornography creates jobs and should be promoted.
This brings up another backwards union perspective: Jobs trump all else.
Jobs are a means to an end: getting food into one’s mouth. “Good” jobs are good only in so much as they provide material security at minimal costs to one’s health and wellbeing and even this is an expedient. Many jobs are simply not worth preserving at all. Banking, insurance and real estate speculation serve no common good, while the automotive, petroleum, coal, tobacco and nuclear industries actually cause millions of deaths each year. To demand more jobs in these fields is to demand the proliferation of homelessness, pollution, warfare and preventable deaths, not a very compelling platform for attracting new members.
It is understandable that people are demanding jobs and that the unions want to preserve them. There is no hope in the foreseeable future that the state or society will adequately provide for the unemployed, or pay to retrain them, while the Protestant Work Ethic and American Dream mythology are so deeply embedded in our culture that many people feel degraded, useless or bored when they don’t have a job.
But there is another reason for unions’ obsession with jobs: it is a cheap and easy way for union leaders to win points with their members. Union bosses are constantly making compromises and deals with corporate bosses, like the UAW recently did in Detroit, to save a few jobs in exchange for pay and benefits cuts. The corporate bosses get increased profits by spending less on their employees, while the union bosses get to hold onto their cushy six-figure salaries and suit-and-tie lifestyles, free from the dirt and grime of the shop floor or classroom. By keeping their members on the job, unions can continue to collect dues that go to the salaries of their officers, and to lobbying and litigation. By ending conflicts quickly and cheaply through compromises and sellouts, unions reduce their bureaucratic and legal costs, leaving more money for their officers’ salaries.
This also helps to explain why unions have engaged in fewer strikes and labor struggles in the past three years than at almost any other time in the past 80 years. On the one hand, strikes are risky and can be expensive if members are jailed or the union is fined, as the ILWU in Longview, WA can attest. Lobbying, politics and litigation are also expensive, but they are easily outsourced to professional hacks, helping to keep the rank and file under control with promises that “our guy” will change things once elected. It is certainly much easier than organizing, which requires large numbers of well-trained organizers to go out into the “field” and actually listen to workers, something that bosses of all varieties, including union bosses, are loathe to do. Who knows, they might hear something they don’t like.
Lastly, mainstream trade unions benefit from the capitalist system and have no interest in challenging it. Indeed, they are dependent upon it. While they may challenge the bosses now and then, they will always send their members back to work under the belief that ruining the boss means their own ruination. Thus, it becomes imperative to union leaders that “peace” is maintained between workers and employers and that bosses continue to be permitted to earn huge profits on their backs, because this is seen as the source of jobs and potential raises. This perspective makes the boss out as the workers’ friend, which any worker can see is patently false.
Oh I love my boss
He’s a good friend of mine
That’s why I’m starving out on the bread line
Hallelujah I’m a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Won’t you give us a handout to revive us again
First printed by the IWW, 1908, becoming the anthem of the Spokane free speech fight
Posted by Modern School | Wed Feb 8, 2012, 08:37 PM (0 replies)
In a phenomenal case of collective punishment, Los Angeles Schools Superintendent John Deasy is firing the entire staff of Miramonte Elementary School in response to two of its teachers being charged with lewd conduct. Miramonte is one of the largest elementary schools in the U.S., according to the Los Angeles Times, with over 150 teachers and administrative staff.
In the wake of the accusations, parents kept more than 25% of the student body home from school on Monday. Parents also held a demonstration at the school.
It is certainly understandable that parents would be scared and irate—the two teachers were accused of some absolutely dreadful behavior. LAUSD emphasized that the allegations have “placed a cloud over the campus that can be lifted only with a drastic response,” the Los Angeles Times reported. However, no other teachers have been accused of any misconduct or are under investigation. Therefore, firing them does nothing to lift this cloud. On the contrary, it creates a bigger cloud that makes the innocent teachers appear to be part of the scandal, tarnishing their reputations in the process.
The mass firing is not only unfair and abusive to the innocent teachers, it does nothing to make the school safer or heal the wounds. Firing just the administrators, however, who are responsible for ensuring the safety of the school and for hiring and firing teachers, would have been much simpler and cheaper for the district, which must continue to pay the salaries of the displaced teachers. John Deasy, himself, ought to step down, since he is ultimately responsible for what happens in LAUSD schools.
Deasy continues to claim that student safety is district’s first priority. However, there had been numerous student and parent complaints against one of the accused teachers, Mark Berndt, over the past 20 years which some parents claim were either ignored or not taken seriously. One student was transferred from the classroom of Berndt to the classroom of the other accused teacher after the family complained about him. The L.A. county district attorney’s office also refused to bring molestation charges against Brandt in 1994 due to insufficient evidence.
Posted by Modern School | Tue Feb 7, 2012, 10:56 PM (13 replies)
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Jerry Brown continues to be called a friend of labor. This is probably because big unions like the California Teachers Association invested so much money into his campaign for governor that they can’t afford to criticize him out of fear that he won’t pay them back in kind (as if this were ever a possibility).
Some will say that Brown’s attempt to raise taxes and funnel the bulk of the new revenue into K-12 education is a form of payback. However, his plan, even if it is approved by voters, will not restore the more than $21 billion that has been slashed from K-12 education in California over the past three years, let alone bring annual revenues up to the level necessary to hire more teachers, reduce class sizes, offer raises, or rehire counselors, librarians and nurses.
At the same time, Brown has quietly been pushing a pension reform plan that will raise costs and slash benefits for thousands of public sector workers. He has joined the growing chorus of right wing ideologues, fiscal conservatives and millenarian Chicken Littles who are all screaming that the pension sky is falling and workers themselves must pay for it.
According to John Fensterwald - Educated Guess writing in TopEd, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest public pension plan, reported anemic returns of 1.1% last year, while the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), number two behind CalPERS, reported a slightly less anemic 2.3%. Both of these are far below the 7.75% rate of return needed to meet payouts to retirees. Furthermore, CalSTRS’ 10-year return was only 5.4% and many financial analysts believe the next decade will be just as bad.
While the economic crisis can certainly be blamed for much of the problem (30% decline in the value of the CalSTRS portfolio), the state itself has failed to make its required payments to the pensions or to responsibly manage them, thus exacerbating the problem. In either case, it is not the fault of public sector workers that the pensions have so much unfunded liabilities (most teachers receive only $3,000 per month), yet they are the ones who will be forced to pay for it by being required to work longer before retiring (the retirement age will increase to 67 for new employees), paying more into the system and accepting smaller payouts.
Thus, in addition to accepting stagnant wages over the past three to four years (most teachers, for example haven’t seen a raise in that time) along with furloughs, layoffs and increased out-of-pocket costs for healthcare, public sector workers will see their paychecks shrink even more, with increased deductions for their pensions.
Virtually absent from the fear mongering and blaming is the fact that CalSTRS is 71% funded, which is actually pretty good compared with other pension plans. Furthermore, only if large numbers of teachers were able to simultaneously retire would the underfunded liability even matter. Only those near retirement age are in any position to take advantage of their pensions and they make up a small minority of those still paying into the system. CalSTRS is not in any danger of going belly up. In fact, it is not projected to become insolvent until 2042, leaving plenty of time to deal with its unfunded liabilities. Even CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes criticized the Little Hoover Commission’s recommendations to slash CalSTRS and called many of its suggestions naïve or impractical. He also pointed out that many of its premises are wrong.
Posted by Modern School | Tue Feb 7, 2012, 10:55 PM (1 replies)