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Reply #12

In the discussion thread: To Teachers on DU: [View all]

Response to snot (Original post)

Mon Jun 17, 2013, 02:06 PM

12. My 2 cents,

although there are already some great responses:

Has the quality of public education really gone downhill since I was a kid, or is that a myth?

Yes. The quality of public education has gone downhill, at least since I was a kid. I'm a product of public education in California, pre-proposition 13. That said, there are teachers working just as hard, teaching what we are told to teach. It's the content that has gone downhill, not the teaching.

Have kids gotten harder to teach?

From my perspective, yes. We have generations of kids who spend too much time as passive consumers of electronic stimulation at earlier and earlier ages, when we know that, from the standpoint of brain development, kids need to be, not in front of screens, but moving and doing and directly interacting with their world in the early years from birth - kindergarten; that, and direct interaction with other people, direct conversations, singing, reading, etc., are what build the neural connections necessary for academic learning, and are what build language development.

That, and the widening economic gaps which mean that more kids are growing up in poverty, make this generation harder to teach.

Are parents working too hard to help their kids, or to notice if they're failing, let alone get involved with the PTA or pay attention to school board elections?

Some are. Parent involvement has always been a function of socio-economic gaps; the more prosperous, the more involvement as a whole. Since we have more and more families not prospering, that stands to reason. In cases of generational poverty and/or illiteracy, parents never were all that involved. Generally, though, regardless of income or education levels, many of them could be counted on to support teachers' efforts. In the current generation of teacher as scapegoat, they are more likely to blame schools and teachers for problems rather than support us. Don't mistake me; I still have plenty of parents that are supportive, that work as a team with their kids and teachers. There are more and more every year, though, that target teachers whenever something goes wrong.


Are class sizes too big?

Yes. We've known since before I left college to teach that, according to research, the optimal class size for learning was 15. I've taught class sizes ranging from 20 (during CA's class size reduction experiment) to 42. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

Are populations more diverse?

In many places. Diverse socio-economic strata, diverse languages, cultures, ethnicity.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, are we spending less per child than we were 50 years ago?

Not if you get your information from right-wing privatizers, we're not. I can't really answer this question with any confidence. What I can say is that we spend whatever it is we are spending differently. We have cut in many areas, and now spend a literal fortune on tests, testing, test scoring, and outside consultants to manage our data. We spend a fortune on programs promising to prepare students for those tests. We spend and spend and spend on teaching to the test, on everything related to "data." That money has to come from somewhere.

Private enterprise has wanted to get their grubby corporate mitts on all that lovely public money expended on education for decades. Their successes are growing at an alarming rate.

What factors are actually different now from when they were back when public education was strong (at least, it was strong at my school when I was growing up)?

We provide a less-well-rounded education; if it is not tested, it's not taught, or the time and focus to teach it effectively is not there. We spend our time in staff meetings, in team meetings, in class with students, in meetings with parents, talking about test scores.

We go on fewer field trips, students are provided with less in the way of fine and performing arts, and, tragically, LESS CRITICAL THINKING. Students are more passive, less active, in the process of learning because that is the way their classes have been structured; it's all about the test.

There is less enjoyment; learning, reading, writing, thinking because it's fun, or interesting, is a foreign concept to many of today's students. It's all about taking your medicine so you can pass your academic physicals.

What are the causes of those changes, if any?

Ronald Reagan. A Nation At Risk. Corporate desire to profit from the tax dollars spent on education. The neoliberal economic movement that requires large pools of cheap labor and cannon fodder infests the public education system from the top down. The standards and accountability movement. They act like we never had "standards" or taught anyone anything before they whipped out their endless list of isolated "standards," long enough to, according to Marzano, require that students attend grade 22 to be adequately taught all the standards on the books before graduating. The attached high-stakes testing. The authoritarian regime that has systematically demonized teachers an education, eroding public confidence.

How does the current system actually work?

Teachers get a Master's degree, plus pass some standardized tests to get a teaching license; requirements are different in every state. They continue taking classes so that they can renew that license every few years. They are responsible, once hired, for regular assessments, for tracking each students' assessment data and making sure that lessons target the weaknesses revealed. They are evaluated on things like: whether or not their standards and objectives are posted and students know them; whether or not all students are engaged; how they manage all that assessment data; how their students do on standardized tests.

I think the system is more stressful for students than it used to be. I know teachers are more stressed, and it's hard to create a stress-free environment working under that kind of stress. High-stakes = high stress. These days, for older students, those tests are high-stakes for them, as well. In my state, they are part of high school grad requirements for everyone, including special ed.

How are the administrators selected?

That hasn't really changed, at least, not in the districts I've worked in. Of course, I've only worked in the system 30, not 50, years, lol. The Superintendent is selected by the school board. The Supe selects assistant admins at the district level, and they select and assign admins at the site level.

Where is the union, what role has it played?

At the national level, the union has been pandering to neoliberal Democrats that are working against our best interests. For example, my union, the NEA's, endorsement of Barack Obama. I'm sure it's because they don't want to be left out of the conversation. That strategy hasn't worked, obviously. Example: the appointment of non-educator corporate stooge Arne Duncan as Sec of Ed.

Some local unions have been active, on-fire, and effective. Look at Chigaco and Wisconsin for examples. Others are like Obama himself, steadily "compromising" away our value as educators.

How are union leaders selected?

Elected by members. To be honest, the only candidates I ever know anything about are the locals; in state and national elections, I usually can't find enough information to make a sound choice.

An interesting, and I don't mean that in a positive way, development locally is in doing away with regular union officers; apparently, next year we will be governed by committee.

What are the large and small, direct and indirect causes of the problems?

1. Funding
2. Anti-public school, anti-teacher propanda
3. Privatization and corporatization efforts

What are the real solutions?

First of all, the solutions need to be in the hands of educators, not political or corporate powers that be.

We've got plenty of solutions, but people have to listen, and have to be willing to implement them. I can offer up a page full, and they will represent only a tiny fraction of what my colleagues can do should you turn us loose to implement our ideas.

Here are just a few, in no particular order:

1.Stop standardizing everything. We recognize that students are people, that people are not standardized, and that not every strategy, system, or program is right for every person. Allow us to truly differentiate at all levels. That means that every school in a district doesn't have to use the same materials and lessons and pacing schedule.

2. Stop privatizing. We don't need outside for-profit people to run our schools. We don't need charters. We can have a variety of different schools, with different philosophies, schedules, methodologies, etc.. within every district. The union needs to be on board with that.

3. Get rid of high-stakes testing in its entirety. Assessments to inform instruction? Yes. We don't need as many, we don't need them to be the main focus, and we especially don't need the high-stakes.

I notice that my first 3 propositions are all about what NOT to do. I'll focus from here on out on what TO do, with the understanding that, without halting harmful policies, the rest won't be effective.

4. Reduce the size. Smaller districts, smaller schools, smaller class sizes...stronger, more connected community where it is much harder for students to "slip through cracks," and much easier to form positive working relationships with parents. More adult staff on campus, as well as a better student-teacher ratio in the classroom. K-8s instead of institutional-sized middle schools at the hardest age people experience. Enough Counselors, Nurses, PE teachers, Art teachers, Music teachers, playground and bathroom supervisors, and people, time and places for extra help for anyone who needs it.

5. Fully funded special ed, plus enough staff, resources, and time to help anyone else who needs it, as already mentioned.

6. Real kitchens, cooks, and fresh, healthy food served instead of junk food.

7. Before and after school programs and services for those who want or need them: health, tutoring, enrichment, parent ed, etc.. In addition, some organization like the Family Access Network for every school site to help families with whatever they need.

8. A well-stocked library and certified school librarian in every school.

9. Local empowerment: give school sites more autonomy, within safety and other regulations to protect student and teacher rights. Empowering people at the site level creates a strong, vibrant team whose motivation to succeed exceeds those struggling under authoritarian rule.

10. Treat teachers like professionals; fully fund all services rather than depending on teachers to put in hours beyond a contractual day, paid and unpaid, that lead to exhaustion and burn-out.

11. Single-track, year-round school: having taught several year-round calendars, I can attest to the fact that they increase student achievement and reduce burnout with shorter, more frequent breaks.

12. Looping: students and teachers spending more than one year together builds a stronger working relationship, and the second year always sees more growth.

I could go on and on, with the large and the small; you've got both in the above list.

The resources to create a positive, supportive environment that can offer a world-class education to every student that walks through the doors, and enough autonomy to decide how to do just that, with enough regulation to protect the rights of all.

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Arrow 12 replies Author Time Post
snot Jun 2013 OP
MichiganVote Jun 2013 #1
proud2BlibKansan Jun 2013 #3
MichiganVote Jun 2013 #5
proud2BlibKansan Jun 2013 #8
proud2BlibKansan Jun 2013 #2
mbperrin Jun 2013 #4
femmocrat Jun 2013 #6
femmocrat Jun 2013 #7
proud2BlibKansan Jun 2013 #9
femmocrat Jun 2013 #10
Starry Messenger Jun 2013 #11
LineNew Reply My 2 cents,
LWolf Jun 2013 #12
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