Saturday, November 26, 2011

Michelle Rhee Calls for Teachers with Telepathic Powers

I'm way smarter than
normal teachers.
Therefore, I rule.
 Every so often, I find myself agreeing with something Michelle Rhee says. The rest of the time, I think she sounds nuts.

Rhee likes to say, whenever she can, that smart teachers are better than dumb teachers, and on that we can all agree. I don't even want a dumb plumber coming to my house.

Rhee, of course, got into teaching by way of Teach for America, a program designed to help graduates of top colleges like Cornell (which Rhee attended), Harvard and Yale get into the classrooms of America. And, if you haven't heard leading education experts rave, trust me, they believe Teach for America teachers are going to save public education because, well, they're smarter than us...I mean smarter than us off-the-rack, bargain-basement, every-day teachers.

You can hardly go two days in a row these days without seeing a story about America's failing system of education, and usually, about the third or fourth paragraph, the writer pinpoints the main problem and it begins with a "T."

What makes Rhee so scary, though, is that she says teachers aren't the main problem, they're the only problem. Parents aren't a problem and neither are students. Certainly, culture is not.

M. Night Shyamalan, the producer, once asked her at a dinner to explain what five factors were most essential to a child's education. Rhee scoffed at the question and assured him there was only one answer: "Have a good teacher three years in a row."

Shyamalan bought it, and so do most of the big names in reform today, like Arne Duncan, but that's like saying all you need to make a good movie are good actors. You'd think the producer of The Happening would know better.

You'd think Rhee would, too, but she has the same problem Duncan and almost all our education leaders have at the start of the 21st century. That is: she didn't teach long enough, putting in only three years in a classroom, two of those working with another teacher, and combining classes.

You probably have to be retired and interested in stories about education to notice:  but if you watch or read a lot of interviews involving Rhee, she always talks about how she and the other teacher took kids who were scoring at "rock bottom on standardized tests" and took them "absolutely to the top." 

This is before record-keeping and gathering data became the watchword of education salvation. So no records exist; but Rhee's old principal backs her up.

Okay. Maybe. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. But what I notice is that Michelle Rhee never mentions the other teacher by name. I find that strange. It's like waiting to see Bigfoot.

It seems like it might be a while.

On this much Rhee is correct:  good teachers make a huge difference. But I taught 33 years and dealt with 5,000 kids and their families, and I wasn't the only person in the process that mattered.

Early in my career, for example, we had a young man in our school who missed 140 days in one year, and without any real medical excuse. It doesn't usually do much good to fail a kid, but in this case we had no choice, and fail him we did. The next year, with his immune system pumping out white blood cells overtime, he missed another 108 days.

Actually, it was a family tradition. There were three older siblings and over the years they all missed at least one day a week on average. Donnie was the last of the line, and the year I had him in 7th grade he was absent 51.5 days first semester. (Maybe he would have come to school more often if I was just smarter.) I did a bit of checking and discovered that in previous years he had missed 39, 43, 45, 49 and 67.5 days.

The year he was in seventh grade we had a fantastic young counselor in our building, and she would often go out to the boy's house and pick him up and get him to school or he would have spent even more time out of class.

We also took his parents to court four times, but the courts couldn't help much either.

Probably not a Teach for America judge.

If education is really all about teachers, then we don't just need smarter teachers. We need teachers with telepathic powers, who can reach kids sitting at home.

I mean, seriously.  Rhee is supposed to be a smart lady. She isn't supposed to miss obvious truths. In 2009, when she was on her way to fixing the Washington, D. C. schools, the average daily student attendance was 88%. That means the average kid was staying home 21.6 days every year.

Imagine the attacks on teachers' unions and all the dumb teachers we'd see in the press (and hear from Ms. Rhee) if the average teacher stayed home that often.

P. S.  Remember the Chicago Public Schools--where U. S. Secretary of Education really made his name?  You know:  the schools he fixed so well? 

In 2010 the average CPS student missed 26 days of class.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Business Model in Education: Really! It's Going to be Great!

The Business Model in Education:
Grading on the Curve.
SOME DAYS, YOUR BLOG JUST WRITES ITSELF and on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful for the referendum feature which is a part of Ohio law. Of course, that whole Senate Bill 5 mess is a different story.

So let’s just appreciate the turkey browning in the oven. 

We’ve been hearing a lot recently from conservatives about how we need to break the public sector monopolies—in education, for example. Governor Kasich, here in Ohio, is all for shaking up a sclerotic system. So is Governor Walker in Wisconsin. Governor Christie in New Jersey is all in favor of more stuffing, potatoes and gravy.

As for me, I’ve decided, sure:  If we let business take over the public schools we’re absolutely going to get “business efficiency” and “business accountability.” And, as an added bonus we’re going to get “business morality,” too.

Let’s see how our “business model” for education is working. 

Just how are for-profit colleges doing these days? According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, released this week, there seem to be a few minor glitches. First, investigators posing as students found that 12 of 15 commercial colleges, including the five biggest names in the business, accepted fake high school diplomas without bothering to check, including diplomas from high schools that had long since closed.  

So? This is business, first. Education second. The customer wants an education. He has money (often in the form of federal loans). Give the customer what he or she wants.  

This is unfettered capitalism at its best. 

WHAT KIND OF EDUCATION do students receive for their money? Many enroll in online classes and proceed at their own pace. Luckily, investigators discovered commercial colleges were highly accommodating when it came to measuring pace and grading work. Sometimes, faux students purposely did wrong assignments. They passed with flying colors. Let’s try turning in plagiarized material and see what happens. Hey, we still got A’s!

Let’s try not turning in anything and not even bother to log in and take the class. 

By god:  in the “business model” world, the paying customer still got A’s. 

Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Maybe the schools were looking for creativity. They certainly got that. One “student” in a class called Learning Strategies and Techniques, required for an associate degree in business (irony squared), turned in pictures of political figures and celebrities in response to essay questions and ignored on-line chats that were part of the class and passed anyway. 

At another college a student got an “A” on an assignment he never turned in (apparently the class was in Business and Magic).  

Here’s the moral of the story for you crappy public sector workers (especially you crappy teachers). There IS a better way. Just listen to Fox News if you don’t believe me. 

It’s the business model for education and it’s going to be great. 

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving to all, and if you happen to see Governor Walker, tell him, I’m thankful that Wisconsin has the recall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vouchers, Charter Schools and Terrible Parents

There's no substitute for a good home.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A GENERAL CONSENSUS abroad in America today that schools are failing and our economy is's all the teachers' fault. 

If you have any doubt, watch any interview by the self-righteous Michelle Rhee. Rent the incredibly simplistic movie, Waiting for Superman. Or pick up a copy of Steven Brill's book, Class Warfare:  Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools

You know Brill knows how to fix America's  schools.  He's a lawyer.

So:  if we're going to fix schools what do we do first?  Some people say, "Take away tenure from teachers." (I think Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and pretty much everyone at Fox News want to burn unionized teachers at the stake.)  Let's give parents vouchers. Let them flee the failing public schools! Create more charter schools!  And draw up all kinds of standardized tests, tie teacher pay to scores, and watch the magical transformation begin.

I guess I'm not as smart as Rhee or Brill; but I did spend 33 years in a classroom, vs. 3 for Rhee and 0 for Brill. So, I've seen the impact parents have on kids. Unlike Brill, I'm not naive enough to believe you can fix schools until you fix humanity.

I know what good teachers can do--and for decades tried to do all the good I could. But maybe what we really need in this country are Parent Vouchers. You want equal opportunity for children? Let them have vouchers to escape crappy homes. Think about the expression:  “Like father, like son.”  What if the father is a son-of-bitch?

When I was new to the classroom, I remember our superintendent, Dr. Charles Waple, telling a story from his early days in education. He was a sixth grade teacher at the time. One evening he called to acquaint a father with problems he was having in class with his son. The boy was not completing his work and Waple hoped this could be addressed at home. The voice on the other end replied gruffly, “I’ll take care of it.”

The next day the boy came to class sobbing. Dad took care of it, alright. 

He shot the boy’s dog.

For three decades, I stood at the front of a classroom and gave it my best shot. I happened to work in a very good district (Loveland City Schools); and most parents were very good. The bad ones could be really bad, though.

YOU HAD ALL KINDS OF PROBLEMS IN THE HOME--and tried to mitigate the damage--and save everyone you could. Unfortunately, you couldn't save them all. I remember a great educator, Paula Dupuy, a counselor for our junior high (we became a middle school later). She tried to save Phil, the last of the Norman children to come through our doors; but Mr. and Mrs.Norman didn't believe getting to school was a priority. Phil missed 51.5 days in a single semester, even though we took mom and dad to court four different times and even with Ms. Dupuy driving out to the home many mornings to pick the boy up. It was a kind of Norman family tradition. Every member of the family missed at least fifty days every year and Phil's oldest brother once stayed home 140 days in a single year. 

How about a voucher for Bobby? Bobby doesn’t live with his mother. He doesn’t live with his father. He lives with his grandmother. Bobby is, how shall we say this, the product of incest, and his parents are brother and sister. Bobby, we teachers know, is being raised by a grandmother. (Actually, he has only one.) And from what teachers can tell from dealing with the woman, granny is mentally ill. 

What about Joey? Joey is a C student—funny as hell. He and I get along great. Sometimes his work is done. Sometimes it isn’t. Some days all Joey has to offer is a smile. I keep on him and he takes any chiding with a grin. Joey isn’t the problem. 

Neither am I. 

I know the family is struggling financially. One day I ask Joey about his dad. He responds, “He’s a useless meth head.” 

He says this without rancor, because Joey is funny, but his words stick with me the rest of my career.

I could go on and on and on--every good teacher could--but two more examples should suffice. 

A friend of mine is a third grade teacher in another school district. Recently, a poor little eight-year-old came into her classroom and put his head down on his desk and just cried. He was tired, for one thing, and tired of being laughed at by other children, so my friend had to dig to get to the bottom of the story. It seems mom was a drunk, and he was up most of the previous night, listening to her argure first with neighbors and then police. So the boy hadn't slept much. After the police left, mom got it in mind that her boy needed a haircut.

So she shaved random patches into his head.

Like every good teacher in America, my friend did what she could to soften the blows dealt out by reality. But teachers aren't magicians and they don't have the luxury of standing on the sidelines like Rhee and Brill and preaching about what they would do to if they were actually in a classroom where saving every child, according to them, can be so easily done.

ARE VOUCHERS AND CHARTER SCHOOLS, then, really the answer? What says the poor girl in baggy clothes? She sits quietly in my class every day, hunched over her desk, long black curls falling in cascades to obscure her face. 

Over the years I pride myself on getting students involved. In this case, nothing works. I try questions which require “yes” or “no” answers. The girl won’t look me in the eye. Most days she seems in distress.

She appears friendless and alone and grades are poor. So we try engaging the parents. (Isn’t that the key to school reform?) I call home several times and say I’m worried, that their daughter seems depressed. They insist that everything is fine at home. She just doesn’t like school.

By end of first semester teachers are so worried we ask for a face-to-face meeting with mom and dad. The father is professionally dressed, articulate, and seems concerned. The mother is supportive. They want to help. We tell them the girl is suffering great emotional pain, almost surely in need of counseling. The parents thank us for our interest and say they will take this under consideration. When they stand to leave dad smiles and shakes hands all around. 

We call home periodically the rest of the year. Nothing helps. The girl is miserable and we meet with parents again in spring. (Again--we call them. They don't call us.) She just does pass seventh grade. 

The next year the school provides an aide to see if that might help. Eventually, the aide and the girl form a bond and she admits she is being sexually abused by her father and older brother. Dad gets arrested. The brother goes to juvenile detention. And if you’re any kind of teacher you kick yourself for not seeing this situation clearly.

SADLY, RHEE AND BRILL--and that idiotic movie--don't offer any kind of solutions to deal with these terrible realities.

Monday, November 21, 2011

How About Better Parents?

If you missed it, an editorial in the New York Times yesterday, by Thomas L. Friedman, "uncovered" an ugly truth.  Apparently, parents matter when it comes to education!

As Homer Simpson likes to say, "D'oh!"

If you've been reading my blog you know my intent, in part, is to defend good teachers--by far the majority.  Still, I admit:  I've seen some bad ones.  I once worked with an educator who was so unmotivated, you wondered:  If he died at his desk, would students notice the difference between rigor mortis and his normal level of "activity?"  Or would decomposition have to set in?

Yes.  Let's get rid of bad teachers.  In fact, let's say you could get rid of them all today. 

You'd still have the same Continental Divide in education.  You can't make the Rocky Mountains disappear, no matter how hard you flog America's public school teachers.  You can take away their tenure, if you like, and have all the vouchers and charter schools you want.  But you still have good parents and you still have bad ones----and more than a few terrible ones--and therein lies the problem which NONE of our education experts ever address.  Michelle Rhee?  She says it's all teachers.  Arne Duncan?  Same.  Joel I. Klein in New York City?  Yep:  teachers.  Davis Guggenheim in his movie, Waiting for Superman?  In his celluloid world only good parents and grandparents exist. 

So, sure, the problem must be crappy teachers. 

Who'd have imagined?
Parents who read to children at home
or make sure they have books
have children who score higher on
PISA tests.
Friedman, however, cites evidence to prove that--yes--the world is round.  A just-released study by the Program for International Student Assesssment finds that even accounting for variables like race and economic status, children of parents who read to them regularly when they are young, who ask questions about what school was like every day, who check on homework and talk up the idea of getting into college score significantly higher on the PISA tests.

As Friedman notes, in recent years "we've been treated to reams of op-ed articles about how we need better teachers in our public schools and, if only the teachers' unions would go away, our kids would score like Singapore's on the big international tests....But here's what some new studies are showing:  We need better parents.  Parents more focused on their children's education can also make a huge difference in a student's achievement."

Again, we all know good teachers matter.  Still, the evidence has been there all along--and I've been thinking about this issue since 1981, at least, when President Reagan and his advisors first started talking about vouchers and how they would cure all the problems in U. S. education.

In fact, for those who believe vouchers and charter schools are the answer, here's an old bedtime story from that era and you can read it to your children, which will help then when they go to school:

Once upon a time, when the argument for vouchers was new (January 1981) there lived a family in Augusta, Maine. There was no evil stepmother in this story. No mom, either. The father, Willard Radley, was no handsome prince. Mr. Radley had four sons. His problem was not that he required vouchers. His problem was that he produced sperm. 
The boys’ problem wasn’t that they needed vouchers, either. Their problem was that Willard was their dad. 
An investigation began in April 1980, after Ernest Radley, 7, was struck and killed by a car. Ernest’s brothers, ages 5 to 9, laid out a shocking tale for police. Mr. Radley had “induced his children to commit a variety of acts that would allow him to collect insurance money.” 
To be specific:  he ordered them to run into streets and take hits so he could take the profits.

In the real world there are no fairy-tale godmothers and vouchers are not magic wands.  Thirty years later, the argument for vouchers still founders on the same rock.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Food Plate" Standards in American Education

IF YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED Americans are much thinner than they were a few months ago. That’s when the federal government wisely changed eating standards.

Yep. In June the Food Pyramid was replaced by a new “Food Plate.” Since then the American people have been shedding pounds at a fearful rate.

In fact, it’s only a matter of time until we all have six-pack abs like The Situation, that fine fellow on Jersey Shore.

You can be equally sure it’s only a matter of time before federal standards written for schools start having the same wondrous effect.

If you pay the slightest attention, you know this year’s Big Idea in U. S. education is that what we need to do to fix the schools is write up some really cool national core curriculum standards. Even as we speak, deep in the bowels of Washington, D. C., experts are hard at work, like Santa’s elves. Tap, tap, tap. They are turning out those standards!

Trust the experts. This is going to be great!

I guess I feel bad, because I’m so skeptical. I know states tried to raise standards in the 1990s with all kinds of state testing. When that didn’t work No Child Left Behind was passed in 2002 and the federal government got involved. The budget for the U. S. Department of Education ballooned to $71 billion in 2011 and Secretary Arne Duncan handed out fat grants to states that won the “Race to the Top” competition.

There was progress, here and there, but not as much as you might expect when you were spending billions. In New York City, for example, reformers crowed because high school graduation rates rose significantly. Then again: the percentage of high school grads coming out of the city’s “improving schools” and ready for college level work declined. Scores at low-performing schools in Washington, D. C. rose. Same in Atlanta. Then huge cheating scandals shattered the illusion of progress. Scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, often considered the surest barometer of national, academic improvement or decline, fell between 2002 and 2011. [Since publishing this article, scores have declined again in 2012 and 2013.] Math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress rose slightly. It was a rare hopeful sign. Despite all the talk, talk, talk about standards, NAEP reading scores were as flat as an education expert run over by stampeding kindergartners.

So: what could be wrong?

ACCORDING TO AT LEAST ONE EXPERT (okay:  according to me), our biggest problem in education reform is that we focus only on teachers. We look at low test scores and scratch our heads and say: We have to deny teachers tenure. We have to tie their pay to tests results. We have to have standards and benchmarks and indicators and complicated formulas to determine “value added” performance. And we need to have way more paperwork to document everything.

Unfortunately, education experts and government leaders have fallen prey to an idea that, boiled down to its essence, goes like this: To be a successful football team all you need is the right playbook.

In fact, there’s only one playbook and we’re going to give it to every team.

Don’t get me wrong. Every good teacher knows his or her efforts have a dramatic impact on student achievement. But good teachers are like good football coaches. They have their own plans, their own trick plays and their own philosophies. It’s ground-and-pound for one, spread the field and throw it all over the gridiron for another. Every good coach knows to be a success you need more than the right playbook. You have to be able to adapt your plans to fit the strengths of your personnel. You have to be able to relate to individual players and those players have to be willing to sweat every day in practice, and have to want to get better and work at that goal. In fact, one key on the football field or in the classroom is knowing how to motivate, being able to convince ordinary human beings to give more than their best.

There is no magic playbook.

If all we plan to do is keep putting plans on paper, instead of focusing on player effort and motivation, we’re going nowhere fast in American education. It won’t matter how many billions of dollars the U. S. Department of Education is willing to spend.

If it all came down to just the right playbook, to a core curriculum, to a Food Plate standard, then, in no time at all, every football coach could be Vince Lombardi.

AND ALL AMERICANS WOULD be smart and thin.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rick Perry Was...Um...Uh..Right: Get Rid of the U. S. Department of Education

IF YOU SAW RICK PERRY'S MOST RECENT DEBATE PERFORMANCE you know it was... um...not marked by...uh...Let me think. Give me a second. Oops.

I think the word I'm looking for is "coherence."

At the time, Mr. Perry was outlining the steps he'd take if elected president and trying to list three federal departments he'd eliminate. One was Commerce. Another was Education. The third was... uh...well... maybe Baking?

Still, the Governor was onto something. I'm a retired teacher and the chances I'd vote for Perry are as slim as a New York City fashion model. That doesn't mean I wouldn't be thrilled to see President Perry, if he should win, close down the U. S. Department of Education. I doubt many teachers would mourn its passing, or notice, unless someone announced it over the PA system at their school and gave them the news. 

Like I say:  I can't see a scenario where I end up voting for the Texas Hair Model. But if he does get to the Oval Office I hope one of his first acts is to issue an executive order that sends Arne Duncan, that insufferable ass, right back into the classroom in the lowest performing school in the US of A. 

I'd like to see Arne do a little teaching. 

Really, what does the Department of Education do?  (Its budget for 2011 was estimated to be $71 billion and employees numbered  more than 5,000.) I'm going to say this for sure:  I taught 33 years, and never saw a hint of evidence that what the Department was doing was helping teachers or in any way helping students.

So let's see if we can't cut a few dollars from the federal deficit. On this Tea Party folks and Real Teachers can unite. According to Friday's New York Times, even the Department of Agriculture is cutting back these days. Dozens of reports are being scrapped this year. So we're not going to have the annual goat census (it was 3,000,000 in 2010). 

The catfish census (177,000,000) is out and we're going to have to do without a report that calculates the value of honey sales by North Dakota bee keepers ($70 million). 

We won't know any more which state is #1 in sales of mink pelts (Wisconsin) and we won't have a clue which state (Texas!) shipped the most flats of pansies.

Maybe we don't need the Department of Education.
Maybe we need to get all bureaucrats and education refomers into the classroom.
Then let them work their magic!

Young teachers might not recall:  but the U. S. Department of Education was created in 1979, under President Jimmy Carter, and then turned over to control of Shirley Hufstedler, who you might guess had an extensive background in education.

No! If you guessed that, you'd be a total doofus! That would have made sense. Ms. Hufstedler was a former federal judge.

It was the start of a tradition, where seven out of nine people who ran (or run) the Department never taught a day in their and another taught only phys. ed., and so routinely failed to understand the challenges in a real classroom. So what did we gain? Well, the people at Education churned out all kinds of reports. They tabulated and measured. They put together cool charts and graphs, issued all sorts of regulations, and multiplied the paperwork speech therapists and special education teachers and just about everyone else had to complete.

(If Secretary Duncan and leading reformers have their way teachers are soon going to have to fill out a whole lot more forms and we're going to bury U. S. education in useless statistics.)

Then in 2002, the Big Wigs at the Department of Education began focusing on implementation of No Child Left Behind. They talked a great game:  helping states write new standards, then national standards when state standards yielded less-than-zero results. Mr. Duncan almost guaranteed success and called for a "Race to the Top" program, a bold new plan to improve America's public schools.

If you think it's a mess now, wait until the avalanche of "value added" charts and graphs hits schools and bureaucrats set about trying to measure everything every teacher does, has done, or ever might think about doing, from the first grade art teacher (number of brush strokes per child), on up to the middle school speech therapist (correct syllables spoken), to the high school band director (notes played per minute).

It's going to be the I.R.S. model for education.

WE'VE SPENT BILLIONS OF DOLLARS on this effort--and about all we've got to show for it is more frustration for the good teachers, who are always swamped trying to do their jobs.

Don't get me wrong:  We need to do more to weed out bad teachers. And once we do I say we fill those empty spots at the front of the classroom with the likes of Duncan and Michelle Rhee, with Wendy Kopp of Teach for America (let that lady TEACH!), Joel I. Klein, self-appointed saviour of the New York City Schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who says the key is grading schools), Steven Brill (who wrote a book fixing schools) and Davis Guggenheim (producer of Waiting for "Superman") to name just a few.

We don't need to wait for Superman. We've got Rhee and Kopp and Brill, sitting on the bench, telling real teachers what to do, just waiting for the chance to get in the game and save the day. say we do without the goat census and close down the Department of Education. And for god sakes, make these experts TEACH.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Commies, Socialists and Union Thugs Defeat Ohio Issue 2

Too tiny and nice to be a union thug.
I WOKE UP TODAY AND LOOKED in the mirror and felt pretty good. Well, yeah. There were all those wrinkles to dampen the mood. I could have done without those.

Still, the face reflected back didn’t look like a communist and I may be getting old, but I don’t remember ever signing up to get my Party card, either.

Certainly, I was proud of what Ohio voters did at the polls yesterday. They defeated Issue 2 in what can only be described as an ass-whipping for Governor John Kasich.

It wasn’t even a little close: 61% opposed, 39% in favor.

So: how did the losing side like the bitter taste of defeat? Apparently, the salad, the entree and dessert weren’t to their liking. I went to John Kasich’s Facebook page to see what people were saying: you know, how did they feel about democracy in action? Dustin Long, who supported both Issue 2 and Issue 3, decided that the voters were patriotic and perspicacious when they stood up to “Obamacare” and gave approval to Issue 3. But the defeat of Issue 2 had only one explanation: “A voter swayed by irrational fear would have upheld the same moral principal of freedom in each vote. The unions led a successful fear campaign.”

Despite the crushing defeat, David Dexter was ready for just about anything. “Well,” he said,
the Union Mentality has spoken. They want cuts and layoffs. Don’t bail the local communities out John with any State Aid...let ‘em lay off the Police, Fire, and Teachers who are jumping around happy right now. I have guns. I have fire extinguishers, and I have my old text books... don’t need those professionals to survive.
I think the moral of Mr. Dexter’s story is that if his old textbook catches fire he’s going to shoot it. (Then again: I could be misinterpreting his intentions.) 

Carol Sue Armbrust Manning agreed with David, calling on cosmic powers to provide some sort of retribution: “If Karma is in the mix, the ones that voted No on 2 will be the 1st to be laid off.”

Marilyn Verback was furious and fuming. The fire fighters, police and teachers were “puppets of the union machine [used] to prop up their loss of power and democratic/socialist political agenda.”

Jonathan Lindsay put it simply. For opponents of Issue 2, it was “all about GREED.” 

Sallie Raymond-Mullinger didn’t feel it was greed. The problem was stupidity: “This bill was voted down because a friend of a friend of a friend knew someone associated with a union. I wonder how many of the no voters even knew what they were voting against?”

Percy Williams “nailed” it, of course. He said opponents of Issue 2 were “union thugs.” Jennifer Tyree Willison agreed and did a little quick adding and subtracting and came up with a rather interesting theory in support of Percy’s position: “I think that was a close vote considering the number of union thugs and their family members who voted.”

So: are union members raising little thugs? Kindergarten thugs? It makes you fear for the future of Ohio.

Another angry Kasich supporter attributed defeat to “propaganda.” A second warned that “Marxists” were behind it all. Lisa Bloxom, whose Facebook profile picture is an American flag, referred to those who voted no as “sheeple.” (That was pretty creative, I’ll give her that.) Leslie Hass said defeat was all the fault of “union idiots.” I think she meant members of unions were idiots. I don’t think she meant there was a union for idiots.

Sally kept coming back and posting: It was “union drones” that did it. “Power mad unions.” “Is there no end to union greed?” she wailed. 

Vince Miller kind of lost sight of the spirit of democracy and called one opponent of Issue 2 a “moron” and a “retard.”

Then Barbara Hartson pinned the tail on the donkey:
“We will get those greedy communists have faith Gov! the Lord is for us who can be againsts us? It’s their lesson to learn and they chose to keep the thugs raking in the money as their members loose their jobs! Stupidity of voting no on that! As if they are minions saying yes master! Anything you say master! Lol”

I read that and I thought: I need to go take a second look in that mirror in the bathroom. And so I did. Yep: still the same wrinkles. Still an ex-Marine who was willing to fight for his country in 1969 (but got stuck at a desk job in California). A retired teacher—busted ass my entire career. Good retirement benefits.

I’ll grant you that.

I once read 157 books in three years so I could teach World History effectively the last part of my career. Didn’t get paid for that. Didn’t care. Greedy? No more than your average “Yes” voter, I imagine. Raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation twice, by bicycling across the United States (in 2007) and this past summer. Raised money by painting an old three-story mansion in 2010 and donating all profits from a $17,000 job to the same cause.

I spent the summer of 2010 painting
to raise money for JDRF.
I don't feel like a greedy union thug.

I don’t think that makes me a commie—but maybe I’m delusional. 

I don’t know. I look at my wife. She’s a little too petite to be a “union thug,” I imagine. She’s a dedicated speech therapist, though. Never calls in sick, never loafs, goes in early, comes home late, and when she does she tells me she’s excited because she finally broke through and got an autistic child to speak.  

My wife and I did go out canvassing Sunday before election and did try to drum up “No” votes for Issue 2. I know I wasn’t carrying a lead pipe to bludgeon those who said they were going to support the issue. I know my wife carries a bulky purse, but I think I can speak for her, as well.

Call me a “retard” if you want. I look at all the cops and firemen and teachers and I see the good, solid American middle class. 

I don’t want to support a governor who wants to attack those in the middle class. I want a leader who will promise to help those below rise up into that middle class.

That’s the “American Dream,” as I understand it. 

And I think Governor Kasich, Republican law-makers in the General Assembly, and supporters of Issue 2 lost sight of that.

P.S.: ANOTHER ISSUE 2 SUPPORTER RESPONDED to comments I made in a different post (and after he noticed my Facebook profile picture) by insulting the Bengals.

I thought that was absolutely too much!

Chrissy and Ted Cwiok (he's a fire fighter), with daughter Gracie and son Kyle.
Mom and dad both voted against Issue 2.
They look great to me. 
Not exactly your stereotypical "union thugs."
Union thug, Steve Ball, left.
Can't be a commie, right, because he's blue.
Jennifer Chast:  newlywed, excellent teacher and union thug.
Mark Chast, husband.
Chris Loomis, 26, fan of vintage autos.
Doesn't look like a thug.
Is this the icy smile of the cold-blooded
union thug?
Two Loveland teachers.

Sure, Timmiera Lawrence bakes cookies for her family.
Sometimes even union thugs need a snack.
(I think her son, E. L., is responsible for the bathing suit look.)
Jeff Sharpless with daughters, Rachel and Jessie.
Almost always votes Republican.
Secretly:  a commie????
Okay:  this Issue 2 opponent (Lori Chisman Barber) looks dangerous.
Unfortunately she doesn't fit the stereotype, either.
She was going to vote YES till she spent "4 loooong hours" reading the bill.
"Republicans are supposed to be for less government.  This bill created more government."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Issue 2, the Business Model, and Ohio Schools

Pedal across Nevada
and you have plenty of time to think.
 This summer I took a solo bicycle trip across the United States to raise money for research on juvenile diabetes. 

When you pedal 4,615 miles alone, you have plenty of time to think about all kinds of political issues.  This is especially true when you're crossing the barren stretches in Nevada.

At one point, after I reached Reno, I passed a billboard advertisement for some private school.  And that got me thinking about Issue 2, here in Ohio. 

By now, you probably know that our Republican governor and our Republican-controlled legislature want to introduce "business efficiency" to Ohio schools.

Well, really, how can opponents of Issue 2 argue against that?  Efficiency!  That's always good.  And business is all about profit, right?  You can't make a case against "profit," can you?  That's capitalism at it's finest.  Right?

Look at the record of for-profit colleges, however, and you may start to wonder.  If Issue 2 passes, is the key word, at the K-12 level in Ohio, going to be "profit" or "education?"

If you haven't been following the news, you may not realize that in recent years enrollment at for-profit colleges, in Ohio and elsewhere, has ballooned to 2,000,000, with much of that growth fueled by $25 billion in federal student loans. 

So:  with all that money dangling in front of your for-profit nose, what's a for-profit school to do?  Well, advertise, of course.  Make it look like going to the University of Phoenix, for example, is a sure-fire path to success.

Only--in too many cases--it's not.  For-profit colleges, which account for 12% of U. S. students in "higher education," rake in more than a quarter of federal student aid money, and end up with an abysmal record when it comes to preparing "graduates" for gainful employment.  As a result, for-profit colleges account for half of all student loan defaults. 

Consider the "business efficiencies" introduced by the Education Management Company (EDMC), based in Pittsburgh and 41% owned by Goldman Sachs.  (With his Lehman Brothers background, Mr. Kasich must salivate when he sees the piles of dollar businesses can make running the state schools.)  The company, which made 89% of its net revenue on student loans, runs Argosy University and Brown Mackie College, among others.

If you want to educate the young--and turn a tidy profit--well, you have to rely on "business efficiencies."  So EDMC developed a system to reward the most successful recruiters, creating what is know in the bowels of  Wall Street as a "boiler-room culture."  Really, it was a telemarketing scheme:  recruiters, and phone banks, and the hard sell, no matter what.  Get those students IN THE DOOR--and bonus pay for solictors who bring in the most business every day.  Take that student loan check, cash it, and put the money in the EDMC account. 

It doesn't matter if EDMC employees enroll students who can't write simple essays.  It doesn't matter if they prey on the desperate unemployed during hard times.  It doesn't matter if they promise to turn marginal students into doctors, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers and nurses.  Students who were clearly on drugs were encouraged to sign up--even students without computers--to take online classes.

So what, if you "hijack the American Dream," as one observer put it?  Sign up those poor suckers, with no chance of graduating, and stick them with hefty federal loans.

Capitalism is about profit--first, second and last. 

Governor Kasich knows that.  He, better than any public sector worker, knows that in the end the free enterprise system has a cash register for a heart and a bank balance where a conscience should go.

I understand if someone wants to vote for Issue 2, if all they care about is keeping their taxes low. 

But don't be fooled by the rhetoric.  There are several provisions buried deep inside Senate Bill 5, that spell disaster for our schools.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NAEP Reading Scores Flat-Line in 2011.

A few of the books read by real students
in the author's middle school
American history classes.
Another day in a typical American school; and time to take attendance.  This is a smart class, first period; so I start the day off easy.

"Bloomberg, Michael," I call out, not looking up from my grade book.  Here.  "George W.?"  He's here, too.  "Arne?  Arne Duncan?"  Present.  "Davis Guggenheim?" "Klein?"  He's busy flirting with Michelle Rhee, one row over and doesn't answer until I call him again.  "Obama?"

I run down my roster and they're all here.

"Today, " I explain, "we're going to discuss reading scores in the United States.  Can anyone raise a hand and tell me where this country ranks in reading compared to other nations?

Hands shoot up all around.


"Mr. Viall.  In 2003, we ranked 15th out of twenty-nine countries.  I think it's because teachers are in unions...."

"Thank you, Ms Rhee."

"I'd like to add that teacher tenure is a major problem," she continued.

I gave her a look and she fell silent.

Little Arne waved his hand from the back of the room.  I called on him for comment.  "Mr. Viall," he said, "I think the problem is in how No Child Left Behind is being implemented.  We need to create national standards..."

"Alright, Arne, I feel your pain.  Does anyone know what the latest report from the National Assessment of Education Progress shows?"

The Bush kid raised his hand, seemed unsure, and lowered it again.  Nice boy.  Not necessarily the brightest kid in the bunch.  The new kid (born in Kenya one of my colleagues recently said), waved his left hand to get my attention.

"According to recent testing data, U. S. 12th graders had an average score of 286, down one point since 2002.  Eighth graders were up one point, to 265, over the same period.  Fourth grade scores rose two points over a nine-year stretch, from 219 to 221.  According to experts these gains were statistically insignificant."

"How do you explain this trend, class?  If the U. S. is spending billions to implement all kinds of reforms in education, why aren't scores rising dramatically?"

Michelle has her hand up again.  I try not to grimace and call on her again.  "I think it's because we don't tie teacher pay to test scores."

The Bloomberg boy, and the Klein kid, both want to speak.  "I think we need more charter schools," Michael says.  Joel, his buddy, agrees.  "Vouchers, too," says Joel.  "We need vouchers and charter schools."

"Okay," I respond.  "Let's say we wanted kids to improve their reading scores--but we didn't have one additional DIME to spend to design new standardized tests and we couldn't afford to hire one more bureaucrat to draw up all kinds of national standards?"

The Chisman girl, probably the most logical thinker in the room, put up her hand, and I called on her to respond.

"Well, it's not like libraries don't exist.  Maybe you could raise scores, without spending a dime, if parents took their kids to the library more often."

Michelle and Arne and W. and most of the other kids seemed dumbfounded.  "Good point, Lori," I said, and smiled.

Andrea Dubell, the hardest worker in the entire class, waves her hand to get my attention and adds when called upon:  "I think we could raise reading scores in this country without doing ANYTHING differently in schools.  I don't think we need more standardized tests, or vouchers, or charter schools.  I think if parents read more to their little children and and set a good example by reading more themselves, test scores would definitely rise.  You know...don't let kids watch six hours of TV every day.  I think I can improve my own reading score, no matter what you do, Mr. Viall, by reading more for pleasure."

A hint of a smile passes over my face and I tap the side of my skull with an index finger, to indicate that I believe her thinking is exactly on target.

Except for Andrea and Lori, the rest of the class appears stunned.