Is it really about Education, or is there a hidden agenda?

Charter Schools V. Public schools would be an interesting argument if it was truly about education. But look at the legislation currently being promulgated by the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill (S.B. 1115) would create a statewide charter school authorizer that would remove local control from school districts and place charter approval and oversight in the hands of an outside authorizer with no accountability to local taxpayers, parents or students.

If that is not bad enough consider this from the Morning Call newspaper on October 5, 2012.

State changed PSSA testing rules for charter schools without federal approval

Rules change appears to have inflated success rate of some charter schools.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Ron Tomalis (DONNA FISHER/THE MORNING…)

// October 05, 2012|By Steve Esack and Eugene Tauber, Of The Morning Call

Gov. Tom Corbett’s education chief changed the PSSA testing rules in a way that makes it easier for charter schools to meet federal benchmarks than traditional public schools.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis’ change, made without federal approval, might have skewed the results of the 2011-12 PSSA scores to make it appear charter schools were outperforming traditional public schools, according to a Morning Call review of publicly available test score data.


I’ll give my colleagues across the nation a chance to digest this information, post on it, and look forward to an interesting discussion.


Why We need Unions

These are excerpts from a letter a Maine School Superintendent gave to his returning teachers this fall. Unions need to partner with him and be the voice of education. One man, one woman, one teacher, one principal, one superintendent can’t go it alone.

“The legislators passed new laws on bullying this spring but they failed to include the Blaine House, ( the governor of Maine resides) Remediation is on the governor’s mind and I agree, he needs remediation in civility, public speaking, telling the truth, diplomacy and following the law. I think we should challenge him to take the SAT and then make the results public.”

“Our educators work harder now than they ever had before, and their reward for it is additional unfunded mandates and then political bashing based on whatever statistics they choose to use and the cliché of the day.”

“Public school bashing has become the favorite political sport since a statistically flawed document called ‘A Nation at Risk’ was released in 1983. The main goal of this 29-year attack is not to improve public education but to demean it enough so public dollars pay for private and religious schools.”

“We don’t have to put up with this,” he said about his message to staff. “We have a voice. We need to use it. We need to stand up as one.”

It’s why we need unions.


Unions Improve Educational Outcomes

Unions help kids. Period! Though we argue against using test scores as a sole means of rating educational outcomes, the one place academic test scores have been consistent is in demonstrating states with unions outscore states without unions.

Unions understand teachers; after all they are made up of teachers. Most teachers recognize the earlier the grade, the more important it is, and the harder the teacher has to work. Anyone who has ever painted or built something knows preparation is 80% of the job. Likewise a student spends 80% of their time in in the younger grades: K-8, these are the foundations upon which success is built. Unions know these are the teachers who deserve more pay because of the longer amounts of time they spend preparing for class. Education reformers don’t get this and want to pay high school science and math teachers more.

Unions know that if you want good lessons but reformers in Philadelphia try at every negotiation, to eliminate prep time.

Painters and builders know the quality of the product used affects the final outcome, yet reformers expect all children to perform the same regardless of natural ability, home environment, and neighborhood characteristics.

Unions know kid learn more in smaller classes.  Think about how often you can ride the roller coaster at Disneyland when crowds are small compared to the wait times when crowds are large. Smaller class size is a no brainer, yet reformers argue against small class size stressing return on investment (ROI).

Unions know that what improves a class room for teachers improves the learning environment for students.  Smart businesses like Toyota rely on employees for improvements in manufacturing processes, by reformers like in Philadelphia want teachers to be drones following instruction from someone listening into their classroom and telling the teacher what to do via an earpiece.

Unions know kids need a calm learning environment. Yet reformers in Philadelphia have ignored published research pieces noting the negative effect of violence on teaching/learning for 16 years.

Union members need to step up and help their unions represent children in these tumultuous times. Unorganized teachers need to organize. If you have no rights, no respect, if you’re demonized in public as the problem in education, then no matter how hard you work, you are swimming against the tide.  Get unionized and get a little push behind you.


A Policy to Promote Parental Involvement

In 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama stated that parents have to step up. Parents have to turn off the television and make sure the home work is done. He challenged African American parents to value education for their children. He has done little to if anything to create policy that would move parents in this direction.

Below is a plan to do just what President Obama called for, create involved parents.
Individual College Account Plans (ICAs) will treat all families the same regardless of zip codes. It rewards those who achieve by helping pay for college. It treats all families equally, but those who most need funding for college benefit the most. ICAs return taxpayer money to taxpayers and benefit all of society.

Here is how ICAs work. When a child is born, $5000 is placed one time into an Individual College Account (ICA) in the child’s name. The ICA matures as a 401K or 403 B would. When the child enters first grade, assuming the child is reading ready, the parents receive $2000. If the child is not reading ready, the $2000 goes right to the district the child is enrolled in to help pay for the extra costs associated with enabling this child to be at grade level reading by grade 3.
The remaining money in the account continues to mature until the child enters college or technical training school. At that time, a percentage of the matured funds based on grades, behavior, and parental involvement, are sent to the college or trade school the child will be attending.

ICAs reward taxpayers. According to national statistics, a high school graduate earns $392,000 more than a non-high school graduate. Children who read at grade level are more likely than those who do not read at grade level to finish high school. Assuming a 40 year working career at a conservative 20% income tax rate, the high school graduate will pay more than $75,000 in taxes to the federal government than a non-high school graduate. The payback to society from this investment in our public well-being is huge.
The difference in earnings between a college graduate and a non-college graduate nationwide is approximately $1.1 million. Assuming the same conservative tax rate a college grad pays more than $135,000 in taxes over the course of a career than a non-college grad.

Clearly ICAs pay for themselves!
And with a high school drop rate in many cities approaching 50% and greater, the returns from the ICA program between a college graduate and a high school graduate are even greater. This is just looking at the numbers without counting the reduction in crime and the increase in family stability which strongly correlate to high quality early education.
This program is win win for all involved. At the beginning levels of education incentives are offered to improve the raw materials. Parents are rewarded for doing their job as parents, and college becomes more affordable as the matured amount of money available is likely to be between 10 and $15,000.
Schools will be serving their clients: families and students, the people for whom school exists. Families and children will be rewarded according to their own success. Employers will have a greater selection of qualified employees. Neighborhoods will benefit from reduced crime. The family unit will be cherished, encouraged, and promoted.
Recently, Kalamazoo Mi. introduced a program similar to ICAs. An anonymous donor made a contribution promising all students who qualify a free college education. What happened after just two years is so promising the Governor of Michigan is trying to spread the program statewide.

In two years enrollment in Kalamazoo Public Schools increased by 900 students. Property values rose by 7% and 10% increasing city revenues.

No doubt these were already interested, concerned, effective parents taking advantage of an opportunity. A similar program years back in an inner city school in Philadelphia known as the Belmont 112 did not produce similar results. The challenge in education is to create interested, effective parents. It takes more than money: It takes educating parents as to how to educate their

ICAs require no experimental or expensive charter schools. ICAs eliminate the controversy involved with unproven, indeterminable concepts such as merit pay for teachers.

While standardized tests can be part of determining the percentage of the ICA sent to the college or trade school of the child’s choice, grades, behavior, and effort can be taken into account to obtain a more accurate and complete picture of the child. The ICA is all carrot and no stick. It eliminates the fraud so prevalent in Charter Schools, Voucher Programs, Merit Pay for Teachers, and with Educational Management Organizations.

We can create parental involvement with policies that demonstrate government can be effective in solving complex problems. Individual College Accounts nurture families, something politicians of both parties can stand behind. Let’s hope it gets done.


Socio/mental Exams: A School’s Responsibility

The Mental Exam

I remember when I moved to a new town and switched schools. I had to provide a birth certificate and a physical exam.  This proved my parents were not kidnappers and that I was healthy with no communicable diseases. In this regard not much is different from my day and today.

It is about time that changes.

A physical exam does not indicate how well prepared a child is for the social emotional rigors of school. It doesn’t indicate whether or not a child reads at grade level or is anywhere near where they should be chronologically. A physical exam does not address the needs of an education system consumed with making AYP.

We know the academic achievement gap begins at home, that it arrives at school. By using exams designed to track the emotional health, the academic ability of young children, we could implement educational programs more specifically engineered for individual students. By assessing social/emotional health we can identify children as young as kindergarten and first grade who are likely to fall behind their peers. The technology and the knowledge of how to do this has existed since the early 1990s. In short, schools must address the emotional well-being of children if we are truly to leave No Child Behind. That we have not done this yet reminds me of the words of Ronald Edmonds, that we educate only the children we choose to educate. In other words we teach the easy ones and leave the rest behind. We are leaving too many behind.

It’s time we developed Individual Education Plans (IEP) that have relevance, applicability, and are achievable.

Good Parenting Leaves No Child Behind

It is a given that the academic achievement gap begins before children reach school. It’s been documented so often that only those who don’t believe in public education would argue that the home environment makes no difference in a child’s education. Only the profiteers like many Charter School operators would argue that schools can educate any child effectively regardless of the home or neighborhood environment they come from. Fortunately researchers like Lareau, Duncan, Steinberg, and of course Coleman demonstrate how foolish they are.

But the most powerful modern documentation that parenting matters comes from a Charter School. Look at the Harlem Children’s Zone.  Their secret isn’t in the curriculum or the teaching; it’s in the neighborhood outreach. Geoffrey Canada’s schools are successful because of the parenting program he put in place. It’s run by parents from the neighborhood that he trained to educate others in the neighborhood on how to successfully raise children.

Parenting is the most important job in the world. Most parents learn how to do it from on the job training or from their own parents, who most likely learned on the job or from their parents etc. We know how important good parenting is. Isn’t it about time that high school children learned how to be good parents? Isn’t it about time that parenting 101 became part of the curriculum? Isn’t this the real test and meaning for No Child Left Behind?

Technology, the new disciplinary measure for violent schools

Technology will dramatically change the way home schooling occurs. Not only will the quality of home schooling improve as technology is implemented, the quantity of parents choosing home schooling will increase and even school districts may pursue home schooling as an option for students who are socially/emotionally unprepared for the classroom setting. Another child who may opt for home schooling is the victim of bullying.

The child who is constantly bullied despite the school’s best efforts is a prime example of a child who can benefit from home schooling. So to would be the perpetrators of such inexcusable behavior.

Home schooling can be tailored more easily to the individual than what a classroom educator can do with 17-33 children in the room. Some inner city classes have been known to have as much as 45. Not much individualized instruction can happen in that setting.  Home schooling can be personalized to a child’s and in some cases to society’s specific needs.

The trouble maker: The child that is or should be suspended can now do lessons at home. School no longer stops when punishments are handed out. Teachers have control over their class and students who want to be in school with their friends will be. Those who are out of school need to be monitored and technology can certainly do that. Mom and Dad may have to miss work, stay home and parent their child. I doubt they would like that, suspect the family income may suffer, and what better way to get parents involved insuring their child behaves well and does their work.

Use of already existing technology such us Blackboard and Moodle are the keys to increasing parental involvement with non-engaged parents and the solution for unruly children who in these modern times school districts are afraid to discipline.