Posted in FirstAmendment, Public Ed, Religion

Public School Prayer and the Constitution – Conflict in Louisiana

Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. ― James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

Teachers and administrators in a public school in Webster Parish, Louisiana, were sued by a student and her family for leading students in prayer, encouraging prayer and bible reading, and generally promoting the Christian God.

What happened when a public school student sued over prayer

The Coles [those who brought the lawsuit] say that prayer over the loudspeaker each morning is just the beginning of an unconstitutional indoctrination of students that is promoted and supported by teachers, the principal, the superintendent and the school board.

“Virtually all school events — such as sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies –include school-sponsored Christian prayer, religious messages and/or proselytizing,” according to the lawsuit filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This is clearly unconstitutional. Neither a public school nor its representatives (teachers, administrators, or any other employee) can legally promote religion or religious beliefs (see Abington School District v. Schempp).

One of the parents who favored continuing the religious instruction in the public schools was Greg Lee.

…Greg Lee’s fifth-grade daughter was upset, not relieved. She and her friends took it upon themselves to pray anyway, Lee says.

Lee, a banker who also views himself as a servant of God, says he’s instilled his sense of deep faith in his children. It has always been a part of their life. They have always prayed — at church, at school, and whenever they feel the need to.

Lee’s daughter’s choice to “pray anyway,” was completely legal, and in fact, it is what should have been happening all along.

Despite the protestations of some on the Religious Right, it is legal for students to pray in school, as we shall see in a moment, which is all Greg Lee claims to want.

That is all Greg Lee and others in Webster Parish say they want. To fight for their longstanding beliefs. For the rights and souls of their daughters and sons — and America.

“If you begin to tell me that my children do not have the right to pray in school, then that’s an attack upon the relationship I have with my God and the relationship that they have with our God,” Lee explains.

If that’s all he wants. It’s true that every child, in every public school in America, already has the right to pray whenever they want to as long as they don’t disrupt the learning process and as long as they don’t harass their fellow students.

According to the Joint Statement of Current Law and Religion in the Public Schools, a document signed by 35 religious and civic groups,

Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners. In the classroom students have the right to pray quietly except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g., students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them). In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations. However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate.

In other words, Greg Lee’s daughter has always had the right to pray in school.

Is that really what Lee and others who object to the lawsuit want? If so, then perhaps this is all just a misunderstanding about what the law requires and a careful reading of the Joint Statement of Current Law and Religion in the Public Schools will educate the parents and educators of Webster Parish, Louisiana.

It’s more likely, however, that they actually want their own brand of Christianity taught in their local public school. They might be willing to let others, who do not have the same beliefs, attend the school, and sit quietly while the local version of Christianity is being taught, but even with that, it would not be legal.

No, people like Lee and others quoted in the article, seem to believe that they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on a captive audience. They consider anything else an attack on their religion.

Again, from What happened when a public school student sued over prayer

The questions spread far beyond this corner of Louisiana, and were raised by none other than President Donald Trump last summer.

“Schools should not be a place that drive out faith and religion, but that should welcome faith and religion with wide open, beautiful arms,” Trump says during a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “It’s time to put a stop to attacks on religion.”

But this is not an attack on religion. It is, however, an attack on their right to use government facilities and spokespersons in the form of public schools and its employees, to proselytize.

It’s clear that the President doesn’t understand the law either (no surprise there). Students are welcome to pray. No one has attacked religion. But our laws don’t allow a government entity to choose one religion over another, or to choose any religion over none. The Establishment Clause requires government, and its representatives, to remain neutral in the area of religion. That means no school sponsored prayer. No captive audience religious services.

I’m pretty sure they would be arguing the exact opposite if their child attended a public school which began each day with a prayer to Zeus, Marduk, or Allah.

Just as I was getting ready to post this blog entry, I read the following by Ed Brayton about the same lawsuit…

The Same Bad Arguments in Every Public School Church/State Case

So if your beliefs are so deeply rooted, why do they need the government to force others to go along with them for you to feel satisfied? Your kids already have every right to pray in schools. They can prayer [sic] any time they want as long as they don’t disrupt the functioning of the school. They can pray 100 times a day if they want. You know what they can’t do? Force others to listen to it or participate in it.

And you know how easy it would be to get you to recognize that reality? One single Muslim prayer would do it.

Exactly right!

Further Reading:

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Posted in Finland, MLK, poverty, Public Ed, Segregation

American Selfishness: Sabotaging Our Own Future.

THE CURRENT OUTRAGE

The government of the United States appears to be in chaos. The citizens of the United States are in an uproar. The U.S.-based broadcast media is reaping the benefits of its self-invented short-attention-span news cycle.

It seems insignificant, then, to focus on something as mundane as “where will we be in 20 years” or whether our leaders 30 years hence be able to guide us through a crisis. It’s much more exciting to focus on the latest outrage from Washington which, at the moment, is the President’s ‘s**thole countries’ comment.

Eventually, however, this outrage will morph into the next outrage…and we will turn our attention back to the day to day. We’ll go back to work, selling goods, providing services, or, in the case of America’s public school teachers, supporting every child who enters our classrooms. It won’t matter where they or their ancestors came from. It won’t matter what problems they bring with them. We accept them all.

As teachers, we know the importance of every child. We understand that we are educating the citizens of tomorrow. The classrooms we work in today hold the first responders, doctors, teachers, and leaders of the future. Every national, state, or municipal leader in America is someone’s child, and the majority of those children grew up attending public schools.

“I BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE”

It would seem logical, then, for us to recognize that the children in our public schools are the key to the future of our nation. It would seem logical that we would do everything in our power to provide all of them with the best education we can – for the common good. The nation’s future depends on the quality of our leaders, and our leaders of tomorrow are sitting in our classrooms today.

Unfortunately, not all humans are logical.

Nations with high achieving schools, such as Finland, secure their future by investing heavily in education. They focus on equity…providing for all the needs of all their children. The small number of Finnish children who live in poverty (less than 5%) also have free medical care and other national safety nets to support them as they grow.

But here in the U.S. (child poverty rate – greater than 20%) we tend to focus more of our attention and more of our investment on rich children than poor children (See HERE and HERE). That might be good for our rich children, but with the increase in economic inequity in the U.S. and the removal of the few social safety nets we have, we’re shortchanging a greater and greater percentage of our children.

WHY ARE WE IGNORING THE MAJORITY OF AMERICAN CHILDREN?

We’re hurting ourselves and our future because we’re so focused on those in power getting the most for themselves (and money equals power, so those with money get the “best” for their children), keeping poor kids poor, keeping black and brown kids poor, and keeping black and brown kids in separate schools. We’re writing off a huge percentage of American children…among whom may be the people we need to lead us through the problems of the 21st century.

And for some reason…we just don’t care. Oh, individually we might, and for sure, politicians will give lip service to “better education” and “opportunity for all.” But as a nation? No, we don’t care about public schools – at least not as much as we care about the Super Bowl, the new iPhone, our Facebook profile, getting as much for ourselves as we can…etc.

Can We Be Serious?

Poverty and racism and pedagogy and curriculum and standards and infrastructure and a plethora of threads tied up to the question “Why can’t we make our schools better?” But if we dig past all of these, we get to a fairly simple answer.

As a country, we aren’t serious about it.

SEGREGATION: SCHOOLS FOR THE WEALTHY, SCHOOLS FOR THE POOR

What would wealthy parents do if their children went to school and had to spend the day with their coats on because the heat didn’t work on the coldest day of the year?

Right…we all know that would never happen. We all know that we wouldn’t allow schools for the wealthy to be in such disrepair. Schools for the wealthy don’t have to choose between support staff and heat. They don’t have to choose between a well stocked library and toilet paper.

But, when the children attending the school are low income children, now a majority in America’s public schools…and mostly children of color…there doesn’t seem to be enough money to take care of building maintenance that children of the wealthy would never have to worry about. Low income children are the children who are exposed to lead in their drinking water. Low income children are the children whose schools don’t have libraries or trained librarians. Can you imagine a school for wealthy children having the same problems?

‘Kids are freezing’: Amid bitter cold, Baltimore schools, students struggle

Jeffrey San Filippo, a teacher at Calverton Elementary/Middle School, said that when he arrived at work Tuesday morning, the building was “extremely cold.” Later in the morning, the temperature in his classroom was in the mid-40s. After lunch, students gathered in the cafeteria to finish the day “because the classrooms were entirely too cold,” he said.

Students were wearing gloves and winter coats, San Filippo said. Some called their parents and asked to go home.

“I think this really just shows Baltimore City’s facilities have been underfunded for years, and this is what happens when you have a cold spell,” he said. “The boilers can’t keep up, and students are made to suffer.”

A fact/reality check on Gov. Hogan’s Baltimore schools claims

Years of deferred maintenance projects left city school students shivering in classrooms with temperatures below 50 degrees — again. This news is not exactly, well, news. Six years ago, I was also a Baltimore City teacher forced to decide between upholding the uniform policy (no coats or hats!) or letting students freeze in my classroom. It was precisely the necessity of purchasing my own space-heaters or copy paper or books that pushed me to leave the classroom and commit to ensuring resource equity through education finance innovation.

SELFISHNESS: SELF SABOTAGE

Why are other countries able to take care of all their children…to prepare properly for the future…but we’re not?

Simple…it’s good old American selfishness. “I’ve got mine and if you don’t have yours it’s not my problem.”

This is the individual equivalent of “America First.” We’re going to close the door on immigrants because whatever’s happening to their country isn’t our problem. People fleeing from war, famine, and disease…not our problem.

It’s how we do things in the U.S. My kid goes to the best school in the state. Your kid’s school has no heat, no books, no toilet paper? Not my problem. The new tax law…which provides for the permanent well being of the corporate sector, but expires for the middle class and low income Americans…is an example of this. The wealthy have theirs…if you don’t have any, too bad, but it’s not my problem.

We’re living through a national epidemic of selfishness and stupidity.

As Jim Wright at Stonekettle station said,

“Fuck you, I got mine” is a lousy ideology to build civilization on.

We’re too selfish…too stupid…to understand that what happens to my neighbor has an impact on me. What happens to the poor in America, has an impact on all of us. What happens in “s**thole countries” has an impact on the United States. To think otherwise is to live in ignorance and displays a monumental lack of foresight.

It seems we would rather sabotage our own future than help others.

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Posted in Public Ed, Teaching Career

Resolution #3: Educate Yourself

A series of resolutions for 2018…

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #3

  • Educate yourself.

BUT I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME

Teachers are overworked and overstressed. Often teachers go home after a difficult day at school and spend an hour or two on planning, assessing student work, or on piles of mostly meaningless paperwork.

A few hours later, after a rushed meal, minimal time with family, and a night of not-enough-sleep, it starts over again.

Weekends are a bit better…time to catch up on everything.

It’s no surprise, then, that teachers feel like they don’t have time to find out what’s happening in the politics of public education. They only know that it seems like each year there are more and more restrictions on what and how they can teach, more tests for their students, fewer resources, and larger classes.

Meanwhile, the forces of DPE (Destroy Public Education) continue to move forward increasing funding for charter schools and unaccountable voucher schools by diverting public money from public schools.

THE ARGUMENT FOR EDUCATING YOURSELF

Make the time.

I know…I’m retired. I don’t have to get up and face a classroom of kids every day. It’s easy for me to say. I get it.

But things have changed since I retired. I can write letters and blog posts, and argue with legislators in support of public education and public educators, but I’m out of date. A lot has changed since I last had my own classroom in 2010. I don’t know what today’s classrooms are like in your school.

Teachers, this is your profession, and it consists of more than just the time you spend with your students. I would ask you to think of time spent educating yourself about what’s happening in education as one part of your professional development.

The political world of public education will

  • affect your students and your children, if you have any, as they progress through school
  • affect you and your economic status while you’re working and in retirement
  • affect how many more years you will be able to teach
  • affect how large your class sizes are
  • affect your academic freedom
  • affect what you teach, how you teach, and how often your students have to pause their learning to take a standardized test.

Right now, legislators, most of whom haven’t set foot in a classroom since they were students, are making decisions which will affect you, your students, and your classroom.

This is your profession. You owe it to yourself, your students, your future students, and your community, to educate yourself. Be the lifelong learner you wish to see in your students.

[If you’re not a teacher, you owe it to yourself, your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, and students of the community, to educate yourself. What happens to public education affects your children – and all of the above – and your community.]

WHERE TO START

Here are some places to start (feel free to add more in the comments)…

Read Books (in no particular order)

Read Blogs (in no particular order)

Listen to Podcasts

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #1

  • Read aloud to your children/students every day.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #2

  • Teach your students, not “The Test.”

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION #3

  • Educate yourself.
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Posted in Public Ed, Teaching Career

…in which I rant about poor word choices and ignorant teachers.

Arghhh! The ignorance! The dumbassiness! It hurts!

SUPERIOR

In a recent post (which I first read about in Mercedes Schneider’s blog entry, Teacher Workload vs. Teacher Salary: And the Winner Is…) blogger Paul Murphy wrote that teachers complain about their workload and low pay because it makes them feel superior.

Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

Wrong!

I was a teacher for nearly four decades…and I talked about how much work it was to be a teacher, but it wasn’t bragging. Most of the time I was trying to explain to people who have no clue what teaching actually entails, that it’s a real job. It takes a lot of work to do it well.

I never felt “pride” that I was working for free or paying for classroom supplies with my own money. On the contrary, I often felt it was shameful that our nation’s children were such a low priority that the workers felt obligated to subsidize the employers.

Teachers spend extra money and time on our classrooms because we put our students first. Pride? Not really. Necessity? You bet. Murphy even admits that he wouldn’t stop doing those extra things…and he goes on in a subsequent post to explain further. Teachers need to organize, work the contract and by doing so, let their employers know that they won’t work for nothing. This, he admits, is easier said than done. I agree.

My disagreement with Murphy is in his language choices. Teachers don’t talk about their jobs to “feel superior.” We’re not “proud” of our sacrifices. We do them because we care about our students.

DECORATIONS

He added,

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms…

Murphy was speaking specifically of elementary teachers (although I know secondary teachers who go in early and stay late, as well). We go in early and we donate work. Why? Because the work has to get done, and if we only work the hours for which we’re paid our students will be the poorer for it.

And, I should add, it’s not all decorating, something Murphy, as an elementary teacher, ought to know. Decorating a classroom is not like putting up Christmas lights, Thanksgiving turkeys, or Valentine’s Day hearts, although that might be part of it. We also display motivational posters, calendars, word walls, charts, maps. Those are better labeled teaching tools not decorations. We use those teaching tools for the benefit of the students. So, when I went in to school a week early to get things ready, aside from making sure that materials were ready for students, and making sure that the classroom looked inviting, I also made sure that there were necessary teaching tools available for use during classroom instruction.

WHINING

Finally, he wrote,

…what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Again, not bragging! And not whining about low pay, either. Are school boards accused of whining about money when they claim, “we haven’t got enough money for a 1% across the board raise”? Are legislators accused of whining when they say, “this is all we can afford to budget for public education this year”?

Our so-called “whining” about pay is really an objection to the lack of full funding from the state. Local school systems are forced to choose between providing a full curriculum with sufficient materials, or a well paid staff. They often cannot do both.

HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

But, again, the common knowledge is that teachers don’t really work that hard, so why pay them like other professionals? Teaching is easy. After all, they have all that time off in the summer, get to go home at 3 pm every day, and only have to spend their days with a bunch of kids. How hard can it be?

That “common knowledge” is the reason teachers need to talk about how much work they do, how much they spend on their classrooms, and how little they’re paid in relation to how much they do and how much other professionals with equal training are paid.

My objections (whining?) are with Murphy’s word choices…I agree with much of what he wrote, but bragging, decorating, and whining, are not only incorrect descriptions of what teachers do, they’re (IMHO) demeaning. Words matter.

And, as if on cue, there appeared a comment to Mercedes Schneider’s blog supporting the aforementioned “common knowledge” about teachers…

Socrates

Those elementary teachers sure are precious, aren’t they? They ought to spend some time trying to grade labs or essays only during the time that they’re at school. Working overtime as a high school teacher *is* doing the minimum. Sheesh.

Yes, it’s true. The comment about how easy teachers have it (in this case, elementary teachers) was written by…a teacher.

Socrates is apparently a high school teacher who thinks that elementary teachers have it easy because we don’t have to grade labs or essays and we don’t have to work extra hours. We are, apparently, “precious” because we have it so easy, and if we really want to work hard we would have become secondary teachers!

Socrates is obviously ignorant about what goes on in an elementary classroom.

Now it wouldn’t be hard to find an elementary teacher who is equally ignorant about secondary teachers – Someone who might say, “they get to go home early every day”…”they don’t have to worry about recess duty, bus duty, or cafeteria duty”…”they get a whole period for prep time (or lunch)”…”they may have two or three preps a day, but elementary teachers have seven, eight, or even nine different subjects they have to teach every day”…and so on.

Luckily for both sets of ignoramuses, I know differently. I know from experience how hard elementary teachers work. I know from observation how hard secondary teachers work.

There are differences between elementary and secondary teachers, which we won’t get into right now. Suffice it to say, however, that those secondary teachers, like Socrates, who think that elementary teachers don’t work just as hard as they do, are wrong…wrong…wrong.

And vice versa.

It’s teachers like Socrates who perpetuate the stereotype of “teaching as an easy job,” and Murphy, who use demeaning language, perpetuating the myth that teachers complain without justification, who make life hard for the rest of us.

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Posted in Article Medleys, books, Choice, Immigrants, poverty, Public Ed, Quotes, Teaching Career

My Year-End Favorites

The “Year’s Bests” and “Year’s Mosts” list…images, blog posts, quotes, podcasts, and books.

Thanks for reading…

MY FAVORITE BLOG POST OF THE YEAR: by SOMEONE ELSE

The Success of America’s Public Schools

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

In which Steven Singer teaches us how well our public schools are doing. Facts matter.

From Steven Singer

…America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!

Here’s why: the United States educates everyone. Most other countries do not.

We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.

FAVORITE BLOG POSTS: MINE

My Own Favorite Blog Post of the Year

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

I follow Steven Singer’s post with one of my own about the amazing success of America’s public schools.

When she looks at the U.S. international test scores, Secretary DeVos, and other policy makers see “failing schools.” This is wrong. The low average scores, and the even lower scores aggregated for low income students, indicate that economic inequity is overwhelming the infrastructure of our public school systems. Instead of blaming public schools, politicians and policy makers must take responsibility for ending the shameful rate of child poverty and inequity in America.

My Most Popular Blog Post of the Year

Kill the Teaching Profession: Indiana and Wisconsin Show How It’s Done

This post about how Indiana and Wisconsin are destroying the teaching profession,  received the most attention of anything I wrote this year, picking up several thousand hits.

From Live Long and Prosper

…in order to offset the loss of teaching staff in the state, rules for becoming a teacher have been relaxed…

…because nothing says increased achievement more than hiring under qualified personnel.

FAVORITE IMAGE

Trump fires Lady Liberty.

Retired Chicago-area teacher Fred Klonsky provides an editorial comment about the nation’s immigration policy. This sums up the year accurately…

From Fred Klonsky

FAVORITE ED PODCAST

Have you Heard: Truth in Edvertising

With a “market-based” education economy comes advertising. Jennifer Berkshire, Jack Schneider, and their guest, Sarah Butler Jessen, discuss “edvertising”. If you are at all concerned about the privatization of public education you owe it to yourself to listen to this.

From Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider

…in schooling certainly there is a private good aspect to it. But schooling is also a public good. It’s something that benefits our society, our neighborhoods, our communities. It benefits the most advantaged, but it also benefits the least advantaged at least theoretically. So when we acting as consumers, we’re only acting in alignment with the private good aspect of education.

So think for instance, buying an alarm for your house versus trying to cultivate safer cities or safer neighborhoods. Whereas one of those is an inherently private good. The alarm is only going to protect me and my family. The public good is going to benefit everyone in the community and that’s not something I can promote via shopping.

FAVORITE QUOTABLES

My favorite quotes from the year…from actual, real-life educators.

The Hypocrisy of “Choice”

Testing Opt Out: Parent Wants Conference; School Calls Police *Just in Case*

From Mercedes Schneider

One of the great contradictions within corporate ed reform is the promoting of a “parental choice” that stops short of the parent’s choice to opt his or her children out of federal- and state-mandated standardized testing.

Poverty

School Choice Opponents and the Status Quo

From Russ Walsh

Those of us who continue to point out that poverty is the real issue in education are accused of using poverty as an excuse to do nothing. Right up front let me say I am against the status quo and I have spent a lifetime in education trying to improve teacher instruction and educational opportunities for the struggling readers and writers I have worked with. To point out the obvious, that poverty is the number one cause of educational inequity, does not make me a champion for the status quo. It simply means that I will not fall prey to the false promise of super-teachers, standardized test driven accountability, merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers, all of which are futile efforts to put a thumb in the overflowing dyke that is systematic discrimination, segregation, income inequity, and, yes, poverty.

2 School Districts, 1 Ugly Truth

From John Kuhn

Educational malpractice doesn’t happen in the classroom. The greatest educational malpractice in the Unites States happens in the statehouse not the school house.

If we truly cared about how our students end up, we would have shared accountability, where everyone whose fingerprints are on these students of ours, has to answer for the choices that they make.

MOST IMPORTANT BOOK I READ IN 2017

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century

We need to learn from history.

By Timothy Snyder

Lesson 10: Believe in Truth: To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Publisher’s Description

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

Here’s a video of Timothy Snyder talking about his book, HERE.

2018 TO-READ BOOK LIST

Books I hope to get to in 2018…

The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, by Daniel Koretz

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean

These Schools Belong to You and Me: Why We Can’t Afford to Abandon Our Public Schools, by Deborah Meier and Emily Gasoi

Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education, by John Merrow

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein

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Posted in A-F Grading, EdWeek, PDK, Public Ed, Testing, Uncategorized

It’s Those Other Schools

How good are the public schools in your community? If you’re a parent/guardian of a school child, or a teacher in the local schools, chances are you think your schools are pretty good.

If you don’t work in a local school, or don’t have children who attend local schools, how do you judge the quality of your local schools? Should you rely on news media reports? How about state test scores, or state A-F grades?

 

LOCAL SCHOOLS GOOD, NATIONAL SCHOOLS BAD

In the annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards Public Schools, published last September, seventy-one percent, almost three-fourths of public school children’s parents/guardians, gave their local schools a grade of A or B. Parents of children who attend public schools are among the people who know the schools the best.

Local parents know that their children are more than test scores. They know the teachers, administrators, and staff. Their neighbors work in the cafeteria or on the custodial staff. They appreciate the hard work of school employees.

Why, then, do they ignore the same concepts when it comes to the quality of schools nationally? Only 24% give the nation’s schools a grade of A or B. Those same parents who understand that the news media, or test-based school grades don’t tell the whole story when it comes to their local community’s school, believe the opposite when it comes to schools nationally.

EDUCATORS AGREE

Earlier this month, another survey was published. In this survey it was educators who were asked about the quality of public schools. The results were reported in Education Week’s Educator Political Perceptions: A National Survey.

And, surprise! The educators responses were nearly identical to those of parents and guardians of public school students. American educators gave their local schools, the ones they worked in and knew the best, high grades, but nationally, not so much. Seventy-two percent gave their own school systems an A or B. Only 35% graded the nation’s schools as an A or B.

From Education Week

Across the board, educators give the public schools in their district better grades than those in the nation as a whole. While 25 percent assign A’s to public schools in their districts, just 3 percent allot that grade to schools in the nation as whole. Clinton and Trump voters assign similar grades both to their own schools and the nation’s schools. Compared to teachers and school-based leaders, district leaders are slightly easier graders of both their districts’ schools and schools in the nation as whole. For example, 34 percent of district leaders assign their districts’ schools an A as compared to 24 percent of teachers and school-based leaders.

In other words, the folks who have the closest contact with schools, either as parents or professionals, grade their local schools high, but their opinions about schools nationally are much lower.

Mathematically, of course, this doesn’t make sense. How can the majority of parents and educators “know” that the nation’s schools are poor, when that same majority “knows” that their local schools are excellent? Where are all the “failing” schools if not in local communities nationwide? Where are all the “excellent” schools, if not in other people’s local communities as well as ours?

There is, of course, a logical answer. People hear about all the “failing” public schools across the nation from the news media, pundits, and politicians. At the same time, they experience relief that their own public schools aren’t anything like “those other schools.

Those people whose children attend public schools and those who work in local public schools know more about how the schools are run. They see the work that goes into them. They are the stakeholders. They realize that schools are not perfect – no human institution is – but they understand that schools are more than the sum of their parts.

  • children are more than test scores
  • teachers are more than their students’ test scores
  • local schools are more than state grades

But, thanks to politicians, pundits, and policy makers, that understanding doesn’t seem to extend to the public schools of the nation, as a whole.

WHO TO BELIEVE

My own local schools, for example, are excellent. I know this is true because my children and grandchildren have attended them…and I have worked in them. I know the teachers, administrators, families, and children. I know that the teachers who work there spend more than just their contracted working hours in order to make the schools responsive to the needs of the children who attend them.

But you might live on the other side of the county (or state, or country)…and you might see that my local schools are not perfect. Sure, this school in the district received a grade of A from the state, and that one got a B, but there’s one on the other side of the district which got an F…and one with a D [and you might also notice that the school grades correspond to the neighborhood economic status!]. There are students who struggle, teachers and administrators who fail in their responsibilities, and administrators who have been out of the classroom too long. You might see my local schools’ A-F grades and conclude that, at least some of them, are failures.

If these were your local schools, what criteria would you use to determine their quality? Would you listen to the parents and teachers who know what goes on in the school? Or would you rely on the test scores and state A-F grades?

How do we really know how the nation’s schools are performing? Are student test scores the most reliable criterion upon which to judge a school?

 

Further Reading:

For a good discussion of the political perceptions in the Education Week Survey, see Curmudgucation’s The Teacher in the Next Room

Are America’s public schools “failing?” – The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools, Part 2

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Posted in Children'sLiterature, Public Ed, Quotes, Racism, research, SchoolFunding, Teaching Career

Listen to This #16

THE FUTURE

The United States seems to be going out of its way to damage public education and discourage public school teachers. We ignore the voices of educators and ignore current educational research (much of which is done in the U.S.) used by high achieving nations. Instead we listen to edupreneurs interested in profit, politicians looking for kickbacks, and policy makers who don’t know anything about teaching, public schools, or public education.

We create “failing schools” by defining success using narrow, standardized test-based results and force teachers to teach in ways they know are developmentally or academically inappropriate. In addition we ignore out of school factors that lead to lowered student standardized test-based achievement.

Finally, we create educational models which discourage young people from choosing education as a career and push out current career teachers. We use “failing schools” as an excuse to blame teachers, bust unions, and privatize. Meanwhile, the needs of our most vulnerable students are being neglected.

From Carl Sagan in 1989.

…we have permitted the amount of poverty in children to increase. Before the end of this century more than half the kids in America may be below the poverty line.

What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them. This is stupid.

DISCOURAGING TEACHERS

How America Is Breaking Public Education

From Ethan Siegel, Forbes

…despite knowing what a spectacular teacher looks like, the educational models we have in place actively discourage every one of these.

TEACHING IS MORE THAN FACT TRANSFER

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Still Cannot Really Be Measured

This is true for teachers everywhere…

From Stu Egan

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

WALK A MILE IN OUR SHOES

The Educational Malpractice of Ms. Moskowitz

tl;dr: Before you tell teachers what and how to teach, do it yourself. Then, after you’ve taught for a lifetime, let us know how you feel about someone who has never spent a day in a classroom calling you “stupid” and “lazy.”

This is a long quote, but well worth it…and click the link above to read the whole article.

From Mitchell Robinson on Eclectablog

I am beyond tired—beyond exhausted, really—of persons who have never taught anyone anything lecturing the rest of us who have about what we are doing wrong, how stupid we are, how lazy we are, and how they know better than we do when it comes to everything about teaching and learning. How about this, Eva and Elizabeth?–instead of pontificating about things you are equally arrogant and ignorant of, why don’t you each go back to school, get an education degree, or two, or three, get certified, do an internship (for free–in fact, pay a bunch of money to do so), or two, or three, then see if you can find a job in a school. Then, teach.I don’t care what you teach; what grade level; what subject. But stick it out for at least a school year. Write your lesson plans. Grade your papers and projects. Go to all of those grade level meetings, and IEP meetings, and school board meetings, and budget negotiation meetings, and union meetings, and curriculum revision meetings, and curriculum re-revision meetings, and teacher evaluation meetings, and “special area” meetings, and state department of education meetings, and professional development in-services, and parent-teacher conferences, and open houses, and attend all those concerts, and football games, and dance recitals, and basketball games, and soccer matches, and lacrosse games, and honor band concerts, and school musicals, and tennis matches, and plays, and debates, and quiz bowl competitions, and marching band shows, and cheerleading competitions, and swim meets.

Then do it all 10, or 20, or 30 more times, and let me know how you feel about someone who never did ANY of these things, even for a “few lessons“, telling you how stupid, and lazy you are, and how you’re being a “defender of the status quo” if you’re not really excited to immediately implement their “radical, disruptive” ideas about how to “save public education.”

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION?

IN: Diminishing Education

The Indiana State Board of Education ignored the input of dozens of teachers and administrators. They didn’t ignore the input from the Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association by a vote of 7-4. All four of the “no” votes came from experienced educators.

Who do you think knows more about public education, educators or business people?

From Peter Greene

But to say that you cannot graduate until you prove that you can be a useful meat widget for a future employer– that idea represents a hollowing out of educational goals. Be a good citizen? Become a fine parent? Lifelong learning? Developing a deeper, better more well-rounded picture of who you can become as a person, while better understanding what it means to be human in the world? Screw that stuff, kid. Your future employer has the only question that matters– “What can you do for me, kid?”

Earning an Indiana high school diploma just became a lot more complicated

From NWI.com

The new requirements are strongly supported by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Manufacturers Association…

Teachers, principals and superintendents from across Indiana told the state school board during six hours of public testimony Wednesday that the rush to adopt graduation pathways before finalizing how they’ll work inevitably will result in another Indiana education fiasco, akin to extra-long standardized testing and the repeatedly revised school accountability grades.

WHY DON’T WE USE OUR OWN RESEARCH?

FreshEd #97 – Should we copy Finland’s education system? (Pasi Sahlberg)

This run-on quote by Finnish educator Past Sahlberg asks why high performing nations are using the newest research on education, much of it coming out of the United States…but we, in the U.S. are ignoring it and continuing our test and punish ways?

From Pasi Sahlberg

…why people are not really taking their own research seriously? How can it be that in the United States, day in and day out, people come across great books and research reports and others and they say, no, this is not how it goes, but when you cross the border, just north of the US, go to Canada, and you see how differently policy makers, politicians, and everybody takes the global international research nowadays, and they consider their findings and look at the findings of the research compared to their own practice and policies and their finding inconsistencies there just like in Finland, they are willing and able to change the course. But not in the US.

BUDGET CONSTRAINTS

Billionaires get handouts. My students don’t even get toilet paper.

Would you work at a place where the budget was so tight that you were allotted one roll of toilet paper a year?

Could you run your classroom on one roll of toilet paper per school year? How can a “civilized” society treat any of its citizens in this manner? How can we treat our children like this?

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela.

From Katherine Brezler, a second-grade teacher in The Bronx and a candidate for New York State Senate in the 37th District.

While billionaires get a handout, my students — and students across the country — get one roll of toilet paper. Every year that I’ve been a teacher, that roll is gone well before the year is over. Simple hygienic necessities should not be subject to budget constraints. Our teachers and students deserve dignity and respect.

FACING RACISM

Looking Back: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I’ve been saving this quote. It contains material which has been difficult for me to confront. The Looking Back article, from the blog, Reading While White, deals with the children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, its racist content, and the racism of its author, Roald Dahl.

There is no denying that Roald Dahl was a racist and anti-semite and those prejudices leaked into his work. [See here, here, and here.] I accept that.

I accept the fact that Dahl and his agents attempted to purge the book of its more blatant expressions of racism by rewriting the Oompa Loompas as non-black and non-African pygmies in the second and later editions, as well as the movies based on the book. I also accept that those rewrites did not completely remove all offensive elements from the book.

The quote below deals with how to come to terms with a beloved book, and I do love this book, which is so obviously flawed. The author wonders if her love of the book was not based on the actual book, but on the circumstances of her exposure: a favorite teacher and a highly motivating environment and study of the book.

What if, she asks, we had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory critically?

[Full disclosure: My son, a children’s librarian in the Midwest, is one of the authors of the Reading While White blog, though he did not write this particular post.]

From Elisa Gall in Reading While White

…every time that critical voice or bubble of discomfort arose, I chose not to pay attention to it. It was selective memory, because I did not want to let this book go. I have to call that what it really is: White fragility (and other kinds of fragility, considering the myriad ways this book is problematic). I can’t help but wonder now if my love for this book wasn’t caused by Dahl’s craft at all, but by the joy of remembering reading the book all by myself, or the kickass teacher who made her class immersive and fun (let’s not forget the bathtub). Still, it’s worth noting that criticisms of this book are not new. As long as there have been children’s books, there have been people working against racism in children’s books. My teacher was awesome in a lot of ways, but she did put time and effort into a celebration of THAT title. What if we had read something else? Or what if we had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory critically?

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