New School, Perhaps the Same Old Problems

At some point my granddaughter is going to meet with her sons teachers and she won’t get to ask a lot of questions, but if I had one question to ask to each one it would be this: “Do you have a degree in the subject you are teaching?”

It is really a Yes/No answer. If it gets a lot of discussion, the you know the answer is “No.”

A degree in the subject matter is single most important preparation a teacher can have. (A Degree in “Education” is the most worthless degree on a college campus.)

If I could ask the Principal one question, it would be: “Did you have a completely free hand in selecting teachers, or were union-rules based on seniority part of the equation?”

Once again, this is a simple question that can be answered in one sentence. If you get a discussion you know the answer — the Principal had to select not the best, but those with the most seniority.

Teachers usually get to have first choice on a new school based on seniority, but that means that young teachers who may well be better don’t get the plum jobs, and a new Magnet school is a plum job.

The system is called “post and bid” — which means the openings in the district are posted and the teachers “bid” — based on seniority.

It is the same system used by Stewardesses on airlines, and why the Hawaii flights are called “Hag Flights” — the Stews are all 50 or even 60 years old! If you want young eye candy, take Singapore or Korean Airlines.

In the teaching profession, competence is key and that is not a component of seniority.

This new school is a Magnet School, not a Charter school. Both are public schools but Magnet schools are more subject to union rules.

Needless to say, parents are so busy with their day -to-day life they don’t know enough about the Education Industry to even as the right questions. Here is what we know: There are about 330,000 teachers in California, and firing bad ones can take five years even if the teacher is charged with molestation — much less simple incompetence.

Simple Law of Averages says that in a population of 330,000, some percentage will go stark-raving mad, not to mention the number that will simply be incompetent. In the past 10 years, with a population of 330,000, fewer than 100 have been fired. The rest have been entered into he “Dance of the Lemons,” where incompetence is simply transferred from school to school.

In a system like this, the Law of Entropy takes over, and the system grinds to a halt — as bad teachers remain their total number grows, and the good teachers quit because the atmosphere become intolerable.

We are there. California stands 47th overall when measured by the US Department of Education in combined math, science, writing and reading.

As a graduate scientist and engineer, with 14 years and 6,000 classroom hours teaching computer science at the undergraduate and graduate university level, I will track my great-grandson’s progress.  (Core Adjunct Professor of Computer Science.)

I could be the schools worst nightmare if the school falters.

Unions Simply Don’r Want Teacher Evaluations

Personally I don’t care about the methodology of teacher evaluation — process is not important as performance, and so long as the bottom 10% are fired each year the process is not particularly important. I have the distinct impression from Mr. Freeman that NO evaluation methodology will ever get his acceptance.

The US Military has developed as good a method as any, and it produces the best military in the world. Teachers like to think that, like the children of Lake Woebegone, they are all above average — but the SEALS flunk out many, as do Annapolis and West Point, and the Astronaut Corps. Alone among those who believe themselves above average, teachers think they are so unique that their performance cannot be judged.

Can you imagine more than 3,500,000 K-12 teachers, more than twice the combined population of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, and every one of the 3,500,000 teachers is so perfect that their performance cannot be judged?

No, I don’t believe that either. Mr. Freeman writes; ” There are many factors within and outside of the school walls that impact student learning. ” I remember the first time I saw the Obstacle Course at the Naval Academy, and can only imagine my exclaiming “but, some of us are non-athletes, some from urban schools, some are scholars…there are many factors outside these walls…”

The Marine Captain would have simply said, “Everyone must complete the course in the designated time. Do it, or go home.”

Set the performance standards, reward the top 10% and fire the bottom 10%. Personally, I would let administration rank all teachers on a ladder, and weight their ranking 50%: let their peers rank other peers, and let that count 40%. Students ranking counts 10%. EVERYONE knows the good and bad teachers, even the janitorial staff and the parents.

This is not rocket science, Those that say it is complicated simply want to delay teacher evaluation.

Common Core

What are we to make of Common Core Curriculum?

I’m writing this editorial piece with the caveat that I am drawn late to this question, although it is certainly a hot topic of conversation in the Poway Unified School District.

California education problems are enormous. The most pressing is the collapse of the previously vaunted K-12 program to the point where it ranks 47th among states over the past decade, in testing by the U.S. Department of Education. In the most recent test, California ranked only above the state of Mississippi in science.

This is unreported by a fawning press which rides on both the popular belief that all California school children are residents of Lake Woebegone – where all children are above average – and fear of the power of a well-funded and huge teacher union that even managed to silence the Los Angeles Times.

(After publishing the names and evaluations of thousands of Los Angeles teachers, the Times promised the publishing of thousands more. A noisy demonstration and threatened boycott resulted in the promised future publication being cancelled. The protruding nail was hammered down.)

Everyone wishes to improve the education of our students. The question remains, “how?”

Opposition to the Common Core Curriculum abounds because there is no appreciation of the severity of the problem on the part of the media and the school industry, and because there is a natural objection to federalizing the solution when history and law have determined that schooling should be a state issue.

Opponents of the proposed Common Core Curriculum make a number of points, including:

“California’s locally developed academic standards have been judged at least as good as, if not significantly better than, the Common Core standards by one of the strongest advocates for the Common Core: the Fordham Institute.

“In English language arts, Fordham awarded the California standards an ‘A’ while the Common Core received only a grade of ‘B+.’ Similarly, in mathematics, Fordham gave California’s standards an ‘A,’ while the Common Core received a score of ‘A-.’ Other national organizations have also judged California’s standards to be among the very best.”

If this is true, how do you explain that when tested by the U.S. Department of Education, California ranks 47th (on average) among states, and in science ranks ONLY above Mississippi?

Without delving into the complaints and cross-complaints, I admit that my initial reaction is to support SOME Common Core Curriculum. California students do not just attend California schools – some go to Duke, or Northwestern. There is a great body of common knowledge that they must know. I remember when I went through MANY tests for Annapolis I discovered that certain questions were on every exam: The Quadratic Equation, and “Who wrote, ‘A rose, is a rose, is a rose…’” (Gertrude Stein).

I would be happier if the “common core” was developed and pushed by a consortium of universities. I understand that my fellow libertarian/conservatives want Washington’s fingers out of the pie, and so do I, but I must admit that the ONLY successful forces pushing school reform these days are liberal Democrats, because, like Nixon to China, only they can.

Teachers on the Right Side of an Issue

It is always surprising to see teachers protesting something that is harmful to kids education, instead of just complaining about money and benefits.

It is almost unique, but Los Angeles teachers are protesting in class breakfast programs for children, saying that the program takes 30 minutes of classroom education time, daily.

Now cynics might say that it is the cleanup after the meal that they are protesting, but give them their due because the teachers are right. The teachers say that cumulatively it cuts eight days of education time each year. That is education time that California students can ill afford to lose.

Personally, I wonder where all the food stamp money is going if the parents of those children can’t (or won’t) fix them a bowl of cereal with fruit on it?

Education Changes

As I discovered when I was tasked by the Dean to teach Windows to my fellow professors (who were steeped for many years with DOS), even Computer Science types want to be Professors of Medieval Literature so they can teach their graduate notes forever –after all, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is NEVER going to change.

Like ministers who just rotate their existing sermons, many teachers never change. Now admittedly, the Quadratic Equation doesn’t change — which is a good reason to just replay a segment of Khan’s description because few teachers can do better, and most do worse.

There has never been a greater chasm between schooling and education. It has never been more obvious that one does not need schooling to have an education because education, once available either in school or at the local library, is now available online free.

At a a time when education is easily available free and online, schooling is less interested in education preferring to emphasize sports, social interests and topics like sex education and social issues.

California Students Rank With Spain, Below Estonia

Qualitatively, according to a Stanford University study (http://hanushek.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Peterson%2BWoessmann%2BHanushek%2BLastra%202011%20EdNext%2011%284%29.pdf), California students look BAD.

The California students in Math ranking is summed up as: “Some of the countrys largest and richest states score below the average for the United States as a whole, including New York (30 percent), Missouri (30 percent), Michigan (29 percent), Florida (27 percent), and California (24 percent.” The math rankings in the abridged on-line report do not even show California, so it is ranked below Estonia, Poland, and Kentucky.

In math, this gives you an idea: “The District of Columbia, the nations worst, are at the level achieved in Turkey and Bulgaria, while the one-eighth of our students living in California are similar to those in Slovakia and Spain.”

The study, which I strongly commend to anyone interested in California public schools, examined the Class of 2011 nationally, and using International data from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), the international standard, places US state rankings on the international scale.

Latinos suffer even worse in California schools, and they rank no better than students in Mexico and about equal to Kazakhstan.

California “education” looks bad. Really, really BAD.

Looking Behind The Curtain

The Washington Post Editorial Board printed a scorching article about the belated firing of a Maryland teacher whose conduct with young boys had been the subject of letters of reprimand, and transfers from school to school for decades.

Three Principals, and two Superintendents had criticized his relationships with young boys, and finally when he was fired, an Administrative Law Judge ruled that ““The evidence is overwhelming,”  and that the teacher had “engaged in a pattern of conduct over many years which was reckless, brazen, unjustified and, most importantly, of grave potential harm to his students.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-teachers-dismissal/2012/09/29/ab272186-09b6-11e2-a10c-fa5a255a9258_story.html?tid=wp_ipad
Schools for years had simply transferred him in the famous, “Dance of the Lemons” until it was so bad that all of the paperwork simply became overwhelming. The problems go all the way back to a 1995 police investigation.
The teacher claims that this is all in retaliation for his work as a union representative, and the teacher had always been graded an “effective” teacher – but it seems that disciplinary records are not kept at the same place as personnel records, so in many cases the new school only had his personnel records with no idea of his continuing disciplinary activity.
That was the case as well in the much publicized Los Angeles problems. It appears that the problems in the Catholic Church are mirrored in public education.