Archive for February, 2016

Complicated Calculus for Kankakee, IL Legislator Kate Cloonen

February 29, 2016 Comments off

In a letter to the editor in the Herald News, a daily serving central Illinois, Kankakee legislator Kate Cloonen advocates against a State takeover of Chicago schools for fear that her community and other downstate communities will be on the hook for the bailout of their schools. Ms. Cloonen’s position on this issue is indicative of the kinds of complicated calculus that is coming to the fore as a result of the over-promising of elected officials at the bargaining tables in years past combined with the unwillingness of taxpayers to face the true costs of providing government services. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where gridlock might occur at the state level whereby legislators from hard-pressed urban areas decide to withhold funding to address costly issues like flood prevention in Kankakee in order to save taxpayers money… but that defies the spirit of community that undergirds democracy.

I share Ms. Cloonen’s concern for a State takeover. My concern is that Governor Rauner’s solution for Chicago will be to declare bankruptcy, withhold pensions of teachers, custodians, and other hard-working and low paid staff members, pay off bond holders, and close down the costly public schools with their legacy costs and replace them with privatized for-profit schools bankrolled by his donors.

State legislatures are responsible for providing a high quality education to every child in their state and when they allocate funds to school districts they have every right to ensure that they are spent wisely. The fiscal crisis in Chicago is not only the result of mismanagement and profligacy at the local level, the State bears responsibility as well. The state needs to accept its share of responsibility, pay its share to bail out the schools, and determine how it will oversee the fiscal management of schools more effectively going forward. Ducking the responsibility at this point could feed gridlock and harm the children in Chicago.

“The Myth of a Hero Teacher” Promotes Blame of ALL Teachers, Avoidance of REAL Problem: Poverty

February 28, 2016 Comments off

I just read “The Myth of the Hero Teacher“, the NYTImes article by John Leland that is a de facto book review of Ed Boland’s new memoir, “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School.” As I’ve written in previous posts, I began my career as a junior high school mathematics teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. One of the lowest performing schools in the city, Shaw was plagued with tensions that resulted from ongoing gang violence in the city in the early 1970s and by overcrowding that led to housing over 3000 students in a split shift plan in a school designed for 1200. In my initial year I floated into over 20 “classrooms” that included a cafeteria, adaptive PE space, a dilapidated science lab where I taught reading after receiving a crash course in the first few weeks of school, and rooms on all three floors of the school. In short, I know the world Mr. Boland inhabited during his first year— and envy him for having only ONE room to fight battles in!

The article describes Mr. Boland’s lack of training in classroom management as the primary problem he faced:

“Of all the hours I was at graduate school, I don’t think there was all together an hour devoted to classroom management,” he said. “We were developing beautifully crafted lesson plans that no one could use. I was learning esoteric phrases about test design. I spent two semesters doing a research project. I just wish somebody told me how to get a cellphone out of a kid’s hand.

My colleagues and I shared the same lament 45 years ago in the faculty room at Shaw Junior High School and I recall having a similar conversation with a colleague in the mid-1990s when we were discussing the need to expand our alternative education program. Like Mr. Boland, I struggled mightily in my first year… but unlike him I got on top of things after Christmas because I had some experience in “managing” students because I worked as a per diem substitute in my senior year in college in Philadelphia schools and because I had an early conference with an Assistant Principal who coached me on the need to set my priorities on classroom management first and the advice from several colleagues who coached me on the use of the overhead projector that enabled me to post work on the blackboard without turning my back on the class.

The ultimate solution advocated in the article, some kind of residency program, would be ideal. Even better would be early intervention to introduce children raised in poverty with the skills needed to engage in learning in the classroom. These ideas, like all of the ideas dealing with educating children raised in poverty, require money… and funding for schools in poor neighborhoods and communities is being slashed. Until we are willing to provide more funds to educate the kinds of students described in this article, the vicious cycle of poverty will continue.

Is Pennsylvania the Future of Public Education? Too Many Legislators Hope So!

February 27, 2016 Comments off

Among Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday was one including a link to a Pittsburg Post Gazette article describing the PA Department of Education’s latest memorandum to school districts which offers them guidance on how to close schools when they run out of money. This guidance is needed because of an ongoing budget deadlock between the Governor and the legislature: the Governor was elected by taxpayers who were distressed over the fiscal mismanagement of his predecessor who left behind a operating deficit that can only be closed with higher taxes… which was NOT the solution the voters or the legislature had in mind. The result?

…many districts are facing difficult decisions about how to pay their bills. A survey earlier this month by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association found that 63 percent of the 195 responding districts will not make it through the year without borrowing funds.

And what kind of guidance is the State Department offering to beleaguered school administrators and school boards?

The memo advises officials to develop plans to educate students in grades K-12, to review collective bargaining agreements and to plan how to pay debt service, among other recommendations.

There’s the solution! Go after those fat contracts that result in greedy teachers getting middle class wages, health benefits, and (gasp) pensions! And whatever you do, make sure you pay your debt service to the banks and pay the interest on the money you are borrowing to keep your schools afloat during this crisis.

As yesterday’s blog post indicates, PA is likely a canary in the coal mine when it comes to funding as states trim school funding and turn to for profit charters who pay at-will employees ever decreasing wages. The fix for our economy is not strangling wages, for that strangles demand and, in turn, pushes down wages and eliminates jobs. Maybe someone will make this clear to voters in the coming election cycle… but it is a tough message to deliver because no one wants to hear it.