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Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Boosting Teachers Wages to Six Figures Makes an Eye-Catching Headline… But Doing So Would Show that Working Conditions Matter Even More

May 29, 2021 Comments off

The eye-catching headline in yesterday’s NYTimes op ed piece by Colette Coleman read “In a Post-Covid World, Let’s Pay Teachers Six Figures“… and Ms. Coleman does an admirable job of making the case for such a pay boost. Using then Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ pledge to boost every teachers’ salary by $13,500 at a Texas Southern campaign rally as a springboard, Ms. Coleman makes a reasonably compelling case for an even MORE substantial pay increase. But Ms. Coleman is well aware of the reality that money alone will not matter:

…My dissatisfaction and that of many other former teachers extended beyond compensation. Attracting and retaining highly qualified educators will also require, for instance, improvements in working conditions. Meaningful raises are a strong start, though…

In my 29 years as a school superintendent, I worked in districts that paid teachers in the lower quartile, districts that paid teachers in the upper quartile, and concluded my career in an interstate district comprised of two districts that were among the highest in the state. Here’s what I learned from that experience:

  • Some teachers, including some of the very best I witnessed, were place bound. In some cases they worked in towns they grew up in and in others they worked in communities who valued them. These teachers were not motivated by compensation and they had no thought of leaving for more pay under any circumstances. Their soul-level connection with their schools was not for sale.
  • I can think of only a handful of teachers who left a tenured position based solely on salary.
  • I can attest to the fact that scores of teachers sought jobs in “prestige” districts with high base pay based on their sense of community support for schools in those districts, their desire to teach high-performing students, and, most importantly, their desire to work with a faculty who values continuous improvement.
  • I can also attest to the fact that districts with limited resources cannot contemplate offering professional development opportunities or a wide array of clubs or elective opportunities when they are putting their budgets together. This lack of resources leads to a vicious circle of teacher discouragement. When budgets are fought over year-after-year teachers are constantly fearful that their jobs are in jeopardy, their poor working environment will be even worse in the future, and any thoughts of professional growth funded by the local district are impossible to conceive. This was driven home to me when I left a relatively affluent New England community for a middle-tier district in Maryland. In the affluent community that had 3600 students sabbatical leaves were part of the community culture and, therefore, multiple sabbatical leaves were part of the collective bargaining agreement and built into the budget. They were, in effect, a “given”. By the end of their teaching careers virtually any teacher in that district who sought a sabbatical had received one. The district in Maryland serving 19,000 students, on the other hand, had language for a single sabbatical that would be issued in accordance with a procedure devised by the board— a procedure that was opaque and complicated. Many teachers in that district retired without ever crossing paths with ANYONE who had received a sabbatical. It is no surprise that the ethos of professional development was different in those two districts and the conversations in faculty rooms was also different.

The things that teachers value more than wages often cannot be bought and are often not even brought to the forefront in conversations about teaching as a profession. But here’s a way Kamala Harris and Joe Biden could leverage tremendous change in the working conditions for teachers: instead of providing $13,500 per year in wages for teachers, provide each district with $1,000 per staff member for professional development and invite the school board, teachers representatives, and administrators determine how to use those funds to support improved instruction in the classroom. It’s a cheaper solution than increasing wages but I believe it will leverage more change than an across the board raise…. and it will compel boards, teachers, and administrators to focus on a positive topic. That is unless the teachers believe that seminars on Critical Race Theory would benefit them the most.

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Reason’s Un-Reasonable Reading of California’s Proposed Change to K-12 Math Curriculum

May 14, 2021 Comments off

Reason, the daily online mouthpiece for libertarianism, often uses unreasonable thinking and misleading headlines to reinforce it’s basic message that government’s overreach their mission. the article on a May 4 post is a case in point. It reads: “In the Name of Equity, California Will Discourage Students Who Are Gifted at Math“. The headline insinuates that changes in the curriculum will actively discourage “Students Who Are Gifted an Math”. The article, though, tells a different story. What the PROPOSED K-12 curriculum advocates is the de-tracking of all K-8 students and a re-thinking of the need for calculus, and a rethinking of the “learning faster is learning better” syndrome that dominates the thinking of too many parents, teachers, and Board members.

The educational argument against each of these is based on research, which one would think a magazine called “Reason” would embrace. But when research findings collide with the traditional and groundless “merit-based-on-test-scores” paradigm and the “learning-faster-is-better” paradigm of accelerated learning tradition wins out… especially if the traditional paradigm rewarded the writers and readers of a magazine. And the need to sort and select, which is the root of Reason’s anti-equity thinking, is unnecessary to achieve the goal of offering choices to students, as described in this paragraph:

The essence of good schooling is choice. Individual kids benefit from a wide range of possible educational options. Permitting them to diversify, specialize, and chart their own paths—with helpful input from the adults in their lives—is the course of action that recognizes vast differences in interest and ability. Holding back kids who are gifted at math isn’t equitable: On the contrary, it’s extremely unfair to everyone.

Arguing that equity is crucial does not argue that choice, “the essence of good schooling”, is bad. Those writing a state wide curriculum need to make certain that the message schools are sending to students in not a message that inferiority and superiority are based on the rate of speed that someone moves through a curriculum. If a middle school student loves math, there are many choices that could be offered beyond accelerating through the traditional hierarchical framework. If Reason sees CHOICE as the “essence of good schooling”: it’s critique should be based on offering an enriched set of choices in mathematics in grades K-8 instead of fixating on the inability of “gifted” students to accelerate.

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YouTube’s Radicalization of an 80-Year Old Posed Ethical Question for One of his Children… a Microcosm of an Issue that Our Nation Faces

April 21, 2021 1 comment

The NYTimes column on ethics offered this dilemma for the consideration of Kwame Anthony Appiah: 

For nearly his entire life, my 80-something-year-old father has been a quiet, gentle and deeply religious man who went to Mass and said the rosary daily. Although his political views have always been conservative, he has also always believed in kindness and fairness. Since the start of the pandemic, his social interactions have become severely reduced, limited to daily calls from me (I live across the country), weekly visits from my brother and the occasional shopping trips and church attendance. As our mother passed away before the pandemic, his one loyal companion has been his iPad and YouTube. Because of his viewing of religious programs, YouTube has increasingly steered him toward conservative media, so that he is now obsessed with right-wing extremist politics and is absolutely against taking the Covid vaccine. Every time my brother or I have a conversation with him, he talks politics and pushes his views, and even after we asked him to stop, he tries to get the last word in by sending us angry emails or texts. Now both of us try to avoid having any interactions with him. I have the password to his YouTube account from a year ago when I helped him with a tech problem. In order to preserve our relationship, I’m thinking about going into his account to delete and pause his viewing history, and perhaps put in some links to more wholesome entertainment such as music and soccer to counter the constant bombardment of extremism. My justification is that if he is being brainwashed by an algorithm, then I might as well use the algorithm to steer him back to his old self so that we can at least have a normal conversation. What is your view on this?

Mr. Appiah’s recommendation was to confront his father on this issue and offer him this ultimatum: “He either stops talking about this stuff with you, or you’ll stop spending so much time with him.”

But as readers of this blog realize, this ethical dilemma is one that faces our country as a whole and the legislators who are trying to craft bills that stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation. While Mr. Appiah’s advice might be helpful in the individual circumstance where withholding a relationship contingent on refraining from sharing political perspective, writ large it would only contribute to the divisiveness our nation is experiencing. The advice seeker’s father, after all, COULD find another place to share his political perspectives and in the sharing of those perspectives he would find solace for his predicament and, in all likelihood, advice to just give up on his children completely. The radicals who spew the information would likely see the conduct of the 80-year old’s children as evidence that they are grossly misinformed themselves! 

The real problem going forward it twofold: convincing those who have entered the many rabbit holes of disinformation that they are on the wrong path and sealing the entryway to those rabbit holes for the future.

I have FaceBook friends in my age bracket who believe that God set Donald Trump to free America from the heathen grip of “woke” leftists, others who are convinced that mask mandates are a conspiracy by those who want to take away our freedom, and still others who are convinced that Bernie Sanders was robbed by a neoliberal plutocrats within the DNC who wanted the Progressives marginalized at all costs. The one thing all of these friends have in common is a deep and abiding mistrust in the “mainstream media”, a shared belief that is troubling for anyone like me who believes that we need a common narrative in order to retain any semblance of democracy. It is also problematic if we hope to disabuse these true believers of the often contradictory “facts” they believe in order to maintain their belief systems because any discrepant ideas that fall outside their echo chambers are rejected as apostasy. 

More concerning are the younger generations who have been drawn into YouTube and Facebook rabbit holes. Young snd idealistic, they are drawn into conspiracy theories that, like those of my generation, have only one common thread: the mass media is bad! They believe the media is bad because it is a tool of the capitalist consumer culture, controlled by the “leftists” or the dark money Koch-Brothers-crowd, or— yes—a cabal of child pornographers. As a result I find myself explaining to my 12-year old Grandson that the Q-channel newsfeeds he is getting are unreliable and fanciful even though they are far more engaging than the real news the mainstream media provides via the Apple feed.

Schools find themselves inexorably drawn into this argument thanks to legislation like HB 544 in NH, drafted using the same language Donald Trump used in an Executive Order he issued in his waning months in office. From the perspective of the legislature, we should let 12-year olds decide the truth instead of giving teachers the opportunity to present media literacy courses that might include topics like race, gender, and religion. Unless schools are free to offer instruction, the entertaining Q-feeds will be mistaken for REAL news and we will have a generation of know-nothings graduating from our schools. Democracy depends on balance…. and balance depends on a common narrative that is somewhere between left and right….