Archive for June, 2011

Healthy Schools-Look Again

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Congress is still quarreling over health care services, even though the bill, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was passed in March 2010.

Let’s review once again how health care reform will help schools.

Since 2010, Michelle Obama’s healthy eating and exercise campaign supports students. Such children have the stamina and perseverance to learn, a school reform goal to close the academic achievement gap for ‘at risk’ students.

It’s another fact that the entire school community–parents, school personnel with and without their own children, the next-door neighbors, city council members, and the governor– benefit from an improved health care system.

Until the arguments stop and care begins, what has happened?

At low-performing schools, the majority of students come from families where the parents work hard at low-paying jobs with minimal health coverage and high co-payments.  Or worse, the employer can’t afford to offer coverage. Parents are fearful of applying for Medicaid because of immigration complexities.

So, the student gets a cold, but he goes to school anyway because the parents can’t take time off to care for him.  He gives the cold to another student.  That child doesn’t go to the doctor because the parents can’t afford the co-pay.  Then the teacher gets the cold and uses sick days to recover.

Please don’t shrug and say ‘that’s life.’  The student can hardly hear or participate in lessons because his head is stuffed up.  The substitute does her best, but can’t teach the lesson as well as the regular teacher, who knows the students.  Days and days of learning are lost.

And that’s just a common cold.

In many low-performing schools, students go without glasses or hearing aids.  It’s easy to understand how those children have learning difficulties.

But what about teeth problems?  The parent doesn’t have coverage so nothing happens until the child comes to school with a swollen cheek and the part-time health aide makes an appointment with the county health clinic.  Then the parent must take off work for which she doesn’t get paid, and they sit for hours in the clinic waiting to see the dentist.  More school days missed.

Other obstacles stand in the path to good health. How many states with budget problems have cut back on community clinics?  In how many states is the public supporting health care and school reform, but unwilling to pay for it?

People say it costs too much.  I need the money.  I don’t have kids.  I’m as healthy as a horse, don’t even want insurance for myself much less those kids.

Suppose, then, the student’s father gets cancer.  The family’s bread winner can’t work, has huge medical bills, and loses his insurance.  The next-door neighbor, the city council member, and the governor end up paying higher premiums for their coverage as hospitals and medical groups shift the health care costs because of the father who can’t pay any longer.  Don’t forget the days the student can’t pay attention in class, worried over her father’s illness.  She stays home from school to care for her baby brother so the mother can go to the hospital.

What to do?

Once all the new health care legislation goes into effect, the school community should hope the dad with cancer gets health insurance with a medical/hospital group where the medical staff is paid for the quality of care they give, not for the number of services.  One sure way to lower health care costs for everyone.

The school community should hope the doctors will have all the dad’s records and send him quickly to the oncology department.  A traveling nurse will visit the family at home.  The children won’t miss school.

These sad stories weren’t made up to get sympathy.  These were actual situations at the school where I taught.

It’s why the entire country must get behind health care reform. Low-income families can get insurance and the regular guy won’t pay out for an unhealthy insurance model.

Finally, instead of coughs, ear infections, drowsiness, students will concentrate on becoming successful learners.

Reading and Politics

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

The children’s school year is over, but my schooling isn’t. I’ve enrolled in summer semester classes for my Master’s degree at San Jose State University. Have my eyes been opened by the Politics of Reading!

For instance, one essay talked about the ‘phonics’ controversy. Brinkley, E. and Weaver, C. (2005) “Phonics, literalism, and futuristic fiction: Religious fundamentalism and education policy,” L. Poynor and P. Wolfe (Eds.), Marketing Fear in America’s Public Schools. (pp. 93-98). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, Assoc.

Should that introductory reading tool be used only to teach young children to learn (decode) the symbols and sounds for a word? Should the strategies be used to teach the beginning reader to put sounds and symbols together (encode) to read new words? Sounds like a commonly understood principle.

Here comes the next step. After becoming adept at figuring out words and gaining a vocabulary, should the child be asked to analyze the meaning of a passage of text? The authors give examples of groups who only want children to learn the first two steps and then read the passage given to them, like the Bible, and memorize the message. No analysis. Take it as it says.

Now, one understands why some school boards fall right in line with the ‘phonics’ model for teaching the beginning reader. And many private and/or home schooling programs are certain that it is their duty to stand up for the model.

On the other hand, most school boards are far from the viewpoint described and want students to understand what the words mean, even when the words don’t match the philosophical or political view of a board member. Current testing demands that students get meaning from the text.

Another political stance that my uncle sent me online from City Journal “Teachers’ Unions Will Never Willingly Give Up Their Power, Says Terry Moe” by Marcus A. Winters. The ever-present controversy of teachers’ union political efforts! A perfect scenario for learning to get meaning from the text.

The writer is reviewing a book on the special interest aspect of teachers’ union activities: Immune to Reform: Special Interest: Teachers Union and America’s Public Schools, Terry M. Moe (Brookings Institution Press).

First, a good reader finds out about the authors, in this case both of the review and the book. The book’s author is described as a Stanford University political scientist, but he is also a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, one of the most conservative think tanks in the country. A flag is waved! The book reviewer teaches at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, one of the most conservative political areas in the country. Another eye-catcher.

A good reader gathers his/her background knowledge about the topic. The opening paragraph talks about the film “Waiting for Superman.” The reviewer then launches an outburst about teachers’ unions as if they were the focus of the film. They were not. He infers positions that are not part of the film-for instance, that teachers unions explain why children of poverty are left in poor schools.

More background knowledge: I had read a news article online in Edweek about the conference the reviewer attended last fall. That article never pooh-poohed the meeting of superintendents and teachers union heads. It explained some of the unresolved issues, but most were being resolved. I couldn’t understand the reviewer’s analysis except he was adding on examples to support the book’s position that unions are bad for the public school system.

A good reader asks questions of the text. How are the reviewer and author so certain that teachers’ unions have caused the difficulties of the public schools? Oh yes, it’s the dues members contribute that provide support for national political positions.

But put it this way–I am happy with the activities of my local union. They stand behind teachers who have received pink slips. They have negotiated so the furlough days and rescinded pay is fair. What does the reviewer read daily? He would see that a number of the issues (tenure, evaluation, compensation) are union policies that are changing as I write. Things do change while manuscripts sit around waiting to be printed! The author of the book should be writing an addendum about the changes in the past two years in guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education.

A good reader thinks about the ideas to take away from the text. Well, the review seems to be written for the conservative teachers’ union-hating educators who want vouchers and charter schools to take over, no more politics and no more policy set by the financial abilities of unions. But who is going to stand up for the teachers? Since I did not yet read the book, does the author explain why teachers unions became a force to be reckoned with?

Colorado’s Evaluation-Compensation Pilot Proposal

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

The state of Colorado has embarked on an ambitious principal and teacher evaluation program that may change how teachers are compensated, retained, and dismissed.

Based on Colorado’s SB10-191 law, the Colorado Department of Education is creating evaluation criteria for principals and teachers that school districts will use by 2013.

The first pilot of principal evaluation will occur in 2011-12 in selected school districts.  The major evaluation categories include:

I: Principals demonstrate strategic leadership

II: Principals demonstrate instructional leadership

III: Principals demonstrate school culture and equity leadership

IV: Principals demonstrate human resource leadership

V: Principals demonstrate managerial leadership

VI: Principals demonstrate external development leadership

VII: Principals demonstrate leadership around student growth

A pilot of teacher evaluation will begin in 2012-13.  The major evaluation categories include:

I: Teachers demonstrate knowledge of the content they teach

II: Teachers establish a respectful learning environment for a diverse population of students

III: Teachers facilitate learning for their students

IV: Teachers reflect on their practice

V: Teachers demonstrate leadership

VI: Teachers take responsibility for student growth

The complete program, with evaluation revisions, will roll out in 2013-14.

Annual performance evaluation is a feature of employment in the private sector.  In many instances, compensation relates to the assessment.  A number of school districts, including the state’s largest, Jefferson County Schools, will base compensation on annual evaluation.

Jefferson County School District will use its bargaining relationship with its Associations to put together its evaluation-compensation program.  Due to huge budget cuts, the District engaged in a “Summit” in March, 2011, to find $40 million in cuts.  All Associations came together to identify where fees would rise, staffing trims would take place, and programs would end.  The outcome resulted in a 93 percent approval vote by Associations in support of their contracts, despite an across the board 3 percent salary reduction.

A task force from the Summit will recommend a strategic compensation program that may involve two salary platforms: one for current teachers and one for new teachers.

The new teacher program is likely to remove traditional annual step raises and level lifts.  Tuition assistance will replace levels and compensation based on performance will replace steps.

The new compensation system will create a capacity to increase income based on overall performance and incentives based on specific achievement targets or goals.  As an example, steps based on years may be replaced by steps based on “two consecutive years of meeting performance expectations.”  Incentive pay may occur for achieving specific targets, such as “all students score proficient or above on 3rd grade math assessment.”

Much of this work requires refinement and experimentation.  Currently the District is implementing a $37 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant to determine whether incentive pay can substantially improve student academic performance in Title 1 schools.  Results of this study will affect the design of the District’s compensation and evaluation program.

Districts are beginning to incorporate some business practices from the private sector.  What’s unknown at this point is whether private sector practices, even well-tested best practices, will transfer to the public education environment.

School Buses Go to the District Yard

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

A favorite San Francisco Chronicle article for the end of the school year celebrates “Forty years of magic on school bus” by Jill Tucker, May 30, 2011. Barbara Donovan drove her first bus route in 1971, time of the initial California desegregation efforts to provide equity to children from low-income neighborhoods by busing them to higher-income schools–a complicated effort in most large California cities. A long time reliable driver, she’s the kind who provides safety and comfort to all kinds of kids.

Routes have changed and languages spoken by little ones have changed as demographics transform in San Francisco. Until 2002, official end of state desegregation efforts, she drove large school buses, symbols of public school transportation the country over. Since then she’s serviced special education students in small buses. Next year, as fears for further California budget reductions hover over every dollar the district itemizes, bus routes are being consolidated.

In well-to-do suburbs, big buses have been long gone and parents in SUV’s roam the streets to drop children off and pick them up. Slashing transportation budget lines is easy enough in those districts, but what about low-income communities?

Larry N. Gersten from San Jose State University laments the problem he sees in the possible legislative failure to fund school budgets. The latest figures show that California spends $7000 per student, 48th of 50 states, $3000 below the national average, not including the foreseeable cuts if the state doesn’t come up with a balanced budget. His concern is that people have stopped caring-the wealthy who can raise their voices send their kids to private schools and lower-income families are left to walk to a public school, if it hasn’t been closed. See “Public is bailing on schools,” San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, May 26, 2011.

Tell us, how will the achievement gap be closed with that prognosis?

In three recent Edweek articles, the authors throw up their hands about the fuss over testing, evaluation, and thrashing teachers and teachers unions. Justin Bauder’s position is that teachers use all that’s available to help weak students, but are squeezed harder each year with the latest plan to hold them accountable, while not listening to what a teacher knows. “Breaking the Orthodoxy About the Achievement Gap,” May 30, 2011

One of Anthony Cody’s main points is that it takes time to become a good teacher. He wonders at the constant interest in Teach for America, and example of coaxing graduates from revered colleges to teach for two years as if two years is going to make all the difference in the achievement gap. “Education Policy Should Honor the Obvious,” May 30, 2011

And Walt Gardner’s issue is that the constant uproar over tests and evaluation is driven by advocacy groups, not evidence of success or failure in improving student achievement which is the purpose of data analysis. He is not kind to “venture philanthropists” who look at the problem as needing corporate reform. Privatize, deregulate, and provide competition-those actions will make schools work? “The Octopuses in School Reform,” May 23, 2011

Bauder wants legislatures to ensure that “fighting poverty must move to the center of our agenda.”

Don’t rely on Teach Plus, a Gates Foundation project to reform public education. Cody advocates that teacher activists register to attend the Save Our Schools conference, July 28-29 and rally in Washington, D. C. July 30, 2011.

For the detailed perspectives of these teachers, see articles online in Edweek, May 31, 2011. For successful ways that the school adults can discuss these issues see takecareschools.com.