Snyder implements bad approach to education reform

By: Dave Palmer

Friday the 13th has always been associated with strange, and sometimes eerie things happening. Heck, there was an entire series of movies dedicated to that idea. As it turns out, this Friday the 13th is no different, according to an article on Governor Snyder’s most recent attempt at school reform in the Detroit Free Press.

According to the article, Snyder has signed an executive order “transferring the state school reform office — and its staff — from the Michigan Department of Education to a state office that is directly under his control — the state Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.” In other words, Snyder is taking the education of students in the states worst performing school districts out of the hands of the government agency charged with providing them said education.

I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from the floor.

Snyder’s main claim to fame is that he’s a “tough nerd.” A business guy with a no-nonsense approach to politics and life in general. He was educated as a business person, starting with the first business class he ever took at Kellogg Community College when he was 16, according to Wikipedia. He earned a Bachelor of General Studies and a Master of Business Administration from U of M. He went to work in the business field, eventually making his way up to Chief Operating Officer at Gateway. In other words, he has ZERO experience in the field of education.

So, how exactly is a guy who has taken no teaching methods classes, never had to serve an unpaid day in the classroom as a student teacher, and never labored for hours in the evenings and weekends trying to assess student work for accuracy, understanding, and critical thinking skills going to improve the education of students in the state’s poorest performing districts? How is the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget going to assist teachers in these poorest performing school districts considering they have ZERO educational mandate?

Snyder seems to think that if he has more direct control over these schools by requiring that schools that don’t square themselves away to possibly replace the principal, go through the staff rosters and only rehire half of existing teachers, or completely close the school and reopen it as a charter school that they will magically turn around based on these threats. Nowhere in the article is anything about improving school funding, tying less of school funding to student enrollment, or changing teacher education programs at colleges to reflect the administration’s goal of school turnaround mentioned.

In point of fact, he, and Michigan Legislature, seem to be approaching school reform in the same manner as one might approach reforming an ailing business. We’re going to can the managers (principal), fire half the staff (teachers), or close the place for a year for remodeling and rebrand it when it reopens (charter conversion.)

This approach may or may not be destined for failure, but just like any other business decision made by people whose jobs are secure, no consideration is given for the amount of education is required to become a teacher or administrator. No effort is made to correct the problems internally and help a few people save their careers and thus avoid even more educational expense. No additional funding to make the desired improvements is actually allocated. Anyone who is not able to do more with less is going to be out on their collective asses, and we’ll just make it easier for those who have zero teacher education or experience to enter the field. (Check out this September 2014 Press Release.)

Snyder’s latest decision is bad public policy at best, and a minimally obfuscated attempt to engineer the failure of public schools for the purpose of turning the system over to for-profit privatizers. The evidence for the “worst” end lies in the for-profit Educational Achievement Authority charged with overseeing some of the worst-performing schools in the state and the fact that closing a poor-performing public school and turning it into a charter is in the options list for potential school turnaround. (Let’s not forget about the EAA’s recent attempt to hijack students from public schools by sending them phony enrollment confirmation letters.) The evidence for the “best” end simple lives in the decision to remove the education of students who are in greatest need of a good education from the department charged with giving them that education.

Until Snyder and the Michigan Legislature can be convinced that school expenses do not change based on the economy, unlike the level of funding they receive does by tying it directly to the state sales tax, nothing will change. Until Snyder, et al, can be convinced that poor school performance is not entirely the fault of teachers and administrators, nothing will change. Until these politicians can be convinced that schools and students are not pressed out of cookie cutters and each one is different with different needs, and cannot be measured  with uniform tests that do nothing other than occupy time that could otherwise be used for classroom instruction, they have doomed our schools to failure.

The realities of life as a teacher: An introduction to a four-part series.

By: Dave Palmer

For many people who have not been in a classroom or received formal training in education, it is difficult to imagine a day in the life of a teacher. Many have most likely painted a mental picture of what it might be like based on their experiences in school. However, the reality is very likely far from their fantasy land of an easy job that gives you an average of 16 weeks of vacation every year. The truth is that many teachers’ vacation time is unpaid, teaching has never been an easy job, and the focus politicians take in reforming education is much less progressive than in times past.

In order to truly see the face of modern education, it is important to first paint a mental picture of what life would be like in other professions if people who worked in those positions had the same limitations and problems teachers have to face on a daily basis.

Imagine for a moment, you are a construction foreman who has won a contract to build an important structure. However, instead of being allowed to use the materials and tools you feel would best suit the job, the entity that drew up the contract added a clause which states they get to pick the tools and materials. Suddenly, instead of being able to choose DeWalt tools for the job, your crew has to use the Black & Decker tools provided for the job. Instead of being able to choose quality materials at a reasonable price, you are forced to use substandard materials that are anywhere from several years to a decade out of date in order to build the modern structure demanded by the blueprint. You must complete the structure on time , up to code, and under budget. If workers are absent, you must take time after work to let them make up the work they didn’t complete when they were absent. If it even looks like you are going to run over budget, your crew has to take a 10% pay cut, and if you don’t complete the structure according to the contract agreement, your company gets a failing grade and you must assist your workers in finding a job at another company that doesn’t have a failing grade.

If you are more of a business or office-oriented person, then imagine a typical day at the office, but with a few differences. Every time you as a boss tell your employees to get back to work after catching them at the water cooler, they get to tell you “Okay, just give me a minute,” or “Man, can’t I even get a five minute break?” or “Why are you always picking on me? Joanna from accounting is always screwing around. Go talk to her about not working.” Then, you have to utilize the following protocol in order to finally fire them: First, a verbal warning, then you are required to stay after work and make up the time you wasted, then if you refuse to do that, you get suspended for a day with pay. Then, if you do it again, the same protocol has to be followed until you collect enough documentation (and we’re talking about at least four or five instances of the same or similar offenses) to finally fire them. Oh yeah, and if you fall behind schedule or it looks like you won’t be able to get your work done on time, you must pick up the slack after work on your own time without pay. And if you go over budget, your whole office staff has to take a 10% pay cut. If you fail to complete anything on time and under budget, you have to follow the same procedure that the construction crew mentioned above had to follow.

Now, imagine that you only work nine months out of the year, and therefore only get paid nine months out of the year. If your employer is so inclined, they can offer you your nine months’ salary over twelve months by taking your total salary and dividing by 26 pay periods instead of 18 pay periods. If not, then you must find temporary work during the summer months (most of which employers will tell you you’re “overqualified” for) or risk not being able to meet your needs.

During the 40 weeks you are employed, you must work 70-80 hours a week preparing 6 presentations that are an hour long, or at activities that are designed to educate students for an hour at a time as well as correcting their in-class assignments, homework, and tests. Tests usually must be prepared in multiple forms to prevent cheating, and all assignments must be scrutinized for copying and/or plagiarism. This is in addition to all the paperwork schools expect teachers to complete during school hours when teachers are supposed to be educating students.

No wonder so many teachers quit the profession within the first five years.

However, the solutions that politicians (who are not educators) propose never seem to involve better teacher education programs, more support for first and second year teachers, or a clear cut remediation program for ineffective teachers that would help them become more effective. Instead, they utilize high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations that in reality have only a few line items associated with actually evaluating their classroom abilities, and firing teachers who are rated ineffective. Your school is told that it might get a funding cut if your students don’t pass a test written in 2013 using information from a textbook published in 2000. If students leave your district to go to one that has up-to-date information, you also lose funding, practically ensuring that your district can never afford to buy the materials necessary to be successful.

None of these things happened by accident. Every policy decision affecting public education and its funding has been carefully crafted to ensure that public schools don’t stand a chance against private schools and privately funded charters. Public education has been set up for financial failure, and therefore has been set up to fail its students. This introductory column only barely scratches the surface of how the failure of public schools was engineered and in some cases still is being engineered for failure through unrealistic expectations, punishments for not upholding said expectations, defunding, restrictive policies, high-stakes testing, increased class sizes, decreased teaching staff/paraprofessionals, and superfluous paperwork requirements for educators. Stay tuned for columns that address these thesis points.

 

A Rant About Education

By Dave Palmer

One of this year’s main talking points for politicians facing re-election or vying for an incumbent’s seat is the state of our nation’s education system. We are past the argument about whether or not schools are broken; most people know they are. The arguments now surround what is the best method to fix them. The purpose of this column is not to examine all these arguments in terms of their merit or whether I agree with them or not. Instead, I will draw attention to some systemic problems in education that politicians among others seem to ignore in their attempts at school reform. Such problems involve school funding and resources, administrative support, parental involvement/student responsibility, high-stakes testing, and schools’ calling to prepare students for college and/or a career in the workplace.

Teachers have the only occupation in which one is required to use materials that don’t suit their needs, including outdated textbooks and obsolete technology. They are often required to use electronic grade books which are set up to record grades and assignments in an identical fashion at every grade level from one teacher to the next, which assumes that all teachers give the same assignments and that they all record grades in the same fashion. They are given a specific amount of funding for each student, which increases slower than the rate of inflation, and often lose that funding if a student decides to attend school in another public school district. (This is how Michigan has their school funding set up, to “promote competition” between school districts.) Sometimes  teachers either have to take a pay cut mid way thorough the school year, or are simply laid off, to meet the budget.

Now imagine that you work for a construction company, and your company has just won a multi-million dollar contract to build a new high-rise in downtown Detroit. Now, imagine that when you show up to the site, they have 1970’s wood paneling, 1980’s shag carpeting, and paint from the 1990’s for your materials. Then, your foreman tells you that you are not allowed to use your DeWalt power tools for the job, and hands you a set of Black & Decker tools instead. The drill set is missing the Phillips driver, and the battery for the cordless tools only holds a charge for about an hour. You are told to produce the modern building specified in the 2013 plans on time and under budget. Halfway through the job, your foreman tells you everyone has to take a 10% pay cut due to budget cuts.  How many construction companies do you know that would put up with these conditions?

Another problem in some schools is lack of administrative support. There are some hard-nosed principals out there who enforce school policies that wind up being counter-productive to education. Sometimes, they are lackadaisical in granting a simple request for supplies, and other times have no supplies to grant due to budget constraints. Yet, each administrator gets an administrative assistant of their own in addition to the assistants for counselors and the assistants who handle the attendance and the switchboard.  That means for every administrative position, two people draw a salary. Yet, administrators and administrative assistants almost always manage to dodge school district pay cuts while providing redundant services that often provide more red tape than solutions to problems. Plus, administrators do not have to undergo a yearly evaluation of their abilities to run a school, and almost never have to answer for their school if it is labeled as “failing.”

Another part of education that are rarely addressed but has a great impact on educational outcome is parental involvement. The teacher can assign homework every day if they like, but it does the student no good if they refuse to do it or don’t have parents that enforce homework time for their children. If a student misbehaves at school, it is up to the parent to reinforce the lessons learned from in-school discipline at home. If there is no reinforcement, there can be no additional learning. If you are a parent who is dissatisfied with how your student is doing at school, do you express it to your child or to the teacher? Do you coordinate with the teacher for extra help or referrals to tutoring? If not, you can expect that your child will continue to struggle, and your failure to demand the best for your student can hardly be blamed on the teacher.

By the same token, students need to take responsibility for their education as well. Many teachers are willing to provide extra help if they are asked. If the student is embarrassed to do it in class, there is always between classes or after school when fewer people are around. The same goes for behavior. The student needs to understand that schools have behavior policies and attendance policies because employers have them.

Schools are called upon to prepare students for college and/or a career. Think for a moment what would happen to you at your place of employment if you were late to work several times in a row without informing your boss. Now think of what would happened if you ran out of sick days and continued to call in sick, or you were absent several times without informing your superior. What would your boss do if he told you to do some work, gave you a deadline, and when the deadline came, you had no work done? What would happen if you told your boss “F@#$ you” in response to him or her addressing concerns regarding excessive tardiness and absences or not getting assigned work completed? The teachers that students frequently hate are the ones that expect students to arrive to class on time, turn their work in on time, and accept no excuses for failure to do either.

Perhaps the most counter-productive thing to education ever enacted in schools is high-stakes testing.  They require teachers to administer a test to students at the beginning of the school year ostensibly to evaluate what students already know about the subject matter. The sales line to get the public on board is that they will help teachers focus on sections of the curriculum for which most of the students have little knowledge.

However, teachers are given a different picture of the meaning of these pre-tests based on current Michigan law. Teachers are told that students take the pre-test to evaluate their prior knowledge, and take the post-test to see if they have actually learned anything in their class. If the student scores higher on the post-test than the pre-test, the teacher was successful in teaching. If the student scores an 85% on both tests, teachers are told that the identical scores means that the student learned no additional knowledge, and therefore the teacher was unsuccessful. Oh yeah, and these tests are used as part of the teacher evaluation process, which means that teachers in alternative education and AP classes alike are automatically at a disadvantage due to the nature of the population they teach.

There is no doubt that the educational system in this country is in desperate need of reform. However, the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to achieve meaningful change. The paragraphs above provide just a brief glimpse into the daily struggle of K-12 educators not only in Michigan but across the nation. Many educators in this state have seen their pay cut, their insurance and pension costs go up, and the overall funding for schools go down. Some school districts have gone as far as to refuse to negotiate new contracts with their tenured teachers, forcing them to work with no due process protections for layoffs, firings, and pay cuts. Since it is illegal for teachers to strike to protest their treatment, they are left powerless to advocate for either their students or themselves.

We as a society can do better than the wholesale blaming of teachers for the failure of our education system. We can hold politicians and locally elected school board members responsible for their mismanagement of education. We can join or form our own parent teacher associations to become actively involved in what happened in schools. We can demand that tax breaks for wealthy be rolled back and that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share of the educational burden. We can get directly involved in our students’ education by demanding better things from them. We can hold them accountable for their failures and praise their successes. Most of all, society can work directly with teachers to achieve all of these things rather than blaming and by extension working against their educational mission.

Schools as social service hubs: Worst idea ever (Society’s Slideshow)

By Dave Palmer

According to an article in the January 24 edition of the Detroit Free Press, schools may soon be required to function as hubs for other social services through the Department of Human Services’ Pathway to Potential program. Duane Berger, chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Human Services stated in the article, “These are going to be more than DHS offices in these schools. These are going to start to become community hubs.” Some of the services include employment and unemployment services, public health services, and possible Secretary of State branch offices.

“It becomes a one-stop shop,” Sheryl Thompson, DHS’s deputy director of field operations.

So what’s next? A grocer? Perhaps a green grocer as well? Why not add a hair salon? Maybe we could turn all of our schools into big box stores where you can get everything from tires to ice cream. Obviously, Governor Rick Snyder and the rest of his cronies aren’t satisfied with schools just offering a quality education.

Lisa Billops, principal of Priest Elementary-Middle school stated that parents must have their children in school to receive DHS benefits, but sometimes the school doesn’t have a working phone number for the parents. Anita Whatley, a DHS success coach,  “always got a working number, because she holds the money,” according to Billops.

Well, smack me sideways and call me Suzy. I think we may have stumbled on a better solution than forcing schools to take on DHS services that are in no way related to their mission statement.

Why not just give schools a list of students whose parents receive DHS services? Every time the child is absent, a secretary would be charged with informing the DHS office of the student’s absence as well as alerting them of potential truancy issues. If the school has a non-working phone number for the parents, that information could be passed along to DHS. DHS in turn could supply the working phone number as well as a surprise investigation of the parents who supplied the non-working phone number.

Of course, this would be an easy solution to the problem. So far, Gov. Snyder and his buddies in Lansing have shown that whenever schools have any sort of problem, they believe that the hardest and least efficient way to solve that problem is better than the easy way.

So let’s assume that our legislators of dubious intelligence manage to close a whole bunch of DHS offices, and incorporate their services into schools. Where is the money for the salaries of the DHS workers going to come from? What happens if a school with a DHS office closes? Will the DHS office in the school close to, or be allowed to lease the property? What happens if the DHS budget or the school budget gets cut (as it almost invariably does whenever the state needs money for just about anything)? Is the school still going to be required to provide DHS services without a DHS worker or will the DHS office go away?

None of these questions are answered in the article, and based on what I read, seem to have completely escaped any sort of consideration or debate. That’s probably because there is no way in reality that providing DHS or any other service that the Secretary of State might offer is even remotely feasible.

First, students would routinely have their educational day disrupted by people seeking services all day long. Virtually every school has a policy of requiring all visitors (i.e. non-staff personnel) to sign in and get a visitors pass, sometimes complete with a photograph of the person. That means hiring one or more people to handle visitor passes, or calling on secretaries to do it, which may interfere with secretaries meeting the needs of the students.

Second, schools would have to house all the records for everyone who ever came in for any sort of state-funded service in much the same way DHS and the Secretary of State have to house records at their branch offices. While this might be nothing more than a file server backed up by paper records in the warehouse, that still means purchasing a dedicated server for those records. In addition, warehouses can hold only so many things before they run out of room. I’m not sure if those records would take precedence over things like desks and books, but my guess is that they will.

Third, schools already provide a host of services for their students, such as counseling, special education, work permits for those under 18, and help with college applications to name a few. Oh yeah, and they provide a free education to anyone enrolled in their school. Adding DHS or Secretary of State services could be overly burdensome, costly, and result in even more inefficiencies in education.

The moral of the story is that schools already have a lot on their plate, and adding things to that plate isn’t going to make it any less full. They are required to give the ACT to all juniors, administer the MEAP Test, and lower performing school districts have to give a battery of other tests to determine student reading level, understanding of English, and more. I could go on about the free or reduced lunch program, the fact that some schools have to supply low-income students with certain types of school supplies, or the lack of parental responsibility that caused the state to even consider saddling schools with yet another task that has nothing to do with educating students, but we would be here all day.

Lawmakers, take heed: Schools are built to educate people. If you want to consolidate social services, put DHS offices inside of Secretary of State offices or vice versa. Let the people who are actually trained to handle these state services handle them and just let the schools and teachers teach.

 

Politicians must change rhetoric to action on subject of education (Society’s Slideshow)

By Dave Palmer

Many politicians express concern about the state of our nation’s educational system. They say that they want to ensure a great future for today’s generation of students who will become tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, and business executives. Many remedies are proposed, including high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations, and increasing school resources that candidates and incumbents believe will change the system at large. However, when the time comes for the rubber to meet the road, the person in office is often long on promises, but short on actions to back them up. It is time for politicians to bring action to the table in the form of common sense and balanced reforms for our educational system including increased educational funding, evaluations of administrators, evaluations of parents, and evaluations of teachers.

Increased educational funding is a no-brainer in today’s growing school population. Teachers have been forced to endure 10% pay cuts, increased contributions to their health care, and increased contributions to their pension system if it hasn’t already been cut in favor of private 401(k) plans. School districts have been forced to outsource transportation, food, janitorial, and other support services that make teachers’ jobs easier. This is not a plan to attract the best and the brightest to the field of education. The best and the brightest have student loans to pay off, want to buy a house, and start a family, which is decidedly difficult to do on $25,000 a year to start when you have to pay into your own health insurance and retirement out of your paycheck. Teacher pay and benefits must be increased in order to attract the best and brightest to the field, and they must have access to as many resources as they deem necessary to run their classroom effectively.

Evaluating administrators must also be a part of educational reform. Bad administrative policies can seriously interfere with a good teacher’s procedure. Yet, that same teacher is frequently laid off and forced to apply for their job again while the administrator gets to collect their high five-figure or six-figure salary and keep their assistant. If politicians wish to truly reform the educational system, teachers and parents must be allowed to evaluate administrators yearly, and administrators should be dismissed after three bad evaluations in the same manner teachers can be dismissed for three bad evaluations.

Parents should have some nature of evaluation to endure if politicians truly intend to be fair about reforming education. Parents complain about not having enough say in their students’ education, and in the same breath say that they don’t have time to help their child with homework or enforce technology-limited (no Facebook, Twitter, etc.) study or reading time. Teachers should be able to submit to the state an evaluation of parents based on percentage of homework completed. Students should be able to contribute to these evaluations based on how much time they spend studying and how much time their parent spends helping them with homework when asked. Parents could even contribute by admitting their shortcomings on certain subject matter if they feel the need to defend themselves. While there are no punitive measures that would be effective in mandating parent involvement, these evaluations at the very least should be filed with the teacher’s evaluation to provide a more comprehensive view of what a teacher has to deal with on a yearly basis.

Teachers already have to endure evaluations based on high-stakes testing, and administrative whims. While most teachers can pass the administrative whim test, the state-mandated high-stakes testing can easily rate a teacher who has been successful for 15 years running as unsuccessful based on a single year’s test. By the same token, a bad teacher can simply teach to the test until the test, and be rated successful on a regular basis. There is no easy solution for demonstrating that a teacher is either effective or ineffective. Testing should be a part of it, but should comprise a relatively small portion of the overall evaluation combined with administrative, parental, and even student evaluations.

Politicians, whether incumbent or candidate, must bring action to the table in the form of common sense and balanced reforms for our educational system including increased educational funding, evaluations of administrators, evaluations of parents, and evaluations of teachers. Too often, the finger is simply pointed at teachers for failed administrative policies, lack or parental involvement, and decreased funds/resources for their classrooms. To truly reform education, all of these parts of education must be addressed and possibly evaluated to determine where changes are to be made in education. Surely, some politicians will see the potential benefit of expanding the evaluation system for education in order to find a balanced way to reform it.

 

 

 

Student loan forgiveness is smart politics (Society’s Slideshow)

Today’s junior high and high school students are consistently being persuaded that college is the best pathway to a bright future. Plastered over virtually every school’s walls is a comparison chart that shows average expected incomes for high school dropouts all the way up to someone who has earned a doctorate. The trend generally moves upward with more education.

Even if students decide to pursue a more trade-oriented route and not go to college, they still will have to attend some sort of trade school to teach them the ropes of their chosen occupation. Just like college, these schools charge money for the privilege of attending classes.

It is for this reason that Hansen Clarke, a Democratic representative of the Detroit area, has introduced H.R. 4170;  dubbed The Student Loan Forgiveness Act.

The text of the bill is written in typical legalese, but acknowledges the fact that in 2010 for the first time in history student loan debt has exceeded total credit card debt for the entire nation. The bill also asserts that student loan debt is on track to exceed $1 trillion by the end of this year.

The bill proposes a common sense approach to forgiving student loan debt. It provides that a person should pay “one-twelfth of the amount that is 10 percent of the result obtained by calculating, on at least an annual basis, the amount by which–‘(i) the borrower’s, and the borrower’s spouse’s (if applicable), adjusted gross income; exceeds‘(ii) 150 percent of the poverty line applicable to the borrower’s family size as determined under section 673(2) of the Community Services Block Grant Act”.”  It also proposes freezing interest charged on Federal student loans at 3.4% So long as a person pays consistently at this level for ten years, the entire debt amount would be forgiven.

I have argued before that one of the best ways to improve the economy is by investing in education. This bill is a monumental step toward achieving the goal of a more educated populace that is better able to occupy the jobs employers in this country wish to offer Americans. The main reason some of these jobs are not offered to Americans is the fact that they simply are not qualified to fill the positions due to insufficient education.

Additionally, those who do go to college using student loans often find that the first bill comes in the mail almost immediately after they get their diploma in the mail. Instead of using their income to pay for a new car or any of the other things that might truly get the economy going, they instead limit their purchases to rent/mortgage, groceries, and utility bills, with most of the rest going to pay of their student loans. Hardly a prescription for economic recovery.

Relieving newly graduated students in entry level jobs of the extreme burden and high stress of making ends meet while repaying student loans makes all kinds of economic sense. They will either save their money to purchase big ticket items, or perhaps will use their disposable income to engage in idle pastimes that make life worth living. In either event, their spending of money that would normally go into the pockets of bankers, which will cause increased hiring, and eventually economic improvement.

Help convince the rest of the House of Representatives that this bill must be passed to the Senate and eventually the president. Tell Rep. John Kline, Chairman of the House Education and the Workplace Committee; the United States House of Representatives and Senate; and President Barack Obama that you want the government to support both future and current college students by signing an electronic petition here:

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=272847&id=39566-566178-sD7Vl9x&t=2

Shame on Snyder for not paying teachers (Society’s Slideshow)

If you asked most teachers why they went into education, chances are the words “because the money is good” will not come out of their mouth. In fact, most people involved in the day-to-day operations of a school will probably not list money as their number one motivation.

However, Governor Rick Snyder seems to believe that teachers and staff in Highland Park don’t deserve to get a paycheck at all.

The Highland Park School Board voted Thursday to waive their right to appeal an emergency financial manager when it became clear that they would not be able to make their Friday payroll of $220,000. They did so in the face this and an $11.3 million budget deficit. The district appealed the initial January appointment of Jack Martin after the discovery that it was in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

Gov. Snyder in return allowed an appropriation of $4,000 per student to allow all students to continue to attend their current school. The money would follow the student out of the school district if they decided to transfer mid-year. None of this money was used to shore up the payroll to make sure that teachers could pay their bills.

This latest move is a clear attempt to blackmail Highland Park School District into accepting an emergency financial manager,  is a clear travesty of justice in punishing teachers for a situation they did not create and by forces them to continue to work without being paid for services rendered. (This is also known as slavery.)

Holding teachers’ pay hostage as leverage to force the school board into a situation they did not want is criminal at best. Appointing an emergency financial manager who seems bent on disenfranchising local voters by usurping all school board power and  disincorporating the school district borders on fascism.

Highland Park teachers did nothing to rack up the $11.3 million in deficit the district has accrued. Yet Gov. Snyder and Michigan Legislature have chosen to take years of corruption and abuse out on educators who have no control over the management of district funds. They also seem expect teachers to take not getting paid for their work in stride and continue to work with the hope that their wages will be reimbursed.

Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a good old-fashioned case of slavery. When someone is legally bound to show up to work every day and do not get paid for it, that equals involuntary servitude. Last time I checked, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits that.

We cannot expect teachers to deliver a quality education to students if they have to worry about whether they can make their next mortgage payment, if they will be able to pay the light bill, or whether they will be able to fill up their gas tanks to even report to work because they might not have a paycheck.

If they do lose their house, or get their lights turned off, or have their car repossessed, they will be branded as a lazy deadbeat. If they join the Occupy Movement to protest their treatment, they will be told to get a job. The problem is that they have a job that refuses to give them a paycheck.

Something must be done to end this treatment of teachers and staff in Highland Park and other school districts who cannot make payroll. School districts and even the state government should be held accountable at the national level for their failure to provide just compensation for services rendered. If it becomes necessary, the government should give temporary emergency aid with the specific provision that it be used to pay teachers on time.

If our state wants to ensure the success of our children, we must assure that those who educate them are compensated for their services at a bare minimum. Ultimately, steps should be taken to ensure that all classrooms in this country are prepared to educate students for the technologically driven jobs that many politicians are promising to bring.

Many educators are not driven by the paycheck their job provides, but for the love of the career that they have chosen. It is not out line for them to expect some nature of compensation for their services. Studies have proven that students who come from low-income homes have difficulty performing in school. If a teacher comes from a low or even no-income home despite all the work he or she puts in, what will happen to their performance?

State of the Union: Education Should be Priority #1 (Society’s Slideshow)

Barack Obama gave a rousing State of the Union address January 24 calling for a number of bold reforms in this country. Chief among these reforms was the ending of insider trading in Congress, the creation of a Financial Crimes Unit to take on Wall Street’s crimes against the American taxpayer, and improving education. Little can be done to improve the economy if people are not qualified to fill the positions employers offer. Here are several common sense proposals for improving the educational system:

1. Stop mainstreaming special needs students: Colleges have separate programs for teachers who wish to enter general education and teachers who wish to enter special education. They have separate requirements, and work to prepare teachers using different curriculum. Why then are we forcing regular education teachers to deal with students with special needs?

More often than not, a regular education teacher does not have the special training to deal with a student who has a low reading level, is learning disabled, or emotionally impaired. As a result, the teacher in a classroom of 25 or 30 kids may have to divert more of their classroom instruction time helping one or two special needs students and focus less time on the needs of the rest of the class. This leads to an overall drop in performance, especially in today’s high-stakes testing.

Special education teachers are taught how to deal with special needs students, and therefore special needs students should be referred to them for special help. By giving these students the extra time and attention they need in a special education environment, the students who are in regular education will not suffer from less instructional time resulting from a special education student usurping a regular education student’s instructional time.

2. Allow teachers to use classroom time to actually teach: In Michigan’s public schools, there is mandated curriculum surrounding the dangers of texting while driving, how to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender awareness, as well as mandated preparation for the MEAP and the ACT. (I remember a time when you had to take the ACT on your own time. Now, they give the entire school a day off to allow juniors to take the ACT.)

While this curriculum is important, delivering it during normal school hours necessarily cuts into regular instruction time. Schools need to implement a mandatory early morning or after school home room session to deal with the issues I just mentioned. In addition, state boards of education should be required to develop the curriculum for these issues, not teachers. Requiring teachers to develop their own curriculum about texting while driving, bullying, cyber-bullying, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender awareness takes away from their time to develop truly meaningful and fun lesson plans that might interest students in school.

3. Reduce documentation necessary for student discipline: Once upon a time in this country, if a student misbehaved in school, teachers were given the benefit of the doubt. Parents sided with them in their decisions regarding classroom management and the administration’s decisions regarding student discipline. Now more than ever, teachers are being required to document to the last jot and tittle every behavior in which a student engages in the classroom.

This is especially true for special needs and alternative school students. In one two-hour period, I would estimate that I spent at least a half an hour detailing one student’s behavior. In the meantime, other students were asking for help or clarification. Because I had to spend time documenting this student’s ridiculous behaviors, I had to tell the other students to hang on until I finished writing.

This has got to stop. Teachers should never have to take time away from classroom instruction or from helping a confused student to document how one or more ornery students have difficulty following rules and procedures. Until we go back to taking teachers at their word, education will continue to crumble in this country.

4. Encourage parental/guardian involvement in education: There are some parents/guardians who care very deeply for their children, and wish to see them perform well in school. To that end, they go to parent-teacher conferences, volunteer at the school, and help the cause of education in any way they can.

Then there are those who do not involve themselves in their student’s education. The reasons for this vary, but all those reasons boil down to the student perceiving that their parents or guardians don’t care if they succeed. They translate this into a free pass to not care about school themselves.

There is really no way to legislate parental involvement. Making and keeping records for a parental involvement rewards system could prove to be a monumental task, not to mention unfair for people who do not have children, or have children that are not of school age.

However, parents must be held accountable if their student proves to be a behavior problem, needs medication and does not have it, or if their child is performing poorly in school and they are doing nothing to deal with it at home. The government could set up a special fund to aid those who could document a true need in helping their students succeed. The proof and documentation in that case would be handled by the parent/guardian and the government would handle the funding rather than forcing schools to dip into their already constrained budgets to provide school supplies and other necessities for success.

5. Extend the tax break for teachers who spend their own money on classroom materials: The current deduction is a measly $250 for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. However, that tax break expired in 2011, and unless lawmakers extend it, it will disappear.

$250 does not go a long way toward providing necessary learning materials for students, much less toward providing the things that teachers need to purchase to do their job. Before they purchase anything else for their students, they have to buy their gradebooks, lesson planning books, pens, pencils, and classroom decorations.

They sometimes also pay for facial tissue, hand sanitizer, scissors, glue, and writing utensils for students. Sometimes if they want to use special technology as some school district’s best practices curriculum calls for, they have to pay for that too. Some estimate that a teacher may spend as much as 10% of their own income on instructionally-related materials.

This all on an average national salary of $50,000 per year. I can certainly attest to the fact that first year teachers only earn about half of national salary when all is said and done, yet they are expected to provide the same resources as one at the $50,000 level. Tax breaks to cover all their work-related expenses might serve as a financial incentive for them to provide these resources. Another solution is to set up a stipend or fund for teachers to draw from to provide these necessary tools for instruction.

One thing this country cannot afford to do is keep demanding more of teachers and paying them less money for it. Big banking CEO’s who were criticized for their lavish multi-million dollar salaries during the  2008 mortgage defended their salaries by saying “If you want top talent, you have to pay top dollar.” The same goes for education. I can;t think of a single educator who gets into the profession for the money. However, it’s about time that we recognize the passion and dedication that goes into the profession and start making sure that we get top talent by paying top dollar.

Snyder’s State of the State: Mute on improving education. (Society’s Slideshow)

Gov. Rick Snyder gave his state of the state address Wednesday, January 18, detailing his accomplishments for the past year. So far, his claims are impressive.

Michigan’s unemployment rate is down to 9.3% from 11.1%. However, he doesn’t mention that some of that improvement could have stemmed from people leaving the state, being dropped from unemployment rolls because of expired benefits, or because the big three have turned themselves around and started hiring again.

He promised to treat the state’s money like a CEO and lo and behold the state has zero deficit. He has also managed to set aside over $200 million for a rainy day fund.

He promised to bring about financial change to cities in dire financial straits by changing the emergency financial manager law. Sure enough, the emergency financial managers now have virtually unlimited powers to rip up contracts negotiated in good faith, force pay cuts on employees, and enforce any and all austerity measures they see fit.

He promised to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax, and promised to pay for it by taxing pensions, eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, and ruling that school districts require their teachers to pay at least 20% into their own health care. All those things have been done.

He also promised to improve education, and to that end lived up to another promise to remove the 150 school cap on charter schools as well as online academies. He also introduced a teacher evaluation system that promises to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers while retaining effective ones.

All this sounds well and good on a piece of paper, but Snyder also managed to slash not only the K-12 School Aid fund, but also cut the educational budget as a whole, and cut governmental assistance to public universities.

My question to you, oh wise one, is how do you expect to improve something without investing a bit of money into it?

As an educator in the field of adult and alternative education, I have witnessed the effect that a lack of monetary investment can have on education. My school has computers with Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003 (which was the original software installed on the computer).  It just recently added an electronic attendance system that is not at all suited to the program type.

The copy machine at this program requires regular maintenance that is not provided under any sort of paid service plan. The duplicator machine has been broken for several months with no word on when it will be repaired.

The program also depends very largely on the $7,000 per student the state gives to the school for enrollment. The fewer students that enroll, the less money the program has to invest in new computers. Teachers in this program are also under scrutiny for the number of photocopies they make when the copier is working.

To top it all off, the program is housed in a small administrative building with no windows other than in the front of the building. There is no cafeteria, no lunch breaks given to staff or students, and if enrollment is down, classes are cut and teachers are not paid for the cut classes.

If this is what Snyder calls improving education, it is clear that he is out of touch with the true state of education in his state.

I for one never expected to be an underemployed teacher. I was under the impression that teaching was a profession with which one might be able to pay their bills, raise children, own a car, and maybe have a little bit left over for having fun. I was also under the impression that as long as one was able to maintain their status as an effective teacher, you would never have to worry about losing your job.

The proof, it seems, is in the punch. It seems other educators and I who are employed in this program have to worry about losing pay that could make the difference whether we still have electricity, a telephone, a car, or even a place to live from month to month because the funding for our program depends on students who the education system has already failed. Students and staff alike are being told that they are not as important as dollar signs on a balance sheet.

Students whose classes are dropped will have to wait until the next semester to try to take the class again, further delaying their educational goals. Teachers who have their classes dropped have to worry about whether or not they will be able to pay their bills, whether they are effective or not. Frustrated students may leave the program and siphon more dollars from the program, causing effective teachers to throw in the towel and seek employment elsewhere.

It is sickening to think that this is the way our governor wants education to be. He claims that he wants jobs to come to Michigan, yet is unwilling to make the educational investments necessary to have a workforce qualified for those jobs. He claims that he wants poor, underemployed, and otherwise left behind workers to have a chance at earning their money, yet refuses to provide the necessary resources for them to get there.

Gov. Snyder has presented a mixed message regarding education in this state. It seems that he would rather evaluate teachers on things like personal appearance and likeability among staff and administrators than their actual teaching ability. He would rather hold teachers 100% accountable for what happens in schools rather than allow teachers to evaluate the job administrators are doing and hold bad administrators as accountable for a poor performing school as teachers might be for a poor performing classroom.

Gov. Snyder needs to focus on more proactive ways to reform education. Simply generating more forms that more administrators and secretaries will have to fill out, keep track of, and turn into the state is not the solution. Snyder should live up to his general claim of approaching things fairly by allowing evaluation to be a two-way street: teachers can evaluate administrators and even school districts as to whether or not their needs are being met in the same fashion teachers can be evaluated for their job performance.

And please quit expecting better results for less money. You as a CEO know that all businesses say that they have to pay top dollar for top talent. If you want top talent in your schools, why not pay them a few dollars more? Teachers who are effective certainly must deserve it.

Bail out the homeless, not the banks. (Society’s Slideshow)

I believe that banking institutions
are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American
people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first
by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up
around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children
wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power
should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly
belongs.

Thomas Jefferson

31,000 school children in the metro Detroit area would agree with Jefferson’s sentiment. Homelessness has moved beyond the lower middle class, and has moved up the scale to the middle class and upper middle class. People who have never been homeless before now find themselves in shelters, in a friend’s house hoping not to wear out their welcome, or living in a hotel sleeping on the floor.

According to the Detroit Free Press, this is a 37% increase over the previous school year. In the past four years, homelessness has increased by an astounding 300%. Much of this homelessness is attributed to the faltering economy and  lack of available jobs for even qualified candidates.

Homeless students often have to move with their parents from place to place frequently, which can be stressful. This almost inexorably leads to poor performance in school. I would imagine that it also leads to a bit of a cynical attitude when the teacher assigns homework. How can it be homework if you don’t have a home to go to?

This is the realty for these students, and of course, school districts are required by law to help them out. In fact, each school district has a homeless liaison who is charged with the task of hunting these students down. However, many parents are embarrassed to be homeless, and so some slip through the cracks.

Parents also risk having their parental rights revoked by Child Protective Services if they admit to being homeless. That’s right, if you lost your job, are having a hard time finding a new one, and lost your home in the process, you are considered a bad parent.

Schools are also required to provide free transportation to homeless students in their district regardless of how far away the student is temporarily living. They must also provide free school supplies, all necessary athletic clothes for physical education, and free school lunches.

This is a great way to make sure that students in bad situations at least have the materials necessary to succeed in school. The main problem with this policy is that many school districts are on the brink of insolvency, and have little resources to educate students who have homes, much less provide any and all necessities to homeless students.

This news arrives on the heels of news from Lansing that teachers must now be able to demonstrate they are improving student performance by administering a pretest and a post-test for all classes they teach in a school. I wonder if teachers will get a handicap based on the percentage of students who are homeless or become homeless in their class. My guess is that it will play no factor, and teachers will be expected not only to help these students succeed in school but will also be expected to deliver time-consuming curriculum on how to deal with homelessness.

The problems of a poor economy of course are not limited to homelessness. 50% of families who were once middle class in 2008 are now living in poverty. Parents who were once able to meet the needs of their children AND  pay all the bills are now being forced to choose between providing for their child’s success OR paying the bills. They are being forced to seek free or reduced lunches or seek, government assistance today as compared to five years ago when they never would have entertained such a thought.

It is obvious that politicians in Lansing are out of touch with the real needs of their students. They are spending more time dreaming up ways to evaluate teachers and fire bad ones (possibly creating more homeless people) than they are trying to solve Michigan’s economic and now homeless crisis. Having high quality educators is very essential to a good education, but is it more essential than a student having a home at which to do homework?

Resolving Michigan’s current crises will not be easy. It may require a cash infusion from the federal level to create low-income housing or subsidize higher rent properties to keep students in their home school districts for the sake of continuity of education. It may also require Michigan legislature to repeal the new business tax law, impose a flat 2% tax on all Michigan businesses, and give half of that money to school districts to help them deal with the problem of homeless students until a more permanent solution can be hatched.

A better solution to this conundrum would be to require all the banks who took part in the $800 billion bailout to start paying that money back. Congress can start collecting from the bonuses of CEO’s that were paid out almost immediately after the bailout was granted. All that money could be funneled into the lowest-performing, lowest budget schools to bring them up to the level of the schools the CEO’s paid to have their children sent to.

Michigan and America need to demand their money back. Big banking led us to believe that the economy was doing well while using blurred ledger sheets to hide toxic debt, sold that debt as viable investments, bet those investments would fail, and then got paid twice when the house of cards collapsed. There should be no more beating around the bush, only a clear resolution that we as the 99% are no longer going to take it from the 1%.