Monday, September 7, 2009

The uneducation of America.

I've enclosed the following blog article from Self Evident Truths-Euripides. He, being an educator himself, he does a thorough job of assessing the troubles going on in our schools all over the country. He gives 8 reasons. Afterwards, I'll go over my assessment and what I went observed my one year and a couple I think he missed.

The article is as follows:

The response surprised me.

A recent Gallup Poll asked Americans what would be the best way to improve kindergarten through twelfth grade education in the US today. The poll determined that "Americans most commonly mention having higher-quality, better-educated, and more-involved teachers."Why does this surprise me? For one, I completely disagree with Americans' perception of education in the US. The answer to the problem does not lie with the teachers, but with the support system that teaches, hires, and controls the teachers.If I were to answer the Gallup Poll question, from my viewpoint as a teacher, I would point to eight entirely different things:

1. Low teacher salaries;
2. Failed university systems which neglect to teach the teachers;
3. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and government concepts of "accountability";
4. Increased federal interference;
5. Top-heavy school and district administration (i.e. district centralization versus department control);
6. Failed approaches to teaching, propagated and amplified by 1960s liberal ideals;
7. Self-serving teachers' unions;
8. And last, but not least, lack of student responsibility.


In other words, poor-quality, poorly-educated, poorly-involved teachers isn't the problem. It's only a symptom of the greater problem with education in the US.

I created quite a list here. The Gallup Poll shows that very few of my top problems with education in the US even make it to the Gallup list. This means that average Americans aren't aware of some of the basic, underlying problems with education in the US. Why the discrepancy? Of course, I can attribute many problems I identify on my list to years of personal experience, as I have watched the decline in student interest and student ability in the classroom. Some I attribute to my basic distrust of government interference and big government-run institutions. Some I attribute to my distrust of liberalized educational principles with which I do not agree.

The problem remains, however, that students graduate from high school lacking many of the basic skills necessary to continue at the college level. I've seen a sharp decline in students' abilities over the past five years or so. Students now lack the basic reading skills necessary to tackle the technical or specialized reading required for advanced education. For example, just yesterday, several of my students complained about a short article I had assigned them to read about the historical development of political ideologies. Many students couldn't read the article and grasp the author's main point. Many couldn't get past the author's language.

Also, yesterday I finished grading the first written assignment of the semester, finding a considerable number of the short essays all but unreadable because of basic problems with grammar, spelling, and mechanics. Virtually none of the students could properly group sentences together to form paragraphs, opting instead to break ideas randomly or to ignore paragraphs altogether. A significant number of students copied material straight from the textbook instead of paraphrasing - a clear indication to me of an inability to process information.

Which leads me to conclude that yes, the educational system is failing. Getting back to my own list of problems, I can suggest some solutions, none of which, of course, will ever happen since the educational system in the US is firmly under the control of power mongers: teachers' unions, state projects, and federal mandates and funding.

1 - Increase Teachers' Salaries According to Merit
I advocate across the board salary increases for teachers. While this may sound self-serving (which, of course it is), there is the fact that teachers' salaries simply cannot support a family. Speaking from experience, in order to make ends meet, I must supplement my teaching salary with an outside business and investment income. K-12 teachers are the worst hit, college teachers less so.Teachers' salaries should be tied to performance, especially at the college and university levels. Performance, in this case, doesn't mean publishing the drivel that passes for research these days, but instead means contributing to teaching, retaining, and counseling students to successfully navigate through school. Bad and overpaid university professors should have their salaries reduced, and should be paid by the number of classes taught, rather than the number of years in the system.

2 - Get Rid of the Elementary Education Degree
The utter garbage teachers learn from a degree in elementary education astonishes me. We now produce college graduates who can spew the latest teaching theories of facilitation and collaboration, yet they cannot read, write, spell, or do math. How can we expect these graduates to become effective teachers themselves when they lack basic educational skills?Getting rid of the programs to award degrees in elementary education, as well as their big sister, the doctorate of education, and requiring teachers to have graduated in science, history, English, or mathematics, would go a long way toward producing better teachers.

3 - Repeal the No Child Left Behind Act
Of all the stupid things that George W. Bush has been blamed for, liberals seem to ignore this shining example of bad legislation among them. The NCLB controls schools at the local level by threatening reduced funding from the federal level. The NCLB also places great emphasis on some vague and poorly defined ideal of "accountability" measurable through standardized testing. The end result produces an almost universal "teaching to the test." It's happened in my local school district. It's a good bet it's happened in yours as well.The emphasis on standardized testing has produced and will continue to produce problems such as "gaming" (fixing tests to show better results), changing test standards, teaching to the lowest level in classes, English-only assessment, limiting local school control, and others. (Wikipedia)

4 - Give Education Back to the States
Our modern sensibilities and ideologies say that we must ensure that all students, everywhere, are treated exactly the same. Little disturbs a modern liberal more than the thought that one school may enjoy a more privileged status than another. The solution to school funding inequity, was to take school funding decisions away from the states and place them at the federal level.The result produced many unintended consequences. First, because schools got federal funding, the states took money away from the schools. The net effect didn't raise up under-advantaged schools. It didn't "level" the playing field. It didn't provide more funds per student.What it did was to lift educational responsibilities from the states and hand them to the federal government. The result is an actual decline in the schools' abilities to fund programs and pay teachers' salaries. Most schools in my state, including universities, now suffer from inadequate funding.How many examples of ineffective federal controls do we need before we figure out that the federal government simply cannot fix the problems it creates. When the Democrats pass federal health care "reform," we'll have another shining example. Large bureaucracies simply cannot respond to local needs.

5 - Return to School-Independent and Departmental Control
Following the example of the federal government, the school administration where I teach has discovered a newly found power in taking decisions away from the department to create greater control and centralization over the entire system. Where my department chair used to make decisions about teaching loads and class size, now a bureaucrat makes the decision for all the departments across all the campuses. Where each campus had its own email system, now students must have a system-wide email (as well as a campus email, forcing students to check both systems). Where each campus had a single database listing of students for each class, now we must access two systems: one for grading, one for contact information. The new centralized control has multiplied high-paid administrative positions, yet has reduced the number of classes, reduced the numbers of teachers, and has significantly increased the numbers of students per class.A simple rule applies here - centralization and big bureaucracies to not respond well to the needs at the local level. "Modern" centralized school administration growth buries teachers and students alike.

6 - Give Up Silly Liberal Teaching Models
The liberalization of today's educational system demands layer upon layer of bureaucracy to ensure such things as fairness, equality, compassion, and tolerance are taught in school. What suffers, of course, is the actual education of the students. Equality-based systems replace merit-based systems. Students learn that education is a right or an entitlement, rather than a process that demands effort. No child left behind means reducing educational standards rather than lifting educational expectations.The result is a generation of students who expect good grades whether earned or not. For example, more and more students who earn poor or failing grades in my class expect me to change their grades because they don't "feel" they've been treated fairly.Recently, one of my students failed to turn in an exam and plagiarized a book report. He earned an F for the class. His mother, of all people, called me on the phone and insisted I allow him special privileges. Her explanation and reasoning? He needed to pass the class so he could transfer to another school. In her mind, skipping an exam and plagiarism were minor infractions, not worthy of a failing grade. Her son was a "good" student and tried very hard in everything he did. To her and her son, the effort satisfied the demands of education, despite the glaring omissions of any accomplishment whatsoever.This example belies a deeper symptom of the failure of education. Instead of subject mastery, students expect the entitlement of passing a class. Instead of demonstrated skill, effort wins the grade. Instead of learning, copying and pasting someone else's effort is entirely acceptable. All these point to the disease of failed educational philosophies invented within the past 40 years.

7 - Treat All Political Lobbies as We Now Treat Corporations
One of the modern-day boogeymen is the supposed "evil" corporation and attendant abuse of power. Under the Obama administration, banks, car manufacturers, insurance companies, Wall Street moguls, and the nebulous corporate greed have all been blamed for our economic troubles. The federal government, in turn, has taken over and diminished the power of the corporations for supposedly failing the people of the US.The problem, of course, arises from the abuse of power, wherever it may arise. Many corporations abused their power to create cheap wealth (Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, are all examples). Teachers' unions, as well, have done their part to help destroy public education. These unions think and act just as large corporations and make political decisions based, not on altruism or the ideals of constituency, but on good-old American greed and lust for power.Educational lobbies are just as harmful as any other power monger corporation, perhaps more so, since the future of education rests in their unscrupulous hands.

8 - Expect More from Students
The last point is perhaps the most insidious, yet the easiest to correct. Teachers simply need to expect their student to perform. Administration simply needs to back up teacher decisions. Students should learn the basic lesson of education, that the responsibility of our education falls on our own shoulders and is utterly independent of teachers.For example, I expect my students to write well. After initial poor attempts, many of my students learn to write and proofread and turn in great essays. It takes time and it takes a bit of practice. I find that my students will rise to my expectations.

I also expect my students to think. I do not condone lazy thinking in my classes and, for the most part, the students rise to the occasion.What this tells me is that, with a bit of effort, students can and will rise to the occasion and learn how to learn. Why they wait until they are adults does not reflect well on our current K-12 system.

Can we implement solutions to bring us out of the mire of poor education? Given the political climate and the ideological bent of modern education, I'd have to reach the conclusion that no, we are stuck in a mire. Our schools seem to be locked into a badly designed system, spiraling downward toward the goal of pronounced mediocrity and delusions of adequacy.

Wow, a lot to take in, but the man, unlike too many on the left, especially when it comes to education, gives his reasons and examples and why he believes the changes are necessary.

As to his surprise to the response, it shouldn't had. The media has brow beated us about how badly funded the schools are (truth is they're not, they're badly mismanaged and over saturated in the administrative divisions, but I'll get to that later) and the lack of funding is keeping the best and the brightest from going into teaching. Yet when it comes to paying teachers more, the left has a cow mainly quoting nipoism.

First, let's take his 8 reasons why the schools are failing.
Low teacher salaries. There's a lot of truth to this. The main reason the best and brightest don't want to go into teaching is two fold. One being the horrid safety issues. Gangs are out of control and there's no respect or prestidge for teaching. The other is the low pay. After all, I knew many who went into math at CSUS to teach only to later decide instead of putting in another year, spending nearly 5 to 10 grand for a bunch of mickey mouse classes to make 27 to 36K or take a couple of applied course and start at 50 to 60K in the private sector. This demonstrated that the decision by me to become a teaching wasn't a good one financially.

Failed university systems which neglect to teach the teachers; I was an intern for an alternative credential program that allowed me to take classes while teaching as a full time teacher. Sort of an on the job training. This program was certified as being better at training better adept teacher with a much lower turn out rate by their graduates. Turns out there was a few whoppers involved in those numbers. First, the university only teach theory, which we learned for six weeks straight. They were a complete and utter waste of time. We were not ready to be in those classrooms, especially since most of us were hired in the inner cities (jee, I wonder why?) and weren't prepared for the overly complicated social and economical background of our students. This from a program that is certified by the state of California as being higher quality for preparation, so I can only imagine how bad the university are since they only teach theory without no hands on. At least I had that, but it wasn't near enough. No wonder the drop out rate of new teacher is nearly 60% in five years. One was more than enough for me.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and government concepts of "accountability"; Here in California, we have Proposition 13. Unless you live in California, you will have no clue what this is or how it devastated the education of California's students. The initiative was passed in 1977 to revolt against the every escalating taxes (humm, sounds familiar. Tax party anyone and I don't mean the ones from 2009). The initiative has done a good job keeping our tax and spend lunatics from raising our taxes in a way that would make Obama cringe. However, it had one really BAD provision: the usurping of the local property taxes from the local government to the state general fund where the politicians can do whatever with the money. The theory, and a bad one at that with anyone with a brain could had figured out even in 1977, was that if the money was controled by the state, the lower income neighborhoods would get a more equitible share. Since LA makes up 1/2 of our state leglislature, LA basically controls the state. so LA has about 1/4 of the students, but gets about 60% of the funds and the schools there are still crap. So it doesn't take much to see how the rest falls out. Now we got NCLB which takes the funding control from the states, if necessary (cough cough), and puts it incontrol of the federal government. Just want the country didn't need and especially in this state. California, who education system was the envy of the world, now is in the toilet. Only Mississippi and DC do worse than we do. Some how, that doesn't instill much confidence. If NCLB is allowed to continue, the entire country will have schools as bad as California.

Increased federal interference. Ever since the Department of Education was establish by that nut with a brain of a pea, thus why he was the peanut president, education has nose dived. Adding more red tape, piece by piece has just decimated education. Putting federal mandate after mandate to clog up the works in an already saturated situation. All the districts cared about were those stupid tests and how they looked to the federal government. The students and what they actually were learning were damn. Every year since NCLB was passed the test have been dumbed down every year.

Top-heavy school and district administration (i.e. district centralization versus department control). Oh, this one is my favorite. I umpire softball games for some extra money. The sports have their elements, players who buy equipment and pay to participate in a league, the umpires that regulates and impliments the rules, scorekeepers that keep records of the plays and events, and the league directors. Imagine a game with 10 players on each side, two umpires doing the games and 3 league directors giving out differing instruction and giving out 3 different sets of rules and that's per league. Now imagine you pay an umpire $20 each per game while paying each league director $60 to 80$ and there are 3 of them and they're confusing and having conflicting interests. What would the results be? A game that cost the teams at least $280, or $14 per person per game and the game would be in complete kaos. Considering with one director for ALL the leagues for a week and not nearly at the rate, the cost is about 5$ per person per game.

In the education sector, there are 112 administrators for every 100 teachers. Those adminstrators do nothing to educate students and they make over $100k each (some are nearly $200K). Compared that to the average salary of a teacher of $42k. It doesn't take much math to realize why our education costs are so out of control. Given these administrators don't always, in fact, rarely are on the same page with the same agenda and it's no mystery why things are disfunctional. When I was teaching, one of the assistant principals (there were 8 for crying out loud) was making a name for herself by head hunting and finding reason to get untenured teachers fired (which she succeeded in all but two out of 11). What was her title. Assisstant principle in charge of curriculum. Our curriculum was established the previous summer, so what did we need her for? There were several like this. AP in charge of hall control, student services, couseling (no, not the counselor, but to see if one was needed), and stuff I never figured out. There were so many who we didn't know what department they were assistant prinicipal of. Remember this, we had no money for paper (we were given 10 reams for 5 months. Try teaching math to 200 students with just 5000 sheets of paper for the semester), supplies, my phone was broke 6 of the 10 months and they didn't try to fix it til after 3 months, copier were out of toner and the wait was days (many of us did them for the week on Friday afternoon when the supplies arrive). Many of us didn't have the necessary number of books even. But hey, we had that AP in charge of curriculum. Remember, each of these "administrators" cost 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 teachers so for every unnecessary one you dump, that's 2 1/2 teachers you can get into the classroom or a teacher's salary that can be doubled. Note how this compared to private schools that do a much better job, at less than half the total cost. They only have 12 administrators per 100 teachers.

Failed approaches to teaching, propagated and amplified by 1960s liberal ideals. I remember one lesson that will typfied this. We had to learn and understand what our head at the State Department of Education was promoting. He stated that there are too many white people in our education department and that's why minority students fail. Because a black student can only learn from a black teacher, a latino from a latino teacher, and so on. The reason was because teachers are bias agianst students who aren't like them. I found the whole thing to be repugnant and racist. Seem to the liberals, everything is about race and racism and they teach that to the teachers.

Self-serving teachers' unions. Remember that number I gave about the administrators and teachers. That ratio also applies to the union. There are 112 administrators for every 100 teachers that are memebers of the teacher's union so they promote policies and candidates that entrenched their power and pay. Frankly, the unions don't even care about the students. The president of the California Teacher's Union said so herself. That they're for the teachers and administrators, not the students. The truth is worse than that because they're really for the administrators not the teachers as well.

And last, but not least, lack of student responsibility. This one I completely agree with but not the way the author put it. He believe that if the teacher expects more from the students, they will rise to the occassion. Rubbish. If you expect more, they will resist more and brand you a racists. Students today, at least the minorities, are polluted with Gangsta. They completely disdain education. They view it as racist and white and a disrespect to their race to attempt to educate them. It's what I went through. Too many times when I was giving my lesson the students would cry out in protest that I'm harassing them because they're acting too black, Hispanic, Filipino, name your race. I tried to get the parents involved, but most of them simply didn't care or would push the same racist card on me. The author last statement is completely incomplete. It's a completely lack of responsibility of the student AND PARENT. Many of whom are gang members themselves. I could tell horror stories that would make Freddy Cruger or Jason Voodees seems like flufly bunnies in comparison when it comes to the parents contributions to their children's educational demerits.

The next blog, I'll address his solutions.

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