By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I haven’t poured through the proposed Republican tax plan but I did get far enough to see that teachers will be losing their $250 per year tax credit should it pass unscathed.

The tax bill proposed by Republican leaders yesterday scraps a benefit that many teachers have come to rely on: the $250 “educator expense deduction,” which can be used to recoup the cost of classroom materials.

K-12 teachers who spend money out-of-pocket on books, supplies, professional development courses, and computer equipment and software for their classrooms can claim the deduction each year, according to the IRS. Health and physical education teachers can also use it for athletic supplies. Counselors, principals, and aides who incurred such expenses can claim the deduction as well. In 2015, Congress extended the benefit indefinitely.

Teachers spend about $530 of their own money on classroom items, according to a 2016 nationally representative survey from Scholastic. In high-poverty schools, they spend about 40 percent more—an average of $672.

As a teacher this irritates me.

I spend much more than that each year on my students to ensure they have the most basic materials necessary for class.  I venture to say that I spend $250 along just on notebook paper and pencils.  Every year before school starts I go online to the misprint pencil place and order four boxes of misprinted pencils and then I go on Amazon and order large quantities of notebook paper.  If I’m lucky these will last until the end of the year.

On top of that I buy boxes of Kleenix, pens, crayons, markers, colored pencils, art paper, and spiral notebooks.

Schools furnish none of these things.

In the past I have even used my personal blog to campaign for classroom sets of books and supplies.

I am fortunate to work for a district that will reimburse $100 of the money I spend on supplies.  That is at least something.

When there are so many areas of waste and so many entitlement handouts these days, why pick on the teachers?  We’re already the lowest paid people on the food chain.

Very disheartening, Republicans, very disheartening.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

Yesterday was VE Day an unofficial holiday when we remember those who risked their lives for the good of society fighting in Europe in WW 2.

Oddly that day made me think of National Teachers day which was May 5th.

To most this might seem odd.  National Teachers day would be a day to remember the best teachers we ever had like Mrs. Teresa Mahoney who I had for both 4th & 7th Grades way back in 1972 & 1976.  She introduced me to poetry from Arthur Guiterman’s Pershing at the Front which made me smile to Countee Cullen’s Incident which made me think.

However given the situation teachers find themselves in today the VE day comparison might be apt.  Exhibit A  the 2nd largest city in New England Worcester MA:

School safety liaison Rob Pezzella says schools and police have already implemented a measure officials announced last week by stationing officers at the district’s high schools. Additional measures could include metal detectors.

 The new security measures came in the wake of a series of weapons-related arrests at or near some of the high schools over the past few weeks.

What incidents?  Incidents like this.

Worcester Police arrested a 16-year-old student at Burncoat High School after they say a loaded handgun and ammunition was found in a container in his locker.

And this

Police on Wednesday arrested five Worcester Vocational Technical High School students after a witness reported seeing them with guns in a school parking lot.

At Worcester North High a vice principal was assaulted trying to break up a fight and some teachers are near the breaking point

What my colleagues and I experienced this week went well beyond any “disturbance” or “challenge” we’ve dealt with in the past. It did not happen without signs pointing to the inevitable eruption in our hallways. Control has been eroding for some time, and the reasons are many. North may be a brand new facility, but it brings with it all the baggage an urban high school carries: a high poverty rate, understaffing, children with intense mental health issues and a reluctance to hold students and families accountable for unacceptable behavior.

A full time officer is now on duty .  Counselor at Large Mike Gaffney put it this way

“Instead of a learning environment, the emphasis has been to keep children (often young adults), with no interest in an education, in the schools to show an increase in graduation rates. Instead of a safe environment, the emphasis has been to reduce detention, suspension, and expulsion actions for the purpose of showing an artificial reduction in disciplinary issues. Meanwhile, these disruptors with no interest in an education bully, attack, and assault teachers and other students. Our children should not be forsaken for a statistic.”

In fairness to Worcester this is neither a new nor a local problem only as the national results of search for “Teacher Assaulted” in Google or Yahoo will quickly demonstrate.  Nor is the focus on stats vs. teaching confined to Worcester as those who were willing to stray from the media narrative of the Trayvon Martin case could tell you:

Both of Trayvon’s suspensions during his junior year at Krop High involved crimes that could have led to his prosecution as a juvenile offender. However, Chief Charles Hurley of the Miami-Dade School Police Department (MDSPD) in 2010 had implemented a policy that reduced the number of criminal reports, manipulating statistics to create the appearance of a reduction in crime within the school system. Less than two weeks before Martin’s death, the school system commended Chief Hurley for “decreasing school-related juvenile delinquency by an impressive 60 percent for the last six months of 2011.” What was actually happening was that crimes were not being reported as crimes, but instead treated as disciplinary infractions.

Stats vs actual learning is at the heart of the Common Core debate as well, but that conversation is a week’s worth of pieces in itself.

As for Worcester, I’d like to say that these crisis has resulted in a renewed focus by the bureaucracy  not just on the protection of teachers and students but on the purpose of schools teaching mathematics,  science, history,  English & poetry, alas it seems the focus in Worcester remains on perception and gestures:

On Friday, Worcester photographer Troy B. Thompson visited the high school and invited all students to participate in his “No Evil Project,” which seeks to break down the stigmas of labels.

Along the same lines as Thompson’s community-wide project, which is currently being featured at the Denholm Building, students wrote out three labels they feel they represent and pledge an act of kindness.

I can’t imagine Mrs. Mahoney doing this.  Her generation was the generation of the Great Depression & the Second World War.  They knew what hardship, suffering and loss were and understood that there was a cost to everything worthwhile.   Rocking back on your chair (these were the days before one piece desks & chairs) would cost you a nickel for the Catholic Missionaries and those were the days when a rap across the knuckles with a ruler was not going to generate a call to DSS.

National Teachers day was once a simple day when we remembered our favorite teachers like Mrs. Mahoney who helped make us who they are, but will the day soon come when we think of National Teachers day as a remembrance to spare a thought for the modern teacher who faces an environment fraught with dangers & priorities for the good of society.

Just like VE day.  Except we’re not winning.

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Olimometer 2.52

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Consider Subscribing 100 Subscribers at $20 a month will get the job done.

 

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by Linda Szugyi

My experience with education is a love/hate relationship.  In elementary school, I loved getting ‘A’s, reading books, and writing poetry.  (I wanted to be a poet when I grew up.)  I remember adoring the standardized test at the end of the year.  It was so exciting:  the solemnity, the necessity of filling the bubbles neatly, the fun of trying to deduce the answer when choices were unclear (darn you T/F problems, I see grey in almost everything!), and the thrill of competing with every same-grade student for that top percentile standing.

But I hated the tendency schools have to be bureaucratic, even before I knew the word ‘bureaucratic.’  Rules that didn’t make sense, either as a practical matter or as a matter of justice, burned me up with anger.  The application of rules in an overly dogmatic manner did the same thing.  The smaller and more inconsequential the rule, the worse it was somehow.

A good example is the kindergarten teacher’s assistant who made me turn the picture I was coloring right-side-up.  It was a picture of a toy soldier.  She said he can’t march while standing on his head.  Good grief lady, I am left-handed and it’s hard to color while the paper is in that position! is what I would have said if I had the wisdom to do so, which I did not.  So I just tried to finish the picture without crying, and didn’t really understand why her nonsensical rule upset me so much.

The other thing I hated was the tedium.  The reading comprehension questions at the end of a short story were often so banal, so lame, that the requirement to think up and write down complete sentences in response made me, once again, burn with anger.  Good grief, why are you wasting my time? is what I would have said if I had the wisdom to do so, which I did not.  So I just tried to answer the questions as quickly as possible, and didn’t really understand why sometimes, the end-of-reading questions made me so mad I wanted to scribble them out with dark, forceful strokes of my #2 pencil.

I hope all this doesn’t sound like a brag about being too smart or too much of a special, special flower for school.  My point may be even worse than bragging, though.  My point is that every kid is too smart for schools as they currently operate and have operated for several decades.  That is, all children have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.  A rigid approach to educating these unique individuals will inevitably mute some strengths while exacerbating some weaknesses in every child who endures it.

This complaint is hardly new, of course:

That’s why Common Core proponents have a point when they ask, why in the world do you assume a national set of standards and testing will be so different from the state standards and testing already in place?

Common Core is worse, what with all of its copyright limitations and data-collecting spookiness.  But much of it is nothing different from what has gone on for a long time.  If anything, it’s the next logical step, given the direction we’ve allowed our education experts to march for so long.  Proponents are probably quite bewildered by the way the name “Common Core” has unleashed a backlash that keeps spreading like wildfire.

In a sense, all Common Core did to ignite this wildfire was finally provide a label–a name for something most of us never really understood, but which nevertheless gave us an inchoate, uneasy feeling first about our own education, and later about the education of our children.  I can hardly blame Common Core proponents for reacting, in their bewilderment, by calling critics things like hysterical, or overprotective white suburban moms.

Wait a minute.  Yes I can.

Anyway, the problem with American education is older and deeper than Common Core:

“The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I’ve told you about and a few more I’ve spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.”

John Taylor Gatto wrote those words in 1991.

“In our dreams . . . people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands.  The present educational conventions [of intellectual and moral education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk.  We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science.  We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters.  We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen – of whom we have an ample supply.  The task we set before ourselves is very simple . . . we will organize children . . . and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”

John Rockefeller’s General Education Board penned those words in 1906.

I know there is no perfect solution.  There will always be times in both childhood and adulthood when we have to put up with some boredom or other discomfort.  I’m not suggesting a sunshine and rainbows world where the children run free in the meadow all day, and yet still magically learn how to be musicians, doctors, electrical engineers, and all the other things we need them to be in the future.

But the education system in America today has become so calcified that it harms not just special little flowers like me, but even the more resilient among us.  Can you imagine any seven-year old resilient enough to handle getting handcuffed at school for having a nonviolent meltdown, for example?

We are unfortunately forced by circumstances to focus on Common Core and its repeal in state legislatures.  It is unfortunate because by doing so, we are focusing on merely a symptom of the problem, instead of the problem itself.  After all, if tomorrow every state in the union repealed Common Core and burned every page of Common Core-aligned material, our schools would still be a hot mess.

I hate to admit it, but the real problem . . . is us.  The parents.  We need to realize that our reliance on education experts and their academia-speak is an impediment to learning.  We need to realize that teaching from a script written by those experts is a phony kind of teaching that sucks the air out of a classroom.  We need to accept the fact that there is no magic formula that the school system can apply in order to open every child’s mind to learning.

Homeschooling parents are included in this problem, by the way.  We have a hard time trusting our own judgment and abilities, where education is concerned.  We are just as prone to rely on experts as everyone else.  That’s why homeschoolers tend to research, analyze, and discuss curricula until they are blue in the face, always searching for the elusive “best curriculum” and “best teaching style” for their children.  Homeschoolers often end up reading from a script, too.  That script may be more ideologically to our liking, but it can also be as awkward and phony as a Common Core lesson.

I should know.  I’ve tried to use the detailed teacher instructions and worksheets included in Sonlight curricula for two years, and I’ve felt guilty for the times I’ve skipped them.  I’m not criticizing the Sonlight product–they assemble a wonderful assortment of textbooks and fiction that weave together a rich and engaging story.  I’m criticizing my own over-reliance on the supplemental material.

Anne Sullivan didn’t succeed in teaching Helen Keller because she was an expert, or because she relied on expert material.  She succeeded because she had a gift for teaching and a passion to do whatever it took to open Helen’s mind.  In the long-term, the only real solution lies within this kind of individual passion.  Whether it’s public school or homeschooling, the solution will always be found where the rubber hits the road–a teacher passionately sharing knowledge, and a student striving to gain it.

We can’t get there from here.  First, we have to get rid of the Common Core threat to teacher autonomy.  Next, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top need repealing.  Heck, just go ahead and shut down the Department of Education.  Only then can the states work without their hands tied, and find their own ways to reward the talented, passionate teachers who open our children’s minds, and either retrain or fire the rest.

Even then, such fixes won’t succeed unless we parents fix ourselves.  The pro-Common Core education experts currently hold sway because we ceded to them the responsibility of knowing what’s best for our children.  We gave them the power they now abuse.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The state of education in the United States today is troublesome.  One report after another comes across the wires:  stressed out teachers are disengaged with their work, teachers are overworked and burned out, and apparently we have ineffective teachers in our low-performing schools.  Go figure.

Is any of this news to anyone?

Sometimes we can read all this data and all these reports and draw false conclusions.  Let’s consider some alternative conclusions to the ones most commonly drawn.

Consider the report that stressed out teachers are disengaged with their work.  This is a conclusion drawn from a new Gallup report, The State of America’s Schools which contends that  7 in 10 teachers are “do not feel engaged” in their work which is having a negative effect on students.  Certainly if a teacher is stressed out and under pressure this will have a negative impact on the teacher over time.  We all want our kids to have teachers who are exciting and make them feel the hunger for learning, so this report is obviously troublesome.

But why are teachers disengaged?  Gallup:

On two points, teachers were the least likely of any profession surveyed on workforce engagement to respond positively: whether they feel their opinions at work count, and whether their supervisor creates an “open and trusting environment.”

“That’s a really big eye-opener,” says Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “So there’s something about the open, trusting environment that isn’t working in schools and that they don’t believe their opinions count. That is definitely weighing down the potential of making them more engaged in their workplace.”

Well, that’s an interesting conclusion but I don’t think it’s fair to put so much blame on the supervisor or administrator.  True, that’s an important role:  you need a supportive administrator who will back your decisions in the classroom, but the administrator is also just a gateway in a sense.  Walk it all the way back.  Principal, supervisor, local superintendent, state level superintendents, and now (thank you Common Core…) the federal government.  So, to put all the blame on the immediate supervisor is misguided.

A simplified example:  A teacher wants to teach a novel that has relevance to her students; it meets and challenges their reading level. (The teacher knows this reading level because she has done a diagnostic test and has determined the reading level of each student).  The teacher knows this novel will engage her students and has a passion for bringing that novel and level of engagement to her students.

But wait!  She can’t teach that novel.  Common Core says all her students must read an obscure work with a Lexile level much higher than her students are functioning on, a novel for which the teacher has no engagement or passion.

How well is that going to work?  The teacher isn’t going to be excited about the lesson, the students are going to be struggling to relate to the work, and the students are going to struggle to even make sense of the words because said novel is so far above their reading level.

Now granted, that’s a simplified example; a really good teacher will figure out a way to bring passion to whatever novel the idgits that made the reading list make her teach.  But it wears you down.  The teacher has been stripped of her professional ability and decision making.  The teacher no longer can decide what’s best for her individual students.

Thus, burnout.  Frustration.

Is this all Common Core’s fault?  Of course not.  Teachers have been fighting bureaucracy and burnout for years.  The suits sit around conference tables and figure out what new save-the-state-of-education fad will be imposed this year and then they do endless professional development sessions to implement the plan.  Veteran teachers have seen them all before; they come in cycles.

With regard to burnout and frustration, consider that one of the requirements of Common Core is that states must also implement a rigorous teacher evaluation system.  Professional evaluation is important and I don’t know of a single profession that doesn’t have an evaluation system, but common sense must prevail.  Some of these evaluation tools are profoundly subjective and unfair.  When a teacher is marked off on an evaluation because a student put a dab of lotion on her knees during the observation, which obviously means classroom expectations haven’t been taught and the teacher has poor classroom management, frustration will result.

When those observations and evaluations are tied to teacher pay and that annual incentive check comes out, the teacher that has Honors and AP kids will get the big incentive check while the teacher with the low-performing, struggling kids who have not been taught social skills at home gets the very small check.  Frustration results.

In reality, teachers aren’t frustrated with their work or with their job.  They are frustrated with the system that prevents them from doing their job and that persecutes them for things beyond their control.  I don’t know one single teacher who went into the profession to get rich.  Every teacher I know does it because of a love for kids and for the opportunity to make a difference in just one kid’s life.  When that passion is squelched by a system that ties their hands, strips their decision making, persecutes them, and makes them feel like failures, then there is something wrong with the system, not the teachers.

Consider these words from a frustrated first-year teacher:

The truth is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that is required of me. There is always something, whether it’s a training requirement or writing tests or preparing my lessons or grading papers or counseling struggling students. Some things get finished. Most things do not.

My working life is an uneasy calculation between the most pressing need and the requirements that I hope can remain unfinished. Sometimes I feel like I am always on the verge of failure, one tiny slip or miscalculation away from either being fired or failing my students.

She resigned shortly after her letter was published.

The sad thing is, her situation is all too common.

We need to support our young teachers, trust our veteran teachers, and restore local autonomy to our school systems and classrooms.  If we fail to do this, public education will be an antiquated idea from a society that has failed its most vulnerable members: the children.

 

Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

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Olimometer 2.52

The time has come to ditch the weekly goal to focus on the monthly figure, that’s where the real action is at.

In order for this to be a viable full-time business this blog has to take in enough to make the mortgage/tax payment for the house (Currently $1210 monthly) and cover the costs of the writers writing here (another $255)

As of now we need $1278 to meet this goal by April 30th.

That comes out 51 people kicking in $25 over the rest of the month or basically three people a day.

I think the site and the work done here is worth it, if you do too then please consider hitting DaTipJar below .

Naturally once our monthly goal is made these solicitations will disappear till the next month but once we get 61 more subscribers  at $20 a month the goal will be covered for a full year and this pitch will disappear until 2015.

Consider the lineup you get for this price, in addition to my own work seven days a week you get John Ruberry (Marathon Pundit) and Pat Austin (And so it goes in Shreveport)  on Sunday  Linda Szugyi (No one of any import) on Monday  Tim Imholt on Tuesday,  AP Dillon (Lady Liberty1885) Thursdays, Pastor George Kelly fridays,   Steve Eggleston on Saturdays with  Baldilocks (Tue & Sat)  and   Fausta  (Wed & Fri) of (Fausta Blog) twice a week.

If that’s not worth $20 a month I’d like to know what is?

 

But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Lewis Caroll Through the Looking Glass 1871

The Master:  Oh!  Now I can say I was provoked.

Doctor Who: Utopia 2007

There is nothing in the world more dangerous than an excuse

DaTechGuy

For several years the Atlanta cheating scandal has been percolating first in the local press then in the state press and finally nationally. For those of you who don’t know here is the entire meat and potatoes of it in a nutshell

Thirty-five Atlanta educators, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall, are named in a 65-count indictment that alleges a broad conspiracy involving cheating on standardized tests.

This story broke in 2011 and its worse than it sounds:

Eighty-two of the teachers flat-out confessed. The 800-page report said the cheating has been going on for nearly a decade. It first came to light when the state noticed an alarming number of erasure marks on the answer sheets.

Teachers and principals were erasing the wrong answers and filling in the right ones, the report said. At one school, the faculty even held weekend pizza parties to correct answers before turning them in. Over the course of a single year, scores at the school jumped 45 percent.

“We were told to get these scores by any means necessary,” said Sidnye Fells, a fourth grade teacher. “We were told our jobs were on the line.”

much worse

Moreover, Dr. Beverly L. Hall, a former Atlantic school district superintendent, has been charged with RICO conspiracy — including theft, witness tampering, and making false statements — in the doctoring of student scores on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in order to earn lucrative bonuses for herself and her subordinates.

There were those who resisted, and they paid for it:

Fells told ABC News that teachers who refused to cheat were punished and pushed out. She resigned voluntarily in 2008 partly due to the pressure to cheat.

Today it reached both Morning Joe and Good Morning America.

Did they go on about the greed of the Superintendent trying to get honors & money?

Did they shout about cheating parties and the dishonesty of the teachers involved?

Did they deplore the idea of not even trying to teach these students, mostly of color, who needed to be taught?

Did they lionize the teachers who suffered for refusing to go along with this obscenity?

Of course not! The people involved were democrats, members of the teachers union and people of color. It’s not a narrative that Democrats with bylines the mainstream media can allow. These facts can’t be highlighted by the media any more than the idea that the Catholic Church’s sex scandals were overwhelmingly committed by gay priests.

So what is to blame? Why George Bush!

He pushed the STANDARDIZED tests, the tests caused these poor teachers and administrators to break the rules, they are to blame!

It’s the gun argument all over again, it’s not the fault of the individual it’s the fault of the test that caused the teachers to cheat.

If ONLY we weren’t teaching to standardized tests these teachers and administrators wouldn’t have felt it necessary to bend these rules.

If ONLY we had a holistic approach to education so that actually knowing things wasn’t what being educated was being all about.

If ONLY even more money was being spent on education then all of these things would never happen.

And it’s a great example of the topic I talked about in last week’s subscription commentary. When you abandon the cultural values of Judeo-Christianity that the nation was built on and replace it with utilitarianism OF COURSE the right thing to do is to change the scores because teaching the students isn’t the goal, producing the right numbers to the government to get the financial rewards is.

The mistake of the teachers and administrators however is they approached this entirely the wrong way. They weren’t cheating, they weren’t changing scores, they are simply rejecting “traditional grading” and embracing “esteem grading”

Apparently a large subsection of teachers and administrators for many years have embraced this new definition of “grading” and who are we to force them to confine them to the patriarchal judeo-christian “traditional scoring”?

In fact they should be shouting to the rooftops that they have embraced “esteem grading” as opposed to “traditional grading” and if you don’t join them in that embrace you are just a racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobe gradeophobe who should be shunned by society for your bigotry.

Yeah the current pols show the public are overwhelmingly opposed to “creative grading” but the tide of history is with us.

And do you really want to tell the children of “esteem grading” that their scores aren’t as valid as those who got their scores from “traditional grading”?

Talk about hate speech.

Update:  Due to a type the post said the story broke in 2001 vs 2011 fixed.

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Olimometer 2.52

We come to Tuesday with $60 toward the weekly paycheck and a brand new monthly goal.

That means I only need 12 more people this week to kick in $20 to make our $300 goal.

Now I could of course redefine what my goal is and declare $60 success but unfortunately the holder of my mortgage doesn’t seem to want to go along so some reason.

So instead I’m going to have to start my Tuesday asking you dear reader to consider kicking into DaTipJar so I can still have that $300 paycheck and make a living