CLASS WARFARE

28 01 2008

WELCOME TO THE MACHINE.

The Public School system in this country is supposed to provide children with enough of an education to become good citizens. Everyone- including those who have no children- pays a certain amount of taxes to pay for this as part of the price we are willing to pay for living in this society. For a long time, we (the People) were getting a bargain. Most students were getting enough knowledge to be at least functional members of society.

Those days are over. The Public School system has become a vast sinkhole we throw our money into for little discernible return. People have been grousing about the declining state of our Education system for decades. School administrators were quick to point out the cause: Class sizes are too large because there aren’t enough teachers. There aren’t enough teachers because we don’t pay them enough. We don’t pay teachers enough because they aren’t doing a good job teaching. Teachers can’t teach effectively because class sizes are too large. Et cetera ad nauseum.

There have been attempts to fix these problems. Teachers were hired, given raises, and given minimum standards to meet. Class sizes were reduced. But the Public Education system in the US has continued its spiral of decline. How could this happen? We’ve dealt with the teaching issues (by and large, here and there, more or less). School administrators scratched their collective heads and suggested that maybe the children were at fault. It’s a lovely idea, but not borne out by the data available. Random testing of a wide cross-section of the student population shows that kids entering school are generally as smart as they ever were. But each successive graduating class has been scoring worse on random tests than the previous one.

School administrators all around the country mused, “It isn’t the students. It isn’t the teachers. Maybe it’s the parents”. Could be. The home environment has a huge influence on a student’s performance. That said, most students come from stable households and are not suffering from malnutrition or other abuse. The overall decline in output quality can’t be laid solely at the feet of those students who do come from abusive or unstable households.

The school administrators then put forth the idea that “it has to be a ‘culture thing’. Really. There’s no other explanation.” A relatively small percentage of all students meet the “at risk” criteria based on home and/or cultural environment. The growth in this percentage is far outstripped by the decline in standardized test scores.

Having discussed all other factors in the decline in American Public Education, we seem to be left with one remaining commonality- school administrators.

With few exceptions, news stories about school administrators show them to be largely dictatorial bean-counters who have lost sight of their sole reason for existence: making sure children get a good education. Instead of paying attention to this basic requirement, many school administrators are spending their energies punishing students for the slightest lack of conformity.

A recent news report from Buffalo, NY, tells the tale of a High School Senior who fell afoul of the school administration. It turns out that the Principal and head coach arranged to fire a volunteer basketball coach who was very popular with the students she coached. The students objected to the firing, and contacted the local School Board, requesting to get put on the agenda for the next meeting. All of those students were suspended. The Principal told the school board that the students’ parents had objected to the children speaking to the Board. One of the students pointed out that none of the parents had, in fact, objected. The parents were strongly in favor of the students speaking to the Board about this issue. She was suspended for 7 weeks, ostensibly for missing school without an excuse. The Board was told that this senior was a troublemaker.

In another case, some parents were trying to get the local school administrators to publish the discipline policies for the school district. When the administrators refused to do so, and the School Board backed ‘em on it, the parents started a public website identifying the recalcitrant administrators and Board members by name, and repeating the call for publishing the disciplinary policy. In retaliation, the school expelled the child of those parents and filed a lawsuit to get the web page removed. A counter-lawsuit by the parents is still pending.

These are just a small sample of news reports about school administrators and School Boards. All over the country, petty tyrants in the form of school administrators are making the news through equally despotic behavior. These tin gods have no checks on their authority, and frequently refuse to produce written procedures or regulations to justify their actions. In fact, most school administrators in the news get hopping mad at the idea that anyone dares hold them accountable for their actions.

I’m admittedly painting with a broad brush, here. All school administrators are not necessarily petty dictators more concerned with their own egocentric authority than getting the job done. All teachers are not time-serving hacks with no interest or concern for the young minds in their care. All students are not violent sociopaths from broken homes who are culturally averse to learning. All parents are not apathetic hulks more concerned with their creature comforts than their offspring. All of these problems contribute to our declining academic standings. We hear about the people who fit these descriptions because that gets good ratings. That said, the regular decline in this country’s academic performance scores shows that there are enough of these people to screw things up for everybody.

We can’t change the parents without becoming an omnipresent dictatorship (and probably couldn’t even if we did). We can’t force the children to turn off the video games and music videos and open a textbook (although the parents could). We can’t force teachers to care about their students (although school administrators could- by making it unprofitable to do so). We CAN do something about the school administrators.

Not sure who originally said this, but there are four boxes which should be used to defend liberty, in the following order: Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. We, the People, have the right and responsibility to ensure that our public servants are doing the job we’ve hired them to do. Transparency is the key. School administrators are permitted to be tin-pot dictators because the rules allow them to get away with it. Change the rules. Go to school board meetings (Soap-box). If the school board can not or is not willing to change, vote the bastards out (Ballot-box). The new school board will either be willing to change or had better have a damned good reason why they won’t. If this doesn’t get the job done, take ‘em to court (Jury box). Public servants should not be able to hide their actions from the public, and the courts are there to make sure they know it.

We haven’t got to the point of using the Ammo box. I hope we never do. So far, we the People have been able to use the other three boxes to keep control of our Government. An armed uprising to force school administrators to be responsible for their actions would be stupid. The expected benefit does not match the expected cost- not even close. So long as Soap, Ballot, and Jury boxes are working as intended, we have no need to resort to the Ammo box. Let’s keep it that way. Become active in your community politics. Circulate petitions, hold public meetings, and generally be a royal pain the ass to the Powers-That-Be. This is how participatory democracy is supposed to work.

If local politicians (School Board members are politicians- never forget that) fail to change their policies or clearly explain the reasons why they won’t, call in the hounds. Much as I despise the media, they can be put to good use. Get some local news coverage, and you’ll quickly find out whether or not your cause has public support. If it does, that public support can be used as a blunt instrument on the local politicos. If the story hits the internet, the local government could find itself receiving thousands of complaints on the subject in a matter of days. Public protests always get media attention, and politicians are (or should be) sensitive to that sort of pressure.

Robin Williams had a funny line in an otherwise execrable movie: “Politicians should be changed as regularly as diapers- and for the same reason.” Make sure your local politicians hear that message often. It makes ‘em nervous, and nervous politicians are a lot easier to deal with than the self-satisfied, smug, and arrogant bastards we’re stuck with.

Current status- Disgruntled

Current music- Old and Wise by Alan Parsons Project

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23 responses

28 01 2008
prairieflounder

I am looking forward to a certain teacher’s response to this post.
It seems that the Administrative offices are always nicer than the rest of the school and usually separated by at least a hundred yards. This is enough reason to suspect something amiss.
However I also believe that society is partially to blame, particularly the media. The message children hear is not one of hope, but one of doom and gloom. The music they listen to and news they hear tell them how the world is polluted and getting warmer, everything is unfair, and capitalism is hurtful to the poor and no one is to blame for anything. I can understand why it is difficult for today’s kids to be optimistic and enthusiastic about school work when the only message they hear is that to be successful you must be an actor, model, musician, or athlete.
-pf

28 01 2008
butchrobotpope

Great post. You make some pretty good points. In my experience, the paper-pushers are usually the most dangerous to a successful academic career. The worst of it (around here anyway) is the mandatory testing. I hear this from every teacher I know, mostly because of the funding loop you mentioned. They have to teach for the tests, so they cut back on other studies.

The origins of public school in the USA are pretty pathetic, but it’s come a long way. Still, you don’t have to look hard to find critiques like this one (which is worth reading).

Everything I’ve heard points to one commonality in the success of students, though: Parents. I’ve seen it, first-hand, with my daughter. The more involved I am, the better she does. From what I’ve seen, most parents involvement is non-existent.

28 01 2008
archvillain

PF- I didn’t address the rising tide of anti-intellectualism in this country. I’ll save that for another rant.

You have a point, but the problem with blaming society is that it means nothing. Saying “Society is to blame” doesn’t get anything accomplished- not even the trivial accomplishment of identifying the problem. Ditto for blaming the media. Saying the magic words doesn’t begin to address the problem. Dealing with these problems has to be done on a retail basis: one student, teacher, parent, and administrator at a time. In a nation accustomed to instant gratification and sound-bite quality quick fixes, long-term individual solutions have no appeal- and therefore do not get attempted.

Individuals who perceive the problem should act to fix the problem. I prefer to point out- publicly- that someone is full of shit when they are, in fact, full of shit. I also exercise my franchise by voting against inexcusably silly ideas and inexcusably stupid people. One of the people I used to work with is basically getting drafted by the people in his county to serve on the School Board. The people involved are just a bunch of individuals who are sick of the status quo and want to force some changes.

All politics is local politics. More importantly, local politics is where the important work gets done. Get involved.

28 01 2008
archvillain

BRP- Bah! I am of the opinion that your daughter succeeds at school in spite of your help. (=Þ) She’s smart in streaks.

I mentioned that the home and cultural environment has a dramatic effect on a student’s learning, so I agree with your point. That said, that’s only part of the problem. When you start identifying contributing causes for this phenomenon, you’ll find a whole host of them. I listed most of the major factors. Fix any one of those problems alone, and you’re still left with a broken system. You have to fix all of them, and you have to keep fixing them. Until you deal with the root cause, all you’re doing is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

The root cause of the failure of our education system is population. An education system designed for a mainly rural population is not going to function properly with twice as many people who are mostly from urban centers. As an engineer, my solution would be to tear down the whole system and build something new for this population in this century. Since that is:

A) Unlikely to happen,

and

B) unlikely to be successful with the usual “top-down” approach favored by Gummint,

I prefer to fix the problem on a retail basis- locally. Use internationally-accepted basic standards for math (and by extension- science), commonly-accepted standards for English, and leave everything else up to the local communities. If the local district wants to teach Intelligent Design, none of the “graduates” from that district will be accepted into any accredited college or university. Diplomas from those high schools will not be accepted as proof of a completed education.

All this could be monitored and reported upon (not enforced) by a much smaller bureaucracy than the current Education Department. Enforcement would be up to prospective employers and university recruiters (the market, in other words). This would put “paid” to international jokes like Liberty and Regent “Universities”, because nobody would hire a graduate from those establishments (for good reason).

The bottom line is, students have a right to have the opportunity to learn. If they fail to learn when given a fair chance (another rant I’ll have to cover later), that’s their own damned fault.

28 01 2008
Wenchypoo

Dear Husband,

You completely left out the complicitness of the teacher’s unions–the very reason why teachers aren’t allowed to teach effectively, and why administrators are jettisoning seemingly harmless kids for totally bogus reasons. I myself have been suspended for not attending school–I took an absence because my much-older sister (whom supported me at the time) was working night shift when the Green River killer was out and about, and had struck two doors down from us the night before. I was babysitting her kids at the time, so I stayed up all night every night until she got home the next morning, just to make sure everybody was safe.

When I finally went back to school, I was sent home again suspended. This happened so many times, I finally quit going at all my freshman year, and only showed up on the last day of the year to turn in my books. I spent the next three summers, time before school, and time after school making up for the time I spent at home that year.

Getting kicked out for kissing girls, playing tag, or any of the rest of this new political correctness is crap, and takes away from one of the things we need most to learn: how to survive in a competitive world. Teacher’s unions and predatory lawyers want us all to be bubble-wrapped and duct-taped so we won’t hurt ourselves…but then what do we do when we leave the “safe trappings” of school and home? Alas, we find ourselves out-done at every turn–we can’t compete, we wave goodbye as our jobs get shipped overseas, and we cry when Sanjay or Julio come in on visas (or under a border fence) to do it for us at half the pay. Thank you, frivolous lawsuits and political correctness!

Teacher’s unions don’t allow for actual caring about learning or developing intellect–their only job is to make sure the teachers get maximum time off with maximum pay and benefits. Ever notice how many snow days, teacher’s meeting days, parent-teacher conference days, etc., are in the annual schedule? It’s one more day they don’t have to teach. And the pay issue? A false one–teachers are paid UNION WAGES in gross, but those union bennies are expensive and come off the top. What the teacher actually nets is a pittance, but that’s after the Cadillac-style medical, dental, and optical insurance, paid days off (including summer vacations), and reimbursed tuition for maintaining certification or going for a higher degree. Then there’s tenure…don’t even get me started on this abomination of job security. This is why bad teachers can’t and won’t be fired.

Teachers–no, the whole education system–is much like politics and politicians: they aren’t there to serve YOU or your kids, only themselves. They don’t want to hear YOUR opinions, only the union’s. And lastly, they keep doing just enough to get “re-elected” (as it were) to the tenure board, where they become untouchable.

It’s all about job security, career survival, and lawsuit avoidance, not about educating future generations. We could do a better job if we plopped little Mikey and Suzie in front of the “Schoolhouse Rock” channel on TV every day (if one were to ever exist again). We can make do with our own videos of Conjunction Junction and the rest, and throw in an hour or two of Hooked on Phonics while we’re at it–and look! We have home-schooling (I know home-schoolers do a lot more than what I just described, but this would be an effective start).

29 01 2008
archvillain

Wenchiepoo- The subject of teacher’s unions deserves an article of its own, and I’m already down two rants just in response to comments on this one.

I have a better idea. You should write an article about teacher’s unions.

My main point was the fact that school administrators are too often not doing their jobs, because they’re never held accountable. They have authority without responsibility. This is a recipe for control freaks and other would-be tyrants to get their jollies without suffering any consequences. “If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?

We (the People) can fix this problem. All we have to do is stop letting the bastards get away with it. School administrators don’t have to disclose the disciplinay procedures for a school (or a district)? Get the School Board to change the rules so they have to. School Board isn’t interested in changing the rules? Vote the bastards out. The School Board is appointed, not elected? Take ’em to court. They are public servants. We public. They servants. If they don’t start playing by our rules, give ’em the boot (literally or figuratively- your call).

30 01 2008
Chanman

Just two items:
1) You mention in your post about teachers who don’t “care” about their students. What is your definition of “care”? I know some teachers and administrators who are of the opinion that unless you basically abandon your family and turn your whole life and waking hours over to your students, then you don’t “care” enough and you are therefore a bad teacher.

2) Commenter wenchypoo mentioned teachers who get reimbursed tuition for maintaining certification and higher degrees. Uh, what district do you work for? I have spent thousands of my own dollars on tuition, and I haven’t seen a single dime get reimbursed from my district, yet I am still expected to get those college units. Let’s not overdo our arguments shall we?

30 01 2008
archvillain

Chanman- I think you’re reading too much into it. When I said, “We can’t force teachers to care about their students“, I was using the broadest definition of “care” as it is most commonly used in everyday speech. I am not a teacher, nor do I play one on TV, but we have all encountered teachers (and other supposed professionals) who just go through the motions of doing their actual jobs.

As for Wenchiepoo‘s comment, I got the impression she was referring to tax reimbursement. If you have an issue with what she said, please direct your comments to her. You find a link to her blog in the upper right corner under “Blogroll- Wisdom from Wenchiepoo’s Mental Wastebasket“.

31 01 2008
Pat H.

I like your encouragement about going to the ballot box. I believe that is where we need to start. People need to be attending school board meetings and being visible. When politicians see that people are paying attention, they tend to be more conscientious about their actions.

Chanman: I have taught in 2 different districts in SC where we were reimbursed for college courses. One district actually paid for the entire course before I attended so it was at no cost for me. The other one reimbursed for expenses. There are districts out there that do care about the teachers.

31 01 2008
archvillain

Pat H.- When politicians see that people are paying attention, they tend to be more conscientious about their actions.

Conversely, when politicians see that people are not paying attention, they become far less conscientious.

An apathetic populace is a breeding ground for scoundrels, villains, and poltroons. Here in the US, we call those people “politicians”.

31 01 2008
Wenchypoo

ChanMan–check your 1040A form, lines 16 and 19. Because it’s on the FRONT of the tax form, you won’t even need to meet a 2% of AGI floor (they aren’t itemized deductions, but credits instead). If you aren’t taking advantage of these lines, perhaps it’s time to start seeing a professional tax preparer.

Uncle Sam reimburses you, not the district! Your tax forms are loaded with money–if only you knew where to look and how to take advantage.

31 01 2008
Chanman

Thanks for the info.

1 02 2008
Dawn

“As an engineer, my solution would be to tear down the whole system and build something new for this population in this century.”

Damn straight!

I think one of the factors why this won’t happen though is that the people who see how public education is failing and needs to be completely rethought form little groups that don’t talk to each other. Parents might stick to specific issues like ‘fuzzy’ math, teachers might simply blog away their frustration, homeschoolers (that’s me) get wrapped up in our own homeschooling concerns and go no farther.

Granted, those divisions are helped along by politicians who demonize teachers, administrators who encourage distrust of parents and teachers unions that dismiss homeschooling but I often wonder what would happen if those of us who know public education is a flop would start talking to each other more.

1 02 2008
archvillain

Dawn- You’re probably right. That’s one of the reasons I would like everyone hacked off at the education quagmire to start making noise about it. The more noise these people make, the more likely that other people with gripes will hear about it and possibly compare notes.

3 02 2008
Layman Pong

“Cadillac-style”?
Have you bothered to check some facts with this teacher, who has seventeen years in the classroom, who you know or know of personally, before banging all this out?
The number’s on your SIM card.

Call me and I’ll read my paystub to you. That’ll strip the Caddy down to a Hyundai.

Some grossly misinformed opinion here, but at 8:40 PST I’m still grading and lesson-planning, after cooking dinner and cleaning the kitchen, i.e., I’m too tired too respond.

I’ll just say this: for the first two years in CA, a teacher is probationary. He can be let go or not renewed with no reason given, and no recourse.

Thank God I have tenure: I am free to throw a bullshit flag at school without being let go.

And now, I’m getting prepped to go back into the trenches tomorrow.
I’lI do so without feeling particularly supported here.

4 02 2008
archvillain

Layman Pong- The targets of my rant are the school administrators and School Board members who act like Gods made flesh whenever they deal with teachers, students, or parents. These people are politicians, and need to be made to feel the public’s ire when they screw up. This is not happening in most school districts- judging solely by the various news stories about administrators and School Board members running roughshod over civil liberties and common sense.

If you disagree with the posted comments, kindly direct your reply to that individual.

If you’re annoyed with something I wrote, I obviously did not make myself clear. Please identify the text with which you disagree and I’ll try to do better explaining my position.

4 02 2008
Layman Pong

My chief concern here is the commentary about “powerful teacher’s unions” obfuscating earnest attempts at teaching.

1. ”[the union’s] only job is to make sure the teachers get maximum time off with maximum pay and benefits.”
The educational year is 180 days. The days off with no kids are staff development days. We work on strategies to improve instruction, or bone up on the latest institutional software packages.
It ain’t sitting in the country club sipping a Seven-and-Seven: it’s work.
And it’s often so mind-numbing, I’d rather teach students.

“Ever notice how many snow days, teacher’s meeting days, parent-teacher conference days, etc., are in the annual schedule? It’s one more day they don’t have to teach”
Is it just me, or has it switched from unions to teachers at the “they”?
If my all-powerful union scores a “day off,” then that’s one more day in June that I work. 180 days, 5 days staff development.
That’s state law.

“…paid days off (including summer vacations)”
Summer is not a vacation; it’s not working.
A teacher can opt to take nine paychecks, or twelve. Taking twelve is wise, because one doesn’t misjudge finances and have a lean summer.
I don’t get paid FOR the summer, I get paid DURING the summer. Big difference.
My salary is for the educational year.
I make $67K at seventeen years in.
Prison guards – no college required – make more than starting teachers.

But they work all calendar year, right?

About a day off:
I have 104 students. At two minutes per kid to read, comment on, grade, and tally an assignment – and that’s blazing speed – that’s 208 minutes, or some three-and-a-half hour’s work. Add that to a contractual day of seven hours. Now let’s add the preparation time at the copy machine, let’s add a bit of human interaction with each student…

Maybe the summer is about regrouping?
Maybe the summer is about reassessment of strategies?
Maybe the summer is time to catch breath?

2. ”and reimbursed tuition for maintaining certification or going for a higher degree.”
Well, right now I’m looking at being placed on leave until I get a CLAD/CELD certification, something mandated after I was credentialed.
It’ll cost $300 to take the test – not including test prep materials — or $1800 for the 12 units of college coursework.
Out of my pocket, and out of my personal time.

I wish I had this all-powerful union people are talking about to tell government to Fund The Mandate.

One of the biggest problems is this:
Part of this NCLB bullshit is the standardized test.
The school is “graded” on it,
BUT
The student is not.
No grade, no pay, no incentive; he’s not held back a year if he doesn’t pass. The scores are not part of a transcript that any college looks at.

There is the real phenomenon of “I don’t like this school, so I’m gonna screw the test.”
The benchmark assessment of the school’s performance.

Then the state threatens takeover.
Now, tell me that this isn’t union-busting.
Tell me this isn’t a voucher strategy. $3k tax credit to take your student to a school that is not failing. (At $9K for a private education, the voucher is merely a tax break for the rich.)

I call it Theater of The Absurd.

You put teeth behind the test, then I’ll accept that I’m failing.
That I’m failing is your premise, my friends.

4 02 2008
archvillain

Layman Pong- In short, you object to Wenchypoo‘s comment. I’ll make sure she sees your responses.

That said, you seem to be tarring everyone here with the same broad brush.

That I’m failing is your premise, my friends.

To whom are you referring?

4 02 2008
Layman Pong

And at that, I’m through taking it personal:
I realize y’all have no clue what the hell I deal with on a daily basis. (I’ll get to that soon.)

I obviously agree with some of your gist, as what I describe as obstacles are Top-Down.

But I’ve seen good people shafted by management, and I am a Union Man for that reason chiefly.

4 02 2008
Layman Pong

“The Public School system has become a vast sinkhole we throw our money into for little discernible return.”
I’m part of that.

What you don’t get is that your argument ends up pointing at the teachers.

You know Americans like the myth of Only-One-Thing-Is-The-Problem, and that’s us.

4 02 2008
Layman Pong

Oh, and, uhhhh, one more thing:
I was fairly drunk when I fired off that first one. (Goddamn Shochu.)
I just thought I’d follow up on it; I realize you focus on administration.

I’m not that hacked 😉

4 02 2008
archvillain

Layman Pong- My argument is not about teachers. I am ranting about school administrators and their partners-in-venality on the school boards.

The whole point of the article was a call for people to start taking responsibility for what these public servants are doing on our dime.

There will always be people in any group that are detrimental to the group as a whole. My point about school administrators is that the percentage of incompetent and dictatorial asshats in that group seems to be far higher than in the general population.

Unless you are:

A) a school administrator,

and

B) an incompetent asshat with delusions of godhood

the article is not about you.

So there! (=Þ)

4 02 2008
Layman Pong

I’m kind of a B-side man myself.
But that’s Mister Asshat to you.

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