Tag Archives: teachers

Here’s a rational thought

I don’t want to keep harping on gun control, but I had to laugh when I heard about this proposal coming from a politician, Phillip Lowe, in South Carolina. Ever since they started the Civil War, you can always count on the good folks north or the Savannah River to promote nutty political ideas.

The new supply closet?

The new supply closet?

In response to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting last week, one senator has a solution to school shootings – arm all the teachers, janitors and cafeteria workers. There seem to be two polar opposites about what to do about rampant gun violence. One side wants to eliminate (oops, I mean “restrict”) all firearms. The other side wants to just give everyone a gun. I guess the thought is that if someone came into a school and started shooting, all those kindergarten teachers and librarians would pull out their Glocks and blow him away.

I have two thoughts on that. The first is that the idea of a bunch of arming a bunch of amateurs with deadly weapons and encouraging them to use them in a building full of children, is a real scary thought. It’s not as easy as it looks on television or in a video game. Supposedly trained professionals mess it up all the time. Just last August, a handful of NYPD cops took on a bad guy and they got their man. But they also managed to wound nine innocent bystanders in the process. And these guys were supposed to know what they were doing. Imagine if they were school nurses!

The second, and equally scary thought is this; if you let and encourage guns in schools, how are you going to ensure those weapons away from the children? What happens when some junior psychopath-wannabe knows that Mrs. English Teacher keeps her gun in her desk drawer. After a playground encounter with the bully d’ jour, he decides to show his classmates how crazy he really is. Never happen? And who would have thought a 20-year-old son of a kindergarten teacher would take an AR-15, break into a school, and shoot up a class of six year-olds?  Hmmm.

What summer vacation?

A summer vacation from school is a long tradition dating back to the days when the kids were needed to help on the family farm. In just the past couple of days, I have run across two articles discussing the concept.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed people who think school starts too early and the kids and the tourism industries need a longer summer break.

On the other hand, Time Magazine has an article in this week’s issue that partially blames the summer vacation for lagging performance by American students, particularly those from lower income families. .

There was never any question when I was younger; summer vacation was clearly my favorite time of year. As an adult, however, I have had reason to question why the school systems sit idle for so much of the year. Putting student performance aside for a moment, because I have no experience or expertise in that area, just look at the typical school calendar from an efficiency standpoint.

School systems spend millions on buildings, books, supplies, computers, etc., but only use them for 70% of the time. (A typical school is open for 180 days. There are approximately 260 workdays in a year.) What kind of business could afford to compete if it allowed its facilities and equipment sit idle for 30% of the year?

The same concept can be applied to teachers. They are underpaid on an annual basis, although less so if you consider their pay and workload on a per-day basis. A typical young worker in another field may work roughly 245 days per year, allowing for two weeks vacation and five holidays. A typical teacher contract is for 185-190 days. Looked at on an annual basis, teaching is really a part-time job.

While there are some really great teachers out there, overall the teaching profession does not attract the “best and the brightest.” One reason for this is pay; young adults who are looking at careers know they can make a heck of a lot more money in fields like medicine, law, engineering, finance, business, and so on. Society could easily justify giving teachers a 29% annual pay increase, if the educational system allowed them to work the same number of days as most of the rest of the full-time world.

We have a good friend who is a teacher. She complains about her low pay. However, we don’t hear complaining about her fall break, spring break, Christmas break or more than two months of vacation during the summer.

A year-round school calendar doesn’t necessarily mean that every student would need to be in class for the entire year. Although I suspect some expansion of the number of classroom days wouldn’t hurt performance any. Many colleges solve this problem with summer terms during which the classes meet for fewer days, but for longer time periods each day.

Here is one idea.

A school year of 180 days equals 36 weeks. Add five holidays, two weeks for the December holidays and a week’s worth of annual preparation time for teachers and you come to 40 weeks. That leaves 12 weeks of idle time. Divide those 12 weeks into three 4-week, or two 6-week summer terms. Require students to attend one or two of the 4-week terms or one of the 6-week terms. You would also need to build-in flexibility for siblings to enroll in the same summer terms to allow for summer vacations.  This would:

  • Expand the students’ classroom time and increase learning;
  • Allow teachers the opportunity to work for an entire year and be paid accordingly;
  • Make more efficient use of facilities and equipment;
  • And still allow time for family vacations.

It’s just a thought.

You’re fired!

The latest news here in Savannah is the school board has decided to fire the entire faculty, staff and administration of one of the public high schools because of poor performance, as measured by a sub-60% graduation rate. It will be interesting to see if this actually has any significant effect on the performance of the students in the school. Somehow I suspect it won’t. I’ll go out on the limb and predict that there will be a short-lived jump in measurable benchmarks, but it will not last.

The purge will allow the district to get rid of what weak teachers are there, and, apparently, satisfy some state agencies. Plus, because of this massacre, the school will be the center of attention of the district. But it all can’t last forever. The normal ebb and flow of attrition will return the faculty to the same kind of level as other schools – some good teachers, some bad teachers and many average teachers. And the school will not be able to hold the spotlight forever.

Although the school has been making progress under a relatively new administration  in the past few years, it wasn’t enough. This school has been a weak performer for years. Some time ago, the admissions director of a nearby state university told me she wouldn’t even assign a recruiter to that and one other Savannah school because, “…there aren’t enough students who can meet our admission requirements to make it worth the effort.”  This raises the question – is the problem the school (teachers and administration) or the students? Principals and teachers come and go. The only constant is the students.

The purge will do nothing to solve,what I suspect, is an underlying problem — the elementary and middle schools. If a student arrives in ninth grade unable to read or do the math to handle the work, there isn’t much the high school can do to remedy nine years of ill preparation both at school and at home. The high school is at the end of the pipeline.

As anyone can guess, this school is in the inner city, with a high minority (98% black) and relatively high poverty area.

Coincidentally, George Will wrote a column this week for the Washington Post in which he puts the blame squarely on the students’ families.

“Plainly put, the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance — qualities of the families from which the students come. Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home — and the presence of two parents in the home.”

Will especially targeted one telling statistic — 71.6% of African-American and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers. If national statistics hold for Beach’s attendance zone (and there is no reason to believe they don’t), that means roughly three quarters of the students come from low-income and single parent families. This is not a formula for success for any new set of administrators and faculty.

Raising children well is tough and it takes time. Most children are not totally self-motivated to work hard, read a lot, do their homework, get out of bed to get to school, and so on. Left alone, children are like all other matter in the universe. The will tend to the lowest level of energy and organization. Children usually require a parents to set and enforce high standards and to create a culture of success.

So school district officials have decided to help those students by firing their teachers and administration, and replace them with supposedly better ones. It’s too bad they can’t do the same for the parents.