“Student Debt in America: Lend With A Smile, Collect with a Fist”

The title of this NYT article could not be more true. It’s absurd that schools can charge absorbents amounts for tuition for fields that don’t stand to provide the kind of income that can payoff the cost of attendance in a reasonable amount of time. But, bottom line, the Department of Education must require schools to give students a detailed outline of career prospects and the schools chances of providing students who maintain, at the very least, sound grades, with the right opportunities to attain said jobs.

Elite Chicago Public School Raises Money to Save Teachers

The Walter Payton College Prep High School, an elite public school in Chicago, is attempting to raise $1.1 million to save 12 of their teachers from being removed during the February budget cycle. Chicago Public Schools are behind $480 million and stand to borrow more money in February.

I think this is a wonderful and applaudable act. If the teachers are good at their jobs, parents, teachers, the principal and students should do everything they can to keep them in their community. They certainly should continue their efforts, and I wish them the best of luck.

But as the article closes, it notes that the Payton, at no fault of its own, has more resources and teaches a select group of the cities brightest students who, for the most part, come from a better socioeconomic background than most of the city’s schools that must take in students of all learning capabilities and whose families are below the poverty line. As the article notes, more than 80% of CPS students comes from low income families. In contrast, about 30% of Payton’s students come from low-income families. It’s the parents of Payton students who are leading the effort– parents who may have more time to work with the school and who may be more educated on how to get involved. Less fortunate schools may have more critical immediate issues to deal with.

Once again, this is no fault of Payton and fighting to maintain a great community is setting a great example for their students and everyone around them. But, in an effort to understand what is going on in the CPS community as a whole, it’s important to note:

– Why the cuts are being made,
– How/Why other schools will be far more worse off than Payton,
– How Payton can start such a great and ambitious campaign  and
– Why other schools may or may not be able to replicate their efforts.

In no way should Payton  slow down this campaign because other schools are not doing so. But we should please take into consideration the limited resources and knowledge that schools have that may or may not prevent them from doing the same thing.

A Brief Note on Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars

In Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, there is an undertone that can be found throughout the book, which makes it’s first appearance in the introduction: “I suspected that the key to understanding the American view of teachers lay with our history and perhaps had something to do with the tension between our sky-high hopes for public education as the vehicle of meritocracy and our perennial unwillingness to fully invest in our public sector, teachers and schools included.”

I strongly agree that this sentiment and read the book through, in part for it’s history, to figure out why we blame teachers so much on a failed system that has more to do with society and corrupt educational institutions as a whole, than teachers themselves. I believe the answer lies in her suggested list of changes in the book’s epilogue. She outlines serval insightful actions that she believes will improve our country’s public education system, among them is the subsection titled “End[ing] Outdated Union Protections.” In short, she advocates for the removal of unsuccessful union policies.

Generally speaking, the public perceives teachers’ unions as entities that only care for teachers’ protections, without regard for the students they teach. Policies such as LIFO, weak tenure qualifications, strong policies against revoking tenure and years-long appeal processes to oust ineffective teachers, certainly put a teacher’s wants/needs above the cost of their students. Unions should be able to protect teachers from irrational and unfair firings and abuses but policies, such as sitting in one of New York City’s infamous Rubber Rooms for three years, is a gross abuse unions. I don’t think that eliminating unions altogether, as most charters schools opt to do, is the answer– educating children is far too complex and has a lot of gray area to do that. But, and I think Dana Goldstein would agree, teachers unions are weighed down with policies that harm the education system. Unions need reform so that policies that are counterproductive to students’ learning.

In Re Smarter Charters

Educational Leadership published an excerpt from Halley Potter and Rick Kahlenberg’s book”Smarter Charters.” The piece compares  two distinct topics: the charter school world as envisioned by former American Federation of Teachers’ president Albert Shanker in 1988 when the concept was first introduced to the United States, and the reality of the charter schools’ world, nearly thirty years later.

Charter schools are typically herald for their ability to go beyond the bureaucracy of public schools. The idea, for Shankner, was to have schools that were funded by the government but operated as a private school. This setup would allow students from socioeconomic disadvantage backgrounds an opportunity to receive a level of specialized education that is tailored for career success.

Potter and Kahlenberg believe that charter schools today have gotten it wrong. The schools now are focusing more on competition than collaboration and merit than diversity and uniqueness. I think that they have hit the nail on the head, as charter schools, while positioned as more flexible in policy, do not take advantage of this liberty. One of the key points that Potter and Kahlenberg point out is the role of the teacher in charter schools.

Teachers have the ability to have more of a say on how charter schools function. According to the Center for Education Reform, only 7% of charters schools are unionized. I find this number to be quite remarkable, as unionzed provide teachers with the career security that teaching in very complex and challenging field requires.

Furthermore, the lack of unionization may also be connected to why teacher turnover rate is twice as high at charter schools than public schools. One study shows that high turnover rates have been correlated to low test scores.

Having studied in public schools from K-12 in New York City, where there has been a debate on charter schools v. public schools, I find it particularly refreshing to read more about the pitfalls of charter schools. Not because I am against, but because i want to understand more of the actual inner workings of the present state and not the concept of charter schools. I think it is easy to fall in love with the idea of what charter schools can achieve because the possibility is there. But that is a huge difference from what is happening. Understanding the downside and issues of both education models, is the first step to understanding how we can get them to work together, like YES Prep and neighboring schools in Texas, in such a way that both systems prevail.

UFT, Shame on You

Who is penalized when $250,000,000, which is supposed to be aiding in NYC public school Students’ education, is lost? Who is penalized when that $250,000,000 can increase to as much as $450,000,000 in lost money to help schools who need it most? Th children, of course. No person or group of people is ever so at a disadvantage than the students.

The sad thing is is that they did not have anything to do with the negotiations on teacher evaluations that fell through. While I could understand why not them, but not even a random selection of their parents. Instead,all that money was left in the hands of opposing politicians, and you know what that mean. A complete fail.

Last week, Mike Bloomberg and the UFT did not reach a deal on a new way of evaluating teachers. Bloomeberg says that the UFT added last minute provisions that essentially ignored the whole point of the change in evaluations. The union wanted to have the agreement for the evaluations expire in two years, 2015. Mayor Bloomberg points out that it takes two years for a teacher to be removed from the system, which, if the union’s method were to be put in place, it would be useless.

Surprisingly, I agree with the mayor on this one. The new evaluation system needs to be tested over a number of years, not just a couple. That third year would give us some more fruitful understanding of the effectiveness of the agreement because it goes beyond the two year boundary that protects a teacher. A two year agreement would only show teachers who were warned this year and let go in 2015 but no other. But in order to illustrate a new evaluation system, we’d need at least two years (2015 and 2016) worth of complete feedback compare the two years and its effect on the system as a whole. With the union’s plan, we’d only have one. Teachers who would be given a warning in 2014 have until 2016 to get their act together, but they would be working under a new system. Under the unions provision, there would be two agreements in two years and thats not fair, stable, effective, and in favor of the students.

The union says that they dod not think that this provision was something to hoot and holler about. But, I think they know what they are doing. At the end of the day, the union’s role is to protect the teachers from losing their jobs. They are by law and a sense of obligation, on the side of the teacher, not of the student.

To read more on this issue:

http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/175547/teacher-rating-system-deal-a-bust–city-school-budget-to-lose–250m

On Economics in Public High Schools

Bank

While I understand the debate of which literary works should and shoud not be taught in public schools is imporant, in this day and age, I think there should be emphasis on economics.

As an English major and Creative Writing minor, I’m all about litearture and reading. But Between the temporary scare of the fiscal cliff and the very slow recovery from the increase in in unemployment, the economy has our constant attention, or, at least it should. The main reason why 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession occurred is because, well, no one (myself included), knew anything. We left it up to the big guys, who proved to be very small, sleazy, or both (with the exception of a few). My own neighbor, a 45 year old woman who reads an insane about of gossip magazine, hadn’t a clue of what a surplus or a deficit was. I mean, she knew in the sense that it could apply to her monthly bills, but hadn’t the technical terms to call it.

Daniel Hamermesh, an economist and professor at the University of Texas, titled his book “Economics is Everywhere.” Oh how true this is; we just aren’t educated enough on the subject area to realize it. Parents seem to be over worried that children are getting too much fantasy and not enough practical application of their studies. With economics, we could tie it to every day actions that a student can easily relate to. The purchasing of lunch is an example of something supplied because it was demanded by the student. Or, the changes in a bag of Doritos in a year is something that a student could notice but doesn’t realize the economic reasoning behind the fluctuation in prices. Or, that money is a medium of exchange. At some point in my distant past, I would have considered Yu-Gi-Oh cards a medium of exchange, at least for 90s kids. I could get anything I wanted with an Exodus, which would be the equivalent of a million dollars (think children like exaggeration). The idea that when supply goes down so prices raise the roof was evident to north eastern families as an effect of Hurricane Sandy. I pointed this out to my brother when we had to wake up at three o’clock in the morning, buy two batteries (not packs but single batteries) for $4 for our flashlight, then wait on line for three hours to see if we could get gas at a station we heard would get electricity (that never happened).

Basic economics is fairly practical and forever so constant that we should learn it pre-college. I stress this because not everyone goes to college, but most people, or at least more people go to high school than college (duh), so there’d be a wider audience. It should be a mandatory course not just optional, like English or basic algebra. I have a friend who did not take economics at all in high school (she doesn’t remember why), and another friend who too it because it was optional (it was that or Government). I say, no more choices. We need to better prepare Americans on what is going on.

Had friend number one taken economics and she were pointed to the unemployment rate and decrease in funding in higher education, then she might have thought twice about picking a school with such high tuition costs.

So when the next economic scare comes around (in late February) we would know or have some idea of what the journalist on CNN is talking about. There are a lot of people who get caught up in the hype and haven’t a shoe of what the fuss is about, let’s not make out children one of them.

This post was inspired by Daniel Hamermesh’s “Economics is Everywhere,” and Michael Lewis’ “Boomerang”, my current reads for the week.