Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Where Have All The Teachers Gone? (Long Time Passing)

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:52 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

A long time has passed since my first year of teaching. Fifty years ago this September I began my 30-plus year career as a high school teacher. (Yes, I'm that old.) I taught in a one-high-school district outside of Riverside, California. The district wasn't my first choice, but it was the only job I was offered. Teaching jobs were scarce.

The next year I applied for a job in the Portland, Oregon, area. Again, only one district offered me a job, which I took. I stayed there until I retired in 2003.

I was an English teacher, which was a liability. Too many prospective English teachers were chasing too few jobs. But the jobs were there if you looked. By the time I had been teaching a few years, though, college education profs were warning their students, if you're planning to get a credential in English or social studies, you could be in trouble. Openings in those areas were few and far between. It would be a good idea, students were told, to get a second credential in another area to hedge your bets. People who could teach math, science and special education were in demand, not English and social studies teachers.

Over the years, I may have had some colleagues who didn't have traditional teaching credentials. If so, I don't remember them, and I'm sure they weren't in the English department. I can say with reasonable certainty, no classrooms in schools where I taught had full time substitutes. There were plenty of credentialed teachers to go around.

Today, too many Arizona teachers lack a teaching credential. Too many classes are being managed by full time substitutes. And Arizona is hardly alone. The same is true in other states.

Where have all the teachers gone?

I kept my 1969 contract, my version of taping the first dollar I made to the wall. My salary was $7,140. That's in 1969 dollars, of course. A 1969 dollar would be worth a little more than seven dollars today. So figuring for inflation, my first year salary was the equivalent of $50,000 today.

Today's average starting salary in Arizona is in the $35,000 range.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ex-Education Superintendent John Huppenthal And I Have a Rare Moment Of Agreement, About State Grades

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 8:52 AM

  • Courtesy of pixabay

It's the oddest thing. Ex-Superindent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal doesn't appear to like A-F state school grades any more than I do. And, to raise the level of oddity a notch, he was superintendent in 2011 when the state grading system went into effect.

I was a regular Huppenthal critic when he served as Education Superintendent from 2011 to 2015. These days, he is a frequent commenter on my posts, and I continue to disagree with him on almost every educational issue worth disagreeing on. But under my last post criticizing the state grading system, Huppenthal chimed in with a total of five comments, which he summed up when he wrote, "The letter grading system does more damage than good. And, I am the guy who originally put it into state law." He went on to write, "They mix two calculations which can't be mixed: growth and achievement."

I agree with every word.

As I wrote in the previous post, the A-F grading system doesn't help much when, to use the example of two elementary schools in TUSD, a school with about 25 percent of its students passing the state's high stakes test and another school with about 70 percent passing both got a "B" state grade in 2019.

It doesn't make any sense to regular human beings that schools with such widely different student passing rates should get the same grade. To understand, you have to know that the school with a 25 percent passing rate increased about ten points from 2018, while the 70 percent school dropped about four points. You also have to know that student growth makes up half of a school's grade.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

They've Improved The State's School Grading System. Now It Tells Us Even Less Than It Used To.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 3:34 PM

  • Courtesy of pixabay

First came high stakes tests, the educational equivalent of trying to improve children's physical fitness by measuring their body mass index, strength and stamina, then measuring them again next year. And the next year. And the year after that.

High stakes tests yield terabytes of data, but no measurable student improvement. All we learn from the time consuming, curriculum distorting exercise is, test scores correlate with family income. Actually, we don't even learn that. We knew it already.

Then came A-F school grades issued by the state based on students' scores on the high stakes tests. In their original form, they were just a different way of presenting schools' test scores. The only added value was, they made intuitive sense to people who want a simple way of rating schools. We all know what letter grades on report cards mean, so the system was easy to understand. Schools with an "A" or "B" grade were likely to have mostly middle-to-high income students and high academic achievement. The "C," "D" and "F" schools were likely to have lower income students and lower academic achievement.

Lots of people complained about the grades, with good reason. They echoed the class bias of test scores, but the grades made the results were even more judgmental. They lavished praise on schools with high income students — "You get an A! You get a B! — while they labeled schools with low income students anywhere from average to failing. No matter how talented the teachers and administrators at the schools teaching low income students were, no matter how hard they worked, it was nearly impossible for them to get the top grades schools with higher income students received as a matter of course.

People at the Department of Education heard the complaints, so they decided to try and make the grading system more nuanced. Educators, statisticians and computer techies set to work to create a weighting system which made the grades more equitable.

The changes were at least a partial success. The current state grades reflect more than the students' family income. That's a step in the right direction, isn't it?

Well, maybe. But the changes create a new problem. If the new, improved grading system doesn't tell us which schools have the highest test scores, what does it tell us?

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Wilmington, Tulsa, Orangeburg And The Blackout of Black History

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2019 at 4:06 PM

Tulsa Race Massacre, in flames, 1921 - COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • courtesy of wikimedia
  • Tulsa Race Massacre, in flames, 1921

The main reason I began watching HBO's new series, Watchmen, was because I heard the show incorporated the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as a central part of its narrative. (And, I should add, I'm a fan of comic-book-noir television series.) The show is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in an alternative present where descendants of the Massacre receive reparations — you know right there it's an alternative reality — and an underground group of white supremacists is waging war on the city's black population and the police.

The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of many horrifying chapters in this country's racist history. It is made that much more shameful by the fact that it has been purposely omitted from our historical narrative, as have many similarly horrific events. The 1898 Wilmington Massacre was misrepresented for decades as a victory of whites over a black uprising, when it was spoken of at all. The more recent 1968 Orangeburg Massacre was largely ignored and misrepresented by the contemporary press and has been little spoken of since.

I didn't know about the three events until recently. I would feel more ashamed of my ignorance of these and, I'm certain, other examples of large scale, racially motivated violence, except that I can't really blame myself for not knowing about what has been blacked out of the historical record. That being said, I willingly accept the collective guilt and shame for the white, "history is told by the winners" rendition of history which has glossed over, misrepresented and left out some of the greatest outrages perpetrated against minority groups in this country.

I have been working to remedy my ignorance for at least a decade. I posted about the Wilmington Massacre last year when I stumbled on a mention of it and did some research. Watchmen was my link to the Tulsa Race Massacre. I only learned of the Orangeburg Massacre a few days ago by chance when I was reading some biographical information on one of my favorite newspaper columnists.

Below are brief summaries of the three incidents with links to more complete histories.

The Wilmington Massacre, 1898

In the late nineteenth century, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina and home to a large, reasonably affluent and educated black populace. The state's Republican Party, which at the time deserved the label "the Party of Lincoln," had joined with the Populists to form the Fusion Coalition. By 1894, the Fusion party had taken the governorship and every other statewide office. Blacks served in local and state governments.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Let Them Eat Choice" And Other Takeaways From the National NAEP Test Results

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2019 at 2:43 PM

  • Courtesy of wikimedia

The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results are out. The standardized tests, given to a national sample of 4th and 8th grade students, are considered by people across the educational spectrum to be the most accurate assessment we have of student achievement in reading and math. That doesn't mean they should be taken as gospel, but they succeed at their assigned task far better than the high stakes — and highly prepped and highly gamed — state tests, which should only be taken seriously when sprinkled with copious grains of salt.

Some takeaways from the 2019 NAEP:

• The national results aren't encouraging.
• The Arizona results are somewhat better.
• The white-minority gap is shrinking.
• The educational inequality is growing.
• Trump's queen of education, Betsy DeVos, hearing achievement is at a standstill and schools are starving for funds, replied, "Let them eat choice."

Let's break it down.

The National Center for Education Statistics administers and analyses the NAEP. According to associate commissioner Peggy Carr, "Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse."

The math and reading achievement scores have been basically flat since 2009. Actually, they've been flat since Bush's No Child Left Behind began in 2002, when the president and the Congress decided the answer to our educational problems is testing students within an inch of their lives. Students had been making measurable progress since 1972, a period which is often thought of as the bad old days of education. We were dubbed a "Nation At Risk" because of our terrible schools, and we had to do something to fix it. What we did was turn our schools into test-prep and test-taking factories, which stalled whatever educational progress we had been making before NCLB.

Arizona, however, has done better than the nation as a whole. The state's test scores are still either at the national average or slightly below, but they have been creeping upward while the nation's haven't budged.

Why are Arizona's scores improving? No one knows. Some people say it shows money in education isn't all that important. Others say it's our dedicated teachers. Still others say our growing charter school sector is upping the state's education game. The state Department of Education says, think how much better we'd be doing if we had enough funding.

Me, honestly, I have no idea why the state scores are on an upward trajectory, other than it's a good thing.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Where Democrats Are Heading In K-12 Education Policy

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2019 at 1:11 PM

  • Courtesy of BigStock
When it comes to K-12 education policy, this is not Obama's Democratic party. Today's Democrats are less privatization/"education reform" friendly and more interested in supporting and improving public — that is, district-based — schools with a two-pronged approach: make the schools a better place to learn and make the world outside of school a better place for students to live.

When Obama came to office in 2009, he was faced with two possible approaches to improving K-12 education. One was to put the blame for poor test scores on individual schools and figure out ways to force them to up their game. The other was to look at the world outside schools for factors affecting students' successes and failures, then try to improve the quality of students' lives as a path toward improving their school achievement. This isn't a binary choice, of course. Most people understand that good schools and a better environment outside of school contribute to students' attitudes and achievement. It's a question of emphasis.

Obama's education advisor during his 2008 campaign was Linda Darling-Hammond, a college professor and author who put a great deal of emphasis on improving students' lives outside of school. Instead of elevating her to Education Secretary, Obama chose Arnie Duncan, one of the people he brought with him from Chicago. Duncan had been the CEO of Chicago Public Schools and focused on the role of schools, public and charter, in helping or harming student achievement. Putting Duncan at the education department helm meant continuing the policies of the Bush administration: emphasizing high stakes testing, heaping praise on "great schools" while shaming schools with low test scores, and increasing the number of charter schools.

Since 2009, faith in the value of high stakes testing has faded and charter schools have lost their "new kid on the block" luster. Democrats' education policy emphasis has moved away from the Obama years. You can see the change on the national, state and local levels, but the clearest way to put a spotlight on current K-12 policy proposals is to look at positions taken by the leading presidential candidates.

I went through the K-12 position papers of Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I haven't read the positions of all the other candidates — too many candidates, too little time — but those I have read are less detailed than the three front runners but not different in overall emphasis.

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Friday, October 25, 2019

College Loans: Contempt And Forgiveness At The U.S. Department of Education

Posted By on Fri, Oct 25, 2019 at 2:22 PM


It's been a strange couple of days on the college loan front at Betsy DeVos's Department of Education. The department was held in contempt of court for screwing over students and parents who owe money on loans they are not required to repay. During the same week, a high ranking department official proposed student loan forgiveness on a massive scale.

The Ed Department has been held in contempt of court and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. The reason: It continued to bill ex-students of the for-profit Corinthian College chain, even though it had been established that the colleges defrauded the students.

Obama's Ed Department created the process of forgiving the loans, and Trumpsters are duty-bound to trample on Obama's legacy. Combine contempt of Obama with the Trump administration's preference for the free-est of free market capitalism at the expense of the consumer, and you have two reasonable explanations for the decision to keep the loan payments flowing.

DeVos's department has a different explanation. It says it shouldn't be held in contempt, claiming billing those 16,000 students was simply a mistake. It seems they would rather be considered incompetent than ill intentioned, though I suspect a combination of the two. The department is in the process of refunding payments and, when necessary, fixing damaged credit ratings of students and their parents.

In another student loan-related story, a high level appointee in the Office of Federal Student Aid decided, after seeing the loan situation up close, we need to "stop the insanity" of burdening students with loans. Wayne Johnson proposes forgiving the first $50,000 in student debt. For people who have already repaid their loans, he proposes a tax credit of up to $50,000. For new students, he proposes a $50,000 government voucher which wouldn't need to be repaid.

Don't expect the proposals to be taken up by DeVos & Co. Johnson resigned from the Ed Department.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Koch Network's New K-12 Pose: "Let's All Be Friends!"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 3:36 PM

  • Courtesy of Creative Commons

The Koch Network — formerly known as the Koch Brothers until David Koch died in August — is looking for a new way to ease into K-12 education.

Let's not fight, the Koch Network says. Why can't we all just get along?

Welcome to the Network's new, conciliatory educational brand.

This kumbaya moment comes from an 800 ton gorilla which spends hundreds of millions of dollars so it can sit anywhere it wants. The Network has bought seats at the table in congress, state legislatures, universities and school boards across the nation. We have our own outpost at UA, The Freedom Center, purchased and overseen by some of the Network's high rolling contributors.

The Network has only made half-hearted attempts at moving into the world of K-12 education, so it hasn't had much of an impact thus far. Now it has begun to put more money and energy behind its efforts.

In June, the Koch Network created a new group, yes. every kid., whose purpose, according to one of its spokespeople, is to "move away from the 'us versus them' framing in K-12" and work together across political and educational lines.

It's strange to hear these folks claim they want to make friends with the same educators the Kochs have worked against from their earliest days as political activists. Back in 1980 when David Koch was the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, the brothers weren't interested in getting along with the education community. The Libertarian Party's platform called for an end to free public education.
"We advocate the complete separation of education and State. . . . Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended."
The Kochs haven't strayed far from their privatization goals in the decades since. It's still vouchers first and charter schools second. They believe publicly funded and governed schools will lose out in a head-to-head competition with free enterprise-based education. The traditional school system, they hope, will simply wither away.

So why is the Network saying it wants to play nice all of a sudden? It's because the political winds in education have begun to shift away from privatization.

Until recently, the privatization/"education reform" movement looked like it was winning the education wars. Charters have grown steadily, and an increasing number of states have adopted voucher programs. Even Democrats looked like they were coming on board. They seemed to agree with the "reformers" that our public schools are failing and we need something new — certainly more charter schools, and maybe private school vouchers as well — to offer children an alternative to their local schools. The privatization movement even had a Democratic champion in the White House. President Obama was acting like the Education-reformer-in-chief.

It looked like smooth sailing toward privatization. Then something went wrong.

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Staff Pick

Patronato Christmas at San Xavier Concerts

Evening concerts with the Tucson Boys Chorus and the Sons of Orpheus raise funds for The Patronato,… More

@ San Xavier del Bac Mission Tue., Dec. 10, 6-7:30 & 7:45-9 p.m., Wed., Dec. 11, 6-7:30 & 7:45-9 p.m. and Thu., Dec. 12, 6-7:30 & 7:45-9 p.m. 1950 W. San Xavier Road.

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