Do what works

Better teaching — not more money — will help poor kids learn, writes John McWhorter in the New York Sun.

Take New Jersey in 1998. Since then, no funding discrepancy has been allowed between gritty urban schools and ones in cushy suburbs. And the result has been essentially nothing.

We know how to teach effectively, writes McWhorter. We just don’t do it.

Back in the 1960s, the federally funded education program, Project Follow Through, showed that the best strategy for reading was rigorous, phonics-based instruction termed Direct Instruction.

And since then it has been shown in one city after another that even when paint is peeling and there are not enough computers, this kind of instruction teaches kids to read. Period. Yet despite those findings, such programs have fought for space with people insisting that more “holistic” whole-language methods that teach word by word are somehow better — a story sadly playing out with Reading First, a national initiative to help young children to read, here in New York.

Many teachers don’t know about Direct Instruction.

McWhorter questions why Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, which calls for more funding, is revered in education school while Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, which suggests effective ways to teach, is ignored.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Is Teach like Your Hair Is on Fire about successful strategies; I mean in a Project Follow Through kind of way of assessing successful strategies? Isn’t it more about engagement?

    My answer to the question about what’s revered is the goofy behavior and attitude of college of education.

    But having read Savage Inequalities, it is hard to explain why a country would let schools be as bad as Kozol describes.

    I do think there is mismanagement of money in public education, and that just calling for more money or equal funding won’t correct disparities between districts that are managed pretty well and districts that are managed horribly.

    However, the difference in districts may have more to do with the home lives of the students than it does with methods. You can find successful schools that use theoretically the same methods as unsuccessful ones, the difference is that in some districts the general quality of life that the kids have compensates for the poor methods and in other districts, it doesn’t.

  2. Schools can control the methods they use; they can’t control students’ home life. Even if methodology is the least important factor in an individual child’s actual success, it is the most important factor that schools can contribute, and therefore ought to be the focus of educational policy.

  3. Oh, absolutely, improving methodology is key. I didn’t mean to dismiss that.

  4. Sigh.

    One supports a need for more money for less work.

    One supports a need for better work for the same pay.

    Which one will “educators” support?

  5. Twill00, how does one support a need for more money for less work?

  6. “Twill00, how does one support a need for more money for less work?”

    Good question; one joins a union.

  7. Oh, you’re so witty, Ragnarok.

    Let me rephrase:

    Twill00: Of the two books mentioned, I see how one asks for better work for the same pay; but how does the other book “support a need for more money for less work”?

  8. Peeling paint — probably not detrimental to learning.
    Broken lights — students sitting in semi-darkness — does anyone think that is not detrimental?

    I’ve seen it. One semester, my room got so dark that I had to break the no-cellphone rule and let those students who could use them as flashlights….

    It is true that the quality of instruction will always trump the quality of facilities or even materials. I’ve taught classes with no materials — other than the makeshift texts I created using the internet, a printer, and a photocopy machine. Teachers do that all the time.

    Do higher salaries attract more people who can do a better job in the classroom?

    Any data on that?

    There was a time when I gave my all for the students and didn’t really care what I was paid — but that gets old and after a while I started to feel dissed by my own paycheck.

    I wonder how many effective teachers might stay in the classroom longer if they made more money. Has anyone ever measured that.

    It is one thing to say that we need better teachers.
    It is another thing to say we can achieve that without spending more money.

  9. wayne martin says:

    > One semester, my room got so dark that I had
    > to break the no-cellphone rule and let those
    > students who could use them as flashlights….

    Hmmm .. Did the lights go out in this room? Is that why the “room got dark”?

    Were work orders submitted to the facilities people? How long did it take them to change the bulbs? Were there other issues, like a faulty light fixture? Did you consider changing the bulbs yourself?

    This is a clear example of the problem with “school people”. Changing light bulbs is “somebody else’s job”—even if the kids can’t read. OK, maybe the fixtures required an extra long ladder so that the facilities people have to do the work. Or maybe the ballasts on the fluorescent lights needed changing so that a facilities person with a replacement part was definitely required. But how many calls did you make to get the laggards to show up and do this job? Did you make a trip to the facilities office after school, or before school, or during lunch to get their attention? Did you bug the Principal (or VP) about the lighting problem so that they threatened to fire you if you came by one more time—and you did come by one more time?

    This is one of those clear examples of people who have become “process-bound” and no longer can see “results”.

    > I’ve taught classes with no materials — other than the
    > makeshift texts I created using the internet, a printer, and
    > a photocopy machine. Teachers do that all the time.

    The teachers at the Continuation Education Program at Stanford often make their own “readers” to complement any commercial texts which they choose for the classes. These readers often are more interesting than the commercial texts. It would seem to me that teachers would be anxious to create these supplemental (but hopefully better than “makeshift” materials for their students).

  10. Indigo Warrior says:

    Changing light bulbs is “somebody else’s job”—even if the kids can’t read.

    Yet providing expensive gymnasia and other equipment for the all-important high school teams never seems to be “somebody else’s job” like it is in Europe and Asia.

  11. A Teach for America teacher was fired for complaining online that he had to buy copy paper from his stipend because the school never had paper in stock for teachers to do print-outs to replace the books that weren’t in stock. Also he was told to teach shop in a room that had no shop equipment of any kind. (He turned the class into a drama class. Nobody checked.)

    He abandoned his plans for a teaching career.

  12. Wayne Martin says:

    > He abandoned his plans for a teaching career.

    It sounds like his “Teach America” experience opened his eyes to reality. He might not be the right person to write up his story, but there ought to be someone out there who’s good at writing to give this guy some national exposure.

  13. Good questions, Wayne.

    These were not simple light bulbs. They were quite long florescent sticks.

    Yes, I asked many times for the problem to be fixed.
    So did my principal.

    Finally, we bought the florescent bulbs ourselves and replaced them.

    Ladder?
    What ladder?

    I balanced myself atop desks.

    But the balasts were broken and I am not an electrician.

    My principal ultimately got things fixed and now we have new trailers with things that work pretty much the way they are supposed to and I think that it has made a difference for my students.

    I don’t know what you mean about “school people” and the “problem” with them but I have spent thousands of dollars on my classroom and on my students. That ought not be my job but it is and so be it.

    I maintain my own classroom computers, change toner cartriges, when our school was moved twice in one year I — and a few of my colleauges — packed up our vehicles to move all the items we most valued in our teaching.

    So I really don’t know who you are talking about.

    Did you think that I would sit in darkness with my students if there was anything I could do about it?

    You’ve actually known teachers like that?

    I agree that teacher-assembled readers are often the most powerful materials for some teachers in some classes. But if you love books — as I do — and want to share that love of books with students so that they can become better readers and writers, then it helps for them to be able to hold a book in their hand. In some cases, however, such as an elective class that might only be taught once every few years, I don’t mind not having a bound book. I’d rather save that text book money for core classes.

  14. Joanne, that’s a great example of why we aren’t getting as many good teachers in the system as we could.

    If you care — if you want to do a good job — it is easy to get beaten down by pettiness, arrogance, and stupidity.

    It almost happened to me.

    Somehow the kids kept me going. The kids and an appreciation for irony. I think you’ve got to love the irony of it — otherwise it’s too depressing.

    A shop class with no equipment.
    I suppose he and the students were supposed to make tools, like prehistoric humans, and then build with them. They might also have been given anthropology credit for the class and then the principal could have claimed, in his accreditation report, that the school was engaged in interdisciplinary learning….

    Sometimes the challenge of something like that can be fun — but not likely for a new teacher.

  15. Larry,

    Could you please let us know the name of the school that had no lights, as well as the year?

  16. Why does Savage Inequalities get more attention? Well for one thing, a better press agent.

    But aside from the cyncalism, Kozol’s solution lets people off the hook for really implementing change. Change is hard, but throwing money at a problem, particularly tax money, is easy. We have a long and frankly inglorious history of doing just that.

    I don’t mind spending money on education, but as has been pointed out, mismanagement of education funding is rampant. But more importantly, the education establishment tends to ignore that which doesn’t originate with them. Granted, this is true of many professions, but the impact of this insularity is felt beyond the teaching profession, indeed it carries national implications.

    In fact,the issue is not and either or proposition. We need better teaching AND better financial managment. One side alone is not going to solve any problem.

  17. Andy Freeman says:

    > One semester, my room got so dark that I had to break the no-cellphone rule and let those students who could use them as flashlights….

    It’s a good thing that those students’ parents couldn’t choose to send them to a different school….

  18. Wow. Discovery shop class.

    Perhaps if the administrators had to pay for office supplies out of pocket and not the teachers…?

  19. wayne martin says:

    > My principal ultimately got things fixed and now we
    > have new trailers with things that work pretty much the
    > way they are supposed to and I think that it has made a
    > difference for my students.

    Now it’s not clear why you brought up this example. Ok, so the ballasts went out on the fluorescent lighting. Happens every n-thousand hours of use. Yes, it requires a facilities person. But what you haven’t done is demonstrate why this “incident” is of any value to this discussion. Were the lights out for an extended period of time? No way to move to another, better-lighted area for the time the lighting was out? What about auxiliary lighting (like movable stage lights) which might be borrowed from somewhere within the school, or school district? This is such a non-issue that I don’t see it’s relevance.

    > I don’t know what you mean about “school people” and
    > the “problem” with them but I have spent thousands of
    > dollars on my classroom and on my students. That ought
    > not be my job but it is and so be it.

    I hear this all the time. What I never see is the receipts and the reasons why teachers have spent their money. I’ve been through the financial records of my school district and found some suspicious 1099s to the same teachers who claimed they were paying for “classroom supplies”.

    > I maintain my own classroom computers, change toner cartriges,
    > when our school was moved twice in one year I — and a
    > few of my colleauges — packed up our vehicles to move
    > all the items we most valued in our teaching.

    Anyone who has ever: been in the military, worked on a farm, sailed a boat, worked in a small company, owned a home probably has done any/all of these things. In a couple of years, I worked for a couple companies that moved at least seven times. I had to breakdown and setup a fairly large lab seven times during that period of time. Just a part of the job. What’s your point here.

    > Did you think that I would sit in darkness with my
    > students if there was anything I could do about it?

    Not a question I can answer.. since I don’t know you.

    > You’ve actually known teachers like that?

    Well .. I can’t say I remember ever seeing a teacher change a light bulb, but then I never saw a classroom that a teacher had allow to go so dark the kids couldn’t read. Most of the public schools I attended had ample natural light, so the overhead lighting frequently wasn’t used.

  20. Rory, I appreciate your concern and interest.

    Let me qualify something first. I used the example not to tipify the problems with education. My school is not a typical one. Rather, I meant to point out that sometimes money does matter, I mean at a basic level there are expenditures that matter.

    I work for the LA Unified School District which is, I think, generally pretty good about changing light bulbs. I have taught summer school at Venice HS and all the lights seemed to be working and I’ve been to a lot of other schools and and have never seen the kind of problem that I encountered at my school.

    Let me also say that my principal at the time was a really effective leader, a great administrator. She was often scapegoated for our problems but she really did what she could and often went to greath lengths for us.

    The year was 2004.
    The school is LA Southwest Middle College HS.

    We were located on the campus of Los Angeles Southwest College, a community college in South Central Los Angeles. LASC began two years after the LA Watts Riot of 1965 as an attempt to provide a post-secondary institution in a community that had been largely disnefranchised economically and alienated socially.

    The original college consisted of temporary structures, portable classrooms and plywood and concrete bungalows but these temporaries were still standing — though in serious disrepair — in 1989 when the school district and community college district decided to put a HS on the college campus.

    Those buildings were scheduled for demolishion in June 2005 and our school was — dispite probably being the best HS in that part of the city — nearly obliterated (but that is another story for another day).

    So the darkness in which my students had to try to learn — in the late Spring and early Fall of 2004 (only 11 of 42 bulbs illuminated) — was a number of factors: the college maintenance department ignored our work orders, LA Unified did not assume responsibility since the buildings didn’t belonged to them, the fact that the buildings were due to be destroyed made it more difficult to convince anyone to fix anything. There was also no AC, no windows (just plywood over where glass had once been), and no ventilation. Some days it go so hot in there that I had to teach outside at picnic tables.

    Whoever was ultimately responsible, the callous indifference to me and my students taught us all a valuable lesson. Ultimately our students and their parents mobilized and fought to keep our school open. Our test scores rose beyond our targets and last year, dispite even great instability and sometimes worse conditions, we led the entire district in our increase in langauge arts scores.

    Does this prove that classroom conditions and funding don’t matter?

    You can’t convince me of that. I think our students could have done even better under better circumstances.

  21. Andy Freeman, actually those parents and students could choose to leave our school anytime they wanted to.

    The problem was that their neighborhood schools were all gang infested, violent, dysfunctional places.

    But perhaps “choice” you mean the ability to give their children a subsidized private education.

    Actually, we often get kids from private shcools and many of them are delivering an inferior education with less qualified and educated teachers. In the long run, though, one would think that parents would force these schools to get better. But if parents themselves aren’t educated then it is difficult for them to evaluate the quality of, say, an AP Chemistry class. Is it really AP level? In some cases, the parent has to have taken college chem to know that.

    That won’t be a problem next year, though, since the college board is going to require all AP courses to be validated by their own audit process….

  22. wayne martin says:

    > So the darkness in which my students had to try to
    > learn — in the late Spring and early Fall of 2004
    > (only 11 of 42 bulbs illuminated) — was a number of
    > factors: the college maintenance department ignored
    > our work orders, LA Unified did not assume responsibility
    > since the buildings didn’t belonged to them, the fact that the
    > buildings were due to be destroyed made it more difficult to
    > convince anyone to fix anything. There was also no AC,
    > no windows (just plywood over where glass had once been),
    > and no ventilation. Some days it go so hot in there that I
    > had to teach outside at picnic tables.

    OK .. we finally get at the real issue. Given the overlap of ownership, and the fact that the buildings were to be destroyed certainly points a wholly different “light” on this incident.

    No one disagrees that environment is a factor in education. The underlying question is whether we (as a society) have already paid enough to educate our kids and if the money is being spent wisely, effectively and with clear results.

    One might question the wisdom to try to teach in these quarters, and why such a decision was made.

    At any rate, this really isn’t a good example in my opinion.

  23. Wayne Martin–

    The reason I brought it up was to say that sometimes more money or resources make a difference, that’s all. You then asked me a series of questions about it and I answered them and now you say that you don’t know what relevence it has.

    I’m sorry you cannot figure it out.

    I think that you help prove the point when you suggested stage lights (which someone would have to have bought since our school did not have any and since there were no other available rooms).

    When teachers spend our own money I think that it also supports the idea that money, in some cases, does matter. As for the implication that I am lying when I say that I’ve spent my own money, that if I don’t somehow show you the receipts that you won’t believe it, well, why should you? You’re right, you don’t know me. I could be making all of this up.

    Perhaps it is wrong of me to use personal examples in this discussion. Does that violate the rules of engagement? Am I supposed to remain theoretical and use only published and verified examples? That seems reasonable enough through, being in a classroom all day makes it difficult to remain entirely theoretical and to ignore what I see right in front of me.

    One more thing about the darkened classroom: ironically, while my students and I had little overhead lighting, I did have an LCD projector and a screen and was able to deliver plenty of quality instruction in the dim room. Occassionally, though, students needed to look at things I could not project and then it became necessary to let them use cellphones as flashlights. It was not an ideal condition but the projector, which the school had purchased for nearly $1,000 made a big difference and continues to help me teach effectively.

  24. Larry,

    Thanks for doing the job you do. There are some people who no matter what you’ve described overcoming seem to response with the attitude that it was your fault for not doing more.

    (I can kind of imaging them saying under different circumstances: “You rescued eight people from a burning building? Well, you should have just made sure sprinklers and smoke detectors were installed in the first place. It doesn’t matter than you didn’t have the authority to install them; it’s still your fault. If people like you would just take some responsibility. . . “)

    They just seem really distressing critical. Note: I’m not comparing changing light bulbs to saving lives; it’s just an observation about the mean spirited pettiness of some of the responses.

    It is somebody’s job to make sure the lights work. Somebody fell down on that job. All the reproaches should be rightfully aimed at that person or group of people, not on the guy who just kept teaching the kids in the dark (while pressuring the people responsible) until the lights finally got turned back on.

    If I’m not mistaken, I think the point of the illustration had to do with how the “savage inequalities” reduce the effectiveness of the methods.

    I think you and I both believe that using the right methods and the quality of teaching matter. You’re not asking for more money for an ineffective system; your asking for a system that allows you to get the job done better.

  25. wayne martin says:

    > The reason I brought it up was to say that sometimes
    > more money or resources make a difference, that’s all.
    > You then asked me a series of questions about it and
    > I answered them and now you say that you don’t know what relevence
    > it has.

    The problem with this example is that as you describe the situation (eventually) is that the room was in a transitional status, and probably shouldn’t have been used for educational purposes until it met “code”. (Any chance there were any code violations to be found in this building?)

    > When teachers spend our own money I think that it
    > also supports the idea that money, in some cases, does matter.
    > As for the implication that I am lying when I say that
    > I’ve spent my own money, that if I don’t somehow
    > show you the receipts that you won’t believe it, well,
    > why should you? You’re right, you don’t know me.
    > I could be making all of this up.

    Ever talk to a fisherman who holds both hands way out to tell about “the one that got away?” Before tale is over, the hands usually end up being a lot closer together than when the story started. Thousands of dollars could be as little as two thousand dollars to less than a million dollars. If anyone has been teaching for a lengthy period of time (say 20 years), two-thousand dollars spread over that time comes to $100/year. Not a lot of out-of-pocket expense, but only you can tell us why you spent the money and why you weren’t reimbursed by the School. I’ve heard about teachers spending out-of-pocket money for party favors, cakes and ice cream. Nice sentiment, and many thanks .. but was it “necessary”?

    > Perhaps it is wrong of me to use personal examples
    > this discussion. Does that violate the rules of engagement?

    No, of course not. You should most definitely use the examples from you personal experience.

    > I supposed to remain theoretical and use only
    > published and verified examples?

    It certainly helps, when the data exists. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

    > That seems reasonable
    > enough through, being in a classroom all day makes it
    > difficult to remain entirely theoretical and to ignore what
    > I see right in front of me.

    Nor should you. The point I was trying to make in discounting this particular example is that the room was in a building that was in a “transitional” status—between two government/educational jurisdictions. It’s difficult to believe that your administration didn’t do a walk-thru the buildings, assessing the serviceability of the building/rooms for purposes of educational instruction. You folks certainly had to know that the lights were out before you starting classes.

    > One more thing about the darkened classroom: ironically,
    > while my students and I had little overhead lighting, I did
    > have an LCD projector and a screen and was able to deliver
    > plenty of quality instruction in the dim room. Occassionally,
    > though, students needed to look at things I could not project
    > and then it became necessary to let them use cellphones as
    > flashlights. It was not an ideal condition but the projector,
    > which the school had purchased for nearly $1,000 made a
    > big difference and continues to help me teach effectively.

    The problem with this example is that you started off with a room that was not suitable (or only barely suitable) for teaching. If the basic issue was some fluorescent bulbs and ballasts—these are expendables which the District will have put in their budgets anyway. Getting these already paid-for commodities into the class room was a local problem. At no time did you suggest that the District was out of money and you had to wait until another budgeting cycle to get the funds for what probably turned out to be about $100 worth of lighting equipment. As for the A/C, the same point holds.

    “You haven’t shown that your students couldn’t “read” out-of-class, in order to learn whatever it is that they needed to learn, or that until the lighting was correct—that learning finally began.

    It’s just not a good example of how “more resources” actually raised scores, or kept your students from dropping out of school.

    > I’m sorry you cannot figure it out.

    I think I did.

  26. NDC wrote:

    think you and I both believe that using the right methods and the quality of teaching matter. You’re not asking for more money for an ineffective system; your asking for a system that allows you to get the job done better.

    OK, be specific. For problem A you propose solution B. What, in your estimation, would be a step in the direction of a system that allows you to get the job done better?

  27. NDC, you said it much better than I did.
    Thanks.

    Wayne Martin, yes, you’re right, the LAUSD and the LA Community College District have enough of our tax dollars to light classrooms.

    Again, my point was that sometimes money does matter (whether it comes out of the teachers pocket or the district’s). The original premise of the discussion was what mattered more, spending or the quality of instruction or how much of an impact did spending have on the quality of instruction and how much of the impact was on the competency and professionalism of teachers and while I believe that it is on — the teacher — to do the job for which we are paid no matter what the conditions, no matter how large the class or how severe the deficits of our students, the financial resources we have for equipment, materials, etc. can have an impact.

    Let me put it another way:

    Spending more money with incompetent teachers is a complete waste.
    Spending more money with good and committed teachers can — at least in some cases — make some difference.

    Will you concede the possibility that might be true?

    This I will concede:

    If you are saying that enough tax money is being funneled into school districts and that failures are due to mismanagement and incompetence (including some teachers), then I cannot argue. I would not want to argue. I see money wasted through incompetence and corruption all the time.

    That same semester — Fall 2004 — that my students and I were in semi-darkness, every school in the district was sent and billed for a math text book they had not ordered, that wasn’t very good, written by — royalties payable to — a district administrator and his wife (the bill depleted much of our text book funds for the year); a year later, he was fired and charged fraud (LA Times September 16, 2005). I have heard that he is now employed in a similar position with another district.

    I have spent hours of my life at professional development trainings that taught me nothing I didn’t already know and fed me, sometimes quite extravegently, at your tax-paying expense.

    As for the veracity of my claims about spending my own money, you’re right to be skeptical. It would be easy to exaggerate or fabricate such things from behind the screen of a computer. And why should it impress you? It doesn’t even impress me. What impresses me is when my students traverse three or four gang hoods to come to school every day and learn everything I ask them to learn and are then the first in their family to go to college. What impresses me is when the most articulate student in my class shows up with his parents who cannot speak a word of English. If the system is failing then those kids who are thriving in it most are even more remarkable for doing so.

  28. Well, in the case of the light bulbs, I’d like the school district folks to make sure the money that they are paying for maintenance and physical improvement actually ends up in the classroom and not in some swanky count level administrative office.

    If the problem is that the district doesn’t have this money, they should take any money that they are paying for consultants or motivational speakers and allocate it to fixing the buildings. They can shift any personnel whose job it is to hire consultants and motivational speakers and have them track the maintenance with the same irritating passion that they bring to compelling teachers to listen to educrats tell teacher stuff they already know, stuff they can’t control, or complete bull.

  29. I guess I didn’t make myself clear enough.

    It’s Monday morning before classes start and while rooting around in a supply room, looking for some erasable markers that aren’t mummified, you come across a tarnished brass lamp.

    Without giving it a second thought, you try to buff some of the grunge off with your sleeve.

    Inevitably, a genii springs from the lamp and announces that you have one wish.

    “What happened to my three wishes” asks you?

    “Take it up with the guy writing this story” sez the genii, “Oh yeah, the wish’s gotta have something to do with school. Sorry”.

    So? What are you going to use your one wish for that’ll fix one, some or all of the problems you’ve described, today and into the future?

  30. wayne martin says:

    > Again, my point was that sometimes money does matter
    > (whether it comes out of the teachers pocket or the district’s).

    Of course money matters—the US is spending at least $1T a year on public education now! The private sector also spends a lot of money on specialized education for its employees, which can not be added to the public spending directly, but can be added for the purposes of these sorts of discussions.

    > The original premise of the discussion was what mattered more,
    > spending or the quality of instruction or how much of an impact
    > did spending have on the quality of instruction and how much
    > of the impact was on the competency and professionalism of
    > teachers and while I believe that it is on — the teacher — to do the
    > job for which we are paid no matter what the conditions, no matter
    > how large the class or how severe the deficits of our students, the
    > financial resources we have for equipment, materials, etc. can
    > have an impact.

    I suppose I agree. However, all we hear from the education industry is: “more money, more money, more money”. There doesn’t seem to be any self-evaluation of the education industry by any credible agencies to oversee the spending and the results, unfortunately. Therefore, its not hard to understand the tension that arises between the taxpayers and the education industry.

    > Spending more money with incompetent teachers is a complete waste.

    OK.

    > Spending more money with good and committed teachers can —
    > at least in some cases — make some difference.

    OK.

    > Will you concede the possibility that might be true?

    Yes, up to a point. I am not a fan of Class Size Reduction, for instance.

    > If you are saying that enough tax money is being funneled into
    > school districts and that failures are due to mismanagement and
    > incompetence (including some teachers), then I cannot argue.

    OK.

    > I would not want to argue. I see money wasted through
    > incompetence and corruption all the time.

    Ok .. but waste is not necessarily linked to incompetence and corruption however. Let’s take pre-school and Class Size Reduction, for instance. Both of these programs are very expensive, and neither seems to have much effect on the graduation rate (although it may be a little too soon to make that statement about pre-school). Reading scores in California are abysmal—about 60 percent of California’s students are reading at BASIC, BELOW BASIC or FAR BELOW BASIC on their STAR CST tests. It would seem that the whole CSR program is a systemic “fraud”, even though there are some instances where it does good.

    > That same semester — Fall 2004 — that my students and I
    > were in semi-darkness, every school in the district was sent
    > and billed for a math text book they had not ordered, that wasn’t
    > very good, written by — royalties payable to — a district
    > administrator and his wife (the bill depleted much of our text
    > book funds for the year); a year later, he was fired and charged
    > fraud (LA Times September 16, 2005). I have heard that he is
    > now employed in a similar position with another district.

    > There’s a school Business Manager indicted almost every week,
    > somewhere in the US.
    > I have spent hours of my life at professional development trainings
    > that taught me nothing I didn’t already know and fed me, sometimes
    > quite extravegently, at your tax-paying expense.

    This Blog is replete with postings from teachers who say pretty much the same thing.

  31. Andy Freeman says:

    > But if parents themselves aren’t educated then it is difficult for them to evaluate the quality of, say, an AP Chemistry class.

    I’ll bet that they can figure out which schools have working lights.

    Larry seems to think that the existence of crappy private schools is somehow noteworthy. It isn’t. In his zeal to damn them, he missed something very important. Kids left those crappy schools.

    Yes, some parents will make bad choices. It’s unclear why that justifies holding all kids hostage.

    BTW – one thing that choice changes is that schools will have to teach parents why their kids should attend.

  32. Well said, NDC — a great suggestion. Make conditions as ideal as possible, particularly for new teachers, then figure out what, if anything, they need in the way of professional development.

    Wayne Martin, you are right that a cry for more money without the willingness to be accountable is irresponsible.

    As for class size reduction, by itself it may be ineffective. On the other hand, 38 to 42 in a high school class creates serious limitations for an instructor if more than a few of those students enter the class already behind in their reading and other skills.

    Spending isn’t the only way to reduce class size. As NDC suggests, yank all the unnecessary educrats out from behind their desks and make them return (most of them are escaped classroom teachers) to the classroom or replace them with teachers willing to teach.

    Also, at least in my district, class size limitations are calculated as averages. For example, 11th grade English classes are supposed to average 20 students, which is ideal but because it’s an average (with no min or max), a teacher could have one class of 35 and another of 5 (or, more likely, 30 and 10. Stricter rules about that sort of thing wouldn’t cost anything but could help.

    School size, I suspect, may have a much greater impact on student success than class size. I wonder if there is any data on that.

  33. Larry Strauss said:

    “…38 to 42 in a high school class creates serious limitations for an instructor…”

    Really? Why don’t inner-city Catholic schools suffer from this limitation?

  34. Ragnarok, which inner-city Catholic schools pack an average of 40 in a classroom?

    Also, your extract from what I said omits an important part of the statement…. “IF more than a few of those students enter the class already behind in their reading and other skills.”

    Please don’t take my words out of context; it’s a form of intellectual fraud. Argue with what I said, not a straw man of your own creation.

    And what do you mean by “Why don’t inner-city Catholic schools suffer from this limitation?”

    Do you mean that Catholic schools in the inner-city don’t have such large classes? Or that they do but are able to successfully teach all of their students, including those who are more than one year below grade level in reading?

    I have had students in my class who transferred from some of those inner-city Catholic schools. Some of them came to my class well-prepared to do college level work. Others came very much unprepared. So I’m not sure that your question doesn’t, in fact, beg the question….

  35. Walter E. Wallis says:

    You got no satisfaction on complaints about classroom equipment inadequacies? Boy, I’ll bet your union BA really ripped them a new one for that. That is what you pay dues for, isn’t it?

  36. There are a number of studies that indicate that inner-city Catholic schools are able to do substantially better with their students than public schools in the same area. IIRC, this issue was discussed on this blog some time ago; try searching the archives.

    You said:

    “Also, your extract from what I said omits an important part of the statement…. “IF more than a few of those students enter the class already behind in their reading and other skills.”

    Please don’t take my words out of context; it’s a form of intellectual fraud. Argue with what I said, not a straw man of your own creation.

    And what do you mean by “Why don’t inner-city Catholic schools suffer from this limitation?””

    I thought it was painfully obvious; the parochial schools draw from the same neighbourhoods (meaning same kids), they have large classes, they do substantially better than the public schools. Clear now?

    On a different topic, I looked at your blog. You seem to be a writer in addition to being, as you pointed out, an “ENGLISH” teacher. Yet you can’t spell words like ballast (“balast”), fluorescent (“floresent”), despite (“dispite”), despair (“dispair”) and typify (“tipify”). How can you teach kids English if you can’t spell?

  37. Ragnarok,

    Don’t underestimate what having the power to kick bad kids out does for a school’s ability to teach everyone else. Unless the Catholic schools feel the same obligation to provide an education to everyone who wants to enroll or stay enrolled, no matter what the kid’s behavior is like, like the public schools, that alone contributes a lot to their performance. That, and the fact that these kids parents have to care enough to find some money to pay, in addition to whatever they might pay in taxes, to send the kids. Even if a couple kids have scholarships or vouchers, their parents had to know and care enough to seek them out.

    Allen,

    I think my wish would be for schools to tell teachers exactly what they wanted in outcomes; the outcomes wouldn’t be mutually contradictory, and that barring anything illegal or immoral, teachers would be allowed to focus exclusively on delivering those outcomes without any other interference or “accountability.”

    I put “accountability” in quotation marks to cover things like turning in my lesson plans to people who don’t read them, and even if they did read them, don’t know enough about the curriculum to know if what I have on the plans is actually what I’m supposed to be teaching.

    Expressed as one thing: allow teachers to work exclusively on delivering a few well chosen and compatible outcomes.

  38. About Larry’s spelling, I suspect that he is more careful about spelling when he is teaching than he is when he writes on this blog. If he doesn’t use his blog as a teaching tool, it’s hard to see how his spelling on the blog would harm his teaching much.

    This is the kind of pettiness I was referring to earlier.

    Is your general point, Larry can’t spell, so he’s not a good teacher. We shouldn’t listen to his ideas about education because this terrible weakness.

    If not, why bring it up?

  39. NDC,

    Public schools have the right to expel students. Rarely do they exercise that right, but that’s a different issue.

    IIRC, the expulsion rate at Catholic schools is very low. Try searching the archives, also the Washington Post’s education columns.

    I’m quite amazed by your determination to have all the kids sink together, rather than let at least some of them escape.

    Finally, there was very interesting study done quite recently (don’t remember the authors), which compared charter schools with corresponding public schools. The charters did better even though they got less money. What makes this study different? The sample was very carefully chosen; the kids they tracked at public schools were the ones who’d applied to the charters via a lottery system and lost.

    Clear? Same kind of parents, same kind of kids, same neighbourhoods. Very hard to refute that study, NDC.

  40. NDC,

    You’re missing the point about Strauss’s weak spelling. There’s a difference between the occasional typo and genuine ignorance.

    Clear now?

  41. Show me the study. You demand that I post links to law codes, and you give me a “there was study done recently”?

    Even without looking, though, I accept the charter schools were actually better. Who you go to school with and their attitudes about learning changes the quality of the education your receive. If we allowed everyone to use the standards charter schools can and do, we could expect improvement overall.

    If you looked at the difference in what kind behavior is necessary, I suspect you will see what kids have to do to be expelled from a public school or charter is very different than whatever standards a private or charter school chooses to use. Think about the number of charters that require parents to volunteer, too. Regular public schools can’t apparently do that.

    Poor spelling doesn’t equal ignorance.

    Ignorance of spelling in the moment, yes; ignorance in general, no.

    I’m done with the spelling conversation myself.

  42. wayne martin says:

    I did a quick look for “catholic schools” “class size” and “inner city”. Quite a few results were located by Google. Didn’t find one that confirmed any 40+ numbers, but all confirmed that class sizes were higher than in the public schools:

    —-
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/ps/97459ch2.asp
    School Resources and Programs

    Classes in Catholic parochial schools tended to be larger than in private schools in general. More than 62 percent of the Catholic parochial schools had an average class size of 25 or more, a substantially higher proportion than private schools overall (36 percent). Similarly, the student/teacher ratio of 20:1 was higher than in private schools in general, where it was 15:1 (table 1.7). These differences were consistent with the finding that class sizes and student/teacher ratios are generally inversely related to tuition rates (McLaughlin, ODonnell, and Ries 1995).

    Nearly all (92 percent) Catholic parochial schools offered kindergarten programs more than private elementary schools in general (86 percent)and about half offered pre-kindergarten (table 1.4). About half of the parochial schools offered after-school programs slightly more than private schools over-all (table 1.9), and almost all Catholic parochial schools had libraries (95 percent)significantly more than private schools in general (80 percent) (table 1.10).
    And that the graduation rate was significantly higher in most locales.

  43. I should have proofread better. Sorry. I was trying to contrast public non-charters with charters and private.

  44. Can I repeat again that I’ve got no problem with trying school choice. I just insist that there be some standard set by the public about which schools are eligible for the redistributed taxes.

    I don’t want the school districts to decide; I just want there to be some sort of external review. We can set it up that any school who has a certain percentage of kids at the proficient level can receive the funds. We can have people vote by local referendum. We can have the state legislature do it. I don’t have much of a preference about how it get done.

    I just think that leaving it solely up to the parents will create some schools just as bad or worse than what we’ve got now. A market will open up for schools of least resistance, for schools of crazy politics, for schools of discriminatory cults.

    Now, you might feel that what we have is a supply of public schools that currently only provide these things. That may be true (I don’t believe it to be, but you might), but I’d like reform that insist we get rid of them, and I don’t think that completely open parent choice will.

  45. Poor spelling in an English teacher is bad stuff, NDC.

    Unfortunately your attitude is “let them all sink”, rather than “”let some of them escape”.

    Much of this stuff has been hashed out on this blog in the past. Many of the people on this blog have been on for years, and a lot of this stuff is old hat. Unfortunately you don’t seem to have the same exposure to it, so it’s hard to explain this stuff to you.

    If you were really interested in giving kids a better education, you’d be looking at what works rather than defending a failed system. Too bad.

  46. How am I defending a failed system? I want to see change. I acknowledge problems with the system although I don’t seem to agree about the degree of its failure (public schools are still working well in some places while you seem to hold they are failing completely) or the causes of the failure (I believe you are overestimating the influence of teachers’ unions in causing the problems).

    And I think it’s hard for you to explain to me because I’m not failing in to the camps that you assign people to. You seem to have a either “you completely agree with me about vouchers that parents can use absolutely anyplace they want” or “you want to keep the present system just as it is” false dichotomy going on.

    I want to see all of them escape, not just some of them.

    (If you are unwilling or unable to persuade new people because things have been hashed out before, then you aren’t going to get anywhere in your efforts to change a system in which other people have a say. If you go the route of insulting people who don’t agree with you, you’re not going to get anywhere trying to change a system in which other people have a say.)

  47. wayne martin says:

    > If you are unwilling or unable to persuade new
    > people because things have been hashed out before,

    Many topics have been discussed before on this Blog. Newbies are encouraged to look at the archives and read through the discussions.

  48. Wayne, I understand that. But if you are promoting change, you need to work at persuading new people. If you go with, “well, there are some persuasive points in the comment archives someplace; she’ll just have to go look them up,” your case will hardly be made.

    I’ve been reading here for years. Although Joanne Jacobs does an excellent jobs of presenting news accounts and research about the complexity of issues in education, the comments always go along the lines of a group saying the equivalent of “black, black, black” while a few others respond “white, white, white.” They aren’t usually going to persuade anybody.

  49. Well, maybe the don’t “always.” But some commenters are very predictable and repetitive.

  50. “How am I defending a failed system?”

    1. Acknowledge that unions contribute to the mess.
    2. Allow school choice (subject to some reasonable oversight if tax money is involved).
    3. Understand that schools will never pay attention to parents until the parents control the money.
    4. Lose your “it’s good enough” attitude. The TIMSS and PISA results are humiliating, and yet you don’t seem overly concerned.
    5. Suppport firing bad teachers and administrators.
    6. Give up lifetime tenure.
    7. Understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good; so let those kids escape who can, rather than waiting for that immaculate, perfect solution that saves all kids.
    8. Understand that schools are over-funded; cut the funding and demand more. Here in the Bay Area public schools get more than some private schools, yet they deliver abysmal performance. I know, I know, sources, right? Go look at the non-partisan CA Legislative Analyst’s Office website. Hidden in there you’ll find that public schools in California get more than $10,000 per pupil, not counting tax breaks and special expenses.

    Clear now?

  51. 1. Acknowledge that unions contribute to the mess.

    Yes, in some places they contribute to the mess. But they can’t be doing everything that’s attributed to them because, as we fleshed out in the other thread, we can identify states that don’t see the union influence at yet they still don’t have universally good schools.

    2. Allow school choice (subject to some reasonable oversight if tax money is involved).

    Yes, this is how I feel.

    3. Understand that schools will never pay attention to parents until the parents control the money.

    I’m not sure that schools should exclusively pay attention to individual parents. If you want a completely personalized education, you’re going to need to home school.

    But if you mean that schools should have to set the policies that their group of parents want to see, then I agree. If you want to give people a way “to vote with their feet,” and go to another school with better policies, okay.

    (But again, I don’t want a school with policies of truancy acceptance, everybody gets an A, and we don’t believe in test scores to crop up, which is why I want some public oversight.)

    4. Lose your “it’s good enough” attitude. The TIMSS and PISA results are humiliating, and yet you don’t seem overly concerned.

    The only thing I’ve suggested was good enough was literacy. Almost everybody in the US does learn to read at the level that we measure the difference between literacy and illiteracy. In every other area, I’ve said I wanted to see improvement.

    I haven’t looked at anything other than reading lately. I don’t find them humiliating, but I didn’t say they were good enough either.

    5. Suppport firing bad teachers and administrators.
    I do.

    6. Give up lifetime tenure.
    What do you mean by this? Eliminate due process protections? Okay, but I don’t know it’s going to be the magic bullet you are looking for it to be.

    7. Understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good; so let those kids escape who can, rather than waiting for that immaculate, perfect solution that saves all kids.

    You say this, and yet, you aren’t willing to consider choice with oversight?

    8. Understand that schools are over-funded; cut the funding and demand more. Here in the Bay Area public schools get more than some private schools, yet they deliver abysmal performance. I know, I know, sources, right? Go look at the non-partisan CA Legislative Analyst’s Office website. Hidden in there you’ll find that public schools in California get more than $10,000 per pupil, not counting tax breaks and special expenses.

    I don’t have to look at additional sources. I know that when you divide total expenses by the number of students, some schools are terribly over-funded. I tend to think you’re a fool for paying the taxes you do (as well as the housing prices that you must) to live in the Bay Area, especially if you can’t depend on the taxes to provide the public services that you want.

    But here’s the thing, even in the over-funded districts, the mismanagement keeps the teachers and kids from having what they need.

    As I’ve repeated said, we can try school choice and see if it leads to better management of resources. It certainly seems like it would.

    How much money should a voucher for a kids in the Bay Area be for? You seem to think that 10,000 is too much, but I bet that some of the private schools charge more than that. What should it cost per pupil?

    Clear now?

  52. I shouldn’t have said that I think your a fool for living there. I think living there is a foolish decision. But just as I won’t write off Larry’s ideas because of his spelling; I shouldn’t write of your ideas because you live in an overpriced part of the country. I mean, not everybody can live in Georgia.

  53. wayne martin says:

    > I tend to think you’re a fool for paying the taxes
    > you do (as well as the housing prices that you must)
    > to live in the Bay Area, especially if you can’t depend
    > on the taxes to provide the public services that you want.

    A Californian’s tax situation is complicated by Prop.13, passed by the voter’s in 1978. This landmark piece of legislation was put in place because of out-of-control local governments (which included school district) that were raising property taxes in a most obscene way. The current system sets the appraised value of a home at 1 percent of the sale price. Further, the appraised price is increased yearly by 2%. Moreover, we have a supermajority requirement in CA for any tax increases.

    The problem with this picture is that about 25% of the homes in California are “grandfathered-in” under the initial assessment value of the owners homes. That means that about 25% of the homeowners have not moved since 1976 (the seniors who moved to CA after WWII). The extremely high property values that have resulted from California’s being the 6th largest economy in the world has resulted in a two-tier property tax structure. Older folks pay about 10% of the taxes that younger people do for the same properties. When you are paying $15,000 a year and your neighbor is paying $1,500–a little tension develops over time.

    As to the services—the California legislature has been most generous with other people’s money, and set the ball in motion for the state’s flirting with permanent bankruptcy. Sadly, “liberalism’s” promise of “free goodies from the government” seems too strong for those who migrated to the “golden state” for their “share of the pie” and the same whackos are returned to the Legislature election cycle after election cycle.

  54. wayne martin says:

    Oh, and in a parting shot to the “dark classroom” example, here’s a resource for teachers in the LA area who find themselves in a similar situation:

    Los Angeles/Electricians:
    http://www.superpages.com/yellowpages/C-Electricians/S-CA/T-Los+Angeles/

  55. NDC, you wrote to W. Martin: “I shouldn’t have said that I think your a fool for living there.” I think you meant -I think YOU’RE a fool for living there-

    Be careful.
    The spelling police are watching.

    And thanks for trying to explain my “weak spelling” (WEAK spelling? Can spelling really be weak or strong? Isn’t it simply right or wrong? How about MISspelling?)

    Actually, there is no excuse for my “ignorance.” But is it really ignorance? Seems like a rather broad conclusion for a rather small sample: five words (though who knows how many other errors of mine went unchecked?)

    I did some soul searching as to whether I ought to continue to risk polluting my students’ minds given these spelling errors and decided that I will not abandon my students over it.

    Perhaps it isn’t too late for me to get help.

    Thank you, Ragnarok, for bringing this to my attention. And thanks, also, for sharing the data from that study comparing students who got into charter schools with students who applied and did not. I agree that it is difficult to argue with the results.

    Wayne Martin, thanks for the research on Catholic schools.

    O

  56. That strangely placed O was an accident — somehow I submitted before I was ready (also, I meant to proof carefully for spelling errors but, again, submitted prematurely so anyone still interested may find a few in that last post; have fun…)

    One more thing on the subject of class size: if anyone knows any of the teachers with the large classes in the inner-city Catholic schools that are outperforming their public school counterparts, please ask them if they think they could do even better if they had fewer students.

    Remember that in a successful school not all students are succeeding. Our goal ought not be just to raise the averages but to ensure that all students learn.

  57. Larry,

    Thank you for the you’re and your correction. Interestingly, the first time I wrote it, I got it right. But you’re probably right that it’s a slippery slope to complete lack of knowledge.

    Seriously, I apologize if it seemed like I was being critical.

  58. Wayne Martin,

    Do those electricians work for free for employees of the district? That’s great!

  59. No need to apologizem NDC….

    I should apologize for picking on your typo. I was having a little fun with it.

    Seriously, I deserved the attack from Ragnarok. I think I got a bit arrogant in my discourse and invited the attack.

    I also deserve it because I love to pick on students for their careless errors. Some students in our leadership class once made a poster to be hung in my classroom. It read: WRITTING IS REWRITTING.

    I loved the irony of it and displayed the thing, as an example of irony, on my wall and was never shy about crediting its creators….

  60. wayne martin says:

    > Do those electricians work for free for employees of the district?

    As usual, NDC, you have missed the point. Of course the electricians don’t work for free. But consider the bidding .. a teacher (posting herein) claims that he doesn’t have enough light in his class room, and that this is a big problem. This teacher claims that he has spent “thousands of dollars on this classroom”. So, here’s a chance to spend a little money in a way that will put “some light on the topic”. As it turns out, the teacher chose not to spend what might have been as little as three hundred dollars getting this problem fixed, out of the “thousands” he had spent over the years.

    Why not? Aren’t results important? What did those “thousands” buy that might have been more important than getting the lights fixed?

    NDC, you need to step back and look at the “big picture”.

  61. Larry Strauss spake thus:

    “If anyone knows any of the teachers with the large classes in the inner-city Catholic schools that are outperforming their public school counterparts, please ask them if they think they could do even better if they had fewer students.”

    I confess I was one of the many who thought this was a no-brainer, that smaller class sizes were guaranteed to improve the situation.

    And then along came a bunch of research that showed that reducing class size doesn’t make a difference until you get down to 12 or fewer students per class. That’s not a Cadillac ride, that’s Aston-Martin territory, and I for one don’t feel that it’s justifiable. Damn that inconvenient research!

    This is documented stuff, search the archives.

    NDC, feel free to step up to the plate and hand over enough money to reduce just one class to no more than 12.

  62. Um, I haven’t argued in favor of reducing class size. I’m not sure what you’re reading, but it doesn’t seem to be my comments.

    And I didn’t miss the point. Providing lights for the classroom isn’t something that should come out of a teacher’s salary. It is WRONG for you to assume that it’s his duty to buy lights for any reason, but it’s particularly stupid to argue that he should spend more of his own money because he’s spent his own money in the past.

  63. Come, come, NDC, surely y’all can do better than that?

    It’s crystal-clear that I was addressin’ Larry Strauss re class size. Any clearer and I’d have been transparent! Did you really not grok that? And you a teacher!

    As for your response to Wayne, I couldn’t have found a better example of the unionoid mentality if I’d tried. It ain’t your job, it ain’t your fault, it ain’t fair, if only those damned bulbs wouldn’t burn out, if, if, if. Anything, in short, to avoid getting the job done, right?

    And the fact that teacher pay in the Bay Area tops out at well over $90,000, plus up to 90% of the highest pay on retirement, plus health care for life, well, surely we shouldn’t presume that these things entitle us to ask for something in return, something like actually teaching our kids, should they?

    BTW, did you Google for Sara Boyd? or Bob Williams? I think Allen had a rude shock when he looked them up 🙂

  64. Wayne Martin says:

    > And I didn’t miss the point. Providing lights for the
    > classroom isn’t something that should come out of
    > a teacher’s salary.

    One of the differences that is clear when talking to teachers about their life in the “Blackboard Jungle” is that they have very limited authority, very few degrees of freedom to deal with issues that affect their productivity and ultimately their productivity. Schools (and Government in general) is process-oriented. Companies that become process-oriented go out of business. Government/Schools just get bigger, more expensive and less productive.

    There are (and have been over the years) thousands of small companies here in the Silicon Valley. Most of the small companies are called “start-ups”.. because they are in a “start-up” mode. Companies of this size range from a few people to a 200-300 people. These companies exist for only one purpose—get a product to market before their seed money runs out. If you fail, you go out of business. Time is money. In these companies, there generally are few rules. In “Start Ups”, the good managers realize that there are too many problems to solve in the first couple of years of the companies existence for them to make all of the rules and decisions. Most of the folks in the company wear a lot of hats. These multiple hats are generally belong to “somebody else”. People routinely work at least six days a week during the first couple of years, knowing that there are no “do overs” .. no second chances. When the money runs out.. everyone loses their jobs. For the people working in these companies it’s exciting … it’s an opportunity to create the future with your own hands…your own mind .. and sometimes .. your own money.

    Good managers in these companies routinely tell people—the only dumb question is the question you don’t ask. Good managers also know that things can go wrong, and that they need to be able to depend on their employees not to stand around waiting for a manager to appear to make a silly decision but to make a good decision in their absence. Good managers routinely tell their employees—if you need something, go buy it! Fill out an expense report, and the company will reimburse you. Sure, there are limits, but I’ve seen people spend $5,000 on a new computer (when computers cost $5,000) because not having it was hold up someone on the “critical path”. Rime is money, and not meeting a delivery can result in financial penalties, and/or losing the very contract that pays your salary. Time is money! It’s the glue that holds the business world together. There just doesn’t seem to be any sense of that urgency in the Government/School world.

    There actually is a flaw in this suggestion I proposed to have the teacher pay to have the lights fixed. I would guess that teachers don’t have the authority to allow a third party to work on school property, so reputable electricians probably would not have accepted the job. And then there’s the issue of liability if someone were to be hurt, or the work turned out to be faulty… In this case, the problem seemed to have been a school administration that put students into a building that was not quite ready for classes. Not a problem of money, but a problem of jurisdiction, or one of scheduling facilities resources. Suppose the teacher offered to pay the electrician and the school reimbursed the teacher—just like in the private sector? Too Radical? Too Scandalous? Over my dead body? That’s somebody else’s job?

    > It is WRONG for you to assume that it’s his duty to buy
    > lights for any reason,

    Well .. given my description of how things work here in the Silicon Valley .. I would suggest that NOTHING IS WRONG when time is burning, results can be achieved that otherwise might be lost because somebody decided that a job he/she could do with a little personal incentive was really “somebody else’s job”.

    The posting actually offered a suggestion, rather than stated an “assumption”. There is a big difference between these two notions, by the way.

    > but it’s particularly stupid to argue that he should spend
    > more of his own money because he’s spent his own
    > money in the past.

    Best not to call people “stupid” because you don’t see eye-to-eye with them.

    This teacher claimed he had spent “thousands of dollars” in the past. Yet, he hasn’t explained WHY he spent that money, if he might have been reimbursed, if he asked to be reimbursed and was denied, what the results of these dollars were in terms of class GPAs or improved dropout rates after the dollars were spent. (By the way, claiming that it’s “particularly stupid” to suggest that because the teacher did spend money in the past, that he might not spend money in the future argues against human nature. The public is not really disinterested in hearing about unsubstantiated voluntary expenditures by teachers unless they can document the expenditures and the needs that were unmet by the school district which were facilitated by the teacher’s gift of personal funds. Oh, and we’d also like to know why teachers who can make these claims haven’t been able to get an adequate classroom expense accounts from either the school district, the PTA or the parents directly?

    NDC, you’ve asked us not to discount you because you were teachers in another thread. Yet, you have claimed that you would not file a work order for something that needs maintenance in another thread. You have claimed that teachers should not spend their money to get the lights turned on while complaining that it was a big problem. You have claimed that you are for “change”—but when offered scenarios, or challenges, which would require that you take a “leap of faith” .. that you think “out of the box” .. you have not. In fact, you have become reactionary .. clearly defensive of the status quo.

    So .. with the private sector working breakneck to make the products that society needs to pay the bills and create future .. and the US school system delivering a product that sees only 70 percent graduation rate and only 40 percent reading of American students reading at grade .. what are we to think of you teachers who seem so secure in the status quo by their actions?

  65. Ragnarok, you began one comment like this “NDC,feel free to step up to the plate and .. ..” It was about class size.

    I have never claimed I wouldn’t fill out a work order. I have filled out work orders. My school happens to be great about fixing things almost immediately. But I don’t blame teachers who are already making the sacrifice of working at challenging schools for the buildings being run down.

    Do you not see the difference between the start ups’ policy of “buy what you need to get the job done and we’ll reimburse you” and the schools in which to be reimbursed you’d likely have to file paperwork FIRST, paperwork that probably wouldn’t be approved because he had to go through the work order that was being ignored? There’s a very good chance that Larry wouldn’t get the money back.

    I don’t care if he makes 200,000 dollars a year; if the tax payers are paying someone in the district to maintain facilities, it doesn’t make sense for him to personally pay for the lights.

    (I didn’t call anybody stupid: I said it was stupid to believe that his paying in the past should obligate him to continue to spend his own money. It’s like saying, you once gave money to a charity, so now you’re obligated to keep giving more and more money to the charity.)

    And again, I repeat: I’m not defending the status quo. I’d like to see change and reform. But it kind of seems like you aren’t willing to start any reform. You just want to lay blame. What are you doing to bring about school choice other than insulting common public schools?

    You guys have a kind of flailing attack on everyone and everything. Some of the harm lands on the wrong people.

  66. Just for the record:

    -I modified my instruction to the degree that it was possible in order that my students continued learning in my classroom; I used the LCD, I sat them strategically to maximize what little light we had, etc.

    -My principal and I did, in fact, buy the bulbs but that didn’t fix the problem.

    -I think that she would have hired an outside electrician but we were promised, on a number of occassions, that the problem would be fixed soon. Had we known how long it actually would have taken it would have made sense to hire an outside electrician. If that broke a rule, so be it. Neither she nor I were afraid to break a rule if it was in the interest of students.

    -I think, however, that fixing all of those ballasts would have cost thousands of dollars and there is a limit to what I can spend with two children in private colleges and two elderly parents to help take care of.

    -Also, please consider how time and energy-consuming it is to teach five or six classes.

    -I agree that teachers ought not sit back and be victims of poor conditions. When I started teaching 15 years ago, there were no computers in my school. I went out and got a bunch of junked machines, got a guy to refurbish them and set up a mini-lab in my classroom. I taught students how to use them and, with no budget, we created a school newspaper.

    -When my classroom at Venice HS (where I teach in the summer)got unbearably hot last summer, I bought a $300 air-conditioner and installed it in the window. A colleague of mine who taught at Dorsey HS last summer (our school does not offer summer school) had the same problem (there was a heatwave in LA) and his response was to march his angry students to the air-condtioned principal’s office. He and his students received a lecutre from said principal about blaming other people for their problems.

  67. wayne martin says:

    >> Just for the record:
    -I modified my instruction to the degree that it was possible in order that my students continued learning in my classroom; I used the LCD, I sat them strategically to maximize what little light we had, etc.
    -My principal and I did, in fact, buy the bulbs but that didn’t fix the problem.
    -I think that she would have hired an outside electrician but we were promised, on a number of occassions, that the problem would be fixed soon. Had we known how long it actually would have taken it would have made sense to hire an outside electrician. If that broke a rule, so be it. Neither she nor I were afraid to break a rule if it was in the interest of students.
    -I think, however, that fixing all of those ballasts would have cost thousands of dollars and there is a limit to what I can spend with two children in private colleges and two elderly parents to help take care of.
    -Also, please consider how time and energy-consuming it is to teach five or six classes.
    -I agree that teachers ought not sit back and be victims of poor conditions. When I started teaching 15 years ago, there were no computers in my school. I went out and got a bunch of junked machines, got a guy to refurbish them and set up a mini-lab in my classroom. I taught students how to use them and, with no budget, we created a school newspaper.
    -When my classroom at Venice HS (where I teach in the summer)got unbearably hot last summer, I bought a $300 air-conditioner and installed it in the window. A colleague of mine who taught at Dorsey HS last summer (our school does not offer summer school) had the same problem (there was a heatwave in LA) and his response was to march his angry students to the air-condtioned principal’s office.
    >>

    Ok .. all of this makes sense. It’s a shame it’s taken so much work getting the details of this situation into the record. I still think that it’s a poor example of how “more helps education”, however.
    > He and his students received a lecutre from said principal about
    > blaming other people for their problems.

    Typical of bureaucrats.

    By the way, how much would a used air-conditioner have cost?

    > -I think, however, that fixing all of those ballasts would have
    > cost thousands of dollars and there is a limit to what I can spend
    > with two children in private colleges and two elderly parents to
    > help take care of.

    Looking at the WEB-page below, ballasts go for as little as $8 and upwards for $250. We’d have to know that manufacturer and model to determine the likely cost per unit and then for the room. Most class-room fluorescent units have two, three or four bulbs. So it wouldn’t be difficult to make a reasonable SWAG at the costs.

    http://www.goodmart.com/products/ballast_magnetic.htm

    As pointed out above, I don’t think that teachers should have to foot the bill for air conditions, computers or any capital equipment which is clearly needed. Each class room should have a reasonable “expense account” which the teacher should be able to spend at his/her discretion to meet needs for low-cost expendables. If Teachers believe they need something, like getting lights fixed in a hurry, there should be some way to get the lights fixed and if the Teacher paid for the work he/she be reimbursed. Teachers should be adult enough to make that point to their School Administrations, one would think.

    > I don’t care if he makes 200,000 dollars a year;
    > if the tax payers are paying someone in the district
    > to maintain facilities, it doesn’t make sense for
    > him to personally pay for the lights.

    Then the lights will stay out until the “somebody” whose job it is gets around to doing “their job”.

    > (I didn’t call anybody stupid: I said it was stupid
    > to believe that his paying in the past should
    > obligate him to continue to spend his own money.)

    >> but it’s particularly stupid to argue that he should spend
    >> more of his own money because he’s spent his
    >> own money in the past.

    Sorry, difficult for me to parse this any other way.

  68. Wayne Martin:

    First of all, bravo on your idea of giving teachers our own budgets to maintain our classrooms. Run for Secretary of Education on that idea alone!

    As for the price of a used air-conditioner, remember, it was a heat-wave. I didn’t think too many people would be selling their air-conditioners, not if they worked. I was lucky to find anything at that point.

    I didn’t mind, though, really.

    Venice HS is near the ocean and usually not that hot in the summer. It’s not as if the school district is ever going to equip them with AC, it wouldn’t make sense. The attitude of the summer school administration is that the students deserve a little discomfort — since they god Ds and Fs during the school year — and the teachers are making extra money, a priviledge — and can put up with the sweat. Of course, the administrators, also making extra cash, had an air-conditioned bungalow….

    I do not disagree with you that the broken lights were not a very good example of why more money can sometimes, if well-spent, improve things.

    Class size reduction is a better example — notwithstanding all of the valid challenges to that claim.

    Again, I do not believe that overall spending on education ought to increase. We’ve got to reform things to eliminate the hideous waste.

    If that’s possible.

  69. It’s not a strong assertion. Period. Spending your own money in the past does not create an obligation to continue to do so in the future.

    I have never argued that he should have continued just to teach in the dark, only that you are blaming the wrong person for the room being dark.

    Instead of saying, “wow, that’s practically criminal mismanagement of the district’s resources; let’s find out who was responsible and demand he or she be accountable,” you attacked the teacher of the class.

    I think it’d be a great idea to give each teacher his or her own budget. Had an expectation that he could be reimburse for having the lights fixed, and instead Larry elected to stay in the dark, then I would agree with your various points. But the fact, he didn’t, and to expect him to continually lay out his own cash, while we still have public school and county budgets, is improper.

  70. That is correct, NDC, I would not have been reimbursed for hiring an electrician.

    I do respect the argument that teachers should do whatever we reasonably can to make our classrooms inhabitable and even inviting and to teach effectively. Not only for the sake of providing a quality education but to set an example to students.

    When our school was moved, temporarily, to a defunct elementary school campus in a condemned subdivision near the Los Angeles airport, I had only tiny chairs and tables in my new classroom (which had been a Kindergarten room). Our old student desks had been lost in a storage container somewhere. I did what any responsible educator would — searched around that campus until I found some higher tables (the ones previously used for 5th grade students) and pulled benches into my classroom and made do.

    Of course, it is not a good allocation of resources for someone with a master’s degree, a teaching credential, National Board certification, and 15 years teaching experience (even if I still cannot spell with great adoitness) to move furniture (or clean the grime off of it) but I certainly would never endorse the it’s-not-my-job philosophy.

    It’s ironic that it was attributed to me but I take responsibility for that since I did not adequately explain things.

  71. I know what you mean. Earlier when I was asked about what solution I would suggest, I wanted to mention the tasks that teachers are often asked to perform that on a average wage level don’t really make sense. If your district was paying custodians, it made more sense for a custodian to do that work so that you could concentrate you efforts on jobs that required your expertise or experience. But of course, it needed doing, no custodians were around, so you did it.

    Sometimes, it kind of makes sense in a “many hands make light work” kind of way, like when we handle attendance related paperwork or mail stuff home. But when one or two teachers are assigned a project that a secretary could do, it makes you wonder if it’s good stewardship of the higher priced labor.

    Recently, we were doing something that required looking up a large amount of data. It was probably about a 10 hour task. Only about two hours really needed to be done by teachers and yet that’s who did the whole project. Wouldn’t it have been better to pull someone else who works for less money away from their work than to pull away the teachers?

  72. Yes, that is a typical example.

    And, while you’re at it, grab a few students to help (with whatever), and justify it by inventing some premise by which the exploitation of their labor, during school hours, is for their own educatinal benefit….