Category Archives: Education

Government Schools: Arguing the Same Stuff for 50 Years

There’s really no reason to follow the fights over government schooling.  Unless there’s been some outrageous new low that makes the newspapers, there’s nothing new when it comes to the government’s monopoly on education.  The power structure is the same as it’s been for decades.  And the same battles that have been fought in meetings and letters to the editor for more than 50 years are still being fought today with the same predictable results.

Here’s how it goes.  The superintendent (now called a CEO!) hosts a meeting with parents and makes a show of listening to them.  The parents talk about how the schools are failing their children, and the politicians (including the superintendent) make promises about how everything will be different in the future.  Then everybody goes home, and nothing happens.

The Gazette has another story about one of these familiar, useless meetings.  Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, came to District 9 and… wait for it… “listened to concerns.”  Parents demanded “teacher accountability,” and the CEO assured them that “his administration would evaluate teachers.”

Before they left the meeting, the CEO threw in a comforting platitude.  “If you want to be successful, you can’t tolerate mediocrity,” he said.  Then they all went home.

And that will be the end of that.

The demand for teacher accountability is not new.  The problem is that having the government evaluate its own teachers is like having the students grade their own papers.  The government will rarely fail anyone on its enormous payroll, even when his work is terrible.

Teachers and principals need to be accountable to parents, not to the special interest groups that control the schools.  And the only way for teachers and principals to be accountable to parents is for parents to have the power to vote with their feet.  They must be free to choose the school and the type of education that is best for their child, or they will never have a say in their child’s education.  All they will have is another useless meeting with a CEO who pretends to listen to concerns.

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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Education, Politics


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NJ Teacher Pens Error-Filled Letter to Governor Christie

Fordham University professor Mark Naison has posted on his blog an open letter to Governor Christie from a New Jersey teacher.  The teacher wants… wait for it… more taxpayer money for government schools and the elimination of choices for parents.  But in venting her anger at the governor, she reveals more about the problem of government-run schools than she intends.  Let’s see what this educator has to say:

Dear Governor Christie,

Yesterday I took the opportunity to come hear you speak on your campaign trail.  I have never really heard you speak before except for sound bytes that I get on my computer.  I don’t have cable, I don’t read newspapers.  I don’t have enough time.  I am a public school teacher that works an average of 60 hours a week in my building.  Yes, you can check with my principal.  I run the after-school program along with my my classroom position.  I do even more work when I am at home.  For verification of this, just ask my children. 

She wants us to know that, unlike the rest of America, she works really hard.

I asked you one simple question yesterday.  I wanted to know why you portray NJ Public Schools as failure factories.  Apparently that question struck a nerve.  When you swung around at me and raised your voice, asking me what I wanted, my first response “I want more money for my students.”  Notice, I did not ask for more money for me.  I did not ask for my health benefits, my pension, a raise, my tenure, or even my contract that I have not had for nearly three years.

We got into a small debate about how much money has been spent on education.  Too me, there is never enough money that is spent on education.  To invest in education is to invest in our future.  We cannot keep short-changing our children and taking away opportunities for them to explore and learn.  As more money is required for state-mandated curriculum changes and high-stakes standardized testing, it is our children that are losing.  Programs are being cut all over the state as budget changes are forcing districts to cut music, art, after-school transportation, and youth-centered clubs. 

Oh my, she’s a middle school teacher, and she doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too.”

But let’s put money aside for a moment.  What do I want?  What do ‘we people’ want?  We want to be allowed to teach.  Do you know that the past two months has been spent of our time preparing and completing paperwork for the Student Growth Objectives?  Assessments were created and administered to our students on material that we have not even taught yet.  Can you imagine how that made us feel?  The students felt like they were worthless for not having any clue how to complete the assessments.  The teachers felt like horrible monsters for having to make the students endure this.  How is that helping the development of a child?  How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth.  This futile exercise took time away from planning and preparing meaningful lessons as well as the time spent in class actually completing the assessments.  The evaluations have no statistical worth and has even been recognized as such by the NJ Department of Education.  I am all for evaluation of a teacher.  I recognize that I should be held accountable for my job.  This does not worry me, as long as I am evaluated on my methods of teaching.  I can not be held wholly accountable for the learning growth of a student when I am not accountable for all of the factors that influence this growth.  Are you aware that poverty is the biggest determination of a child’s educational success.  If not, I suggest you read Diane Ravitch’s new book Reign of Error. Take a moment and become enlightened. 

Oops.  Did you see the two (yes, two!) sentences in which the subject and verb don’t agree?  Hint:  “two months has” and “evaluations has”.

Getting back to the issue  of money.  I am fully aware of our educational budget.  Where is all of this money?  To me it seems like it is being siphoned right off into the hands of private companies as they reap the benefits of the charter schools and voucher programs that you have put into place.  It certainly hasn’t gone to improve school conditions in urban areas such as Jersey City.  The conditions that these students and teachers are forced to be in are horrifying.  Yet you are not allowing the funds needed to improve these conditions.  Are you hoping that these schools get closed down and more students are forced to go to private charter schools while the districts are being forced to pay their tuition?  I know for a fact that this is what has happened in Camden and Newark.  Yet these charter schools are not held to the same accountability as our public schools.  Why is that?  Because deep down you know that you are not really dealing with the issues that influence a child’s education.  You are simply putting a temporary band-aid into place.  Unfortunately that temporary fix is already starting to be exposed as Charter Schools are showing that they actually are not able to do better than public schools.

You are setting up teachers to take the blame for all of this.  You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy money-draining public servants that do nothing.  I invite you to come do my job for one week Governor Christie.  I invite you to come see my students, see how little they really have during the school day as they are being forced to keep learning for a single snapshot of their educational worth.  For that one end-all, be-all test, the NJASK.  The one that the future of my job and my life is now based upon. 

Commas are an important part of writing, and a middle school teacher ought to know how to use them properly.  In the second sentence, she has items in a series that should be separated by commas.  In the third sentence, she uses direct address and fails to use the required comma.  And then there’s the sentence fragment (sentence fragment!) in the penultimate sentence.

Why do you portray schools as failure factories?  What benefit do you reap from this?  Have you acquired financial promises for your future campaigns as you eye the presidential nomination?  Has there been back-room meetings as you agree to divert public funds to private companies that are seeking to take over our public educational system?  This is my theory.  To accomplish all of this,  you are setting up the teachers to take the blame.  Unfortunately, you are not the only governor in our country that has this agenda. 

Darn!  That subject-and-verb-agreement thing is tricky!  Did you catch it?  It’s in the fourth question.

What do “we people’ want, Governor Christie?  We want our schools back.  We want to teach.  We want to be allowed to help these children to grow, educationally, socially, and emotionally.  We want to be respected as we do this, not bullied.

BadAss Teacher,

Melissa Tomlinson

This letter should be funny, but it’s not.  No parents, in any state, should ever be forced to send their child to a government-run school that employs teachers with substandard language skills.  That’s why school choice is a right that wealthy parents like the Obamas, the Clintons, the Gores, and the Kennedys have all exercised for their children.  It’s time to extend that right to everyone.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Education, Politics



Outdoor Classroom a Gimmick

One constant feature of modern education is the endless time and money spent on every kind of untested new thing that is supposed to improve learning.  The latest example of this appears in a Gazette column by Sophie Petit.

The PTA at an elementary school in Bowie has just built an outdoor classroom “with no walls or roof or chairs.”  The classroom will be used for all subjects, not just outdoor subjects like botany or biology, and the children will supposedly learn more because of the outdoorsy openness.

Of course it’s a good thing that this school has a garden.  And it’s an even better thing that it was paid for with funds raised by the PTA and not squeezed from taxpayers.  But the idea that children learn better without walls is absurd.  In fact, we know this isn’t true because this theory of education has already been tried.  Classrooms without walls were all the rage in the 1970’s, and large sums of money were spent building entire schools based on the untested (and implausible) idea that students would learn better without privacy and quiet.  The new schools didn’t work.  Students didn’t learn because they couldn’t focus, and teachers couldn’t teach because they couldn’t be heard.  So large amounts of additional money had to be spent to retrofit those foolishly fashionable school buildings with walls so academic work could actually be done.

We should have learned from that experience, but now the idea that a classroom without walls or a roof will be an improvement is back.  Eager to do anything to improve education, we are duped by the same gimmicks over and over again.

And if the return of an old education gimmick isn’t frightening enough, then brace yourself for what Kevin Maxwell, the new superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, had to say about it.  He said the new outdoor classroom would “raise environmental awareness among students” and educate “our children on what they need to do.”

Yikes.  This is nothing but politics in the classroom.  It’s exactly what a good school should never do.

Modern environmental issues are politically controversial, from global warming to recycling.  Students who are too young to learn about these controversies are not ready to have their “environmental awareness” raised.  And any attempt to do this is not an education; it’s just propaganda.  The superintendent admits as much when he says the goal for this classroom is to get the young students to act on these teachings.

While we can be glad that the PTA did the hard work to build a pretty garden for the students at this elementary, let’s insist that the political activism be left for the college campus and get the elementary students back inside a classroom with walls and a roof where they can focus their attention on the subjects they really need to master.

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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Education


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When Everyone is Advanced, No One Is

Jay Mathews has an article in the Washington Post today about a “daring” school in Arlington that requires all students to take “at least one AP or International Baccalaureate course and test.”  He begins with the story of two freshmen who wanted to drop their AP class because it was too hard.  The principal refused.  In the end, the students “stayed and did well in the course.”  It was a story to warm the Birkenstocks on any lefty dreamer.

But there’s a problem with forcing everyone to take AP classes.  If everyone takes the advanced class, then it’s no longer an advanced class.  In fact, the only way to get everyone through the advanced class is to dumb it down for the weakest students.  Children understand this.  But adults, for some reason, convince themselves that everyone can be above average.  If only we spend more money.

Matthews continues the story about the daring school by quoting the AP teacher who said that  “the point was not to pass the AP exam but to improve her students’ reading, writing and debating skills.”

That’s all well and good for the underperforming students.  Their reading skills probably need to be improved.  But this is terrible news for the high performing students who already have excellent reading and writing skills.  They’re in the AP class to prepare for the exam, and we owe it to them to do everything possible to get them ready for that test.  If these students aren’t being challenged to prepare for what their teacher dismisses as a mere “testing opportunity,” then they’re being cheated.

AP classes are for advanced students who need to prepare for an exam, and social engineering experiments have no place there.  Rather than redefining the AP class, the school should raise the standards in its regular class to improve the “reading, writing and debating skills” of those students who will not be taking the AP exam.

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Education