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Monday, April 07, 2008

Teachers as CEO

The following is a commentary with commentary. The original in bold was submitted by Susan Uchitelle on KWMU 90.7 in St. Louis on March 17th. My comments appear in italics

Last week the New York Times reported that a New York City Charter School, due to open in 2009, intends to pay teachers as much as $125,000 per year in an effort to improve student achievement outcomes. $125,000 a year for a teacher! Now that is real money.

As opposed to Monopoly money that they are normally paid. Honestly, after cost of living adjustments that is only like $74,000 which is thirty grand more than I make now. That’s a nice raise, but I am not sure if it reaches the threshold of reality.

The school’s creator believes that attracting the best teachers and paying them for achieving significant student academic improvement may be a way to improve educational outcomes.

There’s a novel idea. Attracting good teachers will help students. I have also found that attracting good students helps test scores. Mayor Bloomberg pays the kids just for showing up. We should raise standards and only pay them if they pass the test.

And of course, this big money is squarely based on quantifiable academic results.

Through carefully controlled experiments scientist have been able to isolate the effects of teachers from the effects of poverty, parents, peers, low pressure systems, and the price of tea in china.

Since research indicates that teacher quality is the major component for student success, then how does a school attract the most competent person to put into the classroom?

I got an idea! Throw money at them like they are cheap edu-hookers. We are not particularly fond of respect.

CEO’s of major corporations are to be paid based upon the earnings of the company (not that this is always the case), so why not try that model in schools?

As was so nicely parenthetically pointed out CEOs get paid despite earnings. If we keep this up we can Enron the school into the ground. Cook the test scores, use creative scoring, do a little insider grading then bail leaving the students ignorant and our pockets stuffed with the aforementioned real money.

I consider teachers as CEOs.

With, I assume all of the inherent authority. As CEO we should be able to fire someone for lack of punctuality, gross incompetence, failure of a performance review, failure of random drug tests, insubordination, and gender.

“As the new CEO, I would like to take this opportunity to announce massive layoffs, rollbacks, and reductions. Effective immediately anyone with more than one year experience at any grade level needs to clean out their lockers and go home.”

They are the ones that make a difference. All schools, including ours in this metropolitan area, need to attract the most competent and highly qualified teachers. Yet the salaries that teachers earn make it extremely difficult to attract the most competent when they can earn three to four times as much in law, business and other entrepreneurial enterprises.

You may also want to include the metal detectors at the door, the barrage of curses hurled at us daily, the lack of support from parents and the community, the twenty minute lunch, and the lack of a luxury box at Busch Stadium.

So let’s give it a try. Cut out middle level administrators, decrease activities that really do not really matter,

Yeah like band. I mean who needs band. It’s just a bunch of people that couldn't make a sports team. While we are at it lets cut all extracurricular activity. I mean they are getting enough enrichment at home.

and hire the best and the brightest at high salaries and promised bonuses based upon results.

Bring on the rainmakers baby.

It may be one of the most valuable experiments for American education today.

So let’s stop wasting time with those experiments in psychology and neuroscience. Halt all research into educational strategies. Let’s dangle money in front of a bunch of recent college grads and measure how high they can jump.

Since we are trying so hard to reverse the trend of poor performance in the St. Louis Schools this would be a wonderful place to start and in the least successful school. We see if such an experiment would make the difference. We certainly have nothing to lose

Except for real money. They already tried this with Teach for America which only proved that you can indeed get highly unqualified people to take the money and run.

and everything to gain for our children.

Oh, it’s for the children. Why didn’t you say so? I mean if you had said it was for the children up front I wouldn’t have wasted my time responding. I mean, I believe children are the future. You’re right it’s for the children (and the real money.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

House Arrest: Why Home Schooling Sucks

In the interest of honesty I should mention that I am a public school teacher and I send my child to a relatively inexpensive Catholic school. Sending my child to private schools is one of the few times that I have had to compromise my moral standards. There are several reasons that I have done this but the most compelling is that my wife told me that we were going to do this.

Honestly, the public school that my kid would attend is woefully under performing and has been taken over by the state. Ironically, this the same district that my wife teaches in. So, I guess what I am saying is that I am glad I can blame my wife and not have to make the decision about where to send my child to school.

One thing that we both agree on is that we are not qualified to teach our child though both of us are certified secondary teachers. As teachers we both realize that amount of work that goes into preparing, administering, and assessing lesson plans. With one child this time would be manageable if one of us stayed home. Home schooling is an endeavour best suited for the egotistical, the hopelessly elitist, and the paranoid.

Anyone that thinks that they are qualified to teach all the relevant coursework for a student grades K-12 should drop what they are doing and donate their time to the local public school. These natural born teachers have an obligation to society to share their expertise with less fortunate students and intellectually stunted public school teachers. Seriously, after spending 3-4 hours a day in the teacher's lounge and repeatedly pulling on a door that is clearly labeled push, I don't really have the time or visual acuity to teach students. Having access to an omnipotent aid would be like, I don't know, having the Internet in the classroom or something.

Ironically, it is the Internet which has allowed the proliferation of lesson plans and curriculum that some of the more successful home-schoolers have adopted. It is for this reason that I propose that we strictly enforce copyright over our materials. We live in constant fear of software companies scouring our computers and the music industry vetting student power points for snippets of songs longer than 3 seconds. Let's take this frustration out on home-schoolers. Beat down the doors, demand to see the curriculum, and black out any information that is remotely copied from another source. If the lesson has already been taught, then demand that the student unlearn it.

Perhaps in order for the student to unlearn we could send them to unschools. Unschools: for the parent that feels that learning should be a natural free flowing experience directed by the learner. Unschooling is a specific type of home schooling in which there is no set curriculum. Parents guide the students on the exploration of the world and mind. Just think of the movie Accepted.

As Bartleby (Justin Long)

You know what? You're a criminal. 'Cause you rob these kids of their creativity and their passion. That's the real crime! Well, what about you parents? Did -did the system really work out for you? Did it teach you to follow your heart, or to just play it safe, roll over? What about you guys? Did you always want to be school administrators? Dr. Alexander, was that your dream? Or maybe no, maybe you wanted to be a poet. Maybe you wanted to be a magician or an artist. Maybe you just wanted to travel the world. Life was full of possibilities. A - and isn't that what you ultimately want for us? As parents, I mean, is - is that, is possibilities.

'Cause there are so few truths in this world, that when you see one, you just know it. And I know that it is a truth that real learning took place at South Harmon. Whether you like it or not, it did. 'Cause you don't need teachers or classrooms or - or fancy highbrow traditions or money to really learn. You just need people with a desire to better themselves

Because we'll never stop learning, and we'll never stop growing, and we'll never forget the ideals what were instilled in us at our place.

Admittedly after hearing this speech one is likely to jump out his seat screaming, "YES" and dumping popcorn and Jujubees all over fellow movie goers. However, as an actual real world teaching philosophy is would cause most educators to be ridiculed and eventually let go. Parents that put all of their fish in this basket are thumbing their collective noses at American culture and society. The underlying belief is that we as a culture do not need a common base of knowledge. The cultural touchstones discussed, deconstructed and analyzed in the traditional school setting are base and common. They do not deserve to be studied.

American culture merely deifies violence as is evidenced by the increasing number of violent episodes in our schools. Fears of bullying, both regular and cyber (Have you ever noticed that the prefix cyber immediately makes things seem more frightening?), are heightening tension between home schoolers and normal society. "Predatory teachers" trolling America's schools for a date are spooking parents nationwide. Internet stalkers lurk behind every blog and email. The solution? Keep your kids locked in a closet, both a real one and a cyber one.

Parents have a responsibility to educate their children, but they also have an obligation to create good citizens. Whether they are socially adjusted or some sort of flash-card spelling-bee freak the nations needs to be assured that these home schooled students are invested members of our society not elitist, arrogant, paranoid cyber-closeted racists.