Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Teacher Pay

Teacher pay was addressed in two entertaining editorials in the Denver Post recently. First, libertarian talk show host Mike Rosen offered this piece comparing teacher pay to that of professional athletes. No fan of teachers, Rosen called out teachers for complaining they should be paid as well as professional athletes (a dubious charge that I have never heard a teacher utter). Rosen's piece was followed by this one from a former teacher and guest columnist Mark Moe, challenging Rosen's accusations and breaking down the flaws in Rosen's criticism of teachers.

Moe's response is an effective and thorough deconstruction of a standard Rosen commentary. Of course, it's worth noting the unique twist on Rosen's two subjects - professional sports and teaching. Rosen's piece, like the sports world, is meant to entertain, not to educate. Mark Moe provides the insightful anti-thesis.

In twenty years of teaching, I have never encountered teachers who argue they should be paid like professional athletes. However, I regularly hear that suggestion from others outside teaching. When people discuss education with me, they will inevitably lament the fact that pro athletes and movie stars are paid so much, while teachers aren't. I'm not so outraged, as I know it is basic economics.

Pro athletes are paid as they are for one simple reason - the money is there. Advertising for popular sporting events generates huge revenue. And I do not fault athletes for earning the money they do. By contrast, teaching generates no advertising revenue. Though, I am intrigued by the idea.

Perhaps, teachers could wear corporate logos on their shirts, as well as post ads around the room. Teachers could hand out tests and quizzes "sponsored by Subway or Nike." I envision coupons at the back of the textbook, encouraging students to do well and support the companies. Incentives for achievement could be provided by corporations. The highest test score could receive $50 off their next purchase of Reeboks. And the best teachers who hosted the most popular classes and produced the greatest results could generate even more endorsement deals. This could radically restructure school funding, and might even solve many of our budget issues.

Hmmmm. Rosen might be on to something.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Mandates and the Constitution

Upon the passage of the health care reform bill, the opponents are already planning to file lawsuits or seek repeal based on the idea that the American people don't want the bill and the mandate to buy insurance is unconstitutional. Certainly, I don't claim to speak for the American people, as it is a varied voice. It's the last part that has me a bit baffled.

While the government has passed reform based on the ability to regulate inter-state commerce - certainly a reasonable idea considering the GOP always offers "buying across state lines" as the panacea for reform - critics argue that citizens can't be forced to buy insurance. They claim it as a "tax just for living." They argue that is unconstitutional, and that it will not stand up in court?

Just how do they explain FICA? What about Medicare and Social Security? Citizens are already taxed to participate in an insurance program - one is medical, the other retirement. Citizens are already automatically enrolled in federal programs as a matter of birth. Clearly, the requirement that citizens participate in these insurance programs has been upheld as constitutional for thirty-five and seventy-five years.

Am I missing something here?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kids Caring about Kids

So, here's some good news about the world for a change:

This week Cherry Creek High School had our spring Spirit Week - normally a kick off to spring sports. This year, Student Senate teamed up with the Make a Wish Foundation and changed Spirit Week to Wish Week. CCHS students accepted the task of raising money to grant the wish of a seven-year-old boy battling cancer, whose wish is to go on a Disney Cruise.

The Senate set a goal of $5000 to grant this young boy's wish, and they organized various events all week. I was co-host of our first talent show at Creek in nearly twenty years - and that night brought in almost $2600. The Senate also coordinated fundraising at our musical, choir concert, and various school activities. Today, we held a pep rally to present the money to him.

At the rally, Student Senate announced that in this week, CCHS students raised a whopping $17,500 for the Make a Wish Foundation. From what I understand, that amount set a new national record for a single week of fundraising by a high school group. The amount has allowed Creek to grant the wishes of two other Make a Wish children who are also battling cancer.

Let me tell you - it was pretty wonderful to watch a very happy seven year old boy run through a tunnel of arms from our cheer squad into our gym where he received a huge standing ovation from a couple thousand high school students. He also took great joy in throwing t-shirts to the crowd and joining in some of the activities such as spraying Silly String in the faces of more than a few teachers and students.

There is a lot of negativity out there these days, and a lot of criticism of young people. And, so, it's important to acknowledge that we are raising some pretty amazing kids - kids who look out for each other, kids who, quite simply, care.

I am so impressed with our young people these days. They are hopeful, optimistic, caring, tolerant, and more. Feel free to spread the news of this really neat and hopeful moment.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

No One Supports Bad Teachers

Several news stories of education gone terribly wrong are circulating lately, and once again the perception of what went wrong is far too narrow. One story is the failure of Kansas City Public Schools failed attempts at reform, despite massive funding. The other story is Newsweek Magazine's call to "fire all bad teachers." While no one can dispute the facts in these articles, the interpretation of cause and effect needs to be clarified.

The Kansas City story is simply what happens when money is mis-spent and mis-managed. The issue is always administration - with the ability to impose high expectations. However, more funds can make a huge difference when well managed - witness Geoffery Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. When extra funds are used to feed and clothe the kids, provide basic health care, after-school programs, Saturday school, extensive tutoring, longer school days, and greater attention, student achievement among the poorest improves.

Of course, it also only happens if the expectations of kids and families have consequences - a key component of public charter schools - with the demand accountability of the student with the possibility of dismissal. It's not about the funds - it's about the management. And public schools can manage the money well. My school district does. Canada's schools do.

The "money helps" versus "money doesn't help" is oversimplified. Clearly, the KC program was a mess - but it doesn't prove anything other than that the program was incredibly poorly managed. Put Joe Clark or Geoffery Canada or Jaime Escalante or even Michelle Rhee in charge of those public schools, and the result is different.

Newsweek is far more egregious in the errors of their subjective evaluation of education's problems and the necessary reforms. The crux of the article was "poor teaching." And we all know that it is out there. Yet the focus of Newsweek's criticism was on teachers, with only passing nods to the idea that 99% of teachers receive satisfactory evaluations.

Thus, the emphasis on the responsibility of school administration was seriously understated in the article. And then its praise of KIPP charter schools quickly glossed over the key to their success - contracts that the students must sign and expectations they must meet. The article emphasizes that the schools don't "cherry pick" their students - the take "all comers." Yet, the point is they do "cherry pick" which students they keep, and they don't keep "all students." They show non-performers the door.

The article implies that the charter schools succeed because they are non-union. That is absolutely wrong. If the public schools could also require a contract and show non-performers the door, then the traditional schools could be as effective. But they can't. When the charter school kicks the kid out for not meeting his contract, where does he go? The public school without such measures.

Thus, I completely agree with getting rid of bad teachers. And I've endlessly cited schools with tenured union faculty that do that. So, the emphasis should be on higher expectations for administration. And the addition of performance contracts for students as well as teachers. Then, we're getting somewhere.

So, while I concede the premise, the article was rather ridiculously disingenuous in the way in which it "cherry picked" its data.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Limbaugh Prefers Costa Rica's National Health Insurance

Rush Limbaugh has offered this juicy tidbit: if the US Congress passes its health reform bill, he will leave the country. Really? Where will he go?

It's unclear if he'll leave for good, or just to get health care.

Incidentally, he says he'll go to Costa Rica. That's a country with a well respected blend of public and private care that is held together and fueled by national health insurance and national health care mandates.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

National Reading Day

I did it.

I celebrated National Reading Day in my classroom today by giving over the class period to reading. I don't know that I have ever done that before - and I had to sacrifice a Julius Caesar quiz to do it - but it was truly wonderful, time well spent. Class began with me reading a story to my classes - it was Little Bo Peep Can't Get to Sleep, which was recommended by my four-year-old when I told her it was "reading day." The class really enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed sharing it with them.

There are times when the un-interrupted opportunity to read is just so special. We brought in some comfy chairs, and some kids sat on the ground. It is the only time I've ever let students put their feet on the desk or chairs. And we listened to some wonderful contemporary classical piano music by Colorado musician Alex Grant.

All in all, it was a day well spent.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Team USA Hockey Players are Brats

Having finished watching one of the most exciting hockey games in recent memory - and acknowledging that the better team clearly won the game - I was profoundly disappointed in the glum, sour, pathetic faces of the American team as the received their silver medals. That's SILVER MEDALS!! For representing the country IN THE OLYMPICS!! After playing in THE GOLD MEDAL GAME!! That no one expected them to be playing in.

I understand disappointment ... and I also understand being a man. And I would have expected the players to honor their country and honor some of their professional teammates who clearly beat them. They could have smiled. They could have nodded. They could have shrugged. But they pouted. In post game interviews, when asked what he "will take away from the whole experience," Ryan Miller glumly and pathetically mumbled something like, "Oh, I don't know. I guess it was cool to play in a big game."

That's what he got? From the whole Olympic experience. A professional athlete who has had twenty years to get used to losing big games and learn to deal with it like a man. What a shame.

I say bring back the college players and let them play their hearts out and be honored by the opportunity and have enough class to acknowledge when they were beat by a better team.