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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Obama's address to schools Sept 8- Why did the school send home a warning? (Page 0)

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Author Topic: Obama's address to schools Sept 8- Why did the school send home a warning?
Belle
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Warning: Long soapbox rant ahead

I teach in an urban school. I have 106 students. 4 are white. 1 is Hispanic. The rest are African-American.

Sure, my students look up to Obama. But they don't need a pep talk by the president IN MY CLASS right now. They need to learn what they should have learned before they came to me, and they need to learn the curriculum I have to teach. If we want to say school is important, then how about we start by not interrupting the educational process in the middle of the day? Right now my students need to learn how to read. I have a reading class where most of my students are in the Lexile range of 200. That would be normal if they were 1st graders. I teach 7th.

If Obama wants to encourage students and make a difference, then how about not broadcasting in the middle of my teaching day and disrupting my lesson plans, but rather broadcasting at night where PARENTS can watch with their kids? How about a pep talk that also encourages parents to get involved and support the education of their children?

I'm a new teacher, and I would have taken any job that came my way, even one in this school which is not considered a "great place to work." But, my building is full of teachers who could have left years ago to teach in buildings with good technology, working HVAC systems, and far fewer rats. They could be working with white, middle-class or upper class kids who read on grade level. But they don't...they stay and do their best to make up for the years the kids are behind and help them along. We are beating our heads against the wall most of the time...we can't make up for years of insufficient education at the lower level. We can't make up for a lack of stable home life, which many of our kids don't have.

We are so against the wall and we have NO TIME. We're constantly interrupted as it is for assemblies, pep rallies, the STUPID Channel 1 broadcasts, and anything else that comes up. The only parental involvement we get is in the band and athletic boosters. I had a parent call and complain because I didn't let her child leave my reading class for "extra band practice". Her son reads on the level of an average kid in kindergarten...he can do little more than recognize some 3-letter sight words..and she's mad at me because I kept him in reading class instead of letting him go play saxophone in the band room.

So excuse me if I'm not jumping on the bandwagon here. Excuse me if I'm not gung-ho to interrupt the teaching and learning process in my classroom again. Excuse me if I just want to shut the door, and teach my kids and try to do my damnedest to make up for YEARS of deficiencies and teach a middle school curriculum to kids who only have the background to comprehend a curriculum on the 3rd grade level or so. I have a lot to do, and very little time and I resent the heck out of the idea that I should devote lesson time to asking my students how they can "help President Obama." I'm too busy trying to get them to even care about helping themselves.

If the President wants to encourage kids, do it at night, after school and talk to the parents too. That would be a whole lot more beneficial that what is now planned.

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Orincoro
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Your attitude at first was offhanded, so you'll have to excuse me for treating it that way. Your fault, not mine.
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Belle
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I'm not venting at you, Orincoro, or anyone at Hatrack, really. I'm venting because already, even as a first year teacher, I'm experiencing the frustration of having a lot of people comment on what I should be teaching in my classroom, and the realization that most people who are telling me that have never taught in a classroom. The state board of education, which decides my curriculum, is made up mostly of business leaders, lawyers, and politicians. I think maybe one person on that board has ever been in a classroom.

Now I have the White House sending out suggested lesson plans? No one from the White House has been in my classroom and knows the needs of my students. This might, might be worth exploring in the Civics class or another social studies class. I could see, when I'm teaching a unit on persuasive writing, analyzing a speech like this. But right now I'm teaching narrative writing, and I can't inroduce another form of writing in the middle of my narrative unit - my students have a hard enough time following without complicating it.

You think I was offhand...but in actuality, I was telling you exactly the truth. I won't be showing it because it doesn't fit with what I'm doing right now and I have no reason to show it. Maybe our Civics teacher would have more reason, but he mentioned Friday that he wouldn't be showing it either because it doesn't fit with his unit of instruction either.

Then, I saw a bunch of posts about why I should consider showing it. Because it might inspire my students, etc. Then, I saw that I was not being a progressive teacher by sticking to the old way of doing things instead of considering new ideas. At that point, I thought it might be beneficial for folks here to understand more of where I'm coming from, hence the rant.

Please don't think all my frustration is aimed at Hatrack. It is not...it's aimed at the universe in general, and the parents of my kids whom I really wish cared more about whether or not their sons or daughters could even read.

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TomDavidson
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I think Obama's hope here -- quite frankly -- was that he might be able to inspire the kids to care about whether or not they could read, thus doing an end run around the parents who very obviously don't. Those parents are not the parents who're going to take the time to watch this address with their kids; the kids who need to hear him are the same ones who aren't going to get the opportunity anywhere but in class.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Belle:

You think I was offhand...but in actuality, I was telling you exactly the truth. I won't be showing it because it doesn't fit with what I'm doing right now and I have no reason to show it. Maybe our Civics teacher would have more reason, but he mentioned Friday that he wouldn't be showing it either because it doesn't fit with his unit of instruction either.

God forbid things happen that aren't in the plan. While I completely relate to your attitude, having taught in an urban school myself, though not an American school, for a year. I'm just reminded of a line by Cormack McCarthy in No Country for Old Men (paraphrased): "If it was your rule that brought you here, of what use was the rule?" Obama is trying, not yet succeeding, to change your situation, and the situation of your future students, and I think you should probably pay some mind to cooperating with the effort if, and that's a big if, you think it has a chance of succeeding. Or you can continue in your present course and face 20 years of frustration and bitterness as the schools fail to improve. And of course generations of your fellow teachers did the same thing, so you're an inheritor of this deck-chair rearranging pattern that you have virtually no power to change. It's all very frustrating.

full disclosure: I worked in an urban primary school for about a year in Prague, and now work for a very upper class private primary school outside the city, where of course I'm paid more than triple what I got at the last school, for fewer lessons. I am not ashamed of this, because these are children who also need education, and the fact that they are able to pay me what they do is their business- I think we should all have access to good teachers, but I also think that I as an individual should be permitted to capitalize on my abilities and talents in order to secure my own living. If you think pay is a problem for teachers in the US, I'm afraid it's even worse in eastern Europe- we're talking annual salaries in the upper four digit range for some of these people, with living standards comparable to many parts of the states.


I share your skepticism about any executive attempt at school reform. The problems endemic in education throughout the world are those kinds that are rarely or never solved by mandate of standards, testing, or other nationalized efforts. I think an executive could improve the national education standard by acting more indirectly, putting the right people in place to improve policy on the ground, rather than at the top, but Presidents also like to have face time and take credit for any success they can claim.

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Christine
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Belle -- I don't know if my post was one of the ones that set you off; but I was thinking more in a civics class, not interrupting an English/reading class. I am a little upset with the de-emphasis on civics and social studies, usually in favor of math and science. I think civics and social studies are hugely important subjects and that a working knowledge of our government and how government works is fundamental for success in a free country.
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scifibum
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Belle, I think I understand now your frustration with all the interruptions and distractions. That sounds like a hard job, for sure.

I can't really sell the argument I was hinting at with my reference to inspiration, because I don't know if a presidential speech will have any useful effect - you're in a better place to judge that than I am, for sure.

Still, if the President wants to address the public school population, once...it seems to me to be something different from the regular Channel One fare and other nonsense. Perhaps worthwhile, even if it doesn't dramatically affect anyone. Perhaps not, I don't know.

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scholarette
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My husband taught school for three years, two in a poor inner city school (for example, the cafeteria just assumed everyone was on the free lunch program so they didn't have cashiers or anything). In his experience, if they left it to parents, he would be surprised if even one of his students watched it (out of 150). Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.

If this address actually convinces a student to try harder, and if they then try instead of spending the whole hour every day complaining about how they would rather be in the band room, wouldn't it be worth it? Isn't an hour worth giving up to get a willing student instead of an unwilling one?

If, on the other hand, you think your students will roll their eyes and laugh and mock (which is a very likely response depending on age and temperament), then it is a waste and you should skip it.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.
As I get ready to get started down that career myself, I'm thinking there's more to it than just that : )
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Belle
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Again, I'm not upset at you, Christine or anyone at Hatrack. I'm not really upset, at all...I just rarely get a chance to vent or express what is going on and I guess I took this opportunity and ran with it. [Wink]

I also love my job...I don't hate it. I will probably look for another job next year, but it won't be because I don't like the students or like where I'm teaching - it will be because this school is over an hour from my home and I'm spending a lot of money on gas and way too much time away from my own family when I'm gone from 6:45 am to 4:45 pm every day. There are great things about working where I work...my colleagues are great and inspiring people and 90% of the kids are pure joys to work with. I am angry not at you guys or at my kids, but at the system that has failed them to the point that they come to me in the 7th grade reading on a kindergarten level. And that the system expects me to fix that and send them on to eighth grade ready for that grade. I can't do it...I can't fix six years of poor education in only one. I have an impossible task, and I know it, and I still go in every day and try. It can be wearying...and it's just my first year!

My anger and frustration is not at Hatrack, or the President - what I feel toward the White House is more irritation at this whole distraction - but at the schools and the parents. On some level, the parents, the community, the schools have failed these kids. On some level I am failing them...I'm sure there is more I can do or ways I could do things differently. There are probably better teachers out there that should have gotten this job instead of me. But I'm what they've got.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Obama is trying, not yet succeeding, to change your situation, and the situation of your future students, and I think you should probably pay some mind to cooperating with the effort if, and that's a big if, you think it has a chance of succeeding.
Even if she agreed it had a chance of succeeding, and even if she had zero objection on political grounds to the address itself (I'm not saying you do Belle, I don't know one way or another), that still wouldn't be sufficient grounds to show the address during class, at least not when considering the many possible downsides to doing so.

Current events can sometimes be pretty disruptive in class, or at least that's my memory of junior high school. And that's just the current events that we brought with us, that we heard about on the radio on the way to school or saw on the news that morning or yesterday. That's to say nothing about having it broadcast directly into our classroom during class time. I can very easily imagine it being a complete disruption, and depending on the length of any such address, could completely disrupt that whole day or even more than one day's worth of class.

So for the sake of argument, let's assume Belle is completely on board with both the address itself and with Pres. Obama's public education agenda. Even then she still has a duty as a teacher to do her damnedest to see that her students learn what she must teach them. Which duty is more pressing here? The duty she has - assuming she agrees - to show the address if she agrees with it? Or the duty she has to stick to her plan and do her best to teach her subject matter?

I'm not even sure the former duty is big enough to overcome the latter at all, much less that it's so much bigger it must obviously win out, and that's just for teachers who agree with the message, not those who have reservations.

And if she is 'rearranging the deck chairs', isn't that an argument in favor of fighting for every scrap of time potentially available as much as it is for abandoning some time spent teaching in an effort to address the larger problem?

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Orincoro
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There's not really a satisfactory answer to that question. The fact that long term goals are incompatible with day to day problems is what keeps school reform from working. I don't have a proposal for fixing that.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
There's not really a satisfactory answer to that question. The fact that long term goals are incompatible with day to day problems is what keeps school reform from working. I don't have a proposal for fixing that.
Well, that's what I was getting at. Because of the difficulty in answering that question, criticisms towards teachers for leaning in one direction or another is probably misplaced.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.
As I get ready to get started down that career myself, I'm thinking there's more to it than just that : )
I think you'd be surprised. But it's a separate problem, I think. Kids with involved parents can excel even in a school with a low standard- I've seen it happen that way. On the flip side, a school with a very high standard, such as the one I teach in, can make up only a little for a lack of parental involvement. The most obvious sign of that for me is that those of my students with bilingual parents, or parents with different first languages, are even at the age of 8 or 9 more aware of the purpose of language learning than those who have monolingual families. That's not even anything the parents specifically *do* differently, but merely that they are better educated or more well traveled than some other parents, and their children have some measure of access through them to English speakers. I really admire the parents of the kids who are really obviously bright and seem free to express themselves, because it makes my job a whole lot easier to do. This is after a year of standing in a classroom where often times the entire class of 20 or so children wouldn't understand a basic language point that was perhaps 3 years below their grade level. But I was used rather stupidly- the school never had me teach the advanced classes where my English-only lessons would have been more useful and less overwhelming. The school only had the money to pay one native speaking teacher to circulate among 20 separate class groups, and I was that one teacher- and even then I was payed more for my time than anyone but the school director.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.
As I get ready to get started down that career myself, I'm thinking there's more to it than just that : )
The original statement is flawed in one really critical way, our school system isn't failing, at least not in general. When you control for socio-economic factors, public schools in the US do every bit as well, possibly better, than private schools. The best public schools in the US are doing an outstanding job of educating. They provide a wide range of options like AP classes and IB programs as well as opportunities to participate in music, arts, sports and the like. American schools are producing many students who are as well or better prepared for college than any previous generation. Public schools are no longer limited to the standard one size fits all fair in most places, many school districts offer open enrollment and charter schools that have different educational philosophies or specialized curricula.

There are lots and lots of things that are right about the US educational system and its unfair and unjust for politicians, the media and the public to make blanket statements about our school systems failing.

But there are some specific cases and situations in which our school systems (public, private, and home schools) are failing. The big mistake most politicians, journalists, parents, pundits and communities make when they start talking about fixing our educational system is that they don't take the effort to identify where the problems lie. They paint the entire system with one broad brush and then propose to fix problems in ways that are absurd, like no child left behind.

There is only one area in which I think its fair to say the American school system as a whole is failing and that is in educating underprivileged children who lack parental support and a stable home and family life. There are plenty of other areas which could use improvement and plenty of ways we could do better at every level, but this is the only area at which we objectively fail.

I have the greatest admiration for people like Belle who are working hard in inner city schools, often at great personal sacrifice, to help these kids. But at the same time, we must recognize that what we are asking of these teachers and these schools is impossible. One friend of mine has taught for 2 decades in an inner city school in Salt Lake which shared many of the characteristics of Belles schools except the racial distribution. She is extremely dedicated, she even works weekends as a waitress and pours all her tips into buying supplies for her classroom. But there is only so much she can do. One of the biggest problems she faces is that students virtually never stay in her class for even half the year. Their families are so unstable that most of them have moved a dozen times and attended at least half a dozen different schools by the time they reach second grade. She is lucky if she has even one student in her class at the end of the year who was there at the beginning. Is it any wonder that kids like these end up in 7th grade unable to read at a 3rd grade level?

The problems with our educational system are not for the most part with our schools, they are with our society as a whole. They are the problems of poverty, disenfranchisement, substance abuse, unprepared underage parents, broken homes, and a history of racial and ethnic discrimination that are hard to escape. It is absurd to expect that even the most dedicated, talent teacher (like Belle) can fix those problems.


Two other friends of mine work in a Charter High Schools that tends to attract a lot of kids from underprivileged backgrounds. These kids and/or their parents are at least proactively seeking to improve their educational opportunities or they wouldn't be in a charter school but it is still a constant struggle to keep these kids and their parents proactive. There are lots of programs available to help these kinds of kids, but they and their families lack the experience and sophistication to find out about these programs and lack the hope and confidence to believe that they will really be accepted into them. Parents are often unable or unwilling (perhaps embarrassed or ashamed) to fill out the necessary forms. My friends send home information about program after program and opportunity after opportunity but even when they constantly hound the students, most of them don't take advantage of the programs because they don't believe they are for real. The disadvantaged have learned to be cynical about such things.

What each of these kids needs is an adult mentor that can inspire them, advise them, nag them, hound them and care for them, but there is no way that a teacher who sees over a hundred students a day can do that for every student. To fix the problems with our educational system, we will have to start putting far more resources in to educating the disadvantaged than we put into educating the advantaged. Class sizes in inner city schools should be half the size of classes in wealthy suburban area. Inner city schools should have an army of tutors, advisors and mentors to fill the gap disadvantaged families can not meet.

Unfortunately, that is politically unfeasible. The funding for such programs has to come from people who have money and I don't foresee that anytime soon the majority upper middle class Americans will support a program that give significantly more resources to poor urban schools than their own neighborhood schools.

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Synesthesia
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I can understand being annoyed about that Belle. That's very reasonable. I worked for Leaps in Literacy and saw all kinds of kids who had difficulty reading, including this boy who was amazingly smart, but he had so much trouble reading and writing.
I wonder how he's doing. They were some awesome kids.

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kmbboots
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I taught for a while in an inner city parochial school. All our students were African American, most from the Cabrini Green housing projects. Many were technically wards of the state. All of them were on the "free lunch", which made it particularly problematic on those days that the lunch turned up inedible (by which I mean moldy or spoiled) and one of the teachers would run out and get some bread and peanut butter (on her own dime) and we would make sandwiches. The kids wore "uniforms" of white shirts and blue pants or skirts. If something got spilled on a shirt on Monday, the spill was still there on Friday. These kids were better of than a lot of kids - at least someone cared enough to send them to a parochial school.

I was the librarian and everything we had was donated. If I wanted pencils, I brought them.

In a conversation with graduating eighth graders I casually asked what their plans were for high school. Most didn't think they would survive it.

I wish to God that these kids had been able to hear a speech about the possibilities of education from a man as uniquely able to speak to them as President Obama.

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Belle
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Why is Obama uniquely suited to speak to them? Because of the color of his skin? He was born in Hawaii, educated overseas and in private college prep schools and given every opportunity to succeed in the world. His experience growing up is so far removed from the experiences and lives of my kids it isn't in the same galaxy. The only thing he shares with them is skin color...and I thought we were trying to teach people to look beyond such things?

Condoleeza Rice would be a better choice to inspire the kids I teach if we're looking for people uniquely able to to speak to them...an African-American female born to a minister and music teacher in the community of Titusville - right down the road from our school.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Synesthesia:
I can understand being annoyed about that Belle. That's very reasonable. I worked for Leaps in Literacy and saw all kinds of kids who had difficulty reading, including this boy who was amazingly smart, but he had so much trouble reading and writing.
I wonder how he's doing. They were some awesome kids.

I worked in recreation in a low income area, and then an upper middle class city for the teen center there, and the worst thing related to literacy that I ever saw was a 13 year old black kid from Sacramento (thus from out of town) who was unable to write or spell his own name for the registry. He didn't seem to be retarded, though I'd bet he had some kind of learning disorder. I remember being shaken by the experience of shoving the clipboard in his face and trying to get him to write his name, not realizing that he was demurring because he was not able to do so. A coworker who'd seen him before said he had the mind of a 4 year old, yet this kid didn't behave as if he were disabled. He just couldn't write his name. Knowing that exists intellectually, and actually meeting someone like that are different things.
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Synesthesia
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Well, why can't different people of colour do that?
So what if he was born overseas, dude still manged to become president and inspire people which is pretty cool.
Him and Condeleeza Rice despite being on different sides of the political spectrum can both inspire people.
Plus he was raised by a struggling single mother, so that's kind of cool.
Kids need all kinds of people to look up to and inspire them...

I wonder if some folks just do not have reading skills the way I don't have good math skills. This kid I tutored was incredibly intelligent. Good at math, could make up stories. But he just had a lot of trouble reading. And he was in 3rd grade quoting Shakespeare at me!
It could be that he ended up missing a lot of school or something.

I miss these kids.

Also I need to return the books I still have of Leaps in Literacy.
Never, ever loan me books if you want to see them again.

quote:
Originally posted by Belle:
Why is Obama uniquely suited to speak to them? Because of the color of his skin? He was born in Hawaii, educated overseas and in private college prep schools and given every opportunity to succeed in the world. His experience growing up is so far removed from the experiences and lives of my kids it isn't in the same galaxy. The only thing he shares with them is skin color...and I thought we were trying to teach people to look beyond such things?

Condoleeza Rice would be a better choice to inspire the kids I teach if we're looking for people uniquely able to to speak to them...an African-American female born to a minister and music teacher in the community of Titusville - right down the road from our school.


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kmbboots
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Belle, you make it sound like President Obama came from a wealthy family. That is not the case. He was "educated overseas" because his mother married an Indonesian student and they moved to Jakarta. Not exactly being sent to a Swiss boarding school.
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Belle
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Still not the experience of a poor kid from Adamsville Alabama who's probably never been outside the state. Much more likely that my students have never left the greater Birmingham area. I didn't say he was raised by wealthy parents, I said his experience was very far removed from my kids. And it is.
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kmbboots
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Belle, I am sure you know more about your students than I do. I was talking about the impact I think he would have had on the students I had.
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Teshi
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I think it's pretty crazy that the President of what is still the most powerful and influential country in the world is offering to speak to the kids in his country about success and education and people are umming and erring about this.

Of course being talked to be the President is going to be influential to children whether he's a white man from Maine, a black man from Hawaii or a pink man from Mars. He's the President of the United States! His link to all American citizens is intrinsic to his position regardless of his shared childhood experiences.

You think that the kids at Belle's or kmbboots' schools and those like them are going to know and/or care about the differences between his childhood situation and theirs? Yes, they have disadvantages he never had but does it matter? To have that kind of attention-- even it's directed at every single kid in the country-- is no doubt a positive. If some black kids regard him-- and thus education and success-- with awe because he's got the same skin colour as them, how is that possibly a bad thing. They may not end up being President, but they might manage a steady job and being a positive, productive member of society.

I'm not saying that one impersonal speech is going to make all the difference, or even a significant difference over, say, the influence of a dedicated teacher like Belle or kmbboots. But it can't hurt.

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Raymond Arnold
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I would say that I DO think this address should be presented in a civics class. Assuming all the kids will be taking a Civics class, having all those classes present it over the course of the day would guarantee that it gets brought it an environment where good critical discussion of it is likely to happen.
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Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged
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Ok, this will be long post.

I seem to have a unique perspective on this subject. I grew up like those inner city children some of you are describing.

1. Young Single Mother
2. Poor
3. From the inner city
4. Moved around constantly

You can say the deck was stacked against us. Lucky for me someone along the way steered me to the right path. Let me explain.

For me my lucky break happened in the 4th grade. I had transfered to a new school, my 8th by this time. As fate would have it my teacher was Mrs. Goldstein and I can honestly say she changed my life. She saw potential in me where others saw none. I remember her entering me into a writing contest despite my protest that my writing wasn't good enough. I was stunned when I learned I was a finalist. I remember going to to the awards ceremony, I was one of the few students from an inner city school. That opened my eyes to the possibility that I was just as good as the students from the suburbs. So while I didn't win I took with me that new found confidence.

Later when she suggested I apply to Masterman I had little hope of getting in. This school has a extremely high standard of admittance and I had to use her faith in me that I would get in. Sadly the school year ended without an answer and once again I moved. It wasn't until part way though the next year that I learned I got in after all. She never even found out I had made it.

It was at this new school I finally had access to a well stocked library. In that library I ignited a lifelong passion for reading. It was there that I read Enders Game.

Making it into that school made all the difference. I went back to my old neighborhood later on in life. Most of my old friends were either in jail or still standing on the same corners we used to stand on when we were kids. A few of them are dead. I can look at them and easily see where my life could have ended up.

So yeah, one person can make a difference in a persons life. Sadly most underprivileged children won't have a Mrs. Goldstein in there lives. Why not have someone they might look up to try to get them to try just a little bit harder? Maybe I'm naive but I thought the President is supposed to be someone kids look up to? I mean I remember watching when George HW Bush did his say no to drugs speech. It didn't require parents permission then, and I don't see why we do to go down this road now.

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Threads
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What I find particularly odd about some people's reactions to Obama's speech is that I can't imagine that I would have had any problem with Bush giving a speech to kids. Perhaps I would have rolled my eyes but I certainly wouldn't have suspected anything sinister about it.
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Synesthesia
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I continue to not see why this is a big deal...
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FlyingCow
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We used to encourage kids by telling them they could grow up to be president one day.

Now apparently the message is that the president is dangerous and shouldn't be listened to.

Once it was preaching potential, and now it's preaching hate.

I think J.D. Salinger had the right idea by removing himself from society entirely... I'm tempted to do so myself.

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Synesthesia
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Me too. I want to live out in the middle of nowhere.

With music. And some moths and butterflies. And other critters.

quote:
Originally posted by FlyingCow:
We used to encourage kids by telling them they could grow up to be president one day.

Now apparently the message is that the president is dangerous and shouldn't be listened to.

Once it was preaching potential, and now it's preaching hate.

I think J.D. Salinger had the right idea by removing himself from society entirely... I'm tempted to do so myself.


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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.
As I get ready to get started down that career myself, I'm thinking there's more to it than just that : )
The original statement is flawed in one really critical way, our school system isn't failing, at least not in general.
Newp. It's just that where it is failing, the systemic problems run deep and the parents have little to do with them anymore. If I were to look at the DC schools, for instance, I would have a whole host of things to blame before the parents.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Sterling:
*sigh*

There are people on the political right who are intelligent, reasonable, and worthy of my respect. There are people on the political right who are intelligent, reasonable, and worthy of my respect. There are people on the political right who are intelligent, reasonable, and worthy of my respect.

And to prove it, here is some news from Utah.

quote:
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert supports President Barack Obama's plan to deliver a televised back-to-school speech to the nation's students Tuesday, saying he sees "nothing but good coming out of this."
Herbert said he favors letting students listen to the speech, and he thinks it will foster a dialogue between parents and their children.
"I think it's great. To hear from the president of the United States is an important thing," he said Saturday. "I'd like to hear what he has to say.
"I hope parents will take the opportunity to discuss the issues with their children, hear what the president's views are and what his vision is for the future of America. If they agree, then explain that. If they disagree, explain to their children why. I see nothing but good coming out of this," he said.
The governor, who has grandchildren in the Utah school system, said he can't imagine that they wouldn't watch the speech.

Now Gov. Herbert isn't someone I agree with on most issues or someone who has even earned my respect in general, but on this at least, he is acting like a rational human being and not a Wacko.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Though he did become convinced that the reason our school system is failing is because parents are pathetic.
As I get ready to get started down that career myself, I'm thinking there's more to it than just that : )
The original statement is flawed in one really critical way, our school system isn't failing, at least not in general.
Newp. It's just that where it is failing, the systemic problems run deep and the parents have little to do with them anymore. If I were to look at the DC schools, for instance, I would have a whole host of things to blame before the parents.
Come back in 10 years and tell me if you still think that.

I know there are many many things that could be improved in our school systems and we ought to be trying to improve those things. But it is woefully naive to think these are more important and more to blame than the socio/economic conditions that exist in places like DC.

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Teshi
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Well-- to be fair, where parents don't care about their kids' education you get kids falling behind no matter what their socio-economic situation is. They can come to school talking about their extended holiday in Cuba and how much x-box they played there. I suppose arguably that's a socio- problem.

Likewise, it is possible to live at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder (or attend a school in a bottom-rung area) and emphasize your child's education.

Both ways it is respectively more difficult to utterly fail (they read at a couple grades behind, rather than not read at all) or succeed (finding the time, money, resources, anti-education surroundings). But in that respect the parents can work against the socio-economic surroundings.

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Belle
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Once again, let me state that the problem most teachers have with this is not the address itself...but that it's 1)in the middle of the school day and 2) accompanied by suggested lesson plans.

I don't recall Bush ever addressing school kids and the White House telling teachers how to incorporate the speech into their lessons. (Of course, Bush did far more to the classroom with NCLB but that's a different thread.)

We got an email from our state superintendent of education that says there is another address planned in the evening with President Obama and others that parents can decide whether or not to watch with their kids. So, the decision becomes then a parental one which I think is appropriate.

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LadyDove
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Like many here, I came from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. That is not the only factor by any means. In fact, as far as I've been able to determine, it's a combination of socio-economic, parents' intelligence, deus-ex-machina in the form of an influential mentor and opportunity. In my case, opportunity took the form of lack of amusement or attraction. We couldn't afford game systems, had access to only 5 channels on TV and lived in a community with not so much as a movie theatre or bowling ally... suffice it to say, I WANTED OUT.

I had bright parents and a few wonderful mentors who told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. They made me believe that if I failed it was a failure of effort... in short, I, not anyone else, would be responsible for my failure.

Studying examples of people who rose above their circumstances and talking to people who had made that rise, were a HUGE part of making me believe in my own chances.

Is Obama going to talk about where he came from? If so, then I'd think his message should be even more influential and positive.

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LadyDove
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A speech aimed towards adults will typically be different than a speech geared toward school aged children and, in my experience, less likely to capture the attention of the kids.
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Belle
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It's not aimed at adults, it's still aimed at the kids - Kelly Clarkson and LeBron James are part of that broadcast. At least, that's what I've been told...the info came over email from our state dept. of education.

Is this being broadcast over TV or just the Web? Either way, I don't think the kids in our school could watch it anyway. We have one computer lab with 8 computers for a school of over 600. I have a projector, but have to use my personal laptop and there is no wireless internet available in my room. The TV's don't pick up anything....no decent antennas and certainly no cable. How would I even show it?

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
Come back in 10 years and tell me if you still think that.

I know there are many many things that could be improved in our school systems and we ought to be trying to improve those things. But it is woefully naive to think these are more important and more to blame than the socio/economic conditions that exist in places like DC.

Rabbit, I want you to think about this. The primary factor overall that causes these socioeconomic conditions to matter as much as they do to schools with poor students is that schools are so often funded primarily by regional taxation. If the students are primarily drawn from regions full of economic underclasses, such as poor urban youth, then the school systems receive less compensation per head than schools that serve more prosperous regions. In effect, the way we fund our schools makes it so that we provide the least funding and the least support to the children who need it the most because of their life situation.

That itself is a systemic problem. It's not something created by the parents, it's one that the american school system itself creates through the means that it typically funds its districts. You can't call observations like this naive. They cut to the core of the matter. They accurately finger the role of systemic failures in school administrations, staff, and budgeting in creating entire schools which effectively do not provide an education to students.

This is a paramount consideration. Insofar as the DC area schools are specifically concerned, they bypass the funding-per-student issue to show that systemic failures and waste are absolutely more important and more to blame than the parents could ever be credited for, no matter how terrible they might overall be at supporting their children's education (and yes, they're pretty bad). It is actually the strongest potential example of what I am talking about. The DC schools actually receive absurdly generous amounts of cash per head (third highest per student!), but the systemic issues within the district itself prevented that from mattering; the institution itself was primarily to blame for the disastrous state that the DC schools are in. The system sat broken for decades and woefully squandered what money it got, and in the end, DC students had not for years received any real education.

The DC schools were charitably described by Atlantic as a bureaucratic monstrosity that relied on disorganized paper files, kept paying ex-employees while missing paychecks to current teachers, let new textbooks and equipment languish in warehouses, and lacked even a firm enrollment count. People from within the system told of an even worse situation. When people were sent in to analyze schools like Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, they found that the majority of teachers were not actually having the students work on anything educational during the class. They were simply to sit in the classroom until the period ended, and more often than not that didn't even happen; the students would just leave a half-hour before the end of the period.

In systems like this and New York the problems with incompetent teachers is incredible. Desperate schools, such as in the DC area, get stuck with lemon teachers who are unfirable. The good teachers generally leave because they can; the bad teachers generally stay because they would not get accepted by functioning schools. In the end you end up with schools like Paul Laurence where a majority of teachers are Rubber Room level incompetents who cannot teach but who have tenure and cannot be fired for incompetence. They absolutely cannot. The remaining good teachers are stuck within a system that thwarts and discourages and saddles them with too much to handle, and the washout rate (or evacuation rate, more importantly!) is high.

You end up with broken schools that do nothing but babysit the most economically disadvantaged students and cannot create a positive academic environment. The issues the students bring with them from their home life do not matter if the school system is incapable of doing anything but exacerbating those issues.

These schools fail the needs of the most disadvantaged demographic. They would fail the needs of the most advantaged demographics. The schools themselves have been broken for a long, long time.

The current chancellor attempting to fix the district originally refused the post, stating that entrenched interests, including the teachers' union, made reform essentially impossible. Given more power to adjust the situation, she finally agreed to take the post and has been fought every step of the way while trying to remedy the situation and overhaul the tenure system that makes incompetent teachers unremovable. She's almost unique in that she does actually seem empowered to do something about the tenure issue; elsewhere, it's not something that anyone typically has the power to address; we must instead work around it.

Here is some recommended reading. At least read these before calling my viewpoint naive. Absolutely read the first article from start to finish.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/128/the-iron-chancellor.html?page=0%2C0

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/michelle-rhee

http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3506971.html

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Paul Goldner
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"She's almost unique in that she does actually seem empowered to do something about the tenure issue; elsewhere, it's not something that anyone typically has the power to address; we must instead work around it."

I wonder about the accuracy of this statement. I don't know about all states, but in many, firing incompetent teachers with tenure is possible. You have to actually care enough to document that they are incompetent, and try to fix their problems as teachers, but going through the effort of trying to train an incompetent teacher isn't impossible, or even all that hard if you have semi-motivated administrators.

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Christine
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
Rabbit, I want you to think about this. The primary factor overall that causes these socioeconomic conditions to matter as much as they do to schools with poor students is that schools are so often funded primarily by regional taxation. If the students are primarily drawn from regions full of economic underclasses, such as poor urban youth, then the school systems receive less compensation per head than schools that serve more prosperous regions.

I'm not sure where I fall on this issue and I haven't had time to look through all your link, but I was just remembering a story I read ina newspaper a decade or so ago about the St. Louis city schools -- those schools received MORE money per student than the county schools.

I'm definitely not convinced that funding is at the heart of what is failing our poor students.

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Samprimary
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quote:
I wonder about the accuracy of this statement. I don't know about all states, but in many, firing incompetent teachers with tenure is possible.
The tenure issue remains pervasive throughout the country. It is always possible to fire incompetent teachers; however, the time and expense and roadblocks to actually doing so are monumental and effectively cap most districts' desires to do so in the vast majority of all cases. California. Florida. Pennsylvania. Kansas. Texas. New York. Maryland. People from all over will tell you that it's difficult to fire even teachers who are criminals, and the incompetent ones are often left out of sheer necessity to the school districts. Some states remove the tenure but the issue remains.

To put it simply: yes, firing incompetent teachers is always possible. It remains too difficult. Schools cannot do it nearly as often as they should be able to. In schools that are particularly concerning (in effect, the failing schools, which is what I'm talking about) the bad teachers are granted virtual immunity by the effective incompetence and overburdening of the system.

From link no. 3

quote:
Getting rid of teachers who have committed crimes can be expensive, but it happens. What is nearly impossible is getting rid of a teacher who is simply incompetent. School district officials in Saint Louis had to work for three years to get rid of an algebra teacher who passed out As to students who would bring her Big Gulps and Snickers bars. In suburban Chicago, a school district had to fight the union the entire way, spending $70,000 in the process, in order to dismiss a math teacher who couldn’t answer basic algebra questions. But these cases are the exception, James Plosia says: “Even though it is possible to remove an incompetent teacher, the process that you have to follow means you win the battle, but lose the war.”

Not even failing to show up for class will cost a tenured teacher his job. In 1997 Wallace Bowers, an English teacher in Collinsville, Illinois, was fired from North Junior High School when he failed to come to school for six weeks. When he finally returned, Bowers said he wanted to keep his job, but Superintendent Thomas Fegley stood firm: “We don’t necessarily concur that somebody can quit coming to work for six weeks and get his job back.” So Bowers challenged the district, with the backing of the powerful Illinois Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA. In the end Judge Henry X. Dietch found in Bowers’s favor, not because of the merits of the case but because of the strange protections offered teachers under Illinois law. If a teacher’s conduct, whatever it might be, is “remediable,” a school board must offer a notice to remedy before firing the teacher. Bowers went back into the classroom and received full back pay.

Some states have adopted new policies to make it easier to dismiss incompetent teachers. In 1997 Frank Brogan, whose qualifications as Florida education commissioner include a stint as a fifth-grade public school teacher, championed a law that compresses the process for termination from two years to ninety days and institutes a ninety-seven-day probationary period for new teachers. During the 1997–1998 school year, 303 teachers either were let go or resigned during the new probationary period. But termination unfortunately does not guarantee that a teacher is out of the classroom. “We have actually gone through the process and revoked the teaching certificates of some individuals only to have them show up as a paraprofessional—a teacher’s assistant—in the same classroom the next day,” Brogan complains. “They get virtually the same pay and benefits.”

Now even some public school teachers are turning against the absurd system. Joe Nathan spent fourteen years as a public school teacher in Minnesota and served on the board of the Minnesota Parent-Teachers Association. His wife still teaches in a public school. Today, as head of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey Institute, he has blunt words about the current system. “The tenure system is really adult welfare,” he told me. “It cheats kids of the most effective faculty, and keeps some of the worst teachers in place. It’s a system that puts the needs of adults first.”

That is certainly the case when it comes to hiring and firing on the basis of seniority, which prevails in almost every state. The result is often that ineffective teachers keep their jobs while hard-charging younger teachers are shown the door. On Thursday, May 28, 1998, Sarah Gustafson was inducted into the Florida Educator Hall of Fame by Commissioner Brogan, an acknowledgment of the Florida Teacher of the Year award she received in 1991. The next day, she was canned by the Brevard County School District. Her school was cutting back because of declining enrollment, and the former Teacher of the Year had less seniority than several colleagues with mediocre job appraisals.

It's really a pervasive issue. Now, forgive the story being printed in the Hoover Institute of We Hate Liberals, Liberals Suck And Smell Bad magazine, but it's really really worth reading.

quote:
I'm definitely not convinced that funding is at the heart of what is failing our poor students.
Christine, a fair majority of my post appraises this very issue. I specifically mention that the DC schools receive phenomenal funding per student and still fails due to the school system itself being fundamentally broken; it's like pouring the money into a black hole.

The funding is still a crucial issue in American schools. It ensures that the neediest students often have the least money afforded towards their educational needs, and it perpetuates class imbalance and reduces social mobility. Regional funding works out terribly.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
. The primary factor overall that causes these socioeconomic conditions to matter as much as they do to schools with poor students is that schools are so often funded primarily by regional taxation.
While this is a factor, and an important factor which should be addressed, it is not the primary factor. I have read numerous studies that confirm this. Disparities between schools, the socio-economic factors dominate even in regions where the the funding disparities do not exist. Anecdotally, in Utah the primary funding for schools comes from the state general fund and so funding is nearly uniform across the state. In the Salt Lake Valley, all three school districts include both upper middle class neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods.

In the school district where my sisters live, there is one elementary school in a white collar, middle class neighborhood. Students at this school average in the 80th percentile on national tests. The average student at this school is doing better than 80% of the children in the country. In the same school district, there is an elementary school in the inner city where the students average in the 8th percentile. These schools are in the same district. They have the same administration, same school board, same curriculum. The inner city school is actually better funded than the white collar school because of supplemental moneys they get for students that are considered disadvantaged.

This is only one anecdote, but there are numerous studies that back it up. Socio-economic factors are with little question the primary reason for the failures of our educational system. This isn't a result that politicians, or teacher or communities like to hear because its a problem that is much more difficult to fix than weaknesses in the schools themselves. But it is true and unless we recognize it and start to address it, every proposal to fix "our failing school system" is doomed to fail.

[ September 06, 2009, 09:08 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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Samprimary
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quote:
Socio-economic factors are with little question the primary reason for the failures of our educational system.
I do not believe that this is true in the way you are wording it. Instead, the only part of it which is true is that where schools and districts are failing, the capacity for the failure originates from ramifications of impoverished and disadvantaged demographics being the ones primarily served by the schools.

This is not the same as your argument, essentially that the socioeconomic factors then go on to be the excuse for the failure of the schools. The schools still matter because the schools themselves are broken. The schools in these situations — schools which are failures* — are failures because they are operating with a combination of 1. students of poor and disadvantaged families and 2. a school system that is broken by any appropriate definition of the word.

Note that if you do not have both (1) and (2), you nearly always do not have a failing school. You will simply have a sub-par school. There are plenty of school districts which have a broken and inefficient system but are not dealing with the same monumental issues that an incredibly poor district would be. They are, in fact, all around me. You also have schools which are dealing with inner-city populations or extremely impoverished rural regions, but they are not broken schools. They, too, do not fail. There are plenty of public metro-area schools in equally impoverished districts which provide nothing resembling the nightmare of the D.C. schools. There are schools in indian reservations that have greater parental issues but which provide nothing resembling the nightmare of the D.C. schools. A "failed school" or a "failed district" is a different matter entirely. A matter that is at least not common, but still isn't rare enough.

Now, how can I say that the socioeconomic factors aren't "with little question the primary reason" for a failed school? Because even in situations as dire as the District of Columbia school, voucher schools, once enabled by legislation, pop up to vampirize the failed district's budget, open schools to serve the exact same demographics using the exact same funding allotment per student that the public schools get, and outperform the existing system by an order of magnitudes and cannot be classified as failed schools or districts, such as D.C.'s public schools versus their charter schools, which have absorbed about half of the district's students. They are extraordinarily different than the public schools both as a matter of term (they spring into being free from obligation to the indolent networks that resort in lemon teachers, many union issues, many tenure issues, monumental wasted overhead in rubber-room situations, and may instead concentrate only on hiring and keeping functional and competent teachers rather than being forced to incorporate them) and as a matter of accountability (voucher schools are essentially competitive in nature; their funding is reliant on student enrollment).

If the voucher schools in regions like DC popped up and did just as poorly as the regular system, I would see and agree to your point. They do not. If what you were saying were true, they would be equally a failure as what they replace. Instead, they pull through where the public schools are collapsing simply because they are not dysfunctional, mismanaged pits trapped under colluded networks of things that should be positive influences but are today incredibly toxic to school function (unions, etc).

Issue (2) is in fact a bigger issue because it worms itself up the socioeconomic strata and can reduce the performance of schools greatly even far away from massively problem-ridden districts. These problems are entrenched legacy issues that seem more the result of machine politic than anything else. We have school systems which are designed to serve and protect the adults in them, at the cost of the children. And as time went on, they became monumentally impervious to reform.

I am glad you consider to be socioeconomic disparity issues to be such a problem. We cannot, however, let them be used as an excuse for schools which are failing on their own independent of what the parents can foist on them, problem-wise.

* to recap and remind, remember that this is what I am talking about. Not 'problematic' schools. Not 'poor' schools. Failing schools. See post 2:9, what sparked all this, quote: "It's just that where it is failing, the systemic problems run deep and the parents have little to do with them anymore. If I were to look at the DC schools, for instance, I would have a whole host of things to blame before the parents."

The body of links I have provided are there to service that fact.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Because even in situations as dire as the District of Columbia school, voucher schools, once enabled by legislation, pop up to vampirize the failed district's budget, open schools to serve the exact same demographics using the exact same funding allotment per student that the public schools get, and outperform the existing system by an order of magnitudes and cannot be classified as failed schools or districts, such as D.C.'s public schools versus their charter schools, which have absorbed about half of the district's students. They are extraordinarily different than the public schools both as a matter of term (they spring into being free from obligation to the indolent networks that resort in lemon teachers, many union issues, many tenure issues, monumental wasted overhead in rubber-room situations, and may instead concentrate only on hiring and keeping functional and competent teachers rather than being forced to incorporate them) and as a matter of accountability (voucher schools are essentially competitive in nature; their funding is reliant on student enrollment).
You are missing the biggest difference between these schools. Are you familiar with selection bias? Unless the DC charter schools are different from charter schools basically everywhere else, they don't just randomly select students to go to charter schools. Students (or their parents) have to apply to attend the charter school or they end up in the regular school. That automatically eliminates that families who don't care and the kids whose parents never respond or show up for meetings, and that is after all, the biggest socio-economic factor out there.

The application process ensures that the two school systems aren't working with the same demographic group. Charter schools get the ones who care enough to fill out an application and who are proactive enough to even know they have the option and the regular schools get what's left. That is a big big thing that you can't ignore.

I'm quite confident that the Charter schools would do a better job for the kids who attend than the regular system regardless of the teachers and the policies involved. The Charter school process weeds out the kids and families who don't care and aren't proactive. Without those kids, the entire education process is dramatically easier.

This is the classic mistake that almost everyone makes when they are comparing the traditional public schools with other systems. They ignore the selection bias in a situation where the selection bias is what many studies have identified as the most important factor.

I'm not saying that the DC school system doesn't have problems that can and should be fixed. I'm simply saying that those aren't the primary problem. A lot of what you see as systemic problems with the school, are things which are a direct result of the underlying socio-economic problems.

For example, you've talked a lot about incompetent teachers with tenure. Its a classic stereotype, kind of like corrupt politicans and dishonest lawyers, but its not particularly fair or supported by solid data. The really incompetent teachers don't get tenured. What people commonly identify as "Incompetent" tenured teachers, are really "burned out" teachers who were likely very competent and dedicated at one point. Inner city schools, like the one in which Belle teaches, chew teachers up and spit them out. The energy required just to keep going in that situation is enormous and it is no wonder that so many teachers burn out and leave, or stay but stop caring and stop trying.

Maybe that problem is exacerbated by tenure and unions that make it harder to get rid of burned out teachers, but still the underlying problem is that the job burns people out not that the teachers aren't competent.

I've known quite a few people who've taught in inner city schools. I know very few who've survived it more than 2 or three years.

[ September 07, 2009, 06:54 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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The Rabbit
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Oh and by the way Samprimary, the links you have provided are not to what I would considered valid primary sources. I've been reading education journals dealing with these subjects for decades and what you see in the popular press (like the New Yorker and The Atlantic) is very commonly contrary to the scholarly data on the subject.
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Paul Goldner
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When I was going through educational programs in Massachusetts, 67% of teachers in our state were burned out within 3 years.
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Belle
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Burnout rate is high with teachers in urban schools, that's for sure. Some teachers stay and put their all into their jobs. Others get some really good experience and a few years later bolt for a better system where they'll have better working conditions and more motivated students.

Sad to say, that's probably what I will do simply because I am driving more than an hour each way and the area of town I have to drive through is not safe...so more than likely I'll try to find something else closer to home. And yes, part of me imagines teaching at a school like the suburban one where I did my student teaching and really, really wants to leave the disinterested parents and discipline problems and 7th graders who can't read behind me one day. Not to mention the rats and roaches and run down facilities.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
This is the classic mistake that almost everyone makes when they are comparing the traditional public schools with other systems. They ignore the selection bias in a situation where the selection bias is what many studies have identified as the most important factor.

Situations that control for this bias include regions where economic necessity create situations where the local charter school is the only feasible option for parents when local schools close (Baltimore and more recently DC) and where application is heavily foisted on parents and create a near total regionalized student induction. In these cases the charter schools still outperform the schools they replaced by a very significant amount.

quote:
[/qb]Oh and by the way Samprimary, the links you have provided are not to what I would considered valid primary sources. I've been reading education journals dealing with these subjects for decades and what you see in the popular press (like the New Yorker and The Atlantic) is very commonly contrary to the scholarly data on the subject. [/qb]
Then by all means, contradict it with scholarly data. I not only have seen these issues reinforced in educational and sociological texts, but I have access to pretty much every scholarly resource online and you could send any such primary source to me for review.
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The Rabbit
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I'm afraid the resources I have aren't general available unless you have access to research library. I simply don't have time right now to go back through 2 decades of articles to post a bibliography that no one is likely to read.

I recognize that's a bit insulting, but persuading you isn't my job. I've got two papers I'm trying to finish, lectures to prepare, students to meet with, and a conference I'm planning. I've already invested more time in this than I have.

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