Tag Archives: education reform

Independent Kansan: Post-Rapture Edition

That’s right baby, we’re back. I don’t know if everybody is still out there. Maybe some people were whisked away to Heaven, but it wasn’t me and it wasn’t you. The post-Rapture “Hell on Earth” doesn’t seem to be taking place. So I have made the decision to return to a life of speaking my opinion to anyone who will listen and boldly trying to restore some common sense to the world.

It might be worth noting that a few hours after the supposed beginning of the end, a tornadic thunderstorm did roll through my little piece of this planet. I don’t know if God was sending me a warning shot or what.

I guess I should give you a preview of whats to come. Tim Pawlenty is running for President. Mitch Daniels is not. Sarah Palin, apparently raised some money and bought a house in Arizona. People seem to think that maybe she’s setting something up. We still have to raise the debt ceiling, pass a budget and while we are fighting about all of that, the President has called on Congress to reform federal education law this year.

I had got an email on Friday that posed some interesting questions. This is what it said:

“I wonder what the following conversations / planning meetings were like?

Democratic leadership planning on how to take advantage of the new Democratic Majority after the Rapture.  (assuming our Republican friends are taken, and the gay loving, baby killing, welfare spending democrats are left all alone.

Republicans planning how to carry on if their most vocal base goes to heaven.  (Safe assumption that if they got themselves elected to congress they will not be making the trip) How can they stay in office without their Christian conservative supporters.  Did the republican party circulate forms “in case of rapture, please donate all of my money to the Republican party?”
Special thanks to Mike for allowing me to use this. I assume he won’t mind. The point of all this is that there is no shortage of things to talk about, and as the world seems to be continuing on, so must we. Thanks to all my readers. I hope in the “Post-Rapture world” I can continue to provide a voice of civility in a world of madness.

Who Wants Be A Teacher?

“Education will not cure all the problems of society, but without it no cure for any problem is possible.” -President Lyndon Johnson

Attacking teachers is becoming an all to common occurence in this country. We all watched the protests in Wisconsin as teacher’s rights were being stripped. We know about the bills in Ohio and other states. Recently, it really hit home for me because it hit Kansas City.

Dr. John Covington is the superintendent of the Kansas City, MO school district. The KCMO district has been plagued with huge problems in the past. Dr. Covington was brought in to turn it around. He took a radical approach, that he knew would be unpopular. He drastically cut back on staff and closed around half of the districts schools. People didn’t like it, but understood the necessity for change. Now he may have gone to far. As the Kansas City Star reports, the district recently informed a large number of non-tenured teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. So the district in reducing staff, what’s the big deal? The deal is that the district isn’t reducing staff. They have a contract with Teach For America, a groups that recruits college graduates to teach for a few years in needy schools. The district plans to bring in around 150 new teachers from this program. So why did they fire teachers they already had? We don’t know. The nice thing about non-tenured teachers, in the eyes of districts, is that you don’t have to tell them why. We do know that performance was not a consideration. Dr. Covington confirmed that. So the reason had to be money. The district has budget problems and new teachers cost less than experienced teachers. While, the average pay of teachers is 55 thousand dollars a year, a first year teacher averages only 36.

This raises a question about teacher pay statistics. We’ve heard a lot recently about teachers average pay. There are a few different ways of looking at teacher pay. One is the mean average, where you add up all the teachers salaries and divide it by the number of teachers. Another way to look at it is pay per contract hour. Teachers don’t get paid by the hour exactly, but they sign a contract that says they will work this many hours for this many days. Those contracts are usually around 8 hours a day for an average school year of 180 days. If you take their salary and divide it by the number of hours you get an estimated per hour wage. I don’t like either of these ways. Pay per contract hour is ridiculous. There is no teacher in this country who doesn’t work hours outside of their contract. It’s impossible. Teachers cannot do their jobs in an 8 hour day with kids. There are papers to grade, lesson plans to develop and any number of things that have to be done outside of contract hours. Average pay is better but it is skewed by higher income teachers. In some states teachers make considerably more simply because the cost of living is higher. Usually median pay is the best way to look at salary because it gives you a better idea of the true middle. For instance if Bill Gates is in a room with 50 low wage workers, the median income will be much smaller than the mean. It is also a more accurate view of that group. Median teacher income in this country varies by state but is somewhere between 40-43 thousand dollars a year. That’s not a bad salary by any means, but the media representation has been that teachers are living the high life. They’re not. They are living very middle class lives.

I could go on and on about teacher pay and teacher rights but there is an underlying point here. Teachers do get better benefits than the average worker in this country. They are paid decently. If we continue to hack away at those facts we will find ourselves in a difficult spot. If we continue to take away the incentives that bring people to teaching, are we going to have enough teachers in the future?

The fact is that we need teachers. There are 49 million public school students spread across 98 thousand public schools. Someone has to take on the job of educating them. The truth is not everybody wants to be a teacher. There are those who think of teaching as a calling. Education is sacred to them and they want to go out and teach the world. There aren’t enough of them. We have 3 million teachers in this country and not all of them chose teaching. Many see it as a transition from college to a career. That’s what Teach For America is all about. Those people agree to teach for a couple of years in needy schools. After that couple of years they might quit and move on to what they originally wanted to do. Some of them may find that they really like teaching but another career may offer them more. If we want to have any hope of retaining those some of those teachers we’re going to have to give them a reason to stay. A decent income and guaranteed pension might be a enough of a reason. Taking away those things is reason to leave teaching. In Wisconsin, they are seeing far more retirements than usual. Educators are leaving in droves to make sure they get the retirement benefits they’ve been promised.

In the state of the Union speech, the President said we need to “out-educate” the rest of the world. Can we out educate the world when the total amount of money spent on education at all levels of government doesn’t even equal what the federal government spends on defense? In 2010, the Department of Education had a budget of 64 billion dollars. After you remove Pell grants, they only had 48 billion dollars. Imagine if what we spent on education was equal to what we spend on defense. Somewhere around 700 billion dollars to train teachers, build schools, and send kids to college.  We live in a time where Congressman and Senators sound like the government does too much, when it actually does far, far, too little. Maybe we should look to history and something Lyndon Johnson said:

” So we must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty. But more classrooms and more teachers are not enough. We must seek an educational system which grows in excellence as it grows in size. This means better training for our teachers. It means preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure as well as their hours of labor. It means exploring new techniques of teaching, to find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation.”

The “love of learning and the capacity for creation.” We don’t talk like that anymore.  We need to add incentives and bring in new teachers, not take them away. You often hear that certain professions need to be paid top dollar. A company needs to pay their CEO millions to attract the “best and the brightest.” Shouldn’t we want the “best and the brightest” passing on all the knowledge they have? Shouldn’t we want the “best and the brightest” in our classrooms. An average teacher makes 43 thousand dollars a year and is being treated like they shouldn’t ask the government for so much. Yet, that CEO really needs more stock options.  If we want to know why education this country is consistently ranked lower than others look at how we treat educators.  If we truly valued education we would spend hundreds of billions of dollars and pay teachers more, build better schools, do more research into how to teach, and build better teacher education programs. Then we might see real results in education.

President Obama Should Fight For Education . . . Now

In his speech on public education in America, the President made many grand statements, but offered few solutions. It’s good that the President is taking up the issue of public education. Public education is the single most important issue in this country.  It affects every aspect of our lives. It drastically affects our economy. The United States will be better off it our workforce is more educated.

In his speech at Kenmore Middle School, the President stressed that it all begins at home. Instilling a desire for education and the discipline to obtain is the responsibility of parents. What he didn’t address is how do we help kids who don’t have that. As much as we don’t like it, some parents are not responsible. Some parents will not instill those values in their children. Some children will show up at school tired and hungry. We have to address these children’s problems. One step is providing breakfast at schools in the same way that we provide free and reduced lunches.

The President also stressed his program, “Race to the Top.” This program told states that if they showed progress then the best of them would see federal money. While you can say the program caused states to raise standards, it raises the question, “Is competition the right model for public education?”

This is a very big question. The President called on Congress to send him an education bill that he could sign by the beginning of the next school year. He put the responsiblity on Congress. The reason that the competition question is so important is that Congress is increasingly under Republican influence and they believe competition is the answer to everything. Republican views of education range from promoting school choice and voucher programs to dismantling the Department of Education and saying, “Screw the public, they can educate themselves.” Public education cannot be subject to this idea. The very idea of public education is that it is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, or socio-economic status is. Every child deserves a certain level of education, and the government should give it to them. Competition doesn’t work because in a competition someone always loses. Right now the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are taking place. Every team cannot win. That’s not how it works. In public education, however, everyone is supposed to win. We cannot let the free market, competition standard be applied to public education.

The President did mention a number of important points. He repeatedly stressed that education is about abstract skills like critical thinking. He said they were more important that test scores. He stressed that we need to revamp teacher education. We need to give teachers more time to collaborate and more time for veteran teachers to mentor new teachers. Most of all he highlighted the fact that education costs money. He pointed out that reform is necessary but we will also have to spend money. While money is tight, he said we cannot cut education funding. With Republican’s trying to cut spending on everything from the IRS to Pell grants, this is an important statement, however, the President did not threaten to veto a bill containing cuts to education.

President Obama’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place. He seems to truly value the idea of educating all children. He said, “In the 21st century it is not enough to make sure that no child gets left behind. We need to make sure every child has a chance to get ahead.” That is the right idea. He said educating every child is important. “That is who we are.” The President has stopped short of leading the way. His speech on Monday had the right goals, but now we must ask if the President has the political will to push for those goals.  If the job is left to Congress, we will see the same fight we have seen over the past 50 years. The nation will continue to decline in education, because we refuse to invest in it. President Obama has fought for healthcare, and financial reform. Now is the time for him to fight for education.

A Quick Thought, Again. . .

I’m working on my reaction to the President’s speech on education reform that I posted yesterday. In addition I’m continuing my work on our addiction to technology. Since neither of those is finished, I would like to leave you with this question. How confusing must it be to someone learning English that “Indian-American” and “American Indian” mean two very different things?

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, listen to the President’s speech, and check in tomorrow for my reaction.

Something You Should Watch

I’m working on a post about technology and our addiction to it, but while checking my Facebook page (yes I’m an addict too) I found this. If you are interested in education reform, you should watch it.


A Quick Thought about Tomorrow Night

Here’s a short version of what I would like to hear from Pres. Obama when he gives the State of the Union address tomorrow.

I want him to challenge Congress. He needs to stand up and say this is what we accomplished over the past two years. After partisan bickering we had the a hugely productive lame-duck session. In between fighting to win elections, legislators came together. They repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They ratified an extremely important nuclear arms treaty. They even came together and compromised on a bill that extended both tax cuts and unemployment benefits. That all comes after a Congress that enacted sweeping healthcare and financial reform measures. A Congress that streamlined the student loan process and saved the government money while doing it.

Pres. Obama should praise these achievements, but he should tell Congress that they can work together to do better.  Education reform is still on the table. The Dream Act has yet to be passed. Much is left to be done.  The State of the Union is a chance for the President to outline an agenda for the whole year, but he must emphasize one thing. Divided government requires divided responsibility. Republicans must step up and provided ideas not just criticism and then both sides must work together to find solutions.

This is a huge goal. It is difficult to reach, but one man should start the conversation. He is the President of the United States. Tomorrow night is his chance.

Today’s Breakfast: Healthcare Rehash

So the House decided to repeal the healthcare law. Great use of the people’s time and money, but it happened so let’s talk about it for a minute. My humorous side is real unhappy about this. Mostly because they called it “The Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act.” That’s just a ridiculous name. First of all, it’s a little early to call it “Job-Killing.” Second, the Law Act part seems redundant. Third, what do Republican’s hope to possibly gain from this stunt.

As soon as John Boehner said this was going to happen, Democrats got real excited.  The get a second chance to record all the sound bites about wildly popular parts of the bill. Democrats came down with healthcare Tourette’s. Everybody was talking about “no more preexisting conditions, no more dropped coverage.” They even brought out people who are excited because they can keep their kids covered to age 26.

All Republicans did was say it was a government takeover. Obamacare is socialism. Americans like a lot of this bill though. The only thing people really seem to have a problem with in the bill is the mandate to buy insurance. Republicans are challenging that across the U.S. The real problem is that they aren’t opposed to individual mandates. They came up with them. It had broad support from Republicans in the 1993 healthcare law that President Clinton failed to pass, and in the Wyden-Bennet bill in 2008. As Ezra Klein at the Washington Post argues, the problem is purely partisan.

I think that’s where Republicans lose. Sure, they will fire up the base. Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachman will go on a rampage. Sean Hannity’s head might just explode. The real issue is that House Republicans are saying we have to repeal everything. So they want insurance companies to drop people’s coverage when they get sick. They want insurance companies to discriminate against those who already have medical conditions. If Republicans were saying they wanted to repeal the mandate, it would still be hypocritical, but it wouldn’t be such blatant politics. They want the grand showmanship of total repeal, because they don’t care about healthcare. They care about winning, and they think this is the easiest way to do that. They are banking on the idea that Americans won’t do their homework. Rank and file Republicans and Democrats won’t. They will vote with their party because they always do. Those of us who choose to be independent of the parties must do ours. It’s important that people realize that these issues are much more complex than either side wants you to think about.

The individual mandate may seem wrong, but insurance is a tricky business. If they are going to cover everyone who walks through the door, someone has to pay. It takes the monthly premiums of a whole bunch of people to pay the monthly cost of cancer treatment for one person.  If we want insurance coverage when we need it. We have to be willing to pay for it when we don’t.  In other countries it is considered a civic duty to be insured. If Americans felt that way we would all be better off.

As Americans we tend to cling to our freedoms in the most peculiar way.  Opponents of the mandate have said it suppresses their freedom. They should be able to choose to be uninsured.  For virtually everyone that’s just crazy. No one who has any common sense would choose to be uninsured unless they were filthy rich. I must admit that I was uninsured for a long period of time once in my life. I was in my early twenties, and I will readily admit that I had no common sense. As a nation we have to act with some common sense. If we believe that people should be able to afford health insurance then it will take the work of the government and the insurance industry. The American people must also be willing to pitch in.

The biggest hurdle is thwarting the business lobby. The law requires companies to provide insurance or face penalties. Business doesn’t like that.  You would have to be crazy to think that this week’s repeal measure doesn’t have something to do with Republicans shoring up support among Big business. There is a ton of cash in business and they want it when the next election rolls around. With all the money corporations put into our campaigns, it’s fairly amazing that any elected official was willing to vote for the healthcare bill. This is why the right has taken to opposing Obama so passionately.  I’m not even sure how many people who yell about fiscal responsibility realize that Obama’s first budget brought the budget deficit down for the first time in nearly a decade. The healthcare bill is projected to reduce the deficit by another one hundred billion and change over the next ten years. The right-wing business community doesn’t want people to realize. So they have funded Tea Party rallies across the nation pointing the finger at Obama, and stirring the fear. People say the Tea Party is about fiscal responsibility, and the rank and file may be. The people running the show don’t give a damn about fiscal responsibility. They are playing on the fear of white America. They are people from Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Americans for Prosperity. Both groups with ultra right-wing agendas formed by billionaires to protect their own money. If a business friendly president gets elected the Tea Party will disappear, because those who organize them will have gotten their way. That’s why the Tea Party didn’t exist for the 8 years of record-setting deficits under Pres. Bush. That’s why they fought the stimulus but not TARP. The people may feel that they are pushing for fiscal responsibility but the ones with power are using them for their own agenda. We should be scared. They know how to win elections. Pick an issue, this time healthcare, make people afraid of it, and tell them whose to blame for it. That way the healthcare law will be repealed and they aren’t on the hook to give health insurance to their employees.

I know there are people out there who genuinely have paid attention to the issues and oppose healthcare reform. I know there are those at Tea Party rallies who are seriously concerned with the national debt. Those could be valid viewpoints, but it is a stretch to believe that the repeal this week was a genuine attempt to do what’s right. Total repeal doesn’t make sense. There are good parts to the bill. We need to keep those and tweak other things to make them better. As an example, every President takes up education reform. Since Johnson passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 60’s it has been regularly modified and reauthorized. In 2001 it was passed as No Child Left Behind.  A lot of people didn’t like a large part of NCLB, but no one is talking about repealing it. It wasn’t all bad and a total repeal would be of great detriment to our nations schools. We will once again try to fix the problems and enhance the strengths of the bill with the ultimate goal of providing the best possible education to our children.  We need to approach healthcare reform in the same manner. We need genuine discussion and modification to make healthcare in this country better.

We need less political grandstanding