Tag Archives: schools

Schools Aren’t Failing, Society Is

No, Our schools AREN’T failing. Despite what you read or see on the news, despite what school reformers making a ton of money off the government say, despite what testing companies print, our schools aren’t failing.

Our SOCIETY is failing.

A few facts:

• 1. According to Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007, released by the U.S. Census Bureau in November, 2009, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today

• 2. In the most recent Census Bureau statistics, 2.4 million of the nation’s families are maintained by grandparents who have one or more of their grandchildren living with them–an increase of 400,000 (19 percent) since 1990. These families comprise 7 percent of all families with children under 18.

• 2b. Slightly more than half (1.3 million) of these 2.4 million grandparent-maintained families contain both grandparents; 1.0 million have only a grandmother; and 150,000 have only a grandfather.

• 3. Nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,050 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 42% of children live in low-income families.

• 4. – Illicit teen drug use as of 2003.
* 8th grade — 30.3%
* 10th grade — 44.9%
* 12th grade — 52.8%

• 5. While no national data on the extent of truancy exists, we know that in some cities unexcused absences can number in the thousands each day. here are some statistics that have been gathered:
Studies have shown that two-thirds of male juveniles arrested while truant tested positive for drug use.
According to one confidential survey, nearly 1 in ten 15 year olds were truant at least once a week.

These facts can’t be blamed on teachers or schools. When I was in school, dropouts were a fact of life. A friend of mine got married and had a baby when she was 16. She quit school. It was just the expected. Years before that, my father-in-law quit school in 8th grade to go to work. It wasn’t that long ago that special needs students were sent to the hallway Or a closet sized classroom to work on their own. They certainly weren’t expected to master objectives in a class or on a test. And students whose first language was anything other than English were simply out of luck in our schools.

I don’t want to go back to a time where the above are considered acceptable, but to compare our schools today with those of the past on a side by side scale is ridiculous. It’s like comparing apples to cars and saying while they’re both red, one sure does taste bad.

Can our schools get better? Yes. I don’t know a single teacher or admin who isn’t on a constant search to improve. Will they get better by following Race to the Top, administering a new standardized test, encouraging vouchers and privatization? No. But people who have nothing to do with educating children will get rich(er) selling people on the idea that that they’ve got the cure.


1. http://singleparents.about.com/od/legalissues/p/portrait.htm

2. http://ohioline.osu.edu/ss-fact/0158.html

3. http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

4. http://www.teendrugabuse.us/teendrugstatistics.html

5. http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/troubledteens/a/truancy_2.htm

Yes, it is important

Yesterday someone I love told me I needed to understand the budget cuts were unavoidable and that the waste in education is the reason for budget problems in Texas. Ultimately, the person said, you could see the real problem with education in one area specifically: Pre-K. In the person’s opinion, which was developed based on numerous pieces of Tea Party propaganda, pre-K is a complete waste of tax payer dollars.
The person ended their argument by explaining that they had never been in pre-K, so why was it necessary?
This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the whole school budget problem this biennium.
The people making the decisions have NO IDEA what they’re talking about.
I explained to the person speaking that pre-K teachers prepare low socio-economic students for school. These kids sometimes have one parent, often none. Instead grandparents are raising the children. Pre-K’s feed the hungry. The pre-K teachers I know buy clothes for kids, shower children, run washing machines because kids come to class filthy and teach pre-reading and math skills.
Should education be the stand-in for family? Maybe not, but the reality is it IS. Without pre-K, you are dooming these children to a life of poverty before they ever even have a chance.
BUT our legislators, led by a Tea Party insistent on change and making these decisions without any real knowledge. They’re not talking to educators. They’re being led by lobbyists down the rabbit hole of education by voucher and choice. A place and tie where the rich get richer and the poor die.
The person explaining to me how non-essential pre-K is also let me know Public Education isn’t guaranteed. I told her she was wrong. While it might not be in the constitution, public education is guaranteed by our state constitution.

I’m not sure what’s going on with our state politicians, but I do know education is essential. I know it’s a path out of poverty, and I know we are not a country built on the idea that those with money control the agenda.

I read an email from a teacher about learned helplessness. She says educators let this kind of thing happen because we feel we are powerless. I’m not sure how we find the power, but I do know, if these bills on the floor pass, if our education system is decimated, we have an OBLIGATION to make sure those in office now never find their way to office again. We must start now working to make sure this never happens again.


I have a partial ready to send to Love Inspired, and I’m working on edits of a full.
It’s funny how very different these stories are.
I don’t know if either of them will make the cut. But I’m learning from both stories.
It’s a whole new ball game. I hope both stories get to see readers other than the few who’ve critiqued for me. 🙂

Next week is D-Day for Texas teachers not on continuing contracts. We’ll know the full extent of projected layoffs then. It’s going to be ugly. Those of us on continuing contracts are safe, but it’s still going to be ugly. Between pay cuts and insurance hikes, it’s going to be a painful year.

But not as painful as it is for the people in Japan right now. Or several other countries. Sometimes I think we have it too easy.

From Work Today, Love it!

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses
the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my
teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard
about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists
with their young patients?” I said.

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each
patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s
rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below average, and
Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will
also encourage the less effective dentists to get better. Poor dentists who
don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to
improve children’s dental health in this state?”

“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing
good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work
with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can’t control? For
example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived
homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods.
Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children see me until there is
some problem and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also,” he said, “many
of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age,
unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and
decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is
untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference
early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist
would be so defensive. He does a great job.

“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as
good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going higher than a lot of
other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and, from the way he was clenching and
unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try
furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below
average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe
this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a
dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients.
And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I
attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it
is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “Complaining, excuse making and
stonewalling won’t improve dental health… I am quoting from a leading member
of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly
laypersons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

“Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he
said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure
good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and
you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This
can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he said.

“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help
straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me
how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had
much more experience? Big help.”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and
teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to
influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like
that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think
of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

“I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy- surely they
will see the point.” He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and
suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

The Bad News

If the all the cuts proposed are adopted, I’m losing more than 10% of my pay next year. OUCH!
The good news: I work for a district that made this process completely transparent. As painful as this is, it’s not a surprise. And I’m not alone. Several people will be taking huge hits. And unfortunately those hits will affect those of us who spend several extra hours a week and time with our students on weekends more than it hits those who show up for work and check out at quitting time. Unfortunately, those of us going the extra mile had the salary stipends that could be looked at. The state government has to balance the budget, and they’ve chosen to do so on the backs of public servants and the children of the State of Texas. The district has to make budget. End of story. Our budget committee was made up of people from all areas of our district, not just the supers and admin. They studied every area possible to find the cuts, and they did what had to be done. I appreciate the people who gave their time to serve on this committee. Hopefully, their hard work won’t go unappreciated.
What bothers me is how so many people in the public are reacting to the cuts. So many people are saying hurtful, horrible things about teachers right now, and it breaks my heart.
We give our lives to our jobs. You won’t find us on long business lunches with glasses of wine and margaritas or at the gym for 4:00 a fitness class before running home to get dinner together for our families. At night we spend time with our families when we can, but almost always, we’re working on grading papers, giving quality feedback, or doing lesson plans at the same time.
Yes, public education spending has increased in the last decade. But society expects astronomically more from us than they did a decade ago. Are there areas of waste? Sure. Schools are bureaucracies. Waste abounds in bureaucracies. Are there bad teachers out there. Yes. But finding them isn’t as easy as non-educators seem to think. And it costs money to get them out of the classroom.
Today at lunch a friend said she knows a single teacher with two children who qualifies for federal assistance. That makes no sense.
I’m terrified right now. It seems to me that this is a battle for the USA. This is the country where everyone gets a quality education. Where hard work means something. Where children of poverty can change their lives, and that change starts with school. But the US is changing. Poverty levels are increasing, the middle class is shrinking and the rich are getting richer. We’re truly becoming a society of haves and have nots with little upward shifting taking place over the course of time.
All this said, I know I’ll be okay. God’s in control. A couple years before she died, my grandma told me the story of her life during The Great Depression. So many people lost their homes and jobs, tent cities cropped up everywhere. She lived in a tent. My house is paid for.
I won’t get to build the house we wanted to build right now, but I have a home.
I won’t be going to Vegas on vacation, but I have my family.
I won’t be getting a new car, but my car works.
I won’t be spending a lot of my own money on my budget-less publications program, but I probably should have stopped that a long time ago.
So yes, I’ll be okay.
But our schools, that’s another story. A story controlled by politicians and lobbyists and people who have no clue what we do every day on campuses across the nation.

Wasted Time

I spent Friday afternoon in an inservice called Reaching the Disinterested Student. The woman presenting, Lynne Weber, was fabulous. Well worth my time.
I’m pretty good at reaching these kids. They’re often my favorites. I know it’s wrong to have favorites, but it’s an amazing thing to work with a kid who says I can’t and watch them start to believe I can.
I had this incredibly smart guy in my intro class this semester. He never passed classes, but he had a ton of great ideas and when we discussed student rights, the first amendment, the importance of the press, I could pretty much guarantee he’d actively participate in the lesson, even play devil’s advocate when necessary. Talk about higher order thinking.
The problem was he hated writing. He told me he couldn’t do it. He started coming in for tutorials and I realized he wasn’t joking. He physically couldn’t write. Not easily anyway.
So I told him to stop trying. To use the computer and to never try writing with a pen in my class again.
Once we jumped that hurdle, it was easy to show him the greatness of journalism. One-two sentence paragraphs. Stories built around what other people say.
As was evident in the three complete stories he turned in in one week.
He had to make a 100 on the last assignment to pass and he did. (Okay. Truth is, if he hadn’t made a 100, he would’ve passed, but I didn’t tell him that!) One of two students in my intro classes to make the 100.
I’d say I spent at least an extra hour a week with this kid. At least.
And he did it. He passed. He learned. He contributed to the class and found success. Something he’s not all that used to.
Great teaching moment.
Until Monday. When he didn’t show up for class. And then Tuesday. And then Wednesday.
So I e-mailed his counselor.
And learned he’d been allowed to drop the class EIGHT weeks into the semester, even though he passed. Without my consent. Without even a, “hey, by the way, this kid wants to drop journalism.”
What I want to do is pick up the phone, call his mom and say the education system is trying desperately to deprive your son of learning just because he doesn’t want to work and learned he could get in a study hall and sleep. But since he’s already dropped the class, I can’t very well do that. Because now, if he comes back into my class, he’ll be resentful and angry.
I can, however, stop by the counselors office on Tuesday, talk to the administrator in charge and vent. You better believe I will.
And I might end with something like this. I don’t know how much you spent bringing in the incredible speaker to talk about reaching the disinterested student, but until everyone in this office believes it, you’re wasting your money and my time.