The Demise of NCLB

October 19, 2007

 

The five-year old education reform law called ‘No Child Left Behind, a.k.a. NCLB, is for some stupid reason expiring this year and requires re-authorization to continue. Anybody who is vaguely familiar Read the rest of this entry »


Political Correctness versus Gun Control

May 18, 2007

 

The terrible events on April 16 on the campus of Virginia Tech University have been recorded, reported and debated ad nausea in all media outlets for the past few weeks and when everything was said and done, they started all over again by looking at different angles etc. We do not intend to contribute here. Instead we want to focus on the recommendations and suggestions Read the rest of this entry »


Inspirational Teachers . . .

January 15, 2007

    

     By sheer coincidence, we came across a book written about Jaime Escalante, the truly phenomenal teacher from Bolivia who enabled students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles to master calculus and become shining examples of excellence in learning. His life’s story is incredibly impressive and was a joy to read: Escalante; The Best Teacher in America.

     Without reviewing his life in too much detail, it is prudent to remind ourselves that there have been giants in many professions and there are but a few who have experienced Jaime Escalante’s level of success. He was born in Bolivia and taught physics and mathematics there and developed the formula for his life-long creed:

Determination + Discipline + Hard Work = Success 

     In 1963, he immigrated to the United States and it took about ten years before he attained his teaching credentials, while working several other jobs during those years to sustain himself and his family. In 1974, he began teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles where he was dismayed by the lack of preparation in his students, considering they were in high school. They barely understood fifth grade math. These students were not motivated at all. There were gangs and drug problems at this school. But Escalante doggedly continued by teaching basics, sticking to his principles and over some time, he not only gained the respect of his students, he inspired them. It took about five years before he could teach his first calculus class with only five students, two of which passed the Advanced Placement (A.P.) exam.

     The A.P. exam was a test of college-level math skills that was reportedly only taken by 3 percent of seniors preparing to enter college. Escalante considered these tests to be essential for his students to obtain skills they needed later on, to apply for and get high-paying jobs. It would force the students to learn analytical and problem-solving techniques they could apply throughout their professional life.

     He was right; many of his students continued their educations at such reputed institutions as Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, UCLA and later became successful attorneys, dentists, research engineers, program managers, and administrators, among other such elevated professional positions.  Where are they now?

     In 1982, his calculus class had grown in size and 18 of his students passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service considered these scores suspect and failed the students accusing them of cheating. After some debate and negotiations, it was agreed that 14 of these students, could take this exam again and 12 of them passed the next test. This received attention in the national media and Escalante became known nationwide. A book was written about him and in 1988, it resulted in the movie “Stand and Deliver” featuring the events in 1982. Escalante received many awards for his achievements, such as the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education (presented to him by President Ronald Reagan) and several honorary doctoral degrees from a variety of educational institutions.

     Of course, like many other successful persons, Escalante had his detractors. There were some administrators at Garfield High School who felt that he pushed his students too hard and they did not like his teaching methods, calling them simply too unorthodox. As a result of these spats, in 1991, he moved to Sacramento and continued to be the excellent teacher he had been and taught algebra and calculus until 1998 with equal success. Today, Escalante at age 76 is retired and lives in his native Bolivia but comes to the United States to visit with friends and his son’s family.

     Escalante is a great example from the past, however every year teachers like Escalante who are an inspiration to their profession are recognized by the National Teachers Hall of Fame, USA Today, etc. Unfortunately, these unsung Heroes don’t seem to get as much front-page attention as topics such as No Child Left Behind or poor student testing results.  Last week USA Today  recognized the determination, discipline and hard work that some of today’s teachers have employed to inspire and educate their students.  We here at “Back to Common Sense’ highly recommend Escalante’s book or the movie “Stand and Deliver,” or read the profiles of USA Today’s All Star teachers to fully appreciate the efforts of those that choose to educate America’s youth with similar dedication.  Please stay tuned for other educational articles. 
     This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation.   It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material.  We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.


Will there ever be enough money?

December 12, 2006

 

     It does not seem to matter how much money the State of California allocates for education, it appears that it is never enough. During the just completed campaign for governor resulting in the re-election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, members of the teacher’s union attacked the governor relentlessly that he was not trustworthy because he had broken promises he had made to them earlier. These campaign slogans were repeated endlessly until election-day even though the 2006/2007 state budget had been passed in June of this year. The annual budget had allocated over 66 billion dollars towards education according to their website – yes, that’s billions!

     According to an editorial in the San Diego Tribune published on December 3, 2006, page G2, the schools in the State get $11,268 average ($10,996 according to CA budget) per pupil for school year 06/07. They further assert in the article that budgets will jump 30 percent by 2010, i.e., in four years. The article also states and we quote:

     “Some administrators complain that the declining enrollment will erase the gains, because schools are paid by the student. San Diego Unified, for example, has lost 20,000 students since 1999. This ought to be good news. Fewer students mean fewer teachers, buses and portable buildings. Well-managed districts will scale back operations accordingly and use the extra cash to improve education”.

     Let us compare this with a private High school (grades 9 to 12) in West Los Angeles called Chaminade College Preparatory School. On their website one can find that the annual tuition for each student is $9,350 for the current school year. This school is much sought after by those who want their children to get an excellent education and they are willing to pay the tuition, the school received the ‘National Blue Ribbon School’ award in 1998 for outstanding achievements.

     Comparing public and private school funding shows that, at least in California, there is no big gap in favor of private schools, to the contrary, we now have achieved parity when it comes to funding. Under funding education in public schools should therefore no longer be an excuse used to explain lower achievement averages for students in public schools.

     Enter the California Teachers Association (CTA), the largest professional employee organization – union – representing more than 340,000 public school teachers, counselors, psychologists, librarians and other non-supervisory, certified personnel. CTA is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association (NEA). In addition, more than 1,100 chapters or local teachers associations are chartered as CTA affiliates: The California Faculty Association (CFA), the bargaining agent for professors in the CaliforniaState University system and the Community College Association (CCA), representing members in 42 chapters who work in 72 community college districts across the state. This information can be verified on CTA’s website.

     The numbers clearly show the power that this union has and it is using its muscle at every opportunity. When Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005 placed Proposition 74 on the November ballot, it was defeated on the strengths of the vehement opposition by the teachers union and their allies. As the San Diego Union Tribune stated main goals of Prop.74 were to:

v     Increase the probationary period for beginning teachers to five years from two years.

v     This would only apply to teachers whose probation period began during or after fiscal year 2003-04.

v     It would allow school districts to fire a teacher without offering a specific reason during this probationary period.

v     And it would allow school districts to fire a tenured teacher who received two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. The teacher would have 30 days to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

 

     And while it was a fresh and good attempt by the Governor at school reform, the proposition failed! There are hardly any other professions were employees get tenured. No job is guaranteed for life in any industry that we know of, but teachers just have to meet standards for two years before they can become tenured, i.e., a paycheck for life!

     Any attempt at giving parents vouchers whose children are in poorly performing schools to spend the money at private or other better performing public schools is almost instantly attacked with venom by the teachers unions. Even the 2001 Federal legislation called the “No child left behind” Act is still considered “seriously flawed and has been under funded” by the Federal Government according to CTA. There is that excuse again: Under Funding! That is the reason for not achieving the set goals under this Act. According to data on CTA’s website, 44 % of California’s public schools failed to make the annual yearly progress (AYP) under the NCLB and 19% of schools failed to meet the federal AYP for the second consecutive year and are now subject to federally mandated sanctions. This is truly a sad state of affairs since the law’s implementation.

     This now warrants the question: How much money is needed to achieve satisfying results? What if we were to double the annual school budgets in California, would that bring the desired results? It should allow for significant pay raises for the teachers, should it not? Would increased pay lead to better teaching or would this money simply be absorbed into educational bureaucracy?  Since increasing budgets has led to declining test results, common sense tells us that money isn’t the answer and the system is fundamentally broken.  Fifty years ago the system wasn’t broken and it was “fixed.”  Now the system is broken and no one is discussing fixing it.

     There is apparently no easy way to reach consensus among the people. But in fairness, we want to clearly state that we think Not all teachers are performing at the same level. To the contrary, there are many impressive teachers and educators that can truly do what their titles imply: Teach and Educate! But if we as a country are serious about ‘Not leaving any children behind’, then we have to have competent teachers and educators in every classroom not just in California but, in fact, in every state of America.

     To summarize then the facts:

1.      The teachers unions reject serious reforms but want more money,

2.      The legislatures in California seem to agree with that and give in to the unions by allocating more money for education.

3.      Test scores and grades by students do not rise across the board.

4.      We the people do not like it but seem to be unwilling to do anything about it.

 

     We here at Consider Common Sense are disheartened when we believe that there will never be enough money for education to end the excuses and explanations by the members of the teachers unions for underperformance by our public school students. Why is accountability not applied when it comes to educating our children, our future? Or are we simply asking too much when we want to see higher test scores by every child in every school, especially when we spend at least as much if not more money per pupil in public schools than is needed in private schools where the results are much better? Is the status quo acceptable? It should not be!  Are the multiple excuses, reasons and explanations by the teaching establishment not to be questioned by the public? They should be!  We would like to invite all to a dialogue on this topic.
     This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation.   It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material.  We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.