Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Few Ideas on School Reform and a Response to the Comments of Jeb Bush on MSNBC

This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe and its Education Nation series Jeb Bush was interviewed. According to Jeb Bush, it is the teachers' unions which are resisting reform. The implication is that teachers fear a loss of tenure and the competition of merit pay initiatives.

Having been a teacher, naturally I have strong opinions on this subject.
  • First, what about the study released last week that stated that there was no link between bonus or merit pay and teacher effectiveness?
  • Second, how many teachers have worked for reform the majority of their careers only to see politicians change their minds midstream and cancel reform programs before any meaningful progress can be made?
  • Third, why shouldn't teachers expect job security? They are employed staff, not missionaries? Yes, teaching is a calling. But not a religion.
  • Fourth, why are all decisions taken out of the hands of the educational professionals and placed in the hands of politicians, anyway? (Actually, I know the reasons, but the rationale doesn't doesn't soothe the frustration of swinging in the wind.)

  • Fifth, why is everyone so upset about tenure? It represents job security for those teachers who proved themselves to be capable and professional during the first few years of teaching when each was evaluated several times each year for effective classroom performance. If you want to improve teaching, make the release of ineffective teachers during these first few years a priority. Then continue with workshops and professional development for experienced teachers, as is done today. Make the reforms meaningful to experienced teachers by supporting their efforts to implement them, not by criticizing the professionals for their doubts based in the expertise of experience. Teachers are as much a professional as nurses and doctors and engineers. Do politicians treat the other lisenced professionals with the same contempt with which they are treating teachers today? Do they insist on pushing reform on other professions? NO, they pass regulations that are expected to solve problems. Then they let the profession work out the kinks.

  • Sixth, why are we so concerned with being #1? Other countries are just as capable as we are. Isn't that a sign of global progress? Ok, so one day we might not be the primary world leader (I fear that day, myself.) but if we work at it we can stay in the top few and remain influential. How did we get so influential? Be retaining a strong economy and a powerful military--and by being the first to assist other nations in need. Because they know we can and will help, other nations tend to want to stay on our good side.

  • Seventh, Jeb Bush made the point that other nations ranked higher than the US in student test scores made education of their young a highly valued social ethic and regarded teachers as important professionals. It does no good to verbally trash teh teaching profession and then expect students to respect the teacher in the classroom. Yet for decades, the news media and politicians have talked as if public education was run by incompetent fools and that teachers merely came to work to collect a paycheck. The hours spent planning lessons, worrying over student outcomes, staying overtime (salaried teachers do not get paid overtime) to assist students, prodding and cajoling students to learn, and being treated with disrespect by students who know they can only be suspended so many times before the school gets in trouble for attempting to discipline him. The only tool of control a teacher has over students are the force of personality, high expectations, and the phone call home. Students collect demerits. After a number of demerits, the parents are called. After the parent is called, the student can be sent to the office. But the count of demerits reflects poorly on the teacher, not the student in the mind of many. It is the teacher's fault when a student misbehaves, not the student's. (Yeah, I know, discipline is a skill. Some teachers are better than others. But students should be made responsible for their behavior, not so closely controlled and micromanaged that they never learn such control. Today, micromanagement of student behavior is the policy. Students are not given the sense of personal responsibility for their own behavior and choices. They are not allowed to fail, either with behavior or academics, and then made to face real consequences for that failure.)

  • Eighth, why aren't parents responsible for their child's behavior and achievement? Why aren't politicians demanding that parents insist that children learn and do right or face consequences themselves? Why are so many kids bringing packs of gum to school when they--and their parents--know that students are not allowed to chew gum in school. IT is written in the student handbook that every student takes home and shows to his parents and gets a parent signature to prove that he did so. Yet kids continue to bring packs of gum to school; they bring electronic equipment, including cell phones, that are likewise forbidden; they bring snack food and candy to eat in class, another forbidden practice--but they are sneaky. They break pencils as part of a game and throw paper balls around in a waste of parent's money, then borrow from friends or do not do assignments because they have no supplies (to solve that problem, parents are informed that one's child did not have school supplies and teachers buy extra paper and pencils to pass out from their own pockets.) Yeah, kids will be kids, but these practices require money that comes from somewhere. IF the money doesn't come from the home, then from where? If the cell phones and mp3 players do not come from home, then from where? Parents are complicit in this misbehavior or totally either clueless about the activities of their children. Yet the teacher is the one who held accountable.

  • Ninth, why not hire hall monitors and bathroom monitors so teachers can spend time preparing for class, consulting with students, and teaching rather than being the first to the door at the end of class and the last to enter the room at the beginning of class for hall duty. Transitioning from one lesson to another for each class must be done during classtime and cannot be done between classes because hall duty comes first. Students play the emergency need to go to the bathroom during class game because they know that going to the bathroom will require the teacher to disrupt the lesson and deal with the student's need rather than continue teaching. With a hall monitor, a quick handoff of student to another adult would stop that game. And using students for these monitor positions in this day and age is not acceptable for a score of reasons. The community will save money currently spend on replacing vandalized toilets, sinks and bathroom mirrors if the local politicians would fund the salary of two bathroom monitor/hall monitor for each hall per school. Or even if kids were allowed to go to the bathroom during a scheduled break morning and afternoon in addition to lunch and PE. Kids are so closely confined and bathrooms so scarce that there is no time or resources for the kids to take care of business--except where there is time, then the bullies take over the bathroom and...USE ADULT MONITORS.

  • Tenth, why aren't private school test scores subject to the required inclusion in the national test score results? If the majority of students in the South are in private schools and homeschools and these student scores are not included in the tally of achievement, then how do we know for sure that our nation is behind other nations in test score achievement? And why are dropout rates not tallied on the national level using one standard of definition for drop-out? And why are educational standards not implemented? Time after time, standards are stated then a loophole voted in that allows students that did not meet the standards to be given another set of chances as they are passed on to a higher level where teachers spend extra classtime remediating and advancing simultaneously. This takes the responsibility of learning from the student, who again is not allowed to fail, and from parents who are not forced to arrange private tutoring and family pressure to make the student learn (SPED kids are a special case and not considered in this problem analysis.)

I suggest that elementary and middle schools be revamped into modules where subject matter is planned per 6-9 week modules and students are allowed to advance through the modules at their own pace. Any student who has not accomplished the modules for that grade level can take additional work online for that or repeat a module. Give students a 2-4 week break between modules and offer computer labs and remedial classes during that time.

Repeating an entire year for the lack of preparation of a set of core concepts is a waste of time for a student who gets behind at the beginning of the school year and never catches up. Repeating an entire school year is damaging to the ego.

I suggest that semesters be the modular unit for high schools, with credits given per semester. A student who finds that he is not ready for chemistry, can take the 2 semesters of chemistry after he has accomplished an additional physical science semester and/or math course. Students who do not complete the set of required modules do not get a diploma.

After the age of 19, students should pay to be allowed to continue in high school, taking the classes on a community college campus Or getting a GED. GED's should be offered as adult education services provided free by the local school boards and no student under the age of 16 should be allowed into the classes. Online classes may be taken with a computer lab available and a teacher on staff as a computer/learning assistance coach.

Private, non-profit, religious and other community organizations can sponsor a computer lab for online classes and can provide a computer/learning assistance coach. The couch should be a certified teacher. Standardized testing should be monitored for all groups by certified teachers under the same security rules that govern public school standardized test administration. Groups that test other than public schools should be responsible for hiring and paying the teachers who monitor the tests. The extra burden of testing students not in the public schools should not fall on the public schools. The monitoring of standards compliance should be a government function and all testing groups should be held to the same standards. Students who study and test through online courses under the frequent supervision and test monitoring of certified teachers should receive credit for online classes that match the objectives of a module.

Graduation and class credit can be subject to standardized testing of expressed objectives. Teaching should accomplish the expressed objectives, but should also teach other materials. There should also be elective modules that are required, but not subject to standardized testing. These elective modules should be in each subject area to cover those areas of the subject matter not be subject to standardized testing, but important for subject area mastery, understanding, college prep, job prep, community interest, or just the desire for a deeper, more well-rounded education.

The required number of modules should closely match the number of modules needed for graduation. There is little reason for students to be forced to attend a school day in which he takes classes that he does not need for graduation IF he doesn't actually want to take the classes. The goal should not be to keep kids in school all day, but to offer actual learning opportunities.

And all lunches and breakfasts should be free--paid for by local taxes subsidized by federal lunch program monies, of course. Think of the reduction in bullying that will result in the lack of lunch money to steal and the additional class time the teacher will have if not collecting lunch money.

Students should bring their own water bottles to school so they do not get dehydrated. Parents should be responsible for anything not water placed into the bottles. Maybe students should be watched as they fill the bottles at school. Or bottled water could be distributed--free--at school, again paid with taxes. Broken water fountains, long lines at the water fountain, and 1c milk do not hydrate children. Nor does buying a cola solve the problem. Kids need to drink fluids. What's wrong with water?

I also suggest that past the age of 16, all kids should learn a skill. This can be done with college classes taken through the local community college, vo tech programs, technical schools, community internships, and school/business partnerships, and public school programs. College prep students work on the school paper, announce at ball games, and do other services. They can also plant gardens, breed animals, cook, design and assist in community projects, whatever. A Projects module set could be part of the graduation requirements. In this way the extra-curricular stuff and special class projects that some teachers accomplish can be more standardized and taught to more students. The 4-H projects, the FFA and FHA types of projects, the science fair projects, the student jobs: all will be given accademic purpose and prominence. And more students will reap the benefits. Also, students may collect college credits with classes taken at junior colleges. By the time a student graduates, one should be already started on a path to getting the needed education for a job or career. This should make education more meaningful to the student, not just a way to spend time until one can make more meaningful decisions about one's own life.

Communities can band together to offer opportunities. Then bus students to the opportunities. Modular classes can allow for travel time and expanded opportunities. An all day or 1/2 day set of modules that schedules for a short time only provides more flexibility than a locked-in, year-long schedule. If a choice doesn't work out, the student can attend study hall for the rest of the few weeks left in that module. During that time, he can take an online class--for credit to make up for the credit he didn't complete, saving him from having to take a credit during the 2-4 week interim. The modules can be planned to offer credit towards a technical certification and should be rigorous enough that the credit is transferable to the technical college or community college or state college that offers the technical training.

For instance, if Word is taught, or MS Office, the student should be able to get a Word certificate or some credit towards an MS Office certification. Maybe credit for the first few classes in a paid curriculum towards that certification if the course is that complex. In 2 modules, a student should be able to develop a web page in XHTML and CSS, for example. Maybe using Dreamweaver, and so have experience that can be placed on a resume that one can code a basic web page using Dreamweaver or other Wysiswyg web developer and, using code view, can locate and correct a problem on the page.

Such skills will be needed by many, but need not be required for all to accomplish during high school. Let students develop the skills that interest them now and take the others as adults, when they should be more willing to learn for the sake of the job those skills they do not personally care about.

Enough said for today. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let's Keep Moving Forward, America!

Election time approaches. I ask all liberals, progressives, and Democrats to vote to keep the Dems in the majority and more in the House and Senate. Read what the Democratic Party is posting as a rallying cry for the upcoming elections; watch President Obama on video. Then share the video with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Blog. Get the word out. Drink a cup of coffee: Join the Coffee Party! Get active in Organize America.

Personally, I am frightened that the Democrats will lose seats in Congress if we do not all vote. There is much at stake. VOTE.

Download this .pdf file for a flier that can be distributed--after you read it. (It is the same .pdf download link on the above site.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Response to the Video on Facebook Titled "You've Been Warned"

I just viewed this video that appeared from a friend on Facebook:  You've Been Warned
I am not a member of Tea Party or the Republican Party. In my anger at the obstructionism of the Republicans in congress these past 2 years, I have recently joined the Democrat Party.

In response to the video, I wrote this comment on Facebook: 

I voted for Obama. I recently joined the Democrat Party. I do not like the Tea Party or the Republican vision for this nation.

Obama will most likely go down in history as one of the best presidents this nation has had.

What is there not to about him?

How can this country survive without enough taxes to keep us going? How can this country survive if we increase the percentage of citizens living in poverty?

The programs initiated by Obama have saved this nation from a depression and will eventually end the recession. The money allotted to TARP and bailout funds will be repaid--sooner than required by law, in fact.

Vote for Democrats in the fall so we can solve some of our remaining problems with constructive laws that will advance the progress of this nation and maintain our worldwide influence. Encourage the Republicans to get involved in the solutions and the design of the laws needed.

And let's deal with the worldwide changes in climate before we reach a point of no return and can not survive the increase in temperature and rise in sea levels.

Can our species survive an average temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it is now? That is a rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius that is predicted. Already the average has increased .5-1C. That's about 1-2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Think of the change in summer temps that lead to that kind of average annual temperature change! We must act ASAP.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Situational Ethics and the TV Hero

Burn Notice is another popular TV show about good guys walking a thin line of morality to do good things. Michael with his team is right up there with Highlander, Robin Hood, Batman and Superman. Why do we like these heroes so much?

As a civilized society, we insist that crimes and misdemeanors be handled be law enforcement agencies and the court system. No longer may the individual fight back when he has been wronged, harmed, threatened, or violated; except during the immediate instance of the crime and then only within socially approved parameters. But fictional heroes can fight back in clever ways. They get to beat the bad guys at their own games. And they get to do so in aggressive, powerful ways. We cheer them on because we know first-hand how stressful it is to live amid crime, bullying, and exploitation.

Why cannot we as individuals fight our own fights? We cannot fight back with the weapons of the fictional heroes. We cannot blow-up cars, infiltrate businesses, or lie to maintain a cover identity and an entrapment scheme.

If we do, then we have to consider a principle of morality called situational ethics: the ends does justify the means. War is a primary example of situational ethics: soldiers are encouraged to kill. Undercover cops and covert government agent are other prime examples of professions requiring the use of situational ethics. Mannerly behavior is also an example: it is good manners to tell the white lie when the social situation calls for it.

So what about determining truth? Does one's religious faith determine truth, or does empirical evidence? Is the scientific acceptance of the truth that global climate change is occurring with global warming trump the conservative stance that what will be will be, so why worry? Pray and all will be well. According to the idea of situational ethics, it is OK to fight a war thereby destroying environments, societies, and lives, However, it is not OK for a leaky pipeline or exploding oil rig to despoil an environment, destroy a cultural heritage, and change a culture.

At times I think about how pervasive in our lives is the rationalization of doing questionable things accepted due to situational ethics. This world is not black or white. Rather, the grayness of the situation oft determines the ethical decisions we make. And we are good people.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tea Party and oher Horrors that Make me Fear for our Future

(Got a thunderstorm coming, so this is a quick post copied from what I wrote in WordPad this am.. Yep, it needs double-checking and revising, but I have to turn off the computer now!)

New Jersey wants to recall its senator because he voted for measures proposed by the President of the United States. Tea Partyers think they can legally do this based on a New Jersey law recently passed.

Texas wants to teach a revisionist history in its public schools. This movement is headed by the same folks that couldn't force Creationism on the public school system. As part of the fact distortions of the revisionist history is the inclusion of the acceptance of non-separation of church and state. Is this another aspect of Tea Party influence.

Nationwide, the Tea Party is claiming that a duly-elected President of the United States is un-American. Somehow it was OK for a Republican to steal an election for president, but a an actually legally elected one is unacceptable.

Tea Partyers are upset about a possible tax increase that hasn't materialized. They are upset that the majority rules, not them. They are upset about the National Debt, even though the policy makers that they support created this mess.

I am afraid that the Tea Party and the Far Right, with the help of Fox TV, Sarah Palin, and numerous others are going to completely destroy this country. They have no respect for the Constitution in its entirety, just certain favored amendments. They want to reduce the Federal Government to impotency. Unfortunately, once that happens, the USA as we know it will fall. The deregulation of the past decades have gutted so much of our economy. Our physical infrastructure is old and needs repair, let alone maintenance. We are fighting expensive wars.

Meanwhile, climate change has already produced numerous natural disasters in the form of numerous powerful tornadoes, floods, mudslides, drought, melting glaciers, diminished snowfall, and sea-level rise. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns are devastating our agricultural regions.

In the near future our success as nation will require a united people willing to work together to solve tremendous challenges. Or the USA will be destroyed from within. Prayer will not save those who will not help themselves. Making the USA a religious state will not stop the natural disasters coming our way. Refusing to pay taxes will not enable the USA to recover from this past economic tragedy.

Jobs will come when corporations hire Americans to produce a product. Why not force a US corporation to keep an American workforce, to pay taxes to its own government? In fact, if all corporations that do business in the United States were required to pay all its workers a decent wage and to pay their fair share of the taxes that support this country, they just might hire Americans. We could make a law that says that all corporations doing business in American must hire a certain percentage of Americans within the borders of the USA. If a corporation wants to be registered elsewhere and hire workers elsewhere, let them. But require that they also register in the United States, pay taxes on any profit from work and products from within the United States; and be required to treat its foreign workers overseas to the same human rights, pay them reasonable local wages above the local minimum wage expectation, and maintain OSHA safety standards.

Why should the Tea Party blame the Obama administration for the lack of jobs? It was deregulation, corporate outsourcing, and corporate greed and mismanagement that reduced the number of jobs available. Yes, NAFTA encouraged corporations to open businesses overseas, but the corporations themselves made the decision to abandon the American people to do so. Blame the corporations.

Has anyone in the Tea Party really thought through what our country will devolve into if they get control of the legislature? I foresee a religious state with revisionist history and science, denial of the technology and scientific principles required to adjust to a changing world climate, taxes too low to maintain governmental services, guns used to force neighbors to act as required by the will of the more powerful, more heavily armed, isolationism with no money in the government coffers to actually enforce the policies or defend the borders, attack from abroad because the Jihadists can, natural disasters that destroy with no assistance from the financially gutted FEMA, and all the other trends that an impotent Federal Government leads us into.

People, I am frightened for our future as a country. The very principles that this nation was built on are being eroded by the Tea Party, the Conservatives, the Republican Party, and the religious fundamentalists that want to control this nation, greedy and unethical corporate policies, and inadequate taxes.

What is at stake is our Bill of Rights, and our Constitution. What is at stake is our cultural pluralism. What is at stake is our individualism and individual freedoms. What is at stake is our scientific and technological success.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Kneejerk Process

 I just posted a correction to the last posting about teachers. At the bottom of the post I attached this statement.

Folks, many errors of the original post, mostly spelling, one glaring fact, were corrected 3/5/2010. I apologize for these errors. Part of the kneejerk process is a rush to express an idea when there is little time to check details. Look for future instances where corrections will be necessary, as sometimes the rough draft is all that I have time for. Do comment on the errors and then look for corrections. The basic idea and outlook will most likely be accurate until I change my mind--another aspect of the kneejerk process. Do read the rules and enter the dialogue in the spirit of the idea of self-expression bar dishonest political correctness.

I will attempt corrections to facts and ideas and spelling as I find time. Usually shortly after a posting has been made. I will link to a post when necessary, though. If you correct a comment, do the same, OK?

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Teacher's Day: Why Teachers Might not Want to Teach all Year Long

I listened to an educational expert on some news channel discuss the firing of the teachers of a Pennsylvania Rhode Island [corrected 3/5/10: my apologies] school this week. I was floored by his listing of the hours a teacher works: 7 hours a day. He was upset that the teachers would not be willing to work more days of such an easy schedule for the same pay--or to volunteer more time to work with students at the end of the school day.

He must not know much about the work of teaching.

1. First: Let's say that a school day extends from 8-3 (or 7:30-2:30). That is a 7 hour school day.

2. Tack on the 15 minutes before and after school that teachers are required to actively working each day, and the teacher's day is now a minimum of 7.5 hours.

3. Subtract the lunch .3-.5 hour and the required work period is 7.0-7.2 hrs each day. Add back in the lunch duty and the requirement to supervise students during the teacher's lunch hour, and you are back to a 7.5 hour day.
  * When teachers rotate lunchroom duty, the teacher off duty still has the responsibility to fill the time with phone calls to parents, paperwork, classroom prep work, hands-on activity prep work, meeting with other teachers, gathering supplies, delivering items to the office, and keeping an eye on the activities of any student in the vicinity. Lunch is eaten on the run unless the teacher can use his/her own time after or before school to accomplish these tasks. Some of these tasks can only be done during the lunch time. I'll be generous and say that on average most teachers manage to get a .25 hour to eat and take a bathroom break most days.  The second bathroom break is taken during the planning period.
  *Planning periods last a class period: 45-55 minutes. During this time the teacher takes a short break that can include water, coffee, coke or some snack. The activities of lunch are accomplished now, too, with the addition of grading papers, lesson planning, writing tests, copying tests and worksheets, and whatever else needs to be done. When substitutes are short, the teachers even rotate through to take care of an absent teacher's class. Any time taken for oneself means the work is usually deferred to after school hours because the work itself must get done.
 *Today, teachers are discouraged from using class time to grade papers, lesson plan, record grades, write tests, develop worksheets and develop computer lessons. Class time is to be devoted to students. All the listed activities that must be done are to be accomplished on the "teacher's own time."
    **Say a worksheet requires a minimum of .10 hr to grade, and 4 of the 6 classes taught have a worksheet/written lesson to be graded, then .4 hr per day is devoted to just grading a lesson. Few teachers assign only one short written lesson per day.  And few teachers have a whole day of the same subject.  So usually the .4 hr expands to 1.5 hr most days, and is often done after school hours.
    **Teachers today are discouraged from using grading assistants. When a lesson involves student evaluation of other student's work, as encouraged with group work techniques, the teacher must still spend time looking over the work to assess the success of the lesson and the effectiveness of the peer review of the work.

4. Lesson planning takes hours each week.
  *Just writing down what is planned takes time.
  *Add to that the study of the state framework by which teachers know what to teach, the textbook, the available activity instructions, and the available prepared worksheets and tests that must be done before the teacher can conceptualize and write down the plan, the teacher usually needs some uninterrupted time to pull the plan together.
  *Often this work is done after school hours.
  *Once the plan is down, the teacher gathers the references, prepared worksheets and tests, writes the worksheet items and test questions needed to complete the set, and makes student copies. This work can be spread out during the teaching week, as long as it is completed in advance of when the papers are needed by the student.
  *Add the hands-on activity prep and clean-up that must usually be done during the lunch, planning period, before-after school minutes, and minutes the teachers stays on campus after the assigned school day and the time devoted to the tasks after the teacher leaves the school campus; the purchase of immediate supplies (done with the teacher's own money if not planned weeks in advance so a purchase order could have been obtained--if the money is there--which required the advance shopping or catalog search to price the item); the planning and ordering of future suppliles needed for such activities; any teacher of a project, art or science class must spend 1-3 hrs weekly in addition to the paperwork required.
    **Science teachers in the upper grades often plan and prep for 2-3 distinctly different hands-on activities and labs each week.

6.  Additionally, today's teachers are required to add information to the school and class network, plan and chaparone extracurricular programs, field trips, and "work the ball game" either as staff working as security, staff working the concession stand, staff working the clock/scoreboard, or staff selling tickets. Always supervising student behavior is understood to be part of a teacher's responsibility.
    **A minimal ballgame assignment is .5 hrs. Most are 1.5hrs or more. Small schools can require a teacher to work a game at least once every month and more often during some busy weeks.
    **Band instructors work every game during which the band plays and every parade during which the school participates and every band camp and after-school practice the band plays.
    **Coaches--well, we all know that coaches work from mid-summer through the competitive season with most practice sessions being after school most days of the week.
    **Each coach and band instructor must also teach a regular school day, too.

7.  Add to each teacher the functions of club sponsors, class sponsors, fundraisers, professional development, after-school tutoring, student requests for additional assistance and make-up assignments; and the teacher's day extends past the 7.5 hr scheduled school day for which the teacher is paid.

As you can see, many teachers who are not coaches or band instructors or cheerleader sponsors work at least an extra hour each day, often at home. Personally, I worked 1-2.5 extra hours daily, more on some days and an additional 3 hours on planning that I preferred to do on the weekends. Of course, I taught sciences so I had labs to plan and prep, but the English teachers had term papers and essays to grade frequently enough that they worked an equal amount of time. Any teacher that used discussion questions--important question types to use since these teach students to write and to analyze information--on a test or worksheet required the minimum .10 hr per class just to grade that one question.

Few teachers are not overworked.  Add family responsibilities and the expectations of teachers to be all things to every student--solving all emotional, performance and morality problems of the community's children--it is no wonder that teachers are stressed and that few want to extend the school year or the school day.

Few teachers devote less than 9-10 hrs each weekday and 2-4 hrs each weekend to school work of some type. Even free time is spent with ideas for lessons floating through the imagination and spotting and collecting items that can be repurposed for a lesson. Many spend summers in professional development and university classes because renewal of each teacher's certificate/license requires documented workshop attendance and college hours collected over a given time span, every 5 years in my state.

In conclusion, a teacher that is paid for a 7 hrs a day for a 5 day work-week actually works a minimum of 50 hrs a week and often more. But teachers are salaried, so although pay can be cut by the hour, extra hours of work are not compensated. The same people who say teachers should work more efficiently to get the paperwork and prep accomplished during the allotted time refuse to let the teachers use more than the .8 hr planning period, the .3 hr lunch period and the .25 hr before or after school (one of these is normally devoted to duty consisting of student supervision) for this work since all other time must be devoted to students. These same people add duties and activities to these "free times."

Why would teachers volunteer their time to take on additional tasks? Yet they do, all the time. They find the time to do these additional tasks by depriving their families of their attention during this time. A teacher will tell you that cleaning house slides until the weekend and sometimes until the next school holiday. To demand that a teacher devote more unpaid time to school responsibilities--pay often needed to hire the babysitter for these additional hours--is a slap in the face these professionals.

Why do people resent the pay for teachers? A teacher making a decent salary often has a graduate degree; all have graduated from college. Why should they not expect to be paid as much as any other college graduate?  Why should they not expect to be paid a professional wage?  Why should they not expect the respect given to other professionals?

[Folks, many errors of the original post, mostly spelling, one glaring fact, were corrected 3/5/2010. I apologize for these errors. Part of the kneejerk process is a rush to express an idea when there is little time to check details. Look for future instances where corrections will be necessary, as sometimes the rough draft is all that I have time for. Do comment on the errors and then look for corrections. The basic idea and outlook will most likely be accurate until I change my mind--another aspect of the kneejerk process. Do read the rules and enter the dialogue in the spirit of the idea of self-expression bar dishonest political correctness.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why the Republican Candidate Won the Senate Race in Massachusetts

Discipline, Change, Policy, Campaign Strategy, Defeat. These are the reasons being touted for the election of a Republican to the Senate by Massachusetts.

Let's examine the claims of the pundits.

Obama has not disciplined the Democratic Congress sufficiently according to a GOP Strategist on CNN this morning around 8:35. I guess they want Obama to threaten ostracism like Palin did when a Republican got out of line. Bush controlled the party with an iron fist, not democratic compromise. Sorry, but the President's job is not to control Congress. He may lead, but Congress makes law, not the President, whose only real legislative power is the veto.

Change from the Republicans sounds like a metaphor for business as usual. The public voted on a president who promised to change certain societal wrongs. Then he was given a destroyed economy and now is being blamed for not providing a quick fix. Sorry. but I do not see the Republicans working to make jobs available. I do not see Republicans making needed changes. How does Brown expect to make changes when his political party will not support needed changes to current regulatory law and needed social supports? Will he be willing to get his party to stop Obama-bashing long enough to actively participate in actual governance? What solutions--workable solutions--do the Republicans have to offer the American people?

Policy is what the people voted on. The main points that were suggested by the pundits to be of concern to the American People is that they want jobs, they want Washington to stop spending money, and they want no new taxes.  Jobs come from industry and take time to develop. The banks that received the TARP money were asked to pass the money on to industries. But big business, left to regulate itself, took the money and ran. Maybe we would have been better off if we had let the conglomerates fail. At least we would now be on a real route to recovery and not this business-as-usual backslide. However, now that we have spent tax money on the rich, the middle class and poor are to be left out. Again. Banks that could have held off on foreclosures and restructured mortgages on their own were too afraid to help the people so now are taking huge losses on foreclosed loans--or are taxpayers paying the insurance coverage on these loans? Will the Republicans in Congress participate in rewriting laws to control these vultures? Or will they, too, take the money and run. Lobbyist and corporate campaign contributors pay out a lot, after all.

Campaign Strategy seems to be more important than issues in political campaigns. An active attorney general, holding down a full-time, taxpayer-paid job, should drop everything and work only at campaigning? She had a job for her state that had to be done. She let her personality come through, even in her gaffs. Ok. But surely her ability to do the actual job is the key issue here.

Defeat, the final issue being touted by the pundits. The vote in Massachusetts was so close to 50:50 that this vote can not be called a "crushing defeat."  What this vote does illustrate is that the American people are equally divided in what changes they want for this country. Half want the status quo, half want sweeping changes. In a diverse country, such differences in opinion is normal. As a supporter of the current Democratic Platform, I find the statistics today disappointing, but not a reflection of total defeat and failure. I suppose the Democrats should step back and make less sweeping changes, but here's hoping the the laws that are now crafted will do less harm than did the Republican policies of the last decade.  Here's hoping the Republicans will take stock of what changes are necessary for minimal good governance, at least.

Apparently, the American People actually do have distinct differences of beliefs. And they have a huge fear of the changes that most voted for in electing Obama. The Republicans managed to scare people enough that many who wanted change are no longer brave enough to fight for it. Why? Some say a fear of socialism. Some say a fear of higher taxes. Some say if we just let the communities and businesses of America solve their own problems,  then over time social evolution will result: what changes work will survive and what changes do not will go extinct.

Could government regulation and efforts push this process towards recovery any faster? Most likely. Will as many people be left unemployed for as long? Possibly longer. Will we slip into a depression? Maybe. The socialism that people claim to fear as a reason for denying the public option in health care is the same socialism that the people are declaring is necessary to provide jobs, increase and continue unemployment benefits, and generally make life easier for everyone--as long as health care is not of the package and as long as taxes are not raised. Socialistic policies pave roads, build bridges, control crime, isolate criminals from society and educate children--and send our young men and women to war so we can stay safely home.

How do we resolve these differences? As in the past, our Congress must work together--in a give-and-take across party lines--to pass the minimum laws to keep the country going. It would be great if Congress could actually accomplish something, but maintaining the status quo in a nation of 50:50 differences of opinions means there is no winning side. As in the past, common needs will author legislation which will then be doctored by the added special interest bits and pieces that are always added to garner needed votes and appease the special interests who donate so hugely to the lobbyist efforts and the campaign funds. Maybe business as usual will get some successful and needed changes through. Maybe. At least we have a President who I believe is wise enough to veto the bills that would actually be harmful.

The American People are so fearful of increased taxes because the current tax policies are so unfair. The percentages for taxable situations, incomes, inheritances, businesses, investments, etc., are too arbitrary and too high. A reasonably low percentage with absolutely no loopholes would make so much more sense. As would strict regulations on taking money earned in this country out of this country before and without  being taxed.

Offshore accounts used to evade one's tax liabilities should be regulated and taxes paid. If corporations want to be treated as individuals under the law, then treat them as such. If the corporation breaks the law, discontinue its business within the US. And do this within a court system that applies the law based on the truth of the case, not the money and ability of the lawyers.

Truth is truth. There should not be a winning of a case on trial, but an identification of truth and the admistration of actual justice. Lawyers should not win cases, rather the facts of the case should determine which way the verdict goes.

Taxes are the last point I wish to cover. Somehow the things that have to be done must be paid for. Taxes pay for this. If you want a government solution to the need for jobs, for increased needs for unemployment, for help with foreclosures in the form of money for refinancing loans, and for infrasturcture, then you must accept that taxes are necessary. Otherwise, everything must be privatized.

My state of Mississippi is facing the possibility of letting 2500-3000 prisoners go free because the state budget must include cuts to state prisons. Will private groups help these people when they are released?  Will privatized help, which will ask for tax-supported grants to run their agencies, be able to assist these people to stay out of crime?

And how much money is saved by privatizing agencies that function by being paid by the government to do the job?

Taxes will be needed to keep us going. How can we all be taxed fairly? Maybe the rich Republicans and Democrats together can come up with an equitable solution. I suspect the solution will mean drastic cutbacks on what our government can do for us all. Oh, well. Give us time. the naysayers today will be adding handouts back in soon enough. And there is always the fundraising solution to get monies for one's favorite programs. Make celebrities your friend. Get the really rich megachurches busy doing social outreach programs to all members of a community. Stop spending money on lost causes and actually help people in need.  Go ahead and run a business like a religious theme park--paying all necessary taxes--since that brings in needed money for projects. Churches and Organizations, decide on the value of a ministry or non-profit and tax any income over that value. Why should donations go to the support of a lavish lifestyle just because there is a claim of religion or charity involved?

Amidst all this angst today is the worry over the people of Haiti. I am grateful that the American People are so generous with money, effort, government funds and time to help where it is needed so drastically. I am proud of our whole international community for stepping up to help. I hope and pray that the Haitians can recover as soon as possible, knowing it will take a long time. I hope that the repressions of the Haitian past will be lifted by all oppressors in the future. I hope the US and corporations will deal more fairly with Haiti in the future. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Living with the Desertification of Northern China

I just watched the story of China's Desertification on the Science Channel. What a tragedy.

If one were to apply the ideas of Green Living and Science Fiction to the problem, one might make these suggestions to the Chinese peoples:
  • 1. Earthship homes, adobe buildings, and underground homes might protect from the raging sandstorms. These should each be biodomes. All windows should face south and be shuttered.
  • 2. Biodomes with recycled water, hydroponics and indoor gardening might allow families to grow their own crops. Enclosing huge areas for cattle and using the same indoor gardening techniques might help.
  • 3. Sunlight piped into the dwellings, barns and underground areas using light pipes, mirrors and skylights combined with growlights and other florescent lights could provide the needed lighting for plants and animals. Solar and wind energy should be used, but the solar panels and wind turbines must enclosed in structures that can be closed whenever sand storms threaten. Domes similar to astronomical observatories might help--the point is to have a surrounding structure that can be opened to the sky and closed up when needed.
  • 4. Plans to terraform the outdoors should be implemented to reclaim some of the desert areas.
  • 5. Water can be imported from the oceans, ice floes, or comet tails or rings of Saturn.
  • 6. Water from ground wells should be distilled. All used water should be retrieved and recycled. Plants should be covered so that transpiration is captured and recycled.
  • 7. Rivers should be protected. If that is not possible, maybe they could be drained into an underground reservoir for a time. Would planting river plants in some areas help?
  • 8. Careful thought should be given to which types of farm animals are best suited to the available growing conditions. Current herds not suitable should be sold to ranches in more appropriate climates or slaughtered for food while still viable. Much of the meat should be canned or frozen for future use.
  • 9. Eating habits must be adjusted to take advantage of the crops and animals grown in the new conditions. New crops and animals mean new diets.
  • 10. Desert plants must be grown to salvage the remaining areas near the waterways. These should be imported from arid regions around the world.
  • 11. Algae can be grown for oil, protein, and other products along the coastal areas and the products traded with the desert areas.
  • 12. Sand can be used to make glass and ceramic products for use and trade.
  • 13. The people will learn to wear the flowing robes and head coverings of the Arab nations to provide some protection against the blowing sands.
  • 14. All people, especially children, will be trained in emergency procedures to be followed whenever a storm threatens.
  • 15. The Chinese should send people to the Australian, Arab and Saharan areas to discover what people there do.
China could become the world's leading experts in terraforming, desert-living technologies, and green technologies.
For that matter so could the peoples of the Sahara and Mid-Eastern regions. For that matter, so could the peoples of the Australian and American desert areas.

So how much of this plan is already being implemented? I am not a part of the community looking at the problem, so I do not know. I am just brainstorming.