Education


Manatee High School in Bradenton Florida has broken new ground with the institution of a $200 premium seating fee for graduation this year, and some parents are squawking.

The school which holds its graduation ceremony at the high school’s football stadium,is instituting the fee to help defray expenses since the school system isn’t kicking in its annual $3,400 due to budgetary restrictions.

According to principal Don Sauer, the setup at the stadium costs $13,000 and that they are only selling seats in the first 10 rows and hopes to generate $3,000 towards the costs.

The other alternative according to Sauer is to hold graduation ceremonies at the convention center-which other schools do for free, but he said that would leave out 2,500 people.

Fees have become a way of life in public schools across the nation-lab fees, ACT test fees, etc… I recall paying a small cap and gown fee when I graduated from high school, but the idea of paying for “premium seating” seems outlandish to me.

Where’s the Occupy movement when you need them?

My guess is that despite the ridiculous fee that the school will probably find 15 parents with enough ego and money to cough up the $200.

But why stop there?  Maybe the school can sell personal seat licenses or legacy seating to families who will have multiple graduates over the years to guarantee them premium seating and class envy for as long as they are willing to fork over the dough.

Or why not graduation sponsors?  Get local businesses to pay for advertising on the top of the caps and back of the gowns. This should generate enough money to not only cover the graduation ceremony fees but maybe even a reception or party afterwards.

The possibilities are endless as they go down a slippery slope.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed a bill that forces school districts to report any allegations of sexual abuse to state authorities within 24 hours but also in effect bans teachers and students from being connected via social networks.

This is what the bill says about social networks:

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian.

Missouri is the first state to truly address the tricky situation of exactly what type of relationships teachers and students should have in an age where social networks and texting rule the day for teens.

While Facebook may be convenient for both teachers and students school systems have many options available to them to foster communication which keeps things on a more professional level as they should be.   Now homework assignments and grades can be accessed online giving students instant access to the information they need.

If teachers want t communicate with students via Facebook then I suggest they do it through a school sponsored fan page.  This would be voluntary to join and all communications would be public protecting both parties.

In general I’m not in favor of using legislation to regulate when and where social networks can be used, but because of past abuses and the potential for future abuses I think schools need to set some ground rules and remind both teachers and students of the respective roles in the schools.  Social networks tend to blur those lines and not always for the better.

 

Even though Barack Obama’s Twitter Town Hall consisted largely of carefully selected softball question tweets that didn’t stop users of the microblogging service from generating 169,395 tweets.

The breakdown according t TVNewser:

  • Jobs – 18,957
  • Budget – 15,000
  • Taxes – 14,777
  • Education – 8,833

Despite the preferential treatment and controlled questions Obama still managed to muff the answers according to the Associated Press who did  a quick fact check on the president’s answers.

My recommendation is that maybe next time e could have the answers appear to him in a tweet format via his teleprompter.

Bill Franks of AFT-W Local 4848 addressing a group of teachers in Wisconsin called the recent events in Wisconsin a revolution and said that he wanted to learn from the Socialists.

In other words he wants to turn Wisconsin school children into future Socialists.

Franks also referred to the Republicans as the forces of evil for eviscerating 50 years of labor peace and taking away the public workers right to collectively bargain.

For the teachers protecting their rights and their pensions is more important than making sure the state can actually meet its current and future obligations and that is irresponsible,

Tenure which has given teachers a virtual lifetime job guarantee is coming under increased scrutiny and according to this CBS News report new evaluation methods are slowly being introduced in some parts of the country to hold teachers more accountable in the classroom.

While this new method isn’t perfect it does hold the promise that poor teachers will actually be fired and not just shuffled around.

If teachers are really interested in helping students become successful they not only need to give up the notion that they should be given a virtual job guarantee for life but also drop their objections to charter schools that have proven to help those that need it the most.

For a glimpse on how bad our public education system is watch Waiting for Superman.

According to the AP the Maryland Board of Education has directed the Montgomery County school system revisit its decision to reject two charter school applications last summer.

The state board of education determined that the Montogomery County Board of Education failed to adequately explained why they turned down the applications and gave them 90 days to reconsider the decision.

Last year Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill told the Washington Post that “A charter school should offer something unique, something different than what we offer in the Montgomery public schools,” in an effort to set a bar for approval.

The rejection of the applications didn’t come as a surprise to charter school supporters as the county is the home of a large and powerful teachers union who sees the new schools as competetitors and not a complement to public education.

What the union was doing along with the BOE’s help was protecting their turf from the pospect of schools that might actually do a better job than what the county currently offers to its 120,000 plus students.

In addition to having three children who attended public schools in the county I too am a graduate of the system.  And while I am generally satisfied with the education that my children received it would have been nice to have had the option to place them in a more academically challenging environment.

The school board has promised to respond in a timely fashion but but I don’t expect that it will change the outcome.  But the fact that the state board asked for a better explanation is a positive sign and gives some hope that charter schools will actually come to the county.

Montgomery County operates 200 schools and is the largest system in the state without a charter school.  Overall there are 44 charter schools in Maryland.

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words but in the case of rioting students in Great Britain CNN Executive Producer  Nadia Bilchik felt compelled to go behind the pictures to explain why the students were tearing up government property.

Bilchik explained that until the late 1990’s students in Great Britain didn’t pay any university tuition and over time it gradually rose to the equivalent of $4500.  With the British government facing what even Bilchik admits is an enormous deficit they are left with very little choice but to raise the fees in order to close the budget gap.

But for Bilchik that’s really not a god enough reason since people who are now in their 30’s probably never paid any tuition and leaves viewers with the impression that the increase in fees despite the deficit is unfair since so many British citizens until recently had received a free university education.

Bilchik did think it was a shame that the student protest turned violent but closed the segment by saying that”but let’s take a look at the bigger picture of what they are protesting” and that “it gets lost in the whole big scenario.”

I think the public understands that the students are upset with tuition increases but that doesn’t give them the right to riot and destroy property and CNN has no business in turning it into a justifiable act just because previous generations received a free education.

That’s the problem with the cradle to grave society that exists in much of Europe. People expect that the government will take care of them forever and ask little in return so they can work a little and vacation a lot.  Well nothing in life is truly free and Great Britain is now paying the piper for decades of government excesses and it’s going to be very painful indeed.

Pennsylvania became the latest state to require high school students to pass exit exams in order to graduate in an effort to ensure that students will be better prepared for college and the workplace.

At least that is the goal of educators in Pennsylvania but they are likely to find as have the other 26 states that also require some sort of exit exam that a large number of students would fail the tests and they too will have to lower the standards in order for students to graduate.

The students that are most affected by the exams tend to be minorities who are either in poor performing schools or those that are poor students themselves and have barely been getting by to begin with.

Yet rather than try and improve the quality of teaching (i.e. firing underperforming teachers) or hold back poor students until they can achieve basic proficiency in core subjects administrators have chosen to water down the tests so that graduation rates don’t plummet and tarnish their reputation.

Granted that other political forces are also at play here.  Minority advocates along with those of students with disabilities complain that the tests are unfair and have threatened to sue adding further pressure to educators efforts to make needed changes.

This is the same argument these people made about college entrance exams.  Guess what?  If you can’t pass a high school exit exam then you aren’t likely to do well on the SAT or ACT either.  This is nothing more than the remnants of outcome based education which was widely endorsed by the NEA that treated all students as if they had equal abilities and therefore they should progess at the same rate.  That meant that the smarter students were forced to slow down until the slower students could catch up which would rarely happen.  Combine this with the need to be politically correct and you have  a recipe for disaster.

Also it’s not like the students don’t have several opportunities to pass the exit exams either.  During my daughter’s senior year of high school in Maryland I was struck by how many times the exit exam was given.  Despite the very basic nature of the exam my daughter knew of several students who took the exam three to four times before they passed.  Minorities represented a majority of the student body but that didn’t mean they were stupid or disadvantaged as many of the graduates that year were going to Ivy league schools or other elite institutions.

Maryland went one step further though by creating a Bridge Plan where students who were unable to pass the exam would be given an alternative project to complete.

Rather than prepare students for college or the workplace by dumbing down the tests and therefore the diploma educators only make students feel that the world will adjust to their abilities instead of challenging them to adjust to the world.

An effort to evaluate public school teachers in New York by the Department of Education through the use of reports has seemingly failed as most of the teachers have never received them.

According to the New York Times the city distributed 12,000 reports for any teacher that taught fourth through eighth grades for the last two years to see how well they did in educating students.

The reports which are not going to be released to parents uses standardized test scores to determine how much teachers have helped students improve year over year and whether they are successful with particular groups that were previously identified as struggling.

At the urging of the teacher unions the state legislature last year passed a law prohibiting the use of standardized test data in tenure decisions.   The unions also managed to get the city to agree to not make the reports public.

The school system recently graded the schools and gave 97 percent of them a grade of A or B.   At the same time the teacher reports rated 20 percent of them as “low” performers  and 60 percent as “middle”  performers.  There is a real disconnect here.

One of the reasons that the teachers haven’t received their reports can be summed up by the attitude of Odelphia Pierre the principal of Public School 129 in Harlem.  Pierre told the Times that she was worried how the reports would affect morale and told the teachers they could view the reports if they wanted.  She added that she didn’t want the teachers to be “distracted” in the middle of of the year.

She sounds like she is applying outcome based education standards to her teachers where high achievers are slowed down until the lower achievers have caught up so that the underperformers won’t have their feelings hurt.

If Pierce wants to be a a good administrator then she needs to use the report along with some other criteria to evaluate her staff and weed out the laggards who aren’t helping the students progress and succeed rather than continue to carry them and provide a substandard education.

In addition the legislature should show some backbone and rescind the law that prevents the reports from being used in tenure decisions and the city should release the reports to the parents.  They have a right to know of the teachers they entrust their children to are doing a good job.  With 80 percent at the middle to low level it doesn’t look like that is the case.

The Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee, a Korean-American running a predominantly black school system has been shaking up the establishment since  her arrival by firing poor performing principals and closing underpeforming or underenrolled schools.   Now she faces her biggest test with her pay proposal for the teachers.

Under Rhee’s plan teachers would be eligible for salary increases of up to 40% plus bonuses for student performance.  This could conceivably lift salaries to as much as $130,000 per year, a figure normally only seen by administrators in the system.  But this isn’t a free lunch.  In return for the opportunity to earn more money, the teachers would agree to give up their tenure for one year exposing them to the possibility of being fired by the hard charging Rhee.

So the teachers are facing a huge dilemma.  Do they risk their lifetime job security for the chance to increase their income?  The teacher’s union as one might expect is firmly against this proposal because it not only attacks the outdated notion that teachers should in essence have a job for life, but that teacher performance is actually important.

If the teachers aren’t willing to be judged on their performance like most workers are in their jobs then they shouldn’t be teaching.

One would normally think that such ideas or actions might be the brainchild of a conservative reformer but in this case there is nothing further from the truth.  Rhee is a Democrat who has even been praised by Obama during the campaign for her efforts and is now fighting the very same entrenched union bureaucracy that has been a large support base for the Democratic party.

Whether or not Rhee will be successful with her pay proposal remains to be seen.  But in any event she has proven herself to be an educator who actually cares about the children in a broken system and is wlling to go against conventional norms in an effort to provide the children in D.C. with a decent education.

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