The Gentlemen’s C

In all honesty the Duval County public school system should add another grade option to its teacher’s grade books and that’s the gentlemen’s C. Why not, after all most teachers already use it and for more than a few it currently dominates the grades they give. What’s the gentlemen’s C you ask? Well read on.

The basic definition of the gentlemen’s C is: a passing grade a teacher gives to a student who shouldn’t be passing. That’s to say the work the student has done is either insufficient or is substandard and would not meet rigorous standards. There are several varieties of the Gentlemen’s C too.

The first type is the one teachers are subtly cajoled into giving to students who have not earned a passing grade either because of non effort, behavior or some other factor. Often these students make little or no effort during the year but somehow miraculously pass at the end of it. The reason is because teachers through e-mails and in meetings are told all the time, if a teacher fails to many kids they aren’t a good teacher and if a teacher fails to many kids their evaluations, potential bonus pay and quite possibly even their jobs may be in jeopardy. We’re not saying you can’t fail anybody, administrators start with air quotes, we’re saying make your quotas and have no more than 10% (or some other arbitrary number) Fs and Ds in your classes.

Then there is the type that teachers give to students who show up day in and day out and who try very hard but they just can’t, for several different reasons, master the material. Sometimes they have been pushed along without the skills they need to succeed (about half our high school kids don’t read or do math on grade level, yet somehow they have made it to high school) or they are put into classes they shouldn’t be in. Duval County has a one size fits all curriculum, with no gray area built in for aptitude, desire or ability. The smartest and most motivated kid at Stanton has the same graduation requirements as everybody else in the county. Kids that try hard are often rewarded despite their performance with a bump to their grades and I get it too. Teachers reason, after all it’s not their fault they were pushed into my class without the skills they need and/or why should I be the one that holds them back. Though I often wonder if teachers are doing these children any favors and the fact that so many of our graduates have to take remedial classes in college and so many employers report having a difficult time finding qualified applicants, makes me think not.

It however gets worse, because in our zeal to include advanced academic classes in all our students’ schedules we have in effect knee caped rigor. Duval County often brags that they the students here have had to take algebra II to graduate for years now, this at the same time my neighbor tells me that less than half his algebra II kids could pass a legitimate algebra I class. This at the same time most of our graduates starting Florida State College have to take the non credit elementary or intermediate algebra classes.

Furthermore in placing advanced academic classes into all our students’ schedules all we have really done is replace classes many kids might need with classes many will never use. We have practically eliminated the teaching of trades, skills and the arts, classes’ kids may need if they don’t intend go to college or if they do are more interested in liberal arts subjects. Furthermore I imagine like the vast majority of you don’t, I don’t use algebra in my daily life. What I learned in college I learned to pass the class and then promptly forgot. I am not saying algebra and other classes don’t have their place, I am saying let’s find a realistic way to work them into the average kids schedule and then make sure they learn the material instead of passing them along with our fingers crossed hoping that down the roads some miraculous connection will be made.

When I was in High school, coincidently enough the same school I teach at now, I took general math II as a junior and no math as a senior. Not once in my whole public education career did I take an algebra class, yet somehow I went on to attain multiple degrees. As I look back now do you know what class I wish I would have taken, the one that would have helped me most as an adult and was there for me to take had I chosen to? Well it’s certainly not algebra II, it’s typing. I have no idea when was the last time I used an algebraic formula to help me in my everyday life or even would have helped me out, but I am required to type almost daily. Lets talk to the kids and find out there plans and then plan their schedules accordingly.

There is nothing wrong with having rigorous standards but shouldn’t they be relevant to the future of our children and shouldn’t we require our children to master the material instead of doing barely enough, or in the case of the Gentlemen’s C, just be pushed along just so we as a district can say look at us, look at us, see how advanced our classes our. It’s almost like we as a district are more interested in the quantity of classes being taken by our students rather than the quality.

In my humble opinion, the county’s main goal isn’t helping all our kids to be successful, but rather it is for the district to appear to be successful (they take every opportunity to tout how we are a B district). They are forcing, with subtle pressures and threats and extra hoops that teachers have to jump through, teachers to pass children who shouldn’t be passed along. We worry so much about our graduation rates and our math and science standings in the world that we have lost sight of the true purpose of what a public k-12 education should be about and that’s to prepare children to be productive citizens once they graduate, whether that sees them continue their education or enter the job market. Instead for many all we are doing is graduating them, and doing so ill prepared or either.

If the county is interested in being honest with its grading scale it should change it and add the gentlemen’s C. I can see it now. A, for excellent, B for good, C for average, GC for I was afraid I would get fired if I failed another kid or this kid at least tries hard, D for below average and F for failing. The gentlemen’s C will at least give the kid’s next teacher and society in general a heads up on what they can expect, which sadly in many cases won’t be very much

Ravitch answers Gates

By Valerie Strauss

In a paean to Bill Gates, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter calls Diane Ravitch the Microsoft founder’s “chief adversary.”

It’s the world’s richest (or second richest) man vs. an education historian and New York University research professor.

Gates, through his philanthropic foundation, has invested billions of dollars in education experiments and now has a pivotal role in reform efforts. Ravitch, the author of the bestselling The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has become the most vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s education policy. She says Gates is backing the wrong initiatives and harming public schools.

In the Newsweek piece, Gates poses some questions aimed at Ravitch. I asked her to answer them. Below are the questions Gates asked, in bold, and the answers, in italics, that Ravitch provided in an email.

Gates: “Does she like the status quo?”
Ravitch: “No, I certainly don’t like the status quo. I don’t like the attacks on teachers, I don’t like the attacks on the educators who work in our schools day in and day out, I don’t like the phony solutions that are now put forward that won’t improve our schools at all. I am not at all content with the quality of American education in general, and I have expressed my criticisms over many years, long before Bill Gates decided to make education his project. I think American children need not only testing in basic skills, but an education that includes the arts, literature, the sciences, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, economics, and physical education.

“I don’t hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don’t hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don’t hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers’ evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education.”

Gates: “Is she sticking up for decline?”
Ravitch: “Of course not! If we follow Bill Gates’ demand to judge teachers by test scores, we will see stagnation, and he will blame it on teachers. We will see stagnation because a relentless focus on test scores in reading and math will inevitably narrow the curriculum only to what is tested. This is not good education.

“Last week, he said in a speech that teachers should not be paid more for experience and graduate degrees. I wonder why a man of his vast wealth spends so much time trying to figure out how to cut teachers’ pay. Does he truly believe that our nation’s schools will get better if we have teachers with less education and less experience? Who does he listen to? He needs to get himself a smarter set of advisers.

“Of course, we need to make teaching a profession that attracts and retains wonderful teachers, but the current anti-teacher rhetoric emanating from him and his confreres demonizes and demoralizes even the best teachers. I have gotten letters from many teachers who tell me that they have had it, they have never felt such disrespect; and I have also met young people who tell me that the current poisonous atmosphere has persuaded them not to become teachers. Why doesn’t he make speeches thanking the people who work so hard day after day, educating our nation’s children, often in difficult working conditions, most of whom earn less than he pays his secretaries at Microsoft?”

Gates: “Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts?”
Ravitch: “Does Bill Gates realize that every contract is signed by two parties: management and labor? Why does management agree to 400-page contracts? I don’t know how many pages should be in a union contract, but I do believe that teachers should be evaluated by competent supervisors before they receive tenure (i.e., the right to due process).
“Once they have due process rights, they have the right to a hearing when someone wants to fire them. The reason for due process rights is that teachers in the past have been fired because of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or because they did not make a political contribution to the right campaign, or for some other reason not related to their competence.

“Gates probably doesn’t know this, but 50% of all those who enter teaching leave within the first five years. Our biggest problem is not getting rid of deadbeats, but recruiting, retaining, and supporting teachers. We have to replace 300,000 teachers (of nearly 4 million) every single year. What are his ideas about how to do this?”

Gates: “Does she think all those ‘dropout factories’ are lonely?”
Ravitch: “This may come as a surprise to Bill Gates, but the schools he refers to as “dropout factories” enroll large numbers of high-need students. Many of them don’t speak or read English; many of them enter high school three and four grade levels behind. He assumes the schools created the problems the students have; but in many cases, the schools he calls “dropout factories” are filled with heroic teachers and administrators trying their best to help kids who have massive learning problems.

“Unless someone from the district or the state actually goes into the schools and does a diagnostic evaluation, it is unfair to stigmatize the schools with the largest numbers of students who are English-language learners, special-education, and far behind in their learning. That’s like saying that an oncologist is not as good a doctor as a dermatologist because so many of his patients die. Mr. Gates, first establish the risk factor before throwing around the labels and closing down schools.”

Gates: “If there’s some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we’re all ears.”
Ravitch: “Here’s the sad truth: There is no magic way to reduce the dropout rate. It involves looking at the reasons students leave school, as well as the conditions in which they live. The single biggest correlate with low academic achievement (contrary to the film Waiting for Superman) is poverty. Children who grow up in poverty get less medical care. worse nutrition, less exposure to knowledge and vocabulary, and are more likely to be exposed to childhood diseases, violence, drugs, and abuse. They are more likely to have relatives who are incarcerated. They are more likely to live in economic insecurity, not knowing if there is enough money for a winter coat or food or housing. This affects their academic performance.
They tend to have lower attendance and to be sick more than children whose parents are well-off.

“The United States today has a child poverty rate of over 20%, and it is rising. This is a national scandal. The film compares us to Finland, but doesn’t mention that their child poverty rate is under 5%. Mr. Gates, why don’t you address the root causes of low academic achievement, which is not ‘bad teachers,’ but poverty. It won’t involve magic, but it would certainly require the best thinking that you can assemble. And if anyone can afford to do it, surely you can.

I don’t mean to suggest that schools as they are now are just fine: They are not. Every school should have a rich and balanced curriculum; many don’t. Every child should look forward to coming to school, for his or her favorite studies and activities, but those are the very studies and activities likely to lose out to endless test preparation. Schools need many things: Some need more resources and better conditions for teaching and learning; all need a stable, experienced staff. Teachers need opportunities for intellectual growth and colleagueship. Tests should be used diagnostically, to help students and teachers, not to allocate bonuses and punishments. Teachers, principals, administrators, parents, and local communities should collaborate to create caring communities, and that’s happening in many places. I know that none of this is the “magic way” that you are looking for, Mr. Gates, but any educator will tell you that education is a slow, laborious process that requires good teachers, able leadership, willing students, a strong curriculum, and willing students. None of that happens magically.”

I also asked Ravitch about her reaction to the strange comparison Alter made in calling her “the Whittaker Chambers of school reform.” She wrote:

“I wondered if Alter knows much about history. Whittaker Chambers renounced Communism and embraced American patriotism. Was Alter suggesting that Bill Gates is the Alger Hiss of school reform? I thought it was a weird analogy.

Taken from the Washington Post: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/diane-ravitch/ravitch-answers-gates.html

Graduation rates up — thank you, teachers

Scott Maxwell’s
TAKING NAMES

I know it’s not terribly popular nowadays. But I thought I’d take a moment to say thanks and congratulations to one of Florida’s favorite punching bags — the public school teacher.

The latest reports show that Florida has its best graduation rate ever. And there will be all manner of politicians, bureaucrats and pundits heaping praise upon themselves for supposedly making this happen.
But I had a novel idea — thanking the teachers.

See, teachers have become the boogeymen in most of the efforts to dismantle public schools. They are portrayed as lazy incompetents who don’t care about education, their students or anything other than collecting a union-protected paycheck.

We see these unfair portrayals in the halls of Tallahassee, from think tanks eager to siphon money away from public schools and into private ones, and even in the pages of this newspaper.

Quite simply, I reject it.

Most of the teachers I know got into their profession for the right reasons. They work hard. Some even change lives. And they don’t exactly get rich for doing so.

Certainly there are exceptions to the rule. There are in every profession. But there’s no denying that these most recent gains were made with the very same people leading the classrooms that many try to demonize.

Former State Sen. Charlie Justice — the husband of a teacher — once had a great line about school achievement in Florida. He said: “Every academic success we have in Florida, credit is given to some acronym-riddled program that’s created in the halls of Tallahassee. And every failure is laid at the feet of our hardworking teachers like my wife. It’s just wrong.”

So today, I think I’ll just say thanks.

Thank you, teachers, for doing the best you can with what little you get.

Thanks for making a difference in so many lives.

And thanks for doing it in spite of those who constantly try to tear you down.

Taken from the Orland Sentinel: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/education/os-scott-maxwell-thanks-teachers-120120101130,0,136683.column