The middle class have become pawns in the education debate

When people complain about the unsustainablity of big government it makes me cringe and shake my head in disbelief. I think to myself, how can people be that gullible. Here in Florida, a pro business state with a low tax base and no income tax, we currently miss out on billions of dollars because we give certain industries and individuals’ tax breaks. We don’t have to fix the problems on the back of government workers, which include, prison guards, the police, firemen and teachers all we have to do is demand those people that do business in Florida pay their fair share. These big businesses with their powerful lobbyists, bought politicians and talking heads have convinced enough of you that they should get a free ride and that it is your neighbors the teacher, the police officer and the government worker that hasn’t had a raise in five years who is the problem.

When the tea party and teachers argue over wages and benefits, over pensions and collective bargaining, all they are doing is fighting over table scraps, while Governor Scott and his ilk travel the state in private planes sipping Champaign and eating caviar.

The economic downturn was the best thing that could have happened for big business. Not only were many bailed out but it created a climate where they could scare people into believing those that would stand in their way, take their money to pay for services such as education and protection, or prevent them from making even bigger profits were the problem. Even Fox news admits it. They talk about businesses making record profits and having huge cash reserves. Sadly they do this while taking every pot shot they can at the public sector worker and unions. Oil barons and fat cats, speculators and high priced lawyers aren’t the bad guys any more. Now they have been replaced by teachers and rank and file union members. We used to shake our fists at the super rich but now we shake our fists at our neighbors.

The same average Joe and Judy who railed against the bailout are now saying the solution to the problems should come on the backs of our neighbors. Friends, the solution should not be, it sucks for me let me vote for people and support policies that make it suck for everybody (except a privileged few). The solution should be to hold those responsible, responsible and make that top 5-10% of society pay their fair share. Ladies and gentlemen the average person is not too big to fail, the powers-that-be who have bought your votes through fear mongering will let both you and me do so and then buy our houses cheap and sell them at a profit.

You may have been convinced the super rich shouldn’t lose their hard earned money. Well friends you have been conned. The reason they have that “hard earned money” is because they have convinced you that their job is worth so much more than yours. The thing is an executive making a million dollars is not going to suddenly quit because the government takes half to work at a book store and if they did there would be dozens ready to take the job. In the fifties and early sixties we had tax rates for the top wage earners that were way over fifty percent and you know what, there were still super rich people then too and it’s ironic that spin doctors will point to those times as idealistic, when a son and daughter could expect to do a little better than their parents, well friends and neighbors the highest tax percentage is now just a little above mine and kids for the first time are expected to do worse.

Then take for example our governor. What did Rick Scott do to earn his 300 million dollar pay out other than run his company in such a fashion that they had to pay a 1.7 billion dollar fine? That’s two billion dollars that could have gone to doctor’s fees, pay employees more and heaven forbid lower the costs of medical care. Two billion dollars that could have helped average families, many pay check to pay check but instead those on the far right the tea party are okay with all that wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few. Is an executive at a health care agency, a glorified middle man worth more than a teacher who educates our youth or are they worth more than firemen, the police or soldiers who put their lives on the line. Well our system says yes because we have allowed ourselves to be convinced it’s so. Well friends we have the power to say enough is enough. We have the power to say wealth is better when more people have it.

What’s better for society; one person making a million dollars and twenty five making forty thousand, or one guy making a hundred thousand and twenty five making seventy-six thousand?. If that one guy doesn’t want to do it anymore, he thinks he is underpaid I think I could find twenty-five applicants who would jump at the chance to have his position. Friends are you on the side of the one or on the side of the many? Are you for a democratic society that works to benefit everybody or an oligarchy that seeks to benefit just a few? I don’t want socialism, I want fairness.

Fox news, the republican legislature and Rick Scott have tried to scare you that jobs will move elsewhere. Well friends where are they going to go. What they haven’t told you is companies need people to buy their goods and use their services and they need markets for this to happen in. What markets are they going to go to that aren’t experiencing the same problems we are? Do you really believe that Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville will suddenly dry up? But say some companies did move the effects would be diminished and they would be replaced because business like nature, abhors a vacuum. Other companies and individuals will see the need and fill their shoes; we would just have to hope these new businesses would be satisfied with just making big profits instead of obscene profits. Besides don’t we want businesses that are pro society, not pro swimming pool, yacht and big bank accounts for their CEOs anyways?

Scott then says business won’t come to Florida if we don’t make it business friendly, well friends if they aren’t coming now with all the pro business aspects Florida already has, what makes you think they are going to come when we gut the education system, severely reduce government services, close our parks and destroy our environment. How about as an alternative let’s make Florida the education state, the park state, and the environment state. Let’s do that instead of having Florida be the state where a few get rich and the rest muddle through and the state that doesn’t really care about its children. Are their changes we can make, sure? Are there things we could be doing differently and better, my answer is yes but let’s make Florida a state we can be proud of and ensure that it is a state that we want to live in.

They rich are the ones that create jobs their spin doctors shout. Well friends if they are the ones who create jobs then they are doing a pretty poor job at it. We are getting a pretty poor return on our investment. I am not saying government should be the main creator of jobs but we shouldn’t just dismiss its role and say the people that work there should take it on the chin for the rest of us.

Though Friends on the right I completely agree with you taxes are way too high. The thing is they are way too high for me and you while for others they are way too low. Imagine if you had more money, maybe you or you and your friends could start the business or come up with the next great idea. Right now so many of us are just getting by exhausted from the day, worn out deciding if we get new tires or fix a tooth, scared that we or a family member will get sick and that we won’t be able to do anything. Better benefits, greater pay and a secured retirement will do much more for the state than additional tax breaks to the top few.

Furthermore it’s not true that a third of the nation does not pay taxes either. Buy gas? You pay a tax. Buy clothes? You pay a tax. Scrape and save and buy an appliance you pay taxes and you pay the exact same amount whether you make seventeen thousand, thirty-five thousand or a million dollars. And let me say it hurts those on the far end of the spectrum a lot more than those at the top. Think about a speeding ticket, its 129 dollars whether they pull you over in a rusted out clunker or if they pull you over in a Porsche, one driver doesn’t even notice it while the other eats nothing but ramen noodles for a month. That is the real tax structure in America.

I am not against the wealthy. I wouldn’t mind being rich or barring that not live in fear of an emergency. I am against those that see society as an object with which they can express their wills upon. I am against closing schools and giving children sub standard educations. I am against polluting our rivers and closing our parks. I am against the elderly, and the disabled being neglected for the benefit of a small minority and I am against the menial existence of the many for the extravagant existence of the few.

If we bring our tax structure in line and then still need cuts, I imagine your public servants, your teachers and your prison guards would all step up. After all they beleive in serving the public or they wouldn’t be doing those jobs. On their backs however is not where we should start.

I am reminded of the Dukes brothers from Trading Places. Mortimer old chap, I can have workers battle workers over table scraps, while increasing our profits at the same time; except there would be no bet because they have already been doing it for years. Think about that the next time you shrug your shoulders or even smile at the prospect of a neighbor losing their benefits or their pension because times have been tough for you, or think, sure, we can get by with cutting education a little bit more.

Where do babies come from: an education metaphor

When I was little the first time I asked my mother where babies came from she said, the hospital. A few years went by and when I asked her again, she said, when a man loves a woman he lies with her and nine months later a baby is born. When I was five and ten both of those answers were good enough and they were correct. However as an adult I learned the answer is a lot more complicated than that and there were a whole lot of factors, like unwanted pregnancy, stds and birth control among others that needed to be considered. The real answer became very complicated

Fixing the problems in education are likewise more complicated than saying, the hospital, but that’s what the powers-that-be and our state legislature will have you believe when they say merit pay and charter schools will make everything better.

Merit pay isn’t as simple as fire bad teachers/reward good ones. First of all reputable studies say merit pay does not work and I have yet to find one that says it does. It sounds seductive though doesn’t it? Pay the better teachers more, get rid of the worse teachers and things will improve. The thing is, do we want simple solutions that sound seductive or do we want solutions that work.

Then there are charter schools the darling of the right. Well friends study after study has shown charter schools, who get to pick and choose who they let in and keep and who often don’t play by the same confining rules that public schools do, don’t do any better. This means they get the best kids with the most involved families and don’t exceed what is happening at. P.S. this or P.S.. That says to me our public schools must be doing something right.

They do this while at the same time trying to limit the one reform that has proven to work and is on the books, the class size amendment. Why because the class size amendment costs money, whereas merit pay believe it or not and charter schools make money for corporations and big business. This is not about what’s best for the kids it’s about money and we know this because they ignore the number one thing that is known to affect how children do in school.

At no point do theses powers-that-be mention poverty, which is what study after study points to as the leading factor in determining how well a child does in school. In fact they marginalize it by saying things like, poverty is an excuse hoping that allows them to maintain the status quo.

Look there are more high performing teachers at the high performing schools and they draw a correlation from that. That’s their proof that it must be the teacher’s fault. They hope we don’t notice that that the lower performing schools with the supposed lower performing teachers are in the neighborhoods hit hardest by poverty. It must be the teachers right?

That is what they say, that friends if their ultimate, from the hospital, answer and it’s just as accurate as my mom was.

We have problems in education and we need serious solutions, not off the cuff ones designed to placate five year olds, which is what the legislature and governor must think most of us are and line the pockets of corporations while ignoring what’s best for our children.

Hello Florida, here is why high stakes testing is bad

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet

By Marion Brady

In 1949, I was a self-employed trucker, buying and hauling timber for shoring up the roofs of coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

A very long United Mine Workers strike put me out of the trucking business. Not having exhausted all the GI Bill benefits due me from a stint in the U.S. Navy, I went back to college, jumped through the necessary certification hoops, and started teaching in 1952 at the high school level.

A few days ago, I went to a reunion of the surviving members of a class that picked up their diplomas 50 years ago, in 1961. They were a smart bunch of kids. The work of a couple of them would be familiar to millions of Americans.

Not surprisingly, a few became teachers. Without exception, those who talked to me at the reunion had no regrets. But also without exception, none of them would now encourage anyone to enter the field. Reason Number One: Standardized, machine-scored, high-stakes tests.

If that comes as a surprise, credit corporate America’s successful promotion of the idea that test scores say something important. Opposition to the present orgy of testing is now wrongly interpreted as unwillingness to be held accountable.

For those who buy that fiction, a list of some of the real reasons for educator opposition may be helpful.

Teachers (at least the ones the public should hope their taxes are supporting) oppose the tests because they focus so narrowly on reading and math that the young are learning to hate reading, math, and school; because they measure only “low level” thinking processes; because they put the wrong people — test manufacturers — in charge of American education; because they allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated by officials for political purposes; because test items simplify and trivialize learning.

Teachers oppose the tests because they provide minimal to no useful feedback; are keyed to a deeply flawed curriculum adopted in 1893; lead to neglect of physical conditioning, music, art, and other, non-verbal ways of learning; unfairly advantage those who can afford test prep; hide problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring; penalize test-takers who think in non-standard ways.

Teachers oppose the tests because they radically limit their ability to adapt to learner differences; encourage use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators; wrongly assume that what the young will need to know in the future is already known; emphasize minimum achievement to the neglect of maximum performance; create unreasonable pressures to cheat.

Teachers oppose the tests because they reduce teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession; are culturally biased; have no “success in life” predictive power; lead to the neglect of the best and worst students as resources are channeled to lift marginal kids above pass-fail “cut lines;” are open to massive scoring errors with life-changing consequences.

Teachers oppose the tests because they’re at odds with deep-seated American values about individual differences and worth; undermine a fundamental democratic principle that those closest to and therefore most knowledgeable about problems are best positioned to deal with them; dump major public money into corporate coffers instead of classrooms.

I, a retired teacher beyond the reach of today’s “reformers,” oppose the tests for those reasons, and for the psychological damage they do to kids not yet able to cope. But my particular, personal beef is that the tests (and the Common Core State Standards on which they’re based) are blocking policymaker consideration of what I believe to be the most promising educational innovation in the last century — the use of general systems theory as it developed during World War II as a tool for reshaping and radically simplifying the “core curriculum.”

If you think that even a couple of those 25 reasons why educators oppose standardized tests are valid, consider getting behind what ought to be an option for every child’s parent or guardian — the right to say, without being pressured or penalized by state or local authority, “Do not subject my child to any test that doesn’t provide useful, same-day or next-day information about performance.”

Duval County lacks leadership

Does it seem to you like Superintendent Pratt-Dannals is just playing out the string? He gave away control of seven schools to an EMO when he didn’t have to and he recommended despite the well-documented failure of the first KIPP school that they be alowed to start two more.

His answer to our cities education problems seems to be, let somebody else take care of it. Is this really the leadership we are paying more than a quarter million dollars to receive?

Is Duval Superintendent Ed Pratt Dannals in the pocket of the KIPP School?

From the Times Union, by Topher Sanders: The board will vote on whether to approve two new elementary schools for KIPP Jacksonville. KIPP Jacksonville’s current school, KIPP Impact Middle School, opened in the 2010-11 school year and earned an F grade. KIPP passed enough sections of the charter school application to receive a recommendation from the district for approval.

So let me get this straight, the school is a F school but they did well enough to warrant being able to open two more schools. Somebody is going to have to explain that one to me.

What’s wrong in waiting to see if they have some success first?

Does the Duval County School board lack vision

It’s fitting that tonight is Halloween as the Duval County school board is just hours away from potentially playing the grim reaper to 18 teachers careers, voting whether to let them go or not. As they are thinking about their decision I wonder if they will consider that just a few years ago the district was so desperate for teachers that it was recruiting for them in Canada, India and in the business world.

I wonder if they will have the foresight to know that if the economy ever turns around they won’t be able to find enough qualified applicants to man our classrooms. Why would young teachers want to come here when they could go to other states that actually care about education and respect their teachers?

Things will be even worse if the school board votes to rift teachers during the middle of the year. Everyone will now know what many teachers already believe and that is the school board thinks of them as little more than easily replaceable cogs.

Peoples livelihoods hang in the balance and furthermore at this point these teachers will have no shot of finding teaching positions in the greater metropolitan area, something they may have been able to do had they been let go five months ago when nearly 300 other teachers were given pink slips.

The school board may be able to save some money in the short term but in the long run if they make this decision they will lose much more than that.