Tag Archives: Education

Study Finds Minority Teens do not Get Treated for Depression

Futurity.org has an interesting article highlighting the disparity between minority and white teens in terms of therapy for depression:

Futurity.org – Therapy gap for depressed minority teens.

This raises an interesting question: how does this disparity affect urban schools and education? I’ll not make any claims for the validity of eHow.com, but this article compiles the results of a number of studies on the subject of depression and education, with resource links, if you’re so inclined.

Either way, this is just another factor to consider when discussing education and teacher tenure, as is all the rage.

Governor Cuomo Declares State Budget Process a “Sham”

CapitolTonight.com has an op-ed penned by our new Governor, Andrew Cuomo, where he outlines the budget process as he now understands it:

It is dictated by hundreds of rates and formulas that are marbleized throughout New York State laws that govern different programs – formulas that have been built into the law over decades, without regard to fiscal realities, performance or accountability.

The formulas operate year after year, generating liabilities that when totaled define the state’s budget growth. The one thing the rates do well is increase year after year. These formulas (predominantly in education and Medicaid funding) are often inserted into the law by pressure from well-connected special interests and lobbyists. When a governor takes office, in many ways the die has already been cast.

He compares it, quite understandably if his analysis is correct, to the scams and schemes his job as Attorney General was meant to root out in other venues. He explains that the 10 billion dollar budget deficit that politicians and journalists alike have discussed – himself included – is basically a function of unreasonably high automatic increases in funding, not on actual numbers or any kind of needs assessment. In fact, if the budget were adjusted by inflation rather than the dictums of these arbitrary systems, the deficit would be a much more manageable 1 billion dollars. All of this is based on his analysis and reporting.

The other side of this that he does not discuss is: if the 13 percent increases are to fund education and Medicare, shouldn’t kids be getting chauffeured to school every day? 13 percent. According to one (admittedly randomly-picked) estimate, Rochester City Schools spend about $1600 per student per year. A 13 percent increase in spending would be about a $2000 pick-up in a single year. Somehow, that doesn’t smell quite right.

I have no idea how accurate the Governor’s numbers are. And I have no way of finding out, either. But if he’s even half-right, where the hell is all that money going?

Teachers, Tenure and Logic, Inverted.

Bad teachers. We all had our share in school. And we may even know a few in our adult lives – certainly, those with children have their strong opinions. But when looking for solutions to create better schools for kids, what are we to do about all these teachers who don’t perform?

Evan Dawson’s recent post on the 13WHAM blog points to one popular answer. That popular answer is that the tenure enjoyed by teachers as members of a Union fosters an environment where bad teachers are rewarded. Because it’s difficult to get rid of a bad teacher, there’s no reason for that teacher to improve. Tenure makes for bad employees.

The argument has a certain internal logic. And the handy thing about internal logic is the blessing of not requiring outside validation. But what if we invert that statement? Not having tenure makes for good employees. Does that sound right? Does that sound familiar?

My experience – nearly twenty years of working in factories, warehouses, stores and offices, nary a single Union shop in the bunch – does not provide any particular evidence for this theory. In fact, my experience is rife with examples of breathtakingly bad employees who are lazy, dishonest, irresponsible and even larcenous… ones that the boss knew as well as I did! How could they possibly have kept their jobs? Was it the tenure fight? No.

The truth is that hiring and firing is a lot more difficult than the “tenure/bad” canard would have you believe. You have to find someone who wants to do the job, that has the qualifications to do the job, that has the experience to do the job – no, those are not the same things – and finally that will actually…. do the job. Not one of those things is guaranteed – some people leave their first day during their lunch hours!

But once you’ve got somebody that’s stayed on for three years? Ask any employer how big a deal that is. And if you ask any employer, the one thing they don’t want to deal with is change in staff. Uncertainty in the basic elements of how the job gets done. Even a bad employee knows their job: the new guy will take time to train. They want you to stay on, they want you to be a part of the team.

Tenure rewards that commitment. It is not a magical talisman that suddenly makes teachers immune to firing: a really bad teacher or one who commits a crime will get zero support from the Union. Nor is the absence of tenure proof that the employee is any more likely to get fired. Which brings me to the quote that is the crux of Evan’s blog post:

“If I could get rid of tenure for 24 hours, I’d have a bus waiting at school tomorrow morning. That bus would take away all of the teachers I can’t let go because of tenure. I’d do it in a heartbeat.”…”We spend well over a hundred thousand dollars to get rid of one bad teacher,” he said, indicating that legal fees and other issues made the process prohibitive.

The superintendent in question can be forgiven for not knowing about the process to fire people in other industries, but trust me, you can’t just fire anyone you want in this state. Not in a school, not in a plastics factory. Nowhere. And yes, it is expensive: the reasons have to be well-documented, warnings have to be issued (obviously not for crimes) and after everything, the fired employee can absolutely lawyer up and sue.

And no, despite the bravado contained in the sup’s statement, Mr. Anonymous Superintendent of Schools would not just start firing people if given the chance. That’s an easy thing to say when you’re discussing hypotheticals which you know will never come to pass.

We Need Merit Pay for DMV Workers

Reading this Carl Bailik article in the Wall Street Journal about the merits of merit pay for teachers, I am struck by the notion that teachers require government-instituted merit pay evaluation programs in order to improve their performance. There is no such program for us PHP developers – nor was there any such program for press-brake and punch fabricator operators when those were my professions – but I don’t think anyone can seriously accuse me of soft-peddling my job as a result.

But granted, those professions I’ve held have all been in private industry: there’s no tax money going to pay for my salary. Fair enough. What, then, of other government professions? DMV clerks? Postal workers? Congressmen? And what are the benchmarks for those professions?

The truth is that professionalism cannot be quantified. And a lack of professionalism will certainly – as indeed the article notes – breed dishonesty. And either way, the only real test of one’s professional ability and ethics is personal observation. The fact is: you know who at your job is a fuck up and who isn’t.

So to what end are we imposing merit systems to teachers? What will it accomplish? The answer is: it makes politicians look good and taxpayers feel good to discuss the possibility. It might even make them both feel better once instituted: people might get a sense that they’ve accomplished something and made the world a better place. But really, its just a political football that is of more importance to the feelings of the players than it is of substance to the children being educated. mh.

Afghan Minerals and the House of Saud Effect

The big story coming out of this weekend has been the discovery – or rather, the announcement of the discovery – of a trillion-dollar mineral resource in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration is trying to paint this as a potential game-changer and a way out of the mess. Many others are painting this as an excuse to prolong our stay – especially since one of the major mineral deposits is lithium, a critical resource in the development of energy-efficient rechargeable batteries in a post-fossil world. So, is the Obama Administration looking for a reason to stay or a reason to leave? And does it matter one way or the other for the people of Afghanistan?

Because to me, the problem I see brewing with the new mineral deposit cache is one which the Saudi Arabian people have been dealing with for nearly a century, which is that having resources in the country does not do the people any good unless the people can actually work in the jobs that those resources produce. Even in the most coopted countries, common people often do the manual labor that comes with international economic success, but this is not the case in Saudi Arabia. In that country, the Wahabi imams run the schools, which teach a strictly Koran-based syllabus. Such an education does not really help secure a job as an engineer or even as a forklift operator, since math, science or writing are not on the agenda.

The result is an angry population from which many Taliban and al-Qeada recruits are plumbed. Even without the international terrorist scene, riots and hunger are common place problems for the House of Saud. To compensate, the government creates “make busy” projects building monuments and water fountains which do nothing to enrich the people, let alone lifting them from their primary intellectual poverty.

In Afghanistan, literacy rates are around 34% for men and 10% for women. This does not bode well for the economic boon that the mineral deposits supposedly represent. Even if the Afghan government weren’t corrupt, the chances are slim that any real work can be found for the majority of Afghans. So, do we make a commitment to stay and educate a generation of Afghans? Or do we leave them to the fate the Saudi people face? Do we, in finding the exit strategy both the American and Afghan people want, end up leaving behind an even more economically-striated place than we went into?

Jon Greenbaum on Brizzard’s Corporate Agenda

Jon knocks one out of the park with his latest installment, breaking down the specifically corporatist background and inspiration of Superintendent of Schools Jean-Claude Brizzard.

To those who insist that all things can be run better that are run like corporations I ask: what profit is there in education? I don’t mean those ethereal “values,” I mean the cold, hard profits on which corporations are based. Because if you cannot find an intrinsic profit margin in something, then there is no profit motive. And if there is no profit motive, the natural course of action is that a corporation needs to either manufacture one arbitrarily or else fail.

The O’Blog on the City School District

The O’Blog is one of the blogs featured on my sidebar in the RocWriters Blog Updates section of this site. It’s the blog of Dennis O’Brien which I’m only now just catching up to. He ran for City School Board a while back and reflects on the things that he’d had as a platform then that might help cure the problems there are with the School District and the Board now. Seems like fairly straight-forward changes, but unfortunately, disfunction is the engine that drives itself.

I don’t claim to know a whole lot about education in Rochester, so I reserve judgment. With luck, a friend of mine who knows a lot more about it will be here to help me out, soon. But if there’s anyone who resents the state of Rochester schools, I do. Just the threat of having to send a kid through middle school in Rochester was enough to push my wife and I into the ‘burbs. I fucking hate the goddamned ‘burbs. East Rochester is cool, but damn. I miss the city.

There’s No Sex in the Grape Punch Room

CNN.com has the story of ten middle schoolers who, whilst on a field trip to Washington, DC, decided to have an orgy in one of the hotel rooms.  Clearly, this is not something you can tolerate on a school class trip, but interestingly, only eight kids seem to have been punished. . . and they were expelled from school.

This seems weird on any number of levels.  There is nothing in the article that discusses what punishment – if any – was given to the remaining two kids, which is the kind of reporting I think we’ve all come to expect from CNN.  What happened to those kids, and why was their punishment not the same as everyone else’s?  Perhaps the two kids were simply not very effective at having sex – or even remarkably ugly – and therefore technically not guilty of the same crime. . .

And one has to wonder what the punishment would have been if these same ten kids had gotten into a fight.  Would they have been expelled for that?  I guess it would depend on the severity of the fight.  If so, this must have been some very severe sex.

But as usual, those of us who like to think and stuff are left scratching our heads over another story broadcast on CNN.

There’s So Much to Talk About. . .

John Sacheli turns in a great – if highly verbose – rant, filled with observations on daily life.  But hands-down, this one’s my favourite:

» An observation of our society » Pissin in the Wind

They’re even pushing drugs on your kids now. If your kid acts out at school a few times they immediately jump to the conclusion that they need psycho-analysis and the need to be on temperament medication. Little kids shouldn’t be depressed enough to need a pill. Acting out on occasion doesn’t justify giving a kid Ritalin. Maybe some kids need that stuff but there’s a whole lot of them that really don’t. We are creating a society of numbed out legal drug addicts.

You know, maybe they should invent a pill for making you a good parent. Then your kids will turn out fine and maybe all the world’s problems would start to turn around. (Who am I kidding, there’s no money in that anyway.)

I guess goofballs and Ripple Wine don’t count as a drug that makes you a better parent. There goes my master plan. . .

Best School Prank, Ever

I know those of you who are either teachers or administrators in schools will probably not see the humor in this that I do.  Never the less, it’s freakin’ funny.

Apparently, someone got a hold of both the letterhead and the mailing list of Portland, OR’s Lincoln High School and sent out a nominally official letter to all the parents actively encouraging them to open their liquor cabinets to the attendees of the prom as a way to promote “a safe, secure place for students to have fun.”  Condoms were included in the letters.

OMG, whomever pulled this off is my freakin’ hero.