Thursday, February 28, 2008

STAR Testing

An interesting article in the Tribune about standardized testing. And yes, parents can opt out of having their children take the tests, but strangely enough, the parents aren't usually informed of this and - in the case of many inner city schools - often are lied to and told that their children must take the tests.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No More Sanctions!

Now Schwarzenegger's proposing sanctions for failing schools.

First of all, aren't sanctions things that we impose on say... dictators in Cuba? Not elementary schools??

Second of all, the minute that someone can satisfactorily explain to me how taking away field trips, teachers' aides, and shuffling around teachers from one "failed" school to another helps kids learn, I'll jump right on the sanctions bandwagon. Until then, I fail to see how our ridiculous system of testing and punishing is helping anybody.
(If you're reading this on RSS and don't see the image, click through or look at; it's good.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Teacher Salaries

Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do--baby sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked, not any of that silly planning time. That would be $16.50 a day (8:00 AM to 3:30 (or so) PM with just 25 min. off for lunch). Each parent should pay $16.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. NOW... How many do they teach in a class, 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $495.00 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! We're not going to pay them for any vacations. LET'S SEE....That' s $585 x 180= $89,100 per year. What about those special teachers and the one s with master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage, and just to be fair, round it down to $7.00 an hour. That would be $7 x 5 1/2 hours (remember, no planning/preparing time) x 30 children x 180 days = $207,900 per year.

Wait a minute--there' s something wrong here! Average teacher salary (for a teacher with seniority!) $50,000/180 days = $277/per day/30 students = $9.23/6.5 hours = $1.68 per hour per student. A very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even try - with your help - to EDUCATE your kids!

WHAT A DEAL....And the parents don't even have to buy us pizza!
Silly, but you get the point. You really can't expect to get good professional effective teachers - and if you get them, to keep them - when they're starting at $36,000 or $40,000 after a college degree + 1-2 years extra...

Also, what this little scenario does not take into account is:
1. the TONS of extra hours worked by every single teacher.
2. the hundreds/thousands of dollars spent on the classroom. In my most expensive year, I spent $5,000 of my own money on supplies and field trips plus union dues (mandatory, even if you don't want to join the union) and professional development.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Subbing Conspiracy

I think I know how our district is trying to get out of debt - by not paying the substitutes. Sure, they say they're going to pay them, but think about the process.

First, the sub must carry the timesheet with them at all times. This is not uncommon, but I do think it's silly. Instead of submitting time online at each site or something easy like that, a sub may have up to 15 different schools to bring the time sheet to, leave it with a secretary who then tries to track down the principal and get the timesheet back to the sub at the end of the day. Ample opportunities for it to get lost, no?

Next, the sub must return the timesheet to the district office in person on specific days of the month. They say you can mail it but that they don't recommend it - having had mine lost twice, I can see why they don't recommend it! I'm not sure why they get lost - seems fairly straightforward to have something addressed to Ms. X in Room X actually get to Ms. X in Room X but perhaps I am overestimating the district mail system. So, if you want to get paid, you have to go in on the 15th or last day of the month.

Now, there are 1000 active substitutes in the district. How do I know that? Because as I was in line (with most of them) to get to the one person collecting timesheets, I was counting the names on one of the pieces of paper on a display (We Appreciate Our Substitutes display, funny) and multiplying it by the number of papers up there. Of course, my name wasn't on there, so there may be more than 1000. And they had one person collecting timesheets and writing out receipts for the timesheets. After many important papers getting lost, they now have to write out receipts now, dated and stamped, that say how many pieces of paper you have turned in. Of course, it doesn't say what the paper is, just that you've turned it in, so you'd likely still have problems if they lost it.

But hey, work in our district, "If you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Dubious Slogan

In a flyer for subbing in my district:

"If you can make it here, you'll make it anywhere!"

Um, do you want to advertise that?

"Our district is so awful that anything else will seem like a vacation in comparison!"

Interesting marketing. I would advise anyone wishing to substitute in this district to run far away as fast as possible, and that makes me very sad because there are incredible kids to be taught.

Friday, February 15, 2008

From Mexico, Part 2

OK, it's been a little crazy. The electricity went out in the Internet closet (twice) and then when I was connected in DFW (great wireless connection), my gate got changed twice so I spent the whole layover running from Terminal C to Terminal D and back to Terminal C, and then to Terminal D again. Fun.

To continue.

Roberto ran away from the abusive uncle and ended up helping package drugs and selling pornography on the street . Somehow, Sara (the orphanage director) found out about this 10-year old kid and brought him back to the orphanage. He started first grade at age 10 and, although school has never been easy for him, worked as hard as he could and consistently got excellent grades. He made it through primary and secondary school, graduated from high school (the picture in the pink shirt) and is now attending a technical college. He wanted to work in addition to help pay his way (he's now 22), so got a job as a mechanic's assistant. Within three weeks, his work was so good that he was promoted twice. Now he is getting up every day at 5 am, working all morning and early afternoon, then going to school all during the late afternoon and evening, getting home at 11 pm.

Roberto asked me two very good questions while I was there:

1. Why are Americans so upset about us coming over the border when they come over here all the time to buy drugs/medications/go on vacation/find prostitutes?

2. Why do Americans consider Mexicans lazy?

The second question is the most perplexing. I really don't know the answer. Possibly because Americans think that Mexicans take siestas (They don't. That's Spain. Different continent). Possibly because Mexicans value people over schedules? However, as Roberto pointed out, it is extremely hard to find an American who is willing to work as hard as a Mexican - if, of course, you were speaking in blanket generalizations. American youth groups often come to work at the orphanage and - in between the heat and the physical labor - most of them poop out after about 30 minutes. The (younger) Mexican kids work the whole day, stopping only for lunch. And yet, I have STILL heard people talk about "Well, if only they worked harder... if only they worked all day... if they had a better work ethic... if they just applied themselves." And then of course, there's the old, "They're taking our jobs."

Really? Are you wanting to pick fruit for 14 hours for less than minimum wage? Because if not, please spare me that argument. If anyone would like to have a respectful conversation about how to deal with illegal immigration, I'm all for that. But the way most of the arguments go, talking about walls and illegals and saving jobs for Americans and denying children education... sorry. Go to Mexico for a week and see how respectfully you are treated - every time I have attempted to speak Spanish, no matter how much I mess up, my efforts are honored - how people go out of their way to be hospitable, about how much they struggle... then have a conversation with me.

Here's Roberto, graduating from high school against all odds...

The blog might have a Mexican theme for a little while since it's on my mind... I'll get back to American education soon!

Monday, February 11, 2008

From Mexico

I am in an Internet cafe (that´s what they call it, but there´s nothing at all resembling a cafe; it´s more like an Internet closet) in Reynosa, Mexico. Before you all get excited and jealous and picture me lying on the beach drinking margaritas, let me tell you that Reynosa, Mexico is a border town, just south of McAllen and Hidalgo, Texas. I looked it up in the Lonely Planet Mexico once and the only thing it had to say about this town of something like two million people was that it is ugly (think petrochemical refineries), and that there is nothing for tourists to do. It went on to mention that the only Americans who usually come to Reynosa are Texans looking for cheap prostitutes or prescription medication without a prescription.

I am here to visit my Mexican family, who run an orphanage. We call it an orphanage in English, but that´s a misnomer - it´s more of a group home. The Spanish name is casa-hogar, which literally means "house-home," and there are 40 kids ranging in age from 3 years old to 22 years old, whose parents can´t or won´t take care of them. Some of them have parents with drug problems, some have other siblings in the hospital and the parents can´t take care of the healthy siblings. However, the most common situation seems to be that a mother finds a new husband or new boyfriend, who doesn´t want the children from the previous man around, so the mother leaves them for the new man. Sometimes the mother brings the kids straight to the orphanage, but most often the director of the orphanage finds out about kids who have been left to live on their own in the street or left with other relatives who don´t really want to take care of them either.

One of these kids is Roberto. When Roberto was one, his mother(in a bit of a gender role switch) left his father. His father remarried when Roberto was five, and the new wife didn´t want Roberto or his sisters. Roberto was sent to live with his grandmother, who died a few years later. At this point, he got on a bus bound for Reynosa because he thought that was where an aunt or uncle lived. He found his uncle (remember, the kid´s only about 8 years old at this point, so he´s pretty resourceful) and lived with his family for a while until the uncle got abusive.

To be finished Wednesday - I have to leave!