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6/2/17

The Point

Singer and songwriter Harry Nilsson observed in his 1971 album “The Point” that “a point in every direction is no point at all" and "if everyone has a point, then I must have one too.”
 
    I had the pleasure of judging several students a few weeks ago as part of a district wide scholarship competition in written essays and face to face interviews.  While the questions were pretty basic (what do you like and dislike about school, what’s your favorite subject) some of the answers were not.  I remembered an old Art Linkletter show called “Kids Say The Darndest Things” and, after the interviews, decided that not only was Art right, but that one viewpoint always missing from the “how can we improve schools” debate was that of the students.  They are, after all, the subjects and the central focus of the debate on school improvement, and their contributions could add a perspective not usually considered.  Their job for now is to be students. Their daily work experiences make them experts in what works and what doesn’t, and, once they trust you they aren’t afraid to tell you what they think.
    The four students I chose to interview after the competition were not scientifically selected.  All are highly successful academically in their respective schools and included one 5th grader and three 8th graders. All four attend public middle schools in central Georgia and I did receive permission from their parents, Principal and the District before meeting with them a second time.  All were only a few days away from moving on to a new grade and new challenges, and for the sake of anonymity let’s call them Sally, Tom, Jane and Harry.  I recorded the interviews and transcribed them.  The quotes are actual and not paraphrased. Their individual and collective vocabularies are exceptional.
    I was particularly interested in their views about what they liked and didn’t like about school in general and specifically their thoughts on the Georgia Milestones tests and the Georgia Performance Standards.  The GPS are Common Core standards renamed by the GABOE.  I interviewed them both individually and in one group of two due to schedule constraints.  (Theirs, not mine.)  I have included (at the end of the article) the questions I asked.  I will not attribute any one answer to a particular student, but will include their comments in quotation marks.  Two of them said what they enjoyed most about school replied “the environment.   The atmosphere is important because I like to be around happy people but I dislike how school is often taught because not all students learn the same way and everyone is not wired the same way. We don’t get asked about our opinions very often because kids will usually say what they think and not just what you want to hear.”  Three of them enjoyed math class the most and one chose PE.  All are in music and believe that music classes “expose them to other cultures” and “it’s fun.”  All four believe that music helps them with other classes, primarily because “it’s like another language”, “requires concentration and teaches responsibility” and that “practice pays off.”  All four believe that PE should be offered to every student as an everyday choice.  PE is often rotated with art, music, drama or computer lab and students don’t often get to participate for several weeks at a time.  
  They all believed the school day was too long, primarily because the only break they get from classes is lunch. They thought the “no talking” rule in the halls was “kid stuff” and was a missed opportunity to “decompress for a few moments before beginning the next class.”  One commented that “socialization with my friends is important to me, and we don’t get any time to do that.”  They also thought an hour for classes was a little too long and it was hard, even for good students, to concentrate for that length of time for six classes every day.  All four suggested a little down time at the end of the day to do homework, talk quietly or review what they had done that day instead of the “extra learning time” that generally adds new work or concepts rather than a review of old ones.  
    Each of them expressed frustration with standards being posted each day for every class, and mentioned “we don’t have time to process new things before moving on,” “the standards prevent us from exploring what might be some really interesting stuff,” “teachers seem fixated on the standards and sometimes cover the standards just be able to say they covered them rather than make sure we really learn them.”  One also observed “a lot of my friends say the same things - that it’s difficult to keep up when we don’t really discuss things in detail, we just cover new stuff and quickly move on.” “I don’t really understand why we have to have standards for the whole country just for a few kids that move to a different state or school.  Learning should be geared toward the majority of kids in a school and not just a few that move.”  “I think the standards inhibit learning and exploration in my classes.”  Yes, an 8th grader said that.  I’ll just leave that right there for you.
    Their favorite teachers all seem to have common characteristics.  “My favorite teacher has a comfortable classroom and we don’t have to sit in rows every day and just listen. There are couches and we can move our chairs if we want.  She makes us a part of the discussion and acts like she is interested in what we say and ask.”  They also noted “my favorite teacher knows our names and the class feels safe. I like her approach.  She is not confrontational or intense and she makes it clear what she expects us to do.”  One of them noted “it’s easier for me to learn if I can relax a little more.”  “I don’t like worksheets or packets teachers just hand out.”  “I like working with other kids, especially the ones that might have trouble understanding something that I can already do.”  “I like the teachers that seem as if they like me and know me and care about me.”  (Perhaps one of the questions in the hiring process should be “do you like kids?)  “I like all my teachers, but some are more genuine and likable than others.”  One of them also noticed “we can tell the difference in some teachers when an administrator walks in the room to observe.”  Indeed.
    Technology was a common issue.  “Our computers are old and slow and always seem to crash or need repair.”  “We have Smart Boards but sometimes they aren’t very smart and don’t always work well.”  “We can check out laptops and iPods from the library but sometimes they don’t work because the internet is pretty slow.  “The internet always seems to go down just when I start doing something interesting.” “Our teachers don’t usually let us use our own phones during class except for maybe the last five minutes of a class or at the end of the day.”  They also said that almost every student has a phone and “it’s usually better than the stuff we have in school, but we don’t get to use them much.”  We hardly ever use them because some kids would just play games or text.” “I like using the Kindles in class but we don’t get to do it enough.”  All of them liked it when teachers had background music when they were reading or studying or taking a teacher made test.  “I like the music in the background and it helps me relax, but my teachers tend to like old stuff that we don’t really know.” “One teacher plays the same Christmas music for the whole month of December.  I know every Rudolph song there is now.”
    There were several observations about the Georgia Milestones reviews that “go on forever.”  “We spent the entire month of March doing test review. Some teachers even commented their jobs depended on us doing well.  That’s a lot of pressure on them and on us.”  “Some of the teachers told us we had to try really hard or we wouldn’t go to the next grade.”  “We had ‘March Madness’ test reviews and that meant no new stuff, just reviews every day. It can get pretty boring.”  “I think the test and all the reviewing gets in the heads of students and teachers and stresses everybody out.  It’s just one test.  I don’t see why it should count so much when not every kid tests well or might just have a bad day and fail.”
    There were several other observations about testing.  “Some kids don’t try very hard and seem to think they will be passed anyway.”  “Not everybody’s Lexile level is high, and some students just don’t do well.  I don’t think one test is a good way to judge teachers or a school.  What about all the other things we have done the rest of the year?”  “Kids talk about the tests a lot, but only to each other. We don’t think it’s fair because a lot of the stuff we learn is not on the test and a lot of things we’ve never seen before are on it.”  “The tests don’t seem to be about what we are really learning.”  “I don’t think test scores reflect how my teachers do their job.  Some of the best teachers have students that don’t pass.  It’s possible to have one bad day and still be a good student.” “I’ve never taken the tests because my parents think they are not fair.”  I asked this student how promotion occurs and the response was “my parents meet with the Principal and they talk about my grades and my progress every year.”   Each of the four also mentioned that “not every parent expects their kid to do well like mine does.” One of them said “we know who passed and who didn’t.  Kids know stuff adults think we don’t notice, but we do.”
    All three 8th graders said “if money were no object, I would buy a new laptop for every student, new computer labs and a smartphone for every kid (because computers are for teachers but kids know how to use their phones to do just about anything.)”  Other purchases mentioned were new PE equipment, a dedicated art room with plenty of space to display student work and a music room with a lot of different instruments for kids to play.”
    After listening to their answers, I remain convinced that 1) we don’t listen enough or ask enough to discover what our students have to say, and 2) their honesty and observations are insightful, intelligent and need to be a part of any conversations about what does and does not work in education. I will leave you with one final quote from these delightful students; “It’s not the school that makes it a good place, it’s the teachers and students that go there.”  Amen and amen.
 
Jim Arnold
    
I used the same list of questions for every student:
What do you enjoy most about school?
    What do you dislike?
What is your favorite subject.
    I noticed you are in music classes?  Why?
    Does music help you with other classes?
    Should every student be given a chance to take PE?
    If you could, what classes would you add to your school day?
    What classes would you eliminate from the curriculum?
    Is the school day too long, too short or just right?
    Do standards in every class improve learning for you personally?
    Do standards in every class improve teaching?
    What are some of the things your favorite teachers do that makes them your favorite?
    Describe some of the technology available in your classes.
    Are you allowed to use cell phones in classes?  If so, in what ways?
    Do you stress over GA Milestones?
Do your friends or classmates worry about them? Do students talk about the tests in general? If so, what are some of the comments you have heard?
How much time do you spend in classes preparing for GA Milestones in the fall?  In the spring?
    Do your test scores reflect how good your teachers are?
    What do your test scores on the Milestones say about you?  About other students?
    Do a school’s test scores tell you how good or bad a school is?
    Do all students try their best on GA Milestones tests?
    What do you read for fun?
    What motivates you to do well?
    How much time do you spend on homework or studying each night?
    If money were no object what would you buy for your classroom or school?
    Do you have any questions you would like to ask?
 
   


3/15/17

A Modest Proposal

  HB 610 was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 23 2017 by Representative King of Iowa and Representatives Harris and Franks of Arizona.  The bill is a study in brevity by current standards (10 pages in its entirety compared to the 2400 pages of the Affordable Care Act or NCLB legislation of over 1.000 pages) and in its present form is a legislative haiku that says a lot in comparatively few words.
    The bill’s purpose is to “distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.”
    You could probably hear public school parents, teachers and students cheering when they find out about the second part.  Nobody but a dyed in the wool hard core Democrat whose kids don’t go to public school likes school lunches in their current state of culinary purgatory, and the nuts and twigs kids are presently served and do not eat are universally despised by those expected to eat them.  The first part is a little more problematic.
    Section 102 of the bill (whose short title is the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” states a) “the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 is repealed and b) “the authority of the Secretary under this title is limited to evaluating State applications under section 104 and making payments to the States under section 103.  The Secretary shall not impose any further requirements on States with respect to elementary and secondary education beyond the retirements of this title.”
 My goodness!  In one fell swoop the US Department of Education is limited to distributing Federal educational funds to states in the form of vouchers to states on a per student basis according to the number of eligible students in that state in public, private and home-school settings. After Arne Duncan and the RTTT debacle that in itself is a breath of fresh air. States complete an application that says they will distribute the Federal dollars received to local educational agencies or to parents of eligible students to use for tuition for public, private or home-school students “in a manner that promotes competition and choices in education.” So the Secretary’s only jobs will be to determine the number of eligible students in each state in a given year and divide the money by how many states get a block grant according to whether or not they meet the criteria in Section 105.  The money goes directly to the schools where the child is enrolled OR goes to the parents of homeschoolers and is considered “assistance.”  One percent of the money may be reserved by LEA’s for administrative costs.
    Alrighty then. Let’s skip over the details about why we send money to Washington DC to be sent back to the states and how parents will use or not use this money for the education of their children and tax credits and how Mrs. Devos or any future Secretary of Education will determine which state applications are approved and which are not and ask a couple of burning questions.
    First, though, let’s look at the money.  The USDOE had a budget of about $70.7 billion in 2016.  That’s about 3% of the total US budget and includes both discretionary and mandatory dollars.  The USDOE has maintained a disproportionate degree of control over state education compared to the amount of money they distribute to states since 1965. The Federal money provided to Georgia for education in 2014 was about $1.1 billion, or close to 8% of the state’s educational budget.  These funds were in the form of Title I (Financial assistance to LEA’s for the education of low income families; Title II (School library resources, textbooks and instructional material); Title III (supplementary educational centers and services; Title  IV (Educational research and training); Title V (Grants to strengthen state DOE’s) and Title VI (General provisions).  Titles III-VI become state responsibilities and I and II are modified under the bill.
   The GADOE Spring 2016 FTE for public school students was 1,749,316 and the 790 private schools in GA totaled 146,525 students. The number of homeschooled students is estimated by the Coalition of Responsible Home Education as between 54,192 and 72,256 students.  Just for today let’s round those number and say 1,750,000 public school students, 150,000 private school students and 70,000 homeschoolers for a total of 1,970,00 students K-12 in Georgia.  Title I eligibility is a function of parent income, and Georgia’s Free and Reduced Lunch percentages are commensurate with the percentage of students qualifying for Title I status.  FRL percentages in Georgia in the October 2016 FTE counts were 61.72%, so multiplying 1,970,000 times 61.72% (figuring the same percentage of students for public, private and homeschool students -it won’t be, but let’s not quibble about a few million dollars here or there) equals 1,215,884 students.  Let’s round that up to 1,216,000 students. Using the long division I learned in public school before Common Core, that comes to $1.1 billion divided by 1,216,000 equals somewhere in the neighborhood of $904 and change per student.  Let’s subtract some for administrative costs and so forth, and say we’re talking about $850 per student in voucher money. So now we arrive at the questions.
    Will the students using this money for any school - public, private or homeschool - in Georgia be subject to the testing regimen currently required in public schools?  Will private schools accepting this money as tuition be required to abide by Federal guidelines under IDEA?  Will private schools accept this money from students if one or both of those strings are attached? I’m pretty sure I know the answers to those questions before I even asked.  If testing and political “accountability” were designed to improve education and, in fact, did improve education don’t you think private schools would already have adopted the idea? Of course they would, and would be requiring standardized testing in every grade in order to ensure “accountability” for their parents.  But they don’t. Not one. Zero. Nada.  I’m also guessing most private schools wouldn’t think $900 in a partial tuition payment (many charge in the neighborhood of $10,000 per student per year in tuition) would be worth ANY strings attached.
    Neither do I believe public schools would be loath to compete with private schools for students or tuition dollars IF the playing field was leveled and testing and IDEA guidelines were in place for all students that brought their vouchers with them.  Public schools now take EVERY student that walks through their doors, included those with little or no English skills, mild, moderate or severe physical or mental disabilities and no matter their level (or dearth) of prior schooling and achievement.  They also test their students to death in the name of accountabilism with a testing regimen designed to suck the joy out of school and teaching for political purposes and not to improve instruction.  Despite those obstacles and primarily because of the heroic work of teachers that succeed in spite of the system and not because of it, the graduation rate last school year was 79.2% for Georgia public schools.  Most private schools have an acceptance rate of about 85% (depending on the school), unanimously do NOT elect to participate in the state and local testing opportunities and have a graduation rate at or above 90%.  They also advertise smaller classes (20 or less) than public schools can offer.  Does it make you wonder why politicians fail to hold up that particular model when talking about “reforming” public schools? Perhaps the Georgia legislature should follow the lead of the US Congress and withdraw completely from the phony standardized student testing business. The model seems to work well for private schools, doesn’t it?
    So, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the bill passes and public and private schools do compete with each other for students and Federal money.  I believe that good private schools have their place and are an important part of the educational process for a lot of kids, but if they are going to accept Federal or state dollars (public money) for tuition they should play by the same rules that public schools do.  Unless, of course, the people that make the rules for public schools- you know, the same ones that already send their kids to private schools - don’t want a level playing field.  I’m guessing that $850 and change per eligible student in money from the Feds is not nearly enough incentive to entice a private school to embrace either testing or IDEA, and I’m betting not one politician is willing to propose that if no testing and smaller class size works for private schools maybe the same things would work for public schools. Maybe this could even be a model for those “failing” schools Governor Deal is so desperate to help.  That might just be my highly developed sense of cynicism at work, or it might just be an accurate assessment of political intentions.  Let the posturing begin!
    

9/23/16

Magic Beans and Silver Bullets


  Magic Beans and Silver Bullets

   I have a question for you.  If someone said they had a magic solution to your local educational issues that guaranteed your child or grandchild – along with every other child in your community - would be educationally successful and academically competitive with every other child in your state would you be interested in hearing about it?  Of course you would.  “I have such a solution” said Governor Deal, “but I can’t give it to you unless you pass an amendment to the Georgia Constitution.”  Hold on there, pardner.  So you’re telling me that state control is the only way to improve schools designated by the state as failing?  That you can only tell us the secret answer if we give you even more control over educational finances than you already have?  Isn’t that rather childish of the man that’s supposed to be leading our state?  He knows the answer to academic achievement for all but won’t share it unless he gets his way?  The Governor already has the resources and the authority to implement widespread changes to the way schools operate.  Why is it necessary to change the Constitution and create another layer of government control?  I think the Governor would rather those that disagree just keep their mouths shut while he sells those magic beans.
     The Governor’s OSD is modeled after the state- run Recovery School District imposed post-Katrina on failing schools in New Orleans LA.  Turning those schools over to charter operators did not magically improve them, firing all the administrators and teachers and replacing them with Teach for America people did not suddenly cause student achievement to soar and competition did not produce promised educational improvement.  In fact, things quickly got worse and then deteriorated from there.  On May 19, 2016 Governor Edwards signed Act 91 into law transferring the schools back to their original districts before July 1, 2019 and ended the RSD experiment.  No achievement gaps were closed, children were indeed left behind and the RSD was described as one of the poorest performing districts in one of the lowest performing states.
     Michigan has an Education Achievement Authority.  It has no defenders and is charitably described as an educational disaster area.  Michigan legislators are looking for ways to disband the EAA as painlessly as possible.
     Tennessee created the Achievement School District to take control of the state’s lowest 5% of schools and move them into the top 25% within 5 years.  Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that after four years all of the schools taken over by the state were still in the bottom 5% except one; it was now in the bottom 7%.  An audit by the Division of State Audits said the ASD “lacks control over basic functions” and that the Comptroller’s Office was forced to “seize control of fiscal and federal processes.”  Not the words of encouragement you want to hear about the agency that’s supposed to revolutionize education.

Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada are discussing the possibility of similar state takeovers.  Can you say “model legislation from ALEC?”
     Not all Georgians are supportive of the Governor’s efforts, leading to the Governor’s comments praising school superintendents for “keeping their mouths shut” and accusing local boards of “allowing failure to fester” for generations. A dozen or so school boards – some of them with no schools on the OSD takeover list - have had the temerity to pass resolutions against his plan.

     The Governor forgot to mention the research that supports his plan, and said in its defense that “we have to do something.”  He also forgot to mention that education in Georgia has been underfunded by billions of dollars since he became governor.  Even with the increases to the budget this year, his administration has failed to meet the required funding levels once.  Not even close. He also forgot to mention that the poorer districts with higher percentages of students in poverty are affected to a greater degree by the state’s underfunding, and that fewer teachers, furlough days, more students, higher insurance costs and increased transportation costs have hurt these systems to a greater degree than the larger, more affluent systems.  So what he’s saying is that even though he’s done nothing to provide basic educational funding required by law he wants you to trust him that this proposal – even with its failure in other states and even though it sets up an additional bureaucracy at who knows what cost - is what we really need in Georgia because he’s pretty sure it will work.  But hey, even when it fails it will have made a lot of for-profit charter operators a lot of money and the Governor will be out of office, so it’s a win-win for him.
    There is a correlation between schools listed as “failing” and poverty that no politician/legislator wants to address or even acknowledge.  Look at the list of schools on the takeover sheet.  See if you notice the common denominators of high minority and/or high poverty and poor achievement levels on standardized tests.  We might argue about the growing opt-out movement among parents and educators tired of the negative effects of standardized testing on their kids, on teachers and on instructional time. Real educators know that test scores don’t reflect what students have learned, standardized tests don’t measure what they say they measure and basing any educational decision on the results of standardized testing is educational malpractice.  We might also argue all day about the value and fallacies of using standardized tests to measure academic performance, the zip code effect, if standardized tests are so great then why haven’t private schools jumped on the high stakes testing bandwagon and we could throw in the debate about the effectiveness of school choice and privatization at alleviating academic deficiencies, but instead let’s look at exactly why it is that school reformers only seem to be interested in initiatives and silver bullets that aren’t supported by any research whatsoever.  Could it be that education for those in poverty is not the goal, or is it that addressing poverty as the root cause of those pesky educational issues is hard and inconvenient?  The answer, of course, is yes.

    The Coleman report, introduced in 1966, is often used as evidence that school funding has little or no effect on student achievement.  Closer examination of the results of that survey have also led many to the conclusion that “student background and socioeconomic status are more important in determining educational outcomes than differences in the quality of schools or teachers.”  Whoa!  Wait a minute!  You mean schools don’t really matter?  No, I don’t mean that.  What I mean is that schools don’t matter as much as people think.  In the recent frenzy to implement data driven, market based educational reforms with no substantive research to indicate they have any effectiveness whatsoever, reformers have – intentionally, some say – lost sight of the fact that schools and education cannot be fixed without first attempting to find solutions to the broader issue of social and economic inequality.  What really matters is “schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context.”  Mom and Dad matter.  Reading at home matters.  Books at home matter.  Parental expectations matter.  Family matters.  A lot.

      Wait a minute – so you say that it’s not all the fault of bad teachers or public schools or renegade school boards or stupid administrators or students that don’t try to pass the tests or kids that don’t know how to behave or teacher unions?  Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying.  We cannot address the achievement gap by testing students out of poverty or by raising expectations so they will learn faster or to a greater degree. We cannot improve student learning by firing all the teachers and replacing them with well-intentioned people from other walks of life any more than we can improve student learning by amending the Georgia Constitution.  We cannot improve educational outcomes for students unless we address basic needs like food, health, safety and a kid’s life at home.  Good teaching does make a difference and good schools do matter, but only up to a point.

     “So there’s no hope?” you ask, “there’s no way that all the kids can be above average and everyone can go to college and succeed and ace every Pearson test and that we can raise expectations and standards and make everything OK again?”  I can almost hear the sob in your voice as you ask.  I will tell you that trying to find magic bullets like the OSD and charters and vouchers and data driven decision making and privatization and competition will all fail, first because they do not address the underlying issue of poverty and second because their primary intent is not the improvement of the educational process or bettering the lot of students in poverty but profit for those hell -bent on using public monies for private gain.  I can also tell you that addressing basic societal inequalities will go a long way toward solving the issues but they will never completely disappear because of the gigantic bell curve that governs life, and the Lake Woebegone Effect is not going to make sure everyone scores a 32 on the ACT, goes to college and lives happily ever after.  There are some models to follow, but they won’t involve hedge fund managers or for-profit charter operators and won’t serve to make any of your supporters rich.  If you are an educator, you probably already know about the ideas below and many others, but if you are the Governor or one of his advisors that stands to profit from the OSD, you don’t want to hear it.  It’s so much simpler just to try once again to legislate excellence.  Good luck with that.

 








 

6/19/16

Deal or No Deal

Deal or No Deal


     Most Georgians are old enough to remember Sonny Perdue’s gift card program for teachers.  Sonny heard that teachers were spending their own money on pencils, paper and classroom supplies, so, out of his great concern for the welfare of Georgia’s teachers in an election year, he authorized about $10 million dollars in $100 gift cards, one for every teacher in every classroom in Georgia.  Rather than raise the amount of money available for teachers to spend on supplies and classroom materials, or, God forbid, give them a raise, good ole’ Sonny - the inventor of austerity cuts for education - saw that he might get a lot of votes for what amounted to a miniscule investment.  Sure it was an election year gimmick, but he showed his concern for teachers by handing out those cards and by imposing the 65% rule that said libraries and media centers and counselors weren’t really valid educational expenditures.  Go Fish - I mean, go figure.
    Governor Deal liked the austerity cuts so much he built upon the idea that balancing the state budget on the backs of teachers and students in public schools was not only an acceptable method but fit really well with the narrative of failing public schools and bad teachers and poor test scores and that the real silver bullets to educational progress were things like privatization and charters and vouchers.  The GADOE lists these austerity cuts (rounded):
 
$135 million in 2003             $283 million in 2004
$333 million in 2005            $333 million in 2006
$170 million in 2007             $143 million in 2008
$496 million in 2009             $1.4 billion in 2010
$1.1 billion in 2011            $1.1 billion in 2012
$1.1 billion in 2013            $1.1 billion in 2014.
$747 million for 2015            $466 million in 2016

    What happened was predictable.  Districts with a solid tax base made cuts and lost teachers but were still able to provide most important services.  The ones that were really hurt were the poorer systems.  They had few financial reserves to fall back on, and their tax base did not allow them to absorb the massive cuts from state funds.  They cut teachers, services and shortened the school year by as much as 20 days.  My colleagues in other states didn’t know what furlough days were.  We explained it to them.   
    There were 1,615,066 students in Georgia public schools k-12 and 120,660 teachers to teach them in 2009.  In 2013 the GADOE reported a little over 1,700,000 students and 112,177  public school teachers k-12.  Anyway you count it, public education has lost over 8,500 teachers, gained a significant number of students and class sizes in public schools have increased dramatically.  Add to that issue years with no raises, layoffs or RIF's in many systems, furloughs that actually take money out of teachers’ pockets, higher property taxes, higher insurance costs, the loss of planning time, the elimination of professional development funds, the lack of instructional funds, the elimination of band, chorus, orchestra, art and elective classes, the destruction of motivation and creativity through the institution of phony magic bullet reforms, a continuation of the “blame the teacher” mindset, an insistence on teaching to the test and for the test, the growing numbers of children in poverty, the proliferation of useless standardized testing at the state and local levels, the junk science of value added models of teacher evaluation, unrealistic expectations for students and teachers, the dearth of resources for students with special needs or remediation, the insanity of proclaiming “if everyone is not succeeding then everyone must be failing”, the inanity of student learning objectives for non-tested subjects, the implementation of Common Core standards by decree with no instructional support, books that are older than the kids they are issued to and it’s an absolute miracle that people still want to be teachers.
    Let’s be honest.  The larger systems will, because of their tax base, be able to give a one time 2 to 3% raise for all employees.  Not just teachers, all employees.  Teachers don’t work without janitors and lunchroom workers and secretaries and bus drivers and administrators anymore than legislators work without lobbyists or re-election in mind.  The smaller systems, because of 13 years of successive cuts in state funds, will have to use the money to lower class sizes or reduce furlough days or make up for some of the other things - you know, staff development, classified employee insurance, books, pencils, paper, busses - they have had to cut more and more as state support dwindled more and more.  If the Governor really wanted to give teachers a raise, it would be pretty simple.  He could do what every other Governor has done when it came time to raise teacher pay; make adjustments to the state salary schedule.  Since he chose not to do so, I suspect, just as with Governor Perdue’s gift cards, an ulterior motive.  It’s not an election year for the Governor, and he is in his last term in office.  He does, however, really want to amend the Constitution to give him the power to take over “failing” schools and appoint an unelected Superintendent that reports to him so together they can “save” poor kids and the educational process, but I’m pretty sure the timing is coincidental.  So is the Governor giving teachers a raise or is it an incentive for teachers to look a little more favorably on the ideas and plans for the Opportunity School District?  I’m not sure about that one, but if I cut my kid’s allowance for 13 months in a row while increasing his chores and then in the 14th month recognized the error of my ways and give him an extra $.25 for one month only I’m pretty sure I know what his reaction would be.  Same as mine.  I’m not buying it. Neither should you.
    

5/29/16

Splasher Six

Splasher Six is the newsletter of the 100th Bomb Group Foundation.  It was also the assembly point for B-17's of the 100th over England in WW II.

   Robert L. “Bobby” Black was born in the sleepy little town of Alderson, West Virginia on September 7, 1923.  Standing on Main Street it’s not hard to imagine the Alderson HS Band leading the 4th of July parade down the street with their version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with batons and instruments flashing, followed by the fire truck and a few floats and cars sporting beauty queens and local dignitaries and sponsored by local businesses and clubs.   Aldersonians, like most Americans in most places in 1940, described their town as being in the middle of “God’s country,” and they were convinced they wouldn’t be happy living anywhere else.  It was an All-American place to grow up, an All-American place to live and an All-American place to be from when you went out into the world to defend your country from those that wished her ill.
    Bobby graduated from Alderson High School in June of 1941 with 31 of his classmates.  He had played baseball, played trumpet in the AHS band, and had been part of the group of four young musicians that won the AHS talent show with their version of “Dipsy Doodle.”  The $5 first prize sounded like a lot more then than it does now.  Bobby and his buddies all talked about whether to enlist or wait to be drafted and which branch of the service they preferred.  It was never a matter of whether or not they would serve, just a continuing debate about how.  He worked at Carbide and Carbon in Charleston WV, and in December 1942 went by the Navy recruiter’s office after work on Friday to enlist.  The secretary told him the recruiter had left for the day and to come back Monday.  That evening he rode the train back to Alderson, and walked in the door of his parents’ home, looked through the mail on the table in the foyer and found the yellow envelope with his name on the outside.  He knew what it was, and opened it to find:
December 18, 1942
ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION
The President of the United States,
To   Robert           Lee         Black
Order No. 709467
GREETING:
       You know the rest.
  Bobby began his career in the US Army at the induction center in Charlotte, WV.  in January 1943. He was assigned to the AAF, went through six weeks of basic training in Miami, Florida, sent to gunnery school at Laredo Texas, radio school at Sioux Falls, South Dakota and, upon successful completion in September 1943, was promoted to sergeant, and, best of all, received a 10 day furlough home.  After those few days at home impressing his relatives and friends in his Class A uniform, he was sent by train to Kearns AFB near Salt Lake City, Utah for an assignment to a crew.  Upon his placement as ROG to the crew of Lt. Clarke Johnson’s B-17 training crew, Bobby met his new best friend, waist gunner Bobby Brooks.  Now they had a complete crew, except for a navigator.  Lt. Hahn, the Bombardier, took on the task of navigation as well as his own duties.
    After a few weeks of flying together, the crew was transferred to Avon Park, Florida for more advanced training.  It seemed to Bobby they flew every day, and sometimes two or three times a day.  He filled in the times he wasn’t flying by replying to the constant stream of letters from his mother, and the occasional ones from his girlfriends, his brothers and his Dad.  He also continued to listen at every opportunity - and there were a lot of them - to the “Big Bands” that provided entertainment at training bases across the country.  He heard everybody from Glen Miller to the Dorseys, and loved every minute of it.
    After Avon Park, the crew was sent to Langley AFB in Virginia to train as Pathfinders.  They also got a new navigator, but he washed out.  Bobby and the officers on his crew flew a new plane to Scotland, and learned then that Lt. Johnson had volunteered them for the 100th Bomb Group based at Thorpe Abbotts.
    They were assigned a new plane upon their arrival at Thorpe Abbotts.  It was a shiny aluminum B-17G, #42-102624, and, after a couple of weeks of practice and watching other crews take off and come back from missions, they were assigned to fly their first mission on May 24, 1944.  Berlin was the target.
   The day they all had known was coming was finally here, and all the training seemed so far away now.  A short jeep ride to the hardstand where their plane was waiting and they began their pre-flight checks.  Bobby checked his radios, put the code book for the day on his desk and checked his oxygen bottle and the connections for his electrically heated flying suit.  His parachute and flak suit went on the fuselage floor by his table, and he checked the throat mike. He had done all this a thousand times before, but today it felt like everything was new.  He guessed it was because this was their first real mission; the first time when the bad guys would be shooting back at them. He saw the blue flare as it went into the sky over the airfield, and the relative silence was suddenly broken by the sound of the powerful Wright- Cyclone engines starting.  Every 60 seconds, a fully loaded B-17 roared into the air.  It was 5:30am, they were now the third plane in line for take off in the foggy, dark British morning just before sunrise when the waist door of the plane flew open, a guy in a flying suit and carrying a leather satchel climbed in and announced “I’m Lt. Thomas Tracy.  I’ll be your navigator this little trip” and started forward to the navigator's’ position in the nose of the plane. “Glad to have you on board” said the pilot.  “Let’s get this bird in the air and be on our way.”  It was evident Lt. Johnson had been expecting a new crew member for this mission but had not thought it necessary to mention it to the rest of the crew.  In about the time it took Lt. Tracy to find his position in the plane, Lt. Johnson pushed the throttle to rev all four of the engines to a deafening roar, released the brakes, and the plane rolled down the runway packed with 2,600 gallons of gas, ten men and 10 500 pound bombs containing high explosives.  The plane seemed to take a long time to reach the take-off speed, but Bobby finally felt the nose lift as the powerful engines pulled the heavily loaded plane into the air.     
    After a couple of hours, the bombers crossed into Germany.  The leader of the 100th on that mission was Major Fitzgerald, flying in the lead plane and on his first mission as Group Leader.  This lack of experience led directly to the delays in forming up in England and to the scattered formation as they crossed the Channel well behind their designated position in the bomber stream.
   The German fighters flew to confront the bombers as they followed the course of the river Elbe to Berlin.  The fighters approached the gap in the bomber stream from a height of 24,500 feet and headed directly for the out of position planes of the 100th.  The FW 190’s were flying toward the B-17 formation, and Bobby heard the call to his crew “German fighters, 11 o’clock high” but he couldn’t see them from his position.  The lead German fighter flown by Lt. Konig attacked the bomber of Lt. Hoskinson in the lead position of the low element of the 349th formation.  His fighter was either hit in the cockpit or his blindness in one eye did not allow him to see Lt. Hoskinson’s plane as he led the attack, and the two planes collided in mid-air.  Both seemed to disappear in a gigantic fireball and pieces of metal filled the air where moments ago there had been a B-17.  Only a few seconds later, Bobby felt his aircraft shudder violently from hits from the cannon of Lt. Schrangl’s FW 190.  The attack only lasted for a few seconds, but the plane seemed to shake uncontrollably as the FW 190 pilot “walked” his stream of fire down the entire fuselage of the bomber from nose to tail.  Lt. Schrangl had fired all his weapons simultaneously for a full three second burst.  That meant Bobby’s B-17 absorbed 30.75 kg. of metal ( 68 pounds) and 4.65 kg. of explosive (10  pounds) in one pass from the German fighter.  Pieces of metal and loose items bounced through the fuselage, and Bobby was thrown off his machine gun perch, hit the top of the cabin, bounced around and fell to the floor.  There was dirt, dust and clouds of white smoke in his cabin and in the bomb bay, and he didn’t hear anything in reply when he called for the pilot on the intercom.  He saw Dave Scofield cycle his ball turret, open the hatch and climb out into the fuselage. His hand, arm, shoulder and neck were bleeding profusely. Bobby did what he could to stop the bleeding with his emergency medical kit, gave Dave one of the morphine injections to help with the pain and looked around to assess what had, in the blink of an eye, become a desperate situation.
   The stricken bomber had quickly fallen out of formation and begun a long, relatively slow descent to the left.  The wounded B-17 was still making defensive moves in the air, indicating at least one of the pilots was still alive. There was no communication with the cockpit, so the lines must have been cut in the fighter attack.  The plane turned west, apparently on a return course for home, and continued to trail smoke and lose altitude.  One of the German fighters saw the wounded bomber as it continued down and away from the formation, opened the throttle and began to pursue the crippled bomber.  Whoever was controlling the flight of the damaged B-17 must have seen the fighter lining up for another attack and made another turn to the south.  The FW-190 attacked the bomber from the rear, and, intent on making what he thought was an easy kill, flew into a barrage of .50 caliber bullets from the tail guns of Larry Barger.  The German pilot saw his bullets hit the engines on the right wing of the bomber just as the big plane began another defensive circle, this time to the right, placing the cockpit in the line of the fighter’s fire.  Just as the bomber was taking heavy fire from the fighter, the FW-190 absorbed hits from the tail gunner of Bobby’s plane.  The fighter began to smoke profusely as the pilot pulled out of the attack and tried to make it back to his base.  The 2nd attack had started a fire in #3 engine, put more holes in the wings and put more rounds through the cockpit and nose area of the plane.  Lt. Hahn yelled over the intercom “I’m dropping the bomb load.”  Bob was amazed the bomb bay doors still worked.  He heard Hahn again yell “5,000 feet, get out! Get out!”  They headed toward the waist door and the tail gunner hit it with his shoulder and fell out.  Just then the plane broke in half at the bulkhead by the radio room and Bob found himself falling through the air.  His parachute didn’t open, so he started throwing it out of it’s bag with his hands.  It caught the air and opened, and he quickly found himself on the ground.  He was captured by two young German boys, and a squad of German soldiers saved him from being beaten to death by angry townspeople gathered near the burning wreck of his plane.  Seven of Bobby’s crew didn’t make it out, and his best friend Bobby Brooks died in the crash.
    Bobby was taken to a local jail, escorted to Dulag Luft for interrogation, and ended up at Stalag Luft IV near the Baltic Sea.  He and his buddies “walked the wire” for hours at a time, smoked constantly, were almost always cold and were always hungry.  They lived on potatoes, kohlrabi and Red Cross packages.  When the Russians got too close, Bobby and a few thousand of his best friends rode in a line of cattle cars to Nuremburg.  After a few weeks there, they were forced to walk the 100 miles or so to Moosburg.  On April 29, 1945 Combat Command A of the 14th Armored Division of General Patton’s 3rd Army approached the gates of the Moosburg POW camp.  “Better duck, boys.  In just a few minutes the war’s coming through” an officer told them.  They were liberated the next day, and spent several weeks in Camp Lucky Strike on the French coast before boarding a boat for home.
    Bobby insists he is not a hero, that the heroes are the guys that didn’t get to come home.  Like many survivors, he is puzzled about why he made it out of the plane and seven other guys didn’t, why he wasn’t severely wounded and the other two guys were, why he survived as a kriegie and others didn’t.  “It’s what anybody would have done under the circumstances” he once said.  I disagree.  It’s true that after being drafted he traveled to places he had never been, ate better food and had better clothes than at any other time in his life to that point and learned to be a part of a group of men that didn’t think it was unusual that they were going to war for their country because their country needed them.  Patriotism was taken as a given for these guys. I once asked Bob if he had ever been scared.  He thought for a moment, and replied “I really didn’t have time to be scared on the plane or when we were being shot at.  I was too busy trying to remember what I was supposed to do to help my crew to be scared.  Later on, in the camps and as a POW, I sometimes worried that I might be shot by an angry guard or accidentally bombed by one of our planes, but that fear was temporary.  My buddies wouldn’t let me be scared alone and I wouldn’t let them give up either.  We helped each other stay alive by preserving hope.”  Bobby and his buddies are American heroes in every sense of the word.  
    Bobby is 92 now, and lives in Hendersonville NC.  His wife passed away last year, but his son Bob Jr. lives next door.  He lives a quiet life, and still doesn’t think of himself as a hero.  Real heroes never do, do they?
Sgt. Black’s story is detailed in a book “It Seems Like Another Life” found on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B012LEVB5K