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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     



 

5/18/16

Potty Training

      President Obama has met the law of unintended consequences.  The Presidential decree prohibiting public schools from discriminating against those students that self-identify as transgender by forcing them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological gender effectively creates a political firestorm from what was essentially a non-issue for schools.  "There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. "This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies."  The USDOE and the DOJ created a tag-team to body slam schools that might resist their social engineering efforts by threatening to withhold Federal funds from schools, districts or states that disagreed with the policy.  DOJ and Education Department officials repeatedly emphasized that their interpretation of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law in education, is that schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate based on a student's sex, including a student's transgender status.
    Members of Congress, as you might expect, immediately objected. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee stated "This is the kind of issue that parents, schools boards, communities, students and teachers should be allowed to work out in a practical way with a maximum amount of respect for the individual rights of all students. Insofar as the federal government goes, it's up to Congress to write the law, not the executive departments.”  
    I don’t think most people are concerned with the possibility of of criminal behavior from the kids suffering from gender confusion or an advanced form of identity crisis.  Most people are concerned with perverts that would take advantage of such a situation by intruding themselves into what has been one of mankind’s most private and gender specific moments.  We all go to the bathroom, but are reluctant to talk about it or share our experiences with anyone but Mom or a doctor.
    To have the President make such a declaration on behalf of the 0.2 or 0.3 percent of the population seems sort of like killing ants with B-2 bombers.  You can do it, but it’s probably not the best use of the resources at your disposal.  It’s also a textbook illustration of the law of the hammer as attributed to Abraham Maslow; "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
    So just how much money does Georgia get for educational purposes from the Federal government, and how would schools be affected if Georgia education leaders told the President that he wasn’t about to dictate who could pee where?
    In 2012, Georgia received somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion for education from the Federal government, primarily in funds from the USDOE for students with disabilities, money to assist low income students and schools and districts, school nutrition and a few other services.  In 2015 the amount was around $1.7 billion.  Those dollars have increased in relative importance for school districts over the last 15 years.  Look at it this way; in 2002 there were about 1,460,000 students in Georgia public schools.  In 2016 that number rose to over 1,749,000 students.  Georgia spent $15,000 per student (FTE) in 2001, but that amount has dropped to just under $8,000 per student for FY 2017.  We won’t argue about the reasons for that reduction here; just remember that Governor Deal likes austerity cuts so much that he calls a reduction in those cuts an increase in educational funding.
    Suppose that Georgia political leaders make a stand on the bathroom issue and tell the President and John King and Loretta Lynch that Georgia students are going  #1 and #2 where they have always oned and twoed and the Federal slice of Georgia’s educational pie gets taken away.  Don’t think for a minute that anybody anywhere in Georgia can expect Georgia politicians to close the Go Fish Georgia Educational Center to help make up for the loss of Federal dollars or that local funds can come anywhere near making up the deficit.  That means three things for every Georgia school district.
    First, school breakfast and lunch programs will either close or become dependent on local or state money.  Considering some of the recent nutritional offerings as a result of The First Lady’s foray into the public school nutrition program that may not seem like a bad thing until you consider that in many poor and low income areas school breakfast and school lunch are just about the only meals a lot of kids can count on.  How many of these schools continue the breakfast and lunch programs during the summer for those very reasons?  A bunch.
    Second, let’s take a look at the services for students with disabilities paid for with Federal dollars.  Most public schools in the US indicate their SWD populations at or near 13% of the total student population.  1,749,000 students in public schools in Georgia times .13 equals 227,370 Georgia kids with learning disabilities of varying types.  As a general rule, the more severe the student disability or handicap the more money it requires to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.  That’s Federal law, ladies and gentlemen, and required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, originally enacted by Congress as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975 and revised a couple of times since then.  The goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.  This is not an optional provision for local schools or districts.  The act requires that “public schools create an Individualized Education Plan for each student who is found to be eligible under both the federal and state eligibility/disability standards.”  Don’t kid yourself.  That’s expensive on every level.  What will happen when the money disappears?  That part of the law will not go away, but once again will have to come from local and state funds.
  The third loss will come in the form of Federal Title I funds.  Title I funds are Federal money distributed through the GADOE “to local educational agencies and public schools with high numbers or percentages of poor children to help ensure that all children meet challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards.”  These funds provide teachers, equipment and materials to low income students, and are in addition to any funds provided by the state to help students in poverty. They also provide remedial services and after school programs in many schools.
    These are the very funds that the President, the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General say they will cut in the name of transgender bathroom equality.  Any way you look at it, that’s bullying.  Picking on the very students that can least afford it, creating a mountain of Federal rulings that will, in appearance and effect come at the expense of those at the financial mercy of the government for food and FAPE should be called what it is.  www.stopbullying.gov says that bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious lasting problems.”
    So let me see if I have this right - the President says he thinks we need a new bathroom policy because somebody might not get to pee where they really want to, and to enforce it he will use the power of the Federal government to take away funds that provide meals for poor kids, teachers and equipment and programs for students in poverty and money that is used to help educate students with disabilities.  Sounds to me like somebody needs to tell the President about bullying being a national problem….and not just with kids.  To borrow Mr. Twain’s observation “the departmental interpreters of the laws in Washington ... can always be depended on to take any reasonably good law and interpret the common sense all out of it.”  To threaten to take away Federal funds for the neediest of students over an issue that can best be solved at a local level is not leadership, but bullying at its basest level.  It would also be, if enforced as promised, child abuse on a national scale.


2/26/16

A Bad Idea By Any Other Name is Still A Bad Idea

    My Dad was a Police Officer for 26 years in Jackson MS.  My brothers and I were subject to almost daily interrogations from a trained professional.  Partly because he controlled the car keys and the family finances and partly because we had a healthy respect for his occasional use of corporal punishment, we were denied the use of our 5th amendment rights concerning self-incrimination. We did, however, learn from our mistakes, and became experts at answering his questions in ways that did not, at least too much, incriminate us and our teenage friends.  We also became, through observation of and participation in Dad’s investigative techniques, experts at detecting bovine scatology when we heard it.  He once pointed to a newspaper story of a Mississippi politician that proposed a 75% raise for members of the Legislature.  Public outcry was immediate and overwhelmingly negative, so a 2nd politician came immediately to his colleagues’ defense.  “My friends, in these difficult economic times when so many families in our state are struggling to make ends meet, I say there is no justification for our Legislators to receive a 75% raise.  Therefore, I propose that we save hundreds of thousands of dollars for the citizens of our state by cutting that proposed raise to not a dime more than 25%.  That is the only way I could, in good conscience, support such a measure when our state is faced with the harsh reality of the current economic situation.” We immediately saw the lesson our Dad was trying to teach us.
    The story presents a way public figures can make bad ideas more palatable for the public, but regardless of how you present it, a bad idea is a bad idea no matter the degree to which it is implemented.  Cutting the percentage that student test scores count from 50% to 30% for public school teachers and from 70% to 40% for Principals is a good idea but does not solve the problem.  The real issue here is that the Georgia Legislature has allowed student test scores any place in evaluations of public school educators.  Consider this statement from the American Statistical Association Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment” April 8, 2014 Executive Summary:


  • “VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure
potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.
  • VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative –
attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in
the model.
  • Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a
different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to
evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.
  • VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes
aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to
individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find
that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the
majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level
conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences.”


    So while Representative Dickson’s proposal mitigates the effect of a bad idea, it doesn’t remove it completely.  It simply makes a poor initial decision to include value added measures in teacher evaluations, one made without ANY research supportive of such a position and made to serve a political end rather than an educational one, a little more palatable to teachers.  Test scores are excellent determinants of where and who you teach.  They are worse than useless at anything else.  http://www.fairtest.org/teacher-evaluation-fact-sheet
    There are several excellent ideas in House Bill 1061 that teachers can support.  The idea of experienced teachers serving as mentors for their less experienced colleagues is a proven best practice method already employed by successful schools and systems.  His idea of improving instruction and leadership rather than punishing behavior works with students and will work with teachers and administrators also.  Consider these points from Finland:


  • There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school.
  • There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded.
  • The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians.
  • Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.



    Perhaps the key to turning evaluations into an effective and efficient tool for improving teaching and learning can be found in a suggestion from the spouse of an elementary Principal in Georgia:  “The state legislature and the DOE need to stop micromanaging the process…  “  I would add that involving teachers in the process of determining educational policy would seem to be a common sense item that has all too often been ignored by the Governor and the Georgia Legislature.  I am glad that Representative Dickson, a former teacher, Principal and School Superintendent has a place at the table of educational policy making. I would hope that more Legislators seek the opinions and advice of Georgia’s teachers when formulating educational policies.  Until then, it would appear that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

1/29/16

Corrections

 In my years as a teacher and administrator, staff development meetings were unavoidable.  They were often held in the afternoons or on Saturdays, and in too many cases were held for the purpose of meeting some arcane requirement or to put a check mark on some district to-do list.  Agendas were rare, purpose was often vague, content was delivered by lecture or interminable powerpoint, questions were not encouraged and the primary purpose seemed to be for someone to make sure we put in our time.  Most of the content in sessions like these could have been more effectively and far less painfully delivered in the form of an email, but I suppose that would have meant the end of a job for whatever “expert” was making the presentation and somebody somewhere would not have been able to document the hours teachers had spent in professional development.  I remember a colleague that once noted “I hope my death comes during a professional development meeting, because the transition from life to death would be so subtle that it would hardly be noticed,” and more often than not found myself agreeing with her. There were those momentous occasions, far too infrequent, when a phrase or an example or a Great Truth was presented, where the audience raised their heads collectively from the mental stupor created by the anticipation of the stifling verbal assault we knew was coming, looked at the speaker and at each other and, caught off guard, almost as one thought “now that makes a heck of a lot of sense.”  These moments usually came when the presenter was a practicing teacher, and they were almost worth the deadly boredom we had to endure to get to that one presenter out of every 50 or so that was knowledgeable, practical, experienced and mercifully brief.  
    One such moment came from a presenter whose name I have long since forgotten.  He was the successful coach of a big time college football program, and made, in an almost offhand fashion, a reply to a question about discipline.  “What you don’t correct,” he responded, “you are teaching.”  Teachers know that to be true, but to hear it elegantly expressed by one familiar with the trials and tribulations of teaching was a momentous moment of shining inspiration.  It doesn’t mean you have to correct a student harshly every time they make a mistake.  Good teachers know there are better and more effective ways to make corrections without stinging words or tone that embarrass the recipient and almost ensure the result will be the opposite of the one intended.  There are positive ways to say negative things, but the truth is that what we do not correct, we teach, and not usually with positive results.  Failing to correct negative behaviors will always produce negative results.
    Teachers have suffered long years of “reform” that usually goes with “we once again want you to do more with less.”  Governor Deal recently stated he wants to “transform education in Georgia.”  I maintain he has already done so.  The Governor has led efforts that have imposed the junk science of VAM evaluation of teachers with no research that supports or recommends the method, yearly cuts to the education budget totalling billions of dollars, constant denigration of the teaching profession and teachers, the blaming of teachers for societal issues through calls for “more accountability,” massive layoffs and reductions in force to the teaching profession in spite of increases in student enrollment, significant increases in class sizes, the loss of art, PE and music classes statewide and for students at all levels, furloughs, reductions in the number of days of school for students and teachers and legislators that have in both effect and reality balanced the state budget on the backs of students, schools and teachers for the last six years.  The Governor and the Legislatures’ collective efforts have demoralized teachers to the point that 44% leave teaching within the first 5 years of their careers, and the number of experienced teachers retiring early (those with 10-25 years experience - the heart of our teaching corps) has grown significantly during Governor Deal’s time in office.  This is not a coincidence.
Teacher Retirements - 10-25 years experience
2009    2010   2011    2012   2013    2014   
2483    2999   3559    3577   4107    3979   =  17,484
All Teacher Retirements
2009    2010   2011   2012    2013    2014    
5564    6425   7168   7051    7929   7072    =  41,209


    So what’s the Governor’s response to the coming shortage of teachers?  First he proposes a 3% pay raise for all teachers.  What he forgets to say is that there are still 40 or so systems that haven’t eliminated furloughs and most of the rest are still suffering from his exponential expansion of austerity cuts to school budgets, the continuing reduction of transportation money for students, the massive insurance increases passed on by the state to local systems for classified employee insurance, and the ever increasing financial burden for education placed on local districts by state abandonment of financial responsibilities.  All those reasons mean that in spite of his threat to “hold districts accountable” for the raises he proposes, because of his prior cuts to education, they are not sustainable. He has also doubled down on his efforts to increase the use of public money for privatization and vouchers with the expansion of programs designed to further reduce funds for public schools.  Add to that his desire to create a state run Opportunity School District with a Superintendent that reports only to him, his proposal to “change” (another word for reduce) the way teachers are paid and how money is allocated to schools and districts and it’s easy to see Governor Deal never met an ALEC initiative he didn’t like.  Legislators seems not to have noticed the fiscal irresponsibility of adding another state run program to the budget, just as they didn’t seem to notice the austerity cuts that left schools and teachers - you know, the ones that need to be “accountable” - bearing the financial burden of those cuts. I remember one legislator from another state that remarked “money does not guarantee success, but the absence of money guarantees failure.”  Would that he were from Georgia.
    What has been the response of teachers to all this?  Not much.  We show some concerted opposition to isolated issues.  The insurance scam a couple of years ago and the ideas about fiddling with TRS didn’t fly politically because of teacher opposition, and the recommendations to the way teachers are paid and systems funded have been delayed until after the election year, but what about evaluations and budget cuts and merit pay and a continued misguided emphasis on standardized testing?  Teachers have managed to raise the grad rate in Georgia to 72.5%  and struggled time and again to do more with less, and have been rewarded with the threat of  more and more restrictions and reductions and restructuring. What you don’t correct, you teach.  We keep electing the same people with the same anti-public education ideas to the same offices.  What you don’t correct, you teach.
    But wait a minute - look at all the success these ideas have had in other states.  How about the state run school district in Tennessee…..oops.  Not that one.  What about the fantastic success of charters in New Orleans...no, maybe not that one either.  What about the wonderful increases in school choice in Florida and their merit pay and increased academic success...OK, maybe not that one either.  What about the studies that say that 83% of all charter schools perform equal to or worse than public schools?  Well, maybe not that one either...How about all the studies that show that merit pay is a really great and cost effective idea that improves….nope, not that one either.  What about the warnings that “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model” and that “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”  Well, maybe those groups just don’t understand real math.  The American Statistical Association?  What do THEY know about education and politics? What’s important to know here is that the goal of the folks that make the decisions about education in Georgia is not school improvement or student achievement.  Their goal is privatization.  Period.  The use of public money for private educational enterprises and further crony capitalism.
    So what can teachers do against these insurmountable obstacles?  There are several options.  First, if you are not of member of PAGE or GEA or GREA or BAT or GAEL or TRAGIC or all of the above, you are missing opportunities for information and support.  This is not meant to be an all inclusive list, and there are other important groups also.  Check Diane Ravitch’s blog or PAGE’s “Report from the Capitol” or GAEL’s monthly reports regularly for state and national information about topics concerning public education, and stay in touch with your local legislators.  Be vigilant, be knowledgeable and be aware.  Let your legislators know of your support for public education and your opposition to the efforts of lawmakers that support the privatization of education. Phone calls and emails have an effect on legislative votes.  Make your voice heard.  What you do not correct, you are teaching.
    I would also suggest you join a local opt-out group.  Standardized tests don’t measure what they purport to measure, they serve a political rather than an educational purpose and their real goal is the “gotcha” angle for legislators that want to privatize public education AND to make standardized testing companies and their lobbyists richer.  Neither improves public education.
    Most importantly, be vocal be connected and vote. Many people hear the tired old “I support teachers” line from their local career politicians and far too often fall for it.  Look at their voting records.  If they voted for vouchers, the expansion of charter schools, the expansion of the special tax credit, the Governor’s austerity cuts or teacher evaluation using student test scores the “what they say” aspect doesn’t matter compared to “what they have done” angle.  Ask your Legislators to sign the PAGE “I promise” pledge about not tying teacher pay to student test scores and to roll back standardized testing for Georgia students.  That ought to give you a pretty good idea, if you didn’t already know, where they stand on public education.  Most importantly,  when you cast your vote, remember what you already know about teaching also applies to politicians; if you’re not correcting it, you’re teaching it.  We’ve allowed it to continue long enough.  It’s time for teachers to correct it.  We are, after all, teachers.  It's supposed to be what we do.

11/25/15

Things My Mother Taught Me

Things My Mother Taught Me


    Mom passed away September 2014 after living almost 84 years and going through a thankfully short illness.  All four of her sons were there with her when she took her last breath, and she waited until her two sisters arrived before she decided to give up the struggle.  Momma was an amazing woman in many ways, and the lessons she taught us go far beyond the normal table manners and polite forms of address and behaviors she expected but didn’t always get.  Raising our Dad and four boys at the same time gave her an inner core of steel hidden by a soft spoken demeanor that could be deceiving to those that didn’t know her well.  
    She graduated at the top of her class at good ole Ruleville HS, was responsible for raising her sisters and her brother, played French Horn and Bass Drum in the band, played girls basketball, was Class President and went to Delta State before she married Dad and I came along.  She read constantly until her eyesight started failing, and exhibited an innate curiosity about things I never would have imagined she was interested in and showed an understanding of people and their curious motivations that I found to be consistently accurate, amazingly observant and borderline prescient.  “Seems to me” she noted once and seemingly out of the blue, “that spending all that money to get a man on the moon was a better investment than LBJ’s Great Society.”  “Why do you say that Mom?” I asked innocently.“Those social programs are helping a lot of people.”  I was 18 at the time and thinking about the upside of socialism, and she was, without my knowledge, waging a quiet but persistent war to undermine my intolerance for all things establishment.  “Kennedy understood” she said quickly, “that giving people a national goal was better than giving them money.  Look at the technology and inventions that have come out of NASA that have improved our daily lives, not to mention the national pride in what was accomplished.  Giving people something they haven’t earned just pisses them off in the long run, and doesn’t really help in the way it’s intended.”  I mentally marked that moment down as one not just to remember but to learn from and looked at her in amazement.  “Don’t stare with your mouth open” she said.  “Being a mother helps me notice things about people I might not have noticed otherwise.  Go clean up your room.”  I started to ask her how she knew my room needed cleaning, but realized she would have characterized that as a stupid question.  Momma for President would have been a much better choice than some of the bozos we’ve voted in.
    Mom was a teacher without a license.  She adapted the lesson to the individual, and realized that her 5 guys didn’t learn in the same way or at the same rate.  She understood and used differentiation when conformity was cool.  She never hesitated to let us try almost anything - band, football, baseball, cooking lessons (oh yes she did give us cooking lessons), boy scouts - and when we got discouraged and wanted to give up we heard  countless times “can’t never could do nothing.”  With her Mississippi drawl that we inherited it came out “cain’t never culd do nuthin’” but we knew what she meant, and kept on trying.  I didn’t know it until the retrospection brought on by age and experience kicked in, but I developed most of my educational philosophy and teaching methods from her.  She always managed to teach us things without us realizing we were being taught.
    She cooked every day for our family.  I remember going to a drive in restaurant or an actual sit down eat inside restaurant maybe three times with the family growing up.  There wasn’t money for that.  Together Mom and Dad, as a bookkeeper and policeman, made $26,000 in their best year together financially.  We weren’t gonna pay $10 for everyone to get a hamburger and fries when “we have stuff on the stove at home.”  I don’t remember a morning we didn’t have biscuits or oatmeal, and I don’t remember a Sunday we didn’t have fried chicken or chicken fried steak.  I loved her fried chicken with the crispy little crumbles on it and was always surprised she seemed to choose a wing or a back and leave the breast or legs for us. There was always something to eat in a pot on the stove, right next to her jar of bacon grease.  I never knew leftovers were supposed to be refrigerated until after I left home and got married. We were expected to be a part of her cooking arrangements and remember the recipes she kept in her head.  She only began writing them down when she was in her 60’s after we pestered her to do so.  My favorite instruction was “use just enough but not too much.”  She didn’t measure anything, eyeballed everything and it always turned out like it she intended it to.  Writing down her recipes was a chore since she had to actually measure stuff to make up the recipe where we could follow it.  She was gifted - we were the slow class.  She had us watch and help while she made cookies and fudge and dressing and fried chicken and mashed potatoes and 2000 different kinds of pies and cakes and divinity.  Ours never turned out like hers, but we knew the steps to follow.  
    She was a pea shelling fiend, and would never buy them already shelled, but had to have bushels of crowders or lady peas or butterbeans in the hull. We all tried to convince her it was easier to buy them already shelled, but she would have none of it.  “I can think when I shell peas” she said, “and I can remember.”  I believe she had discovered one of the secrets of life.  She did things for others and expected nothing in return.  For her it was putting up vegetables and canning.  She put up tons of the things, along with jellies and jams.  We were expected to bring a cooler on our visits and carry bags and bags of frozen vegetables and jars and jars of stuff home with us.  We did, partly because she expected us to but mostly because it was good.  I learned to make her pepper sauce and think of her every time I put it on peas or collards or turnips or meatloaf.  I think of it as Momma manna.  I think of her when I do it, and like her, I remember.
    She made every grandkid a Christmas stocking with their name on it.  She crocheted blankets and afghans, made quilts, did needlepoint and made sure everyone in the family had at least one of her needlepoint angels holding a baby.  She loved children and they loved her.  Momma wasn’t really a singer, but knew one song that every kid responded to - Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man….you know the rest.  One of our relatives married someone the rest of the family did not approve of, and there was talk of not welcoming them or their child in some family homes.  I remember Momma’s response - “don’t you dare say or do anything bad about that baby.  Whatever you’re mad about is NOT that baby’s fault, and I won’t have it.”  That pretty much decided the question for everyone.
   Every year there were family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house or one of Momma’s sisters’ homes.  Relatives showed up from all over, and playing with cousins and shirt tail relatives and sleeping on a pallet on the floor was great fun for a couple of days.  I wasn’t allowed to sit at “the big table” until I was over 21, and that did hurt my pride until I saw that the kids got to eat first and the big table folks were always busy making sure the little people had full plates several times over before they were sent out to play in the yard and the adults could eat in relative peace until somebody came in crying from a skinned knee or a bruise or to tell them that “Glenn said a bad word.”  Momma sensed my disappointment and said “stay a kid as long as you can, son.  Being an adult is not nearly as much fun as you think.”  She was right, and, once again I find myself wishing I had taken her advice sooner.
    She corrected us often but almost always quietly and one at a time.  She didn’t use global threats but identified the culprit of any given misdeed and dealt with them one on one.   I don’t remember ever being spanked more than two or three times, but the threat was always there and I would not have put it past her.  I do remember having to select a switch from the bush by the front porch a time or two, and the walk of shame there and back is still a vivid memory.  The thought processes and inner debates I used in deciding which switch to select could have led to a career in Mississippi politics, but thankfully I was steered in a more positive direction.  
    She was a tall woman, never really heavy but strong.  Momma was slow to anger and only rarely let us get to her in that fashion.  She was smart enough to know that anger wasn’t a prime motivator for her and wouldn’t be effective on us either.  She rarely used Dad as a threat and almost always took care of the problem herself.  “You’re too smart to be that stupid” she said quietly.  Her voice was rarely raised but we didn’t have any trouble hearing her.  Tone and inflection said what was needed to stop or correct almost any behavior.  We hated to disappoint her, and she let us know quickly when it happened.  The only way I could tell if one of my brothers was in trouble was if I had been there when he committed whatever deed he wasn’t supposed to have done or if I saw his face later because she was smart enough not to compare one of us to the other or use one’s bad behavior as a lesson to the others.  She was also smart enough to know us better than we knew ourselves.  She was an artist at turning our dumbass behavior into teachable moments, and we are better people for her having done that.
    Being boys we engaged in what was recognized generally as boy behavior.  We were fascinated by fire, played army at every opportunity, were all involved in baseball, played church basketball and softball, ran with the neighborhood kids playing football, flashlight, racing bikes around the block and chasing each other through the fog of the the “skeeter dope man.”  It’s a wonder we weren’t killed a thousand times over.  My brother burned down a paint shed once, and even tried to set the woods behind our house on fire by burning a dead tree.  She handled the situations and kept the neighbors from killing him.  I thought it would be great to set one of my plastic model planes on fire and swing it around on a string in the back yard.  I managed to set the grass on fire and discovered that burning plastic hurts a lot when it gets on your skin. She didn’t yell or scream or “go off” on us when we did stupid stuff, she just took care of the problem and let us know some things were just stupider than others.  Mom created instant solutions for what to us seemed to be insurmountable problems.  One of the neighborhood Moms told us we couldn’t play war with our BB guns because - you guessed it - “somebody might get their eye put out.”  We were heartbroken.  Killing each other was one of our favorite pastimes.  Mom’s solution for us was quick and almost painless.  “Wear your jeans” she said, “and only shoot each other in the legs.”  That woman had the wisdom of Solomon.  She knew we weren’t going to stop shooting each other, and found a compromise the other neighborhood Moms could live with and so could we.  The killings continued.
    She didn’t complain.  If anybody had a reason too it was her, but she chose not to be a whiner.  She did note on several occasions that she had learned a lesson from her mother in law.  “Mrs. Arnold was dying when I met her in 1946” she said, “and continued to announce the details of her dying every day until her death at age 99.”  I think we all know people like that.  When I would call Mom and ask how she was doing, the answer was always “doing fairly well” even when she wasn’t.  She had learned that lesson and wasn’t about to repeat it.  She had hated talking on the phone to Grandma because she knew what was coming, and must have sworn to herself  never to make that mistake when she talked to us.  She would only tell us her health issues after they had been resolved or after she had been to the hospital for one ailment or another.  “I didn’t want any of you worrying about me” she would say, but don’t think for a second it worked the other way around.  She had to know stuff about us beforehand, and wouldn’t tolerate being left in the dark about any health problems we might have.  She did ask me several times if I could check and see who that old woman was that appeared in her mirror every morning.  I would smile at her and think “I hope you continue to see her for a long time,”  and mentioned to her I had noticed there was some old guy from somewhere appearing daily in my own mirror.  
    She didn’t try to jump in and solve our problems and issues for us, but let us make our mistakes when she knew what the result would be.  “Sometimes a little hurt is a good teacher” she said.  “It’s not fun and it’s hard for me to watch, but you boys are going to do what you’re going to do no matter what advice I give.” She always said too that a little suspicion about what folks tell you is a good thing, and not to believe everything we heard.  She told us that “you can tell me something all day long but I know who you are by what you do.”  She did let us make our mistakes, but she was there to offer consolation when it was needed and advice after it was over.  Both were more productive and preferable to any pre-event advice we probably would have ignored anyway.  I don’t remember her arguing with anybody except Dad, and he wouldn’t argue for long.  He saw he couldn’t win and just left the house. One day he left one time too many and she told him not to come back.  I was in college then, but have always been confident I knew who was right and who wasn’t.  They both married again, both their spouses died later and they ended up getting remarried.  I remember announcing to my friends that I was so happy my Mom and Dad were finally getting married.  I’m convinced she made a calculated decision based on their respective finances and chose the lesser of three evils, but that’s just my suspicious nature I inherited from her.
    One of her friends seemed to live by the old saying  “when in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”  “Foolishness” Momma said, “pure foolishness.”  That was pretty much her ultimate and final condemnation of most anything.  She never got too excited, too worked up, too dramatic, too flustered, too loud, too drunk or too anything.  She was calm in the face of adversity of any type, refused to give in to hysteria and was the Mom in the neighborhood everybody came to when they had an emergency or a problem or just needed advice.  Parents in the neighborhood and relatives from all over came to her for advice, kids turned to her when they needed a little comfort or consolation and she dispensed advice to all without condemnation.  She was pretty much the only person that had any influence over Daddy. She rarely cursed and didn’t have to.  She was the rock against which all waves broke, and was calm reason in the face of the storm.  
    Our house was the center of kid activities for many years.  It was a place a kid could hide when he didn’t want to be found, where he could find something to eat at any time of the day, where he could hang out when there wasn’t much to do, where he could find something to do when it was really needed, where he could spend the night if that’s what was needed and where we all gathered before and after any event like a ball game, bike race, after school, weekends, summer or birthdays.  We thought it was a natural thing to have people over all the time until we noticed other Moms didn’t feel the same way.  Some of them were kind of persnickety about boys and dirt and visitors in general.  There was always food on the stove or in the refrigerator at our house, and nobody went away hungry...ever.
    She condoned my comic book collection.  “I don’t care what you read as long as you’re reading” she said.  That wasn’t quite true, but it did hold up for comic books.  I had Batman, Superman, The Blackhawks, Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, The Hulk, Spiderman...you name it, and I read it...and she was right. I remember her reading to me and to my brothers before we could read ourselves, and she believed without doubt that reading was the key to educational success.  I still read every day.  It’s because of her and the example she set.  
    When we would try to grow up too fast she was quick to tell us “don’t get too big for your britches” and when we attempted to use anger on her she would say “you can just get glad in the same britches you got mad in” and effectively end the conversation and our pitiful attempt at psychological warfare.  She had a stubborn streak, and wouldn’t give in on some things.  One of them was going to church, another was making sure we went to school every day and she was adamant about us “doing the right thing.”  “If you can’t do something in front of your mother” she would say, “it’s probably something you don’t need to be doing.”  She was mostly right on that one, too.
    For years I called her every Sunday, and looked forward to the conversation and advice.  Sometimes I still reach for the phone before I remember I have to talk to her another way now.  Her voice is still there and her advice is still good.  I’m convinced God called her home because he couldn’t get his recipe for divinity candy to come out right and she, in typical fashion, said “I can’t write it down, but I can show you.”  I’ve been blessed to inherit her dry wit, her sense of humor, some of her patience, her tolerance, her investigative nature, some of her heart and a little bit of her belief in the goodness found in most people.  My brothers and I all picked up a lot of the good things she was.  All of us did, just from being around her. She knew me when I was good, she knew me when I wasn’t, she knew me when I was sick and she knew when I needed her voice.  She loved me without conditions, and I loved her the same way. Thanks again, Momma, for everything.  And I mean everything.