If your job is to create education acronyms, these are gold rush days.
Ohio alone has 49 pages of abbreviations for various federal, state and local education programs and organizations. They range from APE (Adaptive Physical Education) and CATS (Commodity Allocation and Tracking System) to STARS (System To Achieve Results for Students) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
One of the newest is OTES, the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, which is designed, in the words of the Ohio Department of Education, to “provide educators with a richer and more detailed view of their performance, with a focus on specific strengths and opportunities for improvement.”
After a lot of hocus-pocus that includes observations, conferences and student test scores, OTES spits out one of four rankings for each teacher: Accomplished, Skilled, Developing or Ineffective. “Skilled” was formerly called “Proficient,” but the PTB — Powers That Be (see, I can make acronyms, too) — changed it because they’d already ruined the word through years of mind-numbing proficiency tests for Ohio students.
The consensus of most experts — i.e., people who make a lot more than I do for doing a lot less — is that it will be virtually impossible for any teacher to be ranked Accomplished. Rumor has it that Jesus, Socrates, Anne Sullivan and Maria Montessori would all be no better than Skilled under OTES, and Socrates might only score Developing because he habitually answered a question with another question.
I can only guess at the rationale: to give teachers something to strive for, a shining star at the end of the educational firmament. (Like Little Ralphie’s teacher in “A Christmas Story,” marking an essay A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus …)
It strikes me as supremely stupid to tell professionals that no matter how hard they work, they will never reach the top rung of the ladder. Imagine how motivation would drop if I told my students at the beginning of the year that, no matter how much they studied and how well they performed, the best grade I would ever give is a B.
Nonetheless, this is the system that I and other teachers around the state will soon operate under, so we’d best get used to it. To gird my loins, I started rating myself using the OTES rubric for various non-educational tasks. Here are the results:
HUSBAND: Chris is fairly conscientious in his duties. He is kind and solicitous 95 percent of the time, but he does occasionally forget anniversaries and birthdays, and he once left his dirty socks on the couch when his mother-in-law came to visit. SKILLED.
FATHER: Works multiple jobs to help defray cost of higher education. Has moved a futon from garage to various dorm rooms and apartments and back again 15X. However, he once told daughter that she “sucked” at soccer. DEVELOPING.
PET OWNER: Dog and cats generally appear clean and well-groomed. Water dishes are filled to within 80 percent of capacity. Nevertheless, dog once peed on neighbor’s grass, resulting in angry tirade from neighbor and threat of legal action. INEFFECTIVE.
HOMEOWNER: Yard is frequently mowed and snow is usually removed from walkways (weather-dependent). However, fence in back yard desperately needs repairing, front shrubs need trimming, and attic windows are peeling. DEVELOPING.
CAR OWNER: Gas tanks are constantly in the bottom percentile for filling. “Check Engine” lights sometimes stay on for weeks, if not months. Back seat of ‘02 Neon covered with dog hair (see pet-owner grade above); windshield not washed since Halloween 2006. INEFFECTIVE.
COLUMNIST: Submits work on time; has not missed deadline in 12 years. Frequently exaggerates in the name of humor, but is seldom actually funny. Angers people on all sides of issues and never apologizes. Still doesn’t know difference between “lie” and “lay.” DEVELOPING.
Overall, this exercise has helped me to better pigeonhole my unique talents. Regardless, I can’t help but consider the OTES rubric as just another example of Stuff Higher-ups Introduce for Teachers.
And we all know the acronym for that.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Oct. 17, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
One-third to one-half of our society is introverted, says Susan Cain.
Cain, a self-professed introvert, stepped out of her comfort zone last year to deliver a TED Talks speech on the power of solitude. She noted that America today is designed for extroverts. Our offices and schools reward the outspoken “people-person” more than the self-reflective soul.
“Nowadays, our typical classroom has pods of desks — four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other,” Cain says in her speech. “And kids are working on countless group assignments. Even in subjects like math and creative writing, which you think would depend on solo flights of thought, kids are now expected to act as committee members.”
She just described my classroom. At the beginning of this school year, I broke from tradition and placed desks in groups of four to inspire the kinds of conversations that are all the rage in educational circles and to become more “guide on the side” than “sage on the stage.”
For the most part, I’ve been happy with the results, although students are chattier at inopportune times, as is to be expected when they face one another. Just last week, after reading an article about the power of collaboration, I instituted two minutes of “talk time” before each day’s journal writing. That, too, seems to work.
What I hadn’t considered is that my new floor plan and emphasis on collaboration puts introverted students at a disadvantage. Now I must rethink an environment friendly both to those who thrive on interaction and stimulation and those who thrive on solitude.
It’s an odd place for me to be, philosophically. Most of my life, I have considered myself introverted, more comfortable at home among books than out in public, awkwardly holding up my end of a conversation. It’s only in later adult life that I’ve become more of an “ambivert,” at home in both realms.
I credit the change with life experience. For 10 years I worked in outside sales, which forced me from the cocooning comfort of my car and into businesses, where I had to make presentations and be persuasive if I expected to make any money. (An April article in Forbes cites research indicating that ambivert salespeople sell 24 and 32 percent more than introverts and extroverts, respectively, so there you go.)
My teaching career also has helped. While I am always more at home creating lesson plans than delivering them, I find joy from a fresh crop of students each year, knowing I can recycle shopworn puns with impunity for a new audience. (Why is the book blushing? Because it’s been read.)
Of course, writing is perfect ambivert training, as well. I write in seclusion, with only my dog to keep me company, but those private thoughts are published for an audience whose reactions range from indifference to annoyance.
Cain’s point is that we marginalize introversion at society’s peril. The greatest advances and insights in fields as diverse as religion and technology come from people who separate themselves from the herd to have breakthroughs that they then bring back to the rest of us to nurture, develop, implement or — if nothing else — appreciate.
Her talk, which I highly recommend (search “Susan Cain” and “The Power of Introverts” online) is a reminder that we need not always follow demagogues whose powers of persuasion are superior to the value of their ideas. The 20th century “Cult of Personality” (of which the band Living Colour once sang) must give way to a world where both introverts and extroverts can comfortably contribute and be valued.
At the very least, it means those student desks must go back into rows, at least part of the time.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Oct. 10, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
I’m always open to new ideas that improve my quality of life and make me look silly in the process.
That is why I’m proud to throw my support behind Bow Tie Thursdays, which — like Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) and Eat an Apple Day (Sept. 21) — is exactly what the name implies: a chance to wear bow ties proudly and loudly.
The idea kicked off locally with Andrew Wolfgang, one of my teaching colleagues at Alliance High School. Despite the fact that he teaches math and participates in crazy Ironman competitions where he cycles, swims and runs distances that the human body was not meant to endure (any distance longer than a trip from the couch to the refrigerator and back during commercial breaks is too long), Andrew is a nice guy. So when he started wearing alternative neckwear on Thursdays, I decided to join him.
Except that first week I wasn’t able to find any legitimate bow ties in the fine retail establishments in and around Alliance. Whenever I asked, employees would take me to the Halloween section, where paper bow ties with little ghosts were nestled between 75-pound bags of Dum Dums and life-sized, glow-in-the-dark skeletons.
(”These aren’t the bow ties you’re looking for,” said my id, who looks remarkably like Obi Wan Kenobi. “These aren’t the bow ties I’m looking for,” responded my ego, dressed in a stormtrooper’s uniform.)
So that first week, only Andrew was tying one on — bow tie wise, that is.
I resorted to ordering online from Amazon, a company that now charges me sales tax on most purchases, meaning I can no longer pretend I’m sticking it to the man when I shop there. Regardless, I picked up some bow ties for around $8 each, which is about $7 more than I expected to pay, having been price-conditioned in numerous Halloween aisles.
On the second week of Wolfgang’s experiment, he and I were the only two in bow ties, but word got around. Today, a handful of staff and students has promised to come so attired, and the definition has expanded to include hair bows, giving ladies an opportunity to express themselves. (One staffer has promised bow-tie pasta. Given the sloppy way I eat, I could end up wearing that, too.)
During my exhaustive research for this column, which consisted of Googling “bow ties,” I learned that Canadians actually began this movement in Calgary a few years back. At the aptly named bowtiethursdays.com, founders note that their mission is to wear the geeky-but-lovable ties only on the first Thursday of each month. They also say their goal is to join together for breakfast or lunch in bow ties and drink scotch.
Our local effort will probably eschew the scotch. At least for now.
Bow ties have many advantages:
1. When you’re running up steps, a bow tie doesn’t flip all around like a traditional tie, possibly clouding your field of vision and resulting in a potentially dangerous stumble.
2. When you’re using power equipment or industrial machinery, the chances of your bow tie getting stuck in the gears and pulling you toward some ghastly accident are much smaller than with a traditional tie.
3. Bow ties make you look smart.
Those who remember some of my earlier bandwagoning attempts — Septembeard, which I cultivated last year but did not repeat this year, and vegetarianism, which I’m still practicing, at least until midnight on Jan. 1 — may wonder how long this fad will last.
Suffice it to say that I’ve bought three bow ties online, so I’m good through Oct. 3 at least.
Any readers would like to join in Bow Tie Thursdays are welcome to participate. If you’re so inclined, take a photo of yourself in a bow tie and send it to my email address below. The helpful gnomes at The Review can load all bow tie photos onto our Web page to show off the variety of styles available in the area.
Plus, then I won’t be the only person to look silly.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Sept. 26, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar is at it again.
Earlier this year, Terhar was criticized for drawing a comparison between Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler on her Facebook page. She apologized, recognizing that as a public figure, her words must be “measured and tempered.”
Lesson not learned, apparently. Last week, Terhar made headlines again, saying that Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is “pornographic.”
For those unfamiliar with the book, “The Bluest Eye” is a novel about young Pecola Breedlove, who is bullied because of her skin color, nappy hair and brown eyes. More than anything, she wants to be blond-haired and blue-eyed.
In a harrowing passage, Pecola is raped by her father. Morrison describes the violation in detail, using common, coarse language. It is a difficult scene to read, but one that is vital to understanding the mind-set of both abusers and their victims.
“I don’t want my grandchildren reading (the novel), and I don’t want anybody else’s grandchildren reading it,” Terhar was quoted as saying at a board meeting last week. “The Bluest Eye” is listed in an appendix to the state’s new Common Core Standards as a title read in the 11th or 12th grade. The appendix includes a non-graphic excerpt.
Terhar questioned whether anybody actually reads the books suggested in the Common Core appendix. Unintentionally, she echoes a question that teachers have been asking since the Common Core’s adoption, which is whether anybody involved in drafting this new curriculum actually reads, period. But that’s an issue for another day and column.
What I find most lamentable in Terhar’s remark is the implication that if a book isn’t appropriate for her grandchildren, then it isn’t appropriate for anybody’s grandchildren. That’s a common fallacy committed by people who would censor literature and art — a belief that their standards are the yardstick by which to measure everybody else’s.
She must also have a low opinion of teachers, not believing that they, working in conjunction with students, parents and administrators, can tackle challenging works in the classroom in a way that responsibly fosters the type of critical-thinking skills about real-world issues so vital to student success. That’s a sad vote of no confidence from somebody in Terhar’s position.
Thankfully, organizations such as the American Library Association crusade tirelessly to education the public about the importance of freely circulating ideas and words. Each year, the organization sponsors Banned Books Week (this year, Sept. 22-28), a celebration of our rights as Americans to read books on a variety of topics and themes. This includes teen readers, who have every right to read “The Bluest Eye” and decide for themselves if the book has merit.
Morrison’s novel is 15th on the ALA’s list of books most frequently banned or challenged from 2000-2009. This means that people other than Terhar have tried to impose their opinions about it on the American reading public.
In the wake of the school board president’s remarks, Christine Link, Ohio executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, has spoken out on the novel’s behalf, noting a shameful history in this country of suppressing literature by and about black Americans on the basis of content and controversy.
Even Morrison herself stepped into the fray. The Nobel Prize-winning author sad that it was especially troubling to have to defend the book in her native Ohio.
And Terhar now finds herself doing a familiar dance — the back step. She has clarified that her comments — like her Obama/Nazi references — do not reflect the beliefs of the Ohio School Board, but are her own opinions. She meant no disparagement toward Morrison, although when you imply that somebody is a pornographer, it’s hard to see how that can be taken as anything other than a criticism.
Most importantly, she has pledged whole-hearted allegiance to the Common Core Curriculum, even though she questions the literary tastes of the people who assembled it and would like “The Bluest Eye” removed from its documentation, another fascinating paradox.
Maybe if this whole state school board president gig doesn’t work out for Terhar, she’ll step down and gain an opportunity to catch up on some reading. I’d recommend she start with “The Bluest Eye.”
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Sept. 19, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
It’s a cardinal rule of sales: Create the problem, and then provide the solution.
Ohio education officials did a good job of creating the problem last week when they released newly revamped report card data for state schools. The new district report cards jettison descriptors such as “continuous improvement” and “effective” and replace them with an A-F grading system in nine categories. Seven of the nine are based on high-stakes testing results. The other two are based on graduation rates.
Not a single category involves any qualitative measure of districts. The new report cards do not look at how many students are involved in music and art, how many participate in extracurriculars, or how many stay after school for tutoring. Officials rate schools without talking to a single student, parent, teacher or administrator. Supposedly objective, quantitative numbers rule all.
Even schools that fared well under the old (flawed) system find themselves struggling in some parts under the new (still flawed) system. Districts earned A’s in some categories and F’s in others, but no overall grade is forthcoming until 2015. Officials haven’t even decided exactly how they’ll compile overall grades, but like the bureaucrats at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” they give every assurance that they have top people working on it.
Meanwhile, parents and community members who are accustomed to report card formats can make their own judgments on districts with D’s or F’s in, say, “standards met” and “four-year graduation rate” and A’s and B’s in “disabled value added” and “annual measurable objectives.” Likely, they will just assign traditional number values to each letter grade, add them and divide by nine, even though the state says that’s not how it will be done in two years.
Like the good salesmen they are, state officials haven’t yet shared the solution, but are instead happy to let districts, kids and parents stew in the problem for a bit. When it arrives, the miracle cure will likely involve sanctions and penalties for persistently poor performing schools (even if these punishments go by more euphemistic and progressive names) and a continued reliance on charter schools that follow a for-profit model.
That’s hardly a surprise. As a teacher, I used to scoff at colleagues who said the accountability movement was a plot to systematically dismantle public schools and open the doors for mega-rich handlers of politicians to plunge their greedy fingers into the educational pie. Now, those conspiracy theorists sound more like prophets.
The bottom line is this: Whether old report card or new report card, Ohio’s results are based on the erroneous assumption that the only useful data is testing data, and that the accountability model is the only way to “police” education in America.
P.L. Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., presents a better alternative on his blog, “The Becoming Radical.” He argues that students and the public would be better served if politicians target growing economic inequalities in the United States. The widening gap between rich and poor means that more students come to school hungry and without adequate health care. These issues directly affect their classroom performance.
Further, Thomas argues that accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing should be stopped, replaced by “a small and robust measurement system” that tests random samples of students and gathers descriptive (qualitative) information about districts.
He also believes that experienced teachers must be assigned to impoverished and special needs students just as they are to affluent, typically developing students; that teacher education should become more rigorous; and that current grading systems, like the A-F model that is so prevalent in our schools, should be replaced instead with models that provide rich, individualized feedback.
Significantly, Thomas says that the kind of crisis management model so prevalent in state and federal education mandates must be replaced with patience. Patience, however, isn’t part of the paradigm where lawmakers and their rich puppetmasters are concerned, so the accountability model isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There’s gold in them thar halls, and millions to be made for testing companies who sell products that create the problem and charter school charlatans who sell the solutions.
I love my students and I love my school, but increasingly, I fear for both.
Originally published in The Alliance Review on Aug. 29, 2013.
McDonald’s is under a lot of scrutiny lately for a financial planning site it created with Visa to teach employees how to manage money.
The company’s so-called Practical Money Skills Budget Journal came to the public’s attention at about the same time that fast-food workers across the industry started to pressure employers to raise hourly rates to $15 and allow them to unionize.
Famously lampooned last month on the Colbert Report, a so-called sample budget on the site allots only $20 a month for health insurance, even though McDonald’s least expensive health plan is $12.58 a week for employees who have been with the company more than a year. Initially, the budget made no allowance for heat, although the website was later revised to include $50 a month for this.
Of course, all employers should pay a living wage, especially a company like McDonald’s that, according to Bloomberg, achieved 135-percent profit growth from 2007-2011 and paid CEO Donald Thompson a truly obscene $8.75 million last year alone.
But here’s the problem: Even if McDonald’s increased wages to $15 an hour — and let’s be clear, the company has given no indication that it’s even considering this — it wouldn’t be enough. At that higher rate, a worker would make $31,200 a year before taxes (which is a very big “before”) and about $23,400 after.
This is far better than minimum wage, of course, and workable for households of one. But for families of two or more people, unless they are incredibly frugal or both have full-time jobs, $15 an hour is not a living wage.
Maybe it was sufficient 20 years ago, and it still sounds like a princely sum, but the reality is that $15 an hour sounds like a ticket to easy street only to people making less.
Those who make less, and a lot of Americans do, basically have three options: Learn to live within very modest means; find a second — and possibly third — source of income; or take steps to ensure their minimum-wage reliance is only temporary.
McDonald’s worksheet proves that the first option is hardly workable (unless your idea of wealth is pocketing $2 a day after paying all bills).
The second option, finding additional sources of income, drew audible gasps from the Colbert audience, though I’m not sure why. Working a second job is an honorable way to make ends meet, although admittedly difficult for single parents, workers with physically exhausting jobs, and employees whose shifts change from week to week — like many McDonald’s workers.
The best option is probably Door No. 3, doing everything possible to get into a better-paying position, through additional education and/or advancement within a company. Again, easier said than done, especially in this economy.
The sad truth is that wealth in this country is unfairly concentrated in the hands of a few movers and shakers, the much-ballyhooed 1 percent, who take home 24 percent of the nation’s income. Compare that to 1976, when the top 1 percent made only 9 percent of the country’s income, and it’s apparent that this seesawing of available money is depleting the middle class, with more of us falling into poverty each year.
How can a man like Donald Thompson feel no guilt for making $8.75 million annually while so many of his employees rely on subsidies financed by U.S. taxpayers to make ends meet? Because he looked after his employees with a facile budgetary guide that advises them to carpool and use public transportation instead of driving solo?
I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s here. Its situation is hardly unique. Across America, a small cadre of the super rich hold the rest of us hostage. And whenever somebody even suggests the redistribution of wealth, the GOP starts waving copies of “Atlas Shrugged” and screaming “socialism,” before trotting out some chart-wielding PR maven who will explain that, exorbitant as CEO salaries may appear, lowering them won’t really fix the problem, and anyway, who would want all an exec’s responsibility for a piddling $350,000 a year? Don’tcha know these guys are busy creating jobs?
How nice it would be if the mega-rich would limit themselves to salaries that were merely, oh, 20-30 times greater than that of their average employee’s salary, instead of the ridiculous 380-times-bigger paychecks that many take home. But that’s as laughable as believing that the NSA isn’t really spying on Americans.
So I cheer on fast-food workers in their quixotic quest to increase wages. Even though they’re barking up the wrong tree, I can’t really think of a better one. The people in all the gated tree houses, after all, are too high up to even hear them.
Originally published Aug. 8, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
This is Teacher Appreciation Week, so I’m doing exactly that — remembering educators who enlightened and inspired me.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the late Melva Jean Watson, second-grade teacher at Washington Elementary, who read aloud from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Studies prove the benefits of reading to children, and I benefited both from the content of those books and the time spent listening to a capable reader weave words into a literary web.
Reading aloud was a big part of Judy Vien’s classroom circa 1980 at Marlington Middle School. One book in particular cast a potent spell: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” read by Mrs. Vien in her soft Southern accent, so similar to how I imagined Scout, Atticus, Jem and Dill would sound.
I respected her for sharing a book that some find controversial, especially for sixth-grade students, and for not sugarcoating the expletives. Instead, she explained the racial overtones of the times; that mistreating people because of skin color, education or economic attainment is wrong; and that we were mature enough to know that saying certain words was not the same as endorsing them.
A few years later, Andrea Ogline and Nancy Schwan — my freshman and sophomore English teachers, respectively, at Marlington High School — encouraged my love of writing, each in her own way.
Mrs. Ogline, poor thing, waded through page after page of my journal entries, filled with dreary imitations of stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard and gallons of imaginary blood. Yet she was always enthusiastic in her comments, even when she would have preferred a nice Bronte pastiche to another psychopathic killer inspired by my fetish for horror films.
Mrs. Schwan submitted one of my stories to a regional contest. It didn’t win, but for the first time I thought about making a living with words and saw how revision improved my writing. She took the work so seriously that she once called me at home to address a plot flaw, just like a real editor. I am thankful for that, and how she never assumed that because my character committed suicide, the story was a cry for help. (It wasn’t.)
At Mount Union College, David Ragosin and John Bienz left their marks. The former introduced me to William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” one of a handful of books I regularly return to for inspiration, and he once told me I had the makings of a good college professor. My career didn’t go in that direction, but the words did — and do — mean a lot.
Dr. Bienz had such a quiet and unprepossessing manner that he put students, many of whom were secretly terrified of literature at the collegiate level, at ease. While he delivered effective lectures, he was a master of eliciting responses, both in class and on the printed page. I especially remember his Shakespeare class, where instead of a final paper, we performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for elementary students. I was the fairy Puck, likely because of my long hair and effeminate build. (Both are victims of my forties.)
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I flattered the heck out of Dr. Bienz my first few years as a teacher, modeling my delivery on his. These days, I’ve found my own voice, but am still largely influenced by his technique.
Like most people, I am the sum total of the efforts of dozens of professionals, from Ms. Meese, the kindergarten teacher who introduced me to the Letter People, through Penny Arnold, an Ashland University professor who made me re-examine my grading methods as a practicing educator.
Even teachers whose subjects aren’t of great interest or whose styles are not inspirational make an impression. When they are passionate about their subjects, it leaves a mark. When they are not, that too speaks volumes.
If our lives are books, teachers occupy a large chunk of the acknowledgments, along with the standard tagline that while they provide a wealth of insight and information, we ourselves are responsible for any errors in fact.
“I am a part of all that I have met,” says Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem of the same name. This is especially true of teachers, whose impact lasts far beyond the final school bell and, indeed, tolls throughout our lives.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published May 9, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
education 28 Mar 2013 05:56 am
I work in a persistently poor performing school building.
At least that’s what the state indicated earlier this month when it unveiled new, “more rigorous” criteria for determining success and failure in Ohio’s public schools. My district was previously in “continuous improvement,” but this new ranking system means that even some schools previously rated “excellent” suddenly plummeted — based not on new information, but on a reevaluation of old information.
I’ve never been a fan of the way the state judges schools and issues report cards. It’s insulting, demeaning, and — most importantly — inaccurate. Designations are based overwhelmingly on test scores, and test scores, while important, do not tell the whole story.
So far this year, students in my classes have written and published three books. They’ve read and analyzed dozens of short stories, essays, poems and novels. They’ve interviewed senior citizens and written papers about the results. They’ve debated issues of equality and gender using nonfiction essays as a starting point.
Just next door, students have walked a simulated Oregon Trail to experience life as pioneers in the 1800s. Down the hall, they’ve participated in track-and-field events and measured the results to see real-life applications of science and math. One floor down, they’re learning to weld, work on automobiles and rehabilitate injured legs.
Students in my school routinely earn full-ride scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities, excel in athletics, create artwork for the walls of our local library, sing and act in professional-quality plays, produce daily news programs for television, create phenomenal meals, volunteer for local service groups, collect literally thousands of cans of food to help the less fortunate and enrich their community in dozens of ways.
Teachers in my school include first-rate graphic artists, home economists, mathematicians, journalists, valedictorians, researchers, and career educators — all sharing a goal to give kids what they need to succeed in a competitive world.
And we are nothing special.
Across the state, in almost every school and district, students and teachers are doing similar activities, excelling in similar ways, and achieving similar results. But the state takes none of this qualitative information into account when it measures our schools.
I’m not suggesting public education is perfect. Of course it isn’t. Teachers get tired, burned out, used up. Some public schools desperately need to be fixed. Some may even need to be closed, but not nearly as many as you might think based on the list of “persistently poor performing” buildings.
My wife works in a nursing home. When the state inspects her building each year, four or five evaluators from Columbus arrive, unannounced, for a weeklong assessment. A dietitian looks at the quality of the food, safety personnel look at the physical building, nurses pore over records and charts. Employees are interviewed. Patients are interviewed. When it’s over, the company receives citations for its mistakes, a window of time to fix them, and a later evaluation to determine that corrections have been made.
But in education, faceless bureaucrats in Columbus pull graduation rates, attendance numbers, and — most importantly — test scores, stack them against a pre-made yardstick and issue a determination. Nobody bothers to look at the school, talk one-on-one to people who work and learn there, or watch a single class.
Why can’t the plan that works for nursing homes work for schools? Why can’t teams of teachers and administrators, trained to look for the good and the bad, walk in some morning, observe classes, evaluate lesson plans, talk to students, parents, teachers and administrators, and make an overall assessment based on both qualitative and quantitative data? People and numbers, not just numbers and numbers.
Is it because this method is too expensive? Or is it because such first-person evaluations might reveal a different reality than the one politicians sell to the public, one that allows their rich, opportunistic friends to establish a foothold in public education and exploit it? Might such evaluations show that many educational disparities are caused by income disparities, a problem made worse by a widening gulf between rich and poor?
I used to believe this was the stuff of paranoia, but that was before I watched billionaires open their wallets and make huge donations with strings attached (I’m talking to you, Bill Gates), running — and ruining — education like a business to further their own ends while sending their own kids to ritzy academies exempt from such ridiculous mandates.
Public education still works. Don’t let the latest contrived reports tell you otherwise. Do what our lawmakers can’t or won’t — come to our persistently poor performing school and see for yourself.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published March 28, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for gun-rights advocates who keep shooting themselves in the foot — and other parts of the anatomy — in their attempts to persuade us that more guns equal a safer society.
Last Saturday was Gun Appreciation Day, selected by apparently tone-deaf organizers on the weekend before a federal holiday to honor civil-rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., whose own life was cut short by gun violence.
On this day, five people attending gun shows were accidentally shot — in Raleigh, N.C., where a man’s gun discharged, striking a trio of bystanders at the entrance to the Dixie Gun and Knife Show; in Indianapolis, where a man shot himself in the hand as he exited the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show; and closer to home, where a man shot a fellow exhibitor while opening a box containing a gun at the Medina Gun Show. All were accidental.
“Accidental” and gun mishaps, unfortunately, go hand in hand. In 2011, 851 people died in this country because of accidents with the 310 million estimated firearms in civilian circulation.
It’s only common sense to recognize that the introduction of a gun into a situation increases the chances that a gun will be fired, intentionally or unintentionally, in that situation — sometimes to the detriment of the user and sometimes to the detriment of innocent bystanders. Also, to be fair, sometimes to the detriment of an aggressor, but not as often as we might hope.
For instance, one of several Time magazine articles published in the Jan. 28 edition (where most of the statistics in this column originate) notes that New York City police officers’ “hit rate” in a gunfight is 30 percent when the target does not shoot back and an abysmal 18 percent when the target returns fire.
Yet one of the most insistent reactions to the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary is a call to increase the number of armed personnel in our schools — either with armed police officers or teachers. If a New York City cop has only an 18-percent chance of hitting a shooter, do we really expect better results from a seventh-grade science teacher?
Proponents argue that the presence of guns on school campuses is a deterrent, so that guards and teachers may never have to use those guns, that their presence is enough to keep potential shooters away.
But consider: If five people can be shot accidentally in one day at gun shows, how many accidents might we have to accept as a consequence of keeping our kids “safe” in class?
More knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to gun violence. The country doesn’t need additional restrictions on gun ownership because the vast majority of gun owners — last weekend’s accidents notwithstanding — are responsible people with the sense to store weapons and ammunition safely.
Yet we also don’t need to encourage the further proliferation of guns. With more guns than people in this country, we have enough firearms already.
It is unconscionable that the NRA is using the recent Sandy Hook tragedy as an opportunity to extend its political reach, and it is just as unconscionable that politicians, including the president, are using it as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Both sides are preying on — and perhaps are victims of — fear. Cooler heads on both sides, or maybe somewhere in the middle, must prevail.
The sad truth is that, in 2011, the most common reason for gun deaths by far was suicide, with 19,766 people ending their own lives with firearms. Clearly, more needs to be done to bolster mental-health services in this country, which is why the $15 million that Obama has proposed to train teachers to recognize mental illness and the $40 million that would help school districts refer students to mental-health help are the most sensible components of last week’s executive and Congressional to-do list. The same sorts of services need to be made more readily available to adults, as well.
Unfortunately, the parts of the president’s proposals that will get all the attention are the attempts to ban assault rifles and high-capacity clips, which will serve only to offend gun owners who use those items lawfully and safely for recreational shooting. It will do little to curb crime.
If you own guns, lock them up. Store ammunition separately. While this greatly reduces the effectiveness of firearms for home protection (which is a false sense of security, anyway), the life you save and the injuries you prevent may be your own or somebody who has done you no harm.
Especially if you go to gun shows.
Originally published Jan. 24, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
It didn’t take long — hours, really — before horror over last Friday’s school killings in Connecticut turned into a rush to judgment and reform.
Americans took to Facebook, Twitter and blogs first to express shock, sorrow and condolences, and, soon after, opinions about why the 20-year-old shooter decided to turn an elementary school into an abattoir.
Some blamed the news media for a supposed focus on violence and sensationalism, noting that networks are quick to swoop in and fixate on numbers — 20 dead children, seven dead adults, plus the shooter himself — and compare them to other school tragedies in Columbine, Virginia Tech and, closer to home, Chardon. By sharing body counts, goes this school of thought, the media has created a twisted Top 10 to which other sick individuals will aspire.
Others looked to the removal of prayer in the schools. Conservative radio host Bryan Fischer said that God turned his back on the children at Sandy Hook Elementary because America has kicked Him and His commandments out of public schools. The only way to regain God’s protection, he said, is for school boards to authorize the return of prayer, even in defiance of the Supreme Court.
Still other bloggers and posters blamed gun laws, with the left calling them too lax and the right calling them too strict. Legislators have been too focused on the economy and the looming fiscal cliff to worry overmuch about gun control, an issue that polarizes Americans. Some opined that if teachers were allowed to carry guns, they could better protect their students in such situations.
A few thoughts:
- The media does fixate on certain stories, sometimes to the point of distorting their significance. While the situation at Sandy Hook undoubtedly deserved coverage, the nonstop barrage may have obscured the fact that, statistically, schools are still one of the safest places for kids. By contrast, one of the most dangerous places, motor vehicles, receives scant coverage.
- Individual prayer has not been removed from public schools. Students are free to bow their heads for moments of silence or to organize prayer groups to meet before and after classes. Schools may not compel students to pray. And the thought of a God who would purposely turn his back on children because of any policy instituted by adults, as Fischer suggests, should be repulsive to people of all faiths.
- I may have my membership as a card-carrying liberal revoked for saying this, but stricter gun-control laws would not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooter, who murdered using guns owned legally by his mother. What will help in the future is a greater focus on gun safety and on the importance of keeping firearms locked away, with ammunition stored separately, and with keys hidden from all but the person who legally owns the weapons.
- Of course, this greatly detracts from the usefulness (if that’s the right word) of firearms in an emergency situation, since most home intruders will not wait for a gun owner to unlock a gun cabinet, load a weapon, take aim and fire, which is why firearms in the home create a false sense of security and likely aren’t practical or helpful.
- In the wake of 9/11, law-abiding Americans lost many freedoms because of well-intentioned but overzealous attempts to protect us from terrorism. The Patriot Act, parts of which were reauthorized, was too broad and too intrusive. We would be foolish to trample the Second Amendment to enact feel-good gun-control legislation that may not do anything to make Americans truly safer.
- I am a teacher and would never carry a gun in my classroom even if I were legally permitted. I’ve read too many studies that indicate fatalities are more likely when both parties have weapons. Just as important, the presence of a gun on my person would fly in the face of the message I try to instill in my students — that reason and thought trump violence.
- Mental-health services are always among the first to see a decrease in funding in tough economic times, yet the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses notes that one in 17 people in this country has schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder.
- Statistically, the mentally ill are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population, but a small number who are denied medications and services could turn to violence — against themselves or others — as a coping mechanism. Better to shore up compassionate services to this underserved segment of society than waste time in a fruitless battle to change gun-control laws that would affect only law-abiding citizens.
The killings in Connecticut may be a wake-up call, but if they rouse us only to the same tired rhetoric, then the tragedy is even greater. After all, in 100 percent of violent scenarios, the weapon of choice is the human mind.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Dec. 20, 2012, in The Alliance Review.