Why Teaching in the United States is Exhausting

Lower secondary (middle school) teachers spend 26.8 of their 44.8 hours directly engaged with students in classrooms. Among developed countries, that’s the most instructional time in the world. In other developed countries, teachers average 19.3 hours of instructional time out of 38.3 total hours.

In the U.S., the challenge is how to reduce the quantity of instructional time in the interest of improved quality of teaching and learning.

The data is here.

This weekend, be nice to your mother and a teacher or two.

Weekend Reading

There will be a quiz on Monday.

  1. The chaos of urban school reform.
  2. Life-long learners versus life-long test takers.
  3. Grade anxiety and felony burglary at the University of Kentucky. What do you propose as punishment?
  4. Can science help marathoners break the 2-hour limit? Truly excellent breakdown. Fav sentence, “Basically, in the marathon, there are a lot more pipes that can burst than, say, in a mile or a 5K.” The attempt is in Italy Saturday morning at 5:45a, tonight at 8:45p PDT, 11:45p, EDT. I do not expect to see a sub two hour marathon in my lifetime; however, I do hope to break two hours in my first stand-alone 10k in ages tomorrow morn.
  5. The real reason Clinton lost. Prediction: Alison will disagree. Vehemently.

The American Dream Quantified

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From “The American Dream Quantified, At Last”

This graphic is worth several thousands of words. Among other things, it explains why parents are increasingly anxious about their children’s futures and why education policy makers are fixated on economic competitiveness often at the expense of “the whole child”.

For the record, my dad made about 10x more than me.

Why School Funding Matters

In reference to the recent post, “Numbers to Ponder“, a loyal reader, okay my older brother, wrote:

This is an absolutely mind-boggling situation to me. Given my complete lack of experience / knowledge regarding school levies I must ask “What suggestions can one with your experience / knowledge make in a scenario such as this one?” It appears to me that asking for a school levy in the Bethel School District would be a totally futile pursuit.

At the end of our the district tour, I asked the superintendent what polling was showing and whether he thought voters would approve the bond. I was surprised by his honest assessment that it was going to be very difficult. Seemingly resigned to a negative outcome, he referenced a neighboring district that passed their bond on the tenth try. I followed up by asking if there was a Plan B. There is not, which may mean the gap in educational opportunity will continue to widen in Western Washington State.

In the US, the fact that we fund public schools largely through property taxes means communities with larger, more expensive homes generate more funds for schools than those with smaller, less expensive ones. Property tax based funding makes a mockery of one of the things we most like to believe about ourselves, that there’s equal opportunity. How can there be equal opportunity if there’s not equal educational opportunity?

More specifically, how can we expect Bethel students to achieve at the same level as others in Washington State when they lose class time walking from distant portables to the main buildings to use bathrooms or change classes, and when they lose class time to floods and unsafe plumbing and electrical problems, and when they don’t have as many books to choose among or computers to use, and when their teachers come and go? Not to mention rodents and unsafe athletic facilities.

During the tour I was reminded of a poignant documentary from about 20 years ago about your home state, O-H-I-O. That Public Broadcasting System film detailed the extreme differences between the most wealthy and poor districts/schools in the state. I read some follow up articles about the backlash it caused and several new schools were built in response.

In fact, activist groups in several states have succeeded in legally challenging the school funding status quo. Many of those states now pool the bulk of their property tax revenues and then distribute them in a more uniform manner. If we truly value equal opportunity, that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s an incomplete step because privileged families will always supplement what their children’s schools have available so that their children maintain a relative advantage.

Among other ways, our daughters schools, like a lot of 0thers, did this by holding fund-raising auctions for parents. They provided dinner, had local businesses—often owned by the students’ families—volunteer gifts, and then auctioned them off. I recall a plain looking chocolate cake going for $500. And an auctioneer that asked, “Who’d like to give $100 to the library so that we can order more books?!” A majority of people’s hands shot up.

Or maybe I didn’t hear him correctly, maybe he said, “Who wants their children to remain a leg up in the race of life?”

Why So Many Teachers Quit

That’s the title of this LA Times Op-Ed. I purposely haven’t read it so that you can compare Rizga’s reasoning and mine.

Conventional wisdom is that teachers quit because of the modest compensation, but every teacher enters the profession knowing that.

I hypothesize a lot quit because they fail to master classroom management. Absent positive relationships, classroom life is a complete drag. Also, nothing is more stressful than never truly having students’ attention. And absent attention, respect is elusive. Absent mutual respect, joy is inconceivable. What do those who struggle most with classroom management have in common? They usually aren’t comfortable with their authority.

That’s not all. When some teachers conclude they can’t teach as creatively as they want due to over standardization, they leave.

Another variable is true for everyone at whatever their workplace and for everyone in life more generally, teachers want to be appreciated. Teaching is among the most challenging and selfless endeavors a person can undertake, but no teacher that I know is perfectly intrinsically motivated. New teachers can master classroom management and commit long hours to crafting the most creative lessons possible, but if no one—students, families, colleagues, administrators, the “public”—ever truly acknowledges their efforts and demonstrates a modicum of appreciation, their enthusiasm inevitably wanes.

I suspect a significant proportion of teachers quit because of some combination of these three things.

How to fix it? Empower those teachers in each school that are most skilled in the art of classroom management to mentor those just starting out. Refuse to teach to standardized tests. Continually repeat that teaching excellence takes many forms. Show and tell teachers that you appreciate their efforts.

Education Apocalypse—Junior Achievement for Kindergarteners

I’ve shortened a recent email message I received and summarized the response you should have to each paragraph in bold.

In the fall of 2015 the “W” Housing Authority will be launching a new Children’s Savings Account Program that will serve students who live in the “X” Community. We will launch the program with a cohort of entering kindergarteners who attend “Y” Elementary School, which is located in the middle of “Y”, and a cohort of 6th grade students who attend neighboring “Z” Middle School. —cool

By way of brief background, Children’s Savings Accounts (CSA’s) are long-term asset-building accounts for children. These accounts can be opened for children as early as birth, and are often used to pay for students’ education after high school. You can find examples of CSA programs in cities across the country and CSA program models vary from school-based initiatives to citywide efforts funded through public-private partnerships. —cool

When students enroll in the elementary school stage of the CSA WHA will open a savings account in their name. WHA will then make an initial $50 deposit into the account. WHA will then match up to $400 per year that families deposit into their student’s account through the 5th grade. —cool

When students reach 6th grade the savings match stops. Instead of matching family’s savings, WHA will give students an opportunity to earn incentive payments by reaching certain goals. These goals may include earning a certain grade point average, maintaining a certain attendance record and participating in extracurricular activities. As students meet these goals, WHA will deposit up to $700 per year in their savings account until they graduate from high school.—wish extrinsic rewards weren’t necessary, but I’ll roll with it

When a student enrolls in a postsecondary program they can then use the money in their CSA to help pay for tuition and other related costs of attendance.—cool if we’re talking vocational education too

I am reaching out to you because as part of the CSA, WHA will offer students and their families an opportunity to participate in financial education classes. We have identified the Junior Achievement curriculum for use with our students and the staff at “Y” Elementary School has decided to try and imbed the JA program across all of their kindergarten classrooms in the spring of 2016.—what the hell, did you say kindergarten?

Quick turn to the electronic dictionary reveals that Junior Achievement “works with local businesses and organizations to deliver experiential programs on the topics of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to students in kindergarten through high school.

Anyone that wants kindergarteners learning about financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship should have their head and heart examined.

Is there a more convincing example that utilitarian purposes of schooling have trounced humanitarian ones? We’ve completely lost our minds. Heaven help us.

Sentence to Ponder

Governor Cuomo version:

In the light of such widespread skepticism about over-reliance on test results—and such widespread consensus about the detrimental effects engendered by teaching to the test—the governor’s doubling down on state test results to assess teachers’ effectiveness seems a questionable calculation.