fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This close. I'm this close to sending this to the local newspaper.

I really want to mail this in as a letter to the editor. Here's the thing: My mother was a member of my hometown's School Board for, well, most of my school years. She was president of the School Board for many of those years. As it so happened, during contract negotiations or if she took an unpopular stand, well, my grades dropped. I should say my grades were dropped a notch. "Impossible!" the teachers in the crowd will say. But I remember. Anyway, this is what I want to point out:


Every afternoon, when I pick my children up from school, I ask them. “So, what did you learn today?” Most often, they respond, “Nothing.”

I attribute this to a bit of afternoon lethargy and not real despondency. Today, however, my First-Grade daughter said, “Nothing, because we had to clean up the campus.” This week, my six-year-old and her classmates are required to clean up the school grounds after recess. You’re kidding me, right? No, in fact, because of cost cutting, certain custodial activities are being redistributed to the children.

Are the clients of public facilities now performing the janitorial work? Are the attorneys sweeping under the tables and chairs between hearings at the Superior Court? Are library card holders given gloves and a bag to clean up around the main library?

The state budget shortfalls are a result of overgenerous benefits to School District employees. The burden of meeting salary, defined pension and healthcare obligations, calculated with an assumption that the stock market returns of Internet boom of the 1990s could be expected for 50 years, has come at the expense of classroom facilities and materials. We parents are asked again and again to open our wallets for things like folding chairs, office couches, building improvements, copy paper, classroom supplies, physical education instruction and arts education. Every year, our Elementary School asks its parents to come in one weekend to clean and paint bathrooms, clear weeds and perform all manner of maintenance work. This Friday, instead of instruction, the children will be running circles in a fund-raising “Fun Run” during school hours. And now it is expected to have the children absorb janitorial responsibilities?

As such, I started thinking a bit myself about numbers and statistics, namely the salaries of teachers and how that correlates to our children’s education. The numbers I found are worth picking up. In addition to trash, we may be throwing our money and our children’s education away.

Let’s start with our money:

Teacher salaries in California jockey with Connecticut, the District of Colombia and New Jersey year for year for the highest in the nation. The average teacher salary in California was around $57,000 in 2004 (http://dcjobsource.com/2004teachersalaries.html).
Internationally, it is a little more difficult to analyze teacher salaries. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics made an attempt to reveal the cost of teachers in an absolute sense, irrespective of a nation’s wealth. By calculating teacher salaries respective to GDP per capita, this statistic showed what a nation paid a teacher respective to what it is able to pay for other services. For example, although a poorer nation may pay its teachers less, it may actually be devoting more of its available resources to teachers. At any rate--literally any rate--U.S. teachers do not fare badly compared to the rest of the world: The United States ranked fourth and third among nations in absolute terms. Only Japan, Austria and Portugal paid their primary school teachers more, and only Germany and Spain paid their secondary teachers more. Unfortunately, I could not find a more recent statistic, but I cannot imagine that salaries have gone down much.

Across professions, California teachers’ salaries compare favorably with other white-collar professionals. An emergency room nurse in our area earns about $60K, a warehouse manager around $59K, an accountant around $47K, an office supervisor around $45K and your news assistants only around $29K, according to salaryexpert.com. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2005 calculated that public school teachers earn on an hourly basis 36% more than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than technical and specialty workers. The BLS statistic went so far as to capture total hours worked, yes, even included that paper grading time, and came up with these numbers. Still, let’s not forget, teachers work nine of twelve months and from 9 am to 3 pm. Then there’s those school vacations. And talk about health and pension benefits! Plus tenure after 3 years. It matters not, if a teacher is especially good or bad, he’s there until he’s 55. Or 50, if he got an early start. Not to mention all those little hidden perks, such as getting paid for untaken sick days, which, in principle and practice is getting paid twice for the same day of work.

California teachers rank near the top in pay of all teachers in the world and keep pace in salary with all manner of professionals who work twelve months a year and eight hours a day. Therefore, by all accounts--national and international, real, absolute and relative--California teachers are well compensated. And thusly compensated for life. As well they should be. As well they should be if--that is, if--that is what is required for our children to achieve educational excellence.

So, now, let’s just see about that educational excellence:

In 2007, California ranked 36th in SAT scores among the 50 States. Iowa achieved the number one spot in SAT scores. Coincidentally, this is almost an inverse of teacher pay relative to SAT scores: California ranks near 1st in teacher salaries and 36th in SAT scores; Iowa ranks 37th in teacher salaries and 1st in SAT scoring. So, while a teacher in Los Angeles County brings home around $57K annually, his colleague in Cedar Rapids gets by with about $39K. A retail store manager in our area can expect to take home around $49K; In Iowa City, he can expect around $47K. Looking at it that way, a teacher in California makes considerably more than his middle management professional neighbor; that teacher in Iowa earns considerably less than the white-collar professionals on his block. How do those Iowans do it? I don’t know, but they do.

And internationally? Even with those especially bright youngsters in the Midwest, in 2003, UNICEF determined that the United States ranks only 18th of 24 nations in terms of educational effectiveness. Twenty years ago, the United States ranked number one among industrialized nations of its adults 25 to 34 holding high school degrees and college degrees. Today, the United States ranks ninth and seventh respectively. One should note that this ranking just indicates that these adults have a piece of paper. In terms of applying math skills and solving real world problems, no matter what sheepskin is hanging on the wall, Finland, Korea, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada and Belgium are leaving the United States in the dust. In other words, a First-Grader in Finland is learning the scientific method while a First-Grader here is, well, picking up trash. And I mean “picking up trash” not figuratively.

The UNICEF report also did not find a correlation between educational achievement and funding. Furthermore, classroom size did not seem to be a determining factor. Other countries have greater student-to-teacher ratios and achieve much better test results. By all standards, the U.S. spends a lot on education and yet the educational quality is slipping. USC Rossier School of Education professor David Marsh attributed the lackluster education in the United States to how children are taught. 

“The United States focuses more on procedure, and we try to teach many topics fast. Other countries tend to break topics up and go much more in-depth. They work on the concept, not just the procedure,” Marsh said in a U-Wire interview. “Countries that did well in rankings focused on teaching the ideas and taught a few topics a year. Kids will learn what a fraction really is, not just how to add or subtract them.”

Anecdotally, because I lived overseas for a number of years and have many friends with school-aged children in other countries, I observe that those children are, in fact, learning more and doing more than my children. And these are countries and schools with similar immigrant numbers and comparable assimilation, language and social challenges that immigrant populations can bring.

Now here is an interesting idea, almost an inverse of current thinking. Prof. Marsh’s observation that neither funding, nor classroom size are determining factors in an educational system’s success may point to something, perhaps a simple way to lower cost and improve education. Or rather, lower cost to improve education. Teach less, but teach with more depth. That would cut down considerably on instructional materials, instructors, audio/visual equipment and the like. Achieve more with less. Achieve more because of less. Try teaching how to learn in depth and likely the breadth of knowledge will follow. As such, the budget shortfalls could be viewed as a good thing. So, Mr. Schwarzenegger, cut 10 per cent across the board. It might actually help the kids achieve. So far, we have seen rising teacher salaries as being incommensurate with children’s achievement.

While I’m throwing ideas out there: Why does the School District need to have full time painters and groundskeepers on staff? A day does not go by when I open my door and am greeted with a flurry of business cards from companies offering to paint my house or trim my trees. This area does not seem to lack for painters and groundskeepers. Maybe some of these businesses could do the painting and trimming for the District. Or if that seems a bit too novel, how about if the School District picks up the telephone and asks the City to perhaps radio the City maintenance staff, who are sleeping in their trucks at park around the corner, to come over and do some of the clean up work the School District needs.

Marsh added this,
“In fourth grade, American kids do above average internationally. By eighth grade, they slip a bit, and by 12th-grade, they’ve slipped a lot,” Marsh said. “We’re the only country that slides down that much from fourth to 12th grade.” 


I see the slipping occurring earlier. Today, instead of being given instruction on how to learn, the kids are cleaning up the school grounds. And being supervised for their custodial work by some of the highest paid white-collar mid-level professionals in the world. And this, while City maintenance staff are catching zz’s under the trees in the Best Buy parking lot. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (For those recent graduates from the California education system, Denmark is doing just fine. This is an allusion to Hamlet and the rotten political hierarchy around the tragic prince … written by William Shakespeare … 16th Century English poet and playwright…Ringing any bells?).

For the record, the “Campus Clean-Up” skills my daughter is learning may bring her a $20K annual income as a janitor.

7 comments:

Sabine said...

Liebe Nancy,

auch Kreativität ist meist das Resultat eines Mangels...

Es könnte aber auch sein, dass ich aufgrund meines Englisch-Wortschatzes deinen Artikel nicht ganz richtig verstanden habe...

Trotzdem brauchst du ihn nicht übersetzen :-) ))

Liebe Grüße
Sabine

anjana said...

Oh Nancy,

I know what you're talking about.

Sasha's school was closed 3 days in a row because of snow days. I ask myself why do they have to close the schools in NY for snow? In Idaho they never get snow days for example, and they sure have snow up there.

And yes, even the kindergarten kids in our district have to clean their classrooms. They actually made the kids sweep and mop the floors. I'll never forget how pissed off I was when Sasha told me. She came home one day and said that her arms were really sore because they had to clean.

Yup, and the same goes for classroom supplies. The beginning of every school year we have to buy all kinds of supplies which are shared in the classroom. That is on top of what I buy for my daughters own use. A couple of month into the year she always needs new pencils, markers, erasers, sharpeners and so on. There is no way that she uses that stuff up within a couple of month. The newest thing this year was erasable pens. I think I bought about 30 of them already. When I ask her what she does with them she says she has to share with the other kids in the class.

Last summer my husband got into an argument with the high school principal. She is our neighbor. She told us that she went on a 7 day trip to China, paid for by the school. Greg mentioned something like this: "Oh, now I know where our taxes go to"

They send 6 teachers from our school on a business trip to China. The teachers actually spent about 6 hours in some Chinese school to observe how their school day goes.

But on the other hand they can't afford to hire another janitor so the elementary school kids don't have to clean their own classroom.


Maybe you should go to the newspaper and make a big stink, but I can't see that it would change anything. But I think it would make you feel better.

Go get'em!

Anjana

Missy said...

Send away Nancy! The more parents that get involved the more they will listen...theoretically ;-) Involving the superintendent didn't even help in our situation hence the homeschooling.

Miss

mooi hoor... said...

Send it! For all the good things cleaning up has (create and share responsibility, awareness for the environment and all that) this is ridiculous.

I do hope that at least the teacher did some cleaning up him-/herself as well.

The Poole Party said...

Hi Nancy,
I think that you should write a letter to the editor for several reasons. First, your post is very well written! I don't know what your background is educationally but it is obvious you put time into researching this topic and you presented the facts clearly. Secondly, alot of people don't know what is going on in the classroom either because they don't have children in school or their kids don't talk about it.
I totally agree with your conclusion of keeping education simple, cut out all the "fluff" and focus on the foundations.
Additionally, I want to tell you, I live in Texas and am a home schooler. It seems like more and more I am meeting people who are moving from California to Texas for the purpose of home schooling. I'm told that California is not a "home school friendly state" and Texas is. So they do the research and look for job opportunities for hubby and move to Texas! Wow!
Sorry this got so long but it's a very interesting topic!
Kerri in TX

Christine said...

Do it, by all means, do it !! Send it to your local newspaper. Your post is better written and researched than most articles in the newspaper or any "intelligent" magazine. Maybe it will not change much, but you at least tried to make a difference.

I agree with the ladies above. This is ridiculous and should not be swept under the rug !!

Don't worry about my skirt, but rather kick them in their behind ;O) That's more important, the skirt can wait !!

XO, Chris

Fledgling said...

Pamela wanted to say this and Blogger was boggarded. So, here goes! (Thanks, Pamela ;-)

Oh Nancy,

I think your letter and thoughts are genius. While some teachers are worth every penny, and then some, tenure positions after 3 years are a joke. Don't even get me started on the lazy-*ss teacher I know who is a outright bigot who is tenured and is teaching kiddos. For her to be fired now she will have to use the "n" word on campus or sexually assault a kiddo. I wish schools would get rid of tenure all together, and this is coming from someone who has a husband who is a professor. I believe in merit pay.

I also do not care for some of these "fundraising" and cost-cutting ideas schools or enacting. I worry about the children I see outside often without parents and at night trying to sell candy, cookies, and magazine subscriptions to help schools raise funds. It seems unsafe, and wouldn't our children's time be better spent learning and doing homework, reading, etc.

Fortunately, my children have great teachers and staff. Fortunately my kiddos' schools have not asked my children to sell a thousand cookies, and have enacted IMHO fundraisers that do not take away from the time my children should be learning. Yes, my DD's school had a 2 hour walk-a-thon during school hours, which I was initially not thrilled about, but that event help raise over $35,000, and the agreement was with us parents, no more "school time" would be used for such things.

Lastly, I read 15% of the CA school budget would be cut across the board probably. I have an uncomforable feeling these cuts will be on things our kiddos could really educationally benefit from like new and up-to-date history books, current model computers and programs, making class size larger (students per teacher ratio), and on and on. Oh yes, probably making janitors less and less common too.

Thank you for getting all of us readers thinking about the state of education we have in the US, specifically CA.

-Pamela

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