Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

March 31, 2010

Teacher Jaime Escalante dies at 79

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 5:26 pm
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A teacher has died.

 He died of cancer. 

 Charismatic

 High school teacher

 “Jaime didn’t just teach math. Like all great teachers,  he changed lives.”

 Escalante gained national prominence in the aftermath of a 1982 scandal surrounding 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating.

Escalante was a maverick… he mesmerized students

“His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed.”

Escalante’s rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation’s schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.

He was called a traitor for his opposition to bilingual education.

 He attended a well-regarded Jesuit high school, San Calixto, where his quick mind and penchant for mischief often got him into trouble.

After high school, he served in the army during a short-lived Bolivian rebellion.

 Before he graduated, he was teaching at three top-rated Bolivian schools.

With $3,000 in his pocket and little more than “yes” and “no” in his English vocabulary, Escalante flew alone to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1963. He was 33.

His first job was mopping floors in a coffee shop

He enrolled in English classes.

He was promoted to cook,

 He earned a scholarship to Cal State Los Angeles to pursue a teaching credential

He discovered how watered-down the math textbooks were — on a par with fifth-grade work in Bolivia

At his insistence, they studied before school, after school and on Saturdays

The Advanced Placement program ….For many years it was a tool of the elite…

Escalante’s dramatic success raised public consciousness of what it took to be not just a good teacher but a great one.

Ultimate performer in class

 Cracking jokes

 Rendering impressions and using all sorts of props

He liked to be judged by his results

For the whole story, go here:  http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-jaime-escalante31-2010mar31,0,4111731,full.story

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March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 10:16 pm

With apologies to Mr. Dickens, when one examines government schooling in Washington, D.C., and Chicago recently, one discovers surely that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Rising from the mire of incredulity, Washington D.C. schools had a solution that worked. Despite spending over $26,000 per student per year and reaping achievements equal to the worst of 51 states and territories, Washington did have a way out of their collective darkness; the light was the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). This demonstrably successful school voucher program—for D.C.’s poorest families—allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.” And they flourished! It was the spring of hope.

But according to OSP leaders, Kevin P. Chavous (former D.C. Councilman) and Virginia Walden Ford (executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice): “House and Senate Appropriators ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. They ignored the research by their own US Department of Education. Kids became another political football for the rich and powerful. America’s two-party system again reared its ugly head: subsidy for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan obfuscated statistical research that kept the true story both from the general public, but especially the decision-makers in Washington. Apparently the Hussein Obama Administration did not wish to honor the facts of this program, facts that clearly showed a way out of the despair that is the Washington DC school system.

These are sad, even dangerous times, because the values that built this American Republic are being turned on their head. Leadership in the city of Washington, the Mayor, the public school chancellor, a majority of the city council said, “Continue the program.” 70% of the folks, the parents and residents of Washington said “Yes” as well. Yet congressional and administration leaders turned a deaf ear to the plight and plea of its citizens. Granted, the city of Washington has a very unique relationship with Congress, in that a Federal agency is responsible for the funding of a municipality directly—since the people of Washington vote for no congressional leader, they’re no one’s constituents so no one feels obliged to listen to them. But maybe that’s just the point. And maybe this is the clarion call to warn the rest of America of things to come in schooling, things to come in this new season of darkness.

The closure of the DC Scholarship Program occurred not because of how we value one another. If we did we wouldn’t simply ignore the voice of 70% of the community. The program wasn’t shut down because of any principles or beliefs. How do you argue with confirmed success, fiscal savings, and the moral roots to reason granted to these 3,300 kids? The program didn’t “die” for economic reasons either; the program clearly saved money. Congressional leaders could not find $50 million to gives kids hope and a chance to break the cycle of poverty in which find themselves. But they could find $3 billion for the Cash for Clunkers program (a bogus trade-in program to “simulate” the economy whose total costs outweighed all benefits by $1.4 billion). No, it all came down to politics—the new American value. Once again government leadership traded the well-being and success of kids for a works program for adults. It seems like government schools were not built for kids. They seem to have been built to house adults. When one examines the model on which they were built, maybe that was the intention all along.

Now to that other city, Chicago. Chicago Breaking News (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/03/duncans-staff-kept-list-of-politicians-school-requests.html)  reported the other day that former Chicago schools chief and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan manipulated a system to favor powerful political allies by placing their children in the schools of their choice. That’s odd. This says that Secretary Duncan favors school choice—at least for some. But Secretary Duncan denied choice in Washington. The differences are glaring.

Washington’s OSP was targeted at the poorest. Chicago’s behind-the-scenes system helped the rich and powerful. Washington’s program was based on success; Chicago’s was based on failure (failure to get one’s first choice, failure to move to the correct neighborhood, inability to cross boundaries “legally”).

Chicago’s shadowy appeals process was deep and dark, behind the scenes and clandestine. Rumors abounded for years; these were met with copious denials by the city. Now we find that the rumors were true. School choice was made available for some of the well-healed and highly-placed, the same folks who could probably purchase homes in the “best” districts and/or purchase an education consistent with their wishes. But instead of spending their money, instead of exercising those parental options to support their own children, they leveraged the back door for a favor and got a hand out from the government. Would that everyone had the chance.

Washington’s OSP program was the acme of openness and transparency. We’re at a crossroads in the education of America’s public. Part of that public is receiving schooling in government schools (including government charter schools), some of that public is receiving a sound education in independent, private and religious schools and some of that public is receiving a good education at home.

As in our Tale of Two Cities, it matters not where one receives a good education; what matters is that they do receive that education. It’s time that our government get out of the way of sound education and let the public decide.

We have everything before us if we succeed; we have nothing before us if we fail.

March 24, 2010

Jihad Comes to the Easter Egg

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 9:23 pm
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It appears that the humble Easter Egg has fallen prey to the political machinations of the Washington beltway. In a CNS news report, Mayor Fenty and D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee accepted 3,000 reserved tickets in an Easter basket from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Hussein Obama administration announced on Tuesday it has reserved 3,000 free tickets to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll for students in D.C.-area public and charter schools, but not for children who attend private or parochial schools. Incredible!

The history of this honored tradition reaches back to 1878 when President Rutherford B. Hayes opened up the Whitehouse lawn for this annual event. Hayes let it be known that neighborhood children could gather on the White House lawn to play Easter games after Congress banned the youngsters from the grounds of the Capitol. Why would the Hussein Obama Administration specifically exclude kids in private schools and/or are home-schooled? Are they not part of the greater “public?” Are some of them not neighbors? When asked, administration officials either don’t have an answer or point to the lottery system available for “everybody else.” Could it have something to do with power, dependence and control?

This decision by the Hussein Obama Administration clearly demonstrates the two-party system that America has become: especially today, we have subsidies for the rich and powerful and then we have free enterprise for the poor. If you’re part of the political machinery, you’re eligible for a reserved ticket; if not, you’re on your own. Is not the president the president of all the kids in D.C.? Are not all these kids part of his neighborhood? Maybe it’s because they’re viewed as future tax-payers rather than citizens.

This year’s theme – “Ready, Set, Go!” – is intended to promote health and wellness. What happened to the religious and cultural roots of the Easter Egg? The easter egg was used to symbolize and celebrate new life. It had a religious undercurrent and overtones. It had spiritual roots and a rich legacy. But to politicize it to promote health and wellness is like encouraging folks to wear shorts and play a boombox on a journey to Mecca.

We’re told that the event will feature live music, sports courts, storytelling, egg rolling—and cooking stations. I can’t wait to see what stories are told.

March 10, 2010

The Dash for the Cash

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 6:32 pm
Tags: ,

Recently we’ve been hearing the many and sordid accounts of school districts across the country (superintendents/principals) in their mad dash for cash from the Race to the Top Program out of the Obama’s so-called Stimulus Program. It’s been reported that even the ubiquitous Gates Foundation has used some of its grant-money to pay for the time and resources necessary to prepare applications for this program. That’s an interesting use of “educational” dollars. Soon these same leaders will be competing with one another for even more money in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (its future name surely something other than the infamous NCLB). The first thought that comes to mind is the fact that half the people who play tennis today will lose. In the Race to the Top some just won’t make it. Some won’t even enter. Nevertheless, one still has to ask, “Race to the Top of what?”

 School Superintendents, like school principals, are busy people. They have finite resources and infinite responsibilities. I suppose that’s as it should be; otherwise they overvalue the one and minimize the importance of the other. And anyone who’s been sailing knows that when you have a surplus of one thing on board ship, it means you also have a serious shortage somewhere else. As anywhere else in life, one has to choose. Should I be educating kids or making grant applications?  Where do I put my/our resources (time being a critical one)?  For whom or what was I hired? To whom am I beholding?

When a superintendent or principal spends resources on grant applications, they are committing themselves (or at least their district resources and future direction) to the grant writers. When those resources come from Washington, then that district is committing itself to the policies and procedures outlined in that grant from D.C..  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t outside grants supplement and reinforce local efforts rather than dictate to them? Remember, education is a state mandate not a federal one. There is not one scintilla of mention about education in the federal Constitution. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… These same superintendents and principals are being pulled in a variety of directions away from their first and primary responsibility (and resource)—students. Districts should be rewarded if students succeed, not their grant writers. After all, grant makers and grant writers tend to be so-called policy wonks—most have never been in a classroom as a teacher and most don’t know the nature of the enterprise; and none of these wonks will be held accountable when kids don’t make it, when they fail to make it in the Race to the Top.

So what would be the ultimate reinforcement for a school principal or superintendent? I suppose it would be that they have a job; that is, that they have students to teach. Students come to them for an education, barring the coercion of compulsory education laws and the rather parochial geography of their attendance placements. Maybe this is what we need to change. Maybe we need to strap the resources to the backs of every student and allow them and their parents to choose. After all, parents are the primary educators of their kids and know them pretty well.

What would happen if kids/parents were able to choose their own placement? It would surely shift the efforts of those in charge from seeking outside resources to seeking those right before their eyes, their primary resource. That is to say, if no student came seeking an education, they would have to get better at it or close. There would be a dynamic and direct connection between the efforts of the districts and the success of their resources—students. In the mad dash for the cash of outside resources there is no connection between the cash and its requirements and the success of students. And isn’t that sad.

March 4, 2010

Crowd Control from 30,000 Feet

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Robert @ 6:03 pm
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HR 4247 (Miller – Pupil Restraint and Seclusion) was passed by the House of Representatives earlier yesterday by a vote of 262-153 with 16 members not voting. HR 4247 is a very dangerous bill on several levels. HR4247 would establish detailed conditions surrounding the use of physical restraint and seclusion, require government and private school teachers to have special training and certification and require annual demographic reports on the use of physical restraint. My God, now we’re going to have a Certification for Restraint. Or maybe it’ll be Seclusion Specialist Certificate.

But HR 4247 is no laughing matter; and neither is the behavior that gave rise to its consideration. I would wish relief if my child were subject to alleged abuse of this type and I would wish “none harm” to any students in schooling. But Mr. Miller’s solution is iatrogenic—the cure is worse than the disease.

 According to the authors, HR 4247 was intended to “address a narrow set of special-purpose schools and circumstances in which students are restrained or secluded for an extensive period of time in connection with an institution’s inappropriate disciplinary practice or policy.”

A couple of schools have some “inappropriate disciplinary practice or policy.” The cry goes up, “There oughta be a law!” Congressman Miller takes it to heart. But instead of focusing on the errant institutions or questionable teachers, instead of confronting bad behavior, instead of focusing on the cases in question what does he do… he sets out to pass a law to regulate and jeopardize the kids in schools where they’re DOING IT RIGHT.  This violates so many sides of common sense; it’s just wrong. 95% of the schools and their teachers have to have their common sense insulted because we’re afraid to confront those individuals and institutions which are in serious error. When will we learn?

HR 4247 is bad policy:

First – just in general, there is no role for the Federal Government in education. There is nothing in the US Constitution that speaks about a Federal mandate or role in schooling kids. Along with all the other intrusions into state’s rights, the federal government should stay out. But that’s not going to happen because, besides a synagogue or church, schools are the closest institution to the home and that means votes.

Second—this is Federal micromanagement at its worst. There will be millions of hours and dollars spent reporting the lack of incidents, time and resources better spent with kids in classrooms.

Third—where does the Fed come off laying this trip on private schools? I thought they were “private” for exactly that reason, they’re not government schools. Some argue that with the sheckles come the shackles—if the government gives your kids services or grants, you’re subject to their regulations and expectations. But this just doesn’t make any sense. That’s like saying if you’re an employee of the government and therefore receive a salary from taxes, you cannot contribute to the collection plate at your favorite house of worship because that would somehow violate the principle of the separation of church and state.

Fourth—HR 4247 violates the principle of Subsidiarity—regulation and oversight should be closest to the situation. The burden here is on the parents, the local board and, perhaps, even law enforcement. Otherwise, Mr. Miller is trying to do crowd control from 30,000 feet. It just won’t work. It’s dangerous.

Fifth—and most important—HR 4247 will now create doubt and put kids in mortal danger. Your faculty and staff have taken the required courses. The instructors have emphasized the penalties involved if one varies from expectations. There is fine detail about the dos and don’ts, the whens and wherefores. Teachers are certified. Now you’re on yard duty after school, monitoring kids going to and fro. Junior Jones impetuously runs out in the street to fetch a playground ball. Your first instinct is to grab him and save his life from oncoming traffic. But just for a moment, your brain replays the classroom tapes about appropriate restraint and the reporting requirements. In that moment lies life or death for a child. Kids shouldn’t have to be put in jeopardy by law. Teachers shouldn’t have to be micromanaged from 30,000 feet.

We can all protect our kids in far safer ways without dangerous bills like HR 4247.

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