Tagged: teachers

The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


PHOTOGRAPH BY OMAR TORRES/AFP/GETTY

Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

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All the new tests for teachers give high passing grades

Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind…

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.” In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome…

The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking. Principals, who are often responsible for the personal-observation part of the grade, generally are not detached managerial types and can be loath to give teachers low marks…

But even the part of the grade that was intended to be objective, how students perform on standardized tests, has proved squishy. In part, this is because tests have changed so much in recent years — and are changing still, because of the new “Common Core” curriculum standards that most states have adopted — that administrators have been unwilling to set the test-score bar too high for teachers. In many states, consecutive “ineffective” ratings are grounds for firing…

The new evaluation systems have been closely scrutinized in the education world by policy makers, publications like Education Week, and foundations that have provided money to help perfect the methods…

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that even though the data from these systems “was not ready for prime time,” it proved what she had long argued: That the majority of teachers are very good…

RTFA for lots of anecdotal information – which, in my mind, doesn’t answer any questions about the lousy overall capabilities of graduates. None of this addresses dropout rates. None of this seems to confront the whole decline in education over the past half-century.

What has been discussed to death is how to blame the teachers. That seems to bear no fruit at all. What hasn’t been discussed especially is what constitutes a useful curriculum – and how much teaching professionals don’t get to participate. Between Congress, the White House, state and local school boards, we have no end of politicians chiming in. They don’t even take the time to examine what worked in the past, what works, now, in other lands.

I’ll offer something I rarely do – the “back in my day” examination. Aside from walking to school in knee-deep snowstorms and the other crap that people think they recall :) – a couple of facts are incontrovertible. The elementary school I attended in a New England factory town was mostly kids from workingclass families. Pretty average teachers – probably not unlike today’s flavor. Dropout rate was less than 5%. We completed the tasks assigned.

I attended high school in the next town over – we moved. A semi-rural town rapidly becoming a commuter suburb. Teachers were about the same. Dropout rate was less than 3%. We all completed the curriculum. I enjoyed school, learned a lot, probably learned even more on my own or in studies with my parents; but, they and I wanted more than acceptable.

Now, living in northern New Mexico, the school system truly hopes to get “up” to the national average of 20% dropouts. We couldn’t get a law passed allowing schools to hold back students with failing marks to repeat the grade. Mom and dad can overrule the school and demand their child be bumped ahead into the next grade even when unable to do the work.

From my perspective, this fits into the phenomena I saw happening broadly across our education system starting in the 1960’s. If the kiddies felt learning something was too hard, too difficult, the schools were mandated to pass them along, anyway. You weren’t to hurt their sensibilities – though, frankly, I never saw anything sensible coming from kids who preferred not to learn.

That’s only a small subjective look at the question. I wanted to offer it because I don’t see anyone who’s in charge doing anything at all useful. That includes BTW the whole Charter School copout. Which has a failure rate worse than our public schools.

For Texas Schools, doing without is the decision Republican politicians made for everyone


Rick Perry worries more about helping meatpackers crank out Pink Slime – than schools

In Texas, this has been the year of doing without. Texas lawmakers cut public education financing by roughly $5.4 billion to balance the state’s two-year budget during the last legislative session, with the cuts taking effect this school year and next.

The budget reductions that districts large and small have had to make have transformed school life in a host of ways — increasing class sizes, reducing services and supplies and thinning the ranks of teachers, custodians, librarians and others, school administrators said.

Like chief executives of struggling corporations, superintendents have been cutting back on everything from paper to nurses and have had to become increasingly creative about generating revenue. They are selling advertising space on the sides of buses and on district Web sites, scaling back summer school, charging parents if their children take part in athletics or cheerleading and adding periods in the school day so fewer teachers can accommodate more students…

“It’s almost like slow death,” said the superintendent, Douglas Killian, during a visit to Veterans’ Hill, where the classrooms are now used by adults as part of a higher education center run by Temple College and Texas State Technical College. “We’re being picked apart. It’s made a tremendous morale issue in the district…”

Several lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature have played down the impact of the $5.4 billion in cuts on schools statewide…Gov. Rick Perry said he saw no need for a special legislative session to restore some of the education funding that was eliminated last year and said the schools were receiving an adequate amount of money…

We’re being picked apart,” said Douglas Killian, the superintendent at Hutto, which eliminated 68 positions.

But many public school advocates, parents and administrators said the reductions that districts had made — and were considering for the next school year — had reached an unprecedented level, even as enrollment and testing requirements have increased. Hundreds of districts have sued the state in four lawsuits, saying that the school finance system fails to adequately and equitably pay for public education in Texas…

At Hutto High School, Eric Soto, a world history teacher who is also the head softball coach and assistant volleyball coach, worries about the bottom line about as much as he worries about his classes and his games. He makes fewer photocopies, to save printing costs. He helped sell advertising space along the fence on the softball field, to bring in extra cash for the team. When teaching, he turns on only one of the room’s two light switches, to save on electricity.

Meanwhile, Big Oil enjoys the benefits of a Republican-controlled legislature. 30 years ago taxes from oil and gas accounted for 24% of the tax revenues for the state of Texas. Now? 6.6%. Rick Perry and his bubbas take care of the corporations that bankroll their political careers.

RTFA. Beaucoup tales, anecdotes of what struggling school systems do to get by because the state legislature figures austerity requires the maximum number of schoolkids suffer.

At a time when the United States is capping off a 30 year decline in economic position; when the real wages of America’s workers extend to the 3rd and 4th decades of less and less to live on — the response from conservative politicians continues to be the imposition of austerity upon every chance of increasing a working family’s worth. Look for a job with skills no one needs anymore. Pay for your home at the same rate determined when it was worth twice as much.

Structural unemployment looks to be rising to a 7% minimum. The politicians and paymasters inside the Beltway and Congress may or may not think folks need a better education to get a competitive job – but, they surely don’t care.

Will the GOP vote to kill jobs as further proof they hate Obama more than they love America? – UPDATED


Obama speaking at fire station in Virginia
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Maybe as early as Thursday night, the Senate will take its first vote on one bite-size piece of President Obama’s jobs bill, a $35 billion measure to fund the hiring of 400,000 teachers and a smaller number of cops and firefighters. It will fail. As usual not a single Republican will vote for it, and since a majority in the Senate is now not 51 but 60 because the Republicans filibuster nearly everything, it will fall well short of passage…

The basic facts are these. The public supports this bill. Senate Democratic sources say that of all the individual pieces of the larger jobs bill, this one polled the best by far. Better than payroll tax cuts. That’s why they decided to go with it first. The funding mechanism is also highly popular. It is a 0.5 percent (don’t miss that decimal point!) surtax on dollars earned above $1 million—so, for example, a person whose salary is $1.2 million would pay the extra 0.5 percent only on those dollars above $1 million, for a whopping tax increase of $1,000. I have not seen polling on this specific amount of tax, but surveys constantly show that the generic “millionaire’s tax” wins broad support. Just yesterday, National Journal put it at 68 percent, including 90 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents…

In an earlier time, in normal times, when legislators used to behave the way legislators are supposed to behave, the minority’s leaders would have brought the price tag down, made the majority and the White House agree to something they wanted—peeling back one of those EPA regulations the Republicans hate—and we’d have had a deal…the minority would have actually paid a bit of attention to those polls showing the American people backed this.

Of course, Republicans can’t say that they’ll oppose Obama on everything, but they don’t have to. People get it. It seeps out of them, like oil from a polluted stream.

It’s difficult to attempt politeness describing what passes for Republican ideology, nowadays. I frequently discuss politics [and economics, technology, education] with one of my kinfolk who is a former Republican. That is, a former member of the Republican Party. After 50 years of commitment to traditional American conservatism – the whole range from environmental conservation to fiscal soundness with a healthy taste of what Bush and Cheney would have characterized as isolationism – he left that party. He doesn’t ask me to be polite – as long as I recognize the difference between conservatism and populist hypocrites. That’s good enough for me.

Watching the effete prancing in the worst political minuet played to patriot tunes since George Wallace tried to lead the White Citizens Councils into Congress and the White House – how could anyone who hasn’t lost his mind defend these deliberate attempts to sabotage the American economy, the American people?

UPDATE: Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted against the administration proposal last night, as did independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. No Republican supported the measure.

Three especially worthless politicians + the predictable in-your-pants vote for the wealthiest 1% of America.

Mexican gangsters leave severed heads next to primary school


Souvenir of Acapulco

Five severed human heads were found near an elementary school in Acapulco, Mexico, an area where some schools had already canceled classes because of lack of security.

The heads were found Tuesday inside a sack that had been placed inside a small wooden crate, the Guerrero state public security secretariat said…

Teachers this month held protests over threats they received, presumably from drug cartels. The calls threatened harm if teachers did not pay a portion of their salaries to the drug gangs…

Late last month, right at the beginning of the school year, teachers fled from about 75 schools after receiving threats. Administrators and other personnel also refused to go to work and many schools were left empty and padlocked from outside for two weeks.

I know that Mexico is a democracy and all sorts of constitutional forms rule jurisprudence, etc.. But, this level of barbarism justifies something like martial law.

Completely aside from all the understanding analyses of how that nation got to the point of criminal anarchy – questions of public safety and sanity have to prevail sooner or later. If that requires locking down the streets and going door-to-door, whatever, to drag these scumbags to trial and prison – it’s overdue!

Sex education begins to stir in Chinese elementary schools


Appreciating the feel of weight shift during pregnancy
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

China has long been considered a conservative country where talking about sex is taboo, especially to children.

But things have started to change — slowly.

A report in a local Beijing newspaper about a new sex education textbook for elementary school students — some as young as six-years old — has triggered a heated debate in cyberspace and beyond. The Beijing Times, a popular local tabloid, reported that the textbook, “The Steps of Growth”, explains the concept of sexual intercourse with images and illustrations that some people consider too explicit and graphic…

Some experts in the field even weighed in on the debate. “The content of this text book is not consistent with the children’s cognitive capability of this age,” said Hu Ping, a sex education expert who owns a studio in Shenzhen, southern China, where she gives classes to young students about sex and health…

In contrast, some parents are comfortable with the textbook. “It’s better to teach it to the children earlier than later. The kids nowadays know everything anyway,” said Li Yan, a father with a seven-year-old son.

Education authorities in China’s capital deny the book is a formal textbook to be taught in all the local elementary schools. They say it is only an experiment in some schools.

Nevertheless, in a faxed statement to CNN, they said, “it’s very important to carry out health education, including sex education, to elementary and middle school students.”

RTFA. Looks like the program – as it is implemented – will be more inclusive and broad-based than in parts of the world where religious fears are included in on decisions like this. Maybe not. Maybe the conservative traditions leftover from the Confucianist past will get in the way as thoroughly as might some fundamentalist church.

It still makes me chuckle at how parts of the world dig in their heels and reject knowledge for ideological reasons. My family introduced a book called “The Stork Didn’t Bring You” into my elementary school about a jillion years ago. They went the route of the PTA; but, in fact, there were progressive teachers in our hard-as-nails factory town who were ready and able to ease the door open to sex education.

Except for some raving and ranting at the big Roman Catholic church a mile down the road – it was easy as pie.

Gipsies awarded lottery cash to learn hip-hop dancing

A group of gipsies have been handed a £5,000 grant of lottery cash – to learn hip-hop dancing.

The travellers will be taught street dance after being handed the grant from lottery funding.

The £4,690 cash will pay for specialist tutors to visit caravan sites and teach the gipsies hip-hop dance moves. Young gipsies will be expected to showcase their new routines at a festival which celebrates travelling culture.

The cash, provided from the All Lottery Grant, will be used to pay for a private tutor to visit the Shirenewton travellers site in Cardiff.

The idea was thought up by Isaac Blake, founder of Romani Arts, which showcases gipsy cultural projects.

The group will perform in June at an event to mark Gipsy Roma and Traveller History Month.

What can I say? In tough times, when there might be more productive uses of state funds – education comes to mind, perhaps health education – forking over funds to teach one culture how to adopt the styles, bust a move from another culture for fun and giggles is beyond absurd. Did Blake at least have to write a grant proposal?

I’m never surprised when the less-than-educated come up with ideas like this. I witnessed a local high school student complaining about potential losses with funds cuts being imposed through New Mexico. She was in a panic that competitive group dancing might be cut from her school’s curriculum.

Maybe we might ship her and her peers over to the UK?

Right-wing + teabaggers capture Florida Republican Party – and maybe lose an election to the Moderate they want to force out.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, fighting for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, stirred more speculation he may leave the party and run as an independent when he vetoed a contentious Republican measure on Thursday…

Crist vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature to eliminate traditional teacher tenure, saying the measure went too far in taking away teacher protections that constituents overwhelmingly wanted to keep. The bill also would have linked teachers’ pay to improvements in student test scores.

The ultimate George W Jeb Bush cheap-out.

Crist trails in [Republican] opinion polls to Marco Rubio, a former House Speaker from Miami who has become the darling of the Republican Party’s conservative wing.

He further distanced himself from Rubio on Thursday by siding with teachers and some of the state’s largest unions, the Florida Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

A Quinnipiac Poll released hours before the veto showed Crist losing to Rubio by 23 points if the Republican primary were held now. If Crist ran as an independent, the poll found he would win a three-way race with 32 percent of the vote, compared with Rubio’s 30 percent and Democratic front-runner Kendrick Meek’s 24 percent…

Crist told reporters the measure was inflexible and too hastily crafted without proper input from teachers, parents, superintendents and school boards and had damaged the morale of teachers, parents and students.

As usual, the Republican version of “reform” is designed to cut jobs and downgrade education.

Of course, keeping someone sensible in office remains a function of the Florida electorate. One of the blogs I’ve been involved with for quite a spell maintains a special logo just for silly things that happen in Florida.

U.S. measure of future math teachers = mediocre

America’s future math teachers, on average, earned a C on a new test comparing their skills with their counterparts in 15 other countries, significantly outscoring college students in the Philippines and Chile but placing far below those in educationally advanced nations like Singapore and Taiwan.

The researchers who led the math study in this country, to be released in Washington on Thursday, judged the results acceptable if not encouraging for America’s future elementary teachers. But they called them disturbing for American students heading to careers in middle schools, who were outscored by students in Germany, Poland, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan…

“The study reveals that America’s middle school mathematics teacher preparation is not up to the task,” said William H. Schmidt, the Michigan State University professor who was its lead author. To improve its competitiveness, Dr. Schmidt said, the nation should recruit stronger candidates into careers teaching math and require them to take more advanced courses…

“There are so many people who bash our teachers’ math knowledge that to be honest these results are better than what a lot of people might expect,” said Hank Kepner, professor of mathematics education at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who is president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “We show up pretty well here, right in the middle of the pack.”

Sorry, folks; but, I can’t get excited about “middle of the pack”.

Face the essential history of American education – which showed the way to the rest of the world at providing sound qualifying knowledge to high school students, preparing them well for university education.

In my admittedly extended lifetime, I went through typical urban elementary and secondary schools which turned out university-level students. Add the dynamic that rushed through this land – led by returning soldiers and the GI Bill – after World War 2, and the U.S. was an education dynamo.

We have lost too much to be happy with half-measures.

Canadian teachers buy national lottery in the UK

National Lottery operator Camelot has been sold to a Canadian teachers’ pension fund for £389m.

The company, currently owned by a consortium that includes Cadbury, has been running the UK’s National Lottery since it began in 1994. The sale will be looked at by the regulator, the National Lottery Commission. One of the factors in its decision will be whether or not the national interest will be served by the sale.

Camelot’s proposed buyer, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan – known simply as Teachers’ – runs the pension fund for more than a quarter of a million Canadian teachers.

It already has a wide range of investments in the UK, including Birmingham and Bristol airports and a 27% stake in Northumbrian Water.

The National Lottery Commission’s chief executive, Mark Harris, said: “We will scrutinise the proposal to ensure that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is fit and proper to take over the running of the National Lottery and that the commitments we secured for the National Lottery, players and good causes during the licence competition are safeguarded.”

Could have been worse. What if they bought Portsmouth FC?