Thursday, December 16, 2010

Education Cuts

Education cuts make all educators angry. It is something we all indulge in lamenting. But, how often do we join up and force the politicians to hear us? I think that in the face of such a big machine, we often feel hopeless and very small.

Georgia, my state of residence, received some of the Obama "Race to the Top" money during the second round of awards. Our new incoming governor, Nathan Deal, is uncomfortable about this award, and may refuse the money. When I heard this, I was shocked.

Since the recession began, public schools have undergone unprecedented cuts all over the state. There are less buses, and they have very unusual routes to be more gas-efficient. Students who live within a mile of their school - in some areas- are refused bus service. Teachers across the state have received at least three furlough days (some have received more) and the school days have become longer by a few minutes. The reason for this is that schools can still have the same amount of instructional time yearly, but pay teachers for less days, run heating and electric for less days, run buses less days etc. etc. etc.

The saddest part of all of these cuts is the new "assessment-led instruction" that is occurring across our state. All students, state-wide (in public schools) take a mandated CRCT standardized tests, and if students don't score high enough, schools stand to lose quite a bit (funding, students, and even accreditation).

A few school districts have begun to base teacher pay on whether or not students improve by a certain percent margin from the previous year. These are all inner-city school districts, and the students in these districts often have tough home lives. As such, there is more going on with why the scores aren't high enough than just the instruction. But, teacher's livelihoods are put at risk through this testing. And, unsurprisingly, there is a massive investigation with pending criminal charges undergoing right now because so many teachers in these districts have admitted to helping students cheat. Well, I mean, it isn't right, but really? Are we surprised it has happened?

And now, incoming governor Nathan Deal ("The Real Deal") is thinking of refusing the "Race to the Top" money, and he is getting support for it! I haven't been able to find any evidence as to the "why" of this situation, but I have my own opinion. It is that Nathan Deal (an avid less government politician) doesn't want the scrutiny from the federal government on our education system.

Let me be honest, the educational system in Georgia sucks. And, Deal, either doesn't think that (i.e. not smart) or knows that (smart) and doesn't want the government poking about our broken system.

Please note, I said "system," not educators, teachers, students, coaches, or support staff. The people who work in Georgia public schools across the board are doing it because they believe in what education promises for young students. But, the system is shite.

The part in all of this that I haven't mentioned is that fine arts programs across the state have been cut. There is very little band and visual arts left at all in Georgia. We are all about making sure that students can pass those standardized tests for math and reading.

The reality is that we all know this system doesn't work. You either know it because you've tried doing it that way and witnessed the results, or you have a "gut" feeling that tells you learning should be more than memorization. As educators we are "in-tune" with teaching, we have a finer understanding of good and poor methods.

But, scientifically? Assessment-led instruction has been proven empirically not to work. And, from a neurological standpoint, assessment-led instruction only engages the first part of the four neo-cortex portions of the brain that function during learning. Quality learning engages all four portions. So, just in case, you needed some scientific data, there you go.

I think the problem is that most politicians, whatever their "rags to riches" campaign story may be, have no idea how tough it is to earn a education. When I was very young, I worked on Capitol Hill for a summer. It gave me a life-long interest in the political happenings of the U.S.

What I have learned about most (please note the "most") politicians is this:

1. They are far from dumb, but they aren't the smartest people either. They surround themselves with smart people in the form of advisors and listen to them as it suits them.

2. They are incredibly charismatic; you want to like them. There is a reason they can win elections; they are very likable people.

3. They are often incredibly paranoid. We have all made mistakes and done dumb things and politicians are no different. But, they are very worried about each and every situation (the smart ones at least), because you never know how something can be misconstrued negatively.

4. Their career is to be a politician. While they care, deeply, about the work they are doing, ultimately, if they aren't in office, they don't have a paycheck. If they are career politicians, this is a problem. They will sell out the needs of people to keep themselves in office.

5. They are well-educated. They may have had a tough childhood, but their mothers/fathers/advocates fought for them to be educated. They got into good colleges with little struggle. This is because their advocates made sure they were good candidates and (see #2) they are very charismatic people.

6. They feel like rockstars. I've never encountered such a large group of entitled people in one place than I have during a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. They are surrounded by groups of advisors who actively work to keep them happy. Not unlike the "crews" who surround young celebrities always telling them "yes," so the politicians have their own groups.

7. They are selfish. Their own needs and desires to become powerful men/women of the world eventually dominate whatever desire they have have originally had to change the world. Power is an opiate.

And, y'all, these are the people who matter the most when it comes to decision-making about education. These are people who have had life "work out" for them in the best of ways. They can't imagine how hard it is to go to school and take a test on Monday when your arm still hasn't been set since you broke it on Friday night (that was one of my students). Truly, they have no idea as to what works and what doesn't. They only know what sounds good, and that is what they will vote for over and over again.

Last week a fellow teacher said to me: "I listen to what you say in the faculty meetings. You are smart; you should be an administrator. I could never rattle off what you do so quickly." It is a nice compliment, and I took it as such. But the reality is, the fellow teacher is a veteran of over thirty years; she knows WAAAY more about education and what works than I could hope to. But, she isn't involved.

We have got to stop standing around and complaining and get to action. Join your discipline association groups, get active, when you see educators getting together to support a cause you believe in, join up. By our sheer numbers, we should be telling these politicians how education is going to happen, not the other way around.

I don't want to be an administrator, I want to be a force of change in this field. I want to demand more for my students, I want them to get more. And, the only voice they have is me, and is you.

So, if you are as mad as I am about the state of education right now, please, join up and say something about it!


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I am only an art ed student, but I have been actively watching the dialogue around school reforms and am shocked by what some people are saying. I can't tell you how many conversations I have overheard that go "I'm not a teacher but ____ is a great idea." (Insert a reform you've argued against.) Yes I care about art education, no I don't care about "beating China", but everyone should care about reaching each child in the best possible way, and (as Sir Ken Robinson says) prepare them for a future we know nothing about.

    Our education system needs help now, but even if we fixed it tomorrow, there will always be a need for teachers to advance this field and adapt to inevitable changes. Hopefully more people will become passionate and we can start making progress soon. :)

  2. Very well stated. I feel fortunate to be in Vermont where, for the most part, the attitudes toward education are both progressive and forward thinking. Unfortunately, economic pressures will likely hit us hard this year. Our state does not qualify for Race the Top money because most of the reforms that program targets have already been implemented here.
    Last year we took a pay freeze and "stuff" was cut to save money. This year the word on the street is that it will be people.
    After listening to Bernie Sanders speak in the Senate last week I, too, have come to feel that it's time to speak up.

  3. agreed! it 'tis a SAD SAD state of affairs (education that is, not my neighbor to the north-GA!) last spring we had a bill called SB6. it linked HALF of a teacher's pay to standardized testing. it was insane. teachers on maternity leave would receive the pay if their sub "made" the kids ace the tests! so crazy. anyways, the county school systems here in FL rallied around the bill and our governor had a set and vetoed the bill! i watched all those idiots in tallahassee sit there and try to hammer the details out. they had ZERO clue what they were talking about. sadly, our new governor supports sucha bill and it will likely pass when legislation begins in the spring. i am worried about the state of education here in FL. what i was REALLY worried about where the #of teachers that just sat idly and let the government determine how they would be paid. SO SAD.

  4. Well said, Amy. Coincidentally, I have been thinking about my own "rant" on what's going on in education, and probably will post it in the next day or two. I spent a long time as my local union president, as well as other union leadership roles, but I am close to retirement. I'm worried that most of the younger teachers in my district don't seem to "get it" that they need to be advocates and that nobody will do it for them. There doesn't seem to be anybody stepping up.

  5. You've got my AMEN, Amy and I am in GA! I agree with every word you wrote!
    I work in one of Georgia's *chosen* systems. I feel blessed, it is a wonderful system to work in, however, they also play the Gov't games. So much wasting of supplies and energy, so much looking out for for their friends and family, and so much emphasis put on THE test.
    I am worried about what is next for us. Maybe we don't fully understand some details about the money that could come our way, but they don't fully understand what is best for our children. In the end that is what counts the most and I am proud to be in a position where I can at least make a daily difference for them.

  6. I am in a slightly better situation then you are it sounds being in CT. CT is a have and have not state. Many of the haves go to private schools anyways (I was one of those kids) where the education and resources are better then most colleges. My high school education was even more rigorous then RISD. There are many reasons that are education is not as rigorous as it needs to be in public education, a major one being standardize testing and the stakes that are involved in "passing the test."
    I was very lucky to see what education can be and strongly feel that every child deserves what I had. I am trying my best to give them that rigorous educational experience. The situation is very different though as class sizes are double and triple what they were when I was in school, resources are scarce, schedules are overloaded, the hiring process is broken as many people are hired because they know or are related to someone, the union is broken and has to protect teachers who don't perform.
    As a younger teacher, I have a lot to say but I feel like I'm always on the chopping block every year because I am always the last hire. Innovators and thinkers threaten the system and they are always the first to be "moved" to a new school (usually a failing school) or it is a good reason to lay you off. So as much as I want to "rage against the machine" the reality is some of the senior teachers need to also put themselves out there so it is not always the young teachers rocking the boat and risking their jobs. I think a lot of the senior teachers are afraid for their jobs when they are more protected by the union.

    Sorry for the long winded response!