While congress plays petty politics we let our manufacturing base die, but there is hope…

October 1, 2013

What we need is a president and a congress who work at returning manufacturing, the producing of things, things needed, to the United States of America, everything from socks we wear to giant pieces of equipment.

But wrapped up in petty politics (such as shutting down the government as a political blackmail blame game) we have let all that slip by for decades now and what we have is high unemployment, too many low-wage jobs, and maybe a few generations who see no point in learning anything at school, especially the basics, such as English and reading and writing, along with math and science — all needed for good jobs in manufacturing these days.

And we need a return to vocational education, with major industries funding it perhaps. But of course it needs to be up to date. But even there the old time shop classes have value. I mean it all starts there with the basics of the basics.

But even home ec and its sewing instruction could be helpful in the textile industry — and remember when mom actually sewed your clothes or repaired them? Well no, probably not, unless you were born in the baby boom generation or before. Yeah, I know, where home ec or whatever they now call it is still offered young men take it too (good).

Not everyone wants to or even can work in hands-on stuff, but a whole lot do and a whole lot should.

We have sold our soul to globalization and the international conglomerates who run to where the cheapest labor is.

But some of that labor is not as cheap as it once was. And there are those fuel/shipping costs, and concerns of quality and safety, and even government stability outside our borders (we seem to be in a little trouble ourselves at the moment).

But from time to time there are reports that give me hope. I often have wondered whatever happened to our textile industry. Then I read something positive in this New York Times piece, the link to which appears at the end of this blog post.

The Global economy is good I suppose, but we need to be part of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/business/a-wave-of-sewing-jobs-as-orders-pile-up-at-us-factories.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


Watching my granddaughter graduate was worth the heat of the night…

June 2, 2013

Even if I did have to stand out in the hot evening sun for upwards of an hour or more and then sit out in the thankfully dissipating heat as the sun went down for another hour or more, it was worth it. I’m referring to my attendance at the high school graduation ceremony of my granddaughter.

Somehow I feel as if it was a major milestone in my own life. I only wish that my other half, who has departed this world, could have been there with me. I mean it really began with us in a way, didn’t it?

Certainly it was bigger than my own high school graduation. I did not even attend the ceremony then, and that was my fault. I collected my diploma the next day. I had a poor attitude, to say the least (I did have an excuse. I was recovering from the measles. But it was going around and the school authorities had told my parents I could attend — my bad, as they say these days).

Thankfully, my granddaughter has a good attitude. She has worked hard and done well in high school and from all reports had a lot of fun in the process, so good for her. The way it should be. She’s preparing to attend the local community college in her area and then transfer to a four-year college. Right now she plans to go into nursing.

From all the reports I got, her studies were a lot more rigorous than mine, but saying that does not do justice to the high school she attended. From what I gather it is a top school.

Back when I graduated, in 1967, the main requirement to graduate at the high school I attended was to show up. Like Woody Allen said, “half of life is just showing up”.  I’ve used that before. But I like it and find it so true. But that’s only half. There is a more demanding second half to all that.

I would be remiss not to mention how she benefited from the support of her parents, and I am stressing the moral support and encouragement. I have not been with my granddaughter for long stretches of time all these years but I do know that from the beginning she was self-motivated, and I’ll get back to that. But even for those who are self-motivated, encouragement on the home front can make the difference. There are those unfortunate children who grow up in homes where the attitude toward education is indifferent. That was not the case for her.

But my late wife and I noticed this girl’s self-determination from an early age. I recall just before she entered kindergarten (she had already attended pre-school) she was visiting us and my wife was trying to help her on with a belt to an outfit. But this little girl wanted to do it herself. And I think that is her way. People like that tend to be successful, I think.

And today I thought back with sadness that my wife could not attend her own graduation. You see, we got married and that interrupted her schooling. But a few short years later she completed her requirements at night school. And let me tell you, people who do it that way have to demonstrate a lot more knowledge and skills than many of us who did it the more standard way. I now wished I would have encouraged her to see if she could have attended a graduation ceremony. She deserved it.

Seeing the enthusiasm of those graduates the other night and the enthusiasm of their parents and grandparents and loved ones and friends made me realize that all that pomp  and circumstance is important (and to be fair and accurate, this ceremony was a little shorter on, but not bereft of, pomp and circumstance than ones I‘ve seen back in the old days).

Sure, in the long run there are no guarantees to success through life and a graduation ceremony in and of itself does not equal education, but it is nonetheless an important element.

It allows the graduate to feel she or he is being recognized for an accomplishment and encourages the graduate to press on for more accomplishments, and it shows respect to the institution attended and education in general. We can hardly expect to maintain a top education system without respect to the institution of or whole concept of education itself.

And whose idea was it to show up early and wait in the sun anyhow?

Oh, well, it was worth it.


How could administrators endanger college accreditation? Just what is their job?

February 15, 2012

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This might seem like a local letter-to-the-editor kind of piece, but I think it points to a universal problem with administrators and bureaucrats.

———

So I read in my local newspaper (online) this morning that our community college is in danger of losing its accreditation, meaning that coursework units completed there would not count as transferable to four-year institutions (or any others).

As the late Amy Winehouse might have put it: “what kind of f..kry is this?!”

Exactly how does this kind of thing happen? I mean with all the six-figure-salary administrators out there, and they can’t make sure things are up to par? What exactly are they being paid for?

I suspect this all may be some kind of bureaucratic foul-up or nonsense, in which the education being offered is not really substandard, but all the right forms and reports have not been filled out correctly. Don’t know. The story I read did not explain in any depth. Something about lack of an overall plan and a questionable method of assessing student achievement.

But it brings to mind No Child Left Behind and all that political/bureaucratic crap.

What we need is for schools to offer education and students to do their part, along with help and support from their parents with a minimum of administrative/bureaucratic gobbledygook.

One also wonders how a school board, made up of locally-elected citizens, could allow something like this to happen. The story did indicate that the danger of losing accreditation has been known for several years.

As you might have perceived, I have a thing about administrators. Of course they are at best or least a necessary evil. There has to be someone to run the show and coordinate things, and essentially be of service to the faculty and students — but I suspect there are far too many of them. People gravitate toward this job in the education field because this is where the money is. And this is where far too much money goes in education — not into the classroom.

This is the kind of thing that gives public education a black eye.

P.s.

I attended this local community college and learned a lot there and have no complaints or at least could not find anything wrong with it at the time. Like I say, it is probably more bureaucratic nonsense than anything else, but quite distressing nonetheless.


Sometimes I think I am a conservative, just not a reactionary one…

October 31, 2011

I think I was approaching middle age when New York Times columnist, and conservative, Ross Douthat was born, but that boy seems to have some pretty good insights and observations on politics.

Within the column to which I will provide a link, I think he makes some pretty good points — not that I necessarily agree with it all, but he does present some things worth pondering.

He has already gone on record in another and recent column proclaiming that no matter what is said  by pundits– even by him — between now and the 2012 Republican convention, Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate. And now he offers that Romney may reach beyond is moneyed background and do good for the common man.

He attempts to point out some flaws of liberalism and even the extreme of his own conservatism.

And if I understand what he is implying, ironically Romney could be the GOP’s answer to FDR (although I may have misunderstood — but you can read the column for yourself).

I appreciate what he and others are saying about the bloated public sector. While I confess to being, in part,  plain jealous, I have always wondered why those in local public employment, something I am more familiar with, feel it is their right to have better pay and pensions than most in the private sector and even the right to goof off on the job. I should not condemn all public workers, but I have witnessed enough and read about enough to know there is an overall prevailing attitude. And I do know that the pensions just got too cushy. And one reason is that public workers form a large voting block and the politicians know that and the public has been apathetic until the Great Recession hit, and besides many of us thought we too might get a government job one day.

I do want to say that I appreciate the help I have received from public employees, such as, and not limited to, those who work for Social Security. But that does not force me to overlook waste and abuse where it is. I think the requirements for public employment should be fairly rigorous (as far as it is necessary to fit the job) and public workers should be paid well, and have reasonable job security — with some trade-off of slightly lower pay but better security than in the private sector, as it was once intended to be.

In public education there needs to be more going into teaching than the bloated administration. I read a story in an Alabama newspaper about a law there that was enacted to allow experienced classroom teachers to collect retirement but keep on working and drawing a salary. Trouble was when it was investigated, they found out that most of those receiving the double benefit were administrators.

I’m going a little off the subject, but I believe one of the reasons, or in fact, the reason, for bloated administration in public education is that local school districts have come to depend upon state and federal aid and in so doing must make tons of documentation and grant proposals for those programs. In my mind local districts, or counties, should tax more for public education and then they would have more control and need fewer administrators and the local voters through their locally-elected school boards would have more control over how their tax dollars were spent. In addition, aid from state and federal governments ought to come in the form of block grants without so many strings attached that require so much administrative work.

I have cited this example before, but when I heard someone else cite it independently of me, I knew I was not just imagining things or misinterpreting. It goes like this:

When I was in high school we had two administrators, the principal, a kindly old man we hardly ever saw and did who knows what in his office and the more highly visible vice principal whose main job seemed to be to walk the halls to see if boys had their shirts tucked in and girls’ dresses were not too short (a ruler was even used sometimes) and to peek into the restroom to see that no one was smoking — a highly-paid and educated man and this was his job. But at least we had only two administrators. About five years after high school I returned as a local newspaper reporter. The school enrollment had not significantly changed and now there were a half dozen administrators — principals and vice principals. For a time frame here, I graduated in 1967. A lot of federal programs had been enacted during Johnson’s Great Society.

Overall our public education system in this nation has gone downhill. One of the reasons may be a great upheaval in society (to include the fact that the broken home is the norm — my own children were almost outcasts because they had a real mom and dad at home), to include changes in work ethic, attitudes toward intellectualism, the misguided notion that everyone should go to college, programs that seem to offer more to the supposed process of education than the actual education itself — fancy programs titles and grant applications and high paid administrators cannot match up to willing students and able teachers and supportive parents (and taxpayers).

Sometimes I think I just might be a conservative — but Lord please don’t let me be an ignorant reactionary one who blames everything on homosexuals, illegal immigrants, nasty liberals, Islamic terrorists, and atheists, oh, and Hawaiians.

But back to that Douthat column. If you have not already, read it and see what you get out of it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/douthat-what-tax-dollars-cant-buy.html


High school administrators get cold feet over ‘In Cold Blood’…

September 26, 2011

If high school students are not ready for Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, then what are they ready for?

I write this in reaction to a story I just read in the LA Times online site that said administrators at Glendale High School turned down a request by English teachers to put the book on the reading list. The story was brief, with no real explanation of the ban.

I  saw the movie “In Cold Blood”, then much later, during a hospital stay, I read the book — much better than the movie.

To me it was far more than a murder story (a true story at that); it was a bit of Americana. It was a slice of American culture. It was literature in the best sense.

I think the news story about the ban said the book was thought to be a little too macabre.

I suppose it was macabre (but only briefly), but we’re talking about high school students, who these days see and hear (and do) about everything under the sun, and much of it for no purpose whatsoever.

Although the novel is about the true story of the murder of a Kansas farm family by two mentally unstable ex-cons, it is also about much more. It’s about good and evil. It’s about a way of life out on the great plains amid the wheat fields that a lot of high school students would not otherwise have a clue about. It is a true story. And that is another reason to read it. It’s a true account, albeit the interpretation of the author, based on interviews, written in the form of a novel. That provides another element to discover for the young mind — life as literature.

Not having “In Cold Blood” on their reading list won’t destroy the students’ education. And they could discover it and read it on their own — and that is where one really starts an education.

P.s.

Sometimes I am not terribly original. I think I used that same opening or lead (as we used to say in newspaper writing) for another post I did on book banning. Guess I was just thinking the same thing. Here we go again.


Standardized test cheating scandal may point to wrong goal in education…

July 7, 2011

People will drop all sense of right and wrong and ethics and morals when it comes to money or promotion or just keeping their job.

I mean if it is true that in Atlanta, Ga. that as many as 178 teachers and principals in the public schools there took part in what is billed at the largest school cheating scandal in history, that seems to prove what I just contended in the first paragraph.

A state investigative report, apparently prompted by investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, charged that they erased wrong answers by students replacing them with correct answers. It also implicated former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall in the scandal. Her legal counsel, however, says she denies the charges.

It is sad indeed that professional educators would think it more important to cheat and thus get unjustly rewarded for higher tests scores via monetary bonuses than to concentrate on actually teaching. And they did get bonuses.

There is no excuse for their actions, except that maybe they felt their whole livelihoods were in jeopardy. And I suspect some soothed their consciences by rationalizing that it was a way to strike back at the test-is-everything no child left behind approach.

I think the whole emphasis on simply improving standardized tests scores misses the point. And I think the pressure should be more on the students to learn than the teachers to worry whether everyone gets a high score.

We all know — and it is painful to us all or many of us — that some people are just smarter than others. The idea that everyone should get a good grade is kind of silly, kind of like Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Woebegone where “all the kids are above average”.

But it is vital that the knowledge be offered. It is vital that teachers be of the highest quality and that they themselves have mastered the subjects they teach.

Done right, teachers will likely see many of their charges surpass them in their own areas of expertise, and they will be proud of this I am sure.

While it is true that some people are better able to pass on their knowledge, each teacher has his or own teaching style and some students may take to it and others not as much.

But this emphasis on teaching to a standardized test is nonsense in that it narrowly focuses on how to get right answers but does not ensure that students really understand what they are doing. In my own life I have often seen people who seem to be good at standardized problems on tests but fall apart when they have to do something original or think out of the standardized box.

I’m not particularly the math type, but I love language. When I was taking Spanish I noticed that some students could ace the tests which were often fill in the blanks and the like, but could not come up with an original sentence on their own.

There has to be some bench mark. So tests have to be used. But teaching to the test and, worse yet, rewarding educators simply for coming up with higher test scores is counter productive, especially when some feel compelled to cheat by changing their own students’ answers.

I do have to say, however, if top-level education were being offered at any given school, it would seem to follow that an abundance of comparatively high scores would be the result. But it should go without saying that cheating ruins the whole thing, but apparently in some educators’ minds the scores and not the learning was the goal.

There is nothing wrong, however, in preparing students in the methods of taking a test. But again, when how to take a test becomes more important than actually learning a subject, something must be wrong.

A more accurate picture of student achievement might be rendered on more individually creative tests than the standardized model but such tests would be difficult to administer and grade on a mass basis, I suppose.

It’s hard to believe that someone who would go into education would stoop to falsifying test results. It’s sad.

It is also sad to hear stories about parents who actually encourage their own children to cheat. To them the scores are all important. I guess they feel they get you into the better colleges and give you more status and more money.

Passing the test has surpassed actual learning as the paramount goal.

If we as a society think we are smart to immediately pass go and get rich, we may eventually find ourselves at last not so smart and not so rich.

India and China value learning (and they like money too).

P.s.

The tenure of former Washington D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who carried on the  hard-charging, change-minded get rid of underperforming teachers and principals — under performance based on test scores of the students — was marred by charges or suspicions of cheating by some teachers and principals, the implication being she somehow knew about and/or encouraged it.


What a novel idea, young people should make a decision early on which way they want to go, academic or vocational…

February 3, 2011

So now some brilliant minds at Harvard have done a study and have come to the conclusion that college is not for everyone and that young people need to decide at middle school (junior high) whether they want (or can) be college bound or vocational bound, the European model as it were.

Pardon the sarcasm, but why did it take a study and what took them so long?

The hard fact in life is that everyone, except those who can enjoy a hefty inheritance, and it would need to be huge, needs a trade in order to do their part in life and get their share of tokens we call wages, money.  And by using the word “trade” I am using that term broadly. Some may eventually wind up in a trade that uses words and ideas and some may use a wrench or pliers or hammer (as examples).

That seems to run counter to the notion touted by the Obama administration and others that everyone should be able to, and in fact, go to college.

Maybe what they really mean, or should mean, is that regardless of what your trade is, in this 21st century, you have to be smarter, know more math and science, be more versed in modern technology, along with being worldly and well versed in the liberal arts.

While having basically a two-track system, academic and vocational, is an old idea or methodology, it could be improved upon with something like a third track, which would be a blend of academics and vocational training.

But the bottom line is that we, in the USA, spend too much time in school going over the same thing and we pass our children on from grade to grade, more often than not, with little to no future planning.

And I think it is a scandal, especially here in California where I live, that our education dollars are eaten up by the fact we have to provide remedial education at the college level. What has everyone been doing all this time? Lack of focus becomes expensive.

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves in college and even in mid life (at 61 I wish I was still there) trying to figure out what we really want or can do for a living. Freedom to contemplate can be nice, but can we really afford it?

(Let me clarify; I am not in college now, that was the past. I spend most of my days out on the road as a long-haul truck driver. Sure glad I got that college education.)

Yes, while I think it is nice we have so much freedom in this society not locking ourselves into a particular trade, I do not think it is always terribly practical. And I think we can and should maintain as much freedom or flexibility, as possible or practicable. No one should be forever tied to a single trade, but on the other hand, one does have a responsibility to one’s self, one’s family, and society as a whole to be productive in order to share in the benefits of society.

There is some concern by some that tracking students into vocational training will return us to the old ways where minorities were shunted into shop class and away from academics. Well, no one should be forced (except by lack of God-given ability) away from academics based on skin color or ethnic or social background, that should go without saying. On the other hand, solid training in usable vocational skills could go a long way towards solving the chronic unemployment problems (overall economic conditions not always withstanding).

But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink the water. As a journalist (in my former life), I once did a story about a vocational class at a high school where the students were taught carpentry and other construction skills. These were American white bread kids, not so-called minorities. Teenagers will be teenagers, but these kids seemed to lack much interest, and the teacher said as much to me.

No system is perfect. Germany is often lauded for its two-track academic and vocational approach. But a German school principal, visiting America, once told me that even there they have problems. He said that a lot of children who are supposed to be young academics are not up to the challenge or lack motivation. And we know that there is unemployment in Germany and there is hooliganism.

But I am glad that an old idea has resurfaced and could be spruced up to fit the modern times.

P.s.

The story that inspired this post is at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110202/us_yblog_thelookout/study-says-college-isnt-for-everyone


This is a test … if this were the real thing, you would be on your own, with no test to help you…

January 21, 2011

Testing has a bad name among some progressive educators, and although I may be mixing apples and oranges here, I just read an article that claims researchers came up with study results that showed college students learned better through testing than traditional study.

(see link at end of blog)

Of course I think the tests that get criticized are the standardized ones that are used to measure and in compare educational achievement both within schools and between schools and in figuring out whether teachers and staffs should be fired (as in Obama‘s education policy).

But anyway, this article was talking about a study in which students read short passages on subjects such as math and science and then were immediately tested. A week later they demonstrated they had learned more than other students who used time-honored traditional methods, otherwise known as studying.‘

Gee, maybe if this really works we could cut out a lot of the homework and replace it with short quizzes at the end of the chapter or the page (most books have them, or at least they used to when I was in school — many teachers did not make use of them, many did).

Then there is the criticism of “teaching to the test”. The idea is that if students are simply just supposed to learn everything by rote memory or just supposed to spit back answers they might not really even understand, they have learned little to nothing. I think that might depend upon the structure of the test. I mean if you can pass a test and not really know what you are doing, then something is wrong with the test.

Multiple choice is probably the most bogus form of testing there is. I think there is probably some statistical advantage for the test taker if he or she can start out right. Depending upon what the subject matter is, you might be able to follow a pattern. I once took a multiple choice test in a high school English class on a novel I had not read. I passed the test with an A or B, I don’t recall. I guessed on the first few (well I guessed on them all), but I saw the pattern of the story. Well, worse than multiple choice is true or false, I mean you have a 50/50 chance at least, I would think.

In math multiple choice tests I have tried to round things off in my head when I was stumped as to the mathematical mechanics of working out the problem. Sometimes that seems to work, sometimes not.

Essay tests are what I do best at, except that when I wrote them in longhand in one of those blue exam books instructors often had a hard time reading them — I have a hard time reading my own writing in longhand (a forgotten art anyway, I understand). But essay tests, I think, are highly subjective, often dealing in opinion, at least somewhat. While some instructors are fair and only require you at least support your case, others will mark you down if you do not agree with them.

But back to the idea of testing, again, I think if the test is designed properly it ought to be able to measure something. One should not be able to get a high percentage of correct answers without demonstrating some knowledge of the subject.

The problem in real life comes when you have to use what you supposedly learned and demonstrated in the test on your own without the structure of the test. You have to design the problem and then solve it — and there you are, there is a realistic test. Present a list of facts and let the student solve the problem, showing the work done. This, of course would most likely be in math and science. They say students should be allowed to be creative. Well if you can find a different way from the norm to solve a problem and you show your work, that would seem good enough.

There is a lot of worry over whether students are analytical enough or if they are taught to be. I’m thinking that for the most part, some people are more or less naturally analytical and some are not. The ones who are may wind up in endeavors that require analysis, the others go into things where what is required is straight forward and analysis might get in the way or get you into trouble.

As far as studying, in the few math classes I took in college, I just worked out problems like crazy right up till the test. In my political science classes I knew what subject matter was going to be on my exams and I just wrote practice essays like crazy right up until the exam.

I think maybe reading things over and over again is not as helpful as actively doing something with the information.

I probably totally misconstrued that article I read — I got lost when they used the term “concept mapping“. I thought it was somewhat unclear or left some things out, but it got me to thinking anyway.

You can read it, if you haven’t already, and see what you think:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?hp


Changing the words takes the literature out of literature…

January 5, 2011

I don’t want literature turned into Orwellian newspeak. What makes literature literature as opposed to entertainment or drivel is that is says something about life, about the times in which it is supposed to have taken place, and it has staying power.

I’m saying this in reaction to something I just read about someone publishing a new volume of Mark Twain works, but he is going to take out the dreaded N word (well it is used some 200 or more times in Huck Finn) and other “objectionable references”, such as Injun Joe being changed to Indian Joe in Tom Sawyer. Oh, and that N word is being changed to “slave“.

While just using the N word does not necessarily make something literature — I often note that word is used quite often in literature of the past — changing the author’s original words degrades the work and does indeed take the literature out of literature. Twain said that the difference between one choice of a word and the right word is something like the difference between lightning bug and lightning.

Some people just want to be entertained and have no real use or interest in literature, just like apparently a whole lot of people just want entertainment fare on television and the movies, skip the quality.

But a society that strips itself of its literature (and I include written and other forms, such as movies), strips itself of its soul and its historical understanding of itself.

Now certainly requiring school kids, especially young ones, to read works that have offending words in them is a touchy subject. There needs to be explanation, and perhaps it needs to be figured out which books are age appropriate.

Strangely, though, I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was real young and just thought it a highly entertaining story. I already knew that he was using a no-no word (or words), but my parents had explained the deal with that word to me already.

I hate to admit it, but I did not know until I took a college literature class that Huck Finn was considered THE American novel.

I have to assume learned people, historians and others, have concluded that Twain was, besides being quite colorful in his descriptions, accurate in his depiction of Americana of the era in which he wrote.

If you change his words, it’s no longer accurate.

I understand there have been past attempts to tone down or water down Twain.

What’s the point?

If students can’t handle literature, how can they handle life?

P.s.

The item that induced me to make this post is: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_revising_mark_twain;_ylt=AlG6DxmG.qqcjJvlAUdD8Fqs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNyZjNmdWttBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwMTA1L3VzX3JldmlzaW5nX21hcmtfdHdhaW4EY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwMxMARwb3MDNwRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX2hlYWRsaW5lX2xpc3QEc2xrA25ld2VkaXRpb25yZQ


LA Times story puts education establishment on the spot — but is it libel???

August 19, 2010

I almost feel sorry for teachers, being as they are in a profession that is often so much maligned.

While certainly poor teachers who eat up taxpayer dollars do a disservice to their students, inflicting irreparable harm on young minds, stunting their intellectual growth forever, all teachers, most, we hope, are not poor in their abilities.

But there is a lot of mediocrity out there.

Some will tell you it’s the relatively low pay they receive in relation to their required years of education, but that is not much of a defense for individual mediocre teachers. If you already are a teacher and you are mediocre, more pay will not improve you and if you are mediocre, you were when you began. But, hey, most of us just do the best we can at our professions, regardless of however other folks might rate us.

But what brought all this to mind was an article I just read in the LA Times in a series it’s doing on teachers in the LA school district. I’m not sure whether to be proud of the paper for doing a civic duty by exposing the system, calling the school authorities to task for not really measuring teacher performance and just passing them along to quick tenure, or appalled at what seems like a possible case of libel.

The Times has taken it upon itself to do some kind of statistical analysis of teacher performance it calls a value added rating system or something like that. I don’t really care about that gobbledygook, but the idea is that it purports to show how year after year poor teachers get poor results and good teachers get good results, but the district ignores, according to the Times, these facts and basically just does the old Lake Woebegone thing and rates nearly all teachers above average.

The shocking thing to me is that it actually named an individual math teacher and compared him to another named individual math teacher in the same school and said one’s students consistently year after year started out ahead of the game and by the time the year was over were behind whereas the opposite was true in the other teacher’s class.

First I am wondering about the validity of the Times’ analytical methods.

But assuming they are valid, I am wondering about another factor brought out in the story. Most, if not all, the students are Hispanic. The teacher with the better results has an Hispanic surname. The one who lags behind is a Mr., Smith — actually both their full names are given. And that was the shock.

Now, as a former working journalist, I’m usually pretty hard core about naming names when things are in the public domain. And I have pretty much always thought that truth is the best defense against libel.

But taking the last point first, I can only hope for the reporters’ sake that what they have come up with is the truth.

And as far as naming names, that is a service to students and their parents and potential students and parents. And it does put the teachers and school officials on the spot, forcing them to face up to a problem.

The teacher exposed as a poor performer was confronted by the Times and was quoted as responding in what seemed to me with a contrite answer, saying basically he would try to do better. The guy was 63 and had begun teaching in 1996, the article said. Sounds like he made a career change — sometimes things don’t work out as you might have hoped ; oh well, he can retire soon.

I would encourage you to call up the LA Times on line — I can’t do one of those fancy links here but just Google: Who’s teaching LA’s kids, LA Times, Aug. 14. They’re doing an ongoing series of stories, as I understand it.

I found it curious that the good teacher who is described as relating well to his students had the Hispanic name, while the other guy with the Anglo name was described as not doing well in captivating the young minds. I mean that sounds almost like someone is trying to or inadvertently making a case for separate but equal, you know, the old segregated schools.

Then again, maybe the Times is on to something and is putting the entrenched establishment on the spot.

It’s important stuff. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

P.s.

I can only hope none of my former teachers read this, but while it is often said that people often have that one teacher who made the positive difference, I can’t recall any. As I said, there is a lot of mediocrity out there. That is not to say that I did not have any competent teachers.

ADD 1:

I just read over some letters to the editor in the LA Times, and some teachers commended the paper for its story(ies), but several others objected, especially to the part where teachers were accused by name as being poor performers. I have to say even though I once worked as a journalist I would object too. What makes the writers at that newspaper qualified to judge teachers or even understand the statistics and material they supposedly uncovered? That does not mean I don’t think they should report about the subject, since there is an ongoing concern over whether our children are getting a proper and effective education, but it seems that the Times has moved into character assassination. One teacher asked in a letter what the Times staffers would think if their own performance was rated in public — noting the fall in the newspaper’s circulation. Another teacher said that there are two kinds of teaching. In one you teach to the test (teachers are now pressured into doing that). In the other, teachers actually try to give their students knowledge about a subject. There is a difference, I think. I, the writer of this blog, have often witnessed in school students who can pass tests but know little and seem to have little critical thinking skills. When I was taking Spanish, I noticed that while some students always aced the written quizzes, they could not compose a Spanish sentence on their own or ad lib dialogue. In math, I was often slow at the mechanics of the whole thing, but I usually knew what was called for in word problems. I will say, however, if you have really learned a subject, you should probably be able to pass standardized tests but also be able to go beyond the testing game.