The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Rubber Room" Teachers Earn Salary, Do Nothing

Imagine you're a teacher in New York City. Now imagine that you run afoul of your supervisor for some reason. Perhaps you tattled on some irregularities in the state testing or maybe you are always late for duty. And let's say that your supervisor is fed up enough that he/she tries to get you removed from the classroom. Then you better prepare yourself: get out your board games and water colors.

Here's what will happen -- your principal will request a disciplinary hearing. (The unions are fighting for you -- you can't be fired without due process.) So pending the hearing, you are reassigned. To what are nicknamed "Rubber Rooms." You will remain here for months or even years awaiting your hearing. Why so long? Because the arbitrators only work FIVE DAYS EACH MONTH.

The union contract says that you cannot be given new assigned duties while you await your hearing, but the district wants you out of the classroom. So you are assigned to a "temporary reassignment center" where you do... NOTHING. According to the FoxNews story, rubber room teachers pass the time by reading, writing, painting, doing yoga, sneaking over to the bar across the street, or playing board games.

There are about 700 teachers assigned to these rubber rooms, and each draws a salary of about $700K. Now, before you think that this may be a cushy assignment, keep in mind that most of the teachers assigned to rubber rooms really do not belong in the classroom. So some of these folks are tough to get along with. There are reports of many near fights ("Hey, that's my chair!").

You know what else I learned from this article? There is a National Association for Prevention of Teacher Abuse.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can you see me now?

A principal at an Orange County (FL) school is pleased that the school has improved its "rating" from an F to an A in one year. She credits the school's improvement to across-the-board eye exams. The school discovered that nearly 50 of the 530 students needed glasses.

Uh. That's less than 10% of the kiddos. The campuses where I've worked, we do test 100% of the kiddos for vision, and teachers can (and DO) refer students to the nurse for vision or hearing screenings anytime. Stories like this really make me wonder about Florida.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

District Collect Lunch Debt

Marshalltown Community School District in Iowa has almost $26,000 in school lunch debt on the books. So they've hired a collection agency to try to recoup some of the money owed to the district.

I admire the district's decision that kiddos should not be turned away from the lunch line (though there are some ways to mitigate these growing charges, like alternate lunches for delinquent kiddos, e.g. PB & J), but why not prevent students from registering or collecting report cards/transcripts until their account is paid. Seems like the collection agency is going to cost money and goodwill.

Florida ends "Zero-Tolerance" Policies

New legislation signed by Florida Gov. Crist "Provides that zero-tolerance policies do not require the reporting of petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors to a law enforcement agency. Encourages school districts to use alternatives to expulsion or referral to law enforcement agencies, etc."

The idea is that kiddos shouldn't be expelled for using a plastic knife to cut up their lunches, nor should a high school senior lose his appointment to Annapolis because he went fishing over the weekend and left a fillet knife in his truck.

If a US District Judge, convicted of felony, can continue to hold his office, then why should 2nd graders be automatically expelled for drawing pictures?

Fifty-Seven Percent Failure Rating

There's a school in Chicago where almost 60% of the 8th-grade class has failed the school year. If you don't believe me, there's a story about it from the area's news station.

Let me get this out of the way: This incident occurred in the Chicago Public School, where the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, served most recently as the CEO. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

The Myra Bradwell Academy (this is where a skeptic would insert air-quoties) is a Pre-K through 8 campus (wow!!). The 8th-grade class had 77 students, and 44 of those did not pass, for a 57% failure rate. Most of those students are now enrolled at summer school, and I don't know how Chicago handles retentions... it may be that those kids will all be filed on to the high school anyway. But there were a few things in the article worth discussing:
  • 8th-Grade Graduation: The linked story says, "Tatianna Dennis' son, Tarrell, took his eighth grade photo complete with cap and gown, but the day before his grammar school's graduation, Tarrell learned he would not be marching down the aisle." My last district was ADAMANT that there were no "commencement" nor "graduation" ceremonies until a student had finished high school. In that impoverished area, administrators did not want parents feeling that students were finished with school until the student had a diploma. So we had 8th-grade award ceremonies, but no 8th-grade graduation. Those of you who are parents: how do you feel about this?
  • This is a Pre-K through 8 Campus: Now I would guess there is not much stability on this campus. I wonder how many of the non-passing students had been at this campus for more than 4 years. But if you've got your own program here on campus for Pre-K through 8th grade, who do you have to blame when the kiddos don't pass at the end? Did they go to summer school after 5th grade? 6th Grade? 7th grade? I also wonder how challenging it is for teachers on this campus. There are 3 8th-grade teachers and one teacher who teaches both 7th-and 8th-grade. So, evidently, these middle grade teachers are responsible for multiple subjects. That's a challenge. On my campus, we have a staff of 3 teachers dedicated only to 8th-grade math. We share ideas and the work load to prep for one subject, one grade level. I think that contributes to our success.
  • The role of schools is changing: Schools cannot operate they way they did 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. For example, sure you did homework when you were in school, but at a campus like Bradwell where some kiddos have parents working night jobs, some kiddos have to cook for baby brothers and sisters, and some kiddos don't always have utilities, homework isn't going to be an effective teaching tool. I'm sure this school is facing some tough challenges. No one wants ANY of their students to fail, much less 57% of them!!
  • Some parents were unaware: even though their kiddo had failed English twice before... another parent claims, "she has all the cell phone numbers of her kids' teachers and she calls them all the time, and her kids are doing well in school." Uh... neither of these is a good sign.
  • Extra credit?: "The Board of Education insists the Bradwell school did everything possible to keep the students' grades up, offering extra credit and school on Saturday. And the Board says written notices did go out." I know intellectually that extra credit is not a great idea. I've offered a kiddo extra credit when he or she is a few points away from passing (or from that "85" that mom says they have to have). But if 57% of your campus is relying on extra credit to pass, we are definitely treating a symptom and not the problem.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Seattle school district... spending money to save money

Typing up a letter to send to the members of the teachers' union: negligible.

Sending that letter via certified mail: $5.00

Sending that letter via certified mail to all 3,300 teachers in the union: $18,000

That letter says the district is out of money and those teachers need to take a pay cut: PRICELESS!

This Seattle-Times column is a little sensationalist, but raises a good point.

The district lost some state funding (as budgets are downsizing). So the district is proposing that teachers get one more day of vacation next year (without pay, of course). So, instead of going through the union (as the columnist says is proper in Washington State), district officials mailed letters informing "members of the teachers union that if they didn't agree to losing one day of work next year to help the district compensate for lost state funding, they wouldn't have a job in September."

Well, I'd be shocked if the letter said that... I would expect it said that some of the union members would have to be laid off, and this solution was allow the district to avoid cutting any current positions. But that's beside the point.

The letters were sent via certified mail (law says hand delivery is acceptable... procedure says this needs to go through the union). The price tag was over $18,000. Now, to be fair, the district is probably cutting close to half a million dollars with their proposed amendment to teachers' contracts. The $18,000 is a drop in the bucket, but still... shouldn't we all be pinching pennies here?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

No Graduation Ceremony for You

According to a story re-reported on FoxNews, an Ohio school district (with a graduating class of 60) uncovered an extensive cheating scheme. A student found tests on teachers' computers, copied them and distributed them to other students. The district superintendent said the cheating was so widespread and so many students were involved or aware that they canceled graduation.

Best quote:
Some students admit they cheated; others said they knew of the cheating but didn't participate; and others said they had the tests but didn't use them, Holden said.

One student who used the test still failed.