Rhettoracle's Blog

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It’s your kid’s fault! – Silly Bandz

Yea!  My first entry in this category.  Let’s start with Silly Bandz since it is what has come to my attention first.  A school district in South Carolina recently started to struggle with the child and tweenager bracelets, and the district has banned the “bandz” from school.  As the article states, schools in several other states have had to ban them as well.  Why is this article under the category “It’s your kid’s fault?”  Because this is a perfect example of the day to day nonsense that teachers have to put up with.  Your child comes to school with Silly Bandz, a perfectly harmless product  (and might I add, a great way for children to learn how to trade and share – in case you don’t know, trading these bracelets with their peers is all the rage).   But because enough of you parents have not reared your children properly, taught them the value of an education and showed them right from wrong, your children are using the bracelets to do their evil bidding, that is, hurt each other with them.  Schools do not act too quickly on issues like this, so if they have made a blanket ban, then it is obviously a significant disruption and has been for quite some time.  So what?  *Deep breath*:  Now the teachers are responsible for making sure students don’t have them, and when they see them, have to stop class and ask the students to turn them over, at which point the students will sometimes refuse, so now the teacher has to make a call to the office to send an administrator to come collect the bracelets so that the teacher can resume teaching for just long enough to get back into it when the administrator finally has time to show up (because s/he was dealing with another classroom full of silly bandz), and therefore the teacher has to stop again while the administrator deals with the problem, and….*deep breath*….on and on.  So one harmless little toy has proven to be a disruption for this generic classroom, not once, but twice in one class period.  So yes, schools having trouble is your kid’s fault.

April 21, 2010 Posted by | It's your kid's fault! | , , , | Leave a comment

Introduction of a New Segment: “It’s your kid’s fault!”

I’ve decided that there have been so many great stories about why are schools are in trouble over the years.  I’m going to jump on that bandwagon with a light-hearted series called “It’s your kid’s fault”.  Under this topic, you will find stories about what we as educators have to face everyday in our classrooms.  You the public want to blame teachers for poor test scores, failing schools, dropout rates, etc, etc.  These stories will show just some of the day to day annoying things that your kid does in our classrooms – for which there is very little we can do.

What do I mean?  Well, let me examine some of the consequences for minor disruptions of the classroom.  After / Before school detention?  Can’t because your kid rides the bus and doesn’t get here until 5 minutes before the bell and the bus leaves immediately after school.  Lunch detention?  Can’t because your kid is on free or reduced lunch because you don’t work so your kid has to go to the cafeteria to get food.  Oh, you say that the student should get the food and bring it to my classroom?  Can’t because federal / state laws prohibit food from leaving the cafeteria to the classrooms.  Call home?  Can’t because all 7 of the numbers you gave the school have been disconnected, are no longer in service, or do not have an answering machine, or you no longer live with the 10 other people in that house (it’s weird then, why every kid has a smartphone, yet I can’t get in touch with parents – things that make you go “hmmmm”).  Write a discipline referral?  Really?  1) for minor disruptions, that is kind of silly.  2) Admin will view it as silly and not do anything about it.  3) If it is a big enough or constant disruption that warrants a referral, then In-School Suspension (ISS) will be assigned.  So a student gets a free pass to hang out in a room and not have to deal with teachers for a day.  Sure, that will help correct the behavior!

Now look, a good teacher can maintain a certain level of order in the classroom, and a good teacher develops a rapport with his / her students so that order is the norm in the classroom.  HOWEVER, just because there is order and expectations does not mean that the disruptions do not happen regularly.  And when you have 75 students (block scheduling) or 150 students (traditional scheduling) each day, you will have constant distractions and disruptions that you have to do something about.  All of that adds up to lost instruction, not just in the amount time, but it also takes away from those that do not cause disruptions as they get distracted and might pay attention to the distraction rather than what the teacher is teaching.  Now look, take the posts in this category with a grain of salt – they are not the sole reason, nor am I trying to say that it is the sole reason for schools not doing well.  But taken together, all of these stories do make you go “hmmmm…”

With all of that said, let’s look at Silly Bandz in my next post…

April 21, 2010 Posted by | It's your kid's fault! | , , | 1 Comment

Is the American education system in trouble?

Before we launch into all the issues, we first have to examine the question “Is education in trouble?”  The reason so much is changing (and thus the reason for the creation of this blog) is because our country has accepted the notion from the media that America’s schools are failing.  This is simply untrue.  Are there problems with our schools?  Of course!  Are there schools that are failing?  Of course!  But is our whole education sysem going down the toilet?  I firmly say no.  The rest of this entry is my attempt to help you understand why I make this claim…

1) This country proudly educates everyone. We integrate students with special needs as much as possible into a regular classroom to give them an education in the “least restrictive environment.”  Because of the ever growing efforts to include as many students as possible in the regular ed classroom, more and more students who in the past never took the standardized tests (the ones that are used to measure the US against other countries), it appears that the US is falling further behind.  Rather, our scores are falling because we are making a greater effort to include everyone, and thus those who might not be, shall we say, capable of taking these standardized tests are now doing so and hurting our scores.  Years ago, students had to either sink or swim.  If they couldn’t cut it in regular classrooms, schools pulled them out and put them in “special classes.”  Those students never had to take standardized tests.  The problem, then, was that this idea began to get abused where educators would put people in those special classes who might hurt test scores for the school.  Why do that?  Because schools that scored better were given more money.  So what are other countries doing?  Many other industrialized nations have a much more sophisticated system of putting students into tracks and educating them accordingly.  Therefore only those truly college bound students end up taking the same standardized tests that ALL of our students take.  In other words, these measure compare other countries’ best and brightest with our entire melting pot, and thus the test results compare apples to oranges.

2) America’s schools are failing is the same argument that people were using for political gain back as early as the late 1800s.  Back then the argument was over the centralization vs decentralization of school systems.  All of it was born out of the idea that schools were failing our children.  So then, if you buy into the argument that schools are failing today, you should also buy into the argument that schools were failing 100 years ago too.  Afterall, there were people then making similar claims about schools just using different ideas to fix them.  The only difference between the claims then and now is 1) the antidote the reformers want to use, and 2) today we have “evidence” from research that schools are not doing well.  And if I’m not mistaken, in the last 100 years, the United States has led the world in medical, scientific, and technical advances.  We landed on the moon, for goodness sake!  And Al Gore invented the internet *grin*!  How could our education system be failing?

3) In addition to all this, I have anecdotal evidence in my former students who have gone on to greatness – they have gone to schools like Duke University, they have embarked on careers such as being an attorney, and they have returned to the classroom to educate the next generation of Americans to greatness

No, this system is not broken.  Could it be better?  Of course!  Are we pursuing the correct path towards improvement?  Absolutely not.  I hope over the course of this blog that I can shed some light on why our current course of reform is ineffective and what could be done instead to make things better.

April 21, 2010 Posted by | Failing Schools | , | 5 Comments

What to do when banks and schools fail.

There are so many issues that I could have chosen for my first official blog entry.  Instead of painstakingly trying to figure out what the perfect starting point is, I decided to just jump into an issue and see what happens.

So what happens when banks in the United States fail?  Over the past few years, we as a country have decided to lend them taxpayer dollars to bail them out, only to find that we are facing additional banks in trouble.  In return, some of those banks that were bailed out continue to pay millions of dollars to their top executives in bonuses.  Now before you haul off on me as a communist who does not believe in free enterprise, please allow me to finish…

If we accept the notion that education is in trouble (as has been beaten to death in the media with statistics showing the US slipping among industrialized nations on test scores), then why don’t we pay big money to top executives (principals) to come and save the schools?  What are we doing instead?  Well, let’s look at Florida.  Thankfully, the governor recently vetoed a law that would have tied teacher pay to student performance.  The argument for the proposed law?  Florida Congressional leaders said that this would help to foster a climate in which teachers are motivated to work harder for the pay.  And teachers working harder will then help turn around poor performing schools.  First of all, I will leave the whole discussion of students’ performance on a test as related to teacher effectiveness for another day.  Second of all, would someone please tell me where the incentive would be to work harder under such a proposed system?  Let’s examine the facts under such a proposed pay system:

1) students in low income communities perform worse on standardized tests than students in high income communities (as a whole);

2) teachers in low SES schools will have to work extra hard to get some of their students to pass the standardized tests on which their pay is based, whereas teachers in high SES schools will have to do relatively little (I’ve taught in both types of schools, so I know how much harder I have to work in a low SES school to get my students to even pass a unit test, let alone a standardized test);

3) teachers with more experience and advanced degrees are not interested in working extra hard, and they are in the highest demand in education because they KNOW how to teach (obviously, in general, there are exceptions to every generality).

The result:  When you add up those 3 simple facts, you are not going to make your poor performing schools better, you are going to make them worse.  The best teachers in those schools are going to seek the first escape to the school / district in which the likelihood of higher test scores (and thus higher pay) is much greater.  Thus, in the end, you are going to have the best teachers making the most money in the ALREADY best schools.  The poor performing schools will be revolving doors for teachers in which the best teachers will move on and the poor teachers will either quit or they will be kept on because no one else wants to fill the vacancies there.

I am not trying to say in this post that the banks should not have been bailed out.  There are billions of dollars at stake and our national economy to consider.  There are tens of thousands of jobs on the line.  It was not necessarily a bad move.  But what I am saying is that education is more important, that is, if we expect this country to continue competing economically in the world 30 years from now.  It is about time for our country to take a stand and fund education to the highest possible degree.  There has to be incentives to teach.  If you major in biology, what is the likelihood you will take a $30,000 salary in a teaching position, with the potential to make less given current funding proposals across the country such as the one in Florida, when instead, you could go onto med school or get a masters / PhD in research and work for a pharmaceutical company, etc, etc?  When we start talking about paying teachers for what they are worth thereby encouraging the brightest minds to enter education (as well as adopting a much better teacher evaluation system), then we can start talking about improving poor performing schools.

Many of the critics of education throw around buzz words such as market forces, privatization, vouchers, accountability, etc, to say that schools need to be more like businesses.  To that I say, well, then if we are to be treated more like a business, then why don’t you start paying us like a business?  You want to turn a school around, then you better pony-up the dollars to attract the best and brightest into the field of education.  You have to make it inviting for a physicist to want to leave NASA (or wherever) and teach high school.  Hmmm….$100,000 to work at NASA, or $38,000 to teach?  DUH!

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Failing Schools, Funding | , , , | Leave a comment

What is up with that name?!

Rhettoracle?!  Where did you come up with something so strange / lame / stupid / whatever?  (or maybe you think it is awesome, so I will rephrase and ask, “Where did you come up with such a perfect blog site name?”)  OK, mainly it is a play on my name, Rhett (that is as much personal info as you are getting out of me).  Second, rhettoric and rhettorical were both taken by the time I jumped on the blogging bandwagon, and I therefore, played around with the “oric / orical” part of the word and was able to use “oracle”.  I am, however, partially ashamed of the “oracle” part of it.  From http://www.thefreedictionary.com, oracle is defined as

1.

a. A shrine consecrated to the worship and consultation of a prophetic deity, as that of Apollo at Delphi.
b. A person, such as a priestess, through whom a deity is held to respond when consulted.
c. The response given through such a medium, often in the form of an enigmatic statement or allegory.
2.

a. A person considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinions.
b. An authoritative or wise statement or prediction.
3. A command or revelation from God.
4. In the Bible, the sanctuary of the Temple.
I am not (nor is this site): 1) a shrine for you to worship, 2) a priest who communes with a diety, 3) a prophet, 4) God, or 5) a Temple.  I hope though, you will agree that my use or “oracle” was simply to complete the sounds necessary in the word “rhetorical”.   Again, http://www.thefreedictionary.com defines rhetorical as “Of or relating to rhetoric”, and rhetoric is defined as “The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively”.  Hopefully, this blog will be used to discuss education effectively and persuasively.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Introduction | , , | Leave a comment

So why am I doing this and what are the rules?

Why I am I doing this?

A little background: as I have been reading more and more about education situations around the country, I have found myself becoming more and more distraught about the future of education in the US.  So I started writing down some thoughts in an attempt to write a nice, concise letter to the editor of my local newspaper.  My “concise” letter was going on 3 pages in a Word document when I finally wised up and realized that what I had to say could not be condensed.  There is just far too much going on and too many issues that need discussion.  Additionally, in talking with some of my non-teacher friends, there is often wonderment on their part in trying to wrap their head around some of the nonsensical things that are going on with regard to education in this country.  Thus with some encouragement from others (mostly my dear wife) Rhettoracle was born.  The question I face now is, since I’ve taken the plunge to create it, can I keep it up?

Ground rules:

I am leaving much of my personal information off of here.  I don’t want information shared by me to be a reflection of the district of which I am employed, the people with whom I work, or the students for whom I work.  That said, being anonymous tends to reflect poorly on the author as questions of validity are inescapable.  For me, that is OK.  If you are reading this, you don’t have to believe that I am a 10 year veteran to the teaching profession with a master’s degree in education and National Board Certified; therefore, please, let’s dispense with the “how can we trust this source” comments.  Instead, I encourage you, the reader, not to worry too much about the author, but rather the information.  Regardless of who I am, the information is the same, and you can either agree or disagree with it.  I encourage you to post responses both agreeing and disagreeing with my statements in an effort to help all of us try to come to some conclusions about what is happening in the world of education.  AND I URGE AND ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEND THE LINK OF MY BLOG TO ANY OF YOUR EDUCATOR FRIENDS! I would love for this blog to grow and for meaningful discussion to come out of it.

With such encouragement, I also ask for your cooperation: if you know me, please leave my name out of your comments or any other info that might identify me.  Additionally, please leave my location out of it.  All anyone needs to know is that I teach a subject to a subset of students in Somewhere, USA.  And finally, for those that know me, please don’t make reference to my blog on my Facebook page.  Like the old saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone starts identifying people….or, uh, something like that.  Again, my interest is to inform the public, but also to ensure the protection my students, school, and district.  AND IF anyone actually reads and comments on this blog, I also will thank you to keep your comments clean, rational, and thoughtful so we can focus on the issues, and not trying to “save face.”

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Introduction | , , | Leave a comment