Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Obama’s Plan to Improve Science Education by Overworking Teachers

It is perplexing to many that we continue to have high unemployment and simultaneously have to import foreign workers to fill so many high tech jobs because of the dearth of sufficiently educated domestic workers. There have been numerous attempts to rectify this problem, but they all suffer from similar fallacies such as the myths that our education system is broken or deteriorating or that our teachers are terrible or disinterested or unwilling to persevere in the profession.

Indeed, 30,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers leave the profession each year according to Good Education and this, no doubt, takes a terrible toll on the consistency and integrity of STEM programs. However, K-12 education loses thousands of teachers each year from all disciplines, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with the needs and specifics of STEM teaching. For example, over 100,000 teaching jobs have been lost in the last year, while over 300,000 have been lost since 2008, according to Fire Dog Lake, primarily due to budget cuts resulting from declining tax revenue.

Furthermore, significant numbers of teachers from all disciplines quit within their first three years because they were not sufficiently prepared or are no longer willing to deal with the demands, stress and intensity of the job. And, as Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Blog pointed out last year, the attrition rates in other professions are also relatively high and this may actually be a good thing, especially for K-12 education, as it helps weed out those who are ill-prepared or ill-suited for the profession.

Of course it’s not just about retaining STEM teachers. It is also about attracting them to the profession in the first place. STEM graduates tend to have more remunerative options than humanities and social science graduates, like working for a biotech or software company. To this end, the White House announced last week the creation of an elite STEM Master Teacher Corps, the members of which will serve as models and inspiration for aspiring young STEM teachers, according to the Good Education report.

The Obama plan will begin this year with 50 teachers, expanding to more than 10,000 teachers over the next four years. These "master teachers" would be required to lead professional development and school reform efforts in their schools and districts, create lesson plans and novel strategies to improve their peers’ teaching, and mentor novice teachers to help keep them in the classroom. In exchange for all this extra labor, the “master teachers” will receive a national award recognizing their excellence and a stipend of $20,000 per year.

The Good Education article suggests that while the stipend “might not put them on par with a hot programmer at Google, the compensation will close some of the gap and make their salaries competitive with other careers they might be qualified for.”

Now $20,000 might seem like a substantial sum of money, particularly when many teachers are making only $40,000 per year (or less). However, for a teacher earning $30-40,000 per year base pay, their new salary would hardly be competitive with the IT or Biotech industries. Furthermore, Good’s estimation looks only at the take home pay, not the amount of pay relative to the amount of labor, status and stress.

The typical workload of a teacher includes managing and controlling classrooms of up to 35-40 students while identifying and serving their diverse and unique needs. This, alone, accounts for 5-6 hours (66-80%) of a teacher’s workday. In the remaining time, teachers must design and prepare creative and effective lesson plans; set up labs and projects; read and grade essays, lab reports, exams and other assignments; attend meetings; fill out reams of paper work; satisfy the sometimes contradictory and often overwhelming demands of administrators and local and state ordinances; and regularly communicate with parents. During this time, they have dozens of intense interpersonal interactions, generally with people who are not very good at articulately or respectfully communicating their needs, thus adding stress and frustration to an already overwhelming work day.

Considering these demands, all teachers, regardless of their discipline or location, should be earning six-figures as their base pay, without having to do a lot of extra work, as required by Obama’s STEM plan.

While it is certainly nice to be offered extra money for extra work, $20,000 does not come close to compensating teachers for the amount of work required by Obama’s STEM program. Mentoring novice teachers, alone, could add another 5-10% to a teacher’s already busy workday, especially if it includes frequent observations and meetings to debrief the observations. Curriculum design, too, can be extremely time extensive. Many teachers devote entire summers and/or additional hours after school (without pay) to curriculum design. Likewise, school redesign and reform efforts can eat up weeks or months during the summer, followed by additional daily or weekly labor during the school year.

It should also be pointed out that all this extra work can burn teachers out, taking away attention, patience and focus from their students. Many teachers no doubt have the energy and drive to make this work in the short-term, but the Obama plan calls for a minimum four-year commitment. It is difficult to imagine 10,000 martyrs across the country not only being able to give up so much of their personal lives to the cause of improving STEM education for four or more years, but being able to do it well, without sacrificing the wellbeing of their students and colleagues.

Under the Obama plan, STEM teachers will still to have relatively low status and autonomy (like other teachers), thus contributing to high attrition and difficulty attracting people to profession in the first place. They will continue to be subjected to arbitrary and ill-conceived reforms and legislation (e.g., No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top), attacks on their working conditions and job security (e.g., tenure and evaluation reform), and little to no academic freedom and autonomy in the classroom. They will also continue to be subjected to unreasonable expectations to solve major socioeconomic problems that are beyond their capabilities (like ensuring that low income 9th graders who are reading at the 2nd grade level are able to graduate on time ready to enter a four-year university).

This brings up another faulty premise of the Ed Deform movement: Kids aren’t graduating prepared for career and college because of defects with their schools or teachers. In reality, the minority of students who are not graduating on time or who are graduating without the necessary basic skills for career or college are overwhelmingly low income students who started kindergarten far behind their peers in pre-reading and math skills and who fell further behind as they progressed through school, not because of bad schools or teachers, but because their more affluent peers had a host of after-school and summer advantages that were unavailable to them.

Therefore, if we want to see more students graduating prepared for STEM careers or college we need to address both the increasing poverty of our students and the growing societal wealth gap, as well as the declining revenue available to K-12 education, since education funding can help ameliorate some of the negative educational impacts of poverty (e.g., free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs; after school childcare for young children of working parents). A much more effective use of the $100 million the Obama administration plans on spending on his STEM program would be to increase funding for programs like free and reduced lunch, restoring nursing and counselors to the schools, and adding more after-school and summer enrichment programs for low income children.

This, of course, is unlikely. First, virtually no policy maker acknowledges how much poverty affects educational outcomes and none is willing to invest in programs that reduce poverty, let alone tax the wealthy to do so. Furthermore, the STEM push is coming primarily from industry which wants greater control of its future workforce and increased consumption of its products. It’s not about helping children, especially poor children.

In the short-term, increased STEM education means more computers and iPads in the classroom, which means more profits for tech companies. In the long term, even if it does result in companies hiring more domestic employees, it will be primarily the elite upper echelon of public K-12 educated students who reap the benefits of high paying, high status tech jobs, as it is today. Lower income kids who are behind in their academic skills and course work will continue to have lower graduation and college admission rates, higher unemployment, and fewer job opportunities. Having better trained science teachers will not erase the effects of poverty, improve students’ reading from the 2nd to 11th grade level, or provide a safe, quiet place for them to study.

Today in Labor History—July 31

July 31, 1916 – Electricity workers went on strike in Mexico City, launching a General Strike. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 31, 1922 – A General Strike against Fascism began in Italy, running from July 31 to August 2. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 31, 1968 – Violent street battles between students and riot police occurred in México City. Students occupied schools and began a General Strike, which culminated in the Tlatelolco massacre on October 2nd, with over 300 people slaughtered and thousands arrested and tortured. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 31, 1970 - Members of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) went on strike over pay, pensions, the right to arbitration and the right to have agents. The strike lasted only two days, but inaugurated the NFLPA as a real union. (From Workday Minnesota)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Today in Labor History—July 30

July 30, 1863 - Automobile tycoon Henry Ford was born on this date in Dearborn, Michigan. His introduction of the assembly line and other mass production techniques revolutionized profit-making not only by dramatically increasing worker productivity, and therefore reducing labor costs, but also by deskilling the workforce and weakening the power of the workers. (From Workday Minnesota)

July 30, 1866 – Police shoot into a group of black workers outside the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans. A crowd of whites then stormed the hall. By the time federal troops restored order, 38 were dead and 136 wounded — almost all of them black. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 30, 1912 – A General Strike began in Belgium. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 30, 1975 - Former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on this date. (From Workday Minnesota)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Today in Labor History—July 29

July 29, 1900King Umberto of Italy was assassinated by Italian anarchist Gaetano Bresci, as revenge for the army's crushing of the worker's insurrection in Milan, May 1898, in which they killed hundreds of workers. Bresci was arrested and later found strangled in his cell at Santo Stefano Prison, on May 22nd, 1901.

July 29, 1903 – The first delegation from Mother Jones’ March of the Mill Children arrived at Teddy Roosevelt's summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, to publicize the harsh conditions of child labor. They weren’t allowed through the gates. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 29, 1970 – After five years on strike, the United Farm Workers finally won a contract with California grape growers. (From Workday Minnesota)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Today in Labor History—July 28

July 28, 1794 – French Reign of Terror architect Robespierre was guillotined. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 28, 1907 – In Raon-l'Etape, France, police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by strikers, killing two workers. Barricades were raised and the black flag of anarchism was raised. (From the Daily Bleed)

July 28, 1932 - General Douglas MacArthur, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and their troops, burned down a shantytown by unemployed veterans near the U.S. Capitol. 20,000 ex-servicemen had been camped out in the capital demanding a veterans’ bonus the government had promised but never given. Cavalry troops and tanks fired tear gas at veterans and their families and then set the buildings on fire. MacArthur and President Herbert Hoover said they had saved the nation from revolution. (From Workday Minnesota)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Today in Labor History—July 27

July 27, 1794 – Robespierre was arrested in the wake of the French Revolution.

July 27, 1869 – William Sylvis (1828-1869), head of the National Labor Union, the first such organization in US history, died on this date in 1869.

July 27, 1918 – United Mine Workers organizer Ginger Goodwin was shot by a hired private cop outside Cumberland, British Columbia sparking Canada's first General Strike.

The Ballad Of Ginger Goodwin

Image from Google images
A song by Richard von Fuchs©Richard von Fuchs 1978 play mp3

Ginger Goodwin is a name you don't often hear or see.
They don't say a word about him in our country's history.
He was a labour leader and he wouldn't go to war.
"While the army breaks our strikes at home, its strikers I'll fight for."

In Trail back in the summer of 1917.
Ginger fought against conscription even though he was class D.
But when he led a miners' strike to spread the eight hour day
Conscription checked him out again and found he was class A.

Ginger hid from cops and soldiers in the hills near Cumberland.
Miners brought him food and sheltered him, they knew he was their friend.
So the bosses hired special cops when their power was at stake.
Dan Campbell murdered Goodwin at the head of Comox Lake.

The whole damn town of Cumberland turned out for the funeral hike.
Vancouver's workers shut her down for a one day general strike.
Soldiers back from foreign wars then attacked the labour hall.
Both the bosses and the workers knew who caused the Czar's downfall.

You can still see Ginger's grave along the road to Cumberland.
He didn't win no medals and no one understands.
Don't tell me that a hero has to die in foreign lands.
We lost heroes here in labour's wars and they all had dirty hands.

July 27, 1919 – Race riots erupted in Chicago when a black youth on a raft crossed an unseen "color line" at the 29th Street Beach. He was drowned by rock-throwing whites. 38 people eventually died. This was just one of at least 26 race riots that broke out across the U.S. in the year after World War I.

July 27, 1932 – The U.S. army attacked an encampment of 20,000 World War I veterans who had come to Washington to ask Congress to speed up bonus payments.

July 27, 1989 – New York state police closed all roads to the U.S. side of the St. Regis Mohawk reservation, to prevent Mohawks from crossing the international border during a dispute of Mohawk land.

(Source: Daily Bleed)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

UCLA Professor Wins Academic Freedom Fight

This spring, UCLA professor David Delgado Shorter was asked to remove a link from his website that called for the boycott of Isreal. He was accused of advancing a political agenda that was inappropriate in the classroom, though he argued the link was one of many suggested links available in a “clearinghouse” of views for students to peruse in his Tribal Worldviews course. In his class, he discussed not only the boycott, but presented the views of those who oppose the boycott.

Last week, the UCLA faculty senate’s committee on academic freedom ruled that Shorter’s use of the boycott link was not a violation of UCLA policy, according to the Los Angeles Times. The policy allows faculty to present controversial material as long as it is relevant to the course no student feels pressure to adopt a point of view.