Back to School? Some Districts Seem to Be Moving Backwards
The Education System Needs A Refresher Course
So it's the end of summer, when thoughts turn to backpacks, new sneakers, class schedules, football games, buyouts of administrators’ contracts, puzzling teacher transfers, district directives for less homework....
“Wait,” you say. “What’s with the “buyouts, transfers, and directives?”
That’s a good question, one which most likely has been broached in many cities throughout the country. The answers are easy. The reasons behind those answers, unfortunately, are disturbing.
The Buyouts: Beware... and Be Wary
Buyouts of administrators’ contracts are just that: school boards who have become dissatisfied with their superintendents of schools. for example, give those people large sums of money (in some case, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) to hand in their resignations, aka “to go away.” These “buyouts” seldom are referred to in those terms, and the superintendents in question seldom are fired. The local newspaper simply announces, “Superintendent of Schools fill in the blanks submitted his resignation yesterday” followed by a few vague reasons for the sudden departure, some journalistic guesswork as to the real reasons, and an “oh, by the way” financial statement of how much the district is paying, in effect, to get rid of this person. Several years ago In a nearby school district, for example, the current superintendent was brought in just a previously to “clean up” the district, i.e., to improve abysmal student scores on state testing, reorganize and/or replace flailing programs, come up with a host of “strategies for success,” etc. In the course of implementing some of his strategies, however, he ruffled a lot of feathers and stepped on numerous toes. I doubt if anyone knows the full story, but the bottom line was this: he received a $55,000 lump sum and a salary of $195,000 for a year of performing a nebulous job with no duties, no office, and no scheduled hours... and in a district where over one hundred teachers had just been laid off due to budget shortfalls. The same year, the Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, which has been in dire academic and financial straights for years, was given $900,000 (!) by the School Board to bid adieu, to the chagrin and outright anger of her host of loyal supporters. Allegedly, the financially strapped district, which had recently laid off over one thousand teachers, would have to come up with $500,000, while the remainder of the buyout was financed by “anonymous donations.” (When questions as to why the source of these anonymous donations has not been made public, one of the school board members replied, “because they’re anonymous.”) Welcome to the wacky world of education.
The Transfers... Or Not
A fe years ago, I wrote a Hub about one local school district’s unique way of dealing with the budget crunch by transferring “more mature” (okay, older) teachers to different schools and, in some cases, assigning them to teach subjects for which they might be certified but which they have never taught. The reason behind this novel approach was glaringly transparent: the district was hoping to bully people into retiring so that the jobs of younger teachers (translation: those lower on the salary schedule) could be saved. Of course, the majority of transferred teachers refused to be bullied. The week before school started that year, the “bottom line” on the transfer issue surfaced. It would appear that if a principal was willing to “fight “ to retain one of the older teachers in his/her building, a magic wand appeared to retract those particular transfers. If, on the other hand, a principal (for whatever reasons, few of which seem to have been related to teaching proficiency) chose not to step up to the plate, those transfers suddenly became set in stone. Evidently it didn’t matter to anyone except the teachers involved and, ultimately, their students that they had been assigned to teach subjects for which they had neither knowledge nor experience. Not only that...Some of those dedicated teachers were rewarded for their years of service with assignments at their new schools that included traveling from room to room each day (imagine trying to teach, say, Academic Biology, as a traveling teacher); “home base”,was, for example, a desk, set in the copy room. To add even more insult to an already bruised self image, I know of one teacher who found that the desk- the one she’d been assigned and had equipped herself-had been removed from the copy room (contents and all) and replaced with a desk that probably had been headed for the recycling bin. Perhaps the most distressing example of staff inequity lay in the area of teacher furloughs in this same district. Whereas most of the first or second year teachers in a particular academic department were furloughed, the one who remained when the dust had settled was the child of a school board member. Who ever said the business of education isn’t political? For that matter, not too many people who have been a part of that system can tell you it’s fair, either
The Homework... What Homework?
Now for the homework policy issue. While we were vacationing in New Jersey, I read an article in one of the local newspapers about the decision of at least one school district to make it a policy that homework was not to be assigned to elementary or middle school students over the weekend. A few days later, I read another article about the same issue. Though I was not surprised, I was concerned that a set-in-stone policy of that nature could only contribute in a negative way to the “entitlement mentality” that seems to be in vogue.
Certainly, the idea of assigning hours of homework to elementary students to be completed over a weekend is ludicrous. In the case of middle school students, however, assigning half a page of math problems and/or a short chapter of a novel, for example doesn’t seem like an outrageous expectation. Nor is it outrageous to expect that a teacher assign “meaningful” homework rather than the mere time-crunchers known as busy work. There are some teachers, on the other hand, who give their students class time to do homework, a questionable practice that takes the “home” out of “work.” During my many years as a teacher, I knew few middle school students who honestly could claim that they were overwhelmed or bogged down by homework, except, of course, if they had chosen to ignore long-term assignments until the notorious last minute. Why are we so afraid to teach our children responsibility? Most of them react to the concept quite well.
So as a new school year begins, we are essentially faced with the question, “Who really needs to be educated?” Perhaps those responsible for running the education system should take a course both in Reality 101 and Justice for All. A refresher course in Responsibility Starts At the Top might not be a bad idea, either.