Tag: urban education

The Real Estate Board and Your School

Working in community development for a Midwestern urban government, I had my innocence shattered around the illusion that the school district, as an agent of the state government, was actually operating quasi-independently of other major groups in the city.

I soon learned how the collusion of the real estate board with controlling media outlets affects schools. Here’s how it works:

People like to live in a good neighborhood. A good neighborhood is one that has a good school. People may be very content with their school. However, their home may be getting old. You can’t charge as much to live in an older home as a new one. The real estate board exists to promote the interests of the realtors. Realtors like to sell new homes.

Q: How do you get people to move out of their house often enough to sell enough new homes to keep you going at the level you want?

A: You start trash talking the school, or even the district.

By reporting on problems and not reporting on strengths, the reading and viewing public begin to question the quality of the school. The quality of the school, mind you, may not have deteriorated at all. Or any negative stories about schools in outlying areas are suppressed.

Soon homeowners with children begin to get nervous. “Perhaps we had better begin thinking about moving out to a neighborhood with better schools,” they say.

Glowing reports of the fabulous quality of the school in the developing residential area begin to flood the news. Simultaneously, trouble, trouble, trouble is publicized about the school or district designated for downgrading. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative media leads to negative parental and student perceptions leads to more hostility toward the school leads to making the job harder, you get the picture.

I have personal experience with this. I worked and lived in an urban district. I knew firsthand about the skill levels of the teachers, their dedication, the innovative and effective techniques they used, the programs the district had that offered opportunities to the students.

While it was true that students from less affluent families attended, that did not equate with those students being inferior in character, behavior, desire or skill levels. It didn’t mean the teachers didn’t care. It didn’t mean good teaching wasn’t going on. Not yet anyway. But the forces were at work.

Our urban district had had a preschool for decades. An outlying district decided to provide a preschool program. The news media lauded it as the most progressive program to be seen in decades. No mention was made of the older district’s programs or their successes.

Then my coworker moved to a suburb with a “premium” school district. Their security guards did not wear uniforms so the parents didn’t know they had, or needed them, or if they did, they didn’t want the image of needing them. Their student problems never made the news. Their students crashed cars, tore up property, and generally were teenagers, but it wasn’t publicized. The desire was to keep the property values up so the news about the school had to always be stellar.

Before “A Nation at Risk,” the state was pretty much content to let the schools do their job. They did not overtly participate in the campaign. However with pressures increasing, and consulting with business groups including real estate boards, the state legislators and administrators began to pressure  ill-advised and ill- planned “reforms” or “improvements” on the urban districts especially. Most of these were invented by college professors who had not taught in the demographic, not teachers in the district. Each year was a revolving door of a new program when the previous program had not been given a chance to succeed. States were afraid to be seen “behind the times” so whatever educational fad was being touted was enforced. Thus began the instability which the urban school or district was then blamed for and which compromised the educational process itself. This contributed to the attack on older districts as well.

Then, after No Child Left Behind, the state, relying on the merciless and useless testing programs (which also made money for testing and textbook companies by mandating changes every year) the state began to “grade” districts and the schools in them. Of course the urban districts always got the worst grades.In an “add insult to injury” move, they tied the funding formula to this. So districts that were already challenged because the property values of older areas were declining (schools are funded through property taxes) were now doubly beat up by the state.

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One urban district decided to fight back. They had good schools, good teachers, and good kids. The parents wanted their kids to get an education. They had motivating programs and activities for the students. In other words, they kept doing a good job. But each testing season showed their ranking declining…and their funding and possible accreditation. Why? Because they were in an older residential area.

They took the state to court for unfair practices…and they won! They challenged them to show how the same measures were not begin applied uniformly. They challenged the evaluations. They challenged the definitions and the formulas. They challenged all these things, not because they were against good education, but because they recognized a political game when they saw one.

Kudos to those who stand up and fight! A home does not depend on the house. Education doesn’t depend on how new the school building is. In both cases, it’s the people inside that make it made with love.

 

Band-Aids for Teachers

After my mother passed, my middle sister (the one who controlled everyone contrary to birth order theories), sat us down and divided up the boxes of Band-Aids left over in my mother’s closet to make sure no one got more than anyone else.

Previously, my other sister and I had learned, she had absconded with our grandmother’s china cabinet and the diamond earrings Mother had promised me.

The paltry nature of her concerns was a fitting metaphor,  I thought, of the efforts to help teachers in recent years by a well meaning public. Recently Stephen Colbert featured a campaign, #Best School Day, which raised $800,000 for teacher projects. Previously Donors Choose offered a similar opportunity: teachers post their projects and the public can choose which ones to fund. All wonderful shows of support for teachers.

Colbert’s show featured celebrities picking up the tab for a city, state, or educational level projects, more impressive than a car for every teacher a la Oprah.

I am grateful. Don’t get me wrong. But for those outside of education, I just want to suggest how this translates when you are a teacher.

As a teacher, one year a magnanimous corporate leader gave each teacher in our district $100 to spend at an office supply store. That was great, since lack of budgets for teacher supplies are the rule. We wanted to spend it at another office store, however, with much lower prices where we could buy more for our money. We learned that was not to be, since a high level administrator had preferred we spend it at his buddy’s store with higher markups.

I share this to let those who care know that rarely if ever do well meaning gifts accomplish the intention. With direct funding on the surface such as DonorChoice or #Best School Day, the chances are better that the teacher will actually get to spend the money. However I have seen too many times when teachers have developed grants, received the award, and had to fork over monies to the district or go through so many hoops to get the money that it was discouraging. These teachers have also worked extra unpaid hours to come up with the project ideas beyond an already exhausting schedule. And of course this aid is for the students, really, via the teacher.

A second reality that those who care need to understand is the social status this type of effort reveals. Teachers are charity cases, so much so that now states are offering housing because salaries are so low. That’s a great new provision too that is benefitting many teachers. Yet underneath realize what it says about the value of our work.

labyrinth

We would never dream of offering charity to doctors, lawyers, or other professionals. Yet that is how we classify teachers. They are not considered professionals in spite of equal amounts of education. In our cultural mental consciousness, teachers are still babysitters. (Actually if you do the math, babysitters get paid more). The education of children, as with many other human services, is not high status work in our society.

Teachers are often more vilified than praised. It’s great to see some teachers benefitting from positive PR ( even if the celebrities and not the teachers were on stage). On a few good days, we get praise and some extra Band-Aids. We could really use the bigger checks already cashed elsewhere. Society would be richer.

 

 

Teachers Anonymous

In 2012 I began a blog by this title but did not pursue it. The name had been inspired by a few of us laboring in an urban high school in a still somewhat posh neighborhood that was hated by the district administrators who remembered getting hand-me-down textbooks from the school. That was in 1986 or 87. We invented our 12 Steps for Recovery. And we made our jokes in order to keep our heads up.

Since then I see the name has caught on. I counted over a dozen Teachers Anonymous sites during a recent web search. I also found an Academics Anonymous for college profs (they are always a separate entity). The erosion of dignity, freedom and respect has reached there too.

There is so much enormous misunderstanding, so much uninformed slander, and so many teachers who just want to know that they are not crazy for thinking what they are going through is real or that they are the only ones, that here I’m letting it all loose!

This blog is for all the outrageous and insulting practices that I suffered in education. And I welcome true stories of other educator’s injustices! The Union didn’t tell the whole story. The legislators and corporations didn’t know the whole story. And the parents and students definitely didn’t know the whole story. With the over 30-year attack on public education, it’s time that teachers stood up here, because they were too demoralized or exhausted to say a word when they leave work at the end of the day!

Here is the record of the progressive erosion of any professional autonomy that I experienced during my 30 years and more of education. I had the responsibility for implementing others’ visions of my classroom but not the authority to teach as I had developed skills for my students.

Feel free to share your experiences of professional powerlessness. From textbooks that boasted they were “teacher proof” to totally structured content delivery and the current movement for standardization, I’m reporting one person’s experience of what it really is like to be in education before you lost your mind. My hope is that, rather than being seen as a rant, it will open others’ understanding to understand who is profiting from the carnage of public education, stop buying the story that it’s our fault, and join those who want to establish teacher control of public education so it can regain its dignity as one of the three essential pillars of our democracy.