A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

April 18, 2009

Self Actualization and Adoptive Parenting

Filed under: Adoption,children,Culture,Family,History,Multiculturalism,Religion — avoiceofreason @ 6:07 pm

As some of the loyal readers of this humble blog know I am always interested in research proposals of varying degree.  Recently I have begun a cursory review of the literature regarding formation of self concept in children.  This became a very broad topic, and so I limited my research to formation of academic self concept and adopted children.   Some of the initial reading has been interesting and illuminating.  It also lead me to a conversation with an expert in adoptee issues – who is always more than willing to sledgehammer any ideas I may have about the topic.  Actually, their input is usually very helpful.

Trying to get a broad view on the topic, I was just perusing through news articles one day and just hit adoption as a key word.  Of course the topic of Madonna and her attempts to adopt a child from Africa came up.  As I read I reflected, more on formation of self-concept issues.  This lead me to have rather strong opinions forming, which is often the driving force behind some research.  The researcher then has to do a lot of work with colleagues on the audit trail (if ethnographic approaches are used or on content validity if a survey device is used) to make sure that bias hasn’t crept in.

However, my reflections were what were the basis of Madonna’s wish to adopt a child from a third world nation and the potential outcomes.  Her motivation she claims is altruistic and are in the interests of the child.  Whenever I hear a person citing purely altruistic motivations, and my cynicism may be ramped up proportionally by the wealth or influence of the alleged altruist, my BS radar is actively pinging.  I honestly don’t really believe that the actions of most people are done from altruistic motives but are done to promote self-actualization.  There are so many benefits to this woman or any other person who ventures upon a course of adoption and many have formed guises to rationalize this understandable emotional benefit derived on the one who chooses to adopt. 

Some of these fallacious altruisms may be:

1) God told us to adopt this child.  While I am second to none in the role that faith may play in a person’s life, I am skeptical about this in many cases.  Recently I came across a study that cited that nearly 40% of all adopted children are turned back in to the adoption agency.  It is mathematically impossible that none of this children weren’t initially adopted at the behest of the Almighty.  Either God was changing his mind in these instances or the person was acting in their own self interests – which may have some positive outcome for other mind you, and things didn’t quite work out.  You will not believe how many people “knew” that God had drawn them to their spouse only to end up in divorce proceedings.  Nations do this also.  Whenever God speaks and tells someone to do some certain minute detail of their life, I am convinced that 90% of the time it is really a quite human rationalization to justify or lend credence to an action they would like to do without the involvement of God.  While some may strongly believe this to be true, I am unaware that Madonna in particular has claimed to have a “Burning bush” experience.

2) Adoption is done in the interest of the child.  This one may be more nefarious than citing the blessings of a deity because it shows an underlying arrogance on the part of the one who is adopting.  Most people adopt out of a need they have more so than the need of the child.  If this were truth there are some discrepancies that must be addressed.  Why are the overwhelming number of children adopted under the age of four?  Statistics show that as the child’s age increases their chance at being adopted decreases in geometric proportion to their age.  These children have great need, yet the Almighty and the interests of these children are not being considered by a vast portion of people who are eligible for adopting.  Another discrepancy is the large number of guarantees that many adoption agencies put forward in their promotion of adopting children.  Guarantees of the health of the child, that the child is not offspring of someone who was drug addicted among others can be secured with a price.  These are contractual issues which if violated would constitute breach and make the agency liable to damages or to provide a more suitable child.  Much of this talk seems to be reminiscent of contracts entered into when purchasing a dog for show or for breeding, which may be a more accurate analogy to the practices of many who adopt a child. 

In this particular instance a child from an economically disadvantaged nation may be adopted by a person of incredible wealth.  There will doubtlessly be some economic advantage afforded this child that they would not be given access to should they remain in their current condition.  However, there is a large amount of arrogance in the presupposition that adoption is in the interest of the child.  What this child – and many who are adopted from developing nations – loses in regard to their culture, their language, their inherent religion,  and in total their sense of identity within that culture, may outweigh what they gain by access to wealth.  Statistically, this cultural arrogance is strengthened by the tendency of developed nations seeking out these children from undeveloped nations at a rate that is growing astronomically. 

Another litmus test of this alleged altruism being in reality cultural arrogance can be illustrated in this scenario.  Picture children in desparate need of basic necessities such as food, medical care, clean sanitary housing and education.  These children exist in many places in the United States.  Many of these children are also White – as in Appalachia and other areas of the nation.  A large number of these children are adopted by parents who are of Islamic or say Hindu background.  They are wealthy and could meet the physical needs of these children far better than their indigenous parents or perhaps than the social agencies in their region.  The prospective adopted parents – who have dark skin, speak a different language and worship in a different fashion state that God told them they should adopt this poor suffering American child.  The child will be forced to learn the language of the parents, will be raised in the religion of these parents and it is understood they will be asked to take on the world view of the predominant culture of these parents.  This is in the interest of the child.  One must wonder if this would be the view of any in the Industrialized West if this were a common practice.  

Adoption like most human activities is done out motives of self actualization.  If Madonna or any prospective adoptive parent wanted to act in a more altruistic fashion they would make a private donation to a bona fide relief organization for that or any other child which would raise the standards of living for those children.  Lord knows they need that.  What has happened in current practices and policies of parents from Industrialized nations adopting children from undeveloped nations is in many ways more akin to the stripping of natural resources – in forms of humanity – that happened during times of European Imperial aspirations from the 15th through the 20th centuries – moreso than acting in altruistic methods for the interests of children.  An interesting study might be to compare the emotional factors that prospective adoptive parents face and find out the degree that they are causative towards the action of adopting a child.  This would be particularly interesting is analyzed by comparing the adoptee’s emotional factors and see how they were causative in forming self concepts in the adoptee.

3) Adoption is a win-win –Due to the length of this post comments will be brief.  Adoption at its base is formed by loss and usually accompanied by some type of pain.  It is not a win win.  Don’t get me wrong.  Adoption can be of benefit to all parties, but my feeling is that looking honestly into the mirror of self would be an important factor in this occurring.  However, in most situations may be making the best of a situation – and the policy practices currently in place by developing nations desperate for influx of currency from Industrialized nations – and the need of those who are comparatively wealthy to have a child by nearly any means necessary – create conditions which are from from the “win-win” picture painted or at all “best” policies.   The current painting being framed by society is one of impoverished and helpless (nations and children) being removed from indigenous lands by the powerful and wealthy (mostly those from the Industrialized West) for ostensibly altruistic motivations.  

Hardly the stuff of headline news.  Even when Madonna is on the front page; it is merely history repeating itself.

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November 11, 2008

Thank you Veterans

Another Veteran’s Day.

As a public employee I am off today.  This is one Federal Holiday I feel I have earned.  I am a veteran and am proud of my service to my country.  However, I realize that that sentiment should be replaced by another.  I am a veteran, and I am lucky to be one. 

I learned that sentiment from my son. 

My son is said something along these lines shorly before he left to serve you, his fellow citizens in the United States Army.  More on that later.

I am not a great family historian, but I do know that my family has served its fellow citizens by serving in our nation’s armed forces.  I could become at this moment altruistic, but I won’t.  They served for their own reasons.  I could also wax utopian and have the attitude that service in the military is not a good thing because war is evil.  Of course war is evil, and so service in the military is not a redeeming panacea that frames human character.   Serving in the military has as a goal ending the life of an enemy, so any military service is a necessity of evil.  The word necessity should be the word which catches our eyes.  In case any have unrealistic fantasies out there, it’s a rough world out there, filled with people who don’t like us – and I write this knowing that the “thems” in their own context are an “us”.

I will not at this time go too far afield and talk about patriotism.  Let me just give the short version and say that one of the most maddening phrases, songs, and attitudes I hear is the one “Proud to be an American”.  It’s not because I disagree with the policies of our country, overly lament the national errors our forebears have made, nor disagree with the concept that America on the whole has been a force of good.  I just think the statement is stupid.  One has no basis to be “proud” of something they had no control over.  I’m happy or lucky or even blessed to be an American would be a much more accurate and intellectually honest statement.  My son’s statement back this summer reminded me of that.

My relatives have served our nation from their arrival in the 1840’s.  From the Civil War, World War One and Two, Vietnam and today my family members have worn the uniform.  I am lucky that I have such people in my family who sacrificed so that our nation was torn in two was sustained.  I am lucky that today when there are many who still do not wish our nation well, my son in his words, “gets to stand up for his country”.

I also was lucky to serve, but my service pales when I consider that my Uncle Peter Smith served as a Doughboy in France in World War One.  I am shamed of my “pride” in my own service when I consider that my grandparents had four sons – my Uncles Jim, John, Frank and James – all serving in World War Two.  I can’t imagine the daily prayers, hopes put on hold, and fears that they experienced, until recently when I have begun to have maybe a concept of what they faced.  My Uncle Jim’s vessel was torpedoed three times in World War Two, my Uncle Frank was 17 years old when he was a casualty at Omaha Beach spending much of the rest of his life in pain reliving that horrible day from his adolescense, my Uncle James spent much of his 20’s island hopping while in the USMC, including involvment in Bloody Tarawa.  When faced with this level of service to their country, my “pride” is indeed pathetic, and I indeed was lucky to have served as a Paratrooper. 

My son enlisted this past summer.  In his words, he is lucky.  My son had many stumbles as an adolescent, and like many parents today, I was impotent to stop him on his own path to ruin.  Luckily for me when he was spiraling downward, he and my wife caught him.  God was also most kind to my son, and my son much to my joy recongizes the mercy that was given to him.  However, my son did not have a clear direction and needed one.  He had also done many things that while forgiven, only time could heal the wounds and the breaches of trust done to them.  This was a real family crisis.  There were little places he could turn.  At 19 he knew he didn’t want to go to college.  He also knew that he didn’t want a job working at a deli, Walmart, 7-11 etc.  He considered moving to the Midwest with his mother, but didn’t wish to do that either.  In the past he would have run from his responsibility.  I also knew I had to help him. 

I picked him up one morning and laid out the thin options he had before him.  I added one, that I don’t regret, but knew that doing so, was not without risk, and mentioned service in the armed forces.  I told him I would go with him to the recruiter and asked him to respectfully listen to what they said.  He shocked me when he said he would do so.   Even though I had been in the Army I mentioned the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy.  I am sure that you all know why I would mention these first.  He said, No, but he would visit the Marines and Army recruiter.  I said that the Guard or Reserves would be a good option.  He was silent.

We went to one recruiter.  My son, despite his lack of belief in himself qualified for every MOS offered by the Army.  Many of these had lucrative bonuses and sounded as if they were made for my boy.  My boy who would drive me wild with his shouts of joy and anger as he played Gears of War and Ghost Recon – becoming one of the best in the gaming world at them.  He listened, respectfully and said “No”.  I broached the Reserves and the Guard, he was faster than the recruiter when he said, “No”.  In six months I’ll be in the same boat as I am today.  Even the recruiter was silent for a moment at that one.

When he asked what he wanted to do he looked at the recruiter and me and said, I want to do what m dad did.  I want to jump out of planes and be a real soldier.  I have never felt such pride and fear in my life at a statement.  You see, although I belatedly realized that I am lucky to have served in the Army, and yes as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, I believe that my son was proud of me.  I asked him if he was sure.  I mentioned all the things that he could do with his ability scores.  My son who is as stubborn as I am replied, “If doing that was good enough for you, it’s good enough for me”.  I will admit that tears filled my eyes upon hearing that.  Tears of fears and of gratitude, that my son was indeed proud of me.

One day shortly before he departed for basic training, AIT and Jump School we spoke.  I told my son how proud I was of him for his decision to serve his country in a tough time.  He didn’t say much and then looked at me.  “Dad”, he said, “I’m lucky”.  I’ve screwed up my life a lot, but now I get to serve my country.”.  Even as I reflect upon this months later I am moved by his thoughts. 

I will echo them.

I am lucky that I was given the opportunity to serve my country in some small way.  I have been repaid richly for the minor investment I made.

I am lucky that I was born into a family who like thousands of other families in our nation demonstrated courage and a willingness to serve their country.

I am lucky that I have a son who also serves his country.  I will also be proud of him and his choices. 

Those who may come upon this post, please also reflect upon how lucky you are. 

I also ask you to join me in a daily ritual that I have as I ride to work, I pray for my son, and for thousands of other sons and daughters.  I pray that those who have wives and children will be kept emotionally close to them as they serve me.  I pray that God will be merciful to my son and the other sons and daughters who are indeed volunteering to be in harm’s way – for my safety.  I pray for my wife and my son’s mother (that one is not always an easy prayer) that they will be at peace with their child’s choice.  Then  I offer a prayer of gratitude that I amso lucky to have such people as our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our parents and grandparents, and our sons and daughters that watch over me.

Proud – not really.  Lucky – most definitely.

November 6, 2008

Five Ways to Improve Your Child’s School Achievement

A little bit about me and why I post these tidbits. I am an Assistant Principal of a fairly large, 1256 student, middle school in New York. Prior to taking this position I had served as a teacher in elementary (primary, intermediate) middle school and high school for over 20 years. Throw in five years in the US Army and five children, and you have a pretty varied life experience profile. Everyday I deal with children who are usually struggling in school due to discipline and academics, and yes, the two are usually related.
If I could give advice to parents, particularly of parents of kids in the middle school range, here would be my top ten tips. Remember, as a parent you are ultimately responsible for “your child’s” education. It is not solely up to the school.

1) Make time to talk about you children’s day at school everyday. Do not accept this standard conversation which takes place probably EVERY night in 90% of the homes in the US.
Parent: How was school today?
Child: Fine.
Parent: What did you do today?
Child: Nothing.

Make your child talk about what they learned today. Ask them how the lesson was taught. Ask them about their homework and if they understand their assignments.

2) Set a designated time and place for homework assignments. Do “NOT” let your child work in their room unsupervised. You, the parent, have no way to see if in reality your youngster is truly doing their work, or going through the motions. Make sure that this designated space is relatively quiet and that you have adequate supplies available. You the parent set the environment, not the child.

3) Regularly go through your youngster’s agenda and planner book. Make sure that he/she is filling it out accurately and that there are assignments written down in some consistent manner. Most students will have independent work opportunities three to four times a week (that’s homework). Insist that homework be completed.

4) Make a calendar for tests and major projects. For students transitioning from elementary to middle school, the task of having one teacher delivering content instruction, to having four to five teachers who deliver content area instruction is overwhelming in “most” cases. Make sure that you know when the tests are given.

5) If you have a question ASK THE TEACHER. I am amazed at how many parents accept “I don’t know” from their children when they ask a question. You’d be amazed at how many times educators hear that also. If you can’t get a straight answer from your child, call the school and ask the teacher to call you. You’d be surprised, it is rare that a teacher will not be “thrilled” that you want to know what is going on so you can support your teacher.

Parenting is work and a responsibility. My feeling is that in a child’s education is analogous of a three legged stool, which are composed of the parents, the teachers, and administrator. We all agree that we want the child to succeed. Of course there may be conflict. Just remember you’re a team and that means you need to work together to succeed. That means mature conversations and shared expectations.

Maybe this is a bit oversimplistic, but if your child is not meeting their potential put checks next to what you are doing. If you didn’t check four or more, your grade failed.

Don’t worry, I talk to the teachers next time!

June 9, 2007

The Formation of Cultural Icons: A Critical Analysis Pt. II

Filed under: blogging,children,Culture,Education,History,PoliticalScience,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 2:17 am

Second in a series.  This is from a paper I presented.  This segment deals with an analysis of a study of the formation of a cultural identity in the text book covers found in the US in the 18th and 19th century.

The second article analyzed wished to examine the use of visual metaphor in the front covers in popular textbooks published in the United States in the late 18th and early to mid 19th century.  In this study (Provenzo, 1984) the argument posed is that by use of traditional and symbolic metaphors a distinct patriotic iconography emerged in the United States.  In declaring independence from England, it was important for the United States had also declared a rejection of England’s social traditions and the need was to find a replacement for the new republic.

Typically found on the textbooks from this era are symbols from the ancient world, typically found in the ancient Roman Republic.  Ultimately, these symbols would become identifiable with the new republic being formed. The author’s asserts, a patriotic iconography or symbolism emerged, drawing upon the collective history of the nation. 

In early editions of textbooks used in the United States images of the Founding Fathers are seen.  However, by the end of the 18th century the figure of Minerva or Athena is seen acting as a guide for young children.  It was a common practice in England to put the ruling monarch on the cover of children’s texts, yet after only a short period publishers had rejected this practice in America.

The use of these characters from antiquity is not unusual, and emerged consistently.  As time progressed, the image of Minerva went through slight changes.  Light is seen as coming from her head, she holds a staff, and other symbols from antiquity appear.  Interestingly, Minerva is the Roman equivalent of Athena, the safeguard of Athens, so long as her image remained within the walls of the city.  The symbolic parallel is clear, and was over a period of time was brought to the focus of the new nation’s children daily. 

In later editions of texts the Roman Goddess of Liberty is represented.  She also goes through minor transformations through the year, each having symbolic value.  By the year 1841 she is seen wearing a Phrygian cap – which in ancient Rome would be given to slaves who had been emancipated.  In another widely used series of texts, Minerva and Liberty appear together, with Minerva ascending into the heavens, while Liberty remains on the earth – which the author insinuates as the coming to maturity of the ideals of the new nation.  By the middle of the century the figure of Liberty is seen atop the national capitol and by 1886 The Statue of Liberty arguably becomes the most recognizable icon for the values and principals of the American Republic. 

The suggestion of the study is that educational materials reflect an emergence and are part of the evolution of a culture.  It is clear that development of a cultural identification with ancient Rome was paramount in the formation of a national identity for the United States, and the educational system was at the front and center of this formation of a collective sense of historical identity.

May 28, 2007

Skeleton in the Closet

Filed under: Adoption,blogging,children,Culture,Family — avoiceofreason @ 6:36 am

I’ve been away from blogging for a bit.  There are a few reasons for this.  I tend to run in streaks and I think that the reality of bloggins is coming to me.

I’m not likely going to change and frame public opinion out there.  All I can probably hope to do is to figure things out for myself and maybe open up a debate about issues.  Lately, I’ve not been in the mood for a debate.  I’ve been a bit preoccupied with my own sort of vision quest.

As regular readers of this blog know, my wife is an adoptee.  I understand a bit of her pain, but will never fully get it as I am a “normal kid” and she’s one of the others.  However, her quest for finding her family has lead me to also shake around in the hidden and closed closets of my own life.  There were a few alleged skeltons lurking around in my own family background, and  I guess I ventured into that world.

The past week or so I’ve been living in the past, my families past.  I wanted to find out about my families’ past and managed to do just that, finding out a good deal more than I probably thought I’d know.  I also rattled the skeltons, and probably have upset a few lives. I don’t know if that was good, but I had to do something, and I’m going to blame my wife on this one, even though what I did ends up hurting her a bit.

Okay, time to open up the closet and let you all know my families’ dirty little secret.  Secrets suck, and we usually put them in closets because we don’t like looking at them everyday.  We just figure that they’ll die and go away.  Here’s my family’s dirty little secret; my father never really knew his father.

The story that he was told by his mother and her family was that his father was a dirty rotten so and so that upped and left one day leaving him and my grandmother high and dry.  The reality is that one day my grandmother – and I still love her – but I will confess this makes it a bit hard – took my dad for a walk from their home in one part of Queens to her mother’s house in another part of Queens.  So what you may think, a walk in the spring.  Hardly.  She never went back to the other part of Queens and wouldn’t allow my grandfather to see his son again.  That’s when the lies came in to hide the dirty little secret.  In the end it hurt everyone involved, but mostly my dad, and I am sure my grandfather.

My dad was wounded by this.  I can’t even begin to think what he went through, but the concept must have been, “What’s wrong with me that you would leave me and not come back”.  Funny how we let lies made by others to rule our lives.  He also had to deal with the anger of being abandoned, not once, but then later on when my grandmother remarried, my dad was packed up again, back to his grandmother’s house where he spent the rest of his youth while my grandmother and her new husband lived together, soon joined by their own child.  Like I said, Grandma, I love you, but that was pretty F’d up x 2.

However, I found my father’s family.  My grandfather died in 1992 at the age of 82.  All of his brothers died, and all of their wives.  But I’ve found my father’s generation.

Many emotions.  I’ve opened up a closet, and it had skeletons in it.  This won’t be over, but it’s 2:30 AM, so I have to get some sleep.  We have a family reunion, and while my digging has opened up skeletons, it’s also opened up wounds.

May 22, 2007

Another Busy Weekend, and Another Chance to Cross My Fingers

Filed under: blogging,children,Culture,Education,Family,Schools — avoiceofreason @ 2:26 am

Well, two daughters down the graduation from college route, and three to go!  Although the over/unders ar on the 15 year old managing to graduate from college before her 18 year old siblings!

We spent a good weekend watching my daughter graduate from college.  The whole family sans my son who is a Gears of War addict, but who was good enough to somewhat watch the cats between games, were there.  At the restaurant afterwards it was myself, my wife, my ex, and my three girls.  When we have these combined family meetings – at least the last three – they are really interesting.  We really have a good time, laughing, joking and usually my ex wife and I are telling all sorts of funny stories to our children – four from that marriage – about a lot of the excapades that we shared as a family.  If you had a picture of it and were to step back say eight or nine years ago, heck maybe even five, I don’t think that any would have predicted that.  The biggest hat tip to all goes to my wife, who has grace and and is not affronted by myself and my children’s mother from truly having fun talking about our time together.  Time may not heal all wounds, but I think it gives perspective.

That is the reason for the lack of posts, and there is another reason.  Another shot at a job, and this one, well it may be too good to be true, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  It is a position as a K-12 Director of Social Studies in a school that is very needy.  For those who are regular readers here, you know how my heart goes out to schools in need, and this one could be a poster child for that description.  Where I live, you can have very affluent towns and then towns which are under a blanket of poverty – the school where I work is one of the more affluent in the state, and the one where I am interviewing is markedly different.  However, in the past when I coached and we had games/matches against this district, I always got along well with their players.  I also am very good friends with about four teachers and am acquainted with a few high level administrators.  Please keep your fingers crossed, as this would be a unique opportunity, and the best part it is only ten to fifteen minutes from my house – about five miles!

We’ll keep everyone informed!

May 17, 2007

The GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part VII

The last, at least for now, in my lengthy rejoinder to a post made at Maggie’s Notebook and Morewhat.com concerning the GOP Debate, Federal role in public education and NCLB.

This is the last part of my conclusions, and I confess that this is an area where I am a bit of an ideologue, towards some of the challenges facing implementation and the need for NCLB mandates.  I have written many more position papers on this topic, and may publish some of them here.   I have also included a list of the references which were cited in the previous posts for those who are truly bored and have nothing better to do other than search for scholarly papers.

Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life; I came to myself in a dark wood; where the straight way was lost”.  At the moment this could aptly describe the state of education in hard to staff schools, however, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.  The challenge of educators is to reach that new horizon.

In summation, it would be constructive to consider what real leaders say about educating all children:

            “Until the gap is closed, our work is not done.” (Des Moines Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, Des Moines Register, 4/15/03).

            “There are people who’ll say, ‘Given the neighborhood a child is from, what do you expect.”  It’s our job to say there are no excuses – that we have to address students’ needs so they can achieve.” (Frank Tinney, director of standards, assessment and accountability in the Palm Springs Unified School District, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA), 4/8/03).

            “It’s not that they are failing so much as we are failing…This shines a very bright light on something we have known for years but haven’t been forced to deal with until now —- that we have to close this massive gap if all of our students are going to succeed.”  (Ken Noonan, Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent, North County Times (CA), 5/25/03).

 References:

 

DarlinDarling-Hammond, L. (2001). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy
evidence, Education Policy Analysis Archives (8) 1

Darling-Hammond, L. & Youngs, P. (2002). Defining “highly qualified teachers:” What does
“scientifically-based research” actually tell us? Educational Researcher, 31 (9): 13-25.

Education Trust (2004). Measured progress: Achievement rises and gaps narrow, but too slowly,
October, 2004.

The Education Trust (2006). Testimony of Russlynn Ali, Director, Education Trust-West Before
the Commission on No Child Left Behind April 11, 2006

Esch, C. E., Chang-Ross, C. M., Guha, R., Tiffany-Morales, J. & Shields, P. M. (2004).
California’s teaching forces, 2004: Key issues and trends.  Santa Cruz, CA, The Center for the
Future of Teaching and Learning

Hanushek, Eric, (1971). The Effects of Quality Teachers, American Economic Association,
(61)(2), 280-88.

Hanushek, E., Kain, J., & Rivkin, S. (2004). The revolving door, Education Next, (3) Winter, 77
81.

Lankford, Hamilton, Susanna Loeb, & James Wyckoff (2002). “Teacher sorting and the plight of
urban schools.”  Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. (24)(1) 37-62.

Learning First Alliance (2005) A shared responsibility, staffing all high-poverty, low-performing
schools with effective teachers and administrators.

Loeb, S. (2000). How Teachers’ Choices Affect What a Dollar Can Buy: Wages and Quality in
K-12 Schooling. Proceedings from the Symposium on the Teaching Workforce. Albany,
New York, Education Finance Research Consortium, November 8.

Moir, S. (2006). Understanding New York City’s Groundbreaking Induction Initiative. New
Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, US Department of Education, ed.gov

Pierce, C. (2001). California’s initiative to attract highly qualified teachers into low performing
schools. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher
Education.

Reeves, Douglas. (2000). “The 90/90/90 Schools: A Case Study.” In Accountability in Action.
Denver, CO: Advanced Learning Press.

Rice, J. (2003), Teacher Quality, Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes, EPI
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Roza, M. (2005).  Strengthening Title I to help fund high-poverty schools. Center on Reinventing
Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington

Southeast Center for Teaching Quality (2005). Unfulfilled promise: Ensuring high quality
teachers for our nation’s students.

Sunderman, Gail; Kim, Jimmy; Teacher Quality: Equalizing Educational Opportunities and
Outcomes. The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, April 2005

US Department of Education (2004). The Secretary of Education’s Annual Report, ed.gov

Walsh, K., & O’Tracy, C. (2005). Increasing the odds: How better policies can yield good
teachers, National Center for Teacher Quality

Walsh, K (2006). Teacher education: Coming up empty, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Walsh, K., & Snyder, E (2004). Searching the attic: How states are responding to the
nation’sgoal of placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, National Center for
Teacher Quality.

Wayne, Andrew J. and Peter Youngs. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement
gains: A review.” Review of Education Research. (73) (1)89-122

 

 

The GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part VI

This is where I post my own humble conclusions about what I had offered from the body of literature.  It is also where I speak in my own – admittedly not so reasoanble voice.  On this issue I come as close as I ever do to becoming an ideologue.  It is not based upon a liberal or conservative view of the world, but it is based upon a passion which I feel towards teaching children.  I have literally cried when I consider the challenges facing teachers and learners in this present day.  I also believe strongly that in this case in particular Federal intervention was needed, but was also long overdue.  I may later present the legal arguements I brought forward in an education policy class in defense of Federal actions in this traditionally state manner.  I did so from legal rulings in the past based upon Constitutional cases.

Again, my thanks to Maggie’s Notebook and Morewhat.com for posting on this topic.

Conclusion

When faced with these challenges it is understandable that many would throw up their hands in despair.  These challenges may have been exacerbated by NCLB’s requirements of each school possessing highly qualified teachers, and annually holding schools accountable for the measured academic achievement of each student. 

However, an alternate theory may be that NCLB exposed existing inequality in the public school systems across the nation.  While many would say that NCLB is a series of unfunded mandates,  a countering argument can be made; that the federal government stepped into an area that should have been addressed and funded by the states a long time ago.  Candidly, if the problems associated with the education of inner-city poor and minority children were typical of the affluent, predominately white suburbs, one can only imagine how quickly the issues regarding equity in education would have been addressed.  The inferred message that American public schools sent was, as long as the white, affluent, and middle class children of the suburbs are performing well, education is fine.  Poor children, particularly those of color, do not count in the evaluation of school performance.  Those that would refute this supposition should take a look at the lack of a coherent and cohesive policy prior to NCLB to address equity in education; look hard, none existed.

Failure to face the challenges of providing quality teachers and education in hard to staff schools is nothing more than a failure of leadership.  Rather than addressing the inherent fiscal bias, the inherent racism of public perceptions, and unlawful application of federal funding measures, administrators react to the remarkably reasonable mandate that all public schools adequately educate children in the following manner:

“I have difficulty with the standards because they’re so unattainable for so many of our students . . . We just don’t have the same kids they have on Long Island or Orchard Park.” (Superintendent, Buffalo Schools; The Buffalo News, October 21, 2002).

If a school has five subgroups (of students) and four do well, but one fails, the entire school is a failure.  We don’t think that’s fair.” (Reg Weaver, President of the NEA, Whittier Daily News, 5/24/03). 

No matter how these statements are parsed, explained, or justified, they infer prejudice based upon race and financial background.  These statements truly mean, “Some children – particularly those who are poor and are of a different color than the majority – can’t learn”. 

In our society it is a given that all can pass a road test to get a driver’s license.  It is a sad commentary that educational leaders have less confidence in a person’s ability to learn to read, write, and compute mathematics based upon their race and financial background, than they do in their ability to learn how to drive a vehicle, obey laws of operation of said vehicle, and maintain said vehicle as a part of their daily routine.  “What these “leaders” say is heard by parents – about whose kids matter, by students – about how much the educators think they can learn, and by teachers – about if they should consider or even should they try to educate these students” (Education Trust, 2006).  These “leaders” should just exit the door, and not bother coming back.  America’s students, particularly those who need leaders, deserve far better.

            While real leaders may not like some of the implications of NCLB law, it is fair to consider that fifty years ago many did not like the implications of another federal law, Brown v. Board of Education.  There are quite probably difficulties, and areas of the federal law that will require revision.  However, NCLB mandates, at the very least, accomplishes a great deal by the following: (1) Requiring states to perform their gate-keeper responsibility in monitoring minimal teacher quality: (2) Requiring states to measure student achievement by objective standards, and thereby also measure school efficacy; (3) Requiring states to compile data in a disaggregated manner to allow an understanding of various impacts that social setting, economic diversity, racial composition, and other factors have upon student achievement; (4) Promoting equity to the schools which are in most in need; and who for years have been victimized by policies which are inherently biased due to race and economic status; having the cumulative effect of de facto segregation laws, in our public schools.  

Much has occurred with regard to meeting NCLB’s mandate concerning Highly Qualified Teachers in every classroom by the end of the current school year( this was written awhile back).  Clearly, this goal has not been reached by many of the states, and what remedy may be applied by the federal government towards those states and schools in non-compliance has not been determined.  One solution, that at first appears to be obvious, may not be correct.  Simply adding funding, to increase teacher salaries, may not be the best answer.  It is not practical to expect salaries to increase the estimated 25% to 43% that research shows would be needed for many teachers to stay in their current assignment within high need schools.  Trends in education concerning factors inside the workplace, offer a good deal of hope, and may offer a local and internal solution to a problem.  Rather than the traditional approach of throwing money at a problem, which in the case of Title I has been shown to often be ineffective, schools need to investigate what they can do internally to improve their efficacy, such as happened in Milwaukee.

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part V

Again, I give credit to Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook for bringing this vital area of national policy to the front row.  Although we may disagree upon the implementation of the policy, this topic is certainly worthy of discussion.

This segment will analyze and review the radical reform that the inner city schools of Milwaukee, which was launched under an initiative by then Governor Tommy Thompson, which made me “very” interested in his candidacy, undertook in the late 1990’s and early 2000 years.   This section focuses on what schools are doing to help improve efficiency, effectiveness, and equity.   The latter part of this post deals with “hypothetical” recommendations to be made to the Department of Education, or maybe to a GOP candidate!

The Milwaukee Miracle

While the evidence shows that all is not well with the state of schools meeting NCLB’s challenges regarding teacher quality, there is a basis for hope.  This hope rests upon the basis that quality teachers and sound district policies can make an impact upon children. One of the most startling examples was found in the City of Milwaukee’s public schools.

Analysis of data collected from 1995 to 1998 (Reaves, 2000), from over 228 diverse schools serving over 130,000 students of diverse traits, found that there are associations between school quality, some teaching qualities and student achievement.  This was found to be true in schools where: more than 90% of their student body eligible for free and reduced lunches, more than 90% of the students belong to ethnic minority groups, and more than 90% of the students met or achieved high academic standards, as measured by independently conducted tests.  The characteristics that these schools shared were: a focus on student achievement, clear curricular choices reached by collaborative efforts, frequent assessment, an emphasis on writing, and external, collaborative scoring of work.  Interestingly, consensus on the success of this approach is agreed upon by politically conservative voices (Heritage Foundation) and liberal voices (The Education Trust).  These findings also seemingly echo Hanushek’s findings, concerning factors other than salary, leading to teacher retention and student achievement. 

Recommendations

            From the literature a few findings demand attention regarding current school policy.  The following recommendations should be applied: 

(1) Strict control and regulation concerning allocation of Title I funds to ensure funding lands into the schools that need it the most (Roza, 2005).

(2) Each state setting up grants that encourage teachers to work in schools needing highly qualified teachers the most (Pierce, 2001). 

(3) A longitudinal study, financed by a public agency, regarding the teacher-mentoring program embarked upon by New York City Schools to measure if factors within a particular building can be attributed to teacher retention (Moir, 2006, Hanushek et al., 2004)

(4) Follow up studies of the Milwaukee schools to determine if such factors, concerning school building climate, being embarked upon by New York City Schools, were present in Milwaukee’s schools (Reaves, 2000, Moir, 2006, Hanushek et al, 2004). 

(5)  Longitudinal studies concerning the traits associated by statute with being a highly qualified teacher and teacher efficacy (Walsh, O’Tracey, 2004)

 (6) A commission, similar to those in the 1980’s and 1990’s, bringing together federal, business, state government, and educational leaders to discuss, analyze, and make recommendations to the United States Congress concerning the efficacy of the 2001 NCLB mandates regarding teacher quality in districts that are typically hard to staff.

More to follow!

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part IV

The fourth in a multi-part rejoinder to a post found on Morewhat.com and Maggie’s Notebook, concerning The GOP Debate, Federal funding of Public Education and NCLB.

This part of my rejoinder to the position that NCLB is not vital policy will concern itself with the lack of teeth in Title I and how teacher retention is not always based on salary, but on other factors found within a particular learning community.

Title I Funding – Putting Teeth in the Title

Part of the solution is supposed to be solved by Title I funding.  While Title I funding is supposed to address these inequities in theory, what happens in practice is often quite different.  Despite enormous growth in expenditures from its early days as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society”, and the astronomical growth of funding stipulated by 2001 NCLB legislation, in most urban districts a systematic bias is built into district allocation legislation.  This bias supports disproportionate funding for schools in the more affluent neighborhoods (Roza, 2005).   Title I funding is meant to equalize educational funding before state and local funds are brought into the mix of school budgets; these funds supplement, not supplant local funding.  To this day this rationale remains the basis of Title I funding. 

However, the “devil lies in the details”.  Typically, schools are resourced at the central district office level by formulas based upon student enrollments.  An example may call for a teacher for every 25 students and add an assistant principal for every 400 students.  Additionally, schools may be able to add staffing on individual needs of schools.  The number of staff, and staffing accounts for typically 80% of a schools budget, are then converted into dollars spent using average salaries for each type of staff.  While this policy makes sense, it can inadvertently hurt schools within the same centralized system that have a needier population. 

Another problem about this centralized system of resource allocation is in human personnel.  Typically, teachers have choice regarding assignments, based upon seniority, and these choices are often part of collective bargaining negotiations.  Typically, these teachers, who choose to leave, are more seasoned, better educated, better compensated, and are allowed to teach in schools with less need, than their less experienced; less well educated, and lower paid counterparts.  These effects are felt greater in larger districts, typically found in inner-city schools, servicing poorer minority students.  

This type of non-categorical allocation of resources has a devastating effect upon high-need schools, which in effect, nullify the legislative intent of Title I.  This effect was shown (Roza, Hill, 2004) by comparing actual spending in five urban districts, Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Houston, Texas; and Denver, Colorado.  It was found that in all school districts, other than Dallas, affluent schools within the same district were funded significantly greater in real dollar value than poor schools within the same system.  The reason for Dallas’ success in its equitable distribution is linked directly to its effective identifier system, in place since the late 1990’s, which tracks student achievement, teacher efficacy, as well as other factors outside the classroom on a longitudinal basis (Hanushek, Kain, Rivkin; 2004).  These findings regarding inequitable distribution of resources are not limited to the cities that were investigated.  Furthermore, districts are allowed to report their salary expenditures on a district wide level, and therefore they can mask the inequities that do exist within their own schools.  The effective result is that money meant to go to schools in need, may not be going where they are most needed, and are authorized to go by Federal statute. The good schools get better, and can be showcased, while poor schools are continually allowed to lag behind.

A casual look into this problem of salary differential may yield a reply that revamping salary structure is the answer to the problem, but this may not be the case.  New York City schools investment in professional development points to other underlying factors, which may be at play, with regard to retaining effective teachers, in hard to staff schools.  Within New York’s Big Five (Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) districts, teachers in general tend to earn more than the rest of New York State (Loeb, 2000), but they have less qualified teachers.  Also, within the districts, the centralized nature allows for error in allocations, reflected by Roza’s (2004) research.  In spite of large increases in Title I expenditures, and federal mandates concerning their distribution, school districts do not adequately finance and staff individual schools that possess the greatest need, and within these larger districts affluent schools are typically over financed.

It’s not ALL about the Benjamins

Other research (Hanushek, Rivkin, Kain; 2004) adds to the body of knowledge concerning factors regarding school staffing.  In research that attempted to answer why teachers choose to work in certain schools over others, it was found that working conditions matter more than salary to most school teachers.  By utilization of Dallas’ impressive data base, information, concerning teachers and students, is able to be measured using a fixed effect, longitudinal approach, which enables research a better opportunity to isolate competing variables.  The four major areas that influence teachers to remain in a school are: (1) characteristics on the job, including salary and working conditions, (2) alternative job opportunities, (3) teacher’s own job preferences, (4) district personnel policies. 

Strong factors in teacher retention are the opportunities that may exist in the private sector for an individual teacher.  As an example, a math or science teacher typically has more options, which may be financially advantageous, than an English or elementary teacher.  This study under review considered that factor by limiting the subjects under consideration to elementary teachers. 

The major findings of this study were: (1) Teachers transfer from one school to another more often as a reaction to the characteristics of their students and perceived working conditions, more than in response solely to better pay in other schools.  (2) Teaching lower achieving students is a strong factor in decisions to leave Texas public schools. (3) The ability of a school district to retain teachers eases as the teacher progresses within a particular school district.  This is due in large part giving up higher salaries that come from experience within a school district. (4) To retain teachers in urban areas, by just salary adjustment, an average increase of 25% to 43% would be needed.

More to follow…….

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