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October 20, 2005

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Curt Meyer

I have no title, I myself am not a teacher or even a paraprofessional. I am proud to say I'm a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

I put in volunteer time at North Park, it's filled with many wonderful children who have the potential to do great things. I would like to tastefully respond to your article, not as a criticism but in an effort to balance the perspective.

North Park's consolidation sounds good to me, but the building itself is beginning to fall to pieces and the teacher to student ratio is already higher than what would be favorable. For the sake of the present and future students I think it would be a good idea to sell the buildings and lots of the other schools, maybe even sell or demolish NP, and rebuild a better facility with the money made from the sale of the other properties.

Any way you cut it, if you put more students in a building you're going to need more teachers and paraprofessionals. Kids who get one on one interaction, or as close as possible to one on one interaction, are the ones who stand the greatest chance of succeeding.

A student's performance, whether good or bad, cannot be placed souly on the shoulders of his or her teachers. If a parent wants to boost their son or daughters performance and give them the best learning opportunities possible they should work with them at home. The elementary years are crucial for developing good study habits and focus towards academic success.

It's very easy to pick out the 3rd graders who have parents that are involved in their schooling, they will almost always blow the other students out of the water.

And to every parent who complains, "Thats not my job, it's YOURS!" Listen to your own words and let them weigh on you, this is your kid not your computer! You can't take little Timmy to Best Buy and get him back with information downloaded into him that he'll never forget. Learning has to be practiced and practiced until it sticks.

Read to your kids when they're young, don't use a television as a babysitter, and help your kids with their math homework without doing it for them!

Also, when criticizing the performance of the public schools I want everyone to consider that it is a PUBLIC school. They get the smart kids, they get the slower ones. They get the earlier bloomers, they get the late developers. They take the motivated kids, they take the kids who have no desire whatsoever to learn. They get all of these, they put them into a classroom and face the challenge of relating to each studet's learning style or work ethic.

Everytime you think that a teacher's responsibilities don't warrant their pay I want you to remember who spends the most time with your children. Eight hours out of the day they're with a teacher or a school employee of some sort. You wouldn't buy the cheapest tires for your car, so why would you buy the cheapest teachers for your child?


Care for public education, nurture it, and take pride in it.

Regards,

I've been there... WITHOUT BEING PAID

The Executive Director

Curt,

Let me express my admiration for volunteering in worthy cause: The education of our children. Let me also state my whole-hearted agreement with you that parents are the primary factor as to how well a student will perform.

But let's deal with reality. Public school teachers have a good gig. They are paid very well and have health care and pension benefits that few of us in the private sector have. So I'm deaf to complaints about how poorly they are compensated. It just isn't true by any measure.

My beef with the educrats is their repeated promises to produce better students if only the taxpayers will fork over more money (primarily to boost salaries and benefits). They are lying to us. They cannot fix what parents are unwilling to fix, but they'll promise they can if that means getting more money from us.

As for the specific issue of consolidating the last two north end elementary schools, there are plenty of existing buildings the students can go into. A new one is not necessary. The only reason its being considered is because funds are available from the big bond taxpayers approved a while back. Just because the money's there, doesn't mean the school board has to spend it.

Thanks for your interesting comments.

Regards,
Bill Tingley
Executive Director

Ames

Interesting read.

It brings up that question once again "where is the 96 billion from the lottery at for our school systems?"

I am an advocate of voucher systems and of private schooling, so I better stop now before I go on a rant! :)

dustin gill

The lottery does not add extra monies to the school aid fund. It does not matter how much money the lottery raises the school aid fund stays the same.

The Executive Director

Welcome to L.A.W., Ames and Dustin.

Dustin is correct. Funds raised from the lottery simply displace the tax dollars that the schools would have received from the general fund. So the official rationale behind the lottery is deceptive. Worse than that it raises money mostly from those people who can least afford to spend money on gambling.

Regards,
Bill Tingley
Executive Director

les

Have any of these public school administrators noticed that the elite colleges do not necessarily have the finest buildings? Have we ever seen documentation by public school administrators that report a positive correlation between the school building facility and educational achievement? Older, inner city schools have more old buildings, of course, and they also have lower performers....but this is not a causal relationship.

The Executive Director

Excellent point, Les. Correlation is not causation.

While our school buildings obviously need to be safe and functional, they don't need to be shiny new. I must wonder how much of this push for replacing functional old buildings with new construction is for the comfort of the staff rather than the needs of the students.

Regards,
Bill Tingley
Executive Director

Dustin Gill

There seems to be plenty of money to build very nice buildings (tax increases), but not enough money to maintain, staff or operate them.

The Executive Director

That's true, Dustin, although the Board of Education does have its excuse: New construction is funded by a bond, the proceeds of which cannot be used for anything else. Of course, the fact that money is available for spending on new construction doesn't mean the Board has to spend it.

Regards, Bill

G Stuart

In The Tribune's list of the 10 largest job markets for college grads
this year, new teachers could expect pay of $30,000 a year, the lowest
pay of the top 10 most in demand jobs. Three of the 10 jobs listed paid
over $50,000 a year. The standard excuse for low teacher pay from
tightfisted legislatures and taxpayers is that teachers "only work nine
months a year", but let's do the math. Non-teaching jobs provide at
least two weeks vacation, 52 weekends off, and 10 national holidays, so
these people work 240 days a year. Teachers work 190 days. The daily
pay for the three highest paying jobs out of the 10 most in demand jobs
is 33% more than teacher earn. Even when computed as pay for a day of
work, teachers, are still the lowest paid of the top 10 most in demand
jobs. The "teachers only work nine months a year" claim is a smoke
screen.

The Executive Director

G Stuart,

Accepting your numbers, most new college graduate entrants into the job market are working 26% more days than than teachers, and you're complaining that the spread in starting wages is 33%. Sounds like teachers are getting a fair deal, even on your terms.

Of course, you overlooked that those higher-paying jobs demand a great deal more hours (which is the key, not days) in year than a public school teacher has to put in. Moreover, unionized teachers get sick days and other comp time to further reduce the hours they spend on the job.

Finally, that survey you cite is fundamentally flawed in concept. The comparisons of starting wages are not apples to apples. Every burg in this country has school teachers, from the smallest districts in the sticks to the huge metropolitan ones. So, while you can find a teacher in every wheatfield in North Dakota and every cotton patch in Mississippi, you're not going to find many engineers out there.

That means the average starting salary for teachers figures in both the lower wages typical of rural areas along with the higher wages of urban areas. Contrary to this the average starting salary for engineers will be mostly based upon the higher wages typical of the urban areas where they are primarily employed.

But I suspect all this is lost upon someone who fails to recognize the huge increase in wages and benefits teachers have gotten from "tightfisted taxpayers" while at the same time student performance has declined year after year (even when masked by higher drop-out rates and relaxed testing standards).

There is something seriously wrong with the thinking that public school teachers are owed ever more for poorer results by the people who have to work longer and harder than they do and must produce lest they get fired.

Bill Tingley
Executive Director

G Stuart

The article I sited addresses salaries in the 10 largest job markets in the country, not the "wheatfields of North Dakota". Although, even if you teach out in the wheatfields, and we do need people doing that if we are to maintain the best educational system the world has ever seen,(name a country that has educated more people to a higher level), those folks need a degree to do so. Also if you are going to continue to malign a great system you should do some better research.
Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute noted in a recent essay titled "The Exaggerated Dropout Crisis" that "U.S. Census or U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys … estimate … that from 80 percent to 90 percent of all Americans have a regular high school diploma, and from 70 percent to 80 percent of all African-Americans have one." There IS a dropout problem, but nowhere near the size hyped by the pop-science crowd.

Mishel points to data from "… the Education Department's National Education Longitudinal Study, which surveyed a national random sample of students who were in 8th grade in 1988. Called NELS:88, it continued to interview these students in later years. To ensure truthful answers, the department checked them against actual transcripts in school district files, and tracked students down at home if they were no longer registered in school. …. NELS:88 shows that in 1992, the "on time" graduation year for this cohort, 78 percent of all students, and 63 percent of blacks, received a regular diploma, not including the General Educational Development, or GED, certificate. By 1994, 83 percent of all students, and 74 percent of blacks, had received one."

Mishel also reports that more recent data that correlated with the NELS:88 data in the past shows "high school graduation rates have been improving. In 1979, 77 percent of black young adults were high school completers. By 2000, it was 88 percent. For whites, the growth was from 89 percent to 95 percent." Even so, these are four year graduation rates, while many students take five years to graduate.

The Republicans and their ilk have been taking cheap shots at public education ever since "A Nation at Risk" was published in the '80's. That report is not and was not substantiated by hard research. To continue these cheap shots does not in any real way help us as a nation to deal with some of the real problems that do exist, and have more to do with leadership and societal problems than they do with public education.

The Executive Director

G Stuart,

NEA propaganda doesn't cut it here. It is a falsehood that public school teachers are underpaid by any objective measure. Indeed, most of the HUGE increase in public school expenditures over the past forty years has gone to salaries and benefits.

As for cheap shots, you are the one who called taxpayers "tightfisted", contrary to the plain fact that taxpayers have forked over increasingly large sums to the education bureaucracy in this country and have seen no improvement in results as a consequence. (Again, the illusive -- and even then marginal -- gains in test results are the product of an increasing number of drop-outs who are no longer in school to pull down those results and lowering standards.) The taxpayers may be foolish in doing so, but they aren't skinflints when it comes to spending on education.

Finally, if you have read all that I have written on the subject, you would know that I have repeatedly identified parents who will not push their children to excel as the biggest problem in education today. However, that doesn't let the education bureaucracy off the hook, as they have shamelessly made false promises to fix what they cannot fix (while denouncing and blocking those reforms that have genuine promise) in exchange for ever higher pay, better benefits, and new buildings.

The Executive Director

G Stuart

You're going in circles and making unsubstantiated claims again. One, if you reread my posting I said nothing about "tightfisted taxpayers". Two you are again resorting to your pop science claims about drop out numbers. Read my last posting for researched rebutal of those egregious claims Mr. Executive Director.

The Executive Director

G Stuart,

Here's the problem from taking all of your talking points from the NEA: You get your facts wrong. The National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 includes students in private and parochial schools. So the drop-out rate of public school students is masked by this fact. Furthermore, the response rate to the follow-ups kept dropping so that only 16,000 out of the original 25,000 students filled out questionnaires for the third follow-up.

Moreover, what am I to make of a person who swears he didn't say the taxpayers were tightfisted when he plainly did so for all the world to see?

In any event, the drop-out issue is tangential to your claim that taxpayers are stiffing public school teachers. You have offered no facts to refute my statement that these public servants are more than adequately compensated for the results they produce.

The Executive Director

Jake

"Adjusted for inflation, that per student figure has doubled since I attended dear ol' Aberdeen School."

This argument doesn't take into account the changes in education and society since you attended Aberdeen. I don't imagine that computer literacy was an expectation at that time. I'd be willing to bet that many more special ed students were excluded from the classroom. I'd also be willing to bet that a much higher percentage of students come from homes in which both (if there are two) parents work, and more and more children are entering school with minimal adult interaction. The many changes make urban education much more difficult, and the lower scores reflect these changes. To assume that teachers aren't doing their job well as a result of test scores and graduation rates is ridiculous.

Now, think of a restaurant you have gone to that was really run down. Did you go back? Did the knowledge that it was run down affect your experience? How do you suppose the employees felt about this? Now imagine going to a new dentist and discovering that the office is a rundown old building, and the equipment is out of date. How does that make you feel? Are you going to look elsewhere for a better dentist? The same principle applies in our schools. Parents don't want their kids to go to a run down school. Teachers don't want to teach in a run down school. Most importantly, students don't feel proud to attend a run down school. A waste of taxpayer money you say? When is the last time you toured one of the old GRPS school buildings? I spent some time subbing in the district, as well as the surrounding districts, and the difference in facilities is remarkable. The effects on the learning environment are readily observable. I believe that the new facilities are much needed and well worth it.

The Executive Director

Hi, Jake.

Thanks for your comments.

A few things. About a quarter of the students at Aberdeen Elementary were special ed kids when I attended school there. That expense is nothing new.

Also, I had made the critical point (through my "caveats" link) that no matter how good a teacher is, he can only do so much if a student's parents do not motivate their child to learn. So most of the promises the educrats make to do better if they only get some more money are false ones. Good parents are the key to a student's success.

Now this: >>Now, think of a restaurant you have gone to that was really run down. Did you go back? Did the knowledge that it was run down affect your experience? How do you suppose the employees felt about this? Now imagine going to a new dentist and discovering that the office is a rundown old building, and the equipment is out of date. How does that make you feel? Are you going to look elsewhere for a better dentist? The same principle applies in our schools.<<

Jake, this is apples and oranges. I have a choice as to what restaurant I patronize or what dentist I use. Most parents are trapped into sending their kids to the public school system, and the educrats oppose even what choices they have within the system (e.g., charter schools).

That said, when I attended Aberdeen way back when, it was an old building then. That didn't stop me from learning. Indeed, I never gave it a second thought, and I never heard anyone comment upon that fact. It was well-maintained, and like most of the schools built 50, 60, 70, or more years ago, are perfectly good buildings if maintained. A building becomes run-down if isn't taken care of. Fortunately, maintenance and repair are a lot cheaper than erecting new buildings.

Of course, maintenance and repair must come out of the same tax revenues as those for salaries, whereas new construction is paid for with bonds. Little wonder the GRPS let's buildings get run down. The teachers and the administrators would rather put taxpayer dollars in their wallets rather than the schools.

Regards, Bill

B Post

I have to agree with Bill about the whole building notion. I can offer another perspective. I live in the Rockford School District which has become home to what I can only describe as "Palacial" schools. Even my old alma mater, Lakes Elementary there has had at least two face lifts since then to upgrade it to "higher standards". What in my day was an acceptable standard would be considered severely sub-par today. As an engineer I have worked in buildings still to this day that would be considered inadequate by our public school administrators. I use a Pentium III at work that is 5 years old and is still very adequate for an engineer. So why all this "we have to have the latest and greatest"? As the wealth of our nation has risen, so have our expectations. And the expectations in terms of facilities in the schools has far outstripped what is common practice in industry or housing for the general populace.

The Executive Director

Hello, Brian.

Thanks for your contribution. I've heard that about the new Rockford school buildings from a number of parents with kids in that district. I agree that our public buildings, with a few obivous exceptions, should be modest and new ones built only when the demand is acute.

Regards,
Bill Tingley
Executive Director

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