Educate All Students, Support Public Education

June 11, 2015

Wisconsin Rapids Principal Schools Legislature on Qualified Teaching

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teaching,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:02 pm

Education: An endeavor to help build better lives

By Matt Renwick June 6, 2015
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.

I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and now a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it takes at least three years of classroom experience beyond completed college experience for a teacher to become very good at his or her work. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and during student teaching is essential. It is also only the beginning. Teaching truly is a profession that one learns as one does it, and the learning never ends.

Recently, I observed a teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or to form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.

But that bystander would have no idea why. With a highly trained eye, here is what I saw:
■The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally and visually.
■The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically sound (How many people without a degree in education could accurately define “pedagogy”?).
■She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to guide her instruction and ensure that all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
■Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to 10 minutes of lost instruction.
■Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
■A clear segue between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.

This is only a snippet of the positive work I saw in her classroom and shared with her later that day. At our post-observation conference, I asked her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept,” she said. Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?

Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that appears regularly in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy-makers who somehow saw sanity in a decision they had no business addressing.

Attaining a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those who attempted to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set up public schools for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Education is more than just a job — it is a powerful endeavor to help build better lives.

Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids.


December 10, 2011

Walker: Destroying the Teaching Profession in Wisconsin

Filed under: Scott Walker,Teachers,Teaching — millerlf @ 4:32 pm

Will Anyone Want to Teach in Wisconsin

By Lisa Kaiser ExpressMilwaukee 12/8/11

Milwaukee-area teachers say they would not encourage anyone to pursue a career in education, according to a new survey conducted by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), which represents educators across the state.

Three-fourths of the 3,800 educators surveyed said morale has gotten worse since February, when Gov. Scott Walker introduced a bill that gutted public employees’ bargaining rights and required them to pay more into their health care and pension benefits.

In contrast, a mere 5.6% of surveyed teachers, counselors, library media specialists and support staff said that morale has improved. That’s in stark contrast to the governor’s assertion that his “tools” are “working.”

The survey polled educators in the metro Milwaukee area, excluding Milwaukee Public Schools teachers and staff.

After Walker’s collective bargaining bill was passed by the Republican-led Legislature, Walker and lawmakers handed public schools $1.6 billion in cuts, thanks to reduced funding and strict property tax caps that limit the amount of local revenue school districts can generate.

According to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), 97% of the state’s 424 school districts will receive less school aid for the 2011-2012 school year than they did in the previous year. The median decrease was 9.98%.

Teaching ‘On the Brink of Some Very Serious Trouble’

WEAC’s survey turned up widespread discontent among education professionals:

  • 78% said that schools were not better off this year
  • 76% said that their district had fewer resources this year to meet the needs of all children as individuals
  • 72% said they would not encourage potential teachers to pursue a career in education
  • 57% said they considered leaving the profession in the past year
  • 55% are concerned or very concerned about their job security
  • 77% say they are more stressed because of their job insecurity

Taken together, Walker’s education policies are damaging the education profession now and in the coming years, said Ted Kraig, UniServ Director of Council No. 10 of WEAC.

“The teaching profession is on the brink of some very serious trouble,” Kraig said.

He said Wisconsin is going in the opposite direction of countries with high-quality education systems, where teaching is a desirable profession that attracts top-notch college students.

“We’re not going to be drawing from the top 10% of students when this is an incredibly put-upon, undesirable profession, given everything that Walker is doing to it,” Kraig said.

He said that lowered morale, along with reduced resources and the undesirability of teaching as a career, will damage Wisconsin’s public education system in the long run.

“Research shows that inside the walls of the school, the most important factor is the quality of the teacher,” Kraig said. “If teachers are overwhelmingly saying, ‘This is not sustainable, this makes me really question whether I want to be in this profession, I wouldn’t recommend that anybody else get into it,’ we need to take that seriously.”

DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said state Superintendent Tony Evers had opposed Walker’s education policies and budget.

“It’s been a very difficult year for educators in general,” Gasper said. “While many of them feel or have felt that they’re sort of under attack, they were the ones who still reported to school on Sept. 1 and were there for the students and are doing standout jobs in providing education to our children.”

He said Walker’s reforms could discourage a new generation from becoming public school teachers.

“But teaching is an incredibly rewarding profession,” Gasper said. “We must continue to invest in education. We have to keep trying to do things to attract the best and brightest to become teachers. That’s what we need in order for our children to succeed.”

Fewer Teachers, Bigger Class Sizes

WEAC’s study is the second survey demonstrating the impact of Walker’s collective bargaining “tools” and $1.6 billion funding cut on the state’s public schools.

Last month, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) survey, analyzed by the state DPI, found that public schools are employing 3,368 fewer educators and staff this year, compared to the 2010-2011 school year employment levels. That translates to 1,655 fewer teachers, 172 fewer administrators, 765 fewer aides and 776 fewer support staff. About 83% of school districts responded to WASDA’s survey, but it correlates with 4,000 public school jobs lost statewide this year, as estimated by the state Department of Workforce Development.

Nine out of 10 students attend a district with a net loss of staffing in one of four areas surveyed and 59% of districts said they have increased class sizes for some grade levels.

Two-thirds of responding districts said that they will make the same or deeper cuts in the next school year, since federal stimulus funding will have run out, big savings from Walker’s “tools” will have been exhausted and high levels of retirements have already been taken.

Also on the horizon is a potential cut of federal funds for public education in the next year, due to the inability of the congressional “super committee” to strike a deal in November.

“We haven’t heard anything specific or the extent or amount of the cuts,” said DPI’s Gasper. “That’s sort of still in play.”

WASDA Executive Director Miles Turner said Walker’s education policy is part of a long-term trend of decreased funding for public education, which began in the Tommy Thompson administration with revenue caps and the qualified economic offer (QEO) for teachers. As a result, districts have resorted to cutting employees and course offerings and increasing class sizes.

“I sometimes wonder if the citizens of Wisconsin understand what’s happening to their public education system,” Turner said. “That’s not just current [policies]. It’s also historical and future [policies].”

Walker’s office did not respond to the Shepherd‘s request for comment on this article. But the governor has claimed that his “tools” haven’t decreased the quality of public education and have reduced statewide property tax levies for schools by 1%.

But WASDA’s Turner said that the goal of public education policy shouldn’t be property tax relief. He said that state policy-makers need to take a look at all sources of revenue for education funding, including potentially raising the sales tax 1%, to bring it up to the national average and raise $1 billion for schools.

“Why are we looking at property tax relief at the expense of local public schools when there might be better sources of revenue to fund schools and save our programs and serve our children?” Turner said.

June 27, 2011

U.S. Teachers’ Hours Among World’s Longest

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teachers,Teaching — millerlf @ 5:10 pm
 June 25, 2011 Wall Street Journal

By Phil Izzo

1,097: Average number of hours U.S. teachers spend per year on instruction.

Students across the U.S. are enjoying or getting ready for summer vacation, but teachers may be looking forward to the break even more. American teachers are the most productive among major developed countries, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2008 — the most recent available.

Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom — among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.

And that’s just the time teachers spend on instruction. Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).

Despite the amount of time that teachers spend working, student achievement in the U.S. remains average in reading and science and slightly below average in math when compared to other nations in a separate OECD report. That remains a concern as education is one of the most important ways a country can foster long-term economic growth.

“Education is a large item of public expenditure in most countries. At the same time, it is also an essential investment for developing the long-run growth potential of countries and for responding to the fundamental changes in technology and demographics that are reshaping labor markets,” the OECD wrote.

March 16, 2011

ENSJ Antiracist Teaching Conference April 2

Filed under: Educational Practices,Racism,Teaching — millerlf @ 3:07 pm

ENSJ Community,
The annual antiracist teaching conference is fast approaching! Join educators from all over the area and the country Saturday, April 2 for our fourth annual Antiracist/Antibias Teaching Conference. Chicago-area educator David Stovall is providing the keynote this year and lunch once again will be available from Alterra. ENSJ members will facilitate useful workshops on antiracist teaching practices, address our ongoing struggle for educational justice, and respond to the fight for teacher rights and worker democracy in Madison. Together, we can create better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our colleagues.
Read descriptions for over twenty of the conference panels here:
Register for the conference by downloading, filling in and mailing this form:
   (please note that the lower early registration cost has been extended to March 24!)
More information about the conference can be found on the ENSJ site here:
Please invite others interested in social and educational justice to the conference by sharing the registration form and directing folks to the site.
We’ll see you April 2!
Thank you,

Royal Brevväxling
for the Conference Program Committee
Antiracist*Antibias Teaching Conference
Educators’ Network for Social Justice
1001 E Keefe Ave
Milwaukee WI 53212

October 29, 2010

Teachers Beware: Planning, Testing, Pacing, Differentiation, Collaborating, Insanity

Filed under: Education Policy,Teaching — millerlf @ 3:38 pm
Here is an amusing but scary video that shows two toy figures in a conversation that tells you everything you need to know about what is driving school reform today: a nonsensical obsession with assessment and data that has brought a rigidity to classes that makes real teaching and learning impossible. To see in full go to:
Following is some of the dialogue:
Male figure: Let’s begin today’s collaborative planning meeting with successes and challenges. Who would like to volunteer some successes? You are all required to volunteer successes.
Female voice: My students are not understanding verse structure. We have been working on it for three days….
Male voice: That is not a success. You need to mention a success for this week.
Female voice: There have not been any this week. Today is Tuesday and Monday was a holiday.
Male voice: See, it was not hard to find a success. Stop being so negative and we can get more done. Does anyone have a challenge to volunteer?
Female voice: I have a challenge. My students are not understanding verse structure.
Male voice: How do you know that they don’t understand? Where is your test data?
Female voice: I haven’t given the test yet but i know they don’t understand the material.
Male voice: Then how do you know they don’t understand?
Female voice: They told me.
Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?
Female voice: They told me they don’t understand what I am talking about. The students raised their hands said we do not understand verse structure. They also presented a notarized petition and held a press conference. They compared last night’s homework to translating the Bhagavad Gītā into Klingon from its native Sanskrit then translated a passage in front of me to show it is less difficult…
Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?
Female voice: Fine. I gave a test. They scored a negative 38 percent.

Male voice: That is a low score. They definitely don’t understand verse structure. Have you taught verse structure?…..

In Defense of Public School Teachers

Filed under: Teaching — millerlf @ 3:10 pm

In Defense of Public School Teachers

Dr Mark Naison Fordham University

There are few jobs in this country more challenging than that of a public school teacher. In a country with one of the highest rates of poverty in the industrialized world, with almost no social safety net to help struggling families, our teachers have to create a positive learning atmosphere in classrooms with filled with young people under stress. The teacher not only has to be someone who can transmit knowledge and skills, he or she has to be a diplomat, a counselor, a surrogate parent and occasionally a police officer.  And those skills don’t just extend to the students. The parents and caretakers ( because many of working class and poor children live with grandparents or foster parents) are a challenge all by themselves as many of them are under extreme stress and act out as almost as much as their children. And then there  are the local school boards, and state authorities, who are putting teachers under pressure to have their students pass standardized tests and are looking to discipline them and fire teachers if they do not produced the desired results.  A teacher today faces a complex variety of tasks that few people confront on their jobs- tasks that required intellect, creativity, patience, and imagination and if all those fail, sheer stubbornness and courage.

You would think, given the difficulty of the task that teachers confront, the incredibly long hours they spend preparing lessons and grading assignments, as well as the tremendous time and expense they put into decorating their classrooms, that teachers would be revered and respected by the American public.  But in fact the contrary is true.  Americans, more than any people on the globe, seem to resent and even hate teachers!

How else to explain the propensity of people on all sides of the political spectrum to blame teachers for the persistence of poverty in the United States, for the failure of the United States to be economically competitive with other nations, and for disappointing test scores and graduation rates among racial minorities.. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States praising the mass firing of teachers in a town in a working class town in Rhode Island where test scores were low; a School Chancellor in the nation’s largest city demanding the publication of confidential, and often misleading, teacher rating data in the press;  and  a mass market film about the power of teachers that focuses exclusively on privately funded charter schools  conveniently leaving out the thousands of dedicated, often brilliant public school teachers working in the nation’s high poverty districts

As the child of two New York City public schools teachers, who each spent more than thirty years in the system, and as someone who spends a good deal of time interacting with teachers in Bronx schools through a community history project I direct, I find this hostility to teachers totally misguided. I invite anyone who thinks teachers are to blame for poverty and inequality to come with me on some of my trips to Bronx public schools and see the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to create learning environments for children that are filled with excitement,  stimulation even beauty.  Look at the way classrooms and hallways are decorated. See the incredible projects teachers do with their students. See the plays and musical performances that the schools put on.  And talk to the teachers and principals about what their students are up against. I will never forget the closed door meeting I had with a Bronx principal, whose school served three meals a day, where he described how many of his children started crying on Friday because they were afraid they wouldn’t eat until they came back to school on Monday.  Or talk to a teacher who is working in a class where half the students don’t live with their biological parents, and get a sense of the desperate need these children have for love and affection.

I would like to see how well Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would do prepping students for tests if they taught in a Bronx middle school or high schools where half the students are on the verge of dropping out because of family pressures or problems reading and writing in English.   The teachers who come to these schools and give students love as well as instruction are not cynically collecting their paychecks, they are taking responsibility for all the problems our society has neglected and for the family and community services it fails to provide

In a society without adequate day care, health care and recreation for working class families, where people have to work two or three jobs to stay in their apartments or share those apartments with multiple strangers; where young people face violence and stress in their living quarters as well as on the streets; where sports programs and music programs are only available for those who can pay; our public school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the society

They deserve respect and support, not contempt.  They are among America’s true heroes.

Mark D Naison

October 25, 2010

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