Category Archives: Education

The Homework Project

The girl is working on a project for school called “All about me”. It is a poster she has to fill out with pictures of her, her family, what she likes to do and stuff like that. The poster can include drawings, clippings from magazines or actual photos.

Because nothing is simple in our world, she decided to make a diorama of Santa’s Workshop to show how she “wishes for a reindeer” (in case you don’t remember, a diorama is a 3-d design using various messy objects to demonstrate an idea in a picture form – all inside a box.) I’m thinking the resulting “display” will now be sacred and I will have to be careful about how I dispose of it.

After assembling this elaborate diorama, she took pictures of it and I helped her print those so she could glue them on her poster.

She set up a desk of a folding TV table and put her name on it (like a name plate) and some art supplies.  I took her picture sitting at this “desk” so she could show herself as an art teacher when she grows up.

She has been spending a couple hours messing around with these props for her photos. You’d probably get quite a kick out of it – other than the fact that there is now a bunch of crap all over the house from this “project” and we have a girl scout meeting here tomorrow after school.

Bring on the puppet show book reports!

American Schools Have ALWAYS Scored Lower on Math Internationally!

Did you know that? I sure didn’t! 

Myth of Declining Schools

“…in the latest report by the wonderfully contrarian Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, that the notion of America on the downward track is a myth. The data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964. If anything, we have lately been showing some signs of improvement.” (emphasis mine)

Wow!  Who knew?  All this time we’ve been told crap like this from CNN Money on-line: Hey, Americans: you suck at math, so we are moving the call center to India!

“If you want to get a sense of what’s in store for the American workforce, just take a look at how our students match up against the rest of the world in math and science.”

The thing I find most disingenuous about this debate (besides the fact that the US has actually improved at math) is that many of the top performing countries only educate and test the richest kids.  That is WAY different from our concept in the US where ALL children are required to attend school until they are sixteen.  Our tests include pretty much all public school students with only the most disabled students being excluded.  I did find some data that shows kids who attend private schools do better on these standardized tests, but consider who these kids are: they come from families who can afford to pay private school tuition and many private schools are very selective in the first place.  To me, the comparisons with other countries aren’t equal to begin with, when the countries performing at the top only include the rich and highest performing students.

The “myth” of losing ground leads to corporate CEO’s complaining about the state of American education and using lower math scores to explain moving a factory to China. It also leads to the US Department of Education funding fact-finding commissions (because, you know those CEO’s can’t be blowing smoke!) where they identify the “source” of poor quality of math instruction.

Guess what the source is?

I’ll give you a minute…

Of course! Teachers!! 

Admittedly, I am not big on the “blame teachers game”. I have certainly had my share of run-ins with teachers over the usual collection of goofy things, but that doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t doing their best to educate all American kids.

The US has always been mediocre at math. That means my generation wasn’t any better at math than our kids. My parent’s generation wasn’t better either. This means support at home for math will not be super. I can’t even tell you how many parents I know who complain that they can’t help elementary students with math homework. I will admit that part of this is because kids argue that their teacher “told them to do it THIS way” and of course, that would be the ONLY way.  But part of it is that the parents, themselves, have a hard time seeing the pattern being taught because it looks different from the “drill and kill” method we grew up with.  

Next, consider teaching is largely a female profession, particularly in the lower grades where the foundation for future math competence is built.  I am female, and honestly, I had NO IDEA that I was good at math until I was an adult and in college.  Girls of my generation were routinely pushed away from math and science through unsupportive messaging and more direct “you don’t really need all that math!”, even in today’s world, the message that girls are terrible at math is loud and clear – just ask Larry Summers. I don’t buy that theory, but many of today’s teachers were hearing the same messages when they were students and being steered away from higher math classes, just like me.

So now Americans fund studies to “examine” the so-called decline in mathematics that demonstrate how our teachers don’t do a good job teaching math and the usual prescriptive “what can we do?”.

Seems like the first thing would be to admit that we were always barely OK at math when compared internationally and the next thing would be to set our improvement bar to increase our scores incrementally. Mostly, Americans need to admit that the comparison of ALL American kid’s average scores to the average of the rich and privileged of the Asian countries is a bad comparison to start with.

Hey, Wisconsin Public Employees –

Roland Martin thinks the public employee unions in Wisconsin should take one for the team.  (Hat Tip – Ralphb)

Walker wants public employees in Wisconsin to pay more for health care benefits and to contribute to their pension plans. Frankly, those are reasonable requests. Where he has largely run into trouble is the effort to end the collective bargaining rights of the various public employees.

Oh, is that all Walker wants?  Walker only “ran into trouble” because he tried to end collective bargaining rights.  I see.  This doesn’t have anything to do with Walker taking it to the Legislators rather than the union.  Good to know. 

First, the need to pay more for health care and pensions. An increasingly number of Americans who work in the private sector are paying 50 percent or more of their health care costs. Yet when you look at government employees, many local and state governments are paying upwards of 80 percent to 90 percent of health care costs. I just do not think that unions will be able to win over the public when elected officials ask them to pay for an additional 5 percent to 10 percent of their health care costs.

Why would Roland Martin think changing the public employees benefit package to look like the private sector would be a good idea?  Maybe because advocating something like this will NEVER impact him.  Roland is a author and TV “journalist”, he doesn’t live like us in the un-washed masses. 

Giving up benefits now to “do our share” means they are never coming back.  Period.  It is easy to rally the “have-nots” against the “haves” at a time like this, but the only guarantee in that scenario is that everyone will become “have-nevers”

The public employees in Wisconsin and the people of the state would ultimately be better off if the public employees were laid off to the level the state can afford.  (In Washington State the state employees have had days where they are laid-off.  While it does reduce our cost in the state and reduce their pay, it doesn’t change thier benefits as much or reduce their hourly rate.)   That would mean EVERYBODY suffers from the reduced government services but can feel really good about the cost savings.  The people who want lower cost *SHOULD* get lower services.  We aren’t helping ourselves AT ALL if we advocate pitting one group of middle class workers against another.  

Here are some ideas to reduce the financial obligations in the state:  Reduce the number of days government offices are open, increase class sizes, make parents purchase the construction paper and pencils.  Have the kids and government workers wear sweaters everyday and lower the temperature in the buildings.  Reduce the number of social workers and civil engineers.  These options mean that all the people participate in helping to save money in the state with the added benefit that when money is better, they will be sure that the service levels are increased by increasing employees. 

Don’t reduce the pay per person.  That will hurt all of us when employment comes back (slowly) then all of those screaming for lower salaries and benefit packages for the public servants will end up being worse off than they were before.  We will all get what they got, only it will be worse because public servants have always received lower pay in exchange for stable work and better benefits.  Does anyone really think shifting more of the cost to the public servant will make their package look more like the rest of us in the private sector?  I think it will just set the “high bar” for great benefits a little lower. 

Reductions in the value of labor through benefit and pay cuts will NEVER come back.  People forget that they lose the compounding of raises on their base amount and the compounding effect of reserving for retirement and interest.  The cost is way more than the percentage of the initial reduction.  Also remember that increasing the employee share of premiums, co-pays and deductibles reduces realized take home pay even further, with the most difficutly going to the sickest workers or people with kids.  

The government should be the “premier” employer in a time like this because it will set that “high bar” for the salary and benefit packages of the jobs that get added back in when the economy improves. 

Roland Martin is a privileged and coddled journalist with poor analytical skills.  We’ve known that for years, this isn’t a good time to forget.