Friday, July 27, 2012

How about some parent/student accountability?

Maine Governor Paul LePage says school districts should pay for any remedial courses their graduates have to take in college.  Evidently, a recent study placed Maine 40th out of 41 states for improvements in student test scores between 1992 and 2011 for fourth- and eighth-graders in math, reading and science.

The governor is, understandably, unhappy with the numbers.  He's also unhappy that, according to his information, 54 percent of those entering Maine's community colleges have to take remedial courses to re-learn basic tools. The same goes for 20 to 25 percent of the state's four-year university students.

I understand why LePage is concerned ... I really do.  What I don't understand is his plan to make school districts pay for the remedial courses of their graduates.  The governor, a Republican, should know very well that GOP-controlled legislatures around the country have cut education funding.  Teachers have been laid off and many, many school districts have frozen salaries and dropped programs such as tutoring.

I have a different plan for Maine:  make students and parents responsible and accountable!  Hell, I'm evauated every year!  This past year, it took FIVE hours for me to prepare the required documents just for the pre-evaluation conference!  And it took me another FOUR hours to prepare the post-evaluation documents!  That's NINE hours I could have spent planning creative lessons, grading papers, calling parents, etc.  So ... why not include two more components in the accountability picture:  students and parents?

Let's just look at some student/parent responsibility, shall we?  The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent but these were students (or parents) in my classes last year:

Pauline:  She made it to class on time just one or two times a week.  Sometimes she wandered in during the last fifteen minutes of class.  Her explanation?  "I just don't like to get up early."  For every minute she was late, she missed instruction.

Jose:  Never turned in a homework assignment ... not one.  He squeaked by the class with a D - 60.6% - (decent work in class and barely passing on tests) so he got credit toward high school graduation.  He's one of hundreds of students in my school who are quite comfortable with squeaking by.  Should Jose go to a community college, he'll get in - no doubt - but he most certainly will need some remedial classes because HE refused to get the basics in high school.

Ronnie:  During a test, I was walking around the room and glanced at his bubble sheet.  Hmmm ... his dark circles were in the shape of a car.  He wasn't even reading the questions!  His test score:  61% ... all through luck.

Mrs. Smith:  Her daughter had a hit-and-miss attendance ... just enough to prevent her from being dropped from the class.  I called home several times.  She told me each and every time:  "Johana is old enough to make her own decisions about coming to school."  I wanted to scream in the phone:  "Your daughter is 15 years old! YOU are the parent! DO your job!"  But I didn't because that would have ended up with a complaint being filed against me.  How dare I ask parents to do their job so I can do mine?

You have NO idea how many students and parents mirror the ones outlined above.

I work hard at my job and I work doubly hard trying to reach students who simply want to squeak by ... or don't care at all.  I'm a good teacher.  But I'm not a miracle worker. 

So, Governor LePage, state legislators, and the public at large:  Why not come up with some ideas that include student/parent accountability?  How about a mandatory study hall if a student earns less than a C at the first progress report?  How about mandatory summer school (with tuition paid by the parents, not the school district)?  How about mandatory parent attendance at conferences? I will bet my next paycheck that when parents are inconvenienced, or have to shell out money from THEIR checkbook, the situation will improve.

Last year at Open House, just NINE people showed up in my classroom.  Only SIX of them were parents.  That's out of 169 students!

Yes, I imagine there are some ineffective teachers ... just like there are some ineffective businessmen, politicians, doctors, and car mechanics.  But don't always blame the teachers and schools when two-thirds of the triumverate manage to escape their responsibility in the educational process!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

YOUR opinions ... should I take them seriously?

A new Obama TV ad brings to the public a series of statements made by Mitt Romney - statements that are clearly FALSE. The ad cites sources, making sure the viewing public knows where the Obama campaign folks got the information to back up the "Romney didn't tell the truth" assertion.

I love reading the comments section.  One of the comments was written by LaVaughn Moyer Jennings of Clyde, Ohio.  Since this woman put her comment on a public forum, I most assuredly can use it here.  The quote:

"Need to tell about all the crooked stuff the idiot in the W.H. has done.. I think you need to clean up your own act before you degrade other people...."

Yes, that is Jennings' opinion.  But how in the world can I take it seriously?  Really ... how can anyone take it seriously?

Jennings doesn't give one example of "crooked" ... she doesn't give specifics, information, details.  She makes claims she did not back up with any support, any evidence, any sign of rational thought process.  She doesn't give us a reason to take her opinion seriously.   

Even my high school students know better than that!

From the dictionary:  o-pin-ion  n. 1. A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof

It happens every year.  A student voices an opinion and that's when things change in my classroom.  Example ... I gave a simple essay assignment due the next day.  Here is the classroom exchange:

Student:  "That sucks!"

Me:  "Why does it suck?"

Student:  "What do you mean?"

Me:  "That is an opinion and I can't take your opinion seriously if you don't explain the rationale behind that opinion.  What facts did you use to determine that the assignment sucks?"

Student:  "I don't know what you mean."

I told him to think about it, that I wouldn't respect his opinion until he answered my questions.  Fast forward a half hour:

Student:  "I know why the assignment sucks!  I have to work tonight and I'll be tired when I get home from my shift at 8pm.  It'll be harder for me to write."

Me:  "NOW I understand and respect your opinon!  I disagree with you - this essay is only three simple paragraphs - but you've given me reason to take you seriously.  If you don't want to write the essay tonight, then come in at lunch and do it today."

After an exchange like that (one that I make sure happens every year), my students will begin to SUPPORT their opinions.  In fact, when a student utters a free-for-all opinion, another student will call out, "Where's your support?"

I try to make sure I support my opinions so people know what reasoning, what facts, what information pointed me in that direction.  And I don't mind someone asking me if I neglected to do so.

So ... LaVaughn Moyer Jennings ... you have every right to say what you want.  Now, if you want any credibility at all, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want anyone to give a rat's patoot about your opinions ... take a lesson from my students.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Romney: freeloader playing the game

A Republican friend of mine has this statement in her email signature:

"Apparently, I'm supposed to be more angry about what Mitt Romney does with his money than what barack obama does with mine."

Let me make this clear right up front:  Romney's multiple offshore accounts are legal!  They are absolutely legal, no doubt about it.

So, just why are people like me concerned about all his offshore accounts?  There are two reasons:

1) Romney wants tax cuts for the wealthy.  He says those folks - because of their money - create jobs, thus grow the economy.  He says this all the time when explaining his opposition to increasing taxes on on the wealthy.  Well ... please tell me ... how does his offshore money help grow the economy?   That money isn't HERE so it's not doing a damn thing for the American economy, now is it?  Hmmm ... it appears that other wealthy people can grow the economy, but he's exempt from that.

2) While legal, his offshore accounts set him apart from most other Americans.  I have to account for every dime of my teacher's salary, so why doesn't he?  I have to pay taxes on all my money, so why doesn't he?  I realize that our tax code allows this, but there's something wrong with this picture ... it's inherently unfair.  And it makes him a freeloader - the kind of person he recently denigated at a Republican rally.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) defends Romney:  “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally." He even explained that it's a "game" we all play.  

I don't see this as a "game" at all!  I see taxes as a way to pay for the services we want and need.  If we want schools, we pay for them.  If we want protection from the military, we pay for it.  If we want garbage collection or libraries or decent roads or safe bridges ... we pay for it!

So, to my friend with the political statement in her email signature:  I'm not angry about Romney's money.  I AM disgusted that he is a freeloader who certainly doesn't need to be.  I AM disgusted that he expects everyone else to grow the economy but he won't.

And I believe that truly speaks to his character ... or lack thereof.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Scare tactics ... they WORK!

This past week on Fox News Sunday , Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that Mitt Romney must be elected in November in order to "save America."  He also said that if President Barack Obama gets re-elected, "our way of life" is at stake.  WHAT? 

Oh, but Priebus wasn't finished: "Mitt Romney has to win for the sake of the very idea of America. Mitt Romney has to win for liberty and freedom."

 Omigawd ... grab the kids and dogs ... and head to Costa Rica with Limbaugh!

Keep in mind that the Fox News "journalists" didn't question Priebus; they didn't ask for specifics or explanations.   No big surprise there, right?  In other words, those "journalists" didn't do their job!

Priebus is very good at using the campaign scare tactic. He uses this tactic because he knows that many times straight facts simply aren't enough to motivate the masses to take a certain action.  It's much more effective to scare the crap out of them!

People who hear a frightening statistic or an alarming fact often take that information at face value ... and then act out of fear. That is the purpose of using scare tactics:  create a sense of fear or shock in the recipients. These fears, rational or irrational as they may be, are often enough to force people into making uninformed decisions or taking rash actions.

So, how effective was Priebus' statements on Sunday?  That afternoon I took my dogs to a fun match and heard two women talking about it:

Woman #1: "You HAVE to vote for Romney because if Obama gets back in there, we're going to lose our freedoms and our liberty!"

Woman #2:  "What makes you think that?"

Woman #1: "A very important man said it on TV this morning!"

It's clear that Woman #1 doesn't question what she heard - and she won't, either, because now she sees her liberty and freedom being yanked from her.  Why?  Because some man said it on TV.  Her vote in November will be cast out of a fear that has no factual basis whatsoever.

Karl Rove is the master when it comes to scare tactics.  He guided George W. Bush through all his campaigns, starting with the one for governor against Ann Richards.  One TV ad showed a woman being grabbed at gunpoint in a parking garage and then police draping a sheet over a young boy's body.  Bush, in a voice over, declared that Texas was the third most dangerous state in the nation and that HE would take action to change that.  

Factual?  No.  The crime rate had actually declined during Richards' term in office.

Effective? Yes.  People didn't check the crime stats ... they acted out of fear because they didn't want to be grabbed at gunpoint in a parking garage.

Rove used scare tactics in both Bush presidential campaigns, too.  And, it appears, the current GOP presidential campaign will continue the practice with Rove's guidance.

Now, before you get your knickers in a bunch, BOTH political parties have used scare tactics.  A great example is a TV ad that ran only once during the Johnson-Goldwater campaign in 1964 ...  but it sure got attention - and it resulted in a lot of Johnson votes.  It is STILL being referenced as one of the most effective TV campaign ads ever. Watch it!

Lyndon Johnson campaign ad

Scare tactic?  You bet! The message was clear:  if you vote for Barry Goldwater, we'll end up in a huge war with a giant mushroom cloud and there won't be any daisies left to pick.  That ad scared the livin' daylights out of people!  It's rather ironic, then, that Johnson proceeded to escalate the war in Vietnam after he was elected.

You can either become a victim of the scare tactic ... or you can make your voting decisions based on facts and evidence.  By the way, there is NO evidence that President Obama's re-election will result in a tyrannical government with no freedom or liberty for Americans.  None.  Remember ... we still have the U.S. Constitution in place and the three branches of government serve as a check and balance system to make sure that doesn't happen.

Why not be a responsible voter?  Why not ask questions and take a bit of time to check the facts before you vote out of fear?  Think about it:  decisions made out of fear aren't usually the best.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tax? Penalty? Who gives a rat's patoot?

A friend of mine - Larry Ferguson - posted some of his thoughts about the health care controversy on his Facebook wall.  I asked his permission to share it with you.  Here it is:

"Obamacare, aka. Affordable Care it a tax or is it a penality...let me think about it......nope, couldn't care less. My health insurance costs are up because some asshole goes into the emergency room at the hospital, then walks out without paying and the costs for that asshole's care are shifted to people with insurance like me. What I do care about is that insurance companies will not cap what they pay for health care for me. I care that the insurance company will not be able to drop me if I get sick. I care that my grandkids with pre-existing health problems will be able to get insurance. I care that the CEO of insurance companies will not be paid outrageous salaries because the insurance company has to pay out 80%-85% in taking care of people or refund money to me. You can call it Obamacare or Larrycare, I really don't give a shit."

When I thanked Larry for allowing me to use his thoughts on this blog, he gave me some more to share:

"This country has a mandate that anyone walking into an emergency room has to get care. I have no problem with this. Many people cannot afford insurance or have lost insurance with loss of their job. The cost for care shifted to me is my problem. Concern for my grand kids with pre-existing problems is a worry for me. The fact that the mandate was a conservative idea and now they hate it because the President of the United States got it passed -  this is a problem. A mandate that if you can afford insurance you are required to get it or pay a penalty makes sense. I had hoped for either single payer or at least buy in to Medicare at 55 would have been the law...but ACA is a start. But, what do I know..."

Well, it's obvious Larry knows a whole lot more about the actual workings of health insurance - and the state of our health care system -  than most people in this country!  He understands that we are ALL paying for the uninsured and that's one of the main  reasons health insurance premiums are so high!  He understands that insurance - any insurance - is a risk pool.  You pay your premiums and that money goes into one huge pot, along with the premiums paid by everyone else.  When and if you submit a claim, the bill is paid from that huge pot.  When someone else submits a claim, her bills are paid from the same huge pot.  Uninsured patients get treatment, but never paid into anything.  Hospitals have to recoup that loss somehow, so those of us with insurance have higher bills. 

The anti-Obama folks (and, yes, that's exactly what they are) are yelling and screaming about being forced to buy health insurance.  GET A GRIP!  You are forced to help fund public schools even if you don't have children!  You are forced to fund public parks even if you never set foot in one!  Medicare taxes are taken out of your paycheck even if you aren't on Medicare! 

It's all a part of being a member of this society ... so grow up and deal with it. If you can afford insurance - but don't get it - you will pay a small penalty.  And that's how it ought to be because I shouldn't have to pay for your broken leg or your burst appendix.  If you can't afford insurance, you will NOT pay a penalty and there will be a variety of ways that you'll end up with health coverage - through Medicaid or the insurance exchanges.

So, yeah ... grow up.  You want to hate Obama?  Fine.  But find some other reason because the ACA is a win-win for everyone ... including you.

And to Larry ... thanks!  I suspect many, many people feel exactly like you do. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Come visit my classroom, McConnell!

Senator Mitch McConnell said that 30 million uninsured Americans is "not the issue" when asked how Republicans would provide health care coverage to those people.


It most certainly IS the issue!  And I challenge Sen. McConnell to come visit my classroom once school starts.  Here's what he will see (and I have seen this as a high school teacher).  I changed the names,  but these young people were students in my classes over the past few years:

1) Becky - she is in constant pain from something.  She is doubled over as she sits at her desk.  The nurse and I try to get her family to take her to a doctor but the family has no insurance.  Dad makes too much money to get on AHCCS (Arizona's version of Medicaid), but can't afford insurance for the family.  Finally Becky stops coming to school.  Becky was in my class several years ago and I haven't been able to find out what happened to her.

2) Jose - he doesn't pay attention in class, holds his face in his hands.  I find out he is in constant pain because his teeth are so rotten and infected.  We get him to a dentist who provides free services to our students, but the infection has run so deep that now it affects his entire jaw and sinuses.  His family has no insurance and as of the end of that school year, he hadn't seen a doctor.

3) Daniel - he missed several days of school and when I called home, he answered.  His mother was sick and he was staying home to care for her.  She lost her job and then her health insurance.  She couldn't afford COBRA because that premium cost is atronomical.  He informed me that his mother has cancer.  She died during the winter break that year.  Daniel was put into foster care and I don't know where he is now.

4) Yolanda - she missed several days of school and I found out she went to her dad's funeral in Kansas.  He died of complications from diabetes.  His health insurance company dropped him after a diabetic coma and no other company would take him because of his "pre-existing condition."  Make no mistake about it: our health care system killed Yolanda's father.

5) Myra - her dad lost his job and his health insurance for the family.  Right before this happened, Myra was diagnosed with a cyst on her ovary.  The family couldn't pay for the surgery even after selling furniture out of their home.  She was in constant pain until we found a gynecologist who would do the surgery at no cost.  It took this doctor weeks to talk the hospital into providing the outpatient surgery on a payment schedule.  In the meantime, Myra missed several weeks of school ... she dropped out. I just hope she's okay because ovarian cysts tend to come back.

Please keep in mind, these are REAL people.  McConnell says they "aren't the issue."  They ARE the issue and it's time we let the Republicans on Capitol Hill know that.  I would love for McConnell to come to my classroom and tell my students they "aren't the issue."  Face to face, McConnell!!  Do you have the guts to look these young people in the eyes and tell them they don't matter?

If REAL PEOPLE aren't the issue, then what is?  Well ... I have the answer to that:  the issue is President Obama.  The Republicans on Capitol Hill will do anything to get him out of office.The president built the ACA on the REPUBLICAN plan that Mitt Romney put into effect in Massachusetts ... a plan that works!  And now they are criticizing it and promising to repeal the law if Romney is elected? 

So, you tell me ... what's the issue?  Pretty obvious, don't you think?