Monday, September 26, 2005

My kid's school rates an "A," your kid's a "B," and their kids' schools are failing!

For thirty-seven years, the folks at Phi Delta Kappa magazine and the Gallup Poll people have collaborated on a comprehensive survey of public attitudes toward American schools. Few people outside of the education community are aware of that.

Strangely, the regular media has almost totally ignored the years of polling results. It has been suggested the reason is a disparity between the general public’s perception of schools and the perceptions by the media and other critics of those same schools. True or not, it cannot be denied that thirty-seven years of poll results are relatively unknown by the general public.

I’ll even bet you discerning readers of this are almost totally unaware of either the poll’s lengthy history or its results. A few items from this year, therefore, may be of interest.

One of the most interesting questions to me has long been the one about how the responders grade the nation’s schools, their community schools, and the individual school the responder’s child attends. I do not have the exact statistics for thirty seven years, but according to this year’s report, they have remained largely unchanged.

This year, 24% of the general public gave an A or a B to the nation’s schools. That’s all. But 48% of the general public awarded an A or B to their community schools. Narrowing the responses from the general public to parents of school aged children, on the other hand, gives different perceptions. The percentage of parents who gave top grades to the schools in their community rose to 57%. The approval climbed to 69% for parents rating as A or B the individual school their oldest child attends within their community.

So it seems that the more one knows about the schools being rated, the higher the rating. And the more one thinks one knows about those “other” schools across town, down the road, or in another state, the lower the rating. Fascinating?

Another interesting response: Fifty-seven percent of respondents oppose permitting parents and students to choose attending private schools at public expense, as compared to 38% who favor it. I wonder what the percentage is of Americans paying for their kids to attend private schools.

The pollsters again found little real understanding of the federal “No Child Left Behind Act.” The public often opposed aspects of the act embedded in questions, while the act, itself, received higher approval than its provisions. The pollsters concluded, “The NCLB strategies are frequently out of step with approaches favored by the public.” (p.43.)

Almost two-thirds of the people polled this year (62%) say they would endorse teaching as a career for a child of theirs. That seems both healthy and positive. I could let the curmudgeon part of me wonder if the 38% who do not support that career choice are educators. But I won’t. Or maybe they are the same 38% who favor public funding of private schools. Makes sense?

To read the entire sixteen page poll and results, check out the Phi Delta Kappan Magazine for September, 2005, at your local library. You probably can also find a summary by visiting the Phi Delta Kappan home page. ( Then, answer the critics who do not know your local schools when they begin to criticize them. Cheers!

Friday, September 23, 2005

We started a war against people who had not attacked us to reverse the pattern of inaction when attacked?

The following two paragraphs are quoted from the Los Angeles Times of Sept. 23, 2005, and were reported by Warren Vieth.

"President Bush said Thursday that mistakes made by three of his predecessors, including the Reagan administration's restraint after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, had emboldened terrorists and helped set the stage for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bush said he was determined not to repeat the pattern by pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq before the insurgency there is contained and Iraqi forces are able to provide adequate security."

Read it again.

The first statement about terrorists becoming emboldened by the inaction of Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton may have some truth to it, though it might be hard for this Bush to prove.

President Bush's second statement, however, is so boggling that it is hard to know where to begin the analysis. He says the U.S. forces must now stay in Iraq until the insurgency is contained in order not to "repeat the pattern" of inaction against terrorists by the three former administrations.

Given the facts of the Bush Iraq war, the statement simply does not compute. How is staying in Iraq, where few if any terrorists were before our invasion, fit with Reagan's inaction after the bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon?

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam had no ties to the 9/11 terrorists. Iraq posed no threat to the United States at the time of our invasion.

We invaded anyway.

Since then, Bush's Iraq war has served as a highly effective recruitment argument by Al Quaeda. That organization has attracted terrorists, and recruits who want to become terrorists, from around the world to Iraq. Those radical muslims see our very presence as desecration of their holy land.

So the Bush League has created a magnet for terrorists who are killing our military personnel, Iraqi securirty forcces, and Iraqi civilians by the hundreds. And he now seems to be calling that blunder a decisive blow that contrasts favorably with his predecessor's "pattern of inaction."

I think that is what the statements say. Maybe not. Review: The situation in Iraq has developed because of the Bush League's invasion, based on lies, but never mind that for now. Yet Bush says we must stay in Iraq until the situation that he created is controlled. And get this: He says if we don't stay with the war which we started, it would be the same as his three predesessors not responding to earlier attacks on us. Does that seem like the same thing to you?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Let's publish Katrina contributions from business and political leaders

Almost immediately after Katrina devastated the gulf coast, an item in the newspaper reported that Walmart had donated a million dollars to both the Red Cross and to the Salvation Army for hurricane relief. The company later donated an additional twenty million dollars to the Katrina Relief Fund. There are undoubtedly people across the country, critical of the retail giant’s free enterprise policies and practices, who softened their opinion, if only a little, when they heard of the gifts.

Right wing politicians have often criticized members of the “Hollywood Elite” for being critical of their conservative point of view. Republicans have charged that they “blame America first,” for example. One Internet smear of Hollywood political views that was widely circulated during the last election campaign painted movie stars as dim bulbs with little education compared to the giants of the political world who possess college degrees, and, therefore, know better about everything. Perhaps you saw that. At least once.

Of course, the Hollywood people have publicists and agents to report positive news about their clients. So it was not surprising to see published reports of generosity from various millionaire celebrities following Katrina’s strike. Still, one had to feel a tinge of warmth, at least temporarily, for the many stars who have made huge donations to the relief funds. I suspect there may even be Republican critics of Hollywood who were impressed by the immediate response and generous monetary gifts from so many athletes and members of the “Hollywood elite.”

A partial list includes athletes Phil Mickelson, $250,000; Lance Armstrong, $500,000; and Curt Shilling, who is housing a family of nine for a year. Movie star George Clooney gave one million dollars to United Way for their relief efforts; Celine Dion contributed a million dollars; Steven Spielberg, 1.5 million. Hillary Duff gave $250,000. Pat Sajak sent $100,000 to the Red Cross, and Jay & Diddy gave a million dollars.

Sean Penn is said to have rescued forty people stranded on roof tops and in submerged houses. As one magazine reported, he had his own photographer recording it all, but then, “how many people did you save?” Harry Connick, Jr., went to New Orleans and offered comfort. So did Kirstie Allie. Numerous other stars and celebrities also got there before federal aid had arrived.

There have been concerts with performers donating time and talent to raise money for the stricken areas. There will be more.

A number of corporations besides Walmart have given money and materials. The list includes GE, 16 million. Starbucks contributed five million; Office Depot, 18 million; Anheuser -Busch, one million; and Eli Lilly contributed a million dollars plus a million dollars worth of insulin.

Organizations have sprung up to help with the clean up. Project Backpack was started by sisters, 14 and 11 years old. They collect supplies for the thousands of displaced school children starting classes far from home. UPS is shipping the supplies free of charge.

Other nations are even offering aid to America! USA TODAY reported on many of them. A few examples: Afghanistan is sending $100,000. Australia is contributing $7.6 million. France sent forty tents, water treatment supplies and MREs. India gave $5 million. the Arab-American Oil Company (ARAMCO) of Saudi Arabia contributed $5 million. And the United Arab Emirates are giving $100 million, cash.

There is a much longer list of contributors, of course, but one can see from these few examples that the response has been widespread from athletes, movie and tv stars, companies, and other governments.

And that brings me, at last, to the point of this rant. There are two groups of citizens missing from every list of contributors I have seen, so far. They are groups who could use an infusion of public support, feelings of public good will, and a little praise for what they also must be doing to help the survivors of Katrina. I want to see lists of politicians and of business leaders who have made personal contributions.

Hollywood stars have their publicists. Perhaps CEOs and politicians need theirs. Most politicians want to take credit for anything good that occurs. Why, then, are they not letting the news out about their individual contributions to Katrina relief? If they give anonymously from a stance of altruism, I want them to rethink their positions.

“Altruism” is defined as “Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.” I recall a professor some years ago arguing that true altruism does not exist, or if it does, the acts are unknown. His contention was that true selflessness meant that one committed an altruistic act for absolutely no personal benefit. And that, he claimed, should include no feelings of pride or personal warmth from having done the act. Absolute selflessness. Of course, that also means that no others would know of the deed. Have politicians ever before been altruistic, then?

Given that definition and argument, one could suggest that all the known contributors of time, money, and goods for Katrina relief also are not truly altruistic. So be it. Their contributions are needed, welcomed, and are helping. So what if Walmart’s image might have been boosted slightly among a few critics? So what if Sean Penn had a photographer along? So what if the celebrity contributions are reported for the rest of us to praise? They are praiseworthy.

President Bush asked his father and Bill Clinton to reprise their duo post-Sunami act of money raising. We know they have raised millions... of other people’s money! I think it would not only be appropriate, but would also help generate good will and even more public giving if it were published how much each of those multi-millionaire ex-Presidents have also contributed. And President George W. Bush. Why not let us know how much he and Laura are giving from their own bank accounts?

How much have the many millionaire senators and representatives given? Wouldn’t knowing help their constituents feel pride in their elected officials and prompt at least some of them also to give?

Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy Carter, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Condoleeza Rice, Mary Matlin, her husband the “ragin’ cajun,” James Carville, as well as John Kerry, and Al Gore -- have undoubtedly contributed to the relief efforts. Some of their gifts may even have been reported, though I missed seeing the report. They deserve better recognition for their gifts.

Knowing Martha Stewart’s contribution to Katrina relief would generate more dollars from her legions of supporters as well as put an added glow to her image. How about Ken Ley? Wouldn’t you feel a tiny bit better about that former Enron CEO if you knew how much he has given? How much has Bill Gates contributed from his personal bank account?

How much has Exon-Mobil contributed from their record corporate profits? Microsoft? Google? Why should athletes and movie and television stars be the only ones publicly recognized?

Altruism may be morally ideal, but I tend to agree with my professor: Altruism is only an ideal. Various critics and the entire country, therefore, might feel better about those on my short list, and also the hundreds more CEOs, political insiders, elected representatives, and leaders of our society if their personal donations to hurricane relief were made public.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Unique pressures message needs repeating and repeating..

I know of no other job with the kinds of pressures that face typical classroom teachers. Teachers are in charge of, and responsible for, the activities of twenty to thirty-five young people in one room, all at the same time, nearly all day long.

A school superintendent may make tough decisions affecting education in noticeable ways. The superintendent also leads more than twenty to thirty people. Not since he or she escaped the classroom, however, has a superintendent been in charge of twenty or more young people in one room, all at the same time, for nearly the entire day.

A school principal, like the superintendent, also deals with many people by phone and in person during a day. But never twenty to thirty-five pupils all in the same room for nearly the entire day, every day, for one hundred eighty days, every year.

Corporate presidents, CEO’s, and editors are in charge of more people. So are many managers. They make important decisions. Business pressures are great. Executives and managers, however, also do not have twenty to thirty-five kids in one room at the same time, nearly all day long, looking to them for each minute’s activity and daily learning. Clerks and sales people have pressures, but they deal with one or two people at a time, never more than twenty in one room all day, every day.

Professional athletes receive millions each season for playing games, and no one seems to mind that they don’t work more than six months a year. Society is only beginning to say that they are overpaid. Since they entertain millions, most fans still think they are worth the money. Yet their games last an hour or two, and though thousands of fans may be on site, the players are not held responsible for the continuous activities of even twenty of them together in one room for an entire day.

Doctors make life and death decisions. So do U.S. Presidents and whoever is in charge of U.S. Presidents. Important decisions affecting people are made by all kinds of individuals "in charge." Factory workers, farmers, programmers, reporters, and lawyers -- every job has pressures I know nothing about.

I am in no way arguing comparative levels of importance or deserved respect or salaries. Maybe David Letterman deserves millions for his few hours per week on the air. Perhaps Meg Ryan deserves ten million dollars for each six-week period or so she puts into a movie. Britney Spears, arguably, deserves her take from a one-night concert. It’s not a good time to mention CEO salaries, but some of them, too, may be deserved.

None of those jobs, however, includes being in continual charge of the continuous activities and educational progress of twenty to thirty-five children all in the same room at the same time for nearly the entire day. I am arguing neither the intensity nor the importance of other pressures or jobs. Once more, I am merely suggesting the uniqueness of the pressures facing classroom teachers.

You parents have been supervising your kids for the summer just ending. You were responsible for the activities of your one, two, five, or nine children. Some of you went to work and let them be free runners for eleven weeks or so. Others organized your children’s activities: summer school, summer camp, day camp, "sitters," etc. Many of you, no doubt, had your children under direct supervision for much of each day.

None of you parents, however, had twenty to thirty-five children under continuous supervision in one room at the same time five days a week, every week, this past summer. Nor do you expect to have your children tested for adequate progress over your own summer instruction. There will be no mandatory tests to determine your kids' learning in areas such as sexual knowledge, the effects of drugs and alcohol, ethics, honesty, manners and politeness, religion, love, and family values. Those are areas of learning that many people believe are parents’ major responsibilities for teaching. But no one will suggest they be tested, nor that results of tests should determine whether or not they be allowed to continue their next grade level in school. And certainly they will not be tested to determine whether or not their family summertime educational progress in those family oriented educational areas was adequate or needs to be taken over by the state.

So you parents are now ready to send your kids back to school, no matter how you have prepared them for the new term. You are eager to get them back into rooms with twenty to thirty-five others to be supervised and taught for nearly the entire day by one person at a time. The pressures of supervising your own beloved children for a short summer have you thankful for the fall term.

Then, as this school year begins, bow low in honor of teachers. They willingly return to the pressures of working with your happy and your sad children, with your unwilling, your eager, your capable, your lazy, your hostile, and your cooperative children, your rude, polite, noisy, quiet, bright, creative, dull, emotional, assertive, and your passive children -- all in one room, all at the same time, for nearly all day of each day of every school year.

My point is simple: There are no pressures quite like that.

© Dana Wall 2005

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