It’s probably not a good thing if the most popular page on your school district’s web site is the one that teachers use to say that they’re not coming in to work today…
Ah, Spring. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, allergy sufferers are sneezing. Also, in another cycle of nature for this time of year, the local newspapers are piling on scary stories about the teachers’ union vs. the school district, where the outcome this time will certainly be massive teacher layoffs, horrific student deprivation in a barren campus wasteland, and the end of life on Earth as we know it.
I’m looking forward to summer as much as anyone, but I have to admit, this nauseating dog and pony show is enough to make a guy pine for November again.
It’s getting to be as predictable as Superbowl ads where GM hires some celebrity to tell us that Detroit is “making a comeback.”
So, since it seems yours truly won’t be picked up for a regular summer school job this year, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks planning what else to do. I emailed the substitute teaching department of my school district to inquire about subbing opportunities for summer school. I fully expected to get a reply along the lines of, “That pool is full; we’re not currently accepting any new subs,” which would be understandable, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
What I didn’t expect was to get a reply that managed to fit more writing errors into a single, fragmented sentence than your average remedial underclassman could if he tried. I’m providing a screen shot of the email, because I think that if I just typed it, you wouldn’t believe that someone employed by a school district wrote it. My original message is quoted in gray; the answer from the office is above it.
My big question now: why are scores of my teacher friends being booted out of their classrooms when who knows how many anonymous, illiterate drones are taking up space in some cubicle somewhere?
Two Saturdays ago the following letter of mine appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In the ongoing budget kerfuffle, I worry that the rhetoric of some of my teacher colleagues has crossed the line into irresponsible territory. Frankly, even the insinuation that money is the biggest factor in student achievement is bothersome. Yes, there are things we need funding for, but why haven’t we gotten this fired up over the epidemic of failure in our schools?
Astute readers will recognize that this letter canibalizes part of a post I put up here about a month ago.
As a fellow English teacher, I appreciated Elizabeth Strehl’s Wednesday letter in defense of education spending, but I can’t condone her statement that, “If the proposed budget cuts to education happen, our schools and therefore our children may never recover.”
Perhaps such education advocates are exaggerating to emphasize their point, but can’t these academic Chicken Littles see the danger of their hyperbole? If these budget cuts do pass, what message have we now sent to our students? Might young people pick up on the idea that their fate has been sealed and that further work is pointless? Might the economic situation be used by some as an excuse for failure?
Lobbying for schools is noble, but I hope the fatalism so prominent in this conversation won’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To all students out there: The ultimate force in your academic achievement isn’t the money coming from politicians, it’s the effort that comes from you. Don’t take our concern over the budget the wrong way. No matter what happens, we believe in you. Your future will always be yours to control.
This last week we administered our high school proficiency tests, a series of three multiple choice exams which must be passed in order to graduate. There are tests for science, math, and reading. I proctored the two-hour science test during regular classes on Monday morning, and the math and reading tests–three hours for each–on a special day set aside for them on Tuesday. Some events:
- One young man put his head down less than half an hour into the three hour math test. I nudged him and asked if he was done. He said no and put his head back down. A few minutes later, I saw him texting on a cell phone, so I took his test away and said that it couldn’t count now, even though he’d already done a two hour section of the test the day before (as per test security rules which I explained before the test started). He said he didn’t care, and calmly left for the dean’s office.
- You’d think an episode like that would have made the other students less likely to play with their phones during the test. You’d be wrong. Such is the totality of addiction, don’t you know.
- A young woman came back from lunch announcing that as soon as she was done with her test, she was getting up and leaving. During the test, her attention span must have run out, as she and the three friends around her started whispering and throwing bits of paper at each other. I moved them to desks at different corners of the room, to which she grumbled that I was difficult and irritating. She sat down and refused to keep working. A few minutes later, she also started texting. She got what she apparently wanted–I took her test and she had to go to the dean.
My employer, the Clark County School District, recently set up an online system for accessing certain private financial information electronically. As a security measure, the system automatically sends you a notice when the account is accessed. However, I found it disconcerting when I received the following message in my inbox:
This is an automated message to inform you accessed your Employee Self Service (ESS) profile on 02/25/2011 07:35:01 PM.
“To inform you accessed your?!” What the heck? It hardly builds confidence in an educational institution when their official messages sound like they were poorly translated from another language. Yeesh.
Las Vegas revels in its nickname of “Sin City,” as it’s good for business these days, but that does, shall we say, have its down side.
In the last week in Las Vegas:
- An Air Force officer was shot in the back and killed outside his home. His wife had her boyfriend do it so she could get the insurance money.
- Two young women were arrested for beating a 95-year-old woman to death so they could steal her purse and get money to bail a boyfriend out of jail.
- A 15-year-old girl was murdered in her home in the middle of the night when a drug-crazed home invader came looking for her father, who owed the attacker a drug debt.
Here’s the girl’s picture:
Any one of those stories would be enough to seriously depress anyone. But three in a week?
While I’m recounting bad news that’s been on my mind, it’s been a bad year for teachers and students here in the valley. In the last three months or so:
- A middle school teacher was murdered behind a grocery store by her estranged husband.
- A high school teacher was beaten to death while walking to work by a group of young people on a crime spree, looking for fun.
- A high school music teacher was arrested for having sex with a student in a closet at his home.
- An elementary school principal was arrested for possession of methamphetamines.
- A high school teacher shot and killed himself on campus.
I don’t think it’s being too sensitive to let this much tragedy get to you. Students often seem confused why I seem to enjoy dark humor so much. Can we say “defense mechanism,” boys and girls?
Merry Christmas, right?
The Clark County School District has a little discussed program called Minority-to-Majority which, according to one of the few references to it in school district documents, is “a transfer request for a student to attend a school where the student will bring both the sending and receiving schools’ minority average closer to the district-wide minority average (m-to-m transfer).”
Even the name of this program, let alone the primary definition of it, is profoundly racist.
This would seem to be a stark violation of the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision where any kind of racially based busing, even for the purpose of integration, was struck down as unconstitutional. In the memorable words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
The program was started in 1999, long before the Supreme Curt decision, but how is it still in practice? Has nobody challenged it? Is it secretive enough that not enough people are aware of it?
Defenders might assert that Minority-to-Majority has good intentions–that integration fosters diversity and gives transfer students more opportunities, etc., etc. However, my practical experience shows that this does not work.
I live in the zone for one of the “minority” schools in this program, and I work at the “majority” school where many of those students go. In fact, most of the teenagers in my neighborhood seem to go to the school where I work. These transfer students, by and large, hardly seem to benefit from the environmental change, producing disproportionate failure rates and disciplinary infractions, as far as I can objectively tell.
Whether or not the program is successful, though, the fact remains that it is undeniably illegal and racist. Such bald facts should give even the most sympathetic social engineer pause.
So I got a phone call from mutli-millionaire media mogul Jim Rogers yesterday. He wanted to talk about the upcoming superintendent vacancy in our school district.
I’ve been trying to get good ideas out there about the future of education around here, but not with much success. I spoke at the school board meeting a few weeks ago, as I mentioned here (and video is now available at our school district web site; my segment is only two minutes near the very end of a very long meeting—I’m the fellow in the gray jacket, glasses, and Shakespeare tie).
I’ve also put comments on a couple of newspaper articles online about the imminent search for a new super, and while those have generated some traffic for my blog, hardly anybody has actually shown public support by joining my Facebook group. I can only surmise that even fewer have contacted the school board directly or will do so. Too many of us, it seems, are comfortable enough with rampant failure that supporting a reformer is unattractive.
After another article about it in the paper this morning, though, someone left a comment promoting me for the job. That was nice to see—I didn’t leave the comment.
After I spoke at the school board meeting two weeks ago, another man spoke, offering a petition with over 3000 names asking that Jim Rogers become the next super. I read in the newspaper that weekend that Rogers, who had recently finished a controversial but productive period as chancellor of the state’s board of higher education, would consider doing it, and for free.
I don’t know anything about Rogers’s politics or ideas for the superintendent job, but I do know that he speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of being unpopular or offending people. He would do what he thinks is needed to fix things, not just maintain a broken status quo to further his own interests. I respect that.
So I sent him a letter saying so, and included my list of ideas for the school district to consider. I couldn’t find any contact information online, but I knew his biggest claim to fame is that he owns the local NBC affiliate and keeps a regular office there, so that’s where I sent my letter.
He called my house yesterday morning and asked for me. My wife answered the phone and said I wasn’t there. Rogers introduced himself and asked her to thank me for my letter. He said that he received it and that he “would see what I can do.” That was it, but the fact that such a powerful person would call me just to acknowledge a letter was still pretty impressive. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the first time a famous millionaire has ever called me. It’ll be interesting to see what happens from here.
This what I said to the Clark County School Board at last night’s public meeting:
My name is Jamie Huston and I am here to ask you to let me serve as the next superintendent of our school district. I was raised here myself and have two children in school now, with a third starting next year. Like all of you, I have a great interest in the success of our school district.
But to solve our problems in student achievement and budgeting, we need to return to common sense.
As superintendent, I will vastly scale back the elephant in the room of this budget crisis, the rampant bureaucracy in our school district. I will champion teachers and administrators in more effectively handling discipline. I will end all the insidious ways that low expectations have crept into out policies and have hurt student achievement.
Some have told me that it’s tilting at windmills for a teacher to campaign for superintendent, but this is a chance to show our children that we have the courage and integrity to do what’s best. We can select a new leader based on merit, not any other criteria. If the American political ideal is a citizen legislator, then the educational ideal is a teacher-superintendent.
I have here for each of you a folder that better introduces me, including some of my ideas for fixing the budget and improving academic achievement [the folder included my resumé and my list of 21 ideas], and to show how serious I am about fixing the budget and serving our community, I’ll state publicly that I will perform my duties as superintendent for the same salary that I make as a teacher. Thank you.
It’s hard to say exactly how the speech was received. Continue reading
Last week, the Clark County School District superintendent announced that he’ll be leaving over the summer. As the school board starts searching for a replacement, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. Below is a list of ideas that I like. I plan to be at their meeting on Thursday, April 8, at 4 PM, to discuss my interest with them. I’d appreciate anybody’s support!
These are only ideas, not laws set in stone. These tentative suggestions are meant to illustrate my priorities and values as an educational leader. Ideas would be discussed with the public and school district legal counsel, and may need to be enacted more or less strictly in practice.
All decisions about finances and policies should be made with this motto in mind: “Academic achievement above all.”
Frequently and regularly conference with every principal in the district about their needs, ideas, and concerns. Be open and available to all faculty, parents, and the community. Have an open door policy, and engage the community in person and through media more often. Public schools are community schools, and everyone’s input will be valued.
Reduce non-teaching personnel throughout the school district: eliminate “regions” and regional superintendents, “teachers on special assignment,” and non-academic departments such as “Equity and Diversity Education.” These and many other examples of bureaucratic pork do nothing to improve students’ education.
Reduce and/or eliminate programs that encourage ongoing student failure, in terms of lowered expectations or unreasonable credit retrieval: social promotion, 50% minimum grades, certificates of attendance, and block scheduling, which will also save the school district millions of dollars.
Reduce number and frequency of physical mailings from school district to homes; vast and expensive waste will be ended here.
Aggressively find and eliminate waste and abuse in the free and reduced lunch program.
Consider ending year round schedules in elementary schools, as another cost-saving measure.
Expand an emphasis on basic literacy and arithmetic in elementary grades. Consider re-instituting tracking of students based on achievement, to better modify instruction for individual student needs.
Under no circumstances will funding for arts and sports programs be cut.
Another cost-saving measure: all school district materials will be printed in English only.
Require every campus to survey their community about dress codes and standard school attire.
Strictly enforce discipline and attendance regulations; end the “revolving door” of discipline and endless truancy allowances.
Empower teachers to conduct more effective disciplinary action against disruptive students, such as immediately placing them in an in-house suspension or placing them on RPC.
Make it easier for campus administrators to discipline or fire grossly incompetent teachers; likewise, advocate for reform of current licensing standards and alternative licensing to attract experienced professionals to teaching.
End all emphasis and pressure on teachers to utilize “learning styles,” multicultural education, cooperative education, and any other educational trend that is not supported by research as being consistently beneficial to learning.
End any doctoring of disciplinary and other statistical numbers to the school district and public; stop pressuring and punishing administrators and teachers for “excessively” high discipline rates. Secrecy is out; transparency is in.
Assertively involve parents in the education of nonproficient students: at all grade levels, after each grading period, nonproficient students will be required to attend conferences with their teachers and parents to determine the causes of student failure and to make definite resolutions to fix them. There will be no “grading of parents,” but as appropriate, these meetings may lead to voluntary parenting classes or seminars, such as many campuses already sponsor.
Require schools to counsel habitually truant and disruptive secondary school students to enroll in alternative placements such as virtual high school, distance learning, adult education, etc. This will reduce discipline problems on campuses and will redirect school resources to those who want to learn.
Actively encourage community organizations and businesses to reward successful students, especially through promotions, discounts, and in offering good students employment; CCSD will officially recognize and endorse such organizations and businesses to encourage the community to patronize them.
Sell unnecessary facilities and materials. Does the superintendent’s office have a big leather chair and a huge oak desk? If so, they’ll both be on Craigslist by the end of my first day.
I will perform my duties as superintendent for the same salary I make as a teacher, with no added perks or bonuses. This alone will save the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Anyone who thinks I lack sufficient financial background for this position should know that I am raising a family with five children only on my teacher’s salary (my wife is a stay-at-home mom). If I can make that work, I can make the school district’s budget work!
Last week at work our electronic bulletin board received a posting announcing an upcoming seminar. It would be a class featuring an education professor, titled, “The World of Expectations: How It Relates To School And Work.” Whatever that means.
But the jarring thing here was that it was sponsored by the school district’s “Equity and Diversity Education Department,” a section that I never knew existed. The flier included a sidebar that even listed the names and titles of the department’s staff: twelve people, including two whose given title was “Student Success Advocate.”
Huh. I thought that was supposed to be me and, especially, their parents. What have any of these guys ever done that’s made a difference in any classroom? Certainly nothing for mine. Then again, considering the leftist, non-academic mandate implied in their department title, that’s probably just as well.
If we’re supposed to be tightening our belts because of tough budget cuts, I have an idea for where we can trim some fat…
There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class. Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant.
For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today. The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long. I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book. Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.
Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book. A few others probably had a book but left it at home. However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list. They didn’t even care enough to try to do it. Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them. That was it.
And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it.
Is this a remedial class? Far from it. Continue reading
A disturbing email went out to my school’s electronic bulletin board today. Presumably it went out to every school in the district. The message included two attachments giving details about an alternative sexuality conference on the UNLV campus on November 14 which will feature a series of workshops. Are these workshops meant to help educators with their personal lives? No, nothing like that. Is it to assist them in avoiding the creation of a classroom environment where teasing and bullying of homosexual students might occur? Partly.
But the most unnerving thing about this conference is the inclusion of sessions meant to instruct teachers in training students “to get involved with the LGTBQ community in order to effect positive change. We will look at already established youth LGBTQ community groups, recent movements and types of youth activism.” Is this serious? Is UNLV actually promoting, and CCSD tacitly allowing, public teachers preparing to indoctrinate young people in alternative sexual lifestyles, to the point where these children will be encouraged to go out into the community and advocate for them?
This is beyond political. Continue reading