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What makes Education Toxic?

A comment left for a postNC Teacher: “I quit”—on Diane Ravitche’s blog made a good point, and I posted a reply:

I think you have made a great point or at least inadvertently focused a spotlight on an important issue and why it is there.  Turnover in a school or school district may be a red flag—a strong warning sign— that the school board/administration/students are not the easiest to work with or work for [another word would be dysfunctional ].

This could be extended to an entire state since each state has its own department of education that decides policy in that state as directed by the elected politicians from the governor of a state on down. Due to a need to gain votes, religious and/or political agendas tend to rule in such organizations and the winds may shift at any time.

For example, I friend sent me this about the current situation in the high school in Southern California where he now teaches.

I was a public school teacher from 1975 – 2005 and we worked together before dysfunctional administration at our high school and in our school district drove him to quit and find a job in another district that at the time was a better place to work.

But beware of the grass is greener over there syndrome because a drought will kill the green grass leaving behind sweltering heat and dust.

During my thirty years in the classroom, I worked under nine-different principals. Some were great, some good and some horrible.

The horrible ones drove teachers, counselors and VPs out of the schools where they ruled Nazi style and turnover could reach as high as fifty percent in a few years.

Good principals, who are usually a sign of good administration and a sensible school board, tend to hold on to staff.

I mean, how many people quit jobs—any job—with a boss that knows what he or she is doing; a boss that supports his workers in the best possible ways to make the work environment a place where we want to spend twenty to forty years of our lives?

My friend said of this school year (2012 – 2013):

“112 scheduling changes in the first three weeks (the classes he teaches)

“75% of the administrative team is new; a lot of chaos

“50% of the counselors are new; a lot of chaos

“We lost our department chairs, so there is no communication between the teachers and administration

[This high school, he says] “once had a top-notch academic program; however, we are falling apart at the seams; our test scores have flat-lined and they will continue to flat-line because there are just too many new faces at our school; two of our Vice Principals have never been a VP before; they’re nice people, but we have to wade through their learning curve.”

For another example: at the high school where I taught for the last sixteen of the thirty years I was in the classroom as a teacher, we had one new teacher quit at lunch on his first day on the job with two more classes to teach after lunch. During the lunch break, he walked in the principal’s office, tossed his room keys on the desk and said, “If they won’t show some respect for me and attempt to learn, then I refuse to teach them.”

I know from experience, that district did not do a good job creating a positive, supportive educational environment for its teachers because I worked in that district for thirty years. Instead, it was more of a combative environment that did not offer the support teachers wanted or needed to teach.

It is a fact that teachers teach and students learn. However, that is not always the case. Instead, teachers in a toxic educational environment often struggle to teach while too many students make no effort to learn.

Elected School Boards and the administrators they hire should support an environment where teachers may teach and students will learn, and we can learn from two of the best public educations system in the world: Finland and Singapore.

In Finland, the teachers have a strong union and the teachers make the decisions in a supportive educational environment and it works. Parents start teaching children how to read at age three but the first year of school is at age seven.

In Singapore, merit rules. Students must compete academically to earn where they are tracked and the system is heavily tracked based on performance. There is no self-esteem driven educational environment; there is corporal punishment and students may be publicly beat with a bamboo cane if caught breaking strict-rules built to support a merit based education system.

Why can’t we in the United States learn from Finland and Singapore?

Discover What is the Matter with [American] Parents these Days?

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga.

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Not Broken! – Part 5/5

You may want to skip this page if you prefer opinions without facts used as support (this is known as hot air or natural gas).  I tend to support my opinions, some say, with too many facts (what I consider to be six cups of coffee).

There are more comparisons we should look at, and the first is comparing literacy in America with its northern and southern neighbors in addition to the top-ten countries with the highest reported high-school graduation rates.

In fact, there is another measurement that may be more meaningful than a country’s reported high school graduation rate. That measurement is functional illiteracy.

The United States and many other countries claim high literacy rates because the definition of literacy says, “The adult literacy rate is the percentage of people age 15 and above who can, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life.”

However, functional illiteracy means that reading and writing skills are inadequate “to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.”

Functional illiteracy is contrasted with illiteracy in the strict sense, meaning the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language.

For example, my older brother, (died age 64 in 1999) graduated from high school in the United States in 1953 and was considered literate due to the definition of literacy, because he could write and read at a second grade level.  However, he was functionally illiterate and never read a newspaper, magazine or book in his life. In fact, he could not fill out an employment application.

Now, let’s cast serious doubt on comparing high school graduation rates in America with other countries.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report, the United Kingdom, that reported the highest secondary (high school) graduation rate in the world, has 21.8% of its adult population age 16 – 65 considered functionally illiterate.

Switzerland, in second place for high school graduation rates has a functional illiteracy rate among adults of 15.9%.

Norway, in third place, has a 7.9% functional illiteracy rate among adults.

I could find no information on functional illiteracy in South Korea, fourth place, and Japan, fifth place.

Italy, in sixth place for high school graduation rates, has a functional illiteracy rate of 46% among adults

Seventh place Ireland has a 22.6% functional illiteracy rate.

Eighth place Germany has a functional illiteracy rate is 14.4%

Ninth place Finland’s functional illiteracy rate is 10.4%

Tenth place Denmark’s functional illiteracy rate is 9.6%

America’s functional illiteracy rate was reported as 20% among adults.

However, for a better comparison with a similar culture that has similar values and similar problems, I looked north to Canada and discovered that among adults aged 16 to 65, about 42 per cent scored below Level 3 in prose literacy, which is considered the threshold needed for coping in society. Source: Vivele Canada

In addition, the CBC reported on Canada’s shame, saying that nearly 15 percent of Canadians can’t understand the writing on simple medicine labels such as on an Aspirin bottle and an additional 27% can’t figure out simple information like the warnings on a hazardous materials sheet.

For further proof that comparing high-school graduation rates between countries as a way to judge America’s public education system was and is wrong, in 2009, Canada’s high school graduation rate was reported as 78% but the country has a functionally illiterate adult population ages 16 – 65 of forty-two percent (more than twice that of the United States). Even comparing literacy rates is not a fair comparison between countries, for example, because in Finland most parents teach his or her child/children to read before they start school at age seven showing us that culture has a lot to do with literacy too.

However, in America studies show that 80% of parents never attend a parent-teacher conference.

What about Mexico—just south of the US.  According to Mexico’s 2010 census 93.7% of Mexican males aged 15 and older were literate compared to only 91.1% of females, but what about functional illiteracy?  Mexico comes close to Canada with 43.2% of its adult population aged 16 – 65 functionally illiterate as my brother was.

Compared to America’s closest neighbors, the public-education system in the US is doing a fantastic job. Is there room for improvement? Of course, but the overall evidence shows that America’s public schools do not deserve to be condemned as broken. Instead, the facts say that most of America’s public school teachers are doing the job they were hired to do while it is politicians that are telling them what to teach.

Another factor to consider is High School graduation rates by race/ethnicity in the United States

For the 2007-08 school year, 91.4% of Asian/Pacific Islanders graduated from high school (156,687); 81% of Whites (1,853,476); 64.2% of American Indian/Alaska Native (31.707); 63.5% of Hispanic (443,238), and 61.5% of Blacks (415,111). Source: U.S. Department of Education

Most schools have all five races/ethnicities represented in the same classrooms (the schools I taught in for thirty years did) with the same teachers. However, when the numbers are averaged, critics of public education blame the teachers.

When averaged, the graduation rate in 2008 was 74.9%, which makes the public schools seem to be earning a C while they are earning an A- for the Asian/Pacific Islanders and a B- for Whites.

Really? How can the same teacher be so successful with Asian/Pacific Islanders and Whites and not with the other ethnic groups?

This is the advise I told our daughter when she was in grade school: “The only excuse to fail and not learn in school is when students do not pay attention, ask questions, read, do homework, class work, etc.  There is no excuse. Even if the teacher is incompetent, a motivated student will still learn.” And she did.

In addition, the graduation rates increase when the GED is included with traditional high-school degrees. In 2009, the completion rates of 18-through 24-year-olds was: 88.3% white, 87.1% black, and 76.8% Hispanic. Source: U.S. Department of Education

If an Asian or White student is successful with a teacher, why can’t the Hispanic or Black student have the same success with the same teacher?  After all, the teacher is responsible to teach and the student is responsible to learn (or has this been forgotten).  If the teacher wasn’t doing his or her job, then the Asians and Whites should have graduation rates similar to Hispanics and Blacks.

Return to Not Broken! – Part 4 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

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Yes, Finland is a great example of how to educate children and there is a wide gap between Finland and America’s cultures.

However, in the US, every public school teacher should walk out and demand respect and the truth about the achievements in Education in this country before returning to the classroom.
Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler’s inner circle in the Nazi Party, once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will come to believe it.”

You see, it all depends on how the facts are presented. The critics of public education have a loud voice and use language that shows the glass half empty instead of about 90% full, which is more accurate. Once all the facts about high-school graduation rates, the perception changes dramatically.
To achieve this, one must start more than a century back and chart the progress

.
I’ll start with 1900 when the total number of high school graduates in the US numbered 16,000 of 815,000 seventeen-year olds.
In 1920, 311,000 graduated from high school or 16.8% of the total which was 1,855,000
In 1940, 1,221,000 or 50,8% of 2,403,000 graduated.
In 1960, 1,858,000 or 69.5% of 2,672,00 graduated.
In 1980, 3,043,000 or 71.4% of 4,262,00 graduated.
Source: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf
After 1970, high school graduation rates level off and fluctuated but stayed pretty close.
in 2009, 75.5% of high school students that started as freshman graduated.
In addition, In 2009, some 89.8 percent of 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school had received a high school diploma or alternative credential.
How does this compare with other countries?
In 2008, the U.S. high school graduation rate was lower than the rates of ten countries: The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Finland and Denmark.
Source: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/03/how-u-s-graduation-rates-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-world/
However, there are 193 countries represented in the UN, putting the United States High School graduation rate in the top 5.69% of all the nations that are members of the UN. That means 94.31% of the Earth’s countries have lower high school graduation rates.
When do we see these types of comparison from the American media or critics of public education in the US? Never

The next question is, “What is the political and economic agenda of these critics and a media that seems controlled by the critics?”

 

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Flawed Claims about “Different Kinds of Liberals”

Eric Schansberg lives in Indiana and wrote a post for his “personal” blog about different kinds of liberals.  There is one quote of Schansberg’s that I challenge.

Schansberg claimed that, “In education, teacher unions want to preserve the monopoly power of the government schools. Restricting competition is a common way to make one group better off at the expense of others,” is misleading.

Teacher unions and public school teachers do not run the school districts in the United States. Teachers are employees and they do as they are told. I should know. I worked in one public school district for thirty years.

Who runs the public schools in America?

Democratically elected school boards do that job.  In addition, policy for public schools is decided at the state level, which means the legislature of each state sets the standards and expectations for the school districts in each state.

There are over 14,000 public school districts in the U.S., and discerning parents may choose where to live, which means 14,000 choices and in some school districts, one school may be better than another.


Crazy Conservatives at the “Take Back America Conference”

Parents that do their homework before buying a home or renting may easily find one school or school district that is better than others and that is a form of choice, which is what my wife and I did.  All the information one needs to make such a decision may be easily found through Google.

We bought the home we live in now in a public school district that was highly rated.  Our daughter attended middle and high school in this Northern California public school district, where she earned straight A’s for six years and then was accepted to UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Davis and Stanford, where she is starting her second year.

When I asked her how many “bad” teachers she had while attending public schools in California K-12, she said only one name came to mind and she must have had at last fifty teachers during those 13 years.

Finland and Singapore, with two of the best school systems in the world, have government run schools.

In fact, in Finland, the best school system in Europe, 97% of students attend public government run schools and the teachers belong to strong teacher unions but teachers decide how to run their schools and parents offer strong support, which is often missing in the US.

Then Schansberg claims teacher unions restrict competition.  Wrong again.

There are 33,366 private schools in the United States, serving 5.5 million PK-12 students. Private schools account for over 25 percent of the nation’s schools and enroll about 10 percent of all students, which is a higher ratio than Finland or Singapore where only 3% of the students attend private schools.

Then there are homeschooled students, which add up to about 1.5 to 1.7 million students.

Parents, if they make an effort, have many choices where their children go to school. The real reason for the school choice movement in America has nothing to do with better schools. This movement is politically/religiously motivated. There is no other reason.

If these conservatives really wanted better schools, they would be studying the countries that already have them instead of reinventing a wheel that would turn out square.

Saying the public schools in the United States are a  monopoly would be the same as claiming the U.S. Post Office is a monopoly without mentioning FedEx, DHL, UPS and e-mail.

There may be two large teacher unions (NEA and AFT) but these unions are broken into 14,000 different branches and each branch negotiates separately with the democratically elected school boards of each of those 14,000 school districts for wages and benefits and the teacher unions do not dictate policy or curriculum—the democratically elected officials at the school district, state and federal level  do that after much debate and lobbying.

In the thirty years I taught, the union branch I paid my dues to, which was a member of CTA/NEA, never told us how or what to teach and never offered workshops in those areas.

Do you really want your children to attend schools run by the CEO of an International corporation such as Wal-Mart, which only answers to its investors?

Discover how to Avoid the Mainstream Parent Trap

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “Crazy Normal”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.

 

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The Finland-Singapore Solution to Public Education in the U.S. – Part 2/3

From Smithsonian Magazine’s A+ for Finland, we learned Finland’s teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around.

However, in America, few trust or want to hear advice from school teachers. Instead, each state has a curriculum for teachers to follow and standardized tests to make sure teachers are doing as they are told.

The unspoken message to most of America’s teachers is to say nothing, do what we say and if you do not like it, quit. In addition, if you stay and do not succeed, it is your fault.

Well, half do quit in the first five years of teaching and few come back.

Rote learning, which is still practiced successfully—regardless of what American critics say—in other countries such as China or Singapore, was rejected in the U.S. because it was decided during the rise of the self-esteem parenting movement that rote learning was tedious and no fun, which explains why this method of teaching was tarred, feathered, tortured and burned at the stake in the U.S.

However, there are elements of education that require boring and tedious rote learning such as memorizing the names of the states and their capitals,  the names of America’s presidents, rules of grammar, the multiplication tables, which I had to memorize when I was young, and how to spell, etc.

Then in the early 1980s, the Whole Language Approach (WLA) arrived in America. At the school where I taught, I was one of many English teachers that protested this method would not work.

We were ignored and forced to do as we were told or else.

Without an ounce of trust for the judgment of those English teachers, which included me, we were forced to throw out the grammar books, which were tedious and boring to learn from.

Whole Language versus Phonics says of the Whole Language approach to teaching, “experimenting with new concepts upon an entire nation of children without any verifiable proof of a concept’s effectiveness has proven a grave mistake for millions of children in several generations. Illiteracy has been growing for at least four decades, and yet Whole Language continues to be used.”

Continued on August 30, 2011 in The Finland-Singapore Solution to Public Education in the U.S. – Part 3 or return to Part 1

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

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The Finland-Singapore Solution to Public Education in the U.S. – Part 1/3

After years of U.S. teachers and their unions being blamed for the failure of some students to learn, it is time to face reality.

American teachers did not fail the system. The system failed the teachers, and the proof may be found in Finland and Singapore where teachers are trusted and  supported.

Smithsonian Magazine’s September 2011 issue reported an A+ for Finland where “kids aren’t required to go to school until they’re 7, standardized tests are rare and yet the Nordic nation’s success in education is off the charts.”

Yet, more than 97% of Finland’s children attend public schools and the teachers belong to a strong union. If you read the piece in Smithsonian (link provided above), the elements of that success, which are missing in the US, are spelled out in detail.

There is a reason that the U.S. public education system appears to be failing (at least according to its very vocal idealistic and fanatical critics).

For decades, the public schools in the US have been run by local, state and federal politics, which resulted in decisions made by mostly ignorant elected officials that turned the schools into laboratories for one ideological fad/theory or political agenda after another.

As an example, devout Christians demand that creationism be taught instead of evolution, while scientists argue that creationism is wrong. School prayer is also a hot button issue between atheists and religions as is sex education.

LynNell Hancock of Smithsonian Magazine says, “Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around.”

The key phrase in the last sentence is “its (Finland) teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes”, which is missing in America.

Continued August 29, 2011 in The Finland-Singapore Solution to Public Education in the U.S. – Part 2

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

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Civil Disobedience and No Child Left Behind – Part 3/9

As far as public education is concerned in the US, both political extremes believe (or manufacture belief) that public education is a failure and the reason for poverty and crime in America is that teachers supported by their unions are not educating every child equally.

On the left, we have idealists that have been struggling to rid America of poverty. After President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty failed, the focus shifted to public education to find a reason.

However, the political right may say one thing by denouncing teachers and their unions, but is pursuing another agenda, which is discrediting then dismantling public education in favor of a private system. See Vouchers: Who’s Behind It All?

For example, a few years ago, I read a quote from a republican running for the U.S. Senate that blamed public education for all criminals that went to prison, and Americans have been hearing similar messages for years to the point where those that swallowed the lies will not accept any fact that explains why this is not true.

In addition, for the political left to admit that there are challenges in this country that no one can overcome would mean admitting that they cannot engineer society to fit the ideal paradise they imagine where all children of all races prosper, have a very high sense of manufactured self-esteem and have fun every day.

This is why both sides refuse to recognize the insurmountable problems that are cultural and socio-economic in nature, which teachers (and their unions) cannot fix just because the No Child Left Behind Act says they have to or else.

The reason I am pointing out the differences between the public education systems in the United States, Finland, China and Singapore is to make a point.

If you did not watch the video in Part 2, here is a summary of Finland’s public education system.  Finland does not have the problems America has with illegal immigrants, and its population is more than 95% Caucasian with similar cultural beliefs, which includes a strong support for education that starts in the home with a parent or parents teaching their children before starting school at age 7 for shorter school days than most countries.

Critics of the teacher unions in the US will not tell you that one of the best education systems in the world (Finland) succeeds with 95% of the teachers belonging to unions and 97% of the students attending public schools in a country with one of the largest welfare systems in the world. The obvious difference is Finish parents value education and support it by starting years before their children enter the public schools.

On August 3, 2011, we will discover public education in China and why it works in Civil Disobedience and No Child Left Behind – Part 4 or return to Part 2

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

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