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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Which One Will Your Community Choose?

School budgets suggest that poorer districts may be losing ground faster than richer ones.
The state needs to make sure it helps most where the need is greatest.
School district budget votes are more than a month away, but we're already getting an inkling of winners and losers. Or perhaps the right phrase might be the haves and have nots.
The budgets proposed in recent weeks suggest that many (if not most) districts are grappling with hard decisions as they try to live within the state's new tax levy cap. Those decisions seem to get a whole lot harder as the districts get needier.
What you might see, in the end, is fresh affirmation of a long-standing reality of public education in New York, and probably most of America — that all public schools are not created equal. If early trends hold, we may find that the super majorities of voters needed to overcome tax caps are less likely in urban and poor rural districts than in more affluent suburbs — widening the education gap even more.
Consider this tale of two districts in Albany County.
In the Albany City School District, the board of education proposes a $207.7 million budget with a tax levy increase of 1.5 percent — less than the 2 percent allowed under the cap. Taxpayers are likely to be pleased.
But to achieve that conservative figure, the school system will lose nearly 40 more jobs, on top of the 250 it has cut over the last three years. The newly targeted jobs include two assistant superintendents, an after-school coordinator, an assistant elementary principal, two social workers, five teachers and 12 special education support staff.
The Bethlehem Central School District is making choices, too. Its $88.2 million budget would eliminate 58 jobs, including 22 teachers, 34 support staff and the equivalent of two administrative posts. To save money, it plans to implement such measures as creating centralized pick-up bus stops for students, eliminating the gymnastics program, reducing clubs, and trimming equipment purchases and BOCES services.
The suburban district is counting on not having to cut so deeply that it would have to eliminate athletics, Chinese language instruction and a special ed teacher. Why? It's betting that Bethlehem voters will go along with a 3.99 percent tax levy increase. That hike would exceed the tax levy cap and require approval of 60 percent of voters. Albany's increase of less than half that is what the school board apparently figures a simple majority of city voters will support.
If this assumption is borne out in budget votes here and elsewhere, the disparities between rich districts and poor ones are likely to grow — that is, unless the state does more to help less affluent districts, particularly.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, lawmakers, the Regents and the State Education Department all need to watch this year's budgets, not just to see if they pass, not just to see how many live within the cap and how many don't, but to learn if these budgets fulfill the state's mandate to provide a sound, basic education for all the children of this state.
That's the real measure. Because we all lose if holding down taxes means holding back our children.

Read more:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching is not Easy

Every once in a while I come across a piece so meaningful and relevant that it's worth sharing it entirely with those who follow this Blog. I appreciate and respect the thrust of the article reproduced below.

The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do

By , September 13, 2010 6:30 am
This piece was inspired by a heated discussion I had with a man who believes that teachers have an easy job. Please feel free to share it with others if you agree with the message.
I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail.
Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”
And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills….
Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class.
Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?”
And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….
I realize now how little respect teachers get. Teaching is the toughest job everyone who’s never done it thinks they can do. I admit, I was guilty of these delusions myself. When I decided to make the switch from “doing” science to “teaching” science, I found out that I had to go back to school to get a teaching credential.
“What the ...!?,” I screamed to any friends willing to put up with my griping. “I have a Ph.D.! Why do I need to go back to get a lousy teaching credential?!?”
I was baffled. How could I, with my advanced degree in biology, not be qualified to teach biology?!
Well, those school administrators were a stubborn bunch. I simply couldn’t get a job without a credential. And so, I begrudgingly enrolled in a secondary teaching credential program.
And boy, were my eyes opened. I understand now.
Teaching isn’t just “making it fun” for the kids. Teaching isn’t just academic content.

Teaching is understanding how the human brain processes information and preparing lessons with this understanding in mind.
Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work.
Teaching is understanding both the psychology and the physiology behind the changes the adolescent mind goes through.
Teaching is convincing a defiant teenager that the work he sees no value in does serve a greater purpose in preparing him for the rest of his life.
Teaching is offering a sympathetic ear while maintaining a stern voice.
Teaching is being both a role model and a mentor to someone who may have neither at home, and may not be looking for either.

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not intuitive. Teaching is not something that anyone can figure out on their own. Education researchers spend lifetimes developing effective new teaching methods. Teaching takes hard work and constant training. I understand now.

Have you ever watched professional athletes and gawked at how easy they make it look? Kobe Bryant weaves through five opposing players, sinking the ball into the basket without even glancing in its direction. Brett Favre spirals a football 100 feet through the air, landing it in the arms of a teammate running at full speed. Does anyone have any delusions that they can do what Kobe and Brett do?

Yet, people have delusions that anyone can do what the typical teacher does on a typical day.
Maybe the problem is tangibility. Shooting a basketball isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at shooting a basketball. Throwing a football isn’t easy, but it’s easy to measure how good someone is at throwing a football. Similarly, diagnosing illnesses isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Winning court cases isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure. Creating and designing technology isn’t easy to do, but it’s easy to measure.

Inspiring kids? Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.
So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.

And, yes, we make it fun, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Make the Best of Everything

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything."

The quote that opens this evening's Blog entry will likely serve as a collective mantra among school districts that have reluctantly come to grips with the fact their budgets fall far short of what is needed to sustain progress toward sustaining the hopes and nurturing the dreams of learners. We are not even close to an ideal position. We must persevere and maintain our direction in the best interests of those we serve.
I don't know who to credit for the introductory quote. Nor do I know who is responsible for the statement suggesting that you "play the hand you're dealt," but I'll be reminded of both of these references as I proceed with budget development and subsequently implement the outcomes of budget votes.

I don't think any school district will be immune from the impact of budget shortfalls for the upcoming year. Despite claims otherwise by those doubting the credibility of school officials and suspecting schools guilty of financial largesse, the resources available after sustained budget cuts fall short of meeting the needs of learners who are expected to successfully enter the 21st century workforce and contribute to the betterment of our nation. Given the discrepancy between resources and needs, school leaders are invariably engaged in the demanding task of prioritizing among competing and often conflicting interests and issues.

The unfortunate task of deciding which practices, programs and personnel will be effected by budget reductions is vexing and difficult. The mix of finances, politics and instruction is, like they say, "like watching sausage or laws getting made." It's never easy, nor is it without pain. The challenge mirrors the medical procedure referred to as triage.

According to information found on Wikipedia -

"Triage is the process of determining the priority of patients' treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning to separate, sift or select. At its most primitive, those responsible for the removal of the wounded from a battlefield or their care afterwards have divided victims into three categories:

· Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;

· Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;

· Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I recently came across a rather profound article written by Bronnie Ware, a woman who spent a lot of time caring for dying people. The piece is entitled, Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. I realize it's a bit morbid in content, but the intent is powerful. Ware captures the reflections and regrets of people as they contemplate their lives while approaching the threshold of death. Let's examine her article as an opportunity to assess our lives well in enough time to avoid similar regrets when we reach that same point in life.

I have boldfaced her advice at the end of her article for emphasis.

This post was originally published on Inspiration and Chai.
Bronnie Ware is a writer and songwriter from Australia who spent several years caring for dying people in their homes. She has recently released a full-length book titled 'The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing'. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last 3 to 12 weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The "Drive" to Succeed

It's long been assumed by many that reward and punishment are central factors in the dynamic that provokes desired responses and levels of achievement.After all, isn't that why most of the fifty states have adopted policies and strategies designed to prompt improved learning through frequent high stakes tests and heightened measures of accountability? It's easy - identify those under-performing schools, get rid of inadequate teachers based on assessment results of learners, close chronically low performing schools,...
However, Daniel Pink's most recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, presents a compelling narrative and carefully researched studies that refute the commonly held view that people basically are motivated by the carrot and stick method reflected in proposals championed by educational "reformers" like Michelle Rhee, the former head of the Washington D.C. public schools. Teachers were fired or pressured to leave that district as Rhee swept through the system and attracted a great deal of attention for "cleaning up" the schools. Interestingly, not long after her departure, rampant cheating was discovered to have occurred during her tenure at the helm of the school district. The pressure to achieve may have produced some perceptible growth but it more likely contributed to unethical practices of teachers who feared for their jobs and altered tests or "helped" children during testing, thus inflating test scores that gave an appearance of improvement. There was enough "improvement" to propel Rhee to the cover of Time magazine and far more than 15 minutes of fame.

RSA animation has provided an understandable, graphic interpretation of Pink's work in the following video. It's well worth watching.

After you've watched the video, ask yourself how the findings of Pink's work compare with the regulations unfolding in many state capitals across the country regarding educational reform efforts. Where are we heading? What do you predict in terms of results? Why are we doing what we're doing? Who decides these plans and why are we allowing them to do so?