There was a time, not all that long ago, when the world looked to the United States as the standard for education. Now, the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics. There are many problems is our system that account for this, and, surprisingly, few of them are related to teachers and teaching.
As in any profession, there are those who do not perform as well as others. We do need ways to remove those who won’t make it even with additional support. But as the strike in Chicago clearly demonstrates, teachers can’t feed and house their families on “You didn’t become a teacher to get rich.” They might, and actually do I many cases, put up with awful working conditions. They need health care whose cost doesn’t eat into an already less than professional salary. However, for the most part, our teachers are professionals who love children and work very hard to see them get a good education. They are also highly underpaid, given the amount of education required to enter and stay in the profession. Many states have laws that outlaw strikes by public employees. Many teachers have had it with the lack of appreciation demonstrated toward them.
Part of the problem that exists for teachers and others who have been through our educational system is that they are saddled with loans (34% of them have undergraduate loans and 37% also have graduate school loans), often guaranteed by a quasi government agency known as Sallie Mae. The terms of these loans as presented are misleading, and even law students are under the mistaken impression that they are not paying interest on these loans during the time that they are in school and shortly thereafter.
During the time that students are attending school, the interest on their loans is capitalized and becomes part of the principal. The result is that the loans end up being far greater than the students ever anticipated. A student who borrowed $50,000 during a 4 year term could actually owe $100,000 or more. And then as the new graduates enter the labor market, they are offered forbearances during which more interest is capitalized, making those debts grow even larger. We used to call this usury.
There is another Sallie Mae government program that allegedly helps. In effect, it allows the students to pay what the government determines is 15% of their disposable income for 25 years toward keeping the loan current. At the end of the 25 years, any balance left is forgiven. Of course, during the 25 years, the interest continues to capitalize, and as the debtor’s income rises, the amount of that 15% continues to rise. In the end, the graduates have paid far more than they ever borrowed.
Some college graduates who are in these loan programs cannot afford even the simplest amenities of life, rent, cars, going to an occasional movie. This discourages them from working hard at a profession in which they are undercompensated and underappreciated. This is the reason that many young people who intended to make education their careers choose to leave after a very few years. They need to earn more to pay the stifling debts that they have accumulated as a result of college loans.
There has been some talk about changing the rules for these loans, or possibly forgiving them in return for some sort of government service. However, the current political and economic climate has put these important decisions on the back burner. They need to be brought front and center. This not only affects teachers, but also doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
Of course, I understand that many potentially good educators, doctors and lawyers could never have attended college without these loans, but the reality of compounded interest and payments stretching out for decades has turned what should be a good program into a nightmare. For some it has become so basic as to make them question whether they can afford to have a family.
We are burying our recent graduates in a lifetime of debt, and the problem must be addressed and fixed. This problem not only affects individuals, but it affects our economy. It eats up money that could be used for a down payment on a house, rent , furnishings, etc. . The CEO of Sallie Mae doesn’t have any problems. He made 5.4 million dollars in 2010 (the last year for which data is available), including salary and bonuses. Sallie Mae is a publicly traded corporation (NASDAQ symbol SLM). It makes money on interest payments by the students. But around 70% of its earnings come from fees banks and other private financial companies are charged for Sallie Mae servicing their loans. All loans are guaranteed by the federal government. If a student doesn’t pay the loan, the government will. If that happens, tax refunds are seized and an individual’s wages can be garnished. The individual can’t win and the investors can’t lose.
We can’t afford to burden the prospective teaching pool with outrageous debt, pay them less than their education and skill would earn in another professional field and expect to attract the best and the brightest . It’s time to step up and address this issue as was done with the housing crisis, now.
What do you think? Please leave a comment.
My husband drove me to work that day as usual. I was an Assistant Principal at an elementary school in The Bronx. We were not yet aware of the horror at P.S. 67. There was announcement, “Ms. Paris. Come to the Office Immediately.” As I ran down the stairs, staff in passing said the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. The day came to a halt as too many lives also came to a halt. We could not dismiss the children because there was likely nobody at home to care for them. They might be working or grocery shopping or. . . We had to keep them calm as the news continued to filter in about the tragedy that was occurring downtown in my city. There was misinformation circulating, including the belief that one of the children’s father had been killed in the attack. Staff was also affected. One of my teachers was in tears because one of her dearest friends worked in Tower 1.
We organized children by grade and then class in central areas as frantic parents started to arrive to pick their children up. My colleagues and I were able to make sure that all children were taken home by an authorized person in a fairly short time. My colleagues included aides and secretaries who checked student records to make sure that those records indicated that a person other than a parent was allowed to escort the child home and made numerous phone calls when an authorized person wasn’t available. The custodial staff made sure doors were secure and helped teachers calm nervous children. Only a few educators were on the front line, but school staff also did a remarkable job that horrible day.
Once all the children were gone, we all began to think how we would get home to our own children, husbands and wives. One of my colleagues, who also lived in Manhattan, had a car. We thought we could just get home, but it wasn’t going to be that easy. It took a long time, but we were finally able to get to one of the bridges which carry traffic to the borough we all call “The City.” But when we got there, we were told that no cars were being allowed on any of the Manhattan bound crossings. We abandoned the car in The Bronx and walked across the bridge, eventually finding a livery car to drop her in Harlem and me on the Upper West Side. We were unable to reach our husbands to let them know we were OK. When I finally got home, it was as if I had been away forever.
My husband was home that day waiting for the super to do some repairs in our apartment. The super had come up excitedly telling my husband to look out the living room window from which we had a view of the Twin Towers.
In the days that followed, we heard all of the stories being told on the news and by friends and acquaintances. We heard of the two sons of one of our friends who walked out of the Financial District
for several miles covered in toxic dust. We heard about a friend of my husband’s daughter who was killed in the Twin Towers. And we heard about an acquaintance of my husband’s boss who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and had gone to his office on his day off to pick up golf clubs. He too was killed.
3,000 lives were ended that day by a group of fanatics led by a lunatic. 3,000 people from all walks of life that were just doing what they did, going to work, seeing clients or visiting a New York landmark. More lives were damaged by heroic efforts to save people or by just breathing the toxic air. How could this have happened? Why did it happen?
People with far more information than me have been unable to answer. What I am able to answer is the question, “Where were you on September 11?” No year is necessary. And the answer is something I will not forget. Neither will any New Yorker who was here on that infamous day, or, for that matter, anyone else who was anywhere.
On September 5, my cousin, Korin, died of lung cancer at the age of 57. Far too early. Her father died at the same age of emphysema . They were both heavy smokers. She leaves two grown sons, both great guys, her mother, two sisters and two brothers.
My parents and my sister both smoked. They stopped when my uncle, my mother’s brother, died. Unfortunately, my father and sister started again many years later, and I think it contributed to ther deaths as well, my father at 67 and my sister at 60.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I often have issues with the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, but one of the things I support is his work to ban smoking in most public spaces,including restaurants, theaters and, most recently, city owned parks and beaches.
We ban narcotics without question because they are addictive and can often lead to death. Yet smoking which not only endangers the smoker, but harms anyone who is in the same space as the smoker is allowed.
Inhaling hot smoke is poisonous. It leads to lung diseases such as cancer and COPD. It causes heart and artery diseases and can often lead to kidney failure. There is nothing good about smoking. It is not cool.
Tobacco manufacturers load their products with nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Some believe it is nearly as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Yet, because the tobacco industry is politically strong, contributing huge donations to politicians of every persuasion, and because tobacco sales generate huge tax revenues, our legislatures do not do anything to take this poison off the market. The fact that the cost in lives and public health far exceed the combination of those tax revenues and donations seems to have little, if any, effect on these supposed legislative leaders. Some argue that if tobacco is banned, it will just become an underground product like hard drugs and marijuana. Perhaps that is true. However, if that happens, at least the smokers will have to indulge in their disgusting habit under cover and not blow their noxious fumes in the faces of others. At least it will protect me and others from having to breathe in their smoke when we are sitting in outdoor cafes or just simply taking a walk in the street.
In my generation, teens often took up smoking. We did not know of its dangers because the research was just starting. We probably should have figured it out by just seeing how most people who indulged had a smokers’ cough, something that shouldn’t have developed from doing something healthy. Tobacco companies back then often advertised their product as having beneficial effects, and they got away with their lies. Many of my generation thought it was cool to walk around with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths, thinking and acting like this made them cool. I didn’t.
Today, however, everyone knows that cigarettes kill. There is no reason that anyone should start smoking. There is no reason that this poison should be allowed to remain on the market. It kills. It killed my cousin and my uncle. It must be banned. It’s too late for my cousin, but it’s not too late for my kids, your kids and all of our grandchildren.
Clothing manufacturers and department stores are creating special sizes and sections for tots through pre-teens to accommodate tall and overweight kids. Putting pretty in front of plus is not going to make little ones or older children feel any better as they shop for fall and back to school wardrobes.
Why can’t they just put a size – a number – on them in the regular racks? Moms and dads know how to count. They know 14 is larger than 10. They’ll find it, and their child won’t be stigmatized by going to a separate section.
Sometimes, children need a larger size because they are tall, not because they are overweight. One sized does not fit all, no matter how hard manufacturers try to tell us it’s so. How about some extra material so hems can be let down?
Obesity in children is now a national problem, one that affects us all, if not personally, in greater health care costs.
The federal government sponsors many studies that seem absolutely ridiculous (Does cocaine use increase sexually risky behavior in Japanese rats?) I wouldn’t mind seeing one that compares the cost of cuts to school physical education programs to increased health care costs resulting from children being overweight. It’s a penny wise pound foolish situation. Instead of bringing her to the Pretty Plus section, maybe Honey Boo Boo’s mom could get her started on a fun exercise program. She’d be cute and healthy too.
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There is a lot of controversy brewing over the new movie “Won’t Back Down,” which stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The story the film tells is about a group of mothers that are so outraged about the low performance of their children’s school that they take it over. The main “bad guy” of the film is the teachers’ union. As a retired Assistant Principal in the New York City Public School System, I can assure you that the union is not the villain.
Yes, there are some bad teachers that need to be replaced, and, yes, the process to remove them is long and arduous. However, the reasons the process is so difficult because while there are teachers that need to be removed, there are also good teachers who are being targeted, either by a particular administrator or by a parent.
During my career, I sometimes had to deal with a teacher who, for want of a better phrase, should not have been teaching. It took a while, but once an arbitrator learned all of the facts, the bad teachers were usually removed. On the other hand, I was once brought before an arbitrator by a principal who wanted to replace me with a tall well built red head, even though my performance was always excellent. When the arbitrator heard my case, I was returned to my position, and I asked to be transferred to a different school. The principal based his case on a technicality of notification about surgery that I had. None of it was performance related. The arbitrator dismissed the case as did the superintendant. Of course, I then asked for a transfer. I was part of the team that had gotten the school off the state list of failing schools.
Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers’ union, addresses this issue in the Washington Post in her discussion of “Won’t Back Down.” She is very clear in making her readers understand that the film is pure fiction and has no basis in fact.
Ms. Weingarten, during her career as an educator and as a union leader, had always advocated as much for the students as she has for the teachers. And she states, “After viewing this film, I can tell you that if I had taught at that school, and if I were a member of that union, I would have joined the characters played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. I would have led the effort to mobilize parents and teachers to turn around that school myself.” The problem, you see, is not the teachers and not the union. There is no one word answer. The filmmaker’s oversimplification – even considering the need for drama and box office revenue – is a problem.
In New York, where non-union charter schools are attempting to replace many unionized public schools, most charters do not do any better than their public counterparts. The charters may have busted the union, but they have not solved the problems.
We are living in difficult times. Money is tight, and there is a contingent among our politicians that believes that the way to make things better is to cut taxes for the wealthy. To accomplish this goal, and the revenue declines that would accompany it, they have to cut services. No government agency is immune. Police officers and firefighters are losing their jobs. There are approximately three hundred thousand, fewer teachers now than there were 8 years ago.
Yes, there are some issues that unions must address, but while those issues are being addressed, the educational administrators must deal with the real problems. These include, over populated classrooms, poverty, ineffective standardized tests and more. Union busting will not solve these problems. Union busting makes good sound bites but hurts the children the union busters say they are fighting for.
In the end, it was unions that gave us health insurance, pensions and fair wages. Those people who are attacking all unions, not just the teachers’ s union, seek to end these protections and create a have and have not society, a society in which 90% of the people will be the have nots.
So, the truth is, not only can’t the teachers back down. We all can’t, indeed, we must not back down. Not for the unions. Not for the Tea Party. But for the ones who count most, the children.
Imagine. Imagine a 6 year old getting ready for first grade. Some of his clothes are in a plastic bag, some in his mom’s suitcase stuffed with all their belongings. Maybe his underpants are sharing room with pencils, broken crayons and cookie crumbs in his backpack. He is homeless and living in a shelter.
Gail Paris, an award winning educator and founder of Doodle Noodle, LLC, designed The School Doodle and The Clothes Doodle to help children live more organized lives and parents have less stress. Although her products will benefit all children and families, they are of critical importance to homeless children.
Retired as an Assistant Principal from the New York City School System, she chose to spend her career working in schools where children did not have the financial or educational benefits of kids in more affluent neighborhoods. She understands what children need.
The School Doodle consists of two panels designed to fit into any standard backpack or to be used independently as a “desk.” It is an organizer which features pockets designed to hold standard school supplies, such as rulers, pencils and other school needs. The Messenger part, with one pocket marked “To School” and the other “To Home,” has enough room to hold a notebook, library book or tablet. Notes from the teacher will get to parents and notes and permission slips from parents will get to school. The School Doodle is the perfect organizational product for elementary school age children. The retail price for the School Doodle set is $19.95.
The Clothes Doodle has pockets labeled for each day of the week and will hold an entire day’s clothing securely. . It consists of 2 organizers which can be hung by their handles on hangars or hooks. It relieves stress in the morning as kids get their own clothes, or mom easily gets them for younger kids
Unlike “shelf” organizers, it saves precious closet rod space, and, because of its closed pocket design, clothes won’t fall out. There is even a “Sleep Noodle” pocket containing a tote bag to keep a toothbrush and other necessities for a sleep over or short trip. The retail price for the Clothes Doodle is $29.95.
Unfortunately, for homeless children, every night is a “sleep over.” For them, The Clothes Doodle can be folded and placed in whatever space the shelter provides. The School Doodle has a place for everything they need, whether they are doing homework on a bed or on the floor.
The bright and cheerful colors are bound to bring a smile to their faces. The fact that they can manage their school stuff and their clothing will give them a sense of independence and responsibility. They are going to “own” their attractive well made organizers literally and figuratively.
We are starting The Doodle Noodle Shelter Kids’ Program to bring these unique products to children who need them most but whose parents can’t afford to buy them. You can purchase one or more School Doodles and Clothes Doodles on our website (www.doodlenoodlestuff.com) and indicate that you want them to be donated to deserving children in a family shelters in New York City by typing in SHELTER when you check out. We will tell the shelter that you gave them this gift, and a letter indicating that they have received it will be sent to you for tax purposes. You can click the link to “OUR STORE” at the bottom of this post to go right to the Doodle Noodle Shop, and don’t forget to click the Vote For Us link to help us get back into the top 10 at Top Mommy Blogs.
We know that all children can learn. Some need a little extra help because their families cannot provide the things they need to be like other kids to learn skills and have a sense of self worth. We are offering a 10% discount for each donation, plus we will include a new children’s book with each School Doodle and Clothes Doodle. Just type SHELTER in the discount section of your order, and we’ll take it from there.
What is the connection between the fact that we score 39th internationally in math achievement levels and Honey Boo Boo, a graduate of “Toddlers and Tiaras” now having her own family reality show. I propose that our focus on the lowest common denominator culturally is related to the fact that students don’t know what lowest common denominator means. The first decade of the 21st Century, in addition to electing the first African American President will be known for the dumbing down of America.
As an educator and mother of over 30 years, I believe that Honey Boo Boo’s mother and other mothers who sexualize toddlers are abusive. How much less responsible are those who watch them? Aggressive relationships may show the scars, but are those of passive aggressive personalities any less damaging?
We ate out with our friends on Saturday and were joined by their 22 year old daughter and her boy friend. We gave the waitress 2 charge cards and asked that she split the bill 1/3 and 2/3s. She took 2 steps away from us and then asked, “1/3 and ¾?” Help!
We are lazy physically and mentally. “Upgrade” was among my late sister’s favorite words. She was a master at getting a better room or on to the concierge floor of a hotel and did so politely, without any drama. We need to upgrade what we read, what we watch and what we say. And, no, I’m not an elitist. I grew up in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house in a town of 500 in Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. We were lower middle class. I attended NYU on a full tuition scholarship, and I still had to take out loans. But I am particular. Live in a trailer or a penthouse, but make it the best it can be.
So, why did “no problem” replace “you’re welcome?” And when did “Handyman coming up at 8:30” replace “Is it OK if the handyman comes up now?” America, it’s time to upgrade.