Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “teachers”

California Education: The Money Pit – Roger Ingalls

Once again Californians are being asked to fork over more money for education. Governor Brown, teachers and many special interests are promoting Prop 30 in an attempt to convince us to pay higher taxes so more funds get funneled to education. I believe, like many others, this is asking us to throw money into the toilet.

The education system is archaic and dysfunctional and throwing more money its way is not going to fix the problem. The whole system must be overhauled. The biggest hurdles preventing education reform are the stakeholders within the system. They will not participate in activities that involve change because they’re not familiar with competition and accountability. It’s easier to say, “think of the children, think of their future” and then ask for more money. If the extra funding actually improved a child’s education, I’d be all for it but it doesn’t. Instead, the money is wasted on a top-heavy system designed over 100 years ago.

If I were king of education, the system would reflect the realities of today. Here’s a partial list of changes:

1)      Every school does not need a principal and vice principal. If one CEO can run a multi-national company employing 10,000 people, certainly one principal with two vice principals can handle at least 10 local schools. This change alone would save $200,000,000 per year. There are many other non-teaching positions that can be consolidated and redeployed to improve efficiency. We would save in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars a year which could then be redirected into actual classrooms.

2)      Quit buying printed text books or at least 90% of them. This is a massive waste of money and the only reason this practice continues is due to lobbyist and special interest group that are hired by book printers to protect their for-profit companies. The yearly US market for textbook is approximately $8 billion. With California representing roughly 10% of the US population, the state could realize a yearly savings of more $500,000,000 by moving to an e-book strategy. What’s more important to the State’s education system, profits for big business or educating students?

3)      Here comes the controversial change. Toss out the militaristic kindergarten to 12th grade hierarchy (K-12). The K-12 format does not fit today’s student demographic. Teachers are now expected to handle special needs (physical and mental disabilities), language and cultural barriers as well as kids with disciplinary issues. With such student diversity, few on them are properly served. We need a system that fits the environment. Students should be grouped in class by knowledge level per subject, language and other needs and not by age. Teachers would be assigned to a class based on subject knowledge at a particular level, language fluency and other skills. Students would graduate from a subject level at their own learning pace. This would ensure that fast learners are not stifled and others aren’t advanced based on age or defined time period. Teachers would become specialists at a defined knowledge level and students would advance based on ability. This system would be more efficient for both teacher and student.

I’m voting no on Prop 30. California doesn’t need more money for schools; it needs to overhaul the education system.

15 Minutes A Day

It was a rare weekday opportunity that I was able to walk my eight-year-old to school. As we approached the entrance, he got very excited and pulled me over to a table. “You’ve gotta sign up,” he declared and I immediately wished his mother had taken him to school.

“Do you have 15 minutes a day for your son?” a woman asked,  far too chirpy for pre-1st cup of joe.

I was about to respond that I never have enough time for him (martyr, martyr, martyr) when I read … Did you know that spending just 15 minutes with your child 2-3 times a week can make a world of difference?

And then I made my biggest mistake – I looked down at my son’s expectant face. He is dying to spend 15 minutes a day with me one-on-one, especially because he gets a free ice cream at the end of each month.

Proud father moment - our first serious bike trip at Lake Siskiyou this summer

Okay, enough of the cynicism. I’m very proud of the Berkeley Unified School District. I’m very proud that the good taxpayers of Berkeley sign off every year not to cut funding to education, and most of all, I’m very proud of our incredibly committed teachers.

And hey, if theses teachers can spend several hours a day with my kids, then I can find 15 minutes, no?  What is interesting about this is that the child decides how that time is spent and they make the rules.

What does this do? Studies show that spending regular quality time with your child will give them: higher self-esteem, desire to cooperate, compassion for others, and a better focus for learning.

It might seem a little strange that we need to make a campaign out of something so basic. After all, as a parent, you would think that most of us actually wanted the little buggers in the first place. But the reality in such an intense 21st century lifestyle is that we fail to do this. For my part, I usually offer to spend time with my youngest by offering a specific activity – soccer in the car park, reading on my bed etc. Even when it comes to TV, I realize that there is a menu attached with a couple of his programs that I don’t go crazy watching.

So maybe we can create a better world by teaching the next generation the values that our generation failed to understand. And if 15 minutes a day is what will do it, I pledge.

A day earlier this year in the snow.

Finally, a shout out to the San Francisco Foundation and the Witkin Foundation for sponsoring this initiative.

“15 minutes, because kids spell “love” … T-I-M-E.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Serious Economic Agenda – Education

This week I began a series of posts about the need to address what is the foundation needed for a 21st Century economy. While other components can have a relatively quick impact, the effects of a competitive and relevant education system is long-term and yet crucial. We can keep on blindly following any of the other areas in the hope that something else occurs – like ceasing to depend upon oil by the time we have exhausted our supplies – but education is an investment that we will not be able to measure so easily or quickly.

If the US wants to remain the world leader, it needs to boast the best education system in the world. Currently, the US ranks 18th among the 36 industrial nations. There are many aspects of the education system that need overhaul, but I want to focus on something very tangible: the status of teachers.

I am proud of the fact that my sons are in public schools. I know we are lucky to live in an area where education is prioritized and a local politician cannot survive without offering more than lip service. Before we moved to the US, my wife and I considered applying to a private school for scholarships because we had heard a lot of negativity regarding the US public education system.

Then two separate parents told me that their children had endured difficult years in their private schools. It all depends on the teacher, one told me, and this resonated for me. Between them, my children have spent 8 years in the public school system, and there is only one teacher that I feel was less than very good, with the majority being excellent. By this I mean that they inspired our children to love science, maths, reading and art. They have helped to imbue a sense of citizenship in our children, who know how to respect and play with children of all colors and religions, as well as those with physical challenges. I see this every day in the variety of friends they hang out with and bring home for play dates.

An inspirational story that happens every day in our classrooms.

Some thoughts on teachers:

1. The Nine Month Year: Teachers don’t just need to know how to teach, they need to show up every day and be inspiring. They need to show patience and compassion at all times in the face of sensitive young souls, who can learn the wrong lesson in one careless exchange with a teacher. For this reason, I do not resent their summer vacation. Following on from this, I do not consider their salary being a reflection of nine months, as they need to pay rent and other bills for 12 months of the year. Neither do I want them flipping burgers during the summer, as one insensitive critic suggested, but recharging their batteries for the next year.

One teacher asked me to add that some of this summer ‘vacation’ is spent learning new methods or updating their curriculum.

2. Salaries: If we are serious about respect for the profession, we need to measure it in terms of financial rewards. Teachers seem to earn between $28K – $70K, the higher end going to those with Masters and Doctoral degrees, or extensive experience. Are we surprised that people would rather screw up in the financial world and receive six or seven-figure bonuses than need to succeed in a classroom? I can’t find an article I was reading that says professional retention among teachers under 35-year-old is now less than five years, but I read it very recently. In other words, even the most idealistic gets burnt out before they acquire much experience in the field.

How are we to finance a serious salary increase across the board without raising taxes? I’m not sure that we can in the short-term. Sure fixing that everyone (including corporations) pays taxes (to be dealt with in the next few posts), whether we can afford three wars simultaneously, and other such ideas would help.

But ignorance is just as expensive. “It has been projected that over the next five years, the state’s budget for locking up people will rise by 9 percent annually, compared with its spending on higher education, which will rise only by 5 percent. By the 2012-2013 fiscal year, $15.4 billion will be spent on incarcerating Californians, as compared with $15.3 billion spent on educating them.” – source.

3. Respect – finally there is the issue of respect. It is inconceivable that politicians and pundits denigrate and insult our teachers as we have seen over the past few months in regard to the labor struggle in Wisconsin. It is not just about lowering their own self-esteem, but what message are we giving the children who are sitting in their classroom? Please take a moment to watch the Daily Show skit below and feel free to swear along

The Daily Show – Recap – Week of 02/28/11

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Great News Day

Great news today out of Washington DC: We are hearing first reports of a marathon meeting between republicans and democrats. They agreed on 10 points:

1)    Democrats agreed not to raise taxes while republicans promised that everyone would pay taxes proportional to their income – no tax shelters, no acceptance of ways to ‘save’ on taxes. The additional funds raised will pay for the following:

2)    Cars which do not run on alternative energy or hybrid consumption will cease to be produced in the US as of the end of this year and cease to be imported by the end of 2012.

3)    Non-organic produce will be taxed to pay for all toxic waste disposals. This cost will be shared between consumer and farmer.

4)    Every child in America will receive a personal laptop on entering elementary school. This laptop will have wireless capacity and come packed with educational and fun games as well as e-book capacity.

5)    Teachers will receive salary increases to a mid level company managerial equivalent, along with bonuses for working in low-income areas.

6)    Every young person who finishes high school with university grades will receive financial credits that will cover their tuition at a state university.

7)    Each freshman will receive a hand-held tablet with a yearly credit to buy academic books in electronic form.

8)    Personal finance will be taught in high school, including budgeting, the dangers of credit card abuse, and long-term saving benefits.

9)   America will no longer finance or do business with countries where basic human rights are not observed. These rights include no institutional discrimination based on gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

10) Every US citizen will have access to medical treatment without fear of bankrupcy. Every US war vet will have full access to psychological help.

This program will come into effect on April 1st, a day that will hereafter be celebrated as April Future Day. Anyone who objects to the aforementioned may continue to celebrate April Fools Day. These people will not be discriminated against, merely pitied.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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