Saturday, January 28, 2012

Grossly Underpaid Paraprofessionals (And Other Bad Ideas)

Starting yearly salary of ASD Superintendent Dr. Mayo: $170,000.00 + perks (five year contract)
Starting yearly salary of an ASD Paraprofessional (teachers aide):$11,200.00

Newly elected ASD Superintendent Dr. Mayo will be making more than 15x the salary of a para and over 4x the salary of a teacher. Paras are considered educational support staff. Many work with children who have multiple disabilities. It's not an easy job. I know this because I have subbed for paras. I enjoy subbing for paras and would enjoy working as a para, but the pay is beyond insulting. I'm a certified tenured teacher, but as a para I would only earn 11.2k. to start. I would get no additional pay for being highly qualified and experienced. Paras are required to have completed two years of college. I have met paras who are certified teachers as well.They are grossly underpaid and undervalued. They don't even earn a living wage. In this "great" country, people who work with animals are paid more than people who work with children. 15 paras could help a lot of children in the ASD. We need more paras, not less, to meet the needs of children in overcrowded classrooms. It's outrageous that a superintendent makes so much money, and a para makes so little. I admire the paras because they really love working with children, and are willing to do it for almost free. They make a huge difference in students lives.

Teachers are willing to work without pay in the bankrupt Chester Upland SD, and that's because teaching is more than just a job, it's a calling. The children need to be educated. It's not about the money. That's one of the many reasons why merit pay, as a motivator for "high quality" teachers, is a dumb idea. The geniuses should really be concerned about giving teachers the necessary resources to do their jobs,instead of bribing them with bonuses for "excellence." The teaching profession is not about competing for bonuses, or winning a race - but it is about collaborating to provide equal opportunities for children. Teachers and paras collaborate so that all students can achieve.

Public schools must accept ALL students- even the forlorn and forgotten, the hungry , the abused, the homeless, the ragged, and the inconsolable. Teachers can not choose students like a business can choose the best materials and the best workers to get the job done, or fire the bad workers when they don't produce results. Teachers can't fire the bad kids. Running a school like a business is a dumb idea. Learning is not about the bottom line. A school is nothing like a business, it's a learning environment that promotes child development and growth. Learning is a journey, not a race. Schools should promote exploration, not standardization. The purpose of public education is to promote an engaged citizenry, not a compliant workforce.The suits in administration don't get that, neither does Arne Duncan or President Obama. We must advocate for a more humanistic approach to education policy. A corporate takeover of public education is now happening, and it must be derailed.

Administrators, where is the REAL shared sacrifice? Why do administrators make so much money? Teachers in the ASD have agreed to a pay freeze. And they have agreed to follow a standards aligned system with rigor and resiliency (whatever the latest jargon means). They have agreed to administer useless testing, while spending valuable planning time crunching meaningless data, completing endless paperwork, and enduring demoralizing professional development BS and scrutiny. Teachers have been denied the freedom to teach creatively. That's a HUGE sacrifice. Teachers and paras want to be there for the kids, regardless of the bullshit they are required to endure, or the insulting meager pay they receive. Teachers spend their own money on supplies because the school district does not even provide basic necessities like Kleenex.

Former disgraced ASD Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak made 195k. per year plus perks. He abruptly jumped ship, after overhauling the curriculum, destabilizing our schools, and leaving tax payers to pay his exorbitant yearly salary plus a buy out fee. Yeah, he cares about the kids. By the way, where is Dr. Zero? He's supposed to be "consulting." Where's the data? And why is Dr. Mayo continuing Dr. Zero's unproven initiatives? We all pay the price for dumb ideas. Don't drink the corporate Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Silence About Things That Matter

I feel like I've got to keep hammering the point that parents must speak out against the current test and data driven curriculum in the Allentown School District. The bad ideas approved by our school board have got to be derailed REAL soon because the decision makers are going way too far with their focus on improving PSSA test scores in order to obtain grant money. It seems like everything is tied to the dumb test- funding, student accountability, teacher accountability, standards, curriculum, student placement, tutoring, homework, even special events. Ten years is more than enough of this garbage that does not improve learning. In fact, it really hurts school children by squandering away their childhood, and squelching their creativity. It diminishes a child's love of learning. Damage has been done.

I sent an Email to 8 of the 9 Allentown School Board directors, thanking them for their service, and asking them to please make informed decisions about school curriculum. I provided a link to the blog post I wrote about the educational value of an art lesson. Only one school director, Andrew Weiss, had the courtesy to even acknowledge my Email. I have also contacted directors Joanne Jackson, Ce-Ce Gerlach and School Board President Bob Smith through Facebook, and all three told me that they would read my blog. Ce-Ce did post a comment at my blog, but I did not hear back from Bob Smith or Joanne Jackson, so I don't know if they even read my blog. The three I contacted through Facebook are my FB friends, but they don't comment on my posts, which are mostly about really important education issues. Why don't you guys want to talk?

ASD School Board Director David Zimmerman works at Lehigh Valley Hospital, and I did notice an LVH IP address at my blog's site meter minutes after I sent the Email to him. I noticed that he came back for another visit and spent some time reading my blog, searching "ASD." But he never even acknowledged receiving my Email. Neither did Debora Lamb or Scott Armstrong. The fact that they made the conscious decision to ignore a concerned parent/teacher worries me. I wonder how much they really care about the kids? The information I am providing for them at this blog would help them to make informed decisions. They should value my informed opinion, since teachers won't talk (they have been told that they would face disciplinary action if they spoke publicly against district policies and programs). I am currently subbing in the ASD, and I am a former ASD teacher (pre-NCLB) and as a concerned parent I have the right to speak out against bad ideas. But not one director is interested in engaging with me in a conversation about the real problems.

There are serious problems in the ASD, which get glossed over at the district website. There is much to talk about, yet I can't get a conversation going anywhere- not at this blog, not with local friends at Facebook, not through Email, not at my son's school, not with PTA, not with parents, not with teachers. Hardly any one wants to talk about the obvious and important stuff. Everyone just goes along to get along. And our children are paying the price, forced to sit quietly and do test prep most of the day, bored out of their minds, disengaged and unhappy at school. Teachers are held hostage to teaching test prep and following a rigid schedule. The curriculum SUCKS, it's based on flawed ideas, it does not meet the needs of students, and it's got to change! Teaching the test is wrong! Some test questions are meant to trick students. Why must students always read to find the main point? There could be more than one main point to a reading passage, depending on a child's point of view. Learning is not a competition with winners and losers. A school is not a business. Children are more than data points. Bring back art, music, library, gym and phys. ed! Demand EQUITY! Parents, start screaming! You can even OPT your child OUT of testing. It's your right! What could be more important than our children?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Worksheets vs. Art Work

Picasso style portrait, student work grade 8
Worksheets end up in the trash after they are completed and corrected. Art work ends up on the refrigerator, or framed, alongside the family photos. 'Nuf said. Save our arts, kill the test prep!

Friday, January 6, 2012

An After School Art Club

I am excited about starting an after school art club for 4th and 5th grade students at my son's school. Art class has been cut from the elementary school curriculum, due to budget cuts, teacher lay offs, and harmful curriculum changes which were unanimously approved by Allentown school board directors. The shortsighted decisions made by our school board have robbed my child, and all ASD children, of a well rounded education. I believe that educational opportunities should be made available to all children, regardless of socio-economic status. Allentown children are being unfairly denied the chance to discover their talents and learn about artists. This sends the message that a quality school art program is a privilege reserved for the wealthy kids. This is unacceptable, unjust, and undermines public education. This is not just an education issue, it's a civil rights issue.

After school clubs, sponsored by the PTA, are a good way to provide arts enrichment to children. My club may only benefit a small number of children (up to 40), but at least it is something. If more people would speak out against educational injustices, we could END the test driven educational policies and corporate driven reforms that are harming our children. We could get back to teaching the whole child. Make children a priority in 2012.

Pictured is 6th grade student work: An expressive still life in oil pastels, Van Gogh style. I plan on doing this type of lesson with my art club.

Please read this post for further information on the value of an art lesson: