The case against us all paying for private schools

Several times a year, before elections, a man in Florida emails me about who to support in elections down there. The goal is to receive money (Isn’t that everyone’s?) for private schools. In this case, it’s Jewish religious schools. And that’s despite public schools being free for everyone – Jews too – and paid for with everybody’s tax dollars.

So don’t tell me there’s no alternative when public schools are required to bend over backwards to meet all students’ needs.

school student AThe first time I got the email, I wrote back, asking the nephrologist (a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases) how he got my name and my email address. He was very polite and offered to take me off. I said it wasn’t necessary. I really wanted to read what he had to say. Information is power and I was a teacher for eight years, spending several lousy months at a Conservative Jewish day school.

The private school was the worst of my experiences and probably the least educational of the three schools where I taught, including public schools in two Florida counties.

Most of the parents whose children I taught at the religious school wanted special programs, and they wanted their children in those programs with people of the same culture. There’s absolutely no question in my mind.

I briefly compared the different teaching experiences when I wrote about why I left the field in general, on the eve of my Florida certification expiring in late June.

hochberg

 

religionsSo the problem I had, personally, was “class” and not religion. I actually liked listening to the religious lessons, from attending the second grade morning prayer service daily, to sitting in on the religious classes in my classroom, while planning and grading papers. I didn’t have to, but I know the religious teachers appreciated it, since my presence helped the children’s behavior.

Yes, many students had behavior issues, just like at any other school. The only differences I noticed were race and their families’ wealth.

From what I saw, the parents paid tuition in the five-figures and knew they could get away with anything. There’s a true saying that children learn in three ways: by “example, example, example.” In other words, they watched their parents (children notice more than many adults believe) and were raised to feel entitled.

Keep in mind, I’m writing about one school. It was a Conservative Jewish one, and Conservative (with a capital C) meant that stream of Judaism was started to “conserve” religious practices, about 100 years ago, that the older Reform movement had given up. So Conservative doesn’t mean the opposite of liberal. It allowed egalitarian seating and the use of microphones (electricity).

In fact, these days, Conservative is pretty much considered liberal since Reform has been bringing back some tradition. It has become the most popular in America, taking Conservative congregants who want shorter services, musical instruments during services and intermarriage (usually as long as the couple promises to raise Jewish children). There’s also paternal lineage (Reform considers children with a Jewish father Jewish, as long as they’re raised Jewish), usually more English during services, and absolutely no questions about egalitarianism or same-sex couples getting married.

Of course, whatever a Jewish person’s thoughts are, they have to be comfortable with the specific synagogue they attend and that includes the clergy, other congregants and financial obligations. A school setting is similar.

Orthodox schools vary greatly, but most separate the boys and girls into different classes at some point. I don’t know whether religious schools or any private schools require teachers to be certified by different states, or whether they have to teach the state’s curriculum or administer standardized tests, but I’m pretty sure it varies.

Grown-ups whose parents had them attend some Hasidic schools are now angry and feeling hopeless, since they know Jewish law and are good at Yiddish, but illiterate in English! There is hardly any secular instruction. See recent articles here, here, here and here, one of which says a New York state senator refused to sign off on the state budget unless Hasidic schools in and around NYC

“were given more autonomy over curricula.”

That’s despite the article saying most of the students

“are doomed to a life of struggle and poverty.”

Of course, religious schools are free to teach anti-gay hate, or that men and women have different roles, or that evolution is science fiction. That’s the case and if you don’t believe me, look at Congress or too many state legislatures!

So this morning, I got this email with the subject line,

“The Future of the Florida Jewish Community Will Be Decided November 6,”

since we Jews are always scared of the worst possibility.

email

Keep in mind, there are plenty of issues with Andrew Gillum but they involve separate subjects. Ron DeSantis is far right-wing. I’ve told plenty of people I’m happy to not have to choose in the Florida governor’s race.

Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D)

For U.S. Senate, he endorsed the current two-term governor who has his work cut out for him with Hurricane Michael, and will for awhile. How he performs may change some voters’ minds, but the Florida Democratic Party claimed Rick Scott “oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the nation’s history” and PolitiFact Florida rated the claim Mostly True. Still, he was elected twice since then. Senate incumbent Bill Nelson is running for his fourth term. As for the Iran deal, which I was also totally against, I don’t think the reference was appropriate for endorsements on a single-issue. The author basically said so when he mentioned his group’s mission at the end.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D)

Right: A liquor store in Panama City Beach around landfall.

I don’t know enough about the state attorney general candidate but am glad the current one is finally stepping down, and I’m impressed the endorsed CFO candidate is a Democrat, simply because they rarely get this guy’s recommendations. Every good cause should have bipartisan support, as party majorities rotate from one to the other, and back. The only variables are how often, and how wide the margin is.

I had some questions and wrote back, specifically about tax money from the public going to rabbis.

i wrote

And as he did some years ago, he politely answered. I honestly can’t challenge him since seems to know the subject and how to explain it, having studied it for years.

his answer

I can’t say I agree with laundering public tax money so it goes towards religion. That’s different that paying a religious organization for doing secular work.

Jeb Bush's Facebook page
from Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

This is the land with the legacy of Jeb Bush, who accelerated the number and importance of standardized tests more than anyone could imagine. He and his friendly legislature also found ways to get millions of dollars for money for school choice. (Sounds great, doesn’t it?) Count the ways you can take advantage, here.

And then there are charter schools that are public – paid for with money taken from school districts and required to administer state tests – but run by outsiders, often companies, out to make money. And studies have gone back and forth whether they get better results than traditional public schools, despite being able to turn away students, pretty much at their will. (That’s as if test scores are the only surefire way to judge education.)

The man who emailed represents a group called Jewish Leadership Coalition and its Facebook page says it’s “a non-for-profit 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organization comprised of various Jewish leaders and organizations that have joined together to advocate for greater public funding for secular education in Jewish day schools.”fb jewish coalition

It gives a website that doesn’t seem to work, and doesn’t come up in searches, but this 2013 article announced that it started and who would benefit from the money.

ou jlc
https://www.ou.org/news/jewish_leadership_coalition/

The families whose children go to these schools tend to have more kids than the average American family, and they eat only kosher food. The costs add up. So do the number of students!

Other states with large Jewish populations have groups similar to the one above. This website helps parents in six states get government money to pay tuition that public schools don’t charge.

teach advocacy
https://teachadvocacy.org/

I understand parents with strong religious beliefs want their children brought up in their faith and to have extensive knowledge of it. That’s very difficult in a 24-hour day, where students receive a well-rounded education so they can become professionals who can contribute to society.

clock school

Outside of school these days, “free time” seems to be the “in” thing. Competing with that are all the extracurricular activities parents sign their children up to do, even at the school where I taught. It was a way to make money. Perhaps some of that has to go. Nobody can have it all.

money dollars

The rich make teacher unions look like the boogeyman, as you saw in the response to me, as if all they do is take money. Unions don’t want to protect bad teachers. (I’ve been a shop steward, but it wasn’t my idea.) They want good teachers and to see that those good teachers get the protections like a fair contract and the due process they deserve – to avoid being taken advantage of by bad administrators, not to mention parents who think they know more about education than the supposed experts.

In May, a religious friend conducted this Facebook poll:

Facebook poll

I think the principal was out of line and probably ruined his relationship with this “special needs” student, which may have been hard to build and would probably be harder to rebuild.

I responded.

Facebook response

The man who simply said “They listen to their parents” has a wife who is Director of Special Programs at – you guessed it – a (different) Jewish day school!

It’s natural in every financial transaction that the buyer wants to pay less, while the business (or school) wants more. There has to be a fair solution.

And for years, I’ve had what I consider the perfect solution.

I think public school teachers hired by the district should go to the private schools and teach English, math, science and social studies. Perhaps also electives like physical education, music and art. That would be half the day, and it would be paid for the same way public schools pay for educators and materials. Any tuition crisis would be instantly alleviated!

In my solution, the religious side could teach its material during the other half of the day. So half the school would study religion, and the other half would do secular studies, and then they’d switch!

half

What about religious holidays, like half the month of September and the entire eight days of Passover? The schedule could be adjusted. The public school teachers would volunteer to teach at these schools, especially those who take off for all the holidays anyway. It would be a blessing for the religious school parents to have their children in school while they prepare for the holidays, rather than watching over them because school is canceled, so their teachers could take off to prepare for their own families!

Also, the public school teachers would teach the public school curriculum with no interference, and students would take the same tests as the rest of the general population (without overkill for anybody). Plus, the students would be exposed to people who don’t all look, sound or believe like them.school crossing sign

I want to know what you think about this.

It would also eliminate the worst thing that happens: Parents not sending their children to public schools, but taking the scarce money devoted to education away from them. Which state’s legislature pays enough for quality schools? What school system has enough money to really do its job right? Who pays their teachers what they deserve as professionals? What district gives every one of its poorest students equal access to a quality education at their neighborhood school?

In February, USA Today published a list, ranking the states by the quality of their schools. (Eight of the top nine, and ten of the top 12, are states between the mid-Atlantic and New England! Take that for what it’s worth.) Florida ranks number 29 and the lead to the article on the Sunshine State is pretty grim:

“Florida’s public schools receive some of the lowest funding of any state school system in the country.”

Read the article for the state rankings (luckily all on one webpage) and the results of being too cheap when it comes to educating children, but there’s one I have to share: Florida is 48th out of 50 in the percentage of adults, ages 25-64, with incomes at or above the national median. In other words, you get what you pay for and this is pitiful! Imagine who in the U.S. is behind Florida, despite all the visitors who go there and spend money!

I’ll tell you that your child’s teacher is most important person in the school, besides the students, and every school in every state has good ones and bad ones. Hopefully those bad ones don’t last long but the good ones can be convinced to stay, and we all know money talks.

So do you think my compromise idea would work? Is it at least worth a try? How would you tweak it?

Please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennycohen

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Certification expiring, definitely done teaching

The first thing I have to say is this blog was planned for today. It doesn’t have anything to do with Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on public unions. Instead, it has to do with the calendar.

teaching certificate

The reason, as you see in the picture, is that my Florida teaching certificate expires tomorrow and since tomorrow will be Saturday, that really means today. I never had any intention of returning to a classroom, and never took any courses to do so. In fact, I left Florida, and it’s a lot harder to transfer teaching licenses from state-to-state than it is for driver’s licenses. Instead, I’m happily in the company of former teachers, some of whom left the classroom decades ago for their own reasons, and moved on with no regrets.

I became a teacher because I’ve always tried to help people. Before starting in 2006, I spent more than ten years successfully selling TV newscasts and web articles to the public, so they knew what was going on and became better citizens. I’ve worked all shifts at all hours, depending on resource needs and breaking news.

I may have come from a unique background but I did a whole lot more than spending eight years as a public school teacher in a large urban district. I became well aware of school districts’ needs, including the students, parents, teachers and other employees that depend on them.

I worked most of that time in Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school district in the country. Broward County, where I worked briefly, is the sixth-largest. I found out how things get done in large bureaucracies. Those neighboring places are among the most diverse areas of the country with many needs ignored in the state capital, as I wrote in Wednesday’s blog.

2008-11 fall fest wild things are
Nov., 2008: classroom door after studying “Where the Wild Things Are”

My opportunity to teach came two years after returning to Florida from Philadelphia for family reasons. I was pretty much thrown into the classroom at Hubert O. Sibley Elementary (now Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy, named after the longtime president/CEO of the South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union) in the middle of the year. The regular 2nd grade teacher was about to go out on maternity leave. I had no formal training and scrambled to pick up as many of the regular teacher’s routines as possible, but my colleagues — who became like big sisters — helped by explaining lesson plans, while I knew how to make photocopies for them. Our relationship strengthened from there!

hubert sibleyThat was during the day. At night, I spent the next few years driving to schools around the district, taking the education classes I didn’t take while in college. It was hard work, and long days and nights, but I had students to use as examples while studying for my official teaching certification, and luckily the classes were sponsored by the district. That’s how much they needed teachers.

I moved to 1st grade for my first full year and got my students from the start. The one-year age difference was big for those children and they were out to please. I also benefited from a new team of teachers and best practices. My colleagues in all grades voted me Rookie Teacher of the Year.

Eventually, teachers moved or retired. I wasn’t the new guy anymore. Instead, I was grade chairperson.

My nights changed, as well. Instead of going to certification classes, I was getting busy getting schooled for state endorsements in English for Speakers of Other Languages and Gifted.

science projects sibley
Science projects my classes voted to do, and did according to the scientific method, included “Which kind of drink cleans pennies best?” and “What kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better: liquid or powder?”

Due to my different background than other teachers, the administrators “asked” me to figure out and run the school’s website. When we switched from actual gradebooks to putting in attendance and grades online, I was the point-person for any teacher with problems. In the middle of every quarter, I stayed hours late, printing out progress reports for every student in the school and dividing them up by teacher to be distributed. At the end of every quarter, I stayed hours late again, printing out report cards for every student in the school, and dividing them up by teacher.

smoke safety
Fire officials had students walk through a special trailer to teach them the danger of smoke.

That wasn’t it. Every year, I was removed from class to help administrators with the school’s annual School Improvement Plan. I sat at the assistant principal’s desk, in front of his computer, offering assistance with typing, technology and math. Eventually, after a few years, I spent days before that out of the classroom and in another school’s auditorium, full of assistant principals learning the district’s new procedure for that year.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary’s Career Day

It was around this time the principal chose me to run a 12-month after-school/summer program if only we’d win the grant, so I spent more time away from the classroom, in an office with a computer, writing text and filling in blanks. The principal insisted that even if the money came through, he’d see to it that I stayed grade chair for 1st grade. Unfortunately, the grant wasn’t made to be.

I stayed too busy as grade chair for 1st grade, secretary of the school’s Educational Excellence School Advisory Council (EESAC, a Florida thing), and point-person for its annual Career Day.

Fall, 2006: I brought WTVJ NBC6 meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary's Saturday Academy to teach about weather
Fall, 2006: I brought meteorologist Paul Deanno visited Sibley Elementary’s Saturday Academy to teach about weather

Separately, I got then-WTVJ meteorologist Paul Deanno to speak to children attending the school’s Saturday enrichment classes. (Paul is now chief meteorologist at KPIX in San Francisco.) Also, WPLG news anchor Calvin Hughes did a question and answer session with some of our 5th graders in the studio, through the school’s closed-circuit TV station. When things seemed to be going slowly, I quietly passed a handwritten question to the student interviewer. The assistant principal noticed and looked amazed! (I’d worked with both Calvin and Paul at Philadelphia’s KYW-TV.)

June, 2012: receiving my "Apple" for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy
June, 2012: receiving my “Apple” for winning Teacher of the Year, the first to say Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

Then, I was elected Teacher of the Year and was told on the afternoon of the banquet in my honor that I was so good, I was being moved from 1st grade gifted to 3rd grade inclusion. Those were the lowest students, most in 3rd grade for the second time. Some reward!

Then, when I had to change classrooms for the first time in years — upstairs for the first time ever — I was made the union’s shop steward. I tried my best with each one of my growing responsibilities (including grade chair for 3rd grade, despite working with much more experienced teachers who actually knew the 3rd grade curriculum!), but decided that was probably going to be my final year at that school. There was only so much one person could do.2012-06 Teacher of the Year marquee

I’ll never forget the cries, up and down the 3rd grade hall, when the results of the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) came out. If a student failed the reading section, that student would probably have to redo 3rd grade because that’s when a students stops learning to read and starts reading to learn. The test was so important, absolutely nothing got in the way before it. Any extra resources were directed towards 3rd grade, not to any younger students, as if reading comprehension doesn’t take years. Were those younger students supposed to suddenly rise up in 3rd grade after pretty much being ignored for years before? When I taught 1st, the principal asked all teachers of younger students to give up our last hour of the day, which was our planning time, to help the 3rd graders.

I couldn’t tell whether those children’s cries up and down the hall were happy or sad. Teachers were given a list of 3rd graders, not by whose class they were in, so we had to read the names in alphabetical order to ourselves, pausing until one of our students’ names came up, and then let that student know his or her future. What a way to be told! I think a full quarter of students were held back at Sibley each year.

Since then, the assistant principal transferred to the same role at another school and is now in federal prison for child porn possession. (It was not school-related.)

As for the principal, I’m surprised he’s still there. The exact moment I decided to leave Sibley was when his secretary asked me, as EESAC secretary, to sign a paper. Let’s just say there were issues with that paper. Too bad I had no chance to take a picture with my phone, but I warned the EESAC president at the time, who was also going to be asked to sign. Then, the principal called me back downstairs in the middle of a 3rd grade teacher planning meeting I was leading to explain why he wrote what he wrote. There was no excuse and I told myself I’d never be associated with anyone like that again.

I hear nothing but complaints from former coworkers who haven’t transferred out to where their talents and energy would be appreciated. The school’s grade has been C for the past three years, a D before that, and C for the five years before that. But the year before, I was proud to say we actually earned an A.

No, I don’t have a master’s degree. It would be nice, but there was no time. Instead, I think I’ve seen more things and done more jobs reliably without extra pay (other than for being grade chair) than most public school teachers anywhere have.

One was the funeral of a 1st grade student’s mother. His estranged father had dressed up as Santa Claus and knocked on their door. That’s when he shot the mother to death. The boy transferred out, to a school in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2013, I switched to a Jewish private school that happened to be at the synagogue where I grew up. (Actually, it merged with another and this was their new location.)

hochberg classroomMany of the parents were respectful but too many were gung-ho about all the supposedly latest technology and a teacher who was a TV producer, etc. It was such a change from parents who were mainly poor Haitian immigrants, simply happy their children would have a positive American male influence. And it was such a disappointment!

So much for smart kids! There were certainly some, but way too many were needy and wouldn’t have made it in public school. Of course I’m generalizing, but the only advantage in life they had was that their parents were rich. When you’re that rich, and there’s a train coming while you’re being driven to school, there will be an announcement not to mark any students late that day. Are there excuses like that in real life?

mandatory meeting
Mandatory meeting with three hours notice? What was so important? What if somebody actually had plans?

I had no problem with the religious aspects but the way teachers were taken advantage of never ended. That’s what’s in contracts when parents are lawyers. They pretty much owned the teachers.

hochberg turkey tango
Nov. 19, 2013: 2nd grade teachers Mrs. Guttman and I doing the Turkey Tango at a schoolwide show. That was the year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided.

I left in January, 2014. If not, I would’ve had to come up with an idea for a program and offer it to students, whose parents would pay extra for them to stay after school, with the school and me splitting the extra tuition money.

The school isn’t there anymore. No website. It ended up merging with another school. Not even schoolwide shows like above could save it. Good riddance!

The last place I taught was Colbert Elementary in Hollywood, FL, after taking a few months off in early 2014.

I started as a permanent substitute as the place was renamed Colbert Museum Magnet Elementary. The name and curriculum changes were tries at improving the school, or at least the test scores. I hope it worked out. Remember, this was Florida.

colbert classroom
April, 2014: my Colbert classroom

As I remember it, each grade had to choose one thing from the curriculum per quarter and show it in museum form. That meant decorating the halls, for one, and inviting everyone to visit for an evening. We in first grade did aquatic life at the end of the 2013-14 school year. I was fairly new but got by. Unfortunately, the walls weren’t too good at holding tape and probably had to be repainted several times since then.

colbert museum

I had a great summer in Israel but didn’t have it in me to keep teaching. I had just had enough. It wasn’t the school’s fault. There was a great principal, Patricia Yackel, who was able to recognize every student in the entire school by name. Amazing! I didn’t care much for the assistant principal.

It was the day after Labor Day, 2014, early in the school year, and I’d known I couldn’t take it anymore. When I left, I told the assistant principal because Ms. Yackel wasn’t in the building at the time. That was a shame.

Despite all I’d been through, I still feel better about public schools and think every child should have a good one near his or her home.

Also, I’m against those “school choice” advocates trying to take money from public schools and let for-profit charter school companies run some. They can decide who they let in and refuse, while public schools can’t do that, so charter schools have a distinct advantage when it comes to test scores.

I also don’t care for private schools since they can also admit who they choose and don’t have to follow the same requirements other schools do. Besides, they lobby state legislatures for money they wouldn’t need if the children simply went to public schools, which most can. Others go for religious issues, which I understand. Then, there are those who have, or claim to have, special needs and require special settings. Meanwhile, the school takes the money to supposedly lower tuition but as I wrote, require more of the teachers, who usually make less money.

Wednesday, I got an email from a Florida doctor with an agenda. You could say I stay on his list for an education, even though I don’t know how he got my name. This is part of what he wrote:

“The outcome of the Primary Election on August 28 and General Election on November 6 will determine the future of our community for generations. One outcome could lead to expansion of vouchers to the middle class. Another outcome could threaten the $20 million we currently receive. We have arrived at the crossroads and all you need to do is vote. …

“Jewish schools received more than $20 million this year from state and federal programs but middle-class families will not experience tuition relief until the Florida Legislature passes an Education Savings Account (ESA) which will provide every Florida family an annual per student scholarship of about $7000 for use in paying tuition at a private school, irrespective of income level.
“This year’s elections are a tipping point. Immediately after the election, the new Governor must appoint 3 new Supreme Court judges. A Republican Governor will appoint judges who favor school choice programs. Judges appointed by a Democratic governor will create a majority that will support lawsuits that block vouchers and even threaten current funding.
“If we maintain a pro-school choice majority in the Florida House and Senate, ESA’s are a likely reality within the next 2 years.”

His endorsements will come and we can bet who they’ll be, at least in the general election.

Then yesterday, I got this from a national group writing about its efforts in Pennsylvania:

“We have helped secure millions of dollars for Jewish day schools through government advocacy.
“This includes funding for EITC and OSTC (Scholarships Tax Credits), enhanced security, school specific grants, and more. ALL of our children have benefitted over the past several years. And, our budget successes this week continued that trend.

“There are 8 communities with Jewish day schools in Pennsylvania, and we aim to serve each and every one of them.
“But we simply cannot do it alone. Your support will make a real, lasting impact on our children and families.”

So the point here was to ask for money.

But despite the emails I receive, please don’t think of this as a Jewish issue. It’s one area where Jewish and Catholic schools come together, and public schools don’t get the money.

Some parents and politicians have their own agendas.

As for me, I missed writing the news, took a wonderful managerial opportunity in the Tri-Cities of VA/TN, but couldn’t turn down a chance to return to my beloved Philadelphia. (I don’t regret the return; just the workplace.)

Back home, I’ve written news about the school district, listening and writing about budget issues, cuts made in the past, getting money from the state, and finding (and paying) lots and lots of new teachers. Click here for an example of one of my articles. I loved doing this and long-term projects such as the Democratic National Convention and NFL Draft, because most articles involved shootings, crashes and fires.

Enough already, and onto something meaningful. This former teacher hopes to make an announcement soon.

Click here to visit the section 2006-2014: Teaching Time.

Please, if you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.