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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Why teaching isn’t for me anymore

(Yesterday, I wrote about why teachers have to give so many tests, why students have to take them, the many recent changes to teaching and learning in Florida, and what happened when I had to give results that many 3rd graders and their parents considered life-or-death.)

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

I wasn’t an education major when I stepped into the classroom. I’d spent the past 12 years helping put on the news at TV stations. (Truth be told, I did look into teaching in Philadelphia, 2000-2001. I observed a middle school class but didn’t want to go for a master’s degree, and ended up at KYW). Years later, when I was producing Web sites for WFOR-WBFS-WTVX in Miami, a family friend (Lois) said she’d always seen me as an elementary school teacher. I looked into it, and it’s pretty easy in Florida. You need a college degree in anything, and have to pass the fingerprint test. The rest can be taken care of over three years.

May, 2007: my father teaching my class about dentistry at Sibley Elementary's Career Day
May, 2007: My father teaching my class about dentistry on Career Day. Very little on the walls due to 1st grade SAT testing.

I got my start when a teacher went on maternity leave in early 2006, and went to work halfway through the school year. It wasn’t easy. I knew how to photocopy and the other teachers helped me with plans and discipline. (That year, the administrators decided half the class should be good students and the other half, the opposite. Either the high achievers can help the low, or it was a recipe for disaster.)

I came to realize the teachers I respected the most, those who’d been doing it for 30+ years, were frustrated. They didn’t know what they were doing because of so many changes, and they freely admitted it (Sheila). I told a friend of the family (Kenny) who’d recently retired that I was starting to teach, and he asked, “Why?”

Fall, 2008: My class displayed "Where the Wild Things Are" for the school's Fall Festival. Sibley Maurice Sendak
Fall, 2008: My class displayed Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are for the school’s Fall Festival.

There’s not enough time to teach effectively. I totally understand fire drills but have problems with dances in the hope that students will do well (rather than as a reward for doing well) and going ice skating because the Winter Olympics were going on. Students need more time to meet tougher standards, don’t you think?

In many cases during my eight years of experience, the parents were part of the problem. Many didn’t show up at conferences. They didn’t get their children to preschool, so students started kindergarten with zero background. Often (again, from what I’ve seen), they’re too busy with their hair, tattoos, and cars to get their kids to school on time, pick them up on time, or make sure they do their homework — as if the teacher wants more papers to review.

August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.
August, 2011: My nephew Logan visited as I set up my 1st grade classroom.

The problem was the opposite at the private religious school where I was in the fall of 2013. It was a class system and it didn’t have anything to do with education, but money. Too many parents thought their kids were perfect and wouldn’t accept the truth. (And that’s why a lot of the kids went there.) I was forced to endure too many get-to-know-you activities, do-overs for bad grades (on teacher-prepared tests), not marking tardy if there was a train on the tracks around the starting time and, of course, Miami Dolphins Day. The list goes on because parents pay a fortune (at least to most of us) in tuition. Then, these students are pushed with after-school activities. They’ll never make it in the real world under these circumstances.  Private schools can get away with almost anything. I respect people who choose to pay for religious instruction, but not those who pay to take the easy way out because their children have issues and wouldn’t make it in public school.

March, 2012: Another of my students' award-winning science projects, "Which kind of laundry detergent removes dirt stains better, liquid or powder?"
March, 2012: Another of my students’ award-winning science projects, “Which Kind of Laundry Detergent Removes Dirt Stains Better, Liquid or Powder?”

By the way, money is the name of the game at all schools — public and private – and all levels of government. Don’t forget that. Look for bond initiatives and contracts for building and buying.

===

Unions in Florida are weak, because the land of sunshine is a right-to-work state. About half of the teachers take their union-negotiated salary and benefits without paying any union dues. Things would be better if unions could teach legislatures a thing or two. The United Teachers of Dade tried hard to recruit members. The Broward Teachers Union didn’t.

June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley
June, 2012: my name on Teacher of the Year marquee outside Sibley

I taught 1st grade most of the time, but also 2nd and 3rd. We do what we’re assigned, and that could change in the middle of the year. I was lucky. One coworker (Cindy) had to move to a different classroom four times in six years!

Some folks think teachers are lucky to get summers off. No. They’re planning the next year based on new standards, and taking new classes or tests to teach subjects they’ve been teaching successfully for 30 years. That includes one Ph.D., right Dr. G?

Some don’t like teachers getting paid more based on their experience. The thing is, they don’t get extra vacation time based on seniority like in the real world. New laws limit opportunities for tenure and seniority. Right now in Florida, new teachers won’t see a contract for a period of more than one year. Who would work under that?

Bottom line: I’m past teaching. Over it. Totally. Many of my students were nice and tried hard. Some of their parents were helpful and considerate. Even some administrators. I wish them all the absolute best and wish I had answers, but let someone else do the teaching.

Why I’m happy not teaching

Other people seemed to love me being a teacher. They thought things like, “Oh how nice,” “The kids are so lucky,” “You’re a miracle worker,” etc., etc. But for the last few years, I couldn’t stand going into a classroom.

Facebook
Facebook

Do you know what this means?

You probably don’t recognize a lot of those terms and honestly, neither do I. But that’s what teaching has become. And it’s not for me.

I can take criticism. I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, or when something isn’t right. A large part of my resentment to teaching is how teachers are judged. Teachers can tell if their students aren’t getting it. Can one high-stakes test determine whether the teacher is doing his job well? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes states develop assessments in basic skills to get federal money, but lets the states make their own standards! Are Massachusetts and Mississippi’s requirements anything alike? How does that help?

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

Jeb Bush also thinks highly of student testing to judge teacher performance. (On the other hand, I think it should be one consideration out of several. New York is debating that right now. Do we judge doctors on their success rate if their patients smoke? Or dentists, if their patients eat candy and don’t brush?)

Last November, the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard blogged: “As governor of Florida from 1999 to 2006, Mr. Bush tangled repeatedly with unions over his efforts to link teacher pay and job security to test results, as well as to award grades to schools based on their tests scores, to expand charter schools and to give private school vouchers to struggling public-school students. After leaving office, he advocated those policies across the country as leader of the foundation (the who-could-be-against-it Foundation for Excellence in Education).” Bush won.

The teachers’ union is suing over the voucher program, saying it violates the state constitution by diverting money from public schools to religious institutions. I think, except for a few unusual circumstances, students should go to the school nearest their home and it should have the programs students need – before, during, and after school. A properly funded public school is a constitutional mandate in most places, and the right thing to do in all.

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

Charter schools run for money aren’t better. By definition, the almighty dollar is their priority. They pay rent to the owner of the campus (which could be the same person, or a family member) and pay teachers what they want. They’re less expensive. Many can even choose who they admit, and we all know they don’t want special-ed, disabled, and non-English speakers as students. They would hurt test scores. Proponents use positive names, like National School Choice Week, which just ended. Check out what this Washington Post blog says was just learned about charter schools in Ohio.

Jeb Bush’s FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) has been feared by 3rd through 11th graders since 1998 and about to be replaced with new assessments. It was designed to measure student progress on the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) benchmarks. Then came the NGSSS, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards Then we were trained for the Common Core State Standards, which were pretty-much nationwide and probably better than most of what 50 different states require. Then the state of Florida decided against the Common Core. Many conservatives (but not Jeb Bush) say the CC takes away rights from the states. Either that, or lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to pay supporters to come up with new standards. Anyway, the new Florida Standards were born. They’re apparently not too different from the CC. With the new standards come new tests: one for each class in each grade. (Kindergarten students already have to hold #2 pencils in some places, including where I used to work, even if they can’t write their names.) This year, the testing is going through its transition. Click here to see what teachers have to work with, by grade level and then by subject. Try to figure it out.

August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she'd vacated the previous fall
August, 2012: retiring teacher Sheila Cohen (no relation) helping me set up my new 3rd grade classroom, the one she’d vacated the previous fall

I’ll never forget the year I taught 3rd grade. Students have to pass the reading portion of the test or be retained. It’s state law (and multiple choice, because computers can do the grading). They get some second chances but most repeat 3rd grade, the year they’re supposed to stop learning to read, and start reading to learn.

One day, the assistant principal interrupted all the 3rd grade teachers’ lessons to hand over the results. Students’ names were listed alphabetically for the whole grade, not divided into classes. I had to slowly go through and let them know what the biggest part of the future of their young lives held. There was screaming all up and down the hallway, coming out of many rooms. I couldn’t tell if they were happy cries or sad. In my room, the inclusion class that had several students in special-ed, the results were mixed. I let the students who passed call home to tell their parents the good news. The others were clearly distraught. This was the only thing that matters in 3rd grade in Florida. (But try getting a class set of reading workbooks!)

The schools and administrators look better if more students pass the tests that were handed down. And teachers get bonuses if their students do well enough. (Late last week, I got a W-2 for $1200 from Miami-Dade County Public Schools that I had forgotten I received last February. These things take time. I hadn’t worked for the district in more than a year and a half.) You can bet the FCAT-tested subjects are given more than their share of teaching time, to the detriment of others. And 30 minutes of physical education every day? In many places, forget about it!

(Unfortunately, the problems go on and on. Tomorrow, click here for more, and details on why I left teaching and don’t regret it one bit.)