Too much fun

Too many adult children are living in the basement of their parents’ houses, unready to launch.

Educators may have to shoulder at least part of the blame. We are taught to entice our students to learn through the use of computer programs and Smart Boards. We are taught to keep the pace active and entertaining, to engage our students. American education is designed to entertain children and adolescents, even in school.

Unfortunately, much of that fun originates outside of America’s children, from videogames, televisions, IPads, and smartphones, among other devices. Our children text each other nonstop as they wait for us to provide them with their next set of marching orders. The devices are almost never off. Texting is about as quiet as it gets and it’s not uncommon for adolescents to text through the night.

Our children are not learning to entertain themselves. From the outside, that fact is not always apparent. That girl who sits playing with her IPad at the adjacent restaurant table may appear to be keeping herself occupied. But who is entertaining whom? I would say some savvy software developers are amusing that girl. The gadget is active. The girl is reactive — and she may be essentially reacting through almost all of her day.

What’s the problem? I see a number of problems, but one that glares out at me lately has to do with teaching. We put the responsibility for engagement on the teachers, as if teachers are walking, breathing  programs on an IPad. We put almost no (or no!) responsibility on students to engage themselves. 

 

Too much fun

Adults constantly find distractions for their kids. Parents provide as many of the latest electronics as they can afford. Teachers work endlessly to make sure students are occupied with interesting lessons. It’s become a kidcentric world.

I think some of these kids end up living at home after graduation because real jobs — especially first jobs — frequently are not fun. Suddenly, our young adults are plunged into day-to-day reality and nobody cares if they are entertained. In fact, relaxing with the usual devices can get you fired when you’re supposed to be working instead. These adult children don’t grab the bottom rung of the ladder because the bottom rung is boring, a word I hear students using far too often.

Yes, that bottom rung is frequently boring. My first job was as a file clerk. (That dates me!) I put endless files in drawers. I cleaned up files and paperwork once my bosses knew I could be trusted. After six months, I was promoted to secretary. I typed checks and other correspondence. Three weeks later, I became an insurance claims adjuster, an interesting job which provided me with a passable paycheck until I returned to school.

Those first two insurance jobs were repetitive and dull, much less interesting than high school or college classes. I took the jobs, did them well, and worked up to a place I wanted to be. But I did not expect my environment to be fun. I did not think the world owed me an enriching experience.

The entitlement generation

 

More and more, I hear the phrase “entitlement generation.”

Here’s a definition from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/entitlement+generation:

Main Entry:Entitlement Generation

Part of Speech: noun
Definition: the group born between 1979 and 1994 who believe they are owed certain rights 

and benefits without further justification

Example: The entitlement generation expects higher salaries, flexible work hours,and ample time off.

We built these self-entitled, wretched young adults. They are frequently discontented, some of them bitterly unhappy, because that flexible job with the high salary, short hours and long vacations is nothing more than a pipe dream. Personally, I don’t know a single person in this country with that job, except a few college professors who are skating on past laurels. Virtually no one gets to start in that job.

This is my message for students and former students who have not launched: Suck it up, guys. The world was not built for you. The world is not responsible for you. YOU are responsible for you.

But I apologize, too. Instead of giving you endless second chances, we should have failed you more often. When you deliberately broke the class fan, you should have been suspended. When you kept talking to your girlfriend in class, you should have been thrown out — or your parents should have been called in to sit with you for a few days in class. We treated you like you were incapable of being responsible for yourself and I’m very much afraid you may have come to believe you aren’t responsible for yourself.

If you think that, you’re wrong.

 

Eduhonesty: Second chances are not a right. Teachers and administrators may believe they are being kind when offering second, third, fourth, etc. chances to students who break the rules. They aren’t being kind. The world does not offer chances: The world offers opportunities and sometimes “opportunity only knocks once,” as the old saying goes. The world can go whizzing right by while entitled young adults wait for the right break. And wait. And wait. And wait.

More on scheduling

How else can we attack the disparities between our richer and poorer districts?  We might start by looking further at traditional scheduling. The idea that all of America’s students should be on more or less the same schedule comes from an agrarian time when crops set the schedule. Very few districts in America today need to follow the harvest. Studies document substantial learning loss over summer vacation.

Districts with air-conditioning would benefit from spreading out the school year. Even if the school year cannot be changed, we can create shorter vacations. Four three-week vacations could be scheduled instead of the one, long summer break. For that matter, students in America’s most challenged districts would greatly benefit from a longer school year. The idea that all students should go for 180 days makes little sense. Why do ALL districts need to have approximately the same year? If the job is getting done in 180 days, fine. But if a school’s students lag behind most of their peers, then the job is not getting done.

We don’t set a time limit when mopping the kitchen. We don’t say, “Four minutes. Time to quit.” We stop when the mop has covered the floor and the dirt is gone. There is no reason our academically-challenged districts should not have a 250 day year or a 280 day year if that is the time needed to catch students up in English and mathematics. (I acknowledge the problem of financial constraints.)

Just as the school year and school day should be as long as a district can afford, even schools that cannot significantly extend the school day overall might consider mandatory after-school tutoring for students who are behind grade level. Some districts have already taken this approach, an extension of the concept of mandatory summer school for failing students. The idea that all students should have a school day of the same length is another legacy from the distant past. Why not provide needier, academically-disadvantaged students with a longer school day?

Our time constraints are highly artificial. In urban areas especially, the vast majority of our students have never visited a working farm. Many would have trouble telling a shorn sheep from a goat. It’s long past time to get off the agricultural calendar.

Air-conditioning matters a lot

State intervention has turned out to be a financial godsend to “Gotham City School District 100,” even if the school board members lost their jobs and state representatives were sitting in some school staff meetings. The district finally possesses a functional website and computers without floppy drives.  But two years ago, the State Superintendent of Education looked at the district’s schools and suggested knocking down the two middle schools and adding an addition onto the high school to house the middle school students. In the Superintendent’s view, fixing up the dilapidated middle-school buildings was a waste of money. A large portion of any extra money the district receives in the near future will probably have to be sunk into infrastructure, into the buildings and grounds that were built in the middle of the last century.

This year, one of the two middle schools will be closed and those students will be placed in the larger middle school, a school where classrooms sometimes are in the nineties. On other days, these classrooms fall into the midfifties.

This fact alone may clobber any attempts to raise scores. Students seldom function well in such extreme conditions. They also whine a lot.

A Few Changes that Could Provide Genuine Educational Benefit

Many proposed solutions for America’s educational disparities require large sums of money – money that frequently does not exist, at least not in the districts that need that money. With state and federal governments lacking financial surpluses that might be used to fund new programs, I believe we need to stop discussing across-the-board plans for longer school years, more early enrichment programs, and smaller class sizes. America has many solvent, well-funded school districts that might be able to put some of these ideas into action but, overall, these are not the districts where students need extra help.

Districts burdened by academic underachievement and high drop-out rates hardly ever have extra resources available. The costs required to lengthen the school year, add extra years of schooling or seriously shrink classes are formidable. High costs generally render these strategies infeasible on a broad-scale basis, and focusing on such universal, costly strategies keeps us from exploring alternatives in scattered districts where we might make immediate improvements to American education.

We need to focus on what we can do to improve our schools right now.  That requires approaching school districts on an individual basis. All of America’s school districts are different, and some vary radically.  Whether a district is located in Illinois or Texas or Maine affects what may be done. A school without air-conditioning cannot run classes much past the start of June in states with hot summers. Within a given state, the financial strength of an individual district affects what may be done – or whether anything needs to be done at all. Past performance obviously has to be a major consideration in reform efforts: Part of the absurdity of NCLB has been the many “failing” districts that include schools regularly at the top of their state’s testing pool.

What can be done for those schools that are not yet succeeding? In those districts that have air-conditioning, if we cannot significantly lengthen the total number of days in the school year, due to the large costs involved, we can at least spread out that year, with probably manageable extra costs, such as increased utility bills and the expenses incurred by having staff on site for a longer period of time. More and more schools are starting earlier and ending later, a schedule that may prevent some of the learning loss documented from longer summer breaks. Schools are adding fall breaks and otherwise tweaking the schedule so that instead of one long summer break, for example, three shorter breaks are spread throughout the year.

The longer school day is another possible, admittedly somewhat expensive change that would benefit academic underachievers. As I write this, Chicago is coming close to establishing that longer school day, adding 144 teachers to create the new schedule. Coming up with more money to keep underachieving schools open longer has proved a difficult proposition, mostly due to increased staffing costs, but the longer school day will allow Chicago to attack critical problems such as lack of reading time and spotty homework performance.

The longer school day does not have to be enacted across the board — Please, no more sweeping laws! — but could reasonably be based on academic performance. The school district where I live does not need to add hours to the school day. Almost 100% of its students go on to higher education after high school, one of the main reasons why my local high school was chosen as one of the top 100 high schools in the country. The district where I worked two years ago, though, is creating a new charter school and one selling point for that school was the plan for a longer school day. The students where I taught had not been succeeding on the standard 8:00 to 2:45 school day. The new school was planned to start at 8:30 and run until 4:00. Those extra minutes could only be beneficial. Somehow the district had also budgeted a 200 day year for the charter school, adding 20 days to the school year.  

No Money is No Money is No Money

The state government of Illinois is teetering on financial insolvency. California is almost equally crippled. Most American states have dug their way deep into financial holes. Some school districts have been in the red for years. Most lower-performing school districts are perpetually short of funds and have little prospect of receiving sudden, large infusions of cash. Some of our “solutions” need to be taken off the table. The mandatory, nation-wide, all-year school year requires all-year air-conditioning and all-year teachers at a time when school districts are aggressively laying off teachers and paraprofessionals, while juggling the remaining staff to cut costs. The extended year also requires more busses, more general staffing, and many more “free” breakfasts and lunches. Utility and supply costs go up as days are added. Longer school days, early enrichment programs, and smaller class sizes eat funds rapidly for the same reasons.

School choice?

To borrow a quote from the previous post:

 

A KPBS news article describes the situation perfectly:Teachers in San Diego schools have been through years of seeing pink slips issued and then rescinded, so many expect the same to happen this year. But Lorena Gonzalez, secretary and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said Thursday that sitting back and waiting for the district’s more than $120 million deficit to work itself out won’t work this time.

“You see what’s happening up and down our state with the number of school districts that are facing the same kind of economic crisis we’re seeing here,” she said. “Things are different.”

 


Things ARE different. We’ve hit a number of economic walls. Without changes in how we fund and manage our educational establishments, the already gaping chasm between our have and have-not districts will grow into an abyss.Dublin Edinburgh and sausage I hope 285

Thems as has gits. It’s always been that way. But as the world becomes more technologically advanced, the opportunity cost of not-having grows greater. Our poorest districts need longer hours and longer school years. As our municipalities retreat financially, who will provide these hours?

More and more, I favor the School Choice Movement. To quote from  a 1/26/2012 article by Michael Wille at http://illinoispolicy.org/blog/blog.asp?ArticleSource=4642:

About ten cents of every dollar allocated to school districts in this country comes from the Department of Education. States and local communities are the sources for the overwhelming amount of public dollars dedicated to the education system. Parents, teachers and local school boards best understand the needs of their students and institutions of learning. The strings attached to federal dollars often burden local community leaders with compliance costs. The teachers are constrained by these regulations, and students suffer as a result. Tying public dollars to families and allowing the money to follow the child will produce a better system for all.

Various government agencies have aggressively attacked the disparity in results between districts in different zip codes and we have received remarkably little return for our tax-dollar investments. It’s time to let parents vote with their feet. It’s time to let teachers teach their students what those students don’t know, and not what some pie-in-the-sky curriculum written by someone who has never taught a single hour in a classroom.

District at a deficit

North Chicago District 187 has historically lacked the money for the programs they put into place, as evidenced by the fact that the district operated for years at a deficit; the district was millions of dollars in the red by 2011 when the state finally began taking over, in part in response to the district’s attempt to sell bonds to continue deficit spending.

From Judy Masterson in the Lake County News-Sun of March 15, 2012:

The state order (overturning a North Chicago School Board vote against the establishment of a new charter school in the district) is critical of School Board members who argued that even if military enrollments continue to decline, lawmakers would not allow the district to dissolve. It cited another “glaring example” of the “district’s apparent failure to appreciate the tenuousness” of its financial predicament: The June 2010 decision to sell $39.5 million in revenue bonds funded primarily using federal impact aid, a move that, according to the order, has placed the district on the brink of a financial meltdown.

Many school districts across America are barely getting by. The following was taken from an educationclearinghouse article from October 2011 about the changes that lack of funds can make in a school district. This snippet and its accompanying graph help quantify the problem (http://educationclearinghouse.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/the-changes-that-insolvency-can-make-in-a-school-district/):

“Across the state (California), more school districts are edging closer to insolvency, according to the state agency responsible for overseeing districts’ financial health. After the housing bubble burst and Wall Street crashed three years ago, the number of districts flagged by state officials as nearing insolvency spiked.”

This graph does not fully capture the picture, however. For example, the bars do not include San Diego. According to the article, the San Diego Unified District had not been flagged by state officials since the district reported that it expected to be able to pay its bills for the following two years, using money expected from the state. Yet as of December 11th, 2011, the San Diego Unified School Board was considering spending cuts, trying to deal with possible insolvency, because major cuts were expected to come down from the state unless “something drastic happens.”[1] Board members were considering cutting 55 positions and imposing a district-wide hiring freeze, shutting down non-critical overtime, raiding the reserves and selling property just so that the district could pay its bills. By May 24, 2012,[2] the San Diego Board of education trustees finalized more than 1,500 layoffs – most of them teachers.

A KPBS news article describes the situation perfectly:Teachers in San Diego schools have been through years of seeing pink slips issued and then rescinded, so many expect the same to happen this year. But Lorena Gonzalez, secretary and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said Thursday that sitting back and waiting for the district’s more than $120 million deficit to work itself out won’t work this time.

“You see what’s happening up and down our state with the number of school districts that are facing the same kind of economic crisis we’re seeing here,” she said. “Things are different.”