Friday, July 27, 2012

Let's pay teachers babysitters' wages: part two

In my previous post, I made a lot of noise about teachers' salaries. Some of you may think that I'm just riding my hobbyhorse again, and that I'm just another unqualified loudmouth, making noise. I'll concede the "making noise" part, although I wish it was more effective, but let me assure you that I am qualified to speak on the subject. I'll give you my qualifications in a minute.

First, I will point you to a couple of people whose qualifications are without question: Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari have been working with public school teachers for 10 years, and are founders of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary "American Teacher," according to the New York Times. In an editorial entitled "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," they present an indictment of the current system, and a convincing case for a radical realignment of teacher salaries.

Some of you won't like the article, because it makes way too much sense. Did you know that teacher turnover costs American schools over $7 billion dollars a year, the cost of hiring and training new teachers? Annual turnover in urban school districts in the U.S., according to Eggers and Calegari, is 20%. Compare that to national averages of 1% in South Korea, 2% in  Finland , and 3% in Singapore.

What do those countries do differently? They recruit top graduates to be teachers, they treat them better, and they pay them fairly: South Korean teachers make more than 3 times as much as their American counterparts.

By the way, students from those three countries are the top performers, worldwide, on standardized tests.

Eggers, Calegari and I keep calling for better pay for teachers. (I first spoke out about this in October 2006.) But nobody's listening. I predict that one of two things will happen: either we, and others like us, will get tired of calling, and will eventually shut up, and America will end up with the shoddy education her citizens deserve; or other people will add their voices to ours, and the noise will get loud enough for our leaders to notice and take action.

My qualifications to speak on the subject of teacher pay:

I worked as a teacher, and I was one of the 46 percent of teachers who quit within the first five years. I loved teaching. The low pay was one of the reasons I quit. The unemployment that I collected while I was actively looking for another job was only a little less than my teaching salary.

I was an engineer before and after my teaching stint, so I know how much professionals really make.

One of my daughters taught for two years, and although she loved her subject, her students, and the teaching profession, she quit to go back to college and get an MBA. It was a tough choice for her, but in the end she told me that she had looked far into her future and decided that she didn't want to be poor her whole life.

Another daughter enters the teaching profession this fall, and we'll see how long she lasts.

My sweet wife has been teaching for seven years. I know how much money she makes, and I know how the salary negotiations go every year. The teacher's union always gives in, and the administration always makes it look (in public) like the teacher's union has been greedy. The fact is that teacher pay in this district, already below the state average and well below the national average, has not even kept up with inflation for the past 7 years. But that's a topic for another posting.

I have known former teachers in many other professions, and all of them, every single one of them, told me that they quit teaching because of the low pay, not because they didn't want to teach. A social studies teacher, state champion diver and high school diving coach became an investment banker. A history teacher became a journeyman electroplater. A music teacher (not my daughter) became an applications engineer. And the list goes on.

Let's pay teachers babysitters' wages: Another modest proposal

Scott and Sadie, the morning deejays on Big Country 97.9 FM, said this morning that the average babysitting rate today is $12.75 per child. I don't know where that factoid came from, but let's run with it.

In April 2011, I stated that a typical teacher sees 80 to 100 students per day. That was based on survey statistics and professional experience, so I think it's still a valid number. Let's split the difference, and say it's 90.

Math time! $12.75 per student, times 90 students per day, times 182 instructional days per year, comes out to:


Think about it. If we paid public school teachers the going rate for basic child care, we would see the following changes in our educational system:

1. EVERYBODY would want to be a teacher.

2. That means that the best and brightest college students would aspire to become teachers rather than lawyers, accountants, salesmen, engineers, and doctors.

3. Schools could be VERY picky about whom they hired.

4. Therefore, the overall quality of teachers would increase.

5. It's a high probability that the overall quality of teaching, and hence of a public education, would increase.

Think of the difference that would make in the nation's health and well-being, 10 to 20 years down the road, when the students taught in this high-quality system take over as the movers and shakers in society.

Instead, the average K-12 teacher's annual salary, nationwide, hovers around $44,000 (see We are forcing our teachers to work for only 20%, one fifth, of what they're worth. That's slave wages.

Some of you may object that teachers aren't doing "basic child care," and that therefore we shouldn't be paying them basic child care workers' wages. AND YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. We should be paying them more — MUCH MORE. Give me a number. I dare you.

Some of you are still using the old objection that we don't need to pay teachers more because they get the summers off. Look again at that number. It's calculated on only 182 instruction days. If you want teachers to work 250 days a year, like the rest of us, then their annual salary should be:


Besides, for those of you who still think that "teachers get the summers off": some do, it's true. But I've seen many teachers in coffee shops, filling out applications for summer jobs so that they can afford to teach again in the fall. I've known teachers who moonlight at coffee shops, bars and restaurants, during the school year, to make ends meet. According to Eggers and Calegari, fully 62% of teachers work outside the classroom to make ends meet. I've seen many other teachers who spend their summers taking college courses (which they pay for themselves) to keep their certifications current. "Summers off" - pfsssh.

I'm not talking about "funding school districts." I'm talking about "paying teachers." But since the two are interrelated, I will say that we need to reform the way we fund school districts. Stop blaming the teachers' unions for the high teacher salaries - there aren't any "high teacher salaries." The highest average teacher salary, by state, is only about $59,000, and the highest starting salary is only $39,000.

The way public-school teachers are paid in the United States is a national embarrassment, and something that we as a nation should be ashamed of. Let's pay teachers what they're worth.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Great Man: Covey's Next Great Adventure

I can remember the first time I read Stephen R. Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the exercises he had you, the reader, do was imagine your own funeral, and what you would want people to say about you. Then he said, essentially, to live your life in such a way that, after you die, that is what people will say about you. He used this exercise to illustrate a more general principle of leadership and achievement, which he encapsulated in the phrase "Begin with the end in mind."

Aside #1: I used to teach that principle to my 7th grade math students, as a strategy for solving word problems.

Aside #2: Somebody once told me, after going through the funeral exercise, that the one thing they'd really like to hear at their funeral is, "Hey, look! He just moved! He's not really dead!"

No more asides. Stephen R. Covey passed away this week, at age 79. I'm not writing an obituary or a eulogy for him. You can find a lot of those on the Web. They're all very complimentary, and I get the feeling that when Covey went through this exercise himself, in the early 1980s, he probably wrote something a lot like what you can read today.

No, I want to go in another direction. Covey was not without his critics. They accused him of writing "platitudes" and of "stating the obvious." Uh, yeah. Durr.

There's a joke among high school English teachers, about the kids who say "Why do we have to read Shakespeare? It's just a bunch of old clichés."

Covey always said that he wasn't the first one to think of the principles embodied in the Seven Habits. He cited Peters and Waterman (In Search of Excellence) and Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), who came before him. But the words and phrases used to describe the Seven Habits have become so common, so universal, so obvious, that they are now referred to derisively as "platitudes." A measure of their success is that they have become fodder for jokes, parodies, spinoffs, knockoffs, TV scripts and movie scripts — not to mention abuse and misuse by the clueless.

Like the clichés in Shakespeare, Covey's platitudes had to start somewhere.

Postscript: In case you missed them, here are Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

1. Be proactive.

2. Begin with the end in mind.

3. Put first things first.

4. Think "win-win."

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

6. Synergize.

7. Sharpen the saw.

Now, go read the book. You will never be sorry.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Florida deputies shoot and kill wrong man; claim it was his own fault

UPDATE: See "Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news" for the view from August 3rd.

Okay, this really happened.

And there has been no hint of compassion, or regret, or remorse, or personal mortification, or anything from the perpetrators. There has been a heap of justification, of blaming the victim, and perhaps even of cover-up.

Sheriff's deputies in Lake County, Florida, were looking for Jonathan Brown, a suspect in an attempted murder. They got information that he was staying in his apartment in the Blueberry Hills apartment complex, in Leesburg, Florida. So they went there, at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 15. I guess 1:30 on a Sunday morning is a good time to capture a suspect.

They saw Brown's motorcycle parked in the parking lot, and the engine was still warm. They could have staked out the place, and waited 5 or 6 hours for the suspect to appear, and then taken him with a minimum of disturbance to anybody. But oh, no. They got excited. It reminds me of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Disney's Robin Hood: "This time, we got him fer sure!"

So they knocked on the door of apartment 114, the apartment right in front of the motorcycle. Okay, I guess it's a logical assumption to make, right? What a stupid assumption! Sometimes, when you come home after work, somebody else is already parked in front of your apartment, so you park somewhere else. Or you live on the second floor so you park somewhere at random. Or you know the cops are after you, so you try to throw them off your scent, just a little bit. Anyway, they had his address, right down to the apartment number, and it wasn't apartment 114.

(It turns out that Brown was in the adjacent building, where he was arrested shortly after this incident concluded — without deputies banging on his door.)

So, yeah. They knocked. At 1:30 in the morning. According to some witness reports, there was no answer, so they knocked repeatedly. According to other witnesses, they didn't knock; they BANGED, POUNDED, loudly enough to wake other residents. Then they kicked the door open and went inside. Without ever announcing themselves.

Now, imagine what was going on inside the apartment. The resident, who, by the way, is not Jonathan Brown, but a perfectly harmless and innocent man named Andrew Lee Scott, is startled awake by someone knocking on his door in the middle of the night. He sits bolt upright in bed, wondering what's going on and waiting to see if whoever it is knocks a second time.

Fearing that it might be a burglar, he grabs the gun he keeps — legally — for self-defense, and creeps towards the front door, ready to defend himself and his family. There's a third knock at the door, and then the door comes flying open. Acting in self-defense, he raises the gun and points it at the intruders who come bursting through the door.

Now we go back to the deputies' side of the story. After they kicked open the door and entered the apartment, they saw someone pointing a gun at them. Gee. Imagine that. In a state with the famous "Stand Your Ground" law, and after they had busted down his door without saying that they were cops.

So they reacted the way any cop would do, when faced with the business end of a gun. They shot him. Cops are trained not to shoot unless they intend to kill, and these cops thought they were facing a murder suspect.

But they shot him four times.

It only takes one bullet to bring someone down. The rest were excessive, panic shots, the result of poor training. (At least it wasn't as bad as the cops in New York City in February 1999, who killed an unarmed immigrant named Amadou Diallo, in the entrance to his own apartment building. At nearly point-blank range, four cops fired 41 shots at him, hitting him with 19 bullets. They were acquitted at trial.)

Still, these Lake County deputies squeezed off four shots, when one would have been sufficient.

After the guy was down, deputies realized they had the wrong man. Andrew Lee Scott was not the man they were looking for. So what did they do next? They conducted an illegal, warrantless search of his apartment. According to their report, they found "drugs and drug paraphernalia," which items they used to justify their illegal entry.

I don't know a state in the Union where possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia justifies a cop shooting you to death. And even if he'd only been wounded, and they had decided to arrest him for the drugs, the charges would have been thrown out of court because of the illegal search. There was no warrant, and no probable cause.

Lt. John Herrell, a Lake County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said "When we knocked on the door, the door opened and the occupant of that apartment was pointing a gun at deputies and that's when we opened fire and killed him." There's a bit of disagreement on this statement. First, I don't know who this "we" is, or whether Herrell was one of the three deputies involved in the incident. Second, news reports don't agree on whether, as Herrell stated, the deputies knocked, the door opened, and the "occupant" was there with a gun pointed at them. Some witnesses saw the kind of damage to the door frame that only happens when a door is kicked in. Other accounts of the event say that the deputies were inside the apartment when the "occupant" confronted them. And other accounts, which must be from the deputies themselves, vary as to whether the gun was pointed at them, or simply in the victim's (or "occupant's") hand.

Like I said, it's a cover-up. Or it will be a cover-up, unless FDLE can move fast enough.

And here's the best part of the whole thing: the sheriff's department lays all the blame on the victim. Herrell said: "It's just a bizarre set of circumstances. The bottom line is, you point a gun at a deputy sheriff or police officer, you're going to get shot."  Apparently, that's true even if the cops come busting into your house without saying a word to you at 1:30 in the morning, with their own guns drawn and ready to fire.

(This should remind you of yet another incident, in November 2006, when Atlanta cops conducted a no-knock raid on a house whose only resident was an 92-year-old woman. They rushed into her bedroom, where she fired one shot at them from an old "rusty revolver," and they fired back. They fired 39 shots, killing her with 5 or 6 bullets and wounding each other with the rest. They planted three bags of marijuana in her house to recover as "evidence." They were convicted at trial.)

Not a word has been said about Andrew Lee Scott's mother, wife, girlfriend, or other family members. Scott was 26 years old. Somebody's got to love him and miss him. The sheriff's office has not made any (published) statement of condolences to his family, or regret for the unfortunate incident. All we have gotten from them, through the media, is a weak "Well, it was his own fault." And now that they're under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, they're not saying anything.

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not pro-drug or anti-police. In fact, thanks to the antics of Our Neighbor From Hell, we have become closely acquainted with, and are on good terms with, our local police department. However, we are thousands of miles from Florida, thankfully, and we will never have to deal with Lake County's style of "to protect and to serve."

Let's summarize a few things:
1. They decided to make a move on this guy at 1:30 in the morning. If they weren't cops, the move they were contemplating would be called "breaking and entering" at the least, and a "home invasion" at the worst.
2. They went to the wrong address. They saw the motorbike and jumped to an erroneous conclusion, even though they had the correct address in their hands. By the way, that was simultaneously a perfectly logical and stupid-beyond-common-sense conclusion.
3. They didn't announce who they were. If someone knocks on my door at 1:30 in the morning and doesn't say anything, they had better tell me who they are, or I'll be in fear of my life, too.
5. They bashed in the door and entered the apartment, according to some accounts.
6. They shot more than once.
7. After they realized their mistake, they searched the apartment.
8. They justified their actions, and they blamed the victim.
9. The sheriff's office is circling the wagons, and refusing to acknowledge possible errors in judgment or training.
10. The sheriff's office is not showing an ounce of sympathy for the victim or his family, and no compassion for anyone but their own people.

I do not advocate any kind of citizen retaliation against the deputies involved in this unfortunate incident. You will notice that I haven't mentioned them by name, even though their names and a great deal of other information about them is available on the Internet. The Internet today is too full of haters and kooks, who would make life miserable for these officers and for their families. That's not the way Drew would want to be memorialized, and I don't think he would advocate that kind of behavior. One innocent life has been destroyed already; let's not hurt anybody else, okay?

UPDATE: See "Florida deputies and Andrew Lee Scott - more news" for the view from August 3rd.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Something about bullies

This may or may not help those of you who have problems with bullies, but let me give it a try. Here are four  vignettes from when my family was young, stories about bullies. There's a lesson to be derived from all four stories, taken together, but I'll leave the lesson for you to figure out.

First story:

When my oldest son was almost three years old, and my oldest daughter was about a year and a half, we moved to California. We lived on a cul-de-sac with three other houses. Sometime during our residency there, a young family from Texas moved into one of the other houses. This must have been a year and a half later. They had two boys, about the same age as our children. We thought they would play well together.

Well, one day my daughter came into the house crying. She'd been playing with the younger boy, and he had decided it was time to dump a bucketload of sand over her head. That same day or thereabouts, my son ran into the house, not crying, but obviously frightened, because the older boy had been threatening to hit him with something. After we made careful inquiries of our children, we found out that these boys had been displaying a increasing pattern of aggression and bullying.

Second story:

For various reasons, we did not want to approach the parents about it. It wasn't out of cowardice. We talked it over and simply decided that that wasn't the right thing to do.

I had grown up with an older sister who liked to bully me. As a child, I had been on the scrawny and uncoordinated side, so I got picked on at school, too. I don't know if I'd actually call it "bullying." If it was bullying, it was really lightweight bullying. But I had resolved that, when I grew up, my children would never have to submit to bullying.

I had just finished reading Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. The book had convinced me that, in matters of self-defense, a pre-emptive nuclear strike was much more effective than a graduated response, when it came to stopping a bully. So the next Monday night, for family activity night, I taught my four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter how to punch a bully in the nose. I showed them how to cock their fists, and how to throw a good punch. I had them practice on my arm until they could really make it hurt. I showed them where to aim, and taught them not to worry about any body part except the nose.

Third story:

One Saturday I heard a child's screaming from the direction of the cul-de-sac. Looking out the window, I saw the younger Texan running for home, screaming bloody murder, and my daughter sitting calmly on the curb, playing with her dolls.

I strolled out to the curb, sat down beside her, and casually asked her what had happened.

In a calm, matter-of-fact voice, she said, "Cody was being mean to me again."

I asked, "So what did you do?"

In that same calm, matter-of-fact voice, she replied, "I punched him in the nose."

I patted her on the head, said "Good for you," and went back into the house. She kept playing with her dolls. Never even looked up.

He never bullied her again. I'm not kidding. True story.

Fourth story:

Would you believe it? A day or two later, I again heard screaming from the cul-de-sac. This time I raced to the window in time to see my son chasing the older Texan back to his house, my son's right arm extended straight out in front of him, with his fist extended like a cavalry sword. (The screaming was coming from the Texan.)

Not exactly the technique I had taught him, but okay. It worked.

When my son eventually came back in the house, I asked him what the screaming was about.

"Travis was being mean to me."

"So did you punch him in the nose?"

"No, he ran away too fast."

You know how there are times in your parenting when you're not allowed to laugh, or make that little snorting noise, or even show a tiny smile? Yeah. This was one of those times. I think I managed a calm, "Oh. Okay."

And just like in my daughter's story, the boy never bullied my son again. No kidding.