School Marm Ghetto

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San Francisco has returned education to its roots, by attempting to provide “affordable” housing to its educators.   Like the 1800s, when teachers of the plains and western states were required to live in or near the one room school houses, the city is converting an old school into barracks-like apartments for teachers-only to rent. Of course, the people behind this plan think it is a meaningful, maybe even a humane solution.   At what point will they realize that by providing housing, in the same way they provide housing to low-income families in many other cities, they are literally and conceptually ghetto-izing the job of being an educator?

The Golden Gate City is one of the most interesting, attractive cities in our country, with a rich history and cultural landscape; intriguing foods, distinct villages or boroughs, tantalizing vistas all add to define it as an original.  And for years the variety of dwellings has also allowed its citizens to remain inside its boundaries with generations of people  who have called themselves San Franciscans.

But then the tech companies landed. With the money that many of its workers earn, land and buildings have disappeared into their pockets, which then has allowed a competitve market to open up where property costs have sky rocketed. A place where the average worker-nurses, electricians, teachers-could still live is harder and harder to find inside the city.

Add that teachers are notoriously underpaid for their degrees and expertise, especially new teachers, and the city now has a problem on its hands.  Where do you find people to teach your children, when they can’t live within the community?

So make the teachers commute.  Big deal.  (Except this is not true in any other major city to this degree.  Even teachers in Manhattan can live in Manhattan.) Commuting takes away precious after- and before-school time that teachers use to tutor and connect with their students.  It takes away moments of comradery between faculty and administration which is essential to build a strong school family, an hallmark of a “good school”.  It also removes the teacher from the community, which in my experience, is a wonderful part of teaching.  Kids who run into Ms. Sneed or Coach Bowen at the grocery store or the local burger joint feel a stronger sense of pride, respect, and even identity than those who think teachers fold-up into drawers at the end of the night.   Toss in the stress of the extra hours on the road, fighting traffic, and even the cost of gas and wear and tear on the car, and commuting is forcing some teachers to vacate not just the city, but the profession.

Now realize that all educators are paid with money from property taxes, and you’d think the solution was built into the cause of the problem to begin with.  Land values go up, salaries do too.   Right?  Well, not quite. They have both risen since the techies arrived, but not in comparable rates.  The value of property has risen by 40%, but teacher salaries have risen by 15%.  So Ms. Sneed, young teacher, now makes $4000 more a year, hardly enough to keep up with the newer rents, where the average rent is $4200 a month.  (Because, guess what, the cost of everything inside the city limits has risen, too; food, gas, health activities all range between 25% to even 70% than the rest of the country. )

Enter the politicians.   Recognizing that they were struggling to find educators willing or able to make those commutes, and were limited to a smaller pool of the most-qualified applicants, they made a decision:  “Let’s revamp that old building in town into lofts for teachers. . .”  Yay!

But what they are doing is keeping the educators segregated from the community.   Physically underscoring that teachers don’t fit in with the very children they teach.  Politicians are also labelling them as people who need to live in “the projects.”

NO matter how cute the floors are or how attractive the landscaping is outside, everyone nearby knows. . .”Those folks living there. . .they are the teachers who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else here.”  And if they have kids, their kids will most likely be grouped with other educator’s kids only, much the way kids in the project hang with kids from the project. Teachers living there also seem to hand their independence and privacy over to the city-Managers can come in and monitor, even define, the lifestyles inside the building. . .just as they did over 100 years ago with the young, unmarried women of the 1800s, who lived in the back of the school, and followed a strict code of behavior.

Can you imagine the  uproar if they did the same to any other “degreed” profession?

The worst part about this is that it signifies what the U.S. has been guilty of doing to teachers throughout public schooling-treating us like servants (civil servants, of course) rather than private citizens. We are nearly a class of soldiers, with separate rules of living and now the housing to go with it.


Has Betsy Got you Thinking about Vouchers?


Thinking about school vouchers and the new Education Secretary, DeVos?   Maybe DeVos was not put in place because of her huge donations to Trump.  Let’s play along, and say, “YES! She was put in place to fix our schools, particularly with her voucher plan; She must have realistic goals that Trump supports!  She has faith that vouchers will allow students from weak schools to attend strong private schools, thereby forcing public schools to improve or die by attrition.  Yes!”

I am not saying vouchers for private schools are not a good opt out for parents who care about their children’s education, but who lack funding for private school tuition.  But vouchers will not “fix” our education system, which is the Education Secretary’s job. Her plan will only further school segregation:  studious kids vs. apathetic kids; involved parents vs. apathetic parents; rich vs. poor kids; even black vs. white kids.

Consider this chart marks the basic differences between Private and Public schools:


Where? Private Schools Public Schools
Who are their students? Whomever  the admission board CHOOSES attends  (vouchers do not guarantee a spot in a private school) Every kid in the district attends
What is the average Cost per Student? $13,000

(Vouchers will not be comparable to either. . .)

Academic Standards (Easy or Difficult?) Failing students are expelled in private schools, (sometimes after they have been provided private tutors, often paid for by either extra fees or tuition; sometimes after they simply have failed). Failing students in public schools are often pushed from school to school, class to class, removed from rosters during testing and then put back onto a roster after testing, so their failure is not on record
Discipline Standards They can have a  “three strikes, (or even a one strike) you’re out” policy, where kids who are disruptive are eliminated quickly. The truest thing readers need to understand is that public schools are smaller versions of the community, and that schools often suffer a quota of how many discipline incidents they can record; so behavior can be awful or awesome depending on the community. Many have a 12 severe offenses expulsion  rule.
Content Standards (What and How they teach) Private schools do not have to meet any lesson plan standards, though often they choose to if they want to receive state or national certifications. The  school district and state define this, and sometimes teachers are micromanaged to the point where they are given daily lesson plans and unit tests.
Teacher Preparedness Private schools do not have to hire certified teachers though they sometimes do, due to state and national certification standards.  They do require at least a bachelor’s degree, but not always in subject. Public schools require state certification, which means that teacher must have a four year degree with a particular number of hours in subject, teacher training courses, and passing test scores of certification tests.

A CLOSER look at what this chart means in detail:

Admittees to private school tend to be kids with parents who can afford the school; kids with parents who donate extra funding to the school; kids who have fewer issues like learning or emotional disabilities; kids who are achievers; kids who are competitive; kids who are not trouble makers.  Plus, private schools tend to be very homogeneous in their student bodies, if not by race than by idealism-religion and politics most of all. (Now yes, there are a private schools that are specifically designed for trouble makers and for LD learners.  These are not the schools parents are seeking vouchers for typically, and I doubt DeVos is considering them in her plan.)


No matter if they are gifted intellectually and morally, or low-IQ criminals with a murder rap on their record, fast learners, slow learners, disenfranchised, well-adjusted, well-off, poor,  everyone is accepted to public schools in their district no matter where they stand on the learning ability spectrum.  Some advocates suggest that all kids want to learn, and that better schools can do more with “all” kids than weak schools. However,  this all-inclusive policy does cause difficulties for some learners and school systems that private schools do not suffer, and not to acknowledge that is ignorant.
The cost difference in each school will not be covered by vouchers;  infact, vouchers will probably not be the exact amount that the state is spending on an individual child to go to public school.  Interestingly, Private schools pay their teachers far less than public schools do in the long run, and often do not include books and supplies in that tuition figure. Thus, the money spent on the individual students and faculty is not actually where the cost difference lies.  If not on the kids, and definitely not on the teachers, where is that money going?  Most private schools are for-profit.  The extra goes into shareholders’ pockets.
Because they can eliminate undesirable students, private schools rarely have the discipline problems one sees in some public schools (unless the school specializes in dealing with LD and EBD issues).   This does not mean private schools do not have drug issues or misbehaviors.  They simply have the freedom to deal with these issues differently, and often the threat of expelling a student, brings parents to their senses, and the kids falls in line.  But again, more often than not, disruptions and dangers are removed and no longer a responsibility of the school, while public schools must figure out how to legally offer a disruptive or even a dangerous child an education.

Each public school has a set limit of what it can “tolerate” not only in terms of behavior, but also in terms of how often a teacher can “refer a student.”  Rougher schools have kids who get away with rougher behavior, simply because the principals are trying not to go over a certain amount of recorded paperwork, a quota defined by the system or their own conscience.   It’s a numbers game, as if the district has said, “You are allowed to suspend 10% of your students each month.”   So one school might have a collection of class AWOLS, a few minor fights a month, a pothead in the bathroom another might have robberies, violent physical or sexual assaults, and drug deals among their quota of discipline referrals.


The truest thing readers need to understand is that public schools are smaller versions of the community.  If the community has violence and crime, the school will reflect that.  Children don’t come to school and suddenly represent a different community.  Because of this, often public schools work hard to define a sense of community within its own walls in order to right that wrong.


Private schools (unless they have been set up to deal with problem students like the old reform schools of years past) simply rid themselves of failing students.  Like colleges, where a student who fails gets dismissed after so many terms, a private school student who cannot cut it, usually gets kicked back to the public school system or an easier private school, whereas failing students in public schools are often pushed from school-to-school, class-to-class, so they can try-and-try again.  They are even removed from rosters during testing and then put back onto a roster after testing, so their failure is not on record.  But they can never be denied an education until they reach the age of 21.

Plus, failure rates are highly monitored/controlled in many of the public schools, particularly in low-achievement areas. I’ve worked in schools where we were not allowed to have a 5% failure rate.  Even if the kids had chosen to do nothing at all. . .96% had to pass.
Private schools do not have to meet any standards, though often they choose to if they want to receive state or national certifications.  Stronger certifications draw more tuition.  But other than perhaps a board of trustees, there is little governance of how the lessons are delivered.  Sometimes teachers are rigidly monitored, others are not depending on the schools.  One private school can be rigorous and comprehensive. Another can be very easy and shallow in its content, depending on what the parents and board expect.

Content standards can vary from public school to school.  The  school district and state define this, a but even in the same district, standards can be defined by the administration of a particular school.   And sometimes teachers are micromanaged to the point where they are given daily lesson plans and unit tests.  This can help weak teachers, but it also stifles talented teachers.  Some of these methods are based on “studies” that have very little foundational testing or evidence that these methods work.   Plus, just like the failure rate quota issue in public schools, teachers are often encouraged to teach to the lowest denominator.  Or the other problem, content lessons are the same from school to school no matter the difference in the needs of its population. In some neighborhoods children come already reading; in others they rarely know their ABCs.  Should each school teach the same lessons then?
Teachers at both private and public  schools  have to have a bachelor’s degree at least.    Higher standard private schools tend to hire teachers with degrees from higher standard colleges.  Papermill private schools (they do exist) will hire whomever is available.  Private schools tend to pay less than public schools, but some teachers prefer the school setting because of easier discipline settings and work schedules.

Public schools require state certification, which means that teacher must have a four year degree with a particular number of hours in subject, teacher training courses, and passing test scores of certification tests.  In high value public schools-where teaching load is easier due to class size and discipline-schools get “better applicants” and often hire based on cronyism; teachers in these areas often must “know someone” or become a coach to get these jobs.

Less attractive teaching settings-schools with high turn over of students, less prepared students, large class sizes, discipline issues-tend to hire brand new teachers who are just trying to get into a district.  Or these weaker schools harbor teachers who cannot leave to other schools because either the other principals brand those teachers as “undesirable” (though they often have the exact training and education as the rest of the district) or the teachers are actually undesirable, leaving those teachers in the most needy schools feeling  negative overall about their schools or themselves.

Upon examination, Betsy DeVos (and the rest of us) must realize these are pretty big differences.  And I am not saying that public schools are better or worse than private; nor am I saying that public schools do not have room for improvement-obviously they do.  In some cases local public schools make parents  desperately seek much better local private schools just down the road, but Vouchers will not close these gaps. ( If anything, they will widen them by depleting the public schools of the students whose parents are paying attention.  But this fear is actually unwarranted.  Study after study proves that parents who do use vouchers in systems that offer them tend to choose schools near their work places, opting for convenience of delivery rather than quality.)


DeVos is focusing on a political move rather than one that will improve public schools, which is what an Education Secretary is supposed to do, (not fund private enterprise through vouchers.)


Arguing that vouchers will cause public schools to wake up and improve themselves or lose not only students, but teachers is blind to the underlying causes of “failing” substandard education systems.  First, DeVos’s plan changes nothing that hinders progress within schools.  It offers no outline or analysis for change; it simply says: change or you will die.   It also ignores that attrition at one school might simply shuffle those “poor” teachers to another school  or to another system that “grows” with voucher bearing students.

Overall, her plan does not examine why some schools are better than others, it does not test and research best practices, it does nothing to change the system as is.


In fact,  let’s be honest: very little has changed in the methods of education  (public or private) in the last fifty years, except the culture of the kids and the education level of the teachers.   Our classes and schools are set up in pretty much the same way as 60 years ago.  Our lessons and subject matter are almost the same.   How the school day is still broken into a set number of periods is similar.  Any school that seems to be a bit different, on closer examination is not.


Yes, we have laptops and online learning, and websites, and all sorts of technology to aide learning now, but ultimately, we still teach through reading, writing,  and listening to words and sometimes static or moving pictures.  And then we test with multiple choice questions, and sometimes, but rarely long answers.
Other than the delivery method of how students receive and present those words:  lecture versus podcast, encyclopedia versus webpages, bluebook test manuals versus voice-recognition software. . .not much has changed.  (Go look at classrooms of the 1920s, the 1960s, now. . .you’ll see what I mean.)

And whenever innovators attempt to make big changes, the plan they come up with is usually rushed, not fully thought through, or fails before it begins; and as the old guard changes to the new, each generation tends to come up with a solution that-unknown to them now- has before failed.  Daily detailed lesson plans?  Comes and goes.  Student-based-learning where the student chooses what he wants to learn?  Comes and goes.  Hands on lessons? Comes and goes.  Objective charts where records are kept of each child’s method of receiving  an objective? Comes and goes and comes again.  Business partnerships who run schools like businesses? Comes and goes and comes again.


There are NO new silver bullets in education.


DeVos knows so little about education she hasn’t even begun to think about it, let alone understand how much of an overhaul we might need to improve education in this country.  Vouchers are simply a pandering to the tax payer. . .almost a washing of her hands before she even gets them dirty.