From Superhero Teacher to Bad Teacher: Hollywood Films Then and Now

Did you see Cameron Diaz in the movie Bad Teacher? How about Sidney Poitier’s To Sir With Love? The hollywood portrayal of teachers over the years has changed – making teachers look worse lately. Here’s some insight from one of Larry Cuban’s doctoral students:

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Two weeks ago, I was one of the examiners of a doctoral student’s dissertation. After becoming emeritus professor, I have avoided such tasks but this student’s work captured my attention because it helped unravel a puzzle that had bugged me for the decades in which I had seen Hollywood films about teaching and schools. Like Derisa Grant, the doctoral student whose dissertation I read–she passed the oral examination–I had noticed that Hollywood’s portrayal of teachers had changed over the years. Think Dead Poets Society (1989). Think Stand and Deliver (1988). Now think Half Nelson (2006) and Bad Teacher (2011). By actually counting the Hollywood films made in the 1980s and 1990s and those in the past decade and how they depicted teachers as positive or negative characters, Grant made the point that there was a change in film portrayals of teachers.

From private school teacher John Keating (fictional) to high…

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News From the Future

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Graphic courtesy of letmecolor.com

June 1, 2095.

White House, Washington, D.C.

Today President Jeb G. H. W. Bush V held a press conference in the Rose Garden to discuss his concerns about America’s educational system. Here’s an excerpt of his opening remarks:

My fellow Americans, it has become abundantly clear that our system of educating American’s children is not working.  Yesterday the Charters Are Delightful Schools (CADS) corporation announced from its headquarters in the Cayman Islands that it would be closing all of its schools in Newark, Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Akron leaving millions of American children without a school and hundreds of thousands of staff without jobs.  CEO of CADS, Emily Broad-Gates, said they closed the schools because they were losing money.  This is hard to believe, given Ms. Broad-Gates’ salary of $45 million/year (plus stock options).  This is not the first time our children have been left school-less. You’ll recall ten years ago when Connecticut Charters shut down mid-year after they sold all their buildings to real estate investors and last year when the San Jose, California schools had to get  parents to teach the last 26 days of school because their charter school operator refused to pay its staff, who had recently tried to unionize.

I am very concerned about this trend – companies that promise to educate our youth, then abandon them a few years later.

President Bush announced that Vice President Charlotte H. Clinton III would be chairing a blue-ribbon committee which will look into alternatives to charter school systems, which educate 97% of the nation’s school children.  He went on to suggest that some schools could be turned over to concerned local citizens, “like in the good old days.”

Vice President Clinton took the podium and said, “Our nation is in peril.  When children can’t count on their schools being open, well it’s like some foreign country conspiring to hurt this great nation .”  She went on to say, “This committee will look at every means possible to assure that schools will be there for American kids.”  She even suggested cutting back on the number of federally-mandated testing days (currently 54) as a way to reduce the testing fees schools are being charged, thereby saving schools billions of dollars per year.   House Speaker Paul Pearson immediately issued a statement condemning the use of that kind of “logic without metrics.”

Questions from the press turned quickly to Vice President Clinton’s grandmother’s role in Benghazi.  She said that she would not comment until the results of this year’s congressional investigation are released, just before the fall elections.

We Didn’t Cause the Pension Problem

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A lot of finger-pointing is going on in Illinois over the notoriously under-funded pension funds.  Just to set the record straight:

I didn’t go into teaching for the pension.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they were going to get a good pension 37 years later.  We did it because we loved teaching kids.  I’ll bet $100 no kid right out college said, during an interview for their first teaching job, “So, tell me about the pension system.”

I didn’t go into teaching for the money.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they wanted to make a lot of money.  My wife and I moved to Chicago in 1975 because this was the place where I found a teaching job.  I started at $11,500 per year.  I drove a school bus before and after school to help make ends meet.

The constitutional amendment guaranteeing state employee’s pensions went into effect in 1970.  Years before 99.9% of all the current educators began their career.  It wasn’t their idea to guarantee pension benefits – why is it a bad idea to do so now?

All educators paid 8% of what they were being compensated to TRS until 1999.  Then we paid 9% to TRS.  In 2005 we paid 9.4%.  Over the course of my career I paid over $300,000 into the pension system.  Using TRS’s reported investment returns, when I retired in 2012 my pension nest egg should have been about $716,000.  That’s without including any contributions from the state, which were inconsistent and underfunded.  All educators have paid what they owed.  We were not allowed to participate in Social Security.  Unless we put some of our salaries into a 403(b) account, this is all we have.

TRS states that our pension fund has $61.6 billion in unfunded liabilities – two-thirds of which is attributable to the state not paying what was needed to keep the pension fund solvent.

I get defensive when the media or people around me point their finger at teachers and accuse us of doing something dastardly.  We found a job that we loved.  We worked hard.  We paid our (TRS) dues each and every paycheck.  We worked under the assumption that the Illinois constitution protected our pension.  Why are we always cast as the bad guys?

Pensions, Penalties, and Rule Followers

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Graphic courtesy of http://www.hikingartist.com

Today’s headline in the Chicago Tribune is, “Taxpayers socked twice: Pensions and penalties” (May 24 2015.)  The article goes on to tell how some teachers and administrators are given raises in their final few years of work, which helps boost their retirement income (since retirement pay is based on the average of the employee’s salary their last four years).  The Trib says that increasing the salary socks local taxpayers and boosting the retirement income socks Illinois taxpayers.  Guilty as charged.  So what’s the problem?

School boards negotiate the teachers’ contracts that spell out end-of-employment salary boosts.  School boards agree to administrator salary increases.  The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) spells out the rules for the penalty school districts must pay if the end-of-employment salary boost exceeds 6% – presumably calculated to recoup the additional payout the employee would received during retirement.  Districts pay that penalty. Those are the clearly stated rules.

Don’t like the rules everybody has been following for almost a decade, Trib?  Then lobby to get them changed.  But don’t waste more ink describing how everybody is following the rules.

STOP THE WASTE & BE ACCOUNTABLE! Part 2 of $175

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As predicted here at educationunderattack.info there’s a new chair at the school board table – a $175/hr chair.  From now on an attorney from Odelson & Sterk will be seated next to the board president at board meetings.  Interim superintendent Kyle Hastings seemed surprised that the board had somehow muddled through the past 40-50 years without an attorney advising them during board meetings.  So if the meeting goes three hours the district pays $525 for the attorney to sit and watch District 103 kids sing, or to listen to a report on the drainage problems at Robinson, or hear a parent complain about state testing, or … you get the idea.

More predictions!

1) Mr. Hastings will not be making $800/day like those wasteful interim superintendents who preceded him.

2) Mr. Hastings will collect a check for every working-day from now till June 30th.  Isn’t he a mayor somewhere, too?

Chicago Tribune Doesn’t Get It

Graphic courtesy of http://www.hikingartist.com

The editorial in the May 4, 2015 Chicago Tribune was titled, “Backsliding on school choice*.”  The opening paragraphs:

Across the country, many states are pushing aggressively to expand educational opportunities for students trapped in low-performing schools.

You’ll hear about state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, education savings accounts that help parents pay some school expenses; tax breaks for parents for private-school tuition and expenses, even credits that allow companies to direct part of their state taxes to nonprofits that provide student scholarships.

There’s strong momentum to expand school choice: Some 39 states are mulling laws to give students more alternatives to neighborhood schools, up from 29 states last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What’s the problem?  We’re not pushing charter schools enough for them.  We’re getting behind other states.  “Don’t let the nation outpace us,” they cry.   Here’s the evidence – The Illinois House voted 60-40 to disband the Illinois State Charter School Commission.  In Illinois a charter school operator has to get permission from the local school district they want to open a school in.  If rejected, the charter school can go to the Charter School Commission to overturn the local school board’s wishes.  The Tribune says the commission is a “venue of last resort” for charter school operators.  Let’s see – the democratically elected school board says “no” to a charter school, then the charter school gets an expensive lawyer and appeals to people on a commission who don’t know anything about the school district, thereby skirting democracy.  It is interesting to note in the online version of the article there is a link to another editorial, “Make democracy work for Chicago Schools.”  Make up your mind – do you want democratically controlled schools or not?

The editorial does point out some of the charter school failures – the United Neighborhood Organization charter network* in particular. It even states, “Some of Chicago’s charters have a poor performance record – and they should close.”  So they recognize that charter schools can fail – that’s OK, just close the schools and send the kids somewhere else.

The Tribune doesn’t get it.  Charter schools are not the solution – see the report from the National Education Policy Center.  Allowing charter schools to operate where local school districts don’t want them removes local control.  The people in the district would no longer have a say in what their children are learning – the charter school management team would.

* You may have to register with your email to read these articles on the Tribune website

Taxation Without Representation

The natives are getting restless.   They’re putting on war-paint and gathering at the harbor. Soon they’ll sneak out to the ships and dump the tea overboard. Why? Taxation Without Representation!

The good people of Lyons, McCook, Stickney, Brookfield and Forest View elected Michael Bennett, Jorge Torres, Katie Broderick and Coleen Shipbaugh to the Lyons Elementary School District 103 board of education to represent their interests. They looked at their latest Cook County tax bill and saw that the school district takes the biggest bite of their taxes, so they wanted people on the school board to make good decisions on their behalf (STOP THE WASTE! BE ACCOUNTABLE!). That didn’t happen.

They didn’t make the most important decision they were elected for – to select the superintendent.   It’s clear to me that they never even met Kyle Hastings before they tried to vote him in as superintendent (prior to when they were legally seated as board members).   I’ll bet they hadn’t even read his resume before the board meeting they did vote him in.

Mayor Getty had met Kyle Hastings.  He made the decision – for all the taxpayers in Lyons, McCook, Stickney, Brookfield and Forest View. He wasn’t elected as a school board member. Taxation Without Representation!

PS – Mr. Hastings will be interim superintendent for 130 odd days.  Who will select the superintendent who will be in charge of the district for years?