March 25, 2013 at 3:36 PM
Lessons have power to change hearts and minds
I am writing in wholehearted support of Jon Greenberg and his Citizenship & Social Justice course at the Center School [“We shouldn’t be afraid to have Courageous Conversations,” Opinion, March 21]. My son graduated from the Center School in 2007. He was a student in Greenberg’s Poetry and Citizenship & Social Justice courses.
As a regular volunteer at the school I witnessed Greenberg’s teachings firsthand. He is a gifted educator. He challenges his students to explore their beliefs, values and perceptions. He brings an enormous amount of energy and commitment to each and every class, he is there to guide, teach and challenge our children. He does so with passion seldom seen in Seattle school classrooms.
My son and his friends from high school, black and white, regularly continued discussions begun in Greenberg’s class once they reached home. His lessons truly changed hearts and minds and always encouraged much discussion.
I am ashamed of the Seattle School Board and the superintendent. They have allowed the voice of one disgruntled student to change the course of thousands of students who may miss out on Jon Greenberg’s brilliant teaching of Courageous Conversations. Where is the justice in that decision?
–Barbara Radford, Seattle
March 25, 2013 at 6:29 AM
Seattle Public Schools and the city need to take a clear stand
Teacher Jon Greenberg challenges on Seattle Public Schools to decide whether or not it is against racism in our public schools [“We shouldn’t be afraid to have Courageous Conversations,” Opinion, March 21]. His call should also wake up our city.
We pride ourselves on our progressive politics, and in some important ways we are progressive, but there are too many indications that our city is often racist and classist: Our police force is again being investigated for excessive force, often coupled with racial discrimination; though we brag about our racially diverse ZIP code, our city — and therefore our schools — is largely racially and socioeconomically segregated; our school district has been accused of racial discrimination in its disciplinary practices; the court found our state guilty of unconstitutionally underfunding schools; and we have a regressive tax system.
The school district is wrong and needs to take a courageous stand against racism and for critical thinking, but the district answers to the city, and those of us in the city need to take a clear stand, too.
–Mary Edwards, Seattle
March 20, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Today’s students, teachers don’t want to work
Somewhere along the line “public school” became “education.” In this transformation the old “public school” readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic taught in the form of math facts, grammar, civics, Latin, sentence diagraming, geography, etc., were eliminated. They were eliminated because they required work to learn and work to teach. They could not be turned into fun.
All learning in the new “education” system must be fun and must be done with a calculator and a computer. The teachers must not have any work to do either, such as correcting papers after school.
American students are pretty much at the bottom of most international test scores. However, when asked, they think they are the best.
Is it any wonder that students do not have success in online classes if they are required to actually do some work and learn something [“Online classes could widen achievement gap, study shows,” NWSunday, March 17]? And, after all, no one has “to do that” any more as government will do it all for them.
What amazes me is that we have to spend money on studies to figure this all out.
–Joyce Kormanyos, Sammamish
March 14, 2013 at 7:00 AM
Lack of comfort should not warrant avoiding an issue
While I was certainly encouraged by Jerry Large’s column covering the Department of Education’s investigation into racially biased discipline rates for Seattle-area students [“Better ways to change misbehavior,” NWMonday, March 11], I found myself troubled with a phrase found within Large’s follow-up column regarding discipline improvement: “And [discipline improvement] could be done without troubling adults who are uncomfortable dealing with race or who are unfamiliar with how bias operates.”
Confronting racial bias can be uncomfortable for some, but this is not reason enough to avoid an issue that has led to such inequality in this country. The Pew Research Center reported in 2011 that the median wealth of white households was 20 times that of black households. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported February 2013, the black unemployment rate at 13.8 percent compared with 6.8 percent for whites. For centuries we have refused to adequately confront the issue of discrimination and racial bias, and as a result persons of color have suffered for it.
Giving a pass to teachers and administrators who are unable or unwilling to confront the reality of racial bias in this country is unfair to students and is not asking enough of the professionals responsible for educating future generations.
–Aaron Clarry, Seattle
Vocational track may suit some students
I tried to be a public schoolteacher, but couldn’t do it. Too difficult. However, during my protracted substitute-teaching career, I at least had my eyes open and could see that some young people wanted to learn, some not so much and a few really not so much. Dan Magill addressed the last group in his piece about student suspensions [“Sometimes, a student should go,” Opinion, March 11]. Thank you, Dan, for stating the obvious.
In a world where young people “grow up” fast and are often adept at learning their legal rights, often for the purpose of abusing them, we yet insist on bending over backward to treat them with kid gloves for fear they’ll ruin their lives while spending, as Dan pointed out, piles of money doing so.
If a kid by a certain age clearly doesn’t want to be in school, here’s an option for them: a vocational track. Let them see that they have a choice that will lead to one kind of job or another.
Any child-behavior specialist knows the value of giving a young person choices regarding behavioral goals, and we all need a good plumber sometimes, and are thankful when we find one. Let’s make it OK for kids to choose that path if it shakes a little fear of reality on the horizon into them and/or they can see that it will lead to a job with a solid income.
–Torger Helgeland, Auburn
Understanding brain function may help students
I have attention deficit disorder and Dan Magill’s student, Rheece, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Dr. Daniel Amen writes about the six types of ADD. The most common type is mainly a shortage of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the frontal lobes of the brain. Low dopamine results in poor executive function, bad decisions and even worse organization.
These people tend to create confrontations and arguments causing their adrenaline to rise. The adrenaline has similar effects as dopamine and you feel much better. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin have similar effects.
This might be a good time for an in-depth review of the brain, ADD and similar disorders.
–Henk Kunnen, Seattle
March 13, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Teachers cannot be held responsible for parental role
As a retired professor who spent 27 of his 32 years in higher education teaching in public four- and two-year colleges, I concur entirely with Dan Magill’s excellent argument about the need to discipline, and at times, evict disruptive students from class [“Sometimes, a student should go,” Opinion, March 11].
Responsibility for learning and for maintaining civil relations with one’s fellow students rests first on students, then on their parents and then on teachers.
Students who come to grade school knowing nothing of self-discipline or what constitutes acceptable social behavior will not learn those skills in school; they must learn them at home and then carry them into the classroom. Parents who refuse to teach their children respect for themselves and for others are lying to their children, and responsibility for their children’s failures in school rests with them.
Asking teachers to do the job of parents is unconscionable.
–Michael W. Shurgot, South Puget Sound Community College, professor of humanities (retired)
Students should be respected, part of the decision-making process
I found it interesting to read both Dan Magill’s article titled “Sometimes, a student should go” the same day Jerry Large wrote “Better ways to change misbehavior” [NWMonday, March 11].
I’ve worked with students K-12 more than 32 years and have observed students from many diverse settings.
I would venture to guess that any educator, counselor, parent, administrator or student would want to implement the communication model Principal Jim Sporleder does in his school (treating students respectfully and having them become part of the decision-making process) — and kudos for him for doing so.
His entire educational approach was altered dramatically after he attended an ACE training (Adverse Childhood Experiences). I believe most students who “act out” do so (as the founders of the ACE model say) due to childhood trauma and the lack of appropriate behavioral role models.
But — here’s the thing. Lincoln High School, an alternative school in Walla Walla, has 200 students.
Franklin High School in Seattle has 1,302.
With counselors being asked to do more clerical work, social workers being cut, mental-health services going away and teachers dealing with huge class sizes and issues, how can this dream be made a reality for all students?
–Ellen K. Reichman, Kirkland
Students should have an alternative
After reading Dan Magill’s op-ed, I am reminded of a lesson I learned years ago from a student.
Day after day, this determined student managed to derail my well-planned eighth-grade English lessons with his antics. A few years later, this same student walked into the class I was teaching at the district’s alternative school. As we got to know each other, I asked him why he had been so disruptive in junior high. He admitted he couldn’t read, couldn’t do the work I was asking of him and didn’t want his classmates to know. It was easier to be the class clown than the class dummy.
In the small classes at our alternative school, he learned to read, earned the credits he was lacking and eventually graduated. Alternative programs are expensive, but so is the cost to society of students dropping out.
–Erica Posner, Redmond
Follow Jim Sporleder’s lead
I have been reading the articles regarding student suspensions and expulsions. Someone finally got it right. Thank you, Jerry Large, for your article about the work of Jim Sporleder.
There are reasons students act out. Sadly, most of them have experienced serious neglect, abuse and lack of parenting. If our education systems would apply Sporleder’s approach at an early age, teachers like Dan Magill would not feel they have to sacrifice students like “Rheece” for the greater good.
–Anita Hidalgo, Seattle
Research, information should be applied
In the midst of the U.S. Department of Education investigating Seattle Public Schools and its expulsion practices, it is encouraging to read Jerry Large’s “Better ways to change misbehavior.” It is unfortunate that the practices of Jim Sporleder at Lincoln High School seem to be the exception.
In a time of budget cuts and greater demands, the attention and time our schools offer to our students outside of teaching continues to be strained. By no means should a school replace family, but often the tools needed to navigate our systems is displayed within our school walls.
I hope that more teachers and administrators take advantage of the research conducted and funded through our education system. Information is available to help students and our schools and could be better utilized, just as Sporleder has done.
–Mindy Kohanski, Seattle
Social injustice is not always the problem
In regards to “Sometimes, a student must go,” Dan Magill astutely points out issues have several viewing platforms. It is imperative to understand all views before publicly pointing the blame finger as a perceived social injustice.
Many students of all ethnicities do not have the skills to participate in the public-school classroom. Yet, our laws force them into public classrooms that are not economically prepared to handle disruptive behavioral issues. In the workplace, employees with these issues are fired.
Our public-education issues are not going to be resolved by dumping blame on the one group of people who are making a difference for the majority of students. Look deeper folks, look deeper! Every adult with children in a public school (or an opinion) should experience one week as a public-classroom teacher.
The cause of the issue isn’t simply an ethnic group being singled out. As a public community, we can do better. Let’s start by funding education at levels that promote success for all students.
–Joy Findley, North Bend
March 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM
Stop blaming teachers
The next time Michelle Rhee has an opinion about an issue in Seattle schools she should do her homework [“MAP boycott is about keeping test scores out of teacher evaluations,” Opinion, March 6].
Teachers in Seattle agree that student assessments can be useful. Boycott leaders were very clear — they don’t like the MAP because it doesn’t give them meaningful feedback to guide student learning. They are concerned about how giving it affects other kids by locking up the library and computer labs. A nonideological review of a news clip or scan of a story would show that these educators don’t oppose accountability and they are very concerned about their students.
Parents, teachers and administrators working together to improve student learning is what the boycotting teachers want. For years, district officials ignored their repeated requests to meet and discuss their MAP concerns. It took the boycott to generate enough attention for new Superintendent José Banda to finally convene an assessment task force. Conversations are now under way between teachers, parents and administrators to identify the qualities of useful assessment.
Though teachers in the classroom don’t see eye-to-eye with Rhee on most points, we do agree on one. We would like a constructive dialogue on how to improve education. Let’s start with this: Stop blaming teachers.
–Jonathan Knapp, president, Seattle Education Association
Measure teachers another way
I was dismayed to see yet another attack on education by Michelle Rhee.
I am a retired teacher and former test-taking student from the 20th century, so I have no “dog in this fight.” Rhee set up her own well-funded, anti-union “nonprofit,” so I suggest anyone tempted to believe her rant check her financial sources.
As a teacher, I evaluated my students and tweaked my lesson plan every 55 minutes. I was amused by teachers who obeyed orders from higher up to trade in textbooks that worked for the latest gimmick some “education corporation” had sold to a school board.
Standardized tests come from corporations seeking the same results: profits for the company; better or worse outcome for kids, depending on your criteria.
Evaluating students, teachers, schools and districts is a messy, subjective business. I still don’t know if I was a “great” or “low-performing” teacher compared with the other members of my department; I’m just glad some genius didn’t sell my bosses a test and a computer program to “measure” us before I retired.
Want to measure your kids’ teachers? Visit their classrooms, talk to their teachers and then decide for yourself what to do next.
–Jon Shaughnessy, Bellingham
February 22, 2013 at 7:01 AM
Rhee puts students first
Clearly she has thought deeply about education in America and truly cares about what’s best for children. Hopefully there’ll be a day when it isn’t regarded as revolutionary that families have the ability to choose where to go to school. Empowering people to make choices and competition has been the key driver in our awesome increase in living standards in the past couple centuries, so that the large majority of people now live in better conditions than nobility in the past.
Though groups like teachers unions may pay a price for empowering people, this will be hugely outweighed by improved educations for children.
–Chris Waldorf, Seattle
September 10, 2009 at 4:00 PM
To protect teachers’ rights and public interest, introduce binding arbitration
No matter which side you believe is right in the labor dispute between Kent’s teachers and their district’s management, we can all agree teachers should receive fair contracts and a teachers strike is never in the public interest. So when negotiations reach an impasse, how can they be resolved without teachers applying the pressure of a strike?
The answer is simple: Give both sides the right to request binding arbitration when contract negotiations on a particular issue have stalled.
State law does not guarantee or prohibit a right to strike for teachers, but state courts have always granted injunctions against teachers that choose to strike because of the “irreparable harm” a long strike would potentially cause.
State law specifically bars police and firemen from striking, but the law gives them the right to binding arbitration when they hit an impasse in bargaining to preserve some semblance of a level playing field during bargaining. If teachers can be forced to work by the courts even when they do not have a labor agreement, they absolutely need the ability to bring in a fair and neutral arbitrator during bargaining to help them ensure disputes over contract provisions can be resolved quickly and fairly.
This simple reform would dramatically streamline negotiations, thereby saving taxpayers and unions a lot of money and completely eliminating the annual ritual of looming strikes in Washington schools every September.
The Washington Education Association should organize a ballot initiative to change the law in Washington state to specifically provide the right for arbitration wherever state law will not provide the right to strike.
– Pat Mead, Maple Valley
Fine striking teachers, cut administrators’ positions, salaries
Each and every one of Kent School District’s striking teachers should be fired or at the very least fined at least $500 per day retroactive to the first day of the strike. In addition, they should work the full 180 days but receive no pay for the days on strike.
If class size is the issue, then teachers should give up any pay raise and give money back so the district can hire new teachers.
However, on the other side, the district needs to rid itself of half the administrators and reduce salaries. What they make for what they do is downright obscene.
– Lynn Folsom, Issaquah
Think the strike is bad? Try being a teacher
As a former high-school English teacher and football coach, I understand the Kent Teachers’ Association’s position and support their strike. The attitude of some members of the public and the Kent administrators needs adjustment.
They want and expect teachers to go into classrooms with 30-plus kids, and within a 55-minute period, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages and instill in them a love for learning. They want and expect teachers to check the kids’ backpacks for weapons, counsel them on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases and raise their sense of self-esteem and personal pride. They want and expect teachers to teach kids patriotism and good citizenship; sportsmanship and fair play; and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook and apply for a job.
They want and expect teachers to recognize signs of anti-social behavior, and make sure the kids all pass the final exams. They want and expect teachers to provide an equal education regardless of the kids’ disabilities while communicating regularly with parents in English, Spanish or any other language by letter, telephone, e-mail, newsletter and report card. And they want and expect teachers to do all that and more with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books and a big smile.
All that and more is expected of teachers on a salary that qualifies most of them for food stamps. Yet teachers are castigated for striking for smaller classroom sizes, more time with their students and a pittance of a raise in salary.
– Patrick Watson, Federal Way
Teachers are fighting for the quality of education
My wife and I have wisely decided to have only one child. The reason is not because we don’t like children, but because it is much easier for us to manage if we only have one rascal than to have more than one.
My heart goes out to Kent School District teachers on strike, and I give them 100 percent of my support for their sad plight.
If I whine because it is tough to manage one child in my household, how much worse would it be if your job is to manage around 30 students in a single class by yourself at least six hours a day everyday? That is a mountainous job.
I don’t blame teachers for their courage to go against the court injunction to go back to school to teach. Disobeying the court order doesn’t mean teachers don’t have regard for our court of law. It does mean that if they decide to go back to work against their consciences, the quality of education will certainly be affected.
Picture yourself as a teacher with 32 students of different ethnicities, traits, characters, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes. Do you think it’s easy to manage that big of a class? I bet it would drive you nuts!
– Warlie Villasencio, Kent
Teachers need time in detention
While I’m sympathetic to the goals of Kent School District’s striking teachers and value the bargaining process, the teachers’ decision to defy a court order is not OK.
They are teaching now in a very dramatic and visible way, as all adults do by their actions, that the judicial system doesn’t apply to them — only everyone else, I guess.
Will students respect guidance from teachers expecting rules to mean something when those expecting to be respected have publicly violated what a judge says? Will students feel respect for teachers who ignore the law, and instead of doing their job while continuing to negotiate, as professionals, have treated a court order the same way a hoodlum would?
This isn’t OK. Kent teachers need to go to detention.
– Kevin Grossman, Shoreline
September 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Strike illegal, but will teachers face consequences?
For being educated people, striking Kent teachers don’t seem to understand their strike is illegal, yet they still serve no consequence for their action. ["Kent teachers delay decision on whether to stay on strike," page one, Sept. 4.]
Kent teachers point their fingers at other school districts when they talk about money and class sizes, so why don’t they leave the Kent District and go to those other districts?
The teachers’ strike has caused the rescheduling of the start of classes, so why don’t the students, parents and taxpayers insist the teachers’ union pay the district’s expenses for the period of time the strikes cost?
– H. Lontz, Kent
A history lesson in strikes from the Boston Tea Party
Is there ever a right time to strike? A right time to break the law?
Some of my ancestors believed strongly it was right to remain loyal to the crown, so they moved to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada; others thought the law bad, so they disguised themselves as Native Americans and threw tea into Boston Harbor to protest.
These Americans thought they had an inalienable right to break a bad law.
I taught for 31 years, and I am sure there’s more to the Kent teachers’ strike than is on the surface. I say, “Throw the tea in the harbor.”
– Delbert O. Lawrence, Bellevue
September 3, 2009 at 4:00 PM
Low teacher pay, oppressive administration at issue in strike
Editor, The Times:
As a 22-year occupational therapist (OT) and member of the Kent Education Association, I am personally appalled at how my very own school district administration is treating our dedicated staff in this bargaining process. Why are we still on strike?
First, we have a constitutional right to strike against an oppressive administration that has been disrespectful, dishonest and poorly responsive at the bargaining table.
Second, high class sizes and caseloads lead to ineffective teaching and too many mandated meetings interfere with our valuable intervention time with students.
Personally, I have seen my therapy caseloads increase by about 25 percent in the last five years.
Third, even with a $5,000 national certification stipend for specialists like OTs offered by the district, our base salary is so low that OTs in Seattle still make more money. Thus, we still have unfilled OT positions and students who will not receive legally mandated services.
Finally, I find it insulting that Kent has one of the largest rainy-day reserve funds and pays its administrators the most in the Puget Sound area, yet holds its teachers at the bottom of the pay ranks.
In Kent, we stand united as teaching staff and sincerely hope we can begin this school year by reaching a win-win agreement with the district, knowing that ultimately we are all after the same thing: a quality education for our children.
– Rose Racicot, Kent
Teachers, administrators holding students hostage
Is it just possible that both management and labor are less committed to “students first” than they have always alleged?
The autumn threat of a teachers’ strike is almost as regular as the annual spring flood in Western Washington. If students indeed come first, both management and labor would have resolved their differences long before students are due back at school.
Instead they have made students and families hostage of their dispute, which borders on the myopic.
– H.T. Wong, Seattle
Stuffed classrooms threaten a healthy base for students
After going through seven years of schooling in the Kent School District, I saw why the teachers are striking.
It’s ridiculous to be in a classroom with 35 students or more. My art class last year did not even have enough desks for all of the students in the class. I was in a math class with more than 30 students, and people still wonder why students are failing state tests.
It makes sense to have smaller class sizes. Teachers will have the time to get to every student. Education is the foundation of everything, and it’s about time teachers and students started to fight for it.
– Jackie Argueta, Kent
Righteousness found in the Rule of Law
If anyone in Seattle cares, part of what is wrong with our country and our educational system is in Danny Westneat’s column ["Teachers strikes are different," NWWednesday, Sept. 2].
“Yesterday the head of Kent schools said the strike there is illegal. Probably so — public employees generally don’t have a right to walk off the job,” Westneat wrote.
Whether it’s legal or not, it is a technicality. What matters is whether the strike is righteous. This country was founded on the Rule of Law, that a law is not a technicality but something to which we must adhere.
That a columnist for a major city’s newspaper can write, “Hey, this law isn’t ‘righteous’ so it doesn’t have to be obeyed;” to have a president indicate that “empathy” in a Supreme Court justice is as important as following the law, is to diminish the Rule of Law.
To encourage breaking a law when it is opposite to your belief is to encourage anarchy. In part, the reason our Founding Fathers started a revolution was that the laws of the king were arbitrary and capricious, not to mention discriminatory and favoring certain classes over others.
Now, Westneat and President Obama are essentially saying, “Yeah, if you don’t like a law, break it.”
Citizens of Seattle, think about this: If we have no Rule of Law, if we can arbitrarily break laws we don’t like, especially if our teachers break laws they think are wrong, what does that teach their students, our kids, the future of America?
“Hey kids, the law is only a bothersome technicality so do whatever you want, what you think is righteous.” I hope the union bosses get thrown in jail if for no other reason than to show our kids that this country is based on the Rule of Law.
– Theodore M. Wight, Seattle
Students, not teachers, lifeblood of schools
I find the quote from Terri Brown, a sixth-grade teacher at Soos Creek Elementary, revealing in the article, “Kent district tries to force its teachers back to work” [page one, Sept. 2].
Brown says, “I can’t believe instead of working with us, they [Kent School District administrators] take us to court. We’re the teachers. We’re the lifeblood of the schools.”
But last time I checked, students are the lifeblood of a school. Perhaps Brown and her co-workers should all be fired and made to reapply for their jobs.
– Tom Gates, Yakima
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