Posts Tagged ‘California’

Jews for Jesus – A California Thing, or is Religion Going “Crossover”?

April 25, 2012

I was driving home today when I spotted a mini-van sporting the door sign “Jews for Jesus”. Now, call me simple minded (as I admit others have done…), but that’s a little like a sign saying “Catholics for Martin Luther”. I mean, it’s just plain weird. At this point, I must confess that I live in California, so it just goes to prove what many of you think anyhow: California is so weird by nature that nothing seems strange.

Anyhow, it seemed so odd to me that I immediately looked them up on the internet. They are not local! They are at least national. So I looked at their doctrine. To make a long story short, they believe that Jesus was indeed the savior that the Jewish religion predicted, and subscribe to every single belief that Christianity believes in. SO, is that like a song trying to be country and R&B and soft rock all at the same time; you know, the “crossover” flavor of the month?

It seems “The Jesus Movement” started in the late 1960s, and some guy named Moishe Rosen (oi vey! Sounds like a radical rabbi, but they called him a “veteran missionary”) developed what he called “broadside-style gospel tracts” in New York City. See? We’re not so weird out here! Blame it on those whacko New Yorkers.

So, my next question was the obvious: How can they call themselves Jews for Jesus? If they have accepted Jesus as the savior, which no self-respecting Jew would ever consider, then they are no longer Jews! They are Christians.

Maybe they’re “reformed” Jews. Many “recovering” Jews. But they are not Jews.

So, what’s up with that?

Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 4: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively; Is there a solution?

April 1, 2012

Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

I’ve alluded to a few of the requirements in the TEP of California, and perhaps other states as well. One of the most hated by all teachers is CLAD: Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development. As is clear from the title, this was foisted upon teachers both new and existing due to the inordinate amount of immigrants into California, including those who are illegal. (That problem is discussed in depth in “Our Failing Public Schools, Part III: Illegal Immigration”.) CLAD consists of four full courses:

“Learners enrolled in this program gain a depth of knowledge regarding current theories and research in the specialized instruction of English-language development. They will develop a foundation for understanding cultural differences among English learners-and how those differences relate to academic achievement in a culturally inclusive environment. Language structure and use, and first- and second-language development is investigated. Throughout the program, strategies for instruction and assessment of a linguistically diverse student body are addressed.”

No other country in the world allows illegal aliens to attend their public schools, let alone makes special concessions that cost taxpayers vast amounts of money in order to educate them. Teachers pay for the privilege of learning how to accommodate the annual influx of students who do not speak, read or write English. As I recall, one TEP course was devoted to the teaching of children with learning disabilities, one course was devoted to the psychology of children in general, and two courses were intended to teach classroom management, which is the most critical issue all new teachers must face. But four courses are dedicated to “cultural differences”? What ever happened to the “melting pot” theory, where all legal immigrants were welcomed into the American culture?

One of the courses I was forced to take was on cultural diversity. Sounds fine in theory, but the teacher was an African-American and focused on how ill-treated African-Americans were in our public school system. We were assigned to write an essay on the history of Ebonics — that’s right, that alleged sub-language — and I wrote that it was simply poor English, not meeting any of the criteria for a separate language (which has subsequently been determined). Never mind the grade I received; the point is having to take such a course at all that emphasizes separation rather than cohesion.

Within the world of education, there is no disagreement that establishing a “learning environment” is the first priority of a teacher. If the class is unruly, if students feel threatened in any way, they are not going to be able to learn, or not very well. In my opinion, and that of many colleagues, child psychology and classroom management were subjects that should have been stressed in all states. Clearly, California politicians, who established the requirements of the TEP, are much more concerned about political correctness than in what a teacher really needs to know in order to succeed.

Little Teacher Support

In business, a good manager does not only pass on orders, they pass on knowledge and experience. In other words, they mentor the workers under their authority. Of course, they have great incentive to do so. Good workers make a manager look effective, which means raises and promotions. Effective departments usually mean profitability for the company. In all successful companies, there is a clear goal that requires a great deal of teamwork. Usually, lack of teamwork and isolated actions leads to failure.

Traditionally, there has been very little support for teachers in the classroom. While there are principals and vice-principals, those administrators are not managers in the sense of either mentoring or even monitoring the teachers. Even though the scores of students are in many ways a measure of a principal, administrators in most respects are much more closely aligned to outside entities — the school district and board, and now the state — than they are to the workers immediately under their authority. Their primary duties involve budget, supplies, curriculum, discipline, school-wide activities, maintenance, management of external services, and so on, but not the actual process of education. During my first year as a teacher-of-record in classrooms, my “student mentor” visited me three times during the year. My first year as a credentialed teacher, the VP who was responsible for evaluating my performance visited my classroom twice, for less than one period each time. In all cases, they wrote an evaluation of me as a teacher, with nary a word of how I might handle problems or improve my instructional techniques.

In 1997, the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program was instituted. During the last few years, many schools and districts have taken this program more seriously, although it is still marginal in many districts. Experienced teachers are given extra pay and some preparation time to mentor new teachers. They go into the classroom on a regular basis, observe the proceedings, and later discuss management, instruction, and other relevant topics to their mentee. If asked, they will on occasion model a lesson or management. While this program has a very limited time and scope, it’s still much better than the nothing that existed before.

While programs such as BTSA were slowly contributing to teacher retention, the current economic situation will soon destroy all gains. Now, even tenured teachers are being laid off, classrooms are being staffed with student teachers in such alternative-certification programs as Teach America and Project Pipeline, and even those teachers face probable layoffs before they gain tenure in order to hire new beginning teachers who come cheaply.

I’m not denigrating any of those programs: how a teacher comes to learn their job does not matter. As in any profession, it takes several years to learn how to put their school training into effective practice. If the system continues to get rid of experienced teachers in order to save money, the students suffer even more, and young people considering a career path are completely discouraged from thinking about teaching.

Is there a solution?

As I stated before, I honestly think most people who go into teaching, both young and old, want to contribute to the society, and want to help children grow into productive adults. If I were to be asked by a high school or college student whether or not they could do the state and country a good service by becoming a teacher, however, I would advise them to study the law. Not that I think we need more lawyers, or that many lawyers have altruistic intentions when entering law school. It’s because I think we need more lawyers who would make good teachers in those positions of power. After all, most politicians have a law degree, whether or not they passed the bar.

Rather than enter the frustration of the current educational system, I would say to those young people: Go into the law. Become an advocate for positive change to our political and economic systems. Become a legislator and fight for bills that will make the system better, that will benefit children and adults alike. As a teacher, you will have very little power to change more than a few lives, and it gets harder every year because of the restrictions put on teachers as to how they can discipline, influence and even teach their students. Teachers are privates in the war; cannon-fodder to be sacrificed by the generals to serve their ambitions. Become one of the generals.

Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 3: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively

March 31, 2012

Low pay

California politicians often claim that the pay for teachers in this state is among the highest in the nation—a reported average of $64,424 in 2007-2008. Frankly, that amazes me. When I retired from teaching — due to the budget crisis, not from desire — I had a clear teaching credential, eight years of teaching experience plus a bonus year for having been in the military, a master’s degree stipend, and additional educational credits. My last year I made a little over $58,000. A major factor in that figure is a few extra thousand dollars in lieu of medical, catastrophic illness, and other insurance benefits, which obviously cannot come close to me having to pay the actual costs for those out of pocket (declining benefits for teachers is another issue). There are many younger teachers I know making less than $40,000 a year, although they admittedly do not have the same qualifications. I can only assume there must be a lot of teachers who are nearing retirement who skew the average salary figure upwards.

Since I do not know how that “average salary” figure was arrived at, I will assume that, on a straight dollar scale, this is true. On a per pupil basis (i.e., size of classes), our teachers are still paid below the national average: $3,479 in California compared to the national average of $3,811. However, a pure dollar comparison fails to take into consideration the extremely high cost of living throughout California. So, if a teacher simply wants to collect a reasonable pay check, this is fine. However, if they actually want to live in California — say, for example, paying their mortgage — they are in deep trouble. Never mind buying a house; the market is so high that even a modest apartment in most urban areas is exorbitant on the national scale.

Now, a lot of hard-working people throughout this country will say: “$58,000 a year sounds pretty good to me!” I can imagine that’s true. But there are many jobs around that pay at least that well, especially if one can earn overtime, that do not require anything above a high-school diploma. So think about the cost of attending a university for six years, let alone the lost wages one could have earned during that time if one were in another job, especially as a union worker. (Yes, public schools have unions, but they are the most pathetic, weak unions in the world, as I have mentioned.)

However, if I compare the salary with other professions that require a master’s degree (which, after the mandatory two years of post-graduate teacher education program, is a close equivalent, even if some teachers do not finish it), it’s pitiful. Many people who do not know what a teacher really does think they only work seven hours a day for nine and a half months. They have no idea of the countless hours each teacher must spend in staff meetings, supervising extra-curricular activities (required), training sessions, parent or student conferences, phone calls home, and other ancillary activities that are above the countless hours some teachers spend in lesson planning and grading. Having previously been an executive in private industry, I can tell you it’s about the same amount of hours — in fact, maybe more than many mid-level managers ever experience. Yet most professionals start at $50,000 or $60,000 rather than winding up there after ten years of experience.

So, other than personal fulfillment in contributing to our future generations, where is the incentive for young college students to go into teaching? It used to be in job security, medical benefits and a solid retirement. Well, those are all rapidly disappearing. Over the past decade or two a number of districts have reduced or eliminated benefits. More recently, actual layoffs of many qualified teachers (not to mention counselors, librarians, and school medical personnel, which impact the quality of education) have occurred in order to meet drastically reduced school budgets.

Next: Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California); Part I, Section 1: Whose Fault Is It?

March 28, 2012

The K-12 school systems in a few East Coast states are alive and well. However, it’s well known that the standards of only a few decades ago have slipped or totally plummeted in most of the country, and are nearing cesspool levels in California in particular. Parents blame the government for not investing enough money. The government blames teachers. Many teachers blame the administration and the students. Administrators blame everyone except themselves. Who’s right?

There are many causes for our failing public school systems, but few fixes. Over the next few weeks, I will present an on-going discussion (in small segments!) on my blogosphere of both aspects from the standpoint of a teacher.

From Second to Second Worst?

In 1970, California stood number two in the mythical race for state supremacy of K-12 public education systems. Naturally, the U.S. as a nation was highly regarded throughout the world for the knowledge and skills of the students in our public schools. Now California stands number 49 in the U.S., and still seems to be on the decline. The American education system is becoming a joke throughout the industrialized world. The burning question, of course, is: Whose fault is it?

The number one answer I hear is: It’s all the fault of the teachers. Teachers are the people most directly in control of the outcome, right? Therefore, if scores are falling, it must be because the teachers are failing.

This theory has primarily been propagated by politicians, either directly or indirectly. I have seen many politicians use the media to specifically say that we have many “bad teachers” or “dead wood” in many schools, especially in the low performing schools. Even those politicians who do not overtly accuse the teachers of being the culprits do so indirectly, primarily by piling new requirements and qualifications on top of what a person must already go through in order to receive their teaching credentials. The emphasis on continuing education and endless training for teachers is overwhelming to most.

Not surprisingly, when their elected representatives make use of their easy access to the media to make such claims, the people nod their heads in agreement. After all, parents also know who has most direct responsibility for the education of their children, yet they know very little about anything else in relation to the public school system. Naturally, the children then follow prevailing wisdom. After all, they have the most direct contact with teachers every day, and that person becomes the most influential being in their failure –or occasional success. There were many times I asked the question in one of my classes: “Why is our standard of education falling?” I got that answer first and foremost: the teachers are bad.

As public education teachers are government workers, serving the same state (or county) as our legislators, what possible motivation could the politicians have for blaming it on teachers? Because the first priority of a politician is to be reelected.

Obviously, a politician’s constituents complain about the problems they face in their daily lives. Education is always a topic for discussion, whether it’s about the cost or the quality of what is being delivered. As our national status has continued to decline since 1970, and California in particular has been sliding off of the domestic map, the public has been clamoring for fixes to the problem. There are actually many factors that are contributing to this phenomenon, and the legislators know they must be seen taking some sort of action in order to fix things or their constituents will find someone who will. The easiest target is clear: blame the teachers. If we say the teachers are lousy, then we can take a number of steps to clearly show action, responsiveness, and deep concern — even if we don’t show progress.

Tomorrow: blaming the teachers

AB 131 “California Dream Act” orders colleges to serve illegal immigrant students — at the sacrifice of taxpayers and their children

March 27, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown signed AB131—the second half of the so-called “California Dream Act”—into law on Oct. 8, 2011. It has subsequently been approved by the UC Regents. Given the bloated salaries of the ridiculous number of top administrators and their obscene benefits packages, they did not dare to rock the already listing State boat by vetoing the bill; they know which way the political winds are shifting in increasingly liberal California. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013.

When it is fully implemented, the “Dream Act” will cost California taxpayers millions of dollars, and deny the children of those citizens the state education and financial aid they deserve so that illegal students can take their place. It’s already nearly impossible for current students to get the classes they need in order to graduate on time—assuming they can win one of the increasingly tight spots for admission—and that will only get worse. In fact, passing of the legislation has already started costing taxpayers their hard-earned money.

How is it already costing the state money? Because all state college systems are required to spend man-hours and dollars “educating” eligible students on their new rights.

Barbra Hubler, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at SF State, says that as soon as the new law took effect the school began to work with the estimated 300 undocumented students now enrolled there. “The CSU Chancellor’s Office will provide guidance to the campuses on how to implement the changes mandated by the California Dream Act for state financial aid programs,” explains Hubler. adding that many illegal students are unaware of the changes. Sadly, her office’s limited resources and time constraints make it difficult to provide students with counseling and comprehensive information. SF State’s financial aid office has already implemented changes to help students get more information about scholarships they may qualify for. The office currently has two advisers dedicated to assisting “Dream Act” students, and provides training to financial aid and other campus departments to increase staff awareness about the law and its requirements.

But that’s the tip of the ever-dangerous iceberg. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Student Aid Commission, which administers Cal Grants, calculates that 5,462 undocumented students will be eligible for state aid in the 2013-14 school year. Most Cal Grants pay the cost of basic tuition, currently $12,192 at UC, and $5,472 at CSU, for a total of slightly more than $13 million. Earlier reports put the dollar cost at over $40 million annually, which no doubt took into account that “many undocumented students also will be eligible for a fee waiver at community colleges for very low-income students, and others will qualify for institutional aid provided by CSU and UC.” In other words, even if the illegal students get a loan, don’t expect them to have to pay it back.

There are dissenting voices in the legislature. “Tuition rates have been going up, the universities have budget cuts of $1.2 billion and there are lotteries for classes – but if someone is here illegally, we roll out the red carpet,” said Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks (San Bernardino County), who serves as vice chairman of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. Exactly. We are cheating our own children out of their rightful opportunity, and paying out of our pockets to give those opportunities to students who are draining our economy in many other ways already (free lower level education, free health benefits, food programs, special education classes such as ESL, etc., etc.).” But who listens to people who speak from reason rather than emotion?

How could this possibly cheat “our own children”? Here is a quote from the University of California’s mission statement: “Through our academic programs, UC helps create an educated workforce that keeps the California economy competitive. And, through University Extension, with a half-+million enrollments annually, UC provides continuing education for Californians to improve their job skills and enhance the quality of their lives.”

In other words, the UC and CSU systems were set up to improve the lot of California’s citizens, the children of parents who are legal residents and actually pay for the system through their tax dollars. Whether or not these illegal students may choose to remain in California and contribute to our economy (if they ever pay income tax), what this law does is greatly diminish the opportunities for those who already pay for and deserve a spot in one of our state institutions, as well as the possibility of financial aid—which, by the way, is also paid for by California citizens.

The fact that no other country in the world will provide an American citizen with free education is irrelevant. On the other hand, the statement by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who said that many such students are brought to this country as children “and didn’t do anything illegal themselves,” is equally irrelevant.

What is relevant is that there are many private institutions throughout the country where those students can get an education, the same as any other American citizen. They are also allowed into the UC system if their grades permit, as are many foreign students who pay out-of-state tuition. But to grant these illegal aliens both thousands of places in our state colleges and millions of dollars of taxpayer money is not only an insult to state taxpayers, it is blatantly unfair to the children who are here legally and who deserve those benefits.

As a teacher, I urge both legislators and college administrators to follow the primary maxim of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. It’s wonderful to give a California higher education to illegal aliens, but not when we are doing harm by denying the same opportunity to our own children.

I am the third generation of grandparents who came here from Mexico. My grandparents became citizens through the normal process, and they paid their taxes. I attended the UC system, but received no state aid. I can understand the financial stress of these illegal students, but, frankly, they have other options, and the children of Californians—that is, citizens—come first in my book. Getting a great education at one of our state institutions is a dream, yes, but one becoming much more of an unattainable one to the children of actual taxpayers, thanks to Jerry Brown and other political pimps who pander to the growing majority of Hispanics, legal or illegal, in this state. With the growing political pressure from illegal aliens, the state politicians continue to sell out the rights of legal citizens.