In The Badlands

We’re hunkered down and in survival mode here in NJ… it’s like wandering in the badlands.  We’re looking for a way out of the imposing terrain.  To navigate out of the mess we’re in will be difficult. 

At least three times a day I am engaged in conversations with colleagues and fellow administrators from other districts.  It seems all we can talk about is the direction of our schools; we ask ourselves if this could get worse, if there will ever be any relief from the devastating budget cuts, or if we will ever be able to become the schools we currently operate.  No one knows… and no one will know. But if I were to believe some people, the future of public schools looks dreary – but not because of the political winds or the budget woes.

NJ.com hosts a forum service for online readers.  Some forums are sports oriented, other are town focused.  The town forums often take on local political issues and events.  The forum of interest to me has been alive with debate and comment about the school budget and the current showdown between the Governor and the NJEA.  Here is a sample forum comment that has educators worried:

Rather that freezing salaries for one year and paying 1.5% of there salary into Health Care costs is unacceptable. Remember its all about the “children”. One more tidbit. With other Unions there membership has a loyalty that is missing here. The Union members would sacrifice two weeks a year without pay to allow subordinates to keep there jobs. Why are the N.J.School Unions so quick to through the less fortunate to the curb. Again, its all about the “children”. Hogwash!!!!

Anyone in our field knows the point trying to be made here is that the veteran teachers are throwing the younger teachers out with the bath water.  In fact, it seems to me like the general public would like to see a sort of professional euthanasia; kill the older (i.e. “useless”) teachers and save the younger (i.e. “better”) ones.

Then there is the great iPod debate on the forum.  Our district purchased a mobile iPod cart, equipped with 20 or so iPod touches.  Anyone in education knows that an iPod can be used for some much more than just listening to music.  But not everyone understands this:

COMPLAINT: Can someone please explain to me what is our BOE thinking???
If they are cutting out sports and other clubs for our kids at the High School, why in Gods name would they be giving every upper level Spanish student a new iPod touch? Aren’t they supposed to be CUTTING the budget, not spending so unwisely?Who will pay for these iPod touches when the kids break them or they are reported missing or stolen? Nice move BOE- let’s take away sports but hey, we’re giving you an iPod touch!

RESPONSE: You are mistaken. My daughter and her friends are using them. The iPods are on a mobile cart that is used around the entire district. This week it arrived in the high school so that the Spanish AP students could practice using them for the oral recording portion of their AP tests in two weeks. No one takes them home. The cart is in the main office – full of iPods. This iPod cart is used by all grade levels for science, math,ESL, and languages. An iPod is versatile and useful for more than just music. The district purchased the iPod cart because of its many uses. No one plans to give students iPods. Please get the story straight. 

REBUTTLE: Who controls what apps are installed or used on the IPod touches when the students have them? what is wrong with purchasing normal calculators the rest of the world uses? keeping up with technology doesnt neccessarily mean giving students ipods. 

REBUTTLE: When did the BOE buy these iPod Touches? And WHY did they? How much money did that cost when new media centers were built all equipped with new computers might I add. There aren’t any comparable programs out there that could be used on the new computers? Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but if there are only ‘X’ amount of iPod Touches available that are on this chart, just how many students can use them at any given time? With the new computers in each school, wouldn’t that have been a better avenue to pursue?

I guess you should be thankful your daughter is benefitting from our BOE’s frivolous spending.

RESPONSE: Education is supposed to keep current with viable and purposeful technologies. Lots of schools use Kindles, iPods, and clickers – tools that assist the students and enhance learning for today’s students. You should be proud that the BOE has invested in such cutting edge learning tools. It’s called progress – not wasting money. Will you be upset when they have to replace all district computer stations every three to four years? Education is morphing – Dumont seems to be on the right track here. 

REBUTTLE: I love the iPod touch. It is truly amazing. It has revolutionized the way I use a calculator.Agree with all who believe purchase of iPod Touches are a waste of $$.

RESPONSE: Come on… no one in their right mind would purchase an iPod cart so they could be used as calculators. There lots of Science apps, Spanish apps, Physics apps, and more. They are useful and meet the mandates of the new NJ State Learning Standards. Will you have a problem when the kids begin using blogs? It’s in the new state standards. The apps are controlled by the teacher. Perhaps you should visit iTunes University or explore all of the educational apps available other than the commercial baseball score-checker or gas station finder. Please, read something other than the Record (try educational technology journals, edu-blogs, or even explore the Apple Education site). 
REBUTTLE: Now I don’t feel so bad about voting down the budget.

REBUTTLE: Vote down the budget and let the Mayor and Council take the extra Million. This will force our State Teachers Union to make draconian cuts to there future contracts. 30,000.00 teachers are scrambling to retire so they do not have to kick in for there Health Care. And they claim there for the children….Bull, there only in it for themselves period. 

REBUTTLE: I agree that while an understanding of technology is crucial to furthering ones education, particularly at the high school level, this is not the time to be purchasing any new media. Unfortunately,per the budget, we just can’t afford it. Maybe next year.

So we’re into a whole bunch of issues here; a short sightedness to technology investment, a misunderstanding of what technology’s role in learning is, and a basic mistrust of the district.  While combating this may be simple (talk to the community), it seems that, for now, the anger and angst is so deep that no one is prepared to listen to each other, nor do the opposing forces have much patience for each other.

I met with my staff last week.  At the end of presentation, I made it a point to let them know where I stand with the dilemmas we find ourselves.  In very simple terms:

  • You are deserving of respect – by everyone.
  • Your students need you and love you.
  • The “outside” will never know your life on the inside.  Don’t expect them to.
  • Rally around each other.
  • No matter the outcome of state and local politics, this profession is worth the mission.

It’s all I can do to help the faculty stay positive.  I don’t have the answers, but I do have the insight to what is going on here.  The public is attempting to place private sector economics and principles on a public and socialist employment system.  Like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

BOTTOM LINE: What is happening in NJ is like a divorce; both parties blame each other for the problems; both parties want the other to pay the freight; both parties are using the kids as pawns; and both parties are looking to hurt the other.  I tell the teachers that this is what a political divorce looks like.  For years the NJEA and Trenton insiders have been married.  Now that the Governor has called for a divorce, the separation and blame has gotten ugly.  Much like the rhetoric on the forum.

As I said, the NJ education terrain is rough… this is the badlands.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

7 thoughts on “In The Badlands”

  1. Lots of good stuff here Mike. It seems that students aren't the only ones who need to be educated.

    My favorite part it what you told your staff. Truer words never spoken.

    Like

  2. Mike,

    I think the “revolutionized the way I use a calculator” comment was a joke.

    And I read NJ.com and didn't get the impression, much as you did, that people want to euthanize (your word) older teachers. It's only the NJEA that makes references to death in the school budget debate.

    I believe the point of some posters on NJ.com is that if all the teachers took a pay freeze and paid 1.5 percent into healthcare, then the younger teachers would not be facing layoffs.

    And as for the administration, will they be accepting pay freezes as part of a “share the pain” campaign? At a board meeting, one homeowner (I'll call him your boss, since he pays your salary) said he's out of work and literally can't afford to pay any more in property taxes. Those still with jobs have been looking at diminished hours and no raises, and even some pay cuts.

    So how about the administrators joining in the “share the pain” campaign?

    Like

  3. Mike,

    There is lots to think about here. I wish I had commented sooner, but here we go:

    Basically, I think it boils down to how we understand the nature of the beast. One of my big educational goals is to improve teacher dialogue so it's at once clear, concise, and technical. While I believe there's a place for jargon (who doesn't love that crap?), there's a bigger place for making sure the general public understands the job we do so we become our own spokespeople. That's a grand part of what's missing. So many other professions have people who speak well on behalf of those but are also current practicioners. Doctors speak for doctors. Pols speak for pols. How many teachers actually speak for teachers? For that matter, principals?

    Thank you for empowering teachers and not simply differentiating by age. Your last 5 red lines were masterful.

    Like

  4. Mike,
    I believe in every case and in every way of life the old addage' “a few bad apples, spoil the bunch”, holds true. There are good teachers, administrators, parents and students; probably in high percentages.
    My beef with the NJEA is not about freezing contracts. I don't believe a contract, once ratified, should be opened. In that regard, I am against the governor. Correct me if I am wrong, but the process is: The taxpayer pays his taxes (school taxes included) and the school disperses that money to those who work for the board of education. Are there state or federal subsidies that I am not taking into account? I assume if there are these subsidies, then the lower income areas or those areas who have a shortfall of school taxes collected each year would qualify. The word on the street that the governor seems to be portraying is that the teachers don't actually pay into their healthcare. Is that true? Isn't there a bargained contract which was signed and agreed to for a certain term? (whatever that term might be) Doesn't that contract include provisions for health and welfare?
    So, anyway, i think my beef with the NJEA is essentially the tenure issue. Now, I am not fluent in the processes of the NJEA and how they operate but I believe a tenured teacher is to have been teaching full time for three consecutive years before they are able to be considered to be tenured and therefore protected by the contract of the NJEA. I can appreciate a seniority clause in the contract and I don't think the governor is going after the younger teachers. I think he wants to get rid of the older, more expensive teachers. I don't know if that is a good idea. What I also would like to see in that contract, though, is an accountability clause. I am not referring to probably the majority of teachers who are in the system, who actually love to teach or at least enjoy it or get something positive out of it. However, I am sure you see poor teachers who do not perform well or are not effective or abuse their position. Those are the bad apples I am referring to who ruin it for the whole bunch. They snowballed the board into thinking they are worthy of a tenured position while all they want is a paycheck, summers off or a power trip. Those teachers need to be dealt with before any more children are negatively effected. It takes a lot of money and resources to fight to get a teacher like that fired while, if it was written into their contract, They could be dealt with in an easier, more accountable way.
    The whole reason for education, I believe, is to help students excel to the best of their abilities. If an educator is not held to at least that premise, I believe they should probably be doing something else.

    I applaud your positive ideas for the teachers, which you listed in your blog. I just think, in some cases, that good advice and positive principles will inevitably fall on deaf ears. The deaf ears which are attached to the body of someone who may be better fit in a different vocation. I hope you, and all the other administrators in the state, are afforded the ability to weed out the bad apples and continue to lead our children into the future and to become the best learners they are able to be.

    Keep the faith!

    Like

  5. oh wait, I think I conveyed it correctly…I was probably a bit off-topic anyway…

    …just erase the last 2 posts(including this one).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s