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Category Archives: K2Twelve

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“Beverly Hills to Boot Non-District K-8 Pupils.”  I don’t know which disturbs me more: the headline or the “under-informed” (as opposed to “uninformed”) comments justifying the headline.

Briefly: “the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) approved a controversial proposal Tuesday to boot out more than 400 out-of-district students.” (Edweek, 1/13/10).

I understand the pressures of budgeting in poor economic times (though I do not accept it). Is it worth displacing more than 400 children for the sake of water polo?

I agree with former Beverly Hills Mayor Tanenbaum and the 2600 residents who signed his petition asking that the non-district students be allowed to stay – “The children are not expendable. They are not financial assets.” Sadly, Beverly Hills Unified and those that support expelling the non-district children were unmoved.

But perhaps even more offense than the district’s decision are the “misinformed” opinions of those supporting the decision to expel the children:

"This is a community trying to take care of its own, and there’s nothing wrong with that," Genevieve Peters said.

Resident Lee Lewis said the argument that forcing students to switch schools would be harmful is baseless because children change schools all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

“Resident Lee Lewis” is only partially correct. Children do change schools for all sorts of reasons. However, it is not a harmless act. There are multiple studies confirming the negative effects of a forced change in schools on children. Red Orbit and Better Homes and Gardens present approachable summaries of the negative impact on children.

Decisions to displace a child from an environment where he or she feels nurtured and engaged are always made under great duress. It is always preferable to keep the child where he or she is when he or she is thriving.

To further illustrate the point, consider the fact that children’s bones heal faster than those of the elderly. However, knowing this doesn’t mean we knowingly break our children’s arms simply because we know their bones will heal. It is preferably the bone remain unbroken.

More insulting than Lee Lewis’ comment is Genevieve Peters’ comment that there is nothing wrong with “a community trying to take care of its own.” Like Lee, Genevieve’s comment demonstrates a dangerously limited and superficial understanding of the situation. While the overall idea of a community “taking care of its own” is not wrong, her understanding of community (as implied by the article) is overly simple (bordering on xenophobic).

The online Encyclopedia of Informal Education provides these three interacting definitions of community (by “interacting” I mean these definitions are not singular but often overlap):

Place… where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically. Another way of naming this is as ‘locality’.

Interest… people share a common characteristic other than place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin.

Communion… In its weakest form we can approach this as a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea (in other words, whether there is a ‘spirit of community’). In its strongest form ‘communion’ entails a profound meeting or encounter – not just with other people, but also with God and creation.

A school district by definition is not a true “place.” It only considers geography in its most simplified context. It is a set of arbitrarily drawn lines in the sand. However, a school district can become a community by carefully nurturing shared interests and communion.

BHUSD is not “taking care of its own” by ignoring its 2600 residents and expelling 400 plus students. The isolationist views expressed by those who supported its decision to displace the students are direct threats to the spirit of democracy we as educators and parents endeavor to impart to our students/children.

Personally, I am hoping the quotes included in the article were off the cuff and spoken out of frustration. I am hoping that they are not a deeper seated biased belief accidentally revealed in the heat of the argument. 

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Shopping at Macy’s is a metaphor for teacher merit pay. Sales associates at Macy’s work on commission. For every item they sell they get X percentage in addition to their base pay. Teacher merit pay (or pay for performance) would provide a teacher with X percentage in addition to their base pay for every one of their students with an acceptable test score.

Macy’s had a holiday sale on menswear. I needed dress pants. I don’t shop for clothes often, so when I do, I linger. I try on, select, try on, select, and so on until I have what I need. My process of selection can be painfully tedious for any salesperson so I usually just go it alone. It is just simpler and more enjoyable for me that way.

At Macy’s a salesperson cordially asked me if I needed help. I asked for directions but declined any additional help. Because of the way I shop I circulated the department several times; so several times passed her area of the department. Each time we would make eye contact and acknowledge each other. She would ask if I needed assistance, I would decline.

When I was ready I happened to be in this salesperson’s area so went to her register. She was helping another customer, so I waited. After ten minutes, another salesperson asked if I needed assistance. I responded that I needed to pay for the items I had selected. He offered to ring me up.

However, before he could do so, the first salesperson came back and politely but firmly said, No. She informed both the second salesperson and me that she had been “helping” me and that she was going to ring up my items. I had to wait another fifteen minutes for her to “help” me while the other salespeople floated around the floor.

The belief that merit pay will create better teachers and better learning environments is wrong. In the incident described, did I receive better service? Was a better shopping experience created for me? Or did the introduction of commissions simply create a more aggressive staff who may have been more knowledgeable about the products but ultimately focused on competing against his or her peers instead of helping me?

Teacher merit pay will certainly create more aggressive and competitive teachers. However, more aggressive and competitive teachers do not guarantee richer, more successful learning environments. In fact, merit pay teachers will have the opposite effect. Ambitious teachers seeking recognition and merit pay will close off their classrooms to guard against perceived competitors. They will divert their energies from teaching to making strategic alliances to eradicate new competition and maintain or advance their own stature with their administration.

Content will suffer. Skills will suffer. Merit pay teachers will focus on advancing test scores (the currency with which they buy credit) over advancing inquiry and creative problem solving in the core disciplines (the skills their students need for future success). The merit pay system may inevitably serve to deter potentially great teachers from entering the classroom, because they lack the social aggression necessary to succeed in the newly “reformed” profession.