What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.

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Measure E in Alameda, California

Over the weeks, I have been reading the pros and cons of peoples beliefs in various newspapers and have entered into many conversations. I say belief system as not one op ed piece, not one letter to the editor or one conversation addressed anything more than a ‘belief’.  When I asked people the following questions in conversation, people did not know and could not discuss due to the lack of knowledge which created even more support for a belief system rather than a system of actual fact in how Measure E money would benefit the school district.

So, with this in mind, I pose the following to the residents of Alameda as they posture in all different directions on Measure E.  I believe Alameda Islanders should be informed before they vote and not merely marketed at/to.

Which school board meeting did you last attend?

What happened with the monies for Measure H?

Do you know who the last three superintendents of AUSD were? Do you know where the most recent pro tem superintendent, after being golden parachuted, is serving?

What is a charter school? How does ACLC, NEA and the ‘new’ version of a charter school at Chipman work and affect the finances of AUSD?

Do you know who is on the board of the ‘new’ charter school which will replace Chipman? If you understand what a charter school is about, you will understand why it is important to know who(m) is on the board.

What is the life span of many curricular programs in AUSD?  I can speak to two of them -(1) A math program including alternative credentialing from CSUEB with Mr. Phil Gonsalves, which many teachers were not ‘inspired’ enough to follow and either intentionally or inadverdantly subverted – 3 years, 4 years at most of existence. (2) Social behavior program from Chipman, so poorly introduced to teachers at Wood that it was disdained by most and only truly followed by those without tenure. Interestingly, teachers at Chipman were ‘forced’ into supporting this belief system which was to be shared/dropped on staff at Wood without staff at Wood even aware. That lasted maybe 1 year at Wood and the principal was gone, the principal from Chipman is the Head of HR for AUSD and Chipman is now becoming a charter school. Maybe 5 -6 years for the character program.  REACH, Math Intervention and all the other programs to raise the scores? At least four years but with rotating teachers as the curriculum was mindless, boring and did not show more than small gains in test scores from Gr 6 and beyond.

Past principal at Wood (there have been so many, but this one was mine) had a staff meeting where teachers were asked to explain what they would do to raise the test scores of black and brown kids in their classrooms.  When I raised my hand and stated this offended me as melanin has never been proven to be related to inteligence, I became the ‘target’ in the shotgun for said principal. This principal did indeed continue to discuss the black and brown kids at Wood (and yes, I am white).

When the census is done, it will be interesting to see the actual numbers of students allocated to housing units on the island versus what is actually in the schools as many students enrolled in the schools use Alameda addresses but live elsewhere, boosting the student populations of our schools.  The only way I know this is students ‘told’ me at various times and what I hear from various people I talk to who use Alameda addresses.  I have no way to give exact numbers but I do know little has been done to track this inflow of outsiders as more student population supports the district via ADA.

The disparity between schools within less than a one mile radiius is overwhelming.  I had the opportunity years ago to see Franklin School and realized their PTA pumped in enormous dollars, alarming in relation to other elementary schools on the island. Instead of the school board setting a cap and asking the additional monies to be shared equitably across other schools so all students could learn, Franklin (and most likely Lincoln Middle and schools on Bayfarm) became the premier institution of education while other schools struggled.  When I brought this up to school board members, it was hush hushed and probably continues to persist.

Do you know who takes care of the school libraries? Do you know how textbooks are ‘controlled’ so that they can be kept track of (or not)? The monies lost each year on textbooks is amazing, especially when they later show up in ‘storage’ – how do I know? I helped re-organize the science and math departments while at Wood. It was unbelieveable what was in ‘storage’ but actually listed as lost in the library.

Wood School has had a revolving door on principals, vice principals and teachers. I feel this is similar at other schools. The costs of having revolving doors on hiring staff is extremely costly which is why most people in HR really struggle to find the right fit.  With the turnover in AUSD, I feel safe in saying money goes out the door just in this regard.  The past three superintendents were found towards the end of their career – finally we have one at mid career and hopefully the issues surrounding AUSD will not create a vortex where she feels compelled to leave.

Many of you may be reading this thinking I am a disgruntled teacher – nothing could be farther from the truth. My first group of  Algebra and Science students  from Wood graduate this year. I bump into them now and then at the library, on the street, at the movies – all over. They are wonderful young women and men and it will be a privilege to see them go off to college and pursue their dreams and change the world.  I am a teacher humbled by seeing them grown up.  I only hope I was able to teach them enough about evaluating the evidence so they can make good decisions in their life.

I have remained a close friend to many of the teachers from Wood who left at the same time I did to pursue teaching in other districts.  In spite of how we were treated professionally, we each found our niche in education. In some ways, AUSD is no different from other school districts lacking the public involvement in what goes on at the schools. In other respects, AUSD is vastly different as the community is so small and secluded, as an island tends to be.

Hopefully, after reading what I wrote, people will reflect upon the various issues surrounding Measure E and rather than vote on beliefs, vote on some information. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, or so the saying goes.  Make a point to attend a school board meeting. Get to know what really goes on at your local school – don’t be such a stranger, volunteer. As a community, we can effect more change than any amount of money.

How to NOT Get Pimped by a Substitute Teaching Job!

For those of you following my blog, you will note I was laid off the end of January 2009.  As required to collect Unemployment in California, one MUST look for a job.  I have no problem with doing this task as it allows me to improve my cover letter(s), resume, portfolio, interviewing and puts me in a position to see what jobs are out there, observe the hiring trends/practices and a great way to meet other people and network.  Unfortunately, there is a very sad downside to looking for a job:

Currently I work for an agency/organization which provides substitute teachers to a variety of schools.  The agency is wonderful – they are committed to what they do, operate in a professional manner, treat teachers with respect and provide various aspects of professional development.   The agency/organization has committed employees who have longevity with the company so I do not feel as though I am dealing with a headhunter/temp firm out to spin a dollar off my work.  I have been provided with incredible opportunities to sub at some awesome schools and see what is out there for my job search. 

Unfortunately, this agency/organization is caught in a difficult ‘Catch 22’ and I feel saddened by what happened, even though it was no ones particular fault, rather just a convergence of circumstances.

I applied for  teaching position at School X, posted online at Craigslist,  by a third party employment firm a couple months ago, after checking that this school was not represented by my agency/organization.  I submitted a cover letter, resume, etc. and was provided with the pay schedule and benefits information. In addition, I was asked to take a psychology test, which, as I remember, was to see what type of moral character I have and my ability to deal with people different from myself (I am thinking race, religion, sexuality, etc.).  Not to self aggrandize, I am pretty sure I passed the test of moral character – I have pretty high standards for myself (thank you mom and dad!).  I never heard back from the school.  In reviewing the salary schedule, it was clear I would come in at the high end due to my education, years of teaching experience, etc.

The agency/organization I sub for called this morning to see if I would be interested in a long term sub assignment for this school.  Due to the early hour, coffee had not saturated my blood stream so I was unsure why I recognized the name of the school.  It finally came back to me when I looked in my cover letter file.  

While beggars can not be choosers, this particular situation reeked of ugly.  I told the agency/organization  I sub for I had applied for the position months ago via Craigslist after checking their website to be sure it was not a school they worked with…..I have no need nor want  to cause conflict of interest.  I also put out there that I was open to some sort of negotiation due to the uniqueness of the situation.  Going in to teach for 1/2 to 2/3 less than what was posted as salary just seemed like prostituting myself.  Unfortunately, the school which needs a sub cut its nose to spite its face.   

I believe teachers should be fairly paid for what they do, particularly in the maths and sciences, especially when some one has a graduate degree. In addition, it is sad that this school had used a previous service which did not apparently work for their hiring needs, and neglected to save the resumes.  Oh well, we all live and learn.