December 10, 2004

Caught In Passing

Flash from Centrisity notes:

The contextually challenged of the NARN are taunting Nick Coleman, again, this time on education. They are trying to screed him into a corner so they can call him a liar. Now I'm not a big fan of anyone with the last name of Coleman, but I can't sit back and watch the NARNiacs imply that which is clearly not the case.
Flash goes on to peck at a quote he believes I took out ot context:
See, rhetorical questions were asked of a situation from a 'couple of years ago', not now, today! The outpouring of support received through the Coleman column provided two followups, Nick's Dec 4 piece:
And he tries to answer Saint Paul from Fraters' question:
So which is it? Either "we don't have enough books" or "all of our classrooms have the textbooks they need."

Well, St. Paul, it's both, and yes it can be both. The innovative and dedicated staffs of the public school districts are doing the best they can with the limited resources that are available. Maxfield clearly had a shortage of adequate reading materials 'a couple of years ago', but due to a resourceful staff and compassionate neighbors, the stock on the shelves are growing. Is that good enough, I don't think so, but it is enough that they can get by. And is that what we want for our future, enough for them to 'get by'


But Flash misses the point.

The point - for me at least - isn't so much whether there are books on the shelves at Maxfield Elementary School, although one might ask why a district that spends nearly $10,000 per student could allow that to happen.

No, the problem we're talking about is Nick Coleman. When he says things like...:

How did we get to the point in Minnesota that we have a school in a minority neighborhood of our capital city where there aren't enough books?

If you don't find that situation outrageous, you are part of the problem.

When you are trying to teach reading in a climate of spending cutbacks, hostility from political leaders who control the purse strings and public indifference toward the poor, you are between a rock and a hard place.
The point is, when we expect teachers to buy supplies and turn to charity for the books that our schools need, something has gone dreadfully wrong.
We know what happened, don't we? The poor are being punished for being poor and the politicians, instead of doing their damnedest to get things solved, are doing their damnedest to pass the buck. Highways are more important than kids.
...he's doing what he usually does; ignoring the causes for an issue to twist it grossly out of context to take a clumsy whack at whomever arouses his boundless, shambling ire.

Note in the quotes above the people Coleman is dinging on; everybody who disagrees with Coleman politically. Not a word about the School District, which spends a fortune on each child, and pays for massive administrative overhead without a whimper, and yet runs a chain of inner-city neighborhood schools that are dreaded and avoided like the plague by city parents who pay attention) whose problems go far, far deeper than a lack of books, and did long before the putative Dark Ages of Republican leadership began.

Not a word about Maxfield's institutional history - the school (where my daughter went to Kindergarten) has a long history of administrative turmoil that long predates the Pawlenty administration.

No. Coleman's villain is all of you that voted against the candidates that Coleman endorses. All of you who seek accountability for all the money we put in the school districts' coffers.

Flash continues:

Maybe those on the Right can start to comment on the other issues that plague inner city schools, the high transient rate with kids coming and going in classrooms like a revolving door, lack of parental support at home prohibiting their ability to succeed, parents that would rather blame the school for their child's behavior and performance, rather then having adequate expectation of their students own behavior and performance.
Dunno, Flash - I've written a lot about education. I'm a critic of public schools. For that matter, I criticize Catholic schools, and any school that takes a room full of eight-year-old boys and tells them to "Park your ass in the chair for six hours a day and learn what we tell you" and calls it education.

But that's a separate subject. No, the point of all of our writing - Saint's, Craig Westover's and mine - is that Nick Coleman uses his position as a columnist as a clumsy, context-challenged cudgel, swinging blindly like a big drunk mick flailing blindly after mixing gin with beer too late in the evening to bash on whomever arouses his emnity. As I noted in my piece yesterday, Coleman seems to have a problem with little nuances like context; he goes easy on things like inconvenient facts.

Does Maxfield have enough books? Maybe. Do they have enough money? Why not? Can the system under which they operate ever really function? We don't know, and we'll never find out with the likes of Nick Coleman on the beat.

By the way, I found this via Luke Francl at New Patriot, who said:

Over at his blog Centrisity, Flash gives our right wing friends at the Northern Alliance Radio Network a lesson in criticial reading. You see, they seem to have some problems with context and sequentiality.
Not really - butit seems Francl has a hard time with "Theme".

As well as fact-checking:

Flash takes NARN to school with fine style. But then, he is a teacher.
Actually, he's not.

Sorry, local leftybloggers. School's in session, and you can all take your places.

Posted by Mitch at December 10, 2004 05:25 AM | TrackBack

My point was answering Brian's questions, and I belive I did that adequately.

I wish I had more time this AM, you know I have to get on a plane.

I am a member of the same union as the teachers, I teach, and I get paid. However, I prefer the term educator, as I am not a 'Teacher' in the sense I don't have a teaching license. But I am in a classroom, all day, seeing 140+ students, and have all the same duties and responsibilites they do. And I have been doing it for almost 15 years.


Posted by: Flash at December 10, 2004 06:30 AM

Well, I was speaking in the sense that, to the best of my knowledge (after talking with you about the stuff for the past 10-odd years) that you don't have a teaching license, that you don't write curricula, and that your duties are more technical and support-related than teaching. To the best of my recollection, you're not a teacher in the same sense that my father was for 40 years.

Which isn't to say that you don't teach.

The point, obviously, was not to denigrate what you do. The point was to upend Luke Francl.

Posted by: mitch at December 10, 2004 06:39 AM

>> that you don't have a teaching license

This is correct

>> that you don't write curricula

I do, and have.

> and that your duties are more technical
> and support-related than teaching.

My last few years at my former school were like that. However, my first several years, and what I do now mirror licensed teachers' duties pretty closely

> To the best of my recollection, you're not
> a teacher in the same sense that my father
> was for 40 years.

I guess 'What is a teacher?' will be a good post for me, when I get back from Jersey!

> The point, obviously, was not to denigrate
> what you do.

But you did!

> The point was to upend Luke Francl.

Which you didn't!

All in good natured blogger banter *smile* I'll see ya when I get back!


Posted by: Flash at December 10, 2004 07:46 AM

Flash, I'm kind of dissapointed in you. We had a lengthy discussion about funding that touched on teacher salaries and benefits.

Your arguement was that teachers got no increases in salary which I found curious, because the contract now in force, which I happen to have a copy of says otherwise.

You made a couple of enigmatic statements about some difference in contractual stipulations between your wife (who you say is a teacher also) and yourself, but you also led me to believe the you were speaking from first hand experience (as a teacher).

I'm still not quite sure what it is that you do, but evidently it isn't teaching type teaching as in licensed teacher teaching. I hope that you are not trying to equate a particular union membership as the definition of "teacher".

Respectfully Flash, I must tell you that this kind of parsing and obfuscation is something I expect as a matter of course when discussing issues with most public school administrators but I guess I'd hoped for more from you.

Finally, just for the record. Lack of in-depth knowledge of a particular subject certainly has never stopped me from commenting, but in the case of public schools especially the Saint Paul School district I have put in the time and effort to know that subject VERY well as I think Mitch will attest to.

When I say that I am quoting verbatim from some district document or from personal conversations with district adminnistrators and union officials I think I have earned the right to be taken at my word.

Posted by: swiftee at December 10, 2004 10:29 AM


Flash are you saying that you are an unlicensed educator, who is employed as a teacher? If so, why do we have licensing of teachers? What benefits does society derive from licensing of teachers? Or, as it would seem from your own example, is licensing of teachers merely a way to limit competition within the marketplace?

On the underlying question, why is it that St. Paul schools can not afford books with a budget of $10,000+ per student, while a school such as Cretin-Derham Hall seems to get by with a tuition of $7,500? Admittedly, CDH does have other fundraising efforts, but not everyone pays the $7,500 either, since financial aid is available to those who are less able to pay.

My own theory is that some largish proportion of the $10,000 per student that St. Paul gets is consumed in that 3 or 4 story building near the brewery, which AFAIK has not a single student within it, and more is consumed at the 2 story building on west 7th between Elway and Montreal, which again, AFAIK, has not a single student within it. And I just have a feeling that more buildings are occupied by St. Paul Schools, but not directly involved in teaching. The administration of "modern" teaching seems to have grown beyond common knowledge. And salaries &benefits for the top administrators are amoung the highest for public employees within the state at any level.

Posted by: Loren at December 10, 2004 10:44 AM

Should be 'What benefit does society derive', or 'What benefits do'. Would hate to appear uneducated, but then again, I am a product of public schooling .

Posted by: Loren at December 10, 2004 10:47 AM

Oh no! I've been upended!

Truthfully, I did not know that Flash isn't a licensed teacher. I knew he works at a school, and I knew that he teaches, therefore I made the infrence that he was a "teacher". Sue me. I've only talked to him once, on the phone.

I stand by my post, though. He does _teach_ kids, and he did _take you to school._

Posted by: Luke Francl at December 10, 2004 10:52 AM

Mr. Francl,

To "take me to school", he'd have to convince the world that Nick Coleman wrote a good, solid series of well-written columns that made a legitimate point.

So show me.

Ring ring goes the bell.

Posted by: mitch at December 10, 2004 11:39 AM

Loren your estimate of $10K\yr is $2K shy of the actual average per student outlay each year in Saint Paul which is where Flash works.

It ain't a money problem folks.

Posted by: swiftee at December 10, 2004 12:27 PM

BTW. Each student's share of district overhead comes to $1,825 per year.

That is in addition to the $12K that "follows" the student to any particular school her or she attends.

Posted by: swiftee at December 10, 2004 12:30 PM

So we come down to the question of why can't St. Paul schools provide books to students @ 12k per year, when private schools do it at about 2/3 that level. Actually less, since there is a jump in tuition between elementary schools and high schools. At least in my experience (Highland Catholic School and CDH).

Another way to look at things is to look at per classroom costs. For general purposes, figure an average class size of 20 students. (I think most classes in elementary school are in the 25-30 student range, but make some allowance for round figures, and/or spec. ed.) Works out to $240,000 per classroom.

Generously figure $100,000 for teacher salary and benefits.

Allow $100,000 for building costs. ( I am not sure how the school district accounts for building costs. Are they funded for in the $12,000/year/student or, bonded seperately in a different fund. Certainly utilities would be included in the current allotment.)

This leaves $40,000 per classroom. If you figure that each elementary school would have 10 classrooms, a classroom share of a $300,000 allowance(generous?) for principal & secretary salary and benefits would be $30,000.

Which would leave $10,000 per classroom for books and supplies. Or $500 per student per year.

Now obviously this is not totally inclusive. It ignores transportation, for instance. But the teacher salary and bennies probably don't total 100k, either (I am certain that the MEA would tell me that it doesn't equal that). There probably are more than 10 classrooms per school to spread the cost of the principal over. Recovery of actual school building costs (depreciation (20 or 40 years?) or rent-equivalent) may not be part of the 12k per student.

Just some fodder for thought.

Posted by: Loren at December 10, 2004 04:20 PM

From Howard Fuller --

"[People]do not make a distinction between public education, which is a concept, and the system that delivers public education. The system that delivers public education, as we’ve structured it in America, is not public education. Public education is a concept that it is in our interest to educate all our children. What makes public education public is that it serves the public’s interests. . . . . What we therefore need to do is to commit to a purpose, not institutional arrangements.

“We have to ask why people do not want low-income parents to have choice. The hypocrisy on this point is phenomenal. We have teachers teaching in schools that they would never put their own children in and then demanding that somebody else’s children stay there. We have public school teachers putting their own children in private schools. We have leaders in Congress pontificating against choice who have their own children in private schools. The argument always comes down to ‘If we let these poor parents out, it will destroy the system.” I have a question: Is it about the system, or is it about the parents and the children?”

Posted by: Craig Westover at December 10, 2004 05:44 PM

Great point Craig. My Sister in law is a "public school" teacher in Colorado (different state, same system), and she refuses to put my nephews in public school because she knows how ad the schools are. I can cite example after example of this. But, yet the unions are dead set against school choice. Most Democrat law makers are the same in that I doubt you will ever see Ted Kennedy's grandchildren in a public school, and I doubt John Kerry's children went to Boston public schools (or DC public schools).

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