Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ray Golarz's Testimony: Restore Teachers' Authority for Healthier Communities

ICPE member, retired superintendent Dr. Ray Golarz was asked to serve on the Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Economic Development and share what he sees happening with education on our economic situation in Indiana.  He gave a fabulous testimony covering social problems and disparities affecting our public schools and some of the harmful impact that "reform" has had on the economic health of our communities.  We are thankful that his compassionate voice was allowed this spot on the committee to champion for teachers and children and their communities!

Here is Dr. Golarz's  testimony in full:

October 2013                                          

                       Study Committee on Economic Development
                        Conditions and Recommendations

Dr. Raymond J. Golarz
Former Indiana Teacher and Superintendent
Co-Author of  The Problem Isn’t Teachers  2012

Several months ago I was called and asked if I would represent K-12 interests on the Indiana General Assembly’s Study Committee on Economic Development.  I understood my task to be to consider how the effects of current legislation or recommended future legislation might enhance or diminish the contribution of K-12 Indiana Schools to the economic health and vitality of the state.  On July 18, 2013    I received a letter from Brian Bosma, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, confirming my appointment to the committee.

Though I have spent over 40 years in education serving in a multitude of roles, I felt that my ultimate recommendations and value to the State should be based on more than my experiences.  So, I dedicated the past three months to visiting and consulting with an array of persons and organizations familiar with current Indiana public education and those things that impact on such education.  These groups included various school boards, university personnel, superintendents, school administrators and teachers.  They also included past and current school evaluators, school attorneys, parents of both private and public school children, and students themselves.  Also, time was graciously extended to me by Indiana police officers, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, and a former Director of Indiana’s North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.

In order to ensure their confidence in speaking to me I promised them that I would not reveal any of their names nor the names of their communities in any of my written or verbal reporting unless I secured specific approval from them first.  I secured this permission only twice.

Following is a set of five conditions brought to my attention in multiple locations in the State by various members of the groups and individuals noted above.  I believe that each of these conditions needs immediate attention. In each case I describe the condition, tie it to the economic health or potential economic health of the State, and make recommendations.

I.   Teacher Authority

Many, many of today’s public school teachers daily confront classroom challenges that are beyond any reasonable person’s control.  These teachers  are highly competent and experienced professionals but the hand we have dealt them is inexcusable.   The degrees of freedom they must tolerate, the classroom indignations they must endure, the countless hours that they must permit to fall prey to disruptions, cause them endless depression, dejection, and crush the potential of the students who have come prepared to learn. These conditions have been going on uninterrupted throughout our state for no less than the last 40 years. In 1983 I came to this same statehouse and reported on this condition.  It was a crisis then and continues to be so today.

If you were to ask most parents today to tell you why they are seeking a voucher for their child, the response would be resoundingly the same.  “I want a safe and orderly environment for my child to learn.”  This is the same environment that all Indiana public school teachers need in order to effectively teach. The time is long past when this should have been dealt with, yet it’s not too late.

Restore teacher authority and thus allow them the time to shape and develop the civility, appropriate attitudes, and interpersonal skills that are vital to successfully engaging in life, the democracy,  and the workplace.  Employers call these the soft skills and understand them to be the most essential qualities of good and productive employees.
The following is a true story from my own past.  I was at the Chamber of Commerce for a meeting with some business associates. Entering late was a businessman I liked and admired. He entered the room and appeared quite dejected.

“What’s wrong Jack?”

“Just frustrated I guess.  These young kids we have to pick from to hire today don’t seem to get it.  They mouth off to their bosses, see no problem in missing a day of work, don’t seem to take pride in their work, they’re  a different breed. No problem with their skills-just their attitudes. I’m employing additional workers because of this—it’ll eventually break me.”

My first recommendation is that General Assembly members sit with public school teachers and small business persons from across the state. They are the persons who daily must attempt to teach these youngsters and persons who will eventually seek to employ them, and  with these teachers and business persons fashion some legislative relief to this lack of teacher authority so critical to the economic health of this State and the capacity of all Indiana public school teachers to effectively teach.

II. The Crushing Impact of Meth, Spice, Prescription Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, and Alcohol.

At one of the meetings in which I participated there were school board members, teachers, school administrators, parents, district support staff, community citizens, and  senior  level  community economic advisors in attendance.   About midway through the meeting, one of the long term professional business community persons reported regarding on-going negotiations he was part of.  The negotiations were with a new prospective high tech company that was considering locating in that area of the State. He concluded his story by saying, “Our problem is that we can’t find viable persons to work there.”

When he concluded, all in the room assumed he meant that there were no persons in the community with the academic skill levels needed in this high tech company.  In order to gain clarity on what he meant a question was directed to him and he responded, “No.  No.  I didn’t mean we couldn’t find sufficient local people with the necessary skill sets.  What I meant was that we couldn’t find a sufficient number who could pass the drug test.”

Virtually  no persons, nor groups that I have talked to in the last three months are unaware of this elephant in the room.  I heard from everywhere that Indiana has an epidemic drug problem and this drug problem, particularly in rural Indiana is called Meth, and in more urban areas it’s Meth, Spice,  prescription drugs such as hydrocodone,  cocaine, and heroin.  A statement that I often heard in various forms was that the major and thriving industry in rural and some urban pockets of Indiana is the sale of drugs and production of Meth. The negative impact is devastatingly two-fold, first on the employ-ability of work-age Indiana citizens and second on the education of large numbers of children, particularly of lower class who must live with the impact of addicted parents and adults who are living a life of addiction  to a multitude of drugs  while they manufacture their own meth  24 hours a day.

Recently, the Indiana General Assembly was approached by a non-partisan coalition of Indiana mayors and police units who pleaded with the assembly to act aggressively against Meth  to toughen laws dealing with access to methamphetamine ingredients found in over the counter drugs.  The specific request from these mayors and law enforcement personnel was to make such drugs only accessible by prescription.  The plea of the Indiana mayors and law enforcement persons went unheeded.   However, during a conversation I recently had with law enforcement narcotics officers, I was advised that Oregon and Mississippi had successfully implemented such legislation despite vigorous lobbying effort waged by the American pharmaceutical industry and retail giants to block such legislation.  In the end, only after brutal fights, both states are now controlling their meth problems and experiencing crime reductions in a multitude of areas including home break-ins.  

My second recommendation is that the General Assembly be advised to call back the Indiana Coalition of Mayors and the police they work with to revisit the reasons for this and other legislative needs. The police brought in to testify should be Indiana police (both State and local) who deal daily with the drug problem and these police personnel should be encouraged to bring with them emergency room personnel from our Indiana hospitals.  If further testimony is needed, call upon working Indiana public school  teachers  and administrators who from their trenches on the front line will affirm such testimony and such need.

A very astute veteran law enforcement officer, Captain Joe Qualters of the Bloomington Police Department,  in southern Indiana recently gave me the following  insight that I would like to share as the closing statement to this section:  ”Drug dealers need to be the focus of criminal legislation but  treatment resources  need to be directed to the addict. Sadly, time and again, we in law enforcement must incarcerate people who throughout their lives would have had no contact at all with the criminal justice system if they had not been addicts.”


III.   Possible Increase of Economic and Racial Segregation and also the Loss of Diverse Experiences

My first teaching experience was at Hammond Technical Vocational High School.  My students came from an array of ethnic and racial backgrounds. They  were white, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Native American or a combination of some of the above. The coursework ranged from physics, math for the workplace, machine shop, auto repair, honors calculus, foreign languages, all of the histories, an endless number of English courses and all of the arts,  both appreciation and apprenticeships.  For any student in Indiana, either then or today, to walk away from that experience to an experience less diverse with a voucher afforded to him or her by the State, would be for that student a personal loss.  If many walked away with State supported vouchers, again to less diverse experiences,   the loss would be for the future economy of the State itself.
Several years ago one of our children was applying to medical schools.  The universal question asked by each school was “Explain your personal  history with diversity and explore in an essay the diversity of yourself.”

A caution to those issuing vouchers:  Study carefully the consequences of your vouchers.

In my earlier years, while a senior central office administrator in the Hammond Public Schools, the NAACP brought suit alleging a possible condition of de facto segregation.  Dr. Willard Congreve, then Superintendent, appointed me and two other central office administrators to chair the district’s defense and to put into place immediate mechanisms to ensure a cease to such on-going segregation.  The next three years were a nightmare of meetings, 10-12 hour work days, appeals, waiver requests, and a detailed analysis of each and every student transfer request while responding to a myriad of continuous interrogatories.  The cost to the district over this time exceeded hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The carnage only ended when the Superintendent from his hospital bed fashioned a long-term desegregation plan that met federal court stipulations and then had this plan placed on the school board’s agenda.  Its passage ended the siege and bleeding.

These last three months as I traveled to different parts of the State and also conferred with persons everywhere, the issue of school  vouchers and their impact came up continuously.  One late afternoon, in one of those meetings, a school board member spoke up in the group setting and with his opinion he labeled the condition and stated, “Ray, what we are supporting and sanctioning is, ‘White Flight.’”   My  contacts with other persons throughout the State affirmed this board member’s feeling and belief. Many added that this condition resulting from the approved voucher transfers was not only racial but even more so  was causing increasing economic isolation of large numbers of students.

I no longer sit behind a senior level administrative desk with access to all student transfer requests, records of all approvals and denials, and the knowledge of  the  impact of each approval  upon the limitations of “Brown vs. Board of Education.”  But from testimony I have received coupled with my own first-hand  knowledge of such conditions, it appears that the State through its voucher program may be creating throughout the state pockets of such segregation.

My third recommendation to the General Assembly is that they immediately consider assigning staff and/or recognized and reputable consulting firms to investigate and assess these approved transfers, particularly since some of them  may conflict with “Brown” and as they may also  be causal to increasing economic isolation  of children.     

If this is not done and some group such as the NAACP or ACLU decides to secure a federal court order, the immediate economic  costs to the State might be overwhelming.  It  will matter not how many individual children benefit from this State policy of vouchers , for if only one child  is harmed, be it intended or accidental (de facto), the State could be considered  in violation and the State directed and supported voucher mechanism would be shut down. An additional caution—it takes only one  parent of a Black American child  who believes that the State’s practice of vouchers  has resulted in further  racial isolation of their child  to file suit in federal court on behalf of that child.

Finally, if more and more schools increase in percentages of poor and minorities, history shows us that these schools will inevitably spawn new waves of the unemployable and future unemployed—a group that John Kenneth Galbraith describes as “The Underclass.”

 IV.   Adverse Economic Impact Resulting From Perceived Negative Attitudes and  Attempts by the State to Grade Public Schools

As reported by the Center for Public Education and based upon Phi Delta Kappan/Gallop, United Press NORC, and American Federation of Teachers/Hart Research Associates, parents in America  say that schools are the most vital institution for the future of the nation and for the future of their community.  In this regard, their expressed opinions are consistent with the Founding Fathers of this country who established schools in order to provide this American democracy with an enlightened and engaged citizenry.  Preparation for the world of work was always intended to be left primarily to technical preparatory institutions and the American business community itself.

In  addition, the Center for Public Education found,  using these same sources noted above, that American public school parents and communities at large consistently over the years and up through today give their local schools a resounding vote of confidence.

Finally, polls find that Americans generally mistrust standardized tests and lack confidence and an understanding of new educational standards.

What most Indiana legislators as well as most citizens don’t seem to understand is that some sort of A-F, 1-5, or modification of some mechanism used to grade schools correlates highly only with the poverty of a community.  And if poverty is what we are interested in alleviating then we all know that what we need to be looking at are legislative directions such as living wage.

Our schools, as reported by the sources listed above, have already received their exemplary evaluations from their constituencies. Finally, research shows that Americans believe in their local schools and teachers and believe that these teachers and their local schools are and have been the most vital institution for the future of the nation and of their children.  A message I heard consistently was to tell our Indiana legislators to quit wasting tax-payer money on mechanisms to grade our schools and, as an aside,  I heard frequently  if they give large amounts of money to charter schools as was done recently (+$90,000,000.00) require that these charter schools pay such money back the same way that neighborhood public schools are required to do so when they get a loan.

What I heard most often everywhere I traveled and when talking to persons across the state was that they believed that the actions of our  governor and legislature over nearly the last ten years have been negative regarding Indiana public education, and further, that attempts at grading schools are causal to grave economic harm to the state. They advised me that this grading system is causing large portions of neighborhoods to be red-lined.   Consequently,  prospective  new companies, businesses  and potential home buyers, often young couples with small children,  are avoiding these areas of Indiana because of what they are being erroneously told. In addition, Indiana homeowners, primarily senior citizens and the working poor, residing in these areas and businesses there located, are finding that the dollar values of their properties are plummeting.

Consider, in addition, the following hypothetical.  A young upwardly mobile couple,  with a young child have just been transferred to a central location in Indiana by their company.  They are looking for a home in a community adjoining Indianapolis.  Following is the hypothetical conversation with the real estate agent.
 “We really don’t know Indiana so you’ll have to guide us.  We are looking for a home in a substantial neighborhood that has good schools for our child—hopefully children.  We anticipate being here for quite a few years so we want some assurances that where we buy is an area where our home’s value will be preserved, possibly enhanced.”

“Well, you said preserved, enhanced?”

“Yes… why?”

“Well… this community we are in right now is quite close to Indianapolis and many of the schools there have been given failing grades from the state?”

 “Yes, so?”

“Well you said you would be living here for quite a few years and you were looking for property value enhancement.  Well, over the years there’s always seepage, you know, from one city to its neighbor, so if you want enhancement and preservation of your property value, why don’t we look out just a bit farther? You may have to drive an additional 10 minutes or so, but these communities, their schools and their properties are, shall we say—economically safer.  Let’s get into my car now and go take a look.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.”

Real  estate agencies in parts of the state are even now doing television commercials where they are assuring prospective home buyers that their agency will incorporate such information as school grading to them as they consider prospective properties.

My fourth recommendation is that the General  Assembly bring  together real estate agents, senior citizens, small business owners in these affected areas, school board members, superintendents and teachers from across the state to analyze and discuss this economic harm and then create strategies to immediately change the causal factors bringing it about.  

                                       V. Our Future Demands More

This final piece is written often  in the first person plural as it represents the feeling I heard from any number of persons I encountered across the state. It is directed to the General Assembly.

If it is your belief that good teaching is only the capacity to explain and disseminate information to a group of students who do not know or understand this information,  then you might not be inclined to see the wisdom in requiring students in college to take an array of education courses before they are licensed  as  teachers. You might also be inclined to see any of an array of tools that do a good job disseminating information as also “good teachers.”  If you are of this opinion, then it is unlikely that we can persuade you as to the wisdom of extended teacher preparation.

Yet, if we were to attempt to persuade you, what might we say?

First, consider the issue of obligatory core courses required by Indiana schools of education.  If a college student, say at Indiana University, decided that she wanted to teach mathematics in an Indiana high school or middle school, she would find that she would be required to take more math courses than if she simply opted to secure a math degree from Arts and Sciences. For the school of education must insure for her that she has the broad background for all of the math courses these schools might offer.

Second, we might suggest that the goal of educating children is somehow more than having them acquire knowledge so that they can become  productive workers for the industrial state. We might suggest that part of an essential  education  is to prepare our youth to be capable of  meaningfully  participating  in and assisting  with the perpetuation of the democracy. This might, however, require of our teacher preparation programs that they contain a bit more of coursework.  Coursework  that  extends even further  beyond  the already enriched content areas such as math or physics.

Third, we might further suggest that children everywhere enter classrooms with a plethora of learning styles—even some learning difficulties.  These learning difficulties unless noticed and compensated for, might result in progressive damage to the young learner.  Of course, to be equipped to notice these often rather  subtle  learning problems   will again require of our teacher preparation programs a bit more of coursework.  Again, coursework that extends beyond our already enriched program.

Fourth , we might suggest that you  reread with us portions of the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS report).  Though published by the Department of Labor in 1991, it was a letter of assurance to the American people that our democracy would not tolerate a narrow definition of education for our children:

“We, your Secretary of Labor and members of the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), write as concerned representatives of the nation’s schools…
We understand that schools do more than simply prepare people to make a living. They prepare young people to live full lives—to participate in their communities, to raise families, and then enjoy the leisure that is the fruit of their labor.  A solid education is its own reward.
We are not calling for a narrow work-focused education.  Our future demands more.”

Good teachers prepare the whole child so that they can meaningfully participate in and perpetuate the Democracy while living full lives.  Such teaching requires coursework beyond the content areas, for  good teaching has always had the implied understanding  that  “Our Future Demands More”.

The Indiana General Assembly is currently studying Senate Bill 409, a bill designed to drive accountability at Indiana Schools of Education. These Schools of Education have no fear of accountability as they are,  in Indiana, beyond normal or expected standards.  A study committee has been established and is meeting.  Yet the study committee has not even  one Dean of an Indiana School of Education as a part of its permanent membership.  It would be as if a committee were meeting on the issue of surgical accountability and not have at minimum of at least a handful of practicing surgeons. Little true wisdom exists at the moment on this study committee.

Finally, under no circumstances should you consider some kind of grading system for your schools of Education teacher preparation programs. Each is a flagship unto itself and has its own unique and complex areas of expertise. There is no individual or group who has the capability to rank order that which defies such ranking. At best, if you venture into this area, you will do harm.  Some of life simply defies a single measure and occasionally as we get older we often begin  to see and value that. There is a beauty in diversity but then, isn’t that really what seeing diversity is all about?

My fifth recommendation to the General Assembly is, if for whatever reason, you feel you must pursue this direction then at least restructure the membership of your study committee.  Add to the committee several Indiana Deans of Schools of Education.  Bring some first-hand wisdom to your deliberations.  

Some Additional  Thoughts Gathered from Citizens, Parents,  Teachers, and Administrators

I would like to conclude with a listing of relevant and  meaningful  observations, suggestions, and comments  which came from persons who participated in the meetings and dialogues I have reported on.  They reflect their intense  concerns and their  hopes for ways  to have appropriate opportunities to use their expertise in shaping the whole  educational environment  so that all their  students, communities, and the State of Indiana experience the best possible economic growth and well-being.

*Create consistent and frequent opportunities for business people to talk and interact directly with teachers and teacher representatives about school reform in their communities.  We need child-based programs closest to the communities, not politically-driven reforms from afar.

*Encourage creativity and wonder in students.  Putting them and keeping them “inside the box” thwarts creativity and wonder, the very kind of thinking that fosters innovation, entrepreneurship,  and invention.  The need for this is evident as we know that other countries still look to the United States of America for this kind of productivity.   We don’t want to lose this unique edge.  Teachers cannot have their time strictly restricted to a narrow test-driven curriculum. This alone could crush  our economy.

*It would be very productive if the business community  could find ways to offer internships  so that students with their  teachers  can  explore  career options and be kept informed about  the current and necessary training and skills needed to pursue careers? Business personnel  should be given time off on a consistent basis  to relate to school personnel  and students by actually visiting classrooms.

*It is also necessary for students at an early age be given the opportunity to see the connection between how what goes on in school relates to their capacity to obtain gainful employment in the work place.  Again, this is especially true for disadvantaged students.  Students and their families need to be made aware of the financial aspects of pursuing an education beyond high school.  They need to know not just the cost, but how financial planning should occur, what kind of loans and grants are available and what is necessary to obtain such.  We cannot wait until students are in their last years of high school to start investigating such knowledge.

                                                       They Just Do It 

I would like to point  out the truth about how  Indiana schools and Indiana school teachers  are continuing to build positive assets among our students in an attempt to prepare them to be productive citizens.  I report here on only three examples of that truth, but I assure you that there are many, many more examples throughout the State in every school, school district and county.

Richmond, Indiana has an early childhood program starting at age 3 and moving to full-day kindergarten. The program services the entire community.  The program is not state- funded.  The funds for the program came from a total community of public school teachers who gave up most of their modest wage increases over the years to allow the program to exist.

Further, throughout the State of Indiana there exists a network, school-by- school and district-by-district of co and extra- curricular activities being provided by the teachers for the children of our state.  When I was a teacher, when I was a superintendent, and even now today, the pay to teachers for these extra -curricular and co-curricular activities has always been sorely underfunded.  Often the hours spent by teachers divided by  the  monetary  compensation  results  in less than minimum wage for these services rendered.  Rarely, however, do we hear complaints.  Doing these after school, before school and weekend activities is a gift given daily by thousands of Indiana teachers in every corner of our state—a gift given to the communities they serve.

Finally, as poverty has increased these last years in our Indiana communities, the extra sandwiches that teachers bring from home, the  number of  pencils, paper, and other supplies teachers have purchased,   and the individual and organized efforts to provide  clothing and other necessities  for  needy children  have also increased.  We don’t hear of it because they don’t tell us.  They just do it.

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