Following my October 2 column regarding poor performance in Quakertown High School, I had a long and revealing e-conversation with a QCSD resident who teaches in another district. The following are excerpts:
Teacher: I eagerly look forward to reading your articles. I enjoy the way you expose the injustices in our community, and I agree with most, if not all, of your points, but keep in mind that blame needs to be placed other than just at the feet of teachers and admins. I'm a QCSD taxpayer and am not defending the school board actions.
Our union did a study asking every teacher, for one week, to document every hour they worked outside of the contracted school day. This included grading, planning lessons, helping students, non-paid extra curricular activities, etc. The average teacher puts in nearly 20 extra hours each week. Spread over a 42 week school year, that is an extra 24 work-week that we put in (we are contracted for a 35 hour week). That 10 weeks off during the summer disappears and you see that teachers work 14 more weeks per year than your average Joe.
Unfortunately, a lot of parents care about their tax bill, but don't care about Johnny's report card. I can't tell you how many times in nine years I've heard the statement, "D? - Good, at least he's passing", or "What are you gonna do to make sure my kid does their homework?" or "My kid spends three hours in his room on the computer and then tells me that he's doing homework for you. Should he be spending that long on it?" My response is "No, he's probably e-mailing friends or playing online games". Teachers try various activities, strategies, etc., but battle so many other things (drugs, parental break-ups, etc.) that sometimes just getting Johnny to open a book is a major achievement. Are the teachers over-paid? Perhaps. However, every one of my friends tells me that they would love to get paid like a teacher, but would never put up with what we have to put up with.
Richard: The overall theme of your comments is that teachers do make a significant effort. My column does acknowledge that effort. My point was that, as taxpayers, we must demand results. Education is far too important to say "OK QCSD teachers and administrators, you are trying. We will reward you with the 7th highest salaries in the state, $360,000+ bonuses, and generous raises, even tho the results are by far the worst in the area, and you steadfastly refuse to admit that any problems even exist".
Teachers go into the profession with their eyes open about the time necessary to do the job correctly, and in QCSD they are handsomely rewarded for their time. They are among the highest-paid one percent in the area. And not all teachers are as diligent as the ideal you describe, especially the older, burned-out ones that we can't eliminate because of the teachers' union. Many receive additional pay for the extra-curricular activities. The school day is closer to 6 hours than 8, and that includes "open" and "prep" periods, so teachers do not put in the same 8-hour workday as the average Joe. And the school year is 180 days, which is only 36 weeks. Average Joe works 50 weeks at his/her primary job. It will be hard for the public to work up much sympathy for your extra hours since you put in 14 fewer weeks, and have the ability to work a second job over the summer, if you choose.
As for the parents, you'll get no arguments from me. Way too many of them want to hold our schools totally responsible for raising and educating their kids, and cast blame instead of doing their part (which should be the major part) of child-rearing. But my column was basically a comparison of QCSD to other districts. Parents may be a problem, but they are the same problem anywhere.
Teacher: I do agree with you involving my tax money and bonuses. I don't get a bonus. I don't even get an apple from my students, or a Christmas present (well, one family gave me a jar of natural peanut butter.) The idea of a "prep" period is not what the public thinks. Most of my prep periods are taken up e-mailing parents, calling parents, grading papers, recording grades, going to IEP meetings or something work-related. In fact, most of my lunch half-hours are spent doing the same thing. The school year might be 180 days for students, but teachers are required to do more. That is 3 or 4 more weeks than the 36 you reference.
Richard: QCSD high school teachers, despite the extra periods during the school day, extra weeks in the school year, and extra hours that they put in on their own, have still failed to produce even "average" results from their students despite their extremely high salaries and bonuses. Lowest SAT's of the 10 area school districts (even below the state average), lowest PSSA scores in Upper and Central Bucks, and 25-33 percent of 11th graders failing the PSSA's every year despite a curriculum that teaches to the test.
QCSD teachers do not face any more difficult problems than any other district. The minority rate is three percent. We have the lowest percentage of kids in special ed (8%) than any other district in the five-county Philadelphia area. For whatever reason, our teachers (and our administration) just aren't getting the proper performance, yet we continue to pay them like hall-of-famers. The school board and admins have no explanations - in fact, they refuse to even address the issues.
Teacher: Put in that respect, I totally agree. I fear sending my two young kids to QCSD. I do not yet know what I will do. As a public school teacher, I am half embarrassed to say that I am seriously considering homeschooling or Online Charter Schooling, but I have seen what public schools can do (or fail to do - especially QCSD) and I fear the outcome for my own children. Thank you again for your open mind.
More Z Legal Troubles
Richland's only criminal Supervisor, Mike Zowniriw, again has to face the music. Literally. This latest incident involves federal copyright violation, and Z will again be singing I Fought The Law And The Law Won. Mike is in the "animal management" business, which means that he traps rats and other varmints. His business website featured a vacation video of Mike "humanely" shooing a crab along the sand, using the music Einstein on the Beach. Get it???
EMI, the company that owns the rights to the song, got it. Zowniriw didn't pay the user fee, a violation of federal law, and now he is going to get it. Dylan Jones of EMI explained "We take any alleged copyright infringement very seriously." EMI declined to say what action they will be taking, but the video is now off the website.
Z has already been admonished by a judge for attempting to use his elected position to improperly influence a case. Two other judges convicted him of disorderly conduct for rockin' his neighbors' son. And yet another judge had to intervene when Zowniriw vengefully shut off the water to an elderly, disabled neighbor. So, has the fat lady sung for our Einstein supervisor?