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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The recent California court ruling striking down teacher tenure and other state laws offering job security to educators is a good thing for education.

But specifically, it is a terrific thing for public school children.

In Vergara v. California, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles struck down as unconstitutional five harmful provisions of the California Education Code. The provisions in question govern teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs. The court ruled that they impose substantial harm on California’s students by forcing administrators to terminate passionate, inspiring teachers in order to keep longer-tenure but ineffective teachers in the classroom, a process known as LIFO, or, “last in, first out”.

LIFO is a bad deal. Why should longevity in a job be the ultimate consideration for continued employment over more desirable traits like ability and achievement? The hard truth is that some people may have 20 years in a job, but it is really just one year twenty times, meaning that they have not grown or improved.

I came to education after 32 years earning a living doing what I now teach Mass Communication majors. I learned early in my career that, in the business world, getting results is the only thing that matters to continued employment. As one of my best bosses/mentors once told me, “Les, go make something happen!”

I got the message, and I did just that. I got results, and as a result, I was never fired or layed off. I consistently overachieved on my objectives and was rewarded accordingly with more generous bonuses, promotions, and more interesting and challenging assignments.

But wait — do not think that I had a easy little career with loving and fair employers who just let me fly. No way. I earned what I got from extremely hard work, very long hours, and constant professional development to improve my skills and abilities. And I did all this since 1977 as a paraplegic and wheelchair user. With that extra challenge, I often had to work twice as hard as the able-bodied just to prove I was half as good. But as Faulkner said, I did not merely survive, I prevailed.

And I never had protection like guaranteed employment/tenure. Am I brilliant? Not even close. I just worked really hard and never quit trying. With tenure, you can quit trying with no penalty. That is why I find tenure a bit insulting to anyone confident and competent enough to meet workplace challenges head on. And if I can do it, anyone can.

With the Vergara v. California ruling, I believe that there will be a growing movement across the country to end tenure and other seniority rules that make it hard to terminate bad teachers. Good teachers are priceless and should be encouraged, supported, rewarded, and celebrated. If teachers are not willing or capable of meeting  job challenges, then their bosses must do as one of my more colorful bosses used to say of terminating bad employees: “Let’s help them be successful elsewhere.”

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Once upon a time, there was a course of study that addressed cooking, nutrition, food preservation, hygiene, along with other relevant topics to managing a household. It was called home economics, and it appears to have fallen out of favor in our fast-paced, modern world.

Here’s the paradox: while healthy eating has never been more popular than it is now, there is a concomitant obesity epidemic in America. What’s up with that?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
  • By state, obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7% in Colorado to 34.9% in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. 39 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30% or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

Of all countries, America has the highest rate of obesity.  Yet we are bombarded with messages about organic foods and the value of fresh, unprocessed food. Where’s the breakdown?

Our  love for hamburgers, fries, soft drinks, and sweets, among many other foods that are considered bad for us, is partially to blame. Plus, we are all in such a rush that we do not take time to prepare healthy meals and sit down together to enjoy them.

But wait, that presupposes that we know enough about good food and its proper preparation to make a difference. I believe that we have lost much of that knowledge and ability and/or are too busy to deal with it.

Therefore, home economics should be required for both boys and girls. Men have every bit of responsibility to learn how to select and prepare healthy foods as do women.

We all must eat. We all must manage households, too. Why not require young men and women to learn some basics of home economics? It could only help students prepare for life and perhaps a much healthier life, too.

There is no gender stereotyping in my suggestion that young people should be required to take home economics. Quite the contrary. Men need this knowledge every bit as much as women. All Americans would benefit from home economics study.

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A college campus is a wonderful place. On an average day, it is filled with new ideas, exploration, and personal growth. But to me, meeting interesting new people is one of the greatest things about being a college professor.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of spending time with a visiting scholar from Shanghai, China. Linzhi Zeng was at Towson University to further her doctoral studies. I participated in part of her research, and after a lengthy interview, we found that we had many more things we wanted to talk about. A great new friendship was born.

Linzhi Zeng is one of the most interesting people I have met in quite some time. Scholar, singer, composer, and guitar-player, Linzhi is a talented person by any measure. We talked into the night about a great many things, including teaching PR/communication, plus philosophy, religion, and the great and small events in life that shape who we are. I could not help but think that any problems between China and the U.S. could be easily solved by such open, deep, and candid conversation.

Linzhi returns to Shanghai at the end of May to resume teaching PR and to finish her doctoral dissertation. As a parting gift, she came to my office and performed four songs for me, all original compositions. It was an amazing performance.  She wrote two of the songs in English, and two were in her native Chinese. The lyrics were haunting and ethereal, her voice rich and earthy. You can hear echos of her ancient culture in the songs she composes and in the way she sings them. But at the same time, some of her songs are as contemporary as the music any other young woman anywhere in the world might listen to.

New friends, good conversation, and music — what a way to end a semester. Thanks, Linzhi. I won’t forget you.

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That is the way I am celebrating after successfully defending my comprehensive exams for my doctorate. It is wonderful!

After six and a half years of work, I defended successfully November 10, 2011. I am now officially “ABD” — all but dissertation — on my long journey to a doctorate in Instructional Technology at Towson.

Cheers! Now, back to Follett’s wonderful Fall of Giants.

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In Arizona, the application of a state law requiring English teachers to possess a good knowledge of the English language was found to be discriminatory. A settlement reached by the Arizona Department of Education will have the state consider only whether teachers are fluent, not how they speak the language.

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment show 15-year-old students in the U.S. performing about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

To me, being able to read and comprehend complex material is essential. That is why the Arizona ruling is so troubling. According to USA Today, the top performers in reading were South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.

Considering the Arizona ruling, is it any wonder why the U.S. is lagging? We spend more on education than virtually any country, yet we lag behind so many. It is a national disgrace.

Money is not the answer. We have thrown so much money at education that it is sickening. To me, the answer lies in teaching students necessary skills for successful living, fundamental knowledge like reading, writing, science, and math. Forget the esteem-building and political correctness that pervades education today. Stop the BS and teach students things they can use.

Self-esteem comes from real accomplishment, from facing difficulty, working through it, and prevailing. Self-esteem comes from a job well done. True self-esteem is a solo act. Without proper educational preparation in fundamental knowledge, students will not be able to think their way through difficult situations and complex problems.

Not teaching students to read, write, use science, and do math, or in short, to think, is a disservice to them of the highest order. They will fail in life, and America will continue its slow but steady slide into mediocrity.

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Educators (including me) are beginning to be concerned over what “growing up digital” is doing to Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal, or face-to-face, communication skills and abilities.

Though sophisticated technology users, when measured by traditional developmental milestones, some view Millennials as less mature than
previous generations. According to research by Pardue and Morgan in 2008, Millennials often have difficulty communicating through traditional channels and do not like to read or write, all elements that will be required in a workplace that has four generational cohorts toiling away side by side.

My major research interest focuses on that aspect of Millennials and their relationship with Web 2.0 technologies – I seek to learn what exactly is the influence of Web 2.0 technologies on Millennials’ interpersonal communication skills and abilities?

If educators in communication/public relations are to effectively prepare Millennial undergraduates for successful careers, then Millennials’ interpersonal skills and abilities need attention, too.

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That’s the good news reported by The Washington Post today. And on the front page above the fold, no less.

Towson ranks on an exclusive list of 11 institutions of higher education where graduation rates for minority students meet or exceed those of whites, according to the Education Trust, a Washington-based think tank that studies racial and ethnic achievement gaps.

Good for Towson. Amid heightened attention to graduation rates, Towson has a growing national reputation for not having a gap in graduation rates among whites and underrepresented minorities. Towson’s graduation rate is 67 percent for white and black students and 70 percent for Hispanics. Overall, Towson’s graduation rate is 65 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities have graduation rates less than 50 percent for blacks and a similar rate for Hispanics. Towson has about 17,500 undergraduates. About 12 percent are black and three percent Hispanic.

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