Month: <span>March 2016</span>

Breaking classroom rules with Donald Trump


As we already know, Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of presidential politics, at least for this season, although maybe not forever. An educator in California, meanwhile, is trying to make sure that Trump doesn’t end up rewriting the rules of how you are supposed to teach American government and civics to fifth-graders. But she is having to break one of her own rules to do that.

Like other government teachers, Kyle Redford, as she explains in the Education Week blog post linked below, has always worked very hard to keep her own political opinions out of her lessons, even to the point of removing a bumper sticker from her car. She wants her students to develop their own critical thinking skills as she guides them through discussions of our political system, how it is supposed to work and the differences between the two major political parties.

Then along came Donald Trump, the frontrunner (so far) for a major party’s presidential nomination, who started breaking the rules, not only the rules of political engagement but also the rules that fifth-graders are supposed to obey in the classroom. Rules like no racist remarks, no threats against people who disagree with you, no name-calling and no bullying.

So, this teacher has started calling out Trump’s ill-behavior in class.

“Simply put, I broke my rule because Trump’s behavior transcends party politics,” Redford writes. “His hateful words have distinguished him as a topic for class discussion because our discussions are not about who should win the presidency, but how presidential candidates should comport themselves on the campaign trail.”

In short, I would add, Trump is an example of detestable behavior — for a White House candidate and for school kids.

Were Trump merely the playground bully that he so closely resembles, he would soon move on. Instead, he is one big “Oops” away from being president of the United States.



School privateers tried to topple House speaker


They didn’t get a lot of media coverage, but two wealthy advocates of school privatization were involved in the unsuccessful effort to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus in the recent Republican primary in San Antonio.

One was Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who, along with other members of her family, is a major supporter of the charter movement. She gave $180,000 to Jeff Judson, one of Straus’ right-wing opponents. Walton lives in Bentonville, Ark., a long way from Straus’ home district, but she was trying to promote a cause – the cut-rate Wal-Mart school model — not local representation.

The other notable privatization contributor was San Antonio businessman James Leininger, a founder of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which wants to privatize just about all of state government. Leininger’s special interest is diverting tax dollars from public schools to create a voucher program for private school tuition. He gave $50,000 to Judson.

After losing millions in unsuccessful efforts to promote vouchers several years ago, Leininger kind of dropped from sight as a political donor. But with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick putting vouchers at the top of his education priority list, Leininger must see another opportunity.

Fortunately, Straus won. Unfortunately, both Walton and Leininger have a lot more money to waste (we hope) on bad causes.


A rural school district hangs on


Are you a secondary school science teacher who prefers mountain views to fast food and Wal-mart? If so, you may or may not be interested in a job posted by Dell City ISD, which has an opening now, as well as for next fall. The district also is looking for a vocational agriculture teacher, which may seem a bit strange since the Dell City economy – what there is of it, anyway – is agriculture-based.

If you have never heard of Dell City, that is understandable. It is a tiny community out in the middle of nowhere – and is probably growing smaller.

For some people, though, it may have its pluses, beginning with the part of nowhere that it occupies. The community sits at the base of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, just south of the New Mexico state line in Hudspeth County, and offers a nice view of El Capitan, the most famous mountain peak in Texas.

Another plus for many people would be Wal-Mart’s absence, as well as the absences of Taco Bell, McDonald’s and all the other corporate chains that litter the urban and suburban landscape. And if you are weary of all those class size waivers that allow your district to overfill your classroom, how does a 9-to-1 student-teacher ratio sound?

But, of course, there are potential drawbacks. The nearest community college is in Sierra Blanca, about 60 miles to the south. The closest city is El Paso, about 70 miles to the west. Housing may be inadequate, and I can’t imagine that the pay is impressive, although I don’t know.

And after a while, you may grow weary of eating at the Spanish Angel Cafe, the only restaurant in town, or shopping at the Two T’s Grocery, the only grocery store for miles around.

Peggy Beltran, who teaches English and writing at Dell City Elementary School, drives the 70 miles from El Paso every school day and claims to love the job. She has a SmartBoard in her classroom, new books – and only nine students. Meanwhile, secondary students are taking science courses online through the Texas Virtual School Network.

Linked below is a fuller story by El Paso Times writer Jessica Onsurez about the shrinking – perhaps the eventual death — of Dell City, a once prosperous community that, along with its tiny school district, is stubbornly trying to hold on in a part of Texas that resembles the past much more than the future. The population sign at the town limits claims 413. The Census Bureau says 336, as of 2014, with an average age of 50.

The Dell City ISD enrollment is 73, down from 236 in 2000. But education is as important to each of those kids in Dell City as it is to the 200,000-plus students in Houston ISD, Texas’ largest district, several hundred miles and a world away.



Texas’ school funding ranked “worst” in the country


One of these weeks the Texas Supreme Court will rule on the latest school finance suit. We don’t know if the court will uphold a lower court order for significant improvements in education funding, or if justices will merely wink at the state constitution and endorse the fiction that great public schools don’t require adequate and equitable resources.

The latter, of course, is the fiction still being peddled by our governor, lieutenant governor and legislative majority, and it is the reason that several hundred school districts filed the lawsuit in the first place.

Now, we have another national report – Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card — about how lousy a job Texas does on paying for our children’s education. In the report by the Education Law Center and Rutgers University, Texas is at or near the bottom on four school funding fairness issues. It gets an F in funding effort, a D in funding distribution among poor and wealthier districts and scores in the lower half of the funding level and coverage rankings.

Based on this report, the Intercultural Development Research Association calls Texas’s funding system the “worst in the United States.”

Educators and other public school advocates already knew it was bad. Now, we have more evidence.

Will the Texas Supreme Court agree?