… PUBLISHED IN THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE
This webpage is dedicated to Frank Cruse, fearless leader of the Avanza Teacher Leadership Cohort. Thank you for recognizing and sharing my editorials. You have motivated more work by saying, “I look for your name in the paper now.”
October 20, 2020 – Sustainability matters
Regarding “Sustainability efforts matter to teams’ fans” (Oct. 16) Teams should hire staff to work in schools to be the outdoor education specialists who can be the project managers for roots and shoots action. All PE educators can teach conservation. Their students can get exercise anywhere by creating and maintaining vegetable gardens in their communities and backyards. Outdoor education is an option for the required Physical Education credit Texas Education Code §74.74 (6)(A)(ii). Parents, ask if that option is available at your school. We can change climate change. Please watch Countdown to see what those around the world with fewer resources than in Houston are doing for their cities. I have lived in our beautiful city of Houston since 1949 and know together we can make Houston the sustainability capital of the world. Find Texas Children in Nature Houston and a place for your team. Karen North, Keep Houston Beautiful Commissioner
On same day a fellow STEM educator’s letter appeared saying same thing I have in previous editorials posted on this page: Genuine support for teachers
Regarding “‘We have to be cautious’: Houston ISD’s school reopening brings nerves, excitement,” (Oct. 19): We say we support our teachers. Do we really? With most schools, including Houston ISD, returning to in-person classes, our schools and our teachers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the threat of an increase in cases during the fall and winter, we need to support our schools and teachers more than ever. First, we need to understand that our teachers are stressed. Many have to teach in person and online, simultaneously. At school, they are constantly concerned about exposure to children who may be asymptomatic but infectious. Second, teachers don’t just have themselves to be concerned about. They have their own children, elderly parents, friends and neighbors. Third, and perhaps most critical: We have been told that teachers might be forced to take personal or medical leave, or give up their jobs altogether, if they request teaching assignments that allow them to work only from home until there’s an effective vaccine. So what can we do? Ask schools to provide support to teachers to ameliorate their stress. Make sure school administrators and parent organizations are always aware of teachers as caretakers. And finally, press school districts to adopt employment options that support those teachers who need to teach from home. The Wall Street Journal quoted a school leader saying, “There is nothing sadder than an empty school.” However, with the pandemic as the third leading cause of death in the United States, there are much sadder things. – Carolyn Nichol, Assistant Research Professor in Chemistry, Rice University, and Bob Wimpelberg, Former Dean, College of Education, University of Houston
January , 2020 –
October 31, 2019 – Math, Gun Violence and Saving Earth
Now that is scary, it has been over 4 years since the paper has selected one of my editorials. What is scarier is the picture they choose portrays the very problem, B&W worksheets. And I forgot to send the picture which motivated me to write the editorial. Oh, when will they learn?
Regarding “Parent-teacher meetings reveal grim patterns” (Outlook, Oct. 13): What else reveals grim patterns is the whole education system. Columnist Esther Cepeda shares useful ideas. Yes, please turn off all screens and converse with your children. Cook with them and play mathematics.
As a retired math teacher, I can’t help continuing to teach. Math is about storytelling. My 3-year-old granddaughter went on an adventure about mermaids. As she played with mermaid statues from a friend, I read her the quote on a plague: “I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” That is my fear in classrooms today. The standards and testing are creating a generation of shallow education.
Mia and I do math in the garden every time we play together. This day we made plans to go to the fabric store and design a mermaid costume. We looked at patterns, read the amount of fabric needed, and she watched fascinated as it was measured and cut.
What is missing for parents is the how to connect what they do — cook, sew, garden and love their kids — to mathematics and reading. Let’s teach the parents to be their teachers and build on what Esther suggested, let their kids read to them. Any parent can make up stories that connect to their real world. And along the way they will build needed skills in math and literacy.
Karen North, Houston
June 9, 2015 – Students and testing
Regarding “HISD pupils lag on STAAR” (Page A1, Saturday), as long as administrators continue to make test scores a priority in time and funding decisions, they will. A solution can be found on the same front page, “Mini-murals brighten city, reduce graffiti.”
Instead of continuing to offer “snapshot” exams every few weeks at the end of lessons, formative assessments must be project-based such as communicating through math art and murals. Linda Darling-Hammond in her books, “Beyond the Bubble Test” and “Next Generation Assessment” presents an enormous amount of research to support this.
International education advisor Ken Robinson has been saying this for decades and is as frustrated as I am in trying to get this paradigm shift away from “desks in a row” lecture classrooms.
March 6, 2014 – Education solutions
Regarding “Educator alters stance on ‘reform’ movement” (Houston Chronicle Feb. 28), I propose two solutions:
No. 1, change the paradigm where technology, engineering and the arts are the focus and the academic subjects are integrated into student projects.
No. 2, charter (contract) teachers who provide specific subject instruction, such as computer-science education. This allows time for collaboration and curriculum enhancement that is not possible when high-need teachers are given too many school-based demands.
October 8, 2013 – Speaker series
Regarding “Series offers perspectives on education” (Page B2, Sunday), I want to thank Houston A+ Challenge for sponsoring these inspiring events.
I have had the privilege of attending these for many years. I was lucky to have worked under Scott Van Beck at Westside and received a Houston A& Challenge grant to implement a combined computer science/algebra I course. Beck’s comment – “Kids in Houston are lucky if they get 45 minutes a day spent on problem-solving” – is the problem and the solution. The reporter asked him about the U.S. falling behind in math. There are solutions. One of them came from the speaker from Finland – trust the teachers.
I have a master’s degree in math education and 30 years’ experience as a teacher with solutions. Just like many classroom teachers. But, too many ideas remain unused due to time testing mandates and vendors marketing their product.
The solution lies in giving teachers time to collaborate and build on what they know works. That too is something said from Finland.
June 5, 2013 – Key to teacher training
Regarding “Chancellor has UH on fast track” (Page A1, Sunday), I want to thank Chancellor Renu Khator for what she is doing for the University of Houston.
I have lived in Houston for 64 years and taught in Alief, Fort Bend and Houston ISD. I received my masters in math education from the University of Houston in 1985; I was part of the firstgroup of teachers awarded certification in Computer Information Systems.
And, I have been an advocate of computer science education ever since I taught FOM Math using an Apple IIE, Basic and Logo and Consumer math by programming a TI calculator.
Now that math TEKS and House Bill 5 include programming and computational thinking, the laws are in place, but it takes universities to include this as part of teacher education programs.
UH, being a Tier I university, is important to Houston, as well as making computer science part of the UH College of Education and research programs.
February 2013 – Laptops galore
Regarding “Grier’s goal: End district’s digital divide” (Page A1, Feb. 1), I went into teaching 30 years ago. Two reasons:
(1) to have the summers off with my three children so I could be their primary teacher.
(2) I could have an assistant in the classroom that never complained, did exactly what I asked, and was quite efficient.
I had an Apple IIE computer, which came with two programming languages built-in, Logo and Basic.
What I have seen in the last 30 years of computing in the classroom is the digital device is used more as a babysitter then an assistant.
I fear the Houston Independent School District laptop program is like putting a tool in every kid’s hand without training parents on monitoring useage, without training teachers on computational thinking and computer science, and without motivating children to use their device for brain building instead of entertainment.
I think we need to get kids away from electronic devices and in the garden, and kitchen, creating products of learning.
It is project based learning (PBL) that is the solution for building brains. It is teaching a process to solve real-world problems that connects, integrates and allows practice of academic areas.
January 2010 – Use technology
If a movie like Avatar can inspire serving others and reaffirm the “human thirst for nobility and selflessness, self-sacrifice and courage,” as Robert Zaretsky shared in his Sunday op-ed “A lesson in civic idealism” (Page B11), then perhaps it might inspire administrators and teachers to make the computer a partner teacher.
In the same paper was an article by Ericka Mellon about Fondren Middle School teachers being given $20,000 to transfer to this struggling middle school. They talked about the hardships, such as Nicholas Lopez’s class growing to 31 students, disruptive students affecting academics, and errors in test data.
The solution from the administration was for the teachers to work together more and stick to the quicker pace of HISD’s standardized curriculum. Where are the 21st-century solutions? Could that same $20,000 used to hire a campus technologist be more cost-effective?
What is unique to this decade is the ability to bring multimedia lessons on the scale of Avatar to the classroom. I moved from teaching computer science, technology and math in high school for 20 years to elementary school to find out why students get to high school and still can’t think and create innovative products of their learning. I have found the problem starts in lower grades. With online accountability lessons, students can be tracked frequently with immediate feedback so they don’t get caught in the learning loop.
I would like to commend new Superintendent Terry Grier for making technology a priority in HISD schools. I believe he will bring 21st-century solutions to our classrooms.
But that will happen only if those who are experienced are given the time to mentor, support and create lessons that inspire our multimedia, multitasking and multitexting generation. Just like Lopez with 31 students, we need the time to work individually with each student. We can’t quicken the pace of teaching the standardized curriculum unless we use the computer as an equal teaching and assessment partner in the classroom.
Please see other editorials on “How To Rethink Education” on the same day that say what I have been saying for the past decade too: www.chron.com/ See May 1998 below – When will “they” listen? Do “they” really want to fix education??? I am beginning to wonder.
January 2009 – Invest in computing
The Chronicle’s editorial board said more investment in the early years of an at-risk child’s life could provide all taxpayers enormous savings. That has been said for two decades. Yes, that is a solution, but the priority in the 21st century should be computing.
IN response to “A sure thing”: I teach computer lab to grades kindergarten through fifth-grade. I see daily the power of technology to transform learning. My students want to come to computer lab every day, not just twice a month. A message to the 81st Texas Legislature and “a sure thing” to invest in our children’s future is to provide time for technology teachers. For every dollar spent on hardware and software in schools, a certain percentage should go to the personnel that support the implementation.
For a start, fund the $5,000 stipend that is supposed to go with master technology teacher (MTT) certification. I am a Texas-certified master technology teacher, campus curriculum integration technologist and computer science teacher. I have been waiting for two decades for public schools to make the shift to computer power.
January 2008 – Aspiring teachers speak out / No tech support
THE future is building future computer scientists starting in elementary school. It is for that reason that I am one of 40 teachers who turned down ASPIRE incentive pay. The future revolves around technology and problem solving, not passing a TAKS test.
I opted out because incentive pay is not cost-effective to improve academic achievement. I have been working on developing computer science curriculum with support from Houston A+ Challenge and other foundations. But it is not sustainable without support for technology in HISD. Every school needs a campus curriculum integration technology, a computer network specialist and computer lab teachers with up-to-date equipment. This is where incentive pay funds should have gone.
March 2007 – Help teachers fight wrongs
INCENTIVE pay is not the solution to student achievement in the 21st century.
Many of my students have told me that money motivates them. My goal as their teacher is to motivate them by tapping into subjects that interest them, while they learn algebra concepts and how to problem-solve.
People have wondered why teachers have problems motivating students, but they forget that the teacher is not the only variable.
I invited a stock broker to come to class and teach my kids about investments, and at the end he asked me, “What is wrong with these students?” The class seemed bored, even though it was a topic the students had expressed interest in. During the next class, the same speaker answered so many questions that the lesson took an extra 30 minutes.
Will the preparation given to students before their upcoming Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests in the next few weeks be an effective use of students’ time?
I understand that businesses want employees who are innovative thinkers. But they can’t complain about the lack of qualified workers if they’re not willing to help teachers fight such things as incentive pay.
December 2006 – Parental `children whisperers’
THE Chronicle’s Dec. 4 opinion piece by Susan Bitensky, “We don’t hit animals, so why do we hit children? / Animal whisperers should inspire us to outlaw spanking,” inspired me to write. There are already many organizations of “children whisperers,” all promoting positive discipline.
From my own experience, I have found it much harder to discipline a child when physical methods are not used. To learn how to use positive techniques takes training. But where is this training going to come from? I have been doing informal research for 25 years as a public school math teacher. I teach students from all economic levels and races. I have found a direct correlation between students who are failing and corporal punishment. I have found that students in high school whose parents still hit them have lower achievement levels than their peers.
Enormous amounts of money and time are going into making schools accountable for student learning. The Leave No Child Behind act and school report cards need to look at all the variables. It is time to require parents to attend school to learn positive discipline methods. If they do not attend training, their child’s scores should be reported separately. Instead of reporting scores by race and economic level, they should be reported by parent involvement. Parent involvement is a key element. Let’s level the playing field for all schools. Otherwise highly qualified teachers will continue to leave public schools.
We need resources to help our children succeed. When we cannot be successful because of a lack of time and support, we move on. Therein lies the shortage of teachers’ problem: being accountable for what we cannot change.
August 2006 – Vouchers for special ed first
ACCORDING to the the Chronicle’s Aug. 18 report, the independent school districts of Houston, Alief and North Forest ISD all missed the mark on “adequate yearly progress” that is mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act because they exceeded the special education 3 percent cap. Why not implement school choice by offering vouchers first to the special education students? School districts are required to provide services to those students who need it.By giving vouchers to these high-need students, that could reduce the 3 percent limit in public schools.
I have been part of the enormous effort of teachers to help all students learn for the past 20 years. The time needed to implement modifications in their classrooms to help increase academic achievement should be rewarded, because any increase (even if below the mark) is an indicator of progress. It is not fair for schools to have their efforts skewed due to statistics. I would like to see the physician-turned-education crusader Jim Leininger first support helping high-need students go to private schools. Afterward, we can look at the results of this program before implementing a very costly process of vouchers that will undermine public school funding.
March 2006 – Algebra Teacher in Digital Age
RICE University mathematics professor Anne Papakonstantinou is right to say that “Math curriculum adds up” [see her March 11 letter]. As an algebra teacher at Westside High School last year and as a math education researcher, I can vouch that the CLEAR curriculum is good. But I found the implementation of the lessons time-consuming because there was no online support. It is not a “one-size-fits-all” program, given the diversity of math backgrounds of the students. To teach CLEAR requires prerequisite knowledge, and there is no time allocated for that in the pace of the curriculum. Double-blocked time needs to be given to beginning algebra classes to give time for modeling and for using programming as a teaching aid.
Added to the time problem is the turnover of math teachers. Of the eight who taught algebra with me last year, only one is teaching algebra this year. There will never be enough qualified, experienced algebra teachers, so a solution is to use the computer to individualize instruction. The Houston Independent School District can be a leader in math education by moving algebra into the digital age. The cost savings would add up, too, as preventive medicine, seeing as how many students have problems with algebraic computation.
January 2006 – One smart holiday
REGARDING the Dec. 31 Chronicle article “HISD’s belated present to parents / Mom and Dad get holiday break when the kids head back to class on Monday”: This day was a much needed professional development day for planning the new semester. What would have been smart would have been for the Houston Independent School District to promote the day as an open house for parents “and students “to meet with teachers individually to plan solutions for learning. On a national holiday, there would have been no excuse from parents that they “couldn’t get off work.” And the public wonders why there are so many problems in public education. A good place to start looking would be to the administrators who make these kinds of decisions. Ask any teacher what is needed and they will tell you it is “time for planning.”
It is too late for Jan. 2, but perhaps HISD will consider giving back Feb. 13 as a professional development day and promoting it as a parent involvement day.
July 2005 – This is our future
SINCE Texas is looking at shifting textbooks to computers and providing students with laptops, we need a corresponding support system for teachers and parents. We need experienced master technology teachers to model developing lessons, and campus technologists to facilitate computer labs. For equitable access to online learning, schools must provide the resources now.
Parents also need training on monitoring student school work at home on computers.
Online lessons and testing save time and improve student learning. The costs at the start would be worth it, long-term. We need computer labs where students can work at their own pace with online courses of their choice at the secondary school level and parents who can motivate and facilitate them at home. This is our future. Businesses use computers daily in the workplace to save time and money. It is time for classroom teachers to do the same thing. We must get out of the lecture-worksheet mode of education and into multimedia, project-based learning.
August 2003 – Solving the exercise issue
Marianne Kranz’s Aug. 9 Viewpoints letter, “Childhood memories: No wonder we were thin,” said, “Those were the days that were, and will never be again.” I disagree. There are solutions to the obesity problem. One solution is for parents to cut the cable and take the money and donate it to their child’s school to support before-, during- and after-school athletic programs. With all the budget cuts in education, I fear it is the elective curricula that will be hurt. Think how wonderful it would be if every child in every school participated in some kind of physical exercise. Our children could be given the choice of aerobic exercise programs, with individual physical education trainers, instead of being lumped together with 60 other students.
But, there is no money. Why not require cable and video game companies to donate 1 percent of their profits to support the programs in schools that help reduce obesity? We have a Metro tax, why not an obesity tax? The problem with solving problems is not a lack of solutions, but the resources to implement the solutions. Kranz said, “never again.” I hope that is not true.
Teachers cannot do it alone.
October 2002 – Teachers’ limited power
The Chronicle’s Oct. 6 editorial, “Unschooled,” referenced the need for graduating students to be prepared for skilled employment or higher education. It compared the educational value of Friday night football, with its cheerleaders and drill team performances, to allowing schools to go without qualified math and physics teachers.
I would like to add computer science teachers to that list. Even though I’m a certified math and computer science teacher, I teach technology classes because they are in greater demand.
I am also responsible for training teachers to use the available technology to help raise the academic achievement of students.
However, I am not given the time – much less the money – to do my job. How can I help solve the problems of the “unschooled” without the appropriate resources?
Until classroom teachers are given the authority to make decisions regarding school budgets and teaching assignments, the same educational problems we’ve faced for the past 20 years will continue. There are solutions out there, but teachers have limited powers to choose them.
July 2002 – Breast-feeding’s benefits
The Chronicle’s July 19 article once again touted the advantages of breast-feeding, this time reporting a recent finding that breast-feeding reduces the chance of having breast cancer. Yet, the number of mothers choosing to breast-feed their babies continues to go down. This link to reduced breast cancer and other benefits such as raising IQ and reducing obesity problems as well as other educational and health benefits is not new information. In the 1970s, I taught these advantages (and others) as a La Leche leader. As a high school teacher, I am surprised when the advantages of breast-feeding (for at least the first year) are not taught in high school health classes. And as a taxpayer, I wonder why the government continues to fund formula, not giving mothers a choice. Breast-feeding gives that start that can make life just a little easier. It is time to teach and do what is best for all children so that we really do not “leave any child behind.”
September 2000 – Vouchers won’t do it
I feel strongly that vouchers won’t solve our educational problems. I offer another solution: Charter or voucher teachers. As a certified teacher in the high-need areas of mathematics and computer-information systems, I changed school districts in order to teach at the Houston Independent School District’s new Westside High School. I took a cut in salary to make the change, but hopefully I will have the power to make decisions for the job I have been entrusted to perform (Note that it is 2009 and I am still waiting for the power to make decisions.) and to work in a Magnet program for integrated technology. My salary is the same as a teacher where there is no limited supply. Teachers are paid based on years of experience, not certification or teaching areas.
Dorman Cordell’s Aug. 24 Outlook article, “Buck teachers’ unions and let schools compete,” said that voucher supporters think “competition will force the education establishment to improve.” What about applying the principle of supply and demand? Pay teachers in high-need areas a stipend instead of raising salaries for all teachers. Experienced teachers, retired teachers and business professionals could contract with a school to teach specific subjects for a specified fee. I would like to get paid for my expertise. I would like to see the money in education going to teachers and not to bureaucrats managing a voucher program.
December 1999 – Why not charter teachers?
Regarding the Dec. 5 Outlook article, “Let’s make every school a charter school”: Wouldn’t that be nice! A group of teachers in my district tried to do that years ago. We even held a public forum for the community to outline our plans to implement a school-inside-a-school idea. If only we had been backed by the administration and school board, our success could be compared to the current students. And, maybe the problems being experienced now might have been reduced. Half of those original teachers are now gone.
Instead of charter schools, how about creating “charter teachers”? Give them the freedom to implement collaborative ideas for academic excellence, instead of making them follow the plans of administrators. These charter teachers could be contracted by the state and paid a stipend, based on the product they produced. The accountability money could come from the reduction of administrative and specialists’ salaries.
August 1998 – People are not for hitting
Elbert R. Ogilvie’s “Paddle’s thwack the answer to school troubles” (Aug. 16, Outlook) is so wrong it is frightening. My research has shown that corporal punishment is a problem, not a solution. The students who are subjected to corporal punishment lack self-discipline and the intrinsic motivation needed to work and learn. I have correlated student’s grades with the amount of spanking parents use to control their children. Those making A’s can’t remember being spanked, while the lowest grades were earned by students whose parents still were spanking them in high school. Fear works for young children. Perhaps if parents would take the time to use positive discipline methods instead of external control methods, their children just might do better in the long run. Note: It is 2009 as I begin to blog. I am in Elementary School now. The principal observes that our school is 20% AA, yet 80% of the discipline problems are AA boys. We can’t change the home, but more resources into helping students with anger management would help.
People are not for hitting. … And young students should not be subjected to yelling, as that does not teach self-discipline.
May 1998 – No one is listening to her
Over and over again I hear the solution to the phone problem is to add an overlay for cellular phones, pagers and fax machines. So, why isn’t the bureaucracy listening? The same thing happens in public education. Over and over again I hear teachers offer solutions. Why don’t the administrators listen?
February 1997 – Dumbing-down is real
The Chronicle’s Jan. 30 article “TAAS scores to help grade the teachers; Texas will be first to apprise educators on how students do”, reminded me of a cartoon the Chronicle ran a few years ago which pictured a beggar sitting on the street selling pencils. On the pencil can was written: “All I learned in school was to take a test.”
Employers, do you blame the “college of education” when you have an employee who lacks the desire to work and to be a responsible learner? Employers, when was the last time you gave an employee a written to test to see if they were performing their job? Employers, when you pay for training for your employee to learn a new technical skill, do you give that employee a written test to prove they have learned the skill?
How will checking teachers according to students’ test results improve education? The limited funds for education need to go into the classroom – not into checking and testing. The proposed system of accountability which calls for teachers to be rated on how well they incorporate Texas Assessment of Academic Skills objectives into their lesson plans is only going to take more time out of objectives which incorporate thinking skills (the “meat” of the Scholastic Assessment Test).
The Texas Education Agency is going to sponsor training to teach administrators and teachers about this new accountability plan. I would rather see training on how to mentor a performance-, outcome-based product by the student. What about the on-level student who has no problem passing the TAAS test? There are a lot of average, hard-working students who are not receiving an advanced education because money is going to TAAS. The goal of education should be to make students look good, not teachers and school districts. Teachers want to be empowered to individually motivate the average child up to excellence.
August 10, 1996 – A Few Words for New Teachers
I wrote a letter to my son on his first day of teaching a decade ago. “A Few Words for New Teachers” was published in the Houston Chronicle August 10, 1996. Now, my other son is teaching, so I read it again and all so true.
… You provide the encouragement and intrinsic base for learning. Please remember all you can do is your best. Love and encourage your students. Help your students to make the right choice, to listen, to work, to study, to have the self-discipline to take responsibility for their education. …
Not sure the entire letter really applies, as you are in a community college. But, I wanted to send my love and excitement as you begin something fun and new. Trying to get others to work to learn and ask the right questions so they can.
I would like to send the same encouragement to all the new teachers in Houston, especially the Teach for America leaders that I met this summer. But, I want to add parts from the original letter, as these teachers are in the hardest schools in Houston. Adding this to my editorials August 2018. This was submitted prior to the Houston’s Chronicle’s online site so can’t search. Adding because I find the system has not changed. We have empowering teachers and those who just do their job. That is why I continue to volunteer.
You have just graduated and should be prepared for your job as a teacher. But my heart cries. I fear you are living in a naïve world, as do all those who have never taught the unmotivated, undisciplined student day after day. I fear you will get discouraged by the criticism of the public, politicians and parents who blame you for their child’s failure.
But, please don’t take responsibility for the student’s failure to learn. It will kill your motivation to teach, students learn and parents provide the encouragement and intrinsic base for learning. Help your students to make the right choice, to listen, to work, to study, to have the self-discipline to take responsibility for their education. Help your students to love learning as much as you do. Keep caring. That is what students see. That caring will motivate achievement more than all the laws, materials, money and lessons around. Don’t hurry, be patient. It takes time to learn. Keep your motivation alive and have fun teaching.