Friday, December 19, 2014

Notes from a First Year Teacher

I come home tired every night.

I thought it would be a breeze to teach 7th graders. They would be wowed by my professor-ness and would behave respectfully to me and to the rest of the students. They would also always raise their hand to talk and do all of their homework diligently so they can become the best citizen of Goshen possible…..

I come home tired every night.

Kenny Nolan swooned “I like dreamin’” in 1977 in regards to a lover.

In 2014 I dream of Goshen Middle School’s Points of Pride - responsibility, respect, productivity, courage, and integrity!

So what should I expect?


With this tiredness and the first year jitters my awe and admiration for the teachers of this world has magnified!

In Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope he asks “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we waiting for? What awaits us?” and I often ask that while waiting for my 12 year old scientists in front of my door at room 204. I see some so jovial because they are alive and social. But I also see those who don’t want to learn and have no desire to be in my class let alone school. They think school is miserable and wretched AND a social experiment….. woe is them….. woe is me…..

How do I approach apathy when talking about the earth’s layers - the lithosphere, aesthenosphere, mesosphere, outer core and inner core just doesn’t spur their inner fire?

To me it is incredibly flabbergasting with the knowledge that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, it has a core that is made of solid iron that is hotter than the surface of the sun!

I come home tired every night.

Tomorrow I’m going to start off class with something called a Bell Question and ask them to think about what the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold meant in his book Round River where he states “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” I want them to think about their interconnectedness in all their arenas - which includes learning about earth science!

How do I teach this sustainability, care, stewardship, conservation that Dr. Leopold elaborates in his book or how do I teach just plain plate tectonics which is mandated by the state board of education to a student whose goal in life is to become a couch potato?? My wife talks a lot about where our foundation comes from is from their home life - their environment, their influence.

At Goshen Middle School, we utilize focus questions that tries to inspire them to think a little deeper, to grow beyond the same old/same old, to have “enduring understanding” - maybe that can instill the safeguarding that is needed by all citizens.

But Wow! Their excitement to be alive and with friends is exuberating! How do I appease my desire to teach and offer them opportunity to be super cool in front of their peers?

These past 3 months of teaching have been the most educational for me in the past I don’t know how long! What have I learned?
  • Psychology of 7th graders
  • Sociology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of an administration
  • Politics of a school and
  • Psychology of myself (what I can or cannot do with 150 students!)
One of the main components that I never thought of in the past about teaching was classroom management and organization of ideas to enhance classroom management!

This experience makes me truly feel that all environmental educators must educate themselves about the ways of thinking like a teacher and maybe become a classroom teacher just for a brief moment to understand standard constraints, windows of curriculum, know that time is incredibly tight as well as finances, and that the reason why a teacher doesn’t do something you suggest is not because they don’t care for the environment – but a plethora of other reasons that hamper the possibilities of field trips but does not dampen the possibilities of motivating future scientists that can be the best citizens possible!

So an enormous question Environmental Education Association of Indiana needs to ask is how do we assist a teacher that is caught in standards based, financially strapped, time warped tough scenario? Help them with grants? Help them with curriculum? Help them on site more? I now understand and still don’t know how to answer those questions.


A student the other day asked me “is it true that it’s better to be cool than smart?” And I told him “the coolest person is the smartest in my opinion! One that thinks!”

A mother told me that she wanted to thank me because this is the first time her minority heritage daughter says she likes science!

I win!

Daily I must breathe so I can get oxygen to my brain and then I must think about how my desire for this year was to challenge myself in edu-taining seventh graders and helping excite them about science!

Time for a nap because tomorrow - in class - I save the world!

This is a letter from Paul Steury who used to be a very popular and successful naturalist at Merry Lea Envirormental Center for almost 10 years. It is interesting to see his impressions today, as a first year teacher in a Goshen, Indiana Middle School.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #188 – December 18, 2014

Dear Friends,

Governor Pence in announcing his legislative agenda on December 4th seemingly gave a blank check to private school tuition increases which would all be paid for by the taxpayers.

Did he really mean to say that, or is a “correction” or “clarification” soon to come?

His agenda document calls for “removing the cap on Choice Scholarships” after noting that “On average, public charter and voucher schools are funded at lower levels than traditional public schools.”

Removing the $4800 cap on Choice Scholarships will help private school parents pay less out of pocket for the balance of the tuition, but it won’t help voucher schools get more funding unless the voucher schools raise their tuition. Apparently the Governor’s plan would allow whatever tuition increases the voucher schools want and the taxpayers would pay for all of it. No more caps!

I am told that Brebeuf, one of the voucher schools, charges tuition of $17,000 per student. Does the Governor think that taxpayers should pay for whatever tuition the private school may ask?

At state universities, tuition is set by the board of each institution, but legislators have never been asked to raise state funding to cover whatever the board asks. Does Governor Pence really want legislators to do so for K-12 private schools?

Let your legislators know you have a problem with the Governor’s blank check for funding private schools.

Fiscal Cost of Removing the Cap

The Office of the Governor has estimated the fiscal cost of lifting the cap on voucher payments as $3.5 million, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star.

Legislators should question this surprisingly low fiscal cost estimate. Using the Governor’s figure of 30,000 vouchers for this current school year, his $3.5 million estimate would mean an increase of only $115 per voucher. It is highly unlikely that private school parents are only averaging $115 as their share of the private school charges. That figure is less than public school parents pay for textbook rental.

In addition, the $3.5 cost estimate seems to completely underestimate the true cost of paying whatever the private schools ask in increased tuition. Is the Governor going to add a regulation saying that private schools may not raise their tuition to take inappropriate advantage of the Governor’s generosity?

Is this leading to price controls from the Governor on private school tuition increases?

Fiscal Costs of the Total Voucher Program

The voucher program in its first two years (2011-12 and 2012-13) had no fiscal cost to the state, even though the funds from the start have hurt public schools by diverting the money to private schools. Overall, the voucher payments were deliberately held below the costs of public school payments to guarantee an overall savings. A savings of about $4 million was redistributed to all public schools in those first two years.

Governor Pence’s 2013 voucher expansion turned a savings into a new fiscal cost. He expanded the eligibility list to the point that about 40% of all private school vouchers in 2013-14 went to students who had always been in private school. This move ended the savings and produced an overall $15.7 million new fiscal cost to the taxpayers.

Under Governor Pence, vouchers were no longer about facilitating a choice. They were about subsidizing private school parents to help the private and religious schools boost enrollment.

Even taking the Governor’s estimate at face value, his 2015 agenda would escalate the proven, most conservative listing of fiscal costs of the voucher program to $19.2 million. This is the sum of the $3.5 million for removing the caps plus the $15.7 million fiscal cost for 2013-14 reported in the most recent financial report on Choice Scholarships from the IDOE Division of Finance in June, 2014.
At $19.2 million, this financial benefit for private school parents now gets more state dollars than:
  • Summer school - $18.4 million per year
  • Gifted and talented programs - $12.6 Million per year
  • Preschool pilot scholarships - $10 million per year
  • Alternative public schools - $6.1 million per year
  • Non-English Speaking Program - $5 million per year
  • Senator Ford Technology program - $3.1 million per year
  • Professional Development - $0 per year (funding ended in 2011 budget)
Let your legislators know that you disagree with the idea of prioritizing more money for private school vouchers over all the other needs of the one million plus public school students. It just doesn’t make sense.

Governor Pence Has Thrown Governor Daniels’ Voucher Program Under the Bus

Governor Daniels’ gave a speech at Harvard in November, 2012 saying how Indiana created the voucher program the right way. “We said to the public schools, you get first shot!” he said. “If you do a good job they’re not going to want to leave. “ The Daniels’ program focused on giving parents a choice and on saving the state money.

Governor Pence when he became Governor in 2013 quickly changed the focus to helping private school parents pay for a choice they had already made. He passed a voucher expansion in the 2013 session creating four pathways to become eligible for a voucher when students had never attended a private school. It was no longer about choice. It was about subsidizing private school parents.

In 2013-14, about 40% of the 19, 000 vouchers were for students who had never attended a public school first and therefore were a new fiscal cost to the state. Any savings were wiped out, and the state was left with a new fiscal cost of $15.7 million. The distribution of $4 million in savings back to school districts which the Daniels’ program had bragged about for the first two years suddenly ended in under Governor Pence.

Contact your legislators now to let them know you disagree with this trend of sending more and more millions to private school parents when it is not even clear that there is enough money in the new budget to correct the shortages for public schools that have become so apparent after the paltry 1% increase in the current year, well below the cost of living.

Please keep up your great support of public schools!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.

We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Who wants those kids?

by Anne Duff

I see it coming. Universal vouchers. Competition among schools. Only the best will survive. Those schools that can’t make the grade will be closed. But what will happen to those students? Those students who contribute to the schools who receive “As” will be persuaded to stay at those schools…at least until they do poorly on a test or their attendance drops. But imagine those students who have special needs – those moderately and severely disabled students who are not on a diploma track but whose lack of graduation still counts against a school when they only receive a certificate of attendance. Who wants those kids? Or what about those English Language Learners who come to this country midyear and know no English but are required to take the ISTEP test only a few months later and have their scores averaged in with the rest for those schools letter grades? Who wants those kids? And those same students with their moderate and severe disabilities – let’s not forget that they still have to take the test…it doesn’t matter that they have never taken the classes that prepare them for the tests…and that they aren’t on a diploma track…they still test and have it count. Who wants that?

As a mother of 3 children, I have become acutely aware that stability has been one of the best things for my children. They don’t like change. They like the comfort of being with teachers they have grown to love, thrive on the long lasting friendships with children they’ve known since the age of 3, and enjoy the traditions year after year in the school they’ve attended since they were very young. But it seems our legislators have decided this wasn’t meant for all children. Those children who need stability the most will be moving from school to school to school because, frankly, who wants them? If competition and good letter grades keep a school open, and our new “universal voucher system” can pick and choose the most desirable students, as can our vouchers schools currently, then what will happen to those children who need extra help, who can’t speak English, who will never pass ISTEP, who will never receive a diploma? What ever happened to their constitutional right? “…provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”