Friday, February 15, 2008

Challenging Education Practices is not offensive

A rebuttal to my “Snow Days” op-ed appeared today:

Oakland Press: Snow Days provide quality time for all (02/15/08)

In it, teacher Doug Hill describes snow days as “gifts meant to be opened and enjoyed.”

Unfortunately he forgot to provide a gift receipt! :-)

Doug disputes my cost estimates, and that’s fine. The stuff he sites might generously represent less than 10% of the overall budget. So, instead of a daily cost of $860,000, it might only be $774,000. But the exact daily costs don't change the premise. Even reducing my estimate by 10% still leaves a big number.

And as far as his other concerns over my article, well, that’s why they call them opinion pieces and not news stories! Data or not, snow days do impact the economy either through lost wages or lost productivity. Mr. Hill even cites a few examples when he points out how teachers get paid on snow days, but other district employees like Para-Educators, food service workers, and bus drivers do not.

In the end, I think the talk about budgets, productivity, or projectile vomit is really chaff, and the heart of the matter is that Mr. Hill and “the entire teacher profession” feels offended.

That’s a shame, because schools today are facing tremendous challenges, and this serves as a clear example about how difficult it is to examine any aspect of education without someone feeling offended. Somehow the school culture has evolved to a point where the slightest suggestion that we evaluate past practices or seek improvement gets twisted into “an attack”.

Let’s look at what I said:

“Even if district superintendents feel compelled to close school, there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work. Schools are forever claiming they don’t have time for planning, collaborating, professional development, or “record keeping”. Bad weather days could easily be used for these purposes.”

Mr. Hill reacted with:

“While many are able to leave their work at the office when the clock hits 5 p.m., teachers are not among that group. I take great offense with the connotation of teachers lazing around.”

I never said teachers were “lazing around”. In fact, I didn’t even say “teacher”; I said schools (meaning administrators and boards), which don’t ask or expect all teachers to report on snow days. I am well aware that many teachers work very hard, and I’m sure some were working that day (either at home or at school). I know some come in early, and some stay late on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Hill was quick to jump to the wrong conclusion.

What I did indeed say was that district employees – yes, meaning all teachers – should report to work. The rest of us – even those with cushy 9 to 5 jobs – are expected to report to work when it snows. I’m still not sure why suggesting that teachers should report to work would be considered “offensive”.

To provide a little perspective, I wrote that piece after sitting in a meeting where I had heard that implementation of a very promising software tool – Pearson Benchmark & Inform – was progressing at what I felt was a disappointingly slow pace. (Before everyone jumps at that comment, let me emphasize that teachers are using it, and seem excited about using it. The problem I see is that it sounds like two years from now less than half of the core curriculum will be online for all grades. Teachers seem enthusiastic about the tool, and I clearly see its value, so in my opinion I think it should be implemented faster.) I was told that one of the challenges faced by the district was the limited opportunities they have to pull together groups of teachers for large blocks of time to design common assessments, conduct training, do data entry, etc.

With a little advance planning, I see no reason why they couldn’t focus on Pearson-related tasks on a snow day. Or, they could have some Professional Development sessions. In general, schools need to figure out how to do more with less, and examining how to possibly make a more “official use” out of snow days should not face immediate rejection, and it certainly should be labeled as “offensive”.

Basically, I see this as a much larger discussion. Schools have a limited number of instructional hours, and a limited amount of “official” teacher hours. I think choosing to cancel any of them should be a big decision. The fact that students can miss – so far – four days of school without impacting their education merits a discussion. That’s a fair question, and it’s sad that it needs to be delicately worded so as not to offend anyone.

My beef isn’t with teachers… it’s with a system that doesn’t tolerate discussions about these and other issues.

==> Mike.

I’ve pasted below the full article in case the link doesn’t work.

Snow days provide quality time for all

Like many of my fellow teachers, I read Rochester Community Schools Trustee Mike Reno’s recent guest opinion “Snow days waste money, insult parents” and walked away, well, insulted.

Reno managed to misrepresent the district’s daily expenditures, offend an entire profession and make assumptions that are neither true nor can be substantiated.

True, the Rochester Community Schools’ annual budget is roughly $155 million, and if you divide by 180 days, you’d have a daily expenditure of approximately $860,000. The trouble with his math, however, is that you can’t simply divide by 180. There are many tasks vital to the day-to-day operations of the school district that are necessary 365 days per year.

Further, when school is not in session, substitutes for teachers, para-educators, bus drivers and custodians aren’t paid. Nor is any bus fuel consumed, and the building utilities aren’t running at full capacity. It could therefore be said that a snow day actually saves the district money.

When he states “there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work” on snow days, he managed to offend an entire profession. While many are able to leave their work at the office when the clock hits 5 p.m., teachers are not among that group. I take great offense with the connotation of teachers lazing around.

On one of the snow days Reno has issue with, I spent the better part of two hours printing — on my own printer — and stuffing my report cards. Once completed, I went about the task of getting plans ready for the coming social studies unit. Those were four-plus hours that would’ve taken place following the school day — at the expense of my family. I know I was not alone in my endeavors to get caught up from home.

Reno also made several assumptions that can’t be substantiated.

A snow day “negatively impacts our local economy”? Where is his data to support this? There’s no way to quantify this statement with any form of data. If we’re simply making assumptions without support, I’d fathom to say a snow day actually boosts the local economy. Suddenly, high schoolers everywhere are earning money as baby-sitters, movie theaters and malls see an uptick in net revenues, and I’m willing to bet a few more pizzas are delivered.

Perhaps the biggest assumption he makes is that parents must scramble at 6 a.m. to find child care. Darn right they do! And it’s a real pain, too. How is this different from walking into little Billy’s bedroom at 6 a.m. and having him projectile vomit all over the place? It’s not! As soon as you make the decision to become a parent, you make the decision to have a Plan B. I have one, you have one and every other parent in the world has one. If you have children, you have a Plan B and a snow day should be no more stressful than any other day.

Finally, he says a child’s education is too important to give a day away on a snow day. On this point I agree. I invite all parents to embrace these days and enjoy some of the amenities a day like this can offer. If and when the roads become safe, take a trip to the library and read with one another, go to one of our area’s many wonderful museums and expose your children to the exhibits they offer, or turn off the TV and video games and spend time with your children.

No, Mr. Reno, snow days aren’t wasteful or insulting. They’re gifts meant to be opened and enjoyed. As we struggle in this nation to maintain “family,” a snow day offers six hours of uninterrupted togetherness and a chance to reconnect with our loved ones.

Doug Hill is a fourth-grade teacher at Long Meadow Elementary in the Rochester Community Schools district.


Anonymous said...

I don’t want to be accused of an “attack”, but it’s this teacher – and not Mike – who seems to be projecting an image of teachers that I don’t find very appealing.

Sacrificing to care for your sick child is hardly comparable to scrambling so Jr. doesn’t need to get his boots snowy.

Does this teacher really think everyone has it easy, and only teachers have tough jobs?

I don’t know if Mike’s snow day ideas are workable, but I applaud the fact he’s thinking. He was hardly attacking teachers. I think perhaps Mr. Hill is being a bit thin-skinned.

Anonymous said...


You should be sure to let your readers know that Teacher Hill is also one of the leaders of the Rochester Teachers Union.

You've dared to examine one of their sacred cows, these extra vacation days, and now you'll pay.

Bill Milligan said...

"In the end, I think the talk about budgets, productivity, or projectile vomit is really chaff, and the heart of the matter is that Mr. Hill and “the entire teacher profession” feels offended.

That’s a shame, because schools today are facing tremendous challenges, and this serves as a clear example about how difficult it is to examine any aspect of education without someone feeling offended."

Read the post just before mine. It serves as a clear example of how difficult it is examine any aspect of eduction without anti-worker anti-teacher anti-union people spinning Kennedy-esque conspiracy theories the dark power behind every letter of every word or any articulate protest.

The shoe fits on your side of the aisle, too, Mike (well, I say that acknowledging you don't claim to have a side of the aisle--understood).

I thought the teacher's rebuttal of your opinion was articulate and stuck to the key, tangible points. I guess I fail to see why your piece--and his response--constitute an inability to have a dialog? If anything it shows a dialog can happen. Just because someone articulately took you to task doesn't mean "we can't have a dialog."

And what is it with people posting here who don't have the guts to post their full names? Here's mine. I'm easy to find. Enjoy.

Mike Reno said...

What I said, Bill, was that it's tough to have a discussion when everything gets twisted into "an attack". Instead of focusing on issues, you've got to spend time trying to "talk them down".

You may percieve this as some sort of reasoned debate, but I question the value of trying to debate whether lost wages of over half the district's employees, or productivity losses at Chrysler's Tech Center are truly counterbalanced with pizza and movie ticket sales.

And, I certainly don't feel like I was "taken to task."

While I'm sure he'll get high-fives and "atta boys" at work, I'm a bit saddened that it'll be for spreading some false notion that I insulted teachers, or was challenging how hard they work. He read that into my words. Freud calls this projection. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I hardly see a false notion here. It is clear that they think Mr. Reno insulted or threatened them. The high five and other remarks only fan those flames.

But we all know that.

The exact word choice makes a difference. Cash Cows, Kennedy-esque and other remarks are inflamatory. What good do they serve for adult dialog?

Just as I know how to set off others that post here, so does Mr. Reno. When some feel threatened they will respond as did Mr. Hill. The question is. Does Mr. Hill's response expose the tip of a potential political iceberg that Mr. Reno is steering toward?

Mr. Reno is good at making statements that he feels are not insulting. However we now see more folks responding here and in the press letting him know that they are insulted and/or threatened.

He then must "talk them down".

Why not avoid that talking down in the first place? Unless the intention is to provoke.

So with that said I will let the time clock person know that I just completed a Saturday of work 90 miles North of Cuba. I am off the clock now and it is 80 degrees. Mr. Reno can confirm my approximate location by IP address. We work tomorrow as well and some long and late days next week.

But that paragraph had nothing to do with snow days. I posted this to make a point. We need to stop the provocation and move forward. Does it matter where and when a sincere attempt is made to start a dialog?

Do we parents want this issue resolved? If so, how do we help Mr. Reno, the board, and administration resolve it? Is this more important than the security cameras and other issues laying on the table?

I have posted ideas and Mr. Reno has looked into them. Fantastic!

He has responded that they have some glitches and short commings. That's great! He took a suggestion and dug in.

I'm not insulted that his ideas differ. We are constructing a dialog as adults.

So I hear that it is going to warm up and rain. (up there) This will make many roads worse and that brings us back to snow days.

What is our plan? Or do we just fight each other?


Bill Milligan said...

Sorry, can't let you off the hook here, Mike. The rebuttal piece mentioned being "insulted" in response to your phrase of "insulting parental judgment" contained in your original piece--in other words, a rhetorical play on your very words. Your original piece also contained these rhetorical gems:

--"Colossal waste"
--"Rob our Children" among others.

Your points were buried within a rhetorical framework of inflammatory language designed to gas up the choir, so to speak.

And I don't have a problem with any of the above--except when someone is called on the carpet for it and then plays pompous about the response (which was rhetorically not nearly as inflammatory as the original piece--talking word choices, not points).

Again, your column and the response to it shows there can be a dialog about such things. What stops a dialog from happening is sweeping under the rug every legitimate point this teacher made simply to fixate on the 10 words out of 450 or so the teacher wrote as being some proof that we're not able to debate such things.

Kind of reminds me of that scene in Jerry McGuire: you think we're arguing and I think we're finally starting to talk! ;)

If it helps, cross out all words the teacher used you felt weren't productive. Likewise, others should do the same to your original column. Now: let's debate the points that are left.


Mike Reno said...

Well it would appear I've been "taken to task" and "called on the carpet" for being "insulting", "pompous", and now according to Marty I'm even threatening.

Sorry guys, but last time I checked, it was not teachers who were responsible for closing districts for snow days, so you can try to twist or dissect my words as you please, but the fact remains that my opinion piece doesn't reflect on teachers.

I guess I'm not sure what type of answer you're looking for in terms of a "point-by-point" analysis. The only point I felt warranted clarification (aside from the "insult" misinterpretation) was the daily cost, and I addressed that. He didn't say whether he agreed or disagreed that teachers should report to work on snow days; he deflected the point by noting that he put in a few hours of work at home on those days. Beyond that, Mr. Hill seems to feel that responsible parents are not unduly stressed by snow days, and should actually welcome them. I don't agree with him, but it's not a right or wrong matter and he's certainly entitled to that opinion.

Bill Milligan said...

My point from the beginning is that there is a dialog happening on the issue, which I think is great. My only beef was against the assertion that dialog wasn't happening--or couldn't happen.

You are entitled to your opinions. Thanks for sharing them. Likewise I think it's great others have done that as well.

Meemah said...

I would like to know how many of those "six hours" Mr. Hill spent with his kids on the last snow day, considering he spent "4+ hours" on report cards and other teaching-related issues. It's interesting that what he considers "a blessing" is usually a bane to parents who must find alternate care for school-age children on snow days. I truly doubt that most of THOSE parents will see a "blessing" in having to pay someone to watch their children while they're at work (or lose a day's pay to stay home with them). Snow days have their doubt about it...but Mr. Reno's suggestions for alternatives for SOME snow days have merit and should be examined! (It's called "common sense", people!)