Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Tokyo subway and a CNMI classroom

The education commissioner takes a lot of heat. I don't know enough about how he does things to offer my thoughts on him personally, I'm not a principal, but he has always been cordial with me and open to my thoughts. I think he's doing his best and what he thinks is right. It's public record that two of the board members don't like him and didn't vote for him to be in that position. The Variety editorial page has been harsh with him -- too harsh in my opinion -- and repeatedly. He has instituted some policies that not all principals like -- so I've been told. He is also in an impossibly difficult situation with the state of the island's economy, and more so, the island's cultural aversion to accountability. The implementation of Praxis could have been handled better, but ultimately, don't you want your teachers to pass a basic skills test like doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and other professionals? Doreen Tudela admitted stealing thousands of dollars as a school principal and hasn't been fired yet. That is what I mean by accountability.

Right now some fairly radical plans are being implemented by the PSS administration. Principals will be teaching classes. There are 86 fewer teachers than there were two years ago. That is a staggering reduction, especially since there are more students as many have transferred from the private schools. Coordinators and specialists are teaching classes as well. Naturally, I suspect principals and coordinators will be getting the best students in the best classes with the least disciplinary problems. Principals are overworked and essentially exploited here, this isn't a knock on them. However, it is wrong to push veteran, entrenched teachers aside and out of their classes to make room for this plan, as I know and suspect is and will be happening. A coordinator is being brought in to teach AP History and AP Government at my school. I know him, I like him, he's a good man. I'm sure he is a good teacher, but he shouldn't be taking all the AP classes. After four years with seniors, I'm being forced to teach freshman -- something I find appalling. A new teacher was brought in to teach my seniors. This lack of respect for seniority is vulgar. If conditions allowed, like if I found out about this last year, I'd quit -- or at least transfer. Another veteran teacher at my school is being pushed out of his chemistry class for a newcomer. These things send a terrible message. They destroy already low morale and they are simply unfair.

A news story indicates the student/teacher ratio is 24:1. That number is no doubt technically accurate. It is also misleading. The typical CNMI classroom is more crowded than the Tokyo subway at rush hour during an Ichiro Suzuki autograph session. I doubt most of us have as few as 24 in our class. I had 32, 32 and 27 last year in language arts classes. It has been like that most every year. That 24:1 ratio is skewed by special education, which has a very low ratio, and perhaps things like computer classes. In addition, some schools, like GTC, are significantly less crowded, while some schools are significantly more crowded-- notably the middle schools. My experiences as a teacher and parent with a child in the schools tell me that the massive overcrowding in the middle schools at a difficult age causes immense problems. There are inequities between schools. My colleague Angie Wheat wrote about this issue in the new teacher's blog at

Education isn't valued here at all. I routinely see parents try to stop their kids from going to college, which boggles the mind. Parents and students all over seem more concerned with "passing" than learning, which is why college degrees -- even graduate degrees -- have been demeaned and diminished. In fact all education is grade focused, not learning focused. People will find out eventually if you're competent. Your diploma won't convince them otherwise.

The economy is in shambles with our flawed model, so none of this is surprising. In today's world in a first world economy, being educated isn't a luxury, it is a necessity for any type of quality of life. There simply is no excuse for cramming your children like sardines into dilapidated facilities, while we have an obscene abundance of elected officials with too much discretionary money, other wasteful bureaucracies that don't need to exist like the municipal councils, and a ridiculous public relations firm and lobbyist being paid thousands of dollars for things we could do ourselves or shouldn't be trying to do at all. We are all to blame for this depressing mess. We are failing our children as a community and we should be embarrassed about that.


Bruce A. Bateman said...

One solution might be to privatize the entire process. Get the government completely out of the education business.

The market place would see to it that teachers met performance criteria. That accommodations were sanitary and even appealing. That supplies and basic necessities (like books) were in proper abundance. Competition would up the ante and greatly improve the product....educated children.

There would be problems to iron out, like what to do with kids who just don't want to be there (my solution would be to export them to Zimbabwe or Bangledesh). Another problem might be that with government schools the approved patriotic party line will always be taught because of who signs the paychecks. Some private schools might want to teach alternative curricula. There would be other details that would need ironing out too but the bottom line would be less money spent per pupil and a better end product.

Maybe we could even get to the point where the object is to bring the lowest achievers up to the level of the highest instead of the other way around.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

You think we have a first world economy? We sure compete with them, but I don't think we've reached that level yet. We are still Global South.

Jeff said...

We don't have a first world economy, but we should aspire to have one.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

We are a third world economy with a thin patina of first world as a clever disguise.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Not really. Third world countries still have professionals and people with money.

What makes us a third world economy is leaders (give or take) more interested in family than governing, no hope of social mobility, a reliance on cheap labor, being used by more advanced nations to advance their (military, economic) agendas, very little emphasis on education for the masses, and so on and so on.

Jeff said...

The private sector didn't exactly do a bang up job with health care, so I'm not as confident as you that they'll help education. The WHO has us 37th. 46 million uninsured. Criminal.

bradinthesand said...

why does everyone glance over the benefits of being a second world economy?

Jeff said...

What are the benefits?

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

All people are equal, but some are more equal.

You don't have to waste time making choices, there is only one brand of everything, coffee, sugar, oatmeal, AK-47s, etc.

Sometimes you get to work in beautiful locations like Siberia and the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Vodka can be used to power your car

and many more!

Jeff said...

That is a beautiful letter to the editor.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

You're right , Jeff. I will send it off right away (he says ignoring the intervening posts with casual aplomb).

Stephen Ewen said...


That's all. :-)