Friday, January 20, 2012

Road to Readiness

KTMS Radio Commentary

       It is a worthy national education goal that every child comes to school ready to learn. But we are not yet nearly to that point.

One researcher examined the steps that must be taken to make it happen.

       The researcher determined that the quality of the parent-child relationship is key to language development.

Children need rich verbal experiences to draw from as they enter school. Parents should talk to their children all the time and read to them as often as possible.

 Parents should share stories, and ask open-ended questions to spur thinking skills.

This helps get children excited about learning new things.

       According to the research, there are several preconditions required for learning.

Good health comes first. Then come unhurried time with family, safe and supportive environments, and special help for families in desperate need.

These are commonsense items, but unfortunately not always in great supply.

       Wrote the researcher: “These principles are deceptively simple. Assuring that every child has the opportunity to learn requires collaboration among community and health care agencies, families, and schools.”

       It involves institutions and neighborhoods working together for basic needs.

It is a promise unfulfilled in this country at this time, but it is a worthy goal to pursue for all our children.

This is the road to readiness. 

Fitness for Children

 Experts say that most American children are on their way to an inactive adulthood, based on observations of how they spend their days.

Experts agree that heart disease is a hereditary condition, but that the factors and conditions that increase risk of heart disease begin in childhood.

       Here are some ways to help children get fit and stay that way:

       •  First, provide a good example yourself.  Children who have active parents are more likely to be active than children who do not.  

Plan family activities, or even after-dinner walks, several times a week. Make these activities fun for all involved.

       •  Make sure children are active at home.  Keep sports equipment on hand and encourage lifelong activities like tennis, biking, or running.  Children who enjoy these activities may well continue them.

       •  Unplug the TV, especially after school.  There’s a correlation between TV watching and low fitness rates, eating more junk food, obesity, and high cholesterol. 

Watching TV and playing computer games are passive activities usually involving no movement at all. We’ve all seen young people mesmerized by what is on the screen, often unaware that they are sitting still for so long. 

The inactivity is more dangerous, in the long run, than any potentially objectionable material on the screen that might soon be forgotten. So make fitness a family affair and it will have benefits that last a lifetime. 

That Used to be Us

            By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools
Newspaper Column
Tom Friedman, The New York Times columnist, recently wrote a book with Michael Mandelbaum called, heart-breakingly, That Used to Be Us. “I will be honest with you. It is our view that the American dream is now in peril,” he stated.
And he made his case in a recent speech:  “America is the tent pole that holds up the world. If that tent pole buckles or fractures, your kids won’t just grow up in a different America — they will grow up in a very different world,” he said. 
The subtitle of the book adds a note of hope:  How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.
Friedman frames his argument around the Homeland Security motto, “If you see something, say something.” His main message is that we need to apply that exhortation to the country as a whole. We need to call out the dangerous actions we see everywhere, especially in the area of education, which is so vital to our democracy and our economy. If we see something wrong, we have to say so.
It’s almost as though our country has suddenly become paralyzed. Political gridlock, always a worrisome occurrence, has risen to a point where it has stopped us dead in our tracks. 
Friedman cites China as one example of this reality. In 2005, he said, getting to Tianjin, China involved a 3.5-hour car ride from Beijing to a polluted, crowded Chinese version of Detroit. Five years later in 2010, when Friedman attended a conference in Tianjin, he boarded a world-class, high-speed Chinese bullet train that covered 72 miles in 29 minutes. The convention center was a massive, beautifully appointed structure with a total floor area of 230,000 square meters. Construction of this began Sept. 15, 2009 and was completed May 2010. Eight months. Right now, that couldn’t happen in the U.S.
When Friedman wrote his previous book in 2004, Facebook didn’t exist. “Twitter was a sound, the cloud was in the sky, and 4G was a parking place,” he said. “Applications were what you sent to college. Linked In was a prison and Skype, for most people, was a typo.” The world has changed, and the labor market has changed with it.
Friedman quoted John Jazwiec who has headed a variety of technology companies and startups, and who also teaches MBA courses. Jazwiec blogged, “I’m in the business of killing jobs…All of the companies I’ve been CEO of through best-in-practice services and software, eliminate jobs…by automation, outsourcing, and efficiencies of process. I have eliminated over 100,000 jobs in the worldwide economy from the software and services my companies sell. I am a serial job killer.”
What is a sustainable job? “As a job killer — that’s me — a sustainable job is a job I can’t kill, and I can’t kill creative people. There is no productivity solution or outsourcing that I can sell to eliminate a creative person. I can’t kill unique value creators,” wrote Jazwiec.
The people who do non-routine work — journalists, dentists, doctors, physicists, computer scientists — for them the world works better than ever, said Friedman. And that’s where education comes in.
“What it means is that we have two educational challenges today. We need more education and we need better education,” he said. Average is over. In a world where so many machines and available foreign workers can now do average or better, the curve everyone is being graded on is moving upward, he said. Average work will not return average wages anymore.
Friedman says to talk about education you must ask employers what they’re looking for. He and his co-writer interviewed employers in four categories: high-end white collar jobs, low-end white collar jobs, blue collar jobs, and green collar jobs — the U.S. Army. All four said the same thing:  They are looking for people who have critical reasoning and technical skills, who can adapt, invent, and reinvent the job they are doing. One CEO told them, “We want every worker, starting with the line worker, to be present, to be paying attention, because that worker may have an insight that can drive enormous productivity or new products.”
That means, said Friedman, that everyone has to find his own unique value proposition. To become a creative lawyer, a creative columnist, a creative factory worker, a creative service worker, everyone is going to have to justify his or her value added. For some it will be inventing a new product or service or reinventing an old one. For others it will be reinventing themselves to do a routine task in a new or better way.
Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University, said it is imperative that we become much better at educating students not just to take good jobs, but to create good jobs.
Friedman has strong feelings about the current debates that are raging in Congress. “We have to cut, we have to raise revenue, and we have to invest,” he said. “But let’s start the conversation with what world we’re in, not who can throw the biggest number on the table, and be the most stubborn about saving something or cutting something.
“It’s an idiotic debate we are having, and it is unworthy of our country right now and the responsibility we have to the future,” he said.
“For all our ailments as a country and as a society, we are still the most open in the world. Individuals with a spark of an idea, the gumption to protest, or the passion to succeed can still get up and walk out the door and chase a rainbow, lead a crusade, start a school, or open a business.”
He’s absolutely right about that. We need to support what is great about our country, including its educational backbone. We need to draw lines in the sand and protect what we cherish. 
If you see something, say something.

Getting to work

Newspaper Column

    By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools
In his annual Back-to-School message to students, President Barack Obama talked about the need for students to buckle down and get to work. He acknowledged that for many students that’s a tall order, and underscored how important this generation of students is for the country.
“I know that you’ve got a lot to deal with outside of school,” he said. “Issues that used to stay confined to hallways or locker rooms now find their way into your Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts. And some of your families might be feeling the strain of this economy. You might have picked up an after-school job to help out, or maybe you’re babysitting for a younger sibling because Mom or Dad is working an extra shift,” he added.
He talked about the fact that students are growing up faster and interacting with the wider world in a way that most adults did not have to do at such an early age. “I don’t want to be another adult who stands up to lecture you like you’re just kids,” he said. “Because you’re not just kids. You’re this country’s future. Whether we fall behind or race ahead in the coming years is up to you. And I want talk to you about meeting that responsibility.”
The president told the students that they need to start with being the best student they can be — not always getting a perfect score on every assignment or getting straight A’s all the time, though he told them that’s a good goal to strive for. “It means you have to work as hard as you know how.”
He said school is for discovering new passions and acquiring the skills to pursue those passions in the future. He also challenged the students to set high goals. “I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after high school. And if that means college for you, just getting in isn’t enough. You’ve got to finish.”
I love what the president said about teachers: “Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than anybody,” he said. “Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public, private, or charter school — your teachers are giving up their weekends and waking up at dawn. They’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curriculars. Then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and staying up past midnight to grade your papers,” he said.
 “And they don’t do it for a fancy office or a big salary. They do it for you. They live for those moments when something clicks, when you amaze them with your intellect and they see the kind of person you can become. They know that you’ll be the citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow. They know that you’re the future.”
President Obama ended by underscoring his main point: “I have no doubt that America’s best days are ahead of us because I know the potential that lies inside each one of you. Soon enough, you’ll be the ones leading our businesses and our government; you’ll be the ones charting the course of our unwritten history. All of that starts this year. Right now. So I want you all to make the most of this year ahead of you. Your country is depending on you. Set your sights high. Have a great school year. And let’s get to work.”
Regardless of personal politics, I believe we can all agree that is exactly the message we want all our students to hear.

Public Servants are Community Heroes

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

Newspaper Column

I have a deep and abiding admiration for those who go into public service. It’s a given that they sacrificed much higher pay and far better working conditions to make their communities better places. I’m talking about people with high degrees of education and specialized training, who had a variety of career options. I’m referring to teachers, firemen, nurses, policemen, and all the lawyers and doctors and managers who chose to work in government roles rather than private practice, to help make their neighborhoods and communities safer places. I also include the janitors, road repair crews, bus drivers, park rangers, and lower-paid government workers who toil every day to help in their neighborhoods.
When on earth did these people become the enemy? 
It’s outrageous.
Wall Street imploded, and yet top executives there continue to rake in bonuses with so many zeroes that two or three of those bonuses could solve some state deficits. The financial industry doled out high-risk, mortgage-backed securities that collapsed when the housing bubble burst. These people still get their full pay, their full benefits, and mind-boggling bonuses.
In defending those bonuses, some have said that they are contractual obligations and must be paid. These same commentators turn around and deny contract obligations to public employees, each making the tiniest fraction of the Wall Street salaries. Plus, public employees work toward the common good, and add benefit to our society. Wall Street moguls nearly destroyed our economy for the sake of lining their own pockets and those of their colleagues. Where is the outrage over that? Where is the shared sacrifice?
When did the world go topsy-turvy to make the working person, and particularly public servants, the target of scorn? Those crafting that fiction must be chortling over those of us gullible enough to buy the line of argument.
Take teachers. In many countries teachers are revered and compensated highly. It is not a coincidence that those countries tend to have the highest achieving students. Some say teachers have it made in our country because they only work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nonsense. Teachers work till late hours, over weekends, holidays, and summers crafting more relevant lesson plans, refining their professional abilities, evaluating student work, and gathering materials.
Or take firefighters. After 9/11, and after the multiple fires here in Santa Barbara, our first responders were lionized, and appropriately so, for the heroic and brave work they do to keep us all safe, especially in disasters. Yet recent letters to the editor in local publications point to firefighters and other public safety workers as a huge problem. What happened in such a short time to spin common sense on its head?
Critics point to short hours or short careers for public servants, but the premise itself rings hollow because we all know that our star athletes often have the shortest of seasons and work days, and are among the highest paid. The same goes for our movie and TV stars. People want to include the preparation time for athletes and entertainers, but not for teachers or first responders. I do not begrudge these celebrities their money. I just say shame on those who turn around and disparage teachers and nurses and firemen and policemen and all those whose work is so vital to our community and our nation, who struggle to get by on their full-time salaries.
Without teachers there would be no other professions. Period.
Are there areas that need reform in the public sector? Absolutely. Just as there are in the private sector. Let’s make those needed reforms while remembering who the true heroes are among us.
Why have these hard-working, sacrificing public employees become the target of scorn? Why indeed. Who gains from pointing the finger at teachers and nurses and first responders? It seems clear to me that the agenda has nothing to do with the details being argued and everything to do with dismantling public institutions. If that’s what we want to do, let’s have the courage to say so — and then figure out who will teach our children, tend to the sick, keep our streets safe, and fight our fires.
Shame on all of us who scapegoat the true heroes in our midst, or remain silent while others do so. They say this country is angry. Let’s get angry about THAT.