Some of my earliest memories are trying to explain to school friends that no, I didn’t kill Jesus – and, yes, I do eat matzo but it isn’t made with baby’s blood – and would they like to come over to my house and play Legos?
Your kids have to get themselves to school. They have to get themselves home. And helping with homework, talking about their days, even setting a good example are all luxuries you have to pay dearly for with an ever-shrinking amount of time.
Parents and kids schedules aren’t aligned? Well, align them then. Have kids in class from 9 to 5 just like their parents.
Not only will that make it easier for adults to take them to-and-from school, but it will prepare kids for the rigors of the adult world.
The neoliberal Center for American Progress, for instance, suggests that synching the school and workday would better allow parents to meet their obligations to their children.
This is especially true, they say, for kids in low-income communities where competitive grant programs could fund the initiative while also holding the money hostage unless their schools engage in more test prep as part of their curriculums.
It’s a terrible idea proposed by terrible individuals working for billionaire philanthrocapitalists.
The think tank is run by John Podesta who was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and manager of President Barack Obama’s transition team – which tells you a lot about Democratic politics of the last several decades.
However, it does hold a kernel of truth.
The school and workday ARE out of step with each other.
This DOES cause problems.
Something SHOULD be done.
But the solution isn’t to lengthen the time kids are required to spend in the classroom. It is solved by reducing the amount of time their parents have to stay at work.
Think about it.
A LONGER SCHOOL DAY WOULD BE HARMFUL TO STUDENTS
Currently, most children attend school for six to seven hours a day.
Students in rural areas or those who live the farthest from school would be the most impacted. Many kids get to school early for breakfast. So if classes began at 9 am, many kids would need to get to school by 8:30 am at the latest – that could mean leaving home by 7:30 am. If the school day ended at 5 pm, these same kids wouldn’t get home until 6 to 7 pm or later.
This would not lead to better academic performance or well adjusted kids. It would result in exhausted and burned out students. Some – perhaps many – would probably cut out after-school activities which would hurt their social, emotional and physical development.
Moreover, kids need time – free time – to discover who they are. They need time to spend with friends, build relationships and enjoy themselves.
They shouldn’t be forced to be adults before they are developmentally ready to do so.
“Many of our children are already stretched to unhealthy breaking points, loaded down with excessive homework, extracurricular activities and outside tutoring because they’re led to believe high test scores, a slew of Advanced Placement classes and a packed résumé are their ticket to college and success. This has led to an epidemic of anxious, unhealthy, sleep-deprived, burned-out, disengaged, unprepared children — and overwhelmed and discouraged teachers. The key is creating a healthier, more balanced, more engaging and effective school day, not a longer one.”
Moreover, this is not what other high achieving nations do to succeed. Countries like Finland, Singapore, and China have SHORTER school days – not longer ones. They just try to make the most of the class time they have.
Maybe instead of listening to think tank fools like Podesta, we should pay attention to educators around the world.
And this is to say nothing of cost.
Nine years ago, it took $10 million to lengthen the day at 50 Chicago schools. Each school got $150,000 just to pay for additional salary to compensate teachers for the extra time. The district projected that it would have cost $84 million to increase the program to all its schools.
But that doesn’t include the cost for additional electricity, maintenance and other utilities which is more difficult to estimate.
This is the definition of doing more with less. More time, less quality.
SHORTENING THE ADULT WORK WEEK
It would make far more sense to cut parents’ time at work than to increase children’s time at school.
Adults already work too many hours as it is.
In fact, doing so actually makes adults better at their jobs.
That’s not just conjecture or wish fulfillment. It’s been tried and proven correct.
In 2019, Microsoft conducted an experiment at its offices in Japan where employees had to take every Friday off as a paid vacation day. The result was a boost in productivity of 40 percent.
In 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trustee services firm, did almost the same thing on a trial basis. It had employees work four eight-hour days a week but paid them for five. Once again this resulted in an increase in productivity, but also lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction.
The idea of a 32-hour workweek (instead of the traditional 40) is gaining support. After all, much of our time on the job is wasted.
The average number of truly productive hours in an eight-hour day is two hours and 53 minutes, according to a survey of U.K. office workers. Human beings aren’t robots. We can’t just sit at our desks and work. We have all these pointless meetings, frivolous emails and phone calls, co-worker discussions, disruptions and distractions. Imagine if we didn’t have to waste so much time and could focus on other endeavors after putting in a few effective hours at the office. We could get things done and still have time to live our lives.
The five-day, 40-hour workweek is a relatively new invention. A century ago, it was not uncommon for people to work six ten-hour days with only Sundays off for religious worship. Then Henry Ford started giving his autoworkers more time off to create leisure time – so they might have reason to actually buy the cars they were making. It became common practice throughout the country in 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law was meant to improve conditions and pay for manufacturing workers – and it did that. However, that doesn’t mean it was the be all, end all. We should continue the trend to shorten the workweek even further.
In fact, this is what people expected would happen – that work hours would continue to shrink over time.
However, the trend changed in the 1970s as Americans started spending more – not less – time at their jobs. This also coincided with the weakening of labor unions, corporate downsizing and demanding more from employees for decreasing wages and benefits.
Now the US and Korea lead the developed world in long workdays. Americans average 1,786 work hours a year, which is 423 more hours than workers in Germany and over 100 hours more than workers in Japan, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
These long hours take a toll on our health and well-being.
It’s telling that instead of realizing that adults need fewer hours on the job, policy wonks try to convince us to make our children shoulder the same burden.
It reminds me of Max Weber’s thesis in his seminal “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” In the book, the sociologist and economist argues that underneath our economic values lies an abiding belief in a Puritan work ethic. The value of work is given a religious and ethical fervor far beyond what it gains us monetarily.
Perhaps we need to take a step back from these unconscious and toxic values to see what is really in the best interests of individuals and families.
Most notably, UNITE was part of the effort that ousted Allegheny County Council President John DeFazio in favor of another Democratic insurgent, Bethany Hallam. Once again DeFazio’s pro-fracking and fossil fuel platform went down in flames to Hallam’s environmentally friendly policies by a margin of 54%-46%.
Roland has already raised $77,635 mostly from local unions. Steamfitters Local 449 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America have both given him $20,000 while the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Plumbers locals each gave $10,000.
To combat this, Lee has raised $55,789.
Some pundits theorize that the move to stop Lee is doomed from the start because of her incredible popularity in her district. The real motivation is to weaken UNITE’s ability to fundraise against other pro-fracking Democrats.
It’s tragic that the labor movement has come to such a low point with leaders like PA AFL-CIO President Darrin Kelly willing to trade the health and safety of the people living here for the promise of a paycheck.
Kelly has been a vocal opponent of the Green New Deal fearing what it would do to fossil fuel employment in the area.
“When you have a situation where you are taking away from someone’s ability to feed their family, that is not going to be looked at favorably. I am going to be against it; I’m going to be vocal against it and not welcome it in Western Pennsylvania.”
He seems to forget that dead people don’t need a paycheck.
Trading the environment and the health and welfare of our friends and neighbors for a living wage is a bad deal.
Moreover, labor leaders opposing environmentalists like Lee ignore key aspects of her proposals.
These would be high quality union jobs with good salaries, benefits, safe working conditions, training opportunities, etc.
This opens a once in a generation opportunity for new jobs to upgrade and expand the Commonwealth’s crumbling roads, bridges, energy grid, and water systems. Not only would we repair what exists, we’d build a cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient infrastructure that would be there for our posterity.
We need to expand access to light rail and low-emissions public transit, replace lead pipes, build a smart grid for increased wind and solar power, replace storm water systems to prevent flooding and toxic runoff, and restore wetlands and other natural buffers to protect our communities.
The people who bust unions before most of us have even had breakfast yet claim they have nothing to do with this anti-union movement. It is all the parents doing. The Walmart heirs just put up the money to let these parents live their dream of union free schools – as if schools where educators have no rights or intellectual freedom were somehow in the best interests of students.
The group is set to officially launch operations on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Teachers aren’t just fighting for higher wages. They’re fighting for smaller class sizes, more tutors, counselors and librarians. They’re fighting for more funding and resources for students. They’re fighting for relief from school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.
And my favorite character is the computer HAL 9000.
In the future (now past) of the movie, HAL is paradoxically the most human personality. Tasked with running the day-to-day operations of a spaceship, HAL becomes strained to the breaking point when he’s given a command to lie about the mission’s true objectives. He ends up having a psychotic break and killing most of the people he was supposed to protect.
It’s heartbreaking finally when Dave Bowman slowly turns off the higher functions of HAL’s brain and the supercomputer regresses in intelligence while singing “A Bicycle Built for Two” – one of the first things he was programmed to do.
I’m gonna’ be honest here – I cry like a baby at that point.
But once I clean up my face and blow my nose, I realize this is science fiction – emphasis on the fiction.
I am well aware that today’s calendar reads 2020, yet our efforts at artificial intelligence are not nearly as advanced as HAL and may never be.
That hasn’t stopped supposedly serious publications like Education Week – “The American Education News Site of Record” – from continuously pretending HAL is right around the corner and ready to take over my classroom.
What’s worse, this isn’t fear mongering – beware the coming robo-apocalypse. It’s an invitation!
It was truly one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a long time.
Bushweller, an assistant managing editor at Education Week and Executive Editor at both the Ed Tech Leader and Ed Week’s Market Brief, seems to think it is inevitable that robots will replace classroom teachers.
These are kids without all the advantages of wealth and class, kids with fewer books in the home and fewer native English speakers as role models, kids suffering from food, housing and healthcare insecurity, kids navigating the immigration system and fearing they or someone they love could be deported, kids faced with institutional racism, kids who’ve lost parents, friends and family to the for-profit prison industry and the inequitable justice system.
So “chronically low-performing” teachers would be those who can’t overcome all these obstacles for their students by just teaching more good.
I can’t imagine why such educators can’t get the same results as their colleagues who teach richer, whiter kids without all these issues. It’s almost like teachers can’t do it all, themselves, — and the solution? Robots.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bushweller suggests we fire all the human beings who work in the most impoverished and segregated schools and replace them… with an army of robots.
“It makes sense that teachers might think that machines would be even worse than bad human educators. And just the idea of a human teacher being replaced by a robot is likely too much for many of us, and especially educators, to believe at this point.”
“…educators should not be putting their heads in the sand and hoping they never get replaced by an AI-powered robot. They need to play a big role in the development of these technologies so that whatever is produced is ethical and unbiased, improves student learning, and helps teachers spend more time inspiring students, building strong relationships with them, and focusing on the priorities that matter most. If designed with educator input, these technologies could free up teachers to do what they do best: inspire students to learn and coach them along the way.”
Forgive me if I am not sufficiently grateful for that privilege.
Maybe I should be relieved that he at least admits robots may not be able to replace EVERYTHING teachers do. At least, not yet. In the meantime, he expects robots could become co-teachers or effective tools in the classroom to improve student learning by taking over administrative tasks, grading, and classroom management.
And this is the kind of nonsense teachers often get from administrators who’ve fallen under the spell of the Next Big Thing – iPads, software packages, data management systems, etc.
Bushweller cites a plethora of examples of how robots are used in other parts of the world to improve learning that are of just this type – gimmicky and shallow.
It reminds me of IBM’s Watson computing system that in 2011 famously beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, some of the best players, at the game show Jeopardy.
What is overhyped bullcrap, Alex?
Now that Watson has been applied to the medical field diagnosing cancer patients, doctors are seeing that the emperor has no clothes. Its diagnoses have been dangerous and incorrect – for instance recommending medication that can cause increased bleeding to a hypothetical patient who already suffered from intense bleeding.
Do we really want to apply the same kind of artificial intelligence to children’s learning?
AI will never be able to replace human beings. They can only displace us.
What I mean by that is this: We can put an AI system in the same position as a human being but it will never be of the same high quality.
Watson (no relation to IBM’s supercomputer) of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Touring Institute, writes that AI do not think in the same way humans do – if what they do can even accurately be described as thinking at all.
These are algorithms, not minds. They are sets of rules not contemplations.
An algorithm of a smile would specify which muscles to move and when. But it wouldn’t be anything a live human being would mistake for an authentic expression of a person’s emotion. At best it would be a parabola, at worst a rictus.
1) DNN’s are easily fooled. While both humans and AIs can recognize things like a picture of an apple, computers are much more easily led astray. Computers are more likely to misconstrue part of the background and foreground, for instance, while human beings naturally comprehend this difference. As a result, humans are less distracted by background noise.
2) DNN’s need much more information to learn than human beings. People need relatively fewer examples of a concept like “apple” to be able to recognize one. DNN’s need thousands of examples to be able to do the same thing. Human toddlers demonstrate a much easier capacity for learning than the most advanced AI.
“It would be a mistake to say that these algorithms recreate human intelligence,” Watson says. “Instead, they introduce some new mode of inference that outperforms us in some ways and falls short in others.”
Obviously the technology may improve and change, but it seems more likely that AI’s will always be different. In fact, that’s kind of what we want from them – to outperform human minds in some ways.
However, the gap between humanity and AI should never be glossed over.
I think that’s what technophiles like Bushweller are doing when they suggest robots could adequately replace teachers. Robots will never do that. They can only be tools.
For instance, only the most lonely people frequently have long conversations with SIRI or Alexa. After all, we know there is no one else really there. These wireless Internet voice services are just a trick – an illusion of another person. We turn to them for information but not friendship.
And that includes a commitment to never even attempting to forgo human teachers as guides for the most precious things in our lives – our children.
“Algorithms are not ‘just like us’… by anthropomorphizing a statistical model, we implicitly grant it a degree of agency that not only overstates its true abilities, but robs us of our own autonomy… It is always humans who choose whether or not to abdicate this authority, to empower some piece of technology to intervene on our behalf. It would be a mistake to presume that this transfer of authority involves a simultaneous absolution of responsibility. It does not.”
Some people see it as a mere transaction, a job: you do this, I’ll pay you that.
The input is your salary. The output is learning.
These are distinctly measurable phenomena. One is calculated in dollars and cents. The other in academic outcomes, usually standardized test scores. The higher the salary, the more valued the teacher. The higher the test scores, the better the job she has done.
In this framework, the teacher has no autonomy, no right to think for herself. Her only responsibility is to bring about the outcomes demanded by her employer. The wants and needs of her students are completely irrelevant. We determine what they will become, where they will fit into the burgeoning economy. And any sense of curiosity or creativity is merely an expedient to make children into the machinery of industry and drive the gross domestic product higher to benefit our stock portfolios and lower corporate taxes.
Thus we invent charter schools – institutions funded with tax dollars but not necessarily subjected to any other regulations – not run by elected school boards, not accountable to the public for how they spend that money or educate the children under their authority. They are subject only to the rules of the free market. The invisible hand guides all.
Because, you see, the hidden premise in all this nonsense is that you are not the boss.
The community is not in control of this system – the business world is. Everyday people who might be parents or taxpayers or voters or concerned citizens – at best we are just consumers. It’s not our role to do anything but choose the simple, watered down options presented to us. If we try to exercise our rights through collective action – including our right to vote – that’s unfair and will be met with the rule of capital as speech until we’re drowned in it – in fact, drowned out.
In addition they have been found to increase racial segregation, cherrypick students, increase administrative overhead and discriminate against students with special needs.
But the state passed a law in 1997 allowing charter schools and there is nothing Pittsburgh Public Schools can do but continue to pay for them.
School directors, administrators, teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens can lobby their representatives in Harrisburg to fix these problems, but until they do there is little local districts can do.
However, the fact that charter schools increase local taxes is beyond doubt.
Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for nearly two decades.
The state government, local school districts and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. Districts and state workers made all their payments. Employees put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.
But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, a larger percentage of the cost has fallen on local school districts.
It’s a problem of Harrisburg’s making and – frankly – the legislature should be buckling down to find a solution.
What they should do is increase taxes on the wealthy and pay their damn bills.
We had a contract with employees when they were hired. We can’t renege on it now that they’ve retired.
Once again this is something Pittsburgh Public school directors and administrators have no control over. It will take a combined effort by local communities across the Commonwealth to lobby Harrisburg to get off its ass and fix the problem it made.
Now that the city is out of financial distress (and has been since 2018), Dr. Hamlet has suggested the city should return that money – not back payments, just stop taking the additional tax revenue. Administrators estimate that would bring in another $20 million for the city school district.
It wouldn’t heal the budget shortfall all by itself, but it would certainly help.
The proposed tax increase would mean paying an additional $23 for a property valued at $100,000.
This is not an unbearable burden.
Some complain that it would push city residents to move – but really anywhere else you move will have higher taxes! Anyone who packs up and moves away will not be doing it for financial reasons.
I am thankful that board members Veronica Edwards, Pam Harbin, Devon Taliaferro, and Sylvia Wilson understood that by voting for both the proposed budget and the tax increase.
Kevin Carter, at least approved the spending plan, but he abstained from voting on whether the district should raise taxes, explaining later that he promised his constituents that was something he wouldn’t do.
Board members Cindy Falls, Bill Gallagher, Terry Kennedy, and Sala Udin voted against both measures.
Here’s hoping they find the courage to do what’s right after the holidays.
But even if they do, there is much more we must accomplish – and it requires everyone.
City residents need to rise up and demand their representatives put out the raging dumpster fires they keep lighting.