Archive for category Education

My secretary, Brad ….

How did a grievance complaint against a Coppell Independent School District (“CISD”) tennis coach end up making CISD’s School Superintendent my de-facto secretary resulting in a lawsuit by CISD against me?  Here is the unbelievable tale …

Many years ago, a tennis coach in a Coppell Middle School sent me some rude text messages and I complained to the school Principal.  When she declined to take any action against him, I decided to file a grievance with CISD, confident that the controversy would get resolved pretty expeditiously since it appeared such a black and white case.

CISD has a grievance procedure which can be found in http://www.coppellisd.com/Page/13790 .  I utilized this process to file my grievance.  What followed was an eye opener.  There are 3 levels to the procedure, the final level being a hearing with the CISD Board.  At every level I got what appeared to be prima facie a fair hearing.  However, each time the result was the same, a terse “DENIED” with no explanation as to the rationale for the denial.  This was pretty frustrating for me since even in court one can ask the judge to explain his/her ruling by filing an appropriate Motion.

I used the grievance procedure a few more times on other matters over the years with pretty much identical results.  Eventually, CISD took a step that from my standpoint was a clear retaliation.  The new Superintendent Mike Waldrip had just taken office and within a month or so he ordered that all future communication between CISD and me had to go through the Assistant Superintendent, Brad Hunt.  I know for a fact that was his personal instruction since I got a copy of the email (via an Open Records request) he sent to that effect.

That meant that even if I had the simplest of question of any teacher or coach regarding anything to do with my daughters, the Assistant Superintendent had to be the middle man.  To his credit, Brad Hunt was very cooperative and responsive.  Clearly this was not his decision and many times it appeared that he might be OK with revising the arrangement but then he would come back saying nothing could be changed.  Mike Waldrip obviously was the one who was calling the shots.

The result was hundreds of emails between me and Brad Hunt over a period of several years – that would not seem a whole lot if sent to a bunch different teachers, coaches, administrators, etc, but a substantial work load if it one person was going to be the middleman and receive/respond to all emails. In effect, Mike Waldrip turned Brad Hunt into my personal secretary!  And while expressing my frustration with this convoluted arrangement about a week or so ago, I referred to Brad Hunt as my secretary while sending a “prohibited” email to a teacher.  When Brad Hunt acted terribly offended to my referring to him as my secretary (as if an Assistant Superintendent was an upper caste person and the secretary was a lower caste!), I sent an email to him stating “Based on the role you are playing vis-à-vis my communication with the school, whether you like it or not, you have de-facto become my secretary” and asked how much was he getting paid compared to his secretary.

Apparently that incensed the powers-that-be so much that CISD suddenly suspended a scheduled Level 2 grievance hearing and filed a “Petition in Intervention” with the court on March 31, essentially intervening in my personal child custody matter and asking the court “to place reasonable limitations on Respondent’s communications with Coppell ISD through Brad Hunt”.

Bottom line – being a third year law student, I know how to respond effectively to this lawsuit without incurring any costs but CISD will be paying its lawyers thousands of (our) tax payer dollars, presumably to teach me a lesson (which I am confident that they will not succeed in doing) – a total waste of money – and not at all befitting of CISD’s supposed slogan “We are all one team” implying students, parents, teachers and administrators all work together for the larger good of the school system.

To conclude, unless Mike Waldrip has gone rogue and got CISD’s lawyers to file a lawsuit against me without informing the Board, our elected officials are (most likely) involved in this matter – in which case, clearly some fresh blood with some common sense is needed on the Board and hopefully that will come about in next month’s Board elections.

Postscript: while researching for this article I found out that Mike Waldrip is paid a salary of $254,616.00, Brad Hunt is paid $153,591.00 and his secretary (whom he shares with two other big wigs at CISD) is paid just $43,862.08.  I would say making someone who is paid $153,591.00 perform secretarial functions is a sheer waste of CISD’s resources and the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Mike Waldrip. The question is who will take him to task and bell the cat to end this abuse of personnel and resources?

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What’s in a name?

 Dale Carnegie

When I a young kid in India listening to the cricket commentary on radio, we had some commentators who would totally butcher some English names. For example, a famous cricketer from England was referred to by some commentators as “Iron Bottom” (instead of Ian Botham!). I used to consider these commentators plain lazy for not making the minimum effort to learn to pronounce the names of all the cricketers correctly.

Fast forward to several decades later and I am sitting in an audience where my daughter Sakshi (along with a bunch of kids of Indian origin) was receiving an award for being on the Junior Honor Roll and the kid making the announcement managed to mangle almost every single non-English sounding name.

It took some amount of persuasion on my part before the Principal of CMSE, Laura Springer, would take this issue of mispronunciation of names, seriously enough to agree to try and educate the children as to the importance, especially in today’s globalized work place, of taking the trouble to learn the correct pronunciation of “foreign” names.

Given that it was an American, Dale Carnegie, who wrote in his book “How to win friends and influence people” that among the “Six ways to make people like you” one was to “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”, it is indeed surprising as to why 76 years later American kids would not make the minimum effort to at least get the names of their classmates right.

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An Indian perspective after watching “Waiting for Superman”

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

http://coppellgifted.org/2011/05/01/members-corner-an-indian-perspective-after-watching-waiting-for-superman/

What led me to see this movie was the catchy title – Superman comics were highly popular in India when I was growing up and my brothers and I used to have endless debates as to who was stronger, Superman, the Phantom or Tarzan and which one we needed on our side to win any battle!  So I could definitely relate to an African-American school administrator who grew up in the projects talking about, as a child, “Waiting for Superman” to come and save the broken school system in his neighborhood and then being heart broken when he was told by his mother that Superman was not real!  The gist of the movie is that it is you and I who need to do our bit to fix the US school system – Superman is not going to show up to do this job!!

The sentence that resonates for me is a statement made in the movie that “till the 70s, the USA had the best public school system in the world” and on the screen flashed pictures of all the luminaries in all walks of life that had graduated from the public school system and all the great strides made in the US in the fields of science, math and engineering during that period.

The next thing that struck me, which is something that I mentioned in my review of “2 million minutes” (scenes from which were used in this movie), is the fact that in those days, only around the top 20% of the students graduating from High School went on to college (to become CEOs, doctors, engineers, etc), the next 40% went on to vocational schools (to get jobs as computer operators, etc) and the bottom 40% just went to good jobs in manufacturing, services, etc.  (This is exactly what we in India thought was a great thing – that kids who had no interest in higher learning were not being forced to go to college just to collect a piece of paper to improve their job prospects).

The problem is that the US economy (which is now tied way more tightly into the global economy) is no longer the same.  High unemployment on the one hand exists side by side with lack of qualified employees to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs available in areas like high tech (a point made in this movie).

The film also makes the point that when Nixon opened the door to China in the 70s, American businesses were salivating over the prospect of being able to sell every Chinese a toothbrush (for example), which meant American businesses could sell a billion additional toothbrushes, not realizing that, in due course, it would be the Chinese who would be selling toothbrushes to the US putting US manufacturers out of business!

The film focuses on the worst performing public schools in the US and the (lack of) prospects for children graduating (or dropping) out of such schools.  Also, the whole idea of the lottery system to assign children to better schools (with the children, sitting at the lottery drawing, watching with devastated faces as if their world had come to an end at such an early age, when they did not get picked) seemed like a travesty to me.  Why not just have some kind of entrance test where the children at least get a sense (which might influence their entire outlook on life) that they can get somewhere due to their own efforts and abilities rather than pure luck?

Looking at this topic from the perspective of someone who grew up in India, when I look at these (so-called) worst schools, almost every one of them looks better than some of the (what we considered) “better” schools in India.  For example, the school I went to from KG to 6th grade was located on top of a busy railway station with heavy and noisy traffic just outside of the school gates.  And yet, this was a “better” school for which my father stood in line overnight to get me admission there because it was run by Christian missionaries who had a reputation for imparting a solid education (meaning it had great teachers) and strict discipline (including corporal punishment, administered even by the Principal or the Head Master, in special circumstances!).

And there were schools on top of movie theaters, schools with broken windows and hardly any facilities for learning, etc and yet students from these schools have made it big both in India and, in fact, many have come to the US and done well here as well.

So how come US students (with access to comparably much better facilities even in their “worst” schools compared to their Indian counterparts) not fare better than Indian students coming from schools with practically no facilities?

In my opinion, the answer is just two factors – “Great Teachers” and “Strong Families”. 

Motivated students (with parents) who believed that only education could pull them out from their poor and lower middle class life style (example: I grew up in an apartment with just one single room and a kitchen with parents and 4 siblings sharing this space resulting in all the kids having a burning desire to learn, succeed and reach a better standard of living, which we all accomplished).  So when I see the so-called “poor” people in the US (depicted in this movie), probably living on Government dole, having relatively nice apartments, driving decent cars and with no shortage of basics like food, it makes me wonder what would motivate kids from such families to stay in school and get a decent education, especially if the family is broken, with no tradition of higher learning.

 When it comes to the topic of having great teachers, what strikes me in this movie is the implication (which could be an overgeneralization) that in the US, Teacher’s Unions have such a stranglehold over the system that even an innovative administrator like Michelle Rhee (trying to reform the DC school system) is not able to push through a reasonable scheme that will reward better performing teachers (while not even threatening the jobs of poor performing teachers).

 In India, teachers (whatever they are teaching) are supposed to be treated with utmost reverence (because of the Indian tradition which teaches, in the order of respect, it is “Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam” – meaning “Mother, Father, Teacher, God”), that is, teachers are supposed to be respected more than even God!  And correspondingly, it is expected that for teachers (for whom earning money should be their lowest priority), nothing should be more important than sending out learned kids into the world.

 From what I saw in this movie, the implication that many (but this again could be an overgeneralization) teachers in the US are just like any other vested interest protecting their rights and jobs with scant regard for the quality of education they are providing to their students and having least interest in the future prospects of their students.

Themovie’s main thrust appears to be that till the matter of eliminating poor teachers and rewarding the good ones is addressed, however much money is poured into school education by the US Government (where a lot more money is available to expend compared to relatively impoverished places like India), nothing substantial is going to change. 

However, to conclude on an optimistic note, the movie depicts several people who are cognizant of the problems facing the school system in the US and who are coming up with innovative solutions (like the Kipp schools) and, in my opinion, in due course, sufficient course corrections will take place making most US schools once more the citadels of learning (accessible to children, from all strata of society, who are motivated to learn) that would again become be the envy of the world.

 

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“2 Million Minutes” – Movie Review

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

http://coppellgifted.org/2011/03/14/2-million-minutes-review/

After watching all 3 videos – the first being the final movie – the other two, detailed versions of the scene in India and China which serve as input to the final movie, a couple of things came to mind right away. 

First of all, growing up in India and going to school there (where everyone was expected to go to college, whether one had any interest in higher education or not, making most colleges just degree mills), my impression of US schools were that they provided enough vocational oriented education that only the cream of the crop actually needed to go to college – all others would get reasonably high paying jobs with just a high school education. 

Fast forward to 1984 when I first set foot on US soil and visited relatives in Akron, Ohio (long time settled in the US at that time) during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Over the weekend, the lady of the house told me that “Indians were way smarter than Americans”.  My immediate response was “Aren’t you now an American?”  The problem I saw with her reasoning was that she was comparing Indians in America (who were mostly those who had come here to pursue higher education and were essentially the cream of the crop) with the local gas station attendant types (who had only graduated high school) – obviously not an apples to apples comparison! 

Between 1984 and now, to my knowledge, I do not believe American schools have deteriorated that rapidly but they may have stayed pretty much unchanged, that is, providing students an “all round education” (as the American kids in this movie say) which meant that academics were only one of the many things in which the students were expected to expend their time during their tenure in school. 

The difference now is that times have changed.  Manufacturing jobs of the past, for which a high school education would suffice to make a good living, are fast disappearing in the US.  Service jobs that have replaced them do not result in equivalent compensation and these too get outsourced every day.  And someone with just a high school education might end up with little prospects. 

But despite all this, the average American High School is definitely vastly superior to an Indian (and possibly Chinese) school in terms of facilities, funding, etc.  What the movie has done is to compare a public school in Indiana (and schools of that standard would be available to most US residents, except those living in impoverished areas like inner-cities) with an elite school in India (and possibly China), the type of school which is available to a very small sliver of the Indian (and possibly Chinese) population.

 If you look at it in terms of numbers, in my estimation, less than 10% of the population of India (which would be around 110 million people) would have an opportunity to go to schools of the caliber represented in the movie while the remaining 1.1 billion people only have mediocre to substandard schooling available to them.  But then there are plenty of manufacturing and menial type jobs now available in India and China (which do not require higher education) to cater to this segment of the population .

In contrast, I would say that 90% of the US population (which would be around 270 million) would have the opportunity to schools which are not too different from the Indiana school depicted in this movie. These students would always have an opportunity to go on to a reasonable college education (since these school have all the facilities like excellent libraries, labs, etc), if academics were sufficiently emphasized during their school years.

To conclude, I would state that the average American student still has way better schooling facilities and opportunities to get a quality education compared to Indian or Chinese students – it is just that the curriculum has to be retooled to adapt to changing times (which I believe is already taking place).  In due course, America with its dynamic and diverse population will eventually out-compete both China and India. 

So, in my opinion, the dire predictions of this movie regarding the competitiveness of American students compared to their Indian and Chinese counterparts are way off the mark.

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