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This is an OP-ed piece on how voters are fed up with public school elections. Granted--it's in Waterloo, Iowa, but it's the same everywhere!


Educators condescend, voters balk


August 09, 2015 6:00 am • DENNIS CLAYSON


Dennis Clayson is a professor in the business school at the University of Northern Iowa.


Cedar Falls and other Iowa communities continue to reject school bond referendums. At the same time, we are witnessing a wave of popularity for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Is there a relationship?


Some may reply the voters are a bunch of knuckle-dragging troglodytes, and ignorance has won the day. It is a tempting response, but overly nasty and greatly simplified.


People are fed up with leadership in America all the way from the local to national level. Our “public servants” act more like public masters who avoid being downwind from the unwashed public and ignore majority wishes after being elected.


They obfuscate and they hide the deeper meaning of what they are doing as if the public would simply be confused by the truth.

What many Americans feel toward all levels of government can be summed up by an old saying comparing us to mushrooms: “They feed us bull and keep us in the dark.”


Locally, it looks like the education leaders will continue to call elections until they get what they want, then the public can take a rest from going to the polls, perhaps, as in the case of legal casino gambling, forever.


Educators don’t seem to grasp how they appear to the public. Education has become an immense and expensive bureaucracy. When it comes to money, it is an inverted pyramid. The more a person teaches, the less that person will be paid. It is almost a perfect negative correlation. When money is tight, and it will always be tight in this bureaucratic world, those closest to the students will be the first to suffer the consequences.


The bureaucrats who run the system are actually interested in process, not outcomes. They also have an interest in current bureaucratic fads and an unquenchable desire to create the latest programs being championed by political correctness and the sensitivity police.


The average voter would prefer outcomes related to student learning. The people who run the schools consider that to be an indicator of public ignorance. Many educators will refuse to even define “learning.”


Most voters would prefer to have their children taught by Socrates under a tree than by Bozo the Clown in the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, most teachers are not Bozos, but in the real world we will produce more like Socrates by paying teachers well, giving them some autonomy from bureaucratic nonsense and turning them loose to actually teach.


Instead, administrators keep coming back to the public for more money to build physical evidence of their leadership and to expand administrative kingdoms.


But people are fed up with taxes and lack of transparency. It is time for some hard choices. Would our school systems trade off a bus for a better-paid teacher? Would they fire the assistant to the associate vice-president of something or another so they could hire another teacher? Would they be willing to turn schools into learning centers rather than cafeterias? Would they sell administrative buildings and turn the money over for school maintenance?


Administrators always give the same reply to criticism. The critic is simply ignorant and doesn’t know all the facts. To a certain extent that’s true. The worst thing that could ever happen to education is to get politicians involved. They cannot leave education alone and are constantly adding layer upon layer of additional laws, regulations and in many cases flat out nonsense to the educational mix.


What does this have to do with Trump’s popularity? He should be nowhere in the polls, but he leads in many. His secret is no secret; he simply stands up and says what he thinks and tells his critics to go to hell. No one else is doing that, including the leaders of our education systems.


If educators want more money from the voters, get back to the basics, tell the sensitivity police and politicians to take a hike, make it loud and clear and actually do something.





 Ramnath Subramanian is a former teacher in Ysleta ISD (in El Paso, Texas).  He has a degree in Physics from Calcutta University.  He is a very smart man, and I imagine he was an excellent teacher.  Like most smart teachers he was/is able to see through the hooey of public school activities and actions!  The El Paso Times has gotten him to write Op-ed pieces every few weeks, and each one that he writes is a treat.  Additionally many times when he writes, there is a detractor who puts comments up berating Mr. Subramanian for "using big words!"  It is amazing that anyone would so cogently expose his ignorance for all to see.  So, if one reads these posts as well as the usual comment, a double treat is in store for you! MM


Teachers have many classrooms, even shopping centers


Ramnath Subramanian / Guest columnist


POSTED: 05/07/2015 12:00:00 AM MDT


I was at the mall inside one of its retail stores when I overheard a bit of conversation between two teenagers.


In front of a rack of dresses, one girl, whom I shall call Miss A, shouted to the other in a voice charged with incredulity: "Come and look at this! Everything is 80 percent off!"


I looked at the sign posted on the rack. It read: "SALE 50% OFF." Beneath that in smaller letters, it directed the potential buyer to take an additional 30 percent off the purchase.


Here was a multi-step math problem and, sadly, the girls had gotten the solution wrong.


My teacher instincts kicked into gear and, approaching them, I said, "If you will pardon the intrusion, may I point out that the saving on these dresses does not work out to 80 percent."


"Do you work here?" asked Miss A.


"Just a passer-by," I said, trying to allay her incipient suspicion. "Couldn't help overhearing your comment."


The girls looked at each other. They were trying to decide if I was a trustworthy stranger, or one they had been warned frequently to avoid.


By their subsequent demeanor, I surmised that I had passed their test of trust.


"You see," I said, "the sign addresses two percentage reductions. There are two ships here in the sales ocean, each doing its own thing. You will have to consider them separately."


I knew my 'math in the mall' lesson had to be a quick one, and so I launched into it without the humor, anecdotes, and digressions that used to color my instruction in the classroom.


"Let's start with the big ship, and an original price tag of $100 for a dress," I said. "The big ship gives you a 50 percent discount.

 So what is the price of the dress with just that discount?"


"Half," said Miss A.


"$50," said Miss B.


"Now, get the big ship out of the picture. It's done its job. You are holding a dress that now costs $50. The second ship will give you a saving of 30 percent on that price. So, what is 30 percent of 50?"


Miss B punched the numbers into the calculator on her cellphone, and came up with the answer. "The saving is $15," she announced.


I would not have allowed the use of a calculator in the classroom until I was sure that my students understood the operations involved, but I did not have the luxury of time for such indulgences.


"So, with a saving of $15, the $50 dress will cost you "


"It'll be $35," said Miss A.



"Remember that the original price of the dress was $100. You are able to buy it for $35."

"So the real saving is 65%," Miss A said, somewhat triumphantly.


"Precisely," I concurred.


"We've got to go," interjected Miss B, "or we'll be late for class."


"But wait," Miss A said, speaking to no one in particular, "why don't they just put up a sign that says: Sale — 65% off?"


"The art of advertising is never a straight path," I said. "It is full of nuances creative deceptions, if you will. This is true whether you are buying a dress or insurance."


"You should come and teach math at our school," Miss A said.


Miss B took a glance at her cellphone, and tugged at her friend's arm. "We've got to go."


"Gotta run," Miss A agreed, and the two melted away into the crowd at the mall.


As the figures receded, I felt a twinge of nostalgia. As any good teacher will tell you, nothing can match the feeling that comes from teaching in a classroom.


Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com





Ramnath Subramanian:  Voters Should Say No to Ysleta ISD's Bond Initiative


Ramnath Subramanian / Guest columnist

POSTED: 04/23/2015 12:00:00 AM MDT

'Tis the season for school bond elections, and proponents of the measure are busy trying to persuade voters that new money is necessary to meet critical and pressing needs, and that without it children's education will suffer egregiously.

I have written extensively about bond elections. Here are some of the thoughts that I have put forth on that topic spanning more than a decade. I have restructured the narrative slightly so that it reflects on the $451.5 million YISD bond measure that will be on the ballot for the May 9 election.

Superintendents and school-board members are evanescent constituents of the educational firmament, but a tax hike becomes and remains a stark, durable and unshakable reality.

Those skeptical about bond elections have reasons rooted in the glaring fiscal blunders of previous administrations. They cannot be won over to a $400-plus million indebtedness, until and unless the needs for the money and its future use are laid out in precise and unambiguous terms.

The homily that we need to build new structures so students will have a 21st-century learning environment does not convince, when past efforts have failed to produce 20th-century learning results.

The argument for new money is not bolstered by the declaration that there is a new vision at Ysleta ISD that points to a "Renaissance."

In "The Communicator," a newsletter for the YISD community, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre makes the assertion that "YISD has more than 17,000 empty classroom seats in its schools this year, costing the district about $14 million annually to operate grossly underutilized schools. In theory, the studies showed YISD could close 10 elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school in order to right-size the district."

Instead, most astonishingly, the district plans to construct new schools. The rationale is a most peculiar one: "No one wants to relocate students from one old, weary school to another old, weary school."

This convoluted logic is celebrated in the district's Facilities Master Plan that will cost taxpayers $451.5 million.

Why is all this necessary? It is because students, in the minds of mansion builders, need to occupy classroom spaces that are futuristic. No one is talking about quality of education, or outcomes.

YISD wants to raise property taxes by $140 annually for property valued at $100,000. In the present economic climate, where growth is anemic and jobs and wages are stagnant, any tax hike is a very bad idea.

However, knowing that most El Pasoans sleep on election day, district officials are counting on a small wave of loyalists to swing the vote in their favor.

Voters must look beyond the glib talk to find salient and transparent facts.

The building that was Wade School in St. Louis, which my wife Maria attended, is 90 years old, and it stands today robustly with its stately brick facade; and the house Maria grew up in is of nearly equal age, and as far as I can tell, it is doing nicely with a modicum of calls to the plumber, the electrician, and the roofer.

We can build fancy castles and house our classrooms in them, but that will not make our students kings.

We do not need flashy facilities. What we do need are flashy, world-class academic results.

I shall vote no on Ysleta ISD's bond initiative, and I encourage others to do the same.


Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com.




NOTE:  The Ysleta Bond Referendum did indeed fail!  http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_28085746/voters-show-narrow-support-yisd-bond-issue-early

Ramnath Subramanian: Superintendents, school boards irrelevant to education


By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

Posted:   03/06/2014 12:00:00 AM MST

El Paso has had a checkered past with its school superintendents. Many entered the arena of education to great fanfare, and then left rather hurriedly for more lucrative assignments, or were forced out by tawdry school-board politics.

During their brief stay, they stirred the pot of accountability and federal school ratings; created high-sounding positions for their acolytes; passed bond initiatives; expended taxpayer dollars on pet projects; and tangled with the school board with thespian flair.


At the back of it all, however, a key aspect of the game was adding new, important lines to their resumes.

Put another way, El Paso has played host to a long list of revolving-door superintendents.


The selection process for superintendents is amusedly flawed. School boards recruit search agencies at exorbitant fees to find potential candidates. Naturally, the agencies focus on individuals who are on the cusp of exiting one assignment and are looking for a new one.


Read the rest of the article here:  http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_25282619/superintendents-school-boards-irrelevant-education

Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com.



Ramnath Subramanian: Teacher quality is most important in education reform


By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

Posted:   03/20/2014 12:00:00 AM MDT


As elections draw near, politicians and policymakers are starting to make a lot of noise about educational reform. Usually, reform means adding new programs to existing ones, throwing money in new places and creating an impression of progress.

Sadly, the reform engine of an eclectic construct has been chugging along for years, and has done little to improve the educational vista.


Here are some coals for the engine that might set it on a meaningful and productive vector towards excellence:


Teacher quality is of paramount importance to education. While an average teacher can take students down a narrow stream of facts and inert knowledge, a talented teacher can cast a wide net of inspiration that gives the stream a river's magic and an ocean's crown. Public education will remain stuck in small streams of mediocrity so long as it fails to attract truly talented people to its ranks.


Read the rest of the article here:  http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_25378356/teacher-quality-is-most-important-education-reform


Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com




Ramnath Subramanian: Educational practices that served me well in classroom

By Ramnath Subramanian / Guest columnist

Posted:   01/16/2014 12:00:00 AM MST

School is back in session, and students once more are busy navigating the learning curves in the second semester. What will make their journeys pleasurable and profitable?

Each year before the start of a school semester, it was my wont to establish a collection of advice and credos which would inform my instruction. I share some of them in hopes that they would strike a resonant chord with teachers.


A lesson has to be memorable for it to gain long traction in students' minds. Content is nearly always constant, and so what makes the difference is style and delivery. Good teachers know how to bring on good weather, even on cloudy days.


When distractions happen in the classroom, teachers should find a strategy to make the distraction feed into the main artery of the lesson. If a discussion or presentation goes awry, the compass may be abandoned in favor of a long and leisurely detour.


Students should be trained to behold marvels in the world about them. A rainbow is an epiphany; a snowflake, masterful architecture; and a simple stone, a tome of history.


Read the rest of the article here:  http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_24920991/educational-practices-that-served-me-well-classroom


Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com



Ramnath Subramanian: Writing is an adventure, not just a graded assignment


By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

Posted:   03/13/2014 12:00:00 AM MDT

Did you ever see a ghost? Many of the students I taught said they had, and at the slightest provocation were anxious to launch into excited story-telling.

"Ah, but wait," I said. "If you are going to tell a story, I would rather you write it. So much more fun that way."


"Not an assignment, Mister," complained a few voices.


"I don't want you to look at it that way."


"Will there be a grade?" asked an honor-roll student.


"I will let you decide if you want to take a grade for it. If you wrote a good story, why not take a grade? However, if you are not satisfied, we can look to another topic, on another day, for a grade."


Some students, who were not sufficiently used to my ways, looked at me with a fair amount of suspicion.


Read the rest of the article here:  https://www.google.com/#q='Ramnath+Subramanian+Writing+is+an+adventure%2C+not+just+a+graded+assignment'


Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com



Ramnath Subramanian: Passion for truth must gain currency in discourse


By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

Posted:   05/15/2014 12:00:00 AM MDT

No one will deny the importance of teaching children to speak the truth. When I was a school teacher, I would recount to my students how on a few occasions my life had been made complicated by the lies I told, and how in retrospect, the path of truth seemed so much easier to traverse.


I hoped that my students would remember these stories when they were faced with situations when a seemingly simple lie offered an easy out.


I believed then, as I do now, that character education works best when the teacher speaks from real life experiences rather than from an elevated platform of idealism.


Read the rest of the article here:  http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_25762085/passion-truth-must-gain-currency-discourse


Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com




Ramnath Subramanian: 'Be all you can be' no longer the message


By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the El Paso Times


POSTED: 10/17/2013 12:00:00 AM MDT


I once asked my students in sixth-grade English class to write a sonnet. We had studied various examples, including Shakespeare's "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments," and I felt they had sufficient talent and insight to give it a whirl.


The day after I had given the assignment, a mother visited my classroom to air her complaint: "This is too much to ask of sixth-graders. I didn't even know what a sonnet was until I was in high school. And then, no one asked me to write one."


"It is hard to know what is too much or too little until we try it on for size," I said, in an ameliorating tone of voice. "So far, the children have not expressed any concerns."


"Will there be a grade for it?" she asked, not ameliorated.


"That depends," I said. "If Sarah writes a good sonnet, it is only fair I give her a grade. She'd probably deserve two or three good grades, for the sonnet is a challenging form."


"And what if she can't write a sonnet, or it's not good enough?"


"Then we will have to look elsewhere for a grade," I added.


After the mother had left, Sarah, who had been by her side during our exchange, dropped her insouciance and said, "I can write a sonnet, Mr. Sub."

My assignments were tough, but there was flexible netting all around them, so students were not afraid to take on challenges.


People will rise to the highest pinnacle on strong expectations as long as the paths leading to it are not needlessly burdened with fear or the shame of failure.


Call it "tough love" or something else, but there is no doubt that people put forth their best efforts when the bar is set high and they are asked to do more.


Ask a young athlete to run just a mile each day, and he will settle into that comfort zone, but ask him to train to compete in a marathon, and there is a good chance he will finish at least a half-marathon one day.


A major failure of our public-education system is that it is riddled with low expectations. This is especially true in special education where children receive accommodations so that they may succeed in class. Sadly, though, once the plan is in place, efforts to challenge students become seriously attenuated. Success at the lower rung is accepted as full-fledged, and the ladder itself gets taken away.


Read the rest of the article here:  http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_24325658/ramnath-subramanian-be-all-you-can-be-no \


Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com


Google 'Ramnath Subramanian' and discover more wonderful pieces of his work.  I wish he were still a teacher!  If only there were more teachers like Mr. Subramanian!




Subramanian: Education specifics ignored in campaigns


Ramnath Subramanian, Columnist 8:18 p.m. MST February 3, 2016


In an election cycle rife with contentious issues, education has received short shrift.


Here’s all we know from the perfunctory statements that have been issued at rallies and debates on the Democrat and Republican sides:


Jeb Bush is for Common Core.


Donald Trump thinks Common Core is a disaster.


And Bernie Sanders plans to make college education free for everyone.


Allow me to expand on these points and, in so doing, to highlight some details that ought to belong in the repertoire of presidential candidates.


Common Core is not a gift from the gods, because all the programs under its aegis take authority and controls away from classroom teachers who know best how to educate their students.


Teachers know how to sing, dance, and cast the magic dust that makes education interesting and invigorating. When their natural talents and proclivities are intruded upon by outside mandates like Common Core, the song is muted, the dance loses its pizzazz, and the magic dust becomes common and colorless as air.


We need just three components for a powerful education model to take shape: a competent school principal, talented teachers, and proactive parents. All else is superfluous.


A solution like Common Core threatens the very fabric of excellence in education, because it takes authority and autonomy away from teachers, replacing talent with staid lesson plans, and subduing the riotous waves of innovation and creativity to form standing pools of mundane, humdrum mediocrity.


The reason why the constant influx of funds into education is not fixing the problem is that nearly all of the money is spent in the wrong places.


Extra money should serve only two purposes: improve teacher salaries, and enrich the classroom environment.


On the higher education front, it is interesting to inspect the high cost of obtaining a degree.


Tuition wouldn’t be so high if students had to pay it out of their own pockets. Enrollment would drop and prices would come down to attract more students.


As it is, all the money flows from banks to institutions of putative learning, and students are used merely as conduits to make the transfer of money possible.


Banks get rich, universities get rich, and students are left after graduation with a choking debt that they must suffer for years.

The anemic economy and its depressed jobs market exacerbate the situation.


Before we attempt to make higher education free for everyone, let us bring college costs under control.


Based on direct experiences in diverse countries, I can state unequivocally that the honest price of any college course in the U.S. should be no more than one-tenth of what it is today.


Once we bring tuition down to that level, it would be so much easier to contemplate further reform, which should include an investigation into the high cost of textbooks.


Erudition should not come with such an expensive price tag. The high-dollar cost of acquiring any degree reflects the sad truth that universities have ceded the high ground of learning and become places of business.


Ramnath Subramanian is a retired public-school teacher. E-mail address: marianramm@yahoo.com.



Re-ignite Talent, Creativity in Ailing Education System


By Ramnath Subramanian  (article from ten or so years ago when Mr. Subramanian was still a teacher)


It is no secret that under the aegis of the No Child Left Behind Law, subjects that are tested annually get the most attention in classrooms.  Others receive short shrift.


It should not come as a surprise then, that according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), less than a quarter of grade-school students are proficient in American history.


At my erstwhile campus, in my social studies class, when I introduced Walt Whitman's celebrated poem "O Captain! My Captain!" I was routinely astounded by students' dearth of knowledge regarding the Civil War.  Many students had heard of Lincoln, some knew that he had been assassinated, but beyond that, the discussions amounted to throwing darts at the history board.


Both the continuum of American history and its particulars entered a whimsical warp:  Lincoln was placed  next to Bush, Sr., Mexican soldiers entered the battlefield, and even Hitler put in a startling appearance.  It is no wonder that Harper's editor Lewis Lapham saw fit to describe the NAEP scores as a coroner's report that had returned a finding of mortal ignorance.


Students are getting shortchanged in two ways:  At times, they are not receiving the knowledge; at other times, the knowledge is coming at them in the form of dittos--those dreaded assignment sheets that produce a catena of grades for teachers, but leave the students in a perpetual state of ennui and disengagement.


Ditto-driven instruction is de rigueur in many classrooms where yearlong test preparation trumps real education. Generally speaking, these classrooms, with their "routines and protocols," are well-ordered and quiet, but very little teaching or learning takes place.


When the heart leaps for joy, or when the mind perceives a revelatory truth, there is, according to Walt Whitman, reason to sound one's "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."


Sadly, many classrooms in American are devoid of yawp, but replete with yawn.

Some months back, I spoke to a high-school history teacher who was using some creative approaches in her classroom to get some bounce out of her students.  She used the textbook, for sure, but she relied on skits and debates to test the students' understanding of the topics that had been covered.


Noise and enthusiasm were ubiquitous, but they were anathema on a campus that was hell-bent on improving test scores.


People complained.  The kids were having too much fun.  What a lot of hullabaloo.  This didn't look like learning at all.


"I was just trying to do some good for the kids," the teacher told me, "but people kept getting in my way and making things difficult.  In the end, I had to put in for a transfer."  She paused, then added, "Perhaps it won't be long before I transfer out of the profession."


I understand her position, but I believe that for the sake of the children, she should stay put and fight the good fight.  An educator cannot bring to the podium of instruction a philosophy in which she sees but a partial or distorted reflection of herself.  She has no real choice but to crack the mirror where the febrile force of conformity plays its perennial mischief.


The education system and the children it purports to value will be best served by a policy that treasures its truly talented teachers.


Ramnath Subramania is a sixth-grade science teacher at Eastwoood Knolls School in El PAso, Texas.  He writes for the El PAso Times on educational topics.