Saturday, March 20, 2010

a few statistics... and schools...

Yesterday I did another school event. Even though I was sick the two days prior, I'm glad I went! The kids were great and as always, had many great questions. A funny one a lot of them had was why do all of my characters have big eyes. They also wanted to know what the birds were eating in City Hawk (Lola was feeding them a pink looking thing). It took me HOURS to sign all the books (there were 200 or so of them). The librarian said they used to sell even more before the recession. I can't honestly imagine signing more than 200 books! I don't know how many kids I talked to, but I think it was the whole school. When I went to Alabama I did the same thing. It's so great to see the kids so excited about what I do and hopefully I'll inspire them to be creative and follow their dreams! I always show them what I wrote down for what I wanted to be when I grow up and then ask the kids what their goals are--some things were: a chef, a librarian, a baseball player, an illustrator, and one kid wanted to win the lottery! I'll post some of their drawings when I get a chance.

Today I went to a bookstore and did a reading. Unfortunately the wrong age group was there (mostly toddlers) and my books are for older kids. Sooo... I ended up having to read other authors' books! I sold ZERO books thanks to my book reading. I did sell one book before and one book after--both were for older kids who happened to be in the store and were going to birthday parties. When I did a panel talk last week I also sold zero books. The people in the audience were mostly people that I knew. I think there were two kids. The panel talk was fun, though, because we got to talk shop for a bit and if you witness me in person I do tend to tell it like it is (you may have noticed).

Now, take from this what you will but I hope for the people who didn't understand the difference between school visits and book signings now do have some understanding. I also get paid nothing to visit a bookstore but get paid anywhere from 1200-1500 per school visit. I feel appreciated when I go to a school but sometimes feel like free entertainment when I go to a bookstore. As I've said before, it is great to meet the booksellers and owners and they're always very nice BUT if you're an author and have some serious deadlines (like I do) then pick and chose what you do wisely!

I hope you all realize that I'm not a diva and that there ARE divas out there. You'll know them when you meet them! Librarians have told me things and I've heard stories. I'm easy going and, for example, I will take the extra time (and hours!!!) to make sure that each kid has a picture drawn in each book and not just a signature.

And on another topic which maybe I'll post more about later: I'm saddened by the cuts to funding that schools are having to deal with. The school in NJ has to fire many young teachers. This is really sad! Alabama also said they were losing a lot of money. Kids (especially little space cadets such as I was) need attention. They can't all function in huge classes. And young teachers breathe fresh air and new creativity. It will be a huge shame to lose them! My mom works in the RI school system and in one school ALL of the teachers were fired due to low test scores, etc. Obama supported this decision! Another sad thing. I could go on but I'll stop here. I just don't like what I'm hearing.



Erik Brooks said...

I know from reading the occassional post that Meghan likes to stir things up a bit - fair enough. So here you go :)

I'm right there with you on the school visit vs bookstore signing examples. Very familiar, and all part of the job I think.

In all fairness to those schools and teachers that DO work so hard however, I think a little context needs to be added regarding the mention of the RI school system. The following is taken directly from a recent Newsweek article on how to deal with failing teachers:

"Before the American public-education system can regain its lost crown as the envy of the world, local politicians and school administrators will have to step up. At Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, half the students drop out of school, and proficiency in math measured by state exams stands at a pitful 7% among 11th graders. Under state pressure, the local superintendent, Frances Gallo, tried to improve test scores by requiring teachers to work 25 minutes longer each day, eat lunch with the students once a week, and agree to be evaluated by a third party. The teachers, who make about $75,000 a year, far more than average in this depressed town, balked. They wanted another $90 an hour. So Gallo took a brave and astonishing step: she recomended firing all 74 teachers."

Yes, this seems harsh. It was supported by both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama AND it worked. The new rules were accepted and the teachers were not actually fired.


Meghan McCarthy said...

True, I do like to stir things up!

On the RI topic: I was going but what my mom has been telling me. She has been following it very closely since she's a social worker in the school depts there and knows a lot of teachers. This whole thing is a BIG deal for them! What she told me was a worse than just 25 min., etc., but I'll admit that I didn't look into it myself. She also didn't mention to me that the teachers were not fired so I assumed they were because that's what I heard last. I'll look into it! I'm not meaning to give anyone misinformation so thank you Erik for the info.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Mmm, they were fired all right! "Seventy-four Rhode Island teachers have been fired from Central Falls High School, as well as 19 staff members, including the principal, USA Today reports." I've checked a lot of other sources and they all say the same thing. Those teachers were fired.

I think there were probably a lot of crappy teachers in that school BUT there's no way that they were ALL bad--not every single one of them! And the problem with unions is that you're stuck going along with the whole thing whether you like it or not. Also, Central Falls is not a good area. It's not fair to compare test scores of that school to other schools because of the demographics. I played a few basketball games against Central falls--those girls didn't mess around!

Meghan McCarthy said...

I've found a good statistic:
"A state survey found that 96 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches. Sixty-five percent of the students are Hispanic, 13 percent are white and 14 percent are black, according to the state survey. Twenty-five percent of students receive English as a second language instruction." - from ABC News

Now, I went to school in RI. There was not ONE kid in my class who wasn't white. Not one. There was one asian kid in the school and that's it for culture! You can't compare test scores w/the school I went to (a bunch of rich white kids) and then Central falls where 25% are ESL students! That isn't fair to the teachers at all. PLUS even the gym teacher got fired. I mean, come on. What does the gym teacher have to do with any of it? I think on this one Obama really sucks. SUCKS!

As far as salaries: there were probably a few teachers who earned about 70K. The new teachers start low I think (I can ask my mom). And to earn that 70K you have to have earned it--seniority! My mom has worked in the school dept. since I was a little kid. Years and years before she got a good salary. AND now that they don't have jobs they'll find it nearly impossible (thanks to their high level and salary) to get a new job.

Erik Brooks said...

Sounds like I have more to read as well! Unions definitely cut both ways and its really not right that the bad teachers get as much protection as the good. Those of us in the children's book world can be glad that seniority doesn't rule the day so profoundly. It might be hard to break in, but (celebrity author aside) its a performanced evaluation -- based on sales etc. that determines your relatived success and income -- NOT simply how long you've played the game. Sadly, senority does not = good teacher and this does prevent a lot of young and potentially vibrant teachers from entering the professoin.

Thanks for looking into it a bit more Meghan. I will do the same!

Libby Koponen said...

Meghan, there was a show on NPR a few days ago that included this school. The speaker had written a book about what a lousy idea no child left behind is and made many of the same points you make here--especially,about how unfair it is to compare scores in rich and poor districts. Parents' income is still be far the best predictor of how well kids do in schools.

Also, have you heard of the project in Harlem where they train poor parents to be better parents? Phenomenol success rate. This I think I first heard on TAL so you probably know about it already.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I heard about that Harlem project. it was a fascinating story!

Anna Alter said...

Just catching up on this conversation- I just wanted to add that I agree that it is really unfair that the first thing that is done to improve a school is to blame the performance of the teachers when there are so many factors that contribute to a kid's success... you already mentioned income, but there is also the administration which may not run the school well or have the resources to do so. I know great teachers at failing schools who have totally unsupportive administration. Teaching is such a hard job, it really stinks that they are the first in the line of fire.