Thursday, October 23, 2014

Free Pizza and Longer Recess

When I decided to start this blog, my intent was to provide an “informed” voice to educational issues in the face of the overwhelmingly combative slurs and slanders being spewed by Dr. Barresi and regurgitated by the Daily Oklahoman.  I was sick and tired of important educational issues being hijacked by the corporate reformers and taken to the pantheon of the privatization movement.  Well, the wicked witch is about to be out of office, but those educational issues are still being hijacked.  Only now they are being hijacked by the other end of the political spectrum.  And it bothers me.

Let’s talk about some of these issues.  First issue up:  Testing.  Does anyone in education think we test too little?  The only people who think we do not test enough are the corporations selling the test and test prep materials to the schools.  You want a litmus test for testing; did you give a test at the end of the first 9 weeks? Did your child take tests at the end of the first 9 weeks?  Seriously, aren’t we just a bit hypocritical if we decry testing as an unnecessary evil while continuing to assess students and give out grades based on chapter tests, quizzes, and such?  Is giving a test bad? NO.  Is too much testing bad?  Hell yes.  It is the summative nature of testing in which is a poor practice.  You add the dimension of high stakes to the mix and it borders on insanity.  But we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  Teachers teaching to a set of educational objectives and monitoring student learning through a formative assessment is good professional practice. 

I don’t understand why school choice is such a tumultuous issue.  In my 17 years of education I do not ever recall any student being denied a transfer.  I guess my arrogance gets me here: if parents do not want their student to follow the rules and work hard in school then I am happy they want to go somewhere else.  It is better for the students who want to be here.  Furthermore, I never understood the concept behind denying a transfer.  A parent can move in or out of the district and there is nothing a school can do.  However, if a parent wants to drive their child to a different school we act like it’s an act of treason.  I don’t get it.  In America where we have the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms , and the freedom of religion we shouldn’t have the freedom to say where our children go to school.  Students should not be commodities that can be bought, sold or owned.  Public, Private, Religious, Charter, or Magnet schools should all be available for our parents to decide which is best for their specific need.  Isn’t this the greatest example of local control: letting the parents decide what is best for them and their child?

With all that said I do have a problem with virtual online charters and using taxpayer money to pay for private educational expenses.  Our parents should have the choice to educate their child in the manner they think is best for their child.  However, I don’t think they should ask for taxpayer money to pay for it.  And don’t give me any BS line about how they pay taxes too.  I pay more taxes than some and less than some others.  I don’t get to drive the Fire truck, fly the stealth bomber, or land on the moon all of which are paid by taxes.  If you want to send your child to a private school then pony up the tuition.  I’d be okay with online charters if they operated under the same rules as every other public school in the state, but they don’t.  Just ask your local school how many students so mysteriously get kicked out of their online charter the week after Oct. 1st?  Those online schools are mostly corporate- for profit schools maximizing their profit margin by taking the State Aid on the student and then sending them back to the public school. 

The last issue I want to discuss is accountability.  What is wrong with being held accountable?  My dad held me accountable for my actions.  My school board holds me accountable for the job I do for my school.  Society holds me accountable, my banker holds me accountable, and so on and so on.  Do I think educators should be held accountable?  Yes.  I think teaching is a professional profession just like doctors, lawyers, and architects.  They all have professional accountability measures.  However, I think trying to summarize all the strengths and weaknesses of a school into a single letter grade might be the second dumbest idea the Barresi administration brought to us from Florida (3rd grade mandatory retention is by far and away the dumbest if you are keeping score & all this TLE BS is 3rd and gaining…).  But the conversation concerning accountability has centered at the two extremes:  the incredibly useless current A-F system or no accountability at all.  Surely we can all agree there has to be some form of accountability which meets the Federal standard, gives accurate and actionable information about school performance, and doesn’t cause educators to flinch in pain.

Every one of these issues and more are important to me.  As a parent I want better for my children than I had it growing up.  As a school superintendent I want a better educational system for this generation than the generation before.  Barresi grabbed these issues and ran so afoul even true conservatives were embarrassed by her actions.  What we need now are conversations about using assessment results to drive instructional practice- not blanket statements about abolishing all testing.  What we need now are procedures in place to ensure every child as a great school to attend and every parent has a choice of where to send them-not hyperbolic statements condemning educational options.  What we need now is to come together and improve our educational standards and our professional accountability-not statements of unattainable promises of yesteryear.   What we need is for Joy Hofmeister to bring everyone to the table to solve some of these issues and not someone who promises us free pizza and longer recess.  Free pizza and longer recess might help Dr. Cox win some votes, but it won’t make our jobs any better and it won’t make our kids educational futures any brighter. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unseen Disabilities

Many of today’s students must deal with unseen disabilities.  We all know unseen disabilities have a profound impact on the learning ability of the child.  Unseen disabilities can come in the form of emotional illnesses, learning disabilities (cognitive issues), dyslexia, autism, speech issues, hearing impairment, vision issues, health impairments, and/or ADD/ADHD.  Each of those internal disabilities affects the learning ability and therefore the achievement of the child.  However, not all unseen disabilities are internal; external disabilities have just as profound impact on student learning.  Children who live with unengaged parents, have abusive parents, have parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, or live in some other form of dysfunctional household are also victims to an unseen disability.

External unseen disabilities are far worse, in my opinion, than internal disabilities.  Children who suffer from dyslexia, hearing impairment, or ADD have in-school advocates and public policy in place to assist their learning by overcoming the disability.  Ask any educator, and they can tell you horror story after horror story about children from abused homes.  They will talk to you about the phone calls to DHS that fell on deaf ears. Talk to those same teachers, and they will break your heart with tales about parents who come to conferences or other school activities high or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  It breaks my heart to see students take backpacks of food home with them on Friday, so they will have something to eat over the weekend.  It is sad when parents have enough money to buy cigarettes but not enough money to buy food or soap.  Ever see how other kids treat their classmates who wear the same unlaundered clothes every day or don’t have proper hygiene? Some parents just are not engaged in the educational life of their child.  Whether it is not attending parent teacher conferences, not helping their child with homework, or refusing to watch them participate in the band, school play, or on the athletic field, it has a profound impact on children. And don’t tell me internal disabilities have ramifications into adulthood whereas external disabilities can disappear at the age of 18. Yes, internal disabilities can be life-long, but the damage of poor parenting also has life long damaging effects, and its cyclic nature tends to show up generation after generation.

Wouldn’t it be great if our social policy mirrored our educational policy with regards to seen and unseen disabilities?  Shouldn’t social services have to meet with parents periodically to ensure the disability is being accommodated in the best interest of the child?  Aren’t our children worth this effort? Anyone think we have enough social workers in this state?  Anyone not think local cops should be able to remove children from the home when domestic violence situations arise?  Shouldn’t instances of abuse and neglect be dealt with swiftly and decisively?  Shouldn’t there be palaces were children could be taken, so they don’t have to deal the problems of adults? Shouldn’t the greatest country on earth guarantee that every child within its borders has basic shelter, security, food and water?

Our politicians would never consider cutting special education services or voting on legislation that would further hamper disabled students from getting an education.  Nonetheless, those same legislators don’t hesitate to tinker with legislation that adversely affects children suffering from a bad home life. I’m not a social policy expert, but there has to be a way to care for our children when it becomes obvious their parents are no longer up to the task.  But if the parents are not up to the task, should the great state of Oklahoma ensure the safety, security, and well being of the children?  Maybe we should stop focusing all our educational reform efforts on issues like standards, accountability, and testing and start focusing on the only thing that truly matters: our children.