Archive for December, 2010

School board conflicts threaten school district performance

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

School boards have taken their hits lately as school board members become testy with pressure to improve student academic performance and drum up money to meet budgets.  In Colorado, two of the largest districts are having similar conflicts over school reform and board behavior, with threats of recall and votes on censure.

Denver Board boils over school reform plans

Denver’s school board has seen huge discord as its Superintendent, Tom Boasberg, has tried to bring reform to the Montbello articulation area in the northeast part of the city.  His actions roiled the waters in this largely minority part of town, as the high school and feeder schools have new principals and have worked to improve their results.  Nevertheless, Boasberg asked the board to completely revamp the schools, a request recently approved on a 4-3 vote by the Board, producing tears among students and staff.

The arguments in Denver are among Democrats – those supporting the teachers’ union and those supporting Superintendent Tom Boasberg –  with the President of the Board, Dr. Nate Easley Jr., the swing vote who supported the Superintendent.  Easley is now threatened with recall as the teachers’ association and its supporters call foul. Easley won his election in part based on union help.

Jefferson County School Board censures a member

The Jefferson County School District Board, with its 6500 employees and 85,000 students, has recently censured board member Laura Boggs, a first in the history of the district.  Boggs, elected a year ago by just over 51 percent of the vote, has not turned away from controversy.   On visiting a local high school, she got involved in an English teacher’s lesson on acronyms.  The acronym was SCHOOL, to which Boggs attached STUPID to the S.  Other actions have aggravated her relationship with the superintendent and the teachers’ association.

Boggs is a Republican on a board that is 3-2 Democrat.  The censure vote was 4-0 (Boggs was not allowed to vote).  Based on these proximate situations, one wonders about the proper role of a board member and how to promote school improvements in the face of chronic board conflict.

No trust at heart of problems

Republican Boggs has a lot in common with Democrat Andrea Merida, a leader of the Denver Board’s minority faction.  Both do not trust district decision-making and push their bureaucracies’ buttons.  Merida has publicly complained that Denver Public Schools Administration withholds information Jeffco’s Boggs has repeatedly asserted that teachers should take an across the board pay cut, which has put her at cross purposes with the Jeffco teachers’ association. Neither board member trusts their superintendent.

The challenge for all board members is how to push for positive change while allowing districts to conduct their business.  If a board member does not trust the district, but then behaves in a way that compromises the trust citizens endowed them upon election, chaos ensues, constructive conversations die, progress slows, and no change is accomplished.

Denver will move forward with its Montbello plans and Jeffco will move forward with its facilities and budget struggles.  Both Andrea Merida and Laura Boggs will face some big decisions about how to effect change, or simply make lots of noise.

New CA Governor, Old School Budget Problems

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Teachers in California are gloomy.  No wonder after the December 14 meeting at UCLA called by the governor-elect with school folks from all over the state.

In the past months, newspapers and magazines have shared district examples from all over the country of those doing well at the transformation from failing schools.  It has also been sharing a few examples of poor choices.  Until last week in California, there was still hope for reform.  The main conundrum was how to scale up successful school models: professional development, new teacher training, mentoring, collaboration, change testing and evaluation, etc.

Now, teachers have little hope.  The governor-elect was adamant that all parts of the state programs will be affected–his office included–to cut the state budget down to size and eliminate the deficit.  Various state school officials, including the California Teachers Association president, Dave Sanchez, asked for leniency, claiming that school districts have taken the brunt of the cuts in the past several years.

Sounds like the federal fiscal commission report.  No one, of course, believes it will happen given the hocus-pocus that has held things together for the last years.

Look, however, at San Diego as Doug Porta of the OB Rag December 15, 2010, has suggested.  Up to 1500 pink slips could be handed out and affect everyone.  You name it, those jobs will disappear.  Sports and special programs will all be fought over and will vanish.  Schools will be closed and, of course, teacher pay and benefits will be slashed.

Think about where you live.  Some variation on these cuts will occur because jobs are the last part of a recession to recover and this state depends on tax revenues which come with jobs.  Most of the federal stimulus money is gone.  You can cross your fingers that the latest federal legislation will provide money, but California has 120 days to come up with a solution for the $6 billion deficit we currently have, not counting the deficit projected for next year if programs are kept as they are.

Who will not be helped?  It was recalled by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” December 20, 2010, that to get ahead in this country one needs to finish high school and preferably attend some college, get married before children are born, and work steadily.  This is hard enough for many students, but most difficult for those in California for the next 18 months, the outlook before employment rates change.

Remember what Californians voted for last May in the special election.  The short version was don’t cut any state programs but don’t raise taxes either.  May be your wishes, but it won’t be possible.  Voters, many of whom are California teachers, will have to look at the facts.  Deep cuts in all programs.  Adjust tax revenues.

How will schools turn around?

Schools–what to think?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The latest newspaper article in California papers talked about Oakland, California elementary students, mostly the high scorers on the state tests, who set off for private, suburban public, or charter middle schools.  All of which is encouraged in this state and part of the parent’s choice.

The question is what happens to Oakland students left behind in the public urban middle schools?  Those are the students that Oakland Public Schools need to address when the schools transform.   What has Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education, been talking about when money is available from federal grants?  Has the Oakland board applied for a grant from anyone, even  from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?  Many models  are currently available.  It is the duty of the school board to choose and stick to one, no matter how long it takes to show change.

Accountability and evaluation will happen, but if there is not a good model to be untiring and insistent about, it will be like Congress, all bicker and little action.

Speaking of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it has taken up evaluation and believe me the foundation watchers are untiring and insistent on finding the best solution to an unresolvable problem.  Watch for their reports which will be written up, never fear.  You may not agree with all the steps to evaluation found by the study, but at least it will be a place to start making a plan suitable for the district.  Unlike now, when what is seen in the paper or news magazine is all talk and no action.

Even The New York Times will whip up a good article on California schools in its National section if there is a conflict to be shared.  Some parents in Compton, a very poor public school district-both in funding and in scores on state tests, have tried the legal California option to set up a charter school run by Celerity.  Now the article didn’t explain who started the petition revolution, whether the Celerity group is known for helping struggling students learn English or do better on exams, nor how the overhaul will be handled.  Neither the state, the county, nor the district’s school board has tried to transform any Compton school although there are multiple studies that can help.

Two good examples of schools changing in spite of disadvantage explained these past two weeks are the low-low-achieving Baltimore School District with a new superintendent that has been heard about from all sides, the papers, reports, magazines, even “The Wire.”  Another is the parochial tuition-free De Marillac Catholic School in San Francisco that offers guidance as well as good test scores to students from the Tenderloin, the name of the area describing the surroundings.  Both programs have a strong superintendent who doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the odds, who is willing to bring change a small bite at a time, whether it’s the curriculum, evaluation, or guidance that helps.

Last, an article about the “good” teachers  union in Florida has been touted in the Newsweek, December 13, 2010, issue.  School reform is the phrase “du jour.”   So the public should be happy with that phrase because teachers are the adults who make the curriculum succeed for students, and unions were established to advocate for teachers, not to bicker, bicker, bicker instead of making change.

Stars of Achievement

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

As the New York Times headline last week said, “Twinkle, twinkle, perhaps times three.”  If only I could teach about stars and solar systems and deep space for the entire time the fourth grade science standard suggests.  The article appeared December 2 and it would be exciting with capable students to spend time on the universe.

reading-grade 4

reading-grade 4

Instead I’m worried about report cards and my master’s degree theory class and students in my class who are head-smart but not social group-smart.  We took our trip to Mission San Juan Bautista, think California fourth grade social studies, at the beginning of the unit instead of the culmination.  I prepared students for our first trip of the year and, sure enough, in spite of all the parents accompanying us, one of the students took off on his own, no matter what his group leader parent said.  Except that he disappeared for so long, I would have made him join my group.  When we returned I had to email the student’s parent. The father agreed to accompany us on any other field trips and we’ve moved on.

Speaking of history, social studies, and parents, I read in the newspaper, Tuesday, December 7, about a parent who has used his own money to make History Strips, after being upset that high school students don’t know enough about U. S. History.  If I recall, the civics and U.S. History classes I took in high school had too much to cover to ever finish.  In addition, I’m spending a lot of collaboration time with the other grade four teachers just planning the school year to get the standards and the units on California history covered.  We hardly spend any time on the regions of California, one of the most important aspects leading to what happens in its history.

It will be interesting to see these strips in classrooms and museums to see if such a tool will help.  On the other hand, students in my school all have computers and can look up any event in U. S. History.  As my cousin says, “It’s an issue of fact,” meaning it can be found on the internet.  So, is the problem that people “don’t know” or that people “don’t spend time finding out?”

As a teacher, I spend my time, first, making sure the fourth grade is moving along and, second, keeping up with school issues, like support for the “special education” students in my class and the school.  I don’t have time to think of the goals for education in general.  I expect the people for whom I vote to read and make good decisions.  I’m pessimistic as California doesn’t even have a budget without deficits, much less money for schools.  Our parent group has already started its annual fund raiser that made all the bay area papers last year.

It’s near Winter Vacation so most of the curriculum has to do with the cultures in our school.  It’s also near the end of my first semester as a Master’s degree student.  I need a vacation.

Close the Achievement Gap

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Tuesday, November 30,  “Building a Grad Nation” from the non-profit America’s Promise Alliance hit the news.  Fewer students in fewer school districts are dropping out before they graduate from high school.  One step in the right direction according to most education gurus.  Five years to do even more.

Not all states have changed.  High school graduation rate depends on many factors that have much to do with the regional economy and nothing to do with a particular school.  Sometimes techniques are used to manipulate the numbers.  For instance, there is little dropout to report when students can be dropped from the school district rolls.  It is as if those children have moved, not dropped out.  Another way to keep students enrolled is to have students finish required courses by their senior year, then they could work half time also. Still enrolled, if only half time, to finish courses that must be taken as a senior.

Another article, however, from the online Washington Post Tuesday, November 30, reports that students in failing schools are using the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) option and transferring to public schools in a Maryland District that had test scores showing those students were proficient.  Just what the federal law supports.

Of course, the schools doing well aren’t prepared for overcrowding that follows when so many students transfer as the law suggests.  Why not?  Schools losing students aren’t prepared for so few students in classes.  Why not?  According to the National Governor’s Association it is easy to analyze the differences.  Race and class are issues.

In elementary schools, the answer seems to be beyond anyone’s ability to act.  This blog has examined models that do work.  Make sure all the schools in a district are modeled that way, instead of only schools in the “good” area of the district.  One can scan any state and find schools doing well.  The NGA points out change in North Carolina and Missouri.

All public, private, charter, parochial, from elementary to secondary schools, need to use standards that can be compared across the country.  All school boards must spend their time focused on proficiency, using all tools needed to ensure success.  All reports must state that it takes a long time to change, but change must happen.

No school wants to be called a “dropout factory.”