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Monday, March 29, 2010

Greeley School District 6 Cuts Government and World Culture Requirements

Greeley Colorado's infamous school district, District 6, has been busy putting the finishing touches on the mountain of financial cuts the Board has declared as needed. It began, if you recall, with a panicked forced contract on teachers to save money, grew into a dire 15% round of emergency cuts, and has ended with an actual 6% shortfall for next year. That shortfall as I stated earlier could have been almost covered with reserves had the reserves not been questionably spent earlier.

In addition to bullying the teacher's union, firing the District's Human Resource Director and replacing him with a her from the inside, the District has taken on the consolidation of "under-utilized" schools according to Mr. Wayne Eads--the janitor turned operations manager. One consolidation move places alternative students together under one roof at Jefferson. Hence forth parents will be happy to know that students who have a low performance academically will now be attending the same school as kids who have violent histories and have already been, or their next stop will likely be, Platte Correctional Center.

Additionally District 6 has removed Government and World Cultural Geography from graduation requirements and made them "electives". Whether or not the school will continue to fund teachers for these courses every term is also "elective". From this year forward students, our future community leaders and citizen voters, may actually be able to get out of high school without learning ANYTHING at all about government process and people from other parts of the world--formally. What a great plan.

In the meantime there is a lovely discussion going around the community that these cuts have been based on the "best guesses" of people like Mr. Eads and a few accounting studies on utilization rates. It has yet to be seen what Ms. Ranelle Lang, the Superintendent does to earn her pay (see earlier posts on Mr. Eads' inflated role in D6), and why educational outcome studies were not used to base the financial cuts upon. It is very easy to surmise without these studies being published, without Ms. Lang standing up in front of the public in an open question and answer forum or appearing in front of D6 teachers, that the whole hoopla this year, following the failed voter initiative, has been a timely recessional scare tactic for cleaning house at D6.

Only problem is the good old boys are still running the show. They just aren't being very transparent about what is happening. They'd do well I suspect in the corporate private world. It is too bad they've been given a public institution to play with.

But nonetheless the Good Old Boy Board and Administration have made some changes and are in the process of shedding thirty-five employees and putting even more propaganda out in favor of themselves and Ms. Lang within the community. No one is talking education outcomes.

And who'd ever guess by the gutting of World Cultural Geography that Ms. Lang had the wonderful relationship, as stated in her Nebraska job interview process, with the local Hispanic community and its leaders. Which leaders would that be Ms. Lang?

Ms. Lang's home town wouldn't take her back so she may well be around now when those educational scores start coming in during the next two years. Only the Greeley Tribune and the lack of community interest will be able to paint those numbers pretty.

Accountability for poor decision making doesn't fall just on the Board. The community willing to roll over and play intellectually dead while all this goes on around them has to take some hit too. This is what happens when politics and ideology are allowed to embed themselves into a community's public institutions. It doesn't matter what the politics are about or whose side they are on--it is deadly to the outcome.

In this case Greeley's kids will pay the price for a very long time and those in the senior community, with few options to leave, will be able to serve as witness as services dwindle away and the various crime rates rise as happens with communities without viable opportunities for their citizens to succeed.

And the crowning cherry on the top of this muddy mountain? The District is buying its textbooks from Texas.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Should We Concentrate On Building Better Teachers in Greeley Colorado?

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is my idea of a good example. It is a "hiring" problem. But that's not all. The article below on Building Better Teachers shared from the New York Times talks about the problem in common terms we can all understand. Although that isn't the only reason it is a great article. The article looks at the complexity of the problem of measurement and attaching pay to that measurement. Very long but a worthy read for the profession, for parents, and for voters. It focuses the debate on change in a reasonable and identified target area.

I am thinking about the content a lot. For me a hiring problem, like the one I have described underlying Greeley District 6's problems (these are performance problems prior to the fall back in State and Local Taxes), is a management problem. To say that hiring a good Human Resources Director is crucial kind of undermines our common dislike of such people. And most people I know are just happy to have a warm personality in the job. But this job is so very important to a large organization and developing a productive strategy and atmosphere we should get beyond the stereotypes. I've had to do this job and I've got to say there is a good reason the personality types tend to be cool and distant. It also clarified to me why Unions are a good thing to have around as a check and balance. It is not a fun job when all the human drama in an organization gets dumped on your lap and, personally, I didn't find many rewards in it except I was forced to learn an abundant amount of regulations which come in handy. Along with the various methods large organizations use to shed nonperforming employees, measure performance, and how to build a rubric for, and assess, candidates for new positions. Oh, and I know how to read 'ERISA' language and understand the 401k statements before I went to business school. That helped in a course or two.

There are three million teachers in the United States. Unless the merit pay (or similar) idea is used I don't see how education expects to only attract the cream of the crop. As I have said earlier in this blog--some of your teachers are bound to be average. In fact the bulk are likely to fall under the curve.

I'm not convinced either that really low performing districts shouldn't start with the management and the semi-skilled ideologues running the show. Train the human resources department at least. The Director can help train the Boards.

I get the measurement idea but the most effective teachers have something beyond mechanized skills in their pocket. They have spontaneous innovation and a vast breadth of learned material to draw upon. This could be addressed by better education of teachers. I stayed in a fifth and sixth year, before it was "cool", to do so in order to take the courses they didn't make the teachers take. I took the advanced math, genetics, chemistry (the professor thought I was nuts enrolling in bonehead course when I didn't have to), and later pursued upper level economic courses.

Still I remember clearly one of the questions on the teaching credential test. It isn't much of a math test certainly. "If Sue bought a car in 1973 and Bob purchased a car in 1978, how much older would Sue's car be than Bob's in 1980?"

But I digress. On to the article. I'll post a couple paragraphs below from the beginning. And spread it around please.

"But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

Around the country, education researchers were beginning to address similar questions. The testing mandates in No Child Left Behind had generated a sea of data, and researchers were now able to parse student achievement in ways they never had before. A new generation of economists devised statistical methods to measure the “value added” to a student’s performance by almost every factor imaginable: class size versus per-pupil funding versus curriculum. When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to. Some teachers could regularly lift their students’ test scores above the average for children of the same race, class and ability level. Others’ students left with below-average results year after year. William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge. Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Charter Schools, Standardized Testing, and Conservative Ideology Under the Spotlight

Greeley Colorado District 6 has been championing expanding Charter Schools, as has, to be fair, the Obama Administration. For me Charter Schools are usually (not always) a political bone to throw to the predominantly wealthier classes to segregate their kids from those "not like us". Greeley's District 6 "dramatized" cuts are falling predominantly on the minority and poorer schools in Northern Colorado.

Let's face it the poor just don't vote or are easily misled to vote against their own interests. Greeley's School Board isn't the first to be swayed politically, whether consciously or unconsciously, and won't be the last.

But this article caught my eye this morning. A leopard changing spots? A product of conservative "balance the checkbook and ignore long term consequences" policy think tanks is learning from long term outcomes? If true it is a bright spot in a long dark tunnel. There is a reasonable place for both short and long term perspectives.

I don't think I was the only child who heard their grandmother experienced voice reflect, "Moderation in all things, Baby-doll."

Okay, maybe not the "Baby-doll" part. That's mine.

Yet we stake out our polar positions and hold on for dear life it seems even when we realize the crowd has passed us by and isolation and rot is creeping in. Here Dr. Ratvich, a 'leading' educational policy maker steps out of her mold. Politically well timed to be sure but there is obvious progress being made and that is just terrific from my viewpoint.

Schools belong to their communities. Public goods, like education, fail in the free market ideals of America and should not be thrown into the private sector like chump change. They are simply too important to be left to corporate America and the "you-get-what-you-can-pay-for" feudal ethos.

It is a great article. I encourage those on both sides of the Charter School article to read it. It will take a long time before the middle-classes let go of their indoctrination on testing and privatizing schools but it is a start. I've haven't posted general articles for a while but this one is really a bright spot to see coming forward.

"These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

From the New York Times online.

"...“The new thinking saw the public school system as obsolete, because it is controlled by the government,” she writes. “I argued that certain managerial and structural changes — that is, choice, charters, merit pay and accountability — would help to reform our schools.”

In January 2001, Dr. Ravitch was at the White House to hear President George W. Bushoutline his vision for No Child Left Behind, which Congress approved with bipartisan majorities and which became law in 2002.

“It sounded terrific,” she recalled in the interview.

There were signs soon after, however, that her views were changing. She had endorsed mayoral control of New York City schools before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg obtained it in 2002, but by 2004 she had emerged as a fierce critic. Some said she was nursing a grudge because close friends had lost jobs in the mayor’s shake-up of the schools’ bureaucracy.

In 2005, she said, a study she undertook of Pakistan’s weak and inequitable education system, dominated by private and religious institutions, convinced her that protecting the United States’ public schools was important to democracy.

She remembers another date, Nov. 30, 2006, when at a Washington conference she heard a dozen experts conclude that the No Child law was not raising student achievement.

These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself."

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