Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Some things are looking better...

A couple of days ago I started an entry to this blog. I was upset, angry, tick-off, and moody to a high degree. The situation with Central Fall, RI where they have fired all the teachers, administrators and staff because of low test scores got through to me. Then I found out that Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education approved of this action. If you've read anything in this blog I have great respect for teachers and what they do and try to do in the schools. We already know that many of today's teachers are not in this business because of the money--most of them just want to teach. Seeing one of your student's progress is the best pay for any of us.....evan at the college level.

I spent the better part of yesterday trying to ascertain the four levels of "improvements" that low scoring schools can attest to. It seems that my "googling skills" were not that good--couldn't find them even on the Education Department's web page. So I took to calling my senators' offices as well as my representative. While I called both local and Washington, DC offices of the senators, about eight phone calls total, I did not reach a single live person--all recorded messages. Sad. My congressman did have a live person answering the phone here in Bellingham and she was very nice but didn't know what I was looking for. She promised to see if she could find the four levels of change required for federal assistance.....meaning money! I also called the State Office of the Public Superintendent of Education and again got a recorded message. Their switchboard had broken. I was on a negative roll it seemed.

But I found it! Here is what I found out. If your school has low student achievement scores and if you do one of the following four activities you can be eligible for federal grants up to two million (yes, two million) for three years running. That's a lot of money. Dangle that in front of some superintendents and I can see why an entire school faculty gets fired. You get rid of a higher payroll and possibly get six million to boot. Wow!

Here are the four levels of punishment. 1) Close the school. 2) Replace the Principal and at least half of its staff. 3) Change the old school into a Charter School (not allowed in some states) and 4) Transform the school which can include, longer school hours, setting up a new curriculum, and my favorite, stringent teacher evaluations. Or all of the above for category 4. Be my guest, pile on.

But as the title to this blog has implied, I am a bit more up beat today. First off an old nemesis of mine, Dr. Diane Ravitch who once upon a time favored strict guidelines for schools, tougher teacher standards (she never explained that to me) and was one of the proponents of the "Leave No Child Behind" doctrine. She and I were essentially on opposite sides of the fence. I was (an am) a liberal educator and she was a conservative educator. Dr. Ravitch is a better writer then me and more prolific and every time she wrote a new book I would come unglued. But I haven't written any books to answer her. Ravitch's pitch in the past has been accountability, charter schools and testing. She really thought the public schools were failing. However, Dr. Ravitch's field is educational history and she does a good job of looking at the data. One thing I do respect is if an academic looks at data and says, I'm wrong or this doesn't make sense. That is the purpose of being an academic as far as I am concerned. Being wrong has a good side--it means we don't have to go down that primrose path again. And to Dr. Diane Ravitch's credit she has looked at the data and said that the testing and the accountability is not doing its job. It is not improving education. YESSSSSSS! She also has decided that the increased need for mathematics and science has pushed other subjects like history and art out of the curriculum. YES once again. But somewhere in all this she seems to be saying that we have lost the education of our children.

At a national conference for superintendents last month in Phoenix Dr. Ravitch suggested that we have set up poor policies for educating our children. I quote her from her speech: "Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect. They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We're on the wrong track."

I have been saying this for years. The evidence has always been there. This blog is about teachers that are doing just that in spite of regulations and requirements. I have much respect for Dr. Ravitch for looking at the data and saying, "we're not doing it right." I'm afraid she will be in for a lot of criticism from the conservative bench. I wish her well.

The Woodring College of Education under the persuasion of Paul Woodring, an eminent educator in the college's history has always said, get the brightest and best of the entering students and educate them well in all subjects and we will have produced good teachers. We've done that for years. Thanks, Paul for your leadership.

Now we need to get the public schools to change their curriculum to include the arts (including my beloved music), literature, theater, physical education, history, geography, and mathematics and science. Plato would be proud of us.

And you know what? Teachers will be doing this in spite of the four "punishments" on the test scores.

Thank you teachers all over this nation. You knew all along you would be vindicated. You have my thanks.

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