Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Do you remember a vote for a bond for buildings in the school district in 2007? If you live in the valley you may remember voting for it because you are overcrowded out there and thought the school district might build a new school or at least add some classrooms. Well, not so much. The school district, as I mentioned earlier on this blog, is hiring a planning firm. This is not an architectural firm or an engineering firm, sorry to disappoint, but a firm to help the district plan for "school improvement strategies".  I would like to note that they have been working on school improvement strategies since 1992, with I would say, little or more probably no success when you look at social and achievement data.

I had the pleasure yesterday to attend one of these planning meetings. The meeting went for SIX HOURS! After 3 hours of wandering around in the weeds I left, they had nowhere to go with all this because they didn't even know what their role as a school board should be. Before getting into the specifics of all the wandering I WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT that they were spending LOTS OF MONEY. We don't yet know the exact amounts but we will continue to try to find out how much of the 10.8 MILLION DOLLARS is being spent on planning. For this meeting they hired a consultant to give them advice via skype and a mediator, had a large meal prepared and brought in, and must have hired "guest teachers" (substitutes) because teachers and other paid staff were present.

Well do you think they talked about which buildings they were going to build? NO that's not it. They talked for 3 hours and as far as I could tell from the agenda, intended (after dinner), to talk for another one and a half hours about assessment. Let me see- should it be broad assessment?(assessment of the whole district) or narrow assessment (3rd grade for example), or then again it could be pinpointed at particular classrooms! On they went. The consultant likes performance assessment, inquiry based. Lets think outside the box and not worry about all those pesky facts. The scary thing is they may get away with this. According to Denise Juneau, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, (who has not returned my call for further inquiry),speaking at Hometown Helena, our schools are doing away with Iowa Basics achievement testing and going to a  FEDERAL TEST AT EVERY GRADE LEVEL(NAEP, National Assessment of Student Progress). So what we now teach, ( even the people at the meeting acceded that the test determines what we teach), will be determined by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. If you haven't traveled in a totalitarian state you may not realize just how scary that is.

Maybe you remember Competency Based Standards for graduation that I talked about on this blog earlier? Well they talked about students collaborative skills being assessed and social measures. Sounds subjective to me. Are we now going to try to form  our children into someones version of the perfect person rather than just expect them to learn academics at school?

The terminology has reached crisis proportions, they are producing new words by the nano second. But the intent is clear, they don't understand their role as a school board, the role of teachers in the classroom, the role of schools in students lives, and what teaching is all about anyway. Finally one of the board members pointed out that when you teach Biology there are certain things like Mitosis which you just must teach.

Let me try to clarify this for the school board, first, school boards are not there to assess or teach, they are purely administrative, they make sure the trains run on time so to speak. Secondly, the teachers are there to teach. They should not be responsible to write curriculum and be researchers! Twenty five students to teach 7 subjects to in 4 hours (when you're not on constant drills of every kind i.e. fire,earthquake, national disaster, lockdown etc.) and giving your classroom over to special programs, is a monumental feat these days! If you want any results at all please let the teachers teach at least once in a while. Assessment, as pointed out even by someone at the meeting, takes away teaching time. Many firms are selling assessment- some international! So there is pressure to jump on this bandwagon. The consultant even suggested using our children as guinea pigs for firms doing research ( they'd just love it if we signed up).

Our school district is not doing well as pointed out by almost everyone at the meeting including the consultant. Our kids are losing ground in math by third grade. The one school that is doing better than others is recovering from ("unfortunate leadership disarray") as pointed out by at least one board member. In other words they're getting back up to speed. Can I ask why if our former superintendent was so wonderful he let this "disarray" go on for 18 years? Why are our math scores so low and why can't our students perform on achievement testing?

The one board member had it right ( and he's a former teacher), there are certain things that need to be taught. Give our teachers the time to teach and it will happen. Your train is going way off track when you let administrators micromanage teachers, as one said shockingly,"the school has to decide on a strategy and through collaboration the other teachers should be sure everyone is doing it". News flash for her,our teachers each have their own teaching style and will do a bang up job on the whole if you just leave them alone!

Proof of this is that our scores were better before school reform happened to us. Why do we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on textbooks if we don't trust them? They have the structure, (they actually talked about how things should be taught in a sequence (you think?!!) at this meeting), well, the textbook has the sequence. They are written by professionals that do nothing but this. Guess what? They even have the ASSESSMENT after each part that you talked about (those are called chapters). Get out of the weeds and let our teachers teach!!

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