Sunday, August 31, 2008

Billion dollars on “school reform”= ???

Thoughts by Charles R. Hoff

Recently the latest WASL scores came out for the state. This is not good news as the level of achievement has “hit a plateau” according to the “experts.” In hitting this plateau the state has come up against the rules of “No Child Left Behind” which does not make any allowances for “plateaus.” Now most of the secondary schools in the state are now labeled “In need of improvement.” Some, including those in Federal Way, have now been in this category for three years. In fact scores for some of the minority students would indicate that they have declined significantly over the past four years.

What has the school district decided to do about this? Without any public discussion with the school board, or taking any public comment, their approach is to provide a Math coach for each secondary school, and two math coaches for each elementary school. They will also attribute some of these failures due to fighting in the classroom on testing day and truancy on testing day. This is a sad comment on the “climate” in some schools.

Why Math coaches? No Child Left Behind measures Mathematics capability in determining the effectiveness of a school, and this subject, one that can be measured with more accuracy than reading, has gone either nowhere, or down, in the past 4 years in Federal Way if you use the 10th grade WASL scores as a criteria.

The presumption being that these coaches can show those teaching Math better ways to present the subject so that more students can become better at Mathematics. 55.6% of all students in the 10th grade did not meet the standard, 83.8% of all Blacks, and 77.2% of all Hispanics are in this category.

This seems like a tall order for these coaches as I know of no particular strategy, other than focus, concentration and practice, which has proven to be effective at mastering this subject. Forget your I-pods, text messaging, game-boys, and other distractions and it is likely that you can master 8th grade Mathematic concepts. Will it be “boring?” You bet it will until you get the hang of it! We seem to have a lot of children and parents who believe that they can learn all they need to know without encountering anything that is “boring.”

What do I think is the matter with the strategy that the Administration and what Olympia is suggesting? When “School Reform” legislation was enacted in 1993 it was quite specific in assigning responsibilities to educators, students, and parents. This legislation also was designed to make a high school diploma a certification of mastery of a set of skills. Since then there hasn’t been a whisper of student or parent responsibility and when it appeared that too many students wouldn’t graduate, the Legislature exhibited its weak knees and buckled on passing the math test!

I believe that we are all lazy, at least to some degree, and kids can get that way very easily when there are no consequences for laziness. While we have spent well of a billion dollars on “school reform” I am not sure that kids, at least secondary age ones, have seen any need to increase their focus on “boring” subjects such as Mathematics. They remain convinced that parents and Legislators will bail them out of any tight spots during their public education. They have some pretty good evidence to work with!

Perhaps if educators were far more candid with parents about the likelihood of adult success when you are not well enough educated, and were actively involved with the parents of kids who don’t seem to understand this, we might be able to prepare our children for success in the 21st Century. Educators seem to be convinced that this is not necessary, and yet they are the first to suggest that parent involvement does make a difference! Isn’t it time that educators demand this from parents? Isn’t it time that taxpayers insist on this as this is where a majority of their local and state taxes are going? Are we getting our money’s worth?

Where does this all lead? I was traveling in England this summer, and found three separate groups of Chinese students, all 12-15 years of age, involved in learning about the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. They had at least 5 years of English under their belts, and were deeply involved in topics such as “Watt’s Parallelogram!” If knowledge is the key to success, I fear that our children are going to be left at the starting gate! Do you know of any American children who are deeply involved in any studies, in a country with a foreign language, this summer? If you do please let me know.


Anonymous said...

This could be classified as dribble or a rant - lets muck up the water with who's responsible for something like student learning.

Why not focus on things educators can change and lets be practical about it? Granted hiring math coaches is not going to improve the problem and neither will throwing money at it.

Arguing the standards process and 'structural' curriculum is ineffective would be more constructive than preaching teacher, parent, or student responsibility who are powerless over the content that is currently being mandated in school. This is not best practices and contrary to what the reformers suggest, teachers are hardly considered as professionals any longer. If they were professional then shouldn't they be compensated for it? The disdain with which Republicans and Libertarians hold for teachers should be met with equal force, but never by compromising. A compromise is an illusion and the reality is teachers and students lose. Why not put administrators and teachers back in the same union as before? No more free agents. Stop selling bogus textbooks and falsifying research with gross assumptions. For instance, were all students observed and accounted for? Why do we hear only about the good and not the failures? etc.

dan dempsey said...

It was said:
Granted hiring math coaches is not going to improve the problem and neither will throwing money at it.

I think coaches could make a difference if they were allowed to use a decent curriculum. Given the sad curricula that are in use in most places. Coaches have as much chance of producing large positive improvements as spinning straw into gold.

Think of the fact that a decade ago there were no coaches and we have seen the numbers of coaches significantly increasing over the last few years. So look at the results at grades 4, 7, and 10 over the last few years.

Hiring math coaches has not improved the problem and neither has throwing money at it.

Anonymous said...

That's sort of the purpose of a mentor teacher and you could partner a new teacher with an experienced teacher and have the two share a common prep - it would serve the same purpose.

I haven't seen stipends used well.

Anonymous said...

If you had effective curriculum and proper teacher training, you wouldn't need coaches. There should be one effective curriculum for elementary school teachers. It would require less training.