Friday, August 27, 2010

JG doesn't like Tony Bennett either

I missed both broadcasts of Tony Bennett's (if I call him Dr. Bennett, I'd be dissing Wendy) "State of Education" address, but I read it on line at the IDE website. It's basically the same thing I heard him say in Columbia City two weeks ago. Today we got Karen Frisco's take on the speech which she published for the edification of "those unfamiliar with Indiana classrooms". That would include Ms. Frisco herself as well as every member of our school board except Kevin Brown.

Ms. Frisco's column has two headings, "Teacher Evaluations" and "Seniority", which are interrelated. She wants to give the "unfamiliar" ones the impression that teacher evaluations are related to a teachers ability to convey knowledge to their students and that they are therefore a factor in decisions on pay and retention. In fact the evaluations are totally subjective, usually a checklist, with no measurable substantiation. They're circular file quality.

Teachers can be fired for a number of reasons through a convoluted (union contractual) process but incompetence is not one of them. No principal is going to go through the trouble of getting rid of a teacher for incompetence when the evidence won't hold up in court. It's easier to leave them alone and hope they trip themselves up for something like insubordination. The only way to get a meaningful, quantitative reading on teaching ability is to tie it to standardized test scores, which naturally they are all adamantly against. It's "not fair". It can be made statistically fair (the LA Times newspaper even did it) but they don't want to hear that. So the only factor in pay and retention is seniority.

Under the heading of "Resources" Ms. Frisco goes off the deep end. Because there was no ISTEP testing in the seventies, she says Bennett's claims of stagnant achievement since the seventies are unsubstantiated and that the doubling of cost to educate kids since then doesn't consider inflation. Bennett's claims in fact are substantiated by national test data and the inflation adjusted cost as well as the number of adults employed per child have doubled in the last several decades. Indiana is no exception to the national trend toward mediocrity in our public schools.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OMG, Tracy Warner doesn't like me

I don't subscribe to the JG anymore, so I didn't know until someone told me this morning that Mark GiaQuinta's best friend, Tracy Warner was already bad mouthing me. He referred to disparaging remarks I've made in this blog about Wendy and most of the current board. I should thank Tracy for calling attention to my blog and invite anyone who cares, to read it.

I haven't deleted anything I've posted since the last election. The blog represents a counterpoint to the self serving drivel coming from the JG and FWCS. By the way Tracy, it was Karen Frisco who recently pointed out that all the "LEAD" school were in the high poverty area south of Coliseum. And it's also Karen, the chief FWCS apologist, who's been telling us for years how difficult it is to turn an urban district around. In fact the "FWCS can't be fixed" blog was a direct response to one of Karen's columns telling us how nothing has worked to turn urban schools around.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Did I hear that right?

The other night I was watching one of the local news stations (which is unusual for me). After the usual bit on the most recent freeway car chase, (Mark Mellinger used to be a creditable newscaster) they had the superintendent of SAC talking about their budget reductions. He said they were preparing for the next round of cuts with possible cuts in salaries and health care benefits for teachers. Teachers actually prepared to sacrifice on behalf of the kids?

Unbelievable! Time to join the exodus, move to Aboite and vote in their next referendum to keep more teachers employed!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dr. Bennett and the coming state takeover

Today we got Karen Frisco's take on the Columbia City presentation by Dr. Bennett and the IDE, which seemed to portend a state takeover of our FAIL schools. Eight years after the initial shock of seeing first hand the situation in the classrooms of my old high school, all I can say is "I told you so". After years of writing to board members, to Wendy, to the papers and in this blog I failed to convince anyone to change course. The Code Blue remonstrance campaign for "Academics not Buildings" had no effect. Maybe I should have been more subtle. Apparently Dr. Bennett was unimpressed with the musical chairs "reform" they just went through. He showed he's not a fool. We'll see how subtle he is if he gets his hands on the FAIL schools.

At the end Karen bemoans the possible fate of our schools under "the governor, his hand picked state board of education and the state superintendent" instead of our locally elected school board. Come on! The "local" FWCS board is hand picked by the superintendent, the teachers union, local building contractors, the Inskeeps and their editors at the JG. The state can't do any worse than the "locals", maybe they can even do better.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dr. Bennett comes to Columbia City

Yesterday I attended the presentation by State Supt. of Public Instruction in Columbia City. The most interesting part (to me), on school and teacher evaluation and accountability, was given by a member of his staff (impressive), who came out of "Teach America". She descibed a model based on student growth as well as their achievement level. Each student's growth would be compared to students at the same level across the state. So district, school and teacher effectiveness would be rated on how much improvement they could generate starting from the same baseline.

They're still working on the exact formula. But Dr. Bennett did point out that with the current checklist systems, 99% of teachers' performances are rated as satisfactory. In other words the current evaluations are subjective and meaningless. He claims 97% of Indiana teachers said they would prefer an objective evaluation.

They also proposed rating high schools' performance according to their ability to prepare students for work and college. That part is also a work in progress. They just changed from using the Graduating Qualifying Exam in the fall to the End of Course Exam in the spring, so high school evaluation is already in a state of flux. The three FWCS high schools now in trouble with the state could be in limbo until this gets sorted out. That may be exactly what they were hoping for to take the pressure off for a while.

Whether Dr. Bennett can get his program past the ISTA (Indiana StatusQuo Teachers' Association) remains to be seen. They wasn't a lot of applause in the room.

Monday, August 9, 2010

FWCS "turnaround under way" too late

About 800 teachers are currently in training sessions for the district's 11 FAIL schools. FAIL is not an acronym for anything, like the "LEAD" schools FWCS came up with. It's just an accurate adjective for their status. Karen Frisco editorialized on the "profound" changes under way in the JG today. As always the real story is not what's printed in the JG editorial pages.

For starters, why is this happening now? When PL 221 was passed by the legislature ten (or so) years ago, it should have been obvious that there was going to be trouble in River City. So why didn't FWCS try to do something before now? Basically they just blew it off. They didn't want to hear it. Year after year we just heard about their concerns about lack of progress, that they were always striving to do better and working very hard to improve... yada, yada , yada. They were actually more concerned about remodeling their buildings. What we have now is the result of years of miserable leadership by the administration and the board. I would add FWEA but their mission has always been self preservation. The "Proven Leadership" you saw on Steve Corona's campaign billboards two years ago really meant "Proven Incompetence".

Then Karen says "not all teachers were eager" to go FAIL schools. I'll say. The law requires that 50% of the teachers in a FAIL school be changed. So about 400 teachers were forced to go through an interviewing process by giving them layoff notices. Those who got the notices were mostly the ones with less than 10 years seniority. The teachers who got to stay at their current schools without interviewing were the older ones, who may or may not have been the most competent. The "best" of the laid off teachers were then picked by the "new" (that's another story) principals of the FAIL schools. The "worst" of the laid off teachers were mostly assigned to other schools that had vacancies. So schools that were doing OK got the short end of the stick on teaching talent. How that affects those schools is of little concern at the moment. What's more important is that FWEA preserved jobs.

FWCS is actually divided into two systems by Coliseum Boulevard. The "poor" district south of Coliseum if failing and probably beyond saving. For twenty years the district has been busing (at great cost to taxpayers) as many kids as they can accommodate to schools north of Coliseum to even out the problem. But "school choice" didn't save the FAIL schools and is only speeding up the deterioration of the entire district.

Then Karen says the community leaders and taxpayers should take note and support the profound changes going on at FWCS. Never mind that their ONLY motivation for change is self preservation in light of a possible state takeover. What taxpayers should really consider is that over the last several decades the (inflation adjusted) cost of educating a student has doubled along with the number of adults employed to do that. And what do we taxpayers have to show for it in terms of academic achievement? Locally, eleven FAIL schools with more to come. If you're incensed about bailing out failing Wall Street firms and the auto industry, think about what we're doing here year after year.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On the up side.....

School districts are short of money and feeling the pinch like ordinary taxpayers. Half empty schools may finally have to close. Indiana lowers the bar and adopts "common core' standards while Fordham Foundation president Chester Finn says they've done a "miserable job" implementing the ones they have. No RTT money is forthcoming and FWCS has to play musical chairs with administrators and teachers to try to fool Tony Bennett into thinking they're actually changing something.

But there is some good news coming from Milwaukee where the teachers' union is standing up for their members. Despite losing about 500 members to layoffs, the union is suing their district to get free Viagra and other erectile dysfunction meds back into their health care benefits. The school board, deciding that these were "recreational" drugs, eliminated them, saving about $800K per year. But the union disagrees, arguing that erectile dysfunction is a major problem in a profession where seniority rules reward old age instead of competence.

FWEA should take notice.