Saturday, January 29, 2011

All five FWCS high schools on academic probation

In addition to the charter members of the IDE's bottom category SSHS, NSHS and WAYNE, the other two remaining FWCS high schools, Snider and Northrop, joined them last year by going on academic probation. Naturally neither the district nor the JG deemed this piece of bad news important enough to talk about it publicly. No gushing Mark and Wendy news conference. No apologist wailing by Karen Frisco. They could have legitimately claimed that the new high school test, the ECA, was more difficult than the GQE it replaced, which is true. The ECA's at FWCS were about 6% lower than the GQE's, which mirrors the 6% drop statewide. But then they would have been caught in a trap on their "improvement" on the k-8 ISTEP scores.

The IDE's recent review of NSHS and SSHS noted that FWCS seemed to be serious about reforming their high schools. That may be, but at the end of the day, they can't make a real and lasting improvement in the high schools until they improve the middle schools. How will we know if the middle schools are improving? When the district stops blanket social promotion through the middle schools and quits sending kids into high school unprepared. ECA scores will fluctuate. The state may "adjust" the difficulty but it only matters how they do relative to the rest of the state, so that's how the scores have to be viewed.

Social promotion in the middle schools is an admission of FWCS' failure to prepare kids for high school. They may be serious about improving the high schools in the face of a possible state takeover. But nothing the Superintendent, the board or the JG says about progress can be taken seriously until blanket social promotion stops. It's just more hollow rhetoric for public consumption. If they want to show us they're serious, they have a way to do so.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And speaking of vouchers....

Although the legislature is reportedly working on a school voucher proposal, I haven't found the details of an actual bill submitted. Nevertheless opponents of vouchers are already telling us why they are bad. The JG has a column this morning by an IU professor of elementary education, Daniel Holm with a list of six objections (surprise, surprise) to vouchers.

1. Private schools are not held accountable for meeting state standards-

So make them accountable as a condition for taking public funds. I don't know of any private schools in our area that don't already give the state tests and they're pretty much a non-event. Passing rates in the parochial schools are around 90%. The tests are easy.

2. Private schools can refuse admittance-

True, but to what extent and why are they doing so? Lack of space or refusal to deal with poor students? Government schools expel students who can't adapt after they admit them. Why not give government schools a better way to handle expected problem students rather than mainstreaming them in with everyone else?

3. Negatively affect government school finances-

Parents who opt out of a government school and take the money elsewhere is another way to provide competition for government schools. Government monopolies in education are no more desirable than any other kind of monopolies. Giving vouchers to parents who are already paying out of their own pockets to send their kids to private school will increase the cost of public education. Personally I'm willing to pay more taxes to see that happen but that doesn't mean everyone else will.

4. Transportation issues-

Lower income parents may have trouble providing transportation to a school outside their neighborhood. Perhaps but FWCS is already busing kids to schools outside their neighborhoods in their school choice plan. Many other urban districts bus them to magnet schools. Schools are not obligated to bus anyone unless they have a physical disability or if their local school is in trouble long enough that parents can opt to send their kids to another school. The schools do it because they're getting the money from the state to operate expensive transportation systems. I can see some justification in rural district but few of them are clamoring for alternatives. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for any transportation in an urban district? Nobody rode a bus to SSHS when I went there.

5. Private schools can't accommodate special needs students-

Another can of worms that needs to be aired out. How many of these students are there? Are we talking about special-ed and ELL? FWCS has 20% of their students designated as special ed, an astounding number. Do they do that because it brings in more money? Why are they mainstreaming these kids if they have so much trouble learning? The ones that can keep up shouldn't be special ed. The ones that can't are frustrated and hold the rest of the class back. Why are non-English speakers put into regular schools before they can function in a classroom? Why are they tested before they're proficient in English?

6. Parochial schools will push religious agendas-

Nonsense. Plenty of parents send their kids to parochial schools as an alternative to bad government schools, if they can afford the tuition. If they are going to get public money, they will have to limit the religious instruction to those that want it and keep it away from those who don't. Eventually non-religious private schools will spring up to serve disenchanted government school parents. Like the one GiaQuinta sent his kids to.

The professor closes by saying more money needs to be given to government schools because they are already providing a "quality" education. What does that mean? How does he define "quality"? He doesn't. It's meaningless. Then he adds we should spend more for pre-school and full day kindergarten. Fine. Show us how well that works. With data. A study by IU concluded that full day kindergarten was "no worse" than half day. FWCS has had full day kindergarten in Title I schools for over a decade. Where's the data on the benefits of that expenditure? Taxpayer funded babysitting and more jobs for education school graduates?

It's going to be fun following the uproar from the government education establishment, not to mention the JG. It may well end up in court, with religion as the pretext for a suit but the real issue will be money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Harding as a charter?

EACS is reportedly discussing turning Harding into a non-conversion charter. That would turn its operation over to a charter operator but keep it under the district's control. It's hard to see what turning any high school into a charter would accomplish in terms of significantly improving academic performance, which is ultimately controlled by the quality of the feeder schools.

But the Harding debate has never been about academics. It's been lagging for years and nobody cared until the state threatened to intervene. Now the objections to the current EACS plan are based on the inconvenience of longer bus rides and incompatible cultures. And if the board goes along, it will only be to keep control of the money. There's no way this story can have a happy ending but the district would be better off to let the state have it and wash their hands of a can't win situation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Education agenda going full steam

Sen Dennis Kruse of Auburn has filed a bill on teacher evaluation and pay, Rep. Brian Bosma of Carmel has introduced a bill to expand charter schools while a bill on school vouchers is also in the works. Finally after decades of staying the course while urban districts continue to churn out graduates with worthless diplomas, the politicians, make that Republican politicians, are willing to force change. No it won't be perfect, there will be unintended consequences and there will be adjustments down the road.

There has been relatively muted reaction from teachers' unions since they know they can't block the tide. They'll have to start buying Republican politicians instead of Democrats now. Predictably the hysterics have come from the JG, which went on another inane tirade against charter schools in Sunday's Perspective. Today's commentary mentioned that Tony Bennett's wife is consultant for the state charter school association. Like there's no hypocrisy at the JG.

Relax guys. The threat of extinction did wonders for the US automobile industry. It will do the same for FWCS.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mitch's speech doesn't fly with FWEA

Devon Haynie's article in the JG on FWEA members reaction to Gov. Daniels speech illustrates why the public education establishment can't change itself. Steve Brace's reaction to the Governor's proposal to let high school students graduate early, for example, was a bad idea because that would mean less money (fewer teacher jobs) for school districts. Any benefits for the student and taxpayer don't matter. By preventing change from within, public schools will finally get change from without. In the meanwhile thousands of kids have been going out the doors of districts like FWCS with high school diplomas that weren't worth the paper they're written on.

That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the system enough to do anything different, certainly not enough to speak out about it. Image matters more than substance. When Wendy claims to be thrilled about the "progress" report on the LEAD schools, nobody on the board asks her why she didn't try that eight years ago. When the Cambridge group or the IDE comes to SSHS for their status review, she tries to impress them with $100,000 of new carpeting.

Maybe if Thomas Smith had recarpeted Wayne, he would still have his job.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy new year and principal at Wayne

Although he was seen packing up his office two weeks ago, FWCS is still not commenting on Thomas Smith's departure from Wayne HS. The Sentinel's story the other day pretty much made it "official". How swapping the principals at two failing high schools was ever going to work in the first place is still a mystery. Apparently only Pamela Martin Diaz, the lone board member to vote against the switch, was astute enough to see what would happen. The rest, who have been fooled more than once, figured Wendy knew best.

The question now is whether Carlton Mable will survive at South Side. There's very little chance he can actually do better but it may be more a question of putting on a better front for the consultant, Cambridge, than Mr. Smith was able to do. Consultants are not your friends, as Smith apparently failed to realize. They can sink you. And although Mable has been anointed by FWCS, we'll see if Cambridge can see through it.