Monday, February 28, 2011

That was my letter, at least most of it

I saw my letter to the editor on school reform in the JG today. I've written a number of them over the years. Surprisingly enough they have all been printed, although not always as I wrote them. Today's version was considerably shorter than what I wrote but I have to say it didn't change the essence of my thoughts, most of which were pretty well preserved.

My experience at my former high school, which included a year of tutoring in algebra classes after trying unsuccessfully to teach as a substitute, started my frustration with FWCS. The score at SSHS on last year's End of Course Exams (19% passing in math, omitted from the letter) show that, if anything, the situation is getting worse and meaningful reforms are not coming from within. Yet the official line from the board and administration continues to defy the reality in the classrooms. The reality is bad enough. The hypocrisy just compounds it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

FWEA "defiant" toward new legislation

Sounding much like past UAW president Ron Gettlefinger defying the new reality at GM (we know how that ended), FWEA and ISTA officials set a "defiant tone" (arrogant would be a better word) against the Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction at Northrop HS. FWEA president Al Jaquay bemoaned that teachers were being "blamed for all the ills of public education". A more accurate assessment would be that teachers' unions are being blamed. ISTA president Nate Snellenberger said he's getting the "cold shoulder of disrespect" from legislators. After decades of paying off Democrats to do their bidding, did he and the ISTA expect hugs and kisses from Republicans?

Snellenberger also said pending legislation would set back public education 40 years. If only that were true. I could still be proud of my former high school. But the demographics changed, teachers unionized, FWCS lost flexibility and couldn't adapt.

The prospects in the legislature are sobering because, as Steve Brace put it "we're fighting against ideas for change". Well, we certainly wouldn't expect those ideas to come from FWEA. Unless they involved remodeling the buildings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

HB 1003 spells out school voucher proposal

Indiana's school voucher bill , HB 1003 was submitted by Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, head of the House Committee on Education. The bill would allow any student who has attended a public school for at least two semesters to apply for a taxpayer funded voucher to an accredited private school, including faith based schools. The amount of the voucher is determined by family income. Transportation is not provided. Private schools would not be required to alter their admission policies or curriculum but would be required to administer the state test to all students and receive letter grades as do government schools. There is no limit on the number of vouchers that can be given, although it's estimated that existing private schools, could accommodate about 20,000 students.

Naturally urban districts would be most affected by vouchers. Suburban parents are not the ones clamoring for alternatives through vouchers and charter schools. The country's biggest voucher program has been in existence in Milwaukee (the Viagra district) since 1989 affecting about 20,000 students. A study published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claims that there is no appreciable difference in student achievement between those accepting the vouchers and those staying in the public system. Graduation rates were higher by 18% and overall cost to Wisconsin (but not Milwaukee) taxpayers is lower. Private schools accepting state funds were not subject to to the same accountability as government school, but that would be changed as part of the effort to expand the program, which is currently limited by law. Parents were said to be happy to have the choice.

Rep. Behner says his aim is to increase competition. Milwaukee public schools are said to have improved slightly with the challenge but there was no information on whether any poorly performing public schools were closed after losing students to private schools, which would be the other goal of providing competion. All in all it doesn't appear that the effect is as dramatic as predicted by both proponents and opponents. Contrary to the claims of the Indiana Teachers Union, this (Daniels) bill is not going to kill the existing public school system.