Don’t placate us, fix our schools!

Don’t placate us, fix our schools!

This week I attended a launch meeting of the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign, a collaboration aimed at enhancing student academic achievement by focusing on helping educators. I ended up arriving half way through, but made it in time for the Q & A session. Here’s one question from a parent that really stood out for me.

This parent stated that she is afraid to send her child to her local public schools in Lithonia and pays to send her child to private Christian school. She wants to know what she should do? (Basically, your schools suck, what are you going to do about it?)

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The panelists were Valarie Wilson, head of GA School Board Association; Tyler Barr – head of GA PTA, and Dr. Beasley who is a DeKalb Schools administrator. Beasley replied by noting that schools are a reflection of our community and we should work to get to know our principals. Which I agree with – if the principal is willing to work with parents (unlike former Avondale Elem principal who reined for 10 years!)

He mentioned that we have a great school choice program in DeKalb, basically saying that if you don’t like your school, no problem, go pick one of the others. Problem with that is – parents have to provide their own transportation. What if it isn’t possible for this parent to drop off and pick up at a school across the county?

Basically, he never answered the question. He never admitted any wrong doing, or fault on behalf of the county. This is one of the reasons charter schools are popular, especially in underserved areas. They offer a choice that may not be too far away for a parent to provide transportation. They offer a choice to parents who are otherwise forced to send their child to a private school and pay out of pocket.

There are stories like this all over the state, the country and we are paying them lip service by no fixing those schools. Here is the parent comment from a former post of mine on this topic:

She is entering Kindergarten next year. It’s too late for her to go to a public charter school to get picked for the lottery. The schools around one of her homes (she has 3—long story, don’t ask) is BAD, the school around her other home is WORSE and the school around her last home is THE WORST. She’s a smart kid and I only want the best for her. Private school isn’t a viable option at this point.

We need to do better.



Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Just read this great article by a parent who works in a public charter school. Charter schools are not immune to the problems of traditional public schools – But you also can’t

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read this article and proclaim traditional charters are superior. Please focus on the content of the article, about parents making choices for their own kids.

These are two former blogs about this very topic – what parents decide for their own kids:

When the only option is a failing school & Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

This article is written by a parent working in the same school her own child attended.

My 8-year-old daughter’s class was chaotic after her first-year teacher got married in Chicago and then relocated to Texas after Christmas break. It was hard enough to bring on a new teacher in the middle of the year, but the situation was only exacerbated when the replacement teacher was also brand new to the profession. (In fairness, my daughter’s class of 28 students was difficult to manage even for more experienced teachers. Teachers had to tap into their inner guru each and every day.)

My administration was trying to work with the replacement teacher, but it was painful for me to watch professional development attempts being made for a novice teacher who was in full crisis mode. Assurances from my school leaders that, with more instructional coaching, the class would gradually get better in time, fell flat with me. It was now February—how much more time could my child afford?

The complacency that the administration goes through in keeping this teacher, or hiring her in the first place. I talked a little bit about how teacher education needs to be improved in this blog but I am tired of administrations doing what they can to help (even if it’s ineffective) and settling for that being the best they can do. We need all of our kids to have an excellent education and large part of that is a great teacher.

My kid wasn’t ambivalent; she knew what she wanted. In fact, she begged me to transfer her out of the school that she had once loved. Even at 8, she was willing to say goodbye to all her friends to gain a sense of emotional safety and sanity.

I love my school and count many of my colleagues as my friends. The teachers (including my daughter’s former teachers) work extremely hard, and it’s obvious that they care about the students. And since it’s a charter school, parents like me feel fortunate that our kids’ names were pulled from the lottery and granted admission. I’ve often lamented that all kids and parents don’t have access to good schools like this one, district or charter.

But now I found myself contemplating the unthinkable—transferring my little girl out.

Parents are dealing with these struggles every day. Charter or traditional public school we need to make sure that every child has an effective teacher. I keep saying that our kids aren’t going to get those days of lost education back. We need to care right now about getting the best kids in the classroom.

The mom continues…

Last week, a colleague passed on a powerful article about the author Doug Lemov, who wrote “Teach Like a Champion,” to my principal, who then passed it on to me. These bits from the article gave me peace about the decision I made:

The evidence suggests that a child at a bad school taught by a good teacher is better off than one with a bad teacher at a good school. The benefits of having been in the class of a good teacher cascade down the years; the same is true of the penalty for having had a bad teacher.

In 1992, an economist called Eric Hanushek reached a remarkable conclusion by analyzing decades of data on teacher effectiveness: a student in the class of a very ineffective teacher—one ranked in the bottom 5 percent—will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year, whereas if she was in the class of a very effective teacher—in the top 5 percent—she would learn a year and a half’s worth of material. In other words, the difference between a good and a bad teacher is worth a whole year.

Here you go. Evidence that our kids are literally loosing out by not having a great teacher. Parents are left with very few options if they feel their child is not getting an adequate education. And sometimes they choose another school, yet they shouldn’t have to. While education theorists and unions and the media are criticizing themselves daily, our nation’s kids are sitting in classrooms with ineffective teachers. We need to spend more time “on the ground” with kids and teachers and less time in the ivory towers of “theory” and “rhetoric.”

The mom ends:

It means that if any one of my students’ parents were to have insight into the day-to-day happenings in the school or classroom the way I am privy to it as a staff member, would they trust that their child was getting the absolute best education possible?

In other words, it means that educators need to approach our practice with the same diligence we would have if our own biological child sat in every single class.

My household operates on a tight budget, so the $700 a month private school tuition bill I now have to pay really hurts. But now that my little girl is excited about learning again and is able to focus in class, I realize that the cost of the status quo was way more expensive.

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

We all have a stake in education and deserve a voice

My first thought when I read this article by Education Post was to come out guns a-blazzing for the public to have input in education issues. When I read one of the first supporting links, I’ve come to a slightly different feeling.

In this The Educator’s Room post, the teacher is simply stating that teachers want to see more of themselves in leadership positions. I would argue that the opportunities aren’t readily accessible or teachers don’t try hard enough to get those opportunities. I had an idea of starting an institute that would coach and train teachers to run for office. I think effective teachers carry many of the qualities of a great public official, but so few end up going in that direction. And honestly, unions have not been helping to make these opportunities possible or maybe there would be fewer complaints about how there is never a teacher to provide input.

It could be that teachers are just tired, and don’t have the energy to pursue something different. Their teacher salaries don’t allow for a huge savings that you could campaign without working and still pay your bills. Teachers are more generically also women who traditionally carry multiple roles in their household in addition to teacher, wife, mother, care giver…etc. I want to make those opportunities more available to teachers.

However, to follow the author of the Education Post piece, yes I think that non-teachers are often criticized and left out of important discussions about education.

The first is that we, tax payers are paying for the schools, and we should have say in whether we are satisfied with the results or not.

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As parents,  we have a right to make sure our child is in the best possible school for him or her. We want and deserve to have choices. We see how school affects our kids and that feedback is valuable. How parents feel about the school and the staff is valuable.

Student have a tremendous amount of feedback that we rarely, if ever listen to. This is their education. They need to have a say in what works for them and what can be done differently. That doesn’t mean you give in to silly things, but talking with students to get that one or two tidbit that you didn’t know that would really make a difference for them.

Other people with related skills should be able to consult on those skills – such as finance, human resources, health, counseling, management – many items that teachers often may not.

I’m not over here telling you what should be in the English curriculum. But I can tell you that the high school graduates we need should be able to do x,y, and z. I know from my own personal experience that I didn’t learn how to write anything but a simple research paper in all of high school. And I never understood why I didn’t get a high grade in 12th grade English. By the time I got to college I realized I lack certain writing skills and worked to build them.

But I can tell you that many students are not engaging with traditional curriculum and I think they would perform better and be more engaged with all electives based classes with intentional ways of developing English skills. Model UN doesn’t have to be an after school program, or just an elective. It could be regular class where you learn history, writing skills, public speaking skills, strategy, team work, and responsibility. And it’s a real entity of the World that brings real world experience right to students. Why can’t you have gardening classes where you can learn science, math and incorporate a reading and writing element. I learned more in my “elective” history classes than I ever did in my required classes.

These are common observances that all people have and they all have a right to express them and others should listen and take that into account. When the public has questions about the school department budget, they have as much responsibility as a tax payer as the person who wrote the budget to ensure it’s spent well.

Personally, I have a Master’s in school counseling. I interned at an at-risk middle school in Worcester to specifically have that experience to learn from. You know a good teacher when you see one and who know those who are just biding their time. The biggest revelation I had was that no matter if I spent 30 minutes counseling a student, he/she was just going to have to return to 7 hours of subpar teaching. my work would probably be erased in the first 30 minutes. These kids need to be rescued from their own school. I felt like they were just required by law to be there and everyone is just going through the motions. These are experiences that are worth while that deserve to be heard.

I try to stay in my “camp” if you will when I make suggestions, but my 60-credit masters in school counseling gave me much greater knowledge of psychology and how students and adults learn than many teachers received training in. I may not be qualified to contribute in a curriculum way, but the implementation and how students learn is something that I know about. Differentiated learning is very important. Looking at a student and working to discover what emotionally, academically or physically is holding him back, before you discipline, assume that the student “doesn’t want to learn”, send to the principal’s office…and the rest of the menu of discipline. If you treat kids like animals, they will most certainly act like animals.

Career and college guidance. That is a whole other story. Schools are doing very little if any college and career guidance. Not in middle school where it needs to be and not with every child in high school. Schools need to admit they are not accomplishing these goals and make sure that utilize community resources to do so. And you HAVE to start in middle school if you have any hope of the student starting 9th grade on the right foot. All the resources being poured into high schools are completing missing the beginning of the pipeline.


Parents deserve a voice, but also must not abuse it

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Parents and by extension students absolutely need a voice in their child’s education. Parents need access to principals, teachers, staff, district personnel, school program staff, clinicians – and yet also must not abuse the power or access. For every teacher that complains about uninvolved parents, there is another teacher complaining that the parents are getting too involved in school process and overly pushing their agenda on the school or their child.  We must be able to create and implement policies for parents that embrace the tentative parents and yet still provide some boundaries and structure for the overly involved parents.

That said, we need to spend much more time conveying information to parents in ways that they can access and understand. My biggest solution to this is to have outreach workers or organizers in the community communicating with parents. One of the biggest shortfalls I’ve seen recently is the use of a parent center. It’s a great idea and allows a space for parents to come into the school, utilize computers, volunteer in the school and gain important information they need to know to best advocate for their children. However, how many parents attend the parent center each year, out of all the parents of all your students? Usually it is a very small portion. And the money you have spent on a Parent Liaison goes to person who basically must manage the parent center onsite. The liaison likely rarely has the opportunity to leave the building and fully engage with parents. Better yet, create a part-time position and hire a strong parent in your community to do the community outreach work to bring parents into the school for more information.

Parents are a school’s greatest potential partner. They can have the greatest impact on a students home life that translates into success at school. But rarely do parents have the information they need or their own education experience to know how they should best work with their child at home. Parents need to know everything from how to start engaging their youngest in educational activities to prepare for preschool to what classes their child needs to successfully apply to college. Most parents don’t know much about how Title 1 works. I’ve long thought that when parents come for a Title 1 meeting that the facilitator break the group into smaller groups and utilize the staff to explain Title 1 in a more intimate setting where parents can ask questions and learn about the information in a more conducive setting.

In DeKalb County, I hear a great deal of parents discussing issues they’ve had with schools. How they have reached out the the administrator they were instructed to contact and never heard back. If I decide to run for school board, strengthening parents relations with the district will be really me important to me. I’d like to propose some kind of community committee, or committee of school staff/personnel who have the time to receive parent concerns and address them as needed. One of the first steps to rebuilding our schools through communities to build relationships with parents.

Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

In response to this post about AL moving towards charters: AEA spews lies in response to “School Choice” March, I received this comment:

“…By the way, the people who decided to send their kids to a private school chose to do that, oftentimes not because the school was “failing”, but because of too many black people. Their choice to abandon public for private is their choice, but they shouldn’t get a voucher for it. Afterall, they are the one’s who turned their back on the local community, rather than fighting for it. As someone in the Dekalb Democratic Party you ought to know that racism is usually a determining factor when kids are sent to private school. The same will happen with charters. The domino affect means fewer good kids in public schools and what’s left will continue to drag society down rather than good people finding a real solution. Really it’s laziness on their part and people like you who just run away from the problems, opening schools that “get away” from the less fortunate, and closing schools they “don’t like anymore”. Seriously, it’s downward spiral once kids start abandoning a school, but you know this. Frankly, it’s astounding your arguments here and that you consider yourself a democrat…”

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1. I never mentioned race, you did. So I would have to say it is you who is the racist one against black people because your mind went there.

2. Parents send their children to private or charter schools for a variety of reasons – avoiding an underperforming school, religious or educational style preference, or personal experience just to name a few.  I believed that one major concern with “vouchers”  was that money could be sent to a religious school and that is a conflict of church and state. But it makes sense that the money should follow the child wherever the parents decide is best for them. Educational style differences such as The Met in Providence or even the Waldorf school or Sudbury School here in Atlanta are all reasons why parents may choose another school. Traditional Public schools do not generally offer these alternative, hands on, democratically arranged school curriculum so parents would have to send their children elsewhere.

3. Turned their back on the community? What about principals like here in my feeder pattern who would only allow parental involvement on HER terms and pushed soo many parents away that they created their own charter school practically next door. What about school administrators who don’t fire ineffective teachers and principals, or just move them around? How does that serve the community? When we graduate students who are not equipped to lead successful lives and therefore end up in a life many would not consider positively contributing to society – the schools were a big part of that result. And you are concerned that parents turned their backs?

4. I was talking with a teacher friend of mine who if getting her PhD and currently works running a program to assist with suspended and frequently offending students in schools. She admitted that if she lived in an underperforming school district, that she would send her child to another school, but would still work within the community to make that community school better. That’s a beautiful act to take – however, if you are a single parent, or even a two parent household with multiple jobs/kids, it maybe all you can do to manage relationships at your children’s actual school. It could prove difficult to split time between a school your kids do attend and the neighborhood school.

5. Again, who is the racist one, who doesn’t believe in the capacity of students? You state that when we take the “good kids” out of the poor schools the schools just get worse and will drag society down. The only thing that determines how well a school does are the students and teachers in the school. Has nothing to do with the students who are not there. The money follows the child and that is the same everywhere.

6. Everything you say sounds good in theory. The problem is, when a parent is faced with what they should do with their child in the moment – its going to be what is best, not necessarily what is best for the community. Parents have a responsibility first to their child, not the community. Parents choose other schools not to diminish the community but to do their best to offer their child a quality education. Kids don’t have any time to waste. Every minute that they spend in an underperforming school is a school day the child will never get back. There is more on this posted here: Democrats are cavalier about students.

Parents rally at Alabama Capitol for school choice

Hundreds of people participate in a National School Choice Week rally as they make their way up the sidewalk along Dexter avenue to the Alabama State Capitol, Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015, in Montgomery, Ala. Parents and students rallied on the lawn of the Alabama Capitol Wednesday, urging state politicians to provide more publicly funded education options.(AP Photo/Hal Yeager)

Hundreds of people participate in a National School Choice Week rally as they make their way up the sidewalk along Dexter avenue to the Alabama State Capitol, Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015, in Montgomery, Ala. Parents and students rallied on the lawn of the Alabama Capitol Wednesday, urging state politicians to provide more publicly funded education options.(AP Photo/Hal Yeager)

 In this last post, Alabama Educators Association helping or hurting students? it was noted that only 54% of African American boys are graduating in Alabama.  A  recent study reported:

WalletHub study recently ranked the state’s school systems the third-worst in the nation. Only Mississippi and the District of Columbia were worse.

WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of this year’s best and worst school systems, using a dozen key metrics, including dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates to assess the quality of education in each state. It ranked Alabama 49th overall.

In this post, AEA spews lies in response to “School Choice” March, it is clear that the union thinks more money will fix the problem and they support the status quo – 49th in education and 54% graduation rate for African American boys. 

Parents want change, legislators want change, but union leaders don’t. Remember, union leaders represent teachers – not kids, or parents, or communities. And they buy legislators to keep their pockets full. 

Last Wednesday, chanting and carrying signs saying, “School Choice Now,” parents and students rallied on the lawn of the Alabama Capitol on Wednesday urging state politicians to provide more publicly funded education options.

The school choice rally came as Republicans prepare to make a push for charter schools in the upcoming legislative session. House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, speaking during the event, promised to pass the legislation in the session that begins in March.

Hubbard said too many parents are forced each morning to send their children to schools that aren’t the best fit for their children.

“They deserve access to good quality education, whether public or private, no matter where they live, no matter their zip code … no matter their income,” Hubbard said.

Dalphne Wilson of Montgomery said the Accountability Act scholarship lets her send her daughter to a private Catholic school that her son already attended.

Wilson said she thought the teachers at her daughter’s previous public school were doing the best they could, but they were dealing with myriad challenges every day, including unmotivated students.

“Now, she’s surrounded by high expectations,” Wilson said.

We need to work on helping to motivate our students better through school counseling and practices that engage our students at high levels. But until that time comes, parents need options today, right now, to send their children to school that work for them. Every single day a student doesn’t receive the education he/she deserves and needs is a wasted day of education that these kids will never regain. 

The crowd was made up of primarily African-American families. Duncan Kirkwood, director at Alabama Black Alliance for Educational Options, said too often minority students are zoned for schools that have historically underperformed.

“Every child has a different need and parents, even if they don’t have access to money, should have access to options,” said Kirkwood said.

In perhaps a preview of the legislative fights past and future, marchers passed by the Alabama Education Association building where a group waved signs in counter protest. The state teachers’ organization has been at odds for the past four years with the education policies pushed by the new GOP-supermajority. AEA officials said public school funds are too limited in Alabama to be drained off to private schools or new charter schools.

“Parents can choose to send their children to faith-based schools. They can choose to send their children to private schools. We don’t ask the taxpayers to fund that choice,” AEA President Anita Gipson said.

Diverting money from public schools to private hands…you what really strikes me about that? Parents who send their kids to a non public school are still paying their fare share of the taxes to support public schools their kids are not attending. That’s like saying, “Oh, I gave you a defective car? Oh I’m sorry, but you need to finish paying for that car and buy a new one, there is just nothing else I can do if you want to have a car to drive.” While not all charter schools are successful, plenty of them are. Parents clearly want choices. Alabama is about to give it to them. 

It’s Not About You, It’s About the Kids

I am so sick and tired of hearing that “xyz” person doesn’t have teaching experience, or is a “non-educator” and therefore can’t possibly have a worthwhile view on the education of our kids.

We are not applying for teaching jobs. We are not writing curriculum (standards are not curriculum). We do however, pay for education and that comes with the responsibility to ensure our money is spent effectively.

Every single person in this country helps to pay for education. Every single person has the right to question if their money is being spent properly, when the results they see are not ideal.

If you were having your car worked on and upon receiving it back to you were unsure of the proper operation of the car. Would you just say, ‘Oh well, I am not a mechanic, so it must be fine, who am I to question the professional?” Or would you go back to the mechanic, explain what you noticed differently, how it is not performing as you expected and could you explain in detail what you did to fix my car and confirm that everything was done correctly? Maybe you would just go to another mechanic instead?

Parents and students (who may not be education professionals) are the first impacted by their or their kids education. They have a pretty good idea whether they are getting what they need and want out of their schools. When they ask questions it should be taken as a sign that they are invested in their education, not as an affront to the system. They are looking for an explanation, and a change of course, they are not recommending a specific course of action.

I may say to the mechanic, “Is there any other way to fix this problem? Any other strategies to complete this repair? Could it be part of a larger issue I should have addressed?” I wouldn’t be suggesting a specific repair strategy, but asking the questions I would need in order to assess my results and options.

Anti-reformers need to stop taking questions personally and understand that it’s really ACTUALLY personal for the student and his/her parent. Every single day that a student is not receiving the education they need is a waste of tax payer dollars, a waste of everyone’s time and education instructional time that the student will never regain.

For taxpayers, for business, for everyone else in the community paying for education – everyone has a right to ask questions and demand results for their money. If the county water system was pumping out infected water, surely residents would be in an uproar about it. Not only is the water paid for by taxes, but it is a public health concern. And it would be fixed immediately (hopefully). Now, is it the whole city government’s fault? no. Is it maybe one person’s fault? or a couple of people? maybe. Will they be trained better or some other change? Probably.

So why is it that anti-reformers take it so personally when anyone, students, parents, taxpayers, question how a school is performing? Why are we getting the results we are? What else can be done to change the performance of our students? Is there another school I can send my child to? These are VALID questions for tax payers who are paying for schools and students who need to be able to rely on their education to allow them to be competitive in today’s market. Businesses need qualified workers.

The answer is in the constituency. The public education system as a whole is responsible to tax payers, citizens, students, parents, communities…etc. but they are commingled with education professionals who have a constituency to teachers (and union dues) ONLY. So how can the public get a straight, respectful answer from education professionals with such conflicting constituencies?