By Laurie H. Rogers
When our school administrators speak to the public, we often hear one or more of the following:
- Blaming of others – Typical targets include teachers, parents, students, poverty, and a (fake) lack of money.
- Deceitful presentation of student outcomes – They’ll speak glowingly of some stray statistic that supposedly shows them in a slightly more positive light, but which also depends on the public not knowing the entire truth of it.
- Astonishing ignorance or accidental honesty. Sometimes the truth comes out of them – in shocking or comical ways.
- Requests for more money, on the heels of low student achievement. As pass rates go down, the expense per student continues to increase.
- New policy that will serve their ulterior purpose, but which will make life more difficult for students, parents and teachers.
(No one takes actual minutes, which would have to include parent questions and concerns.)
- Teachers had the freedom to teach and supplement as they deem necessary
- Teachers weren’t constantly pulled out of classrooms for non-academic activities
- Teachers’ professional development contained real content
- The district’s choice of instructional materials were sufficient and dependable
- Principals had the freedom to allot money, modify curriculum, and hire and fire as they see fit.
- Staci Vesneske said teachers might be awarded that freedom if they hit the top tier of the evaluation system. (Answer #1)
- I asked, What if they need that freedom in order to hit the top tier? She said teachers already have academic freedom. (Answer #2)
- I persisted: Will teachers gain academic freedom? She said it will all come down to collective bargaining. (Answer #3)
All school employees should be assessed based on achievable, measurable goals. Considering the heavy boot our administrators place on district employees, it seems fair that upper-level administrators be assessed partly on student outcomes. (If they were, most would be fired.) Our superintendent's own evaluation is done by the school board. Our board directors use a “summative evaluation” form for her that is so general and vague, their evaluation must be based largely on opinion.
Nancy Stowell, Spokane superintendent, seems happy about the district’s “improved” graduation rates. But here are missing pieces she neglects to mention.
Students don't have to pass a state math test to graduate from high school. They don't need to know much grammar, pass a state science test or know how to write in cursive. Sure, they’re allowed to leave, but college remedial rates consistently indicate serious and widespread gaps in knowledge – particularly in basic mathematics and grammar.
Additionally, her “improved” numbers don’t include families that chose to transfer out. Full-time enrollment in SPS dropped by about 2,650 (net) from 2003 to May 2010. A 2008 district survey indicated that about 33% of those who left did it mostly because of the curriculum. (The survey excludes students who went to a private school.) The district didn’t publicly release the survey; I heard about it and asked for a copy.
Increased expense for unproved programs
Taxpayers pay for scads of district and community programs devoted to reducing dropout rates and increasing on-time graduation rates. As district expenditures skyrocket, parents are still staring at students’ low pass rates, high dropout rates, high rates of college remediation, and low levels of basic skills.
- Weird. The state always said the percentage of teachers' evaluation that would be based on student outcomes would be just a small part of the total assessment. Fifty percent doesn’t seem small.
- But Dr. Stowell said Washington State isn’t “going in that direction,” anyway, so she’s trying to work in the 50% herself, by bargaining with the teachers union.
At its April 27 meeting, the Spokane school board voted 4-1 to have the option to increase district class sizes by up to three students. Along with adjustments for declines in enrollment, this vote reportedly also could result in the elimination of 90 full-time teaching positions. How would this help students, parents and teachers? Well, it wouldn’t.
On the district Web site, Dr. Stowell explains the need for cuts: “Over the past 10 years, facing enrollment decline and state funding challenges, our district has already made tens of millions of dollars in cuts to programs and support staff, leaving us with no easy ‘fixes’ outside of the classroom to solve this budget challenge.”
- Overall expenditures for Spokane Public Schools increased, from $252 million in 2004-2005 to $298 million in 2009-2010.
- Per-student expenditures increased, from $8,158 in 2004-2005 to $10,406 in 2009-2010.
- Enrollment decreased, from 30,923 in 2004-2005 to 28,712 in 2009-2010.
- The district’s on-time graduation rate decreased, from 85.1% in 2004-2005 to 62.1% in 2009-2010.
Rogers, L. (April 2011). "Good golly, our schools desperately need new leadership." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
A version of this article was published May 2, 2011, on EducationNews.org at: http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/opinions_on_education/155271.html