I will try to be brief, which at times, can be a challenge for me.
I believe that all considerations to improve educational opportunities and achievements are well intentioned. I have read what I can on the issues including your letter of April 27, 2011. Some changes may have merit. But, I strongly believe, that this one, large program will not fix the numerous problems many school districts face.
With all due respect, I believe your proposal is an example of “killing an ant with a cannon” and killing it quickly.
I am a parent of a child in the Bloomfield Hills Schools District, and my child has benefited greatly from a wonderful educational and social experience. There are a variety of programs available to him from a committed staff and administration. These benefits have been provided by a locally controlled system where each school is empowered. Here are some of my thoughts/concerns/questions on this issue.
1. My first concern with the proposed changes is that success is always more challenging with multiple layers. An entrepreneurial environment, to
the extent it can exist in an educational setting would be ideal. Problems
can be identified and quickly addressed. I am not proposing that some
accountability and State oversight be abolished. However, I don’t believe
a state controlled school system with multiple layers is the most effective
approach to educational reform. How effective has multiple layers worked
at the Federal level? On anything for that matter? BHSD has been able to
respond to our student and parent community effectively. I suggest you look
at our model of empowerment and direct accountability and try to replicate
it in the districts that are failing.
2. In your letter you mention that change does not have to create adversaries. I agree. But there has not been true transparency with this initiative (I hope you have not changed the definition of ‘transparency’ to match that of our current federal administration.) Your letter states input was received from educators, education associations, business leaders, etc. Conspicuously absent in this list were the parents. In fact, parents were not even mentioned until page 12 of your letter. From the beginning, the communications about this plan should have been open for review and discussion. This discussion should have included the reason(s) why districts were failing with data to back it up. It also should have included a well thought out action plan for each recommendation with data as to why/how this plan will fix the problems. The potential problems and roadblocks also should have been listed. I learned many years ago that unless you have thought about what could go wrong, you haven’t really thought through the problem.
3. I agree it is unacceptable that less than 50% of our students are proficient in writing in grades 4-7. It is equally unacceptable that 70% of Michigan 4th graders scored below the proficient reading level of the NAEP. I’m sure there are many reasons for this. Evaluating educational success and failure is a challenge. I have to ask, “What role do video games and TV play in this?” Are kids today too focused on these and not spending adequate time to develop and reinforce the reading and writing skills taught in the classroom? Until you understand why this failure has occurred you will not know how to fix it.
4. I agree teachers need more support. I appreciate how difficult their job
is. I agree with most of the “wish list.” However, there is one large area
that, I believe, is overlooked. Parental support for the teacher. Based on
my volunteer classroom experience and other child related organizations,
I believe that if students showed respect, demonstrated good behavior
and were prepared for classwork, then more successful instruction could
take place. I am not referring to students who have special needs. I am
referring to the “basic kid” who does not behave in class. Note to parents:
I am not saying ALL kids. But many of us have had this discussion. It is
often the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to mention. We have far
too many students who do not show respect for their teacher and are not
prepared for class. How much more could a teacher accomplish and “live
their passion” if they had undivided attention and a prepared student? How
does a government program, state or federal, address this issue? How do you
5. As to your comment that ” the single most decisive factor in student
achievement is excellent teaching.” I agree, to a point. Hopefully the details
in this area have been closely studied in the other countries that outperform
us in education. Again, I think parent participation; holding students to high
expectations/standards and respect are also critical factors.
6. Evaluating teachers. Based on conversations and debates on testing,
I’m not sure we have an agreed upon way to effectively evaluate student
achievement and growth. Until we do, I am just fine with testing. If a student
answers the questions correctly, then he/she has learned something. Simple
enough. I do acknowledge that not all kids test well. I certainly did not. My
keys to success were hard work, motivation and involved parents. Neither
parent went to college and only one graduated from high school. Both came
from single parent homes. But they understood the value of education and
respected my teachers. Your goal is to require effectiveness of at least 40%
based on student achievement. How do you hold the teacher accountable to
that extent for students who don’t test well, aren’t motivated and have little
or no family/home support?
7. Longer school year. If you want a student’s input, my son thinks you’re crazy and his head will explode if he has to go year round. He wants to move. But my opinion is that there has been much talk and research about kids needing down time and time just “to be kids.” I believe this could adversely affect social intelligence, which plays a large role in a child’s success. Maybe a month of vacation could be a compromise and save family vacations. There are a lot of days and weeks off during the school year as it is.
8. Please slow down. There are many logistics that still need to be worked
out and many unanswered questions. I am hopeful that this is not a case
of “we need to pass the bill so we will know what’s in it.” This is a massive
undertaking. You admit it will take 5 years to implement. That is without
any (that I know of) admission of potential roadblocks/problems. Also,
what happens to our children when there is leadership change and the
new governor wants to do away with the whole initiative? What is the
effect of this educational instability on our children? If it will take 5 years
to implement, at least take 5 months (preferably more) to examine this
proposal with input from all stakeholders including the districts in crisis and those that are not.
My bottom line is that I am not against changes in our educational system. My
school district has been able to make the necessary changes to anticipate the needs of its students in an ever-changing world. BHSD is not broken. Children, no matter where they live, deserve the best education. And delivering on that promise will take a well thought out and thoroughly tested plan for the districts that need it the most.
I agree with your point that “it is time to stop the benign acceptance of non-
performance” but only for those districts in crisis. Focus on those first, see how the program works, work out the “bugs” and then role out to others, but only as needed. Slow down. Invite input from all involved. Manage the process. And please, don’t kill an ant with a cannon.
The viewpoints in this letter are those of the writer, and Patch is not responsible for any ideas portrayed as facts. For questions and clarifications, please leave a comment below or contact editor Art Aisner at Art.Aisner@patch.com.