Mystery Education Theater 3000

Month: October 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Status of Ward Elections Campaign

As I reported before, we have a group working on reforming the school district at a fundamental level, primarily, at this point, through working towards a system of ward elections for school board members. Our organizing effort was distracted somewhat by the failed parcel tax campaign, but we are still moving along. The next milestone is the completion of a proposed map for the petition to establish ward elections. This should be done by the end of the month. Then I’ll be back with more news.

Article about WCCUSD: "Academic coaches to fill teacher shortage"

This Contra Costa Times article can be read at one level as my school district, WCCUSD, taking a common sense approach to a desperate problem of a shortage of teachers. The coaches themselves are a controversial issue. Having teaching coaches could theoretically be a good thing, but in the past these coaches have often acted as education “commissars” creating more annoyance than enlightenment. It’s good to see them actually being put to useful work.

The text that leapt out at me, though, was this:

“Like other Bay Area school districts, West Contra Costa has struggled to find enough qualified, credentialed teachers, particularly in math and science.”

The conclusion some people will draw from this article is that teachers should be paid more in general. That may be true, but I also think it’s important to break out of the one-size-fits-all salary model for teacher pay. There is an even greater shortage of math and science teachers, so pay them more in bonuses or salary base. This is different from the merit or performance pay ideas that are wrongly being considered as part of the NCLB renewal process by the Bush administration. This would be a pragmatic measure to fill a gap.

Article: Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

This recent NY Times article is not directly related to education, but it’s still relevant because: (1) It highlights exactly how baloney “research” truths are constructed. I particularly like the concept of the “cascade.” (2) The topic itself is about one of the newer goals foisted on our public education system, a system so well-known for achieving its previous goals.

NCLB Op-Ed: "Get Congress Out of the Classroom"

One of my favorite writers on education, Diane Ravitch, recently had an op-ed published in the New York Times about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. What’s interesting in her take on this is to look at part of NCLB’s failure as a failure in how federalism should work. Her suggestion is to make the federal role one of defining a common base of information that the states can use in how they run their own school systems. If states want to adopt the millenarian Second Coming approach to education, they could do it on their own, but without being able to blame the federal government.

School District Has Dress Code, and Is Buying the Uniforms, Too

I have never been much of a fan of school uniform policies. It really has very little do with anything productive being done in the schools (especially considering that the the main focus is usually at the elementary school level). It’s more a bone to throw to an element of parents and the public that looks at schools as a place to fight out something like the Culture Wars. (To me, the definitive guide to this issue is The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us about American Education: A Symbolic Crusade – David L. Brunsma.)

One of the stumbling blocks for school uniforms is the issue of whether it imposes financial hardship on parents. In the New Jersey district described in this New York Times article, School District Has Dress Code, and Is Buying the Uniforms, Too, this issue has been stood on its head. The School District has turned this obstacle into a supposed benefit of the policy, not just to mandate a particular kind of clothing, but to provide the clothing as a perk.

This is a problem at two levels. One issue is the cost and another issue is the appropriate function of school.

The cost is stated as $2 million so far. At the same time, school authorities blithefully assure parents that “it wasn’t money being taken away from instruction.” What? This money is being taken from the general fund for the District. Anything taken out of this fund by definition cannot be used for anything that could be funded like instruction. What exactly would they have done with the $2 million otherwise? Rebate it to the State of New Jersey or buy TV ads to explain what a great job they are doing? In a time when education groups constantly complain about being underfunded, what does something like this say?

The other issue concerns the function of the school. A school is a special purpose government agency. Not many people would consider schools as a whole to be completely successful in their more traditional educational role. Scope creep beyond this is inappropriate especially when you consider the availability of an existing social welfare apparatus extending from the Federal to the County levels and on to private efforts. Schools should definitely cooperate with these other services, but the focus for the schools should be on accomplishing their specific educational goals.

Note: WCCUSD is mentioned in this article as spending $49,000 from its budget last year.

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