Guest blogger Kathleen Galotti: My objections to the proposed changes to the school calendar

659-logoI’ll begin this with a letter to the editor I submitted to the Northfield News, which I think is self-explanatory:

On Feb 9 the Northfield School Board entertained two options for next year’s school calendar.  Both involve having a one hour late-start EVERY MONDAY of the year, so that teachers can have the time to meet in professional learning communities.  These meetings would replace the four days that have traditionally been scheduled with 2 hours either late start or early release.  Parents have one month to comment on the proposed calendar.

I strongly object to this change.

First, it will further reduce instructional time for each student.  We already have fewer instructional days (173) than other areas of the country (e.g., the Northeast, which has about 180); now we are chipping away at those fewer days.  We are reminded each year by building principals that every minute of instruction counts.  If true, then reduction in instructional time is a very big issue.

Second, this calendar, while perhaps convenient and congenial to teachers and principals, is problematic for working parents of elementary students.  Working parents are unlikely to be able to stay home until 9 or 9:30 every week with their young children.   They will now have to pay extra to have supervision for their young elementary children (or else leave them unsupervised).  The plan is not “cost-neutral” as claimed by the district, but a new cost imposed unilaterally on parents.

My third objection is that the only options on the table contain this late-start provision.  Parents had no voice in formulating these options, or discussing with the committee what effects this change would have on them.

Lastly, the justification given for this change is that “research” has “shown” that professional learning communities are beneficial for education.  I find this statement vague and possibly misleading.    Our teachers have been in PLCs for at least some time already, and our performance as a school district is heading down, not up.  What exactly is the evidence, IN NORTHFIELD, that PLC’s are improving student experience?

My experience as a parent is that the Northfield school district is a very staff-centric one.  We do (and fail to do) far too much to suit the convenience and preferences of teachers and administrators, instead of centering efforts, energies, and resources on students.  Parental concerns are ignored far too often.   It’s time for this focus to change.

I urge other concerned parents to make their views known to school board members, and to do so soon.

I haven’t yet heard back from the News—usually they publish my letters though sometimes it takes a few weeks.  They also limit letters to 400 words, so there is not a lot of room for expansion.

But as I wrote the letter, and as I phoned and emailed school board members about the issue before writing the letter, I became increasingly clear about how I felt about a larger issue:  The Northfield School district has become increasingly staff-centric, and that compromises the overall educational quality delivered to its students.

I don’t deny that having teachers be in professional learning communities  has value.  I question the relative value of those meetings against instructional time for kids.  I also question why these meetings can’t take place after school or before school (in the case of Bridgewater, which already has a very late start).  I suspect the answer has something to do with the large proportion of teachers who coach.   But that raises the question, why is coaching more important a priority than teaching.  And, coaching aside, I question why the burden of holding these meetings should fall upon families with both parents working outside the home, or single parents who work outside the home (like me).

For more information, see the ISD 659 website has PDF of background information and Frequently Asked Questions.

291 comments to  (Including 6 Discussion Threads) Guest blogger Kathleen Galotti: My objections to the proposed changes to the school calendar

  • 251
    Paul Fried says:

    Kathie (248): You’re breaking the rules for not addressing people directly. Griff prefers for folks to observe that one, among others.

    You also distort my position. I’m not against testing. I don’t think the information standardized tests provide is useless. Never said it. Never will.

    I noted that standardized tests cannot measure all learning. This is a fact, and your argument in favor of a comprehensive parent survey allows for the possitility that this is true. I don’t think you are in disagreement on this point.

    I noted that the push for more testing detracts from classroom instruction time (just as PLC’s do). This is a fact. Do you disagree with this? I have not heard a disagreement from you on this point.

    I noted that more standardized testing, federally mandated by NCLB, has required states to fund much of the cost; unfunded federal mandates that place higher demands on state funding often mean there is less funding to reduce classroom size, or to extend the school year and provide more instructional time. This is also a fact, and it’s simply about money and accounting. The tests are federally mandated. The testing has to be paid for. The money has to come from somewhere. The money could be used for other things, like those things you say you value. My point is not to argue against all testing. You seem to believe (and we seem to agree) that some testing is necessary and helpful, even if that takes away from other possible uses of the funds. Are we really in disagreement on that point?

    The focus of our disagreement, as I tried to describe it, was that instead of using the data from such tests with the kind of care, openness and curiosity that a human scientist might be expected to show, you seem to want to make the data a hammer to be used, potentially, against PLC’s.

    This is not anti-testing.

    For example: Prairie Creek has a good reputation as a local charter school. But they have 6 students who have “stalled” in their growth in reading and math. This might lead a scientist, who is not anti-testing or anti-data, but simply curious, to ask a number of questions:

    1. Are those six students who are not making much progress in math and reading the same six students, or are they different students?
    2. Are some, but not all, of them the same?
    3. If the public school system is deserving of so much criticism as this discussion thread often implies, then why are there more stalled learners in these disciplines at PC than at S or BW, respectively?
    4. Are they stalled because of the classroom and teacher they’re in this year?
    5. Do students who “stall” in their learning progress often cluster in the same classrooms, or in other words, when in the classroom of particular teachers?
    6. Are some of these “stalled” students recent transfers from S, BW or GVP? In other words, might they have been stalled at another school previously, and the reason for their stalling more tied to something unique to the student (nature or nurture, the biological wiring of their brains, their home environment, whatever), and not to the school or teacher?

    Kathie, you are the one who suggested that if PLC’s are working, we should see gains specifically in some of those figures-- the number of “stalled” students, or the “high flyers.” I never said I was against all testing, or against studying the data.

    I simply said that your use of the data as a potential hammer for hitting the nail of PLC’s is not in tune with your biographical-note at the start of this guest blog, describing you as a human scientist. It’s an unscientific use of the data.

    We probably agree on much more than you allow:

    Data can be good.
    Testing can be good.
    Too much testing: Bad.
    Too little testing: Bad.
    Assessment of PLC’s: Good.
    Poor assessment of PLC’s: Bad.

    I assume we agree on all this, but seem to disagree so far on some of the underlying assumptions and finer details.

  • 252
    Paul Fried says:

    Peter: Earlier on this thread, you have compared US public school test scores to those in other countries, and implied that the US schools are perhaps behind because of the teachers and unions.

    I came across a Time magazine from about a year ago (February, I think), which described some of these other countries that are having greater success with their schools. The cover article was titled something like “How to make a better teacher.” There was a short article at the end, examining these other countries.

    It said that in Singapore, the government actively recruits teachers from the top third of the graduating class, they give them extensive training, and they pay them better than physicians.

    In some European countries that are making great improvements in education, they not only recruit from among the most talented prospective students/teachers, but at government cost, they send them to two years of graduate school, and to make life easier on them while they are in graduate school, they give them a living stipend. They also pay them better, on average, than teachers are paid in the US. And they get taxpayer-funded health care, of course, instead of health care paid by the state to some private health insurer.

    In most of these schools that have such high test scores, they make more time in the day or week or school year for teachers to plan lessons together (instead of in isolation from each other), for mentoring, and for teachers to regularly visit the classrooms of other teachers so that they can get ideas for how to teach better.

    This is the sort of interaction, Peter, and Kathie, not unlike that which PLC’s encourage in some ways.

    Kathie, you seem ready to watch test scores like a hawk to be sure that evidence of PLC success shows up there. But the sort of stuff that PLC’s encourage is already working in countries in Europe that have high test scores.

    How long did it take for these measures to work? And can they work in the US without paying teachers better, or actively recruiting future educators from the top third of high school and college graduates? We shall see.

    Peter, it seems that the success you croon about in other countries was achieved by using all the sorts of measures that conservatives would hate to use: Paying teachers better; educating them more at government expense, with a living stipend while they’re in school; paying them to visit one another’s classrooms, and paying for subs while they do it.

    Ray C: I don’t know if anyone in Europe is complaining that these measures are like an extra NEA or coffee break. But they seem to be working there, in those very countries Peter points to, which make the US education system look bad in comparison. You often agree with what Peter says. But are you ready to endorse policies in the US and in MN that have proven successful in other countries, but which go against your anti-union, Republican bias? Gosh, some of these policies sound almost socialist. I s’pose you could not endorse policies like that, even with a proven track record, if they go against your Republican assumptions.

    Well, instead of supporting real education reform, you could always keep talking about merit pay, which wasn’t mentioned in the article as being a part of any of the successful policies in those other countries where education is flourishing.

  • 253
    Peter Millin says:

    Paul,

    Here we go again with blanket statements

    Peter, it seems that the success you
    croon about in other countries was
    achieved by using all the sorts of
    measures that conservatives would hate
    to use: Paying teachers better;
    educating them more at government
    expense, with a living stipend while
    they’re in school; paying them to
    visit one another’s classrooms, and
    paying for subs while they do it.

    Please provide a reference to your accusations??

    You are right about your statement of European and Asian countries.

    In some European countries that are
    making great improvements in
    education, they not only recruit from
    among the most talented prospective
    students/teachers, but at government
    cost, they send them to two years of
    graduate school, and to make life
    easier on them while they are in
    graduate school, they give them a
    living stipend. They also pay them
    better, on average, than teachers are
    paid in the US. And they get
    taxpayer-funded health care, of
    course, instead of health care paid by
    the state to some private health
    insurer.

    But it is also true that they don’t use educational money for elaborate sports and athletic programs. Or elaborate buildings with swimming pools, gyms, indoor tracks and other niceties.

  • 254
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Paul,

    In earlier posts, you have ridiculed me and complained that by insisting on seeing growth in MCA scores, I was unfairly hammering the school district.

    Well, here’s some news: the school district itself, in its District Level Improvement Plan to the Minnesota Department of Education, PLANS to show improvement in MCA scores for all of the populations who are not making AYP. This year. In math and in reading.

    See this url
    http://education.state.mn.us/mdeprod/groups/SchImprove/documents/ImprovePlan/013373.PDF

    and look at pages 12 and 13.

    Even more surprising, they plan for these at risk kids (Limited English Proficiency, Hispanic, and Special Ed,) to show gains of 7.2% to 9.5%, EACH YEAR, for the next six years. Largely due, it is claimed (repeatedly) because PLC’s have been instituted this year, in every building.

    HMMMMMM.

    Guess my views on data aren’t so idiosyncratic after all, huh?

    And, this plan was signed by the superintendent under the following statement:

    (p. 3) “We hereby agree to the assurances as printed herein and verify that the information provided in this school improvement application is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.”

    Two problems:

    1) If you check my earlier post where I called for measurable gains, I called for 5-10% a year. What the supe is forecasting seems self-evidently overconfident.
    Especially with the special populations. MAYBE (as one school board member speculated) this is because the district had to forecast everyone passing and had no other options. Except:

    2) In other parts of the same document, the supe extols the many avenues the district provides for parent input. One of those is the PACs, which, it is claimed, are held MONTHLY at the middle and high schools as well as the PTOs, held monthly at the elementary schools. Latter part is true; former part is false. PAC was not held at the high school in September, nor in October (when this plan was filed) NOR in November, NOR in December, NOR in January, NOR in February.

    I have problems with our superintendent either lying to the state, or not ensuring, to the best of his ability, that the promised actions occur. MCA scores are beyond his direct control--ensuring principals comply with opening channels for parents is not.

    Yet another example, for me, of our superintendent saying what’s convenient to say, regardless of the truth. Protecting staff people (the hs principal is now claiming that because his wife had a baby in the fall, he decided to take a hiatus from PACs—only problem--the AYP plan mentions NO hiatus). So, again, a staff-centric move by Dr. Richardson.

    What will it take to get our school leader AS concerned about kids as he is about the comfort and convenience of his staff?

  • 255
    Paul Fried says:

    Peter: Do you want a reference to a specific comment you made, or are you asking for a more specific reference to the February (I think it was) 2008 article?

    Kathie: You write that I claim about you, “by insisting on seeing growth in MCA scores, I was unfairly hammering the school district.”

    No, you insisted on specific gains in specific statistics as immediate proof of the success of PLC’s. I think that’s an abuse of the statistics, and that it seems unscientific of you, a human scientist, to take this approach. It therefore seems inconsistent.

    Why are you so quick to characterize such observations as ridicule? It seems pretty rational to me. Why so quick to demonize? One might as easily claim you’re ridiculing the administrators, school board and teachers of the school district.

    Bruce Anderson also criticized your use of the statistics in that way. He said that he expects PLC’s to be helpful, to aid learning, but he seems much more open than you to the possibilities of how, exactly, student learning improvements tied to PLC’s show up in some kind of objective evidence. While perhaps justifiably biased in favor of PLC’s, he sounds more like the unbiased human scientist, watchful to see how progress might show up. You sound as if you already have a negative bias, against PLC’s, and ready to condemn them if specific statistical evidence that you’ve predetermined as necessary ends up being absent later on. You have a lot of baggage when it comes to assumptions on this one, and that seems unscientific.

    Now it’s one thing for you or Bruce or I to make such statements about PLC’s, and whether or not certain objective statistical evidence of their success may or may not be expected, and whether we’re openly watching for possible evidence, or ready to pounce if certain evidence is lacking.

    It’s a very different thing for the district to have simple goals regarding improvements in MCA scores (as you note that they do in 254).

    Doesn’t every district have such goals? How is the district’s general goal for improving MCA scores, on the one hand, really centrally related to PLC’s and your proposed use of statistics as a hammer against PLC’s? You’re painting with too broad a brush to attempt to draw these connections in 254, above.

    Kathie, you started with a more specific, legitimate beef and perhaps achievable goal regarding poor communication and the shock of the plan to have a late start. Good for you. I agreed with many of your points.

    Later on this thread, you began to express your conspiracy theory about the district. Hmmmm. OK. I was still listening, but not agreeing.

    Over time, your comments here on your guest blog have morphed into what might seem, to an outsider, to be a conspiracy of your own: To scare any prospective teachers reading this guest blog away from the profession of teaching.

    I’m sure this was not your conscious intention, but by the same logic of your own conspiracy theory, you could as easily be accused of conspiring in this way to scare away prospective teachers. Maybe prospective administrators too. Then poor education and poor communication with parents could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then you could claim that you were right from the start.

    Again, I doubt that you have any conscious desire for such a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that’s where this guest blog seems headed.

    When you started out, Kathie, a few teachers visited this guest blog and offered their thoughts, including Anne Larson and Ray Coudret. The more this guest blog has morphed from its original purpose (about the inconvenience of the schedule change) into something much more skeptical and cynical, the more you lost the participation of teachers (and perhaps some other early fans).

    Being married to a public school teacher, and having had public school teachers (or retired ones) as neighbors and friends, I know of a few who have claimed openly that even if they were interested in the issue at the start, they can’t read you any more. No stomach for it.

    Some teachers and parents have stopped me in the parking lot when I go to pick up my daughter from gradeschool, or elsewhere around town, and thanked me for standing up to you, Kathie, saying they would never want to dive in and expose themselves to the fray, or be associated with the directions you have decided to take this in, but that they appreciate my speaking out.

    When you started this guest blog, Kathie, you engaged in some civil exchanges with Ray and Anne. The more distance this guest blog gets from those origins, the more you’re losing dialogue and contact with some of the very people who were helping keep the discussion civil, realistic and grounded in the complex realities that are perhaps not fully perceived by any one party, but glimpsed with valid insight from many various perspectives.

    But if some teachers and parents are tired of all this, and of the directions of this guest blog, I suppose this may all just be, potentially, more fodder for your conspiracy theory, that the district administrators and teachers are all in this together, and so it’s all about the staff, and not about the parents.

    But all the teachers who have talked to me are also parents with children in the district, and they see many of the warts and blemishes in the system. The voices of teachers I talk to about these warts and blemishes in the system seem much more knowing and insightful, more of the time, than hunches, gossip and vague speculation.

    I don’t think the reality is the conspiracy that you often seem to see.

    Then again, there is that important psychological maxim to remember in situations like this: Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.

    They might be, Kathie.

    Then again, for example (getting back to the original purpose of the guest blog), the decision to approve PLC’s and the schedule adjustments might not be so much about staff doing what’s good only for staff, to the exclusion of what is good for parents.

    The decision might be because of a firm and educated belief that PLC’s will be what’s best for students and education.

    But it’s good to have conspiracy theorists around. Some of them are true.

    Have you heard of Operation Northwoods? Now there was a scary conspiracy. Good thing they never implimented it.

    Or the CIA support of the coup to get rid of the leader of Iran in the late 1950’s? Heard of that one? Gosh, the current President of Iran suggested recently that the US should apologize for that one, and they’re right. It’s documented. We overthrew their democratically elected leader to make the Shah the central leader, because he would do our bidding. It was all about oil. The Brits helped, too. What a mess. Conspiracies.

    Now the survey about the late start, that was a conspiracy, and so you’re right to criticize it as such. Many readers could follow you there. Fewer can follow you where you want to go with the rest of the conspiracy theories.

    Just because some conspiracy theories are true doesn’t mean they all are.

  • 256

    Paul,

    Please stop making hamfisted, spurious allegations about Kathie Galotti’s motives, and then pretend that you’re not writing them. It’s a shallow device.

    You write as if you should be considered some sort of hero for the public schools. Standing up for the teachers Kathie has silenced, no doubt.

    However, your tone is condescending. Your wording is ponderous. Your intent is belittlement.

    Schools need support, but they also need critics to point out flaws that need to be addressed.

    Early in your comment you wrote:

    Why are you so quick to characterize
    such observations as ridicule? It
    seems pretty rational to me. Why so
    quick to demonize?

    Paul, I think Kathie sees such observations as ridicule, because your write patronizing things like this:

    But it’s good to have conspiracy
    theorists around. Some of them are
    true.

    Have you heard of Operation
    Northwoods? Now there was a scary
    conspiracy. Good thing they never
    implimented it.

    Or the CIA support of the coup to get
    rid of the leader of Iran in the late
    1950’s? Heard of that one? Gosh, the
    current President of Iran suggested
    recently that the US should apologize
    for that one, and they’re right. It’s
    documented. We overthrew their
    democratically elected leader to make
    the Shah the central leader, because
    he would do our bidding. It was all
    about oil. The Brits helped, too. What
    a mess. Conspiracies.

    Commentary like this is irrelevant, digressive and smug.

    I’m guessing Kathie has perceived this as ridicule because it is. Such inapt insinuation has been all too common in your writing throughout this thread.

    I’m asking that you reconsider your tone and discuss the issue, not lobbing smears against someone’s character.

  • 257

    [...] Guest blogger Kathleen Galotti: My objections to the proposed changes to the school calendar  [...]

  • 258
    Ray Cox says:

    Brendon….I’m with you. Enough is enough.

    Schools are interesting beasts that have many masters to serve. I do think there are some very good things that have come out of laws the lots of people find fault with. For example, we have NCLB. It seems to be the favorite whipping-boy for huge groups of people. But without NCLB we would not really know how well our schools are serving various groups of students. And some of the things we found out because of NCLB are not very pretty. The demand to be addressed, and most schools are taking steps to address those problems.

    The one thing that makes schools a but unique (at least I cannot think of another example) is that schools are essentially controlled by labor unions…while at the same time fueled by a seemingly endless supply of product (students and tax dollars). For something to really take hold in education it either has to be put forth by labor unions, or be totally accepted by them. In the 1950’s President Truman wanted to increase literacy in Brazil. He proposed a plan for the US to provide technology to help accomplish that goal. The plan was sabotaged by the Brazilian teacher’s union. Right now today in St. Paul we have a bi-partisan bill to allow people to be certified to teach by drawing on work experiience and without going through the standard multi-year college process. I guarantee it will never be heard on the House floor because the teacher’s union will kill the bill.

    It is always important to remember in education that what is the goal for one group may not at all be the goal for another group. You would think that there are some basic commonalities…but when you get right down to it there are not that many.

  • 259
    nick waterman says:

    that nutty Kathie, asking for clarity, truth, and transparency. The nerve! Folks are just plain sick of that kind of demanding parent. For my money Kathie has done this town quite a service.

  • 260
    Paul Fried says:

    Ray C., in the Feb 14 issue of TIME magazine, the education article, “How they do it abroad” -- what do you think of the measures they took in those countries? Sounds very different from NCLB or the proposal you speak of to have people with experience, but without teaching degrees, be certified to teach, which you imply is a good thing, but that the unions will kill. Sounds like it might never get government approval in those countries in the TIME article where the test scores are so high, either, and the approach to improving education is very different.

    Do you think you may have an ideological bias that may keep you from considering the kinds of policies that seem to have a proven track record in those countries, and instead, give preferential consideration mostly to those policies suggested by Republicans?

  • 261
    Paul Fried says:

    It seems that my comments with the URL for the 2008 Time article are not posting, so here’s what to google:

    “How they do it abroad”
    Feb. 14, 2008
    TIME

    (about education policies in countries with the highest test scores)

  • 262
    Paul Fried says:

    Brendon, why the double standards? Again, you’re going binary: It’s either off or on, hot or cold. Please stop applying the double standards.

    Spurious allegations? As I’ve noted before, Kathie often jumps to conclusions based more on assumptions than on evidence. Kathie, as I’ve noted before, many of your allegations are spurious. We have newly elected school board officials, some of them in their first term, chosen because voters seemed to believe they were informed, possessed good judgment and were trustworthy. Kathie, you made phone calls and emails to board members, but quickly concluded that they were not receptive enough to your concerns, and that this must be because they were not really listening. No other possible reasons. No possibility that, out of fairness, they have other parents, and other parties, including teachers and administrators, who may all have legitimate concerns and viewpoints. So you jump to conlusions, Kathie, here and at many other later points in your comments on this thread.

    Brendon, either you see that some of Kathie’s allegations may be spurious, but you choose not to comment on them, or you have a blind spot regarding Kathie’s spurious allgetations (why?), don’t notice them, but instead simply defend her and accuse me. I won’t assume I can understand what motivates this blind spot or intentional application of a double standard.

    You ridicule me as writing as if I should be considered a hero, “standing up for teachers Kathie has silenced.” You miss the broader point, it seems, because you want to make this about applying your double standard to me instead of listening to my point about Kathie and her alienation of a prospective audience among employees of the district.

    For one thing, Kathie and Brendon, I don’t think you have silenced any teachers, but I do believe you’ve created (metaphor:) a lion’s den of spurious allegations against school board members, administrators and teachers. This thread has been a catch-all, a kitchen sink, of educational complaints, many of them based on hasty conclusions, false assumptions, and unscientific use of statistics.

    Why would anyone who has been targetted as the meat for the lions wish to volunteer to enter the public arena and simply become food? I don’t consider myself any kind of hero, but it is a fact that people have said what I claimed. The point is not to draw attention to myself, but to what this thread is doing to this “target,” this prospective audience of readers, of people who work in the system.

    If you assume beforehand that the system is corrupt and that those who “run” the system are guilty, then it would be foolish for these players to visit and attempt to engage in sincere, civil discussion with community members who have already judged them.

    Kathie, I used the analogy of marriage counseling to comment earlier on this same sort of thing that I describe above as creating a lion’s den: In counselor-speak, marriage counselors sometimes discourage “gunny-sacking,” or saving up too many criticisms, only to unload them all at once later; they also describe this as a “kitchen sink” approach: bringing up everything, including the kitchen sink. Counselors find that this approach tends to be unproductive if couples sincerely want to make progress on improving their relationship. Rather, it seems better if the couple deal with one thing at a time. On the other hand, if one member of the couple has divorce as their firm goal, gunny-sacking or the kitchen sink approach is great for making a case about irreconcilable differences.

    By making this thread a kind of lion’s den of criticism with too many pre-set judgments, this thread seems to be much more about irreconcilable differences — or a wedge play? — or a less-than-sincere attempt at reconciliation? — than about sincere efforts at making progress.

    Brendon, you label my comments condescending and belittling. Brendon and Kathie, you both accuse me of ridicule. I am certainly a flawed messenger, but it seems you’d rather shoot the messenger than listen to the message. In your double standard, you don’t see how many of these same adjectives that you apply to me, rightly or wrongly, apply to the tone and direction in which Kathie has taken this thread.

    Brendon, you accuse me of claiming too much knowledge of Kathie’s intentions or motives, but you claim to know that my intent is belittlement. More double standard.

    Earlier, Brendon, I compared this binary approach you take to that of George W. Bush, not to belittle, but because I assumed that Bush’s “right or wrong, with us or against us, good vs. evil” approach was a common frame of reference: If you recognized and disliked that binary approach in Bush, perhaps you might recognize and adjust the same binary approach that I am attempting to point out in you.

    I never said you had falsified intelligence to get us into war and approved torture, Brendon. That was never the point. I said you were being a bit too binary in your approach. It was not about belittlement, but about a common frame of reference.

    You claim that my comments were smug. You may be right. But Brendon--and Kathie-- if I were a school board member and spoke with Kathie, and heard that she had decided not to attend school board meetings because she had reached the conclusion that it was useless, I might conclude that Kathie seems a bit smug in her assumptions about school board member’s efforts to listen to many parties, and to be objective.

    Brendon, do you not see these possibilities, these double standards? Is it merely a blind spot, and therefore you apply the double standard merely by accident, or do you see these things and apply the double standard consciously??

    I won’t assume, Brendon, but I’d ask you to consider where the double standard comes from. We were both LINK parents: our children were classmates, and your daughter was a student of my wife’s, perhaps because your family liked something about the LINK program--including the teachers on the team. What happened to make you such a defender of spurious claims, and to apply such double standards here?

    Brendon and Kathie: in Kathie’s narrative, *from the very beginning,” she claims that the district and school board is too staff-centered, to the exclusion of parent concerns and good education.

    In other words, school board members (elected officials), administrators (hired authorities) and teachers (public employees), who get paid by taxpayer monies, are abusing their power and taxpayer dollars by making decisions, in Kathie’s view, that are more for their own benefit than for the benefit of student education and parental concern.

    What you have described, Kathie, is a conspiracy by public officials and employees. It is more literally a conspiracy that you describe, Kathy, than the district is literally using a “wedge play.” Kathie, as I said earlier, this conspiracy theory of yours seems based more on spurious allegations than on convincing evidence.

    Brendon, for comparison’s sake, I offered Operation Northwoods (a documented conspiracy that was not implimented but is now public knowledge) and the CIA-British overthrow of an elected leader in Iran in the 1950’s as examples of conspiracies with documented evidence. No one in the government now claims the Northwoods plan never existed, or the CIA was not centrally involved in planning and executing the Iran coup.

    These examples are, like your theory about the school district, Kathie, examples of conspiracies by public officials whose paychecks come from taxpayer dollars, abusing their power, perhaps in part for selfish gain. Kathie, your allegation against the school board, administrators and staff is that the district is too selfish, more concerned about the employees than about education and parent concerns.

    Brendon, when Kathie used the analogy long ago of a football play called the flying wedge, somehow this analogy for how she perceived things was not too far off-base, was not irrelevant, not digressive.

    But when I talk about Kathie’s conspiracy theory as such, you apply your double standard and come to the conclusion that I’m digressive, condescending, and my examples are irrelevant.

    Such application of double standards “has been all too common in your writing throughout this thread,” as you might say, Brendon.

    You ask me to reconsider my tone. I will do so. And I thank you for making the request.

    You ask that, instead, I discuss the issues.

    It seems that you may be defining the issues too narrowly: That the issues are perhaps to be restricted to the possible conspiracy of school board and administrators on behalf of staff, the rest of Kathie’s long list of complaints (and anyone else’s complaints), and her use, or misuse, of test scores and statistics.

    But it’s also fair to question your assumptions and methods here, Brendon, and yours, Kathie. These are valid and relevant issues to the discussion, Brendon.

    Earlier, Brendon, you characterized my criticism of Kathie’s assumptions and methods as being equivalent to asking her to “shut up.” Perhaps you are right, Brendon, that I was too abrupt, uncivil, belittling, condescending, and any number of other things--a very flawed messenger--in my attempts to comment on assumptions and methods here.

    But realize that if you define what issues can and can’t be discussed on this thread so narrowly as to exclude criticism of Kathie’s assumptions and methods, then in effect, Brendon, you’re asking me to shut up-- and then we’re back to double standards.

    So Brendon, I’m asking you to reconsider what seems to be your fairly persistent double standards on this thread.

    And please pardon my repetition of names, Kathie and Brendon: Griff, I know that, as a tool for promoting civility, you want people to address one another, and not make the sideways or indirect type of references that, Kathie, you make in 248, for example; so in order to comply with the rules here, I have repeated names so as to avoid even the appearance of such sideways or indirect references.

  • 263

    Paul,

    The more you write, the less you say.

  • 264
    Peter Millin says:

    Just remember folks Paul has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

    I would love to have a job with 3 month off, no accountability and excellent health care.

  • 265
    nick waterman says:

    Peter, the job with “3 months off” is a job with a 9 month salary. Frankly, I think most teachers would rather have the 12 month salary and skip the nasty comments from people who have no idea what their job is. No accountability? Your 60 parents may now email, phone, etc you as they like, and you’ll certainly be expected to respond to them. Why do people constantly use the “tenured lousy teacher” as the reason to trash teachers? Do we use the philandering alcoholic businessman to slander all of them? the token, reactionary anti-union thing is just so contentless.

    • 265.1
      Peter Millen says:

      There is no accountability for most teachers, because if we did, our current educational system wouldn’t be in such bad shape.
      Even our current President has acknowledged that their are some serious flaws in the current system. The whole notion of tenure needs to be reevaluated and changed, so those teachers that don’t perform can be let go.

      How come most people in their careers have to through a yearly evaluation to justify their salaries and subsequent increases, but somehow teachers and other government workers are exempt? I don’t think that is fair, especially since I am one of their employers.
      I do have a right to know and demand performance for my hard earned money. Like it or not,but this how it works in the rest of the world.

      I hope you are not suggesting we should pay teachers 12 month for 9 month of work?

      Brendon,

      90 % of the teachers I had contact with are competent and dedicated to their jobs.
      I don’t think that the problem is with individual teachers as it is with the environment they have to work in.
      My sister in law got in to teaching a few years ago. She was full of enthusiasm and energy. Ten years later she is frustrated and ready to give it up.
      Her main beef is that the amount of material that has to be pushed through, and the speed which it has to happen, leaves no room and time to focus on those that need more help.
      As a result more and more kids fall behind the higher they move in grades.
      Our public schools just have lost another bright and dedicated person..most likely she will end up teaching in a private school.

  • 266

    Well said, Nick. I have a great deal of respect for teachers, and have had mostly good experiences in the Northfield School District. Are there poor teachers? Of course. Just like there are poor doctors, builders, accountants, etc… My complaint hasn’t been with teachers or with PLCs.

    My complaint in this whole PLC discussion has been almost exclusively with the atrocious poll that the district posted, and then, despite ample and obvious problems, the Superintendent actually used the results of the poll to justify parent support of the concept and of the schedule changes.

    The best spin I can think to apply to this is that Richardson simply didn’t see the problem. That’s the best spin. That’s not good.

    I can’t find a positive reason why that poll’s results were even referenced, regardless of its results.

    I took that poll. The problems with it were immediately clear, and I’m supportive of the PLC concept, if a little skeptical of the practical implementation. (That’s just me, though. I’m skeptical that my pillow will be soft until I lay my head on it each night.)

    To hear Richardson use the results at all was a dishonest appropriation of community sentiment. The numbers were invalid because the poll was invalid. Don’t use them. Make the case on other grounds, but don’t use faulty data. Don’t pretend to speak for district families when you only have data of negligible quality.

    Scheduling the PLCs was tough. Accountability and clarity, as Kathie is calling for, will be the key as the schools move forward. It sounds like many teachers put three years worth of work researching PLCs in preparation for the proposal. I hope their work bears fruit.

    However, the results must be measurable, and I’m sure most teachers would agree with that. I can’t imagine they would want to waste time with PLCs if they don’t produce positive results.

  • 267
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Brendon--

    I wholeheartedly agree. The problem isn’t the idea of the PLCs, but rather the rushed and sneaky way they’ve been approached. If the PLCs really are data-driven attempts to improve measurable student achievement, then that’s one thing. There’s still the issue of when and how to schedule them and what to do with the kids when they are scheduled (more on that in another post).

    But--I have a problem with the way this was originally brought up (cryptic notice in the agenda), a HUGE problem with the laughably biased survey, and I’m very bothered by the different rhetoric used to sell parents on the proposal (PLCs will impact every minute of every child) and now what’s being said at school board meetings (it will take 3-5 years before we know if PLCs are having any effect). ESPECIALLY when we’ve PROMISED the state that, because of the PLC’s already in place, we’ll see ginormous improvements in MCA scores in our most at-risk populations.

    Lying. Prevarication. Sneakiness. Not cool with me.

    Paul, a suggestion for you and your teacher friends whose stomach gets turned every time you read a post of mine: Stop reading. I have the same reaction to watching FOX news, for example, so the simple solution for me is just to stop. All the guys whose smug conservative viewpoints drive me nuts I just tune out.
    It works really well for me--for tv, for talk radio, for web sites and even for blog posts.

    But if the point of your rants is to silence me or other parents who have legitimate complaints, it won’t work. YOU are not the final and only arbitrator of what a legitimate complaint is. No one individual is. Teachers are not the final and only arbitrator of what is educationally valuable and feasible. Parents have just as much right to speak as teacher’s spouses do, even (and in my view, especially) about educational issues.

  • 268
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Brendon--One more point of agreement. You said:

    However, the results must be measurable, and I’m sure most teachers would agree with that. I can’t imagine they would want to waste time with PLCs if they don’t produce positive results.

    Absolutely right. I was thinking about your post, and about the fabulous first grade experiences both of my kids have had--actually, almost every year of elementary was terrific for my son, and my daughter (the first grader) has only had two years, but they have both been excellent.

    The excellence has arisen in large part, I believe, from the individual teachers we’ve been lucky enough to get. All 4 first grade teachers (Companeros), in particular, were committed to regular assessment of reading (and math) skills. That was true for last year’s kindergarten experience as well. And, even more, the teachers would take the results of those assessments and DO SOMETHING about them--differentiatin/tailoring their instruction to fit the level of the individual kid (especially during the past two years). Bravo, kudos, and huzzahs!

    PLCs will work GREAT for these teachers, and I’m happy (well, ok, happy is too strong, but at least, I don’t have any hesitation or reservation) to see them get this resource, because I know they will put it to good use in improving student learning.

    Unfortunately, not all teachers have this commitment. Many, too many, (they’re a minority, but a sizable one) rely on their own intuitions of where a kid is at with respect to a skill, and those intuitions can be wrong. It takes a LOT Of WORK to gather and use data, and I’ve seen too many experiences, in the middle school especially (although the high school has also had issues), of overly complacent teachers, who don’t really care whether the students learn a skill or not, and who are gonna make each kid in the class fill out the same worksheets regardless of where their skills are at.

    So, while I think PLCs CAN work, I’m still skeptical that they WILL--for every PLC group. Having a weekly meeting time is not magic--and if the people meeting are anti-assessment, as I think some teachers in the district are--those particular PLCs are doomed. And I don’t see the school administrators as a group being willing to take steps to address this. Instead, the PLCs that don’t show gains are going to be tolerated for another 3-5 years. That, to me, is tragic.

  • 269
    Kathleen Vondrasek says:

    I finally got around to reading the Improvement Plan that the District submitted to the MN Dept of Education towards the end of last year. It’s very interesting to read if you have some time.

    As Kathy indicated (post #254), the District has committed to some rather lofty goals for the 3 areas that did not meet AYP two years in a row. Those 3 groups/areas are:
    1. Hispanic Math
    2. Limited English Proficient [LEP] Math
    3. Special Education Reading

    The three corresponding SMART goals (page 13) committed to the State are:
    1. Annual increase of 9.5% needed to attain 100% grade level proficiency [math] by 2014 for LEP students
    2. Annual increase of 9.34% needed to attain 100% grade level proficiency [math] by 2014 for Hispanic students
    3. Annual increase of 7.2% needed to attain 100% grade level proficiency [reading] by 2014 for SPED students

    Now the “A” in SMART stands for Achievable. Looking at the SMART goals committed to, I am not confident that any of them are Achievable. However, this IS what the District has committed to and we should hold them accountable to them ESPECIALLY since PLCs were one of the primary “Strategies” the District chose to cite over and over again in the Plan as to how they were going to meet the SMART goals.

    Other noteworthy items in the Plan:

    Pages 1&2 under “District Improvement Team Members”: Although the 3 subgroups that were identified as not meeting AYP were Hispanic, LEP, and Special Education, there was only one (1) ELL Teacher, only one (1) Spec Ed parent, and only one (1) Spec Ed Teacher on the 34 member team! Nothing against those that were on the team but how about adequate representation from the subgroups (Hispanic, LEP, and Spec Ed) that the Plan was addressing.

    Page 4: “Eight elements to be included in the needs improvement plan: 1. Ensure all students are proficient in core academic subjects by 2013-14; 2. Establish annual measureable objectives for continuous and substantial progress to achieve proficiency…”
    First of all, here is more evidence that there should be annual measureable objectives so us asking for accountability for the PLCs annually is in line with what the MN Dept of Ed is seeking. I wholeheartedly agree with Kathy that we need to hold the District’s feet to the fire on this one. If there isn’t measurable improvement in a year, we should be able to question the validity of stealing student instructional time for weekly PLCs.
    Also, during the last Board meeting, the Board approved 0.4 FTE to be able to offer Chinese III and German I at the High School next year; this despite the fact that we are not meeting AYP in three subgroups in “core” subjects. I have nothing against Chinese and German languages being taught but if certain core subjects are not meeting requirements, the Board needs to be prepared to make the tough decisions to ensure that we are. I am not certain that they took this into account during last Monday’s meeting. (BTW, I applaud the three students that got up to speak at the meeting in support of keeping Chinese III.)

    Page 5: “Northfield’s semi-rural location has not isolated it from a host of social issues including rising substance abuse, gang activity, and violence.”
    What?!? We have a substance abuse problem? Didn’t the District just over a year ago say that we didn’t? BTW, as a native Northfielder and 1980’s-Something Nfld High School graduate, there has ALWAYS been a drug problem. Just because a drug dog can’t sniff out drugs at the High School doesn’t mean that drugs aren’t being used. Well, at least there is now documented proof that the District acknowledges that there is a problem. [Sorry for the side step but just had to get that one of my chest.]

    Page 25 under the main heading “Promote effective parent involvement strategies”: “Each school has a PTO…that meets once a month. There are numerous topics discussed at each of these meetings based on what is best for students and how to improve the learning environment for them. Participation at each site is good with representation from a variety of parental groups. School personnel attend these meetings as well to form the other part of the partnership. This year a concerted effort has been made to include parents of special needs students and LEP students as their input and involvement is crucial for the success of all students.”
    Hmmm. I have to agree with Kathy on this one too. I have attended numerous PTO meetings at both GVP and Sibley. The primary topics at these meetings are typically surrounding fund raising, allocation of the funds, and volunteerism. While Scott Sannes (Sibley Principal) regularly attends the Sibley PTO meetings, teachers are rarely, if ever, in attendance. Additionally, as a parent of a “special needs” student, I don’t recall a single incident where I received correspondence from the School or District encouraging my participation at PTO meetings. I think the District misrepresented the facts to the State on this one.

    I am still skeptical about the long term benefit of weekly PLCs and if they will outweigh the impact of lost instructional time. But, after reading the District’s Improvement Plan, even they have laid out annual measures that we should all hold them accountable to acheive. I, for one, will be curious to see how they do against their SMART goals as documented.

  • 270
    Peter Millin says:

    Nick,

    If measured by results our school systems would be out of a job in any private sector. Sorry that you can’t accept this fact.

    Brendon,
    Most teachers my kids had, and they been in several different ones all over the country, are very good and dedicated. My intentions were not to put all of them in to one pot.
    If most teachers do a good job, if we consistently have increased funding and we all want better results, how come we see the opposite effect?

    In my opinion the steady decline in the quality of education is a combined issue. (Even Obama agrees here)

    It is a combination of a ill received curriculum, that is more concerned with the sheer volume of material taught, rather then the quality of material taught. i.e. outcome based education.

    The curriculum is packed so tight, that any kid that misses a piece get’s lost in the system and never catches up. because the current status quo allows not time for it.

    It is a certain % of teachers, educators and administrators that are not qualified and should be removed. Last but not least, not enough parents demanding excellence.

    My sister in law, who graduated top of her class from Stetson, got in to teaching because she had the passion for it.
    Ten years later she is disillusioned with the system and ready to give it up.

    A lot of her frustrations come from the issues mentioned by me above, this is not something I have dreamed up myself.

    I can see the symptoms and I can see the results, but I don’t know how to fix it….it’s frustrating.

    If it wouldn’t be for institutions like Sylvan (very expensive).. my youngest would have been lost years ago.

    So forgive me when I am a bit cynical, when the school board decides to cut class time again and replaces it with yet another experiment.
    So far the experiments haven’t worked out.

  • 271
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Peter (265.1)

    Tenure is frequently misperceived as absolute job protection. It is not. There are steps a competent and committed administrator can take to either improve the performance of underperforming tenured teachers--or in the rare and extreme cases where the teachers absolutely refuse to change--terminate them.

    It’s called a Performance Improvement Plan. And on the books, Northfield has them. See this at the district website.
    http://nfld.k12.mn.us/personnel/internalhrdocuments.shtml

    BUT….a policy or procedure is only as good as the people responsible for implementation. If most of the principals and the superintendent want to avoid conflict with teachers, as they seem to, then this tool will stay in the toolbox.

    Anyway: My point is that one wouldn’t need to take the extreme step of just walking in without any warning and firing teachers. That would be unfair, even to the lowest performing ones. But there ARE steps that COULD be taken to get the minority of teachers who don’t seem to like kids or academics, and help them to either improve or find a more fitting career.

  • 272
    Paul Fried says:

    Issue: Does the district’s educational mission suffer from systemic, staff-centered self-interest, as you claim, Kathie?

    Kathie, you defined the original purpose of this guest blog this way, with the proposed schedule change as representative of the district’s willingness to base its decisions more on self-interest at the expense of education. You claimed this district is too self-interested in that way. Supposedly, having a late start, and having PLC’s detract at all from classroom instruction hours, were examples, to you, of this self-interest, which, in your mind, should have been more education-centered (with a preference for more in-class instruction time) or parent-centered (don’t inconvenience parents with a schedule change).

    Now if we are really going to discuss this issue, Kathie (and not set the more modest goal, for example, of just dealing with a schedule change, and whether it’s justified or not), it would seem that discussion would have to move beyond general claims or accusations based on assumption or rumor, and find real evidence of a systemic problem.

    I have claimed that many of your accusations along these lines are based more on assumption and rumor than on well-supported claims. Brendon, I have recently grouped them in with what you have called specious claims.

    For example: Kathie, you cited as evidence of self-interest the district’s decision to end the LINK program. You had no real solid data or analysis to support your claim that ending LINK is an example of the district’s systemic self-interest, but you threw it out there. In fact, the district did careful studies of test scores, and students who receive assistance for meals, and the district discussed choice programs at a few board meetings at which parents attended.

    The district found that the choice programs sometimes became cul-de-sacs of elitism when it came to students, and that it may have had some of the same effect, either in reality or self-fulfilling perception, on staff: If choice programs have a real or merely perceived reputation of having excellent teachers, then they may attract many of the brightest students from many families with the most assertive-consumer parents, and these might be the very parents who are more likely to volunteer in the classroom. In fact, at Greenvale, teachers in choice program classrooms often had regular parent volunteers while teachers in the other classrooms had to work much harder to scrounge up just a few parent volunteers.

    This led to what I described as a “country-club” effect with the choice programs, where kids who are not in the choice programs end up in a kind of educational ghetto: They sometimes get the classrooms in which their peers are not as high achieving, and more of whom come from families of poverty, and they may get classrooms that are less likely to have as many parent volunteers.

    Choice programs and charter schools tend to attract teachers who are more open to experimentation and improvisation, and less focused on a set curriculum, and this is at least perceived as making choice programs laboratories of cutting-edge educational experimentation; this may or may not be in the best interests of the students’ education, depending on the particulars.
    This is not to say there are no excellent teachers outside the choice programs and charter schools: there are. It’s also not to say that all students outside the choice programs and charter schools are low-achieving. No.

    When I used the country-club metaphor, Brendon, you accused me of race-baiting. Let’s assume you were correct, and that I took the metaphor too far to make a rhetorical point. And I can see how you might be inclined to jump to this conclusion inasmuch as you were a LINK parent (choice program) and charter school parent (AT). Your accusation of race-baiting may have had an element of defensive self-interest, in other words.

    These things I describe don’t imply that all parents who choose choice programs or charter schools are racist or classist, or that any of them need be racist or classist in their choice of these programs. I don’t assume that at all.

    So Kathie, you accuse the district (administration, school board, staff) of staff self-interest at the expense of education, and you offer the ending of the LINK program as evidence.

    But when I offer history and evidence about district choice programs as suggesting that THEY may exhibit self-interest at the expense of education, you are silent.

    Brendon, you are parent of at least one child that I know of who spent time in a charter school (AT), and may still be there. You were a LINK parent. You defend Kathie and her criticism of the district, but when I accuse charter schools and choice programs of systemic self-interest at the expense of the common good, you accuse me of race-baiting.

    So unsupported accusations of corrupting self-interest are OK here, but when similar claims are pointed back at you, Brendon and Kathie, then suddenly your critics are making personal attacks and need to be shut up?

    I recognize that public education in the US is in need of reform, and I’ve offered examples of some nations and governments where test scores are higher, and where much different policies were put in place to bring about improvement. Peter, these are some of the same nations you cited, without paying attention to what those governments and cultures do differently to bring this about.

    But like a dysfunctional family, where the parents get in a fight, and then vent against the kids, who then kick the dog who takes it out on the cat, it seems that the criticism-fest, or lion’s den of accusations and rumors here, is much more inclined to criticize people who happen to be working in the public school system now, as it is: The inclination here is to criticize school board members, even newly elected ones; to criticize administration and teachers. This may be like kicking the dog, or the dog biting the cat, when the real problems with the dysfunctional system are higher up.

    Is the issue here really to discuss, explore, and improve things in the district related to possible self-interest at the expense of education? Is that the real agenda here?

    Or is this discussion thread and guest blog more about appealing to some folks’ assumptions?

    • To Republican assumptions that unions are bad and self-interested at the expense of education?
    • To charter school parents, and choice program parents and their assumptions that traditional public education is failing, and choice programs and charter schools are the place to be?

    Readers and participants have a right to know, even if this requires some introspection and self-critique on the part of all who have commented thus far. Kathie, if you’re going to accuse the district of self-interest at the expense of loftier goals, it’s fair to ask if this is merely human nature exhibiting itself in the human beings who work in the district, just as it exhibits itself in people commenting here, or if the problem with the district is more severe in its systemic nature than human nature alone should account for.

  • 273
    Paul Fried says:

    Kathie: Besides being a spouse of a teacher, I’m also a parent of students, and I have concerns and rights as such that I share with you, so it’s not an either-or proposition.

    You write:
    “Lying. Prevarication. Sneakiness. Not cool with me.”

    I hope not. But you assume a lot regarding others actions and motives when you make such accusations. It seems to be silencing, to you, when I accuse you of self-interest, or distortion, or of making unsupported accusations, but you’re quite liberal with your own.

    It is possible that school board members are not so hopeless as you portray them as to be not worth the time and effort of your attendance and participation at a school board meeting? You write them off. Is that still your position on school board meetings?

    It is also possible that districts can be so focused on parents that good education gets sacrificed. The Faribault school district tried and failed to pass referendums for years, and like many other districts, classrooms get terribly crowded, and education suffers.

    The war cry goes out: “The district should be more the servant of the parents and the taxpayers!” Fine. It’s a democracy. We have many competing self-interests.

    To what extent is parent and taxpayer self-interest just as often at the expense of education?

    In light of that, how much of the self-interest, and how many of the flaws and mistakes you perceive in the district are simply the self-interest of human nature (in the same batting-average range), and to what extent is this systemic self-interest you perceive to be more serious than that?

  • 274
    Paul Fried says:

    Kathie: When you dismiss the idea of attending a school board meeting, this really seems suspicious to me as a reader. To be clear: Like Brendon who uses the line, “Your intent is clear,” I’m tempted to assume that your intent is clear, and that you’d rather simply celebrate criticism of the district than attend school board meetings, or be open to other perspectives, and get involved in the nitty-gritty of improving the system you are so liberal in criticizing. Then you get to preside over this little discussion thread and snipe away with any criticism you like, but not dirty your hands. Readers like me may be very tempted to assume your role here, as you have often defined it, has more to do with self-interest than with something larger.

    This doesn’t mean you need jump in binary, on-off, hot-or-cold fashion to the conclusion that I would silence you. But I would rather see less assumption about intent, less jumping from one (often unsupported) criticism to another, and more constructive engagement with different perspectives. You say I have the right to tune you out, like FOX news. But it seems you’ve tuned out and alienated a whole segment of your readership.

    No, education should not be ONLY about teacher-administrator perspective. But it should not exclude their perspective. You’ve assumed, excluded, and alienated that perspective here.

  • 275
    Paul Fried says:

    Consider that the problem of self-interest is more complicated than we may think. A few examples:

    1. Kathie, you and I are college instructors. One of the things colleges and universities talk about balancing has to do with the balance for faculty focus: If a faculty member is too focused on publishing, but not a very good educator in the classroom, this might be a problem. Is it to munch self-interest, too much vanity, to seek publication more than service to students? On the other hand, if an instructor is focused only on service to students, but not keeping up with and contributing to current scholarship in their field, their service to their students may suffer, and they may not be setting the best example to their students, who they are encouraging to be inquisitive about the field.

    2. I previously gave the example of parent and taxpayer self-interest, which may, at times, be at the expense of education. This is always a balancing act to some extent.

    3. The district had to make a decision about PLC’s. Let’s say that the staff, the administration, and the school board was convinced that PLC’s would help education, and that even if there was a learning curve, there would be objective evidence of this. But mistakes were made about the design of the survey, and especially in the minds of some parents who were following this debate, this was an administrative and PR failure of significant proportions. We can easily say that we wish it had all been handled much better, and that district leaders had communicated with parents and taxpayers long ago about the prospect of PLC’s, and the various options for their scheduling and implimentation. Things LIKE PLC’s have been incorporated into educational systems like that in the Netherlands, where test scores have gone up after such reforms.

    Now the district was faced with a decision: If it seems PLC’s are worth the committment, should we impliment them next year, even after some mistakes with communication? Or should we delay them, PERHAPS AT THE EXPENSE OF GOOD EDUCATION, because some parents are upset about certain mistakes that were made along the way?

    It would be irresponsible for the district to make a decision that is more in the staff’s self interest, at the expense of education.

    It would also be irresponsible to delay PLC’s in favor of the interests of certain parents, if that would come at the expense of good education.

    Kathie, you say that our school district sometimes tends to made decisions based more on staff self-interest than on what’s best for education. But Northfield also has a reputation for being contentious. Lots of smart people, lots of big egos. Self-interest and pride in arguments can lead to contention. You can accuse me of this very thing if you like, Kathie. I’ll admit it’s true from the start. You don’t even have to consider whether it applies to yourself as well.

    But in a contentious town, would it be responsible for the school board, convinced of the value of PLC’s, to delay their implimentation for perhaps a year or more, because of some mistakes that were made along the way, or because of a handful of people here who were upset? Wouldn’t we expect the school board to be more objective in their deliberations, and to consider more than just those mistakes, and the parents who were in many cases legitimately upset by them? Wouldn’t we expect the school board to seperate the issue of mistakes on the design of the survey, for example, from the value and implimentation of PLC’s?

  • 276
    Jane Moline says:

    Paul: I would like to comment on (the futility) of attending school board meetings. The agenda is set and the players are prepared to describe and spin with their powerpoint presentations. Regarding the above discussion on PLCs:

    Facts: The PLCs are response to school failures under the (ridiculous) benchmarks of NCLB. Richardson says so himself in his report, but go ahead and research the development of this technique. It is to catch those few children that (unfairly) cause an entire school to be labeled as failing.

    SPIN: Administrators, presenters, and the power point all claim that PLCs are to help each and every child and will be proven to help each and every child through empirical data that will be presented to the school board on a monthly basis.

    Instead of explaining the seriousness of the problem and that fact that PLCs are a desperate attempt to avoid being a “failed” school (with all of the resulting financial punishments, which we cannot afford), the administrators paint a pretty picture that will be easier to sell to the school board and to the parents. PLCs MAY help each and every child, but that is not why they were developed nor why everyone is trying so hard to make them work here.

    Lying. Prevarication. Sneakiness. Not cool with me either.

    The administration is not honest, upfront, or forthright in their communication with the community. The ridiculous survey was just a good example. The continual “shading” of the truth by the administration is awful. I am tired of hearing that they have good intentions. I want to hear all of the truth, not just the parts they think I can take.

    The teachers and adminstrators work well together to present a package to the school board and to eliminate parent resistance. LINK. Wolf Ridge. PLCs. Communication and parent participation, if any, is manipulated to reach an predestined outcome.

    School board meetings are set to prevent parents from participating. They should be. But there needs to be another way to communicate with the board and have a complete discussion on the merits of some decisions. Like a town hall style meeting so that the board could listen to opposing viewpoints. Right now, the board only gets one side of the argument, and they have already reached a decision before parents even know what is in the works. They should consider having a different presenter for the other side of an argument, rather than having Dr. Richardson mention it in passing.

    I am a strong supporter of public schools. I am tired of our public schools being manipulated by a few over-compensated administrators. And I am tired of a spineless school board just going along with it because it is easier than demanding accurate (and truthful) information.

    I expected the school board to present all of the information on PLCs in a truthful manner. Like if meeting before or after school was a problem because of teacher contracts, teacher resistance to PlCs, interference with sports (don’t want academics to get in the way of some serious coaching), or whatever.

    Instead the disruption of every single week of school for every single student was the immediate choice of adminstrators. Why? “Because they have been working on this for years.” (Just in case the reader does not notice, this answer is not an explanation.)

    I have never received any information to make me believe that PLCs are worth disrupting every students schedule every week and for the elimination of instructional time. The only benefits discussed were the future benefits we are going to really be impressed with--and when questioned about being able to measure those benefits, the response is that we are being unsupportive and our expectations are too high.

    So, how many years of PLCs will we need before we see measurable results in our gifted kids?

    Paul, you suggest that since PLCs are the right answer, the school board only made mistakes in its communication process. We will never know. Every increase in test scores will be claimed as a success of PLCs, and any decreases won’t matter because they got their way.

    I am tired of the school board claiming it was the “process” and not taking repsonsiblity for their decisions.

    What I saw was a school board buffaloed by administration and intent on ignoring the concerns of parents. I believe that our school board is rubber stamping whatever the administration wants and is unwilling to engage in serious analysis of serious decisions. (The rose-colored glasses power point presentations are not really serious analysis,no matter how nicely presented.) We are all losers.

  • 277
    Paul Fried says:

    The FOX news analogy was brilliant and funny, Kathie (267). I have to admit.

    It made me smile: That I should simply not read your guest blog anymore, the way you (and I!) choose not to watch FOX news because of the repulsive and false claims to “fair and balanced” coverage….

    This is your best metaphor yet. Better than the flying wedge, I think.

    Maybe it contained a kind of Freudian (or Jungian, or whatever) slip. And maybe you’re appealing to my point of view only to silence me, sure.

    But it was a good and funny analogy. Kudos!

  • 278
    Paul Fried says:

    Jane (276): So if PLC’s help improve education in the district, fine, but if the district lied about how they’d help EVERY student, and show immediate results in test scores, then the district is lying and being sneaky, so…

    So we should skip the PLC’s? Or so we have every right to complain about any lying or sneakiness? Or even if the inflated claims were due to excessive enthusiasm for PLC’s, and were innacurate and misleading, we have the right to complain?

    Was it, in fact, a lie? The district intended to deceive parents on this point? Or was it inflated claims from excessive enthusiasm? Or…. wait…

    Or do those in the district who have studied PLC’s have access to information about test scores in some places that have PLC’s, and these claims are accurate, so claims of lies are spurious, false, overinflated and overconfident?

    Gosh! There’s a lot riding on this! Either they’re lying, or in error, or you are! We should figure this one out!

    Jane, let’s get to the bottom of this. Let’s go to the next school board meeting, and even if we have to wait till the meeting is over, talk to the players who put forward these claims, and see what information they base this upon. I want to know who is right, and who is, at least unintentionally, in error, or not accurate in these claims. Then we might have a clearer picture of whether we should criticise the district for disrupting ever week, or whether the disruption might not be worth it. Are you with me?

  • 279
    Jane Moline says:

    Paul: If they had the information and withheld it, they are fools. I have concluded that they do not have the data and cannot backup what they believe will happen with PLCs with hard data, or they would have produced the hard data at the meetings.

    They have never done a comparison of the cost of disrupting every students school week every week instead of having these meetings before or after school. This continual dissembling makes me uncomfortable with any and all information from the district office.

    They adopted PLCs to solve a specific problem, but told the parents and school board that it was for a different reason. Why do they lie? On this one you agree with what the administration wants to promote--when you are on the other side of an issue, are you willing to trust them?

    Glad you think it is so amusing that the administration continues to spin and the board keeps buying in on it. I am not satisfied. They rammed the PLCs through and conveniently failed to answer the questions raised by parents. But we should just trust them.

  • 280
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Jane,

    I’m in total agreement. The PLC proponents may have “won” the school board vote, but they’ve lost a lot of trust on the part of parents. To me, that trust is a bond they won’t get back very easily. Lying tends to break relationships.

  • 281
    Paul Fried says:

    Jane, it’s possible you misunderstood.

    You wrote, “They adopted PLCs to solve a specific problem, but told the parents and school board that it was for a different reason.”

    In fact, inasmuch as I am learning to understand the practicalities of PLC’s, they can be both. In GENERAL, they can be flexible and used for a variety of purposes depending on the needs of specific grades and teachers and districts.

    So IN A GIVEN YEAR, they might be used to address a specific problem, such as problematic low test scores in a certain demographic and discipline.

    If they are, in this way, both, then your claim that this is a lie is a mistaken claim.

    Then again, it’s also an option to assume the worst when discussing such things on a public blog regarding a district and school board, the meetings for which, Kathie, you’ve determined are not worth your time. This would make a reader question whether your criticism is motivated more by self-interest.

    Jane, I proposed that we do some research and get to the bottom of it to find out if there were lies, or misunderstandings, etc., and you changed the subject! You don’t want to know, even if it means risking the discovery that you’re wrong?

    I was never joking about that. Whatever made you think I was joking? That’s where the rubber hits the road: dig in and find out if the claims made her are based on reality or perhaps mistaken assumptions.

    If you’re not interested in such fact-checking of claims and assumptions, then this would seem to serve as clear proof that at least some of criticism here is more a quest for catharsis via something like primal scream therapy than it is practical, constructive and fair criticism — fair in the sense of being as willing to make oneself the object of similar criticism.

    There is something very liberating about the unlimited free-speech approach to criticism, where you can make any claim, even if it’s in error, or based on assumption, and those who question the criticism get accused of censorship and silencing.

    If that’s the goal, Kathie, the two of us could submit to inviting our students — perhaps our most dissatisfied students first — to do a guest blog about their complaints regarding our teaching. If the logic is that local tax dollars fund the school district, well, federal tax dollars help fund research and student loans, etc. Local taxpayers have a right to know how our students and their parents feel about the kind of job we’re doing in the classroom with some of their tax dollars.

    Of course, if someone who never attended class posts false claims about us, or a student who plagiarized in our class wants to say we were too harsh in our grading, we could not speak: Our profession requires of us that we can’t disclose certain things about our students, so we’d have to let the students rant about us. But maybe it would make them feel better, so it would be justified?

    Kathie: I agree that lying is very damaging to relationships. And you and made it clear long ago that the district has lost your trust.

    But you have made many claims, and have not made much progress in proving that all the assumptions on which you base your claims and criticism are correct. This can be damaging to trust also.

  • 282
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Ok, it’s been three years since weekly PLCs were implemented. We were promised big changes in student learning if we allowed teachers the time and space to meet and plan together. Did we get these results?

    Here are overall data, going back to 2002-03, on the percentage of students in district schools proficient (i.e., at grade level), in math and in reading. The last three years are post-PLC implementation. See a huge upward trend? Nope, me neither.

    Year -- % prof math -- % prof reading
    2003 -- 83 -- 86
    2004 -- 76 -- 81
    2005 -- 84 -- 85
    2006 -- 70 -- 82
    2007 -- 72 -- 75
    2008 -- 71 -- 78
    2009 -- 76 -- 80
    2010 -- 77 -- 80
    2011 -- 62 -- 79
    2012 -- 75 -- 82

    Source: http://apps.startribune.com/no_child/

    This picture is a little clouded in math. The MCA test became more rigorous in 2011—and you see a fairly big drop there. You might take comfort in it rebounding this year, until you hear that this year only, schools were allowed to make kids take the tests 3 times, and only count the best one, artificially inflating the results.

    Some will argue that these results aren’t awful. They’re right. They are indeed above state averages. But they show absolutely no effect of PLCs happening weekly. As I argued three years ago, the staff likes the extra prep time, but there is no positive demonstrable effect in student learning.

    Now we’re instituting RtI coaches (2) in each elementary building, for a total of 6 new positions, plus the new Director of Teaching and Learning. The problem is, when you look at this year’s MCA data in detail by building (which you can do by going to http://education.state.mn.us/MDEAnalytics/Reports.jsp), you’ll see that 2 of our elementary schools, Sibley and Bridgewater, are doing pretty well overall (each earned around 85% of the available points—personally, I’d like to see it even higher, but these aren’t bad). GVP is struggling, but making strides, apparently, in student growth even relative to the other 2 elementary schools (I’m not convinced I fully understand the MMR computations yet, thus my hedging). But the high school scores a paltry 60% of the available points! Really? And we’re all okey-dokey with letting them continue on as they have been, while we put elementary teachers under a microscope?

    We need a change in teacher culture, but we need it most of all at the high school.

    Moral of the story: PLC time doesn’t automatically improve student learning. Prediction: RtI coaches won’t automatically, either. Nor will ipads being given out at the door to everyone who enters the building. It’s going to take changes in teacher culture and (esp. at the high school, where this really is a problem) staff taking more responsibility to help students who struggle. There are exceptions to this generalization, but I see evidence of elementary teachers at least using their PLC times to plan flex groups; I see no evidence that PLC meetings are having any beneficial effects at the high school.

    The school district likes to put a positive spin on all the state data. I suggest people look for themselves and consider if 60% is good enough, in a two-college town, for our high schoolers, and if continuing the status quo is really the path we should be on.

  • 283
    Griff Wigley says:

    Thanks for looking deeper into this, Kathie. I wonder if the candidates for School Board would be interested in discussing this.

  • 284
    rob hardy says:

    Kathie and Griff: I agree that, after three years, there should be some information available to the public about the effectiveness of PLCs. On this page on the district website, which should have some such information, I found nothing. I come from the arts and humanities side of things, so I tend to look for narrative rather than numbers.

    If you look at the full profile for Greenvale Park, which has the lowest test scores, you also find the highest percentage of free and reduced price lunch students and of Latino students, so I would think that socioeconomic factors and language factors are implicated in the lower scores. In any case, I don’t think we can automatically blame the teachers for test scores. We should probably look at these socioeconomic factors, at the groups of students being compared, at the tests themselves, and at our notion (which I think is odd) that we can and should get 100% of our students to know exactly the same things. That’s what we have computers for.

    This is not to say that teachers shouldn’t be evaluated and held accountable. We just need to be very careful about how we evaluate them, and that we don’t hold them accountable for the wrong things.

    • 284.1
      Kathie Galotti says:

      I agree with you about the demographics of GVP, Rob. Indeed, the fact that they are the best school in the district with respect to student growth and reducing the achievement gap suggests to me that they are doing many things right. And, I agree that there has to be some way to factor in the demographics to fully assess whether the proficiency score (the one that is low) is where we would expect it to be, or higher, or lower.

      My point wasn’t about GVP. And, GVP is not, in fact, the lowest performing district school. That one goes to the high school.

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