Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

December 28, 2006

Rudolph and the road not taken

Filed under: cultural values, Homeschooling, Socialization — texased @ 8:00 pm

I didn’t watch any Christmas shows this year. But on Christmas Eve, we somehow got on the topic of the show on Rudolph, the elf that wanted to be a dentist, the island of misfits, and the abominable snowman. We all agreed that the other reindeer were mean and somehow that’s overlooked in the story. After all, the other reindeer only let Rudolph play after he has shown that his “differentness” is actually useful to the community. If Santa hadn’t needed some extra light, I don’t think the reindeer would have ever let Rudolph join them.

The reason I find this interesting is that I think this show is so representative of our cultural mythology and reality. We like to believe that we are free to be whatever we want to be but the reality is that there’s incredible pressure to fit in. Being different is not acceptable unless the majority finds some value in being different and makes it acceptable.

We’re good with nerds that way, just look at any show that focuses on teenagers. How many story lines are based on nerdy kid doesn’t fit in, gets picked on, saves the day for a popular kid, and is redeemed in the eyes of the rest of the crowd? And people wonder why we have a “bully” problem in this country? If you don’t fit in, you’re considered fair game until somehow you do.

The bullies are never really punished. Okay, the over the edge ones do but never the popular individual who legitimizes the outsider. You can usually get a “sorry” out of them but that’s about it. The group continues to function as before, just the outsider is now included.

Think about how much our society actually reflects this myth. Teenagers who feel like outsiders are encouraged to make friends, join activities, get involved so that they fit in. We blame the outsider for not fitting in rather than the group that ostracizes him. And we assume that everyone really wants to fit in so once they are part of the group, the group doesn’t have to change.

I’m sure many think it’s perfectly natural and would never consider why did Santa allow Rudolph to be treated in such a way. After all, he didn’t even know about Rudolph and even Rudolph’s father was embarrassed by him. This isn’t Santa’s fault, he was the one who actually recognized him, right?

But then I think about another very popular Christmas story, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim never has to prove himself to Scrooge by discovering a way to make coal burn more efficiently or reuniting him with his lost love. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen it so I’m probably getting some of the details wrong.) Instead, Scrooge is essentially punished by the three ghosts of Christmas for his actions. He suffers torment and realizes the error of his ways. The outsiders don’t have to do a thing to be accepted by Scrooge, there was nothing wrong with them to begin with.

Unfortunately, this message isn’t as strong as it might be since Scrooge is such an unlikable character. We all know that there is something wrong with him (greed) so of course he will have to change. In his own way, he’s deviated from society’s expectations and reforms to join the group.

Ultimately, we as a society don’t know what to do with people who don’t fit in or don’t want to fit in. For someone to go her own way suggests that the way the group is going might not be the best way. It’s kind of like hazing or some other rite of passage. You’re finally accepted by the group and you expect everyone else to have to suffer the same as you to join the group. But then you see this person who’s not even interested in your group. What’s worst is that even if you drop the hazing, the person still doesn’t want to join.

So what does that mean? Absolutely nothing if you joined the group because it was what you wanted to do rather than what was expected. But how many of us have joined groups without really considering the reasons why? No one likes to be taken for a fool and if you actually examined your reasons for following the crowd, you might end up feeling foolish. So it’s much easier to find something wrong with the individuals who don’t join the group than confront your own reasons for joining the group. After all, these individuals are, by definition, different.

Why do I care about any of this? Because I’m a homeschooler and there is nothing wrong with me. I’m really not interested in playing the reindeer games and if Santa needed me, I would help but I still wouldn’t join the games. If you like playing reindeer games, great, most reindeer do. Just remember, you don’t have to play reindeer games to contribute to the community.

December 27, 2006

Scott Parks Public Education Wish List

Filed under: Accountability, education reporting, Sydney McGee — texased @ 7:33 pm

Scott Parks of the Dallas Morning News has a wish list for Texas education. Some highlights follow:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Education Columnist Scott Parks:

• Thought leaders in public education will abandon the zany notion that all children must be prepared for college. They will refocus on how to provide solid vocational education programs for students who want to start careers after high school.

And spare us new competitiveness initiatives such as 4×4.

• Every student will get a textbook as required by law. Secondary schools will stop withholding textbooks because they fear too many students will lose or damage them.

Maybe even in El Paso

• Lawmakers blinded by the computer hardware and software lobby will stop advocating the idea that laptops should replace textbooks.

You know what’s funny, as computer programmer I probably have more invested in books on programming than the related software.

• Parents will stop jumping to the conclusion that the evil teacher is to blame when little Johnny gets a bad grade or gets disciplined. Instead, they start with the assumption that the teacher is right and go from there.

Well, Parks is from Dallas, land of the wealthy suburban districts so I can see how this would play in his area. Around here I’ve seen too many cases of parents being intimidated by “professional” educators in accepting situations that should never be accepted. It seems to me the parents in question tend to be those expecting their kids to go to college and no teacher is going to stand in their way. The perfect example was the parent who came in to complain about his daughter’s failing grade in her German III class. The parent expected the teacher to change the grade because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to go to A&M. It didn’t matter that the student didn’t lift a finger all semester.

• School board members will reject Texas Association of School Boards brainwashing. They will regularly bypass the superintendent to visit campuses and to speak with teachers and staff to find out what’s really going on in schools.

Ohhh, like the Frisco Board members who never deviated from their support of Rick Reedy in regard to the whole Sydney McGee mess?

• School boards, the elected representatives of the people, will reject the TASB concept that they are on “a team” with the superintendent as “quarterback.” Instead, they will act like bosses and treat the superintendent like a valued employee. The conceptual difference is small but important.

I would argue that the difference is even more important when you consider the financial costs of having a superintendent that isn’t accountable for his or her actions. Or are lawsuit settlements just added into the personnel costs of superintendents?

It’s a good column, definitely worth the time to read.

December 26, 2006

Banning Corporal Punishment?

Filed under: Legislature, Texas — texased @ 8:07 pm

In Texas?

80(R) HB 379 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

(b)��A school district employee or a volunteer or independent contractor of a district may not administer corporal punishment or cause corporal punishment to be administered to a student.

But wouldn’t that make us all wimps?

December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: education — texased @ 9:15 pm

I’ll be back after Christmas. Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2006

Things are getting interesting…

Filed under: race, Teacher issues — texased @ 1:26 pm

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | News: Local News:

A former Preston Hollow Elementary School teacher says she was fired for fighting racial segregation at the school.Graciela McKay filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging that school officials retaliated against her for speaking out about discriminatory practices at the school.

The suit comes nearly a month after U.S. District Court Judge Sam A. Lindsay ruled that the school’s principal, Teresa Parker, used English as a Second Language classes to segregate many black and Hispanic students from white students.

So was McKay just following orders to keep her job?

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | News: Local News:

Ms. McKay, who is Hispanic, did not testify during the federal trial, said Carlos Becerra, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who represented the Hispanic parents in their segregation lawsuit.But Mr. Becerra said Ms. McKay sympathized with the Hispanic parents and allegedly gave them a copy of an e-mail saying that the Preston Hollow PTA planned to make a promotional brochure that excluded Hispanic and African-American students.

What’s interesting is that McKay’s lawsuit includes the PTA and certain members. Maybe there was too much parental influence? Regardless of how this turns, whenever I hear the following statement, I’m automatically suspicious:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | News: Local News:

Mr. Ronquillo said Ms. McKay was not fired, but rather her contract was not renewed.

This is supposed to make it sound like the district hasn’t taken any negative action against the individual? For some apparently unrelated reason, we just decided not to renew her contract? Why do you think contracts have to be renewed annually if not to avoid having to fire people?

December 20, 2006

More public school socialization

Filed under: race, Socialization — texased @ 2:34 pm

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Education Columnist Scott Parks:

For those who abhor injustice, Judge Lindsay’s spine-tingling narrative is comparable to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. But the judge’s writing is nonfiction. And it should be required reading for every principal and administrator in Dallas Independent School District.

Here is what he found after a trial that pitted Hispanic parents against DISD and Teresa Parker, the Preston Hollow principal.

To appease wealthy white parents who live near the school, Ms. Parker regularly grouped their children together in adjoining classrooms. In another part of the school, Hispanic and black children were put together.

This class-based – and to a large extent, race-based –assignment scheme was designed to make white parents feel better about sending their children to a DISD school that is 66 percent Hispanic, 18 percent white, 14 percent black and 2 percent Asian.

“In reserving classrooms for Anglo students, Principal Parker was, in effect, operating at taxpayer expense a private school for Anglo children within a public school that was predominantly minority,” Judge Lindsay wrote.

How depressing. Why bother with vouchers when you can have segregation?

December 17, 2006

What’s the point?

Filed under: Education reform, Parental Involvement, Teacher issues — texased @ 8:31 pm

Generally, I think it’s a good thing to spell out expectations:

80(R) HB 380 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

Sec.�26.014.��EDUCATIONAL INVOLVEMENT AGREEMENT. (a) The agency shall adopt an educational involvement agreement form for use by school districts to be signed by a student, the student’s parent, each of the student’s teachers, and the principal of the student’s school. The agreement must state the respective responsibilities of the student, parent, teacher, and principal. A school district shall provide the agreement to each individual who is required to sign the agreement not later than the 14th day after the first day of instruction for a school year or the 14th day after the date a student enrolls in the school, as applicable. �A school district must provide a parent with a reasonable opportunity to sign the agreement.

However, after reading some of the following details such as:

80(R) HB 380 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

(b)��The educational involvement agreement must include descriptions of:
�������������(1)��the parent’s responsibilities regarding the student’s education, which may include:
�������������������(A)��reading to the student, if appropriate for the student’s grade or reading level;
�������������������(B)��reviewing and checking the student’s homework; and
�������������������(C)��contributing at least five hours of the parent’s time to the school each school year by: �������������������������(i)��attending school-related activities;
�������������������������(ii)��attending parent-teacher association meetings;
�������������������������(iii)��attending parent-teacher conferences;
�������������������������(iv)��volunteering at the school; or
�������������������������(v)��chaperoning school-sponsored events;

and the expectations of the teachers:

80(R) HB 380 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

(3)��the responsibility of each teacher and principal to:
�������������������(A)��provide each student with proper instruction, supervision, and interaction;
�������������������(B)��maximize the educational and social experience of each student;
�������������������(C)��perform professional responsibilities in a manner that is in the best interest of each student; and
�������������������(D)��be available to parents to discuss concerns.

I think it’s just a waste of paper as is. Why? First of all, who got decided on “five hours” for the parents? Why five, why not ten? And then who gets to decide that a teacher has “performed professional responsibilities in a manner that is in the best interest of each student?” While I think you can force parents to immunize their children before attending school, I don’t think you can mandate that they check their children’s homework.

Second, there is absolutely no mention of consequences or what should happen if one party fails to live up the agreement. Okay, for students, it’s fairly easy, fail them or expel them. But what are you going to do about the parents? Of course parents should be involved in their children’s education but how exactly are you going to force them to participate? What power are you going to give the state to make a person be an “involved” parent?

The bill doesn’t even address something as simple as if parents or students think that the teacher is not living up to his part of the contract, what should they do? I’m not talking about punishing the teachers. I’m talking about something along the lines of “the matter should be brought to the attention of the counselor or principal or special committee set up to address these issues.” By the way, did you notice how there’s nothing about the teachers getting the appropriate support from administration or adequate supplies to complete their duties?

This is basically a proclamation of what it means to be a “successful” parent, teacher, or student. I would imagine it’s not too terribly different from most school’s parent/teacher handbook. So what does this achieve by making it an “agreement” beside generating more meaningless paper and the opportunity for one of the signing parties to use it as a basis for a lawsuit?

December 16, 2006

Education reform is okay as long as it doesn’t interfere with school

Filed under: education priorities, Education reform, standards — texased @ 1:50 pm

Bloomberg.com: U.S.:

U.S. public schools should be run by private contractors who would graduate most students by 10th grade, concluded an expert commission sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The plan also calls for state funding to replace local property taxes, free pre-kindergarten and higher teacher pay on a merit-based system. The Gates Foundation and other sponsoring groups may pay states to help implement it, organizers said.

I don’t know if this is the answer to improving our education system but I can already tell that it will never be given serious consideration.

Bloomberg.com: U.S.:

The nation’s largest teachers union, the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, said that recommendations such as state funding and private control of schools “could potentially disenfranchise poorer communities and eliminate community voices.”

With everyone trying to meet NCLB mandates, what community voices are we talking about? Whether or not we pay a football coach $150,000?

Bloomberg.com: U.S.:

The 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers warned of “enormous upheaval” from allowing private control of schools and from graduating students early.

Never mind that most of the rest of the world seems to be able to graduate students at 16, they don’t have the senior prom.

I think the biggest impediment to education reform is the mythology we as a culture have developed for our schools. Any reform that would undermine that myth, state financing (no local control) or early graduation (the best years of our lives), will never see the light of day. Think about it. For all the changes in education since 1900, the school’s place in the community has changed little.

I’m not talking about changes from the one room school house that doubled as a church on Sunday to mega high schools. I’m talking about how the community sees and values the school. We see school as the soul and heart of the community rather than a tool by which to educate the population. So when we talk about doing away with things like football or the prom, we are challenging the very identity of a community. At this point, academics are irrelevant. This is why we will tolerate testing until it begins to interfere with the mythology of the school. As soon as testing or reform keeps us from going to the Friday night game or the prom, reform transforms quickly into outside interference.

December 13, 2006

First, it was just a problem with Michaela Ward

Filed under: Cheerleaders, cultural values, McKinney North High School — texased @ 4:14 pm

This is from last October:

McKinney ISD Issues Response To Cheerleader Sponsor – Sports:

The McKinney ISD Board of Trustees, administration, campus administration, and staff will continue to deal with student discipline in a consistent manner in an effort to create a safe and positive learning environment. The District and campus have met with parents of the McKinney North High School cheerleaders and developed a transition plan and expectations for how the program will operate in the future.

At the time it looked like everything was going to be pinned on Ward. Seems like they have since decided to move up higher the food chain.

December 11, 2006

You can only whistle-blow if you go through channels

Filed under: Accountability, Legislature, Texas — texased @ 8:13 pm

Another case of “you’ve got to wonder why” proposed legislation?

80(R) HB 362 – Introduced version – Bill Text:

� A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT

relating to the ability of public school employees to communicate with members of a school district board of trustees.
�������BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
�������SECTION�1.��Section 11.163, Education Code, is amended by adding Subsection (f) to read as follows:
�������(f)��The employment policy may not restrict the ability of a school district employee to communicate directly with a member of the board of trustees regarding a matter relating to the operation of the district,

The bill is sponsored by Rob Eissler, a former school district board trustee, so I kinda figure he doesn’t believe that board members will be inundated with frivolous issues by district employees. So which districts are trying to make employees go only through organizational channels to control complaints and/or whistle blowing?

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