Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

October 30, 2006

Texas State Board of Education Candidates

District Democrat Libertarian
Republican
1 René Nuñez (I)    
3 Rick Agosto
  Tony Cunningham
4 Lawrence A.
Allen
(I)
   
5   Bill Oliver Ken Mercer
9 Maggie Charleton   Don McLeroy (I)
10   Martin Thomen Cynthia Dunbar
12   Matthew Havener Geraldine
‘Tincy’ Miller
(I)
15   Brandon Stacker Bob Craig (I)

October 29, 2006

With endorsements like this…

Endorsements like this drive me nuts:

The Eagle’s recommendations in district races | The Bryan-College Station Eagle:

We have been wary of McLeroy’s ideological beliefs in the past, but he seems able to move past those for the good of the state’s children. He does work hard, perhaps harder than anyone else on the board. Charleton was a wonderful teacher and leader who would no doubt be a fine member of the State Board of Education. She doesn’t, however, make the case that she would be better than McLeroy.The Eagle recommends Don McLeroy for re-election to the State Board of Education.

Give me at least one example about how McLeroy has moved past his ideological beliefs for the sake of the children. How does he work harder compared to the rest of the board members? What sort of case would Charleton have to make that she would be better than McLeroy? That she would work harder than him? Well, we don’t know what that is since the editors never bother to give an example. How about what would make a better board member in general?

Basically, they think she would be a fine board member and good leader but not better than McLeroy. So how is McLeroy a fine board member and a good leader?

Believe it or not, the same newspaper ran a fairly detailed comparison of the two candidates. Therefore, the lack of specific examples to support it’s recommendation leaves the reader wondering if maybe McLeroy brought brownies for the editorial board and Charelton didn’t.

October 28, 2006

Educational Research Analysts

Remember the couple that make national news because of their work reviewing Texas textbooks?

Textbook Activist Mel Gabler, 89 (washingtonpost.com):

At their kitchen table, they founded the nonprofit Educational Research Analysts to examine textbooks eligible for adoption. They soon became well known statewide, often journeying to Austin to testify before the State Board of Education and confront publishers with their objections. After a few years, they were doing lectures and making appearances across the country and were almost as well known as Phyllis Schlafly, an opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, or James Dobson, founder of the Christian organization Focus on the Family.

Textbook Activist Mel Gabler, 89 (washingtonpost.com):

A few years later, Mr. Gabler complained that textbooks were indoctrinating children with a philosophy of humanism that was alien to mainstream America. He also protested the influence of the women’s liberation movement, which, he said, had “totally distorted male and female roles, making the women masculine and the men effeminate.”

Well, the organization they founded, Educational Research Analysts, is still carrying on it’s mission to catch factual errors in the name of advancing their conservative, Christian ideology in the public schools.

Extending Mel Gabler’s Legacy

Mel left in place the rule that however many 2+2=5-type factual errors we find in textbooks, they are but means to our chief end of critiquing textbooks’ substantive subject-matter content as Christian conservatives, whose thoroughness and knowledgeability our error lists just confirm.

And on what basis do they critique the subject-matter content? The following are some of their sample standard review criteria:

American Literature

Story content should present:

  • A universe that rewards virtue and punishes vice, where good and evil are not moral equivalents, and where problems have solutions.

  • Diverse views on current controversial issues, when raided (e.g., “global warming,” feminism, naturalistic origins myths like evolution)

  • No sensational violence, offensive language or illustrations, occultism, or deviant lifestyles (e.g., homosexuality)

  • No pattern of pejoratives stigmatizing one group and superlatives idealizing another

  • No politically-correct steroetypes of oppressors and/or victims by race, class, or gender.

So no grappling with intractable problems for high schoolers studying literature. No readings from the slave’s perspective or those from women or poor people. Unless they happen to be very content with their station in life.

I can’t figure out why they would want diverse views of controversial issues if all problems have a solution. Doesn’t that mean there isn’t more than one side to a story after all?

My point is that this group is still here, still active. It’s just not in the public spotlight as it once has been.

Q & A

 

 

You no longer testify at the Texas State Board of Education annual textbook adoption public hearings. Why?

 

Lowering our voice and working under opponents’ radar gets better results.

Reading From the Right:

Under the direction of Frey, who is assisted by his wife, Judy, the textbook shop has steadily evolved from the Gablers’ era. While Mel and Norma issued textbook reviews as near-celebrities, storming public hearings and sitting for interviews with Phil Donahue and “60 Minutes,” Frey, a former college professor, works in near-anonymity, making his points through the faxes and newsletters he sends to subscribers and textbook decisionmakers.

The State Board of Education elections matter. There isn’t anywhere near as much money involved in the campaigns but the stakes are much higher–the education of your children and the future health of our democracy.

October 26, 2006

Overweight and failing

Filed under: common sense, education priorities, High Stakes Testing — texased @ 9:16 am

Parents: School Cancels Students’ Recess – Yahoo! News:

“I questioned why they don’t have it and she said unfortunately it’s a regional decision because the testing scores are not as high as they would like them to be,” Spivey said. “They feel the kids need to concentrate more on their school.”The school’s principal and officials with the Houston Independent School District declined to comment. A staff member denied the cutbacks.

The state of Texas mandates that students have 135 minutes of physical activity each week. School officials said students at Stevens Elementary receive 150 minutes in two daily recess periods and two physical education classes each week.

The students told another story.

“P.E. is only one day a week,” student Drew Lochridge-Fletcher said. “Recess, they canceled it.”

“They told us we can’t have recess because our scores are going low and we need higher scores to get our recess back,” student Brianna Lambert said.

Well, I guess this is good preparation for working at Walmart. Off the clock hours and having to work too much for too little to make the 30 minutes of exercise recommended by various health organizations an unnecessary luxury.

October 25, 2006

Another endorsement in SBOE District 9 Race

Editorial: Charlton for state school board:

A few years ago, smelling a political opportunity, several candidates representing the Christian right skillfully targeted state school board seats. Their objective was to dictate the content of textbooks and to counter such things as the teaching of evolution and of history they considered to be anti-American or pro-feminist.McLeroy, a critic of evolution theory as it pertains to human origins, often is an ally with the religious-right bloc on the board.

That’s not to say McLeroy is not independent or thoughtful. He is both. But Charleton would be less likely to vote with those who want to play politics with children’s education.

Editorial: Charlton for state school board:

Not that McLeroy is the prime culprit in any fashion, but too often the state board turns into ideological mud wrestling. We’d prefer it to be about education.

Well, what do you expect from the Waco Tribune-Herald? After all, they’re endorsing Strayhorn as well.

October 24, 2006

Accountability

Filed under: Accountability, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), standards — texased @ 9:17 am

Bush admin. won’t shift Iraq strategy – Yahoo! News:

Rumsfeld, in remarks at the Pentagon, said U.S. government and military officials were working with Iraq to set broad time frames for when Iraqis can take over 16 provinces that are still under the control of U.S. troops. He said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don’t hit certain benchmarks.

I have to admit that I’m having a hard time working through this one. Is it more important to meet benchmarks when lives are at stake and there is no possibility of “catching up” later or making schools meet average yearly progress goals when there is the possibility of saving the “education” life of a student later?

October 23, 2006

Now there’s an idea

At the risk of being accused of beating a dead horse:

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

School board members, especially in the suburbs, are not wily politicos. Most are community volunteers with busy lives and jobs. What they know about district affairs comes from the superintendent and his staff. And that flow of information can be tightly controlled.In the middle of a crisis, the independent investigator serves as a clean source of information for a school board president responsible for preserving the district’s image and credibility.

Frisco ISD should have followed the independent investigator model in the case of Sydney McGee, the elementary school art teacher who claimed that her principal retaliated against her for exposing students to art works of nude people at a Dallas museum.

Essentially, the Frisco district stuck to its story line for too long: “We’re right to want to fire Ms. McGee, and she’s wrong about it having anything to do with the art museum field trip. But we won’t tell you more.”

Ms. McGee and her attorney were allowed to define the story in the public mind, and part of their story was that Frisco administrators were covering up for each other.

Only after the story exploded and went nationwide did the district begin releasing some piecemeal information. Imagine the difference had Frisco ISD announced early on that an independent investigator would be hired. It would have snuffed out the cover-up charge.

Best practices for learning

Filed under: Higher Education, Homeschooling — texased @ 6:51 am

I realize that the quality of higher education has recently been cast in doubt by Spelling and company, but nonetheless, I think my post-secondary education has provided me with some valuable lessons for homeschooling.

I took the basic US History Before 1865 in a general freshman class at the University of Texas at El Paso. There were at least 100 students in the class and I can’t remember the professor’s name but everyone knew he wore a toupee since it had a habit of shifting in the wind. Anyway, large intro class, you would expect basic multiple-choice exams and formula lectures.

Not quite. We had the standard textbook and expected lectures. But we also were assigned several other textbooks, including After the Fact. Now I never remember names but I do remember this book. Just before the first exam, we were required to come up with five essay questions that could be on the test. They had to be comprehensive in nature and we had to document where the answers could be found from our reading. If one of your questions was choose, you received a significant extra point bonus added to your final test score. During the class before the exam, the professor broke us up into groups and handed out five questions that had been submitted and of which three would be on the exam. Each group worked together to answer as many of the essay questions as possible during class.

I would guess that the professor didn’t receive too many questions that he had never seen before. But I don’t think that was the point. Rather, the students had to take responsibility for understanding the material well enough to be able to ask the questions and provide the answers. Ultimately, he wasn’t transferring knowledge to us but facilitating us learning how to process and analyze information.

This philosophy of education is most evident in graduate classes and beyond. At the highest level of education, the student must teach herself. My first reader for my Master’s Report was a statistician but in no way an expert in the method I was using for my analysis. I was the one answering his questions. My second reader was broadly familiar with education policy but had never worked directly with dropout data. If I was homeschooling, people would be asking me how could I learn if my teachers didn’t know the subject well enough to teach it to me? I think the more appropriate question would be how do we expand our knowledge if we assume knowledge is static and people can’t learn without someone else teaching the specific information?

For a while, my husband taught in a pharmacy school. The mantra of the classroom professors was “stay one day ahead of the students.” There was just too much new information to do otherwise. Most of the faculty were just out of graduate school themselves and their specialities often had little to do with the basic classes they were teaching. And when the residents asked questions while on rounds, the preceptor would respond with “that’s a really good question, why don’t you look up the answer and bring it tomorrow?” That way he would learn the answer as well as the other students on the rounds.

So when you’re wondering how homeschoolers can possibly have all the expertise to teach all the subjects children are supposed to learn through high school, remember that they don’t have to. The basic premise of education is to learn how to learn. If your child is able to memorize Yu-Gi-O cards on his own and is your technical support in programming your Ti-Vo, why wouldn’t he be able to master algebra or read Shakespeare?

October 22, 2006

Dr. Phil disses homeschoolers

Filed under: education reporting, Homeschooling — texased @ 5:40 pm

Just in case anyone relies exclusively on Dr. Phil for information on homeschooling.

The Homeschool Scuttle: The Great School Debate – Local Homeschool.com:

The Great School Debate The Dr. Phil Show, “The Great School Debate” (Proposed Air Date: October 27, 2006) begins with a couple that calls themselves “Radical Unschoolers.”

During a recent discussion on the California Homeschool Network E-mail list, Kirsten shared her first-hand experience as an invited guest on the Dr. Phil show for an upcoming episode about the controversial subject of Unschooling.

First of all, I was present during the taping of the program, which is scheduled to air later this month. Additionally, I’d like to provide a little background history into the Dr. Phil Show.

The Homeschool Scuttle: The Great School Debate – Local Homeschool.com:

Presenting, “Radical Unschoolers,” as the norm of homeschooling to the mainstream world, implies that all homeschoolers are radical, controversial, Unschoolers. Unschooling is by far the least understood and radical concept of homeschooling, and the easiest target for critics to judge and condemn.

To use this family as representative of the homeschool population is sensationalism at best, and deceitfully manipulative, at worst. The film portrays the Unschoolers as spending all of their days basically playing and hanging out. To seasoned homeschoolers, that may not seem a bad thing, and, to some, would even seem a good thing. But, to every mainstream American, who does not understand homeschoolers and homeschooling, let alone Unschooling, the film and the footage shown of the family serves to reinforce every negative stereotype mainstream America has about homeschooling.

The Homeschool Scuttle: The Great School Debate – Local Homeschool.com:

Stereotypes and Hype I know that we value play, and why we value play. But mainstream America does not value play the way homeschoolers do, and has many ingrained negative stereotypes about homeschooling. To them, we are Religious Zealots, or Unschooling Hippies, or Over-Permissive, Overly Attached Parents, or Paranoid, Overly-Protective, Control-Freaks, or, perhaps, Just Plain Lazy.

Dr. Phil plays upon every one of these stereotypes in his “Great Debate,” episode. There were so many homeschooling families that Dr. Phil could have chosen to represent homeschoolers, and he deliberately chose the family with the least understood homeschool style to promote his own bias and agenda on homeschooling that day.

The Homeschool Scuttle: The Great School Debate – Local Homeschool.com:

It was then that I realized that the huge groups of teenagers were from local high schools from the San Bernardino and Inland Empire Areas, and that these school children had been deliberately and purposefully bussed in specifically for their presence on the Homeschooling Episode.Ontario Christian High School was represented; San Bernardino High School was there, as well as several other local Inland Empire High Schools.

After the lady who chewed homeschoolers out as the future of her government had spoken, Dr. Phil then did something that clearly indicated why the homeschoolers had been brought to be part of an audience of an episode in which hundreds of high school students had been bussed in: Dr. Phil then asked the audience, “How many of you support Homeschooling and how many of you support sending children to school?”

Well, of course the 10% to 15% of the sparsely spread audience that were passionate homeschoolers proudly raised their hands in support of homeschooling. And when Dr. Phil said, “How many people do not support homeschooling,” all those young high school students that had been unwittingly bussed in specifically for that question in this episode, raised their hands — A forest of “No’s,” against homeschooling.

Although, that was just one brief question in Dr. Phil’s episode, he took no chances. He deliberately rigged that audience to be a few sparsely spread homeschoolers, and an imposing majority of those who were currently in traditional schools.

The Homeschool Scuttle: The Great School Debate – Local Homeschool.com:

We certainly left our young ones behind. We did this, because of our passion for homeschooling, and Dr. Phil preyed upon this passion in having us as his audience, so that we could be the flimsy 15% that raised their hands in favor of homeschooling, so that he could have his biased TV show. He preyed upon our cause, our dreams, our passion and our hope. A true predator.

The show is actually only about a half hour long. In between sets, the guests are quickly hurried off stage, and swiftly replaced with new, equally bewildered guests. Between sets, Dr. Phil deliberately goes out of his way to avoid eye contact with the audience, thus avoiding engaging the audience.

October 21, 2006

If it’s all McGee’s fault, why are they settling?

So it looks like we’ll never know after all. I still think that the principal’s handling of this situation warrants a “growth plan”equal to that of McGee’s. Lawson had already collected her data/evaluation before the museum trip but they weren’t revealed to McGee until after the trip. That, in of itself, is no big deal.

Star Community Newspapers:

The April 18 appraisal included a “below expectations” mark on an item titled “policies, procedures and legal requirements.” In a related area of the form titled “Areas to Address,” it states “Appropriate Art substitute plans, specific lesson plans updated weekly. Appropriate monitoring during duty assignments.”While those marks and comments are dated April 18, another document indicates McGee appears to have become aware of her review only after the trip.

Or at least the paperwork part of it anyway.

Star Community Newspapers:

In a May 11 memorandum, McGee states that the “evaluation was conducted April 18.” However, McGee states in the memo that a copy of the report did not reach her until April 28. That was two days after the field trip, according to documents, and one day after McGee was called into principal Nancy Lawson’s office to address the nudity complaint. McGee contends that she was “verbally admonished” by the principal at the meeting.

Even if McGee received it sooner, at this point there is no reason for me to have ever heard of Sydney McGee.

Star Community Newspapers:

On May 4, McGee met with Gonzales and Lawson for the teacher’s yearly “summative appraisal conference,” in which the appraiser discusses the appraisal document with the teacher, according to documents. McGee was informed at this meeting that the administration wanted to place her on a “growth plan” to address areas of concern.McGee has said she viewed the growth plan as a preliminary step to eventual non-renewal of her contract.

Gosh, you think? Anyone who has worked with human resources knows that if you want to fire someone and you want to do it right, you have to some version of a growth plan to allow the person a chance to improve.

Star Community Newspapers:

In her May 11 memorandum, McGee challenged the “below expectations” mark, saying “no negative written documentation was given to me prior with ‘areas to address,’ ” which she said is required by the state administrative code. She also disagreed with the substance of the mark.McGee said she would have expected to see documentation throughout the year had she been doing anything wrong in the classroom.

In fact, it’s not just people who deal with human resources but anyone who understands how evaluations are supposed to work as apparently McGee did.

Star Community Newspapers:

The mark was upgraded to “proficient,” and the growth plan nixed, documents indicate. On May 17, McGee and Gonzales signed a revised appraisal document, with the “below expectations” mark upgraded to “proficient.”Also on May 17, Lawson and McGee met again to discuss her performance, documents indicate. Lawson produced a memorandum May 18 that summarized the discussion.

That memorandum included issues surrounding the museum field trip, including the nudity complaint, as one of five areas of concern about McGee’s performance. It also lays out a list of improvement measures that Lawson expected McGee to meet.

So here is the first sign that Lawson failed to administer her responsibilities properly. Obviously, she must have thought McGee had a point since she changed the evaluation and dumped the growth plan. Apparently, working “verbally” and “informally” to deal with issues as Frisco ISD has repeatedly said was the case, doesn’t meet state administrative code. Since she can’t have a growth plan because she has failed to documented the situation properly, what does Lawson do next? She creates a memo that lists areas for improvement and the infamous parent remark regarding nude statues. And I hear the name McGee and Frisco ISD.

In the meantime, McGee manages to convince the principal of another Frisco ISD school to hire her. The Frisco superintendent, Reedy blocks the transfer so as not to undermine a principal’s authority to discipline an employee. ( I thought this was just about helping a teacher improve her teaching?) We all know what happens next. McGee goes to the press with parent’s complaint.

Why doesn’t anyone think that Lawson and Reedy screwed up as well? If McGee’s job is to have complete lesson plans, isn’t it Lawson’s responsibility to have complete documentation that can stand up to the scrutiny of legal requirements? If it’s McGee’s job to project a professional appearance to maintain standards isn’t it Lawson’s job to appropriately select examples and issues that illustrate an employee’s weakness rather than a parent’s small mindedness? Come on! Everyone is telling me that the nude statue had nothing to do with the situation. Then why did Lawson bother to include it, especially if she had other legitimate concerns? It was a mistake for her to include it.

Then there’s superintendent Reedy. He’s all for supporting Lawson’s authority even though she has failed to administer it properly. I guess he didn’t think it was a big deal that Lawson had to retract her “below expectations” evaluation because, hey, McGee’s just an art teacher and everyone thinks she is a pain to work with anyway? (I would hate to be the social studies teacher that teaches flag burning is a first amendment right or an English teacher discussing race relations in Huckleberry Finn and not be on the good side of the principal.)

Did he try to find out why Lawson’s evaluations differed from her predecessor’s? Did he think that McGee should be concerned about a parent complaining about nude art? (BTW, for all his protests to the contrary, his answer has been a very subtle, yet still very public “yes.”) And finally, he’s settling because he screwed up and recommended “not renewing McGee’s contract” before having the appropriate paperwork. Think about it. The memo wasn’t an actual growth plan. There was no growth plan since Lawson screwed up. To start non-renewal, he would have had to have the same paperwork Lawson was missing. Since it seems unlikely that they were able to come up with a legitimate workplan based on her summer performance, he plowed ahead anyway, contributing to the grounds for a lawsuit.

Will someone tell me who’s evaluating Lawson and Reedy? Where are their growth plans?

Someone has pointed out that taken to extremes that you could use the analogy of a murderer getting off because someone didn’t read him his rights. Yeah, okay. So the police officer not only didn’t read the rights, admits that she didn’t read the rights, presents as a witness someone who swears the person did it because everyone of his “racial epitaph of your choice” does it, and the chief of police says none of this matters because the guy is a murderer. All the officer had to do was to do her job correctly and read the suspect her rights. Because she didn’t do her job, the murderer gets off.

We are a society of rules and laws that apply to everyone, not just the ones we like. And if society’s basic institution for instilling these rights is unable to adequately apply them itself, then there is a problem and blaming it on the press or McGee isn’t going to make it go away.

And I know the answer to the question of the post’s title, for the children’s sake, right? I just wonder if the adults involved have learned anything from this.

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