Thursday, October 6, 2011

15 Things Parents, Community Members, and Taxpayers Want the Nation to Know About Education

Lisa Nielsen attended the recent Education Nation conference and reported on the last panel, consisting of students. She reported on the students' perspective in the blog 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education. In response, a teacher and blogger wrote 20 Things A Teacher Wants the Nation to Know About Education.

So I decided I'd better write one to reflect the important part of the whole discussion - parents, community members and taxpayers. I listed 15 things leaving the last five for input from readers. Here's my list:

1. End the expensive, ineffective, and punitive high stakes assessment.
2. End classrooms environments that have been converted into test prep and testing centers.
3. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to return interesting and valuable electives - drama, art, home economics, computer skills, physical education, and vocational education courses.
4. Use the savings from #1 and 2 to maintain manageable class sizes so that teachers are able to meet individual needs.
5. Stop sending large sums of dollars to Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies for the purpose of implementing unfunded and unfundable compliance and data-driven mandates.
6. Use the savings in #5, to restore reasonable class size for core classes, vocational education, and electives.
7. Hold Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and these other companies accountable to the same degree as schools are being held accountable.
8. Apply greater transparency regarding deals and paid for "junkets" made with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other companies jumping into the profitable education sector. Unsure on the "junkets"? Read about 10 state commissioners of education who traveled around the world on Pearson's tab, "When Free Trips Overlap With Commercial Purposes."
9.Ensure meaningful school-based accountability that meets the NUT principle (No Unnecessary Testing).
10. Use existing measures, such as NAEP, to give a snapshot of student achievement and to report on sub-group accountability.
11. Support local control via publicly elected School Board members.
12. Ditch the preschool through college longitudinal database and maintain parent rights guaranteed under FERPA, requiring consent for sharing of student data.
13. Ensure parent rights to opt out of any and all assessments, punitive-free.
14. Leave it to local control to implement teacher evaluation systems that are not dependent on students taking high stakes assessment.
15. Support communities and families so that all students are fed, housed, and receive medical care versus supporting runaway testing initiatives.

What did I miss?

UPDATE: Responding to a private comment on the importance of these views. Ed reformers, who share Chester Finn's view on local control, will no doubt find any list and input from parents, community members, and taxpayers disruptive to their plans. If parents and the public are excluded from decision-making in their communities and over the lives of their children, what is it that we have exactly?


  1. Local control via publicly elected school board members is great when the public wants to have a voice in the school board. Too many school boards are inhabited by dinosaurs who run unopposed year after year and therefore do not feel the need to take any community input seriously. Therefore, they become part of the problem.

    Furthermore, local control also poses a problem with the issue of funding via property taxes. How many school board meetings are attended by people who don't want to pay higher property taxes vs. parents with concerns about their child's education?

    Parents often do get their voices heard, but many districts have let the pendulum swing completely in one direction so that the parents' voice is disproportionately considered and the voices of people such as teachers and maybe even students (you know, it is possible for parents to advocate for things their kids do not) go unheard. I think good districts listen to those voices and give them all a measured amount of consideration.

    Oh, and we need to audit Pearson or something. Drag them through the mud. They control too much of this standardized testing b.s.

  2. Tom, IMO Regardless of how poorly a local might be managed it beats control from DC by clowns like Duncan and Kevin Jennings.. If it gets too bad, in most cases, local voters will send a message..

    DC Control won't help the annual property ritual at all, regulations tend to be unfunded mandates. Congress isn't about to pick up the tab.. I'm not going to look up the numbers..

    I live in a county of half a million, our school budget is well over a billion dollars (1.2 I think) There's around 320 million people in the Country. Proposing a 3/4 of a trillion dollar Federal Tax increase would be political suicide- Not that it would matter much if the rioters got their hands on you.

    I know the argument-- but I know the reality, local and state governments would suddenly have urgent uses for all those local tax dollars that aren't going into education any more.

  3. I wasn't advocating for federal control. I was simply pointing out that the reality of local control is such, and I think that we need to find other means of funding education precisely because it is so locally funded and that perpetuates the disparities between poor districts and wealthy districts.

    But you're right on federal funding -- that's not the way to go. State funding is iffy as well. My state's governor (I'm in VA) has made no bones about slashing education's budget and has repeatedly raided the retirement system to help balance the budget each year.

    Yes, I realize there are roads projects and what have you, but doing that and then turning around and telling an already strapped locality to do less with more, then emphasizing that test scores and graduation rates have to get better is basically setting us up to fail, you know?

    As for school boards, the faces of school boards need to change and community members such as parents need to do the changing (I think as a teacher I'm not allowed to run for school board in my own district). I have heard too many people complain about who is on the school board but then when it's suggested they run or at least attend a meeting they say they "don't have the time" to do either. It's kind of hard to take that seriously.

  4. Tom, you're getting hard to argue with.. we at least sorta agree on too much.

    First, if you end the emphasis on testing, idealistic but unrealistic graduation quotas and the other regulatory mandates, administrative costs, and all the other "stuff' that comes attached to Federal and State funding, my guess is a district could save at least as much as it gets.

    Without having to "Educate" kids that would rather be out dealing drugs on the street, how much teacher and administrative time would be freed up to actually teach?

    I'm not talking about kicking eleven year old's out of school for shooting spit Loudoun County just did, What would that school have done if someone dropped a frog down a girls back..

    North Korea might have almost managed. Without going that route there may not be anyway to solve the differences between rich and poor communities.. Even the old Soviets had communities where the "elite" lived and communities for different categories of workers. I don't think you can change that..

  5. I don't think you'll find anyone who disagrees that we need to end the emphasis on testing, quotas, etc. Okay, maybe a politician and the CEO of NCS Pearson ... but not me. It's SO frustrating, especially when the nuances of that particular system of assessing schools make it nearly impossible to make AYP.

    Money's the other big thing too. You're right that you can't have a literal equality, but there's gotta be something we can do.

    I also would like to see a leaner bureaucracy, at least as far as district administrations go. I feel sometimes that I do things like sort benchmark testing data or attend in-services so that some assistant superintendent needs to justify his salary.

  6. I live in NJ for a while, each town had it's own Brd of Ed, there's somewhere over 400 districts in the state.

    One town over from where I lived, they one K-3 school with 120 or so students... That was it. They had a Super. an Assist. Super, a Principal, a Vice Principal and two secretaries.

    Pearson testing is one of my favorite education topics.. only problem is I have to watch my language on Sandra's website..

    The year before last my grandson came home on the last day of school, report card in hand. I asked if he'd made it into the fourth grade..

    His answer was "I don't know, they gave me a letter". Pearson had screwed up the results for a big part of Florida, . Regardless of their average, he and thousands of other eight and nine year old's didn't know for sure if they'd been promoted until the second week of August.

  7. Wow. That's amazing.

    I grew up on Long Island, which seems to have a similar structure to NJ. School districts were locally owned. Also, people had a direct say in the budget through voting. This has its pros and cons.

    In Virginia, we're organized by county and the budget is developed by the board of ed and then sent to the county board for approval and that's about it. If one board doesn't like the other, well ... someone gets screwed. Usually the teachers, who don't have a union to stand up for us.

  8. I used to trade comments with very progressive liberal teacher on a local paper's website. She was was a teacher. She told me several times the only reason she didn't drop the union was because they provided legal services in case a parent sued her for looking at little Tommy the wrong way..

    Or considering where she taught, if little Tommy tried to mug her and she kicked the you know what out of him. Either way she stood to get sued and the Union would cover the legal costs.

    She said they were no help when it came to comensation or any other teacher employer issue.

  9. So glad to see a conversation start here.

    Tom - The school board in this county is very competitive and qualified folks are willing to run. I can certainly understand how this is not the case everywhere. Nevertheless, I'm not yet willing to let unfunded, irresponsible mandates come from Tallahassee and Washington DC, with no opportunity for community input. Pearson's growth and expansion is troubling (among many other troubling events in the ed reform world).