Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Still Waiting for Superman: The EASD Fails to Meet Exam Standards Again

If you have a Netflix account, please "Watch [this] Instantly" on Netflix today, to understand what we're up against as a community--and a nation--with regard to education in our schools: Click here

Posted by: Noël Jones

I finally had the opportunity to watch Waiting for Superman, and what a powerful and deeply upsetting film it was. I really had no idea. Please see this film as soon as possible.

According to Colin McEvoy's article in the Express-Times today, the Easton Area School District has failed to meet exam standards again, throwing Easton Area High School, Cheston Middle School, and Easton Area Middle Schools Grades 5-8 into Corrective Action under No Child Left Behind. For the high school, it is their 5th year of Corrective Action II.

While this is depressing news, I would like to take this opportunity to bust a myth here:

Myth: Our schools underperform because our population is transient. This is a myth recently postulated by School Board President Kerry Myers at the last school board meeting over and over again, as he asked the same question of each school board candidate--it went something like this: "When our student population is so transient, causing our PSSA scores to be low, do you have any ideas about to how we can fix that?" This is tricky, because the first two clauses of the "question" assert that transience--not refusing to employ best practices--are responsible for our schools failing to meet exam standards every year. It is a fake question, that is really just meant to send the audience home with the belief that it's not the district's fault, it's the fault of all those people who move to, and then leave, our area. Of the candidates, only Bob Moskaitis caught this and identified the error in the question. Moskaitis answered something like, "Well, what you're posing is a theory. First I'd have to see if there is any evidence to back up the theory before trying to address a solution to what's being posed in the theory."

At this point I would like to direct you to my recent post of an interview with another school board candidate, Janet Matthews, who tells the story of how Cheston Elementary won an international award for having 87% of its student population at or above grade level in reading in 2002. That was just nine years ago, No Child Left Behind started in 2003, and the transience of Easton residents had already existed for many years when Cheston won their award.

So what changed? Read the Janet Matthews interview to find out. I think you'll find it very interesting...


DUH! said...
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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
david said...

From the missing comments, I'll go out on a limb and say that this is a touchy subject. It irks me to no end as well, but I'll try to stay civil.
Okay, nice catch on the transience question. First part of getting the statistics you want is to phrase a question in a way that assumes an answer. That really is statistics 101.
And now we get into the trouble zone...according to those I speak to our greatest problem is "ghetto" culture (black, white and other. We have a large swath of people producing more kids than normal culture and this swath, rewards and encourages ignorance and laziness. It doesn't hurt that many "ghetto" culture parents are little more than children themselves, that they accept crime as a standard of living and are for the most part wards of the state raising future wards of the state.
"Best Practices" aside for the moment, add in any number of children who don't speak the common tongue and are discouraged from doing so at home...and you have a recipe for failure.
Add Pay cuts, job cuts and low morale, and well here we are.
I'll admit that if I were an Easton teacher I'd be looking for work elsewhere.
Add in the stubborn refusal of the EASD to Implement "Best Policies" and there you have it.
While I disagree with the transience assertion, one truth is that we have a lot of willfully ignorant people raising their kids to be the same and that type of influence cannot help but be a noose around the neck of our schools. The question of course is what can be done about them ?
And the answer is very little without violating someone's right to ignorance. This is one big mess, but I'd start there.

peterkc said...

'Waiting for Superman' contains some valid points, but it is essentially a propaganda film that scapegoats teachers and unions, pushes charter schools & privatization, and generally fails to look at the real problems. Check out coverage at Rethinking Schools for a different perspective on these issues—and if you go there look in the magazine archive for some of the other articles at the same time! [If you're really interested in schools and want to support meaningful, student-centered change, order a subscription!]

The emphasis on standardized tests is actually one of the biggest problems schools face. Politicians love them because they simplify everything into numbers that are largely meaningless but easy to rank. Testing companies love them because they make hundreds of millions of dollars every year -- our dollars! Most teachers hate them because they don't help students and they divert all that money that could go for better schools to the testing companies instead.


noel jones said...

While I did feel the film was critical of union the union's system of tenure that makes it impossible to to offer incentives for merit, or to fire bad teachers, I did not feel that the film "scapegoats teachers." On the contrary, there were teachers featured in the film who had come up with unique new ways to teach kids math that were successful, but the system refused to adopt them.

Being critical of the tenure system is not the same as scapegoating teachers--many who criticize the union feel they are fighting FOR teachers who really want to be free to teach in any way that will engage with kids and help them to actually learn, but they forever seem to have their hands tied, and there are no incentives for putting in extra effort.

For instance, when Michelle Rhee in D.C. offered a merit-pay system of higher raises for teachers that would give up their tenure, a lot of teachers were excited about the idea, but the union felt threatened and refused to even let the members vote on it.

How is it scapegoating teachers to say that they should have had the chance to vote to get merit raises for themselves?

And what is wrong with "pushing charter schools" if so many of our public schools are failing miserably, and a lot of charter schools are having great success (so much so that they have to hold LOTTERIES each year in New York to even get into them) allowing teachers to use creative methods that work?

noel jones said...

david--while I get what you're saying, the reality remains that Cheston Elementary won and international award for literacy in 2002--not so long ago--87% of kids at or ABOVE grade level in reading--same populations at play--and then the program that made it possible was yanked the same year.

if you haven't had a chance already, read the Janet Matthews interview...

it would appear that the school district's problems are within, not just in the community.

david said...

Ohh, it's definitely a cluster shag. There is more than enough blame to go around. Americans for example get roughly 4 times the homework given to children of any of the advanced nations (countries that rank above our abysmal 31st place in education), and I agree with petrec that the methods of standardized testing that we use are archaic and do not reflect the multi-cultural issues that arise in American style system of education.
In that regard we are truly unique, but that does not mean that we should not look outside of ourselves to find solutions. Sadly many of the solutions are dismissed out of hand here in Easton and other such places.
I'd love to see us revisit the school uniform idea with vouchers for those of low income. It has worked where ever it has been tried and enforced. I would not oppose any number of solutions that are within our power to easily provide, but many will.
But in the end I do feel that the general ignorance of the population is one of the largest problems. I read the anyone following up to see if these kids maintain there great start through the rest of their school years?
Doubtful, but why not?
Let's see how these kids fair as they proceed into young adulthood, lets get viable, provable data for both those who succeed and those who fail.
Will we?
Unlikely. Can we?
This is definitely a mess where which ever direction someone points a finger, there is wrong to be found.
I suggest starting with things we can influence easily and bring to bear quickly.

noel jones said...

David--good comments about the national problem, but please go read the Janet Matthews interview for more info on the local and very specific problem at Chester Elementary, which mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) wasn't a problem in 2002--lets have a conversation about our specific local issue here too, along with the broader problem addressed by Waiting for Superman.

Anonymous said...


You seem to be a shill for Janet Matthews. Why haven't you asked her the reason why she didn't reinstate the successful Cheston literacy program when she became the Director of Literacy?

Janet Matthews said...

I never held the title of Director of Literacy. I was the Associate Dir. of Literacy, and there were administrators above me who made literacy curriculum decisions that I needed to follow. I would gladly speak with you to clear up any questions you have, but it's impossible to do that if you stay Anonymous.

Roberto said...

So Janet, based on what you just wrote, you would agree that the demotion of your bosses was justified? Did you elementary boss not permit you to continue the successful Cheston literacy program?

noel jones said...

Roberto/Anon--you are not making sense, and your tone is quite personal--which is disturbing, when it's clear from your comments that you are either an administrator yourself, or closely tied to one. Very creepy to think an administrator would be posting anonymously to a blog to harass bloggers, candidates and commenters alike. Unprofessional and disturbing--an indicator as to just how dysfunctional our school district's administration is.

And since you seem to be on the inside, perhaps you could address the topic and explain to us why our school district has failed our youth again, and why EAHS is in its 5th year of Corrective Action II--a rating so bad that the state could take us over?

Me said...

I dont have children in EASD they go to BASD which is equally pathetic. I have one in Broughal and one in Fountain Hill. If my children werent as smart as they are I too would have pulled them out and put them in a Charter School. I'm not sure what school is giving kids 4 times more homework but my children hardly ever come home with homework and it makes me very angry. Both schools didnt meet PSSA AYP either but what I did notice was this: Broughal totally missed it with 6th graders, almost made it with 7th graders and 8th grade went well beyond making it..this tells me that elementary schools arent doing what they are supposed to be doing. When teachers stop teaching the test and start teaching the curriculum, most of the kids will have a fighting chance but that wont happen as long as the admins/teachers constantly push the PSSA this and the PSSA that and have to pass have to pass...

noel jones said...

Me--thanks for posting--it's good to hear from parents from other districts to get a sense of how widespread these issues are in the LV.

I think many parents share your frustration. It would be worth finding out when the last time the lower grades were passing was, and whether any literacy intervention programs were employed then that are not being employed now, like at Cheston Elementary in Easton.

If you ask a teacher who has taught the younger grades for many years, they would be able to tell you. I'm sure that teachers are sick of teaching to the test too.

noel jones said...

Here is an interesting article from the NYTimes about how Houston public schools are experimenting with taking on the innovative education techniques of successful charter schools: