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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Portsmouth Schools Get an "F." Who's to Blame?

"Portsmouth City Schools Superintendent Scott Dutey said his district had two years to get ready for the new state report card format, but still had difficulty keeping up with the state’s constantly changing system.

"One month before the cards were released last week, the state was reporting 12 of 24 indicators met by the school last school year, but with just weeks left until the cards were released, the state changed it all twice. The district was reduced to only 10 of 24, and their grade dropped to an F. The district also earned a C for performance index (72.9 percent), and an C for Value-Added.

"Dutey said it’s frustrating because the district has improved, but the changes in the new state report card made it difficult for schools all over Ohio to keep up.

“'I’ve been having these conversations with our district personnel, and our board members, and our community folks at our ed forums we have quarterly. We’ve known for two years this was coming. Changes were coming. The new report card was coming. None of that should have caught us off guard,” Dutey said. 

“'Even though we knew these changes were coming, they’ve changed the way AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) calculations are done. They created a whole new formula again. They’ve changed the graduation requirements, creating the four- and five-year cohorts. That wasn’t supposed to take place last year. That was supposed to be phased in. They went ahead and included it now. Those kind of things are frustrating.'”

 (Ryan Ottney, "Portsmouth School Struggles with Changing Standards," 
Portsmouth Daily Times, August 29 2013)

This report illustrates the merry-go-round of senseless Ohio public school "reform." Students are hounded by classroom teachers who are hounded by school administrators who are hounded by local boards of education who are hounded by the Ohio Department of Education who all answer to the public that cares little about the entire process except raising their school's "unacceptable" failing report card.

And, in the meantime, the beat goes on. Teaching continues, and children advance in their class rankings until graduation. How can this be? I mean, this is like a major automobile manufacturer continuing production of a car with evident recall dangers, isn't it? The product is evidently defective yet certified to roll on the highway.

Here is the problem. Forever defects have been correctly identified and properly scored with a failing grade, but never has the school, the state, or the public been willing to rebuild the "failing part." A grade of "F" indicates "failure." It is a symbol (a mark on paper) that represents unacceptable performance. Failure begs for self-acceptance, commitment to change, remediation, and considerable hard work.

First of all, society views failure as an end. It is not. Failure is actually a realization that an acceptable measure of learning has not been accomplished at this point. Although blame is commonly held to be a reaction to failure, blame does nothing to improve the product. So, let's look at a kid who fails a subject, his teacher, and the reality of the defect. 

1. The Student

With variables like environment, native intelligence, peer pressure, family structure, financial resources, and mental stability making up the product, grounds for potential failure are rich. Public education attempts to institute a program of consistent, marked improvement in every single student -- in reality, an impossible task.

No one is excluded from the system because of their lack of ability or social problems -- teachers must deal with every conceivable personality while charging through objectives in a ever-more-difficult curriculum that offers less and less time for actual instruction. The system is designed with good intentions, but quality control is often lacking. Some students will be failures and labeled as such for all to see.

Is a failure lazy, inattentive, immature, unprepared, bored, or just plain indifferent? The teacher likely knows the answer as to why a failure doesn't make the grade; however, fixing that part so that a failure can return to a challenging curriculum may prove next to impossible. Most teachers are subject matter specialists who must remain on task to complete class and grade-level objectives. They lack time, skill, and patience to be sociologists, counselors, or psychologists.

I have found that an overwhelming number of parents refuse to believe that their child is responsible for a failure. Parents will often appeal to the administration and the school board in attempts to uncover a scapegoat for their child's lack of success. Even great teachers must withstand continual accusations of blame for failures. 

In truth, seldom do parents of a failing student track their child's class progress, communicate with teachers until grades are issued, or offer aid to induce solutions. These parents usually have vendettas and personal "beefs" with the school, so they find fault that satisfies their personal perception, pass their suspicions onto their failing child, and thus reinforce the attitude that the school has caused little Johnny or Mary to fail.

2. The Teacher

Faced with a number of critical personal evaluations as well as state "report cards," teachers now live in fear. They are afraid of letting down their students, their school, their community, and themselves. Faced with endless assessments, teachers lose opportunities to enrich their classes. Curricula have become so performance-objective oriented that personality and creativity have been stifled in favor of lockstep, bland, "scratch-the-surface" and "cover your ass" methodology. 

Teachers feel like failures in this educational system that cares more about numbers and accountability than about mental health and human development. More ... more ... more content is not necessarily quality education. Problem solving and critical thinking require time for rumination, digestion, and practice. Teachers unfortunately do not have the luxury of creating in-depth units of study. They are too hurried and worried about evaluations and clerical duties.

In addition, teachers are continually at odds with administration because of a school's substandard performance indicators. They often fight like hyenas and lions -- arch enemies -- instead of smoothing out differences in theory and practice. Charged with keeping a good "public face" and appeasing board politics, administrators are not reluctant to "pass the buck" of failure to classroom teachers. Maintaining good sports coaches and attractive facilities may be higher on the list of personal administrative concerns than taking the ball to insure high academics.

In any school the range of teachers and their effective performance runs from poor to good. Although districts sometimes remove poor teachers from the classroom, many times they are merely shifted to positions where they have less student contact but more control over curriculum through increased administrative duties. 

In addition, no great incentive for becoming an excellent classroom teacher exists. A great teacher with the same degrees and experience as a lousy teacher receives no more pay. And, because the great teacher is so competent, he is usually saddled with more students, additional classes, and added extracurricular academic duties. An exceptional teacher's only hope for recompense is to leave the classroom, the center of his prowess, and become an overpaid office administrator, a position for which he is usually not sufficiently trained. This places the burden of discovering individuals with poor managerial capabilities after they are promoted.

Teachers commonly know this  as the old "Peter Principle" made popular in the 1969 book of the same title by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The  proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The "Peter Principle" states that "employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

The most depressing news is that most teachers these days actually hate their jobs. Not because of low pay, not because of waning discipline, not because of lack of materials, but, instead, because of State-mandated busy work, distrust of officials, and lack of time to develop effective strategies for classroom teaching. 

Anyone who has taught realizes that trial and error, re-evaluation, varied range of methodology, and freedom to extend personal approach are crucial in the classroom. And, anyone who has taught realizes that success and failure are constant companions. All human products possesses different ideas and opinions about any concept deemed necessary for their understanding. The riddle of how best to reach the most human beings with the greatest degree of success is difficult to answer. Classroom teachers do not need meaningless chore after chore and senseless report after report to dominate their days. In contrast, they need to learn through experience to master the art of teaching.

The child failed. The teacher failed. The administration failed. The school district failed. The State failed. The parents failed. 

Blame it on someone. Blame it on something. The rules aren't fair. The "playing field" changed. The educators aren't doing their jobs. The kids don't care.

Get more money. Get more materials. Get better facilities. Get more teachers and get more administrators. Get answers to the standardized tests.

Devise new objectives. Devise new programs. Devise better methods of accountability. Devise teacher training and student peer groups.

All of this has already happened.

For Christ's sake, this educational merry-go-round is in perpetual motion, and nobody seems able to jump off, distance themselves from the whirling machine, and objectively look at it from a new perspective. The business of education must accept some failure. It cannot create a perfect solution to its many problems. The question is "How much failure is understandable and acceptable?"

Here is a new idea: instead of pointing fingers, freaking out about marks on a report card, and adding every new proposed solution imaginable, public education should just chill and take giant steps backward. I believe schools should be more like schools used to be -- not institutions responsible for every need and whim of learning, but people-accountable places where kids can slowly mature and digest a limited amount of essential information necessary for advancement into adulthood.

Make grade schools, middle schools, and grade schools LESS accountable to scores on paper and reports on the desks of administrators and MORE accountable to producing good, teacher-initiated lessons. DON'T make high schools more like junior colleges, but DO make them enjoyable providers of reasonable grade-level expectations. Let students pass and fail as they strive to mature in a world gone largely bananas. Bring back innocence and rack up kids' mistakes and failures as part of life.

And, if education refuses to "back up," then, for God's sake, they must discover the all-important answers to the questions that allow schools to score an "A" on their State report cards. Someone, please write a book or two detailing how in the hell to deliver the goods. Something tells me there would still be plenty of failures even if schools gave students the answers.

Portsmouth City School District

Indicators Met
Indicators Met measures how many students have passed the state tests at a minimum level, called proficient, or higher. Test results are reported for each student in a grade and subject. At least 75 percent of students must pass to get credit for the indicator. Starting in the 2013-14 school year, a district or school needs to have 80 percent of their students pass at a minimum level or higher in order to “meet” an indicator.

10 out of  24
87.5 of a possible 120.0
Indicators Met %
A =
90.0 - 100.0%
B =
80.0 - 89.9%
C =
70.0 - 79.9%
D =
50.0 - 69.9%
F =
0.0 - 49.9%
A =
90.0 - 100.0%
B =
80.0 - 89.9%
C =
70.0 - 79.9%
D =
50.0 - 69.9%
F =
0.0 - 49.9%

3rd GradeMathematics73.0%
4th GradeMathematics65.4%
5th GradeMathematics42.5%
6th GradeMathematics59.6%
7th GradeMathematics56.4%
8th GradeMathematics62.2%
OGT, 10th GradersMathematics75.2%
Social Studies80.2%
OGT, 11th GradersMathematics92.0%
Social Studies82.7%

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