Merry Ann Moore
Merry Ann Moore is principal of Moore Creative, a strategic communications firm. She has 25 years of experience helping corporations, government, small businesses and non-profits communicate in ways that motivate, educate and inspire their audiences. As the parent of two teens in Sisters School District, she has led efforts to secure services for local Talented & Gifted Students, worked on three Local Option campaigns and lobbied legislators for stable school funding. Best parenting moments: coaching soccer. Worst parenting moments: coaching soccer.
“The undercutting of funding for both K-12 education and OSU was the driving factor in our decision to move, wrenching as it was. We don’t have a control group on this, but it is interesting to think about what might have been had we felt able to stay in the community we loved so much and hated to leave.”
–Jane Acker, resident of Corvallis, 1984-1995
Take a trip in a time machine with me. It’s 1984. Reagan is wrapping up his first term. MTV is three years old (Madonna, Van Halen, Huey Lewis and Billy Joel videos are duking it out at the top of the charts), and Apple’s newest product (launched with the famous Super Bowl ad) was a Macintosh 128K.
My sister-in-law Jane had just moved with her young family to Corvallis, Oregon. Her husband David Acker was pursuing his PhD at OSU, focused on international development and agriculture. With four- and one-year-olds, and a one-quarter-time job between the two, the couple had put a high premium on settling where there were good public schools. (more…)
Times are hard, as we all know. Our political leaders are preoccupied, understandably, with job creation.
But if they don’t put reversing the decline of public education as the highest priority, their efforts to bolster the economy by creating jobs are doomed to fail.
If we want a preview of what comes when public education goes into a death spiral, just look south. After years of economic crisis, the once-vaunted University of California college system, formerly among the world’s most envied, has lost appeal, with many high school counselors now advising high-achieving, college-bound graduates against applying there, due to declining quality from lack of funding.
The implications are obvious: brain drain/fewer college students coming to the state → a reduced pipeline of well-prepared young workers for the labor market → less interest from businesspeople in locating or expanding in the state → reluctance of smart people to move to places where schools are subpar = no way out of economic malaise. (more…)
I suspect I’m like many parents nowadays, who wonder how to be helpful to high school-aged children when advising them what fields of study and career paths to consider pursuing. As opposed to when I was getting an education, there is a much higher level of anxiety about employability for young people. It used to be, you went to college, got a degree and assumed a job would be available. Given the current realities of the American economy, that is no longer the case.
For better or worse, this means there is a higher premium on educational programs that result in marketable skills. Sisters School District is hoping to beef up such programs with a two-pronged effort that would 1) get high-achieving kids aware of and well positioned for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and other academically-intensive fields of study, and 2) get kids who are vocationally-oriented informed about what it takes to be qualified for work in those sectors.
Dependent on the results of private grant requests, the District intends to “strengthen the jobs pipeline” by providing an integrated program of career-related learning, work-based experience and college admissions preparation to complement grade 5 through 12 instruction.
I found the characterization of teaching shared by Charlotte Danielson during Chalkboard’s recent webinar on evaluating educator effectiveness enlightening–and timely. Borrowing from educational psychologist Lee Shulman, she pointed out that teaching as an occupation is on par in complexity and stress levels with an ER doctor following a major disaster:
“He noted that teachers have classrooms of 25–35 students, whereas doctors treat only a single patient at a time. Even when working with a reading group of six to eight students, teachers are overseeing the decoding skills, comprehension, word attack, performance, and engagement of those students while simultaneously keeping tabs on the learning of the other two dozen students in the room. ‘The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity,’ Shulman pointed out, ‘would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster.’ He concluded that classroom teaching ‘is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.’” (From “A Framework for Learning to Teach,” by Charlotte Danielson, Educational Leadership, Online June 2009 | Volume 66)
I’d add the fact that teachers also have hundreds of “bosses” (parents), changing every year, some of them (ahem) not so reluctant to weigh in on what’s happening in their classrooms.
“The essential question is not, ‘How busy are you?’ but ‘What are you busy at?’”
It’s probably safe to say that public education professionals in Oregon have never been so busy. They have larger class sizes, fewer staff to do more work due to budget cuts, a need to invest time in professional development to keep pace with changing technology in the field, and strong pressure to adopt fundamental changes to boost student achievement.
In a word, they are being expected to continuously improve at a time of historic cutbacks in education funding.
Needless to say, these are challenging times. But with the third year of Sisters School District’s CLASS grant under way, a significant culture change is evident. Teachers are operating less in silos, and collaborating across grades and school levels to close gaps in student knowledge. They are more open to being mentored and evaluated by peers, and see these evaluations as valuable tools for improving their instructional practices. Student achievement data is posted prominently in the District office and in all teacher lounges, and helps shape what goes on in classrooms.
As the dust settles from the whirlwind of another school year startup here in rural Oregon, I’ve been holding my breath to see how the deep state budget cuts made last spring are going to impact my two teenagers’ schooling.
From my standpoint, staff, parents and students are doing their best to keep programs intact and classroom instruction quality high, though the system is strained to breaking point. And we are going more and more often to our own family pocketbook to help sustain programs that used to be taken for granted.
Here’s how the crisis in public education funding in Oregon is playing out in Sisters for the 2011-12 school year.
- The elementary school principal position was eliminated, with responsibilities for parent relations and basic staff coordination transferred to a lead teacher, who doubles as a kindergarten instructor.
- With administrative staff whittled to bone, the district superintendent has assumed new responsibilities such as cleaning the men’s bathroom, performing teacher evaluations at the elementary school, and answering phones, since he has no longer has a secretary. He is also responsible for implementing the new Chalkboard planning grant. Reports are that the few still left on staff at the district office are working before sunup until late hours to cover the work of three RIFed staff members, on top of their own workloads.
- The part-time coordinator for our district’s highly-regarded Aspire program, a volunteer-based mentoring program to help high school upperclassmen and -women make post-graduation plans, was RIFed. Fortunately, public outcry resulted in school administrators and a private philanthropist cobbling together enough grant money to continue the program, at least for this year.
- The pace of fundraising has picked up. For school year 2011-12 our family has participated in three car washes, an evening benefit and auction, and a golf tournament…set up a bed-and-breakfast for quilt show visitors… waited tables at a community dinner…made two direct contributions to teams…and canvassed local merchants to solicit items for an auction basket—and this is three weeks in. (more…)
The latest federal data show what parents who care about education in our state already know: Oregon is underfunding public schools compared to the rest of the nation, by a significant seven percent.
Combine this with a lingering, abysmal economy that is creating desperate circumstances for many, untenable PERS retirement benefits, and falling tax rates—Americans are paying the lowest tax rates since 1950—and here’s what it looks like on the ground in our schools.
Fields of study that provide the skills students need for 21st century jobs are being eliminated, and teachers of that coursework let go, meaning it will take years to restore them, if stable funding is ever restored. Given the last hired, first fired logic of our system, talented young teachers are reading the tea leaves and getting out of the education profession. “Non-essentials”—things we used to take for granted such as school sports, art, music, foreign language, vocational classes—are becoming dependent on private funds or going the way of the dodo.
Source of table at right: USA Today, 5/12/2010
At Summit High School in Bend, a seven-period schedule is being considered, up from a block schedule with four daily periods. Teachers who taught six out of eight periods this past year would now teach six out of seven, reducing their prep time while their work loads increase. Due to layoffs, one high school math teacher will be teaching four separate subjects—calculus, contextual geometry, financial algebra and Math 1—in six classes with roughly 210 students. A science teacher will be loaded up with an electronics section, two biology courses, and three physics sections, including an AP course.
At age 49, my husband Rob Corrigan just completed his dual Master’s degree and Oregon teacher certification program. He is now certified to teach middle and high school math through calculus, and the sciences including physics. He is a Harvard graduate, a former senior executive at multiple hardware technology start-ups in Silicon Valley, a classroom volunteer, a soccer coach from U6 up through U13, a former school board president.
But Rob is unlikely to land a public school job anytime soon, having gained certification at the time of greatest economic distress since the Depression, a period of historic budget cutbacks in statehouses everywhere.
Was certification worth it? Can second-career scientists, businesspeople, technology, media or other professionals segue successfully into teaching in Oregon’s current school system—now or ever?
A better question may be, “Why would they?”
O, Public School, how I loved thee much more,
Before my first-born in his youthful sap trotted through thine kindergarten door.
Ten autumns, Public School, of promise and betrayal,
This year a teacher of genius, the next one beyond the pale,
Of budgets fickle as mercury and policies that bind
Teachers to scripts and standards that numb minds.
You hath dwelt, Public Ed, on No Child Left Behind, but what of Ahead,
When teaching to the test earns a sweet ransom from the feds?
Estimable Science, chide with me the teachers in elementary
Who claimed you little more than the egg drop test in grades five, four and three.
And Apollo cheer the maestro who conducts music class before school day’s dawn,
And fundraises for festivals and instruments the summer long.
Hate be too strong a word for the teacher who cost me dear in Styrofoam and twine,
When he bade my son build a scale model of the solar system, though it be five miles by nine,
Likewise, Love says too much for she who called the Teacher Certification Committee to task,
so an uncertified college professor couldst teach foreign language class,
But this civil war of gratitude and despair you inspire in me, Public Ed,
Results when our youth line the rafters in classes too big,
And when some insult as elitist those who ask for more challenge,
And when we’re told, “Home school” to get students’ needs met.
A lifetime of asking for money in the space of short years–Local Options, candy sales,
meat sticks, fun runs, cookie dough, galas, auctions, car washes, ad sales, golf tourneys,
jump-ropes, bingo–more coming, me fears.
Public Education, my progeny are your products, like it or naught,
Pray, find you world enough and treasure until they graduate.
By Merry Ann Moore, with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare
My fondest memories of my years in a small Central Florida public school system in the 1960s and 70s are of my chorus and band instructors. I still have the “create your dream house” art project assigned in 7th grade art. I remember picking that class over the other elective, wood shop.
In 9th grade I got to choose a foreign language to learn, and those studies led to me taking a college semester abroad and then to living overseas on a scholarship for a year. I played on the junior high volleyball team. There was an enrichment center for accelerated students to attend once a week.
The academics weren’t stellar, but the breadth of the curriculum stirs envy by today’s public school standards. Not just in Oregon, music, band, team sports, wood shop, art, P.E. and foreign languages are increasingly viewed as “extras” that K-12 schools can’t afford.
And increasingly, the core services of public schools are at risk. Financial support from private sources, namely families with school-aged children and the communities around schools—the “users”–is increasingly counted on to preserve teaching staff, not just jazz band. (more…)