Posts Tagged ‘
Oregon schools ’
I feel angry, conflicted and frustrated. I know schools took huge cuts (but was this really cuts to growth, but still more than last year?). I know class sizes had to be bigger (but was this really that unions would not budge?). I know specialties have been cut (but was this really staff inflexibility?). I know teachers are underpaid (but was this a balancing effort due to big benefits?).
All the things “I know” because my school district and the media tell me, yet I cannot make the facts fit with the numbers I saw at the legislature. The cuts to school budgets were not huge – the lack of increase was the key. So why so much change? No more library or computers at my son’s school. No more music options at my daughter’s school. Both have classrooms too big for even the best teachers. If we are just working with the dollars of last year, why are these schools so different?
Meeting agreed upon salary and benefit increases seem the answer to me – can any of you show where I am wrong?
Last week, Dan Jamison and I were invited to help facilitate the Mid-Valley Boys and Girls Club staff retreat in Lincoln City. This Boys and Girls Club serves kids in the Mid-Willamette Valley area within the Albany, Sweet Home and Lebanon school districts and provides a fun, safe and supervised environment for recreational and educational activities. Dan and I were particularly excited about this retreat because Albany and Lebanon happen to be two of our 18 CLASS districts.
Chalkboard was invited to this retreat to provide the Boys and Girls Club with an introduction to the CLASS Project, share current state and federal education policy issues, and also provide a snapshot of some of Oregon’s student data. And we were happy to join, always wanting to build our outreach and share important education-related information with communities throughout the state. This was also a great opportunity for the Boys and Girls Club staff to gain a better understanding of what’s going on with the students and teachers within their school districts—particularly those involved in CLASS.
It also wasn’t hard to say yes to a day at the coast, in Lincoln City where the retreat was held. The day promised to be full of hard work, creative thinking, and a bit of an ocean breeze. And after teaching for 32 years in Albany and serving as a principal at all three levels in the Greater Albany School District, Dan was excited to engage with the club. He even ran into some of his former students!
It’s the middle of summer (OK, not quite the middle, but it feels that way) and I feel tired, a bit cranky, and frankly, lacking inspiration. Witnessing the never-ending and farcical tragi-comedy being performed in DC, I feel more than ever that we are a nation—and state—of silos.
Many of us hide in our narrow ideological bunkers, and peek out only long enough to lob disdain on our neighbor in their own tidy little world. “You said this, so you must be anti-teacher”; “Oh, you said that, so you’re one of those who want to stick with the status quo”; “You’re rich and want to support schools? You must be trying to corporatize and do away with public schools”; “You’re a parent advocate? Well, you’re just being a pain in my butt”; “Raise taxes in this economy—are you kidding?”
I have spent a little more than a year sharing on this blog what I think and believe in. Hopefully I’ve challenged some of you and made you think—it certainly has caused me to think more deeply. Now, I want a thought experiment from you, those reading this blog. What do you believe in? What do you want to talk about? What inspires you? What are you passionate about? Frankly, I don’t want to hear what you’re against, I want to hear what you want and what you’re for. What do you want for your kids, and for all of our kids? What gets you excited and keeps you up at night?
Tell me. Respond. Help me as I struggle not to stay cozy in my own silo.
The summer weather has finally arrived in Oregon and summer vacation is in full swing. Some kids are camping, some are at summer camp. Many teachers are taking a much-needed break, while others are enrolled in summer courses.
Summer vacation has been a tradition in the United States since the mid-19th century, but as the students of the United States fall behind in reading, math and science, the trend towards year-round education is gaining momentum. Is it possible that summer vacation is a tradition that is doing more harm than good for our children? Could year-round school be the key to improving our struggling public education system?
Public schools in the United States haven’t always had a long summer vacation; in fact, in the 1800s different areas of our country had different school schedules. In the city schools were open as many as 48 weeks a year while rural areas had a summer and winter term for school and a fall and spring break allowing children to help with planting and harvesting on the family farm. In the 1840s, popular educational reformers like Horace Mann proposed a blending of the two schedules citing the belief that year-round school was over-stimulating to children’s minds, but that 2 semesters wasn’t enough. And so it was. The “traditional” calendar was born: a 9 month school year with a long summer break. (Source)
As Chalkboard’s state government relations team, Phil Donovan and I believe this was an incredibly successful session for Chalkboard Project and its parent foundations. Our partnership with the Oregon Business Association and Stand for Children served us well and resulted in a formidable advocacy team of business, grassroots and research entities. Despite a devastating state budget, CLASS Project and mentor dollars were achieved and a new teacher evaluation system was put on a timeline for implementation in 2013.
You have probably all heard about the “education package” that passed and the concerns that many have voiced about the politics that engineered the seemingly disparate group of policy reforms. It is this kind of “horse trading” that turns so many off from politics, but such is the basis of how things get done, especially with close margins in the party makeup.
The new annual sessions and the House divided 30-30 for the first time made this session part of Oregon history on two accounts. Politically, the House makeup and the very close margins in the Senate (16 Democrats and 14 Republicans) led to “bipartisanship” being the term most used by the media, pundits and the legislators themselves.
But to many, “bipartisanship” connotes a friendliness and agreement of important issues—a common sense, middle-of-the-road route to public policy. Publicly that may have been the image portrayed, but others describe the drama behind the scenes more along the lines of a hostage situation where bills advanced that one party did not like in order for them to see their own issues move ahead. Is this a strong-arm strategy, rather than a philosophical meeting of the minds?
Education policy was the key area where one might ask this question. But certainly it cannot be denied that the legislative leaderships’ choreography of the process was masterful, the trading intense, and even the purported strong-arming effective in leading to significant changes for Oregon.
There are some very inspirational leaders in the education profession. These are the people who seem to have the capacity to view the big picture and articulate so clearly what they see and hear. Linda Nathan, headmaster of Boston Arts Academy, author, and Harvard instructor in democratic schools, is such a leader.
Linda came to Oregon in May as the keynote speaker at the Oregon Small Schools Leadership Institute in Ashland. The theme of the one day Institute, led by E3 Small Schools Director Kathy Campobasso, was “moving forward.” Linda spoke with rich and vivid examples on the importance of leadership with a strong and clear vision and about the complexities of sustaining the work of personalizing education through the power of small. Principals, teacher leaders, teachers, superintendents, and board members from 22 small high schools participated in a variety of break-out sessions. They shared outstanding practices that are happening in their schools and celebrated the positive results.
Students from southern Oregon small schools presented a panel on their small high school experiences. The concluding forum was presented by Duncan Wyse, Executive Director of E3, Barbara Gibbs of Meyer Memorial Trust, and Linda Nathan on the importance and challenges of moving forward with positive school change on the state and national level. All were inspirational!
It’s been a dramatic time for education in Oregon. We have seen lots of change, coming fast and furious from the Legislature, and much of it remains to be sorted out in terms of its actual impact on student achievement. But it certainly gives us hope—hope that Oregon can have a public school system among the best in the nation.
We give thanks to our state’s leaders for feeling the urgency we believe has been building all across this state for a higher quality system of K-12 schools. We give thanks to the teachers and leaders who are on the front lines of our schools every day, helping point the way to the supports children need to learn to their full capacity. We give thanks to the parents and citizens of this state who continue to send their children to public schools and have a collective will to make them strong. Together, we make up a community that has faith that every child can learn, and now, more commitment and momentum to make that goal a reality.
Our task ahead is perhaps harder than pushing these reforms through the legislative process—we must work together to implement them in a way that improves the learning experience for each child. We are delighted that among the reforms passed to do this are two of Chalkboard’s priorities to ensure we have an effective, quality teacher in every class, every school day.
. . . Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Lately I’ve been thinking back to an earlier part of my life and using those experiences as a lens for our current efforts around school system change. For about ten years, I was a teacher with Outward Bound. OB’s name has nautical roots—when a ship leaves the safety of the harbor and heads out in to the unknown it is said to be outward bound. Their motto “To Serve, To Strive, and Not to Yield” comes from the amazing Ulysses by Tennyson (as does the quote above). It is about balance—between self-reliance and being part of a larger community; between tenacity and sensible self-denial; and between compassion for others and taking care of one’s own. So, with that in mind…
Let’s take a moment to celebrate. I am truly excited by our opportunity to begin the process of public school system reform that is possible through SB 909. All is not fixed, everything didn’t go our way, there is so much to do, but there are moments of beauty in small victories. As I often find myself saying these days, we now have the possibility of possibilities. Once we’re done with this brief self-congratulation, let’s get to work.
One thing I know is that commitment is not enough. In my heart of hearts I believe that we are all committed to our kids—the work ahead will require determined single-mindedness, and it will certainly take a deep collaboration that is unusual and unlike any other we have attempted. It is not left and right, rural and urban, black or white, across this or that aisle—it is a moral imperative and it is for our kids. We are leaving the safety of this moment, the security of this small but important victory and heading into uncharted waters. We must build and maintain unwavering collective capacity for systemic change and we can accept no excuses. The legislative session that brought us to this time was filled with moments of political will, charismatic leadership, and fierce advocacy, while we also glimpsed petty infighting, fear mongering, misinformation, and other devils of our nature.
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.
Many of the current discussions around public school improvement have focused on teachers: How to evaluate them, and how to help them improve.
I had the opportunity to meet recently with the principal of my son’s school and ask her a few questions about how teacher evaluations are handled in a private school. My interview was with Merrill Hendin, head of Portland Jewish Academy.
Heather Penner: What is your general framework for evaluating teachers?
Merrill Hendin: It’s an evolving process, based on Charlotte Danielson’s “Enhancing Professional Practice”.
HP: How often are teachers evaluated?
MH: There are two official classroom visits per year, and two sit-down meetings per year in which we discuss a teacher’s professional goals for him- or herself for that year. But in reality, evaluations are much more frequent and fluid than that, as supervisors drop in and observe the classrooms frequently. It is important to find a balance between being organic and yet still being thoughtful and systematic.
The first three years that a teacher is with PJA, she is on the “observation track” and teaching performance is watched more closely. Beyond the third year, supervision is more focused on professional growth—helping teachers with their own professional development goals for the year.
At the end of the year, both the teacher and the supervisor each writes a narrative evaluation of the teacher’s strengths and challenges, looking forward to goals for the next year.
HP: Who does the evaluations?
MH: The teachers are divided fairly evenly into three groups, based on subject matter. At PJA, these groups are General Studies, Jewish & Hebrew Studies, and Specialists (music, art, dance, etc.) Each of these areas has a supervisor, although the other supervisors frequently drop in on other classrooms as well. There is a lot of overlap and cross-communication and collaboration between the supervisors.