Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our School Board Takes Two Steps Forward and Two Steps Back

Last night’s school board meeting began on a positive note. Board President Lawrence O’Connell spoke at length about the board’s efforts to control costs in light of current economic conditions. He expects the district to receive more state funding which may translate into some tax relief. The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District spends $7.73 million per year on healthcare and President O’Connell insisted the board would continue working to control healthcare spending, including further negotiations with the Matawan Regional Teachers Association. The board also announced that they have selected a candidate for superintendent and will begin contract negotiations.

President O’Connell agreed, in principle, to post the school district’s line-item budget online, excluding those portions that are statutorily prohibited to publicize for privacy reasons. He was also thanked by Interim Superintendent Glastein for the donation of two laptops and a projector from his employer, IBM.

The only item missing from the board’s opening remarks was any mention of education.

On the agenda was $55,000 for nine Promethean Boards. These are interactive whiteboards that feature a touch-sensitive computer screen, an Internet connection, a remote control, and software for creating lesson plans. When I asked the board about our experience with them, they deferred to Interim Superintendent Glastein.

“Fantastic,” he replied. The school district has been using them for a year and a half and the teachers love them.

Will their use translate into higher test scores? “I hope so.”

How many years will we give the interactive whiteboards to prove their effectiveness before discontinuing the program? No response.

I later asked if the school district had ever ended a program for failing to deliver results. President O’Connell gave an “unqualified yes”.

I pressed further and asked for a single example. After much head scratching, Board Member John Barbato answered “whole language”.

Bad example.

Whole language is the widely discredited teaching method that emphasizes word meaning and de-emphasizes technical skills like spelling and grammar. After subjecting thousands of students to this disastrous program for over a decade, despite clear evidence of its adverse affects, our school district continues to use whole language as a basis for Reading Recovery.

As I detailed in a prior article, Plato’s Apostles, Reading Recovery is one of the pillars of our Response to Intervention (RTI) program. The school district, along with most Reading Recovery supporters, insists the program is not whole language because it incorporates more than one method. I disagree.

According to Louisa Moats, author of the American Federation of Teachers’ “Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science”, Reading Recovery is based upon the same premise as whole language and uses a whole language approach. Likewise, Wikipedia describes Reading Recovery as “a program that uses a whole language approach with struggling readers.”

PBS, home to Sesame Street and Bob the Builder, produced a documentary entitled “A Tale of Two Schools” that states:

The specific vehicle for the spread of whole-language through American public education was a program called Reading Recovery, developed by a teacher in New Zealand named Marie Clay, which supposedly produced nearly miraculous results with third- and fourth-graders who were having trouble reading. Reading Recovery itself draws upon both phonics and whole-language theory, but in America it has served as a transmission device for whole-language. Reading Recovery specifically, and whole-language reading instruction generally, spread like wildfire through the education world during the 1980s.
I wonder if, given more time, the school board can think of a failed program that they actually ended, rather than simply repackaged and branded as something else.

By the way, the research on interactive whiteboards is inconclusive. Does anybody on the school board care? I’m afraid the data on that is inconclusive as well. >>> Read more!


Anonymous said...

Maybe less comments bashing teachers and more comments about the programs and policies the school board adopts

Aberdeener said...

I have never bashed our teachers. I have attacked the teachers union and the labor rules they impose but I have never disparaged our teachers.

Anonymous said...

These are your words.

Each year, your students score below the state average in all the assessment exams
Most of your students graduate with an 8th grade math education compared to other industrialized nations
Only a minority of your students successfully complete college
Most of your students lack the skills to pursue careers in the most promising fields

You don't find this to be insulting to teachers. The fact that you say that "your students score below the state average in all the assessment exams. What about the teacher whose students are scoring at or above the state average?

Aberdeener said...

You're quoting from When Failure is an Option. The you in that article plainly refers to the school board, not our teachers.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that Aberdeener's only solution is to be a homeschooler. The teachers work hard -- and on an individual basis, students are performing well. Aberdeen/Matawan happens to have a diverse district that is reflected in test scores. If you want high test scores, and don't care to consider any other measurement of success, move somewhere that will appreciate your limited, negative view of the world.

Anonymous said...

Someone at the meeting pointed out that the extra state funding will only translate into tax relief if they don't spend it first. This lame duck spending formula is flawed just like the last one and will offer no tax relief unless spending is kept under control. The union contract is the place to start.

Anonymous said...

Hello Residents:
I am looking for African Americans that are making a difference in the Matawan-Aberdeen area. (for example, teachers, or anyone you know with a rich background). The story will run in February for Black History month. Please pass the info along to:
Sametta M. Thompson, News Reporter, Asbury Park Press, Tel: 732.888.2619 or email: sthompson@app.com

Aberdeener said...

I've not yet reviewed the new state funding plan but my understanding is that there is a cap on how much of the new funding can be used towards the school budget. Also, budget growth is still restricted to 4% (excluding certain state mandated items like pension contributions). So, if we get a lot of new state funding, we may get some tax relief. Of course, that's one big "if".

Truth In Matawan said...

To the anonymous who cites Aberdeener's concerns over quality of education as examples he's bashing teachers, we ask you:

How SHOULD a teacher take those concerns?

At our job, when someone is dissatisfied with our performance, whether it be a supervisor, client, or vendor--we hear about it. We may not like it, but we have to take steps to correct it. That's life.

But not for teachers, according to your posts. They can do NOTHING wrong as long as they are working hard, you would have us believe. And therefore, the should have NO culpability if things aren't turning out well. It's all the students' fault, and the parents' fault. But definitely, 100%, without a doubt, NOT the teachers' fault. At all.

Some fantasy world you live in.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Truth in Matawan lives in a fantasy world.

Do you really believe that parents have no responsibility in their child's education? If so, how come the data shows that students who have parents who are college educated do better than their counterparts? In addition, when you were a child in the primary grades (K-3) did you receive help from your parents? Do you realize that a child who does not have parental support in those grades falls behind on the basics of reading and mathematics? Then, in the child's later years, parents or residents, just like you, wonder why our students are doing so poorly on standardized tests.

By the way, I realize there are teachers who are not living up to their commitments. But I can assure you, they are in the minority. The majority of the teachers I know care deeply about their students and would do everything they possibly can to help them succeed.

One final question. What should the percentage be for student accountability, parent accountability, and teacher accountability?

Truth In Matawan said...

I'm not sure if you have a reading deficiency, but I'll point out to you that at not time did I say parents should abdicate their responsibility towards their children's education. It is of the utmost importance. We spend 3-4 hours a night doing homework and projects with our children, plus additional reading time. So we definitely see the value in it. We were fortunate enough to learn that from our own parents those 30-odd years ago.

What we WERE doing was chastising you for the apparent claim that the teachers should share in NO repercussions for bad grades, and more importantly, students who aren't learning. It's always the parents' faults, or the students' faults, or both, but NEVER the teachers' faults. This seems incongruous to us, as the teachers should be the primary educators. Even for those children without parental assistance, the teachers--who are being paid to do this after all, and having all their medical benefits paid as well--should be picking up the slack. How a child who can't read is promoted beyond first grade is a mystery to me, let alone to fifth grade, let alone to eighth grade, let alone to high school.

What's going on here?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for inquiring, but I do not have a reading deficiency. Once again, you obviously have no idea what goes in school. Are you aware that a parent can prevent the school administration from retaining a child? In addition, if you want to have a set of standards that are required to move a child from one grade to another, I am all for that. However, you are barking up the wrong tree. You need to direct your comments to the Commissioner of Education.

Anonymous said...

A few questions for Lies in Matawan. You said you spend 3-4 hours a night doing projects and homework with your children. How old are your children? The Matawan Aberdeen suggested time allotments for homework are as follows: (Grades 1-3) Homework will be given occasionally and should be completed by the student by himself/herself within 15-30 minutes. (Grades 4-6) Homework will be an average of 4 times per week and will usually not exceed 60minutes per day, and the sum of those hours should not exceed 4 hours per week. (Grades 7-8) Homework should be expected 4 times per week and should not exceed one and half hours per evening. (Grades 9-12) Homework time should average out to a period of time equivalent to each period of class time. Therefore, the average student taking 5 academic courses can expect up to 13 hours of homework per week.

If your child is young, you should be spending time with your child and assisting with homework when necessary. However, 3-4 hours a night is quite excessive. If your child is older, why are you assisting with the 3-4 hours of homework per night?

Truth In Matawan said...

With the additional enrichment homework they get (in lieu of a gifted program), the additional Reading Race books as well (2 per night per child), and the current slate of projects, 3 hours is a GOOD night...

15 minutes for homework is a joke. We require the children to do their homework slowly and neatly. Mistakes are erased fully and re-written. Questions are answered and explained to the best of our abilities, not dismissed. We are very fortunate to have the time to do this, we know not everyone can.

If you truly think homework can be completed by the students, by themselves, in 15 minutes, perhaps we are now seeing why we have high school students who can't read--because their teaches think it's okay to spend 15 minutes on their homework, by themselves. A very revealing answer by you.

By the way, please refrain from your sarcasm until and unless you're willing to answer the two questions of Why are teachers entitled to have all their benefits paid for when no one else is, even the other employees of the school district, and Why are bad teachers entitled to the same 10% raises that good teachers are?

Anonymous said...

If you want teachers to pay for part of their benefits, then you are going to need to increase their rate of pay to what other college educated people make. As for your second question, who is going to determine who these good teachers are? How will you take the politics out of this? For example, isn’t it just possible that a teacher who is friendly with the Administration could get a class loaded with good students while another teacher doesn't?

Truth In Matawan said...

Very Reasonable. But as for their pay, if you're going to seek to make it equitable with other college-required positions, fine, but you then would have to pro-rate the salary back down given that most other college-required positions work full days, year round, not part days, summer off.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are not paid in the summer. They have 10 month contracts and have to save for the summer. How would you handle the loaded classes that would allow some teachers to make more money than others? This, by the way, would be considered an unfair labor practice.

Anonymous said...

Back to Promethean Boards. Check out http://marsd.schoolwires.com/ravinees/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=277322 or www.marsd.org (Ravine Drive School homepage) to see how they are being implemented.
Also- you seem to think bad teachers are protected. If the administration does their job DOCUMENTING the ineptitude of bad teachers they certainly can be removed and not rehired even if they are in the union. Remember the Administration hires them and Board approves them in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The Aberdeener and Truth in Matawan are the typical ALL TALK and NO ACTION.... Run for the BOE or join PTA programs and try to implement all of your glorious ideas.... and Truth ANSWERED his own questions - HE SPENDS 3 HOURS A NIGHT with his kids HELPING THEM WITH THEIR WORK - parenting is not easy - but let us face facts that about 50 percent of the parents in this town CANNOT or DO NOT spend HOURS with their kids - school is a day and night learning experience - there is homework and studying to be done at home - blaming teachers for ALL low scores is not fair and wrong.....

Truth In Matawan said...

We are in the PTO, just wanted to point that out.

Anonymous said...

Truth, do you save your rude and foul language for just this blog, or do you voice your opinion in public to the teachers, parents and administration in person? Do you share your comments and ideas at the PTO meetings, conferences and special meeting?