Failing Schools?

The following post is an opinion letter published in the Brattleboro, Vt Reformer. Great rebuttal to the “failing schools” crowd. I am always interested in the comments made by past generations concerning the short-comings of the students of the day.

Our Opinion: Groundhog Day all over again?
Posted: 08/23/2014 03:00:00 AM EDT0 Comments

It’s hard not to conclude that the skies over our public schools are falling around our children’s heads when we read headlines such as “U.S. lags many nations in math,” “U.S. students behind the curve,” “Math + test = trouble for U.S. economy,” “Crisis in education,” and “U.S. high school seniors rank near bottom.”
Or how about this, from the New York Times: “… a large majority of (college) students showed that they had virtually no knowledge of elementary aspects of American history (and) could not identify such names as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt … Some students believed that George Washington was president during the War of 1812 … ”
Sound familiar? As if you just read them yesterday? Now, let’s go back to our opening paragraph. The first three headlines come from newspapers published on Dec. 7, 1941; the fourth headline comes from a 1958 edition of Life magazine; and the fifth comes from the Washington Post in 1998. And that quote from the New York Times? 1943?
As Gerald W. Bracey noted, the “our-schools-are-failing” narrative is America’s version of the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”
“Americans keep waking up to headlines declaring that, apparently for the first time ever, the public school sky is falling,” wrote Bracey.
As former No Child Left Behind supporter Diane Ravitch has noted “Reformers in every era have used the schools as punching bags.”
And this debate over whether our schools really have been failing has been going on since at least the 1820s, noted Peter Schrag.
“The debate is driven … by our favorite myths: That there was once a golden age, an era when schools maintained rigorous academic standards, when all children learned, when few dropped out and most graduated on time; that sometime in the past generation or so … the system began to fall apart … leaving America helpless against superior foreign education; and that the large amounts of new money that have gone to the schools in the past generation have largely been wasted,” wrote Schrag … in 1997.
In “Reign of Error,” Ravitch wrote that in the 1940s, reformers complained that the schools were obsolete. In the 1950s, reformers said that the schools had forgotten the basics and needed to raise academic standards. In the 1960s, they said that the schools were too academic and that students were stifled by routine and dreary assignments. In the 1970s came the rise of minimum competency testing, and in 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education stated we were “a nation at risk” because of the low standards and low expectations in our schools.
“Our national slippage was caused, said the commission, by ‘a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.'”
Ravitch, who is a fierce critic of the corporatization of our public school system, also known as the charter school movement, noted that critics of America’s schools fail to acknowledge that not only have our schools changed since the founding of this great nation, but so have the demographics of the families our schools are called upon to educate.
Despite the rhetoric coming from the right-wing and libertarian think tanks, our schools are not in decline.
“(T)hose who now sharply criticize the public schools speak fondly of an era when most schools were racially segregated; when public schools were not required to accept children with physical, mental, and emotional handicaps; when there were relatively few students who did not speak or read English; and when few graduated from high school and went to college.”
Despite America’s success at integrating and educating people from every nation and culture on the planet, the proponents of school privatization trot out the same old scare stories such as the ones at the beginning of this editorial.
Why? As then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and University of California regent Ward Connerly noted in an editorial in 1997, “despite spending trillions of dollars on education over the past 30 years, American children are further behind today.”
Many people hiding under the cloak of “reform” stopped listening after “trillions of dollars.”
“If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform,” wrote Ravitch. “If parents understood that the reformers want to close down their community schools and require them to go shopping for schools, some far from home, that may or may not accept their children, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform.”
But, as Ravitch notes, there are problem schools with low test scores, low graduation rates and high levels of violence. What do all of those schools have in common? Poverty and high concentrations of racial minorities.
“Children who are poor receive less medical attention and less nutrition and experience more stress, disruption, and crises in their lives,” wrote Ravitch. “These factors have an ongoing and profound effect on academic performance. Unfortunately, many people are unwilling to address the root causes of poor school outcomes, because doing so is either too politically difficult or too costly.”
Too many of us have bought into the hyperbole that the private market can do a better job at educating our students and that our war on poverty has been a failure. We’ve been desensitized to the plight of the most vulnerable members of our community and we’ve been pitted against each other to the point we fail to see the real villains in our midst. It’s not the poor and the hungry, it’s the people who would pull the wool over our eyes while enriching themselves, leaving the rest of us holding the bag.

Safety at White Oak ISD

Safety is our top priority.

At the Town Hall Meeting on January 6, 2013, I spoke to a group of concerned White Oak Stakeholders about the safety and security of our students. The conversations had two main parts.
First, we discussed the procedures and culture in place at White Oak ISD that help to ensure our students can receive a high quality education in a safe learning environment. I want to assure you that we continue to train, practice and review policies and procedures that deal with specific threats to or students be they natural or man made in origin. Along with our fire drills, shelter-in-place drills and foul weather contingencies, we also conducted the district’s first mock evacuation drill designed to move every member of the student body, faculty and staff out of the district. School district personnel and local first responders were involved in this process. The drill was successful and very informative to everyone involved.
Second, we had a discussion about areas of concern with regard to the facilities at all grade levels. Since the meeting in January 2013, WOISD has been involved in a wide spread upgrade with security in mind. Over eighty-three (83) security cameras have been installed in the district. These cameras are high resolution and all activity is stored on a DVR for an extended period of time. These cameras record activity in all the main traffic areas inside our campuses, entryways and a majority of the parking areas in the district. Monitors are in place at each campus office and the administration building. The district has installed fifty-two (52) new doors in the district. The majority of the new doors are “exit only” doors that do not have any hardware on the exterior. The doors cannot be opened from the outside. All entry-level doors are now equipped with programmable locks that allow the campus to restrict access to the building and monitor who is coming in during the instructional day. The Intermediate and Middle School have new entrances that direct traffic into the office before entering the instructional areas.
It is my belief, and that of the Board of Trustees, that these improvements have greatly increased the physical plant security at White Oak ISD. These improvements combined with an engaged community, a positive relationship with all first responders and a well trained/caring district workforce come together to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the educational success of the students at White Oak ISD.
As we prepare to begin the 2014/2015 school year, I hope this information is helpful to everyone sending their young people to school each day. The faculty, staff and administrative team at White Oak ISD is fully aware that no plan is perfect and can not guarantee the complete safety of your children while they are at school. What we can do is plan, prepare and provide an environment that is the safest place your children can be in White Oak, Texas at any given time.
It is a privilege to serve as Superintendent of Schools at White Oak ISD. I look forward to all that is in store for our students and our community in the coming year.