We should be furious… at whom?

We must be more candid and talk more honestly about students who are below grade level.  We are turning our backs on these students if we don’t.

We have multiple schools in which more than half of all fifth graders are below grade level in math.  Do we have any reason to believe that they are prepared to succeed in middle school?  How long until these students drop out of school altogether.

It makes some people furious when a majority of students in a school are below grade level but the message is “everything’s fine” or “we’re making progress.”

Others of us choose to look the other way.  It is more comfortable to focus on students who are doing well rather than get exercised about students who are below grade level.

I agree with those who are furious.  We should be furious.  But that begs at least two questions: furious at whom?  And, how should we respond?

Should we be furious at principals and teachers who can’t seem to inspire or cajole students at their school to perform better?  Some people would like to publicly brand schools such as Spangler (the school where fifth grade CSAP math scores are lowest) as failures.

Let me ask, if all the teachers from Longmont Estates (where fifth grade CSAP math scores are highest) went to Spangler and vice versa, do you think student test scores at Spangler would go through the roof and scores at Longmont Estates would fall through the floor?  No one I know believes this.  Most people believe the scores at both schools would stay about the same.

I understand people’s frustrations that there is public silence about student performance at Spangler.  I wish that principals and teachers would be clamoring for significant changes to the system.  But, I’m not certain how a “scarlet letter” makes things better if there’s not public support for action.

Should we be furious with parents who don’t value education and who don’t show their children enough support?  I can understand some of this frustration.  It makes me mad.  But, I think we must be more honest about differences in family capacities.  It is ridiculous to think that a parent who had a bad educational experience themselves – or immigrant parents with multiple jobs as is common at Spangler – can provide the same level of support as well educated and “stay at home” parents.

We have to decide are we going to take a get tough approach with “slacker” parents or should we offer parents more help to support their children.  It should probably be a combination of the two.  There are some initiatives to boost parent capacities, but I can’t discern whether we have a system wide strategy.

Should we be furious with lazy and disrespectful students who don’t appreciate the opportunities they’re being given?  Again, I can understand this type of frustration.  It bothers me when students show disrespect.

We need to take a look at our retention policies.  We need to empower principals to be more directive about when a student is ready to advance to the next level.  We don’t do a child any favors by just letting them move to the next grade level.  We can’t be so deferential to parents who ignore advice.

But, I also know that a “do better or else” strategy will have limited impact.  And, in some cases, the get tough approach alone will simply drive up student dropout rates.

Here’s the thing.  The only strategies that consistently help low income students (and let’s be honest, that is who we are talking about) make academic gains are schools such as KIPP.  These schools extend the school day, week and year.  It is common for KIPP students to receive 60% more schooling than students at traditional schools.  If we were serious about supporting St. Vrain’s low income students, we would be clamoring for this type of school model.

Is there the political will to provide Spangler students – and other low income students – with more instruction time?  I hear more complaints than compliments when low income students receive a fraction of extra support let alone 60% more.

So, should we be furious with community critiques that complain about student performance but refuse to get behind strategies that are known to work?  I can understand frustrations toward the critics, too.

But, quite frankly, I think we all can look in the mirror and find fault.  As Martin Luther King often noted, he was less concerned about those who actively opposed civil rights and more concerned with those who knew civil rights were important but said nothing.

We aren’t going to make progress in supporting our children as long as we keep calling each other failures, liars, bigots, hypocrites and Pollyannas.   But, we’re also not going to make progress as long as we in the community sit silent and hope “those schools” will take care of the problems.

Name calling and silence breed unhealthy conditions.  Under these conditions people are prone to be deceitful, to make things seem better than they are or to ignore problems altogether.  There is a strong human drive to avoid conflict.

We must be more candid about what’s going on and what’s need to create change.  We’ve got to starting by toning down the rhetoric and breaking the silence. 

Our children need us to act like adults.

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2 Responses to “We should be furious… at whom?”

  1. mike roberts Says:

    John-
    i agree on many of your points, as one of those parents who is often conflicted. i support the KIPP type program you describe, but at what cost to the other students. watching my neighborhood school focus a lion’s share of its resources on those under-achieving and essentially ignoring those students that are performing at an average or high level is disserving a tax-paying ‘customer’ of public education. what happens when those students that are ‘parked’, as teachers rush to bring up test scores? i will tell you what happens, they get bored, and they get disinterested and they fail to live up to their potential — yes, the school fails them equally, if not more so, as they showed prepared to learn and are being denied.
    i have seen throughout your blog that you are a keen supporter of differentiated teaching. aye, aye, i say, but how do you get that committment to differentiated teaching throughout the SV system?

  2. John Creighton Says:

    The question about how to develop a commitment to differentiated learning throughout the St. Vrain system is a good one. There are a few things at the board level we must do.
    1. Make differentiated learning an explicit objective. The current strategic plan focuses on improvements in aggregate test scores. In practice, if not intent, that diminishes the importance of differentiated learning.
    2. Emphasize growth of individual students in school assessements and accreditation. This is only one of many factors now.
    3. Find ways to make assessments a tool for learning so that students and their parents can take more responsiblity for driving their own learning.

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