I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What is it That's Really Holding Us Back?

To solve a child's fear of the dark, the first step is confronting and removing, not ignoring, the monster living under his bed....

Two education-related articles recently appeared in the local press.

These two articles got me thinking.  One article laments the lack of diversity among the ranks of teachers locally and points to this phenomenon as a significant hindrance to educational progress in our schools; the other touts a lack of pre-k readiness as one of the biggest issues that affects educational outcomes and graduation rates in Escambia County.

But are these really the causes of the issues of poor academic achievement— are these knee-jerk, ready-made, and convenient explanations really the causes or are they actually red herrings that sound like they should/could be the problems?  Are they actually the convenient and politically acceptable explanations?

If I want to solve my child’s fear of the dark, knowing there is a scary monster living under his bed, I have to confront the monster under the bed.  What good does it do to my son and his problem if I go into the room and ignore the monster under his bed while simultaneously proclaiming that by removing the clown dolls, installing a brighter night-light, and painting the walls a brighter, lighter color of paint I can solve his fear of the dark?! 

"Faux Monster"Kindergarten Readiness as the Big Reason Graduation Rates are Low…

Kindergarten readiness is a big buzzword these days-but it wasn’t too long ago that kindergarten didn’t even exist in American public schools!  Preparation for primary education was the responsibility (and still is) of the family.  But kindergarten was designed and implemented to help students and families be prepared for primary school.  At great expense to American taxpayers.

Next came pre-kindergarten, to prepare students for kindergarten.  And now comes the huge push for universal pre-k funded by the government to prepare students for kindergarten.

What comes next, pre-pre- kindergarten, paid for by taxpayers to help families prepare their students for pre-kindergarten?  What follows this-- do we take babies directly from the maternity wards of America and prepare them for pre, pre-kindergarten?

When does the lack of parental action to prepare students properly become cited as the real reason

 some students don’t come to school prepared?

Here are a couple of things to consider:  Establishment educrats love any program that makes their jobs easier and is fully funded.  Results, outcomes, ROI, outputs—do these programs really work?  Such questions, when asked about the efficacy of pre-k and other early childhood education programs like head start, are never answered with cogent, reliable data and facts.  These programs generate jobs and incomes for schools and communities, and so they are embraced no matter the outcomes for students.

These are programs that seem like they ought to help, so therefore the groupthink that develops is that these programs do, in fact, work brilliantly!  (And anyone that questions this assertion is pilloried and exiled like a leper)

But a raft of recent studies has shown that by the third grade, similarly situated students (half of whom attended pre-k and half of whom did not) could not be distinguished from one another academically in any large, statistically meaningful way.  Oops, so what now?

Is it not more important, if we’re talking about finding the most effective educational programs to fund, to analyze results, outcomes, ROI, and outputs  in order to discard programs that do not produce measurable, positive benefits---particularly if such programs cost taxpayers millions of dollars yearly?! 

To say that the reason students are not graduating on time is because they showed up for kindergarten “not ready” is rubbish.  And it is NOT supported by any credible study or evidence.  (And don’t throw Perry, High scope, Abecedarian, or any other 50 year old “successful models” up as evidence.  These programs and their associated studies have been debunked as evidence that universal pre-k programs somehow produce lifelong positive academic outcomes…)

So the answer is, really, the same as it ever was.  Some parents don’t take their responsibility seriously, and their students do not come to school prepared.  And we take these students and work with them and the majority of them catch up, and sadly some don't.  But by third grade, when similar groups are studied, the achievement levels of those that attended pre-k and those that didn’t are not statistically different from one another.
So maybe, just maybe, we need to start finding a better way to spend money to make parents do what they should be doing already.  Maybe we need to provide “readiness checks” to the parents of poor kids who show up to school ready?  It would be less expensive than funding multi-billion dollar programs that don’t work and it would incentivize all the poor parents to start doing what they ought to be doing in the first place.
Imagine this:  Every kid that shows up ready for Kindergarten and does well on the FLKRS test, if they are under the poverty level, gets a $5,000 readiness check for their parent!  That would motivate parents, right?  And it would save taxpayers billions and would be much more effective than any pre-k program in place today.  Too radical?  I don’t think so.  And for the parents who fell just short but who’s kids are almost there in terms of readiness, perhaps a consolation prize check.  (Sad that paying parents to do what they should already be doing could be so much cheaper and so much more effective than the gigantic, unwieldy, lavishly expensive government bureaucratic apparatus designed to prepare students for kindergarten……)

But let’s get off that and transition now to another buzz-word being thrown about in education—diversity.

"Faux Monster II":  Lack of Diversity Among U.S. Teachers Holds Back American Minority Students

We hear the snake-oil salesmen talking about diversity everywhere we turn.  Diversity is the reason some students don’t learn, according to rubes that make this accusation.  Nobody says diversity is bad, and as a matter of fact America is a diverse nation and better for it, I’d say!

But show the proof, please, that clearly indicates that minority students do better academically if they are taught by minority teachers—or that their poor performance is caused by their teachers “not looking like them.”  Seriously, show the proof from a well-designed and appropriately controlled scientific study that indicates American students learn “better” in elementary or high school when such a student is taught by someone of their same race.  Is there any such *credible study in existence?  I doubt it.

But for just a nano-second, let’s imagine the implications of this outrageous rationale if it were true—especially if this rouse continues to be bandied about as gospel truth; the preposterous and insulting by-product of this mindset is incredible—leading to questions such as:

11.   Should/Could the Black Social Studies teacher in an all-white district in Nebraska be considered “not as effective” as a white teacher in the same classroom, and replaced, because the Black teacher does not look like his all white class?
22.    Should/Could the Asian Calculus teacher in a Hispanic-majority Los Angeles classroom be removed because she’s not as effective as a Hispanic teacher for those Hispanic students?
33.  Should the sea of white female teachers working their fingers to the bones collectively in inner-city, minority-majority schools nationwide suddenly be removed because they are not good enough, not effective enough to teach minority students because they do not “look-like” the students they love and teach? 

This opinion, that some students can’t learn unless their teacher looks like them, is outrageous.  It’s also borderline racist and denigrates hard working teachers of ALL RACES throughout our country who love teaching students of ALL RACES!  Most importantly, it simply is not true.  It is simply another lame, politically expedient excuse and a poor one at that. 

At some point, the time-tested and appropriate reason why some students do not apply themselves and learn in school must be embraced:  Personal responsibility, parental responsibility, and hard work produces educated young men and women of all races in our nation's public schools.  Let’s please stop playing the blame game and doing everything we can to not identify the real monster under the bed.  

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