Friday, August 18, 2006

State School Board Meeting - A surreal Experience

Reflections on State School Board Meeting – A Surreal Experience

As I sat through the State School Board Meeting this week, August 14, 06, the word surreal kept popping into my mind.  

All the sophisticated main players, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) executives who gave varied presentations and the State Board members all looked sane enough. They are all highly successful and are certainly the cream of the crop in talent, intelligence, ability, and prestige; but the words and ideas coming out of their mouths just didn't match what one would expect from people with these characteristics.

Ten schools were on the State Board of Education agenda appealing the  probationary status they had been given by the ADE.  Even though I came to the meeting fully aware that the State Board would follow its usual pattern and deny every one of them, I still found myself in dismay as the state board consistently turned down every appeal.

I heard one case after another where there had been a minor infraction so insignificant that any sane, reasonable person would have understood it had nothing to do with the education of the children: a report filed a few hours late because of computer problems, a background check that had been delayed twice through no fault of the teacher  who had a master's degree and a 10 year certificate, and a school that substituted a more rigorous AP calculus class  than the calculus class required by the ADE because none of the students wanted the regular calculus class.   

As the ADE executives explained how these were odious crimes because the courts require an equal education for all, some of the State Board members were nodding approvingly and voted unanimously in most cases to uphold the probationary status for these insignificant infractions that could lead to closing, consolidating, or reconstituting an entire school district and putting students on the buses for 4 hours.  But they looked and acted so rational, and they are intelligent and talented leaders in our society; and they hold such lofty positions!

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Blogger Debbie Pelley said...

I am thinking: How did these sane, intelligent  people ever get to this place? How can they not see the Gestapo spirit at work? Why are they so down on the school administrators who are trying their best to educate our students?  How did they, living in a free country, come to the place in their lives and philosophy to believe they have the right to control every move in our schools.

After all the schools belong to the people. When they control our schools they control us, the people. How did they come to believe they know better than all the educators who combined have had thousands and thousands of years more experience than they have.

Even the deaf and blind school was on the agenda appealing a probationary status. Surely there should be some compassion here! The ADE didn't  let them off the hook either. They must fit the same equal education as the seeing.  Even though they have to take so many more courses to overcome their disability, they are not granted any compassion or mercy. They still must jump through all the hoops and get the same equal education for all even though they are not equal in physical ability.

How can you give an equal education to people that are not equal?  If we are going to apply the equal education for all rule, shouldn't all the seeing people have to take all the courses the blind students do?   How did these ADE executives and Board members come to believe they know more about how to educate the blind than those who have worked with them and spent their lives learning how to do that.

I am thinking: These ADE executives are some of the most educated people in our state. But then they keep talking about equality and equal education for all. And some of the Board members keep nodding approvingly.

Did they not study  about Marx and Communism; and don't they know about the failed systems and what has happened to the people in Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, and North Vietnam that put this philosophy into effect. Didn't they study about and don't they remember that we fought wars and gave many of our most precious young people's lives to prevent this type of government from prevailing in some of these countries?  

 And if they did study about it, what forces or propaganda made them forget it? Do they not even value freedom? Or is just the freedom of others they don't value? These are intelligent, well educated  people, aren't they?  
I am thinking: They keep talking about equal education for all and the greatness of parental involvement and yet are closing all these schools and making these children ride the bus three and four hours a day and making it impossible for parents to be involved. How do gifted, intelligent and successful people hold to two diametrically opposed ideas like this? Surely something is missing here.
Then the ADE executives drone on and on trying to explain the simple, transparent (they have referred to this system as transparent a number of times in the past) accountability system that one soon realizes would require a PH.D. in NCLB to understand it. It took three different ADE executives to explain this transparent, simple system.

As I listened, I wondered  to myself who in the world ever invented such a complicated, complex stupid system – a system that has been so corrupted and such a failure it makes one wonder how supposedly intelligent people can continue to act as if it is working.

This complicated system and billions of dollars produced scores on the nationally normed test  in 05-06  over which the ADE Director was jubilant, scores that are just  7 points BELOW where we were when we started this wonderful, transparent, simple inexpensive accountability system about which the ADE executives boast.

They even said we are setting the pace for the entire nation and that articles about Arkansas's accountability design have appeared in papers across the nation. But what about our students and their progress.   Did these highly  intelligent, capable people study math?

Over and over I am thinking about the phrase, "it's all just a bunch of  sound and fury" and thinking about how complex they have made something so simple. I recall a friend of mine saying  her children were home schooled and  taught to read and do math from a book they bought for the price of one meal. As a teacher of 27 years I required very little. All I needed was an English textbook (and after a few years didn't need that because I had designed my own lessons) and students with paper and pencil, and I could teach the students English – and yes prepare them to make great scores on the state required tests.
The word surreal has always had somewhat of a nebulous and mystical meaning to me and a word I am have never been comfortable using.   However State School Board meetings have truly taken the mystery out of it as I have now experienced it in its fullest form.

Debbie Pelley

9:24 AM, August 18, 2006  
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