Sunday, May 4, 2014

Keep the Tires, Cut the #CommonCore Strings

In his response to the LWV 2014 Voter Guide questions, State School Superintendent Barge says of the Common Core "Georgia can and is already refining the standards to better serve the needs of our students. We will continue to do so. We must provide more students with a better education that prepares them for life after high school." He is tacitly admitting that they are flawed even while supporting them. But more importantly for local control, he is affirming our ability to make these changes.

Now, I truly believe these standards are not all bad. Where the rubber meets the road, I believe some parts are quite good. They have actually incorporated much of our own home-grown Georgia Performance Standards. Even a car that's a "lemon" can have a good set of tires.

What I most object to are the attached strings. I keep hearing that we don't need to worry about centralized federal control, that this is a good deal and that we can get out of the contract whenever we want. Ever try to get out of a car lease contract?

Speaking of cars, Common Core is somewhat like us getting a Great New Deal on a new automobile that comes with a brand new set of top-of-the-line tires with mag wheels thrown in. Now, the car we have been working with (Georgia Performance Standards) is only a year or two old and we have gotten it somewhat broken in. All indications are that, with tweaking at the local level, it would do what we need for years to come. Do we really need a new car that we have to "refine" after the sale to fit our needs? Do we really want that Great New Deal with its strings attached?

Let's say we can't resist the pressures to buy this Great New Deal. We go ahead and trade-in our old car for the new. Then we discover that, lo and behold, this new car is a "Clunker." You know the kind, it breaks down frequently, makes funny noises, and can't be trusted to get you where you need to go. That good set of tires was the honey to get us to eat the lemon.

Now, I appreciate the fact that, having bought the thing, the Governor and some state officials have taken steps to fix problems with this lemon. But all in all, it's a bad buy. We need to go back to the car that served us before the trade-in. Or perhaps we should replace that Great New Deal with a car that actually suits our needs. Either way, the experience should not go to waste. We should keep that good set of tires when we replace the #CommonCore lemon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

Definitions of "rigor" abound. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as: the difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences that are associated with something (

That reminds of a line from the movie "The Princess Bride." As an aside, I admit that this is one of my three most favorite movies, and “Stand and Deliver” competes with it for first place.

In the movie, Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian boss Vizzini “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.” Granted, this applied to the word inconceivable, but it could have just as easily applied to “rigor.”

The Common Core curriculum used that word extensively in its introductory debut. But what has it delivered? In English an evaluation criteria based on political correctness rather than critical evaluation. In Mathematics it emphasizes process rather than result. Is it better that the sales clerk follows a rigorous process to give you change or that you actually get the right change? I prefer the latter. How about you?

I have noticed that most defenders of the common core, such as certain radio personalities, defend it without knowing the least bit about it! Honestly. I am not surprised when people with a certain left leaning bias resort to homily and their own set of facts.

Now I freely admit, people have an  absolute right have to their own set of beliefs and opinions, but not their own set of facts! We must apply rigor in asserting that, right?

Friday, April 18, 2014

What should be our three (3) top policy priorities for our Hall County school system?

Curriculum, Teaching, and Strategic Planning are areas I see as most critically in need of attention. First, we need to teach what kids need to live a good life, not just what they need to get by. Our curriculum must fit the needs of our community and not be a big business backed cookie cutter affair dictated by bureaucrats. My educational experience will add to making this happen. We must design our teaching approach to help students learn to learn. We need a curriculum that meets their needs for not only future employability or advanced education, but also that recognizes life is much greater than just work and academics and broadens the students' horizons. It would be great if we could make school fun for EVERYONE!
Second, I know that teachers really can make learning fun. We have great teachers with the capacity to shape and breathe life into our curricula. We need to teach kids how to learn for life. To do this, we must find the best teachers and techniques. AND we must not only reward them, but let them help other teachers to excel as well. Successful techniques used by stellar teachers that get students to want to learn must be captured and given to all faculty. However, excess administrative burdens on our teachers keep them from their primary mission, teaching our children. We must ease the office burdens on teachers whenever possible. As a teacher myself, I know this must be done.
Third, we must plot a course; define a path to the future. Just testing and tallying statistics won't tell you where you are going and how to get there. Vision, direction, and strategic planning are much more than piecemeal policies and objectives that have little relationship to direction. This needs to be systematically addressed and changed. If you don't know where you are going, moving in any direction is as good as moving in another. Our system needs that clear guidance in a direction that focuses on the needs of the Hall community. It can only be that if we include the parents, teachers, and yes, the students in this process, not just administrative staff. We must also include the leaders in industry and government within our community. And that strategic plan must be readily visible to all the people in the county.
Heck, put it on the Web site. We should have nothing to hide. And with a clear plan that all stakeholders have agreed to, we can hold ourselves, our central administrators, and our Principals accountable for clearly using and supporting that plan. If we do that, I know the heart and soul of our system, our faculty, will do so also. I know because I know how to trust people. My planning, management, and leadership experience will help get us there. I don’t want . the Hall County School System's motto to be "We're Just as Good as Anybody Else and Maybe a Little Better than Some." I want it to be : "We're the Best."

What is the single biggest weakness in our Hall County school system?

Funding and inertia are always the weak spots for government organizations. The board of education is no different. There are many competing interests that require funding, however, the overarching interest should, and for me will be, what is in the best interest of the children. We must provide them the education that prepares them for the practical aspects of life and work.
For the inertia issue, I note a positive characteristic of the Hall County school system is a recognition that change is necessary and a willingness to adapt to that change.  As the state school system undergoes the sea change from the restrictive, narrowly focused process unfortunately inate in the No Child Left behind system to the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) model that can more finely focus resources to the most critical areas needing improvement, the system will have to adapt. It will take an academic knowledge base and experience in rapidly moving, large scale management in the school board to both nudge the inertial elements that may hold us back from providing the world class education our children deserve and guiding the implementation of that system.
For the funding issue, there is strong political pressure to avoid increasing taxes. With $27 million less in funds available than there were several years ago, yet more students to serve, the fact that adequate services are provided is remarkable. Those same cost conscious efforts that privatized for economies and reduced costs elsewhere must needs be continued. However, the reduction in people resources brought about by deferment of hires, lay-offs, the mini-layoff we call furloughs, and increased class sizes will soon extract a heavy toll on performance. Grants, bonds, SPLOSTs, and other such methods of secondary financing will have to be sought and continued. In addition, the economies learned through the charter school experiments will have to be adopted and adapted to the remainder of the public school system where feasible.
The shortfalls in state funding have put an extra burden on the citizens of Hall County through increased millage rates. At the same time, the school district has begun to get in the habit of "economize where wise." I would like to see that continue and those skills be honed. Therefore, I believe we need to use the majority of "rebound windfall" to first reduce the tax burden on the citizens. Using the rest will require a well thought out prioritization after a cogent strategic plan is developed.
I believe a clear vision and a cogent strategic plan that leads to that vision are lacking. I know some may disagree with that, but if you’ve never done it, how can you know? I have done it in organizations big and small and seen them succeed beyond their aspirations. We can achieve that high degree of successful plan in our system. These need to be the product of the Board, the staff, the faculty, the parents, and, yes, the students. They must also be readily visible to all of these stake holders at all times, frequently revisited, and used as a basis for planning and decision making throughout the system