Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (High School Hangovers)

Hello to all!  This week has given us some somber news about some high schools in our district.  For my out of town readers, the following is why it so important to keep your finger on the pulse where your child goes to school.  The following horror story is real and it is widespread.  Many of our kids have had bad teachers we’ve had to deal with but the blog today is going to focus on thousands of high school kids.  I may sound like a broken record but the more a parent involves themselves in their child’s education, the better off the child will be. 

The news is 6 of the bottom 10 high schools in Kentucky are located in Jefferson County (where I reside).  To make this a bit more personable, we are talking about approximately 6,500 students that go to these schools.  Last year was the exact same story.  This is a 2 year total of approximately 13,000 students.  On average, only about 1/3 of the students scored proficient in reading and math.  This is nothing short of an embarrassment.  Because the bottom 6 of the 10  performing schools were scored as such last year, they were ineligible to make this year’s list.  Money is rolling in but I haven’t found the data to see how it’s being spent or if improvements have been made. 

The test was based on reading and math which are the centerpieces of education.  According to Superintendent Sheldon Berman, “Each of these schools is making significant gains in other important areas, but the state is only looking at one measurement when determining this particular list.”  My question is what the heck is more important than reading and math? Cultural diversity?  Culinary Arts?  Music?  There was even a protest/pity part at Fern Creek high school Wednesday night which was attended by teachers, Dr. Berman, and the Jefferson County Public Schools teacher’s union.  High Schools and the district are having their feet held to the fire and of course- it burns!  They complained at Fern Creek about the test and how they want more local control. Berman also complained how the test is overly simplistic.  (Give me a minute while I shake my head) 

In my opinion, there is a hierarchy of skills that need to be taught.  Reading and math are at the top of the list.  If a child can not read and perform math problems on a proficient level- little else matters.  Am I too simplistic?  Put another way, if a child could only read and work math problems on grade level, that would still be much better than what we are seeing.

Berman was on Mandy Connell’s radio program this morning and said, “proficiency is well above grade level.”  He could be right though I never had that impression while I was teaching.  In my classrooms though, I didn’t think the goal of proficiency was out of reach because of its high standard.  With every class, I tried to assess the ability level of the students; then bust my behind to have them achieve as much as they could during the 9 months they were in my classroom.  There were times when students hit proficiency and others who fell woefully short.  No matter where they landed on the spectrum, they were automatically moved up a grade.  This was a district policy.   
     
In the real world when companies/employees under perform, there are severe prices to pay.  Companies can go under and employees can lose their jobs.  In the educational world, things are different.  We are not used to being directly accountable. For example, if one of my students didn’t achieve a certain standard, I was never called out on it to explain why.  This is why we are seeing a backlash from some educators and why we may be seeing more over time.  

In education, it’s very easy to “pass the buck” somewhere else.  It happened during my teaching days and it is no different now.  I could blame lots of people if my class under performed.  For example, I could blame the administration for giving me the lowest kids- I could blame the parents- or I could blame the kids for being lazy.  Having to take direct responsibility for failure is not something teachers/schools are used to.  I want to make clear that when a kid is failing to live up to standards in high school, the blame has to be passed all the way down the line.  One of my arguments on Monday’s blog will be how you can’t totally blame the high schools for under performing kids; but you have to start somewhere.    

In my opinion, there are only two acceptable public high schools in Louisville- Male and Manuel.  About 82% of Manuel graduates are ready for college.  About 64% at Male High School are prepared.  Evey other school in the area is under 50%.  The lowest schools hovered around 4%.  I am measuring this by ACT’s and how prepared these kids are when going to college.  I found some interesting numbers comparing districts in Kentucky. 

According to schooldigger.com, the Jefferson County school district is ranked 132nd out of 149 counties.  Here’s the interesting twist.  According to the Pritchard Committee, KY ranks 32nd on it’s education index out of 50 states.  This is a marked improvement from 1992 where Kentucky ranked 43rd.  Only one other state rose out of the bottom 10 during the same time period which was North Carolina.  This tells me that other districts in the state are making our state ranking improve even while Jefferson County is pulling them down.  I don’t want you to think I am completely comparing apples to apples with these numbers.  But there is some correlation.  Considering the latest news on the high schools- when will the excuses end?  I want to see Jefferson County do well.  I worked with a lot of teachers/administrators who are trying to make this happen and I feel for all of them.   

Because of these scores, Jefferson County is now eligible to receive $100 million in federal school improvement funds over the next two years to help improve all of its lowest performing schools.  Depending on how the money is spent, this could be a real help but it is no guarantee.  Hopefully, the money will be used to bring in more reading and math specialist which, in turn, could lower the student/teacher ratio. If you have regularly kept up with this blog, you know how I feel about significantly lowering the student-teacher ratio.  Though you may not sense it in this blog, I actually have a lot of confidence in Dr. Berman.  He seems to be a very bright man who’s very invested into the success of Jefferson County.  Regardless, standards have to be met and at present; they are not.     

There was a principal in Jefferson County years ago I talked to years ago about public versus private education.  I remember she said, “send him (Cameron) to a public school and save your money.”  The more I dig into the numbers, the more I realize what a crippling move that would have been to my child’s education.  I have worked so hard for too long.  It’s to the point I would rather deliver pizzas than pull him out of his private school.

Private school tuition can be steep.  I bet there are a number of parents who would send their kids to public schools if they had any faith in the overall quality of education.  If you live in an area where the public educational system is strong, be thankful.        

Though my tantrum has now ended (for now), the troubles have not for so many.  Thousands of kids have been “left behind” and thousands more will follow.  I hope Monday’s blog will shed some light on how this happens and what can be done to turn things around.  

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