Thursday, November 11, 2010


Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman’s defense of his district’s placement on the state’s list of districts targeted for assistance has drawn several comments here and elsewhere. KSN&C readers know that I don't think much of NCLB's accountability scheme and that I am sympathetic to the points Silberman makes about the true trajectory of the district's progress. But there are other points of view.

My attention was drawn to several comments by a KSN&C reader who said:

Richard Innes posted a very interesting (and very critical critique) of Superintendent Stu Silberman's "progress" in the Herald-Leader...yesterday. I urge all to read it under the commentary section of the latest Silberman complaint about No Child Left Behind.
I had read Innes’ pieces at BIPPS but had not checked out the commentary at H-L’ s Bluegrass Moms blog.

Now, finding “very critical critique[s]” of anything related to the public schools is what Innes is hired to do. It’s like finding sand on a beach. Finding something positive about the public schools is much harder to do at the Bluegrass Institute, which hopes to funnel public funds into private hands. So I don’t look for balance from BIPPS.

But let’s give the devil his due.

Richard_Innes wrote on 11/09/2010 07:34:52 PM: It's sad when the superintendent of Kentucky's second largest school district doesn't get it. The name of the act is *NO* Child Left Behind. The 2010 NCLB report for Fayette County shows the district failed African-Americans and learning disabled students in both reading and math. The district also failed poor kids in the federal school lunch program for reading. Hispanics would have failed for reading, as well, except for an NCLB loophole. The district's overall average proficiency only looks good because whites left the rest behind.
Catchy title, isn't it? No Child Left Behind sounds great. It's aspirational, which Americans seem to prefer to the actually doable. No sooner was the bill passed than the funding meant to accomplish it was cut. But the accountability model survived.

As it is presently structured, NCLB locates shortcomings that can be faulted. When that leads to improvements within the system, it is arguably a good thing. But NCLB lacks a growth model, so it is completely unresponsive to the kinds of instructional improvements Silberman can document. When NCLB is used to destroy, it is a cynical and damaging approach that will ultimately harm children - and mostly, it will harm poor children who are least able to afford a good education on their own. Until it is fixed, NCLB will continue to allow public school critics to "prove" that the schools are a failure, whether they are or not.

Are such critics really looking out for disadvantaged students? For me the "sincerity test" is to look at the rest of what someone supports. Outrage from BIPPS that poor black children have been left behind is unconvincing – while they work tirelessly to deny basic healthcare to the very same individuals. …but I digress.

Other commenters also made interesting points.

Consider Twiggysmiff, who smacks Silberman in much the same way Silberman has smacked others.
twiggysmiff wrote on 11/09/2010 09:51:53 PM: I just find it amusing that when a teacher's classroom or an entire school's scores are low, there are NO EXCUSES. Teachers are laid off, principals are threatened. It's not a "well, we made gains here,
now where should we focus?" mentality. It's you failed, you get consequences, reprimands, and threats. When it's HIS district and his name attached, it's excuses and "the data doesn't really show what the data shows", and "it's really just those subgroups". If a teacher or principal said this to him about THEIR scores, it would not be tolerated and their jobs would be on the line. Funny how the excuses fly when the tables are turned.

In response,

NCLBsucks wrote on 11/10/2010 07:58:01 AM: Tiggy, you are absolutely correct. As a former administrator in Fayette County, I can attest that what you stated is absolutely true. Administrators and teachers are threatened if gains aren't made despite the circumstances. I was an administrator of a school that had a very transient population, meaning we didn't end with the same population of students we began with, yet we were held responsible for their low gains. Often times, the real
story isn't told about whey schools are failing. It certainly isn't because teachers and administrators are working their tails off.
Such reactions are very typical of what we hear from Fayette County folks who perceive a double standard when it comes to Silberman’s rhetoric: Do as I say not as I do. Silberman is not wrong, so far as it goes. There are significant (and unfair) aspects to NCLB’s accountability model. But one gets the sense that FCPS teachers (and administrators) would like to see Silberman held to the same standard.

On the other hand,

jim9289 wrote on 11/09/2010 08:35:07 PM: Why is it assumed that the school district, or any school district carries all of the blame for the failure of a few? This makes sense? What about the responsibility of the student to do his or her best? What responsibility does the family have, any? The school is expected to overcome in six hours a day the damage that others create in the other 18 hours. Some people must think that teachers are all miracle workers. I wish that people thought I was that wonderful. Do we really expect a child who has little or no support at home to achieve at the same level as the child who has full support, a full belly and a quiet comfortable place to live and learn? No that is unbelieveable. It is time that we use a little common sense.

And in response

misleader wrote on 11/09/2010 11:25:29 PM: NCLB is good legislation from the idealist standpoint, but it is not realistic. There is no way that someone with a
learning disability will ever reach proficiency. They can learn at a higher level, giving the correct support and motivation. I agree with Jim 9289 that school personnel can't undo in 6 hrs. what parents and society is doing the other 18 hrs./day. That's the real world and many people aren't living in that world because they see colors and want to blame someone other than those responsible for their failures. But, I do believe that Stu is extremely self-serving and he wouldn't tolerate excuses from principals and teachers.
So, what do you think?


Anonymous said...

I work for Stu. He wants miracles. He wants parents always to be right. He wants teachers to engage in customer service. He wants teachers to raise a magic wand in packed classrooms and change home situations. He demeans teachers and the teaching profession. He intimidates. He took away our in-house study hall. I never seem Stu at our school.

I work for a dictator. Test scores can only go up so far when teachers feel they are not appreciated by the superintendent. Anybody done any research on the number of teacher absences lately?

Anonymous said...

Working for Dr. Stu Silberman is not easy because of the mixed signals he sends his teaching staff. On the one hand, his motto "It's about kids" sounds good in theory, but in practice, it's falling apart. For it to be about kids, teachers have to feel they are supported by their principals and their central office staff. They have to feel that they are an active part of school reform. Since Stu came, teachers are, in practice, drones who are told what to teach, how to teach, when to teach ---- through endless in-services on differentiated instruction. Each week there is a new iniative coming from Central Office. As a language arts teacher I was given an in-service recently on the need to get math scores up. I was told that I should incorporate math into my lessons by the speacila ed presenter. She never gave any concrete ways to do so. I am always scurrying to have the students prepped for the scrimmage tests, never quite knowing whether the core content I have taught will creep into the tests themselves. Now I am told I must get my science, math , and language arts teacherts to write more. It's a new innovation per week. To say it's overload is an understatement. There is almost no discussion on improved student achievement in history, practical arts and living, science. Most of us know these very desperate moves are coming from Central Office and Stu. Sadly, he does not know, or does not want to know, the toll it is taking on teachers. The general consensus is that teachers are always wrong, discipline is lax, and punishment is the ultimate price for those who do not obey. Morale has reached an all time low at the school at which I teach.

Anonymous said...

Another thing Dr. Silberman is not anticipating: student revolt. In my eigth grade class I have heard more than a few students say how sick they are of testing, test preparation, and scrimmage testing. We have another one on December 9, I believe. The last time we had one I had two students who wrote one sentence to the Open Response.

I do not agree with students engaging in this type of behavior, but there was not a thing the principal could do after I told her. Students know these state tests have nothing to do with their GPA or future college plans. At our school, we even had a student who went to Stu Silberman (with hsi father) to discuss what they felt was too much emphasis on testing.

I'm beginning to think students are getting as angry with the direction of Fayette County as the teachers. Sabotage is not a good thing, but students are feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you have a way, Sr. Day, we could motivate these students and not get them to engage in this type of sabotage.

David Watkins said...

I wholeheartedly agree with all three of these posts. I graduated high school in 2006, and I can verify that it is not even about the students anymore, not even about the teachers, but it's about the numbers (scores, money, funding, etc.) I was in the music program at my high school and it was clearly about winning the highest honors in band, rather than educating the students about music. The students in the band program at my high school get so burned out by the time they leave high school that they don't even want to continue in college. I'm one of the few that did. I'm sure it is same way in other subjects of study as well.