Monday, June 23, 2014

Talking “truth”

Superintendents need to tell public schools’ success stories, counter myth-makers

This from Brad Hughes at KSBA:
Bowling Green – The fact that Americans love their local public schools but have a dim view of the nation’s public education system isn’t news. It’s borne out year in, year out by the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll.

Dr. John Draper
But participants in the summer conference of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents were told Wednesday that the local leaders can no longer be satisfied with community support while lawmakers in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., are being pressed for reforms in public schools in general.

“Elected officials feel compelled to do something about the myth that public schools other than local schools are pretty bad,” said Dr. John Draper, a former Alabama educator and executive of the state’s school administrators association who is now a consultant for the Rockville, Md.-based National School Public Relations Association. “Public schools are doing better than ever but Americans don’t believe it. We have to learn how to make the truth sticky and how to unstick a sticky myth like public schools are failing.”

Draper, who will be delivering a keynote address at next month’s KSBA Summer Leadership Institute, led superintendents through a series of “Talk, Truth and Critical Conversations” about public education in America. For example:

Talk: Too many high schools are dropout factories.

Truth: We are making changes and doing a better job – graduation rates are rising. The difference between now and the past is that special education students are being counted in graduation rates.

Conversation: Schools must identify struggling students early – “We’ve got to push it down into elementary grades;” – remove time constraints, going to things like an “ungraded high school,” where student progress is measured by credits or hours rather than being labeled as “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior…and stupid;” schools must provide multiple options needed for every child to graduate.

Talk: Charters do a better job of educating kids than regular public schools.

Truth: There is no research that charters as a group are more effective than regular schools. Some charters are better, but are more selective in the students they accept.

Conversation: Americans like to choose and “choice is a new American value. How can we bring this flexibility to all public schools? The day will come when the money will go with the kid. If we are not the schools of choice, we are really going to hurt when the money goes with the kids."

Talk: American ACT and SAT scores are declining and have been for decades. American schools are falling behind those in other nations on international tests.

Truth: Average ACT and SAT scores overall have declined, but every subgroup of test takers – girls, boys, whites, minorities - has increased scores. That’s because the overall population of students taking these tests has changed significantly as more low achieving kids are encouraged or required to take these tests, such as the ACT in Kentucky. And American students have never tested well on international tests, scoring 12th of 13 nations when the first international exam was conducted. Now the U.S. scores have “fallen up” to near the international average. Some countries cull low-performing students and those with disabilities from testing.

Conversation: “Standardized tests are one measure of learning. All children can learn but learn at different rates with different strengths. And we don’t want to be the high score on international tests. The minister of education of Singapore – a nation scoring high on international tests – came to America to study our public education system. Asked why, he said that Singapore does a good job teaching students who to take tests, but then its students don’t do well on the test of life. He was here to learn how America teaches students to do well after graduation.”

Draper said the place to begin rejecting the myths will come within public schools themselves.

“If we can’t win over our own people – teachers – how will we win the rest of the country? There are 8 million public school employees in this country. Some are saying bad stuff and killing you out in the public,” said the former middle school assistant principal and high school principal.

“You have to be the chief morale officer of your district. It wasn’t part of the job description years ago, but today it is. We know the many wonderful things happening in our schools. Those good things are everyday happenings to you (but not to the general community,” Draper said.

During Wednesday’s opening session of the KASS conference, the organization honored Cindy Heine, the retiring associate executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, with its KASS Distinguished Service Award for her years of advocacy and research about public education’s needs, successes and challenges in Kentucky.


Anonymous said...

I agree that we have to be proactive but there are folks out there that not only are making a financial and political living by damning schools but they also have a public that would seem more inclined to read and hear dirt and sensationalized outlier behaviors than they would about positive advances about education as a whole. It is easy to find joy/pride in your own children or grandchildren's experiences, even in your community's school success, but folks don't give a hoot about what is going on in the next state or county, much less the nation as a whole.

I think it was Tipp O'Neil who said "all politics are local". Superintendents can be cheerleaders for their school districts to their local constituencies but collectively I don't see this grassroots approach ever integrating into an integrated, collective national movement exposing the inaccuracies of those who have become empowered and enriched by selling the story of a flawed national education system

Richard Innes said...

I must admit to disappointment about some of Brad Hughes’ comments.

For example, his discussion about charter schools is out of date. Actually, the latest reports from CREDO and others show charters moving ahead.

Here’s one recent article about this from the Wall Street Journal:

Back in March Education Week posted an interesting article from Margaret E. Raymond, who heads CREDO. With CREDO studying charter performance in most of the charter states in the country, I think it is fair to say this Stanford University group probably has a better handle on what is going on with charter schools across the nation than anyone in KSBA does.

Here is one of Dr. Raymond’s points:

“Many of the higher-performing schools are serving the most dis-advantaged students in communities that have been desperate for better schools for their youth. Even if these examples of success are a fraction of the entire charter school sector, the fact that they have strong and enduring records of success should prompt a stampede to learn what they do to cultivate such outcomes and attempt to disseminate those practices in nearby schools that need improving.”

That pretty much torpedoes’ Hughes’ comment that, “Some charters are better, but are more selective in the students they accept.”

I do think these Hughes’ points are well taken:

“Americans like to choose and ‘choice is a new American value. How can we bring this flexibility to all public schools? The day will come when the money will go with the kid. If we are not the schools of choice, we are really going to hurt when the money goes with the kids.’”

Like Hughes, I also think that will happen at some point in Kentucky.

I would love it if the traditional system here steps up to the choice challenge and gives the competition a real run for their money instead of continuing along as it is now, producing unacceptable results like the performance of our white eighth grade students in NAEP math, where Kentucky in 2013 only statistically significantly outperformed just one other state in the whole country. That needs to change.