Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We Have Met The Enemy And the Borg Is Us: APS, the Testing Low-Down, and My Little School

For starters, yesterday I misspelled the name of Ruby Ethridge, APS Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools. I'm sorry, and, of course, blame someone else for this mistake. Namely, I blame the still-awful disaster known as the APS website. Clearly, blaming and attacking the APS website is like Tom Udall slamming Steve Pearce for being bald. Too easy and unnecessary. Still, didn't Winston Brooks say he was going to bring this website into the 2000s, if not at least 1998?

Okay, enough buck passing. I messed up. I avoided going to the APS website and misspelled the woman's name. Sorry.

Speaking of messed up, here's a short report of the meeting Ms. Ethridge held with my staff at a hastily-convened "mandatory" meeting yesterday. Despite having personal doubts about Superintendent Brooks creating a new position of "Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools", I have come away with both a positive impression of both Ms. Ethridge herself, and the need for the newly created position.

Now the bad news. A couple of big reasons for this positive impression are:
  1. The new Superintendent and "District" intend to make sweeping changes to raise test scores;
  2. These sweeping changes are intended for quick, beneficial implementation and APS has historically really, really, really sucked at combining the qualities of "quick" with "beneficial".
Add to this the fact that not only is the NM State Public Education Department involved, but the "PED" is in the midst of changing high-level personnel (with names you would never recognize in a billion years).

So yes, dear reader, that means we are tyying to do something really fast, utilizing three dense layers of bureaucracy (State, District, individual schools) and rapidly changing players. And that's leaving out the whole Feds, Election '08, No Child Left Behind revision angle.

Odds of quick, beneficial implementation: Far higher than those lucky folks who last March bet on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (and yes, they are still the "Devil Rays", I don't care what anybody says) to win the World Series at 200-1. More like 100,000 to 1. And that's with Ruby Ethridge. Without an "Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools" were talking 1,000,000 to 1.

I won't bore readers with the more arcane elements (those hard-core teacher types can email me and I'll pass on what I learned), but basically we have to:
  • Take a test result from Spring 2008;
  • Find out all the kids who didn't score 60%* or better on the test in Math;
  • Take the rest of this year trying to figure out how to help these under 60% kids without blowing up our entire schedule and having a block schedule for Math;
  • Find out who's still under 60% after trying this stuff for the rest of this school year;
  • Blow up our entire schedule next year (Fall 2009) and include a double period for Math.
So the bottom line is that we have to go to around 90 minutes a day for Math starting Fall 2009, at least for those kids who aren't up to 60%. For those not "hip" to what this means we're going to double the amount of Math students get.

And yes, this means some non-Math classes are gonna get left out, at least for some of our students. Last February I wrote a little piece about the issue of lost electives for high school students in the same situation. In that I brought up the unfairness of a school schedule in which some students were deprived electives, and that lawsuits were soon to follow.

Well, yesterday I was told there haven't been any lawsuits. And my question is....why haven't there been any lawsuits? Are parents of these electives-deprived kids so cowered by today's standardized testing mantra that they aren't fighting this? In a political climate in which even John McCain wants to tinker with No Child Left Behind, and large segments of the population wants to absolutely annihilate it, why are we putting up with this?

Like most such meetings, I came away with more questions than answers. Still, my school might have learned enough yesterday to do the most important thing. We need to work together to create a schedule that fulfills all the little "mandates" of Feds, State, & District, while preserving what we know is really important for our kids at our school. Failing to do this will result in some dictated "standardized middle school schedule" that will kill electives, create some teaching-to-the-test zombie land, and leave our powerfully unique institution blandly indistinguishable from a glorified Sylvan Learning Center.

And we better act fast, because "Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools" or no, I'm still betting heavily against the Feds/State/District doing anything that is both "quick" and "beneficial". Anybody want to lay a little money on the bureaucracies doing the right thing (you pick the criteria)? Anybody?

*P.S.: Evidence of the "quick" nature of these changes, it is still unclear as to whether the cut-off figure is 60% or 70% for Math. Aw, what's a few percentage points of test results here or there? Let's get out some darts and just pick a "really large number".

P.P.S.: I realize some might get the impression from the above that I am treating all the entities outside my school as the "enemy". I'm not. Instead, I just want the decision-making flow to go from our school up, instead of seeping or flooding downward from above. The reasons for this are not based as much on my disregard for bureaucracies (which is admittedly sizable), but the knowledge that my school is quite different than any other in the District for reasons that would probably bore the Hell out of the casual reader. Hardcores can email me for follow-up on this point. Or maybe I'll decide to bore the Hell out of everyone and get to this minutiae in a future post.


Anonymous said...

I have heard that Brooks values electives and has said as much at his various townhall meetings--when will we see THIS in action? Meanwhile our school is taking steps to do 90 minutes of math too. We really need advocates at the board and in the superintendent's office to lead on the question of electives, because it looks like site-based management is dead. All I'm hearing about now is Tier 2 interventions which are basically canned remediation programs, with a160:1 (at middle school)pupil-teacher ratio, and no electives.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Ethridge is a bald liar. That is something you should know. She, in addition to Linda Sink, stood up in front of the teachers of Madison Middle School in March 2009 and promised them to work cooperatively in designing changes to their schedule and curriculum. 30 days later she showed up to dictate a both a curriculum and schedule. She did this while apparently contradicting a promise made by Linda Sink in September 2008. The end result is that every teacher at Madison, from the most conservative to the most liberal, believes that they are liars.