Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Concerns About Dr. Zahorchak's Vision

Dr. Gerald Zahorchak is the new Superintendent of the Allentown School District. He is the former PA Secretary of Education. I have concerns about his "vision" to improve the Allentown School District. As a teacher, parent, and Allentown resident I believe his proposal to make drastic cuts to important subjects and programs will hurt urban students. Among the proposed program cuts are social studies, instrumental music, art, economics, languages, and other elective classes at both middle school and high school levels. Many teachers will lose their jobs. He plans to restructure the high schools and segregate students by creating a separate Collegiate School for gifted students, where college professors would be hired to teach dual enrollment college courses, and high school teachers would teach AP (advanced placement) classes. There would be a technical/trade school, and an "alternative" school for the bad kids. It's all very complicated and confusing. What happens to the kids in the middle who may be advanced in one area, struggling in another? I don't think the parents will be able to understand all these changes. And what about the teachers? They should have a say.

I think it's a bad idea to separate the gifted kids from the rest of the population and send them to a new building. Gifted students are role models and can help struggling students. The top students can raise the bar and challenge other students. And ASD students have always been tracked into gifted classes at school. These kids will be separated from their friends, and that can be stressful. College professors do not have experience in classroom management or cafeteria duty. It doesn't make any sense. I wonder how much time Dr. Z has spent in a classroom teaching urban students? Even though the gifted children may behave better than the general population, these kids need experienced teachers who are trained to meet the needs of all students. (Not just the cognitive needs, but emotional, social, creative, and physical.)

It's a bad idea to cut the arts because that's what motivates many kids to go to school. And research shows that students who are involved in the arts score higher on standardized tests. The arts are so necessary to teach critical thinking and problem solving skills. And since the general curriculum has been narrowed due to teaching to the test, the arts are even more important. I have witnessed first hand how a simple drawing lesson can inspire and engage disruptive students. The arts should be integrated in all subject areas, and not viewed as an educational "frill."

The ASD has an award winning middle school social studies department. If this program is cut, many excellent teachers will lose their jobs. Students will not learn important facts about the world. Students need this knowledge to become responsible citizens who will question authority. Right now the focus is on molding students who will score well on tests and will become passive workers. The billionaire boy's club (Bill Gates Foundation) is controlling federal public ed policy and ed research. (See my link at sidebar to Dissent article) The super rich control the media and influence public opinion. Gates is providing money to urban districts like Allentown, if the district complies with Gates' corporate "turnaround strategy." That means firing teachers, cutting programs, reassigning principals, even closing so called "failing schools" and opening charter schools. The ultimate goal is to privatize public education and dismantle the teacher's union. Anyone who says that Zahorchak's plan is "liberal" is completely misinformed. The ASD partners with The Gates Foundation. Gates has no experience teaching urban students. Studies show that Gates' research is highly flawed.

The changes that Zahorchak proposes will not change the root of the problem, which is poverty.
High absenteeism, lack of parental involvement, gangs, poor nutrition, stress at home, high mobility rate, are all the results of growing up in poverty. Socio-economic problems need to be dealt with first, before these kids can even think about going to college. It is unrealistic to say that every poor child will succeed and attend college. And even with a college degree it could be difficult for graduates to find jobs. Why not allow the kids to choose their own career paths by offering them more electives?

Urban schools need to focus on creating a safe environment where the growth and development of all children is nurtured. This "whole child" approach simply means to focus on educating a well rounded child whose physical, emotional, creative, social, and cognitive needs are met. It's what teachers are trained to do. Teaching to the test and data driven instruction mandated by politicians will not improve learning. A school is not a business, it is a learning environment. Allentown needs MORE after school programs, arts programs, and mandatory pre-school.

Please stand up and speak out against Dr. Zahorchak's dangerous proposal. Our local leaders serving on city council and school board should listen to ASD teachers before they approve these changes. It disappoints me that Mayor Pawlowski is supporting this plan. Our local leaders should be more informed about what's really going on in our schools. Volunteer and experience it! It's so important. I hope the protests in Wisconsin inspire people in Allentown to speak out.

At my sidebar there are links to Whole Child approach , Diane Ravitch, and other education experts. You will find the research that backs up my opinions. Please read the Dissent article about how Gates and other billionaires are controlling policy.

Here's a link to Dr. Z's plan for the high schools. I can't make any sense of it, and the term "standards aligned system" frightens me. School Board Meeting is this Thursday night.


Anonymous said...

Around here, it seems like those with the biggest mouths (but not the best ideas) get to call the shots. If we have to, let's SHOUT THEM DOWN, and out, of office, on the School Board, City Council, DA's office, Morning Call, etc., etc., etc. IDEA: no more mediocre bums running the show around here.

Mrs. Dottie said...

What I don't understand is that most of the city council members are educators. Have any of them questioned Dr. Z's plans? It's time elected officials start listening to the people. If these plans are pushed through quickly, that would be a big mistake. Morning Call hardly ever covers good things happening in the ASD. I saw an amazing performance of Beauty and the Beast at Union Terrace Elementary. I could not find pictures or coverage in the "newspaper." But they are quick to misinform people about the high school drop out rate in Allentown.

Elected leaders need to be in touch with what it's really like at the middle and high schools. Spend a day as a substitute! Talk to the teachers, and find out what kinds of problems these kids are dealing with at home.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Glad to read today that over 400 people attended the school board meeting, and teachers and students were able to voice their concerns about Dr. Z's plans. Power to the people! The board voted to approve half of his plan, including his proposal to hire college professors to teach dual enrollment courses to gifted students. It is still unclear which classes and programs will be cut and how many good teachers will lose their jobs.

I am glad there was opposition to his idea to eliminate social studies from the middle school curriculum and incorporate it into reading courses. That is a really bad idea. Kids need MORE civics and history. School board members need
to listen to teachers so they can learn about the challenges of educating urban students.

Some of the comments I have read at the online forums and local blogs are so idiotic and show just how misinformed many people are when it comes to education issues. Many people buy into the media myths about "failing schools" and "bad teachers". Get informed, and read my sidebar links.

I have seen ASD Kindergarten classes with 25-28 students,with one teacher, one aide. There should be two teachers with these kids in order to meet the needs of all students. And the kids are very needy since they come to school lacking social skills, proper nutrition, and proper behavior, and many don't speak English. HIRE MORE KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS INSTEAD OF COLLEGE PROFS. It's crucial to immerse these kids at an early age.

Mrs. Dottie said...

SAS stands for standards aligned system. The standards align with the PSSA test. A top administrator in the ASD told me that I need to get on board with SAS, which he said meant "student aligned system." Uh, there's a bit of a difference there. Pretty scary that he got that wrong. But I'm not buying what Dr. Z is selling.

On a brighter note, some parents in Colorado are opting their kids out of testing. Just think, if enough parents opted their kids out, and enough teachers refused to administer the test, then we would have a chance at ending this test mania nonsense, and maybe get back to real teaching and learning. This is all about politics, and we can fight it. I know that teachers are fed up with teaching to the test. But too many are afraid of losing their jobs. But there is strength in numbers!