Friday, April 1, 2011

ASD School Board Approves Major Cuts to the Arts

It is a sad day for education in Allentown. The school board has unanimously approved Dr. Zahorchak's curriculum overhaul he calls "Pathways to Success." The program will eliminate 247 teaching and support staff positions. Many of these positions are specialists- art, music, physical education, and library teachers. 9 out of 13 elementary art teachers will lose their jobs. At the elementary level, students will only have art once a week, for one nine week cycle, for the entire school year. Same with phys. ed, library, and music. Looks like instrumental music may be eliminated. The classroom teachers will be expected to teach the specialist subject areas. This is wrong because most classroom teachers are not certified in those areas. (Hence the title "specialist").

I have very strong feelings about these dreadful changes, and about the fact that not one school board member stood on principle to vote against this immoral program that will harm Allentown's children. These underprivileged city kids deserve the same well rounded education as suburban kids. Dr. Z is not providing pathways, instead he's putting up roadblocks to success, because he is depriving these kids of the opportunity to discover their talents.

It is illegal to furlough teachers for economic reasons (Corbett is proposing a bill to change that) but it is legal to lay off teachers because of curriculum changes. I think this is how Dr. Z is justifying this massive and mean spirited removal of teachers. His plan seems rushed through, and not well thought out. Where is the evidence that all these changes will work?

It has been reported that 700 people attended last night's school board meeting. Students, teachers, and parents spoke passionately about the importance of the arts and physical education, and the bonds that have been formed between teachers and students. Those bonds will be broken when the teachers are gone. These are needy children, and they need their teachers. The school board members were not influenced by the audience, and seemed to have made up their minds ahead of time. What a sham. One school board member, Holly Edinger, was even joking about her experiences in gym class, and making light of the changes. She came off as a buffoon who obviously understands very little about education. These board members do not seem concerned about the children. Bob Smith did speak out to keep some art, music, and phys ed teachers, but then he ultimately voted for the plan. Was he just grandstanding for the crowd? And Julie Ambrose, whose son plays cello at Muhlenberg Elementary and participated in All City Orchestra with my son, said that this plan to cut specialists might be a good thing, since now it may free up classroom teachers to be more creative. I thought she would stand up for the music program she supports at school as a parent. If you were a real advocate for the arts, you would NOT have voted for a plan that eliminates the arts. What phonies. Maybe since they all voted to hire this overpaid snake oil salesman Dr. Z they don't want to look like they made the wrong choice, so they all approved his lousy plan, at the expense of the kids and teachers. I say vote them all out.

When Dr. Z spoke about his program I could not make sense of a word he was saying. But he does seem fond of the word "alignment" and other useless corporate ed reform jargon. To me he sounds like a master of BS, not an educator. Allentown residents believe that there needs to be change in the ASD, but the "Pathways to Success" program does not include the kind of change that will help inner city kids learn. These kids need MORE art, music, and phys ed. They can learn the basics better through the arts, and be more excited about school, more engaged. The arts help improve test scores and learning. The arts improve critical thinking skills. Why do we have to keep advocating for the arts? Phys. ed teaches important social skills, leadership, teamwork, and builds character. Health is an important subject for kids. The benefits of the arts, phys. ed and library are enormous, and there is a ton of research to prove it. Where is the evidence that Dr. Z's plan of narrowing the curriculum will improve graduation rates?

Shame on school board members. They are leading Allentown down a pathway to doom. This is a sad day because the leaders in our community are not putting children first. They should listen to the teachers who spend time with these needy kids every day. If I were on that school board I would have spoken out against this plan that will harm our children. The mayor and city council approved the hiring of Dr. Z. And now, city councilor Ray O'Connell, a former ASD principal and administrator has been hired as a consultant to oversee the staff lay offs. How crony cozy is this?
And he will be paid 18K to do a job that some overpaid ASD administrator could do. That money could be spent on programs for the kids, or to hire a paraprofessional for an entire year. What an insane waste of money, just like the PSSA Pep Rally and other expensive gimmicks. The administration has mismanaged funds and now the teachers must pay, and the neediest children must suffer. The meanness of it all has made me sick to my stomach.


Bill Villa said...

Kudos to WFMZ-TV for last night's live streaming of the ASD event, only downside was Paul Carpenter constantly on camera ...

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD Teacher here.

Well done, Angie!

This administration and board is throwing ideas against the wall hoping something (ANYTHING) will stick. This is an awful plan even with far fewer staffing cuts.

I agree, this school board seems clueless, spinless, and disingenuous. It was obvious, the decision to pass the plan was made BEFORE the meeting. That meeting was an insult to those who chose to speak. I can't recall ANY speaker who spoke in favor of this destruction of education in Allentown.

As for Paul Carpenter, Bill. There's a "expert" who spent his local career bashing teachers, and exaggerating anything to support his vile disdain for public education. Paul's been a negative force upon the education of Allentown's kids for years.

Thanks so much for exposing the travesty of this poorly conceived and hurried plan.

Bill Villa said...

"Retired," thanks for commenting and merci for the name-check but (oh geez) don't get me started (here) on The Morning Call "newspaper" ...

Angie Villa SiteMeter(R) Spotlight said...

Look for blog troll/turd Chris Casey to clumsily re-purpose Angie Villa's brilliant insight in a comment at Mike Molovinsky's blog later today or tomorrow.

Domain Name > (Network)
IP Address > [Redacted]

Time of Visit > Apr 1 2011 12:46:49 pm

Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi Retired,

I agree,Dr. Z's ideas are really awful.I didn't really get into the changes for middle school and high school in my post because I wanted to focus on elementary cuts. But cutting electives for the older kids is a really bad idea and contradicts the concept of "pathways." I guess the kids must choose only paths that the almighty savior Z has pre-determined for them. It's like an Orwellian experiment.

Teaching to the test is bad enough, but now they are taking even more valuable subjects away from the kids. And they think this will keep kids in school? I am fed up. And now that I am subbing I get to see what's really going on, and how things have changed for the worse.
The curriculum is boring and scripted, and stifles creativity. I want to support public ed, but this is not good for my child, and I am not buying what Z is selling cause I know it's wrong.

Carpenter knows nothing about education. He's a lunkhead.

Bill Villa said...

Related Story

Anonymous said...

Current ASD student:

me and almost the entire seventh grade at Trexler MS agree completely on what your saying.......when our chorus class heard we completely flipped! Our class was red in the face sad and couldn't understand why all these changes were gong to be made to or futures. Many were entirely bewildered and complained why did the cuts of teachers depend on seniority and why there were going to be cuts to being with! but the only justification we get is......the Allentown School district is 40 million dollars in the hole.......but is that enough to cut our futures entirely?!?!?!? now due the cuts many of the futures of the ASD students will be limited in every way. We all believe the DR.Z was a mistake and we are the erasers that he too fix it. Well....I guess we try out his new plan....well I mean when was the last he was wrong and made a mistake...hmmmmm lets see. oh! right that was $24K ago when the pep rally went entirely wrong.....Trexler MS didnt even see the rally! We (TMS) have decided to let the big kids with money (adults) sit down and let our future fall into our own hands!


Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi ASD student, thanks for commenting! I am glad you are speaking out about this. There are things you can do. Write letters to the editor of The Morning Call, write to the school board members, start a Facebook page, contact your school PTA maybe they can fund some programs that are being cut. Tell people why the teachers and programs being cut are so important to you. Get your friends together because there is strength in numbers. Maybe you can get regional or even national media attention.

Anonymous said...

These increasingly extreme and desperate-appearing strategies to save money seem destined to happen in chronically underfunded school districts like ASD. Politicians like to talk about needing to "make the tough decisions" which always seems to refer to taking more away from the most vulnerable populations. I don't see anyone making the "tough decisions" to enact truly equitable school funding or to say to the richest citizens and corporations, "no, really, you have to pay your fair share. " Instead we continue a strategy of punishing people (even children) for being poor, or middle class, for that matter. I think we will discover that this is a disastrous path that really won't solve anything, but who knows how long it will take?! I have to say that I'm finding all of this really discouraging.

Lisa Figueroa

Mrs. Dottie said...

Lisa, well said. I'd like to know how cutting the arts from the elementary curriculum is going to increase high school graduation rates? How is this a pathway to success?

Mrs. Dottie said...

Dr. Z needs to align his standards and concentric circles with the needs of the children in Allentown.

The school board members did not stand up for the children.

Mrs. Dottie said...

I must say this here because I refuse to comment at the Morning Call's online forum of morons who bash teachers. Several people commenting about teacher cuts keep comparing education to business and the private sector. That is not a fair comparison. A school is NOT a business, it's a learning environment where children grow and develop. It's not just about the bottom line. A business can choose its employees. Public school teachers cannot choose their students! Teacher performance should not be tied to standardized test scores of students. Education is complicated, because children are complicated. They are humans, not data points. This nonsense has got to stop. Please read Diane Ravitch, she speaks for teachers. Dr. Z speaks for the corporate ed reform movement (Gates Foundation) that wants to privatize public education. He's pitting the teachers against the community, and that's wrong. How could a plan that narrows curricula so drastically be of benefit to our students?
Education has become big business, especially for the testing industry, which is corrupt.

Anonymous said...

Angie, if testing scores aren't used to rate teachers, then how do you determine and address teachers who aren't up to the job?

I support teachers 100%. I firmly believe the union leadership has lost its way - to busy protecting incompetent teachers at the expense of the many excellent ones, and all to the detriment of kids.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Anon 1:52 Student test scores can be influenced by many factors, like high absenteeism,influence of previous teachers, poor nutrition and sleep, stress, effects of poverty. And the PSSA test
does not measure critical thinking skills, improved learning. The PSSA is a flawed test. It is estimated that 82% of schools will not meet the goal of 100% student proficiency by 2014. Why base anything on that one test?

Principals already evaluate teachers through observation. Peer evaluation is another method. There is too much focus on teacher performance rather than the fact that teachers must teach a scripted curriculum that is not appropriate for all students, but has been mandated by policy makers who don't know anything about education. I think the union could do more for teachers. Most teachers I know are fed up with the focus on testing and they know it is wrong, and harmful to students. But they care about their students and want to help them. Yes, there are some teachers who don't care about students, and are not up for the job, and they should be removed.I think it's a myth that the union spends most of it's time protecting bad teachers.

Anonymous said...

Angie if we let teacher evaluation up to principals and other teachers through peer review, then there is no independence to the process, and the potential for games being played is too high.

I see your point on testing and development, but we have to structure something that independently holds teachers and administrators accountable for results. I'm open to hearing recommendations as I keep ending up back at test scores.

As to unions fighting to keep bad teachers, look no further than the rubber room at the NYC school district. Thousands of bad teachers couldn't be fired because of the union - Randi Weingarten, now President of the AFT, refused to discuss the issue. It wasn't until public outcry was at its peak and she was gone that Mike Mulgrew and the union caved on the matter in 2010.

Think of the millions that were wasted on that fiasco and I hope you get as angry as I am about it.

Mrs. Dottie said...

The former NYC education chancellor, Joel Klein,who now works for Fox,was a failure. He blamed teachers.His reform movement was a sham. You are obviously not an urban school teacher. The movement to hold teachers "accountable"(that word is used by people who know nothing about education but want to tell teachers how to teach)is just to misdirect from the much bigger failure of NCLB and corporate ed reform. Millions are wasted on testing and other nonsense mandated
by non educators. That's what I am mad about. But the teachers continue to be blamed. If you have not walked in their shoes, you don't have any idea what you are talking about. Poverty is the cause of student failure, not teachers.
You have no idea how challenging and even dangerous it is for teachers in urban districts. There are much bigger issues than teacher performance. All the teachers I have worked with and know do an excellent job in a challenging environment. There is no such thing as a "bad teacher" crisis, it's a media myth. You should read Diane Ravitch. She's an expert.

Mrs. Dottie said...

I just read the latest op ed by lunkhead Paul Carpenter who is praising standardized testing! And calling the arts educational "frills." He knows absolutely NOTHING about curricula or teaching. A completely misinformed moron! Newsflash Paul: "teaching to the test" is what's really happening, and it's wrong,
those standards taught all year are aligned to the one test. You are a total MORON, so shut up and stop causing more harm to our children.

Ned Donovan said...

You and I may very rarely, if ever agree. This is one moment that I am proud to stand beside you in anger and frustration at the state of arts education in this country. As I watch the entire nation struggle under cuts, I watch schools build 10 million dollar sports complexes, but ignore a plea for the funding for one extra music teacher a public middle school. I read an article where one person wrote (and I quote), "why do we need the NEA? Did an NEA equivalent exist when William Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet? Or when Handel wrote Für Elise?" What more proof do we need that education in music and art is seriously lacking when someone on the "informed opposition" labels one of Beethoven's most famous pieces as written by George Frideric Handel?

Allentown, don't allow the arts to fall by the wayside because you fail to see their application. The human brain functions on creativity, by forcing people to learn the same information uniformly, and therefore not learn the same information uniformly, you send millions of people out into the world lacking in many of the functions which our brain so sorely need to develop.

Mrs. Dottie said...

"You and I may very rarely, if ever agree." -Ned Donovan

That's an understatement.

Readers, FYI, Ned Donovan, along w/ his father, outgoing Allentown City Council vice president "W" Mike Donovan, and his stepmother, Morning Call freelancer Diana Morse, have been among the Villa family's most vile and virulent cyber tormentors.

Ned, your monumental nerve at showing up here commenting and expecting a civil welcome, is, well, sadly, delusional and hereditary.

Don't come back.

Readers, here's what the Donovans have been a party to ...

Judge Steinberg: The Threats Begin Again

Bill Villa said...

Related Story

Mrs. Dottie said...

Just heard that they nixed the Ray O'Connell 18k consulting gig. Thank goodness.

Here is a must read for those who are interested in the big picture on corporate ed reform.