Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Thoughts on the New Before School Program

85% of students in our school district qualify for free or reduced lunch. See:

The child poverty rate in Allentown is more than double the national average. And the USA has the highest child poverty rate of all industrialized nations. 1 in 4 children live in households that are considered "food insecure." And that number keeps growing. Kids cannot learn if they are hungry. Free breakfast and free lunch are offered to all students in the ASD. It's necessary. I've seen the hunger, it's real. Breakfast is important, but I don't support the ASD's new "Start Your Day Right" before school program for several reasons, mainly because a new administrator was hired at a salary of 84k while 247 teachers received pink slips, and that's just wrong. This new administrator, Joyce Marin, is the former Allentown Economic Development Director. Some people say her position was created as a political favor to Mayor Pawlowski. She's a nice lady, but not qualified. She has a background in business, an MBA. That does not qualify her to run school programs. As an educator, I am not qualified to advise hedge fund managers, so what makes her qualified to advise educators?

300 community volunteers will be needed to run the program, because, well, it takes a village! And volunteers will need to get 3 background checks (the district will reimburse the $53.00 cost and help with all the paperwork), plus a TB test (also provided by district), plus attend training sessions. This is an unrealistic expectation. And how will volunteers know how to manage large groups of kids or handle special needs, or discipline? It is unrealistic to expect parents in the ASD to volunteer. It's also very nervy to ask for volunteers during tough economic times when so many people have lost jobs, or are working 2-3 jobs just to get by. This just shows how out of touch the administration is with reality. This program may look great on paper, but will be difficult to implement. Hey, they even have a logo!

The administration sees this program as a "fabulous opportunity" for community to get involved and support education! What kind of dream world do these people exist in? There is an organization called the PTA, which has always provided volunteer opportunities. I have been a PTA volunteer, for many years. I know from experience that it is extremely difficult to recruit parents to volunteer in the ASD due to work schedules, and because some feel intimidated, don't speak English, or they just don't care. Right now, according to the ASD website they have recruited only 50 volunteers, and they will need 300 by Sept. 2!

This new sunshiny fresh experiment, along with a new admin. position, were created mainly because of Dr. Z's changes to the school bell schedule, which have caused a conflict for many parents, and also because they think that this program will help make up for cutting the phys ed and arts programs. Elementary students will now be arriving at 8:45, which is 45 minutes later than they are used to. Teachers will arrive at 8 am, and have their prep time before students arrive. So, parents who go to work early will need to do something with their children before school starts. The geniuses came up with this grandiose, complicated plan which incorporates food, fitness, fun, and even more test prep! Hey, we can align it with Michele Obama's "Let's Get Movin" program, since 40% of ASD kids are overweight, and recess has been cut in order to spend more time on test prep. It all aligns so nicely with "resiliency" and "standards aligned systems" and "rigor" and all the other corporate nonsense. Only thing is, a voluntary program in a high poverty district is not a very good idea.

Here's a more realistic idea which is backed by research, has already been implemented in some schools in the ASD (especially early childhood centers), and is gaining popularity across the country. Breakfast in the Classroom. It ensures that all students are fed, it guarantees better student performance. It helps disadvantaged kids feel comfortable and secure because they get to share food, and socialize with their classmates and teacher. It's educational because they learn about nutrition and manners. It's easy. It only takes 10 minutes to serve, once all students have arrived at school. The benefits are enormous. Breakfast is always served in the classroom during testing.

I know my solution is not a before school program, but I am presenting it because it is very unlikely that "Start Your Day Right" will actually happen without volunteers, and it's very important that kids eat breakfast. Breakfast in the classroom for all students is a good idea.

UPDATE 8/29: According to the ASD website, Start Your Day Right will not start until Sept. 19th. So, apparently they need more time to get volunteers, but they will be going ahead with the program.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Zahorchak Resigns as ASD Superintendent!

Read the partial story here:

What steams me is that the new acting super, Russ Mayo, will continue with Dr. Z's experimental "Pathways to Success" curriculum overhaul, and Z will be kept on board, but in a different position. Z will still receive his outrageous 195k salary, benefits, PLUS a 55k contract buy out "gift" when he leaves in one year. So, he'll be pulling the strings from behind the curtains. And the only reason given for his resignation is financial: the district just cannot afford his high salary for the next three years. Really? This raises some questions since the district has been hiring more and more high paid administrators, while laying off over one hundred teachers. I think Dr. Z was not forthcoming about the actual cost of putting his experiments in place. Maybe he underestimated the cost of implementing such massive changes. Maybe he's just not qualified for the job.

I believe there needs to be an investigation. Something doesn't smell right. There seems to be some behind the scenes shenanigans going on. And the school board is a disgrace. They have not represented the citizens who elected them. There was a public outcry against Z's policies yet the duped school board directors all approved, and still approve of Dr. Z's corporate reform programs/teacher bashing. I've written extensively here about why I believe his ideas are wrong, here's a snippet:

Tying teacher evaluation to unreliable test scores will be disastrous. Data driven policies, more testing (but value-added BS), standards aligned systems, too much focus on college readiness, shuffling principals around, massive teacher layoffs, cutting arts programs, cutting phys ed and library, all wrong, all based on flawed research, not evidence based or educationally sound practices, all espoused by Dr.Z. All approved by a clueless school board. And what is really behind these bad reform policies? $$$$ These are the policies a district must adopt in order to get million$ in school improvement grants (SIG). And the ASD needs money. South Mountain Middle School just became the recipient of a 1 million dollar SIG. But they must agree to comply with Obama's education policies. (see above, starting with teacher evaluation process, a Bill Gates idea). It's bad for kids. It's bad for teachers. Obama's policies are like NCLB on steroids. More test and punish, more standardization, winners and losers, higher stakes since bogus test scores will be tied to teacher performance, firing principals, forcing teachers to re-apply for jobs. This will lead to more cheating on tests. And it will cheat our kids out of a well rounded education.

I must digress a bit here because my blood is boiling over the fact that after 10 years of failed test and data driven nonsense dictated by non-educators, we are still testing. Children are not data points! Finally, there is a movement going on across the country. (But so much damage has already been done) You can go to the OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: the National Movement (Facebook page). Parents, you have the ultimate power over your child's education. You can opt your child out of testing. That would really mess up their precious data. It's an act of civil disobedience. Enough is enough with the testing and failed NCLB policies. Test scores are unreliable, don't measure real learning. They serve only to make politicians look good and to show what we already know-that low student achievement is the result of poverty. Stand up for teachers and public schools. Remember, a school is not a business. Don't let the monsters force their immoral corporate values on our public schools. Stop this experiment on poor children! Let the teachers teach.

What a mess our school district
has become. I blame the school board. And where is the "alignment" that Dr. Z always speaks of? Remember, alignment is the essence of great teaching (he says) . So then why doesn't that apply to administrators too? And the drop out rate of top administrators is now even higher than the drop out rate of students at Allen High. This is unacceptable!

Dr. Z is not a leader. He is a corporate ed reform flunky, a bureaucrat who does not understand the root cause of low student achievement in Allentown: POVERTY. It's the poverty, stupid! Your corporate jargon may fool duped school board members, the mayor, city council, and business leaders, but it doesn't fool real educators. You know, the people who actually interact with students? The people who are qualified to write curriculum. The people you hold hostage to your dumb, expensive ideas. You'd save a lot of money if you'd just ask that person in front of the class room how the children are doing.

Photos: Dr Z., ASD School Board Directors

UPDATE 8/21: See comment section at this post for more information on reasons for Z's departure. There is a report in today's newspaper: