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.