Friday, March 27, 2015

Missed Opportunities

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, an affluent area with some of the most amazing public schools. I attended one, Washington Grove, for kindergarten. At that time, kindergarten was half-day and it may have been parental choice.

But then I went to parochial school (Go Crusaders sounds rather impolitic now) and then all-girls Catholic prep school. Holy Cross Tartans - less offensive sounding, although a sandwich called a Tartan was served in the cafeteria.

One thing I always knew about teachers in parochial schools was that they made less. They were just as well educated but sacrificed a bit of cash and a bunch of long-term retirement cash to teach in a religious school. This was for diverse reasons - more freedom in regard to testing and curriculum and teaching, belief in the religion and its philosophy toward education and maybe even to assure themselves of having more students that were there ready to learn. That last reason is perhaps controversial, but I do not remember my mother signing my homework every night or even having a parent refuse to help with schoolwork (as happened constantly to one of my daughter's classmates one year).

That occurred to me the other night when I attended the Community meeting for the Wilde Lake High School cluster schools at Slayton House. All the principals (except Harper's Choice) gave a brief overview of their school, challenges they have overcome and programs they offer.

They answered some questions from the audience although they tinted the answers with rose-colored glasses.
Sample: Q: Does testing preparation take too much time away from teaching?
A: Testing prep IS actually teaching the material.

How is having my daughter take the fourth-grade PARCC tests for reading and math teaching her the sixth and seventh grade material she normally is taught in her fifth grade G/T classes? (Responses to responses were not solicited, though, so I blog...) (NOTE: I am NOT against common core. I am against high-stakes testing.)

Back to my original thought:

One of the principals mentioned "case managers." My husband and I turned to each other. Case managers? Another principal mentioned "meeting the students where they are" and "knowing the students" has reduced suspensions and attendance rates have risen.

That doesn't mean I'm not continuing along the path we've taken. But it increases my respect for our public school teachers. They have to deal with way more challenges than my teachers did. Not that we didn't get detentions, we did. But fights in our hallways were more likely to be "Did you hear what Annie said about Josie?" Although I do wish a teacher had stepped in to stop that first grader from chasing me with a cicada when I was 11. STILL scarred.

Further complicating that matter is the school system's response to a union survey of its members. You can find out more from my friend Julia's well-written essay here. The system downplayed the response from almost 4,000 teachers and school personnel basically calling it a flawed, questionable survey from union hacks. That's because they don't like the results.

I, for one, am not a union hack. I'm an accountant. I'm "management." I do believe that unions are sometimes a problem in situations, a la Detroit's Big Three automakers. But having viewed the work of Howard County teachers and spoken to many of them, they are not the problem. They are the solution and they should be involved in so many more of the decisions that are imposed from on high by fiat. And they're a resource that we already have.

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