3/17/17

Are we REALLY failing?

When I was in college, I had an assignment in one of my education courses that required me to interview a number of school teachers and school administrators, then write a report on my findings. I interviewed a husband and wife who were, at the time, 27+ year veterans of our public education system. I don’t even remember any of the questions I asked, but I remember this answer:

“The public gets a FANTASTIC return on the relatively small amount of tax dollars each person invests in our vast public education system.”

I believed that then. But once I went to work in our public education system, I now believe it to the soles of my feet and to the center of every cell in my body. No organization is perfect, and no public school I know of would claim to be. But our public schools are FILLED with the absolute hardest working people I’ve ever known. People who do a job that’s hard, underpaid, underappreciated, maligned in the media and by other public officials. And do you know why we do it? Because it’s IMPORTANT. Two of my colleagues and I had this conversation just yesterday. We could all work at jobs that would make us more money. We could work jobs with less stress. But what made us public educators in the first place and what keeps us there despite everything is that we have a job that is IMPORTANT in the grand scheme of things. 

Much has been said in recent days about charter schools. My instinct is to oppose them, but I find myself at least somewhat willing to see how HB520 plays out and if, as our legislators have stated, local school districts have control and public schools, that are already underfunded, won’t find themselves with even more of a shortfall.

But what I cannot abide is the constant degrading of our public school system. Not every Senator and Representative has taken part in this character assassination of our public schools, and our local legislators have actually been quite complimentary of our local school districts. So please know that I am not lumping all of our state politicians together. However, so much of what has been said and/or written as our legislature moved full steam ahead with a charter school agenda refers to public schools as “failing”, “underperforming”, “falling short”, and on and on and on. I’ve seen the following statistics bandied about as “evidence” that our public school system is failing our most vulnerable students:

  • 75% of students in 4th-6th grades that perform in the bottom 1/3 of students on Kentucky state assessment qualify for free/reduced lunch.
  • 56% of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch perform in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math.

What these statistics don’t take into account is the GROWTH that has most likely taken place within that “bottom 1/3”. What this statistic fails to consider is... where did these kids BEGIN? Do we want all kids to reach proficiency? Of course! Is it a quick process for every student? NO! What these statistics fail to address is that a large portion of that 75% probably started in the bottom 1/10 and have since moved up to a higher level, even though they may not have made it out of that “bottom 1/3”. Should that GROWTH not be celebrated and considered a success? Should a child who has progressed not be celebrated simply because he or she hasn’t reached proficient/distinguished level yet? Of course, as educators we don't stop when a child shows growth. We continue to push them forward toward proficiency, but we celebrate all the growth along the way... and consider that growth a success for that child.

At my school we CELEBRATE growth. If a kid moves up 1 reading level during a grading period, they are recognized and celebrated. The student who moves from a 2nd grade reading level to a 3rd grade reading level is celebrated just as much as the kid who moves from a 6th grade reading level to a 7th grade reading level. If a student moves up a level in Math, they are celebrated, no matter what level they started at. There will always be kids who move up the ladder quickly, students for whom success and achievement happen naturally and almost easily. But for kids who come from homes that are in crisis due to poverty, abuse/neglect, or homes where education is just not valued the same way it is in others, achievement isn’t as quick or smooth. But public school teachers don’t give up on those kids. No way! We find those kids. We encourage them, when maybe they’re not getting encouragement anywhere else. Our schools feed those children, many of whom don’t get another square meal once they leave the school building. We TEACH those kids, and we CELEBRATE when those kids GROW. And while, of course, we want those students to reach proficiency, we CELEBRATE when they move from the bottom 1/10 up to the “bottom 1/3”.

A student scoring in the “bottom 1/3” isn’t necessarily a failure. That level may represent a huge success for that student. But in our media and for many of our public officials, that level is evidence that our schools are “failing” those students.



So, as we are apparently moving forward with a charter school agenda in Kentucky, please keep in mind that not all statistics tell the whole story, and what looks like evidence of failure may well represent great success.

3/9/17

A Boy Like You by Ginger Scott

In A BOY LIKE YOU, Ginger Scott brings together two characters with childhoods that could haunt and scar them for the rest of their lives: Wes, who has experienced life in the foster care system and has been adopted into a loving family… and Joss who lives with her father, beloved baseball coach and local hero, but lives a life  that proves things aren’t always as rosy as they seem on the surface. Together, these two find peace and healing, and the promise of a bright future.

Beginning with a prologue
that takes us all back to those glorious elementary school days, as school winds down and summer break approaches, Ginger Scott weaves a story that intertwines two lives so tightly they can never be unwoven.

In Wes Stokes we have the honorable hero. The boy who’s different from the rest… more observant, more sensitive, more EVERYTHING. In Joss, we have the feisty heroine… the girl who takes no crap from anyone, who keeps her father’s secrets, who has walls so high it seems no one will ever scale them.

Without giving too much away, Joss’s journey of self-discovery is breathtaking. She is a risk-taker, often times to her detriment, but she also longs for the safety she doesn’t have at home. Wes brings her the balance that’s been missing in her life for the past 8 years, becoming the person who takes care of her when her own father cannot. In return, she brings out the playful side of him. Joss and Wes grow and change together, forming a bond that will carry them into their adult lives.

I’m usually not a fan of books that end with a “cliffhanger”, but there are a few authors whose work I love and trust enough to embrace an unresolved ending. Ginger Scott is one of them. It helps that she’s promised book 2 will be released this summer - se we don’t have to wait long - and also that she left us in a place so hopeful and promising that we aren’t left in anguish! I have no doubt that the resolution to Joss and Wes’s story will be worth the cliffhanger and the short wait for the resolution.

As with all Ginger’s books, I have NO trouble whatsoever recommending A BOY LIKE YOU. It’s engaging, emotional, heartfelt, and all the other things that a Young Adult romance should be. So, I encourage all of you to grab your copy and get to reading!


A BOY LIKE YOU by Ginger Scot… 5 STARS!


1/30/17

ASHAMED

This weekend I’ve read and listened to a lot of news. I listened to stories and opinions from various elected officials, various news outlets, people from all sides and all viewpoints. I listened to the most passionate objectors to President Trump’s travel ban. I’ve read articles by people who strongly support the travel ban. I’ve read the details of President Obama’s 2011 6-month halt on Iraqi refugees/immigrants after the discovery of Al Queda terrorists in Bowling Green, KY. I read President Trump’s statement outlining the details and the reasoning of the travel ban he instituted over the weekend. I listened to journalists who highlighted the positives and journalists that highlighted the negatives of the current travel ban. I listened to statements from refugees either already here or hoping to come here. I listened to statements from the families of Americans killed by terrorist activities. 

And you know what I found?

I found that in EVERY story, EVERY statement, EVERY news report, there was something legitimate. From the most vehement oppositions to the travel ban to the President’s own statement about the ban, and everything in between, I found something legitimate and reasonable… something I could understand… a way to see things from that person’s or that group’s point of view. I could feel empathy and support for folks on BOTH sides of the issue.

Sometimes I feel very alone in my belief that we can and should try to see things from all sides. I feel like there is no place within the social and political discourse for a person like me who thinks there’s every reason to act with respect toward those who may think differently than me… to treat them with dignity and basic human decency. I feel this way for one pretty simple reason.

WE HAVE LOST THE ABILITY TO LOOK UPON THOSE WHOSE OPINIONS DIFFER FROM OUR OWN WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN DISGUST THAT THEY ARE “NOT LIKE ME”.

When did America become an “all or nothing”, “my way or you’re a stupid fool” type of country?

When did it become okay to lead with the attitude that… “If you don’t think like me, then I don’t care what you think or how you feel”? When did we decide that it was acceptable to treat people who have different opinions than us as scum, vermin, and pariahs?

Do you know what we do when we act as if the people who differ from us are stupid and ignorant? When we basically say to them… If you think differently than me, I don’t care about you?  When we do that, we DE-VALUE them. We say to them, “You are LESS because you think differently than me.” We tell them, “Unless you believe what I believe, you are NOT WORTHY.”

THIS is the hard truth of what we do when, in our political outrage or our political triumphs, we fail to take into account the people who believe differently than us. When our “side” wins, we gloat and say “We won. You lose. Deal with it. Ha ha.”, and then we hurl accusations at the opposing side. When our “side” loses, we cry and yell about the injustice and unfairness that led to our loss and hurl accusations at the opposing side. Both of these are unacceptable ways to react.

I’m APPALLED and ASHAMED by this. I’m ashamed of every person or group who has made a statement or social media post that DE-valued those who oppose them by treating them as if their feelings are unimportant. I’m appalled and ashamed of every person or group who has made a statement or social media post that treated the opposite side as unworthy. I’m appalled and ashamed at every person or group who has made a statement or social media post that lumps everyone who has a different opinion into one big group of stupid, ignorant, uninformed, and worthless losers.

That is the very definition of intolerance. 

And I include myself in that group of people of whom I’m appalled and ashamed, because I know I’ve been guilty of the same types of thoughts and statements. But for our own sakes, we MUST move beyond this “mob mentality” of us vs. them.


We are Americans. We can and SHOULD be better than this.