Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ten signs your child is in a failing school district

(The following is my latest blog for Huffington Post.)

In these days of Common Core State Standards and continuing attacks on public education by billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for legislators, parents need a few guidelines on how to tell if their child is in a failing school district.

It has nothing to do with low scores on state-mandated standardized tests and more to do with the culture in the school district.

Here are 10 signs that your child is in a failing school district:

1. The large majority of your teachers have less than five years of experience- The best schools have solid veteran teaching forces, mixing in talented newcomers each year as teachers retire or move into administration or other job opportunities. When you run off your veteran teachers, you not only do not have teachers who can mentor the younger staff members and help them reach their full potential, but you also are increasing the odds that you are going to hire some less gifted teachers just to fill the vacancies. That makes it that much harder to understand why so many state legislatures are appropriating millions for inexperienced Teach for America instructors instead of spending that money to keep their best teachers in the classroom.

2. Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data- Any time teachers are spending more time providing data for the bean counters in administration, it is a good indication that your school has gone astray. Most of that data is supplied through the use of one practice standardized test after another. In recent years, the situation has grown worse with many school districts adding costly practice tests given multiple times during the year. These not only take away from instructional time, but they also strip the children of any love of learning and they provide overly generous fees to the testing companies. What is worse, the expensive practice tests, whether students do well on them or not, provide no guarantee of success on the high stakes test at the end of the school year.

3. Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues- In our ravenous quest for more and more data, one of the worst things that has occurred was the decision to measure a school's safety by its numbers of incidents, referrals, and suspensions. It was a natural progression for administrators, both at upper and lower levels, to find ways to game the system and avoid climbing statistics. In some schools, this has been done by encouraging teachers to handle every kind of situation in their classrooms and not involve the principal's office. Teachers receive the message that they are the ones who will suffer if students are given referrals. Because of that, behavior that would have been met with an instant office referral only a few years ago, is allowed to continue in the classroom and creates even more distractions for teachers and students.

4. Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data- An alarming trend the past few years has been the transition of professional development from learning techniques that will help the teacher to improve teaching and classroom management techniques to attempts to forcefully install a culture that would seem more desirable in a business than in an institution of learning. Much of this has come from the proliferation of consultants and motivational speakers who latched on to public schools after the implementation of No Child Left Alive and have yet to loosen their grip.

5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism- At one time, the top administrators in public school districts were invariably educators who worked their way through the system, spending years in the classroom before going into administration. Nowadays, many top administrators have only spent three years or less in the classroom and are more like CEOs and executive vice presidents than educators. This had led to a culture shift with an overemphasis on public relations. Anyone in the school district or in the community who dares to question a decision is accused of trying to "hurt the children" or "attack teachers."  When administrators surround themselves with yes-men and strictly control the message, it makes it much more likely that mistakes are going to be made, at a cost to the children and to the taxpayers.

6. School Board members serve as rubber stamps- Over the past few decades, the role of boards of education has changed dramatically. In many communities, the board of education acts more like the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company, rubber stamping whatever the superintendent or top administrator does without question. That is not what voters expect when they elect school board members. Obviously, you do not want to have board members looking over administrators' shoulders every minute of every day, but when the board of education places blind trust in anyone it increases the odds that something disastrous will happen. One of the major criticisms lodged against board members is that they "have an agenda," as if that is something bad. If the agenda is to stop out-of-control spending, or place more emphasis on education, what is wrong with that? When boards serve as rubber stamps for any administrator, they are effectively taking away local control of our school districts.

7,. The community is not involved in its schools- In many school districts, the community is kept at arm's length until it is time to pass another bond issue or tax levy increase. Or the community involvement is restricted to a carefully selected group of business and civic leaders or the spouses of those leaders. A successful school district is one in which the involvement is organic and comes from all segments of the community, not just the ones who are needed when it comes time to ask for money. In some school districts, the community is asked for its input and then guided to give the input the administrators are seeking so they can say whatever initiative they have has the support of the community. That is not community involvement; that is pure spin.

8. The district is top heavy with administrators- While there is certainly a need to have strong, capable administrators directing a school district, administration tends to grow far more than is necessary, using funds that could be spent much better in the classroom. Rule of thumb, the more executive directors of anything that you have, the more problems your school district is going to have.

9. An overemphasis has been placed on technology- While it would seem that the more emphasis placed on technology in this day and age the better, that is simply not the case. With many schools adding laptops, iPads, and other devices that students can take home with them, districts have begun a push to incorporate the technology into every lesson, complete overkill that works against the student in the long run. While it is vital that students are able to handle technology, it is just as important that they are able to participate in discussions, listen to lectures (schools are eliminating these and that creates a problem for students when they go on to higher education), and take notes. If your school district is pushing the idea that everything can be learned by consulting Google then your child is being shortchanged.

10. Not enough emphasis is being placed on civics and citizenship- In the push to make sure everyone is "college and career ready," many schools are depriving children of some of the most important knowledge they should receive- how to participate in their society as an informed voter, who has the understanding of what this country is all about. While it is important that students be ready to work, the idea that they should be doing so during their high school years at the expense of learning about government, history, and the things they need to know to be a full participant in our society is ludicrous.

This list leaves off other important factors- poverty, crime, and how many billionaires you have who are trying to force privatization of education down your throat, but for those who want to make a difference at a local level, these are the danger signs that your district is failing.


Anonymous said...

VERY well said, Randy. Interestingly enough, you just described Joplin Schools exactly!

Anonymous said...

How are parents supposed to determine 2, 3, 4, or 5, though? You didn't exactly explain that.

Anonymous said...

Couple this with the achievement data, and R8 is at the bottom of a very deep pit. Hoping to see that trend reversed, starting in August!

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts from a fired teacher...

Anonymous said...


Your attempt to be hateful just emphasizes the point of the post. Turner was fired, but as we all know, he was fired unjustly by an egomanical superintendent who, thankfully, spent his last day as an employee of Joplin Schools today. Turner was not the only employee unjustly fired by CJ Huff, either. Many good people were out when they dared to point out the failings of the Huff administration's plan, or lack thereof. If you've checked the job openings, more and more teachers are still leaving the district as soon as they can get anything else. There are more coaching jobs open than ever before, a symptom of a district that fails to take care of its people and views them as disposable.

Thank you for helping to make this point more clear. It was all you had to contribute, but every little bit helps.

Anonymous said...

You certainly have the Turner talking points down well. However, if everyone, including Randy, thinks he was fired unjustly, then why did he not fight it further than the School Board hearing? If everything he says is true then where is the NEA? Where is the ACLU? Their should be lots of attorneys lining up at his door to take the case. If he was fired unjustly, then he should have a case against the district and would be able to sue for lots of money.

Anonymous said...


You need some anger management help. Anyone at the hearing can tell you that Turner was well represented by the NEA, but it wouldn't have mattered since the Board that served as his jury was too busy texting, chatting, and checking email to pay attention to the witnesses.Those who testified for Turner who worked for the district were then driven out via Huff and Sexson. The case was decided before it was started.

Go read the hearing testimony, review the documents that are available to the public, or just look at them on Turner's posts. They will be exactly the same. Why has he not sued? Perhaps so he can still keep reporting on the district. I really don't know, but sometimes I wish he would. Maybe he doesn't want to stand in line with the others. There are many. Perhaps, instead of just being hateful, you could email him (it would take some guts, I know), and just ask him yourself.

You might get a litte farther with your own case you are weakly trying to make if you will take the time to proofread your comments. School board, as you used it, should not be capitalized. And the word "their" as used in the penultimate sentence should be "there." And, in the last sentence, you should have "If he were fired unjustly..."

I don't use "Turner's talking points", whatever that means. I am quite capable of reading, studying documents, witnessing hearings, and coming to my own conclusions. This is the last time today I will be able to take the time to discuss this. Quite frankly, it is a waste of time to argue with those who are bent on proving themselves right, even if they have nothing with which to work. I would guess you have somehting to lose after this day, such as your career or family income, or possibly your own reputation. It would be strange to be so defensive and bitter, otherwise. Best wishes to you!

Anonymous said...

Great response in making his point. NEA was there..the board was busy texting and chatting..the case was over before it started. So he had a great case, but decided not to sue so he could still report on the district and not make any money. The majority of you post says he had a good case and a crappy jury, and then you spend time on grammar, which I'm sure helps your case. Solid argument. Thanks for clearing things up for all of us reading.

When you are a teacher like Turner you are a wi(e)nner said...

#1 Should be "Letting Rogue Teachers Teach" as in whatever they want until they get fired for cause.

Reading Turner's transcript of Turner's hearing before the Board of Education shows that those making the charges against Turner did pretty much everything according to the proper procedure and that the case was over before it began. Turner violated Board of Education policies and that was that. The other things that Turner complains about were shots fired across Turner's bow to make Turner realize that it could be worse.

Turner folded because Turner didn't have a case. If you are a teacher in a public school and you don't want to obey the policies set by elected officials and the administration those elected officials set, then you need to go do something else. Which is exactly what the hearing proved quick enough. Turner had his due process and Turner didn't want seconds, which is why Turner didn't appeal.

Anyways, the mistakes of the Huff administration lie in wasting so much taxpayer money, not in firing Turner and those teachers who think that they get to do whatever they please as public school employees. They need to find jobs where they can be boss since they don't like it in Joplin. Maybe even write some porno making fun of the bosses and then put it where the nippers can download it for free and say that the blog is an official school-sponsored blog at that.

Pity that there aren't any private industry jobs available that allow such behavior either.

Really? said...

In an insane district the sane teacher appears insane