kitchen table math, the sequel: Did local control ever exist?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Did local control ever exist?

I went to a school board meeting two years ago, where the topic of the middle school English curriculum came up.

The English curriculum is a chronic source of woe and has been for as long as we've lived here, which is sixteen years now.

Come to find out, parent unhappiness with the English curriculum goes back at least as far as 35 years. After I stood up and commented on the fact that we still do not have a required reading curriculum that includes the classics (here's what we do have), a member of the board said that his own mother had been unhappy about it, too.

That would have been around 1980.

When did public schools start hiring exclusively from ed schools?


Froggiemama said...

I am not convinced of this. Yes, the kind of parents who go to Board meetings are often the types who want the classics back in the curriculum, or stronger math, or stricter standards. But when I chat with the bus stop moms or the waiting-for-club-pickup moms, I hear a very different story. Those parents LIKE the kinds of books that are chosen for middle school ELA (and our middle school ELA uses the most depressing, angst ridden, dystopian books imaginable), saying that the classics are not relevant. They often remember enjoying books like the Outsiders when they were in middle school and want their kids to relive their experience. They tell me that school should be fun, that we should educate the "whole child". They want feelings journals and lots of arts and crafts projects. In short, they want pretty much what we had pre-Common Core. And in my town, the opt out movement is largely being driven by parents who are appalled that the third grade whale project was removed to make room for reading and math instruction and that there isn't as much time for class parties any more (yes, one mom told me that)

In the leafy NYC suburbs, I do think we have local control. But the reality is that most parents do not want high standards or classics. In district, I think I know all the parents who are for high standards. There aren't many of them. And the school board will always respond to the majority.

On another note, this site just required me to select hamburgers from a gallery of photos to prove I am not a robot. Only problem - there were no hamburgers in the gallery. I think the captcha software has gone mental.

Hainish said...

Catherine, if what froggiemomma says is true (and I think it is), maybe you should push for the *option* of a classics curriculum, at least in the high school. A series of two or three courses that replaces the faddish pablum with the kinds of books you mention. After all, student choice rates pretty high in the current scheme of things. You just want to provide students with *MOAR CHOICE*, and who could argue with that?

TerriW said...

One of the classes I'm teaching this year for one of our homeschool co-ops is a middle school (grades 4-6) program. Two hours, 45 of which is English grammar (analyzing and diagramming sentences), 30 minutes of math drill, then 45 minutes of writing using IEW. (This is an Essentials class through Classical Conversations, if you're familiar.)

It's pretty rigorous, and we require that the parents attend the class with their kids. In fact, I am to consider the parent my actual student -- that I am training them/teaching them what they didn't learn at school so they can teach their kids during the rest of the week.

Which is all a whole lot of background knowledge to say: last year I had a family that went to a good private school that re-arranged their schedule so they could leave and come to our class in the afternoon for language arts instead. And they're coming back next year.

And it's why we're continuing to homeschool, even as we get up to the more difficult older years. We know what kind of education we want for our kids, but we're massively outvoted. We're not going to get from our local schools, even though they are "good." So we have to go get it elsewhere, and that's fine. We'll do it. It's expensive and time consuming and all that, but we're still going to do it.

Anonymous said...

"In the leafy NYC suburbs, I do think we have local control."

How did people like that ever get into "leafy" suburbs? Did they all inherit a fortune?

Froggiemama said...

In my town, most people are pretty middle class - contractors, plumbers who inherited their house from grandma, even NYPD. Interestingly, the newspaper had stats showing that the elite districts (Scarsdale, Bronxville, Chappaqua) did not have high opt out rates. It was largely a movement of middle class, middle tier school districts.

Oh no, the stupid captcha made me identify coffee this time

ChemProf said...

Definitely in my area, high standards and classical curriculum would be a minority position. The local parents' group touts the anti-bullying curriculum and their inclusivity.

Which is why we are at a homeschooling K-8 charter where the most popular spring course for 5-8 graders is reading and performing a Shakespeare play.

lgm said...

Similar to FroggieMama here...middle class vocal, they like the dumbed down curriculum as they want school to be easy, allowing them time for developing athletics to a high level. Those with some money like the way it reduces competition..they buy tutoring or online classes to provide the material that used to be available to all students who were willing to do the work. That plus redshirting guarantees their child will be in 'highest level of courses offered by high school', even though the SAT score doesnt match the gpa and class rank.

Anonymous said...

I agree that most people aren't interested in their kids getting a classical education. And I also think that most people don't know how critical K-8 is to high school achievement. People are always trying to fix the education system by adding input to the front end (preschool and K) or beefing up the back end (high school). But neither of these tactics will work because the problem is the weakness in between.

ChemProf said...

In my neighborhood (middle to upper middle class, but mostly government or tech workers of one kind or another -- this is California after all), I have also been shocked at how much of the value of school is just the free babysitting. As long as the kids learn to read and get into college (and the local community college or Cal State count), people will support the schools.

Barry Garelick said...

There are people who do not go along with what the schools are doing but do not happen to go to school board meetings to testify.

Sometimes protests take orchestration and time--not everyone has that kind of time. One laudable effort was in one of the Virginia suburbs of DC in which parents organized against Investigations in Number, Data and Space. Greg Barlow was the person who orchestrated it and took a beating at the hands of a non-caring school board.

He managed to get a petition signed with over one thousand signatures; finally he got help from the VA Dept of Education which found that the District was using Investigations illegally; i.e., the Dept of Ed had not approved Investigations for certain grades. The schools got around all that by teaching in a constructivist manner anyway.

The point is, there may be people you don't know about, despite all these statements made above that claim to know all that is going on with people.

SteveH said...

I don't think schools and towns are any one thing. I agree with Barry in that individuals and groups can have some influence - or perhaps not.

In our area, there is a world of difference between K-8 and high school. Many parents do not focus or set specific or high expectations in K-8. However, when their kids get to high school, it's all about preparing them for college. I talked with one parent (an attorney) who said that nothing really matters until high school. This seems to be a common attitude.

Actually, 7th and 8th grades are an interesting battleground. Parents in our town drove out CMP a number of years ago based on the simple fact that it did not provide a proper 8th grade algebra class that was comparable to one that they had at the high school. This led to changes in our middle school so that some kids could be prepared for geometry as a freshman and a second year language course. However, it didn't fix K-6 and the kids who are prepared for those faster tracks probably have to get help at home.

Once you get to most high schools, there is no philosophical question. Many have AP and IB, and some have both. Most high schools have decent choices because they have to deal with the outside reality and competition of college admissions.

I've said before that I see the big ed school pedagogical wall somewhere in 7th and 8th grades. Before that, parents have few choices because it's one-size-fits all even though they talk of differentiated instruction. Little can be changed in K-6 because they think they do it all and you would have to argue that they are fundamentally wrong. K-6 is too far from the reality of the real world and they don't see or want to know how the best students get that way. It has to be IQ or parents modeling a love of learning or engagement - anything other than their fundamental assumptions of curriculum and pedagogy.

Auntie Ann said...

I think there is a fundamental misconception in the US that suburban or non-urban schools are *good* schools. Research at the Global Report Card has compared school districts across the country to schools abroad and found that even the schools we all seem to think are good, are actually little better than average when compared internationally.

Within that false confidence lies a lot of room for mischief. Those moms in the leafy suburbs assume that their darlings are getting a great education, because they can afford to live in the right zip code. Zip code = quality education is a shorthand they have all bought into. As a result, they have a belief that what their school is doing must be the right way to do it.

I've long been amazed how little parents know a) what is actually going on in their kids' schools and b) what should actually be going on in their kids' schools. The trust level with the schools, teachers, and administrations is far higher than is often deserved.

ChemProf said...

I recognize no individual knows everything that is going on in a school or a district, but I can definitely say in my district that the loud parental voices (on social media as well as in person) are those who support the schools (and who usually are pretty vague on what goes on there). A recent NextDoor thread was typical - a parent asked for feedback on the local schools and after a few parents who were in alternative settings made suggestions, the thread was mobbed by people supporting the local district, all talking about the wonderful inclusion and diversity, and a bit about performing arts and sports. Not so much about academics.