PRIORITIZING PUBLIC SCHOOL PROBLEMS
Nationally and locally, complaints about public schools are legion, a lot of them. I suggest that the accumulation of problems over time, like the last 50 years, has resulted in a list so long that no one can “fix the system” to avoid the myriad complaints all at once. The really big ones, legitimate complaints must be fixed, first, or at least mitigated to a degree to move that complaint or issue lower down, making it a lesser complaint or issue.
Since the campaign for the April 2014 local election began I have read the Turner Report frequently. That blogger and I disagree on just about every issue addressed during that campaign and I wanted to “know my detractors” and their views as I began to write publicly about such issues. Since the election I have continued to read that blog several times a week to remain up to date on what the blogger and his supporters are concerned about, particularly how our public school system, R-8, is being operated.
In this blog I focus on the problem of first deciding what the “biggest problem” might be in Joplin public schools. I challenge anyone to conduct a thorough review of the Turner Report over the last two years alone, starting with the firing of the author of that blog by the Board of Education and find a prioritization of problems to be confronted and fixed or mitigated. I would submit that the “biggest problem” according to that blog is the performance of the Superintendent of Schools and the BOE. Fire Dr. Huff and stack the BOE with Turner blog supporters and all will be resolved is the general thrust of that blog. In other words our problem in public schools is performance by elected officials and one man, the leader of the R-8 district.
Turner did not always write such attacks as best I can tell. He only focused his diatribes after he was legally and correctly in my view, fired for poor performance. I refer you to a recent blog at http://rturner229.blogspot.com/2014/07/before-bright-futures-before-c-j-huff.html. He reposts a 2008 blog wherein he addresses the problem of public school drop out rates.
That blog, written before Dr. Huff started working as the R-8 Superintendent, addressed how severe drop out rates had become and the need to address that problem. But he then does what many public educators have done, since 2008, and blame the problem on society, with little or no constructive advice on how society can fix the problem, much less how schools could do so In other words, a blog written by a teacher in 2008 does not indicate in any way what Dr. Huff or teachers themselves should do to resolve or at least mitigate the issue of drop out rates.
To me at least, such is a classic example of failing to identify the KEY issue confronting public education, locally or nationally. Drop out rate is NOT that key issue. Our public education system fails to produce graduates that have the level of knowledge and behavior skills to either enter college or trade schools directly or the work place as productive employees in a modern society today.
If every graduate learns, during 12 years of public education, “how to learn”, level of knowledge in core subjects and how to behave themselves then the major issue of failing public education would be resolved. Focus first on those that graduate and make sure they meet modern requirements for level of knowledge and behavior and do that FIRST is my long stated “goal” for public education.
The failure to achieve that goal or effective progress towards meeting that goal is the “biggest problem” facing public education, in Joplin, today.
Now drop out rate. I submit that progress has been made to reduce that problem and that Dr. Huff and the local BOE worked tirelessly at the State level to achieve progress. It was done very simply as well. The State Law was changed to require all students to remain in school until the age of 17 (vice sixteen). If that law was further changed to raise the age of legal “drop out” to the age of 18 another spike in graduation rate would be observed, in my view. In other words, thru the law, kids and parents in general are forced to “behave themselves” better by forcing students to remain in school for an additional year.
Of course that legal approach does absolutely nothing to keep those older kids from being “hoodlums” in classes. That remains the responsibility of individual teachers. But Turner does not address that issue, how teachers must better control students to achieve the primary goal, graduation of each student that “means something” later on as they enter adulthood. I guess that is “society’s problem” as well, at least according to Turner.
Well maybe that is not correct. Based on rather close reading of his blog of late, just firing one man and replacing various members of the BOE will achieve the goal of producing good graduates is all that is needed, I suppose, at least “according to Turner” and his supporters.
Permit me if you will to make a short list of “Turner complaints” about the local school system published in his blog in the last several months. I am sure I have missed some, but here is such a list. Huff’s salary is too high. Huff failed to report speaker fees as required and maybe even failed to pay taxes on them or some of them. Huff unjustly refused to renew contracts for various teachers and principals. The BOE unjustly allowed Huff to do so. Turner was unjustly fired. The BOE has wasted tax payer dollars while recovering from the tornado in 2011. Financial reserves have gone far too low since the tornado. Teachers have not been given sufficient pay and raises to such pay. Janitors and other staff have unjustly had working hours cut. The BOE is poised to improperly ask for a long term loan to make up financial shortfalls, with no tax payer approval of such action. The BOE is poised to improperly ask for a short term loan to cover expenses while awaiting reimbursement from state and federal authorities for restoration of destroyed facilities, without taxpayer approval of such action, again. Teacher retention rate (no longer drop out rate for students) is a looming disaster for R-8. The payroll for the administrative staff is far too high. Too many “teacher coaches” are on that administrative staff.
Nowhere on that long list of complaints to be found on the Turner Report is the issue of improving the quality in terms of increased level of knowledge AND behavior of all graduates from Joplin High School. If the State audit of “performance” by the local school district is going to be meaningful, I suggest the auditors look carefully why producing better graduates lacks the needed progress to improve.
OR, of course, the auditors could determine that R-8 is on the right track in such an effort. As well the auditors COULD term that all the above complaints found on the Turner Report are simply a tempest in a tea pot and fail to address KEY issues affecting public school performance as well.
We’ll see, in about six months when the audit is completed. Until then I think I will just no longer read the Turner Report.