After an amazing summer of outdoor youth activities filled with bikes, hikes, fishing, rafting, and camping against the backdrop of majestic Northwest mountains and trails and lakes and streams and ocean beaches, parents and volunteers share the same pangs of remorse and anxiety as our youth as they brace for an end to the heady days of fun in the sun and the return to the regimentation of learning under the fluorescent lights of the classroom. We all enter the Fall with joyful memories and high hopes for the new school year, and a curious mix of dread and excitement for the unknown.
As more than one parent recently observed, there’s been a lull in posting any sort of commentary on all that has been going on in our district and our State. We can’t keep waiting for good news forever, and parents interested in our take on events will want to know what’s been happening.
Set the Way-Back machine to mid August, (last month). Just before registration days at the High School, the District and our superintendent mailed out a reprisal of last year’s legally mandated notice to all families with children enrolled in schools in Enumclaw of the abysmal academic performance of our kids in the essentials of English and Language Arts (ELA) – reading – and mathematics.
For a second straight year since the teachers unions cost the State of Washington its waiver on education standards set by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, the schools have been required to share with their constituents – parents and families – the truth of the student proficiencies. (For a refresher, visit our post “Teachers, Unions, Public Schools Fail Children of Washington.”)
Naturally, a letter from the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), a coalition of superintendents representing school districts regionally, went out just as it did last year, condemning the federal Department of Education for its use of the word FAILING to classify Washington schools. The truth hurts – and we all know how much room there is in public schools for hurt feelings, especially among teachers, union representatives, administrators, principals, and school boards and their superintendents!
The PSESD argued again that the standards established by the NCLB were to blame, and stated that education professionals and lawmakers were unanimous in their agreement that the NCLB standards were at the root of the problem. The PSESD insists that a return to the State standards previously used under the waiver they tore up in Olympia would “fix” everything.
There are at least two problems with that claim: First, the previous standards permitted under the waiver were atrocious, and although if allowed they would expunge the FAILING label, they would not do justice to our children; and second and most relevant, the standards used in the most recent assessment were not from some arcane measurement established in 2001 – they were the new Common Core ‘Smarter Balanced Assessment’ standards!
Of course they were! Washington glommed onto Common Core to add another cash car trough to the federal subsidy money train.
As the Associated Press (AP) reported on August 30, for Washington and six other states that participated in the Common Core assessments, results were disappointing (to say the least). According to the AP, the bottom line is this: Common Core lowered standards, resulting in “higher” test scores – but scores so low they indicated less understanding and lower student proficiency than was achieved under prior (higher) non-Common Core standards.
Who should be surprised by this? Our kids aim for the bar: Lower it, and not only do the expectations we put upon our children go down, but the expectations they put on themselves goes down with it, too!
Is there any silver lining? Perhaps, as our post title suggests; (note the ‘plus’ after the ‘F’).
Whereas last year, notices included the advisory that children would be bused from at least two of our local schools to schools out of District with higher student performance, it seems that Enumclaw student performance improved just enough to avoid that consequence this year. The District is still restricted in how it must spend its budget, and must continue to abide by the requirements of the law to ensure improvement in student learning and performance.
But just when families who moved their children to charter schools last year thought they had outmaneuvered a broken and, yes, FAILING public school system, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that charter schools in the State of Washington are unconstitutional. This decision came after the school year had started, when tuitions had been paid, schedules were set, transportation was arranged, and all was seemingly in order for those families and their children. Instead, suddenly those families were advised their kids had to attend their local public school – or a public school – and make enrollment and other arrangements to do so, or home school their child(ren), or enroll them in entirely private schools.
Isn’t that genius, using force of law to compel families to put child(ren) where they don’t want, knowing the alternative is unaffordable and leaving families no choice but to capitulate to the State? So much for school choice for families in Washington, save for anyone but the wealthy.
For families of high school upperclassmen desiring their children to attend college or university, another insult and injury just manifested. The SAT/PSAT is an annual event in the Fall and sometimes also hosted in the Spring. The school has normally made a preparatory class available in the evenings, for a hefty fee (naturally). From reports of past participants and parents, we can say with confidence the class was worthwhile.
So, what happened this year? The class was scheduled, advertised, and even had a 30% fee increase (from $100 to $130). The problem? The school did this without having an instructor. They still don’t, and have now announced that they simply won’t. Families that cleared their Tuesday and Thursday evenings of activities for their junior and senior grade students for five weeks, and budgeted for the $130 cost to ensure their kids did well on the aptitude test for college acceptance, did so for apparently no reason at all this year.
What came next? Teacher strikes, first in Pasco and Seattle. Then, as another was being threatened in Longview, and more across the state, more than one frustrated parent took to the social media site Facebook, to vent their frustration. “Forget the fact that the Washington legislature made teacher strikes illegal a long time ago… laws don’t apply to you when you have allies (sic) in public office who depend on your union dollars for their campaigns.”
Lest anyone forget, it’s worth repeating that the teachers unions and their supporters in Olympia chose to lose the federal waiver for education standards by refusing to permit student learning and proficiency to be tied to teacher performance. This is directly connected to the strikes, which are about higher compensation for professionals who are FAILING our children. These strikes aren’t settled or negotiated with your child’s interests in mind – but we all pay more to sustain the FAILING system.
Strikes project a false image. Namely, they suggest that teacher wages have been stagnant much like the private sector. That’s a lie. The public sector is doing immensely better, for itself, and on the back of the private sector and the taxpayer. The legislature voted itself a 3% cost-of-living increase each year for two years, and a 1.8% increase the following year. At the same time, in Seattle, the teachers union was being offered $62 million in pay increases. The strike was because the union wanted nearly triple that increase – a whopping $172 million! What our schools have earned in the meantime for student performance is a slightly better FAILING grade – made possible only by lowering standards.
So, what can you do for your child’s sake? If you can get involved in your child’s school, do it. Schools are saying that not only do they welcome parent involvement, which may seem dubious at best to many, the letters from the District and superintendents make it plain that the schools are required by the law to petition parent and family input. Check with your school and district office to find out what systems and forums they have in place for your involvement and feedback. Check in with your child on what is happening inside the classroom, not just the status of their homework.
Here’s what not to do: Don’t make your child’s school the “end all, and be all” of their education and development. Instead, seek out community programs that expand their learning and social skills, and expose them to experiences that can never take place in the modern classroom. We advocate youth leadership programs in our community that build character, teach service, and purpose community awareness as well as social and environmental responsibility. It’s never too early or too late to get your child enrolled and involved.
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