Demonstrating True Educational Leadership

We have all heard the stories.  A school run by the popularity of its sports programs.  Athletes who ruled the school.  Student-athletes provided all sorts of special exceptions.  Thanks to both 1980s movies and very real activities, the entire tale has become almost cliche.

So much so that we have all just accepted it as the norm.  Student-athletes hold a special position in many public schools.  In many ways, they rule the school.
That is why it is so refreshing to see the actions recently taken by Matt Labrum, the head football coach of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah.  Football can be big business in Utah (it is no Florida, Texas, or Ohio, but you can guess the Friday night lights are just as bright).  Labrum is an educator.  An as such, he was concerned when he heard that many on his team were skipping class.  And he was downright bothered when told that his players were engaged in cyberbullying of other classmates.
So the football coach drew his own red line.  Following a recent game, Coach Labrum suspended his entire high school football team.  All student-athletes were relieved of their position.  All were told to turn in their equipment and jerseys.  The football team was shut down, as a result of behaviors not befitting student leaders.
As Cameron Smith of Yahoo Sports reports, it is having quite an impact:

“We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘Hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game,'” Labrum told the Deseret News. “We got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”

The early results, as documented in this terrific feature from the Deseret News, has been remarkable. Players showed up at school the following day — a Saturday — at 7 a.m. and were told how they could re-earn a spot on the team. Teenagers have been cleaning up area streets as part of new team-mandated community service work. They are attending character classes during hours when they previously would have been practicing.

Just as importantly, the team’s natural leaders are starting to realize that they need to be more vocal and step in to help those teammates who go astray. A key part of Labrum’s decision to suspend the entire team was borne of his frustration that the players who did live up to his expectations were not rising up taking control of the locker room. Now, that is changing. Only two of the team’s seven original captains were re-elected during the team meeting the day after the Judge Memorial loss.

Such actions are never easy.  It isn’t every coach that is willing to cancel his season or take such a step.  And it certainly isn’t every student-athlete who can respond to such an action in a meaningful, positive way.  But the action and reaction in Roosevelt is one that gives us hope.  We have leaders and learners who are able to do the right thing.  And we have students who are willing to admit their shortcomings, take responsibility without blaming others, and change their behaviors for the better.
In an era where we only seem to hear about bad behaviors, both in our public schools and in sports, Coach Labrum and Union High help us find some nugget of good.  Well done, Coach!

Is the Bell Tolling for CCSS?

“Is this the beginning of the end for our caped crusader?”

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered the State of Florida to withdraw from Common Core State Standards assessments and its financial relationship with PARCC.  For those who have been watching Florida, this should be no surprise.  Scott is concerned with his upcoming re-election.  He is reading the tea leaves, particularly with Republicans, that CCSS are unpopular (just look at the growing number of anti-CCSS state groups on Facebook).  So for a governor with poor poll numbers, it seems natural that he would take a move that would shore up anti-federal intrusion Republicans who comforting anti-high-stakes teaching Democrats and independents.
So no, we shouldn’t be shocked that Florida’s governor wants out of CCSS testing.  But in the online tsunami following his decree, one important piece was overlooked.  He didn’t call for Florida to pull out of CCSS itself (yet).  Scott has just folded the state’s cards in the assessment game.
The more troubling development seems to be happening west of the Sunshine State in Louisiana.  In the Pelican State, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is starting to raise concerns with the CCSS themselves.  Using phrases like “federalized curriculum,” Jindal is taking issue with the very standards he helped champion in the early days.  Now we have Jindal talking about the need for “Louisiana, not Washington, DC, standards.”
While it makes for some nice red-meat rhetoric, Jindal knows better.  These aren’t DC standards.  These are national standards, developed in large part by the states themselves, to raise the bar for all kids and help make them all college and career ready, at least in English and math.  And if Jindal really wants Louisiana standards, he better look back to the downright pathetic standards the state had just a decade ago, where the goal seemed to be providing all Louisiana students access to a mediocre public education, if they were lucky.
We’ve now reached the point where we are playing some dangerous political games with classroom learning.  Scott and Jindal may be scoring points on the campaign trail (or on Jindal’s hopeful road to the White House), but they are both being disingenuous about the issues.  Higher standards are important for our more transient student population, and are necessary if we expect all students to graduate from high school college and career ready.  And like it or not, we do need assessments that actually measure student progress against those higher standards.
Both of these politicians have their own reasons for doing what they are doing and saying what they are saying. But let’s not read too much into these announcements.  No states are required to sign onto CCSS, and Louisiana wouldn’t be the only state not to participate (just ask friends in Texas, Minnesota, or Virginia.)  And of the 40-some states that are part of CCSS, they aren’t required to be part of the CCSS assessments.  The two consortia are there to help reduce costs on testing by creating a common test that states could then enhance to meet their own needs.  If a state like Florida wants to spend significantly more to keep its own test, that is its right.
No, this isn’t the beginning of the end of CCSS.  While many “sky is falling” folks will see this as such (particularly those who have distain for CCSS in the first place), this is just the latest bump in the road.  Let’s actually get the aligned curriculum in the classroom, let’s give teachers content-based PD, and let’s get the tests up and running before we condemn CCSS to its untimely demise.

Phonetically Supporting Young Readers

Typically, Eduflack looks at education issues through a policy or a reform or a communications lens.  But I’m also fortunate enough to be parent.  A parent of a first and a second grader.

Last week was Back to School night at the kiddos’ school.  One of the most refreshing documents I’ve seen in quite a while came from my daughter’s first grade teacher (a “boy teacher,” she keeps reminding me).  In preparing parents for how they can support their children’s path to reading, he offered the following letter:
“Der Parints,
Az ur child brings hom riting 4 the frst tim, doo not b srprizd at the spelling. The inglish langwij iz a confuzing langwiz 2 lrn. Insisting that stoodents uz ‘correct’ spelling nhibits thair dzir and abilite 2 rit. We aftn uz ‘phonetic’ speling in r wrk.
Az parints, u can hlp ur child bi praising awl thair riting. Let ur child red thair riting 2 u. Displa thair riting around ur hows. No that az ur child bcums fumilyr with the inglish langwij throo reding and riting, he or she wil mak the tranzishun to ‘correct’ speling.
Thank u 4 ur suport,”
Kudos to my daughter’s teacher and all of the other educators out there who help in this way.  While such a letter may confuse some parents, it is just the sort of focus we all need to remember the reading and writing process, to support a phonics-based instructional approach, and to ensure our children become strong readers and writers.

Cracking the Books at the SDEs

In recent weeks, we’ve seen public polls from PDK and others, where those surveyed claim that the public schools are vastly underfunded.  At the same time, though, we see that per-pupil expenditures — particularly at our largest urban districts — have never been higher than they are today.  Somewhere, there has to be a disconnect between the actual costs of public education and the perception of how our financial commitment is falling short.

Earlier this month, the Cato Institute released an interesting report that looks at how well our nation’s state department of education share information on how taxpayer dollars are actually being spent on the public schools.  The study — Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Departments of Education Report Public School Spending — casts a valuable spotlight on government transparency when it comes to school spending.
And how do our states stack up?  Only two states — New Mexico and South Dakota — score in the A range, garnering an A and an A-minus respectively.
Two states earn Bs (Washington and Texas) while three earn B-minues (Nebraska, Kentucky, and California).
What’s far more disturbing, though, is that 18 states earn an F or an F-minus for their transparency when it comes to school budgets.
The Fs?  Indiana, Delaware, North Carolina, Wyoming, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia all earn the F.
But the bottom of the list is dominated by states that scored those strong F-minuses.  The “honor” roll includes: Missouri, Connecticut, Oregon, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nevada, Iowa, Hawaii, and Alaska.
While some may take issue with the report or the conclusions it reaches, it offers an important snapshot in the discussion of school spending and budgeting.  As Cato states:

Half of all states report a “per pupil expenditures” figure that leaves out major cost items such as capital expenditures, thereby significantly understating what is actually spent. Alaska does not even report per pupil expenditure figures at all.

Eight states fail to provide any data on capital expenditures on their education department websites.  Ten states lack any data on average employee salaries and 41 states fail to provide any data on average employee benefits.

When the state education departments provide incomplete or misleading data, they deprive taxpayers of the ability to make informed decisions about public school funding.  At a time when state and local budgets are severely strained, it is crucial that spending decisions reflect sound and informed judgment.
Cato raises some interesting issues for all to consider.  As states start moving to a common chart of accounts system, some of these areas may be addressed.  But until we have full transparency and complete accounting for all the dollars spent, it is hard for anyone — even the most knowledgeable person — to assess if our schools are properly funded or not.