Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lefty to state: Please take over our schools.

It seems like for the past year all our school department and our school committee have done is squabble. They've squabbled over which schools to close, they've squabbled over money or the lack there of, they squabbled over how well the department was doing. They squabbled over who should get the credit for the good, and who should take the blame for the bad.

Finally this January Superintendent Nick Fischer resigned his position and Mayor Correia asked the DESE to come to Fall River and evaluate our school system and now our school committee is squabbling over that!

The findings of the DESE team paint a bleak picture of how our school system is being run. The report is too lengthy to be discussed here in detail but can be found on the Fall River Public Schools website. To briefly cover some of the points in the report, they found that the school system is underfunded, the school committee is meddling in the management of the school system and is often uncivil at meetings, the district lacks a dedicated chief financial officer. A high turnover of superintendents! The school district lacks many mechanisms to identify and evaluate flaws. The list goes on and on.

Ironically, the report states that Superintendent Fischer actually did many things that improved our school system. That makes me wonder if we did not give him enough time to do the job and enough resources to do it right. Fischer's leadership certainly had major flaws but maybe we could have built a team around him to take advantage of his strengths and make up for his weaknesses. Hopefully our new Superintendent Meg Brown can fill all those voids.

We've been working to improve our school system for over a decade and now we find we're not moving ahead we're falling behind! We're failing the children of this city. In a letter to Mayor Correia the Commissioner of the ESE states that he would have recommended that they take over our school district if not for the Correia's effort to look for guidance. The initiative may be commendable but right now what our school system needs is a firm hand and strong leadership, that is unfiltered by political motivations and unhindered by squabbles. We need a clear plan and swift action to get us there.

Commissioner Chester we've had our chance to right the Fall River School system and we failed! Please, for the sake of our children, take over our schools.

30 comments:

Tom Paine said...

Lefty, there is problem with what you are asking for.

1. I have spoken to state officials for many years, and many of them want nothing to do with Fall River. They have little respect for some of the leaders we have sent to Boston, they have even less respect for the way we handle our economic development due to the way we squander money that is sent to the city.

2. The state dept of education is controlled by the same type of people that are in many of the administration positions in our school dept. Many of these so-called experts on the state level are either from the "Ivory Tower" mentallity or they are political hacks. Similar to our own administration here. So giving them our school dept would actually be more of a disaster because of the distance between those running our schools and the schools themselves.

What actually needs to be done is a re-organization of our school dept....HELL! our whole educational system needs a reorganization.

For example: In our current school system there are so many cut throats trying to jump into some cushy administrative position for the benefits. NUMBER 1 is retirement pay. I hear this all the time.

You have a person with political connections that goes into teaching. They have their bachelor degree and working toward their Masters. Many of them go to the store front school in Cambridge, get their masters and then they really start buying those cocktail tickets. It is like a race, all of these people jockeying for that vice principal position, or administrator of pens and pencils.

While this is going on, you have a large group of people who want to make a change as a teacher. They are trying to improve education one child at a time.

Bammm! What happens, the political hack teacher becomes the boss of the teacher who is working hard.

Terrible system!

I have asked this before and will ask it again. After students, who are the most important people?

Answer: Good teachers. Not Principals, not director of political tickets, not supervisor of windows and pains (yes I meant pains).

Most administrators should not, I repeat, should not be making more than a teacher. Other than the superintendent and school principals I do not see the need to pay others in the school dept more than a teacher.

I want to reward a good teacher by saying to him and her, You stay in teaching and make a difference.

Today we tell that good teacher, Hey we give out bullshit that we want good teachers, but it is lip service, if you want a little extra you have to kiss the ass of the superintendent or mayor and then we make up a job for you.

This is what has to change.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. These are scary times, and the fact that Aguiar and Cadime only want to make excuses for why the report came out the way it did is further validation that we are not going to be moving forward anytime soon.

Cadime uses as an excuse that the tapes that were viewed were from June through December and they were under a lot of pressure. Well, the pressure is not getting better anytime soon, and there is no excuse for the disrespect shown at those meetings. Furthermore, anyone who watches them knows it has been going on for some time.

There were four pages of people interviewed for that report. Are we to believe that the compilation of what those four pages of people had to say, along with the team's observations of meetings and classroom is wrong and Cadime and Aguiar are right.

Enough with the excuses. I really hoped the State would take over.My children deserve better.

Why isn't the community more fired up about this? It makes me sick that we can have community leaders and residents in a tizzy about one building that has been vacant for 20 years and nobody seems to care about this.

Anonymous said...

they got rid of dr.fisher now it,s back to the good old boy system

Anonymous said...

Fischer was the only bright spot in this report. Instead of hiring a CFO we hired a good friend of the new superintendent as a COO. Instead of waiting for the results of the report to hire a new superintendent we slid one in when no one was looking without so much as a comment from parents or students. Our children deserve much better than they are getting from this school committee. Re-Elect No One!

Anonymous said...

Fischer was a hack who got his cronies friends jobs and could care less about the kids in the system. He fooled lots of people at first but not all. He was held up like a saviour by most on wsar and the herald news but yet could not institute a system that would work here. The fact that he still has support only shows how little those in the media understand about education while continuing to by the arguments that it is somehow the kids faults, the immigrants etc. Fall River is not the only city with historic undereducated poulations immigrants and a bad economy. It is just one of those which frolicks in self pity, self loathing, false prophets of greed while ignoring comparitive realities. The first post on this page was very accurate but it fails to point out that it is a system which accepts the excuses of failure
.

Anonymous said...

Fischer was a hack who got his cronies friends jobs and could care less about the kids in the system. He fooled lots of people at first but not all

Has that changed ??? No just a different co-hacks running it now the mayor and mayo brown.

Anonymous said...

fisher had to bring people in the teachers couln.t teach principals were just friends of the last principal the union went all out to bag him and they got there wish back to the old boy system

Anonymous said...

Lefty being an educator is no longer a vocation but a business. A BIG BUSINESS. Teachers and administrators are more concerned with the next contract to care about the children. Public education is in the crapper everwhere not just Fall River, you need to stop worrying about the TOP of the education ladder and start at the bottom rung with the teachers and lower school administrators

Teacher said...

Do you want to know the truth? Can you handle it? If you do not work in education please try to respect the opinions of those of us who do. WE are the experts. We did not go into it for the money or the contract, as one commenter said. We wanted to teach children, ALL children. But that has been made next to impossible by a community that resents teachers and does not support education unless it suits their purpose. It has been made impossible by parents who are neglectful, abusive and defensive. Teachers do not have the materials or the help to make the miracles that NCLB demands happen.
As for the DESE, you are foolish to believe they have no agenda. Do a little research on education in Massachusetts. Our kids always tested highest on national tests such as NAEP, one indicator of success. But hen Weld wanted to dissolve the DOE, we suddenly had a crisis here in MA.They still need to justify their existence and flex their muscle. Intimidation and beating down the very people you need to make things happen is foolish and ineffective.
The demands on educators and students are greater and the stakes are higher. Kids today have the opportunity to get the best education ever possible in the history of this state. however, we no longer care about who they are as human beings, only test scores. And that is NOT the teachers fault- they need to survive in this "business". Make no mistake about it: struggling students are resented because they don't perform well and cheating on MCAS runs rampant. What a commentary on our society.

Look deeper and think critically (like we want our kids to). Do not take everything at face value. Remember that you can skew data to show ANYTHING you want it to.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Dr. Fischer have a job at DOE before? If he still has connections then of course they will give him a favorable rating.

reality check said...

Lefty, name one school system the state has taken over and made better, good luck. How naive can you be, Fischer at one time worked for the DOE, and had a private meeting with the DESE. After the way he left you would have to believe that payback was going to be a bitch for anybody who opposed him.

Anon 7:55 check out some of the names who were interviewed, the same losers who believe low-income housing is the key to downtown revitalization. Business people who have done nothing to improve the economic climate for the city, and have zero knowledge about what is going on in Fall River schools, are now to be considered experts on education, and their views valued.

Anonymous said...

Teacher,

MCAS was a necessity because everyone knew that children across the state were not receiving equitable levels of education, but there was no statewide standard criteria to evaluate the differences in education across the state.

Before MCAS, some Durfee graduates had very low reading comprehension. Recently, both the heads of BCC and UMass Dartmouth have said that they are receiving higher quality students from Durfee. There is a correlation between MCAS and graduates that are better prepared for higher education.

Also, I believe the DESE also released a report that basically said that students who did well on MCAS were doing well in college. Students who struggled with MCAS were more likely to take remedial courses in college. If we aimed for proficiency at early ages, the 10th grade MCAS would not seem so overwhelming. However, students are playing catch-up for many years.

"Teaching to the Test" is a negative phrase created by teachers who dare not be evaluated. Oh no, now we have MCAS, we can't develop our children as good human beings. Give me a break.

I don't see why teachers, who are professionals, change their behavior and teach to the test. Teachers should be teaching to the best abilities of their students.

On another blog the scapegoat was transient students. Now, the scapegoat is DESE.

Check out this website and its documentary.

http://www.hobartshakespeareans.org/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkxWPvITnqI

A problem with education in Fall River is that its leaders are not radical. In the movie above, the school year is from July to April. The teacher begins teaching at 6:30. The teacher offers tutoring and additional instruction on Saturdays.

In Fall River, we had a school that was releasing students early and the FREA contract only requires teachers to remain 5 minutes after the closing bell.

Where are the idealist radical teachers?

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that they interviewed Karam. Why? I also found it funny that on page 57 DESE states the scholl commitee should adhere to Robert's not BOB's Rulesa of Order. Sounds like I heard this argument before hmmm and I think the Mayor staed something to the effect that Robert's rules don't apply when dealing with things " historically" how they have been done.
2 reports requested by Bob done by people in boston, with the same outcome hmmmm!
We know his pal nDenucci botched that one, let's see if Chester (the M )does any better, I doubt it!!

Lefty said...

The reason I'm leaning for a state takeover is I don't think our leadership is capable of leading! I've been wanting to write this post for over a week, yesterday I started putting my thoughts down to write it, but after hearing Shawn Cadime on WSAR I zipped this togehter. You can think that the DESE report is politically motivated but a lot of it is stuff that anyone can observe. The conduct at meetings, the funding issues, none of these are made up issues!

Also I think it had gotten to a point where Fischer had to go, but I've talked to educators in the system who felt that he did do stuff that improved the system. Almost everyone agreed he killed morale.

I think it's clear we need to figure out how much funding the school department really needs. We also have got to find ways to involve parents and make them accountable. Transparency is important.

Maybe a state takeover is a hasty conclusion on my part but I would LOVE for our school committee and leadership to explain why a state takeover shouldn't happen and what they're going to do to right the sytem.

Teacher said...

To anon 10:23
I would agree MCAS has helped prepare students in some respects, but it's punitive nature has hurt many of our neediest students. What we need is a growth model to fairly evaluate student learning. This would compare a child to HIMSELF. He would be assessed in Sept and again in June to determine progress. Then you can pass judgment.

There are too many holes in the MCAS situation. We compare this years class to last years. Transient students ARE counted if they are in my classroom by a particular date. Special needs students have many strengths not tested by paper and pencil. Etc. Etc. I could write a book on that one.

As for innovation, I would challenge you to enter one of the large new elementary schools and shadow a teacher for a day. You will see and hear things that make you cry and make you angry (if you have emotions, that is). Teachers who try innovative ideas are discouraged because they are not using the curriculum chosen to increase our MCAS scores. You could not find anyone to do what I, or my colleagues, do as well as we do it. I give my students 100 percent and the hours I put in are probably more than most in private industry. I just don't walk around bragging about how wonderful I am and how many hours I put in like you do.

Perhaps you have met a few bad teachers and that is why you are so resentful. I do not deny that they are out there and need to go. (Just as there are bad employees in every career of choice including yours)
Things will get better when:
1.The system is fine tuned for fairness.
2. Quality preschools are set up to help these kids who have no parental support.
3. Educators are included in decision making (curriculum and otherwise) as an invested party.
4. When people with little to no knowledge of the inner workings of a school system stop trying to dictate.

I agree that my students deserve better than what they are getting and I will fight for them until I cannot take it anymore. But the problem is not ME, it is the system. Denial and blame do not help the situation.

Anonymous said...

Teacher,

Most of the people that I know that describe the MCAS as punitive are not aware that students can submit a portfolio of their work as a substitute for the MCAS. If a student has demonstrated proficiency in a subject matter through regular tests, classroom work, and homework, it can be submitted to DESE for review. Measuring proficiency is the goal, and portfolios eliminate the high-stress argument for those who dislike MCAS.

Honestly, if students are going into higher education, each semester they will taking several final exams whose value may be 33%-100% of the final grade. Don't forget the GMAT test for Graduate School, etc.

I like the idea of comparing a student at the end of the year with the student at the beginning of the year. That is a really good idea. It is important to show a student just how much they have learned in the course of a year.

I'm not sure why in parentheses there is an implication of emotionless. I am not sure what that is supposed to prove or imply, but it weakens your argument.

As for bad teachers, I can probably say that for each bad teacher that I can name, I can probably name 10 good/great teachers. I like that ratio.

Teacher, can you elaborate on "The system is fine tuned for fairness?" How is the system unfair? What needs to be corrected for it to be fair?


If teachers value parental involvement, then in some ways you are encouraging parents, who don't have knowledge of the inner workings of schools, to express how the schools can/should operate. It is silly to think that if I care enough to help my child with homework, that I would not also have an interest with governance and policies within the school.

Anonymous said...

Interesting... let the state take over Fall River Public Schools. Hum, wait a minute, the schools are fully funded by the state because Fall River has refused to put its money where its mouth is. So doesn't that mean that in essense the state does run the FRPS?

Oh, and here's some news. The state is broke. They don't have the money or the manpower to take over our system.

If you read the report, teachers themselves faired well. Nick Fischer apparently walks on water, the school committee is a bunch of clowns, and the curriculum chosen by our current superintendent (when she was Assist. Supt. of Curriculum) isn't standards based. WOW!

When someone stated on the blog that Durfee students weren't reading well upon graduating, well Ralph Olsen and his gang have stopped that pesky problem, less than 50% of the students actually graduate now.

Also if by chance you are an English Language Learner (ELL) or have Special Needs you WILL NOT get the education you deserve from the FRPS. What you will get is segregation, teachers that have NOT had adequate professional development to meet your needs and IF by chance you do qualify for special needs it takes TWO SCHOOL YEARS for the FRPS to recognize your disability. Helpful aren't we? Maybe we can pay one of our "leadership team" members another $150,000 to make a mess of another department.

teacher said...

To anon 11:02-
While a portfolio may be available to H.S. students (I'm not as familiar with HS), at the elementary level a portfolio is an option only for the most severely disabled children. The rest of the special education children are often labeled as failures for not performing on grade level. Teachers are fearful of getting more sped students in their rooms due to the fact that it looks as though they are not effective. It is morally wrong on all counts.
I am not as worried about those students heading onto higher education. They will usually make it. I am worried about those with learning problems, low IQs and emotionally distracted students. A high school diploma will be important for them to have a decent job. These children DO have strengths but they are not always measurable by standardized tests. Not all people are created equally.
As for fairness, the above situation is one example. Another way to evaluate teachers fairly would be the growth model I previously mentioned. There are many facets that need fine tuning-too many for me to list here.

Yes, parental involvement is important to teachers. I have students who have been abused, molested and neglected in my class of 30. Four of them have parents in jail. I love the idea of parents helping with homework but right now I would settle for having my students in a caring environment. If their basic needs are not met they do not learn as well. That is the frustrating fact that no one seems to get. And if they do get it, they do not care. Call it an excuse if you want, but it is the reality we face every day.

Anyone can come in my class and evaluate me anytime they want- I do not care. I am giving my students the best education they can get because it is the only shot they have. But remember, I only have them for 10 months of their lives. When I give MCAS I have only had them for 7 months but they are tested on the entire year's standards.

I resent the fact that people not in education feel qualified to say we don't like MCAS because we are afraid of being held accountable. Until this reform is done with us (not to us) it will not be successful. We cannot make education a business because it is about people first and foremost.

Anonymous said...

It is true that the large new schools that just opened are in complete chaos. The students are rude, the parents even worse. There is not enough help even with the full time security in the buildings. It isn't safe for the children or the staff.

Anonymous said...

Teacher,

There is no doubt that if a student does not have a stable environment at home, that it makes it difficult for the student to do well in school.

Students in Fall River have to deal with family members in jail, on drugs, child abuse, mom/dad's boyfriend/girlfriend of the month, and malnutrition. We live in a district where 60% of students are eligible for free lunch.

I am not sure how in society we can enforce good parenting. If we could set standards for parenting, what would be the consequences of non-performance? Fines? Jail?

Wouldn't such punishment result in worse consequences for the child?

I have no doubt that teachers are working hard every day of the school year. We agree that a lot of the poor academic performance is related to what occurs outside the classroom.

My question is: what can be done outside the classroom to best produce positive results in the classroom?

Anonymous said...

Teacher

I am also a teacher, and you make some very good points. You are an example of what most teachers are: caring individuals that are concerned about the children. I am sure you could work in any school system, yet you choose to work in Fall River. These children need good teachers like you. You know what is best. Thank you for being a teacher.

teacher said...

Anon 9:42
I am not sure how you address lack of parenting. Fines will not work because they do not instill the necessary nurturing qualities in a person. I do think that quality preschools will help. These children need interaction with adults and peers to stimulate their curiosity and develop their social skills. We need to get them as young as possible.
But how do you force parents to place their children in these schools? What about the parents who are doing a fine job and want their children to remain home with them for the first 5 years? They should have that right.
These are the conversations we should be having. It is ok to disagree, but not to disregard or disrespect. Societal issues run deep and our schools are a mirror of the priorities we have in our communities.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the person that stated we need to have the children in a school setting as soon as possible to expose them to some of life skills that they will need in order for them to function in the world they will be growing up in. Keep in mind children are not born dishonest, or predujice, they are born innocent and learn from the adults around them the skills they display, the adults are the ones that mold them into what they become.Preschools are great places to teach some needed skills and try to change some skills that may not be in the best interest of the child, such as using your words and not your hands when approaching conflicts, they teach socialization skills, they teach independence and self esteem. There are many good pre-school programs and one of the best that offers the most is Head Start and they not only help the child they work with the entire family as a unit. The child is only one part of that unit so it is an excellent program if you are able to get your child into it and there is no cost to the parent. There are other pre-schools in the city but not for free or that offers so much to the family. We also have to keep in mind that the parents and care takers of these children whether they be foster parents or grandparents, they all have to accept some responsibility for the molding of the children.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add one more thing to my comments I just posted about pre-school for the children. We have to remember that the parents or the people that are bringing up the children may very well need help themselves to know the ways and means to best serve their children. Some parents do not even have a high school diploma and were not brought up in a loving .caring environment themselves so they are bringing up their children the way they themselves were brought up. I think the public schools also have to make the parents feel important and not just want them to drop their child off out in front of the school and drive away. Many parents are not made to feel welcome at the school unless there is a problem with the child and they have to come in for a meeting on the behavior the child is displaying at school. I really think the classrooms are over crowded and the teachers cannot possibly give each child the attention they need. It's one ting to say what needs to be done but it's another thing to actually do it. We need to start thinking before doing. The smaller schools were much more student/parent friendly and not there just a bunch of children thrown into a big new building that does not address the real needs of the children. We have to start setting priorities and doing something about them, tlak and complaining just does not do it. As the children get older and need help with their homework who will help them? the parents that do not have a high school education I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

If the blame for poor academic performance is largely due to unstable home environments and uneducated parents, then it seems to me that the solution is a longer school day with a longer school year.

As for overcrowded schools, the elementary school featured in the movie linked above, Hobart Shakespeareans, has 2,000 students.

The class solves its demographic problems by raising standards, longer class day, Saturday classes, and longer school year.

Anonymous said...

One of the unique ideas in the movie is that students "pay rent" for their classroom desks and the seats up front have a higher rental value. Students earn points with good grades and community service projects. In addition, it teaches the students at a young age the value of saving, setting long-term goals, and rejecting short-term desires.

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Anonymous said...

According to the Boston Globe, DESE has unveiled a new way of evaluating students from year to year as opposed to comparing MCAS classes.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/24/state_plans_to_track_students_progress_not_just_scores/?page=2

I was hoping Teacher could express some thoughts on the new system.