Sunday, September 11, 2011

Candidates’ responses: Julie VanDyke

1. Should the school board ensure that elementary school students get more than fifteen minutes for lunch? If so, what should the minimum lunch period be? (See the petition about this issue here.)
Given the attention span of most small children I know, 15 minutes for lunch is unacceptably short. Given the attention span of ADD/ADHD, 15 minutes for lunch is inhumane and counterproductive. The ICCSD’s Wellness policy includes the following:

“The school district provides a comprehensive and integral learning environment for developing and practicing lifelong wellness behaviors. The entire school environment, not just the classroom, shall be aligned with healthy school district goals to influence a student’s understanding, beliefs and habits as they relate to healthy nutrition and regular physical activity.”

“The school district supports and promotes proper dietary habits contributing to students’ health status and academic performance.”

Neither of these assertions is evidenced in by the district’s 15 minute lunch. Everything I read on healthy eating indicates that food should be eaten slowly and chewed one bite at a time, not inhaled and rushed down with milk. I assume that the shorter lunch periods are a direct result of NCLB’s pressure to spend every possible moment in class towards more progress on standardized testing. I don’t think the board can mandate a longer lunch but I think elementary students need a minimum of 20 minutes to be able to eat enough food in the healthiest manner. I would do everything I could to help the Superintendent and district administration re-evaluate the lunch period towards extending it to 20-25 minutes. I would have gladly signed the petition to do so. This isn’t going to make me popular but then, honesty is more important to me than popularity…I would like to see High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) containing foods and condiments removed from the breakfasts and lunches provided by the school district. Frequently eating foods containing transfats, lots of added sugar, high saturated fat, HFCS, pesticide residue, MSG and artificial dyes is not healthy. I believe they are at the root of the obesity crisis and the skyrocketing number of ADD/ADHD cases (maybe even the increase in autism spectrum incidence) in this country. One of the main problems with HCFS is that it interferes with leptin and insulin which subsequently impairs the body’s ability to properly regulate and store energy. Please see this link for the most recent research from Princeton http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/. These studies are also helpful: http://www.jci.org/articles/view/37385 and http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/94/5/1562.full.pdf . I hope to see more research published on HFCS’s affect on behavior in the future. Since fructose and HFCS have not been integrated into food processing/manufacture in the European Union, as opposed to the United States, it would be interesting to compare the two in regards to increases in prevalence of obesity, ADD/ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
2. On balance, has the No Child Left Behind Act been good for Iowa City’s public school children?

No. The emperor has no clothes and everyone in this country knows it. NCLB has lead to a nationwide culture of shame, blame, negativity, hopelessness, and punishment in K-12 education. At the minimum, it has not provided an accurate way to measure teaching effectiveness or the skills of our children. “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) measured solely by standardized test scores, including those taken by special education students with learning disabilities (who may not receive adequate accommodations) and ESL students (tests are rarely given in any language except Spanish and even then only in a few states) and disparate state by state defined “proficiency” standards (set well above grade level in many states and quite low in others) provide an unreachable, undesirable goal. 100% “proficiency” by almost every child by 2014 is not possible. I would say the outcome of NCLB is harming our children’s outlook on the future and ability to meet the demands of a 21st century world.

Teaching to the test, almost a requirement at this point, has further decimated time and funding spent on all areas with the exception of reading and math. Art, physical education, science, history and the humanities in general have been reduced or cut entirely. The most gifted students have lost access to resources and teaching staff they need to excel, while the below average children have the life and joy stripped out of their school day replaced by preparation for standardized tests. Reading and math are VERY important, but should be approached in balance with other subjects, methods of teaching, and high level reasoning skills. Every child is a complex individual, all learn differently, but the standardized tests don’t measure why a student is having trouble with a question or provide guidance or resources that can help.

The culture of failure labeling and impossible goals that has grown out of NCLB has negatively impacted the morale of the entire public education system: from administrators-to teachers-to students-to parents-to communities. Out of this comes a lack of optimism and hope for the future. Is this what we want to teach our children? No. We need a system that enhances and develops everyone’s strengths, desire to learn, and belief in the chance of a more positive future.

I support the positions of the Forum on Educational Accountability’s “Empowering Schools and Improving Learning” and the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind. “The signatories to the ‘Joint Statement’ emphasize the need to shift the No Child Left Behind law from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to supporting states and localities and holding them accountable as they work to make the systemic changes that improve student learning”.
3. Do you think that standardized testing plays too large a role in our school system? If so, what should the school board do about it?
Yes. Standardized testing measures only a student’s ability to take the test. That alone is not an accurate measure of success. Standardized testing should only be a small part of measuring the educational success of a child, teacher, school, or district. The current frequency of mandated testing is far too high. I would like to see it drop to, at the most, 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. Money saved from such frequent testing would be better used towards smaller class sizes, lower teacher to student ratios, and other invaluable resources. The measuring of success and learning must include information from multiple sources to include teacher input, student progress, classroom work, and other evidence of student learning.

I will do everything possible with the board, and in my own life, to help effect the recommendations of the Forum on Education Accountability in the district, the state, and the country. See http://www.edaccountability.org/Empowering_Schools_Statement.html. As they shouldn’t be the primary source of the evaluation of the student, I will also fight standardized testing results being used as the primary evaluation source of teachers, principals, and schools. Working on this with our state and federal leaders, and the Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is imperative.
4. Local school boards have been increasingly subject to state and federal mandates. Do school board members have an obligation to think independently about whether those mandates are good for kids? If so, what should a school board member do if he or she concludes that those mandates are not in the best interests of the kids, or are contrary to our community’s values? (See this post.)
Work to satisfy them only as much as necessary to receive continued funding, look for other sources of funding, bringing hypocrisy out into the light, and actively engage the entire community in placing pressure on the state and federal government to make positive change now.

“Do school board members have an obligation to think independently about whether those mandates are good for kids?” Of course we do, a board member’s obligation is to serve the best interests of their schools and their entire community regardless of their personal views or governmentally mandated current opinion.

Boards need to exemplify the very best examples of careful reasoning and effective, appropriate action.
5. Do you support the current pervasive use of token rewards to get students to comply with school rules? If not, what role should the school board take in reining that practice in?
Candy should never be given as a reward and goes against the district’s wellness policy. Little tickets seem unimportant to many children as evidenced in the collection of them extracted from the laundry. When my child “wins” a prize, his only talk is of the prize and his memory does not seem to equate the reward with what he did to earn the ticket that won it. Rewards should always be relevant to the desired effort – if not, they mean nothing. While I think there is a place for PBIS in the schools, I think that we should work with the teachers, administrators, students, and parents to determine what that should be. Quality time or a healthy 20-25 minute lunch with a teacher or principal, where there is discussion of good choices and praise of achievement, would be a better reward than another soon forgotten piece of non-biodegradable plastic. We should be giving rewards that will be remembered, valued, and associated with the best effort or choice made. The board can work with the superintendent towards this as soon as possible and report back to the public on changes and progress.
6. How should the schools approach the teaching of moral or ethical values? (See this post and this post.)
Teaching of moral or ethical values could too easily become proselytizing. Without parent involvement, how are we to know if our children are being taught the values shared at home? Chris – your first description in the blog “A parent’s thoughts about school, in Iowa City and beyond” is the style of teaching I learned the most from in school, the kind I benefited the most from, and what has served me best throughout my life. I not only remember those lessons in self-discovery and reasoning, but I remember those teachers the most of all. Dr. Workman and Mrs. Nancy Petersen come to mind first. From Dr. Workman I learned the process of working something out for myself, of self-examination of thought. From Mrs. Petersen I learned how to convey that well in writing and to others. The two skills served me well in college and throughout my life. At the elementary school level, and higher, a child who comes to a point of view through discussion and dialogue will remember that experience and be able to apply that process throughout their lives. That is a 21st century skill; one that can’t be measured on a standardized test. Not one where we can be told the “right” answer, but a process to be used continuously.
7. What should the district’s plan be as the number of SINA schools grows and the number of schools into which those students can transfer shrinks?
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one “surprised” by the district’s unfolding policy towards SINA busing. My impression is that SINA transfers have primarily been used in by the more affluent and, therefore, less in need. More affluent families are likely better able to provide transportation in the first place. SINA transfers have segregated our schools even more than city planning and redistricting. In a somewhat perverse reverse on what SINA was “meant” to do, it would be better if all schools were SINA so this selective segregation could stop. In the meantime, I support the district’s choice to dramatically decrease money spent on SINA busing so long as it continues to be available to those most in need that choose to go to a school that is a better opportunity for their children, i.e., with smaller class sizes, lower FRL, or better resources. The money our district can save from busing SINA transfers is burned in the gas the buses use to increase traffic and pollute our environment. That money should be used to provide better resources and smaller class sizes in our schools. If the public pressure for change on NCLB doesn’t improve the situation first, all schools becoming SINA will force a change. We all know the state and the federal government can’t and don’t want to run our schools – they haven’t been showing much success in what they are supposed to control and they certainly aren’t helping that by micromanaging the public school system.
Links to other candidates’ responses are here.
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14 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks, Julie -- I have now found a candidate I can happily vote for. More thoughts soon.

Doris said...

I hadn't been going to vote for either candidate because I found Cook's answers simplistic (among other things, she justifies PBIS by speculating that all kids have to be subjected to it because those phantom "other children" need it) and because Van Dyke had come across as more like somebody who talks at rather than with other people. Moreover, Van Dyke's whole "honesty is more important to me than popularity" line of self-promotion seems like it could alienate people who might otherwise be open to hearing her ideas. I think Cook gave honest answers to your questions--and she did so knowing that you and some of your readers (like me) were not going to like what she had to say. Van Dyke has not cornered the market on honesty.

Just to cite a specific example, I couldn't possibly be more sympathetic to Van Dyke's commentary about how NCLB can suck the joy out of school for special needs learners who are subjected to excessive doses of math and reading all day long. (My kid wasn't denied art, music, or PE, but she was regularly pulled from social studies and science for remedial math/reading, and she actually came home crying out of frustration at missing out on that part of the curriculum.) But I know other parents of special needs learners who feel, with good reason, that their children have fared very well in public school here--and goodness knows every teacher we worked with was trying her absolute best to help, that's for sure. So there I think Van Dyke errs on the side of making too much of a blanket generalization.

Furthermore, when she starts speculating that High Fructose Corn Syrup is at the root of the so-called obesity crisis and ADHD and maybe autism, etc.--my red flags go up because I think she's begging an awful lot of questions there, and I wonder if she is open enough to dialogue to listen to alternative points of view about these and other matters without immediately categorizing her interlocutors into the role of "friend" or "foe."

It's a tough thing to do as a candidate for elective office--to stake out straightforward positions on issues while somehow speaking with enough nuance to make clear to people that you understand how complex real life is. She'll get my vote, but it'll be with a few reservations.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

I'm with Chris! I am so impressed by these responses. So many of them echo what I have seen, felt, and said myself. Thank you for your passion and honesty, Julie.

Chris said...

Jen -- Thanks for commenting!

Chris said...

Doris -- Good points all. I do appreciate that Karla Cook took the time to respond to at least some of my questions, and didn't just try to tell me what I wanted to hear. Given what I've seen of Van Dyke in the candidate forums and newspaper exchanges, though, I certainly wouldn't accuse her of telling people what they want to hear, either (quite the opposite, as you seem to note!), so I assume her answers here reflect her genuine opinions. More in my next post . . .

Doris said...

Chris--Yes, I appreciate Van Dyke's candor and do agree that she makes many good points.

Chris said...

My further thoughts are here.

Jason said...

Chris,
Firstly, thank you for posting and asking these questions.

I will however disagree with you. While I do agree with Mrs. VanDykes root comments, I do not feel she fits on the school board.

From what I see and hear, Mrs. VanDyke has a very narrow point of view. I agree with Dora's comment about "friend or foe".
I disagree with people who put value on rich and poor. Comments about keeping SINA transfers only to those familes who really need it, don't sit well with me. All children, regardless of their parents class should get a great education.

Every ICCSD school should have smaller class sizes, longer lunches with better nutrition and schools that value education and teach students!
Lets not pick and choose based on the parents.

Julie VanDyke said...

Jason, my comment was not about SINA transfers only being available to those in need, it was about the busing the district provides for SINA transfers. Please see information on their new policy...it is the district that has decided busing will be based on need. District Policy"All students who received SINA busing in 2010-11 will continue to be provided SINA busing in 2011-12. However, in 2011-12, we will not be able to provide bus transportation to any newly approved SINA
transfer request. We will continue to provide the SINA transfer option, but the student’s family will need to provide their own transportation to the new school.
In the event that additional funds become available for SINA busing, the district will provide transportation using the federally-mandated prioritization method. Federal guidelines require transportation be first provided to students with the greatest financial need and lowest achievement.
Transportation will NOT be provided for a transfer to a school that is not a designated receiving school. The district will re-schedule bus routes and implement changes as soon as possible, however there can be a delay for processing time up to one week." available at http://www.iowa-city.k12.ia.us/enrollment_forms/ICCSDstudent_transfer_form_2011-12update.pdf and

"In the meantime, I support the district’s choice to dramatically decrease money spent on SINA busing so long as it continues to be available to those most in need that choose to go to a school that is a better opportunity for their children, i.e., with smaller class sizes, lower FRL, or better resources."

Chris said...

Jason -- Thanks for commenting! There are pros and cons to every candidate. If the only criterion was "plays well with others," it might be hard to pick VanDyke. But I still think there's value in having someone on the board who is outspoken, independent-thinking, and unlikely to fall prey to a groupthink mentality.

I understand what people are saying about some of VanDyke's interactions, but at some level I guess I just don't get why people are *so* freaked out by it. I just don't know how well-served we are by the idea that public servants should always be calm and collected and show no strong emotion. Sometimes anger, strong words, and a willingness to name names are an appropriate response to events. I don't understand why people aren't angrier about No Child Left Behind, for example.

If anything, I'm a little uncomfortable with the way that some people seem to have rallied around Cook more out distaste for VanDyke than any special enthusiasm for Cook. You get the feeling than any opposition candidate would have served just as well. It has a kind of "Who is this upstart crashing our party?" feel to it. As a veteran party-crasher myself, I may have been predisposed to VanDyke for that reason -- though I was really undecided on this one until yesterday.

Chris said...

I'm already regretting the last paragraph of that last comment. I suspect I'm just projecting that idea onto Cook's supporters, because, again, at some level I just don't really get their reaction to VanDyke. Maybe I've just spent too much time in the blogosphere, where rough-and-tumble argumentation is the norm . . .

Jason said...

That is my issue, we are picking sides. We are not for all schools and studnets. In this scenario we are picking and choosing which students get to go and which stay. What is it based on? Its not fair to either student.

From what I have heard, most of the SINA transfers are not the children in need but the exact opposite. How are we even deciding the children in need? Test scores? Poverty?
Why use any funds for SINA transfers? Is it true to say every family has the option to transfer out of a SINA labeled school? If they did does the school just close its doors because it has no students?

I don't see any issues being solved. I only see issues being created at other schools. Now we have non-SINA labeled schools with over crowded classrooms, and lunch rooms not large enough to handle the volume of children at lunch time. Now we have shortened lunch periods to cram everyone through.

SINA fits hand in hand with NCLB. It doesnt work. It creates more issues, it does not fix the real issue at a school.

Like I said, I agree with most of the base things you are saying. I think everyone in the ICCSD wants the same thing. Great schools for all the students.

I just dont see you on the school board.
You can't control your emotions, thus I have the feeling that you can't think things through and wont always listen.
You let your emotions get the best of you, and its only a matter of time before it clouds your judgement. Anyone can get emotional and huffy, not everyone can control it.

KD said...

For as long as I have been observing, the Board hasn't had anyone like Julie Van Dyke....perhaps people think our current Board culture should be the norm?

I don't agree with everything she has said, but I like that she is willing to talk about issues.

I think school board members that are silent and don't take action are problematic in their own way.

Chris said...

KD -- I agree. If we wake up on Wednesday morning to find that, say, Swesey, Cook, Fields, Hoelscher, and McGinness have been elected, it would seem like a real affirmation of the current board. Given the ten choices, it's hard to see how you could pick a board that looks more like our current one. Don't get me wrong: I'm voting for some of those people. But I do think we ought to mix things up a little.