Thursday, April 26, 2012

What top-down looks like

I am continually surprised at how little value school administrators place on any kind of meaningful buy-in by teachers and parents to the latest “reforms.” Three years ago, for example, our district foisted its behavioral rewards program (PBIS) on our schools without regard to whether the teachers, parents, or kids wanted any part of it. (Full diatribe here.) Thus the district created an additional task for itself: managing the teachers, parents, and kids who resisted PBIS.

A recent occurrence at one of our district’s elementary schools illustrates the dynamic. Apparently some higher authority (the district?) determined that the school’s teachers weren’t passing out enough PBIS rewards. The school’s PBIS committee, in response, asked the PTA if it would fund weekly incentives for teachers to boost their support for the program – that is, “$5 gift cards or small tokens that can be drawn for each week by the teachers.” Classic PBIS logic at work: if the teachers are insufficiently enthusiastic about PBIS, we can just use small token rewards to alter their behavior!

Alas, the parents were no more enthusiastic than the teachers. One parent responded that she was “strongly opposed to the PBIS program” and objected to “further emphasizing, through rewards, this focus on obedience and rule following I think sends our children some really unfortunate messages about what’s important and valuable in our learning environments and communities.” She concluded, “My vote would be a resounding ‘no.’” From what I hear, the PTA didn’t pursue the idea any further. If the district learned anything from the incident, it doesn’t show.

One of my objections to PBIS is that it is demeaning. Trying to reason with kids and get them thinking for themselves about how they should act would be a way of treating them with dignity and respect. By contrast, trying to buy their obedience with token rewards is just plain insulting. The point is just as compelling with teachers as with kids: If you were a teacher with reservations about PBIS, how would you feel if the school thought it could buy your cooperation with a five-dollar gift card?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Welcome to fast-food nation, kids”

Mother Jones chimes in on short school lunch periods.

UPDATE: Time to eat lunch may be scarce, but there is no shortage of candy and junk food in many classrooms. Bettina Siegel at The Lunch Tray posts a manifesto about it here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Write by numbers

The Times reports on a new study claiming to show that computers are as good at grading student essays on standardized tests as people are – proving once again that it’s easy to achieve reliability if you toss validity out the window.

As a counterpoint, the article quotes Les Perelman, who studies the algorithms that the Educational Testing Service uses. According to Perelman, ETS’s “automated reader can be easily gamed, is vulnerable to test prep, sets a very limited and rigid standard for what good writing is, and will pressure teachers to dumb down writing instruction.”
The e-Rater’s biggest problem, he says, is that it can’t identify truth. He tells students not to waste time worrying about whether their facts are accurate, since pretty much any fact will do as long as it is incorporated into a well-structured sentence. “E-Rater doesn’t care if you say the War of 1812 started in 1945,” he said.
To prove his point, Perelman wrote an essay explaining how the high costs of college are the fault of greedy graduate teaching assistants.
“The average teaching assistant makes six times as much money as college presidents,” he wrote. “In addition, they often receive a plethora of extra benefits such as private jets, vacations in the south seas, starring roles in motion pictures.”
The computer gave his essay the highest score, as it did another Perelman essay that was “padded with more than a dozen nonsensical sentences.”

ETS officials are unfazed by Perelman’s criticisms. “E.T.S. officials say that Mr. Perelman’s test prep advice is too complex for most students to absorb; if they can, they’re using the higher level of thinking the test seeks to reward anyway.” Think about the implications of that statement: It doesn’t matter if the test really measures writing ability, or whether it will cause teachers to turn English classes into test-prep sessions. It’s fine if you can game the test, because test-gaming is just as important an ability as writing well. It’s the ultimate, all-purpose justification for turning schools into test-prep centers!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Report from the lunchroom

At the request of our school superintendent, I sat through an hour of lunches at our elementary school earlier this week. I can’t say I’m any closer to understanding why these kids are being told to be completely silent during two minutes of their already very brief lunch, or why they are being threatened with assigned seats at lunch if they don’t quiet down, or why the adults who supervise the lunchroom feel compelled to police the kids’ behavior as closely as they do.

The kids weren’t noticeably noisy or ill-behaved, and just seemed like ordinary kids. The lunchroom attendant walked back and forth among the tables, intervening to stop kids from breaking lunchroom rules (for example, by sharing their food), sometimes “writing people up” in her notebook. (At one point, a kindergartner who I know was sitting at the table behind me and turned around to talk with me. As we were talking, the lunch attendant came up and physically turned her around to face her own table. So much for that conversation.) Throughout the first lunch period that I attended, the principal also walked the room, monitoring the kids, at one point scolding a student for talking back to the lunchroom attendant in a way that was disrespectful, but which didn’t sound like talking back or disrespect to me. I have no way to tell whether my presence there affected the routines.

To the extent the experience was reassuring at all, it was only because the kids seemed to ignore the school’s more unreasonable rules. No silence was achieved during the two-minute “voice level zero” periods, though the room quieted down a little. I suppose the school’s administration would consider that a bug, not a feature.

I timed two of the lunches. In one, the last kid through the line had thirteen minutes to eat before the supposedly silent two-minute dismissal period began. In the other, it was ten minutes. There were lots of unoccupied tables, indicating that longer lunches would at least be possible, in terms of capacity.

There are some signs that the school is trying to make some changes. Recently the classrooms teachers distributed a survey to the kids about the lunchroom environment, which I think is a great thing to do. Word has it that the teachers brought the issue up in a staff meeting. The kids report that the lunch attendant is a little more restrained lately – less likely, for instance, to take food away from a child for misbehaving – though she still sometimes yells at the kids loudly enough to be heard in the nearby classrooms. This week’s school newsletter included the following:
The Hoover Family invites you to have lunch with your child during the month of May. We are working on listening to students concerns and ideas to make their lunchtime more comfortable and welcoming. We are, also, working to establish the lunchroom expectations of Entering, Eating, and Exiting. These expectations are:

ENTER: Line basics, Use a Level 0 or 1 voice, Take only two side items

EAT: Body basics, Use a Level 1 or 2 voice, raise your hand if you need something

EXIT: Lights off, zero voice, Leave no trace

Your support in teaching and modeling these expectations during lunch will greatly benefit the students and lunchroom environment. We want to ensure respect, responsibility, care, honesty, and courage are practiced at Hoover. Thank you to those parents who have taken the opportunity to visit Hoover’s lunchroom.
I wish I knew what the problem is that they are working so hard to solve. I think they should work less hard, and just let the kids eat their lunches.

Or, if that’s too outlandish, how about getting the kids together and saying this:
We want to ask for your help in keeping the lunchroom from being too noisy or too messy. We’ve been imposing a lot of rules on you this year, and we’ve realized that many of them are unnecessary. We want to treat you the way we’d like to be treated ourselves, and everyone needs at least a little social down time in their day, when they’re not being overly monitored and scrutinized. But there are some problems that can arise, so we’d like to ask you to be conscious of a few things. First, please don’t be so loud that people in the classrooms will be disturbed. Second, please don’t make a mess, and if you do, please clean it up. Third, sometimes we need to make an announcement. When we do, we’ll signal it by flicking the lights on and off; please stop and listen when we do. But we won’t ask you to be silent just so we can dismiss tables; the lunchroom attendant will just let your table know when you can leave. Finally, of course, please be kind to each other.

As long as we’re achieving those basic goals, there’s no reason for us to interfere with what you’re doing. Where you sit, which way you’re facing, whether you move around, and what you do with your food is your business. If you do become too loud, the lunchroom attendant will ask you to be quieter. And of course, if you do cause a real problem, you’ll get in trouble. But we won’t punish an entire group just because a few people are causing a problem. Most importantly, we know we need your help to achieve these goals, and we think the best way to get people’s help is not by threats or prizes, but by appealing to their good will. We think these few rules are good for the entire Hoover community, so we hope you’ll help us with them, but if you think any of them are unnecessary or unfair, please let us know and we can talk it out as a group.
Wouldn’t that approach be more comfortable and welcoming than the current, more authoritarian and intrusive approach? Wouldn’t it model better ways of interacting with people? Wouldn’t it be at least as likely to achieve its goals?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Déjà vu

Some sixth graders in Minneapolis are the voice of reason:
In the Minneapolis public schools, we are supposed to have 15 minutes to eat, which would be bad enough. But realistically we get only 10 to 11 minutes (we have been timing it).

. . .

Teachers always tell us to socialize at lunch and recess, not in the classroom. But we cannot do that if we are scarfing down our lunches in 11 minutes.
. . .

Connor Snowdon, also in our grade, agrees: “We should get a half-hour, and the behavior of other kids shouldn’t take away our time. If you wanted to eat your entire lunch, you wouldn’t have time to talk to your friends.”
Read the whole article. One of the comments on it: “Great and well-written article by these students! Sadly, the lesson they will ultimately learn is that school is not about them, it is about the adults.” Given our experience with the stingy lunch periods here in Iowa City, it’s hard to disagree.

Why is elementary education – even at a public Montessori school! – becoming a rat race? Is there any way to understand that trend other than as a direct result of the laws that make raising standardized test scores the sole goal of education?

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Addicted to incarceration”

What kind of society does this to children? Picture your own twelve-year-old when you click on that link and the ones that follow.

Rules, norms, and consensus

As a college student, I took a course on Social Psychology. One of the few things I remember from the class was our discussion of social norms – defined, roughly, as widely accepted but unwritten rules of social conduct, violations of which are punished with various forms of censure. One day, the professor assigned us to violate a social norm and then write about the experience. As I recall, I fulfilled the assignment by blatantly eavesdropping on a couple at an adjacent table in the dining hall. This was a very uncomfortable experience, as it was supposed to be, since the point of the assignment was how powerful norms can be in shaping people’s conduct.

Norms are often more effective in restraining our behavior than laws are. No law says you have to shower regularly, but most people do. On the other hand, going five or ten miles per hour over the speed limit is illegal, but many people do it, because there is no corresponding norm calling down social censure on moderate speeders.

As the speeding example shows, norms cannot be legislated. They depend on consensus.

Norms can be a very good thing; we can all be grateful for the norm against eavesdropping. But some norms serve some people’s interests at the expense of others’. When enough people begin to think that a norm is unfair or dysfunctional, the consensus can break down.

I think we’re seeing that in the way that some parents are reacting to the norms that prevail in the public school system, especially as educational policies become more responsive to the desires of distant politicians and bureaucrats than to those of the parents and kids they serve. The mere existence of this blog is experienced by some people as a norm violation. (Indeed, many establishment institutions – in particular the mainstream media – sometimes seem to think of the blogosphere itself as one big norm violation.) My interactions with the school district about our school’s approach to behavior and discipline have convinced me that some of the prevailing norms serve only to perpetuate the status quo, and do not at all benefit the kids or improve their education. Don’t persist in asking a question when you don’t get an answer. Don’t publicly criticize anything that goes on in your kids’ school. Don’t expect school officials to publicly explain their reasons for their policies. Breaking these norms brings back some of those same feelings I felt during that Social Psychology homework assignment, but, against all my expectations, parenting has turned me into a serial norm violator.

I think something similar is happening in our school’s lunchroom. The school has the power to set rules and enforce them, but it can’t force the kids to buy into them or accept them as norms. Instead of recognizing that fact, the school is overestimating what it can achieve just by asserting authority over the kids. From what I hear, there are kids breaking rules in the lunchroom who seldom break them in their own classrooms, where the teachers have more successfully cultivated environments of cooperation and mutual respect. But creating an environment like that requires at least some consideration of whether your rules, and your efforts to enforce them, are reasonable and necessary. Like it or not, consensus is a two-way street.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is there anything I can do to get on-the-record answers to questions?

Apparently our school district officials might be willing to answer your questions directly as long as you do not hurt their feelings by criticizing their policies and practices, or by – Heaven forbid – publicizing what these public officials say to you. The superintendent’s response to my last email:
Thanks for writing to share you perspective on this issue. If you will indulge me, I feel the need to back up and explain not only this communication, but also other emails that I have previously sent to you.

I believe that true communication always occurs within a context. That context is based on the relationship of those communicating with each other. Although society has evolved to the point that many people are comfortable having "electronic only" relationships, this does not work for me. I am unable to ascertain as much from email dialog as I can from in-person communication. For this reason I have repeatedly entreated you to pick up the phone or schedule an appointment with me and/or other administrators in the District.

Given your propensity to take your question-and-answer email dialog and cut and paste content to your web site, your emails come across as accusatory, interrogatory, and intended to prove your point. I am going to assume that you will take affront to the previous sentence. I am also going to presume that in a face-to-face dialog with you, this conversation would feel very different for both of us. In fact, I would surmise that having this type of face-to-face dialog would influence the interpretation that both I and members of my administrative team may have regarding future email inquiries from you. However, absent the face-to-face dialog that I continue to advocate for, these assumptions can not be fully ascertained.

Given the above, neither I nor my administrative team are trying to make you jump through hoops. I am concerned about your perceptions about Hoover ES and would like to discuss these so that the administrative can better understand how and where to address these issues. We are merely asking you to engage us in a true dialog about these issues in person. If/when you are willing to do so, we will make ourselves available.
My response:
Thanks for the quick reply. I have certainly been critical of some district policies – that’s the whole point of sending these emails. But if the district sees all criticism as “accusatory, interrogatory, and intended to prove a point,” it’s created an awfully convenient recipe for never publicly responding to any challenging questions or criticism.

Rather than fuss over whether the criticism was posed with just the right degree of deference and eggshell-walking, why not just rise above it and provide a public answer? In the amount of time it must have taken for you to write your last email, you could have gone a long way toward explaining why the district has pursued these policies on lunch, behavior, and discipline. Instead, all the energy goes into explaining why you can’t just answer the questions. (I have to admit: I have no idea what you mean by discussing issues “in context,” or why that can’t occur in writing.)

No one likes being on the receiving end of criticism, but it is very hard for the public to evaluate school policies if the district refuses to publicly state reasons for them. I don’t understand how that can possibly be good for the schools, or the children who attend them. It’s hard to see how the district is any better off, for example, for having stonewalled Ed Stone’s questions for years. All it did was drag out the process of getting legitimate concerns addressed, cause transparency to become an issue in the school board elections, and leave the district with a bill for Stone’s attorneys’ fees. Now Iowa City is cited as one of the primary examples of why we need a stronger Open Records law. There must be more productive ways of engaging with criticism.

It’s not as if I’m the only person raising concerns about the atmosphere in elementary school lunchrooms. Lots of people have, in the Synesi audit, the lunch petition, in comments on my blog, and elsewhere. Surely they’re not all so accusatory that they don’t deserve an on-the-record response. (For what it’s worth, your own assistant superintendent thanked me in our last exchange for my “polite emails” and “civil interaction.”)

I should point out: when I ask who made a given decision, it’s not out of a desire to personalize these issues or seek any kind of consequences. It’s because I want to know why the decisions were made, and don’t even know whom to ask. The buck seems to stop nowhere.

In any event, I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to get the district to give a public, on-the-record response to these concerns. I’m worried that the meeting you’re describing wouldn’t lead to that. There’s no point in doing it if it’s just going to be a lot of non-committal talk that I’m not supposed to repeat publicly. Would you be open to recording the meeting?
I’m sure I will break down and arrange a meeting. But I sure would like to know what a guy has to do to get a public school official to give an on-the-record answer to a question about the district’s policies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

R.I.P., local control

The Iowa State House of Representatives has just passed this bill – because our state overseers cannot rest if even one school district is operating on a different calendar!

I have often thought it’s crazy that our district starts school so early in the year – this year on August 16. At the same time, though, I know that Iowa City is a university town, and I’m usually grateful that my kids are in school during that week, since I start teaching my own classes the following week.

Reasonable people could certainly disagree about the best time to start school. But what possible reason is there for the state to intervene?

Oh, I mean, other than boosting attendance at the state fair and making money for the tourism industry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The two least welcome questions

I guess I still have old-fashioned (naive?) ideas about how government in a democracy is supposed to work. One of them is that public debate over policy choices, even if it gets contentious at times, can only lead to better decisions. Another is that public officials, when asked, should explain the reasons for their decisions, so the public can engage in an informed consideration of whether those reasons make sense. The more openly and publicly those reasons are discussed, the more informed the community’s decisions can be.

The school system is certainly confounding my model. Publicly explaining the reasons for their decisions seems to be the very last thing that school officials want to do. As readers of this blog know, I recently had to submit a public records request to demonstrate that our school had exponentially increased its use of disciplinary measures this year, and even then the district took pains to explain away the numbers rather than give reasons for the change. Somehow, in this Age of Educational Accountability, the two least welcome questions are: Who made this decision, and why?

Last week I emailed the district to ask why our school has put so much emphasis this year on scolding the kids to be quiet in the lunchroom, to the point where the principal threatened to require assigned seats at lunch if the kids weren’t completely silent for the last few minutes of the lunch period. I won’t reprint the entire email here (you’ve heard most of it before),
but I concluded with this paragraph:
I am sending this email to both the principal and the central administrators because that is what the central administrators asked me to do in our previous exchange. But the only person who can explain why Hoover is pursuing these policies is the person making the decisions. Other local schools are not pursuing the same policies, so I assume that the person ultimately responsible for them is the principal. Can I please get an explanation of why the school has spent the past year haranguing the kids in the lunchroom for not meeting what are obviously unrealistic expectations, and why it is so important that there be utter silence while the lunchroom is being dismissed?
The superintendent’s response:
Thank you for sending your inquiries to us. Rather than engaging in a back-and-forth via email, I would ask you to contact [the principal and the assistant superintendent] (email or telephone) to set up a time to both visit the lunch and discuss your concerns. I am a firm believer in placing issues in the appropriate context and I believe that a visit to the lunch room would most likely be a good start to this dialog.
My response:
Thanks for getting back to me. I’m not against having a meeting or having lunch at Hoover, but I don’t understand why anyone should have to jump through hoops just to get an on-the-record answer to a question, or for that matter, what would be so bad about a “back-and-forth via email.” Why not just respond to questions with answers, instead of treating them as conflicts that need to be managed?

One of the reasons I ask these questions in emails is that I think it’s important that there be public discussion of public school policies. I’d like to be able to understand who is deciding what and why, and then to hold that reasoning up for public scrutiny. Asking me to have a meeting with school officials is not a substitute for that, unless you want to rely on me to accurately summarize what district staff members say in those meetings.

What is frustrating is that for the past three years, I’ve watched the district make school more and more about behavior and discipline, and about being quiet and obedient, to the point where I can barely recognize Hoover anymore. Yet the district has not only avoided articulating any reason for these changes, it’s avoided even acknowledging that anything has changed.

If something I’ve said about the lunchroom at Hoover is inaccurate, I wish someone would point it out. (No one has.) Otherwise, it remains unclear to me why the district can’t give straightforward answers to straightforward questions. Why is it important to require the kids to be utterly silent (“voice level zero”) at the end of lunch before they can be dismissed? Why is it a good idea to punish them with assigned seats if they don’t comply? Why is so much effort going into telling the kids to be quieter at lunch, when that wasn’t considered necessary in previous years? Is there any reason you can’t just tell me who made these decisions, and why?
This strategy of avoiding public answers genuinely puzzles me. It just makes the district look defensive, as if it lacks confidence in its own practices. I’m only one parent; I know I can’t force my views on a principal or the school superintendent. Why not just explain the reasons for these choices?

But – zOMG! – it might provoke a follow-up question!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lunchroom insanity continues

The war on lunchroom noise at our elementary school continues. Yesterday, the principal told the kids that if they were not totally silent during the last few minutes of lunch every day for the next week, they would have to sit at the tables in the order in which they come into the lunchroom – that is, that their seats would be assigned, and that they could not sit with their friends from other classrooms. But if they are sufficiently silent, they will be allowed to have music played during their Friday lunch – an offer that seems strangely inconsistent with the idea that the lunchroom is too noisy.

The principal also explained that the gym classes that are scheduled in that same room could not start on time if the kids took too long to become quiet – because the kids can’t possibly be dismissed if they are not first utterly silent, even though that was never required in previous years.

Despite three years of PBIS and a year-long campaign of haranguing the kids on a daily basis to be quieter, the school apparently still thinks the kids aren’t quiet enough. Some people might take that as a reason to reconsider whether the lunchroom expectations are reasonable or necessary, especially since the older kids can remember when lunch didn’t involve having their “voice levels” constantly policed, and lunch was a much more pleasant (though still short) experience.

It should be obvious – and apparently was obvious to previous Hoover administrations – that a large group of kids eating lunch is necessarily going to make some noise, and that there is nothing to be gained from setting unrealistic expectations and then constantly harassing the children for failure to meet them.

I sent an email last night asking why the school has turned lunch into such a negative, adversarial experience, and why it is so important that there be utter silence while the lunchroom is being dismissed. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Educational thalidomide, or What’s wrong with “evidence-based education”

Pregnant women should take thalidomide because research shows that it’s effective.
What’s wrong with that assertion? It’s true that thalidomide has been proven effective, as measured by its ability to reduce morning sickness. Why shouldn’t pregnant women take it, then? We all know the answer: because it has other effects, too – some of which, as we all now know, are terrible. Before taking a drug, you’d want to know what all of its effects were, and whether the good effects outweighed the bad. No one would argue that we should reduce morning sickness at all costs.

But that basic principle is completely absent from most discussions of empirical research on education. Educational “reformers” are eager to proclaim that their proposals “work” based on very incomplete information about their effects on children. If an intervention appears to cause short-term standardized test scores to rise, it is enthusiastically embraced, regardless of what its other effects may be. But does anyone think that we should raise test scores at all costs? If beating the kids made their test scores go up, is that all you would want to know about the practice?

Ultimately, test scores are just a proxy for something much harder to measure: whether we have achieved our educational goals by the time our kids reach adulthood. But as soon as you put it that way, you realize how pathetically inadequate those proxies are. Education has lots of goals: we want our kids to be proficient in reading and math, but we also want them to grow up to be independent, to be intellectually curious, to be appropriately skeptical, to be self-supporting, to be mentally and physically healthy, to participate willingly and capably in democratic self-government, to be ethical, and assertive, and honest, and brave, and kind, and fair, and to lead lives they find fulfilling. Many of these goals are impossible to assess empirically, especially over the long-term. Even if we could measure them, a rise in one value would often come at the expense of another. Trying to raise test scores too single-mindedly, for example, can produce stressed-out unhappy people who dislike learning. Similarly, an exclusive focus on reducing disciplinary referrals can turn schools into obedience training academies that teach authoritarian values. Where is the assessment of those effects?

“Evidence-based education” has an army of enthusiasts, but I have never heard a response from any of them on this basic point. There are gaping holes in their evidence, and they don’t seem to care at all. Yes, analysis is easier if you don’t hold more than one value in your head at a time, and if you don’t ask any questions that you don’t want to know the answer to. But is that the sign of a scientific mindset, of a respect for evidence and empiricism?

What is the response?

Quote of the week archive

I’ve had fun running the little sidebar titled, “Quote of the Week” – though I’ve used the term “week” very loosely – and have been meaning to create a post that would serve as an archive for the quotes that have appeared there. This post will now officially serve that purpose; I’ll update it each time I change the quote, and I’ll put a link to it in the sidebar.

Conscious that the internet overflows with spurious quotes, I make a genuine effort to source these quotes and link to the source whenever possible.

One of the first quotes I ran here was from fellow Iowa Citian Marilynne Robinson, a great defender of humane values in education. Her most recent book came out last month, and it led me to collect several new quotations from her recent essays. As much as I like the quotes, though, I don’t really want to turn the sidebar over to Robinson for a full two months. So I’m going to kick off the quote archive by running a new Robinson quote each day this week (though I may be using the word “day” loosely).

For the full quote archive, click on the “Read More” link.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It’s about time

From today’s Press-Citizen:
Changes in Store for Elementary Schools

As part of a series of changes being introduced in local elementary schools, Iowa City schoolchildren will get a full thirty minutes to eat their lunches every day, School Superintendent Steve Murley announced this week.

“We concluded that we owe it to our kids to give them time to eat a nutritious, unhurried meal with their friends,” Murley said.

The change came in response to increasing concerns expressed by parents and community members about the elementary school lunch period.

Some parents said that, taking transition time into account, their children had as little as ten minutes to sit and eat lunch.

Murley said that the school board, reacting to community sentiment, had made the change a priority.

According to Murley, building administrators had resisted the move, citing concerns about the loss of instructional time and its possible effects on student achievement.

“I reassured them that the district would stand behind their efforts to ensure that school is about more than just maximizing class time and test scores,” Murley said.

“Some things can’t be measured by tests,” Murley said. “Our district believes that real education has to start by treating kids with dignity and respect, as we all want to be treated.”

Murley added that there was no reason to believe that a longer lunch period would lower student achievement.

Murley also said that school principals would be discouraged from enforcing overly harsh rules about noise and “voice levels” in the lunchrooms.

“You can go overboard in trying to stop kids from being kids, and it can end up being counterproductive,” Murley said. “Our goal isn’t to produce docile, submissive robots.”

“Seriously, sometimes I don’t know what these people are smoking,” he added.

Finally, Murley said that the district was considering abandoning its use of the Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions (PBIS) program.

The program requires teachers to distribute frequent material rewards, such as bracelets made of colorful string, to students who display good behavior.

“It was a flop,” Murley said. “Parents complained about it, teachers resisted it, and then we messed up the recordkeeping so we couldn’t even assess what effect it had.”

“To top it off, it taught the worst possible values,” he added. “‘Do as I say so you can get a toy.’ Education by insult. Then we complain when the kids don’t respect us -- D’oh!” Murley said, hitting his forehead in an apparent imitation of television cartoon character Homer Simpson.

“We would have stopped it months ago, but then we would have had to give back the grant money,” Murley said. “Man, we learned our lesson with that one.”
Alas, I’m only kidding, of course. Happy April 1 anyway.