Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What parent engagement looks like

Guess which task force member was the only one to vote against adopting the Smarter Balanced Assessments (click to enlarge):

Hint: She’s the one with the shortest title.

More on the task force’s charge here..

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Local control, we hardly knew ye

At last we have a simple test for whether a legislator or state official has even a shred of belief (beyond empty lip service) in the idea of local control in education:
Do you believe that the state, rather than local school districts, should decide what day the school year must begin?
If there are any arguments for why that should be a state decision, rather than a local one, I have yet to see them anywhere.

Nearly every school district in Iowa has requested an exemption from the state-mandated start date, but the state knows better. After all, there are tourism and State Fair profits at stake. (There’s a petition here, if you’re interested.)

At the local level, of course, people can reasonably disagree about when the school year should start. Personally, I like the current calendar for our district. School starts awfully early, but so does the university calendar, which affects many parents in the district. Many university workers are nine-month employees, whose on-campus duties wrap up in May. Extending school until late June will simply shorten the summer for those families, since the parents have to be back on campus in mid-August regardless. Either that or the parents will pull their kids out of school in early June because the family’s summer plans take them elsewhere.

But surely there are people in the district who would prefer the later start (and even some who would prefer—ugh—year-round school). Fine, hash it out democratically and let the school board, not the state, decide.

Greener grass?

Here’s Paul Fussell, on teaching for a year at the University of Heidelberg in 1957:
As the year went on, I became increasingly disenchanted with the American university, with its nervous concern about student well-being (in every aspect except the intellectual) and its hypertrophied and needless administration, constructed, presumably, on “business” lines. I began to see American colleges as little more than overgrown and pretentious high schools, where genuine education seemed increasingly unlikely. It was hard to forget Mencken’s satire of the American “proliferation of colleges.” “They are even spattered,” he notes, “over such barbaric States as Mississippi and North Dakota, where it would be dangerous to be educated in any real sense.”

The University of Heidelberg allowed students to live where they pleased in town. There were no “dormitories.” Their social and sexual lives were regarded as their own business, the university having no deans, counselors, or “relationship advisors.” The university assumed that students, being adults, could have their misbehavior, if any, attended to by the police, not the university, which had quite a different mission, the development of intellect, a mission performed by no other social institution. At Heidelberg there were only three “administrative officers.” There was a president, elected from the faculty each year. He (never she—this was the 1950s) occupied the presidential office for a year and, while continuing his scholarship, performed the few ceremonial duties attaching to the office. There was a bursar, who took in the students’ and the state’s money and made it over, in appropriate shares, to the faculty. And there was a housing officer, who helped the students find lodgings with the town’s many landladies and adjudicated the inevitable disputes with them. There was no provost, no alumni officer, no vice president in charge of development, no head of the division of athletics, no coaches, no head of academic advising (the students were assumed to be bright enough to find in the catalog what they were interested in), no Office of Alcohol and Drug Education, no Budget Office, no Career Planning and Placement Office, no university chaplain, and no “bookstore” selling more T-shirts and condoms than books. The students attended the lectures and seminars they considered useful adjuncts to their continuous reading. The point was to pass examinations at the end of their university years, and any way they prepared themselves was fine.
I’m not at all convinced that the kind of university Fussell describes would educate people more effectively than the ones we have in “barbaric” America today, but I can’t say I’m all that sure it would do worse, either. Maybe universities have always been more about credentialing than educating, in which case a system that makes the credential much, much more expensive has a lot to answer for. In any event, it’s always interesting to see that there are alternatives to the things we take for granted.