Thursday, May 17, 2007

Olentangy Middle School Study

In continued honor of Jamie Stabl's call-out, I am going to post some pertinent articles once again.

First, a comment or two, or three ...

1. A 1000 new students a year: Sure sounds like a lot. Yet, consider that these students enter many different buildings. And, at each building, these students are divided among many grades and sections. So, we are talking only two or three new students per classroom on average -- students new to the district. Of course, all of the students are new to the teacher in any given year. While 1000 sounds like a lot in the aggregate, it's really nothing at the classroom level.

2. Blue Ribbon School: The reality is that 50% of schools that fill out a Blue Ribbon School application get a site visit. And, 98% of those receive a Blue Ribbon School award. The Blue Ribbon School award is not so much a reflection of quality of programs, it is more a reflection of the time and effort spent filling out the application. Keep in mind that the award is a function of government, so it is by nature one of compliance -- based of the ability to correctly fill out an application -- more that it is one of quality.

3. College Freshmen Remediation Rate: The Ohio Board of Regents -- the oversight body for Ohio's public colleges and universities -- keeps track of remediation rates of students who enter an Ohio college or university. Typically, over 30% of Olentangy students require a remedial course in either reading or math -- the past two years show the rate at 37% and 36% respectively. Given the demographics of the district, those are truly unacceptable scores. The district can say whatever it wants, but Ohio's colleges and universities see the district in different light altogether -- an uncomplimentary one at that.

Those really are some very inconvenient truths about the district.

So, how does the district react to the challenges of poor outcomes given the quality of students that enter its schools ...

Reacting to a challenge

It is always interesting to read about the reactions of different organizations to challenges. In the free market, a slight change in consumer preference is enough for companies, large or small, to reorganize in order to better address the future. In the public sector, the same response never seems to occur. Witness the Olentangy Local School Distict.

The educational outcomes of district middle schools have suffered over the years. In real terms, students are being shortchanged with regard to their education while the staff gets to implement whatever programs they choose.

While serving on the board, I fought for years to see improvements, being met each time by administrators functioning as roadblocks. After badgering fellow board members long enough about the fact that living in the achievement cellar is no place for a district with strong demographics, I was finally able to get the board to instruct the administration to study the district's middle school program. Given the energy I expended over the years to have the administration review its lagging scores, I still have a very personal interest in the results of this study.

Well, the Middle School Study Update was delivered to the board in January. Where you would find reorganization in the private sector, you simply find re-entrenchment in the public schools. This should not be shocking, as re-entrenchment is the standard government response to any challenge.

Read the study and you will find no mention of any review of core curricular programs, such as math. In fact, you won’t see the word math anywhere in the report. Sure, math scores are well below similar districts, yet the Olentangy response is to embrace the mishmash that is public education in the US. Instead of concentrating on the areas of weakness and advocating for improvements, the study simply calls for more game clubs, service learning, etc., all in an environment that includes a “fully integrated, exploratory curriculum” – whatever that bit of edu-speak means.

Remember, it is the core subjects like math that are lagging, yet the district concentrates on providing “a variety of course offerings including accelerated content courses and exploratory courses in Physical Education and Health, World Languages, Technology, Music, Art, and Family/Consumer Sciences.”

Instead of facilitating maximum learning, the district seeks to “(e)ngage students in the ownership and decision-making of the curricular experiences” and to “(f)ocus on experiential, tangible activities that engage students.”

Can’t they simply teach math, and teach it right? Maybe they could, just maybe, if they got out of the business of indoctrinating and into the business of educating.

So, the district taxpayers are forced to pay for the programs that satisfy the staff, while students suffer and taxes rise. Not much of a solution. But, then, what else would you expect?

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