Tag Archives: school districts

Ten Signs Your Child Is in a Failing School District

Chairs and desks in a classroom

In these days of Common Core State Standards and continuing attacks on public education by billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for legislators, parents need a few guidelines on how to tell if their child is in a failing school district.

It has nothing to do with low scores on state-mandated standardized tests and more to do with the culture in the school district.

Here are 10 signs that your child is in a failing school district:

1. The large majority of your teachers have less than five years of experience– The best schools have solid veteran teaching forces, mixing in talented newcomers each year as teachers retire or move into administration or other job opportunities. When you run off your veteran teachers, you not only do not have teachers who can mentor the younger staff members and help them reach their full potential, but you also are increasing the odds that you are going to hire some less gifted teachers just to fill the vacancies. That makes it that much harder to understand why so many state legislatures are appropriating millions for inexperienced Teach for America instructors instead of spending that money to keep their best teachers in the classroom.

2. Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data– Any time teachers are spending more time providing data for the bean counters in administration, it is a good indication that your school has gone astray. Most of that data is supplied through the use of one practice standardized test after another. In recent years, the situation has grown worse with many school districts adding costly practice tests given multiple times during the year. These not only take away from instructional time, but they also strip the children of any love of learning and they provide overly generous fees to the testing companies. What is worse, the expensive practice tests, whether students do well on them or not, provide no guarantee of success on the high stakes test at the end of the school year.

3. Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues– In our ravenous quest for more and more data, one of the worst things that has occurred was the decision to measure a school’s safety by its numbers of incidents, referrals, and suspensions. It was a natural progression for administrators, both at upper and lower levels, to find ways to game the system and avoid climbing statistics. In some schools, this has been done by encouraging teachers to handle every kind of situation in their classrooms and not involve the principal’s office. Teachers receive the message that they are the ones who will suffer if students are given referrals. Because of that, behavior that would have been met with an instant office referral only a few years ago, is allowed to continue in the classroom and creates even more distractions for teachers and students.

4. Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data– An alarming trend the past few years has been the transition of professional development from learning techniques that will help the teacher to improve teaching and classroom management techniques to attempts to forcefully install a culture that would seem more desirable in a business than in an institution of learning. Much of this has come from the proliferation of consultants and motivational speakers who latched on to public schools after the implementation of No Child Left Alive and have yet to loosen their grip.

5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism– At one time, the top administrators in public school districts were invariably educators who worked their way through the system, spending years in the classroom before going into administration. Nowadays, many top administrators have only spent three years or less in the classroom and are more like CEOs and executive vice presidents than educators. This had led to a culture shift with an overemphasis on public relations. Anyone in the school district or in the community who dares to question a decision is accused of trying to “hurt the children” or “attack teachers.” When administrators surround themselves with yes-men and strictly control the message, it makes it much more likely that mistakes are going to be made, at a cost to the children and to the taxpayers.

6. School Board members serve as rubber stamps– Over the past few decades, the role of boards of education has changed dramatically. In many communities, the board of education acts more like the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company, rubber stamping whatever the superintendent or top administrator does without question. That is not what voters expect when they elect school board members. Obviously, you do not want to have board members looking over administrators’ shoulders every minute of every day, but when the board of education places blind trust in anyone it increases the odds that something disastrous will happen. One of the major criticisms lodged against board members is that they “have an agenda,” as if that is something bad. If the agenda is to stop out-of-control spending, or place more emphasis on education, what is wrong with that? When boards serve as rubber stamps for any administrator, they are effectively taking away local control of our school districts.

7,. The community is not involved in its schools- In many school districts, the community is kept at arm’s length until it is time to pass another bond issue or tax levy increase. Or the community involvement is restricted to a carefully selected group of business and civic leaders or the spouses of those leaders. A successful school district is one in which the involvement is organic and comes from all segments of the community, not just the ones who are needed when it comes time to ask for money. In some school districts, the community is asked for its input and then guided to give the input the administrators are seeking so they can say whatever initiative they have has the support of the community. That is not community involvement; that is pure spin.

8. The district is top heavy with administrators- While there is certainly a need to have strong, capable administrators directing a school district, administration tends to grow far more than is necessary, using funds that could be spent much better in the classroom. Rule of thumb, the more executive directors of anything that you have, the more problems your school district is going to have.

9. An overemphasis has been placed on technology– While it would seem that the more emphasis placed on technology in this day and age the better, that is simply not the case. With many schools adding laptops, iPads, and other devices that students can take home with them, districts have begun a push to incorporate the technology into every lesson, complete overkill that works against the student in the long run. While it is vital that students are able to handle technology, it is just as important that they are able to participate in discussions, listen to lectures (schools are eliminating these and that creates a problem for students when they go on to higher education), and take notes. If your school district is pushing the idea that everything can be learned by consulting Google then your child is being shortchanged.

10. Not enough emphasis is being placed on civics and citizenship– In the push to make sure everyone is “college and career ready,” many schools are depriving children of some of the most important knowledge they should receive- how to participate in their society as an informed voter, who has the understanding of what this country is all about. While it is important that students be ready to work, the idea that they should be doing so during their high school years at the expense of learning about government, history, and the things they need to know to be a full participant in our society is ludicrous.

This list leaves off other important factors- poverty, crime, and how many billionaires you have who are trying to force privatization of education down your throat, but for those who want to make a difference at a local level, these are the danger signs that your district is failing.

via Huff Post




Six of the nation’s largest school districts dump polystyrene trays.


This is an image of the new school lunch plate that some of the largest school districts in the country are using instead of polystyrene trays. It’s made from recycled paper, and the plates — and any food scraps — can be turned into compost. (Urban School Food Alliance/Urban School Food Alliance)

Six of the largest U.S. school districts have pooled their collective purchasing power to make significant changes to school lunch, and they’re starting by jettisoning the polystyrene tray.

The Urban School Food Alliance, a coalition that includes the school systems of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando, has commissioned a school lunch dish that is made from recycled newsprint and can be turned into compost after use.

The plate replaces trays made from polystyrene — most commonly known by the Dow Chemical brand name Styrofoam — a petroleum-based plastic that gets buried in landfills after use. Polystyrene, which can remain intact for hundreds of years, leaches pollutants into the water and air and is a major source of marine debris. (Dow notes that though many people erroneously refer to polystyrene drink and food containers as Styrofoam, the company’s material is not used to make food containers and instead is used as construction and insulation material and for floral and craft products.)

For those reasons, communities around the country are increasingly banning polystyrene containers — including the District, where the city’s restaurants and food trucks will have to give up foam plastic containers by January and the school system has transitioned away from the material. The Montgomery County Council voted in January to ban polystyrene containers by 2017, and the county’s school system has stopped using foam food-service trays.

Still, school districts across the country have clung to polystyrene trays because they are cheaper than compostable containers, costing an average of four cents each compared with 12 cents apiece for plates that can be composted.

But the six members of the Urban School Food Alliance leveraged economies of scale and commissioned a compostable tray at a cost of 4.9 cents each.

“We decided to grow our way out of a problem, to use our power as buyers to join with other large cities and use that purchasing power to move the market,” said Eric Goldstein, chief executive of the Office of School Support Services at the New York City Department of Education, which serves 860,000 meals a day, more than any other institution outside of the U.S. military. “It started out being three times more expensive, but now it’s a wash.”

>>> Read more


Schools Warned On Pushing Families Into Due Process


The U.S. Department of Education is urging school districts to look to mediation and other informal methods to resolve disputes over special education services. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Federal education officials are warning school districts to think twice before forcing parents into potentially long and costly due process proceedings.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, families may pursue due process or file a state complaint if they don’t believe their child has been provided appropriate school services.

However, in a “Dear Colleague” letter to education leaders across the country, officials at the U.S. Department of Education said this month that they are concerned that some school districts are moving to file for due process over issues that parents have already chosen to address via state complaints.

Such circumstances can put parents in a tough spot, the guidance notes, because states are required to wait for a due process hearing to conclude before they can take up any portion of a state complaint that is also the subject of a due process proceeding.

“It appears that in some instances, public agencies may have filed due process complaints against parents in an effort to prevent the state complaint process from moving forward,” reads the letter from Sue Swenson, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, and Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs.

“This type of action … may unreasonably limit parents’ dispute resolution options, and force parents either to participate in a potentially more adversarial, lengthy and costly due process complaint and hearing, or to fail to participate in the due process complaint and hearing and thereby risk the hearing official’s ruling in favor of the public agency,” the guidance states.

The Education Department told stakeholders that it “strongly believes” that it’s best for school districts to honor the choices of parents in selecting a forum for resolving special education disputes.

Pushing parents who have already filed a state complaint into due process harms the “cooperative process” and is “contrary to congressional intent,” according to the letter from Swenson and Musgrove which urges schools to pursue mediation or other informal steps of resolving issues before turning to due process.

Source: Disability Scoop




Speech Outside of School

Teachers do not forfeit the right to comment publicly on matters of public importance simply because they accept a public school teaching position. Teachers cannot be fired or disciplined for statements about matters of public importance unless it can be demonstrated that the teacher’s speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning. A teacher’s off-campus statements regarding the war or participation in an off-campus political demonstration are not acceptable bases for job discipline or termination.

Speech Inside the Classroom

A teacher appears to speak for the school district when he or she teaches, so the district administration has a strong interest in determining the content of the message its teachers will deliver. While courts sometimes protect the academic freedom of college and university professors to pursue novel teaching methods and curriculum, these principles do not apply with equal force to K-12 teachers. It does not violate a teacher’s free speech rights when the district insists, for example, that she teach physics and not political science, or that she not lead students in prayer – even though both have the result of limiting what the teacher says in the classroom.

Washington courts have upheld the authority of school districts to prescribe both course content and teaching methods. Courts in other jurisdictions have ruled that teachers have no free speech rights to include unapproved materials on reading lists.

Although the boundaries are not precise, there are limits to a school district’s ability to control teachers’ controversial speech in the classroom. Courts have sometimes ruled that schools may not punish teachers for uttering particular words or concepts in class that are otherwise consistent with the school curriculum, where the school has no legitimate pedagogical purpose for the restriction, or where the restriction harms students’ ability to receive important ideas that are relevant to the curriculum.

A school district might choose not to include discussion about a controversial issue in its curriculum and direct teachers to avoid the topic unless it arises through student contributions to classroom discussion. Depending on the circumstances, a court might well approve such a rule. This assumes that the school is neutral in its implementation of the rule. If a school permits anti-war lesson plans but forbids pro-war lesson plans, such action would raise questions about viewpoint discrimination.

>>> Read more 



Black Lives Matter—at School, Too


“Black lives matter! The EAA is killing me!” On December 5, students at Eastern Michigan University staged a die-in at their school’s Board of Regents meeting, after the board voted to continue its partnership with the Education Achievement Authority, the controversial state-run district which has taken over fifteen Detroit public schools since its inception in 2012. Almost two weeks later, on December 17, when Baltimore’s school board voted to shut down the first of five schools, high school students also staged a die-in, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “The school board has failed us!” The board soon fled. Without missing a beat, the students took the commissioners’ chairs and held a community forum on the closures. The next day in an uncoordinated action in Philadelphia, public school student organizers staged a die-in in front of their district building, mourning the 2013 loss of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died from an asthma attack after being sent home from a school with no nurse on duty.

Like most majority black school districts in America, the school districts of Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia regularly suffer school closures, high teacher attrition, understaffed schools and increasingly crowded classrooms. But while these deprivations are often written off as the inevitable result of urban white flight and depreciating tax bases, the reality is not so simple. In the neoliberal era, urban school districts’ financial woes have been aggravated by state takeovers, gratuitous budget cuts and wasteful privatization efforts. As black student activists nationwide have made clear in these recent demonstrations, public school austerity, like police brutality, is another form of racist state violence. Public school austerity, driven in part by the much-celebrated school reform movement, assaults these students’ central community institutions, crams them into over-policed schools, and reduces their education to preparation for the low wage workforce rather than democratic self-determination.


Nurses in Prince George’s will administer vaccines at 15 schools.

Susan Brown

According to Washington Post report and our recent exposure, Nurses are administering vaccines to students at 15 middle schools in Prince George’s County this week as the county makes a final push for students to get their required vaccinations before Friday’s deadline.

More than 3,000 students in Prince George’s still needed their vaccinations as of last week and they are in danger of not being able to attend school after the deadline.

County school officials said they have used an aggressive outreach effort to remind parents of the impending deadline.

Max Pugh, a spokesman for the school system, said permission slips are available on the school districts Web site at http://www.pgcps.org or at the individual schools. The vaccines will be administered during the day.

The schools providing the vaccines are:

  1.  Benjamin Tasker MS
  2. Charles Carroll MS
  3. Drew Freeman MS
  4. Dwight D. Eisenhower MS
  5. Ernest Everett Just MS
  6. G. James Gholson MS
  7. Greenbelt MS
  8.  Hyattsville MS
  9. Isaac Gourdine MS
  10. James Madison MS
  11. Kenmoor MS
  12. Oxon Hill MS
  13. Thomas Johnson MS
  14. Thurgood Marshall MS
  15. William Wirt MS

Angela M. Wakhweya, chief of school health policy, services and innovation, said the school district concentrated its efforts on the middle schools because the majority of the students who have not received the vaccines are in the seventh grade.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agreed last month to grant a 45-day extension to several school districts after superintendents raised concerns about children missing school because they could not meet the original deadline. Oct. 31 is the new deadline set for Prince George’s County, which has the largest number of students in the state who still need vaccines.