Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another UCSD Hare-Brained Scheme . . .

Superintendent Skermont has announced another expensive reorganization/reshuffling of grades in the Utica School System that would allow her to spend big construction bucks.
  • 10 Elementary Schools Grades K-6
  • 2 Middle Schools Grades 7-8. (Donovan, Gen. Herkimer)
  • 1 "9th Grade Academy" (JFK)
  • 1 High School Grades 10-12.
Children need "stability" in their environment. It's tough enough for kids to change schools twice -- but three times?

That's NUTS.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a person aimlessly wandering around the shopping mall with a plethora of “taxpayer gifted birthday money” just burning a hole in their pocketbook. The ridiculous mindset being the urgency of having to spend it before it disappears in a puff of smoke.

What about the students? They’re only treated as mere window dressing anyways. It is quite apparent that education is secondary to the Administrator’s self perpetuating need to engage in empire building. I recall when there was a time when student integration was all the rage. In the past School Administrators structured their lame argument against homeschooling as the apparent lack of any socialization among the student population. However now, because of this money burning a hole in the old pocketbook, ostracizing the ninth grade from the student population from the other grades seems to trump the phantom student assimilation argument.

When did it become so crucial that any shoddy justification to advance school district empire building and haphazardly spend taxpayer money outweigh educating the students?

Anonymous said...

First, get the whole story.
There are several topics for discussion in the coming UCSD capital plan, not all of which deserve a broad brush of condemination right up front.
Why it's important to me.
I live in Utica. No one in my family has ever been employed by the UCSD (but I've volunteered my time), and both my children graduated and are now having great success in their lives. I'm concerned about how we will keep our school buildings current and attractive to newcomers. But I'm more concerned with drop-out rates and student success which is why I'm also a proponent of focused and intensive interventions when appropriate, such as...
A 9th Grade Academy.
Do a little research and you'll discover from an academic standpoint, this approach is recognized as a best practice and addresses academic and age-related issues specific to an historically at-risk community such as ours. And kids are resilient (a lot more than their parents) when moving from school to school.
Spending from a state-wide fund is better than from local property taxes.
Regarding spending capital funds for maintenance, technology and reconstruction, there is no doubt we need to be sure the spending is critical and wise. But, there is also no doubt that if we don't use the opportunity to upgrade buildings when local dollars are at a minimum we'll all start complaining when the only dollars availble for upgrade are the property tax.
The Devil is in the Details.
There are few people who have been as critical of the UCSD as me over time. And, the plan as presented is not my 100% favorite... but's it's over 75% to me right now and that's worth serious discussion.
Trust, but Verify.
Of course, my first consideration will be oversight and project management. If safeguards and citizen oversight are not clear and strong, I'll reconsider my position. But I'm willing to look at all the details and particularly how the plan will improve school success for Utica students, before painting a broad brush of negatism.

Strikeslip said...

9th Grade Adademy a recognized "Best Practice" -- for "at risk" kids?

You speak the edu-jargon the educrats have been using over the years to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

The educrats used similar terms to describe "open classrooms" (classrooms without walls) 40 years ago -- and these have proven to be a disaster. You simply cannot cannot accept what these people say -- at least not without a lot of your own thought -- and an examination of their track record. The millennium project was to be the be all and end all -- but that has been a disaster too.

Children want structure in their environment, whether it is at home or at school. Change is necessary -- its part of growing up. But why subject them to a change of schools one year, only to have to do it again the following? Just as they get used to one place they have to move again. I think its crazy and I think it is only an excuse to spend money.

Anonymous said...

Change is not always bad.
You didn't address the specific point I made, that 9th grade academies are proving to be a successful approach for at-risk communities.
My past interest and actions have focused on the Utica Schools.
I have a deep interest in education, based on my education, professional and volunteer experiences. But I'm not a teacher or educator, so I study up and learn what works, what doesn't, and what are considered research-based "best practices". Most people who know me understand I don't just make up new positions based on the flavor of the month. In fact, I've been a proponent of the 9th Grade Academy for many years, including during my term on the Board of Education. And most know I do my research, which is what I'd like to offer you as I have anyone who asked.
Web link to resources.
Not wanting to pay for a large copier bill, I compiled a list of relevent web links on the research and discussions about 9th grade academies and other successful secondary school structures. It's not a real blog, just a free web site making the links convenient. I've shared this widely, just for the purpose of encouraging discussion on this topic.
Link: http://bbrodsky.blogspot.com/
Feel free to review, and share.

Strikeslip said...

Mr. B - Thank you for sharing your links. I have reviewed all of them.
While you allege that 9th grade academies are "proving" to be a successful approach, the information is anecdotal at best and conclusory opinion at worst. Some may call it "hype."

None of the papers you have linked to are scientific in nature. While some of the papers appear to detail particular experiences of "success" with 9th grade academies they also discuss other interventions implemented simultaneously such as special remedial help, block scheduling, and after school programs -- interventions which may be making a difference and which do NOT depend on the creation of a 9th Grade Academy. In science, only one variable is permitted in an experiment. Much of what is called "research" in the education field is really only opinion with scattered facts thrown in to add a patina of credibility.

The introduction to "Grade Configuration: Who Goes Where" (one of your links) really says it all:
"What is the best configuration of grades for K-12 schooling? Is it
an elementary school, followed by a middle school, followed by a
four-year high school? Or are there advantages to a K-8 school, followed
by a four-year high school? Which middle-school configuration
better promotes social adjustment—grades six through
eight, five through eight, seven through eight, or seven through
nine? Are there advantages to alternative grade spans at the elementary
level, such as K-3 and four through six? What is the
function of a ninth-grade center? In which setting do sixth- or
eighth-graders achieve best? Why do we have age-related grades?

Research has not provided definitive answers to the myriad
possible questions about grade span
, but the questions have
never gone away. They are questions which arise whenever
school reform, increasing or declining enrollment, or financial
considerations bring about a reorganization of existing schools,
the building of new schools, or consolidation of districts. As
one article on the subject puts it, “Grade organization remains
a controversial topic in American education as it has for at least
80 years” (Jenkins & McEwin, 1992). . . . " [bold supplied]

I've followed the education field on and off since the late 60's as a college student, teacher, parent, school board member, and plain citizen. It is dominated by "fads," all of which supposedly were backed by research. "Whole Language" reading instruction, "open classrooms," "child-centered learning," "outcome based education," "block scheduling," "alternative education," grading "rubrics" etc etc. ad nauseum. In New York State we've had the "Regents Action Plan," "The Compact for Learning," "Shared Decision Making" and "Higher Standards." With all the new research and new programs and huge sums of money being spent, we should be graduating geniuses . . . . but (anecdotally) it seems that today's college graduates can't do what high schoolers or even 8th graders did 2 or 3 generations ago when it comes to every day living.

Ultimately, whether you are a school board member, a voter on a school referendum, a parent, or a taxpayer, you need to decide what and who to believe. I've learned not to accept at face value what so-called experts tell me, especially in the "education" field. I will look at what they have to say, but weigh it against my own experience.

I've already explained that I think a separate 9th grade academy causes an unnecessary disruption in the sequence of students moving from school to school. I did not even touch on financial considerations to oppose it such as the cost of having to collect students city-wide to go to the 9th grade school, then cover the same territory to collect students city-wide to go to the high school. But I guess cost, air pollution and traffic disruption should not be a consideration when our children are concerned.
You may rely on academic hype if you wish. I don't buy it.