There was a good 'Speakout' article in yesterday's Rocky Mountain News. It is gratifying to me that in Colorado there are at least two educators who agree that there is too much regulation, bureaucracy and red tape foisted upon our teachers.
The key to real reform in the context of this opinion piece, and the point it makes, is that we need the state and federal legislatures to start repealing their micromanaging mandates on LOCAL school districts.
I've also included a link to an article reporting a study showing that one in ten high schools in this country have become 'dropout factories'. Of course, a study like this drives the educrats and politicians crazy ... how can it be with all the testing and testing and testing curriculum that is now in place? How can that be with the "equitable" environment and "we are family" slogans chanted by adminstrators and principals?
Well, the burden of regulation and the fear of lawsuits is turning schools into sterile, joyless institutions where kids just don't want to be ... hmmm ... how hard is that to figure out?
Real reform means getting back to the task of teaching, by teachers, without 'big brother' adminstrator demanding to know everything that is going on in the teacher's and student's mind.
Decentralize and deregulate -- a good place to start.
(I've also put at the bottom of this post an interesting account of how the educrats in one partuicular school district are trying to silence and crush dissent.)
A multitude of complex and often counterproductive laws, rules and policies, which increase a fear of litigation, are undercutting education in Colorado. That's the troubling message from a recent focus group study commissioned by Common Good Colorado, a nonpartisan organization working to restore common sense to Colorado law.
The report, The New Three R's: Rules, Regulations and More Rules, prepared by an independent professional focus group firm, presents the results of 12 focus groups composed of teachers and administrators from rural, suburban and urban districts across Colorado. Its findings include the following alarming facts:
• More than half of the teachers said they had been threatened with a lawsuit.
• Almost two-thirds of teachers and administrators said they experience a high to moderate degree of legal fear almost daily.
• More than three-quarters of the participants rated the extent of legal and regulatory burdens, on a scale of 1 to 10, as 5 or higher; and half rated their burden as 7 or higher.
• Nearly three-quarters of the participants reported spending 20 percent or more of their time on activities mandated by some rule or law that doesn't make sense to them.
While the educators had no argument with the original intent and purpose of many of the laws and policies, they were distressed by the cumulative burden and compliance nightmare that occurs at the school level. They were particularly frustrated by paperwork without perceived purpose, a lawsuit culture that has changed the way they teach and how students learn, and by laws and rules that they do not believe serve the best interests of their students. ...
... As veterans of successful and unsuccessful attempts to improve student achievement, we agree with the focus group participants that rules, regulations and more rules are the elephants in the room with respect to school reform. We must carefully assess the impact of current laws, rules and policies on teaching and learning. We must ensure that policies handed down from above help, rather than hinder, efforts to provide a sound education for our students. And, most important, we must not pass laws that preclude the exercise of common sense in their implementation.
Therefore, it is imperative that our elected officials, as they consider proposed bills for the 2008 legislative session, use common sense by not passing bills that will further burden our already overstressed education system with counterproductive compliance requirements. ... MORE
It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: "Dropout Factory," a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That dubious distinction applies to more than one in 10 high schools across America.
"If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?" asks Bob Balfanz, the researcher at Johns Hopkins University who defines such a school as a "dropout factory."
There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either.
While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, Balfanz says. The data tracked senior classes for three years in a row - 2004, 2005 and 2006 - to make sure local events like plant closures weren't to blame for the low retention rates. ...
... The current law requires testing in reading and math once in high school, and those tests take on added importance because of serious consequences for a school that fails. Critics say that creates a perverse incentive for schools to encourage kids to drop out before they bring down a school's scores. ... MORE
The public school district has officially demanded that parent Sandra Tetley remove what it says is libelous material from her Web site or face a lawsuit for defamation.
Tetley received a letter Monday from the district’s law firm demanding she remove what it termed libelous statements and other “legally offensive” statements posted by her or anonymous users, and refrain from allowing such postings in the future. If she refuses, the district plans to sue her, the demand letter states.
Tetley said she’ll review the postings cited by David Feldman of the district’s firm Feldman and Rogers. She’ll consider the context of the postings and consult attorneys before deciding what to delete.
“If it’s not worth keeping in there, I’ll take it out,” she said. “If in fact it is libelous, I have no problem taking it down.”
Libel Or Opinion?
Feldman said Tetley’s Web site — www.gisdwatch.com — contained the most “personal, libelous invective directed toward a school administrator” he’s seen in his 31-year career.
“It is not the desire of the School District, the Board, or this Firm to stifle free expression or inhibit robust debate regarding matters pertaining to the operation of the public schools,” Feldman wrote in the demand letter. “This is solely about the publication of materials that clearly go beyond that which is legally and constitutionally encouraged and permitted, and into the realm of what is legally offensive and actionable.”
Feldman cited 16 examples of what he says are libelous postings. Half were posted by Tetley; the other half were posted by anonymous users.
The postings accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.
Tetley said the postings were opinions only.
“Everyone deserves to have their opinion,” she said. “I don’t think they have a right to make me, or anyone else, take down criticisms of them off the Web site. They’re not going to force us to take off our opinions because we have no other place to go.”
Tetley said she had not removed any of the postings as of late Tuesday.
One legal expert said the district’s move to sue Tetley is rare and unlawful. Under the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, government entities cannot sue for libel — any court would toss out the “threatening” suit as being inconsistent with U.S. law, said Sandra Baron, executive director of New-York based Media Law Resource Center. She called the district’s potential lawsuit an intimidation tactic and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Feldman said the district is only asking Tetley to remove a small percentage of postings on her site that he says accuse trustees and administrators of breaking the law. They’re not trying to shut down the blog or eliminate postings, he said.
“How can that be threatening or initmidating?” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of dialogue, if you will, on that Web log that we’re not touching with a pole ... What we leave is this huge field of free expression and discourse. There’s debate and then there’s libel. Debate all you want, criticize all you want, but don’t accuse people of committing crimes when you have absolutely no evidence to support that.”
More than 130 registered users post on Tetley’s site. Since trustees threatened legal action, more people have been visiting the site and posting, Tetley said. She said she planned to post Feldman’s letter on the site.
“People are very tired of what this type of government is doing,” Tetley said. “They are using our money to silence us.”
The law firm monitored the site for months before trustees took action. Board President David O’Neal said the postings deter potential employees from working at the district.
Tetley and her group, Galveston Alliance for Neighborhood schools, has long criticized the district for reconfiguring its middle schools, closing elementary schools, meeting in executive sessions some claimed were illegal, refusing to divulge the contents of a letter from a civil rights consultant and for issuing a budget forecast that was off by $10 million.
The district’s controversial reconfiguration, to go into effect in 2008-09, prompted Tetley to start the site.
It’s often difficult to prove a public official has been libeled. Aside from proving the libelous statements are damaging, public officials must also prove actual malice. Actual malice means knowing a statement is false or having reckless disregard for the truth.