Sunday, October 6, 2013

Common Core, Charter Schools, and Other 10/1 Highlights

This week's board meeting was a little livelier than the last few-- we actually had protestors holding up signs in the audience.   They were there due to concerns about Common Core, the new set of education standards being rolled out nationwide.    You can read more about the discussion, and the incident where one of the protestors yelled out to the board, at the article in this week's Argus.    I don't think the protestor was justified in the rude outburst accusing our assistant superintendent, Steve Larson, of a "Lie", though our staff might do a better job of preparing to answer questions during presentations on this controversial topic.    One issue that consistently bothers me about public CC discussions by its sponsors is that they treat the other side as a bunch of mentally unstable kooks (not helped by outbursts during a meeting!), instead of trying to understand the details of some very real concerns.    On the other hand, protesting it is somewhat futile at this level anyway, as it's been imposed on us by the state of Oregon.  

During the discussion, I brought up some issues related to my concerns about CC (you can review this blog entry  for more).    I asked Steve if it was correct to label Common Core an unfunded mandate from the state, and he insisted that it wasn't, because the district periodically revises the curriculum anyway.    But I remain skeptical of this point:  is it really the case that statewide, not one more cent is spent on curriculum materials or teacher training due to the major changes made in CC?    And without CC, would it really be the case that, for example, Algebra has changed so radically in the last ten years that totally new materials & training would be needed?   My other big question was on how we will do apples-to-apples comparisons between last year's students & those 4 years from now to prove CC isn't dumbing down the curriculum.    He had a better answer here, that the ACT would be a constant yardstick we could use.    We need to watch this carefully though-- will there be moves to modify the ACT to sync with Common Core?

Other highlights of the Tuesday meeting included a joint session with the Hillsboro City Council.   It was mostly a touchy-feely get-together with barely any real agenda.    A joint School Board / City Council meeting seemed a bit redundant to me, as the school district has the council pretty well-infiltrated:   members include Tobias Elementary principal Steve Callaway, Hillsboro Schools Foundation director Aron Carleson, and HilHi assistant principal Olga Acuna.   (I actually have mixed feelings about employees of one body of government being so involved in managing another body of governement... but that's another discussion.)    We divided into pairs to discuss ideas for ways the schools and city could better collaborate, pretty much coming up with what you would expect:  joint projects in areas the city sponsors like arts and recreation, internships with city utilities, etc.    The reservoir project, where the city turned new reservoir work into an engineering class for kids as well, was a great example of the schools and city collaborating.    Being a believer in minimal government (==> each government level should concentrate on what it's designed to do, rather than looking for grand initiatives), I think my other favorite suggestion from the list was giving priority to repaving sidewalks near elementary schools with lots of walkers.

Then, finally, there was yet another contentious debate on charter schools.   I won't bother rehashing too much here, since you've seen most of it in my blog before, and there was a nice article in the Argus that covered the major points.   I was most amused by the fact that the first 10 minutes were spent bashing me for saying Hillsboro was historically hostile to charters (finally I backed down and said maybe I was wrong, since this wasn't the point of the discussion), then three of the longer-serving board members spent the next half hour on harangues about charters being a "horrible idea", insulting to our staff members, and un-American.   Hmmm, maybe there is a little hostility there?    But the good news is that the debate showed that the other four members of our board are not hostile to charter schools, and we will be looking into improving our district website to make the charter application process clearer.    My resolution to call explicitly for more charters was tabled for now, but I think just having the public discussion accomplished a good portion of what I wanted anyway, to spread the message that now is a good time for potential charters to apply. 

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