"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, December 06, 2013

Memphis Politicians Wring Hands About Reading Scores as They Create More Corporate Charter Schools Without Libraries

Having handed over 29 public schools to charter reform schools without libraries or librarians, and with 8 more on the way by 2015, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and the Shelby County School Board all of sudden have noticed that these children are far behind in reading.  Since poor children get their books more often from libraries, and since the research has demonstrated over the past 25 years that schools with library programs and librarians have more proficient readers than school that don't (go figure!), it should not come as a surprise to anyone that Shelby County's plan to cut librarians to pay for corporate charter schools without libraries is about the worst policy decision that the Gates Foundation could come up with for the rubber stamps on the school board to implement.

And yet there is much gnashing of teeth and beating of chests at the school board, not to mention new "moral imperatives" around literacy.  Superintendent Hopson has even gone so far as to notice “there’s a parade of horribles that goes along with kids who can’t read by the time they leave third grade.”  What Hopson apparently has not noticed is the parade of horribles (no jobs, hope, respect, housing, safety, etc.) that predict the future of impoverished three-year-olds long before they even enter school in the segregated Bluff City of King Cotton where politicians continue to thump their chests about "moral imperatives" while ignoring the vestiges of slavery.

When you read the reporter's account below, you have to wonder how deep the disconnect can get and how ethically blind and humanly callous the corporate ideology can express itself.  Is autonomy within schools really the answer to literacy problems, or is it an easy way of washing your hands clean of the problem when you know the newly "autonomous" charter schools will get rid of the school librarian to put more money into the school CEO's pocket?  Are "literacy coaches" with clip boards and fascist efficiency goals preferable to caring, mature librarians who know how to connect children with great books?  What can we expect from "pilot" interventions by the University of Memphis, where the Gospel According to Gates rules? And which slime balls from the education industry are selling their oppressive scripted bullshit lessons to the newly-concerned Shelby County School Board?  How much stupider to the effects of segregation and poverty can politicians get?

. . . .“We have a problem,” Deputy Superintendent David Stephens, who is leading the literacy effort, told school board members last month at their first briefing on the plan that is still taking shape. “To me it’s a moral imperative for every one of us to say that every one of our third-graders, by the time they leave third grade, they are going to be proficient or advanced.”
The first look was also Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s first indication that the pursuit of that goal will mean changes in the school system’s budget that starts to take shape in the spring.
Hopson has repeatedly made a simple statement of a basic problem even more basic.
“Our kids can’t read,” he has said numerous times since this year’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores showed that on average only 36 percent of students in the district are proficient in reading and language arts.
“When you dive deeper in the numbers and look at the areas with a higher poverty rate … the numbers are more like 28 percent proficient,” Hopson told the school board last month. “There’s a parade of horribles that goes along with kids who can’t read by the time they leave third grade.”
And Hopson has been equally blunt about the price tag for a comprehensive intervention in classrooms to raise the percentage as well as efforts outside classrooms and that bring volunteers into classrooms.
“At the end of the day, the school district has resources to do some of this, but it’s going to take much more,” he said. “We need everybody to roll up their sleeves.”
School board member David Pickler urged the board in its upcoming budget season to use “a different lens and decide what business we are in.”
“Clear the landscape and put sufficient resources into making this a reality,” he added. “This has got to be a focus that brings everyone together. It’s got to transcend urban and suburban.”
School board member Billy Orgel said there should at least be an assistant for teachers in every school. But he also said budgets to carry out the goal of third-grade proficiency shouldn’t be the same from school to school.
“The pushback that we’re going to get is we can’t fund that,” he said. “Why do we have the same treatment at a 2 percent proficient school that we do at an 80 percent proficient school? All budgets for these schools should not be equal.”
Hopson agreed, citing the need for more autonomy at schools.
“Teaching reading is rocket science,” said Dr. Linda Kennard, Shelby County Schools director of curriculum and instruction. “This is tough work.” [Very interesting meeting minutes here involving Dr. Kennard]
The move toward more specific instruction for teachers on how to teach a classroom of students with varying levels of reading proficiency began this past summer. From the teachers who took part in that summer training, the school system is now offering the same training at all of its Innovation Zone Schools and 23 high priority schools where student achievement levels remain low. When the current school year ends, the same training will be offered to all Shelby County Schools teachers.
The other measures being considered include adding a literacy coach to the school system’s coaching model and coming up with a common assessment every three weeks or so focused on the literacy skills of students in kindergarten through third grade.
Classroom observations of teachers that are part of teacher evaluations could shift to make half of the observations in reading for teachers who teach all subjects and the observation standards would include specific “look fors” in the way the teachers tackle reading.
A small-scale “team read” program at Treadwell Elementary School in which volunteers help with vocabulary could expand. [Suggested additions to vocal list: exploitation, oppression, apartheid, marginalization]
Outside the teacher-student relationship, Kennard said the school system is considering items like sponsors to provide incentives to students for meeting reading goals, a literacy calendar for parents and nonprofit literacy organizations to show activities for each week of the year and parental training on literacy outside the school day.

Kennard said the University of Memphis education college is proposing a partnership on literacy efforts that could begin as a pilot program. . . .

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