It is not unusual for me to get unexpected phone calls and emails about education issues.  Some of them off-the-wall, some well-reasoned and thoughtful.

And living in Montgomery where the state is trying to get an intervention of half of the county school system off the ground, lately many of them deal with this topic.

I share one of the good ones here.  It is from someone who has a close relative teaching in a Montgomery school.  The writer has a number of thoughtful questions about what is taking place.

“As a concerned citizen of Montgomery, I have the following questions about the intervention I would like those in charge to answer. 

1.)   Why are you promising transparency and then talking about all of the “secret” plans that cannot be disclosed?

2.)   Why are we spending money on out-of-state consultants, duplicate administrators and accountants instead of meeting the basic needs of the students at these schools?

3.)   Why is this intervention/takeover plan being developed with the attitude that the teachers are the problem and without getting their input/feedback on the issues in MPS?

4.)   How (be specific) are you going to address the issue of the utter lack of diversity in these failing schools, including not just the student bodies, but the teaching staffs?   (Please address: racial, academic, and socioeconomic diversity)

5.)   Have you considered that your “evaluations” of a teacher for 15 minutes are not really a fair picture of what goes on in that classroom?   Teachers are being instructed to teach “bell to bell” which is great in theory, but they are also being told not to use movies, worksheets, or lectures to teach.    So, what exactly do you propose they do to teach the children for 109 consecutive minutes?  (Remember many of these children have documented learning disabilities and can not focus for that long.) 

6.)   If your answer to #5 in any part includes project based learning, please explain in detail how a teacher is supposed to implement project based learning under the current conditions when:  1) a large number of kids simply refuse to participate because they do not care 2) a lack of appropriate technology 3) Concerns over theft of any technology that is available 4) class sizes of over 30.

7.)   Teachers are told to use “small group instruction” and to “differentiate.”  Please advise how to accomplish this in classes of over 30 kids, with a large number of the kids being special education.  Wouldn’t it be wise to have gifted classes for advanced students?

8.)   Please explain how “data” or “metrics” will show success for these kids?  Is it not possible that many of these kids are not college bound and that maybe success for them would be trade or technical school, in which case should we not be supporting programs like GEAR UP and giving them a chance to work?

9.)   Please explain in detail how you intend to come up with unique and specific plans for 27 failing schools over the eight week summer and roll them out in a way they can be implemented in the fall?  

10.)  Please explain in detail what resources you are going to put in extra curricular activities like athletics which keep so many kids coming to school.    Further, please address how you are going to fix the infrastructure at the schools that has been neglected for years.

11.)  Please acknowledge that standardized test taking is a learned skill that measures how well you take a test.  It is a skill that can be improved with classes on test taking strategies that companies like Kaplan have made a fortune for years teaching.   Advise exactly how much class time is going to be spent teaching these test taking skills and what training the teachers will be given in them.    The current method is to try to drill content to kids, but that is clearly not working.    Also, please explain how you are going to review this data in light of the fact that there are children who will REFUSE to take the test and just mark answers at random.   Is that the teachers fault too?

I think the issue you all have forgotten is that the schools get the kids that show up.  You keep talking about how teachers need to teach more effectively, but you have not bothered to sit down and talk to them about why they are teaching the way they are.   Is it possible  they know the kids a little bit better than you do (as they spend every day in these schools with them) and they would likely be a lot more receptive to the intervention if they felt anyone cared what they thought?   

The government cannot fix this problem.  The solution has to start with families who make academics a priority for their children and tell them that blowing off school is unacceptable.   Teachers can spend hours trying to reach kids that don’t care and the best ones may reach a few, but there will still be many left behind.   When your students are selling drugs to have money to pay the light bill at their residence, success in school is not a huge priority. 

The State Department has completely neglected to see that the biggest issue in these schools is the lack of diversity.  The kids are primarily low-income and African American being raised by single parents or relatives.   They have no model for how others do things.   They only know one way.  The simple fix to get the metrics for these schools back up would be to move the magnet schools into each one of the failing schools, and run it as a (to use a word the State Department seems to love) “bifurcated” school.  

I firmly believe this intervention could be a great thing, but unless the State Department actively engages the community (many have offered input and been ignored), teachers, and churches (white and black) to meet the basic needs of these kids, nothing is going to change.   Until the State Department shows a willingness to spend money on things the schools need instead of consultants and overpaid administrators, nothing will change.   And until the State Department is ready to address the really hard challenges of teaching these kids without demonizing the teachers who choose to be there every day, this intervention will fail.”