Friday, March 4, 2011

No fear at East Meck?

It's never been scarier to be a teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, with layoffs becoming a rite of spring and all sorts of new ratings kicking in.

So why are the teachers at East Mecklenburg High so bold about speaking up on controversial issues?

I wondered that as I headed to a meeting some of those teachers organized Tuesday to talk about performance pay and testing (read more about that in Sunday's paper).

In nine years on this beat, countless teachers have told me they're afraid to raise public questions or criticism. It's not always clear where the threat originates, but there's no doubt the fear is real.

So why do these East Meck folks stand up at public meetings to challenge student assignment proposals and job cuts? How dare they summon colleagues, parents and students to their auditorium to air concerns about one of Superintendent Peter Gorman's pet projects?

On Tuesday, veteran teachers Larry Bosc and Kevin Strawn were joined by the youthful Gariann Yochym as lead speakers. With passion, intelligence and professionalism, they laid out their qualms about Gorman's plan to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. Several students were in the audience, and had helped spread the word via Facebook. Seniors James Whalen and Patrick Wilkenloh spoke about their personal views of testing. Parent activist Pam Grundy introduced a petition.

All in all, it was a textbook exercise in democracy.

Near the end, a teacher who didn't give his name asked how the East teachers could take such a risk. He said he was wary of even sharing information about such meetings: "I've been warned by various people to be sure it doesn't come from me."

Simple, said Bosc: "Our administration has been supportive of us speaking out."

I caught up with East Meck Principal Rick Parker afterward. He sounded delighted to take credit for an outspoken staff. Parker says he strives for an atmosphere of "mutual respect and dignity," and that includes having teachers who air their opinions. It's fine to question or criticize, he says, as long as it's done professionally: "We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Has he ever worried that one of his teachers will land him in hot water? Parker answered by talking about Strawn's critical comments about value-added ratings at a recent school board meeting. Gorman and Board Chair Eric Davis called Parker afterward -- to offer "rave reviews" of Strawn's candor.

"That right there, people listen," Parker said. "That's what we need more of."

Amen. It's an act of courage to take a stand on tough issues, especially when they affect your livelihood. Teachers who take that risk -- and administrators who support them -- help us all make smarter decisions.


Anonymous said...

When you are forced to take defective raw materials, you shouldn't be held totally responsible for the final results.

Or as they used to say, garbage in, garbage out.

This is just common sense.

therestofthestory said...

I read the petition. True I believe using only test scores is a fallacy. We know several trials around the country have fallen flat on their face doing this but it is the new craze perpetrated by Bill Gates and others and with their names behind it, it is likely to become the standard. We have seen the failure of using EOG's to decide to promote a student or not. Most often, the student is promoted anyway and starts down that path to dropout very quickly.

Assessing the skill of a teacher is as much an art as is good teaching. However, a student not prepared for a day of school without a good night's sleep, a good home environment, and a good breakfast is behind from the get go. Let alone if some idealists think the solution to this all is to put students on a bus for an extra hour every morning.

The solution is complicated because the culture does not put the value on education it deserves nor the respect the teachers should get. Mostly that is because society has made it too easy to just take the dependency route and be supported by the taxpayer for the rest of their life.

There seems to be no stomach for the leadership to make the public school of value anymore. What will it take to do it? Automatic expulsion for attacking teachers and staff. Alternative schools for those well behind at certain grade levels. Cull out those who are not taking school seriously from those that are really trying. Get serious about trade schools. Pump more support into CPCC for it has been for years cleaning up behind CMS anyway.

Allie said...


Anonymous said...

"It's an act of courage to take a stand on tough issues"

Back in the 90's and early 2000's,it required courage to question busing and the status quo. However, at the time I don't recall the Observer calling anyone courageous for standing up for their beliefs. I think they were more likely to use the terms "racist" and "selfish".

therestofthestory said...

9:43 Excellent!

Wiley Coyote said...


I've been questioning busing since 1969...

Nothing has changed.

My son's school has terminated two teachers in the past 45 days, one just this week. There are no plans to replace them. Instead, the babysitters are having to vie for lab time for these students to do on-line busy work and when they can't get lab time, they are told to do other homework during that period.

One of my son's friend had this teacher for two classes, so he's sitting there doing basically nothing

These are AP government classes.

We've laid off teachers and 600 more are looming yet we can't find teachers to replace the two I mentioned who were terminated.

Gotta love it.

Pamela Grundy said...

The meeting was great. I have such respect for the East Meck teachers and administration. If more county residents stand up like they have, we can make a difference in some of these policies.

To therestofthestory: Take action! Since you believe that "assessing the skill of a teacher is as much an art as is good teaching," stand up for those teachers! Don't just read the petition, sign it!

Anonymous said...

Finally, a positive view on education. East Meck is doing alot right. This is just a small example of their solid leadership and character.

Anonymous said...

We need to do something to see what the results actually are... if we don't measure anything, we can all just feel great, while we continue to fall behind the rest of the world...
I want to go to a school where they are proud of where the measures fall, and reward students accordingly.
Evaluations should not ignore the problems that walk into the classroom, but the answer is not failing to measure anything. Colleges care what the numbers are in a school, because it is a great predictor of success as well as remediation needs.

Pamela Grundy said...

Let me note that the Mecklenburg ACTS petition does not call for an end to measurement or testing. We are calling for an end to the expansion of high-stakes testing in ways that are more likely to damage our childrens'education than improve it.

therestofthestory said...

Pam, we have got to have some way of measuring if a student is succeeding. If testing is reflective of the curriculum, then it shuld be a good test. The problemwe had before testing was that everyone was just made to feel good about finishing school but they could not fill out a job application. They could not interact with customers. They could not express themselves in an interview. The HS diploma was becoming a joke.

Now, the educrats have grasped onto testing and created an empire robbing us of valuable tax dollars and everyone just ignores the results. 9th graders are going to high school when they can not do 5th grade work. The judge in Kansas City said the black kids should not have even bothered to have gone to high school. We have no leadership and no "gumpshun" in public education right now. There is no support of the good kids except by the parents and a few teachers.

We have got to get resources back on the students who can take advantage of them to get this country back into competition again. We may not be able to do things as cheaply as another country but we should be able to do things smartly and have high value.

Additioanlly, our pliticans have ignored teh nbeeds of the undereducated in this country for good jobs and that as you see cannot last. They have simply created class envy and class warfare allowing ignorant groups like the NAACP to demand huge amounts of resources with so little to gain from that effort.

Wiley Coyote said...

EOG/EOC whatever you want to call them, have been a joke for years.

My son is one of those students who doesn't test well yet makes high grades in most of his classes.

Ever since the 5th grade, we've had to go back to school the next year after he's been assigned to classes based on prior year EOG/EOC tests and have his classes changed to more challanging classes.

You cannot leave your child's education up to a bunch of empty headed educrats.

therestofthestory said...

Wiley, I agree some students do not test well like your son. I had a coworker who's son was the opposite. He has not turned out well. When he was "having to" change schools, the new school loved him when they saw the scores but not when they saw the classroom records. However, it seems if the student has been doing well in class, doing well with participation, doing well with the in class tests then there is no reason to consider just the EOG's. On the other hand, students are being passed on to next grade who do not perform like your son in class and also do not test well probably more the case of that they do not know the material. Who can figure that out?

Anyway, we do need to find some testing regime that gives everyone a good feel for how well the student has acquired the material. I would feel better if a NAEP (?) test was avaialble that fit the curriculum instead of our ridiculous NC State Board of Education having it done. However, I am not a fan of national curriculum standards. Too many special interest groups get control.

We got here because students were graduating and unable to perform once they graduated. The high school diploma has lost its shine. However now, educarats have created this testing industry, stealing valuable resources and becoming fat cats on the government dole.

The simple answer is we the public need more choices for our "public" education.

Wiley Coyote said...

TROTS said:

We got here because students were graduating and unable to perform once they graduated. The high school diploma has lost its shine.

In 1976, my brother graduated 16th in his class out of 260 students. He waa one of NINE Whites in that graduating class.

When he entered the 10th grade, he was taking classes he had in the 8th and 9th grades.

Like you said, he graduated but couldn't function in college. My brother is not dumb by any means.

The problem is, he was not prepared to go to college coming out of high school.

At best, he graduated with about an 11th grade education.

I didn't fare much better graduating 3 years earlier, as my three years in high school was fraught with riots and other disruptions, such as teachers and admin too afraid to discipline or else be called a racist.

I agree with you we need some sort of testing, but the totality of a childs learning experience needs to be taken into consideration.

There are kids that need to be held back for whatever reason. It's unfortunate but that's just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

We have so many phys ed teachers being paid over $60,000. for much less work than science, math, language, etc. I'd like all teachers to make over $100,000., but why are we paying so many phys ed teachers so much and then firing teachers?
And while we are talking savings/waste, how did we survive all those years without seven assistant superintendents? At a cost of $200,000.+ (including benefits) wouldn't getting rid of that job title give $1.5 million that could be used to save teacher jobs?

James Whalen said...

I think the most important point is that Standardized tests measure only one tipe of learning: memorization. It is important for students to know facts, dates, and statistics in each subject. It is also important for students to do well socially, to think critically, and to be able to develop arguments. These disciplines are not measured by standardized tests at the moment. I fully agree that tests should be used in schools as one specific tool, and should help determine the grade of the student along with in class grades. We are speaking out against the over dependence and over use of standardized testing, called "high stakes testing."

Concerning teacher's pay, I think many important ideas should be recognized. First, teaching is "an art" as was mentioned above, not an industry. Just as a musician composes and performs to create something beautiful, a teacher teaches so that the students and the community can then become brighter. By implementing a new competition driven payment method, teaching is being transformed into an industry, where teachers are paid based upon how well they can manufacture test scores. We students realize already how bigger class sizes and mass testing is hurting American education.

Lastly, the program presented (pay for performance) has been presented as a money saving venture. This means that the goal is to redistribute the salaries based on test scores. Clearly, CMS has a smaller pot to distribute this year, which means that the program gambles on the fact that most students will fail (thereby distributing money among fewer high scorers). This is not the way a school system should show its confidence in its students and teachers. CMS should place confidence in its students and responsibility in its teachers to carry out one of the most vital professions in our community. I hope everyone will pay close attention to the advancement of this issue and support teachers and students. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

East Meck a "safe school"...don't bet on it. I have been attacked by students, but these students laugh in my face about it. Principals do nothing about it. A few days of out school MAYBE...students know its a joke. Until discipline is put back into the schools like it used to be, then all schools are a joke. People just don't know what really goes on during the day.

Anonymous said...

Are they no longer teaching humanities at the schools? When I went to elementary school in the seventies, there was a traveling group that would hold a music/visual program during school hours that displayed scenarios of do's and dont's about how to treat other kids and people. Maybe this needs to be done for students these days. There's too much emphasis like sports programs that distract the students learning focus; this promotes more of the "I deserve" mentality, which makes them think they don't have to work hard.

Anonymous said...

Why should only one man/person be the deciding factor for the entire school system in Char/Meck?