Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ogden School District: Capitulating to Failure?

I was dismayed to read the Deseret News yesterday and discover that 5 of the 10 worst schools in our state last year are in the Ogden School District. 

Here is the snapshot of the lowest performers (click to enlarge):

This report is an abomination.

What is happening in the Ogden School District?

I live across the street from Dee School.  In fact, my oldest daughter attended Dee for kindergarten in 2008 before being put in the advanced learning program for 1st grade which was held at Heritage Elementary across town.  My second daughter Wynnie attended kindergarten at Dee in 2010, the year these test scores were produced.  Wynnie tested 100% on her end-level tests for the 1st grade at Ogden Preparatory Academy (a charter school) this year.

From personal experience, I don't believe throwing more money at schools is going to cure the problem we have.  I also don't believe the transient student base is as large of a problem as its made to be.  You see, I was a transient student and attended the following schools growing up:

1983-1985 Hillcrest Elementary - American Falls, Idaho
1985 Shelley Elementary - Shelley, Idaho
1986 Westside Elementary - Idaho Falls, Idaho
1986 Four Georgians Elementary - Helena, Montana
1986-1987 Adelaide Elementary - Bountiful, Utah
1987-1988 Woodland Hills Elementary - Kingwood, Texas
1988 Kingwood Middle School - Kingwood, Texas
1988-1989 Westside Elementary - Idaho Falls, Idaho (Yes, I suffered the indignity of going from middle school back to an elementary school system in a different state.)
1989-1991 Kingwood Middle School - Kingwood, Texas
1991-1995 Kingwood High School - Kingwood, Texas

Of all the schools I attended in the different states, Texas by far had the most serious education system at the time.  Their no-guff attitude and strictness translated into excellent classroom behavior and high expectations of students and faculty.  That, in turn, translated into better performance on tests.

Texas schools are funded strictly on property tax.  There is no income tax in Texas.  So, the inner city schools are "rich" relatively speaking and their school buildings are palaces as funding from property taxes paid on skyscrapers is much much more than it is on suburban residential homes.  Nevertheless, the inner city schools of Houston were always languishing in performance, despite the significant financial upper hand.

I attended a very poor high school in Texas.  Yet, we produced some of the highest grades in the school district we were in.  What was the difference between my school and others? Answer: A culture of discipline and high expectations. 

Thus, I believe Ogden's problem is not a financial one but one of attitude and workplace culture.  If we want Ogden schools to fail, all that is require is for us to continue doing what we are doing right now.  It's an easy road.   If we want to change this shabby performance, we need to do things differently...and in a big way.     

For example, if a child brings a switchblade to school, that child needs to be disciplined.  There needs to be consequences. We don't need to ignore the kid because "getting attention is what the child really wants" and so ignoring his misdeed somehow becomes the perverse answer to encouraging better behavior.  We need solid discipline.

However, this kind of change will require fortitude and toughness.  People don't like changes in the status quo.  I know this.  I changed the status quo in my neighborhood so much that my life was threatened.  But, you don't see pimps and hookers running the show in my neighborhood anymore either.  We prevailed by taking some risks and sticking to our big plan for change. 
I am eager to hear innovative suggestions from the education community on how we can turn this situation around.  Do we need to open an ESL only school?  Do we need to allot state money directly to the schools instead of letting it trickle down through the districts for better or for worse?  I want to know how we can turn these lemons into big juicy apples.

I don't want to point blame.  I just want results.  So let's get to work!  Email or call me with your suggestions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Defining Milqtoast Mormonism: Fidelity in Faith

There is a great ongoing debate about the role that religion should have in our public arena.  Over the last 40 years we have seen a trend toward purging religiousness from the public square.  That trend has manifested itself in our country through the occasional banning of Christmas Nativity scenes during traditional Christian holidays to the rejection of expressions of faith such as prayer in public places.

This procedure of sterilizing society of the pathogens of pious expression has produced some interesting side effects.  One of those effects has been the conflict created between elected officials personal spirituality versus the job that the official must perform while in office.  In order to justify the poor behavior of some politicians while also qualifying those of conspicuous religious standing there has been a doctrine promoted that a man’s public life is separate and somehow inoculated from his personal life.  The creed would say that what a man does in his spare time does not in any way affect his day job. 

I reject this thinking.  Although each of us wears many hats (father, husband, legislator, employee, brother, friend, ect.) those roles are influenced by our world view and our value system.  That may or may not include a religious way of life.  But, if it does, that faith, whatever it is, becomes part of who we are.  Regardless of how politically incorrect it is to believe, it is part of what defines us.

This leads to some of the interesting remarks expressed by our former Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.   In a recent TIMES magazine article we read the following:

I don't even come close to getting him to spill such puny secrets as whether he thinks we should be in Afghanistan or Libya ("There will be more to say about that"), in what ways he disagrees with Obama ("I don't want to get into specifics") or, for that matter, where he parts company with his fellow Republicans, including his distant cousin, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ("It wouldn't be fair to offer an opinion without doing due diligence"). And as for whether or not Huntsman still belongs to the Church of Latter-day Saints, I know less than I did before I asked him. ("I'm a very spiritual person," as opposed to a religious one, he says, "and proud of my Mormon roots." Roots? That makes it sound as if you're not a member anymore. Are you? "That's tough to define," he says. "There are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.")

Let’s put these remarks in proper context.  First, TIME has never been a bastion of Christian ethos.  That is proven by their annual Easter edition celebrating scholarly doubts about the divinity of Christ.  Second, the general public has very little accurate information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In this interview, Mr. Huntsman is basically entering an arena that is foreign to religious values and where the opinions of the public are unpredictable and possibly hostile based on how the interview is reported.

If the reporting is indeed accurate, which Mr. Huntsman’s spoke people have not refuted, then what we have is an interesting, if not surprising, expose into who Jon Huntsman Jr. really is at his core.
It appears that these comments can be interpreted in two ways.  First, that he is cynical enough to play coy about his personal convictions so as to maximize the greatest political benefit from the interview. Or second, that he is a man that lacks confidence or conviction in a religion the citizens of Utah have assumed he belongs to.  Unfortunately, neither of these interpretations is satisfying.     
It is best when we own who we are.  If we are unbelievers, then we should own it.  As much as people wished that they didn’t have to express any faith or theology they espouse, these things are part of who we are.  Or as we often see, once they become an inconvenience to personal ambition, they can be easily tossed aside like shoes that are no longer in fashion.  

Whatever world view or faith each of us espouse, may we have fidelity to it, and stand for what we each believe.