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  • Wednesday, January 18, 2006


    Metro Views

    The views expressed in Metro Views are not necessarily the viewpoints of the networks that ecast it. Community groups are welcome to submit editorial viewpoints on LOCAL issues for Metro Views.

    As a past president of the Orange Unified Education Association, John Rossmann led the one day strike against the Recalled OUSD Board. Rossmann now leads a group called the Orange Professional Teachers Association that has advocated ending the local teacher’s association ties with the powerful California Teachers Association. Rossmann sends out a local emailed commentary on various issues pertaining to the Orange Unified School District. The following commentary was originally emailed on 1/15/06 and appears here with permission.

    OUSD vs. Parents & Kids
    OPTA Reports 1/14/06
    from John Rossmann

    OUSD's secretive school board members are at work behind the scenes to radically change and undermine the education of children in the district. Here's what you need to know about.

    Increasing Class Sizes
    On paper, OUSD upper elementary class-size is supposed to be a ratio of 30:1, students to teachers. Of course, anyone who's been in an upper elementary OUSD classroom lately knows that's pure fiction.

    Here's how the school board gets away with claiming a 30:1 ratio even while actual class sizes are typically 32-35. The school board calculates the ratio not on the number of actual classroom teachers, but on the total number of personnel who have teaching certificates. The number of personnel holding teaching certificates who aren't classroom teachers is significant, and even though these people aren't classroom teachers the school board counts them in its calculation. The result is that the board can tell the media that they are providing kids with a 30:1 ratio, although the board knows that's not true.

    Now the school board members want to raise even that on-paper-only 30:1 ration to 32:1. If they succeed, the actual numbers of kids packed into each classroom will rise even higher than it already is.

    The only thing blocking the board is the teachers: When teachers negotiate a contract, they are also negotiating for the kids and their parents. Teachers in OUSD have fought the school board members for years to hold the line at 30:1. So now the school board is threatening salary and benefit repercussions against the teachers if teachers don't give in
    to school board demands to increase class size increase class size.

    The easy thing for teachers to do is to give in and get a raise — but they are resisting and won't do that if the community rises up against the demands of the school board to undermine the quality of children's education.

    The school board got a budget boost for this current school year of more than $10 million plus carrying over a cash surplus of $17.8 million in Unrestricted cash from last year and has budgeted to end this year with yet another $10+ million surplus of Unrestricted cash, and is getting as much as $20 million more from the state next year, so there's no
    monetary reason for wanting to increase class size.

    In fact, it's absolutely unfathomable why school board members who have the legal and moral obligation to provide children with the best possible educational experience are determined to jam kids into overcrowded classrooms where learning is undermined?

    School Scheduling Yo-Yo
    Without any consideration of the hoops parents have to jump through when it comes to picking up their kids after school and arranging for care, OUSD school board members are also demanding unlimited authority to change the school-day hours at each school as they see fit.

    Once again, only the teachers are standing in the board's whimsical way. Once again, board members are threatening teachers with salary and benefit repercussions if they don't give in.

    Once again, the easy thing for teachers to do is simply say OK and get a raise. It's not a much-focused-on fact that when teachers negotiate a contract with a district, they are also negotiating for the rights of kids and parents, too, but that's the fact. If the teachers were to give in, board members could set and re-set school day times throughout the district as they see fit and as many times as they want. Don't ask why they would want to because there's no sense to it except that it's an exercise in power over people's lives, just like increasing class size.

    Some teachers have already caved in at a few OUSD schools because you can only withstand the pressure for so long. The result is that at some schools, kids are on what's called a "Modified Day." Some days they go home earlier, some days they stay later...and the schedule can change at the whim of the school board.

    Stigmatizing Kids Again
    Were you ever in a "low" Reading or Math group when you were in elementary school? Remember how you felt?

    During the 1980s, "Grouping" was finally driven out of most schools across America, but not without a lot of effort and solid research. The most comprehensive research was published in the prestigious Journal of Educational Research (Vol. 79, No. 1) in 1985. The study was long, following students for five full years to determine with certainty if there were real improvements in their learning.

    Long-term studies are the only way to see the true results because kids typically show a "placebo effect," like in medical studies where the patients who receive only a sugar pill improve in the short term because they didn't know they were given a sugar pill. Kids also often show initial improvement in learning after beginning a different program because they feel that special attention is being paid to them; but it doesn't take kids long to realize that they have been placed in a "low" group, no matter what words are used to disguise that fact...their peers in the higher groups or regular classes see that, too, and the stigmatizing begins no matter what administrators try to do about it.

    Tragically, school boards seldom actually test changes at all before putting them into effect — remember that "wonderful" experiment with "Whole Language" and "New Math?" After five years of imposing that mess on kids, school boards suddenly said "oops, we bad" and dumped those disasters. The children were just guinea pigs.

    Unfortunately for tens of thousands of California kids who today are still struggling with Reading and Math in college, kids can't simply re-live those years of their lives lost to failed educational experiments.

    Research Pans "Grouping/Differentiation/Leveling"

    If you really want to get into this issue of Grouping (today it's been
    re-labeled as "Differentiation" or "Leveling"; see below), you'll find that
    researchers of hundreds of ability grouping studies all the way back to the 1920s
    have shown that instead of helping low students, Grouping/Differentiation hurts
    them. A comprehensive review of all this research can be found on-line at
    the ERIC site: Esposito, D (1971), Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Grouping:
    Principle Findings and Implications of the Literature, Columbia University, ERIC Document ED 056 150.

    The findings of all the genuine long-term research are the same as that
    reported by the comprehensive Columbia University research.
    The operative phrase is "genuine long-term research" because much of what
    you'd find right now "supporting" Grouping/Differentiation is nothing but
    anecdotal "placebo effect" personal testimonials from school board, principals,
    and some teachers. Actual hard research refutes them.

    Here's what's reported in the Journal of Educational Research: The
    comprehensive 5-year examination of the impact of Grouping showed that:

    • "Low" students were harmed by being stigmatized. No matter what the schools using Grouping tried to do paint Grouping as a "positive," they could only fool some of the kids for some of the time.

    • After the initial "placebo effect" in which grades went up
    slightly, grades not only went down to previous levels — they went below previous levels. Even the students in the "average" groups went down.

    • The decline of the average students scores was found to be the
    result of lack of differentiation in their classes. What happened was that when
    the low students were removed for the "pull-out" instruction (the low group was
    sent to another teacher), the lower of the average students then saw
    themselves as the new "low" kids in their group, and that dragged them down.

    • Early in the implementation of the programs, even while teachers
    and administrators were convinced that the programs were working, the actual
    hard test data showed insignificant statistical improvement and then showed
    declines. It seems that teachers and administrators can get themselves so hyped
    about something that they become blind to what's actually happening.

    This has been the same case with Grouping/Differentiation/Leveling
    nationwide. For example, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
    • Ability leveling leads to diminished self-esteem and low
    • Rather than helping lower students, Differentiation actually
    magnifies differences in achievement and ability.
    • Instructional Grouping is in some schools a mechanism for
    segregating students by socioeconomic and ethnic strata.

    The highly respected Scholastic magazine flatly states that "ability
    grouping generally depresses student achievement and is harmful to kids."

    As noted, the claims in favor of Grouping/Differentiation/Leveling is
    anecdotal, that is, it's typically the opinion of someone who is doing it and
    likes it. Teachers in the schools that are doing it like it because it takes the
    low kids off their hands. Instead of actually having to teach to these kids,
    the kids are put into a "pull-out" group and sent with other "pull-out" kids
    to a teacher who teaches what's "appropriate" for them. "Pull-out" is another
    way of saying "dumped-off." Still, the only thing parents and media hear from administrators and teachers at schools using "Differentiation/Grouping" is how wonderful
    it's all "They Say" type of "proof."

    In his book, You know what 'They Say': The Truth about Popular Beliefs
    in Education, researcher Alfred Kohn shows that "They Say" anecdotal support
    for Differentiation/Grouping completely unreliable. He flatly says that
    Differentiation/Grouping is "a terrible idea."

    Unfortunately, some of those same OUSD schools that have caved in to
    board pressure on modifying the school day have also caved in to board pressure to
    "differentiate" kids and are doing so now.

    Stop Improving!
    Incredibly, school board members are also demanding the power to limit
    teachers' ability and incentive to continue to upgrade their skills by — at
    their own expense — taking graduate-level college classes and obtaining advanced

    Huh? Why would school board members want to do that? Kids, families, our
    state, and our nation benefit from having the most highly-educated and trained
    teachers possible. So, why would OUSD board members want to deprive our
    community's children of having the best possible teachers?

    So Why?
    School board members might be low on the political ladder, but they
    become infected by the same thing that sooner or later infects everyone on the
    political ladder, all the way up to and including Congress: Power.

    Time and again at all levels of government we see the truth that "Power
    Corrupts." One of the reasons why power corrupts is that people who come into power
    are surrounded by "Yes-Men (and Yes-Women). What congressional staffer or
    school district staffer or school principal is going to tell his or her boss "you
    can't do that," or "you're making a mistake"? Just the opposite: "That's a brilliant idea! We'll get right on it!"

    Realizing that you have the power to control key aspects of "ordinary"
    people's lives is a heady idea. It's intoxicating and addictive. And when all
    you hear is the praise of your Yes People, you begin to believe that you not
    only have the power, you also have the right, and you are right.

    That's why teachers have been provided certain protections from the wrath
    of school boards. Teachers are the first and last line of defense for kids
    and parents against the often lame and frequently harmful ideas of school board members who have never taught.

    The views expressed in Metro Views are not necessarily the viewpoints of the networks that ecast it. Community groups are welcome to submit editorial viewpoints on LOCAL issues for Metro Views

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