Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 30-10-2013

Some community members are starting to ask me about the possibility of an initiated measure requiring the school start date to be after Labor Day each year.  I want to thank those that have asked me about this issue and I am pleased to share my thoughts with everyone via this blog.

First and foremost Ellendale School and all schools will deal with whatever decision is made.  It is not going to tear the walls down or be so cataclysmic as some suggest that education will end.  In fact, I can appreciate some of the views of those that want this change.  They don’t compel me to vote yes but I appreciate their arguments.

In the simplest terms if we were forced to move our start date back two weeks to be after Labor Day you can simply expect the ending date to slide back a commensurate amount.   To help visualize this change I have crafted a rough 2014-2015 calendar to demonstrate the actual change if it were approved.  You can view this calendar at www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/labordaycalendar.pdf In this example a post Labor Day start is the most advantageous  as it falls on Sept 1st, the earliest of all possible dates.  When looking at the calendar there are not many significant changes in the fall aside from a tight Christmas dismissal date as compared to other years.  Now, be aware in this example I am trying to craft a calendar that starts after Labor Day but concludes in late May if at all possible.  This is trying to satisfy those that are not keen on going into June, if at all possible.  After the new year the calendar is significantly different with very few no school days.  This calendar only provides 3 good storm dates and those are all associated with the respective state tournaments that are traditionally no school days.  This calendar does provide for a final day of school on Friday, May 29th but again my experience is that this would be tough to accomplish with our normal winter weather and it will probably not be appealing to families as very few breaks are in this example.  Even Easter Monday is removed to accomplish a May final date.

I believe the start date is not the key issue in this debate.  The key issue is local control.  I am becoming less and less comfortable with federal rules.  I don’t feel we have much influence in Washington DC when laws are not working in our community and when they don’t work we have little influence to change them.  This is only reinforced by the 10 year adventure we have endured with NCLB.  I also believe our influence in Bismarck is only marginally better.  If this initiated measure were to pass we have little or no ability to change this for the near future. Local control is a power we should covet and in this instance we should not let go.  A NO vote would allow local school boards to continue to make this decision each year.  I guarantee, you have a better chance of reaching, speaking too, and influencing your local school board member than you will have the senator from District (you name it).  If you and a majority of your local school board think a post Labor Day start is best for your district, so be it.  However, if you want to start in August than you can, it is up to your LOCAL School Board.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 04-10-2013

Common Core Standards, as I have shared the past two weeks, have many positive aspects.  I believe that the creation of these standards was done with good intent to provide a uniform base of exceptional education, and without a goal/standard it would be inconsistent at best.  However, during the process of the creation and adoption of the common core standards legislators, congressmen, and big business have high jacked them for their own gain, in my opinion.

One of the key components of the federal “Race to the Top” program which requires adoption of common core standards, is high stakes teacher and administrator accountability.  Within this accountability initiative is the use of Value Added Measures (VAM) to build a tool that can quantify teacher’s or administrator’s performance.  Much of this new system is not based upon sustained professional development, or the art of teaching, but on items that can melt down into a rubric or number.  Case in point, the new teacher performance system in Tennessee requires the use of student performance in the evaluation system.

Just recently I was reading a blog post by Dr. Diane Ravitch – “Why VAM is a Sham”.  http://dianeravitch.net/category/teacher-evaluations/ It lays out 10 reasons VAM is a highly inaccurate and unfair way of evaluating educators.  I encourage you to read her blog.

I grew up on a ranch with my father and about 400 head of exceptional Angus cattle.  I know my father was an exceptional rancher and steward of his cattle.  However, I want to use the harsh reality of day to day life on the ranch and try to correlate it to the classroom.  First, we understood not every calf was the same.  Some calves came from healthy cows, some not. Some grew quickly and were full of vigor, some not.  Secondly, at some time during their first year of life these calves, in all their variety of conditions, would be rounded up and put in a lot for us to care for each and every day (this is the classroom for us).  My father would strive to get every calf to put on pounds, stay healthy, and eventually be taken off to market.  However, we knew the reality that not all would gain weight equally.  Some would take longer and some, a very few, unfortunately would struggle.  Heredity, weather, and life’s circumstances impacted these calves lives each day in direct opposition to the good work being done by the rancher. Now I am not saying kids are calves, please don’t get me wrong.  But, people in this area have good common sense and I think we know that not all come to school the same, just like a calf. Not all have the same advantages or disadvantages in life.  And, as I can attest, a rancher that takes the weakest calf and moves it from the WORST of the herd to the JUST BELOW AVERAGE is an outstanding producer, I will say the same for the teacher doing the same with a child. They are both moving that calf/kid ahead to a place they would not have been without their help.

However, VAM is not like that.   Tennessee would say that a teacher needs to tally up the number of children in each class at given performance levels.  Here is an portion of their performance (VAM) rubric for teachers….
” Use the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced and the following scale or an alternate agreed upon scale (Percentage: Effectiveness Rating)0-19.99: 120-39.99: 240-59.99: 360-79.99: 480-100: 5″ – http://team-tn.org/assets/misc/Sample%20Calculations%20for%2015%25_12_13(4).pdf
So a teacher that may start with a large segment of their student as novice or non-proficient will be poorly scored even if they significantly move those children to partial or proficient status.  My fear is the best teachers, wanting to ensure they score well on their evaluation, will desire to choose the best and brightest students right from the start.  Why would they be encouraged to work with students that need their talents the most?

Then add to this performance system the idea that teacher’s performance scores will be posted for the public to review.   Would you, in your job, want to be evaluated this way?  There will be no way a teacher will want low performing students on the first day and take on those challenges.  Some may say the best teachers should desire to take the most challenged students, I agree.  But in light of this performance tool would you?  I don’t think any of us live in this type of utopia.  Lastly, then combine the belief that teacher salary and incentives should be also tied to these performance measure.   I think you can see where this is going.

In my world today we have parents requesting teachers they feel will be a good fit for their children.  If this type of evaluation process is allowed to progress we will see teachers making requests of parents and principals to have certain students placed, or not placed, in their classrooms.