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CIM & CAM Student Assessment and 21st Century Reforms
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February 17, 2000
My "Viewpoint," essay in last month's News-Times (1/26/00),Support funding for schools, was apparently too little, too late.
I was critical of the LCSD Budget Task Force discussion of $3 million in budget cuts. I challenged the committee's failure to consider asking the voters of the county for additional funding under the "local option" law passed by the 1999 Legislature. By sheer coincidence the same edition of the N-T carried an announcement by the LCSD Administration that the Task Force will, in fact, consider placing a levy request on the ballot. But, according to LCSD Superintendent Jack Stoops, even if voters passed a levy this coming November the school district would not see the money until July 1, 2001. "It wouldn't help us any for this first year," said Stoops. No explanation was given for the months-long delay in considering the possibility of seeking "local option" money.
The school funding situation is, no doubt, in crisis. However, last year the LCSD Administration held long and hard to an admittedly "worst case" scenario when calculating the budget. They used what turned out to be exaggerated budget difficulties to justify several controversial changes in the organization and operation of the district. This time around, there is a pending labor contract negotiation with the district's teachers' union which may be this year's reason for distorting the funding picture.
Be that as it may, there are numerous indications that, whatever the future funding difficulties, disaster has already struck Lincoln County schools. This past month has brought startling news in the form of some very low scores for several LCSD schools on the Oregon School Report Card Rating System. Only one LCSD school was ranked as strong, while two high schools and one elementary/middle school scored among the bottom 39 of the state's 1039 schools. For three schools in LCSD to rank in the lowest 3.8% in the state is a strong indication something is drastically wrong. Of the 21 high schools in Oregon which received low or unacceptable ratings, Portland SD, with 10 high schools placed three among the bottom 39; Lincoln County, with 5 high schools, came in second with two high schools at the bottom. NO OTHER DISTRICT IN OREGON HAD MORE THAN A SINGLE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE LOW - UNACCEPTABLE CATEGORIES. These numbers mean students in LCSD are being cheated of their chances to go to college, to get scholarships, and perhaps even more tragic, in some cases their only chance at formal education.
Locally, Supt. Stoops and LCSD principals attempted to put the best face on the dismal showing. Stoops was quoted as having concern about the quality of the state's testing and statistical analysis: "We're probably as concerned about some of the criteria and the final evaluations that the state came up with as anyone else." However, he continued, "We're going to get on it very aggressively to see what we need to do to turn this around." In a separate N-T (2/02/00) article, speaking for the three low-rated schools, principals Von Taylor (Waldport High) and Pat Cowan (Siletz) focused on the reading scores, which they felt were basic to their schools' low rankings. Cowan said, "because without the reading piece, the other is not going to be workable." Taft High Principal Guido Caldarazzo stressed the attendance and drop-out rates which he felt reflected an historical attitude of not valuing education.
District-wide reading scores for third, fifth, and tenth grades were substantially below the state averages; LCSD tenth graders averaged 43%, compared to 52% overall in the state. For example, the Waldport High reading scores went down over the past two years, from 53% in 1997 to 41% in 1999. Taft High declined from 46% in 1996 to 35% in 1999. Improvement counts a lot in the way they score these tests; so does getting worse. Had it not been for the decline in reading, Waldport would probably have made it to a satisfactory ranking. This leads us to examine the probable causes for falling reading scores; top on this list, according to research and several recent letters to the News-Times from knowledgeable people in the community, should be the drastic cuts in LCSD library services in the schools over the past two years (N-T,1/28/00).
Reviewing the recent community response first:
Libraries serve many roles. (News-Times, 2/02/00) by former Taft HS librarian Joni Rathbun (from Nevada where she now teaches) tells us that mere access to media is not enough.
Information literacy should be another concern. Students who are information literate are the students we can expect to succeed on the types of tests and assessments mandated by the State of Oregon. Students who are information literate assess, evaluate and use information accurately. And the missions of the school library is designed as such: to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information. That is, a school library's mission moves beyond providing simple access to information to also include teaching and other forms of support for curriculum and instruction.
A few days later another professional librarian, Diedre Conkling, of the Lincoln County Library District, writes School libraries play vital role (N-T, 2/9/00)
I read in the newspaper articles about the use of volunteers in the schools and the school libraries. I think these people should be commended for the service they are providing. On the other hand, I do not feel qualified to work in a school library. I don't have the real education and training needed for this specialized area of library service. This is despite the bachelor's degree in secondary education and master's degree in library and information science that I have attained.
Local businessperson and retired educator Nel Ward adds, School librarians vital (N-T, 2/11/00):
People who want to improve the education of young people in the county should lobby the school administration to replace the library teachers - even at the expense of non-academic programs - and to ask that the school district responsibly allocate funds for education.
Sandra Holman, Phoenix, Ariz., in School cuts appalling (N-T, 2/11/00), asks:
Do you realize that the education you are giving the children of Lincoln County will put them at a disadvantage? Up until three years ago, not only was I a resident of Lincoln County, but also my brothers and their families were residents. Since then, they have all relocated off the Oregon coast. One of their reasons for doing so was their concern with the education their children were being given.
There are scientific reasons to think LCSD's decline in reading scores is related to the district's elimination of librarians over the same period according to the ABC News report:
By Amy Sinatra
"There is a lot of research out there that proves that expenditures and staffing on school libraries is the most effective expenditure you can make in the school in terms of reading scores and academic success," says Debra Gniewek, activity manager for library services for the Philadelphia public schools.
And, with special meaning for LCSD, the report continues:
"The training of a building principal in most of the states in this country, especially the training in this area, doesn't prepare them to make decisions about the school library," says Gniewek, who is also a certified principal."
This last point is relevant to a fundamental LCSD administration misunderstanding of the role of the school librarian as a teaching specialist, whose services must be integrated closely with the daily lessons of teachers of language arts, science, social studies, art, etc.. School librarians are teachers and not merely the people who order and check out books and repair audiovisual equipment.
The importance of the teaching role of the school librarian is the ultimate finding of the now-classic "Colorado study", The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement, by Keith Curry Lance, cited by both the ABC Report and the Rathbun letter(above).Briefly, the Colorado study findings state:
In terms of student achievement, in every grade, students who scored better on reading tests were likely to test better on their use of language and use of the library media center.
The size of a library media program, as indicated by the size of its staff and collection, is the best school predictor of academic achievement.
Library Media Center expenditures predict the size of the LMC's staff and collection and, in turn, academic achievement.
The instructional role of the library media specialist shapes the collection and, in turn, academic achievement.
Students whose library media specialists played such a (instructional) role tended to achieve higher average test scores.
Concerning computers and internet technology in school libraries, the ABC report quotes Ellen Jay, president of the American Association of School Librarians, who says there is a StoopsStoopsmisconception that computers can replace books. "A large part of the job of a school librarian, who is almost always also a certified teacher, is to teach children how to find and sift through information, but it's easier to teach that in print form first. The Internet is absolutely random information, there's as much misinformation as accurate information."
LCSD Superintendent Jack Stoops, Ph.D., has expressed a different point of view: that information literacy is synonymous with access to technology. He has been quoted as saying, "We have access to computers, no problem."
Several months ago a top LCSD Administrator provided a glaring example of the problems that can develop from a lack of media skills when accessing information using the internet. In response to a Don Quixote Society Website request the administrator provided a document off the internet to support the superintendent's 1999 decision to eliminate block scheduling from Taft and Waldport High Schools. The print-out document was downloaded from the website of Jeff Lindsay at http://www.jefflindsay.com/Block.shtml. The document was then highlighted and annotated with the administrator's comments about its relevance to LCSD.
Careful examination of the document and the Lindsay website reveals numerous reasons to be highly skeptical of the author and the conclusions drawn on the website. In particular, the document's chapter Who's Driving the Bandwagon, includes a conspiracy theory charging collusion between the US Dept of Education and major corporations which participate in the USDOE "School to Work" program. Lindsay claims that businesses are using the longer class periods under block scheduling to require more free labor from students participating in the School to Work program. The Lindsay theory includes a comparison of School to Work with the programs sponsored by the Nazis in Germany before WWII. Quoting directly from the document provided by the LCSD Administration:
If students are to have time for work experience or visits to work sites during school hours, then longer blocks of class time are helpful. Some people really believe that the purpose of education should be to provide labor to support corporate America, even providing some free labor along the way through "partnerships." The vast majority of the jobs that will be supported by this effort are jobs requiring low intellectual skills but plenty of conformity and cooperation. Should education therefore focus on cooperative education, group projects, and conflict resolution instead of academics and individual growth? That may be what corporate America demands for all but a few workers, but it's not what parents want for their kids.
The purpose of school, in my opinion, should be to educate, to help kids learn to understand and think - not to become compliant citizens ready to follow orders in Corporate America. But our focus on socialization skills, working in groups, "cooperative learning," citizenship, etc., rather than academic excellence, shows which paradigm we're adopting. (Hint: remember the German example? The government worked hand-in-hand with corporations on a massive scale, making schools' primary focus to be the state/nationalized corporation, not the individual. It was called National Socialism - and it sure sounded good to many Germans.)
Further examination of the Jeff Lindsay website, significantly titled "Cracked Planet,"http://www.jefflindsay.com/ reveals extensive material on "Smokophobia", which Lindsay claims is a mental illness among people who fear tobacco-related health problems. As an example, he opposes "The 'health education' programs in public schools that scare impressionable young children and create dark images of death and disease linked to smoking." Although there is an attempt to dress the "smokophobia" pages in a thin veneer of parody, there is no doubt of the seriousness of Lindsay's underlying message.
Taken in context, the extremist views supported on Cracked Planet seriously call into question the credibility of the source of the LCSD Administration's document defending district policy. Additional doubt is cast on the Administration's understanding of the limitations of mere access to internet technology; the Administration's example demonstrates the importance of teaching students the analytical skills for evaluating media which are an essential part of the responsibilities of a professional library teacher.