School dilemma no easy fix

Kevin Wendt, editor of The Huntsville Times, wrote today’s editorial “School dilemma no easy fix” (no link available yet). 

Wendt writes about the “conversation” and “community-wide discussion”, then identifies types of “dialogue” that “do not help”.  Wendt uses the example of the NAACP’s “provocative quote” (“violent revolution”) then overreaches to balance it with an example of south Huntsville “passing letters to parents about the inevitability of busing”, in effect blaming south Huntsville parents for responding to NAACP provocation.  Of course, if all you read is The Times, you may not know that the NAACP proposed busing as a solution.

Wendt asks “What is the solution?” to the “enrollment demographics” of a school system divided into “predominately black” and “predominately white” neighborhoods.  Wendt then highlights three points:  “transformative” Lee High School, new construction to replace some north Huntsville schools, and the “spirit of community involvement” at Lincoln Elementary.

I think that Wendt makes some good points, but he overstates the success at Lincoln when he says that “involvement from churches and volunteers helped generate some of the best test scores in the city”.  The 10 to 1 student teacher ratio and hundreds of volunteers and an innovative principal did have a tremendous impact, but Lincoln wasn’t transformed into one of the best schools – it was average – and Wendt should’ve known that from reading his own newspaper. 

Lincoln could have been expected to score in the 20s (like MLK) on 3rd grade SAT tests, but scored in the 40s (like Providence).  The best schools in Huntsville scored in the 80s (and all schools in Madison scored in the 70s and 80s).  Lincoln’s 5th grade performance was better with scores in the 60s (better than Providence), but still, not the best.

As for new construction in north Huntsville – I agree with Bob Harrison – the next new school built in Huntsville should be in north Huntsville (located where the demographic study supports construction).

And as for the new Lee High School – it is an ongoing train wreck.  The new location is terrible – the campus is split by a busy railroad track.  Students must cross the tracks to reach the ball fields.  Then there’s parking… Parking at the new Huntsville High is a problem at times, but at least there is a neighborhood for on-street parking to handle the overflow.  The new LHS has limited parking and no overflow.  Then there are the demographics, and I’m going to agree with Bob Harrison twice in one article – there may not have been a need for a new school in that area.  Expecting the new LHS to be “transformative” when it starts with these self-imflicted limitations may be a bit too much.

Wendt (who I like in real life) ends by asking for ideas:

“But this is just a start.  There are hundreds more ideas that could lead to a better system overall.

The Department of Justice letter highlighted the depth and complexity of the challenge.

So here is a question to you: How would you define success in our school systems?”

BTW CSPAN is airing the National Governors Association meeting - the education panel was worth watching.  Summary:  discipline, high standards, better teachers, better principals.  One of the world-class techniques discussed involved tailoring instruction to individual students – Huntsville’s own Appleton Learning Center has researched and developed assessment tools to do just that.  Appleton is developing cutting-edge education methods that measurably improve student academic performance.  That is success.

17 thoughts on “School dilemma no easy fix

  1. Hey Reactionary,

    Great post as normal. Lincoln Elementary is dear to my heart so I’m going to quibble with you on one small thing. You’re right that the test scores are average, but I would say that Lincoln *is* one of the best schools in the city in terms of efficiency. It took (before Dr. Moore brilliantly decided to close it) students who are projected to get one score and doubled that projection. No other school in the city can come close to touching that result.

    This doesn’t detract at all from the overall thrust of your post, which is great.

    P.S. I’m enjoying having Ben on-board the Flashpoint team.

  2. PJ – thank you. I applaud the effort made at Lincoln and the results speak for themselves – Lincoln students outperformed expectations. I think that Lincoln provides a model for how to proceed with improving academic performance in Huntsville schools. Lincoln has a great enough story without embellishing it.

    IMO one of the best lessons to come out of Lincoln is that kids perform better when they see that an adult cares about their education.

  3. Lincoln was a class act. I was told the principal and the teachers used a method referred to as “vertical integration,” which businesses are using. Closing Lincoln was not just a shame, it was criminal.
    The editorial in the paper revealed the wrong priorities. If the board, superintendent, and consultant were focused on education, there would be NO “fiscal stability” or desegregation issues.
    We empty schools by busing kids 1/2 way across town to overcrowded schools and then say we have to build new ones . We let the schools rot near the parents of these children and then tell them they should be more involved.
    The paper says we “should be finding opportunities for new investment, both in programs and buildings.” Just who is making money from these “investments?” Developers? Land owners on the Times staff? Or maybe landowners on the school board or in the superintendents office?
    Education should be our first priority. It would be a lot cheaper to “invest” in incentives and training for the teachers & principals, and curriculum & supplies for the children. Everything else will fall into place, esp. business investments. Wake up Huntsville!

  4. Here is a novel idea, instead of looking for an “easy fix”, how about doing the right(no pun) thing and making sure ALL children, regardless of race/address have equal access to a quality public education?

    This can be accomplished by;

    Eliminate the neighborhood school concept
    Create Centers of Excellence (Magnet Schools)
    Student populations and staff reflect the racial composition of the city.

    What Huntsville Times Editor Ken Wendt calls “NAACP provocation” I call parental involvment. As the Editor of a major newspaper one would think he of all people would know the difference between rhetorical speech and literal speech. For example, the letter of south Huntsville parents warning about bussing is code for integration.

    Regarding Lincoln Elementary School, the school was sucessful because of an inovative Principal, and dedicated teachers and support personnel who didn’t have preconceived notions that poor/black/brown children couldn’t/didn’t want learn just because they were poor/black/brown. We need more principals, teachers and support personnel who believe every child can learn with the right approach and less who believe only affluent/white children can/want to learn.

    • So Redeye your definition of parental involvement is the NAACP spouting treats and calling in the DOJ? Really? That explains a lot. What were these people’s kids doing during this “parental involvement” time? This kind of “parental involvement,” as you call it, is exactly why those poor kids are not excelling. The focus is politics instead of education.

      You are still, oh how wearying it is, playing the blame game instead of being willing to do the hard work of real parental involvement which every successful student’s parents will tell you is parents sitting down with their kids to help them study, taking them to the library, reading to them, discussing concepts with them, filling them in where classroom time left off, getting them a tutor if needed, etc.

      You want the same results without the same work and that will NEVER happen.

      • I guess it depends on what the defintion of “real parental involvment” IS Linda. On one hand you say parents aren’t demanding the school system treat them fairly and on the other hand you say the NAACP is issuing threats when they do what white parents do every day. It’s about the political involvment, not sitting down with studying with children. My parents didn’t sit down and study with me, they were busy working or taking care of the family. My school work was my school work and my responsibility. I couldn’t help my children with calculus and physics because I wasn’t a trained certified calculus or math teacher. Black parents care about their children and their education the same as white parents. We don’t want anyone to give us anything, by the same token we don’t want anyone to take anything away from us either. We want equal access to a quality public education. No more. No less.

    • Redeye – your post shows us a lot of insight into the problem. You are so dependent on the government that you don’t even think to provide for your own family.

      North Huntsville students already have equal (or better) access to a public education. North Huntsville schools have more teachers than south Huntsville schools (student teacher ratios of about 12 to 1 compared to 18 to 1).

      “Real parental involvement” IS what it IS. The Redeye definition of parental involvement doesn’t work – the Linda definition does. The achievement gap clearly displays that.

      You (and others) are not willing to invest the time and effort necessary to help your own child. Parents spending time studying with a child demonstrates to the child that education is important – important enough for a parent to spend valuable time to do it. Involved parents don’t let the lack of certification stop them – they learn it as they go or arrange for tutors or study dates or whatever it takes – on their own without waiting for the government to spoon feed them.

      You say that “Black parents care… the same as white parents”. I’m not going to racialize the issue by saying that black parents don’t care about their children’s education, but I will say that those parents that don’t get personally involved in their child’s education aren’t demonstrating the same care that involved parents show every day – and the results speak for themselves in terms of the achievement gap.

      • WTF do you mean I am so dependent on the governmentI don’t think to provide for my own family Reactionary? WTF am I dependent on the government for?

        If North Huntsville Schools are so much better why aren’t south Huntsville parents requestiong majority to minority transfers?

        WTF says I and others aren’t willing to invest the time and effort to help our own children?

        WTF says black parents don’t get personally involved?

        WTF are you trying to say?

      • Redeye – you said all that (in this thread and others):

        “it depends on what the defintion of “real parental involvment” IS”

        “It’s about the political involvment, not sitting down with studying with children”

        “My parents didn’t sit down and study with me”

        “I couldn’t help my children with calculus and physics because…”

        Obviously north HSV schools aren’t better – I addressed the equal access question by pointing out that north HSV schools are better-resourced. You claim it’s not the parent’s responsibility to educate their child (beyond paying taxes) – your children’s future depends on government employees. IIRC the NAACP / DOJ showed that most north HSV teachers are black. Redeye – what are you trying to say about the quality of north HSV teachers?

      • Let’s get some FACTS straight here reactionary

        The NAACP didn’t call the DoJ into Huntsville, the school board Attorney did by asking to be released from the federal desegregation order. The DoJ told the Huntsville City School Board don’t even think about it.

        The NAACP is working on behalf of ALL parents and student to improve the quality of schools in north Huntsville.

        North Huntsville schools are not better resourced than south Huntsville schools. See the Curriculum audit for details.

        All of our children’s future depend on “government employees”.

        Huntsville City Schools assigns black teachers to north Huntsville, not the parents. So what does that tell you about Huntsville City schools?

        There is no hope for the Huntsville City Schools

      • As usual, you are ignorant of the facts and your arguments are inconsistent.

        “The NAACP is working on behalf of ALL parents and student to improve the quality of schools in north Huntsville.”

        Really? By threatening them? And how will shipping north Huntsville’s students to other schools improve north Huntsville’s schools?

        “North Huntsville schools are not better resourced than south Huntsville schools. See the Curriculum audit for details.”

        North Huntsville schools have far more money than south Huntsville schools thanks to federal Title I grant money. The reason north Huntsville schools don’t have as many advanced classes is because 1) there isn’t enough demand for them (see curriculum audit for details), and 2) the schools there have to spend so much money on remediation that isn’t required in better schools.

        “Huntsville City Schools assigns black teachers to north Huntsville, not the parents. ”

        As I have noted before, the system tries to assign black teachers to south Huntsville and white teachers to north Huntsville. It is the teachers themselves (of both races) who request transfers to their preferred end of town. Are you calling black teachers racists?

        “So what does that tell you about Huntsville City schools?”

        Not much, but it tells me a lot about you (although not anything I didn’t already know).

        “There is no hope for the Huntsville City Schools.”

        So does that mean you will stop whining?

    • Redeye = “Huntsville City Schools assigns black teachers to north Huntsville”

      That tells me that HCS bought into the liberal PC concept that minority students need minority teachers. I’m sure you’ve heard that minority teachers: understand cultural differences better than majority teachers; can respond to cultural differences in culturally appropriate ways; can act as role models; provide encourage to minority students; and break down racial stereotypes.

      This illustrates how incoherent liberals can be – on one hand the NAACP says black students need white teachers, while on the other hand liberals believe that black teachers are the best teachers for black children.

      • Reactionary it’s not the liberal pc concept that black students need black teachers, that’s the Huntsville City Schools racist concept that black students need black teachers. If the HCS bought into the liberal pc concept students and teachers would be assigned based on the content of the character and their abilities not the color of their skin.

        The NAACP says the Huntsville City School system is seperate therefore it is unequal. The NAACP says the Huntsville City Schools is operating a dual school system that benefits white students to the detriment of black students. The NAACP says all children should have equal access to a quality public education. The NAACP says they are going to use every legal means necessary to make sure all children are treated equally and fairly.

  5. All the most recent research shows that neighborhood schools are the way to go. When they closed Lincoln, they broke up a community that was learning to work together toward common goals.

    Neighborhood schools are close enough for parent involvement and provide a natural community center to see the kids performances, sports events, etc. When everyone has similar needs, the administration can focus on those needs, i.e., field trips, tutors, extra curricular, supplies, and more. When kids are bused out of their communities, they are put amongst strangers and they can’t receive all the freebies that would be available at home — i.e., every field trip, every extra-curricular activity, school supplies, etc., etc.
    Kids “fall between the cracks” because it is extremely difficult for the teachers to keep up with the kids who need special accommodation, in fact you have to have extra staff to handle all the special paper work , federal funds, etc., etc. — not to mention the cost of busing everyone all over town. It is also not conducive to learning to be on a bus for 45 minutes.

    Magnet schools have sent other communities into bankruptcy and have not raised academic achievement.

    • What Magnet schools have sent what other communities into brankruptcy and have not raised academic achievement?

      The cost of bussing is more energy efficient and cost effective than parents and students driving personal automobiles all over town. Bussing is a mode of transportation. Students are on the busses 2 times a day 5 days a week all over Huntsville, Madison City and Madison County.

      Do you attend church in your neighborhood? Do you go to the Hospital in your neighborhood? Do you have friends and relatives that live outside your neighborhood? Do you attend college/university in your neighborhood? Do you work in your neighborhood?

  6. “Redeye on March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm permalink

    Huntsville City Schools assigns black teachers to north Huntsville, not the parents.”

    So you want white teachers in North Huntsville? But aren’t they all racists? Why do you want racists teaching in your school?

    • Martin I want Huntsville City Schools to be the best they can be for all children regardless of race, address, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I’m surprised you and others seem to have a problem with that concept.

      Education is the hope of the republic.