Wasting Time: The Decline of Educational Quality in HCS

SOS HCS

When you’re not hearing constantly negative reports, it might be tempting to believe that things are getting better. Doing so would be a mistake. Over the past two years, I’ve posted regularly about the decline of the educational quality in our schools here in Huntsville. If anyone bothered to respond to my concerns about teacher morale, obsessive testing, or wasted time as a result of the “digital transition,” the response was, “Be patient. It will get better.”

I think we’ve been patient long enough. It isn’t better.

Testing for the Test

This past Friday, after schools had been cancelled due to snow on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the district leadership, in their infinite wisdom and deep concern for the education of our children, scheduled a stress test for the district’s networking infrastructure.

You see, we’re getting disturbingly close to the end of school, and the district had to make sure that the network, after two years, would be able to handle having everyone in the district log on to the system at once. After all, testing would soon be upon us.

Wait, you say, the end of school? It’s only February. Have you lost your mind?

Nope.

Take a look at the district’s testing calendar. You’ll notice that beginning the first week of March the district starts testing. They will take a single week off, and follow that by two weeks of testing before Spring Break. Once the students return after the break, the entire district will be testing for the next two months.

HCS201404TestingHCS201405Testing

So, effectively, the teaching of new material (you know, school) will be coming to a close in just a few weeks.

But that’s good, right? It’s good to test the network to make sure it’s ready, right? It’s good to test our students for the last two months of school, right?

Wardynski certainly thinks so.

Educational Quality

So, on Valentine’s Day, after a week away from school, the district had everyone from third graders to tenth graders log on at 8:30am to see if they could get on the ACT Aspire network so they could take the ACT Aspire test in a few weeks.

Anyone want to guess what happened?

Surely the network issues that the district faced last year (and that they blamed on ACT, by the way) have been resolved?

Nope. They haven’t.

So our kids spent about an hour on Friday attempting to log on, downloading and updating Java on the district’s computers (you know the computers that are supposed to update automatically at night), until they ultimately decided to call off the test. For now.

Yet another hour of instructional time lost to insufficient infrastructure and out of date computers.

Worried About Lost Time

I estimated about a year ago that our students have lost nearly 30 minutes a day of instructional time to computer issues. That comes up to two weeks per year.

On Friday alone, the entire district lost at least an hour.

I think it’s time to up that estimate.

So, how did the district respond to this lost instructional time? Well the principals sent out the following request from Dr. Cooper in the central office:

Hello Principals

The Digital Curriculum allows for ubiquitous learning for HCS students. In viewing social media over the past 2 days, many teachers have taken advantage of the technology and posted assignments on Edmodo. We are interested in determining how many students were able to continue their learning when given an assignment. Upon returning to school we are requesting that you collect data regarding the number of students who were able to access the technology and complete assignments posted by the teacher. We are a data driven school district focused on continuous improvement. This is an opportunity for us to learn how we can better use the technology in the event we are out of school for an extended time due to situations beyond our control. Please publicly thank all teachers who took advantage of the two days to continue learning. This demonstrates a true ‘change of practice’ in the way we educate our students.

Have a great day.

Dr. Barbara Cooper

Teachers were required to fill out an excel spreadsheet and return it to the principal’s office by 2:45pm Friday afternoon so that the principals across the district could give the “data driven” central office the positive data that they could use to promote Wardynski’s folly.

Let’s assess this for just a moment.

What We’ve Really Lost

We’re losing at least two months to district testing. (And with all the other testing included, it’s going to be much closer to three.)

We’re losing at least 30 minutes a day, and probably more likely closer to an hour, to computer issues.

We’ve lost 669 teachers and district employees to either retirement or resignation (which includes the 8 that the board approved on February 6th) since August 2011. We’re still maintaining a rate of 23 departures every month. Anyone want to bet that we’ll match that rate by the end of this month as well? Anyone?

But despite all of that, what the district is really concerned about is how many of our students did some homework during the snow days.

And they’re so concerned that they want teachers to take time out of their instructional day to submit a report so this can be tracked.

“Data driven” indeed

Wouldn’t it be nice if the district worried as much about not interrupting the daily instruction as they do about interrupting family time? (For the record, I don’t have any problem with a teacher assigning work on a snow day. I don’t have any problem with a teacher who doesn’t. I do have a problem with teachers not having the freedom to make that decision on their own.)

Oh, but you see, that instructional time doesn’t really matter. All that matters is our ability to show that our students are growing in their ability to take a standardized test.

All that matters is our ability to run off some of the best teachers in the district.

All that matters is that Wardynski has the “data” to make himself look good to Pearson or whatever other position he’s jockeying for.

The educational quality of Huntsville City Schools has not improved over the past two years. All that has improved is Wardynski’s ability to pretend that it has.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

24 Comments

  1. Well sorry, but I DO have a problem with teachers assigning schoolwork electronically during snow days. In fact, I have a problem with teachers assigning schoolwork after hours on school days. If the teacher cannot make the assignment during class (or at least by the end of the school day), it can wait until the next day.

    I have no idea if my kids’ teachers posted assignments to Edmodo during the snow days, because after we found out some teachers were doing so, we forbade our kids from turning on their laptops. Instead, they were doing truly important things like sledding, building snowmen, and beating me in card games — crazy, I know.

    Like my wife posted on Facebook, just because the schools CAN have access to our kids 24/7 doesn’t mean they should. And if HCS thinks otherwise, it is more than welcome to bite me.

    1. I have no problem with your objection. I agree that family time is sacrosanct and that downtime is crucial.

      I don’t have an issue with an assignment, but I don’t mind if you do.

  2. Let me add some more information to your message. Yesterday, during a meeting with one of my son’s teachers I was told that he would have a test every Friday using the new “Schoolnet” product. The teacher was obviously concerned about this loss of instructional time and giving a test just so it could be said that the product was being used regularly. I inquired what if students were not at the point in the study to have a test and was told it didn’t matter, this was a directive from the principal. So now students are tested before being taught.

    Madison County Schools, make room my children will be joining you next year.

  3. Madness. Out of control. Here’s an example of an assignment that my 14 year old son was given in his middle school last week: “You are a cosmetologist. You are advising a friend on a what hair style would look best for them. Research the types of face shapes and hairstyles and assess which one would be preferable.” In addition to this, there was a list of questions associated with this decision. Bottom line, my son had to spend over an hour to complete this nonsense, in addition to the pages of math problems, science homework, and reading that was also required that night. And of course when I have sat down to talk “off the record” with a few of the teachers, it’s always the same. They are hesitant to open up about policy for fear of reprisal, they stress that they must “stay on schedule” regardless of whether kids are falling behind of simlpy not understanding the work, and they must prepare the class for the next mandatory standardized test. I remember the days when I carried my books to school, interacted with a teacher in the classroom, and tested on the material being taught by THE TEACHER and not mandated by the state. Oh, and if I’m not mistaken, this country was ranked among the top in the world in education of our students. Now look where we are. And you still have a miguided superintendent with no experience as an educator leading us down this path. Disgraceful.

  4. PLEASE don’t turn this blog into your personal political forum! We get it. Yet even our current Dunce-in Chief has made a few gaffes.

    1. I posted the above to say students are being taught to pass standardized test not critical thinking skills. Not reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling. In all of this rarely is the question asked “Is the children learning”? I submit they are not. I submit they are being left behind.

    2. It’s rather difficult to turn any educational discussion into a traditionally political discussion: both parties are terrible on education right now. They are working in concert to end public education.

      Having said that, I do appreciate it when we keep the discussions relevant to the posts. For the most part, I believe that happens.

      So, thanks y’all! 🙂

  5. Absolutely in agreement with you. These mandates on our teachers and children are all a ploy to build Wardynski’s portfolio. But he doesn’t act alone… he has a short, miserable-looking, arrogant, puppet at his right hand.
    They need to go asap.

  6. I can’t help but wonder if we would be having this discussion if the man that was not chosen to replace ARM had been chosen.
    King has served as superintendent of the Muncie system for about three years. His time overall as a superintendent has equaled 11 years, but his experience in education goes back much longer. He has also served as a director of pupil services, principal, dean of students, athletic director, teacher and director of parks and recreation.

    His education includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, an administrative certification from Concordia University in River Forest, Ill., and a PhD from Loyola University of Chicago.

    http://blog.al.com/breaking/2011/05/huntsville_board_begins_superi.html

    Be sure and read the comments.

    1. No reason to relitigate that whole thing. There were very valid reasons not to hire him, but the fact is that none of the candidates were particularly impressive. Water under the bridge at this point.

  7. With all due respect Ben I beg to differ, Dr. Eric King was very impressive and his credentials were impeccable, not to mention a proven track record. IMHO the most qualified candidate was not hired.

    “Board Vice President Laurie McCaulley asked about his experience transforming underperforming schools. By using a systemic process of change that promotes continuous school improvement, King said, his system has seen one of its lowest performing schools recognized last year for making the most improvement in the state.”

    1. Dr. King didn’t make it to the final interview process, but I agree that he would have been far better than Wardynski. Of course, nearly anyone would have been.

  8. Even though I am a retired teacher of about 30 years, my eyes began opening when Bush and the NCLB ACT came out. Of course being in the system,most of it in Huntsville as a teacher gave me an advantage. Now that Warndynski (is that how you spell his name?),is in power and data is all that seems to matter,we are in big trouble. Have tried to keep my mouth shut after leaving the system but I just can’t anymore. From the Alabama legislature to the military regime of Huntsville City Schools I just want to cry.How could anyone let a military leader become superintendent of such a system like Huntsville?

    Data.data,data. Is there somebody out there with any authority who understands that and can do anything about it?

    Bravo to you Mr Geek Palaver.Please keep it going. Maybe in time the future will unfold and your efforts will be heard and action taken where data is only part of the formula.

    Sincerely,
    Dee Murphy

  9. ” From the Alabama legislature to the military regime of Huntsville City Schools I just want to cry.How could anyone let a military leader become superintendent of such a system like Huntsville?”

    Not sure who we can thank for the Alabama legislature, but IMHO, and mine only, we can thank the South Huntsville Civic Association for letting a military leader become superintendent of such a system like Huntsville.

    1. Not sure how many times you have to be told, Redeye, but SHCA did not support Wardynski’s hiring. Even if it had wanted to, that group isn’t nearly influential enough to hand-pick the superintendent. I have first-hand knowledge that this was a board decision driven by the fact that Jennie Robinson and David Blair bought into the whole “data-driven/standards-based” “reform” claptrap. Birney was convinced to provide the third vote. That’s it — no conspiracy.

      1. “Me and Ben and about 300 of our closest friends attended the South Huntsville Civic Association Superintendent reception and legislative forum this evening at Grissom High School. This was HCS Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski’s first public meeting in his new job, and the SHCA invited every member of the South Huntsville legislative delegation to help welcome Casey.

        State Senator Arthur Orr (R), Senator Paul Sanford (R), Senator Clay Scofield (R), Representative Mike Ball (R), and Representative Howard Sanderford (R) were on hand to answer questions during the forum. BTW it feels really good to be writing (R) after all of those seats. Huntsville City Councilman John Olshefski was also on the panel. Read on for Casey’s speech and the Q&A…

        Notables included: Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick (R), Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, Chief Mark Hudson, Councilman Mark Russell, HCS BOE member Jennie Robinson, BOE member Laurie McCauley, BOE member Alta Morrison, former Mayor Loretta Spencer, and former Councilman Sandra Moon.

        Former Congressman Parker Griffith and Wayne Parker (recently appointed to the Governor’s Insurance Commission) attended, as well as Coach Walker McGinnis. The Huntsville Times reporter Crystal Bonvillian (who wrote an excellent article about Superintendent costs) and WHNT-19′s Emmy-nominated reporter Venton Blandin provided news coverage.

        I know it’s probably difficult to find a good school superintendent joke, but let’s be clear – Dr. Casey Wardynski is not a comedian. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a comedian to run the schools.”

        http://www.flashpointblog.com/?p=8852

        1. Yes, there was a previously-scheduled public meeting that night, so a reception was held for the new superintendent and he was given a chance to speak. So what? These are just the things a civic association does. SHCA still had nothing to do with choosing him. Again, SHCA only wishes it had the power you think it does.

  10. Thank you Dee for speaking out. Believe me, your frustration and utter disappointment is shared by many, me included. We ALL need to take a good look at the people we vote for to represent our districts, who in turn have a hand in bringing in military officers to run our school district. Not sure about the “South Huntsville Civic Association” comment, but perhaps they were the most vocal and engaged in this community?? Regardless, the blame starts with the people who voted in our current BOE, and more so, to the apathetic couch potatoes who couldn’t muster the effort to put the remote control down and go out and vote in the first place. Similar to the garbage we have running the white house now, we, the voters, are the real ones to blame. I spoke to my child last night, but am no longer shocked at what I hear. For instance….although most of the class does not understand the current topic and failed the test, the teacher “must” move on for fear of falling behind the expected teaching goals for the semester. Really? And now they are “preparing” for another week of Benchmark testing to illustrate just how much they don’t know which puts teachers in further peril of being dismissed. Great system. Honestly, I don’t know what we can do but I do have a suggestion. At the beginning of the school year, parents should DEMAND the syllabus for each class for the entire year on what their children will LEARN. I would like to do my own research on what their goals are, how much time is being spent on topics, and how much of the school year is being interrupted by frivolous testing. Furthermore…we should be vocal and we should be visible. Enough is enough!

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