Category Archives: Duluth Schools

Duluth tenth graders can right rite

The top story in the DNT’s local section showed that 93 percent of Duluth’s tenth graders can write passably. On a scale from 1 to 6, 3 being passing, all but seven percent pass muster.

This is not to suggest that writing at level 3 is anything special. You wouldn’t want to read a blog written at level 3 but a person can survive in our literate world at this rate.

The NCLB law is not the first effort aimed at pushing low functioning kids to higher levels. Its only innovation is being the first nationalized effort to do so. As a teacher a couple decades ago it began to dawn on me that I had lots of barely literate kids in my social studies classes. Rather than do all my testing with multiple choice tests I began testing my kids with essays. Its one thing to ask kids what caused the civil war in an essay than to offer them the alternatives of A.slavery, B.sectional economic differences, B.Kansas Nebraska Act, D.the banana boycott; to see if kids have learned their history. Many couldn’t and many wouldn’t write anything. Blank answers weren’t necessarily eividence of ignorance of the subject. It was just as likely an indication of their unwillingness to demonstrate their poor writing skills. How far would a kid go to hide such a failing?

Today’s Dear Abby has a letter from a young woman whose 33 year-old boyfriend refuses to do anything about his illiteracy. It raises the age old question of how a child can spend ten or twelve years in school without learning how to do the single most requiement of an education.

Whatever else its flaws NCLB testing is one way to keep a school district focused on student progress so that they don’t fall between the cracks.

It didn’t take passing NCLB to get this done. Fifteen years ago Minnesota adopted a process called “outcome based education” or OBE for short. The idea was simple. Schools would pay more attention to the outcome of a child’s schooling i.e. getting them educated than it would keeping trakc of their seat time (time spent in class). Ironically it was killed by Republicans and their allies for doing exactly what the NCLB is nnow attempting to do – make sure no child falls too far behind his classmates. But the outrage that killed OBE had more to do with the fear that schools would spend all their resources on the worst students by shafting gifted and ambitious kids. This complaint lives on with the Republican inspired NLCB.

OBE was followed by Minnesota’s even more ambitious “Profiles of Learning.”  It had too many cooks, hundreds and thousands of designers made it so complicated that it was almost beyond the public’s comprehension. Again state Republicans led the charge to kill another ed reform. Now Republicans are beginning to rebel anainst President Bush’s NCLB.

Why is it that 7 out of ten Duluth tenth graders can’t write? Some may be newly enrolled foreign students still learning English. Others may be special education students with limited intellectual abilities. Some may have gotten their education in other school districts so that Duluth shouldn’t have to be tagged with their failure. Whatever the reason it should remain a reason and not an excuse. An excuse is one step away from a justification.

800 Schools left behind

In an earlier post I complained about the Left Behind policies of the Bush Administration and how Duluth Schools could be listed as failing their students starting next year.

Tom Boman, UMD’s Ed professor and a regular contributor to the Tribune, explained it so well that even I understand how stupid this is.

Better read it quick. The Trib only keeps stuff on their site for seven days unless it ends up being cached somewhere.

Will Duluth have failing schools courtesy of NCLB?

As I was leaving town for Texas I caught a story in the Strib. It was in the DTrib too. It suggested that because Minnesota allows schools not to count the test scores of lower performing special education students when they number fewer than 40 to a school the NCLB cops would come in and clean house. As a result Minnesota (and possibly Duluth) will likely see a lot more of its schools labeled as “underperformers.”

NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is the Bush brainchild based on his Texas education reforms. The NCLB has irritated his Republican base which has balked at having the Federal Government to override state standards. Utah is among the more resistant.

On the plus side NCLB pushes states to pay attention to the academic progress of their poor children. On the minus side there is nothing in NCLB which requires states to equalize funding for impoverished school districts. Rather, it pushes state’s to implement cheap mind deadening “drill and kill” rote memorization and expensive mass testing.

Bush’s Texas miracle has led a lot of desperate school districts in that state to cheat. That’s not very encouraging.

Preparations prior to departure

This is a post I attempted to send yesterday as it the next. When the battery died on the flight to texas so did the post.I’ve emailed principals, trustees, school board members and PTA leaders. Now while I’m in San Antonio I’ll wait for replies and hopefully some reservation requests. One principal emailed back promising to make substitute teachers available for any of his teachers who want to attend. Cool.

I gave Michele Wallerstein, our President, an option to suggest changes but got nervous and sent my column in to the editor/publisher before she replied. Being a diplomat she changed my dyspeptic references to “greedy” legislators covering their “fiscal mismanagement.” It did her no good as I had already sent it in. I told her our legislators were all Democrats and unlikely to take offense since they’d just blame Republics who controlled 2/3rds of the state government.

Duluth Schools Endowment Announcement

Posting will be light this week because I have a serious project to pursue. That’s too bad because a great many important news streams are colliding. However, the life of my City, Duluth, can not be put on hold for these events let alone for my pontifications on them.

I’ve just finished my latest column for the Reader Weekly. It announces a meeting to organize a major fund raising effort for the Duluth Schools which will be held in three weeks. Until then that will take the lion’s share of my time. Oh, I also have a short sojourn to San Antonio coming up this weekend. Since I haven’t figured out how to blog by email that space on the calendar will leave the Lincoln Democrats without their self annointed spokesman.

If you love the Duluth Schools take a look at my column. You may be just the sort of person we’re looking for.

and now something useful

Since my appointment as a trustee of the Duluth Public School Board Endowment Fund last fall I’ve been slowly working on a plan to raise a serious endowment for the Duluth Schools. The present endowment is a hair over $450,000 and it has generated enough income to finance a dozen or more modest grants for innovative teaching projects every year for the past decade.

On May 2nd we are having a meeting of people who care about the schools to organize a massive fund raising project.

Over the last week we wrote and will be sending out a fund raising letter to our eighty or so past contributors. it also invites them to join us on May 2nd. That’s a very modest number of people but its all who have contributed to our endowment to date. I want a fund of 20 million dollars which should earn about a million dollars annually. That requires raising 40 times as much money as we currently have.

I’m planning to get at a minimum 40 people signed up to join us May 2nd. Getting them to the meeting will be my challenge. I’ll keep you up to date. In the meantime it will be the subject of my next column in the Reader. I hope I’m up to it.

Endowing Duluth

I’ve just come back from our finance committee meeting of the Duluth Public Schools Endowment Board. We’ve got big plans. We hope to build our $450,000 endowment up to a million dollars by the end of this year. To that end we’ve scheduled a meeting on the morning of May 2nd for people who love the Duluth Public Schools. Send me an email if you’d like an invitation. harrywelty@charter.net  (put the word “endowment” in the subject heading)