V1 #684, Reply LO7302

Wed, 8 May 1996 12:29:27 -0400

Replying to LO7263 --


You said, "I did not mean to imply that schools are the source of all of
our problems. Having a student for so many hours each day, they could
contribute to a solution for those individuals in a major way. Those which
I have seen firsthand in New York City are major contributors to the
problem rather than the solution. NYC is a great place to view all the
aspects of societal problems such as a welfare system which destroys whole
families and makes children into muggers and shooters at an early age.
Believe it or not, there are a very few schools who take these same
children and turn them into responsible members of society, schools which
have not taken the "oh, poor me, we are in the South Bronx and can't
succeed". The processes of destroying children and then rebuilding them
each seem to be a learned skill."

I believe you are correct. The research in the 1970s by the late Ron
Edmunds (Michigan State) identified that some schools, in poverty-stricken
areas, children demonstrated achievement far above what would normally be
expected and other schools, in affluent suburban areas, the children
demonstrated achievement far below what would normally be expected. This
research and the school reform (restructuring, improvement or whatever
term of change is added) became known as Effective Schools. Edmunds
theory that his research supprted is that schools do make a difference.
The outside conditions do not excuse schools from responsiblity for the
learning of the students. It is not acceptable to say I taught, they
didn't learn!

Not all students enter school on the same level. Some can read well,
other not at all. All should make significant progress by the time they
leave that school. Ideally, the ones who have the most skills should
flourish. The others should flourish and the gap in thier knowledge and
skills should be reduced; not by bringing the better performing ones down,
but by bringing the poorer achieving students up. To me, that is the
responsiblity of schools.

If we look at the question of society having productive citizens (my
short-hand version of the original issue identified by the low number of
students perceived as unprepared for college) the education system(s) play
an important role, but the issue is bigger. Our whole society, from my
understanding of systems, contributes to the problem and solutions result
in all of society, not just eduction.

You also said, "I am quite glad to hear that competition exists. Please
let me know where that is taking place. I had understood that there were
no cases today and that the NEA had been successful in squashing all but a
very few very small, insignificant cases. You used the words "could lead
to bankruptcy". Does that mean that this has never occurred and therefore
is unbelievable? "

First of all, the National Education Association (NEA) of the 1990s is a
different organization than the NEA of the 1970s. Today, while
representing and advocating for its members, the NEA also focuses on
issues of school reform. The association recognizes that the interest of
its members require public support of schools and the public expects good

Just this month NEA announced its financial and consultive support of five
(I believe) charter schools in different states. It supports a variety of
types of reform efforts.

In Iowa, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA, an NEA affiliate)
organized the creation, and financially supports, the New Iowa Schools
Development Corportation (NISDC). NISDC is a partnership of the ISEA,
Iowa School Boards Association, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa PTA,
Governor's Office, Education chairs from the Iowa Legislature, and other
groups, including the Business/Industry Council (not sure if right name)
NISDC works with over forty school districts on various reform efforts.

Iowa has an open enrollment program that allows parents to enroll their
child in another district. There are restrictions. Studies show that the
most open enrollments occur because of convenience. In the past several
years, at least 30 Iowa school districts (once had 430 districts) have
gone out of existence as they have merged into other districts. Many
small districts were unable to offer very extensive programs, more parents
left, funding went down, survial unrealistic, thus merger.

For a city like Des Moines (31,300 students) open enrollment causes
special problems. Most of the poverty in the county is within the city.
Because of a larger proportion of students who enter schools without the
usual iknowledge and skills, a variety of programs have been designed to
help those students succeed. More programs, more cost. An example of a
program is school-within-a-school to provide small classes and additional
support to students considered more likely top drop out or not finish
school. We have reduced our drop rate significantly. This program costs
additional money over the regular program.

Our minority population is nearing 25% and we have student who speak 27
native languages - such as Russian, Bosnian, Somalian. The programs that
help educate and provide these students with English cost money.

Within our district, we provide open enrollment so parents so have choice.
The families who open enroll out of the District do so for a variety of
reasons. There is some sense that a number of people leave the district
to avoid the diverse population in Des Moines.

When people open enroll out of the district, the state funds, and local
property tax funds, follow them. Usually it is not the poor people who
open enroll. Therefore, our district ends up with less resources, but the
same need for the programs that hopefully can make a difference for the
students. This is a real problem to solve.

There other experiments - for example in Milwaukee, vouchers for private
schools are provided to some low income students. Great controversy.
Apparently at least two schools are being accused (prosecuted?) for
fraudently reporting more students and acquiring more tuition money from
the state than students who were enrolled. Other constitutional questions
are in court about use public money for students enrolled in religious

Charter schools are allowed and being formed in many states, Minnesota
probably is the leader.

In several states, school districts have been taken over by the state
because of their failure to meet standards (Iowa, New Jersey, California)
to name three.

Bottom line, schools and school districts are complex systems. The use of
stystems thinking that recognizes the interconnectedness of issues is
needed for us to find the system that best serves the needs of society.

Joan, one of the benefits of this dialogue is the opportunity for me to
see and state my own thinking more clearly (mental models?) and allow
others to examine them.

David Wilkinson
School Improvement Specialist
Des Moines Public Schools
1800 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone (515) 242-7780
Fax (515) 242-7710
email - Davidwilk@aol.com



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