A School Official Who Homeschools?

Originally published at PJ Media
By K. Daniel Glover

Bonnie Henthorn and her husband spent their formative years in Tyler County public schools. Between them, their two children spent at least 15 years in that school system. The family has paid taxes that support the schools for decades.

bonnie_henthorn_twitterWith deep roots and a historical perspective like that, Henthorn is an ideal choice for president of the Tyler County school board, a role she has filled since 2014. But none of that matters now because in January she committed the unpardonable sin of public education: She started homeschooling.

Henthorn announced the family decision at the Jan. 4 school board meeting, citing two reasons that had nothing to do with Tyler County schools. “One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education,” she said. “… Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the students at heart.”

That very personal decision, designed to benefit Henthorn’s sophomore son and seventh-grade daughter, quickly became the topic of a very hostile public debate.

At the meeting, board member Linda Hoover peppered Henthorn with questions. She implied that Henthorn couldn’t lead an education system if her children weren’t part of it and that pulling them from it is “a slap in the teachers’ faces.” Another board member, Jimmy Wyatt, called it a “questionable decision” that might show a lack of faith in the county school system.

The outrage escalated over the next few weeks. A Tyler County native created a Facebook group and a Change.org petition demanding Henthorn’s resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial decrying the “sad mess” in Tyler County and calling Henthorn “unsuited for public school leadership.”

At the next school board meeting, the union that represents Tyler County teachers expressed its lack of confidence in Henthorn. Even State Board of Education president Michael Green, whom Henthorn specifically mentioned when criticizing state leadership, felt compelled to issue a statement.

Read the rest of the article at PJ Media.

The Future Of Standardized Testing

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

School may be out for the summer, but one never-ending education debate continues unabated. As the American Federation of Teachers gathers in Washington this week for a conference on educational standards, the issue of high-stakes tests that link students’ performance to grade promotion or college entrance and educators’ performance to their career futures once again is at the forefront of the debate.

The location for the conference is appropriate, for the July weather in the nation’s capital seems like the perfect metaphor for the testing debate: hot, perhaps unbearable at times, with no relief in sight.

That forecast is typical, though, a fact duly noted by Thomas B. Fordham Foundation President Chester E. Finn Jr. in the foreword to the foundation’s January 1999 report Why Testing Experts Hate Testing. “No issue in U.S. education is more controversial than testing,” Finn wrote. “Some people view it as the linchpin of serious reform and improvement, others as a menace to quality teaching and learning.”

In search of answers
So which is it, linchpin or menace? Can we assign a “grade” to standardized tests as a whole and assess the merits of the testing movement much as the tests try to assess the merits of students and educators?

Not unless you grade each test separately and consider its mission, says Wayne Martin, director of the State Education Assessment Center at the Council of Chief State School Officers. Any broad-based analysis of standardized tests would be unfair because too many factors are at play.

“For whom is the test ‘high stakes’? Is it for students, for teachers, for schools or for districts?” Martin asks rhetorically in an e-mail interview. “Is it part of a state accountability system? Is the test … part of a set of indicators? What is the test based on (e.g., state content standards, state curriculum) and how well does it measure the material upon which it is based (content validity)?”

The Kids Of Summer

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Here comes summer. School is out, oh happy day.
Here comes summer. Gonna grab my girl and run away.
Here comes summer. We’ll go swimmin’ every day.
Oh, let the sun shine bright on my happy summer home.

Those lyrics, from the 1959 summertime anthem of Jerry Keller, no doubt ring as true to the teenagers of today as they did to the youth of the “Happy Days” generation. To American kids, summer means two things: no more school and the promise of a whole lot of fun. Some things never change.

But if the youthful image of summer remains fairly constant through the generations, the circumstances in which children live their summers most certainly does not. The era of “Murphy Brown” and latch-key kids long ago supplanted the stay-at-home-mom era of “Father Knows Best.” Most parents of the 1950s supervised their children after school and during the summer break; many parents today leave them in day care or, if their kids are older, at home alone to fend for themselves.

“In many more homes,” says Kay Luzier, a board member of the National Parent-Teacher Association and chairwoman of its education commission, “both parents are working, so there is no one home to supervise the children.”

The making of mentors
Statistics from a 1997 study by the Families and Work Institute confirm that more children are left alone or with non-parent caretakers these days than in the past. The National Study of the Changing Workforce shows that 78 percent of married employees also have spouses who work, compared with 66 percent in 1977, and 46 percent of workers have children younger than 18 who live with them at least half-time. Nearly 20 percent of employed parents are single.

And even when parents are home, the report says, they do not always have the time or energy to supervise the kids’ activities. One in three employees say they bring work home at least once a week, according to the study, and 28 percent say that after work, they often lack the stamina for family time.

The trend gives pause to youth activists like Stephanie Colbert Stradford, who worry about the dangerous paths she says too many of today’s children tread — everything from homelessness, drugs, prostitution and crime to teen pregnancy, violence and even parental assault. But the trend also explains the existence of groups like Youth Achievers USA Inc. in Landover, Md., of which Stradford is national president.

The ABCs Of Student Testing

Originally published at IntellectualCapital.com
By K. Daniel Glover

Judgment Day is just days away for students and schools in Washington, D.C. Next month, they will get the results of the standardized tests they completed in April and learn their fortune. Students who do not meet expectations will be forced into summer school or perhaps held back for another year of schooling in the same grade. Principals and teachers in the 20 schools with chronically low grades may be in the unemployment line if their schools’ overall scores do not rise 10% or more above 1997 levels.

The story is much the same in Virginia and Maryland. If legislators there maintain current education plans, the next generation of students in the states that border the nation’s capital will have to pass a series of tests in core subjects to graduate. And Virginia schools could lose their accreditation if 70 percent of their students do not pass the Standards of Learning exams, which were administered for the first time this spring.

In fact, educators and students across the country face similar fates under new rules of accountability being adopted by states from Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin to Texas, Kentucky and Massachusetts. The movement toward minimum-competency tests that began in the 1970s has evolved into a strident demand for results, and education leaders and elected officials have turned to high-stakes assessments that offer both rewards and penalties as the best way to gauge progress.

But do the tests accurately measure students’ knowledge? Do they encourage “teaching to the test” to the detriment of a broader education? Are the penalties for failure too harsh? Do the exams take into account the disparities in money, material and experience from one school district to the next? All of these questions, and plenty more, are at the heart of a raging debate about education testing.

A cure for ailing schools?
None of them are easy to answer, either. Asking whether standardized tests, particularly those with high stakes attached, are worthwhile “really is analogous to asking whether medicine is good or bad,” said Dan Koretz, an education researcher for RAND Corp. in Washington. “There are just too many variables.”

“[The tests] have in many cases produced results that are disappointing, as their opponents had projected,” Koretz added, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. … Most of these programs have a mix of good and bad results, and people will argue about what that mix is.”