Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Lie

Mindy Schmidt's latest missive against Corbett School (and against me) makes the untrue claim that the Cascade Locks Charter School Application was similar to that of Corbett Charter School. She goes on to say that it was denied by HRVSD and by the State of Oregon.

This is simply false. I was hired as a consultant after the proposed school was already designed by a community group from Cascade Locks. Mindy seems to hope that by claiming that the Cascade Locks Charter Application was essentially the same as that of Corbett Charter School, the denial of the Cascade Locks application should somehow reflect badly on our school and on me.

I almost wish that her 'claim' had been true. It would constitute evidence that Hood River Valley School Board had displayed incompetence in denying the application. After all, Corbett Charter School has since out-performed Hood River Valley School District as well as the State of Oregon in every measure of school success. To deny an application that sought to replicate CCS success would seem to be a matter of extreme incompetence.

The fact is that it was greed, pure and simple, that blocked the establishment of Cascade Locks Charter School. The plan was not mine, but it was good. Nobody who can back up their claim to expertise with actual achievement, including the decision-makers in Hood River, ever said otherwise.

But one has to wonder why Mindy would make such a claim. What is in it for her? My old sociology professor used to urge that we ought to constantly ask the question: who benefits? How does Mindy benefit from attempting to discredit me and Corbett Charter School? How does she benefit from her campaign of ill will toward Corbett School District? Who benefits? Interesting question.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Shocked! Shocked and Appalled!

Nearly 13 years ago, I asked the Corbett Board and anyone else who was paying attention to provide a single advantage to maintaining Corbett School District's accreditation. I researched for weeks and couldn't find anything. Others who were interested in the question found nothing. The discussions happened in open session, and the Board room (as it was for the better part of 10 years) was usually empty except for the faithful Freund family. (The Freunds were wonderful patrons who appointed themselves to watchdog the new administration when nobody else cared enough to show up.)

When nobody involved was able to come up with a single advantage to paying an outside agency to impose requirements upon Corbett's operation (requirements that hadn't produced results for Corbett at any time in the past), Corbett let accreditation lapse. It wasn't an accident, it was purposeful. And it wasn't done by the individual fiat of the superintendent, it was the result of an extended conversation during which input was solicited.

For the following 10 years, Corbett School District experienced well-documented, unprecedented improvement in virtually every measure of school effectiveness. (The Accusers' version of the story is that Corbett somehow tricked really smart kids into coming to a really weak school and thereby caused test results to improve. My version is that Corbett has had really smart kids all along and that better schooling brought about better results, which then attracted students from outside. The only difference between the two versions is that one makes sense.)

Today, nearly thirteen years after the fact (and I mean after the fact, not after the made-up version), a small local group that seems only to have discovered Corbett School District during the last 15 months is scrounging about to find anything, however flimsy, with which to discredit the administration (current and past). They claim to be 'shocked' that 'then superintendent Bob Dunton' 'destroyed' Corbett's accreditation. If they are being honest (and some of the major players simply aren't in that habit) then they are admitting to having paid no attention at all to the business of the District for over a decade.

If they are being honest, they are breaking a long streak that has included a significant string of false claims and accusations. My favorite? "Corbett's Special Education department had a $2,000,000.00 budget and that money wasn't spent on Special Education. I saw it in the budget!" That whopper probably wasn't so much a lie as it was an inability to read a budget. But it didn't slow down the perpetrator of that particular fantasy. She communicated her accusation to anyone who would listen. When it was finally pointed out to her, in a meeting, that she had misread the budget (Special Programs is not the same as Special Education, as it turns out) she was quoted as saying, "Oh." Did she go back and tell everyone that she had no idea what she was talking about? Fat chance.

Corbett School District is under attack. At least two of the attackers are sitting on the School Board, generating an impressive string of 5-2 votes and spreading discontent in hopes of eventually forging a majority as the result of next May's board elections. Since they have no chance of winning based on the truth, they are left having to play to other 'strengths'. These 'neo-Machiavellians' do not care about the truth. They don't care about ethics. They take advantage of the fact that the Corbett administration has to follow the rules while they are free to behave with reckless abandon. They play on people's fears, their anxieties, whatever might influence them to jump on board. They use proxies to say things that even they believe to be beyond the pale for board members.

Watching the work of the last 13 years of my life come under attack has been difficult. It will be even more painful to watch if these ham-fisted politicos are successful at undoing it. But my personal sense of loss will be nothing compared to the real loss of opportunity experienced by every single student who is left with the aftermath of their 'vision'.

The Corbett administration is comprised of good people with remarkable expertise and experience. They keep the interests of their students at the forefront of every decision, and they behave responsibly and kindly even when they are under attack. They are polite and long-suffering, even when facing abuse. They keep confidentiality even when district patrons lie about what happens in school.

Corbett administrators are in danger of losing a war of words to Accusers with little knowledge, no experience, and no scruples. (All they have on their side is a web mistress who is apparently unaware of the damage that she is faciilitating). The Accusers could never compete in an open debate, but they don't need to. They just keep throwing mud (using the internet as a catapult) and hoping that the 99% of Corbett residents who are bright, caring human beings won't notice what the 1% is up to. Today the 1% operates with impunity. The other 99% need to be prodded to notice, to stand up and be counted. I believe that it will happen.

I have been hesitant to say anything that reflects badly on the parents of students that I have taught and care about. But there is a tipping point beyond which I will decide that the best interests of the hundreds of students whose educational opportunities are put at risk by this nonsense outweighs my concern for feelings.

Education is serious business. The stakes are immeasurably high. It can't be an arena for the chronically frustrated-and-resentful to work out their issues. These people need to find a sand castle to kick and get over whatever is bothering them.

Up next? The top 10 lies.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Talking Back to Yeats


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

"The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." What more haunting words have ever been written?

Is it fate? Will things fall apart? Be torn apart? Are we witnessing the ascendancy of 'the worst'? It seems possible. How? Through the lack of conviction of the best. If passionate intensity is reserved for 'the worst', the result might as well be fated. Will 'the best' find their own intensity while the question is still an open one? Or will they save it for mourning after the dust has settled? Have no illusions: there really is a 'rough beast' slouching...but it will be up to others to determine whether this is really 'its hour come round at last'. It doesn't have to be.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Special Education Results in Corbett, 2010

Last year Corbett's students who qualified for Special Education passed the State Math Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State special education average by 27%.

Last year Corbett's students who qualified for Special Education passed the State Reading Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State special education average by 7.6%.

Last year Corbett's students who qualified for Special Education passed the State Science Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State special education average by 25%.

This is true in spite of the fact that Corbett identified far fewer students, meaning that the students who did qualify had more significant barriers to learning than does the average identified student around the state. But shouldn't that sort of screening have resulted in our general student scores dropping off?

Last year Corbett's Total Population passed the State Math Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State average by 5.6%. (The gap got considerably wider as students got older.)

Last year Corbett's Total Population passed the State Reading Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State average by 6.3%. (The gap got considerably wider as students got older.)

Last year Corbett's Total Population passed the State Science Assessments at a rate that exceeded the State average by 9.7%. (The gap got considerably wider as students got older.)

So who got left behind? Not the Special Education students. Not the general population of students? Makes one wonder who might be left...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

Overheard lately:

1. Corbett Schools lack focus and have no identity. (If they did, they could perform like...oops!)
2. Corbett Schools leave students behind.
3. Corbett Schools had a $2,000,000.00 budget for Special Education last year.
4. "I saw it in the budget myself!"
5. "I'm embarrassed that Corbett students pass only 25% of their Advanced Placement exams."

How can one possibly respond to such devastating criticism? I've given it some thought. Here goes:

1. The earth is flat. (Come on. If it's round, why don't we fall off?)
2. The lights in the Middle School are powered by very quick, tiny men wearing nylon pants so that their rapid circular racing around each fixture generates static electricity. The light switches only exist to let them know when lights are needed.
3. The sun revolves around the earth.
4. "I saw it myself". No, really, it started out in the East and traveled West all day. Are you calling me a liar? Or worse?
5. Harvard, Reed, Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, USC, Willamette, George Fox, Baylor, U Penn, Smith, Liberty, U of O, OSU, SOU, EOU, WOU, MHCC University of Portland, Portland State, Linfield, Pacific University don't seem to be embarrassed, and neither are the families who are saving thousands (and years) during hard economic times to get their kids through school.

That last one actually warranted a response, as it was the only one that had any basis in reality. Props for that. But the rest of the story is this...Corbett students are taking college level exams. To imagine that the 25% passing rate is embarrassing is to miss the point. How would we feel about a volleyball team that won 25% of its matches against colleges and universities around the country? Or a football team that won 25% of its games in the Pac 10? Absurd, of course. But academically, that's the league we are playing in. And we are seeing some all-star performances.

It is dazzling to watch, if you are able to follow the game. If, on the other hand, you know schools like I know soccer, it can be a little disorienting. That's why I hardly ever complain about the soccer coach's game plan. "You only scored on 25% of your possessions? What's going on here?!"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What are the odds

that Corbett Schools will be able to maintain their current level of service to students? Looks like two-to-one against, based on last night's election results. No news, really, as it's about the same number that we've seen again and again. Good to see that the extra-curricular politics had no impact on the vote...the community remains solid as a rock.

Congrats to the V-Ball and Soccer teams...all extending their seasons this week. Valiant efforts resulting in very windy wins last night. Nice work.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Do Charter Schools Skim the Best Students?

Once in awhile someone thinks of a clever name to call a rival, and it sticks. So it seems that 'skimming' is a charge that sticks to charter least among those who don't stop to think about it.

What is skimming? It's the practice of choosing only the most desirable students and screening out the others. Kind of a mean-spirited notion, that there are undesirable students out there whose access to a quality education one might want to limit.

Do Charter Schools skim? What about other, non-charter schools? I suppose it depends to some degree on one's perspective.

Do private schools 'skim'? Well, the easiest way into many private schools is to have enough money to pay tuition. Many private schools offer tuition assistance, and they might be considered to be skimming if they only give assistance to those students who are deemed 'worthy'...perhaps a good athlete or someone who they are sure won't cause any disruptions, or someone with a good GPA...I have no idea what they do. But I wouldn't call it skimming. I'd call it being private.

Wealthy school districts certainly could be said to skim 'skim', if simply by virtue of the cost of moving into the district! If wealth correlates to achievement (which is what the 'skimmer' epitaph is based on) then real estate costs are probably the most ubiquitous skimming method in the country. And what about the fact that some students are tempted to 'pretend' to live in a wealthy district in order to attend a great that school guilty of skimming?

When schools allow inter-district transfers, students are usually changing districts for a very specific reason. Is that skimming? Is it skimming if a student is allowed an inter-district transfer in order to attend a great dance program?

Some large districts allow transfers among neighborhood schools. Are the more successful schools skimming the best students from the other neighborhoods? When they are all done, do all of the schools exhibit the same demographics and the same achievement levels? Nobody from one of those districts should ever utter the 'sk...' word!

After even limited review, one would have to say that skimming, if that's what it should be called, is rampant. Of course there is skimming going on. Anywhere two schools are within commuting distance of the same house and one is out-performing the other, some amount of 'skimming' is going to happen.

Is this a fair charge to level against charter schools? So far as I can see, charter schools are the only institutions in Oregon in which skimming is effectively eliminated by legal and procedural safeguards. All charter school admissions are determined by lottery! How many other schools do that? Is that how scholarships are granted? Is that how banks decide who can move into what neighborhoods?

Charters don't have a wealthy neighborhood to do the skimming for them, they can't offer tuition breaks as incentives to attract desirable families, and they can't legally screen applicants. If we put name calling aside and just look at the facts, charters are literally the least likely 'skimmers' in the entire system!

Skimmers. Nice piece of rhetoric for those who want to take choices away from parents. Let's not fall for it.