Stephen D. Lalonde

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Education Blog

 Why should my opinion matter?

I will be expressing my own opinion about issues related to public education in this blog (among other things). So why should my opinion matter? I will set aside modesty and explain why I think I am qualified to address public education issues and events.

Both of my parents were teachers. They frequently had fellow teachers and administrators over for dinner at our house. The conversation always included discussions around educational issues and practices. So I began being aware of these things over 50 years ago, and have continued to be involved in the debate around these issues to the present day.

I received my BA in education with a major in English and a minor in drama in 1972 and began teaching in Glenwood, Washington. I taught there for three years, then I left teaching for nine years to work in the private sector. I returned to public school teaching in 1984 at University high school in Central Valley School District in Spokane Valley, Washington. I earned my Masters degree in education in 1988 and spent a total of 29 years in the classroom. I also served as president of the Central Valley education Association for four additional years. In addition, I spent four years on the Washington Education Association’s Board of Directors and one of those years on the Executive Committee. I was also a National Education Association Representative Assembly delegate for 15 years.

During my time as a classroom teacher I received a number of awards including; the Pathways Pacesetter Award, Apple Distinguished Educator, Technology and Learning Magazine's Washington State Technology Teacher of the Year 1998, US WEST/WEA Teacher Network Cadre Member 1996, and the Washington State Christa Mc Auliffe Award for Excellence in Education. I have published magazine articles on education and wrote the anchor chapter for a book entitled TEACHING WITH TECHNOLOGY, which is part of the NEA professional library.

As a result of the experience listed above, I feel qualified to at least have a valid opinion on educational issues. I have some experience with educational issues on the national level, however, my opinions are focusing on public education in the state of Washington. These opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of any of the organizations mentioned above.

 


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Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education???? Really????

Posted on December 30, 2016 at 5:35 PM

There is absolutely no question about Donald Trump's agenda on public education. It is to destroy it and shift to privatized education that will further support the decimation of the middle class.

This country was built on the strength of  the free public education system. Betsy Devos has a history of trying to circumvent and destroy public education. She purchased the access to ramp up her ability to do that with huge donations to the Trump campaign. She has NO qualifications for the position. In fact her past acitivities actually disqualify her for such a post.

If the goal is to establish a pyramid scheme of for-profit pseudo-education, then she might be qualified.

I have been sorely dissappointed in the Obama administration's approach to public education and the leadership in that area, but this incoming administration is making me wish we could keep what we had. It was ill-informed and set goals that were far from the targets that should have been established, but it wasn't as intentionally destructive as this new agenda clearly is.

Three factors that most impact the lack of student achievement

Posted on January 7, 2015 at 2:55 PM

Speaking from experience (and again a reminder that I'm focusing on schools of Washington state, however colleagues in other states have agreed that these are the primary problems in their state as well), the three primary factors that negatively impact student performance are poverty, transience, and dissolution of the family unit. Until these elements are appropriately addressed we will not see the kind of student performance that the reform movement is expecting. Obviously these three elements are outside the direct control of the public school system. Yet public school employees constantly strive to address these in whatever manner they can individually or collectively and usually at personal cost.

Poverty's influence should be obvious. A student who does not have enough to eat, does not have a safe and comfortable place to live, and does not have the basic materials they need to progress in the classroom will not be able to focus on the learning hand. They are functioning in survival mode and that takes precedence over the luxury of learning. Almost every educator I know has provided basic materials to their students out of their own pocket. This includes things like shoes and coats as well as classroom materials.

Transience is not so much a problem in the school district where I worked, but in many districts in the state it is a huge problem. Students are moved from district to district and school to school as employment dictates their family’s location. All of this relocation disrupts the continuity of instruction as well as making it impossible for the students to establish relationships within the educational institution. There is also the negative impact on socialization that directly interferes with the social interaction that supports learning.

The dissolution of the family unit has critically and adversely changed the collective character of the student body in most schools. Students with incarcerated, chemically dependent, or mentally ill parents are not receiving the kind of character development and moral training that is necessary for a young person to function appropriately. In some cases the parents are simply uninvolved with their children and therefore not invested in their child's education. To many that may seem like an unrealistic statement, but I have witnessed that among my students on many occasions. It is obvious when a parent refuses to respond to any and all efforts to communicate with them about their student, including phone calls, mail, email and communication sent directly home with the students. Schools across our state have tried to address the lack of character training with programs within the schools. In my district is the pace (Partners Addressing Character Education) program. PACE is a grassroots initiative to promote the importance of good character through partnerships with schools, businesses, public agencies, residents, faith based organizations and community service groups. Working from a common list of monthly character traits, partners promote and integrate each trait into the regular activities of the organization.

Real progress in improving public education generally will require that our society address the three factors discussed above. I believe that the public school system is doing everything it can relative to these factors, but the real solution lies outside of the school system.

ONE MISSING ELEMENT

Posted on January 3, 2015 at 3:00 PM

   One primary element that is missing in the rush to the pseudo-reform in public education is common sense. This is clear in some of the unnecessary "research" and ludicrous assumptions. There is much in genuine educational reform that is properly based in good research and logical approaches to new methodologies.

   It is a waste of money to do research to determine if water is wet. Common sense should tell you there is no need to do research to determine if smaller class size contributes to increased learning for individual students. It does. That is why tutoring is generally done one-on-one or in very small groups. Those who suggest otherwise are being nothing less than dishonest.

   When it comes to class size, the question should be, "what is the smallest class-size we can afford?" That question brings into consideration the value placed on the lives of our children. The media and societal frenzy that drives educational pseudo-reform as well as genuine reform would suggest that we place a very high value on our children and their education, which then leads us to the question, “If we truly value the education of our children, why isn’t it a greater fiscal priority than it has been?”

The Achilles' Heel of Public Education- Special Education

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 7:00 PM

   There was a time in the not-too-distant past when special needs students and their parents were disenfranchised and underserved. Over the years that situation has been addressed and in many ways is now out of balance in the other direction. In addition, individuals with lower and lower cognitive abilities have been brought into the public school system.

   Too often the effort to be politically correct obscures or completely ignores the truth. In dealing with special education this is certainly the case, so I will make little to no attempt at being politically correct in this blog.

   When "no child left behind" became the law of the land, it's premise was that “all children can learn.” The truth of that premise depends on the definitions of “all” and “learn.” In the most liberal use of "learn" the premise may be true, although some of the students where I taught seemed to be essentially in a vegetative state, which would suggest very little capacity to learn. What is more disturbing about the premise is the implication made by the statement. Based on the regulations associated with the law, it is reasonable to assume that the statement implies that all students can learn all elements of basic education. That is clearly untrue. The cognitive ability of students is a gradual continuum from extremely low to genius. There is no clean break point between those students who need special services to learn and those who do not. That point in the continuum is arbitrarily chosen. Some of the students that I have seen have to be diapered and spoon-fed. They speak no intelligible words and cannot appropriately respond to even the simplest command. These individuals in the past were institutionalized, but I am not suggesting that we return to that practice. I do object, however, to holding teachers responsible for performing virtual miracles, and then berating them when that doesn't happen. The original law required all definable populations within a school (gender, race, socioeconomic level, etc.) to make "adequate yearly progress" or AYP as measured by standardized testing. My school included 43 "severe and profound" special needs students. The standardized test materials were placed before the students, which for some of the lowest students would seem cruel had they the cognitive ability to understand what was expected of them. Fortunately they did not. It certainly unduly stressed those low students who did. Again, in the original law if any of the definable populations failed to make adequate yearly progress for three years, the school was declared a “failing school” and was required to add the words "a failing school" to their letterhead. Our severe and profound population failed to make adequate yearly progress. Every other population succeeded and yet we were defined as a failing school. By that time the letterhead requirement had been removed from the law.

   There are stringent legal requirements around producing and maintaining an "individualized education plan" or IEP for students identified a special needs students. There is a tremendous cost in resources and materials associated with this process. Funds specifically identified for special education are provided, but fall far short of what is needed in order to meet the requirements of law. Consequently, the cost is supplemented from the general budget in most school districts. That means some of the resources that could and should be available to all students, are used to support special needs students only. In other words, a disproportionate amount of resources are used to provide a disproportionate level of service to students who have a reduced capacity to benefit from their education. If economic resources were ample for public education then that would not be a problem. However, that is not the case. Public education has generally been inadequately funded in my state for decades. The laws and regulations dealing with special education cloak these issues in secrecy. Most people don’t have any awareness around this issue which is why I am writing this. The pendulum has swung from those who were disenfranchised to those who have extreme privilege. In other words, special education has become the tail that wags the dog.

Bad teachers...

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 4:30 PM

Bad teachers…

There are some. Within an enterprise as large as public education, it should be no surprise to anyone that there are some bad teachers. There are also bad doctors, bad dentists, bad lawyers (possibly redundant), bad priests, and even bad politicians (yeah…I know.)

However, those who believe that public education is failing, including those who are doing everything in their power to make that happen, obviously believe that there are masses of bad teachers in public education. They propose using standardized test scores to determine teacher quality, which is ridiculous because those tests are not designed to do that. Classroom based assessments can, in fact, contribute to showing measurable growth in specific content-based elements which may be attributed to the teacher or teachers associated with that classroom. However, there are many elements of learning that cannot be measured in any objective manner. Respect, self-confidence, social interaction, responsibility, resource and time management, are a few examples of immeasurable attributes that are commonly addressed in the classroom.

I have witnessed a few (very few) bad or ineffective teachers. The vast majority of teachers in my experience (focusing on Washington state, and specifically the districts in which I have worked) are hard working, intelligent, efficient and dedicated professionals. Unfortunately, the media effort to showcase those teachers is minimal at best, while focusing much of their media power on the few blatantly bad teachers (no teachers should ever abuse a student in any manner.)

The new teacher evaluation system in the state of Washington holds much promise for being able to document and contribute to quality professional performance. It is a much more cumbersome and time-consuming process, but I believe it does result in a much more accurate picture of the teacher's performance within the classroom. I am worried that the high level of administrative commitment of time and resources to sustain this evaluation process will result in a gradual deterioration of that process. Like nearly everything else in education today, the evaluation process is severely underfunded in both time and resources provided by the state. I truly believe that in Central Valley School District the process to develop a new evaluation tool and the instrument produced by that process represents a significant step in the right direction to contribute to professional development.

Meanwhile, more and more great teachers are choosing to leave the profession largely because of the lack of respect and support they need to do their jobs. In addition, the number of young people choosing to go into the profession is dwindling. This is evident in the growing shortage of substitute teachers and candidates for teaching positions ( many of which have gone unfilled for ridiculous periods of time in this state.) If something doesn't drastically change in the immediate future, I believe we are headed for the biggest teacher shortage in history. The politicians repeatedly say that we need to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the profession. They apparently propose to do that by reducing salaries, benefits, and the respect afforded the profession.

Reform and Pseudo-Reform

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Public Education and Educational Reform and Pseudo-reform

Public education has become the scapegoat for many of our society's problems. To be sure there are problems in public education that need to be addressed. That should be no surprise to anyone considering how large the educational system is and must be. Some of the current educational reform is legitimate, justified, research-based, and when properly implemented results in positive improvements in instruction and teaching practice. Much of what is identified as educational reform is in truth created with a very different intent than improving education. This pseudo-reform is the result of political and ideological agendas that do not have the best interests of an egalitarian public educational system behind them. For some the pseudo-reforms are driven by a desire to promote specific religious beliefs. For others the intent is to destroy public education in order to replace it with privatized education. The most egregious faction pushing for privatized education are those who do so with the intent of making it a profitable business venture.

I believe that our country's character was founded and built on the strength of a free public education system. Over the decades it has gradually become more equally available to all within our society. We have not reached true equality yet, but we continue to make gains toward that end.

The problem with incorporating religion into the public school system is obvious. Which religion would be the foundation for a general public educational system?

The biggest problem with privatized education replacing public education is that it would quickly devolve into a social caste system. I have no problem with parochial and private schools as long as public funds are not diverted to pay for them. It is my opinion based in my experience that for at least 50 years public schools in the state of Washington have not been adequately funded. Resources from the state have dwindled while expectations and mandates have increased at an alarming rate. It is also my experience that educators (meaning all work within our public school system) have generally made every effort to do the best they can to educate their students. My opinion seems justified by the fact that the state Supreme Court has found the state to be in violation of article 9 of the state Constitution, which says that it is the paramount duty of the state to amply provide for the education of all children residing within its borders.

I will have much more to say on this matter in future entries.


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