Superintendent’s Memo Says Kettering Voters Will Agree To 6.9 Mill Tax — To Give Students A “Competitive Edge”

Kettering’s School Superintendent, Jim Schoenlein, in his March 5 memo to his administrative staff and board members, gives three reasons for voters to support Kettering Schools new 6.9 mill tax levy. And, he reports, “we are preparing our first glossy postcard mailer.” The election is May 4.

One reason taxpayers should vote for the levy, according to Schoenlein, is supported by the news that three Kettering high school students recently won a state engineering contest — The “Real World Design Challenge.”

Schoenlein argues that voters will support a school system that, “provides our children and grandchildren with a bright, successful, prosperous future by equipping them with a competitive edge in the new global economy,” and, he points to the fact that Kettering’s win in the engineering design contest helps make the case that education in Kettering provides students with a competitive edge.

An article in the DDN, “Three Fairmont Seniors Soar In Ohio Engineering Event,” has one comment that supports Schoenlein’s argument. “I am happy to live in a school district which provides this kind of opportunity for the students,” someone identified as “Webb,” writes, “With an upcoming levy, this kind of news shows my money is being well spent – for students.”

The three Kettering students were featured at a recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) conference where Governor Strickland spoke.

In a news release, Strickland said, “The Real World Design Challenge enhances STEM education in Ohio and reflects our commitment to giving students opportunities to creatively apply what they have learned.”

Ohio is busy creating a network of STEM schools, and one such school is at Wright State. And STEM schools, according to this you-tube report, offer project based, integrated learning across the disciplines.  Overall, STEM schools aim to create an education program that requires a school structure that is, “very different from how schools are now structured.” STEM experts like Kamau Bobb Google helped structure the national research agenda for effectively delivering equitable and quality computational education to all students.

Schoenlein in his memo indirectly acknowledges that Kettering’s is a traditional system. The fact that three Kettering high school students were successful in this state competition is great, but it would be wrong to suggest that Kettering High School has embraced the educational philosophy of the STEM schools, or an education with the same goals as STEM schools.

Schonlein writes, “Kettering City School System is uniquely positioned and qualified to enable our kids to be successful and prosperous in a highly competitive economic future. Our citizens can be fully confident that we can and will get this job done for their children and grandchildren.”

“We Can” and “We Will” sound like goal statements, not statements boasting what Kettering is already accomplishing. Schoenlein writes, “Our future lies with creativity, ingenuity, higher order thinking skills, problem solving, and entrepreneurship.”

Schoenlein is making a goal statement of what Kettering Schools should be emphasizing. But it sounds like the glossy mailer, being prepared, will ask voters to support the 6.9 mill levy by pointing to the three students who won the state competition, and will make it sound like these goals are already being accomplished in Kettering Schools.  (I’m guessing — based on Dr. Schoenlein’s memo. I’ll scan and post the glossy mailer, whenever I receive it.)

The idea that Kettering Schools should emphasize, “creativity, ingenuity, higher order thinking skills, problem solving, and entrepreneurship” would require a big change in a system — because, now, the system seems totally focused on producing good scores for the state achievement tests

It is easy to “talk the talk,” and public education has a history of making big promises. Saying that a school seeks to develop individual potential, or seeks to develop “higher order thinking skills,” is easy to say, but hard to do. As I’ve quoted before, the key question that must be answered is what W. Edwards Deming famously liked to roar, “BY WHAT METHOD?”

What is needed in Kettering is a commitment to change. Public education needs a big transformation. A good place to start the transformation of a system is to envision and articulate the goals and purpose of the system. I’d be glad if my local community would accept the goals suggested in Dr. Schoenlein’s memo and would define the goal of our local system of public education to develop creativity, develop individual potential in students. And, I’d want to add to those goals the goal of developing citizens for a democratic society.

The idea of local control is that, through their board of education, the citizens of a community can envision a purpose and goal for their system of public education.  The hard work is not setting the goals, but in answering the question, “BY WHAT METHOD?”

Ohio’s system of school finance requires local districts to continually request additional funding from their communities. This system of school finance has been bitterly criticized, but it has an up side: It provides a big opportunity for meaningful civic participation. It provides a big opportunity for citizens to have thoughtful discussion about what their community’s public schools is seeking to accomplish and an opportunity to evaluate plans for the community’s public schools in the future.

If we take Dr. Schoenlein’s comments that Kettering Schools should have as its goal to provide students the skills and experience needed to develop their “creativity, ingenuity, higher order thinking skills, problem solving, and entrepreneurship,” then it is a fair question to wonder to what degree is Kettering now meeting this goal.

If The Kettering Board Of Education wanted to know the answer to this question, there would be ways of finding out. Recently, Kettering Schools spent $19,000 on a poll to find out what Kettering voters are thinking. Why not take a poll of Kettering students to find out what Kettering students are thinking about their own education?

Three Kettering students winning a state competition is great news, but what about the other 7,400 Kettering students? The University of Kentucky has a great basketball team, with highly skilled and successful individual players, but most UK students, predictably, would be very inept basketball players. What a few uniquely equipped and motivated students accomplish doesn’t tell much about the student body as a whole.

My thought is that the community should begin to take a close look at its school system, envision and clarify its goals and purpose, and agree on a long term plan for the system transformation needed to accomplish this purpose.  I am preparing a book that I hope will help inspire such a community conversation: “Kettering Public Education In the Year 2020”

Posted in Special Reports | 1 Comment

Should Christians Boycott Glen Beck?

It turns out that some conservatives not only think that government shouldn’t seek to advance social or economic justice, they think that religion should not work for social justice either. Conservative spokesperson Glen Beck is urging Christians to refuse to attend any church preaching social justice.

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church web site,” Beck urged his audience. “If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

The idea that a Fox commentator would push people to leave their churches as a principled conservative stand, predictably, is a little controversial. Maybe that is the point for Mr. Beck — to get attention — but now it looks like his quest for attention may have backfired. There seems to be a movement forming to boycott Mr. Beck.

I’m reading that Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians, is urging Christians to stop watching Mr. Beck’s TV program — unless Beck apologizes.

Wallis writes, “You asked people to leave their churches, a serious thing, so until we have a public dialogue about this, or until you apologize, I will keep asking people to stop watching your show.”

Wallis addresses Mr. Beck: “You first urged Christians to leave churches that preached social justice. Today, you went further, saying that social justice “is a perversion of the gospel.” Well, that says it all. Perhaps you don’t realize that most Christians believe social, economic, and racial justice are at the heart of the gospel, not a perversion of it..”

In this clip of Mr. Beck’s radio show, in which Beck responds to a Catholic listener who complains that his daughter is being taught about “social justice,” Beck says “social justice” as taught today is a perversion of the gospel taught by Jesus.

How Christians should behave is a great question. The scripture teaches we should overcome evil with good. Should Christians boycott Glen Beck until he apologizes? Or maybe put him on the rack until he relents?

Christians must have faith in the notion that truth itself is a great force. Mr. Beck is a self-anointed jester. Sometimes only a jester can provoke needed and important discussions. Maybe Mr. Beck’s comments about Christianity will provoke some Christians, who prior to this agreed with his every word, to question their unqualified allegience to his point of view, and maybe his comments will cause in-depth independent thinking.

Christians should thank Mr. Beck for helping to raise an important issue, an important question about the purpose and aim of churches and the message of Christian teaching.

Posted in M Bock, Opinion | 26 Comments

Robert Reich Urges New $$ For Schools — Says Human Capital Is More Important Than Financial Capital

Robert Reich in his article, “Bail Out Our Schools,” makes the case for making a big infusion of tax money into our system of public education. He compares financial capital to human capital.

Reich says that the reasons that justified the $700 billion bail out to “save the engines of America’s financial capital” are the same reasons that should justify a big infusion of money into public schools — “the engines of our human capital.” Reich stresses that human capital is more important than financial capital and warns, “If we don’t bail out public education we face a bigger economic Armageddon years from now.”

Reich’s argument poses a couple of questions:

  1. What is the human capital we must develop in today’s students that is so essential that, if we fail in its development, we face economic disaster of Biblical proportions?
  2. To what degree is the development of this human capital a priority in our current system of public education?

The point is, any thoughtful answer to question #1, most probably, will be shown in the answer to question #2 to have a low priority in the current authoritarian, test driven system of public education.

Pouring more money into the system, as Reich urges, at best, will help the system to show success according to criteria that we currently use. The problem is, our current criteria of educational quality has little correlation to the criteria of the human capital needed for our future. The human capital needed for our future far transcends what can be measured in GPAs or SATs.

Reich is making a false promise that beefing up the current system with more money is the answer to avoiding future economic calamity. He is implying that in our system of public education, we have a wonderful machine for producing the human capital needed for our future, and we just need to keep pumping in more fuel. But this notion ignores the fact that, even when working to its maximum capacity, this machine is simply not good enough. Reich’s well meaning comments in his post, to me, simply underlines the fact that we need to transform our current system of public education.

Posted in Special Reports | 4 Comments