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  • by Blaine Helwig

Raising Outcomes: Dazed & Confused Continues!

Updated: 6 days ago

Let’s begin our short chat with the reality of the professional world. 


When I was in my sixth year of teaching in 2001, my principal asked another colleague and me to attend an in-district grant writing workshop.  The participants were a small group of educators that possessed decent writing skills and a minimum level of classroom instructional experience.  I was excited to be part of this opportunity.  I wanted to apply for funding for several curricular programs that had produced dramatic results on my grade level, and I believed this programming could be expanded with small amounts of supplemental monies.


The central office administrator leading the grant writing workshop opened the meeting with a stark set of instructions.  Paraphrasing, she said, “We are asking private corporations for grant money – free money, so we have to employ their language and expectations regarding student outcomes.  So, in your grant applications, do not use non-accountable phrases that lack determinable performance outcomes such as ‘lifelong learners and high expectations.’  If you use these types of phrases, these corporations will not fund your proposals.  Your grant application must have a measurable learning objective and a specific time period to achieve expected results.”


Before entering public education, I had professional careers in civil engineering and finance, so I understood the ‘what’ and ‘why’ she was conveying to the group.  These companies survive by the bottom line, and if the data clearly indicated that something was NOT effective, it was discontinued.

 

A week later, we reconvened as a group with our completed applications in-hand and turned them in for her review. An hour later, we picked-up our applications and almost every submitted application had similar recommendations and comments, Delete non-accountable phrases and specify how and when your program will be progress measured as well as what level of results are expected.”


Each teacher took their applications and sat in front of a desktop PC and did a rewrite.  Once completed, we resubmitted our grant proposals (repeatedly) until they were accepted.  After the application was reviewed and approved for submittal, the final step was to add an expense page to our grant application that included monetary line items. In short, the final grant applications were all specifically written to performance time-lines and requested funding needs.

 

This entire grant writing process demonstrates the planning reality of the commercial world.   If public schools and districts want corporate monies, submitted proposals must answer the following five (5) questions:


1.) What specifically is requested?


2.) Why is money being requested – is there a need?


3.) When will the results occur (with a detailed accounting of Expected Outcomes)?


4.) How much does the requested process cost?


The last area that is always included in requesting funding outside the public school system is, of course, Who?


5.) Who will be accountable and responsible for this project?


Academic Performance – June 2024 – Student Outcomes


The standardized assessment results for the 2023-2024 school year that arrived in May to the school districts were made public in June.  The reading/writing and mathematics results in the vast majority of Title 1 elementary schools across the State of Texas continue to be depressed since the pandemic.  Of course, student performance was also low before the pandemic, but they are lower now.  In the last two weeks, I have spoken with a number of teachers and administrators since the results were made public.  What I hear from principals and central office administrators is how the pandemic ‘changed’ teacher’s work ethic and students are so far behind academically that it is an insurmountable task to press them back to grade level work.  There are other excuses, but the pandemic and COVID student learning loss remain the primary one. 


However, that presents a problem.  Third grade student outcomes are really low as well as fourth and fifth grade, but third grade students were kindergarteners at the time of the pandemic. Schools have had three (3) full school years to address issues with this specific group of children.  THREE YEARS – students have attended first, second and third grades exactly as they had before the pandemic!  


Are we to believe that the kindergarten year, in of in itself, is the pivotal learning year in a child’s 12 to 13 years in public education?  Moreover, that upon completing 3rd grade, students cannot demonstrate basic proficiency in both literacy and mathematics due to COVID that occurred in their kindergarten year? 


A Peter Pan ‘Never-Neverland Approach’ to Academic Improvement


There are internal committees meeting in district offices across the State of Texas discussing a response to the academic performance of their elementary schools.  I know this to be true for two reasons.  First, these meetings are and were standard operating procedure when I was a teacher, administrator and a consultant for the last 30 years in the public education system.  Second, I am aware of these academic planning sessions because I have received multiple phone calls from frustrated educators who have been attending these meetings for the last couple weeks. 


What do I hear over the phone from frustrated administrators sitting in these meetings?

  

I hear the following exasperated replies from administrators attending academic response and intervention planning meetings:


  • nonsensical and the same rudderless academic proposals as in the past to address the current situation!


  • that the administrators in charge do not know what problem they are trying to address!


  • proposals to rectify the problems have none to little program evaluation!

 

  • that proposals have NO when, what, why and especially who is accountable for a proposal!

 

  • that principals must monitor teachers more – that is the sole cause of chronic performance!

 

  • if anyone proposes any alternative or questions the premise of the standard non-accountable proposals, they are accused of not being collaborative.

                                                                   

Why can non-productive meetings occur with impunity school year after school year?


As opposed to the reality of requesting funding from external public-school entities (e.g. private corporations), there is no real accountability in the public school system at any administrator level.  No administrator is in jeopardy of losing their high paying salary and possibly, their extraordinary retirement benefits.  Why?  The only governing body that can hold anyone actually accountable in a public school district is the school board.  Frankly, school boards across Texas and the country have invariably supported the majority of district curricular programs regardless of associated program evaluation or administrator accountability.  Consequently, there is little fear in proposing and promoting ‘pie in the sky’ curricular intervention programming regardless of the result.  Public education is a recession proof business for campus and central office administrators.  It is not necessary to apply for grants in the world of accountability for next year’s budgeting needs.  School funding is on its way from the taxpayers, come rain or shine.  In fact, the worse the school or district performs, the more likely they will receive more intervention money than the prior year.

 

What is the Main Takeaway?


Children who hail from low-income homes are receiving an inequitable and poor formal education, but not because these students are minorities, immigrants or impoverished. Oh, no! Children attending Title 1 elementary schools are receiving inequitable educations because public-school administrators do not know what to do to give them a better one, or quite simply, school board trustees provide administrators’ professional immunity in return for a constant state of ‘dazed and confused.’

 

In my opinion, based on years of experience, expect chronic student performance to continue.  However, there is only one question that remains to be answered for next school year.  What will the public-school administrator’s excuse be in May and June of 2025 when third grade results are AGAIN, unreasonably low with little improvement?   The COVID defense is starting to run a little thin, but alas, parents, taxpayers, and legislators have but 12 months to wait for the next creative excuse coming from a school district near you.


 

 

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