Along with their editorial about dropout rates today, the Gazette printed a defense of the Wolf Point Schools, written by Superintendent Tim Cody. Wolf Point was identified by a Johns Hopkins University study as a “dropout factory,” a school where no more than 60 percent of entering freshmen make it to their senior year. Cody’s defense of his school system is troubling on a number of levels, a poorly written and argued defense that demonstrates what some of the problems of the Wolf Point Schools might be.
Let me first say that I understand that Wolf Point and the other schools listed as “Dropout Factories” on the list face unique challenges in terms of demographics and poverty. As a state and as a nation, we have done too little to help students who struggle with poverty and the legacy of racism, and need to do much more. That said, however, Superintendent Cody fails to make a case for his school, and needs to be challenged to do more.
How easy is it for those of us that give of our entire inner being to a profession we have chosen and dedicated our lives to, when we constantly must battle statistics and data that do not truly measure the actual reality of our situation that we face daily.
I have no idea what this means, but I have chosen it as one sample of the writing style that pervades the piece. I won’t pick on any others in the piece, which, to be frank, is atrociously written and poorly edited. This may sound pedantic, but if I were going to the public arena to defend my school district, I’d probably edit my writing for clarity and usage. This isn’t some blog post; it’s a statement, in the state’s largest paper, about the quality of Wolf Point High School, and it’s hardly reassuring that the head of the school spent so little time on his work. (English teacher rant off)
First of all, the 60 percent quoted is not a statistic of actual dropout percentages of our school as an average of the past three years, but rather something the author calls a school’s “promoting power,” which measures simply enrollments of a senior class and compares that to the enrollment of the freshman class four years previous. . .
Yet, this measure is a constant, for all schools in the study. Flawed though it may be, it doesn’t measure Wolf Point any differently than any other Montana school.
It does not measure the fact that we may report our data correctly and honestly. It does not look at each of our students individually and analyze the story and history of that child. . .It does not measure the fact that academic expectations at our school perhaps might be higher than others in a similar economic and poverty-filled system. . .
Now, this is interesting. It suggests that other schools in Montana are not reporting their data correctly or lack rigor in their studies. This is a pretty irresponsible claim, unless Mr. Cody knows it to be true. It’s a convenient out, but absent proof, is nothing more than a politician’s response. I’m no rhetorician, but the use of “we may report” is suggestive of the weakness of this claim.
It does not measure the fact that according to the list of top 10 effective strategies as identified by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, at www.dropoutprevention.org, our school system is employing in some form or another nine out of 10 and that the current administration is exploring avenues to address the lone one not employed and looking at ways to improve upon those currently in use. . .
What does this mean? It means that Wolf Point, like so many schools, has adopted some programs to say that they are trying to reform. Is there any measurement of their success? Any outside evaluation? The article does not say, but I am willing to hazard a guess.
Finally, Mr. Cody notes:
This would be what one would call “thinking out of the box” as far as academics go, because it would require unconventional methods of educating students, and resistance from the “old school” and unions is not so easily overcome.
I’m also not a manager, but I suspect that attacking your teachers might not be the most effective way to build morale and improve your schools. Instead of recycled talking points about union obstacles, Mr. Cody might find a lot more success engaging them in the process of school improvement. Heck, one of his English teachers might even review his next editorial comment.
Did I write all of this to pick on Mr. Cody and the Wolf Point Schools? Absolutely not. His response, however, to an objectively measured shortcoming of his school is a real disappointment, one repeated all over the nation. It’s not that we are failing to teach our children reading, it is that No Child Behind makes us test too much. It’s not that our content is often outdated and irrelevant, it’s that parents don’t care and children watch too much television. It’s not that we demand too little and then suddenly expect too much, it’s that our high schools are too big. It’s always something beyond our control.
For once, I’d like to see the people who run the schools spend less time looking for excuses and more time looking for answers. If teachers won’t accept “the dog ate my homework,” why should community members continue to accept even lamer excuses from the people who run their schools?