Holly Raser has spent her life in public education, and has been an elementary teacher in Missoula for 26 years. She has also served for eight years in the Montana House of Representatives. You can find out more about Holly on her web site.
1. The Thomas Fordham Foundation has rated Montana’s content standards with a F, suggesting that they are too general, devoid of content, and missing basic instructional processes. Do you agree that Montana’s content standards need substantial revision? How do you propose to improve them?
Yes, I think our content standards need substantial revision. They are overly broad and provide no instructional guidance. Revising them is tricky because of our state’s strong belief in local control. Local districts don’t want to be told what to teach and when to teach it.
That being said, many districts have put a lot of effort into developing their own comprehensive content standards, and some of them are quite good, offering guidance for teachers and a framework the parents/the public can understand.
I would like OPI to provide more direction guidance in the preparation of local standards. We could provide examples of “model” standards and regional training and work sessions for districts to develop their own. Summer would be an ideal time to offer these training/work sessions. We could look for grants so we could pay teachers for their participation.
The work on content standards needs to continue through training principals and teachers to use these standards in a comprehensive way to guide their instruction. Again, I would like OPI to offer regional summer institutes to provide this training and follow-up.
2. To some extent, all of you have been critics of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Given that the federal mandates are unlikely to change in the short term, how can OPI help Montana schools deal with the consequences of the law?
I think the most disastrous consequence of the law has been the feeling that teachers must abandon what we know to be good teaching–teaching to the whole child. The most exciting time for me to be teaching was when we stressed integration of curriculum and cross-curricular teaching.
I believe we can still do that, and we need to spotlight teachers who do so successfully at all grade levels, then provide opportunities for other teachers to learn from them.
I also believe that as we develop and monitor our progress in quality early reading instruction, there will be less and less need for wholesale remediation and we can focus more on content and application.
3. One of the issues that has been highlighted by NCLB is the issue of student achievement gaps. What will you do as Superintendent to close the gap and improve student scores for reservation and high-poverty schools?
I am a strong proponent for quality early reading instruction. The greatest window of opportunity for changing a child’s life is pre-K through 2nd and 3rd grade. My goal as Superintendent is to provide the training for teachers and the resources for schools to enable them to teach this critical skill.
I believe we need to make learning to read a community effort. Teach parents how to work with their kids at home; bring them into the schools to work with other children. For many people in our high-poverty communities, schools were not places where they themselves experienced success, so they are uncomfortable and don’t necessarily want to come back with their own children. We need to actively work to change this.
4. Do you favor or oppose dual credit courses, in which students can simultaneously receive high school and college credit?
I favor dual credit courses. For many students, receiving both high school and college credit may be the push they need to encourage them to pursue higher education. I believe we need to expand our view of our educational system from K-12 to pre-K – 20. Learning is a continuum, and our system of public education needs to adapt to provide for all learners along that continuum