Education Montana Politics

Linda McCullough: U R sew write!

Montana’s Superintendent of Public Schools, Linda McCullough, has some intriguing ideas about education, specifically about writing. At a recent meeting with the Board of Public Education, McCullough offered this insight:

Superintendent McCulloch questioned how “pertinent” writing is in “today’s world.” She believes that since kids communicate via email, using abbreviations and creative spelling, “we can’t impart on students something that is not applicable now.” She went on to say, “Writing is a different form now; we need to discuss whether we are going back to a previous time [if we teach letter writing].” Finally, she admitted that “our writing skills have slipped” and wondered if we shouldn’t change our expectations accordingly.

This is some spectacular logic. See, because kids can’t write…we shoud really lower our expectations…and let them spell the way they do in instant messages. Unfortunately, that’s not how real education works. Real educational reform means hard work. The Superintendent of Public Schools has a more important job than being a shill for the MEA; she is accountable for the quality of education for Montana students–and letting teachers off the hook by lowering standards is a shameful dereliction of duty.

God forbid that we actually demand some work and accountability from our teachers and students. As a teacher, I find it embarrasing that, in the same news cycle, the Montana Quality Education Council is asking for a $200 million dollar increase in education funding while the OPI, MEA and others are asking to not be held accountable to college entrance writing standards that are, frankly, laughable.

We cannot improve education or educational outcomes in this state or in this nation if we keep lowering the bar. The public, and most importantly, our students, have the right to demand excellence.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Frankly, I think blogging is a tool that should be used by every English teacher on the planet. In high school, I was supposed to write a daily journal, but rarely did it until the last minute. With blogging software, the teacher could check every night whether people were writing.

    I actually started my blogging when I had dropped out of college (v. 1.0) and felt my writing skills slipping. I thought that if I was in the habit of writing on a daily basis, my writing would improve.

    It was an interesting hypothesis, a miserable failure in practice.

    One thing I did learn, though, is that writing for public consumption and writing for academic readership require very different skill sets. My grades on academic papers plummeted my last semester in college as I applied my more pop writing style.

  • Education reform cannot happen by…

    …hiring consultants
    …adopting the “flavor of the week” reform from an outside organization
    …throwing money at it
    …pushing programs with catchy titles

    Don is 100% correct. Reforming schools is hard work. It requires that each teacher push themselves and their students via demanding excellence.

  • I think that Matt is absolutely right about the power of blogging in an educational context–it’s tech that enhances writing. The only real catch is the digital divide. I always worry about the students who can’t access.

  • When did we give up on correct usage of the english language? I am disappointed in Linda. Far from lowering our expectations we should raise them. I am of the opinion that many people in this state and country should have to go to some sort of English usage and writing boot camp, because what I see out there frightens me. It is the proliferation of misspellings and punctuation mistakes in documents, signs, and the like. It is the dwindling number of people who will take out their red pens of justice and fix such things, thus shaming offenders into compliance. Am I the only one who does this? Where have allthe english teachers gone? Real english teachers! Not these arts and crafts in the classroom techno-dorks that I see as a substitute. Where have you gone English teachers? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you!

  • We don’t need to reform schools– we need to reform American culture and society which has become basically pathetic, weak, and worthless. When will those Iranian nukes arrive to put us out of our misery?

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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