Claudette Morton has been involved in every level of education in Montana, from teaching in a small school to instructing young people at the college level to become teachers. She is currently the executive director of the Montana Small Schools Alliance. You can learn more about Claudette at 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?
First of all the Thomas Fordham Foundation is a very conservative education think tank. As a progressive Democrat, I do not usually look to them for guidance. Secondly, Montana has revised some of its standards since they were written–reading, mathematics, science, and, this year, library and technology. However, the revisions are not organized into any sort of schedule but seem to be driven by external forces. I believe the Superintendent of Public Instruction must present a plan to the Board of Public Education to revise all content programs on a logical schedule utilizing the most up-to-date thinking both nationally and from Montana educators.
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 do believe that the next congress and president will make significant changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which the latest iteration is called No Child Left Behind by this current administration. I have facilitated representatives from MEA-MFT, SAM, MTSBA, OPI and the governor’s office coming together to determine the most frustrating parts of the legislation for Montana schools and listing the changes that we must have in order to have a workable partnership with the U.S. Department of Education. I believe that when I take office, with a new administration in Washington, we will be able to provide local solutions for our schools to measure the education of the whole child over time.
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?
Low test scores are one symptom of a larger issue. We must work with communities and school districts to find solutions which may involve health, nutrition and after school programs. You said in the “Your Turn” article that you succeeded because of caring teachers. We have to provide students with many opportunities to connect with caring adults. We do have some examples of successful programs from which we can learn, but because of Montana’s unique needs, they will have to be adapted for our different settings. I believe that the Office of Public Instruction can provide more technical assistance along with other agencies if we look at the whole child and not just test scores.
4. Do you favor or oppose dual credit courses, in which students can simultaneously receive high school and college credit?
I have believed for many years that students should have options, both to expand their learning and for credit. However, the issue of licensure has recently been a stumbling block. I understand that the taskforce working on this issue with representatives from public schools and higher education is about to reach a good compromise. I look forward to the completion of their work so that we can move on to provide the best education for each student.