High School Journalism Gets the Ax In Hillsboro


Those of us then serving on the HSD 1J Board of Directors, i.e., the school board, were somewhat stunned to learn recently — via letters of protest and/or appearances at school board meetings from/by students, teachers, parents, a USAF officer, two professional journalists (who are alums of the Glencoe journalism program), and other Glencoe graduates — that although the District had been able to backfill some of our cuts, including some athletic programs that had been consigned to fund-raising, high school student newspaper advisor stipends (and thus the newspapers) remained on the cut list.

The high school community, the current Board and former Board members, and I suspect the entire District community, would like to know why…

John Peterson, a local trial attorney and fellow Board member emeritus (we both declined to run again after two four-year terms ending June 30th) frames the issue well in his letter of July 28, 2011 to the current Board…

From: John Peterson
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2011 2:17 PM
To:schoolboard@hsd.k12.or.us
Subject: Plea for Journalism

July 26, 2011

To:  Hillsboro School Board

Re:  Cancellation of Journalism Advisor Stipends at High Schools

Dear Board Members:

It is with some considerable disappointment I address you on this subject once again.  After receipt of grateful news the State of Oregon would be providing slightly more funding than originally projected, we had a discussion of where to “backfill” budget cuts already planned.  I then made the statement such decision-making should be pursuant to a prioritization of deserving programs.  I urged programs supporting our academic curriculum should be of the highest priority.  My failure was in not insisting we have a debate then and there about what we believed as a board should be funded once again with these unexpected revenues.

I apparently placed too much faith in the belief that anyone with an educational background would recognize that the school district is first and foremost an academic institution.  It was with great dismay the next word I received was that our district administrators had decided non-academic athletic stipends were apparently to trump the stipend for academic faculty support and supervision of journalism.  The budget document does not require administration to spend allocated money as it might appear in the document.  The funding of stipends is entirely a decision of administration unless the board specifically directs a reversal of a decision made.  It is just such a reversal I urge upon you.

No one enjoys high school athletics more than I.  However, that is not the issue.  We should be ashamed of ourselves in the decision to fund any non-academic activity before we assure that those traditional and excellent activities directly supporting and complimenting our academic curriculum are first served.  Are we or are we not an academic institution above all else?

As the sports editor of my high school newspaper I can attest it was one of the most enriching educational activities of my life.  Concise writing, persuasive writing, deductive reasoning, appreciation of access to a broad working vocabulary were but a few of the skills acquired from my experience.  Organization of thought and words to state a point succinctly and accurately is a skill honed well in the pursuit of a journalism experience.  Writing under time deadline and pressure is yet another.  Confidence to interview others and speak for and against and defend positions is likewise fostered by an experience with journalism.  I was certainly impressed by the young lady from Glencoe who eloquently explained to us the disappointment over loss by her and many others of the ability to continue to develop their journalistic skills.  I found her arguments extremely persuasive when she shared how much of the funding for the newspapers is raised by the student’s own efforts and the large number of students directly involved in the production and publication of a newspaper.

Far more students are involved in this activity than are involved in many of the athletic programs we offer our students.  If you want to count heads you would find far more students are served by the journalism advisor than are served by coaching stipends for small team sports.  I hate to make this a contest over numbers as I would hope we could fund all stipends to maximize what we offer to all students.  But, I feel compelled by our Strategic Plan Mission Statement to make the point that sports coaching stipends should never trump the funding of stipends for traditional academic support of activities such as journalism.  The classroom in which journalism is taught and will continue is but a fraction of the learning associated with journalism.  The journalism laboratory, where the nitty-gritty real world lessons are learned is in actually assembling and publishing a newspaper.

Why would this school district choose to abandon decades of journalism excellence exhibited by those of our schools that still have a student newspaper?  Alas, I suspect principals are not excited with the prospect of conflict possibly arising over issues of censorship which has afflicted some schools in this country.  But, this is another compelling reason why we should embrace and encourage student newspapers.  It is the very reason we have faculty advisors to instill a sense of responsibility in our students and accuracy in the written word.  In my opinion this decision to abandon student newspapers is a “cop-out” on the part of district administrators and high school principals of this district.  It should not be permitted to stand.

I can only now speak to you as a concerned patron of the district.  I beg this board to reconsider the defunding of the journalism faculty stipend and support the publication of student newspapers.  Our mission as stated in our current Strategic Plan is to “Engage and challenge all learners to ensure academic excellence.”  Glencoe’s newspaper is a model of academic excellence.  With the many student members of newspaper staffs we were engaging and challenging them as our mission statement would charge us to do.  Now, we have chosen in this instance to ignore our own mission by elevating funding of non-academic pursuits over those of direct support of curriculum and the classroom.  Shame on us!  It is not too late to reverse the course and decisions of principals.  Abandonment of student newspapers is not chiseled in stone.  I remind everyone, demanding accountability and adherence to our mission statement is a board responsibility.  In fact, as this board learned from the last two years of involvement in the Lighthouse Project, it is school boards who demand accountability and adherence to their mission who govern the most successful schools in this country.  Please direct a reversal of this wrong-headed decision.  Do the right thing!  Following the spirit and intent of our mission statement is always the correct path to take.

John Peterson

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Grading for Learning: Dealing with the Student Who “Won’t Work” (Revisited)

Teacher grading policies need to be grounded in reality. That reality is this: most students will conform to the teacher’s expectations, especially if those expectations are reasonable. Teachers who set up punitive grading systems create self-fulfilling prophecies by gearing their policies to the exceptions, the what-ifs. Those teachers go looking for trouble and they find it. There will always be exceptional students on both ends of the normal population curve who will confound, amaze, and frustrate us, but creating a classroom management and/or grading policy that speaks to margins and drags the majority of students into an academic minefield is counter-productive.

So, what do we do with the student who “won’t work”?

Step One: Analyze the situation. What work is he or she refusing to do? Class work? Homework? Group work? Attending to the teacher? Taking notes on presentations? Is it “make or break” for succeeding in the course? Is the work necessary for learning or has the student already demonstrated understanding of the topic? Is the work a stated requirement of the class, grounded in district curriculum? Is the homework necessary, or does the student already have the subject under control?

We need to determine if the student is learning enough to satisfy the requirements of the course and not get hung up in procedural minutiae. “Fairness” is not treating all students alike. Fairness in education is meeting students at their own level of need. Our job is to evaluate learning, not “give credit” (the district gives “credits” for courses completed successfully).

I will do what I can to help and persuade a student to engage in learning, even to arranging mandatory after-school tutoring for the student with the permission of the parent. If it’s simply a matter of homework not completed by a student who can score high in the test on that subject matter, what’s the point of hassling the kid or reducing the grade? Power struggles backed up by punitive grading solve nothing and don’t facilitate accurate reports of academic achievement.

Step Two: Get help. Recalcitrant students often have multiple issues that accompany their refusal to engage in learning that have to be handled professionally by all school personnel involved. Involve the parent, counselor, and administration. Go over IEPs, 504s, and make sure that all the ducks are in a row: those that will help the student and those that satisfy state and federal bureaucracy. Keep the feedback going through that loop.

Step Three: Continue to grade for learning. If the student can’t or won’t meet the requirements of the course, summative assessments will tell the tale and that’s that. No need to engage in punitive grading for “school work” that is not completed. Keep the parent, principal, and counselor informed and meet with them all as needed.

Keep a record of summative assessment scores and formative assessment evaluations. Use INC (Incomplete) or NS (Not Submitted) rather than zeros when recording late or missing assessments or assignments. Use only summative assessment scores for report card grades, and use the formative set to back up your report card grades and your good (professional) judgment.

Not On the Test Revisited

NCLB (the federal No Child Left Behind law) makes me grind my teeth for lots of reasons.

This very cool song pretty well sums them up…

Now go visit Tom Chapin’s web site, Not On the Test.

For those of you who want the lyrics, Tom generously published them on his other web site, tomchapin.com.

Not On The Test
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you’ll do just fine.
It’s reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don’t need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don’t get all stressed.
They’d never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they’re caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school ’cause they’re not on the test.

Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You’ll learn there’s a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you’re in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
‘Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking’s important. It’s good to know how.
And someday you’ll learn to, but someday’s not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don’t think about thinking. It’s not on the test.

Thanks to Tom Brandt for hooking me up with the video!

Not On the Test

NCLB makes me grind my teeth for lots of reasons.

This very cool song pretty well sums them up…

Now go visit Tom Chapin’s web site, Not On the Test.

For those of you who want the lyrics, Tom generously published them on his other web site, tomchapin.com.

Not On The Test
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you’ll do just fine.
It’s reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don’t need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don’t get all stressed.
They’d never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they’re caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school ’cause they’re not on the test.

Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You’ll learn there’s a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you’re in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
‘Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking’s important. It’s good to know how.
And someday you’ll learn to, but someday’s not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don’t think about thinking. It’s not on the test.

Thanks to Tom Brandt for hooking me up with the video!

Open Up to Latin!

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome

Every try to analyze all the elements that contribute to a student’s intellectual development? There’s plenty of research, but don’t plan on doing a meta-study without lots of help. The field is big, and the experts all have much to say.

My meager contributions to this conversation have been dissed more often than not, but I get a warm feeling when I read about others who share my respect for the power of learning Latin.

I was lucky to have gone to high school in a day when nobody questioned to utility of studying Latin (1958-1962). As you will learn, if you read the article linked to above, Latin fell on some hard times in our goofball American education culture, but Latin is making a comeback in some more enlightened sections of the country.

You’re thinking, why Latin? What’s so special?

I studied French (two years) in high school, and two years of Spanish as an undergrad in college. Yes, I enjoyed the experience, it’s certainly valuable, especially in the absence of Latin, but nothing affected me like the four years I studied Latin.

Vocabulary study (by second year, 100 words per week learned) provided the gift of root word recognition in English; intense grammar study in Latin II gave me a better understanding of my own language than the previous nine years of school ever had; and the study of the history and culture of an ancient civilization that, although quite foreign, was very familiar and exciting. (I even built a gladiator’s short sword in wood shop class to use as a prop in the annual Festum Romanum Saturnalia.)

But mostly, it was the vocabulary study in Latin II, which, by coincidence, was taught by my Dad, Hugh J. O’Donnell, at Levittown Memorial High School, Long Island, New York. Dad’s the one that required the 100 words per week and quizzed us faithfully to make sure we were on top of it. (He also sponsored the Saturnalia, and took all the qualifying Levittown Latin students to the annual Baird Memorial Latin Translation Contest in NYC.)

We can’t think, or learn to think better, or critically, if we haven’t the words to represent our thoughts. Certainly, we’re at a disadvantage communicating our thoughts without appropriate vocabulary. In fact, thoughts, without words, are mere feelings . The more words we know and can detect differences of meaning between, the more refined our thinking and ability to communicate those thoughts.

I’m not doing the study of Latin justice with the recital above, but I’ve been inspired to refine my thinking about the myriad aspects of Latin study that contribute to heightened intellectual development, and I’ll add to and revise this post as I move along with it.

Meanwhile, open up your mind to the advantages of the study of Latin.

I will admit, I was pretty lost when I had to deal with Virgil’s Aeneid (fourth year), because the three of us (two girls and me) that stuck it out for four years had to share a class with about 27 third year students! The teacher, Kevin Aylward (by this time, I’d moved on to Farmingdale High School), was brilliant, but the third year kids’ needs outweighed ours! We just didn’t get much teacher time, and fourth year Latin poetry is h-a-r-d.

First year Latin was fun and easy. The course I took from my Dad, Latin II, was intense, with all the vocabulary, grammar, and Caesar’s Gallic Wars to translate. But he made it great fun, and was totally fair to me, his kid. And then Latin III exposed us to the orations of Sallust and Cicero, and the relatively easy poetry of Ovid, which was kinda sexy.

One more point I overlooked on my first pass here: French and Spanish are much easier after having studied Latin. After all, they are Romance languages, derivatives of Latin!

Here’s a photo of my Dad about a decade and a half (or more) after I had him in class. This is from the mid-seventies at Hillsboro High School (Oregon) when he was teaching Language Arts (English for you old-timers).

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

You probably recognize, in the post title, a popular paraphrase of the words of Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797):

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”  — Edmund Burke (1770)

He was an Irish statesman and supporter of American independence while a member of the British House of Commons,

The inscription on his statue (Bristol, England) reads: Burke 1774-1780. “I wish to be a member of parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil”. Speech at Bristol 1780.

This blog is about education, but we’re at a point where education and political activism may be running down the same track.

I’m not talking about partisan politics, I’m talking about educators taking their proper places in public life as leaders and persons of good example. We are some of those people Burke is talking about.

By now, the story of the Jena Six should be familiar to edubloggers worldwide. I posted about Lessons From Jena just a few days ago, hoping to remind teachers and administrators to bring some enlightenment about racial tolerance to their students (yes, looking to break or weaken the cycles of prejudice that infest entire families). The fallout from the Jena story makes me wonder if we ever entered the twenty-first century.

Today’s New York Times carries a story about the Canarsie High School Principal, Tyona Washington, who received a package yesterday at school with a hate note and a noose. According to the article, “The Canarsie episode was at least the eighth time in the past few weeks that a noose was discovered in the New York area. In one instance, a noose was placed on the doorknob of the office of a black professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.”

The eighth time!?

And here’s a story dated two days ago from the Times that deals with incidents that are on-going in Nassau County, where I spent most of my elementary and all my secondary school years. I’ll be 63 years old next month, folks, and I assure you that this sort of crap wasn’t going on there even in the pre-civil rights legislation days of the 50s and early 60s.

Looks like we need to do the thinking I was talking about on the move, pick the lesson plans well, and get to work now.

This is not something we can put off until our curriculum guides say it’s time. The fallout is raining down now, and we have to step up to the plate.

Another reminder of our need to act comes from a poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892–1984) about the failure of German intellectuals and other public figures to respond to Nazi bullying and terrorizing of the German population. Some of you may have seen a famous filmstrip that dramatized the poem.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Speak out folks, talk about race and racial tolerance. Teach about it.