Wednesday, March 5, 2003
By MICHAEL F. FIFER
Special to the News
I’ve been attending school board meetings for more than six years. I thought that curriculum and improving student education should be the top priorities of the Board and administration. Apparently, I was wrong.
I have yet to hear an in-depth discussion on these topics at the meetings. Over time I have told the board about Hood River County graduates who can’t run a yard sale cash box, who don’t know that pink is a color (or what the color pink is), demeaning teachers, counselors who intentionally mislead parents or students, and principals who skirted issues (referring problems to the superintendent who wrote letters disregarding his job description and then didn’t follow through on what he promised in writing).
I asked the Board to give an accounting on misappropriated funds, explaining the how and why of misappropriation. It’s taxpayer’s money and we should have a full explanation. But instead I was told that due to confidentiality of employees, the Board couldn’t divulge the truth.
Recently, I told about two graduates who spent two and a half years in community college full time, passing all classes taken, before being well enough educated to start college-level courses. For all this I have received patronizing blank stares and a “thank you for your comment,” from the Board. At the last Board meeting in February, one of the members of the administration reviewed the “State Report Card,” which presents the image that our school district is excellent. Small business owners, parents (of which I am one), and a high percentage of people in the county, with the exception of teachers, administrators, and school board members, know that our schools leave much to be desired. Don’t take my word for it. Go to your computer on-line and type in “TIMSS Report US” and look it up for yourself.
Browse to your heart’s content, going over TIMSS-related topics and studies. In brief, TIMSS is a comparison of American students to international students in mathematics and science. The study shows that in grade school comparisons, American students are about mid-point as compared to international students. In junior high schools, Americans are below international norms. By the last year of high school, Americans have fallen further behind the international community and our advanced students, when compared to international advanced students, do even worse.
The longer our kids go to school, the worse we do compared to our international counterparts. Oregon students were participants in this study. If American students are below the international average, how can the state possibly call us excellent? I believe that the Oregon report card is an intentional attempt to mislead the public. It is my understanding that the Oregon report card is merely comparing us to our own previous scores. (By the way, America spends more per student per year than any other country I could find that participated in the study. Money is not the problem.)
The school board says that they want a better working relationship with the public.
The Board tells me that integrity is of paramount importance to them. They shouldn’t tell the public how excellent our schools are when there is evidence to the contrary. Our system may be improving, as hard as it is to believe, the old MOD system was a lot worse.
However, we are not improving as fast as the international community. They are simply improving faster than we are. If you don’t admit shortcomings, they aren’t addressed or corrected. If the Board will recognize and tell the truth, I believe the public will help solve the problems. After all, the school system’s “product,” (our children), is very important to us all. Neither the Board nor the administration is trying to earn their living with solely a high school education.
If they were to enter the job market today, with the education and skills required to recieve a high school diploma from this school system, they would be seasonal workers with no benefits and hungry unless they were eligible for unemployment.
I don’t want to see our kids go hungry. They deserve better. According to international comparisons, we are paying for a better education than we are receiving.
The Internet offers power-point presentations, CD ROMs, books, reports, virtually unlimited resources. I’m tired of deer-in-the-headlight blank stares and patronizing thanks.
I want our students to receive the education the taxpayers have been paying for. Is that too much to ask?
Michael F. Fifer lives in Hood River. He regularly attends school board meetings, and ran unsuccessfully for a board position in 2002.