by Max Brantley
As close readers know, I long ago made FOI requests for internal Little Rock School Board e-mail because it frequently provides insight on decisions, happenings, etc. in the district.
Here's another good example.
Board member Baker Kurrus posed a number of questions recently about a federal grant the district has sought to help teachers of American history. The questions boiled down to probing about benefits for students.
Superintendent Linda Watson provided this response, which includes the questions Kurrus posed. Kurrus' response to her answer is on the jump. In short, he thinks the district would do better to focus sharply on core functions before embarking on "grant chasing" for "amorphous" training programs.
As I say, it's for the wonks. But interesting.
BAKER KURRUS TO OTHER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS AND SUPT.
Thanks for this. It is interesting. The information does provide me with some insight with regard to this grant, and this sort of thing in general. My primary criticism is that the money is spent on amorphous "training" that seems to supplant basic curriculum, benchmarks, standards, and instruction that should be systemic as a matter of practice. The grant certainly implies that our regular program is inadequate or not properly implemented. I would prefer that we implement a strong instructional program with motivated instructors as a routine matter. This would streamline a lot of what we are doing, and get us back to a manageable operation. If the grant is designed to enhance our program of instruction, then I guess I would argue that we need to get the basic building blocks in place, across the board, before we divert our attention to this sort of thing. This particular grant may not be the best example, but in many cases we have been distracted from our principal mission by grant-chasing.
As I have said so many times even I am sick of myself saying it, effective instructional methods and best practices need to be systematically incorporated into our routine instruction for all teachers and all students. The programatic approach has not yielded satisfactory results for all students over the long term.
A couple of final things: How many teachers annually attend the training sessions, and what is the total annual amount of the grant? (I want to see the annual cost per trainee.) Is attendance mandatory for all history teachers? If not, isn't it true that most of the teachers who really embrace non-mandatory professional development are the highly-motivated teachers who need it the least?
I know I am a voice in the wilderness on all of this, and I don't want anyone to think I don't appreciate the hard work that goes in to making LRSD the best it can be. I do appreciate all that is done for our kids, but I also think we would be better off today if we simplified our district, drew a tighter focus, and worked more directly on the major problems that are swamping us.