Guest Post – Addressing the Viral “Epic Dad Response”

My friend, Nolan Schmit, is a teacher and composer extraordinaire. What I know most about him is his commitment and dedication to the students he serves.

Today, I read a post that Nolan wrote in response to this viral story: Abington dad’s letter becomes matter of principal. (I purposefully chose THIS link, rather than the other incredibly sensational posts I’ve seen about it.) As is typical of stories that elicit an emotional response, it was shared widely, and outrage grew as quickly as the story made the rounds.

My first thought after reading this story was: Yay! Parents who want to (and can afford to) take their children on learning trips are awesome!

My second thought was: schools don’t always have the option of defining “excused” and “unexcused” absences on a per case basis. It doesn’t mean that those types of family trips are discouraged… just that it’s how they’re defined. I know this all depends on the school and district.

Nolan didn’t leave it at that. He responded today with what I think is a justified perspective, and I wish that those who are seething with outrage would consider the position that schools are in when it comes to students and absences. I asked Nolan if he would consider reposting/guest blogging here, and he agreed.

Nolan Schmit -

Nolan Schmit –

Nolan’s response:

OK. I’ve got to say something. It doesn’t take a lot to get me fired up, but it takes a lot for me post something like this. I feel the need to be an apologist for public education, especially when misinformation is floating around.

I posted part of this on a friend’s page, but am reposting it here.

There is a photo going viral from a guy named Mike Rossi who is upset with his kids’ school because he took his kids on a vacation during the school year and the school wrote him a letter saying the kids’ absences are not considered “excused” absences. Rossi wrote a letter back to the school to “slam” the school for being so rigid and to tell them how educational and valuable the trip was. Many people are treating Mr. Rossi like a hero for “sticking it” to the school and, by extension, the government for being too intrusive.

Let me first say I am in favor of kids having these types of experiences, because THEY ARE VALUABLE and open up the world to kids. Travel and other opportunities for enrichment are needed, desired and invaluable. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I’m on Mr. Rossi’s side on this part of the issue.

To be fair, though, he can’t blame the school. Public education has been under fire for decades and people have DEMANDED that there be accountability. Because of these outcries and the subsequent results at the ballot boxes, we ended up with NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

The good part of NCLB is that it has encouraged improved practices in the classroom and has made teachers much more aware of how to reach ALL kids. I’m a better teacher now than when I started and it is not simply due to experience, but some great professional development that resulted from the mandates of NCLB.

The bad part is that schools are put in an impossible position on several fronts. First, it is impossible for 100% of students to achieve the same level of proficiency on any skill or topic on a given date. Punishing schools for this is beyond crazy. That’s like firing your kid’s coach for incompetence because she was unable to coach your kid to run the 400m in under 52 sec.

Second, TODAY the measure of success established FOR schools, right or wrong, is standardized testing. Kids pass the test = good teaching. Kids fail = bad teaching. We take no mitigating circumstances into account. For instance, a child can arrive from the Ukraine with NO ENGLISH skills in third grade and are expected to be at the same level of proficiency as their English speaking peers by fourth grade. This is INSANE. There are many teachers fearing for their future, because when a kid misses school, they miss the content being covered. While the trip may be invaluable, the content covered in class is the ONLY content over which the students will be tested and, in some districts, the only measure by which teacher success is determined.

I empathize with schools, because they have a job to do. Schools don’t have the right to tell parents what to do with their children, but how can schools do the job of educating when kids aren’t in class? You can’t say, “We demand that our kids score well on these tests, will fire you if they don’t, and we can pull our kids out of school as much as we want. If they don’t learn, it is STILL YOUR PROBLEM.”

You can’t have it both ways.

If you vote people into office who have no clue how to craft legislation as it relates to education, this type of thing is the result.

I’ve been in public education for 22 years. I am not a stereotype. I am not owned by a political party. I don’t hate home-schooled kids. I don’t hate private and parochial schools. My liberal friends would call me conservative. My conservative friends would call me liberal. I care about one thing and one thing only. I want every student that comes into my classroom, no matter what their background, beliefs, skin color, religion, life philosophy, culture, race, sexual orientation, economic status, skill set, degree of physical and mental wellness, talents, limitations, interests and ambitions, to treat others with and be treated with kindness and to be able to learn to the best of their abilities. That’s it. I am not unique in this respect. The vast majority of my colleagues feel the same way. Kids are why we got into this profession. We want to give children the tools to live a rich, fulfilling, healthy, purposeful life.

I would prefer that schools were free to allow more opportunities for enrichment, but enrichment now takes a backseat to test scores. We’ve voted, we’ve made our beds and now we have to lie in them.

Our society has put all the educational eggs in the assessment basket and forgotten what constitutes real learning and the impact other life experiences have on the total education of a child.

Thanks for letting me ramble, but when I see or hear misinformation being spread, I feel obligated to stand up for truth and facts.


Schools and Class Wars

That’s what it’s coming down to… class wars in our schools.

With the budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels, politicians are creating class wars in education. Our ‘illustrious’ Secretary of Education states that we in public education will have to learn to do more with less funding. This is tagged as “The New Normal.” But what happens when budget cuts are so severe and un-funded mandates regarding test scores, AYP, etc. continue to pile on?

This is what happens:

The wealthy pull their kids out of public schools, if they haven’t done so already, and pay to have them educated in a school of their choosing. Those parents find the schools that provide the programs they want for their children. These schools are not necessarily subject to federal mandates, usually have significantly less standardized testing, and often have much of the school day devoted to enrichment studies beyond math and language arts.

Children living in poverty do not have those options. They continue to attend schools with less funding. These are the schools which are forced to cut libraries, teacher librarians, music, art, drama, theater, physical education, recess… all those teachers, classes and programs that research says are best for kids to grow, develop, and learn.

For those kids in more affluent families, even if they have no private choices for school, parents still find and pay for programs outside the school day- club sports, private music instruction, etc. – to fill the void that is missing in the public schools. Kids in less affluent families are left to their own devices.

If, as Horace Mann stated:

Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man, – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.

… it seems as if our politicians are out to upset that “balance-wheel. ” Without a strong public education available for ALL students, we cannot have democracy, or even our representative democracy. We will have separate classes of education and an ever-growing divide between the have’s and the have-not’s.

I would argue, Mr. Duncan, that this is NOT the new normal. This is a disgrace to the children of the country you purport to serve.

The Answer to Parallel Parking is C

I keep thinking what our streets would be like if we only allowed new drivers to demonstrate their learning through the written exam. Can you imagine the chaos? [Image- joiseyshowaa1] Personally, I’m glad that there’s a system that ensures people not only know the “right” answers, but can also demonstrate by DOING– in this case, by driving.

Of course, we wouldn’t allow that to happen to drivers. It’s not safe.

But we do it to kids in schools. Multiple-choice tests don’t tell much about what students know, other than the fact that they can memorize answers ( or in some cases, because they can read their teacher’s minds). Rarely do I encounter a multiple-choice assessment that allows a student to move beyond simple recall… maybe a few application skills here and there. What would our schools be like if we allowed kids to demonstrate their understanding or even mastery of a concept through other means? Better yet, what if kids were involved in the decision-making process about how to demonstrate their learning?

On another note, I wonder how many people would be denied a driver’s license had they been given only one opportunity to pass their driving tests– both written and driving. Has anyone ever said, “What? You failed your driving test? Sorry. You will always have a failing grade on this exam. No license for you–ever. Move along.” Seems like the streets would be fairly empty. (This second note is a point that Ken O’Connor discusses most eloquently in his presentations!)

Ever wonder why kids think school is just a game they have to play until they can move into the “real world?”

1joiseyshowaa. “World Class Traffic Jam.” joiseyshowaa’s Photostream. 9 Apr 2008. 25 Jul 2008.