Sunday, January 25, 2015

We’re 37th!

One would have to be a hermit to be oblivious to the back and forth that has taken place between public education advocates and those who have a strong conservative perspective on the use of tax dollars and government finance.  I have been a professional educator for nearly 30 years and this disagreement has been going on at least that long, along with the debates about what should be taught in school, who has the authority to determine what is taught in each building, and why Iowa students no longer rank first in the nation on a couple of different standardized assessments.  This last point is one that concerns a lot of people.  Perhaps it is because the fact that the State of Iowa does not fund schools anywhere close to other states in our country.
In January 2014, Iowa Legislative Services Agency reported that in twelve months Iowa had fallen from 31st to 37th in per pupil spending compared to other states in the country and the national average.  A few years back, in the 2011-2012 school year, Iowa spent $1,514 less per student than the national average.  When that is extrapolated out for the North Fayette and Valley school districts that would be roughly $1.6 million!  What could our district do to support and educate students with that kind of additional money!  However, despite the fact that Iowa remains in the 37th position, Iowa has fallen further away from per pupil spending, down $1,657 per pupil last year for roughly a total of $1.8 million for the students in our district!  These are facts, and the reality is that money does not educate students; people do.  But, for the past ten years or so, funding for Iowa schools has steadily declined, and at the same time student performance on those national tests has dropped as well.  I don’t think that there is necessarily a direct correlation, though I do think there is some relationship.  What concerns me more is the message that is being spun to tax payers.

The 2014 Legislative session did not do much to help Iowa schools with their finances, though they did fund to a point that schools were not hurt.  What troubles me is that the governor and supporters in the legislature claim that they have spent more on Iowa schools than even before, which is ironic considering that our per pupil spending is not increasing much at all, and certainly not at the same rate as in other states.  The Branstad administration has governed with an iron fist when it comes to educational spending, and while they have implemented what look to be some positive reforms, the reality is that rather than putting new money toward funding them, they are determined to take money from strong existing programs to pay for them.  And, they are sending information out to local districts that they have to raise more funds locally.  I find that ironic when the same administration has campaigned in 2014 on the notion that they have restored money to the people of our state.  It is interesting that they aren’t spending it on our children, and at the same time claim that they are.  The proof is in the numbers.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What’s Going On With Boys?

There’s an issue that has gotten more and more attention in recent years that I have developed a keen interest in, but have not taken as much opportunity as I would like to dig in deeper.  As the title of this article implies, I have a lot of questions, as do many others in a variety of different fields, of what is happening with boys in this country.  There are a number of things that I see in our school that are not unusual throughout the nation, and in some places, the problems are far more pronounced.  However, I truly am concerned about what I am seeing.  So, what is that?
First off, in a CBS Sunday Morning episode not too long ago, a report was presented that provided evidence of a crisis in education.  There is a large and increasing achievement gap between boys and girls.  That is most evident by college enrollment where there are currently more girls enrolled in and graduating from college than boys.  On some campuses, it isn’t even close!  Fewer boys are going to college now than during any other era in the last fifty years.  In the 1970’s 57.7% of boys in our country enrolled in college.  Our current rate is 43.5%.  That is a huge drop, and one in an era where there is much more competition on an international level for jobs!  And, we are in greater need for highly skilled workers than any time since the Sputnik era! 
To bring it closer to the high school, nationwide, 70% of valedictorians are girls!  When taking a look at the performance of students at NFV, and prior to that North Fayette, we see some very similar data.  While we do not recognize valedictorians, we do record student performance in a number of ways.  Digging deeper than just the top student in the class, here is a look at the top ten students in the class for the past six years:
    ·      Class of 2014             3 Boys             7 Girls
    ·      Class of 2013             2 Boys             8 Girls
    ·      Class of 2012             4 Boys             6 Girls
    ·      Class of 2011             3 Boys             7 Girls
    ·      Class of 2010             5 Boys             5 Girls
    ·      Class of 2009             6 Boys             4 Girls
Looking at the current senior class, there are four boys in the top ten, and the possibility that a couple of more could move in based on their current GPAs.  But even then, boys at even our school are not performing at the same level academically as girls.  The report referenced in the CBS program, As Gender Roles Change, Are Men Out of Step,” cites what the authors call an “anti-intellectualism” movement among boys who believe that it isn’t “cool” to be smart.  We certainly see this at NFVHS where the priority for a large majority of boys is on sports or other interests rather than pushing themselves in the classroom.  When you think about it, look at all of the attention that is paid to activity programs and the importance it has with families.  Our data shows that parents are far more likely to take their child out of school for appointments than to have them miss a practice or rehearsal.  What does that say about priorities?  This is consistent between males and females, but it is a reflection of what is important to boys, and certainly, giving up academic time is preferable to practice time, or their own time, when conflicts occur.
Nationwide, as well as at NFVHS, boys drop out at a significantly higher rate than girls.  The dropout rate for boys is going up nationally, though we are seeing a decline in our own district.  Without marketable skills in a changing economy, these young men are going to have few choices other than entry-level jobs, which will make it very difficult for them to provide for a family and become members of a functioning middle class.  Psychologists express great concern about how men in the future are going to cope with females who have more skills, more positions of influence, and better income earning potential.  Some go so far to say that marginalized males will become more violent toward women and live more dysfunctional lives.  We have seen reported incidents of physical abuse – domestic abuse – directed toward girls who attend our school by their boyfriends.  And certainly, domestic violence is already a problem in our nation that is receiving a lot of media attention.  A question to ask is what successful woman will be attracted to a man with little or no potential, and if not, what will happen to those men? 
Another trait that is valued in high schools is leadership.  In the time I have been at NFVHS there has been a noticeable vacuum of student leadership, and females generally dominate what does exist.  Looking at key leadership positions in the school, one will see girls occupying most of those positions.  While FFA had a male President last year, the majority of officers were female.  That has been the case at NF and NFV for quite a few years, and it is one of our strongest organizations.  Student council is strongly dominated by girls.  And last year, our executive councils at each grade were made up primarily of females.  Of the sixteen executives at the junior and senior levels, there was one senior boy and one junior boy.   Of the twelve positions at the sophomore and freshman level, there were four 10th graders and two 9th graders.  In our most prestigious club, which places a high priority on leadership, the National Honor Society, of the 37 members at the conclusion of the 2013-14 school year, 24 or 65% were girls.
Teenage boys have a higher prevalence of obesity and diagnosis of ADHD than their female counterparts.  Both of these have major implications for schools in terms of programming and resources. 
Is it possible, that with all of the attention that has been paid in the last twenty or thirty years on improving education for girls that we have neglected boys?  Should we have classrooms, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels, where boys and girls are separated because of their different learning needs and the social pressures that increase as they get older?  Is this even an issue when in spite of all of the advances made by women, they are still only paid 82-cents to every dollar a man earns, and to this point, politics at the highest levels are dominated by males?  Maybe the question is how much longer can men maintain this control?

What this all says to me is that we still have a very strong commitment to the masculine, dominant male role model.  But it would also appear that each year there are significant gains being made by females.  They have taken advantage of affirmative action programs and do not see barriers that once existed.  In our high school, as well as most others in this country, girls are taking advantage of opportunity and pushing themselves much harder than boys.  Perhaps things will turn around as so much in life seems to be cyclical, but maybe we are approaching one of those watermark moments in our society where the shift becomes much more pronounced.  The election of the nation’s first female President in 2016 may be what most dramatically signifies that change has come.