Monday, August 27, 2007

Focusing On What Matters

Recently the Oklahoma Superintendent of Education announced her plan for Oklahoma schools to have several days added to their school year and an additional hour tacked onto the school day. In her presentation, Superintendent Sandy Garrett referenced the success of the Charter School KIPP Academy. KIPP students attend school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm and twice-monthly on Saturdays.

Principal Tracy McDaniel of KIPP Academy pointed out that going to school for more hours is fine but it will not make a difference if core scholastic instruction is not present during those days.

This comment was backed by feedback I received from an Oklahoma teacher. His letter said in part:

"Our current layout calls for 175 days of classroom instruction and five days of staff development. I can tell you that most of our students are not in the classroom 175 days out of the year. Or even 150 for that matter.

"I am just tired of going to work 175 days a year and facing the many obstacles thrown in my path. It's not just the sports... the countless local, state, and national organizational meetings, dress up days and kids getting out of class to judge schoolmates and have pictures made (we had 10 of them last year), science fairs, speech contests, creed contests, drug meetings, sex ed meetings, homecoming practices and decorations, BETA installations, cooking and decorating for various organizational dinners and prom, class meetings, visits from class ring, athletic shoes for every sport, sr. picture, and letter jacket salespeople, weekly school meetings, people bringing flowers and balloons on Valentine's day, picture days, local, county and state stock shows, students reading for elementary children, students missing class to lifeguard at the local pool for coaches who take their elementary PE classes to swim, and on and on and on. Every minute these things are going on students are not in the classroom - it adds up quickly.

"If we had them in school, free of distraction, for 150 or 175 or 190 days a year, there are no limits to what we could achieve. Our kids are not dumb and our teachers are not inadequate. We just need to be allowed to do our job without interference.

"If the legislature adds 15 days, let them be dead weeks or blacklist weeks. Say these are 15 days where no extracurricular activities can take place, and I promise it will be the most educationally beneficial 15 days of school the State of Oklahoma has seen since the day we wandered out of our one room school houses and the first ping of a public school baseball bat echoed across the prairie."

Can you imagine being a teacher in our public school system and competing with all of those activities? When forced to deal with countless extracurricular events and government mandated political correctness it is no wonder our teachers and administrators are facing such an uphill battle.

I believe this is one of the reasons that alternative forms of education have been so successful. In the KIPP Charter School, students tend to focus on academics. In a recent Oklahoman story, a KIPP student was quoted as saying, “Before, my dream was basketball or something like that. Now, I want to be a businessman, and KIPP helped me set my goal.” The possibility of academic success is enhanced when students are allowed to focus on what is really important.

As always please continue to supply me with your feedback. It is greatly appreciated. I have placed the entire letter from the teacher on my blog, which can be accessed from

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