Monday, October 19, 2009

Jeff Bierman for Dist 81 Board Position 3

So while looking over Ms. Carder's (running for Dist 81 Position 4) beliefs, it seemed that I should get the other candidates opinions on the subject. Jeff Bierman was the first to email me back (I like him already). This man has spent more years in education than I've been alive, I recommend running over to his site (Retain Dr. Jeff Bierman) and check out his bio.

Here's what I originally wrote to him:

Dear Mr. Bierman,

I run a small blog ( and was hoping you could spare a moment to answer a few questions. I know there are many important issues this election and the one I'm most curious about is probably not high up on the priority list, but I'm sure there are a few people out there who are curious. I've recently been looking into Laura Carder's position on teaching creation "science" in school and I felt that I should clarify everyone's position on the subject. Do you support the teaching of creation "science" in school and if so for what reasons? Ms. Carder claims that students are being punished for saying "Merry Christmas" and bringing Bibles to school. Are you aware of any instances where this has actually occurred in Spokane? Finally, is there anything you would like to say to voters? Something that I could post to give my readers an overall idea about what you stand for and plan to accomplish if reelected to the board?

Thank you so much for your time.


Andrew Myers

Here's what he had to say:

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for checking in with me. I'll try to give you some feedback here on your questions and, if I don't get them all answered or you have others, please just email back and I'll try again.

I don't support teaching "creation science" in science courses in our schools. I don't believe it falls under the heading of credible scientific models which explain the world around us. However, I'm not a huge fan of how science gets presented to our students. I think too often science is taught as right and wrong, rather than following the intent of "the scientific method." All we have in science are models which attempt to describe the observations we have made and can be used to make predictions about other physical situations upon which we could make observations. When predictions match up with future observations, our model gets credibility and starts to become generally accepted. However, at some point, all of our models are going to be found incompatible with observations and will then either need to be modified or found to be limited in their scope of coverage. A scientist has to have the mindset that their currently accepted models will need to be modified. I'm not sure that important point gets across in our courses. "Creation science" doesn't prove compatible with observations and doesn't make many testable predictions. Intelligent design, from what I've seen, makes few testable predictions and hence, while maybe appropriate for discussion and coverage in a philosophy class, should not be taught in science courses. Evolution on the other hand, makes testable predictions; some of which succeed and some where there are troubles. Evolutionary theory has changed over time to better explain the latest fossil and geography data that is reported and, when there are problems the model needs to be modified. My fear is that often, evolution is taught as "correct" rather than "accepted" and there is a big difference. In my field of physics, Newtonian mechanics was pretty well accepted and many started to believe it was "correct" but then once we could make observations on particles traveling at very high speeds, we found the predictions of Newtonian mechanics to be incorrect. The acceptance of the special theory of relativity was the scientific method at work. That's probably more than you were looking for.

As for students being punished for saying "merry christmas" or bringing bibles to school, I don't know if they were or weren't. The school board isn't supposed to be involved in the day to day operations of schools, rather the board sets priorities and visions for the district; goals to work towards. The board has one employee, the superintendent, who is then responsible for structuring the district such that the policy set by the board is followed and the goals and vision are achieved. During the past 14 months, I haven't seen any policy issues regarding these issues come up to the board nor has any such discipline been reported or described tot he board, however there is no reason that it necessarily would have. The best place to check for verification of those instances would be with the superintendent's office, Dr. Nancy Stowell.

Finally, I can give you a quick summary of my district vision that I would work towards if elected. I want our district to increase the range of academic offerings for all students in our district and to raise the challenge and academic rigor contained in those courses. Our district is huge, almost 29,000 students, however it seems as though we try to force most kids into a one size fits all curriculum. Rather than a single 8th grade english class or a single 9th grade math class that all kids take, I'd rather see multiple courses better tailored towards different student career goals and interests. I believe this would better prepare students for success after K-12 and would do a better job of keeping students connected to their education. I also think we need to raise the level of rigor and expectations, especially at middle school. I believe that is a huge contributor to our high dropout rate. Those key transitions from 6th->7th grade and then from 8th->9th grade are where we actually lose kids that drop out later in high school. They are allowed to drift in middle school, with low expectations, they don't advance academically but they still move on. Then they hit 9th grade where the academic bar is raised a bit and they struggle. According to reports, if a student fails one class in 9th grade, there's like a 60% chance that they will drop out. If they fail 2 courses in 9th grade it goes up to 90%+. I fear that what we are currently doing in middle school, in many cases, is setting kids up to fail a class or two in ninth grade. I want our middle school experience to do a better job of preparing kids to succeed in high school and beyond.

That said, the real challenge for this district (and all districts in washington state) over then next 4 years is going to be finances and budgets. Our state is in a budget mess and will be for some time, which is going to dramatically affect K-20 schools. After a difficult budget year last year, the state is already $1.5 billion behind on the budget for next year. For the bienium that starts the year after, if stimulus dollars aren't replaced from some source there will be another gaping hole. For example, 8% of this year's budget for district 81 comes from stimulus dollars used by our state legislature to backfill where they had cut. That's about $24 million for us. We will undoubtably see reductions from the state for this next year, then if we lose $20+ million dollars the year after that, after having made reductions this year even with an increase in enrollment, the results are going to be very difficult to arrive at and accept. I think it will be a very difficult and challenging time to be on the board, however, it will also be crucially important that we stay focused and prioritize on student success and achievement.

I like what he had to say, overall it seemed pretty solid. Also, it's nice to see that there's a scientist on the board. I look forward to hearing from Heidi Olson who is running against him, as well as the Position 4 candidates.

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