Author Archive

Harsher Punishment or Timely Counseling? Research Has the Answer

April 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Overcoming Poverty’s Damage to Learning“, David Bornstien’s latest “Fixes” column in the NYTimes, describes the findings of researchers who wanted to ascertain the impact of 9/11 on children in NYC schools:

Many children in city schools exhibited symptoms of trauma — but the problems weren’t clearly attributable to 9/11 nor were they clustered near Ground Zero. Such symptoms were, however, concentrated in schools serving the city’s poorest children. And the students’ sense of threat or insecurity stemmed not so much from terrorism as from exposure to violence, inadequate housing, sudden family loss, parents with depression or addictions, and so forth. 

Bornstein goes on to describe the research that followed, research that confirmed the adverse impact of poverty on schools:

Across the United States, in six of the nation’s nine largest school districts, average graduation rates have fallen below 50 percent. There is a pattern, says Cantor: Low-performing schools tend to share high stress, negative cultures (lots of yelling, punishments and inconsistent responses from adults), students with low readiness to learn who are two to four years behind grade levels, and teachers and staff members who have never been trained for these kinds of challenges.

Bornstein shows that there is a way schools can address these issues… but it requires time, patience and a willingness to look at data other than test scores. Turnaround, the program that the balance of Bornstien’s column focuses on, engages the entire school staff in the problems individual students bring to school, effectively accepting the reality that each child’s fundamental needs need to be met before learning can take place. He provides this overview of the program:

Turnaround takes a whole-school approach, inviting everyone in the school community to play a role in transforming the school’s culture. That means the principal must have a vision of a different teaching and learning environment, and commit time and resources to building it; teachers need to acquire new skills and tools to manage classrooms in ways that build trust while engaging students in rigorous instruction; and students must come to see school as important to their success in life, and connect that idea to their own actions in the classroom.  

As one who worked as a HS disciplinarian for six years in the late 1970s, the findings on poverty-stricken children’s emotional conditions are unsurprising. During the time I handled student discipline I observed that most of the problems in the two schools where I worked were the result of problems the students encountered at home. Some of the teachers understood that in these instances the misbehaving students required counseling instead of punishment… but most believed that quick and severe punishment was needed instead of quick and caring intervention. Turnaround’s whole school approach would have been benefitted the students far more than the progressively harsher penalties most teachers at that time sought.

The Seemingly Intractable Conundrum of School Boundaries

April 18, 2015 Leave a comment

My daughter in Brooklyn sent me a link to an article from The Brownstoner, an on-line newsletter for borough residents, titled “How To Research Schools Before Making Your Real Estate Decision”. She insightfully indicated in the email that the the inability of some parents to afford houses in the neighborhoods with good schools contributes to the allure of charter schools.

I’ve written several posts in the past on this issue and am writing again because I’ve believed for decades that economic heterogeneity should be an important element in public education. The schools I attended growing up in West Chester PA and Tulsa OK included children of parents who came from all walks of life. As a result the little league team I played on in OK had the sons of presidents of banks and oil companies as well as kids from single parent homes who needed to have their gloves donated. In PA the high school served the children of farmers, factory workers, college professors, and white-collar workers like my father who commuted to work in Delaware and, in some cases, Philadelphia for work. The classes were homogeneously grouped, but the buses, athletic teams, and extra-curricular activities included a demographic cross section. My sense is that school demographics have changed since the time I grew up as demographic divisions between communities increased and hardened, in large measure because of zoning regulations in the suburbs and red-lining practices in urban areas.

How do we get out of the spiral we’re in whereby homeowners pay a premium to acquire houses in the best school districts which increases their property tax-base and property values in one town or neighborhood while diminishing the tax-base and property values in another town or neighborhood. The answer is relatively simple IF we believe all children should have the same opportunity to succeed in school. We should provide the schools in low income neighborhoods with the same resources available in high income neighborhoods… and one of those resources is the chance to be in classes, on sports teams, and in clubs with children from different economic backgrounds. While we like to claim a desire to provide an equal opportunity for all children, our inaction on this topic speaks much louder than our words.


Of COURSE Principals Matter… but Principles Matter, Too

April 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s blog post title is a play on yesterday’s NYTimes featured an op ed article by Will Miller titled “Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too”.  In the article, Miller, who is president of the Wallace Foundation, breathlessly reports that the Principal of a school plays a key role in school improvement… a fact that true school reformers like Ron Edmunds knew decades ago. Miller’s op ed piece recounts all of the reasons this is the fact, touches on some of the research that demonstrates this, and offers some recommendations on how this can be addressed.

One point Mr. Miller overlooked was the impact of VAM on school administrators, especially in New York. The latest thinking on “reform” in NY insists that test scores take greater precedence than principal evaluations. Indeed, Governor Cuomo has so little regard for Principals’ ability to evaluate that he wants to institute a system that requires independent third party evaluations. Why? Because the failure rate for teachers is way too low! To paraphrase Mr. Miller, it’s hard to think of another profession where so little attention is paid to leaders. Organizations like the military, corporations and universities listen to and respect their leaders. If we’re going to do this in public education, a lot has to change… beginning with abandoning the notion that test results can replace direct observation in the classroom as a means of judging teacher and administrator performance.

The fundamental principle that test scores cannot measure the human interactions between a teacher and a student and a leader and a subordinate needs to be brought to the forefront…. because THAT principle matters A LOT more than any Principal.

Deregulated For-profit Charter Schools… What Could Go Wrong?

April 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an editorial calling for the USDOE to forgive loans issued to students who enrolled in deregulated for profit colleges who knowingly enrolled them in programs that led nowhere. After reading the article I left the following comment:

Deregulated for-profit schools… what could go wrong? We now know the answer: underpaid and unqualified teachers offering a wholly inadequate education to misled students!

But wait! Many governors (including NY’s) promoting deregulated for-profit charter schools as the “solution” to “failing public schools” and taxpayers, like the misled students of for-profit colleges, seem to be willing to allow these deregulated for-profit schools to loot the public coffers.

Deregulated for-profit charter schools… what could go wrong?

MAYBE the Times will see the inconsistency in their advocacy for the deregulated for-profit charters that “reformers” advocate… but their magical thinking on charters seem to mirror the magical thinking of the students who enrolled in deregulated for-profit colleges.

ESEA Reauthorization Is No Cause for Celebration

April 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch reported in a past late today that the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions passed the Alexander-Murray bill today by a 22-0 vote. While Diane Ravitch and some readers saw this as a victory because it was a rebuke to Arne Duncan, I’m not doing a victory dance. Why?

I’m VERY skeptical and fearful about how this will end up… I believe that when STATES define standards and develop accountability models, many school districts will be worse off than they are now…. I dread seeing what happens in NJ, MI, IN, WI, OH, and NYS when it comes to deciding how much standardized tests will play a role in teacher evaluations…. and if the governors are ignoring the statisticians who decry VAM they will certainly pay no attention when they are told by those same statisticians that the opt out percentages might make their evaluation schemes impossible to implement… I’m also skeptical and fearful about what the science standards will look like in States where evolution and global warming are called into question. Will students in FLA and WI be given information on global warming? And I’m MOST skeptical and fearful about what will happen when governors in states who believe the “government run public school monopoly” needs to be replaced with “choice”. I imagine ALEC’s voucher legislation will be introduced and passed very quickly!

In the end, I believe Obama and Duncan will be happy to see this legislation pass since they sense that many states will adopt RTTT’s test-and-punish paradigm and they will be able to declare the passage of ESEA as a “bipartisan victory”.

And here’s the worst news: IF this bill passes it will be years before this policy will be revisited.

Categories: Uncategorized

Unpredictable Work Schedules Plague 17% of Workforce

April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Several days ago I wrote a post on the havoc “flexible scheduling” wreaks on the lives of parents of school children and yesterday’s Atlantic blog by Gillian White featured an article on the same topic. The article offered a good explanation of how this scheduling strategy, which affects 1/6 of the workforce, plays out:

For Americans who work traditional nine-to-five jobs, the life of a worker with a constantly-changing shift schedule can be difficult to fathom. Employees can wind up spending time, and money, commuting to their job, only to be told to leave early, or that they’re not needed at all that day. A sudden call to work can mean scrambling for child care, or turning down much-needed hours. And a constantly shifting schedule can lead to uneven earnings, with income spiking in some months and plummeting in others, making it incredibly difficult to budget. For students using part-time jobs to make ends meet, schedule changes can mean making a choice between attending class and earning enough money to pay tuition. For workers with kids, it can mean a constant struggle to find and afford child care. The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.

As if research were needed to prove it, the Atlantic cites studies that link this kind of just-in-time scheduling to “…lower levels of job satisfaction… greater levels of work-family conflict… diminished cognition and physical health…and, decreases in their ability to reason, think, and recall information.” As noted in my earlier post, when I worked part time as a grocery store cashier I was in a unionized store. While I did not appreciate it at the time, I now realize that one of the reasons I was able to schedule time-off a week in advance and trade-off with colleagues on an ad hoc basis was because of the contract the provided these rights. The loss of worker’s bargaining power has resulted in corporations being able to schedule full and part-time workers on an at-will basis making it impossible for their employees to make even weekly plans for their families. As White understates in the paragraph above: “The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.” The problem undercuts parent involvement in the lives of children and consequently makes it more difficult for their children to have an equal opportunity for success in school.

Libraries and Small Local Museums Becoming Learning Laboratories

April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

As middle class, affluent and aspiring parents despair at standardized testing and the lockstep schooling that results from the emphasis placed on them in public schools, I expect to see more and more of them seeking alternatives to the status quo. One alternative emerging from the set of new approaches is the creation of home-school (or un-school) alliances of parents who work collaboratively to provide learning experiences for their children. In the region where I live, two institutions are beginning to serve children who are home schooled in a semi-systematic fashion: the local library and the Montshire Children’s Museum for Science in Norwich, VT. Libraries, which generally have high speed internet and extensive book and media collections are a natural resource for parents of home schoolers and can become an ad hoc meeting place for parents who provide home schooling for their children. The Montshire is a local treasure. As grandparents, my wife and I take our grandchildren there whenever they visit and no matter their age (they currently range from 2 to 11) they find some activity that engages them for hours. On a recent weekday visit to buy gifts for one of our grandchildren I observed that the museum scheduled ad hoc sessions for home schoolers when they realized that there was a critical mass of them needing opportunities to work collaboratively on projects.

This post was inspired by a Facebook post from my daughter that included a link to KQED’s Mindshift blog post titled “How Libraries are Advancing and Inspiring Schools and Communities”. After reading this it became clear to me that if they so desired, public libraries and small local museums like the Montshire could become learning hubs for those parents who are seeking an alternative to the mindless test-preparation going on in schools… or could be agents for change within schools by helping them redefine the role and mission of the library spaces and science classrooms in our digital age. Imaginative, creative, and aspiring parents are looking for a better way to engage their children… this could be pat of the answer.