Social Workers in School

August 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes op ed page features an essay by Daniel Cardenali advocating that schools serving children in poverty require the services of a social worker. I completely agree with this assertion since social workers possess a different skill set than guidance counselors, psychologists, special education case managers, and– in some cases– classroom teachers, the staff members who typically try to assume some of the responsibilities that a social worker could do more effectively. Here’s a key paragraph from Cardenali’s op ed piece:

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

As I noted in the comment section, this can be accomplished economically by having school districts providing space for the Department of Social Service (DSS) staff in their schools. When I was a superintendent in MD in the 1990s we set up offices for DSS staff in two of our high poverty schools. The DSS agency head and I reasoned that we were needlessly competing with each other for scarce $$$ and his staff’s services and ours meshed. We saved DSS the costs for office space and he saved me adding much needed and arguably duplicative services. Moreover, it created opportunities for interagency cooperation and communication that helped the students and parents. Teachers could meet and confer with a student’s social worker face to face and share insights that would help them work with the families.

My experience in MD indicated that when schools duplicate social services it adds to the net costs to the public. When schools create partnerships with service providers it is a win-win. The best example of this was when the State mandated that we place a school nurse in each of the 42 schools in our county. At the time this requirement was put in place, we had four on our payroll, all of whom were paid on the teacher’s pay schedule which made them among the highest paid nurses in the region. By forming an alliance with the County Health Department whereby THEY hired and supervised the staff, we saved thousands of dollars in hiring staff and avoided the need to add another administrative position to oversee health services. Finally, as I wrote in an essay published in Education Week that I posted earlier, this kind of interagency co-housing helped break down the silos of confidentiality that work against providing the kind of support children in poverty need.

Cardenali concludes his essay with this paragraph:

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

My take: it will require a measure of COMMON SENSE, something that seems to be completely lacking in Washington DC. This could be another case where a State will lead the way.

Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like.

Vermont ROCKS! Here’s what’s distressing, though… the Burlington Free Press had to add this editorial “insight” to it’s reportage:

However, the state’s high graduation rate has not translated to significant gains in college graduation rates. Many Vermont teens graduate and find they must pay to take non-credit bearing remedial courses even at open-admission community colleges.

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Unsupervised Play Should be Illegal?

August 24, 2014 1 comment

The headline of a recent post from reports on the findings of a recent survey they conducted:

Poll: Most Americans Want to Criminalize Pre-Teens Playing Unsupervised

Here are the distressing findings of their poll:

68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.

What’s more: 43 percent feel the same way about 12-year-olds. They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).

When I read these kinds of reports I recall my adventures as a five-year old exploring construction sites and red ant hills in Salt Lake City, my adventures in the woods outside of West Chester PA when I was in early elementary school grades, my adventures walking along the railroad tracks between Lee School and my house seven blocks away in Tulsa OK in grades 4-6, the many pick up baseball, football, and basketball games I played in as a middle and high school youngster… and I feel sad that my grandchildren might not have the same kinds of experiences, especially my two grandkids in Brooklyn.

But I also recall the unsolved disappearance of a seven-year old who was walking to school in Exeter NH when I was superintendent. It sent shock waves through the community, shock waves that were dampened by cooler heads in the area. Fortunately, many parents in that community did not want to restrict their children’s ability to play without supervision or discourage their children from walking to school unaccompanied. The PTAs and Chamber of Commerce head arranged to have guest speakers come to public forums. This helped dispel the panic and encourage parents to allow their children to experience childhood…. but I am certain this episode contributed to the fears of many parents in the region and may still be used as evidence for those who want to criminalize parents for allowing their children to play without supervision and walk unaccompanied to the neighborhood store or playground. Unfortunately, as we know all to well, fear trumps love and so we find ourselves raising our children in a world where we prefer spending money on arms instead of butter.


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Competing Views of College

August 24, 2014 Leave a comment

I just read two articles in the last hour that make me wonder what the conversation would be like if the  two writers had an improbable meeting.

Anthony Grafton’s review of “Excellent Sheep”, a recently published book by Yale professor William Deresiewicz, describes our countries elite universities as factories that take well-behaved, high achieving and affluent entrants and turn out soulless graduates who learn “…that they are superior to all others, and that even if they break rules or fail, they will never suffer.”  In effect, Deresiewicz asserts that professors have little or no influence on the students who entered the hallowed halls of elite colleges. He writes: “The system churns out an endless procession of more or less uniform human specimens” and, as noted above, suggests the specimens are not forced to question their own worth.

In contrast, Houston Baptist College professor Collin Garbarino writes in an essay in Canon and Culture that our universities are churning out moral relativists who are being brainwashed by progressive professors… that is the professors HAVE more agency than Deresiewicz is observing and they are using that agency to turn students away from “their parents worldview”.

So… putting these two conclusions together one can only assume that the Ivies are doing a great job in Garbarino’s view: the students entering school leave with the same world view they brought to the institution! As for Garbarino’s perspective on moral relativism, all I can say is followers of ISIS are not moral relativists… and the world would be a lot more peaceful if we had fewer ISIS followers and more secular humanists!

Orwell Weeps

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Here’s the title of a blog post from Beta Beat that requires no further comment:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages on Dorm Wifi

Oh… and it’s not a private religiously affiliated university, which arguably COULD get away with restricting the freedom of speech of its students… but state funded Northern Illinois.

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This Just In: Salesman Try to Be Your Friend

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Sometimes I think people look too hard for conspiracies. Diane Ravitch’s recent blog post on LAUSD is a case in point. Titled “Breaking News: LA Officials Met with Apple, Pearson a Year Before Taking Bids”, the post insinuates that these meetings constitute evidence of collusion. I’m not sure at all. A more likely explanation is that LAUSD was doing due diligence. Here’s my comment on the post:

This is NOT intended to defend LAUSD because I do not know the extent to which they wrote their bids to proscribe other offers… but… as a Superintendent who was interested in integrating technology into the schools my staff and I often met with software and hardware vendors to gain a better understanding of their products and to gain a better understanding of what was possible… When we chose to specify Apple operating systems over DOS (an unpopular decision in an IBM town) it was because we determined that there was more application software available… when we explored data warehousing we met with a vendor who was connected with a college professor I knew and learned a great deal about what was feasible at that time and what we could incorporate into a bid specification… A prudent administrative team will take a lot of time deliberating on what kind of hardware and software they need for a school system before committing resources. It’s POSSIBLE that LAUSD administrators were doing due diligence in convening extended meetings with Apple and Pearson… and those letters from Pearson are unsurprising and, from my perspective, unpersuasive “evidence” of collusion. Education salespersons use the same approach and same language as every good salesperson: they want to strike up a personal relationship with the purchaser and enter into a “partnership”… Have you looked at buying a car lately? You’ll get the same kind of email from a car salesman.

When I was superintendent in NYS there was an audience member who had his own public access TV show and who was convinced that every action we took as administrators was somehow part of a shady deal and/or part of our effort to promote “constructivist” education theories. His show was creepy. It included grainy footage of my home and the church I attended where he thought folks should picket to protest whatever scheme he imagined I was involved with. He would receive copies of our board packets and highlight memos flagging evidence of administrative misconduct. While no one ever picketed my home or my church and no one gave much credence to his rants and analyses, the show did make me look at all allegations of administrative misbehavior with a more jaundiced eye. It’s possible the LAUSD administrators engaged in misconduct— but it’s more plausible that he and his staff were doing their due diligence in gaining an understanding of the best way to match their technology purchases with their education needs…. and from Deasy’s perspective having a robust technology-based standardized testing program is an “education need”.

No More Guns Needed in Schools

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

I read an op ed piece by Michael Wines and Frances Robles in today’s NYTimes titled “Key Factor in Police Shootings: “Reasonable Fear” and had a flashback to situations I faced as a teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia, as an Assistant Principal at Darby Colwyn HS, and as a Principal in Bethel ME.

As a teacher I was once sucker-punched by a student while I was on hallway duty outside my classroom during the passing of classes. His defense was that he “thought I was another teacher”. For several weeks after that I was increasingly wary of students as they walked through the corridors between classes. Were THEY going to punch me? As a teacher I also intervened in confrontations between students in the hallways or in the Boys Room I patrolled across the hall from my classroom. Were these typical middle school  “woofing” exchanges or gang fights that spilled into the school? Would I be able to de-escalate the tension or find myself physically separating the students?

As an assistant Principal my greatest fears came from checking into reports that some of the “sports fans” from a rival HS were armed with baseball bats, knives, and maybe even handguns as they waited in the parking lot for the game to end. But in the life of an assistant principal in a lower middle class demographic there were several instances over the course of the three years when I had to break up fights, confront “visitors” to the campus who “needed to talk” with a student who we suspected was dealing drugs, and deal with students whose anger at their lot in life was directed at authority figures and who made impulsive threats that may— or may not— have been groundless.

As Principal and disciplinarian in rural ME there were fewer times when I felt directly threatened by students, but the fights between adolescents and the confrontations with campus “visitors” always led to the kind of adrenaline surge that results from the sense of personal danger.

In short, as I read the opening paragraphs Wines’ and Robles’ essay I recalled the many times I experienced “reasonable fear” as an educator and after reading the article wrote this comment:

As a former school administrator I get a knot in my stomach every time I read an article advocating that we arm teachers and administrators. There are many times when a teacher of administrator encounters a situation where they sensed they or someone else was “…in imminent danger of grievous injury or death”. In those instances, if the teachers were armed, they may feel they could “…shoot first and ask questions later.” Too often, confrontations in schools are the kind of “fast-paced, low-information” situations where researchers find the risks and potential consequences of a mistake are very high. I hope these recent shootings by trained policeman in MO underscore the flaw in the “good guys with guns” theory that is the basis for arming educators and the basis for “stand your ground” laws.

Police are trained to deal with adrenaline rushes and with handling a weapon. I imagine they go into every situation with the same feeling I had weeks after I was punched by a student passing by me in the hallway… or when I heard that a fight was underway or brewing… or when I heard that an unauthorized “visitor” was on campus. I do not envy the work they do, but I don’t dot believe we need more guns in the hands of those who are responsible for order in schools… we need to deal with the root causes of school violence. Spending money on social services is far more helpful than spending money to provide “good guys with guns” in every school.

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