Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Columbine and the Criminalization of Costumes

November 6, 2015 Leave a comment

the NYTimes reported on the arrest and felony charges leveled against two students charged with making terroristic threats based on a wisecrack they made in a Halloween Parade on the town common in Litchfield, CT. Writers Lisa Fodero and Benjamin Mueller reported on the incident that triggered the response as follows:

The State Police said the boys made “threats of bodily harm to other students,” and the Litchfield Public Schools superintendent said they went out for Halloween on Saturday night dressed in trench coats and sunglasses…

Mr. Moraghan (the young men’s lawyer) offered the first detailed account on Thursday of how an ill-advised costume turned into criminal charges.

He said that on Saturday night, the boys went to a Halloween party on the town green that draws students from several schools who want to trick-or-treat and hang out with friends. He acknowledged they were dressed in distasteful costumes but said they did not have “any object that can be used or perceived as a weapon.”

A group walked up to them, according to Mr. Moraghan’s account, and after commenting that they looked like the Columbine High Schoolkillers, someone added, “I bet you’re going to shoot up the school.”

Mr. Moraghan said, “There was a sarcastic response to that, and that was basically the end of it.” He said one girl told her parents, who then called the police. Investigators, in turn, searched the students’ cellphones and their homes, he said…

The State Police confirmed the home search, but declined to answer questions about what they found. Mr. Moraghan said, “Nothing was found in either boy’s home that could in any way give credence to what they claim the boys were going to do.”

Prosecutors declined to answer questions about the case because the defendants were juveniles.

The Litchfield Public Schools superintendent, Lynn K. McMullin, said in an email on Wednesday that “there was no credible threat and students were never in physical danger.” She did not respond to a message left for her on Thursday.

The boys did not face any weapons charges.

Because we live and thrive on fear, an ill advised choice of Halloween costumes combined with a typical teen-age wisecrack ends up with a national news story and police threatening to lock up two students for an offense that the school is evidently willing to overlook.

In retrospect, Columbine was public education’s 9-11 and the reaction to spend money providing more surveillance cameras, more door locks, more entry guards armed and otherwise was public education’s Iraq. The problem at Columbine was not one of too little security or too few cameras in the hallway. The problem was the ready access to weapons combined with two outcast students’ disaffection with school that was either ignored and untreated or overlooked because there were no resources to re-connect the disaffected students to school. If we spent our resources on staffing schools with caring teachers and provided them with the resources to do their jobs we might have created a climate of caring. Instead, we’ve created a climate of fear.

Solution to Boys’ Schooling Problems: Replace Age-Based Grade Levels

October 23, 2015 Leave a comment

This site’s mission is to open and change minds about public education… and one of my repeated calls for change is the abandonment of the age-based grade cohorts in favor of a highly individualized and self-directed form of schooling. An article by Clair Cain Miller in today’s Upshot section of the NYTimes reinforced the need for this change. Ms. Miller’s article describes the massive evidence indicating that boys raised in poverty do more poorly than girls in the same circumstances. There are a host of reasons given, but the primary one was this:

New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.

The article goes on to describe how early intervention and support would help.. but this article, like virtually ALL articles on public education, assumes the notion of grouping children by age cohorts and defining “success” by comparing students to others the same age is somehow natural and inviolable. The way we organize schools is based on an “efficiency” model devised early in the last century when we envisioned schools as factories. One of the reasons boys see themselves as “disadvantaged” is that they mature at a slower rate than girls and when they are compared to girls in a school setting where orderliness and compliance are highly valued they are branded as “failing”. This sets in motion a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to the misbehavior, low test scores, and disaffection for schools described in the article. Instead of figuring out how to force young boys into an outdated organizational model for schooling, why not change the model itself? With today’s technology individualization and personalization is possible. We should use technology to tailor and pace instruction and make the teaching of social skills explicit part of schooling instead of penalizing those who cannot conform to the rules required to impose the factory model on all children.

When High Standards and High Needs Collide An Engaged Parent Helps

October 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Elizabeth Harris’  article in today’s NYTimes describes the tireless efforts of Laurie DeVito, a Brooklyn mother, to help her high needs son, Dylan Cunningham, earn a high school diploma. The article described DeVito’s support for her son from the time he entered preschool at the age of two through his high school years at Bay Ridge SChool, a privately operated school that requires its students to meet the Regent’s state standards in order to graduate. The Regents require students to pass five tests. Mr. Cunningham passed four of them without difficulty, but fell one point short on the Algebra tests after taking it three times and was denied a diploma. This caused Ms. DeVito to take her appeal to higher levels… and because of her compelling story she was able to elicit sympathy from both the Chancellor of NY Schools and the Regents Chair… and a change to the policy at the State level:

In September, a new rule that would allow an appeal for special education students who score at least a 52 was proposed at a Regents meeting. The board is likely to vote on it in December.

“Certainly she was a great advocate for her child,” Ms. Elia said in an interview. “It helped us clarify and look at a number of regulations to make sure there’s equity there for our students with disabilities.”

Though the idea of removing an obstacle to graduation may sound to some like a lowering of standards and expectations for students with disabilities, Ms. Tisch was quick to bat away such concerns.

“We do not want schools to offer these kids less,” Ms. Tisch said. The goal, she said, is to figure out “how do you include these students in the raising of the standards without diminishing their ability to achieve at their own level?

“How do you not write them out of the script of high achievement?”

Dylan Cunningham’s mother went to bat for him from the day he set foot in school and fought against a mindless “one size fits all” standard. There are countless children attending schools across NYS who don’t have a parent with the wherewithal of Laurie De Vito but whose stories are similar to Dennis Cunnigham’s, for I know from experience that many children who would benefit from special education services do not receive them due to the school district’s inability to provide them and/or the lack of a parent advocate. There are even more children who are raised in poverty whose parents are unable to monitor their child’s performance in school the way Ms. De Vito was able to do so for her son because they are working multiple jobs or fang the countless challenges that accompany poverty. I hope that at some point the Regents get a phone call from a persistent parent in those circumstances and give some thought to how they might address that inequity.

The Flawed Defense of Suspensions as a Disciplinary Tool

October 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier this month the NYPost featured an op ed article by Naomi Shaefer Riley titled “Charter Schools Suspend Kids, Public Schools Don’t- Which Does Better?”. In the article she criticized a recently adopted Seattle School Board moratorium on the suspension of elementary students. Here’s the basis of her criticism:

The Seattle school board announced this week a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions for elementary school kids because they want to “starve the [school-to]-prison pipeline at its source,” as one board member put it.

While there is a strong correlation between students who are suspended from school and those who end up in prison, there is no evidence that this suspension is the cause of their future criminal records. Could it be that they are suspended, and later arrested, because they’re acting badly? Is coddling that behavior really going to stop it?

This thinking is flawed for at least two reasons. First, if the Seattle Board’s thinking is flawed because correlation and causation are not the same, why is Ms. Riley using that same logic in presenting her assertion that higher suspension rates in charter schools are related to the (supposed) academic superiority of charter schools. Secondly, there is a way to discipline students without suspending them… but it involves a seismic shift in the general public’s thinking about children and about the purpose of penalties. Instead of thinking of the purpose of discipline as retribution we need to think of the purpose as rehabilitation. That is, instead of punishing a student for his or her misbehavior, we need to find a way to get the student to behave in a fashion that will enable them to succeed in the classroom.

I served as a high school disciplinarian for six years and in that capacity quickly came to see that suspensions served a limited purpose. The more I worked with troublesome and oppositional students, the more I came to see that their troubles in school reflected a troubled background. I concluded from experience that counseling was a more effective means of changing the behavior of a student than punishment and that in some cases placement in an alternative environment was needed in circumstances where conformity to school norms was an unrealistic expectation. Indeed, I found that in many cases children who behaved badly in a school setting were valued employees in work sites where conformance to work rules “made sense” to them and they could see a clear link between the purpose of the rules and a tangible reward. Neither the alternative school settings nor workplaces “coddled” these students, but in both situations the student experienced daily success and understood the purpose of the rules.

One other false meme appeared in Riley’s article, the union’s indifference to misbehaving students :

What’s interesting is how the teachers unions — which are unafraid to assert their authority in most other arenas of school policy — seem totally uninterested in student discipline.

(Retired LI administrator) Epstein says that the “rank-and-file teachers are cannon fodder for the unions and all they need them for is dues.” The Seattle teachers union went on strike recently over the issues of salaries and pensions, but the fact that teachers’ jobs will now be harder to do thanks to the mandated presence of disruptive kids in the classroom barely raised an eyebrow for these union leaders.

My experience is that union leaders reflect the views of their membership, and contrary to Ms. Riley’s assertion, most teachers are VERY interested in student discipline… but unlike the general public— they see discipline as a means of changing a student’s behavior and want to see more support for those children who are troubled. Those Seattle teachers, for example, wanted more than salaries and pensions: one of their key requests was to restore recess for children in elementary schools because they realized that young children need recess more than they need more test preparation time. But strikes are always about the greed of union teachers, never about their caring for students. I wish there was a way to discipline columnists for repeating memes that have no basis in truth. Maybe if we suspended them we could change their behavior…


NYTimes Article on Opt Out Movement Misses the Mark

October 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Anne Murphy Paul’s Motherlode article on the opt out movement, “Instead of Opting Out of Tests, Teach Students to Take Tests Right” utterly and completely misses the point of the opt out movement. In the article Paul naively suggests parents encourage students to test themselves, to avoid cramming for tests, to shuffle their work in unpredictable ways, to study the test itself after taking it, and to develop skills to be calm when a high-stakes test is administered. She ends this list with this preposterous assertion:

The opt-out movement has encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests. But better than getting rid of tests would be turning tests into promising opportunities.

This prompted me to leave the following comment, which drew from ideas Ms. Murphy had for ways that test could be useful:

Sorry, but the opt-out movement has NOT encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests… it wants a world where teachers and students are not obsessed with a single test but rather focussed on the day-to-day assessments that give the student, teacher and parent timely feedback on how well the student is progressing through the curricula adopted by the local district. Standardized tests do not encourage self-testing, do not help students space their study time, do not “change things up”, do not provide students with a means to “study the test” in advance, and because of their “black box” nature and the fact that the continuation of their school’s operation depend on successful pass rates they ADD to test anxiety.

The opt out movement wants testing to be done “…the right way now” to provide their students with “…a deep well of resources to draw on in the future.” They would welcome “…frequent, low-stakes exams instead of infrequent high-stakes ones” that would “…provide timely and detailed feedback on students’ answers to give them an opportunity to learn from the testing process”. They would welcome receiving “…results could be presented to students in a format that fosters a “growth mindset” [9] using scores like Highly Proficient, Proficient and Not Yet, while offering opportunities to improve and try again.”

Unfortunately the NY Regents and NY Governor do not want this kind of test. It would help if they listened to want parents want.

Ms. Paul seems to think that the Regents and the politicians want meaningful tests that will help inform instruction and help parents understand how their children are faring in schools. If that were the case, they would listen to teachers and parents and offer those kinds of tests…. but testing is designed to serve a different purpose altogether in the Global Education Reform Movement.

Washington Posts Concludes That Americans Can’t Write… and Blames Teachers!

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?

Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.

Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.

What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.

We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.

Computer Using Students Did Worse on PISA in 2012. Time to Re-think Technology as Salvation?

September 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Alternet cross-posted Jill Barshay’s essay from the Hechinger Report summarizing the findings of OECD research based on the 2012 PISA tests that found that the highest performing students on that test used computers in school the least.

While the findings were not as strong based on home computer use, it was evident that students who used computers the most at school did worse on the tests.

Bruce Friend, the chief operating office of iNACOL, a group that advocates the use of technology in school, suggests that US schools might be overlooking the real power of computer technology, which is the real-time analysis of student performance to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. As he noted in Barhsay’s article, improving education for each child requires much more than giving each of them a computer: it requires trained teachers to assist in the application of that technology.

Barshay ends her essay with this suggestion: “Perhaps it is best to use the computer money into hiring, training, and paying the best teachers”.