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Archive for March, 2012

TMI: Brazil Using Computer Chips to Track Students

March 23, 2012 Comments off

In the “you can’t make this stuff up” category, the AP reported that 20,000 students in a NE Brazilian city will be wearing school uniforms with computer chips. The scary thing: given the bogeyman of child abduction I could see some American schools looking at this as a great idea. The article reports: “The chips send a text message to the cellphones of parents when their children enter the school or alert the parents if their children have not arrived 20 minutes after classes have begun”. Maybe my 30+ years as an administrator lead me to see the legal liability consequences of this.If schools are promoting this, are schools then going to be responsible for reporting to parents when their youngster doesn’t wear the correct apparel? How will the schools know that the chip is still embedded in the apparel? If the chip breaks and the student cuts class without the parent’s knowledge, is the school responsible? But even worse is the notion that the school is effectively communicating to the students that 24/7 monitoring in not only OK, it is an expectation. It’s bad enough that many people have accepted frisking at the airports as “standard operating procedure”… but when the day comes that having chips monitoring everyone’s every move is OK we will be living in “1984”….

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A Network School in NYC: Will it “succeed”?

March 23, 2012 Comments off

David Brooks Misses the Point… Again! Today’s NYTimes features an essay by David Brooks called “The Relationship School” that describes the kind of school that this blog wants to see throughout public education. Here’s the clinker: at the conclusion of the article Brooks writes: “It’s too soon to say if it (the school described in the essay) will work…”… But here’s the REAL problem: the way NYC (or USDOE for that matter) will decide if this approach “works” is to administer a standardized test to a group of students sorted by age because our whole accountability system is based on “…the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers” that he derides earlier in the article. David Brooks overlooks the practical reality of public school accountability: our metrics make no effort to determine if the relationships that exist in a school are healthy or productive. We only want schools to turn out kids who score well on standardized tests and we only want teachers who can help them accomplish that end.

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A Better Way to Measure “A Good School”

March 21, 2012 Comments off

One of my favorite quotes is from Buckminster Fuller who wrote:  “The best way to change the existing reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete”. ASCD has done that by suggesting that a comprehensive set of questions be answered by schools in lieu of administering an annual high stakes examination. Imagine how much schools would improve if they were asked to address all of the questions posed in these indicators instead of spending hours sifting through test results to determine what specific content area a small group of students need to master in order for the school to get off the State’s “watch list”…

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Nation at Risk Redux?

March 21, 2012 Comments off

Both the NYTimes and Common Dreams had articles yesterday on a report on the dire straits of public education released by a committee chartered by The Council on Foreign Relations. The Times article gave a factual overview of the report, which cites “…critical shortages in the number of foreign-language speakers and that fields like science, defense and aerospace”  and the fact that “…75 percent of young adults do not qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit or have criminal records or inadequate levels of education”. The report asserts that our country faces a dire threat in the future unless three recommendations are followed:

¶ Common Core standards should be adopted and expanded to include science, technology and foreign languages.

¶ Students, especially those in poor schools, should have more choices in where they go to school.

¶ Governors, working with the federal government, should develop a national security readiness audit, to judge whether schools are meeting targets.

 Common Dreams re-posted an article from The Washington Post which noted that the recommendations do not reflect practices in those countries whose schools outscore ours and also noted the committee effectively denied the opportunity for those opposed to test-based-accountability to be heard.
My problem with the recommendations is that they will not change the results of ANY schools. If we continue to measure performance using standardized tests where progress is measured based on the age of children we will continue to find a high correlation between poverty and test performance (see my essay on Waivers for a detailed argument on this). And the notion that “expanding the choices” for students in “poor schools” overlooks the reality that most poor performing schools are in poor neighborhoods or poor rural communities where choices are limited often due to logistics and geography. One other fact the report conveniently overlooks: if you compare US schools in affluent communities or well-funded states (i.e. Massachusetts) with other countries, we do as well if not better.
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Community Schools = Network Schools

March 19, 2012 Comments off

An article in this week’s Education Week about community schools in Oregon gives a good description of a network school. The 60+ schools who have adopted the community schools model have a coordinator on the school’s staff who links parents and students with service providers in the community and ensures that there is coordinated communication among the agencies and between the agencies and the school and the agencies and the parents. While Obama and Arne Duncan are reportedly in full support of this model and, according to the article, Obama is seeking $100 million to expand a community schools program like that in the Harlem Children’s Zone… but if Obama and Duncan REALLY wanted to get behind this concept they would change the metrics they use to measure “school effectiveness” to incorporate some evidence that the school is reaching into the community to seek support for children. It would cost less than $100,000,000 and would yield far more improvements than value added testing.

Shifting the Burden to the User: The Fundraising Conundrum

March 19, 2012 Comments off

One of the many unintended consequences of cutting school budgets is the fact that more and more costs are being absorbed by the “users”. Over the past two decades public schools have seen a marked increase in things like athletic fees, materials of instruction fees, participation fees, and even textbook fees. Last weeks edition of Education Week had an article on this topic, highlighted the consequence of this cost shift: an increase in foundations and non-profits dedicated to underwriting the costs of public education. How did we get from the world I grew up in where people willingly opened their pocketbooks for new schools, more teachers, up-to-date textbooks, modern equipment, and a full blown extra-curricular program to one where people seem to be resentful of public education funding or think of it as a charity? My thought: it is a result of the broken covenants described in my essay. Most taxpayers no longer have health benefits, retirement plans funded by their employer, or defined work schedules and those taxpayers who HAD those benefits at one time earlier in their lives are unwilling to pay their scarce dollars for public school employees who DO.

The saddest part of all this is that the public now accepts the parent fundraising as a “given”… as this quote from a public education foundation head indicates:

…Dan Ryan, the chief executive officer of All Hands Raised. “I wish the parents didn’t have to do this, but parent engagement in raising funds for schools is part of the culture we live in today, and we’ve accepted this.”

We’ve “accepted this” the same way we’ve accepted “the reality” that employers’ have to scrimp on wages and benefits in order to reward their shareholders… we are standing by and watching the erosion of funding for our education infrastructure the same way we’ve stood by and watched the erosion of our entire infrastructure…  and our environment…

Another consequence of fundraising is the equity issue: between schools (as described in the Education Week article and within schools as described in the NYTimes article about my grandson’s school. It seems that the new “gentry” who assist with PTA at PS 295 are feeling some tension as they strive to raise money for the school. Imagine how parents in a nearby school with NO viable PTA must feel! Especially is that school’s best and brightest are being recruited for a private-for-profit public charter school as described in this recent NYTimes article. There is a vicious circle at play here: underfunded public schools require parents to raise supplementary funds while for-profit-public-charters who don’t have the regulatory or contractual burdens of public schools offer a broad and enriched program with no strings attached… I can see why parents are drawn to the charter schools!

Innovation and Evaluation

March 18, 2012 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes business section describes how three major corporations encourage creativity and innovation. The answer for Google: “Think Bigger”… the answer for GE “A culture of Risk”… the answer for DreamWorks: “Permission to Switch Gears… The most revealing part of the article was a description of GE’s method for evaluating talent:

At G.E., our approach to risk is integrated into our talent management process: we evaluate employees not only on their accomplishments, but on their ability to reflect the company’s guiding principles. These principles are broadly defined as external focus, which involves collaborating with customers, governments, regulators, community groups and others; inclusiveness, which recognizes that humility and diversity are essential to building a great team; clear thinking, which requires agility, decisiveness and strategic commitment; expertise, which indicates both a deep knowledge base and a passion to develop others; and imagination and courage.

 This last principle contains the risk quotient, meaning that we literally measure employees based on their capacity to take risks in championing ideas, learn from the experience and drive improvement. 

Contrast this to how teachers were recently “evaluated”: test scores period. What gets measured gets done, and in the case of public education we are NOT measuring innovation and creativity: we are measuring a teacher’s ability to follow a cookie cutter curriculum designed to yield ever higher scores on tests that measure a student’s ability to focus on whatever tests measure and nothing else.