Archive for April, 2012

Aspiration Helps… but Parent Engagement Is Key

April 30, 2012 Comments off

The Naked Capitalism blog posted a report summarizing a study done in England on the effects of aspiration on educational performance of low income students. The report made some interesting points, many of which were made by quotes from the researchers. I added emphases in some places:

Importantly, the review found that low-income families already have aspirations for their children to go on to  but often other barriers can get in the way of them realising these . Liz Todd also found that teachers, policy makers and other  professionals underestimate the ambitions of young people and the aspirations that families have for their children.

Professor Todd said: “For more than 10 years national and local policy has focused attention on raising aspirations. But there is no evidence that if you want to impact on the attainment of lower-income pupils that changing attitudes and aspirations is the way to go. There is an urgent need to change direction.”

She added: “It’s not that aspirations aren’t important. It’s not about turning them on but keeping them on track. It’s highly unlikely that any child starts school wanting to be unemployed.”

I especially like the last quote! And what IS the best way to help low income children and parents?

….the most effective way of helping children from low-income households to achieve their ambitions is engaging parents in their children’s learning and in their own learning and in providing a range of support for children such as mentoring. Parents need to understand how the education system works and what choices are available for their children and, critically, how they can work with schools to help their children reach their full potential.

It also stated that we need to develop approaches that don’t blame families and children for the effects of poverty on their education.

The more I read and reflect on my personal experiences, the more clear it is that ENGAGEMENT is the key to success: parent and student engagement at the entry level of schooling and student engagement in the high school. It strikes me that there are ways engagement can be measured and it also strikes me that EARLY engagement is especially vital for poor children. As this blog has said repeatedly: we need to change our metrics if we want to change our schools!

Principals Matter… Overhauling Staff, Not So Much

April 30, 2012 Comments off

Today’s Boston Globe featured an article outlining the findings of a recent report on the effects of requiring teachers in “failing schools” to re-apply for their jobs. The conclusion: having teachers reapply for jobs made less difference than having a strong Principal who is capable of motivating the staff. The idea of requiring teachers to reapply for their jobs in “failing” schools comes from the Obama/Duncan administration…. and, like many of the USDOE’s solutions of late, they are, to quote Mencken: “… simple, neat, and wrong.”

from my perspective, the whole study is flawed because of the way we now define a “failing school”… because the definition is based on– what else— standardized test scores! So here’s what an effective principal looks like, wit emphases added:

Schools with gains had principals who were adept at motivating their staffs to turn around school performance. Many of these principals visited classrooms daily, appointed teachers to leadership roles, and fostered a schoolwide focus on results.

By contrast, the report said, the lowest performers generally “did not exhibit the same level of urgency or laserlike focus on improving instruction and student achievement.’

I wholeheartedly agree that good principals are “…adept at motivating their staffs” and would also contend that they visit classrooms daily and draw on the expertise of their teaching staffs. Sadly, today’s Principal is only as good as their test scores, so in order to survive they must focus on test results and get teachers to buy into that as well. The result: in schools where test scores are LOW, tests are the be all and end all and teachers who don’t buy into that are probably the ones who will be eliminated when they re-apply. In schools where test scores are HIGH, the Principal and teachers get to focus laser like on improving the well-being of their students. So… which school do you want your children to attend? The one where tests are the be all and end all or the school where your child’s well-being is of primary importance?

No taxes for schools ==> Bank Bailouts Ahead

April 30, 2012 Comments off

Paul Krugman’s NYTimes column discusses the economy’s effect on those under 25… which is horrific! In Spain 50% of that cohort is unemployed and in Ireland 33% are. Here in our country, the figure is better (16+%) but hardly heartening… and it evidently makes no difference if you went to college: the college graduates have many PART-TIME jobs but not many full time ones.

So… what are governments around the world doing? Cutting back spending on education as part of their “austerity” plans! So here’s how this is creating (or in the US reinforcing) a vicious circle: we cut funding for schools and colleges; schools lay of people– thereby reducing jobs— and colleges increase tuition— thereby forcing students to borrow; students graduate and can’t find jobs (the government cut them and the private sector doesn’t want to or can’t hire) and so they can’t pay back their loans. Here’s where the story takes a perverse twist: when the banks can’t make their balance sheets work because the students aren’t paying them back, the government that WON’T raise taxes, the government that ELIMINATES jobs decides banks are “too big to fail” and uses taxpayers money to bail them out.

What’s wrong with this picture? Austerity doesn’t work, it never has, it never will… but our fixation on avoiding inflation is creating a death spiral that we need to get out of soon.

Mindfulness for Google… and Schools?

April 29, 2012 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes describes an in-house meditation program offered to Google employees called SIY for Search Isnide Yourself. The program is designed to help employees cope with the stressful 80 hour a week environment at Google, a recognition that each employee’s personal well being is an asset to the corporation as surely as their high IQs and impressive educational backgrounds.

So here’s a question: Why shouldn’t schools have a course like this for, say, HS Freshman? It seems to me that the students at competitive high schools often have work weeks as daunting as those at Google as they load their academic schedule with difficult courses (6 hours/day X 5 days/week = 30 hours + another 30 hours of homework = 60 hours) and extra-curricular activities to boost their resumes (2 hours/day X 5 days/week = 10 hours) brings them to 70 hours… and when you add in work around the house, volunteer work and a second extra-curricular activity (again to get the eye of college admissions folks) you can easily get to the 80 hour work week of a Google-ite…. and I found the stress regarding relationships in HS far exceeded the stress I ever encountered in a workplace (though some board meetings on, say, redistricting and some personnel-related issues were WAY more stressful)…

So why don’t we offer some kind of “source” on this? I think most readers can see why not: it’s because most people in the public would view this as “religion” in schools even though meditation, per se, is not religious. Perhaps as corporations adopt this practice on a more widespread basis some schools will begin to accept it as a “practice” and not a “ceremony”… especially if schools are expected to focus as much on the well-being of students as they are on the information students learn.


ALEC and Ed

April 28, 2012 Comments off

In late March I posted an item that referenced some behind the scenes work being done by American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. In the past several weeks, ALEC has been in the news far more than I believe it would like to be… including an article in Republic Report, a blog dedicated to investigating how money corrupts politics.

In addition to writing boilerplate legislation for Tea Party causes and the NRA, ALEC has taken to writing education legislation that favors privatization in response to many of its board members which include several leading privatizers… Kaplan, a subsidiary of the Washington Post, was a major contributor to ALEC until several progressive blogs shined a light on it… and several for-profit operations with low graduation rates have also contributed to ALEC’s cause, which can be summed up in one phrase: PRIVATIZATION IS SUPERIOR TO ANY ALTERNATIVE!

I would be among the first ones in line advocating for a change to the way schools are organized today, but I would see privatization as the last place to go for education reform. Privatizing can only be marketed as a viable alternative to the current set up of schooling if standardized tests are the primary measure of quality… because you can “game” the system to increase test scores but you can’t “game” good teaching and engaged student learning… and if you think of teachers as interchangeable employees on an assembly line designed to crank out good test takers, you can get them cheaply— especially in this job market.


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Detroit Suspends Student Protesters

April 28, 2012 Comments off

Stories like this one feed my mostly repressed paranoia… When over 180 students are suspended for five days for protesting the fact that their school is going to close, their school is underfunded, and their teachers are disengaged, it makes me wonder where the leadership in the city, district, and school is. As I can divine from this article, the combination of a financial crunch and low performance on tests is resulting in the closure of this high school and the opening of privatized charter school in its place. It appears that this was done without any opportunity for input from the public and, from what is implied, without giving students or parents any way to question the rationale for the change. If that IS the case, everyone in town needs to work on their civic engagement procedures.

So… what are the students at Western International HS learning? Don’t question authority under any circumstances! Compliance carries the day! Rules are Rules! Don’t talk to your classmates about what’s wrong with this school and don’t try to organize any kind of protest! Just the lessons we want future participants in a democratic government to learn….

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Blowing Up Philly Schools

April 28, 2012 Comments off

Over the past three days I’ve read and received several articles about the forthcoming privatization of Philadelphia Schools. The Naked Capitalist blog cross-posted an article from the “Crooks and Liars” blog. The article reported that Philly schools spend $7,000 per student INCLUDING special education costs which, if true, is probably half of what the neighboring suburban schools spend. You get what you pay for…. and you can’t expect to get “world class” performance with bottom-of-the-barrel costs.

A shorter article from a blog titled Colorlines, forwarded by my daughter who remembers living in Philadelphia, featured an excerpt from the “Philadelphia Public School Network Notebook”:

The plan, while saying that it is premised on giving parents more choices, doesn’t include any direct promises that schools will get what most parents say they want – smaller classes, art and music teachers, libraries, nurses, adequate security – all of which has been cut this year. And it relies on being able to attract and keep talented principals and teachers in an atmosphere of fiscal austerity, find the money to properly train and support them, and have the resources to give them the materials they need.

The two articles taken together demonstrate the hollowness of choice. A parent living in North Philadelphia can choose from the Dollar Store School or Dollar General School but isn’t allowed to go to the Nordstrom School in Abington, five miles away. Some choice, eh?

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