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.