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Archive for July, 2013

How to Fix the Dropout Problem

July 19, 2013 Comments off

Diane Ravitch posted today on the “miracle schools” that achieved their miracles by retaining students in early grades. Here’s my rejoinder, which includes the easiest way to fix the problem… the easiest, that is, if we can chnge our thinking about how schools should be organized:

Two decades ago in the MD district I led we did annual reviews of drop outs and validated what most researchers found: a high percentage of kids who dropped out had been left back in early grades. This made perfect sense since the dropout age at the time was 16 and once kids hit that age and they were struggling in school they quit. At that point these kids heard for over ten years that they were “failures” so it is easy to understand why they might be tempted to go to work where their employers valued them even if the pay was low. It was at this point that I began to question the practice of grouping kids by grade levels based on age… but 20+ years later the practice continues and is reinforced with the testing regimens imposed by USDOE since NCLB and RTTT have been implemented. I believe this practice needs to be changed ASAP…

The other comments are worth the click….

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School Supply Lists: The New Normal

July 18, 2013 Comments off

I graduated from high school in West Chester PA in 1965. As a student, I never had to pay a fee for athletics and the only school supplies I had to buy were map boards for geography projects in junior high school and whatever materials needed for the annual science fair we were required to participate in during junior high or chose to participate in during high school. Public schools, after all, were free.

I worked as a Superintendent for 29 years in ME, NH, MD, NY, and VT and during that time witnessed and participated in a shift away from a completely free public education to one that increasingly relies on explicit or de facto user fees. A recent report from News Channel 2 in Oklahoma provides a perfect example of this shift as it trumpets the fact that viewers can go to the News2 webpage and get the school calendar AND the school supplies list. Taxpayers in Oklahoma should be happy to know that the schools won’t be supplying kleenex, crayons, or paper to students. Instead PARENTS will be providing those (presumably) non-essential materials. I know that taxpayers in my current community don’t pay for athletics in full because students pay a seasonal fee to participate, a fee that was justified by the fact that elementary and junior high students had to pay fees to participate in little league and travel-team soccer and lacrosse. Several districts in NH charge fees for bussing that exceeds the minimum state requirements, an effort to contain non-instructional costs and some midwestern districts routinely charge for textbooks. As noted in earlier posts, some parent organizations are even funding additional educational assistants and teachers when school budgets fail to pass.

So in roughly 50 years, we have gone from a nation that saw school funding as a community responsibility to one that requires parents to provide kleenex and crayons and one that, in some cases, unapologetically asks parents to pay for textbooks and teachers. Educating children is like rubbish removal: its a fee for a service. Imagine how bad things would be if our politicians DIDN’T claim to put children first.

Oh… but we ARE fortunate that our politicians and school boards ARE ready to fund surveillance cameras. After all, we wouldn’t want our students to make off with kleenex paid for by parents!

Close Schools for Two Years?

July 18, 2013 Comments off

Last evening I had dinner with a high school friend who lives in a family compound on 32 acres in rural VT. In the course of one of the conversations during the evening, her 87 year old mother, who recently retired as an adjunct professor from a state college in FLA (after taking a “leave of absence” from Temple University 30 years earlier), made the comment that public schools should have followed Paul Goodman’s advice in the early 1960s and closed for two years to figure out how they could be redesigned to meet the needs of children. From her perspective, the nascent movement at that time to consolidate and standardize schools was wrongheaded and led to the current mess we face today where a substantial majority of students attend schools that are unresponsive to parents and the public and fail to prepare students for life…. and where consolidation and standardization has led to franchise charter schools that mimic McDonalds and Walmart.

If Goodman were alive today he would be even more strident in his demand that we completely overhaul our schools… and probably marginalized by the mainstream media in the same way as he was in the 60s.

But unlike the early 60s, technology provides a way for children to pursue education at their own pace and pursue their passions as they evolve over time. And unlike the early 60s, today’s students can see more and more examples of individuals who achieved economic success without conforming to the credential chase (e.g. Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs)… and more and more examples of individuals who achieved contentment without accumulating wealth. And unlike the 60s, the current generation of students are not actively and explicitly rebelling at the current structure. Instead, they are slowly withdrawing from “the system” as they see that the cost of chasing paper (i.e. going to college) does not necessarily yield the economic payback promised and seldom yields the contentment we all seek. So maybe “the system” will end with a whimper instead of a bang as more and more people feel incapable of changing the rules of the game and acquiesce by dropping out of the game altogether.

So maybe we won’t have to follow Goodman’s call to close schools for two years… maybe public schools will collapse and close themselves once parents realize that the content served in McSchools lacks substance.

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