Archive for June, 2016

A Timeless Post from Two Weeks Ago: Sad But True Facts About Inequality

June 22, 2016 Comments off

I’m on a vacation where the internet is unpredictable, and so am drawing on articles I read recently that could have been written months or years ago. This one by Emma Brown, from the June 7 Washington Post, offers 5 “eye-opening facts” drawn from a recent report on the state of public schools in our country…. and here they are, with my observations in italics:

1. In the 2013-2014 school year, 6.5 million children were chronically absent from school, missing 15 or more days of school. Woody Allen said 80% of success is showing up… and when there are 82,000+ homeless in NYC just showing up is a challenge. 

2. 850,000 high school students didn’t have access to a school counselor. And most of them come from families with no understanding about how to apply for college or a job… but counseling doesn’t matter…. because

3. 1.6 million students went to a school that employed a sworn law-enforcement officer, but no counselor. Kids don’t need a counselor if there’s a good guy with a gun. 

4. Nearly 800,000 students were enrolled in schools where more than 20 percent of teachers hadn’t met state licensure requirements. Certification and licensure are needless regulations. Why should a math teacher know anything about math? 

5. Racial disparities in suspensions reach all the way down into preschool: Black children represent 19 percent of all preschoolers, and 47 percent of all those who were suspended. It’s never too early to teach children zero tolerance… unless you want to do it in a fully funded preschool program in which case it’s way too expensive

And the sixth eye opening fact: school is organized today the same way it was 100 years ago.

Homelessness in NYC Expands Mission of Schools, Defies Easy Remedies

June 21, 2016 Comments off

A recent NYTmes article by Elizabeth Harris described the daunting challenges one public school in NYC faces in trying to educate its students, and underscored the oversimplified notion most of the public has regarding the “mission” of its schools. “Where Nearly Half the Students are Homeless, School Aims to be Teacher, Therapist, and Even Santa” describes the uphill battle PS 188 faces in its efforts to educate the 500 students attending its school on a given day. Since roughly half of its population is homeless, the turnover in population is daunting, but it also exemplifies the challenges NYC public schools face given that “82,514 children in the city’s public schools were either in shelters, temporarily staying with relatives or family friends, or in some other makeshift living situation at some point during the last school year.” To put that number into perspective, the Times noted that that number early matched the number of students in Austin public schools. Or another way to look at it is this: it’s only 7000 fewer students than attend school in all of Vermont!

Given the day-to-day uncertainty about where they will be sleeping or getting their next meal, it is not surprising that schools serving homeless students have more to worry about than test scores and the teachers who serve those students have more to worry about than incomplete homework assignments. As the Times article notes:

Shoes, for example, are not usually on the list of things a school provides. But P.S. 188 distributed hundreds of pairs this school year. It also gave away backpacks and holiday presents, refurbished computers and uniforms. It is installing a washer and dryer for families whose children come to school without clean clothes…

“I would say 80 percent of our kids could benefit from some kind of counseling,” said Jessie Solomon-Greenbaum, who worked as a therapist at P.S. 188 until earlier this year, with a nonprofit group called the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services.

Some children are separated from their parents or caregivers, perhaps for reasons related to immigration. Many are surrounded by violence in the community that elevates their sensitivity to danger. There is domestic violence — one of the leading reason families end up in the shelter system, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. There is instability. Nearly two dozen children are in foster care. And for almost all of them, there is poverty.

In a district where 82,000+ children have no address and many are not living with parents or guardians, it is no surprise that schools serving those children are deemed as “failing” since the students they begin the year with are often not the students who are tested in May or June. Given this reality, the Principal at  PS188 has a different definition of success than one based on test scores:

At a school like P.S. 188, what does success look like?

On the standardized state tests taken every year, its scores are flatly disappointing. Only 9 percent of its students met state standards in English last year, compared with 30 percent of students citywide. Just 14 percent of children scored at grade level in math, less than half of the citywide rate of 35 percent.

On annual school surveys, families and teachers give the school and its principal very high ratings. Teachers say they trust the principal and one another. Students say they feel safe and respected, and that they know what their teachers want them to learn. At the Island School, there are outbursts and fights, but the hallways usually feel calm. Children walk from class to class in neat rows, or a rough approximation of them.

To Ms. Ramos (the Principal), when she looks back at the end of the school year and asks herself how the school did, her definition of success reaches far outside the classroom. Is a child who needs counseling now receiving it? Did a father write a résumé? Did a mother get a job?

The problem with Ms. Ramos definition is that it can’t be easily quantified or compared and it is difficult to assign blame if success isn’t achieved. If 80% of the children need counseling at 50% are receiving it, is Ms. Ramos accountable? What role or responsibility does Ms. Ramos play in getting a father to complete a resume or getting mother a job? But here’s a reminder to “reformers”: ALL children need a bed to sleep in and three meals a day first and foremost… and if 82,000 children in NYC are not getting those basic needs fulfilled, please do not blame the schools or the teacher’s unions… and don’t expect a test score to help identify what improvements are needed.

Playing Musical Chairs to Promote Diversity and Avoid Integration

June 20, 2016 Comments off

Yesterday I wrote a post on Nikole Hannah-Jones excellent article on the sad state of segregation in NYC schools, an article that described a situation in Brooklyn where an under crowded school serving poor and black students was going to open its doors to mostly affluent white children who attended a nearby neighborhood school that was overcrowded. The parents affected by this transfer protested the proposed boundary realignment for a host of reasons that sounded high-minded but came down to this: I don’t want my child mixing with those children from the projects.

Last week’s NYTimes offered an article that illustrates that this parental attitude is not limited to Brooklyn. In “A Game of Musical Chairs Played With Schools Divides the Upper West Side”, Kate Taylor describes a similar issue in Manhattan where children in an overcrowded school (PS 199) were proposed to attend an under-crowded school (PS 191) in a nearby neighborhood. The problem with the under crowded school?

….most of the children at the other school, P.S. 191, are poor, and black or Hispanic. P.S. 191 has much lower test scores, and last year, the state labeled the school persistently dangerous, though many of its supporters argued that this was a mistake.

The NYC school district, though, came up with a creative workaround!

Now, instead of a simple solution, the department is considering a convoluted one that amounts to an educational game of musical chairs: First, P.S. 191 would move a block west, taking over a building under construction that was originally intended for a new school. The hope is that the move would provide a symbolic fresh start for P.S. 191 and that the gleaming campus would make it more appealing to the families moved there. Then, another school on the Upper West Side, P.S. 452, which shares a building with two other schools, would move into P.S. 191’s current home, giving it room to grow. The school that had been envisioned for the new building would not open.

Unsurprisingly, the parents of PS 452 were not happy with this proposal. Why?

P.S. 191’s building is across the street from a public housing complex, where many of its students live. If P.S. 452 moved into that building, its new attendance zone would probably include part of the complex.

Parents opposed to the move have had to defend themselves against the suggestion that they oppose a change to the school’s demographics.

“The thing is, I really do believe in integration; I really do think every child that goes to public school deserves a good education and deserves to be safe and stable and all of those things,” Sara Roucloux, a member of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 452, said.

Here’s what is particularly distressing: if students from PS 191 attended school with the students from either PS 199 or PS 452 all the students would benefit, especially the ones from PS 191 because their test scores would undoubtedly rise and those safety issues would assuredly disappear. Here’s hoping the city can find a resolution that benefits all the children on the Upper West Side.