Archive for October, 2016

My Alma Mater Abandons Class Rank… Well Done West Chester High Schools!

October 31, 2016 Comments off

An article by Kathy Bocella in in describes a recent decision by the West Chester (PA) school district to abandon the practice of ranking graduates. Why?

Educators who favor dropping the system argue that in the best districts, where the students are highly competitive, the differences in grade-point average between the No. 1 and No. 20 or 25 students can be minuscule. Yet colleges might look unfavorably on that lower-ranked student.

A No. 25 in West Chester might be a No. 5 or 6 in another district, said Scanlon, whose school board voted earlier this month to eliminate ranking and weighting systems – that can push GPAs well above 4.0 – to account for the more challenging courses, effective with next year’s freshman class.

Hanover (NH) High School, the HS in the last public school district I led, abandoned the practice well before I came there in 2004 for the same reason. Given that the graduating class had roughly 20 National Merit scholars or semifinalists among its typical grading class of roughly 175 it made no sense to rank students. Indeed, it makes little sense to use GPA as the basis for any ranking at ANY high school. In virtually every HS in every district I led the difference between the top student and the students in the top 10% were microscopic and there were many instances of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians as a result. Worse, in some instances the discriminating factor might be an A+ earned in an elective course that “earned” someone the distinction of being the valedictorian.

As the article noted, though, not every community is ready to abandon the practice:

But it was a different story in the well-regarded Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, which took heat from top-performing students and their parents when it eliminated its decile ranking system – in which seniors are grouped in the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc., percentiles, – starting this year. Critics said students were told as freshmen to work hard and aim for the top decile, which is based on three years of grades.

“They believed they would get this recognition if they succeeded, and to pull the rug out from under them is unfair,” said Timotha Trigg, a mother of a senior, who spoke out at several heated school board meetings.

I am certain Ms. Trigg’s position is heartfelt, but I doubt that the external reward of being in the top decile is as important to most students in the school— say those in the bottom deciles— as getting a passing grade or, heaven forbid, learning for the sake of learning… and if the Board in Unionville-Chadds Ford wanted to address Ms. Trigg’s concerns they could agree to phase in the new “non-ranking” system over time. My hunch: the entering Freshman class that DIDN’T have the ranking system would work every bit as hard as the last class that experienced the rankings…

New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

October 30, 2016 Comments off

Paul Buchheit continues his excellent reporting on charter schools… There’s nothing to add to this: read it! 

An earlier review identified the “Three Big Sins of Charter Schools”: Fraud, a Lack of Transparency, and the Exclusion of Unwanted Students. The evidence against charters continues to grow.

Source: New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

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Public Education Left Behind in Presidential Election… and ESSA is the Reason Why

October 30, 2016 Comments off

New Yorker writer Rebeccas Mead’s article poses a question in it’s title that has a clear and unequivocal answer: “Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” After several paragraphs describing other columnists’ speculation about the appropriate grade level to assign to Mr. Trump’s outbursts, she writes:

Fifty million children are enrolled in public schools in the U.S., yet in none of the debates was there any discussion of the areas of concern that have occupied educators and parents in recent years: the Common Core, teacher evaluation, standardized testing, or the effective segregation of schools in many parts of the country, including in New York City.

Mr. Mead then recounts the marked differences between the two candidates, with Mr. Trump reinforcing out the notion that public schools should compete in an open market. He also rolled out a host of conservative taking points on education from the Reagan years:

 “Competition always does it,” he said. “The weak fall out and the strong get better. It is an amazing thing.” He advocated merit pay for teachers, stated his opposition to Common Core, and spoke in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions.

Ms. Mead summarized Ms. Clinton’s talking points as well, and they were full of high minded promises like “preparing, supporting, and paying every child’s teacher as if the future of our country is in their hands,” and

“…funding to increase the teaching of computer science;…fund(ing) the rebuilding of school infrastructure… address(ing) the so-called school-to-prison pipeline,… and fund(ing) interventions in social and emotional learning, to the tune of two billion dollars.”

One question that both candidates would agree on, though, is the promise of for-profit-deregulated-charter-schools, with Mr. Trump inevitably championing them as a means of “breaking up the public school monopoly” while Ms. Clinton would tiptoe around the issue by rattling off a list of such schools that have achieved success and suggesting that it’s too early to foreclose that option…. to sort of answer she’s given on the DAPL, Keystone XL, and TTP.

Mr. Mead accurately cites the reason for the failure of education to emerge as a Presidential issue: the bi-partisan ESSA bill:

The next President, whoever she is, will in any case have a smaller role to play in determining education policy than did her predecessor: the bipartisan Every Child Succeeds Act, which reduces the role of federal government in decisions related to schools, and grants larger autonomy to the states, was signed into law by President Obama almost a year ago.

And ESSA’s restoration of state control means that retrogressive States in the Deep South and Rust Belt will continue their practice of de-funding public education, relentlessly testing children at all grade levels, and offering deregulated charters as the solution to “failing schools”. Meanwhile, the real losers in this country are those who are not old enough to vote. They’ve witnessed a nasty and insubstantial Presidential campaign that failed to address the deplorable and increasingly segregated schools many children attend, the change in climate that they will face, and the need to fund the infrastructure that enabled their parents to experience a great childhood.


Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?

October 29, 2016 Comments off

Good analysis of how we are, in the words of Neil Postman, distracting our children to death… and I’d add one more important recommendation: take your children outside and introduce them to nature. 

I am an occupational therapist with 10 years of experience working with children, parents, and teachers. I completely agree with this teacher’s message that our children are getting worse and worse in many aspects. I hear the same consistent message from every teacher I meet. Clearly, throughout my ten years as an Occupational Therapist, I have seen and continue to see a decline in kids’ social, emotional, and academic functioning, as well as a sharp increase in learning disabilities and other diagnoses.   Today’s children come to school emotionally unavailable for learning, and there are many factors in our modern lifestyle that contribute to this. As we know, the brain is malleable. Through environment, we can make the brain “stronger” or make it “weaker”. I truly believe that, despite all our greatest intentions, we unfortunately remold our children’s brains in the wrong direction. Here is why: 1. Technology Using technology as a “Free babysitting service” is, in fact, not free at all. The payment is waiting for you just around the corner.  We pay with our kids’ nervous systems, with their attention, and with their ability for delayed gratification. Compared to virtual reality, everyday life is boring. When kids come to the classroom, they are exposed to human voices and adequate visual stimulation as opposed to being bombarded with the graphic explosions and special effects that they are used to seeing on the screens. After hours of virtual reality, processing information in a classroom becomes increasingly challenging for our kids because their brains are getting used to the high levels of stimulation that video games provide. The inability to process lower levels of stimulation leaves kids vulnerable to academic challenges. Technology also disconnects us emotionally from our children and our families. Parental emotional availability is the main nutrient for child’s brain. Unfortunately, we are gradually depriving our children of that nutrient. 2. Kids get everything they want the moment they want “I am Hungry!!” “In a sec I will stop at the drive thru” “I am Thirsty!” “Here is a vending machine.” “I am bored!” “Use my phone!”   The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. We have the best intentions — to make our children happy — but unfortunately, we make them happy at the moment but miserable in the long term.  To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life. The inability to delay gratification is often seen in classrooms, malls, restaurants, and toy stores the moment the child hears “No” because parents have taught their child’s brain to get what it wants right away. 3. Kids rule the world “My son doesn’t like vegetables.” “She doesn’t like going to bed early.” “He doesn’t like to eat breakfast.” “She doesn’t like toys, but she is very good at her iPad” “He doesn’t want to get dressed on his own.” “She is too lazy to eat on her own.” This is what I hear from parents all the time. Since when do children dictate to us how to parent them? If we leave it all up to them, all they are going to do is eat macaroni and cheese and bagels with cream cheese, watch TV, play on their tablets, and never go to bed. What good are we doing them by giving them what they WANT when we know that it is not GOOD for them? Without proper nutrition and a good night’s sleep, our kids come to school irritable, anxious, and inattentive.  In addition, we send them the wrong message.  They learn they can do what they want and not do what they don’t want. The concept of “need to do” is absent. Unfortunately, in order to achieve our goals in our lives, we have to do what’s necessary, which may not always be what we want to do.  For example, if a child wants to be an A student, he needs to study hard. If he wants to be a successful soccer player, he needs to practice every day. Our children know very well what they want, but have a very hard time doing what is necessary to achieve that goal. This results in unattainable goals and leaves the kids disappointed. 4. Endless Fun We have created an artificial fun world for our children. There are no dull moments. The moment it becomes quiet, we run to entertain them again, because otherwise, we feel that we are not doing our parenting duty. We live in two separate worlds. They have their “fun“ world, and we have our “work” world. Why aren’t children helping us in the kitchen or with laundry? Why don’t they tidy up their toys? This is basic monotonous work that trains the brain to be workable and function under “boredom,” which is the same “muscle” that is required to be eventually teachable at school.  When they come to schoo

Source: Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?

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Pension Funds and Charters Linked in MA Investigate Report

October 29, 2016 Comments off

David Sirota’s International Business Times article on MA Governor Baker’s the shady scheme to get contributions for his pet initiative to expand charter schools is gut wrenching example of profiteers think. Instead of accepting the regulations put in place to ensure that democracy can operate without the influence of money funneled into political campaigns, they collude with elected officials to find workarounds or, in the case of Mr. Baker, get themselves elected so they can develop the workarounds themselves. As Mr. Sirota notes in his article, Mr. Baker, a former CEO of a financial firm, was charged with violating federal pay-to-play laws in NJ prior to his election as Governor in NJ:

During his 2014 gubernatorial run, Baker faced a New Jersey ethics investigation when documents surfaced showing that he gave $10,000 to the New Jersey Republican Party just before Gov. Chris Christie’s administration awarded Baker’s financial firm a pension management deal. New Jersey pension overseers divested the state’s holdings in Baker’s firm — though Christie’s administration ruled that the state’s pay-to-play rules had not been violated.

Being exonerated by the Christie administration is hardly a clean bill of health, but it was an acceptable verdict from the MA voter’s perspective… and now they have a Governor who has come up with his own creative means of funding a favored initiative. Mr. Baker is a staunch advocate of charters and he has fully endorsed a (presumably) grassroots ballot initiative to allow for the expansion of charter schools in that state. Mr. Sirota, a dogged investigative journalist, has looked carefully into the funding of the advertising for this initiative and, lo and behold, it seems that Mr. Baker might have engaged in some pay-to-play chicanery to generate funding for supporters!

…the state pension board — which Gov. Baker appoints members to — gave lucrative contracts to manage teachers’ pensions to Wall Street firms whose executives then bankrolled the Baker-backed ballot initiative.

Baker is covered by (pay-to-play) rules because he appoints three members to the board of the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (MassPRIM). IBT/MapLight’s report showed that eight firms delivered more than $778,000 to groups supporting Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Baker has led the fight for the ballot measure, and a group that received money from MassPRIM money managers is now airing television ads promoting Baker.

While the federal pay-to-play rules aim to restrict Wall Street donations directly to public officials and political parties, they do not explicitly bar such donations to groups that support a lawmaker’s favored cause — or that promote a public official in paid ads. However, the rulesdo include anti-circumvention provisions which prohibit financial firms and public officials covered by the law from doing “anything indirectly which, if done directly, would result in a violation of the rule.”

“These rules are in place specifically to prevent Wall Street firms from throwing money at the feet of those responsible for awarding financial contracts in an effort to curry favor in the awarding of those contracts,” said Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, whose watchdog group advocates for tougher ethics laws. “We are seeing Wall Street funnel their money to nonprofit organizations and super PACs that support the same governors — and now to a pet policy project of Massachusetts Gov. Baker, backing his ballot measure.”

In response to this gambit, Mr. Sirota notes that “the two largest teachers unions in Massachusetts asked federal and state law enforcement officials to investigate whether large donations to a charter school ballot measure backed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker violated anti-corruption rules.”

My guess is that the FEC or whoever looks into this will look the other way or, like the Christie investigators, declare there is only smoke and no fire. And the voters? If Mr. Baker’s election is any indication they will view the whole episode as unworthy of their consideration in deciding on his integrity. After all, he seems like a nice guy.

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Wikileaks Provide Insight into @HillaryClinton and #Education

October 28, 2016 Comments off

These leaks reinforce my impression of Ms. Clinton: she wants to come down on both sides of every issue possible. In her openness to “reformers” she can’t have it both ways: either the Federal Government is going to regulate all schools receiving public funds or it’s going to regulate none of them… and it cannot do the latter without excluding the children who need quality schooling the most. And the “bi-partisan” ESSA law is an example of how shifting more of the responsibility to the states will ultimately play into the “reformers” hand by enabling them to expand into states where low taxes are more important than quality and teaching to tests is better than teaching to think. So Wikileaks happened thanks to the Russians and whoever else. There is lots of talk in the current presidential election about a variety of topics emanating from the purportedly leaked emails on W…

Source: Wikileaks Provide Insight into @HillaryClinton and #Education

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Quixotic Quest for Court Ruling on Detroit’s Dreadfully Underfunded Schools

October 27, 2016 Comments off

An op ed article by Geoffrey Stone in last week’s NYTimes reported that a team of lawyers has filed a suit on behalf of a group of Detroit MI students claiming that schools in that city are unconstitutionally underfunded and, therefore, deny them “the right to a minimally adequate education”. The article offers a history of similar cases, highlighting the 1973 Rodriquez case where a student sued the San Antonio school district because they failed to provide an adequate education due to their inability to raise sufficient taxes as compared to other affluent communities— a suit that attempted to compel Texas to change its funding that was based primarily on property taxes.  The Supreme Court upheld Texas’ funding based on the logic that “…the law was constitutional because it served a rational policy of permitting each school district to decide for itself how much money to spend on education.”

As Mr. Stone notes, this decision did not address the issue of whether the level of education was at least minimally adequate in the state’s poorest schools, and that is what the Detroit case hopes to get a ruling on. Stone’s article then includes these telling paragraphs:

In what is likely to be the opening chapter in a long legal saga, a federal district judge in Michigan must determine if a state can constitutionally provide a vast majority of its students with an excellent or at least adequate education while a minority of students receive an education that denies them the chance to acquire the minimum skills the court spoke of 43 years ago in Rodriguez.

Even if a state is not constitutionally obligated to provide all of its children with an equal education, it should surely be constitutionally required to provide them with at least an education that gives them the chance to learn the most basic skills to succeed.

Given the time frame required to get a case to the Supreme Court, assuming that this issue will end up at that level, and given the subsequent delays in implementing even a favorable decision (see several previous posts on Washington State’s court decision on funding and the multi-generational delays in implementing Brown v. Board of Education), fling a lawsuit like this seems like a costly and arguably ineffective way to achieve equity. I, for one, applaud the attorneys who are pursuing this quixotic case because no matter the outcome it will serve as a reminder to those in Michigan that their current funding system is shortchanging a large number of students raised in poverty and may serve as a reminder in several other States that are doing the same thing. I grew up with the now naive notion that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country and hope to see that notion rekindled and reinforced in the public at large in the near future. Cases like this might help to achieve that result.

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