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Archive for December, 2018

Mental Health in Schools: Mission Creep? Mission Impossible? or Mission Essential?

December 27, 2018 Comments off

Over a decade ago when I was working as Superintendent of Schools I wrote an op ed piece for our local newspaper titled Mission Creep, a piece I later posted on this blog. The premise behind the article was that schools are being asked to take on far too many tasks that are beyond the scope of providing a sound academic education. It concluded with this observation:

Over the past fifty years public education had also absorbed responsibility for implementing social changes mandated by courts and legislatures. Schools became responsible for desegregation, educating severely handicapped children, and providing meals for poor children. During that same time period, legislators used public schools as a vehicle to show voters their responsiveness to issues in the news during the legislative session requiring schools to provide curricula on dental hygiene, gun safety, bullying, education on HIV and AIDS, and animal husbandry. Many of the social mandates are flashpoints for the public and result in erosion of support for schools and, in some cases, lower enrollments in public schools. The curricular mandates, taken in isolation, may seem reasonable. When they are required during the limited time students are in class, however, they supplant instruction in core areas of the curriculum.

That was then… and this NPR report of a survey result from Virginia Commonwealth University is now:

A recent VCU poll added a new question: whether or not people see providing mental health services for students as a core part of a public school’s mission.

Grant Rissler coordinates the VCU Wilder School’s Public Policy Poll. He says this question was new in last winter’s poll.

“Education is a key hub of so many other things policy-wise, especially related to youth. So I think the public and policy makers are constantly trying to figure out: what can we ask public schools to do?”

81 percent of respondents agreed – somewhat or strongly – that a student’s mental health should be part of a school district’s mission.

Virginia legislators will grapple with what that means next month. There’s already been legislation proposed that would require school counselors to spend more one-on-one time with students.

I wholeheartedly agree with the 81 percent who agree that schools should take on mental health issues… but I also believe they should do so by becoming community hubs for the provision of health and social services. Space for these services could be readily provided in rural areas where student populations are diminishing, in urban areas where public schools are expected to carve out space for co-located charter schools, and in suburban areas where the public has the funds needed to expand school space to accommodate health professionals of all kinds.

Tackling mental health might be mission creep and may be perceived as mission impossible… but in this era of social isolation and prolific guns, it is clearly an essential mission for public education.

 

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Connecting the Dots: Meritocracy in Children’s Athletics and the Disappearance of Childhood

December 25, 2018 Comments off

Several posts on this blog made reference to Neil Postman’s 1980s book The Disappearance of Childhood, which describes how well-intentioned adults of my generation ended the existence of childhood by imposing tight schedules on their children instead of the freedom children of my generation experienced, highly organized sports activities instead of the pick-up games children of my generation threw together in an ad hoc fashion, and lots of lessons instead of the trial-and-error method of learning children in my generation experienced.

American Meritocracy is Killing Youth Sports, a recent Atlantic magazine article by Derek Thompson, underscores the damage done to childhood by our generation and illustrates how the next generation is diminishing it even more. In the article, Mr. Thompson omits the legacy of pick-up games but does describe how sports went from the town and school sponsored leagues that accepted all comers in all sports to the “elite” teams that sort and select only the best athletes who are increasingly “specializing” in only one sport. This means that amateurs like me, who had lots of chances to play lots of sports with lots of kids of varying abilities are left on the sidelines… and it means that lots of kids who played multiple sports in multiple leagues — like my sons in laws– are finding it necessary to resist the pull their children feel to specialize in one sport or one area.

From my increasingly curmudgeonly and nostalgic perspective, I wish that kids could be free to explore in the woods, play two-or-three man baseball games, pick-up basketball on outdoor courts, and touch football in open fields instead of being compelled to play in fancy uniforms in highly structured leagues….

 

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