Archive for June, 2019

NYTimes Offers Better Ways to Do College

June 24, 2019 Leave a comment

There Are Better Ways to Do College“, an article by NYTimes writer Alice Lloyd, profiles a handful of colleges in the United States that offer credits for hands on work. Here’s Ms. Lloyd’s of the so-called “work colleges”:

There are nearly 10 of them: Private four-year schools known as work colleges, where students put in mandatory hours each week as a complement to their course loads. Through a combination of grants, donations, endowments and hourly wages, work colleges ask for less in fees than any comparable schools and leave their graduates with lighter debt loads. They also keep every student meaningfully occupied, in roles that range from chaplain to dishwasher.

It’s almost too easy, once you’ve visited one of the campuses, to slip into contemplation of what work colleges have that most of the rest of life lacks. They serve a deeper need than affordable education. They harness the power of purposeful work, compounded by collegiate social pressure. (If the bathroom crew misses a shift, their dorm mates will notice.)

They also do a great job of honoring their origins: Each one rose to meet its area’s need for a college that students wouldn’t have to fund in the conventional manner, and the model they landed on worked well enough that relatively little has changed.

In an era where college is promoted as the key to earning higher salaries, a world where the federal government is planning to rate colleges based on the earnings of its graduates, the notion of harnessing the power of purposeful work  and engaging each and every student in work that keeps them meaningfully occupied seems quaint and idealistic. But the world we need in the future is not the world we have today. The world we need in the future would place a higher value on communitarianism than libertarianism and a higher value on meaningful work than highly remunerative work. Ms. Lloyd concludes her report with these paragraphs:

Work colleges aren’t actually going to save the world. To keep tuition low or nonexistent, they often rely on restricted grants, to the necessary exclusion of most Americans. And even students who meet the standards for guaranteed tuition at the schools that offer it have to qualify academically. They tend to be tightly local, too. Not all of the schools aggregate data year to year, but College of the Ozarks prides itself on standing as a barrier against the Ozarks’ brain drain.

“They go back to teach in the schools in the communities,” Mr. Bolger boasted of his flock. “They work for firms in their communities, they serve in social services in the communities that they came from.” Alice Lloyd said it sends 80 percent of graduates to work in the same Appalachian counties from which it almost exclusively recruits.

Trying to figure out what makes work colleges work — and how the rest of the world can work more that way — has the flavor of a soul-saving mission. I’d say work colleges do their part in the national project by teaching students something the rest of us often don’t learn before it’s too late — essentially that to survive, a community needs each one of its members to pick up a shovel and participate.

I disagree with Ms. Lloyd. I think that work colleges actually COULD save those corners of the world where the services of college graduates are needed but are “unaffordable” because of local economic conditions. As one who worked in rural regions for much of my career as a school superintendent, I heard about, read about, and witnessed the “brain drain” that the Ozarks experienced…. and cannot help but think that there were many of those who fled their roots in Norther New England and Appalachia because they could not find employment in their chosen profession because the school districts and social service agencies “couldn’t afford” them. Western Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont would all envy having a college in their region that had 80% of its graduates working in the same counties they recruited from… and I daresay that many of those who left their hometowns would come back if there was work for them. Maybe some of the small struggling state colleges and small liberal arts colleges could help themselves and the communities where they are located if they adopted a work college model.


NYC Mayor Shows the Way Forward to Make Schools Safe AND Fair: More Social Workers and Fewer Arrests

June 23, 2019 Leave a comment

Earlier this week NYTimes writer Eliza Shapiro reported on a major shift in the approach to discipline in NYC public schools, a shift that will de-emphasize arrests in favor of restorative justice and intervention by social workers. Here’s a synopsis of the recently issued 15 page MOU between the NYPD and NYBOE:

School safety agents will be discouraged — but not explicitly banned — from arresting students or giving summonses for minor offenses like marijuana possession, graffiti or disorderly conduct.

That shift, which was first reported by the education news site Chalkbeat, is covered under an agreement between the Police Department and Department of Education that had not been updated since former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s administration. Mr. de Blasio is also proposing that the maximum length of an out-of-school suspension drop to 20 days from 180 days.

Ms. Shapiro recounts the difficulties Mayor de Blasio faces in making changes to the existing discipline system, citing widely differing ideas about what is needed to maintain school safety. On the one hand there are students who want to remove metal detectors from school and on the other are teachers who oppose Mr. de Blasio’s eminently reasonable proposal to ban suspensions in Kindergarten. This incremental change, I believe, moves the district in he right direction, which appears to move in the direction of replacing police officers and arrests with social workers and restorative justice. Here’s Ms. Shapiro’s synopsis:

After years of sometimes rocky experimentation with ways to replace former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s so-called zero tolerance approach, the city will use restorative justice practices that emphasize defusing conflict over suspensions in all middle and high schools starting in the next school year. The city will add 85 new social workers, funded as part of the final city budget, to schools in an attempt to ease the transition.

Ms. Shapiro notes that Mr. de Blasio’s shift in the school discipline is congruent with his overall aim for the city:

Mr. de Blasio has heralded his school safety agenda as a microcosm of his broader goal that the city can be both safe and fair to black and Hispanic communities who have had the most contact with the criminal justice system.

Mr. de Blasio’s critics on the left might not think he is moving fast enough… but in fairness to the mayor, he is fighting two potent forces in introducing the changes to the system: fear and racism.


Virginia Teacher’s Embeds an Explanation of the Root Cause of Our Teacher Shortage… Our Obsession with Tests

June 23, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent Economic Policy Institute blog post by Fredericksburg VA Middle School teacher Joy Kirk provides a spot on explanation for the persistent teacher shortage we face today. The opening section of the post describes how her state’s decision to mandate that education degrees be offered only at the graduate level resulted in increased debt for students, a predictable obstacle given the low salaries many teachers in her state encounter when they apply for jobs. But the mid-section of the post gets into the real problem: teaching is no longer the profession it once was:

Many teachers who enter the field quickly leave. The number of teachers leaving the field with less than five years of experience keeps growing. Why? Everyone has their own reasons but some of the reasons cut across schools, school divisions, states, and our nation. Teachers do not feel supported and the role and responsibilities of teachers just keep increasing. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s my teachers taught us, supported us, disciplined us, attended a few meetings and our testing was a nationally normed standardized test that was given a few times throughout my K-12 education.

Today, teachers teach, discipline, support, remediate, attend countless trainings, prepare students for dozens of evaluations at the local and state level and are told to do more with less. This mantra grew louder during the recession and continues today. During the recession our responsibilities and accountability grew while our support and financial assistance shrunk. It is time that those making laws and regulations that impact educators and students start having conversations with those teachers and students.

Ms. Kirk’s post focused on compensation and professionalism, but the root cause of the de-professionalization of teaching and the centerpiece of policy-makers discussions about compensation is testing. The contrast between the testing protocols of the 70s and 80s and those in place since NCLB is stark. The impact of the testing protocols, though, is subtle, persistent, and demoralizing. Increasingly, teachers in “failing schools” are subjected to “countless trainings” on how to prepare students for tests. Test preparation strategies have replaced curriculum development workshops and teachers who have unique ideas and specialized interests are pushed to the sidelines as school districts adopt highly focussed packages developed to prepare children for tests. Ms. Kirk closes her post with this lament about staff development:

…We need to find a way to show educators that they make a difference and acknowledge their skills and trainings.

Our school divisions need to get creative. Some… are making professional development more meaningful by letting individual teachers determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective. Some are making mentoring programs more effective so our young teachers feel supported and stay in the field of teaching. Still others provide work from home days instead of requiring teachers to make an appearance on a teacher work day. There is still more that could be done.

There IS still more to be done… but the first step in showing educators they make a difference and acknowledging their skills and trainings is to abandon the notion that standardized tests are the ultimate measure of learning. Truly creative and innovative individuals will never be drawn to a job that requires them to act as humanoid robots, following a prescribed curriculum designed to ensure that more children pass a one-size-fits-all test. A truly creative and innovative teachers wants some degree of autonomy and the chance to “...determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective”… and they DON’T want effectiveness to be defined by their students’ test scores.

What Constitutes “Demonizing Billionaires”?

June 22, 2019 Leave a comment

Of late, I’ve read several op ed pieces in several newspapers criticizing the progressive candidates in the Democratic Party of “demonizing billionaires”. And the pundits who write op ed pieces or appear on radio and TV shows are not alone. So-called “centrist” candidates are joining in. This past Tuesday, for example, Huffpost writer Dominique Mosbergen reported that Joe Biden, the personification of the centrism and the DNC’s favored candidate, assured a group of affluent donors that he would not do anything that would change their standard of living and was concerned that “he would not “demonize” the rich if he’s elected president”. She concluded her article with an earlier quote from Mr. Biden regarding one of those who IS presumably “demonizing” the billionaires:

Though Biden has pushed a generally populist economic agenda focused on decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights, the former vice president has taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation. Unlike some of his 2020 Democratic rivals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Biden has not singled out the mega-rich as tax targets. He’s instead proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said at an event in March.

I’ve followed Bernie Sanders for several years, beginning in 2015 when he was exploring running for office, through his 2016 effort to unseat the anointed candidate of the DNC, and over the past months since.  I don’t think Bernie Sanders ever said that 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. He believes the reason we are in trouble is that we have accepted an economic system that allows a small handful of individuals to accumulate extraordinary wealth and a system that gives that small handful of individuals disproportionate and undemocratic power.

W. Edwards Deming said that PEOPLE don’t fail: SYSTEMS fail… and while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and other populist candidates use individuals as examples of the wealth that some are allowed to accumulate, they do not blame those individuals as individuals. They use their profligacy and massive accumulation of assets and power as examples that voters can grasp. They both oppose the system as it exists now and want a system that is fair and democratic. That is not demonizing individuals… it IS demonizing the plutocratic governance model in place now and advocating for democracy.

My Letter to the Editor on NH Funding Appeared Today

June 21, 2019 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the NH Supreme Court Decision on school funding and, at that time submitted a letter to the editor on the same topic. Th letter, pasted below, appeared in today’s paper:

The report on Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ’s decision that New Hampshire’s current level of education funding is unconstitutional (“Judge: School funding lacking,” June 7) omitted two key conclusions: The first: “The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness ofsuch a system.” The second: “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The article did provide Gov. Chris Sununu’s response, that his administration continues “to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a(courtroom).” Sununu’s response emphasizing local control overlooks the reality that there is no way “local elected leaders” in property-poor communities can ever provide adequate funds for the children attending public schools. But the governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way for the Legislature to devise an equitable formula without getting more revenues. To paraphrase Ruoff, it requires no particular economic expertise to know that the revenue gap cannot be closed by expanding the lottery or adding more fees.

Both the governor and the Legislature realize that the only way to increase revenues sufficiently is to (gasp) expand taxes.

The bottom line question for parents and children in the state is this: Will “The Pledge” prevail, or will the Legislature respond to this court decision and craft a system of taxes in which a student’s ZIP code no longer determines whether an equitable educational opportunity in available?

California Study Underscores Reality that Public Schools Cannot Operate by the Rules of Capitalism

June 21, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent study of California charter schools by In the Public Interest (ITPI) underscores what every public school board member and administrator knows: you cannot operate a public school using the business model advocated by “reformers” who believe competition will lead to higher quality and lower costs. Stated differently, the governance model of public education– whereby elected public officials oversee the operation of schools— is incompatible with the governance model of businesses— where shareholders oversee the operation of schools.

The one-page synopsis of the study describes the inherent flaw in the governance model adopted by the California legislature in 1992:

The California Charter Schools Act currently enables prospective charter school operators to appeal a local school district’s application denial to the local county board of education and then to the State Board of Education (SBE). If either grants the appeal, they become the charter school’s authorizer.

This appeals process—deemed “robust” and “relatively generous” compared to other states by education researchers at Harvard University—has helped allow charter schools to rapidly increase in number statewide. In some cases… the potential issues in an application identified by a district came to fruition after the operator was granted an appeal. Statewide, 38 percent of charter schools authorized by the SBE between January 2002 and May 2018 are no longer open, while the failure rate of district-approved charter schools for the same period was 27 percent.

The ITPI report focusses on the differential between the failure rate of district-approved charter schools as compared to the failure rate of charter schools authorized by the SBE. The report suggests that if the local board had the final say, there would be fewer failing charters.

From my perspective, a “failure rate” of 27 percent is unreasonably high… and, consequently, from my perspective the oversight of charter schools should be handled like the oversight of private schools, whose survival depends on private funding and whose governance is often opaque. But according to the Small Business Association (SBA), this “failure rate” is actually LOW! The SBA states that “only” 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, while 50% close during the first five years and 66% close during the first 10. So either a 27% failure rate or a 38% failure rate would be good by “business” standards. But the impact of a closure on a child, family or neighborhood is far more devastating than the impact of, say, a restaurant closure.

The bottom line: public schools be they charters or “traditional” cannot operate under the same governance structures as the private sector.




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Einstein’s Definition of Insanity Applied in NYC: An Expansion of Test-based G+T Programs Will Increase Minority Enrollments in Test-based Elite HSs

June 20, 2019 Leave a comment

As noted in many previous posts, the NYC school district is facing a serious problem with it’s current method of determining entry to the small number of “elite” high schools in the city. The problem is described in a recent New Century Foundation blog post written by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka:

This year, just 10.5 percent of the students admitted to New York City’s eight specialized high schools (SHS)—which use a single test to determine admission—were black or Latinx. This statistic—which hasn’t changed much at all over the past five years—stands in stark contrast with the overall demographics of NYC’s public schools, in which 66 percent of students are black or Latinx.

Mayor de Blasio has come up with an elegant solution, one that mirrors that used in several states to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain entry to State colleges: ensure that several seats at each school are reserved for the students with the highest grades at each of the city’s Middle School who also scored relatively high on the standardized test used to admit students.

But many legislators, parents, and policy makers who conflate “merit” with “high standardized test scores” are now advocating that the best way to increase minority enrollments in elite schools is to expand the G+T (Gifted and Talented) programs in Middle and Elementary Schools. While this sounds like a rational and fair method for expanding minority enrollments, it flies in the face of reason. Why? Because admission to G + T programs is based on a standardized test! Here’s Mss. Roda and Kafka’s take on this idea:

Not only will expansion of G&T programs fail to address the racial and ethnic segregation that exists in the specialized high schools, but also it will serve to increase segregation at the primary school level, further limiting educational opportunities for black and Latinx students.

And Ms. Roda and Kafka note that G + T programs track students, and that such tracking has it’s roots in anti-desegregation… not the direction minority parents are seeking:

Historically, G&T programs and other “advanced” curricular offerings grew during the desegregation era as a way for more-affluent white families to secure additional resources and maintain segregation. Like Advanced Placement or Honors courses, housing separate G&T programs within schools that also contain general education programs is a form of tracking,because students are fully separated for instruction. In most suburban districts, elementary school G&T programs are “pull-out” programs in which G&T students are given access to a special curriculum outside the regular classroom for a set number of hours per week; the remainder of the time, these students are educated alongside their general education peers. But in New York City, G&T programs are full-time, school-within-school models in which students are taught separately from their general education peers.

Worse, the entry to these programs is a standardized test given at an even younger age, which means that the impact of schooling on the test results is even more limited.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”… and many NYC parents and policy makers who conflate “merit” with “high standardized test scores” are offering a solution that does not address one fundamental reality: “merit” and “high standardized test scores” are NOT the same thing. And to add fuel to the insanity argument, there’s this tidbit offered by Mss. Roda and Kafka:

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein already tried the approach of expanding G&T to promote equity back in 2008, and their measure failed miserably.After the city switched from an admissions system based on multiple measures to one based on a single test score, and tried to expand the number of G&T programs, the percentage of black and Latinx student in G&T programs fell by half, from 46 percent of program entrants to just 22 percent.

In short, there is NO evidence that expanding the G + T programs in middle school and elementary school will help expand opportunities for minority children AND lots of evidence it will hurt them. So what IS the way forward?

New York City should phase out G&T programs and replace them with equitable and integrated schools. This shift should include creating support for schools to use the schoolwide enrichment model, an approach to gifted education based on the philosophy that all children have unique gifts and talents—not just the students who score well on standardized tests and in classroom settings—and equipping schools to implement a culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum, in line with the framework set forth by New York State.

THIS is a FAR superior approach to expanding opportunities for all children, especially if it is coupled with the second recommendation advanced by Mss. Roda and Kafka:

…we also strongly recommend that the city eliminate test-based enrollment screens at the elementary, middle, and high schools across the city and replace them with a more holistic approach that includes diversity targets.

There are many “gifted and talented” students whose gifts and talents elude identification from pencil and paper standardized tests… It’s well past time to try something different!