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The Internet Never Forgets… a Lesson Impulsive Pre-Teens Need to Learn Along with Right Speech

December 28, 2020 Comments off

The NYTimes featured an article this morning by Dan Levin that describes the consequences a Mimi Groves, a white female student in Northern Virginia, faced for an impulsive 3 second posting of a racial slur on social media when she was a Freshman in high school. To make a very long story short, Ms. Groves posted a snapchat video in 2016 after passing her driver’s test. Here’s a description:

Ms. Groves… said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and (her black classmate Jimmy) Galligan attended.

The post did not cause much a stir at the time… and Mr. Galligan never saw it at the time. But when he DID see it four years later as both he and Ms. Groves were graduating from high school, he felt it was a good example of the kind of racism he had to endure during his four years at Heritage High.

Throughout her high school years Ms. Groves pursued her passions a cheerleader and won a full paid scholarship to the University of Tennessee, whose college cheerleading program is one of the best in the nation. When Ms. Groves weighed in on the killing of George Floyd with a public Instagram post that urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ms. Groves was stunned to read post later that afternoon from a total stranger questioning her sincerity given her use of “the N-word” in the past. It quickly became clear how the stranger learned of this:

Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

Ultimately, as Mr. Levin matter-of-factly reports, the University of Tennessee DID revoke its admission offer and instead of attending UT on a full paid scholarship Ms. Groves was attending a nearby community college. And Mr. Galligan?

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

In the end, the story has no clear winners but does have a clear message for adolescents: the internet never forgets and words you post cannot be undone by actions you take or apologies you make years later.

As one who worked in the public spotlight for decades, I can recall times when I made statements that “went viral” in pre-internet days and can recall instances where words I said or wrote were taken out of context in an effort to indicate I was either a hypocrite or inconsistent in the way I treated students. Over the course of my career and as a result of hundreds of blog posts I’ve written over nine years, there is an extensive written record of my thoughts and ideas, some of which have changed over time. But I am VERY fortunate that there is no written record of comments I made impulsively to friends, crude and vulgar jokes I laughed at and may have repeated, or the comments I made behind someone’s back. I daresay that anyone who has lived as long as I have would concur with that statement and, like me, is happy there was no way those things could be captured in writing and repeated.

There is a concept in Buddhism called “Right Speech” that urges those practicing the discipline of the Noble Eightfold Path that Wikipedia synthesizes as follows:

Right Speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship.

As a former high school disciplinarian in the pre-internet Dark Ages (1974-1980), I can recall many disputes that occurred between students, between students and teachers, between teachers and administrators, between parents and school staff that resulted from the failure to adhere to this principle. In addition to making students aware that the internet never forgets, it would be equally important to make them aware of the concept of Right Speech and call it to their attention whenever they engage in lies, half-truths, rude speech, or any intentional or unintentional instances where their speech creates discord. In a perfect world, disciplinary action would not be necessary… the awareness that their actions resulted in harm would be sufficient punishment in itself and the growth that comes from self-awareness would be a sufficient reward.

“Return on Investment” Metric Not Gaining Traction Despite Pandemic, High Costs to Attend Post-Secondary Schools. Researchers are Flummoxed! Could it Be That Students Aren’t Motivated by Money?

December 27, 2020 Comments off

An article by John Marcus of the Washington Post bemoans the fact that few college students are accessing a trove of data collected by researchers that describes the return on investment of various college majors. For at least a decade conservative and neoliberal think tanks have promoted the notion that post-secondary education is all about job training. This utilitarian approach to schooling has permeated the K-12 schools for generations. When I worked as Superintendent in Maryland from 1987-1997 one of the mantras the State Board and State Superintendent promoted was that a successful K-12 graduate was either “ready for work or ready for college”, a mantra that echoed the Maryland Business Roundtable’s desires for public schools.

That bottom line business-minded approach to defining outcomes resulted in a desire to define public schools based on a “return-on-investment” model that created a link between money spent on schools and “outcomes”. Given the nebulousness of an outcome like “graduation rates”— at that time there were no uniform State graduation requirements– state boards began to devise “report cards” based on “precise” metrics. Some pre-existing objective data was easy to gather: attendance rates for example. And some seemingly precise data like drop-out rates needed to be consistently defined in order to compare districts and schools to each other. But the most important data of all was a way to measure the amount of knowledge a student gained… and, voila— the statistically precise and accurate standardized test was born and universally administered to students. NOW it was possible to “measure” the amount of learning that was occurring in school and by linking that objective and accurate metric to spending it was possible to determine which schools were getting the biggest bang for their buck. With that information in hand, home buyers could locate “the best schools” and businesses seeking a well educated workforce could identify the best locations for their operations. With all of this data, “School quality” could now be reduced to an algorithm that fit on a spread sheet and “consumers” had a basis for making a choice about where they could attend school. The infra-structure for Betsy DeVos voucher plan was in place!

Over time this measurement mania has infected post-secondary schools and with the student debt debate in the forefront politicians and pundits are glomming onto the notion that there should be some kind of cost-benefit analysis applied. Such thinking leads to this kind of consumerist mindset:

College is, after all, a huge investment, with costs consumers often criticize and toward which many have to borrow. If they knew that one major results in higher salaries than others — or that graduates from one university earn more than those with the exact same degree from another — wouldn’t they make the higher-paying choice?

And that mindset, in turn, leads to these kinds of self-evidently wrongheaded conclusions:

An analysis by the Georgetown center using College Scorecard data found that nurses with associate degrees from a community college in California make more than graduates of a dozen master’s degree programs at Harvard University. Electrical and power transmission installers with associate degrees from a community college in West Virginia earn $80,400 in their first year, or more than twice the median income of bachelor’s degree recipients generally. In all, 27% of workers with associate degrees make more than the median salary for their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees.

Earnings vary widely not only by what kind of a degree a student gets, but where. Workers with undergraduate degrees in business administration make as little as $20,000 a year to as much as $100,000 in the first year after college, depending on which institution their degrees are from. Students with master’s degrees in educational administration and supervision from one private college in New York earn more than three times as much as graduates with the same degree from a public university in Georgia.

This just in: people who choose to pursue graduate degrees major in, say, Art History or not likely to look at wage data and decide to switch to studies that prepare them for power transmission installation. And someone who was born and raised in Georgia and wants to pursue a career in public education in Georgia is not going to get paid the same as someone who attends a private college in New York State and works in that state. To think that a spreadsheet analysis illustrating the “return on investment” of some majors or some schools will change the behavior of post-secondary students is misguided.

But then the whole idea that collecting “precise data” on individual schools as a means of promoting “choice” is equally misguided. There are far too many schools in our country where the parents of children of color or children raised in poverty will never be admitted because the cost of housing is prohibitive and there are other schools that serve the parents of children of color or children raised in poverty that will never attract the parents of affluent children. Businessmen should know this, for they make decisions based on that kind of data. An upscale store like Nordstroms is unlikely to locate in a downscale community or neighborhood and you won’t find a Dollar Store in Manhattan though they are plentiful in Rust Belt communities.

All of this data collection does not change the fundamental reality of our K-12 schooling or our post-secondary schooling. Our K-12 schools serving affluent families will always perform better than K-12 schools serving children raised in poverty and college majors that serve as an entry to service jobs will always have a lower return on investment than majors that lead to high-paying private sector jobs.

And here’s one more news flash: the jobs that pay the most don’t always lead to the highest level of well-being… and well-being, unlike salary, is an elusive and subjective metric.

Pandemic Proves Worth of Community Schools Model

December 26, 2020 Comments off

As noted in several posts, the pandemic has laid bare the underlying problems of public schools that were not visible when test scores were the sole metric for measuring quality… and, as two recent articles indicate, the pandemic has brought to light the value of community schools, a value that was not necessarily reflected in those same test scores.

As In the Public Interest writer Jeremy Mohler noted in a blog post earlier this month, even though charter schools and school choice have garnered headlines, neither has improved schools by any metric nor have either addressed the underlying causes of the performance gap between affluent districts and those that serve children raised in poverty. One model, however, HAS made a difference, a difference that became clear when the pandemic closed schools in March: community schools.

Community schools are public schools that partner with local communities to create the conditions students—and communities—need to thrive.

That means connecting schools with services provided by nonprofits and other public agencies, like mental health care. That means after-hours learning for students and parents, like culinary arts. Most importantly, that means more parent and teacher involvement in the school’s decision-making process….

But research is revealing really how successful community schools can be as more and more open. Not only can they improve student educational outcomes, but community schools can also reduce racial and economic achievement gaps.

Just before COVID-19 hit, a four-year Rand Corp. study found that 113 community schools in New York City had improved attendance, increased graduation rates, and saw more students passing courses and advancing grades on time.

Mr. Mohler also noted that there is nothing new about community schools. The idea was outlined in 1902 speech John Dewey gave to National Education Association!

Jane Quinn’s  Hechinger Report opinion piece, “To the Rescue– The Schools We Need Now Are Community Schools“, draws on some of the same findings as the ITPI article and offers these additional insights on the characteristics of a community school and why they have been particularly responsive in the pandemic:

…researchers have reached consensus on the common features found in different types of successful community schools: integrated student supports; expanded learning time and opportunities; family and community engagement; and collaborative leadership and practice.

This consensus can help other district leaders who have come to understand — through the crisis caused by the current pandemic — that they cannot, by themselves, respond to all the needs of their students and families.  They require partners who can bring skills and knowledge to address food insecurity, health and mental health crises, child care needs, technology access problems and housing issues.  Community schools across the country have been able to marshal resources because they’ve put partnerships in place that provide a quick response to current realities.

Ms. Quinn offers several concrete examples of how these community schools provided timely support and how they function in the real world. In a world where we are being compelled to separate from each other, the value of the networks that are inherent in community schools are becoming clearer and clearer… and the need for the interconnectedness of agencies that serve children is increasingly coming into focus.