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In the Face of 6.8 Million Hungry Adolescents We Worry About Test Scores

October 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Earlier this week Nation writer Michele Chen posted an article reporting on the finding that 6,800,000 American teenagers are “food insecure”. Surveys conducted by the Urban Institute indicate that millions of youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 cannot secure adequate food on a daily basis, a situation that is difficult to fathom for the school “reformers” who assume that all children’s basic needs are being met and politicians who somehow think that cutting welfare for adults has no impact on children and families.

Ms. Chen describes how food deprived teenagers cope with their hunger… and it isn’t a pretty picture. Some sacrifice eating well to make sure their longer siblings get sufficient food, and some seek employment that takes away from their ability to participate in school activities or study. Others, though, engage in activities like dumpster diving and petty theft. And still others engage in serious crimes, selling their bodies to adults or selling drugs to peers.

Ms. Chen reports the role schools could play in this problem, especially in those cases where criminal behavior is rooted in the lack of predictable food:

Schools and law enforcement authorities, researchers say, could provide those who run afoul of the law with supportive outreach instead of arrest and detention, to avoid pushing them into the racially segregated school-to-prison-pipeline. For sexually exploited girls, especially, authorities “should be trained to recognize the trauma experienced by girls who are sexually exploited and provide counseling or referrals rather than treating them like offenders.”

But in the end, schools can only do so much. They can offer free or reduced meals when school is in session and could be hubs for services. But in the end, the problem of food insecurity for families can only be addressed at a higher level:

A deprived adolescence, however, is a window into a family affair, so government intervention should address the poverty of the whole household.Parents need living wage jobs and basic social assistance to cover day-to-day needs. Since food insecurity is often linked to housing instability, aid programs such as rental subsidies would help alleviate immediate financial pressures so families do not have to choose between a stocked pantry and monthly rent.

Hunger in adolescence marks a demographic turning point for the post-welfare-reform generation, reflecting two decades of government shoving poor parents off of federal benefits and into low-wage jobs and “personal responsibility.” The results of those Clinton-era policies are embodied in the empty stomachs of America’s hungry teenagers, who display just how much responsibility they shoulder, with no choice but to scrounge and hustle to survive. But teenagers should have more to dream about today than a hot meal tomorrow. 

When teenagers show up for school with empty stomachs it is hard to get them motivated to pass a test… but if you are a “reformer” if you see a school full of hungry children doing poorly on a test you believe the school and the teachers should be held accountable and the solution is to fire the teachers, close that school, and open a new one that offers shareholders an opportunity to make a profit. Maybe the better solution would be to fill the stomachs of the children so they can dream about more than a hot meal.

Tennessee’s Position on Islam Amplifies Misunderstanding by Diminishing Instruction

September 30, 2016 Leave a comment

Huffington Post writer Antonia Blumberg’s recent post on Tennessee’s debate about the instruction of Islam offers some insights on why our country knows so little about other religions and cultures… because it’s difficult to learn about a subject that isn’t taught.

Some background. Over the summer, the Tennessee State Board reviewed it’s 7ht grade social studies curriculum on world cultures and made a decision to “…dramatically reduce instruction on Islam.” by eliminating topics that “… covered the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad, as well as the religion’s historical connection to Christianity and Judaism… information on the Quran, the history of the Sunnis and Shi’ites, Muslim art and scholarship, and more.” So what’s left?

Muslim history that remains in the proposed standards includes sections in which students must be able to “explain the importance of the Malian king, Mansa Musa, and his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324,” and “describe the diffusion of Islam, its culture, and the Arabic language.”

It seems that at least one member of the State Board was concerned that the in instruction on Islam, which amounted to one week in the 7th grade classrooms, “…disproportionately covered Islam more than any other world religion”. Oh, and the fact that Tennessee “…state House saw fit to pass a bill to prevent “proselytization” in middle school curriculum” might have played a role in the reduction of instruction on Islam as well.

But if Tennessee students don’t understand the differences that exist within Islam how can they gain an understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East today? If they don’t understand that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all spring from the same Abrahamic tradition how can they gain an appreciation for the commonalities among these different religious traditions?

But then the Tennessee legislature that wants to prevent “proselytization” in middle school curriculum” passed a bill in 2012 that allowed for the instruction of creationism, an indication of the basis of their thinking when it comes to religious instruction.

And one last footnote: Tennessee’s Senator, Lamar Alexander, is one of the champions of ESSA’s “states-rights” agenda that would allow states to set standards for instruction instead of having a national set of standards. I know that many in my profession deplore the Common Core… but as Tennessee’s legislature and State Board’s actions indicate, allowing STATES to set standards might be a huge step backward for our country’s collective understanding of science AND history.

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Trump vs. Clinton on K-12 Education: No Contest

September 29, 2016 Leave a comment

NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz posted a synopsis of the two presidential candidate’s positions on education and the choice couldn’t be clearer: Hillary Clinton has veered away from the “reform” movement Presidents Bush and Obama embraced and Donald Trump has clung tenaciously to the notion that the “government school monopoly” needs to be broken. While neither candidate is clear bout how they will raise the funds to underwrite their initiatives, both have implied where it will come from. In Ms. Clinton’s case it will come from higher taxes on the wealthy and from businesses who are currently offshoring their headquarters to avoid paying the taxes needed to underwrite the kinds of infrastructure improvements she is championing. In Mr. Trump’s case, as noted in previous posts, he will use the notion of portability of federal funds and the conversion of federal funds earmarked for specific programs into flexible block grants.

If you believe universal public education is important and NCLB, RTTT, and ESSA are misguided, Ms. Clinton’s platform for K-12 schools is the best. If you believe “government schools” are the problem and you support the “reform” movement that suggests public schools should compete for market share then Mr. Trump’s platform is the best. Any reader of this blog can see where my vote will be cast.

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In the Face of the Opiod Addiction Crisis We Worry About Test Scores

September 28, 2016 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes describes one of the under-reported by-products of the opiod crisis effecting New England and the entire nation: child abuse and neglect. The article, by Kathryn Seelye, offers one incident as an example of the impact drug abuse by adults is having on children. The article opens with these paragraphs:

It was a horrific video — a young mother who had overdosed was lying unconscious on the floor of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass.

Adding a gut-wrenching kick to the scene was that the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, wearing purple footie pajamas, was tugging at her mother’s limp arm, trying to wake her up. The girl was wailing. The mother looked lifeless.

A store employee recorded the scene while waiting for medics. When they arrived, they revived the mother and took her and her daughter to a hospital. The video, which became public two days later, spread across the internet.

Sadly, the police said, the opioid epidemic in New England and elsewhere has reached such proportions that it is no longer a shock to see drug users collapse in public. In Massachusetts, more than four people a day die from drug overdoses.

What is new, they said, is that addicts are increasingly buying drugs, getting high and passing out with their children in tow.

The article goes on to report that Lawrence police estimate that children are present in 10% of the cases involving heroin busts and that it was a risk factor in 7.6% of the child abuse referrals in New Hampshire, up from 4.8% in previous years.

The article doesn’t describe how this plays out in schools… but the adverse affect on the children who are placed in foster care, taken in by friends and relatives of the addicted parent, or who witness their parents nodding off in a drugged stupor are obvious. A child who is taken from his home, no matter how bad the home, is not likely to be as focussed on his or her schoolwork as a child who returns home to an intact family where meals are served at predictable hours and parents are caring and nurturing. And when that child goes to school, the staff at that school will not necessarily know or understand the child’s background and, as a result, may not be able to provide the kinds of physical and emotional support that child needs.

And here’s what I find especially sad: in the face of the drug epidemic schools are measured by test scores and not their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of the opiod crisis or their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of poverty or their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of abuse and neglect by parents. Often the opposite is true. If a child is troubled and attending a charter school they can be removed and increasingly schools using “no excuses” policies expect children to bear the problems inflicted on them in the name of developing “resilience”. Schools need a better understanding of the nature of the problems children bring with them to class, more services to deal with those problems, and a chance to be valued for the help they provide to all children who struggle. Getting higher test scores should be the least of their problems.

Whistleblowing Student Suspended by Principal, Exonerated by Superintendent

September 27, 2016 Leave a comment

WXYZ news in Detroit reported on the story of John Glenn HS senior Hazel Juco, a whistleblowing teenage student in Michigan, who took a picture of the discolored water coming from the spigot in the girls bathroom at her high school and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Why did she do this?

“I always hope that someone will see it and want to help us,” said Juco. “Because our school obviously doesn’t have money.”

What happened next was a sequence of events that serve an example of the kind of country we live in now… AND… the kind of country we would like to live in going forward.

First, her Principal called her to the office and suspended her for the “inappropriate use of electronics in the restroom”, based on the presumption that taking any pictures in the girls room is “inappropriate”.

What happened next was heartwarming and hopeful. Her classmates, upon hearing that she was suspended for an “inappropriate picture” reposted and retweeted all of the selfies THEY had taken in the bathroom and posted and tweeted an entirely new set of bathroom selfies. Someone contacted WXYZ news in an effort to get some kind of justice and when the news station contacted the Superintendent, Dr. Michele Harmala, the suspension was reversed and Ms. Juco was allowed to return to school and had the suspension removed from her record. And here’s the kicker: Dr. Harmala had an app in place on the school district’s web page that enabled individuals like Ms. Juco to make a report of a maintenance problem directly to the maintenance department so that a problem like the discolored drinking water could be addressed ASAP.

Like the politicians and business leaders in our country today who do not want to see the flaws of their organizations exposed, the Principal took immediate and drastic action against a subordinate to “send a message” to everyone else in the organization that displaying the flaws of that organization is strictly forbidden.

But the blowback to her wrongheaded decision, fueled by the use of social media, ended up with her ultimate exoneration. This would be akin to having the newly elected President exonerating Edward Snowden or having his exile somehow reversed by the Supreme Court…. or akin to having any number of corporate whistleblowers who were dismissed from their jobs being restored to full employment. This kind of fair-minded action by higher-ups would also make it more likely for those living in dangerous areas to “say something” when they “see something”… an activity that is now challenged by the “snitches end up in ditches” mentality that too often pervades schools and communities.

A democracy depends on citizens having a voice. When the voice of a whistleblower is silenced by authority we are reinforcing totalitarianism. When it is heard and considered thoughtfully we are able to make continuous improvements. We should all have an app to maintain our voices as citizens.

ESSA + Trump = Need to Take Vouchers Seriously… And Wisconsin’s Shows Why Vouchers Undermine Public Schools

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

The on-line version of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured an op ed essay by WI congressman Mark Pocan outlining the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on vouchers across the country… and the findings are deeply troubling given the direction Congress and at least one Presidential candidate and political party want to take our country. Outlined below in bullet form are the findings on taxpayer funded voucher schools. They:

  • lack high educational standards for students and teachers
  • discriminate against certain students, particularly students with disabilities or those who speak English as a second language
  • fail to demonstrate true academic achievement
  • deplete funds from public schools and reroute them to the comparatively few students in private schools
  • go to families of students who were already attending private schools
  • can mandate religious requirements for students as a part of admissions criteria
  • can be directed to for profit schools that persistently fail to meet state standards

Congressman Pocan is especially troubled about the use of vouchers because of what has happened in his State, where a voucher program has been in place in Milwaukee for nearly two decades:

According to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this year, funding for voucher school students across the state was up 14% while funding for our public school students is down by 4%. This marked the first year in which school districts experienced a drop in state aid in order to pay for students living in district boundaries but attending private schools.

Mr. Pocan concludes his op ed essay with these paragraphs:

In its report, GAO recommends that the federal Department of Education issue guidance on how taxpayer-funded voucher programs affect federal education dollars and public school systems. I agree the Department of Education should provide additional guidance but I also believe taxpayers must demand accountability from taxpayer-funded private voucher schools that do not have the same level of accountability as public schools.

It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding these profit-making schemes disguised as schools. It is time for the Department of Education to protect students and further clarify the steps to ensure oversight. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.

Mr. Pocan may be a voice in the wilderness if Congressman who seek to include portability in ESSA prevail or Mr. Trump enters the White House and places a pro-privatization “educator” to head the Education Department. He is probably a vote in the wilderness already in Wisconsin, where the legislature is clearly on the road to dismantling public education in favor of privatization. Here’s hoping his warnings do not fall on deaf ears.

Muslim After School Clubs Illustrate Problems Mixing Religion and Schools

September 25, 2016 2 comments

Alpha News, an “…advanced social media and online technology platforms to deliver important news programming to audiences everywhere in Minnesota,” published an article on the increase in the number Muslim Student Associations in public schools in Minnesota, posing the question in the title “Are Muslim Student Associations in Public Schools a Concern?”. From my perspective, it was only a matter of time before this issue emerged. The census in 2010 indicated that Islam was the fastest growing religion in our country with 2.6 million living in the U.S. at that time, up from 1 million in 2000 it was inevitable that Muslim students would seek the same status for religiously affiliated clubs as Christian students sought decades earlier. Having established policies that grant religiously affiliated clubs standing in public schools, administrators and school boards would be hard pressed to deny equal access to Muslim clubs despite the fact that some would see such access as a means of promoting jihadists. The Alpha article, for example, describes a purported link between student-led clubs in some of its schools and the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical group that

….plans to conduct “Civilization Jihad” by co-opting the leadership of the United States into believing a counterfactual understanding about Islam and the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, forcing our leaders to enforce the Muslim Brotherhood narrative on their subordinates.

The article goes on to note that:

In some cases, taxpayers help to fund clubs and activities because schools need to have money in their budgets to pay for club advisors. In other instances, the school might charge participants a fee to cover costs of the club or activity, especially if the club or activity is a student-led group.

In its concluding paragraphs the article notes that congress has legislation that seeks to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, which the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood views as an overreaction:

Because of the growing concern over the Muslim Brotherhood, eighty members of Congress now support legislation calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization.  The House version of the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act” passed the Judiciary Committee earlier this year. The Muslim Brotherhood accuses the US Congress of waging a war on moderate Islam with the The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act.  In a Counterjihadreport.com article, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson said, “This bill is unjust and purely political. It reflects the rising tide of hatred and hostility with which right-wing extremist Republicans, lobbyists and politicians are trying to drag the American people into ideological war with the Muslim world, at the heart of it is the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most popular Islamic movement.”  However, the “The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act” has bipartisan support, with Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson signing on as one of the two democrat co-sponsors of the bill.

While it remains to be seen if the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act will eventually become law, co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) emphasized that the Muslim Brotherhood “continues to pose a global threat” and the U.S. “must recognize and sanction the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization as part of our national security strategy.”

While this piece of legislation is pending, the same group promoting the outlawing of Muslim student organizations is also promoting the notion that public dollars should be available to parents to send their children to religiously affiliated private schools…. an idea that will likely run into problems in the future given that there were an estimated 240 to 250 Islamic private schools in place in 2011 and those schools, like their Catholic and Christian counterparts, would seemingly be eligible for public funding if vouchers were put in place.

The bottom line in all of this is that there should be a wall built separating church and state instead of building a wall to keep those who practice a particular religion out of our country. The wall has collapsed when it comes to student-led clubs: here’s hoping it stays in place if and when voucher legislation is passed.