Rahm Emmanuel’s Big Idea Will Require Big Dollars, and a Big Shift in the Role of Counselors

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

As a HS administrator in the late 1970s, I concluded that the students who succeeded in high school were the ones who entered ninth grade with some idea about what they wanted to gain from the experience. Those students who sincerely aspired to college would enroll in the wide array of college prep classes the high schools offered, apply themselves, and in most cases gain entry to some kind of post secondary school. Students who wanted to pursue a specific trade enrolled in Vocational Education courses and often moved right into the workforce upon graduation, some of them outlearning the teachers who trained them. Any student who participated in activities like band, chorus, drama, and athletics worked hard enough to retain their eligibility and graduated on time and often found themselves with a life long avocation. These students were easy to schedule into classes, hardly ever came to the office as disciplinary cases, and enjoyed their years in high school.

There was a sizable group of students— roughly 20-30%— who didn’t have an idea about what they wanted to get out of high school, who could find no courses or activities that engaged them, struggled mightily. When I worked with them to find courses beyond those mandated for graduation they shrugged and asked me to assign them to whatever class had an opening. In most cases the parents of these children had given up on them: their indifference to school and aimlessness developed over their years in school and came into full bloom beginning in their sophomore year.

Given this experience, which many of the high school administrators I worked with over the years concurred with, I am in complete support with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s idea that “…all Chicago Public Schools and public-charter-school students must have a postsecondary plan in order to graduate”. But Mr. Emmanuel’s implementation plan for this sweeping mandate falls far short of the mark… and not for the reasons I read in many articles on this issue. Alia Wong’s Atlantic article, “The Controversy Behind Chicago’s Diploma Mandate” is a case in point.  In the article, Ms. Wong interviews  teachers, parents, administrators, and students and, in doing so, identifies one major flaw with Mr. Emmanuel’s mandate: he has not provided nearly enough funding to address the 20-30% of students who have no idea whatsoever what they want to get out of high school let alone those who want to go to college. Chicago is woefully short of counselors:

And even if counselors were able to dedicate their entire workday to guiding students through the postsecondary-planning process, there still aren’t enough of them. Although the American School Counselor Association recommends that each counselor be assigned to no more than 250 kids, across CPS there are 326 high-school students per counselor, according to 2016-2017 data provided by Brooks. The ratio varies significantly depending on the school. (Across the United States, each public-school counselor is responsible for 436 high-schoolers on average, according to 2014 data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.)

But neither Ms. Wong nor any of the folks she interviewed flagged the biggest flaw: High School guidance counselors are typically trained to help students get into college and have limited training as vocational counselors…. and in-depth vocational counseling is what is needed for those students who do not want to enroll in college.  And as it stands now, the students who do not want to attend college go to the end of the line in the counselor’s office… even though their needs are often higher than those students who aspire to college.

One other issue is glossed over: the transient nature of the population attending high schools and the high number of special needs students. Here’s a quote from Maurice Swinney, Principal at one of such school, who generally supports Mr Emmanuel’s idea but fears that the funding will fall short:

Disaster will only occur, Swinney said, if the city doesn’t do enough to support schools like his that serve high-needs populations. Almost all of Tilden’s studentsare low-income, and roughly four in 10 of them are in special education. What’s more, the school’s mobility rate (essentially the percentage of students who either transfer in or out in the middle of the year) is 36 percent—nearly twice the CPS average. Educational-attainment levels are just as dismal: According to 2016 data, just 50 percent of students graduated within five years, and just 32 percent of graduates enrolled in college.

“Every time someone in education or in politics has a bright idea and a way to raise the bar, it always sounds good in theory,” Swinney said. “But we know some schools are going to have a tougher time with this, and we need to make sure we as a district … help the schools be as successful as they want to be and as we want them to be.”

I get dismayed when good ideas like Rahm Emmanuel’s get sabotaged (or in this case self-sabotaged) by politicians who are unwilling to provide the time or resources needed to bring them to fruition. And like so many good ideas, this one will not only take time and money, it will require a shift in the thinking of middle and high schools as they work to engage students who are currently disengaged and, in many cases, challenged by circumstances.

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This Just In: NJ Sees the Light! Restores Local Control in Newark. I Await Reformers’ Rebuke

September 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The headline for David Chen’s Tuesday’s NYTimes article on September 12 doesn’t acknowledge defeat for reformers, but it DOES mean a victory for democracy:

After More Than 20 Years, Newark to Regain Control of Its Schools

While the headline doesn’t acknowledge a defeat for “reformers, this part of Mr. Chen’s does:

…the decision to give authority back to the city is in many ways a recognition that state control is an idea whose time has passed. Around the country, 28 other states enacted similar policies, fueled by a desire to hold districts more accountable.

In handing the control back to the city, the State declared victory by citing the fact that the takeover ended what a judge 20 years ago identified as a situation where”... “nepotism, cronyism and the like” had precipitated “abysmal” student performances and “failure on a very large scale.”

The State ended the “…nepotism, cronyism and the like” but in doing so lined the pockets of many for profit enterprises, experienced horrific deficits, and many unsuccessful attempts to make substantial improvements to performance as measured by test scores, graduation rates, and attendance data. It wasn’t until Ras Baraka took over as mayor three years ago and forged a solid working relationship with the state appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf, that things started to get better. Mr. Baraka used $10,000,000 of the $100,000,000 donated by Mark Zuckerberg to “finance a network of “community schools,”…to provide health care and social services beyond classroom hours”, an action that increases community engagement and ultimately made the transition away from State control possible.

As Mr. Chen noted in his article, Newark was the second city to get a release from State control. Jersey City preceded them… and their mayor had nothing good to say about the impact of the State:

But (Jersey City mayor) Mr. Fulop gives little credit to the state. “Those things converging have helped the school system gradually get better; it has nothing to do with the State of New Jersey’s policies,” Mr. Fulop said. “You wouldn’t find anybody who points to state control and says, thankfully the state was here.  

Mr. Baraka, among others, is hopeful that when the transition is complete, the city will have learned its lesson.

“Local control means that you’re in charge now — you can’t cuss out people now unless you’re cussing yourself out,” he said. “Stop thinking about us versus them, because us is the them.”

Democracy prevails over corporatism. Here’s hoping the voters in Newark make certain they elect responsive and responsible board members. If they do, they will continue to thrive.

 

Sometimes the Poor Make It Big. Usually They Stay Poor

September 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The operative word here is SOMETIMES… and since someone born into poverty can SOMETIMES get out it is assumed that this rare-as-a-unicorn experience can happen once it should happen more frequently if only poor folks applied themselves

Source: Sometimes the Poor Make It Big. Usually They Stay Poor

Categories: Uncategorized

The Latest (and Completely Unrealistic) Silver Bullet for High Schools: Starting Later

September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

The NYTimes “Upshot” writer Aaron E. Carroll breathlessly reports on the recent Rand study that claims that starting high school later would result in greater student achievement and, consequently, any additional costs incurred by starting school early would be offset. As a retired Superintendent who worked in five different school districts in four different states over a 29 year time span I can assure readers that anyone who thinks this idea will come to fruition is completely untethered from reality. Here are four reasons:

  1. Extraordinary front-end costs: Both the Rand Corporation and writers who cover this issue acknowledge that the up front costs are daunting. But neither the Rand Corporation nor the education reporters offer any rational explanation on where the funds to acquire new buses will come from. The states? Not with 35 statehouses under GOP control. Local budgets? Not with school spending at a lower level than a decade ago.
  2. Politically untenable implementation impacts of cost avoidance strategies: Assuming a windfall of state or local funds is impossible, there are two ways front-end costs could be diminished: by flipping bus routes, having elementary students start early and high schools start late; or, by combining bus routes so that K-12 children all ride the same bus. Speaking from experience, both of these ideas will result in push-back. When I was superintendent in rural Western ME we DID get K-12 routes put in place, but did so to save money and fuel. We moved the start times to a time somewhere between the high school and elementary school start time. Why? Because we didn’t want to move the end of the high school day too far back because of high school athletic practices… and we didn’t want to move elementary start times too far back because working parents could not find child care coverage.
  3. Unwillingness of politicians and voters to act on “empirical evidence”: The notion that politicians would take action based on “empirical data” is zero given the political response to the clear and unequivocal empirical data on climate change. Moreover, there is no “empirical evidence” that politicians and voters are willing to spend money now to achieve future gains.
  4. Unwillingness to invest in the future: If we wanted to invest in the future we wouldn’t be spending less now on K-12 education than we were spending in 2008-09… and we wouldn’t be spending more three times more on prisons than we are spending on schools.

I wish that we lived in a world where empirical data mattered… but we don’t. We live in a world where we are seeking fast, cheap and easy solutions. Moving school start times is none of the above in the start run and only theoretically beneficial in the long run. Rand Corporation’s spreadsheet mentality, like that of “reformers” who see test scores as a fast, cheap and easy means of “measuring” school performance.

 

Warnings of ‘Race to the Bottom’ as Amazon Holds Nationwide Tax Break Contest

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Add Amazon to the list of corporations seeking profits for shareholders at the expense of the general public and the State and city that is “fortunate” to be chosen for the locale of robots, drone launches, and suburban mega-mansions for the small cadre of employees who will earn more than a minimal wage. 

Source: Warnings of ‘Race to the Bottom’ as Amazon Holds Nationwide Tax Break Contest

Categories: Uncategorized

Politico Report Finds that Metrics Matter… and US News and World Report’s Metrics for Colleges Are Increasing Inequality

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

We are approaching the time when US News and World Report issues its annual analysis of colleges, a report that was launched in 1983 and became, in the magazine’s own words from a 2008 article , “the 800-pound gorilla” of higher education. Politico writer Benjamin Wermund concurs with that assessment, and in his story issued on Sunday asserts that the 800 pound gorilla has undercut social mobility in our country and offers evidence from a new “report card” to support his contention. He opens his essay with this:

America’s universities are getting two report cards this year. The first, from the Equality of Opportunity Project, brought the shocking revelation that many top universities, including Princeton and Yale, admit more students from the top 1 percent of earners than the bottom 60 percent combined. The second, from U.S. News and World Report, is due on Tuesday — with Princeton and Yale among the contenders for the top spot in the annual rankings.

The two are related: A POLITICO review shows that the criteria used in the U.S. News rankings — a measure so closely followed in the academic world that some colleges have built them into strategic plans — create incentives for schools to favor wealthier students over less wealthy applicants.

As I’ve written on several occasions (see here, here, and here for examples), the US News and World Report’s annual report card is too reliant on test data, has contributed to a horse race mentality among colleges, contributed to the extreme competition that infects affluent high schools, and, most insidiously, reinforces the notion that microscopic differences in algorithmic “scores” reflect qualitative differences in schools.

Mr. Wermund uses hard data from the Equality of Opportunity Project, to demonstrate that the US News and World Report does something even worse: it closes doors of opportunity to individuals in families with low incomes. Mr. Wermund notes that the US News and World Report’s metrics include several components that favor students from affluent schools:

  • student performance (i.e.evidence that their acceptance pool has “the best and brightest” as measured by standardized tests and GPAs)
  • lower acceptance rates (i.e evidence of their “competitiveness”)
  • performing well on surveys completed by guidance counselors (which favors affluent high schools with robust college counseling staff), and
  • alumni giving (which compels colleges to draw from affluent applicants)

At the same time, the US News and World Report ignores economic diversity, a measure that would encourage schools to accept more children from less affluent households. And Mr. Wermund digs deeper into the impact of the US News and World Report’s annual report card by interviewing several past and present college presidents. Their reactions were astonishing, with one, Brit Kiran of the University of Maryland, offering a particularly scathing indictment:

Kirwan cast the problem in simpler terms, saying that U.S. News creates the false impression that schools with the wealthiest students are, based on their criteria, the best.

“If some foreign power wanted to diminish higher education in America, they would have created the U.S. News and World Report rankings,” he said. “You need both more college graduates in the economy and you need many more low-income students getting the benefit of higher education — and U.S. News and World Report has metrics that work directly in opposition to accomplishing those two things that our nation so badly needs.”

Mr. Wermund suggests that this emphasis has had a major impact on politics as well:

“Elite colleges are part of the apparatus that produces Trumpism and produces working class, white resentment,” said Walter Benn Michaels, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It fits perfectly into Trump’s narrative … Basically, if you’re a low-income or working-class white student who works hard and you find out that what matters in admissions is who your daddy is, or what your race is, you’re completely left out,” said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “When a politician like Donald Trump comes along and says the system is rigged, you’re very likely to believe that. In this case, it is rigged — against those students.”

So… what is to be done? The disheartening news is: “Not much”. Donald Trump and the most conservative members of the Senate want to compel colleges to spend more of their endowments or possibly lose their non-profit status, which might compel them to use their endowments to underwrite scholarships for more children raised in poverty. President Obama suggested developing a Federal metric for colleges that would report on the incomes earned by graduates, an idea that would effectively reward colleges offering degrees in science and technology while penalizing colleges that offer degrees in teaching and social work. But one thing is clear, and Mr. Wermund notes at the end of his article: US News and World Report won’t be making changes any time soon:

Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, said he met with U.S. News officials and raised concerns that the rankings incentivize schools to spend more money when the cost of college is already skyrocketing.

“The question I asked was, ‘Doesn’t this seem to run counter to what’s really in the public’s interest?’” he recalled.

“The answer was, ‘Yes, we know it — but we don’t care.’”

Morse, of U.S. News, denied that, saying, “We do meet regularly with college presidents and admissions deans and we’re definitely aware of what’s written about U.S. News.”

To many presidents, though, prodding U.S. News to change feels like a lost cause.

Said Rosenberg, “It feels a little bit like shaking your fist at the gods — there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Back to School Means Teachers, Parents Dig Deeper Into Their Pockets… Taxpayers? Not So Much

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Philadelphia public school teacher Jan Cohan’s op ed article in Philly.com described HER back to school shopping list includes basic school supplies and asks parents to accept the reality that THEIR back to school shopping list should include supplies for their children. It wasn’t always so.

When I began teaching in Philadelphia in 1970 the junior high where I worked was on a double shift due to overcrowding, which posed logistical challenges for administrators and teachers alike. As a math teachers I had access to the department’s supply of chalk, paper, its mimeograph machine, textbooks that were appropriate for the grade levels I taught, and the AV equipment needed to teach mathematics: an overhead projector and a box of acetates to use on the projector. That was not all, though. Each teacher on the staff received a stipend they could use to acquire school supplies or instructional support materials of their choice as long as the department head approved. I forget the size of the stipend, but it was sufficiently large that I was able to use it to buy enough paper to put together my own “textbook” that included exercises for my students that matched their abilities, which, sadly, were well below the 8th grade level they were assigned to based on their age.

Throughout my career as a Superintendent, which ended in 2011, the districts I led ensured that teachers had sufficient supplies, though I would not be surprised if some teachers bought supplementary materials out of their own pockets the same way some parents who could afford to bought fancier calculators and tutorial texts for their children. From 1997 on I worked in a relatively affluent districts, which meant that there was no expectation that parents would need to provide basic materials like toilet paper for the bathrooms, tissues for the classroom, or blank paper for the teacher to use to photocopy assignments.

But from 2000 onward, I began to hear anecdotes from my colleagues about shortfalls that resulted in them cutting essentials from their budgets, essentials that led to districts serving children in poverty essentially requiring teaches to dig into their pockets and asking parents to do the same. And since 2008 I am confident the situation has gotten even worse, as inflation adjusted spending for public schools has declined since the so-called Great Recession. Contrast my recollections as a teacher in Philadelphia with this description provided by Ms. Cohan:

In order to adequately educate kids, we have to pick up the slack, spending on average $500 on our classrooms annually.

And first-year teachers spend significantly more. I easily spent a thousand dollars in my first year on basics like pencils and paper and markers, of course, but also on dictionaries, binders, a hole punch, a pencil sharpener, classroom posters (and absurdly expensive lamination), bulletin board borders, crates and bins, and a projector so my students could see all the lessons I prepared.

Because of the limited resources in many schools, it’s common for teachers to ask parents to provide supplies not just for their own children, but supplies like tissues to be shared with the entire class. It’s helpful to the teacher, who otherwise will be spending even more  out of pocket, but community supplies also reinforce sharing and cooperation and give students ownership of their classroom.

Most parents support their children’s teachers and graciously provide these community supplies, but I have to roll my eyes at the parents I’ve seen posting about greedy overpaid teachers having the nerve to ask for some glue sticks and pencils…

My colleagues and I have relied on crowdfunding to make ends meet. Our engineering teacher raised money on DonorsChoose last year to buy a robot kit and enter our students in a robotics competition. We crowdfund to defray the cost of field trips so our kids can experience the world outside the classroom. English teachers raise the money to buy class sets of novels for their students. Science teachers raise money for labs and experiments.

Ms. Cohan has been teaching for six years, which means she has only experienced budgets that shortchange teachers on supplies, fail to provide needed equipment for activities like a robotics, fail to provide “frills” like field trips, and fail to provide essentials like novels for literature classes and materials to perform experiments in science class. Consequently she sees the lack of supplies as an opportunity for students learning the value of “sharing and cooperation” and giving them “ownership of their classroom”. And she also turns to online sources that effectively equate public schools to charities.

I find this acceptance of deficient budgets distressing. Taxpayers of all ages should dig a little deeper in their pockets to “crowd fund” schools so that teachers can focus their time and energy on preparing for classes. If they did so in a spirit of sharing their resources with children in the community they might regain the sense of ownership in their schools that my community experienced when I attended schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s and in the districts I served during my career.