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Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

Instead of Walking Out for 17 Minutes on March 14, Use That Time to Write Letters to Legislators

March 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Alicia Freese’s Seven Days article I read thanks to a friend’s Facebook link described a memo written to schools by Vermont’s Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, that discouraged students in Vermont from walking out of school for 17 minutes on March 14 as part of a national action. The article included a link to the entire memo, a paragraph of which was flagged:

The secretary urged administrators to find another way for students to express themselves, such as holding a school-wide assembly. “I encourage you to work with your students and support civil and peaceful opportunities for student expression and student voice, while holding all members of your community to your codes of behavior,” she wrote.

Here’s my suggestion to administrators in Vermont (and NH) for March 14: have students spend 17 minutes composing letters and/or emails to their local delegates expressing their own beliefs about the legislation under consideration. In that way, the students would begin to gain an understanding for how they can influence the thinking of their elected officials. As for the elected officials, I would encourage legislators and school board members to visit as many schools as possible to talk with students about their positions on the bills under consideration and/or steps they intend to take locally to ensure that students are safe and cared for.

These horrific killings are a teachable moment about how democracy is working, and I would encourage that we see this as an opportunity to engage students (AND their parents) with their elected state representatives and elected local school board members on the issue of gun violence. In this way, it’s possible that every one will be pay attention to the elections at all levels of government in November and everyone will see how democracy works.

Looking ahead, it is noteworthy that the April 20 student walkouts are currently contingent on the adoption of meaningful gun legislation. In VT legislature has several bills under consideration that may preclude the need for a walk out in April. New Hampshire, though, is another story. Students, parents, and teachers may have to settle for incremental change, and even that may elude the legislature this time around.

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You Can’t Help Someone Who’s Not There… And Without a Change in Focus, You Can’t Even Help Someone Who IS

February 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s a short but powerful post I pasted from Facebook describing the circumstances that contributed to the ill-being of the student who shot and killed 17 of his former classmates at a FL high school on Wednesday:

“So the killer’s father died 3 years ago. He started posting scary racist images of guns and hurting animals. Then his mother died 3 months ago. His girlfriend broke up with him and got a new boyfriend. He started telling people he wanted to shoot up the school. He got expelled. Why expel a messed up kid whose parents just died? What do we do with people who cannot handle immense pain and loss? Kick them to the curb and let them buy guns?” – Sarah Schulman

You can’t help a student who is not in school… yet as a society we seem unwilling to raise the funds we need to provide the kind of intensive counseling children like this young man require. At some juncture the needs of 3000 children forced the school administrators to permanently expel the shooter. Once the shooter is out of school, he is out of the only safety net that could conceivably help him cope with the stresses associated with the loss of parents and his inability to relate to others.

Disconnection and alienation manifest in other ways as well. Teens who feel socially ostracized turn to drugs and other detestable behaviors that make them hard to love and relate to. If we hope to use public schools as a means of connecting with alienated and troubled youth, we need to change the focus so that relationship building is taught and learned the same way conformance to rules is taught and learned.

DC Schools Testing Scandal Proof of the Immutability of Campbell’s Law

February 11, 2018 Leave a comment

For the past several days, report-after-report has emerged from Washington DC where the public schools “fudged” the accountability data they were submitting in a way that made them look good. Here’s an excerpt from one of the latest reports of such “fudging”, which was brought to light by the local ABC station WJLA:

The DC Council Education committee held an accountability hearing with the DC Public Schools Chancellor, the State Superintendent and the Executive Director of the Charter School Board Thursday morning.

An investigative report from WJLA revealed the recording of a DCPS principal, telling teachers that the DCPS central office pressured principals to pass more students,” pointed out Councilmember Robert White.

White referenced a secretly recorded conversation with Roosevelt STAY High School’s principal in 2015 directing teachers to ignore DC attendance law, first reported by ABC7 News Monday.

“Here’s the thing: we have to pass and promote. If we are not then what are we here for? I’m sitting in a meeting to tell the chancellor you’ve got to give me more resources. I can’t sit in the meeting with the chancellor and I’m with big stats in red,” said Principal Young in the recording.

White called the recording, “a clear indication of widespread fraud in DCPS that was only brought to light because of investigative journalism.”

A few days ago, Diane Ravtich wrote a post on the immutability of Campbell’s Law, which was formulated by psychologist Donald Campbell at the end of the 1900s. Here’s the law in its entirety:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

The Roosevelt STAY High School Principal’s directive to “pass and promote” illustrates the immutability of Campbell’s Law… and here’s the way to avoid Campbell’s Law coming into play: avoid the use of ANY quantitative social indicator for social decision-making. 

Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker Article on Prodigies Offers Key Distinction that Public Schools Miss

February 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik’s January 29 New Yorker article titled “How to Raise a Prodigy” on line and “The Parenting Paradox” in print. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants an insight into parenting, the underlying forces in public education, and the underlying forces of our consumer-driven economy. Mr. Gopnik’s  article is in the book review section of the magazine because it focuses on three recent books on the general subject of raising children who are prodigies of one kind or another: Sara Zaske’s “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” (Picador); “Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies” (Knopf) by Ann Hulbert; and “Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence” (Simon & Schuster) by Karen Crouse***.

Mr. Gopnik’s essay provides a brief overview of each book and is interwoven with his own observations about child rearing and our parents’ and public schools’ efforts to identify and nurture prodigies of one form or another. His meta-observation is offered at the end of his critique of Ms. Zaske’s book that idealizes the German method of raising children:

And here we arrive at the real ghost that haunts these books, the one that sends us to Paris or Berlin for help: the sense that American parents have gone radically wrong, making themselves and their kids miserable in the process, by hovering over them like helicopters instead of observing them from a watchtower, at a safe distance.

Having worked with parents of the best and brightest and observed the interactions of parents on playgrounds in Brooklyn where my daughters both live, I can attest to the accuracy of the “helicopter” metaphor. Mr. Gopnik offers the “cooperative spirit” that Ms. Crouse witnessed in Norwich, Vermont, as the antidote to helicopter parenting:

What we don’t get to see, in Crouse’s account, is the little town nearby, where, as must be the case, everyone coöperates and yet no one is a champion. (And there must also be, in Norwich, at least one Holden Caulfield type who thinks the whole Norwich thing is phony.) Looking at Norwich, we’re told that the non-competitive, non-pressuring approach is best because it gets us to the medal stand, or close. But what if it didn’t? If Norwich values matter, it’s because they’re good, not because they’re shortcuts to victory. The point of a non-competitive attitude can’t be that it makes us better able to compete; the value of an unpressured approach can’t be that it creates a more effective kind of pressure. In any case, one has the sense that what Crouse has found is not a “secret” but a well-known effect: unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions, whether they are in fifteenth-century Florence, in painting, or in San Pedro de Macorís, the “cradle of shortstops.” One good painter with an apprentice produces a Renaissance, just as one good coach with willing kids supplies the major leagues.

As noted below, I am familiar with Norwich and its surrounding communities and Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that there is “..a little town nearby where everyone cooperates and yet no one is a champion” could describe any number of nearby communities in Vermont… and the values Ms. Crouse ascribes to Norwich are good in and of themselves. Too, Mr. Gopnik’s insight that “unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions” captures the notion that who children associate with outside of school is more important than what they learn in school and underscores the importance of the values of the community where a child is raised.

Mr. Gopnik’s best insights come near the conclusion of his article where he describes the importance of mastery as opposed to achievement and the futility of trying to be a perfect parent:

What typically emerges from looking at kids, gifted and ordinary, is that, from the kids’ point of view, accomplishment, that is, the private sense of mastery, the hard thing suddenly made easy, counts for far more in their inner lives than does the achievement—the competition won, the reward secured. The mystery of mastery, felt in the child’s mind or muscles, is more compelling than the concreteness of achievement, the trophy pressed in her hands. What sustains us in any competition are the moments of interiority when the competition vanishes; what sustains us in any struggle are the moments when we forget the struggle…

Accomplishment, the feeling of absorption in the flow, of mastery for its own sake, of knowing how to do this thing, is what keeps all of us doing what we do, if we like what we do at all. The prizes are inevitably disappointing, even when we get them (as the life of Bob Dylan, prize-getter and grump extraordinaire, suggests).

What really helicopters over these books is what one might call the Causal Catastrophe: the belief that the proof of the rightness or wrongness of some way of bringing up children is in the kinds of adults it produces. This appears, on the surface, so uncontroversial a position—what other standard would you use?—that to question it seems a little crazy. But, after all, chains of human causality are, if not infinite, very long; in every life, some bad consequence of your upbringing will eventually emerge. We disapprove of parental hovering not because it won’t pay off later—it might; it does!—but because it’s obnoxious now. Strenuously competitive parents may indeed produce high-achieving grownups, but it’s in the nature of things that high-achieving adults are likely to become frustrated and embittered old people, once the rug is pulled out from under their occupation. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then all chains are infinitely weak, since everybody ends up broken.

Mr. Gopnik’s advice should be heeded by parents and public educators. If Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that a “private sense of mastery” is more important than “the competition won, the reward secured“— then parents and schools should strive to gain an understanding of each child’s gifts and talents and cultivate them instead of forcing a child to compare his or her talents in academics to other children that are his or her same age. Moreover, parents and schools should strive to help each child develop the self-awareness that is implicit in cultivating a private sense of mastery. The best writers and artists do not live to get favorable reviews: they live to develop an essay or story that captures their ideas in print, to develop a piece of artwork or music score that captures a spirit they possess, or to transfer something internal into something to share with the world at large. I think in the end, prodigious athletes, musicians, writers, and individuals in the world of work do not compare themselves to any external standard: they possess an internal standard of excellence that drives them to do the best they can and an attitude that so long as they are doing the best they can they are indifferent to winning a competition or securing a reward. If schools want to develop happy and healthy prodigies— or happy and healthy citizens, they need to stop focussing on competition and rewards and begin helping students develop their private sense of mastery.

 

***In the spirit of full disclosure, I served as Superintendent of Schools in Norwich for seven years, so I have some understanding of the dynamics in that community which, in Mr. Gopnik’s words, “…continually sends athletes to the Olympics and other competitions in numbers ridiculously disproportionate to its size.” It is not quite as perfect as Ms. Crouse describes, but it IS a wonderful place to raise children… and Mr. Gopnik is correct in assuming that there is “at least one Holden Caulfield type” in that town.

 

Utopia IS Nowhere to be Found: But Everyone who Works in Public Education is Doing the Best They Can to Create One in their School

December 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Teacher-blogger Steven Singer wrote a thought provoking post a few days ago on his website that is linked to Facebook and found himself in “Facebook Jail” because of it… presumably because their algorithm screened out his content as “Fake News”. In the post, Mr. Singer described an assignment he gave his 7th grade students where he asked them to describe their version of Utopia and offered an overview of their responses. He then reflected on how the assignment mirrored the thinking behind the charter school movement:

The economists, think tank partisans and lobbyists love to denigrate the public school system and pine for an alternative where corporate interests and business people make all the rules.

Sure they have literally billions of dollars behind them and a gallery of famous faces to give them legitimacy.

But they’re really just engaged in a more high stakes version of Moore’s novel or the assignment my kids did this week.

But Mr. Singer might not appreciate that the administrators who manage his school are also engaged in a version of Moore’s novel, albeit a version that has some constraints. 40 years ago I was appointed Principal at a rural HS where there was no student handbook, no faculty handbook, and no course of studies. Using handbooks from the school I worked in previously as a template and working with a small cadre of teachers in the HS I developed a set of handbooks that created a “Utopia”. Initially the staff members expressed universal appreciation for the handbook. But as time went on, I know that some “hard-line” faculty members wished the rules governing student behavior were as ironclad as the ones that charter school leaders like Eva Moskovitz imposes on students. Some “humanistic” faculty members, on the other hand, lamented the fact that some students chose to drop out of school because they did not want to follow rules like taking five classes, leaving their buck-knives at home, going to a study hall when they did not have class, or– worse of all– having a hall pass when they used the lavatory.

I tried hard to get the hard-line teachers to appreciate that public school administrators do not have the luxury of throwing children out of school the way that the nearby private school could. I also tried to get the humanistic teachers to appreciate that some semblance of order is needed to ensure the school operates effectively. And I tried to get everyone to understand that the rules could be changed in the same way their lesson plans, and Mr. Singer’s can be changed. And over the course of my three years as Principal the rules were changed based on input I received from a cadre of staff members the faculty elected: tightened in some areas and loosened in others.

Here’s the bottom line in public schools: everyone who works in public education is doing the best they can. Everyone who works in public education is trying to make life better for the children who attend their school. And everyone who works in public education is challenged by the finger-pointing of the “reformers” who want to impose ironclad rules on students… AND impose ironclad rules on everyone who works in public education.

P.S. In an effort to help Mr. Singer get out of Facebook Jail I posted his essay on my page.

Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: Bullying

December 3, 2017 Leave a comment

A year ago I wrote several posts on Donald Trump’s looming presidency and where I him leading us. For the final installment on these predictions I am going to revisit predictions I offered on bullying in 2016.

Like many who did not support Mr. Trump, I was appalled at his lack of civility and bullying tactics throughout his campaign. In one blog post I wrote about a spike in bullying behavior in schools, how Mr. Trump’s conduct promoted that kind of behavior, and how his behavior was far from the kind witnessed by other GOP Presidents:

While I did not support the positions of President Reagan or either President Bush I DID find them to be statesmanlike. They all urged us to be civil towards each other and to embrace our differences of opinion. While some of their election tactics were smarmy (e.g. the Willie Horton ad) their conduct and use of language was always exemplary. But now we have elected a man who uses 140 characters to distill his “thinking” and who is not at all hesitant to use racist, sexist, and xenophobic slurs. Worse, his comments tend to support bullying tactics in our relationships with other countries and within our own country. He has communicated to those students who share his beliefs and bullying tendencies that those beliefs and behaviors are not only acceptable, but those who push back against them are “soft” and trying to enforce “politically correct” thinking.

Alas, there is evidence that many students have adopted his methods of dealing with “others”. The results of a NYC survey administered to public school students provides evidence:

In 2016, 51% of students said kid bullied each other at school “because of their race or ethnicity.”

On a similar question in 2017, 65% of students said kids bullied each other at school over “race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or citizenship/immigration status.”

Likewise, in 2016, 55% of students said kids bullied each other at school because of differences “like national origin, citizenship/immigration status, religion, disability, or weight.”

On a similar question in 2017, 73% of students said kids bullied each other at school because of differences “like disability, or weight.”

And in 2016, 46% of students said that kids at their school “harass, bully, or intimidate each other because of their gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

That question was unchanged for 2016, when 59% of students reported gender-based bullying at their schools.

The “reformers” in NYC blamed this on Mayor diBlasio’s refusal to open more charter schools… and while the NYDaily News did not assign responsibility to any one factor, it seems clear to me that our President who promotes misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and the taunting of handicapped individuals might bear some responsibility.

Philadelphia’s School Without Walls is Re-Born 50 Years Later

November 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Medium sends me thought provoking articles every day on a range of topics I get to select, and an edition earlier this week included an article describing the latest “new idea to reinvent high schools” from XQ: The Super School Project, the brain child of Laureen Jobs Powell. The “Super School Project” was launched in 2016, announcing 10 winners in a competition to “re-think high schools”. From the outset, there have some questions raised about the ability of a foundation to pull this off, but I sincerely hope that this group will succeed where others have failed, their funding source notwithstanding.

The article in Medium breathlessly reported on four practical ideas to “deepen school and community connections”, ideas that XQ presumably believes are innovative, original, and creative. In fact the practical ideas were developed and implemented over 50 years ago in Philadelphia when Superintendent Mark Shedd teamed with Board President Richardson Dilworth to introduce progressive reforms to Philadelphia’s struggling schools. One of the ideas was the Parkway Project a.k.a the “School Without Walls”. The concept behind the Parkway School incorporated all four of the “practical ideas” described in the XQ article. The Parkway Project:

  • Co-located schools in existing institutions: the art museum, Franklin Institute, the Museum of Natural History, and the Public library line the Parkway in Philadelphia and each was to offer classroom space to public school students.
  • Ensured that students learned from experts: the idea was for professors from colleges and staffs from the museums to co-teach courses with public school staff
  • Provided students with early access to the professional world: another element of the program was that students could devise their own courses and curriculum by working in internships and/or co-operative work study programs
  • Create opportunities for students to experience higher education early and often: since the Parkway Program envisioned the courses to be co-taught by local professors the students would experience college-like courses ad expectations throughout their schooling.

As a college student at the time the Parkway Project was launched, I was excited at the prospect that high school was on the dawn of reinvention. In the late 1960s everything was changing in the world and many of us on campus believed it was changing for the better. 50 years later, schools are even more segregated than they were in the 60s, poverty is more intractable than ever, students in elementary schools are still batched by age cohorts, and high schools still require students to pass a specific set of courses based on seat time.

I sincerely hope Ms. Jobs succeeds where Mark Shedd failed… for his ideas ultimately died as a result of budget cuts and traditionalists who believed high school should remain the competitive battleground where students compete for grades in an artificial environment that has no parallel in the world of work.