Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

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.

This Just In: Reformers Like Dan Loeb are Arrogant Know-it-Alls

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Shane Goldmacher in yesterday’s NYTimes described a series of email exchanges between billionaire charter school advocate Daniel Loeb and Richard Buery, an African-American deputy mayor. In the email chain, Mr. Loeb condescendingly admonished Mr. Buery for his lack of understanding about how charter schools were helping African American children and how Mr. Buery was putting “…(his) bureaucracy, the union puppets you serve, over the interest of little vulnerable black children and their families.” Mr. Buery’s response was priceless:

Mr. Buery, who is African-American and is credited by the de Blasio administration as the architect of its universal prekindergarten initiative, wrote in the same email chain, “Do you really not see the hubris of your lecturing me about the plight of black children and what they need?”

Mr. Goldmacher offers a short, pointed description of Mr. Loeb’s writing style in this paragraph:

Mr. Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is known in the business community for his aggressive and acidic letters to other companies he is targeting as an activist investor.

And concludes with these paragraphs describing Mr. Buery’s responses:

Despite the tenor of many of Mr. Loeb’s missives, Mr. Buery mostly replied gently.

“Everyone who disagrees with you about something isn’t despicable or a bad person. We’d all get a lot further if we could keep that in mind,” he wrote to Mr. Loeb earlier this year. “Hope you’re having a beautiful day.”

When pundits wonder why we’ve lost our civility in public discourse, they should bear in mind that “government bureaucrats” like Mr. Buery are NOT the problem. It is arrogant billionaires like Mr. Loeb who are only interested in taking over “failed public schools” the same way they invest in corporations who are on shaky financial ground.

“Problem Children” Biggest Problem is Lack of Self-Awareness

October 30, 2017 1 comment

Last Tuesday’s NYTimes column in the “Fixes” section by Suzanne Bouffard described two successful approaches to student discipline that emerged independently from the same source source. Called the Collaborative Problem Solving (C.P.S.), Ms. Bouffard reported that this seemingly permissive approach was developed in the late 1990s by Dr. Ross Greene, now the director of a nonprofit called Lives in the Balance, and later expanded upon by Stuart Ablon, a psychologist who runs the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It works like this:

An adult and child collaborate to understand why the child is struggling and what to do about it, using a strategy called “Plan B.” Plan B starts with the child stating a concern. Next the adult does the same. They then brainstorm realistic solutions that address both parties’ concerns. That method diverges from more typical responses, like when an adult tries to exert her will by applying consequences (“Plan A”) or lets go of the expectation for a specific behavior (“Plan C”).

As a Buddhist practitioner for the past 12 years, I see this approach as being similar to an approach in reconciliation advocated by zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh called called Beginning Anew, an approach designed to have both parties develop mutual self awareness about how their behaviors affect each other. But, as Ms. Bouffard notes, the notion of developing self-awareness as a means of changing behavior flies in the face of conventional wisdom and conventional thinking by adults:

Approaching misbehavior this way runs counter to many educators’ instincts. Deciding to share power rather than impose it requires a mind-set shift. One might see that as “giving in to the child.” But what would be the point of punishing a child who literally could not sit still? The C.P.S. conversation taught Jayden that his perspective mattered and that using calm problem solving pays off. It also kept him and his classmates learning.

As a high school disciplinarian for six years, I quickly learned that in the minds of many teachers anything that failed to punish the child explicitly was viewed as “giving in”: that every time a child was sent to the office and there were no “automatic consequences” they felt betrayed by the administration. In the minds of some teachers, sending a child to the office was a power play and if I failed to use my power to assign a detention or take some kind of punitive action I was failing to support them. In the minds of other teachers, a trip to the office was intended to provide a place for the student to collect their thoughts and for me to arrange a conference with both parties. As a disciplinarian, I had to learn the expectations of the teacher and adjust accordingly. But is struck me that the same was true of the students: they, too, had to gain an understanding of what each teacher expected.

Ms. Bouffard’s article was triggered by the fact that preschools are suspending children at an alarming rate and, as a result, legislators are looking for changes in approach. She writes:

Early childhood education can be an invaluable opportunity for learning social and emotional skills. But when teachers repeatedly punish young children, their efforts can cause lifelong harm… Nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers is suspended or expelled for behavior problems. Their infractions — generally hitting, throwing things or swearing — need to be addressed, but educators are recognizing that removing 3- and 4-year-olds from classrooms is not the answer. It doesn’t teach children how to behave differently, and it often makes matters worse.

Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it. Early suspension predicts disengagement from school and dropping-out. And the fact that African-American preschoolers are far more likely than white children to be suspended raises serious issues of equity and access to educational opportunity. As states like Illinois and Connecticut pass legislation prohibiting or restricting expulsion from state-funded preschools, teachers desperately need better options for handling misbehavior.

I am appalled at the consequences of imposing the will of adults on children who are misbehaving, an approach that is often used in so-called “no excuses” schools. I am especially appalled when the adult’s will is based on unquestioning adherence to rules that cannot be readily followed by children who have special needs or who come from homes where they have experienced childhood trauma. Here’s hoping that the legislation adopted in states seeking to reduce preschool suspensions leads to the development of self-awareness on the part of students at an early age and mutual respect between teachers and parents at all grade levels.

Moral Leadership Demonstrated by CEOs Who Abandon Role As Advisors to President… Can They Show MORE Moral Leadership by Paying Their Fair Share of Taxes?

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

I was heartened to read in today’s NYTimes that several CEOs rebuked President Trump by stepping down from his advisory councils after he shamefully equated the so-called “alt-right” protesters in Charlottesville VA with the peaceful counter-demonstrators who he branded as “alt-left” demonstrators. The President’s reprehensible defense of the demonstrations this past weekend led by Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other White Nationalist fringe groups resulted in an erosion of his support by business leaders. As the Times article described, the business leaders to a person agreed to step down from the Advisory Councils they served on, with the only sticking point in their joint statement was whether to “condemn and disband” or just “disband”. Ultimately the decision was to “disband” based on Mr. Trump’s implicit support for extremist groups and allow each individual CEO to issue their own statements expressing the degree of condemnation they were comfortable with. Because of the protracted nature of their dialogue, the President was able to release a tweet announcing the disbandment of the committees in advance of the CEO’s announcement. But the CEO’s abandonment of support for the President was clear to the media. As the Times noted:

By Tuesday evening, a consensus had emerged among many of the chief executives on the policy forum. Having stood with the president in recent months even as he advanced positions they vehemently opposed, including tough immigration policies and withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, many executives felt his apparent tolerance for white nationalist violence was a bridge too far.

And the Times also emphasized that this was unprecedented:

“In American history, we’ve never had business leaders decline national service when requested by the president,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. “They’ve now turned their backs on him.”

While it IS heartening to see the CEOs of these corporations taking a moral stand in opposition to the President’s “apparent tolerance for white nationalist violence” it would be even more heartening to see them take a moral stand on behalf of their country by abandoning the practice of seeking tax breaks that result in the destruction of the safety nets and loss of funds needed to shore up the nation’s infrastructure, the practice of racing to the bottom on employee wages and benefits, and the practice of seeking fewer regulations that protect the environment and the safety of workers. When the CEOs make phone calls among themselves to accomplish THOSE ends, ends that  protect workers and the environment, we will know that moral leadership has been restored to the private sector of our country.

Leaders Set the Moral Tone for Schools, School Districts, States… and, alas, Presidents Set a Moral Tone for Nations

August 14, 2017 Leave a comment

In public education, leaders provide a moral compass. Principals set a moral tone for schools. Superintendents and School Boards set the moral tone for districts. Commissioners and State Boards set a moral tone for the schools in the states they lead.

In education, the way leaders react to crises are often defining moments in setting a moral tone. If a school is struggling and the Principal’s reaction is to fire teachers or the Board’s reaction is to close the school it sets a different moral tone than if leaders work collaboratively with parents and community agencies to help struggling students.

Now imagine a situation where a neo-Nazi student organization announced it would be holding a rally to celebrate the heroism of civil war generals who supported slavery in a school where racial harmony existed. And imagine that the neo-Nazi student organization goaded peaceful demonstrators with hateful chants, lit torches, and menacing behavior. Finally, imagine that one of their group members drove a vehicle through the crowd of counter demonstrators leaving the demonstration killing one of them and hospitalizing scores of others. Surely the leadership of the school, the district, and state would condemn the behavior of the hate-mongering group and particularly the driver of the vehicle that plowed into group of counter demonstrators as they dispersed. And imagine the fall out if the leaders tried to appease the neo-Nazi student organization by asserting a study was needed to determine culpability because both groups attending the rally behaved in the same fashion.

As readers undoubtedly realize, the scenario described above occurred on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. The mayor of that city and the Governor of the State showed their moral fiber, decrying the actions of the new-Nazi demonstrators and condemning the driver of the car for his despicable act. Bt as descried tersely in Diane Ravitch’s initial post yesterday, “August 12, 2017, A Shameful Day for America and Trumpour President’s moral compass was shown to be lacking when he responded to this incident. Like the spineless leadership described in the scenario above, President Trump attempted to appease the neo-Nazi organization who organized the demonstration in opposition to the removal of a statue of a civil war general by asserting a study was needed to determine culpability because both groups attending the rally behaved in the same fashion and were therefore equally culpable.

It is likely that some of the counter-demonstrators used profane language when they were confronted by the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups gathered in support of the statue. It is also possible that some of the counter-demonstrators pushed back when they were shoved and bullied by members of the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups. But it is abundantly clear that the counter-demonstrators were victimized by the actions of a sympathizer of the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups and that they did nothing comparable.

The narrative that will likely emerge from the “study” will be that the violent behavior of the driver was not condoned by the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups and therefore those groups should not be held accountable for the actions of a “lone wolf”. Moreover, apart from this one outlying and outrageous act, the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups lawfully exercised their free speech rights in the same fashion as the counter demonstrators. And just as predictably, when the counter-demonstrators express their outrage in the same fashion as the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups they will be broadly condemned by the press.

How would a moral leader behave in this situation? If President Trump had a shred of decency he would acknowledge that his inflammatory rhetoric encouraged this misconduct. He would pledge to abandon his fiery rhetoric in light of how neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups used it to justify hateful and divisive demonstrations and to justify the death of a peaceful demonstrator. And he would condemn the actions of the neo-Nazis and various white supremacist groups. That didn’t happen and won’t happen.

President Trump’s reaction to the crisis in Charlottesville was a defining moment in setting a moral tone for this nation…. and it was a shameful day for America and Trump.