Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

Restorative Justice Boosts Self-Awareness, Builds Community, and Builds Skills Needed in a Democracy

September 9, 2016 Leave a comment

This Sunday’s NYTimes will feature an article by Susan Dominus on how the use of restorative justice in an urban high school in NYC has dramatically lowered the suspension rates. Ms. Dominus’ article vividly describes the daunting challenges an administrator faces when trying to replace the criminal justice model of discipline with a restorative justice model. Teachers and deans who are accustomed to swift and automatic consequences for specific forms of misconduct are thrown when they are expected to deal with small offenses on their own and expected to help students learn to manage their own conduct. After reading the description of how the Principal at Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan’s Financial District implemented restorative justice model over a period of years, Ms. Santos noted that:

“While studies have shown that restorative practices curb suspensions, research on their influence on test scores and grades is inconclusive.”

It’s a sad reality that schools are assessed based on standardized test scores and students progress is measured by grades— because both are based on the premise that time is fixed and performance is variable. Moreover, test scores and grades measure what is easy to measure but ultimately not that important. Restorative justice, as this article shows, tackles the toughest and most important issues. If we want to graduate students who are ready to thrive in a community, who are self-actualized learners, who are self-aware, who understand the skills needed to function in a democracy, we need to ignore their standardized tests and change our thinking about grades. We need to show them the same patience in the mastery of academics as restorative justice affords them in the management of their emotions. If we continue to focus on seemingly objective and precise metrics like standardized tests and grades we will continue ignoring the emotional well-being of children. Given our obsession with tests and grades Is it any surprise that we are reading countless articles about disaffected and disengaged young adults?

Ms. Dominus illustrates the difficulty of changing the dominant paradigm of school discipline and, in so doing, illustrates how difficult it is to change the dominant thinking about test-based accountability. Her article is aptly titled “An Effective but Exhausting Alternative to High School  Suspensions”.  What Ms. Dominus fails to acknowledge is that our current practice with school discipline is IN-effective but equally exhausting. As is our practice in batching students in age based cohorts and expecting them to progress in lockstep.

“We don’t believe that we have failing schools… We’ve been failed.”

September 8, 2016 Leave a comment

The quote that serves as the title of this post comes from a Truthout article by Mike Ludwig titled “After Hundreds of School Closures, Black Families are Still Waiting for Justice”. In the article Mr. Ludwig describes the “reform” cycle whereby schools in poor urban neighborhoods are closed because they were deemed to be “failing” based on “...standards set by bureaucrats and lawmakers miles away”. But some parents are getting wise to what is happening in their neighborhoods and in their cities.

In cities across the country, hundreds of schools have shut down under so-called “reform” policies handed down by the Bush and Obama administrations, according to Journey for Justice. State and local officials use enrollment numbers, high-stakes testing scores and other metrics attached to state and federal funding incentives to identify and shut down schools considered to be “failing,” robbing neighborhoods of essential public resources and disrupting students’ academic life.

“We don’t believe that we have failing schools,” (Chicago activist Jitu) Brown told Truthout. “We think that’s a political statement. We’ve been failed.”

Brown says that taxpaying parents in Black neighborhoods deserve better-funded schools with more resources for learning, but the inequities in Chicago are sitting in plain sight. For example, schools in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods enjoy teacher’s aides in every classroom and librarians on staff at all times, while schools in lower-income neighborhoods of color do not.

Instead of providing more money for schools serving poor children, districts are consolidating failing schools or turning over their operation to private for-profit organizations. In both cases the students see no marked improvement in their performance and the neighborhoods where the schools close are disrupted. Jitu Brown, who is the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, an organization comprised of grassroots civil rights groups in 23 cities, is leading the fight to replace these kinds of policies that shut down schools and replace them with community-based solutions. But the fight is arduous, complicated, and time consuming. At this juncture the Department of Education is examining his organization’s complaints to see if Federal Laws have been violated. But the concluding paragraphs of Ludwig’s article offer a dispiriting conclusion:

Brown said he is grateful that the federal authorities agreed to investigate educational discrimination in New Orleans and Chicago, but now that two years have passed, he’s starting to doubt that federal civil rights officials are the “crusaders for justice” that he once hoped they would be.

“The wheels of justice, they are rusted,” Brown said. “And they don’t turn.”

The wheels of reform, however, oiled by the donations of billionaires, are gliding smoothly as privatized charters invade the neighborhoods and push public schools out of the picture altogether.


Getting the Lead Out A Good Example of Government Acting on Scientific Evidence

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column on September 2 described our country’s decision to allow the poisoning of thousands of children due to lead contamination to continue. Why? Two reasons: the children are almost all poor and minorities; and the solution to the problem would involve government intervention and cost lots of money. And how do politicians explain this decision to ignore this state of affairs? By denying the scientific evidence or accepting evidence gathered by “scientists” funded by corporate donors.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve witnessed it before with cigarettes, with acid rain, with lead paint and tetra-ethyl lead in gasoline (both eventually outlawed), and with flouro-carbons, which were also eventually outlawed. But we are also witnessing it now in our denial of climate change, in our continued unwillingness to get the lead out of water in many communities across the country… and in our continued belief that we don’t need to address poverty in order to improve our public schools. Indeed, Krugman emphasizes the link between lead in the water and education:

But I’ve just been reading a new study by a team of economists and health experts confirming the growing consensus that even low levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams have significant adverse effects on cognitive performance. And lead exposure is still strongly correlated with growing up in a disadvantaged household.

But how can this be going on in a country that claims to believe in equality of opportunity? Just in case it’s not obvious: Children who are being poisoned by their environment don’t have the same opportunities as children who aren’t.

I guess it isn’t obvious to those who insist on administering standardized tests to children who are being poisoned by their environment and then concluding that their poor performance is the result of attending “over-regulated government schools”.

Mississippi Legislators Following Reform Playbook

September 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Retired English professor TJRay wrote an op ed piece for the Oxford (MS) Eagle decrying the recent action of the legislature and State Board in Mississippi, actions that follow the ALEC inspired “reform” playbook to a “T”. Mr. Ray’s essay describes how the legislature passed a bill that makes it possible for public schools to be closed and replaced with charter schools if they are graded lower than a “B”. And now, only weeks later, the State Board– appointed by the same political party that is in the legislature– is ready to enact a new rating system that limits the number of schools that can receive an “A” rating and mandates a minimum number of schools that must receive an “F” rating.

As Mr. Ray notes:

The object (of the bill that passed) was not to improve the public schools in question; it was to feather the nests of the corporations and groups that set up charter schools. An interesting inquiry might pose the question: How many names on those corporate charters match names on generous campaign donors? Well, obviously they’re getting their payback for putting the folks back where they can wreak havoc in the state.

And Mr. Ray also questions the rationale for the “reform” movement in Mississippi offered by the State’s Commissioner of Higher Education:

The Commissioner of Higher Education said that the foundation of education that students will need to succeed in universities is not being provided. One response might simply be that every young person doesn’t need to succeed at a university, may not even be suited to academics at all.

The oligarchs manufactured need to prepare all students for college leads to artificially high standards which leads to artificially difficult tests which leads to high failure rates in public schools which leads to the need to close those schools and replace them with privatized schools run by the oligarchs. And to make sure this machinery is well-oiled the oligarchs help elect politicians who support this “system” that keeps them enriched and a large number of children on a path to “failure”…. or at least on a path to work for lower wages.

Takeovers Destroy Democracy… But Persist as Cheap, Easy, Fast “Solution” of Reformers, Politicians

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that included a link to a comprehensive TV report on voting rights by News21, a national initiative to train a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the news industry.” Based on their reporting on the impact of school takeovers they are doing an excellent job of achieving their mission, for the overview of takeovers and the reports on four communities affected by takeovers are comprehensive and compelling.

The data on school districts that do get taken over is unsurprising: they are mostly poor and mostly black and brown children:

More than 5.6 million people live in places where state officials took over entire districts or individual schools in the past six years, according to News21 data collected from state government agencies. About 43 percent are African-American and around 20 percent are Hispanic. On average 29.2 percent of people in those areas are living below the poverty level. The U.S. average is 15.5 percent.

The profiles on Highland Park MI, Drew MS, Little Rock AR, and New Orleans LA describe the frustrations of parents and citizens who no longer have a voice in how their schools are operated because the districts their children attend are now operated by the State and, in most cases, a private for profit educational management company. The reasons for the takeovers are varied, but the results are always the same: the community has no voice in how its schools function and no ability whatsoever to gain back control of the schools they pay taxes for. The News21 team doesn’t look at these takeovers from an educational perspective but having read articles about three of the four I know that the schools are no better off under the takeovers and it’s clear the voters in the towns where schools are taken over are far worse off. So who DOES win?

The politicians win because they can declare victory by virtue of containing costs and thereby saving the taxpayers money. They can also claim that their actions “rescued” children from substandard schools— even though their poor conditions were invariably cause by the underfunding of public schools by the legislators and governors themselves. In the case of New Orleans, the politicians can point at the district as a model of “choice” since parents can choose to send their child to any school in the district— even though all the schools are no better than the ones they replaced when Hurricane Katrina decimated the city.

The education management industry and their shareholders are also big winners. They can operate schools with low overhead and pocket the “savings”.

The affluent taxpayers, who don’t have to dig deep in their pockets to provide the necessary funds for children raised in poverty and can rest assured that the public schools are now under the competent leadership of the private sector.

The big losers, as the article shows, are parents, voters…. and children.

Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility is a Misleading Metric… and it Masks the Widening Inequality in Schools

August 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes has an op ed article by Susan Dynarsky describing the flaws with our country’s current metric for measuring poverty in schools: free and reduce lunch counts. And the biggest flaw of all, according to Ms. Dynarsky, is that it’s use understates the widening gap between children raised in persistent poverty and those who qualify for free and reduced lunches off an on. She describes the parameters for subsidized school as follows:

Nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for a subsidized meal in school. Children whose families earn less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold are eligible for a reduced-price lunch, while those below 130 percent get a free lunch. For a family of four, the cutoffs are $32,000 for a free lunch and $45,000 for a reduced-price one. By way of comparison, median household income in the United States was about $54,000 in 2014.

Then, using data from Michigan she examined the student performance on tests more closely and determined that “...the achievement gap between persistently disadvantaged children— those who qualified for free and reduced lunch throughout their elementary school years– and those who were never disadvantaged is about a third larger than the gap that is typically measured.” Dynarski found that by eight grade these persistently poor children were three grade levels behind their peers… and on closer examination she found that they almost consistently begin Kindergarten behind their peers and, worse yet from a policy perspective, the persistently poor could be identified very early.

When we look back on the early childhood of persistently disadvantaged eighth graders, we see that by kindergarten they were already far poorer than their classmates.

We can see this with national data. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, run by the Department of Education, tracks a sample of children who started kindergarten in 1998. Among children who were eligible for subsidized meals through eighth grade, household income during kindergarten was just $20,000. For those who were only occasionally eligible, it was closer to $47,000, and for those never eligible, $80,000.

Is it any surprise that a child whose household earnings are four times as much as another child has a better background entering school? And is it even less surprising when you examine these data?

These data also show that persistently disadvantaged children are far less likely than other students to live with two parents or have a college-educated mother or father. Just 2 percent of persistently disadvantaged children have a parent with a college degree, compared with 24 percent of the occasionally disadvantaged (and 57 percent of those who were never disadvantaged).

Instead of using free and reduced parameters, which were chosen decades ago when granular data was more difficult (and expensive) to gather, Ms. Dynarsky suggests we use “…administrative data on eligibility for means-tested programs such as welfare benefits and food stamps”, data that can “…distinguish between children who are extremely poor and those who are nearly middle class.” By doing so it would be possible to identify the children whose families are the neediest of all and direct more resources to the schools that serve them.

Alas, Ms. Dynarsky works in academia where such obvious data-driven decisions are self-evident and seemingly easy to implement… But here’s the practical reality: to give more to the neediest would either require raising more money for schools (clearly the best solution but just as clearly a non-strarter) or re-directing money from marginally deprived children to those who are neediest: a zero-sum game that is the optimal use of scarce resources but also a non-starter. So we’re stuck where we are until some political leader is willing to speak the truth to voters about public education: money matters and we need more if we hope to restore equal opportunities in our country.


Community Schools ARE the Way Forward… BUT… They DO Take Time and Patience

August 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Last Sunday the NYTimes op ed writer David Kirp’s essay detailed the positive impact of “community schools”, a reform initiative advocated by NYC Mayor de Blasio instead of  the market-based “reform” movement advocated by his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg. What is a community school? Kirp offers this description:

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intended to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds widespread appeal, and 150 school districts, including Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., have bought into the idea.

While a “community school” costs roughly $800 annually, an analysis by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia indicates that every dollar spent to provide community schools “…generates a return of at least $3”. Their analysis indicates that:

“Providing the program to 100 students over six years would cost society $457,000 but yield $1,385,000 in social benefits” — higher incomes, lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare.

Kira’s article is titled “To Teach a Child to Read, First Give Him Glasses”, and he notes early in the article that poverty stricken parents often cannot afford glasses but schools educating a vision impaired student are nevertheless held accountable for that child’s progress. Kirp offers this anecdote as an example:

“You wouldn’t think it’s acceptable to send a child to school without having glasses or without dental care, but it’s O.K. for that child to take a reading or math test,” Mark Gaither, the principal of Wolfe Street Academy, a justly renowned community school in Baltimore, told Maryland lawmakers. “But that’s the situation poor parents face.”

As Mr. Kirp notes, community schools are designed “…to deliver the emotional support that battle-scarred children badly need — recruiting a squadron of social workers, training teachers to counsel students and teaching older students how to mentor their younger classmates.”  And when schools have the wherewithal to provide social and emotional support, students can thrive. He writes: “After-school and summer programs not only keep poor kids off the streets, but they also give them the academic leg up and the array of opportunities that better-off families can afford to buy.” 

There is one big problem with community schools: achieving the kinds of test score improvements used as a metric for success often takes time and persistence.

Results-hungry policy makers expect test scores to rise overnight, but getting students engaged in their own education must come first. A recent evaluation of Baltimore’s community schools concluded that the schools whose students did best academically were those in the program longest.

As noted in an earlier blog post, Mayor de Blasio ultimately needs to satisfy those “results hungry policy makers” who never got the results they anticipated when they used the test-and-punish methods for over a decade but somehow believe the mayor’s approach should be deemed a failure after only two years in place. Chirps’ concluding paragraph indicates that he “gets it”:

New York’s experiment is drawing attention among educators nationwide. If the venture succeeds, other cities may follow suit, but if fails, the community schools movement will take a hit. The impressive evaluations will recede in significance, and critics will dismiss the strategy as just another failed fad. Fingers crossed, then, that the city gives the experiment enough time before rushing to judgment.

From my perspective, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the public recognizes that a return to the test-and-punish model is bankrupt…