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Posts Tagged ‘network school’

Criminalizing the Disease of Addiction is Wrong Approach

September 4, 2019 Comments off

As reported by apple.news/AboIG8hxxRZ-, an NBC news story indicates that 38% of the school districts in the US will be doing some kind of screening for drugs, up from 25% a year ago. At the same time the money being spent on prevention programs at the elementary level is declining. The bottom line is that we have decided to spend scarce dollars on law enforcement instead of spending it on medical prevention. This same approach is also being used to address the issue of school shootings where we are devoting billions to hardening schools to protect students from alienated outsiders while slashing budgets for student services. Fear is a potent force and protecting children from bogeymen is a powerful narrative. We need to use medical science and data to guide our decision making… not fear and compelling stories.

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Redistricting in Red Hook, Gowanus, Cobble Hill Illustrates Dilemma Posed by Gentrification

August 28, 2019 Comments off
A few years ago my younger daughter moved into the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, drawn by the relatively low rents, its artsy-funky feel, and the spectacular views from the waterfront in that area. The neighborhood consisted mostly of warehouses and small two story houses formerly populated by the families of longshoreman who worked on the docks that formerly dotted the waterfront. When the waterfront docks disappeared, the city constructed multi-story housing projects surrounded by parks and the neighborhood surrounding those projects was, for the most part, vacated.
Now, thanks to the siting of a huge IKEA store, an upscale grocery store, and the immigration of artists and craftspeople drawn to the warehouse spaces that serve as wonderful studios, Red Hook is slowly gentrifying. At the same time, Cobble Hill, an adjoining neighborhood separated by a massive interstate highway, is also expanding and, as a result, some schools are bursting at the seams while others remain under crowded. The problem is that the OVERCROWDED schools serve affluent whites moving into Cobble Hill and some parts of Red Hook while the UNDER-CROWDED schools are almost entirely black.
Last night, my younger daughter called after attending a public meeting in her neighborhood seeking some insights from me on the plans the city plans to implement to address this issue. She was dismayed that those in attendance were mostly from affluent white schools and not from Red Hook and felt that those in attendance did not want to see any changes at all. In looking at the information available on line, it struck me that as is always the case in redistricting, the devil will be in the details. Here’s an excerpt from a June 21 Chalkbeat article that described the two alternatives under consideration and, in doing so, raises more questions than it answers:
For the elementary schools, one of the floated proposals would redraw smaller attendance zones around overcrowded P.S. 29 and P.S. 58, while increasing the zones around schools that have unused space.
The second would move the district to a lottery admissions system, with families applying to the schools of their choice.
Both scenarios would include a priority for 25 to 35% of seats for students who are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The aim is for every school to enroll a percentage of those students, who often need more support to thrive, that matches the average across the seven affected schools.
Either approach is likely to face stiff pushback, especially since some of the affected schools are among the district’s most coveted — and least diverse, racially, ethnically, and economically. For example, at P.S. 58, more than 73% of students are white and less than 12% come from low-income families. But at P.S. 676, virtually all students are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Under the first possibility presented, the attendance zones around overcrowded schools would be reduced. P.S. 29 would admit 90 to 100 kindergarten students, down from 153 currently. P.S. 58 would enroll 100 to 110 students, down from 193. 

Other schools would see an increase in their zone size. Those schools are P.S. 15, P.S. 38, and P.S. 32, which is opening an addition with room for more than 400 new students.

P.S. 676 and P.S. 261 would preserve their current zone size.

All of the schools would give an admissions priority to vulnerable students for 25 to 35% of seats.

The education department did not provide specifics for how zone lines might be redrawn, saying they want to hear feedback on both broad approaches before drilling down further into either.

So… from what I understand, at this juncture the education department hasn’t drawn any lines as yet, which, as far as I am concerned, makes any discussion about “…which plan is best” pointless. Indeed, it may well be that those who are arguing most vociferously about staying in their “neighborhood school” might oppose the school board’s definition of “neighborhood” when the boundaries around PS 29 and 58 are diminished to make way for the 25-35% of new students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 

Sine my grandchildren attend PS 15, whose boundaries are expanding, it MAY be in my daughter’s self interest to support plan 1 since it would, in all probability, result in some of the displaced affluent PS 29 and 58 students moving into her “neighborhood” school— because it WILL be the affluent parents who have to move out of their overcrowded “neighborhood” schools to make way for the students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 
 
In looking at the two plans, my daughter tended to favor the lottery pan as being more fair, and that plan does mirror the middle school plan, a plan that seems to be functioning well at accomplishing the goals of diversity and solid academics. To those affluent parents who argue in favor of “providing more resources to needy schools” it might be worthwhile to roll out some data on how much more the affluent parents raise for their schools and suggest that, say, 75% of that supplementary funding be shared with their needier “neighborhood” schools.
In the end, I think the term “neighborhood schools” should be abandoned and replaced with “school communities”… because when gentrification takes place “neighborhood” schools tend to be economically and racially segregated. In NYC, the middle schools-of-choice tend to be more economically and racially diverse… and when kids are pulled from all over the city into a “school-of-choice” it is incumbent on the school administration to create a school community— which many of them do by providing orientation sessions before the opening of school so that the newly created cohort can get to know each other. 
At it was interesting to note that while one of the affluent schools sent parents a notice of this meeting that took place in Red Hook, my daughter did not get anything from her school… which COULD lead the board to conclude that “parents in Red Hook don’t care”.
And here’s what my experiences in MD and NY tell me: redistricting is a lose-lose proposition no matter how it is carried out. Parents are attached to the schools their child attends even if they are overcrowded and dilapidated and are fearful of what will happen if they move to a new place.

Self-Directed Learning: A Place Where Libertarianism and Progressivism Intersect

August 2, 2019 Comments off

A series of articles in the libertarian Cato Institute’s July edition of Cato Unbound offers four essays that describe a point where libertarianism and progressivism intersect: the need to move away from our lock-step factory model of education in the direction of self-directed learning. The opening paragraphs introducing the essays describes the basic libertarian argument for questioning the status quo and re-thinking the voucher plans espoused by their iconic economist Milton Friedman:

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead?Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

As one who read and admired the thinking of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Ivan Illich, there is an appeal to seeing public education as it exists today wither and disappear. Since the passage of NCLB, education policy has been dictated by the desire of politicians and parents to ensure that children graduating from high school meet “high standards”. But setting such standards without increasing funding or changing the age-based grade-level cohort scheme for schooling has proven to be an impossibility. The result is “failing schools” based on standardized test scores and increasingly dis-engaged students as today’s students find the lessons linked to test scores dispiriting and pointless in a world where they can get answers to questions that concern them directly with a Google Search or the use of an app. In the next few days I plan to explore the ideas presented in these Cato Unbound essays and offer some ideas on how we might change to current paradigm for schooling in a way that helps all children have an opportunity to learn more by directing their own learning.

The Unshakeable Myth of Horatio Alger Lives On… Facts Notwithstanding. But Then So Does Sorting Students by Age and Standardized Testing

July 5, 2019 1 comment

It is difficult to NOT to sound haughty and dismissive when I react to large swaths of the population in our country who cannot accept the fact that unregulated capitalism works against their needs. Today’s NYTimes, for example, had an article by Patricia Cohen titled “Southerners, Facing Big Odds, Believe in a Path Out of Poverty“. The article describes how most Southerners see no need for any kind of government assistance because they cling to the Horatio Alger myth that “anyone with enough gumption and grit can clamber to the top”. It also describes how those holding this belief are unshaken when confronted with facts illustrating that social mobility in their region is the worst in the country and worse than it has ever been. And what was even more astonishing was to read research showing that that this optimism persisted and even increased in the face of segregation. Social scientists di find one factor that DID make a difference: an individual;s political viewpoint:

Whether people think opportunity is equally available, though, often depends on their political viewpoint.

Liberals are generally more pessimistic than conservatives about the ability of poorer Americans to hoist themselves up economically, and they are more inclined to support government programs meant to ease the route. Tell them that social mobility from one generation to the next is less than they thought, and their support for public assistance increases.

For conservatives, none of that is true. Learning that they have overestimated the odds does not increase their support for government intervention, but causes it to drop even further.

To this New England liberal, this conservative unwillingness to face facts seems backward! How could anyone NOT want to change an economic system that reduces the odds for their children to have a better life? But then I reflect on my own life experience and realize that I often ignored cold, hard facts when I applied for jobs and worked hard in my teens and in my workalike to “clamber to the top” thanks to “gumption and grit”. I could easily create a narrative based on this personal experience that anyone who applied themselves, persisted, and accumulated the prerequisite skills could realize their dreams without any help from the government. But this narrative would have to overlook the reality that I was born as a white male into a family where both parents had college degrees and were able to provide me with food, clothing and shelter throughout my youth.

In the early 1990s I read a book by Joel Barker titled Paradigms, a book that drew on the then arcane research of scientist Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Barker posited that the collective rules that govern our thinking, our paradigms, can often block us from seeing potential business opportunities and can often lead us to cling to ideas that are outdated and unsubstantiated by facts. I showed the video that accompanied the book to faculty members and administrators in the district where I was working at the time, linking Barker’s message to the changes we were making as we converted our “junior high schools” to “middle schools”, our budgeting toward a school-based approach as opposed to a centralized one, and our student grading system towards a mastery approach. The conversion to middle schools was relatively easy, challenged primarily by budget constraints that made inter-disciplinary team organization scheduling very complicated. The school-based budget was also relatively easy to accomplish: most of the Principals readily accepted the idea that they could allocate a pool of money among accounts instead of having the central office mandate budget lines for supplies, texts, workbooks, and equipment. The student grading system, though, seemed impervious to change. I hoped that we would move away from a bell curve to a j-curve, away from letter grades that compared students to each other toward a system that measured each individual against a series of performance standards, a system that used time instead of mastery as a variable. What I found was that the imprint of the bell curve and the rules that accompanied that imprint, were seemingly impervious to change.

The lesson I learned from this is that some mind shifts can occur fairly rapidly, especially when the benefits of the shift are relatively painless to achieve. But when a mind shift requires a corresponding change in deeply imprinted paradigms like the bell curve, a mind shift can be measured in generations unless some kind of shared experience compels us to think differently.

NYTimes Offers Better Ways to Do College

June 24, 2019 Comments off

There Are Better Ways to Do College“, an article by NYTimes writer Alice Lloyd, profiles a handful of colleges in the United States that offer credits for hands on work. Here’s Ms. Lloyd’s of the so-called “work colleges”:

There are nearly 10 of them: Private four-year schools known as work colleges, where students put in mandatory hours each week as a complement to their course loads. Through a combination of grants, donations, endowments and hourly wages, work colleges ask for less in fees than any comparable schools and leave their graduates with lighter debt loads. They also keep every student meaningfully occupied, in roles that range from chaplain to dishwasher.

It’s almost too easy, once you’ve visited one of the campuses, to slip into contemplation of what work colleges have that most of the rest of life lacks. They serve a deeper need than affordable education. They harness the power of purposeful work, compounded by collegiate social pressure. (If the bathroom crew misses a shift, their dorm mates will notice.)

They also do a great job of honoring their origins: Each one rose to meet its area’s need for a college that students wouldn’t have to fund in the conventional manner, and the model they landed on worked well enough that relatively little has changed.

In an era where college is promoted as the key to earning higher salaries, a world where the federal government is planning to rate colleges based on the earnings of its graduates, the notion of harnessing the power of purposeful work  and engaging each and every student in work that keeps them meaningfully occupied seems quaint and idealistic. But the world we need in the future is not the world we have today. The world we need in the future would place a higher value on communitarianism than libertarianism and a higher value on meaningful work than highly remunerative work. Ms. Lloyd concludes her report with these paragraphs:

Work colleges aren’t actually going to save the world. To keep tuition low or nonexistent, they often rely on restricted grants, to the necessary exclusion of most Americans. And even students who meet the standards for guaranteed tuition at the schools that offer it have to qualify academically. They tend to be tightly local, too. Not all of the schools aggregate data year to year, but College of the Ozarks prides itself on standing as a barrier against the Ozarks’ brain drain.

“They go back to teach in the schools in the communities,” Mr. Bolger boasted of his flock. “They work for firms in their communities, they serve in social services in the communities that they came from.” Alice Lloyd said it sends 80 percent of graduates to work in the same Appalachian counties from which it almost exclusively recruits.

Trying to figure out what makes work colleges work — and how the rest of the world can work more that way — has the flavor of a soul-saving mission. I’d say work colleges do their part in the national project by teaching students something the rest of us often don’t learn before it’s too late — essentially that to survive, a community needs each one of its members to pick up a shovel and participate.

I disagree with Ms. Lloyd. I think that work colleges actually COULD save those corners of the world where the services of college graduates are needed but are “unaffordable” because of local economic conditions. As one who worked in rural regions for much of my career as a school superintendent, I heard about, read about, and witnessed the “brain drain” that the Ozarks experienced…. and cannot help but think that there were many of those who fled their roots in Norther New England and Appalachia because they could not find employment in their chosen profession because the school districts and social service agencies “couldn’t afford” them. Western Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont would all envy having a college in their region that had 80% of its graduates working in the same counties they recruited from… and I daresay that many of those who left their hometowns would come back if there was work for them. Maybe some of the small struggling state colleges and small liberal arts colleges could help themselves and the communities where they are located if they adopted a work college model.

Head of Local Private School Touts Role of Schools in Future While Ignoring Public School’s Realities

June 15, 2019 Comments off

Brad Choyt, the Head of Crossroads Academy, a nearby K-8 private school wrote a thoughtful and insightful op ed article for our local newspaper describing the need for schools in the future to change their emphasis given the advent of AI-based instructional tools. In the article, after describing the advances in AI, he writes:

Within forward-thinking schools, educators are creating environments that prize the very skills that the most advanced computers programmed with the latest algorithms can’t match. This includes a renewed emphasis on creative problem-solving, cultivating high levels of empathy that foster clear communication skills, a fluency when collaborating with diverse groups of people and an ability to analyze data with a critical eye to determine the sets of information that are relevant and also what needs to be disregarded.

The best schools are also maximizing student engagement in their classrooms and ensuring their coursework meaningfully connects to real-world issues. In these classrooms, students are given ample opportunity to grapple with knowledge and problems that are complicated and sometimes messy to learn, but that often lead toward deeper understanding and insights on complex and nuanced topics.

Also, high-functioning schools are continually enabling their students to develop into self-directed, lifelong learners. Skilled teachers do this by allowing students to explore their specific interests while empowering them to self-evaluate their academic progress. In these classroom environments, students are given ample opportunity to learn from and to teach their peers while fostering greater accountability for their own academic success. All of these qualities allow students to gain uniquely human skills and insight as they strive to internalize a deeper understanding of their communities and the world around us.

One day, a more advanced generation of algorithms might be able to do many of the things the best teachers can do. And these computers will hopefully also create a world with fewer diseases and greener sources of energy. But I also believe there will continue to be a need for places where students and teachers can come together both to learn and to prepare for a brighter future, one where we can continuously perfect our own human neural networks in the company of others who can become both role models and mentors.

Ultimately, my visits to different schools have reaffirmed this essential point: It is the potential and the power of human relationships that inspire students to learn life’s most important lessons, and no computer, no matter how advanced its algorithm, can be a substitute.

These ideas resonate with me. I wholeheartedly agree that schools should focus on interpersonal relations, self-directed learning, and higher order thinking skills. And the ideas Mr. Choyt presents are congruent with the mission of the school he leads, which describes itself as an “Independent, coeducational day school based upon the Core Knowledge Sequence, authored by E.D. Hirsch, and the character education program, Core Virtues, created by founder Dr. Mary Beth Klee.” The webpage for the school also notes that the Crossroads Program “includes a strong focus on the performance arts”. It’s motto is “Strong Minds. Kind Hearts”.  

There is one reality that Mr. Choyt overlooks: as a private school Crossroads does not use annual state test scores as the basis for determining it’s quality. And by the way, neither does it’s nearby public school district— the one I led for 7 years when NCLB was emerging as the coin of the realm for accountability. Why? Because our public school was a de facto selective school in the same way as Crossroads since the real estate within the communities that comprised the school district were among the wealthiest in their respective states.
If we want the kinds of schools Mr. Choyt describes we need to provide those schools with the kinds of resources Crossroads has, the kinds of resources that affluent public schools have, and— most importantly— stop using standardized tests as the primary metric for “quality”. If we want to value creative thinking, self-directed learning, and interpersonal skills we need to find a way to measure them acknowledging that any measure will be imprecise… an acknowledgement that should be made and emphasized even now!

Schools Serving Children Raised in Poverty are Overburdening Underpaid, Overworked Teachers

May 27, 2019 Comments off

Pedro de Costa’s recent EPI blog post connected the dots between under-resourced schools, underpaid teachers, and the teacher shortage that exists in schools serving children raised in poverty. This poignant quote from a presentation given by Joy Kirk, a middle-school teacher from Frederick (VA) teacher illustrates the daunting challenges that face teachers in under-resourced schools:

….okay, we know so and so doesn’t have water, how can we get them into school early and maybe get them down to the gym? As teachers, you’re making these little baskets and you’re letting this kid come to class 20 minutes late and the other kids are wondering but it’s because as teachers you know they don’t have water right now and you’ve got to do something—but you don’t want them to stand out.

“But as the problem began to grow, especially through the recession, we began to recognize this was more than just a few teachers on a team, or a few teachers in a school. It’s a community issue and we need to step up.

“We need the mental health workers, we need the school psychologists. We have some of our schools now that now offer laundry service and the kids can bring in clothes to do their laundry, so they’re not ‘that’ kid.”

The bottom line, as Ms. Kirk and Mr. de Costa infer, is that schools are the last line of defense in the War on Poverty that was launched with insufficient funds, insufficient “soldiers”, and insufficient “armaments” from the outset… and so the problems that students bring to the classroom persist and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening.