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Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

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Are We Becoming Bosnia? The Need for Economic AND Racial Desegregation is Urgent

December 2, 2018 Leave a comment

As I read this NYTimes article by Barbara Surk about Bosnian schools I was struck by the similarities between the schools described here and the so-called “co-location” of charter schools and public schools in New York City. To make my point I offer these two paragraphs:

The first is a paragraph is taken from the NYTimes article describing the a prototypical divide schools in Croatia:

The school in Travnik, a town 56 miles west of the capital, Sarajevo, embodies the divided country.

The right side for Croat students has been newly refurbished and painted blue by the Catholic Church. The left side for all other students has been left with chipped bricks and peeling yellow paint. Classes are staggered, with a half-hour gap between the two sides, to prevent students from socializing during breaks.

Then there’s the sprawling, indoor gym that only the Croat students use, while all those in the state school attend gym classes in the nearby park, including during hot summers and cold winters.

Now compare that to these paragraphs from a 2014 Room 241 blog post:

As charter schools enter shared space, the lack of bureaucracy and red tape that public schools face is readily apparent. For example, charter school administrators can order (and afford) upgrades like air conditioning, new paint for their spaces and remodeled bathrooms. While this advantage might seem minor, it creates visible differences between the public and charter schools housed in the same building.

Public school students in the building see these visible differences and wonder why their school goes without. The significant amount of private investment in charters allows them a variety of economic advantages as well, leading to catered lunches, upgraded technology, and a variety of other signifiers of their differences from public schools.This creates a clear impression of either being a charter school “have” or a traditional public school “have-not”.

A recent photo essay at MSNBC, “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” illustrates these differences. The photos contrast PS 149’s crowded classrooms and unused violins in a storage closet — the consequence of a music program closed due to lack of funding — with Success Charter students shown in crisp uniforms with matching backpacks and the space and opportunity to play chess.

According to the NYTimes article, the Croat government is intentionally underfunding the schools for Serbs because they want to:

…(carve) out a Croat-only autonomous region in Bosnia, akin to what the Serbs have achieved in the war through brutal campaigns of expulsions and mass killings of non-Serb population. The Croats did not achieve that in the war, but nationalists have been pursuing it ever since peace took hold.

With some editing, I offer this rationale for the NYC’s decision to provide deregulated Charter schools with classrooms in public schools:

…The mayors want to carve out space in their schools for the children of upper-middle class families to offer them the kind of education those families might experience if they moved to the affluent nearby suburbs. The city government could not achieve that by fully funding all public schools to provide the same kinds of courses and services offered in those suburbs, but by providing “choice” for engaged parents they are able to avoid flight to the suburbs.

The collateral damage in this is that the tests used to screen the students eligible to participate in the “choice” programs that qualify children to attend these deregulated charter schools tend to result in social, racial, and economic segregation. This, in turn, hardens the division between the “haves” and “have nots” in the city. And the shame of this is that NYC parents, politicians, and “reformers” view this direction in their public school system as immutable, irreversible, and— int the minds of some— desirable because “throwing money at the problem” has never worked.

The Croats’ decision to underfund Serbian schools is clearly malevolent. Is the decision to underfund urban public schools equally so?

Helicopter Parents Stymied by Administrators in Darien, CT

November 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s Boston Globe features an AP article by Michael Melia describing a problem faced by Darien CT: over-protective parents joining their children for lunch!

In Darien, a town of Colonial-style homes behind stone fences where the median household income exceeds $200,000, so many parents had begun attending lunch that principals felt they were affecting the day-to-day running of the elementary schools, according to Tara Ochman, chairman of the Darien Board of Education.

The decision by the Board had a mixed reception:

One Darien mother, Beth Lane, said at an education board meeting last month that she welcomed the change.

“It was good because kids have to be able to learn how to work with each other and socialize with each other, and putting a parent in changes the dynamic dramatically,” she said.

But others who spoke up at the meeting said the midday visits allowed them to see how their children were faring and to help them resolve friction with other children. For the youngest children, they could offer helping opening milk cartons and finding items in the lunchrooms.

Terry Steadman, a parent, told the board she was shocked and driven to tears by the news.

“To just ban parents from the lunchroom, which is effectively what you’re doing with this email, I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s in the spirit of a collaborative environment,” she said.

As the article notes, this is a “problem” that could only be encountered in a school district where stay-at-home mothers are prevalent, stay-at-home mothers with the time and energy to visit their children at lunch. In a couple of throwaway paragraphs Mr. Melia dismisses this as a situation where parents are disengaged and a spokesperson for a county district in FL sees it as something that “MAYBE” some parents can’t do.

The practice is unheard of in many urban and poor areas where parents may not have the same engagement with schools.

“In some schools it’s not really an issue at all because based on the population, parents aren’t able to come and have lunch. It’s something maybe parents aren’t able to do,” said Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for schools in Hillsborough County, Florida.

I have news for Mr. Melia and Ms. Arja: there are a whole host of parents who are “disengaged” because they need to be ready to work when their workplace demands it and they cannot predict whether they’d be available for parent conferences let alone lunch.

The Darien parents may think their visits are helpful, but ultimately, a special education therapist at a school in nearby (and equally affluent) Weston CT  has it right:

“From a professional perspective, when we’re the ones left dealing with your child when you leave, it wasn’t good,” said Ms.Franzese, who worked for eight years as a special education therapist in Weston until earlier this year. “We would call them helicopter moms.”

In short, kindergartners are better off opening milk cartons and putting on their leggings than having mom there to help them. It might teach them the “grit” that school reformers see as the essential element poorer kids need to get ahead.

Those Opposing Personalization Based on Data Collection Fail to See Technology’s Insidious Trade-off

November 17, 2018 Comments off

Earlier this week I read a post by Diane Ravitch about a group of Brooklyn HS students who are protesting “Mark Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” used to personalize education in their school. Their protest was based on the following: some students played games on their computers; cheating was easy; teachers’ over-used computers; there were all kinds of technical difficulties, and the platform “… is collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.”

Here’s a few reality check based on my experience in high school in the early 1960s:

  • My friends and I used graph paper we secured from the math classroom to play five-in-a-row tic-tac-toe throughout classes, engaging in tournaments we developed in homeroom
  • Some of my friends (not me, I swear!), devised ways to cheat on quizzes and tests… but almost everyone I knew (including me) used “flexible grading” for the “individualized” SRA reading programs that one progressed through by passing self-graded tests that were periodically audited by teachers.
  • Some teachers, especially social studies teachers, overused films to “teach” us about the wars that constituted their course of study

The equipment glitches that plague “Zuckerberg’s Summit platform” didn’t exist, but there were some days where we had more than one substitute teacher which meant we could play tic-tac-toe openly.

What we DIDN’T have was the privacy issue… but then we didn’t have the conveniences that come with the technology that students, parents, and teachers rely on today. And here’s the irony about those who complain about invasions of privacy: while they complain about “Zuckerberg’s Summit Platform” they are probably walking around with their cell phones inter pockets, purses or backpacks and, in doing so, providing all kinds of data. And if they are making any on-line purchases with any company, or streaming any videos or music of any kind, or using any social media of any kind, students and parents are providing a treasure trove of information to potential sellers.

This just in privacy advocates: We have evidently unwittingly made a trade-off: we get all the goodies technology offers us in exchange for information that can be used to market stuff to us.

My thought: We need to develop a new curriculum that teaches children how to ignore the propaganda that is the basis for advertising and the noxious politics in our country…. Maybe the tech billionaires can develop it, we personalize it, and develop a standardized test to see how well the children are learning it. Or maybe teachers can do that without the standardized testing part.

Thomas Friedman’s Rosy Analysis Overlooks One Reality: We Are Becoming China; They are NOT Becoming us!

November 14, 2018 Comments off

Thomas Friedman, an incurable neoliberal optimist, wrote a column yesterday extolling the capacity of the United States to compete with China, asserting that our system of governance will ultimately prevail over China.

I disagree because I fear the US is becoming more like China instead of the other way around. Instead of encouraging China to adopt OUR values we are adopting theirs… especially the “Darwinian system of capitalism” where billionaires can buy support from the government to increase their profits. (see previous posts on Amazon for recent examples of cities squandering resources to entice a business to locate in their community while short-changing public services). And has Mr. Trump championed the WTO or any “globalist” organization that fails to bow down to America? And I seriously doubt that Mr. Trump or the GOP leadership understands the importance of our navy in the Pacific. Have you ever heard him mention it or read a tweet about it? China IS a plutocratic state… we’re becoming one. But I was incredulous to read these three paragraphs describing why our country is capable of competing against China:

America’s formula for success, which dates from our founding, also had multiple components: We always educated our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day.

When it was the cotton gin that meant universal primary education; when it was the factory, it meant universal secondary education; once it was the computer, some form of universal postsecondary education was required; and now that it is becoming big data and artificial intelligence, it’s going to be lifelong learning.

We also always aspired to have the best infrastructure (roads, ports, airports and telecom), the most government-funded basic research to push out the frontiers of science so our companies could innovate further and faster, the best rules and regulations to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, and the most open immigration system to attract both high-energy low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

Finally, we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights, always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary, and therefore always had enduring allies — not just intimidated neighbors and customers like China does.

He later expresses his worry that “...if we get away from the formula that actually made us great, we’re not going to enjoy sustainable, inclusive growth” and concludes his column with this message for the President:

America became great with a formula that every great American president refreshed and reinvested in. And you’re not doing that. You’re actually undermining and neglecting some of its key elements — immigration, allies, rules and regulations. 

Here’s my message to Mr. Friedman. Contrary to his rosy passage about the governments support for public education, we have fallen behind in the past two decades thanks to our focus on standardized testing.  If we want to MAGA, we need to  educate ALL our children to take advantage of the prevailing technology of the day… and we are NOT doing that now and we HAVEN’T BEEN doing it for decades.

And in case Mr. Friedman didn’t notice, the plutocratic class hasn’t suffered from underfunded public schools,  …they’ve survived by residing in the nicest communities and neighborhoods or going to private schools and now THEY think THEY are the fittest. It’s past the time for us to offer the same chances the plutocrats had to ALL children in our country. IF we do so, we can ultimately demonstrate to China that democracy is superior to plutocracy.

Who Has Better Schools: Germany or the US? Who Has Higher Taxes? Where is Life Better?

November 14, 2018 Comments off

This past Sunday the NYTimes featured an op ed piece by Firoozeh Dumas, who was identified as “a humorist and writer”. His essay was a humorous recounting of his recent move from Germany to California meant that he’d be leaving a school system with robust curricular and extracurricular offerings (i.e. Germany) to one that required fees for every service imaginable (i.e. California). 

If you are reading this blog, you probably know the background on California where, in 1978 voters approved California Proposition 13 (officially named “the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation“) which amended the Constitution of California by limiting property taxes to “one percent (1%) of the full cash value of such property”. Here’s a description of the Proposition taken from Wikipedia:

The proposition decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1976 value and restricted annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2 percent per year. It also prohibited reassessment of a new base year value except in cases of (a) change in ownership, or (b) completion of new construction. These rules apply equally to all real estate, residential and commercial– whether owned by individuals or corporations.

The other significant portion of the initiative is that it requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires a two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to increase special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.

After this was passed via the referendum process in California, similar propositions were passed by voters and legislators in other parts of the country, having a devastating impact on property poor towns everywhere the bills were adopted. Proposition 13’s impact is the backdrop for Mr. Dumas’ piece, which contrasts the tax situation in this paragraph:

We are fortunate to live in a part of Munich with top-notch public schools, similar to where we lived in America. We pay a few percentage points more in taxes than we paid in California, but holy Betsy DeVos, do we get more!

After describing the rich program his children experienced in Munich– and making a passing reference to the fact that they benefitted from a tracking system that he found distasteful– Mr. Dumas’ contrasts it to his experiences growing up in California:

The schools I attended growing up in California were nothing like this.I was in middle school when Proposition 13, a law meant to ease residents’ tax burden, passed in 1978. The impact on the state’s school budgets was immediate. I still remember art, music and language programs being gutted seemingly overnight, and counselors and librarians disappearing. As a parent, I assumed that for schools to get what they needed, we would have to pay significantly more in taxes, and who wants that?Parents are expected to donate time and money to make up for what the government can’t provide. In addition to raising funds for our own schools, I and many others raised money for schools in areas with fewer resources. It was the little Dutch boy and the dike, but for every hole we plugged, a dozen more appeared.

And, as Mr. Dumas noted, the German way of life had much more ease and spaciousness. When the government provides reliable transportation and a sound education system, when employers do not expect their workers to put in 60 hours a week and/or work on “flexible schedules”, when parents are not expected to help their children raise money for the school by selling wrapping paper, family life is better. Here is Mr. Dumas’ closing paragraph:

As I prepare to return to California, I am looking forward to seeing my family and reuniting with dear friends, many of whom I met while chaperoning, organizing auctions, selling cupcakes, supervising the playground and doing lice checks. I will undoubtedly take part in fund-raising for my child’s new school, but please forgive me if my homemade cupcakes taste like resentment frosted with betrayal and sprinkled with exasperation. Unfortunately, I’ve now enjoyed a system where for a little more in taxes, I get a lot more in services. And that leaves a bitter aftertaste.

It would be a lot funnier if it weren’t true.

The Public Library is Priceless

November 12, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading Medium writer Katie Hyson’s post titled “The Library Was the Place Where I Could Always Get More”.  As I read the post I thought of my childhood, my late wife, my two daughters, my grandchildren…. and my wife and her grandchildren. While none of us experienced the kind of austerity Ms. Hyson described, we ALL loved reading and could not begin to afford the cost of the books necessary to provide us with the desire to learn more and expand our horizons.

Growing up, my mother would take us to the library once a week in the summer to get a stack of books to read during the heat of the afternoon in Tulsa OK. I have fond memories of plowing through Dr. Doolittle, all of the Landmark books, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Allen Poe during my late elementary school years. Later, I spent many hours at the library of West Chester State College (as it was called then) that was blocks away from my house when I was in high school.

My late wife’s favorite after school haunt was the West Chester public library where she could study in quiet solitude. As a result of my late wife’s frequent reminiscences of her afternoons among the stacks, my older daughter was married at that library to honor her mother and feel her presence.

My daughters, as a result of their parents’ experiences, had library cards from the time they could hold a book. My older daughter was and is an avid reader of every kind of genre. My younger daughter, like Katie Hyson, not only read stacks of books from libraries, but has seen her own book on the shelves of libraries across the country and her short stories published in several literary magazines.

My grandchildren love to go to our local library whenever they visit and whenever we visit them they have stacks of books they’ve checked out of their local libraries in Brooklyn for us to read to them.

My wife recounts stories of library visits with her children when she was raising them in rural Vermont. She and I frequent our local library seeking out book-tapes we can listen to on drives to visit our grandchildren or to various getaways and we both read for pleasure and gaining a deeper understanding of our place in the world.

And my wife’s grandchildren, like mine, enjoy visits to our local library when they come to spend the night, checking out stacks of books for us to read to them and want us to read a story to them before they go to bed.

As I write this, I find it hard to imagine NOT taking advantage of the local library, even in this age of electronic media. Our local library has added new means of accessing written material, videos, and recorded book-tapes (as I refer to them with my “old-fashioned” terminology). Our library also sponsors book groups, speakers on timely issues, and offers free meeting space for local non-profits, including the public schools. We (I am now on the Board of the local library) are about to launch a partnership with our local high school to provide a maker-space and have all kinds of outreach programs in place to connect with all age groups. The bottom line: the public library remains one place where the doors are open to all and where the playing field is completely level. If you ever come to Hanover NH, stop by our local library… but better yet, go to the library in your neighborhood or town and see what they have for you, your children, or your grandchildren. You might be amazed!