David Kirp’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like These?” describes the success experienced in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most districts in Oklahoma, Union is woefully underfunded. But despite the shortage of money, it is doing an amazing job of educating its largely Latino and poverty stricken population. How? By accepting full responsibility for the well-being of the children who attend and by offering all the children in the school a challenging STEM curriculum…. But I believe the acceptance of responsibility for well being and the caring for each and every student that goes with it are the primary factor.
“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”
Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”
The school operates like an institution that is the parent who can show the way and a one-stop community service center:
The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.
This integration of social services is a universal key component to every high performing public school, as is are the extended hours for child care and/or extra-curricular activities. And while the services offered in the “neighborhood hub” model don’t add a dime to the school budget, they DO require the school to re-format itself, to adopt a new algorithm for success apart from preparing students for the next standardized testing cycle.
Mr. Kirp concludes his article with a paragraph consisting of two questions:
Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?
I trust he knows the answer… and I sense he shakes his head in dismay as he poses the questions.
I am an an advocate for using technology to individualize and personalize instruction, but I fond myself getting a know in my stomach as I read Laura Ascione’s eSchool article titled “If You Give a Kindergartener a Chromebook”. The article described the experience Jamie Morgan, a Kindergarten teacher in Wichita Falls TX, has using Chromebooks in her classroom of children, many of whom had special needs. This paragraph gave me my first knot:
Because her class from the previous year was high-achieving, no one expected this new class to achieve the same test scores. And although Morgan’s new class entered with “scary” test scores, by the end of the year, their test scores surpassed the high scores of her previous class. Much of that achievement is due to the Chromebooks, Morgan said.
My reaction to this paragraph: TEST SCORES to determine “achievement” for Kindergarten students??!!! Have we lost our collective minds?
As I read on I learned that the students in Ms. Morgans class spend hours on end in front of a computer mastering the use of various Google applications. I have five grandchildren whose ages range from 4 to 11 and I cannot imagine wanting the to spend classroom time on a computer. They enjoy engaging with each other, playing pretend games, writing “plays” to present to us, and engaging in physical activities. My children do everything possible to keep the children off screens.
After reading the article I was more convinced than ever that the last thing Kindergartners need is a course based on Chromebooks. Far better for them to use their open minds to learn another language or, better yet, learn how to ride bikes, hit a tennis ball or baseball, or enjoy walking in the woods.
Here is a report on President Trump’s so-called “parent-teacher conference listening session”, pasted from the Politico feed I get each morning:
(Betsy) DeVos attended an education-focused White House event Tuesday during which President Trump decried “failing schools,” particularly in the African-American community, and said his administration wants “every child to have a choice about where they go to school.” But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten questioned whether public school families – including African-American parents – were adequately represented in the event, which was billed as a “parent-teacher conference listening session” and held in the Roosevelt Room. “Trump talked about African-American children. Did he have black parents or educators at his photo op? Not that we saw,” she tweeted.
– In a letter to DeVos after the event, Weingarten wrote that “90 percent of children in America attend public school, including children whose parents voted for Donald Trump. Yet, from what we could discern the president’s first meeting in the White House on education was used as a platform to denigrate – not strengthen – public schools with primarily private and home-schooling educators and parents as a backdrop.” Weingarten invited DeVos to visit public schools.
– The guest-list breakdown: When asked about Weingarten’s comments, a White House spokeswoman released a list of 10 teachers, parents and administrators who attended the event. Three came from public school backgrounds, three from private schools, two represented home-school families, one came from a charter school and the tenth attendee was a president of a “dropout prevention program.” The White House did not immediately respond to a question about the number of African-American attendees.
I continue to be astonished at the current administration’s willingness to ignore public school parents in favor of parents whose children are home schooled or attend private schools. I am also astonished that no one ever calls Mr. Trump or other “reformers” who claim they want every child to have a choice about where they go to school but refuse to promote the notion of allowing children in overcrowded urban areas to attend nearby suburban schools with available space… or- if they insist on providing vouchers- provide large enough vouchers that would enable a poverty stricken parent to send their child to ANY school that they choose. Finally, the glaring lack of African American parents or the parents of immigrants is noteworthy.
During President Obama’s eight years, I felt that the White House was doing everything possible to reinforce the notion that we are the UNITED States of America. During the 28 days of the Trump administration, I fear that unity is all but vanished.
Regular readers of this blog know that I am distressed over the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and equally distressed over Frank Edelblut, the NH nominee for Commissioner of Education. Both of these individuals view public education as a commodity and seek to introduce “market forces” in an effort to “reform” schools. But making public education into a marketplace will ultimately lead to the demise of one of America’s great democratic institutions: the local school board.
For the past three years I’ve spent many hours working as a consultant with school districts in Vermont as they struggle to find ways to consolidate. During the time and throughout my 29 years as a Superintendent and six years as a building level administrator, I’ve been impressed with the commitment and dedication of locally elected school board members. While I’ve not seen eye-to-eye with Board members on every issue we’ve faced, I’ve never felt that any of them wanted to compromise the quality of education— even those who wanted to see less spending or fewer “frills”. I’ve wanted to capture the spirit of a “typical” school board member in this blog, and on Wednesday I read an op ed piece in the Caledonian Record by a Saint Johnsbury, VT Board member that seems to do the trick better than I could. Christopher Wenger, a relocated Bostonian, describes the factors that led him to seek a board position and the role he intends to play as a board member overseeing Saint Johnsbury’s K-8 school that serves his children and scores of others in his small town. Here are the concluding sentences to his piece:
I decided to run for the school board in 2016, and I can definitely say that it has been a labor of love. “Why are you doing that?” asked several friends. “It’s a thankless job,” I heard over and over. Well I can tell you, over the last year, I have found this job anything but thankless. In fact, I have been thanked by many people in the community—people who care for this town, for its children, and for its future.
This job is not without challenges, of course. In the past year I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but I also feel it’s just the beginning. There are amazing things happening at St. J. School—things I wish more people knew about. The biggest priorities for me in the coming year are to try to get more members of the community involved, and to learn to work more effectively as a board. So please, come to a meeting. Come to a school event. Stop me in the supermarket and I’ll be happy to tell you what I feel both the strengths and the challenges are in this district. Invest some time in learning about the school; your interest and involvement will pay dividends for all of us in the long term. We need to move past the headlines, engage with, and listen to one another in order to make things better. I look forward to continuing to serve you in this role.
Like the hundreds of School Board members I’ve worked with, Mr. Wenger is desperately seeking public engagement, intent on championing the public schools in his community, and intent on making improvements. Read the last sentences and ask yourself: would Betsy DeVos set foot in a supermarket to seek feedback? Would either Ms. DeVos or Mr. Edelblut, neither of whom ever sent their children to a public school, ever say “amazing things are happening” in their public school? Are either Ms. DeVos or Mr. Edelblut interested in keeping democracy alive by helping Board members like Mr. Wenger achieve his goals?
Valeris Strauss, the Washington Post‘s education writer posted an article today that included a cross-post from Georgia blogger Bertis Brown that opened with these three paragraphs:
This is School Choice Week, the annual exercise when well-funded, corporate school reform outfits pour money into advertising and marketing to promote charter schools as well as vouchers and other programs in which the public pays for private and religious school tuition.
School Choice Week coincides with the confirmation drama of President Trump’s nomination of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary, who has said the public education system in the United States is a “dead end,” and who is seen by critics as a supporter of privatizing public education. DeVos stumbled at her Senate confirmation hearing last week, displaying a lack of understanding of key education issues, and Democrats have sought — unsuccessfully — a second hearing before the Senate Education Committee votes on whether to approve her nomination.
After years of supporting traditional Republican corporate education reform ideas, many Democrats seem to now realize how bad her policies to “voucherize” American education would be for teaching and learning as well as the principle of educational equity. The opposition to DeVos has brought people together across education reform philosophies, a dynamic similar to recent ballot measures in Georgia and Massachusetts, when people of different political beliefs chose local control of public schools rather than increasing the influence of the political and private sector.
Like many public school advocates, I have been disappointed in the Democratic Party’s decision to support “…traditional Republican corporate education reform ideas” and I have not been surprised to see how this embrace of corporate reform has ended with policies that will ““voucherize” American education” and, in so doing, undercut any advances made in the past decades to bring about educational equity. As noted in previous posts, I fear that no matter how the DeVos hearings come out, the Republicans will prevail in their effort to get a corporate minded pro-voucher pro-privatization “reformer” in place and if they fail with DeVos because of her inexperience they will ultimately find someone with more burnished credentials will do their bidding. When that happens, we will have nearly two decades of public eduction where “quality” was defined by test scores, two decades where districts who educate children from affluent and highly educated children have a distinctly different and superior educational opportunity than those children who are raised in poverty. And the parents in those affluent school districts will wonder why there is so much concern over test scores and why so many parents in “other school districts” are upset about the narrow curriculum their children have.
I am choosing to take heart in the recent results of statewide referenda in Massachusetts and Georgia where voters turned down propositions that would expand the number of charter schools. Why? Because voters in those states came to understand what the idea behind these propositions REALLY was and what the effects of the vote would REALLY be. And when the public understands that more charters REALLY means more opportunities for profit and no more opportunities for learning, they will “…(choose) local control of public schools rather than increasing the influence of the political and private sector.”
The President, Republican politicians in DC, and the 35 capitols where Republicans are in the Statehouse are participating in “…the annual exercise when well-funded, corporate school reform outfits pour money into advertising and marketing to promote charter schools as well as vouchers and other programs in which the public pays for private and religious school tuition.” It would be wonderful if there was a public school education week when students, parents, and teachers could flood the streets the way women did last weekend. Maybe a display of solidarity will get the message to our elected politicians: we want to choose locally controlled well funded public schools over those run by for-profit entrepreneurs on Wall Street.