Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

Educational Choice vs. School Choice vs. the Implicit Mission of Public Schools

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Christensen Institute’s article on last week’s blog by Michael Horn made a distinction between educational choice and school choice, noting that while school choice is getting a lot of publicity (and notoriety), the real change in the format of public education might be emerging in educational choice. And what is educational choice? It is a method parents can use to access some aspects of schooling in traditional public schools while accessing other aspects on line or in other venues. Here’s Michael Horn’s description:

…rather than have the school control the educational experiences, as occurs in course access, a subset of parents, particularly at the elementary school level—both public and home-school—are opting to manage their children’s education and customize a mix of public brick-and-mortar school, online school, home school, and even some private school (such as private music lessons) experiences. In other words, a student might take her core academics online at home, come in to the local elementary school for arts and physical education, and then enroll in a music academy for private piano lessons. Or the core classes could be at the public school and extracurricular activities could be delivered online. All of this is possible in Florida because of FLVS’s Flex program, which allows students to attend part-time.

After describing the technological change process in detail, Mr. Horn posits that what is happening in Florida with an increasing number of parents opting for this “customized mix” of educational models is also emerging as a trend nationwide:

Outside of Florida, the emergence of a wide variety of micro-schools points to a similar phenomenon. The families who send their children to micro-schools often want an option other than home schooling that will personalize learning for their child’s needs. And they are often thrilled if it’s a stripped-down, small school that students attend a couple days a week where they can customize their children’s experience around the edges, in areas like music, science, engineering, sports, and so forth. In other words, it’s perfectly fine that the school itself offers something limited in an area because the parents will find another way to provide students with that experience. This is actually something parents of home-schooled children have done for years, but increasingly some seem to be saying that they would like some of the benefits of the local public school, for which they are paying with their tax dollars, as they do so.

Having just spent the week-end at an Air BnB site that is located in the home of two individuals who operate a small private school that fits the description of the micro-school described above, I can see one problem with this trend. If parents are allowed to access public funds to attend a school that effectively reinforces the values of the parents, it could lead to a further Balkanization of our country. The school in question reinforces that value I would like to see in all public schools. It espouses harmony with the environment; collaboration, and cooperation among students; independent thinking and learning by individual students; and and ethic of multiculturalism. But around the corner from this school, it is conceivable that another school with a militaristic, survivalist curriculum could be created. In effect you would be fragmenting the population into micro-value systems where one school would be wearing tie-dyes and another wearing camouflage and neither group would be exposed to the other. One of the implicit purposes of public education is to reinforce the notion that our country is a melting pot. That is, we are united as a nation despite our differences of religious and secular beliefs and that unity is an overarching value we share. While the housing patterns and district borders might work against this notion and might even lead cynics to declare that unity is a myth as opposed to an aspiration, I fear that encouraging the dissolution of public schools through this kind of educational choice will lead to even more Balkanization than we already have in place.

In the end, I find that Mr. Horn’s justification for moving in this direction is even more disturbing: it could save taxpayers money!

The net impact on public financing… was actually positive to the tune of roughly $400 to $500 saving per student, not insignificant in a state where total per pupil funding hovers around $8,500 in any given year.

In his closing paragraph Mr. Horn DOES acknowledge that the ultimate consequences of implementing widespread educational choice are indeterminate:

If programs like this expanded, could those savings be redirected to students most in need? And how do the students of families who avail themselves of this choice do academically, socially and from an extracurricular perspective? Many questions to be asked and answered, but this development is an intriguing wrinkle that takes us well beyond the national theme of school choice.

I like the idea of micro-schools, but only if there is some assurance that they do not isolate children from others who hold different values and beliefs. We need to maintain (or perhaps restore or even impose) economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in public schools if we hope to change the national trend of corrosive divisiveness. If we hope to make that change in the future, we need to make it happen in public schools today.

Betsy DeVos Has the Right Diagnosis… but the Wrong Prescription

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am no fan of Betsy DeVos… but after reading this excerpt from a speech she gave at the Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Summit in Salt Lake City, earlier this week I believe she has correctly diagnosed one of the major problems with public education. In the speech she states that the major reason our schools are floundering is that they are based on the Prussian system devised in the early 1800s…. and this diagnosis is, I believe, accurate. But the major reason our schools are failing children raised in poverty has nothing to do with the Prussian system and everything to do with government policies that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with housing… a point she almost makes but ultimately sidesteps. After decrying the fact that our schools are based on the factory model put in place in the 1800s, she goes on to make a number of valid but disconnected statements, which I have numbered to facilitate my analysis:

  1. The system assigns your child to a school based solely upon the street on which you live. If you’re a block away from a better school zone, too bad. This of course creates a problem for those who don’t have the financial means to move to a different home.
  2. If real estate prices are based on the neighborhood school district, it will always adversely affect the economically disadvantaged. Thus the most vulnerable are trapped in the worse performing schools, while the wealthier families get the better schools.
  3. Our students have fallen behind our peers on the global stage In the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, the U.S. ranked 20th in reading, 19th in science and 24th in math. That’s worse than the 2012 PISA ranking which was somewhat higher in reading and math.
  4. And it’s not for a lack of funding. According to their 2012 data, we spend 31 percent more per pupil than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average on elementary and secondary students.
  5. The facts show our system is antiquated, unjust, and fails to serve students. This is flat-out unacceptable.

Statements #1 and #2 are completely accurate… but offering vouchers that are not worth the amount spent by the “wealthier families”, Ms. DeVos’ favored solution to this problem, will not solve the problem. The only solution to this problem is to have the government institute policies and provide resources that make it possible for low income housing to be put in place so that those “who don’t have the financial means” CAN afford to have their children attend those school.

Statement #3 omits one key fact: the children of “wealthier families” do better than ANY country in the world. Our scores are low because our schools are inequitable… and the schools serving the children raised in poverty are underfunded as are the safety nets needed to provide their parents with the support they need.

Statement #4 omits two key factors: the higher levels spent in affluent districts pull up the mean costs as does the cost for health insurance that school districts, as employers, pay in the US but do not pay in other countries where the government underwrites those costs.

Statement #5 is also inaccurate because our system DOES serve students raised in affluence extraordinarily well…. it is the children raised in poverty who are shortchanged.

Ms. DeVos spends the balance of her speech analogizing public education to telecommunications, and concludes with several points that could have come from this blog (with the exception of the verbiage highlighted in red italics), beginning with a question she posed to a “room full of innovators”:

if you were to start from scratch, what would America’s education system look like?

I doubt you would design a system that’s focused on inputs rather than outputs; that prioritizes seat-time over mastery; that moves kids through an assembly line without stopping to ask whether they’re actually ready for the next step, or that is more interested in preserving the status quo rather than embracing necessary change.

Here’s how I would answer the question I just posed to you: We would build a system centered on knowledge, skills and achievement – not centered on delivery methods. Traditional, charter, private, virtual, and other delivery methods not yet developed: all would be treated as viable options so long as they met the needs of their students.

This starts by focusing on students, not buildings. If a child is learning, it shouldn’t matter where they learn. When we center the debate around buildings, we remain stuck with the same old system where we can predict educational outcomes based strictly on ZIP code.

The system we create would respect parents’ fundamental right to choose what education is best-suited for each of their children. Every individual student is unique, with different abilities and needs. Our education delivery methods should then be as diverse as the kids they serve, instead of our habit of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all model.

So when a school — any school — fails any student, that child deserves the right to move on. The goal is not to promote choice for choice’s sake. The goal is to provide a wide range of quality options that actually help individual children learn and grow in an environment that works for them. For too many Americans, there is only one, single assigned option, and it isn’t working.

But here’s what Ms. DeVos fails to acknowledge: affluent parents already have choice. They can choose to live in a community or neighborhood that has extraordinary schools or pay for the private school that meets the unique needs of their children. It is only the children raised in poverty who are assigned to underfunded schools in the ZIP codes that they are relegated to by government policies that have no choice. Until we face that issue— the issue of poverty– we will continue to have disparate test scores, disparate services for children, and an increasingly divided nation.

3-K Proposal Illustrates Conundrums of Early Childhood Education

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Is “3-K for All” Good for All” DeBlasio’s Plan Troubles Some, Kate Taylor’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes some of the conundrums facing politicians who want to provide early childhood education to a wider population. Here are some cited in the article:

  • Wage disparities = high turnover: In an effort to address the learning deficits of children raised in poverty, many non-profit preschool programs have emerged across New York City. These programs typically pay far less than the union positions in pre-K programs offered by public school districts, which results in high turnover in those non-profits.
  • Lack of universal pre-K in NYS = political headwinds for NYC: Because there are many districts in NYS that do not offer pre-K programs, there is little inclination for Upstate politicians to give serious consideration to the NYC mayor’s request for more funding for 3-K programs.
  • Lack of sufficient classroom space = higher price tag to launch program: In order to launch a universal 3-K program, the city would need to find more classroom space, a challenge especially the Manhattan area where space is expensive.
  • A school-year 3-K program would be a step backward from year-round 3-K programs in place: Many of the private non-profit 3-K programs and many of the early childhood intervention programs in place for children raised in poverty are year round, enabling parents to work without concerns about child care. A school-year program would be problematic for this parents.

But the one problem I see is not related to economics or logistics. It is the fact that any school program in NYC will effectively push the sorting and selecting process downward. Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten enrollments are often “competitive” in the same way enrollments to college are. Parents vie to get their children enrolled in particular schools and children are often tested at the age of 4 to determine if they are “gifted and talented”. Testing at this age is arguably invalid and unarguably apples needless pressure to four year olds, many of whom have been enrolled in academic training programs in advance of the tests. Moving mandatory education to a younger age will only exacerbate this testing and test-prep, further diminishing the opportunity for free play.

Bottom line: before pushing schooling to an ever younger age we might want to consider using the scarce funds available for schools to provide more equity of opportunity.

The Stunning Cost of Not Exercising… and How Municipalities and Schools Can Help

May 7, 2017 Leave a comment

NYTimes medical reporter Gretchen Reynolds posted an article  in yesterday’s Wellness section titled “Childs Play Is Good For All of Us”. The essay describes a recent study by researchers with the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and other institutions who used a “bogglingly complex computer model of what the future could look like if we do or do not get more of our children moving.” The results?

The immediate health consequences for inactive children and their families are worrisome. Childhood obesity, which is linked to lack of exercise, is common, as is the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and other health problems related to being overweight among children as young as 6…

In the United States alone, we could expect to save more than $120 billion every year in health care and associated expenses.

One of the findings of the research team astonished me.

Recent research shows that in the United States and Europe, physical activity tends to peak at about age 7 for both boys and girls and tail off continually throughout adolescence. More than two-thirds of children in the United States rarely exercise at all.

Based on my personal experience, observations of my six grandchildren who live in very different locations, and the children in my community I would conclude that nearly all children in United States are active. But upon reflection, this anecdotal information doesn’t represent what is typical of our country: it reflects parents who live a healthy lifestyle, who promote athletics and physical activity in their children, and who themselves live a healthy life.

The high school in the college community where I live in New England has an inordinately high participation rate in athletics. The community itself has a healthy lifestyle. Apart for the well-equipped college facilities, within a six mile radius there are three large gyms with swimming pools, three large co-op markets that offer a wide selection of organic foods, and several restaurants offering vegan and vegetarian items on their menus. Road bikers, mountain bikers, rowers, and runners abound in three of the seasons and in winter many residents cross country ski on groomed trails or have three skyways within 20 miles. And the towns and college all have outing clubs that maintain a network of trails for hiking, running, and exploring. The Appalachian Trail runs through the community.

Thinking back on the prior places I lived, I realize that only 30-40% of the secondary students participated in athletics and in many locales the venues for athletics, the stores and restaurants with healthy options, and opportunities for running, biking and biking in public spaces were limited. The 66% inactivity rate among children in those communities would seem valid.

And thinking back to my experience teaching in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, it dawned on me that a 33% activity rate would be astonishingly high!  The junior high I taught in enrolled 3,000 students and had a varsity and junior varsity basketball team. No fall sports, no sports for females, and no spring sports at all. There were no nearby athletic fields and scarcely any spaces for playing basketball outdoors.

Reynolds article didn’t get into the inherent inequities of opportunity for participation in athletics. The fact that most urban areas lack places for outdoor recreation like that available to the children in our college town and most urban schools underserve the students in athletics. But it did conclude with a reminder to policy makers in schools and communities that recess and public parks are worthwhile. She quotes Dr. Bruce Lee, the director of the Global Obesity Prevention Program at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study, who suggests that we:

Show this study to school administrators who are mulling curtailing recess and physical education classes… Talk to local planning authorities about more playing fields and parks. And if you are a parent, take your child for a bike ride, swim or jog.

Here’s hoping that more parents in the future have a place to take their children for a bike ride, swim, or jog….

Union District in Oklahoma Exemplifies Network School Model

April 3, 2017 Leave a comment

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.

Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Special Education Parent, Sets Stage for More Downshifting of Costs, Public School Budget Increases

March 25, 2017 Leave a comment

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously supported the parents of an autistic child who unilaterally withdrew their child from school and sought tuition reimbursement. In what will surely become a landmark case for public education, Politico writer Caitlin Emma reported that the judges all concurred that “school districts must go the extra mile to accommodate students with disabilities“, overturning the 1982 Supreme Court ruling that individualized education plans must provide “some educational benefit”. Ms. Emma offered some details on the Chief Justice Roberts’ written decision:

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that a “child’s education program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.”

“The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. This standard is more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.”

Roberts declined to interpret that FAPE provision or elaborate on “appropriate” — “mindful that Congress has not materially changed the statutory definition of a FAPE since Rowley was decided.”

But he said the requirement must be “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

During the years I served as a school administrator I witnessed the advent of PL 94-142 and subsequent court fights over what the term “Free and Appropriate Education” (FAPE) meant. At the same time I heard endless excuses from the US Congress as to why they could not find the promised funding necessary for schools to implement the laws and regulations that mandated FAPE. In 1982, when the Rowley case was decided, districts had some degree of clarity on what they were required to provide to students with special needs: they needed to demonstrate that a child was receiving some educational benefit from the IEP developed in team meetings with parents. Because this was a low bar, over the years many parents pushed to change this standard, to no avail until the Endrew v. Douglas County case decided on Wednesday.

The consequences of this decision will take some time to work their way through the system. Students’ IEPs are reviewed annually and many 2017-18 plans are already adopted. It will take time for parent advocacy networks to gear up and time for school district attorneys to get a clear picture of what this will mean for the development of future IEPs. The budgetary and educational impacts of this bill will likely occur in 2018-19 onward, but here are three budgetary predictions I will offer:

  1. The Federal government is more likely to change the definition of FAPE than it is to provide the 40% funding promised when 94-142 was passed: Given the budget presented by President Trump in accordance with the GOP platform, I do not see any possibility of an increase in funding for Special Education. Indeed, given the broad outlines of the budget thus far, it is more likely that the current budget will be frozen or possibly diminished.
  2. The State budgets for the coming year will not include additional funding to help underwrite the costs district will incur: Given that the GOP controls 35 of the States and they are universally intent on containing taxes and spending, it is unlikely that they will find room in their future budgets to accommodate the additional spending that will inevitably result from this decision. Moreover, given the nascent movement that directs more state funds toward de-regulated charters, homeschool students, or students enrolled in sectarian schools, the pool of funds available for public schools is likely to diminish without the additional burden of providing expanded programs for special needs students.
  3. Local budgets will be required to absorb all of the budgetary impact that results from this decision: If, as a result of this decision, more students are placed in specialized programs like the one Endrew sought, their tuition costs will accelerate and local taxes will increase or programs will be compromised. If, as a result of this decision, districts decide to independently or collaboratively develop specialized programs, the additional costs for those programs will be drawn from local taxes or programs will be compromised.

Given those budgetary predictions and the impact of the State’s movement that allocates more funds for parents whose children attend de-regulated charters, are homeschooled, or enrolled in sectarian schools, the diminishment of funds and resultant diminishment of offerings for regular education students will likely result in flight from public schools.

There will be exceptions to this flight from public education, however. Affluent communities who value their schools and want the best for all students enrolled in the schools and already pay higher taxes may not experience higher costs. Many of these districts are already providing programs for special needs children that are, in Judge Robert’s words,  “…reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  Districts offering programs that already meet this standard will not feel the same pressures as districts who strictly adhered to the de minimus standard set by Rowley. Those districts, whose barrier to entry is the need to qualify for a mortgage on an expensive home, will continue to thrive.

The districts who will suffer the most and experience the most flight will be those with limited tax bases who serve low income children. As costs are shifted downward and mandates for special education and costs escalate, their budgets will become increasingly tight and they will be forced to cut programs. As programs diminish, the parents who are most engaged in their children’s education will withdraw and the district will be serving the most difficult population: children raised in poverty whose parents are also struggling.

I do believe the Supreme Court did the right thing in this case. I wholeheartedly concur with Judge Roberts’ assertion that a child’s education program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances”. My fear is that while the courts will continue to rule in favor of children and parents, the legislature will continue to shirk it’s responsibility to provide the means for ALL districts to provide an appropriately ambitious program for ALL children. I would love to be proven wrong.


An Unsettling eSchool Article Describes What Happens When You Give A Kindergartener a Chromebook

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

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.