Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

The Sad Reality: Students Returning to “Hardened” Schools

August 12, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the headline in today’s NYTimes headline article by Patrick Mazzei:

Back-to-School Shopping for Districts: Armed Guards, Cameras and Metal Detectors

The article describes the sad reality of public education’s reaction to school shootings:

  • We are investing millions on armed guards who monitor children and FAR too little on staff members who could provide support to teachers and parents when students become disengaged and depressed.
  • We are using precious and limited staff development time to train teachers on how to use tourniquets instead of how to identify and deal with students who are disengaged and depressed.
  • We are redoubling the lockdown drill training, increasing the frequency and “reality” of school shooting drills that increase anxiety and fear among students.
  • We are spending millions of limited dollars to acquire fences, sophisticated surveillance cameras, and metal detectors while roofs leak, many schools lack the technology infrastructure needed to prepare students for the future, and many teachers dig ever deeper in their pockets to provide students with school supplies.
  • We are seeking more funds from taxpayers for these expenditures at a time when spending for education overall has decreased in real dollars since the Great Recession… and decreased substantially in many states.
  • And in 10 states, districts will be debating the feasibility of arming classroom teachers… a debate that will use precious time at school board meetings, time that could be used to debate other means of dealing with student alienation and despair that leads to the school shootings.

I completely understand the urgent need to “do something”… but I am distressed that the “something” seldom addresses the root causes of student violence, which have little to do with “arms control” or “hardening” schools and more to do with making schools warm and welcoming to each and every student enrolled. I hope in the days ahead to read of a district who is taking steps in THAT direction!  I despair that we are creating schools that make 24/7 surveillance in fenced environments patrolled by armed guards the norm for our future citizens.


Summertime Scheduling Problems That Plague Middle Class Exist All Year for 40% of Parents

August 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In yesterday’s post about Arne Duncan’s latest book, I emphasized one observation Mr. Duncan made in an interview with the Atlantic that I found especially insightful. In assessing the challenges urban schools face, he noted the link between parent engagement and student success:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

This particular quote resonated with me because it did not cast blame on disengaged parents. Rather, it underscored that parents who would otherwise be involved in the lives of their children are often pre-occupied with other issues. A recent NYTimes article indicated that one overarching issue for parents who work multiple jobs or single parents is finding childcare. The headline for Dr. Julia Henley’s article in late July captures the problem. It read “Think Summer Child Care is Tough? Low Income Parents Deal With That All Year“. Dr. Henley describes the frustration upper middle class working parents face in the summertime when schools are closed and notes that these problems persist year round for low income working parents, especially those who work multiple part-time jobs or who work in retail where just-in-time scheduling is practiced:

But the gaps in care that frustrate well-off families over the summer are a constant in the lives of lower-income parents, who disproportionately work jobs with schedules that are not limited to weekday hours and can change unexpectedly. It’s a year-round second job to find safe, let alone enriching, supervision for their kids.

As part of a study my colleagues and I did on the child-care arrangements of parents in the retail sector, a part-time department store sales clerk told me that she had worked a different schedule each day the prior week: on Sunday she worked from noon to 5 p.m., on Monday from 2 to 8:30 p.m., on Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:30 to 9 p.m.

Over 40 percent of American children live with a parent who mostly works during hours when schools aren’t open and traditional child care isn’t available — during the early mornings, evenings, weekends or overnight — and these work schedules are often changing at the last minute. Some parents choose these shifts as part of a shared caregiving strategy with a spouse, but most don’t have a choice.

Dr. Henley notes that even though 40% of children live in a situation where a parent works nontraditional work hours, only 8% of the childcare centers offer coverage during those times. The result?

This mismatch between child-care needs and work demands forces parents to assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements, often with both formal and informal caregivers. These arrangements can be unstable and difficult to maintain, stress relationships and threaten the stability of already precarious work situations.

Apart from voluntary actions by socially responsible employers and some scheduling laws passed by a handful of progressive state legislatures, no action has been taken to ameliorate this problem. Indeed, the current administration has doubled down on the problem by insisting on work requirements for those getting government benefits for children, effectively requiring more parents to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to provide care for their children.

Meanwhile, in the face of the reality that 40% of children live in a situation where a parent needs to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to care for their children outside of the traditional work day and school day, our politicians continue to emphasize test results as the ultimate metric for school quality. If Arne Duncan was truly worried about the children whose parents were not present because they had too much going on in their lives, he might have set an example for school leaders by partnering with the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of Labor to develop legislation that would require predictable work hours to help the 40% of children who live in a situation where parents work outside of the traditional time frame.

Arne Duncan Still True Believer in VAM, “Failure” of Public Schools, Standardized Testing

August 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Arne Duncan has written a new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, and he is getting lots of publicity as he tours the country selling his book and the tired ideas in it. Here’s the opening paragraph from a review of his book by Atlantic reporter Alia Wong:

Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under President Barack Obama, has always been more candid than others who’ve served in that role. He’s often used his platform to talk about what he sees as the persistent socioeconomic and racial disparities in access to quality schools. His new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, further cements that reputation. How Schools Work’s first chapter is titled “Lies, Lies Everywhere.” The first sentence: “Education runs on lies.” If one were to create a word cloud of the book, lies would probably pop out as one of the most frequently used words. Duncan writes that even the countless fantastic schools across the country “haven’t managed to defeat the lies that undermine our system so much as they’ve been able to circumvent them.” These lies, according to Duncan, include a culture of setting low expectations for high schoolers who later discover they’re not prepared for the real world, and poorly designed accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their students’ test-score results.

This paragraph itself is full of canards about public education that only someone who never set foot in a public school could believe. I worked in an urban middle school, a blue collar suburban high school, and a rural high school that served many poor families. The teachers in these schools, even the weakest, had high expectations for their children.

As for the “accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their test-score results”, I presume he must be referring to the grading systems that allow students to pass a course with a “C” or a “D”, grades that typically require a student to get grades that do not require mastery of ALL the information presented. And the norm-referenced tests that were the backbone of the RTTT “accountability systems” Mr. Duncan imposed on schools that were presumably designed to avoid the “fudging” did nothing to help students. They only reinforced the notion that students were poorly prepared because teachers were lazy and incompetent and did so by providing a sheen of precision.

In the interview with Ms. Wong that accompanied this overview of his book Mr. Duncan DID reveal an understanding of the root cause of “failing” schools… and it isn’t the teachers… it’s parents who are disengaged from the lives of their students, parent’s whose disengagement is often the result of working multiple jobs or, in the worst case, drug and alcohol abuse. Here’s Mr. Duncan’s take:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

But, as written frequently in this blog, actions speak louder than words. IF Mr. Duncan believed this as the head of public education in Chicago and then the nation, why did he not take action to provide support for the children of disengaged parents, the children whose performance pulls down the test scores he values so highly and whose ultimate withdrawal from schools increases the drop out rates he blames on “the system”?

Mr. Duncan’s perspective on gun violence was also on point. But like his views on the problems presented by disengaged parents, it’s a perspective he failed to share when he led the nation’s schools:

I talk a lot about gun violence—it’s what I’m dealing with in Chicago all the time; it unfortunately shaped me as a kid; we saw it in the Sandy Hook massacre, which happened when I was education secretary. There’s no political leader who says they don’t value kids, but the truth is: we value guns more than we value the lives of our children .And that is irrefutable if you look at the rates of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other nations that make other policy choices.

Mr. Duncan purports to be one who perceives education as a great equalizer and one who attempts to use data to help him see what works and what doesn’t work. I wish that as Secretary of Education emeritus he would take a dispassion look at the true impact of RTTT and acknowledge that it was a doubling down on NCLB, a program he viewed as “horribly constructed.” I wish he would acknowledge that the standardized tests he advocated were not constructed to perform the VAM he mandated and resulted in the discrediting of the teaching profession. I wish that he would trumpet the need for programs to support parents who “…just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education” and speak out against the politicians who value guns more than we value the lives of our children. Finally, I wish he would acknowledge that the programs he advocates, the expansion of choice and charters, reward those parents who are engaged in the lives of their children, sidestep the need for a larger investment in the safety net, and divert needed funds away from public schools.

MY ROUGH DRAFT Proposal for New Hampshire’s Democratic Candidates for Governor

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

To date the Democratic Party in New Hampshire has chosen to avoid making public education a major issue in their primary campaign, despite the horrific record of the incumbent GOP Governor, Chris Sununu, and the fact that his appointee for Commissioner of Education has repeatedly bashed school boards, teachers, and the public schools while advocating for vouchers. I offer this recommended platform for the Democratic party to consider in its effort to unseat incumbent Governor Chris Sununu. This ROUGH DRAFT of a platform uses a July 5, 2016 post offered by Ohio blogger Jan Ressengeras a template and draws on positions outlined in earlier posts of mine.

Introduction:  The Governor of New Hampshire should advocate for a comprehensive system of public education. One that serves all children, is democratically governed, publicly funded, universally accessible, and accountable to the public.

Close Opportunity Gaps by Increasing Funding to Property Poor Communities: The New Hampshire Constitution calls for the State to provide an adequate education for all children in an effort to ensure that all children receive equal opportunities to learn. A candidate for Governor should pledge to uphold this Constitutional mandate even if doing so would require an increase in funding for public education or an expansion of taxes. As it stands now, despite lawsuits won in court by property poor communities in our state, resources available to provide services for children in their public schools are wildly uneven. While children in affluent school districts have access to advanced curricula, abundant technology, the most experienced teachers, and a rich exposure to art, music and other enrichments and a wide array of co-curricular activities, children in property poor districts lack these opportunities for learning and support that more privileged children merely take for granted.

Tax and budget policies need to reduce disparities between property-rich and property-poor districts, strengthen local school boards, and provide all parents with a greater opportunity to support their children enrolled in school. Families in property poor towns often face challenges that prevent them from devoting the same level of support for their children as families in property-rich communities. Families facing economic challenges would benefit from the careful and intentional development of full-service, wraparound services that bring social and health services—health clinics, dental clinics, mental health clinics, after school programs, Head Start, and parent support programs—right into the school building. Families facing economic challenges need affordable, accessible, quality child care. Families facing economic challenges need a guaranteed living wage and labor policies that protect them by establishing work schedules and ensuring that employers inform their employees in advance of their work hours. Families facing economic challenges need employers to provide medical leave and maternity leave.

Reject Privatization and Vouchers:  Privatization and voucher plans presented as “choice” cannot address the challenges faced by property poor communities. Legislation that promotes enrollments in private schools and provides funding for homeschooling diverts scarce resources from public education, especially in property poor communities where schools are already underfunded. Legislation that promotes vouchers and tuition tax credits which use public funds to pay for students to attend private and parochial schools should be unalterably opposed as should any legislation that supports the creation of charter schools that are not governed by elected local school boards.

Restore Respect for a Profession of Well Trained, Certified Teachers: Our elected officials and State Department leaders must stop scapegoating school teachers. Public school teachers work tirelessly to improve the chances for all students in all schools in the State to advance and often do so in facilities that are outdated and without the resources they need to succeed. Instead of modifying certification standards for teachers to expand the applicant pools, we should increase the compensation for teachers, especially those serving in property-poor districts.

Re-Double the Effort to Replace Standardized Norm-Referenced Tests as the Primary Metric for School Success: New Hampshire was one of a handful of states that sought to limit the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the sole metric for measuring school success. This effort should be fully supported by the Governor and Commissioner of Education and provided with the funding and manpower required for implementation.

Conclusion:  In order for public schools to succeed in New Hampshire, citizens must provide ongoing oversight, demand legislation that ensures equitable funding, and be willing to accept tax policies that either redistribute funds currently available or expand the funds needed to ensure that all children have the same opportunities as children attending property-rich schools. Justice in public education—the distribution of opportunity for all children and not just for some— can only be achieved systemically and with the full support of the Governor and Commissioner of Education.


Eliminating Age-Based Grade Levels Face Three BiG Obstacles: Federal Standardized Test Mandates; State Laws;…and Parents

August 7, 2018 Leave a comment

A recent Hechinger Report monograph written by Chris Berdik describes the challenges a rural North Dakota district faced when teachers in the school decided to eliminate grade levels, and they boil down to three obstacles at three different levels… all driven by one overarching issue: mandated tests. This short paragraph from the report summarizes the problem:

Of course, no matter what individual states and districts allow, federal law still mandates grade-level-pegged testing. Education departments use those scores to evaluate schools. Quite often, so do parents.

These two sentences encapsulate the daunting challenge teachers and administrators face when they propose radical but necessary changes needed to truly individualize instruction. The age-based cohorts that we call “grade levels” are the basis for comparisons of all kinds, comparisons that are the basis for competition between students and, of late, competition among schools. And one troublesome issue for many parents is this: if grade levels disappear how will I know how well my child is doing compared to his or her peers? As Mr. Berdik article implies, when that question disappears, teachers are left to focus on the interests and aptitudes each child possesses and focus less on how a child compares with their age peers. I, for one, see this as a positive benefit of abandoning age-based cohorts.

If readers do not believe it is possible to transform schools, Mr. Berdik’s article offers a crude roadmap for making the transition. It isn’t easy, but the benefits far outweigh the pain of change.

What Else Could Denver Teachers Learn in One Day?

June 23, 2018 Comments off

Over the course of 29 years as a public school superintendent I developed or oversaw the development of scores of staff development days. While I know that teachers often grumbled and often thought their time would be better spent teaching children, may colleagues and I viewed this time as important in terms of defining the direction we wanted our schools to head in the future and in defining our priorities.

Until the early 2000s we never spent a minute on how to deal with school shootings. Following Columbine, though, the federal and state legislatures and local Boards began to feel that the development of plans for school shootings was a priority… so much so that grant money that once flowed for things like drug and alcohol prevention was overtaken by grants for hiring SROs, training EMTs, and providing “tabletop exercises” for towns deal with emergency evacuations in the event of disaster events like school shootings.

I read last week of the Denver Public School district’s day-long exercise to address the invasion of their schools by a shooter.

“We’ve staged a shooter inside a school,” said Michael Eaton, Chief of the Dept. of Safety for DPS. “We have actually put bullet casings around the building. We have actors that have makeup on with flesh wounds.”

Denver Public Schools wanted the shooting exercise to feel real. First responders were called to Vista Academy not knowing where the shooter was or how many people were injured. The actor portraying the shooter and responding officers used guns that fired blanks or training rounds filled with paint.

“We are testing our emergency response coordination and communication with both our Department of Safety as well as Denver paramedics, Denver fire and Denver police,” Eaton said.

I only hope that Denver spent as much time coordinating services with the various social service agencies in their city that provide preventative care to students who might think that shooting up a school is a good idea. Or better yet… instead of spending time and money hiring actors to put on make-up with flesh wounds use a day to interview students to find out how they are experiencing school and what actions would be needed to fully engage them. Or even better yet, spend a day communicating with parents to determine how their children perceive their experience in school. The time we are opening cultivating fear would be far better spent cultivating parent and student engagement.


Given the Choice Between Home Depot and the Local Hardware Store… or KIPP and the Local Public School

June 20, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch posted a heartwarming story yesterday about how two predominantly African American public schools in San Francisco are outdoing their privatized counterpart, KIPP, the national chain that touts its high test scores and tough discipline. The 5th graders at one of the schools, Malcolm X, outscored the 5th graders at KIPP on the standardized tests used for accountability purposes. The other school, Carver, a partnership with Umoja, a group that works with African American young boys at recess and after school, has resulted in a marked decline in discipline issues and an increase in math scores. What do Carver and Malcolm X have in common? Parent engagement, community partnerships, the provision of an array of social services under the roof of the school, and robust co- and extra-curricular offerings. Given the “choice” between a cookie-cutter factory school and a customized academic environment that is networked with the community, it is unsurprising where parents want to see their children go.

Ms. Ravitch analogized KIPP to Walmart, describing it as “…the Walmart of charter schools, opening in communities where they are not wanted and destroying local public schools where parents are heard.” I think that a better analogy is Home Depot, who, like Walmart, is willing to crush small local businesses. But Walmart often provides remote communities with comprehensive purchasing options in small communities that are otherwise absent altogether making it impossible for small niche stores to compete because local people find the allure of one-stop shopping too strong. If Walmart took over schooling they might incorporate social services, dental and medical services, and mental health providers under one roof. A case could be made that Carver and Malcolm X are using a variant of the Walmart model in their approach to incorporating a wide range of services under one roof… an approach that I contend more public schools should take. Home Depot, on the other hand, would just obliterate the small local hardware stores and local construction supply companies and replace them with a big box store that requires contractors and homeowners to drive a few miles further to get crappy service and less customization.

Both Walmart and Home Depot and stores of their ilk are ultimately evil because they undercut the local economy and the local identity of communities. When the ownership is remote and the shareholders are more interested in profits than community building one can expect small towns and cities to trade empty storefronts for low prices… and the result is the kind of alienation we are encountering today.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to keep the small stores afloat and your community strong… but local and support your local public schools.