Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

More Good Guys With Guns? More Surveillance? More Lockdown Drills? NO! None of the Above!

February 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Education Week featured an article by Bryan Warnick, professor of education at The Ohio State University, Benjamin A. Johnson, assistant professor at Utah Valley University, and Sam Rocha is an assistant professor of education at the University of British Columbia, that offered a rebuttal against those politicians and gun advocates who reflexively call for more security whenever a school shooting occurs. Using evidence to support their arguments against more good guys with guns, more surveillance cameras, and more drills, they also offered a powerful argument why such  “target-hardening” approaches to school shootings make matters worse:

Filling schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, police officers, and gun-wielding teachers tells students that schools are scary, dangerous, and violent places—places where violence is expected to occur.

The “target hardening” approach also has the potential to change how teachers, students, and administrators see one another. How teachers understand the children and youth they teach has important educational consequences. Are students budding citizens or future workers? Are they plants to nourish or clay to mold?

Instead of inculcating fear into students, the three writers propose that we look at how our schools function and how effectively we engage students in academics and the life of the school. Instead of examining checklists on door locks and performing drills led by experts on school security, the authors suggest examining the ways schools isolate some students:

To what extent does the school—through things like athletics, homecoming royalties, or dances and so forth—encourage what some political scientists have called the “status tournament of adolescence” that lurks behind the stories of many school shootings?

As one reads about such shootings, one often senses a feeling of social anxiety and betrayal on the part of perpetrator. Americans hold high expectations for schools as places of friendship and romance, yet too often students find alienation, humiliation, and isolation. The frustration at these thwarted expectations at least sometimes seems to turn toward the school itself.

And the authors also believe schools should examine how they impose discipline and order and how that might affect the thinking of impressionable adolescents:

To what extent does the force and coercion employed by many schools contribute to a “might makes right” mentality and associated violence?

It is true that bullying is often a part of some of the stories of school shooters. Students who are bullied or who are bullies themselves will quite naturally think of schools as places appropriate for violence. There is also sometimes a rage, however, against the day-to-day imposition of school discipline and punishment. Since schools are experienced as places of force and control, for some students, they also come to be seen as appropriate places for violence.

To their credit, the writers do not offer glib solutions that will work for each and every school. Rather, they ask that schools engage in deep reflection… and ask that the public join with them in their introspection:

Our suggestion is simply that, instead of trying to find solutions to school shootings in the dubious arms of security technologies, or even solely through more promising public policy, society should ask deeper questions about the nature of education and schooling in American society.

It is time to think about school shootings not as a problem of security, but also as a problem of education.

After reading article after article calling for quick and easy and highly visible “solutions”, it was refreshing to read an analysis that called for schools to take a deep breath and engage in thoughtful reflection. I would encourage every school to look at the students they serve and see what steps they might take to ensure that every child attending is making the most of every minute they are attending… identifying the obstacles that the child faces… and advocate for a means of having those obstacles removed. In doing so, I doubt that any school will conclude that more surveillance cameras, more good guys with guns, and more lockdown drills are necessary.

Advertisements

Blogger Peter Greene Notes that Neo-liberals and Friedman-ites are Kindred Spirits

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In many previous blog posts I’ve lamented the fact that neither Presidential candidate in 2016 offered much in the way of hope for change in public education policy… and when I read Peter Greene, who’s blog Curmudgucation, post yesterday about the Center for American Progress’s (CAP’s) latest white paper celebrating the fact that under ESSA many states are continuing the “reform” initiatives I was even more convinced that was the case. CAP is often help up as a counter to the right wing think tanks funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. But, as Mr. Greene points out, there isn’t much difference between what the neo-liberal “reformers” beloved of CAP want to do to public schools and what the pro-voucher Friedman-ites want to do.

Mr. Greene described the CAP’s leadership under John Podesta as “…a holding tank for Clinton politicians and bureaucrats who were biding their time, cooking up policy advocacy, while waiting for Hillary to take her rightful place in DC”, citing the unyielding support for the Common Core, for state intervention when a district “fails” based on successive standardized tests, and/or the imposition of “alternative governance structures” if the struggles seem to emanate from Board mismanagement. Mr. Greene has particular scorn for the SIG grants that were embraced by the Obama administration, grants that imposed solutions from the top down and prescribed how funds would be used in schools:

We have the results of the School Improvement Grants used by the Obama administration to “fix” schools, and the results were that SIG didn’t accomplish anything (other than, I suppose, keeping a bunch of consultants well-paid). SIG also did damage because it allowed the current administration and their ilk to say, “See? Throwing money at schools doesn’t help.” But the real lesson of SIG, which came with very specific Fix Your School instructions attached, was that when the state or federal government try to tell a local school district exactly how things should be fixed, instead of listening to the people who live and work there, nothing gets better. That same fundamental flaw is part of the DNA of the takeover/turnaround approach.

The “takeover/turnaround” model— like the voucher model— implies that educators and elected community members are incapable of solving the “problems” in a school, “problems” that are defined by stagnant scores on standardized tests that often vary over time. This just in, CAP: the problems children bring with them school have an impact on their schools and need to be addressed in tandem with the academic program.

 

National Review Assessment of DC School District’s Flaws is On the Mark. It’s Solutions? Not so Much

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

I keep going against hope that some day the conservative thinkers will come to the conclusion that public schools will only be successful when we stop pretending that their problems can be solved by “more accountability” and “more competition”. As I read the first 90% of the National Review’s op ed piece by Max Eden and Lindsey Burke, “Fraud and Failure in DC Public Schools“, I thought that was going to be their conclusion… but instead they parroted the canard that “parental choice” is the only way forward.

The opening paragraphs could have been written by Diane Ravitch or any one of the bloggers she quotes from. It describes how the use of metrics like graduation rates, test scores, and suspensions are manipulated by enterprising administrators in an effort to “prove” their schools are improving. And this paragraph captures the flaws of the current “accountability” systems that are based on easily manipulated metrics:

None of this should be surprising. DCPS’s “accountability” system essentially requires principals to post impossible statistical improvements. You can’t make student behavior better through a dictate banning traditional school discipline. You can’t change life trajectories by ordering teachers to graduate students who fail their classes. Do things the old fashioned way — by offering teachers support, encouraging students and giving them structure, and making incremental improvements to curriculum and instruction — and you likely won’t achieve the so-called “transformational” change you’d need to be deemed a successful principal.

Right on! Do things the “old school” way by “offering teachers support” and “giving students structure”! If this appeared in Diane Ravitch’s column it would inevitably conclude with a paragraph calling for more equitable allocation of resources and especially more support for the children raised in poverty. But this was the National Review and so instead of trusting the government to level the playing field and improve schools, we should “trust the parents” by giving them choice.

Yet to skeptics, school choice is problematic because there’s not enough “accountability.” If the “accountability” they seek is metric-chasing mandates, then its absence in school-choice programs is a virtue, not a fault. But to most parents, “accountability” means having a school that’s responsive to their child’s needs. The way to make that happen is to give parents choices, which will encourage schools to pursue safety and academic quality with integrity. True accountability won’t come from forcing school leaders to squeeze schools into producing statistical improvements. True accountability will come only when parents and the community, rather than clueless bureaucrats, are the ones putting pressure on schools.

My hunch is that the National Review writers never worked in or attended a school where parents and the community are not putting ANY pressure on the schools… except for them to keep taxes low and children off the streets. The communities and neighborhoods where this attitude is prevalent are the ones whose schools require some kind of pressure to improve… albeit a slow relentless pressure as opposed to the quick fixes beloved of “reformers”.

I am not naive enough think that the National Review will ever commit to “throwing more money at schools”… but I DO keep hoping they’ll at least see the commonsense value of providing more support to working parents— especially single parents— who are working as hard as they can to make ends meet. When the Betsy DeVos’ of this world talk about parents making an informed choice, they tend to base that recommendation on their experience as children and parents and they tend to believe that everyone else has the same wherewithal as they do when it comes to having enough time to make an informed choice. If that day ever comes, choice might make sense. But without the time and economic resources to make an informed choice, the whole pretext of “choice” is bogus.

 

This Just In: Parents Education Has Impact on Child’s Success in School… Confirming a Findings from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

When I began my career in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s , the State of Pennsylvania developed a state wide assessment called the Education Quality Assessment that was administered to students across the state. It provided administrators, journalists, and graduate school researchers with a trove of data on correlations between test scores and demographic factors and here was the finding: a child’s success in school correlated highest with the mother’s education and the father’s occupational prestige. Then, as now, occupational prestige and education attainment were correlated, though the correlation is in all likelihood higher today than it was at that time when many men could be factory foremen or even superintendents of factories without a college degree. The conclusion that journalists seem to draw was this: if you teach in an affluent district you are a much better teacher than if you teach in an urban district or an economically distressed rural district.

Now, 40+ years later we have rediscovered this same reality in a slightly different form: Education Week blogger Catherine Gewertz reviewed a recent report from NCES and headlined her findings thus: “First Generation College Students Face Challenges in High School Too“. She summarized the findings as follows:

The report draws on the experiences of more than 45,000 students in three ongoing longitudinal studies. Among those who graduated from high school in 2003-04, only 27 percent of first-generation students took high-level math courses such as trigonometry/statistics/precalculus, compared to 43 percent of their peers with college-educated parents. Only 7 percent took calculus, while 22 percent of the students with college-going backgrounds took calculus.

Forty-four percent of the students with college-educated parents earned college credit through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, compared to 18 percent of first-generation students.

First-generation students were less likely to choose an “academically focused curriculum,” too, which NCES defines as four years of English, two credits of the same foreign language, three years of math including a course higher than Algebra 2, three years of science including one class higher than general biology, three years of social studies including U.S. or world history.

Students without college-going parents were less likely to finish high school in a given period of time, too. The study shows that 92 percent of first-generation students who were sophomores in 2002 had finished high school 10 years later—by earning a diploma or equivalency credential—compared to 97 percent of peers whose parents had some college experience and 98 percent of those whose parents had bachelor’s degrees.

As one who grew up in a household where both parents had college degrees, headed a similar household, but worked mostly with students whose parents had no college degree as a teacher and administrator, I can attest to the different mindset that college educated parents bring to bear on their children. First and foremost, as a child and parent, there was never a question regarding college attendance other than which college one would attend. As a HS administrators serving parents who mostly lacked college degrees, I witnessed indifference toward seeking entry into college or, in some cases, downright opposition to seeking a degree…. particularly in instances where the student in question was female and aspired to something other than teaching or nursing.

When students lack the push at home to achieve in school, don’t hear the mantra “if you don’t apply yourself you won’t be able to get into college”, or aren’t encouraged to challenge themselves with the courses they take, they will too often take the course of least resistance, which is to avoid tough courses and take only the minimum credits required.

The reality is this: the children of parents who support their academics and understand what is needed to get into college still outshine the children of parents who are indifferent toward academics or are hostile toward schooling altogether. While this might be discouraging news, there is another reality I witnessed in my six years as a high school administrator in the late 1970s: one teacher can really make a difference! If a teacher connects with a child and sees a talent or a spark in that child they can motivate the student to enroll in more difficult courses and to aspire to an education that exceeds that of their parents even if the parents are resistant. In an era where parents can point to many people they know who went to college and never “made it”, making that connection is what is needed… but making those kinds of connections cannot be readily measured on a standardized test like the Education Quality Assessment and so it is undervalued.

Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker Article on Prodigies Offers Key Distinction that Public Schools Miss

February 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik’s January 29 New Yorker article titled “How to Raise a Prodigy” on line and “The Parenting Paradox” in print. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants an insight into parenting, the underlying forces in public education, and the underlying forces of our consumer-driven economy. Mr. Gopnik’s  article is in the book review section of the magazine because it focuses on three recent books on the general subject of raising children who are prodigies of one kind or another: Sara Zaske’s “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” (Picador); “Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies” (Knopf) by Ann Hulbert; and “Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence” (Simon & Schuster) by Karen Crouse***.

Mr. Gopnik’s essay provides a brief overview of each book and is interwoven with his own observations about child rearing and our parents’ and public schools’ efforts to identify and nurture prodigies of one form or another. His meta-observation is offered at the end of his critique of Ms. Zaske’s book that idealizes the German method of raising children:

And here we arrive at the real ghost that haunts these books, the one that sends us to Paris or Berlin for help: the sense that American parents have gone radically wrong, making themselves and their kids miserable in the process, by hovering over them like helicopters instead of observing them from a watchtower, at a safe distance.

Having worked with parents of the best and brightest and observed the interactions of parents on playgrounds in Brooklyn where my daughters both live, I can attest to the accuracy of the “helicopter” metaphor. Mr. Gopnik offers the “cooperative spirit” that Ms. Crouse witnessed in Norwich, Vermont, as the antidote to helicopter parenting:

What we don’t get to see, in Crouse’s account, is the little town nearby, where, as must be the case, everyone coöperates and yet no one is a champion. (And there must also be, in Norwich, at least one Holden Caulfield type who thinks the whole Norwich thing is phony.) Looking at Norwich, we’re told that the non-competitive, non-pressuring approach is best because it gets us to the medal stand, or close. But what if it didn’t? If Norwich values matter, it’s because they’re good, not because they’re shortcuts to victory. The point of a non-competitive attitude can’t be that it makes us better able to compete; the value of an unpressured approach can’t be that it creates a more effective kind of pressure. In any case, one has the sense that what Crouse has found is not a “secret” but a well-known effect: unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions, whether they are in fifteenth-century Florence, in painting, or in San Pedro de Macorís, the “cradle of shortstops.” One good painter with an apprentice produces a Renaissance, just as one good coach with willing kids supplies the major leagues.

As noted below, I am familiar with Norwich and its surrounding communities and Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that there is “..a little town nearby where everyone cooperates and yet no one is a champion” could describe any number of nearby communities in Vermont… and the values Ms. Crouse ascribes to Norwich are good in and of themselves. Too, Mr. Gopnik’s insight that “unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions” captures the notion that who children associate with outside of school is more important than what they learn in school and underscores the importance of the values of the community where a child is raised.

Mr. Gopnik’s best insights come near the conclusion of his article where he describes the importance of mastery as opposed to achievement and the futility of trying to be a perfect parent:

What typically emerges from looking at kids, gifted and ordinary, is that, from the kids’ point of view, accomplishment, that is, the private sense of mastery, the hard thing suddenly made easy, counts for far more in their inner lives than does the achievement—the competition won, the reward secured. The mystery of mastery, felt in the child’s mind or muscles, is more compelling than the concreteness of achievement, the trophy pressed in her hands. What sustains us in any competition are the moments of interiority when the competition vanishes; what sustains us in any struggle are the moments when we forget the struggle…

Accomplishment, the feeling of absorption in the flow, of mastery for its own sake, of knowing how to do this thing, is what keeps all of us doing what we do, if we like what we do at all. The prizes are inevitably disappointing, even when we get them (as the life of Bob Dylan, prize-getter and grump extraordinaire, suggests).

What really helicopters over these books is what one might call the Causal Catastrophe: the belief that the proof of the rightness or wrongness of some way of bringing up children is in the kinds of adults it produces. This appears, on the surface, so uncontroversial a position—what other standard would you use?—that to question it seems a little crazy. But, after all, chains of human causality are, if not infinite, very long; in every life, some bad consequence of your upbringing will eventually emerge. We disapprove of parental hovering not because it won’t pay off later—it might; it does!—but because it’s obnoxious now. Strenuously competitive parents may indeed produce high-achieving grownups, but it’s in the nature of things that high-achieving adults are likely to become frustrated and embittered old people, once the rug is pulled out from under their occupation. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then all chains are infinitely weak, since everybody ends up broken.

Mr. Gopnik’s advice should be heeded by parents and public educators. If Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that a “private sense of mastery” is more important than “the competition won, the reward secured“— then parents and schools should strive to gain an understanding of each child’s gifts and talents and cultivate them instead of forcing a child to compare his or her talents in academics to other children that are his or her same age. Moreover, parents and schools should strive to help each child develop the self-awareness that is implicit in cultivating a private sense of mastery. The best writers and artists do not live to get favorable reviews: they live to develop an essay or story that captures their ideas in print, to develop a piece of artwork or music score that captures a spirit they possess, or to transfer something internal into something to share with the world at large. I think in the end, prodigious athletes, musicians, writers, and individuals in the world of work do not compare themselves to any external standard: they possess an internal standard of excellence that drives them to do the best they can and an attitude that so long as they are doing the best they can they are indifferent to winning a competition or securing a reward. If schools want to develop happy and healthy prodigies— or happy and healthy citizens, they need to stop focussing on competition and rewards and begin helping students develop their private sense of mastery.

 

***In the spirit of full disclosure, I served as Superintendent of Schools in Norwich for seven years, so I have some understanding of the dynamics in that community which, in Mr. Gopnik’s words, “…continually sends athletes to the Olympics and other competitions in numbers ridiculously disproportionate to its size.” It is not quite as perfect as Ms. Crouse describes, but it IS a wonderful place to raise children… and Mr. Gopnik is correct in assuming that there is “at least one Holden Caulfield type” in that town.

 

New Research on “Nature vs. Nurture” Debate Indicates it’s BOTH… and Neither…

January 28, 2018 Leave a comment

In recent “head-spinning” research in Iceland on how DNA affects learning, geneticist Albert Kong and a team of researchers in Iceland determined that the impact of DNA variants carried by parents but not passed to their children had about 30 percent as big an impact as that of the genes that the children actually did inherit. Dr. Kong elaborated on his findings in a recent NY Times article by Carl Zimmer:

“The direct genetic effect is quite a bit smaller than what people thought,” said Dr. Kong, who now a professor at the University of Oxford.

How can that be? Dr. Kong speculated that the genes carried by parents influence the environment in which their children grow up. “Variants that have to do with planning with the future could have the biggest effect on nurturing,” he said.

In effect, the interplay between genes the parents possess and those the children don’t possess can have as much impact on the intellectual growth of a child as the genes the children DO possess. A geneticist from the Netherlands offered an example of how this plays out in the field of livestock:

“I am not surprised by the findings,” said Piter Bijma, who studies livestock at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “These are to be expected.”

Dr. Bijma and other researchers have amassed a wealth of evidence showing that animals are influenced not just by their own genes but by the genes of their parents. Calves may grow quickly thanks to their own growth-promoting genes, or because the same genes in their mothers make them produce more milk.

A calf may inherit those milk-boosting variants from its mother. But just because the calf carries them doesn’t mean they directly make the calves bigger.

Compared to other mammals, Dr. Bijma observed, human children are especially dependent on their parents — not just for food and other essentials, but for social development. So it stands to reason that they’d experience similar effects.

Humans provide substantial care to their offspring, and so the nurture they create is very likely to have a genetic component,” said Dr. Bijma.

At the conclusion of the article, Mr. Zimmer draws on the studies of Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas who co-authored a commentary on Dr. Kong’s research:

Dr. Harden said that taking account of genetic nurture could improve research on the effects of poverty on how children do in school, as well as studies of methods to improve educational attainment.

“It’s so obvious in retrospect, and so elegant,” she said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘I can see my data in a new light with this.’”

Exactly HOW this research will help teachers who are dealing directly with “the effects of poverty on how children do in school” and  improve educational attainment are unclear to me, unless family therapy is somehow combined with DNA analysis to develop parent-child IEPs. But given Dr. Bijma’s observations based on his research on livestock— that human children are especially dependent on their parents– it seems to me that it is imperative to work closely with parents who are disengaged from their child’s schooling. That is, instead of addressing the concerns of parents who are sufficiently engaged in their child’s well-being to make an informed choice about where their child should attend school, “reformers” should instead find ways to engage those parents who are NOT making applications to charter schools to determine how to engage them more effective in their child’s learning.

Police in Schools… and at Democratic Assemblies Are Problematic

January 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Like many educators across the country, I was appalled to read about and witness on videotape the arrest of Vermillion Parish (Louisiana) teacher Deyshia Hargrave. Mr. Hargrave was attending a contentious school board meeting where the board was voting on the renewal of the Superintendent of Schools contract, a renewal that the board was split on for months until one of the members who opposed the renewal died and was replaced with an ally of the Board chair, who was supportive of the Superintendent. Ms. Hargrave’s concern was not about the renewal itself, but about the contract, which included a $38,000 boost in pay.

Many of the comments on Facebook and in response to posts on Diane Ravitch’s posts regarding this incident focus on the head-handedness of the treatment but in doing so they overlook one fact that I see as key… a fact that is included in this description of the Ms. Hargraves’ arrest from KATC, the ABC affiliate that serves Southern Louisiana:

the marshal who arrested her is a school resource officer who is employed by the school board and he “was not acting in any official capacity on behalf of the city of Abbeville.”

We’ve reached out to the Marshals’ Office for comment, but none of our calls or requests have been returned. We asked if there was any change in the officer’s employment status and were told there was not.

The officer has been at board meetings for the past several months, since board members requested security for each meeting.

From my perspective, the Board made a bad decision deploying a School Resource Officers employed by the Board to monitor these meetings for several reasons. First, given the relative civility of those in attendance, the need for any police presence is questionable. The Board clearly knew community members and employees who opposed their ultimate decision would be in attendance because audiences at school board meetings, like audiences witnessing any democratic deliberations, typically consist of individuals with differing perspectives from each other and differing opinions from those who were elected by majority rule. Secondly, by having a police presence, particularly the presence of an officer who is their employee, the board is sending an implicit message that they are not open to dissident opinions and they intend to use the force of law to repress democracy if necessary. Finally, when a police officer is present, the officer decides whether a situation is “out of hand” and warrants an arrest. This deference to the judgement of School Resource Officers in student discipline cases results in the school-to-prison pipeline. The deference to a School Resource Officer in this case appears to be resulting in a democracy-to-police-state pipeline.

If our nation wants to endure as a democracy, I believe we need to re-think our entire direction in terms of deploying “good-guys-with-guns” in the name of orderliness in schools and orderliness in democracy. Schools teach orderliness they don’t impose it. And orderliness emerges from the open and democratic exchange of ideas. It is not imposed by law enforcement officers hired by school boards.