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Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

Cory Booker Should Learn the Lessons His Parents Taught Him… Not the Ones He Learned on Wall Street

November 18, 2019 Comments off

Cory Booker wrote an op ed article for today’s NYTimes… an article that is a screed of sorts reinforcing his insistence that charter schools and choice should be an acceptable solution to the problems of racism and persistent poverty. Taken as a whole, the article comes across as a scold for folks like me who see a Presidential candidate’s viability based on their willingness to take a clear and unequivocal stand against for charters overseen by unelected boards and the market-based concept the GOP calls “choice”. Mr. Booker’s essay was especially disappointing given the story he told about his parents’ experiences in trying to enroll him in a high quality school:

…When I was a baby, they fought to move our family into a community with well-funded public schools. These neighborhoods, especially in the 1960s and ’70s, were often in exclusively white neighborhoods. And because of the color of my parents’ skin, local real estate agents refused to sell my parents a home. My parents responded by enlisting the help of activists and volunteers who then set up a sting operation to demonstrate that our civil rights were being violated. Because of their activism we were eventually able to move into the town where I grew up.

There is a clear lesson Mr. Booker cold have learned from this experience: affluent communities that provide parents with “well-funded schools” need to open their doors to homebuyers of all races. Unfortunately, Mr. Booker DIDN’T learn this lesson from his parents. Instead he learned that there is money to be made if schools are privatized and those who see this are very happy to open their wallets to help someone like Mr. Booker get elected so long as he supports their ideas.

Here’s my bottom line: Charter schools and choice are no substitute for the infusion of funds needed to create equitable opportunities for children. Nor do they offer those raised in poverty to enroll their children in schools outside of their community. As mayor Cory Booker had no way to offer Newark parents a choice to attend “well funded schools” in those communities where local real estate agents refused to show his parents a home. As Mayor Cory Booker had no way to secure more state funding for his schools, funding needed to upgrade outdated facilities and secure the additional staffing needed to support the children raised in poverty. Under those circumstances, charters might be the only viable alternative available. Cory Booker isn’t running for Mayor. He’s running for President. As a candidate I would like to see Mr. Booker work on policies that make it possible and profitable for children of all races to live where they choose to live and to have rich and poor students have access to the same resources as the “well-funded” schools his parents fought for him to enroll in. Charter schools and choice are eye-wash policies that sidestep the real problems children of color and children raised in poverty face.

A Fly in the Ointment for Choice Advocates Who Want to Promote Marketplace Panacea for Inequitable Public Schools

November 17, 2019 Comments off

For more than a decade the mainstream press and politicians have adopted the stance that if schools competed for students the same way as grocery store compete for customers the inequities that have plagued schools for decades would disappear completely. There is one city in America where this notion has been put the test… and that is New York City where over a decade ago Mayor Bloomberg launched a program to offer choice to all secondary schools in the city. Why White Parents Were at the Front of the Line for the School Tour, a recent NYTimes article by Liza Shapiro, describes one phenomenon that illustrates why the free-market-choice paradigm is no solution for the inequities among schools in the city. Having a grandson who just went through the grind of applying for high school, I observed that he had some decided benefits compared to some of this classmates.

First and foremost, my grandson had two fully engaged parents who were capable of grasping the byzantine application process, willing and able to do the research necessary to identify the schools that were the best match for him, and worked for employers whose work schedules made it possible for one or both of them to accompany him on the school tours that are a critical factor in determining whether or not he might get into the school of his choice.

Secondly, he is the kind of student who is not intimidated by standardized tests. I know from my experience as a building level administrator that many highly capable students do not perform well on standardized tests and, consequently, their scores do not accurately capture their capabilities in the classroom. In New York City the primary means of screening students for gifted and talented programs and “competitive” high schools is a single standardized test. According to the test, he wasn’t quite gifted and talented when he entered elementary school but his scores were sufficiently high to enable him to enter one of the “competitive” schools. Readers of this blog know that I do not believe that the use of a single test to make these determinations is highly objectionable and without merit… but advocates view them as an objective means of determining qualifications.

Third, he lived at the same address throughout his school career. In an article that appeared in October 2018, Elizabeth Shapiro reported that 1 in 10 students in New York City lived in temporary housing during the previous school year. The article noted that in 144 of the schools in the city, 1/3 or more of the students are homeless! My grandson was never homeless and his parents never moved during his years in public school.

Finally, as the information above implies, my grandson had no Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) growing up. According to research by Childtrends, at the national level 45% of his classmates have experienced at least one such experience and 10% of his classmates have experienced three or more. Child trends defines “Adverse Childhood Experiences” as: psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as exposure in the home to substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, incarceration, violence, physical and emotional neglect, parental separation and divorce, exposure to violence outside of the home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, homelessness, bullying, discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and experience of income insecurity. A child who has experienced ACES did not choose to have those experiences and the adversity he or she faced as a consequence of those ACES is not going to be offset by being able to choose a school to attend.

In short, had my grandson been raised in a different environment, one where he had an absent or disengaged parents, one where he was homeless or moved from year-to-year to different neighborhoods, or one where he had one or more ACEs, it is unlikely that his parents would not have been in line at the Beacon school. And if he was the kind of student who froze when he took a timed standardized test his parents might not have bothered to stand in line realizing his chances of getting into the school were slim. In short, the “choice solution” is no solution at all.

 

The Upshot Reaches an Obvious But Important Conclusion About Advantaged vs. Disadvantaged Children

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The Upshot, an online publication of the NYTimes, features articles that use data analysis to draw conclusions about a wide range of topics. Earlier this week, it featured an article by Emily Oster describing the evidence on child-rearing practices that reaches an obvious but important conclusion about children raised in advantanged homes vs. this raised in dis-adavantaged homes: there is a huge disconnect between the kinds of choices advantaged parents face as compared to those dis-advantaged parents face. While affluent parents debate the merits of nutrition or various pre-school programs dis-advatanged parents are choosing between paying the heating bill versus paying for school lunch. These two paragraphs near the end of Ms. Oster’s article provide a good synopsis of this difference:

This disconnect between the debates parents have and the data on child outcomes has societal implications. Policies in the United States that focus on helping less well-off families and children have a much greater impact. Many families live with limited access to health coverage and are forced to make choices between, say, food and medicine. Children with lunch debt face “lunch shaming” in many districts — and some are denied the option of hot meals. There is good evidence that high-quality pre-K programs like Head Start can improve school readiness.

And yet many of our parenting discussions are driven by, effectively, elite concerns. What is the best organic formula? Food mills versus “baby-led weaning.” Breast-feeding for one year, or two? And, of course, preschool philosophy. These concerns occupy thoughts and Facebook discussions, but they also occupy the news media, at least some of the time.

But, as I am confident Ms. Oster knows, placing a “focus on helping less well-off families” will require those advantaged families to dig a little deeper in their pockets to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, asking shareholders to forego a small percentage of profits that they “earn” when the corporations they invest in save on taxes.

Because no one wants to run a campaign that suggests taxes will increase for those who are advantaged, glib “solutions” like school choice come into play. The idea behind “school choice” is that parents would be free to choose whatever school best meets the needs of their child in the same way that they can choose organic formula or breast-feeding or the preschool with the philosophy that matches theirs. The reality is that disadvantaged parents are so bogged down in making choices between food and medicine that they do not have the luxury to examine alternatives the same way as their more affluent colleagues. But the idea of “choices” is an easy and inexpensive salve to a complicated and costly reality.

Until we begin to face the fact that not every parent has the same range of choices and that some choices are limited due to circumstances well beyond the control of the disadvantaged parents themselves we will continue to reinforce the economic system we have an continue to widen the economic divisions in our country.

A few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders posed this question to a crowd of 26,000 who came to a rally for his candidacy:

Are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?”

If we do not answer yes to that question, we are not our brother’s keeper… we are buying into the Social Darwinism that business is based on… we are denying the opportunity for advancement to huge swaths of our country.

The Downside of Adult Supervised Athletics: The Kids Want to Play, the Adults Want to Win

September 26, 2019 Comments off

In the early 1980s I read The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, a book that described how parents’ smothering attention was eliminating “childhood” as those in my generation experienced it. One of the sections of the book described how the emerging trend of adult managed athletic leagues displacing playground sports was eroding one of the important skills children learned on the playground: the art of arbitration. You see when we played pick-up baseball or football and playground basketball there were no officials to monitor us and no adults to tell us how to interpret the rules. We had no umpires or referees. We called our own balls-and-strikes in baseball, made decisions about pass interference on our own in football, and determined if contact in basketball was a charging violation or not in basketball. This meant that in some cases physical brawls broke out among 10-12 year olds, but by the time we reached middle school age the kids I played with all figured out that it was far better to resolve debates by setting our own rules.

A childhood friend who became a work colleague where I worked in Western Maryland for a decade posted an article from the Martinsburg WV Journal announcing that the remainder of the youth football league’s season would be cancelled. Why?

The following statement was released to The Journal in announcing the shutdown: “Attention to all parents/coaches/players in the TCYFL: Unfortunately, it has come to the point that because of the abuse, negativity and utter disrespect shown to our officials from parents, coaches and most recently from our players, the Eastern Panhandle Officials Association (EPOA) President stated today that the association will no longer schedule officials for our league games at any field.

“This means effective immediately all remaining games are canceled. This situation is troubling because of our 20-plus-year relationship with the association, but to be honest, this season has been really bad.

“The TCYFL board has reached out to the EPOA for a meeting hoping to establish severe universal field rules for parents/coaches and players to get us back on the field.”

In response to his post I wrote the following:

I’m sure you remember the pick-up games in Roslyn. Maybe it would be a blessing if we took adults out youth athletics and let the kids figure things out on their own. I fear we lost a lot when adults insisted on “organizing” leagues and taking over the fields where kids played pick-up sports. Kids liked the uniforms, the stadiums, and the attention they got. But I think you share my fond memories of playing football and baseball on the vacant lot across the street from the old football stadium in West Chester where we learned about sportsmanship and learned how to regulate ourselves…. We didn’t have spectators, uniforms, or paid officials. But we DID have a lot of fun!

Sadly, fun is the last thing children have when they play sports under the watchful gaze of parents who are invested in seeing their child succeed it puts undue pressure on them when they could be creating their own versions of football with friends or making up their own hybrid games like tennis-baseball or soccer-football. Playing little league baseball with full baseball regalia under the lights with an umpire dressed in a professional-like uniform gives the game a luster. But playing wiffle ball with three other kids in the backyard where a hit in the rosebush is an automatic double is better.

Kids Don’t Vote, and the Parents of Poor Kids Don’t Donate… So Poor Children Suffer

September 13, 2019 Comments off

Our Children Deserve Better, Nick Kristof’s recent NYTimes op ed column, describes the sad plight of children in America. He writes:

UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.

Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record.

And yet, he notes, America’s politicians are silent about this issue when the campaign for office. Indeed, by his count the issue of child poverty has not come up in over 140 consecutive Presidential debates. He wonders why this is the case, particularly given the massive research that supports this investment. He concludes his article with this response:

We don’t lack the tools to help, or the resources. The challenge is just that in our political system, children don’t count — and never get mentioned in presidential debates.

Kids don’t vote,” notes Nadine Burke Harris, the surgeon general of California and an expert on the lifelong costs of childhood trauma. “They require us to speak for them.

The real problem is NOT that the KIDS don’t vote. The problem is that the parents of kids who are adversely impacted by the bad drinking water, the lingering lead paint, the lack of a strong safety net, are overlooked by politicians in both parties because they do not make any kind of financial or political contribution to the system. They cannot make a financial contribution because they are poor and they cannot make a political contribution by volunteering for campaigns and participating in political party meetings because they are working two jobs to make ends meet. The system is set up so the affluent parents, who reside in the nicest neighborhoods and communities, whose children are enrolled in the best public schools in the nation, and whose children are well taken care of at home, are not at all impacted by the adversity faced by children raised in poverty. Until affluent parents are willing to speak up for their brothers and sisters who are struggling to make ends meet, we will never leverage the tools to help or the bounteous resources available to us.

“Professionalization” of Student Athletics Taking a Toll… and Video Gaming Might Contribute

September 1, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week LA Times writer Eric Sonderheimer reported that across the nation for the first time ever participation in high school sports has declined. Football, it seems, is taking the biggest hit (no pun intended). He writes:

High school sports received a double dose of bad news on Monday when the annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed a decline in sports participation for the first time in 30 years for the 2018-19 season.

Leading the decline was another drop in football participation, with 11-man football dropping by 30,829 to 1,006,013, the lowest mark since the 1999-2000 school year. It’s the fifth consecutive year of declining football participation.

Overall sports participation was 7,937,491, a decline of 43,395 from 2017-18.

“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” said Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director, in a statement. “The data from this year’s survey serves as a reminder that we have to work even harder in the coming years to involve more students in these vital programs – not only athletics but performing arts programs as well.”

As a football fan and grandparent, I can see why parents are reluctant to send their child out to the gridiron. Injuries are frequent in practices and in games and the wide publicity of CTE is compounds the problem.

As a retired high school principal and school superintendent, the other reason for the decline cited in the article resonated:

Ed Croson, the veteran football coach at West Hills Chaminade, said the “privatization of youth sports and people wanting parents to spend money year round on club teams”is impacting high school football.

Coaches want kids all the time,” he said. “One of the problems is you send them to other sports and they don’t come back.”

When sports are privatized, children who cannot afford the fees or whose parents cannot keep up with the weekend travel schedules are sidelined and effectively miss out on the opportunity to participate on an even playing field.  Compounding the problem for football is a factor that Mr. Croson didn’t acknowledge: unlike soccer and basketball— whose seasons never end (due to Lightening soccer and AAU basketball), football is a single season sport. Additionally, football, unlike most sports, requires lots of expensive equipment.

Mr. Croson DID offer one additional insight which resonated with this grandfather:

“With the rise of social media and all the contraptions kids have – cellphones, the internet – kids are sedentary,” he said. “When we were young, our parents threw us out of the house to play. The world was more physical.

To the best of my knowledge pick-up baseball, playground basketball, football and soccer do not exist at the same level as they did when I was younger. While there were little league teams in baseball, we spent more time playing “orkies up” on the playground than practicing in our matching t-shirts that passed for “uniforms” on our little league team… and while I played intramural, church league, and YMCA league basketball I spent more hours outdoors playing basketball on a concrete playground with a 9-foot 11-inch basket than I did on a hardwood floor with a regulation height basket.

If we want to lure kids back to sports, we need to have more parents throwing children out of the house to play and less time spent on screens. I know that is rowing against the tide, but so is eating a vegan diet and supporting higher taxes.

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.