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Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

What Role Should Faith Based Institutions Play in ECE

January 16, 2020 Leave a comment

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This thought provoking article from Quartz describes the very positive role faith based institutions are playing in Rwanda, a role that is both practical and perilous from a policy perspective.

The role of these religious organizations is practical because the organizations can provide space, a means of engaging parents who might otherwise keep their children home, and a means of coordinating with other agencies to provide additional support.

The peril is that the groups could use the preschool program to proselytize and/or recruit students for religious schools instead of public schools.

Our country is similar to Rwanda in that ECE is under funded and therefore often understaffed or operated on a purely voluntary model. We are also similar in that there are religious organizations who have space and community leaders thereby making it enticing to seek partnerships between the government and religious organizations to provide cost effective programs for preschoolers. With some forethought and firewalls something could be worked out… but without either of those elements the separation of church and state could be corroded.

Puerto Rico’s Template for Regulating Athletics Makes Sense… Having Fun is Ultimate Goal

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

This past weekend I attended a family gathering where I learned that one of my wife’s extremely talented great nephews had decided to quit soccer completely, turning his back on a sport he played since he was a young child. Why? His mom said he wasn’t experiencing any joy in playing.

Yesterday I read a story in the New York Times by Tom Farrey, a journalist, director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, and author of “Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.” In the article he reported on how Puerto Rico is reining in youth sports… and how the parents are in despair. The reason for the government initiating a limit on participation in sports?

The catalyst was the death of Roberto Quiles Jr., 15, who collapsed during a five-day Junior Olympic basketball tournament sponsored by Jeep. His father, Roberto, said that the cause of the heart failure had not been determined, but that his son had been “exhausted” from year-round play and that medical attention was slow to arrive on site.His death elevated island-wide concerns about pressures placed on children and families by a youth sports system that had been transformed — industrialized — over the past decade or so.

As in the United States, the emphasis on travel teams had taken over. There were expensive basketball and volleyball tournaments at the Puerto Rico Convention Center for hundreds of teams from all over the island, at ever-earlier ages. Teenagers were playing eight games a week between their club and school teams. Children were kept at practice past 10 p.m. on school nights. Family dinners were sacrificed. There were overuse injuries and occasional fights in the stands. Abuse from parents was directed toward referees — or their own children.

In short, the joy of sport had been taken away from children and replaced by the grim fear of failure. Instead of encouraging their children to play among themselves in self-regulated games on playgrounds Puerto Rican parents were pushing their children to compete for slots on travel teams who played in stadiums full of angry adults screaming at referees and children whose every mistake was magnified.

So who would complain about restrictions limiting the number of games per week and the intrusion on family life?

Some private schools have objected. So has the Olympic committee, whose annual funding from the department has been slashed in recent years amid the island’s economic troubles and worries about its ability to train athletes who win medals. “Our federations have autonomy, and that’s not to be negotiated,” said Sara Rosario, the Olympic committee’s president. Basketball has also taken that position…

The argument in favor of sustaining these soul crushing athletic leagues is that some excellent athletes might not have a chance for the Olympics or athletic scholarships. But Mr. Farrey offers a different and healthier perspective:

But the most effective sports systems in the world don’t produce athletic talent as much as prevent it from being ruined before it ripens. It is less about spending money and more about spending time getting the youth model right, committing to build the base and being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests. In Puerto Rico, it’s just government taking the lead and dragging the sports organizations along.

The phrase that jumped out at me in this paragraph was this:

…being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests.

Patience with children is clearly NOT a virtue in our culture, and our lack of patience is reflected in the way we measure learning in children, the way we compel them to compete with each other at ever earlier ages, and the way we emphasize unyielding standards based on the assumption that all children mature at the same age. If we organized schools and structured learning based on the premise that we needed to be patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we would not force them to compete with children in the same age cohort, expect them to learn at the same rate, or track them into courses and schools when they are long adolescents. In our country,  instead of being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we seem to be committed to sorting and selecting them based on standardized test scores at ever younger ages, rating the effectiveness of their schooling on their earnings as adults, and training them to accept their position in a “race to the top” based on how quickly they mature intellectually and score high on tests administered to the competition in their age cohort.

 

SAT and ACT CAN Be Abandoned

January 7, 2020 Leave a comment

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Contrary to what Issuu writer Rick Michalak thinks, it’s not impossible to eliminate the SAT and ACT. In this day and age Schools can get a holistic measure of high school students by looking at their GPA and transcripts without needing to cull through teams of paper and face to face interviews can be done using telecommunications and graded using rubrics. Such a method would be far better than sorting based on standardized testing,

Today’s Collegians are Surveilled 24/7, in Keeping with In Loco Parentis Standards Set By Student’s Parents

December 27, 2019 Comments off

I was initially appalled when I read the headline in Drew Harwell’s Washington Post article that appeared earlier this week. It’s title, “Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands”, led me to wonder why college students were accepting this surveillance… until I reflected on the upbringing of today’s students.

The students entering college today are the first generation to go through their lives being surveilled from cradle to campus. Their parents almost certainly had baby monitors in their rooms and, as part of the post-Columbine generation, likely attended schools with video monitors in the hallways. Upon entering adolescence, their parents purchased cell phones and provided them with phone service, enabling the parents to monitor their every movement and check on every text and phone call and monitor their screen time. In short, in loco parentis- the concept that colleges should keep track of students in the same fashion as parents, is far different in the age of telecommunications than it was when I entered college in the 1960s and when my children entered in the 1980s and 1990s. I was not surprised to read the reaction of one parent who was pleased with the impact of this kind of monitoring:

Some parents, however, wish their children faced even closer supervision. Wes Grandstaff, who said his son, Austin, transformed from a struggling student to college graduate… said the added surveillance was worth it…

He now says he wishes schools would share the data with parents, too. “I just cut you a $30,000 check,” he said, “and I can’t find out if my kid’s going to class or not?”

The article also offers a chilling description of how acceptable this kind of monitoring is to students today and how administrators justify its use based on the results:

This style of surveillance has become just another fact of life for many Americans. A flood of cameras, sensors and microphones, wired to an online backbone, now can measure people’s activity and whereabouts with striking precision, reducing the mess of everyday living into trend lines that companies promise to help optimize.

Americans say in surveys they accept the technology’s encroachment because it often feels like something else: a trade-off of future worries for the immediacy of convenience, comfort and ease. If a tracking system can make students be better, one college adviser said, isn’t that a good thing?

As a parent who did not have a baby monitor, I can appreciate the “convenience, comfort and ease” that such a device offers. It would have saved many trips up and down stairs to see if my daughter was really taking a nap and many nights of shuttling between our bedroom and hers when she was fighting a childhood illness. And as a high school disciplinarian in the late 1970s I would have appreciated the ability to remotely monitor distant hallways and to track students who were wandering off campus instead of attending class. But as a parent and school administrator, I have some misgivings about the overreach of technology, especially when it is being used to classify students and predict misbehavior as described in the article:

A classifier algorithm divides the student body into peer groups — “full-time freshmen,” say, or “commuter students” — and the system then compares each student to “normal” behavior, as defined by their peers. It also generates a “risk score” for students based around factors such as how much time they spent in community centers or at the gym.

The students who deviate from those day-to-day campus rhythms are flagged for anomalies, and the company then alerts school officials in case they want to pursue real-world intervention.

And what might that intervention looks like? In one case cited in the article, the university sent an adviser to knock on the student’s door. On one level, that kind of intercession seems invasive. Yet if the gathered data suggests the student is suicidal or, worse, contemplating and capable of carrying out some kind of shooting the institution would be faulted if it failed to act. This kind of conundrum contributes to the mixed responses of students, a response that is ultimately fatalistic given the ceaseless “advancement” of technology:

Students disagree on whether the campus-tracking systems are a breach of privacy, and some argue they have nothing to hide. But one feeling is almost universally shared, according to interviews with more than a dozen students and faculty members: that the technology is becoming ubiquitous, and that the people being monitored — their peers, and themselves — can’t really do anything about it.

But some administrators and students are rightfully concerned. Here’s the reaction of a disaffected administrator:

“It embodies a very cynical view of education — that it’s something we need to enforce on students, almost against their will,” said Erin Rose Glass, a digital scholarship librarian at the University of California San Diego. “We’re reinforcing this sense of powerlessness … when we could be asking harder questions, like: Why are we creating institutions where students don’t want to show up?”

And here’s a disenchanted student’s reaction:

“We’re adults. Do we really need to be tracked?” said Robby Pfeifer, a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which recently began logging the attendance of students connected to the campus’ WiFi network. “Why is this necessary? How does this benefit us? … And is it just going to keep progressing until we’re micromanaged every second of the day?

Mr. Harwell does an admirable job of providing a balanced perspective on this difficult issue, his closing paragraphs reveal the paradoxical perspective on the issue of 24/7 surveillance:

Joanna Grama, an information-security consultant and higher-education specialist who has advised the Department of Homeland Security on data privacy, said she doubted most students knew they were signing up for long-term monitoring when they clicked to connect to the campus WiFi.

She said she worries about school-performance data being used as part of a “cradle-to-grave profile” trailing students as they graduate and pursue their careers. She also questions how all this digital nudging can affect students’ daily lives.

“At what point in time do we start crippling a whole generation of adults, human beings, who have been so tracked and told what to do all the time that they don’t know how to fend for themselves?” she said. “Is that cruel? Or is that kind?”

Little Libertarian Home Schooler on the Prairie and Cato Homeschooler in Cambridge

December 25, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this month, the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian economics site dedicated to promoting the ideals of Milton Friedman and his acolytes, posted an article by Kerry MacDonald extolling the virtues of home schooling based on the mid-20th Century works of Rose Wilder Lane. Ms. Lane, whose mother Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series beloved of children (including my two daughters) and the basis for a TV series of the same name, was a staunch opponent of any and all government coercion, including public education. Ms. Lane’s views on public schooling, written in 1943, are quoted in Ms. MacDonald’s article:

American schooling is now compulsory, enforced by the police and controlled by the State (that is, by the politicians in office) and paid for by compulsory taxes. The inevitable result is to postpone a child’s growing-up. He passes from the authority of his parents to the authority of the police. He has no control of his time and no responsibility for its use until he is sixteen years old. His actual situation does not require him to develop self-reliance, self-discipline and responsibility; that is, he has no actual experience of freedom in his youth.

Surprisingly, I find myself concurring with Mr. Lane on this perspective, particularly given the increase in surveillance and the introduction of “good guys with guns” in schools. And Ms. Lane’s observation that:

…this type of American education, imported from Prussia by 19th-century education reformers, “is ideal for the German state, whose subjects are not expected ever to know freedom,” but it is “not the best preparation for inheriting the leadership of the World Revolution for freedom”

But I was a bit unsettled when I read her ultimate thinking about schooling, which effectively sought to eliminate all compulsion:

(Ms. Lane) laments the “substitution of compulsory State education for the former American free education,” saying that formerly “American children went to school because they wanted to go, or because their parents sent them,” not because it was mandated of parents under a legal threat of force.

Maybe Ms. Lane’s 1943 memory of “American free education” was untarnished based on her prairie experiences, but urban children who three decades earlier worked in mines, mills and factories probably appreciated compulsory education as compared to compulsory slave labor. And, while Ms. McDonald, who resides in Cambridge MA is able to provide her curious and well educated children a robust curriculum outside the conventional classroom, it is unlikely that some of her neighbors who are working two jobs in the gig economy can do the same thing for their children. But in the rarified atmosphere of the Cato institute these discrepancies probably don’t matter.

 

Short Term Thinking Poisons Schools as Well as Businesses

December 22, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes feared an op ed article by Ryan Beck and Amit Seru titled “Short Term Thinking is Poisoning American Business”. In my opinion, the article describes the result of businesses and economists adopting Milton Friedman’s credo of shareholder primacy, a phenomenon Mr. Beck and Mr. Seru describe in the closing two paragraphs:

Milton Friedman, who popularized the notion of shareholder primacy and pursuit of profit, once lamented that business leaders are often “incredibly shortsighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general.”

Friedman was right. The modern economy is not working for too many people, who have begun to equate short-term thinking with free-market capitalism and have had enough of both. The survival of business in general demands that we take the long view.

As I noted in a comment I posted, Friedman WAS right that “…business leaders are often “incredibly shortsighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general.” But Mr. Friedman himself was shortsighted when he advocated the idea of shareholder primacy because shortsightedness and muddle-headedness was a direct result of that notion. Outsourcing, downsizing, off-shoring, “optimizing” work schedules, eliminating pensions and robust health insurance all increase the bottom line but undercut the well being of employees and, as a result the economic health of our country. Until we restore the notion that corporations need to put the well-being of their employees ahead of the well-being of shareholders we will continue to have “short-sighted” business leaders.

And here’s what makes matters worse from my perspective: part of the notion of privatization is that the use of “business principles” will drive down costs and improve performance of public schools. Many privatized schools have illustrated how they accomplish this feat: they assume no legacy costs; require no new construction and thereby avoid debt service; they offer minimum compensation to new and inexperienced teachers to avoid matching the wages and benefits afforded to those veteran teachers in public schools; and they limit their students to those whose parents have either the fiscal ability or commitment and engagement required to complete the often complex and/or time consuming application processes. In short, they limit the enrollment of “difficult” children or children with disengaged parents while simultaneously limiting the amount they need to spend per pupil by limiting total compensation packages to their staff.

And… if the executives in these for profit charter schools turn a profit they get duly rewarded in the same short term rewards as their counterparts in business: a bonus or wage boost that results in compensation that far exceeds that of the teachers delivering the instruction. The short term thinking in schools is likely to turn out the same way as the short term thinking in business: a situation Mr. Bent and Mr. Seru describe as follows:

Short-term business practices are polluting our environment and harming our health and well-being for the sake of quick payouts.

We’re polluting school environments with tests and harming the health and well-being of teachers and students as a result. Time to pull the plug on profiteering in schools.

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.