Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

Self-Directed Learning: A Place Where Libertarianism and Progressivism Intersect

August 2, 2019 Comments off

A series of articles in the libertarian Cato Institute’s July edition of Cato Unbound offers four essays that describe a point where libertarianism and progressivism intersect: the need to move away from our lock-step factory model of education in the direction of self-directed learning. The opening paragraphs introducing the essays describes the basic libertarian argument for questioning the status quo and re-thinking the voucher plans espoused by their iconic economist Milton Friedman:

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead?Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

As one who read and admired the thinking of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Ivan Illich, there is an appeal to seeing public education as it exists today wither and disappear. Since the passage of NCLB, education policy has been dictated by the desire of politicians and parents to ensure that children graduating from high school meet “high standards”. But setting such standards without increasing funding or changing the age-based grade-level cohort scheme for schooling has proven to be an impossibility. The result is “failing schools” based on standardized test scores and increasingly dis-engaged students as today’s students find the lessons linked to test scores dispiriting and pointless in a world where they can get answers to questions that concern them directly with a Google Search or the use of an app. In the next few days I plan to explore the ideas presented in these Cato Unbound essays and offer some ideas on how we might change to current paradigm for schooling in a way that helps all children have an opportunity to learn more by directing their own learning.

Need More Time on That Standardized Test? If You Have the Money and the Know How, You Can Get It!

August 1, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes reported on a phenomenon we began to observe well over a decade ago in the New Hampshire School District I led: affluent and knowledgeable parents are seeking and securing additional time for their children to take high stakes standardized tests. How? Through the 504 loophole. Writers Dana Goldstein and Jugal Patel describe it thusly in their opening paragraphs:

The boom began about five years ago, said Kathy Pelzer, a longtime high school counselor in an affluent part of Southern California. More students than ever were securing disability diagnoses, many seeking additional time on class work and tests.

A junior taking three or four Advanced Placement classes, who was stressed out and sleepless. A sophomore whose grades were slipping, causing his parents angst. Efforts to transfer the children to less difficult courses, Ms. Pelzer said, were often a nonstarter for their parents, who instead turned to private practitioners to see whether a diagnosis — of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, perhaps, or anxiety or depression — could explain the problem.

Such psychological assessments can cost thousands of dollars, and are often not covered by insurance. For some families, the ultimate goal was extra time — for classroom quizzes, essays, state achievement tests, A.P. exams and ultimately the SAT and ACT.

“You’ll get what you’re looking for if you pay the $10,000,” Ms. Pelzer said, citing the highest-priced evaluations. “It’s a complicated mess.”

The results of this “complicated mess” are predictable: if you have the money, you can buy the time your child needs. If you don’t have the money, you’re stuck. And while word on this was fairly localized over a decade ago, social media have made it possible for the information to be shared far and wide… and the consequences are that the children of affluent parents are having their presumed needs met and the poor have a steeper hill to climb:

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

Ms. Goldstein and Ms. Patel’s thoroughly researched article describes the genesis of 504 plans and how they became the workaround of choice for parents who could afford to have their child diagnosed by a clinician who specializes in that area. It includes stark data indicating that wealthy districts have twice the percentage of 504 cases as poor districts and blacks are disproportionately lacking in 504 accommodations.

The fix might be easy: eliminate the timing of the tests— or better yet make the stakes of the tests lower. Either way, the playing field will become more level and the importance of test preparation will be diminished… and that would be good for public education.

PA School Lunch Brouhaha Exemplifies All That is Wrong With Internet

July 22, 2019 Comments off

I first read about the overly aggressive memo about delinquent school lunch accounts on my phone feed. Fox Mews reported on it and I could imagine Fox and Friends having a field day. Later I saw a CNN account of the story and this morning the NYTIMES has a story. The bottom line is that a rogue food service administrator and the school attorney got together and concocted an ill advised letter that was sent to parents whose students owed money to the school for lunches. I dare say that such incidents occurred at least once a month SOMEWHERE in the US during the 29 years I served as a school superintendent… but the boneheaded mistakes did not become national news… they were taken care of at the local level. When local mistakes by overly aggressive administrators become national news it makes everyone’s job in the public sector tougher… and takes up bandwidth in national news reporting that COULD be used to inform the public of the big picture challenges public schools face.

www.nytimes.com/2019/07/20/us/school-lunch-bills-overdue-payment.html

“Busing”, a “Liberal Train Wreck” is NOT the Issue: Caste IS

July 15, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading two excellent NYTimes articles on the ultimate third rail issue: the use of busing to integrate public schools.

My use of quotation marks around the word busing is explained in the first article, “It Was Never About Busing“, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, who wrote:

That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing.

The term “busing” is a race-neutral euphemism that allows people to pretend white opposition was not about integration but simply about a desire for their children to attend neighborhood schools. But the fact is that American children have ridden buses to schools since the 1920s. There is a reason the cheery yellow school bus is the most ubiquitous symbol of American education. Buses eased the burden of transportation on families and allowed larger comprehensive schools to replace one-room schoolhouses. Millions of kids still ride school buses every day, and rarely do so for integration.

Ms. Hannah-Jones offers this bitter insight into the real problem with busing:

The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration. As the federal judge who ordered busing for desegregation in the landmark case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court said, according to the 1978 book “Nothing Could Be Finer,” “Heck, I was bused as a child in Robeson County. Everybody who attends school in North Carolina has been bused. Busing isn’t the question, whatever folks say. It’s desegregation.”

But later in her article, Ms. Hannah-Jones offers an even deeper insight: on three occasions she links the desegregation mandates to “the educational caste system“.  THAT phrase captures not only the racial inequities that persist in our public schools since Brown v. Board of Education, but also captures the fact that almost every state in the union operates schools based on a system of economic segregation. The caste system is both racial and economic and the results are catastrophic for children raised in poverty no matter what their race and doubly catastrophic for black and brown children raised in poverty.

Ms. Hannah-Jones offers a comprehensive history of court decisions and legislative action that initially led to the use of busing to provide racially balanced schools, concluding that overview with this reminder:

When people call busing ill conceived or the worst means of ensuring integration, they conveniently obscure that busing was almost always a tool of last resort, mandated by courts only after lengthy battles with school boards and state officials, by black parents and civil rights groups, failed to produce even modest integration for black children. Judges and attorneys and activists were trying to destruct a racist and segregated educational system in the face of enormous resistance, subterfuge and violence, even in the most ostensibly liberal places.

In doing so, of course mistakes were made. Particularly, desegregation too often shuttered black schools and dismissed black educators because they were not considered good enough to teach white children. Many black activists and communities grew weary of chasing white people across the city as they fled integration, and instead they decided to focus on gaining resources for schools that served their own neighborhoods.

Ms. Hannah-Jones, like presidential candidate Kamala Harris, was bused to a white school– for 10 of the 12 years she attended public schools in Waterloo, IA. The experience was beneficial for her as it was for most African American students who participated in busing programs. But she is resigned to the fact that busing is unlikely to be used again, not because it “failed”, but because even the most liberal and open-minded voters would not support it:

The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.

It is unlikely that we will ever again see an effort to deconstruct our system of caste schools like what we saw between 1968 and 1988. But at the very least, we should tell the truth about what happened.

Busing did not fail. We did.

The second article, “How Joe Biden Became the Democrats’ Anti-Busing Crusader“, by Astead W. Herndon and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, describes Mr. Biden’s personal history in dealing with integration in his home state of Delaware who he represented in the Senate. The article provides a good overview of the history of school integration and offers context for the positions he took. The article doesn’t clearly depict the latent racism of Delaware, however. As a junior high student in the early 1960s, I vividly recall going on a field trip to the Dover Air Force Base where there were separate water fountains and bathrooms for “Negros”. It was the first time I came across such blatant discrimination, though I since learned that up until the Brown case my hometown in SE Pennsylvania operated a separate facility for black students.

Mr. Herndon and Ms. Stolberg thoroughly researched their article, and the reported that most of the civil rights leaders who knew Mr. Biden at the time he was becoming “the Democrats’ Anti-Busing Crusader” would not rule out voting for him and felt that he was walking a tightrope between his personal convictions and the anti-integration sentiment of the voters in his state. After an even handed and clear eyed examination of Mr. Biden, the article concludes with this:

The Biden spokesman, Mr. Bates, said that if elected, Mr. Biden would reinstate Obama-era policies “designed to increase the diversity of our schools.” Mr. Biden has long maintained that the white flight he had warned about came to pass, noting the many white families who fled to Pennsylvania for that state’s public schools, or — like Mr. Biden himself — enrolled their children in private schools. In his 2007 memoir, he described court-ordered busing as “a liberal train wreck.”

Aides say he has not changed his mind.

Team Sports as Therapy for Adverse Childhood Experiences

July 12, 2019 Comments off

Dr. Perri Klass’ latest column in the NYTimes describes the findings of a recent study that indicates that adolescents who have adverse childhood experiences would benefit from participating in team sports. Empahsizing that the study shows association, NOT causation, Dr. Klass writes:

In a study published in May in JAMA Pediatrics, people who had experienced traumatic events as children had better mental health outcomes as adults if they had participated in team sports during adolescence.

Dr. Molly C. Easterlin, the lead author of the study, which looked at a national sample of 9,668 people, said, “Among children affected by adverse childhood experiences, team sports in adolescence was associated with less depression and anxiety in young adulthood.” 

This gibes with my own personal experience as a child and a parent when faced with the “adverse childhood experience” of relocating. When I moved from one community to another– be it as a child or a young adult— I found that participation in organized sports provided a way to meet other children from all walks of life and connect with them based on a common passion. I was never a good enough athlete to play varsity sports, but I was good enough to play little league baseball in my late elementary school years and that provided me with a means to find friends quickly when I moved from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. As a parent, I coached my daughters’ softball and soccer teams to ensure that they might have a similar experience as mine, playing with and getting to know other “athletes” by participating in team sports and when they showed the ability to succeed as varsity athletes I encouraged them to do so and went to as many of their contests as possible.

Given these personal experiences, the findings of researchers quoted by Dr. Klass resonated with me:

There are “a lot of life lessons that can be learned through playing team and group-based sports,” said Rochelle Eime, an associate professor of sport participation at Federation University in Australia. “You’ve got to train and work hard; you learn to win and more importantly learn to lose.” This helps children develop resilience, she said.

“They can learn so many life lessons, it can really help their social well-being and their psychological well-being as well,” Dr. Eime said. “They often have less stress in their lives, better social interactions, improved self-esteem.” She was the lead author of a review of studies which found that sports participation was associated with better self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms. Being part of a team seemed to be associated with additional benefits because of the social interactions.

But, like almost everything that has to do with rearing children, the lack of equity emerges as an issue. My daughters and I all attended schools with decent-to-robust extra-curricular opportunities and attended them in communities that supported those kinds of activities. Too many children are raised in communities that either do not care about these kinds of activities or cannot afford them. Making matters worse, many communities charge user fees for sports, creating a barrier to entry for children raised in poverty. Quoting Dr. Alex B. Diamond, an associate professor of pediatrics and orthopedics and the director of the program for injury prevention in youth sports at Vanderbilt, and Dr. Easterlin, Dr. Klass concludes her article with this:

Overall, Dr. Diamond said, “Sports as a whole remains a positive and more than likely a protective activity for our kids and teenagers.” They need care and attention, for their physical and mental well-being, and they need the opportunity to participate in settings where they will receive that care and attention. And not all children get that opportunity.

“Making those activities accessible to all is very important,” Dr. Easterlin said. There can be disparities in sports participation, with some families not able to afford to have a child on the team.

“From a public health policy standpoint, there is some evidence sports are beneficial to children,” she said. “Child health advocates and policymakers should consider investing in these programs to make sure they are accessible, equitable and strong.

To those who see inter-scholastic sports as a frill and communities who believe participation in sports should be based on a fee-for-service model, an examination of this research is in order. Who knows… it might even lead to higher test scores!

Billionaires, Alumni, Asian Parents Prevail… and Admissions Tests Continue in NYC

June 30, 2019 Comments off

Over the past several weeks, I’ve written posts on NYC’s decision to push to change the admissions process to the city’s elite high schools, which is based solely on one test score. The result of using this test is a disproportionate number of Asian students in the elite schools and a substantial under-representation of African-American and Latina students in those schools. To remedy this imbalance, the Mayor de Blasio and his education commissioner Richard Carranza proposed that Instead of using test scores as the exclusive means of admitting students the “elite” schools would admit the top three students from each middle school in the city IF those students scored above a certain level on the test. But, as NYTimes writers Eliza Shapiro and Vivian Wang reported earlier this week, the result of doing this would be the displacement of students who scored higher than those top students on the existing test, students who presumably “deserved” their placement because the test is a better predictor of student success than the grades the students earned in their Middle School.

As recently as a few weeks ago it seemed that the NYS legislators, who need to approve this change for reasons that are convoluted and intertwined with NYS politics, would endorse the Mayor’s proposal… but a coalition of billionaire donors, esteemed alumni of the “elite” high schools, and Asian parents joined forces to get the Mayor’s idea shelved. The Times writers described the backlash, which included “...a well-funded opposition effort led by a billionaire graduate of one of the specialized schools sent African-American parents to lawmakers’ doors, urging them to reject the bill.” But no billionaires or parents showed up to support the bill:

There were no rallies in support of the mayor’s plan on the Capitol’s grand staircase and almost no lobbyists pushed it — except Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carranza and their staff members. During a visit to the Capitol last week, Mr. Carranza said he had not spoken with the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, about whether the bill might be brought to the floor.

Absent any groundswell of support for the bill, and given the extreme pushback from parents whose children were admitted and alumni who felt compelled to ensure the “elite” status of their alma maters, the bill to change admissions became so “radioactive” it was never even considered.

The Times noted that a “victory” would not change the demographics of the “elite schools”.

Even under the mayor’s plan to expand a program aimed at enrolling more low-income students in the specialized schools, offers to black and Hispanic students will increase to only 16 percent from 10 percent. Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of the school system as a whole.

But that statistical reality notwithstanding, the Mayor sees the abandonment of tests as an important step the city needs to take if it hopes to increase the educational opportunities for ALL students in the schools:

“Cities all over the nation have turned away from completely unfiltered, high-stakes testing and our state remains stuck in the past,” Mr. de Blasio said Friday. “Session may have ended, but our quest to provide our kids with the best opportunity possible has not.”

The article noted that the Mayor’s run for the Presidency drew some energy away from this fight… but maybe if a Democrat wins the election they might consider replacing Betsy DeVos with Bill de Blasio… and he might be able to take his opposition to standardized tests to the next level.

 

Growing Up in Poverty Means Growing Up in Shame

June 28, 2019 Comments off

Parenting in Poverty”, a NYTimes article by Bobbi Dempsey that appeared last week, poignantly describes what it feels like to be a child whose parents rely on food stamps and how frustrating it is to operate as a parent under the guidelines set forth for EBT cards. Ms. Dempsey writes about the feelings she experienced as a child:

I am far too familiar with the seemingly endless array of indignities and flavors of shame that come with living in poverty. You get dirty glances for looking poor — but are also judged if you look “too rich,” by wearing something an observer deems too nice for someone on public assistance. Everything you buy or eat in view of others is up for public scrutiny and unwanted commentary…

During the course of my childhood, I had more embarrassing encounters at the grocery store checkout than I could count…

I’ve overheard snide comments in the lines at grocery stores about the attire of someone using an EBT card or the cars they parked outside of a convenience store where they used a card to buy milk. I’ve also heard faculty room gossip about profligacy of parents who used food stamps back in the 70s when I worked as a high school administrator and read endless articles about the so-called “Welfare Queens” who abused the systems in place. But this article reminded me of the impact that kind of judgment has on a child, especially one who experiences it day-in-and-day-out throughout their entire childhood. And the indignities are not limited to the grocery store:

I never went to birthday parties as a kid because I couldn’t afford to buy a gift. I would “get sick” and have to stay home on field trip days because I couldn’t afford the cost of the trip itself, let alone bring spending money for any souvenirs or food. Joining any activity that involved dues to pay or uniforms to buy would have been inconceivable.

Ms. Dempsey describes how today’s EBT cards draw less attention from those in line than the food stamps her mother used, but the strictures imposed on parents and observed by children still sting:

While the new plastic card may spare those families some shame, it can be difficult to reconcile that buying non-luxuries like toilet paper, tampons or a supermarket rotisserie chicken may be just as wild a fantasy as getting a child a pony.

The brief profile at the end of the article describes Ms. Dempsey with this single sentence:

Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer and a communications fellow at Community Change who is writing a memoir about moving 70 times before age 18.

I doubt that her mother was all that concerned about Ms. Dempsey’s test scores or how those scores might effect whatever school she was attending at the time… Until we can provide affordable housing and food security for all children in the country we cannot expect to close the widening gap between the rich and poor.