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Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

A Trove of Articles on the Cheating Scandal

March 18, 2019 Comments off

Last week’s arrests of 33 parents who spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a “consultant” to help them secure a place in one of the country’s elite colleges resulted in a flood of articles on college admissions. Each article could warrant a stand-alone blog post… but I am trying to scale back on the number and length of blog posts in hopes of devoting more time to writing op ed pieces and/or completing a book I started over a decade ago… but I cannot resist reacting to several of the articles. The articles I culled for reactions are outlined below:

In “College Admissions: Vulnerable, Exploitable, and to Many Americans, Broken“, Anemona Harticollis describes how the whole admissions process to college is, as the title indicates, “exploitable, arbitrary, broken“. Two quotes from  Jerome Karabel, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a historian of college admissions stood out for me. The first:

“Elite colleges have become a status symbol with the legitimacy of meritocracy attached to them, because getting in sanctifies you as meritorious”

And the second one, in the concluding paragraphs:

Mr. Karabel, the sociologist, said that the bribery crisis simply reflected problems in broader society. “I think that as America has become more and more unequal, affluent parents have become desperate to pass on their privileges to their children and avoid downward mobility at all costs,” he said.

Fair access to education, the engine of upward mobility, he suggested, is the casualty.

And one statistic from the article also stood out:

…the admission rate for legacies at Harvard was 33.6 percent. The rate for the Class of 2022 as a whole was under 5 percent.

NY Times reporters Dana Goldstien and Jack Healy describe the consulting process itself in an article titled “Inside the Pricey, Totally Legal World of College Consultants”. As Superintendent who retired from SAU 70, an affluent district in NH that included Hanover High School, I witnessed this world which consisted of everything from retired educators offering advice to the parents of their nieces and nephews to retired guidance counselors earning supplementary income by helping parents navigate the complicated application process, to retirees offering SAT help to slick and costly consultants like those described in the article. And, as the article indicates, the whole enterprise of college admissions coaching is completely unregulated, which makes it particularly vulnerable to the kinds of scandals that emerged this past week. The one paragraph that jumped out for me was this one, that attributed the expansion of admissions consultants to the diminishment of counseling services at public schools:

The growth of private consulting has been driven, in part, by a shortage of guidance counselors in public schools. During the 2015 to 2016 school year, each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 470 students, according to the group.

When I was Principal in rural Maine we had one counselor for 750 high school and middle schoolers. Hanover High School, by contrast, has six counselors for 750 students. Based on the fact that 90+% of the students pursue higher education this is adequate… yet, as noted above, some parents nevertheless seek out additional help.

The scandal also brought forth some scandalous behavior on the part of “elite colleges”, as described in another NYTimes article by Ozan Jaquette and Karina Salazar. The scandalous behavior is captured in the title of the article, “Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools” and despite the data that supports the title the article appeared as an opinion piece.

Even the “Your Money” section of the NYTimes offered some insights into the skewed admissions practices in an article by Ron Lieber describing how colleges are inclined to accept students who can afford to pay full tuition costs over those who need some kind of financial aid. The reason? Some schools “don’t have unlimited aid budgets and generally don’t want to overload families with debt” so they will show some degree of favoritism toward students who don’t need to draw against their scarce pool of scholarships. The thought provoking article illustrates how this conundrum is addressed in different ways by the colleges who use this “need-aware” policy.

The final NYTimes article that sheds indirect but glaring light on this admissions scandal describes “snow-plow” parents: those who strive to remove all obstacles from their children’s lives as they mature in the name of assuring their happiness and success. The result, as article by Clara Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich indicates, is that parents are robbing their children of adulthood. The link between this kind of parenting and the scandalous behavior that captured headlines is self-evident… but here it is summarized in two paragraphs:

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there.

And, as Miller and Bromwich report, the snowplowing begins early and often never leaves:

It starts early, when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born and try to make sure their toddlers are never compelled to do anything that may frustrate them. It gets more intense when school starts: running a forgotten assignment to school or calling a coach to request that their child make the team.

Later, it’s writing them an excuse if they procrastinate on schoolwork, paying a college counselor thousands of dollars to perfect their applications or calling their professors to argue about a grade.

Oh… and for some hard-core snowplowing parents it doesn’t end with college:

The problem is: Snowplowing is a parenting habit that’s hard to break.

“If you’re doing it in high school, you can’t stop at college,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims (the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”) said. “If you’re doing it in college, you can’t stop when it comes to the workplace. You have manufactured a role for yourself of always being there to handle things for your child, so it gets worse because your young adult is ill-equipped to manage the basic tasks of life.”

And once a young adult relies on their parents for making medical appointments, keeping track of their finances, and finding their way in the world it creates a helplessness that is hard to overcome.

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Meanwhile in NYC, the Mayor Acknowledges Problems With His Signature Program BUT Does Not See Closure as a Solution

February 26, 2019 Comments off

In addition to the story about the Chicago mayoral race that glossed over the impact of school closures, today’s NYTimes featured an article by Elizabeth Shapiro on the “failure” of Mayor de Blasio’s $773,000,000 Renewal Program. The article describes the inability of any urban school system to find a way to “fix broken schools” and details some of the factors that caused 25% of the renewal schools to close while a similar percentage of those schools improved enough to be removed from the list.

One of the factors that contributed to the inability to turn “renewal” schools around was the fact that the “renewal school” label scared off parents who exercised choice… thereby leaving the “renewal schools” populated by parents who were less invested in assuring the success of their children. It’s no surprise that “renewal schools” were seldom chosen by parents who engaged in the choice process, but it is a surprise that “reformers” failed to see that this would be a predictable consequence of the system, a consequence that led to even more intractability of “fixing” the “renewal” schools.

One thing is clear about Mayor de Blasio: he is NOT backing down from his position that school closures is the answer. Here’s the closing sentence from the article:

“The era of closing schools has come to an end,” the mayor said.

Thankfully, Mr. de Blasio does not have the ethos of the impatient neoliberal reformers who seek the favor of billionaire venture capitalists at the expense of the struggling middle class residents in the city.

Advice to a Parent Concerned about their Child’s Test Score

February 16, 2019 Comments off

My older daughter has a colleague who wants to talk to me about a concern she has concerning her daughter who makes the Honor Roll but struggles on standardized tests. I haven’t had a chance to talk with the parent yet, but the question gave me a chance to reduce my thinking about testing to writing… and this is what I came up with in “blog form” (as opposed to a polished op ed piece):

It is a shame that your daughter feels diminished because she does not do well on standardized tests, because they do not begin to measure what is most important. An aphorism that applies here is this: everything that can be measured is not important and everything that is important cannot be measured. Here are some important items that standardized tests do NOT determine:
  • Does your daughter enjoy learning for learning’s sake? Does she read on her own and avidly pursue things that interest her?
  • Does your daughter relate well to others… classmates and adults alike? 
  • Is your daughter engaged in the life of the school or the community (i.e. athletics, clubs, music, drama, church, etc.)
  • Does your daughter enjoy school in general? 
My hunch is that if your daughter is on the Honor Roll you can probably answer yes to all of these… and if that is the case… who cares about a test score? I am confident that she will get into college and, once there, will find a path that guarantees she will be learning for learning sake, be associated with like-minded people whose passion will energize her, and will fully engage her in the life of the school she attends and the community where she lives…. and most importantly, she’ll enjoy herself. 
 
BTW, once I was accepted into college and grad school, no one cared what my SAT or GRE scores were… they only cared about the quality of the work I submitted in my classes and my job performance… and once I found a college major and a career that interested me I had no problem finding my way in the world. I’m not sure how “finding my way in the world” is measured… but I don’t think it can be reduced to a number and I wouldn’t want the Educational Testing Service to design a standardized test for it.  

Christiansen’s Clarification: Technology Will Not Disrupt Public SCHOOLS… it WILL Disrupt School SYSTEMS

February 3, 2019 Comments off

In a recent Christensen Institute blog post, Thomas Arnett asserts that the Clay Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, Disrupting Class, never claimed that public education would be disrupted in the sense that that term is applied in business. Here’s his reasoning (with the bold emphases applied by Mr. Arnett and the red italics applied by me):

First, charter schools are not disruptive innovations relative to traditional schools.Disruptive innovations always start out serving people who lack access to mainstream options. But in the United States today, all students have access to some form of public education. This means that charter schools cannot be disruptive because they compete head-to-head with district schools for enrollment.

Second, full-time virtual schools and other purely online options are not disrupting traditional public schools either. Disruptive innovations need a technology that can improve over time until customers see it as comparable to traditional options. But when it comes to schooling, technology cannot substitute for everything parents value in a traditional school. In addition to academic learning, most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents. This important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute, which means only a small segment of the population will ever be interested in full-time virtual schooling.

Charter schools and virtual schools certainly compete with district schools, but their differences relative to district schools do not make them disruptive.

Mr. Arnett DOES contend that disruption has a place in public education, and that place is at the SYSTEMS level… and because it is taking place at that level it is requiring much more time!

As Disrupting Class points out, online learning enables disruptive innovation in K–12 education. But online learning is not disrupting the K–12 education system. Rather, it fuels disruption within the markets that provide resources to K–12 schools….

Disruptive entrants in the K–12 marketplace offer schools fresh opportunities to better support their students. But using technology to make learning more student-centered will be neither automatic or intuitive. In an EdSurge article, my colleague Julia Freeland Fisher explains that many of the most innovative online-learning technologies have slow adoption curves because they are not plug-compatible with traditional schools. Similarly, some of my recent research points out that schools trying to personalize learning might want to rethink traditional school staffing models; but redefining educator roles and responsibilities is no easy task. Even with all the new opportunities that online learning has to offer, transforming schools still comes down to the hard work of change management.

Disruptive innovation is happening in K–12 education. But it isn’t going to replace traditional schools. Rather, it will change the menu of instructional resources that schools can use to serve their students. To take advantage of these resources, school leaders first need to carefully consider how new tools impact educators capacity. Then they need to implement new tools, programs, and approaches in ways that actually motivate teachers to change how they teach.

As one who attended two presentations to Superintendents where Clay Christensen’s co-author, Michael Horn, talked about the concepts in his the book Disrupting Class, I don’t recall this emphasis on this need for systems changeRather, Mr. Horn was promoting the idea among our group that online learning was going to transform public education the same way the transistor radio changed music and cell phones were transforming communication and media transmission, which meant that delivery of education in brick and mortar schools would go the way of plug-in radios and landlines. Systems change is far more marketable to parents than change that completely uproots the care taking role parents expect from schools and the human interaction that only a teacher can provide.

I think public education needs to change the same way that book stores and public libraries are changing. The old model for book stores and libraries, where there were large endless shelves of books, is being replaced by smaller gathering places where customers can linger on their devices, sip coffee, and seek the advice of the bookseller or librarian on books that are on the market that might be of interest to them. They might even have meeting rooms where like-minded individuals can gather to share insights on a book or do an activity together. Instead of being a single minded store or institution that deals only with printed text, book stores and libraries are becoming gathering places where there is a menu of options for their clientele.

But unlike book stores and libraries, public schools play an important care-giving role. They need to embrace the idea that “…most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents.” and that “this important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute”.  To that end, when public schools develop their menu of options for parents they might also include space for after school activities like music instruction, medical services, unstructured play with their classmates, and a safe space to hang out. 

This expansion of the school’s menu from offering only academics to providing care-giving would clearly cost more… but I believe a case can be made that it would also save more in the long run. Working parents would not have to fret about whether their children arrive home safely and what activities they are engaged in, the endless shuttling to-and-from after-school activities would cease, and children would have more opportunities to play with each other with light adult supervision. If that is “disruption”, I say bring it on!

Oregon Legislators Mull “Too Young to Test” Legislation… But Luddite Parents Across the Country COULD Undercut Effectiveness of Tests Altogether

January 28, 2019 Comments off

Some Oregon legislators have had enough high stakes testing… and to ensure that it does not spread any further than it already has they’ve introduced a “Too Young to Test” bill that will forbid the use of standardized tests in the early grades. But there may be a way to end all testing according to a Eugene Weekly Op Ed piece by Roscoe Caron and Larry Lewin, retired Eugene School District middle school teachers, and Pat and Jan Eck, retired elementary educators.

Oregonians have an opportunity to change things in a good way. We have the chance to say “No” to the developmentally inappropriate and harmful practice of testing-sorting-tracking little children.

We can say “No” to the drive to minimize their other important qualities, such as creativity, divergent thinking and problem-solving.

One way to change things is for all of us to tell our legislators to support the “Too Young to Test” bill (HB 2318) that has been introduced by Rep. John Lively (D- Springfield). It would prohibit the state government and local districts from standardized testing children from pre-kindergarten through grade 2.

It is modeled on legislation in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. It would allow teachers to make their own professional decisions about which assessments to administer.

The second way is for parents to “Just Say No” to every form of standardized testing that they can.

This is where the ultimate power is: If parents say “no more” — by opting their children out — the testing juggernaut will begin to collapse. We could then join much of the rest of the world in giving a few well-constructed, classroom-based assessments, and save our kids from harm, save our teachers and principals from dispirited burnout and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

It struck me as I read the second option— a complete bail out of testing— that parents who opt out of standardized tests are the modern day version of the Luddites. Here’s a description of the Luddite movement from Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization of English textile workers in the 19th century, where a radical faction destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.

I see a clear analogy between the opposition to standardized testing and the opposition to textile machinery. Luddites did not oppose “technology”, they opposed the erosion of skills that accompanied the spread of technology. Wikipedia continues:

Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.

The standardized testing “machinery” undercuts the “standard labor practices” of teacher-craftsmen in the same way that textile machinery was a means of undercutting the “standard labor practices” of making stockings by hand… and the use of machine scored standardized tests as a substitute for the hand-crafted tests of teachers IS letting the craft of teaching go to waste.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to note that the Luddite movement was grassroots, emerging over time as a result of economic hardships:

The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers.[20] The movement began in Arnold, Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years.[21][22] Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery. Textile workers destroyed industrial equipment during the late 18th century,[20] prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.

We haven’t gotten to the point of having organizations burn boxes of standardized test scoring sheets or vandalizing the various computer centers where high-stakes tests are scored. But in many respects, the recent decision of the Regents to punish schools where parents opt out of tests is analogous to the Protection of Stocking Frames Act of 1788.

History has not been kind to Luddites. Their movement ended badly as profiteers eventually replaced hand crafted stockings with those made by machine and the craft of stocking making has gone to waste. But more and more people are coming to the conclusion that machinery of all kinds reduces the humanity of all… and that awareness is at the root of the movement to address climate change. MAYBE the teachers, parents, and grandparents who oppose the displacement of teacher judgment by standardized tests can join with workers whose work has been displaced by technology and develop a vision for a different kind of economy.

 

Focus on Test Scores Demoralizes Committed Parents in NYC Public Schools

January 27, 2019 Comments off

Late Friday I received a plaintive email from my younger daughter in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn about the travails at her son’s elementary school at roughly the same time as Diane Ravitch uploaded a post about a NYC Principal who was wrote a letter of protest about the ratings of their school. Ms. Ravitch’s post was one of several she has written about the Regent’s misguided rating system that is based almost entirely on test results, a post that echoed points I’ve made repeatedly for several years in my career and on scores of blog posts since I retired seven years ago. My daughter’s email, though, put a human face on the issue of test-based ranking.

In the email she described a recent PTA meeting where the Principal explained why the school was branded as “failing”. She explained how parents’ decisions to withhold children from the testing on the principle that the test-and-punish policy is misguided can result in the entire school being deemed a “failure” and consequently closed. Here’s the way my daughter put it:

There was a big meeting yesterday at our school to explain why we look bad to the state–basically they only look at testing results, and if students don’t take the test, they get a zero and all those zeros are averaged in.

There was also some thing where they don’t count English language learners unless you have 30 or more students designated as such and we have 29….which was really disappointing for the principal because her English language learners are doing really well.

She included a link to a Daily News article that she felt did a good job of explaining the situation before concluding with this:

What is really worrying everyone is that this will keep parents from attending our school and we’re already losing so many local parents to charters and private schools. And it’s just demoralizing in general–for parents and teachers.

Her son is in first grade and loves school and my daughter believes the teachers and administrators do an exceptional job of working with all the children in the school, getting to know them personally and tailoring their teaching to meet each child where they are. The school serves a section of Red Hook that is gentrifying and a section of the housing projects and neighborhoods that border the projects. It is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and economically diverse. It has everything a parent would want from a public school: a good arts program; after school programs that serve the varied interests of the diverse student body; a bi-lingual program for a cohort of children at the school; knowledgeable and caring teachers; and a core of parents who want to see the school serve every child. But because the State assigns zeros to those students who miss the tests, fail to factor in ELL scores for want of a single student, and heavily weight test scores in the ranking algorithm, her school… the school my grandson looks forward to attending every day… is a failure. And “it’s just demoralizing in general”.

It’s time for the Regents to stop relying on spreadsheets full of data and start listening to parents like my daughter and teachers and administrators at schools like hers in Red Hook. There is a movement afoot that appears to be toppling the current status quo of testing-punishing-and-privatizing. Let’s hope that grassroots movement catches fire and gets the attention of neoliberals who are making policy for schools today.

 

NYTimes David Kirp Sees Promise in Community Schools

January 13, 2019 Comments off

The Community School Comes of Age, the NYTimes David Kirp op ed article from earlier this week, describes how the community schools are getting a foothold in New York City. I was heartened to read this, because the “community school” described in Mr. Kirp’s article is very much like the “network school” that is the overarching theme of this blog. Mr. Kirp uses NYC’s Island School, a K-8 school serving 50 students most of whom are homeless, as the prototypical community school and uses a recent RAND Corporation study as evidence that this model is succeeding:

A 2017 RAND Corporation study of the first wave of New York’s community schools concluded that they are generally on the right track. They are staying open longer and finding new ways to help their students. They’re working with families and relying on mentors to persuade students of the value of education.

These practices are critical, according a 2017 report from the Learning Policy Institute (where I’m a senior fellow) and the National Education Policy Center. That study combed the voluminous research to identify the elements of a good community school. When schools both “support academic success and social, emotional and physical health” and “offer a promising foundation for progress,” the report concluded, research shows that students’ reading and math scores go up and they’re more likely to graduate. Fewer of them skip school. And they act out less often.

The broad mission of community schools can pose problems… especially when the administrators are pulled in many directions:

Most community school principals, the RAND evaluation noted, have built solid relations with partners — nonprofit groups, government agencies and businesses that can connect their school with essential services. But some reported feeling whipsawed between what they saw as competing priorities: giving students the extra support they need, versus increasing test scores.

“We’re mandated to do lots of different things,” one school leader complained. “There needs to be a real understanding of how much time do we have in a school day, in a school year.”

Mr. Kirp’s article included one very good and very consequential finding:

The community school approach represents a sea change, for it rejects the “no child left behind” belief that test scores are all that matter.Studies show that Americans are losing faith in that approach. In a 2018 survey of 3,000 adults, conducted by Columbia University Teachers College, two-thirds agreed that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families.” This isn’t a partisan issue — more than half of self-described conservatives concurred.

And this finding leads to an important question as we enter the 2020 election: which candidate will look at the fact that 2/3 of the voters agree that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families” and pledge to eliminate the test-and-punish approach that does absolutely nothing to provide the necessary community resources, health and community services to students and families? And more importantly, will the NEA and AFT use this finding to continue to push for schools to provide the community resources, health and community services to students and families?