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Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

August 19, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, that suggests that the GOP has not made as many adverse inroads into public services as Democrats and progressives feared. Mr. Grossman provides compelling data on the limited ability of conservatives to impose their full  agenda at the state level, in large measure because they have to provide balanced budgets. But he misses one big point: the bi-partisan support for charter schools has transformed the debate on public education. After recounting the challenges State GOP legislators faced in trying to cut popular programs, Mr. Grossman offers this summary of the successes the GOP experienced:

Surprisingly, the biggest Republican state success stories came in partnership with Democrats. After decades of tough-on-crime policies, conservative groups joined with liberal foundations to reform criminal justice in several states. Taking advantage of federal action by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and (especially) Barack Obama, conservative legislators helped greatly expand charter schools. Early childhood education and alternative energy promotion also expanded nationwide, largely on a bipartisan basis.

Mr. Grossman overlooked a very significant shift that appears to have taken place as a result of the Democrats adopting the neoliberal idea that public schools should be operated independently of local school boards.

The bi-patrisan support for charter schools means the debate between those seeking governance of public education by locally ELECTED officials as opposed to governance by private UNELECTED boards is over. The debate is now about whether parents’ decisions about where their child attends school should be made as citizens seeking options for government funded services (i.e. charter “schools-of-choice” vs. traditional schools “assigned by the government”) or made as consumers able to choose from a wide array of products (i.e. vouchers). In short, the debate is no longer between attending the “government school” that is funded with state and/or local taxes or choosing from an array of charters approved by the local and/or State Board. The debate is now between choice and vouchers… allowing parents to take their “school tax allocation” and applying to whatever school they wish to attend— on line, nearby, or distant. It appears that there is bi-partisan support for the abandonment of the governance model that has been in place for decades whereby local communities fund schools overseen by elected school boards that their local resident children must attend. Mr. Grossman may not see this as consequential. As a retired public school administrator I do.

Professionalism, High Cost Killing Team Sports for Kids

August 11, 2019 Comments off

It is distressing to read this article from ESPN about the lower participation rates for kids participation in team sports… but not surprising given that each child pays over $1800 per sport per year… a daunting fee for all but the affluent. When this factor is combined with the deteriorating athletic field in cities and communities it becomes clear that more public funding is needed to address this issue.

apple.news/AtGp6Y77JQjaerfI5cbActA

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!

Stand for Children’s Pitch is Appealing… It’s Track Record is Appalling

July 10, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I got an email from someone named Anna Chaney that landed in my junk file. The message line read: “Take action: Stand for quality public education”. I decided to pull it out of the junk bin and read it. The message resonated. Underneath a logo for an organization called “Stand for Children” and surrounding a picture of a mother helping her daughter with schoolwork It read:

Wayne,

When my family was homeless, school was a haven for my daughter, Tara. It offered her stability and a chance to just be a kid during a difficult and uncertain time.

Once we found a place to live, I had time to become more involved with her school. That’s when I learned it had an F-rating. I was devastated. I knew Tara needed an excellent education if she was going to excel in the future (she wants to be President one day), so I teamed up with other frustrated parents to take action.

Thanks to the determination of families, my daughter’s school now has new leadership and more educational resources in the classroom.

All children deserve to attend a public school that unlocks their potential and lets them thrive.

It had a link to click on where you could sign a petition if you believed “every child deserves access to a high-quality public education” and another link where you could “join the fight for quality public education today” and at the very bottom one of those bright boxes that invited you click on if you wanted to TAKE ACTION.

I clicked on none of the links… but “Stand for Children” sounded vaguely familiar and I seemed to recall that it was one of those many organizations with appealing names and appalling track records. A quick Wikipedia check confirmed my recall. After giving a generally positive overview of Stand for Children, Wikipedia had a section about the organization headed “Criticism” that included the following:

Critics of the group assert that it represents business interests.[16][17]—major funders include the Walton Family and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations. Education policy analyst Diane Ravitch criticized the group for opposing teacher’s unions and seeking to impose standardized testing on public schools.[18]Susan Barrett, former volunteer co-leader of a Stand for Children team in Portland, Oregon, left the organization due to concerns that corporate donors and wealthy board members influence reforms.[19] In 2009, Stand for Children volunteers in Massachusetts witnessed an organizational change in favor of promoting charter schools. The former volunteers organized to protest a ballot initiative filed by Stand for Children. Former Stand for Children volunteers said the ballot measure puts the careers of teachers at the mercy of a rating system while doing nothing to improve teaching in schools.[20]

Regarding Stand For Children’s success in Illinois, Edelman stated: “They essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed — everything we had fought for in Colorado. We hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders and seven of the best minority lobbyists, preventing the unions from hiring them.” He further stated, “There was a palpable sense of concern if not shock on the part of the teachers’ unions of Illinois that Speaker [of the House Mike] Madigan had changed allegiance and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way that pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier.”[21] The Chicago Tribune called Stand for Children “a new force in Illinois politics.”[22] In all, two Chicago newspapers published editorials in favor of Performance Counts.[23][24][25]

Some journalists[who?] questioned the $2.9 million raised by Stand for Children’s Illinois PAC due to the affiliate’s recent[when?] formation and fundraising in the months before a new Illinois law capped campaign contributions for individuals and corporations.[26] These funds, donated by a small number of businesspeople giving hundreds of thousands of dollars each, led detractors question the organization’s grassroots support in the state.[27]

So… here’s my general guidance to people who want to help improve their school… beware of national organizations with catchy titles and bold missions. They all tend to be funded by billionaires whose agenda is NOT the advancement of public education but the advancement of privatization. In a world where President Trump can claim to be a supporter of the environment, it is not surprising to find that an organization seeking privatization of public schools can call itself “Stand for Children”.

 

Dealing with Test Anxiety vs Dealing with “Evaluative Situations”

July 3, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago, as NY students entered the Regents gauntlet, the NYTimes health section featured an article by Dr. Perri Klass titled “Helping Students with Test Anxiety”. The article offered several insights on the phenomenon, ultimately suggesting that the best way to help students avoid test anxiety is to help them develop self-awareness:

Programs in schools that increase students’ understanding of emotions can be very valuable, she (Daniela Raccanello, a developmental and educational psychologist in the department of human sciences at the University of Verona, Italy) said, and can help promote positive emotions and decrease negative ones. Through one such project, she said, Italian students learn to understand their emotions; though the project focuses on traumatic events such as earthquakes, it offers children coping strategies that may help in other stressful situations.

The article also noted that test anxiety is related to our culture that overemphasizes the importance of tests. Quoting Shannon Brady, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, Dr. Klass writes:

“It’s important for us as a culture to stop framing tests as inherently negative,” Dr. Brady said. Parents need to help their children get away from what she called “contingent self-esteem,” the sense that they won’t be loved or valued if they don’t do well.

We tend to celebrate children for good grades and test scores, but it’s important to reinforce that “you are valued for a number of things and even if you have a bad day in one of those domains, you are still a person of worth,” Dr. Brady said.

Easy for Dr. Klass to write, but as she notes near the end of the article, the practical reality today is that teachers as well as students feel intense pressure as a result of the over-emphasis on standardized test scores. Quoting Nathaniel von der Embse, an assistant professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida, who was the first author on a 30-year review of test anxiety published in 2018, Dr. Klass writes:

Dr. von der Embse said that he had seen a resurgence of interest in the question of anxiety around high-stakes testing over the past 12 years, particularly around the No Child Left Behind legislation. “We really can’t talk about test anxiety without talking about environment and particularly teacher stress,” Dr. von der Embse said. Many schools use student test scores to evaluate teachers, he said, and this can create a high stress environment in which the teachers’ stress is communicated to the students. “You might be able to equip your child with individual strategies for handling stress, but if the school is not coordinating their messaging around testing and supporting their teachers, it’s going to be a stressful environment.”

But while Dr. von der Erbse sees the test regimen driven by NCLB as exacerbating test anxiety, he see the opt out movement as wrong headed. Why?

But Dr. von der Embse does not believe in parents opting out of the tests. “We face evaluative situations throughout our entire lives, it’s best to learn how to handle them,” he said.

I agree that it is impractical and wrong to shield children from “evaluative situations”, because they will be faced throughout their lives. But in my life, apart from tests related to academics, the “evaluative situations” have to do with face-to-face interactions with other people, workplace performance, and work ethic in general. If it is important to help students learn “how to handle evaluative situations”, it strikes me that standardized tests are not the best means of accomplishing that end.

 

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.

 

How to “Bully-proof” Your Child? Teach Them the Serenity Prayer

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Estelle Erasmus titled “How to Bully-Proof Your Child“. The bottom line answer is provided by child psychologist Izzy Kalman who suggests that if a child is bullied they should “...treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” The article offers several examples of how to apply Dr. Kalman’s principles, including this one:

The Reflexive Response

“I didn’t. Tessa is a liar!”

“No, she’s not!

“She is! I didn’t cheat!”

“Everyone knows it’s true.”

“It’s not true!”

Mr. Kalman’s Approach:

“Really? Do you believe it?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Or, if the answer is “Yes”:

O.K. If you want to believe it, how can I stop you?”

“You can’t. So I’m going to tell everyone you cheated. And you can’t stop me.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

After reading this example, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In dealing with the false accusation, the bullied individual is acting on this prayer: They accept the thing they can’t change— the accuser’s beliefs— have the courage to stand up to the accusation— but ultimately accede to the accusation because they see that changing the accuser’s mind is an impossibility.

From my experience, all bullying can be resisted in this fashion. A bullied individual cannot change the behavior of the bully on their own and they cannot change the bullying incident itself. The bullied individual, then, needs to have the wisdom to decide whether to seek the intervention of someone who CAN change things or to continue accepting the bullying.

Ms. Erasmus’ elaboration of Dr. Kalman’s theories reinforce the notion that the Serenity Prayer might be applicable across-the-board, as my italicized notes indicate:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on. (i.e. they are not accepting what they cannot change) 

2) They have been making themselves upset. (i.e. if they ACCEPT what they cannot change they will not make themselves upset) 

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying. (i.e. IF they accept what they cannot change it will diminish the bullying behavior— in this case courage IS acceptance) 

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

Bullying has been going on for decades… and trying to stop it by developing elaborate rules and protocols can be self-defeating. I’m with Dr. Kalman on this issue:

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.