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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.

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In an Ideal Universe, Brooklyn’s Community Driven Integration Plans Would go Viral

April 17, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week, Chalkbeat blogger Christine Viega wrote a post describing how the grassroots efforts of parents in Brooklyn District 15 and Manhattan’s District 3 resulted in a new method of assigning students to middle schools, a method that breaks through the economic and racial segregation that currently exists. Titled “Two NYC districts embarked on middle school integration plans. Early results show they may be making a difference,” the article describes how a team of open minded parents on district advisory committees made a difference in the way fifth grade students are assigned to schools. And that difference?

Families in both districts apply to middle schools rather than being assigned a neighborhood school based on where they live.

Encompassing brownstone neighborhoods such as Park Slope and immigrant enclaves such as Sunset Park, District 15 undertook what is probably the most dramatic integration plan approved yet by the city. This year, the district’s 11 middle schools eliminated screens — selective admissions criteria that allow schools to pick students based on factors such as test scores, report card grades, and interviews.

Instead, families applied to the schools of their choice and admissions were determined by a lottery, with preference for 52 percent of seats given to students who come from low-income families, are learning English as a new language, or are homeless.The aim is for all schools in the district to enroll a similar share of needy students. Since race and ethnicity are tightly tied to economic status, the hope is that the schools will become more diverse on a range of measures.

A lottery system is imperfect, but it greatly increases the probability that the schools in Districts 3 and 15 will reflect the composition of students who reside in ALL the neighborhoods that comprise those districts and not be based on the racial and economic segregation that results from gentrification of some neighborhoods while others remain economically challenged and racially segregated.

The article details how this change is playing out in the more desirable schools where the percentage of free and reduced lunch students and the percentage of minority students are increasing based on the assignments thus far. From my perspective, it is heartening to see those parents who seek diversity being heard over those who advance arguments that “merit” should determine placement… especially when “merit” is based on “…factors such as test scores, report card grades, and interviews”. When all children might be assigned to ANY school, it changes the thinking about how funds should be spent, as underscored by a quote from a District 3 parent that concludes the post:

“I’m really happy that we are moving closer to the district average (in terms of racial and economic demographics), which is part of the goal, and that we’re seeing movement at the high demand schools, and at the lower demand schools — which is crucial,” said Kristen Berger, a member of the District 3 Community Education Council who pushed for the admissions changes. “The point of this complex system is that we’re not just building one great school but we’re working as a system across the district.”

That is the kind of spirit needed in the 35+ states where lawsuits are pending because of inequitable funding formulas. In NH, as in NYC, the point is not to build “one great school” but to build a system of great schools… and to accomplish that funding will need to be equitable.

LeBron James Supports Public Education by Supporting Teachers AND Parents

April 16, 2019 Comments off

Unlike most celebrities who claim to support public education in an effort to help disadvantaged children, NBA superstar LeBron James is different kind of education philanthropist. LeBron James is walking the talk by supporting a public school in his hometown of Akron OH called I Promise governed by a democratically elected local school school board, a school for designed for students who “...were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating.” And because Mr. James was once one of those poor performers himself, he realizes that schools who serve poor children need more time to learn and their parents need help as well. As a result, Mr. James is providing supplementary funding for before and after school programs, programs when schools are closed, free provisions for parents, and a training program for parents to earn their GEDs. After a year… the results are coming in and, while I am no fan of the metrics they are using, the school is showing promise.

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

What distinguishes I Promise is it’s implicit acknowledgement that parent engagement is crucially important and poor parents have complications that exceed those of their affluent counterparts. Because of that, Mr. James offers funding to support the parents as fellas the teachers and children:

The school is unusual in the resources and attention it devotes to parents, which educators consider a key to its success. Mr. James’s foundation covers the cost of all expenses in the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with G.E.D. preparation, work advice, health and legal services, and even a quarterly barbershop.

Another distinguishing factor of I Promise is the pool of students it serves:

I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery.

“These were the children where you went and talked with their old teachers, and they said, ‘This will never work,’” Dr. Campbell said. “We said give them to us.”

They are called the “Chosen Ones,” an ode to the headline that donned Mr. James’s first Sports Illustrated cover when he was a junior in high school, and which he later had tattooed across his shoulder blades.

And the I Promise school DOES get more money, money that is used to underwrite the parent resource center noted above and a resource center for students and teachers as well:

But the I Promise School was a recognition that the foundation’s community services were not enough. They needed to reach students earlier. They secured an old district office building that served as a holding place for schools in transition, poured in $2 million and counting for improvements and reopened it in seven weeks. The school opened in July 2018 and is expected to serve 720 students in third through eighth grade by 2022.

The foundation’s support affords I Promise more resources than the average school, but Ms. Davis, a veteran principal in the district, said the school values things that no money could buy.

“It doesn’t take money to build relationships,” she said. “It doesn’t take money for you to teach students how to love.”

This past year some former teammates have criticized LeBron James for failing to give them the credit they deserve for contributing to championships he won and for pointing fingers at them when the team suffered losses. But LeBron James’ reaction to the success of his school counters that image:

While Mr. James called the school “the coolest thing that I’ve done in my life thus far,” he said he could take credit for only a small part of what was happening.

“I had the vision of wanting to give back to my community. The people around every day are helping that vision come to life,” he said. “Half the battle is trying to engage them and show that there’s always going to be somebody looking out for them.”

The article described a single parent who was disengaged and had given up but now felt that someone from her hometown was looking out for her. In an ideal democracy, that is the notion every parent should have… that her neighbors are looking out her well-being. Nowadays, though, disengaged parents have a different sense: that her neighbors are looking down on her and blaming her for the poor performance of her children.

The veteran principal in Akron is right in saying that “It doesn’t take money to build relationships (or) for you to teach students how to love.” But it does take money to provide the kinds of parent programs and expanded community services that LeBron James is providing his chosen ones, the children whose old teachers had projected as drop outs and troublemakers.

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.

I Hate the Idea of Public Employee Strikes… But… They ARE Working AND They Might be Showing the Way for Others

March 4, 2019 Comments off

For the past decade or so, no profession has been as demeaned as public education. Instead of facing the fact that schools and social service and public health agencies are woefully underfunded and the fact that the safety net for families has been shredded, school reformers and politicians blame “failing schools” on bad teachers and poor parenting. In doing so they have turned parents and taxpayers against public— make the “government”— schools making it increasingly difficult for public education to get out of the death spiral it’s been put into.

But thanks to persistent work by public school advocates like Diane Ravitch, Jeff Bryant, and a host of progressive politicians and writers the public is beginning to understand that the public schools aren’t “failing” because teachers are failing, they are “failing” based on meaningless data gathered from irrelevant and time consuming standardized tests that are making schools joyless places to learn. And now, after over a decade of stagnant pay and nearly two decades of test-driven instruction, teachers are coalescing around these issues AND the issue of privatization and getting some favorable attention and favorable results. As Axios writer Khorri Atkinson reports, there is no end in sight for the nationwide wave of teacher strikes because the teachers’ calls for “…smaller class sizes, fewer annual standardized tests, and opposition to the expansion of private-school voucher programs and charter schools” resonate with parents. Like the teachers, parents are tired of overcrowded classrooms, the mind-numbing test-driven curricula in many schools, and the closure of neighborhood schools to effectively push students into private for-profit schools located far from their homes and not necessarily with the playmates their children grew up with. And they are also tired of seeing teachers come and go from the schools in their communities and in many cases not seeing their children’s teachers in the community because the teachers cannot afford to live there.

Maybe… just maybe… the tide is turning and the respect for teachers will return and with it a chance to restore public education to its rightful place as a hallowed institution in our country.

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.