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Posts Tagged ‘parent support’

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

February 16, 2019 Leave a comment

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.  
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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.

 

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Comments off

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

The Public Library is Priceless

November 12, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading Medium writer Katie Hyson’s post titled “The Library Was the Place Where I Could Always Get More”.  As I read the post I thought of my childhood, my late wife, my two daughters, my grandchildren…. and my wife and her grandchildren. While none of us experienced the kind of austerity Ms. Hyson described, we ALL loved reading and could not begin to afford the cost of the books necessary to provide us with the desire to learn more and expand our horizons.

Growing up, my mother would take us to the library once a week in the summer to get a stack of books to read during the heat of the afternoon in Tulsa OK. I have fond memories of plowing through Dr. Doolittle, all of the Landmark books, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Allen Poe during my late elementary school years. Later, I spent many hours at the library of West Chester State College (as it was called then) that was blocks away from my house when I was in high school.

My late wife’s favorite after school haunt was the West Chester public library where she could study in quiet solitude. As a result of my late wife’s frequent reminiscences of her afternoons among the stacks, my older daughter was married at that library to honor her mother and feel her presence.

My daughters, as a result of their parents’ experiences, had library cards from the time they could hold a book. My older daughter was and is an avid reader of every kind of genre. My younger daughter, like Katie Hyson, not only read stacks of books from libraries, but has seen her own book on the shelves of libraries across the country and her short stories published in several literary magazines.

My grandchildren love to go to our local library whenever they visit and whenever we visit them they have stacks of books they’ve checked out of their local libraries in Brooklyn for us to read to them.

My wife recounts stories of library visits with her children when she was raising them in rural Vermont. She and I frequent our local library seeking out book-tapes we can listen to on drives to visit our grandchildren or to various getaways and we both read for pleasure and gaining a deeper understanding of our place in the world.

And my wife’s grandchildren, like mine, enjoy visits to our local library when they come to spend the night, checking out stacks of books for us to read to them and want us to read a story to them before they go to bed.

As I write this, I find it hard to imagine NOT taking advantage of the local library, even in this age of electronic media. Our local library has added new means of accessing written material, videos, and recorded book-tapes (as I refer to them with my “old-fashioned” terminology). Our library also sponsors book groups, speakers on timely issues, and offers free meeting space for local non-profits, including the public schools. We (I am now on the Board of the local library) are about to launch a partnership with our local high school to provide a maker-space and have all kinds of outreach programs in place to connect with all age groups. The bottom line: the public library remains one place where the doors are open to all and where the playing field is completely level. If you ever come to Hanover NH, stop by our local library… but better yet, go to the library in your neighborhood or town and see what they have for you, your children, or your grandchildren. You might be amazed!

 

The Parents of Homeless Children Have More to Worry About than “Choice”

October 18, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article that headlined an astonishing fact:

With a subheading that read:

One out of every 10 students lived in temporary housing during the last school year.

Another header noted that there are more homeless children in NYC than there are residents in Albany. When I read this, it underscored the fact that “choice” is not going to help the neediest children in New York City or ANY city or impoverished community for that matter. If a parent has no roof over their he’d, choosing their child’s school is a secondary issue: the only thing that is important to them is finding a fixed residence; a place that they can use as a base when they seek employment, try to secure child care before and after school, and have a place to store and prepare their food.

I would agree with those who say money doesn’t matter in schools serving poor children, because if 1 out of 10 of the children attending a school lack a roof over their heads then that— and not the well-being of their child— becomes the focal point of their parents’ life.

I was appalled at the facts reported in the headline and the heartbreaking stories in the article by Eliza Shapiro, but I was even more appalled at some of the comments suggesting that it was the fault of the city government because they offered generous benefits to unwed mothers. A comment that won the approval of 40+ readers landing it in the top tier read:

This situation is a direct and predictable result of the city’s humane, warmhearted, generous, social welfare policies. The city has made itself hospitable to people who cannot support themselves in one of the most expensive urban environments in the country. There is no penalty for irresponsible life styles. Rather, there is an increase in benefits. Why limit the number of children you have,if the city will pay for them? Why not become a single mother if you get lots of benefits? With the best of intentions the city, state and federal governments have magnified a problem that should at worst, be minor.

I daresay that any young woman set out to become homeless or views their life as one that has “”…lots of benefits”. But by holding a view that blames the victims of homelessness of their status, it is possible to believe that one’s tax dollars are being spent frivolously and are being used to magnify a problem that should be minor. In short, it reinforces the GOP mindset that “government is the problem”. Another commenter, whose remarks had the highest number of approvals, escaped from being a child in a homeless household. She had it right she she wrote:

A person can only persevere so much and it saddens me that so much of our policy is based on ‘grit and bootstraps’, with no understanding of how much luck, or lack of it, plays into our place in this world. We should do better and these kids deserve better.

To which I can only say “AMEN!” My place in the world is in part because I worked hard throughout my life… but it is also the result of being born a white male into a family with two college graduates who cared deeply about me as a child and an adult. The government can’t provide every child with that good fortune, but they should be able to provide every child with a roof over their heads, nutritious meals, and clothing. That doesn’t seem to be a socialist dream… only a humanitarian one.

Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts: The Billionaires’ “Vouchers in Disguise”

October 6, 2018 Comments off

In early September the Guardian’s Steven Greenhouse wrote an article that included a paragraph that offered an excellent summation of Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs), the billionaire “philanthropists'” latest gambit to expand the privatization of public schools. The primary focus of the article was the ongoing efforts of Arizona parents and teachers to stop the expansion of ESAs and restore public education funding to a level that will put the public schools back on their feet. How bad are things in Arizona?

One study found that Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study found that from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Determined to push back against this short-changing of public schools, six determined parents decided to launch a referendum effort to push back against the recent action of the Arizona legislature that had enacted a law that was characterized as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law”, a law that allowed state-raised taxes to be used on private or religiously affiliated schools. Over the summer these parents gathered over 110,000 signatures and got the referendum they sought on the ballot this November. What happened next?

…the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Greenhouse quotes Lily Eskelen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, who said what has happened in Arizona is “part of a scheme to undermine public education”.

“We know exactly how the plan goes,” she said. “You underfund the kids who need the most. You starve the public schools. You take away the funding so they can’t deliver quality services, and then when things get so bad that nobody wants to work in the schools, the voucher salesmen, the vultures, swoop in and do this nice little bait and switch. Instead of fixing the schools, they say let’s make sure you have the same program as wealthy kids at private schools.” But vouchers, she said, don’t begin to deliver on that promise.

IF the handful of parents succeed in stopping the legislature by passing a referendum it won’t help in many states because not every state has a referendum mechanism. That means parents and teachers who care about public education will need to watch their State elections carefully. During the past legislative session in New Hampshire the legislature narrowly avoided the passage of a bill that would have greatly expanded Education Savings Accounts. The NH legislators wrote their law using the ALEC handbook funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-privatization allies. Like their Arizona counterparts, the NH GOP legislators are starving public education claiming there isn’t enough money to pay for the state formula that equalizes funding so that the kids who need it most get an adequate education… BUT, they did manage to “find” funding to help underwrite ESAs. NH doesn’t have a referendum mechanism, but it DOES have a ballot box referendum. Here’s hoping the voters ensure that they elect a legislature that will abandon ESAs.