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Sandy Hook’s Fruits: More Good Guys With Guns… But Certified Good Guys With Guns

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

AP reporter Michael Melia writes:

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago, districts have moved to bolster security, especially at elementary schools, which traditionally have not had police assigned to them like many high schools and middle schools. Many have hired retired officers, firefighters and other responsible adults — an approach that’s less expensive and potentially less intrusive than assigning sworn police, but one that also has raised questions about the consistency of training and standards.

It is sad but not surprising that the ultimate reaction to the shootings that took place five years ago at Sandy Hook is more security guards. And also sad BUT surprising that parents and community members are fearful that any hiring and privatization of these guard services needs to be tightly regulated. Surprising because those same groups are silent about the ongoing deregulation and privatization of every other individual hired by the schools. In the case of school districts, it seems that taxpayers will do anything they can to lower costs, especially if the unions push back against it. That effort has led to the widespread hiring of non-certified and inexperienced teachers (i.e. TFA “graduates”) and the use of computer technology to increase class size and thereby diminish the need for teachers. But when it comes to protecting children at the door of the schoolhouse, the lack of certification standards raises questions:

The rise in the number of districts turning to private security has led to calls elsewhere to impose standards for school guards, particularly in cases where school boards allow for them to be armed.

In New Jersey, a law passed last year establishes a special class of law enforcement officers providing school security. The measure was sought by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police to encourage minimum training standards, according to the associat ion’s president, North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti. Chiefs, he said, noticed fewer police officers were being assigned to schools because of budget cuts and districts were replacing them with private security, including armed guards.

In an ideal world, we would not dream of allowing armed guards is schools… and civic leaders like Chief Parenti would be as outspoken about the replacement of experienced, certified teachers with untrained recruits and robots. But such an ideal world would require an openness to higher taxes, to focussing on the care and nurturance of children instead of their safety, and value compassion as much as it values protection.

 

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Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: Bullying

December 3, 2017 Leave a comment

A year ago I wrote several posts on Donald Trump’s looming presidency and where I him leading us. For the final installment on these predictions I am going to revisit predictions I offered on bullying in 2016.

Like many who did not support Mr. Trump, I was appalled at his lack of civility and bullying tactics throughout his campaign. In one blog post I wrote about a spike in bullying behavior in schools, how Mr. Trump’s conduct promoted that kind of behavior, and how his behavior was far from the kind witnessed by other GOP Presidents:

While I did not support the positions of President Reagan or either President Bush I DID find them to be statesmanlike. They all urged us to be civil towards each other and to embrace our differences of opinion. While some of their election tactics were smarmy (e.g. the Willie Horton ad) their conduct and use of language was always exemplary. But now we have elected a man who uses 140 characters to distill his “thinking” and who is not at all hesitant to use racist, sexist, and xenophobic slurs. Worse, his comments tend to support bullying tactics in our relationships with other countries and within our own country. He has communicated to those students who share his beliefs and bullying tendencies that those beliefs and behaviors are not only acceptable, but those who push back against them are “soft” and trying to enforce “politically correct” thinking.

Alas, there is evidence that many students have adopted his methods of dealing with “others”. The results of a NYC survey administered to public school students provides evidence:

In 2016, 51% of students said kid bullied each other at school “because of their race or ethnicity.”

On a similar question in 2017, 65% of students said kids bullied each other at school over “race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or citizenship/immigration status.”

Likewise, in 2016, 55% of students said kids bullied each other at school because of differences “like national origin, citizenship/immigration status, religion, disability, or weight.”

On a similar question in 2017, 73% of students said kids bullied each other at school because of differences “like disability, or weight.”

And in 2016, 46% of students said that kids at their school “harass, bully, or intimidate each other because of their gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

That question was unchanged for 2016, when 59% of students reported gender-based bullying at their schools.

The “reformers” in NYC blamed this on Mayor diBlasio’s refusal to open more charter schools… and while the NYDaily News did not assign responsibility to any one factor, it seems clear to me that our President who promotes misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and the taunting of handicapped individuals might bear some responsibility.

“Problem Children” Biggest Problem is Lack of Self-Awareness

October 30, 2017 1 comment

Last Tuesday’s NYTimes column in the “Fixes” section by Suzanne Bouffard described two successful approaches to student discipline that emerged independently from the same source source. Called the Collaborative Problem Solving (C.P.S.), Ms. Bouffard reported that this seemingly permissive approach was developed in the late 1990s by Dr. Ross Greene, now the director of a nonprofit called Lives in the Balance, and later expanded upon by Stuart Ablon, a psychologist who runs the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital. It works like this:

An adult and child collaborate to understand why the child is struggling and what to do about it, using a strategy called “Plan B.” Plan B starts with the child stating a concern. Next the adult does the same. They then brainstorm realistic solutions that address both parties’ concerns. That method diverges from more typical responses, like when an adult tries to exert her will by applying consequences (“Plan A”) or lets go of the expectation for a specific behavior (“Plan C”).

As a Buddhist practitioner for the past 12 years, I see this approach as being similar to an approach in reconciliation advocated by zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh called called Beginning Anew, an approach designed to have both parties develop mutual self awareness about how their behaviors affect each other. But, as Ms. Bouffard notes, the notion of developing self-awareness as a means of changing behavior flies in the face of conventional wisdom and conventional thinking by adults:

Approaching misbehavior this way runs counter to many educators’ instincts. Deciding to share power rather than impose it requires a mind-set shift. One might see that as “giving in to the child.” But what would be the point of punishing a child who literally could not sit still? The C.P.S. conversation taught Jayden that his perspective mattered and that using calm problem solving pays off. It also kept him and his classmates learning.

As a high school disciplinarian for six years, I quickly learned that in the minds of many teachers anything that failed to punish the child explicitly was viewed as “giving in”: that every time a child was sent to the office and there were no “automatic consequences” they felt betrayed by the administration. In the minds of some teachers, sending a child to the office was a power play and if I failed to use my power to assign a detention or take some kind of punitive action I was failing to support them. In the minds of other teachers, a trip to the office was intended to provide a place for the student to collect their thoughts and for me to arrange a conference with both parties. As a disciplinarian, I had to learn the expectations of the teacher and adjust accordingly. But is struck me that the same was true of the students: they, too, had to gain an understanding of what each teacher expected.

Ms. Bouffard’s article was triggered by the fact that preschools are suspending children at an alarming rate and, as a result, legislators are looking for changes in approach. She writes:

Early childhood education can be an invaluable opportunity for learning social and emotional skills. But when teachers repeatedly punish young children, their efforts can cause lifelong harm… Nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers is suspended or expelled for behavior problems. Their infractions — generally hitting, throwing things or swearing — need to be addressed, but educators are recognizing that removing 3- and 4-year-olds from classrooms is not the answer. It doesn’t teach children how to behave differently, and it often makes matters worse.

Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it. Early suspension predicts disengagement from school and dropping-out. And the fact that African-American preschoolers are far more likely than white children to be suspended raises serious issues of equity and access to educational opportunity. As states like Illinois and Connecticut pass legislation prohibiting or restricting expulsion from state-funded preschools, teachers desperately need better options for handling misbehavior.

I am appalled at the consequences of imposing the will of adults on children who are misbehaving, an approach that is often used in so-called “no excuses” schools. I am especially appalled when the adult’s will is based on unquestioning adherence to rules that cannot be readily followed by children who have special needs or who come from homes where they have experienced childhood trauma. Here’s hoping that the legislation adopted in states seeking to reduce preschool suspensions leads to the development of self-awareness on the part of students at an early age and mutual respect between teachers and parents at all grade levels.

“Take a Knee or Take a Seat” Policies in Public Sports Likely to Create a Turmoil

September 29, 2017 1 comment

Earlier this week I was distressed over what I viewed to be the extreme attention being diverted to the question of the NFL players’ decisions to stage various forms of protest in response to President Trump’s inflammatory and needless tweets regarding an action a second string QB took over a year ago. But now I am starting to see that the President’s actions might result in a net benefit. Why?

First and foremost, it is calling attention to the righteousness of the rationale for Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest. As noted in an NYTimes article by Kaepernick’s teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid, the reason for the initial protest had nothing to do with the flag, the National Anthem, or the troops. It was about racism. Here are the key paragraphs from that powerful article:

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

Articles like Mr. Reid’s and respectable news outlets like the NYTimes made a concerted effort to keep the nation’s attention on the real reason for the protests. Posts a post on social media also helped reinforce the core message of the protests… a message that is reinforced by this picture:

But not everyone in our country believes the protests are “appropriate”, and some school districts, as noted in Politico, have gone so far as to ban any kinds of protests at this weekend’s football games. In response, lawsuits are likely to follow. Here’s the synopsis from Politco’s Morning Education feed:

The principal of Parkway High School in Bossier Parish wrote in a letter that the school “requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner” during the anthem, and that those who don’t comply could be kicked off the team. A picture of the letter was posted to Twitter by Shaun King of the Intercept and was retweeted thousands of times. Another district official told the Shreveport Times that potential punishments range from “extra running to a one-game suspension.” The school’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, as well.

The ACLU of Louisiana issued a statement calling the Bossier Parish school officials’ threats to punish students who protest “antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights.” Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, told Morning Education in an interview that “the Supreme Court has been very clear that schools, government officials, cannot suppress a student’s right to protest – even on a team, even during a game. To refuse to salute the flag, say the pledge, all of those thing – they are protected by the United States Constitution.”

But the constitutional right to free speech does not seem nearly as important to the so-called “strict constructionists” of the Constitution as, say, the right to bear arms. And while the school district is seemingly unlikely to prevail in any case brought against it, as long as the reason for the protests remain clear and in the forefront, the general public will be reminded that racism still exists in this country and the hatred that underpins that racism is poisoning our discourse as citizens, our democracy, and our well-being… and MAYBE those who chose a course of love over hate will let their views be known by electing officials who share that perspective.

Public Education is NOT Failing Because it has Not Cured Poverty… It’s “Failing” Because of Short Sighted Public Policy

September 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Alternet education editor Jennifer Berkshire wrote a post a few days ago capturing the key ideas she gleaned from an interview with historian Henry Kantor, professor emeritus in the Department of Education, Culture and Society at the University of Utah, who’s recently written a book with Robert Lowe, *Educationalizing the Welfare State and Privatizing Education: the Evolution of Social Policy Since the New Deal.* The basic premise of the book is that “… the US gave up on the idea of responding to poverty directly, instead making public schools the answer to poverty.” And what happened when the schools were incapable of addressing the problems of poverty? Here’s Mr. Kantor’s take:

One of the consequences of making education so central to social policy has been that we’ve ended up taking the pressure off of the state for the kinds of policies that would be more effective at addressing poverty and economic inequality. Instead we’re asking education to do things it can’t possibly do. The result has been increasing support for the kinds of market-oriented policies that make inequality worse.

If we really want to address issues of inequality and economic insecurity, there are a lot of other policies that we have to pursue besides or at least in addition to education policies, and that part of the debate has been totally lost. 

Ms. Berkshire summarizes Kantor’s perspective on what has transpired in the political debate on public education as “substituting accountability for redistribution”, and Mr. Kantor elaborates on that notion:

One of the end results of the way the accountability movement has transpired and evolved has been to narrow the questions about educational inequality to very technical questions. If we can just put in place the right teacher accountability system, or figure out the right curriculum standards,  that’s going to solve the problem of schools with large numbers of poor kids not doing as well. What I consider very technical questions bracket the larger questions of why it is we have so many kids concentrated in poor schools. Why do the rich kids get better schools? These aren’t just questions about accountability. They’re  more fundamental questions about class and race and power and inequality. Even though the accountability movement has often couched itself in the language of *no excuses,* and *every kid can learn,* its approach has been to narrow the debate even more and make it harder to address the questions that really underlie why some kids get an education that is so much better than other kids.

Stated somewhat differently, the “technical questions” are ones that can be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet while the “larger questions” are messy ones that require us to all look within ourselves to examine how we are treating the least advantaged among us.

Later in the interview, Ms. Berkshire asks Mr. Kantor to reflect on the reform movement led by billionaires. His prognosis is spot on:

This seems to be one of those times where you have these really rich philanthropists trying to intervene to improve schooling, largely because they’re trying to legitimate the social system. What they wind up doing, though, is displacing the problems of economic inequality that they’ve created through their own economic policies back onto the schools. They can say: *see — we’re doing something about inequality,* but they’re not doing anything about the way that wealth is distributed or the way their companies work that would more fundamentally and directly impact those questions of inequality.

As noted in a previous post, if the tech billionaires wanted to address inequality and wanted to use technology for good instead of for profit, they would stop seeking local tax breaks and stop off-shoring their work and profits and do everything possible to, in Mr. Kantor’s words, “fundamentally and directly impact those questions of inequality” 

One key overarching point Ms. Berkshire elicited from Mr. Kantor had to do with the underlying belief that poverty can best be addressed by individual effort and NOT by social policy:

 I think what has happened in education policy really parallels what’s happened in social policy more generally. You’ve seen a tremendous disillusionment with the idea of social responsibility and *the public.* We’ve seen a shift in thinking about issues of inequality as a social responsibility to a matter of individual responsibility. Each individual is responsible for their own outcome, which is really how the market works. I think that’s the underlying ideological shift that’s driving education policy, and social policy more generally. 

While he doesn’t say so explicitly, Mr. Kantor’s premise that inequality is a matter of individual responsibility implies that poverty can be overcome by grit and determination and that any form of intervention by the government would undercut that notion. This idea of individual responsibility is easy to sell to those in the middle class voters who want to believe that their standing in society is the result of their personal initiative. I could look at my personal life story and say that I paid for my college degree through hard work and I got my doctoral degree thanks to attaining a merit-based fellowship and I worked my way up the ladder through personal effort and hard work. But the reality is that I was greatly helped by being born white, male, and into a family where both parents were college educated. My good fortune was abetted by being the eldest child in the family order and being taller than average and trained to interact well with adults and other authority figures. Had I been born into different circumstances, I am not certain that my pluck and determination would have yielded the same results. Those of us who have benefitted from social system should do everything possible to make the social system work for those who have been effectively penalized by that same system. If we fail to do so, I fear the system itself will collapse.

North Carolina Legislators Haven’t Looked at the Evidence About For-Profit Schools… And Public Schools are Short-Changed as a Result

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

An op ed article in today’s Charlotte News-Observer by Keith Posten, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on public education in NC, describes how the North Carolina Legislature’s decision to expand funding for for-profit charter schools has diminished the opportunities for public education students across the state. His article highlights four broad initiatives that effectively re-directed education funding away from public education: private school vouchers and Education Savings Accounts; for-profit charter school management; so-called “innovative school districts; and on-line virtual schools. Here’s a synopsis from his article:

Private school vouchers. Lawmakers continue pushing the state’s private school voucher program… spending nearly one billion taxpayer dollars (since 2006). They’re doing this despite the fact that these funds go to private schools that aren’t required to tell the public whether they are doing a good job of educating students and to what degree they profit off of the taxpayer at the expense of providing high-quality educational experiences. And coming right behind vouchers are new Education Savings Accounts, similarly unaccountable and likely to drain public coffers at an even faster rate.

For-profit charter school management. Since the General Assembly lifted the charter school cap in 2011, the number of charters has nearly doubled. When charter schools are managed by private, for-profit corporations, taxpayer funds intended for instruction are used to pay hefty management fees that can be as much as 10 percent of the state dollars allocated for the school. Plus there are lucrative facility leasing arrangements, often with landlords intertwined with charter operators. (NOTE: The NYTimes article in my previous post about Michigan schools offers some stunning examples of how these leases benefit the profiteers at the expense of taxpayers) 

NC Innovative School Districts. This concept, where charter operators take over local schools, has largely been a total failure in neighboring Tennessee. Lawmakers say it will go differently here in North Carolina, where low-performing schools will, in theory, be catapulted toward high performance by a charter school operator, likely one that operates for profit. (NOTE: MANY posts describe the failure of charter operators taking over public schools in NJ, PA, OH, MI, etc… )

Online virtual charter schools. We’re in the middle of a four-year pilot program through which we’ve diverted nearly $35 million in taxpayer dollars to two for-profit companies that delivered classes online. Over that time these schools have seen staggering student withdrawal rates as high as 31 percent – only to have the legislature tweak the law to allow them to hide those numbers – and their students’ academic gains have been poor, with each school failing to meet growth and earning overall “D” school performance grades.

These decisions were all made in the face of contradictory evidence. Evidence, though, is immaterial when voters want to find an easy, fast, and inexpensive solution to a complex, longstanding, and costly problem. Mr. Posten, though, sees no end to the NC legislature adopting these ideas. He concludes his op ed piece with this:

Looking to the years ahead, even more public dollars stand to be diverted to private, unaccountable, for-profit education. It’s clear we are turning away from our state’s mission – and constitutional obligation – of providing high quality public schools accessible to all. Without a course correction, our children – and our state’s economy – will suffer.

Like many of us who want to see public education restored to its rightful place as a force for democracy and equity, Mr. Posten offers an economic argument as well as a moral one. The more I examine the issues of racial and economic justice, the more I believe we should lean on the moral argument for equitable funding and equitable housing. Martin Luther King Jr ultimately appealed to the higher angels in a majority of voters who, in turn, supported the civil rights bills and various safety net funding that accompanied the War on Poverty in the 1960s. When we argue for equity in the name of strengthening our economy, we are appealing to the baser instincts in voters which, in turn, make it easier to sell ideas like exposing public goods to the free market. I am convinced that a majority of voters in this country want to see their neighbors succeed, no matter what their neighbors skin color, nationality, or economic background. I hope that more people will speak to that element of our humanity.

 

A “Crazed Lefty” is Bewildered by Logic of Conservative Columnist

August 28, 2017 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts on this blog, I greatly appreciate the way “Google Alert – Public Schools” provides me with articles that I would never have access to without their daily feed. Today’s Worldnetdaily.com article by Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D, titled “Blame Public Schools for those Crazed Lefties” is a case in point. Using the removal of statues of Confederate generals as a springboard, Dr. Haynes excoriates the Democratic Party (aka “the Crazed Lefties”) for its unwillingness to acknowledge that their party was pro-slavery back in the day when the Republicans were on the side of abolition and that some members of their party, most notably Senator Robert Byrd, were KKK members.

Dr. Haynes’ column recounts all of the weak willed University Presidents, mayors, and school boards who have caved to the “leftists and socialists” in taking down the statues of Confederate Generals and at the same time manages to discredit a long list of communist/socialist/progressive/leftists like Maya Angelou, John Dewey, the Carnegie Foundation, and (gasp) Sotheby Real Estate!

Ii appears that Dr. Haynes, who is Worldnetdaily.com’s reporter on education policy issues is unaware that the Democratic party is controlled by neoliberals who favor school choice, privatization, and the use of standardized achievement test results to sort and select schools and students. She overlooks the fact that the only difference between Arne Duncan and Betsy DeVos is that Ms. DeVos is willing to provide funds for private parochial schools. As for John Dewey, he would not be welcome at their convention… and the policies of the true populist progressives— Bernie Sanders and the members of the progressive caucus, are ignored by the neoliberals.

The ultimate irony, though is the fact that Dr. Haynes frames her column using this quote:

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

And who wrote that quote? Why that would be socialist George Orwell in his book “1984″.

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