Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

A ROUGH DRAFT FOR HS REFORM I: Blow Up High School by Offering Vouchers for Students…

May 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden lately, and in doing so am spending a lot of time mulling over how to take advantage of the pandemic crisis to introduce some new ways of doing high school. Based on my personal and professional experience high schools are the worst part of the education system in our country. Here’s why:

  • TRACKING: High School drives the final nail into the equity coffin by segregating students into tracks based on how rapidly they’ve learned up to the point they enter ninth grade and how much control their parents wield.
  • COLLEGE OVER-VALUED: Students who aspire to college get 90% of the attention and time of guidance counselors and teachers because guidance counselors and teachers know how college works and see it as the only way to attain economic well-being.
  • CONTENT OVER-VALUED: There is an aphorism that elementary teachers teach children and secondary teachers teach subjects…. and high schools are set up to reinforce that aphorism. It is unrealistic for a high school teacher to know and care about the lives of 100+ students assigned to them in 4-5 classes but completely realistic for them to be well-versed in one subject area that they can teach to students and assess their progress using some kind of “objective test” that can be rapidly graded. This emphasis on content, in turn, can lead to a siloing whereby no single teacher gets to know and care about an individual student. And the cult of AP testing only exacerbates this emphasis on content over character development.
  • SOCIAL SKILLS UNDER-VALUED: Working on teams, getting along with people from other socio-economic, racial, and ethic groups, and developing healthy relationships with individuals are all part of the hidden curriculum in high schools… but, in many (if not most) cases, high schools are reinforcing tribalism instead of harmony.
  • PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE UNDER-VALUED: There is a premium on the development of abstract skills like the ability to solve complex quadratic equations but no value placed on the ability to put together a nutritious meal from left-overs, to develop and manage a budget, or to complete the paperwork needed to buy a house, start a small business, or apply on-line for a job.

Here’s a solution to all of this: end high school once students pass a basic competency test and give them a voucher for education four the next four years or until the age of 20, whichever comes first. The competency test would be initially administered when teachers certify the student is ready, which ideally would be before the student’s 16ht birthday. The competency test would include:

  • The US Citizenship test: Clearly every graduate should know how the government works if they are to vote intelligently.
  • A Consumer Awareness test: A “consumer awareness” test could be developed by ETS– who would be happy to have a new assessment to replace the SAT which is being phased out. This test would help avoid the debt trap that currently ensnares millions in our country.
  • A Health and Nutrition test: Public schools ostensibly educate students about nutrition and health through the school lunch program and various mandated health courses but there are no high stakes tests associated with either area.

By giving STUDENTS the funds to pursue more education it will emphasize the importance of making prudent financial decisions and underscore the importance of developing a transition plan to go from a world where every hour is scheduled by adults to a world where the student is a self-regulated adult.

Two more elements of the blown up HS will follow in future posts:

  • Mandatory Community Service
  • The Development of a Individualized Post-Graduate Work Plan which includes a personal budget

President Trump Wants Schools Open in September… Public is Split… and $$$$ WILL be Needed

May 20, 2020 Leave a comment

A Politico article yesterday reported on the results of a recent survey that will not make the President happy. In order to “open the economy” and “get thing back to normal” the President and his GOP allied know that public schools will have to reopen AND operate as they always did. The recent national survey taken days ago shows little public support for that idea, and my guess is that support will diminish once the cost for reopening is taken into account. An excerpt from the article gives a sense of the logistical and financial challenge;

All schools face a fundamental problem: Restarting classes isn’t as easy as calling students back to campus and ringing the morning bell.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools officials estimate the system could spend more than $6 million on masks and thermometers — plus extra nurses, custodians and cleaning supplies when classes resume. Social distancing would shrink classroom sizes in Washington, D.C.’s affluent suburbs to 12 students or fewer, said Fairfax County estimates. But assigning only one student to a school bus seat would require an increase of close to 780 buses and drivers.

The roughly 42% who want to reopen are unlikely to support the daunting costs that will be required and if the roughly 40% who oppose the opening keep their kids home, what happens next?

The only way to get through this dilemma is to offer a new model for public education for the same or lower cost…. and that model cannot replicate what WAS “normal”.

Dog Training School, Management School that “Is Not A Cult”, Scads of Private, Religious K-12 Schools Funneled Federal $$$

May 16, 2020 Comments off

It comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Betsy DeVos and the GOP’s shenanigans in the way they wrote brand executive discretion and no oversight into the stimulus bill to find that she has funneled huge sums of federal money to disreputable for profit schools and established mechanisms for parents to use public funds to “choose” to send their children to parochial schools. It comes as no surprise… but it is still disgraceful and antithetical to the mission of public education which should be the primary mission of the United States Department of Education. Here are some choice “highlights” from Erica Green’s NYTimes article describing DeVos’ decisions:

Ms. DeVos has used $180 million of those dollars to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

And she has nearly depleted the 2.5 percent of higher education funding, about $350 million, set aside for struggling colleges to bolster small colleges — many of them private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need. The Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, a private college in Wisconsin that has a website debunking claims that it is a cult, was allocated about $495,000. All of the colleges could apply for the funds or reject them, and Wright officials said the school did not claim the funds.

Bergin University of Canine Studies in California said its $472,850 allocation was a “godsend.”

“I think we are one of the most important educational institutions out there right now,” said its founder, Bonnie Bergin, who is credited with inventing the service dog.

The article describes guidances written by the USDOE that have the effect of taking money away from high poverty public school districts and channeling them to private and parochial schools. But if such earmarking of funds for poor children is bad, Ms. DeVos’ decision to create “competition” for other funds designed to assist public schools is even worse, as these paragraphs describe:

A competition announced by Ms. DeVos in which states can vie for tens of millions of dollars either to create statewide virtual schools or offer “microgrants” is also drawing fire for mirroring voucher programs that help parents pay for services outside the public school system. The program also stands to benefit virtual education companies that Ms. DeVos has personally invested in.

Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House education committee, said the competition’s point system was weighted in favor of rural areas and voucher-friendly states, rather than those most affected by the coronavirus.

“This program design is indistinguishable from a standard voucher scheme and is the latest attempt by this department to promote privatization initiatives against both the wishes of the American people, and the intent of Congress,”he wrote to Ms. DeVos.

Everyone (including me, I must confess) wants to use the crisis as an opportunity to implement their desired direction for public education. My preferred direction is to provide equitable funding for all children, which would necessarily require more funds for districts serving children raised in poverty. I also prefer a direction that increases the governments oversight of funding and the auditing of school performance using something other than standardized tests. Ms. DeVos, on the other hand, views schools as a commodity that should operate based on the rules of the marketplace.

And here is the bottom line: in electing Donald Trump we have chosen the marketplace over government, Social Darwinism over Safety Nets, politics over science, and plutocracy over democracy. We have a choice facing us again in November. Let’s hope we voters can see the downside of the choices they made in 2016.

Coronavirus COULD Thaw Frozen Mental Formations

May 12, 2020 Comments off

This Forbes article by Tine Thygesan suggests that the Coronavirus could be thawing our frozen conceptions of the economy and of nature. The writer suggests that the extended period of time we are spending “doing with less” is making us realize that there is more to like than the accumulation of things, especially when coupled with the realization that such accumulation results in the destruction of nature. He also contends that people across the world are realizing that the notion that growth is a necessity for Capitalism to succeed is a mental model that can be changed.

While the article makes no mention of public schools, it is evident that the same kind of thawing of the mental formation of school-as-a-widget-sorting-assembly-line could be taking place. If the pandemic gets us to change our way of thinking about the mental models we are clinging to unconsciously it will be worth it to our children and grandchildren. We have enough and we are all good enough… those two messages should underpin our thinking if we ever hope to achieve peace and justice.

Reopening Schools in the Name of Addressing the Lowest Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

May 11, 2020 Comments off

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Hunger Pains of a Pandemic”  describes the potential impact of hunger on the well-being of 40% of American families and at least a similar percentage of families around the world. His column offered this astonishing set of statistics:

As a Brookings report last week detailed: “By the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure. In almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, the children were experiencing food insecurity.

David A. Super, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote last week for Talking Points Memo:

“In addition to the sudden disappearance of jobs, our other defenses against hunger are collapsing. Tens of millions of low-income children lost access to free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches when their schools closed. Tens of millions more have lost access to subsidized meals in child care centers.The summer food programs that try to fill the gap when schools close will face formidable challenges this year.”

And Mr. Blow reminds readers that America families and children are not alone in this shortage of food:

The effect of this pandemic on the vulnerable isn’t limited to America. This is likely to be a world crisis of hunger and instability. As David M. Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, wrote last month in The Washington Post:

The coronavirus pandemic “now threatens to detonate an unprecedented global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations will be further pushed to the brink of starvation. The numbers are shocking: On any given day, the World Food Program offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people. This includes about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive. Most of them are trapped in war zones and can’t leave.”

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that a majority of those struggling to put food on their tables are also struggling to cover the costs of their rents and based on what I’ve read about the coronavirus’ impact it is also likely that those struggling to put food on their tables are residing in neighborhoods where the pandemic is hitting hardest.

This backdrop of increased food insecurity and– in all likelihood housing insecurity– makes it all the more important for schools to reopen as soon as possible with a focus on those schools that serve the children experiencing the most adverse childhood experiences. And this strategy of serving the neediest children poses a dilemma for policy makers in many ways.

  • SPACE: If space in schools will be at a premium due to social distancing then the most overcrowded schools will be the most hard pressed to reopen.
  • SOCIAL SERVICES: The schools serving the neediest children are currently underfunding the social services their children require, social services that will be even more in demand as a result of the food and shelter insecurities.
  • STAFFING: The schools serving the neediest children rely more on state and federal government funding than affluent districts. If State coffers are low the funding for schools will suffer and the layoffs in public schools serving the neediest children will be higher than ever.

More money for states will help… but the amount of funding they will need to compensate for lost revenues is daunting and the likelihood of there being MORE funding to provide the ADDITIONAL services needed to support the hungry, unsheltered, and– over time– poorly clothed children will be hard to find.

There are no easy solutions to this set of “wicked problems”– problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of the many interconnected factors involved… and tough solutions require us to acknowledge what Anirban Mukhopadhyay describes as the need for us to develop “the know how to engage constructively with those who differ” forms in our thinking and opinions and to update our thinking and opinions based on emergent facts. As the ground shifts under us, that kind of flexible thinking is the only way forward…. and may offer us some insights into solving these dilemmas.

More Medical Realities on Reopening… and More Evidence that More Medical Spending AND More Staff Will Be Needed

May 6, 2020 Comments off

Earlier this morning I posted an article from my newsfeed from an ABC local TV station describing the conditions required to reopen schools. In reading today’s NYTimes, I read a more detailed description of ongoing research on the issue of the infectiousness of children that concluded with, well, no clear conclusion. New Studies Add to Evidence that Children May Transmit the Coronavirus  by Apoorva Mandavilli describes the new studies, each of which is rigorous in its design and none of which offer conclusive evidence that opening schools is a wise medical decision. After elaborating on several of the studies, the article concludes with these paragraphs:

The experts all agreed on one thing: that governments should hold active discussions on what reopening schools looks like. Students could be scheduled to come to school on different days to reduce the number of people in the building at one time, for example; desks could be placed six feet apart; and schools could avoid having students gather in large groups.

Teachers with underlying health conditions or of advanced age should be allowed to opt out and given alternative jobs outside the classroom, if possible, Dr. Nuzzo said, and children with underlying conditions should continue to learn from home.

The leaders of the two new studies, Dr. Drosten and Dr. Ajelli, were both more circumspect, saying their role is merely to provide the data that governments can use to make policies.

I’m somehow the bringer of the bad news but I can’t change the news,” Dr. Drosten said. “It’s in the data.

It is a statement of fact and not a political judgment to declare that our President and many politicians are averse to data based decision making. Here’s a series of questions for State lawmakers and the governing agencies that will decide on the opening of public schools:

  • Will decisions to re-open be based on data or political pressure?
  • To what extent will decisions on what schooling looks like be based on medical recommendations?
  • How will the costs for added medical and technological services be covered?

I have ideas on what schools could look like, the changes in the existing paradigm that are required to transform schools, and the sacrifices that will be required to make it possible. I have no idea how to get from where we are to where we need to be given the current lack of leadership from either political party… and I despair at what kinds of slapdash programs will be cobbled together in the name of efficiency. We seem to be willing to view a higher death rate as “collateral damage” to return the economy to normal. Are we willing to accept a higher transmission rate of Covid 19 AND increased inequality as “collateral damage” in order to reopen schools without spending more money?


Online Learning Underscores Importance of Well Being, Structure

May 5, 2020 Comments off

Over the past several weeks I’ve read countless articles on the impact of online learning. This Verge article “Online Schooling Has a Tech Issue No Apps Can Fix” by Nat Garun stood out because it dug deeply into some underlying issues that contribute to the inequities that online learning exacerbates: inequities in student well-being and the structure of student’s lives.

Grain opens his article with data describing the digital divide, covering issues I’ve cited in previous posts:

Only 56 percent of households with incomes under $30,000 have access to broadband internet, according to Pew Research Center. Where students are located also presents connectivity issues, with kids in rural areas unable to connect to mobile hotspots and cellular service from their homes.

Even when there is stable coverage, some families simply lack the laptops, tablets, or other devices required to log online.

But Garun turns to the more subtle issues that impact these students: the differential in their well-being and their daily lives. He notes that students raised in poor households often have parents who work in the low wage jobs that are deemed “essential” and therefore have no adult supervision. This, in turn, leads to a situation where the student’s daily schedule is non-existent or they are temporarily moved to the home of a relative or caregiver. In both instances, many of the students become depressed and unmotivated to do their classwork. When this lack of well-being is combined with the lack of digital resources the effect can be calamitous. The majority of the article describes how teachers are coping with these circumstances, how they are finding themselves working 24/7 to connect with students who fail to return phone calls or students who turn to them for moral support.

Grain concludes that the digital divide is not going to be closed any time soon:

The tech gap isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. The Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission have begun urging states to put $16 billion in educational aid built into the CARES Act toward remote learning. But even if that happens, it’s unlikely to be anywhere close to enough. States are seeing large revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic, leading some states — like New York — to look at billions of dollars in education budget cuts alone to close the gap.

He’s right: legislation that “urges” states to invest a portion of the $16 billion they are receiving in digital technology won’t go far, especially when they are facing billions in cuts in one state alone! And his upbeat description of a Brooklyn teacher’s celebrating of small victories seems to paper over a hard reality that is lurking: those billions of dollars that are lacking are likely to result in a continuing lack of resources for schools… and those resources will be human resources like teachers, mental health workers, and other community supports that contribute to the small victories teachers experience.

In overlooking the inevitable collision course that lies ahead between diminishing financial support and increased student needs the article misses an opportunity to figure out how, exactly, those needs might be met in the future. One thing is clear, if we retain the current paradigm the school district budgets will be woefully inadequate and students will suffer. NOW is the time to begin floating new idea on staffing schools and determining the roles of public schools. For example, teachers might be paid, say, 75% of their current salaries and assigned 75% fewer students. If this approach were taken it would expand the workforce by adding lower compensated new teachers thereby diminishing the unemployment roles and the cost/student ins school district. Such a move would also diminish the pupil-teacher ratio, and thereby enhance the opportunity for teachers and students to interact. This, in turn, would enable teachers to focus on student well-being instead of solely worrying about their academic achievement, achievement that often has its roots in the well-being and not in the student’s “ability”. A student who has his or her own bedroom, his or her own digital device, has nurturing parents who work reasonable hours and provide nourishing meals at predictable hours is far more likely to have “academic ability” than a student who is uncertain where they will sleep, is uncertain who will be caring for them and where their next meal is coming from. The first student might be concerned that their 3 year old computer or phone lacks bells-and-whistles that the latest iPad provides. The latter student is concerned about a lot more….