My daughter shared a post from the Free Thought Project web page by John Vibes on Facebook that described how a school in Baltimore completely eliminated suspensions by sending children to a “mindful moment room” to wind down and meditate. Mr. Vibes writes of the project which has been underway at Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore:
The new policy has been in place for over a year, and in the time that the meditation room has been set up, there has actually been no suspensions throughout the entire year.
The program is an initiative organized by the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities.
Andres Gonzalez, one of the organizers of the project, says that children are even bringing home what they are learning to their families.
“That’s how you stop the trickle-down effect, when Mom or Pops has a hard day and yells at the kids, and then the kids go to school and yell at their friends,” he says. “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe,‘” Gonzalez said.
As one who witnessed an explosion in the use of medications to “control” impulsive behaviors and ADHD in children and one who has witnessed the positive effects of meditation, I am heartened to see that schools are applying the research on meditation in classrooms. And, as Vibes notes in his post, meditation isn’t necessarily limited to sitting on a cushion:
A bike ride, a walk under the stars, writing poetry, or any practice that offers individual quiet time within your own heart and mind can be considered a form of meditation.
Sadly, in many cases, children raised in poverty seldom experience quiet time when they can look within their own hearts an minds and be in the present moment. I believe if schools spent more time focusing on the present moment and less on preparing for tests that the well-being of children would improve dramatically… and that the test scores would improve as the children’s well-being improves. We know this: it doesn’t work the other way around.
Restorative Justice Boosts Self-Awareness, Builds Community, and Builds Skills Needed in a Democracy
This Sunday’s NYTimes will feature an article by Susan Dominus on how the use of restorative justice in an urban high school in NYC has dramatically lowered the suspension rates. Ms. Dominus’ article vividly describes the daunting challenges an administrator faces when trying to replace the criminal justice model of discipline with a restorative justice model. Teachers and deans who are accustomed to swift and automatic consequences for specific forms of misconduct are thrown when they are expected to deal with small offenses on their own and expected to help students learn to manage their own conduct. After reading the description of how the Principal at Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan’s Financial District implemented restorative justice model over a period of years, Ms. Santos noted that:
“While studies have shown that restorative practices curb suspensions, research on their influence on test scores and grades is inconclusive.”
It’s a sad reality that schools are assessed based on standardized test scores and students progress is measured by grades— because both are based on the premise that time is fixed and performance is variable. Moreover, test scores and grades measure what is easy to measure but ultimately not that important. Restorative justice, as this article shows, tackles the toughest and most important issues. If we want to graduate students who are ready to thrive in a community, who are self-actualized learners, who are self-aware, who understand the skills needed to function in a democracy, we need to ignore their standardized tests and change our thinking about grades. We need to show them the same patience in the mastery of academics as restorative justice affords them in the management of their emotions. If we continue to focus on seemingly objective and precise metrics like standardized tests and grades we will continue ignoring the emotional well-being of children. Given our obsession with tests and grades Is it any surprise that we are reading countless articles about disaffected and disengaged young adults?
Ms. Dominus illustrates the difficulty of changing the dominant paradigm of school discipline and, in so doing, illustrates how difficult it is to change the dominant thinking about test-based accountability. Her article is aptly titled “An Effective but Exhausting Alternative to High School Suspensions”. What Ms. Dominus fails to acknowledge is that our current practice with school discipline is IN-effective but equally exhausting. As is our practice in batching students in age based cohorts and expecting them to progress in lockstep.
The quote that serves as the title of this post comes from a Truthout article by Mike Ludwig titled “After Hundreds of School Closures, Black Families are Still Waiting for Justice”. In the article Mr. Ludwig describes the “reform” cycle whereby schools in poor urban neighborhoods are closed because they were deemed to be “failing” based on “...standards set by bureaucrats and lawmakers miles away”. But some parents are getting wise to what is happening in their neighborhoods and in their cities.
In cities across the country, hundreds of schools have shut down under so-called “reform” policies handed down by the Bush and Obama administrations, according to Journey for Justice. State and local officials use enrollment numbers, high-stakes testing scores and other metrics attached to state and federal funding incentives to identify and shut down schools considered to be “failing,” robbing neighborhoods of essential public resources and disrupting students’ academic life.
“We don’t believe that we have failing schools,” (Chicago activist Jitu) Brown told Truthout. “We think that’s a political statement. We’ve been failed.”
Brown says that taxpaying parents in Black neighborhoods deserve better-funded schools with more resources for learning, but the inequities in Chicago are sitting in plain sight. For example, schools in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods enjoy teacher’s aides in every classroom and librarians on staff at all times, while schools in lower-income neighborhoods of color do not.
Instead of providing more money for schools serving poor children, districts are consolidating failing schools or turning over their operation to private for-profit organizations. In both cases the students see no marked improvement in their performance and the neighborhoods where the schools close are disrupted. Jitu Brown, who is the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, an organization comprised of grassroots civil rights groups in 23 cities, is leading the fight to replace these kinds of policies that shut down schools and replace them with community-based solutions. But the fight is arduous, complicated, and time consuming. At this juncture the Department of Education is examining his organization’s complaints to see if Federal Laws have been violated. But the concluding paragraphs of Ludwig’s article offer a dispiriting conclusion:
Brown said he is grateful that the federal authorities agreed to investigate educational discrimination in New Orleans and Chicago, but now that two years have passed, he’s starting to doubt that federal civil rights officials are the “crusaders for justice” that he once hoped they would be.
“The wheels of justice, they are rusted,” Brown said. “And they don’t turn.”
The wheels of reform, however, oiled by the donations of billionaires, are gliding smoothly as privatized charters invade the neighborhoods and push public schools out of the picture altogether.
As the campaign slogs along it is clear that public education is not likely to be a front burner issue, in large measure because the bi-partisan ESSA bill made it through Congress and was signed by the President. As noted in earlier blog posts, this is most unfortunate because ESSA did little to derail the test-and-punish reform movement and even less to prevent privatization… and, President Obama’s stand against supplanting notwithstanding, it does little to stem the inequitable funding in public education. And having looked at the stark differences between Mr. Trump’s perspective on public education and that of Ms. Clinton, it is even more urgent for the public to understand why public schools should be an important consideration in casting votes.
From everything I’ve read there is no evidence whatsoever that Ms. Clinton would change the “reform” course her husband, President GW Bush, and President Obama set. I would expect more testing supported by the bogus civil rights arguments advanced by the hedge funders who want to make a profit from the operation of public schools and no effort to take power away from the States even though the centralization was launched to prevent states like KS, TX, LA, MI, IN, and others to countless to list to starve districts serving poor children in order to save money.
But the policies and curriculum Mr. Trump wants to advance based on articles in Education Week The Daily Kos are both laughable and scary. According to Education Week writer Andrew Ujifusa the centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s eduction policy is going to be an expansion of choice. Ujifusa reports that Mr. Trump as selected Rob Goad, a staffer from Indiana Congressman Luke Messer’s office to head his K-12 policy team. Ujifusa writes:
Trump has largely neglected K-12 during his quest for the White House, aside from brief statements supporting school choice, attacks on the Common Core State Standards, and a pledge to end gun-free school zones. But Goad’s shift to the Trump election team coincides with a new emphasis on K-12 choice in particular for the Republican presidential nominee.
Each of these issues will do nothing to improve schools serving children raised in poverty. Choice is a cheap, fast and ineffective panacea when children in underfunded schools are prohibited from entering affluent schools because they are overcrowded or in another jurisdiction. Mr. Messer’s idea of choice involves transportability of Title 1 funds to religiously affiliated schools and de-regulation and privatization of public schools.
The abandonment of the “Common Core”, the bogeyman of those who want local control, would allow some districts to teach bogus science like creationism and allow some states to regress to the low standards they had in place before testing was nationalized.
As for gun-free school zones: As a former urban middle school teacher and high school disciplinarian for six years I cannot imagine a more appalling idea than allowing guns in or around school. Arguing that armed adults should be on school grounds when gangs are prevalent in many areas and schools are spending millions of dollars to protect themselves from “shooters” is preposterous.
And if those ideas were not ludicrous enough, Mr. Trump’s latest idea for Making America Great is to require that all schools teach patriotism. The quote from the Daily Kos:
“We will stop apologizing for America, and we will start celebrating America,” (Mr. Trump) said. “We will be united by our common cultures, values, and principles, becoming one American nation, one country under the one constitution, saluting one American flag—always saluting.”
Presumably Mr. Trump and his supporters do not see this new requirement as yet another unfunded federal mandate. Nor do they see the possibility that some people may choose to attend a public school that holds a different perspective on patriotism: maybe one that views dissent as a necessary and important element of democracy. Nor do they appreciate that tolerance is a cornerstone of our culture…
Given the choice between Ms. Clinton’s desire to continue the “reform” movement and Mr. Trump’s desire to have us “always saluting” I think I’ll reluctantly support “reform”. At least my grandchildren won’t be required to pass a multiple choice test on a Common Core curriculum designed by those who want to allow tax dollars to go to religiously affiliated schools.
Retired English professor TJRay wrote an op ed piece for the Oxford (MS) Eagle decrying the recent action of the legislature and State Board in Mississippi, actions that follow the ALEC inspired “reform” playbook to a “T”. Mr. Ray’s essay describes how the legislature passed a bill that makes it possible for public schools to be closed and replaced with charter schools if they are graded lower than a “B”. And now, only weeks later, the State Board– appointed by the same political party that is in the legislature– is ready to enact a new rating system that limits the number of schools that can receive an “A” rating and mandates a minimum number of schools that must receive an “F” rating.
As Mr. Ray notes:
The object (of the bill that passed) was not to improve the public schools in question; it was to feather the nests of the corporations and groups that set up charter schools. An interesting inquiry might pose the question: How many names on those corporate charters match names on generous campaign donors? Well, obviously they’re getting their payback for putting the folks back where they can wreak havoc in the state.
And Mr. Ray also questions the rationale for the “reform” movement in Mississippi offered by the State’s Commissioner of Higher Education:
The Commissioner of Higher Education said that the foundation of education that students will need to succeed in universities is not being provided. One response might simply be that every young person doesn’t need to succeed at a university, may not even be suited to academics at all.
The oligarchs manufactured need to prepare all students for college leads to artificially high standards which leads to artificially difficult tests which leads to high failure rates in public schools which leads to the need to close those schools and replace them with privatized schools run by the oligarchs. And to make sure this machinery is well-oiled the oligarchs help elect politicians who support this “system” that keeps them enriched and a large number of children on a path to “failure”…. or at least on a path to work for lower wages.
Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by former Presidential aspirant and current Ohio Governor John Kasich. In his essay, Mr. Kasich singles out the “one-size-fits-all” approach for special condemnation:
But today, it’s clear that our welfare system is still deeply flawed, thanks in part to later changes from Washington. In 2005, Congress pulled power back from the states, reducing local flexibility by enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach that sets arbitrary time limits on education and training for people seeking sustainable employment. As a result, too many lives are thrown away by a rigid and counterproductive system that treats an individual as a number, not as a person who is desperate to gain new skills and opportunities in life.
As anyone who is familiar with “school reform” realizes, Ohio was one of several states who embraced the test-and-punish model of schooling with Ohio simultaneously rushing to institute market-based deregulated charter schools to help meet the needs of those students who could not pass the graduation test the first time around. The performance of these schools drew criticism from the Fordham Institute, which is usually a reliable cheerleader for “reform”:
Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more illusion than reality, for dropping out of school tends to be a process over time rather than a discrete event. Hence, it is not resolved whether dropouts should be entirely attributed to a student’s final schooling destination—a thorny issue that the report acknowledges. For instance, consider a student who went to Cleveland Metropolitan School District in grades K–8 but then went to one year at a dropout-recovery school before dropping out. Should the dropout-recovery school be held wholly accountable? Probably not. Nevertheless, as the report highlights, there are too many “dropout factories” among Ohio’s high schools—and, as evidenced, too many of the state’s second-chance “recovery” efforts fail to get our high schoolers to the finish line.
So while he condemns the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform, Mr. Kasich is all in on the one-size-fits-all approach to public education and, in doing so, has created more drop outs among low income students than most states in our country… and, as the Fordham Institute notes, the drop out rates of the so-called “recovery schools”, on-line for profit schools specifically designed to help students who fail the one-size-fits-all graduation examination, are especially appalling. If Mr. Kasich wants to address job placement for 16-24 years olds, he would be wise to abandon “reform” in K-12 schooling.
In her blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch shined a light on the Vermont State Board of Education, hailing their letter to Secretary of Education John King as “brilliant”, and noting that “Vermont education officials think for themselves”.
As one who served as a Superintendent in a Vermont district for seven years and currently works as a consultant in Vermont I am pleased that Ms. Ravitch recognizes the independent thinking that exists throughout the State and especially pleased that she shared the letter the State Board composed in response to ESSA. I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the letter in its entirety, but want to shine a light on some phrases that underscore many of the points made in previous posts on this blog. Most importantly, as the italicized phrases indicate, the State Board recognizes that real improvement cannot be accomplished without the commitment of resources:
Education and Accountability is More Than Test Scores: The Narrowness of the Measures – The plan relies on what we can easily measure, rather than on what is important. By requiring that test scores in two subjects and graduation rates be given preferential weight, we discourage schools from supporting truly broad opportunities to learn and the skills necessary for a healthy society…. While we appreciate your nod toward the humanities, these words ring hollow when faced with an underfunded system which punishes based on basic skills test scores. Unless our programs are adequately supported, they will neither close the opportunity gap nor build a better society or a stronger nation.
Summative Labels/Ranking Schools by a Single Score – ESSA requires states to inform the public on the status of education – which has seen more than a century of state practice in our town reports. But the proposed federal rules propose combining all measures into a single score. The result is an invalid measure with a false precision claiming to be transparent….More dangerously, with this single measure being so highly test-based, the interaction of test scores with background factors systematically and invalidly penalizes the disadvantaged. The result is that our neediest children are stigmatized through negative labelswhile we deny them the essential resources.
Lock-Stepping/Lack of flexibility– The statute places undue emphasis on students graduating on time. And, ESSA still requires all students to take the grade-level tests. Any parent of two or more children knows that children are not inter-changeable. Some students need more time, greater support and more resources to reach the same goal.
Disaggregation– According to ESSA, test scores must be disaggregated by schools by demographic groups. This is often referred to as “shining a light” on a problem. It is pointless, even harmful, if this illumination is not accompanied by adequate resources and programs to resolve the inequities. The federal government has never matched their requirements with the money. It is time to quit blaming the victims of our neglect.
The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better… We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools…We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.
The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.
It is heartening to see one State Board standing up to the federal government’s approaches that penalize children born into poverty, demonize hard-working teachers and administrators, and slash funding needed to improve public schools. Read the letter… it’s thoughtful, measured, and forceful.