Common 'climate' standards?

Common Core standards will include standards for school climate “down the road,” said Kevin Jennings, head of the Department of Education”s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in a Phi Delta Kappan interview. Jennings, founder of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), wants all students to be free from harassment and to “feel like they belong.”

If we don’t get this one right, the other (academic) ones don’t matter.

That’s a great way to politicize and ultimately destroy the common standards effort, writes Rick Hess, a fan of  “fewer, clearer and higher” standards.

Jennings raises further red flags when he concedes that we have not determined “the definition of school climate,” though he says it “does not include air conditioning” but does include kids feeling “emotionally safe.” Maybe it’s my cynical streak, but that sounds like a summons to social agendas, culture clashes, and political fisticuffs. In other words, the stuff that sinks standards.

Agreeing on common academic standards is going to be plenty tough enough without trying to define, measure and improve students’ emotional well-being.

Never mind, a DOE spokesman tells Robert Pondiscio.  Jennings “was taken out of context.”

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  1. Cool! So, it’s known how to get rid of a bullying culture within, say, three months? Gangs, too? With fairness and justice for all involved? While not losing sight of academic goals? And, we can measure these things easily, without creating reams of new paperwork? And no unintended consequences? Right? Wow!

    (Removes rose-colored glasses.) I’d prefer for federal authorities to focus on things that can be measured, thank you very much.

  2. “School climate” standards are just another way for government schools to try to control students’ attitudes and values, or their “dispositions.” In this way, they are trying to do what NCATE attempted to foist on schools of education. NCATE was stopped, but the organization really didn’t have to do this anyway. NCATE was only trying to formalize what the schools of education have been doing for many years, e.g., see the recent flap at the University of Minnesota school of education.

    Teachers in public schools–please stop this “stuff” before it gets started. Each year, you lose more of your best students and your best parents who refuse to tolerate the low standards and the nonsense.

  3. I guess I am a minority voice. Before I am accused of going all touchy-feely in place of kids actually learning content, let me point out that where kids are not physically and emotionally safe, they are not learning much. As the parent of a kid who falls into several of the most commonly (socially) excluded groups–the kinds of kids for whom ostracism is considered to be a part of “normal” growing up stuff, I applaud Mr. Jennings efforts. Consider the tremendous political pressure AGAINST Mr. Jennings as the founder of GLSEN–which provides options for schools who care about the physical and emotional safety of kids who are GLBTQ.

    Measuring such things as school climate are by no means impossible, nor are they difficult or intrusive. Most schools are already tracking several key indicators: incidence of discipline, drop-out, attendance. What is difficult is to impact these indicators in ways that are genuine and not gamed (such as upping the tolerance for behavior that requires discipline). Again–there is no lack for research into methodologies that are effective. The barriers that I see include the belief that problems reside in the kids (far too often the victims) and that the problems are best solved by their removal; and ongoing tensions between teachers and administration with regard to the responsibility for anything “discipline” related.

  4. I think we’d all love to have all students feel safe and accepted at their schools. The great danger for education is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s easier to require schools to hire administrators to fill out forms, than to try to raise the number of students who master reading, writing and arithmetic.

    ‘…”wants all students to be free from harassment and to “feel like they belong.”

    If we don’t get this one right, the other (academic) ones don’t matter.”‘

    It’s a matter of priorities. As a commenter at Core Knowledge points out, “I’ve worked at a school where administrators deliberately cooked the books on the number of suspensions so as not to be labelled “persistently dangerous”, so I know that imposing hard number goals around such things is ridiculous.”

    You can’t measure social standards. At best, government can require reams of paperwork–see the next post, about the British Ofsted’s requirements for inspectors. “Ofsted’s lack of interest in these basic skills is clear from the self-evaluation report every inspected school must present. Amy pulled one from her bag. It was dauntingly thick and contained 48,000 words: of those, a mere 12 dealt with literacy and numeracy. “