Work, study, dream — and stay poor

(Linda Lutton\/WBEZ)

Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Photo: Linda Lutton/WBEZ

“School is what makes the American Dream possible,” writes WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton in The View From Room 205. That’s what desperately poor kids are told. But is it true?

On the first day of school, September 2014, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, then head of Chicago Public Schools, told Penn Elementary students they could achieve anything. “No matter where you’re from, what neighborhood you call home, and no matter what your dreams are in life, it is right here at Penn that our children are going to get their start — so that they can have that dream, chase that dream, capture that dream and live it,” Byrd-Bennett tells the kids and their teachers.

After following a veteran fourth-grade teacher’s class, Lutton begins to doubt that schools can overcome poverty, neighborhood violence and family instability.

To her dismay, Lutton witnesses Penn teachers looking at the standardized test a week early, planning to give it as a practice test and letting students use notebooks with reference information on the test. Cheating doesn’t help: Penn kids still do poorly.

School improvement flop: $7 billion = 0

After seven years and $7 billion in School Improvement Grants, low-performing schools showed no improvement, concluded a federal analysis. The final evaluation found “no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment” compared to similar low-performing schools that didn’t receive grants.

To receive up to $2 million per year for three years, school had to adopt one of four Education Department models.

School Improvement Grants could “change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Half of SIG schools chose the “transformation” model, which called for replacing the principal and adopting new instructional strategies, teacher evaluations and a longer school day. Nearly all the rest adopted the similar “turnaround” model, which included firing half the teachers.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell, studied SIG schools in the state. “Not much had really changed,” she told Ed Week‘s Sarah D. Sparks. “They were being asked to do different things, but the fundamental culture of the school, organization of the school, the fundamental design wasn’t reorienting toward dramatically higher intervention strategies, dramatically higher expectations, or dramatically better teacher training and support.”

The SIG failure aligns with earlier research showing that money can’t save dysfunctional schools and systems, Andy Smarick, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and president of the Maryland Board of Education, told Emma Brown of the Washington Post. “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice,” he said.

Smarick predicted the debacle he writes.

On December 6, 2009, I wrote:

The Obama administration’s Department of Education recently launched what I believe will become its most expensive, most lamentable, and most avoidable folly.

In a 2010 Education Next article, The Turnaround Fallacy, Smarick  “recommended a different approach to helping kids assigned to failing schools (namely, new schools, a diversity of options, and parental choice).”

Common Core: Threat or menace?

“Six years after Common Core’s debut,” its critics “have produced enough books to collapse a sturdy bookshelf,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio. However, most “traffic in fear mongering and paranoid conspiracy theories about corporate greed.”

For example, teacher/activist Kris Nielsen, author of Children of the Core (great title!), believes the “Common Core network” is trying to “dismantle public education.”

Common Core and the Truthby Amy Skalicky, billed as a “parent’s journey,” asserts that the standards are designed to create “new markets for corporations” and “centers of indoctrination to create ‘global citizens’ with all the right behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, otherwise known as puppets.” Nielsen wrote the intro.

It’s the nefarious cabal of billionaires, stupid.

In The Story-Killers, Terrence O. Moore argues that the standards are “deliberately killing off what is left of the great stories of Western literature.” Common Core is designed, Moore insists, “to smear the Western and American tradition with the brush of sexism, racism,” etc.

Brad McQueen, a teacher and “former Common Core insider” (whatever that might mean), wins the prize for hyperbole by comparing Common Core to the Holocaust in his book The Cult of Common Core: Obama’s Final Solution for Your Child’s Mind and Our Country’s Exceptionalism.

Many of the books by teachers aren’t really about the standards, writes Pondiscio. They are attacks on education reform.

For example, Mercedes K. Schneider’s book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?,  claims “corporate-minded education ‘reformers'” are plotting a “power grab” by promoting the idea that public education is in crisis.

The best of the anti-Core books is Drilling through the Core: Why Common Core Is Bad for American Education from the Pioneer Institute, writes Pondiscio. It’s deals with the real Core problems.

The book includes essays by Sandra Stotsky, who helped Massachusetts write its excellent standards (abandoned for the Core), as well as Peter Wood, Mark Bauerlein, R. James Milgram, and Williamson Evers.

. . . Wood’s takedown notes that Common Core critics cannot agree whether the new standards are too rigorous in K–12 or not rigorous enough, leaving students underprepared for college. “The standards are vague and ambiguous and invite manipulation by those who are charged with filling in the details,” he writes, noting Common Core is “ripe for hijacking.

A Common Core supporter, Pondiscio wishes the Drilling critics would fight the hijacking rather than the standards themselves.

He thinks the Core’s foes are exaggerating the transformative power of standards. “Academic standards cannot create anything close to a uniform experience for students in K–12 education in a country as large and diverse as the United States, any more than building codes force us into identical houses, or USDA standards compel us all to eat boiled eggs for breakfast,” Pondiscio writes. “All standards can do—and it’s not nothing—is to create something close to uniform expectations.”

Parents protest ‘I love Sharia’ worksheet

Soon to be a man’s second wife, Ahlima feels “very fortunate” to live under Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, she writes. “I understand that some foreigners see our dress as a way of keeping women from being equal, but … I find Western women’s clothing to be horribly immodest.”

The fictional 20-year-old appears on a worksheet given to seventh graders in southern Indiana. Parents are upset, reports the Courier-Journal. There’s no mention of oppression in Saudi Arabia, they complained at a school board meeting.

Sharon Coletti, president of InspirEd Educators, said she created the worksheet to engage students, not indoctrinate them. She described herself as a Christian.

I can see Ahlima’s point of view sparking a good discussion about how hard it is to challenge your society’s values. Can we say Western values, such as equality of the sexes, are superior?

Or maybe there’s no discussion. Students conclude that everything’s swell in Saudi Arabia: Ahlima’s happy.

Trump’s inauguration: Safe for kids?

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“Every peaceful transition of power is a historic moment,” a fourth-grade teacher in Michigan told parents in an email. Brett Meteyer will let students watch the inauguration, but not Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. He fears “inflammatory and degrading comments about minorities, women, and the disabled” and “profanity.”

As it turned out, the speech was G rated with a “we the people” theme.

President Trump criticized an  “education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” (Deprived of “all” knowledge?) What does that mean for education policy? No new federal spending initiatives, I guess, so it will be hard for the feds to promote knowledge over skills.

A Tennessee high school won’t let teachers air the inauguration in any class, complains Fox commentator Todd Starnes.

Suzanne Roberts, a parent, complained to the principal.

“She told me that Independence High School is going to focus on learning and moving forward and staying on curriculum and they would not be stopping class for the inauguration,” Mrs. Roberts said. “She told me that news happens every day in this country and they won’t be stopping class to watch the news.”

Greenville County (S.C.) Schools will let parents opt their children out of inauguration viewing. Officials say opt-outs were offered for past inaugurations.

In deep blue Oakland and Berkeley, California, a group of teachers and students called for schools to cancel classes to protest Trump’s inauguration, reports KTVU.

“This is an emergency,” said Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley teacher and organizer with the group By Any Means Necessary. “The lives of our young people are at stake.”

Students should watch the inauguration, writes Rebecca Gruber on PopSugar. It’s “not a sign of support” for Trump. “It is a sign that you believe in our democracy.”

Kids need to see that President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump will ride from the White House to the Capitol together with their wives seated by their sides. They need to see that the military doesn’t need to intervene to place our nation’s new leader in power. They need to see that our elected officials (minus those who are boycotting) come together on the Capitol’s balcony every four years. They need to hear Donald Trump take the oath of office and learn what those 35 words represent. This is civics at its best.

There is also a civics lesson to be learned in the power of the First Amendment, allowing protesters to speak their minds simultaneously.

If her children don’t get to watch the inauguration in school, she’ll watch it with them at home, she writes. “I’m setting my DVR and already have a few books picked out that explain midterm elections.”

Tell the truth about college readiness

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“Sam” earned mostly B’s at Average High. Is he/she/they prepared to pass college classes? Maybe, if the B’s were for achievement rather than effort and teachers’ standards were high enough. Maybe not.

U.S. schools don’t tell students the truth about college readiness, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Fordham chief and assistant U.S. secretary of education, in National Affairs.

Then colleges admit unprepared students who require remedial classes. Most will “leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion,” writes Finn.

Ambition and optimism are laudable traits. So is this country’s long tradition as a place of second chances, a land where you can always start over, compensate for past mistakes, choose a new direction, and find the educational path that takes you there. But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging.

Nearly all high school students say they want to go to college. They know that college graduates do far better in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. But don’t realize they’re not prepared to earn a degree.

. . . our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses.

If colleges stopped admitting unprepared students — or the feds linked student aid to college readiness — people would be very, very angry, Finn writes. But what if it were possible?

We’d see greater seriousness about academic standards and achievement throughout the system and a lot more truth-telling. Fewer people would drop out of college, dejected and burdened by loans they cannot realistically pay back. More young Americans would truly be prepared for good jobs, economic success, upward mobility, and full participation in 21st-century life in a post-industrial economy. The country would be more competitive, too.

The money saved could go to high-quality technical education, he writes. Instead of  “college for all,” the mantra should be “honesty is the best policy.”

While elite students are loaded up with AP courses, most U.S.  high school students are learning less in high school, writes Marc Tucker.  They go to open-admissions colleges “with little more than middle school knowledge and literacy,” well below what it takes to earn a degree or go on to “attain a middle-class standard of living.”

Raising standards requires persuading parents that “their children have more to fear from standards that are too low than from standards that are too high,” Tucker writes. “Therein lies the core challenge for education leaders in the years ahead.”

Slower together 

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Students in a TIP class at Duke.

Grouping students by ability and accelerating the achievers “can improve school performance for very little cost,” concludes an analysis of “nearly a century’s worth of research.” The Northwestern-Duke study was published in Review of Educational Research.

“Acceleration and most forms of ability grouping” can “increase academic achievement for both lower- and higher-achieving students,” said co-author Matt Makel, research director at Duke’s Talent Identification Program (TIP).

Many believe that mixed-ability classes are OK for the bright kids and better for low achievers. That’s not true, the researchers concluded.

“Individual differences matter,” said Makel. “We need to be constantly responsive to student learning needs.”

Stop ignoring bright students, writes Robert Pondiscio, touting Fordham’s High Stakes for High Achievers report.

Teachers protest discipline reform

Image result for blackboard jungleMaintaining order in the classroom was an issue in 1955, when Glenn Ford starred as a novice New York City teacher in Blackboard Jungle

Under pressure to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, schools are turning to “restorative justice” programs that encourage offenders to discuss their actions and make amends.

Earlier this year, Indianapolis and New York City teachers complained about poorly implemented “restorative justice” programs, reported Emmanuel Felton in Ed Week. Now, teachers in Fresno and Des Moines are saying new discipline policies are making it harder to teach.

“As Fresno Unified officials were praising McLane High School’s restorative justice program” at a conference, “teachers at the school were circulating a petition that says those same strategies have led to an unsafe campus plagued with fights and disruptions,” reports the Fresno Bee.

At least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High have signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions.

The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted.

. . . While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

“Students are returned to class without consequence after assaulting teachers, both verbally and physically,” the petition declares.

There are problems in Des Moines too. “Students scream, threaten, shove and hit teachers or other students, with little consequence, students, parents and union leaders told the Register.”

Staffer fired for correcting a kid’s spelling

A student, “Nathan,” tweeted “Close school tammarow PLEASE” to Frederick County (Maryland) Public Schools.

Katie Nash, the district’s social media director, replied “but then how would you learn to spell ‘tomorrow’? :)”, reports the Frederick News-Post.

Image result for nash tweet schoolHow do you spell “stupid?”

The exchange was retweeted. District officials told Nash to stop tweeting. Then they fired her.

After only a few months on the job, she said, “I sort of would have expected that there would have been some counseling or some suggestions on how to improve.”

“Nathan,” who’d exchanged other tweets with Nash before she was shut down, told the News-Post he wasn’t offended.


Via Reason.

Prof: Stop saying ‘microaggression’

Stop using “microaggression” or “training” students to avoid microaggressions, writes Scott. O. Lilienfeld, an Emory psychology professor, in  Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. The core premises of microaggression theory are unproven, he argues. The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed journal.

Microagressions” — “slights, insults, invalidations and indignities” — threaten the health of “marginalized groups,” say proponents of the theory. Unintentional slights are as bad as deliberate “micro-assaults.”

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“Racial and cultural insensitivities” are real, he writes. But there’s “negligible evidence” that slights and snubs cause psychological harm or that they reflect prejudice or aggression.

On many college campuses, students receive training on microaggressions and warning lists of what not to say, he writes. Occidental College is considering a system to encourage students to report their professors’ microaggressions.

Lilienfeld became interested in the issue when he learned that some colleges were “telling students that statements such as “I believe that American is a land of opportunity” and “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job” constituted microaggressions,” reports Campus Reform.

“I came to the conclusion that although the microaggression concept almost surely contains a kernel of truth, it is highly problematic on numerous grounds and is not close to being ready for real-world application” he explained.

“Sensitizing individuals to subtle signs of potential anger might inadvertently end up making many of them ‘perceive’ slights even when they are not present,” Lilienfeld said. That could “exacerbate racial tensions at colleges.”

Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the rise of the victimhood culture in The Atlantic in 2015.

“You guys” is on the no-say list at University of Wisconsin at River Falls “Ugly” is banned because it “can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.” It’s bad to say “bad.” But, Heat Street points out, “dick” is OK.