Archives for the month of: January, 2018

I publicly renounced my allegiance to the theology of standards, tests, and choice in 2010 by publishing “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” It caused a stir, and I was asked again and again, why did you change your mind. I thought I had answered the question in my book, but nonetheless people asked again. I was interviewed by Kathryn Schultz, who is now on staff at The New Yorker, because she had published a book about what she called “wrongology,” and how people come to admit their errors in big things.

So whenever I learn of someone who changes course and says so in public, I am interested in learning what persuaded them.

Here is a man who was in the forefront of climate change denial. He changed his mind.

I earlier posted the text of the speech I gave to the CSBA on December 1, 2017. I usually deviate from the written text, and I did in this instance. I followed Marshall Tuck, who made his name working in the charter industry for the Green Dot charters. There were about 4,000 people in the audience.

California is overrun with charters. The California Charter School Association is a powerful lobby in Sacramento, always seeking more funding and less accountability. CCSA is supported by billionaires like Reed Hastings of Netflix and real estate mogul Eli Broad. Governor Jerry Brown is their ally. He vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charters. If Hastings and Broad had their way, there would be no elected school boards, and every school would be privatized. They may be successful in their own careers but they know little or nothing about education. They just don’t like democracy.

 

 This drawing was made in November, as I spoke at Oberlin College at a conference called “The State of American Democracy” (SAD). You can contact the artist at the website seeyourwords.com. 

 

Since I posted photographs of the mass graves and the torture camp in Cambodia, I feel compelled to tell you that these grim stories are not a picture of Cambodia today.

Cambodia is a physically beautiful country, with many ancient ruins, and more sights than any tourist could cover in many days of travel. The people are warm and gracious.

Our river cruise ended in Vietnam, and we transferred by bus to Pnomh Penh. It is a bustling, energetic city. We then traveled by bus to Siem Reap, a city of one million, and the tour company put us in one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen. We have been eating delicious Cambodian food, and we spent our days visiting ancient ruins. First, the world-famous Angkor Wat, which consists of many temples, which were repeatedly sacked by Thai invaders. The next day we visited more Wats that were ruins. We could only imagine how beautiful they were. Again, they had been stripped bare and destroyed by Thai invaders in the 12th century.

The temperature every day was about 90 degrees, and we were happy to return to our air conditioned hotel and pool to cool off.

What I will take away from this once-in-a-lifetime trip is a deep respect for the Cambodian people. It is a fascinating country, and I hope that one day you have the opportunity to visit it.

Both Vietnamese and Cambodian people kept reminding us that they are very much aware of their ancient pasts. But they look ahead to a bright future. Life is improving for most people. Whatever the government may be, the economy is thriving and growing numbers of people are joining the middle class.

I loved our guides in Vietnam and Cambodia, each proud of his country. The Cambodian guide told us he was born into a desperately poor family of subsistence farmers. To go to school, he had to cross the Mekong River. He made many sacrifices, but he never stopped learning. He taught for a few years but the salary was so low that he could not live. He tried different trades, then became a tour guide. He mastered English. He loves his work. He has a wonderful sense of humor. He said to us, “if your children complain, tell them how hard they would have to work if they lived in Cambodia.” He said, “There is only one way to lift yourself out of poverty, and that is education.” Everyone in the bus applauded.

 

 

Leonie Haimson and Cheri Kiesecker, parents who fight for student privacy, describe the astonishing amount of data collected about your child without your knowledge. Much of it is personally identifiable information (PII) and much of it can be accessed by outsiders without parental knowledge or consent.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/12/the-astonishing-amount-of-data-being-collected-about-your-children/

The federal legislation that protects student privacy (FERPA) needs to be updated and strengthened. The US Department of Education weakened the regulations in 2011, dropping needed protections for children’s PII.

This article by Carol Burris was published in January but it remains as pertinent as ever.

Tell this to your friends and neighbors:

It is time we have an honest discussion about the true cost of school choice. It is a policy with steep fiscal consequences for our communities and our nation. Here is what every taxpayer should know:

Billions of federal tax dollars have poured into charter school promotion, without regard for success and with insufficient oversight.

By 2015, the federal government spent more than $3.7 billion to boost the charter sector — with millions wasted on financing “ghost schools” that never opened. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Michigan spent $3.7 million of its federal dollars on 25 “ghost” schools. In California, more than $4.7 million federal dollars went to charter schools that shut down in a few years. And the flow has not stopped. In 2016, the federal government poured another $333 million to push charter schools, yet put forth no reforms to prevent waste. The same year the Department of Education’s own Inspector General warned of “the current and emerging risk” that is posed by charter management organizations for fraud and abuse.

Some charter schools spend more tax dollars on administration and less on teaching.

Most taxpayers want their tax dollars to go to the classroom for teaching and learning. Yet time and again, some charters spent far more than public schools on administration. In 2014-2015, Arizona charter schools spent over $128 million more than Arizona public schools on management costs. One charter chain, Basis, spent nearly $12 million on administrative costs in one year, for fewer than 9000 students — all hidden from public review.

When the latest federal study of D.C. voucher schools showed that students who take a voucher go backwards, not forward, Betsy DeVos responded that it didn’t matter. She said that when choice is fully implemented, all sectors–public, charter, and voucher–will get the same results.

Some investment! Divide up the money, undermine public schools (that take the neediest kids), and get the same results in all sectors.

This article by Gus Garcia-Roberts won a prestigious journalism award for exposing the disgraceful conditions in schools that receive McKay scholarships for special education students in Florida.

This is the voucher program that Betsy DeVos hailed as a national model when she testified at her confirmation hearings a year ago.

“While the state played the role of the blind sugar daddy, here is what went on at South Florida Prep, according to parents, students, teachers, and public records: Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.

“The teachers were mostly in their early 20s. An afternoon for the high school students might consist of watching a VHS tape of a 1976 Laurence Fishburne blaxploitation flick — Cornbread, Earl and Me — and then summarizing the plot. In one class session, a middle school teacher recommended putting “mother nature” — a woman’s period — into spaghetti sauce to keep a husband under thumb. “We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”

“In May 2009, two vanloads of South Florida Prep kids were on the way back from a field trip to Orlando when one of the vehicles flipped along Florida’s Turnpike. A teacher and an 18-year-old senior were killed. Turns out another student, age 17 and possessing only a learner’s permit, was behind the wheel and had fallen asleep. The families of the deceased and an insurance company are suing Brown for negligence.

“Meanwhile, Brown openly used a form of corporal punishment that has been banned in Miami-Dade and Broward schools for three decades. Four former students and the music teacher Norris recall that the principal frequently paddled students for misbehaving. In a complaint filed with the DOE in April 2009, one parent rushed to the school to stop Brown from taking a paddle to her son’s behind.

“He said that maybe if we niggas would beat our kids in the first place, he wouldn’t have to,” the mother wrote of Brown. “He then proceeded to tell me that he is not governed by Florida school laws.”

“He wasn’t far off. The DOE couldn’t remove South Florida Prep from the McKay program, says agency spokesperson Deborah Higgins, “based on the school’s disciplinary policies and procedures.”

“It’s like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash: Dole out millions to anybody calling himself an educator. Don’t regulate curriculum or even visit campuses to see where the money is going.

“For optimal results, do this in Florida, America’s fraud capital.

“Now watch all the different ways the flimflam men scramble for the cash.

“Once a niche scholarship fund, the McKay program has boomed exponentially in the 12 years since it was introduced under Gov. Jeb Bush, with $148.6 million handed out in the past 12 months, a 38 percent increase from just more than five years ago.

“There are 1,013 schools — 65 percent of them religious — collecting McKay vouchers from 22,198 children at an average of $7,144 per year.

“The lion’s share of that pot ends up in South Florida. Miami-Dade received $31.8 million, more than any other county in the state, and Broward was second with $18.3 million. Palm Beach ranked fifth, with its schools collecting $6.9 million.

“But there’s virtually no oversight. According to one former DOE investigator, who claimed his office was stymied by trickle-down gubernatorial politics, the agency failed to uncover “even a significant fraction” of the McKay crime that was occurring.

“Administrators who have received funding include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.

“Even in investigations where fraud, including forgery and stealing student information to bolster enrollment, is proven, arrests are rare. The thieves are usually allowed to simply repay the stolen loot in installments — or at least promise to — and continue to accept McKay payments.

“There is no accreditation requirement for McKay schools. And without curriculum regulations, the DOE can’t yank back its money if students are discovered to be spending their days filling out workbooks, watching B-movies, or frolicking in the park. In one “business management” class, students shook cans for coins on street corners.”

This article is a must-read. Voucher proponent Jay Greene of the Walton-funded University of Arkansas belittled the story and said it was published in a worthless tabloid. But the article subsequently won the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for 2012, and Garcia-Roberts went on to become an investigative journalist at Long Island’s Newsday and now the Los Angeles Times.

Since the article’s publication, Florida has done nothing to correct the abuse of children with disabilities in the McKay program.

You see, children in public schools have rights. When they leave public schools, they abandon their rights.

This is your reading assignment for the holidays!

Please write a book report.

Jeff Smith of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has compiled a reader about the lives, beliefs, and whims of the super-rich DeVos family.

I haven’t finished reading it. It is a big endeavor.

Jeff Smith writes:

“This is exactly why I have spent years monitoring, investigating and critiquing the DeVos Family. They are the most recognizable and powerful manifestation of the systems of power and oppression in West Michigan. Now, I know there are plenty of people who share the belief that without the DeVos Family, Grand Rapids wouldn’t be where it is today. I fully agree with that belief, but for reasons that are the exact opposite of those who hold the most powerful family in West Michigan in high regard.

“When Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel founded the Amway corporation, they did so by embracing some of the most deeply entrenched lies about this country. Rich DeVos has written numerous books that promote his values. In his book Believe, DeVos, in talking about freedom, states, “that call of freedom went forth from a rugged wilderness, and Europe and Asia and Africa sent their sons of adventure to hew out a new society in a land of forests and savages.”

“This statement from DeVos is essentially an affirmation in his belief of Manifest Destiny. For those who don’t know, the company that DeVos founded with Jay Van Andel, was originally going to be called The American Way, but was changed to Amway so as to abbreviate their take on Manifest Destiny.

“In addition to believing in Manifest Destiny, Rich DeVos is also deeply committed to the values of capitalism, or what he likes to refer to as the free enterprise system. In his book Believe, DeVos states, “The free-enterprise system has outperformed, outproduced any other in the world. It is a gift of God to us, and we should understand it, embrace it, and believe in it.”

“The above statement is the perfect encapsulation of what the patriarch of the family, Rich DeVos, believes and is firmly committed to. The DeVos Family is a deeply religious family, regardless of how one defines religious beliefs. The family comes out of the Calvinist tradition and are members of the Christian Reformed Church. However, the DeVos Family, in many ways embraces a form of Christian Reconstruction. Those who practice Christian Reconstruction theology believe that society should be governed by biblical values, rather than secular values. This is exactly why the family has for decades developed relationships and funded organizations that are deeply committed to homophobia, anti-reproductive rights, patriarchy, white supremacy and free market capitalism.”

From John Merrow’s new book “Addicted to Reform”:

FRIENDS,

“I want to make it easier for courageous school boards and superintendents to take on the challenge of transforming their schools. For them, I have reduced my book’s 12-Step program to just NINE steps. Here’s my thinking: Because the country has become addicted to superficial ‘reform,’ it must, like all addicts, own the problem and face up to the costs of addiction. In my book, those are the first three Steps. However, school leaders do not need to look backwards and point fingers. Why not just ask their communities, “Do you think we can improve our schools?” That (rhetorical) question will elicit a chorus of yes, yes, and yes, which provides a license for moving ahead.

And so, in the interests of encouraging school leaders to grasp the nettle, here are the NINE steps, in brief. (However, if you are not school leaders, I must insist that you to stop reading right now and go buy the book!)

1. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION

Our schools and their dominant pedagogy are inappropriate for the twenty-first century and have to be replaced. But what will replace them? The answers become clear when we ask the right question about each and every child.

Remember, today’s schools have evolved into a sorting mechanism to identify and label children from a very young age. Even though tracking has long since fallen out of favor, many (perhaps most) schools have subtle, or not-so-subtle, tracking systems. By third or fourth grade most kids know, deep down, whether the system sees them as “winners” bound for college or “losers” headed somewhere else. Economics reinforces tracking as well. Because school characteristics are nearly always a function of a community’s wealth, some of our schools are decrepit to the point of being unsafe, which has the effect of “tracking” those students downward. Schools in wealthy communities have modern facilities, the most experienced teachers, the latest technology, and perhaps even climbing walls in the gym. That is the track for “winners.”

Essentially, our current system examines each child and demands to know, in a variety of ways, “How intelligent are you?” Standardized, machine-scored tests are the “objective” instruments most commonly used to determine the answer to what is, today, the wrong question.

A new system of schools must ask a different question about each child: “How are you intelligent?” That may strike you as a steep hill to climb, but it’s my version of the questions that caring parents, teachers, and other adults ask about individual children. They phrase it differently: “What is Susan interested in?” “What turns George on?” “What motivates Juan?” or “What does Sharese care about?” Or one can pay attention to young children at play to find out what makes them tick; as Yogi Berra may have said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Every child has interests, and those can be tapped and nurtured in schools that are designed to provide opportunities for children to succeed as they pursue paths of their own choosing. Giving children agency over their own education—with appropriate guidance and supervision—will produce a generation that is better equipped to cope with today’s changing world.

Like most of the changes required to remake public education, this shift—close to a 180-degree change—will not be easy. Some policies, procedures, and attitudes will have to change, and people who refuse to adapt will have to be moved out. The current education system works on a medical model, diagnosing what’s “wrong” with children and then putting them in one ward or another for “treatment.” The approach I put forth in this book is, by contrast, a health model, identifying children’s strengths and interests and then developing a course of action that builds on those assets while also taking care to see that children master basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

2. MAKE CONNECTIONS

“Only connect,” urges one of E.M. Forster’s central characters in his novel Howard’s End. Forster wasn’t writing about adolescents and children, but he could have been. Because most children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, making connections with them is essential. Children need nurturing and support, and when they don’t feel connected to their school and the adults therein, they will look elsewhere. As Erika Christakis notes in The Importance of Being Little, “It’s really very simple: young children need to know and to be known.” Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, adds, “When adults demonstrate that they care and that they believe in you, much is possible.” Carol Dweck makes similar points in Mindset: The New Psychology of Growth.

As a practical matter, this step calls for schools that are small enough so that every student can be well known to at least a couple of adults in the building. That’s the critical piece often missing in public education, where teachers are sometimes responsible for 150 or more students. As the late educator Ted Sizer said, “That’s not teaching; that’s crowd control.” Those conditions make it extremely difficult for caring adults to connect with all the needy children they come in contact with on a daily basis.

Of course, a small school doesn’t guarantee connecting, because what matters far more is a caring attitude and philosophy. Adults need to learn to see the world from kids’ level, from the ground up and not from the top down. There is good news: lots of schools and communities are embracing this idea. Today, it’s usually under the label of “social and emotional learning.” The modern roots of this approach are in the work of Dr. James Comer, M.D., whose Comer School Development Program pioneered the idea that schools must nurture first and teach second.

3. START EARLY

Connecting early by creating appealing programs for children of preschool age is the next step in the process of transforming the way our children go to school. Here I suggest we follow the model of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Ike did not build one set of highways for luxury cars and another for cheap ones but instead made sure that every interstate highway was wide, safe, and well-constructed, suitable for military vehicles and luxury cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns but, of course, open to Volkswagens and other less expensive cars.

The Interstate Highway System was justified and paid for as part of our national defense effort, and we might be wise to take a similar approach to early childhood education and daycare programs. After all, if we believe that our children are the future and that our nation will always require a strong defense, shouldn’t we invest early in protecting our future?

I chose the interstate highway model because the record in social programs, including early childhood programs, is clear: when government creates programs just for poor people, it nearly always results in poor programs. Government-funded programs for the disadvantaged, such as Head Start, seem to be constantly scrounging for funds; to reduce staff costs, they often hire people with minimum qualifications; and the hours spent FRIENDS,

“I want to make it easier for courageous school boards and superintendents to take on the challenge of transforming their schools. For them, I have reduced my book’s 12-Step program to just NINE steps. Here’s my thinking: Because the country has become addicted to superficial ‘reform,’ it must, like all addicts, own the problem and face up to the costs of addiction. In my book, those are the first three Steps. However, school leaders do not need to look backwards and point fingers. Why not just ask their communities, “Do you think we can improve our schools?” That (rhetorical) question will elicit a chorus of yes, yes, and yes, which provides a license for moving ahead.

And so, in the interests of encouraging school leaders to grasp the nettle, here are the NINE steps, in brief. (However, if you are not school leaders, I must insist that you to stop reading right now and go buy the book!)

1. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION

Our schools and their dominant pedagogy are inappropriate for the twenty-first century and have to be replaced. But what will replace them? The answers become clear when we ask the right question about each and every child.

Remember, today’s schools have evolved into a sorting mechanism to identify and label children from a very young age. Even though tracking has long since fallen out of favor, many (perhaps most) schools have subtle, or not-so-subtle, tracking systems. By third or fourth grade most kids know, deep down, whether the system sees them as “winners” bound for college or “losers” headed somewhere else. Economics reinforces tracking as well. Because school characteristics are nearly always a function of a community’s wealth, some of our schools are decrepit to the point of being unsafe, which has the effect of “tracking” those students downward. Schools in wealthy communities have modern facilities, the most experienced teachers, the latest technology, and perhaps even climbing walls in the gym. That is the track for “winners.”

Essentially, our current system examines each child and demands to know, in a variety of ways, “How intelligent are you?” Standardized, machine-scored tests are the “objective” instruments most commonly used to determine the answer to what is, today, the wrong question.

A new system of schools must ask a different question about each child: “How are you intelligent?” That may strike you as a steep hill to climb, but it’s my version of the questions that caring parents, teachers, and other adults ask about individual children. They phrase it differently: “What is Susan interested in?” “What turns George on?” “What motivates Juan?” or “What does Sharese care about?” Or one can pay attention to young children at play to find out what makes them tick; as Yogi Berra may have said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Every child has interests, and those can be tapped and nurtured in schools that are designed to provide opportunities for children to succeed as they pursue paths of their own choosing. Giving children agency over their own education—with appropriate guidance and supervision—will produce a generation that is better equipped to cope with today’s changing world.

Like most of the changes required to remake public education, this shift—close to a 180-degree change—will not be easy. Some policies, procedures, and attitudes will have to change, and people who refuse to adapt will have to be moved out. The current education system works on a medical model, diagnosing what’s “wrong” with children and then putting them in one ward or another for “treatment.” The approach I put forth in this book is, by contrast, a health model, identifying children’s strengths and interests and then developing a course of action that builds on those assets while also taking care to see that children master basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

2. MAKE CONNECTIONS

“Only connect,” urges one of E.M. Forster’s central characters in his novel Howard’s End. Forster wasn’t writing about adolescents and children, but he could have been. Because most children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, making connections with them is essential. Children need nurturing and support, and when they don’t feel connected to their school and the adults therein, they will look elsewhere. As Erika Christakis notes in The Importance of Being Little, “It’s really very simple: young children need to know and to be known.” Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, adds, “When adults demonstrate that they care and that they believe in you, much is possible.” Carol Dweck makes similar points in Mindset: The New Psychology of Growth.

As a practical matter, this step calls for schools that are small enough so that every student can be well known to at least a couple of adults in the building. That’s the critical piece often missing in public education, where teachers are sometimes responsible for 150 or more students. As the late educator Ted Sizer said, “That’s not teaching; that’s crowd control.” Those conditions make it extremely difficult for caring adults to connect with all the needy children they come in contact with on a daily basis.

Of course, a small school doesn’t guarantee connecting, because what matters far more is a caring attitude and philosophy. Adults need to learn to see the world from kids’ level, from the ground up and not from the top down. There is good news: lots of schools and communities are embracing this idea. Today, it’s usually under the label of “social and emotional learning.” The modern roots of this approach are in the work of Dr. James Comer, M.D., whose Comer School Development Program pioneered the idea that schools must nurture first and teach second.

3. START EARLY

Connecting early by creating appealing programs for children of preschool age is the next step in the process of transforming the way our children go to school. Here I suggest we follow the model of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Ike did not build one set of highways for luxury cars and another for cheap ones but instead made sure that every interstate highway was wide, safe, and well-constructed, suitable for military vehicles and luxury cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns but, of course, open to Volkswagens and other less expensive cars.

The Interstate Highway System was justified and paid for as part of our national defense effort, and we might be wise to take a similar approach to early childhood education and daycare programs. After all, if we believe that our children are the future and that our nation will always require a strong defense, shouldn’t we invest early in protecting our future?

I chose the interstate highway model because the record in social programs, including early childhood programs, is clear: when government creates programs just for poor people, it nearly always results in poor programs. Government-funded programs for the disadvantaged, such as Head Start, seem to be constantly scrounging for funds; to reduce staff costs, they often hire people with minimum qualifications; and the hours spent filling in forms and meeting other requirements leaves little time for meeting the needs of children and families, let alone for staff development and “reflection.” To satisfy their communities, some programs give hiring preference to locals, qualified or not, leading to the common charge that these programs exist to provide jobs for adults, rather than to support the healthy development of children.

What is the right age? Is three too young? That’s up to parents. Effective preschool programs such as the Perry Preschool Project and the Chicago Child Parent Centers enroll both three- and four-year-olds. Some say that’s critical to success because so many low-income children are already significantly behind by age three.

A critical issue is what happens during the day. Is its focus academic? Beware of a pushed-down curriculum, because it is probably not developmentally appropriate. Play always matters, but it’s especially critical in the early years. It makes sense to me to think of Recess as ‘The 4th R,’ along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.’

It’s also important to figure out who is in charge. Non-educators who are not versed in child development shouldn’t be deciding how three- and four-year-olds spend their days. And FRIENDS,

“I want to make it easier for courageous school boards and superintendents to take on the challenge of transforming their schools. For them, I have reduced my book’s 12-Step program to just NINE steps. Here’s my thinking: Because the country has become addicted to superficial ‘reform,’ it must, like all addicts, own the problem and face up to the costs of addiction. In my book, those are the first three Steps. However, school leaders do not need to look backwards and point fingers. Why not just ask their communities, “Do you think we can improve our schools?” That (rhetorical) question will elicit a chorus of yes, yes, and yes, which provides a license for moving ahead.

And so, in the interests of encouraging school leaders to grasp the nettle, here are the NINE steps, in brief. (However, if you are not school leaders, I must insist that you to stop reading right now and go buy the book!)

1. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION

Our schools and their dominant pedagogy are inappropriate for the twenty-first century and have to be replaced. But what will replace them? The answers become clear when we ask the right question about each and every child.

Remember, today’s schools have evolved into a sorting mechanism to identify and label children from a very young age. Even though tracking has long since fallen out of favor, many (perhaps most) schools have subtle, or not-so-subtle, tracking systems. By third or fourth grade most kids know, deep down, whether the system sees them as “winners” bound for college or “losers” headed somewhere else. Economics reinforces tracking as well. Because school characteristics are nearly always a function of a community’s wealth, some of our schools are decrepit to the point of being unsafe, which has the effect of “tracking” those students downward. Schools in wealthy communities have modern facilities, the most experienced teachers, the latest technology, and perhaps even climbing walls in the gym. That is the track for “winners.”

Essentially, our current system examines each child and demands to know, in a variety of ways, “How intelligent are you?” Standardized, machine-scored tests are the “objective” instruments most commonly used to determine the answer to what is, today, the wrong question.

A new system of schools must ask a different question about each child: “How are you intelligent?” That may strike you as a steep hill to climb, but it’s my version of the questions that caring parents, teachers, and other adults ask about individual children. They phrase it differently: “What is Susan interested in?” “What turns George on?” “What motivates Juan?” or “What does Sharese care about?” Or one can pay attention to young children at play to find out what makes them tick; as Yogi Berra may have said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Every child has interests, and those can be tapped and nurtured in schools that are designed to provide opportunities for children to succeed as they pursue paths of their own choosing. Giving children agency over their own education—with appropriate guidance and supervision—will produce a generation that is better equipped to cope with today’s changing world.

Like most of the changes required to remake public education, this shift—close to a 180-degree change—will not be easy. Some policies, procedures, and attitudes will have to change, and people who refuse to adapt will have to be moved out. The current education system works on a medical model, diagnosing what’s “wrong” with children and then putting them in one ward or another for “treatment.” The approach I put forth in this book is, by contrast, a health model, identifying children’s strengths and interests and then developing a course of action that builds on those assets while also taking care to see that children master basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

2. MAKE CONNECTIONS

“Only connect,” urges one of E.M. Forster’s central characters in his novel Howard’s End. Forster wasn’t writing about adolescents and children, but he could have been. Because most children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, making connections with them is essential. Children need nurturing and support, and when they don’t feel connected to their school and the adults therein, they will look elsewhere. As Erika Christakis notes in The Importance of Being Little, “It’s really very simple: young children need to know and to be known.” Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, adds, “When adults demonstrate that they care and that they believe in you, much is possible.” Carol Dweck makes similar points in Mindset: The New Psychology of Growth.

As a practical matter, this step calls for schools that are small enough so that every student can be well known to at least a couple of adults in the building. That’s the critical piece often missing in public education, where teachers are sometimes responsible for 150 or more students. As the late educator Ted Sizer said, “That’s not teaching; that’s crowd control.” Those conditions make it extremely difficult for caring adults to connect with all the needy children they come in contact with on a daily basis.

Of course, a small school doesn’t guarantee connecting, because what matters far more is a caring attitude and philosophy. Adults need to learn to see the world from kids’ level, from the ground up and not from the top down. There is good news: lots of schools and communities are embracing this idea. Today, it’s usually under the label of “social and emotional learning.” The modern roots of this approach are in the work of Dr. James Comer, M.D., whose Comer School Development Program pioneered the idea that schools must nurture first and teach second.

3. START EARLY

Connecting early by creating appealing programs for children of preschool age is the next step in the process of transforming the way our children go to school. Here I suggest we follow the model of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. Ike did not build one set of highways for luxury cars and another for cheap ones but instead made sure that every interstate highway was wide, safe, and well-constructed, suitable for military vehicles and luxury cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns but, of course, open to Volkswagens and other less expensive cars.

The Interstate Highway System was justified and paid for as part of our national defense effort, and we might be wise to take a similar approach to early childhood education and daycare programs. After all, if we believe that our children are the future and that our nation will always require a strong defense, shouldn’t we invest early in protecting our future?

I chose the interstate highway model because the record in social programs, including early childhood programs, is clear: when government creates programs just for poor people, it nearly always results in poor programs. Government-funded programs for the disadvantaged, such as Head Start, seem to be constantly scrounging for funds; to reduce staff costs, they often hire people with minimum qualifications; and the hours spent filling in forms and meeting other requirements leaves little time for meeting the needs of children and families, let alone for staff development and “reflection.” To satisfy their communities, some programs give hiring preference to locals, qualified or not, leading to the common charge that these programs exist to provide jobs for adults, rather than to support the healthy development of children.

What is the right age? Is three too young? That’s up to parents. Effective preschool programs such as the Perry Preschool Project and the Chicago Child Parent Centers enroll both three- and four-year-olds. Some say that’s critical to success because so many low-income children are already significantly behind by age three.

A critical issue is what happens during the day. Is its focus academic? Beware of a pushed-down curriculum, because it is probably not developmentally appropriate. Play always matters, but it’s especially critical in the early years. It makes sense to me to think of Recess as ‘The 4th R,’ along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.’

It’s also important to figure out who is in charge. Non-educators who are not versed in child development shouldn’t be deciding how three- and four-year-olds spend their days. And under no circumstances should those days involve testing.

4. EXPECT MORE

Because children become what they repeatedly do, it’s essential that they do different things in school. However, it’s equally important that we do the right thing, which above all means expecting more from them………”

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY: https://themerrowreport.com/2018/01/09/transforming-public-schools-in-just-nine-steps/

AND I HOPE YOU WILL SHARE YOUR REACTIONS BY POSTING THEM ON THE BLOG

Thanks
John

John Merrow
former Education Correspondent,
PBS NewsHour, and founding President,
Learning Matters, Inc.
646.373.3034

My blog:
http://themerrowreport.com

 

 

 

 

This is a gift for you.

Forget about test scores. Forget about DeVos and Trump.

Let your spirit luxuriate in sheer beauty.

Mozart’s Requiem.