Archives for category: Creativity

We have heard many ideas for what schools should look like after the pandemic, or if they reopen while the pandemic is still around. Most of those ideas are centered on distance learning. Nancy Bailey has a different concept: Bring back the arts education that was sacrificed to high-stakes testing.

She writes:

Teachers teach remotely, and parents are helping students at home. Hopefully, children and teens are doing art. Self-expression is important, and art calms and leads to self-discovery. When public schools reopen, when it’s safe to do so, parents and teachers must demand a return of art education with qualified art teachers! Music and drama are critical too, but this post focuses on art classes.

Due to high stakes testing and the no excuses agenda, teaching art became obsolete especially in poor schools. Underfunded school districts removed art classes from the curriculum years ago. They pushed more reading and test preparation.

Nina Rees is President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Rees was once a senior education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation and helped develop NCLB. Once asked “Do you consider art and music ‘frills,’ or would you say they are necessary to good elementary education?” she answered:

It depends. If a student is attending an affluent school that has the budget to invest in such things, then I see many benefits to adding art and music courses. What I object to is focusing the attention of poor school systems on these activities. Schools should be in the business of teaching students the basics. If they fail to teach students how to read and write, it makes no sense to ask them to offer music! In a perfect world, these are decisions that I wish parents could make and pay for.

Rees implies that the arts are only for children in wealthy schools! Educators know that the arts and academics complement one another. It’s detrimental to get rid of the arts in poor schools. Children in underfunded schools deserve art as much as students in rich schools.

All children deserve access to art classes. Dedicated public school art classes bring children together. Art is important for children with disabilities, gifted, twice exceptional students, and children and teens who have anxiety or depression.

Bailey goes on to describe the many ways that art helps students, the lessons and values they impart.

Yes, the arts are for everyone.

Jan Resseger explains here why community schools may be the best post-pandemic strategy for reopening schools.

Jeff Bryant recently profiled Mary Parr-Sanchez, the current president of the National Education Association’s New Mexico affiliate, speaking about what education will be like after the pandemic: “‘I think we’re all going to be different after this… When I first learned of the community schools model, it hit me like a lightning bolt,’ she told me. ‘I loved it because it focused on the academic and nonacademic needs of children, and the focus was on learning and a culturally relevant curriculum, not just test scores.’ Now, she is convinced the community schools model is the most promising way forward for schools as they reopen to the new realities of recovering from the fallout of COVID-19.”

Here is how the New York City Children’s Aid Society’s National Center for Community Schools defines a full-service, wraparound community school: “The foundations for community schools can be conceptualized as a Developmental Triangle that places children at the center, surrounded by families and communities. Because students’ educational success, health and well-being are the focus of every community school, the legs of the triangle consist of three interconnected support systems: A strong core instructional program… expanded learning opportunities… and a full range of health, mental health and social services designed to promote children’s well-being and remove barriers to learning.”

Community schools are designed locally to meet the needs of the particular school community, but they share essential characteristics. The Children’s Aid Society explains that community schools are not mere ad hoc school community partnerships, but are instead the product of careful planning and staffing. A Community School Director—an administrator—partners with the principal to coordinate the social, medical and enrichment services housed in the community school with the academic program. Each community school has a designated lead partner agency, which “maintains a full-time presence in the school and engages in regular joint planning with the Community School Director, the staff, and the community.”

The goal is to meet all the needs of children, not just their academic needs.

Nancy Bailey here presents a vision of schools that create a new realty and build a better society.

Public schools can bring us together. When children learn to care for each other with tolerance and understanding, they will grow to respect one other as adults. Honor the memory of George Floyd and black citizens who have unjustly died, by reconsidering our past efforts to integrate public schools. One place to start is by reading Gerald Grant’s book, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.

Learn how, once upon a time, Raleigh brought children together to learn, thereby reducing the gap between the rich and poor.

Vouchers and charters divide. Private schools and charter schools segregate. Remote learning, or learning at home or anyplace anytime, does little to bring students together.

This country needs strong public schools that unite students and families.

Who’s considering how to address the growing racial chasm that, along with the virus, could be America’s undoing? It has been 66 years since Brown v. Board of Education. How have public schools changed?

As we watch the unrest in Minneapolis and around the country, how, after all these years, can America bring students together? How, when Covid-19 separates us, can we find our way back to schools that are better than before? What will public schools be like when this disease is over?

David Berliner, one of our nation’s most eminent researchers, advises parents not to worry that their children are “falling behind.” School is important. Instruction is important. But “soft skills” and non—cognitive skills matter more in the long term than academic skills. Relax.

He sent this advice to the blog:

Worried About Those “Big” Losses on School Tests Because Of Extended Stays At Home? They May Not Even Happen,
And If They Do, They May Not Matter Much At All!

David C. Berliner
Regents Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ.

Although my mother passed away many years ago, I need now to make a public confession about a crime she committed year in and year out. When I was young, she prevented me from obtaining one year of public schooling. Surely that must be a crime!

Let me explain. Every year my mother took me out of school for three full weeks following the Memorial Day weekend. Thus, every single year, from K through 9th grade, I was absent from school for 3 weeks. Over time I lost about 30 weeks of schooling. With tonsil removal, recurring Mastoiditis, broken bones, and more than the average ordinary childhood illnesses, I missed a good deal of elementary schooling.
How did missing that much schooling hurt me? Not at all!

First, I must explain why my mother would break the law. In part it was to get me out of New York City as the polio epidemic hit U.S. cities from June through the summer months. For each of those summers, my family rented one room for the whole family in a rooming house filled with working class families at a beach called Rockaway. It was outside the urban area, but actually still within NYC limits.

I spent the time swimming every day, playing ball and pinochle with friends, and reading. And then, I read some more. Believe it or not, for kids like me, leaving school probably enhanced my growth! I was loved, I had great adventures, I conversed with adults in the rooming house, I saw many movies, I read classic comics, and even some “real” literature. I read series after series written for young people: Don Sturdy, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, as well as books by Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexander Dumas.

So now, with so many children out of school, and based on all the time I supposedly lost, I will make a prediction: every child who likes to read, every child with an interest in building computers or in building model bridges, planes, skyscrapers, autos, or anything else complex, or who plays a lot of “Fortnite,” or “Minecraft,” or plays non-computer but highly complex games such as “Magic,” or “Ticket to Ride,” or “Codenames” will not lose anything measurable by staying home. If children are cared for emotionally, have interesting stuff to play with, and read stories that engage them, I predict no deficiencies in school learning will be detectable six to nine months down the road.
It is the kids, rich or poor, without the magic ingredients of love and safety in their family, books to engage them, and interesting mind-engaging games to play, who may lose a few points on the tests we use to measure school learning. There are many of those kinds of children in the nation, and it is sad to contemplate that.

But then, what if they do lose a few points on the achievement tests currently in use in our nation and in each of our states? None of those tests predict with enough confidence much about the future life those kids will live. That is because it is not just the grades that kids get in school, nor their scores on tests of school knowledge, that predict success in college and in life. Soft skills, which develop as well during their hiatus from school as they do when they are in school, are excellent predictors of a child’s future success in life.

Really? Deke and Haimson (2006), working for Mathmatica, the highly respected social science research organization, studied the relationship between academic competence and some “soft” skills on some of the important outcomes in life after high school. They used high school math test scores as a proxy for academic competency, since math scores typically correlate well with most other academic indices. The soft skills they examined were a composite score from high school data that described each students’ work habits, measurement of sports related competence, a pro-social measure, a measure of leadership, and a measure of locus of control.

The researchers’ question, just as is every teacher’s and school counselor’s question, was this: If I worked on improving one of these academic or soft skills, which would give that student the biggest bang for the buck as they move on with their lives?

Let me quote their results (emphasis by me)
Increasing math test scores had the largest effect on earnings for a plurality of the students, but most students benefited more from improving one of the nonacademic competencies. For example, with respect to earnings eight years after high school, increasing math test scores would have been most effective for just 33 percent of students, but 67 percent would have benefited more from improving a nonacademic competency. Many students would have secured the largest earnings benefit from improvements in locus of control (taking personal responsibility) (30 percent) and sports-related competencies (20 percent). Similarly, for most students, improving one of the nonacademic competencies would have had a larger effect than better math scores on their chances of enrolling in and completing a postsecondary program.

​This was not new. Almost 50 years ago, Bowles and Gintis (1976), on the political left, pointed out that an individual’s noncognitive behaviors were perhaps more important than their cognitive skills in determining the kinds of outcomes the middle and upper middle classes expect from their children. Shortly after Bowles and Gintis’s treatise, Jencks and his colleagues (1979), closer to the political right, found little evidence that cognitive skills, such as those taught in school, played a big role in occupational success.

Employment usually depends on certificates or licenses—a high school degree, an Associate’s degree, a 4-year college degree or perhaps an advanced degree. Social class certainly affects those achievements. But Jenks and his colleagues also found that industriousness, leadership, and good study habits in high school were positively associated with higher occupational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for social class. It’s not all about grades, test scores, and social class background: Soft skills matter a lot!

Lleras (2008), 10 years after she studied a group of 10th grade students, found that those students with better social skills, work habits, and who also participated in extracurricular activities in high school had higher educational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for cognitive skills! Student work habits and conscientiousness were positively related to educational attainment and this in turn, results in higher earnings.

It is pretty simple: students who have better work habits have higher earnings in the labor market because they are able to complete more years of schooling and their bosses like them. In addition, Lleras’s study and others point to the persistent importance of motivation in predicting earnings, even after taking into account education. The Lleras study supports the conclusions reached by Jencks and his colleagues (1979), that noncognitive behaviors of secondary students were as important as cognitive skills in predicting later earnings.
So, what shall we make of all this? I think poor and wealthy parents, educated and uneducated parents, immigrant or native-born parents, all have the skills to help their children succeed in life. They just need to worry less about their child’s test scores and more about promoting reading and stimulating their children’s minds through interesting games – something more than killing monsters and bad guys. Parents who promote hobbies and building projects are doing the right thing. So are parents who have their kids tell them what they learned from watching a PBS nature special or from watching a video tour of a museum. Parents also do the right thing when they ask, after their child helps a neighbor, how the doing of kind acts makes their child feel. This is the “stuff” in early life that influences a child’s success later in life even more powerfully than do their test scores.

So, repeat after me all you test concerned parents: non-academic skills are more powerful than academic skills in life outcomes. This is not to gainsay for a minute the power of instruction in literacy and numeracy at our schools, nor the need for history and science courses. Intelligent citizenship and the world of work require subject matter knowledge. But I hasten to remind us all that success in many areas of life is not going to depend on a few points lost on state tests that predict so little. If a child’s stay at home during this pandemic is met with love and a chance to do something interesting, I have little concern about that child’s, or our nation’s, future.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books.

Deke, J. & Haimson, J. (2006, September). Expanding beyond academics: Who benefits and how? Princeton NJ: Issue briefs #2, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from:http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/28/09/9f.pdfMatematicapolicy research Inc.

Lleras, C. (2008). Do skills and behaviors in high school matter? The contribution of noncognitive factors in explaining differences in educational attainment and earnings. Social Science Research, 37, 888–902.

Jencks, C., Bartlett, S., Corcoran, M., Crouse, J., Eaglesfield, D., Jackson, G., McCelland, K., Mueser, P., Olneck, M., Schwartz, J., Ward, S., and Williams, J. (1979). Who Gets Ahead?: The Determinants of Economic Success in America. New York: Basic Books.

I recently had a discussion with Dr. Michael Hynes, the district superintendent in Port Washington, New York.

Our ZOOM discussion was sponsored by the Network for Public Education.

Mike Hynes is unusual because he believes in whole-child education. He is a revolutionary. He doesn’t think that test scores are important. He thinks schools should be places of joy. He believes in collaboration with staff. He shadows children to learn how their days are spent.

He is a different kind of superintendent.

Is he the wave of the future?

On May 20, I will ZOOM with Dr. Michael Hynes, the most interesting and inspiring superintendent I know.

Mike Hynes is superintendent of the Port Washington school district on Long Island, In New York.

He is a visionary. His new book—about educational leadership—is Staying Grounded.

He truly believes in whole-child education. He supports the parent opt-out movement. He believes that what matters most is children’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. He is passionate about play, calm, mindfulness.

Mike is my choice for the next state superintendent of New York. What a wild thought! Imagine a major state led. Y a man who knows the harm done by standardized testing! Imagine a state willing to lead, instead of follow.

Join us on Wednesday May 20 at 7:40 pm EST to watch a discussion sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Space is limited to 100. Everyone else can watch a livestream on NPE’s Facebook page.

Author William Doyle and Superintendent Michael Hynes—both known for supporting whole-child education—-say that they would welcome Bill Gates to New York if he agrees to meet three conditions.

They suggest that Gates has a chance to redeem his reputation after 20 years of failure in education.

They write:

The Gates Foundation has been a driving force behind nearly 20 years of consistently failed federal and state attempts at education reform, including the widely reviled “Common Core” state standards. In that time, little-to-no system improvement has occurred, despite the squandering of vast sums of money by the Gates Foundation and by taxpayers. In a blog post noting the flaws of Common Core and announcing plans to re-focus their funding, Gates announced, “As we have reflected on our work and spoken with educators over the last few years, we have identified a few key insights that will shape our work and investments going forward.”

The Gates Foundation now has a historic chance to redeem and distinguish itself as a world leader in education as it has in the field of public health. In fact, we believe that the educators, parents and children of New York should welcome the Gates Foundation to New York with open arms and marching brass bands — but with three ironclad conditions.

Open their post to learn what their “ironclad conditions” are.

Do you think Gates might agree?

Do you think New York needs him, with or without the conditions?

Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle celebrate the importance of play in their new book, Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive , published by Oxford University Press.

This article, excerpted from their book, features the work of Superintendent Michael Hynes and the Patchogue-Medford school district on Long Island in New York. The article appears in Kappan online.

In 2015, a school district in New York State declared an educational revolution. Teachers and parents decided to rise up and liberate their schools and their children — by giving them more play.

The revolution erupted at the Patchogue-Medford district on Long Island, which serves 8,700 K-12 students, over half of whom are economically disadvantaged, and it is being led by Michael Hynes, the athletic, passionate young district superintendent. He realized that federal education schemes based on the compulsory mass standardized testing of children, schemes like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, were proven failures, and he figured it was time to try something new, even radical.

Hynes started following his students around through their typical day and was increasingly alarmed to realize how little recess, play, and self-directed time they got. “We have done a great job of stripping away childhood from our children,” he thought. “We tell kids what to do from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to bed. They don’t have the ability to take time for themselves, just be kids, to make decisions for themselves.” He remembered his own childhood, and how different things were when he started as an elementary school teacher in the 1990s. “My students were free to play often,” Hynes recalled. “I loved watching them benefit physically, emotionally, and socially. We would go outside three times a day.” A single idea began to dominate his thinking: “Kids must be free to play in school. Childhood itself is at stake. I am sworn to protect children, and I must give this to them.”

Making time for play

For years, Hynes had read about the striking successes of Finland’s school system, and its strong foundation of play in childhood education. It gave him an inspiring idea, and he presented it to his community. And with the strong support of his school board and local parents, Hynes and his team took a series of steps almost unheard of in American public education today, steps that for some politicians and bureaucrats would be shocking, even downright dangerous, and nothing less than pure blasphemy. They doubled daily recess from 20 minutes to 40 minutes and encouraged children to go outside even in the rain and snow. They brought building blocks, Lincoln Logs, toys, and kitchen sets back into the classrooms. They gave each child a 40-minute lunch. They added optional periods of yoga and mindfulness training for K-8 children. They launched an unstructured Play Club for kindergarten through 5th-grade children, every Friday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

They opened “Divergent Thinking Rooms” filled with big foam blocks, where children can negotiate, plan, innovate, collaborate, and construct new worlds of design and architecture together, free from adult interference. A free breakfast program in classrooms was started so children and teachers could eat together every morning. The amount of homework was sharply reduced. Hynes calls the program “PEAS”: Physical growth, Emotional growth, Academic growth, and Social growth. It has nothing to do with technology. During the play periods, there isn’t a tablet, laptop, or desktop in use.

In 2018, Hynes sent a letter to his district, informing teachers and students that they were more than a score on a government-imposed standardized test, and they should feel free to toss such test scores in the trash. “We must abandon one-size-fits-all lesson plans and stop drilling to create high scores on year-end standardized tests,” he argued. “Instead, children should be involved in play, project-based learning, cooperation, collaboration, and open-ended inquiry.”

Hynes is an educational revolutionary. He stands firmly against the status quo of high-stakes testing and hyper-pressure. It takes courage to think afresh.

Imagine if we had state leaders with this vision?

John Merrow has some good suggestions in this essay about the month of May and how to use it wisely and well:

May has been an educational ‘dead zone’ for years. Because of our national obsession with standardized test scores, teachers–particularly in low income areas–spend class time showing students how to guess at answers, giving practice tests, and even teaching children how to fill in bubbles for the standardized, multiple choice ‘bubble’ tests that await them. These activities come with a huge opportunity cost for students, because they are of no educational benefit whatsoever and probably set their learning back; for teachers, they are an insult to their profession. And school districts spend billions of dollars buying, administering, and grading the bubble tests required by their states and the federal government.

When I was reporting I occasionally heard people complaining–in song–about “the morbid, miserable month of May,” riffing off an old Stephen Foster tune, “The Merry, Merry Month of May.” As I recall, the expression surfaced in 2003 or 2004, which is when the unintended consequences of the 2001 federal “No Child Left Behind” law became apparent. Because NCLB penalized schools that didn’t achieve what it called ‘adequate yearly progress’ on standardized tests, many districts eliminated art, music, drama, journalism, and even recess in order to concentrate on ‘the basics.’

That’s when the month of May became a ‘morbid’ dead zone, educationally speaking.

I don’t remember where I first heard the expression. It might have been in the suburban North Carolina elementary school that held ‘pep rallies’ in advance of the upcoming state exams, or in Richmond, Virginia, where a veteran middle school teacher told me “Teaching and learning are done; now it’s all test prep.” Or perhaps it was the Chicago high school teacher who confessed that he vomited in his wastebasket when he saw his students’ scores, or the custodian in a Success Academy charter school in New York City who said he rinsed out classroom trash cans every night because students regularly threw up in them during testing. Another possibility is the Washington, DC, parent whose young son couldn’t sleep because his teacher said she’d get fired if they didn’t do well on the tests.

The good news is that May 2020 does not have to be ‘morbid,’ ‘miserable,’ or ‘malignant.’ Because schools are closed and state standardized testing has been cancelled, May is a blank slate–and an opportunity for us to make it ‘magical’ and ‘memorable.’

News reports indicate that many parents are unhappy in the role of ‘teacher at home.’ (They are also coming to realize just how hard it is to be an effective teacher!) Teachers are frustrated because nothing in their training prepared them for teaching remotely. And so, because the March-April experiment in ‘remote learning’ hasn’t been a rousing success and because May is a tabula rasa, let’s embrace ‘out of the box’ thinking. Stop thinking like educators whose jobs depend on high test scores. Think differently!

(An earlier blog post about librarians, swimming instructors, highway engineers, and gardeners is here.)

Imagine for a moment that you don’t have a captive audience (because right now you don’t). IE, think like a librarian. Public libraries are different from schools in one important way: they do not have required attendance. But even though no one is forced to attend the library, library usage continues to climb. To survive and prosper, librarians have had to identify their audiences and find ways to draw them into their buildings and electronic networks. For the most part, they’ve succeeded without pandering. That’s what’s called for in education at this moment.

Every Wednesday at 7:40 pm EST, the Network for Public Education has hosted a conversation about education. All the conversations are archived here.

In the first one, I discussed my new book SLAYING GOLIATH with Carol Burris.

In the second one, I talked to Pastor Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children about their fight against vouchers and for public schools.

In the third one, I asked Mercedes Schneider about her new book and her skill at investigative reporting.

In the fourth one, I discussed the effects of the pandemic on early childhood education with ECE experts Denisha Jones and Susan Ochshorn.