Archives for category: Innovation

This is a wonderful story of a public school whose students succeeded against the odds thanks to a dedicated and creative leader. Will Bill Gates or Laurene Powell Jobs come calling?

Philadelphia School Leader Named NASSP National Principal of the Year

Richard Gordon of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services announced as 2021 honoree during National Principals Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Bob Farrace, NASSP, 703-860-7252farraceb@nassp.org

Reston, VA—Richard Gordon, principal of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in Philadelphia, PA, has been named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2021 National Principal of the Year. The surprise announcement, part of the 2020 celebration of National Principals Month, took place during a virtual meeting of Philadelphia principals earlier today.

Gordon won the award for successfully leading Robeson High School from the brink of closure to what is now considered Philadelphia’s premiere high school.

“Any school turnaround is hard, and it takes a special leader to sustain it,” said NASSP President Robert Motley in his presentation of the award. “But Mr. Gordon led Robeson High School’s turnaround under extraordinary political and social pressures, and at no point did he lose focus on the students. Under Mr. Gordon’s leadership, Robeson High School models what personalization was always meant to be. Personalization begins not at the data or at test targets, but at the person–with all their interests, needs, traumas, and dreams. His leadership makes that happen.”

In 2013 Gordon assumed the reins of Robeson High School, a school in a converted garage in the poverty-stricken area of West Philadelphia that was slated for closure. By 2019, Gordon’s led Robeson off the Pennsylvania High Needs/Academically Low Performing List and onto the list of High Progress Schools with a graduation rate of 95 percent. At the heart of Gordon’s success is the school motto “Build Your Own Brand,” which is realized by his meeting with each of the school’s 315 students to build an educational pathway around their interests. To help students reach their goals, Gordon established countless business, community, and dual-enrollment partnerships specific to student needs. In one illustrative case of a student who dreamed of working on the NASCAR circuit, Gordon leveraged partnerships to secure the student an internship with the nationally renowned all-female Philadelphia mechanic shop Girls Auto Clinic. They plugged him into the NASCAR circuit in the Pocono Mountains, and he drove in his first professional NASCAR-sponsored race this past summer. This case is the norm, as all students are connected to mentors and a business coach to define actionable steps for achieving their desired outcomes.

“Richard doesn’t see obstacles, only opportunities,” commented Kerensa Wing, the 2020 National Principal of the Year who served on the committee that selected Gordon. “His passion for working with kids and helping them succeed is impressive.”

Finding opportunities is a hallmark of Gordon’s leadership. When two Black men were falsely arrested at a West Philadelphia Starbucks in an incident that made national headlines and resulted in a financial settlement with Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia, the men dedicated $200,000 for seed money to launch Project Elevate through their Action Not Words Foundation. Gordon convinced the men and city leaders to select Robeson for the pilot program to equip the most vulnerable Philadelphians with the financial tools, resources, and access needed to break the cycle of generational poverty. Through this partnership, student entrepreneurs are learning how to write and execute business plans to launch businesses in their communities.

Yet, Gordon recognized early that achievement was possible only on a foundation of student safety and wellness. To that end, he created the Safe Corridors Program, a collaboration between Robeson and the University City District (a partnership of the business community, universities, community-based organizations, Philadelphia police, University of Pennsylvania Security Officers, and West Philadelphia residents) to provide extra supervision for students traveling to and from school. Partnerships with mental health therapy programs provide trauma supports for students and build a trauma-informed school environment. Truancy rates have dropped precipitously to near 10% (-22.6%), suspension rates fell below 5%, and bullying has been eliminated, with zero reports in the past 5 years– transforming the school into a safe harbor and making Robeson one of the safest schools in Philadelphia.

Gordon holds a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, and master’s degrees from both Coppin State University and Lehigh University.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. said Gordon’s commitment to serving children and families is the driving force behind his success at Robeson.

“From the moment he arrived at the District, Principal Gordon’s enthusiasm for creating a positive learning and instructional environment has yielded wonderful results,” Hite said. “We are thrilled to see him receive this recognition and look forward to even greater success for his students and the entire school community.”

“The PA Principals Association is proud that one of our very own school leaders has been named NASSP’s Principal of the Year,” said Paul Healey, the groups’s executive director, who identified Gordon as the 2020 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year. “Richard Gordon exemplifies the qualities of an effective principal and demonstrates his leadership skills, passion, dedication, and an outstanding commitment to his students and school community on a daily basis.  We are proud of his accomplishments and join in the well deserved congratulations from across PA and the nation.”

The NASSP Principal of the Year (POY) program recognizes outstanding middle level and high school principals who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to the profession. Each year, NASSP honors State Principals of the Year from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. Out of these exceptional school leaders, three are selected as finalists and one is ultimately selected for the National Principal of the Year award. The 2021 finalists include Adam Clemons of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, AL; and Michelle Kefford, formerly of Charles Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, FL, now principal of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

Gordon is one of only three principals from Pennsylvania ever to receive this national distinction, along with Kevin McHugh of the Pennsbury School District in 2002 and Michael Pladus of the Interboro School District in 1999.

For more information on the POY program, please visit www.nassp.org/poy.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.

The media has been churning out stories about the exodus of people from cities, to escape crowding and coronavirus. People, they say, are rushing to the suburbs.

New Yorker Peter Goodman dissents. He believes that city life will bounce back in time. New York City already is healthier than most other parts of the nation, though mass transit has not yet recovered from the pandemic. Everything ground to a halt in mid-March, and city life is only now beginning to resume, but with masks and social distancing.

Goodman argues that “Cities are the Engines of Democracy, Innovation, and Growth and Schools Play a Major Role.”

As cultural life revives, so will cities.

Ambitious young people flock to them for exposure to museums, dance, concerts, theater, and civic life and diversity of people and experiences.

An interesting article on a real estate website called Curbed.com says that the “urban exodus” story is mostly a myth. True, there has been flight from two of the most expensive places in the U.S—San Francisco and Manhattan (but not Brooklyn!)—but the flow out of cities has not accelerated.

But a nationwide, pandemic- or protest-induced urban-to-suburban migration taking place on a scale that impacts both urban and suburban housing markets in a measurable way? There is zero empirical evidence to support such a trend. None. Nothing. Zero.

Earlier this month, real-estate-listings giant Zillow published an exhaustive study examining every conceivable housing-market data point related to cities and suburbia to see if there are major divergences that suggest an urban-to-suburban migration trend.

Are pending home sales between urban and suburban areas different now than they were before the pandemic? They aren’t!

Are suburban homes selling more quickly than homes in urban areas? Nope!

Are suburban homes selling above their list price at a higher rate than urban homes? Not at all!

Are urban homes seeing price cuts at a higher rate than suburban homes? If anything, the opposite!

Are home valuations accelerating faster in suburban areas than in urban areas? Urban zip codes have a slight edge!

Are suburban home listings getting a larger share of search traffic relative to urban areas now than they were last year? The suburban share is actually down 0.2 percentage points!

There is a German saying: Stadtluft macht frei (“urban air makes you free”). It has been true for centuries. It will be true again.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of the Port Washington School District in New York and a friend of Sir Ken Robinson.

The Legacy and Impact of Sir Ken Robinson

The world lost an inspiring and incredible human-being on August 21, 2020. Sir Ken Robinson, the gifted author and educator, and one of the world’s leading thinkers made an incredible impact on everyone he met. You may know him from his famous TED Talk entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity”. It happened to be the most viewed TED Talk of all-time. To think people cared to watch an 18-minute discussion about school and creativity more than 66 million times shows us what an amazing orator he was. More important, it highlights his ability to connect with people who cared about what he had to say.

Most people know him from his multiple TED Talks. Not many knew that he led an incredibly multifaceted career before he hit TED stardom. Sir Ken was Director of the Arts in Schools Project, an initiative to develop arts education throughout England and Wales. He also chaired Artswork, the UK’s national youth arts development agency. Sir Ken was also professor emeritus of education at the University of Warwick. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the arts. I’m just scratching the surface of his esteemed career but this gentleman was also Senior Advisor for Education & Creativity at the Getty Museum. His contributions to the field of education and the world are vast.

I could go on and on about his legacy and his ideas concerning creativity. He deeply cared about the education system our children and teachers are “trapped” in because he felt it needed to be transformed. His quotes are legendary. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

2. “Creativity is as important as literacy”

3. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

I was blessed and fortunate to work with Sir Ken a few years ago and stay connected ever since. This past April I had the pleasure and honor of spending time with him for his new podcast series related to teaching from home. Sir Ken is like that old friend you don’t see for a while; and then when you do meet up again, it’s like you saw them yesterday. He made you feel like your work and ideas mattered. Sir Ken had the uncanny ability to use his humor to draw people in and then use his superpower of connecting with you to seal the deal.

I saw that someone penned, “Sir Ken’s loss offers everyone in the field of education an opportunity to honor him by reflecting and acting on his wisdom.” As Pasi Shalberg, another icon in the field of education wrote me earlier today, “His words would have been heeded now more than ever. We must carry his message forward, Mike.” I couldn’t agree more. We all must carry his message forward every single day.

In one of his last TED Talks, Sir Ken discusses how life is your talents discovered. He concluded his talk by saying, “Nothing is more influential as a life well lived.” I can’t think of another human-being that I know of who has lived a life more well lived than my dear friend. The world lost a great man but his ideas will live on.

Favorite video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSgCut1Ils when he speaks to the Dali Lama.

Please read the articles in Capital & Main’s series on teaching in the age of COVID-19, which is titled “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.” They spell out the frustrations and the learning curve that teachers and students have coped with in these uncertain times. Routines went out the window. Teachers had to improvise, to be creative and innovative, and to learn to live with unprecedented challenges.

They are linked here:

Elementary School Students’ Uneasy Year Zero” by Sasha Abramsky.

Are High Schoolers Zoning Out on Zoom?” by Sasha Abramsky.

Middle School Teachers Face a Fall Term of Uncertainty,” by Sasha Abramsky.

Teachers Discover that Distance Learning is a Dance,” by Larry Buhl.

From the last article:

Imagine you’ve been cast in your school’s spring musical – in this case, High School Musical — and you’ve been rehearsing for months, but the COVID crisis closes everything a day before the show opens. Andrea Calvo, a teacher at Orange County’s Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts in Fullerton, was directing the show and said the performers, as well as students and in her guitar and choir classes, have been emotionally “all over the place” since March.

“Some days [they are] depressed, some days happy. They went through all the emotions and the ups and downs that teachers did,” Calvo said. There was so much confusion on how online instruction would go, and how long it would last. “We were grieving but didn’t know what we were grieving.”

In July the Orange County School Board stepped into the national spotlight by declaring its schools, unlike Los Angeles County to the north and San Diego County to the south, would open for fall classes – and without masks or social distancing. It would prove to be a moot point, because later that week Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all schools on the state COVID-19 monitoring list – including Orange County’s – be closed until they are off California’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

A week before the fall term started, Calvo said that teachers’ stress levels have lowered somewhat since the March scramble to take learning online. Now there’s a plan to reopen schools – when the school meets the state criteria and not before – if not an exact date.

“Not knowing is stressful,” Calvo says. “Nobody thinks distance learning went well in the spring. We were in crisis mode.”

After a few months of trial and error, and a summer to connect with other music teachers nationwide on distance learning best practices, Calvo says she’s better equipped to teach online. She adds that the students at her school all had iPads, so they were already better poised for distance learning than students in other schools. Not that it made the switch easy. Nothing in her 20 years of teaching could prepare Calvo for Zoom meetings with choir students who appeared, singing, on 60 little video boxes on a computer monitor.

“We did warmups, they recorded themselves, and I hosted,” she said. “For musical theater, I demonstrate movement [in real time] and they follow.” There were too many students to fit on one computer screen, but fortunately Calvo had help from a student teacher, who monitored a second screen.

But Calvo says Orange County adopted what it calls a “Do no harm” grading policy during the crisis. The idea is that you can’t hold students to the same standards while schools are closed. “Some students were at home with family and quarantining there. Some may be at home all alone caring for siblings, some had sick parents. We don’t know what students are going through.”

But Calvo and fellow teachers and staff do want some idea of what students are going through, and they try to make sure everything is all right. “We make spreadsheets to see, ‘Oh this student didn’t log in for three days. So in that case we call and ask if everything is okay.’”

Not giving up on its plan to force everyone back into classrooms during the pandemic, the O.C. Board of Education last month vowed to sue Gov. Newsom over school closures, claiming that online instruction had been a “failure.”

Distance learning for the long haul
Calvo said that attitudes of parents and county residents have shifted over the past five months as more have accepted that the pandemic will change learning for the foreseeable future. “In May, Orange County posted photos of what classes would look like, with PPE and distancing, and people said, ‘Oh, that looks awful.’ Now, more people want schools to look like that when they open.”

“As a teacher and a parent I think distance learning is safest,” says Calvo. “But that is from a place of privilege, because I know I am able to stay home. A lot of parent friends feel the same way but I recognize we may be in a bubble.”

Calvo assumes distance learning will be the norm well into the new school year. That’s a challenge for any school, but for hers, which has 30 arts electives, it’s an even bigger challenge to maintain its culture. “There is a lot of creativity here. [Distance learning] is a dance.”

Capital & Main published a five-part series on teaching during the pandemic. The series is called “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.”

Sasha Abramsky launched the series with an article about how schools in California were adapting to the pandemic.

Abramsky writes about the uncertainty, confusion, and conflict that accompanied the shutdown, as teachers were required to address new realities and to confront stark inequities.

In March, when Northern California counties issued stay-at-home orders, followed shortly afterwards by a statewide shutdown, schools scrambled to improvise a pivot to online “distance learning.” Some were able to make the change within days; others took many weeks. Grading and assessment systems were largely put to one side, at least in the public school system. And school districts rushed – and in some cases struggled – to purchase and distribute Chromebooks or iPads to students who didn’t have them; to set up Wi-Fi hotspots for families lacking home Internet access; to work out how to keep distributing food to children from low-income families who relied on school breakfasts and lunches; and to set up methods of teaching online that wouldn’t leave out students who had special education plans, or who were English language learners.

Bureaucratic systems fabled for their inflexibility were, suddenly, tasked with finding kluge-like solutions, at speed, to meet these extraordinary challenges. Inevitably, the result was hit or miss.

The articles in this week’s new series, “The Year of Teaching Dangerously,” reflect the extraordinary challenges facing elementary, middle and high schools as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on daily life.

What began as a temporary shutdown evolved into a new way of life, for teachers, students, and parents.

Andy Hargreaves is an internationally renowned scholar and author who taught for many years at Boston College. He wrote this article about education technology for Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet.”

I previously posted a presentation that Andy delivered at an international conference in South Korea, where he described his vision of the future post-pandemic. It was brilliant and points in the direction we should be heading.

Strauss writes about Andy (who is a personal friend of mine):

Hargreaves is a research professor at Boston College and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa who has been working for decades to improve school effectiveness. He has been awarded visiting professorships in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Norway and Singapore. And he is past president of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement.

Hargreaves founded and serves as co-president of the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory, or ARC, a group of nine nations committed to broadly defined excellence, equity, well-being, inclusion, democracy and human rights. He has consulted with numerous governments, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, universities and professional associations. He has written more than 30 books — and received numerous awards for them — and he was the founding editor in chief of the Journal of Educational Change.

Andy Hargreaves writes:

As we head into the dog days of summer, a new mantra is being spread across the world’s governments and through its media. It’s called “reimagining education.” On the surface, much of it, even most of it, sounds helpful and positive. It’s rightfully concerned about the physical health of children and their teachers. Its visions of innovative learning are engaging and purposeful. But eventually, the conclusion is drawn that these interests can be best advanced by digital technology.

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed an agreement with billionaire businessman Bill Gates to “reimagine” public education in the state through technology. Cuomo dredged up outworn and inaccurate stereotypes of “the old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms.” “Why,” he wondered, “with all the technology you have?”
Cuomo questions why school buildings still exist — and says New York will work with Bill Gates to ‘reimagine education’
A report in May by Microsoft, co-authored by its staff, on reimagining education has constructive advice on how to create meaningful learning and provide health protections and social distancing once children return to school. Yet its ultimate vision is for a “hybrid learning environment” where “technology will be prominent.” “A blend of real-life and online learning will concur. Learning will happen at school, at home, in the community and beyond.”
This kind of talk is energizing education ministers, international lending banks, technology consultants and not-for-profits, who are eager to reimagine a better post-covid future for public schools.

In effect, though, a lot of reimagining education is about how learning will be leveraged or delivered in a blended or hybrid format that is available anytime, anywhere, through public-private partnerships involving digital technology.
Yet, after years and billions of dollars of investment in digital technology in schools, there is little firm evidence that it substantially improves children’s learning. In her book “Slaying Goliath,” Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and public education advocate, showed that there is no evidence to support (and there is much to contradict) the claim that superior performance results from online learning.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is cautious about the benefits of technology for learning. Its own evidence is that “computers do not improve pupil results.” The OECD’s education chief, Andreas Schleicher, has warned that despite some promise shown by technology options during the coronavirus pandemic, “education systems need to pay close attention that technology will not further amplify existing inequalities in access and quality of learning.”

“This is not just a matter of providing access to technology and open learning resources,” Schleicher said. “It will also require maintaining effective social relationships between families, teachers and students — particularly for those students who lack the resilience, learning strategies or engagement to learn on their own.” A July OECD report further advises that “any digital strategy should take into account potential risks” of things like digital distraction, “and balance digital use with screen-free activities.”

Even before the novel coronavirus, excess screen time and technology use had already increased adolescent anxiety, especially after the global penetration of smartphone use among adolescents beginning around 2012. Digital addiction also distracts young children from outdoor activity, free play and face-to-face relationships. During the pandemic, young children up to age 11 have been spending more than double the amount of screen time recommended by pediatricians.
Necessity is the mother of invention. During the novel coronavirus, digital learning at home has been an invaluable stopgap to enable children’s learning to persist somehow. It’s hard to imagine how everyone would have coped without the Internet and other digital technologies if this pandemic had happened even 20 years ago.

But if necessity is the mother of invention, we should also avoid making a virtue out of a necessity. Kids, parents and teachers have been experiencing endless problems with digital learning at home — kids who can’t concentrate; devices that break down; families with several kids, only one device, and practically no space; lessons devoid of humor or emotion; young kids walking off or hiding under tables during the middle of a Zoom class (I’m talking about my own 5-year-old twin grandchildren here!); insufficient instructions for parents to do things like help the child practice cursive writing (but how, exactly??).

Teenagers are now the greatest mental health risk of all age groups during the pandemic. Adolescents need to go to school to be with their friends, develop their senses of identity, become responsible citizens, learn about how to deal with racism and prejudice (especially if they live with parents who may be racist and prejudiced), and so on. They need less time on screens, not more. We don’t need to be downplaying the importance of physical schools just yet.

When they get back to school, children will not need more of the anytime-anywhere Big Tech strategy. They will need more face-to-face support in the here and now — to get back the habits of lining up, taking turns and listening to others; to get help dealing with the post-traumatic stresses that accompany disasters such as this; to get the special education support to help them deal with learning disabilities and ADHD distractions for which there was little or no support at home, and so on. Learning in the here and now in school will need more human and less hybrid learning. It will need less technology, or more judicious use of it, than most kids have experienced during covid-19.

Of course, technology can and does enhance great teaching by using rich resources and methods for generating interactive student engagement. But technology will not make weaker teachers more inspiring, caring or empathetic, more able to understand and develop global learning competencies like collaboration or citizenship, more able to deal with prejudice and bullying, or more ready to help their children learn and play outdoors. Only effective selection, training and development of teachers can do that.

We can benefit from using digital technology in learning. But we need to do it in a way that deliberately uses technology in a balanced (not just a hybrid or blended) way, and that maximizes the benefits, while minimizing the clear risks of excess screen-time and digital addiction.

A balanced approach to digital technology use should also pinpoint areas where it uniquely provides something of value that cannot be offered in any other way. This is what the business field calls its “unique value proposition” (UVP). One UVP of digital technology occurs when children with special needs are given devices and programs to access and express their learning. Another is when teachers in small, remote rural schools can connect with and learn from colleagues in their subject or grade level who teach elsewhere. These are just two of the many UVPs of digital technology use in schools.

Balanced learning with judicious use of technology is an essential part of the physical schools we will always need. But once kids go home, they don’t stop learning. What happens then?

When I was a teenager, learning after school took place through the books I took home that were shared by my classmates, as well as in the public library that was available to everyone. After school learning was public, universal and free.

But digital learning at home — the new global public library — is not public, universal and free.

One thing the pandemic has reminded us of in U.S. education is about the great chasm that is the digital divide. So instead of leaving digital learning resources outside the school to market forces and privileged access, anytime, anywhere, we need to create conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it. Learning-related technology outside the school should be a civil right, alongside food, shelter and education itself that is available everywhere and always to everyone as a universal entitlement. It should be free of charge to those who need it.

If this scenario sounds far-fetched, it already exists in several countries. They include one of the world’s highest performers in education, Estonia, where all curriculum materials were already online before covid-19.

In South Korea, access to the Internet and to digital devices is close to 100 percent. Then there is Uruguay, where every family has access to digital technology for learning. This has resulted from a policy of one laptop per child that was established in 2007, and from a national, government-funded innovation agency that has supported projects that are linked to but not driven by various kinds of technology, in more than a third of the nation’s schools. The existence of this national platform meant that within days of learning moving from schools to homes, use of the digital platform went up by over 1,000 percent.

Immediately after the pandemic, we need to focus on the here and now to help schools cope with post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems, and to reestablish relationships and routines.

Technology has an important role in schools to make good teaching and learning better. But even as a hybrid, it should not be the main driver or leverage for reimagining better learning in schools. It’s not just hybrids or blends we want. We need a thoughtful balance that uses the UVP of technology wherever it can improve learning and well-being, while actively avoiding excess screen time that might disturb that balance, and continuing to promote outstanding face-to-face teachers and teaching that are still the cornerstone of an effective school system.

At the same time, reimagining education should also ensure that additional learning opportunities at home are universal, public and free of charge everywhere and always to all those who need it.

Enough, but not too much, digital technology and a lot more face-to-face support for vulnerable students after the pandemic — that’s what our reimagined new normal now needs to include.

Ashley McCall is a bilingual third-grade teacher of English Language Arts in Chicago Public Schools. She asked in a recent post on her blog whether we might seize this opportunity to reimagine schooling for the future, to break free of a stale and oppressive status quo that stifles both children and teachers.

She writes:

“What if?” I thought. What if we did something different, on purpose? What if we refused to return to normal? Every week seems to introduce a new biblical plague and unsurprisingly, the nation is turning to schools to band-aid the situation and create a sense of “normalcy”–the same normalcy that has failed BIPOC communities for decades.

In her memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors states that “our nation [is] one big damn Survivor reality nightmare”. It always has been. America’s criminal navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the ways we devalue the lives of the most vulnerable. We all deserve better than Survivor and I don’t want to help sustain this nightmare. I want to be a part of something better.

What If We Designed a School Year for Recovery?

“What if?” I thought. What if Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did something radical with this school year? What if this fastest-improving urban district courageously liberated itself from narrow and rigid quantitative measures of intelligence that have colonized the education space for generations, and instead blazed a trail for reimagining what qualifies as valuable knowledge?

What if we put our money, time and energy into what we say matters most? What if this school year celebrated imagination? In We Got This, Cornelius Minor reminds us that “education should function to change outcomes for whole communities.” What if we designed a school year that sought to radically shift how communities imagine, problem solve, heal, and connect?

What if this messy school year prioritized hard truths and accountability? What if social emotional instruction wasn’t optional or reduced to one cute poster? What if we focused on district wide capacity-building for, and facilitation of, restorative justice practices?

What if the CPS Office of Social Emotional Learning (OSEL) had more than about 15 restorative practice coaches to serve over 600 schools? What if we let students name conflicts and give them the space, tools, and support to address and resolve them? What if restorative justice was a central part of this year’s curricula?

What If We Really Listened?

What if we made space to acknowledge the fear, anxiety, frustration and confusion students, staff, and families are feeling? What if we listened? What if we made space to acknowledge the anger and demands of students? What if our priority was healing? Individual and collective. What if we respected and honored the work of healers and invested in healing justice?

What if our rising 8th-graders and seniors prepared for high school and post-secondary experiences by centering their humanity and the humanity of others? What if healthy, holistic, interconnected citizenship was a learning objective? What if we tracked executive functioning skills and habits of mind? What if for “homework” families had healing conversations?

What If We Made Life the Curriculum?

What if we recognized that life—our day-to-day circumstances and our response to them—is curricula? It’s the curricula students need, especially now as our country reckons with its identity. What if we remembered that reading, writing, social studies, mathematics, and science are built into our understanding of and response to events every day?

She goes on to describe how this reimagining could infuse the school and the curriculum and the way teachers teach.

School reformers and billionaire philanthropists say they want innovation. Do you think Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and their friends would fund districts that want genuine innovation of the kind Ashley McCall describes?

John Merrow has tried to figure out what will be need to open schools safely. He concludes that it will take lots of effort and energy and cooperation.

What is needed is space, time, personnel, and resources.

He suggests creative ways to get what is needed.

Here are his thoughts about space. Open the link to read about his other ideas.

Two priorities cannot be compromised or negotiated: 1) Keep everyone safe, with frequent testing, social distancing, and adequate PPE; and 2) Create genuine learning opportunities, rather than simply replicating semesters, work sheets, 50-minute periods, and everything else that schools routinely do. Quite literally, everything else should be on the table, subject to change.

Serious ‘out of the box’ thinking begins with re-examining how schools traditionally use both time and space.

Start with space. No public school was designed for social distancing, and very few public schools have enough extra room–like the gym–to create safe spaces, even with the reduced ‘3 foot spacing’ recommended by the nation’s pediatricians. That’s why many school districts (including New York City) have announced plans for a ‘hybrid’ approach in which all students are at home at least part of the time, while other districts (including Los Angeles and San Diego) have announced that all instruction will be remote for the first half of the school year.

But there’s an important alternative: find new spaces and convert them for instruction. Spaces that are empty at least part of the day are everywhere: Houses of worship, meeting rooms at the local Y or Boys & Girls Club, theaters, and–because of the recession–vacant storefronts and offices. It will take some political leadership, but the 3rd Grade could meet at the Y, the 5th Grade at the Methodist Church, the 9th Grade at what used to be a shoe store, and so on.

Jamaal Bowman, a New York City Democrat who is virtually certain to be elected to Congress in the fall, likes this idea. He told Politico that he “would use alternative learning spaces to maximize the amount of face-to-face learning children have with a teacher and would demand substantial investments from our federal government so our school district can hire more teachers. I would also encourage cities to repurpose unused spaces like theaters, office spaces, and design spaces to classrooms.”

Superintendents I have communicated with raised the issue of liability in any new spaces, clearly a problem but not an insoluble one; it should be addressed in federal legislation now being discussed in Congress.

By dramatically expanding the spaces available for instruction, social distancing becomes possible and schools are now safe places to be. What’s more, everyone goes to school at the same time: no split days with noon starts, and so forth.

This is a terrific article that appeared in the New York Times by the regular city columnist Gina Bellafante. It is about how schools beat plagues in the early 20th century by opening outdoor classes. The Times is making articles about coronavirus available for free, so it may not be behind a pay wall. You should see it for the wonderful historical photographs. If the bureaucracy could think creatively in 1915, why not now?

Here is the text:

In the early years of the 20th century, tuberculosis ravaged American cities, taking a particular and often fatal toll on the poor and the young. In 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Mary Packard and Ellen Stone, had an idea for mitigating transmission among children. Following education trends in Germany, they proposed the creation of an open-air schoolroom. Within a matter of months, the floor of an empty brick building in Providence was converted into a space with ceiling-height windows on every side, kept open at nearly all times.

The subsequent New England winter was especially unforgiving, but children stayed warm in wearable blankets known as “Eskimo sitting bags” and with heated soapstones placed at their feet. The experiment was a success by nearly every measure — none of the children got sick. Within two years there were 65 open-air schools around the country either set up along the lines of the Providence model or simply held outside. In New York, the private school Horace Mann conducted classes on the roof; another school in the city took shape on an abandoned ferry.

Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis. The Trump administration has insisted that schools fully open this fall, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing no plan for how to do that safely.

In New York, the nation’s largest school system, students will attend live classes only a few days a week, a policy that has angered both exhausted parents, who feel that it is not nearly enough, and many teachers, who fear it as way too much.

At the same time, one of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside — a review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission. While this ought to have activated a war-room focus toward the goal of moving as much teaching as possible outdoors, nothing like that has happened.

“What I’m hearing instead is that people are looking at plastic shields going up around desks,’’ Sarah Milligan-Toffler, the executive director of an organization called the Children & Nature Network, told me. “That’s our creative solution?”

Bureaucracy, it hardly needs to be said, is not inherently creative. And despite its self-image as an engine of innovation, the education-reform movement backed by Wall Street tends to recoil at anything that reeks of bohemianism. No hedge-funder, obsessed with metrics, achievement gaps and free Apple products has ever sat down and asked himself, “Hey, I wonder how they do it in Norway?”

Outdoor learning, though, is not a wood nymph fantasy; the body of evidence suggesting the ways it benefits students, younger ones in particular, is ever growing.

A 2018 study conducted over an academic year looked at the emotional, cognitive and behavioral challenges facing 161 fifth graders. It found that those participating in an outdoor science class showed increased attention over those in a control group who continued to learn conventionally. At John M. Patterson, an elementary school in Philadelphia, suspensions went from 50 a year to zero after a playground was built in which students maintain a rain-garden and take gym and some science classes, the principal, Kenneth Jessup, told me.

Recently, an examination of three groups of students in Bangladesh found that those who studied math and science in a transformed schoolyard did better academically than those who were contained inside. Beyond that, hundreds of studies over the years have demonstrated a positive correlation between engagement with nature and academics; some researchers have found that outdoor learning can improve both standardized test scores and graduation rates.

It is hard to imagine students similarly motivated by learning about the Civil Rights movement in an empty WeWork. While some have talked about using now vacant office or retail space for school, that would involve expensive leasing and little opportunity for fresh air.

So what could outdoor education look like in New York City? It would not mean sending the system’s 1.1 million children to Central Park every day (though Central Park, which accommodated hospital tents during the height of the pandemic, could easily hold some number of classroom tents with many other parks doing so too, as Adrian Benepe, the city’s former parks commissioner recommended).

It is also possible that all kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes could be held outside, with the natural environment deployed as a resource for math and science education, as one public-school teacher proposed to me. Those grades account for nearly a quarter of all students in the system. Alternatively, schools could use as much accessible outdoor space as possible to reduce the number of students in a building at any given time, thus allowing for proper social distancing. Instead of rotating between live school and remote learning, children could rotate between indoor and outdoor work during the course of the day. As Ms. Milligan-Toffler, of the Children & Nature Network, has argued, reading, reflective writing and gym all lend themselves to being experienced outside.

While inequity has meant that schools in more affluent neighborhoods are situated closer to parks than those in poorer parts of the city, infrastructure for outdoor learning is already in place, even in many low-income neighborhoods. Between 2007 and 2013, in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land, the city converted more than 250 schoolyards to green space for student and community use. The New York City Housing Authority has 1,000 playgrounds that could be commandeered. And the Parks Department, as Mr. Benepe, who is now with the Trust pointed out, has 35 recreation centers, already outfitted with gyms and bathrooms that could accommodate a few thousand children.

As the city has done for restaurants, it could cordon off streets and sidewalks for schools to expand their footprint.

But as we head into late July, there is no indication that the de Blasio administration is pursuing any of this with a sense of urgency. In response to questions about plans for some movement outside, Jane Meyer, the mayor’s deputy press secretary replied by email to say: “We are looking at all spaces possible, including outdoors, to see if learning can occur there.”

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the local teachers’ union, who maintains there is still a good chance that school will not open in September, nonetheless seemed far more enthusiastic about that idea. When I caught up with him by phone he was reading air-exchange reports. Teacher safety is paramount to him, and he worried about windowless schools near heavily trafficked roads, which had been built to seal off pollution. “The best thing you can do is open a window,’’ he said. The idea of teaching in outdoor spaces with covering for protection from the rain is an extremely promising one in his mind.

Obviously, transitioning to this approach comes with challenges in terms of liability, curriculum flexibility and so on. But the reality of losing a generation of students to the deficiencies of Zoom seems much more troubling. On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio announced that the city was working on a plan to provide child care to 100,000 students in libraries, community centers and other locations on the days they are learning remotely, something that would seem less necessary if more attention were paid to learning outdoors.

Teachers, who are the ones in greatest jeopardy of getting sick when schools reopen, seem to be the most vocal proponents. “I do think it’s doable,’’ Liat Olenick, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn who has been advocating for outdoor learning during the pandemic, told me.

“Do I think it will be easy? No. But given that all our other choices are terrible it is worth considering.”

This entry in today’s “Writer’s Almanac” astounded me.

On this day in 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais discovered the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analog computer from the first or second century B.C., that was used to calculate the position of the sun, moon, and stars in relationship to the observer’s position on the surface of the earth. For many decades, archaeologists did not recognize the mechanism’s degree of mechanical sophistication, which is comparable to a 19th-century Swiss clock. To date, the only other artifacts with that degree of mechanical sophistication have come from the 14th century or later.

Stais uncovered the mechanism while exploring the Anitkythera shipwreck off the northwest coast of Crete. Today the mechanism is on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.