NYC mayoral debate wasted educational question moment.

“Should NYC schools be desegregated or improved?”

As professional educators, we are trained to never classify a question as “dumb.” So in that spirit, I will charitably designate this question as terribly uninformed.
My first question (still in charitable mode) about the question was: “Is this question designed to ferret out which of the candidates was for segregated schools?” (Or, where was this going?)

Now I am sure that professional journalism schools can do a much better job raising the standards for preparing their graduates to ask good and meaningful public education questions.

And so, how about this: I think that it is reasonable to assume that when the next mayor takes office (whoever that is), NYC schools will not be integrated; and so perhaps a more usefully practical and high information value question for parents and the general public voters would have been:

“What is your plan to significantly raise Black and Latino student’s academic performance, achievement, and graduation rates, regardless of where in NYC those students attend school?”

In their follow-up questions the journalist must not allow a candidate to venture into that vague politically safe “eduspeak” space that starts off with phrases that sound something like: “It takes a village,” “I believe children are our future,” “All children can learn,” etc. We need to hear some concrete “breaking the business-as-usual NYCDOE organizational culture” answers.

Perhaps one good place a sincere and well-informed mayoral candidate could start their answer is here:
http://majmuse.net/2021/06/06/a-low-political-risk-but-high-educational-reward-initiative-the-next-nyc-mayor-can-easily-institute/

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

A low political risk but high educational reward initiative the next NYC mayor can easily institute…

The next NYC mayor should extend K-8 Gifted & Talented opportunities to very deserving & capable Black & Latino students.

High Educational Reward: Large numbers of NYC’s Black and Latino students would receive high expectations and high-quality levels of a dynamic teaching and learning experience. This G&T exposure would immediately lead to a rise in student academic achievement profiles and performances in the present Gifted & Talented (G&T) ‘desert’ (exciting and advanced education deserted) parts of the city. And to interject a positive political reward, this action would provide whoever the chancellor is with an opening ‘raising of achievement scores’ good-news-story victory. Most important, These students could take and pass algebra-1 by the end of the 8th grade, thus positioning them to advantageously pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) college major path and career. Further, they would also be prepared by the end of 8th grade to do well on any standardized exams they take; and succeed academically in whichever NYC high school they attended. A political advantage (I know in NYC that’s important) is that many of the city’s most vocal advocates for maintaining the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) have fortunately gone on new media record as supporting the raising of the quality of the pre-SHSAT taking (K-7) learning standards, and the expanding of G&T programs access to more of NYC’s Black and Latino students. Those passionate public pronouncements (even if they were insincere and self-serving) would make any opposition on their part to the expansion of G&T programs to Black and Latino students a politically and morally contradictorily problematic stance to take.
Finally (assuming this means anything to NYC’s elected, appointed, and otherwise recognized leaders), this move would make large numbers of Black and Latino parents happy and positively hopeful of their children’s future.

Low Political Risk: If it is done right, and I will later explain what ‘done right’ means; the United Federation of Teacher’s (UFT) won’t be happy. And they will play their ‘best interest of the children’ nullification card with many NYC/NYS elected officials. And even if they do mount a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) or other legal venue challenges to the initiative, let them defend in the legal courts and in the court of public opinion why they believe that able and very capable Black and Latino children don’t matter! However, the offsetting good news is that even if the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) is quiet about the plan, trust me, the NYCDOE’s rank & file principals and assistant principals (and many teachers) will be ecstatic about this G&T expansion initiative!

I fully understand the “attractive-headline” and “lead-story” challenges of the news media industry; so I can’t be angry with them for focusing their campaign reporting efforts on which NYC mayoral candidate will (pick one) 1. ‘defund,’ 2. ‘refund,’ or 3. ‘more-fund’ the NYC police department (NYPD). And I guess it’s irrelevant that several of the candidates don’t seem to have a grasp of the general or NYPD portion of the very complex NYC budget; or are unable to adequately explain how NYPD services are integrated with other city agencies (e.g., Mass Transit, etc.), or the NYPD’s role in supporting the extremely important (for employment and tax revenue generation purposes), NYC’s tourism, restaurant, commercial and entertainment industries. Or, finally (and not diminishing the seriousness of the too often occurring ‘high-profile’ subway shoving incidents), the news media has failed to force the candidates to specifically pay attention to the #1 victims of NYC crime, Black and Latino citizens; who in many cases are under daily pedeocratic siege. (Except for Eric Adams speaking unasked), there has not been a line of press inquiry that responds to those communities who are most suffering from crime, especially concerning their urgent request for more and better (serve and protect, not occupation style) NYPD services. The other mayoral candidates, intellectually lazy avoiding-the-elephant-in-the-room (the elephant being an educational system that favors adult employment and satisfaction over student academic success) focus, is around the “restricting or expanding” of charter schools. Of course, expansion could help a few parents. Still, a decision, either way, won’t make even a slight statistical educational impact for the majority of NYC’s one million-plus student population who won’t be attending a charter school. The charter school expansion/restriction debate could be an interesting analytical discussion if the real reasons that charter schools even need to exist were the theoretical foundations of the conversation, but that’s not the case. The NYC charter schools mayoral candidate’s debate, generally speaking, in its present form is terribly inauthentic, albeit a politically attractive target of conversation. However, in the current format, charter school conversations are dangerously distracting from the necessary confronting of the fundamental issues that plague NYC public education. But I digress.

Applying the most fundamental “law of parsimony” to organizational change: The ‘game’ only really changes when the leader is willing to make real ‘game-changing’ decisions…

One of my first acts after being appointed (2000) by then Chancellor Harold Levy to clean up and educationally refocus the badly educational leadership abused and neglected Community School District 29 Queens (CSD29Q) was to dramatically expand the number of G&T classes in the district. And so, here comes the ‘done right’ part. The prospective G&T teachers in CSD29Q were selected and assigned based on their completion of a G&T professional development program and a highly effective instructional performance history review, aligned with principal recommendations and utilizing formal observation ratings; which was followed up by a district-level (including me) staff person doing an observation of the teacher. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards graduates were particularly sought out as candidates. Seniority (building or system) was not a factor (most teachers actually respected the fairness of that aspect of the selection process) in our selection decisions. In fact, some teachers had less than 5 years of teaching experience, but they were instructional super-star practitioners. I also provided these newly established G&T programs with more funding for instructional resources. Each of the schools received additional art and music activities funding. Most were ‘gifted’ with a dedicated STEM-AT lab* and a specialized and trained dedicated F/T science teacher. Not making this up, but before my changes, “science teachers” in most of the district’s elementary schools did not necessarily have any serious expertise or professional training in science. In some cases, these “science teaching positions” were places to put tenured teachers the principal did not want teaching in any of the ‘testing-grades’ (which is ultimately all K-5 of them). Some of these teachers were actually good but did not have a dedicated science room or adequate funding from the school’s budget. Many of these ‘prep-coverage’ science teachers were forced (again not making this up) to travel from room to room around the school with their science materials on a cart, even when an empty room was available in the school building. And if you can believe it, these many science-learning negatives were operating in the face of all of the elementary schools in the district being required to face a 4th-grade state standardized science exam!
There was no accident that along with Math and Reading test scores, test performance scores on the 4th-grade standardized science exam rose dramatically in every elementary school in the district, and pronouncedly so in those schools with STEM-AT labs.
But it did not take long for me to receive a call from a central office NYCDOE official; “You know superintendent Johnson that you can’t on-your-own increase the number of G&T classes in your district.” I pretended to be shocked; “Really, I did not know that; you know I came from the high school division where even at the school level it is not required to get prior ‘central’ clearance to set up AP, advance, electives, I.B., and other special programs.” And me continuing in ‘I-had-no-idea’ mode, “Could you please send me the regulations governing the creation of G &T programs” (I knew there were no such regulations); and continuing; “And I’ll need someone from your office to assist me at the staff/community/parent meetings to help explain to the schools that have been designated, why the already allocated expenditures, and how the selection and training of the teachers could begin, but would now need to end; and more importantly to inform the parents, that those G&T programs that were promised to them would now be canceled”… If they did have ‘centrally mandated’ guidelines I had every intention, as I approached many NYCDOE “mandates,” of “making them work for children”; and so, I’m still waiting twenty-one years later for that callback! I learned early (as a principal) that in a mission undermining bureaucratic system like the NYCDOE; especially in a system that did not have the disentitled and disenfranchised children of the city as a priority, that in some situations, it was better to make an irreversible (politically can’t be reversed) bold ‘game-changing’ move on behalf of expanding student learning opportunities, and then after (if) you’re caught, sincerely apologize. This approach was far more positive and productive than asking for permission to engage in some audacious action on behalf of your students that would surely result in a negative no-can-do response. (but I still wonder to this day; who snitched on me to central? —— Not to worry, I have a list of likely suspects!)

But the NYC school system is not alone in failing to answer a core US public education question: “What do we do with the Black and Latino students who are on or above grade or performance levels, but who sit in a remedial, bad standardized-test-prep obsessed, school or classroom?” The short answer is “nothing.” The (politically safe) longer, more confusing, distracting, and non-productive answers are:

(1) “We need more integration!” A cynical idea because in most large (also small and medium-size) public school districts in our nation, we simply don’t numerically have enough ‘white kids’ to distribute around the system for integration purposes; and in some cases, it would be a busing nightmare (e.g., kids are riding buses for hours) to put every Black and Latino child in a classroom with a critical-mass (enough white kids to make the quality of educational services matter) of white children. Even if we came up with the most ‘inventive’ but not child-focused bussing program imaginable, the demographic and housing realities of localities like NYC would still require large numbers of Black and Latino children, at some point, to sit in classrooms composed solely of, or a majority of, other Black and Latino children. And even the expansion of NYC charter schools (based on their present NYC and national racial demographic profiles) would increase the number of highly racially segregated schools. The problem is that public schools are being unfairly asked to solve a societal racial and socio-economic segregated housing problem, a task for which they are neither structurally equipped nor have the resources to successfully pull off.

However, as professionals, we should be ashamed to say or have non-educational political actors say on our behalf that: “The only way a Black or Brown child can receive a quality education in our school system is if they are sitting in a majority white student classroom!” For sure, there are many enrichment learning advantages for any student who attends a culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse school and classroom. But a school district that is serious about its professional moral responsibility to children must seek to diversify the quality of education so that wherever a child attends school in that district, regardless of their own or the color of their classmates, their parents will be assured that they will receive the highest of quality learning experience the district can offer; and that we are capable of doing.

(2) “We need to eliminate “special programs and schools,” G&T classes, standardized admissions exams to specialized schools, etc.!” This pedagogically cowardly position allows a school district to avoid the real truth and reasons why such large numbers of ‘likely candidates,’ meaning those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade/performance level, are simply not prepared to perform well on a SHSAT or any standardized exam. And (after having painstakingly reviewed the SHSAT question by question) speaking truthfully, my professional conclusion is that it’s the lack of adequate pre-test classroom learning preparation and not the exam itself that is racist and discriminatory.
There is indeed more than adequate quantitative and qualitative data that professional educators could utilize to make the case that any ‘single-admissions’ measuring tool and criteria is grossly improper, educationally immoral, and ultimately a poor predictor of future student academic success. The “single admissions test or interview” theory is more of a measurement of the quality of parent-push, a family’s ability to provide informal (out-of-school) educational resources, access to good formal test/interview preparation, and most importantly, having received a quality learning experience in the years prior to the admission-test-taking day; all factors outside of a child’s control. These admissions criteria could very well obscure or completely hide a student’s true G&T qualities and potentialities.
But that most important factor (that “test-prep” can strengthen but not replace) of being exposed to the quality of pre-admissions-test learning experience is the one most avoided by the most vocal and animated opponents of the standardized exam admissions process (e.g., NYC’s anti-SHSAT folks). Their feigned ignorance or uninformed avoidance of that most critical of factors is because they know that the tackling of that issue would essentially launch the pivotal political decisive battle of public education, and that is: who does or does not receive a NYC quality education experience, and why!

Obfuscation and Misdirection as political tactics to maintain the status quo conditions in public education…

The “Woke-Ones” can, if they wish, work on social integration and the elimination of all standardized exams and specialized admissions assessments. I, however, would prefer that they do the much more challenging and dangerous work of eliminating the segregation of the quality of learning experiences that exist between students enrolled in the same school system (and sometimes in the same school building); a disadvantage that permanently assures that Black and Latino students will be academically unprepared for a world with or without standardized exams (although I don’t believe that in the foreseeable future, we will live in a world without measurable standards).
I realize and realistically accept that taking on such a brave and audacious effort would mean that any elected or appointed leader would be stepping into High-Political-Risk minefield territory; and so, pardon me if I am not optimistic of such serious game-changing policies being enacted. After all, returning to an extended version of an earlier question: “What will society do with all of those ‘school-successful’ Black and Latino kids?” Where will their jobs come from?” “Who will replace them as raw-material feed for our vast criminal justice prison system? “What would it mean for large numbers of competent, confident and smart Black and Latino students to be placed in a fair and competitive college and economic environment with the entitled children of our nation?” And for those news media darlings who want to “defund” the police; well, guess what, by greatly improving public education outcomes for Black and Latino students we would overtime ‘naturally’ reduce the number of police officers (prison cells, correction/parole officers, etc.) a city like New York would need. But I don’t expect that advocation to happen; after all, “Ensuring Quality Education for Black and Latino Students!” does not a viral “sexy-political” hashtag make.
This is why, for right now, I would place my very “low-bar” expectations on the next NYC mayor and other elected/appointed/annotated officials and leaders on taking the ‘safe-small-step’ of expanding G&T programs (in at least one or two classes) in every elementary and middle school in every G&T deficit-district in the city. And as we learned in CSD29Q; by placing a G&T program in one of our lowest-performing schools in the district, a cascading effect occurred that caused high expectations to rise and for high instructional quality to permeate throughout the school building, and this “G&T diffusion effect” was doubly effective in those schools that also housed a teacher professional development center—having models of teaching and learning excellence on-site provided those school-building administrators with an additional instructional professional development resource-tool in helping to raise the quality of teaching and learning throughout the entire school building.
Seeing schools from a district supervisory level perspective, you come to appreciate that individual schools have unique institutional personalities. School families can collectively either feel good or not so good about themselves. If all a school community hears about their school is that they are “failing,” “underperforming” or “a bad school.” Such a school family can start to believe that those negative labels are genuinely reflective of everything and everyone (students, parents, administrators, and staff) in and connected to the school building: “Those negative attributes are who we are, and we can’t do any better!”

We found in CSD29Q that by putting a G&T program in previously academically underperforming schools, immediately the conversation changed for the upbeat better about those schools, with its teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the surrounding community. Before introducing a G&T program, parents whose children were “zoned” for a particular school utilized ‘the-full-bag-of-tricks’ (I won’t mention them) to keep from sending their child to their neighborhood school. But after the establishment of a G&T program along with the many other exciting school enrichment resources, prospectively “zoned” parents were now inclined to not use granny’s address (oh my, I mentioned one) to get their child into another school in the district. Some of the new G&T principals commented that their newly minted G&T programs, other music, and art programs, and especially the placing of a state-of-the-art STEM-AT lab turned what use to be a challenging annual recruitment process into an exercise of pride and the proud promise to parents that their children deserved, and would receive the best the system has to offer.

The process for admission to a G&T program is not statutorily or regulatorily fixed-in-stone…

Like the absence of regulations that ‘fix’ the number of G&T classes in a school district; there are also no official-standardized guidelines for admission to a G&T or specialized school or program in a district; unless they are artificially imposed (e.g., the SHSAT) for political and non-pedagogical reasons. Any present “admissions process” is arbitrarily applied and is not the product of a research-based (and proven) process. For all we (professional educators) know, admitting students to a specialized or G&T program, school, or classes, based only on their performance on elementary and middle school state standardized exams or a ‘specialized test,’ might not be the best way to capture large numbers of potentially powerful highest-performing students across the district’s vast educational landscape; students who may have gone educationally and G&T unnoticed because they don’t ‘test well,’ or as a result of their zip coded limited learning experience, or their lack of access to parent-push-power, means that they (and the world) don’t get a chance to discover and display their talents and gifts. The present G&T admissions process is heavily weighted in favor of those children who enjoy solid and effective parent support; even the “admission interviews” are in many ways interviews of the parents (including the often unconscious ‘adding-of-points’ effect by the review team when seeing both a mother and father, presenting “professionally” while attending the information or pre-admission assessment session) and the learning quality of the child’s home life; not the child’s demonstrated or potential “talents and giftedness.” There is every reason, based on my 40 years of educational experience (and having observed teacher G&T professional development sessions) that any K-8 child on grade level (or even below) could benefit and thrive in a G&T instructional environment. In fact, my experiential observations reveal the opposite effect when there is no G&T differentiated learning intervention. When above, on, or slightly below grade and performance level Title-1 K-8 children are in classes with a lot of students who are struggling academically or who require a great deal of social-emotional support systems (often not available); this results in those above, on and slightly below students not being pushed and challenged to reach their next highest academic performance levels.
Further, the teachers in these types of classrooms (not uncommon in Title-1 schools), if not extremely highly-proficient, may find it very difficult to give all of the students across broad academic performance levels and counseling needs spectrums, who are sitting in the same classroom, the full instructional attention they all need; unless that classroom is specifically designed as a team-teaching (e.g., SPED/REGULAR-ED) blended classroom with full-time behavioral and educational paraprofessional support, and a comprehensively robust school-based counseling/medical services resource department.

Maintaining as both being true; two seemingly contradictory concepts…

I realize that I am asking a lot of readers by requesting that they accept my posing of two seemingly, on the surface appearing, contradictory ideas (a classroom technique teachers should utilize more often to grow student’s intellectual skills). One idea being that standardized exams are not a perfect or even a good measuring tool for admission to a G&T, specialized/advanced learning programs, or schools. But on the other hand, I am pushing for the immediate creation of K-8 G&T programs for NYC’s Black and Latino students who have standardized tested on or above grade level. I see this immediate and focused expansion plan (and its inherent contradictions) of G&T programs as a ‘first-aid’ educational response to the present educational trauma and high-expectations depersonalization situations these particular students are presently subject to daily.
Simultaneously adopting these two ‘conflicting’ positions is also based on my experience of having transitioned from a school-building principal to a school district superintendent. “It’s a different world than the one you came from!”; is the first song that came to my mind when I stepped into the superintendency. Significant effective changes on the school-building level have the capability of occurring quickly, quietly (under the political radar), and without the central office, politicians, and the news media getting involved. As a principal, many ‘things’ that happen in my school-building fell under the “we won’t ask, and you don’t tell us” rule. That school district-school relationship understanding worked because year after year, we produced high achievement scores in every school quality measurement criteria (and generated much positive press for the NYCDOE), from school-building safety and cleanliness to graduation rates, college admissions & scholarships earned, to our students’ successful performances on all (Regents to AP) standardized exams. In summary, we were able to engage in some “interesting practices” because, as a Title-1 school, we were one of the “best” (a chancellor’s words, not mine) performing high schools in a city with 500 high schools!
A school district, however, is another matter. A school district ‘change-action’ is like changing the direction of a giant ocean liner compared to a school’s ability to produce and maneuver ‘change’ like a speed boat. Any significant action, initiative, or project on the school district level will generate many active and vocal advocates and a likely cast of equal in number of passionate opponents, who will all have their own unique agendas, access to school board members, connections to influential and powerful political stakeholders, and even ‘contacts’ in the news media. And often lost in their demonstratively divisive or conflicting efforts is the possibility that the superintendent could actually be pursuing (without prejudice or political partisanship) a path that is in the best interest of children. However, a word to those wise principals with higher career aspirations; superintendents can’t completely avoid making a “greater good” decision. For even in CSD29Q, I had to put a G&T class and STEM-AT lab in a high-performing school that ‘technically’ could have waited until the next (year) round because the school’s well-politically-organized parents “protected my political flank” and made it possible for me to enact the G&T program district-wide and especially in struggling schools.

So as not to push the NYCDOE too dramatically and too quickly forward (public civil service systems can have bureaucratically inbred growth limitations issues); we should be willing to accept as a temporary G&T admissions and participation approach, one that focuses on those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade level based on standardized test scores, and teacher/school administrators recommendations, as initial G&T programs participants; these young people are presently educationally suffering badly by sitting in poor quality and severe under-learning classrooms. It’s a children saving triage move that admittedly has many pedagogical deficiencies.

The Hypocritical Hyperadvocates…

Ok, so this is where we will hit the liberal (both black and white advocates) wall. Some of my critics (in the past) and the newly recruited ones based on this article will say that this call for expanding G&T programs harms struggling, performing below grade level Black and Latino students in Title-1 schools. But their “tell” (and I always look for it) is that they, their children or their family and neighbors children, presently or in the past, enjoyed some type of G&T high-expectations rigorous academic program experience, even if those programs were not labeled “G&T.” These (in deeds) G&T entitled programs or specialized schools have as their daily basic-floor-standard, the drawing out and development of their students best talents and gifts; and most important is the school’s instructional requirement to have high expectations (and thus high-efficacious behaviors on the part of the teaching staff), for all students, as a core uncompromising operating school culture attribute.

I have visited many entitled public and prestigious private PreK-12 schools serving the entitled in this nation; while school administrators, staff members, and parents connected to those schools may rail against and perhaps even discourage the taking of state standardized exams; they are at least in one essential way, right. Their state’s ‘Core Curriculum Standards’ are far below their school-based teaching and learning (and internal assessments) standards; therefore, having to spend an excessive amount of time preparing for the syllabus, unique ‘rubric-language-styles’ of the questions, and the test format structures of state standardized exams will slow down their ‘authentic’ learning process. But for many unfortunate disentitled public school children living in the wrong zip code or skin color, just being able to learn and master ( at a proficient or highly proficient level) a state’s subject/content areas Core Curriculum Standards by their 3rd, 4th, 6th or 8th grades, at or above grade/performance levels, would be the equivalent of those students winning a public education lottery. This is why an even greater G&T educational experience would take many of those same disenfranchised students to national and international academic peer competitive stratospheric learning levels! But even this approach is only a temporary measure to stop the low-quality-learning ‘bleeding’ that’s destroying large numbers of NYC’s on and above grade and performance level Black and Latino students. Ultimately, a school system must be ethically committed to providing G&T techniques and practices in every school and classroom in the city; but that is an action that would invite a whole new dangerously high level of political risk for any mayor or chancellor.

*Working with the Scantek corporation, a company that traditionally developed high school and college-level Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) hands-on Applied Technology (AT) labs; we designed a new curriculum (aligned with the 4th-grade state science exam), lab projects, activities, components and teacher professional development programs for a Pre-K-5 and middle school grades appropriate models of their H.S./college AT labs.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

A very common education bad news media story lead that is usually some version of :

“Principal in trouble, for saying, writing or engaging in some ‘overt’ political act, in the context of their official work role… The principal “took-sides” in a foreign political or military conflict… As a result of the principal’s actions… ”.

Usually, if a principal is asked to apologize for a mistake publicly, they will—to keep their job. But the principal’s coach (the superintendent) can’t only be concerned about the bad publicity or ‘punishment’ aspects of the incident. Instead, the superintendent must also focus on professionally developing the principal’s judgment capabilities and school leadership skills.

As a superintendent, I always coached and cautioned principals to execute extreme judicious behavior and be both words and phrases careful about what they put in any memo. “You should assume,” I warned, “That your memo will be made public and/or leaked to the news media!”. There are also many potential legal implications (e.g., labor-contract laws, lawsuits, etc.) relating to what a principal commits to writing. I’ve seen Special Education lawyers eat principals alive (and by unhappy extension also me, the superintendent) for what a principal unwisely put in writing.

It is much easier to defend your intent in the face of a bad outcome when the ‘delivery system’ is verbal (although you should also be careful with your spoken words) by ascribing any problems that arise to linguistic misinterpretations and misunderstandings. However, this corrective (or retreat path) option is removed from you when your words are permanently written on paper or in an email. In terms of memos generally, “make them rare and absolutely necessary,” was the advice a veteran senior principal gave to my rookie principal-self; and for the next ten years, after I received that wise counsel, I wrote so few memos that even today I could almost remember all of them!

The myth of public education being politically neutral; and the hypocrisy of accusing principals of being political.

Ok, let’s start with a logic exercise:
Public Education is a political act. If there is any confusion about this statement, then I would call your attention to the issues of: “Specialized Schools,” — “Gifted & Talented Classes,” — “Advanced and Enrichment Programs,” — “Highly-Effective Large Quantities of Quality Learning,” and the “Schools and School Districts Resources Gaps;” all controversies presently occurring in many school districts across this nation. Who does and does not (as in zip codes, communities, socio-economic class, ethnicities, etc.) receive the best positive learning benefits from public education is a political decision.

Now, don’t get distracted by the faux and insincere angst over the present Asian student’s doing-well success story with the NYC Specialized High School Exam (SHSAT). This success story was not the result of an Asian community ‘political power move.’ The SHSAT was an initially designed “gate-keeper” (for segregation and quality education purposes) to benefit NYC’s 1970’s white (not Asian) student population. Asian students’ success, in this case, is a flukey and accidental exception to the Political Power = Quality Education rule. Generally speaking, the parents with the most political power (entitled or acquired) consistently get the most (best) beneficial efforts and outcomes for their children from their public education system; this is even true if the levers of governmental political power are controlled either locally, statewide, or nationally, by people who look like (e.g., Black & Latino) the children who are on the short-end of receiving the positive public education benefits. If you are still not clear on this question as to whether public education is a political act; one can simply count the number, starting with the US secretary of education, down to the thousands of elected local school board members; those people who are the political stakeholding governance officials (elected and appointed), who influence or control public education policy. I would include here the many powerful and influential political players (e.g., teacher’s unions or the “billionaires donor club”) who, to borrow from one of the old-folks sayings, will “throw harmful education policy rocks, but then hide their hands!”

Therefore,
Principals are necessarily political ‘agents’ with ‘officially’ limited agency in the public education political process. In such a highly-hyper-politized unjust and unfair system, the only professionally ethical extraofficial option available to principals is to insurgently counterbalance the advantages of the powerful and dismantle the disadvantages of the powerless. These actions should represent the bulk of the principal’s pedagogical and operational focus; and, if done correctly, should (especially in a Title-1 school) take up most of your working time and attention. Multitasking skills notwithstanding, as a Title-1 principal, I actually needed more than 24 hours in a day (like 34!) to save more kids. And for the record, personally, I am sensitive to whatever struggles the people of Wales might be facing, as well as the plight of the ocean whales; but there was only one of me in the building, and so much that needed to be done; therefore, I had no extra time to solve the problems of the near east, middle east or far east.

The ‘world’ was in a difficult place when you assumed your principalship. It will probably (without Devine intervention) be in a difficult place when you leave your position. The problems of our nation and the planet are too big and too numerous for any single or group of principals to solve. However, what you can definitely do for children (and win at doing it), is to change, in their favor, the national and world access to intellectual growth opportunities options for each of your students.
Let the specialized professional political activist solve the world’s problems. Your professional political activism should be focused on changing the negative trajectory world your students have been societally selected to suffer. The most revolutionary thing you can do for a disinherited and disentitled school child is to give them, through academic achievement empowerment, a vastly improved possibility for future life survival and success.
Granted, this is not social media or hashtag ‘sexy’ (on the contrary, it will probably result in you receiving some painful political wounds). Still, it’s what your students desperately need from you. These are the children for whom public education is their only good-and-real-shot at realizing family status improvement, acquiring a bright and promising future, or those who need to break what could be debilitating generational chains of disappointment, despair, and destitution.

In the soul-lifting words of Al Green: “Let’s Stay Together” — and focused on the school’s mission!

Principals are the leaders of the adults (not just the children) in the school building. These adults represent many different political views, ethnicities, religions (or no religion), personal philosophies, cultural and family experiences. An effective principal will keep their staff focused, not on the external political-world issues that might divide them, but rather on the internal challenges that will unite them in wanting to provide the maximum level of quality education to all of the students in the building. Be the student-success bound school-ship’s guiding rudder, not its sails that react to every political wind blowing in the world. One of my all-time favorite principal responses to the never-ending parade of planetary issues: “Let’s stay focused on our students folks!”

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

Both Trump and the Taliban understand the power of education.

If what they say is true, that the truth will set you free; then the untruth, the nontruth, must set you up to be enslaved!

The recent bombings of schools in Afghanistan (mainly targeting those schools that educate girls) seek to mark a fireworks-like celebration of the exit of US military forces from that war-worn nation.
But they are also the explosive celebratory expressions of the Taliban preparing to end all types of secular study and learning for girls. This carnival of carnage is the Taliban’s joyful anticipation of soon being able to control most, if not all of Afghanistan; which would allow them to intensify and finalize, on a national scale, the targeting of girls being removed from the intellectual growth and skills acquisitions activities connected to school-based educational learning opportunities.

There is a rich collection of analytical and anecdotal data that connects a society’s ability to progress to the quality and quantity (of that quality) of education the women of that society receive. Shared child-rearing ‘leave policies’ not-with-standing (which is essentially a ‘rich’ nation conversation), there is the reality that in our present world, women in the role of mothers will represent the overwhelming number of primary-care takers and primary before-formal-schooling first teachers of children.
And as professional educators, we know how meaningful and powerfully significant those pre-formal schooling informal learning experiences are in functioning as the learning-ready preparations for later academic success once the child enters the formal school setting. This reality would appear to make the women and education discussion an evident and straightforward proposition: Raise the level and quality of education for women in a nation, and you automatically raise the quality level of education for the entire nation!
The additional bonus of having a highly educated female population is that a nation does not enter their internal development problem-solving challenges, and their external international trade and commerce partnerships and competitions, with more than half of their ‘intellectual team’ untrained and unprepared to face the many technological, communications, medical, agricultural, etc., cooperative and competitive challenges all nations face as members of the very interconnected and integrated world economic community.
In a real sense, for a non-western nation (e.g., Afghanistan) to adopt a policy of denying full public educational access to their girls is the equivalent of that country declaring a national ‘developmental death sentence’ on itself.
And when you combine this national ‘developmental-suicide’ act with the many other nation-building disadvantages developing nations face (e.g., lack of access to ‘growth capital;’ industrial and educational technological insufficiencies and incapableness; commercial and civilian transportation deficiencies; healthcare and pharmaceuticals access and production inadequacies; etc.), we end up with a seemingly permanent underdeveloped coalition-of-the-weak nations serving as the major raw-materials providers and the major consumer markets for the further improvement and enrichment of developmentally stronger (aka “western”) nations. This out-of-balanced scenario keeps those struggling-to-develop countries in an exploited-client relationship with those nations who are further along the economic development path.
Say what you will about China, but the PRC leaders have read this ‘developing’ world and ‘developed’ world negative equation of economic exploitation correctly, which is why they are not holding back when it comes to rapidly growing and improving (ex., expanding higher quality education to historically underserved rural areas), the capacity and quality of their national public education programs.
Now I am sure that the Taliban leadership, many of whom have ironically acquired “formal” (what they and their Nigerian Boko Haram colleagues would call “western”) secular education; are aware of this need to: Raise the level and quality of education for women and thus raise the quality level of education for the entire nation and its relationship to national development. But the Taliban leadership has made a conscious and cynical decision to sacrifice national development and societal-wide wellbeing by preventing its citizenry (especially girls) from benefiting from the personal and community benefits that could accrue by providing more, not less public education to girls. The Taliban has made this development destroying decision because of their fear of the other great gift of education. That is the possibility that the educated person would equip themselves with the tools to think!
“Thinking” can be a problem if your national political aspiration is creating a non-thinking population and state. A place where any inspired idea or thought, no matter how beneficial to the larger nation, if not sanctioned by the religious leadership, is forbidden. The Taliban know that the positive end-results of a public education system could lead many Afghanis (pronounced: af-ghan-eez) to acquire skills in the operational arts of inquiry, logic, investigation, hypothesis forming, and thought-experimentation ways-of-thinking, all necessary talents for individual and human societal development. But these thinking attributes and enhancers are also very dangerous in a society that requires unquestioning (no grey areas) obedience to absolute authority.
The Taliban have purposely engaged in a condescending approach to a type of leadership that will always know what is in the ‘best interest’ of the citizenry, including the prohibition against even thinking about thinking about one’s role as a citizen (“why to bother thinking, we will think for you!”).

Education is the enemy of tyranny, the opposite of any hindrance to, and denial of, the emergence and evolution of a fully free, thoughtful, and highly reflective human being. The Taliban know that educated women could ‘poison’ the minds of their children by exposing (reading to them) those virtues building stories found in many children’s books; also bad for ‘religious-despotism-business’ is the possibility that Afghanis mothers would teach their children to practice the skills of creative imagination, invention, innovation, and moral reflections. And lastly (and fatal to any country instituting planned underdevelopment policies through religious totalitarianism); these mothers could insist that their children (including girls) attend school as a way of making them better prepared to enter into a positive future that is focused on self-realization, human emotional growth, and the desire to engage in the ideals of meaningful work, freedom, and democracy. All of these ‘mother wit’ and mothers wishing the best for their children pearls-of-wisdom are the values that promote the best path forward for human and personal progress (hey, on the real, where would many of us be without the interventional educational pushing-power of our mothers!) But what the Taliban want to do is push their society backward in human evolutionary progress time, keep an entire country barefoot and barren of any collective positive, progressive ideas, and prevent the emergence of any unsanctioned individual independent life-affirming aspirational thoughts and dreams.

All societies (regardless of economic capacity or dominant religious affiliation) could be tempted to apply a form of Taliban-lite promoting of ‘ignorance’ as a strategic approach when organizing social and political movements (see the current rise of ‘old-school’ and nouveau fascist movements in European nations—have they forgotten how 1930’s-40’s fascism inflicted devastating damage and great loss-of-life on their countries?).
The counterforce power of public education and learning is that it interferes with the ‘organic’ yearnings on the part of some desperate and uninformed people who want to go back to a prior historical period when women (Blacks, Latinos, Asians and, LGBTQ people, etc. knew and remained in their subjugated, exploited, and ‘legally’ harmed places).

“Ignorance” (as a political organizing tool) can cause ordinarily ‘normal’ citizens (see 1930’s Nazi Germany) to be available and open for manipulation through disinformation and misinformation techniques employed in the worse possible ways (e.g., racial stereotypes), by the most evil-intentioned people, who have either seized by-way-of violence or acquired by other means (e.g., voted in because of that same ignorance factor), state political power.

The anxious-to-be-mislead masses are told that: “All of one’s life problems (no love, no job, no respect, no hope, no hair, no teeth…) exist because of the presence of the hated ‘other’ (than us)!” —And, “If we as a nation could simply Brexit (or, in the case of the US, barricade our southern border!) from these previously colonized and exploited undesirables, then everything in our wretched personal lives will immediately become better!” And of course, such a political promise is a profoundly big lie, for even a brief review (i.e., a high school world history class) of the human past would reveal that powerful exploitation-colonization empires (e.g., Rome) once fallen never rise again to the heights of their previous dominating power.
Political (power) change is always arriving, either dramatically fast by guillotine or by way of dynamically slow but consistent facts-on-the-ground!

Even in our own nation, we are watching these phenomena in real-time, as the ignorance-based “stolen election” mythology has been transformed into a sacred working ideology of democracy damaging violent raids on our nation’s capital and the imposition of racist voter suppression laws being enacted against selective US citizens in states (channeling the old post-confederacy segregation acts) across our country.
White Americans are being sold (for hegemonic political objectives) false bigotry survival lies that our nation can return to a pre-civil rights apartheid social-cultural-political period (the actual “cultures war”) in US history when racism could act in full legal attitudinal, authoritative, and actionable ways. A time when lynching was not limited to local police departments kneeling on the necks of Black men; but instead, they were moments in our national history when Black Lives Mattered so little that Black lynching events became white community/family fun picnic outings.

In this world, the lack of knowledge is not without consequences; education and learning have the ‘natural’ inclination and purpose (even when the study is historiography) to act as a forward-looking exercise. The selling to intellectually challenged white Americans of the hopeless idea that America will (or even could) return to a place and time where Black Americans will quietly sit in their ‘assigned’ seats at the back of the bus is a tragic (for all) false lesson that is emotionally wasteful and prevents the US from being at its best and most productive self for serving the best interest of all of its citizens.
Alternatively, the Taliban’s long-term political survival strategy is not to steal an election; instead, it is to end all elections by utilizing the lack of learning and knowing as a way to reduce and ultimately remove any possibility that Afghanis will ever challenge the legitimacy of their leadership in either ballot boxes or the boxed-in brains of a politically illiterate citizenry; even as that leadership behaves in the most undemocratic fashion, and operates in the most anti-human and anti-civil rights (and anti-civility) way.

Those tragically untouched by enlightened and transcendent ideals, the low-information, non-critical-thinking citizens of any nation; are open to being driven by the politically stimulated primitive ‘instincts’ of the limbic sections of their brain systems; which is why they will amazingly choose leaders (e.g., religious and non-religious fascist or political proto-fascist), who will enact policies and practices that are clearly counter to the greater societal interest and wellbeing (ex., the non-stop attempts to hinder access or permanently eliminate Affordable Healthcare —“Obamacare”) of those who voted for those leaders; as long as those policies and practices being espoused by their unethical/immoral leaders speaks to the most base of human animalistic emotions like fear, anger, dominance, and the protection of genetic offspring!
Some of these nations (e.g., England and the US) may not have reached the Taliban level of banning and burning books; but ‘bad leaders’ even in so-called “democratic countries” can be very efficient in extinguishing any burning desire on the part of their followers to want to use any books or thinking exercises that might inspire, in a thought-provoking way, a different and more nuanced way of looking at the world.

Exiting my elementary school in 1963, and having been efficaciously taught to read far above grade level, I could daily engage the vocabulary of the NY Times in the current events section of my middle school ‘social studies’ class, where I also read Rousseau’s The Social Contract and unlike so many of our current fellow under-informed US citizens, learned the difference between communism, socialism and democratic socialism (ideas that were later expanded on in my high school US and world history classes); learning French language and about French-speaking national cultures; studying earth science (now known as environmental science); transitioning from my elementary school mastery of the applications of arithmetic to the more complex algorithms of algebra; class trips to museums and other NYC cultural institutions; all of these events, activities, and readings, led me to know (and to want to know more) about that vast and substantially more diversely complicated world that existed outside and beyond the reality of my Brooklyn neighborhood. Reading and discussing books in high school English class like: “Johnny Got His Gun” and “All Quiet on the Western Front”—caused me to think deeply about the purpose, meaning, and consequences of waging war on other human beings. And exploring other literary works like: “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” —compelled me to reflect on how as a human family, we (and specifically I) should treat the fellow members of our human family. In so many powerful ways, I was theoretically transformed, intellectually inspired, emotionally elevated, and curiosity energized by my K-12 public educational experience, and that’s what a good public school experience will do, can do, and must do, for a society to grow and prosper.

Full disclosure here—As much as I would like to believe it, unfortunately, education is not a cure-all; there is, after all, the ever-present human factor (remember those pesky limbic systems ‘lower’ instinctual behaviors).
For sure, millions of Americans who believe in and (still) follow Donald Trump attended somebody’s K-12 school system or even obtained a college diploma. So education alone cannot always reach and fix some of those deep areas of the human heart that are severely damaged by the presence of bigotry, prejudice, and the fear of losing racial entitlements and privileges. But a No Education policy as proposed by the Taliban is much worse than even having an inadequate K-16 education. At least with the under or poorly K-16 educated individual, there is still a possible redeemable hope that some idea from a novel, poem, science lesson, art or music study, school club or team experience, a kind act by a teacher or administrator, some uplifting biographical or historical story learned, that could when catalyzed by a current event or personal incident, awaken the ‘inherent righteous goodness’ in their beings.
But the total absence of education means a high risk of the vilest expressions of the human personality being enabled, empowered, and encouraged to act in a highly mean-spirited, ugly, and toxic ostracizing way towards those who we have been convinced, are not-us. Ultimately, this demonization of the ‘other’ bad-thinking process could lead to the application of extreme methods of violence (e.g., Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwandan, 1994). And this is why what is happening educationally (and sadly, what will probably happen) to the children of Afghanistan is not just an Afghanis educational human rights problem; it’s a global educational human rights problem. We can’t afford to ignore any attack, anywhere in the world (including inside the US), of any acts of denying, diminishing, or destroying public schooling and learning. Alas, in this world (recalling another one of my high school readings), there is no chance of obtaining “A Separate Peace” away from the consequences of the human-caused societal moral chaos created by ignorance!

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. A science educator who served as an expert reviewer for the National Science Foundation; and was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

It’s not the test (SHSAT*) that’s racist; it’s the failure to effectively prepare Black and Latino students to succeed on the test that’s racist!

Recently, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, who was the former president of the New York City AFT affiliate United Federation of Teachers (UFT), stated that the process for selecting students for NYC’s Specialized High Schools (SHS) was discriminatory; I’ll revisit her alleged role as an educational equal opportunity advocate later. But for now, I should say that there are many very good pedagogical (educational/philosophical), psychometric (testing and assessment science), ethical/moral, child developmental-psychological arguments that any sincere and capable professional educator could make as to why a single criterion (an exam) and a limited ‘intelligence modality’ measurement model could fail to capture or predict the many potentialities, gifts and talents of a large number of diversely high-performing or potentially (in the future) high-performing NYC middle school children. And because professional educators are not leading the passion-saturated NYC-SHSAT debate, this important point is missing or lost on both ‘screaming at each other camps.’

We also know as professional educators that racial, socio-economic, ethnic, gender, and academic performance integration (e.g., the amazingly successful NYCDOE “Ed-Optional” high school admissions model; 20% above grade level, 60% on grade level, 20% below grade level); actually strengthens both the formal and informal knowledge capacity and learning capabilities of all the students in that diverse population school.

There are definitely academic, social, and psychological value-added educational benefits to having a diverse learning environment. Citizens who are not professional educators may not see the educational value of integration; and therefore they wrongly apply the sports team model to a school’s student body’s predictability product-ability profile. In other words, placing me on the NBA professional Brooklyn Nets team roster will indeed make the team weaker. But the more appropriate model for education would be the regular education and special education blended classes (or the dual language immersion classes). Principals like myself have all noticed that not only did the special education students do better in these classes; but because of the team-teaching model instructional and ‘breakdown-explanatory’ approach they utilize, the regular education students who in the past may have missed a concept in part or whole in an all regular education student class, ‘got it’ in the blended class and therefore raised their academic achievement capabilities in class and on exams.
Some parents who were initially reluctant to put their regular education child into a blended (e.g., Algebra 1) class begged me at the start of the next school year to please put their child in a similar blended (e.g., Geometry) class because the child did so well in class and on the final standardized exam!
A truly ‘good’ school (and its principal) figures out how to effectively serve students at every pre-admission academic performance level, the professional educational-ethical version of causing “all academic levels boats to rise”!

But something should be said here about the ironic and hypocritical nature of Ms. Weingarten’s claim since it is her union that sets up many of the barriers that prevent those same Black and Latino students from performing well on the SHSAT or any other exam! For example, principals cannot place our most experienced and highly effective teachers in front of the classrooms containing our academically weakest and most unprepared students. Or, principals face an unbelievably arduous and enormous time-wasting and all-consuming challenge when trying to remove unproductive and ineffective teachers from classrooms of those same struggling students. These are the young people who are the least able to tolerate one year of learning loss, let alone multiple years, sitting in a classroom with a less-than-proficient teacher. Adding to the principal’s burden of trying to get their students quality instruction is this problem; depending on the ‘political season’ or ‘political players’; NYC principals could be forced to take tenured teachers who (for probably good reasons) have been rejected or removed by other principals, and yet remain on the NYCDOE payroll/budget eating up millions of much-needed funds that NYC children so desperately need.

In this entire SHSAT shambolic debate, a collateral tragedy is the unfair and underserved wrongful treatment of Asian students and their families. I am particularly disappointed by Black leaders and Black educators, who like me, have surely, at some point, felt the stinging pain of the call for: “The moving of the goal post as we inched closer; or, A changing of the rules once we played by and mastered the rules!” But let’s not twist the facts of history to satisfy a present political need; the SHSAT policy was crafted and passed by the NYS legislature (1971) to guarantee that a projected seriously shrinking NYC white student population could receive a ‘public option’ (outside of costly private school offerings) high-quality high school educational experience without being forced to sit in the same classroom with a child from the darker masses, whose parents were yearning for that same high-quality education. The discriminatory results linked to the exam only worked (and continues to work) because of the anticipated poor pre-exam learning that most Black and Latino students receive in NYC schools.

It should also be said (since we are on the topic of historical truth-telling) that any NYC Chancellor can act outside of the NYS legislature’s authority and immediately change the admissions policies for the much larger number of NYC’s specialized high schools and other ‘special admissions’ high schools. The weak arguments against this move; “We will wait until they can all be changed!” is really about coming up with an excuse that does not force that Chancellor to make a decision that would (along with the mayor) risk reaping the anticipated political backlash from communities who are politically able to protect the educational interest of their children.
It should also be noted that the three branches of the NYS government are controlled by the Democrats (the state legislature can repeal the 1971 specialized high school admissions testing law at any time); the State Senate and Assembly are both led by Black-American leaders. NYS/NYC Black-American voters have been consistently and unfailingly loyal to the Democratic party. So the least the Democrats can do to repay that consistent loyalty is to give the children of those Black NYS/NYC citizens a fighting chance at receiving a high-level quality education.

(And still in truth-telling mode!) It should be noted that some NYC Black educators have for many years advocated, successfully modeled (Science Skills Center, Inc.), and pleaded with the NYC Black community to establish after-school, weekend, and summer vacation, advanced academic, STEM**, and standardized test-preparation programs. These SSC, Inc. programs helped Black and Latino students to do well on the SHSAT, and other city, state, and national exams; and further, they destroyed the “Black students can’t test well” racist myth by having elementary and middle school students pass science and mathematics high school NYS Regents exams. And so, there is no need now to be angry with the Asian community, some of whom visited our sites, wisely took our advice, and developed similar programs in their communities.

The truth is that there is nothing mysterious or magical about getting students of any race or nationality to do well on standardized exams. 1/3 is long-term and consistent good instruction—that leads to rigorous standards-based conceptual knowledge and skills learning; 1/3 is the students receiving weekly curriculum standards-based + the standardized exam vocabulary and test questions rigor level based assessments; 1/3 is the students being taught smart and efficient test-taking techniques (what good test-takers do to give themselves an advantage).
There is much proven (not speculative) evidence that lets us know that employing the correct strategic policies and practices will result in raising students’ performance on standardized exams (with any group of students) and consistently increase that improvement over time (ex. Science Skills Center High School and CSD29Q 2000-2003).

If, over recent years (omitting the COVID-19 SY), the SHS quantitative admission results for Black and Latino students are decreasing dramatically; one causal factor could be the qualitative deterioration of the academic preparation work those students are receiving in their pre-SHSAT testing (K-7) regular school/classroom experiences; something not fixable by even the most expensive and best well-intentioned SHSAT “test-prep” programs.

There are many political barriers some communities must overcome to have their children receive a quality education. Still, nothing stops those communities from establishing after-school, weekend and summer study and test preparation centers for the SHSAT and other standardized exams or, for the purposes of raising the general quality of those students’ academic performance in their regular school.
However, one of the false positions in this entire SHSAT conversation (and professional educators should know better) is the alleged super-efficacious power of “test-prep.” We know from years of experiential knowledge that “test-prep” can’t make up for inferior or the total absence of a good and effective basic elementary and middle school learning experience; educators who claim that it can, are grossly theoretically uninformed, or they are just being politically opportunistic and cynical. In other words, if I take the NYS legal Bar examination, I should predictably fail, and that’s because I haven’t spent one day in anybody’s law school! The ultimate authentic and best “test-prep” for a standardized exam is the direct personal quality learning of the content and skills objectives being tested on that standardized exam.

We should stop playing games (with children’s lives and parent’s hopes) because there is nothing wrong with the brains of Black and Latino students that receiving a quality PreK-8 education and a dynamic community-based test-prep program won’t strengthen and enhance their skills for both higher learning and standardized test-taking purposes.

I’ve spent too many years in NYC as a principal and superintendent to hope that more than a few if any of the current group of public office seeking candidates or sitting elected officials are going to risk the wrath of the UFT and implement real and meaningful change conditions where the left-out, ignored and disentitled children of NYC will have a genuine opportunity to learn and do well on a specialized exam or any exam they take. It’s up to the communities where these students live to take strong political and self-reliant actions that will protect their children’s learning potential and possibilities. And that’s not racist; rather, it’s an act of self-preservation, survival, and love.

*SHSAT is New York City’s admissions exam for the city’s specialized high schools.
**STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. A science educator who served as an expert reviewer for the National Science Foundation; and was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

Know 2020-2021 SY 9th graders, that high school is ‘a different world than the one you came from’!

Please, parents, first translate this for your child: One of the initial lessons you (the student) must quickly learn is that this is high school and therefore, there are no ‘group’ or ‘goodwill’ promotions to the next (10th ) grade, and no way of ‘aging’ into graduation. Merely being in the building for a 2nd year does not mean you are ‘officially’ (meaning based on your transcript) a “10th grader”. The requirements for high school grade promotion and ultimately graduation are the designated (required) classes and standardized exams (and in some schools, there are additional promotional/graduation requirement, e.g., community service or a senior project), that must all be performed, taken, completed, and passed to be promoted or to graduate! Those are the most basic requirements of a high school student.

In terms of high school success, the greatest help-mate or hurt-mate for incoming 9th graders is planning and organizational skills.

Source: “OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)” (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/23/ok-parents-some-basic-things-for-a-successful-2020-covid-19-school-year-sy/)
High Performing Students: Get Better Organized And Therefore Get Better Grades! For all students, but especially middle & high school students, getting well-organized (early and consistently) is critical. And it is for this reason that they need a yearlong paper and electronic calendar based organizer-planner. Along with an excellent ‘filing’ (paper and electronic) system for all of the documents and numerous ‘papers,’ they will accumulate over a school-year. A separate for each class and subject areas note-taking (that turn into study guides) system. Online lessons could allow students to record or ‘cut and paste’ the written and ‘board-work’ parts of a teacher’s lesson into their class/study notes—and then re-watch and review the teacher’s presentation as many times as necessary. Students in every grade need subject/class specific-separate (color-coded) folders for returned & graded homework, essays, reports, quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects. Lack of organization is one of the significant ‘pitfalls’ for first-year high school students, a ‘fall and pit’ from which many don’t entirely escape. Over the years, whenever I had a meeting with the parent of an underperforming student in the principal’s office, without fail when the parent and I would go through the student’s school-bag and notebooks; we always found an unused or severely underutilized planning-calendar (which I gave to the student at the beginning of the year), a complete ‘mess’ of math, history, foreign language, etc. papers and notes thrown together in the same notebook, several single sheets of (some half torn) pieces of school-work papers, returned and graded exams from different classes, homework, essays and book reports (and yes, even some not turned in completed assignments and homework!) all mixed up; including some now mangled and out-of-date ‘notes to the parents’ that the parent never received! Getting and Staying Well-Organized is the First Step to Getting Good Grades!…”

The Competitive Culture of High Schools…

Now, some educational professionals and non-professional education adults might paint things like “competitiveness,” “ curriculum standards,” “academic achievement competition,” “class ranking,” and “standardized exams” in a not so positive light. This posting will not address that debate. However, I have observed, taught their children and worked with many of these individuals over the last 40 years; and I assure you that they often ‘preach and practice’ a very different storyline with their own children.

Educational institutions reflect the political values and principles of the societies (nations) in which they exist. In America, all public schools are (for better or worse) competitive organizations, and the best high schools (and their leaders) are those school’s that can make the school environment as minimally brutal and less competitively ugly as possible, without compromising their student’s ability to successfully negotiate and succeed with the adult life demands of a post-high school life. Good American schools oppose a culture of selfishness and ‘take-no-prisoner’ combative competitiveness; however, they cannot entirely escape from the societal-wide culture of ‘self-first’ damaging competitiveness and the allegiance to the endless pursuit of vulgar materialistic values. Like it or not our students will enter that world.

Therefore, we educators, with much difficulty, must prepare (starting in the 9th grade) every student to get the highest grades possible, in the most rigorous (toughest, most challenging) classes and classroom environments, equip them with the most robust academic transcripts, thus situating them to earn the most advantageous and prestigious graduation diplomas available; while at the same time, actually ‘educating’ them and helping them to be the highest compassionate, moral and ethical examples and expressions of humanity.

One of my definitions of a ‘progressive education’ is wanting students to progress academically (concepts and skills) so that they are able to survive and succeed in the world; while at the same time they progress toward becoming compassionate and committed agents-of-change in the making of a better and more humane world.

Parent warning: Be extremely cautious of professional educators or ‘non-educational political actors’ who advocate that: “students, just ‘do you’ and produce low-effort-low-quality school work; and we will accept your performing at whatever low achievement level”…Trust me, that approach is only applied when they are referring to other people’s children. Try going on social media and observe their (and the children of ‘celebrities’, including rappers) academically high performing/achieving children.

The Very Important Grade Point Average (GPA).

Source: The GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM (https://www.edglossary.org/)
A grade point average is a number representing the average value of the accumulated final grades earned in courses over time. More commonly called a GPA, a student’s grade point average is calculated by adding up all accumulated final grades and dividing that figure by the number of grades awarded. This calculation results in a mathematical mean—or average—of all final grades. The most common form of GPA is based on a 0 to 4.0 scale (A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, and F = 0), with a 4.0 representing a “perfect” GPA—or a student having earned straight As in every course. Schools may also assign partial points for “plus” or “minus” letter grades, such as a 3.7 for an A–, a 3.3 for a B+, and so on. GPAs may be calculated at the end of a course, semester, or grade level, and a “cumulative GPA” represents an average of all final grades individual students earned from the time they first enrolled in a school to the completion of their education.
In some schools, weighted-grade systems are used in GPA calculations, and they give students a numerical advantage for grades earned in higher-level courses, such as honors courses or Advanced Placement courses, or for completing more challenging learning experiences. In weighted-grade systems, an A in a higher-level course might be awarded a 4.5 or 5.0, for example, while an A in a lower-level course is awarded a 4.0 (yet weighted grading systems vary widely in design and methodology). A student’s GPA is often used to determine academic honors, such as honor roll, class rank, or Latin honors. GPAs have been one of several major factors used by colleges, postsecondary programs, and employers to assess a student’s overall academic record
…”

Ok, so this is high school facts, not my personal political or pedagogical position on the GPA (in other words, don’t send me any emails about the political-incorrectness of the GPA system): The Grade Point Average (GPA) will designate a student’s “class ranking’ or ‘standing’ in relationship to their school-mates; it will also determine that student’s in high school and post-high school options and access to formal and informal academic and future career opportunities. The GPA competition starting line is the first semester of high school. Students who come into the school and “ace” (all A’s) all of their 9th-grade classes gain a tremendous advantage in the GPA race (and in most cases are very difficult to GPA catch and match through the end of the 12th-grade). First, because it places those ‘All A’s’ students on track to be ‘legitimate 10th graders’. Why is this important? High school class/course (required, electives and advanced classes) schedules are organized to accommodate the many students who actually pass their classes. All of the 10th-grade courses are arranged to fit a 10th graders schedule, as is the case with 11th and 12th-grade course offerings. For example, a student who fails 9th grade English and must retake it will have some scheduling problems (depending on the size of the school) because all of the 10th-grade history, math, foreign language, science, etc. courses are in alignment with 10th-grade English. Also problematic could be those students who fail the first or second part of a full-year course; there is no guarantee that the school will or even can offer the fall part 1 of the course in the spring (or vice versa). This could be a serious problem as the student moves up in grades and finds themselves ‘locked-out’ of many elective or advanced courses because they have limited scheduling flexibility.
Which brings me to my next point; the other reason for the ‘pass-everything’ with high grades approach is that those categories of students gain an advantage in being on track to take Advanced Placement (AP) college courses (which adds higher value points to their GPA); they are also first-in-line because of their GPA ranking for scholarships, college admissions, summer internships, special programs, principal and teacher’s letters of recommendations.
Because they are ‘on-track,’ these students will also have access to electives, honors, and advanced classes, which strengthens their transcript based on the factors stated earlier. Starting in the 9th grade, students must think of their transcript as a vital part of their college and scholarship(s) application process (it is!); but it is also a future job and career ‘resume’; and therefore, they must do everything possible to ‘protect’ the quality of that high school transcript and make it ‘beautiful’ and as powerful as possible; which means when presented, it tells a beautiful and powerful story about you.

And from: “Limited to No Access to a High School Academic, Career and College Guidance Counselor or Advisor During the COVID-19 SY?—Be Concerned Parents, But Don’t Panic.” (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/30/limited-to-no-access-to-a-high-school-academic-career-and-college-guidance-counselor-or-advisor-during-the-covid-19-sy-be-concerned-parents-but-dont-panic/)

…The starting point for post-high school guidance planning is the ‘walking-across-the graduation-stage’ day, then strategically ‘walking-backward’ to the 9th grade. Start the high school planning process at the 12th-grade graduation ceremony and then work backward by determining what the student must and should be doing, have (credits) earned, completed, and accomplished by the end of the: 12th, 11th, 10th, and 9th grades. Including summers and all school breaks (highly-effective-students take good advantage of ‘down-school’ time). A simple but essential objective that might elicit a: “Well, obviously!” (and if only it were universally followed by high school students!); students must start by successfully passing all of their classes with the highest grade possible. Nothing disrupts a post-high school career objective (internships, apprenticeship, college admissions, and scholarships) more than a failed or ‘minimally passed’ course grade. And to be honest, and possibly upset some of my public education colleagues, ‘summer school’ or any type of “credit recovery” program are, in most cases damaging to both a student’s transcript and their knowledge and skills bank. Trust me; it is never good or helpful when in an ‘asking for something’ essay or on some application, and a student is trying to ‘explain’ past failing or poor grades. The “I fell down, but I got up” narrative (and of course, that’s the story-line we utilize when that’s our only option) is terribly ‘over-hyped’ and particularly risky when you are competing with other students of similar social-economic profiles who never fell down academically!…”

The first year of high school is the opportunity to ‘reinvent’ or ‘upgrade’ (take it to another level) your K-8 self.

Some smart 9th graders (and I found this out when I spoke to their middle school principals) have used the transition from 8th to 9th grade as an opportunity to ‘reinvent’ themselves. You don’t have ‘history’ in your new high school, so turn that ‘not-knowing-you’ into an advantage. This COVID-19 SY teachers and school administrators are extra ‘stressed-out’; don’t add to their stress by making your ‘opening-appearance’ in high school a difficult or lazy academics one; turn a crisis disadvantage into a learning and achievement advantage by having a positive attitude, productive behavior (in school or online); and by doing extra studying and reading above what is required. Whether you are learning remotely, part or full-time physically in-school, make a good first scholarly impression (besides, you might need those administrators and teachers you are ‘annoying’ to write you a letter of recommendation later!).

As I advised one of my former students, who is now herself a great high school math teacher doing online remote teaching in Texas; to remind her less-than-cooperative students (because teenagers must be clear about your expectations and the consequences for them not meeting your expectations): “The COVID-19 crisis will someday end, and I will see you again in my classes and the school-building; you should think deeply about what that means!” Great teachers provide an abundance of efficacious compassion, and when necessary, also inflict the required amount of ‘loving-discomfort’!

9th-grader make your name known…for good and positive reasons!

It was not uncommon for me to have a conversation with one of my middle school colleagues, and the question would come up: “Oh, by the way, how is ‘so and so’ doing in your school?” Me: “Well, he/she is one of my 9th-grade warrior-champions!” The middle-school principal: “What, are you serious?”; and further, “That kid drove us nuts and refused to perform at the level of their potential!” Me: “I guess they were struck by the ‘seriousness lightning’ on the way to my school because that young lady/man is a model student, well-behaved, all serious business and on the honor roll!”

Having served as a PreK-12 superintendent, I would never say that the PreK-8 world does not require serious and hard work on the part of the student. But the reality of high schools is that we are the last “practice station” before the child enters the world of that cruel and unforgiving ‘real-world-rules.’ 9th-graders must start strongly focused and stay consistently strong. The standard model and path to 9th-grade success is ¼ preparation, ¼ attitudinal, ¼ study habits, and ¼ organizational skills. And if you desire to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related post-high school profession; then you better take (and take serious), pass and master Algebra 1 as soon as possible!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: *Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

In education, advantage is what advantage does.

“The Coronavirus May Change College Admissions Forever: A pandemic returns the focus to what matters: education.”* — NY Times;Frank Bruni

Regardless of school districts’ school opening’ plans, this COVID 19 School Year (SY) will absolutely produce student losers and winners. And of course, those two categories will follow the ‘standard path and pattern’ of who (and who does not) presently receive a quality education in our nation. I was particularly drawn to this part of a NY Times column:

“But a more broadly consequential change involves standardized tests. Because the pandemic prevented students last spring from gathering to take the SAT and ACT exams, many selective schools are not requiring them for the time being. That will force them to focus more than ever on the toughness of the high school courses that students took and the grades they got.

Which students will benefit from that? It’s complicated. On one hand, affluent students who are coached for these exams and usually take them repeatedly won’t get to flaunt their high scores. On the other hand, less privileged students from high schools whose academic rigor is a question mark in screeners’ minds won’t have impressive scores to prove their mettle…”

The writer suggests that “It’s complicated” to determine who benefits from this “No SAT/ACT” admissions criteria year, but I disagree. According to my conversations over the years with many officials who sit on college admission selection committees, the level of ‘academic rigor,’ the quality of the school’s in-class and out-of-class enrichment programs (e.g., electives, clubs, academic teams, etc.), and activities figured highly in the selection process. A student can take a course in school X, and another student can take that same course in school Y, and the people who sit on these admissions panels know that the grades awarded in those two classes could be radically unequal. In some high schools that serve our poorest and most politically disentitled students, a ‘passing grade’ (and even a ‘graduation diploma’) could be granted even if the student does not show up to school or class for the required ‘seat-time’ or ‘contact hours’! The colleges are fully aware of the identities and locations of these school districts and schools. And it’s not a stretch to imagine the colors and nationalities of the students who are the majority population in the offending school districts and schools.

College admissions officers are also able to ‘separate’ individual schools from their school districts (identifying individual ‘smart and capable’ students who attend Title-1 school will be harder this year); thus my being able (Science Skills Center and Phelps ACE high schools) to get students into many great colleges, with full or substantial scholarship support; despite our Title-1 status. This was in part because we made every effort in and outside of the classroom to be and present as ‘top-tier’ high schools (Colleges: “Please send us your graduates!”). The students high performances on state and national standardized exams also greatly helped those efforts. I’m not sure how that will work for similar schools in this Coronavirus school year.

This is why I held my applause when the “No SAT/ACT” (this year) college admissions policy was announced, because I believe that now the extra emphasis being placed on the “Quality of the school’s academic profile” could hurt academically strong students’ who, due to no fault of their own, attend ‘weak,’ (a large part due to underfunding, poor leadership, and a poor teaching and learning environment) schools. These students could also be carrying the extra (zip code burden) ‘negative-weight’ of having attended a high school in a ‘low-graduation requirements’ (less academically rigorous) school district.

Prior to this year, the strong admissions argument that could be made for these Title-1 school kids was their standardized test scores (state and national) and them taking in high school (Advanced Placement) and on-college campuses college courses. I also feel that ‘homeschooled’ high school students might also be placed in a disadvantaged position without having those SAT/ACT scores to prove their academic capabilities. We need, from national leaders, a special Black, Latino (and poor White) students college admissions advocacy movement and program for the 2020-2021 COVID-19 SY.

One of the reasons I always caution parents and community leaders from prematurely ‘jumping-on’ the anti-testing ‘bandwagon’ is that standardized exams like the SAT/AP/ACT etc. can remove the subjectivity, racial bias, and prejudice decision-making factors that deny and damages the dreams of so many children in our society. Large numbers of the Asian-American community have wisely figured this out!

“Change the joke and slip the yoke”—Ralph Ellison.

I have warned parents and communities, who are often easily distracted (e.g., social integration versus having a quality instructional program) and miss the critical policy decisions that keep their children in a permanent state of receiving a terrible second class educational experience; to ‘read-the-small-print’ and ‘disclaimers’ that is written into every public education initiative and policy decision. But I guess one of the advantages of ‘advantage’ is that your children do well and win in moments of crisis or no crisis conditions.

*https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/05/opinion/coronavirus-college-admissions.html? action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

‘Readers to Leaders’

if anyone worked with me in C.S.D. 29 Queens NY, the Albany City School District or Phelps A.C.E. Washington DC, and you have a digital version of the ‘Readers to Leaders‘ parent’s manual; please let me know. I have several book copies but no digital copy. This guide and manual could be of great assistance to parents working at home with their children on those critical English Language Arts (E.L.A.) skills. If not, I hope that I can get one of my former ‘high-tech-techie’ students to help me figure out how I can post the manual on my website.
You can reach me at: maj@reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net

Thanks–MAJ.

FIRST Robotics COVID-19 SY Plan

A Message from FIRST® HQ

“We’re doing our best, like all of you, to stay up to date on the rapidly evolving impacts of the pandemic while planning for the future. Everyone at FIRST is working hard to anticipate and navigate the uncertainties to ensure we’ll be able to provide every student participant a valuable, enjoyable experience, regardless of learning environment this season. We hope that you will join us as we explore new and exciting ways to deliver our programs with your safety and wellbeing as our top priority.

FIRST will offer event options with the FIRST Remote Event Hub, launching this fall. It will make the experience as close as possible to a traditional FIRST program event for teams and volunteers, with the necessary modifications to accommodate a remote environment.

For the latest updates, subscribe to the FIRST Newsletter, and contact your local FIRST Partner for the latest information about FIRST programs in your region. During these uncertain and challenging times, we are committed more than ever to supporting members of our community like you.”

For More Info: https://www.firstinspires.org/covid-19

Limited to No Access to a High School Academic, Career and College Guidance Counselor or Advisor During the COVID-19 SY?—Be Concerned Parents, But Don’t Panic.

Part 2 in a series: High School Guidance, Career and College Advisement.

As I stated in Part 1 (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/23/ok-parents-some-basic-things-for-a-successful-2020-covid-19-school-year-sy/) of this extended post: During this Covid-19 2020-2021 academic school year crisis, parents will need to be thoughtfully, purposely and positively extra involved in monitoring and supporting their child(ren) in the area of daily academic schoolwork, homework, study, and outside-of-school (“informal education”) work. This additional parental supervision effort will also be required in high school guidance, and specifically in the areas of course selections and post-high school career, college admissions, and scholarship advisement work.

Let’s get started…

Good student organization, the ability to prioritize study-time, excellent task-and-time management skills, getting and remaining focused on realizing a ‘good’ graduation and graduation diploma*; are some of the most useful skills a high school student must possess. High school students can exist at very different developmental psychological stages, which will determine when they fully comprehend that this ‘high school experience’ is their last ‘train-ride and stop’ before leaving the K-12 educational system. Very soon, they will be entering a world where ‘lateness and absenteeism,’ any performance ‘slackness’ and inattention to performance, can cause you to be unemployed or not get promoted. Your attitude, behavior, and quality of your work product can result in client or customer dissatisfaction and them taking their business somewhere else. And then there are those ‘new’ and eye-opening adult expectations when you start a job, college, join the military, or an apprentice training program.
Leaving high school without a ‘plan-of-action’ could lead to a young person suddenly looking a little less ‘cute’ to their parents if they are sitting around the house ‘goal-less’ and ‘without a life plan,’ sleeping, living rent-free, eating, utilizing electricity, and hot water, while they are not attending school, a training program or working. And so high school parents, along with helping your child to get organized; you must also help with the equal urgency of helping your child to understand that life moves in one direction, and one must make the best out of this one-way journey. And that a major life-chapter will ‘end’ in the 12th grade, and another major life-chapter (adult life), with radically different rules and expectations, will ‘begin’ immediately after that graduation ceremony!

COVID-19 or no COVID-19 parents play a critical guidance and advisory role for high school students.

Let me pause here to offer a disclaiming warning and be very clear; there is no substitute for a certified and experienced high school guidance counselor, nor can one underestimate the tremendous value of a licensed, knowledgeable, and ‘well-connected’ career and college advisor. I speak as a former principal who worked with the best in both job classifications. And there are moments that I ‘look back and wonder’ how my Guidance, Counseling, Career-College Center Department staff pulled off their many student support ‘miracles’ and great post-high school victories! But I also want to say that ‘parental involvement’ was and will always be a significant partnering and influencing factor in any high school student’s ability to realize their post-graduation dreams. And those highly-effective ‘partnering’ activities could involve something as very basic and straight forward, but critically important as the parent holding their child to high academic and behavioral expectations standards. There are also parents who themselves have successfully ‘navigated’ the transition from high school to college or some non-college profession. Other parents have the capability of ‘invoking’ college admissions ‘legacy advantages,’; which means they help in getting their children admitted to the college they attended. Some parents have powerful ‘contact resources’ or access to information that can open doors to jobs, college admissions, college scholarships, internships, etc. One “good” outcome of the 2019 college admissions scandals; was the destruction of the myth that ‘college-educated parents’ and parents with a lot of financial means, simply allow their children to just “waltz” through high school with the expectation that they will somehow ‘magically’ end up one day as an attorney, airplane pilot, engineer, or medical doctor. No matter what people tell you, student career objectives accomplishments are never achieved by accident (some adult advocation and support is needed; hopefully legally); a parent just may not be inclined to say to you how things ‘turned-out-so-well’ for their child. And further, parents should not be fooled by the size, verbal abilities, and ‘pushing-back’ from adults in response to their natural quest for teenagers’ independence behaviors; we could easily forget that high school students desperately need adult guidance and advice.

This COVID-19 SY, the work of every school’s Counseling, Career-College Center Department (GC-CCCD), will be limited in some way, which means parents and communities (elected and civic leaders, fraternities and sororities, social and benevolent organizations, community-based organizations and faith-based institutions) will need to pick up the counseling and advising slack.

The starting point for post-high school planning is the ‘walking-across-the graduation-stage’ day, then strategically ‘walking-backward’ to the 9th grade.

Start the high school planning process at the 12th-grade graduation ceremony and then work backward by determining what the student should be doing, have completed, and accomplished by the end of the: 12th, 11th, 10th, and 9th grades. Including summers and all school breaks (In a future post, I will go into how highly-effective-students take good advantage of ‘down-school’ time). A simple but essential objective that might elicit a: “Well, obviously!” (and if only it were universally followed by high school students!); students must start by passing all of their classes with the highest grade possible. Nothing disrupts a post-high school career objective (internships, apprenticeship, college admissions and scholarships) more than a failed or ‘minimally passed’ course grade. And to be honest, and possibly upset some of my public education colleagues, ‘summer school’ or any type of “credit recovery” program are, in most cases damaging to both a student’s transcript and their knowledge and skills bank. Trust me; it is never good or helpful when in an ‘asking for something’ essay or on some application, a student is trying to ‘explain’ past failing or poor grades. The “I fell down, but I got up” narrative (and of course, that’s the story-line we utilize when that’s our only option) is terribly ‘over-hyped’ and particularly risky when you are in competition with other students of similar social-economic profiles who never fell down academically!

High Schools operate under a predetermined strict sequenced structure; any failed class ‘disrupts the flow’ of the process toward a successful and fulfilling graduation. Failed courses will also ‘knock’ and ‘lock’ students out of opportunities like the ability to take transcript ‘enhancing’ electives, advance courses, and Advance Placement (AP) or, while you are in high school taking either online or ‘on campus’ college courses. A failed Algebra 1 class (or barely passing but failing to master the course learning objectives) will create severe obstacles to any future Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics(STEM) career aspirations.
I know that in the ‘Facebook silliness world,’ one can often read a posting that says, “Duh, I never used Algebra in ‘real’ life!” Beyond that being not true, it says a lot more about the person’s life than it says about Algebra! What they don’t tell you (because they don’t know) is that in fact, Algebra 1 is perhaps the single most future career determining course you will take in high school, for both a STEM and non-STEM future career aspiration. (I will cover the importance of Algebra 1 in more detail in my next posting). Knowing what college major you want to pursue, leads the ‘wise’ students to organize their 4-year high school experiences in such a way that they can step confidently and well-prepared into that career choice or college major.

And with a high school Career Technical Education (CTE) program (important to note: the specialized ‘arts,’ culinary, pre-engineering, fashion, allied health, etc. programs are technically CTE programs); there are very specific, semester by semester, sequenced list of courses that must be taken (one after the other, e.g., electricity 1 or plumbing 1, followed by course levels 2, 3, 4… each semester) every school year; a failed required CTE course can seriously ‘throw a student out of sequence’ and hamper their ability to complete the program on time; because unlike colleges, the school may not, for example, be able to offer a fall required course in the spring. Failing a CTE “major” class will also significantly weaken a student’s application for admission to the highly competitive skilled apprenticeship, civil service training, or CTE related college programs. Any parent can request a simple basic ask of any student: “Just Pass Classes!

One common theme I have heard repeatedly from both high school parents and students is how ‘quickly’ the (4) high school years go by. This is why all of the grade level ‘must-do’ s,’ requirements and responsibilities, must be done in an organized and sequenced order; done well, and completed on a dated schedule. The student should start with a (where they see themselves in) eight years after high school graduation career goals. This ‘planned-outcome-objective’ is not written in stone; students can and will often change their minds! But this method at least offers students the opportunity to take the most useful and advantageous courses (including electives, advance, and AP classes); and be involved with the most beneficial in and out of school non-course activities for their future career aspirations; while they are in high school. The most successful students have a 4-year high school plan that captures all of the academic and social/personal choices aligned with and required for that future career or college major objective. And because of COVID-19 schools and guidance/counseling departments will face serious operational challenges; thus, parents must construct some version of a: High School Parents Career and College Home Guidance and Advisory Plan; if the school does not provide one. This ‘plan’ could be based on something like the: “The Graduation Critical Path Chart (GCPC),”; which I explain in great detail in my book: Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; Chap. 7: pgs. 147-155. (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/) This book (it is in paper-book or kindle format) available in some libraries, is a study and resource guide designed for professional educators, who either aspire to or are presently serving as, assistant principals and principals, and superintendents who select, supervise, coach, and evaluate principals. But I have worked hard in this Chap. 7 and similar chapters (Chapter 28: “Practices of a Successful High School Student“; and Chapter 29: “How Principals Can Inspire Real and Meaningful Parent Involvement and Empowerment!“); to purposely utilize as little professional educational ‘vocabulary’ and ‘jargon’ as possible; so that the average parent would find these three chapters very readable, useful and easy to understand.

Next Part 3: Focusing on the incoming 9th graders. High School is indeed: ‘a different world than the one you just came from’!

* All high schools (and therefore their diplomas and transcripts) are not equal in the ‘degree-of-difficulty’ of their course work, the type of diplomas, the quantity and quality of ‘extra’ courses, and activities offerings, and their graduation requirements above the district and state’s minimum requirements. The colleges, the public sector, and the business community are fully aware of that fact; and they include that information in their hiring and admissions decisions (a “B” on a transcript in one school, is not necessarily the same as a “B” in another school, although it’s the same course in both schools), even if they don’t admit it publicly. Also, unfortunately, some school districts in our nation offer high school diplomas (aka: “graduation requirements”) that sadly do not reflect the real and best academic rigor and standards of the professionally recognized core high school curriculum and learning objectives. In many localities, attention to ‘graduation rates’ is driven by political and not educational purposes. Also true in all school districts is that all high school diplomas are not equal. They could range (depending on the school-district) from: “I took the most challenging and rigorous(courses)path” diploma; to: “I took the bare minimum to get me out the door” diploma. In any case, a student should strive to get a diploma (reflecting a transcript) that best prepares and positions them for ‘life after graduation,’ and more to the point, best prepares them to pursue their post-high school career objectives. A high school diploma’s useful ‘worthiness’ is determined by the extent to which it allows the high school graduate to: successfully negotiate with, capably navigate through, and competently engage with, post-high school adult life.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).