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/ ).

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/ ).

OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)

Part 1: The Basics

First, don’t panic; for sure, the 2020-2021 school year (SY) will be extremely challenging; but you are not (now or in the future) powerless. And so, let’s put things into perspective. It was not uncommon in my 11 years in the high school principalship to have students arrive to my school from a foreign country (often with limited english language skills), where one or more of their schooling years were interrupted due to war conditions, civil strife or some political crises; interestingly, these students (with our specialized and focused support) ended up being some of the top academically performing students and graduates in the school. This Covid-19 SY is not the optimum situation (and many school districts need to ‘upgrade’ and better think through their school opening plans). Still, it is not uncommon for students to lose significant ‘time’ out of school for many reasons. There are also many operational methods we professional educators have learned over the years that could make up for lost learning time.
Further, millions of US parents presently homeschool their children for most or all of the child’s PreK-12 school life. And based on my official review of their work as a superintendent, in my professional opinion, they do this homeschooling work to a very high level of effectiveness.

And let’s be entirely honest, it’s not like US public schools do such a great job with the disentitled, poor and ‘wrong-zip-coded’ students who do show up to our schools every day for 12-14 years (if they don’t get ‘pushed-out’ sooner)! The truth is that too many public schools and classrooms don’t practice high levels of productive quality learning time for the full or majority of the school’s (class periods, day, week) calendar year. One of the best open secrets of public education is the vast qualitative differences (the real and most profound “achievement gap” — A child’s access to a quality education) between schools. And that ‘gap’ is measured by the different amount of on or above standards-based, highly rigorous instruction and learning time students receive. These quality learning deficits can result in anything from months to years of learning lost time for some unfortunate children, and months to years of learning gain for other fortunately entitled children. As we (justifiably) raise hell over a ‘lost school year time,’ know that for some children in our nation, ‘lost school year time,’ is all of the time or most of every year they spend in school!

Pre-COVID-19 SY, During this Covid-19 SY and in the Post-COVID-19 SY; some things won’t (and should not) change when it comes to parental responsibilities:

• The parental support for the organization of a child’s schoolwork, homework, and study-work is critically important to that child’s chances for academic success! Students need a quiet and consistent time and place for doing regular schoolwork, homework, and study-work. As a principal, I made a home visit to one of my parent’s home who lived in a small apartment with three children. She (as we suggested in the parent orientation) established a daily homework and study period for every child in the house; no TV, music playing, friends visitations, telephoning, etc.; anyone who finished their homework had to study or read a book. She later told me that not just my student but all of her children’s grades improved dramatically! Homework is not study-work; rather, it’s the assignments given to the students by the teacher to reinforce the classwork, a form of teacher assessment to determine to what extent the student has mastered the lesson objectives; or to prepare the student for the next day’s lesson. Now some of my well-meaning liberal colleagues who are members of the ‘no-homework-club’ will come for me on the ‘homework question’; but these are the educators/parents who most-likely can provide rich home-learning experiences for their children; and besides, their children probably also attend schools with highly effective instructional programs, challenging and beyond-the-standards daily academic learning experiences. But be assured, all students are doing some form of school or non-school assigned ‘home-learning-work’; the only question is the type, amount, and quality of the ‘learning-work’ that is being done at home.

• Study-work (studying) is the post-homework activity that the students utilize to self-correct, gain a deeper level of knowledge of topics, skills, and concepts, and acquire a more advanced understanding of the classwork or course work. It is also the best way for a student to strengthen those topics and concept areas of learning where they are ‘weak,’ ‘underperforming,’ or want to excel.

• My experience working with High Performing Students (HPS) over the years is that they engage (often unconsciously) in many standard practices, which then turn into positive and productive habits that predictably leads to their realizing higher levels of academic achievement. In most cases, these principles of ‘good-studentship’ were taught to them by (possibly all) a parent, an older sibling through direct teaching or modeling behaviors, a school teacher, school administrator or guidance counselor. For example, HPS are well-aware of the significant and profound difference between homework and study-work. They are good classroom ‘lesson-note-takers,’ which then turns their notebooks into excellent, well-organized study guides. They know or have been taught how to utilize a textbook or any course-related documents/materials effectively. They somehow quickly figure out the teacher’s “grading policy” (even if a school has a ‘standard’ and official ‘grading policy’; how teachers understand and practice that policy can differ slightly from teacher to teacher); they learn the teacher’s standards, expectations, and the ‘rubrics’ (rules) the teacher uses to define and explain those standards. The same strategies of (and perhaps the reasons they are) good ‘test-takers’; who are able, in a matter of seconds to get ‘into-the-mind’ of the test designer and test-grader, and ask: “Now what am I being asked to do by both the test designer and the person grading the exam?” The answer to those questions is the correct answer to the exam question they are facing. It is not necessary for these students to ‘like’ or ‘be liked’ by the teacher or like any particular teacher’s ‘teaching style’; they are, in so many ways totally not ‘invested’ in the teacher’s personality, and only focused on getting an “A.” They won’t misbehave in class, but they will quickly seek out an administrator if they feel that a teacher is grading them ‘unfairly’; e.g., like this unprofessional silly idea of not giving students a rightfully earned first-marking period “A,” to “motivate the student”! Utilizing a system of ‘rubrics’ (the way to determine how close or far away you are from meeting a standard), they can independently ‘self-grade’ or evaluate (from the teacher’s perspective) any work-product before they turn it into the teacher. The ‘course syllabus’, requirements, exams dates, project, and assignment dates serve as an operational road map for these students, as they plan (with an “A” as the end objective) and organize their approach to work and study. The good news is that just about all of HPS’ skills’ can be taught and cultivated in any student!

High Performing Students invest a lot of study time in mastering those courses, topics, and concepts for which they are struggling or not in total ‘mastery’ over. Then they move onto those areas for which they are more capable of building on their academic strengths (leaving their ‘strongest academic areas’ for last). These students also engage in a form of “study neutrality-practicality,” meaning spending as much time as required in each subject area and course to get an “A” in every subject and course; they don’t just focus on the classes and subject areas they like or see as part of their future career choice prerequisites. These are the pre-medicine or pre-engineering students who work hard to get “A’s” in English and History; the pre-law or pre-professional artist students who strive to get “A’s” in their Science and Mathematics courses. They do this first to ‘strengthened’ their GPA’s (Grade Point Average) and secondly not to encourage and allow any ‘slackness’ or second-best attitude to enter into their high achievement ‘mind-set’ consciousness. These students want (and will fight for) an “A” in Physical Education (PE) because they are all about the “A’s.”

• Good study habits make and is the difference. The general rule I have observed is that consistent and effective studying beyond homework will make any student: ‘struggling,’ average, or high achieving, into a much better and stronger student!

• Smart, efficacious teachers (often working in Title-1 schools), who are aware that their students don’t know (have not been taught) how to study, and their parents may be willing but unable to help them; will assign functional study exercises ‘disguised’ as homework. Something the ‘no-homework’ crowd fails to appreciate.

• Remember parents, the syllabus or topics covered in a subject area, class or course are ‘finite,’ limited, have an end; which means that students can ‘overcome’ and perform well in any class or course by merely expanding the quality, intensity, and time of their study-work. For many years as a high school principal I have seen students arrive in the ninth grade with vastly different eighth-grade standardized reading and mathematics exams scores, and then watched as those students who scored lower on those 8th-grade exams outperform their peers who scored higher on those same 8th-grade standardized exams, and this was to a great extent due to the use of excellent study habits! An essential quality of good students is that they ‘attack’ (through good study habits) their schoolwork, rather than ‘passively’ let a class or subject area dominate and overwhelm them. Establishing early and consistently practicing good study habits can be the determining factor in the level of a student’s academic success.

HPS 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 lesson 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) papers, returned and graded exams from different classes, homework, essays and book reports (and yes, even some not turned in completed 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!

• Parent’s helping to organize the child’s out-of-school time is a major act. The ‘old folks’ said: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Also correct, is that too much ‘idle’ time, alone, away from school time, can undermine and diminish any good teaching-learning done in school. Fill your child’s after and weekend out-of-school time with academically supportive, fun, character, and discipline-development activities. Again, I probably will get some push-back from the ‘entitled-ones’ who will tell you that your child needs to “chill” from learning. However, these are the same parents who create wonderful opportunities for their children to receive “chilled” productive informal and formal learning experiences outside of the formal school setting. There is no conflict between ‘fun’ and learning. There are a vast number of activities that can be both ‘fun’, enjoyable, and educational. Children are virtually non-stop biological ‘learning-machines,’ which means they learn (from you and the world) as long as they are awake. Learning through fun could be activities like Independent’ reading for pleasure’; many of the online math, reading, science, history, foreign language learning, and problem-solving thinking’ games and puzzles that don’t ‘feel’ like schoolwork. Online or safe-distancing in-person activities such as; scouting, chess, art, dance, acting, martial arts, vocal & instrumental music, hobbies, creative writing, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) books, magazines, kits, programs, and classes. Over the years, I have exposed students to many places and experiences that they initially swore “they did not like”; that is until they did! The category of ‘likes’ for young people is limited to what they know and experience, and therefore the ‘likes’ are flexible and open to adult influence. It is important to get boys connected to a positive male mentor/role model and supportive male peers who honor and seek to do well in school. Turn all of the cable and internet resources in the house into an after-school, weekend, and school break informal education ‘classroom’!

• Let’s keep it real honest; for sure, academic ‘achievement gaps’ (really learning opportunity gaps) will, unfortunately, widened during this Covid-19 SY. Those students who are the most self-disciplined, self-motivated, or have parents who can ‘monitor’ their regular school learning and support a rich out-of-school learning experience (aka ‘Informal education’), will make profound academic progress during this crisis. Thus, the primary reason for any district or school’s ‘reopening’ plans to take into account and respond to the tremendous differences in parent resources (time, money, technology) and access to information.

• During this very challenging school learning year, all parents must be a mentor-guide, coach, and high academic standards champions for their child (If you want a friend, find someone your age!). Young people will necessarily rise to the level of expectations placed on them by the significant adults in their lives. Don’t go Covid-19 SY AWOL (Away Without Oversight and Leadership); just because they hit the ‘independent (not)’ middle & high school years.
Only asking: “How was your schoolwork today?” and receiving the typical adolescent answer: “Fine” or “OK”; is a recipe for academic disaster. Have a real conversation with your child about what is going on with their school life. Be ‘educationally nosey’ especially this year, and especially if your child is not highly motivated and lacks disciplined; sorry, but this is a crisis SY. So I must speak in my: “Let’s not play with words” principal’s voice!

• This school year more than any other, school administrators and teachers may not have the kind of ‘up-close’ and personal, ‘putting-eyes-on’ contact and connections they would like to have with students; things can very quickly slip-through the academic expectations and production net, which could lead to some hard-to-repair academic ‘slip-ups.’ We are in some serious ‘educationally dangerous waters’ (e.g., district/school-wide PreK-12 distance learning during a pandemic); therefore, parents must expand their level of involvement in their child’s education; and be the ‘home-site’—oversight, eyes, and ears of the school.

• All children are different (including children in the same household), so you must carefully allocate your ‘super-vision’ responsibilities. If the school has organized an effective communication and ‘early warning’ link with school administrators and teachers through email, ‘parent-teacher journaling,’ text messages or phone, virtual conferences, and parent meetings, then, by all means, sign-up, join-up and participate! If you are discovering after report cards are issued, or after an exam has been taken that your child is underperforming academically, failing a course-subject area, or engaging in self-destructive online-learning misbehaviors, then that is a severe problem.

• Very Important! The 2020-2021 SY is still a school year (not a vacation year)! Students need to be well-rested (regular school day night’s sleep), eat a good breakfast, and get to physical school or online school on time and fully engaged for the full time. Encourage good ‘learning habits’ in your child, like daily (including weekends) studying, a ‘pride in what you produce’ attitude, and not waiting for the last minute to do homework, class assignments, or projects. Don’t let your child ‘play-to’ and with the many technical and operational gaps and problems that will inevitably occur during this Covid-19 school year. Thus, parents are ‘officially deputized’ as the home-learning Assistant Principals!

• Parent, this year, you are also the ultimate Super-Substitute-Teacher! There should be a daily (Mon-Fri) school period: ex. 9 AM-3 PM (with brakes of course for lunch, art, music, and exercise—heck let them dance!) If for instance an online lesson is technically interrupted or for some reason, the school day is in part or entirely canceled; your child should stay in ‘school-learning-mode’ for the duration of the school day! You can always fall back in an emergency on independent reading; ‘thoughtful’ film watching (e.g., “Stand and Deliver,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “The Great Debaters,” etc.) followed up by a student-written review/report; journaling and creative writing, art, music, or workbooks. Parents, if you are not at home while the child is ‘attending’ online schooling (or alternate days of schooling); and depending on the level of the child’s age, ability to be self-directed and self-monitoring; then you will need a plan for what should happen if remote classroom learning stops for any reason. If the school does not do it, you may need to leave precise instructions as to what you want your child(ren) to do if, for some reason, the online instructional program is interrupted, or they are home for any reason (alternate days of school) during the school week. Remember, young folks are very good at ‘filling-in’ any gaps you provide by way of not-so-precise directions and instructions; don’t take it personally; that’s what they do! I’ve warned many teachers over the years that if you don’t have a comprehensive “bell-to-bell” lesson plan, I guarantee that the students will put their’ lesson plan’ into action, and their plan’ will most-likely not turn out well for you or them. Online socialization, fun texting, and social phone conversations with friends should not occur during the school day/class time, even if that school day is taking place in your house. If your child has an alternate days of instruction school’ schedule; this does not mean that your child is only learning 2 or 3 days a week (a disaster if that occurs). Learning in or out of school, in part or whole, is a Monday-Friday experience for a least 6-8 hours a day, depending on the individual child, grade level, or age. Some school districts have banned the wearing of ‘pajamas-like-clothing’ during the online school instructional day, and I agree with them. Students should get-up, put on comfortable ‘public’ clothing and go to school in their house and stay in ‘school’ for the entire school day, with a set time each day for lunch and after lunch a return to ‘classwork’ (check the homeschooling parents websites on various social media platforms; they have some excellent do’s and don’ts, practices, and procedures for creating an outstanding student learning environment at home.)

• If the parent or the school is sending the message, even unintentionally, that this is a ‘throw-away’ or ‘half-hearted’ school year, the student will give the 2020-2021 SY half of their interest, or completely throw the SY away! Keep in mind that some parents and students (at all social-economic levels) will turn this Covid-19 SY disadvantage into a long-term learning growth and academic achievement advancement advantage!

As for me and my house, education will be a priority! My mother always reminded me in those few moments when I happen to forget that: “I don’t care what so and so’s parents are allowing them to do or not do; in this house, you will do what I tell you to do!” This Covid-19 SY is the parental influence and power ‘championship game’, ‘super-bowl,’ show-us-what-you-got, make-it-or-break-it-time, moment! We are in an extreme emergency situation, and it is indeed, what it is, and to the extent possible, quality learning must go on! Parents must step-up, and regardless of the child’s age or grade, not allow this school year to turn into a year of learning lost. A loss of a significant part of or an entire school year would be bad for all students, but horribly devastating for those students who entered this year ‘barely’ meeting the grade/performance level standards, as well as those students who are seriously struggling far below grade level or performance standards levels!

READING, READING, READING IS AN IGNORANCE KILLER; A STRONG AND NECESSARY SKILL FOR DOING WELL IN ALL SUBJECT AREAS!

• Parents, you will be a significant force for determining the quantity and quality of your child’s learning for the 2020-2021 SY. Be honest, you know your child(ren), and so govern them accordingly. Like no other year, the concept of ‘parent as an educational partner’ will be severely put to the test.

• Some people are not going to like what I am about to say, but here goes. For a lot of reasons (I won’t go into), too many middle and high school students in our society don’t understand or fully appreciate that their present public school experience is a life-determining exercise and critical period in their lives. Then there are those fortunate others who (often via their parents) fully ‘get’ that reality! For many children in our nation, a good education is the only thing that stands between them and ‘generational’ poverty. Acquiring a good education could be their single most important act in breaking a cycle of social/economic/emotional pain and disappointment. These children, many of whom live in a nation where they don’t matter to the political or social society, can’t afford to lose any part of an entire school-year of learning. It’s not about participating in cookie, plants, or candy sales; or serving on symbolic ‘parent-engagement’ committees, this year is about the real parent participation/involvement ‘piece’ that highly effective parents’ get, and most importantly it’s what they get right!

• Effective Parenting does not take ‘having a lot of money,’ a college education, or even the ability to speak English, although all of those advantages don’t hurt. My mother did not step onto a college campus except to attend a graduation. However, her ‘mother-wit’ told her that this thing called ‘education’ was the #1 key to providing her children with the best opportunity to become positive and productive human beings. Know parents, it is not always the child’s ‘natural ability’ that will determine their ultimate academic performance level or career destination (there are a lot of very intellectually gifted and talented human beings sitting in prison); instead, it is very often the determination and focused will of the parents that will ‘lovingly-push’ a child to reach their best capability selves, as they guide them through, around and over the many distracting and destructive barriers of life.

• Don’t be “tricked” or deceived! I have spoken to several teachers around the nation, who have informed me that the students who ‘clowned’ last year during the pre-COVID-19 school days; are now ‘clowning’ with their present online classes. There was one case of a student not being able to ‘log in’ to the class; and then when the teacher contacted the parents to inform them that this student was very ‘tech-savvy’ and maintained an elaborate presence on multiple social media platforms, the next day he could suddenly log-in to class! Do children have rights? Yes, they do; but ‘acting-a-fool,’ destroying themselves or their future, are not parts of those rights! Stop enabling failure, the ‘just doing enough to get by’ attitude, weak excuses, and poor academic performances. They’ll thank you later, or maybe they won’t, in any event…

• Make it ‘OK’ for your child to be smart, want to learn a lot, and get high grades. During this Covid-19 SY boys especially, must be monitored very carefully. Are they putting forth their best efforts (personal capability best)? Are they surrendering to negative peer-pressure by only doing the ‘required’ minimum, or engaging in ‘dumbing-down’ actions? Contrary to popular belief, ‘Smartness’ is not a fixed condition and can be grown.

• This year it will be the parents who will be taking the ‘standardized exam’! This Covid-19 SY is the ‘standardized testing’ period for assessing your effective parenting skills. My great fear, based on countless observations of ‘normal’ school years. Is that like so many children in our nation’s public schools, we will find that there are a lot of parents who lack essential information, have not been adequately prepared, or lack the financial, materials, equipment, or available time resources, to successfully pass the “Covid-19 SY Effective Parent Involvement Exam”. This parental access to information and resources problems should be a major priority action-item for districts and schools reopening plans.

• With every challenging situation, there are always good solutions waiting to emerge! This Covid-19 SY is full of many existing and potentially difficult issues for educators and students. On the other hand, there will be some great opportunities for many different groups of students. The students who ‘like-learning’ are ‘grade-level-readers,’ self-starters, highly-motivated, very-disciplined, goal-focused, and school-success orientated thrive in any learning situation that requires independent and ‘reduced’ supervision actions. And remember those previously mentioned “High Performing Students”? These are also the students who are most likely to hate (so they often let me know as a principal) ‘group work,’ so working alone could be a ‘labor of love’ for them or any student who works better independently. Many students also, let me say (and I hesitate to use the term “anti-social” because of the negative meaning that phrase has taken on) are not ‘thrilled’ to be in a classroom with 20-33 other students; they will be overjoyed to work from home (on the other end-of-the-scale there are those students who are ‘hyper-social-interactors,’ who will find this school year very difficult and perhaps a little sad, and so parents you may need to think about that). A lot of students’ hate’ group work and prefer to work independently because perhaps in their perception it frustratingly ‘slows-them-up’; or, (and this is my interpretation, not theirs) because it hinders or interferes with their creativity, ‘quirkiness’ or inclined preferred learning and ‘intelligence’ style. Also, some students want to have total and singular control over their GPA and learning destiny. Therefore they resist anything that limits their power to shape their own educational experience and potential for achievement. And then there are those students (often with the help of their parents) who will find any and every possible positive value that is to be found in this 2020-2021 ‘modified’ online learning school year. I have learned from supervising school-building administrators; that there are just some people, who either through personality or training, are better at ‘working-through’ a crisis. This ‘effective crisis response’ attitude will also be true for some parents and students during this challenging COVID-19 school year. For those types of students, and there are many of them (high and medium performing) throughout every school system, this ‘independent’ online homeschooling opportunity is a beautiful gift for which they will embrace and take full academic advantage.

• For many other students, the classroom environment, no matter how well-managed by the teacher, can be ‘distracting,’ and in those classrooms that are less well-managed, that distraction can result in a destructive loss of learning for the students in such a class. Online home instruction could very well help these easily distracted students to thrive academically. Further, regardless of the school’s performance profile, the overwhelming vast majority of students come to that school every day to learn; they are at worst potential followers (not initiators or leaders) of a small number of lesson distracting “class-clowns” or “lesson-interrupters” (what I call the: “off-task-behavioralist”). Independent online learning could help a lot of easily distracted or students who like to distract or ‘derail’ the lesson, to learn better and more of what is being taught, particularly in those schools and classrooms that are “student disciplined challenged”.

• And then there are the students who attend schools where the administrators and staffs carry (conscious or unconscious) thoughts of low expectations and ‘dismissiveness’ of their student’s human worth and potential; or, those schools that distort, diminish, or destroy the culture and history of certain groups of students. What better opportunity than this 2020-2021 school year for these children to receive high levels of self-affirming and powerful self-esteem building instruction and ‘training’ (from a parent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, retired educator or family, neighborhood or online/book professional, etc.); and importantly these students could greatly benefit from the most-likely persons to have high hopes and expectations for their future—their parents, faith-based community and neighbors now being able to monitor, support and supplement their school learning!

• Indeed, online learning could help many students in our nation better learn and improve their academic performance (another reason not to rush them and adult educators into a poorly organized human pandemic experiment). A lesson I learned from my experience designing/leading Phelps ACE high school in Washington, DC; is that students taking online Microsoft and CISCO certification courses; as well as for those students participating on a Cyberforensics team, was that these students were judged on the content of their knowledge and the quality of their performance; not on how they look, their hair, their religion, their neighborhood, or the economic status of their parents. This fair and unbiased approach is essentially what should happen in a ‘prejudice-free’ public educational system.

The Terrible Acceptable Abnormality of ‘Normal’ School Years. Let us not forget, even during this educational crisis, that far too many children in this nation, who under ‘normal school conditions’ face a daily crisis of poor learning options and opportunities. These districts and schools fail terribly in their efficacy and adequacy to properly educate most of the children in those schools. This terrible pandemic season could, for many communities, be a ‘wake-up’ call of acknowledging that whether in ‘good times’ or ‘bad times,’ some children in our society never experience ‘good learning times’ (like how the Covid-19 disease hits some communities harder than others).
This COVID-19 2020-2021 SY could be the ushering in of a real and valuable ‘educational-reconstruction’ period where communities that have not been served well by the public education systems start to think seriously about taking their children’s educational destiny into their own hands.

The only real and meaningful promise of parenting is sacrifice. Over the years, I have talked to many Black homeschooling parents. Yes, the lack of quality and rigor of the public school’s academic work was an important motivational factor in their decision to homeschool. But also important was their child not having the opportunity to be in a humanity-confirming, culturally-affirming and high-expectations committed school learning environment, that pushed many homeschoolers to take that bold leap into homeschooling. Some of the homeschooling parents I’ve met gave up cherished professional careers or have chosen to live on a one-parent-salary income, simply because they believed that it was important that their Black child(ren) should matter educationally.

I will more fully explain the ‘winning-parental-strategy’ for a student to realize a successful high school COVID-19 2020-2021 SY experience in Part 2.

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/ ).

What the plague has taken away from us—collectively experiencing the live performing arts…

Lynn Nottage: “I love that theaters are getting creative about streaming live performances, but somehow the experience always feels a little like eating food without being able to fully taste it. I miss the visceral experience of sharing emotions with an audience.

So true, (and I would add all live artistic performances), there is nothing like the experience of live theater! The plague in all of its evilness is teaching us a great deal, by what it takes away from us.

We are born to be hunters of the secrets of our hearts;
and the performing arts gathers those sacred secrets for us;
and then presents them to us in the most creatively beautiful way…

But we shall all return, artist and audience…

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

(7) March 24, 2020

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers: Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap… http://majmuse.net/2020/03/24/notes-from-in-house-exile-sadly-the-u-s-covid-19-virus-pandemic-will-expose-and-expand-the-prek-12-educational-learning-opportunity-gap/

• There is the Story of the two Revelatory Plagues; Donald Trump and Covid-19. How someone responds to either or both, tells you everything you need to know about that person’s moral character…

• Rand Paul gets the Covid-19 Virus, is advantaged by his position in government; the hypocritical and immoral Ayn Randian (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged,etc.) philosophy of callous selfishness…

• I guess economic privilege drives politics in a circle: If you go far enough to the right or left you end up in the same place. The ‘woke’ folks who say that Trump = Biden; but unlike most struggling Americans they have financial options and probably health insurance…

• Whiteness sure has its privileges; I can’t imagine Barack Obama getting away with this level of dangerously ignorant leadership. Initially the ACA website malfunctioned and folks (friends and foes) went crazy with criticism. And now under Trump when people are actually getting seriously ill and dying…

• The futility of hoarding. The history of plagues (for real and in science fiction) suggest that starving desperate people, will most-likely fall-back on their Limbic pre-pre-historic system instincts; which means that they are not going to allow you to stay in your home well-fed, toilet-paper rich, safe and sound while they and their children starve to death…

• The proposal to end the necessary social distancing, and let large numbers of people die in time for businesses to reap the highest Easter shopping profits; reveals the cynical and evil nature of capitalism…

• They keep talking about the “high-risk-elderly”; and I have to keep reminding myself that they are talking about me! Age is sometimes nothing but a number in your head!

• Trump’s still strong approval ratings during what is clearly incompetent leadership behavior in response to the plague; and the way he is normalized and tolerated by those white Americans, including Democrats, who claim to disagree with him; suggest to me that the rest of us need a plan “B”; and I don’t mean reparations; something closer to self-reliance…

• Thoughts on being in ‘so-low’ isolation: (1) I’ll never take hugging for granted again. (2) Thank God for 90 day medication prescriptions!

Notes from In-house exile: Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

(6) March 23, 2020

Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap. It seems that many school districts around the nation are closing, for perhaps the entire school year. Let’s just be honest for a moment in stating that even during non-pandemic times, there is a huge formal (things learned in school) and informal (things learned outside of school) Educational Learning Opportunity Gap (ELOG), existing between school districts, schools in the same or different district(s), and even different students inside of the same school building.

This ELOG can amount to conceptual-knowledge and performance-skills learning differences that can stretch over many years, even though two students on either end of the gap spectrum are ‘technically’ in the same grade. Thus, two students in the same 8th grade, but in different schools, could mean that one student has not yet received or is not proficient in the 5th grade curriculum learning standards; while the other student has mastered the 8th grade curriculum learning standards and could in fact be taking high school courses in middle school e.g. Algebra; and yet officially both of these students are referred to as being “8th graders”.

A Gap by its real name…

I prefer the phrase Educational Learning Opportunity Gap as opposed to the more popular “Achievement Gap”; because the “Achievement Gap” suggest, albeit subtly, that the gap is somehow caused by the students themselves. The ELOG however speaks to the inherent capabilities of students who are artificially under-performing academically because they are exposed to inferior school-building leadership and/or ineffective/inferior instructional practices; and of course this ‘under-learning’ is always accompanied by the low expectations of the child’s gifts and talents. And as we now know very well, students will naturally rise or sink to the expectations levels of the adults assigned to educate them.
Now I am sure (having heard it for so many years) that this will send some of my colleagues to screaming about the ‘causal factors’ of: poverty, parent’s level of education, and the level of parent interest in their child’s education.
First, it is my 11 year principal experience that ‘poor parents’, parents who are limited in or speak no English, those who for whatever reason were not able to take full advantage of formal schooling themselves; are in fact, the most clear (not having a great deal of financial wealth to pass on to their children), about the power and necessity of acquiring an education. They may not express it in the ‘perfect-parent’ phrasing format that we professionals want to hear, and they may not know how to effectively play the ‘parent as educational partner’ role; but their desire to see their child succeed academically is absolutely there; and it always depends on how the professional educator ‘reads the situation’.
But educating, encouraging and empowering the emergence of ‘positive-parent-push’ behaviors is part of that highly effective principal’s job, and it is desperately what these students and their parents need; even when those same parents push-back against it.

The most powerful, confidence and competence building service you can perform for a politically and/or economically disenfranchised child, is to make them high academic performers. Which is why that highly effective principal must also strategically design initiatives and programs that can counteract the deleterious effects of poverty and that child’s possible lack of quality informal educational exposures (e.g. museums, cultural institutions, music, dance, art and STEM lessons, etc.) It’s the school-building leadership operationalization praxis of In loco parentis (in the place of a parent).

All of the above leads me to make my unfortunate hypotheses: That those children who already live on the ‘short end of the formal and informal educational stick’, will suffer the most from ‘learning lost’ during this closed down period.
Many parents will have (one or more): the money, time, contacts, information, connections, education and access to hardware and internet technology, that will allow them to provide anywhere from a decent to excellent ‘emergency’ learning experience for their child.
Further, there are vast difference between students in their ‘personality approach’ to the ‘taking of control’ of their own learning concept; you can see it in the eyes and attitudes of incoming 9th graders (others will ‘catch that fire’ in the 10th grade); it is those ‘on mission’ focused eyes that are saying: “OK, I will be here for 4 years, I know where I am going next, I know what I need to do, I’m not here to play, let’s go!” Those students,* who are highly self-motivated, and practice good learning habits will trust me, make a ‘learning feast’ out of this down school time; as they knowledge acquisition sprint pass their less motivated peers; especially in the middle and high schools levels.
Finally, parents exert different levels of authoritative and inspirational power over their children when it comes to home-learning; and so, the school can do a great job in placing ‘school-work’ (and many districts, schools and teachers are doing just that) online; and the child could have an internet computer (or phone) connection; but who is going to make sure that the child is doing the work?

After the plague, what must schools do?

I have given some thought of late as if I was a principal today and what strategies would I employ in this present crises. And of course I always think about how I would be worried-sad about my kids being ‘in those streets’. But when I thought ahead to next year, I imagined my school engaging in an academic recovery and reclamation project on a large school-wide scale; something that we actually employed every year on a smaller scale. And that is how we planned during the summer as to how we would bring students ‘up-to-speed’ who were performing below grade level in middle school; and also how we would address the academic needs of those few students who came from countries outside of the US and were missing significant years of schooling due to war or a natural disaster.
My staff and I would probably come up with some amazingly unprecedented phenomenal plan** to address all of the incoming 9th graders as well as the ‘rising’ 10th , 11th, and 12th graders, who all essentially lost a year of school. The good news is that we would already have the ‘boiler-plate’ plan that was used for those annually arriving under-performing 9th graders; who although they did not physically miss a year of schooling, they definitely arrived missing one, some or a lot of effective learning years of schooling.

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*Report to the Principal’s Office:Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; chapter 28; pg. 441: “Profile of a Good and Effective High School Student”.

** The “School access to supplementary financial and human resources gap” is also being displayed during the Covid-19 school closing crises and will be made even more obvious when schools reopen and attempts are made to seal the learning loss breaches, which will cause all students, regardless of performance level or ‘entitlement status’, to suffer academically. Many schools like my own, had a school 501c3 foundation and a fundraising (‘real money’, not cookies, candy and pictures money) plan, which could supplement the school’s centrally allocated (but always inadequate) district budgets. I would be quite surprised (no, extremely surprised) if after facing this major health crisis, that state governments will have the extra money to give schools what they will really need to ‘fix’ a missed year of learning. Particularly for our severe academically struggling students, and those students with IEP’s who really needed, but did not receive, a modified version or the required support for those online instructional programs.

Notes from In-house exile: A virus without a brain is outsmarting some humans with brains…

Notes from In-house exile: A virus without a brain is outsmarting some humans with brains…

(5) March 22, 2020

I spoke to a doctor-friend who is on the medical front line in ————–, and he is as baffled as I am as to why so many folks are not taking Covid-19 seriously, even though (in his situation) the infections and dead bodies are piling up exponentially. There is of course the total incoherent, incompetent and incomprehensible actions and messages received daily from the arch anti-science POTUS; and so, a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding is understandable. At this point (in contrast with NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings) I think that the daily White House Covid-19 press briefings are actually doing more harm than good in the battle against this medical siege; as it also sets up Asian-Americas to receive racial discrimination and possibly even being violently attacked.

Unfortunately, in relationship to Mr. Trump the news media is under-performing in this crises. Even today MSNBC (Ali Velshi’s show) is still bringing on Republicans who flat out provide untruths and anti-scientific theories. I understand (sort of) the journalist wanting equal-time “debate”, even when the GOP position is stupid and a bold-face-lie, like Republican “Voter-ID” bills being about voting process integrity, and not what they are really about: Black and Latino voter suppression. But this is a major national health crises where misinformation equals death. It seems that brave journalist like PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor must bear a lonely burden of demanding truth from Mr. Trump and his daily band of mannequin cheerleaders.

But all of the scientific ignorance being displayed by ordinary citizens (many who probably don’t watch the White House press briefings) can’t all be blamed on the ignorance emanating from the White House. Why are so many people not taking this Covid-19 crises seriously? An elected official from my beloved Brooklyn; Assemblywoman Diana Richardson took to social media to express her shock that so many of the boroughs main streets looked “normal”; is there no wonder that Brooklyn is the epicenter of the epicenter of the disease. A few days ago NYC police officers had to put themselves and their families at risk by being forced to break up a large (hundreds of people) wedding reception in a Brooklyn neighborhood that some consider a “hotspot” for Covid-19 infections. I am all for love and marriage; but why not have a small private ceremony with a few attendees safely distanced from each other; and then have the ‘mother of all wedding receptions’ when we get through this plague?

“Perhaps”, I suggested to my medical doctor friend, “one of the things we science educators might want to plan for going forward, is to think about how we teach K-8 life sciences and high school biology. Over the years we have expanded the ‘environmental science’ parts of the life sciences curriculum in response to the existential threat we all face as species, due to the terrible damage we are inflicting on our (only home) planet. We may need to now raise the communicable disease literacy rates in our K-12 schools. Even now ‘science-facts’ challenged “anti-vaxxers” are threatening to not take any Corona-19 vaccine and not allow their children to receive it. Which means that a significant number of us in the community must take the vaccine and hopefully suppress the spread of the disease, as we also save their selfish behinds.

There is no need to “expand” the Life Sciences curriculum because the behavior of the Covid-19 virus is every bit consistent with the already existing Life Science topic/concepts of: Evolution, Life-cycles, Microorganisms, Reproduction, Genetics, etc. But what we do need to expand is the human capacity to understand that the virus is simply “opportunistic” (doing what viruses do!) in trying to survive and reproduce; only with the virus it’s about survival, and it’s not personal. We on the other hand are making this health crises about the personal and not survival.

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

(4) March 21, 2020

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not”–Dylan Thomas

I’ve reduced intimacy to the constant warm feelings of two hands, covered with warm soapy water, engaged in the act of hand-washing (these days you do what you can). As an educator I guess I have always been able to transform some challenging situation into an exercise of practical problem solving. And with the inept and callous efforts by the leader of this nation, I could imagine seeing the end of my life without ever hugging another person again.

One of my former students who is now an educator and is presently working with a class size of one; and by the way is doing a great job with her child’s preschool remote learning class, posted: “Anybody want a 3 yr. old?” … I wanted so bad to say “Yes, me!”. A plague can separate us from our call-to-service; for alas I have a house with a children’s book library, educational toys, puzzles and games, but I am missing a three year old. I know her mother will probably say: “Yeah right, I’ll give him one day with a three year old and…” (But what I want to know Akilah; is why none of you’ll told me about this D-Nice party thing; I could have brought my flashlight—inside SSCHS joke!:-)

It also just occurred to me once again after (ELA skill) comparing and contrasting the White House and NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefings; that as a nation we are in serious trouble. But then there is a kind-of-good trouble that I have striven to always get myself into. Andrew Cuomo is like that crazy (good crazy): “I can’t let these folks destroy my children” principal, working in a public school system that is structured to destroy certain children. You can’t wait, you can’t fool around, because your children can’t wait. You must speak the truth, even if it makes people uncomfortable, and act audaciously even as those same people want to maintain the status qua. It is probably a matter of taking matters into your own hands; and then when necessary bend, twist, ‘reinterpret’ and sometimes break rules that work well for some kids, but don’t work well for your students. The only chance a Black and Latino child, or any poor and/or politically disfranchised child of any color, ethnicity or religion will have to succeed, is to have a ‘crazy’ educator take up their cause.

I turn everything no matter how bad, into a reading project. I guess in the midst of any tragedy we must all find some individual small space of a peace process that will help us to cope. It might sound morbid to some, but I just completed my second plague (Covid-19) related reading (Edgar Allan Poe’s: “The Mask of the Red Death”). The great myth that the plague destroys, is that we can somehow separate ourselves from the pain and suffering of others.

There is an equality of aspirational dreaming for all children, regardless of race or economic status. I learned that as a superintendent visiting PreK and Kindergarten classrooms, where all of the children will enthusiastically give you a list of things they want to grow up to be: dancer, police officer, doctor, fireman, nurse, teacher, astronaut, air plane pilot… Often multiple professions in one lifetime! And then they move up in the school system and lose large parts of those dreams at every new grade level (especially Black and Latino boys). Public schools should be dream builders, not dream destroyers. And yet we can make sure our entitled kids receive a quality education (and not lose their dreams); and deny that same level of quality education to the children of ‘others’.

But the Plague introduces a kind of terrible equality; those children denied a quality education (and thus an end to their dreaming); will later be the adults who will bring the plague of their lost dreams onto the heads of the children of privilege; for in a social-economic plague there is no separate place to hide.

Notes from In-house exile: When Battles Are Lost…

Notes from In-house exile: When Battles Are Lost…

(3) March 20, 2020

I am reading Antony Beevor’s: The Battle of Arnhem; but reading these days is different. I can usually get immersed in a book and be totally lost to the world. This is a skill I first mastered back in my elementary school days when the Brooklyn Public Library (Grand Army Plaza branch) served as my unofficial after-school childcare provider until my mother came home from work. Reading was like dreaming, and every day I could experience a different dream: dinosaurs, WW-2 fighter planes, space travel, whales, science fiction…. I could escape and be anywhere and everywhere in time, place or space. My love of reading was so great that my mother ordered me (back then children actually obeyed their parents) to make sure I did my homework before I “started doing that reading!” I did my home work fast, because it was the only thing that stood between me and my reading for fun time. And so, every day as a member of the latchkey kid club, between milk and cookies, I would read until 5:PM and then dare the dangerous Brooklyn streets with arms full of books to take home to continue my dreaming.

But today reading Beevor’s book I find for the first time that it’s hard to keep my mind in the 1940’s. There is something about the existential urgency of the Covid-19 plague; and how we are all at some level participants in its story of isolation, illness and death. A plague is inescapable, even for those of us who could always find refuge from life’s storms in books. Covid-19 is a persistent uninvited guest in our minds; it won’t leave us alone even if we are, as I am at this moment, alone. Thinking as I am reading ‘Arnhem’ (I guess using that ELA reading skill of: “What does this passage remind you of?”) about how the strategic thinking ability and the leadership quality of Generalship so influences the outcome of a battle (again ELA referencing Carl von Clausewitz’s book: On War).

In all of Beevor’s books (e.g. Stalingrad), it does not matter how strategically smart the German command was (and they had an excellent class of highly studied and experienced military leaders, as well as a highly competent group of military scientist, engineers and technicians); their effectiveness would always be ultimately undermined by the immoral and deranged German nation’s leader, Adolph Hitler. Humanity is indeed fortunate that Hitler’s narcissistic and self-absorbed personality constantly got in the way of the decisions of his best military experts. But when a country is fighting a war against a virus pandemic, having an ethically challenge psycho-pathological leader, leads that nation to death and destruction; alas the delusional leader (whether they were only a corporal in the last war; or used faux ‘bone spurs’ to avoid going to war completely) always assumes that they are the best and most capable of experts; after all, did not the snarling and hateful frothing ‘wisdom’ of the masses place them in power?

One of the ideas that motivated my first book: Report to the Principal’s Office is this idea (something I learned as a superintendent) that there is no other more powerful singular force in a school building then it’s principal. An ineffective principal can cause even the potentially best school to under-perform; while a highly effective principal can efficaciously cause a school with the potential to terribly under-perform, to actually over-perform its potential! The quality of leadership matters so much.

And so, how on earth, in a time of great national suffering, collective fear and despondency, did we as a country fall so far down; so as to go from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to Trumps racist ‘Kung-Flu’ rants? Well, they can’t blame this one on Black folks!

Notes from In-house exile. So many thoughts in one solitary walk around the block…

Notes from In-house exile. So many thoughts in one solitary walk around the block…

(2) March 19, 2020

Prison must be terribly psychologically damaging place…Now let me state up front that I can in no way compare my self-imposed house-isolation to being in prison. After all, I have a steady retirement income, food that I eat when I want, I have music, books, cable TV, films on video, a computer with internet access, a daily Yoga practice, 5-6 hours of writing/per day routine, phone access to friends, family, former students and colleagues; I have dozens of ‘hobbies’ e.g. organizing my large but neglected stamp collection; and so, to be honest I am in no way suffering having to stay home all day. But putting aside whether an incarcerated person is or is not guilty. I am wondering if we must ask ourselves if we are truly ‘rehabilitating’ for the purpose of reintegration of these individuals; or, are we further (and more deeply) damaging human beings who will return to our society so severely emotionally wounded and employable unprepared, that their ability to effectively integrate back into the society will range from extremely difficult to impossible.

Yesterday I gave myself an outside “vacation” (I live in a low populated area and so I did not encounter anyone else, which was one of my objectives) to walk around the block. This after being inside for more than 3 weeks; which means that if I have Covid-19 and don’t know it, I won’t infect others. I sheltered in place very early as soon as I algebraically and biologically mapped the virus —this, for all of my former students who did not believe that Biology and Algebra were ‘useful’ subjects to learn! I also suspected before being told, that all of my medical “onset” illnesses probably would put me in a ‘high risk’ category— I have an advantage in gathering and sorting out all of the Covid-19 information because I am and educator, and specifically a STEM* educator. Our nation however, lost so much precious time, and is still doing so, by being led by ignorance personify; and he (Trump) continues even in the midst of this plague to mischaracterize and mislead through racist unhelpful misinformation; a virus as should be clear by now is not a citizen of any particular nation or people, but I digress…

Back to my walk around the block. It was the most amazingly wonderful liberating experience. The sun massaged my memory such that I felt like that excited Crown Heights kid entering the wonderful Grand Army Plaza portal of Prospect Park. In Prospect Park my friends and I could safely run, yell, play “Army”, “Explorers”, fly our kites and sail our homemade boats in the (we imagined) rapid streams of the ‘untamed’ wilderness.
But I also thought during my much too short meditation-journey around the block, about all of my students who own businesses, those who work in corrections, sanitation, the post office, transit, EMT-EMS, police and fire departments, and the many STEM, Social service professional, and the many who are working professionals in medical facilities all over this nation; there are so many others who are at their post serving humanity and risking their own personal safety and health; they will always be my heroes; and each step I take as I walk around the block I dedicate a prayer for them, their coworkers and colleagues…

#ifpossiblestayhome

*Science,Technology,Engineering and Mathematics