The problem with the poorly proposed “piece-meal” for peace approach to raising student academic achievement…

Education News (1/23/15): “The Boston Teachers Union has agreed to extend the school day by 40 minutes each day for all elementary and middle schools who do not already have extended day programs in place. About two-thirds of the schools in the Boston Public Schools district will be affected by the change, or around 60 schools and 23,000 students. Approximately 800 union members came to the meeting earlier this week to vote on the issue, which was “voted roughly 4-to-1 in favor of [the proposal].” …. “It passed overwhelmingly,” said Richard Stutman, the president of the teacher’s union. “The most significant reason why people voted ‘No’ was concern over how late the last schools would be getting out at the end of the school day. Right now they get out at 3:30 and they will now be getting out at 4:30. The extension is expected to cost around $12.5 million each year, including an additional $4,464 each year per teacher for the extra time commitment. However, because around one-third of elementary and middle schools already run on an extended day program, teachers at those schools will not receive the additional pay that is written into the agreement.”

I think we really need to raise the “victory bar” a little higher in public education. First, we need to put plans and policies in place that will improve the quality of learning of the regular school day; that would at least give us confidence and credibility to extend the day further. There is of course the role of psychology and time in schools: 40 minutes extra in reality is 30 minutes extra time, which becomes 20 minutes extra time, which becomes 15 minutes extra time; well, you get the message. Without really having a good and thoughtful plan a: “double period” of 90 minutes, can become a long unproductive 45 minute period! In schools greater amounts of “seat-time”; don’t necessarily translate into greater amounts of quality learning-time. And then an extra-time plan whose main feature is “remediation” is in danger of extending the practice of bad teaching and learning, for a longer period of time. And how about introducing a little physics into the equation by engaging the idea of “accelerating” the learning of struggling students; or they won’t ever catch up! It is most important that schools just don’t fall into a “more of the same” format in the extended period. The “after school” program should be dynamic, innovative and exciting. A good way to perhaps organize is in a series of academic activity programs such as: Robotics; The Art of Mathematics, the Mathematics of Art; Young Authors; Urban Archeology; Environmental Engineers; Think-Design-Draw & Build; Model Bridge Building; etc. And so there is of course the material and equipment cost for these types of programs; is that in the budget? Also, we continue to sell out to the idea that there is no such thing (at least we can’t acknowledge and discuss it openly) as mastery teaching; I will believe that a school district is serious about educating children when and if it offers these extended day teaching assignments to the best teaching practitioners. An “after school program”, which by definition is problematic because it suggest that “real” school has ended, and now a “not-real” school will begin. Instead we need to see the school day in its present state in need of extension so that those children who are missing the quality informal education activities in their lives can close the informal education leaning gap with their more enfranchised peers. Just giving an “extended day” to all schools (and as the article points out; actually penalizing those schools that already engage in the practice) is a strategic waste of money. Further, this extended day must be standardized, formalized and organized; or you end up with a wide qualitative range of instructional programs. This agreement is a result of our maintaining (for political reasons) the lowest possible expectations for an experimental program; for a learning profession that is shameful. But more so, it reflects the very low expectations we have for the children who so desperately need public education to give them some kind of a chance and shot at having a successful life. But this will probably work (not for the children); because we can convince an under-suspicious and overly patient public that we can again spend a lot of money; and accomplish very little; and still declare it a victory!

I would have to say that this is interesting (in a good way)…..

“….Among Mr. Cuomo’s top priorities is to revamp a teacher evaluation system that he calls “baloney.” Fewer than 1 percent of the state’s teachers were rated ineffective in the most recent evaluations, while only about a third of the state’s students in grades 3 through 8 were proficient in math and language arts. He wants to make it harder for teachers to get tenure and easier to fire ineffective and bad teachers. He wants to bring in a receiver or turnaround specialist to take over schools designated as failing for three years. And he wants to increase the number of charter schools while adding an “anti-creaming” provision to make certain these schools don’t pick the best students. He wants to require these schools to take a certain percentage of poor or disadvantaged students….” NYT Editorial 1/22/15

“Baloney” is probably the nicest way of putting it. I am not sure in what profession (I.e.. nursing, fire-persons, air traffic controllers, etc.) where the professionals can be so dramatically unsuccessful and still maintain their positions…. I know (because I have heard it so many times) we can’t successfully educate them because; “The children are (pick one): Too poor, have only one parent, live in “bad neighborhoods”, one or both parents don’t have college degrees………. Well those who believe in those reasons and rationales for student under achievement, should step aside and allow those who do believe that we can successfully educate children in spite of, and because of the previously mentioned barriers, step forward! Things like poverty are a challenge; but a student being poor does not determine a destiny or a destination. And however one feels about “testing” being the proper tool for assessing the effectiveness of an educational system; surely, at the very least, not being able to read the words on a test properly is a problem. I like the idea of placing schools into “receivership”, although I would like to see what that really means operationally beyond labeling schools as “failing”. This “receivership” idea can work if an empowered, skilled and experienced “turnaround team” can be placed into a school with the authority to radically transform its failing culture; that will take some political courage on the part of the governor. “Charter schools”: My ideal situation is to relieve all schools of all of the many crushing contractual agreements they must push against daily; if children are to have any chance to learn. But charter schools are a present reality; and while and where they exist; don’t allow them to stack the educational deck. But if the governor could as I did just start with ridding the system of the obvious “baloney” items; we may be able to do something, something right on behalf of children.

Kemba, as I was reading this meditation this morning and thinking about the Art of English Language Arts….

I thought about how fortunate I was, to have been exposed in high school to excellent English Language Arts teachers. An effective H.S. English teacher can create an intellectual literary lens through which you can see the world in a clearer, yet deeper way. Therefore, I automatically compared and contrasted my reading (as I am reading) to something I heard, saw and read before; and so I was thinking of your book: Growing Up Yoruba: A Teen Guide Book for Practicing the Yoruba Lucumi Tradition (I wrote a review of this book on I thought about the fact that perhaps the religions of the world have more commonality then differences. I then (comparing and contrasting again) thought about the recent events in France. I thought that we must protect the sacredness and sanctity of human life, so we can’t just kill people because of words and cartoons. At the same time we must protect the sacredness and sanctity of a people’s spiritual practice. “Free speech”; which itself is not without cultural and political attachments. For example: a select group of Men gathered and granted “Free speech” to themselves in Philadelphia (1787) and yet this proclamation of freedom and other recognitions of human rights was not extended to the kidnapped Africans in this land. I also agree (comparing and contrasting again) with Pope Francis that “Free speech”, can’t mean being Free to insult, disrespect, denigrate, and hold up for ridicule those things that members of our human family hold sacred. This definition of “free speech” creates a type of political “sacredness” around that speech that does not require it to account for how its actions can diminish, dismiss, hurt or harm our fellow human beings. I love the creative arts (so much so I put it in a Public High School’s name); and I think of art as a tool to lift the burden of human suffering; as a way to heal and not denigrate others. There are also life-sustaining lessons to be learned from faith traditions other than our own; and that reality alone should make them worthy of our respect. And so this meditation is a way to think about ways of not causing others (and ultimately yourself), to suffer. (P.S. look for the connections to your book!)

From a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh:
“I am going to tell you the story of Mr. Truong. It is a true story. It happened in my country many hundreds years ago. The people in my country all know about this story. There was a young man who was drafted into the army, so he had to go to the army and go to war. He had to leave his young wife home alone, pregnant. They cried quite a lot when they had to separate from each other. And they didn’t know whether the man would come back alive, because no one knows. To go to war is very risky. You may die in just a few weeks, or in a few months, or you may get badly wounded. Or if you have a lot of luck, you will survive the war and go home to your parents, your wife, your children.
The young man was lucky enough; he survived. A few years later, he was released from the army. His wife was so happy to learn the news that her husband was coming home. She went to the gate of the village to welcome her husband, and she was accompanied by her little boy. The little boy was born while his daddy was in the army. So the moment when they met each other again, they cried and embraced each other and there were tears of joy. They were very grateful that the young man had survived and come home. It was the first time he saw his little boy.
According to tradition, we have to make an offering on the altar of the ancestors, to announce to ancestors that the family is reunified. He told his wife to go to the marketplace and buy flowers, fruits, and other provisions to make an offering to be placed on the altar. He took the little boy home, and he tried to persuade the little boy to call him daddy, but the little boy refused. “Mister, you are not my daddy. My daddy is another person. He used to come to visit us every night, and every time he came my mother would talk to him a lot, for a long time, and my mother used to cry and cry; and when my mother sits down, my daddy also sits down; when my mother lies down, he also lies down; so you are not my daddy.”
The young father was very sad, very hurt. He imagined another man coming to his home every night and spending the night with his wife. All his happiness vanished just like that. Happiness was very short, followed by unhappiness. The young father suffered so much that his heart became a block of stone or ice. He could no longer smile. He became very silent. He suffered very deeply. His wife, shopping, did not know anything about it. So when she came home, she was very surprised. He did not look at her anymore. He did not talk to her anymore. He kept very cold, like he despised her. She did not understand. Why? She began to suffer herself, suffer deeply.
When the offering had been made, she placed it on the altar. Her husband burned the incense, prayed to the ancestors, spread the mat, made the four prostrations and announced that he was home, safe, with his family. You know, in my country, this is a very important practice. In every home, there is an altar for ancestors. On the altar you put the picture of one ancestor that represents all the ancestors. Maybe that is the grandma or the grandpa, and so on. Each morning, someone would come to the altar, wipe away the dust that had gathered on the table, light a stick of incense and bow, and offer that to all the ancestors. This is a very simple, but important practice every morning. So you always have incense sticks in the home.
Every time you come to the altar and light a stick of incense, you touch your ancestors. Touching your ancestors is a very deep practice. I don’t know whether our Western friends would like to practice this way, but if they do, they will have the chance to touch their ancestors every morning. Spiritual ancestors like Jesus, Buddha, the patriarchs, and the teachers. Blood ancestors like grandpa, great grandpa, great grandma, and so on. In Vietnam, this is a very popular practice. Every morning you light a stick of incense. You offer it to your spiritual ancestors and blood ancestors. You breathe in and out, and you touch your ancestors. This is very important, because if you get cut off from your ancestors, you will get sick, like a tree without roots. So I just propose this to you, to see whether it makes sense to set up a family ancestral altar in a European home or in a North American home.
Maybe this practice can help us to get healthier, and bring harmony back into the family. Every time there is something happening in the family, you have to go and announce to your ancestors. This is our practice. It has been there for many thousands of years. If your little girl or little boy gets a strong fever, of course you need to ask a doctor to come and help, but you have to announce this to your ancestors. You have to light a stick of incense, come to the altar, offer it, breathe in and breathe out, and you have to announce to your ancestors that the little girl, the little boy, is has a fever. You have the duty of announcing this to your ancestors because they have the right to know, because that is their great, great granddaughter or son. If you are about to send your son to college, you also have to announce that to your ancestors. They have the right to know. Or if you are about to marry your daughter to someone in the next town, you have to announce that to your ancestors. That is the practice. That is why when the young man came home to be reunified with his family, they had to prepare an offering to be placed on the altar and announce that kind of return to the ancestors.
After having offered incense, prayed and made four prostrations, the young father rolled up the mat and did not allow his wife to do the same, because he thought that his wife was not qualified to present herself in front of the ancestral altar. The young woman felt very ashamed—humiliated—because of that, and she suffered even more deeply. According to the tradition, after the ceremony has ended, they have to bring the offering down, and the family has to sit down and enjoy the meal with joy and happiness; but the young man did not do so. After the offering, he just left the house, went into the village, and spent his time in a liquor shop. The young man got drunk because he could not bear the suffering. In the old times, when they suffered so much, they used to go to the liquor shop and drink a lot of alcohol. Nowadays, people can use many kinds of drugs, but in the olden time alcohol was the only thing. He did not go home until very late, something like one or two o’clock in the morning, and he went home very drunk. He repeated that for many days: never talked to his wife, never looked at her, never ate at home, and the young lady suffered so much she could not bear it. On the fourth day, she jumped into the river and she died. She suffered very much. He also suffered very much. But no one was thinking of coming to the other person and asking for help, because pride—you have to call it by its true name, pride—was an obstacle.
When you suffer, and you believe that your suffering has been caused by the person you love the most, you prefer to suffer alone. Pride prevents you going to the other person and asking for help. What if the husband had come to her? The situation might be very different. That night, he had to stay home because his wife was already dead, to take care of the little boy. He had to search for the kerosene lamp and he had to light it up. When the lamp was lighted up, suddenly the little boy shouted: “Here comes my father!” So he pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. “You know, mister, my father used to come every night like this and my mother used to talk to him a lot and she cried a lot with him, and every time she sat down, my father also sat down. Every time my mother lay down, he also lay down.”
It turns out that his “father” was only the shadow of his mother. In fact, she used to talk to that shadow every night, because she missed her husband so much. One day the little boy had asked her: “Everyone in the village has a father, why don’t I have one?” So that night, in order to calm the little boy, she pointed to her shadow on the wall, and said, “Here is your father!” and she began to talk to the shadow. “My dear husband, you have been away for too long. How could I alone bring up our child? Please come back as soon as possible.” That’s the kind of talking she used to do. And of course, when she got tired, she sat down, and the shadow would sit down. Now the young father began to understand. A wrong perception was wiped away. But it was too late; the wife was already dead….”

Standing and blocking the movie house door; grab a can and duck academic excellence

Three news stories, I think make a serious case for the national implementation of a Common Core Curriculum of high academic standards. Now I know there are some very legitimate concerns about the Common Core Curriculum; by some very smart and thoughtful educators (many of them friends and former colleagues) from around the country; but please hear me out here…
It is almost as if a negative public relations firm was hired to present a picture of: “we are not serious about education here”. This is an example of education not even staying in modern pace and place, but rather marching backwards. First, there was the story about the school that was collecting food cans to store in middle school classrooms so that students can throw the cans at a potential intruder (who is assumed to also be armed with only a can, and not a gun). I had to run the risk of sounding naive (or hopefully optimistic?) when I suggested to some of my former students that when I first heard this story on local news (delivered in a straight non Jon Stewart format); I actually thought that this was an extremely creative and cleaver way to promote a school’s food drive collection campaign. I did not believe for one moment that a group of educators from anywhere, would come up with such a crazy and dangerous idea. Putting aside the fact that encouraging middle school students (who need very little encouragement in this area) to throw anything was extremely risky; and more importantly there are so many studies and articles by very smart educators, many of whom experienced a type of intruder(s) incident, and also by school safety and security experts; and so why the need to “invent” silly stuff. And why institute such an ill-informed (lacking research data), ineffective and potentially dangerous practice? Then there was the Superintendent of DeKalb County; who in honor of Dr. King’s birthday thought it would be a nice tribute to reenact “Governor’s Wallace standing in the door of Black student educational opportunity” routine; by not allowing high school students to see the film “Selma”. His rational (and I am being generous here by offering a word: “rational”.) The movie contained “F-words and racial slurs”. First of all, I would like anybody who has spent 3 days working in a high school, and who believes that the students are not aware of the “F-word”; please raise your hand; but also please raise that hand in the privacy of your home; because by raising your hand you are admitting that you received government funds for sleeping and not working for three days; do the right thing and return the money! Secondly the real racial slur here is from the mouth of the superintendent. This weak and flimsy excuse does not come close to hiding his true thoughts and intentions: He is on the philosophical other (wrong) side of the civil rights movement; and the greatest tragedy is that he holds the future of Black students in his racially tainted and discriminate hands. Has he thought about the fact that Black Alabamians might say: “Hey, if he does not want us to see the film, maybe we should……” And White Alabamians should know better than anyone else in this country; that you can’t hold back the literal “march”, or the march of history! The final story; and again I held out optimistically (foolishly?) for this not to become true. The college faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), actually voted no confidence in the university’s president because after some very sound and sensible financial analysis, he decided to shut down the varsity football program. This “no confidence” action was not a vote for something trivial like: greater student racial and economic diversity on campus; academic freedom; faculty professional development and research resources; the upgrading of student social/living facilities, athletic/exercise programs that could include a larger percentage of the student body, expansion of libraries, research and study centers, state of the art science labs, reducing tuition-expanding scholarship offerings; more college engagement with the young citizens and the poor of Birmingham… You know the stuff that should really matter at a first class institution. For a moment I thought that the faculty would actually provide leadership here; but vote “no confidence” they did; without the slightest hint as to what effect that act would have on the image of the university for those (i.e. future students, foundations) outside of her campus. These three examples of a terrible unreality show titled: “Bad educators of Alabama”. All have a similar theme running through them. There is a need for a common core of decency, thoughtfulness and vision; that is badly missing here.

Just a thought (of several) on President Obama’s National Community College Proposal

President Obama; first of all should be congratulated and commended for his very bold proposal to make community college attendance free to all who wish to work hard for it. No nation could be hurt by expanding educational opportunities. This proposal also give a tremendous economic and emotional lift to those in our country who wanted to improve their job skills; but were unable to cover basic living expenses, and pay for college tuition. The private sector will surely gain from the increase level of skills and competencies from their new educationally enhanced employees. And predictably the opposition on the Right to his proposal is divided between those who automatically oppose any idea, no matter how worthy, if it comes from Mr. Obama; while the other half is made up of those who only want to assist and subsidize the rich, and reject any proposal that would improve the life chances of everyday Americans. This is going to take a great deal of thoughtful effort to make it work; but it can work; and work well for the country. One (of several) of my concerns is that this very positive act may have a very adverse financial effect on many of our HBCU’s. This action may possibly lower the number of students in freshman and sophomore classes at 4 year institutions. The larger more “endowed” universities could perhaps adjust to this lowered number, and absorb the financial lost (and wait for those students to arrive for their junior and senior years of study). This may be a challenge; not just for HBCU’s, but for any small to medium 4 year institution. There is presently a terrible “resource gap” in our university system; will this widen that gap?

From Tiffany Harrison Bryant: Excellent point on the effect to HBCUs. I also wonder if many will continue on to attain the bachelors degree or higher. Some may become complacent and stop at the associates level especially because of the resource divide. Other institutions may raise cost to compensate for lower attendance. The reverse could occur and higher intuitions could adapt and create similar programming for associate degree candidates. Either way creating access to higher education for the masses in a fashion that doesn’t burden the student with debt is favorable.

From Dr. Anthony Junior: I understand the concern for HBCUs, however, the larger concern should be for families of color. The unfortunate reality is that many students can’t afford tuition at HBCUs, or any other institutions, in the first instance. The net effect is that these prospective students are denied access to higher education. The argument for the impact on HBCUs may be “putting the cart before the proverbial horse”.

From Dr. Kofi Lomotey: The President’s plan to universally fund community colleges is a good one for the country in the long run. It would create a stronger workforce for an increasingly global environment. HBCUs and other colleges and universities would have to adapt–by refocusing their resources to years 3 and 4 of the undergraduate experience AND graduate and professional degree programs.

From Chryssey A. Schloss-Allen: I do agree but the President is also working with the change in the times- many students are opting for community colleges rather than coming directly to a 4 year college. this trend has been noticed in CUNY over the years and there have been more incoming Transfer Students than ever before. It is particularly helpful for students who still are uncertain of what they want to do and for students grossly under-prepared/under-funded for college life. It also opens up any scholarship opportunities that they may not have been privy to because of lower HS grades.

Explanations, Analysis and Excuses…..

The video on structural (and Instructional discrimination):

Dear Jean thanks for your thoughtful comments. (And by the way, all due respect accepted :-) But my take on the video is slightly different. I think there is an important and distinct difference between an explanation and an analysis of a phenomena; and that phenomena being offered as an excuse. There are plenty of good explanations and analysis I have read in the last few days as to why for example: people find it hard to keep New Year’s resolutions. Rather than excusing this behavior I thought the explanations and analysis opened for me, a window of understanding into human behavior, and further offered positive strategies as to how to be successful at keeping one’s resolutions (or at least offering a better chance at being successful!) An explanation and analysis is what we are thinking about a problem; an “excuse” is what we fail to do about that problem, after we have reflected on it. The video (and I watch video as a form of literature), was essentially is speaking not to blame, but to the analysis of a reality; now for us to do nothing about that reality would indeed be a crime. I recent watched a film on the horrible military tactics used during World War 1. I did not take this honest portrayal as an “endorsement” of “trench warfare” on the part of the writer or director; if anything the film led me to feel that we should never sacrifice so many lives in this way ever again. And like in our video in question; it is very often the objective of art to reveal an objective truth; even if that truth makes some of us uncomfortable. And the truth is that everyone who is “successful” in America (or any country) is not that way because of some special talent or brilliance. If “smartness”, “creativity”, “inventiveness”, etc. is equally distributed throughout the population, then why do some groups advance while others lag? Well, we know enough about pedagogy(the science of education) that a child’s projected destiny is determined long before that child can “choose” to be “lazy”, “have a baby out-of-wedlock”, “take drugs” or “kill another person”. We also know that if some powerful intervening force does not enter into the picture (and this is what your sister and I are trying to do!) a child’s odds for success drop considerably. We know for example, that there is a path that leads to a STEM career that begins in the amount of “pre-mathematics” information gathered through a quality informal education experience the child receives prior to attending school. If that child then attends an elementary school and does not receive or master the prerequisites for algebra the game is over; again unless there is an intense program of intervention. In short, children have little choice in what is perhaps the first and most important choice they must make, and that is, (and something both you and I had) selecting parents who are strong and knowledgeable in the art and practice of “parent push”. The small child would then need to pick a school, and a school staff that was highly skilled, and held high expectations for its students. Or, the student could choose to test-into a gifted or talented pre- school or elementary program; which essentially is a test of the parent’s educational skills and knowledge. Finally, we can’t ignore the factor (prominent in the video) of the power of contacts and connections. These are the “under the radar” support systems not available to all citizens equally; and of course the entitled want to control the narrative; and so it is obviously in their interest to say that they “alone” achieved all they have because of their brains, discipline, their moral and ethical superiority; and those who don’t do well in life; are “lazy”, “dumb” or lacking in moral fortitude. As educators we are ultimately forced to choose if we believe that one race or nationality of children are “naturally smart” and another group is “naturally not-smart”. All that is left then, if we do believe in this natural superiority mythology is to radically transform schools. Why waste time and money educating the “not-smart” group; just keep them in school long enough for them to learn how to read and write on a 3rd grade level (functional literacy); and then hand them a shovel or rake at their “graduation ceremony”. However, if we don’t believe that, and work to remove all of the barriers placed in the way of children; barriers they had no hand in creating; and we design schools that believe in the inherent worth, potential for greatness in every child born (or God has wasted His and our time); the idea that every child is a unique gift, and brings a unique gift to the world; then maybe our scorn for those who have fallen can turn into a working compassion to make them a future that is whole and promising. In closing I suggest a film called: Trading Places; featuring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. After you view that movie let me know if you still believe that success in America is based solely on individual skills, “natural brains” and effort. All children regardless of race, need external help; and what matters most is the quality and quantity of that help.

You are the answer Lisa……You are the “What if”

“Arne Duncan asks “What if?” Here’s the response….”

Thanks Lisa Harrison; I am not a big fan of the present USDOE policies; however I think his question is a good and reasonable one. It appears that so far most people avoided his question in order to score political points; many were just offering the tired old union lines that really have nothing to do with children being academically successful. The answer to his question is probably very clear to you and Tiffany as the two of you are both positive products and teachers of the answer. The solution is to provide all children in the “under-performing” schools; with the high nurturing, high expectations, high efficacy, a large amount of “real learning time”; a large number of instructors who have a high level of content and instructional knowledge; resource and equipment rich learning environments; low teacher turnover rate, a rich & challenging curriculum; an exciting, rigorous and diverse (including the arts) academic course offerings, the absence of a high critical mass of inexperienced teachers; all of the things that are not suffered by those “high-performing” schools. And then to go further; the schools must purposely and strategically close the: “parent information-education gap” (because the truth is that we don’t get to create the parents we want) by providing the schools with an adequate level of social-counseling services; and offering those students a rich informal out of school learning experiences (don’t sit around and wait for the parents to take them to a play—take them to a play!). The problem is that neither Mr. Duncan nor his detractors are willing to make the high level of commitment that is needed on behalf of these communities that are saturated with “under-performing schools”; communities that are unable (or unwilling) to reward, or punish them politically, for not educating their children.