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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Trump and the Taliban understand the power of education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: “OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)” (https://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.” (https://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 (https://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

In education, advantage is what advantage does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Readers to Leaders’

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

Thanks–MAJ.

FIRST Robotics COVID-19 SY Plan

A Message from FIRST® HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I stated in Part 1 (https://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. (https://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 (https://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 (https://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

I can’t believe that after so many high school graduations…

I can’t believe that after being so many years into my retirement. And after participating in so many graduations. I still can’t help not crying (even when the ceremony is virtual) during the high school graduation ceremony. I guess I think back to how every past graduate I’ve known and the present 2020 graduating class, all represent a unique story-journey and victorious triumph. Especially for those young folks who faced many obstacles and challenges; and also those whose ‘lives-did-not-matter’ as our society designated them at birth as disqualified from receiving the “American dream” inheritance.

The pandemic sought to make the graduating class of 2020 sad. But I believe that there is another, more powerful, and good transcendent plan in motion. I think that the 2020 high school graduation distinction will be worn like a medal of honor, and over time it will make these young people powerful advocates and activators for bringing goodness and kindness into the world! That’s my hope and prayer for them and our world.