Principals, 2021-22 School Year Priority Assignment — Assessing Student’s COVID-19 School Year Learning Loss.

On the question of standardized assessments…

Unfortunately, and to the learning detriment of many students, professional commonly accepted content and skills learning curriculum standards and their related standardized assessments (test, exams) have of late fallen on hard times (and why even bother to have standards if they will never be assessed; we can simply declare anyone a plumber, lawyer, or a dentist!). This is due to a convenient coalition of adversaries who have managed to maneuver themselves onto the public education center stage conversation on standards and standardized assessment. One group has used “standardization” and its related assessments as a tool to deny access and opportunity to those disentitled citizen-children; aka Black, Latino, or poor White children who are exposed to a below standards pre-assessment educational learning experience, thus making them non-competitive when they take any exam based on the curriculum standards materials they never had the opportunity to learn. The second part of the anti-standards coalition (in oppositional response to their coalition partners) are admittedly well-meaning, even as their opposition to the principle of standardization and standardized assessments is pedagogically uninformed; and to be painfully honest, they are also hypocritical because many of these individuals (usually themselves part of the US entitled class), provide a high-standards option to their own children, and further, to my knowledge, tend to engage the services of a “certified” (taught and tested) plumber, seek the advice of an attorney who is licensed and has passed the bar exam, and only offer their teeth to dental school graduated and common core dental curriculum standards assessed dentist.

Now, with that out of the way, let me speak to the chief professional educators of the school building who have formally studied pedagogy, pursued the learning of graduate-level school leadership theories and practices, and were required to pass a state standardized school building administrator’s exam to receive a principals license. Therefore, you principal should understand the critical role of commonly accepted content standards and their ‘pacing structures’; for there is much child developmental learning sense-making in the sequential organization of grade-level content standards that allows us, for example, to take a PreK child from basic conceptual numeration to 12th-grade calculus. And we see the present terrible results, primarily affecting poor children and children of color, of what happens when individual states, school districts or schools, ‘make-up’ their own standards. You (certified) principal should also have a deeper and better understanding of the role and purpose of standardized assessments. You know, because you’re an ethical school administrator, that these important evaluative ‘tools-of-the-trade’ should never be used for:

A way of denying access or opportunity to students.

A way to lower the self-esteem or injure the psyche of students.

A way to ‘discipline’ or punish teachers.

A way to marginalize and dismiss the hopes and dreams of parents.

A way to put down, ‘negatively label,’ or ‘test-results-shame’ schools.

A way to punish school administrators.

A way to lower-the-expectations and denigrate particular groups of students or communities.

However, you should also know that standardized assessments should always be used for the purposes of:

A way to diagnose student deficiencies and strengths.

A way to identify the specialized support or educational enhancements needed to ‘grow’ student(s) learning.

A way to expand student(s) quality learning access and opportunities in opposition to socio-economic and political barriers.

A way to improve the methodological performance and efficacious quality of a teacher’s instructional practice.

A way to get Title-1 schools the necessary raising academic achievement resources and the social-emotional health and counseling personnel and support they (and their students) so desperately need to succeed.

A way to give disentitled parents and disenfranchised communities confidence in a fair and equal opportunity “playing-field” academic competition process.

A diagnostic data tool that principals use to determine the policies, procedures, and professional development ideas, interventions, and themes that they and their school staff require.

Ok, since we have addressed the unprofessional inauthentic use of standardized assessments versus the authentic professional use of standardized assessments, let’s move on to the main idea of this essay.

All informal educational (outside-of-school) learning is not equal, and all outside-of-school learning loss is not equal…
We need to start with the above hypothesis in a highly professional, compassionate, and ethically honest way, which means not bringing a denigrating and condescending attitude to the problem. The reality is that a great deal of the quality of a child’s informal-educational experience is driven by parental-push-power (PPP), e.g., financial assets, political influence, connectional human resources, level of education, access to information, and time. Morally speaking, professional educators should do nothing to diminish (instead enhance it) the amount of PPP a student receives at home. But we also have a moral obligation to step in as parent substitutes —In loco parentis, in supporting students who don’t receive adequate amounts of quality PPP at home. And to be clear (for our non-professional education readers), this lack-of-access to those beforementioned learning enhancing parent PPP resources and skills should not be confused with a parent not lacking in having a powerful passion and desire of wanting their child to be educationally successful, even if they personally lack the financial resources, english language skills, political connections, formal education, or “system” information to be more effective in making that happen.

So was the pre-COVID-19 School Year (SY) ‘education world’; so was the COVID-19 2021 School Year (SY) ‘education world’…
The COVID-19 SY did not ‘invent’ learning quality disparities in America; instead, it simply exposed the vast divide in the access-to-learning-resources gap that has always existed between social-economic groups of children in our society. However, COVID-19 did produce the undeniable public exposure conditions that would prevent us from hiding from the fact that our public school systems are, in reality, two separate and unequal, of have and have not systems. The technology access gaps between students, school districts, schools, and communities were fully displayed during the COVID-19 SY. We also realized that most public education systems could not neutralize (and democratize) technological advantages in a severe public crisis school year. In addition, they were incapable of dismantling learning disabling disadvantages. Although the COVID-19 SY was not helpful to any US student who was physically unable to attend school, what is also true is that the COVID-19 SY inflicted different degrees of educational harm on different cohorts of students. Principals must keep this factor in mind as you plan your “undoing-the-damage” 2021-22 school year strategy. This is (wearing my former superintendent’s cap) that school leadership defining moment when I believe that a principal must on a fundamental level “earns-their-stripes”; and on a higher level, symbolically earn those “above and beyond the call of duty medals” by developing an ‘all students’ educational reconstruction plan that contains the smart applications of balancing equity and equality in developing and applying schoolwide learning-support mechanisms.

The 2021-22 SY is what it is…
Just as I told many of my principals as a superintendent, “the students you have are the students you have, the parents are not hiding and keeping a better behaving and higher academically performing group at home!” So it is also true with this upcoming 2021-22 SY, the conditions are what they are, and you principal must deal with them. Make no mistake about it, things will be very challenging, but you must face these challenges in a strategically-smart programmatic way. And you should plan with the idea (if public education history is true to itself) that you probably won’t get all of the financial resources you need to be successful. As a principal facing these kinds of emergency learning-loss situations I assumed nothing; essentially I operated with the belief that all of the help I truly needed was not coming from the school system. It’s always easier to adjust to receiving “extra unanticipated” district resources support, then to plan-to-fail by designing a strategic response to a learning blocking crisis based on anticipated outside help that ends up never arriving. Every one of my 11 years as a high school principal of a Title-1 school I received a sizable number of students who in no knowledgeable educator’s estimation were prepared to do high school work. It was my job (not the district, chancellor or superintendent) to get them to a graduation ‘finish-line’ in four years and onto a positive and productive post-graduation career path. Therefore it is you (yes you!) principal, who must lead the charge in the 2021-22 SY to save your children!

The present and future COVID-19 SY educational danger…
I know after many years as a public educator that a lot of people would prefer that I get on board with the rosy “Good-Housekeeping” image many public (relations driven) education systems seeks to project to the public; but I can’t do that because that would mean selling out students, parents, and disenfranchised communities. Therefore, here is my not-happy-to-report 2021-22 school year hypothetical projection:

The approaching reality of the public education 2021-22 school year is that those entitled public school districts (and entitled schools inside any district) with rich tax bases; school districts that serve primarily as a community educational and not adult employment resource; districts (and schools) having the most well-informed and properly engaged elected officials (including those districts under executive-mayoral or elected school board governance control); those districts (and schools) enriched with well-endowed financial and ‘human-connection’ resources; the districts (and schools) with a financially well-off parental support system, will respond more effectively and positively on behalf of their students in the 2021-22 SY; and therefore the students attending those enfranchised public schools (and districts) will enter a school learning environment year where children will academically ‘recover’ faster from the COVID-19 SY, and as we advance into subsequent school years these fortunate students will out-learning-perform those unfortunate students who attend non-enfranchised school districts and schools! After forty+ years, I’ve come to the consistently observed conclusion that: In both “good” times and “bad” times, the schools that serve the entitled children of our nation fair better than the schools that serve the children of disentitlement. The schools of entitlement are the least negatively affected by any significant school district governance or superintendency change. And further, in a severe emergency, we don’t have a national public educational ethos that demands that “all boats rise equally” during an education-loss flood; the facts are that some boats are better constructed and situated than others to deal with the natural (ex. Covid-19) educational storms of life.

Make no mistake about it, Title-1 schools (and students) face grave educational dangers in the 2021-22 SY…
I have every reason to believe that most Title-1 schools in America will not have what I had as a principal; and that is a 501c3 extra-funds-producing foundation and extensive powerfully rewarding partnerships with major corporations, universities, national-state-local government agencies, federal and foundational grants, and philanthropic giving individuals; and without naming names, I also had a large number of district central office leadership staff that often ‘gifted’ me with a lot of extra resources. Having access to a large amount of financial and human resources far above my official school budget allocation would have allowed me if I were facing a 2021-22 school year, to put in place the necessary comprehensive and extensive, during the school day, extended and after-school day, weekends, holiday and summer break academic programs to get those students who suffered the most from COVID-19 SY learning loss up-to-speed academically. But I don’t think that our average Title-1 school will have access to such resources. And, unfortunately, an ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ 2021-22 SY will mean that a lot of students who are on or above grade/performance level will be permanently left behind in their present academic underperformance status while also facing future negative possibilities for engaging in advanced (specialized schools, gifted & talented programs, AP courses, etc.) learning opportunities. But a much harsher reality is the plight of the many disentitled and academically struggling children in this nation who absolutely cannot afford to lose any major part of, or definitely not an entire school year of learning. Those students must be ‘triaged’ to the front of the 2021-22 SY academic recovery line. As I stated earlier, most Title-1 schools won’t have the organizational additional (outside-of-budget) resources foundation and scaffolding help to address the 2021-22 SY challenges effectively. So, school districts will need to intervene in a big way to support those schools.

School districts (with federal assistance) must put principals in a position to win the 2021-22 School Year!
As we move forward, and this is a secondary thought (although with 2021-22 SY implications), principals need to devote some thinking-time, over the next year, for evaluating how their schools performed during the COVID-19 SY; and what do they need to put in place (e.g., creating a 501c3 school foundation, a laptop loan program, a more functional school website, etc.) to be able to address better both the ‘normal’ and abnormal challenges schools will continue to face. But for the immediate situation, any superintendent or principal who believes that the educational crises caused by the COVID-19 SY can be repaired (for all students regardless of academic performance level) with the standard school year approach is setting themselves and their students up for failure.

This brings me to my final point; school districts can’t solve this problem with their present level of financial resources. Principals need to understand (and you will when you become one) that superintendents can’t always publicly say what needs to be said. So I will: Our federal executive and elected national governmental leaders (one of the reasons we teach kids history) need to see and treat the 2021-22 SY as a “Sputnik Response” or “Marshall Plan” moment. School districts will need a 1-3 year special (one-time) massive allocation to get large numbers of US students back on some semblance of a productive educational learning track. Small compensatory ‘tutorial efforts,’ no matter how well-intentioned, won’t get us where we need to go, especially with our most COVID-19 SY negatively affected students; we need to go big!
Further, our 2021-22 SY recovery efforts would be greatly helped by the adoption of President Biden’s bold proposal (Infrastructure Bill) for radically expanding internet access capability (e.g., through municipal broadband capabilities), especially into several states that contain some of the poorest (based on per/pupil expenditures) and least internet-connected rural school districts in our nation (places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana…). This expanded internet capability and access in both urban and rural school districts would be extremely helpful in supporting our current efforts to navigate the 2021-22 SY successfully, but long term, it would also provide us with a tremendous technological learning asset for regular school learning, and a learning-loss ‘antidote’ if we ever face another COVID-19 like crisis or any emergency (e.g., illness) where students are forced to spend long periods of time out of school.

The key is to provide the sufficiently right amount of funding in the most efficaciously right way…
The caveat for this COVID-19 SY ‘learning reconstruction funding’ is that President Biden and his on-the-hill colleagues must (a chance for bipartisanship?) prohibit and prevent school districts from using the extra money to do the business-as-usual “school improvement,” “raising achievement scores,” “closing learning gaps” expensive programs that sound and feel good but don’t actually work; employing those past failed approaches would be a terrible loss of money and a tragic loss of an opportunity (I would be more than happy to give Mr. Biden a list of people who are sincere and really good at this work, seriously).
This 2021-22 SY is no time for “symbolic” or fancy-sounding ineffective initiatives. So, perhaps it would be helpful to employ the non-politicalized National Science Foundation (NSF) model for screening Request For Proposals (RFP) potential grantees (school districts, schools, and external school improvement consultants and companies). This means having independent educational expert peer review panels to screen and rank proposals; design RFP’s that require potential grantees to have pedagogical knowledge, professional educational certifications, and school based experience; and most critical, a documented proven track record of past “raising-achievement-scores” success, especially with our lowest-performing schools and students; and finally, having grantees who have a sound theoretical/strategic proposal that would suggest that the grantees know and can produce the promised project’s ‘deliverables.’ When dealing with other major natural or unnatural disasters (e.g., oil spills, forest fires, etc.), we don’t bring in entrepreneurial amateurs who have no proven past track record of success in solving the present emergency.

Real change takes place only when there is real change activity in play...
In those school districts (e.g., NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.) with a politically powerful teacher union presence, for the 2021-22 SY, there must be some “emergency conditions” negotiated contractual concessions (it’s been done before under less extreme crisis situations) that would lead to improved learning recovery and growth opportunities for both our ‘doing well’ and our most academically struggling students. For example, placing a brand new, inexperienced, or not-highly effective teacher with academically struggling students who have suffered an entire year of some or a lot of learning loss is a recipe for disastrous failure for both the teacher and students. Another option school districts may want to consider is to place their most academically vulnerable Title-1 schools into some form of the district controlled, guardianship and redesigned “charter schools” status (this also has been done on a limited basis before under less severe crisis conditions than covid-19) that would allow for the kind of rules and regulations flexibility-relief, and the necessary leadership authority the principals of those schools will need to make this critical school year work for their most vulnerable students. We will set principals up to fail this 2021-22 SY if we request that they act like the essential executive leaders they need to be and then don’t grant them the executive power to act with formal executive authority. Employment in these ‘district charter schools’ for both school administrators and staff should be by a voluntary application process and consist of the best-of-the-best practitioners, regardless of seniority. These Educational Special Practitioners (ESP) must be reasonably extra-compensated for the more extended school day, week, and school year they will need to work if the students in those schools have any chance of surviving COVID-19 SY learning setbacks. An ESP assignment must also be framed as a ‘resume enhancing’ possible future career promotion/advancement placement. These ESP staffed schools must also have additional funding to address the students’ socio-economic, health, and emotional counseling needs.

The first response for the 20121-22 SY, improve the quality of teaching and learning...
For reasons of child-learning urgency, on the district level as a superintendent, and having the appropriate amount of resources, I would start my 2021-22 SY recovery efforts with a robust strategic plan to drive large amounts of resources into immediately improving the quality of instruction. One area of attention would be instituting specialized and differentiated professional development exercises to improve teacher classroom instructional practices. I would create smaller class sizes, and in struggling schools, expand the daily instructional hours and increase the number of instructional school days (the present SY calendar is artificially short-structured to address a no-longer-relevant need to have children available to do farm work). A ‘struggling schools’ 2021-22 SY ‘Year-Round-School’ format can be innovatively creative (e.g., Summer STEM, computer, art, dance, or music concentrated programs, along with the smart inclusion-immersion of “academic work”). Put in K-8 specialized applied science, technology and mathematics labs and train a school-based team of F/T science specialists to teach in them. Expand music and art programs in all schools (for its own educational value but also because it raises academic achievement in other academic areas). A laptop lending program. A fully funded library and a full-time librarian in every elementary school. Place elementary reading teachers in middle schools (and yes, there is a need for a “teach them how to read” program in Title-1 high schools). Establish a gifted and talented program in every K-8 school, with a professionally developed teacher leading the class. Let elementary teachers “specialized” based on interest and ability to be able to “flip” (Math/Science & ELA/History) and teach each other’s classes (this also gives them fewer subjects to prep for). Fund and design many more SPED/REGED team-teaching classrooms, and in Title-1 schools triple the present number of classroom educational and behavioral paraprofessionals (and not limit this paraprofessional support to students with IEP’s); this will (I found) dramatically increase the amount of Quality Learning Time in classrooms; and further, establish in every Title-1 school a school-based teacher resource center and F/T instructional coaches with the number based on the size of the teaching staff; give all schools without one an Assistant Principal (AP), or an extra AP so they or the principal can give serious and dedicated attention to instructional coaching. For the emergency 2021-22 SY, we need a major concentration of effort on improving the quality of instructional practices district-wide if we are not to lose (forever) large numbers of children.
Most of the above strategies are in part or whole (depending on the needs of the school) what was utilized during the 2000-2003 School Years in Community School District 29 Queens, NYC in many of our schools. This led to our being able to raise academic achievement scores across all grades, student performance levels, and schools; faster and better than any of the other 32 NYC school districts. We did this by maintaining a laser focus approach on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Similarly, principals must be singularly focused for the 2021-22 SY on dramatically improving the learning environment for all students in the school building. All of their attention should be on lengthening the amount of Quality Learning Time (that classroom time that is truly dedicated to learning) while strengthening the ‘technical’ quality of teaching and learning in their schools. For just like it’s essentially and ultimately about the quality of the economy for many politicians; also true for school leaders who hope to survive and thrive in the wake of the COVID-19 SY, essentially and ultimately, it will be all about the quality of instruction!
And as for high schools, where there is already (should be) a school cultural imperative of needing to engage in serious academic reconstruction practices, that must also take place in a short window (4 years) of time, and further not having a next-level public school option to pass ‘unfinished’ students onto; well, I wrote an entire book on how to diagnose, treat and strategically raise the scores of those students who arrive annually and unrelated to any health crises to high school suffering from severe learning loss!

Inaction or weak actions will doom the dreams of many children and parents and damage our nation’s economic capacity...
If our national governmental leaders fail to act in a decisive and adequate resourced way in this COVID-19 educational emergency; then, as those COVID-19 SY learning-loss children reach adulthood workforce age (and for high school students, that will be sooner rather than later), American political leaders will be forced to address a severe and debilitating future skills and knowledge competency gap crisis that will exist between US potential and US production. In addition, large numbers of students, due to no fault on their part, will be robbed of the opportunity to place their inherent gifts and talents in the service of all of humanity; but paramountly, they will be unable to employ their extraordinary personal capabilities in the service of becoming all that they imagine and hope themselves to be.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized science educator who served as an expert peer-review panelist for the National Science Foundation. He was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. Johnson 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. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

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.

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/ ).

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

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

(6) March 23, 2020

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

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

A Gap by its real name…

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

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

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

After the plague, what must schools do?

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

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

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

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

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

(4) March 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School”– But what does that mean?

3/20/2020 –NY Times;This Year, Only 10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School :https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/nyregion/nyc-schools-numbers-black-students-diversity-specialized.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage

“Asian students make up a majority of the schools’ enrollment.”

Just Great, what we really needed now, along with the daily POTUS racist insults press briefings; another nonsensically contrived reason to be angry with Asians.

At some point (and I’ll just keep saying this until they put me in the retired superintendent’s rubber room), a significant segment of NYC’s Black and Latino citizenry will come to understand that no test-prep program, regardless of its good intentions and accessibility, can substitute for actual K-8 learning concepts and skills mastery. I have practically run out of metaphors like: giving a nursing certification exam to someone who has not spent a day in a nursing program; giving the Bar exam to people who did not attend law school; giving free shoe shines to people who don’t have shoes. I am not sure what more I can say at this point!

Test-prep is an excellent ‘technical’ and study tool that can absolutely raise the potential score of anyone who engages it. But as a Saturday Princeton Review SAT prep-course coach once warned my students: “I will help you to get a higher score on the exam, but you must continue to study hard!” What she did not say that is also true, is that you must bring ‘something’ to the test-prep process; and fortunately for my students (as the SAT coach offered as a compliment to them at the end of the course), they brought an everyday experience of being exposed to rigorous formal and informal standards based learning activities. Our finals, midterms and weekly classroom exams consisted of questions directly (word for word) lifted from past State Regents Exams, while inviting standards (and above) rigor in non-standardized testing courses. We were accused by some liberals of ‘teaching to the test’; when in fact we were providing our students with the same level of quality instruction their children enjoyed, we were teaching and learning to the standards. That’s how you get Black and Latino children to do well on standardized exams; you actually teach them to the level of standards that the exam will test. You can’t do well on an 8th grade exam, by ‘prepping’ in middle school; the real rigorous learning (aka test-prep) for that exam starts in Kindergarten and consistently continues every year until the 8th grade.

“Some of the schools’ relatively few black and Hispanic students have said they often feel isolated in their classrooms and hallways because of their race.”

Over the next few months we will hear the ‘integration’, ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’ bell distractedly rung over and over again. Asian-American students will (because of adolescent psychology) feel that they did something wrong, when they have done exactly what the adult society has told them to do— and that is to study hard, sacrifice some ‘fun time’ and apply themselves. They will also be made to feel like ‘outsiders’ in their own city; Black and Latino people (remember “stop and frisk” and “gentrification”) should know how painful that feels, and therefore should be the last ones to engage in that ugly ‘outsidering’ and ‘blame-game’ behavior.

“This year, as last year, only one black student got into Staten Island Technical High School.”

Sadly, this same NY Times article could be used year after year, for the last (and frighteningly next) ten years, all that is needed is to simply change the dates. This is the low-expectations (Black and Latino brains are less than capable) story-line that will continue to reappear until (1) Black and Latino communities push their leaders; many of whom are tied at the waist (or by the neck) to the Teacher’s Union (UFT), and force (by political and active protest) the NYCDOE to provide their children with a quality K-8 education that test-prep programs could truly enhance; and secondly, to expand Gifted and Talented programs to the presently chronically undeserved Black and Latino elementary students who are on or above grade level. It has been demonstrated that many of these Black and Latino non-G&T classes elementary school students are so smart and capable, that they could even pass high school Regents exams; and so where are their G&T programs? (2) I love Public Education, but no community should depend on any public school system to adequately, let alone fully educate their children; especially if you are not part of the ‘entitled class’; something many Asian-American parents seem to get. (3) The beauty of NYC’s size is that a student who really should not go to a specialized high school (for a host of reasons); could possibly have a rich choice of safe and academically strong high school options. There was a time in the not too distant past, when not applying or getting into specialized high school was not a big deal and did not mean future career options death. Restore and strengthened a high school (independent of local school boards) division that lost so many of its accomplished and experienced administrators by way of Mayor Bloomberg’s destructive educational “school-reform” blunders.

“Black and Hispanic enrollment in the schools has plummeted over the last two decades in particular; Brooklyn Technical High School was 51 percent black in 1982, and 6 percent black in 2016. Only 79 black students got into Brooklyn Tech this year, down from 95 last year.”

Finally, disenfranchised communities need an intensive parallel educational system consisting of: An academically rich and culturally confirming pre-school start e.g. Little Sun People; after-school, weekends, school breaks and summer learning enrichment/enhancement programs; these activities should include a standardized test-prep component. Just sending your child to public school every day won’t work. For what part of: “Your children are not a priority”, is missing from your understanding of the public school education problem.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a NYC public school teacher, principal, school district superintendent and as an adjunct professor of education at St. John’s University. His book on school leadership is titled: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]