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Posts Tagged ‘public schools’

Math anyone?

September 13, 2011 2 comments

A young family member of mine was visiting us after school recently. When I came home, my wife was working with my son on writing his name and coloring inside the lines. I asked the young family member if he had done his home work and he said he had. So I proceeded to ask him a question; convert the fraction one-fifth to a decimal. Now, I have been asking the young people in my family and my wife’s family that same question for more than a decade. And during that time few if any have been able to answer the question without some guidance. What is distressing is that I ask them at a time in their educational development where they should know the answer, as well as know how they arrived at the answer. So I have to ask the question;  how is it that an 8th grader in middle school cannot convert a fraction to a decimal and vice versa? And when I say he could not do it, I don’t mean he attempted to work through the steps and came up with a bad answer, he actually had no clue how to tackle the problem. How do you get to the eighth grade and not know basic math concepts. There is something wrong with that. If a student cannot do basic math how is it possible for him or her to understand complex mathematical operations later in their education. He is behind, an will likely never catch up. When I look at the CRCT scores for schools, I tend to zero in on the math. If you look at math scores they generally get worse across the board starting around the fourth grade and never rebound. I know there tends to be a general dislike of math in our society, but math is the driving force behind so many, if not all,  of the advancements we enjoy today. Things as widely available as the internet in its foundation is based on mathematical concepts. Software that run the myriad of sites we spend hours at a time on are based in large part on mathematic principles. It is disturbing for me when I see middle and high school kids unable to solve basic math problems. This problem should be a concern for parents as well as presidents. The educational morass that our children are in cannot bode well for our country’s future.

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DeKalb Schools still looking for a superintendent

May 24, 2011 2 comments

DeKalb County School Watch: Still no superintendent –Have you emailed the board?.

Got this from the folks over at the DeKalb School Watch  log.

I have spoken to several board members and they are hearing virtually nothing from citizens about the stalled superintendent search. Our silence is empowering those board members who refuse to move forward to remain entrenched. They received 1000s of emails about redistricting, they need to receive even more about getting a high qualify, proven leader for our school system.

The slow pace and lack of candidates or any news of candidates is telling. I wonder if people are shying away from this job. Can it really be that bad?

A failing grade for informal education

May 18, 2011 8 comments

Today was transition day at my sons school. It was a promotion ceremony for those who were moving from Pr-K to Kindergarten. I never really liked these things because I felt they had taken a minor accomplishment and made it into a very big deal. Growing up in Indiana, I never had a promotion/graduation ceremony until high school. Anyway, standing there taking pictures and listening to the ceremony, I found myself disturbed by the program and the reaction of the parents in attendance. Education is a lifelong process that involves formal and informal styles. Going to a school environment provides us with the formal education. Things we learn outside those walls via experiences are less formal. It is this less formal education that far too many parents are forsaking. I witnessed that today in the transitioning program. For example, The transitioning classes were tasked with dosing a performance of some sort. One class did a rendition of “one, two, buckle my shoe” with a sort of hip-hop flavor to it. It was actually very cute and you could see the teachers put a lot into getting the kids to do it correctly. Contrast that with the class who did a swing routine to an old ragtime song. It was very well coordinated and the kids performed a routine that required great timing. Like the previous class, you could tell the teachers put some work in to get the kids to do the routine.

Of course the class who did the “buckle my” shoe routine was showered with raucous applause. The other class with applause but with much less enthusiasm. I overheard one lady refer to one little girl in the first routine as “sassy”. I had to ask myself why did the second routine get such short shrift from the audience? Both classes performed beautifully, the only difference being what was performed. Then it hit me. It was the informal education that seeped into the school. These kids were exposed to this at home, and the school basically reinforced what they had already been exposed to. The swing act was strange and foreign. It was out of so many parent’s comfort zone. Many could not appreciate the fact that the second group probably had a much tougher time, since few of them would have had any exposure to a genre that is out of fashion right now.

For me that is at the heart of the educational crisis that we have in this country as a whole. Children who are exposed to a wide variety of activities and cultural knowledge tend to do far better than their counterparts whose world view is limited by the informal education at home, but also by the formal education at school. I have heard teachers in the past say they want to interact with kids in a way they understand. For me, you are doing more harm than good. If you come to them and deal with them in a way they already are comfortable with, how can you possibly expect them to grow and to explore. I remember when I started the 9th grade, some of my friends were taking shop classes and I wanted to take shop classes also. My mom had another idea. She wanted me in chorus and orchestra. I was so embarrassed, and spent the first week pouting and complaining. By week three I realized that I was there and there was nothing I could do about it. At the end of the semester, I had come out with a B in both, and learned that there was a whole new world of music out there that I had never even heard of and had some rudimentary music reading skills. To this day I appreciated the fact that my mom was willing to make me suffer in the short run so that I could learn something new and fascinating.

I don’t want to sound like someone who dismisses anything to do with hip hop because I don’t. It is actually a powerful movement that has provided us with a whole new perspective on the world around us. But it should not be the only thing that we expose our little ones to. We should expose them to classical, rock, international music and so on. We should take them camping or hiking or even gardening. If possible, we should travel with them. I believe that parents should compliment their child’s formal education with and aggressive informal education at home

My gut tells me that so many of the children that transitioned today will not get that exposure. And they will be at the mercy of a society that will leave them behind and feel no sense of sympathy for them. It all starts now, because if we don’t start now, we are going to regret it twenty years from now.

Can you reform poverty and ignorance?

May 2, 2011 Comments off

Snagged this from the AJC Get schooled blog. Its been around for a a week or so, but thoought it was well worth the read. No amount of resources will reform student achievement unless there is a change in mindset by parents. The most successful students have involved parents or guardians. The least successful students have parents who not only abdicate their responsibility towards education, they are lacking responsibility in most areas of their lives.

Are we asking too much of schools when we expect them to transcend indifferent parents? | Get Schooled.

Saquan lands at M.S. 223 because his family has been placed in a nearby homeless shelter. (His mother fled Brooklyn out of fear that another son was in danger of being killed.) At first, he is so disruptive that a teacher, Emily Dodd, thinks he might have a mental disability. But working with him one on one, Dodd discovers that Saquan is, to the contrary, unusually intelligent — “brilliant” even.

From that point on, Dodd does everything a school reformer could hope for. She sends him text messages in the mornings, urging him to come to school. She gives him special help. She encourages him at every turn. For awhile, it seems to take.

Meanwhile, other forces are pushing him in another direction. His mother, who works nights and barely has time to see her son, comes across as indifferent to his schooling. Though she manages to move the family back to Brooklyn, the move means that Saquan has an hour-and-a-half commute to M.S. 223. As his grades and attendance slip, Dodd offers to tutor him. To no avail: He finally decides it isn’t worth the effort, and transfers to a school in Brooklyn.

The point is obvious, or at least it should be: Good teaching alone can’t overcome the many obstacles Saquan faces when he is not in school. Nor is he unusual. Mahler recounts how M.S. 223 gives away goodie bags to lure parents to parent association meetings, yet barely a dozen show up. He reports that during the summer, some students fall back a full year in reading comprehension — because they don’t read at home.

Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended — and unquestionably proved — that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute lists dozens of reasons why this is so, from the more frequent illness and stress poor students suffer, to the fact that they don’t hear the large vocabularies that middle-class children hear at home.

Yet the reformers act as if a student’s home life is irrelevant. “There is no question that family engagement can matter,” said Klein when I spoke to him. “But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let’s go home. We don’t yet know how much education can overcome poverty,” he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. “To let us off the hook prematurely seems, to me, to play into the hands of the other side.”

That last sentence strikes me as the key to the reformers’ resistance: To admit the importance of a student’s background, they fear, is to give ammo to the enemy — which to them are their social-scientist critics and the teachers’ unions. But that shouldn’t be the case. Making schools better is always a goal worth striving for, whether it means improving pedagogy itself or being able to fire bad teachers more easily. Without question, school reform has already achieved some real, though moderate, progress.

What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that school reform won’t fix everything. Though some poor students will succeed, others will fail. Demonizing teachers for the failures of poor students, and pretending that reforming the schools is all that is needed, as the reformers tend to do, is both misguided and counterproductive.

Concentration of poor in South DeKalb hurts schools

March 23, 2011 2 comments

This is part of a NY Times Op-Ed. You can read the full thing here. Also read the comments, some are very enlightening.

Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.

I am a pessimist at heart and after reading the above Op-Ed from the NY Times, it just hardens me even more to the fact that our society continues to drift into two opposing camps. Not by race so much as by class. Education was touted as the equalizer to poverty. With a decent education you could escape the ignorance and poverty of the previous generation. Today, it seems that door is slowly closing. Fact is schools with large populations of poor families are the schools that are failing to educate their citizens out of poverty. In fact, these schools are doing the exact opposite. These schools have teachers with far less experience and far less passion. Children come from homes where education is marginalized only to arrive at school where the same attitude affects a super majority of the students and a few of the staff as well. Coming from a poverty stricken family is not the fault of the child, but we place the burden of being poor on the child. Children who have the opportunity to escape these poverty stricken schools do far better than those who are stuck there. Concentrating poor and uneducated people in any situation is not good for them nor is it good for our society. It did not work in housing, and it is not working in our educational system.

Celebrating Furlough Day in DeKalb

October 6, 2010 3 comments

Happy Furlough Day DeKalb

While driving my son to daycare Wednesday morning I noticed this sign proclaiming Furlough Day. It took me a minute to ingest Furlough Day. What the heck is Furlough Day. I never heard of that holiday before. So on my return to the house, I went to the web to do some research. I started with a quick Google of Furlough Day. Way too many results, it seems everybody all over the country celebrated Furlough Day, from Georgia to Michigan to Oregon. My next move was to search the schools system website. There it was, the nugget I was searching for, Furlough Day.  In DeKalb, Furlough Day is celebrated every month of the year except March. Some months have multiple celebrations, many just one. The exact day for Furlough Day is elusive and is based on your how many months out of the year you work. Some days a few employees celebrate, on others all are forced to participate. The exact history of Furlough Day is muddy at best, but its origins can be traced back to the days when governments were flush with tax dollars and showed little fiscal restraint. I do not know how it is celebrated, but a day off from work seems to be central to the celebration. Happy Furlough Day to all.

Board candidates will challenge traditional thinking

October 1, 2010 4 comments

I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Nooks following the candidate forum in Dunwoody on Tuesday evening which was poorly attended again. Dr. Nooks is attempting to replace Jay Cunningham to represent district 5 on the board. I believe that many of the problems that face the DeKalb school system are rooted in poverty and ignorance. A good predictor of a school systems performance is to look at the number of families in poverty or whose citizens have a minimal education. That is not to say that children from economically distressed situations do not exceed, it just that it is much harder to escape that black hole of poverty. Many struggling schools have students that come from homes that do not put a high priority on education. The parents who struggled in high school, or who did not complete high school find it hard to impart the urgency of a quality education to their children. So why do schools like Stephenson and MLK not meet the bar. According to county statistics, MLK has not made AYP since 2005. Stephenson has fallen short the last two years on AYP. Both Schools are below the state and national average on SAT scores. This is Ironic, since the zip codes surrounding both of these schools have adults whose educational attainment meets or exceeds the state average at all degree levels including Doctorate. In other words these are middle class people who have gone to college graduated and created a comfortable living standard for themselves and their families. These are schools that are not wracked with poverty. Why do write this? Well, because in my talk with Dr. Nooks, and later with Nancy Jester, I raised the issue of poverty, social ills and the environments at Stephenson and MLK that, from the outside, seem to be a recipe for success. My query to him was how can the board battle a social ill like poverty that has beaten every program, every idea, and every attempt to fix it for as long as time itself. Dr. Nooks admitted that poverty and the problems that children in similar situations bring with them to school cannot be ignored. It is fundamental for the board and the system to take into account the whole child when dealing with the various issues that the system is failing in. He also acknowledged the challenges facing a district that has seen its number of economically disadvantage citizen’s rise in the last 10 years. One idea Nooks thought was interesting was a system that is similar to our University system. Competitive institutions that would be attractive to students and parents and would give all students the opportunity to succeed in a fashion that is desirable to the parent and the student. Dr. Nooks acknowledged that reforming the system is easy to discuss but much harder to actually implement. I for one would like to see schools allow a certain number of seats, say 50 for example, for students outside the attendance zone. These fifty seats would be open to those who apply and are accepted based on a number of criteria. Each school could have a unique mission that provided students with a well-rounded education, but also have a concentration or specific area of expertise, and if a student wants to be a part of that school they could apply for one of the open seats. This allows a family to have a choice in what would be the start of a lifelong pursuit of education, and the costs would probably be minimal. I think the thing that impressed me the most about Dr. Nooks, and Nancy Jester was that they were not afraid to discuss solutions that challenge traditional thinking. This is what is needed not just on the school board, but throughout our society in general. The standard model of public schools needs to be reevaluated and updated so we can compete in today’s world and tomorrow’s world. A business model is updated in order to reflect the changes that have taken place or that is anticipated to happen. Public schools should not be an exception to that.