What Our Children Need Right Now

The following article was written by Joel Westheimer, a journalist who writes about pubic education, and was originally posted by Diane Ravitch. He tells us the education that our kids need from us now.

FORGET THE WORKSHEETS AND TRYING TO REPLICATE SCHOOL

I am really struck by the variety of media inquiries I’ve been getting about the impacts of Covid-19 on education, what parents should be doing at home, and so on. The interest doesn’t surprise me (I am an education columnist on public radio), but the preoccupation with whether kids will “fall behind” or with how they will “catch up” has. I see hundreds of stories, websites, and YouTube videos that aim to help parents create miniature classrooms at home. Maybe some parents have folding chairs they can bring up from the basement and put in rows. Where’s that big blackboard we used to have? Is there a run on chalk at Costco?

Stop worrying about the vague and evidence-less idea of children “falling behind” or “catching up.” This is a world-wide pause in life-as-usual. We’ve spent the last 25 years over-scheduling kids, over-testing kids, putting undue pressure on them to achieve more and more and play less and less. The result? Several generations of children and young adults who are stressed-out, medicated, alienated, and depressed.

This is not a time for worksheets. This is an opportunity (for those of us lucky enough to be at home and not in hospitals or driving buses or keeping our grocery store shelves stocked) to spend meaningful time with our children to the extent it is possible in any given family. Parents shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep their kids caught up with the curriculum or about how they can recreate school at home or how many worksheets they should have their children complete. They should bake a cake together. Make soup. Grow something in the garden. Take up family music playing. And neither school personnel nor parents should be focusing on how quickly or slowly children will return to school because none of us know We should be focusing on ensuring that teachers are afforded the conditions they need to best support their students — now when school is out and later when school is back in.

Remember that ditty about the two Chinese brush-strokes that comprise the word ‘crisis’? One is the character for ‘danger’ and the other the character for ‘opportunity.’ We are more and more aware of the danger. But we’re missing out on the opportunity: to spend time as families (in whatever form that family takes in your household).

This brings me back to the questions I keep getting. What are my recommendations for what to do with your children at home when they are missing so much school? Stop the homework (unless you and your children are enjoying it).Stop the worksheets. Stop trying to turn your kitchen into Jaime Escalante’s A.P. math class. But do help your children structure their day. Help them process what is going on around them. Help them engage in activities that do not take place on a screen. Help them maintain physical activities whether that means running around the block, running up and down the stairs, or running around the kitchen.Help them be creative. Give them — to the extent possible in your household — the gift of time and attention.

And when brick-and-mortar school (hopefully) returns next Fall, let’s give teachers a great deal of latitude in what, how, and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility, and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

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Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. His most recent book is “What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good.” You can follow him on Twitter: @joelwestheimer.

 

 

President Trump is teaching our children.

 

 

The 7th grade field trip at The Connecticut Science Center was over. The bus arrived to bring the class back to their school. The kids were lined up to board the bus. Two boys, Mike and Pete, broke out of the line and, bumping into each other, ran to the back of the bus. When they arrived there, they began to argue.

Mike: Pete, it’s my turn to sit in the back seat of the bus. You had the back seat on the last field trip.

Pete: Tough luck, Misfit Mikey. You don’t get a turn because you’re a fat slob, dumb as they come, and nobody, nobody at all, likes you.

Mike stood up to push Pete out of the way.

Pete:  You touch me, Misfit Mikey, and, when we get off the bus, me and my three  friends will get you on the walk home. We’ll make you wish you’d never talked to me

Mr. Smith, their teacher, ran down the aisle of the bus and separated the two boys and began to talk to them.

Mr. Smith: I don’t care whose turn it is to sit in the back of the bus. There’s something more important going on here. Pete,  you’ve lost your chance for the seat. What’s important here is how you are treating someone else in the class. Calling someone names is always wrong.  And it’s always wrong to threaten people because they don’t agree with you. Who would do that?  What kind of a grown-up will you be if you call people names and  bully them?

Pete: Who could I be, Mr. Smith? Well, I could be the President of the United States of America, that’s who. He does that. I saw two of his tweets the other day.

One tweet said: Our case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party, starts today at 10:00.  

The other tweet said: Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!

If the President of the United States can insult people in Congress and bully the one he’s the most angry at, then why can’t I?

It must OK, Mr. Smith, or people wouldn’t let him be President. Right, Mr. Smith? But what do you know, Mr. Smith? You’re a terrible, hideous teacher and everyone hates you and you dress like a dork and you can’t even run fast down the aisle of this stupid bus.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

As the song says “Teach your children well….and feed them on your dreams.” Our children become what they see. Our children become what we dream for them.

We must dream kindness for them. We must dream decency for them, We must dream maturity for them. We must dream a President other than Donald Trump for them.

 

 

Mothers, Make A Phone Call Today

 

 

Today, let’s each of us call the office of one Republican senator and ask the question: “Why would an innocent man and you as a jurist interested in the truth not want all the evidence out and all the witnesses to testify? Wouldn’t you if you were innocent?”

Tom Friedman explains why that simple question is what we must ask now. 

For millions of mothers to ask that question now of senators will save our republic from shame and disgrace and could even save the republic itself. It can allow us to prove that we still have a government with three equal branches and that the U.S. Constitution is still the foundation of that government.

We bring up our children to tell the truth, to know right from wrong, to admit it when they have done something wrong, and to face the consequences of their actions.

We can’t hold up as role model for our children a President of the United States who doesn’t tell the truth and has made 16,241 false or misleading claims (what we moms call lies) in his first three years in office, who bribes a leader of another country with money appropriated by Congress for his own person gain and thinks it “perfect”, who has absolutely no sense of right and wrong, and who will destroy any institution in our society, such as the Justice Department, the intelligence agencies and the free press, instead of admitting he is wrong and taking the consequences.

We can’t hold up as role models for our children senators who turn a blind eye to all of this because they condone what we tell our children in wrong.

Call a Republican senator today and insist that the senator act in the way we can hold up to our children as honorable. Leave a message asking the senator to vote to call witnesses and admit documents to the impeachment hearing so that we have a fair trial, so that our government functions as the Founding Fathers intended, and so that our government functions as we tell our children is right and good.

 

Call An End To Closing The Achievement Gap

 

We hear so often, including from the new Connecticut Commissioner of Education, that the most important goal for K-12 education is to close the achievement gap. Well, what if it isn’t? What if that goal to have students affected by poverty and racism achieve standardized test scores as high as students of privilege is not only an impossible goal, because standardized test scores are correlated with family income, but one that is damaging to all K-12 students in this country?

Equating achievement with high standardized test scores does a terrible injustice to all of our children. What if we gave up on closing the achievement gap and gave up on standardized testing? What then could our schools look like?

A picture of what those elementary, middle, and high schools could look like is provided by James Hatch, a first year student at Yale who is a 52 years old retired Navy SEAL, covered with tattoos and accompanied by a service dog. Read his story here. 

James Hatch began his college education afraid of the academic competition from his classmates but left that behind when he became engaged in shared inquiry with a broad range of learners and was encouraged by a professor to recognize his own good mind and not see himself in competition with other students. He developed an appreciation for the diversity of experiences that the other students brought to class discussions and valued their questions and their passion. Through both the subject matter of his classes and interactions with his classmates, he began to think in new ways and see the world differently. He determined his life’s goal – to lead by building bridges between those who are different. He was transformed by his education.

From my experience as a teacher and an administrator in elementary, middle, and high schools, I know that we can offer that kind of education to all of our students. In grades kindergarten through grade 12, students can be taught to learn in collaboration with others so that they see that there is more than one perspective or one interpretation. They can be taught to question rather than merely to answer so that they become deep and innovative thinkers. They can see themselves as learners and thinkers because that is what their teachers encourage them to be. They can develop skills that lead them to believe in themselves. They can fall in love with learning. They can be transformed.

But none of that will happen if the students’ learning is measured by standardized tests. And none of this will happen if closing the achievement gap is the national goal.

 

Correction

In my post entitled “The Cost Of The Dalio Deal Is Too High”, I did not write the correct figure for the amount of the Dalio Foundation donation and the amount of taxpayer funding. The correct amount for each is one hundred million dollars.

Here is the blog post with the correct figures:

https://reallearningct.com/2019/10/03/the-cost-of-the-dalio-deal-was-too-high/ via @reallearningct

The Cost Of The Dalio Deal Was Too High

 Everyone would agree: If we are doing good, we welcome others knowing about it.

Why, then, does the Dalio Foundation make it a condition of giving a $hundred million to Connecticut’s schools that its decisions be kept secret?

 Everyone would agree: Taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent.

Why, then, does the Dalio Foundation require that its $hundred million be matched by a $hundred million in taxpayer funds but refuse to tell the taxpayers how it will go about spending their money and demand exemption from Freedom of Information regulations which provide transparency and accountability?

The CT Mirror reported on October 2, 2019 that Gwen Samuel, a Connecticut parent who has children in Connecticut public schools and is a vocal advocate for educational equity for all of Connecticut’s children, asked those same questions of the Connecticut State Board of Education:

The leader of the Connecticut Parents Union made an impassioned plea Wednesday for members of the state Board of Education to review the provision that exempts the new partnership between the state and Dalio Philanthropies from disclosure and ethics rules.

“My main concern, and I’m sure I speak for many parents, is the fact that this could all be done in secret,” Gwen Samuel, president and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, told the board. “There should never be any entity, including state entities, that have access to [public school] children of this state without transparency.”

Dalio Philanthropies also asked that the partnership be exempt from state disclosure rules, a request that was granted in June by Gov. Ned Lamont and the Democrat-controlled legislature. Since then, legislative leaders who sit on the partnership board have balked at some of the other proposed conditions, such as one that would create a five-member executive committee to oversee most of the partnership’s work while excluding all of the elected officials who are subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Lawmakers also objected to a request that they unanimously approve — via email — a tentative budget, nearly $250,000 in executive compensation, and various operating procedures before the partnership’s first meeting.

Samuel, and others, have argued that the partnership should be subject to state disclosure laws because $100 million in taxpayer money is being spent in public schools.

Wednesday, Samuel repeated this message before the state board of education.

“We have the right to know what is happening to our children in the public school system and I’m trying to understand why this board has not weighed in to ensure the protection of Connecticut children,” she said.

While the Dalio donation “sounds like a great thing,” Samuel said, “gifts with a string are no longer a gift.” 

We have seen enough of the damage that philanthropic money has done, such as that of Mark Zuckerberg with his donation of millions to Newark, New Jersey and Bill Gates, with his donation of millions for implementing the failed Common Core Standards. The Dalios, however well-intentioned they may be, are not educators and are not parents of public school children. Why would we let them make the decisions for our public schools?  And, even more so, why would allow them to keep their decision-making a secret from us, the taxpayers who fund their secret plans with $100 million?

Shame on the State Board of Education for being bought.

Shame on the Connecticut General Assembly for being bought.

Just as the city of Newark and Mark Zuckerberg himself have come to regret what he did with his money in Newark and just as those knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn and what they need to know have come to regret the Common Core State Standards, so too will Connecticut come to regret turning over decisions about how to educate our children to the secret Dalio Foundation.

The cost of the Dalio deal is the loss of control by Connecticut taxpayers and educators of our Connecticut public schools. That cost is way too high.

 

Healing From Our Current Wreckage

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I listened to the death toll from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and from the plane crash in the fields of Pennsylvania.  I knew too well what the sudden death of one loved family member does to the rest of that person’s one family and thought that the grief of 2,977 families in shock about the deaths of their loved ones would crush us all. I was sure that we, as a society, could not survive so much  grief.

Grief doesn’t ever go away, but Manal Ezzat, a Muslim woman and engineer with the U.S. Army who was present at the attack on the Pentagon, took her grief and used it to connect with others in need. She was the project manager for the Army’s space in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. After the attack, she was in charge of redesigning the area where the attack had occurred. She knew immediately that the area should not return to its prior use and decided to build a chapel in the place of the former offices. Recently with the approach of the 18th anniversary of that awful day, Ezzat said that she still can’t fully understand that tragedy and also can never forget it. About the chapel, she said, ” We just wanted to make it a peaceful place that could help wipe away the tragedy.”

(Note: You can meet Manal Ezzat through a brief video, found at the end of the above linked article.)

Rebuilding the Pentagon and creating the chapel as a peaceful sanctuary was an act of love. The construction team was given three years to complete the task and completed it in less than one year.  The team members worked 24/7 and donated all of their overtime pay, about $3 million, to pay for the chapel furnishings and artwork and to support victims’ families.

Today, the chapel is used for daily Catholic Masses, Protestant services, Jewish study sessions, Buddhist prayers, Greek Orthodox services, Hindu services, and Muslim daily prayers. Ezzat commented that building a religious haven out of a wreckage was “part of the healing process.”

Manal Ezzat’s drive to do good can be a sign of hope for us with our current losses.  We are now witnessing on the national scene a wreckage of our long-held national values of personal decency, truth-telling, and kindness to those who are suffering.

What can we do about that loss? First, we can look squarely at what we are losing as a nation and see the loss for what it is. Secondly, we can deeply acknowledge to ourselves and others that there is no goodness or saving grace in losing who or what is precious to us. Thirdly, we can help one another to heal from our shared trauma.  We can, as Manal Ezzat shows us, build something new.

 

 

Integrate Schools And Improve Learning For All Kids At The Same Time

The headlines are full of the news that the School Diversity Advisory Group, appointed by Mayor DeBlasio of New York City, has recommended that the largest public school district in the country phase out its Gifted and Talented Programs in elementary schools, give up selective admissions in middle schools, and limit ability grouping in most high schools. The reason for doing all three is to eliminate segregation by race and family income in the city’s schools.

How are NYC schools segregated?

  • The New York City schools are comprised of students who are 74% economically disadvantaged, 40.5% Hispanic, 26% black, 16.1 % Asian, and 15% white.
  • There are currently two paths through the New York City schools: one path for white and Asian students, a notable percentage of whom test as gifted and talented in the early grades and qualify for select middle and high schools in the later grades, and the other path for predominately black and Hispanic students who attend schools that have no qualifying criteria and are open to all.
  • Students are selected for the Gifted and Talented Programs in elementary schools, based solely on their score on a standardized test taken when they are four years old. Affluent parents pay for expensive test prep courses and tutors so those four year olds maximize their scores. Out of 1.1 million NYC students, 16,000 are in Gifted and Talented Programs. Of those 16,000 students, 75% are white or Asian.
  • One fifth of middle schools and high schools select the students whom they admit. They screen applicants, based on their grades, standardized test scores, school attendance, punctuality, and teacher recommendations. The middle and high schools that are selective in whom they admit are 55% black and Hispanic while middle and high schools that are open to all are 72% black and Hispanic.
  • The eight premier high schools choose their students differently. They select students based solely on their score on a standardized test. In 2019, 1368 white, 316 Hispanic, 2450 Asian, and 190 black students were accepted to the eight premier high schools. Stuyvesant, the most prestigious of all, accepted 895 students and only seven of them were black.

The School Diversity Advisory Group recommendations are:

  • Eliminate Gifted and Talented Programs in elementary schools by not accepting new students into them or beginning new ones.
  • In middle schools, eliminate screening students for admission, based on grades, standardized test scores, attendance, punctuality, and teacher recommendations.
  • Establish magnet middle schools in which the curriculum focuses on topics which interest students.
  • Eliminate ability grouping in the middle schools and group students heterogeneously,
  • In high schools, diminish ability grouping and prevent tracking within schools.
  • Allow the 20% of high schools that have selective admissions to continue to base admissions on grades, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations but delete good school attendance and punctuality as qualifications for admission.

What the School Diversity Advisory Group got right:

  • Seeking to increase educational opportunities for underserved K-12 students.
  • Recognizing that giftedness cannot be accurately determined in children as young as four years old.
  • Recognizing the inequity inherent in basing admission to Gifted and Talented Programs on one standardized test for which some children are coached.
  • Eliminating Gifted and Talented Programs in Kindergarten – Grade 3.

What the NYC School Diversity Advisory Group got wrong:

  • The curriculum that the SDAG recommends is inadequate. The proposed curriculum will not meet the needs of students labeled gifted and talented, students not labeled gifted and talented, students in selective middle and high schools, and students in open admission middle and high schools.
  • The SDAG Report refers to Gifted and Talented Programs as having enriched content and recommends that all students be exposed to similar enriched content and organized around topics of student interest. Of course, students should have topics that engage them. But that is not enough.
  • The SDAG Report proposes a curriculum in which the same content is covered for all students in heterogeneously grouped classrooms with the more proficient students receiving a larger dose of the content and less proficient students a smaller dose. That view of curriculum is outdated and will not equip students for the 21st century. Curriculum for the 21st century is about teaching students age appropriate strategies for developing as learners and thinkers.
  • The SDAG Report states says that highly proficient students “will not be harmed by mixed ability classes”. Not doing harm is settling for too little. The promise should be to challenge highly proficient students, and, indeed, all students, to go as far as they can and accomplish all that we can envision for them.
  • The SDAG Report should have stated that, as students progress through school, they go from being heterogeneously grouped to being more homogeneously grouped as the differences among students as learners and thinkers broaden.
  • The SDAG Report proposes a pedagogy in which a teacher meets the needs of each individual student in heterogeneously grouped classes. That kind of individuation is not possible in the high schools, given the broad learning differences among students at that age and the sizes of the NYC high school classes (about 26 students) and, even if possible, would eliminate for students the powerful learning environment of an interactive collaborative community which includes all the students in the class.
  • The SDAG Report leaves in place the discriminatory practice of one standardized test as the only criterion for admission to the eight premier high schools. Even though the ultimate decision regarding the admission policy for those premier schools rests with the state of New York rather than the city, the SDAG Report should take a stand against that clearly inequitable practice. A large body of research proves that standardized tests are inaccurate single predictors of student success. Currently, 29% of private  and 11% of public colleges and universities do not require standardized tests (SAT or ACT) for admission. Standardized tests have been proven to correlate most reliably with the income of parents and participation in test preparation courses – and leave the ability and potential of some students unrecognized.

What is missing from the SDAG Report is a plan to break up segregation AND, at the same time, provide all students with an excellent education. Here’s how to do that: 

  • Design a program for pre-kindergarten through high school to develop students as learners and thinkers. (The specifics to be discussed in a subsequent article.)
  • Involve teachers in professional development regarding the curriculum and its pedagogy.
  • Implement the curriculum so that students of all abilities, based on their grade level cognitive, social, and emotional development, are taught to explore their own questions, to collaborate, to problem solve, to think critically, to think creatively, to use their imagination, to express themselves, and to innovate.
  • Group students of all abilities together in the same classrooms until three differences among them become pronounced. Those differences are: 1) the students’ ability to read and understand complex materials, 2) the kind of structure and pace of learning experiences they need in order to be successful, and 3) their cognitive processing skills. When those three differences are wide, grouping students in major academic subjects with other learners similar to them is necessary for their development as learners and thinkers.
  • The goal of providing a curriculum designed to develop students as learners and thinkers is to give all students opportunities that previously were most assuredly given to only advantaged children and adolescents.

The SDAG has done an excellent job of highlighting the serious problem of segregation in New York City schools. Now it is time for the hard work of determining how to create BOTH  equity and the best possible education for all students. The curriculum proposal of the SDAG Report is too facile and would leave New York City schools to the fate H. L. Mencken described when he said:  “Every complex problem has a solution which is simple, direct, plausible — and wrong.”

 

 

 

Free Kids From 180 Days Of Stress

A recent article in The New York Times claims that our children and adolescents are under great stress because we, as a society, have given up on childhood. While economic, racial, and familial factors contribute to that stress, the education given to our children and adolescents every school day through the application of the Common Core Standards can be a major stress as well. That stress occurs because those standards were created without addressing the cognitive, psychological, and social development of children and adolescents.

We need to investigate how mandating standards that are not based on the needs of  children and adolescents contributes to their stress.

1. Could it be that making kindergarten “the new first grade” is part of the problem?

2. Could it be that focusing on teaching kindergarteners skills to make them “college and career ready” instead of helping them to learn through play and by using their imagination is part of the problem?

3. Could it be that mastering 90 discrete skills in kindergarten instead of learning through active exploration and hands-on, play-based learning is part of the problem?

4. Could it be that, after long days at school plus Before-Care and After-Care, young children come home to tutors, hired to help them with reading, writing, and arithmetic skills that were formerly taught to children a year older, or come home to do homework  to master skills for which they are not developmentally ready is part of the problem?

5. Could it be that living in the only nation in the world which limits the amount of literature read in school and replaces literature with informational texts could be part of the problem?  Could it be that limiting the kind of reading which allows for a variety of  interpretations and encourages playing with ideas is stifling for the minds of children and adolescents?

6. Could it be that not requiring children and adolescents to revise their writing in order to stimulate their thinking and, instead, instructing them to get their thinking right the first time could be part of the problem?

7.  Could it be that telling adolescents, who are primarily interested in themselves and one another, that they can’t ever write in their own personal voice, can’t ever use the pronoun “I”, can’t ever tell their own story is part of the problem?

8. Could it be that telling adolescents, who are just becoming aware of the complexity of the world and human relationships, that they must always write essays about THE ONE TRUE answer and never write essays to explore a question they have is part of the problem?

9. Could be that never teaching children and adolescents how to form their own deep questions, how to stimulate their  thinking by discussing ideas with others who think differently from them, how to use their imagination in order to innovate and problem solve, and how to tell the story of their engagement with an idea is part of the problem?

10. In summary, could it be that the Common Core Standards have simply gotten it wrong?

Of course, the Common Core Standards have gotten it wrong.

Those who know about teaching kids to be thoughtful readers and effective writers say the Common Core Standards are wrong: The National Council of Teachers of English, the professional organization of literacy educators K-college, did not endorse the Common Core Standards because NCTE stated that those standards are not developmentally appropriate, do not help students to grow as learners and thinkers, and do not prepare students for their future, explaining that the Common Core Standards could apply to the schools of 1950 but not to the realities of today.

Those who know about how little children learn say the Common Core Standards are wrong. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement opposing the Common Core Standards on the grounds that the standards are not developmentally appropriate and would lead to long hours of direct instruction, more standardized testing, and would crowd out important, active, play-based learning.

Those who know what students need to learn to have productive and meaningful lives in the 21st century say that the Common Core Standards are wrong. Children and adolescents need to be taught how to honor their own curiosity, how to collaborate with diverse thinkers in order to strengthen their own individual thinking, how to think deeply and broadly about the human condition, how to use their imagination to think up new ideas and create innovative approaches, and how to express their ideas effectively and uniquely in writing and orally. None of those skills are taught with the Common Core Standards.

The writers of the Common Core Standards were not educators and didn’t have in mind the developmental needs of children and adolescents. Their goal was to improve standardized test scores. Children and adolescents have been denied meaningful educational experiences that could have helped them to grow and as learners and thinkers in order to raise test scores, yet that has not happened. Scores on NAEP, called The Nation’s Report Card, have been flat over the years of the Common Core and still are flat almost a decade into the Common Core. The sacrifice of real learning has produced nothing.

It is time to put more life into our kids’ lives. It’s time to reduce the stress of kids having to fit into a mold which does not serve them and only produces stress in them. It’s time to engage kids in the exhilaration of learning. It’s time to help kids to be their best and happiest selves.

We know how to do that. Ask us. Ask educators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Pay If You Don’t Go

Ever wonder who those people are at the Trump rallies? Ever wonder why they attend? A recent post from Diane Ravitch tells us about one such crowd.

Guess what: They were paid to attend.

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