April 20th

This year, April 20th was Easter. So that is my excuse for not remembering the Columbine High School tragedy on that date.

I was reminded yesterday because I started re-reading my own book and the first chapter is about school safety and discipline. These are tough topics to cover in a short blog but here is the gist of it….

Misconduct —be it disrupting a class, bullying, or outright violence—is a symptom. We would be foolish to think it will ever go away completely; we would be wise to recognize that we must always work to identify the underlying cause as soon as a problem is acknowledged. We shouldn’t just look away and think things will get better without conscious efforts.

Many school and community people do understand that the best thing we can do is prevent behavioral problems—the causes of the symptoms. The “means” aren’t easy but the “ends” are necessary for existence of a civil society.

The school climate and classroom conditions that are conducive to learning are the same climates and conditions that prevent bullying and other disruptive behaviors. Creating the right learning environment (where it doesn’t exist) and continually fostering that environment is the best we can do.

So how much attention is the public giving to these issues of such importance?

Common Core, and the whole standardization movement, has dominated the national conversation on education. We are all getting sucked in! Me too.

But now I’m resisting except I must once again make this point; “standards” are being confused with expectations. And “standards” are being given unjustified priority in education reforms.

If we are going to talk about “expectations,…

…” they should be about ideas like the ones offered by Carl Bosch in Schools Under Siege: Guns, Gangs, and Hidden Dangers (1997). He recommended that we “hold high expectations” of students. But he asked that we “clearly define expectations of respect, dignity, and responsibility.”

These are “standards” of behavior the public system of free schools should feel obligated to promote.

My notes from back in 1999 (now 15 years ago) indicated Bosch stressed that primary prevention of discipline issues resides in:

1) uncovering the reasons behind inappropriate behavior,

2) the proper training and teaching of the skills children need, and he stressed that

 3) consistency and fairness were important qualities for children to learn that adults should model.

Yesterday, this quote came across my desk and I consider it helpful….

“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences.”

Robert Ingersoll

Today, I hope all will step back a moment to remember and consider what is important. And we should be thankful that some still remember the tragedies and many still work towards solutions — every day.

April 20, 1999

April 20, 1999

In a Word – Expectations

Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.

And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.

The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”

An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.

“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.

Reaching for goals, together.

Reaching for goals, together.

So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.

And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains,

“Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.

We should use the power of expectations in our classrooms and communities.

This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for…

“…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”

This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.

Inequality Was Studied

The results of school segregation were studied.

The results of school segregation were studied.

As part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a national survey on inequality was commissioned to assess the degree of segregation of students and teachers, and its relationship to student achievement. The findings were discussed in a report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity by lead researcher James S. Coleman.

The study used “indicators of educational quality” to determine whether schools offer equal educational opportunity. Researchers looked at both “school inputs” such as curriculum, facilities, practices, and teacher and student characteristics as well as “outputs” as judged by standardized achievement tests. They did so with the warning that a “statistical survey can give only fragmentary evidence” of a school environment.

Looking inside "the box."

Looking inside “the box.”

This research model is called “an education production function or input-output model.” It is the type of model economists use to assess “how an economic process works in a particular firm.” It “allows for aggregate analysis without requiring an examination of the details of what happens within a particular firm or school.”

Equality of Educational Opportunity: The Coleman Report

The dominate “take-aways” frequently quoted from The Coleman Report  are:

1) family background and socioeconomic status have more effect on student achievement than school resources, and
2) that disadvantaged blacks show higher achievement in racially mixed schools.

The first take-away fed the “funding has little effect on achievement” argument and the second led to forced busing to racially integrate schools, which produced the unintended consequence of “white flight.”

The overlooked or forgotten finding was this:

The “pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the school factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny…”

This is largely a consequence of a person’s experience in the larger society” and is “not independent of his experience in school.”

What happens in schools and communities matters. School climate and culture matters.

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Keep reading The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins. Next up, Still Searching for Solutions?

The Culture of Our Society

“Education experts” fight over how much in-school and out-of-school factors contribute to student’s outcomes. Meanwhile, headlines in my newspaper today read, Doctors help students make the grade — with drugs.” I thought it was going to be about college students; it wasn’t.

They talked about young students, adolescents! If a student has “trouble listening to instructions and concentrating,” there’s a drug for that. Need a competitive edge, there’s a drug for that. I know I’m not the only one that sees the wrong in this.

So where do we point the finger of blame; “overcrowded classrooms,” the “frustrated parents” asking for the drugs, competition and the need for kids to “perform better”? Or will we hear the truth in what this pediatrician said,

“We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment, so we have to modify the kid.”

Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd

Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd

We don’t have time or resources to work with these troubled kids, but, we have a drug for that. This kind of “medical reasoning” will keep some Wall Street stock numbers up. Some will enjoy that high.

This isn’t just one dramatization, it’s wide-spread and it’s real.

Long ago, teacher Sarah McIntosh Puglist described the culture of her school to me as “test-based.” Yesterday she wrote about the culture once again saying, “…now I’m afraid many look upon struggling kids as something to resent.” Have children become a bother to society?

All should be able to see that the school culture can’t help but be influenced by the culture of our society. This is assuming that people (kids and adults alike) don’t quit being people when they walk through the schoolhouse doors.

If ever there is a time to stop and think, this is it.

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” Sitting Bull