Whole Child Education

A recent post by Rick Hess* (American Enterprise Institute) is being shared across social media. That got my attention and you can read the post here.

With fellow writer Timothy Shriver*, Mr. Hess leads off with this great quote: “the need for schools and communities to embrace children as individuals and future citizens, and ensure that they don’t feel like test-taking cogs in a bureaucratic enterprise.” (Emphasis mine.)

Who will disagree with that? As a math teacher, one of my major frustrations is the difficulty in getting high school freshmen out of the mindset that all they need to know is how to put the right answers into the test: no learning, no understanding, no curiosity necessary. Besides Geometry, every year my teaching challenge is to turn test-takers into eager, self-directed learners.

Hess and Shriver call for an end to the dichotomy in education that they describe as false: “Schools should not have to choose between chemistry and character; between trigonometry and teamwork.”

Props from GOT for the alliteration; it makes for a memorable quote. BUT! That is exactly what schools have to do as long as the test-and-punish policy of reformsters, billionaires, politicians, and the like are maintained by state laws and regulations.

Hess and Shriver get much correct. They recognize the role of schools to develop character and help children grow into responsible, capable adults. They recognize the difficulty educators face in this job because collaboration, empathy, and integrity are not innate (their word) for children.

However, they betray themselves when they say “the Commission (the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development) suggests … every teacher should be trained in child and adolescent development and the science of learning. This would require, of course, major improvements in educator preparation that must be accompanied by ongoing professional support for teachers and other adults who work with young people.”

Hello? Mr. Hess and Mr. Shriver? Have you ever visited a teaching college? This is exactly what they have been doing since the days of John Dewey. It is insulting to teachers to say that they do not have the training or knowledge needed.

Teachers have more than the knowledge; they have the desire, a burning desire, to do exactly what Hess and Shriver call for. Why is LAUSD on strike? More bucks in the paycheck? Not at all! They are striking because their school district, burdened by privatization policies of the school board and superintendent, are preventing them from providing whole child education.

Every teacher, including those in Florida, being handed a scripted curriculum that says, “You know nothing! Read the script because we high-ups and reformers, who if we ever taught in a classroom only spent a year as we raced to the top (irony intended), know better than you what children need,” rejects the insinuation that they don’t know how to provide nurturing, development, and caring for the children in their classrooms.

There is much in the article that is commendable. However, it is missing the elephant in the room: standardized testing and the destructive policies attached to it.

Kick that to the curb and cut teachers loose from their bonds. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place. You will find places where, in the words of Hess and Shriver, they are “helping students feel safe at school; cultivating traits like responsibility and perseverance; developing an emotional foundation for academic success; and teaching students to respect and listen to one another in the face of differences.”

*Biographical footnote: Timothy Shriver is Chairman of Special Olympics, Founder and Chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, and Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ten Days: the Maximum!

Oh, Georgia! Voter suppression by the candidate who had the responsibility of oversight over his own race. And you ignored the conflicts of interest as Brian Kemp purged the voter rolls of black voters and closed numerous polling places in majority-black counties–all to keep them folks from turning out and voting for his opponent.

I suppose I should be thanking you, Georgia, because you make Florida look good, but I am not.

An “old sweet song” of racism and white supremacy keeps Georgia on my mind.

This is what the school-to-prison pipeline looks like. A 12-year-old boy is given cash by his parents to pay for his school lunch. (Let’s not imagine what might have happened if his parents had not given him money for lunch. There are too many lunch-shaming stories floating around as it is.)

The cashier runs the counterfeit pen across the bill and the streak turns blackish or brown. Counterfeit! (The iodine solution in the pen reacts to wood-pulp-based paper, but does not react to the fiber-based cotton and linen the U.S. Treasury uses to make currency.)

What happens next? The straight A, honor roll student is punished with a 10-day suspension. Although the investigation reveals he had no idea and his parents did not know either, that did not matter.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, boy! Neither is your tender age and innocence that kept you from questioning the cash your parents gave you for your lunch. Possession is nine-tenths of the law (as the saying goes), you possessed, you will be punished.

Sadly, tragically, this young man is innocent no longer. He now understands what it means to bear a black skin in America.

Oh, Georgia! Oh, America! How can you be okay with this?

About that Road to Hell

Good intentions paving the way.

Why do teachers do it? From South Africa, we get this story: Teacher suspended over class ‘split by race.’

Everyone makes mistakes. This post is about how we can stop making mistakes.

Executive summary: Don’t be stupid.

As in, we teachers must always be aware of the effects of the decisions that we make. We can have all the right reasons free of discriminatory effect, all the right data blind to demographic breakdowns, and the best of intentions.

But when the result is discriminatory? Then we need to pull back and realize we should go another way.

In this case, the teacher grouped her class according to language ability and knowledge. Apparently, she wound up grouping her class into groups that were white only and black only.

She had a non-discriminatory basis for what she did. But the effect was discriminatory and a photo shared on the school’s social media account provoked an outcry.

Now the teacher is suspended pending an investigation.

This problem crops up in the United States. It’s not only the cosplay gone awry; other problems also take place.

Always, always, we teachers have to be aware of the effects our decisions and interactions have on the children who are our students. I’m not without sin myself, but I always reflect on what took place each and every school day and, if something didn’t go well, how I could do it better.

It goes beyond race. Sometimes, teachers allow their personal convictions to affect their words.

Regardless of how you feel about LGBTQ teenagers, you have to remember that this is a vulnerable time of their lives. The adolescent agenda for development is one of identity. Teenagers are working out who they are, which is why they may do something out of character at times. They are trying out a way of understanding themselves. Most of the time, it doesn’t work (peer feedback can be savage) and they move on.

We teachers are not to judge them. We should support them because our jobs go far beyond that of imparting knowledge. We guide children along their path to develop into adults and we recognize that it is they who have the right to determine who they will be.

Regardless of how a teacher feels about a transgender student, if the child says this is my name and I identify male or female, go with it. Use the name they want and use the pronouns that match.

If you can’t understand why, then don’t be stupid. Don’t insist on doing what you want and getting into trouble. Respect the child.

As for those groupings, every wise teacher knows that after the groups are made according to the data, common sense must prevail. No matter the data, two kids who will fight if they sit next to one another cannot be in the same group. Two lovebirds who only need one desk because sharing a chair is happiness cannot be in the same group. Two chatterboxes who will socialize cannot be in the same group.

Have a mind about what’s taking place in the classroom.

Remember that data has its place, but its place is not primary. It informs and supports teacher decisions, but it does not control. There are other things more important and one of those things is diversity.

If the groupings are not diverse, throw them, the data, and the theoretical framework upon which it is based into the trash can.

Students will thank you for it.

Get off the road to hell.

“Why are ‘Student Loans’ calling me on my phone?”

But first, Publisher’s Clearing House.

If you are old enough, like GOT, you remember those sweepstakes. They came regularly in the mail and, to win a few million dollars, all you had to do was risk a stamp to put your entry into the mail.

Not a few cynics believed that unless you ordered a boatload of magazines, which Publisher’s Clearing House was after, your entry went into the trash.

PCH took pains to explain that they complied with state laws and that every entry, magazine subscription orders or not, had an equal chance of winning.

But they knew, by putting the advert into people’s homes, many would decide to order magazines. And, it was kind of fun, looking through the offerings, detaching the stamps, licking the back, and pasting them onto the order form even if your Dad made you throw those orders into the trash.

Ah, an innocent fun our young will never know.

Why is PCH still in business? Print is dying.

That was my question when a tablet ad barged into my consciousness as I caught up on a few games.

I took the bait. What I figured was they would take my info, ask some questions about my interests as in what kind of magazines I would be interested in, and then sell the data.

I took the bait because I figured that was what they were after–data, which as we all know is big bucks these days–and by entering their contest, I would gather some info worth a blog post about privacy.

But PCH asked nothing more than my address and my email address … well, they needed my birth date also.

But that was it. How could they gather data about my interests if they didn’t ask subtly through magazine choices? What exactly were they after? An email address? Pbbft. They can have it. One day I’ll burn it when the spam gets too annoying. (Something an old person would think and do.)

Let it rest, I figured.

Maybe I’ll learn something later once the spam starts rolling in.

But then it hit me … a conversation I had with a student in my second period today.

“GOT (he used my name), why are ‘Student Loans’ calling me on my phone?”

At first, I was confused. He was too young to have student debt and I was thinking he was getting a debt collection call.

Nope, if it was mistaken identity, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The truth is worse.

At 14 years of age, he is receiving solicitations to take out student loans through the boiler room that is doing the calls.

14!

I told him he was too young to be thinking about student loans–that is for college. In a year and a half, when he is beginning to identify colleges he may want to attend and researching the costs, at that time he will work with our outstanding Guidance Department to find scholarships and financial aid through organizations that are not out to exploit him.

This … 14! … is not a time to fall to a pitch to enter into a soul-crushing, life-long debt that must be paid off.

(Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.)

14! Are you as outraged as I am?

14! And now GOT must wonder how they found him. Who gave up the phone number?

Student privacy is a real issue. There’s an upcoming webinar about protecting student privacy and you can sign up for it here. (Source: Badass Teachers Association and Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Mentioned by Diane Ravitch in her blog.)

Watch it. Grumpy Old Teacher plans to.

14!

Moneyball, the Batting Average, and Test Scores

Image result for moneyball
It seemed to work till everyone was doing it. Then, not so much.

Moneyball was the book that described the transformation that grabbed professional baseball by the throat and said the old way of determining a player’s worth, the batting average, wasn’t enough. Baseball is the ultimate sport of statistical measures and the argument was that better and more measures, put through a meat grinder of a formula, could produce a magic number that would tell managers, front office suits, owners, and fans the value any given ballplayer added to the team.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But with a difference. The statisticians attempted to bring more measures into the formula because they realized that batting average, the number of hits divided by the number of times at-bat ignoring walks, did not capture the full measure of the production a player brought to the team.

So they expanded the measure. Instead of batting average, they would calculate a measure that included on-base percentage, slugging average (unlike the batting average, the slugging average gives credit for extra-base hits), and other stats deemed relevant.

Ben Orlin, in his book Math with Bad Drawings (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2018) mentions a precursor to the Moneyball theory, published by Life Magazine August 2, 1954, a statistical measure developed by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time:

Lots of inputs, for sure. You might guess most of them, but what’s up with that F at the end?

In his endnotes to a subsequent chapter, Orlin also gives us the formula for rating NFL quarterbacks:

Multiple inputs, but what’s up with those fractions at the end?

Just for laughs (not really, GOT is going somewhere with this post), let’s look at Florida’s VAM formula for teachers:

Much better: a formula I can really understand. Florida only needed 24 pages to explain it.

What do these formulas have in common?

  1. Each one tries to reduce a complex performance to a single number for the purpose of determining who is better than whom.
  2. Each one is selective in what is measured. Each one ignores other important aspects of performance. For baseball, the formula ignores the defensive contribution of a player to a team. For example, a shortstop may be low in terms of offensive output but is outstanding in making outs and turning double plays. A low batting catcher may have a strong arm that no one attempts to steal a base.
  3. None of them captures the intangibles that contribute real value to performance. How do you measure leadership in the locker room? An ability to resolve player disputes to keep the team cohesive? The non-department chair that other teachers go to for help and advice? Statistics don’t capture these contributions.
  4. Nor do these formulas capture the importance of public relations. How much value does the ballplayer willing to sign balls for kids at the fence add to the team versus the player who will only sign at a convention where he earns hundreds of dollars to ink a ball? How much value for the teacher who knows how to work with parents and how to represent a school in public to the credit of all? These formulas can’t capture these vital but non-numerical contributions.
  5. Each one seems to feature some arbitrary feature that makes it hard to interpret. The maximum score a quarterback can get is 158 1/3. One-third? Seriously? As for teachers, the score is equally meaningless. It means how far above the prediction of student performance the teacher reached. But that depends upon the prediction being valid.

How do these formulas differ?

  1. The sports formulas try to include as many measures as possible. In contrast, the teacher VAM formula has only one input: test scores. Don’t be fooled by the many variables. They are an attempt to control for the many factors that affect student test performance much as the quarterback formula throws in a multiplier and an addend that make as much sense as picking numbers out of the sky. 158 1/3? Seriously?
  2. Replication. Anyone having the patience to look up sports stats can calculate the formulas for themselves and verify reported numbers. Anyone trying to do so with teacher VAM will run into a wall. While state departments of education are happy to provide the numbers to media intent on teacher shaming, they will not provide their calculations so that people can double-check their results.
  3. Legitimacy of the data. Want a better Moneyball rating? Get on base more often. Want a better NFL rating? Stop with the interceptions, make better passes for more yards. Want a better VAM rating? Game the test.
  4. In the end, sports is a competitive endeavor. Only one team can be the champion. Fortunes are won and lost as teams seek the players who will take them to the summit. Education is a cooperative endeavor in which we seek to make everyone the champion. It is not a zero-sum game and resists a single measure of quality.

Don’t expect the uber-wealthy and their politicians to understand this. As the current Secretary of Education once said, “Money is how we keep score.”

Moneyball. It worked for the Oakland As until other teams caught on. It has never worked in education and never will.

Unleashed or Off the Chain?

DeSantis advisory-committee member Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said Thursday law enforcement should have authority over arrests on school grounds.

“We need to be unleashed into the schools, show consequences to the kids, so that when they grow and turn 18, we’re not actually creating a pipeline to the prison system,” Bell said. “We need to show there is accountability for your poor decisions and your poor actions. Curb behavior at the beginning, instead of when it’s too late and we let someone like Nicholas Cruz to flourish within our school board system.” (Source: News4Jax, TV station in Jacksonville.)

“Bureaucrats don’t understand policing or police work,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in [Parkland] shooting. “We need to take bureaucrats out of the mix of policing in the schools.” (Source: Tampa Bay Times, January 3, 2019.)

“We have substituted the judgment of school administrators and educators for law enforcement,” Petty said. “We need to stop looking at law enforcement as the enemy. They are part of the solution, and we need to approach it that way.” (Ibid.)

Are we ready to unleash these people to take discipline measures out of the hands of school administrators? GOT can see a dystopian alternate universe where police officers burst into a classroom, slap handcuffs on a student, and drag them out of the room. The ‘crime’? Too many tardies.

It is interesting, this call to be unleashed as educators are also hearing a message from some law enforcement personnel that they must carry guns because they cannot expect law enforcement to show up in an active shooter situation.

As an educator, GOT admits he is not an expert in the law or law enforcement. Persons in law enforcement often come with a college degree in criminal justice or political science. They have gone to training academies. They spend weeks in professional development every year to understand how best to police a community, identify threats, and enforce the law as they maintain peace and order in our neighborhoods.

But law enforcement also lacks expertise in education, school environments, and child development, especially the development of adolescents. The very idea of police walking the hallways of a school to show consequences to children with the idea that they will become adults too afraid to break the law is naive at best.

Peace and order in communities is not maintained by fear. Only tyrants think otherwise.

Peace and order is maintained when all persons in the community recognize their membership, their role and place in the community, and the interconnectedness and reliance of all members upon the others. A breach in the relationship injures the community. Peace and order comes when offenders go through a process of restoration to their place in the community, not removal from it.

Then there is this: The Trump administration wanting to void civil rights protections dating back to the 1960s. The Secretary of Education moving to erase previous guidance to the nation’s schools about replacing zero-tolerance policies with restorative practices.

Look at the quote above: We don’t want kids to turn 18 and be creating a pipeline to prison.

The speaker got it right, but in a way he did not intend. No, you don’t want schools to be a pipeline to prisons; you want schools to become prisons!

They want to be unleashed, but isn’t it more true that they’d like to be off the chain?

Pro-Choice?

Time was, this phrase aroused passions like no other as the culture wars raged throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Time has passed through the aughts into the teens of a new century, and the phrase still arouses great passions although in an entirely different theater of the culture wars.

In education, choice means parents have multiple options for the enrollment of their school-age children. It is not the existence of choices that is controversial. Parents have always had a choice. Private schools have existed since the immigration of European colonists. Public schools began when townspeople banded together to hire a teacher for the village children. Parochial schools began when the Catholic Church grew concerned that Catholic children would not grow up in the Catholic faith.

Public schools grew into larger systems supported by citizens through school taxes. As such, it was the free option parents had. But there were always choices.

The controversy comes because now some advocate to take the public tax dollars and distribute them among all the options, traditional public, charter, private, parochial, online, and home schools.

The controversy is heated because there are many dogs in the fight over the bones that have not increased. More dogs, same number of bones, the competition is fierce.

Each side, there are many, has supporting arguments, moral principles, constitutional appeals, and valid philosophies. But in the end, we are fighting over a limited supply of public dollars.

How do we use those dollars to get the most value for the most children?

Or should we even bother with that utilitarian argument?

The desire for school choice, no matter how carefully constructed upon a utilitarian philosophy, has nothing to do with that.

Choice is individualism. I decide what is best for my children. While not utilitarian, it is very, oh so essentially, American.

My child, my rights, my choice.

You will not get an argument over a parent’s right to determine what is best for their child from me. Although I am privileged over the course of 10 months to spend more time with their child in my classroom than the parent does at home, at the end of the year, I am done. I fade away. Lots of teachers over thirteen years of schooling; only two parents.

I didn’t carry the child for nine months in my body. I didn’t feel its heartbeat and recoil from its kicks. I didn’t go through the agony of bringing the child into the world and then loving its being more than my own. Making sacrifices through the early years to raise a child the best I could.

So, yes, parents, it is your choice. However, I would like you to make a good one. A little over 100 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration came into being to police a marketplace of tonics and pharmaceuticals that too often offered bad choices.

Bad choices that ruined life and health and blighted the lives of persons who couldn’t sort through the hype and the truth.

Education is crucial for the young. Everyone agrees on that. We also know from the last 20 years that many of the choices parents are offered are not good ones.

We know the devastation caused to children when schools abruptly close in the middle of the year. Learning is an organic process that only succeeds in a stable environment.

The FDA established a process by which trials, testing, and proof of efficacy without dangerous side effects is necessary before a drug is allowed to go on the market.

Isn’t time we established a similar watchdog for education?

That’s a choice we all should make.