There were five thoughtful articles on educational issues this week that I’m sharing with you in case you missed them. They are all well worth reading and discussing.
1. When I was a doctoral student at Hofstra University in the 1990s, it made sense to talk about “21st century skills.” But I have to admit that when some of my colleagues in the Smithtown School District continued to use that phrase a decade into the new millennium, I secretly cringed. In her Huffington Post article, A 21st Education is SO Last Century, Lydia Dobyns cogently makes the point:
“It’s empty phraseology designed to sound like we are preparing for the future when we are already living in that future; and no one believes that what passes for a typical classroom today will be the classroom experience even 10 years from now, let alone for the next 87 years.”
2. Thinking about the future, David Young and J.B. Buxton write about Language Education We Can Use in Education Week. They suggest that we overhaul language programs to ensure that they are in “tune with the demands of states, businesses, and parents to better prepare students for the global world in which they will live and work.” This is definitely something to think about.
3. On the topic of educational reform, PBS aired a Frontline documentary this week (“The Education of Michelle Rhee”) about Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and the founder and CEO of the StudentsFirst advocacy organization. Veteran education journalist John Merrow (Learning Matters) covered Rhee during her volatile three years in D.C. for the documentary. Emily Richmond, public editor of the National Education Writers Association, interviewed him about the documentary and Rhee’s complicated legacy.
4. Peter DeWitt raises very important questions about guns, TV and video game violence, and mental health in his Education Week piece, Does America Have A Violence Problem?
“We need to have open discussions about mental health and deal with America’s violent mentality. We need to look to the media, parents, society and what our children are allowed to watch on television. Schools are trying to teach students that fighting isn’t the answer at the same time they watch it as the only answer on television. Many parents monitor what their children see, but it seems to be getting harder and harder every year. We need children to actually be children.”
5. On a one-to-one level, Dr. Michele Borba offers invaluable parenting advice for parents whose children have anger management issues or are unable to handle impulses. Her wise suggestions are a must read for parents who want specific real-world suggestions on how to help kids find healthier ways to control strong impulses, overwhelming feelings, aggression and inappropriate outbursts. For example, she offers techniques to recognize your child’s anger warning signs and ways to develop a feeling vocabulary. This is a great resource for parents who live with this problem.
1. Questions about school safety surfaced almost immediately following the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. at the end of 2012. The school had strong safety protocols in place, but they were no match for a shooter with military-style weapons.
In 2013, look for more soul-searching conversations and concomitant action about school safety. Parents have an absolute right to expect that when they send their children to school, they will be safe and secure, and that they will be returned to them at the end of the day in the same condition. But this heated debate involves much more than amending school safety plans. On one side are the gun control advocates and on the other are the proponents of arming not only guards – but teachers and administrators, too. Where this argument will go is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to dominate the education and political news this year.
2. High-stakes testing was in the news in 2012. While many national policy and opinion makers favored testing as a way to reform the educational system, those in the trenches disagreed. For example, parents organized boycotts against testing and local boards of education passed resolutions against testing.
The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has been endorsed by more than 13,700 individuals and 460 organizations. It calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.”
In 2013, expect the debate to heat up as more academics and education writers line up against high-stakes testing.
3. In addition, the related issue of teacher evaluations will continue to be hotly debated as teacher unions persist in questioning the wisdom of linking evaluations to testing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline of Jan. 17, 2013, for local school districts and unions in New York to agree on a teacher evaluation plan following the parameters set down in state legislation. If not, Cuomo warned, they would lose state aid. Only about 250 of the state’s 700 districts had approved plans as of Dec. 1.
4. Although 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the implementation, cost, and quality of these assessments were increasingly under fire in 2012. Some believe Tony Bennett was defeated as Indiana’s state superintendent of education because of his support for Common Core.
In 2013, watch for news about grassroots efforts in several states against Common Core. Some states may even withdraw from the program, due to issues with the standards and assessments themselves, as well as the perception by some that they are a federal intrusion into education.
5. Parent/Family Engagement in schools made the news in 2012 with educators increasingly turning their attention to how to actively involve parents in their children’s education. On the other hand, a number of states adopted Parent Trigger legislation, which was passed to enable parents to take over schools — although most of these have been challenged in court.
The efficacy of the Parent Trigger will be debated and tested in 2013 amid concerns from educators that real reform efforts must include the professionals.
I wish you a happy, healthy, safe, and successful new year!!!
Amid the massive devastation of super storm Sandy that has touched virtually everyone in Long Beach, L.I., the light of caring and giving shined brightly this week.
Many teachers from public and parochial schools throughout Long Island who were off on Veterans Day showed up at the Long Beach Ice Rink to help in the sorting of massive donations of food, clothing, personal items, and household supplies. Like the teachers – students who also had the day off and were out of school for much of the storm — assisted in the effort.
Six families from Great Neck showed up to sort clothing by gender and size.
“We came with our moms and brothers and sisters,” said Orli Cole, 14. “We were looking to volunteer for something, and we learned of this online.”
Jacky Kislin, also 14, said they had all volunteered the previous week in Brooklyn.
“In the last two weeks, we have had one day of school,” she said.
Outside the ice skating rink on Magnolia Boulevard, a line of people waited patiently for donated food, clothing and household supplies. Two weeks after the storm, many of the residents still did not have electricity in their homes.
In front of the ice rink, representatives from FEGS offered bagels, cream cheese, juice, and coffee to those in need.
Zach Solomon, 24, whose home had to be gutted due to the flooding, spearheaded his own effort to help storm victims. He handed out new blankets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks and flashlight batteries that he purchased from the money he raised. He said he thought of the idea after remembering that a friend had started a nonprofit to help Katrina victims.
“Within the first 48 hours after I sent out 150 e-mails, we had raised nearly $10,000,” Solomon said. “We used it to buy 500 blankets, and we have a lot more money left to buy other things.”
He pointed to unsorted bags of clothing that filled half the rink’s bleachers.
“It’s estimated to be in excess of 40 tons,” he said.
“We’ve taken in food and household goods and cleaning supplies, and as there is a demand for it we run it out [to those on line],” he said.
Piazza said they are planning to send what is not needed to other communities that can use it.
At the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County dinner on Tuesday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo thanked the 550 attendees for coming to the event, despite their own difficulties with the storm. Speaking about the destruction experienced by Long Beach and other communities throughout Long Island and New York City, he noted that Sandy was one of three storms he has confronted since he became governor 22 months ago. He fears Sandy is not the storm of the century, but a new reality for which we must prepare.
While promising that New York will rebuild “better and smarter,” to prepare for future storms, Cuomo noted that he was touched by the spirit of caring communities that he observed throughout the state. He noted that a lesson learned from the Holocaust – and that the Holocaust Center teaches — is that we cannot stand idly by as others suffer. He added that we are all responsible for one another, and that the ethos of kindness and cooperation is alive and well in New York State.
In the wake of Sandy, the time has never been more appropriate for the 92Y’s new initiative to inaugurate a national day of spending that emphasizes giving back. Giving Tuesday, which will be launched November 27, is garnering the support of retailers, charities, organizations and individuals to inspire a day of giving and celebration of our country’s time-honored traditions of philanthropy and volunteerism.
You can help by spreading the word about the importance of giving back and joining in the conversation at givingtuesday.org, or on Twitter by following the hashtag #givingtuesday.
The holiday season, beginning with Halloween and culminating in Christmas, is still celebrated in many schools with festivities – including a heavy dose of treats. This is particularly problematic for children with food allergies.
A study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates that eight percent of children under the age of 18 have food allergies. The report noted that food allergies were most prevalent among preschoolers, and teenagers were most likely to have dangerous and deadly reactions. Peanut allergies were the most common, followed by milk and shellfish allergies. Other foods triggering food allergies were: tree nuts, eggs, fish with fins, strawberries, wheat and soy.
While many food allergies in children are mild and fade as youngsters grow, others can be severe and life threatening. According to the study, 40 percent of children with food allergies experience acute symptoms, such as wheezing, and anaphylaxis– a medical emergency, which involves trouble breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure.
More students than ever are currently attending school with severe food allergies. And some believe that food allergies are on the rise. For more than a decade, I supervised the school nurses in an 11,000-student school district. I often consulted with parents, principals, and nurses about students’ allergies, the parent’s role, and the schools’ response. Parents need to be proactive about their children’s food allergies throughout the school year, but particularly when shared foods are abundant during class celebrations.
If your child has a food allergy, you are your child’s best advocate. Make sure you are thoroughly informed about your child’s needs and rights. It is critically important for you to communicate with the school principal, school nurse, and your child’s teachers, as well as other parents. Be actively involved in helping the school to understand and provide the services and attention your child needs to succeed. Here are some suggestions to help you be proactive.
- Become an expert on your child’s allergy. Read about it, speak with your allergist, and consider joining a food allergy support group. Know what foods your child must avoid, and the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Learn how to use an epi-pen if your doctor prescribes it.
- Prepare information about your child’s allergy, possible reactions, and medications, and share it with the school.
- Learn how your school generally handles food allergies. For example: is there a peanut free table in the cafeteria? Are children allowed to bring snacks from home and share them? What happens at birthday parties and other celebrations?
- Work with school personnel to build a support team for your child. Educate them to avoid allergens, how to respond to your child’s symptoms, and how to react in an emergency. You will also want to discuss issues, such as field trips.
- Check the school’s policies, protocols and guidelines in regard to the handling of food allergies.
- Update prescriptions, doctor’s orders and other necessary paperwork at the start of each school year or when there is a change in your child’s treatment.
Often, food allergies can be addressed successfully by developing a medical management plan that gives the school guidance on your child’s specific needs. Creating a medical management plan for how your child’s allergy will be handled at school should be a team effort that includes you, your child, school personnel, and your child’s doctors. It is very important that the plan is documented in writing.
Parents often ask about whether they need a 504 Plan to manage their child’s food allergy at school. 504 Plans are comprehensive plans created collaboratively by parents, nurses, and other interested parties to address the student’s individual needs. While a medical management plan provides guidelines, a 504 Plan is legally binding. It is your call whether you want to request a 504 Plan for your child.
School districts are required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794) to provide all students, regardless of disability, with a “free appropriate public education.” This provision, found in section 504, applies to any condition – physical, mental, or emotional – that might interfere with a student’s ability to receive an education in a public school. That means that no student with a disability can be excluded from school.
A severe food allergy, such as peanuts, is a condition that may or may not fall under the Rehabilitation Act. For example, 504 Plans may address the use of anaphylactic medications, such as epi-pens, and how staff will be utilized to recognize and respond to allergy symptoms. 504 plans may also address specific responsibilities of students and staff.
A student must have a condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” to qualify for a 504 Plan. Students have to be evaluated by the school district to determine whether they are eligible. The district will take into consideration the age and capability of the child. If parents are dissatisfied with the outcome, they may appeal.
The bottom line has to do with the seriousness of your child’s symptoms and how capable he/she is to take care of his/her health needs. You are the best judge. It is your decision whether you want to have a legally enforceable plan or if you are comfortable with a medical management plan. Whichever you choose, it is always a good idea to make sure everything is in writing. If you are in doubt, consult with your child’s doctor, and an attorney who has expertise in this area.
Parents and teachers, already frustrated with high stakes testing, should know that New York State standardized exams are about to get more difficult next spring! Newsday reported this week that the 2013 state tests for third-through-eighth grade students will be based on new Common Core academic standards, according to NYS Education Department officials. Common Core is a nationwide initiative of the nation’s governors and national education groups. The tests will feature reading questions based on advanced nonfiction and math questions that require more in-depth analysis.
Newsday reports that school officials and teachers on Long Island are preparing for harder tests.
“The Common Core is different and, on the surface, looking to be more difficult until our kids and teachers get used to it,” said William Johnson Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent, told Newsday.
“We’re anticipating the kids will be expected to read longer, more complex and, perhaps, more interesting passages,” he added.
One bright light is that exams for children in third and fourth grades will be shorter. The Education Department shortened the exams for younger students in response to complaints from Long Island and other regions that the lengthy tests wore out younger children.
Speaking of the impact of high stakes testing, an elementary school in Seattle has banned Halloween costumes this year. Although there are some parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools, that’s not the reason children at Lafayette Elementary School will not be celebrating Halloween at school this year, according to district spokesperson Teresa Wippel. She said the decision is not based on political correctness, but on academic concerns.
“That discussion did come up … that we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are kids from different cultures, different religions (who are offended by Halloween), but that wasn’t the reason for making that decision,” she said.
Both parents and kids are disappointed with the ban, which the administration said it would reconsider next year.
“There`s a lot of pressure on teachers and principals to make sure the kids are academically competent, and we prioritize that here,” Wippel said.
Has the high stakes testing grinch destroyed yet another childhood pleasure or are the days of school Halloween celebrations rightfully numbered? What’s your school doing for Halloween, and what do you think?
A New Play About Autism and the Family
I haven’t seen this play, but the theater review caught my interest. “Falling,” a play about autism’s impact on a family, is currently at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, Greenwich Village. Here’s the New York Times review.
Breaking News – it’s now official. Parents are a more significant force in the education of their children than schools! As reported by Michele Molnar in Education Week , a new study indicates that parents who are engaged and involved are more influential in the education of their children than the schools themselves!
The study based its findings on data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, which measured the achievement of a group of 10,000 high school seniors in math, reading, science and history.
The study found that students were more successful if they came from families with high social capital — the connection between parents and children. Although school social capital is important, students succeeded even if their schools had low social capital (teacher morale, positive learning environment, addressing needs of children). This means that the more parents engaged in their children’s education, the more successful their children were.
“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.
Teachers, administrators, and family engagement advocates have long been making this point. When parents are engaged in their children’s education, kids get the message that they think school is important and that they value education.
Talk to your children about school, stay on top of their classwork and homework, and communicate with your child’s teacher. And don’t be shy. Take a look at the list of your rights I have compiled — and use them!
Parents’ Bill of Rights
- You have the right to be your children’s best advocate and expect that their unique and special needs are met by the schools in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.
- You have the right to communicate with your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse as often as you see fit.
- You have the right to easily access and understand information about your children’s schools, school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.
- You have the right to have access to your children’s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your children’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance and behavior.
- You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your children’s schools and school district.
- You have the right to attend all public meetings, including PTA, Board of Education, and committee meetings.
- You have the right to complain, without fear of retaliation, to teachers, building and district administrators, and Board of Education.
- You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and address the board during the public audience part of the meeting.
- You have the right to know official complaint procedures within the school, school district, and outside agencies, and pursue them if necessary, without fear of retaliation.
- You have the right to ensure that your children are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic and special needs are met on a daily basis.
PTO Today recently published 34 Success Tips for Middle School parent organization leaders. All of the suggestions acknowledge, “middle school is different from elementary school, and not just for the kids.” The piece offers some great ideas about how to involve middle school parents in their children’s PTAs and PTOs, while recognizing that parents have a short commitment to the middle school. Communication – with other parents, school personnel, and students – is key.
But what if you’re not a PTA leader? You’re just an average parent – stretched in numerous directions. You are amazed at the changes in your child, and wonder how you can get involved in his or her new school. Children leave the cocoon of the elementary school just at the time their bodies are changing and they are more interested in listening to their peers than their parents.
So how can parents empower themselves to help their children succeed now that they are in middle school? What is the best way to communicate with teachers and other middle school personnel? How can you nurture your child’s emerging independence at the same time that you keep a watchful eye on his/her activities?
Earlier this year, I wrote about this topic on tweenparent.com. Here are some of my tips:
- Don’t drop out of sight when your children reach middle school. This is a big mistake. Unlike elementary schools, there is usually not a need for class mothers and volunteers in the classrooms. But you should still remain actively involved. Go to PTA meetings, join committees, or volunteer to chaperone school dances and other activities. When parents are invited to events, such as meetings, concerts, plays, open houses, conferences and special programs, make it your business to attend.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other middle school administrators, counselors, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.
- Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
- Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
- Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
- Help your child with organizational skills, including managing homework. Find out what method the school uses for contacting parents and helping students stay on top of homework, such as agendas or Internet sites.
- Get to know all of your child’s teachers. Ask about their expectations, as well as homework and testing.
- As much as your child may act like he/she is not interested in talking to you, try to engage him/her in conversation on a regular basis. Be a good listener. Show a genuine interest in his/her studies, activities and friends. Show sincere attention even if your child acts like he/she does not want to be in your company. If you keep up the communication, she/he will know you will be there when advice is needed.
- Since the middle school years are the period when young people are forging their identity, it is the ideal time for them to explore their interests. Encourage them to become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, social action, etc., so they can hone their talents and skills.
- Peer pressure becomes paramount at this age. Pay attention to who your child’s friends are. Know where your child is at all times. Be alert to signs that others are unduly influencing your child.
- Pick your issues carefully. Is it more important to take a stand on fashion or values, messy room or drugs? Try to decide ahead of time where you will take your stand.
- Insist on good attendance. If your child misses school for a legitimate reason, make it clear he/she needs to keep up with schoolwork. Contact the school to make arrangements.
Middle school can be a bewildering time, for parents as well as children. Your child is becoming more autonomous, but still needs your support, engagement, encouragement, and understanding. Stay involved in your child’s school. Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.
Union members must still ratify the contract agreement with the school district. Key provisions in the contract include: longer school days for elementary and high school-age students, 10 additional instructional days each school year, and a 17 percent salary increase over the next four years.
The contract preserves the right of principals to determine which teachers will be hired and puts into place a teacher evaluation system in accordance with state law that takes into account student performance. The system will be phased in over three years, when test scores will account for 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
The evaluation system, based on standardized exams, was a sticking point for the union, as it is for teachers throughout the country. Teachers object to this impersonal form of evaluation that they believe destroys creativity and forces them to teach to the test. They also point to the fact that any test is only a snapshot of a student on a particular day and can be influenced by any number of factors, including a challenging home situation, special needs, and health issues. One thing a standardized test can never measure is caring — a teacher’s ability to understand and address the unique needs of every child in his or her class.
Having sat in on numerous school contract negotiations, I can tell you that the best contract agreement is when both sides walk away not feeling totally satisfied. That appears to be the case in Chicago.
But one has to question the wisdom of union officials to have locked the poorest and most vulnerable children out of class at the beginning of the school year, placing additional burdens on their already struggling parents. Chicago teachers can’t have it both ways. They can’t object to an evaluation system that does not recognize their profession as a humane enterprise – and then turn around and ignore the basic needs of their students.
Caring – the most essential and least tangible element in education – cannot be measured by test scores. But can it be gauged by the actions of a union?
As Chicago and the nation move forward from the debacle of this strike, let’s hope that the needs of children, teachers, and parents, can find common ground. The teaching profession is a caring one, and children who are nurtured by teachers and parents have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life. The concept of caring needs to be injected not only into the dialogue about education, but also into the actions of all stakeholders.
The subject of Dr. Meryl Ain’s doctoral dissertation was caring leadership in schools. She writes about this and other issues on her blog, Your Education Doctor www.youreducationdoctor.wordpress.com
While attending both presidential conventions was exhilarating and exciting, I returned feeling not only feeling exhausted but as if I had been in a bubble for two weeks.
Although I wrote four blogs from the conventions, listened to the speeches, and read the respective platforms, I saw little difference between the two parties with respect to education — especially in regard to school choice. In fact, an article in Education Week points out many of the areas of agreement. The author, Alyson Klein, also printed both parties’ education platforms
Another article on boston.com, Waiting for the Candidates to Debate Education, by Jim Stergios outlines the difficulties faced by both parties in articulating their positions, and argues for clarity from both of them.
My wishes for the two parties? They’re simple:
• That the Democrats stop substituting government for associations, and not insist that the government is the glue that holds us together. Our rich store of associations means that what holds us together is a lot deeper and nimble than any government bureaucracy. We just need to find how to leverage these American qualities—especially when the alternative is to undertake policies that break three federal laws.
• That the Republicans provide a real alternative to the Democrats’ vision of a centralized Ministry of Education, but not simply based on a vision of individual choice—however important that is. While “Won’t Back Down” is inspirational, and its clear emphasis on parental association and bootstrapping may prove a big addition to urban school reform, a major party needs more than that. They need a vision.
There’s lots of room for debate about the Chicago teachers’ strike, which should be of concern to people throughout the nation. The issue of teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing — a major issue in Chicago — is playing out in every state. But it is certainly not a justification for striking, especially where the poorest and most vulnerable children and families are being hurt by the school lockout.
The union’s deaf ear to the economic context – where so many are out of work — is forcing some parents to choose between staying home and watching their kids in a dangerous city or losing their jobs.
My observation as a central office administrator in a large suburban district was that parents love their teachers but have had enough of unions. This is an issue that will undoubtedly have national repercussions.
The New York Times presented the different arguments in its Room for Debate section
The following two articles, one on Huffington Post and the other in Education Week, point out the ways that disadvantaged students are being harmed by the strike.