Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Do we really need to talk about this?

Do we Really Need to talk about this?

There are some really ugly things going on out there in the world.  Hate-fueled acts of violence against African-Americans, Jews and Muslims have been increasing.   These are violent behaviors of Americans against their own countrymen and women. The FBI has released data showing that hate crimes have increased for the 3rdyear in a row.   Good thing we are safe inside our schoolhouse because I really don’t want to talk about these awful things.
 We cannot continue to hide behind reading scores and athletic competitions.  Our students need guidance on how to think through these events and how to form their own opinions.  If we, as educators and family members, do not fill the gap, nature abhors a vacuum and hate will move in to fill the spaces.  The parents of the young man who recently killed a woman and injured 3 others in an attack on a Jewish house of worship cannot understand where he got these hateful ideas.  They are calling him an object of evil.  Yet he is their son, raised in their house with their other children.
Our schools need a vigorous social-emotional curriculum.  This curriculum needs to include self-awareness. Each of us needs to realize who we are and what are our button that others can push.
Social awareness informs us of what is going on around us, how is society changing.   What we think about those changes?   Do we want to foster them or resist them?   
One of the trickiest situations is self-management relationship skills.  Our students with disabilities are often easily manipulated by others.   Girls think sex is the way to get a boy’s attention. Boys think acting out in certain ways is expected of them or else they are not “manly”.   In this era of more open discussion about our individual sexuality, young teens especially may be confused as to who they are.
Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own behavior.  One person cannot change the world but each of us should be trying to.  Each of us has a personal responsibility to prevent violence and move us to a more peaceful world.
Educators often have to do this work in a world that is filled with injustice and inequity for their students.   We can’t run from this reality.  To do so continues the separation of school from the real world.   If we want our students to believe that what we teach in school has meaning for their “real” lives then we need not to be afraid to wade into the difficult discussions.   Hear and listen to the words our children use.  Teach them to move through the clutter and how to map the controversy and come to a reasonable decision for themselves.  This is a time of great division in our society.  Our kids have to navigate this time through dialogue not violence.  
And yes, we really do need to talk about this.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

False Sense of Security

False Sense of Security

Whenever we hear of a school invasion, or the anniversary of a significant school shooting, people literally get up in arms.   With the 20thanniversary of the Columbine shooting, these events are in the news again.  Of course, there will be calls for more money to be spent on more school resource officers (SRO) and debates over just how armed these people should be.  But does any of it do any good?
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on school security.  A whole industry has been born marketing devices that promise to protect our students and staff.  A new extensive study reports that there is NO evidence that any of this works other than to provide a false sense of security.
Researchers at the University of Toledo and Ball State University reviewed 18 years of reports on school security.  After the review of practices from 2000 through to 2018, the researchers failed to find any program or practice that reduced firearm violence. The Naval Postgraduate School keeps a record of k-12 school shootings.  The record includes every instance a gun is displayed or fired on a campus if a bullet hits school property for any reason.   There were 94 such events in 2018, the worst year since records have been kept. The conclusion of the study is that the most effective way to prevent school firearm violence is to keep guns away from students.  
 Unfortunately, the ability of young people to have access to guns is rising at an alarming rate.
One of the reasons an SRO is not likely to be effective is that the events happen VERY quickly and the likelihood of the SRO being in the right spot at the right time is very low.  The school security provisions include installing video cameras, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, requiring students and staff to wear badges, installing a schoolwide electronic notification system, limiting access to a school, active shooter drills and conducting police patrols.  One of the desperation efforts has been to arm teachers.  Such methods have not been shown to stop any active shooter.  
This is a real example of why these prevention methods do not work.  In the morning of January 3, 2018, a 15-year of white male walked into Marshall County High School in Benton Kentucky. He had a Ruger 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Within 10 seconds of shooting he killed 2 people and wounded 14 schoolmates. Armed school personnel would have had to be in the exact same spot in the school as the shooter to significantly reduce the level of trauma.
Schools are not the place for a shoot-out.  Nor are they penal institutions.  We can go back 20 years to Columbine for the answer.  The shooter then and the shooters now feel disenfranchised and unseen by the school.   Can you imagine what good could be done if all that money went toward counselors and teachers?  Then perhaps our sense of security would be real.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

No, It is NOT ok

No, it is not ok!

I still remember a pivotal moment in my childhood.   My mother was at the sink with her back to me doing the dinner dishes.   I was on my usual perch on a stool chatting about my day as she worked.   At some point I said, “mom, is f… a bad word?”  Only I said the word.  My mom was very good about it; she did not break a single dish.  She calmly asked me where I had heard it.   I explained that the second grade sister of a boy in my 4thgrade class had told me the word on the playground and said it was the “baddest of the bad” words.  My mother did not tell me its meaning.  Instead she said that it was a word that people with very poor vocabularies used and that people who had a good vocabulary should never use it.  She then reminded me that I had a good vocabulary, even my teacher said so.    That was my introduction to profanity and to this day I do not use language meant for people with a limited vocabulary.
Many years later I became the Assistant State Superintendent for Special Education at the Maryland State Department of Education.    One of my very talented staff members routinely used the “f-word” for every part of speech.   The notion that only people with a poor vocabulary used that word had long since been discarded but still I felt a physical blow each time she used it.
Now it seems we are in an era where all restraints are off.  Crude and common language is becoming more and more common and yes, it is still crude.
Entertainers feel it is quite acceptable to use profanity to punctuate songs, jokes, and general expressions.  The language is used on cable TV.   Young children do not begin to know what the words mean but they do know they get a rise out of adults and somehow makes them seem brave in front of peers.   We tell kids they shouldn't use these words, yet they hear adults doing it all the time.   The use of such profane language has become a status symbol into adulthood as much as puberty.
Now it seems the issue has even reached the Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Court heard a case brought by a fashion brand named FUCT.   And yes, it rhymes with duct.   The US Patent Office has refused to patent the brand.  Under the law it is allowed to do so by calling the name scandalous and immoral.  Even the attorney presenting the case before the Court does not pronounce the word, instead saying just the individual letters of the brand name.   The plaintiff’s position is that the decision by the patent office is arbitrary and that the name is really an acronym for “Friends U Can’t Trust”.   The designer believes that a positive verdict from the Supreme Court will help him to pursue counterfeiters.  No one asks who would want to counterfeit such a vulgar name for a company because we already know that lots of people do.
How far are we as a society going to go with our decent into the most vulgar and coarse words?   At some point someone really needs to stop and say, “NO, this is not ok”.   Each of us could do that today. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Budets are tight and stakes are high

Budgets are Tight and the Stakes are High

There are multiple iterations of high stakes testing around the country. Kids who can’t pass the particular test for the area are at risk for not getting a high school diploma unless the school system has come up with a work-around.   Teachers and principals are evaluated by how well their students do on these tests.   Instruction in the various language arts is designed to prepare kids for the tests.
In our headlong rush to prepare students (and staff) to do well in these tests we forget that the real reason for education, besides providing our democracy with an educated electorate, is to prepare students for college and careers.   The PARCC test even stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  Interestingly, the skills assessed in these test are least related to readiness for post-secondary transition.   In fact, employers cite totally different skills that they look for and cannot find in new hires.
Commonly, we teach children to do book reports.  What exactly is the purpose of the book report?   When was the last time an employer asked a staff member to write a book report?  When students get older we up the digital platform to demand PowerPoint presentations when in fact few folks on the job have to do these.   The skills that kids will need on the job are seldom taught.
Everyone looking for a job needs a 60-second elevator speech that describes who you are.  This tool is useful for a job interview, networking at a professional gathering or even the company cocktail party.   The ability to construct a clear and concise oral message tailored to different audiences is a skill needed by most of us not just politicians.  Interacting with teams, speaking publicly and receiving and using feedback and constructive criticism are also critical.
Where in the curriculum are these skills most often taught- Performing Arts!   What area of the curriculum is first on the chopping block when we work to increase reading and math scores on high stakes tests- Performing Arts.   Budgets are tight and finite.   When money is limited administrators cut what they perceive as “nice but not necessary”.
The fact is when preparing students for the next stage of life, performing arts does more than most academic areas.  In performing arts, students learn to take on different persona. That is a lot like learning how to present to different audiences.
In performing arts, students work within a cast, each person counting on the other to produce the final product.   That is a great deal like a workplace team.   Cast members learn to accept and use constructive feedback about their performances, whether from other cast members or the director.  That process is not unlike what happens in the workplace.    Cast members have to listen respectfully to all points of view so that the final production will bring it all together for a pleasurable performance.
The truth is the stakes are too high to cut performing arts.   Yet we let school systems do it to the peril of the children they profess to be preparing for college and careers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Just sleep in...

Just sleep in…

Teenagers need more sleep not less.   Educators know this.   Psychologists know this.  Physicians know this.  Parents know this.  We all know this yet we continue to behave as if we do not.   Why is that?
In school districts across the country, high schools open the earliest, followed by middle and elementary schools.   Yet we know that factually, the adolescent brain works differently than the brains of younger children and adult.  Sleep experts say that when kids move into puberty, they experience a sleep phase shift that makes it very difficult for their brains to drift off before 11 p.m.  To make matters worse, those same brains will stay in sleep mode until almost 8 the next morning.  The CDC says that two out of three teens get less than eight hours of sleep a night.  There is research that says teens really need ten hours of sleep a night.  If you go by that standard, only 10% of teens are getting the recommended amount of sleep.  
It isn't just adolescence that makes teens so much fun to be with. Not having enough sleep yields grumpy, grouchy kids, just like the rest of us.  But for teens the stakes are higher.
Sleepy teens experience more depression.   They are also more apt to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to be bullies and get into fights.  They are also more likely to get into car crashes if they are driving alone.
That’s not the half of it.   Teachers of morning classes routinely complain about how hard it is to keep kids engaged.  REM sleep is very important to the full benefits of sleep for anyone.   Teens frequently miss that final REM cycle because they are getting up too early. It does not help that the teen addiction to blue light emitting technology just before bedtime doesn’t relax them but rather suppresses the body’s melatonin which is the sleep/wake hormone.
So with all this common sense, why are high schools almost always the early run for busses.   Busses are the key issue.   Most school systems run busses on shifts.   High schools first, then followed by middle and lower schools. Why not just switch the routes? Some systems say that is too expensive.  Some athletic directors say starting school later means ending school later; hence, practices will start and end in the dark, particularly in the winter months.   Some families say the later ending of the school day will limit the time kids have for after school jobs.   That position is often countered with a later ending to the school day will leave less time for kids to get into trouble.
The Seattle school district recently delayed the starting bell for high schools.  The results were very positive.  Students got extra sleep, grades improved, students were tardy less often and had fewer absences.  Teachers and parents reported that kids had better attitudes and were more pleasant all around.
Sounds like the notion of starting high schools later is a win-win.  Can’t understand why more districts jumping on it.  Well maybe they are sleeping on it.