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7/30/19

A Program That WORKS

A;Program That WORKS


     School Boards and Educational Leaders have struggled for many years with school disciplinary issues; more specifically the negative impact of disciplinary issues on student learning for the offender and the offended (Balfanz, R, byrnes, v., and Fox, J 2018). Traditionally, school discipline codes have been based on conformity and modeled on the criminal justice system. Rules (laws) are established, penalties for infractions are set, incidents investigated, students are charged and penalties are imposed. Order has been kept by punishing those that do not or will not conform, rewarding those that do, and, if the infractions continue, either pushing out or assigning the habitual offenders to an alternative setting. Disciplinary consequences in schools and classes are very often as much about allowing conforming students the opportunity to learn without disruption as about providing a consequence for the habitually disruptive student, and teachers and administrators are seemingly more concerned with following procedures than providing an educational opportunity for the offenders (Jones, E.P., 2018).   Schools, in other words, rarely have the resources and/or training to deal effectively with the countless behavioral issues that students bring from their homes and communities, and the disciplinary consequences are often disproportionately administered to minority students (Rumberger, R. W.; Losen, D. J. 2016). Very few educators, if any, would dare to argue that alternative school settings in the overwhelming majority of school systems were equal to regular schools academically. The UCLA Civil Rights Project (https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/) noted that schools with high suspension rates are less safe, less equitable and have lower academic performance outcomes than schools with lower suspension rates (Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E., Johnson, D. 2013).
     Zero tolerance policies for students, once seen as an answer to disruptive behavior in schools, have been found to be counterproductive and ineffective in preventing recidivism (www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/08/zero-tolerance).  These policies not only fail to make schools safer or smarter, the unintended consequences are increased incidents of bad behavior, higher dropout rates and  the punishments and consequences are disproportionately applied to students of color.
     Restorative justice for schools is a set of principles and practices that looks at student misbehavior and disruption with the goal of not only repairing the harm done and restoring the relationships of those involved but ultimately teaching the common values of respect, inclusion, responsibility, empathy, honesty, openness and accountability (Zehr, 2003) without resorting to suspensions, expulsions and alternative school assignments.  Instead of focusing on the crime and punishment of offenders, restorative justice asks who has been hurt, what are their needs and who has the obligation of addressing those needs and resolving the harm done. School -based restorative justice includes prevention, intervention and re-integration aspects. Since a school is an easily defined community of teachers, staff, students and their families, restorative practices can help schools create and maintain a positive school culture and climate (edutopia.org/stw/glenview-case-study). 
  John Hattie (Hattie, 2009) developed a  method of ranking various influences related to learning and achievement according to their effect size.  Effect sizes greater than .4 have an above average impact on student achievement. Home Factors, for example, including social class, help with homework, the extent to which the learner’s education is thought to be important, maternal involvement and play materials, were measured at .52 effect size. Parental involvement and parent aspirations (.51 effect size), were also an important influence on student academic achievement.  Teacher students relationships (.72 effect size) were emphasized as an important influence on student learning by students, parents, and Principals but not by Teachers.  
     Another important influence on student learning (.84 effect size) was the number of hours the student was actively taught per day.  Frequent removal of the student through suspension, In-School suspension or other factors may have a negative influence on student achievement.  Comprehensive school reform efforts have consistently documented the academic effectiveness of programs designed to increase the time students spend engaged in learning (Borman, Hewes, Overman and Brown 2003) (Zurawsky, 2004). Additionally, in classrooms where management appears to be ineffective and disciplinary power struggles between students and the Teachers are apparent instructional time is substantially reduced (Vavrus and Cole, 2002). 
     The WORKS (Working On Refocusing, Redirecting, Realigning Kids Successfully) program is a restorative justice based program currently in use in several public schools and systems in Georgia.  The stated purposes of the program are to improve the relationship between school and home through parental involvement, implement strategies to improve teacher - student relationships and to implement alternatives to suspension and strategies to improve student behavior and decrease the amount of instructional time lost. The programs’ goals are to improve targeted students’ attendance, increase academic performance, improve parental engagement and provide strategies for parents and teachers to more effectively guide student success than in traditional disciplinary methods..
     George Washington Carver High School is a majority -minority high school in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus GA.  The school is a STEM school and has about 1136 students and 92 faculty and staff. The graduation rate at the school has increased from 76.4% in 2015 to 86.31% in 2018. About 91% of Carver’s students are minority students. 
       The Second Chance WORKS program has been partnered with George Washington Carver High School in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus GA for the past two academic years. The program, instituted first as a pilot program and continued in 2018 upon approval for funding, paired a certified restorative justice trainer/consultant with the needs of the school through interviews with Administrators, Teachers and an LEA Administrator, and implemented a comprehensive program of 36 modules based on leadership, social emotional learning and academic achievement skills in place of ISS or OSS for disciplinary and/or attendance issues  Each module contains a statement of purpose, a video to explain the purpose of the lesson, an engaging scenario that allows the student to role play and see a situation from multiple perspectives and an opportunity for reflection about what has been learned. Students are selected for participation by a team composed of the WORKS consultant, school administrators, LEA administrators and the ISS Coordinator. Students are recommended for program participation based on a combination of disciplinary and attendance factors. Rather than serve time in In School Suspension or Out of School Suspension the students and parents agree to participate in the WORKS program modules. Parent participation in Saturday programs/modules are a requirement for student enrollment in the WORKS program.  In January 2017 and again in January 2018 forty (40) GWCHS students were selected for the WORKS program and assigned times to begin working with the WORKS consultant.
     The WORKS Consultant supervises the students during the school day as they work individually on the modules, and students work at their own pace.  WORKS sessions, each led by a certified Restorative Justice trainer, are held each school week Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Saturday sessions for students assigned out of school suspensions are held every other week, and the Saturday sessions are those that parents of student offenders are required to attend.  Results, as indicated in the data below, show comparisons of discipline rates for GWCHS for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Of the 40 students originally assigned to the WORKS program in January 2018, two students were withdrawn from school by their parents rather than participate. Of the 38 remaining students, parents of 8 individual students were required to attend Saturday sessions with their children as an alternative to OSS.  All 8 did so, and completed the program. The 38 students from all four grade levels (9, 10, 11 and 12) had compiled a total of 116 disciplinary referrals for the current school year in the five months prior to their January assignment to the WORKS program. During and after their participation, there were 26 disciplinary referrals issued to participating students. Students that recognize their own lack of achievement are now beginning to volunteer for participation in the program in addition to those assigned for disciplinary reasons.
      Reduced suspension rates for ISS and OSS students mean more days in class for those students and increased learning time. It atso means teachers no longer provide make up or make work lessons for students in ISS or OSS.  The chart below indicates that the WORKS program, in conjunction with PBIS training, has significantly decreased the average number of discipline referrals per day per month in the course of one school year.



     Similar restorative justice based programs were instituted in Turner Elementary School, Albany Middle School and Dougherty Comprehensive High School in Albany Georgia.  These schools are part of the Dougherty County School District. The district student population is over 89% minority and represents 81% economically disadvantaged students and their families.  The program details for each school replicate those of the WORKS program at G.W. Carver High School, and the program framework, policies and implementation are similar. The resultant discipline data from each school is listed in the charts below.











     The data indicates the WORKS program, implemented in conjunction with a school -wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support program, reduces significantly not only the number of disciplinary incidents during the observed segments of the respective school years, but the combination of restorative justice methods and required parental involvement can positively impact the overall school culture and student and parental behaviors. The data also indicates the restorative justice model may provide an efficacious solution to many disciplinary issues in schools as opposed to simply a consequence.  As Assistant Principal Lisa Norris noted, “the works program at GW Carver High School has served to reduce the number of discipline referrals, the number of ISS assignments and the days of school missed for OSS assignments. Our students in the program learn that correction or direction by another student, a teacher or an administrator is not meant as a personal attack, and that there are other, more appropriate ways to respond than confrontation. Fewer disciplinary issues and consequences also mean our school climate and academic achievement have improved significantly.”




Dr. James Arnold
     Dr. Arnold retired after serving 41 years in public schools as a Band Director, Assistant Principal, High School Principal and Superintendent of Schools. He has published numerous articles in a wide variety of journals and educational publications, and currently serves as an Adjunct at Columbus State University and Troy University Phenix City.






References

American Psychological Association Zero-Tolerance Task Force, Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?, Vol. 63, No. 9, 852-862.

Balfanz, R., byrnes, v., and Fox, J., 2018, Sent Home and Put Off Track: The Attendance, Disproportionalities and Consequences of Begin Suspended in the Ninth Grade, Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, Vol. 5: Iss 2, Article 13.

Borman, G., Hewes, G., Overman, L., & Brown, S. (2003) Comprehensive School Reform and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis, Review of Educational Research, 73, 125.

Brookings Educational Research, 2017, Race and School Suspensions. Brown Center Report Part III.

Hattie, John, 2009  Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Corwin Press, US.

Jones, E. P., The Link Between Suspension, Expulsion and Dropout Rates, America’s Promise Alliance

Rumberger, R. W., Losen, D. J. 2016, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and it’s Disparate Impact, The Civil Rights Project.

Steinberger, M., Allensworth, E., Johnson, D. 2013, What Conditions Jeopardize and Support Safety in Urban School: The Influence of Community Characteristics, School Composition and School Organizational Practices on Student and Teacher Reports of Safety in Chicago, The Civil Rights Project, Closing the School Discipline Gap Conference, January 2013.

Vavrus, F & Cole, K. (2002) “I didn’t do nothin”: The Discursive Construction of School Suspension, The Urban Review, 34(2), 87-111.

Zehr, Howard, 2014, The Little Book of Restorative Justice,  Good Books, New York, NY.

Zurawsky, Chris, 2004, Closing the Gap: High Achievement for Students of Color, AERA Research Points, 2(3).


                                                                                                    

More information on the WORKS program may be found at https://www.chancesforkids.org/

7/20/19

Terms of Enrichment

Terms of Enrichment


         It would seem that Congress, almost without anyone noticing, has set themselves up over the last 60 years or so to a point where “politician” has become an acceptable, if not necessarily respected, profession. Up until the 1950’s, serving as a member of Congress was still considered, barring the occasional national emergency or world war, part time employment, and elected citizens not only kept their primary jobs they did not intend to make politics a career.  The original intent (you can look it up) was that serving was an obligation to be endured and not a career choice. “What’s wrong with politics as a career?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t we be glad that someone wants the responsibility of helping run our country effectively?” Why, yes, I answer quickly. We should indeed if that were the case. What we see instead is that Congress lives in its own world divorced completely from the realities of the citizens of our country, is neither effective nor responsible and as a group lacking the moral fiber and self discipline to make difficult decisions.
     I believe there are several reasons for this. First and foremost, Washington DC may be IN America but its inhabitants do not represent the beliefs or feelings of most Americans.  Perhaps there is an invisible wall defined by the Beltway that excludes common sense, patriotism and fiscal responsibility from those within. Insulation over an extended period of time from the constituents they are supposed to represent leaves many Congressmen hopelessly out of touch and subject to the opinions, beliefs and policies of party leaders and lobbyists. While their original idea may have been to represent their own geographical area of the country, the myopic effect of constantly being the center of attention surrounded by lobbyists, news media and fellow politicians eventually leads them away from being a representative and into the misguided belief that they are leaders. They are not. They are representatives and nothing more. The longer lawmakers spend in DC the more likely they are to become part of the problem and a member of what has become a permanent governing political class exempt from many of the laws they pass for the citizens they represent. If experience is such a positive thing then why do so many issues go unsolved? Perhaps because their primary purpose is in reelection and the accumulation of power and not service to their state and country. .
     It would seem the longer one serves as a political elite the less interested and less likely they are to attempt to solve any issue for fear of losing votes, for fear of having no issues to campaign upon and especially for fear that the public in general might discover how useless most of them really are. If news reports over the last decade or so are to be believed, the primary purpose of a politician seems to be pointing out the verbal faux pas of those in the opposing party. My belief is that should your primary occupation be playing “gotcha” with politicians from the other party, that behavior reflects far more negatively on you than on those you are discussing. You certainly don’t have to be elected to behave like an eighth grader.
     There are several studies that indicate that the longer Congress is in session the less effective they become and the longer and more complex laws become.  The complexity of a law is inversely proportional to its effective enforcement, and, even worse, complexity practically guarantees increased costs. They do seem to be rather efficient at spending other peoples’ money, and the profligacy of pork in the budgetary process provides plenty of evidence of waste and financial mismanagement. What is Congressional pork, after all, except monetary bribes for votes from the people back home? If reelection were not a primary concern perhaps it would be easier to cut Congressional spending.
     Congress has also, quietly and with little or no fanfare, set up their own retirement system independent of Social Security, exempted themselves from health care choices that were mandated for every other citizen, and extended themselves the benefits of larger staffs, transportation, travel and postal services all at public expense.  How many of us still depend upon the postal service as our primary means of communication and commerce? Not many, yet Congress spends about $17 million dollars per year on this privilege for their own use. First class travel expenses also run about $15 million per year. Junkets is an apt description of these vacations posing as “fact finding missions” to other countries.
     Add to all of this the fact that Congress is spending our country into oblivion and you can begin to understand at least part of their lack of popularity (less than 20% approval for the last 10 years). The budgetary process in Washington seems to most citizens to be nonexistent, and based solely on arguments between the two parties on whether or not to continue raising the current budgetary limits rather than reigning in spending to manageable levels consistent with the amount of money available to spend. It’s apparently difficult for people that see themselves as the country’s leaders to say “we can’t afford that because we don’t have the money” or, even more germane, “that function is not one the Federal government should be undertaking.”  When they begin discussing, on rare occasions, “how do we pay for this” then the answer almost invariably becomes “why, more taxes of course.” Budgets should not work that way. Our budgets at home don’t. The answer is not in raising taxes or printing more money but in cutting programs and expenditures that we cannot afford, no longer need or should not have been a Federal program to begin with. Did you know $1.7 billion of our taxes pay for maintenance and upkeep for over 770,000 unused buildings nationwide each year? Can anyone tell me why we still need to fund the Rural Electric Association? How about $6.34 million for artwork at a California Veteran’s Affairs Center? A Federal Department of Education? The Federal Register, available online, is printed every day and given to members of Congress at a cost of over $1 million each year. Responsible representatives should know that sometimes, for the good of the family or the good of the country, you have to say NO.
     Which brings me to another problem.  Congress’ primary purposes seem to be centered on reelection rather than what’s good for the country. The issue of reelection is presented to constituents as the importance of keeping “experience” and “leadership” when in fact it is neither. Loyalty of those whose primary purpose is reelection will quickly go to those that provide the money necessary for the process rather than those that cast the actual votes, and party loyalty becomes far more important than loyalty to “the people” primarily because of the sums involved.
     It would seem to me that Congress has in fact become a financially lucrative (if rather shady) career that it was never intended to be, and that politicians are far too afraid of saying no and taking the chance of offending voters or contributors than in actually doing what they think best for the country without consideration of who might be offended. The lack of moral fiber, character and leadership are astounding.
     I have several suggestions. 
First - there is no reason politicians cannot telecommute and work from home at least part of the time.  Mama always said that if you find yourself in a toxic environment the first thing you should do is remove yourself from it. Don’t tell me that technology can’t make that happen. If I can press a button on my computer and simultaneously order and pay for anything from anywhere and have it arrive at my home three days later I believe technology has progressed to the point where politicians can study, communicate and vote from afar. This will allow more time among the people they are supposed to represent and less time within the Washington Beltway. 
Second - every Senator and Representative should be a part of Social Security and whatever health care they approve for everyone else. Separate health care and separate pension systems, both funded by tax money, are lipstick on a pig.  Congress should never be exempt from laws they pass for every other citizen. 
Third - if we cannot put enough public pressure on Congress to impose the same term limits on themselves they did for the office of President there must be a grassroots movement to impose those limits by never voting for the same candidate more than twice. It:s that simple and does not need Congressional action. When a politician has served two terms, discover for yourself how easy it is to just say no.
Fourth - serving in Congress should return to being a part time position.  The end of the “professional politician” would immediately make representatives more accountable to the people they serve. Good businessmen are almost never found in politics. If they were there they would never allow some of the idiocy we see in Washington DC to occur.  Imagine your business - whatever it is - sending a significant part of its profits to a competing business in another country as “foreign aid.”. Imagine allowing your business under any circumstances to lose track of 6 billion dollars or so because of “improper control of contracting procedures” and nobody is held accountable.  A lot of the financial insanity would end quickly if accountability were inherent and not avoided.
Fifth - Each member of Congress should be given a budget for staff, travel, mailing and all expenses. Anything they spend over that amount will be personally funded.
     The purpose of our elected representatives has become confused and misguided to the point that self aggrandizement, personal enrichment and the accumulation of power have replaced representation of the people that elected them.  Harry Truman had it right. “Show me a man that gets rich by being a politician, and I'll show you a crook.” I don’t care that they make $174K per year, but I do care that most of them seem to leave office far wealthier than when they were first elected. Perhaps being part time would let the honest ones serve more effectively if for no other reason than by limiting the time the crooks have in office. Wouldn’t it be nice for adults to be serving our country again, and to have statesmen rather than politicians? You can make that happen. All you have to do is make “career” and “politician” mutually exclusive terms.

6/29/19

Put Me In Coach

     Mama said that every guy that plays Little League, whether he ends his baseball career at that level or not, considers himself an authority on all things baseball from that moment on regardless of whether he was an All Star player or the perennial bench warmer.  She further noted that the ability level and accomplishments he remembers are seldom consistent with the remembrances of others that saw him play. The older you get, the better you were. I’m pretty sure she was basing her observations on my baseball experiences, but that’s purely speculative on my part.
     We have been watching our grandsons play baseball for many years now, from T Ball and the amoeba defense to high school and every level in between.  We have accumulated an enormous amount of equipment that must accompany us to their games. We have a tent to provide shade, a cooler to keep drinks cold, a designated bag for peanuts, pretzels and snacks, frozen plastic thingies that replace the messy ice we used to use, small, personal battery powered fans, hats, sunscreen, rather expensive chairs that rock and recline and have cup holders in the arms, and a lightweight red wagon to preclude numerous trips from the car to the ball field with all our paraphernalia.  We are prepared, but preparation does not preclude discomfort.
     There are few places on earth where temperatures, wind, rain, sun and the elements combine to produce the extremes found at our local ball fields.  I am undecided as to whether the fields are built purposefully in areas subject to these conditions or if the area becomes a climatic anomaly after the park is built. Shade is nonexistent (hence the tent), and no matter how you dress for the current weather, it will be inappropriate at some time during your stay and almost always for the majority of that time.  In late winter and early spring the afternoons will begin in a delightfully comfortable way, but degenerate quickly into gale force winds coming off a nearby glacier carrying a deadly combination of rain, sleet, hail and snow once the sun disappears at 4pm. In summer, the heat will invariably hover at or near 125 degrees until the afternoon thunderstorm appears with strong winds, rain, hail, and multiple tornadoes.  The game will never be cancelled, but will be postponed for 30 minutes each time lightning is seen in the area, regardless of the inning or score. Your team, for example, might be ahead or behind by 15 runs in the 7th and final inning, but the umpires are unwilling to accept a concession on the part of the losing teams’ coach (or parents) if lightning flashes no matter how late in the game or hopeless the situation.
     Most games are 6 or 7 innings and last a minimum of 31/2 hours, not counting delays, and it may be that the climatic abnormality zone coexists with a corresponding temporal anomaly similar to that near the blue event horizon of a black hole where seconds last for hours, and hours go on for years.  In black holes, the enormous strength of the force of gravity has the ability to affect not only light waves but time itself. I’ve felt it happen at little league games. More than once. Frequently in fact.
     The equipment for players is outrageously expensive, and the grandparent code of conduct requires that we buy most of it.  We took out a 2nd mortgage on our house to buy a bat for each of our grandsons because they are different ages and need different sized bats, cashed in a 401K to buy gloves and batting gloves for them both, found cleats on sale for a little less than my Mom and Dad paid for their first house, and started 2nd jobs to help pay for practice and game uniforms, travel expenses, team pictures and assorted (but required) accoutrements. I almost cried when I discovered that bats could not be used in perpetuity, and different leagues and different ages require different sizes, weights and compositions that umpires check religiously before each game. That means bats are used for one season and rarely more, and the trade-in value for last years’ bat is nonexistent.  We have quite a collection that I keep for burglars or in case the HOF calls us later..
     We endure all of that, because baseball is important to our grandsons. They love practice, they love the camaraderie with their teammates, they love the uniforms, they love the equipment and they especially love the games.  We accept the sacrifices, and believe their participation in athletics is an important part of their development as citizens and as people both socially and physically. We can live with the last minute notice of practices, the distance from our house to their house to practice to their house and back to ours that takes more time than the actual practice itself and the exorbitant costs for equipment associated with the game.  What’s hard to accept is when your kid doesn’t start, or, perhaps worse, play.
     My initial grandparent reaction when that first occurred was to yell at the Coach, question his integrity, his family history, his baseball knowledge, coaching skills and intelligence (all in one run-on sentence), but I held back and kept my opinions to myself. I quickly found myself otherwise occupied in desperately trying to restrain Nana from organizing other parents into an old west posse with ropes and torches breaking into the dugout to tar and feather one or all of the coaches and posting the whole scene on Facebook as a warning to others that might have the temerity to think her offspring might be seen as anything less than the reincarnation of Mickey Mantle. The struggle, by the way, was real. After calming Nana -somewhat - with a reminder that grandchildren would probably not be allowed to visit her in jail, my third inclination was to march over to the dugout with a stern “I’m holding myself back” look on my face, grab the grandson by the hand and tell him - loudly - “we’re leaving this crap and going somewhere that your obvious athletic talents will be appreciated.” There may or may not have been a disdainful sniff at the end of the sentence aimed in the coaches’ to punctuate my displeasure.
     We tried to imagine all the reasons the stupid Coach might not be playing our grandson. Did he miss a practice? Does he really think the other kid is a better player?  Does he really think HIS kid is a better player? Is he saving our kid for a key point in the game? Does he know so little about athletic ability that he cannot recognize an obvious talent? Is he really that stupid? Does he have a deathwish?
     Nana and I sit under the tent fuming and trying to decide the best course of action, the ones that might most effectively express our displeasure with the Coach’s decision to the greatest degree, when we notice our grandson - the one that we believe has been treated so shabbily - is standing in the dugout cheering his team.  He yells “great play!” when the shortstop fields a grounder and throws out the runner. He screams “what a pitch!” when the pitcher throws a called 3rd strike to an opposing batter. He yells “nice catch, buddy!” when an outfielder catches a fly ball. When his team is batting he doesn’t sit on the bench and hang his head and scowl (as only a teenager can) to show his disgust with the Coach and with the team and with his lot in life.  He is encouraging the kids that strike out, congratulating - loudly - the kids that get a hit or steal a base or get a walk to get on base. He is, in other words, being a great team player. He understands that the Coach is volunteering his time, is missing time with his own family to hold practice for all the other kids even after a full day at work, and giving up his Saturdays to spend time with other peoples’ children. He’s often buying bottled water and Gatoraide and snacks with his own money for his players, and doing his best to see that everybody gets to play even while he’s trying to maneuver skill levels and still have a chance to win the game. Does he make mistakes? Why sure he does, but he’s out there giving it his best win or lose, and most importantly giving his TIME to kids. Imagining nefarious purposes and intent behind his decisions as to who plays when begins to look rather foolish when we see the example our kid is setting.
     Nana and I looked at each other sheepishly, sat down and quickly shut up. Our grandson reminded us of what we told him we expected from him from the beginning - be a great teammate first and a great individual player second - and things will work out the way they’re supposed to. Maybe - Mr. or Mrs. Parent or Grandparent - if you’re not happy with your Coach’s decisions you could put yourself on the volunteer coaching list for next year. They probably have room.
     Something else Mama said came to mind just about then; “Son, everybody has a purpose in life.  Sometimes that purpose is to serve as a bad example.” I’m just glad our grandson showed us what good sportsmanship means before we became the bad example Mama warned us about. Way to go, kid.  Way to go.

     

4/3/18

Going Pro

Going Pro


    I’ve given it a lot of thought lately, and I have made the decision to go pro. For a lot of kids around age 21 or so that means entering the draft for a professional sport, but I used my college eligibility a couple of years ago and, despite the fact that my backyard football, church league basketball and Little League baseball careers made a pretty interesting highlight reel in my own mind, I never received any scholarship offers for any sport beside saxophone.  That one worked out pretty well, and the $50 a semester led me to a career in music and weekend rock and roll gigs that continue even now.  No, I won’t be going pro in any professional athletic arena, but have decided that far too many people now seem to be anti something or other, and it seems to be a gigantic waste of time to spend your life always being against something rather than standing for something else.
    Let me give you an example.  Rather than be anti-gun, I’m going to be pro-gun safety.  It’s pretty easy to be anti-gun if you’re 17 and don’t own any weapons, but simply being anti-anything usually means repeated attempts to make sure that everyone has to follow your beliefs whether they want to or not. Being a pro means that I can have my beliefs and not attempt to impose them on anyone. I can share them if asked, I can write about them, I have the option to present them to appreciative audiences, but I don’t have to do so for personal validation and don’t necessarily need an audience to support my views.  I can simply follow my own beliefs and be confident in my own acquired experience and knowledge and make sure that should I choose to handle a gun of any type I do so in a safe, responsible manner. I can follow current laws and restrictions and gun safety rules and not endanger anyone else; unless of course they don’t follow current laws and attempt to break into my house.  In that case, the rules change.
    Following the same mode of thinking, I’ve decided to be pro-Christian.  That doesn’t mean I am anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish or anti-other religions, just that Jesus set a pretty high bar when he said “love thy neighbor,” and that effectively leaves out being anti anyone. I may not approve of your life choices, but I won’t seek to impose mine on you, and expect you to do the same for me. If you, for example, are pro-any other religion or lifestyle I respect your choice as long as there is no effort on your part to kill me or my family because we don’t believe the same way you do.  Should that happen, see paragraph two above.
    As a lifelong educator, I am also pro-knowledge, pro-education and pro-learning, which are all part and parcel of the same thing except that learning, ideally, should not end when school does.  My mother once told me “Son, it’s not a sin to be ignorant, but it sure is a sin to remain that way.”  What she meant was that we all enter the world ignorant of many things, but as life continues and we successfully navigate the trials and errors of childhood and growing up we each have a responsibility to continue to learn from our mistakes and our experiences and, where possible, from others. She even had a saying for those that didn’t learn those lessons, and it fits right into my pro-education belief system. I once had an argument with a neighborhood kid that surreptitiously appropriated two of the essential items of my 11 year old life - my genuine army surplus helmet and matching canteen belt. We had an altercation over possession, and I returned home with my gear and told my mother.  Seeing I had regained my missing items, she noted my scrapes and bruises, and rather than scold me for fighting asked what I had learned. “Not to let people steal something that’s mine” I said. “Not only that, but that everybody has a purpose in life” she said, “and sometimes their only purpose seems to be to serve as a bad example.”  A life lesson indeed. Besides wrestling with my brother, that was the only physical fight in which I was a participant.
    I choose to be pro-reading. A very smart person once told me it didn’t matter what I read as long as I did, so I do. Constantly.  Every day.
    I do not choose to be anti-politician, but rather to be pro-common sense.  Politics and pro-common sense positions are often mutually exclusive.  We as a nation seem to have forgotten that politicians serving our republic were never intended or envisioned as having political service as a life choice. “Diapers and politicians” observed Twain, “should be changed often, and for the same reason.” He was correct. It seems that every profession has a retirement age except politics.  I admit to having difficulty understanding how politicians can justify passing any laws that apply to everyone else but exempt themselves.  Are they not citizens too?  I am decidedly pro-retirement, and recommend that as a life goal for everyone. Especially politicians.
    My decision to be pro-common sense usually precludes any inclination to be politically correct. The former has guidelines and requires thought before speaking or acting; the latter has no such guidelines and often raises its head in abject defiance of the former.  On a related note, another choice is that of attempting to be pro-grammar rather than anti-profanity.  My dad was a world-class profanacist, and could blister paint at 25 feet. He used profanity as part of everyday language, and as a result my brothers and I became, at early ages, fluent in depth and variety. We also learned, with the help of Ivory soap, the importance of discretion in choosing an appropriate audience before implementing our imitative attempts.  I won’t tell anyone that I do not use profanity today, but I will say that I am discriminating in my audience and in context, and that most of my forays into that realm at present are nonverbal...thanks in large part to early memories of the taste of Ivory. I am unabashedly pro-discretion.
    Pro-life is also a favorite of mine, but I don’t limit my pro-ness to babies. It does not necessarily extend to those that, through their own convoluted anti tendencies, wantonly end the lives of others.
    Pro-giving is another of my choices.  The only caveat I insist upon is that I decide how much and to whom except for taxes. There I prefer, for the sake of my own mental health, to believe that my taxes go to provide new tubas for the Marine Band. It may not actually be true but it heartens me to think so. I am decidedly pro-band.
    Does anti-bullying mean that we treat bullies the same way they treat their victims? Probably so.  I would rather be pro-do unto others than anti-bullying.  The Golden Rule is a great example of being pro.
    Pro-history means that I recognize that history has indeed occurred and contains many valuable and interesting and sometimes horrifying events that we can learn from. Personally, I enjoy learning about them so I can avoid the same mistakes.  Removing monuments or plaques or records of events from public places does not in fact mean those events never happened. It usually means that someone else is too small a person to admit that our predecessors made mistakes - teachable moments - while making history. Ignoring history is like ignoring a traffic ticket; sooner or later events will catch up to you, and most always in an anti sort of way.
    I have noticed that a lot of anti’s need an audience for their views. They often seem genuinely offended if opposing views are mentioned or presented, and become visibly upset if their anti views are questioned. I learned many years ago that anger is not a prime motivational source for effective teaching, and only serves to raise my blood pressure, inhibit clear thought and reasoning and, through the fugue of anti-ness, cloud my judgement. Most people respond to anger with anger of their own, and the general result is an impasse that seldom leads to any solution beyond the imposition of power.  As a teacher, I discovered early on that responding to student misbehavior as a personal affront was counterproductive, and seldom led to a positive resolution of any type.  What usually happens with anger is an uncontrolled escalation that eventually requires an authoritative solution seldom conducive to learning from either party.  People, especially students, don’t learn effectively from anger so it probably should not be a part of your teaching methodology.  Ever.
    Which brings me to television….I don’t watch news on TV. There’s very little pro-ness on TV. That doesn’t mean I don’t keep current, it means I choose to read what I want to learn about, and my reading does not include videos of any kind (with the possible exception of TED talks, selected concerts and funny kid and animal videos.) What passes for debate on television is usually two or more people that begin talking and quickly end up shouting at each other. That’s not debate, its simultaneous bullying. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt at real debate and the one that shouts the longest or controls the length of the shouting contest declares himself the winner and uses the “quotable moments” to further his own views later. Most TV, especially TV news, is a big smelly bouquet of anti, and I’d rather watch Diners, Drive Ins and Dives or the History channel.
    Being a pro also extends to my personal interactions with people. I am pro-sotto voce.  There are daily occurrences and incidents in everyone’s life that offer an opportunity to descend into an anti frame of mind. Anger is an anti frame of mind, and is most often used as a thinly veiled, childish attempt to control others’ thoughts, actions and responses. Yelling and raised voices are part of that.  I may not agree with what you did or said or how you reacted to a given situation, but true pro-ness precludes an angry response in return. Refusing to allow someone else’s anger to control your personal emotions, thinking and responses is the beginning of pro-ness, and allowing them an opportunity to “be mad” without responding in kind precludes a descent into angry (anti) responses that seldom end well for either. It’s not an easy skill to develop, but Mom taught me about that one too, so I’ve had practice and a positive example. “You can get glad in the same britches you got mad in” was her response, and it took me a while to understand what she meant and to learn from how she responded to me and to others. I won’t tell you she never got mad, but I will tell you it never lasted long and she never allowed anger to turn her anti-anything.
    Going pro is not easy, but it can be done. Be a pro. Your life will be better in more ways than you can count. How do I know that? Because Momma said so, that’s why. Get pro in the same britches you got anti in.




3/26/18

Taylor-Made Learning



The debate in education over whether or not standardized test scores accurately measure what testing advocates say they measure continues. One question often heard by testing advocates is “if we don’t use tests what CAN we use to measure our schools?” After reading Peter Smagorinsky’s article in the AJC Get Schooled blog “What if schools focusing on improving relationships rather than test scores?” I wondered if the example he gave of the unnamed Superintendent in North Georgia might be an isolated case.  It is not.


Taylor-Made Learning

     Gordon County is in the northwest corner of Georgia, and the city of Calhoun, the county seat, is along the banks of the Oostanaula River where it joins Oothcalooga Creek.  Until 1835, Calhoun was part of the Cherokee Nation, and the area retains many Native American names as part of its geography.  Highway 41 passes through the center of town and I-75 on the eastern edge, leading to Chattanooga 40 miles north and Atlanta 68 miles south.  The county has grown from a population of a little over 44,000 people in the 2000 census to over 55,000 in 2010.  Calhoun’s population in 2010 was recorded as a little over 16,000 people, and has seen rapid growth in population and commerce over the past decade.  Calhoun City Schools serve a student population of around 4,000, including 54% white, 35% Hispanic, 6% black and 5% multiracial, Asian or Native American.  The free/reduced lunch percentages have increased gradually to their current level of 62%, and non-resident students that live outside the district account for 23% of the student totals.

    Dr. Michele Taylor has served Calhoun City Schools as Superintendent for the past 10 years.  She graduated from Calhoun City Schools in 1986, and after graduation from Shorter College with a degree in Early Childhood Education began her career in the Calhoun City system as a classroom teacher. Michele served successive roles in the system as a media specialist, Principal and Assistant Superintendent.  Community service and involvement play a key role in her success as an educational leader, and she is past president of the Calhoun- Gordon Council for a Literate Community, former member of the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, United Way Allocations Panel, formerly a member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters Board, Gordon Calhoun Arts Council, Past President of Kiwanis, Chair of the Leadership Calhoun/Gordon County Steering Committee, Past President Executive Board of the Georgia School Superintendents’ Association and a member of the Calhoun Rotary Club. She is also the Governor's appointee of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission. It would be safe to say that Dr. Taylor models the community involvement behaviors she expects to see in others.

    Michele notes that stakeholder involvement is not just a phrase used in her schools, and that 100% parent attendance at parent/teacher conferences is not only expected but achieved year after year. “If our parents can’t come to us, we go to them. Our rich educational tradition is a result of a commitment to excellence and a community spirit that rests on the pulse of our city’s existence. What we have would not be possible without the involvement and support of the entire community. Our people are what makes us special.  We also recognize that we have a high percentage of economically disadvantaged families, and that education cannot be a high priority until basic needs are met. We have focused efforts to provide wrap around services, additional counseling and social worker support for our families.”

    When asked about developing leaders, Dr. Taylor said “we believe in growing our own administrators. We invest time to develop talent and build capacity throughout the system.  Mentoring and holding all accountable for the highest expectations have been key in maintaining strong leadership teams. PAGE leadership development programs and our RESA Principals’ Academy have provided a wonderful level of support.  We also have job embedded mentoring and learning programs that allow teachers to develop leadership skills over time without leaving the classroom. Our low teacher turnover rates attest to our success in building relationships at every level. We provide mentoring and support for every teacher and also for our students.  Our positive school cultures provide an attractive place for teachers and students to work and learn.”

    Calhoun City Schools also believes in developing student leadership. “Advocacy and citizenship are important for students and for teachers” said Dr. Taylor. “Promoting a sense of ownership in the decision-making process is done by supporting School Governance Teams and school and district leadership teams. We have student and teacher mentoring programs and an advisement program for students.  My cabinet level leadership and I meet with teachers and staff at each school several times a year in ‘Fireside Chats’ with an open agenda to talk and share. Principals also follow this example several times throughout the school year to get to know the staff and students better and to promote stronger relationships.”

    Dr. Taylor also remarked “we have moved away from intensive test prep and testing rallies, but we still lose 20-30 days of instruction each year to mandated testing windows. Because of that the pace of instruction is significantly increased, and we might not cover everything we would like to cover over the course of a school year, but what we do cover we try to make sure students know it well before moving on.  We use data to drive instruction, but more often than not use student data and not testing data in engaging our community as part of our Community Based Accountability System. We believe what we do should be driven by the needs of children and not necessarily testing data.”

    Continuous improvement efforts are geared toward far more than just a test score. “Success is more than a test score,” said Dr. Taylor, “and the measurement of success cannot be summed up so simply. Calhoun City was recently named Charter System of the Year, in 2016 our graduation rate was fourth highest in Georgia (97.8% - up from 67% in 2003), our students have won 21 GHSA state championships over the last decade, we were awarded AP Honor School status and have numerous awards on the stage for arts and music. The judgements from end of year test scores are asked to represent the entire school system in terms of quality, but have surprisingly limited amounts of interpretive data that never include school quality or measure how we serve our community. Judgements of quality must be made, but must be made on evidence capable of rendering that judgement. Every day is an opportunity to make a difference in the life of our students.  We are preparing them for life, and we need our community to help us get it right.”  She also noted that “time and money currently spent on an inordinate amount of testing that provides limited information could be spent on experiences that enhance learning. The administration of testing, the loss of instructional time, pulling staff from other areas to cover small group testing are all costs - direct and indirect - to the district.”

    Student engagement and involvement are key to Calhoun City’s success. “Engaged students are attentive, persistent and committed. When engaged in learning, students value and find meaning in the work and learn to their full potential. I learned this in the 8th grade from my social studies teacher Mrs. Sherry Campbell” said Dr. Taylor. “Her classroom had rituals and routines, and she believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.  We knew we had to listen and prepare and be able to share with others what we had learned. Her lessons were relevant and engaging before engagement was a goal. After I graduated from college I began to see the time and effort and planning that went into her lessons. To this day I can visualize the lesson she presented on the Alamo.  She was and is an inspiration.”

    In September 2017 CCS hosted a luncheon in the new STEM Works Engineering Learning Lab and Online Learning Academy on the Calhoun College and Career Academy Campus at Calhoun High School.  Business partners, community leaders, parents and partners in education gathered to get a first look at the new learning facility. “We believe” Dr. Taylor told the group “community based accountability systems created by local stakeholders provide the most meaningful accountability there is. Our quest to develop such a system to measure quality in all areas of education begins today. Our system will continue to encourage and promote student learning at profound levels as opposed to simply learning what is needed to pass standardized tests. Our mission to inspire all students to become lifelong learners in the pursuit of excellence will be measured by many indicators of success as identified by our community and not a testing company.” She also told the audience “standardized testing does not provide the data that policymakers and others think it does. Testing constructs are designed to find an average that does not exist in the real world of children and learning, and multiple studies confirm that only one third of testing results can be attributed to school influence.  We want our entire community to be a part of creating the evaluation system that measures the things our community thinks are important and not what a single test says.”

    Calhoun Mayor James Palmer and the City Council shared “Some basic qualities of true leadership are intelligence, honesty, vision, work ethic and charisma.  Dr. Taylor has those and more.  Everyone on the City Council has been in meetings, work sessions, committees and other business activities where Dr. Taylor was present.  People respect her ideas, her work ethic and her grasp of the issues. She never projects negatives. When one leaves her meetings it’s with a positive frame of mind. We know the question, issue or challenge will be solved, if by no other means than her will to make it work. Dr. Taylor is leading us into the 21st century. Without a doubt the projects, advancements, standards of achievement and community support for our school system will be viewed in hindsight as an historical benchmark when Dr. Taylor’s tenure is complete.” For the students, parents and community of Calhoun, may that day be long in coming.

 

2/22/18

Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?

Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
Johnny: What've you got?    Marlon Brando - Johnny in “The Wild One” 1953


     Schools are, and have always been, a reflection of our society. The societal issues we face are, like the people of our society, a  wonderfully illogical mix of multiple beliefs and interests, tragic and triumphant circumstances, individually unique backgrounds and talents and seldom prone to universal  solutions.  Over the past few years I have heard - and I’m sure you have too - ideas presented as solutions to violence in schools including changes in gun laws, upgrades to mental health screenings, arming teachers, metal detectors in all schools, armed guards patrolling the entrances and halls, rapid response systems, improved background checks, requiring daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, restoring prayer (it never left, by the way...lawyers just changed who led it),  the installation of cameras and video monitors, anti-gang,anti-violence, anti-bullying, anti-whatever education programs and probably hundreds of other ideas that generally address the symptoms and not the problem itself.
    Here’s one thing I haven’t heard discussed that may in fact be a big part of the problem - compulsory education.  All states have legal requirements for children between certain ages to attend school.  Yes, there’s a choice in whether they attend public schools, private schools, religious schools, alternative schools or home schools, but every kid must be enrolled somewhere.  In Georgia, the age range is between 6 and 16. There are fines and/or penalties for parents that do not comply.  Everyone? So here’s the problem: most kids like school...some kids don’t.  Do they have the ability at 14, 15 or 16 to make a rational decision about whether or not they want to go to college?  No, but they do manage, in some cases, to disrupt their classes to the point that no one learns anything.  Do the rights of kids that want to be there end when their classes are continuously disrupted by one who doesn’t?  Evidently they do. It may be that we are creating our own enemies by forcing those that don’t want to be there to attend, and that the rule of unintended consequences is at work in our schools. At one time requiring all kids to go to school was a great idea.  It may not be so great anymore, especially after the age of 14.
    Some students struggle academically.  They deserve every opportunity - and then some - to remain in class and receive the assistance needed to continue their efforts. It’s not disruptive for a student to ask for extra help or another explanation or revisit a problem or question. In every school, however, there’s a small group of students that don’t want to be there, but they have no recourse. As a general rule the behavioral issues we are talking about here manifest themselves more aggressively and  egregiously as these students get older. Where defiance of authority was once an exceptional occurrence, it now is a fact of daily life for teachers and administrators.  Principals spend their days dealing with the same disruptive disciplinary issues from the same kids over and over again.  Parents are quickly frustrated and become convinced the problem is the school and not their kid. They may have a point, at least partly.  Schools are built on conformity, and not every child today is going to conform. Blame it on the degradation of social mores, the degeneration of the nuclear family, video games, violence on TV, movies or in music, the availability of anything to anybody on the internet, lack of religious training, the ADHD epidemic, the ever-increasing number of students with behavior disorders or anything else you can think of, but blaming doesn’t change the fact that what was once unacceptable behavior in the classroom is now commonplace.    Teachers spend their time and resources dealing with a few that don’t have the desire or inclination to learn anything except how far they have to push before they get suspended again.  What teachers and administrators are seeing are not the problems of daily discipline like talking in class or chewing gum or not doing homework but disruption caused by those that are truly not interested in learning anything we are requiring them to be there to learn and, since they can’t get attention by being the student that always knows the correct answer they get it through misbehavior and disruption and violence. In effect, they dare schools to put them out because they know that sooner or later they will be back.  To what point? In the real world, these kids could have options that would not drain time and resources from the kids that actually do want to be there, but what resources do schools have? Very few, apparently.
    Why, just send them to alternative school you might say.  There again - if the focus is on conformity you are not providing a real choice. Sooner or later, even after an extended suspension, expulsion or time at an alternative school, they return to regular classes and the cycle begins again.  Some kids do learn from their mistakes and go on to achieve academically...but what about those that don’t or, even worse, don’t want to?  How does compulsory attendance help them when their goal is disruption in a continued effort not to be where the law requires them to be?  What if, as we have seen, their goal is no longer participation in the educational process but has developed into an intense hatred of and desire to get even with everyone that even tangentially participated in making them hate what they are required by law to do?  Well, then, just kick them out you might counter.  That requires a legal process that you would have to experience to believe, and even then the local system and state would be required to provide some sort of educational setting for them if they were under the age of 16.  In some cases that age is extended by Federal law to age 21.
    Compulsory attendance laws hide the fact that most kids want to be in school, and would do so without a legal requirement. I would argue that choice is a prime motivator in learning.  Ask any teacher. Most students would not choose to be in a class with someone that spent much of their class time disrupting the learning process for others. Those kids are not, however, given that choice. In these cases, the rights of the majority are, by law, subourned by the rights of the individual to a “free and appropriate public education.”.
    Discipline and punishment in public schools have been limited through the legislative and judicial system because attendance in those schools is compulsory and mandated. The legal requirements are intended to provide safeguards for individuals that make it practically impossible for schools to choose a disciplinary approach that effectively solves disciplinary issues for the kids that want to be somewhere - anywhere - else. Private schools are not subject to these restrictions. I won’t argue that private schools don’t have issues, but generally we do not see the violent behaviors and dangers to others that are appearing with alarming frequency in public schools. If a student’s behavior in private school is detrimental to the learning of other students, they are removed.  Period.  Attendance in those schools is a choice.
    I am not advocating a zero tolerance policy for bad behavior or the death penalty for not having a pencil in class.  I am saying that there are some behaviors or an accumulated history of disruptive or dangerous behaviors should meet limits for participation for students - especially over the age of 14 - in the learning process.
    Perhaps an answer for some of these students would be a vocational alternative after 8th grade. The “everyone has to go to college” nonsense has already consigned to failure many of those less than academically gifted students. Students see and know more than we think they do.  A kid that has been socially promoted to the degree that he has no hope of passing regular classes in high school knows and is aware of his situation.  He really has little or no incentive to put forth any effort on his own educational behalf.  Why not give them a real educational alternative? There is no crime in a vocational alternative to academic achievement. Insisting that every student must go to college ignores differences in the human condition, and follows the same inane logic that says every child deserves an individualized education - so here’s our standardized curriculum and standardized tests to teach it to you.  
    Violence in any form - gangs, thefts, bullying, drugs, fighting, weapons - is a serious issue.  Any improvements to education must begin by addressing that problem before moving on to improving academic performance.  It doesn’t matter how good your teachers or how wonderful your curriculum or what a beautiful building you have if students are worried about their safety in the classroom. If a student doesn’t want to be in school, should your child’s education suffer because the law says they have to be there whether they want to or not?  Do other students’ rights end where an individual’s rights begin?  If we don’t find ways to address this issue then we will soon awake to find that the only ones left in class are those that don’t want to be there.  It would appear that good intentions have once again paved the road to perdition.