A Way Out of the School Reopening Morass??

UPDATE on 6/19/2020 at 11:15 AM: Here is the slide deck preview for the next Board Meeting: Fall 2020 Learning Plan – Public Version

It was accompanied by the following note:

Attached is a preview of the schedule that will be on the board agenda for next week. The schedule was a collaboration between the teachers’ union, district administration, and site administration. All groups took into account the feedback from our committee, previous surveys, and schedules presented at the last board meeting. In addition, we took into account school board comments and recommendations.  The presentation will have far more detail, but this gives you a glimpse of the suggested schedule for the school board’s consideration. I believe the board agenda will be posted this evening or Monday.

UPDATE on 6/15/2020: An Addendum has been appended to this post which was made the morning before the Board meeting.  The Addendum briefly describes the outcome of the Board meeting and provides links to a recording of the meeting as well as the slide deck presented to the attendees.


6/11/2020 – This last week has been overwhelming in terms of the number of proposals, counter-proposals, and extensive discussions about how to reopen schools in the fall.  Please see SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System? and, for those with local Nextdoor access, https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=150484676 for the gory details.

I would like to make a short, relatively uncomplicated proposal and then will step aside.  I do not have children attending school, and my personal work is done completely via Skype since the pandemic, so I will not consume valuable comment time during the Board meeting tonight.

This idea will not need 66 slides!  In fact it will not need any slides at all – just the very short text section that follows!

At the end of last school year, most AP teachers were holding classes via Zoom.  Many non-AP classes were held much less regularly though, due to the rapid school closure and some teachers suddenly having outside care responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the fall, school will resume full time.  I believe, but am not certain, that part of the rationale for the quarter system was to complete certain classes by the end of the first quarter in case there was a “second wave” of COVID-19 in the late October/November time frame.  This might allow a “cleaner” shutdown of school if necessary.

Pardon me, but I still don’t understand, after listening to all of the back and forth, why school can’t resume using the normal pre-pandemic seven period semester schedule with 1/3rd of students in class each day and the other two thirds participating in the exact same lesson via Zoom (or some other more secure platform) from home.  Or we could have only one fifth of students come in on a particular day of the week if the desire is to further minimize group size.

If a “second wave” develops, then we simply go back to 100% of students using Zoom or Zoom alternative from home until it passes, but we do not stop school.

The 1/3rd rotation could have the same group coming in every 3rd day as in the current district slide deck, or, more preferable in terms of reducing teacher exposure, every third week as several of my Aragon students told me was the proposal originally mentioned to them.

A week at school followed by two weeks off would also be an effective “quarantine” to minimize COVID-19 spread in the event that any student was infected.  The week at school allows students to ask teachers questions in person and also gives them at least some “socially distant” contact with their peers.

The rotation schedule on a normal semester plan seems to me to be the most important topic for discussion, NOT the quarter system idea which appears to be a non-starter for very many people (parents AND teachers)!

The other alternative, of course, is 100% online learning that the teachers currently favor due to their health concerns.

Why do we need to develop all of these other complicated proposals with so many downsides and probably other as yet unforeseen consequences???  The Board meeting tonight could be the longest one in SMUHSD history or we could cut through all of this clutter in advance.

If I am missing something, please let me know in the Comment section below or on Nextdoor where I will also be posting a link to this article.  Thank you!

 


 

Addendum posted AFTER the Board Meeting:

A recording of the 5 hour long Board meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCW_KpbKc1KYRPUzLZHSxf0A

The quarter system proposal was dropped from the agenda a few hours prior to the meeting and replaced with two other possible models (“Fully Blended” and “80/20 Blended”) developed with substantial teacher input.  The Fully Blended model is discussed by Assistant Superintendent Kirk Black starting at 1 hour 36 minutes (1:36) into the Youtube video above, and the 80/20 Blended model is presented by teacher Jinna Hwang at 1:43 into the video.

Here is a copy of the revised Return to School slide presentation given at the meeting that includes these two new models: L_1_RevisedReturnToSchoolPresentation_0

The decision was made to flesh these plans out further and bring them back to the next Board meeting on 6/25.

What do people think about these proposals?

I remain concerned by the reduction in class time and the use of “asynchronous learning.”  As I said on Nextdoor:

… sorry, but the idea of a student watching a lecture at home without the ability to ask an immediate question of the lecturer just rubs me the wrong way. One can call it by the fancy term “asynchronous learning” but I would prefer a simpler term – “bad teaching!”

This denigration of lecturing in current education philosophy has gone to an extreme. No one enjoys simply being talked AT, of course, but then why assign Khan Academy and prerecorded lectures where there is no possibility of interaction? There always seems to be a curious parallel reduction in teaching effort along with many of these “progressive education” methods like, for example, CPM math.

In fact I wrote an article about this problem earlier: Why a “Sage on the Stage” in a Classroom is not always a Bad Thing .

This asynchronous learning problem can be fixed if the teacher is accessible with a reasonable turn-around time via some kind of instant messaging system such as the one in Canvas mentioned by Kevin in the comments below or via other forms of IMs or cellular texts.


Please post your comments following this article below (or on Nextdoor at https://nextdoor.com/post/151832244 if you can access that post – note that the Nextdoor post is not accessible in all parts of the SMUHSD while this blog is).  You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the “Reply” link following a particular comment to respond to that comment.  This forum is moderated, so comments will not appear until approved.

The WordPress software that runs this site requires that you enter an email address in order to comment, but your address is not checked for validity nor displayed, and I do not collect or use this information.  Also, you will not receive emailed comments on the article from other people unless you check a box in the form to request this.

Thanks as always for your participation!

SMUHSD Debating a Change to a Quarter System?

Updates in reverse chronological order are at the top of this post.  Please scroll down to read the original post first if you have not already done so.

UPDATE on 6/10/2020 2:05 PM – Two articles on the school reopening controversy have appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal.  These articles are copyrighted, so you need an account to access them.  You can see one free story per month without an account or three per month with a free account.  Otherwise if you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you’ll have to pick up a free hardcopy at a newsstand or store.

https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/san-mateo-union-high-school-district-quarter-system-raises-concerns/article_9ade5d76-aad0-11ea-8905-97b6635acf65.html

https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/divergent-opinions-on-school-reopening-plans-in-san-mateo-county/article_9c01206c-aad0-11ea-8677-0f03982bd7d8.html

UPDATE on 6/15/2020 at 10:20 PM after ones on 6/9/2020 at 5:20 PM and again on 6/10/2020  at 2:35 PM

(6/15) Mr. Binetti has revamped his website once again and has restored the deleted videos mentioned immediately below.

(6/10) I wrote the two paragraphs below yesterday evening.  Mr.Binetti overnight removed his previous four videos and his list of research references and on 6/10/2020 only has a single video designed to get people to sign his letter.  This change looks extremely bad in my opinion as he did this switcheroo AFTER receiving evidence countering his position.  This is intellectually dishonest and appears as simply an attempt to promote his petition drive!!

(6/9) In another thread on Nextdoor at https://nextdoor.com/post/151144511, a series of videos on a site called https://www.startnormal.com has been discussed. They are made by a San Carlos resident.

In his first three videos, he tries to make a compelling case using research studies that COVID-19 will not spread in schools, but then has to backpedal in his fourth video when viewers presented him with two cases in which spread did happen. He concludes that we don’t yet know why it happened in those two cases, but the scores of other studies still say that school transmission is not likely. I am just passing this on in the interest of looking at all sides of the issue. He also is running a petition drive to reopen schools normally. If interested, I would encourage you to watch all four videos first before you make a decision to sign.

UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 10:30 AM – There is an online petition for those opposed to the quarter system available at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/smuhsd-vote-no-on-the-quarter-system-proposal.

UPDATE on 6/9/2020 at 5:00 AM – The following note, posted late last night by Anne Pesquie, is from the Nextdoor discussion on this topic available at https://nextdoor.com/post/150484676 for those who have Nextdoor access in the mid-SF Peninsula area.  I am trying to post the most important excerpts from that very lengthy and deeply nested conversation here.

Update 06/08.
All teachers from the district received (finally) an email from the superintendent communicating about the possible new blended/quarter schedule.

One hour later, they also received an email from a group of teachers (from multiple high schools) stating that even after talking with Dr Skelly for two hours, regarding an alternating schedule for the fall semester that would avoid blended/quarter system, it seems that his decision is already made to fully support the blended/quarter system.

On the email, this group of teachers shared their plan, “a 80/20 remote/blended model with room for on-campus support”, which is not “perfected or complete” and “does not necessarily mean 100% of our faculty is behind it”. (link below)

Teachers, parents, students who disagree with the district’s plan at least can sign a petition “What is the Best Instructional Model Amidst the Pandemic?”

plan=> https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1jZu_UOpwI5opT9LRdypp2trwzSWOn2hh7f057rhdBEE/edit#slide=id.p

petition=> https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MKLliR5ludJq70SWuVwxp99h-rbOeoSzZyHCfXckWE0/edit

They concluded by “Other parent and teacher groups have been working hard on their own proposals for alternatives. This is not to go against any of that work, but hopefully to combine our conversations and work together to find a better solution.”

personal side note: This is not a leak, I asked permission to put it online.

I should note that the Superintendent is in the position of having to navigate through all of the conflicting interests on this issue.  The final decision will be made by the Board.  In the recent Credit/No Credit decision, the Board, by a narrow margin, sided with the teachers’ position.

Once again the teachers and a significant number of parents are at odds.  The factor that will finally tip this issue will be health threats to the teaching staff in my opinion, but I will not be speaking at the meeting, just observing.

Anne also posted this eye-opening story about what happened in Israel after school reopened.

Parents should remember that “essential workers” are still supposed to be protected from health threats!  Teachers did not sign up to deal with potentially life-threatening work on a daily basis.  Even doctors and nurses work (or are supposed to work!) with protective equipment, and they can attempt to isolate ill patients and limit their movement.  Teachers have no comparable control in a school setting when it comes to possible asymptomatic spreaders!  Incoming temperature checks are their only defense and will they all be issued N95 masks??!

The Board may very well decide in favor of a 100% online learning model to begin the year, but try to stick with a reasonably normal school day and semester schedule.  This will make the teachers happy, and the parents may go away at least relieved that they didn’t get the quarter system!!  That would be a very clever use of a straw man argument, wouldn’t it?!??

 

UPDATE on 6/8/2020 at 4:00 PM – A PDF of the full Return to School Committee Presentation can be downloaded by clicking on this link and has been inserted into the Board Meeting Agenda in the Attachments section just before agenda item L.2.  It is a massive slide deck (66 slides – 52 in the main part plus an Appendix of 14!!), and I am concerned that this could turn into the longest Board meeting in SMUHSD history…

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 9:00 PM – An open letter from members of the Return to School scheduling subcommittee opposing the Quarter system has been added to the Comments section below.

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 3:05 PM – The Board meeting agenda and attendance information has been published at https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2235.  The Agenda item appears to be L. 1. but the presentations will not be attached until Monday, so it is difficult to know what the Board will actually see at this time.  There will also be significant business conducted before this agenda item.

UPDATE on 6/6/2020 at 7:45 AM – A letter from Craig Childress, the president of the SMUHSD Teachers Association to the Superintendent and the Board has been posted in the Comments section following the article.  Teachers are advocating for 100% Distance  Learning in the Fall.  An additional slide deck on the issue is also included below.

UPDATE on 6/5/2020 at 8:00 AM – A PDF version of the slide deck (without the excessive animations in the original) has been received and added to this article below.


Original Post on 6/4/2020 – A report on Nextdoor yesterday evening indicated that an “internal Return to School subcommittee for scheduling” … “is planning on moving to a quarter system (9 weeks of 3 classes with finals) and dispensing with the semester system in ALL HIGH SCHOOLS in the district as a way to reduce teacher exposure to Covid in the classroom.”

The Nextdoor post can be found here, but Nextdoor access depends upon your neighborhood location, and people outside of the distribution area and those without Nextdoor accounts will not be able to view it.

I have checked with several parents who I know, and they have not received any notifications as of this AM.

Comments on Nextdoor state that the change to a quarter system

“is most likely to be presented as the “best option” at the Board of Trustees meeting next week on June 11 after being discussed minimally in subcommittee. Anyone interested should attend the meeting virtually (Zoom info will be available here): https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2235 to find out more and write to Dr. Skelly and board members (emails here: https://www.smuhsd.org/Page/2231) in order to understand and share opinions.”

I should add that the Board is very likely stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue as often happens.  I do not know what kind of feedback that they are getting from teachers about their concerns regarding contracting COVID-19 when school resumes.  I wrote about this critical safety issue near the end of my article Will “Online Learning” Work?  Please keep this important issue in mind when expressing your opinions if you attend this meeting.

The community needs to work out a solution that balances all needs to the best of its ability.  No one will walk away completely happy.

Students have also told me that an option of having every student attend school one week out of three has also been discussed (1/3 of students at school each week followed by two weeks of online learning).  I am not sure why this rotation was chosen versus having one third come in every third day (too confusing for the kids?? Do they want each cohort to stay out for two weeks to see if they subsequently come down with COVID-19??  Other reasons??)  Hallways will supposedly also have one-way markings to reduce problems between classes.

Given the equity issues that I also discussed in Will “Online Learning” Work?, it might make sense to have students without Internet access attend school full time or else these students will quickly fall irretrievably behind.

Alternatively, there have been some GoFundMe campaigns for homeless people and families on Nextdoor.  In light of the current racial strife in our country, perhaps our community should seriously consider a fundraising drive for SMUHSD, SMFCSD, or whatever your local district is, and provide technology to ALL of our students.  It would be preferable for a fund to be set up directly in each district for this purpose instead of giving cuts of valuable education dollars to “middle men.”

This might be the single best action that we could take to improve race relations in our community.  After all, education “is the only valid passport from poverty.

Here is a PDF of the slide deck for the Return to School subcommittee meeting scheduled for 9:00 AM on 6/5/2020:

Quarter System Schedule Options

After the meeting mentioned above I received the following slide deck with sample schedule information.  This appears to supplement the material above:

Sample Schedules Quarter Schedule

The Statement on the fifth slide of this second deck from Amy Johnstone, the Burlingame HS PTO President, describes several reasons for students to return to school and ends with “And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.”   It is both interesting and concerning:

The Spirit of Our Work
“It feels like there is an assumption that DL is the safer choice. But when campus closed, many of our most vulnerable students and families went dark – we had no eyes on them and minimal communications. DL addresses curriculum and academics but our schools are so much more than that – they are places of nutrition, mental health, mentoring and mandated reporting. Sometimes our campuses are the safest place for our students. We can control the school environment, based on science and best practices, and adapt as needed. Not every home environment is providing that level of stability, safety and responsiveness. I do believe that for some of our students, every minute they spend on campus is safer and better for them. And I do believe that educators are an essential business workforce.”
– Amy Johnstone, BHS Parent, PTO President

As I stated on Nextdoor the opposing sides need to proceed cautiously if we are to resolve this issue:

I noted, in a different school reopening discussion on Nextdoor, some statistics from the San Mateo-Foster City School District indicating that 1 out of six teachers were in the 50 years old and above category, a higher risk group for severe COVID-19. I do not know the numbers for the SMUHSD teachers, but would not be surprised if it is similar.

Parents have a legitimate concern to get the best education possible for their children (and this is unlikely to happen via 100% distance learning), but many parents also want to be able to go back to work themselves and not have to watch their kids.

Teachers nearing retirement may be very hesitant to expose themselves to possibly serious disease.

It is very hard to see how these differing interests can be reconciled without significant compromise. If teachers are pressed too hard, the District might lose some valuable experienced staff who decide it is safer to just retire despite taking a possibly lower retirement income. Everyone loses in this scenario.

On the other hand if teachers press for distance learning and don’t follow through, there will also be a lot of upset. Parents report elsewhere on Nextdoor that the actual online effort between teachers in various schools (and even between teachers at the same school) is unfortunately wildly variable. Explanations given, like some teachers having to also take care of their own kids, are not heard sympathetically by, e.g., nurses who are risking their lives daily but also have kids who need watching.

Reconciling these issues is going to require a serious, yet calm and rational discussion that unfortunately seems to be less common lately. I hope the community does itself proud in this regards. I would not be surprised if part of the reason for the limited distribution of the plans so far is precisely a fear of such contentious debate.

Please scroll down to the Comments section to see a letter from the SMUHSD Teachers Association President to the SMUHSD Superintendent and Board of Trustees.  Other material will also be included below as it arrives.

AP Exam takers lost network connectivity in some cases !!!

I had three of my tutoring students take the Calculus BC exam yesterday. All of them felt well-prepared, but ONE out of THREE lost their network connection which made it impossible to finish.

(UPDATE: Instead of the reasons given in the Chronicle article below, the problem might be due to system overload near the end of the exam – uploading of results near the end of the test bogged down and the exam timer closed the test before the uploads could complete.  This is an unproven but plausible hypothesis given that the College Board may not have had enough students to load test the system before the real exam was given. More in the Comments section following this article.)

Apparently they were not alone according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  I found this article this afternoon while reading Diane Ravitch’s blog.

The College Board claims that this happened to only 1% of test takers.

Hmmmm???

From the Chronicle article:

“A Twitter post on Wednesday from the company’s official account said, “While more than 99% of students successfully submitted their AP exam responses today, some who didn’t told us they had trouble cutting and pasting their responses. We took a closer look and found that outdated browsers were a primary cause of these challenges.”

It advised that people who had issues submitting their exams update their browsers to the latest version of either Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Microsoft Edge.

The College Board also posted a link to a new troubleshooting page.

An earlier Tweet from the organization suggested that the problem had to do with the interface not accepting the default format of iPhone photos and that images would have to be converted to the widely-used digital format known as a jpeg.

The messaging did not sit well with the Twitter account’s followers who, in the replies thread, accused the College Board of “blaming the students” and said, “This is disappointing.”

The technical problems affected students across the country.”

My opinion on the AP system is well known…

Will “Online Learning” Work?

The COVID-19 pandemic required the abrupt closure of schools and an almost overnight shift to attempts at online education.

Implementation has been very uneven, and, combined with cries about “equity problems,” led to the cancellation of grades for spring semester 2020 locally and at many places across the nation.

How can we make school work going forward? This *in-depth* article examines the many behind the scenes challenges of which parents may not be aware and discusses possible ways forward.

Continue reading “Will “Online Learning” Work?”

Parents Protest Against Credit/No Credit Grading in SMUHSD

The following is from the April 9th San Mateo Daily Journal:

The proposal to temporarily postpone issuing letter grades in the San Mateo Union High School District alarmed some school community members who opposed adopting a credit system for the semester disrupted by COVID-19.

The district Board of Trustees initially scheduled a meeting to discuss the credit proposal Tuesday, April 7, but pushed the session back until Thursday, April 16, to further examine the issue.

Concerned parent Andrew Soss shared fears that students earning good grades would see their semester’s hard work wiped away with a broad stroke from officials adopting the credit system.

The full text of the article can be found here.

The SMUHSD Board will hold a public meeting on this topic via Zoom Thursday evening at 5 PM as detailed here.

I strongly encourage parents who have an opinion on this topic to email the Board of Trustees at board@smuhsd.org  before the meeting!!


Postscript – The article above shows just one example of the value that our local newspaper provides to the community.  I signed up for an online subscription for $99 per year to support their work, and I encourage all of you to do likewise.  I have no connection with or financial interest in the newspaper.

Nancy Bailey: There Can Be No “Science of Reading” When Libraries and Librarians Are Disappearing

An important article on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Nancy Bailey: There Can Be No “Science of Reading” When Libraries and Librarians Are Disappearing

SF Chronicle: Chaos at SF’s Aptos Middle School

School disciplinary problems reflect bigger issues in our society. I believe there is a connection between them and the increase in car burglaries and other thefts/break-ins in our community.

Problems locally may also be impacting the regular stream classes, especially in math.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a podcast entitled “Fifth & Mission.”  On Feb. 15th, 2020 the topic was “Chaos upends San Francisco’s Aptos Middle School.”  The podcast is a discussion of Heather Knight’s column of the same date entitled “‘Lord of the Flies’: Fights, bullying, chaos upend San Francisco middle school.

Aptos Middle School is near the well-to-do St. Francis Wood and Monterey Heights neighborhoods several blocks east of Stonetown Galleria, but has students bussed in from other parts of the City including the poorer Bayview and Portrero Hill neighborhoods.  Somewhere between only 5-20 students between the ages of 11-14 years old at the school

managed to wrest control of the school from the adults.

And everybody agrees these kids, just 11 to 14 years old, need far more support to cope with the horrifying trauma they’ve experienced in their short lives and get them engaged in school. Where families and teachers disagree with administrators, however, is whether the school district — which is big on talk about social justice — is actually providing that support.

The district says it is. But the mayhem — physical fights, bullying, chaotic hallways and vile language — shows that’s clearly not the case.

In fact, for the 1,000 students at Aptos, there’s just one social worker. And the only real concession the district has made after complaints about safety has been allowing Principal Nicole Trickett to use money tagged for new technology to hire a temporary security guard for more protection in the hallways.

Why should this concern us here in the suburbs??

In the course of my tutoring work, I talk to students every day about their classes.  While we may not have problems locally that are quite this severe, this is not isolated to Aptos Middle School.  I taught for a year at one of the better high schools in San Francisco where a female teacher was beaten up by two female students who were subsequently suspended.  I constantly saw kids roaming the halls when they should be in class and at times deciding to barge in to other classrooms to talk to their friends in the middle of lessons.

The disrespect shown to teachers and the constant barrage of foul language in the halls between periods was shocking enough to me at the time, and I would not be surprised if it has become worse since then.

I generally work with more serious SMUHSD students in precalculus, calculus, physics and chemistry, but have some students in the regular math stream.  I often hear that about half the regular math classes are filled with students who come in to high school with very weak math backgrounds, have basically given up on the subject, and cause disruptions in class.  This clearly impacts the learning of the better students in the class.  I have no quantitative data on how frequently this happens, but I suggest that parents reading this article talk to their own kids and try to get a sense of the occurrences from them.

In the past I have written many times with a degree of disapproval about the frantic rush to accelerate kids in math, and said that the regular stream should be considered.  However, I have also argued for an honors stream that presented the material at a level in between the regular and AP classes.  There seems to me to be a significant number of students who would benefit from this intermediate stream which would save them the stress and expense of the AP exams.  Possibly due to lack of resources this has never gone anywhere despite a similar attempt by Aragon parents several years ago to request an honors stream from the administration.

When I first started tutoring eight years ago, I had several regular stream students and was fairly satisfied with the regular math classes at that time.  However, as my reputation grew, I increasingly focussed on the higher level math classes.  Since I have worked with some families for as long as 6-7 years, I have accepted some siblings in regular stream math classes in the last few years and am now concerned about the pace of the regular curriculum.  These students are competent in math but are bored in the regular math classes.  Textbooks have been abandoned in favor of worksheets, and the level of difficulty seems to have decreased.  One Algebra 1 class this school year spent the first 10 to 11 weeks on simplifying algebraic expressions and the slope-intercept, point-slope and standard formats for the equation of a line.  Most work was completed in class and a weekly homework worksheet took the student only about 20 minutes to finish.

Possibly because teachers have to deal with such a wide variety of math skills (and this problem may have been exacerbated by aborted curriculum experiments such as Everyday Math in the local K-8 district), this slowdown may have been necessary.

However, combining a slower curriculum with kids that are bored with or given up on math is a recipe for problems.

Public school teachers are in a tough position with disruptive kids.  Serra High School, a local Catholic school, had a staffed after-school detention center for discipline problems which gave Serra teachers an acceptable disciplinary option.

Many public high schools require the teacher who assigns detention to stay after school to monitor the student themselves!  This clearly does not encourage teachers to use detention as a disciplinary tool.  Instead, for example, when I taught in SFUSD, the helpful classroom management advice that I was given by a vice principal was simply, “Don’t let them see you smile until after Christmas!”, i.e., the teacher is expected to control the classroom by giving stern looks and emulating a prison guard persona!  Whatever happened to parental responsibility for teaching their kids proper behavior?  When I tried to call home to talk to parents, I frequently found that the parents were not available because they were working two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet and older children were taking care of younger kids!

Stern looks will clearly not work with disruptive kids from traumatized family backgrounds, some of whom have no hesitation to yell, “FU, I don’t have to listen to you!” and storm out of a classroom.  A relative of mine worked as a school security officer in southern California and has told me stories of veteran teachers coming to him in tears telling him that they can no longer control these kids.

Various ACLU lawsuits have enhanced student “rights” over the years, to the detriment of teachers in my opinion, and I have also heard of cases where teachers have been threatened with lawsuits by parents to halt disciplinary measures against their children.

Public schools also have to accept and teach all students, and, instead of the “old school” method of streaming kids into advanced, regular, and remedial classes, the tendency now is to “mainstream” the slower students and have them work in groups with some of the better students, in the hope that they will learn from their peers as well as from teachers / “authority figures.”  While this may work to some extent, it has also led to interesting incidents like a student being criticized by their group for being out sick, thereby resulting in a lower grade for others in the group!!

Our society can no longer afford to ignore the trauma in the poorer segments of society if for no other reason than the cynical one that it negatively impacts the rest of us.  Drug addiction, homelessness, joblessness, single-mother families –  the list goes on.

If children emerge from school without a decent education, their odds of becoming productive members of society are clearly lowered significantly.  Even worse, if they leave school with the idea that they can engage in antisocial behavior with impunity, do not be surprised if you can’t leave your cars at night with anything visible inside of them or that people brazenly snatch iPhones and iPads in broad daylight from Apple Stores.

San Francisco is not that far from San Mateo…

For some thoughtful perspectives and possible solutions for these problems I recommend the following:

Hope and despair in the American city – Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant

and chapter 6 entitled “The Only Valid Passport from Poverty” in the book

The Teacher Wars – A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein.

I only hope that we have not let this situation fester until it is too late to act.

 

Prepared?

A serendipitous chain of events – frustration after reviewing for an AP physics final leads me to begin reading a new book by the co-founder of Summit charter schools. Is there a path out of the current education morass?!??

Friday the 13th, December 2019 – Fall semester is coming rapidly to a close and everyone, myself included, is busily reviewing/helping review for final exams.

Last night I was working with one of my favorite students who is taking AP physics.  I only meet with this student once a week for a session of up to two hours, but, as we started going over the review packet for the final, I was chagrined, once again, to see that most of the material covered early in the semester had been almost completely forgotten.  I’ve been tutoring AP physics for the last 8 years now, and this year’s review packet also contained some ambiguous questions which did not help matters.

I encounter this situation every year, but this student in particular is excellent, so it bothered me even more than usual this time.

Readers of this blog know quite well that I have not been a fan of the AP system.  AP physics in particular tends to cover too much material far too quickly.  Nationally in 2019 the AP Physics 1 exam had the lowest average score of any AP test (2.51 on a scale of 5) with a pass rate of only 45.4%.  This is despite the redesign of the exam in 2015 when the College Board reacted to poor scores by cutting back the material covered PLUS the even more amazing fact that students need only around 41% correct answers to get a passing grade of 3!

In the rush to cover the topics even on the newer pared-down exam, it is crystal clear to me that insufficient practice problems are given to students before the class needs to move on to the next topic in the frantic rush to “cover the material.”

I believe that the sacred trust of high school teachers is to inspire interest and enthusiasm in the subject taught, not overwhelm students with so many details that they end up feeling stupid and frustrated.

Physics is a hard topic to begin with, but should be the most fun and enlightening class a student takes in high school.  Very few students are fortunate enough to have this experience in high school (neither did I; college physics saved me fortunately).

When a teacher is forced to teach to the requirements of the AP exam (the main purpose of which is to spread out the curve to help college admissions offices sort through applicants), the pace of the curriculum is not conducive to generating a love for the subject; in fact, it sadly does the exact opposite!!

I have been working with the student above for several years and was really looking forward to studying physics with them this year (unfortunately due to my public writings I have to use gender neutral references).  It was crushing to see that “the system” was crashing down on things yet again.

Starting today off in a foul mood because of the above, I decided to go to lunch at Filoli, one of my favorite places around the holidays.  After eating, I walked around the now dormant rose garden and took a seat under a large persimmon tree to read.

I was scrolling through my WordPress blog list, perusing a few articles from Diane Ravitch’s education blog, when I ran across a post from Bill Gates, reviewing a new book by the co-founder and CEO of Summit charter schools, Diane Tavenner.  The title of the book is “Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life.”  Summit schools started out right here in the Bay Area originally sharing space with Sequoia High School in Redwood City.

Anyone who knows the history of Dr. Ravitch and Mr. Gates might be surprised that I look at both blogs.  Dr. Ravitch leads public school advocates and is vehemently opposed to privatization/charter schools.  Mr. Gates has been one of the largest funders and supporters of the public school “reform” movement.  The vitriol flung back and forth between these two camps can be overwhelming at times.

As to reading both blogs, I admit that I am a dinosaur – one of the few remaining Americans who believes in investigating the many sides of the story instead of just tuning to MSNBC or Fox News all day long to reinforce my prejudices.

I downloaded a free Kindle sample of Ms. Tavenner’s book and read it engrossed while sitting in Filoli’s rose garden.  The story in the book’s Prologue about a student named Isabella who succeeded at Summit despite amazing odds against her was riveting.  I quickly finished the Prologue, chapter 1, and the first part of chapter 2 when I reached the end of my freebie.  I then paid for the rest of the book which I hope to finish over the winter break, and will report back more later.

Ms. Tavenner focuses a lot in the free Kindle excerpt on disadvantaged students struggling to make it in our society (including herself at a younger age), and near the end of the first chapter mentions their “Summit Learning” software program “in which other schools could have access to the resources, curriculum, and tools we use, for free.”  She mentions Summit’s method of personalizing education for each student using technology, and how every student is paired with teacher and student mentors to help them succeed.  In contrast to the rushed AP system, learning is self-paced, but “100 percent of of our graduates are eligible for a four-year college, and 98% are accepted.  Summit grads finish college at double the national average, and the rate is much higher for minority students.”

Sounds very good, and I look forward to reading the rest!

However, I should also note that Summit Learning and the personalized learning approach in general has generated its fair share of controversy as noted in these articles:

So is Ms. Tavenner’s new book going to turn out to be a marketing tool for Summit Learning?  I don’t know yet.

I have used the ALEKS software with some of my math students for supplemental self-paced instruction.  My personal experience casts doubt about putting a student alone in front of a computer.  Unless an adult is sitting with the student while they work through the program, it tends not to get used, and the computers are often used instead as a tool to access other distractions.  HOWEVER, with close adult supervision, I believe it can be a valuable additional tool in a teacher’s quiver of arrows.  The fourth article “2011 Video…” in the list above makes one wonder, however, if technology will in fact be used that way.

Despite these reservations, I look forward to reading the rest of “Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life.”

Sadly, what I currently see in our public schools does not bring me joy either…

On that cheerful note – Happy Holidays!!

Raising our Children – American Society Reflects our Values and Choices

This may be the most important article in my blog. Let us never forget – society is our creation – the sum total of our values and choices, beginning with how we raise and educate our children!

Continue reading “Raising our Children – American Society Reflects our Values and Choices”