Friday, January 8, 2016

From Duncan to King

Most regular readers of the blog know that for the most part I have not been a fan of the policies of (recently) former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, even if I think his intentions were good. Too much emphasis on testing, too much arbitrariness, too punitive, too much over-reach, too little thought given to the impacts of privatization, and too little respect for democratic processes.

But he has used his bully pulpit to speak up about some issues that matter, and it is my hope that he will be one of those officials who turns out to do better things out of office than s/he did while in office. The content of his final speech in office, as reported in the Washington Post, leads me to believe he will do some work towards reducing gun violence. I hope so.
Arne Duncan used his last speech as U.S. Education Secretary to draw attention to violence that claims the lives of thousands of children each year, saying that the “greatest frustration” of his seven-year tenure has been Washington’s failure to pass gun control legislation. 
Fighting off tears, Duncan said that 16,000 young people were killed during his first six years in office. “We have to get guns out of the wrong people’s hands. We have to make sure our babies are safe,” said Duncan, who plans to step down on Thursday. 
He went on to draw connections between street violence and high school dropout rates in America’s poorest communities, saying that both are the result of hopelessness that children feel when they grow up believing that they have a better chance of dying young than going to college or getting a job.
Meanwhile, the record of his successor, Acting Education Secretary John King, while serving as New York State's Education Commissioner gives me. . . pause:
King was just as embattled, if not more, in New York as education commissioner for some of the same reasons as Duncan — and there were numerous calls for his resignation as well. By the time he resigned, he had lost the confidence of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) (although King was appointed by the New York State Regents). 
King led a series of school reforms that included a new teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores that critics say is nonsensical  (for example, art teachers are evaluated by student math test scores) and the implementation of the Common Core standards, and aligned Pearson-designed standardized tests. King’s oversight of all of this was considered such a disaster that Cuomo last year wrote in a letter to top state education officials that “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start.”
But just as some public officials do very different things once out of office, they sometimes take a different tack once they change positions, and show evidence of, you know, growth. In addition, King has spoken about the importance of school integration as an education reform lever, which is hopeful:
At a recent National Coalition on School Diversity conference, King emphasized the importance of integrated, racially diverse schools, according to Chalkbeat New York.  
“Schools that are integrated better reflect our values as a country,” King said.  
Under Duncan, the Education Department did not take action to desegregate the nation's increasingly racially segregated schools. But King told Chalkbeat that integration “has a long history and substantial evidence” of success.
Even so, I am not a resident of New York State and do not begrudge the skepticism among those who are King detractors.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yes, please, to more recess

We are lucky that the elementary schools that my children attend still have a full half an hour of lunch and a full half an hour of recess each day. Other kids are not so lucky--recess is becoming a luxury. Though my middle schoolers don't get any recess. Do any middle schoolers get recess any more? So two things of note here:

1) Recess is really important and even half an hour is not enough, especially not for younger children.

2) Secondary students also need some form of recess.

In North Texas, a handful of schools are experimenting with more (not less) recess. Their students go out four times per day, for 15 minutes each, and the results have been very promising so far:
First grade teachers Donna McBride and Cathy Wells say they’ve seen a transformation in their kids. 
They’re less distracted, they make more eye contact, and they tattle less. 
Wells has noticed another difference: She spends less time sharpening pencils. 
“You know why I was sharpening them?” Wells says. “Because they were grinding on them, they were breaking them, they were chewing on them. They’re not doing that now. They’re actually using their pencils for the way that they were designed – to write things!”
I want to say that I've never understood withholding recess, either as a consequence for poor choices or as a way to increase achievement. But it's possible I didn't fully understand that until I had children of my own and then spent two years teaching preschool. As far as I can tell, taking away recess will result in more poor choices being made and in lower achievement and productivity. To me, withholding recess is tantamount to withholding sleep--everyone needs a certain amount of it. And recess is a tremendous opportunity for social learning.

One of my children's teachers (in addition to recess) actually used to take her class outside to walk or run laps when they started to get too wacky. She got it, and she had the autonomy to make that decision. Not all teachers have that, either. I remember dreading the days when my kids and students couldn't go outside or didn't have a suitable place for indoor recess.

Secondary students also need breaks and "recess." This school in Vermont has what they term "MHS unplugged" every day (h/t Joanne Jacobs who got it from edutopia):

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Back to blogging (but with more humility and brevity)

Happy New Year!

As I noted about this time last year, I really haven't blogged or tweeted much in the past few years. I have spoken up when an issue really, really mattered to me, but otherwise, I have been less active on social media for three reasons: 1) a year and a half ago, I started a full-time PhD program and part-time graduate assistantship in education (educational leadership and policy specifically); 2) A little over a year ago, one of my children was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes; and, 3) for the past three to four years, I have been very active in local education matters and in local politics.

This has all been. . . humbling:

My doctoral studies have opened a world of education to me that has served to show me how much I don't know and how much I don't know how to do. I might have been a medium to big fish in the education blogging world, but when I walked through the doors of VCU's School of Education, I was a little baby fish once again. This is what I wanted, but it has meant a lot of hard work. I am learning a ton and am mastering at least the basic of areas (like statistics) that I had no fluency in at all previously. I am older than most of my classmates, which means at times that I know a bit more about some things, and I came in a decent writer. However, at the same time, that mantra about teaching an old dog new tricks. . . Well, yeah, I'm swimming against the current there. Plus I have three children at home, and there is no way I am going to give them up the way I gave up blogging and social media, so sometimes I do not get to do some things that might put me in a better position career-wise.

Which leads me to humbling experience number two. You can be the perfect parent (and I am far from that) but there are always things that you can not protect your child from, like chronic, genetic auto-immune diseases. And in the face of those things, as a parent, you can do everything in your power to put your child in best position to lead the healthiest, fullest life possible, but you are still at the mercy of the limits of the human body and of medical science, and of what happens when you are not around. This experience has aged me a great deal and taught me a lot, and it's also made me nicer, more forgiving, and less likely to spend time judging--I don't have the time and I don't find it productive and you never know what people are going through.

Which leads me to humbling experience number three. Three or four years ago, local conditions were such that I decided to get involved. And you know what? I discovered that local is more important and that it also takes much more face-to-face engagement, much more listening and compromise, and greater understanding for and empathy with those with whom I might disagree. Outrage and anger won't get you very far--at least not where I live. And, while you must hold decision-makers accountable for what they say and do publicly, it's important to find out as much as you can about what has actually happened before taking action. The situation is often more complex than you realize. This work is immensely satisfying and interesting, but it goes slowly and requires dedication, humility, genuine kindness, and patience.

These are three qualities I am not sure I had in such great supply when I started this blog, but that was a different phase in my life. And I have missed it--the blogging, the tweeting, the thinking out loud and publicly, the dialogue, the conversation. So, I've decided that the way I can still do this is to leave the big investigations, solution-suggesting, and "hard-hitting" analysis for my academic work and to use the blog to share bits and pieces of the educational puzzle, as I have been doing on the All Things Education facebook page but with a little commentary. Stay tuned.