Teach the Kids- The Parents will follow

Teach the Kids, and the Parents Will Follow

 

Like most principals, Dave Levin believed that parental support was essential to a school’s success. So when many families pulled their kids out of his struggling South Bronx charter school after its first year, he thought he was in trouble.

Some parents called him and his teaching partner, Frank Corcoran, “crazy white boys.” The two had recruited 46 fifth-graders, barely enough to start the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Academy, and 12 failed to return for sixth grade. Test scores were somewhat better than at other local schools, but Levin’s discipline methods weren’t working. By March of his second year he believed that he had no choice but to close the school.

That was 1997. Twelve years later, the academy, saved by a last-minute change of mind, is considered a great success and a model for the 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District. Together, they have produced the largest achievement gains for impoverished children ever seen in a single school network.

And Levin did it, in the beginning, with very mixed reviews from parents. The story of his school and others like it suggests that the importance of parental involvement, at least in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, has been exaggerated, probably because middle-class commentators have been imposing their suburban experiences on very different situations. Unchallenged, this misunderstanding of what works for low-income children could stymie efforts to improve the country’s worst schools.

The best school leaders say that they don’t need much parental involvement when they are hiring staff, creating class schedules and putting discipline procedures in place. Take Susan Schaeffler, the founder of the cluster of KIPP schools in Washington. She had no track record and zero name identification when she and her staff started teaching fifth grade in an Anacostia church basement. She recruited students by standing in front of markets and shouting: “See me if you are interested in a school that will keep your child from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon!” That promise of free child care is what persuaded many parents to give her a try. Much time passed before she was able to prove that her teachers could produce the highest test scores of any public school in the city.

Perhaps the best teacher I ever met, Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, was mostly ignored despite his early success. He had to extort parental action with a telephone voice that made him sound, his mostly Hispanic students insisted, like a village priest back in Mexico. If a student missed two days of his math class, he would call the parents and threaten to notify the immigration authorities or whoever he thought might motivate them if he did not see their child the next day. Only years later, after a movie made him famous, did parents decide that Escalante could do no wrong.

Low-income parents may often be distracted just trying to make a living, but they know what works. Once they see a school keeping its promises, they provide the kind of support found in suburban schools. But it’s important to remember that good schooling must come before parental support, not the other way around.

In 2006, when Sharron Hall enrolled three sons in KIPP’s KEY Academy in Southeast Washington, she wasn’t sure that it was the right move. At first she found it difficult to attend the meetings teachers called when her fifth-grader, Jaquan, failed to complete his homework. The school was on a commercial strip where parking was scarce. But this year, her third as a KIPP parent, she is backing every move the teachers make. She was particularly pleased when they decided to have Jaquan, who is younger than most of his classmates, repeat sixth grade. Years before, when she’d asked another charter school to hold back a daughter who couldn’t subtract 32 from 58, the teachers had laughed off her request.

Some parents, including those in Atlanta and in Fresno, Calif., who recently lodged complaints that KIPP teachers had punished their children excessively, say that the academies sometimes run roughshod over them. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg seemed to cross the line several years ago when he told a Houston mother that he would expel her TV-addicted fifth-grader unless she allowed him to remove the family’s television set from their apartment. But the mother went along with the plan, and the TV sat in the girl’s school homeroom until her steady improvement convinced Feinberg that he had broken the one-eyed monster’s grip.

Levin said he always listened to parents. But it wasn’t his conversations with them that won them over. It was what they found at the school, which even converted some former critics. He hired veteran public school teachers to help him improve discipline and start an all-school orchestra. Each year, test scores improved, until the KIPP Academy became the highest-performing middle school in the Bronx even though its student body was 86 percent low-income.

Levin saw how strongly parents felt about the academy when administrators and parents from P.S. 31, the regular school housed in the same building, petitioned the local school board to move KIPP elsewhere. When the board convened, only a handful of P.S. 31 supporters showed up, but more than 200 KIPP parents were there to cheer for their children’s school.

When the agenda item was announced, the crowd began to chant, “KIPP, KIPP, KIPP . . . .” The district superintendent pleaded for quiet, but the chanting continued until Levin took the microphone. He thanked everyone for coming and said how pleased he was to see parents so involved. The meeting soon ended, KIPP’s expulsion no longer an issue.

Such moments have led Levin and many other principals to conclude that they should both listen to parents and do what they know is best, confident that when children succeed, their gratified families will be with them all the way.

mathewsj@washpost.com

 

Jay Mathews is the education columnist for The Post and the author of a new book about the KIPP schools, “Work Hard. Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America.”

Sexualization of Children

Sexy videos like the one above are part of the normal video  buffet for children. Children who look at these images and listen to these songs repeatedly beginning at an early age are more likely to engage in sexual practices at an early age.

These images are the reason why some schools have cancelled a lot of school dances. The administrators are wary about having school dances because the dances look like they are having vertical sex.

I have seen children at the age of three or four encouraged to act sexy and dance in sexy ways. The parents feel that this behavior is cute at this age because the children are so young and innocent. What they do not realize is that these children evolve, and when they evolve into middle school aged children who are uncontrollable, they want to call the police.

Why our schools are failing our children

I heard that cold truth again this week. It was reiterated by a former teacher. Not one of mine, but a woman who had worked with enough students in her decades of secondary school teaching to make the claim with some authority.

I’ll concede the point and up the ante. Not everyone is high school material, either – at least, as high schools are currently constituted.

Sounds demeaning, right? It’s a tad impolite to say in public that large swaths of the general population just don’t have the chops to earn even a high school degree. But if graduation rates are used as the measure of high school success, the evidence is mounting.

Nearly one-third of all students fail to earn a high school diploma in the typical four-year period. And graduation rates are significantly lower among poorer black and Latino students. Less than half of all black students and less than 60 percent of Latinos earn a regular high school diploma.

To some, this might confirm the “Bell Curve” explanation – i.e., that the problem is a racial or class pathology. Before we head down that ugly path of blaming, consider this:

The dirty little secret is that we don’t know for sure how many students are dropping out of school, because the numbers can be massaged and fudged by educational authorities. New legislation is pending that would standardize how graduation rates are reported, which is necessary for establishing credible standards. Coupled with changes ordered by the Department of Education last fall, states will be doing a far better job at calculating the data. But be prepared: The new standards may reveal the dropout situation to be worse than we thought.

An inordinate amount of political will is being exerted to grade a school system that is obviously failing too many students, with the grand hope that scrutiny will yield vastly different results. Instead of concluding that the dropout rates are a result of socioeconomic disparities and that these kids are unable to acquire skills and a useful education, maybe it’s time to ask whether the some of the problem is in how high schools are structured. Maybe the answer is different models for secondary instruction, including more options that move youth faster into either traditional four-year college, online courses or training programs – whatever fits for their abilities and goals.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The main purpose of providing free public education is to strengthen the nation, preparing today’s high school grad to become a productive citizen. Yes, it would be nice if every graduate were able to relish a good novel, but we all need to enjoy the economic value they add in taxes, productivity.

By one estimate, the dropouts of 2008 alone will cost the nation more than $319 billion in lost wages throughout their lifetimes.

What’s at stake here is nothing less than the future prosperity of this nation. The graduation rate has remained fairly static at about 70 percent for decades, according to U.S. Department of Education. In other words, the failure of our education model has been apparent for a long time, yet nothing we’ve tried has had any appreciable success at fixing the problem.

I’ve always been bothered when people casually remark that “not everyone is college material.” I just can’t shake the suspicion that some kids initially get plopped into that category not by their own lack of merit, but rather by the low expectations for how far they will climb up the educational ladder. Self-fulfilling prophecy usually handles the rest.

But to extend the philosophy of “not everyone is…” to the high school level? Well, I’m not willing to go that far. No one should. If our high schools are failing to reach one-third or more of the nation’s youth in a meaningful way, we owe it to our youth to ask how our schools are failing them.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.

Michelle Rhee – Excellent Teaching

A teacher asked me last week if our focus on data, and our use of objective measures of students’ academic growth, means that we want to standardize teaching to one teaching style. Absolutely not. Such a practice would be a disservice to children and it would be a surefire way to strip the joy from teaching and lower student achievement levels. 

Excellent teachers do have things in common, some best practices that help teachers to advance student achievement in their classrooms. For example, excellent teachers clearly and consistently communicate high expectations to their students, and they are very clear about what students can do to meet and exceed these expectations.

The excellent teachers I have met believe that all of their children can learn, and they make it clear to students that the greatest factor in their success will be how hard they work, not “how smart they are.” Excellent teachers know how to manage their classrooms well, and they are consistent in sticking to the guidelines (often created with students) that promote learning. They respect their students and it shows. They are relentless in their pursuit of excellence, and they have the skills in their subject area and multiple successful teaching strategies to hold all their students to high standards for excellence.

This does not mean that all excellent teaching looks the same. Excellent teaching comes in as many styles as there are student needs, and it is truly inspiring to see the different ways that different excellent teaching styles can all resonate with students and challenge them toward success.

For example, we have a veteran teacher at one school who teaches 8th grade boys, and she is strict! Every student walking into her classroom knows he is there to learn, and that she is the one in charge of guiding them toward that result. On the day we saw her teaching, every child was not only listening to her with rapt attention, but every child was actively engaged, responding excitedly to her rapid fire questions that challenged them to respond with high energy in a lesson on fact vs. opinion. Throughout the lesson, they clearly knew what to expect from her, and the routines she had established clearly had taken much time and practice to develop.

Watching another teacher, “strict” and “discipline” were not the first words that came to mind. This teacher communicated the same high expectations as the first teacher did, but in a very different way. His voice did not boom as hers did, and it didn’t need to. His questions were challenging, but he smiled more, facilitated, mediated, was patient as he encouraged students to think before they spoke, and respected the silence it took to do so. Their responses showed the thoughtfulness and critical thinking he encouraged.

Based on what students produced in both classes, it was clear that both of these teachers had approaches that yielded results in student learning and motivation.

* I agree that Excellent teaching comes in many forms. My teaching style is more strict and focused. I teach all of the students in my school including special education computer skills. They have learned microsoft word, powerpoint, excel and we are currently starting to delve into movie maker. The students practice math and language arts skills so that they will learn more in the their regular classes and when you partner technology with  reinforcing foundation skills most children are very excited about learning.

Excellent Teaching: Does it all look the same?

The culture of Poverty

 

How to understand a culture of poverty

By Sudhir Venkatesh, Slate

Published Wednesday, March 18, 2009

http://www.tampabay.com/news/perspective/article985134.ece#


Pop quiz: Who made the following observation? “At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of (black America) is the deterioration of the (black) family. It is a fundamental weakness of (black Americans) at the present time.”

Each year, I pose this question to my undergraduate students. Most will guess George Bush, Bill Cosby, Al Sharpton or Bill Clinton. This is not surprising, given their age.

More telling is their perception that such a view might come from the political left or right. It reveals just how commonplace the link of family-race-poverty is in the American mind-set.

But there is a little trickery going on: Replace “black” with “Negro” and change the date to 1965. The correct author is Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He wrote these words as part of a policy brief to help President Lyndon Johnson understand the distressed social conditions in urban ghettos. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” leaked to the press and created a firestorm of controversy with its contention that a “tangle of pathology” engulfed black America.

The so-called “Moynihan Report” brought about a new language for understanding race and poverty: Now-familiar terms like pathology, blame the victim, and culture of poverty entered American thought as people debated whether Moynihan was courageously pointing out the causes of social ills or simply finger-pointing. Moynihan forced a nation to ask, “Is the culture of poor blacks at the core of their problems?”

A deep American schism was born. Liberals believed that black poverty was caused by systemic racism, such as workplace discrimination and residential segregation, and that focusing on the family was a form of “blaming the victim.” Conservatives pointed to individual failure to embrace mainstream cultural values like hard work and sobriety, and intact (read: nuclear) families.

In this standoff, along comes the eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson, whom I studied with at the University of Chicago in the 1990s. Wilson claims his analysis in his new book will bridge the two worlds and create a new, more enlightened way for Americans to talk about race — but he is well aware that won’t happen without controversy.

It is fitting that the most famous contemporary sociologist has decided to address the most significant policy issue of our time. Anything but shy, Wilson has devoted his career to wading into contentious debates that have enormous social implications for the way we understand race and inequality in America.

In More Than Just Race Wilson wants to explain inner-city behavior — such as young black males’ disdain for low-wage jobs, their use of violence, and their refusal to take responsibility for children — without pointing simplistically to discrimination or a deficit in values. Instead, he argues that years of exposure to similar situations can create responses that look as if they express individual will or active preference when they are, in fact, adaptations or resigned responses to racial exclusion.

Consider a young man who works in the drug economy. That doesn’t mean he places little, if any, value on legitimate work. Employment opportunities are limited in the man’s segregated neighborhood. Most of the good jobs are far away. To complicate matters, many of his friends and neighbors are probably connected to the drug trade. Survival and peer pressure dictate that the man will seek out the dangerous, illegal jobs that are nearby, even while he may prefer a stable, mainstream job. Delinquent behavior? Certainly, but more than likely a comprehensible response to lack of opportunity.

Now focus Wilson’s “socialization” lens on teen pregnancy: Young inner-city women achieve both personal identity and social validation in their community by entering into motherhood. They join others whose lives are similarly defined by early parenting.

Wilson does more than argue for the rationality of such behaviors. The actions of both the young man and the teenage mother are “cultural,” he suggests, because they follow from the individual’s perceptions of how society works. These perceptions are learned over time, and they create powerful expectations that can lead individuals to act in ways that, to the outside world, suggest insolence, laziness, pathology, etc.

Wilson describes this succinctly: “Parents in segregated communities who have had experiences (with discrimination and disrespect) may transmit to children, through the process of socialization, a set of beliefs about what to expect from life and how one should respond to circumstances. … Children may acquire a disposition to interpret the way the world works that reflects a strong sense that other members of society disrespect them because they are black.”

If you think you’re at a disadvantage (however justified or unjustified that belief may be), you internalize your status, such that your low expectations become as durable an obstacle as the discrimination you might be facing.

Wilson appreciates Moynihan for shedding light on ghetto poverty. But by focusing on the capacity of the poor to act rationally and thoughtfully, Wilson wants us to move past victimhood. In his view, neither defending the victim nor blaming the victim is very helpful in moving us forward.

Three generations of black ghetto dwellers have been relying on welfare and sporadic work and doing so in isolation from the mainstream. It is folly to believe that some distinctive behavior, values, or outlooks have not arisen as a consequence. In Wilson’s work, the recognition functions almost like confession: Let us face the truth, so that we may finally bring forth change.

The book stands to have a powerful impact in policy circles because it points to the elephant in the room. Wilson emphasizes the advantages of “race neutral” jobs programs, knowing that Americans are more likely to support initiatives that are not identified with poor blacks. Stated somewhat crudely, increasing employment will reduce the number of people who might promote or even condone deviant behavior.

Because Wilson advised the Obama campaign, it is likely that his combination of race-neutral social policies and “jobs-first” agenda will be attractive to our president.

Sudhir Venkatesh is William B. Ransford professor of sociology at Columbia University and author of Gang Leader for a Day.