On AIR’s “Did School Improvement Grants Work Anywhere?”

The American Institute for Research published an article last month about why looking at the performance results for the Student Improvement Grant (commonly known as SIG) on a national level may not tell the whole story of SIG’s impact at the school or district level.

His point is that there are other factors that a national perspective needs to take into consideration, such as the role states and schools districts played into SIG’s success. AIR’s own study found that some districts were supportive and engaged with implementing the SIG policies that led to student improvement, while other districts in the program did not have the neccessary time commitment to make the program a success. With that said, it is hard to say that the program itself is not a a success, as the program, in some cases was not effectively implemented. AIR encourages the reader to dig a little deeper than SIG’s overall performance on a national level, and in doing so, we may find beneficial feedback on what parts of SIG worked for what types of schools. Just as important, a closer look would tell us what did not work and why.

This article brings to mind a larger issue with regard to data analysis and conclusions. To get a certain, probably biased, point across, policy makers, researchers, politicians, and journalists look at surface data that confirms their beliefs and then disseminate the information to the masses as truth. The clear danger in this is that we do not question what the story is not telling us. A basic example of this would be if a company ranks teacher salaries across a certain state or between the most populace cities. In this hypothetical situation, the site does not mention the cost of living in their results, which is a crucial component to understanding how teachers must use their salaries in order to teach. A more nuanced look at what teachers in each city or state have to spend would tell the reader that some teachers with the highest salaries have to to spend more than half of their net income on housing alone.

As a basis, students should constantly be taught ways to challenge and question how data and arguments are being presented. If this were done, would Trump be president?

People Are More Than Grades

A student’s academic ability is important. The fact that a student works hard to make progress is more important than her/his academic ability. In today’s testing society, in today’s environment where a student sits in a single-teacher classroom with 30 other students for 40 minutes of rushed geometry, in a society where someone as blatantly insecure and self-involved as Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief, it is also imperative that students continuously learn to care for themselves as individuals whose value is more than their academic abilities. This is not to say that academic performance is not important. It is just noting that academic performance is not the only factor in a student’s long-term, overall success in life. As a nation, we need to work on finding the balance between encouraging academic excellence, creativity, & growth and self love & love for others. In fact, an active conversation on any education policy change should consciously explore and deliberately discuss this balance.

I found the below on Twitter (I do not know who the author is):

More on Informing Parents on School Choice

According to a Times article published last week, Betsy DeVos said the following: “My faith motivates me to really try to work on behalf of and advocate for those who are least able to advocate for themselves.”

I keep asking myself how does this apply to families that do not have the resources to assess different schools available to their child? Whether it is tax dollars funding public schools, religious schools, or private schools, who should be accountable to objectively informing parents and guardians of school options?

DeVos: States Role to Protect Vulnerable Voucher Students 

In her first public hearing since her highly contested confirmation, Besty DeVos advocated for a budget that would allow all types of schools to both receive federal tax dollars and discriminate against minority students, if a school’s state allows it. Actually, as indicated in her confirmation hearing, the budget gives states most of the power when it comes to protecting students. The budget simutaneously slashes the DoE’s Office for Civil Rights. DeVos’ whole agenda is to give power to states and parents, but without intervention and proper oversight, this proposal opens itself up for us to see some of the most vulnerable student populations lose much needed protection.

Watch the full hearing:

Only 3% Pass NYS Math Test at NYC Public School

I read a New York Times article about the closing or merging of more chronically underperforming middle schools and high schools. The article mentions that these schools are part of a de Blasio program that aims to rehabilitate schools through additional resources, rather than closing or “giving up on them.” de Blasio wanted to give these schools three years to improve under his program. The three years is almost up and some schools in the program, despite the additional resources, are still underperforming to the point where parents, teachers, and education advocates should be up in arms. The Times notes (emphasis mine):

The schools to be closed are all low-performing, to be sure. In the 2015-16 school year, only 8 percent of the students at J.H.S. 145 passed the state reading tests, and only 3 percent passed the state’s math tests. Even so, it is not clear that they are necessarily the worst among the schools in the program. All of the six schools met at least one of the goals assigned by the city last year. Some are being closed for low enrollment as well. 

What is the problem that a school given additional resources to combat the affects of poverty can’t even get grades to show that students are retaining anything? At this point, the middle schools mentioned, J.H.S. 145, should certainly not be considered a school, as learning of any sort doesn’t seem to be happening.

So what could be the problem?

My first thought was what kinds of resources does this school recieve? Perhaps this school, and schools like it, are not receiving enough of certain tyoes of resources or that they are not receiving the right set of resources.

The schools in this initiative receive extra educational instruction time, teachers received additional professional development training, and each school received more funding for ‘wraparound’ efforts that aim to take the effects poverty head on (mental health issues and lack of sufficient food).  What is not clear is how resources are being used, which resources seem to be working, and which resources are not as effective.

At first glance, it would seem that any amount of any of the above resources should have some kind of positive impact, no matter how small. However, on closer inspection, something like additional professional development training for teachers could be ineffective, if the additional training is does not impart new knowledge on the teachers or is not tailored to the needs of any given teacher/group of teachers. It could be that principals and school districts are wasting time and money of programs that don’t work, though they aim to address a serious issue.

As of now, we do not know enough of the how the additional resources are being used.

What else could the issue(s) be? 

This initiative rears away from the Joel Klein administration in many ways. Klein’s biggest initiative was to close down large, historically failing schools and open smaller schools, which turned out to not do any better than the schools they replaced. Between this finding and the fact that additional needed resources (though they may not be used effectively) aren’t changing the academic trajectory of New York City public schools, mayoral control of the citiy’s schools doesn’t seem to be working out in students’ favor.

With that said, I’ve been thinking more and more about school culture and how profound of a role it can play in a school’s success. All the resources and teachers provinding attention to fewer students can still turn out to be harmful when school culture and way of life is not moving along with those initiatives. What’s interesting is that we seem to be trying to jump in and help students at the junior high school level, but the Klein and de Blasio administrations have been ignoring the fact that these students come to junior high school with six years of school culture and attitude that developed  over a child’s most impressionable stages. The school culture in elementary schools is a students first understanding of what it means to be a student. Students and teachers who walk into middle schools and high schools like J.H.S 195 in the Bronx bring with them baggage tossed on them during their prior school experience.

I’m suggesting we’re intervening too late. I applaud de Blasio’s effort to try to mend failing schools but efforts need to start while students are in pre-k. It’s clear that a junior high schools 3% pass rate goes beyond the work done in junior high school. The students come in far more academically damaged and negatively influenced than most would admit, despite that fact being clear as day. I need to go into more detail on the effects of school culture in a later post.

Mayor de Blasio’s Ban on K-2nd Grade Suspensions

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio plans to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten to second grade, according to the New York Daily News

The New York Daily News also outlines that, of the 801 K-2nd grade students who were suspended during the 2015-2016 school year, 487 students were suspended for either being physically aggressive towards another student or teacher/staff members. It is clear that at least some of these students, especially the ones who bring violence into the classroom, were suspended for good reason (this is not to say that suspension is the right direction to improve the education of both the violent student and the students surrounding him). But, it is crucial that suspensions are not simply banned for these young children; remedies that try to fix the reason why they would be suspended to begin with must also be put in place.

For example, six-year old Jimmy cannot hit his teacher, not be removed from the classroom, and all who is negatively impacted by his actions just hope and pray it does not happen again. If he is to stay in school, there needs to be some kind of action put in place to ensure that both he and his classmates get every second of education they can possibly recieve.

Fortunately, Mayor de Blasio’s administration released “Maintaining the Momentum: A Plan for Safety and Fairness In Schools,” a report that includes findings, reccomendations and next-step efforts to make the NYC public school system a safer place. The most impressive effort in this report is the inclusion of mental health-related support in the 2017 school year budget. The budget, which will include the expansion of support for teacher training in mental health and dealing with students who have social-emotional issues, as well as the addition of about 100 mental health consultants, will still be limited in how much it can achieve.

Because the ban is effective in just a few days (9/8/16) and most of the $45 million funding won’t be seen until next school year, teachers, parents and union leaders are wondering if this is being implemented too soon– the training just is not there. One teacher, interviewed by ChalkBeat, made the following comment:

“When you just ban all suspensions, my next question would be: If I have a child who’s acting out and I’m not getting cooperation from home at all — they don’t come to meetings, they don’t take the child to screenings — what’s my next step then?” Ranieri asked. “None of us have received that support yet.”

Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policy may be too premature: some teachers are seemingly unprepared for such a policy, thus making the policy unfair to students and teachers who have to brook, and are impacted by, some serverly disruptive students. One would think Mayor de Blasio is aware of this issue students and teachers face as a result of a premature no suspension ban. One could only assume that his main reason for acting now, if not his only reason, is that suspensions tend to make the suspended student disengaged from the learning enironment. In other words, suspensions harm the student being suspended by making him less willing to learn. And, since we know suspensions have more of an insidious effect, we should not do it.

Boy, if it were that easy. 

If some schools are unprepared for such a plan, despite the plan’s goals and assume rationale, the plan should not be implemented until schools feel ready and supported. This is a lose-lose dilemma: continue to suspend students and risk those students continuing being unsuccessful. Require misbehaved students to stay in school without appurtanent, and risk other students not learing as a result. There is, however, data that suggests that it is worth delaying the suspension plan (or at least slowly implementing it across schools, starting with the most equipped to the least equipped) unil schools feel confident enough to implement such a plan. Accodring to the New York State Department of Education, 4% of all students are suspended and less than 2% of all elementary level students are suspended. In other words , more students would be distracted by another student’s misbehaving, should the misbehaved student remain in the school without adequate support. Taking this into consideration, Mayor de Blasio should countermand or, at the very least, modify his K-2 suspension ban.

2015 NYU Study on NYC School Closures

I just reread this NYU study that explores the impact of former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg’s highly contentious decision to close some the city’s largest, failing high schools. While most of the findings confirm findings of other studies, one discovery that fascinates me is the positive impact a school closing has on its no-longer-potential student body. The study is sure to acknowledge that, of course, if a student no longer has the option to attend a failing school, whatever school they end up at would be inherently better (as the city removed the worst schools, one should only go up from there, generally speaking,). But this does not also take into consideration the uproar that the Bloomberg/Klein administration faced during the school closure process. More specifically, anti-school closure advocates were concerned about student disruption and integral fixture in the community.

Though the study answered the disruption issue (impacted students are “exponentially insignificantly impacted by the disruption), it also showed that there is a long term positive effect of closing persistently failing schools. Middle school students seem to be thinking and attending better schools than the recently closed down school in their community. Those middle schoolers are more likely to graduate from high school now that the poor school is no longer an option. My guess is that the local school closing serves as a clear point of reference for younger students. My other guess is that the closings of low-performing schools put parents on high alert on how well schools are doing, rather than unquestionably going to the local school. This is just an assumption, but by doing something as touchy as closing the most severely under performing high schools in communities, enough noise was made to make students and parents pay additional attention to school selection.