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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Strong Schools Vibrant Democracy - Vouchers?

It appears that Trump and Betsy Devos are fans of using vouchers to support education for students.
  • Is this what America needs? 
  • Will this improve the lives and education of children in the country? 
  • Will this deepen and strengthen our democracy, respect for one another, and ability to forward an inclusive nation? 
  • Is this a good use of public money? Is this a research-based decision?
If we run the numbers, we'll find out that vouchers are a poor investment for American schools--in general vouchers are not well supported when it comes to the data for successful schools or a strong democracy. Plus vouchers put the decision on how to spend public money in the hands of a few rather than utilizing the voice and choice of many.

The purpose of our public schools is to provide all American children a strong, purposeful education that provides them with a foundation of basic skills, concept, and knowledge. A well-educated populous is a populous that has the ability to live and lead well. 

Already public schools are strong, but there's certainly room for growth. The government should be focused on continuing to develop optimal public schools, not breaking apart public schools with a voucher system that supports the separation of students by culture, race, class, and religion.

DeVos and Trump have not experienced public schools in their own lives--it seems they want to forward the kind of schooling and life they had rather than the kind of public schools that bring people together and forward our democracy. Also it seems that they want to make decisions for our huge nation based on their single experiences rather than data and good research--research that points out the positives of public school and the challenges any voucher system brings to communities and our democracy.

Please make the time to research the impact vouchers will have on your state and community, then speak up for what is right and good for our democracy in this regard.

A School in Crisis

I heard about a school in crisis recently. This school does not exist in the district where I teach, but elsewhere.

What makes me think the school is in crisis, is the following reality:
  • Educators are afraid to speak up
  • Several educators have been removed publicly with no word about why this happened--hence, there's lots of conjecture
  • Students are misbehaving a lot, and the police regularly visit the school to remove students
  • They have almost no technology, the classes are huge, and the supports minimal
  • There is limited ability for children to play and have recess, and the playground is insufficient
  • Many children face substantial at-home trauma, neglect, and potential abuse
  • There is substantial poverty in the area
  • After school programming is limited
  • There are few field studies and special events
  • It appears that the school's way of dividing up students who require special programs such as special education, ELL, and behavioral supports may be unjust thus perpetuating prejudice and lack of needed education supports
  • A charter school in the district drains resources from the public school
All of what I write, I've learned via conversation and can't testify that details or truth of the matter, but I have heard enough to recognize that this school and the system in which it is apart of needs an intense overview and rehabilitation.

If I were in charge, what would I do?

First, I would look carefully at the school budget. I wonder if the money in this district is mismanaged--are the dollars going to programs and staff in adequate ways or is some money misappropriated. I find it surprising that this school has such a lack of supports, materials, and services, so I wonder about the budget.

Welcoming, Inviting Learning Centers
Next, I wonder about the school itself--it is a joyful place for student learning or is it more prison-like. Simply painting walls, creating a better playground, and re-looking at the daily schedule could make the school more inviting.

Needed Health and Social Services
And, since this school is in an area that suffers from poverty and the affect of the opioid crisis, how can the school access needed funds in more creative ways. Perhaps they could look to federal monies that are directed towards the opioid crisis and use those funds to support after school programs for children of opioid addicts and homeless children. Perhaps the school could include a more supportive in-school health services department, one that is funded by students' health cards thus providing more health service providers in the school--providers such as a doctor, nurse practitioners, counselors, and more. And, perhaps this school would qualify for free lunch and breakfast for all students and incorporate those meals into part of the overall schedule in joyful, inviting ways. 

School Structure
Further, the staff has to think differently about how they will change this school of many students into many smaller schools and pods--clusters of students and teachers that are named in inspiring ways, and who engaged in lots of positive team building activities to grow a sense of place and belonging.

Cultural Proficiency
The diversity in this school cries for greater attention to cultural proficiency too--there needs to be lots of education for all about the diverse groups of students that make up this school and signage and activities that maximize the potential of that diversity.

Holistic Analysis and Change
As I learn about this school, I realize that this is where oversight is important. It's important that local and state agencies carefully analyze their schools for the attributes that serve children well. It's critical that those attributes are listed with priority so that districts are analyzing their schools for the right elements. When I hear of schools like this, I worry about our whole society since I know that children in these school suffer, and that's not right. Good educators in schools like this suffer too as they don't have what they need to do the job well. Eventually the broader community suffers as well since students in these schools may not have the confidence, allegiance, skills, and commitment to give back to their communities later on due to their insufficient education.

Support for Public Schools
A voucher system would only tear a community like this further apart, potentially separating children by culture, religion, and class. Instead we need to well support schools like this with good oversight, proper funding, and appropriate, forward-thinking supports--supports that focus on the what that school needs and how they can empower the educators and students in that school. This kind of support will translate into support for the entire community, since good schools spell less crime and poverty later on. 

My students are so much more supported than the students in the school I write about. Great inequity occurs between what I'm able to do for my students versus what teachers in that school are able to do. I have much more support, many more materials, and a greater collegial ability related to schedules, time, and inspiration to problem solve, lead, and improve the conditions for students in our midst. My students will live with the students from the community I write about--their lives will intersect, and it is in the best interests of all students that every child gets a good education. 

As educators we can't let schools like this exist, and we need to find ways to support our education colleagues in systems like this so that they can do the job they want and need to do to support and teach children well. Our society and democracy depends on it. 

Happy Children

There's a great sense of joy when you stand amongst a group of happy, playful children. This is one big advantage of my job--daily I hear the laughter, happy talk, and spirited play of young children as they navigate the school halls, hang up their backpacks, ask questions, run and chase each other on the playground, make wood forts and structures, climb on the equipment, and play sports games.

Yes, at times, there are tears, frustration, and arguments, but part of the job is helping students to learn how to navigate conflict with questions and comments like these:
  • What happened?
  • How can I help?
  • Let's hear both sides?
  • Here's a suggestion about how you can deal with a situation like this in the future?
As I think of this joy this morning, I'm wondering about how we can make classrooms happy for every child.. These are a few elements that matter.

Cozy, Comfortable Home-Away-From-Home Classroom
Generally a few comfortable chairs, rolling tables and carts, rugs, inspiring signage, and a welcoming pace will invite students into the room making it a comfortable, welcoming place to be.

Meaningful and Inviting Learning Activities
It's important that the learning activities are accessible and meaningful to children. With mandatory content, you can find ways to match it to students' interests, and then you can choose other content and learning from students' questions and interest areas.

Co-Construction of the Curriculum
Work with students to determine the curriculum program and timeline. Even with a standards-based curriculum, there's room for children's choice and voice. For example, when teaching a particular concept, you can simply say to students this is the concept, and this is why we are learning it--how do you think you will learn this best? Students typically understand well how they learn.

Reasonable Pacing and Time to Play
It's integral that children have sufficient time to play and that curriculum pacing is not too stressful. There's a balance here, however, because when you focus the curriculum with a good pace the learning stays steady with a good level of challenge.

Basic Needs
In order for children to be happy, they need the supplies and materials that make the school program accessible to them. For example, if everyone is playing in the snow and a child doesn't have snow pants, that denies the child that wonderful experience. Or if the homework and website is online, and the child doesn't have a computer, that too denies the child an experience that most students are taking part in. Further, students without snacks, supplies, proper nutrition, health care, adequate rest or other needed attributes or materials needed to access the curriculum with strength will also have trouble reaching happiness since they don't have what they need to learn well. 

Inviting Curriculum Program
As much as possible, the curriculum program should be intriguing, challenging, interesting, inviting, and transformative. Educators need to work together to create programs that excite, engage, and empower students.

When children are happy, teaching is joyful and the children learn a lot more. We need to work together to make sure that the children in our schools are happy, and the elements above include some of the efforts we can employ to make that happen.