Sunday, June 26, 2016

It Takes A Whole Village to Raise A Child! What does that mean?

It takes a village, one example
When we say “It takes a village to raise a child, what does that really mean?  Think of it this way.  Those who are older may remember back in the day when, as a child, you messed up on the other side of town, by the time you got home your mother was waiting at the door taping her toe.  You knew you were busted.  This type of cooperation among parents is essential to the success and safety of their children.

Here’s a story about Wanda and Mary, two students in my middle school who got into an argument.  This argument got louder and louder until the inevitable fight commenced.  And this was a horrible battle, arms and legs flying every which way.  The first on the scene, I had the pleasure of stepping between them and taking my lumps.  The issue was discussed, mediation attempted and both were escorted home on suspension with a request for them to return with a parent.  We were a neighborhood community school so they lived nearby.

No sooner did they get safely home than Wanda, her mother and seven or eight family members appeared at the front door of the school. Immediately after Mary and her family showed up.  As the school administrator I immediately called and confirmed that my life insurance was active and proceeded to confront the group.  I allowed the students and one parent to enter my office for the discussion convincing the rest to go home.

After a long discussion we discovered that the argument, of course, was about “he say, she say” and the problems were artificial.  Both girls shook hands but what the parents discovered was truly amazing.  First, they lived on the same block.  They had never formally met before but they were neighbors.  They even had the same friends and actually had a Bar-B-Que together at neighbor’s house even though they never met.  They exchanged phone numbers, tears and hugs and all was well.  They agreed to call each other if any problem occurred and the “whole village concept” became a reality. 

The significance of this concept was that although the problem acted out in the school, it started in the neighborhood and carried on into the neighborhood, well beyond the students’ time at the school. 
Within the school we had peer mediation and other resources such as the School Social Worker, Psychologist and regular Character Development sessions where students learn and role played the skills necessary for daily survival.  Those are good ideas and gave us a base to work with.  However, more important, is to bring parents on board in a collaborative effort to bring school and community together to better deal with the difficult problems of the neighborhood. 

Bringing parents into the school can no longer mean simply for parent conferences, a behavioral problem, or to serve on a meaningless committee for the sole purpose of decorating the gym for an event.  The schools must encompass the “whole village” concept to allow parents as full partners to be involved in every aspect of their child’s learning.  All parents have information essential to the education of their child, information that no one else has.  The inclusion of all parents is essential to the education of the child, working as a team to develop their child’s pathway to success.  The most important parent to become involved in the process is the parent who is least likely to enter the school.  The parent who hated school, who hates teachers and has a bad view of the school.  It is amazing how the views and support of parents improve once they are accepted, flaws and all.

The community learning center is one concept that brings parents together for services or social programs that may be of value to them.  But of utmost importance is to make a strong connection between home and school.  Remember, parents are the customers and they must be full partners. 
One way to get full involvement is through an innovative process to survey every parent.  Not the kind of survey at the end of the school year that asks fifty or sixty questions, but small ongoing surveys that have parents responding to their needs as well as the needs of the school.  Of course, past experience has few parents responding.  However, consider this. 

First we teach students how to give a survey. 

Second, we prepare the students to give parents enough background information so they are prepared to appropriately respond to the survey. 

Third, the survey is small based on one basic issue. 

Fourth, as a homework assignment, the students, clip board in hand, present the survey to their parents.  

And finally the survey information is tallied.

A great example was when my school needed to establish a release time at the end of the day.  We were a middle school inside, but separate from a high school.  In our wisdom we decided we would release our students one hour earlier than the high school to avoid any possible bullying.  Being unsure of this we presented the parents with a survey asking their opinion on the issue.  The response was unanimous.  They wanted release time with the high school.  Most of our students had brothers and sisters in the high school that could walk them home.  Combine that with neighbors coming out on their front porch to observe children on our “safe paths” and very few problems occurred to and from school

Yes, it does take a whole village, supporting each other, to raise a child.

Cap Lee - Author

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Open vs Closed Primary? It ain't that simple!

In an election year that has produced a wide variety of candidates, the discussion turns to the validity of how primaries are run.  Democrats and especially independents are critical of super delegates while Republicans are wishing they had them to neutralize extreme candidates.

While open primaries allow independents to vote, they also allow members of the opposing party to cross over and vote for the weakest candidates.  Going back to 1972, the GOP wanted McGovern to be nominated to assure GOP victory.  Their dirty tricks literally brought down the Democratic front runner, Ed Muskie, allowing the weaker candidate, George McGovern, to be nominated and trounced in the general election.  And cross over votes were a part of that.

This years situation is similar in many ways.  While dirty tricks have been focused on the Hillary Clinton (countless Benghazi and e mail hearings etc), Bernie Sanders has been left alone allowing him to receive more favorable ratings.  But this has been taken to a new level when 29% of those voting for Bernie Sanders in the West Virginia open primary indicated they would vote for Donald Trump in the general election.

What if a candidate from one Party is running unopposed in the primary?  That allows their voters to cross over and help pick the weakest opposition candidate.

On the other hand, what if an extremist candidate whose views are not consistent with those of the Party (i.e. Donald Trump) is allowed to run and win.  Is it incumbent upon that party to sell their souls, hold their nose and support the very person they disagree with?  

But the question is not restricted to open vs closed primaries.  What about caucuses?  Do they reach all voters?  Do they only allow those with the time and energy to select candidates without consideration to the will of all voters?

And of course add on the numerous voter suppression laws and it is a wonder that anyone can vote.

One solution is for all primaries in both the Dem and GOP be open with no caucuses or any other means of electing the Party nominee.  Allowing all to vote. But wait a minute.  Shouldn't the Democrats nominee be a Democrat?  And the GOP nominee be someone whose values are consistent with that of the Party?

To accomplish fairness all elections must allow every one to vote their conscience.  Elections must also allow each political party to nominate a candidate whose views are consistent with their philosophy and are elected by their members.

Another solution might be the answer.  Abolish the two party system.

Yes, I said it out loud. ABOLISH THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM!

Consider this.

Each Party would be allowed to have closed primaries that actually elect their candidates by their members.  If this is chosen by the Party, every primary in every state would be closed.

Each Party would also be allowed to have open primaries if they choose.  However, if they choose open primaries, every primary in every state would be open.

If no candidate received 50% plus 1 of the electoral votes there would be a run off election.  This would allow allow a third Party candidate to run without damaging the chances of another Party i.e. dividing the vote.  It would also allow everyone to vote their conscience.  What a novel idea.

Until that happens however, all political parties should have all open primaries and be all inclusive.  No closed primaries and no caucuses.  Although there mat be s need for Party input in the form of Super Delegates, there should not be enough to change the direction of the election.  To assure candidates are supportive of the basic philosophy of the Party, perhaps 100 super delegates, two from each state would be a good recommendation.  And like the current Super delegates, they too would be elected.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

An open letter to delegates re:Education Platform

It is time to focus on the Democratic Party Platform to assure it is a working document that solicits input from all Democrats.

As a retired educator, here are my thoughts.  Feel free to leave yours at.

Whereas; all children learn at different rates and in different ways and

Whereas; children differ in the way they respond to the state test and

Whereas; the test currently drives the curriculum pushing children away from whole child education and

Whereas; assessment is only as good as the information gathered and its application to the education of the child and

Whereas; the data from the standardized test is returned to the teacher way too late to serve a functional purpose for children and

Whereas; the role of the State is to assure parents that their children, and all children receive a quality education

Be it resolved that the Democratic Party abandon the artificial test in Common Core in lieu of innovative assessments at the local level with data going immediately to the teachers as well as to the State to assure a quality educational plan for every school and every child and

Be it also resolved that the assessment be used to improve the quality of every child’s education, rather than ranking and sorting teachers and children.  


Eldon "Cap" Lee
Burnsville, NC

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Scapegoating unions for systemic problems?

Many believe that problems relating to the school system and especially the quality of teachers are squarely on the backs of the unions.  After all, unions protect bad teachers don't they? In a recent "letter to the editor" of Education Week, Richard Berman stated "America's national teachers unions - the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers - are notorious for protecting underwhelming teachers through generous tenure policies and last-in first-out firing procedures"  (Education Week, April 27 2016)

Although this may be the artificial consensus of many, it is essential that we take a deeper look at the process.  Having been a teacher and a school administrator, I have seen both sides of the issue.  My first thoughts are that if Principals would do there homework, they would be better able to hold teachers accountable.  The unions job, first and foremost is to assure an even playing field as well as insist on due process.

Of course scapegoating Principals would be another artificial quick fix.  Principals rarely have time to properly assess teachers not to mention provide needed support.  And without those two ingredients, neither the even playing field nor due process could be done effectively. By eliminating tenure, we simply eliminate due process.  And by eliminating last-in first-out simply allows a sneaky way to fire without due process.

But the question still remains, how do we provide teacher support as well as a thorough assessment to assure parents that their children are receiving the best education possible?  After retirement I served as a mentor and assessor for first year teachers.  I found my colleagues were of the highest integrity. Passionate about supporting quality teaching and just as passionate about keeping ineffective teachers out of schools.

The big difference between what we did and what Principals do now, is that we had the time to do an accurate assessment as well as provide a strong support system.  And when it came to due process, all of our ducks were in a row.  And that's what unions want, fairness.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Do we ask the right questions about school quality?

Several questions are often asked when determining the success of a school.

One of the questions that is asked is how many students graduated on time.  “On time” is the issue that forces most kids out of school.  And if the fundamental purpose of education is to assure students are prepared for the future, whether they do it on time, a month later or two months earlier should be irrelevant.

Consider this:  A student fails second grade.  Since that student’s chances of graduating on time are diminished, should he/she go home and forget third grade and beyond?  Of course that doesn’t happen but it does happen in ninth grade on a regular basis.  That is the number one reason for drop outs.

Also consider the reality that kids don’t get their teeth at the same time, they don’t start talking at the same time, they don’t start walking at the same time, they don’t recognize colors at the same time, but when they get into first grade they must be at the same time, at the same place in the text book, learning the same way, scoring the same on an artificial test and on and on.

2.     The second question often asked is "How many are proficient?"  Again proficient is based on everyone learning at the same rate.  If you are “proficient” 3 months later it doesn’t count as being proficient.

Everything has a deadline.  What if standards were guidelines for success rather than deadlines for failure.  What if we realized kids learn in different ways and at different rates?  And what if kids demonstrated learning for their assessment.  Rather than stating the scientific method, they demonstrated it through a science project for their assessment.

What is a good school and what is a bad school?  Under the current system, no one knows.  And a test score says nothing!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Seven questions to ask about Common Core

Seven questions to ask about Common Core

OK, so now it it seven questions :-)

Given that is not the nature of human beings to be at the same place at the same time academically and the range goes from sever cognitively disabled to highly academically skilled, are standards guidelines for success or deadlines for failure?  Are students punished for being at a different place or is failure a positive learning experience?

Given Dr. Howard Gardner’s proven Theory of Multiple Intelligences, does Common Core allow for each child to follow their pathway to successful achievement of proficiency?

Given Dr. Gardner’s theory, how does Common Core allow students to demonstrate learning in the way they do it best?

Given that kids’ ability to adapt to a setting varies as do kids’ attention span and other characteristics, how does Common Core allow for an assessment setting conducive for each child?

Given that assessment is only as good as the information gathered and its application to the education of the child, how does Common Core allow for immediate feedback to teachers?

Given that our culture is widely diverse, how do we assure standards are authentic to grade levels?

Given that standards must be guidelines for success, how do we show student progress throughout the year?

Let me be clear.  I support accountability and the effort to assure all children succeed.
To accomplish this Common Core must be changed forward.

Please respond if you have more questions relating to students.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Stupidity of School Competition and the Games They Play

Competition in education is probably the dumbest thing one can imagine.  How can that be said when competition makes businesses stronger and better and the wivets they make must out do the other companies in order to sell more and make the company thrive?  

The key words here are several:  First is “to make the company thrive”.  Does the “company” now become the greatest issue and the wivets, meaning the students become a lesser issue?  The biggest issue in business is to make a profit selling the product.  This means the cost of manufacturing the product must be less than the selling price.  In other words, the cheaper the cost, the better even if it means cutting corners.   And if a few of their products end up killing people, they can afford that.  It is cheaper to cut corners.  We see that in the auto industry on a regular basis.  Guess what?  We can’t recall kids.  Those who drafted the No Child Left Behind legislation obviously didn’t understand the “No Child” part because they left many behind.

The second on my most stupid list is the insane thought that competition makes for better students.  The real question becomes whose kids do you want to see fail?  Because if the “other” kids fail, then my kids are the best and we win the competition.  And to ensure that happens, we will covet our ideas so we can win.  If we come up with a great idea that works for kids, we will keep it to ourselves so that only our kids get smart.  Yes folks! That is what competition does.

But wait a minute.  What if we don’t have better ideas?  We still have to win, how can we do it?  How can we make our school look better?

Let the games begin.  We are well familiar with the scandals in recent years, erasing scores to make them better, but few realize the most effective of the games that are played by administrators.  As an administrator I have seen these games in the past and they have been played for years,undetected.
        The lottery:  This seems innocent enough but the problem is that those kids with readily available support systems apply leaving others behind.  And there is no telling what happens behind closed doors with the winners and losers.

2       Special needs kids:  Those who give excuses for not servicing the kids who need us the most are most likely to do the same for any kids who don’t fit there mold.  The goal is to cleanse the environment and get the highest scoring kids, while excluding the lowest scoring.
3      The artificial test:  Of course the best way to make your kids look best is to become good at teaching to the test.  This is improved through more sitting time to memorize what is needed.  What is not said is when you focus on that, you take kids away from the kind of hands on learning that is valuable when they enter the community.  Leaving school with artificial knowledge leaves kids unprepared for the world.  This is done to give the privileged a leg up as they have more resources to provide real education. But their test scores are good! And the pipeline to prison continues.

4       Raising the bar: This is a well-known trick.  Although many think it will make all kids smarter, what it really does is take those who are reaching for the bottom rung of the ladder and pushes them off, face first into the mud.  “Hey teacher, I think I will make it this time”.  Sorry kid we just raised the bar”.

5      Suspension:  Low scoring kids are suspended or given a time out on the day before the test so those scores don’t show up.  That’s easy to do with the anxiety that is caused by the test.

6       Push out:  The late Steve Orel from the World of Opportunity School termed the phrase “push out” for students excluded from school.  And there are many excuses to push kids out but where do they go?  They go to traditional public schools allowing the schools of privilege to point their fingers and say what bad schools the traditional schools are.  Remember, with competition, the goal is to make other kids look stupid to let your kids look good.

          Money:  And of course, money gets taken away from the schools that take the kids who need us the most.

8       Poverty isn’t destiny:  This is my favorite.  Actually to some extent they are right.  Those kids in poverty that have a strong support system might actually do well.  It’s the effects of poverty that are of concern.  Most kids in poverty have childhood stress and other issues that, under the current 18th century system of education is destiny.  Here is how it is played.  The school leaders say “we have all poverty kids and they all graduated and went to college.”  However they don’t say which poverty kids they have.  Are they those who have the strong support systems or the ones who are struggling?  They depend on the rest of the world adhering to the racist belief that all poor black children are the same, blossom at the same time and are struggling and the school miraculously steps in and saves them while they skim the most successful off the top.  I might add that another Favorite of mine is “my kids come from single parent families and they all graduated”, thus insulting some great single parents out there who work their butts off to take care of their kids, and there are many.

     And they all graduated:  One of my middle school kids went to high school where she dropped out after three years.  I went to graduation and low and behold she walks across the stage.  Get the drift?
     And the games go on!      

     In a recent interview on CNN the interviewer asked why the charter schools and the traditional public schools don’t get together.  That’s simple, they are competitors. Can you imagine what collaboration would do?  And for solutions?  Sorry guys, you'll have to read my book.