This was such a poignant interview, but as I listened to Sue Klebold talk about her son’s mental state toward the end of his life I was reminded of an on-going concern I have as the issue of mental health becomes a talking point for politicians, schools, parents and communities.
Success Academy was obviously not happy with this publicity. There has been a lot recently. But it is always framed as one teacher or one leader or one school simply not reflecting the network’s values. It’s not clear to me why this excuse is accepted. It is these the same people who rage that such things happening in “normal” schools is reflective of a general culture in the “normal” system or people wed to the status quo who don’t want to admit that what they do doesn’t work.
I was troubled by David Brooks’ column this weekend about communities of character and the schools that he uses as examples of institutions that intentionally focus on building students’ characters. I also had a conversation on Tuesday with someone who used the term “character-driven” to refer to schools like KIPP, Success Academy and the Denver School for Science and Technology (which I reference here only because it was highlighted in Brooks’ article). Given some recent schools visits I have been making, including to a Success Academy school in New York, I am worried that these college prep charter schools are now being held up as examples of schools that nurture and promote character.
Someone asked me exactly who I meant when I used this term, and it’s a fair question. I intentionally put the phrase in quotes for the purposes of my open letter because it has been used over time by dozens of different groups committed to changing the US education system from whatever happened to be the prevailing approach at the time.
Today, however, I am using it in the way that it is used as a self-identification term by a group of individuals in the education policy space who adhere to a general set of ideas about what approaches and policy levers should be used to create meaningful change in education. It is a diverse camp that pulls together individuals and groups that often believe in the same solutions but for very different reasons. An example would be charter schools, an idea appealing to both Democrats and Republicans for related but perhaps ultimately different goals.
I have been watching the opt-out movement across the US with fascination. What I find most remarkable is the reaction of many in the education reform community to the growing chorus of voices pushing back on current reforms. Many of us have been worried about the direction of reform for years, but it was easy to ignore us as naysayers. Now that students and parents have taken matters into their own hands and pundits like John Oliver have taken up the cause the concerns are not as easy to ignore.
But what I find astounding is that many in the education reform community still don’t get it. Sure there are small elements of this movement that are about conspiracy theorists trying to claim “government intrusion” into state education affairs.
I’m having a lovely weekend with a friend who is expecting her first baby this summer. My friend and her husband are in the process of name selection and she was sharing with me the challenge she is having figuring out how to have the name reflect both her and her husband’s family. It is a struggle I think many of us have had, as more women elect to keep their maiden names after getting married. Whose last name does the baby get? Do you hyphenate and let the child make the hard choice about which name to keep when he grows up? Do you have one parent’s last name be the middle name knowing that most people don’t use their middle name, thereby making that name less important? Do you make up a new name? It’s a bit mind-boggling.
Shocking? Research finds that teachers’ experience level matters
When a Colorado task force, the LEAD Compact, was convened in 2013 one of the questions that arose was the issue of teacher quality. A range of experts came in to speak to the group about the research that underlay one of the unspoken assumptions of the task force’s conveners and reform advocacy groups: that teachers gradually reach a plateau in their effectiveness after 3-5 years on the job; that there is little evidence that improvement continues after the first three years; and that on average, teachers with 20 years of experience are not much more effective than those with 5 years of experience.
I was at a Montessori school in New Haven last week and got to spend some time watching primary kids ages 3 years to 5 years in their classroom. Montessori primary classrooms have an area called practical life that is filled with activities like sweeping, washing, cutting, pouring. For the uninitiated it is a little disconcerting to see children in school apparently “working” rather than learning.
We forget that for millennia human children lived lives that were very different from the ones they lead now. They were outdoors, they explored, the moved, they encountered dangers, they learned through experience. Our society has evolved rapidly over the last 100 years, but our basic human nature, our brains and our physical bodies have not.
Last fall I had friends over whose son was in the same class as my son at our local Montessori school. They were a bit annoyed at the school and the teacher because they felt that their son was floundering and nothing was being done; they were considering changing schools. Montessori schools are organized into multi-age classrooms and their son had just moved from a primary (ages 3-5 years) classroom into a lower elementary classroom (grades 1-3).
My older son had made that exact same transition the previous year and he had had a similar experience. He had a hard time settling into an academic rhythm; instead he seemed more interested in watching what other students were doing; had difficult social encounters with other students; and just generally seemed untethered and unfocused on learning. He came home upset about interactions with other kids almost on a daily basis and it broke my heart to see him struggling. Part of me wanted to jump in, call other parents, ask the teacher to step in and protect him from what he was finding hard.
I’ve just finished reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and it is an amazing book – well worth reading. However, most of us are not fortunate enough to have adequate reading time built into our professional duties so I thought I would share a few thoughts the book raised for me. It may provide food for thought and conversation at an upcoming holiday cocktail party … this may be why people tell me I am too serious at cocktail parties.