Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Back to school as a reason to consider schools issues comprehensively

Drive children to school ad, Chevrolet, Saturday Evening Post, March 3, 1923I am a bit late in writing a "back to schools" omnibus piece as many school systems started back to school in late August, although the schools in Richmond, Virginia open tomorrow.  Traditionally, the day after Labor Day is when schools reopened for the new school year.

Also see "Frustration #2: school reform discussions mostly miss the point."

1. Silver Spring/Montgomery County, Maryland resident Danielle Meitiv, the scientist, writer, and parent accused of child endangerment ("Free-range Meitiv family cleared of all child-neglect allegations," Washington Times) for letting her children, ages 10 and 6, walk to the local park unescorted, is speaking tonight (September 8th), 7:30 pm, at the September meeting of the Montgomery County advocacy group Action Committee for Transit.

The topic is “Making Our Streets Safer for Children to Walk.” According to ACT, "Back-to-school is the perfect time to discuss safe streets and Vision Zero."

ACT meetings are held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910, in the Ellsworth Room.

2. Tips for parents in organizing back to school.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a very nice article, "First-day of school survival guide," about household planning for parents and their soon to back to school children. It provides advice helpful to anyone but especially helpful to people who may not have access to the normal kinds of social and community capital available to support student success.

3. Walk and bike to school.  It'as also a good time to consider walk and bike to school issues as a community improvement initiative ("International Walk and Bike to School Day") as well as the need to plan for night-time safety in school catchment areas before it gets dark out, not after ("Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community").

This year International Walk and Bike to School Day is Wednesday October 7th.

Remember that about 15% of motor vehicle traffic during morning rush is people taking kids to school.  And the cost of maintaining a system of school buses is exorbitant in terms of buses, personnel, and fuel.

4.  Reading by 9/Summer reading.  Earlier in the summer, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader ran a series of articles on local reading teaching initiatives.  Research shows that to best succeed, children need to have their reading skills well developed by the age of 9.  The recent articles reminded me that in the mid-1990s, the Baltimore Sun did a similar series that at the time was quite path-breaking.

-- "Language, poverty a barrier to reading skills"
-- "Experts: third grade key for reading ability"
-- "Reading scores highlight barriers to learning"
-- "Poor preschool access hurting S.D. reading scores
-- "Reading lessons start with sound
-- "Long summer creates drain on reading"
-- "Reading gets legs at book walk"

DC's Public Libraries had a big program promoting summer reading.  Kids who read a certain number of books got rewards.  And the Montgomery County Fair had a rewards program for children who could list at least five books that they read over the summer.

I thought it was interesting that the Sioux Falls high school libraries were open one day each week during the summer ("A Summer Of Reading For Sioux Falls Students," KELO-TV; "Sioux Falls students nudged toward summer books," A-L).

It's great that more school districts are adding webpages and accessible library-related learning resources on the system websites.

I don't know what the standard practices are for DC schools and encouraging summer reading.  I do know that the girl next door who attends a charter school, evaluated at the end of the school year as behind in reading compared to her peers, was provided with a heavy duty reading program for the summer.

5.  Time on task/school year/scheduling/summer school/year round school.  A friend of ours is a teacher in Salt Lake City and is involved in a union-based initiative focused on school improvement and reform decidedly different from the top-down testing agenda that for the most part defines reform, along with firing "legacy" teachers and hiring college graduates to teach for a couple years as a kind of "gap year" effort before they go off to do other things.

We were talking about the school year, and I said:
  • it probably should be longer
  • especially for impoverished students who need more time in class to make up for structural deficits in opportunity
  • and even "year round" so that the loss of learning from summer break and the resultant make up period at the start of next year's class could be reduced, although that would have a serious impact on how people organize their summers
  • this would allow a lot more time to be devoted to serious enrichment activities, although summer school should be offered and organized not unlike summer camps for younger kids, which have a lot of physical activities, field trips, and specialized learning activities (nature access, etc.) built into the program.
6. I also argue that we should consider the development of cooperative year-round education programs for high school students, especially the impoverished, including work experiences and internships that are paid, to build income opportunities, work experiences, and improved educational outcomes for students.

That makes more sense to me than students working to pay for their Christo Dey tuition ("Students hone skills in unique work-study program," Minneapolis Star-Tribune), rather than for themselves and their families, although likely the experiences on the job are equally beneficial. From the article:
Christian Mejia knows how to stay busy. Each week, the Minneapolis high school student has to juggle classes, soccer practice and, for one full day, a job.

Like all students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in south Minneapolis, Mejia has to balance his studies and work at the same time as part of the school’s Corporate Work Study Program, which provides students with work experience that helps them pay for more than half of their tuition bill.

“It helps better prepare them to go on to college and go on to their careers,” said Kris Donnelly, the executive director of the program. “They get to learn technical skills in a way that a normal student doesn’t.”

Every student is assigned a job based on his or her skills and must go through a two-week training during the summer. A team of four students takes turns in the same position at a company without missing class.
A cooperative education program in high school (the way Northeastern University does this for college students is the model, applied to high school) could complement municipal summer youth employment programs and likely substitute for it for those youth that are still in school.

7.  Base funding for a full set of desirable "student services" at schools, separate from funding based on a per student basis.  In DC, the schools are funded for the most part by the number of students, although there can be an add-on per student based on the cost of education (more for high schools, more for the impoverished, although DC doesn't do that much in that department).

This means that schools often are forced to choose on what we might call "capital expenditures"--not for maintaining the school building, but support programs like a library, librarian, school nurse and health programs, software programs to assist teachers in working with students and parents, etc.

I don't understand why those basic programs aren't fully funded, regardless of the size of the school. Anyway, DC journalist Jonetta Rose Barras has a piece on how DCPS is "neglecting school libraries," which I think derives from how the schools are funded.

According to Library Journal ("South Dakota Honors “21st Century School Libraries”"), the South Dakota State Library has an awards programs for school district libraries.
Schools may win three types of awards: Exemplary, Enhanced, and Effective, with exemplary being the top honor. Libraries earn points based on programming, professionalism, and the learning environment for the students, the latter based on factors such as whether trained staff are available during open hours. Applicants nominate their own libraries, and more points accrue toward a higher-level award.
Having an independent rating system for DC school libraries would be a good step forward.

Also see the past blog entry "Basics in school planning, funding and services: school libraries as an example." I seem to recall reading somewhere that in Helsinki, school libraries are run by the city library system not the schools, but I can't find confirmation.

Image of the PS 106 Library in Brooklyn from the Robin Hood Foundation School Library Improvement Initiative, NYC. Some time ago, the Washington City Paper had a cover story ("Neighborhood Schooled") on how systematic improvement in school libraries was the fulcrum to increase neighborhood involvement in and improve schools in Capitol Hill.

8.  The relationship between certified school library programs and learning outcomes. Something that seems to evade DCPS officials is the fact that according to the Washington State School Library Impact Study, there are a wide variety of positive student learning and retention outcomes from school libraries operated by certified teacher-librarians:
  • Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians and quality library facilities perform better on standardized tests and are more likely to graduate, even after controlling for school size and student income level
  • The presence of a certified teacher-librarian on staff has a particularly high relationship to a school’s five year graduation rate
  • Students who attend schools with on-staff certified teacher-librarians (CTLs) have more equitable access to technologically advanced and accessible library facilities
  • Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians staffing their school libraries have greater access to databases and resources for longer times during the school day. Often these resources are accessible outside the school as well
  • Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians are more likely to be taught information technology skills and technology fluency skills.
9.  Relatedly, it's worth revisiting my point about reshaping land use planning around retaining high quality schools within neighborhoods as the basic building block for creating and maintaining community and quality of life.  See "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors."

Although it's tough to achieve balance between he often conflicting objectives of right sizing shrinking school systems and keeping neighborhood schools intact, functioning, and successful. Many activists see this as only a real estate play, when in fact the issue is much more complicated.

10. DC charter schools and their lack of accountability. I still don't understand why DC's charter schools are exempt from the accountability process and don't have to take into account "market demand" before getting schools approved -- for the most part the number of seats in charter schools is growing far faster than the city's population of student-aged children, so of course traditional public school enrollments continue to decline. See "Shocking semi-example of accountability with DC charter school corruption (but still mishandled)" and "Applying CEQA urban decay concept to DC charter school approval process."

11.  Innovation in K-12 education takes a long long time.  In college, I read Everett Rogers' book, Diffusion of Innovations, and one of the passages I remember is that the average innovation cycle in K-12 education is something like 17-19 years.  It's longer.

High school+community college in four years.  The Baltimore Sun has an article ("In Bard, Baltimore schools hope to pave a path to college") about a "new" program in Baltimore, with Bard College, where students can participate in a program that after four years of high school, the student also gets an AA community college degree.  (And in August, Northern Virginia Community College announced that high school students will be able to take college courses for no charge.)

Such programs were discussed in the seminal report on K-12 education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative of Educational Reform, published in 1983.

FWIW, the reason that innovation takes so long is the decentralized nature of the schooling system, with thousands of school districts across the country.  With Common Core and other more nationalized schooling requirements, this could change, but will still take decades.

12.  Earlier in the year there was a review ("He Transformed the Schools, But…") of Joel Klein's book on educational revolution in the New York Review of Books.  The review acknowledges a number of studies that found positive effects from certain elements of the program, but generally the piece isn't positive.  Klein responded here, "Good Faith & the Schools."

Which reminds me of a great NYT article about a counter-approach, support for principals and schools by a great instructional leader with a robust process.  This approach wasn't supported by Joel Klein because it didn't fit the narrative.  See my piece, "Positive deviance in New York City schools goes unrecognized."

That fits in with the author's point that revolutionaries only look forward, never backward.

13.  Innovation: field placements for teachers in training.  Like in a lot of ways we do things, part of the problem with K-12 education is that the way the system is set up to operate isn't flawed.  One way is with teacher training.

There's been a lot of writing about using the medical school model--education in the classroom + "fieldwork."  The Seattle Times has an article about this, " Teacher residencies better at keeping grads on the job than other programs, study finds."  Also see "My view: Mentoring is crucial to keeping teachers in the classroom" from the Salt Lake City Desert News.

14.  Innovation: improving student outcomes and keeping high qualified teachers by giving them more responsibility for school improvement.  The Deseret News ran an interesting article ("One state's plan to keep exceptional teachers in the classroom") earlier in the summer about a program in North Carolina that helps to retain great teachers by involving them more in teacher training and coaching. From the article:
Keeping teachers in the classroom by rewarding them with leadership opportunities and financial incentives can measurably improve learning outcomes, according to early results from a North Carolina-based program.

The program, called "Opportunity Culture," offers exceptional teachers a hands-on supervisory role, known as a multi-classroom leader, in which they coach and coordinate several classrooms, help improve classroom management, work with students who need special attention and take responsibility for outcomes.

"The results so far are very promising," said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, the nonprofit group that developed and implements the program. "But there is a lot of room for improvement." By the second year of implementation, Hassel said, schools showed up to 70 percent better learning growth compared to similar classrooms in the same and other schools. ...

Currently in most school districts, the only career advancement path available is to move into administration. The goal of the program, Hassel said, is to keep great teachers in the classroom.  "The most important factor in learning is the effectiveness of the teacher," Hassel said. "We are placing excellent teachers in charge of more students' learning."
The Opportunity Culture school improvement program was launched in North Carolina by the nonprofit organization Public Impact.  The program has since been expanded to Texas, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Syracuse, New York.

15.  Innovation: Ohio school district creates personalized instruction program in part by using technology.  The Wall Street Journal reports ("Ohio School District Bets on Technology in Creating New Learning Model") on how a school district mixes in-class and computer-based instruction enabling the creation of personalized learning programs. From the article:
After a recent high-tech makeover at Reynoldsburg City Schools in this working-class suburb of Columbus, many staples of traditional education are gone.

There are no desks permanently lined up in rows and, in one building, no bells signaling the end of class. College isn’t some far-off place: Students can take classes from a community college on school premises. Most students don’t even have to take gym in high school.

At the heart of the overhaul that is aimed at all grades is a personalized learning model combining computer-based and in-person instruction that the district says has held down costs, sustained above-average test scores and put students in greater control of their learning.

“I don’t see my grandkids having something that looks like what I had for school,” said Tina Thomas-Manning, district superintendent. “Some people are still hiding out with their heads in the sand.”
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Bonus: "Ten reasons to read to your kid," Sioux Falls Argus-Leader:

1. Kids know you care when you're willing to spend time with them reading.

2. Reading with kids sets an example.

3. Research shows reading 15 minutes more each day can help a child succeed in school.

4. Illustrations in children's books comprise best artwork in the world, and reading is a good chance to expose young minds to the arts.

5. Books can pass on important moral lessons and instill a sense of empathy.

6. Kids are impressed by your ability to read.

7. Teachers and librarians will thank you.

8. Books can help kids quiet down.

9. Young readers learn that books are social.

10. Today's books are so good, they're fun for both kids and adults.

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