2011

Building with "Rammed Earth"

This year I had the great fortune of getting to know some thoughtful charter school leaders from across the country. We were convened in New York City by the Partners for Developing Futures, a group that makes grants to promising charter schools who are led by people of color. Our group visited three schools that were in their early stages of development. The school leaders were using the most thoughtful approaches to working with children who are overwhelmingly poor and from minority backgrounds. Based on my observations of classrooms the students were getting a great education.

Almost Another NCLB Victim

"Dr. Wood, I need your help on this one." My assistant is one of the most competent people I know, so when she asks for help I figure it is pretty important.

"While you were out yesterday a young woman came in to enroll. She is eighteen, has missed almost 14 days of school this year, and still has several graduation tests to pass. She says she is living with a boyfriend in our district - so?"

If you don’t deal with the demands put on schools by No Child Left Behind and state accountability models you might not know what the question was. Let me make it simple for you: Do we take this girl--who we do not have to take, who has aged out of public schooling, who is not an ‘official’ district resident--and risk damaging our school report card?

Add This to Your Reform Wish List

On a recent fall Wednesday morning I found myself on the deck of an almost completed cabin overlooking the mist coming off the Hocking River. Two teachers, three fathers, sixteen students, and I had gathered for the once-weekly ‘show and tell’ session in our junior/senior Advisories -- this time at the cabin three seniors had designed and built for their senior project.

The cabin is ‘off the grid’. It has solar power, a composting toilet, water caught from the roof, and a wood burning stove. It is, in the best sense, sustainable. The three seniors had done all the research on the building techniques, worked with local carpenters and solar installers to learn what they needed to know, and had built the cabin from the ground up.

Misreading History

I don’t own a television, but I do watch the box when I find myself in a hotel room. Just small doses of it remind me why we turned ours off some 30 years ago.

Take, for example, the incessant worship of Steve Jobs. Sorry to rain on the parade, but you cannot turn on the television without yet another story about the Apple leader. Just this morning it was an interview on "Good Morning America" with his biographer.

Yes, I know he single-handedly invented personal computing--sort of like how some would have us believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile and built all of them himself. And where would we be without phones so smart we can use them while driving down busy highways or spoil a dinner out with friends while we check the latest sports scores or new hot music video?

More Reasons for Hope

In a recent post I found a few things to be optimistic about in terms of educational policy in the states. Now, more hopeful signs: the results in the Wake County, NC school board elections, an Oregon school district’s refusal to take the bribe to institute teacher assessments linked to standardized test scores, and the pressures of No Child Left Behind landing on the doorstep of an innovative school.

In 1976 the school board in Wake County, lead by one of the more courageous superintendents in the nation, began the process of desegregating its schools by socioeconomic status. The logic was simple: if you wanted to ensure equal access to an education, you needed to make sure that schools were not segregated by the incomes of students’ families. When you group all the middle class students in one school and all the poor students in another, you simply exacerbate the effects of poverty and all but ensure one school will succeed while the other will struggle.

Knowing Names

"Hello, I was wondering how my son is doing at school today. He had a really rough morning before leaving the house." A parent called to inquire about her child on the second day of school. I responded with "Let me take a peek in his classroom. Hold on." She didn’t tell me her child’s name, but I knew it and where to find him. What I love about Mission Hill School is that I know everyone's name. That was written by one of our teachers in a recent newsletter column. That’s something I love too about our school community.

It’s always been part of our school culture to know each other well. It’s important to recognize that knowing one another does not happen by chance. There is intention behind building relationships and a place where children feel that they belong.

Boston's "Golden Era" 1995-2005

In the context of big-city school systems, beset as they are by the challenges of budget, leadership stability, struggling families, political in-fighting, union-management disaccord and the legacy of racism and poverty, Boston experienced what one might call a decade of unique opportunity and favorable circumstances. From 1995-2005 the city was home to a ground-breaking union contract, the schools had the support and attention of a new, “Education Mayor”, and perhaps most importantly, enjoyed a virtually unprecedented sense of continuity with the tenure of Thomas Payzant, a highly-respected superintendent and former Assistant Secretary of Education. A new School Committee, appointed by the Mayor, was anxious to bring the city’s policies in line with a recently-passed state Education Reform Act and to help counter any potential impact from the new Charter School movement.

Yet Another Commission

In yet another signal that the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB is not working (as if we need one), policy makers in Ohio are pointing to an ever-growing number of college students needing remedial work. Of course, every such problem provides a chance to convene yet another ‘commission’; this one is called the "Regional Consortia for P-20 Alignment."

Their task is "to bring high school standards in line with the realities of higher education," according to our state superintendent.  With 41% of college students taking remedial course in mathematics or English something must be done.

Really?

New Sizer Fellows Get Down to Business in Providence, RI

The newly-named Sizer Fellows (http://forumforeducation.org/about-us/sizer-fellows) Hector Calderon, Ayla Gavins, Tony Monfiletto, and Andrea S. Zayas [ed. note:  Andrea Zayas resigned her Sizer Fellows position in 2012] have already started experiencing the benefits and responsibilities of their new roles.

Forum Executive Director George Wood, Conveners Deborah Meier, Larry Myatt, and Nancy Sizer hosted the four fellows at a weekend charette September 29-October 1 on the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island.

Glimmers of Hope

OK, I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy.  And to start this week, what I read in the press gives me just a little hope that thinking about our schools, at least at the state levels, might be a little clearer.