Monday, July 15, 2019

No girls, parties, cellphones: California's prison inmates are getting bachelor's degrees

Why didn't somebody think of this sooner? It should be implemented nationwide.

Arrowood is one of the beneficiaries of California’s policy to provide face-to-face higher education classes in almost all of its prisons. Prisoners were restricted to correspondence courses until a law passed in 2014 allowing in-person classes. That year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports, the number of successfully completed college classes jumped to 13,301 from the previous year’s 5,725. 
By 2017, about 4,500 prisoners were enrolled in community college with tuition paid for by taxpayers through a state financial aid program, up from zero prisoners in 2014. While other states have some prisons that offer in-person education, California is the only state offering classes in nearly every prison, taught by educators from nearby colleges, for credits that can transfer and count toward degrees. 

And the program's benefits go beyond the prisoners who are released. Some of them will never be released, but they and their families still reap rewards.

Allen Burnett, 45, was arrested at 18 and convicted of aiding and abetting in a murder, and was eventually sentenced to life without parole. He bounced around seven prisons before landing at Lancaster, where he became part of the book group with Arrowood. 
He earned an associate degree through correspondence courses and eventually joined Cal State LA’s first cohort. He said the lessons he’s learned in class have helped defuse situations with fellow prisoners. “There’s so much segregation here, the slightest thing can turn into an issue,” he said. 
His efforts were an inspiration to his 40-year-old sister, who went back to college herself. But he’s most proud of the impact his education is having on his stepdaughter Zion Holmes. 
Holmes was born after Burnett was arrested, but he built a relationship with Holmes through visits and phone calls. They played Monopoly during visits, although “it was hard to have those little moments” together because every phone call is recorded, said Holmes, now 19. But when it came time to decide where she wanted to study, she asked for her stepfather’s advice. 
His eyes water when he recounts their conversation. He told her how caring the staff at Cal State LA was and promised her if she went there, there would always be someone on campus who was looking out for her. 
Today she’s a sophomore at Cal State LA, while Burnett is eight classes short of graduating. “There’s an emotional connection,” he said. “We talk about end-of-semester stress.” 
“He’s a lot more studious than I am,” Holmes said. Her stepfather, an early riser who’s up at 4 a.m. most days, got A’s in both of his classes last semester. “I haven’t done that … yet,” she said.

Education is never wasted. The only thing needed to be added (as the article suggests) is remedial  education for prisoners who need to start closer to the beginning.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Benton Harbor School Crisis - Two Views

Is it all about race? Or are there other factors involved? According to this article in the Detroit News, state officials are looking to close Benton Harbor High School in Benton Harbor Michigan.

The urban school district, whose 1,800 students are 92 percent black and 81 percent economically disadvantaged, has staggeringly low academic achievement and has been ravaged by years of declining enrollment.

There are important issues to consider here, but:

The prospect of disbanding the high school and sending hundreds of black students to finish their education in overwhelmingly white suburbs has put a decidedly racial tinge on what is unfolding as the first crisis of Whitmer’s governorship.

It certainly sounds like there is more trouble ahead, but is it all racial?

Herrera said the school district has made poor financial decisions for years, such as purchasing property that has lost value and investing in a school building and then closing it.
"It's gotten to the point now where the district can't pay back its deficit. It's called bankruptcy in the real world," Herrera said.
Just 3% of Benton Harbor's third-graders — four of the 127 students tested — read at grade level on the 2018 state evaluation test. The state rate was 44% proficient. Zero of the district's 11th-graders were deemed college ready, according to tests in the last five years.
It has also has lost millions of dollars in revenue every year with 2,782 students attending schools outside district boundaries. School officials say the district lost out on $22 million in the 2016-17 school year as students fled to other districts or charters. The district gets around $8,000 per student from the state in its annual budget.

Having taught in an "urban" school district for 29 years, this is what happens. Parents who want their children to get a good education move them to other districts, which they hope won't have the same problem that they're leaving behind. I bet Benton Harbor also has attendance issues at all of their schools, and most of the students probably live in single parent families. These are not racial issues.

Herrera blames the Michigan Department of Education, saying it would send in inexperienced educational consultants to drive reforms that either were never implemented or never brought change because the people on the ground in Benton Harbor did not have the expertise to carry them out.

This is probably true. Educational initiatives come and go, most with very little effect. And sometimes the initiatives themselves are poorly thought out. Sadly, the people at the top, inflicting this educational malpractice upon teachers and students have no idea how to improve things. Currently the big fixes involve money and technology. Between local problems and the ineffective teaching practices insisted upon by the state, Benton Harbor really doesn't stand a chance.

But, according to this article, from Capcon, there is more to the story. (There is always more to the story.)
The notes auditors included in their reports from 2011 to 2018 depicted a school district that appeared incapable of managing its own finances, with leaders having little idea of where taxpayer dollars were going.
“The district did not prepare its own financial statements,” the auditing firm said in both 2015 and 2016, and its employees then completed them. By not preparing the statements, the notes said, the district had put the auditing firm’s independence at risk.
The local school administration was incapable of completing basic financial reports, according to the auditors. “There was no person available in the Business Office with the skills and knowledge to apply governmental auditing standards in recording the entity’s financial transactions or preparing its financial statements,” the firm said in 2015.
In 2011 and 2012, the accounting was so sloppy that district officials could not say how much cash they had on hand, according to the auditor.
As always, it is the children who suffer. They will grow into poorly educated adults who don't know how to teach their own children or what to do when their children struggle in school. There are other hand-wringing editorials in the Detroit Free Press, but the central issues that lead to this abysmal failure are never addressed.

Nothing new with that. It's been a generations long-pattern in education.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Not Even Pretending to Teach Anymore

Y'all, we have another generation of students who will not learn to read or write effectively. But now we know who to blame. Take names.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing

I agree with this article by Suzanne Baruch Asherson so I'm reprinting it. It's from long ages ago - 2013 - but it's still valid.

Putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else, even in this age of e-mails, texts and tweets. In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.
The College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed.
As a result, the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation. Interestingly, a few years ago, the College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed, which experts believe is because the speed and efficiency of writing in cursive allowed the students to focus on the content of their essays.
Some argue that cursive is no longer relevant because it isn't included in the Common Core State Standards. But these standards only include those skills that are testable and measurable in the classroom; they don’t address basic foundation skills, like handwriting or even spelling. That said, the Common Core emphasizes the importance of expository writing to demonstrate understanding of key concepts, and fast, legible handwriting is the technology universally available to students to facilitate content development. Cursive, therefore, is vital to helping students master the standards of written expression and critical thinking, life skills that go well beyond the classroom.
With all this said, does cursive need to be fancy with slants, loops and curls? Absolutely not! The emphasis should be on simplicity and function when teaching children cursive.
Regardless of the age we are in or the technological resources at one’s disposal, success is measured by thought formation, and the speed and efficiency in which it is communicated. Because of this, students need a variety of technologies, including cursive handwriting, to succeed.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Statistics on Fatherless Children

From "The Fatherless Generation" come these statistics. They're from 2010, but they are still valid.

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)
Father Factor in Education – Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 70% less likely to drop out of school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to get A’s in school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to enjoy school and engage in extracurricular activities.
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average.
Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Researchers at Columbia University found that children living in two-parent household with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households. Teens in single mother households are at a 30% higher risk than those in two-parent households.
  • 70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
  • 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
Father Factor in Incarceration – Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately forty-six percent of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail.
Father Factor in Crime – A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. A study of 13,986 women in prison showed that more than half grew up without their father. Forty-two percent grew up in a single-mother household and sixteen percent lived with neither parent
Father Factor in Child Abuse – Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000.
Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.
Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.
  • 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
  • 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. [Criminal Justice & Behaviour, Vol 14, pp. 403-26, 1978]
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
  • 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
  • 90% of adolescent repeat arsonists live with only their mother. [Wray Herbert, “Dousing the Kindlers,” Psychology Today, January, 1985, p. 28]
  • 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
  • 75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes. [Rainbows f for all God’s Children]
  • 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
  • 85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]
  • Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]

Census Fatherhood Statistics

  • 64.3 million: Estimated number of fathers across the nation
  • 26.5 million: Number of fathers who are part of married-couple families with their own children under the age of 18.
    Among these fathers –
    • 22 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old (among married-couple family households only).
    • 2 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
  • 2.5 million: Number of single fathers, up from 400,000 in 1970. Currently, among single parents living with their children, 18 percent are men.
    Among these fathers –
    • 8 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old.
    • 42 percent are divorced, 38 percent have never married, 16 percent are separated and 4 percent are widowed. (The percentages of those divorced and never married are not significantly different from one another.)
    • 16 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
    • 27 percent have an annual family income of $50,000 or more.
  • 85 percent: Among the 30.2 million fathers living with children younger than 18, the percentage who lived with their biological children only.
    • 11 percent lived with step-children
    • 4 percent with adopted children
    • < 1 percent with foster children
    Recent policies encourage the development of programs designed to improve the economic status of low-income nonresident fathers and the financial and emotional support provided to their children. This brief provides ten key lessons from several important early responsible fatherhood initiatives that were developed and implemented during the 1990s and early 2000s. Formal evaluations of these earlier fatherhood efforts have been completed making this an opportune time to step back and assess what has been learned and how to build on the early programs’ successes and challenges.Whilethe following statistics are formidable, the Responsible Fatherhood research literature generally supports the claim that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for children, families and communities.
  • Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
  • Studies on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing show that father love is an important factor in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.
  • 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father.
  • Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
  • 43 percent of first marriages dissolve within fifteen years; about 60 percent of divorcing couples have children; and approximately one million children each year experience the divorce of their parents.
  • Fathers who live with their children are more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children than those who do not.
  • Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.
  • About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father at all during the past year; 26 percent of absent fathers live in a different state than their children; and 50 percent of children living absent their father have never set foot in their father’s home.
  • Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
  • From 1995 to 2000, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes slightly declined, while the proportion of children living with two married parents remained stable.

So yes, part of the solution to today's educational failure does lie with absent fathers.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems

This article from 2017 is funny in a sad, sick sort of way. But it gives an interesting view of the absurdity of current standardized tests. The thing is that they want to make the tests more rigorous, but they aren't teaching students the skills they need in order to pass the more rigorous tests.


Dose of reality: test makers are for-profit organizations. My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that. But how would your vulnerable, nervous, number two pencil-gripping seventh grade self have felt opening your test packet to analyze poetic lines such as this: I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome…an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.Seriously? Hundreds of my poems in print and they choose THAT one? Self-loathing and self-hate? Kids need an extra serving of those emotions on testing day?
I apologize to those kids. I apologize to their teachers. Boy howdy, I apologize to the entire state of Texas. I know the ‘90s were supposed to be some kind of golden age, but I had my bad days and, clearly, these words are the pan drippings of one of them. Did I have a purpose for writing it?
Does survival count?
Teachers are also trying to survive as they are tasked with teaching kids how to take these tests, which they do by digging through past tests, posted online. Forget joy of language and the fun of discovery in poetry, this is line-by-line dissection, painful and delivered without anesthetic. One teacher wrote to me last month, working after 10 p.m., trying to figure out the test maker’s interpretation of my poem MIDNIGHT, This poem isn’t quite as jarring as A REAL CASE, simply symptomatic of aforementioned neuroses: It’s about insomnia.
“Hello Mrs. Holbrook. My name is Sean, and I’m an 8th grade English teacher in Texas. I’m attempting to decipher the number of stanzas in your poem, ‘Midnight’. This isn’t clear from the formatting in our most recent benchmark. The assessment asks the following question:“Dividing the poem into two stanzas allows the poet to―A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.B ) ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happenC) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and MondaysD) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.The answer is C) to contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays.How many stanzas are in this poem? Where are they located? I would appreciate your help. Thank you so much!”Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.
These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.
Then I went online and searched Holbrook/MIDNIGHT/Texas and the results were terrifying. Dozens of districts, all dissecting this poem based on poorly formatted test prep materials.
There is a lot of insanity coming from a lot of directions toward public schools to be inflicted on teachers and students. This is only part of it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

'Boy crisis' threatens America's future with economic, health and suicide risks

None of the money being demanded in order to improve public education is going to make a damn bit of difference until fathers stick around to raise their children. As much as I rant about the need for reading to be taught phonetically, there is another reason for the steep decline of public schools and for the general lack of academic skills in today's children and young adults - missing fathers. And this tragedy of absent dads is not confined to inner city United States schools.

Boys are falling behind girls in the 63 largest developed nations. As developed nations developed solutions to surviving, they allowed more permission for divorce and for children to be raised with minimal or no father involvement. A great solution — less fear of starvation — created a new problem: dad-deprivation.
I discovered that the boy crisis resides where dads do not reside. For example, The American Psychological Association found that father absence predicts the profile of both the bully and the bullied’s poor social skills, and the bully’s poor grades and self-esteem. According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, every 1% increase in fatherlessness in a neighborhood predicts a  3% increase in adolescent violence. 
It starts early. Before six months of age, the less interaction a boy has with his dad, the lower his mental competence
And dad-deprivation is a significant predictor of the increasing rate of male suicide, drug overdose, obesity and withdrawal into video game addiction. It even predicts by age 9 a shorter life expectancy as determined by shorter telomeres, protective end caps of chromosomes. Aggregately, this leads to my predicting that the biggest gap between boys who are successful and unsuccessful in the future will be the gap between those who are dad-enriched versus dad-deprived.
As Powell points out, America exacerbates this problem by falling behind every developed nation in preparing our sons for the changes in technology. In contrast, Japan has extensive vocational education programs, with 99.6% of their graduates receiving jobs after graduation. A boy who is not academically inclined may be bored by physics and chemistry until he learns that to be a highly paid welder, he needs them. Then he sees purpose, and his motivation changes.
The important role of fathers in their children's lives is being ignored or downplayed by a huge number of public policy and citizen organizations from the public schools to Black Lives Matter. They will pull every reason imaginable out of their collective asses for children's failure to thrive except for the most important reason - no dad.
I lived that reality for the 29 years of my teaching career. I spoke to mothers constantly and fathers occasionally. Too many children had that hole in their lives. Nothing will change until policy makers become brave enough to stop subsidizing and encouraging fatherlessness. Currently, and to no one's surprise, the communities in which fatherlessness is normal and accepted are also the ones having the worst schools.

Guess what - there is a connection.