Friday, December 7, 2018

Single Moms

Way back in September, at Aretha Franklin's funeral (yes, I should update more often) many of the eulogists used their speaking opportunity to slam Trump. They brought politics into a forum that should have been free from politics. Funerals, which are for the living, are supposed to events that recall and honor the dead. We need that ritual in order to say goodbye to our loved ones. It is not something that should be subject to partisan politics, no matter how self-righteous the speaker may be.

In the "age of Trump" though, that admonition has gone out the window. Politics are perfectly acceptable if they are of the "Trump is a chump" variety. We saw that most recently in commentaries related to George H. W. Bush's funeral. Pundits (and Facebook and Twitter mobs) made it about Trump. This is the age of Trump in which everything is about Trump. And while this will annoy some readers (assuming there are any readers) the fault for this can be laid squarely at the feet of the Trump haters. They are the ones creating the "every story is a Trump story" atmosphere.

Even the murder of eleven Jews by a lunatic Jew hater who also hated Trump, was blamed on Trump.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

While anti-Trump speeches were found appropriate, Reverend Jasper Williams spoke the wrong politics. He condemned single mothers. Statistically, children of single mothers suffer more from pathologies of poverty, drug use, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and criminal behavior than children of two-parent families. Anecdotally, it was part of my daily life as a teacher in a small "urban" school district. I worked with some of these children. And yes, they had issues that children from two-parent families never had to deal with.

It cannot be denied that these children have a much harder time of it. Although, Nancy Kaffer, in a Detroit Free Press editorial does try to deny it. The problem is that she has no facts to prove Rev. Williams wrong.

It's actually a rather confused (or maybe just confusing to me) piece that tries to make the case that single parenthood is not as bad as we're led to believe.

That's not a problem with the Census; its purpose is to quantify. The problem lies with folks who use a simple measure of marital status and primary custody to draw sweeping conclusions about family relationships, the people in them, and what it all means — and who prescribe solutions for a social problem diagnosed using the wrong tools. 
While half of such children living in single-parent households don't live in poverty, half do — a much higher rate than the children of married parents. 
And that's the problem that misconceptions about single moms fuels: attacking single moms, or single parents of any gender, looks past the real problems parents face — and that means solutions to those problems will continue to elude us.
The problem is that when you bring in actual statistics on the effects of growing up in a single parent household, those statistics show that there are problems that come with growing up minus a father.

Was Moynihan right in suggesting that children whose parents divorce or never marry have more than their share of problems? This question has been hotly debated ever since the publication of Moynihan’s report. On the one hand, growing up without both biological parents is clearly associated with worse average outcomes for children than growing up with them. Specifically, children growing up with a single mother are exposed to more family instability and complexity, they have more behavior problems, and they are less likely to finish high school or attend college than children raised by both of their parents. On the other hand, these differences in children’s behavior and success might well be traceable to differences that would exist even if the biological father were present.

In recent years, researchers have begun to use what they call “quasi-experimental” approaches to estimate the causal impact of growing up apart from one’s biological father. Some studies compare the outcomes of children living in states with liberal versus restrictive divorce laws. Others compare siblings who were different ages in the year when their father moved out. Still others compare the same child before and after the father left the child’s household. One important limitation of these studies is that while they all focus on children who are not living with both of their biological parents, they differ with respect to their comparison group, whether it is children raised by their mother alone, by their mother and a new spouse, or by their mother and a new partner to whom she is not married. Nonetheless, when taken together these studies are beginning to tell a consistent story. A recent review of 45 studies using quasi-experimental methods concluded that growing up apart from one’s father does reduce a child’s life chances in many domains.

The review’s authors examined the effects of a father’s absence on outcomes in four domains: educational attainment, mental health, labor market performance, and family formation. Growing up with only one biological parent reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent, which is similar to the effect of having a mother who did not finish high school rather than one who did. The absence of one’s biological father has not been shown to affect a child’s verbal and math test scores, however.  The evidence for other indicators of educational performance, such as high school grades, skipping school, and college aspirations, is mixed, with some studies finding that father absence lowers school attendance and aspirations and others finding no effect. Most studies find larger effects on boys than on girls.

There are other places to find these same facts. Ann Coulter has written a lot about single mothers based on the same government statistics mentioned above. A blogger has reposted some of her columns and a chapter from one of her books here. I understand that the name "Ann Coulter" is as big a turn off to some people as the name "Donald Trump," but if you are one of those people, be brave. Don't be afraid to read ideas you disagree with, or are automatically prejudiced against based on the writer.

Like it or not, a child's life is more difficult when there is no father at home.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What other countries can learn from Singapore’s schools

The island-state has much to teach the world. But other countries are reluctant pupils. One reason is that Singapore favours traditional pedagogy, with teachers leading the class. That contrasts with many reformers’ preference for looser, more “progressive” teaching intended to encourage children to learn for themselves. Although international studies suggest that direct instruction is indeed a good way of conveying knowledge, critics contend that Singapore has a “drill and kill” model that produces uncreative, miserable maths whizzes. Parents worry about the stress the system puts on their children (and on them, even as they ferry kids to extra classes).
 Yet Singapore shows that academic brilliance need not come at the expense of personal skills. In 2015 Singaporean students also came first in a new PISA ranking designed to look at collaborative problem-solving, scoring even better than they did in reading and science. They also reported themselves to be happy—more so than children in Finland, for instance, a country that educationalists regard as an example of how to achieve exceptional results with cuddlier methods of teaching. Not content with its achievements, Singapore is now introducing reforms to improve creativity and reduce stress (see article). This is not a sign of failure, but rather of a gradual, evidence-led approach to education reform—the first of three lessons that Singapore offers the rest of the world.

The United States certainly isn't interested. The fact that traditional pedagogy works at teaching children and progressive education doesn't is something the American educational establishment does not want to hear. So what if their kids are academically advanced and American students struggle to read? Progressive education means never having to face the facts.

I don't mean to rant, but when the proof is in front of your face and you refuse to see it, the problem is with you. And by "you" I mean all of the educrats (as Michelle Malkin refers to them) Columbia Teachers College, school administrators, politicians, and everyone else who insists that progressive education, which has been a monumental failure for generations, is still the way to go.

Read the whole thing. It's short.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Hard Stuff, by Wayne Kramer

I wrote a book review. Yes, I'm an MC5 fan from way back. But too, this is a really good book. Wayne Kramer is an excellent writer, and he's led quite a life, not one for the week or squeamish. There is a language warning for both the book and the review. This is to be expected when discussing the MC5.
While the MC5 was doomed to a short but intense life, they, and Kramer, had a tremendous effect on what would become 1970s punk rock, originally a small movement, but one that opened the door to metal and new wave, which led to alternative, grunge, hardcore, indie, regional punk movements, and other mini and micro musical genres. Their reckless stage and record energy helped create both the punk and metal templates. They were heralded by later bands like The Clash and the Damned. Nick Lowe told Kramer, “I stole everything from you, Wayne.”
As Kramer writes about the MC5’s second album, “Back in the USA”, which was released in 1970, “This record was exactly what the punks were looking for; it was sharp and to the point, with short songs and a sarcastic perspective. The record was a rejection of the grandiose, overindulgent, superstar rock culture of the sixties.” Why didn’t the punks pick up on their first record? According to Kramer, it came out too early (in 1969), and the record company never promoted it. Of course, use of the word, “motherfucker” on that first record did not endear them to the record company, department store executives, or parents.
The MC5 went the way of many other high energy, high debauchery bands. They were only able to put out three records before self-destructing. Some bands that embraced the same ethos were able to rise out of the ashes. There is a learning curve that they were able to intuit and follow in order to survive. Not so, the MC5.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Whose Truth?

It's obvious that when it comes to Brett Kavanaugh and the charges leveled against him by Christine Blasey-Ford, that most of us believe one or the other based on our politics, whether we are a Trump supporter or a Trump hater. And minds were made up as to whether or not Kavanaugh is fit to sit on the Supreme Court even before these charges were leveled, again, based on politics.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Rather Detroit Free Press columnist, Nancy Kaffer, in her piece on this fiasco, says:

It's not OK to demean, degrade and dismiss an intelligent, accomplished woman as she tells her truth to the nation's most powerful legislative body. 
Tells "her truth?"

But if Blasey-Ford is telling her truth, and Kavanaugh is telling his truth, does that mean they're both telling the truth? If so, is is a case of Schrodinger's Grope? And if we accept that they each have their own truth, doesn't that mean that there is no objective truth? They must both be believed? And if we're all entitled to our own truths, how do journalists, like Nancy Kaffer arrive at the truth? Because I was under the apparently mistaken impression that one of the objects of journalism was to dig for and present the objective truth.

If we all have our own truths, what does that say about our news sources who claim to be truthful? Are they telling THE truth or their truth? Kaffer and the Free Press are anti-Trump and are constantly calling him out, as many news sources are, on his lies. But are they really lies or are they Trump's truths? If we all have our own truths rather than sharing a truth, we will share increased confusion.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Classroom Technology Will Not Fix Our Schools

Here is an article I wrote. We're looking for public education to improve in America. But currently, there is a lot more money to be made off of educational failure than there is from educational success. So which way will that steer things?

Over the years, I debated my school’s Title I teacher on the effectiveness of phonetic reading instruction. He favored the previously mentioned “workshop” model. His standard argument was always, “the data show . . .” But he was never able to produce any data.
I however, do have the data. I have a copy of the Report of the National Reading Panel, which was released in 2000. The section on phonics instruction begins on page 89 of Chapter 2. Here is a summary of the executive summary: systematic phonics instruction works.
Of all the reasons for not adopting a low-tech phonics programs, the main reason just might be the lack of financial incentive. There are minimal profits in pencils and paper. Rather than putting out real cash on the latest in expensive technology and child-calming medication, a few boxes of sturdy writing implements, some lined paper, and vast amounts of challenging literature (not the usual trivial fare fed to kids who are struggling because they haven’t been taught correctly) is all that students need to learn to read, write, and spell.
If public-school officials decided to stop spending money on failure, I’m confident that American entrepreneurs would be able to develop ways to make money creating and promoting educational success. Changes would have to be made, but if someone is clever enough, there is always a way.
Until the decision is made to stop subsidizing failure, the cost of that failure will continue to rise.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Discipline or Not?

If students from certain racial/ethnic/religious/gender/other groups are on the receiving end of disciplinary action more that students from other groups, is it evidence of racism? Or are they, for whatever reason, acting out more than other students so that they deserve that disciplinary action?

According to rules passed under the Obama administration, there was disparate impact, which equals racism because students from some ethnicities got in trouble more than students from other ethnicities.

Attorney Peter Kirsanow, a Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, tells Breitbart News the Obama policy is “horribly flawed” and should be ended “without delay.”
“The Obama school discipline policy is based on a number of false assumptions, including the premise that racial disparities in disciplinary rates are due to racial discrimination as opposed to disparities in rates of offense,” asserts Kirsanow, who also chairs the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership.
“The consequences of keeping the policy in place are staggering,” he continues. “A number of schools have experienced serious spikes in violence. Classrooms are being disrupted by students who know they’ll suffer no real consequences.”
Katherine Kersten recently described at the Star Tribune the effects of the disparate impact policy in St. Paul, Minnesota:
In St. Paul schools — as virtually everywhere in the country — black students, as a group, are referred for discipline at higher rates than other students. Starting around 2012, the district’s leaders tried to narrow this gap by lowering behavior expectations and removing meaningful penalties for student misconduct. For example, they spent millions of dollars on “white privilege” training for teachers, and dropped “continual willful disobedience” as a suspendable offense.
Violence and disorder quickly escalated. In some schools, anarchic conditions made learning difficult, if not impossible, according to teachers.

According to its proponents, it doesn't matter what real world effects the Obama policy has, disparate impact must be investigated and schools must waste time, effort, and money in defending themselves against charges of racism. And the increased disorder, which robbed good students of parts of the education they were trying to get - who cares?

That's why I found this article by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and Fatima Gross Graves so interesting. They would like the Obama era rules to remain in place.

Both of us are black women in leadership positions: one a congresswoman, the other the president of a national non-profit organization. We are path breakers, and in our roles we successfully manage large staffs and fight for policies that will help others. We are smart, assertive and confident, and use those traits regularly to support others and guide decision-making. We speak up and expect others to listen. These are undisputed and highly prized qualities of a leader.
But when we were black girls in school, these same leadership qualities were rarely rewarded. Our assertiveness and confidence were labeled disruptive and rude. We were told to smile more, and our “aggressiveness” was noted. In our youth, teachers and administrators questioned the same strengths and skills that make us leaders today.
These "leadership qualities" they speak of, their "strengths and skills"; did they include crawling on the floor to sneak over to a friend's desk, screaming insults and threats at other students, physically attacking classmates, running out of the room slamming the door behind them, throwing pencils at others, stealing classmates' lunches, or indulging in temper tantrums?

I'm curious, because these are things that happened in my classroom over the years, and yes these episodes led to students going through our discipline process. I was more interested in my students, especially those who weren't bouncing off the wall, being able to get the education they were there for, than whether or not there was bias exhibited based on these students getting in trouble for their disruptive action.

Just for fun, here is a Thomas Sowell article, "The 'Disparate Impact' Racket."

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Strapped for teachers, Detroit district looks to controversial teacher training programs

Rough times continue for the Detroit School District. The new great hope for the district has come in the form of their new superintendent, Nicolai Vitti. He comes with impressive credentials, but he's taken on quite a task. This is a district that is and has been plagued by poverty, corruption, lack of fathers in the home, corruption, student truancy, corruption, poorly maintained buildings, corruption, lack of supplies, corruption, a teacher shortage, and . . . um . . . one more minor issue . . . oh yeah, corruption. 

If he can turn this district around, I for one, will be in awe of this man. Right now though, all the district seems to have is Mr. Vitti and hope. They've had bouts of hope previously, but that hope has always been dashed.

Right now, according to this Chalkbeat article, Mr. Vitti and the district are working on hiring teachers. That is not going to be easy. Conditions for teachers in Detroit are not so great. And they've lost thousands of students. Of course, that means they don't need as many teachers as they would if so many parents had not abandoned Detroit for suburban districts. In fact, it's those Detroit students who have kept at least one suburban district afloat that would have otherwise disappeared. By taking in so many Detroit students who have brought various negative behaviors and pathologies with them, this suburban district regularly loses some of their best students to other districts further on up the road.

From the article:

Faced with a daunting shortage of certified teachers, leaders of Detroit’s main district say they may have no choice but to hire educators with minimal classroom training, including some who have been certified by a for-profit online teachers college.
It’s still early in the summer hiring season, and the district hasn’t begun to announce new hires. But on Tuesday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti will present a wide-ranging hiring plan to the Detroit school board, sending a message that the district must consider all its options.The plan instructs staff to look high and low for new hires, including from alternate certification programs like Teachers of Tomorrow, an online program that was approved to certify teachers by the state Legislature last year“We prefer to hire teachers who have participated in traditional certification programs,” Vitti said in a prepared statement to Chalkbeat, adding: “However, in the short term, we need certified teachers to fill vacancies and to reduce class size so we will consider hiring teachers from alternative programs. They are certified.”An intractable teacher shortage in Detroit has had dramatic consequences for the city’s students, from classrooms crammed with 40 children to students who go for months without a certified math or English Teacher.
On its website, Teachers of Tomorrow promises prospective teachers that they can help address these issues. Under the tagline “Every student deserves a great teacher!” the company promises “competitive salaries” and the chance to work with a "diverse student population."

On the one hand, Detroit is desperate enough to seek teachers from "non-traditional" programs that may or may not be slightly shady. On the other hand, traditional teacher training programs from the big-time universities don't adequately prepare teachers. 
Explicit phonics being ignored, teachers are not taught effective strategies to teach literacy. Add to this the fact that because so many teachers don't want to work in Detroit, Detroit has to take whom they can get. While Detroit does have some excellent teachers . . . um . . . let's just say . . . there are others. 
Also, I'm not sure that the offer to work with "a diverse student population" is such a great selling point. Diverse? Diverse how? In what way are the students "diverse?"
Personally, I hope Mr. Vitti succeeds. Many before him have failed, but who knows, maybe he is up to this impossible job. My advice though, would be - once you get those new teachers in the door, have them trained in a good solid Orton-based language arts program.
Of course, that's always my advice.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Marzano, Are You Kidding?

The name Robert Marzano showed up a lot in my final teaching years, mostly in the form of articles copied and passed out to all of the teachers in the school or in the district. We were supposed to read them in order to learn how to be better teachers. It seemed that every article we were given to read had Marzano's name on it. That must have been one heavy educational dude I was ignoring.

Because I always wanted to know what manner of bovine waste was being passed down to us from above, I usually attempted to read these articles. I'm almost sorry to say that I never even made it through one of them. I can't even recall what they were about, but they didn't seem to be much help. Much of what is being passed off as school improvement these days involves data, testing, testing data, data from the tests, and cosmetics.

Yes, we're told, posting the learning target for each subject daily will improve students' scores. Oh, did we say posting? We meant posting and reading each learning target to the students. Oops! Forgot! And have the students recite the learning targets back to you. Oh, and one more thing; have them repeat the learning targets in their own words. We'll let you know if there's anything we have to add to that.

Meanwhile, don't forget to update your data wall.

But - oh yeah - Marzano. I should have assumed that some teachers and especially administrators who had either forgotten what the classroom is like or who were never classroom teachers would accept the word of an "expert" with no classroom experience. I discovered years ago, that those who carried the educational day, the ones who advance the farthest, were the ones who can talk a good game, who can exaggerate their classroom success with a straight face.

It seems that I'm better off for not reading Marzano, especially since, whether or not I knew who he was, my teaching career was made more miserable because of him.

There are many reasons Marzano’s tweet touched a lot of raw nerves.
First, those of us who have been in the arena for a while are predisposed to dislike whatever he has to say. Here’s a guy who barely taught, an academic who’d rather read studies written by other academics than remain in the classroom and teach actual kids, who writes books that are only possible because of the labor of other researchers (who at least visit classrooms), and who then has the audacity to tell teachers everything they’re doing wrong and what they should be doing instead. I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt and neither are a lot of other teachers.
Second, the tweet reveals what most of us suspect: that he’s out of touch. It’s no surprise that a lot of the comments call Marzano out for not being a teacher. That’s a fair criticism. Don’t tell me how to do my job until you’ve demonstrated that you can do it.
From my experience, Marzano will still be required reading, and school administrators will still believe in him until he is replaced by the next educational guru whose advice and pronouncements will have as much effect on student achievement as Marzano - Zero.

And the circle goes round and round.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Retired from Teaching

For the first 20 or so years of my teaching career, whenever someone asked me when I was planning on retiring, my standard answer was: "Probably never. One day my students will come in and see me slumped over my desk. They'll argue with each other, trying to decide whether or not to try and wake me, or wonder if they should tell the principal, or if they should just enjoy the day and let the custodian discover my body after school and alert the proper authorities."

That changed around my 25th year of teaching. I began thinking that I would stay 30 years and collect my full pension. I would still be young (relatively speaking) and I could pursue another profession that did not involve a roomful of children, many of whom were actively engaged in trying to stop me from doing my job. After all, I still had the option of around 12 weeks of vacation time per year. I could teach summer school for 5 four day weeks, which I did for a few years, and earn some extra spendin' cash. I also had enough sick days saved up so that I could take as many as I wanted to take without worrying about running out.

But no, I quit after only 29 years. The proper people were informed back in March. I filled out the proper paperwork - on and off line, was honored at a board meeting, and walked out the door for the final time last Friday.

Why not stick it out one more painful year? Here is the part where I begin to enumerate those reasons-

Well, that's what I was planning on doing. But why bother? Yes, there were issues. Every profession has its issues. What it comes down to is that due to all of the issues - it was time to leave. The school has changed. The profession has changed. Parents and children have changed. Government requirements have changed. I've changed. It was time.

Now that I will have the time, I may even update this blog more frequently.

UPDATE: For more information, go here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee

I've been busy. That's my excuse. Back in October of last year, Charles Murray, spoke - that is, he tried to speak - at the University of Michigan. I started to write about it sometime in December. Here is what I wrote:

Yes, I should have posted this a while ago, like when the Detroit Free Press first reported it. But I kept having to do other things, so it languished. Others reported on it though. And the more I read about it, the worse it got. After reading all four of the reports, it seems to me that the original report in the Detroit Free Press was intended to minimize the disruptions caused by the junior fascists at U of M. They didn't debate Charles Murray. They harassed him and disrupted his talk. The anti-intellectual nitwits tried to shout him down. They put themselves in charge as the thought police. I doubt that a single one of them have ever read a single word he's written. Yet, based on the words of others who also wouldn't face him in a debate, decided that nobody had the right to hear what he had to say.
We know, based on stories of conservative speakers being denied the same rights as speakers from the liberal/progressive echo chamber on university campuses, that this sort of thing has become common. There are different rules for those who bow to and agree with the campus power structure - a structure which includes students and faculty - and those who don't.

Conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter are labeled as "divisive." They are "provocateurs." They engage in "hate speech." This means that they are in disagreement with current campus orthodoxy. And that must NOT be allowed! So they and the student groups who sponsor them are subject to different, more onerous rules. University administrators are all for free speech, or so they tell us - but! There is always a "but" that only applies to people like Shapiro and Coulter and others who are divisive, provocateurs, and promote hate speech. Campus fascists have redefined certain words in order to excuse their own fascism and fear of contrary opinions. It also conveniently let the rioters and disrupters off the hook. It's not their fault. How can they possibly take responsibility for their actions when they were provoked by a provocateur? Curse those Coulters and Shapiros for making peaceful, human rights respecting young adults into masked thugs!

No one who deviates from the orthodoxy can be tolerated.
A speech at Portland State University by James Damore, author of the infamous Google memo, was interrupted on Saturday night when activists reportedly smashed the sound system.
The former Google engineer is currently suing the Silicon Valley giant for firing him over the controversial ten page memo about gender diversity and the difficulty conservatives face at the company.The event was organized by student and journalist Andy Ngo, and his student group the Freethinkers. In response, the university organized multiple events to counter their panel.Live tweeting the event, Ngo reported that activists had staged a walkout before “smashing” the sound system, causing the microphones to not work for approximately ten minutes.
It wasn't enough for the university to offer multiple counter events, they also allowed student fascists to disrupt Damore's talk. But at least the disrupters at Portland and at U of M weren't "divisive." And nobody who destroyed the sound system at Portland State University was engaging in hate speech. And surely there were no provocateurs amongst the disrupters at either event.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Government Shutdown

Yes, I know, we are supposed to panic because the government was forced to shut down because our Congress couldn't come to an agreement over DACA. Of course it's Trump's fault. This kind of thing never happened under any previous president. Well, almost never.

Truthfully, I'd be more upset if my local 7-11 or Taco Bell shut down. I'd be hysterical if my favorite books store were to close. I know we are supposed to worry about the thousands of government workers who will not be paid, and the government functions that will not be performed. There are necessary services that the government provides, but if a shut down can provoke hysteria, maybe the government has grown too big and has taken over too many functions.

Just a thought.

I bet congressional paychecks will continue to be delivered, showdown or not, and even during the apocalypse.