Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Family History and Emotional Stability

The power of story was reinforced again by research published February, 23, 2010 in the Journal of Family Life, and online at http://www.journaloffamilylife.org/doyouknow. It shows one of the major reasons that the School Archive Project is so successful, by reinforcing the focus on family history and the recording of family stories, in ultimately helping students stay in school.  Here is the abstract:


Family stories are theorized to be a critical part of adolescents' emerging identity and well-being, yet to date we know very little about adolescents' knowledge of their family history and intergenerational family stories. In this study, we expand our previous findings that pre-adolescent children who know more about their family history display higher levels of emotional well-being. Sixty-six broadly middle-class, mixed race, 14- to 16-year old adolescents from two-parent families were asked to complete a measure of family history, the "Do You Know..." scale (DYK), as well as multiple standardized measures of family functioning, identity development and well-being. Adolescents who report knowing more stories about their familial past show higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning. Theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dr. Diane Ravitch and the "Not Test?" critique

There have been columnists who have criticized Dr. Ravitch by writing: "....what are they supposed to do? Not test?"

The answer to this issue is somewhere in the middle of current practice. We must test! Such feedback is critical. But should we give that feedback the undeserved power we are now giving testing?  It is as if people outside the school system needed to think they understood everything happening inside schools, and now think testing does that.

Should the results of testing literally run our schools? Are the tests that accurate?

It appears people think these tests accurately represent everything our children need to know to succeed in the real world.

We must sober up! That is not how the world is!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dr. Diane Ravitch changing the view of U.S. Education

The wisdom of Dr. Diane Ravitch has been rapidly exposed in news articles and on blogs over the past few weeks as her new book has been released.  Here are her words, followed by the title of her new book I am in the process of reading. This publication may do more to help the public school children of the United States than any other book published in our life times. Dr. Ravitch writes in an article published 3-9-2010 in the Wall Street Journal:

Given the weight of studies, evaluations and federal test data, I concluded that deregulation and privately managed charter schools were not the answer to the deep-seated problems of American education. If anything, they represent tinkering around the edges of the system. They affect the lives of tiny numbers of students but do nothing to improve the system that enrolls the other 97%.

The current emphasis on accountability has created a punitive atmosphere in the schools. The Obama administration seems to think that schools will improve if we fire teachers and close schools. They do not recognize that schools are often the anchor of their communities, representing values, traditions and ideals that have persevered across decades. They also fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.

What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community.

On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumbing down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it. Most significantly, we are not producing a generation of students who are more knowledgable, and better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. That is why I changed my mind about the current direction of school reform.

Ms. Ravitch is author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," published last week by Basic Books.

On the same day that the above comments were published in the Wall Street Journal the Dallas Morning News published an editorial titled "DISD must act now to fix or close failing high schools." That editorial went on to list 10 high schools, some on that list due to out of date information. 

 That editorial was a perfect illustration of the dangers Dr. Ravitch is addressing.  Anyone who claims they support the Dallas Morning News editorial must be able to address the issues Dr. Ravitch addresses.  One of the most basic is to ask where it is proven that closing schools, or other plans being presented, helps children?  

The Dallas ISD track record only indicates that closing a school and forcing the transfer of hundreds of students, as was done at Spruce High School, increases the potential for a higher dropout rate. The constantly raising promotion rate for the 6 Southeast Dallas high schools suddenly dropped 5 percentage points in 2008-2009 when Spruce was closed and reopened only for freshmen and sophomores. Allegedly the seniors and juniors were transferred to other Southeast Dallas high schools. Many students never made that transition. Who did that move help? See the graph at http://www.studentmotivation.org/dallasisd/#graph .

Yes, something must be done. Credibly connecting students with their own futures, and acknowledging that they themselves are in charge of that future, may be a first step.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Central Falls High School Dropout Prevention Plan

The crisis at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island is not the fight between the teachers union and school administration. That is only a distraction! The real crisis is the dropout rate. We must keep our focus where it belongs.

The 52% dropout numbers presented for Central Falls High are very familiar here in Dallas ISD. A 48% graduation rate would be a 4 percentage point improvement from the average 2009 graduation rate for Dallas ISD schools.

In 2005-2006 the total 9th grade enrollment was 14,680 for Dallas ISD. In 2009 there were 6,383 diplomas given out to that same class within Dallas ISD. That is a simple graduation rate of 43.5%. That was also the highest graduation rate for Dallas ISD in 4 years! It was a 2% improvement from 2008.

Thank God they are not firing the 10,800 teachers here in Dallas ISD! Instead we are working on a solution. There are dropout prevention projects all over our district. Current 2009/2010 enrollment for the 11th and 12th grades in all 32 high schools in Dallas ISD is 5% higher than it was in 2005/2006! This is an increase of 758 more upper class students during a time when the total district enrollment has gone down over 2%! Our graduation rate will continue to go up!

Our graduation rate will go up especially at two schools who used to have the lowest graduation rates in Dallas ISD: Sunset and Pinkston high schools. They are responsible for 417, or 55%, of this 758 student increase in upper grade enrollment. They are also the only high schools, from the 32 high schools in Dallas ISD, where almost half of their incoming freshmen have participated in the School Archive Project at the middle school level.  That project helps students focus on their plans for 10 years into the future.

The following is a dropout prevention plan for Central Falls High School and it's feeder school, Calcut Middle School, based on what has been learned in Dallas since 2005.  Each school needs to have staff meetings to discuss several future focused alternatives for their students, including the School Archive Project and the Freshman Transition Initiative. Have staff study the http://www.studentmotivation.org/ web site, as well as the http://www.freshmantransition.org/ web site, and any other similar projects, to prepare for the meeting.  Invite staff to bring information about other future focused projects to more effectively provide their students with a realistic vision of their own futures.  The goal is for students to much better understand how current classroom work relates to that future. 

At the meeting staff will talk about the value of effectively focusing their students on their own futures. Donors should be easy to locate before the meeting who are willing to fund the needed vaults, as well as materials and/or training for the Freshman Transitions Initiative, if the teachers vote to try these projects. Both projects could easily work very well together, or separately.

If they decide on the School Archive Project then all students could start the process this year by writing letters before the end of the school year. These are letters students write to themselves about their lives and plans for the future. Parents should also be invited to write letters to their child about their hopes and dreams for their child. If parents are unable to write this letter another adult in the child's life, including a teacher, could write the letter.  These letters by adults in the child's life are read by the student and then placed with their own letters inside the self addressed envelope each student places into the school vault. The 8th graders and the 12th graders would always be writing their letters with the focus being 10 years into the future.

Next year only the freshmen at Central Falls High, and the 6th graders at Calcut Middle School, would start the year by writing their letter for their respective school archives. Again their parents and/or adults in a students life would write an updated letter of their hopes for the child to be with the letter the student writes. These letters will be inside the child's envelope in the vault all during their high school or middle school years. At the end of 12th grade, or 8th grade, that letter would be pulled, and read for ideas as the students write their final letters for the vault. That letter would be placed by the students back into the school vault to wait for their class 10-year reunions.

Once the School Archive Project and/or the Freshman Transition Initiative were to start, a rapid change in attitude among students should be seen. Students will begin to realize that they are responsible for their own futures.

The teachers will be sending a priceless message to their students if they are able to tell them, "I look forward to seeing you at the 10-year reunion," as the students leave for the next level of education.

Everything that helps to create a family atmosphere in a school will be reinforced with these plans. It will all happen with the help of a vault turned into a time-capsule, and a plan focusing 10 years into the future.