Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Navigating School: Social Pressures of Adolesence - panel at Lincoln School in Providence tonight!

Short on time this week but want to share what I can! Just saw this on Facebook - the event is tonight, hard for folks to get out at the last minute but if want to share anyway.
I wish I could go. I have been impressed Dr. Elizabeth Englandar's antibullying curriculum and other work - visit http://elizabethenglander.com for more about it.

Please go to http://www.lincolnschool.org/page.cfm?p=2745&newsid=1241 for full info and to RSVP.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I hope that this is a conversation, redux

Tomorrow, Saturday 1/28 from 10:00-11:30am, Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Lusi are co-hosting another community conversation about Providence's public schools at the John Hope Settlement House, 7 Thomas P. Whitten Way. Full info is here

Another such meeting happened last month on the first night of Hanukah, as I noted - happy to see that there's another scheduled. I am going to try to be there and will report on what transpired if so, and of course would love comments from others who were either at December's gathering or who will be there tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Join the elephant mother herd.

February 2012's East Side Monthly is out; the content isn't yet online but if you stumble upon it at a coffeeshop, you can read my latest column, "Tiger Moms vs. Elephant Moms," which I had originally titled "The Herd of the Elephant Mothers." I am not terribly thrilled with either title but did enjoy writing this quite a bit, and here it is, in case your travels don't take you to East Side coffeeshops for the above mentioned stumbling-upon:

The Herd of the Elephant Mothers 

Image from here.
For families with kids in transition from one phase of school to the next, midwinter is application and registration time. As families get down to the brass tacks of the school choice process, I am riveted by the conversations you’re having about what’s next educationally for your kids. Yes, I am listening to you three at the corner table at Seven Stars, huddled over coffee and obsessing about which kindergarten will be the best fit for your four year olds, wondering about the unknowns of public schools, the price tag of private schools, the lottery-driven gamble of charter schools, or the possibility of moving to a new town “for the schools.” I am shamelessly eavesdropping, and sometimes I will ask to join in, because I am fascinated with parents’ motivations about their educational choices that they make for and with their children.

While our rationales for school choice vary widely, the desire to find alignment between our own values and those to which a school is committed is our preeminent guide. We want to know that our kids attend schools that want for our kids what we want for our kids and--as the kids themselves build more sophisticated visions of the future--what they want for themselves.

As arguments about choices and charters dominate our Facebook and face-to-face conversations (well, mine, at any rate), it’s essential to acknowledge that not all families have access to the same sort of choices. Obviously, the wealthy have more options than the poor, including though not limited to choice of town and neighborhood. While I won’t be spilling much ink this month exploring the implications of and possible ways to address this inequity, I would be remiss if I didn’t note it.

No matter where we are economically and otherwise, the hopes and dreams we have for our kids (and those that the kids have for themselves) depend in large part on the skills, habits of mind, content, attitudes, and ways of relating to others that they learn both at school and at home. So we seek schools that value what we value in order to achieve a measure of understanding, continuity, and support network for young people that extends from home to school and back again.

I was thinking about this need for a good fit when I recently read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you have likely heard the phrase “tiger mother” as a description of a parent who demands sky high achievement from their kids, who expects perfection and beyond in pursuits that the parents choose, who requires obedience and is willing and even eager to limit many of the common (in our culture) joys of childhood for the sake of the attainment of such perfection.

I will admit that when my kids bring home grades that don’t match the levels of achievement of which I know they’re capable, my own inner tiger mother has been known to emerge for a growl. However--and this is why it may be instructive to read Tiger Mother itself rather than read about it--Chua is willing to ride her myopic quest for perfection to crazytown. She bullies, harangues, and verbally abuses her daughters, with mixed results: one acquiesces, one rebels. Though there’s no way I endorse or would suggest emulating her methods, I feel muted admiration for Chua’s willingness to put her experience of extreme parenting out there and for her ability to describe how her understanding shifted when her seemingly irresistible force meet the apparently immovable object of her daughter’s will.

I had expected the relationship with her daughters' schools to be a substantial aspect of Chua’s story, but alas, no. The most significant discussion of school is when Chua describes herself pacing the hallway waiting for the start of gym, recess, or lunch (irrelevant, in her view) so she can whisk her daughter away for yet more violin practice. Chua also grumbles about time-consuming community building events such as parent association potlucks as ridiculous, distracting nuisances. She makes it clear that school is for mastering math, science, and literacy--not for the arts, not for athletics, and certainly not for socially oriented community building. When school doesn’t conform to Chua’s values, it too is pushed aside.

At that point, I knew that my occasional grade-related roars do not qualify me to be a tiger mother. I would not be able to stand the hyperfocused life that she describes. I understand how endless hours of practicing and sky-high expectations can push kids to reach their potential. I admire that Chua has equipped her kids with resilience and ability to confront obstacles. However, I couldn’t stand the resulting loss of community, which I value so much for our family.

I’m really more of an elephant mother. Elephants learn socially and mother their young collectively. Experienced elephant mothers model parenting behavior for younger elephant mothers. Young adult female elephants serve as “allmothers” (my new favorite word) as they practice their skills by looking after all of the younger offspring. This seems like a much more resonant metaphor than the tiger mother, frantically focused on her own offspring to the exclusion of other people’s children as well as nearly everything else in life.

While I have high academic expectations for my kids, I also expect them to thrive amidst diversity and respect differences. I expect them to identify the assets of their communities and be a part of solving challenges. In order for this to happen, you need to be an elephant mother (or father) and appreciate not only being part of the diverse, multicultural, multilingual herd but also taking on some real responsibility for the welfare of all kids, not just your own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

$470,000 RIDE tech grant - looking for info

This short ProJo story about a technology grant open to all RI schools caught my eye - interesting. I haven't researched it, don't know what's funding it or into what policy context it fits. Here's the story in full:
The Rhode Island Department of Education will award a $470,000 grant to help a school use technology to redesign its instruction. 
The school would become a pilot program to help launch a statewide initiative in technology-driven improvements. Applicants will propose a school site where they will create a technology-rich learning environment that uses tools such as digital curriculum, gaming, virtual learning and expanded learning. 
RIDE has scheduled a conference on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Rhode Island College that will feature expert speakers from across the country.
Not sure how the conference connects or if it's open to the public. Also don't know what the proposal process is for the funding, nor whether this proposal is supposed to launch a new school or support technology implementation in an existing school. I'm posting this here now in the hope that someone already connected to the work might weigh in. I'll also hit up the RIDE website and other sources to see what else I can find when I have a few minutes.

I'm interested in this issues as I see the challenges that are happening as a result is and isn't happening with technology use in the schools in which I regularly spend time. I'm thinking a lot about opportunities met and opportunities missed and will be focusing more on that in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, any insight into the deal with this grant? Please share if so.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

PPSD High School Registration and Open High Schools + transportation issues

As is the case for middle schools, Providence Public Schools' high school registration and open houses are coming up soon, as follows:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 6:00-8:00pm
Mount Pleasant High School, 434 Mt. Pleasant Avenue

E-Cubed Academy, 812 Branch Avenue

Cooley & PAIS High School, 182 Thurbers Avenue

Classical High School, 770 Westminster Street

Thursday, January 26, 2012, 6:00-8:00pm
Central High School, 70 Fricker Street

Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, 375 Adelaide Avenue

Providence Career & Technical Academy (PCTA), 91 Fricker Street

Hope High School, 324 Hope Street

The High Schools Open House flier from PPSD is here. For more, see last week's post about middle school registration for specific how and when info. The only differences for high school registration is that high school registrations are due by February 10 and that the "neighborhood" radius is three miles rather than one and a half miles for middle schools.

Unrelated to registration but related to the three mile neighborhood designation: if you're not already paying attention to Youth 4 Change Alliance's Transportation 4 Education campaign, please take a minute to visit their website to get up to speed on the ways in which inadequate transportation for high school students to and from school poses serious challenges to their ability to attend and, of course, succeed in school. Important issue that needs our attention - thanks to Y4C for the advocacy and light-shining.

Friday, January 13, 2012

PPSD Middle School Registration and Open Middle Schools

It's almost middle school registration time! Later this month, Providence middle schools will be open for prospective sixth grade students and their families as follows:

Monday, January 23, 6:00-8:00pm
Gilbert Stuart Middle School, 188 Princeton Avenue

Roger Williams Middle School, 278 Thurbers Avenue

Nathan Bishop Middle School, 101 Sessions Street 

Wednesday, January 25 
Esek Hopkins Middle School, 480 Charles Street

DelSesto Middle School, 152 Springfield Street

Nathanael Greene Middle School, 721 Chalkstone Avenue

This year, Providence Public Schools has created a useful checklist that clearly outlines the registration process. It's here, and additional info about registration can be found here at the main registration page. Student assignment is explained here; generally speaking, Providence uses a neighborhood school policy with some choice built in. Eighty percent of a school's population is drawn from its neighborhood, and twenty percent can choose to attend from outside the neighborhood. Middle school "neighborhoods" are defined as a mile and a half radius from the school. You can ask PPSD registration which is/are your neighborhood school(s).

Fifth graders at schools in Providence--public schools and private schools--will receive registration forms on January 17, according to the info I learned when I called PPSD registration (401-456-9297) and are due back to the school by February 3. I encourage you to verify this information through your child's school and/or your own call to the registration office. If you're coming in from outside Providence, you need to go to the PPSD registration center to obtain and return the middle school registration form. See the checklist for more details about that.

Our family went through this a year ago, I wrote about the process in January 2011 when we visited visited middle schools with our fifth grader and again in June 2011 when we finally found out to which middle school our kid has been assigned. Barring any disruptive events such as last year's school closures, I believe that families will find out much earlier this year about school assignment, though I don't know when. If anyone does know, please share!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hope High School students advocate for healthier lunches and make a salad bar happen

The image to the left comes from a November 20122 post on Hope United's Facebook page that illustrates the results of surveys that Hope United - a Hope High School student group focused on social justice activism based at Hope High School - conducted with other Hope students. They brought the results to the attention of Sodexo, and the first salad bar in a Providence high school made its debut on Monday. See this Providence Journal story for more.

Along with the salad and other healthier food options now available to Hope High School students, we have an example of student activism resulting in timely implementation of real changes. The students did fabulous work - they identified an issue, researched it, and made their case. Sodexo's responsiveness is encouraging, and I hope we can find ways to identify demand for healthier food options in all of our schools. I'll be writing about nutrition and wellness issues for the March 2012 East Side Monthly, so stay tuned for more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

East Side Public Education Coalition statement on proposed Achievement First charter school proposal

I'm sharing a letter that I worked on with several other members of the East Side Public Education Coalition that states our stand on the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies about which I and others have written extensively.

Before that, I want to point out an opinion piece by educator Dan Ross, "A Charter School Prayer for the New Year," which hits a couple of the same points (thanks, sharp-eyed Facebook friend, for sharing this link this weekend). This can't be said enough: "Charters were never supposed to be the answer--they were supposed to provide answers.And:
When Albert Shanker, the former president of the American Federation of Teachers, first proposed the idea of charter schools, he envisioned them as opportunities for small groups of teachers and parents to collaborate and develop experimental educational environments, an idea that recalls former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' notion of the states as "laboratories of democracy" in the federal system. If successful, the lessons learned from these pioneering schools could be applied writ large, affording all children the chance to benefit their innovations.

But ironically, in spite of the excellence of charters like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First, educators have largely learned nothing from their successes. That's not to say that charters are inherently better than traditional public schools -- studies have shown that the best charters perform as well as the best traditional public schools and that the worst charters perform just as a poorly as the worst -- but rather that in this challenging work, we cannot afford to ignore right answers, no matter where they come from.

In the face of our current educational crisis, how can we stand idly by while we have proof of concept for extended school days and school years, and fresh best practices in pedagogy, professional development, human capital strategy, teacher evaluation, and instructional leadership? Why are we leaving it to the charters to do the scaling up of these new models themselves by expanding their own fundamentally limited networks instead of implementing them en masse?
Ross' piece captures some of what I've been feeling about this as a person who enthusiastically supports many specific charter schools but hates how the idea of charters is being used as a weapon against traditional public school systems. Right on.

And now, here's our ESPEC letter, which can also be found on ESPEC's blog.

January 8, 2012
Board of Regents
Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903

To Whom It May Concern:

The application submitted by Achievement First to the Rhode Island Department of Education to open two Mayoral Academy charter schools has provided community members from Providence and beyond with an opportunity to participate in a discussion about the programs and structures that will allow all children in public schools to receive the support and challenge they need to succeed in school and life. Both Achievement First’s proposed program and achievements and successes happening now in Providence’s public schools have informed our understanding of what is required to create and sustain such schools and the system that supports them.

We believe we must find ways to do what we know works to improve the public system. Rhode Island public school students trail the nation in measures of academic achievement and face an appalling racial and socioeconomic achievement gap. As we address these challenges, we must find the political will to face barriers to the institution of meaningful changes, which include:
  • a longer school day and school year
  • accessible high quality early childhood education
  • providing wraparound support services
  • community partnerships that allow for expanded learning opportunities and more time for learning
  • high quality curriculum matched to the needs of the learner
  • school-based decision-making by principal, teachers and parents on budget allocation, hiring and personnel management
  • meaningful professional development which meets both national standards and local needs
  • an assistant principal in every school with 400 or more students
We support strategic planning and investments that leverage these strategies for the benefit of as many children as possible.

Given the district’s dwindling finances and stagnant population, the establishment of Achievement First charter schools at the scale proposed by the charter application could have the effect of closing at least one district school and pulling resources away from Providence Schools at the time they are most needed. Given that the district has a high number of schools that struggle to support their students, including those schools identified as Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) schools for which closure is an option, we understand the urgent need for alternatives and choices. However, Providence has chosen to keep these schools open and invest in their staff members, students, and structures in order to improve student achievement. We need to focus on improvements that can be made in the existing public schools, learning from and keeping what works and changing what does not. We are concerned that if RIDE were to approve this charter application, it would divert scarce resources from our existing public schools and decrease the possibility that all children in Providence public schools would have the opportunity to attend high performing schools.

Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Lusi have stated that they wish to learn from Achievement First’s successes in other states to bring better practices to the Providence Public Schools. It is important to note that while there already are numerous “bright lights” in the Providence Schools, as acknowledged in the Education Opportunity Working Group’s November 2011 “Educate Providence” report, the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) does not have a system in place to identify, acknowledge, celebrate, and disseminate best practices already in existence. We contend that PPSD should use its resources to study and disseminate best practices already in our system before bringing in an outside organization to run our schools. Without the habits of sharing knowledge within the district, there’s no clear way for a newly introduced organization to share its practices.

Though Achievement First would present an option that could appeal to a number of PPSD families, the prospect of opening a new school will cause a level of disruption that our district can’t sustain. Choices about the schools offering educational options to the students in our district should align with the mission and vision of the district. However, the district’s vision isn’t at all clear at this time. We believe that the plans from the Mayor’s office and the Superintendent’s office need to be aligned and clarified, with appropriate and meaningful public input, before we make such potentially impactful decisions about introducing new schools into PPSD.

We are concerned about the unacknowledged cost impact that proposed Achievement First schools may pose. When Providence closed several schools last year, a leading rationale was transportation cost reduction. However, because they are not neighborhood schools, the Achievement First charter schools will increase transportation costs significantly due to the need to bring children from four different communities to the schools.

We are also concerned that the Achievement First schools may exacerbate rather than ameliorate the district’s equity issues. For example, an advantage of charter schools is that they have the potential for more flexibility than in-district public schools. Achievement First uses that flexibility to offer a significantly longer school day that allows educators to create a more effective learning environment. However, the length of the Achievement First school day stands in stark contrast to that of the Providence Public Schools’ standard school day. It seems inequitable that if this application were approved, some Providence children would have an 8.50 hour day and 190 -195 day school year, while others would have only a 6.08 hour day and 180 day school year. We want to know how the district can use its resources to pursue expanded and extended learning for all students.

We support choices and welcome innovation in our school district. We are not opposed to charter schools. However, we are not convinced that this is the right choice, and note that because the deadline for prospective charter schools to apply to RIDE is March 1, 2012, it is likely that additional charter applications, such as that of the Meeting Street School, will be submitted that offer both options to Providence students as well as potential threats to the district’s finances. We therefore suggest that the Board of Regents at the very least delay making a decision about the Achievement First application until we have a fuller picture of the charter options for the 2013 school year.

While the individual members of ESPEC hold diverse views, we agree that it is not clear that bringing these particular Achievement First charter schools to Providence at the currently proposed scale is the best decision. We therefore oppose the charter application as it currently stands. We agree with the concerns raised by other community groups about the financial costs, the failure to serve the whole student population, and the loss of public accountability inherent in the Achievement First application. We have observed that the public process to date has been divisive and unhelpful to parents who are genuinely seeking information. We believe strongly that concerned parents and community groups should pull together so that energy currently devoted toward and against Achievement First is instead directed toward identifying the assets of the schools we currently have in Providence and working systematically and swiftly toward their improvement.

As Mayor Taveras and Providence Public Schools administrators implement improvements that improve the learning experience and outcomes of all our children in all our schools, we must manage our scarce resources as wisely as possible both to encourage innovation and to preserve and invest in existing schools. We are aware of how challenging this is, and in that light want to question whether establishing Achievement First Schools in Providence via the Mayoral Academy charter school structure is the best move we can make now for long-run success.


Jill Davidson
Michael Kenney
Bill Mott
Harlan Rich
Kim Rohm
Karina Wood
on behalf of the ESPEC Steering Committee

cc: Governor Lincoln Chaffee
Mayor Angel Taveras
Superintendent Susan Lusi
Julie Tremaine, Executive Editor, East Side Monthly
Linda Borg, Education Reporter, Providence Journal

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

RI Regents Achievement First Mayoral Academy Hearing Tomorrow, 4:00pm

Tomorrow, the RI Board of Regents is hearing public comment on the proposal from Achievement First to start two Rhode Island Mayoral Academies charter schools in Providence as part of its monthly meeting (meeting agenda here), which is scheduled to take place from 4-6pm at the Rhode Island Department of Education, Room 501, 255 Westminster Street in Providence. Arrive a half hour early (3:30pm) to sign up for public comment.

Providence Superintendent Search Launched

Yesterday's ProJo reports that the Providence School Board has launched a search for a new superintendent:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The School Board is launching a national search for a new school superintendent. 
Interim Supt. Susan Lusi has been running the 22,000-student district since July and she plans to apply for the job. Former Supt. Tom Brady announced his resignation in late March after it became clear that there were differences between his leadership approach and that of newly elected Mayor Angel Taveras. 
Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, will lead an advisory search committee that will help the school board. The committee will be composed of business, non-profit and community leaders along with parents and educators. 
The school board will not use a search firm.
I wonder whether the advisory search committee has been selected and by whom it will be selected. While it will be interesting to see who else applies for the position and what they might bring to the role, I am happy that Sue Lusi is committed for the long haul. I would very much like to see her continue in the role.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Learning Community in the NY Times + PPSD kindergarten registration

Happy new year! Like most of you, I was away holidaying and vacationing, all very lovely and restful-ish (click here for my thoughts from last year on being a parent of three young kids during school vacations). In related news, I'm actually very happy to be back at work. Hope my kids and yours feel similarly about their first day of school in 2012.

I was yet more pleased to read "The Central Falls Success," an op-ed in today's New York Times by Joe Nocera on the great work that The Learning Community is doing in Central Falls. When I, and many others, talk about the need for all kinds of schools (charter, public, independent) to identify challenges in our communities and develop collaborative solutions and ongoing partnerships, THIS is what we're talking about. Kudos to The Learning Community for wider recognition!

And for those of you with names at the start of the alphabet and kids heading toward kindergarten, today's your day! Providence Public Schools kindergarten registration starts today and runs through February 10. Click here for a past Providence Schools and Beyond post on this year's kindergarten registration and visit the district's registration web page here.

PPSD's site also tells us that there's a gathering planned for 1/5. 6:30pm at the Student Registration Center at 325 Ocean Street for incoming kindergarten families - click here for the flier in English and Spanish. The district held a couple other such meetings at the end of last year as well; having informational meetings to help parents get up to speed on the registration process is a new and very welcome thing for PPSD. I am wishing all the best to everyone involved in the process this year.