Category Archives: Parental Involvement

10 Questions for Camden’s Next Superintendent of Schools

by Christopher Paslay

“Poverty” has more to do with culture and values than it does money. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says not taking over Camden public schools would be “immoral.”  Christie’s plan is to hire a new superintendent and do what he can to fill teacher vacancies.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Once the takeover begins, the state “will ensure that every child has the books, instructional materials, and technology necessary for a high-quality education, many of which are currently not reaching the classroom,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Books, instructional materials, and technology.

And we can’t forget money.  School reform advocates will also insist poor urban districts across America need more funding.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch recently published the post “Do Americans Believe in Equality of Opportunity?” on her blog:

Governor Jerry Brown of California gave a brilliant state of the state speech in January, where he pledged to change funding of public schools so that more money went to children with the greatest needs. . . .

But a Los Angeles Times poll finds that only half of the public support the idea of spending more for those with the highest needs.

This raises the question: Do we really believe in equality of educational opportunity? Or do we feel that it is okay that schools for children from affluent families have more resources than those for children of the poor?

Interestingly, Camden public schools spend over $20,000 per student, yet have some of the lowest SAT scores in New Jersey and a graduation rate of only 49 percent.  According to an article in the Notebook:

Camden, the poorest city of its size in America and the most violent — with nearly 70 homicides last year in a population of less than 80,000 people — has a graduation rate below 50 percent. At the same time, due to landmark New Jersey court decisions on school funding, the city spends more than $20,000 per student, close to the amount spent in some of the area’s wealthy suburbs.

According to an article in the Delaware County Daily Times, per-pupil spending and achievement are not correlated:

If spending were an important factor in education we’d expect Lower Merion’s $26,000 per-student spending to rocket their academic performance far above neighboring Radnor’s at $19,000 per student. Yet Radnor is ranked No. 4 by the Business Journal and Lower Merion is ranked No. 7.

But for a stark comparison we should look to Central Bucks where they spend $13,000 per student — less than half of that spent by Lower Merion. And their ranking? Just behind Lower Merion at No. 8!

What folks like Ravitch rarely address, however, is that “equality of opportunity” has more to do with values and culture than it does with money.  What does “poor” mean, exactly?  My father grew up in a 900 square foot row-home in Southwest Philadelphia with nine siblings, and the only source of income was my grandfather’s salary as a Philadelphia firefighter.  Was my father poor?  Financially, maybe, but not in terms of his values and character.  He learned responsibility, respect, work ethic, honesty, integrity, and the importance of family nonetheless.  He went on to become a well-respected teacher and administrator, and eventually earned his Ed.D.

In a 2009 Educational Testing Service policy report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds were tracked.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement.  Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s home environment.

Camden is over 85 percent minority.  If its public schools are going to make any real progress, the next superintendent should have a plan in place to address the following 10 questions (these questions apply to any major urban school district in America):

1.  How are you going to get Camden parents involved with school?  According to ETS, Black students’ parents are less likely than White parents to attend a school event or to volunteer at school.  Children whose parents are involved in their schooling have higher levels of achievement.

2.  How are you going to get Camden men to father their children?  Minority students were less likely to live with two parents, and 77 percent of Black children in America are born out-of-wedlock.  Children who live with two married parents do better both behaviorally and academically.

3.  How are you going to keep Camden families from frequently moving and changing schools?  Minority students are more likely than White students to change schools frequently.  There is a high correlation between frequently changing schools and poor test scores.

4.  How are you going to increase the low birth weight of Camden newborns?  The percentage of Black infants born with low birth weight is higher than that for White and Hispanic infants.  Studies show children with low birth weight do worse in school.

5.  How are you going to keep Camden children from getting lead and mercury poisoning?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, which harms brain development.

6.  How are you going to get Camden children to eat healthy?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure, which can lead to concentration problems and issues with development.

7.  How are you going to encourage Camden parents to get their children to school?  Black and Hispanic students have the highest rates of absenteeism.  There is a high correlation between truancy and low academic achievement.

8.  How are you going to get Camden parents to read to their children?  Minority and low-income children were less likely to be read to daily as infants, which studies show impacts a child’s vocabulary development and intelligence.

9.  How are you going to get Camden parents to turn off the television? Minority and lower-SES children watch more television.  Excessive television watching is associated with low academic achievement.

10.  How are you going to keep Camden children from regressing academically over the summer?  Minority and low-SES students grow less academically over the summer, and in many cases, lose knowledge.

Until these awkward but important issues are adequately addressed, Christie’s takeover of Camden public schools—along with a new superintendent—isn’t going to make a significant amount of difference.

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Why Not Close Philly Schools by Lottery?

by Christopher Paslay

To keep things “fair” and “equitable,” School District officials should shutter schools by pulling names from a hat. 

The Philadelphia School District is planning to close 37 city schools by next fall.  This move has caused many in the community—from City Council to advocacy groups like Action United—to question the fairness of the decision.  A disproportionate number of minority children and neighborhoods will be affected by the closings, prompting the U.S. Department of Education to launch an investigation into possible civil rights violations.

Reverend Alyn Waller, the pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Northwest Philadelphia, recently joined the conversation about the school closings.  “I am not in favor of school closings without merit and without data to support such a drastic decision,” he said.

Waller’s choice of words, in particular, merit—is curious.  Since when does “merit” factor into the Philadelphia School District’s decisions?  Since when do things like work ethic, initiative, organization, motivation, prioritization, awareness, resourcefulness and the like factor into School District policy?  In fact, the concept of merit runs counter to school equity in general and social justice in particular; a meritocracy is often viewed as a system that advances the “privileged” on the backs of the “less fortunate,” allowing the poor and disenfranchised to slip through the cracks and fall further behind.

Take the controversy over the admissions to the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia, for example.  Last month, because of the school’s reputation for success, nearly six-dozen people lined up outside the school in the winter cold hoping to reserve a spot for their son or daughter in Penn Alexander’s coveted September kindergarten class.

According to the Notebook:

By Friday afternoon, 68 people were lined up outside the school in freezing weather, hoping for one of the 72 kindergarten seats. The first parent arrived early Friday morning, setting off a scramble. Registration starts Tuesday morning and was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What did these 68 people have in common, besides the fact that they desperately wanted to get their child into the Penn Alexander School?  Obviously, they all prioritized education and felt that waiting in line in cold weather for days was more important than doing anything else.  They also showed initiative, were organized, motivated, and resourceful.  But to School District officials, this meant absolutely nothing.

After parents, friends, and relatives of the hopeful kindergarten children had already dedicated many, many hours of their time camping out in the cold, the School District decided to change the protocol for admissions and make the application process a lottery, to be held in April.  The School District’ reasoning: so it could be fair.  Apparently, not all the parents, friends and relatives of the kindergarten hopefuls in Penn Alexander’s catchment area had the means and opportunity to camp out in front of the school.  Some had to go to work (although this line was forming mostly over the long MLK weekend), and others simply didn’t have the resources to stand in the line.

Now, let’s examine this situation more closely and focus on the concepts of both “fairness” and “merit.”  First, fairness.  How fair was it to the people camped out in the cold for days that their chances of securing a spot for their child were no better than those who didn’t camp out for a spot?  Was that fair to them?

Now, merit.  Which individuals had more merit? The parents who were motivated, organized, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold, or those who didn’t show up at all?  Those who made getting into Penn Alexander a priority, or those who didn’t?  Which parents will better serve as a driving engine of the school and better support its mission and the educations of all the children?

Social justice advocates will claim that just because certain parents didn’t show up and camp out in the cold doesn’t mean they lacked motivation, organization, work ethic, etc.  These no-show parents, some of whom may have been disabled, some of whom may have been single moms or dads working not one but two jobs . . . it’s always two jobs, despite the high numbers of disability claims in Philadelphia and unemployment numbers . . . these no-show parents may have been just as focused on getting their child into the school than the parents of those who had the opportunity to wait in the line.

To this argument I say balderdash.  In order to be a true stakeholder in something you need to make an investment.  Just because you breathe, just because you have a pulse doesn’t make you entitled to something.  Sure, maybe some parents did have to work a job (or two) and couldn’t wait in line, but some also didn’t care, or had other priorities.  Why should those who camped out be punished?  Is this the School District’s idea of fairness?

There is another issue at stake here, and it is called incentive.  If those parents who were organized, motivated, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold are treated just the same as those who didn’t show up at all, what kind of behavior is this incentivizing?  Organization, motivation, and resourcefulness?  I doubt it.  It’s called dropping the standards to the lowest common denominator.  AKA: making everyone the same for the sake of making everyone the same.

The School District takes this same approach when it comes to discipline.  Last summer, they eased-up on the student code of conduct, making it harder for administrators to suspend and expel wayward and unruly students.  Now more than ever the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.  Is this fair?  Based on merit?  And what kind of behavior is this incentivizing for the kids?

The same thing is happening in academics.  Non-gifted, non-advanced placement students are being forced into gifted and advanced placement courses for the simple sake of “equity” and “fairness,” taking valuable resources away from those students who are there because of merit—dedication, organization, work ethic, and natural talent.  Is this “fair”?

Is it fair that Asian American students’ SAT scores, which are the highest of all races, are discounted on college applications just to give minorities a better chance at admission?  Is this based on merit?

Reverend Alyn Waller’s use of the word “merit” in regard to the School District’s proposed school closings is interesting indeed.  Too little in education today involves merit, not just in Philadelphia, but across the nation.  With this said, the Philadelphia School District should consider using the same process it did with the Penn Alexander School when it comes to the dilemma of closing 37 schools next fall: it should go to a lottery.

Dr. Hite should simply embrace the social justice mentality lock, stock, and barrel and just put every single school in the city into a hat—Masterman and Central included—and start pulling names.  The first 37 schools that get drawn get shuttered, plain and simple.  White neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods and schools in the Northeast as well as the Southwest would have an equal opportunity to get cleared-out and sold.

This might not be Reverend Alyn Waller’s idea of merit, but it would sure be “fair,” and fairness is right up the Philadelphia School District’s alley.

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Inventing ‘Racism’ in America’s Public Schools

by Christopher Paslay

“Social justice” advocates create the illusion of discrimination in America’s classrooms in order to maintain the status quo and control resources.  

Today is MLK Day.  This summer—August 28th, to be exact—will mark the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”  One of the key points of Dr. King’s address was about judging a person by his values, not by his skin color:

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Interestingly, the concept of judging a person by his character—by his beliefs, choices, and most importantly, his actions—has been systematically abandoned by so-called “social justice” advocates claiming to have the best interests of minorities at heart.  In fact, the attempt to create a colorblind society is railed against by multiculturalists because in their view, the failure to analyze every word and deed in terms of race is to allow discrimination to go unchecked.

I have an M.Ed. in Multicultural Education.  I have read the standard books by Kozol, Anyon, Freire, Howard, and the like.  I have sat through hundreds of hours of lectures by Marxists education professors on “White privilege” and other such guilt-provoking topics.  All of this has taught me a cold hard truth: The left is not interested in any way in colorblindness. Why?  Because the left has a monopoly on the exploitation of race and racism in America.  Race and racism, real or manufactured, are too powerful a commodity for the left to give up.  They will do everything they can to keep it alive and kicking, so they can use it for their own political, financial—and yes, educational—advantage.

In 1995, the Indian-born bestselling author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, former president of King’s College, published a book titled The End of Racism.  In it he argues that the debilitating systematic form of racism that once oppressed minorities is over, and that the traditional grievances used by Blacks are outdated.  D’Souza states in an interview that African American failure is not the result of discrimination but stems primarily from a breakdown in culture:

I reject the liberal view, which holds that Black failure is largely or mainly due to discrimination . . . I focus on cultural differences.  And I point out for example that on virtually every measure of academic achievement or economic performance we find not just Whites but immigrants . . . Cubans, West Indians, Koreans . . . leap-frogging ahead of American Blacks and claiming the fruits of the American dream.”

In his article “Obama and the End of Racism,” D’Souza reinforces this point:

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that racism does not exist. This is a big country, and surely one can find several examples of it. But racism, which used to be systematic, is now only episodic. In fact, when I ask young blacks on the campus today whether America is racist, many say yes. But if I ask them to give me examples of how that racism affects their lives, they are hard pressed to give a single one. The best they can do is to mention “Rodney King” or provide some well-known, recycled horror story.

D’Souza explored this topic with Jesse Jackson in a 1988 debate on Stanford’s campus, questioning the existence of the kind of debilitating systematic racism that liberals continually claim is causing African Americans to fail.  Jackson responded by explaining that racism in America has changed, that it’s no longer overt but covert—that it has gone underground and now exists in subtle coded forms.

The interesting thing about “coded” racism is that it’s not what a person says or does that’s racist, it’s what they were thinking when they said or did it.  Thus, to ultimately prove coded racism, the accuser has to be a bona fide mind reader.  Coded racism reminds me of a skit by the late great comedian George Carlin when he poked fun at a brainless football referee haphazardly officiating a game: I call it the way I see it, and if I don’t see it, I make it up.

This is exactly what social justice folk on the left do when they want to explain away the educational failures or chronic misbehavior of minorities in America’s public schools when there is no legitimate systematic discrimination to use as an excuse: They make it up. Why?  To keep the status quo in order to control the raw materials that go along with pubic education.

They do this systematically (ironically enough) in four stages:

First, social justice folk deliberately misrepresent data.  They use a classic propaganda technique known as using correlation to prove causation.  Example: 84 percent of America’s public school teachers are White.  Studies show that Black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their Whites counterparts.  Therefore, Blacks are being unfairly discriminated against, consciously or unconsciously, by racist or culturally insensitive White teachers.

This, of course, is not the case.  There is a third variable that liberal “research studies” refuse to address—a lurking variable: Poverty.  Black students are three times as poor as their White counterparts, and poverty has a devastating effect on academic achievement and behavior.  Black students are also much more likely not to have a father in the home, not to have books in the home, to watch excessive amounts of television, have poor nutrition, regress academically over the summer, and have parents who are not involved in homework and school.

These are cultural and environmental issues, not matters of racial discrimination.  But this doesn’t keep the New York Times and the Huffington Post from running stories about “harsh discipline” of Blacks in Mississippi and the “racial segregation” of minorities in gifted programs in New York City.  It doesn’t keep U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan from pulling the race card, either.

Sure, episodic racism still exists in American classrooms in isolated instances (although actual documented cases are practically nonexistent), but debilitating systematic racism—the kind that has a direct impact on a student’s education—is a thing of the past.

Second, social justice folk promote White guilt and generate resentment in minorities.  At Delevan-Darian High School in Wisconsin, progressive educators offer an American Diversity course that teaches students that minorities are disadvantaged by White oppressors.  The course also teaches “White Guilt” as well as “White Privilege.”  According to The Huffington Post:

Yet another assignment asked questions of a lecture by anti-racism activist and writer Tim Wise, inquiring, “Why is the colorblind model of America ineffective,” “Why is it important to talk about whiteness in America,” and “Explain the irony of the phrase ‘United We Stand.’”

Race baiting and identity politics are hardly the way to bring people together and close achievement gaps.

Third, social justice folk preach victimhood and create a grievance culture.  As D’Souza noted in an interview about his book The End of Racism:

Blacks are always marching on Washington, looking to the government for answers.  Meanwhile, other groups are setting up entrepreneurial associations, rotating credit systems, and within a generation their daughters are valedictorians and have moved to the suburbs.

Case in point: Officials in the Philadelphia School District have recently enacted a plan that calls for the closure of 37 schools.  The majority of these schools are in predominantly African American neighborhoods and disproportionally affect Black students.  With that said, however, many of these schools are also in disrepair and running at less than half capacity.  The students in many of these schools have high rates of STDs, lead the city in assaults on teachers, assaults on fellow students, weapons charges, drug possession, and unwanted pregnancy; the students in many of these schools also have some of the lowest SAT scores in the entire state.

How do the families and communities react to the closure of these schools?  They play the role of victim and turn to what they know best: the grievance.  They march on School District headquarters, waiving signs and shaking their fists—engaging in street theater and using outrageous hyperbole to convince School District officials and all else who will listen that they are victims of an oppressive, unjust system.

The Philadelphia Student Union recently lead such a march.  Several dozen teens, spurred on by the agendas of their adult mentors and organizers, converged on Philadelphia School District headquarters dressed as zombies acting out a scene akin to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” titled “Student Apocalypse: A Brainless Future.”  According to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook which covered the protest:

Chris Riley, a 12th grader at South Philadelphia High School said, “This event symbolizes what would happen if they go through with the school-closure plan.”

Instead of protesting, why not spend that time and energy campaigning for the improvement of their own community?  Why not call for more parental involvement at school?  For neighborhood men to father their children?  For city residents to pay the $500 million they owe the School District in delinquent property taxes?  Why not do a creative dance about literacy rates and the need for mothers and fathers to read to their children, say no to drugs, stand up against violence, and make education the community’s main priority?

Lastly, social justice folk move in and seize control of resources.  Marxist hustlers, after successfully maintaining the status quo, are free to divvy-up the money and wealth to their own people—friends, vendors, politicians, etc.  From 2008 to 2011, the Philadelphia School District went through nearly $10 billion dollars of mostly state and federal funds with amazingly little to show for it (besides a gargantuan budget deficit and across-the-board cuts to legitimate education programs).  Where did the money go?  Can you say Foundations Inc.?  Universal?  IBS Communications Inc.? Duane Morris LPP?  Trujillo Rodriguez and Richards LLC?  Can you say Queen Arlene?  Robert Archie?  Dwight Evans?  Kenny Gamble?  Chaka Fattah Jr.?  Need I go on?

Tragically, as evidenced by the fact that the racial achievement gap in the United States stopped closing right around the time the multiculturalism and social justice movements came into full bloom—when their toxic postmodern mantra of “cultural relativism” was naively adopted by well intentioned educators—things aren’t getting much better for minorities in American public schools.  Nor are they getting better for American minorities financially; the wealth gap continues to grow and poor minorities continue to fall further behind.

This begs the following question: Is social justice style race-baiting and identity politics really the best thing for America’s children?  Somehow I think Dr. King would call for a totally different strategy for empowering the poor and disenfranchised, perhaps one that acknowledges that the only real change is the kind that comes from within.

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Teaching in Black and White: Thoughts on Race and Education Reform

Notebook blogger Samuel Reed and I go toe-to-toe on issues of race and education reform.  

Yesterday, public school teacher Samuel Reed (who wrote a very insightful review of my book The Village Proposal) published a blog post on the Notebook headlined, “Education reform sparring match with Christopher Paslay.”  Although the two of us have corresponded via email over the past several years, I finally had the pleasure of meeting Sam in person at a recent teacher leadership event; it was there that Sam pursued his idea of having an honest and friendly education reform “sparring match” between the two of us. 

Here is an excerpt of Sam’s post covering our discussion:  

I finally had a face-to-face chat with Christopher Paslay at an end-of-the-school-year celebration with the Teacher Leadership Professional Learning Community (PLC). We agreed to put some padded gloves on and have a sparring match on education reform.

Samuel Reed: Chris, in your response to my review of your book, The Village Proposal, you state, “To my chagrin, not a whole lot of people gave a crap.” Why should people care about education reform?

Christopher Paslay: Schools and education do not exist in a vacuum.

Everyone is part of schools and education — teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members, business leaders, clergy, lawmakers, etc. Yet somehow our society seems to think schools are cut off from all this, that they are some free-floating entity that operates independent of all these factors.

Politicians talk of “broken schools,” as if they aren’t the ones writing the policy.

Parents speak of “low achievement,” as if they have nothing to do to with helping their children complete assignments and practice new skills.

Community leaders speak out against “school violence,” as if the drugs and crime in their own neighborhoods do not carry over to their schools.

The fact is, everyone is part of schools and education, which is why everyone should care; schools stem from communities, not the other way around.

Reed: I received many comments offline responding to our discourse about social justice. Some folks are not buying that we should strive for a color-blind society. What’s wrong with confronting the impact race and class issues have on teaching and learning? . . .

Click here to read our discussion in its entirety.

Thanks for reading.

Christopher Paslay

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Bullets In a Philadelphia Classroom

from The Village Proposal

by Christopher Paslay

A student shows up to journalism class with bullets—but the good kind.

In the spring semester of 2002, I was given the opportunity to teach Journalism.  A primary function of the class, which was open to all Swenson students interested in news writing and current events, was to produce the school newspaper.  This was one of the first orders of business when the class began.  The first week I broke students into groups of three and asked them to brainstorm for possible names for the paper.  Students began writing titles down on slips of paper, at which time I collected and read them aloud to the class and asked for feedback.

“Okay,” I said.  “How about the ‘Swenson Voice’?”

“Man, that’s corny.”

“How about ‘The Pulse’?”

Boo,” someone shouted.

Finally, after three days of discussion, an African American student named Lawrence came up with The Swenson Scroll, a title that struck a chord in me immediately.  Interestingly, when I read the title to the class, there was only a lukewarm reception.  Some students still thought it was “corny”.  As the teacher of the class I eventually overruled them: The Swenson Scroll it was.

My next objective for the class was to give the students a crash course on news.  What was news, exactly?  What were its elements?  Where did you find it and how did you report it?  Being that it was a beginner’s course, I explained to students that news had to be three basic things: interesting, accurate, and important

We spent a week learning these principles, dissecting newspaper articles and watching news broadcasts.  We talked about sex and violence in news, and whether it was the media’s job to inform or to entertain.  We talked about the difference between subjectivity and objectivity, or put another way, the difference between opinion and fact.  We had lengthy discussions on whether total objectivity in journalism was even possible—could news really be “fair and balanced?”—being that an editor’s decision on what news to cover and how to cover it could have serious consequences on the public’s perception of the world around them. . . .

. . . Once the students began writing their stories, it usually took the entire 96 minute class period to finish.  Most students needed to rewrite their articles at least once before they produced anything worth publishing.  It took some students even longer to get it right.

Lawrence, the most enthused student in the class, often rewrote his articles several times before he perfected what he was trying to say.  At one point during the semester, Lawrence had come to me with a story he’d written about Swenson’s teen pregnancy program.  Excited, he showed me his article so I could approve it and put it in the current issue of The Scroll.

I read his article with a poker face, but Lawrence saw through it; he knew there was a problem.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked.

“It’s too wordy,” I told him.  “You have this big long introduction, but you don’t say much.  This is a good start, but where are the facts?  Where are the five W’s?”

Lawrence reread his opening paragraph.  Then he explained to me that he was trying to grab the reader by telling a mini-story in the opening.  I told him that it was good effort and a good idea, but that it wasn’t working.  His personal anecdote was just confusing things and delaying the real facts of the story.

“Should I rewrite it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I told him.  “Get right to the facts.  Remember, the most important information comes first.”

Lawrence nodded, took his paper and went back to work.

The next day, at the end of class, Lawrence came back up to my desk with his rewritten article and asked me to give it another look.  I did.  However, it was still too wordy, and I told him so.

“Bullets,” I said to him.  “You have to write in bullets.”

“What’s that?”

“It means your sentences need to be short and powerful.  Bang!  Right to the point.  One after the other: bang, bang, bang.  Like bullets.  What’s with all these words, Lawrence?  I’ve read your writing before, and I know you can write much tighter than this.  You’re thinking too much.  You’re trying to sound too sophisticated, and you’re not saying what you mean.  Just say what you mean, real simple.  Just say it.  Don’t worry about how it sounds.  If you do that, your style will come naturally, so will your voice.  Does this make sense?”

Lawrence stood thinking for a minute.

“Bullets,” I told him.  “Go back and rewrite it.  Keep it tight, and get to the facts.  Okay?”

“Okay.”

The next day Lawrence came back with his article after a third rewrite.  I took it from him and read it, quite pleased by his progress.

“Bullets?” he asked me.

“Bullets,” I told him.  “Congratulations, Lawrence.  You made it into the school paper.  Nice job, buddy.”

“Thanks!”

A week later, when the paper was published, Lawrence was all smiles.  So were the 16 other students whose articles had made it into the Swenson Scroll.  That April, during Swenson’s spring parent-teacher conferences, Lawrence’s mother came by my classroom to meet me and discuss Lawrence’s progress.

“Lawrence really enjoys your class,” she told me, proud of her son.  “He really respects you as a teacher, too.  He talks about your class all the time.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “That’s good to hear.  Lawrence is a great kid.  Excellent student.  He always puts in one-hundred-and-ten-percent.”

Lawrence’s mother smiled.  “He was just so proud of his article in the school newspaper, let me tell you.  He carried it around with him for a week.  Showed everybody in the entire family.  It’s now hanging up on the refrigerator for all to see.”

“That’s really great to hear,” I said.  “Good for Lawrence.”

I shook hands with Lawrence’s mother and she left.  Lawrence would go on to publish two more articles in the paper, and finish the class was a 95 average.

The following year, when Lawrence was a senior, I kept-up my relationship with him, occasionally seeing him around school and chatting with him in the halls.  He looked different his senior year, however.  He was thinner by at least 15 pounds.  He was also wearing a new hairstyle, keeping his head completely bald.  Later, of course, I’d learn that it wasn’t a new hairstyle at all, but the aftereffects of chemotherapy.  Lawrence had brain cancer, and was slowly losing his health.  He would fight the good fight and make it to graduation, but shortly after commencement, he passed-away.

It happened during the summer, so I didn’t find out until the new school year.  It was a tough summer for Swenson students.  Two other students had died, one in a traffic accident and another by committing suicide.  But Lawrence was the hardest to take.  I’ll never forget his articles in the school newspaper, or his passion for writing and his enthusiasm for my class.

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My Experience on the Glenn Beck Show

by Christopher Paslay

When it comes to Glenn Beck, adjectives like “kook,” “nut-job,” and “right-wing radical” have a tendency to get thrown around.  At least these descriptors are used in more liberal circles—places like Philadelphia where 85 percent of the population is registered democrat.

My colleagues at Swenson Arts and Technology High School have used similar terms to describe Mr. Beck, so when I told them that I was going to be on the Glenn Beck show on Friday, May 6th, I received mixed reactions (I’ll get to my experience on the show in a moment). 

Personally, I am a fan of Glenn Beck.  Although I disagree with some of his views on education (Glenn, like most journalists and talking-heads, has a more superficial understanding of public schools), I do agree with much of what he preaches otherwise—that our country must rediscover its traditional values; that personal responsibility is the key to change; that too much reliance on government and social programs is killing America’s entrepreneurial spirit; that both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt; and that in order to restore honor in our country we must become more principle-centered.

Interestingly, there are many people (like my mother and father) who are fans of Glenn Beck as well.  His show has dominated its time slot for nearly two years, coming in at #1 on the Neilson Ratings for most of that time and never falling below #3; for the first three months of 2011, the Glenn Beck show had an audience of almost 2 million viewers. 

So he has a sizable following.  And the core of this following is made up of well-educated, well-informed people such as my parents and myself, people with diverse experiences and opinions; we’re hardly the right-wing radical Neanderthal “nut-jobs” we’re made out to be (to those name-callers who try to pigeon-hole Beck and his supporters I offer this challenge: watch his show every day for one week and then you can sling your mud.  I mean really watch the show, watch and listen and try to see all sides of the issue).

Now back to my experience on Beck’s show.  The theme of the show was “teachers who love their jobs but are frustrated with the education system.”  It was an audience-participation show that featured 40 teachers from the tri-state area, myself and my father (who taught 37 years in the Philadelphia School District) included. 

Before the show was taped we were each given a questionnaire to complete.  It asked us, among other things, to describe the things about education that frustrated us.  It also asked our opinions about teachers’ unions, and directed us to pose questions to Glenn Beck himself. 

Here were two of my responses. 

Concerning my frustration, I wrote: Education is one of the few professions in America in which policies are written and decisions are made by governing bodies outside the field. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all govern themselves. Their panels and boards of directors are made up of other doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Not teachers, though. Politicians make the decisions when it comes to education in K-12 schools. So do researchers, think tanks, and lobbyists. Does it matter that most of these people have little to no experience teaching in a K-12 classroom? No, because they have the data and the power.   

When it came to teachers’ unions, I wrote: Teachers unions, like everything, have pros and cons.  The pros are that they protect the rights of workers and ensure teachers don’t get exploited or taken advantage of by school administrators or politicians (which was the case many years ago).  Another positive is that they serve as a teacher’s voice—something that isn’t given much value in American society.  On the other hand, in an effort to protect rights and maintain solidarity, unions do in some cases allow bad teachers to keep their jobs.  Also, they are too heavily rooted in politics.  Teachers need unions that police themselves and are more balanced politically.

When the show began (you can watch the show below), Glenn listed our concerns and frustrations with education.  Some of them were:

  • eliminate teachers’ tenure
  • teachers unions equal political machines
  • frustration with the NEA
  • huge retirement packages
  • teachers pensions are a problem

I must admit my gut reaction to this was anger; I felt like I’d been duped.  Which teacher in the audience, I wondered, wanted tenure eliminated?  Which teacher didn’t want the pension they’d been paying into their whole career?  Which teacher wanted no union representation? 

At this point I felt that Glenn and his producers had spun a few things, to put it lightly.  Our supposed “frustrations” sounded too scripted, too much like Glenn’s preset agenda.  In fact, by the end of the show, after 40 minutes of a town-hall style discussion, I felt like the whole thing was a bait-and-switch; I left the studio more frustrated than ever. 

That was my initial perception.  The funny thing about perceptions, however, is that they are not always accurate. 

After watching the show air Friday at 5:00 pm, (after a good night’s sleep to clear my head) my overall opinion changed.  Although Glenn did steer the conversation towards promoting school vouchers and reeling-in out-of-control unions, he did keep an open mind.  In fact, he both welcomed and respected the push-back he received from many teachers in the audience, myself included. 

In retrospect, I thought the show ended up being pretty well balanced.  Even Glenn himself admitted that he supported unions (and that his mother-in-law marched with Jesse Jackson).  It was the abuse of power and corruption, he noted, that he stood against, a point I must admit is valid. 

In the end, my experience on Glenn Beck was a positive one.  I was happy to have a discussion with such an influencial man, and to represent the concerns and issues of teachers from Philadelphia as well as the rest of America.             

Please click on the video below to watch the entire episode, commercial free (my father’s comment comes at 11:58 of the tape, and my two comments come at 13:15 and 25:58).

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Filed under Holistic Education, Parental Involvement, PFT, Standardized Testing, Teacher Bashing

Why Renaming a ‘Dropout’ a ‘Pushout’ Will Save No One

by Christopher Paslay

Recently, there has been a grassroots movement by progressives in education to rename a school “dropout” a “pushout.”  Groups such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and most recently the blog Voice of Philadelphia, have all been throwing around the term “pushout” with the clear purpose of hoping it will catch hold and grow roots in the world of education as well as the popular culture; tragically, it appears the term has started to take root, as is evidenced by its frequent mention in the media and on the internet (google the term “pushout” and you can see for yourself).

A closer look at the two terms reveals that although their denotation is the same—they both define children who leave school and fail to graduate—their connotations are quite different.  A dropout connotes an individual who knowingly quits school of his own freewill and accord.  A pushout, on the other hand, defines someone who is forced out of school by forces beyond their control.  More simply put, dropouts are drivers while pushouts are passengers; the latter is active, the former is passive.          

There are several reasons why progressives are fighting to rename a dropout a pushout.  The most obvious is to bring about school reform—to blame poor graduation rates on schools in an effort to improve them.  This indeed has merit.  In the 21st century, no student can afford to be left behind without a solid education. 

To quote Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, in his 2006 report, Educating School Teachers, “The fact that all students are expected to achieve these outcomes means that drop-outs, once viewed as the cost of doing business in schools, can no longer be tolerated. The low skilled jobs once available to them have moved abroad. So teachers must now be able to educate every child in the class to achieve the same learning outcomes at a time in which the student body has changed economically, racially, geographically, linguistically, and academically.”

In addition to reforming schools, however, progressives have other reasons for renaming dropouts pushouts.  At the heart of the movement is the notion of victimhood and the liberal left’s obsession with it.  Put another way, coining a dropout a pushout fits their classic mode of operandi: the existence of oppressors and oppressed.  It is within this structure that social responsibility can be promoted over personal responsibility, that children can be programmed to be lifelong passengers who are always acted upon rather than drivers who do the acting; this in turn translates to their reliance on social programs as opposed to private enterprise.

This is a great philosophy if you believe in socialism and government regulation over capitalism and competition.  The only problem is, of course, is that teaching children that they are victims is doing nothing to empower them to take control of their educations; the fact that a large graduation gap between urban and suburban students exists is proof that preaching victimhood is not the answer.

Instead of teaching students to blame their failures on the system, education advocates should be encouraging children to make intrinsic paradigm shifts that will help them live principle-centered lives that will keep them on the path to graduation; they must be taught change starts from within.

The lessons taught in Bill Cosby’s 2007 book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors would be a great place to start.  In it Cosby and his longtime friend Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint discuss ways families and children can turn around their lives and make the most of their educations. 

With subchapters named “Acknowledge the problem,” “Face the Facts,” “Tone Down the Culture,” “Give Fatherhood a Second Chance,” “Reject Victimhood,” “Replace Victimhood with Neighborhood,” “Talk to the Police,” “Turn Off the TV,” “Back Off the Rap,” “Respect Our Elders,” “Overcome the Past,” “Lose the Guns and the Rage,” “Get All the School You Can Get,” “Help the Poor Help Themselves,” “Take Care of Our Own,” and “Break the Chains,” among many others, the book replaces excuses with traditional values that urban youth can use to stay in school and remain on the path to achieving a better quality of life.        

Renaming a dropout a pushout will save no one.  In the end, the only viable way for a student to get an education is for him or her to actively pursue one.     

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Filed under Achievement Gap, Drop-Out Rates, Holistic Education, Parental Involvement

Release Date Set for ‘The Village Proposal’

The Village Proposal: Education as a Shared Responsibility, a book on school reform written by Philadelphia School District teacher Christopher Paslay, will be officially released by Rowman & Littlefield Education on September 28, 2011

To preorder a copy, please click here.

The Village Proposal is based on the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Part education commentary, part memoir, the book analyzes the theme of shared responsibility in public schools and evaluates the importance of sound teacher instruction; the effectiveness of America’s teacher colleges; the need for strong school leaders and supports; the need for strong parental and community involvement; the effectiveness of multiculturalism and social justice in closing the achievement gap; the relevancy of education policy; the impact of private business and politics on schools; and how the media and technology are influencing education.

 About the Author

Christopher Paslay teaches high school English in the Philadelphia School District where he’s worked since 1997. He’s a frequent contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where his articles on education and school reform often appear.

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Filed under Holistic Education, Multiculturalism, Parental Involvement

Noted Scholar Diane Ravitch Calls for ‘Reality-Based’ Education Reform

 

Parents Across America, a new nationwide organization of parents opposing education “deform,” held its inaugural event in New York City on February 7, 2011 with Diane Ravitch as the keynote speaker. Here, Diane covers the entire range of education “deforms” and makes a mockery of it all:     

 “Corporate reformers close schools and open schools, they move children around like checkers on a checker board . . . and they confuse testing with education.  To them, your child is a data point.”

 

“This testing and accountability obsession is not producing better education.  This mindless pursuit of test scores . . . has cheapened education.” 

 

“This corporate reform movement seeks to turn public funding over to private corporations, and seeks to replace professional educators with eager amateurs.”

 

“And added to these circumstances come the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top,’ which supplies billions of federal dollars to persuade states to adopt unproven and even failed reforms.”       

 

No other country in the world is as radically overhauling education as is America.  Please spread the word by forwarding this video to anyone interested in reality-based—not corporate based—education reform.         

 

 

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Filed under Arne Duncan, Charter Schools, Parental Involvement

Breakfast shouldn’t be on the principals

 

 

“For Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, it’s not enough that the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single city school. Now, principals must coax the students into eating it.

 

Under a new district policy, principals will be held accountable for the number of student breakfasts eaten in each school. District officials reason that including breakfast participation in a principal’s performance rating will increase the number of students taking advantage of these free meals.

 

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Breakfast shouldn’t be on the principals”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

–Christopher Paslay

 

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Filed under Holistic Education, Inquirer Articles, Meal Programs, Parental Involvement