Category Archives: Holistic Education

The Real Reason Admission Standards Are Being Cut In Philly Trade Schools

Swenson-visit-018-660x430

by Christopher Paslay

District officials are using “equity” as an excuse to fill seats and maximize space.   

The Philadelphia School District’s recent decision to cut admission standards at its four career technology education (CTE) schools has sparked debate.  The question of “equity versus excellence” has been brought up in the media, and folks on both sides of the issue have voiced their concerns.

The only problem with this debate, though, is that it’s not about equity versus excellence at all; it’s about enrollment versus excellence.  There are indeed enrollment issues with the city’s four trade schools.  But equity issues?  Not at all.

Let’s first look at enrollment.  According to data on the Philadelphia School District’s website, Murrell Dobbins had an enrollment last year of 606 students, yet has a building capacity of 900; Jules E. Mastbaum had an enrollment of 754, with a building capacity of 1313; A. Philip Randolph had an enrollment of 518, with a building capacity of 569; and Swenson Arts and Technology had an enrollment of 668, with a building capacity of 875.

Granted, the building capacity numbers may not be totally accurate, as in Swenson’s case; as a teacher at Swenson I know our building can only safely accommodate at most 700 students.

Still, open seats and space are an issue.  If you do the math, there are hundreds of open seats in Philadelphia’s trade schools.  And from a budgetary standpoint, filling these seats makes sense financially.  And how do you fill the seats?  One way is through promotion and recruitment—increase interest in CTE programs citywide while keeping in place a minimum level of student accountability and excellence.  Another way is to simply ditch the admission standards and pack in anybody and everybody.

The school district chose to do the latter.  Why?  Because it’s quick and easy.  Load-up the schools with any student who wants to apply, regardless of whether or not that student is a good fit for a trade program.  And if this hurts the tradition or culture of the school—or sacrifices excellence—so be it.

Of course, the school district can’t sell it to the public like this, so they are hiding behind the idea of “equity”.  This is a great strategy.  Set it up so it looks like you’re fighting for social justice, and no one can say anything to you.  When you’re fighting for social justice, you can do lots of unfair things to lots of people, but it’s okay, because you’re leveling the playing field.

The only problem with this approach is that there are no equity issues when it comes to Philadelphia’s CTE programs.  For the record, Dobbins is 89% black, 8% Latino, and 3% other; Mastbaum is 48% black, 44% Latino, 5% white, and 3% other; Swenson is 30% black, 26% Latino, 37% white, and 7% other; and Randolph is 91% black, 7% Latino, and 2% other.  These schools also serve high numbers of special education students and economically disadvantaged children in poor neighborhoods; nearly 25% of Swenson students are special education.  And of course, these schools serve girls as well as boys—girls and boys who travel from all parts of the city to attend these programs.

The media, as well as school district officials, would have you believe otherwise.  The school district is currently citing Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report as a way to suggest CTE schools are not equitable.  Pew states that CTE schools’ admission processes are “complicated” and that they “systematically disadvantage” Latino students, particularly boys.  How?  Because Latino boys whose credentials qualify them for top schools don’t apply enough to make their numbers proportionate to Philadelphia’s population at large.

Yet Mastbaum and Swenson are 44% and 26% Latino (which are located in neighborhoods with a notable Latino population), and Dobbins and Randolph are 89% and 91% black (in neighborhoods that are predominantly African American). This sure seems equitable to me; interestingly, Pew doesn’t make a fuss about the fact that white girls are not nearly represented enough in any of these CTE schools.

But that’s how the game of “equity” is played—manipulate statistics and throw around phrases like “systematically disadvantaged”.  Take WHYY’s article “New lottery system for Philly trade school admissions stokes debate” for example.  This article, although it tries to remain objective, is misleading.

An early paragraph in the article states, “By shedding admissions criteria, officials say, these schools can serve all interested students, rather than casting aside those who may have tripped up in seventh or eighth grade.”

Tripped up?  See, that’s what the school district wants the public to believe: that middle school kids who get rejected from CTE schools have simply “tripped up” in seventh or eighth grade.  But that’s not the reality of the situation.  Generally speaking, CTE schools have very reasonable admission standards: students who apply must have at least a “C” average academically, no “unsatisfactory” grades in behavior, and no more than 10 unexcused absences.

In other words, students who get rejected from a CTE school have D’s and F’s, unruly and disruptive behavior, and are chronically truant.  This is a far cry from an “oops” or a “trip-up” in middle school.

The article goes on:

“This is all about creating access for children and making sure that regardless of where children live they have access to some of our more successful programs,” said superintendent William Hite. “There’s a lot of interest in CTE. We have children on a wait list, we have CTE programs that are not filled.”

Again, this is nonsense: Philadelphia CTE schools accept children from every neighborhood in the city.

The article continues:

District officials want to open the doors wider, by both adding seats at CTE schools and shedding the admissions criteria that, they believe, bar too many motivated students from entry.

“Interest is the criteria,” said Hite. “If children are interested in pursuing cosmetology or building trades or culinary arts…I want the children in those programs.”

He said that he concluded that schools were imposing “barriers to entry” for admission to programs that could actually change students’ attitudes about school.

Bar too many motivated students from entering?  Seriously?  Does a child with D’s and F’s, who has unruly behavior and is absent dozens of times sound motivated to learn a trade?  Would a student like this be willing to get up early and take several buses across the city to go to a special CTE school every day?  Should a student like this handle a circular saw in carpentry and a butcher knife in culinary?

Make no mistake: dropping the admission standards of Philadelphia’s trade schools is not about equity, but about enrollment.  Instead of filling seats through promotion and recruitment, which would allow CTE schools to keep a minimum standard for admission, the district is taking the easy way out.

We can only hope this new approach won’t sink what’s left of a once-great trade school tradition in Philadelphia.

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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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Teaching our Students to Feel Guilty About Financial Success

by Christopher Paslay

The New York Times is seeking to publish college application essays that focus on corporate corruption, class warfare, and the guilt associated with financial success.    

The New York Times is the only newspaper I know of that runs a “business” column not about how to get ahead economically but about how to indoctrinate kids to feel guilty about being financially successful.  At least that’s the theme of Ron Lieber’s recent article, “An Invitation for High School Seniors to Write About Finances,” which calls for seniors to submit their college application essays that focus on finance to the New York Times for possible publication.

How do high school seniors write exemplary essays about “finances,” exactly?  One way is by concentrating their writing on corporate thugs like Bernie Madoff.  Lieber states in his article:

At Pitzer College, a student used the example of the Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff to take a philosophical look at how much money people truly need to be happy.

This, according to Angel Pérez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Pitzer, makes for an excellent college application essay. “I think there is this new consciousness,” Pérez said.  “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

High school seniors can also write about “finances” by stepping into the class warfare fray by stigmatizing the richest 1 percent and demanding they pay more taxes (more than the 39.6 percent they pay now).  According to Lieber:

Aside from the Madoff essay, Mr. Perez has read other Pitzer applicant essays and had other conversations with applicants about money and the economy in recent years that have stuck with him.

“One student last year was very affected by the whole conversation about the 1 percent,” he said. “He sent us his proposal for the tax code. The committee thought that this is someone who is clearly thinking about this in a critical way, is informed about what is going on the world and has done some dissecting of the information, and that’s the kind of student we’re looking for.”

High school seniors can also share their thoughts on “finances” by putting down in words the guilt they feel over their parents’ financial success and affluence.  Lieber writes:

The more affluent [students], if they do understand it, struggle further when trying to put it into words. “When it becomes visible, it comes accompanied with a U-Haul full of guilt that they’re towing behind them,” [Harry Bauld] said. “Then, it forces them into various clichés.”

But it need not always. Mr. Perez said Pitzer was quick to admit a student who talked about her travels around the world on her father’s yacht, anchoring in various high-end ports. “It bothered her that her family was never willing to leave the comfort zone, to go to real places,” he said. “To me, that young woman was absolutely memorable, and it took a lot of courage for her to do that.”

Apparently, leaving the limited confines of the United States and gaining new cultural perspectives and worldviews by visiting other countries doesn’t mean much—these experiences aren’t authentic and these places aren’t “real.”  (I wonder what are considered “real” places to people of this mindset?  My guess is that “real” probably means urban—where poverty is romanticized and street culture is glorified, where the rich, who live in their own separate neighborhoods and send their children to separate schools, feel guilty and privileged and have a codependent, patronizing relationship with poor people, where everyone votes the same and thinks the same and attacks anyone who dares present a different point of view).

Outside of class warfare and guilt over financial success, the New York Times is also looking to publish various college application essays where students have “thought through how you measure the success of the services a nonprofit organization delivers.”  Speaking of nonprofits, U.S. organizations listed as “nonprofit” earn $670 billion annually, yet pay zero federal income taxes.

Nonprofits are listed as “exempt” under section 501(c) of the U.S. tax code, so they don’t pay squat in taxes.  One in 12 Americans work in the nonprofit sector (and some executives of nonprofits are super rich), but the organizations pay nothing to the federal government.  (Do you see the irony here?  Evil corporations pay a corporate tax rate of 35 percent, while the $670 billion-a-year entity known as the sacred “nonprofit” pays none.  Quick!  Someone call Occupy Wall Street!)

With the “exempt” tax status of liberal nonprofits in mind, I’m sure the NYT is looking for college application essays that really highlight “the success of the services a nonprofit organization delivers.”

As a high school English teacher, I’m thinking about taking the NYT up on its invitation for seniors to write about finances.  Although I only teach 10th graders, I can still begin indoctrinating them to revile the rich and all their financial success and achievement.  I mean, who in their right mind would want to be rich?  Make lots of money and contribute nearly 40 percent of it back to their fellow man via the U.S. government in federal income taxes?  Who in their right mind would want to have a good quality of life and live in relative comfort?  Better to rail against money and success, become a sheep and adopt a groupthink mentality; better to engage in class warfare and side with the “takers” over the “makers.”

This way, my students can take full advantage of the entitlement programs being set up for them by those compassionate tax-dodging nonprofits, and make good use of all those kind, caring, progressive folks down at the NYT, like financial guru and “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber.

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Valueless Condoms for a Valueless School District

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District chooses the convenience of condoms over the values of dignity and restraint. 

There are two basic ways to avoid the spread of STD’s among high school students: teach them how to practice restraint or give them condoms.  The Philadelphia School District and Mayor Nutter have chosen to double-down on the latter.  In 22 high schools across the city, condoms are now available in clear dispensers outside the nurse’s office.

“The reality is, many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities,” Mayor Nutter said last week. “Discussion about whether or not they should be sexually active is an appropriate discussion, but if they are, then we need to make sure they’re engaged in safe sexual practices.”

The tragic part of this whole issue is that the discussion about abstaining from sex (practicing restraint) is not happening in Philadelphia public high schools.  In fact, the concept of abstinence has been branded as “religious” by those looking to inject politics into the issue of STDs.  A closer look at the idea of abstinence (or restraint) reveals it is a value or lifestyle philosophy, not a religious principle.  And values, such as approaching sex with dignity and reserving it for the most deserving of partners is something that should be taught in public schools.  Sexual promiscuity comes with consequences, such as HIV and out-of-wedlock births, both of which have a negative impact on education and quality of life.

Kids in public schools should be taught as much.  Distributing condoms is fine, but a lesson on restraint should be part of the package; perhaps there could even be a short Use Only with that Special Person on the condom wrapper.  But again, those looking to inject politics into the issue rail against any notion of abstinence or restraint.  Why?  Because abstinence and restraint are viewed as conservative and are frequently associated with those who support traditional, heterosexual marriage.

Earlier this year President Obama, who drastically cut funding for abstinence-only sex education programs in his first term, had a minor change of heart and decided to place Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education Program on the Office of Adolescent Health list of approved groups eligible for government funds.  Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber said Heritage Keepers had met the criteria, “gone through a transparent, rigorous review process” and had “demonstrated outcomes.”

Progressive liberals heard the news and went berserk.  Accord to an article on Salon:

. . . over a dozen major organizations, including the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign, asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius to explain Heritage Keepers’ inclusion. They said the program “ostracizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth; promotes heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable family structure; withholds life-saving information from sexually active youth; and uses fear-based messages to shame youth who have been sexually active and youth living in ‘nontraditional’ households.”

A visit to Heritage Keepers website paints a more inclusive, holistic, and research-based picture of their sex education program, however:

The Heritage Keepers® Abstinence Education program encourages teens to develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries, resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals, and set high standards for themselves. A significant amount of the curriculum focuses on reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), specifically discussing STD symptoms, treatments/cures, and prevention (all with information provided by the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and approved for medical accuracy). Condom efficacy is also explained in relation to each STD.

The most recent publication of the Heritage Keepers® curriculum in 2008 was approved by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Population Affairs, for medical accuracy and sound referencing. Heritage ensures that the curriculum is research-based with over 80 references from widely accepted social science research to support curriculum information. The Heritage Keepers® curricula have long been approved by the National Abstinence Clearinghouse for adherence to federal A-H legislative requirements for abstinence education as set forth in Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act. The Heritage Keepers® program also meets all 66 standards of the CDC-funded SMARTool (Systematic Method for Assessing Risk-avoidance Tool).

Unfortunately, organizations that strive to help young people “develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries, resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals, and set high standards” are just too darn conservative for organizations such as the ACLU; regardless of research showing the program helps keep youth free of STDs and unwanted pregnancies, organizations like Heritage are on the wrong side of the political fence.

The Philadelphia School District, as evidenced by the fact that they are pushing condoms while refusing to promote values such as abstinence and restraint, has voiced its position loud and clear.  Who needs conservative restraint when we have the progressive convenience of condoms?

Again, this is unfortunate.  Abstinence and restraint are life skills that transcend politics—rise above race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.  As Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a Buddhist abbot, published author, and noted scholar on Eastern philosophy wrote in his essay “The Dignity of Restraint”:

What’s good about it? Well, for one thing, if we don’t have any restraint, we don’t have any control over where our lives are going. Anything that comes our way immediately pulls us into its wake. We don’t have any strong sense of priorities, of what’s really worthwhile, of what’s not worthwhile, of the pleasures we’d gain by saying no to other pleasures. How do we rank the pleasures in our lives, the happiness, the sense of well-being that we get in various ways? Actually, there’s a sense of well-being that comes from being totally independent, from not needing other things. If that state of well-being doesn’t have a chance to develop, if we’re constantly giving in to our impulse to do this or take that, we’ll never know what that well-being is.

At the same time, we’ll never know our impulses. When you simply ride with your impulses, you don’t understand their force. They’re like the currents below the surface of a river: only if you try to build a dam across the river will you detect those currents and appreciate how strong they are. So we have to look at what’s important in life, develop a strong sense of priorities, and be willing to say no to the currents that would lead to less worthwhile pleasures. . . .

It’s important that we realize the role that restraint plays in overcoming the problem of suffering and finding true well-being for ourselves. You realize that you’re not giving up anything you really need. You’re a lot better off without it. There’s a part of the mind that resists this truth, and our culture hasn’t been very helpful at all because it encourages that resistance: “Give in to this impulse, give in to that impulse, obey your thirst. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for you spiritually. Watch out, if you repress your desires you’re going to get tied up in psychological knots.” The lessons our culture teaches us—to go out and buy, buy, buy; be greedy, be greedy; give in, give in—are all over the place. And what kind of dignity comes from following those messages? The dignity of a fish gobbling down bait. We’ve got to unlearn those habits, unlearn those messages, if we want to revive words like dignity and restraint, and to reap the rewards that the realities of dignity and restraint have to offer our minds.

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Three reasons why Philadelphia public schools fail (and what can be done about it)

by Christopher Paslay

Acknowledging three key problems—and providing solutions—can save the Philadelphia School District.

Thursday the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report detailing “key findings and recommendations” on how to improve the workings of the Philadelphia School District (PSD).  Titled “Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” the BCG was paid $4.4 million from private donors to produce it. 

Here are three “commonsense” findings and recommendations not included in BCG’s multimillion dollar report:  

 COMMONSENSE FINDINGS: WHY THE PSD CONTINUES TO FAIL

1.  The PSD remains unable to remove the violent and unruly 15 percent of students who cripple the entire school system and ruin the educations of the hardworking 85 percent. 

Despite “School Safety Advocates” and “zero tolerance policies,” the fact remains that Philadelphia public schools are rife with violence and inappropriate student behavior (see the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series Assault on Learning).  Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct environment where a suffocating brand of educational socialism is promoted, the rights of the incorrigible few supersede the rights of the admirable many.  In other words, it is near impossible to remove students from PSD schools (even “permanently expelled” students can file a right to return to their neighborhood schools after their “sentence” is served). 

One reason is that under PA’s Compulsory Education law, school districts are responsible for providing alternative placements to students they remove from schools, and this can be quite expensive; as a result, troublemakers are forced to coexist with their peers and negatively impact classroom learning environments.      

Another reason is that social justice lobby groups (such as the Education Law Center) and student activist groups (such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Student Union, and the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools) play the race card and fight to keep violent students in schools instead of putting their resources behind the educations of the majority of their hardworking peers struggling to learn.  (This is why charter schools are able to thrive in poor urban districts: instead of removing the bad to save the good, charters simply remove the good from the bad).        

2.  Too many PSD parents are “passengers” and not “drivers,” and feed off of the school system instead of fueling it. 

In the PSD, 81 percent of families are economically disadvantaged.  But this isn’t simply a financial issue; it is a cultural one as well.  In the suburbs, parents and communities drive the school system—they are the core that makes the schools run.  They parent their children and teach them that education is a priority.  They understand that being a stakeholder in their school means making an investment (chaperoning trips, helping with homework, attending teacher conferences, instilling core values in their children, etc.). 

Tragically, too many families in the PSD want to be a stakeholder without making any real investment; they suffer from an entitlement mentality, and believe that the district owes them despite the fact that they have only taken from the system and never carried their own weight and produced their fair share. 

The cycle of poverty in the PSD is tragic, but undeniable: out-of-wedlock teenage births; domestic violence; crime, drug addictions; etc.  This kind of environment is a drain on the PSD, not a force that fuels and propels the system.        

3.  Too many Philadelphia residents do not pay their property taxes.   

Why is the PSD suffering from money problems?  A major reason is because Philadelphia residents owe over $500 million (a half a billion dollars!) in property taxes.  What has the City done to address this problem?  Increase the property taxes of those residents who already pay their fair share!    

 COMMONSENSE RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.  Expedite the removal of the PSD’s violent and unruly 15 percent by building alternative schools that specialize in remediation and alternative curriculum instead of expanding charters. 

In short, remove and remediate the maladjusted and don’t let civil rights or social justice groups bully policy makers into keeping troubled students in classrooms and continuing to rob our hardworking children of a quality education. Do this by building alternative schools instead of pumping more money into charters (or require charters to service the alternative population).      

2.  Run a grassroots campaign to strengthen the culture of PSD families and communities.

The PSD should fight to instill traditional values into its students and their families.  Community leaders should preach that citizens are the captains of their own ship rather than fostering the idea that they are victims of an unjust system.

In addition, the PSD should: rail against teen pregnancy; promote the importance of two-parent families and call for men to father their children; promote personal responsibility and individual achievement; speak out against misogyny, violence and materialism; encourage students to cooperate with police and law enforcement officials; bring back the abstinence only message in sex education; reinforce speaking Standard American English; launch a campaign to cut down on TV watching, internet surfing and video game playing; promote exercise, good diet and proper nutrition; and make Bill Cosby’s book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors part of PSD required reading for 9th graders.    

3.  Collect the $500 million owed the PSD by seizing and auctioning-off the property of all Philadelphia residents who do not pay their property taxes.

Tax delinquents, whether rich or poor, should not be allowed to deprive the PSD of money and rob our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  If residents don’t pay their property tax, their homes or businesses should be confiscated by the city and sold at auction.   

Implementing these straightforward commonsense solutions will go a long way in reclaiming Philadelphia’s public schools.

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Schools’ decline echoes values

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is planning to close 49 schools, and thousands are feeling the pain. Michael Wetzel, a veteran English teacher at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High Schools in Drexel Hill, told The Inquirer that the news of their closing was “tantamount to a death.”

I sympathize with Wetzel. I graduated from Monsignor Bonner in 1990, and I understand his sense of loss. Students will be uprooted, and teachers will be out of jobs. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Schools’ decline echoes values.”  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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For good schools, it takes a village

I recently attended a community screening of the education documentary American Teacherat School of the Future in West Philadelphia.

The film, narrated by Matt Damon, chronicles the stories of four teachers from rural and urban areas of the country, and examines how these dedicated educators, despite loving their students and jobs, were often forced to rethink their careers because of low pay. After the screening, a panel of local education leaders, including Philadelphia School District Superintendent Leroy Nunery and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, reflected on the film and the state of education in America. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “For good schools, it takes a village.”  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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Daily News Covers Chalk and Talk Blog

“BY DAY, Christopher Paslay teaches The Crucible and Thoreau’s Walden to juniors at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.

By night, the 39-year-old teacher-turned-blogger maintains a website, Chalk and Talk, that gives public-school teachers a voice.

For Paslay, it was the advent of the No Child Left Behind reform model – the idea of holding schools to standards judged by test scores – that triggered his advocacy on behalf of his fellow teachers. . . .”

This is an excerpt from yesterday’s Philadelphia Daily News story, “He gives teachers a voice outside the classroom” by reporter Morgan Zalot, which highlights Chalk and Talk–this very blog!–as a platform for the voices of public school teachers.  Click here to read the article in its entirety. 

 

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Public School Notebook Advocates Compromising Rights of Many for Rights of Few

by Christopher Paslay

The Notebook continues to lobby to keep violent and unruly students in classrooms, suggesting that America’s discipline policies are racist and culturally insensitive.  

Despite recent accolades from the New York Times and the Philadelphia City Paper for their investigative reporting, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook remains committed to its roots: lobbying for the disenfranchised on the fringes of the educational system.  As a result, they often compromise the rights of the many to stand up for the rights of the few.         

This was the case when the Notebook supported the conclusions drawn by Youth United for Change’s two controversial reports—“Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia” and “Pushed Out”—both of which rely heavily on the testimonies of disgruntled youth to paint dropouts and chronic rule breakers as victims of an intolerant and racist school system.  Both lobby for keeping incorrigible students in classrooms where they consistently rob other children of their right to learn; the Notebook’s Winter 2009 article “A growing expulsion pipeline” did much of the same.       

Most recently, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, the Notebook ran the story “Expulsion epidemic draws national attention,” which also lobbies to keep problem students in schools, calling for alternative forms of remediation that are often unrealistic or achieve limited success.  The story, like the YUC reports, portrays students expelled from schools across the country as victims caught in an oppressive and racist system, despite the findings of reports such as the Inquirer’sAssault on Learning,” which reveals how disruptive student behavior in Philadelphia schools negatively impacts achievement and learning. 

To protect the rights of the hardworking 90 percent of America’s children struggling to learn in environments tainted by the violent and unruly, I wrote a comment on the Notebook’s website trying to shed some light on the issue:   

“Expulsions in America’s public schools do not happen willy-nilly.  Students are given due process and granted a hearing before they are removed from the system.  In addition, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) protects students with anger management issues and the emotionally disturbed (many minorities are diagnosed as such) from being removed from a school, and the “Stay-Put Provision” law allows such students to remain in school even during the actual hearings.  In Philadelphia from 2002 – 2008, not a single student was expelled from the District.  Not that the District is free from violence, or those who perpetrate violence against other students; just read the Inquirer’s “Assault on Learning” series and look at the numbers.  It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to expel a student from a district (in Philadelphia, even the “permanently expelled” can reapply for admission after their punishment is served), and this is in light of the fact that many serious discipline incidents go unreported.    

[Your article] bills expulsion as an unfair “epidemic” gaining “national attention,” but it ignores the everyday offenses of troubled youth and focuses on the outliers.  The real victims in this situation are the 85-90 percent of America’s public school children who are being held hostage by the violent and unruly few.  Yet somehow the Notebook consistently fails to address THIS issue.  They campaign against a discipline system that is already lacking real teeth, which is counterproductive to establishing a culture of learning in all schools.  If we want to save the education of the masses, we should advocate for better parenting, call for a return of traditional values in our schools and communities, and demand that ALL children respect each other, as well as their teachers, parents, and other authority figures. . . .”

Paul Socolar, the Notebook’s editor, responded to my post by writing the following:

“Some quick comments from the editor to explain the Notebook’s continued interest in this topic of high rates of expulsion as an issue of educational quality and equity.

Philadelphians ought to be considering what approaches to discipline and to curtailing school violence are effective. We know that what many schools are doing now is not effective. There is a growing body of evidence in support of less punitive approaches to school discipline such as restorative justice. We are open to other topics for our reporting. We haven’t seen a similar body of evidence that more systematic implementation of the traditional approach of suspensions and transfers to disciplinary schools advocated here by commenters is effective.

In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world (that hasn’t alleviated high crime rates), the issue of whether harsh school disciplinary policies not only mirror our ineffective criminal justice policies but also create a school-to-prison pipeline is a real concern to many in Philadelphia.

Study after study provides evidence that harsh disciplinary actions are not meted out in a color-blind fashion. This article points to the finding from North Carolina that Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended for a first-time cell phone offense compared to White students. . . .”

I followed-up Socolar’s comments with the following post on the Notebook (Socolar never did address the fact that the Notebook compromises the rights of the many for the rights of the few):

“. . . Schools must do what they can to address and remediate the behavioral and psychological problems of their students, but there will come a time when a line must be drawn.  There IS a protocol that public schools follow, and by law, a series of interventions in most cases DOES take place before an expulsion.  But when these interventions meet with limited success (including Positive Behavior Supports and Restorative Justice, both of which can only be done effectively in small, one-on-one situations), there will need to be a policy in place to keep the learning environment safe and organized, a policy that allows the majority of hard working students to get an education, and that policy is expulsion. 

As for The Notebook’s obsession with race and their need to keep reminding everyone that expulsions “are not meted out in a color-blind fashion,” I’d like to ask what they are insinuating by this?  It seems clear that they are suggesting that teachers and administrators in public schools are either racist, or culturally ignorant or insensitive.  As an urban schoolteacher of 15 years, as a coach, as a mentor, and as a citizen of Philadelphia, I would have to beg to differ.  Although this may have been the case 30 years ago (or in very limited situations today), I think the disparity in disciplinary measures by race has more to do with environmental factors such as poverty, education and employment; it’s documented that a higher number of minorities are impoverished, have a higher incidence of out-of-wedlock births, have poor nutrition, etc.  These factors all impact a student’s behavior.  Likewise, these factors impact a student’s ATTITUDE when responding to authority, which may explain why a cooperative student, who surrenders his cellphone with little resistance, may not get suspended for the infraction, while another student, who has a difficult home life and has not learned to deal with authority in a positive manner, might get hit with a suspension for a simple cellphone violation. 

The hardworking motivated students should have a right to learn.  Generally speaking, expulsions are the only reasonable way to accomplish this, in light of the tragic condition of American families, poor parenting, society’s attitude of entitlement, and the overall decline in respect for authority.”

This comment was not rebutted by the editor.

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Filed under Alternative Schools, Cell Phones, Drop-Out Rates, Eye on The Notebook, Holistic Education

Michelle Rhee to Speak at Kimmel Center Monday Night; Rally Planned to Inform Public about Her Dishonest Campaign

by Christopher Paslay

Join Monday night’s Michelle Rhee “information rally” outside Kimmel Center on November 7th from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm.   

On Monday, November 7th at 8:00 pm, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee will be speaking at the Kimmel Center as part of Widener University’s 2011-2012 Philadelphia Speakers Series.  Although Rhee is billed as a visionary school reformer with a mantra of “putting students first,” Towson University Assistant Professor Shaun Johnson estimated that Rhee’s speaking fees for the last 10 months alone will earn her “between $1 M and $2 M, depending on whether she charged the full $50,000 per event specified in her contract, or the mere $35,000 she charged Kent State.”

Rhee is also knee-deep in politics and her “Students First” organization, which is trying to raise $1 billion to dismantle organized labor, is backed by corporate heads, including Rupert Murdoch, hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and the Fisher Family, as well as the Koch Brothers.    

Here are five things Rhee won’t be talking about on Monday night:

1. Rhee put “students first” and charged Kent State University a $35,000 speaking fee to talk to an audience of about 600 people.  She also required first-class airfare, a VIP hotel suite, a town car and personal driver.        

2.  Rhee, unable to control her students during her first year as an elementary schoolteacher in Baltimore, taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape on the way to the lunchroom.  A year later, she grossly exaggerated her students’ gains on standardized tests.

3. When Rhee was chancellor of D.C. schools and improved test scores were tarnished by a cheating scandal, Rhee failed to answer questions from the media or explain the testing aberrations and high rate of erasures.

4.  Rhee lacks expertise in the field of education.  “Rhee’s ideas about how to fix the ailing school system were largely misinformed,” D.C. native and schoolteacher Rachel Levy wrote in a blog published in the Washington Post, “and it’s no wonder: She knew little about instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations.” 

5.  In 2010, D.C. incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary election.  Political experts interpreted this as a referendum on Rhee’s unpopular and misguided reign as school’s chief.

Monday night’s “information rally” from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm outside the Kimmel Center will set the record straight, however.

Support hardworking students and dedicated teachers and help inform the public about the real Michelle Rhee.  For more information, email phillystyle71@yahoo.com

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Filed under Holistic Education, Teacher Bashing