School reform no. 10: Virtual Schools?

Based upon her teaching experience, Joyce Hicks, Associate Professor in the economics department at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, believes virtual classes are valid for searching and information gathering, but not as a stand-alone program. Students must be well-organized self-starters, and even then may have difficulties. She sees some positives, but believes it is a limited vehicle for collegiate level learning, in most cases.

Donald R. Eastman, a highly-respected educator and President of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, declared that the University of Florida online college is an ivory tower delusion. “The companies who are selling the snake-oil of disruptive innovation (Pearson, Coursera, Udacity, etc.) will make millions. The graduates of the University of Florida will have fellow alumni who paid much less for their degrees than they did, saw fewer real professors, and earned their degrees in their pajamas.” Donald R. Eastman, “UF Online College an Ivory Tower Delusion,” Tampa Bay Times, October 20, 2013.


20 reforms: no. 9: 6 year high schools

Six-year high schools.

This model, which was rolled out in New York City and Chicago, requires six years of high school. Students graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also a college associate’s degree. Some politicians, undoubtedly well-meaning, want to take that idea national. Rana Foroohar, “Time to Talk about the I Word,” Time Magazine, February 10, 2014.

In my opinion, this is an example of doing the wrong thing harder. Even though companies such as IBM and Microsoft have agreed to help design the curriculum, it’s just too long and too late –– and continues to support the ruinous “all kids are the same” and “all kids should go to college” mythology. The Elephant in the Classroom.elephant 003

I predict that top students will be selected for this program and that’s okay, except that the unselected kids in neighborhood schools won’t get the career education they need but will suffer through high-stakes academic testing and failure.

20 Reforms, no. 8: Boys will be boys?

Gender – specific schools.

Neuropsychological studies continue to show significant brain differences between genders. Male brains utilize seven times more gray matter while female brains utilize ten times more white matter. Boys tend to over focus and are less sensitive to other people or their surroundings, while girls transition more quickly between tasks than boys do. We know that boys are more physically active and girls are able to sit still for longer periods of time.

This especially true at the elementary level because the maturity of the frontal lobes in boyselephant 003 lags behind girls early on, resulting in more impulsivity.

It may be a good idea to educate boys and girls separately at some point in their development, but it still does not overcome the elephant’s worry about selective factors. I worry about who will be invited to these schools or classes and whether they are academic or career oriented, or both? Larry Cahill, “Sex Differences in the Human Brain,” The Dana Foundation, April 1, 2014.

The Elephant’s plan will go along way toward solving this problem because many more boys will be in career training where they can move and be more physical.

20 school reforms: no. 7 “Miracle Schools”

elephant 003Miracle schools.

This push for higher achievement has led to accounts of miracle schools, but Diane Ravitch, former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, did some detective work that undermined these claims. One government official hailed the Bruce Randolph School in Denver, where the first senior class had a graduation rate of 97%.

Wow! What happened to the elephant? That is indeed impressive. But, according to Ravitch, the schools ACT test scores were far below the state average. In its middle school, only 21% were proficient or advanced in math, placing the Bruce Randolph School at the 5th percentile or below 95% of other schools in Colorado. Only 10% of their students met state science standards.

The New Tech Network schools also claim high graduation rates. But again, there is a selective factor at work. We’d like to believe that our elephant has left the room, but that just ain’t the case –– not yet, anyway. And the main problem is with those neighborhood kids who are not selected and who are still taking high stakes tests which prevent them from getting a career education and jobs.




20 school reforms no. 6: Grading Schools

What does the “Elephant” say about grading schools on an A to F scale? Florida teachers, superintendents, and school board members are questioning the value of the A to F grading system. Some have called for an end to this system, but more time is needed to make the transition to new exams, standards and expectations, especially with the introduction of Common Core.

Vietnam Oceania 127And automatic triggers can cause an entire school’s grade to drop. An example is when fewer than 25% of students are reading at grade level. Jeffrey S. Solochek, “Curriculum,” Tampa Bay Times, Dec. 19, 2013.

One of the problems is the myth that all students are the same. Some schools, especially in wealthy areas, have a high percentage of college-bound kids. Other schools have a higher percentage of poor children who have not been “creamed off” to better programs, whether public or private.

20 School Reforms: Charter Schools

Charters are all the rage right now. Will they do the trick? It’s too early to tell, but some of them seem to be doing well. And charters and vouchers stimulate competition. Neighboring public schools seem to improve because of competition with charters and “vouchered” private schools. Other charter schools may not be doing quite so well.

I’m reminded of a lawyer who told a psychologist that a new charter high school in Chicago had the answer to many of the school system’s problems. It was receiving above-average grades from the state and graduating a high percentage of its students. The psychologist replied that he knew the school and didn’t think it deserved an A grade. Why would he say that? Here comes the elephant again. The psychologist said what he said because he knew the school was creaming off the very best eighth-graders, so of course those students would do well in almost any school.

My thesis is that it doesn’t matter if the school is for Black students, Hispanics, lower socio-economic kids, students from an inner-city school, or the well-off. If it selects the best students it will do well. That old four-legged elephant is still in the room and having a mighty big impact –– and cream will always rise to the top. (This is true for advanced career study students as well as advanced academic study students).elephant 003

Excerpted from “The Elephant in the Classroom.

20 school reforms no. 4 Testing

School Achievement Testing.

Most states use uniform achievement tests to measure and compare schools as well as teachers. At first blush, this seems to make sense, but what test is appropriate for every child? Indiscriminate testing of all students, regardless of whether they are headed for college preparation or career training, results in inordinate pressure on students, teachers, and parents.

Kids who are left in neighborhood schools won’t do that well on high stakes testing. Many achievers have been “creamed off” to other programs.

I can recall when low-achieving students were put on buses and sent on field trips on the day of the high-stakes testing. If the kids weren’t in school on the testing day they weren’t counted, and this had the effect of raising the school’s overall test score. Alice in Wonderland? Maybe.

Many if not most answers to standardized test questions may be available in materials sent to schools by the test publishers, according to Meredith Broussard. Unfortunately, low income school districts can’t afford to buy them. Meredith Broussard, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 15, 2014.

Testing is ok for advanced academic students headed for “real colleges,” but not for the majority of kids who should be given theCloisters opportunity for advanced career studies.


School Reform no. 3

elephant 003Preschool programs.

Preschool programs may help some students, although there are no solid data to support this. To be effective, these programs must include nutrition, healthcare, and family counseling in addition to academics. Intensive programs can produce some positive results in poor children, perhaps in the 10% range, but with no lasting effect on increased IQ scores.

In 2013, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services issued a comprehensive 346 page final report of its third grade follow-up to an ongoing Head Start impact study and found that while there were initial positive results, by the end of third grade there were very few impacts found in any of the four domains of health, cognitive, social-emotional, or parenting practices. OPRE report, October, 2012.


But we need to keep trying. We need to find ways to make initial achievement gains stick. This may not change abstract mental abilities, but higher achievement is a respectable goal as long as career education is an option along with college prep.

For more information, go to WELCOME and order The Elephant in the Classroom. $1.99.


School reform no. 2

Parent support.

Many teachers today will tell you that school reforms are a waste of time because it’s really the parents who are responsible for their students’ poor efforts. They will give you a litany of negative experiences involving angry, recalcitrant, and aggressive parents, many of whom seem to have little interest in their children, and who don’t follow school guidelines or read to their kids.

“I’m a teacher with 30 years of classroom experience at the seventh grade level,” says Coleman Pont, “without the culture encompassing parental support, even the best teacher can fail. Principals tend to back parents when confronted with the fear of a parent going over their head to an even more scared administrator at the district office who is fearful of losing his job,” Pont says. Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2010.

I agree with teachers such as Ponte. It’s almost impossible to teach children when their parents are uncooperative and aggressive. But the teachers with negative views about parents usually work at schools where some of the best students –– and their parents –– have gone elsewhere –– creamed off to a “better world.”  Once again, we are confronted with The Elephant in the Classroom, and some teachers are dealing with the academic coffee grounds after the cream has been siphoned off through the selective process.

But when you speak to teachers in one of the “Lake Wobegone Schools,” where everyone is above average, whether it is a charter school, a magnet school, or a fundamental school, they will tell you how great and supportive parents are.

We need to keep trying to educate uncooperative parents, and some good has come from this, but trying to change the ingrained personalities and lifestyles of adults is not easy, even when they seek help. How do I know? I know because children, families, and adults came to my private practice for psychotherapy and were willing to shell out big bucks to change their personalities.

But even in intensive one-on-one counseling, with a well-trained professional, they almost always resisted change and wanted to cling to old, safe, but ineffective patterns of behavior. It’s normal to want to maintain safe and comfortable personality patterns. Change is scary, especially when someone wants to tinker with who we are –– or who we think we are.

elephant 003Unfortunately, programs designed to help parents with their parenting skills seem to draw those who are already motivated, not the parents who are least cooperative. As a result, these programs end up “teaching to the choir.”

20 school reforms #1 “Turnaround”

elephant 003Turnaround process.

Some states mandate a turnaround process for chronically failing schools. Staff and sometimes even principals can be replaced. If the principal and teachers are unprofessional and uncaring, this might be helpful. But as pointed out in the Elephant in the Classroom, it is more likely that the failing school represents the residual “coffee grounds” and not the cream.

By that I mean that the troubled school may be in a poor neighborhood with most kids on the free lunch program, while kids from that school with higher academic potential have been selected or creamed off to better programs within the public school system or the private sector.

Significant school reforms will not take place until schools are allowed to recognize brain and personality diversity and teach accordingly. That means more career programs in addition to or instead of academic ones.