Do we really have a school crisis in America, or is it a “crisis” of unrealistic expectations? What are these expectations? That all kids can achieve at the highest levels, that all kids can be successful in school and in life, and that all kids can go to college if they really try. And isn’t it the school system’s job to make sure our expectations are fulfilled? A pretty tall order, wouldn’t you say?

In some school districts, parents who can provide transportation are able to get their kids into schools of their choice, such as Magnet Schools or Charter Schools. The kids who are left behind remain there because their parents don’t have the resources, the education, or the foresight to get them into a better situation. As a result, most kids who are left behind are not average achievers. They tend to be low achievers, yet we still rate our teachers based on these students’ achievement test scores. How colossally unfair to teachers.

Let’s consider an analogous situation. Nurses who work exclusively with the critically ill are respected for their professional knowledge and efforts, but a good percentage of their patients die! Would we compare their patient outcomes with nurses in a general hospital? No, of course not. That’s because we have altered our expectations to a rational level based on our correct supposition that not all patients will live forever and that nurses and doctors can’t cure all of their patients.

Next: How did this get started?101_0126

Taking off the rose-colored glasses: How to reform American education in one paragraph –– (112 words):

Reduce the academic high school graduate expectation to 65% so that high school becomes a true academic high school and not a glorified middle or elementary school. Allow 40% to 60% of interested students to elect career education on a voluntary basis beginning in middle school. This will raise the overall high school graduation expectation to 97%. The top 35% in scholastic ability and motivation will take advanced academic courses and graduate; most other students will take simple to highly sophisticated career education courses that count toward graduation –– along with a very small number of academic courses that support their vocational education –– mostly reading and math, along with U.S. History and technology.

Cloisters(The academic high school graduates will complete an authentic college program in four years without remedial assistance and the career high school graduates will make a good living, avoid dependency and crime –– and over time, and in some cases over generations, move themselves and their children to a higher socio-economic level –– much as immigrants do.)

Vietnam Oceania 122The Southeastern Educational Board’s report is helpful, but the recommendation that we raise high school graduation rates to 90% or higher in all high schools within a decade is foolish to say the least. If this goal includes career education and giving high school credit for that education, then the recommendation makes sense. Otherwise, it continues the “college for all” myth that is that is so destructive.

They also recommend that students get into community and technical colleges and on pathways to his post secondary attainment and career advancement much earlier. This is true, but it must be much, much earlier. It should begin in middle school not in post- secondary education.

These reports continue to link academic education to career education but there is not enough time for a student to take a full load of academic courses and participate fully in career education. Most of our students need career education rather than college preparation.

School Crisis: Tampa Bay Times.

Why are these five black schools far behind supposedly equivalent schools in other parts of the state? Should we blame the school board? Based on my own research, I believe part of the problem is that our school board has done a marvelous job of creating special programs such as magnet schools –– but there is a downside because students whose parents are unaware of these programs or don’t have the transportation available for their children to attend, become a residue of kids who are less likely to achieve academically.

The adjacent article in Tuesday’s edition showing 25 Hillsborough County schools with much unused space is equally significant. People don’t realize that almost half of Florida’s students are in schools of choice. These are the students who are “creamed” off for a “better world,” but this leaves a greater proportion of low achieving students in neighborhood schools. The Teacher’s Union warned us about this many years ago. These neighborhood schools need help now and many of these students need an opportunity to enter career training in middle school and high school.

Tampa Bay Times researchers are to be congratulated for calling attention to this unacceptable situation, but the school system’s solution to  turn these schools into magnets for the International Baccalaureate, and STEM courses doesn’t make sense because these are the students who cannot read or do math and who are the least likely to benefit from these programs. I would propose two solutions: Turn them into magnets that teach the basic skills, which means reading and math and not the esoteric courses demanded by state and federal politicians. A second solution would be an ombudsman who would get some of these kids into existing magnet schools by signing them up and providing transportation.

Let’s get real!  Read and purchase The Elephant in the Classroom. (E-book is $1.99).

elephant 003

The answer to the question of whether or not your child needs to see a psychologist is simple: yes –– and so do you.

Surprised? Sure, I could be wrong. You may be perfect and your child may be perfect, as well. But that is obviously unlikely. A licensed child and adolescent psychologist can give you an objective reading of your child’s personality, interests, and intellectual strengths and weaknesses. Your own emotional bond with your child limits your vision. Psychologists can provide objective information that will allow you to get closer to your child and help your child make smart decisions when it comes to school, vocations, and/or college.

You can probably benefit from consultation yourself. When I look around at my adult acquaintances, I see some of them doing the wrong things harder and harder, penalizing themselves in their relationships and marriages as well as financially. Most wouldn’t want to spend a thousand dollars for an in-depth psychological evaluation, but would think nothing of spending $400 a night for a hotel in New York City. One strong mark of mental and emotional health is self-disclosure, yet we are reluctant and even fearful to open up to a stranger.

Better knowledge about your child is really valuable when it comes to your child’s education. The major invalidating flaw I see in every single school reform book is the focus on teachers, administrators, curriculum, testing, etc. That’s just plain wrong. The focus needs to be on the students. As I point out in The Elephant in the Classroom, most reformers ignore individual differences in children. Sure, they show interest in children who are significantly different, such as gifted children, autistic children, or learning disabled children. But they tend to forget that all children are different and all are unique.

The idea that children are pretty much the same is a great American Myth. We speak glibly about our students as if they are the same. Because of similar clothing styles, slouching to look cool, or letting their pants hang down in the back, they evoke a certain similarity. But they’re all different. Remember the stage play, A Chorus Line? Yes, when you line them up they look the same, but when you ask them who they are, learn their history, and discover their strengths and weaknesses, you find they have much that is not in common.

So who the heck are they? This one’s a right brainer and that one’s a left brainer, this one seems tough but is emotionally tender underneath, this one’s verbal and that one’s nonverbal, this one pretends to care less, but is really motivated, while that one thinks school sucks. This one’s clumsy and the guy with the huge shoulders is a jock, this one has trouble discriminating sounds and that one loves phonics. This one has beautiful handwriting (which she won’t be using much anymore because of technology) and that one is so left-brained he writes like a physician –– poor kid!

This one’s an introvert and that one’s an extrovert. This one’s a daddy’s boy, that one never had a daddy. This one gets to class early and that one’s always late. This one smiles when he’s angry and that one frowns when he’s happy. This one’s afraid of shooting his eye out with a BB gun and that one likes to steal hubcaps. This one can learn in one-to-one tutoring but can’t learn in class, while that one can’t learn unless she’s in a group. This one cuts up in class because she’s bright and bored and that one draws comic books in class because he’s inspired.

A psychological evaluation doesn’t exclude parent and teacher input. Parents have the best sample of the child’s behavior over time and teachers can compare the child with the peer group. It’s up to parents to pull all of these sources of information together.

Author Ruby Payne gives lectures to teachers about children raised in poverty. She wants to “confront the cultural gap that separates middle-class teachers from children’s hard-scrabble communities.” This makes a lot of sense because it asks teachers to recognize that children’s responses may reflect their culture. Payne is criticized for this, however, because it could reinforce stereotypes. “Divided by Lessons in Poverty,” Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Times, July 13, 2015.

Kids from poverty backgrounds may share some culturally-based personality features, but teachers also need to realize that each of these children is unique, regardless of their socio-economic background.

It’s asking a lot to expect teachers to fully grasp individual differences in their students, but teachers need to at least discover their students’ learning styles and what motivates them to learn. After all, teaching is not the presentation of facts, but is rather a drawing out process that evolves from the teacher-student relationship.

I gave my own children a head start and took them for psychological evaluations. One was identified as highly verbal and interested in academics. He became a history professor. Our second child was strong in math and had an interest in science. He is now in neuropsychology. Our third child was not highly motivated by academics, but was a really social and engaging person. He is now a stockbroker and financial planner.

107_0722Perhaps you should consider an evaluation for your child. (This is not a commercial for psychological services. I am retired and turned in my license to practice some time ago.)

 

 

cuba 028 COLLEGE AND MR. GATES

In his June 3, 2015 blog, Bill Gates asks students to do something he never did: graduate from college. Gates is a college dropout but believes he “got lucky.” He complains that enrollment in postsecondary programs has grown by over 50% in the past 25 years, but not enough people are finishing college. He’s hoping for 11 million college grads.

I think much of Mr. Gates “luck” stems from his intellectual ability, which is probably in the top one percent. It would be marvelous if we could flip a switch or engage a distance learning module to produce more students who are capable of a true college education. This is unlikely because only the top 25% have a shot at succeeding in an academic college environment. In addition to high ability, they must also be motivated, have acceptable concentration levels, and a good measure of self-control. These factors, which I describe as the four legs of the elephant in my book, The Elephant in the Classroom, make a college education unattainable for most students.

Some debunkers think an IQ score of 110 (75th percentile) isn’t necessary for college work. But even higher ability levels are helpful. One study showed that participants who were in the 99.1 percentile of intellectual ability at age 12 were much less likely to go on to obtain a doctorate, secure a patent, or publish an article in a scientific journal than those participants reaching the 99.9 percentile. David Hambrick and Elizabeth Meinz, “Sorry Strivers, Talent Matters,” The New York Times, November 20, 2011.

Solutions? Gates spoke with Cheryl Hyman, Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. She reports doubling City Colleges’ graduation rate since becoming chancellor in 2010. When I checked the site, http://bit.ly/1JRZZ8x, I found that The City Colleges of Chicago work with 115,000 students and boast a 14% graduation rate. The graduation rate improved to only 4000 students in 2014, which was double the rate of 2000 students in 2013 and previously.

Hmm. Something doesn’t quite add up. Upon further review, one of City Colleges’ initiatives is career education. More than 150 companies are now helping align curricula and facilities with employer demand. This is good news, indeed.

Also, later in his blog, Mr. Gates includes post-secondary certificates and two-year and four-year college degrees in his definition of college. So when Mr. Gates urges more students to graduate from college, he may not be thinking of just academic colleges or universities. Or is he?

Unfortunately, I believe the data suggest that too many students, not too few, are attending college. This is why enrollment has grown, while four-year completion rates are low. Let’s remember that no one has yet found a way to change IQ or deeply embedded personality characteristics.

Based on the myths that all students are pretty much the same and that all should go to college, Gates views may be hurting students who are motivated for career studies but who are saddled with high-stakes testing and academic courses they will never use in the real world.

Gates gives a myriad of reasons for collegiate failure: He wants to make the college experience easier and the course selection process less confusing. He blames poor preparation in high school and suggests online courses to reduce tuition costs. My experience is that the vast majority of students who have the ability and motivation for higher level academics can integrate themselves into the college culture just fine, on their own.

Gates is enthusiastic about the future of online courses but Hyman believes that some of her students still need face-to-face time with instructors and classmates.

Some –– only some?

While online instruction can be a positive and practical teaching tool, research shows that the successful completion of online courses requires the same skills as college attendance and perhaps puts even greater demands on concentration and self-control. And students coming from poverty need more, not less, hands-on interactions.

Donald R Eastman, a highly-respected educator and president of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, declared that the University of Florida online college was “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.

Bill Gates needs to be applauded for his generous donations to education, but his blanket call for more college grads –– without looking at individual student needs –– won’t accomplish much. And in the process, it could hinder career education in middle school and high school, resulting in a higher high school dropout rate and the road to criminality.

I’m reminded of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Surely, having a job and putting food on the table is a higher priority than abstract academic learning and “self-actualization.” I hope Mr. Gates, who is a highly intelligent, giving, and practical person, will get behind early career education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMGP4037I worked with many teens in my 30 years of psychological practice. The parents would bring their teen to my office, believing the youngster needed counseling for behavior or attitudinal problems. Invariably, the parents wondered what they had done wrong, but in many cases the difficulties and heartbreak stemmed from the school environment rather than the home.

Yes, these kids had fallen through the cracks. And the cracks were mighty wide and deep. Let me tell you about one such case. I’ll call this girl Emily. She always liked school but reading problems emerged in the second grade — and her smile started to fade. She tried to pay attention, obeyed her teachers rules, and studied harder than most of the kids in her class. Her mother was a single parent and helped Emily when she could.

But Emily still wasn’t making it. In middle school the counselor suggested that Emily might enjoy some career options such as becoming a veterinarian assistant. Emily was excited. Perhaps she could finally excel at something. But Emily and her mother were informed that Emily’s academic grades weren’t high enough for acceptance into the career program. Even when the counselor eventually found a program that would take Emily, it required private transportation and Emily’s mother couldn’t afford a car. Even worse, high-stakes testing left no time for alternative career work.

Emily already felt she was a failure, but the official state tests took many hours to administer and when she failed the world history test she had to retake it until she passed. Emily failed that test five times. When I saw Emily, she was clinically depressed. Could anyone help poor Emily? Political and educational leaders could help the Emily’s of this world, but their fear of the truth keeps them from changing things.

What is the truth? The truth is that most students aren’t capable of true college work and should focus on career training. Career education that is relevant to their lives and results in happiness and financial success. The concepts that all students are pretty much the same and that all kids should go to college are tragic myths that lead to school dropout, unemployment,.and psychological problems.

 

In previous articles I described how my research into the structure of our K-12 school system resulted in a realistic and workable reform that can succeed. (The Elephant in the Classroom). Because of the availability of alternative public school programs such as magnet schools and charters, along with parent access to private schools through vouchers and savings accounts, almost half of students in public school districts no longer remain in neighborhood schools during middle school and high school. Parents who are vitally interested in their children’s educational future will continue to get their kids into the many excellent public school opportunities and tuition-assisted private school programs.

But most of the other 50% of children who are left behind are forced to endure regular academic courses and high-stakes testing, even if they don’t have the motivation or preparation for more advanced academic work. Instead, they should be provided with the opportunity to enter career studies leading to certifications that earn them high-paying and interesting jobs. A much smaller group of this remaining neighborhood student population, approximately 5% -10% has the intellectual ability, motivation, self-control, and concentration, to enroll in rigorous college prep courses.

Those readers who acknowledge the incredible potential of this approach IMGP4037might be wondering who will pay for it? They should be concerned! In 2014 it is estimated that our government at all levels, federal, state, and county, spent over $985 billion on education. By comparison, we will spend $832 billion on the military defense of our country.

In the past few years, the federal government alone spent 94 billion for education, including Pell Grants and veterans’ benefits. Recently, that spending has increased to $145 billion per year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States as a whole spends $115,000 per student for education. And not all Pell Grant and student loan money is used as intended. At Colorado Mesa University, there is concern because some students took out an average of $25,000 in student loans, ditched classes, and used the money for other purposes (Pell Grant money can be used for non-educational purchases). Emily Shockley, “CMU hopes to Cut Student Loan Debt, fraud,” GJ Sentinal.com, Dec. 29, 2013.

At the local school district level, school boards report expenditures of between $6000 and $8000 per pupil per year, but these figures do not include capital expenses and other items. A true cost is probably closer to $12,000 – $18,000. And this reform program will require cross-training of academic teachers and the hiring of career types.

Is an average of $15,000 enough? It depends on whether or not it gives us what we want. And what we want are happy creative citizens who will help our economy grow. If we were sure of the outcome, we would spend twice the current amount and still be happy –– wouldn’t we?

If this realistic solution is to work, it will need unprecedented support from private industry. Companies will need to contribute monies to the local school system, ear-marked for career training and apprenticeships. They will also need to coordinate with schools to develop working models.

One nice thing about career work is that it is less of a political football. Whereas liberals and Tea Party folks are on opposite sides of debates about school financing and curriculum content, they will all agree that making a soufflé requires mostly the same steps and skills that it always has, and won’t be bickering about curriculum materials –– or recipe books.

 

 

An article in the Tampa Bay Times, April 9, 2015, urges kids to stay in school. This seems like common sense advice, but what does it really mean? The author, Matt O’Brien of the Washington Post, makes the point that rocket scientists make more money than burger-flippers, and therefore kids should stay in school.

There is a basic flaw in his argument, however. As with many journalists and other “experts,” there is a complete denial of IQ, motivation, self-control, and other factors necessary to stay in school. What I think O’Brien means by staying in school is to work oneself into a graduate school program along with the other top 5% of students in the country. That ain’t easy, folks.

He then goes on to point out that wages for college grads have actually been falling. He says the top 1% all went to college but don’t make as much as they do because of it. There’s something more going on, he says. Yes, there is. What’s going on are the four legs of the elephant that show up in my research report, The Elephant in the Classroom. Concentration, self-control, IQ, and motivation are necessary but not sufficient to reach the top.

Certainly, kids should give their best effort in their academic studies. But the majority of students should not go to collegeCloisters and they will be happier and more secure by enrolling in career programs. We need to step up our career programs and cut out the nonsense about everyone going to college. Let’s get real, for a change.

Vietnam Oceania 122When I initiated research which would culminate in the report, The Elephant in the Classroom, I didn’t worry about politics, but thought the best approach was to follow the research and see where it led.

But as I review the report now, I realize that both liberals and conservatives may use parts of these research data to support their own political views.  Here is a brief review of some of the major findings that could impact politics.

One is that IQ is a valid concept. While this idea may be tolerated by conservatives, it is probably opposed by most liberals. This is because conservatives seem more realistic about human limitations while liberals, bless them, want the best for everyone and like to believe all people have the same abilities and the same potential.

The conclusion from the data indicating that only about 30% of our students have the motivation and abilities to do real college work is probably opposed by both liberal and conservative politicians, regardless of what their own private thoughts might be.

The idea that some private charter schools do well because of the creaming process and selection factors is probably more in accord with the teachers’ unions and a more liberal outlook.

The conclusion that high-stakes academic testing is overdone and can even be harmful, again, is more consistent with a liberal outlook.

The research that shows that it is quite difficult for some families to support their children’s school efforts, and that all of the federal programs and all “The King’s Horses” aren’t going to change that much, may be be more in line with conservative thinking.

The fact that preschool programs and federal housing programs have not been successful is also in line with a more conservative political view.

The concept of parent trigger which transfers powers from education officials and teachers’ unions to parents is a more conservative concept which “The Elephant” does not support, unless and until a realistic view of the school in question is undertaken.

“The Elephant” doesn’t like teacher transfer, even though most teachers’ unions want to keep all teachers working.

The research showing that public magnet schools and other schools of excellence are doing well because of the selective creaming process is not too popular with the educational establishment.

The “Elephant” supports more money being spent on public schools if they will acknowledge individual differences and use much of this additional money to set up career education programs. Conservatives feel that additional funding has not helped in the past, but they may support an infusion of money if it leads to less crime and an enhanced workforce.

This is just a small sample of the findings and as you the reader can see, the research was not reviewed with a political position in mind.

For more information, go to my website, mack-hicks.com and check out Mack’s Journal, or purchase the report The Elephant in the Classroom at Amazon and elsewhere for $1.99.