Archive for December, 2012

Guns in Schools?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

After school children were gunned down in Connecticut last Friday, the American public may be finally toughening its perception of what it means to take care of schools.

Whether you watch TV, surf the internet blogs, tweet, peruse Facebook, or actually read the newspapers, every position has been displayed. And the notorious NRA leadership is mute, at least until this coming Friday. Who’d ever think that would happen?

A few voices are raised to say that all teachers and administrators should carry guns at school. For sure, pointing another pistol would definitely make a semiautomatic-equipped lunatic, determined on vengeance, put down his weapon. Or reduce unintended bodies spurting blood onto the school office floor. However, even the latest Michigan legislation to allow concealed weapons in schools, churches, and other public institutions, affirmed just before the mass killing in Connecticut, was vetoed by the current governor.

In case you can no longer bear to see those little six-year-old faces and read about sorrow in the media, here are three issues, often discussed, which address the safety of schools and the children and staff whose job is to teach reading, writing, math, history, science, and civilized behavior. Not to teach about “lock down,” the place to hide when a deranged maniac is loose in the school, nor the unique time that “silence is golden.”

Across the country, state and national legislators are putting forth measures to improve registration, especially background check procedures for those that want to purchase a gun. First of the most difficult and resisted federal legislation will be to close the private sale “loophole” through which many guns are purchased without a background check requirement. Even this retired teacher’s grandfather who had an antique gun collection would have been required to obtain a background check before selling off his guns. Registration had difficulty when Lyndon Baines Johnson introduced such legislation in 1968 after the five murders of famous people in that single decade. The loophole remains today.

Gun control laws for automatic weapons are in place in several states, including Connecticut where the murders took place, but only for culprits with an illegal semi-automatic. The obvious measure is to return the federal gun control law first introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, voted into law in 1993, but left to sunset in 2004, and never re-authorized. Fear of the NRA lobby is often mentioned as the glitch. The measure identifies the guns permitted in the United States and the guns not permitted to be manufactured, sold, transported, imported, or possessed. The current revision also specifies ammunition, kinds and amounts, permitted. Did you know that the pension fund group for the California Teachers Association (the largest teachers union in the country) has told Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, that it will no longer invest its $750 million in any company that does business with gun makers? And as of Tuesday when firearms companies went down, down, down on the market, Cerberus decided to sell off Freedom Group, the gun manufacturing holding company that has been part of Cerberus’ private equity company?

Last, legislators backing guns-for-everyone address the mental health issue of many attackers who use semi-automatics to do the job. As if addressing that problem alone will eliminate killing with guns. Even this retired teacher has given up taking guns away from hunters and gun range enthusiasts. In case the concern with mental health issues be forgot, treating people with mental problems costs money. This has been true since Ronald Reagan changed the laws for mental illness, leaving millions of people homeless once the facilities for mental health were closed. The reason was money. Such funds have been reduced for thirty years. Law makers heard mumbling about mental illness are the ones who voted against the Affordable Care Act, the legislation that supports mental health. Back and forth, the issue of who is ill and who isn’t is vast and complex. Such a cure for the gun problem doesn’t even come close to addressing the main issue of who is registered to have a gun.

From a retired teacher’s point of view, when universal registration and control of guns and ammunition is legislated, the other safety issues for schools can be addressed. Be prepared: it will take money. Stinginess won’t be satisfactory. Letting controversy die down won’t take away the sight of the next human bodies splayed on the school floor, blood dripping from gaping bullet holes.

Middle and High School Student Success

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

For sure, middle and high schools in low-income communities need help. Look over the current school problems: crumbling infrastructure; poor scores on any standardized test used; high dropout and tardiness levels; weak graduation rates; extremely low entrance numbers into higher education institutions.

Studies and resources galore confirm these problems. Johns Hopkins University’s well-known School of Education supports Diplomas Now, a model that has shown success for middle and high school students. The model is school-wide and suited for the toughest neighborhoods, failing and just-below-proficiency schools alike. Teachers and administrators have approved in all media that’s covered this phenomenal model.

Any program goal should be to turn around the rate for one-half of the current 500,000 students that drop out. Instead, as any good model maintains: prepare students, motivate them to graduate ready for college or post-high school technical training.

Diplomas Now and the resources gathered to assure the integrated success of the model, Talent Development Secondary, Communities in Schools, the United States Department of Education, and 200 local affiliates is not a program proposed to charter schools, but offered to the 2000 public middle and high schools that produce one-half of yearly dropouts.

Too many of those schools have selected from narrowly organized interventions to change tardiness, behavior, curriculum organization, or another aspect, hoping to change the entire atmosphere of the school. Instead the Diplomas Now complete school-wide model focuses on eliminating poor attendance, poor school behavior, and course failure in English/Language Arts or Math.

Similar to the elementary public school-wide model Success For All, established out of Johns Hopkins University, Diplomas Now accesses education research and school data to target the needs of students. The program insists on professional development and agreement by all school staff to use every aspect of the model. The program expects funds to be provided for extra adult support, technology, and tools to overcome the hurdles at the school.

Funds come from corporations such as Pepsico which understands the need for workers who have successfully graduated. In addition, grants from the U.S. Department of Education have benefited schools countrywide. A California example is Los Angeles Unified School District that has five inner-city middle and high schools receiving a large grant from the Department of Education to foster Diplomas Now.

To see a current video of one New Orleans, Louisiana middle school that uses Diplomas Now strategies, see a PBS Newshour program from Thursday, December 6, 2012.

Like any number of successful models to turn around very low-performing schools and graduating students ready for college or the workforce, relentless focus must be assured to realize student achievement success

The lack of funding resources for every state must be overcome and legislators must realize that high dropout rates will cost plenty in the future when those young adults can’t find work.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Teachers, do you find yourselves in an interim where you teach, just waiting to see if Congress comes around to the cost of running a country before 2012 ends? And keeping your fingers crossed that ‘sequestration’ doesn’t cut into money for schools?

Aside from the fiscal conundrum for the country, the United States Department of Education and the National Science Foundation have been tracking student achievement in science and math. Why? The next step for the Common Core State Standards is implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.

A notable education news article about the Next Generation Science Standards urges reassessment of teacher preparation to make sure

  • Teacher-learning experiences should include what the standards are asking all students to learn. Teachers cannot teach what they themselves cannot do.
  • Teacher-learning experiences need to be close to the classroom. Teachers should see, hear, and feel what this new vision of science looks like with students that compare to their own, over extended periods of time, in order to recognize the implications and adapt their practice.
  • Teacher learning requires working with rich images of desired practice beyond modifications of instruction. They call for an ability to engage students in building and refining scientific knowledge.
  • Teacher-learning experiences should provide educators with models of expertise in different formats. Examples include videos of real classrooms, scientists’ and engineers’ perspectives on practices such as modeling, and print and technology-based resources.
  • Resources and teacher-learning experiences must be scalable, widely accessible, and interwoven into a well-coordinated system of expertise, resources, tasks, and tools adaptable to different learning contexts.

These concerns and solutions come from a November 30, 2012, article “Science Standards Require Teacher-Learning Rethinking” by Jean Moon, Sarah Michaels, and Brian Reiser.

Not a new issue, the STEM Education Coalition updates teachers interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to legislation and projects in states all over the country. From Congressional legislation authored by Senator Bennett (D-CO) to Representatives Honda (D-CA) and Hanna (R-NY), federal grants are designed to support state projects and tax benefits for higher education students.

In addition, Change the Equation, a business leader’s group has devised signs to assess each one of the fifty states’ education emphasis on STEM fields. See “Business Group Gauges STEM ‘Vital Signs’ Across States” by Erik Robelon, September 12, 2012.

Aside from schools, STEM projects of all kinds attract students. For one, the American University of University Women (AAUW) sponsors girls for a summer interactive week with women teachers and professionals from STEM fields at twenty university campuses in California. The project is being introduced at five more sites across the country in 2013.

Do you want to prepare students for jobs of the future? Advocate for fund allotment to plan space and time for STEM at your school from Kindergarten to University.