Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fox News: Punish the Parents of Absent Students?


An article written by Fox News’s Chris Papst about the rate of absence in Baltimore City Public Schools was brought to my attention when it was posted and discussed by my neighbors on a website called NextDoor. The article discussed the findings of PROJECT BALTIMORE which, according to their website, is “an investigative reporting initiative” that “examines the unique challenges that confront the Baltimore area’s public school systems” with “significant emphasis [...] placed on investigating the Baltimore City Public School System which spends large sums of money on education, but yields sub-standard test score and low graduation rates.”

The article is a not-so-subtle attempt at fear mongering, feeding into its readers fears about the perceived inherent dangers that come with the overwhelming black and brown students in Baltimore City Public Schools by immediately drawing a correlation between poor attendance rates and increased violent juvenile crime in the city. In an attempt to further demonstrate his point about the low attendance rates in BCPSS, Papst shared the attendance rates of surrounding counties Baltimore County, Howard County, and Anne Arundel. While these districts do have attendance rates between 15 and 19 percent higher than Baltimore City’s, the article does not mention that these “surrounding districts” are considerably whiter and more affluent (MD Report Card), two advantages that make it significantly easier to be a student who’s at school every day.

Literature about the connection between poverty and absence seems prevalent enough to be assumed as public knowledge, especially by those who work in, care about, and write about public education. This makes it all the more confusing that the suggestion for improvement that the article seems to be suggesting is that BCPSS and its school police enforce the state truancy law which “hold[s] parents accountable with up to $500 in fines or jail time.” In a city whose residents are daily fighting battles against institutionalized racism, extreme poverty, and purposeful and persistent segregation, how can fining the parents of students who are obviously already struggling be the answer?







Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kindergarten Readiness in Baltimore City


As a kindergarten teacher, I collect a lot of data from within my classroom which demonstrates that students who attended a pre-kindergarten (or a high-quality early learning program) came into kindergarten with far more skills than their peers. These skills range from academic to social emotional skills. However, I have been wondering if there is more broad research to support what I see everyday. Additionally, I was saddened to see an article in the Baltimore Sun, which explained that across Maryland, in the 2016-2017 school year, only 43% of kindergarten students were considered “ready for school” by the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) (Bowie, 2016). In Baltimore, the data is even more saddening. In Baltimore, only 38% of students “were considered ready for school” (Bowie, 2016). The KRA assessment is conducted one-on-one with a teacher and assesses each student’s early literacy, math, social foundations, and physical well-being skills. The KRA assessment has 50 items of data which a teacher must collect about each child. To see that only 38% of students in Baltimore City are considered “ready,” shows a huge gap already in the skills of our youngest incoming students.


To understand how this readiness (or lack of) affects learning in school, I sought out some longer range data to explain the impact. In April 2017, The Washington Post presented a summary article of a much broader study called: “What do we really know about the value of prekindergarten?” (Strauss, 2017). The larger study was conducted by a group of scientists to examine “evidence on the impact of state-funded prekindergarten programs” (Strauss, 2017). In the Washington Post article there is a link to the entire text of the study, which seeks to unpack and examine larger questions such as, “How can scale-up be improved? Should pre-K be targeted or universal?” (Strauss, 2017). Check the link below to read more.

To summarize, the study found, “the uniformly positive evidence of impact on kindergarten readiness, and the nascent body of ongoing inquiry about long-term impacts lead us to conclude that continued implementation of scaled-up pre-K programs is in order”(Strauss, 2017). The research acknowledges the struggle to measure long term impact of pre-kindergarten on student success later in life. It is challenging to keep track of students for long periods of time and to account for the other factors in a student’s life, which affect their learning (Strauss, 2017).


As Baltimore City grapples with its own questions of how to fund and address early learning needs of the students within our city, this report offers substantial argument that the Kirwan Commission (and other funding sources) should consider the importance of the quality pre-kindergarten experiences for the lives of our students and the health our city.


References


Bowie, L. (2016, December 05). Less than half of Maryland kindergartners ready for school. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from


Strauss, V. (2017, April 24). Analysis | What do we really know about the value of
prekindergarten? Retrieved November 12, 2017, from
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/24/what-do-we-really-know-about-the-value-of-pre-kindergarten/?utm_term=.5ac63a3ef76c

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Technology or Not…

NPR journalist, Barbara King, highlighted a college course that required very little of students…besides the abstinence of all technology and all verbal communication (King, 2017). The class was extremely popular, despite the mandated journaling, the need for handwritten communication and the lack of social media. This piece was written a month after King published a contrasting article about a professor that had built-in “technology breaks” for his students in hopes that these designated breaks would cause students to be more focused. King suggested that these classes were examples of how our everyday community and culture plays a significant role in creating norms for technology use.

So the question remains - what best practices should teachers be cultivating in their classrooms? It’s hard to decide whether technology is an asset or a hindrance. For teachers, technology has the potential of being an endless resource. For example, a Promethean board can enable teachers to create well-designed slides that captivate their students, while being environmentally friendly. I’ve witnessed preschool teachers use a Promethean to structure their entire day, having interactive slides prepared for each lesson and relying on it for transitions.

But when we place technology directly into the hands of our students, how beneficial is it? Does technology loose its effectiveness when it is not teacher-driven? Some researchers claim that passive technology use and screen time, especially for young children, is not beneficial and may even hinder the development of empathy (Aamodt & Wang, 20011). Yet in Baltimore County, each student has their own device that is used throughout the day. They use it during morning work and indoor recesses, and to take tests, write stories, play educational games and fill transition periods. In my experience, students want to use their devices regardless of the assignment or specified activity. Some students like to put on headphones and get into their own zone, whereas others sit in pairs and groups so they can interact with peers.

As helpful as technology can be for educators and as desirable as it may be for students, we may have to wait for more time to pass and research to be done before truly understanding its impact.


Aamodt, S. & Wang, S. (2011). Welcome to your child’s brain: How the mind grows from conception to college. New York: Bloomsbury.

King, B. J. (2017). Monks For A Month: College Kids Give Up Talking - And Technology. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/11/09/562933725/monks-for-a-month-college-kids-give-up-talking-and-technology

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Baltimore's School to Prison Pipeline

In my spare time lately, I have been reading The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s 2009 best-seller about mass incarceration in America and its creation of a new “underclass” comprised overwhelmingly of people of color. A professor recommended the book to me last semester, saying it was important for understanding the lives of many young people in Baltimore. Looking into the data on mass incarceration in Baltimore, the numbers are staggering. Baltimore holds only 10% of Maryland’s population, but 35% of the prison population. 96% of these prisoners are male, and 71% are black.

Even more disturbing is research showing that Baltimore’s school system compound these disparities from a very young age. In the 2016-2017 school year, Baltimore City suspended 6,778 students, including 413 Pre-K-1st graders and 1,942 2nd-5th graders. For every 100 African American students, there were 9.49 suspension incidents, while there were only 3 such incidents for all other races combined. Additionally, school police are stationed on many campuses, allowing students to be arrested for minor infractions during the school day. This has led to a number of disturbing violent incidents, and nearly half of surveyed students claim that the school police use excessive force. A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice adds that “the city routinely blurs the distinction between the BPD and school police in a way that undermines accountability and sets the stage for abuses.”

Fortunately, it does seem that Baltimore City is attempting to tackle these injustices. A new discipline plan intended to reduce suspensions--including restrictions on the suspensions of children from Pre-K through 2nd grade--was introduced in February, and numbers are already beginning to decline. Schools are learning to use restorative practice and teach socioemotional skills instead of simply punishing students. The district has also made an effort to address the actions of school police officers, leading to a 91% drop in student arrests since 2008. There is still much work to be done, but Dr. Santileses and her team seem to be taking the task seriously.

Campus Safety Staff. (2017, July 19). Baltimore City Schools’ Police Officer Arrest Rate Drops 9 Percent. Retrieved from https://www.campussafetymagazine.com/safety/baltimore-city-schools-police-officer-arrest-rate-drops-91-percent/


Policing School Police. (2016, August 14).   Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-school-police-20160814-story.html

JKA: Student Discipline Annual Report School Year 2017-2018 (2017). Retrieved from http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcpss/Board.nsf/files/ASEQCX65B1C1/$file/JKA-%20Student%20Discipline%20Annual%20Report-%20School%20Year%202017-2018%20v2.pdf

Richman, T. (2017, September 27). Survey of Baltimore students indicates better relations with school police, excessive force still a problem. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/bs-md-ci-student-police-survey-20170927-story.html

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Baltimore City is (Finally) Reducing Suspensions

There is ample research available in the education reform field that proves out of school suspensions are actually a very ineffective method of discipline; they lead to kids falling behind in school, increase their likelihood of further absence, and increase their likelihood to drop out of school entirely.

Opening this editorial, I expected to see the usual urban school statistic -- a reduction that is a big deal in an inner-city, but would seem like small potatoes to outsiders. Instead, I was surprised to read that Baltimore City reduced suspensions by 20% in the 2016-17 school year. However, this is still a great number of students being suspended, and being a largely minority student body, the national statistics of African American girls being 2-3x more likely to be suspended from school hold true in Baltimore.

The reduction in suspensions was to be expected, if you have been paying attention to new practices being tested in Baltimore; Baltimore City has recently made national headlines for their adoption of behavior management techniques such as mindfulness in meditation in the classroom and before and after school ; many schools have also adopted restorative justice practices through a citywide pilot with teacher training programs that specialize in restorative justice models.

It is clear Baltimore is on the right path with suspensions, and venturing outside of the box for the needs of their students. Let's hope they stay on this path!


https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/how-mindfulness-practices-are-changing-an-inner-city-school/2016/11/13/7b4a274a-a833-11e6-ba59-a7d93165c6d4_story.html?utm_term=.d616476d969c

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-school-suspensions-20171025-story.html