Dear Boston: You Need a Multilingual Exam School

Let’s begin at the top. A Grade 7-12 exam school for students who excel in linguistics would be a great way to meld cultures and celebrate language arts. The service gap to Latino students has persisted through a number of school transformations across the public schools in the City of Boston. Instead of searching for universal exemplars in English Language Learning, perhaps students would be better served by delving deeper into their strengths in World Languages.

The Boston Public Schools have been challenged to do a better job teaching Latino students. Law suits have led to a series of citations for poor service delivery with English Language Learners. The problem has persisted despite a number of initiatives to improve equity in education. A vision for under-served students has focused on pulling them up from the bottom in academic achievement, which by definition places a problematical label on Latino students. And it overlooks the strength they could bring to a multicultural world.

A few years ago I wrote about Charter Americas, a community-based idea for students transitioning to English language schools. A cornerstone of the plan was to reverse English Language Arts (ELA) and Foreign Language courses to reflect each student’s strongest native dialect. Essentially, English would be taught as a foreign language. Meanwhile, our ELA standards would be applied to the student’s own language with rigorous grade-level instruction in reading, writing, and speaking with depth in grammar and vocabulary development as well as genre studies. A broader humanities perspective would pull in elements of history, culture, and the arts.

This earlier program was conceived as a community center for multicultural activities that would transcend the primary goal of assimilating students into the Boston Public Schools. It would be a place for lifelong learning for non-native speakers of English to which students and their families could return to celebrate their heritage, for example, in the arts, oratory, or other cultural interests. To take the idea to the next level, however, would require bilingual rigor across a college-preparatory curriculum, essentially a multilingual exam school.

English language learners often have faced an ironic blend of excessive challenge with immersion courses while being bored by content that was necessarily superficial. Diverse learners have been frustrated with a standard program that seemed not to fit anyone. And there has been nowhere for advanced students from other cultures to achieve continuity in their studies in the US. Further, the bottom-up approach to newcomers has cost them their identities as high achievers.

Existing ELL programs would benefit from a program that identified students with the highest academic potential and channeled them into appropriate pathways for advanced studies. A multilingual exam school would stratify students initially, an undemocratic approach in the short term. However, it would inject high expectations and empowerment into a system that is struggling to realize equity in education. And it would create an incubator for an under-served population to teach educators how better to serve the larger population of English Language Learners.

May 17, 2015 at 11:20 AM Leave a comment

Renewing the American Education Delivery System – Introduction

Draft Introduction to a publication that I am developing from collective writings and musings on SchoolsRetooled.com.

The US PreK-12 Education system has devolved into a system hamstrung by regulatory compliance that has lost sight of its mission to educate all children well. Free access to public education in the least restrictive environment with equity, high quality, and lifelong sustainability has roughly translated into segregation of the children by race and income, special education that sustains eligibility for services, and market failure in urban education consistent with escalating income inequality. Complicit in this latter point is near-permanent loss of access to economic opportunity. In addition, problems in the general economy have burdened the system with unfunded pension and retiree healthcare benefits for the education work force.

The main focus of this publication is education delivery system renewal through eight essential elements of reform. Solutions that would enable a more functional education delivery system must reorganize the system around the primary mission of education. In addition, however, they must address reconstruction of lifelong income planning and affordable healthcare for educators. My special rants on the economy, healthcare, and pensions retain their relevance for our nation as a promise-keeper to its aging population as well as the land of opportunity, giving access to the American Dream to all people – young and old – with great urgency.

My world view was developed through participation in the education sector over the past 14+ years as well as my prior background in general management and all facets of the healthcare market. The combination has been especially synergistic inasmuch as I experienced the transformation of healthcare finance from a regulated, cost-plus plan to a prospective payment system organized around patient-centered case management. This structural shift unified care around the patient and enabled analysis of outcomes and effectiveness of services. I believe an analogous improvement is crucial to achievement of our mission in education.

Working in a series of strategic planning, operational, and internal consulting roles in healthcare organizations, I have gained insight into application of business management solutions to support extremely personal, often emotionally charged, high-stakes service delivery. The main objective was getting the best information and resources from the system while keeping the rest out of the way of operations. It can and should be achieved in education as well.

The process of reinventing the education delivery system does not preclude other good work by educators. There are many meaningful experiments being pursued in public and private education venues that should continue unhampered by system reform. Indeed, this incubation of innovation will be a cornerstone of education excellence into perpetuity. Likewise, a project management approach to school transformation should allow infrastructure enhancements to endure even as direct education services get top priority.

Renewal of the education delivery system necessarily relies on evolving government policies at the Federal and State levels. In addition, realignment of local school districts around mission and benchmarks is essential. Creative approaches to new schools inspired by private reform efforts must move beyond our current reliance on selective admissions for students and rampant age-based bigotry seen in charter school hiring. A discussion of inclusive solutions and a no-fault approach to education reform follows.

April 30, 2015 at 1:37 PM Leave a comment

What If the Goose Is Going to Eat Its Own Golden Egg?

Or…The Real Story Behind the Fight over the ACA

 The Afffordable Care Act (ACA) or ObamaCare, as it is often known, is a blessing or a curse depending on whether you are a Conservative or a Progressive. While counterintuitive, the short-term economic objectives of the two camps are directly at odds. And, until there are more money machines on the horizon, we can expect Republicans to cling to their myopic market view. The trouble is…healthcare that is not allowed to keep us well efficiently will ultimately kill us in the economy, too.

Democrats and Republicans draw opposite conclusions from the same data on healthcare. And the harder the Progressive Democrats try to demonstrate that the facts are on their side with the ACA…the more the Republicans persist in their push for its repeal.

The ACA is reaching uninsured Americans, providing them healthcare, and lowering the inflation rate for that healthcare…all at the same time. And adding healthcare benefits for millions of workers has co-existed with jobs growth and lower unemployment across the US, the exact opposite of the doomsday predictions that bolstered Conservative opposition to the ACA. Where’s the bad news in that?

Well, if you are a Republican and all you have to show for your three decades of alleged supply-side economics is growth in the healthcare and real estate markets, efficiencies in either sector cause damage to their world views. My health economics rant from a few years ago summarized how healthcare costs crowd out other investments in our economy, yet are paradoxically embraced by conservatives because of all the short-term benefits of stock performance, employment, and strong multipliers.

For Conservatives, it is the story of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. For the rest of us, there is a sequel…the Goose that Ate Its Own Golden Egg.

There is no good end game to allowing healthcare to crowd out the rest of the US economy. And turning healthcare into a privilege that is inaccessible to growing numbers of Americans can only be seen as a failure in the market. But there seems to be no easy way to get Republican Congressmen, who are up for election every two years, to put aside their reading glasses and see the danger that lies ahead.

We need non-health-related investment opportunities to replace the healthcare sector as stock market darlings. And we need our keepers of capitalism to open their eyes to this need rather than clamoring to hang onto market inefficiencies in healthcare that are unsustainable. In the meantime, we must turn our disbelief into cynicism and add education about the future of our economy without management of the healthcare monster to the charts on the ACA. It probably won’t penetrate the collective consciousness of the Conservative brain distrust, but it may help motivate us keep our eyes on the prize in this very important battle for a strong economy and a healthy populace.

March 24, 2015 at 10:32 AM Leave a comment

Of Apples and Oranges – Privatizers Eye Bridge International Academies

Bridge International Academies in Africa and Asia are making a big splash among philanthropists and digital educators as a result of their brilliant success. Now the venture investments have begun to pour in. The bare bones schools have grown rapidly with a good combination of local market penetration and geographic expansion due to their low-cost, scalable model. Kudos to Bridge…but please don’t try to translate a good plan into profiteering, privatized schooling elsewhere. Especially not in the US.

I love the Bridge International Academies for what they are doing for the children of Africa and Asia who were not being educated. It is fabulous that they have the technology to leapfrog traditional textbooks to use tablets for content knowledge. And their pricing allows families to educate their children for pennies a day in a place where any more than that would be cost prohibitive. The founders are doing the right thing, and they are doing it with private money.

Despite the many reasons to celebrate Bridge…the model is not ready for prime time in the US, nor is the business ready to start delivering on profits. The schools are fledgling enterprises that have added a grade, sometimes two, each year since inception. They go through 7th grade now, and they have been adding schools at a break-neck pace on two continents. Challenges lie ahead as they fully assimilate their service mix at each location and achieve managerial effectiveness at the top. Growing beyond the middle school level may be stymied as teenagers are needed by their families for work or childcare. From a corporate perspective, quality assurance and entrepreneurship make odd partners as the business achieves a critical mass of customers.

Bridge International Academies offer a modest modular product, one size fitting all, and its services for diverse learners will need to evolve. Bridge Academies have great new tablet computers, but many of their tools date back to the abacus. For instance, younger children use slates and learn base 10 math using bottle caps and egg cartons trimmed to 10 wells, but that should not remain the state of the art. The worst news for Bridge would be profit-taking instead of continuing development of educational standards, services, and access.

Ten framesGeoboardsMapsScience kits

Back in the US, conservative politicians and policy wonks are citing Bridge to bolster privatization strategies, but they are not equivalent concepts. Education reformers find the option of throwing out our entire system and starting over to be alluring, but we are not ready to go back to primitive games with a ball and stick. We would be devolving backwards to little more than the one-room schoolhouse. The Bridge plan would not clear the markets in the US. They are winning in Africa and Asia where there is no public education to compete with. They are not comparable to US schools, and the cause of educational equity would not be advanced by stripping even the lowest performing rural or urban schools down to the Bridge basics.

Bridge International Academies blend the old and the new in a unique success story. It is a great work in progress…and a cause for reflection to benefit its own development. In the meantime, save the plan to import it to the US for the day when the children in Africa and Asia are given the educational opportunity of the best schools in the US suburbs. But by then I hope we are doing the same in our formerly troubled schools here.

March 20, 2015 at 12:07 PM Leave a comment

When Campaign Finance Becomes Treason

We may have crossed a line without knowing it. Politicians may be selling influence on the international markets without a trace of evidence through political action committees (PACs). And the appearance of conducting foreign affairs out of Legislative offices suggests a breakdown of the separation of powers owing to the Executive branch. This would seem like a case for the Supreme Court…if only they had not caused the problem in the first place.

Whoever is the keeper of the US Constitution is doing a shoddy job. Corporations and wealthy power brokers already have exerted undue influence over our democratic process with the blessings of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Once blurred, the lines of campaign finance may have been crossed again in the last Presidential election when Mitt Romney made three high-profile stops overseas for “fund raisers” in which “only the American participants” were allowed to write the checks. One of the stops was Israel, where Mr. Romney assured all in attendance that he would support the military decisions of the Israelis were he to be elected President of the United States. Fortunately, that promise was not put to the test.

Now Israel’s Prime Minister has been invited by the Speaker of the House to address Congress on his concerns over the State Department’s negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons. And a group of US Senators has sent a letter to Iran warning that the next US President could overturn treaties with great efficiency.

It is time to start looking for the money trail. If this is treason…it must end now.

March 10, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

A Very Special Need – for Students Desperately Wanting to Be Different…from Themselves

High school special educators know a lot of students who ultimately identify in the LGBT community…students who are trying to shelter-in-place in a small group setting after the very traumatic experience of trying not to be themselves for a very long time. They often are medicated for ADHD and offered therapy for counter-intuitive behaviors in which they indulge in hopes of being accepted among students who identify as straight. PTSD is not just for warriors.

We don’t talk about this, but I wish someone would study it (maybe they have?)…so we can be informed and address it more appropriately. But I truly believe that there are a significant number of students among the Special Needs population who are misdiagnosed. They are anxious, appear hyperactive, have difficulty focusing in school, act on impulses that get them in trouble, and accept punishment in a manner that suggests self-loathing. They also are very bright and can think fast, produce fabulous school work, and excel in most endeavors in a very safe place. Let’s call their disability Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for kids whom life had taught to wish they were someone else.

I want to say it is okay…you are going to be alright. And no, we cannot find the person who did this to you and made you different, but you are beautiful. But that often is not what the student who is engaged in an internal battle over his or her identity seems ready to hear, especially from an adult who could not possibly understand what a teen is going through. And the rest of the world is making some progress, but it is not fast enough. In the meantime, unnecessary pain and suffering continues as students try to recede among the wallflowers or jump out of their own skin in search of sameness with everyone else.

What can we do to create an authentically safe place in school? And what can we do to advance the cause of acceptance in the work place, on a park bench, or in the retail dressing room or public restroom? Sadly, our students expect the worst. And for some that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it might help to stop adding the Special Ed label and misguided interventions to an anxiety disorder that we might just be perpetuating. I am happy to offer a safe place. Just wish it were not a stop-gap measure for an all-too-imperfect world.

March 8, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

Finessing the Common Core

Here’s the deal. The Common Core was heralded as a new higher standard for college readiness in PreK-12 education that ¾ of the states adopted at one time or another. Now there is some buyer’s remorse because states want flexibility in implementation. Therein lays the mistake. The wholesale adoption of the Common Core by states was misplaced. What we needed in the end was a nationwide minimum standard (hint: the Common Core) for Interstate portability and absolute flexibility within the states to direct how they achieved the minimum as well as how they wished to raise the bar locally.

In politics, like marketing, there’s more than one way to achieve the desired result. Take for example, the pharmaceutical industry, which takes a two-pronged approach to selling a new drug…sell it to the prescribing physicians and/or sell it directly to the consumers to get them to ask their doctors for it. Likewise, the Nation’s political agenda can be legislated directly or bubble up through grassroots operations within a critical mass of states. Gay marriage offers a brilliant example of the bumpy road to victory and the legal altar. Anyway, back to the Common Core.

The Obama Administration believed in a national standard for education, but they hesitated to define it as such. Instead, they let the early adopters of the notion among state education chiefs develop Common Core State Standards and sell them to their colleagues across the nation. Then, they offered NCLB waivers as an incentive for states to adopt the Common Core themselves. But, rather than sell the idea to the Legislature when they had more favorable odds, the Administration made a strategic mistake of solidifying the agenda via the back door to the states. Instead of seeing the ¾ adoption rate among the states as a mandate for a national standard, they were satisfied with uniformity within the states…a straight-jacket that would eventually irk states’ rights advocates and more independent thinkers among the local education leaders.

The opportunity that remains would be to stop waxing eloquently about the new high level of achievement offered by the Common Core and begin to sell it as a good minimum standard for the nation…the starting point from which states would have great liberty in setting their own agendas equal to or greater than the national mandate. Because that is what the Common Core is. We forget that any standard to be achieved by “all of the children” is the new floor for achievement. Yes, our glorious Common Core, if successful, is actually intended to be the lowest common denominator.

For now, we are mired in the false starts of treating standards as curriculum mandates, which they clearly are not, and thinking that states who wish to rewrite or modify the Common Core in their own words are wrong. It is time to let go of the rigid thinking and find the common ground founded in the Common Core.

February 27, 2015 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

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