School Buildings Matter

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I spent nearly two months, off and on, researching the state of our schools for an article that The 74 published last week. When I dove into stories in local newspapers, I was shocked at what I found.

There were stories about students and teachers suffering in overheated classroom, mold on the walls, administrators begging local taxpayers to pass local bonds, boilers on their last legs. Everyone that I spoke to on the phone used words like “crisis” and “desperate” and “unthinkable.”

Local newspapers were full of these stories. It’s probably one of the biggest concerns of local school districts, along with costs of special education and healthcare costs for teachers. But there has been very little written in the national press on this topic. I think that Warren is the only candidate who addresses this problem with a proposal for additional federal spending on schools.

It’s a tragedy that isn’t getting nearly enough attention by the national press or by politicians. Students are missing school and having their instruction interrupted, because the buildings are already falling down. In another five years, the situation will be worse. And people who know about schools know this.

Why don’t people care? Well, maybe because the teachers unions haven’t taken a strong enough stand on it. They want money to go to the teachers first, which isn’t totally crazy. Maybe it’s because the public thinks that this is an urban-only problem and won’t affect them, which is wrong. A. Suburban schools are falling down, too. And B. Ugh.

But the fact that schools are all falling down at the same time does offer some opportunities. Opportunities to rebuild and create new learning centers that reflect modern educational needs.

One guy told me that schools should look like modern workplaces. If students are going to work in a modern workplace some day, they should be ready for it. What does that mean?

When Steve got his first job at a big named Wall Street firm, I remember stepping out of the elevation with the kids in the stroller to meet him for lunch one day. As someone who had spent most of my life in university classrooms, I was shocked.

His office building which took up nearly one whole block of Manhattan was a big open space. A football field with long desks and computers. Something like this.

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Modern schools should look like this, at least at the high school level.

Each kid would have their own desk, their permanent space. They then would go into small conference rooms in the interior of the building where they work with teachers and other students in small groups to work collaboratively on projects or to get mini-lectures on Descartes or Napoleon or The Civil War. Rooms would be filled with natural light from full length windows.

The school day wouldn’t be broken up into 8 modules made up of 50-minute classes. Instead, students would have various learning goals that they would have to master at their own pace. Some students could plug through Algebra 2 in six months; others might need two years.

There is a strong movement to ditch the old system of year-long classes and instead work towards mastery of particular topics. Oh, look I wrote about this movement a couple of years ago for Edutopia.

I talked about this concept with my brother-in-law, who is the director a major architecture company. He said that their firm does a lot with higher education, because colleges have all the money, but not with K-12 schools. He said he would hollow out existing buildings and then rebuild the floor plans to look like this.

If rebuilding schools happened simultaneously, using common plans, with well-vetted construction companies, with federal dollars, it could happen. It might even bring costs down, if buildings were constructed using green technology and modern methods of insulation.

Neglected school buildings, and their coming demise, might be an opportunity to rebuild better and more efficiently.

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Trump, Biden, and Warren

I’m increasingly stressed out about the presidential election next year.

Polls show that Trump has an edge in the battleground states — MI, PA, AZ, FL, WI, and NC — when matched up against Sanders and Warren. Against, Biden, Trump loses.

I don’t think anybody is excited about Biden, but those numbers are very concerning.

The rest of the Democratic candidates are looking at those numbers and regretting setting themselves up to be the next AOC. Watch them all move a step to the right during this week’s debates. The Twitter Democrats may have sunk the next election.

I do like Warren. I’ve been talking about here on this blog, since 2004. But she makes a lot of people nervous. Her healthcare plan got very mixed reviews this weekend.

Skimping on School Buildings is Creating a Crisis

The aging school buildings of Arizona’s Glendale Elementary School District were no match for the late summer monsoons of 2016. With foundations made brittle after years of prolonged water damage, flooding seeped in. A structural engineer feared that walls would give way.

School leaders scrambled to find new spaces for nearly 1,500 students until outside contractors could remediate waterlogged walls and floors and reinforce foundations in two buildings. Some students were shuttled to another school in the district; others were sent to a neighboring town.

Superintendent Cindy Segotta-Jones didn’t want to make the students relocate. But with aging buildings desperately needing repair after years of underfunding, she had no choice. “You can’t tell me that it doesn’t impact their learning when they’re in a different environment,” she said. “These disruptions are not fair to children.”

America’s schools, many built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, are due for a major overhaul after decades of inadequate funding made worse by the 2008 recession. These old buildings are only getting older — in Glendale, where some schools date to the 1940s, drainage problems make them vulnerable during the rainy season and aging air conditioners frequently conk out as temperatures soar to 115 degrees.

More here

OPINION: Out of necessity, I taught my son to choose a college for its value, not its prestige or vibe — My latest in The Hechinger Report

Without photoshopping his face onto the body of a water polo athlete, like some of the parents caught up in the recent U.S. college cheating scandal, I could have prepped my older son, Jonah, for college like a prize pumpkin at the county fair.

Starting when he was in middle school, I could have taken a stronger role in overseeing his schoolwork by editing his papers, re-teaching certain subjects and hiring tutors in others. I could have checked his online gradebooks daily. I could have supervised homework and nudged him to schmooze with teachers. In high school, we could have hired one-on-one tutors to prepare him for standardized tests. I could have pushed him to take on leadership positions in clubs he didn’t care about. I could have written his essay and filled out the Common Application for him.

Lots of parents do these tasks; most aren’t even considered cheating. It’s just how things are done these days among many upper- and middle-class families.

With our backgrounds in higher education, my husband and I have more relevant skills than many other families in our community. We likely could have micromanaged our kid into Harvard. But we didn’t. Between our son’s stubborn resistance to our help, and our own ethics and laziness, we did very little to turn our kid into a tidy package for colleges. Instead, I taught my son how to be a good education consumer.

More here.

Geographic Inequality

Steve’s folks called with good news over the weekend. His mom’s brother and wife are going to retire just 20 minutes away from them in North Carolina. Steve’s folks retired to the area from Cleveland about ten years ago, and we’ve always been worried about their distance from extended family. Now, they have people to spend holidays with, when they can’t make the trip up to us.

They sent me a link on Zillow to their new house, so I spent a little time checking out the other homes in the area. Those homes — perfectly nice places with a couple of bathrooms and three bedrooms — are a quarter of the price of homes in my neck of the woods. This is why people are leaving the metropolitan regions, like Chicago and New York.

Not really a big deal, I suppose. If North Carolina can offer people a better quality of life than the older cities, then good for them. Families, like mine, that need alternative schooling options for disabled children and have work tied to the big cities can never go there, but there are many families who are more flexible. So, good for them, right?

However, if some areas of the country are homes of the rich and others are homes of the middle class, working class, and retirees, then it does open up some political problems.

Imagine if the representatives from some states become advocates not for the interests of the particular local industries, ie Iowa farmers, West Virginia coal miners, but for entire economic classes, ie New York Rich People and North Carolina Retirees. Then political debates would be less about opposing commercial interests and directly about class. I suppose it is that way now, but those economic tensions could be more obvious and competitive than they are already.

Any discussion about changing the electoral college or representation in Senate would also become strongly charged with these economic tension.

Sidenote — If we limit the voice of small population states in the electoral college and the Senate, it might make affairs more democratic, but it would also mean a massive disinvestment in the entire center of the country. There would be no federal projects for highway construction in Nebraska, say or farm subsidies in Iowa. There might be really cheap homes out there, but there would be no way to drive to those houses.

The growing affluence of big cities is going to have long term political implications.

Revisiting the Gifted & Talented Debate

Mayor DeBlasio recently proposed getting rid of the special gifted and talented schools in New York City. There’s scrutiny on the IQ test given to 4-year olds. Those schools basically caused us to leave New York City, so I have written a lot about them in the past.

In a nutshell, I had my kid tested when he was FOUR YEARS OLD (ugh!) to see if he was gifted and talented, like all of my friends. Because nobody wanted to send their kid to the underfunded local school. He did well enough to get into the lower level gifted schools, but it would have involved lots of subway riding with Ian who was still a toddler who needed naps. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so we left.

In a rant on Twitter this morning, I listed my reasons for hating G & T programs:

  • There is no scientific way of sorting out a bunch of hyper 4 and 5 year olds into two camps of gifted and not gifted. None. Just looking at my son’s cohort at school, his kindergarten teacher sorted extremely badly. The kid who is on track to be an aerospace engineer at NASA? Dissed.
  • The process of sorting kids into two piles — gifted v. forgettable — is awful. Full stop.
  • Why should one group of kids get more challenging, fun instruction with higher paid teachers than another group? Equal education for all.
  • The literature on G & T verges on science fiction. Attributing supernatural powers of empathy and reason to mysterious kids. It’s laughable.
  • There’s a place for specialized programs in high school, where sorting is based on mature test taking ability and years of evidence of solid work. But earlier than that, it’s silly, unfair, and pointless.

Previous posts:

Intolerant of Intolerance

A couple of days ago, I was on twitter all day promoting an article. It’s an important (unpaid) part of the job. And as I was doing that, I was reading all the tweets of the day. Of course, everyone was responding to the latest statement by our president. He knows how to whip them up good.

Anyway, bored with talking about my article, I threw out a one sentence tweet that was the equivalent of “I know you guys are all saying this, but, in my conversations with others, they are saying that. Shrug.” It was mild and boring, and I expected nobody to notice it.

Almost instantly, tons and tons of people starting yelling at me. Like tweet-screaming at me. If I wanted lots of traffic, I could get it by wading into the muck. But I don’t want it. It’s terrible for my career, so I instantly deleted the tweet. Even though everything that I said was absolutely correct. Who needs the hassle? I don’t have tenure. I can’t say whatever I like. Not even the truth.

Shutting down conversation really rubs me the wrong way, because I was trained to be a professor, a political science professor. I love swimming in the grey area, the middle zone, the contradictions. I love the challenging questions. If everybody says X, I have to say “let’s consider Y for a minute.” That’s how I was trained. There is no way that I would start a career in political science today.

A few months back, I got into something with an old blogging buddy who yelled at me for looking for a middle road on the topic du jour. He yelled at me and unfollowed me. Said that it was inappropriate to talk the way I did, because “it was a war!!!”

Everybody feels like they are in the middle of a war. People aren’t happy. Day-to-day people who never touch social media or pundit themselves on the op-ed pages of the big newspapers are whispering stuff to me over glasses of wine in the local pub. I can’t tell their stories. I would get demolished.

But the hate on the Internet is particularly intense. As I said, I got some pretty horrific comments on my HuffPost article about the flight attendant and Ian’s autism. Commenters said that I should have aborted my kid, beaten him, or drowned him. I should say that 90 percent of the comments were positive, but those evil ones stand out in my head more. I still haven’t recovered from that.

I find myself walking away from the usual sources of information and looking for something light and funny and simply not angry. I’m reading home decorating Instagram posts. Seriously. I watched a five minute video this morning from some designer who made a family room in some rich lady’s home more inviting.

We’re heading into an election. I’ve always talked about politics in this blog. But I’m not sure if that I should. I’m not sure that I want to. I may even delete this blog post in thirty minutes. We live in bad times.