Friday, March 30, 2012

Does Poverty Matter?

The debate in public education over whether - or how much - poverty matters in the achievement of all kids continues to rage. For example, Peter Meyer's recent piece in EducationNext is criticizing the persistence of what he calls "the poverty myth." At the same time, a discussion of America's poor standing on PISA and TIMMS international test rankings led me to this article by Mel Riddile of the National Education of Secondary School Principals. Riddile has parsed the date to expose a fascinating detail. When American schools with less than 25% poverty are removed from our international test data, America ranks number one in the world in math and science. Thus, he argues that the significance of poverty is no myth and it matters a huge deal. Additionally, Corey Bower's work at Ed Policy Thoughts exposes another side to the gaps and the realities of poverty in education.

Interestingly, I agree with all these points of view, as they are all credible and contributing factors in the discussion.

Riddile is simply pointing out the role that poverty is currently playing in the achievement gap and its impact on international test scores. That seems pretty indisputable. And, of course, David Brooks has written continuously in the New York Times of brain research and the impact on children who do not form stable relationships by the age of 18 months. It can have a life-long debilitating effect. Of course, Brooks subsequently argues that because poverty is so debilitating and such a huge factor in the educational and career success of people, the institutions designed to combat those forces are all the more important. But Meyer is overstating his case by using the word "Myth." It's not a myth. Poverty does matter. Big time. It's not a myth that parenting, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood are the pinnacle of influences on a child's educational success. That's a foundational idea of reform efforts such as Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. That said, schools and teachers must not use it as an excuse. It's not why kids "can't" succeed. It's simply a key factor in why they don't.

Even Jaime Escalante couldn't reach all kids.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Benadryl Bad Parenting

There is certainly no shortage of bad parenting stories these days like this one which recounts the pathetic news of an entire family kicked of a JetBlue flight because the parents were unable to control their children. However, the more disturbing news comes from stories of parents who claim to have no trouble traveling with their children thanks to the shocking, negligent, pathetic, and potentially criminal parenting trick known as the "Benadryl Solution."

Parents are doping their kids with antihistamines to put them to sleep.

Despite my outrage, many people are neither surprised nor bothered by this. For, in a day and age when parents and pediatricians are putting children as young as three years old on medication for hyperactivity, a little benadryl at the airport could seem positively sane. But it's not. And I don't care if your pediatrician recommended it and said it would be OK. And I don't care if Grandpa talks about how they used to put a little bourbon in the baby bottle or rubbed some brandy on the baby's gums. It's not OK. As Helen, an advanced practice nurse specializing in maternal addiction in Philadelphia, sees it, “I think putting a chemical into your child’s brain in lieu of substituting appropriate comforting parenting behaviors is shameful.”
Benadryl is a drug which is manufactured and intended to treat cold and allergy symptoms. It's not intended as a sleep aid or parenting tool, and the box clearly states the product is not to be used for any purpose other than the one for which it was manufactured. It's not enough to simply argue that a little bit won't hurt the child. For one, we don't know that. Stories of such poisoning and abuse are rare but not unheard of. Secondly, the more significant issue is the substitution of dope for adult parenting skills.

My children are ages seven and ten, and my wife and I have always been amazed by people who come up to us while we are traveling - or even out to eat - and note incredulously, "We didn't even realize young children were on this plane" or "in this restaurant." It's as if people are truly shocked that children can behave in public. Barring a true medical condition of hysteria or hyperactivity - for which parents should have a prescription - children should never be doped because a parent can't handle taking them out in public.

Benadryl parenting is no parenting at all. Anyone who has made this decision has clearly revealed an inability to be an adult. And if you're already doing this, please don't have any more children.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Worth Avenue Giveaway Worth Checking Out

The other day I had the most interesting experience sitting at my local Starbucks. At a table next to me three people were engaged in a casual conversation about smart phone accidents. As this was going on, one of the men was literally repairing the glass on a smart phone with a little kit he had sitting on the table. When he was finished, the young couple he was with handed him some cash for phone and they all left. It was a little side market I never knew existed.

In the day of advancing and ever more valuable technology, it may worth investing in a little peace of mind. Worth Avenue Group has been insuring personal property since 1971, and they offer coverage for all your electronic products, from iPhones to iPads to cell phones, laptops and more. Additionally, Worth Avenue Group is currently offering a "Greatest Teacher" Technology-in-Education Give-Away. The grant program will give away $150,000 in grants and prizes to teachers who get the most votes for the "Greatest Teacher in America." This includes a $25,000 education technology grant for schools, iPads for teachers, etc.

Voting runs through March 31, 2012. This kind of deal is definitely worth checking out.

Otterbox Defender Series Skin Case for Apple iPhone 4/4S APL2-I4SUN-20

Asus 32GB Blue Transformer Pad TF300T Tablet - TF300TB1BL

Samsung 8GB Galaxy Tab 2 Wi-Fi Tablet - GT-P3113TSYXAR

 Apple iPad 2 Dock - MC940ZM/A

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

American Students Dropping in Science Ranking

While we've all heard that American schools are trailing the world in math and science on international test scores, it's worth noting that according to the National Academies on math and sciences, the United States is also dropping in overall rankings on science in society and the marketplace. Thus, the US is ranked ranked as low as 48th out of 133 countries in terms of math science instruction. This measures and impacts the number of science degrees we produce, as well as significant markers such as patents. For far too long, Americans have responded to criticism of science skills by pointing to our world-leading companies in the tech sector. However, if we continue to fail producing innovative scientists, we risk losing our "Silicon Valley" status.

On the science ranking, I won't dispute the criticism because the point is our kids simply don't want to go into science. In America the real math and science whizzes go into finance or business because they can make more money, or at least believe that they can. Case in point: I had student nominated as a Presidential Scholar which is one of the most prestigious awards for high school students. He has completed in Destination Imagination and the Science Olympiad all through high school, and he is amazingly successful. And all he wants to do is work on Wall Street and be a hedge fund billionaire.

David Brooks of the Times has been writing about this for years. It's a brain drain, as our best and brightest have for years been heading for finance as opposed to the sciences. And that's partly our fault. We give them autonomy. In Taiwan or Singapore or Korea, the kids who excel in math/science are forced into those college majors. And, of course, they revere the sciences more than we do.

I don't really disagree with anything the article says. And we're working on it in Denver with The Denver School of Science and Technology and Cherry Creek's new STEM charter for science and math. But if kids don't want to study it, they won't. And we have a lot of really bright kids in this country - but they are going to law school before anything else. And that is all about money. There are a lot of exceptionally bright sociology and history and comparative lit majors out there. And the reason the same isn't true in many other countries is that their colleges literally don't let them do that.

No easy answer - but always worth the discussion.