I devour school news — probably far more of it than is good for my mental health. Several recent stories seem especially worth noting:
- Sarah Lahm’s article in The Progressive about Galtier School in St. Paul.
- Money, Race and Success – a NYT article and interactive.
- Andre Perry’s scathing critique of the “soft skills” movement as “disguised bootstrapping.”
Galtier School: A meeting at Galtier School looked, Lahm wrote, like “a Hollywood casting agent’s dream—if that agent was trying to find actors cut from every swath of American life. Mingling on the carpeted steps of the school’s airy central meeting space were women in colorful hijab, babies sleeping on laps, men in dress shirts, young parents in jeans and Galtier t-shirts, and teachers, their blue work lanyards still circling their necks.”
St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) recently reconsidered plans to close the K-5 Galtier school, which Lahm characterizes as “a flashpoint in the struggle to keep neighborhood, public schools open in the era of ‘school choice.'” Lack of district support, coupled with two reboots in three years, led to low enrollment at Galtier.
“The numbers confronting Galtier are stark. One hundred and forty-four kids are signed up for next year, meaning the school will be less than half full. Still, the community gathered at the school, to speak up for it. It takes more than two years for a new model to take hold, teachers and parents alike said. Give us more time.”
Part of the blame lies with SPPS, Lahm says, citing the district’s ” stacking the deck against schools like Galtier by urging parents to reconsider their choice when they register online.”
Money, Race and Schools: While sometimes balky, the interactive part of this NYT article will let you zero in on data from your district. Biggest takeaway from the article, while not exactly a surprise, is that “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”
“Money, spent wisely and consistently, can improve the lives and outcomes of disadvantaged students.”
“How much money a school can spend on its students still depends, in large part, on local property taxes. And many states aren’t doing much to level the field for poor kids.”
As Sabrina Stevens eloquently asks in The Progressive, “We really waiting on test scores to decide that kids shouldn’t sit next to rats at school, or should have a nurse every day, or clean water?”
Disguised Bootstrapping: Writing in the Hechinger Report, Andre Perry critiques the push to teach poor and black kids “grit” and “a growth mindset” and other so-called soft skills as their ticket to success, “as if teaching proper eye contact solves health disparities, police violence and the unemployment crisis in inner cities.”
Rather than teaching grit or eye contact or other soft skills, Perry says:
“Stop adjusting youths to injustice. But if eye contact needs to be made, prepare students to stare power in the eyes and unapologetically demand justice.”
Along with grit, currently popular educational buzzwords include “no excuses” and “sweat the small stuff.” In EduShyster, Jennifer Berkshire published two recent interviews with teachers who point out the problems in Holding Back to Get Ahead and in the disciplinary approach another characterizes as Sit Down and Shut Up.
The problems that Perry and Berkowitz point out do not come from lack of caring on the part of individual teachers. In an interview with Berkowitz, sociologist Joanne Golann explains the systemic and long-standing nature of the problem:
“Bowles and Gintis wrote this famous study where they were looking at the history of mass public education in the US. They argue that schooling expanded in large part to quell social unrest. You had these immigrant populations coming into the cities in the mid-nineteenth century, and Bowles and Gintis basically make the argument that factory owners and the professional class wanted a docile workforce. They wanted people who would be obedient and man these factories, and so they used schools as a way to socialize children to follow rules and show deference. Looking at the school I studied, I found the same behaviors but with a very interesting twist. In a new era of accountability, instead of creating workers for the factories, schools are creating *worker-learners* to close the achievement gap. Schools are emphasizing obedience because they need to create order to raise test scores and they see that as the way to social mobility. It’s the same behaviors but for a different purpose.”