Articles in the Dropout Prevention category

Their future — and ours

First Christmas in America. Ellis Island, 1918. Library of Congress photo It’s an ingenious title, when you think of it. Also a little ambiguous.

The Future of Children — the collaboration between the Brookings Institution and Princeton University’s Wilson School of Public and International Affairs — is it about future generations of children and our commitment (or lack thereof) to them? That’s the way I’ve always read it. Or is it about the future of today’s children and the kind of lives they will lead as adults?

It’s about both, of course, because the future of children — today’s and tomorrow’s — is the most compelling issue facing our society today.

Unfortunately, we often don’t treat children’s futures with the kind of commitment and urgency they deserve. As Laura Moore, of the Brookings-Princeton collaboration, notes in her blog last week on the challenges facing immigrant children, “without purchasing, voting, or lobbying power, the well-being of children can easily get lost in the debates, which is why knowledge and advocacy on the behalf of children is so critical.”

In other words, adults – teachers, school board members, school administrators, and others – must do the speaking for them. That’s one reason why thousands of them are going to NSBA’s 71st Annual Conference in San Francisco this week: to give voice to the voiceless. 

Ironically, those most in need of a voice are also the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population: immigrant children. Thus, by definition, their success and the nation’s are inextricably combined. Appropriately, the latest Future of Children volume is devoted to them. 

 ”Most of the recommendations in these volumes, and other Future of Children volumes, suggest prioritizing and investing in children now — regardless of their circumstances and often ahead of other interests,” Moore writes. “This is simply because investments in child well-being are the smartest ones we can make.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|April 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|

The week in blogs

This week, education researcher Richard Rothstein takes Bill Gates to task for claiming in a recent Washington Post column on teacher development that student achievement has remained “virtually flat” in recent decades while per-student costs have “more than doubled.”

 Looking at NAEP tests since 1980 and 1990, Rothstein concludes that “American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally.” As far as a doubling of K12 funding is concerned, yes that’s true, he adds, but the statistic begs to be qualified.

“The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities,” Rothstein writes. “Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4 percent of all K12 spending. It now consumes 21 percent.”

What can high schools do to help community colleges and their astronomical drop-out rates? Blogger Dana Goldstein offers a thoughtful analysis.

 ”Why are people dropping out of community colleges en masse?” Goldstein asks. “In part, it’s the frustration of being academically under-prepared and thus being forced to pay tuition for credit-less remediation classes. But national surveys of community college drop-outs find that the most cited reasons for leaving school are work and family responsibilities.”

(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for leading us to Goldstein’s commentary.)

Recent stories in the Washington Post have questioned zero tolerance policies in the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. Read a sobering post by the Post’s Valerie Strauss on common myths about zero tolerance’s effectiveness.

 Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Discipline, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

Many, many years ago, my brother fought in The Battle of Nashville.

Maybe I should qualify that: He helped re-enact the Civil War Battle of Nashville. And since we were from St. Louis, a nominally Yankee town, he was part of a ridiculously undermanned squad of union re-enactors that somehow managed to overcome a massive army of Confederates. (We’re talking Tennessee, remember?) But even re-enactors must be minimally accurate, so yes, the Yankees won.

Just who will win today’s Battle of Nashville — a battle for public opinion similar to those that have erupted in Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin — is hard to say. But as many as 10,000 teachers are gathering to demonstrate at the capitol in Nashville as I write, preparing to march against a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights.


Lawrence Hardy|March 5th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|

The week in blogs

Ask an 8-year-old this Sunday what he wants to be when he grows up and you might hear “a star running back for the Green Bay Packers” (or the Pittsburgh Steelers). Or maybe, if he or she is more focused on the halftime show: “A rock star like the Black Eyed Peas!”

How would you respond? Probably something on the order of, “Aww, isn’t that cute.”

But get the same response from, say, a 13-year-old – and I did once, when I visited an alternative school in Brockton, Mass., and talked to a 5-foot, 98-poundish student who wanted to be a pro basketball player — and your reaction would be more like:  ”Isn’t that sad and deluded.”

Truth is, schools need to do a better job of preparing students for careers as well as higher education. And this week the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report outlining just how it thinks it should be done.

One big supporter is Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“I start with the basic premise that it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to prepare all students for both college and a career,” Duncan said in a speech this week.  ”This must be ‘both/and,’ not ‘either/or.’ High school graduates themselves – not the educational system – should be choosing the postsecondary and career paths they want to pursue.”

A great idea, but what’s the track record for schools in preparing students for careers? A mixed one, notes Education Week‘s Catherine Gewertz in the Curriculum Matters blog.

What’s another way to improve career education – and, indeed, all education? “Stop driving out good teachers,” says University of Georgia Professor Peter Smagorinsky, quoted on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Get Schooled blog.  In this witty and quite opinionated piece, Smagorinsky muses about how today’s test-crazy education leaders would have reacted to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Speech.  Hint: Think multiple choice.

“I suspect that neither (here he’s referring to Jesus and Socrates) would last long as the test-administering functionary required by Duncan.”

I think “Ouch” is the proper (and clichéd) response.

Finally, thank Alexander Russo’s “This Week in Education” for alerting us to the return of Patrick Riccard’s satirical “Edu-Pundit” on YouTube. Very clever. Very funny … but scarily close to reality? See for yourself.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|February 4th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Curriculum, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|

The week in blogs

My 9-year-old showed me her book report last night; I read it and made this comment:   

“You need to say ‘on which’ here, not simply ‘which.’ And if you’re turning this in tomorrow, your pencil needs to be sharper.”

“It’s a first draft,” my wife said. And, no, it’s not due tomorrow. And one more thing: “Why are you being so tough on her?”

Why? Is it because I’ve just read about Amy Chua, the now-famous “Tiger Mother,” and fear her kids are getting ahead? (Metaphorically speaking – I believe they’re teenagers now.)

Forgive me for belaboring Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal article and the myriad responses it’s received. But there are two reasons why I find this discussion fascinating. One, of course, has to do with comparing the different styles of so-called “American” and “Chinese” parents.  My book report critique notwithstanding – I tend toward the lenient side.


Lawrence Hardy|January 21st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Student Achievement|

What motivates troubled kids to shape up?

800px-Jail_Cell_NMCPFlipping through the channels last night, desperate to find something besides Desperate Housewives in-a-town-near-you, I landed on A&E, completely enthralled by a new documentary series called, Beyond Scared Straight.

In my former life as a newspaper reporter, I remember spending the better part of a day, visiting a correctional facility with a group of students, who were given a grim but cursory look at prison life. I remember the experience being long, void of any real contact with inmates, and hence not very impactful for the students, none of which I recall where troublesome.

I guess, you could say it was a lighter version of Scared Straight, the widely acclaimed one-day intervention juvenile deliquents had in prison. Well, it seems Scared Straight is a lighter version of Beyond Scared Straight, a far more intense and frankly, downright scary wakeup call to teens heading in the wrong direction.

The shows promo contends that today’s youth require a different approach, one that marries communication, information and confrontation, to get through to them. In watching the last 20 minutes of the program, I’m certainly a believer in this strategy. And in followups with a handful of girls they profiled in the season’s openers, all but one seemed changed for good.

As security issues and student violence continue to plague schools, it’s a get-tough approach that could save some of today’s toughest youth.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 19th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, School Climate, School Security|Tags: , |

Culture, stereotypes, and the drive to succeed

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Stereotypes are dangerous things, but they can sometimes be useful. They’re blunt instruments that can just as easily reveal truth as prejudice, but more likely point to some uncomfortable  mixture of the two. Which is why we try to leave them alone.

Today, however, I’m not taking my own advice. And that’s because the authors of the two essays I want to tell you about have tossed out some broad stereotypes of their own.    

If you’re tired of reading about the self-described Chinese American “Tiger Mother,” I understand. But if, somehow, you missed her recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, you must know that Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua created an Internet sensation with her account of her strict (or is that draconian?) child-rearing practices:

Lawrence Hardy|January 18th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|

Dichotomy’s present, prolific in story of public education

otb-camdenCamden, N.J., is no longer the most violent city in America. That distinction now belongs to St. Louis, Mo., my hometown.

At least, that’s the assessment by CQ Press, which each year examines the rate of violent crime in America’s cities and metropolitan areas. For the record, according to 2009 statistics, St. Louis had 2,070 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, with Camden, last year’s “winner,” not far behind.

CQ’s whole enterprise is misleading, however. In Camden, as in St. Louis, how violent it is depends on where exactly in the city you are. Visit Camden’s gleaming, touristy waterfront, its lovely aquarium and fine hotels, and you might not know what problems lurk in its neighborhoods. Spend a weekend in downtown St. Louis – going to the zoo, the symphony, or a Cardinals game – and you’d probably have no idea you’re in the “most violent” city in America.

I mention Camden’s crime rate, because Senior Editor Del Stover and I wrote about two schools in some of the poorer parts of that city for this month’s ASBJ. Del went to LEAP University Charter School.  I visited the more “traditional” Woodrow Wilson High School.

Naomi Dillon|November 24th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Library of Congres photo

Library of Congress photo

When I was growing up in the Midwest, our church had a wonderful pastor who was perfect in every way except … Well, let me explain: He wasn’t exactly a bad preacher; no, not at all. He could actually turn a pretty good phrase. It’s just that –  he went on, and on, and on.

And on.

During prayers, I can still see my mother in the pew beside me, seemingly mouthing words of hope that the litany of blessings would somehow come to an end. (“No, not the farmers in the field. Please, not the farmers in the field.”)

“And bless,” our pastor boomed (really, he was just getting started), “the farmers in the field!”

What did I do during these times, and the equaling interminable sermons? What else? I daydreamed. And one of my favorite daydreams – at least, if we were sitting in the balcony – was figuring out how, if I got a really good jump, I could leap to the first brass chandelier and ride it, Curious-George-style, to the next and the next and the next, over the awestruck congregation.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it turns out I’m in pretty good company as far as daydreaming is concerned. According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham (a guest blogger on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet”) we all daydream at least 30 percent of the time, whether we’re shopping, reading, watching children, or doing practically anything else.

Lawrence Hardy|November 19th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement, Teachers|

The week in blogs

What? You’re tired of the election already? So how about that economy!

Sorry, bad joke. But I just had to point out a great blog — “Off the Charts,” from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — that I stumbled on last night while writing a story on (what else?) the election. Read the post by Senior Fellow Michael Mazerov on why cutting or eliminating state corporate taxes is a bad idea. Then see State Fiscal Project Director Nicholas Johnson on why this will be the states’ worst budget year ever.

I said it was a “great” blog; I didn’t say it was happy. Because, as Johnson explains, next year could be even more dismal for states – and for the school districts that depend on them for much of their funding.  Earlier posts offer helpful comparisons of states and their projected shortfalls.

Elsewhere, Diane Ravitch wrote a devastating review of the movie Waiting for Superman in the New York Review of Books called “The Myth of Charter Schools.” For those public school advocates who thought the film was a trifle, well, biased toward charters – no high- or even decent-performing regular public schools were featured – you might take heart from the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss, who said in her blog that the critique from the influential Ravitch might even prevent the film from winning an Oscar.

Finally, read Maureen Downey, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Get Schooled” blog, about how a determined principal turned around a low-performing Alabama elementary school and made it one of the highest performing in the state. She did it with hard work, perseverance, and an unwavering belief that disadvantaged students can excel.

My favorite part is when the principal tells her staff: “Whatever your expectations are for these kids, triple them today. They’re not high enough.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|November 5th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Curriculum, Diversity, Dropout Prevention, Governance, Homeless People, Policy Formation, School Reform, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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