Community College May Be the New High School

In a recent NPR show, several experts discussed the future of job growth and how community colleges might prepare new generations of workers for jobs in manufacturing. It turns out, most Americans don’t have the skills necessary for these new, low skill, high tech jobs. (These new jobs have replaced low skill jobs because repetitive jobs have been replaced by technology.) Enter community colleges. President Obama hopes community colleges will bridge the gap between job supply and demand.

Since technology has replaced the repetitive parts of jobs, workers must be able to do the critical thinking part, and know how to run (very expensive) machines. To be a machine operator, employees need “math, a lot of math.” They need math they don’t learn in high school anymore. The burden on high schools from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been too much. Schools have successfully prepared students to answer multiple choice questions, but there are no jobs that require that skill.

But college, even community college, isn’t for everyone. Some of my former students are taking very expensive classes in order to get jobs, classes that could have been taught in high school. One of my former students is going to Career Colleges of America to become a surgical technician. (He did not attend a community college because the classes were full, and they require more money up front.) The career college will cost him $30,000. He’s desperate for a career, something that a high school diploma did not prepare him for.

PreK Matters

New data shows that parent income matters more than ever when it comes to educational outcomes. According to an article in the Atlantic, “one paper found that by the time an upper-income kid starts school, they’ve spent 400 more hours on ‘literacy activities’ than their less fortunate peers.” From there, the gap widens. Thus, the solution seems to be to spend more on early childhood education to try to supplement this lack of literacy activities. This is something Jeffrey Canada’s school is already doing.

 

Truancy Tickets

Students Rally to Amend Truancy Law | ATVN.

 

My former students (at a Los Angeles high school) frequently received truancy tickets. Several times, there was even a police officer in the office when students showed up several minutes late for school. The students, who did receive truancy tickets, had no way to pay them and often missed a day of school to go to court. Rather than getting a ticket, many of my students stayed home all day if they were running late. Truancy tickets are a practice I have only seen in working class schools, and this practice contributes to the “school to prison pipeline.”

School Fail

I’ve been thinking a lot about the scandal at Miramonte elementary school in Los Angeles. Clearly, the climate at the school needed to change, but removing all teachers (and staff) seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or as the president of the teachers union said, like “using a hatchet where a scalpel might be better.” From my (limited) experience, teachers who are able to get away with sexual abuse are often a symptom of a larger problem.

I taught at a school in a neighborhood similar to the one where Miramonte is—working class. There was little oversight by the students’ parents because they were working long hours, did not have college degrees and had limited English skills.  Thus, they are hesitant to question the school staff.

Possible solutions to prevent this from happening, without displacing the whole school staff:

  1. Break the school into smaller schools (1,200 students is far to large for one school)
  2. Provide more classes for the parents (on weekends and evenings for parents who are working many hours).
  3. Hire more teachers who speak Spanish, and offer Spanish classes for teachers who don’t speak Spanish

Super? Bowl

I rarely watch football. I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl today. I did, however, watch a football game a few Sundays ago. I was amazed, but mostly disturbed, at the head injuries sustained by many of the players. I began to think about how frequently high school football players experience similar trauma. Clearly, this will have a negative effect on their physical and mental health, and eventually on their educational attainment. I wonder if it is worth it.

Jonah Lehrer does not seem to think so. In a recent blog, The Fragile Teenage Brain, he explains how insidious and common head injuries from high school football actually are. He writes:

Although estimates vary, several studies suggest that up to 15 percent of football players suffer a mild traumatic brain injury during the season. (The odds are significantly worse for student athletes – The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.) In fact, the chances of getting a concussion while playing high school football are approximately three times higher than the second most dangerous sport, which is girls soccer. While such head injuries have long been ignored – until recently, players were resuscitated with smelling salts so they could re-enter the game – it’s now clear that these blows have lasting consequences.

Definitions and Diagnoses in the DSM-5

The definition of autism is changing. The new definition, in the D.S.M.-5, is more strict. When it changes, many people who were previously considered autistic will no longer be eligible for the educational services that were available with their old diagnosis. This change seems like, in part, a reaction to the massive increase of cases of autism—and the financial burden on school districts with those students:

I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at a great place in Los Angeles—The Help Group. They work with a variety of students on the autism spectrum. I am concerned that this new definition may prevent many of their students from receiving their, research based, educational benefits.

I found several good articles about how this new definition may affect students on the autism spectrum in The LA Times, New York Times and at abc news.

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Teaching Introverts

Recently I’ve read several thought-provoking book reviews of Quiet: the Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. Although I don’t necessarily agree that there is an “extroversion bias” in America, I do agree that schools give much more positive reinforcement to extroverted students, and even teachers. And I think her criticism of group work (that introverts produce better work on their own) is right on.

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I am an introvert. To be exact, I am an INTJ. Perhaps this hindered me as a teacher. According to the Myers-Briggs, extroverts, particularly ENFJs, make excellent teachers. Whether or not I was a good teacher is debatable, but one positive thing I did (that I would recommend to any teacher) was require my high school students to take the Myers-Briggs test. (The test can be found here.) Their results, which included whether the student was an introvert or extrovert, helped inform my teaching and lesson planning. For example, I knew that, for the most part, introverts would gain more from lectures and direct teaching, and extroverts enjoyed group work and making presentations.

In my teacher credentialing classes, we were constantly working in groups and encouraged to run our classrooms the same way. Several of my introverted students strongly objected to group work. Initially, I gave those students no other option, but eventually, I began to allow some students to work alone. In my experience, introverts produced better, more creative work outside of a group. Although I see the value of group work, at some point teachers and school administrators should stop overvaluing group projects and give introverted students the autonomy to choose to work alone, or in a group.