Thursday, December 3, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Painful Necessity of Replicating Research

The Painful Necessity of Replicating Research

landmark study published this summer in the journal Science estimated the "reproducibility" of psychological research. It rightly received massive media attention, much of it centered on questions of whether research in psychology should be trusted. But the research in that field is not alone in being questioned.
Academic research, especially in the social sciences, is undergoing a profound change today that is born of a moment of crisis about the trustworthiness of research findings. There has been increased scrutiny over when we "know" what we think we know. Such scrutiny includes questions about whether a single study can or should serve as a definitive answer to a question, as well as on how statistics should be used and interpreted. As a colleague once asked us, "Would you set national policy based on the results of a single study?" We would not, nor should anyone else.
Education isn't ignoring these issues, but such questions do not yet dominate our education research discussions. Our 2014 paper in Educational Researcher, ”Facts Are More Important Than Novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences,” spurred significant discussion, but more than discussion is needed.
Education can make a singular contribution to the evolution of how social-science research is conducted and interpreted. This is because the field has vast experience in an area highly related to replication: program evaluation. For example, despite generally being conducted with the best of intentions, some replication attempts are being met by a considerable and growinganti-replication backlash, accusations of bullying, and even concerns about possiblegender or race bias in replication. These are exactly the issues that often come up in discussions of education program evaluation. So we can pull lessons from evaluation to make sense of the growing paradox surrounding replication: How can something almost universally acknowledged to be valuable be so often reviled and controversial?
As researchers who have been involved in both replication research and program evaluation, we believe that if replication is viewed as a special case of evaluation, members of the education community can (and should) lead the charge on using replication to improve scientific research. What follows are some lessons we've pulled from years of evaluating education programs, or, more to the point, lessons about the psychology of program evaluation. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather a springboard for more discussion about replication within the education sciences.
• No One Likes to Be Evaluated.
Everyone tends to be a fan of evaluation ... until their work is the focus of those verification efforts. Replication is no different. When one of us was involved with an evaluation of a federal agency, most of the staff members were helpful and congenial; ironically, the unit within the agency tasked with promoting rigorous program evaluation was the most resistant to being evaluated. It's just not human nature to welcome an external evaluation with open arms, and replication is no different.
• A Weak Defense Is Often Worse Than No Defense.
Because of the aversion to evaluation, a common response by someone whose work is being evaluated is, "But we've already been evaluated!" These previous evaluations, upon closer inspection, often tend to be self-evaluations, evaluations conducted with or by close colleagues, or those based on satisfaction surveys (that is, a low level of evidence). This defensiveness weakens one's arguments from the start and should be avoided. As replications slowly become more common in the social sciences, we have observed similar knee-jerk responses (such as complaints that "my study has already been replicated," when, on closer examination, that proves not to be the case). The best compliment for anyone's research can be found in multiple, independent replications of the original study. That may not be fun for the researcher, but that's science.
"There has been increased scrutiny over when we 'know' what we think we know."
• Don't Be a Jerk.
The motivation behind the vast majority of replications we've seen is to conduct sound scientific inquiry. However, any expectation on the part of replicators that the replicatee will be thrilled to have his or her work evaluated is probably naïve, especially if that researcher is approached in a manner that could be interpreted as hostile. An evaluator whose goal is to prove someone wrong is not one who will be well received, but an evaluator seeking to understand what is (or isn't) happening, in an open and fair manner, will be much more welcome. Yet, in other fields, there have been instances of poor judgment, in which replicators have discussed their largely negative results on blogs in unfortunate tones. To paraphrase The Dude from the movie "The Big Lebowski," they're not wrong, they're just jerks. Honest, rigorous evaluation is an essential component of academic research. Being a jerk, gloating, and bragging do not need to be part of the research process, and can work against the effectiveness of a replication attempt.
• Replication Isn't Easy.
Just as there are best practices when conducting a program evaluation, standards for conducting replications should be established. Replication procedures, however, are still in their relative infancy. Many scholars, including the economist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, have recently proposed a new etiquette for replications, suggesting that replicators must make a "good-faith effort to consult with the original author" and then report this correspondence along with the final manuscript, so that reviewers can integrate it into their process of assessing the replication. Original authors who are not responsive or helpful cannot tank the replication, and replicators who don't accurately replicate the original methods are identified before publication.
These suggestions, in the main, make sense to us. But we aren't convinced that a formal partnership is necessary. We are both in the process of conducting replications of major studies within our fields of interest. In both cases, we approached the original authors to let them know we loved their studies and wanted to replicate them—not out of any sense that they are wrong or fraudulent, but because their results, if replicated successfully, are potentially very important. Both sets of authors responded enthusiastically. If one treats an evaluation as an aggressive exercise, things will not go well. Replication is no different.
• Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover.
Others have suggested that the relative inexperience of a researcher could be associated with failure to replicate original findings, with the implication that graduate students and junior faculty members should not conduct replications. Experience can be helpful, to be sure, but casting aspersions on entire groups of researchers is the type of argument social scientists typically spend their careers fighting, not propagating. There are plenty of weak evaluators out there, and it stands to reason that there are also plenty of weak replicators. But those least entrenched in a field can often be the best at identifying potentially fatal flaws in research findings. And what better way to learn methods than to replicate seminal studies?
• Results Are Rarely Appreciated at the Time.
The results of a program evaluation are often underappreciated when the study is concluded. This is especially true when the report contains constructive criticism and recommendations for significantly improving the program in question. But after a period of time—weeks, months, or even years—people gain emotional distance from the recommendations, take them much less personally, and view the suggestions for improvement in a new light. The same will likely be true with replications.
Replication is a critical, if underused, part of the scientific process. It has become both more popular and more controversial recently, but we should not allow the controversies to outweigh the many benefits for education. Because inaccurate findings pollute the scientific environment, the goals of a good replicator should be to identify these pollutants so that they can be removed from the environment, but with the tacit admission that one person's pollutant may be another person's life's work and passion. We hope other education researchers join us in our fight to change the research climate to one that encourages clean and kind replications.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once

Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once [The Onion]

So just what should that school resource officer have done?

So just what should that school resource officer have done?

Clear the room.
That’s how multiple local law enforcement officials say they would have handled an incident caught on videotape in a Columbia-area high school where a school resource officer forcibly removed a female student from her desk and threw her to the floor across a classroom. Videos of the incident quickly went viral and the officer was fired.
But many law enforcement officials in the state said there’s no specific protocol for how to handle an uncooperative student who refuses to get up from a desk when confronted by an officer.
The state SRO training doesn’t cover the tactical moves, but focuses more on theory, and officers at different schools may handle the situation differently based on each police department’s protocol.
But every official who spoke to The Greenville News about what they would do differently said the school resource officers’ goal should always be to de-escalate a classroom situation.
The best way to do that, they said, would be to clear the room of students.
“I had a situation like that where a kid wouldn’t get out of his desk,” said Tony Koutsos, a SRO at Mauldin High School. “So do you know what I did? I took everybody out of the classroom. As soon as you change the environment and take the audience away, there’s no problem.
“As long as you understand who you’re talking to, that they’re still just kids. No matter how mature they are, they still have the mind of a kid,” he said.
School officials, police and trainers each said the main priority for school resource officers is to provide safety. Their second priority is to enforce the law, which in South Carolina can sometimes bring an officer into a classroom setting.
And it takes training on how to handle students and situations that could occur in a school setting, officials said.
Most school resource officers who work in Greenville County schools have taken training classes specifically offered to SROs by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy or the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Officers are not required to take the additional training course prior to working in schools, but many do.
All but three of the 36 SROs in Greenville County Schools have taken one of the SRO-specific courses, according to information provided to The News by each law enforcement agency in the county.
The three who have not taken the 40-hour course are new to their positions and are scheduled to take it soon.
Experienced officers who show a desire to work in schools are chosen to fill those roles, and more awareness of the need for officers to provide safety became evident in the wake of dozens of school shootings across the United States in the last 20 years, local officials explained.
The role and actions of SROs were placed under a microscope in the days following the Oct. 26 incident at Spring Valley High School in Richland County that was caught on camera.
However prior to that, the Greenville County School District formed agreements with law enforcement agencies to provide officers at all middle and high schools. In the weeks after a shooter killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, agencies began to rotate patrols through elementary schools.
There are 17 middle school SROs and 19 high school SROs in Greenville County Schools, said Oby Lyles, school district spokesman. Each school has one SRO except Mauldin, Hillcrest and Woodmont high schools, which have two.
The SROs are employed by their agency, not the school district, and their primary responsibility is to investigate crimes and make arrests as warranted, Lyles said.
The schools are the officers’ jurisdiction - “that’s their city,” said Mauldin Police Chief Bryan Turner.
In their “cities” they are trained to act more like community patrol officers – building relationships with students, giving support when needed, but also investigating crime and making arrests when needed.
Disturbing-schools law
South Carolina is one of the few states where “disturbing schools” is a state law. Officers can be called into the classroom more frequently than in other states, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Disturbing schools is a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail in South Carolina. Students can be charged if they “interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school" or "act in an obnoxious manner."
Disturbing school was the third most-frequent offense associated with juvenile cases in 2013-14 with 1,189 cases, according to the state Department of Juvenile Justice. It ranked just below assault and battery and shoplifting.
South Carolina’s law “changes the game a little bit” and likely results in more officers in the classroom confronting students like what happened in Columbia, Canady said.
State law leaves it up to the SRO to decide whether a student should be charged for a matter that in most states would be handled as in-school discipline.
The national organization trains officers in general to step back and let school administrators handle most situations, Canady said.
“One of the things that we want to do is de-escalate situations,” he said. “Where is the line between it being a matter that needs to be handled just by the school administration and where is it that the school resource officer should step in?”
Greenville County Schools’ policy says “SROs may provide assistance to the administration in discipline matters such as assisting with a student who is being disruptive,” Lyles said.
SROs can question students about any matter “pertaining to the operation of a school and/or enforcement of its rules,” the district policy says.
The policy says the SROs questioning should be done “discreetly, and under circumstances which will avoid, to the extent practical under the circumstances, unnecessary embarrassment to the person being questioned.”
Koutsos, the SRO at Mauldin High for nine years, said the vast majority of the time he’s called to a classroom, the student cooperates immediately upon his arrival.
Most of the time, he will take the student to his office to talk.
“The majority of cases are kids just needing to vent,” he said. “'My mom and dad are going through a divorce.' 'I just broke up with my girlfriend or boyfriend.' 'I’m pregnant.'”
Sometimes, if it’s a repeat offender or the student remains uncooperative, he will file charges.
“I really, really, really try not to arrest a kid because when you do that, it’s on your record,” he said.
Teachers handle 90 percent of classroom situations, said Scott Rhymer, Mauldin High's principal. If it gets out of hand, an administrator is called to the classroom. SROs are a last resort.
What it’s like
Each morning at Mauldin, Koutsos and another SRO, Becky Sulligan, stand in “The Circle,” an area that leads from the school’s large atrium to the classroom hallways.
They watch for arguments that could flare up into fights and they’re making sure students don’t roam the halls before class.
Students walk up to Koutsos and give him a fist-bump or a hug. One girl brought him a bag of doughnuts and asked boyfriend advice.
“Smile” he tells one girl passing by. “Take off your hat, please” he tells a boy. A few minutes later he yells out “thank you!” as the boy -- now hatless -- walks past again.
He teases one student about dancing at lunch and another about her hair.
Koutsos is loud and commanding, but also approachable. Several students notice his new haircut and tell him so.
The entire time he’s interacting with students, he scans the hallways.
“Sometimes they’re loud because they’re loud,” he said. “Sometimes they’re loud because they’re about to fight.”
After the morning rush, he walks the perimeter of the building to make sure all doors are closed and locked.
“I keep them safe from the public. I keep them safe while they’re in here. And I’m a resource if they need to vent. That’s what it boils down to,” he said.
Schools in a few states began to employ school resource officers in the 1950s and 1960s, but it wasn’t until the late-90s that SROs took off nationwide, according to the state Criminal Justice Academy’s SRO training manual.
Greenville County Schools began to employ SROs in 2000, adding them to schools as local police budgets allowed, Lyles said.
They came with the goal to add safety, especially after mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and elsewhere.
At Mauldin, Greenville’s largest high school, officers are needed to enforce the law and provide safety to nearly 2,500 people every day, Rhymer said.
The officers are visible and provide a link between anything that happens outside the school that could affect students inside the building, he said.
Administrators meet weekly with the SROs to discuss issues and ways to improve safety. This semester, Koutsos and administrators have been discussing the need for a new camera system to monitor the crowded cafeteria.
Meanwhile, the incident in Columbia has sparked discussions among SROs and school officials as to how to handle incidents in classroom settings.
Greer Police Lt. Jimmy Holcombe said he’d discussed the incident with the department’s four SROs. Mauldin’s Rhymer said administrators and the SROs had talked there about how better to handle a similar situation.
But each said their concern is that the incident would cloud the public’s view of the purpose of having school resource officers: to provide safety.
“The way things are going right now -- social media, the news -- we’re the bad guys all of a sudden,” Koutsos said.
Some students have been pushing the envelope at Mauldin in recent weeks, trying to draw a reaction from him, he said.
That, he said, is why it pays for SROs to get the training they do and grow from experience.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

South Carolina high school student fires back about ‘too short’ skirt

South Carolina high school student fires back about ‘too short’ skirt

How one impoverished public school district is making strides

How one impoverished public school district is making strides

Bertis Downs is a parent and an education activist who lives in Athens, Georgia. He was legal counselor and manager of the now disbanded band R.E.M., and he spends a great deal of time advocating for public education in Clarke County, where he lives, as well as around the country. In this post, Downs writes about the innovative leadership in Clarke schools by Phil Lanoue, who has run the district for six years and who was named 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.  Though Clarke County is the most impoverished district in the state, Lanoue has been credited with making more gains to close the achievement between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students than any other Georgia district.  Last year, Downs wrote an open letter to President Obama, inviting him to visit the Clarke school district to see how his education policies are  “actually hurting– not helping– schools like ours.” It
By Bertis Downs
 “There are a lot of entrenched interests that are standing in the way of some the best possibilities for innovation.  We want to challenge and scrutinize the powers that be.”  — Campbell Brown,  prime mover in a $4 million education website, “The 74.”
“Innovative” might be the new “literally.” I hear it so often it has all but lost its meaning, literally.  A word that used to be reserved for truly inventive, creative solutions to major problems has become an empty buzzword for education policy reformers to slap on old, ineffective ideas.  When it comes to education policy, anything new better be labeled “innovative” if it’s going to have any chance of catching on.  Of course improving things in new ways is positive — who could argue with that?  Innovation is the way society advances. But for many education policy proposals, the term “innovative” can often be marketing talk, without much substance.
Labeling something “innovative” or “disruptive” (or both) doesn’t necessarily translate into good policy. Once you strip away the marketing and promotional froth, much of what is branded as “innovative” is often the same old inefficacy. “Value-added” teacher evaluation systems, the re-segregation (through “choice”) of our schools, “teacher quality programs,” state takeover “districts” for the lowest __% of schools (which are invariably the poorest schools in terms of demographics) and other flavor-of-the-month, standardized-test-based prescriptions are often just a cover for the constant over-testing of our children to produce data and metrics, and more all the time.
Are those policies really helping us improve and strengthen our schools?  I don’t think so. I don’t think many teachers or principals do either. And since they are the ones doing the work of educating our children, it’s a shame they so rarely are given a voice when it comes to making education policy in our state.
Political elites often go for the “sounds good” reform ideas pretty easily, which is why, in state after state (including Georgia), such measures are passed despite the logical objections of educators, parents, and students, all of whom want good schools for all kids, including their own. Perhaps you’ve noticed lately that many of these people – people who are actually involved in the schools – are taking to the streets with the “opt-out movement,” pushing back against the “reforms” that these politicians and consultants would never impose on the schools that educate their own kids.
I mean, really, if this over-testing, high-stakes culture is really such a great idea, wouldn’t reformers want this environment for their own children? Wouldn’t they push the elite private schools their children attend to adopt those “innovative reforms” too? The fact that they don’t is telling. These are not educationally sound ideas, and reformers know it, even as they call these policies “innovative” as they push them to the public. Do they think we don’t know better? Of course the schools exempt from the public mandates don’t nurture this absurd over-testing culture, especially the ones labeled “innovative” by those passing the laws.  Balderdash, by any other name…
Our family lives in Athens, Georgia, a community that – like most communities – values public education, and our kids go to our local public schools. Our school district has been innovating, really innovating in some pretty creative ways, some of which might even sound old-fashioned or simple. I actually prefer the word “intuitive.” Especially for the past six years, we are grateful for the leadership of Phil Lanoue, who was named 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.
He deserves the honor, and here’s why: he works to build up all Athens community schools by focusing on teaching and learning, using technology where it enhances the overall mission of educating students, working with community partners to try new techniques, enhancing efficacy, and emphasizing our  community’s capacity to support the work of our neighborhood schools. Dr. Lanoue is the first to state that he isn’t the only one putting in the work.  He sets a tone, supports his team members and advances good ideas that foster high-quality teaching and learning. Many of these ideas are proving themselves effective over the years.
Some examples are instructive:
* Local high school students can work on associate degrees and basic college courses at the Career Academy while enrolled in a regular high school. The Classic City High School, a non-traditional school setting that accommodates students who need a flexible schedule and a smaller learning environment, recently graduated its largest class yet – 44 students. This school, which opened its doors less than 10 years ago, is providing an avenue for its students to succeed and get a great education. As we’ve seen from the accomplishments of innovators like Einstein, Steve Jobs, and countless others, some of our best and most brilliant minds did not succeed in or enjoy traditional schools. Education should not be one-size-fits-all, and sometimes, true innovators need non-traditional approaches to flourish.
* Our school district has multiple creative partnerships with nonprofit groups. These groups are addressing issues ranging from  closing the Opportunity Gap (the Family Connection neighborhood leaders program) to  preventing summer learning loss (Books for Keeps) and food insecurity (Food2Kids) to providing after-school enrichment programs (Chess and Community, Young Designers Program). By working with these organizations, we are creating a collaborative system to help students reach their potential and see beyond their immediate circumstances.
* Recent collaborative efforts with the University of Georgia have resulted in a nationally recognized professional development program in which hundreds of university students and professors work in our local schools, with benefits for teaching and learning at all levels specify what this includes?. This partnership has also resulted in “Experience UGA,” a one-of-a-kind program in which every grade level takes a different field trip to some area of the university every year.  This program allows all Athens kids – from Pre-K students to seniors in high school – to gain exposure to the college experience and see college as a realistic goal if they pursue a post-secondary education. From a young age, many potential first-generation college students see post-secondary education as out of their reach, and this program works to correct that self-imposed feeling of limitation (which our society reinforces in many ways). Exposure can make students excited about the possibility of going to college, and visiting a school in their hometown can make them feel as if college is an option for them if they want to pursue that path. No six-year-old child – or sixteen-year-old, for that matter – should feel that his or her future is predetermined by his or her background.
* The district’s core belief is that all its students can learn and all its schools can be exemplary schools, and its commitment to equity is paramount. For instance, when a decision was made to pursue an International Baccalaureate Middle Years program a few years ago, the application was made for all four middle schools – not just one or two – and for all students. When a successful school gardening/sustainability program was piloted at Clarke Middle School, plans were put in place (and grant funding sought) to implement such a program at all the other local middle schools.
* Working with the nonprofit Athens Land Trust and the University of Georgia, the district has instituted the Young Urban Farmers Program. Through this program, students from both high schools work part-time jobs at the land trust developing entrepreneurship projects, receive credits, and then sell their wares at the weekly farmers market. This program successfully develops work and prudent risk-taking skills and habits not normally taught in a traditional classroom setting.
* The district is a statewide Model Technology District but maintains the core principle that the most important element in the educational equation is the relationship between teacher and student. Technology, used wisely, can enhance the educational experience, but a machine or piece of software is no substitute for a great, engaged teacher.
* One of our high schools works with the University of Georgia and theNational College Advising Corps to employ an additional counselor whose primary focus is helping  interested students apply to and attend college.  This program is a “near-peer” model, where recent college graduates help many of our students do what they just did – become the first in their family to go to college. This program seeks to provide college access for students from less advantaged backgrounds, and this initiative  starts in our schools well before the final year of high school.  The community and university are making efforts to expand this program to our other major high school so that all interested students will have this extra help in making post-secondary plans to reach their individual potential;
* With  acclaimed Athens chef and public school parent Hugh Acheson leading the way, the Clarke Count district’s Seed Life Skills program is revamping “home economics” in middle schools, helping Athens young people develop skills that lead to  healthier, more independent and fulfilling lives. Core concepts run the gamut –  from cooking an egg to reading a cell phone contract, sewing a button to signing up for a health plan. The program is another way of equipping kids with pragmatic, contemporary life skills that foster independence;
* A group of high school and university teachers works with un(der)-documented immigrant students on their college aspirations.  Under current Georgia Board of Regents’ policy, many good students,  known as DREAMers,  are forbidden from even applying to our most selective state universities and have to pay international student tuition (up to 4 times what other in-state peers pay) to the other Georgia state schools.
This, of course, effectively forecloses the possibility of further education for many top Athens students (despite high test scores, outstanding high school records, unlimited human potential and plenty of desire to better themselves and their families by going to college). The leaders of ULead Athens counsel and advise these students, conduct mentoring sessions, assist with SAT and ACT prep, and help with financial aid and scholarship application advice. All of these services are geared toward making college a reality for these students from our area.  And thanks to these programs, we have seen some real successes; in recent years, DREAMers from Athens have attended schools all over the state of Georgia and others have received admission and significant financial aid to schools like Emory, Agnes Scott, Berea, Hampshire, Furman, Smith, and Syracuse, among others.
With its driving focus on educating all our people, initiatives like these,  from sustainability programs, to career pathways to community partnerships, Athens public schools continually look for and provide opportunities for all students to thrive. And please bear in mind that all of this is being accomplished in a town with plenty of its own challenges — Athens is believed to have the highest poverty rate among counties in metropolitan areas in the United States. Over 37 percent of children in Clarke County live in poverty, and 49 percent live in single-parent homes. Ethnically, 51 percent of the students are African-American, 23 percent are  Hispanic, 20 percent are white and 2 percent Asian. Over 82 percent of students receive free/reduced lunches, 12 percent of students have English as their second language and 11 percent of students have special needs.
Under Phil Lanoue’s leadership, our schools have shown what a Georgia public school district can accomplish when it is committed to equity and to making new educational opportunities available to all children.    And with such diversity in our schools,  they are the place for shared experiences, which help us all better understand one another, value each other, like each other and be able to work and live in civil society.  Our schools today offer different paths for different students but at the same time they foster that commonality too— better preparing our children for the public world that awaits them on the other side of their formal schooling.
The 2014-15 final issue of The Odyssey, Clarke Central’s student produced news magazine, included a little blurb on a “Star Player” who happened to be my senior daughter, who, among other things, plays tennis.  It was a pleasure to read, and, of course, it made me proud as a parent.  But a few pages away was an extensive article on a junior, also a tennis player, with a very different background and more difficult challenges. He is also thriving in school and planning his college experience with the help of his teachers and counselors at Clarke Central.  Reading his story made me just as happy as reading the story about my own daughter, and it highlighted the promise of public education done right.
People can (and will) interpret our district’s challenges and our responses to those challenges however they want.  Plenty of people look at various shifting numbers and our mostly disadvantaged demographics and might want to label our schools as “failing.” But kids from the Class of 2015 are heading to, among other places, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Columbia, Harvard, University of Chicago, Morehouse, UNC-CH (Morehead Scholarship), Vanderbilt, Washington U, Florida, Cal-Berkeley, Muhlenberg, Wisconsin, Carnegie-Mellon, Dickinson, Smith, Georgia College,  Georgia State, Kenyon, Emory and Clemson (and yes, some of those students are first generation college attendees).  I call that a high-achieving school district in addition to (and in spite of) being high-needs. Clarke Central also won a Breakthrough Award recently for most progress in closing the achievement gap and Clarke Central High School Principal Robbie Hooker was Principal of the Year for Georgia in 2013.
There’s a reason our superintendent is the National Superintendent of the Year – he believes in equity and doing the work to make all our schools thrive,despite the challenges we face. And this approach is working.  Admittedly, it does not work perfectly for 100 percent of the students who enroll in Athens public schools. There is still much work to do – no question. But Dr. Lanoue believes and our district’s core principle is that schools have to do all they can to help close the gaps in opportunity, even when these gaps result from the many structural factors over which he and his schools have no control.
In a perfect world, all Athens kids would come to school each day prepared to learn and go home each day to loving families with healthy stimulation, nourishment and care.  But in reality, many of our students’ best hours of the day are when they are at school.
I am grateful for our local district’s attempts, under the direction of a truly committed and innovative educator, to help meet these students’ needs both within and beyond the schoolhouse. Together, they are working to unlock a lifelong passion for learning.  Is it worth the investment? Yes.  Is it innovative? On many levels, I certainly think so.   I think corporate school reformers ought to come to Athens to see how public education done well can change children’s life trajectories.
I know if won’t fit the “failing schools” narrative  they insist upon,  so I doubt it will happen— but it is real and it is happening right now, not only here but all over the country.  When people walk into a classroom in Athens, they see an all-hands-on-deck effort to educate children from all backgrounds. Our kids are learning together – from their teachers and from each other.  To me, that is true innovation.  It’s not a just a marketing label, an empty description, a headline, or a passing fad.  And surely it will lead to a better Athens years for years to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Letters to the Editor

What you should know about Letters to the Editor

Some things to keep in mind when submitting a Letter to the Editor and 9 tips for getting published.

Some things to keep in mind regarding Letters to the Editor

We read every letter we receive.

Every letter gets equal consideration.

Letters picked for publication are acknowledged within several working days. You most likely will be contacted by phone and will be asked to verify that you sent the letter and intended it for publication.
If it's published, your letter probably will appear in the daily or Sunday Greenville News within two weeks after we receive it.

Because of the high volume of letters submitted, we cannot acknowledge or return letters that will not be published.

We strive for balance, but there are times when we may only receive letters representing one side of an issue. If your opinion differs from those you see printed, write and give us your perspective.

We don't publish form letters, anonymous letters, letters that cannot be verified or letters that have appeared in another publication.

We don't publish obvious organized attempts to flood us with mail on a given topic.

We give preference to writers in our circulation area.

To maintain civility and to prevent disagreements between letter writers from becoming personal, we do not allow letter writers to refer to each other by name. Exceptions are made for writers who are public officials or public figures.

We do not publish poems from readers or material forwarded to us that has appeared in another publication.

Tips for Getting Published:
  • Write a brief letter (maximum of 250 words) on a timely public issue, preferably one that has been covered by this newspaper. 
  • Make your point quickly. 
  • Include your name, home address and a daytime telephone number. (If you don't include your name, address and telephone number, we can't consider your letter for publication.) 
  • Remember, all letters are subject to editing. 
  • Most letters are edited for length, clarity, grammar and good taste. 
  • Choose your words carefully. Letters that contain potentially libelous or slanderous statements will likely be edited or rejected. 
  • We prefer to have letters submitted in typed or electronically transmitted form. However, we will accept handwritten letters, providing the handwriting is legible. 
  • If you are sending handwritten letters by fax, please make sure the writing is dark enough to transmit clearly. 
  • Letter writers are limited to no more than one letter published every 30 days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why Do Rich Kids Do Better Than Poor Kids in School? It's Not the "Word Gap," Molly McManus

Why Do Rich Kids Do Better Than Poor Kids in School? It's Not the "Word Gap," Molly McManus

Scoppe: We can’t throw these kids away

Scoppe: We can’t throw these kids away

Cindi Scoppe, Associate Editor, The State

Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Edison. Ben Franklin. Bill Gates. The voice on the message followed each man’s name with the meager amount of schooling he completed. The Harvard dropout who turned us into cyborgs looks like a scholastic overachiever alongside his predecessors. Of course they are separated by centuries that have, for better and worse, exponentially increased the need for formal education, and of course that’s beside the caller’s point.
His point was that while it was “statistically” accurate to say that a better education leads to a better outcome, the many notable exceptions negated my suggestion that South Carolina needs to provide a decent education to all children.
Then his bottom line: When children don’t get a good education, it’s not the schools’ fault — and by extension, it’s not the state’s fault; it’s the children’s fault. Children who want an education will get one no matter how bad the school; children who do not want a good education will not get one, no matter how good the school.
Truth be told, there’s a lot of truth to that last part; much less, but still a tiny bit, to the first part. But even if we imagine that there are no shortcomings in our poorest schools, and that the problem is the children instead of the schools, we are left with this reality: We can’t wash our hands of the problem.
The “liberal” reason is fairness: When children don’t value education, it’s often because their parents don’t value it. Are we really willing to doom a child to a life of failure because she has bad parents? For how many generations will we visit the sins of the parents upon the children?
The “conservative” reason is this practical fact: We can’t throw those children away. Can’t ship them off to another state. The children who don’t get a decent education in our state are the ones who will stay here, and they will continue to drag us down.
They will end up with lousy jobs, held afloat by government safety-net programs. Some will become criminals, and we will have to spend more on police and courts and jails to defend ourselves against them. They will raise children who are just like them.
And this takes us back to that argument about Messieurs Lincoln, Edison, Franklin and Gates, which seems so reasonable … until you take about 10 seconds to think about it.
Then you recall that “statistically” speaking is the only way we can speak of whole populations, particularly when the statistics are so lopsided.
You remember that exceptions are … exceptions — and that the overwhelming majority of us are not so extraordinary as our Renaissance men. Our society could not have built the technological foundation from which Mr. Gates built so much more if we had relied solely on the few geniuses among us. A good education allows the mediocre — which, statistically speaking, is most of us — to become productive and creative. It allows those who are below-average to become contributing members of our communities.
You realize that Gov. Nikki Haley and the Legislature would not be under court order to provide a decent education to the children in South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame if those children had access to the exclusive preparatory school Mr. Gates attended, much less his two years at Harvard.
If I were placing blame for the children who don’t work hard enough to overcome the obstacles our state puts in their paths, I’d place it on the parents. It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure children get the best education they can. But when parents can’t or won’t instill in their children the value of education, can’t or won’t insist that they do their homework every night, can’t or won’t make sure they read books over summer vacation, we as a society have to do that. If not out of altruism, then out of pure self-interest.
We have to teach children to value education. Then we have to make education take, whatever their learning style. And the place we do that is in the public schools.
It is difficult to know how to do that — although it would be much less difficult if we stopped worrying about turf protection and job protections and making sure the right people get lucrative contracts and pursuing our ideological goals.
It is difficult to get our legislators and our governor to ignore those distractions. But it is their job to do that.
Once we figure out how we need to change the structure and governance and curricula and funding of our schools so that they will deliver a decent education even to the kids who don’t want it, the jobs of teachers will become much more difficult. The jobs of everyone who touches education will become more difficult.
But when have Americans said we won’t do something just because it’s difficult?
Doesn’t American exceptionalism flow from our willingness to do the difficult work in order to achieve success?
Aren’t we the nation that was inspired to rocket to the moon and defeat the Soviet Union and become the most prosperous people on the planet after a president reminded us that “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”?
The sad thing is that as difficult as it will be for our leaders to develop a plan and our teachers to implement it, the hardest part could be convincing ourselves that it’s worth doing.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

Read more here: