Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Should Children Play Football? Is It Safe? No, It Is Not

"Wherever I go," writes Dr. Bennet Olmalu in his new book, Truth Doesn't Have a Side, "people ask me one question more than any other: 'Dr. Omalu, is it safe for my child to play football?' The answer is simple. 'No it is not."

With those words, the physician who discovered that NFL players suffer and have died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, makes it clear that no matter what coaches may say. No matter what helmet manufacturers or football safety equipment designers say, playing football is not safe. Olmalu makes it clear that the human head is not designed to absorb the blows that often occur during the game of football. He write that animals like woodpeckers have built-in shock absorbers to protect their brains from impact forces, but humans do not.

In addition to not having brains capable of absorbing the impact of hits, he also points out that the football helmet is not designed to help. It protects the skins from cuts and perhaps the fracturing of the skull, but it does nothing to help with the jarring of the brain inside the skull. Add the fact that the brain doesn't have the ability to repair itself like other bodily organs, there is a problem with any activity that ,damages the brain.

No one asked me if I would again play football as I did in high school many years ago. Nor did anyone ask me if I could once again coach high school or middle school football as I once did. I'll answer anyway: "No, to both questions."

If I could replay my life again, I would not play football when I was high school, because I would have avoided that knee injury that ended my play then and has prevented me from being as active as an adult as I've wanted to. It has resulted in two surgeries and years of pain as well.

As for the coaching? I'm fairly sure I could not in good conscience, with all the increasing scientific evidence, enthusiastically encourage our youth to strap up and use their bodies as missiles either. As Dr. Omalu points out so clearly, humans aren't made for that. Of course, one could argue that "Humans weren't made for flying either." True...that's why I don't do that often ether.

The truth is, and I think Dr. Omalu makes this point very well: Adults choosing to play football with all its risks is one thing. They are mature enough to weigh the risks and decide for themselves. Children? Well, there's a reason why they're prevented to making decisions about risky behavior. As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, and as a principal, we have children in our families and in our schools playing football. Let's just make sure these little ones teenagers aren't playing and taking the risks for us so that we can enjoy the "glory" of football. Personally, that's one sacrifice I can't make.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Advice to New Teachers 2017: Teaching as Stepping Stone and Not Career

As a 28 year experienced educator my advice for those entering the profession this year is simple. There was a time when teachers could expect that teaching would be a career. You could expect to enter a profession that valued your work and that would do everything it could to keep you satisfied and committed to teaching in the long term. Times have changed drastically.

The current system values educators who are short-timers. It treasures those who will use teaching as a stepping stone to other endeavors. It does not want educators who are dedicated and committed to a life of educating the young. It simply wants educators who want to make short-term gains and move on.

To the new teachers who begin their careers this year, my advice is simple. Take advantage of a system that simply wants to get as much productivity out of you in the short-term as possible. You, in turn, should get as much short-term gain out of your experience as possible. Business has taught the educational establishment this very well. When legislators at the state level gut benefits and tinker with pay as has been done in North Carolina, education becomes a stepping stone not a career.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NC Legislative Still Manages Devalue Public Ed with New Principal Pay Scale

After this year’s North Carolina General Assembly sessions, what can one say about principal pay? Somehow we have a legislature that thinks administrators in North Carolina should be somehow grateful that they’ve alotted an additional $35.4 million dollars to principal and assistant principal pay increases, and that increases to $40.6 million in the 2018-19 school year, but took away longevity pay and established a pay system tied directly to test score performance. As has always been with our North Carolina Legislature since republicans have assumed control, let’s say the truth is really in the details.

First of all, the North Carolina Legislature ditched any connection between pay and experience in their new pay scale. Maybe this was because some economist out there has determined there’s no connection between experience and the raising of test scores, so experience is seen as meaningless. (Never mind that test score performance is not the entire end of education.) I think it is perhaps more truthful that we have a legislature really does not want principals to stick around anyway. Experienced principals are more expensive. They want newer, cheaper administrators anyway. We now have a principal pay system in North Carolina perfectly designed to encourage new and young principals to move in but quickly leave because the system does not value experience at all.

In fact, the new principal pay system completely dissolves a long-time practice of giving experienced longevity pay to experienced principals too. Now, the budget language says this longevity pay was absorbed into the pay schedule, but that makes no sense. The fact is, our legislature took away longevity pay to create their new merit pay system. Ultimately, with the actions of our North Carolina Legislature in recent years, our state is becoming the kind of state where educators are much better off looking for jobs elsewhere, and now principals are no exception.

Secondly, the new principal pay scale employs a merit pay system with substantial bonuses tied to test score performance. In spite of many studies and research pointing out the fallacies and failures of such pay schemes, our legislature still assumes that principals are motivated by greed, and that test score performance is the end of all things in public education. By dangling a few thousand dollars in front of principals this legislature believes that somehow principals will figure out how to increase student growth with less textbook money than ever and less resources than ever. Our state government has been cutting public education for years, and now, our legislature with its merit pay scale wants to use money as a hammer to beat principals into getting more out of teachers in this state with less resources than ever. We don't even have enough money to purchase textbooks and supplies any more, never mind professional development funding.

Finally, let’s stop kidding ourselves: our republican-controlled legislature just does not value education. Phil Berger and the republican elites in our legislature want to appear from year to year that they are increasing education funding, and by the numbers they are, but they are increasing it to strategically to harm public education and not support it. The principal pay scale is a perfect example. It is not designed to encourage educators to take principal positions and remain in them as careers. It only wants principals to stay around until their pay is too high. Like almost everything else this legislature supports, it is short-term and short-sighted, with the ultimate goal of harming public education in the end.

In North Carolina, despite the boasting of many republican legislators, we have a state government controlled by those who still want to end public education.  Why do we in education deceive ourselves from year to year. They might be actively trying to appear to support it, but their tactics have gotten more devious than ever. They strategically fund programs and initiatives that actually undermine public education. That’s why the political activism of educators is all the more important in the coming elections.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One aspect of this new principal pay scheme adopted by out North Carolina legislature that I forgot in my original post is this: It also ends pay for advanced  and doctoral degrees for principals. As usual, this legislature continues to ignore the value of further education for educators. Now, any principal in North Carolina can no longer expect extra pay for obtaining an EdS degree or EdD degree. In the history of North Carolina I don't think we've ever seen a governmental body so anti-education from the public school level through the university level. Perhaps they still think if we keep the public ignorant, then they will continue to buy their baloney. It's time for a major change in North Carolina.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be Careful of Your Quotes: Einstein Probably Didn't Say That Insanity Quote

We've all heard this quote, or might have even used it:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I've heard ed reformers and educators pushing change and innovation use this quote many times, and attributing to Albert Einstein. I honestly have to admit I might have done so myself. The truth is, there's no solid evidence he ever said it. It's not in any of his writings or interviews. It may be just made up.

In his book, Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up, William Poundstone calls this "Churchillian Drift." That's when a quotation by the marginally famous gets attributed to someone famous, like Winston Churchill. Turns out, Einstein probably didn't say it. Just Google the quote and you'll see the dispute.

The truth, at least for me, is clear: even if we really believe in what we're peddling, we still need to get our quotes right.

"It may sound good at the time, he who gets one or two of his quotes wrong, or facts, can't be trusted to be speaking all the truth."

You can quote on that, at least until someone else says it better!

By the way, Poundstone's book, Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up is a fascinating read.  Highly recommend it. Probably even will convince you to stop using those quote sites for quick quotes to add to your presentations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Did I Really Need That Amazon Echo Dot?

I received an email telling me that Amazon was offering its Prime Members its Echo Dot for less than $35. I had seen the commercials, and certainly was fascinated with the device, so I broke down and purchased it.

After a day of experimenting with it, I actually enjoy the device. Being able to say “Alexa, play some James Taylor” and then his music magically starts playing through my bluetooth speaker is fantastic. I’ll admit I am a bit smitten by the technology, but it does have some interesting features. It’s easy to set up as well. Here’s some of the positives I’ve found:
  • Connects to a bluetooth speaker, so my Bose Soundlink Mini sounds fantastic.
  • Instant, or darn near instant access to any music.
  • Has a “News Flash” feature that allows “Alexa” to read the news update to you.
  • With my Amazon Fire I can get weather updates too.
  • I can listen to Pandora channels with an easy request from “Alexa."
  • Haven’t tried the “Jeopardy” game but is was recommended by a friend.
I’m just learning the device, but I can see what Apple is scrambling to catch up with Amazon and Google with these kinds of devices.

How else can I get the ability to command James Taylor's music to appear?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Killing Innovation Through Standardization

Have you ever encountered a program, a product, or an educational practice that is worthy enough to be implemented state-wide or even district-wide? I haven't. Really, in almost 30 years as an educator I've outlasted more programs and initiatives than I can count. Most of these were not adopted based on their merits. They most often were adopted because their promoters were great at sales pitches. It turns out that I've begun to think that we've become much better at salesmanship sometimes than our chief task of educating.

I have a hunch regarding why these district-wide and state-wide, or even national improvement initiatives don't work. It's rather simple: you can't standardize true innovation. Schools are individual, quirky, unique entities like the students in them. Innovation can only occur at the school level. Trying to standardize an innovation at the district or state level is an exercise in windmill jousting, or nailing jello to a tree. Nothing sticks, nor will it ever. It turns out that innovation is local. We talk about "personalizing learning for students, then why not localize innovations? Let's start innovation at the level of the school.  Imposing innovation from on high doesn't work nor will it ever.

Next time you start thinking as a district or state education leader that some program or idea would be great for all my schools, just remember you really can't standardize innovation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Education Administration's History with Eugenics: What Can Be Learned from the Past

Some of our "founding fathers" of educational administration around the turn of the 20th century actually supported the "Science of Eugenics" as it is called. That's right; they supported sterilizations and other measures to "improve the human stock of America" because they considered it to be deteriorating. I realize that during this particular time period, these "founding fathers" of educational administration were products of their times and cultures as well, and that society had just begun to discover its faith in the biological sciences and other sciences, and began to exercise that faith entirely in a variety of ways. Yet, it does disturb our present to think that some of those who began our field educational administration, supposedly dedicated to the betterment of our children and society, advocated eugenics which today is unspeakable.

For example, one of these "founding fathers of educational administration" was Franklin Bobbitt, who was a professor at the University of Chicago, and who also wrote prolifically on both education administration and on curriculum. He was also clearly an advocate of eugenics and actually made an address on the topic to the Conference on Child Welfare at Clark University in July 1909. His words seem so disturbing to read today, but were actually in line with others like our President Theodore Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes. Society was wrestling with what to do with the new science of heredity and genetics at that time and Bobbitt was actually along for the ride.

In that address Bobbitt states:
"If a child is well-born, if he springs from sound, sane stock, if he possesses high endowment potential in the germ, then the problem of his unfoldment is well-nigh solved long before it is presented. Such a child is easily protected from adverse influences; and he is delicately and abundantly responsive to the positive influences of education. But if, on the other hand, the child is marred in the original making, if he springs from a worm-eaten stock, if the foundation plan of his being is distorted and confused in heredity before his unfoldment begins, then the problem of healthy normal development is rendered insoluble before it is presented. Such a child is difficult to protect against adverse influences, and he remains to the end stupidly unresponsive to the delicate growth factors of education." 
Franklin Bobbitt, "Practical Eugenics," Address before the Conference on Child Welfare at Clark University, Worcester, July 1909
From a 21st century perspective, it is very easy to try to excuse our forefathers in administration from advocating what we would call unspeakable. We might even be hesitant to judge individuals like Bobbitt. Still, his support of eugenics should still disturb us. He was involved in shaping the field of public education and educational administration in its infancy, and he was also an advocate for some practices that are so unjust and distasteful to us today.

In this same address he sympathetically described several eugenic measures being undertaken:

Marriage laws were passed  to "shut out from marriage those affected with tuberculosis, alcoholism, epilepsy, insanity, deaf-mutism, blindness, and other serious diseases and defects which affect posterity."

Laws were passed to "raise barriers against the unfit" and "shut out racial pollution at the bottom."

"The sterilization of criminals and defectives of every sort" was being proposed as well.

There were also proposals to abolish public charities, public schools and all other public agencies because these were only serving to "preserve the weak and incapable."

No doubt, these measures to purify the "human stock" are shocking to us today. Still, I submit that we have much to learn from this period in the history of the field of educational administration.

The founding fathers of both the fields of educational administration and education slovenly acted as sycophants to "King Science." Bobbitt accepted "eugenics" and the rationale behind it because it was "scientifically supported." He, like many, had a blind faith in the salvation wrought by science, and if the data and observations demonstrated any proposition, then it was true. That's why he saw eugenics as an attractive audience: his "science," which he uncritically accepted, led him to that conclusion.

We still in some ways are sycophants of science. We test students unendingly and incessantly in order to make "data-based" decisions. We cancel music and art classes because "participation in these don't lead to higher test scores." We load 30, 40 and even 50 students in classes because "there's no 'scientific evidence' to support having smaller classes. Education and educational administration so badly wants to be a science, that it will harm its students, its teachers to follow "science" where 'er it may lead. Just as Bobbitt did, without really asking whether that destination is really where we want to go, we accept the "science" uncritically and almost in a cult-like manner. The problem with our science, and Bobbitt's science, it will not and cannot tell us whether what we're doing is ethical, right, or just, but we pretend that it will.

In some ways, I can understand why Bobbitt supported eugenics as he did. He was caught up in a major discourse of his time. But because of his story, we have no such excuse. We can critically question our "science." Just because a study or studies says it is so, doesn't mean we have to do it. We can realize science's limitations and acknowledge that the 'scientific evidence' is not infallible. We can recognize that just because A happens, it was not necessarily because of B or C. It might have been E, F, and G along with an infinite number of causes. We don't have to believe that by doing A that B will happen.

The founding fathers of educational administration's flirtations with such a distasteful notion as "eugenics" should tell us that we as educational leaders can and do and will get it wrong. Also, there is clearly a danger when we get on a pedestal and shout that what we want is what's best for children is subject to criticism as well. Bobbitt's mistakes are our mistakes. We have to question and then question some more those making decisions. We should encourage people to question our own. That's how we might avoid Bobbitt's mistake.