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#408: Back to School
Racial (de)tracking, looping, boys, and chronic absenteeism
Welcome, new subscribers, and welcome back, loyal readers! I’m happy you’re here.
Just like that, we’re back to school. Where did the summer go? Oh, we’re still in it, you say? Right — that’s because school begins early now, at least out here in California, where students in Oakland returned on Aug. 7.
I’m going to tell you a secret: This is my 26th year in education. Now here’s another secret: This is the most excited and hopeful I’ve been in a long time. I’m still trying to figure out why I feel this way, but in the meantime, I’m not going to fight this feeling.
This week’s issue is dedicated to the start of the new school year. As usual, I’ve selected thought-provoking articles that explore a variety of issues. Here’s what’s down below:
a school district’s effort to achieve racial equity by detracking its classes
an “easy” reform that could improve academic achievement
a call to action for us to focus on the struggles of boys
the stubborn problems of student absenteeism and teacher shortages
Hope you enjoy this week’s articles, and have a great weekend.
✏️ If you’re an educator, student, or parent: How was your first day of school?
When David Glasner became the superintendent of Shaker Heights Schools in the suburbs of Cleveland in 2019, he thought he had arrived in a progressive place. After all, this was Shaker Heights — the community that had famously integrated its neighborhoods back in the 1950s, when the rest of America wanted the opposite.
But after visiting the district’s schools, Dr. Glasner soon realized that behind that noble facade stood a strong system of academic tracking. Enrichment classes available only to elite students in elementary school led to honors classes in middle school, then Advanced Placement classes in high school. It didn’t take Dr. Glasner’s doctorate to deduce that white students dominated those spaces.
What he did next was both bold and controversial. During the pandemic, without consulting families or engaging teachers, Dr. Glasner integrated courses at the early grades to dismantle the racist tracking system and to ensure that Black students would receive equitable educational opportunities.
Then all hell broke loose.
By Laura Meckler • The Washington Post • 13 mins
As the last article demonstrated, detracking is not the easiest, smoothest way to improve public education. Why not try something simpler? asks Emmy-winning education journalist John Merrow in this concise essay. His answer: looping, or lengthening the time teachers have with their students.
Dr. Merrow writes:
The notion of finding a new dentist or physician each year for every child seems absurd. We want children to know their doctors and to feel comfortable with them. It’s important for physicians to know their patients as they grow. Yet for many of these same children, their schools assign them to a new teacher and require they learn a new set of classroom routines and adult expectations every year.
The logic makes sense. So does my lived experience; I taught three cohorts of students from ninth grade until they graduated. My memory says it was wonderful (overall, of course — maybe not every day). Furthermore, Dr. Merrow cites a recent study in Tennessee that found that looping improved academic achievement, especially among boys of color, and decreased chronic absences and suspension rates. What’s not to love?
By John Merrow • The Merrow Report • 5 mins
We already know the statistics: boys are struggling. For example, they perform worse (especially in English) than girls. They go to college less often. They get in trouble more. If boys underperform girls, shouldn’t we do something about it? Of course we should, argues Richard Reeves in this succinct essay. He even has concrete ideas that make sense. So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, in this piece, Dr. Reeves does not address why policy makers and educators bristle at instituting reforms that would benefit boys. I have my hunches. If you have a hunch, I’d love to hear.
By Richard Reeves • No Mercy/No Malice • 7 mins
4️⃣ Where are the teachers? Where are the students?
I’m blessed to work at a school that is fully staffed. And I’m blessed that when my colleagues get sick, we have a pool of substitutes eager to teach our students. But I acknowledge that my experience is not the norm. The teacher shortage is significant and is not going away anytime soon. It’s deeply sad and disturbing to me. We have families sending their children to school to follow their dreams, and instead they’re being shuttled to multipurpose rooms to waste their days rotting their brains on their phones. If no teachers are there to teach them, why should students go to school in the first place? The answer? They’re not. Chronic absenteeism persists unabated.
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