Herrity to seek federal reimbursement for unaccompanied minors from Central America

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says that there are 1,131 unaccompanied minors from Central America living in Fairfax County, 417 in Prince William County, and 227 in Loudoun County, according to a Washington Post article.

Fairfax County supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that Fairfax County would spend more than $14 million to educate these children if they all enroll in school, based on a per-pupil cost of $14,755 for each student served by the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Currently ESOL serves over 36,000 students.

“Herrity said he expects to request funding from the federal government after he knows what the costs are,” the Post reports.

“We’ll look at what avenue or avenues there are for us and hopefully make a decision to seek reimbursement,” Herrity said. “It really is a federal responsibility, and Fairfax County’s being hit pretty heavily.”

When I think of the budgetary constraints that have made school reforms in Fairfax so difficult to achieve over the past two decades, as well as the number of times that pay raises were put on hold, it is pretty discouraging to see that Fairfax is being burdened with such large costs. I agree that the federal government should provide some reimbursement.

Fairfax County crossing guards assist in traffic direction

Kate Yanchulis reports that Fairfax County crossing guards receive expanded training which adds a step to their routine. “After halting traffic to allow children to cross, a crossing guard can determine whether they should allow cars in or out of the school parking lot before letting traffic resume normally.”

The police department noticed that the crossing guards had been attempting to provide traffic direction when cars crowded school drop-off and pick-up lines. So the department decided to provide extra training so that they would be qualified to provide traffic direction.

The article notes that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school. “Forty years later, the total dropped to 13 percent, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.”

More private meetings should be allowed

I’m glad to see another skeptical view of the benefits of laws requiring overly broad requirements for open meetings. Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, writes “Deliberation, collaboration and compromise rarely flourish in front of TV cameras or when monitored by special interests.”

In regards to the Fairfax County School Board, I earlier asked the question, Is too much transparency preventing problem-solving actions?

We should allow groups of school board members to meet together without requiring that the public be invited to each event. The current restrictions on private meetings may discourage thoughtful discussions that could possibly lead to improvements or reforms.

Should use of electronic devices be discouraged in most classes?

Why a leading professor of new media just banned technology use in class. Clay Shirky says that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work:

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

Shirky concludes, “The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “No devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.”

He says, “Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class–it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.”

Shirky is discussing college classes in this interesting article cited by the Washington Post.

Free Bob McDonnell

I was very disappointed to hear the news that Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife will probably spend decades, or at least years, behind bars. This is an incredible waste. A fair sentence would involve fines and community service.

The money spent incarcerating them and many other nonviolent offenders would be better spent on teachers and education. I’m not sure why we have such a mania for building more and more prisons.

Are traditional methods of math instruction better for most students?

After I posted a brief notice about Elizabeth Green’s article on better math instruction, I heard several dissenting views. Also, there were 948 comments posted on the New York Times website. Here are some excerpts from some of the skeptical comments:

Frank commented, “Teaching in Japan now, I find the article disingenuous: Japanese largely learn math today the way people have for the last couple thousand years, memorization and repetition. The number one after school program is Kumon, which provides worksheet after worksheet of math problems.”

Mike Brady asked, “…isn’t the practice of constantly changing textbooks and methods a tremendous way to insure profits for the publishing corporations? Interesting how Math education in the USA worked well enough to educate USA scientists and inventors and technology experts prior to the Publishing Corporations’ New Math/Common Core.”

Barbarossa said, “The premise that the ‘classical way of teaching maths is ineffective” is simply wrong. This evidenced by all the countries that teach math the classical way (Korea, Iran, France, Russia, India, …) get good results and whose students populate all major STEM graduate programs in the US.

Barry Garelick said, “The education establishment may believe they are producing “little mathematicians,” but the increased enrollments in remedial math courses in universities tell a different and disturbing story.

johna  said, “My son, now 16, went to elementary school in the Seattle area, in a school district that employed the “discovery” method (similar to common core). Not only did the teachers do a poor job of explaining the math to my son, none of the teachers, the school district or the text books made any attempt to explain the approach to the parents. As such, not only were we ill-equipped to help my son with his homework, we were actively discouraged from helping him by using the traditional algorithms. As the article warns, the end result was to replace a familiar set of steps (which, though rote, actually work to get the right answer) with a set of even stranger rituals (that don’t work nearly as well). I’ll never forget the many nights my son spent drawing rows and rows of dots, rectangles, lines and other shapes, which, from his perspective, must appear to have been assigned for the sheer purpose of frustrating and confusing him, because they certainly didn’t help him understand math. That’ why all the parents in our neighborhood wound up sending their kids to Kumon.”

Kumon is an after school program. Another  traditional math instruction curriculum was developed by John Saxon. Nakonia (Niki) Hayes recently wrote that “Saxon literally popped onto the national math education scene unexpectedly and uninvited in 1981 after self-publishing his first algebra textbook.”

Saxon scoffed when reformists insisted that historically-proven mathematics, which had been developed over 2,000 years by diverse cultures from around the world, was effective only with “white males” in America—and “Asians.” Then, he would explode with anger over what he called disastrous teaching materials and methods being purchased without proof of their results.

World Languages in Fairfax

 World Languages Internationalization Working Group. This report presented to the Fairfax County School Board on Monday includes recommendations for the future of foreign language instruction in the elementary schools.

Fairfax school officials help Central American children

The flood of Central American children crossing the border has only recently become a top news story; however, Fairfax school officials have been coping with this situation for the past three years. Here is a report from Businessweek:

“These kids were homesick and heartbroken,” said Robin Hamby, a family specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools in suburban Washington, which began feeling the surge almost as soon as it began three years ago.

Her Virginia district employs more teachers who work with non-English speakers than ever, and wrote a curriculum to reunite children and parents, many of whom haven’t seen one another in years.

Although recent budget reports for Fairfax County Public Schools have noted the increase in children who don’t speak English, there was no indication that some of these children were part of a new wave of unaccompanied minors. Better reporting of this situation might have led to earlier efforts to discourage even more Central American parents from sending their children to the United States.

The Declaration of Independence as a model of good writing

In Defense of Cursive: Reading the Declaration of Independence. This article published two years ago by the New Yorker explains that Timothy Matlack was the “engrosser” selected to copy the Declaration of Independence in 1776. “Matlack’s elegantly florid penmanship was, ironically, in a patrician style called English round hand,” Judith Thurman wrote. “It was also known as Copperplate; the precision of its lines lent itself to engraving.”

Last month when I mentioned that more time in school might allow more teaching of cursive writing, Kate Gladstone commented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than print-writing of equal or greater legibility. She said “Highest speed and legibility are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them, making the simplest joins, omitting the rest, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.”

It would be interesting to find out more about how handwriting is currently taught in different school districts. According to PBS NewsHour, California, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee have “recently moved to make cursive mandatory.”

The News Hour says Kitty Nicholson, the recently retired Deputy Director of the Conservation Labs at the National Archives admires the “penmanship of the scribes who wrote the many important national documents she has helped preserve, including the Declaration of Independence.”

“They were professional clerks known for writing beautifully, clearly in a way that anyone could read so they took the place of a formally printed document,” Nicholson said.

The words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence have inspired people around the world for 238 years, and we can also admire the beauty of these words put down onto a piece of vellum by Timothy Matlock. Examples of penmanship are also seen in the 56 signatures on the Declaration, including the famous large signature by John Hancock.

This image of the Declaration is taken from the engraving made by printer William J. Stone in 1823. Source: National Archives.

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Fairfax is ready for a uniform school day

No more half-day Mondays in Fairfax elementary schools. T. Rees Shapiro quotes Stuart Gibson’s characterization of the proposal which passed as “not ready for prime time.”

A catchy phrase, but how is it related to a uniform elementary school day? When Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975, the talented cast members performing in this late-night slot were ironically billed as the “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.”

John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris,  Chevy Chase, and Laraine Newman went ahead and performed; and the show, which was originally called NBC’s Saturday Night, was an instant hit.

Perhaps if Stuart Gibson had been an NBC executive in 1975 he would have advocated sticking to the status quo and continuing to broadcast The Best of Carson reruns of The Tonight Show on Saturday nights at 11:30.

By the way, just how long should it take to get something “ready for prime time”? Fairfax has had Monday early dismissals for 43 years. Over the past 25 years, each  time a proposal has been put forth for full-day Mondays for all elementary schools, critics have rejected it as not good enough. Some critics would say that there was no acceptable alternative to the Monday early dismissal policy, others would hold out the hope that there might be an acceptable way of providing more time for students, but only after more study. It is easy to criticize a given proposal as “not ready for prime time,” not so easy to come up with an affordable alternative.

Speaking before the vote Thursday, Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) used a more relevant phrase in his discussion of the problems with the Monday early dismissal policy. He said, “we have been skating on thin ice” on meeting state standards for a long time.

I have not heard any of the supporters of the status quo argue in favor of a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess. I have also not heard any calls for a deliberate policy of not meeting the state standards for the length of the school day. Continuing to skate on thin ice would not have been a responsible course of action.

Update: This post was revised June 30.