Boys, held back for life?

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Yesterday I was scanning my NYTimes feed and stopped when I read this title, “Delay Kindergarten at Your Own Peril.” As an educator, a title like that begs to be read. I stopped mid-swipe, clicked and read the provocative opinion penned by researchers Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt who provided detailed research explaining why “redshirting” your child could be dangerous.

Strikingly to me, this is the first time I had heard any argument against this practice. In fact, holding younger children back to enter kinder the following year, is such a common practice where I live and work that when you hear about it, you don’t even blink.

Teachers may encourage redshirting because more mature children are easier to handle in the classroom and initially produce better test scores than their younger classmates. In a class of 25, the average difference is equivalent to going from 13th place to 11th. This advantage fades by the end of elementary school, though, and disadvantages start to accumulate. In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment — in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.</blockquote

In my community, redshirting is much more common for boys than girls. Reading this opinion piece troubles me because I, along with others, have been assuming that this practice is actually benefitting our students. Wang and Aamodt go on to share how an intellectually demanding environment actually increases skills and abilities as well as motivation.

These differences may come from the increased challenges of a demanding environment. Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high an error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning

It strikes me that we tend to redshirt our boys more than we do our girls, and I’m wondering if this connects to the higher rate of boys we have who become identified as learning disabled, at-risk, and trouble-makers who are suspended at a higher rate that girls. I also think about the persistent gap that exists in many of our community schools between boys and girls in reading and writing. I wonder if we decreased the practice of redshirting if we would narrow these gaps.

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Building a Better Teacher – NYTimes gives me restless nights

Ever since a colleague emailed me the link to NYTimes  Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher” I’ve been spending an inordinate number of minutes and hours thinking about the implications and multiple things worth thinking about. I almost which wrote 3 articles instead of the mammoth one.

Sill, the Lemov’s accomplishments regarding his quest for the essential traits is elusive.  After nearly 20 years in education (I can’t wait until I can truthfully say, “I’ve been an educator for over 20 years.” I’ve been dreaming of this moment!) I too hold that same inquiry question.  What is it?  I think I know –  but do I really know?  What evidence do I have that what I think qualifies teaching excellence truly is so?

I think about reading this article with friends and coming up with our own list.  Would it be – wait until the class is focused on you before you begin speaking?  Or would it be such a beautiful strategy that the message gets lost in the simplicity of the technique?  I think about the countless hours spent developing my self and others to learn to execute 9’s on a scale of 10 of instructional strategy acrobatics, perfecting the perfect writer’s workshop, facilitating the literature circle, and inviting inquiry in a socratic seminar.  I’m certain that those strategies are still quite important, and maybe I’ll see them in Lemov’s list when I get time to peruse his ideas.

But right now, I just sit and reflect on what I think I know and I dwell in the luxury of thinking and dreaming and wondering.

Book Chat: Leading for Equity

Reading Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Montgomery County Public Schools by Stacey M. Childress, Denis P. Doyle, David A. Thomas, and David Gergen almost feels like cheating. I am so grateful to these authors for capturing the story of the Montgomery County Public Schools and sharing it with practitioners who need a little bit of inspiration. 
This winter break, this book was my inspiration.  I devoured it on my flight back from Chicago just a few days ago and still my mind is churning.  I look forward to reading it again at a slower less consuming pace. Leading for Equity connects with those of us wake every morning  trying to do better for the children and the community we serve. 
Creating a powerful vision, relentlessly focusing on student learning, and facing the facts and truth about race and poverty, and artfully distributing “real” shared decision-making allowed this district to make dramatic achievement gains for all student populations in all sectors of their county.
As a director of curriculum and instruction, I was keen on their work to create world class expectations and their ability to backmap pathways to rigorous learning outcomes. Their approach to analyzing their data  made me think about all the possible research questions I have and how I might go about uncovering meaning in my own midst.
Of course, Montgomery’s ability to reframe thinking of equity of opportunity rather than equity of resources is the magic that allows the work to happen. I’m certain that this shift in understanding occurred through a delicate political dance.  However, it is these kinds of moves upon which many districts stumble while trying to manage resources in an accountable manner. 
I recommend this book for any person interested in school reform efforts, educational case studies, district leadership, and practitioners of systemic thinking.