-Very clever piece in the Miller-McCune magazine (hat tip: idea of the day blog) about evaluating schools based on how the boys' bathrooms look, along with other qualitative measures. The author says he relies mostly on test scores to judge schools, but it seems to me that he can learn more about them from the measures he mentions. In addition to looking at bathrooms, he looks for these indicators (and a number of others):
• Classroom windows and/or the vertical slits on school doors are covered over with dark construction paper. Trust me, it's seldom for purely decorative purposes.
• Students continually ask, "Will this be on the test?" (The unstated premise: "If not, we'll just ignore it.")
• Adults frequently YELL belittling language. Or: Like a restaurant with bad acoustics, the school's overall sound quality —whether too loud or too quiet — is just downright unpalatable.
• Administrators are unwilling to let credentialed visitors roam. Instead, they insist on "giving a tour" of the usual, safe suspects.
My school would have failed all of these miserably. We actually kept the bathrooms locked -- students had to ask a teacher for a key to get access (or wait by the door for another kid to come out). And only a handful of teachers had keys. Even so, they were a disaster. The janitor was constantly pulling all sorts of things out of the toilets.
-I noticed this piece in the NY Times Science section last week on how the brain deals with stress. There's new research that finds that "chronically stressed rats lost their elastic rat cunning and instead fell back on familiar routines and rote responses, like compulsively pressing a bar for food pellets they had no intention of eating." There's already research showing that living in poverty creates stress that has multiple negative implications for people. Maybe this is another reason that kids from low SES background perform so poorly in school. "Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist who studies stress at Stanford University School of Medicine, said, 'This is a great model for understanding why we end up in a rut, and then dig ourselves deeper and deeper into that rut.'"
-Among other things that the Race to the top funds don't take into account are what types of punishments states allow. In case you weren't aware, 20 states still allow corporal punishment. I have to say that I didn't find the idea of corporal punishment nearly as distasteful while I was teaching as I did before I started, but my sense is that it's neither appropriate nor conducive to a good school environment. Though, of course, an out of control school isn't helping anybody either.