Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chronic Absence from School

Our community is very focused in this area. Recent efforts have included tracking school attendance, as well as launching a new program called ACT Now! all in hopes of reducing truancy.

This is obviously a national problem and it is good to stay in touch with the issue at that level. Good information can be a critical tool in helping us better shape and execute local initiatives.

A report by Hedy N. Chang titled "Present, Engaged and Accounted For" can be viewed at

I know those interested in this subject will benefit from even a cursory review of this material.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mental Health Services

In a recent post, the availability of psychological services was identified as a key element in improving academic performance in some settings.

The Black Male Handbook, edited by Kevin Powell, makes an even stronger case for the need of these services. A chapter by Andrae L. Brown, PH.D, entitled Moving Toward Mental Wellness is certainly worth reading.

Dr. Brown talks about the prevalence of traumatic events in the everyday lives of black men and boys and makes the following observation:

"The most susceptible youth are young people from neighborhoods with high rates of female-headed households living below the poverty level, and low school attendance and employment rates. Research suggest, and my personal experience confirms, that up to 50 percent of youth involved in the justice system meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) This rate is up to eight times higher than in the general population."

He goes on to say "For instance, maltreated children (those experiencing abuse and neglect) are 59 percent more likely to be arrested before they reach age eighteen, and 30 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crime. Furthermore, 92 percent of youth involved in the juvenile justice system report some type of trauma, which then can result in hyperactivity, inability to pay attention, extreme impulsiveness, aggression, anger, paranoia, aloofness, and the inability to develop close relationships."

Our school district is now promoting The Caddo Plan as it attempts to jump start 11 low performing schools and improve academic performance. Does the plan consider the need for mental health services in view of the communities served by many of these schools?

This appears to be an area worth exploring no matter what entity ends up controlling these schools.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama and the Achievement Gap

Our nation and the world just witnessed a history making event. With the election of Barack Obama as this nation's 44th president, the first African American to achieve such a goal, America clearly has demonstrated to itself and the world that what seems impossible can be turned around with the right preparation and effort.

So it is with the troubling academic achievement gap that has perplexed so many.

I believe Obama's election, with its accompanying high profile, will serve to inspire underachievers to recognize the fact that their futures are more within their own control than many have previously understood.

There is at last clear and compelling evidence that personal responsibility, hard work and high academic standards can propel anyone to new and previously unimaginable heights.

Parents, you remain the key to creating the right environments within which your impressionable youngsters can succeed. They will model your actions and expectations.

Study this site and others for suggestions and ideas on how to make it happen.

At this point, there simply are no more excuses.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Low Performing Schools-Caddo Parish

There are apparently 11 identified "low performing schools" in Caddo parish that are currently sweating possible state takeover. Recent news media reports indicate superintendent Dr. Gerald Dawkins is planning some major changes at each of the schools.

There is also state superintendent Paul Pastorek breathing down everyone's neck, threatening (or maybe promising) major changes as well.

OK with me! Something clearly must be done to generate real change which leads to improved academic performance.

In the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week, I came across an article about a program called Making Waves. This program appears to look at a wide range of student needs and provide the necessary services. These services go well beyond the usual tutoring etc., and of course, the program is voluntary.

I wonder if the interested parties ( State Legislators, State School Board, Caddo School Board and local citizens) could reach a consensus around recommending the following elements of change on a non-voluntary basis.

  1. Zero-tolerance policy regarding unexcused absences
  2. Required parent workshops to aid in equipping parents to participate in the child's education
  3. Mandatory parent/teacher conferences
  4. Mandatory additional support for students who earn a (C) or below in any core subject
  5. Make psychological services easily available to students in need of same

There is also the need to make certain the students have inspired leadership at each location. This battle to improve academic performance starts in the home and will be won or lost there.

What do you think?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Excerpts from Sen. Barack Obama's Speech to the NAACP

The selected excerpts track closely with the focus and philosophy of this site. However, Sen. Obama makes the points with such passion and precision. Now, Barack in his own words:

" ...the fight for social justice and economic justice begins in the classroom."

"But I'm not going to stop talking about it (personal responsibility). Because I believe that in the end, it doesn't matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch-none of it will make any difference if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives."

"I know that Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown versus Board of Education so that some of us could stop doing our jobs as parents. And I know that nine little children did not walk through a schoolhouse door in Little Rock so that we could stand by and let our children drop out of school and turn to gangs for the support they are no getting elsewhere.

"...we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities. That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV, and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, and setting a good example."

"It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."

Our thanks to Sen. Obama for framing this issue so clearly.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Achievement Gap Initiative (Harvard University)

The Achievement Gap Initiative has as its mission in part " help raise the achievement of all children..." with some particular emphasis on those traditionally lagging their peers. I like this site and the awesome array of information provided. It is a must reference point for any serious education advocate. This initiative is led by Mr. Ron Ferguson.

Please visit this site at for more information.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Louisiana House Should Pass LA4 Bill

The Louisiana Senate has passed SB286 and it is now in the hands of the House. This bill provides for the implementation of universal early childhood education in this state. Although this bill takes a phased in approach, it does nevertheless clearly point the state in the right direction.

The value of early childhood education and in particular the LA4 program is well documented.

This type of training should be made available to all students in our state without a needs based test. That is the direction we are headed and we concur with this movement.

So please get involved. You can go to and make your voice heard. There you can identify your local representative and send a quick email asking for their support.

Also, you may wish to see today's edition of The Times. Dr. Phillip Rozeman writes an excellent piece on this program

Thank you for your support.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grade Retention and Accountability

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of high stakes testing. The pass/fail nature of these tests is simply unfair and wrong in my view.

However, there seems to be another side of this question that bears closer examination. Is grade retention itself an effective strategy for improving student achievement.

Enter the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) with some interesting observations. In a position statement on this subject, the association states "...that as many as 15% of American students are held back each year, and 30% -50% of students in the US are retained at least once before ninth grade. Furthermore, the highest retention rates are found among poor, minority, inner-city youth."

Now I am no supporter of a simple policy of so called "social promotion" either. In fact, the association points out that "...neither grade retention nor social promotion is an effective strategy for improving educational success."

NASP argues in favor of what it calls "promotion plus" specific interventions that focus on student needs. I particularly like the very first thing on its list which is to "encourage parents' involvement in their children's schools and education through frequent contact with teachers, supervision of homework, etc..

Other suggestions include:

-offer extended year, extended day, and summer school programs that focus on facilitating the development of academic skills
-establish full-service schools to provide a community-based vehicle for the organization and delivery of educational, social and health services to meet the diverse needs of at-risk students
-Implement effective school-based mental health programs

NASP says "a recent systematic review of research exploring dropping out of high school indicates that grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout."

With local and national emphasis on understanding and reducing what is called a dropout crisis, it is clear to me that automatic grade retention policies are part of the problem and not the solution. They should be stopped immediately in favor of more innovative approaches. Start with a detailed study of NASP recommendations.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Improving the Lives of Children

Today we highlight the efforts of one of my heroes and his lovely wife. I speak of General Colin Powell and, his wife, Mrs. Alma Powell. General and Mrs Powell have launched a nationwide effort to contain and reverse the high school drop out crisis that we face as a country. In particular, they focus on the at risk child which more often than not tends to be black and/or Latino.

Mrs. Alma Powell, chair of America's Promise Alliance, recently launched its 15 in 5 initiative.
This effort has at its core the goal of reaching 15 million young people (particularly those most as risk) in the next five years by exposing them to the five promises.

The five promises that have most been correlated with future success are:
  • Caring adults
  • Safe places and constructive use of time
  • Healthy start and development
  • Effective education for marketable skills and lifelong learning
  • Opportunities to make a difference through helping others.

This effort, together with its overarching message, is one our site is proud to showcase. It promotes the right values and focus. We concur with the promises and encourage you to join us and the 15 in 5 campaign.

We have created a link to the 15 in 5 Web site for your easy use. It is a great site. A powerful resource for anyone interested in kids and their education. I look forward to making it one of my first daily reading sources.

Thank you General and Mrs Colin Powell. You are an awesome team and an inspiration to me and I suspect many, many others.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Best Practices 2007- 2008 School Year

"What we do well here is teaching middle-class predominately white children whose parents push them," he said of Caddo Parish's school system. "The thing we don't do well is teaching the kids of color whose parents may be poor or who have other risk factors."

The above quote is taken from a January 29, 2008 editorial from The Times. The central focus of the piece was our local dropout problem. The quote is from Dr. Terry Cash, of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University in South Carolina.

I have been corresponding with 21 local leaders since January, 2006 regarding the Learn to Learn initiative.

I am now inviting those leaders or other interested parties to post to this entry, as a comment, things they are doing to promote academic excellence and to reduce the unacceptable dropout rates in the black community.

By sharing in this format, we can catalog opportunities for overall community improvement, and achieve a wide distribution. Please post contact information with strategies in the event others may want more details.

Thanks for your participation.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Financial Aid

As the cost of a college education continues to rise, it becomes critical for students and parents to access as much information as possible regarding potential aid. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) is a great resource. There you can find solid information about financial strategies for college.

The Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is one such possibility for completing college in Louisiana. However, you must know and understand the requirements to properly prepare for the chance to compete. Again, detailed information on this program is provided at the LOSFA site.

LOSFA can be accessed at See the link from this site and be sure to share this information with a friend. Good luck.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Importance of Mathematics

The importance of mathematics according to Dr. Walter Williams of George Mason University in a recent article:

"Few people appreciate the implications of poor math preparation. Mathematics, more than anything else, teaches one how to think logically. As such, it is an important intellectual tool. If one graduates from high school with little or no preparation in algebra, geometry and a bit of trigonometry, he is likely to find whole areas of academic study, as well as the highest paying jobs, hermetically sealed off from him for his entire life."

Visitors to the Site