Tuesday Reading List: Babies, High School, College, and Common Ground

For today's reading list, let's take a journey through life. Shall we?

Let's start with Emily Deruy, who discusses a new film about infancy in the Atlantic:

As an adult, just watching a baby who is on the verge of crawling is exhausting. Again and again, he’ll try to rock and wiggle his way forward, tapping into a seemingly endless supply of determination. Give a toddler a spoon and she’ll drop it from her high chair over and over, testing to make sure it clatters each time and watching for her mom to pick it up and hand it back. “There’s this inborn drive for mastery,” said Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. These moments are crucial for development, and parents and the other children and adults who make up a child’s world have an enormous role in creating an environment where children have both the freedom and support to learn ... Children with high self-esteem who feel loved and supported are willing to try new things and to fail a lot in the process, said Andrew Meltzoff, Kuhl’s co-director at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, because they know they’ll be safe. Even preschoolers who shout “no” at tired parents are testing the supportive boundaries of their environments.

While it doesn't sound like the film is breaking new ground, it could be a bridge to a broader audience. The print market is saturated with books about parenting, but it's easy to see how that market might exclude parents with fewer resources. Moving along to later periods of life, Nick Chiles looks at high school, in particular, what happens when a turnaround principal leaves:

Last year, after four successful years at the helm, Mills decided to walk away, lured by an offer to become the chief education officer for a well-funded New York City-based nonprofit called The Future Project ... His decision immediately produced widespread panic in the halls and classrooms of Shabazz. Would the school revert to its distressed, low-achieving former self? The departure also illuminates one of the most vexing, crucial questions in the education landscape: When a talented, transformative principal leaves, can a school sustain success?

I spent my prior life obsessing over this question, so I'll spare you a dissertation on the topic. Two things are worth noting, though. First, one of the hallmarks of a great leader is the ability to train a successor. School systems, unfortunately, create myriad barriers to succession planning: licensure requirements for administrators, micromanaging the assistant principal placement process, rigid compensation schemes, and more. These barriers limit the effectiveness of the strongest leaders. Second, the first stage of a turnaround requires a lot of attention to technical details, and many of those things are tangential to great instruction, like establishing a positive culture, building a flexible schedule, and hiring support staff. Once that foundation is in place, however, the instructional rigor must improve. It's important to make sure the person who succeeds the "turnaround" principal has the capacity to drive rigor among the teachers. That rigor is lacking in many places, including Leslie Smith's school in rural Kentucky. She writes in the Hechinger Report about the journey from high school to college:

As much as my high school guidance counselors, teachers, and even perhaps lunch ladies tried to encourage students to stay in school, education was simply not a priority in London, Kentucky — a phenomenon not too uncommon in the rural Eastern part of the state. A mere 250-something students, including myself, managed to walk across the makeshift stage in our gymnasium to receive our diplomas, and even fewer of us were able to pursue higher education after graduation. The first time I had ever actually considered attending the University of Kentucky was when a counselor at my high school called me down to her office and asked me about my plans for the future and encouraged me to join her and a few of my classmates on a campus tour of the university that she had somehow managed to pull together.

This is a striking contrast with the college-going emphasis in many schools, including my own schooling experience in suburban New Jersey, where we received t-shirts bearing our college graduation year at kindergarten commencement. There are still plenty of folks who say "college isn't for everyone," but in a country where there are fewer and fewer living-wage jobs that don't require a college degree, I'm with Andre Perry on this one.

Finally, Fordham held a webcast yesterday to discuss ideological differences in education, in direct response to the "Great Education Reform Ideological Kerfuffle of 2016." You can watch below:

I'll leave you with some of the best twitter responses from the event (yes, one of mine snuck in there):