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SRC looks at non-academic skills that students need to succeed

By Paul Socolar on Nov 14, 2012 12:38 PM

The School Reform Commission's discussion of teaching and learning on Tuesday evening was a departure from the last decade's single-minded focus on improving students' math and literacy skills. For a change, the focus was on how to support the non-academic skills like self-control and tolerance of frustration that researchers say are crucial to academic success.

The SRC's monthly, in-the-round strategy session took off from a presentation called "Self-Control in Children" by David Meketon, a longtime District teacher who is now a research coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center.

The session was chaired by Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, who focused the discussion on "how to ensure that students come to school ready to succeed."

Four panelists responded to the presentation: Erika Almiron, executive director of JUNTOS; Leslie Tyler of the Meredith Home and School Association; Deion Jordan, a student at Constitution High; and Science Leadership Academy teacher Matthew VanKouwenberg.

Meketon described self-control as an ability to pursue a global goal rather than responding to more immediate temptations. He pointed out that girls as a group show greater self-control than boys, and this correlates with greater academic success among girls.

In response, SRC Chair Pedro Ramos asked, "Do we need to change boys or change teachers?" and suggested that "something about the teaching" needs to change to address the gender gap.

Meketon ageed: "Educators need to rethink how we educate boys or we'll have hell to pay for it."

Decrying a trend of "overmedicating our young people so that they can behave in the classroom," Almiron, who has a background in youth organizing, added, "We often put more value on a child who can sit still than on a child who is actually trying to learn something."

VanKouwenberg, whose school has a project-based emphasis, said that through projects, "students can demonstrate their knowledge in many different ways" and that multiple-choice tests don't fully measure student understanding.

Meketon repeatedly pointed to the importance of valuing student effort and hard work, and said he thought it was a mistake that the District stopped including measures of work habits and behavior on report cards.

In response to a question, Superintendent William Hite said he agreed that report cards should incorporate more information about behavior and noncognitive measures.

Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham provided a running account of the meeting on Twitter.



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Comments (13)

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on November 14, 2012 2:14 pm
Please, this whole fiasco has nothing to do with education and everything to do with money for the already rich. What else is new ?? It's the big joke that everybody's in on masquerading as choice for parents. As Christopher Hitchens once said, "there's nobody left to lie to. " These "reformers" focus on the inner cities where hope is almost non existent. They're clawing one another out of the way, grabbing for as many federal dollars that they can get their hands on. If they had any pride, they would be ashamed but since many of them are lawyers, shame isn't even a consideration.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on November 14, 2012 3:09 pm
Pedro Ramos is restating the position of the corporate reformers when he says, "Do we have to change boys or do we have to change teachers?" Once again the blame is put on students and teachers for things over which we do not have any control. Never has anyone on the SRC criticized Governor Corbett for his cutting of $1 billion from funding for education in the 2011-2012 budget, disproportionately cutting funding in low income areas like Philadelphia, while increasing funding for prisons by a nearly equal amount. What we have is a political problem where our political system is geared towards the interests of the 1% and the rest of us are blamed for the resulting conditions of social inequality. This column by author and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education Pedro Noguera makes some proposals about how we can constructively look at ways to fix failing schools rather than blame them for the social conditions in which they exist. "Time to Put Forward a New Reform Agenda" is at
Submitted by Paul Socolar on November 14, 2012 3:31 pm

Ken - other people who heard Ramos's comment should chime in with their opinion on this, but I think this particular statement was just an awkwardly worded comment about classrooms and pedagogy rather than a blaming remark aimed at teachers. I heard it in the context of other comments that the way the school day is structured now there's an expectation that students be quiet, compliant, and sit still throughout the  day ... what Ramos and Meketon were saying was that a) as a rule girls are more often able to conform to those expectations than boys and b) that's probably not a reasonable expectation to have.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on November 15, 2012 3:49 pm
The point I am making is that to say that today's boys are somehow dysfunctional ignores the social context that children face today in school and in their communities. It is stereotyping to ignore this context. To blame teachers or students for the violence, dropout rate, and school to prison pipeline ignores the conditions in the schools where students increasingly do not receive one on one support, social services and counseling are less and less available, public schools are starved for resources, and students spend hours testing rather than learning with activities that engage them. Anyone who has spent time as a teacher will recognize this.
Submitted by Christina Puntel (not verified) on November 15, 2012 5:11 pm
amen. at some point when i have enough energy, i'll post about how much it takes me each day to meet students for who they are, be present to them in the moment, bring out the best in who they are, create a community of learners over time... while also "doing" school. i'll also sometime share how much research i've had to do as a teacher into resiliency, creativity, culturally relevant curriculum, and the time i've taken to look at/describe student work in order to educate myself and create out of chaos. it is almost impossible for teachers to describe our practice in public forums, though. and i haven't found a way to do it that makes sense. in the meantime, imagine that even in the face of inane testing, and even in the midst of a dirth of resources, we are re-imagining and re-creating ways of being human together, and it looks really different for all of us.
Submitted by Sir Frederick Mercury (not verified) on November 15, 2012 6:29 pm
Pedro Ramos: Live from the SRC, welcome to today’s discussion: How can we create self-control in children, aka what the hell can we do with black boys? We have a highly esteemed panel of experts to examine this highly relevant issue. Please welcome our first guest, newly appointed director of Promise Academies for the New Mexico Penal System, Dr. Arlene Ackerman! Dr. Queen: Thank you, Pedro. Many of you will remember the controversy surrounding the fact that I had two personal drivers despite the fact I lived a short walk from the Palace 440. As usual, the racists and sexists whom questioned my every decision, the jealous haters who are salty that I am a millionaire and they are not, willfully misunderstood the true nature of this non-issue. These are the facts: I wanted only one driver, and I insisted that this driver be a graduate of a neighborhood high school. We found a wonderful young gentleman called Robert. He began work immediately upon passing his second drug test. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that this young man had several impediments that prevented him from getting me to work by the time designated in my contract: 10:00 A.M. Ramos: What a quandary. Dr. Queen: Indeed. It was quite apparent that the school had failed to teach him how to manage his anger, how to follow simple directions, and that Rap music is both obscene and disgusting. He would get lost after driving only one block. He would begin cursing and punching himself in the head. I would try to soothe him by reading from the poetry of Maya Angelou, but this only made him angrier. The only way we could solve this problem was by hiring another driver. We figured they could switch places at the end of each block. Despite the fact that he had an unusual fixation with pit bulls, Dwight was a great addition to Team Queen. We also published this story as a case study of how to effectively implement differentiated instruction. Pedro: We thank your highness. Our next guest is war veteran, Christopher Paslay. In addition to being a real teacher, Christopher is an expert on the role of race and education. Welcome, Chris. Paslay: Thanks, Peter. Paslay: Sorry, but it’s Pedro. Paslay: Last time I checked we are in the United States, not the Estados Unidos. In America we say Peter. Peter: What is your perspective from the front lines? Paslay: I personally fail to see the relevance of this gobbledeygook. First of all, I have students whom can’t even read their own tattoos. Whose fault is it if little Johnny can’t still sit still and listen to my engaging lectures? Is it my fault or little Johnny’s? Dare we even suggest that it may be the fault of little Johnny’s negligent parents? I think we all know the answer to that one. My solution is to make believe that all of my students look, think and behave exactly like me. I am the standard and they either meet it or fail. I live in a color-blind society and so do they, whether they realize it or not. Peter: So if a student is consumed by anger or can’t focus…? Paslay: Pete, it’s not my problem. I am intelligent and successful. If they cannot be like me there is nothing I can do to help them. Pedro: Thank you for your scholarly input. Next, let’s welcome restaurateur and founder of the patriotic organization known as Teach for America, Wendy’s Kopp. Wendy’s: Grand to be here. There is a very interesting passage in Michelle Rhee’s new book, How White Supremacy Can Save America. She explains that in the 18th and 19th centuries, very few people living below the Mason-Dixon line were unemployed. So the problem wasn’t jobs; the problem was performance. Many workers were depressed, some tried to run away. It was a management nightmare. Michelle argues that these hostile attitudes toward work have been passed on genetically from generation to generation. Charles Murray has substantiated Michelle’s assertion and we are making certain that all of our teacher’s understand that angry, unfocused students are part of a greater historical continuum. This will help our teachers cry less and feel much better about themselves than they already do. Pedro: Thanks much. Our final guest will be Philadelphia’s leading educator, Scott Gordon. Scott: Pedro, my man. Although I certainly respect all of my fellow panelists, I feel that they viewing our young people’s learning difference from a deficit perspective. At Mastery we can turn any “problem” into a profit. For example, I was very taken with Newt Gingrich’s idea that we could save money by having our more uneducable students perform janitorial tasks and other unskilled labor. As usual, we took that one small idea and completely re-imagined it. What started as a few kids cleaning toilets and organizing my office has turned into a small industry. We have kids making the buzzers used by new teachers. Other kids are washing teacher’s cars and in some cases even babysitting their kids. We have one student who wants to be a doctor. While that dream may be beyond her potential, I’m seriously considering making her the school nurse. I mean, who can’t stick a thermometer in someone’s mouth and tell her to “say aah”? We are saving a fortune in operating expenses and are using excess funds to build our own athletic complex. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but suffice it to say that Scott Gordon Stadium at Mastery will make Lincoln Financial Field look like the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club. Pedro: Problem solved. Thanks to all our panelists and, as always, good night and good luck.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 14, 2012 10:02 pm
Hi Ken, I was there and did hear the discussion including Ramos's remark. Like Paul, I did not hear it as another blame-the-teacher comment. Part of the problem is that it often takes Ramos a while to articulate his point. There was the usual talk of how teachers can be more engaging and provide better instruction and give more attention to individual students and call parents more. I waited for Ramos or Hite to say, That all sounds great, but we are not lowering class size or making sure teachers have time to make phone calls. And we're not going to ask the Governor for our money back either. Spoiler alert: they didn't. Lisa
Submitted by Jason Sprenger (not verified) on November 15, 2012 9:24 am
One way that we all can work to bridge new and emerging skills gaps is to invest in education, specifically career and technical education (CTE)...this is why programs like this are important. CTE has evolved over the years to cover most career paths out there today, and has proven to deliver many benefits: improved student achievement, more business production, more open jobs being filled, etc. These programs work particularly well when businesses work with educators to devise and implement programs, so that the programs most closely match their skills/needs and can help them today. The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new group of businesses working together to advocate for CTE and curb skills gaps nationwide. For more information, or to join the effort, visit Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2012 10:17 am
Not reported: Mama Gail heckling a Constitution High School student who disagreed with her and district staff doing nothing about it.
Submitted by ANON 452 (not verified) on November 15, 2012 2:28 pm
Yes, it was only reported on Twitter by teachers and others watching. Mama Gail and a man who said he worked for the district yelled at this very composed, well-spoken young man named Deion (I believe) because he had the temerity to disagree (politely)with them. It was shameful how Wendell Pritchett did NOTHING to defend this young man. I am not sure why The Notebook or the Inquirer refused to report it. Any answers? I already asked people at 440 why they failed to answer.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2012 3:16 pm
I don' t know Mama Gail's history but she is able to say whatever she wants at SRC meetings. She usually is totally off topic, very self centered (how many stories about her husband?) and self serving. Why does she always get the floor? Who does she represent other than herself? Is Prichett afraid of her that he would not support a student?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2012 7:11 pm
Hite just congratulated Mama Gall at the SRC meeting for bringing up the topic of "respect." What a joke! So, Mama Gall is allowed to be disrespectful but ... Why does the SRC cater to her? What politician is she tied to? Who has she threatened?
Submitted by RogueTeacher (not verified) on November 15, 2012 11:02 pm
Was there ever a time in the history of the SDP, that they were given equal funding to that of wealthier districts in the suburbs? The ones that don't have as many behavioral issues and where students perform well. Just wondering why Ramos wouldn't suggest something like that instead of going back to teachers and their methodologies? Or even suggest that families get more involved, be held accountable for a change? I loathe being a teacher these days. I love the art of teaching, the teachable moments, but loathe being the only one held accountable or referred to when it comes to implementing change.

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