Archive for March, 2013

Overcrowding at Dawson High School

Pearland ISD enrollment continues to grow.  This is especially true in the western part of our district.  Of the 23 campuses in Pearland ISD, the most crowded campus (enrollment vs. capacity) is Dawson High School.  Dawson had 2,150 students at its peak this year.  Architect estimates and opinions differ on the building’s total capacity but enrollment above 2,200 students clearly forecasts problems.

Several steps were considered by the Board and administration to plan ahead for managing this growth.  We’re opening Turner College and Career High School, located on Bailey Road, in Fall 2013. It is a high school of choice, and as of this date, we have approximately 730 solid reservations for next year with at least 150 of them coming from the Dawson attendance area.  Thus, we estimate that Dawson HS will open with approximately the same number of students now attending there — because of this new high school choice.

But there is an emotional second issue associated with Dawson HS enrollment.  That school has enjoyed a dominant presence as a 4A high school, winning many academic, athletic, and fine arts honors.  Their current and anticipated enrollments are already over the 4A/5A cut-off, meaning they would likely be re-classified as a 5A school in 2014 unless more of the Dawson HS attendance zone is moved to the Pearland  HS zone.

To remain 4A, approximately 200 students would need to be re-zoned from Dawson to Pearland prior to Fall 2013.  We predict the rezoning of another 200 needed only 2 years from then.  This cycle would continue thereafter with continued re-zoning.

Realizing there are many advantages to keeping things as they are (i.e. PHS as a 5A high school and DHS as a 4A), we  sought some definitive answers from the UIL (which governs these classification matters) on how to maintain our current 4A Classification  for Dawson.  But we found out that ALL students living within a school’s attendance area count toward that school’s enrollment classification — even if they attend a school of choice (like Turner HS) or an Alternative School (like the PACE Center).  UIL offers no ifs, ands, or buts.

Therefore, the only way to maintain Dawson HS as a 4A school is to rezone high school attendance areas as described above.  Here’s the problem:  Not only would this be viewed very unfavorably by the re-zoned families, but the Principal, administrators, and coaches believe that Dawson HS will be LESS competitive as a fractured 4A school!  Consequently the Board voted this month to avoid re-zoning attendance areas.  As a result, it is almost certain Dawson HS will join the 5A classification effective Fall 2014.  Why?  We estimate the total Dawson HS attendance zone will consist of approximately 2,275 students in Fall 2013 – well above the current cut-off for 4A/5A of 2,090 students.

In short, Pearland ISD can help manage overcrowding through enrolling students at Turner HS and the PACE Center but can’t change the Dawson HS UIL classification count through such enrollments.

There are heartfelt desires to avoid a rivalry between two Pearland 5A high schools but the alternative appears worse.  So our administrators and coaches are looking forward and planning. For example, they are planning the first fall football scrimmage of the year in fall 2013 between our two high schools.  The idea is to promote a coming together of the community for this event rather than a negative rivalry.  While a competitive rivalry will grow — we are hopeful it will be of a positive nature.

My opinion:  Since the goal is to relieve overcrowding at Dawson and simultaneously maximize the opportunity to compete against other high schools, it is counter-productive to immediately rezone attendance areas.  I’ll be glad to answer any questions folks have.  Just leave a comment or email me at kellyj@pearlandisd.org.

True Grit

Of the different components needed for “world class schools” in America, I believe that student “grit” is the crucial ingredient too often overlooked.

There has been much recent research on the concept of “grit” defined by educational researcher Angela Duckworth as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals“. Grit entails “working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

The concept of grit is indirectly emphasized in a  recent thought-provoking editorial by David Brooks of the NY Times titled “The difference in moral and cognitive learning”.  It can be found at:  http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/The-difference-in-moral-and-cognitive-learning-4321096.php.

In his column, he finds a profound difference between Asian and American education.  He posits that American learning focuses primarily on understanding and mastering the external world while Asians “tend to see learning as an arduous process they undertake in order to cultivate virtues inside the self.”

America was settled by people who also believed that hard work and the cultivation of related virtues resulted in success.  Consequently, we became the most prosperous nation in the history of the world.  But that prosperity is now threatened from within.  Over the past 60 years, our country has over-emphasized IQ and individual “rights” along with instant gratification.  We have under-emphasized hard work and perseverance.  When a bright child gets a low grade, parents now tell us the child is bored because the teacher did not challenge young Einstein enough.   So the responsibility for challenging the child now seems to belong to everyone but the child.  When an average child fails a test, the parents now often say the grading system is unfair or the homework too excessive.  So making school work easy or entertaining seems to be the desired accommodation.  In short, we still want the American dream – but disregard the primary means for achieving it. Grit!

Malcolm Gladwell made a similar point in his book “Outliers”.  He cites research that shows people designated “world class” in their profession had in common 10,000 or more hours of practice.  World class violinists were those who practiced the most.  Their natural ability as a 5-year-old was NOT the major difference in their world class accomplishment – despite modern myth to the contrary. “Average” students who persisted  out-performed child prodigies who lacked persistence.  Grit mattered more.

I’m not saying that everyone should work hard at the same educational or  life goals.  Some have gifts and talents for academia; others for “hands on” jobs; others as leaders or “worker bees” in their chosen field.  We need them all – and we should honor the persistent pursuit of excellence in each field!

We have become an “entitlement” nation redefining the American dream as a right, regardless of effort, to a good living, various creature comforts, and 24/7 entertainment.  Yet there are individuals and groups among us who quietly pursue the American dream as it was once envisioned.  For example, here in Pearland, it is undeniable that many Asian students out perform all other student groups as measured by state tests and SAT scores, class rank, Ivy League college acceptance, and hours of community/civic service.  Why?  In many cases, our Asian students are first or second generation immigrants.   It is widely known that many such students go above and beyond what is required of them – and devote long hours to study.  So how do you reach the top here in Pearland ISD?  WORK HARD!  GRIT!

Brook’s editorial speaks of the Asian mindset as cultivating virtues including “sincerity, diligence, perseverance, concentration and respect for teachers.   In Chinese culture, the heroic scholar may possess less innate intelligence but triumphs over hardship.”  He goes on to say that “Western schools want students to be proud of their achievements while the Chinese emphasize that humility enables self-examination.”  He adds that “Western students often work harder after you praise them, while Asian students sometimes work harder after you criticize them.”  (Incidentally, any criticism of a student in American public schools is now widely labeled as abusive – and often involves parent paid attorneys!)

Brooks also comments that American efforts to completely separate public education from the teaching of morals is partially responsible for the difference between Asian and American learning.  I would add that the removal of most or all  moral teaching from the American public schools since the 1960’s has deepened that educational deficit.   We no longer hold in common bedrock American values, substituting instead a vague and confusing moral relativism emerging from drugged out ’60’s Hippies:  “Do your own thing!”,  “Fight the Power!”  “Freedom!”  “Expand your mind!”  “Your truth is what works for you.”

Wake up America!  The moral virtues that preach hard work and perseverance remain available for ALL to cultivate.  They are not the exclusive property of any one individual, culture or historical period.

Our school district is now developing K-12 instructional lessons on the virtues of hard work and perseverance.  Though a formal program emphasizing GRIT will emerge in Fall 2013, you may see signs of this rising emphasis this year at different schools within our district.

What a concept!  Hard work produces results!  Call the media!

Want to read more about Angela Duckworth’s research on grit?:  http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/grit/angela-duckworth-grit.html