The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on education and dropouts in Bessemer

Some discussion following my last post about Bessemer graduation rates led me to do a little research on dropouts.

 Photo from All4Ed

I'm sure that hundreds of studies have been done and I'm sure that educators in Bessemer are familiar with these reasons, but the common folk like me may not be.

This particular list comes from Solutions for America, which believes "Contrary to popular beliefs that nothing works to solve tough community problems such as homelessness, crime, and youth unemployment, we know that SOME THINGS WORK."

  •  The relationship between students and teachers is the most important factor in student’s school experience, whether positive or negative.
  •  The disruptiveness of peers in school causes students to feel distracted and unsafe, leading to increased chance of dropping out. (Remember my experience trying to address bullying in Bessemer? Still haven't heard back.)
  •  The pace of instruction is an important reason youth give for leaving school – students who need extra attention and don’t receive it are likely to dropout.
  •  Personal problems cause youth to leave school if they do not have a trusted adult from whom they can seek help.
  •  Students in small alternative programs appreciate the increased attention and the opportunity to work at their own pace.
  •  Weak academic skills can cripple efforts to recover dropouts in “second chance” programs unless they receive even more attention from community volunteers.
  •  Economic needs can compete with pursuing education after dropping out.
  •  Students who come from single parent families, have a mother who dropped out of high school, have parents who provide low support for learning, or have parents who do not know their friends’ parents well are also all at a higher risk of dropping out than other students. 
Recent (at the time) dropouts were interviewed. Here is some of what they had to say (still getting info from Solutions for America.).

  • Improve teaching and curricula to enhance the connection between school and work. 81% of dropouts said there should be more opportunities for “real-world” learning so that students can see the connection between school and getting a job.
  •  Improve access to support for struggling students. 81% of dropouts surveyed wanted “better” teachers. 75% wanted smaller classes. 70% believed that more tutoring, summer school and extra time with teachers would have improved their chances of graduating. (This is where my volunteer efforts would have com into play).
  •  Foster academics. 70% of dropouts said that “increasing supervision in school” and 62% said “more classroom discipline” was necessary to ensure success. 57% said that their schools “did not do enough” to help student’s feel safe from violence. (This is where stricter anti-harassment policies would help.)
  •  Promote close relationships with adults. Only 41% of dropouts reported having someone to talk to about personal problems. 62% said they would like to see schools do more to help students with problems outside of class. Only 47% said the schools even bothered to contact them after they dropped out.  
The chances of principals and teachers and school board members seeing and reading this is pretty low. But hopefully, they are aware of the problems and are working on solutions. 

We see educators (usually from states like New Jersey and New York on Morning Joe (on MSNBC) on occasion talking about their successful programs  turning their schools around. So the information is out there. The Bessemer system does not have to re-invent the wheel.

And the community is behind you.  (Most of) the parents, the business owners, the citizens who do not have children in school, and (most of) the kids themselves want the schools to succeed. Let's hope the administrators take the steps, quickly, to make this happen.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bessemer education - F

I am both disgusted and embarrassed that Bessemer City High School has a graduation rate of 36%, as reported here in the Birmingham News.

Now I know that there is a new way of coming up with the number, and I see that the superintendent has made some excuses, but let’s compare to the other schools in the metro area, which all arrived at their figures using the same formula.

Fairfield – 57%
Midfield – 46%
Hoover – 90%
McAdory – 87%
Wenonah – 59%

I looked at the list for the entire state, and Bessemer is the worst statewide, other than S.R. Butler in Huntsville and a couple of schools that I think are alternative schools.

Let’s take 100 students, represented each by “i” since each student is an individual.


Here are the graduates, represented by an exclamation point, because it is the most important achievement most of them have made in their lives.


Here are those who did not graduate from high school, represented by an “x” because they have a huge strike against them from this moment on.


All lined up the 100 students look like this.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The value of a high school diploma

The thing I don’t want to hear is an anecdotal story of a high school dropout who is now a billionaire. In today’s economy, the chances of becoming successful (or even getting a job) improve with each degree held, beginning with high school, then college, then graduate school.

Of course, there will always be jobs that do not require an education, such as sanitation workers, I guess. And there is nothing wrong with having those jobs…someone must do those things. But is that what anyone aspires to?

According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics a person with a high school diploma will earn, over their lifetime, $280,000 more than a person without a high school education.

Of course, you need a high school diploma to enter college, and the earnings go up more with a college education

Who is at fault?

Who’s to blame? That is always the question.

Bessemer system superintendent Fred Primm said his biggest concern isn’t dropouts, which is listed at 9%, but instead are “withdrawals, no-shows and missing records.”

If you look at the report and the raw numbers, dropouts were 33, withdrawals are 22, no-shows are 110 and missing records are 16.

Frankly, I can understand his concern about no-shows compared to dropouts, since that is over 3 times the number, but to give more concern to “missing records” (16) and “withdrawals” (22) is misguided, in my opinion.

I see three problems in regards to no-shows and dropouts: the schools and the parents and city officials.

Someone has to instill in kids at a very early age the importance of graduating from high school. Having a “graduation coach” and an “academic improvement specialist” at Bessemer City High School is a waiting a bit too late to do anything.

The graduation coach needs to meet with children each year, beginning with Grade 1.  Seriously. If a goal of graduating is not present from the very beginning, it’s not going to be instilled in the 11th grade.

I have been told by a former Bessemer educator that some parents actually discourage their kids from performing well. This sounds like an urban legend, but unfortunately, the 1960’s attitude that education is for white folks and black folks don’t need to become what white people aspire to is still around it seems.
The following is from an article I found online, backing this up.
“These kids were just 7 and 8 years old, yet they had already been indoctrinated to think that education is for whites only. Who else other than their parents could they have gotten that from?

"This is exactly why black students are lagging behind white students in school. Black students just don't think that education is important. Black boys also have the highest dropout rate in the country (50% of black boys drop out of high school). Why is this happening? It's because black children are raised in a culture (or a household) that doesn't value education.”

Of course, people will deny this, it will not be addressed, and nothing will be done.

What needs to be done

I don’t have an answer for this, but someone has to step in and let these kids know the value of education. The parents are not doing it. And so far, the schools are not doing it.

Let me throw in that several years ago I was interested in volunteering to assist in teaching science to middle or high schoolers. I started a blog, Bessemer Science and Nature (here is the first post from 2009)  that I wanted to use to interest kids in school in science. I also volunteered to mentor students. I sent emails to teachers and administrators, and mentioned my ideas to the principle of the middle school. No one took me up on it. No emails were returned, and without even considering the reasons they might ignore my offers (he’s gay! He’s white!) I gave up and turned my efforts elsewhere.

The school system is the only entity that can step in. Since they have been unwilling or unable to do this I say it’s time for voters to replace the entire school board. 

Also we need for parents and city officials and business owners to demand of principals of every school that steps be taken to ensure that children know that education is a must to succeed in today’s world, and that education is not a "white" thing.

And the schools need to, as I suggested, talk to every student every year about the importance of goal setting, and of a particular goal: graduating from high school on time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fudgy Cake Pops

The Year of Bessemer Food

I've still been cooking (and politicking) and just haven't had much time for blogging.

But these cake pops were a hit, so I thought I would share.

First you need a cake pop pan. This one is made by Nordic Ware and available at Target (in a variety of colors).

Here is the pan, with some fresh-baked cake balls.

Notice the silver colored keys that keep the bottom and top pieces of the pan tightly secured.

Fudgy Cake Pops

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
24 lollipop sticks
Chocolate and white chocolate coatings (available for dipping fruit and such)

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour pan (or use a baking spray with flour), set aside.

In medium saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate chips and butter together, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and pour into medium bowl (or mixer bowl).

Add egg.s one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add flour and salt and stir until blended.

Spoon batter into bottom half of pan (the half without holes) filling each well so it mounds over the top of the pan (the batter is pretty soft, if you let it sit for a few minutes it isn't quite as runny, something I discovered because it takes two batches to use it up. Don't try to mound it up in a ball, though, just a little more than level is OK).

Place top half on top and secure with keys.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until toothpick inserted into hole comes out almost clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan, remove cake balls from pan and allow to cool completely on wire racks.

Trim cake balls as necessary.

Melt chocolate coatings according to directions on package.

Insert lollipop sticks into cake balls, and dip balls into melted chocolate, and turn to allow excess to drip off. Use spoon to assist in dipping. Decorate with sprinkles as desired. Place on parchment paper to set (can cool in refrigerator).

Makes about 24 cake pops.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who does God love?

Not since I realized that God loved me even though I am gay have I considered that all are not loved by God. But I guess that just as I did not always believe it, maybe I should allow others to believe it too. No, I will recognize it, but I won't agree with it.

But I would have thought that thoughtful United Methodists (meeting in Tampa at the General Conference) would easily agree about God's love.

No, they didn't. They debated today on whether or not God loves everyone. At least that is how it seemed, before they agreed to add this to the Preamble to the Social Principles of the Book of Discipline.

"We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

My interpretation of that is that neither my sexual orientation, nor my love for my partner, nor our intimacy, can separate me from the love of God. Further justification for this is that love comes from God, so our love must be good.

Furthermore I will declare that my love, and my expression of it, is not incompatible with Christian teaching. 

Currently the United Methodist Church says that it is. 

But they also state that they oppose “all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation.”

And every time I read that statement I want to scream, because there is discrimination written into that very document, just a few paragraphs away, and elsewhere.

Discrimination against gays and lesbians in not allowing their ordination.

Discrimination against gays and lesbians with hurtful statements calling us "incompatible" that harm young people and others and leads them to believe that God does not love them (and that the United Methodist Church is hypocritical).

And they wonder why young people are not staying with or coming to the church. They wonder why their numbers are dwindling.

During this General Conference it is hoped that these wrongs will be righted, that the hurtful statement will be taken out of the Book of Discipline, and that other changes will be made that are just and reflect the love that God has for all of us.

I have sent two letters to each of the delegates from the North Alabama Conference urging them to support inclusion during this conference. I shared my story with them, personal things, so they would know how words can harm people and how tough it is to belong to a church that misrepresents the love of God.

We won't know how delegates vote since voting is done on hand held devices this time. That may be a good thing, but it also means there is no accountability for their votes. We can only hope and pray and watch on livestream as the General Conference 2012 proceeds.

Here energetic young people (and others) broke out in song, a flash mob, at General Conference.