Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cleveland's New Student Dress Code

I've had mixed feelings regarding the new district-wide dress code policy announced this week for all Cleveland students. (Follow the comments on the Plain Dealer article here)

My first response when teachers were polled this past school year regarding our thoughts on the proposed dress code was,

"Oh great! A smoke and mirrors policy. An easy, highly-visible rule change, set-up to appease the public, so the administration can appear to be doing something to improve the schools. How will this help my teaching? How will it be enforced? Will good students loose valuable classroom time for dress code violations?"

I could envision students being sent home for wearing a pin-striped shirt instead of a solid color, or serving suspension time "in-house", which many kids regard as a joke not a punishment, rather than attending class.

When I discussed the proposed dress code with my students, a number of them said they would consider transferring to a charter school with no dress code, or enroll in an on-line home-school charter.

It will be interesting to see if there will be any drop in enrollment corresponding to the new dress code. I will also be curious to see the corresponding statistics for attendance, suspensions, and dress code related disciplinary actions. Will anyone be following those numbers?
I know that everyone will be watching the districts' test scores in the spring. Will collared shirts and twill slacks improve teaching and learning?
Will schools that can not even managed to keep students from roaming the halls and hanging out in the parking lots be able to enforce a dress code?
Will there be a survey at the end of the school year to evaluate the dress code policy?

Yes, I did say my feelings were mixed regarding a district-wide dress code, and so far I have only expressed concerns. What I do feel positive about is the fact that the superintendent has listened to the community, and responded. The voting, tax paying, citizens of the city were tired of watching teenagers traipsing to school in drooping jeans and hoochie-mama skirts. They wanted to see kids walking to school looking like they were ready to work instead of party.

Dr. Sanders came to Cleveland asking questions, he paid attention, and now he has acted. A new dress code isn't the silver bullet that will fix the city's failing schools, but communication is. Resist the temptation to hide in the ivory tower of academia, and keep on talking to those of us who are in the classrooms, in the community, and on the streets. That ivory tower, the pedestal of a superintendent, can also be very much of a silo, with its layers of bureaucracy acting as a wall, keeping educational leaders insulated not only from the community they serve, but the teachers who work on the educational front lines.

Communication is the key.

Make yourself and you thoughts accessible. Keep the conversation going.
How about adding a superintendent's blog to that new CMSD website?

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Name for CMSD

By the way, in case you didn't notice, or hadn't heard; the Cleveland Municipal School District will now be known as the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Gee... I guess that means new stationary, new signs, new business cards.
I hope all those contracts are with local businesses

Cleveland Atelier: Kick-off at the Warhol

The Cleveland Atelier has been launched!

Atelier is the visuals arts componenet of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's All-City Arts program. Sponsored by The Human Fund, the program will connect the Greater Cleveland arts community with the most talented high school art students from across the entire Cleveland school district.

Last week RealNEO posted an article about the summer arts intensive program collaboration betweem Cleveland Atelier, ArtHouse, and Passport Project. You can read about it here.

I am re-posting my comment here describing our first group activity: a trip to Pittsburgh to visit the Andy Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory

Saturday was a great day for the trip to Pittsburgh. Gorgeous weather and a fabulous bus driver made the two hour drive seem so much shorter.

The students on the trip were top-notch, bright kids, and just drank
everything in. One of the girls confided in me that this was her first trip outside of Cleveland. Ever.

The installations at the Mattress Factory were our first stop, and to my surprise, they all "got it". Conceptual art is often difficult for many people to understand, let alone appreciate or, even in some cases, tolerate. As we explored the buildings, walking from room to room, you could hear them talking together;

"This is sooo cool."
"Wow! Look over here!"
"How did they do that?"

Never once did I hear;

"I don't get it" or
"Why would they call this art?"

The seven floors of the Warhol Museum kept us busy for hours. Each one of us wandering off on our own. As a teacher, it was so very gratifying to walk into a gallery room and see our students not only looking at the art, but reading. As a veteran of 27 years of high school field trips, I am accustomed to teenagers dashing through museums, and then finding an out-of-the-way spot to hang out with their friends until the adults finally round them up. This was such a completely different group of kids, mature, focused, interested.
I can't even begin to express how impressed I was.

By late afternoon, when it was time to leave, we had no trouble finding anyone, since they all were in the basement workshop, making art.

Tuesday, the printmaking session of the summer intensive will begin at ArtHouse, and then on Thursday the students will begin working on photography at Passport Project. When the school year begins in August we will begin to grow the Atelier program with our current partners, and continue to explore opportunities to form new partnerships with other arts organizations throughout the city.

Why worry about attracting creative new talent to our city? We have all the resources right here.
We can simply grow our own .

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Atelier:A New Program for The Cleveland Municipal Schools

We are in the process of developing a new city-wide high school visual arts program for the Cleveland Schools which will offer our most talented art students the opportunity become acquainted with the arts community in Cleveland, and to study and work with professional local artists.

The program called "Atelier" will be launched next month on a small scale with summer workshops in photography and printmaking, and continue as an after-school/weekend program throughout the coming school year

We would like to talk with artists, galleries, and community arts programs who are interested in collaboration and developing the vision of what "Atelier" can become.

Please contact me via email at :

Main Entry: ate·lier Meriam Webster Dictionary
Pronunciation: "a-t&l-'yA
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from Middle French astelier woodpile, from astelesplinter, from Late Latin astella, diminutive of Latin astula
1 : an artist's or designer's studio or workroom
2 : WORKSHOP = : a usually brief intensive educational program for a relatively small group of people that focuses especially on techniques and skills in a particular field

(taken in part from Wikipedia)
....Atelier:A studio is an artist's workroom, or an artist and his or her employees who work within that studio. This can be for the purpose of painting, pottery (ceramics), sculpture, photography, cinematography, animation, radio or television broadcasting or the making of music.
The etymology for the word "studio" is derived from the Italian word, from Latin studium, from studere, meaning to study or zeal.

The French term for studio, atelier, in addition to designating an artist's studio is used to characterize the studio of a fashion designer.

The studio of a successful artist, especially from the 15th to the 19th centuries, characterized all the assistants, thus the designation of paintings as "from the workshop of..." or "studio of..."
An art studio is sometimes called an atelier, especially in earlier eras. In contemporary, English language use, "atelier" can also refer to the Atelier Method, a training method for artists that usually takes place in a professional artist's studio.

The Atelier Method is a method of arts instruction modeled after the private art studio schools of 15th-19th century Europe. Taking its name from the French word for "artist's studio" the Atelier Method is a form of private instruction in which an artist, usually a professional painter, works closely with a small number of students to progressively train them.

Atelier schools can be found around the world, particularly in North America and Western Europe.

The term atelier also refers to a printmaking studio, where master print-makers, work collaboratively with painters & sculptors who want to make limited editions of their art using printing presses, such as lithography, gravure and screen printing

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On Experiential Learning, Student Failure, and the Ever Growing Prison Industry

This weekend I received the following e-mail:

Ms Matthews,

I had written to you in September 2006 and had bookmarked your blog to give
me a connection to what other teachers were experiencing. I agree with your
opinion: " Experiential learning is, by far, the most effective method, though
under-utilized within the walls of academia". In Texas, so many of the teachers
are teaching for the state mandated tests. How can experiential learning exist
in a classroom when the state is telling the student what it expects them to
learn? Is there a way to blend the two?

I guess the prison industry is more important than education in Texas as it
is in Ohio. Does it seem to you there are more failures than successes with the
Thanks for your time,



Great questions! In fact, this will be the next post on my blog which, once again has been neglected for too long.

Experiential learning strategies are more easily adapted in some curriculum subject areas than others. Because I teach Visual Art, I have the luxury of teaching in a subject area that does not require any mandated testing in the state of Ohio, and so I am not fettered in the way my colleagues are in the core curriculum areas. The Ohio state standards for the arts were written by fine arts teachers from across the state, and I must compliment the standards committee on their wisdom and common sense in the development of standards that not only allow but encourage creative and flexible lesson planning and a variety of methodologies.

But the fine arts folk have always seemed to march to a different drummer than our teaching brethren in the academics.

That is not to say that the core subject areas are lost causes if teachers would like to implement experiential learning methods. You all just need to step outside your comfort zones and take on the challenge.
Don't try to suddenly makeover the whole course as an experiential learning class. Start with small steps. Try one pilot lesson.

First, look at the material that needs to be covered before the state test, and pull out your curriculum map. Find one unit that might adapt to an experiential learning strategy and plan it carefully. Choose a unit that you would typically take one week to cover, and develop a lesson using whatever experiential learning methods you can adapt, and see how it goes. The key is in the planning. If you can work as a team with other teachers, either in the same department or cross curricular, the odds for success are even greater. Make sure you come up with an assessment tool that honestly evaluates student learning, as well as using sample questions from the state test that apply to that unit. Ask what worked and what didn't, and above all ask why. Next semester, or next year, try it again with the same unit, making whatever changes are needed, and perhaps even plan a second unit using experiential learning strategies.

My academic colleagues and I have, over the years, often discussed the pros and cons of state standards and "teaching to the test". It is my humble opinion, based upon observation, that the teachers who have always been the most creative in their lessons were the ones LEAST likely to complain about having to "teach to the test". The tests simply affirmed their students were learning the required material.
On the other hand, the teachers who complained the most were the ones who tended to religiously supplement their basic lessons with jumbles, crossword puzzles, word searches, and current events summaries.
The state tests required that actual teaching and learning were taking place during class time, as opposed to the "busy work" that gave the students the appearance of being "on task", yet no real learning was going on.

Good teaching requires a lot of planning. Creative teaching requires even more planning, as well as a whole new set of problem solving skills.

How is this for a challenge: What if you had to teach a unit without lecturing?
I would be willing to bet more than half of my teacher colleagues at the high school level would have no idea where to even start.

Are there more failures than successes with the students?

Whoa! Now that's a tough one.
I guess it all depends on how one wants to interpret the statistics.There are some groups who will tell you that the No Child Left Behind Act has improved American schools, however, what I see in Cleveland, Ohio tells a different story. We have an unacceptable drop-out rate (more than 40%) and an equally dismal number of students who failed the Ohio Graduation Test. Yes, sadly, I see a lot of failures.
What does the future hold for those young people we fail to educate?

Looking at the statistics, and noting the recent trends reported by the Department of Justice, they may very well find a future in the corrections industry.
75% of Ohio's prison population are high school drop-outs.

Your comment regarding the Prison Industry vs Education touched on a topic that inevitably raises my blood pressure. The correlation between failing schools and the booming corrections industry is irrefutable, yet conveniently ignored by both our politicians and the mainstream media.

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Nicole Colson, titled " Incarceration Nation"

"A Justice Department report released in December revealed that a
record 7 million people--one in every 32 adults in the U.S.--was either behind
bars, on probation or on parole at the end of 2005.
Though the U.S. has just
5 percent of the world’s population, it has an incredible 25 percent of the
world’s prison population--2.2 million people. Since 1970, the U.S.
incarceration rate has increased by 700 percent, and that number is still

“After a 700 percent increase in the U.S. prison
population between 1970 and 2005, you’d think the nation would finally have run
out of lawbreakers to put behind bars,” states a February report by the Pew
Charitable Trusts. Evidently not...

...The prison industry may
be bad for people, but it’s certainly good for business.
Private prison
companies operate in about three-quarters of U.S. states. According to a recent
CorpWatch report by Deepa Fernandes, the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation
of America (CCA), America’s largest private-prison operator, announced that
revenues had increased to almost $300 million for the second quarter of

According to Wikipedia: Today, non-governmental enterprises, in the form of publicly traded companies, operate 264 correctional facilities housing almost 99,000 adult offenders. Companies operating such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc, and Cornell Companies.
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) website lists a capacity of 69,000 beds in 63 correctional facilities.The GEO Group operates 61 facilities with a capacity of 49,000 offender beds, while Cornell Companies has 79 facilities to service 19,226 adult and juvenile offenders in secure containment and community-based corrections.

US Department of Justice statistics show there are currently 199,356 federal inmates housed in 191 federal prisons at a cost of approximately $4,745,000,000 a year, or 13 million dollars per day.

The Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction manages 45,854 inmates, operates 33 facilities, contracts with 2 private prisons, and has 13,938 employees. The agency's annual budget is over $1.6 billion.

By 2010, the number of American residents in prison or with prison experience is expected to jump to 7.7 million, or 3.4 percent of all adults, according to a 2003 US Department of Justice report.

The prison industry is booming. Profits are dependent upon the continuous increase in the numbers of persons who are incarcerated, and those numbers are comprised predominately of immigrants, the poor, and the uneducated.
Our educational failures are fueling prison profits and feeding corporate greed.

" You can't fix the public schools by throwing more money at them."

This is the mantra of many conservatives who are disgusted with the state of public schools in America, and have withdrawn their support. These are the same folks who promote "Zero Tolerance" policies and the lock-em-up mentality.
These philosophical mind-sets combined with the prison-building-as-economic-development strategies that are being adopted across the country, and the privatization of the corrections industry, add up to one rather frightening future.

In an era where profits consistently trump social good, can impoverished districts serving a demographic consisting mainly of minorities ever hope to get the support we need?