Thursday, March 31, 2016

About averages

Radio Commentary

There is a tendency in the media to overuse the word “average” and misrepresent what it really means.

Take, for example, “average” test scores. As we all know, to get an average, you add up all the scores and then divide by the total number of scores. It is often the case that no individual score actually falls at the average.

An average isn’t a median or midpoint. It doesn’t mean that half the scores fall above and below that point. In fact, you could conceivably have a situation where ALL scores fall ABOVE the average, except for one score that is so very low, it pulls down the average.

This helps explain the seeming paradox with test scores. For many years the AVERAGE SAT scores were DOWN — but scores were UP for every subgroup that took the test.

That included Hispanics, Asians, blacks, whites, etc. — and scores were up for every academic level represented — “A” students, “B” students, and “C” students.

If test scores rose for every academic level, how could the overall average be down?

Because far more C students are now taking part. And even though scores rose for students who are still learning English, far more of those students have also been taking the test, too.

So when you dis-ag-gre-gate the tests and look at every group that took them, you see a success story. But when you aggregate the tests and look only at the overall average, the picture is very different.

This is a critical concept in assessing what needs to be “fixed” in our schools. Sadly, it is always easier to deal with simple rhetoric than with complicated facts. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

IQ scores up

Radio Commentary

An interesting fact has emerged from IQ testing over the past 60 years: Scores have risen so dramatically and so quickly that scientists say heredity cannot be the cause.

Because IQs are always adjusted into a bell-shaped curve, with an IQ of 100 being the mid-point, the rise in raw scores has not been readily apparent.

But researchers for 10 years now have been giving subjects IQ tests that had been unchanged for almost all of the last century.
The results show that today’s American children would perform 20 points higher in IQ on the scale given in 1931.

Today, about 25 percent would rank as intellectually superior on that 1931 test, when only 3 percent fell into the category at that time.
Scientists offer a variety of possible reasons behind the rise in IQs: 

  • better nutrition, 
  • improved child-rearing in smaller families, 
  • more exposure to schooling and testing, 
  • the bombardment of media stimulation, 
  • and modern teaching techniques. 

They all agree that heredity could not account for the rise.

IQ tests measure intelligence, abstract reasoning, or mental sharpness, and scientists say this is apparently more responsive to changes in the way we live than to our genetic makeup.

Living in a richer, more stimulating environment may not make people wiser, kinder, or more accomplished on tests of recall. But it does seem to make them smarter in the ways that intelligence tests can record. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Business Community Participates in Los Robles High School Career Week

New release

Beginning March 21, over two dozen members of the local business community joined forces with Partners in Education, the Probation Department, and Juvenile Court and Community Schools for the annual Los Robles High School Career Week.

Los Robles High School is a Residential Court School for boys ages 13-18. The school allows male juvenile offenders to continue their high school education at the Probation Department’s Los Prietos Boys Camp, which is an alternative to traditional detention in a juvenile hall. They emphasize discipline, respect, and responsibility; provide work and vocational training, counseling, drug and alcohol programming, and religious and spiritual expression; and promote volunteer and community service work.

Over the years, Los Robles staff have worked with Partners to make Career Week a vital part of the effort to help boys prepare for life after they leave the camp.

The week kicked off with a welcome address by Deputy Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido, who then introduced keynote speaker Samantha Alvarez, a volunteer manager with Partners in Education. Alvarez shared the story of her own struggles and perseverance.

She told the assembled students, “After Friday, it will be up to you to use the skills you develop this week. It’s all meant to help guide you to be successful in a job and in life. I want to remind you,” she concluded, “that while struggles will come, remember this week when you need help. I’ve been through many struggles myself, but have pushed on through. You can, too.” 

Throughout the week, students participated in Partners in Education Career Readiness workshops, focusing on graduation requirements, post-high school education, money management, interview skills, professional communications, and more. Each session was led by a Partners in Education volunteer.

By week’s end, over 25 volunteers from local organizations had driven to the bucolic camp, located several miles off Highway 154, to participate. Volunteers represented such diverse organizations as Transition House, Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara Business College, The Art Institutes, PlanMember Financial, Montecito Bank and Trust, Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, Santa Barbara Unified School District, Santa Maria Unified School District, Allan Hancock College, Bacara Resort & Spa, Workforce Investment Board, Hofmann Architecture, Goleta Barbers, and American Medical Response.

Wrapping up the week, students were entertained by world champion BMX flatlander Jesse Puente, who encouraged them to “find and follow their passions,” because “each and every one of them can be whatever they want.” Juvenile Court and Community Schools Director Mark Leufkens delivered closing remarks before awarding certificates of completion to all students who participated in the workshops.

“I never cease to be amazed at the way Santa Barbara County community partners rally around a meaningful cause,” said Partners in Education Executive Director Chelsea Duffy. “When we talk about working collaboratively to make a difference in the lives of young people, I don’t think there is a better example than the volunteer efforts at our annual career week here at Los Robles. Moving forward, our team will be working with Los Robles to ensure that the boys receive this support throughout the year and not just during one week.”

Visit to learn more about Partners in Education and ways to volunteer. To learn more about volunteering at Los Robles High School, contact Elizabeth Adams at 964-4710 x4413,

Formed in 1977, Partners in Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization administered by the Santa Barbara County Education office, under the guidance of the business and educational leaders on its board of directors. The mission is to connect businesses and individuals with schools, and the organizations that serve them, to help improve public education in ways that support a vibrant economy, a health community, and the well-being of local children and their families.

Children need consistency

Radio Commentary

Children need consistency. They thrive on routines and consistent responses. It helps bring order to their world in a way they can handle.

Children are also more likely to listen when they can anticipate the responses they will receive from their parents.

Being consistent with discipline is especially important. And it’s critically important for both parents to be on the same page with discipline, whether they live in the same household or not.

For this reason, parents should agree together on the disciplinary techniques they will use, and when they will be called into play.

If you disagree, don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance to help mediate these discussions, because they are important for the sake of the children involved.

In fact, professional assistance, when needed, creates a safe space for discussing these issues, which works to everyone’s advantage.

It’s a rare parent who has never felt embarrassed, frustrated, or angry by their child’s behavior at one time or another. Having both parents react the same way, or use the same disciplinary techniques, helps a child understand boundaries and consequences.

The goal is to raise a happy and healthy child, who understands there are limits in the world, and very specific results if those limits are reached.

Having both parents approach these issues in a consistent way creates an environment where children can thrive — and that’s the bottom line for all of us.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to perform at Arlington Theatre for 2,000 students

News release

(Please Note:  This performance is NOT open to the general public.)

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform April 13 for 2,000 elementary school students at the Arlington Theatre.  The Children’s Creative Project, a program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is honored to present this free program.

Established in 1958, the New York-based, primarily African-American modern dance company has grown into a large multi-racial company that is one of America’s most acclaimed international cultural ambassadors. The company is dedicated to the preservation of unique black cultural expression and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage.

The company will perform Revelations for students. Revelations tells the story of African-American faith and tenacity from slavery to freedom through a suite of dances set to spirituals and blues music. It is choreographed by Alvin Ailey and performed by this amazing company of dancers.

Generous grant support for this performance is provided by The Towbes Foundation, Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, and funds raised from the I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival produced by the Children’s Creative Project to benefit its arts education programs.  This performance would not be possible without the collaboration of UCSB Arts & Lectures.

“Coordinated by the Children’s Creative Project, this performance is part of the CCP’s larger arts education program that provides visual and performing arts workshops conducted by resident artists in 70 elementary schools reaching more than 37,000 students,” explained County Superintendent Bill Cirone, whose office oversees the program. “In addition, the CCP presents roughly 500 performances per year for some 50,000 students in 94 schools throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.”

Please Note:  This performance is NOT open to the general public. The performance times listed below are for your information only so that you, a writer or photographer, may attend to cover the event.  

Performance times: 10:30 to 11:30 AM

Building motor skills

Radio Commentary

Children’s work is play. Much is learned through simple games and activities. In fact, play is important in helping children build basic motor skills like running, jumping, throwing, and catching.

Play helps build muscles and aerobic capacity in young bodies. It allows children to release energy and tensions.
Play also teaches social skills. It can increase self-esteem, help strengthen and build attention spans, and improve physical coordination.

To help your child develop basic motor skills during playtime you might consider the following activities:

Use bright, colorful balls when playing ball games because these are easy for children’s eyes to follow.
It helps keep their attention and makes it easier for their eyes to follow the motion.

Use slow, consistent pitches when tossing to your child. Practice makes perfect — for them and for you!

Practice the same skill in different ways to keep your child interested. Run races today. Play tag tomorrow. The skills are the same but the game seems very different. This helps prevent boredom or distraction.

Give brief instructions that are easy to follow, like “Watch the ball.” Long-winded explanations about why it’s important to watch the ball can lead a child’s mind to wander.

Remember that children tire easily, so keep periods of vigorous activity short. When children are young, it’s always better to schedule several short activities rather than one long one.
It helps keep you fresh as well.

Friday, March 25, 2016


Radio Commentary

Sometimes, family conflict can lead to divorce.

For children of any age, divorce or even separation represents major loss.

One psychiatrist who specializes in this area said, “The scariest thing about divorce for kids under age 6 is the unknown. It can be stressful, sad, and confusing. It is not uncommon for children to think, ‘What will happen to me?’ ”

To ease a child’s anxiety, offer reassurance that things will be okay.

If possible, allow the child to stay in the same school and neighborhood with one parent, to maintain current routines. Stability, structure, and comfort are very important.

For the sake of the children, it’s important to remain as cordial as possible with a former spouse and be cooperative while discussing plans and schedules, especially in your children’s presence.

It also helps to maintain the same rules in both households, if possible.

Try not to undermine each other’s decisions, and try not to blame or criticize your ex-spouse in front of your children. It’s confusing and distressing for them to hear.

Presenting a united front can be comforting and helpful for children.

The main goal is to let children know that even though their parents aren’t together, they are still loved. The most healing and reassuring message is to say “I love you” as often as possible.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Using time well

Radio Commentary

No matter how busy parents are, there are things they can do to help their children succeed in school.

To start, it’s important to organize your time. Try to plan work and activities around school and practice schedules.

Also plan to do a few things at once. For example a child could start doing homework in the car while the family is waiting for an older sibling to get out of school.
The car is also a quiet place where parents and children can talk together uninterrupted.

It’s also a good idea to find other people to help. A babysitter can sometimes help with homework. Grandparents who live nearby can often lend a hand with carpooling.

Friends and neighbors are often willing to trade services and pitch in when needed.

Alternative scheduling can also make a big difference. Though many parents check homework at night, it sometimes works better for parents to do it in the morning, while a child is eating breakfast.

If work schedules make it possible to have only a quick dinner in the evenings, try to compensate in the mornings with a big, hot breakfast.

Also remember that weekend schedules can make up for weekday shortfalls.
And finally, it’s a good idea to figure out a way to help at school even if your work schedule is complicated.

Be flexible and creative. But find ways to stay involved.

An Inspirational Approach to Education

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

William Doyle, a Fulbright Scholar, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning TV producer, wrote a powerful essay about the “School of the Future.”

First, the context. As a Fulbright Scholar, Doyle spent five months as a Finnish public school father and a classroom observer. In his own words, he was “completely amazed at how good Finnish comprehensive schools are,” and wanted to capture the quality, impact, and important lessons learned from what he saw.

Doyle wrote: “I have seen the School of Tomorrow.”

“It is a place where children and teachers are safe and happy.”

“It is a school where children are encouraged to be children, to play, to daydream, to laugh, to struggle and fail, to assess themselves and each other, to question and learn.”

 “It is a school where teachers test their students every day, not with low-quality standardized tests or faceless screens, but with constant face-to-face observations and teacher-designed assessments.”

“It is a school where teachers are highly trained, treasured, and respected, and given the freedom to teach at their best.”

“It is a school where teachers collaborate and experiment with ways to help their students learn better.”

“It is a place where technology is the servant, not master.”

“It is a school where children are prepared for life, not only with the fundamentals of language, math and science, but with play, arts and crafts, drama, music, ethics, home skills, nature, physical activity, social and emotional support, warmth, and encouragement.”

“It is part of a school system that delivers world-class educational results and educational equity to hundreds of thousands of children.”

An inspiring account of schools at their best.

Doyle went on to attribute Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence to a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best.

Some of Doyle’s favorite Finnish sayings on education are: “Let children be children” and “The work of a child is to play.”

Doyle concludes, “With a ‘whole child’ approach, by highly training and trusting teachers…Finland has flown to the stratosphere of global performance.”

Doyle also recognizes that Finland’s education system is hardly perfect. “Its schools and society are entering a period of huge budget and social pressures. Finnish students slipped in one recent round of global benchmark tests.”

Finland, he believes, will view times of struggle as opening doors of great opportunity. Quoting French philosopher Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

Finland’s schools have long been its bedrock strength, and their approach to education is an inspiration and a model to the world.    

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thinking ahead

Radio Commentary

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to anticipate it and head it off in the first place. It’s a skill that involves foresight and anticipation.

To help your teens develop these traits, bring up a situation that worries you and ask what they would do in that circumstance. 

Listen carefully to their reactions. Treat their opinions with respect. Make suggestions, but avoid the temptation to lecture. That rarely works.

If you disagree with the approach that your teen has provided, ask her to consider alternative actions. Discuss different ways of reacting to a peer pressure situation. 

Talk about the benefits and consequences of various alternatives. Have your teen figure out the best course of action based upon those consequences. 

Leave the discussion open for further consideration, and make clear that you are always available to help clarify matters or offer suggestions.

If you don’t appear to be lecturing or judging, your teen is more likely to take you up on that offer. 

The goal is to help your child think through issues calmly — not to force your opinion or get a reluctant promise.

Considering options in advance can head off problems before they arise and give your children the tools they need to react in a positive and productive way.

Thinking ahead

Radio Commentary

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to anticipate it and head it off in the first place. It’s a skill that involves foresight and anticipation.

To help your teens develop these traits, bring up a situation that worries you and ask what they would do in that circumstance. 

Listen carefully to their reactions. Treat their opinions with respect. Make suggestions, but avoid the temptation to lecture. That rarely works.

If you disagree with the approach that your teen has provided, ask her to consider alternative actions. Discuss different ways of reacting to a peer pressure situation. 

Talk about the benefits and consequences of various alternatives. Have your teen figure out the best course of action based upon those consequences. 

Leave the discussion open for further consideration, and make clear that you are always available to help clarify matters or offer suggestions.

If you don’t appear to be lecturing or judging, your teen is more likely to take you up on that offer. 

The goal is to help your child think through issues calmly — not to force your opinion or get a reluctant promise.

Considering options in advance can head off problems before they arise and give your children the tools they need to react in a positive and productive way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Good nutrition

Radio Commentary

Nutrition awareness is an essential part of health education.

This learning takes place during meals as a result of the foods provided. It happens throughout the day as well — at play, in the classroom, and during sports.
The meals children are served, and the skills they acquire at a young age, help to set lifelong eating patterns. That’s why it is important to teach good eating habits.
Make mealtime a pleasant and relaxed experience. Offer a variety of foods, prepared in different ways.

It makes good nutrition sense and it makes meals and snacks more interesting.

Regular physical activity is also important for good health. It burns calories, helps with weight control, and is important in preventing some chronic diseases.

When it comes to feeding young people, try to choose foods that are lower in fat and free of saturated fats.

For example, cook with lean ground meat when you barbecue.

Serve sandwiches on whole wheat bread. Add grapes or raisins to tuna, chicken, or turkey salad and stuff it into pita bread for variety.

Serve bean tacos, burritos, or chili for alternate sources of protein.

Well-nourished, healthy children achieve better in school. And these practices can help set the pattern for a lifetime of good nutrition.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Radio Commentary

More young people are killed by exposure to their parents’ cigarette smoking than by all accidents combined, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

This is potentially the biggest preventable cause of death in young children, the report concluded.

It linked secondhand smoking to premature deaths caused by low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infection, and asthma.

Parental smoking also costs the nation $4.6 Billion dollars a year in medical expenses and another $8.2 Billion dollars in loss of life, said the two pediatricians who worked on the study.

“There are lots of things that affect children's health, that reduce their chances for happy, successful lives,” said one doctor. “But here we have something we know how to prevent.”

Exposure to secondhand smoke can decrease lung growth in children, stunt their growth, cause asthma, and increase their lifetime risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.

It is even dangerous before birth, as smoking during pregnancy has been linked to serious physical consequences.

Pediatricians across the country encourage parents to quit smoking, and they try to persuade their teenage patients not to start.

We should all support these efforts.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Radio Commentary

Feeling safe makes children feel more confident when they can meet new people, try new tasks, and take on new responsibilities.

As children grow, they also need time to explore their power and abilities. This means parents need to let go of some control and help their children take “healthy risks.”

How do parents help their children learn what it means to be more self-sufficient? Think about these questions:

How do your children work through their fears or doubts? How often do you do things with your children rather than for them?

What do your children do that makes you laugh or feel proud? Do they know it?

To help empower your children, tell them often that you appreciate what they do around the house, at school, and for friends.

When your children tell you about problems, confirm their feelings and help them think through solutions.

Encourage children to take new roles at school or try new activities that will be enjoyable but not stressful.

Let children take full responsibility for some chores. When you do your own chores, do them with good cheer even if they aren’t fun. Your children will learn from your example.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Raising great teens

Radio Commentary

Teenagers need their parents more than ever.

And though they might protest or seem uninterested, teens do consider their parent’s opinions and values when making decisions.

Here are some pointers for maintaining a good relationship with teens:

First, be actively interested in your teens’ life. Know who their friends are and make an effort to meet their parents as well.
Talk WITH your teen, not AT him. Try to avoid arguments. If things get heated, take a time out from the conversation and come back to it when you are both calm.

Share your thoughts with your teen. Teens are old enough to understand what is going on in the world. Talk about the news.

Take your teen to work so she can see what the work world is like. Talk to him about what he thinks he might do after high school. Let your child know your own stressful circumstances. Children see and hear more than we think.

Make sure to schedule some one-on-one time with your teen. Everyone has busy schedules, but it’s important to take advantage of short times available with undivided attention  — for example, when you are both in the car together.

Take a few minutes to sit in his room when you go in to say goodnight, and talk about things.  Family dinners are also a good time to talk, so try to eat together as often as possible.

Find an activity you can enjoy together, whether going to the gym or watching the news.  It all makes a difference.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Helping a cause

Radio Commentary

It’s important for children to learn how to be good citizens, and one of the best teaching methods is for parents to model the right behavior.

One good place to start is to find at least one cause or need in your community where you can volunteer your help.

Let your children know why you think that area is important, and spell out for them how you are trying to help. Let your child join you if he or she wants.

Most children will be eager to become involved — but don’t force it if they’re not.

It’s important to let each child choose where and how to help, so they can take ownership in the progress that is made.

Opportunities range from helping other young people or senior citizens, to helping animals, or tackling an environmental project.

It’s also good to find and share success stories with your children.

It’s easy for any one of us to become overwhelmed by the problems in the community or the world. But the truth is that individuals can and do make a difference.

Talk to your children about the importance of joining forces. Encourage them to involve their friends in tackling big projects such as a creek or playground cleanup.

All these activities help reinforce the actions of good citizens. They help plant the seeds that individuals make a difference, and that in a democratic society we all have a responsibility to do things “for the good of the order.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Managing stress

Radio Commentary

Stress is the reaction of our minds and bodies to unsettling experiences. Too much stress can have negative consequences and can even make us ill.

For this reason, the things that cause stress in children should be taken seriously before they become a serious problem.

What are the signs of a distressed child?

  • Anger, aggressiveness, anxiety, crankiness, bedwetting.
  • Crying too easily, overeating, increased clumsiness, hair twisting, teeth clenching. 
  • Fighting with other children, or withdrawing from them. 
  • Failing at school.

Causes of stress can lurk anywhere. They include pressure from home or school, such as being too busy with overloaded schedules.

Family changes such as divorce or remarriage can also be a cause, along with feeling unloved or misunderstood.

Children cannot analyze events that cause stress  – or control their reactions to those events – as well as adults can, so they do need guidance from adults.

Family support is a vital antidote to stress, so be sure create time to relax and talk together.
Curb access to violent TV shows and movies. Keep daily life calm. A pet can be a good buffer and an emotional refuge.

Relaxed parents, who cope positively with their own stress, pass on these skills to children. It’s also helpful to maintain a network of friends and activities outside the home.

This type of support and acceptance plays a very helpful role. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Early adolescence

Radio Commentary

The toughest time for parents to connect with their children is probably the young adolescent years from 10 to 15, when parental support is the most important.

Those are the years when children strive to develop their identity, listen to their peers, and pay attention to the latest styles, no matter how strange they may look to adults.

It’s also the time when they can make decisions that will follow them throughout their lives.
Parents should understand that change at this time is a natural part of maturing.
Your young adolescent is not the first to experience doubt, anxiety, or worry.

Remember when it happened to you? And remember that it will eventually end.

Be sure to fight only the important battles. There will be a wide range of issues that arise during this time. Your child may decide to dye his hair and may associate with peers who are experimenting with drugs.
Clearly the drug issue would have a much greater impact on his life. It might prove wiser to bite your tongue when you’re tempted to react to the short-term problem of hair color.

Young adolescents often think they are the only ones ever to experience what is now occurring. Remind them, by sharing your own stories, that this is not the case.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Homework tips

Radio Commentary

Without review, the average student can forget 80 percent of what he has read in just two weeks.
To help students retain what they have learned, the first review of the material should come very shortly after they have studied the material for the first time.
An early review acts as a check on forgetting and helps them remember much longer. When the time comes to review for a test, the material is fresher in their minds and easier to recall.

Sometimes, it also helps to recite the material out loud. Recitation reinforces the material and creates a different pathway into the child’s memory banks.
After reading a paragraph, it often helps to have the student use his or her own words to describe key ideas.

One other homework tip has proven effective for many families: When students are given a study assignment that will be due in a few weeks, the students should spend time reviewing the tasks and creating a timeline the very first night.
They should read through it carefully, and think about all the elements that need to be done — including research, memorization, artwork, or other creative touches.

The main advantage is that the student avoids waiting until the last minute and discovering, too late, everything that should have been done in the meantime.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Internet contract

Radio Commentary

Parents tell children, “Don’t talk to strangers.” With wide use of the Internet, the possibility of talking to strangers in cyberspace is now an issue as well.

But it doesn’t need to be. Children can make very good use of the Internet without using chat rooms or interactive forums that bring them in contact with strangers.

Parents can help keep their children safe by setting rules and enforcing them. Remember, even if you don’t have a computer at home, your children can still use online services at a friend’s house or even a public library.

So help your child understand that online activity is a privilege. Children should also agree to:

  • Limit time online to 8 hours per week.
  • Never give out their name, address, phone number, school, or password to anyone online.
  • Report to you anyone online who asks for personal information.
  • Tell you if anyone sends messages that are uncomfortable or inappropriate.
  • Never arrange to meet friends they have met online, unless you are with them.
  • Never spend time in adult chat rooms or newsgroups.
  • Refrain from using bad language or sending cruel messages.

Build in natural consequences. If any of these agreements are broken, children generally should lose online privileges for one week per broken promise.

Remember: safety online is as important as safety offline.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Radio Commentary

It may seem obvious, but it is very important to talk with your children — really talk with them.

In this fast-paced world, it is easy to fall into conversational patterns like, “Hi, how are you?” or “How was your day?” But it’s well worth the effort to stay more connected to your family.

One of the most powerful conversation blockers is television. During meals, make “no TV” a priority. That way you can have a family conversation when all your schedules allow everyone to be present.

Children might complain if they have to miss their favorite shows, but make sure they know that keeping up with other people’s lives, feelings, and concerns is important in every family.

In fact, mealtime conversation can prove enlightening for all involved. You can provide direct attention, support, and advice. 

Lively discussions about current events might prevail. Whatever the topic, getting input from all family members succeeds in bringing you all closer together. Real interaction helps prevent misconceptions and misunderstandings.

It’s doubtful that anyone will miss the witty dialogue of a sit-com later in life, but they may well regret not knowing their children or parents as well as they could.

Start when the children are really young and it will be easier. Whatever the ages of your children, remember that interacting with them is always worth the effort.

Teacher shortage a concern to all

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

From New York to California, and seemingly everywhere in between, the bad news proliferates:  We are falling short of teachers.  In California, the situation has been described as “horrific” and “dire.”  A new report, “Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage,” analyzes the sources and solutions to this major challenge.

The problem is clearly based on supply and demand.  While new K-12 educational funding helps school districts reinstate classes and programs that were slashed during the Great Recession and reduces student/teacher ratios back to more reasonable numbers, teacher “supply” has not kept pace with this increased demand.  In fact, the supply of new teachers is at a 12-year low.  The number of students enrolled in education preparation programs is down by more than 70 percent over the last decade and will not be sufficient to fill the estimated hires needed by school districts statewide.

Here are the facts:  In mid-October, two months into the school year, a major statewide educator job site was still posting more than 3,900 teacher openings, double the number from the year before.  Provisional and short-term permits, issued to fill “immediate and acute” needs if no credentialed teacher is available, nearly tripled from the number issued two years earlier, from 850 permits to 2,400.

While estimated teacher hires for this current school year increased by 25 percent from the year before, preliminary credentials issued to fully prepared new teachers increased by less than one percent, and enrollment in teacher education programs increased by only 2 percent, according to the report.

These shortages are happening across almost all subject areas, but most particularly in math, science, and special education. The California Department of Education also identified teacher shortages for the first time in physical education and health.

Keep in mind that California already has the highest student/teacher ratio in the nation, and the gap grew even wider during the extended period of budget cuts in recent years.  To bring California back to pre-Recession staffing levels, districts would need to hire 60,000 new teachers.

Increasing teacher retirement adds to the problem.  Over the next 10 years, more than 100,000 California teachers will reach retirement age.   At the current rate of enrollments in teacher programs, the pool will be insufficient to replace them.

But here is the important point:  Non-retirement attrition is an even larger factor, accounting for two-thirds of teachers who leave districts.

Teachers are leaving the profession and students are not choosing teaching as a career for reasons that are many and complex, including salary levels, college debt, and housing costs, according to the report.  Beginning teachers leave at even higher rates.  There is no doubt that negative public rhetoric about the profession is also a major contributing factor.   Richard Ingersolls, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education, sums it up: “Teachers leave because of … low pay and poor benefits, intangibles such as lack of professional autonomy, and of course all the daily barrage of teacher bashing.”

The recommendations of the California report flow from all this data.  The authors recommend a comprehensive set of strategies that include:

  • Rekindling service scholarships and forgivable loans to underwrite teacher preparation in the fields and communities where they are most needed. 
  • Reinstating the CalTeach program, to help recruit teachers from colleges and other careers, and make entry into the profession simpler and more supported. 
  • Creating incentives to attract diverse, talented individuals for high need locations and subjects. 
  • Creating innovative pipelines into teaching, like high school career pathways, and launching innovative residency programs in high-need communities. 
  • Increasing access to high-quality preparation programs and ensure that all beginning teachers have access to meaningful support and mentoring. 

Three pieces of proposed legislation show that the legislature is aware of this challenge to our state.  SB 62 would reinstate and improve the Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE), to provide loan forgiveness for new teachers who teach for four years at a school with disadvantaged students or one with a large number of emergency teaching permits.  Recipients would need to show financial need.

SB 915 would re-establish the California Center on Teaching Careers (CalTeach) to help increase teacher recruitment.

Finally, SB 933 would provide funds to enable aspiring teachers to apprentice with an experienced mentor while studying for a credential.  New teachers would receive financial incentives to teach in low-performing schools with teacher shortages.

Most encouraging is the data that shows Californians say they are ready to invest in teaching.  A recent Field Poll indicated Californians are aware of the pending teacher shortage crisis and that there is broad support for targeted investments and research-based policies to recruit and retain quality teachers.  More than 86 percent of respondents said the teacher shortage was a serious issue, and 89 percent said it was problematic for schools in low-income areas to have fewer qualified teachers.

The suggestions cited in the study and the proposed legislation provide a blueprint for how to begin, and the support of Californians for the issue helps bolster the push to move forward the right away.  It is self-evident that without teachers there would be no other professions, and that our democracy would not have the informed citizenry it needs to go forward. We all have a vested interest in this issue.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Abstract thinking skills

Radio Commentary

Throughout childhood and adolescence, children’s brains are developing in important ways.

One sign of this development is the ability to think about abstract concepts, such as “truth” and “justice.”

During middle school, children become better at abstract thinking, but they still need guidance.
Parents can initiate activities and conversations that involve these skills. Here are some examples that have worked for others:

  • Challenge accepted ideas. Ask, “Why shouldn’t athletes cheat?” or “Why don’t children go to school on the weekends?”
  • Making young people support their accepted beliefs helps them understand the concepts behind those beliefs.
  • Do science experiments, and have children guess what will happen. Ask: “If we shine a lamp on this plant, will it grow faster or slower?”
  • Play games that require thinking ahead. “Battleship,” checkers, and chess are good examples of games that require some strategy. 
  • Let your children make choices. It’s OK if they make minor mistakes, such as spending their allowance too quickly. Use real-life situations to help your children learn from their choices.

All these strategies help children develop their critical thinking skills. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Drug use

Radio Commentary

Sadly, drug use is too widespread to assume that it will never touch the life of your son or daughter.

It’s good to know that certain behaviors can serve as a warning. These include:

  • an abrupt change in mood or attitude
  • a sudden decline in attendance or performance at school 
  • impaired relationships with family 
  •  ignoring curfews
  • unusual flare-ups of temper or emotion
  • increased borrowing of money; stealing from home or work
  •  heightened secrecy about actions and possessions
  •  associating with a new group of friends

Pay attention, but don’t rush to judgment: Many of these behaviors are also part of normal teenage growing pains.

So what exactly is a parent to do?
The best advice is to watch carefully, get to know your child’s friends, and talk about the problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse.

Make sure your child hears from you that taking drugs is harmful to one’s physical, mental, and social well-being. Make a clear statement that you are opposed to drug and alcohol use and intend to enforce that position.

But also remember that if your child is using drugs, he or she needs your help. Seek support from other parents, ask a school counselor or teacher about available resources, and call the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse for help right away.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Arts Education Month

Radio Commentary

March is Arts Education Month, focusing on dance, drama, music, and the visual arts – which are essential parts of basic education for all students.

There is no doubt that the arts should play a major role in the education of young people.

Visual and performing arts are a form of expression and communication essential to the human experience, and they deserve a regular place in our classrooms.

Arts education plays a critical role in developing initiative, creativity, self-expression, self-reflection, thinking skills, discipline, an appreciation of beauty, and cross-cultural understandings.

Many young people find great joy in artistic expression. For some, it can be an outlet and a source of inspiration. It helps keep them connected to their teachers and their schools.

Many professional arts education associations hold celebrations in March, giving California schools a unique chance to focus on the value of the arts for all students.

The current California arts education policy states that each student should receive a high-quality, comprehensive arts education.
The state arts task force that I chaired several years ago made recommendations we hope will result in a renaissance in arts education.

Celebrating Arts Education Month is one way to support the important efforts to keep the arts in our classrooms.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Media myth

Radio Commentary

We are all concerned about the mass media’s influence on children.

Certainly the media help reinforce some widespread misconceptions, and people often act on perception rather than reality.

For example: Violence in videos and on TV helps create the impression that our neighborhoods are dangerous places, and we need guns, police, and the military to protect us.

Detailed reports of crime and terror create the perception among young and old alike that the world is unsafe. As a result, more people stay home, especially in urban areas, or act in a more guarded way.

Ironically, this isolation by law-abiding citizens actually helps make areas less safe.

News programs generally lead off with the most violent occurrence of the day — as opposed to less newsworthy acts of ordinary kindness, courage, and friendship.

This gives a distorted view of just how much violence occurs around us.

Children who understand this distortion are better prepared to deal with the real world.

They understand that news reports are merely samplings of what is going on in the streets and around the world.

They understand that decisions on editing and story selection are made from thousands of choices, and are made according to professional standards of both news and entertainment value.

It is the oddity that is “new” and therefore considered news, rather than acts that are commonplace. And that is exactly the problem.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dos Pueblos High School wins County Mock Trial Competition

News release

The Dos Pueblos High School Mock Trial Team defeated San Marcos High School in a close competition Saturday, February 27 at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Nine teams from seven public high schools throughout Santa Barbara County competed in the 33rd annual Mock Trial competition, which began Feb. 20.

The Mock Trial competition is designed to immerse high school students in key concepts of the law, the Constitution, and our legal system. The students read and study case law, read broadly and critically, and build evidence-based arguments and counter arguments. They prepare to be grilled not only by their formidable competitors, but by sitting judges who push their thinking.

On Feb. 20, two rounds of competition resulted in four high school teams—two from Dos Pueblos, and one each from San Marcos and Santa Barbara High Schools—progressing to the semifinals and finals that were held on Feb. 27. Dos Pueblos’ winning team will represent Santa Barbara County at the State Mock Trial competition in Sacramento March 18 through 20.  The winner of the state competition will then move on to the national competition.

Participating schools this year included Cabrillo High School, Carpinteria High School, Dos Pueblos High School, Pioneer Valley High School, San Marcos High School, Santa Barbara High School, and Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.

The competition is sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, Santa Barbara Superior Court, and the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Long-time advocate for mock trial competition, Judge Brian Hill, presided over the competition, recruited attorney scorers, and officiated the award ceremonies.

Judges for the competition included Judge Thomas P. Anderle, Judge Clifford Anderson, Judge Michael Carrozzo, Judge Jean Dandona, Judge Donna Geck, Judge James Herman, Judge Brian E. Hill, Judge Patricia Kelly, Judge Kay Kuns, Judge Pauline Maxwell, Judge Raimundo Montes DeOca, Retired Judge George Eskin, and Retired Commissioner Edward DeCaro.

Attorneys Jeff Chambliss and Danielle DeSmeth led a robust contingent of scorers from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, and were augmented by 52 local private lawyers, paralegals, and a city-councilman, all of whom volunteered their time over the two weekends hearing the case.

Students prepared their cases with the help of teacher advisors and attorneys who volunteer their time as coaches. Students portray each of the principal characters of the case, People v. Hayes, and in doing so, develop skills in public speaking, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Photo credit: Luis Medina

6 critical messages

Radio Commentary

There are so many things we want our children to know and learn. Sometimes it’s hard to pare that list down into manageable chunks that are easy to digest and incorporate.

 Here are six critical messages that bear repeating for young people.

Every child should have these messages reinforced every day by a caring, trusted adult, because they form the basis for a feeling of self-worth.

They are deceptively simple, but surprisingly powerful:

Message Number One: “I believe in you.” 

Two: “I trust in you.”

Three: “I know you can handle life’s ups and downs.” 

Four: “I will listen to you.”

Five: “You are cared for.”

And Six: “You are important to me.”

It’s easy to see how a child who gets these messages on a regular basis, whether verbally, or through actions, will be well-equipped to handle life’s challenges and learn well in school.

When you think of it, anyone — of any age — would benefit from these messages.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cyber crimes

Radio Commentary

It’s very common for any young person with a camera phone to take a picture with a friend and upload it to an Internet page or post it on a website.

Parents may be unaware that every picture taken by a cell phone now has a geo tag, which provides the exact latitude and longitude where the picture was taken.

This means that anyone who means harm to young people can see a picture online, even an innocuous one, and use the geo tag to find out exactly where the young people are. That’s cause for great concern.

Our office is working in partnership with District Attorney Joyce Dudley to be aggressive in the new battles against cyber crimes and cyber bullying.
Incidents of bullying via text and online sites are mushrooming, and their impact can be broad and devastating.     
A good strategy for parents is to pay close attention to the ways their children respond to questions and conversation at home. If they have an especially short fuse or are more emotional than usual, and react badly to even mild criticism, they may be experiencing cyber bullying.

It’s also important to notice changes of any kind in a child’s behavior, such as a good student not wanting to go to school, or an outgoing child becoming withdrawn.

Most important of all, parents must monitor their children’s Internet activity and behaviors to make sure their children know not to frequent sites that are dangerous. We all have to work together in this area, because adults are truly playing catch-up.