Tragic Fire in NYC Kills Thirteen: Was it Negligence?


Tragic Fire in NYC Kills Thirteen. Was it Negligence?


James L. Casale

Ignorance is not bliss; it’s dangerous. Remember the four-year-old boy who fell into the zoo enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016? He was unharmed, but the gorilla was executed. The police considered charging the parents with negligence. They didn’t. They should have. Even the gorilla knew more about caring for his offspring.

In New York City, on December 29, 2017, a preschooler playing with the burners on his mother’s stove caused one of the deadliest fires in NYC in decades. Was it the toddler’s fault? Of course not. His mother’s ignorance of her solemn responsibility to protect her child reveals a situation that too often occurs here and around the world. Or is it sheer stupidity and laziness that is part of this deadly equation?

Who pays the price?

Toddlers are NOT tuned in to danger. They are curious about everything they can touch and see and put in their mouths. They, along with infants, are at the mercy of their caregivers, and they often pay the price for it. The boy who fell into the zoo enclosure should have been tethered to a stroller or holding his father’s hand. The toddler fascinated with stove burners should never have been out of his mother’s line of sight. According to reports, this was not his first adventure with the stove. He and his mother escaped unharmed. Twelve others didn’t.

Pool deaths and children left in cars

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) statistics reveal that 350 children under the age of five die each year because of drowning in backyard pools. In addition, NBC News reports that 38 children—infants and toddlers—suffocate each year as a result of being left in cars where temperatures soar to a high of 120 degrees. Six hundred of these needless deaths have occurred since 1998.

Such negligence causes infinite pain to many loved ones and steals the lives of children who will never have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. This is the unbearable cost of parental negligence.

What can be done?

If parents and caregivers don’t comprehend the magnitude and responsibility that comes with being a parent, all hope is lost. Yes, parenting is difficult and challenging. But these children didn’t choose their parents; their parents chose them. When you choose to be a parent, you are required to leave your narcissistic cocoon and care for another human being.

Parents can break through their ignorance by reading appropriate books and magazines and talking to teachers, early childhood experts, and other professionals. Most parents are not prepared for what lies ahead of them. If they at least understand that, they may seek to educate themselves about effective parenting and their solemn responsibility. I recommend this before the child is born. Too many new parents busy themselves with decorating a child’s room and buying the right diapers. The focus should always be on the child’s


Four Weeks Without the Car: Allstate’s Unintended Parenting Commercial


“Four Weeks Without the Car”: Allstate’s Unintended Parenting Commercial


James L. Casale

The current Allstate Insurance commercial airing daily on TV depicts a teenager pleading his case to his parents after he was engaged in a minor fender bender. For me, the commercial is less about Allstate’s accident forgiveness policy and more about a demonstration of effective parenting techniques. Parents, please pay close attention the next time you see it.

The Scene

The parents are sitting up in bed reading as their teenage son enters their room. The boy shows no fear or trepidation. On the contrary, he displays a certain amount of both comfort and cockiness. He states his case eloquently about his fender bender in a narrow drive-through while intimating, but not directly saying, that it is no big deal. Having done his research, the precocious teen proceeds to flatter his parents for being “so smart.” After all, they are Allstate customers who benefit from an accident forgiveness component in their insurance plan.

I See the Seven Cs of Effective Parenting

The parents listen attentively. Their body language is perfect. They are stoic, and there is no grimacing or eye-rolling.  Their eyes never leave their son. They show no emotion; they do not interrupt his plea.

Based on this particular scene, communication in this family is evident. He speaks; they listen. All this occurs while each family member remains calm and civil. If parents expect their children to be calm and civil, they must model these characteristics and many others with planned consistency. Kids learn by what they see and not by what is preached to them. We all may have our moments, but consistency, which requires collaboration between parents and a consistent devotion to a parenting plan, is a key ingredient of successful parenting.

The fact that this teenager would enter his parents’ bedroom and initiate this discussion reveals more than just the ability to communicate in this family. It also reveals a connectedness among family members that is characterized by trust, confidence, and open-mindedness. Trust must be part of the family culture if raising lifelong learners, men and women of character, and good citizens are the goals.

After listening intently, showing no emotion or negative body language, and allowing their son to conclude his case, his mother calmly says, “Four weeks without the car.” Hearing the verdict and accepting the decision, the teen executes a perfect 180 and says, “OK, goodnight,” and then he hustles back to his room. They speak; he listens. Communication and connectedness rule.

Among all the other positive techniques displayed throughout this commercial, mom and dad also exhibit a commitment to work with each other and execute a plan that includes all of the above boldfaced Cs as well as providing consequences as they see fit.

Parenting Is Not Easy

As comedian Jim Gaffigan said, “Most of the time, I feel totally unqualified to be a parent. I call those times being awake.” If you are a parent, you already know this, and I want to add that it takes courage to be a parent especially in the rough seas of the 21st century. These are the seas where distractions are limitlessness, where electronic devices rob our children of their childhoods, where face-to-face socializing is passé, where kids are not building forts, playing in empty lots, or enjoying nature, where the self-esteem movement seems to rule our public schools and our homes, where everybody gets a trophy, and where our college students need safe places, counselors, and now “baby goats” (University of Maine) to relieve their stress.

I exhort my fellow parents to hold your heads up high, walk tall, talk straight, coddle less, model your expectations, allow your children to suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior, create a family mission statement that establishes a culture of learning at home, and devise a plan that includes the seven Cs of common-sense parenting. These tenets will help parents navigate the parenting journey.

Dr. Casale is both a state and national award-winning educator and the author of the highly praised book published by Skyhorse Publishing, Wise Up and Be the Solution: How to Create a Culture of Learning at Home and Guide Your Child to Succeed in School and Life. His second parenting book, Family Pledge: Raising Lifelong Learners and Good Citizens, has also received rave reviews. Both books are available on his website, jamescasalephd.com, in bookstores, and online in print and eBook versions.


School Safety: Five Guiding Principles


School Safety: Five Guiding Principles for Parents


James L. Casale

Part 1

The number-one priority of every school must be the safety and security of students and staff. If, as a parent, you are not content with the district’s policies and procedures, you have two choices: remove your child or become an agent of change.

In 1984, I was appointed the new principal of Purchase School, a small K-5 school in Harrison, New York. I was greeted with a bevy of complaints from teachers, staff, and parents about a steady stream of strangers roaming the hallways looking for the main office and seeking directions to nearby locales. The school was located at the busy intersection of Purchase Street and Anderson Hill Road in a residential area devoid of commerce. The two large parking lots were conveniently inviting to those who were lost.

The lower-level parking lot on Purchase Street had two points of entry. Both remained open all day. The other parking lot faced Anderson Hill Road. It had one point of entry, which led to the main office. It was as clear as the morning bell that greeted students each day that this AAA service had to stop immediately.

Phase one of the plan was easy. All entry points would be locked when the late bell rang. Signs directed latecomers, strangers, and visitors alike to report to a single entry that led to the main office.

Phase two of the plan required a buzzer system at the main entrance. All visitors were required to state their name and their business before being “buzzed” into the building. This phase took a little longer. It needed the approval of the school board and the superintendent. This was and still is a small school district, though. Innovations could get done quickly, especially when buttressed by teacher and parent support.

These protocols put an immediate stop to intruders wandering the halls looking for help, but more importantly, they made everyone connected to Purchase School feel safer.

Could any of this have prevented a Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Santa Fe incident? After all, it was 1984 and BCCSM (Before Computers, Cell Phones, and Social Media). We thought we were being innovative, but in today’s world, our innovations would fall far short. There is so much more to be done, and parents can lead the way.

The tentacles that drive gun violence have their roots in a variety of societal maladies that include but are not limited to dysfunctional families, divorce, mental illness, violent video games, a movie industry that glorifies violence, pandemic bullying, and the misuse of electronic devices.

Inept school officials and a dearth of comprehensive A-to-Z school policies that address total school safety and security are part of the disaster in waiting.

And let’s not forget the so-called uninformed, lazy, and apathetic “intact two-parent families” that coddle their children, enable inappropriate behavior, and devote themselves to their children’s self-esteem instead of embracing their responsibilities as their children’s first teachers and role models.

Part 2

Principle #1—Assess Your Parenting Skills

School reform starts at home. Do you have a family mission statement that guides each family member to become a lifelong learner and a person of character and virtue committed to kindness, compassion, respect, and responsibility? No? Create it now and hang it on the wall.

Do you have a plan to raise your children within the guidelines of your expectations as outlined in your family mission statement? Are you committed to building trust, communication, and connectedness? Are your decisions consistent and collaborative? Do you teach by example? Do you even have the courage needed to be an effective parent?

Principle #2—Become Informed

It is your sacred responsibility to protect your child. Obtain copies of the school and school district’s safety and security policies and procedures. These are not limited to protecting children from the deranged psychopaths, sociopaths, and predators who are intent on murder, destruction, and chaos.

Policies must be comprehensive, protecting kids on the playground, in the cafeteria, on school buses, and in the hallways. They must also include bullying and discipline protocols. Additionally, the cleanliness of the building, health protocols, and a campus that is devoid of dangerous hazards such as unsafe playground equipment, fencing, or debris are also part of the safety equation. Fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures are standard policies usually observed by all schools.

Those interested do not have to reinvent the wheel. Information and guidelines are readily available from national, state, and local organizations.

Principle #3—Get Involved

Don’t become proactive until you acquire accurate information (see Principle #2). Complacency and apathy are your enemies. There is no such thing as safe enough. There is power in numbers. Connect with like-minded parents. Form a committee and/or insist that there is a safety committee in your school and that parents are well represented.

The committee should meet at least once a month. Require your school’s parent organization to conduct an annual meeting devoted to safety and security policies. Create communication lines to all parents. If possible, volunteer your time. Adult-student ratios always need a boost. Include input and recommendations from your community’s first responders. They should also be represented on your school and/or district committee.

Principle #4—Hold Elected Officials and School Officials Accountable

South Korea leads all nations in school achievement. When President Obama asked the South Korean president what his biggest complaint regarding the education system was, he replied, “The parents are too demanding.” This is in stark contrast to what I have experienced as a public school educator for more than 40 years. American parents are not demanding enough.

The state is responsible for the education system. The governor, his appointees, and state legislators work for you and must be held accountable. These people are not educators and, more often than not, know little about schools. You must remain connected to them and organize yourselves into a group they will listen to.

The same goes for school officials. Don’t wait for a school tragedy. Demand that they do their job and remind them constantly that their number-one responsibility is to protect your children.

Principle #5—Assess and Reassess

As managing expert Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” When Ed Koch was the mayor of New York City, he was always seeking feedback from his fellow New Yorkers. While walking the streets of the city, he would shout out his now-famous saying, “How am I doing?”

School and district policies and protocols must be scrutinized and regularly evaluated for their effectiveness. Maintain logs and statistics to guide you. There is always room for improvement.


Good things will happen. Kids, staff, visitors, and parents will feel safer and be safer if parents do their “due diligence.” There is no shortage of solid information. While there are no guarantees—unless you buy a toaster—being the best parent you can be, becoming informed and proactive, working and collaborating with like-minded people, and holding state and local officials accountable is a formula that may curtail the next accident or tragedy. It’s worth trying.


Teacher Effectiveness

Why Did Bill Gates Lose Millions Investing in Teacher Effectiveness?

Bill Gates is famous for being the founder of Microsoft and an admired philanthropist for many causes around the world. He’s a smart guy but he knows little about public education and, unfortunately for him, teacher effectiveness and its impact on student achievement. In fact, he doesn’t even know who to consult with when he wants to learn about school improvement.

I read years ago that he consulted with Harvard professors about staff development, aka professional development, as the possible cure-all for public education woes. College professors are not a good starting point. While they teach, research, and advise the unknowing, they probably haven’t been in a public school classroom for decades. And if they have, I doubt they were the most effective teachers or principals or superintendents.

The Purpose of the Study

According to the Rand report on this study, the Gates Foundation invested heavily (more than 200 million dollars) along with three school districts who also contributed 300 million to this failed effort. Let’s do the math; that’s half a billion dollars. The purpose was to identify teacher effectiveness as a means to improve teacher evaluation. They seemed to rely heavily on the correlation between standardized test scores and teacher evaluation. If what these teachers did to affect the desired outcomes on high stakes testing could be measured or identified, the teacher evaluation process would be transformed and academic performance would improve. The initiative also included awarding bonuses and boosting staff development as a means of retaining the best teachers. It didn’t happen.

This is a non-starter. Even colleges and universities seem to finally understand that the work and progress of students, their community experiences and their volunteer work are more important indicators of future achievement than one or two high stakes tests. But that’s not the major flaw of this grandiose and expensive study.

The Results

The 526-page report on this waste of money concluded that the seven-year study was unsuccessful. There were no measurable improvements in student test scores. There were no measurable improvements in teaching effectiveness. There were no increases in the retention of effective teachers. After concluding that they didn’t know what went wrong, the participants offered up this little gem: “Insufficient attention to factors other than teacher quality.” No kidding.

The Fatal Flaws

They did not get advice from the people in the trenches. If they had started by talking to effective teachers, principals, and superintendents instead of college professors and Arne Duncan, a former secretary of education, they could have saved millions.
Advice from knowledgeable people who advised against this effort was reportedly ignored.
Linking teacher evaluation to standardized tests is a false premise.
There are too many variables that affect student performance. Quality teaching is only one of them.
Parent involvement was ignored.

Students are not machine parts. Each comprises a set of variables that render them unique. For starters, background knowledge, ability levels, previous school experiences, test-taking stress and anxiety, and parental involvement should all be considered. Achievement at a specific grade level must also factor in the teachers the students have had previously and the length of their enrollment in that school. At my school, when analyzing results, we considered how long the student had been enrolled.

An Anecdote

In the mid-90s, I was the principal of Samuel J. Preston Elementary School in Harrison, NY. One year the school’s third-graders outscored the other three elementary schools on the state reading exam. This had never happened before. Two of the schools were in affluent areas of town and they had always been the top performing schools. The third-grade teachers and I, the parents, and even the superintendent were ecstatic, but not for long.

The following year we were once again one of the lower scoring schools. Gee, what happened? We had the same highly effective third -grade teachers, same principal, the same welcoming school that the kids and parents adored. But the results were not the same.


As the Rand report concludes, there was “insufficient attention to factors other than teacher quality.” I opine that no attention was paid to the key contributing factors that affect student performance on high- stakes testing. (see list of fatal flaws above) As an author of parenting books, I would stress parental involvement in their children’s education as a key factor in school performance. I’m not alone.

In 1966 the Coleman Report concluded that given all the factors regarding school success, the “quality of the family” is the most important predictor. Let’s fast- forward to 2018. Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia after seeing the results of this study, also came to the same conclusion:

On nearly every single outcome that we assess, public schools have a marginal impact that is really small relative to the impact of families. The things we worry about in terms of the state of our country are more a function of the families the kids are growing up in than the school, they go to.

I maintain that school reform starts at home. If Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Lebron James and countless others who are willing to try to improve public education invested in some form of parent academies, the results would be better.