Everybody Knows…

Education is a field where there is an awful lot of “everybody knows…”, in other words various truths that “everybody knows” about issues, people, research, etc…regardless of whether there is much evidence to support them.   Often some deeper digging is useful.   For instance, everybody knew” that the small schools initiative in New York was discriminatory toward children with special needs and English-language learners, over the past few years I got a slew of emails to that effect and several bloggers and other critics took it as an article of faith so it’s been reprinted in Education Week, Forbes, etc…Turns out, according to the Office of Civil Rights at The U.S. Department of Education, which just completed an actual investigation of alleged violations, that’s not accurate (pdf).

3 Responses to “Everybody Knows…”

  1. Thomas J. Mertz Says:

    It should be noted that the standard methods used here are very different than the standards and methods used to decide the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education cases.

  2. john thompson Says:

    I’d like to comment on this and the preceding post at the same time because they illustrate the same dynamic. Whenever I read edited reports by the Ed Sector, the CAP, or other organizations that use your stable of researchers, I am always impressed. I’ve never come across a passage where I am confident that I am “right” and you are “wrong.” And in the edushere, your comments are much more temperate that other accountability hawks. But I have to point out the important differences between your words in today’s posts and the documents you hypelink to.

    I can’t comment whether you have received e mails claiming discrimination. But I have never claimed that small schools (or other selective schools) have “discriminated.” And I don’t recall Ed Week or bloggers making that argument.

    My argument is that these lessons from these selective schools can not be applied to NEIGHBORHOOD secondary schools that have a much greater critical mass of challenging children and typically (an in my experience always) are prohibited from enforcing their disciplinary policies. I would never use the word discriminate because that is a different subject, I’d have no way of knowing, and I’ve never had any reason to suspect that selective schools “discriminate.”

    It makes sense to limit the population of the more challenging students for the first two years so that new schools can get off to a good start. Neighborhood schools can’t do anything like that. As I recall, however, NYC originally denied that that was what they were doing. I honestly am pleased that those schools opened up their enrollment policies in their third year. But, I have never before read anything one way or another in regard to the 2008-09 data. It is unfair to criticize Edweek and others for reporting information on the first two years – information that your link proved to be accurate.

    Most selectivity comes from self-selection. That does not make it right. But neither is it discrimination. And neither is it less real or less important. The Civil Right investigation report did not say whether lower percentages of IEP students applied during the third year. Neither did it address the most important point, if we are seeking constructive lessons. Most students on IEPs are completely delightful. I can’t imagine a school leader who is so hard-hearted as to discriminate against special ed students who are not a discipline problem. The problem is that years of “creaming” (not discrimination) have left neighborhood schools with a critical mass of chronically disruptive and violent students, and when the tipping point is passed in regard to IEP students who are chronic discipline problems, neighborhood schools face an impossible situation.

    Neither have I ever claimed to have a “solution.”

    My complaint with the previous post is more subtle. The report wrote correctly:

    “Mid-year layoffs are most insidious and clear when we look further out… High-profile insults to the role of teacher quality in decisions about layoffs are most unfortunate as school districts strive to become strategic by aligning personnel practices and desired results.

    …. Despite being saddled with personnel systems driven by tenure policies and seniority, there have to be some ways to maintain a high-quality teaching staff even during mid-year layoffs.

    … Districts should work to ensure that only effective teachers get tenure. When layoffs are necessary and tenured teachers are protected, at least then we would know that the teachers who are retained have met a meaningful standard of effectiveness.”

    But I have a problem with the following:

    “What’s more, there are now mountains of student achievement data linked to teachers—something that didn’t exist during the last epidemic of mid-year layoffs in the early 1990s.”

    That implies that those mountains f data are ready to be used in this crisis. You may think that we are close to getting value-added information that by itself would be valuable is assessing teacher quality. I suspect that the data would be worse than useless.
    Regardless, the implication of that statement is contradicted by the research of Miller and Chait that is in the links.

    Those studies report:

    1. These so-called “value-added” measures of teacher effectiveness have important limitations, but they hold promise for informing policies that address any inequitable distribution of effective teachers….

    2. This section surveys what little is known about how tenure policies affect the distribution of teacher quality

    3. Strategies such as increasing the prestige of the profession and improving compensation are just as important as improving working conditions.

    Those wise statements cut both ways. How will we recruit and retain talented teachers who may want to buy a house and start a family if all their efforts can be wiped away due to no fault of their own? How in the long run will we maintain a respectful culture without union protections? There will always be a few outliers, principals who are truly collaborative absent union protections, but the idea that teachers can unilaterally disarm and still be treated as professionals sounds crazy to me. If we had more qualified principals, the danger of renegotiating due process and tenure would be diminished. If data was used to supplement/complement other evaluation processes, that would be appropriate.

    This crisis provides one more reason why we must renegotiate contracts. And we should start now. But the sanctity of contracts should be respected. And we shouldn’t lose our heads, shoot from the hip, and undercut all of the careful research you guys have already done.

  3. Govindan Says:

    If the rules set b\y the committee members or the education department is to be followed then the parents will have to shell out more from their pocket making education expensive

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