Dropping In On Dropouts

Last week my School of Thought at TIME.com was off eating turkey.  This week’s column is early, today rather than Thursday, because of today’s dropout report from America’s Promise, Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins. SOT looks at the Grad Nation report and the dropout issue more generally:

High school graduation rates are one of education’s perennial bad-news stories. How bad? In 2008, there were 1,746 “dropout factories,” high schools that graduate fewer than 60% of their students. But according to a new report released Tuesday, there is finally some good news to talk about. First, the national graduation rate has inched up from 72% in 2001 to 75% in 2008. There were 261 fewer dropout factories in 2008 than in 2002. And during that six-year period, 29 states improved their graduation rates with two of them — Wisconsin and Vermont — reaching almost a 90% graduation rate.

But don’t call in the cast of Glee just yet. According to the report, by Johns Hopkins University along with two education-oriented groups, America’s Promise Alliance and Civic Enterprises, eight states had graduation rates below 70% in 2008, and 2.2 million students still attend dropout factories. An achievement gap also persists…

Read the entire thing here.

51 Responses to “Dropping In On Dropouts”

  1. phillipmarlowe Says:

    2.2 million students still attend dropout factories.
    What does that mean?
    They are getting a substandard education?

  2. Attorney DC Says:

    I disagree with the term “dropout factory,” which in my opinion implies that the SCHOOL is somehow responsibile for creating/manufacturing the types of students who dropout. In fact, studies show that the biggest impact on student achievement is the student’s own family/SES, etc, not the school.

    My bet is that if you took the student body from a high-achieving school and swapped it with the student body from a “dropout factory,” the high achieving school would quickly become a “dropout factory” and the dropout factory would (miraculously) perform well.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if teachers in higher achieving schools are better, on average, than teachers in low-achieving schools (mostly because experienced teachers can take their pick of schools and choose to work with well-behaved students & supportive parents, if possible). However, while teachers and administrators are important, they are only a part (and a small part) of the package: The student’s own motivation and attitude, his family, peers, SES and other factors all outweigh the influence of the school.

  3. Eli Says:

    Two things come to mind when I read the intial post and the subsequent comments:

    1.) Not to derails the progress that may educators are making, but what about the quality of the students who are graduating from high school? A recent report by Peterson and Hanushek discussed how not only are our urban public schools failing but many of our independent schools and and “high achieving” suburban public schools are not reaching high standards of academic excellence. While encouraging kids to stay in school is important, I worry that the desire to not be called a dropout factory will create an incentive for educators to lower their standards which will ultimately hurt students and their communities.

    2.) Attorney DC: Yes, parents, their level of educational attainment, and the environment that a child grows up in are huge factors, but they should not be and are not the only determining factors concerning whether a child will be academically successful. Schools have kids for many hours in a day, five days a week and can have an enormous influence on children. To assume that students from low SES backgrounds would fail no matter where they go is extremely problematic and false. There are many examples of children and schools in traditionally under-served communities that are doing incredible things for their students, preparing them for post-secondary success and helping to transform the next generation of American leaders. And while we need to have highly qualified teachers in every classroom, especially in communities that face the significant challenges of poverty, I think as education reformers there are many strategies that could be invoked to maximize the capacity of the teachers who are currently there doing the hard work.

  4. Attorney DC Says:

    Eli: I appreciate your response to my comment, and I think you make a good point that some low-SES students do succeed, and some schools perform better than others in educating under-served students. However, from my understanding of the literature, only about 10-15% of a student’s performance (compared to other students) can be attributed to his or her teacher: In general, students with lower income parents, from cultures that do not support education, or who come to school with any one of a number of societal handicaps are not going to perform as well as the kid with supportive, educated parents and peers.

    This doesn’t mean that every kid who has poor parents is doomed for a life of academic failure. Many of these kids succeed: Especially those with poor but supportive, involved families. When I worked as a teacher, I had some students from low-income families who worked hard and did well, and some students from high-income families who goofed off and failed classes.

    My point is that the current trend is to blame teachers (erroneously) for all these differences. As a teacher, I can’t make my students come to class, pay attention to the lecture, work on their homework, or come in for extra tutoring. Believe me, I’ve tried. School administrators often let students get away with truly egregious behavior in the classroom, which disrupts the other students and takes time away from the lessons. Point being: Even if we could somehow clone the top 25% of teachers and replace the other 75% of teachers with these top performers, I’d doubt that the low performing students would improve dramatically — and the gap between the low performers and the top students would continue.

  5. TaxPayer Says:

    The Gates Foundation just spent over $100 million dollars researching education. They maintain the single greatest factor in student achievement was the quality of their teacher.

    The current system does nothing to attract, develop, motivate or reward successful teachers. This is not the fault of individual teachers but the bureaucratic status quo. This is at the heart of the reform movement

  6. Attorney DC Says:

    TaxPayer: I highly doubt that the Gates Foundation has determined that the “single greatest factor in student achievement” is the “quality of their teacher.” More probably, they posit that the single greatest IN-SCHOOL factor is the student’s teacher. I’ve seen that result listed in many different publications.

    The problem is that “IN-SCHOOL” (important caveat) is often left out of this description, such that the general public is led to believe that the most important factor in a student’s achievement is his or her teacher. In fact, SES and other personal qualities of the student are much better predictors of achievement than a student’s teacher. For instance, look at a teacher who teaches 4 periods a day of honors English and one period a day of remedial English (where many of her students are reading several years below grade level and some are chronically truant, or move in and out of the school system throughout the year). Which students do you think will perform best at the end of the year? How would you defend that this is the “fault” of the teacher?

    While I agree with you that teachers should be rewarded more for their efforts (both monetarily and otherwise), teachers alone are never going to solve all the problems in education when you have a system that forces all students to attend school (even those who don’t want to) and that effectively prevents public schools from enforcing behavior, discipline or attendance codes for misbehaving or chronically absent students.

    This is likely why charters get so much attention: They are able to control these factors and take only students who affirmatively want to be there (note the application process) and to “counsel out” or expel students who do not live up to stringent behavior and attendance standards. Miraculous! But does society want to impose these conditions on all schools? What would happen to all the kids who didn’t want to attend, or who kept skipping class? Would we as a society feel comfortable preventing them from attending school… It’s a tough question. But blaming “public schools” or “public school teachers” isn’t the answer.

  7. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    The greatest single SCHOOL factor in student achievement is of course the teacher (who else would it be?) but the greatest factor in the total education of the child is the family. Does this really surprise anyone? Does anyone truly disagree with this?

    There was great news in the Los Angeles Times today. In an editorial the following was written:

    “State and federal authorities have been too eager to place the blame for low achievement on schools and teachers while virtually ignoring the fact that it’s a rare student who can succeed in even an excellent school without involved parents.”

    Finally the press is beginning to acknowledge the facts. Yes, these are facts, not opinions. We have mountains of research (and common sense too) to show us that the parents are the primary educators of their children.

    Of course, this does not mean that the disadvantaged child with uninvolved parents cannot do well in school. Many do and some of us are among that group. All it means is that the family has primacy in regard to education and the teacher depends on the support of the parents in order to do her best.

    Did your own children do well in school? Well, give yourself a pat on the back for keeping them healthy, getting them to school on time, sending them to camp, discussing issues each day, reading to them each night, taking them on trips and being generally involved. Also, sitting with them each night to explain the algebra homework probably helped as well.

    Teachers are important but parents are Number One and always will be.

  8. TaxPayer Says:

    As stated, I do not blame individual teachers, I certainly do blame the bureaucratic public school system. Under this system we pay the most and get the least.

    The link for the Gates report:
    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/highschools/Documents/met-framing-paper.pdf

  9. Attorney DC Says:

    TaxPayer: I read the introduction to the Gates report you cite above, and this is what it says about the importance of teachers: “A teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor controlled by school systems, including class size, school size, and the quality of after-school programs—or even which school a student is attending.”

    This confirms my assumption that the report does NOT maintain that teachers are the most important factor in determining a student’s success. Rather, the report confirms popular wisdom that teacher effectiveness is the most important factor that THE SCHOOL CONTROLS. As Linda/Effective Teacher noted above, the biggest determinant of student success, by far, is the student’s family.

    Controlling for SES and other personal student characteristics, I would assume that teachers have some impact on their students’ success (or lack thereof). However, we must not fall into the trap of looking at teachers in high-poverty schools and assuming that they are “bad teachers” because their low-income students (often from families where English is a second language, or families headed by a single, poorly educated parent) tend to struggle in the classroom. Alternatively, let’s not heap too much praise on the teachers of high-income students (who have involved, highly educated parents), when their students perform well. Much of a student’s success has to do with the student’s own characteristics that they bring with them to the classroom.

  10. TaxPayer Says:

    Attorney DC: What the Gates report refutes is your stated position that teachers are a “small part of the package”. This clearly is not true.

    As schools do not control a students family life, it is incumbent on society to have schools that can help overcome such circumstances. We have schools that have demonstrated they can overcome such. As the article you take exception to states we still have many public school dropout factories that are ripping of the taxpayers and more importantly the communities and children that are forced to attend them.

    I take exception to the postings that imply because a student has a difficult family life it is not the responsibility of our society, school system, schools and teachers to overcome.

  11. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    It is definitely the responsibility of society to help every child get a good education, but we can’t ignore the research and expect results. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    It’s time to destroy the status quo, or the insistance that the schools alone can educate a child. We’ve known forever that this is not true so it’s time for change. No, we can’t replace parents but we can study the successful ones and provide all children with some of those benefits. Let’s copy some more successful countries and try the following:

    pre- and post-natal care for every infant;

    high-quality preschools for toddlers;

    school-based medical care for the poorest children (yes, a pair of glasses can help);

    highly trained, experienced and effective teachers for our low-income schools;

    parent education;

    after-school and summer enrichment for disadvantaged children;

    etc.

    We know what to do but we don’t want to spend the money. This is one form of economizing we definitely can’t afford.

  12. Attorney DC Says:

    TaxPayer: I didn’t say that society has no obligation to help the less fortunate. In fact, I think society does have an obligation to expend more resources helping low-income students, who are more in need of these services. My point (as a former student and teacher) is that the current trend in society seems to be putting all the blame (or, occasionally, praise) on teachers for the actions of their students. Especially when we’re talking about high school students (as the dropout article is), it’s disingenuous to hold the teacher 100% responsible for the performance of the students.

    In a typical (hypothetical) high school, a teacher has 5-6 classes of 25-30 kids per class for a total of about 125 to 180 students a day. Joe’s fifth period geometry teacher can’t make Joe come to class each day, can’t ensure he has breakfast, can’t force him to bring his textbook home and study for the test, can’t provide a quiet home environment to study, and can’t do a number of other things that are necessary for Joe to excel in geometry class.

    I just get frustrated when (from one perspective) teachers of high-income, motivated students are praised for being such great teachers (as if the kids and their families aren’t contributing to their successes) and (from the other perspective) teachers of low-income students who often have emotional and behaviorial issues, or a host of other problems, are disparaged for being “bad teachers.”

  13. TaxPayer Says:

    Linda: We agree that “it’s time to destroy the status quo” but as the WTU election shows, teachers in DC are only interested in protecting the status quo. Research shows that “teacher effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor controlled by school systems”, yet teachers want nothing to do with accountability as just witnessed by WTU.

    Attorney DC: I disagree, as a coach I feel that I and all other coaches are responsible for “the performance of the student”. This is certainly a lot easier at some schools compared to others. The biggest obstacle is not the luggage the student brings but the lack of support by the bureaucratic school systems. No one is blaming the individual teacher but with votes like the WTU, teachers and the system lose all credibility.

  14. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    “yet teachers want nothing to do with accountability”

    I just do not understand these words. As a teacher I was held strictly accountable by the parents, other teachers, administrators and state law. I didn’t dare leave the classroom to go to the restroom because I was “accountable” at all times for student safety. Parents noticed when Junior seemed delayed in his academic progress so I made certain every child learned. Good administrators were always aware of my students’ progress, but I admit many did not know what was going on. The teachers who got my students in the next grade let me know if I neglected to teach something so I was accountable to them. And of course I was accountable to the students, who let me know if I didn’t teach them well or was “boring.” Teachers are extremely accountable to many people and that’s one reason why so many leave the classroom within the first five years. How did this accountability myth ever get started? Is there anyone in the world more “accountable” than the classroom teacher? Goodness, just follow “Miss Jones” on a class field trip and find out what accountability means.

    What is meant when people say “teachers don’t want to be accountable?” I suspect it means we don’t want to be judged on the basis of a group standardized test that is not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. Well, we’re not stupid. There are many ways of testing children to evaluate progress but of course these tests must be tailored to the individual child. Yes, they must be professionally administered and proctored and of course they must be designed to measure school (apart from home) learning over time. Does this surprise anyone?

    Most important, like many teachers, I held myself to high standards. Each year I visited the middle-class school across the street to make certain my impoverished students were doing as well. Like most teachers I gave frequent tests to monitor progress closely. Isn’t this what teachers do?

    In Washington DC, administrators continued the shameful practice of hiring young inexperienced teachers right out of college but the voters fought successfully against this practice and others that are detrimental to students and teachers. To me, that’s a huge victory for students as well as teachers. Let’s see what happens. My trust is with the people who elect to be in the classroom with the children.

    Yes, the status quo (placing inexperienced teachers in the most challenging classrooms) was destroyed by D.C. voters. According to Vincent Gray I think we’re going to see some profound changes for children and fairness for their teachers.

  15. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: Well said. Teachers are certainly “accountable” on a daily basis to many people; which is sometimes why teaching is such a stressful occupation. I also agree that judging teachers based on one test given to their students, which test was NOT designed to measure teacher effectiveness, is absurd.

    TaxPayer: I’ve been enjoying this discussion, and I appreciate your motivation to help the children you coach. However, a teacher/coach can be very motivated, work very hard, be very skilled, and still “fail” in the sense that not all the children will be ready to learn; not all children will come to practice/school; not all children will pay attention to the instructions or participate in study/practice; not all children will have supportive families to make sure they get to practice/school activities on time, etc… How would you feel, as a coach, if one of your players refused to attend practice or games, and then you were fired at the end of the year because the player didn’t “improve”? That’s essentially what’s happening to certain teachers and schools, and I don’t feel that it’s appropriate.

  16. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Thanks, Attorney, DC. I have a question for you:

    The testing experts are almost unanimous in their opinion that teachers should not be evaluated on the basis of standardized tests that are not designed for the task. They say, quite reasonably, that teachers need to be evaluated by “mulitple measures” (i.e. classroom visits, student work, benchmark tests, etc.) and yet many people insist that teachers don’t want to be accountable because they oppose the same tests that the experts oppose. Here’s my question:

    Do you think these “reformers” truly believe that group standardized tests can measure the effectiveness of a teacher or do you think they are being consciously disingenuous? Thanks.

  17. TaxPayer Says:

    The hypocrisy is not lost on the public that a profession that spends their entire time grading other people objects to being graded themselves.

    Anyone who has read the blogs and position statements of the new leadership at WTU understands that education of children is of little interest to these teachers, power, politics and profit is all that matters.

  18. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    No, the hypocrisy is not lost on the public. That’s why they threw the bums out in DC and will continue to do so across the nation.

    Do you want to know who is interested in the education of children? It’s easy: Just find out who shows up each and every day to educate them!

    I was “graded” every two years on quite a few performance objectives, including student progress. Like all employees, I expected this. While it’s true that this evaluation was often perfunctory, that was not my fault, nor the fault of any other teachers. Of course, the unions, by law, are not allowed to evaluate teachers, nor are they allowed to dictate the provisions of an evaluation. Teachers expect to be evaluated (why wouldn’t they be?) but they don’t want the evaluation based on a single group test that is not designed for the task. Testing experts agree with this.

    TaxPayer, how do you want teachers “graded?”

    Well, I will say one thing for Michelle Rhee: She disproved the myth that a teacher can’t be “graded” and dismissed.

  19. Taxpayer Says:

    I want them graded per the Gates MET plan (link shown above):

    1) Student achievement gains
    2) Classroom observation
    3) Pedagogical content
    4) students/parents
    5) Teacher perceptions of environment

    Your false argument, is that evaluation means 100% test scores, they are a portion like with your students. Gates says 40%.

    Your heroes at WTU object to firing teachers for having sex with the kids, missing more than 70 days of school, beating the kids or being in the bottom .05 % of performance, some accountability.

  20. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Taxpayer, your last paragraph says it all. I give up.

  21. Chris Smyr Says:

    His 2nd-to-last paragraph said even more, actually.

  22. Tedconsumer Says:

    With his/her last paragraph, Taxpayer morphed into psycholand, and not in a aw, that’s too bad.
    Taxpayer seems to have found those missing teachers who had sex with students that Miss Rhee claimed existed, then had to pull back to just one.

    Welcome to Eduwonk, where you leave the facts in the myre.

    Maybe Andrew should let people post as others. It certainly pulls the curtain back to see the emperor as he is.

  23. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: You asked (above): “Do you think these “reformers” truly believe that group standardized tests can measure the effectiveness of a teacher or do you think they are being consciously disingenuous?”

    My answer is that I think the reformers take satisfaction in punishing teachers, possibly because it’s not PC to bash the students or low-income families, and teachers are the next-best target. Focusing their energies on teacher performance is easier than trying to address the problems that you frequently mention (poverty, single parent households, non-English speaking students and families, etc.) that are complicated, expensive and challenging to resolve.

    I also think that many people outside the classroom don’t understand that comparing student scores on a test from Year 1 to Year 2 doesn’t yield a statistically reliable evaluation of the teacher. For one thing, if I hadn’t been a teacher myself, I might not have realized the myriad things that affect a teacher’s ability to effectively teach their students. For instance, schools often don’t assign students randomly (even when “tracking” is officially prohibited, schools may do it anyway; the principal may deliberately put a known ‘disruptive’ student in one teacher’s class, for a variety of reasons). I also might not have been aware of other factors out of the teacher’s control: E.g., does the teacher have to teach 2, 3 or even 4 subjects at the same time (while other teachers have only one preparation)? How does that impact the teacher’s time to prepare lessons per subject? Does the administration support the teacher in removing or disciplining chronically disruptive students or not?

    I think some of the reason that the public is happy to latch onto a seemingly simply evaluation method (student test scores) is that focusing on the incredibly complex reasons for student performance is too overwhelming. Of course, while test scores sound nice and simple as an evaluation tool, they were not designed to measure teacher performance and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be used for that purpose, especialy since the evaluators can’t control for all of the other factors that impact a teacher’s effectiveness.

  24. Art Says:

    The work of the reformers that Andy refers to is clearly not narrowly circumscribed as looking for people to punish. Some of these reformers have started schools in which children do better than they did before; others, such as Geoffrey Canada, started programs that provide a wide range of health and social services to children and families in addition to providing high quality schools. Others propose reforms to improve the ways we prepare teachers, organize schools, and deliver instruction. Dismissing these people as merely teacher-bashers or as somehow naive about students and testing seems really far-fetched to me.

    On another matter, the Tennessee class size study, in which students were randomly assigned to teachers, produced estimates of teacher effects of the same magnitude as studies in which students were not randomly assigned to teachers.

  25. Attorney DC Says:

    Art: You make good points. Of course, not all reformers are hell-bent on blaming teachers for all education problems. However, the current reform movement (such as those reforms advocated by Rhee and the race for RttT federal funding, and exemplified by the LA Times’ recent publication of teachers’ scores) is highly focused on figuring out ways to evaluate teachers and then fire and/or discipline them based on the results of said evaluations.

  26. Chris Smyr Says:

    “The current reform movement [...] is highly focused on figuring out ways to evaluate teachers and then fire and/or discipline them based on the results of said evaluations.”

    You say it like it’s a bad thing.

    This is also a touch different from your suggestions that “reformers are hell-bent on blaming teachers for all education problems” and that “reformers take satisfaction in punishing teachers”.

  27. TaxPayer Says:

    Reformers recognize that our greatest strength is our human capital. The relationship between teacher and student is the central event in education. Changes to policies that maximize this relationship are to be pursued.

    Reformers are interested in doing everything possible to attract, develop, motivate, and reward teachers, while removing the few non performing teachers. This in not anti-teacher, this is elevating teachers to the level of importance their position truly holds.

    Anyone who has worked in or with some of our so called “drop out factories” recognizes that the individual teacher is not to blame for graduation rates below 25%, grade level reading rates less than 15% and security being the prime concern of all. As in any organization such systematic failure is not the result of a few employees but management, administration, and a broken feudal system, let alone some inexperience new hire thrown into the chaos.

    The frustration to reformers is that many teachers are the impediment to change, want nothing to do with reform and passionately fight for the status quo. These teachers are often collectively demonized and rightfully so.

  28. Attorney DC Says:

    Chris: I do “say it like it’s a bad thing” to focus major reform efforts primarily on rating and firing teachers, because they are not the primary cause of “drop-out factories.” Drop-out factories are (correct me if I’ms wrong) schools primarily composed of low-income, minority students, often from single-parent families who may also have guardians who speak limited or no English. The teachers in these schools are not the main reason the kids are struggling. No one is looking at high-performing schools and trying to fire their teachers when Billy gets a 4 instead of a 5 on an AP exam.

    This is my experience: When I taught low-income kids from difficult home environments, I had a hard time keeping them on-task, convincing them to spend time on their homework and studying for tests, preventing them from losing their supplies and textbooks, making up work when they were absent, etc. When I taught honors students, all I had to do was create good lesson plans, and the class sailed along: No behavior problems, no forgetting supplies, no truancy problem.

    My point is that heaping all the blame for the large-scale difficulties of America’s low-income students is not the way to do it. All it does is discourage teachers (or potential teachers) from teaching, or from teaching in difficult schools.

  29. Attorney DC Says:

    Correction: The second-to-last sentence should have read, “My point is that heaping all the blame for the large-scale difficulties of America’s low-income students on their teachers is not the way to do it.”

  30. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    As a practical example of what DC Attorney wrote, here is a conversation that occurred last night between a teacher (Joan) who transferred to an affluent school this fall and her old colleagues, still at the poorest school in the district:

    Joan: (Joking) It’s so nice not having to work that hard. I tested all my kids and most already know the entire curriculum for the grade. Their scores will be really high and I will be “highly effective.”

    Cindy: And to think you were such a “bad” teacher just a few months ago.

    Linda: Tell us how you went from “bad” to “great” in just a few months.

    (Laughter all around)

    Joan: I’m just a genuis, I guess.

  31. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: LOL (in a kind of depressing way). Good example – so true!

  32. Chris Smyr Says:

    Attorney et al.:

    There shouldn’t be anything akin to hell or hellbent or hellraising with further efforts to identify good and bad teachers. Better metrics to evaluate teachers is a plus for everyone except the teachers that receive poor evaluations, and it shouldn’t bother anyone if said teachers are upset about this. If the counterarguments to this have anything to do with “error” or “accuracy”, please find the (many) other threads here that have responded to this.

    You’re also arguing against your own incorrect interpretation of teacher evaluation rather than the reality, but this is the norm for debates on these subjects so it is not surprising. There are a large number of variables that help explain why more students drop out than graduate at a given school. You are foolishly suggesting teachers have nothing to do with this, and you are basing this suggestion on your own experiences from your own perspective. It is defeatist and just plain wrong to suggest that teachers can have no impact with students that live in poverty and attend shitty schools. The reformers that you are slinging mud at are the very ones that are pushing for evaluating teachers on student achievement relative to past performance. Whether or not Billy passed his AP exams is not the point; it’s whether or not Billy made more or less progress relative to past years, and if this is a trend seen from lots of students throughout several years from one particular teacher.

    Furthermore, the assertions that are running rampant in this thread that “it’s all because of their environment!” and “kids need more [X, Y, and Z] before they can learn!” offer such rewarding idealistic solutions involving various forms of social engineering, but how about we try on some pragmatism for a change?

    How do any of you propose that we get rid of poverty? And can your solutions be instituted in the society that we currently have? And how long will these solutions require to see actualization? And whether or not it is possible to set your solutions in motion and defeat poverty for all kids everywhere, what are the negatives associated with current efforts to improve teacher evaluations, and thereby reward great teachers and retrain/remove underperforming teachers?

  33. Attorney DC Says:

    Chris: I appreciate your points, but your overall theme seems to be that fixing the real causes of low student achievement (poverty, uneducated parents, social mores) is too difficult and/or unrealistic, so we should instead focus on the slightly relevant (but more minor factor) of teacher quality. That’s not a totally unreasonable perspective. However, it runs into two problems, from my viewpoint: One, by focusing reform efforts on the teachers (and ignoring or brushing aside the other issues), we are not really likely to come up with an effective solution, since teachers are not the key reason for these students’ failure; Two, all this negative attention heaped on teachers (especially teachers of low-income students working in bad neighborhoods) makes it unlikely that many of the better teachers would WANT to work in these neighborhoods, given the high likelihood they could be fired. So, it might work to the detriment of the struggling students, who may end up with worse teachers (or no teachers at all, but simply a string of substitutes).

    What’s my solution to getting rid of poverty? Well, my solutions are pretty radical and somewhat out of the box, but I’d start with two things: (1) Create strong incentives among inner-city youth to avoid teen pregnancy (perhaps free contraceptives like NorPlant?) and (2) Legalize drugs so that the allure of gangs and drug money doesn’t keep kids from taking school seriously. I’d also give schools much more power to discipline students, so as to keep a handful of disruptive and/or violent students from making learning difficult or dangerous for others. Perhaps police officers would be placed in classrooms, like in prison schools, so that teachers can focus on teaching rather than on maintaining order in the classroom? I know these “solutions” are kind of radical, but honestly, I don’t think that TEACHERS (even really great teachers) have the power on their own to turn around these types of “drop out factories”… Pretending that they do is flat out counterproductive.

  34. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Good response, DC Attorney. I’d like to say that I know very well that poverty cannot be eliminated but I believe there is much we can do to provide every American child with the basics:

    pre-and post-natal care;

    infant monitoring delivered by visiting nurses;

    high-quality preschool with a heavy emphasis on language and cognitive develpment;

    fully qualified and experienced teachers with proven track records of success for our most challenging schools;

    health clinics on school sites;

    two teachers for every classroom with severely disruptive students; one to teach and one to deal with problem children;

    enrichment after school and during summers (NOT drill or test prep);

    public school vouchers and magnet schools so parents have choices (charters are OK as long as there’s a close eye on the money, safety and treatment of children and teachers);

    support for children with special needs (psychologists, specialists etc.)

    As for the evaluation of teachers, everything depends on the economy. If it continues as it is, standards for teachers will become higher than they are at present. If the economy improves, we’ll be back to “highly effective” for everyone just to keep people in the urban classrooms. This has been a cultural and economic problem and not a problem of the teachers who have elected to do the job. Also, if this bashing continues, expect to see all the best teachers flock to Scarsdale, Palos Verdes and Beverly Hills. Of course, this is already happening but with economic recovery, it is likely to become a serious problem, especially with women going into all occupations.

    Basically I support a full range of services to ensure the success of all American children. We know what to do but many of our citizens don’t want to pay for it.

  35. Chris Smyr Says:

    “but your overall theme seems to be that fixing the real causes of low student achievement (poverty, uneducated parents, social mores) is too difficult and/or unrealistic, so we should instead focus on the slightly relevant (but more minor factor) of teacher quality.”

    I can’t imagine why it’s always the reformers who are anti-teacher when arguments such as this pop up, which marginalize the importance of teachers in our communities. You are citing imaginary studies if you think teacher quality is only “slightly relevant”.

    “One, by focusing reform efforts on the teachers (and ignoring or brushing aside the other issues), we are not really likely to come up with an effective solution, since teachers are not the key reason for these students’ failure”

    Fixing poverty and fixing schools are not mutually exclusive events. Arguments for one have no bearing on arguments for the other.

    “Two, all this negative attention heaped on teachers (especially teachers of low-income students working in bad neighborhoods) makes it unlikely that many of the better teachers would WANT to work in these neighborhoods, given the high likelihood they could be fired.”

    Where to start..

    1) The negative attention is addressed to teachers and schools who fail students when schools in similar locales achieve, as well as addressed to teachers who are underperforming (relative to past student achievement). Negative attention is only “heaped on [all] teachers” by the accounts of those with a persecuted teacher complex.

    2) You’re incorrectly assuming that better teachers refuse to be more stringently evaluated. Please stop speaking for all teachers.

    3) If they were better teachers there is a lower likelihood they could be fired.

    4) There are myriad other better reasons why teachers aren’t in a big rush to teach in failing schools. More importantly, it’s not like there was a huge rush of good teachers into these failing schools before, and reformers are now coopting them with current strategies.

    “What’s my solution to getting rid of poverty? Well, my solutions are pretty radical and somewhat out of the box”

    Which fails the test of pragmatism. Have fun entertaining those ideals. We can’t even get legalized pot here in CA.

    Linda’s laundry list is no better. And none of it addresses hunger or any of the other many social issues that blight our kids.

    While we all wait for the brain trust here at Eduwonk to come up with solutions to fix poverty, I’m throwing my lot in with reformer strategies that will most likely have positive benefits for kids.

  36. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I’m throwing my lot in with the people who educate our children, especially those who elect to be in our most challenging classrooms. Anything that gets done in our schools will happen because of them. Teachers are among our nation’s heroes and they have my fullest respect and support. They save the quality of many children’s lives and most citizens appreciate that fact. People who support children, support the people who care for them.

    And by the way, when I said I supported “a full range of services” for all children, I assumed everyone could infer food as part of that. The United States is fully capable of doing whatever is necessary to educate all children. Please support a wide range of educational and social services for our youngest citizens.

  37. Chris Smyr Says:

    “I’m throwing my lot in with the people who educate our children, especially those who elect to be in our most challenging classrooms. ”

    And making sure “no teacher [gets] left behind” magically translates into the best strategy for helping kids learn, of course.

    “And by the way, when I said I supported “a full range of services” for all children, I assumed everyone could infer food as part of that. ”

    Ah, yes. And it’s the reformers who are preventing these “full range of services”, which could end poverty, hunger, and all other socioeconomic woes, from becoming real, of course.

  38. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Last paragraph:

    You got it right at last, Chris. Congrats.

  39. Chris Smyr Says:

    How are reformers preventing these non-existent, improbable and likely impossible reform movements from coming to fruition and ending poverty, hunger, and all other socioeconomic woes? Please go on, this is getting interesting.

  40. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Well, you said it so you must know. I was just agreeing.

  41. Tom Says:

    Here’s an idea. Let’s stop spending so much money on teacher salaries so we can fund:

    pre-and post-natal care;

    infant monitoring delivered by visiting nurses;

    high-quality preschool with a heavy emphasis on language and cognitive develpment;

    fully qualified and experienced teachers with proven track records of success for our most challenging schools;

    health clinics on school sites;

    two teachers for every classroom with severely disruptive students; one to teach and one to deal with problem children;

    enrichment after school and during summers (NOT drill or test prep);

    public school vouchers and magnet schools so parents have choices (charters are OK as long as there’s a close eye on the money, safety and treatment of children and teachers);

    support for children with special needs (psychologists, specialists etc.)

  42. Chris Smyr Says:

    And don’t forget the “full range of services” that will save all children everywhere from the effects of poverty. Those need funding, too!

  43. tedconsumer Says:

    Tom, Tom,
    cutting teachers’ salaries by have isn’t going to begin to cover it.
    End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Maybe some teacher ought to go looking for the $25 billion in cash that disappeared in Iraq.

  44. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Yes, implementation of my ideas would be extremely expensive, but other advanced countries have provided social supports for their poorest children and I believe we can do it too. I believe we HAVE to do it because we can’t afford for so many children to fail. Some problems are extremely expensive to solve and providing an equal opportunity for each child to get a good education is one of them.

    I’m hoping that generous benefactors like Bill and Melinda Gates will help support full-service community schools in urban areas. As for teachers, if we want the best, we’ll have to improve salaries, benefits and working conditions. That’s a no-brainer.

  45. Tom Says:

    numbers

    Total spending per year on education: $536 billion (in 2004-05)
    http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/10facts/index.html

    Cost of the Iraq War: ~$450 billion per year
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html

    So i’d say we should do some cutting from both.

  46. Tom Says:

    But linda why should we both to improve salaries or working conditions for teachers? If you had to choose between spending money on teachers/schools or spending it on wrap-around services, which would you choose?

  47. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Tom, just as we don’t have to make this choice for other jobs that society values (medicine, law) we shouldn’t have to make it for education. I think we can find ways to fully support our poorest children without penalizing their teachers. Don’t you?

  48. Chris Smyr Says:

    To be very clear: there has not been one tenable idea propounded here, with the necessary accompanying logistics for implementation, on how to provide all of the social supports for poor children necessary to get them on equal footing with other kids. The only thing Linda has offered that somewhat acknowledged this, for example, is “my ideas would be extremely expensive”. It’s not just the prohibitive expense, although this would probably have to be more clearly defined beyond “expensive”. Maybe “really expensive”, or “super-duper expensive”.

    What specifically are the full range of services that will inhibit the deleterious effects of poverty on student achievement, such as hunger and lack of support at home? How will they be implemented? How much will they cost? Do they or do they not require a higher level of social engineering than we’ve seen in our nation before? And is it or is it not possible to continue to demand higher teacher quality while we go about fighting for these services?

  49. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Yes, we should absolutely demand higher teacher quality. As I’ve said before, one thing we can do today is to stop the shameful practice of placing the least qualified and experienced teachers in high-poverty schools. We can do it, and just this action alone would be huge for children.

  50. Chris Smyr Says:

    HOW will you do it?

    http://www.eduwonk.com/2010/07/teach-for-america-and-the-problem-of-study-laundering.html#comment-208357

    And wouldn’t improving teacher quality require the use of more exacting forms of evaluation and increased consequences from said results?

  51. tedconsumer Says:

    PreK -12 Salary numbers, Tom?

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