*Except For Them! Plus, What’s Next?

Kevin Huffman has a very good response to this morning’s Samuelson op-ed. The ‘we’re pretty good except for them’ argument is troubling and you hear it a lot.  Disaggregating data to get better visibility into a problem is one thing, implicitly (or explicitly) saying there isn’t a problem because of skewed results is another.

A different aspect of this that I don’t think gets enough attention is all the various non-school factors that determine competitiveness.  America was a great place to do business in the 20th Century because we enjoyed stable government, respect for contracts and property, lots of workers, etc…etc…But the world is changing.  That’s why these retrospective arguments are not that interesting.  The more pertinent question to debate is:  Given the way the world is changing, at least insofar as we can tell, how does this country need to educate its citizens to maintain quality of life and fidelity to our avowed goals – for instance social mobility.

11 Responses to “*Except For Them! Plus, What’s Next?”

  1. Chris Smyr Says:

    There’s a lot more that’s wrong with Samuelson’s op-ed:

    1) He questions the urgency of reform in an article where he admits we still have achievement gaps. Lots of words describe this cowardly perspective but I shouldn’t write them here.

    2) Scoring 17th out of 34 other developed nations is not “good”, or even “good, perhaps”. It’s a C/C+. Call it that, and let the reader decide if that’s good enough.

    3) Disaggregating the data, and then discarding what looks bad, to get the results you want to see is not really a convincing strategy, and neither is any version of “but if we threw out the blacks and Hispanics…” an acceptable rejoinder. The comparison of only our white students to other more homogeneous student bodies doubles as a marginalization of minorities and as a sleight of statistics: throw out the bottom tail end of our performing students under the faulty assumption that this “normalizes” the numbers and act astonished that we’ve now caught up to other nations who haven’t done the same.

    4) The persistence of achievement gaps does NOT indicate that poverty is the ultimate barrier to higher student achievement, nor does it imply that the end of poverty is a necessary and sufficient condition as we work toward closing these gaps.

  2. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
    [United States, Asian students 541]

    Korea 539
    Finland 536
    [United States, white students 525]
    Canada 524
    New Zealand 521
    Japan 520
    Australia 515
    Netherlands 508
    Belgium 506
    Norway 503
    Estonia 501
    Switzerland 501
    Poland 500
    Iceland 500
    United States (overall) 500
    Sweden 497
    Germany 497
    Ireland 496
    France 496
    Denmark 495
    United Kingdom 494
    Hungary 494
    OECD average 493
    Portugal 489
    Italy 486
    Slovenia 483
    Greece 483
    Spain 481
    Czech Republic 478
    Slovak Republic 477
    Israel 474
    Luxembourg 472
    Austria 470
    [United States, Hispanic students 466]
    Turkey 464
    Chile 449
    [United States, black students 441]
    Mexico 425

  3. Chris Smyr Says:

    Yes, Phil, those are the data.

  4. phillipmarlowe Says:

    4) The persistence of achievement gaps does NOT indicate that poverty is the ultimate barrier to higher student achievement, nor does it imply that the end of poverty is a necessary and sufficient condition as we work toward closing these gaps.

    And that is not data.

  5. Chris Smyr Says:

    Very good, Phil, that is definitely not data. It is, in fact, an argument. Would you like to give a rebuttal?

  6. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Why is there still a gap 60 years after Brown vs Topeka?
    Eric Hanushek thinks it is because of the bottom 5~10% of teachers, as does Michelle Rhee (though she won’t be pinned down to a percent).
    (Dr.) John Deasy did not significantly diminish the gap in Prince George’s County or Santa Monica. Nor did Michelle Rhee nor Joel Klein.
    Groups like KIPP, Friends of Bedford, Harlem Children’s Zone have show us you can decrease the gap when you select who are your students.
    They have not been successful when they have to take all students like public schools do. The collapse of Friends Of Bedford at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC shows us that.

  7. Chris Smyr Says:

    You are assuming your conclusions: that a gap persists does not imply that poverty is the main reason for it persisting. There could be any number of alternative reasons different from or in addition to the existence of poverty, and given there are many aspects of current reform that haven’t been widely implemented in the past, the rebuttal that we’ve been trying reform for years is misleading.

    Furthermore, whatever effects of poverty as barriers to student achievement you assume exist, none of them presuppose that poverty MUST be fixed before other changes are put into place in schools. This discussion is constantly had, but it’s a fruitless one: whatever the “fixes” you envision for eliminating poverty, not one runs counter to any tenet of school reform. Whether or not you ever figure out such a fix, there would also still be a need for greater accountability in classrooms, so in either case school reform needs to happen and it’s not precluding anyone’s ability to fight poverty.

    There are more errors compounded in your logic: that the gap wasn’t significantly decreased in DCPS under Rhee, for example, is also not evidence that reform is a waste of time. Indeed, there *were* gains made in student achievement in the relatively small time that Rhee was there, and there *were* improvements made outside of test scores, as well. The fact that improvement can be made in the first place is damning evidence against arguments that “those kids can’t learn until X, Y and Z happens”.

    Finally, there are mixed results in charter schools, but you ought to provide the evidence that shows that all successful charter schools (KIPP, for instance) preselect students who are admitted and that selection accounts for all of their high achievement *before* you try to imply it. There are some great things happening in charters right now despite the hardships their students are burdened with. Whether or not this success can be scaled further is besides the larger point that these kids are nevertheless succeeding.

  8. Hunter Says:

    It’s some of both – right? The school failure cycle reinforces generational poverty cycles. We can’t solely depend on schools to save us – there aren’t enough supermen out there. I think Samuelson is right – parents are the biggest predictor of success.

    But we don’t blame our parents for our school failure/poverty problems, because that won’t fly politically. It’s much easier to blame some bureaucratic organization.

    We don’t really try family education programs in this country, either two parent or single parent approaches. We have a large number of functionally illiterate adults – and that’s a surefire predictor for their kids successful failure when they get to school. We have lots of kids who are 3 years or more behind their peers when they start Kindergarten. Overall, it seems illogical to me that we spend so many billions of resource dollars on middle grades K-12 reform, technology application this, professional development that, and don’t really even look at a kid until he is 5 and then surely don’t look at him after he’s 18.

    What about a life-long learning policy? What would that look like? Could we maybe start with the best interest of the child first, family second, and put adult employees into that picture as teachers of those programs, not the main beneficiaries?

    Head Start could be an amazing program for our nation, and I do think it’s getting better, but it is plagued with huge problems.

  9. Chris Smyr Says:

    Blame can fall onto a number of reasons, but the point is which one are we most empowered to change and can changes there help a lot? It’s easier to fix some bureaucratic organization; you don’t see many politicians blame parents because it’s ineffective. Obama has asked parents before to pay more attention to their kids, but what else can the gov’t do to fix troubled families? Can it fix poverty? Are any of those fixes realistic in our political climate? Good questions to ask, great movements to push for, but regardless of what social programs we envision, we need change to happen in schools as well.

    Samuelson claims that because parents are a predictor of success, we should ignore other causes of achievement gaps, which is ridiculous. He also asserts other gems regarding skewing the data to make ourselves look better, and questions reform on these “merits”. It’s terrible logic from top to bottom.

  10. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    A Chris gem:
    also asserts other gems regarding skewing the data to make ourselves look better,
    That’s Chris’ attitude to data that doesn’t make his point, whether it is about achievement of our students or Michelle Rhee’s various bogus claims.

    Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
    [United States, Asian students 541]
    Korea 539
    Finland 536
    [United States, white students 525]
    Canada 524
    New Zealand 521

    Chris sidesteps, as do most of the professional education reformers, why our white and asian students do very well.
    What is happening in the classrooms of the white and asian students that is not happening in the schools of most of our black and hispanic kids.

    What’s the difference between Sidwell Friends and Dunbar High School, less than 10 miles apart from each other.

  11. Chris Smyr Says:

    “That’s Chris’ attitude to data that doesn’t make his point”

    You don’t understand why what he did (and you’ve done here) is skewing the data? Here’s why:

    Not only does the US have a more heterogeneous student body than other nations it is being compared to, but the heterogeneity is itself differentiated among schools and districts; some schools and districts have much larger proportions of a given demographic than other schools and districts. Given this, it is incorrect to assume that a given demographic can be thrown out to “normalize” the numbers for comparison to other nations. By doing so you may also be throwing out more data that would reflect on troubled schools and ineffective educators, while retaining the data for students that may frequent better schools. This may (and likely will) artificially increase scores.

    Why is it that poor-performing schools are concentrated in areas of high poverty? This is where you begged the question earlier, but didn’t respond when I pointed it out to you. Either poverty itself is the sole reason for poor performance, the specific schools themselves are the sole reason, or it is a combination of both. There’s nothing suggesting that these gaps are solely poverty-induced, however. Given what I argued earlier, we need to be focusing on improving what we are able to improve *right now* to up the odds of success for all students.

    Similarly, why do our achievement gaps fall along racial lines? It’s foolish to answer unhesitatingly that it’s because blacks and Hispanics simply all come from poorer households on average. There’s a school quality variable there that you refuse to acknowledge, and one that is similarly ignored by the op-ed.

    Given all of that, you responded to my initial argument but yet have not actually given a rebuttal to it. It is requoted below for your convenience:

    “The persistence of achievement gaps does NOT indicate that poverty is the ultimate barrier to higher student achievement, nor does it imply that the end of poverty is a necessary and sufficient condition as we work toward closing these gaps.”

    Lastly, yet again you bring up DCPS data and Rhee. I can’t for the life of me understand why you keep re-emphasizing a continuing debate you’ve continually lost. Literally every time we discuss DCPS data, your comments deteriorate into dick jokes. Your figurative record was skipping the last time I engaged you on that subject:

    http://www.eduwonk.com/2010/10/superman-is-here-im-not-so-sure.html#comment-211686

    Not having a decent response sure as hell never stopped you from responding, though, as we see in this thread.

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