Political Maze

Solid New York Times story on the school choice matching system in New York City. Specifics aside, what’s striking about stories like this more generally is just how much we tolerate scarcity in public education – probably because it’s generally the poor most adversely affected by the insufficient supply of good schools.  A few weeks ago I was talking with a high school student who travels an hour plus each way to get to school, which in her city means leaving and returning home in the dark for most of the year.  She passes a lot of schools on the way…

In general when someone has something good or in demand to offer we let them expand or raise prices.  Pricing is not the issue in public education, obviously, because we don’t (directly) charge for public schools.  But we could be thinking so much bigger on the expansion side for both successful schools and successful programs than we do today.  Instead, we have a dumb debate about charter schools (when the supply question is much larger than charters) and outside of some relatively marginal stuff around online/distance education pay basically no attention to helping proven educators expand what they’re doing to other schools, school systems, or states.

17 Responses to “Political Maze”

  1. steve f. Says:

    Who is tolerating scarcity in your “we” construction? This is a very serious question, because it is at the heart of the Education Reformers(tm) message – there is some, magical, mysterious”we” out there that tolerates bad schools. Who are these people?

    I’ve never heard a public education advocate say that only some neighborhood schools should be good.

    I’ve never heard a parent say that only some neighborhood schools should be good.

    I’ve never heard a teacher say that only some neighborhood schools should be good.

    And, I’ve never heard a union official say that only some neighborhood schools should be good.

    So, this “we” must be some other group? But, I wonder “who”?

  2. Carol Beck Says:

    I would like to understand NYC better – being from much smaller, but moving forward, Baltimore. I get the impression that expanded choice there means many more public schools with entrance criteria and/or the ability to screen students. Where are the inclusion opportunities in NY for a high school kid with special ed needs? Baltimore is a much smaller pond, but we now have system wide middle school and high school choice. There are a small number of historical magnets with entrance crtieria but the goal seems to be that growth in choice means growth in schools that embrace all kids.

  3. Attorney DC Says:

    Eduwonk wrote: “In general when someone has something good or in demand to offer we let them expand or raise prices… [W]e could be thinking so much bigger on the expansion side for both successful schools and successful programs than we do today.”

    Eduwonk appears to believe that a successful school is good or bad based on characteristics that can be duplicated or expanded. That is, a ‘good’ school with 500 kids could be expanded to become just as good a school with 1000 kids. Presto!

    While there are likely some characteristics that could be duplicated from the more ‘successful’ schools, I’ve found in my experience as a former teacher that the MAIN factor that determines school quality is the characteristics of the students. ‘Good’ schools (high test scores, low student behavior problems, etc.) are usually the schools located in areas with higher income, educated families. ‘Bad’ schools are usually those populated by lower-income students, often including English-Language-Learners, itinerant students, those with unstable home lives, etc…

  4. Michael Says:

    Certain professions like teaching and nursing is a calling. So you can find excellent and poor teachers in public schools. The system rather than rewarding good teachers treats them in many cases the same as an average or poor teacher. Teaching someone something is more than just knowing about the subject , it is also about the ability to transfer that knowledge.

    Good teachers will always be scarce because too few have the skills or will to actually teach , most seem to just believe in the methodical sylabus without really looking at it from a student understanding perspective

  5. notownedbyabillionaire Says:

    DC Attorney is right on target.

    If we want better schools we need better students. That means a more equitable society. Not a society in which the gap between the richest 1% and the bottom 20% continues to grow at an alarming pace. We are asking educators to close a gap that other public policies are intentionally widening. Poverty matters more than teacher quality – lets address it.

    The link below (make sure to add .com) is from a real expert on education policy with no horse in the proverbial game. He exposes Rotherham’s line of thinking for the malarkey that it is.

    http://schoolfinance101.wordpress (dot com)/2011/04/08/a-trip-to-the-reformy-education-research-association/

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    Attorney DC:

    ***”Eduwonk appears to believe that a successful school is good or bad based on characteristics that can be duplicated or expanded.”

    Yes, characteristics that often have research proven effectiveness. It’s not a leap of faith at all to assert there is good potential for scaling of effective schools, so I don’t know why you are suggesting it.

    ***”…I’ve found in my experience as a former teacher…”

    See, this is part of the problem. You continually reference your own experiences in education and assume they offer some basis for your counterarguments. They most often do not, as is the case here.

    Here you assert that, because you often found that school quality correlated with the characteristics of the students, that there is strict causation that we cannot fix or affect by, in this case, scaling up effective schools and/or strategies, even when some of these ‘successful’ schools (the quotes are yours, and I’m curious as to why you used them) demonstrate they are helping similar kids.

    _________

    Billions and billions of nonsense:

    How would you like to address poverty? And when do you wager we will have addressed poverty enough to allow for some focus to shift back to fighting for more effective schools?

  7. phillipmarlowe Says:

    See, this is part of the problem. You continually reference your own experiences in education and assume they offer some basis for your counterarguments. They most often do not, as is the case here.
    Unlike Chris and his experiences.

  8. Attorney DC Says:

    Student performance (which is the current generally accepted test of school quality) is HIGHLY linked to family SES and other family characteristics. Schools have a much smaller impact on student performance than many would like to believe; Teachers can only do so much with students who have unstable home lives, limited English proficiency, families that take them back and forth across the border with Mexico, older brothers and sisters who recruit them to join gangs, and the teen culture of early pregnancy, among other factors.

    Chris: The reason I used ‘successful’ in quotes (above) is because I believe the concept of a ‘successful’ school is one created by the media and education pundits to try to pin the blame for student performance on the controllable factors of the school: Namely, its teachers. In my experience, successful schools are usually those: (1) With high SES students; and/or (2) With selective admissions policies that act to control the intake of unruly or unmotivated students.

    I’ll also note that many laws and/or policies act to prevent typical public schools from expelling or otherwise disciplining students with persistent behavior or attendance problems, which in my opinion exacerbates the problems in many traditional public schools today and affects the other students’ ability to learn.

  9. notownedbyeduwonksbillionaires Says:

    @Smyr (a closet conservative)

    I propose that it is ridiculous to focus on closing the achievement gap using a poor leverage point (teacher quality) while our country’s economic policies are using a much stronger leverage point (poverty) to widen the achievement gap.

    Given that we have a limited amount of time, resources etc. Lets focus our energy on addressing the problem (poverty) rather than the symptom (a gap in educational outcomes.)

    Its ironic that you claim to be interested in progressive politics but have no thoughts about directly addressing poverty. You and reformers of the eduwonk brand are a welcome distraction for conservatives.

    To quote Krugman,

    “the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

    So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

    What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.”

    How to address poverty

    Increase the capital gains tax rate.
    Create a millionaire surtax
    Close tax loop holes exploited by those with the most resources

    What are the Benchmarks for shifting the focus back to education?

    1) When the U.S. doesn’t lead industrialized nations in child poverty
    2) When the top 1% does not continue to continue to accumulate more than the 40% of American wealth that they already own

  10. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Data:

    Pisa scores:

    US Schools with 75% poverty rate 446

    Poverty rate of Finland 3.4%
    Poverty rate of Canada 13.6%
    Poverty rate of New Zealand 16.3%
    Poverty rate of Japan 14.3%
    Poverty rate of Australia 11.6%
    North Korea doesn’t publish its poverty rate.

    So, Pisa scores are not necessarily a product of race or immigration but income (still a vast American tragedy). Let’s summarize, wealthy students trail no nations, moderately wealthy (if you include poverty levels up to 25% as moderately wealthy) trail only two countries, Korea and Finland, whose educational output suddenly doesn’t seem quite so miraculous

  11. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Data: (again)
    PISA scores

    US Schools with 75% poverty rate 446

    Poverty rate of Finland 3.4%
    Poverty rate of Canada 13.6%
    Poverty rate of New Zealand 16.3%
    Poverty rate of Japan 14.3%
    Poverty rate of Australia 11.6%
    North Korea doesn’t publish its poverty rate.

  12. Chris Smyr Says:

    Phillip:

    Notice I didn’t reference my experiences, so you again appear clueless to what is being discussed here.
    ________

    Attorney DC:

    Here again you submit an argument that doesn’t respond to what I wrote. I agree with you that there is a correlation. Where I disagreed with you is whether or not there is causation that can be fixed or affected with a focus on improving school quality. You (again) suggest that schools cannot do any better with their students because all of the students who are failing are simply doomed to failure because of their backgrounds, although when we had this discussion in the KIPP thread you suggested that KIPP’s students were able to succeed due to improved school factors (even if their demographics doomed them to failure before). The article, however, notes that nearly 10% of 8th graders did not receive any of their high school picks, so one may infer from this data that perhaps there is more potential in these families than you give them credit for.

    You also submit that you used quotes when you described those successful schools because of something you believe (a “concept…created by the media”) with little to no corroborating evidence beyond anecdotes, rather than an objective look at their students’ data. This seems vaguely familiar:

    eduwonk . com/2011/04/still-going-2.html#comment-219417

    _____________

    @notowned (a closet billionaire — not!)

    See, you claim that teacher quality is a poor leverage point and that poverty is a stronger leverage point, but on both points your reply fails to deliver because:

    * your opinion of teachers and schools as a poor leverage point is just that– an opinion, something that you’re not going to be able to find any such experimental evidence to corroborate, and

    * your itemized list for congress is not going to end poverty, nor will it likely do much to reduce poverty.

    All these debates continue to cycle back to previous ones, so here’s some pertinent quotes from before:

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

    […]

    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.

    […] 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.

    […]

    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?”

    I appreciate that you answered my 2nd question with numbered benchmarks, but your benchmarks for success imply we would likely never again focus on fixing schools, and I think that’s absurd.

  13. phillipmarlowe Says:

    Check out HB 421 in Louisiana, being pushed by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge and backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
    It allows corporations to secure spots on charter governing boards and reserve student enrollment slots for children of employees. To qualify, a corporation would have to donate the parcel on which the school is built, donate an existing building for the school’s use or pay for major renovations to an existing school building. The corporation could lay claim to up to half of the enrollment spaces in the school and control up to 50 percent of the seats of the governing board.– NOLA.com

  14. notownedbyeduwonksbillionaires Says:

    Point # 1

    When we look at successful schools and failing schools within states there are many constants.

    -Teacher Evaluation
    -Union protection
    -Teacher compensation structure

    There is however, one huge variable -the socioeconomic status of the students in each school. I am suggesting that changing a variable that is correlated with improved outcomes is a better leverage point than changing a constant not correlated with student outcomes. “IT’S PLAINLY ILLOGICAL TO BLAME SUCCESS OR FAILURE ON A FACTOR THAT DOESN’T VARY ACROSS SUCCESSFUL AND FAILING SCHOOLS. That’s just middle school science logic.” (Baker)

    Point # 2

    I am not sure why you think poverty at its current level is something that cannot be fixed. Increasing the capital gains tax rate, creating a millionaire surtax and closing tax loop holes exploited by those with the most resources would most certainly begin to address some of the inequity in our country. How is it that the social democracies of Europe have far less extreme poverty or inequality than the U.S?

    The rest of the points:

    Not assuming my conclusions … According to Hart and Risley The achievement gap at age three is measurable on I.Q. tests and cannot be overcome, even with targeted interventions. In this study, parenting style and exposure to non business language seemed to be the best predictor of student achievement.

    Achievement gaps exist before children enter school. Since we tend to measure our students against each other, improving any in school factor across the board will do nothing to narrow the gap within the U.S. All the students will have improved outcomes, but those with the advantage will still end up with the advantage. Again, the leverage point for closing the gap is outside of schools.

    As much as I disagree with Geoffrey Canada on workers rights, he is right on target with his family literacy and parenting skills classes. If this is the “social engineering” you are talking about, it is already happening.

    I agree that education reform and fighting poverty are not mutually exclusive. I only argue that in terms of closing the achievement gap, only one of those things matters.

    What are the “changes” that you believe should occur in schools?

    To what extent should we ignore/dismiss/accept the achievement and socioeconomic gap that exists before children enter school?

  15. Chris Smyr Says:

    Not-owned-by-Wal-Mart:

    ***”When we look at successful schools and failing schools within states there are many constants.”

    That achievement gaps exist along socioeconomic lines does not imply that the latter caused the former. That achievement gaps persist regardless of what (rather small) changes or reforms have been implemented so far also has no bearing on the fact that we ought to be able to help more kids succeed with better school policies in place that focus more directly on student success. For example, in a given school with a constant set of factors relating to teacher evaluation and compensation (reform-savvy or not), that achievement gaps persist does not suggest that those factors are worthless to focus on and fix. Barring some radical changes to a given school or set of schools (KIPP comes to mind), the most we would hope — and should expect — to be able to see in some finite period of time is sustained growth in scores and improvement in school culture. This is a reality and shouldn’t be considered a reason to fault school reform.

    The quote you pulled for Point #1 is silly and oversimplifies the issue. For a given school the teacher evaluation method will be constant, but the teaching ability will NOT be, and given that some subgroups of students are more in need of effective educators and classroom/school structure, this varied teaching ability (and here you could even consider another problem– constant mediocre teaching ability) harms these subgroups more than others. A real fix that could be implemented here is to focus on improving the ability of our schools to educate all of our students, to help teachers improve, to reward excellent teachers, and to make teaching a more attractive career, all in a sustained effort to lower this variability of good/bad teachers and make a solid education a reality for more kids.

    ***”I am not sure why you think poverty at its current level is something that cannot be fixed.”

    And I am not sure why you didn’t read my reply more carefully. I’m arguing that,

    1) your given itemized list of economic fixes is not going to end poverty, and

    2) insofar as it could help reduce some of the many effects of poverty, you’re not in any position to detail how small/large of an effect it would have on any achievement gap, and

    3) it presupposes that these fixes being enabled is a possible reality for our country, because look at those Europeans over there!

    I’m not faulting you for these notions of where you want this country to go. In reply to this specific point, however, I’m saying you ought to temper those notions with an understanding of where we are and where we’re going. In reply to your larger point, I’m saying all of this is moot to whether or not we can/should be pushing for changes to happen in schools, as well.

    ***”Not assuming my conclusions … According to Hart and Risley The achievement gap at age three is measurable on I.Q. tests and cannot be overcome, even with targeted interventions.”

    Notice that your cited evidence here does not rebut my argument that you are assuming your conclusions. That there is a correlation between the word gap and test scores does not imply that poverty caused the correlation. You would need experimental evidence to suggest that, without a doubt, poverty is the cause of all these educational woes. There is no such data and sadly there never will be. We have to consider the alternative explanation that poor families are the ones more likely to receive the short end of the stick with regards to access to a good education.

    ***”Since we tend to measure our students against each other, improving any in school factor across the board will do nothing to narrow the gap within the U.S.”

    This would only make sense if it were true that, regardless of socioeconomic status, all students had the same, equal access to good schools and effective educators, and that all students had equal needs that would be addressed equally by any proposed changes in school policy. It follows that what you wrote here doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

    ***”As much as I disagree with Geoffrey Canada on workers rights, he is right on target with his family literacy and parenting skills classes. If this is the “social engineering” you are talking about, it is already happening.”

    No, the social engineering I referenced was from another thread, where others were providing their own laundry lists of social changes they believed needed to happen before school reform ought to get under way. The list you’ve given here (basically higher taxes) is slightly more reasonable, but in accordance with this, likely has less potential to enable real changes for students.

    ***”I agree that education reform and fighting poverty are not mutually exclusive.”

    Great, and this is nearly completely opposite your intended meaning when you wrote, “Given that we have a limited amount of time, resources etc. Lets focus our energy on addressing the problem (poverty) rather than the symptom (a gap in educational outcomes.)”

    The fact that you agree with me here makes most of my reply unnecessary.

    ***”I only argue that in terms of closing the achievement gap, only one of those things matters.”

    And you’ve done a terrible job at arguing this.

    ***”What are the “changes” that you believe should occur in schools?”

    Do you want to know the changes I’d like to see, or the ‘changes’? I ask because it’s fun to see what people like to put into quotation marks on this blog, like ‘successful’ or ‘reform’.

    I’ve written a bit about the changes I’d like to see above and in other threads.

    The ‘changes’ I’d like to see include an awareness by the public that teachers are important and a continued reliance on seniority as the sole/major reference point for staffing decisions.

    ***”To what extent should we ignore/dismiss/accept the achievement and socioeconomic gap that exists before children enter school?”

    Shouldn’t ignore it, or dismiss it, but we should accept that it exists, continue efforts to fix the gaps before schools (pre-K programs, literacy classes, etc..), and continue efforts to reform schools so as to make sure those 13 years of education become a better investment for more students.

  16. notinfluencedbybillionairefunders Says:

    Thank You

  17. Chris Smyr Says:

    You’re Welcome

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