Early Warning

Per this whole is it schools or is it society debate, studies like this new one from Andrew Zau and Julian Betts (pdf) are pretty depressing.   They show that it’s possible at a pretty early point in a child’s schooling experience to see what their trajectory is.   The don’t blame the schools crowd would have a stronger case if, armed with this information, states and schools were seriously crafting interventions to get these kids back on track.  But no.  Instead, perversely, they often get the least.

In fact, although we have much more data than ever before and a few states are experimenting with “early warning systems” or catch up programs in high school (see this report (pdf) and this one for some background), no state has a robust system to really reach these students and their families.  Creating such a system, using data, should be at the top of every governor’s education to do list and with today’s technology there are a variety of ways to do it and communicate with parents*.   It would help turn accountability from being a reactive proposition to a proactive one.  And, taking it a step further, there is no reason why you couldn’t build elements of this into a school accountability system, too.

*Who are also constituents, this is smart politics, too.

4 Replies to “Early Warning”

  1. Everyone and their dog will recommend a “Grand Bargain” for Obama, and that is how it should be. Most of the commentators like Matt Miller and Jonathan Alter will not know squat about education, but that’s not a problem. The problem would be the repetition ad nauseum of their Know Nothing-ism. Regardless of the Grand Compromise chosen, Obama won’t have much time for details and education experts will spin them in their own way. So, we should enjoy our debate/discussion and use blogs to help inform the best possible synthesis.

    I loved the links you provided, but I have to chide your commentary, saying that those who argue for early interventions would be on firmer footing if they made more of an effort to intervene early. If NCLB proves anything, it’s the counter-productive nature of guilt-tripping, especially when we need a Grand Bargain. But getting back to the excellent studies you cite, the Achieve Report argued that we should think deeply and reflectively system BEFORE (emphasis theirs) development of data systems, so we don’t need to wait on states to create data systems before engaging in a discussion.

    The best example is the excellent study by Zau andd Betts on predicting success in the California Exit Exams. It showed, “Stunningly, grade 4 student outcomes predict CAHSEE passage by grades 10 and 12 almost as well as grade 9..” It also discovered “that student behavior in elementary grades is roughly on the same order of importance as academic GPA,” and that it “is perhaps more important than reading or math scores.” The study noted that its results confirmed the observations of teachers, and it tread gently in concluding,”the results imply that parents may have important roles in influencing their young children’s behavior.”

    So the first lesson is that Obama should continue his straight talk about family and responsibility and distance himself from the anti-teacher, civil rights on the cheap ideology of Rhee, Klein, and ideologues like the Ed Trust who seek to shame teachers and unions. And secondly, we should remember that it is the central offices, not teachers, who rejected early interventions before and after NCLB. But thirdly, we should remember that the logic of NCLB is that what gets measured gets action. That logic made it much more difficult for central offices to meet the already tough challenge of implementing early interventions while minimizing the damage of stigma.

    This is a rare case where we do have a simple solution, or at least a clear first step. We must go back to the dictum, “You are not the problem. I am not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

    Balfanz’ research confirmed the predictive importance of classroom behavior and absenteeism especially for low attendance in the first thirty days of the freshmen year. He also points to a synthesis, we need early interventions AND we need high school and later interventions.

    Although we need a Grand Compromise, Miller and Alter provide great models of what we should not do. Miller virtually admitted that his proposal is another Sista Soldja tactic, but he doesn’t know enough about education to realize that NCLB accountability, fundamentally, was the legacy of that tactic. Alter wants us to copy Karl Rove’s vicious tactics, unions are “Paleolithic,”and they are “a retrograde liberal interest group,” and they exist to defend “insane work rules,” while Michelle Rhee is brilliant.” You have signed your name to a series of reports that repudiate the nonsense of both commentators.

    How’s this as a first step towards a synthesis? You explicitly repudiate their Miller’s Alter’s and Rhee’s rhetoric. (Your posts indicate that you have mixed feelings about her policies, which is fine, but we could use your help when her words are beyond the pale. And when journalists who do not know the research are parroting a line that you know is false, you could help speak out against the little birds who are whispering in their ears.) We push teachers to not only agree that we need much more efficient mechanisms for firing bad teachers but that we must make it a much higher priority. (We teachers are like many in the civil rights community on this. We know that Obama is right to challenge Black fathers, but we have reservations about doing it on Fathers Day when Whites are listening. We teachers know how harmful that bad teachers are but its hard to work with people like BloomKlein fearing that their deceit will be replicated.)

    Secondly, we could agree that “schools alone” can help close the Achievement Gap, but only if we define schools alone as schools that are not alone, but that bring the community inside. Instructional reforms are a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for improving student performance. They are the “tip of the spear” but they are only effective after building relationships as is documented by Balfanz, The Turnaround Challenge, and many others.

  2. “Stunningly, grade 4 student outcomes predict CAHSEE passage by grades 10 and 12 almost as well as grade 9..” It also discovered “that student behavior in elementary grades is roughly on the same order of importance as academic GPA,” and that it “is perhaps more important than reading or math scores.”

    As an elementary principal I am always shocked when parents do not take attendance, tardiness, or behavior issues seriously. I can’t tell you how often I have to send the truancy officer to the home of a 4th grader who has missed so much school that he is not on grade level. A lot of school success is based on motivation and attitude. Average students who are motivated and have a good attitude about school tend to be successful. Bad attitude and lack of motivation can have an a lasting impact on a student, as stated in the research above. Great topic.

  3. I agree with Docwart. I think behavior has a huge impact. I also think a behavior gpa would be correlated with an academic gpa. I wonder if it would be hard to separate those two variables on predicting a students’ success. I also wonder about how research could be done on this subject of early intervention. Would parents allow their kids to be randomly selected NOT to receive tutoring?

  4. Two years ago we opened an inner city K-3 charter school. Eighty percent of our kinders were Hispanic and twenty percent African American. We recruited students who community preschool teachers had identified as behavioral problems in their respective schools. Our instructional program in reading was Direct Instruction (Zig Engelmann). By February all of our kinders were reading. By May professors from the local university, district administrators, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction came to hear them read. Direct Instruction is not popular with many educators because of the scripted lessons, but the fact is that it works. The kinders have continued to excel in first grade (They are all reading at or above grade level). Their behavior is no longer an issue. I believe it is our job as educators to ensure that ALL students succeed…no excuses! It can be done and it starts in kindergarten.

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