Short Selling The Schools

Walt Gardner has the standard issue schools can’t do much for poor kids op-ed in today’s CSM.  He cites Washington, D.C. as his example, focusing on the pretty modest results from the D.C. voucher program as evidence that moving kids to other, presumably better, schools doesn’t matter much.   Only one small problem with his argument:  The voucher sector is really the only part of education in D.C. you can say that about.  The public charter schools — even accounting for more than a few lousy ones in the city — are moving the ball and the good charters, of which there are many, disprove Gardner’s theory.   Meanwhile, overall, the traditional D.C. public schools, long thought unreformable are, well, improving.  These kids didn’t change income levels, diets, households, neighborhoods, parents, health care plans, or weather…yet they’re doing better because of something the, you know, schools are doing.   I’m all for tackling all those other things but let’s not sell the schools short.   (My take on the two manifestos Gardner references is here).

6 Replies to “Short Selling The Schools”

  1. Oh come on. If it was George Bush releasing a comparable set of numbers on anything, the deficit, Iraq, CIA flights, warnings, or whatever, would you just believe it? Wouldn’t you withhold judgment for a while?

    Numbers are just numbers. Wait a while before claiming that any numbers from Rhee’s world are reflecting reality.

    I’ll admit my bias. I despise what she stands for in terms of letting great ends justify disgusting means. But I hope I’d give credit if it worked out that way. We all want what’s best for the D.C. children. So wait a while before drawing conclusions.

    D.C. is a particularly rough case. Its exceptionally hard to wrestle with the moral calculus when the kids have been so ill-served for so long. But don’t just assume the most vicious approachs are the most effective.

  2. So Gardner can argue with numbers on the vouchers but Eduwonk cannot argue with numbers on the other schools? OK.

  3. AFTER THE BANNER HEADLINES, we read the rest of the story about Maryland test score increses, or at least we start to learn.

    The Baltimore Sun reported,

    “We had a lively discussion on these results within the panel,” said Huynh Huynh, a professor of statistics and education at the University of South Carolina and a member of the panel. …

    … But the panel also concluded that the changes in the test had contributed to the large increases in the fifth- and seventh-grade scores. How much effect the changes had on scores the panel could not estimate, he said.”It was also reported that,

    “Long before the results were released to the public, the panel asked Harcourt Assessment Inc., the company hired by the state to oversee testing, to do further analysis.”

    Why wasn’t the public told this at the beginning?

  4. Same human nature. Come on, we’re dealing with featherless bipeds.

    Data driven accountability requires integrity. That can happen, especially in small learning communities. Its virtually impossible on a national level or in a political hothouse.

  5. Eduwonk, yes, things may be improving in DC. But the issue is whether the schools can do “the job expected of them.” Are you satisfied with how the schools are doing? Would you send your child to a DC public school?

    This argument is still frustrating to me. Yes, good schools make a difference. And good for them for making improvements. But is it enough to be marginally better? Gardner is saying that if this debate is about creating excellent schools for all children, then the schools need help. Your post makes me think that you are satisfied with small improvements. It’s not enough.

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