Next Education Next

The Winter 2004 Education Next is out with articles on Why School Districts Can’t Downsize, Head Start, the down side of inclusion for autistic children and more.

In Why Choice is Good for Teachers, David Ferrero of the Gates Foundation proposes a “truce in the ideological holy wars of education. Let teachers choose the school that fits their philosophy. Pluralism works in religion. Why not in education?

Despite moving toward a greater appreciation for pluralism in other spheres of life, American educators and policymakers persist in their attempts to impose a uniform doctrine of education on the entire institution of schooling. Consider the attempts to develop national or even state-level content standards. Or the efforts to establish a uniform canon of “best practices.” Reformers of all stripes seem to want to create what educational historian David Tyack has termed “the one best system.” Yet as Tyackís Stanford University colleague Larry Cuban has recently argued, there are many different ways for a school to be “good.”

For instance, Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (“the Met”) in Providence, and the Oakland School for Social Justice and Community Development are all very different urban high schools that enroll mostly low-income black and Hispanic students. Students at Douglass wear uniforms and study a traditional college preparatory curriculum, whereas students at the Met pursue individual projects built around their interests in an environment notably less formal than found at Douglass. The School for Social Justice, meanwhile, comes closest to Freire’s ideal. There students take courses in “culture and resistance” where they learn about “systems of oppression” and are taught to organize political action in their communities. Despite these differences, all three schools graduate students who are literate, competent citizens. And all three outperform nearby comprehensive high schools enrolling similar student populations. In short, students seem to thrive in a broad range of schools.

Schools with a coherent set of values, attracting teachers and parents who share those values, are likely to succeed.

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Comments

  1. “Schools with a coherent set of values, attracting teachers and parents who share those values, are likely to succeed.”

    I’m not sure about this. In this and other blogs there are schools with consistent, but fuzzy philosophies and parents who like that. Will the kids succeed. I doubt it.

    For example, N2P http://www.kimberlyswygert.com/archives/001605.html
    notes that the Interactive Math Program (IMP) fails with dedicated teachers. It is easy to imagine these dedicated teachers, this very bad math program, and a bunch of parents who are committed to discovery math all forming a coherent but failing school.

  2. Two points: one problem with school choice is that most people don’t really choose a school. They use the school that is closest to them, which leads to a “defacto” forcing of a particular and perhaps somewhat unwelcome system. It would seem a fairer approach would be to enable these alternate schools *in addition to* the regular school system. This, of course, lowers student density, which increases expense.

    The question then becomes if we can free up money for these additional schools, why not use the money to improve the regular school system? (This of course assumes that regular school systems can be improved with more money…)

    Secondly, many additional schools with a diverse set of approaches essentially makes guineau pigs out of an entire cadre of students. An argument can be made that, like many essential services like electricity and water, that we can’t afford to “experiment” on students who will suffer the brunt of a failed attempt.

    Having made both objections, I am in favour of moderate amounts of government funded choice. This allows everyone to focus on how choice changes the system without being swept away by currents out of control.

  3. Andy Freeman says:

    > An argument can be made that, like many essential services like electricity and water, that we can’t afford to “experiment” on students who will suffer the brunt of a failed attempt.

    Huh? I get my water and electricity from private companies. When they fail, they get booted.

    That’s not at all like public schools.

    Oh, and public schools “experiment” all the time – the difference is that they’re have a problem responding to negative results. (They think “more and harder” is almost always the right response.)

    West should use comparisons that support his position.

  4. Larry Cuban makes sense.

  5. Bill Beeman says:

    I’m wondering what criteria were applied to determine that all three schools graduate “literate, competent citizens.”

    It’s hard enough to find a high school graduate that is semi-computer literate, can manipulate simple fractions, write anything (without a spell-checker), or who has legible handwriting.

    I’m prepared to believe that the first two schools cited _may_ produce productive citizens. The third sounds like yet another academy for the culture of victimhood, a culture which has done more to keep minorities “in their place” than anything else that I can envision.

  6. Tom, most of these philosophies have been around for quite some time, so they’re not really “experimental.” The most sensible approach may be to offer several within the same building. My daughter’s school — public — offers mixed age, looping, and traditional classrooms within the same building. The children are matched to the most appropriate program.

    Bill Beeman: despite what you think of Paolo Friere’s pedagogy, data backs it up as effective with certain populations.

  7. Dave Sheridan says:

    This article is a reminder of something I’ve been meaning to post. Public school teachers should consider the benefits David Ferrero cites, but there are also wage and benefit dynamics that are likely to benefit good public school teachers with the introduction of school choice. Since teacher pay is a huge issue, it would behoove teachers to consider that they can conceivably do quite well financially in a choice-driven education market. Most public school teachers see the difference in salary and benefit levels as they exist today, and assume that those differentials will persist if school choice becomes prevalent.

    Since what follows is a bit lengthy, my argument is that if teachers were to embrace school choice, and to support adequate funding for choice vouchers, then good teachers currently in the public school system could see financial rewards not too different from current pay levels. The best teachers, who would be entering a competitive market for their services, could do quite well indeed.

    The economic prospects for public school teachers making the transition will be driven by what will become a competitive market for their services. That is not the market that exists today.

    – Choice will expand the demand for private schools. Private school capacity will need to expand, and new teaching jobs will be created. Demand for teachers will follow parents’ choices.
    – The pool of teachers currently willing or able to work for the lower pay in private schools is small. As the private school sector expands, salaries will have to rise to attract teachers. Salaries won’t rise immediately to public school levels, but market conditions will dictate the increases that are needed.
    – Funds will be available to pay for increased salaries, because funding will follow the students. Current proposals still keep funding below parity with the public schools, but it’s more than is available now.
    – Finally, the average private school puts more of its dollars into classroom instruction than does the equivalent public school. Less money is spent on administrative and non-educational things.

    In fact, if teachers understood the market dynamics, they would insist on voucher amounts that would be comparable to the costs of public schools serving the same populations. This would provide enough of an operating budget to fund higher salaries for new teachers. Some voucher proposals actually rig the market against higher teacher salaries, because their proposed voucher amounts are for less than total annual costs in equivalent public schools. Salary pressure will be worse under proposals stipulating that schools accepting vouchers cannot charge voucher parents additional tuition amounts.

  8. >> An argument can be made that, like many
    >> essential services like electricity and water,
    >> that we can’t afford to “experiment” on
    >> students who will suffer the brunt of a
    >> failed attempt.

    > Huh? I get my water and electricity from private
    > companies. When they fail, they get booted.

    Just in case my analogy was not clear to anyone else (which I doubt), I doubt you have ten different water pipes coming to your door. If the company that *actually* supplies the water, private or public, experimented and failed, or for that matter went bust, and you were told that the replacement would be available in 6 months to a year, I suspect that you would be a little upset…

    The (admittedly imperfect) analogy is that of a service that cannot be allowed to fail.

    > Rita

    The idea of several schools under one roof does certainly solve the problem of nearest school. Bravo to districts that are trying it!

  9. Andy Freeman says:

    > Just in case my analogy was not clear to anyone else (which I doubt), I doubt you have ten different water pipes coming to your door.

    The problem with the analogy is that it is false in its essence – the company on the other end of the pipes/wires does CHANGE when it fails. And, apart from the local grid, there isn’t much reason why there can’t be multiple companies at the other end simultaneously. (In fact, there are….)

    And, a failing school can be replaced almost instantaneously.

    > The (admittedly imperfect) analogy is that of a service that cannot be allowed to fail.

    If schools “cannot be allowed to fail”, how come they DO?

  10. Andy, would you please explain what you mean when you say that “a failing school can be replaced almost instantaneously”?

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    The required infrastructure for a school is rather modest – almost any room will do. (And, strictly speaking, a room isn’t always necessary.) Most places have available facilities – they’re just not labelled as schools.

    So, setting up a school is mostly a matter of putting people and portable supplies in place. (Yes, they’re portable – I’ve helped move schools.)

    Teachers keep telling us that they’re not the problem. If they’re right, most of the required teachers can be picked up from the failing school that is being replaced.

  12. Andy – I’m not sure how your dealing with the administration. Schools have to fit in with the rest of the district, don’t they?

    In any case, the schools used as examples here seem to benefit from having more applicants than students. Cherry-picked student body, in other words.

  13. j.c.,
    Why do you think the schools used in the example cherry pick students? You might be right, but I don’t see anywhere in the article where it mentions how students are selected. Many schools with more applicants than positions have a lottery type system to select the students who get to attend. Did you read something in the article I missed or perhaps read an article that went into more detail? The article does mention that “And all three outperform nearby comprehensive high schools enrolling similar student populations”. so at least the study body is not widely divergent.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    > Andy – I’m not sure how your dealing with the administration. Schools have to fit in with the rest of the district, don’t they?

    What school board is going to want to stand for election on a “it took us six months to sign the paperwork for a new school to replace one that failed”?

    I suspect that a couple of school board members will lose their seats over this, but it won’t happen often after the first few times.

  15. Andy, I get the feeling you live in a city. Am I correct?

  16. I think there’s a LOT to be said for a group of teachers converging around a shared idea and creating a coherent program to which they are committed. I do think that many, many different philosophies of education could work quite well under such circumstances. In my experience, we have too often dismissed curricular innovations and other educational reforms as failures when they have not been implemented completely, not supported adequately (ie, training, funding, supplies, changes in scheduling/use of space, etc.), or not been left in place for long enough to make a difference. I am concerned that Bloomberg will get tossed out in the next NYC election and the new mayor will revamp all his changes – which would be a DISASTER!!! I wish everyone would stop complaining and give the reforms a few years so we can all adjust. THEN we can collect some data and really evaluate the program. Likewise, I fear the same thing with NCLB – everyone is scrambling to even figure out what it means, and the next administration is likely to change it! Good grief. Even small, new, experimental schools need a few years before it’s clear whether or not they are successful (though some may be such dismal failures that they deserve to be closed very quickly). As a teacher, I just want to be given the opportunity to adapt, implement, and evaluate before moving on to the next big idea.

  17. Sorry, Ms. Frizzle, as a teacher you must be instantly responsive to every single educational idea from people who haven’t been in a public school since they were 17 years old. After all, if you were given a chance to implement a strategy properly, you might succeed, and then what would elections be based on?

  18. For those who think the public schools are not experimenting with “our future” I have four words:
    See-Say
    Fuzzy Math
    I really don’t see how it could get worse than it is now and some of these ideas will work. So if 1/3 work, that’s one third of the population that might actually be able to figure out what a third is.

  19. Andy Freeman says:

    > Andy, I get the feeling you live in a city. Am I correct?

    Now, but not always.

    Surely you’re not going to claim that there are significant numbers of rural districts with no buildings…. Now exclude the districts that use boarding schools, and we’re talking about low double digits.

    If you’re going to argue that it’s unacceptable because it isn’t perfect, I’ll ask you to defend the status quo on the same basis.

  20. “Several schools under one roof” works like this in southern rural middle school reality: the looping 6th grade classes are a cozy little Baptist mini-school taught by Baptist teachers and funded by the state; the “traditional” classes are the Bad Place, where bad actors in the looping classes are threatened with being sent. What makes the Bad Place bad? The kids and teachers aren’t Baptist. My dd is a Bad Place student and I’m quite happy about it: one of the male looping teachers kisses all his Baptist girl students on the first day of school and tells them if they are good, he’ll kiss them on the last day of school, too.

  21. Ross – I didn’t catch any clear-cut statements about admissions while reading the links.

    However, I’ve seen that most of “special program” schools have competitive admissions. Even when a broad admissions policy is the rule, when a schools selects students instead of being forced to take all comers, that school has an advantage.

  22. PJ/Maryland says:

    Dave, I think you have a good point about choice benefiting teachers, but there’re good reasons why teachers don’t see it that way.

    1) As a unionized and tenured profession that follows strict seniority for salary increases, public school teaching does not attract innovators or risk-takers.

    2) Those innovators and risk-takers who do become teachers are less likely to remain. I would also argue that these teachers are the ones least likely to want to deal with the teachers union (but I haven’t seen any evidence of that, just my gut feeling). As a result the teacher unions are even more risk-averse than the population of teachers.

    3) Unions tend to be one dimensional; any change that doesn’t increase pay (or decrease work) is comsidered bad. So the unions will tend to paint most changes in as negative a light as possible. (Assuming one can paint with light, or maybe paint with darkness since it’s negative light?)

    I think the point that would best sell teachers on vouchers and other choice options is the idea of a school run by the teachers. I think a school where the principal is chosen by the teachers, the way a board elects a chairman or many Protestant parishes choose a minister, would be entirely viable. If teachers had budgetary control (ie control over the amount of money allocated their school by an elected school board), they would have to understand the finances of the school, something they can (and frequently do) avoid now.

    Of course, teachers banding together to form schools, and handling their schools’ budgets, might turn the NEA into an association of small businessmen. They’d all vote Republican! (Or worse, Libertarian!) And all sorts of people are keen to prevent that!

  23. No, Andy, I was not going to make that argument, but you seem to have the idea that changing the building will fix things, and that it can be done easily. Let’s see, what are the obtacles? Insurance, ownership, state regulations, local regulations (less of a problem), parental and community opposition, cost…. What have I missed?