NYT v. NCLB

Because of No Child Left Behind, suburban schools that do a decent job educating affluent children may earn low rankings if they fail to educate black, Hispanic, low-income or disabled students. That’s the point of the law. Yet it’s missed once again by the New York Times, which focuses on the angst of well-off families who don’t want their local schools marked down for leaving children behind.

Eduwonk wonders why the Times is siding with the haves against the have-nots. The story quotes mothers in a Chicago suburb worrying whether colleges will look down on Hinsdale South applicants.

And a friend, Donna Siefer, voiced another worry: How would real estate agents finesse the bad news to potential home buyers? That rang bells for Diane Bolos, president of a Hinsdale South fund-raising group.

“Yeah, did Congress consider what labeling a school would do to property values?” Mrs. Bolos asked.

Eduwonk comments: “There was a time when Timesmen would be outraged by such naked self-interest at the expense of the disadvantaged. Comforting the afflicted? Whatever…”

Through my Edupals, I’ve discovered Miscellaneous Objections a newish blog by Ryan Sager, a very young New York Post editorial writer. He says NCLB inevitably will be watered down when it causes too much discomfort to the comfortable and powerful.

The pattern is familiar. A law like NCLB is passed, demanding that all schools meet “high standards.” But then something completely predictable happens: Schools, with no extra resources, with no extra freedom to run themselves, with the exact same student populations they’ve always been serving, don’t improve all that much. Communities are outraged that their schools are failing, teachers unions look bad and so do the politicians.

So the standards are loosened.

Public education reform is only as strong as the political will to enforce it.

To put it mildly, that will is never very strong. There will always be teachers unions (one of the most powerful forces in American politics), racial grievance-mongers, soft-hearted parents, lazy bureaucrats and a host of others who will say: To hell with it.

The standards movement is tinkering. Small class sizes is tinkering. Higher teacher pay is tinkering. All of these ideas have been tried and have failed with various degrees of spectacularness.

Lack of choice is the root problem, writes Sager. And the Bush administration hasn’t done much for choice, especially charters. Students can transfer from failing schools under NCLB but they’ll have a hard time finding better schools to attend.

Another new blog, Mental Hiccups, analyzes John Kerry’s education proposals as reported by American Teacher, which is published by the American Federation of Teachers.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Mike in Texas says:

    >Small class sizes is tinkering . . .these ideas have been tried and have failed with various degrees of spectacularness.

    Actually smaller class sizes have only been paid lip service. Research indicates class sizes (not student to teacher ratios) have to be lowered to 15 – 1 for significant changes to occur.

  2. Parents attempting to improve the opportunities for their children by moving to a better neighborhood may need voucher to an inner city school. We know the vast majority of these kids are easily educated, just not the most easily educated. We can’t expect fairey dust from the more fortunate to motivate a fair social balance. While I support vigorously addressing the problems of corruption by education’s number pushers, victimizing the poor creates the mindset that makes them undesirable.

    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/_wsj-what_is_compassionate_con.htm

    “Compassionate conservatives call them comcons-offer a new way of thinking about the poor. They know that telling the poor that they are mere passive victims, whether of racism or of vast economic forces, is not only false but also destructive, paralyzing the poor with thoughts of their own helplessness and inadequacy. The poor need the larger society’s moral support; they need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try —as they must —they will make it. They need to know, too, that they can’t blame “the system” for their own wrongdoing.

    ….

    If public education has long been a bailiwick of the Democrats, comcons believe that without schools that work, poor children lack the traditional route into the American mainstream. After all, poor inner-city children are educable; Catholic schools prove it every day. But inner-city public schools today are a great national scandal, despite huge expenditures. Black and Hispanic students at 17 perform on a par with 13-year-old white students in every subject, and over half of inner-city kids don’t graduate from high school. Comcons blame, among other culprits, teachers unions that put the employment of their members far above the education of children, and state education authorities that don’t set high standards for teacher qualification or student achievement.”

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Anyone who understands that you don’t run with the basketball can learn you can’t disrupt the classroom. They just need the whistle blown a few times.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    Ryan Sager is the man- in one neat little package he has placed just about everything that needs to be said about education reform.

  5. “Lack of choice is the root problem, writes Sager.”

    I would quibble with the statement that this lack is the “root” of the problem. I can envision an effective public school system. However, I don’t think it will ever happen and I agree that reforms like the NCLB are not the solution, as Sager explains. (Although I thought I read somewhere that the NCLB used to have a private school voucher option for failing schools which was eliminated due to political pressure.) As I have said before, I think that the NCLB will institutionalize slow progress towards a minimal goal. Parents should never equate the NCLB with quality education. At best, it shows you which schools are really, really awful.

    I do, however, think that school choice using full vouchers to any public or private school is the simplest, most effective solution. Test cases show results and it puts the burden (opportunity!) where it belongs, on the child and the parents. Competition will improve all schools and it will give individual inner-city and poor neighborhood students many more educational opportunities. Some of our best private schools are in the city and have lower costs per student than the public schools.

    The affluent get to choose, why not the those less so? I get the feeling that some in public education would like to take away that choice. Or, do they think that the poor are not able to make good choices? In our town, about 25 percent of the K-8 kids go to private schools. This is not because they want an elite education for their kids. It is because the expectations of the public schools are so low and fuzzy. This is in a town where are public schools are highly rated under the NCLB.

  6. Mike in Texas wrote:

    “Actually smaller class sizes have only been paid lip service. Research indicates class sizes (not student to teacher ratios) have to be lowered to 15 – 1 for significant changes to occur.”

    The shape of a graph of student performance versus class size depends greatly on other factors – the curriculum, teaching methods, teacher quality, and so on. One would expect that all would show improvement in performance as class size goes down. But, how much improvement? To say that the curve shape changes significantly at a ratio of 15-1 is hard to believe. You say that “Research indicates…”, so do you have any links to this research?

    Of course, everyone would like better student-teacher ratios and this is a great goal, but it is not a solution. I believe it takes the focus away from many other, much more important problems. If a class has fewer students, does this mean that the teacher will cover more material and set higher expectations for the students? It should, but that is not one of the arguments I hear from those who advocate smaller class sizes. Smaller class size may not just be “tinkering”, but it is not the root cause of the problems.

  7. Read the Times article as a hatchet piece against Bush and it makes perfect sense.

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve,

    I don’t have the links right now but I’m sure I can find you some very easily. If you search for it, remember its not the teacher-student ratio that’s impt. its the number of students in the classroom.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    >suburban schools that do a decent job educating affluent children may earn low rankings if they fail to educate black, Hispanic, low-income or disabled students. That’s the point of the law.

    But this was exactly the cry when the Times article came out saying that charter schools are doing no better than public schools, well factor out the poor and the minorities and they claim they are better. Factor out that out for the public schools too then.

  10. “…remember its not the teacher-student ratio that’s important its the number of students in the classroom.”

    I’m not sure I catch the distinction. How do you change one without changing the other? Does this refer to a class with multiple teachers, or a teacher with multiple classes?

  11. Bart: I believe that some (many?) districts include teachers that are not actually teaching, but are serving in administrative capacity. Then they add up all the teachers (including the non-classroom ones), all the students, and derive a ratio that way.

    I am no expert and could be totally wrong here, but I thought I read something about that recently…

  12. As one of those administrators at a school that “Needs Improvement”, I resent to hell what NCLB has forced upon us.

    I am not against “raising the bar” in education. I am not opposed to educating children who want to learn. What I am opposed to is that no one has stood up told everyone what the problem is. The pervasive attitude starts at HOME. Education is not valued with many segments of our society and schools cannot be held accountable because of parental attitudes. That is one thing this law does not address. Kids come to school unprepared and this continues right on through high school. They are promoted without meeting the minimum compentencies of their grade level. The law demands that we teach children but when they don’t measure up then we must worry about their self-esteem, so we promote them. The smart thing is to retain them until they measure up. This one thing would force parents to take some responsibility in the education of their children. What this law is going to do is force all education of children to become the sole responsibility of the state. The state has never been very good at doing anything by itself. Only with self-governance and responsibility of individuals does public education exceed everybody’s expectations.

    Until the government realizes this one crucial point, NCLB will be an abysmal failure. Sure, there will be some success because some schools will be forced to raise the bar and improve. But, there will always be students who come from families where education is not valued. And that segment grows more everyday.

  13. Mike in Texas says:

    STeve,

    Here are some links for you on class size:

    http://www.ed.gov/pubs/ReducingClass/Class_size.html#research

    http://www.aera.net/pubs/rp/RPFall03ClassSize-PDF2.pdf

    This link actually brings up the 15 student number.

    http://www.aera.net/pubs/rp/RPFall03ClassSize-PDF2.pdf

    KimJ,

    The difference is, if I want to lower my teacher to student ratio all I have to do is count coaches, administrators, librarians, special population and special programs teachers, etc.

    At my school we have approximately 500 students in 26 classrooms, for ~19 students per class. Factor in the others I mentioned and the ratio drops to 15. Just an example

  14. Fred, it sounds to me that you don’t think anything serious can be done to improve education until the entire society is changed. This is what we call a “boil the ocean” kind of problem. It means in practice that nothing ever changes. (And it’s circular…society won’t change until the schools get better, and the schools don’t get better until society changes.)

    It’s unfortunate that more parents don’t take more responsibility for their kids education. But things are what they are, and have to be dealt with on that basis.

    You are right that kids shouldn’t be promoted on “self-esteem” grounds when they haven’t learned the material. But why haven’t educational administrators been more in the forefront against this kind of thing? A lot of the self-esteem nonsense seems to originate within the educational community itself.

  15. Fred,

    I am not completely unsympathetic. However, as one of “those administrators”, why don’t you hold failing students back? The NCLB does not require you to pass them along. Separate those who try from those who don’t. Perhaps it is unfair that the NCLB requires you to try to do something about kids (and parents) that don’t care, but that is no excuse for not doing what you can. It is also no excuse for not doing more for those who want to try. Unfortunately, many public schools mix everyone together so that nobody gets a good education. That is not a requirement of the NCLB.

    Second, you need to look at the online NAEP sample test questions (or whatever you use in your state), get a group of parents together and explain to them why it’s so hard to get kids to answer these trivial questions even if they have a terrible home life and do no homework. You have these kids 6+ hours a day, 5 days a week. You can’t meet minimal standards after all of that?

    As I said, I am not completely unsympathetic, but you are making a good case for vouchers. If you cannot control something as basic as social promotion and meeting minimal standards, then we need to free students to go to schools that meet their needs. Keep in mind that I am not a fan of the NCLB, but I don’t like even more your portrayal of helplessness and passing the buck.

  16. Mike,

    Thanks for the links. I did look some up myself. My comments were related to class size. I was not trying to make a distinction. I don’t think that any parent would object to smaller class size, but I don’t see anything magical about 15:1 (why not 10:1?) and I see many, much more important areas of concern, which was my point and the main point of the article. Changing the ratio to 1:1 is not going to help if our school continues to use MathLand.

  17. Andy Freeman says:

    > What I am opposed to is that no one has stood up told everyone what the problem is. The pervasive attitude starts at HOME.

    Actually, lots of people have screamed that for years. However, they were mostly on the right, and the left trashed them for it.

    > Education is not valued with many segments of our society and schools cannot be held accountable because of parental attitudes.

    Careful – when you’re argue that schools can’t succeed, you’re arguing that schools don’t need money.

  18. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve,

    You got me on that one, what is MathLand?

  19. Mike in Texas says:

    David,

    If I’m not mistaken, social promotion came about after studies found that children who were retained twice were almost a statistical certainty to drop out. I’m not familiar with those studies so I can’t provide links to them.

  20. In our burg teacher-pupil ratio is gun-decked (i.e., fudged) by whacking the class size (30–35) over the number of “teachers” present in the room (say, 2.6, considering a literacy specialist in for somewhat more than half of the day. As noted above, it still gives you an unmanageably large class, particularly when some of your mainstreamed nut-cases have missed their meds.

    But moving along to the question of NCLB and its true purpose and effect, allow me to suggest that a totally inbiased observer–the proverbial man from Mars–might conclude that by underscoring the disabilities of the disabled, it forces us, kicking and screaming, against all our multi-cultural and politicallty correct will, to confront the elephant in the living room: some individuals have not adapted to the demands and constraints of our civilization, and their presence degrades our entire operation.

    The solution in a just and compassionate civilization is more special education, other solutions are available.

  21. Fred said,
    “What this law is going to do is force all education of children to become the sole responsibility of the state. The state has never been very good at doing anything by itself. ”

    Isn’t that a double edge sword? Society would like to promote ‘Welfare to Work’ programs that require poor women to place their children in state run facility while they go to minimum wage job in inconvinent locations. Whatever you may think of the culture or social oppression that breeds that climate, society disempowers parents. During the formative years Head-Start, along with other early intervention programs isolate children from their parents. When it all fails, blame falls to the parents even if most of a child’s waking hours were spent at a state facility. It’s not just the state, no group solution replaces the need for a child to bond with an adult.

    It scares me when the NYT’s writes articles about parents who don’t know what to do if day care closes for the day. They don’t know where parks are, and their children can’t entertain themselves. Nobody got that stupid alone, they had to be taught.

    The value of education is less in a labor oriented society. An education does not produces the wealth for the poor that it does for the rich and it does not carry the same status. Women are still the primary target for blame and poor women the most vunerable. If society can’t support women in economic transition, it can’t support children either. The very least it could do is condemn programs like Head-Start and any statistics that claim they have any value at all.

    Throughout history people have needed work and social structures that provided a stable direction for maturing young adults. Education has never been a complete solution and poor parents did not design the system. Although we are never going to make government ineptness produce stelar result, we could help parents understand their value and work harder to empower them. I thought education once had a more positive attitude toward parents.

  22. Parents, Home life, Teachers, Administrators, Unions, NCLB, too many regulations, not enough money, accountability, name your excuse.

    If ANY child gets to the fourth grade without being able to read then ALL the above have failed. Any squabbling that takes place after that is every group just covering its behind.

  23. “If I’m not mistaken, social promotion came about after studies found that children who were retained twice were almost a statistical certainty to drop out. I’m not familiar with those studies so I can’t provide links to them.”

    Of course, students that were retained twice were retained twice for a reason. Either they were too dumb to catch on or didn’t care enough to try. Either way, passing them along isn’t going to do anything for their intelligence or their motivation… if you prevent them from dropping out and end up giving them a diploma, all you do is destroy the value of the diploma and force everyone else to waste their time getting another diploma in order to prove that they’ve actually learned something.

  24. Mike wrote:

    “You got me on that one, what is MathLand?”

    It is a “reform” math curriculum for grades 1-4 that has been trashed by many, banned in California, and even dumped by it own publisher. However, they still enthusiastically use it in our public schools. My point is that no matter what the class size is, curriculum plays a huge role. That is why I say that the shape of the graph of performance versus class size is greatly influenced by curriculum. It is also greatly affected by teaching methods – whether the kids are directly taught in a traditional format or whether they are broken into groups (circles and centers) for child-centered, mixed-ability learning with the teacher as facilitator. My impression is that the success of the latter approach is much more sensitive to class size.

    “…social promotion came about after studies found that children who were retained twice were almost a statistical certainty to drop out. I’m not familiar with those studies so I can’t provide links to them.”

    I have heard this too, even repeated by our state newspaper’s education columnist. I don’t know the source. However, it struck me that they are saying that it is better to have them get passed along, slowing everyone else down, making it much more difficult for the teachers and have them graduate with a worthless piece of paper, with no guarantee that they know more than if they dropped out.

    There is another reason for social promotion (pedagogically justified), especially for the earlier grades. With the use of full inclusion, where kids with great educational needs are included with the advanced kids, schools apply the notion of developmentally appropriate to all kids. In other words, if some kids do not understand or master the material, they assume that it is because they are not ready for it yet. (Rather than just needing a swift kick in the rear!) That is why our school uses the idea of spiraling the curriculum. If the kids do not understand the material, it’s OK, because they will see it again the next year, and the next, and the next. Our school’s curriculum book lists all of the topics that have to be covered over the years and for each topic, shows the year it is introduced (I), the year it is Taught (T), the years it is Refreshed (R) and by which year it is Expected (E) to be mastered. They apply an 80 percent/20 percent rule that states that it is OK if 20 percent of the students do not understand the material in the year that it was taught because they still have the refresh years. I always wanted to know what the 80 percent do in the Refresh years when the teacher is still trying to Teach the remaining 20 percent. I can’t imagine that the teachers in the Refresh years are very happy with this arrangement, especially the teacher in the year before the Expected year. This teacher has to make up for all of the passing-along of the 20 percent kids. It doesn’t happen.

    This developmentally appropriate philosophy is why our school is still trying to get the students to master their adds and subtracts to 20 by the middle of grade 3. It was also a problem in the later grades because kids didn’t have to hand in work on time, or ever, it seems. They finally came to their senses (somewhat) and instituted “Sunset Laws” that state exactly when work has to be finally handed in. Idealistically, they want all kids to develop into natural and joyous learners who are internally motivated rather than externally motivated by deadlines and tests – ergo – portfolios, authentic assessment, and rubrics. This philosophy also leads to the reverse idea that if a topic cannot be learned naturally or joyously, then it is either not necessary or it is to be avoided. It is the domination of ideology over pragmatism and process over content and skills.

    As a parent, however, I want the school to set high year-by-year expectations and I want my son to understand that deadlines are important and that the most important things in life require a lot of hard work and determination. Not all work is fun and easy. My son is taking piano lessons and I can’t think of anything that is more unnatural and frustrating than synchronizing the proper fingerings on both hands for all scales. There is nothing joyous or natural about it. However, mastery of this skill has its own joys and is a necessity to open up the entire range of the piano’s repertoire.

    Teachers in middle and upper schools must know about all of these developmentally appropriate, pass-along philosophies of the lower grades. What do fifth and sixth grade teachers think when their students come to their classes not knowing their times tables? What do middle school teachers think when their kids cannot write a simple book report? Many of the problems start in the first few grades, I would expect that the teachers in the upper grades would be complaining very loudly to school administrators.

  25. “If ANY child gets to the fourth grade without being able to read then ALL the above have failed.” Exactly. Maybe the way to think about education…at least education in the basics of math and reading…is the way accident investigators think: If you can interrupt the chain of causation leading to the accident *at any point,* then you can prevent the accident. If the pilot forgets to put the flaps down before takeoff, then the copilot can catch it. And so on. If the copilot forgets, then the ground controller will hopefully see it. If the controller misses it, then the warning system will go off when the throttles are advanced. And so on. It seems to me that much thinking in education is the *opposite* of this: if those earlier in the chain failed, then we must fail, also. It’s more like an assembly line where each worker only does his individual task, and has no responsibility for earlier tasks…and no one has the ability to “stop the line,” as workers can do in Toyota plants.

  26. “…I always wanted to know what the 80 percent do in the Refresh years when the teacher is still trying to Teach the remaining 20 percent. I can’t imagine that the teachers in the Refresh years are very happy with this arrangement…”

    …Nor the students. I had always thought that the schools I attended generally taught to the 30th or 35th percentile. According to Steve, they are actually teaching somewhere in the middle of the first quintile (say the 10th percentile, or at most the 20th).

    No wonder the kids need drugs.

  27. aschoolyardblogger says:

    This may be repetitive, I didn’t read all the comments, but in most high schools the freshman classes are far greater in size than upper level AP courses – but the pupil to teacher ratio overall is quite acceptible. It is not uncommon in my neighborhood to have 30 students in a freshman math class and 8 in AP Calc. – the district still advertises 19 to 1.

  28. “children who were retained twice were almost a statistical certainty to drop out”

    I have no idea if there are studies that prove this, but I’d be very surprised if it isn’t true. These individuals have been treating school as a waste of their time all along, so why is anyone surprised that they get out as soon as the law allows? I’d allow and encourage them to get out of the regular school system much earlier, and stop wasting the time of the teachers and better students.

  29. I am one of those middle-school teachers who have students that are still unable to multiply or even compose a complete sentence, let alone a full report! The teachers at the school I work in DO try to hold students to a higher standard, i.e. deadlines, complete sentences, memorizing essential things, etc, but we are then brought to task by parents. Despite the fact that many times it feels like fighting a losing battle, we teachers keep trying to hold the bar high. It is by reading the comments and ideas on sites such as this, that I continue to believe that I am doing the right thing, and that there are still sane people out there who believe that there is more to education than just simply passing.

  30. I guess to fill in the blanks to my post yesterday. I am a high school administrator and we get the kids when it is too late. NCLB requires “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by our state and approved by the Federal government. We don’t practice social promotion at the high school but I can tell you there are a number of students who are in high school because of it. As such, we are labeled a school in “Needs of Improvement” because of the very problem I have just described.

    As for improving education, I do believe there are a number of things that can be done and this law may be the start. But to place the entire burden of responsibility and blame on the schools is wrong. We are improving but not enough. Vouchers may help but if you believe that market forces are going to greatly improve education, I believe that you are mistaken.

  31. In line with my earlier thoughts on chains of causation…it seems to me that when a kid gets to high school and still doesn’t have basic reading/writing/arithmetic skills, it’s time for a last-ditch rescue effort to teach him this stuff, rather than continuing with a normal curriculum. To do otherwise is like worrying about continuing the meal service on an airliner that has lost 2 engines and most of its fuel.

  32. Fred wrote:

    “Vouchers may help but if you believe that market forces are going to greatly improve education, I believe that you are mistaken.”

    It depends on what you mean by “greatly improve”. It won’t help those kids and parents who don’t seem to care about education unless they end up in a school where they will be held back if they flunk. Maybe even that won’t work. However, it will help those kids and parents who care about education and really want to try. It will give them opportunities they will never receive in public schools. Education is not about averages, it is about individuals and choice will greatly improve education for some individuals. I also think that if you focus on what is best for individual students, the overall average will improve. (How much worse can the really bad students get?)

    As a high school administrator, you should be yelling and screaming that the lower schools cannot send you these unprepared students. Send them back. Can’t do that? Powerless? Then let the market do what the public schools cannot.

    The affluent get to choose, but the poor do not. Don’t you think that the affluent who choose get a greatly improved education for their kids?

  33. chris haynes says:

    Imagine a world where everyone has a college degree.
    Now who is going to clean your floors , cook your meals , pick your grapes. I believe in darwinism. Get as far as you can get. _Public schools can get you there if you apply yourself. If your parents help. But if not then I need someone to paint my house, clean my floors or work in a check out line.
    Life is a struggle and some will be left behind! Just like there is no such thing as zero unemployment rate! there will always be people who do not want to work. Or do not want to contribute to society. I am tired of pretending that we can fix everybody.

  34. Mike in Texas says:

    >Don’t you think that the affluent who choose get a greatly improved education for their kids?

    Actually, the affluent kids are usually the ones with the involved parents. There have been studies that show a big indicator of success is how successful your parents are.

  35. http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000154.php

    “The precise numbers need to be spelt out. This institution, schooling, is now allowed and funded to monopolize young people’s time for more than 4,000 days or 25,000 hours. Yet it takes a commercial organization only a dozen or so hours to teach someone to drive a car and a commercial language school will get you proficient in a foreign language in several weeks. The state’s Little Pied Piper children leave after tens of thousands of hours in state schooling institutions inarticulate in their own language.

    Set aside for the moment the arguments about just how little they learn in all those hours, weeks and years. What is never challenged is the assumption that school, or schools called universities, are the right places for children and youth. The assumption is that they should be there and nowhere else. The assumption is revealed in all its thoughtlessness in the literature of the anti-child labour lobby. Where should children not be? At work, of course. And why not? ‘Why not, do you really want to push toddlers up chimneys again or have them rooting on rubbish tips or selling their bodies as they do in South America?’ No, but then I don’t want adults forced up chimneys either. Nor do I want them on rubbish tips or selling their bodies. That is nothing to do with children. It is about work no-one should have to do.

    Once this nonsense is put aside, why should children not be at work? Because they will be exploited? Surely their parents would not let them be and nor would a regulatory government. So why not? It comes down to this. Children should not be at work because – wait for it – their proper place is at school. Where school is concerned all the worries of the anti-child labour lobby are thrown aside. They who are so worried about employers coercing and exploiting children don’t care that schools have much more power to coerce and exploit children. They don’t care that the schooling institutions can keep their charges working for no wage, in many cases, without any demonstrable educational benefit for years on end.

    It doesn’t require much imagination to think of jobs in comfy air conditioned offices – not rubbish tips – or in the fresh air and under adult supervision that teenagers could be allowed to do. But the politicians have no imagination. The schooling wheeze has been allowed to grow and grow with no evidence of success. It is time to cut it back. It is not justifying its awful custodial powers educationally and it should not be there merely to do state childminding. I am not sure at what age what is more or less compulsory schooling should cease, perhaps 11. However what there can be no doubt about is that the uncritical attitude to schooling institutions which regards them as the natural place for young people to be for 19 years should cease immediately.”

  36. Steve LaBonne says:

    Mike, if you really believe that it’s only the parental involvement that counts, and that the parents’ choice to move to a better school district has little or no influence, you’re saying that _you_ have little or no influence on what your students achieve. So why are the taxpayers paying you?

  37. Mike wrote:

    “Actually, the affluent kids are usually the ones with the involved parents. There have been studies that show a big indicator of success is how successful your parents are.”

    I’ve heard this many times before. Just because there is a correlation between student success and parental education (success?), does this mean there is no correlation (or a small one) between success and the quality of the school? Good teachers and curricula don’t matter? Or, does this mean that schools can’t make students successful all by themselves? They have to have the parents fill in the gaps? Actually, some schools are so bad that this is the only way to success. Schools generally don’t want to tell parents that. They want parents to make sure that the student does his/her homework and to bake cookies, but they don’t tell them to fill in the curriculum and bad teacher gaps.

    However, we’re not talking about preparing kids for Harvard. Look at the questions on any test: NAEP, NSRE, TAKS, etc. Take these questions and sit down with a group of parents and explain why the school cannot get the kids to do well on these trivial tests without parental help.

    You are using this correlation to argue against choice, saying that schools don’t make that much difference. Hogwash!

  38. Richard Brandshaft says:

    1) “Eduwonk wonders why the Times is siding with the haves against the have-nots.” Obviously, another instance of liberal-dominated media. Oh, wait…

    How about this one (I’m paraphrasing something I read, but I don’t remember where.): Reporters of major newspapers aren’t that poorly paid any more. The current generation of reporters is more in sympathy with the haves than the have-nots.

    2) “…suburban schools that do a decent job educating affluent children may earn low rankings if they fail to educate black, Hispanic, low-income or disabled students.”

    The consequences of rankings are yet another symptom of a common mental laziness: summing up all kinds of data with one number. It’s easier to call one number good, bad or in between. “Better”, defined with one number, requires less thought than “better in some things, worse in others”. Hence the mis-use of averages, my favorite rant. “…well-off families who don’t want their local schools marked down…” have reason to worry; people evaluating their children’s education will be looking at the one number.

    All we need is to get people to stop being so mentally lazy. Problem solved. Details of implementation are left as an exercise.

  39. another way to look at it …

    There is a high correlation for bad schools and a low correlation for good schools. It is a common belief by some in our community (non-urban) that if you don’t get your kids into a private school by fifth or sixth grade, then there will be a grade level difference of work they will have to make up. For us, if we kept our son in public school, we would have to make up for an enormous amount. Now, in private school, we only have to keep an eye on a few things. We have time for things other than the basics.

    The poor need better schools much more than the affluent. Vouchers and choice are no guarantees, but what do we have now?

  40. Mike in Texas says:

    >You are using this correlation to argue against choice, saying that schools don’t make that much difference.

    Actually I’m not at all. What I am saying is that the arguements being used, TEST SCORES ONLY, is not that great a way of measuring schools.

    I’m not arguing against choice (where the schools can be demonstrated using several measures as bad). Test scores should only be one small factor in measurement used but increasingly they are the only factor used.

  41. Steve LaBonne says:

    You haven’t even begun making a case that test scores shouldn’t be a prominent factor rather than a small one (with the disclaimer that I always add, that they should be employed in the kind of value-added framework that Joanne has discussed more than once.) The teacher is being paid to help students learn, and without measuring that pretty directly, we cannot really know whether that teacher is effective.

  42. For those of you who’ve wondered why I’m not posting, SBC Global — I believe the S stands for Satan — has cut off my DSL line. The new service was supposed to start on Sept. 7. Now they say it will start by 8 pm tonight, Sept. 9. I’m trying to use a borrowed laptop without a mouse, which means everything takes me 10 times longer to figure out. Also, I can’t get my email, even though I should be able to get it online.

  43. The single biggest predictor of how well a kid will do in school is parental involvement. That does not mean parental involvement in teaching the kids at home, but rather the involvement of things such as PTA, ensuring the kid does the assigned homework, monitoring the kid’s grades, attending parent/teacher conferences, etc.

    Unfortunately, this sort of involvement is the exception rather than the rule in the lower socio-economic classes. Heavily rural districts have many of the same problems as urban districts for this very reason.

    It’s a huge challenge, and not one that can be met solely by the teachers and administrators. It takes community involvement to change attitudes. And in our district, there are several community groups trying to do just that.

    And, BTW, it’s the community which sets the standards of the schools. The community elects the school board, whether directly or indirectly, and the school board chooses the superintendent. In New York, the school board hires all teachers and administrators, but can’t do so without a recommendation from the superintendent. Different boards get involved in the nuts and bolts of administration to different degrees. But if a teacher tries to hold little Johnny back against the parents’ wishes, the parents usually win unless someone up the ladder can persuade them to change their minds. It takes the combination of a strong board and a strong superintendent to go against parental wishes.

  44. Rex wrote:

    “… That does not mean parental involvement in teaching the kids at home, but rather…”

    … not teaching at home? You’ve go to be kidding!?! Where is your research that shows this? Getting kids to do homework and checking grades does not improve the curriculum or make up for poor teachers. As for parent/teacher conferences, how do you think that 20 minutes in the fall and 20 minutes in the spring helps? As for the PTA, that is mostly about raising money. (No, I don’t want to buy wrapping paper at three times the price just so that my son gets a star hung up in the classroom. If you want money, just ask for it.) Don’t use ignorant or uncaring parents as an excuse for not dealing with real problems that you do have control over.

    also:

    “And, BTW, it’s the community which sets the standards of the schools. The community elects the school board, whether directly or indirectly, and the school board chooses the superintendent.”

    … Don’t overestimate this connection. Communities do not choose to have poor schools, but they have them anyways. Most communities try whatever they can to improve. This is very difficult to do with an indirect school board connection. Many things are left up to the school administration unless the school board takes a very agressive stand – once a month or whenever they meet. Selection of the superintendent and yearly control over the budget is very indirect control.

    This control can also be quite adversarial, within the school board and between the school board, the school administration, and the teachers union. Elected, non-professional (this is not their full-time job) school board members are at a big disadvantage, especially in teacher contract negotiations. This is not what is done in business and not a situation where a customer (parent) can have an impact by taking their business elsewhere. (Most parents can’t afford this.) When parents do send their kids to other schools, the public school has fewer kids to teach and their budgets don’t go down.

    There are also the school mandates now being handed down by the state’s education establishment. These mandates set guidelines and requirements that all schools must meet, thereby removing more things over which the community has control.

    also:

    … “But if a teacher tries to hold little Johnny back against the parents’ wishes, the parents usually win unless someone up the ladder can persuade them to change their minds.”

    … So, schools really want to keep litte Johnny back. It’s the parent’s and school board’s fault!

    You are really good at passing the buck.

  45. Sorry, Steve, if you won’t accept the truth. I’m not in education myself, but I am close to some people who are. And they are at all levels: teachers, principals, central office administrators, superintendents, and school board members. I’ve been around these people for over 30 years, and I am telling you that the influence of parents far outweighs the influence of the school personnel.

    In a nearby district, one of the high school teachers did something extremely inappropriate with one of the female students–I don’t recall if it was sexual or just physically hitting her in class. The superintendent suspended the teacher and tried to fire him, but over $100K inlegal fees later, the teacher was still around, and the effort was finally dropped because of community support for the teacher. This was a very popular teacher. Over the next several years, some single-issue candidates for the school board got elected, with the single issue being to get rid of the superintendent who had the temerity to do what was right for the students. They succeeded as soon as they got a majority on the board. After the superintendent was booted out, several of these single-issue board members immediately left the board.

    As for the parental involvement thing, what you describe is not being involved. What I described was. I’m talking constant involvement; not twice a year parent/teacher conferences. There are research studies which show this effect, but I’ll have to rely on the educators in the audience to provide some citations.

  46. Tim from Texas says:

    Didn’t want to come in so late and I apologize for it. I think all the adults are at fault. We can’t decide what to do. We can’t decide because we’re all in a daze about the monster we have allowed to evolve. The kids aren’t at fault. They didn’t create the carnival atmosphere they wake up to every morning. We adults can’t agree to anything especially when it comes to the children. The children know it. We adults just stumble along and really don’t care what happens to the children. Our behavior reflects I, me ,mine and I want more. Why hell, even
    the “experts” can’t agree for the same reasons. It’s my idea, it’s the best you’re an idiot and so on. It’s all a bunch of crap and the only ones who seem to know it are the children.