Archives for December 2004

One blog, many minds

Multiple Mentality isn’t a new blog about schizophrenia. It’s a group blog featuring a variety of opinions started by Josh Cohen of D-42 and friends. Instead of comments, Multiple Mentality will try to foster discussions using forums.

Bullies on tape

Everybody wants to be on TV, including a 10th grade bully at an Ohio high school who got a friend to videotape him beating up another kid — in class. The teacher was distracted by other students and didn’t notice what was going on till the victim had been punched at least 10 times in the head. Scroll down to see the video.

EdWonk, a classroom teacher, writes that bullies are protected from accountability by the “code of silence” and the reluctance to expel violent students:

In other words, the bullies do not fear (nor respect) school authorities. And the victims know that the school will not protect them.

As an actively serving classroom teacher, I can affirm that this is the type of criminal behavior that is occurring everyday in classrooms around the country. There have been numerous classroom fights in my own mid-sized California school district. The difference, of course, is that this particular malefactor (obviously lacking any brains whatsoever) had an (equally idiotic) accomplice videotape the crime.

Odds are the predators will be enrolled at another school, where they’ll find fresh victims, EdWonk writes.

Milked out

A bit of American heritage — those little milk cartons kids get in school — is being abandoned and EdWonk is happy.


This spooky story at Daryl Cobranchi’s site is also a math joke.

Education professor vs. free market

Amy Stuart Wells, an education professor at Teachers College of Columbia, trashes charter schools in the Washington Post, arguing that the free market has nothing to offer schools.

Carrying out market-based school reform on the cheap requires people with the experience to educate children, the business acumen to run an autonomous institution, the political connections to raise the private funds needed to keep the school afloat, and the ability to forsake their personal life to work six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. It turns out that there are a limited number of people who can or will do charter school reform well. Thus, most charters schools hire younger, less experienced teachers and have high rates of teacher and administrator burnout and turnover.

Note that most charters are operating “on the cheap,” with less funding than neighboring district-run public schools. And yet charter students do as well (or better) than students in neighboring schools.

In this decade of growing free-market disillusionment, policymakers should amend state laws to better support the high-achieving charter schools and close the rest. And I hope they will also remember the hard lesson learned from this reform: that free markets in education, like free markets generally, do not serve poor children well.

Economist Katie Newmark responds, observing that charter schools are expanding rapidly.

Either all those families have been brainwashed by the evil conservatives or they’re stupid enough to send their kids to schools that are bad for them or they have found something about charter schools that they like better than public schools.

Newmark also answers Wells’ use of recent studies of charter school performance, and quotes the Department of Education’s NAEP study:

[T]he mathematics performance of White, Black, and Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools was not measurably different from the performance of fourth-graders with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in other public schools.

In reading, there was no measurable difference in performance between charter school students in the fourth grade and their public school counterparts as a whole. This was true even though, on average, charter schools have higher proportions of students from groups that typically perform lower on NAEP than other public schools have. In reading, as in mathematics, the performance of fourth-grade students with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in charter schools and other public schools was not measurably different.

Similar students perform about the same in charter and non-charter schools, Newmark writes.

Wells and other charter school opponents would probably point out that this is not the magic improvement that advocates promised, but why does that matter? Charter schools are cheaper than regular public schools, parents are happier with charter schools, and bad charter schools can go out of business, unlike regular public schools — if the charter schools aren’t doing any harm, why not allow them to exist just for those advantages?

In a year, we’ll have some data looking at how charter students progress, or fail to progress, over time. It also would be very helpful to analyze how incoming charter students differ from students attending district-run schools. To what extent are parents choosing charters because their kids are doing poorly or have special needs? To what extent are charter parents more involved and committed to their children’s educations?

Update: Eduwonk questions some of Wells’ unsupported assumptions.

The best charters tend to be suburban ones? What’s the evidence for that, (holding constant prior achievement of students, of course)? With a noteworthy exception, charters are disproportionately located in low-income communities. That’s actually an example of the market working; there just isn’t much of a market for charter schools in places where the public schools are doing reasonably well — the suburbs. Of course, to the consternation of many, the opposite is also true. Besides, in a growing number of urban communities, for instance, Los Angeles, Washington, and Boston the top open-enrollment high schools are charter schools.

Wells ignores support for charters from urban parents who want better schools, regardless of ideology. It’s all about those free marketeers, she implies. Eduwonk also makes fun of Wells’ assertion that charters will fall prey to the “broader disillusionment with free-market ideas now gripping the country.”

Again, huh? We just re-elected a president who made no secret of his desire to privatize and use market forces to reform our most widely used social insurance program and is now trying to do just that. It’s entirely possible that such disillusionment is sweeping the halls of Teachers’ College, but it’s not a national trend yet.

Education monopolies don’t serve poor children well, Eduwonk concludes.

Two schools in Brooklyn

Two high schools in Brooklyn:

A teacher, trying to stop a fight, is pushed into an elevator shaft with the struggling student; fortunately, the drop is only six feet.

Diane Ravitch tours a Catholic girls’ school where teachers will work for less because the students are eager to learn.

Although many come from stable families, the student body includes girls who live in desperate poverty; daughters of incarcerated women; girls with a parent living with HIV/AIDS; students in foster care; and refugees from Africa, Latin America and China. Some 55 percent of the students are black; 40 percent are Hispanic, with nearly 5 percent Asian and less than 1 percent white.

The school’s results are re markable. An amazing 98 percent of the girls complete high school, and 90 percent of the graduates attend college.

Small miracles happen here. This unlikely school has produced a speech team that consistently wins state and national competitions. The library is brimming with its trophies. Last year, the team ranked as one of the top five in the nation, having bested hundreds of public and private high schools. The girls’ achievement is even more miraculous in light of the fact that their coach, David Risley, is legally deaf.

The Catholic school spends $6,400 per student versus $12,000 for public New York City schools.

Teachers cheating

Teachers at some Texas schools may be cheating to boost their students’ scores. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

An analysis uncovered strong evidence of organized, educator-led cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at schools in Houston and Dallas, along with suspicious scores in hundreds of other schools, the Dallas Morning News reported.

. . . The newspaper analyzed scores from 7,700 Texas schools, searching for ones with unusual gaps in performance between grades or subjects. It said research has shown that schools that are weak in one subject or grade are typically weak in others.

. . . More than 200 schools had large, unexplained score gaps between grades or between the TAKS and other standardized tests.

While fourth graders at Houston’s Sanderson Elementary do very poorly on the math test, fifth graders at Sanderson posted the highest scores in the state.

Via Education Gadfly.


Philadelphia’s experiment with privately managed schools is leading to improvement, says this CNN story.

Two academic years after Pennsylvania took over the failing Philadelphia school system and made the controversial move to contract out management of about one-sixth of its schools, test scores are up and class sizes are down. The district plans to expand private-sector involvement and is closely watched by U.S. educators as the leader in inner-city school reform.

. . . Private companies and universities today manage 45 of Philadelphia’s 270 public schools. As private managers, they set curriculum and hire teachers and principals. But they are subject to the same state-wide performance criteria as schools that are under the district’s management

Last year the district nearly tripled the number of schools attaining the state’s performance benchmark, with the number of privately run schools achieving that level rising to 23 from seven the prior year.

Competition seems to be improving district-run schools as well.

An educational year

USA Today’s year-end education round-up quotes blogger Alex Russo:

“After much saber-rattling, very few districts and absolutely no states ended up seceding [from NCLB],” says Alexander Russo, who runs the Web log “There’s too much money involved, too many questions that would flow to states that pulled out and, in the end, too many easier ways to dilute or bypass many of the law’s requirements.”

Some 405 charter schools opened in 2004.

The C-word

Secularism, as exemplified by a zealous de-Christing of Christmas, is bad political strategy for liberals, writes Mark Steyn.

In Plano, Texas, in the heart of God-fearin’ Bush country, parents were instructed not to bring red and green plates and napkins for the school’s ”winter” parties, as red and green are colors with strong Christmas connotations and thus culturally oppressive.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph long ago got the heave-ho from the schoolhouse, but the great secular trinity of Santa, Rudolph and Frosty aren’t faring much better. ”Frosty The Snowman” and ”Jingle Bells” are offensive to those of a non-Frosty or non-jingly persuasion: They’re code for traditional notions of Christmas. The basic rule of thumb is: Anything you enjoy singing will probably get you sued.

. . . But every time some sensitive flower pulls off a legal victory over the school board, who really wins? For the answer to that, look no further than last month’s election results. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized Christianity in America. By ”politicized,” I don’t mean that anyone who feels his kid should be allowed to sing ”Silent Night” if he wants to is perforce a Republican, but only that year in, year out, it becomes harder for such folks to support a secular Democratic Party closely allied with the anti-Christmas militants. American liberals need to rethink their priorities: What’s more important? Winning a victory over the New Jersey kindergarten teacher’s holiday concert, or winning back Congress and the White House?

In Britain and Europe, symbols of religious faith remain in public spaces while actual Christian faith has collapsed, Steyn points out.