Good schools matter 

Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.

Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.

Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.

Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”

Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.

(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Looking back, it is obvious that this early and voluntary desegregation was dominated by selection, that is, families’ own choices.Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”

Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”

Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”

Modern family

Will Saletan (@saletan) tweets: “My son was marked down 5 percent on a high school health test because he chose this ‘incorrect’ definition of family.”

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Can schools build social capital?

Children growing up in poverty live in communities with little “social capital,” writes Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

Can schools provide social capital? asks Mike Petrilli. Can anything?

He suggests inviting “poor children into schools with social capital to spare” and building on the social capital that still exists in low-income communities, such as churches, neighborhood groups and sports programs.

. . . as the important book Lost Classroom, Lost Community argues, urban Catholic schools have been in the social-capital business for a century, to great effect. We must do everything we can to stem their demise.

Finally,  create new schools that “import loads of financial, human, and social capital into an impoverished neighborhood,” such as no-excuses charter.  But it’s not clear “whether these brand-new schools can create true social capital beyond their four walls,” concedes Petrilli.

Putnam, President Obama and others support “investing in pre-school and creating ‘wrap-around’ services at poor schools, à la the Harlem Children’s Zone — which, in addition to providing schooling, also provides health care, meals, and after-school activities for students and their families.”

Does that create social capital?

SEED creates a free five-days-a-week boarding school to get poor kids out of tough neighborhoods — and away from families in turmoil.

Seven years ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman attended a lottery to choose the first 80 sixth graders to attend the new SEED School of Maryland, in Baltimore.  Last Saturday, he saw the 29 students who stayed with SEED receive their diplomas.

Graduates are going to the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, U.S.C., Villanova and others; one is joining the Coast Guard.

When I asked Devin Tingle, who’s going to the Illinois Institute of Technology, what he took most from SEED, he cited the summer science internships and the fact that “this school teaches eight core values,” which he then ticked off: “respect, responsibility, self-determination, self-discipline, empathy, compassion, perseverance and integrity.”

Friedman asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the model, which is expensive. Some students need a “24/7” environment, said Duncan.

“I went to Baltimore and talked to teachers after the riots,” Duncan added. “The number of kids living with no family member is stunning. But who is there 24/7? The gangs. At a certain point, you need love and structure, and either traditional societal institutions provide that or somebody else does.”

A study of SEED’s first boarding school, in Washington D.C., found it cost nearly $40,000 per student, but produced significant gains in achievement that are likely to lead to significant earnings gains.

Is good parenting unfair?

Parents who provide love, guidance and bedtime stories are giving their children an unfair advantage, argued Adam Swift, a British philosopher, on Australian radio.

“The difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” said Swift.

He’s toyed with the idea of “solving the social justice problem . . . by simply abolishing the family,” but given it up as impractical.

Nor does Swift want to ban bedtime stories, but he’d like story-reading parents to feel guilty “occasionally” for “unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children.”

I’ll give them my Goodnight Moon when they pry it from my cold deads.

Swift and colleague Harry Brighouse want to ban inheritance and private schooling, writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason’s Hit & Run.

In their book, Family Values: The Ethics of Family-Child Relationships, they argue “a child’s interest in autonomy severely limits parents’ right to shape their children’s values.”

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, a Handicapper General makes sure that no American is any smarter, stronger or otherwise better than the average American. It was a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual, notes Tuccille.

Hollywood can save our families — but won’t

MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” has increased searches for contraceptives and reduced teen births by 5.7 percent, a study concludes. 

Hollywood could “save our families” by changing story lines to promote stable, two-parent families, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. But don’t hold your breath.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent.

Extended families can help, but single parents have fewer relatives to call on, especially if the mother was raised by a single  mother, she notes. Government can’t make up for a missing parent. “Even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home,” writes McArdle.

The distance that matters in this case is not the much-discussed distance between the 1 percent and everyone else. Instead, it is the distance between the top 25 percent and the bottom 25 percent — between the people who still mostly live by the old injunctions to get married and stay married if you want to have kids, often while politely declaring that this doesn’t actually matter, and the people who are actually having their children in much more fragile and temporary relationships.

If Hollywood “believed that married two-parent families were overwhelmingly optimal, that would naturally shape what they wrote, in a way that would in turn probably shape what Americans believe, and do,” she concludes.

Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

All your children belong to us

Is This the Creepiest Show Promo MSNBC Has Ever Run? asks Mike Riggs on Reason’s Hit & Run. Host Melissa Harris-Perry said:

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children.

So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s we start making better investments.

Hillary Clinton “made this same point more digestible for the public by ladling on warm-fuzzy sauce about a “village” raising a child,” writes Riggs.

Here’s your counterpoint, from 2011, on whether the U.S. is “investing” enough in education. Another half-trillion or so ought to turn things around, I think. No wonder Ron Paul’s getting into home-schooling.

Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Tulane, has a daughter. Or, I guess you could say that a female child with some of Harris-Perry’s genes belongs to the New Orleans collective.

‘I am the first’

In her college admissions essay, Sara recalled her disastrous start as a counselor in the summer bridge program for new students at her San Jose charter school, Downtown College Prep. An incoming 12th grader, she couldn’t control her group of new ninth graders. She wanted to quit — but she didn’t. Sara and her fellow counselors stuck with it, took control and turned their rowdy crew into winners of the spirit award.

When Sara started at Santa Clara University, she felt that she didn’t belong. But she stuck with it, joined clubs and made a place for herself. She had to leave for a year when the money ran out. She worked, saved, came back to finish her bachelor’s degree and now works at a high-tech company.

I met Sara when I was reporting and writing Our School, a book about DCP’s struggles to prepare disadvantaged students for college. I saw her last week at DCP’s event promoting their college success report, I Am the First. The school spent two years surveying its graduates — successful and struggling — to determine what influences college success for low-income, first-generation college students.

At the event, students and graduates held up signs: “I am the first in my family to learn English . . . I am the first in my family to go to high school . . . I am the first in my family to join a college fraternity . . . I am the first to study law.”

DCP is 90 percent low-income and 96 percent Latino; 80 percent of students enter with below-grade-level skills in reading and math. Forty-one percent of parents haven’t completed high school (or, often, started it).

Nearly 500 students have graduated since the first graduating class of ’04. The graduation rate for the first three classes is 40 percent — more than four times the rate for low-income students nationwide.

Those who drop out can talk to a school counselor about how to return to college. One graduate worked for three years in a factory, tightening screws, before going back to community college. He’s been accepted at a University of California at Santa Cruz. He wants to be a history teacher.

What leads to success?

“Empowered” students who take responsibility for their education are more likely to “advocate for themselves” and earn a degree, the survey found. DCP will encourage students to take leadership roles, such as Sara’s stint as a summer bridge counselor.

College counseling should include career counseling: For first-generation students, job one is qualifying for a job.

Teachers are the most important influence on students’ college plans, so DCP plans to make “every teacher a college counselor.”

The school also will devote more energy to helping parents handle the college transition. Sixty percent of DCP students live at home while attending college to save money.

“A college plan must include a financial plan,” the college counselor stressed. Two-thirds of students who leave college do so for financial reasons.

Finally, “college is an inside game.” Students need to be taught the unwritten rules. What do you do about a dreadful roommate? How do you form a study group?  When should you ask a professor for help? DCP will “teach college as a second language.”

Are teachers conservative by nature?

If Republicans showed respect for teachers, they’d discover people with “conservative values” who might enter the “big tent” writes Colleen Hyland, a New York teacher, in The Weekly Standard.  by nature.

Conservative values go hand in hand with teaching. Teachers see the evidence every day that stable families produce well-adjusted kids who succeed in the classroom. Many teachers are people of faith. Most of us are proud Americans who say the pledge every day with our students and mean it. We teach kids how to show respect and use proper manners by modeling them ourselves. We stress personal accountability.

Teachers are receptive to the idea of limited government and local control, Hyland writes. “Layer upon layer of government bureaucracy” forces teachers to  “spend too much of their day with redundant paperwork, wrestling with standards that are overly complex and often contradictory.”

Get the Department of Education off our backs. . . . Speak about deregulating our classrooms and we are all ears.

Of course Republicans would have to “talk about teachers as if you actually like them,” Hyland writes. Treat them with respect.

Whether it’s coming from administrators or politicians, teachers resent -top-down demands that belittle their expertise and ignore their experience. Give teachers credit for what we do as professionals. We are facing a collapsing American culture that is at odds with education in general. It is that same collapsing culture that unites conservatives in support of traditional -values. Despite voting consistently for liberal candidates who actively court their votes, most teachers I know lead fairly traditional lives that respect faith, family, country, and community.

While some teachers are “entrenched liberals,” others feel “the only respect they receive comes from the Democratic party,” Hyland writes. “They would welcome an invitation into the big tent of the GOP.”

Does she have a point?


Too much cheering = no diploma

Darren isn’t the only one annoyed by yahoo-ing family members at graduation ceremonies.

In Cincinnati, a graduate was denied his diploma because of too much cheering by family and friends. He’ll have to perform 20 hours of community service — or get family members to do it — before the school will release his diploma.

A South Carolina mother was arrested for disorderly conduct when she cheered for her daughter. School officials had warned before the ceremony that people cheering or screaming would be booted. At least the penalty — a $225 fine — will be borne by the offender, not the student.