Schools vs. poverty, racism

Can Schools Overcome Poverty and Racism? Deborah Meier tackles Mike Petrilli’s question on Ed Week’s Bridging Differences.

. . .  it isn’t money “alone” (it actually rarely comes alone) that damages the children of the poor. Still, we both agree that money helps. For example, the poor are more likely to be in school while suffering from pain (e.g. toothaches, nausea, or a fever or untreated wound.) Going to the doctor, finding someone to stay home with the baby, taking a day or two off work are advantages that money buys.

It’s worse when poverty is generational, Meier writes. And it’s also about race. “There’s a difference when you know, for sure, that your poverty is not a reflection of your racial inferiority.”

For today’s poor, schools probably are better than before World War II, “but not good enough to wipe out poverty,” Meier writes.

Children need “to belong to a place that embraces them, their families, and their communities.”

 If from Day One we acknowledge their rich language (yes) and ideas and the experiences they are trying to understand we’ll do better than imagining they come to us as blank slates. We also need space so that a group doing “x” can get excited without bothering Group Y. So that “projects” don’t have to fit inside a notebook for lack of space to think bigger or get finished in an hour for lack of storage and display space.

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those “wonderful moments” and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school’s adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

Success should be defined “in broader ways than test scores or college completion,” Meier concludes. And “we need to also tackle poverty directly.

She recommends My Life in School by her “hero,” Tom Sobol, New York state commissioner of education in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Does it work? asks Petrilli inPoor kids need a hand up, not a hospice.

Does your vision of schooling work to help poor children gain the skills and knowledge and confidence and connections that will allow them to climb the ladder into the middle class? Does it help them do better than they otherwise would have, if they had gone to a “regular” (boring!) school?

. . . If you were seeking an “accountability waiver” for Mission Hill, or similar schools, what would you be willing to promise in terms of student outcomes? Higher graduation rates? Lower teenage pregnancy rates? Lower incarceration rates? Higher voting rates? Higher college matriculation and completion rates (including at the AA level)? Lower unemployment rates? Higher wages?

Without some way to assess student outcomes, “we’ve turned your beautiful educational vision—complete with books and computers, paint and clay—into a form of childhood hospice—a respite from life’s daily struggles, but also a surrender to the inevitable.”

Measuring performance by results

Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Testing Has Moved Beyond Filling Circles, responds Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. Objective test scores should be just one part of measuring student success.

When No Child Left Behind was written 11 years ago, standardized tests were the only way to consistently measure student learning on a large scale. But since then, many states have developed sophisticated data systems that can calculate the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college, enlist in the armed services and land steady, well-paying jobs. Instead of using proxy measures for successful preparation (i.e. test scores) we can use measures of the real thing. If high school graduates need to take remedial courses in college, for example, that means their high school didn’t do its job.

School evaluation should include standardized test scores and visits by “highly trained school inspectors” who can  ”observe classrooms and interview teachers and students.”

Waivers don’t go far enough in allowing states to use better measures of achievement, adds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.

States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students — whatever their race — don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes — like how many students go on to graduate from college — instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology — it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)

Use international benchmarks and real-world results, writes Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas education professor.

We can find out if our teachers and administrators are effective by comparing our students’ performance levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which assesses knowledge of mathematics and science gained from a rigorous curriculum, and the Program for International Student Assessment, which assesses daily life skills and minimal academic content.

 

Massachusetts’ 26 regional technical/career high schools have long wait lists and high graduation rates, notes Stotsky, who helped write Massachusetts standards. “Accountability ultimately lies in their employability after high school.”

 

Cuts push schools to make hard choices

Budget cuts are good for schools, argue Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr., & Frederick M. Hess on National Review Online.

In concept, of course, well-delivered education eventually yields higher economic output and fewer social ills. But there’s scant evidence that an extra dollar invested in today’s schools delivers an extra dollar in value — and ample evidence that this kind of bail-out will spare school administrators from making hard-but-overdue choices about how to make their enterprise more efficient and effective.

“Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” said Samuel Johnson.

A Detroit elementary schools is asking parents to donate toilet paper, light bulbs, paper towels and trash bags.  Detroit spends more than $11,000 per student.

Update: To save $1.1 billion, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting five days from the school year; currently the state funds a 180-day year.  I think raising class sizes — which means laying off teachers — would be better for students.