November 3, 2006

Bad Schools, Not Poverty, Cause Bad Student Performance

I've been playing around with the 2005/2006 released scores for Pennsylvania's PSSA exam while doing a little research on the KIPP school in Philadelphia and stumbled upon a few interesting results.

A few months back, the edusphere was atwitter with Richard Rothstein's Kozol-esque claim that poor kids would perform better if they were placed in more affluent schools.

Let's see if this claim has any bearing to reality (at least in Pennsylvania).

I looked at the the data for the 7th grade PSSA exam, a grade when most poor kids have not yet dropped out. There were 803 schools with disaggreagated data for low SES students.

I limited my analysis to schools to good schools, i.e., schools that were capable of successfully educating poor kids. My theory is that bad schools are the cause of education failure in of and themselves. This failuire hits poor kids especially hard.

I defined "good school" as being any school whose pass rate for poor kids was above 67.3, the state mean. I was left with 140 schools (17.4%), showing you what a rotten job our schools do with poor kids in general. I was under the impression that the reason we have this expensive public education system in the first place is to educate all these kids who otherwise couldn't afford to be educated on their own. As always, socializing the problem by getting big government involved has failed to solve the problem. But I digress.

Then I determined the performance of these good schools having high concentrations of poor kids (greater than 50%). Only 18 schools met the criteria. The average concentration of poor kids in these schools was 72%. The average pass rate for these schools turned out to be 76.6%.

As a point of comparison, there were 258 "bad" schools (93.5%) with highly concentrated (average concentration: 81.4%) poor students. The average pass rate for the poor kids in these bad schools was an abysmal 38.9%.

Next, I determined the performance of the good schools with low concentrations of poor students (less than 50%). 112 schools met the criteria and had an average concentration of 24.3% poor kids. The average pass rate for these schools turned out to be 74.7%.

The pass rate for the 410 low concentration (27.3%) "bad schools" was 52.9%.

The conclusion is that Rothstein and Kozol are wrong. Poor kids in predmoniantly poor schools will perform about the same as poor kids in more affluent schools as long as the school is a good school. The problem is that the vast majority of our schools aren't any good. In these schools there is over a half a standard deviation disparity in the performance of poor kids in predominantly poor schools.

The problem isn't poverty; the problem is bad schools.

29 comments:

MassParent said...

From the data you've posted, an equally likely conclusion is that the higher the concentration of poor students, the harder it is for a school to be a good school.

Filtering off the cream of the crop of those schools - 18 out of 276 - only tells you that some of the schools perform better than others. Doesn't tell you much about the reason why.

Data like that can work as a beacon for people who are motivated and who have mobility to seek out the 6.5% of "good schools" - which may improve the odds for their kids. But that can leave behind an even more bleak setting for the 93.5% who lack those advantages. Not exactly the goal of NCLB.

Interesting to contrast your conclusion with the Virginia news that african americans perform better in some average districts across the state than they do in the high scoring Fairfax. That seems to point more to differences in the classroom that can result in less uniform results for different subgroups at the same "good" school.

KDeRosa said...

From the data you've posted, an equally likely conclusion is that the higher the concentration of poor students, the harder it is for a school to be a good school.

This is a fair conclusion from the data, but it does not undermine my conclusion. Poor students are more difficult to educate because they tend to have lower IQs. Lower IQ kids are more difficult to educate generally. And, kids who are not successful in school quickly become behavioral problems.

And the respective cut-off percentages were not that far out of whack. Only 6.5% of the high poverty schools mad the grade, but only 21.5% of low poverty schools made the grade as well. In both cases, the good schools represented a small minority of creamed schools.

Data like that can work as a beacon for people who are motivated and who have mobility to seek out the 6.5% of "good schools" - which may improve the odds for their kids. But that can leave behind an even more bleak setting for the 93.5% who lack those advantages. Not exactly the goal of NCLB.

Most of the schools were ordinary neighborhood schools with open enrollment. A few were charter schools, also with open enrollment. And, a few were magnet schools that do have selective enrollment, but excluding these schools did not alter the relative results. Plus, most of these good schools are not known as good schools by their poor student performance. They are more like above average schools based on their total student scores, not exactly a beacon for a parent without Excel.

That seems to point more to differences in the classroom that can result in less uniform results for different subgroups at the same "good" school.

I did not include a school in the "good" school category unless it s performance with poor kids was good. This excluded many of the best schools in the commonwealth, such as schools similar to the affluent Fairfax schools. I do not doubt that the classrooms in the good shools are operating differently than the traditional classroom. For example, KIPP is the best performing non-magnet high-poverty school.

allen said...

Lousy students result in lousy schools? Come on, not only does common sense suggest that's a highly unlikely proposition but there are the schools that do very well by their poverty-stricken students. The "poor kids=poor schools" hypothesis would have to explain those anomolies or at least have some good reason for ignoring them. What's the factor that differentiates their performance from all the schools that obey the rule of poverty=lousy education?

How are the KIPP schools, which don't have entrance criteria like public magnet schools and thus can't cherry-pick the smart poor kids, doing what they do? And why can't their success be transplanted to the public education system in general?

We know it's not funding since charters uniformly have to get by on either a little less money then district-based schools or a lot less.

It's certainly not facilities since most charter schools can't afford much in that regard.

And it isn't even an anomoly exclusive to charter schools. There are the uncommon, excellent schools in poverty stricken areas with mostly poor students. Those uncommon schools don't even have the independence charters enjoy yet those few do a good job educating the kids. How do they do what they do?

SteveH said...

"... the higher the concentration of poor students, the harder it is for a school to be a good school."

In education, "good" is calibrated very low. If a school has to get kids to be able to tie their shoe laces by fifth grade to be considered "good", then is "poor" a limiting factor? How about doing adds and subtracts to 20 in third grade? What's your cutoff?

Just what is it about "poor" that is a limiting factor for learning the simple material required to be good? Is the material too tough for these poor darlings? Do they have such bad home lives that they can't learn to add to 20 in the six+ hours a day they are at school?

Let's say there are some limiting factors due to IQ and external forces. How much of a school's performance is based on these poor factors and how much is due to bad curricula, teaching methods, and low expectations? The assumption always seems to be that the schools can't be systematically THAT bad. Really?


"The problem isn't poverty; the problem is bad schools."

Of course.

Look at the tests. Look at the results. Look at the lower grades where external excuses are at a minimum. What are these schools doing all day? Why are kids socially promoted?

TangoMan said...

Your analysis would probably benefit if you divided the poor students into two categories. One category would be poor students who are first generation Americans or recent immigrants and are poor simply because they're starting out in a new country. The second category would be poor students who are poor because their parents are stuck in the basement of SES due to low IQ. The first category would likely be comprised of students with a varied mix of IQ and thus have different performance characteristics. Poverty doesn't create low IQ, it just makes you poor. However, low IQ is substantially corrleated with poverty, so low IQ can make one poor and also perform subpar academically.

MassParent said...

It looks to me like the basic conclusion from this data is that low-income kids attending schools where the poverty rate is low have a better chance of succeeding.

Low income kids in high-poverty schools had average score of 38.9; in low-poverty schools, 52.9.

Only seven percent (18 schools out of 258) of low-poverty schools succeeded; while a higher percentage (17.4?) of more affluent schools (140 schools out of ???) succeeded.

To get some sort of meaningful comparison, you'd need to compare the top 7% of "low poverty" schools with the top 7% of "high poverty" schools. And that comparision might just find tell you that some affluent districts are not good at remediating problems that affect a small part of their population, as in Fairfax.

As for KIPP schools - the conclusion seems to be that if you teach 150% as much in a year, and require equal diligence outside of school hours from parents and students, many disadvantaged kids are able to make more than a grade level of progress in each year, or at least many of those that have self-selected this regimentation have succeeded.

It appears this model may be tested in Massachusetts, where extended day school initiatives are one of the proposals of our likely incoming governor.

allen said...

So your conclusion - as opposed to the conclusion - is that the success of KIPP schools, and by extension all schools which have longer hours then is common in district-based schools, is a function of the number of hours the kids spend in class? If that were the case then the district schools could close the gap by simply upping their hours, right?

The conclusion to be drawn from the fact that districts don't up their hours would be that there are factors more important then education since, if education were primary, the hours would be upped.

Just as nonesensical is the implication that the ability of individual teachers is inconsequential. After all, if more hours=more education where's the "teacher quality" factor in that equation?

I've got a different take on the critical difference between KIPP schools and their district counterparts.

At KIPP schools everything possible is subordinated to the education process. At district schools education is just another element of the organization and not necessarily all that important an element. The relative importance of education suffuses both schools with the predictable result: education happens where education is important.

MassParent said...

Do you think the extended hours are not a primary element of KIPP's success?

I suspect it is partly the hours, and partly the active committment required, which draws motivated families willing to make the committment, creating a community where success is easier than in other high-poverty settings.

Personally, I prefer more effective use of time, rather than more time. But if more time is a strategy that works for some kids in some families that might have few other viable choices, it seems worth the extra investment required.

Quincy said...

"Personally, I prefer more effective use of time, rather than more time."

Considering the typical gains made by students in KIPP Academies, it appears to me that the above dichotomy does not exist. I'd say that they're making extremely efficient use of the time, and the extended time is necessary to correct the years of non- or mis-education these kids had received at their previous schools.

MaryJo said...

I'ts not about IQ--which we now know can be raised. IQ isn't set in stone the way we used to believe.

Learning well is first and foremost about lack of stress and high motivation.

Sometimes poor kids, kids in crime and drug ridden inner cities are more stressed out and less motivated than their suburban cousins.

If a poor kid comes to school stressed out because of a shooting on his street last night, he won't learn.

If his classmate comes to school utterly unmotivated to learn, she won't learn either.

So we do in fact know what produces learning based on what we know about the brain itself: lowering stress, increasing motivation, providing for physical movement, and making sure that both sides of the brain are working.

The brain cares less about which curriculum my teacher's using if I'm feeling calm, safe, and motivated. If all the parts of my brain are working.

And any brain integration program plopped down on top of any curriculum will help: Brain Gym, Dore, Diane Craft's Brain Integration therapy, Crossinology's BIT program, and so forth

Even HeartMath which technically isn't a brain intergration program but certainly helps with lowering stress will work.

SteveH said...

"Sometimes poor kids, kids in crime and drug ridden inner cities are more stressed out and less motivated than their suburban cousins."

How much motivation is required to learn to tie your shoes by third grade? How much motivation is required to learn your adds and subtracts to 20 by third grade? How much motivation is required to pass the trivial state standardized tests?

How much of their poor performance can be blamed on well-intentioned teachers who don't expect anything from these kids? How much can be blamed on not separating those who can and will from those who can't or won't?


"The brain cares less about which curriculum my teacher's using if I'm feeling calm, safe, and motivated. If all the parts of my brain are working."

This is the old "fix one thing and everything will be fine" approach. Well, a bad curriculum is a bad curriculum, no matter how calm or motivated one feels. In fact, low expectations, bad teaching, and bad curricula kill motivation.


"And any brain integration program plopped down on top of any curriculum will help: Brain Gym, Dore, Diane Craft's Brain Integration therapy, Crossinology's BIT program, and so forth."

And which one of these are you pushing?

allen said...

massparent wrote:

Do you think the extended hours are not a primary element of KIPP's success?

Yes, I do not think that extended hours are a primary element of KIPP's success.

If something is done poorly in one hour I don't think it's reasonable to assume that it'll be done well in two hours.

My larger point is that what isn't measured isn't valued. Until recently educational attainment was not considered the mission of the public education system. That can be inferred from the uniform dismissal of suits brought against school districts for doing a poor job of education.

Yes, I know that someone who won't be educated can't be educated.

Yes, I know there are those kids who'll suck education osmotically out of everything they contact.

In between though there are kids who would benefit from good teachers teaching in an environment in which education is unequivocally valued. That way the kids don't have to "pretend to learn while they pretend to teach", to paraphrase the joke from the old Soviet Union.

I suspect it is partly the hours, and partly the active committment required, which draws motivated families willing to make the committment

Umm, why don't those motivated families show that motivation when their kids are going to district schools? Also, common sense suggests that the kids going to KIPP are kids with problems. Otherwise, why pull them from the most convenient school around to send them to this fairly new idea in education which is almost always going to be less convenient?

Personally, I prefer more effective use of time, rather than more time.

Don't go out on a limb. I doubt you'll find too many proponents of less effective use of time to disagree vigorously with you.

But if more time is a strategy that works for some kids in some families....

Oh, has that been determined? Does that mean that the district schools these kids came from could match KIPP's attainments if only they had the kids for more hours per day?

What's wrong with the proposition that KIPP schools are simply better then district schools? That doesn't seem so unreasonable a proposition since it's already conceded that rich, suburban districts do a better job educating kids then the high-poverty schools. The bone of contention is generally the painful inadequacy of funding. When someone points to charters which get by on quite a bit less funding then district schools the focus changes to the motivated parents who, for some reason, display that motivation after their kid goes to a charter school.

Another possibility is that in KIPP schools education is the central motivation of the organization and at district schools it's not. So far you've carefully steered clear of that idea. Any particular reason?

rightwingprof said...

"So we do in fact know what produces learning based on what we know about the brain itself: lowering stress, increasing motivation, providing for physical movement, and making sure that both sides of the brain are working.

The brain cares less about which curriculum my teacher's using if I'm feeling calm, safe, and motivated. If all the parts of my brain are working."

This is utter crap, based on nothing whatsoever. Utter. Feel-good. Raise. Your. Self-esteem. Crap.

CrypticLife said...

"And which one of these are you pushing? " ~ stevenh

"My dream is taking two of my favorite programs, Brain Gym and HeartMath, to Guatemala."
~MaryJo's profile

To pick at the crap a little further:

"lowering stress, increasing motivation," -- often contradictory goals

" providing for physical movement," -- limited cases

"and making sure that both sides of the brain are working." -- umm...you're going to hook up constant brain scanners to children in school and have someone watch them?

Schools in America are woefully underaiming as it is. Adding and subtracting by third grade? Students should be able to do this by the end of first grade, and their multiplication tables by the end of second. And I'm not talking about brilliant kids, I'm talking about relatively average kids.

However, I'd like to see the time of the school day upped. I can imagine instructional time is likely not high -- what is it, 3.5 hours in a six hour school day of actual instruction? In elementary school you're probably wasting an hour or so herding cats, bringing it down to two hours of actual instruction to divide between math and English. Pitiful.

TangoMan said...

I'ts not about IQ--which we now know can be raised. IQ isn't set in stone the way we used to believe.

I've got a Nobel Laureate, James Heckman, who used to think like you and now concedes that IQ is fairly stable. You can't raise IQ. However, seeing how you feel so confident in your assertion I'm certainly willing to entertain an examination of the literature you can find to back up your claim that IQ is malleable. Link it.

If something is done poorly in one hour I don't think it's reasonable to assume that it'll be done well in two hours.

So, if I set out a mathematical proof and you don't understand it within 10 minutes while some of your classmates comprehend the proof in 6 minutes, then more time spent on the problem, or different approaches will not get you to their level of comprehension. Is that right? You're arguing that we all pick up comprehension at the same rate? Where ever did you come up with that notion?

Instructivist said...

Brain-based education is another one of these puzzling educationist discoveries. I would take it for granted that the brain has some role to play in the learning process.

This same discovery also puzzled the inimitable Prof. Plum: http://www.educationation.org/page5.html

"Over the next few years I read the websites and syllabi from hundreds of ed schools. I reviewed the literature in whole language, constructivism, “authentic assessments,” learning styles, and multiple intelligences—and other “pedagogies” that struck my cynical nature as weird beyond belief. I even tried to figure out what “brain based learning” was—because, I reasoned, “What OTHER organ WOULD be involved? Before brain-based learning was there BUTTOCKS based learning? Sure they ARE similar. Two hemispheres. A nearby segment of spine. A division down the middle. An apparatus for speaking your mind. But usually you can tell which is which. Just look for a hat!”"

allen said...

Tangoman wrote:

You're arguing that we all pick up comprehension at the same rate? Where ever did you come up with that notion?

No. I'm arguing that a poor workman doesn't approximate the skill of a good workman by spending twice as long at a task. I'm arguing that the schools that are doing a lousy job educating kids in five hours per day won't become good schools by doing a lousy job for seven hours per day. Something a little more drastic and whole lot more uncomfortable then tacking on an hour or two per day is necessary to turn a lousy school into a good school.

If your intention is to defend the status quo then the longer school day is just one among an endless series of excuses for the failings of the public education system that doesn't suggest that fundamental change is what's necessary. That's why massparent shied away from any mention of a difference in competence.

The obvious remedy for incompetence isn't more money or more time or more involved parents or a better class of student. The obvious remedy for incompetence is to get rid of the incompetents. A less obvious remedy is to examine the organization to see if there's anything structural that impedes the development of competence or, as in the case of the public education system, ignores the development of competence. More drastic and uncomfortable change.

That's what I was arguing.

Good ol' Perfesser Plum. He does have a facility for an wicked turn of phrase.

Problem is, Plum's entertaining bile doesn't do much to focus on the problems of public education. While you're chuckling about "butt-based learning" you're not looking for the reasons this nonsense sells. There are reasons edu-crap is valued but sneering won't help you figure out what they are. If you don't know why reasonable, sane adults would spout edu-crap then how can you hope to find a remedy?

TangoMan said...

No. I'm arguing that a poor workman doesn't approximate the skill of a good workman by spending twice as long at a task. I'm arguing that the schools that are doing a lousy job educating kids in five hours per day won't become good schools by doing a lousy job for seven hours per day. Something a little more drastic and whole lot more uncomfortable then tacking on an hour or two per day is necessary to turn a lousy school into a good school.

Your analogy between the quality of craftsmen and teachers breaks down in that craftsmen work with inanimate objects and teachers work with children of variable intellect. Children are not cogs. Children have different information uptake rates. In fact, all of us do, and comprehension is correlated with IQ.

The obvious remedy for incompetence isn't more money or more time or more involved parents or a better class of student. The obvious remedy for incompetence is to get rid of the incompetents.

Your statement can be read two ways - 1.) the teachers are incompetent; and 2.) the troubled students are incompetent.

You're completely overlooking the fact that the gatekeeper for education efficacy is the student. As the old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

A less obvious remedy is to examine the organization to see if there's anything structural that impedes the development of competence or, as in the case of the public education system, ignores the development of competence. More drastic and uncomfortable change.

You're writing in generalities here. KIPP has made drastic and uncomfortable changes and is producing results. You're not offering any specific proposal other than you don't like the KIPP approach. Precisely what reforms will work on creating uniform information uptake rates on an intellectually diverse range of students? I don't know of any.

rightwingprof said...

"Brain-based education is another one of these puzzling educationist discoveries."

Which is based on no neuroscience whatsoever. It's snake-oil.

allen said...

Tangoman wrote:

Your analogy between the quality of craftsmen and teachers breaks down in that craftsmen work with inanimate objects and teachers work with children of variable intellect.

No, it doesn't. Can one doctor be better then another? How about psychologists? Are some better then others? Advertising people? Football coachs? Politicians?

If there's something about teaching that elevates the profession above mundane considerations of practitioner competence, it isn't that teachers work with children of variable intellect.

Children are not cogs. Children have different information uptake rates.

And this observation invalidates the idea that some teachers are better then others how?

Your statement can be read two ways - 1.) the teachers are incompetent; and 2.) the troubled students are incompetent.

I suppose if you ignore what preceeded and what follows that sentence you might decide to be confused. In context I don't think the paragraph needs any refinement but your misrepresentation should be addressed:

Some teachers are incompetent. They should not be teaching because they're incompetent. Their incompetence results in poor educational results regardless of the variable nature of children's intellect.

As the old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

So kids can be likened to thirsty horses? Now it's my turn to dismiss an inaccurate, not to mention cliched, metaphor. The "horses" in question seem to develop thirst in direct relation to the quality of the "water". Good water, thirsty horses. Lousy water, uninterested, unmotivated, poorly educated horses.

You're writing in generalities here.

Observing that the structure of an organization may be inimical to its stated goals may be a generality but pointing that out doesn't invalidate the idea. But if you think that specificity confers credibility then my specific proposal to modify the structure of public education is the dissolution of school districts and the dismissal of their employees. Specific enough?

KIPP has made drastic and uncomfortable changes and is producing results.

Now who's writing in generalities?

From what I've been able to observe of KIPP (and other successful, non-traditional public schools) it's the generation of results that's paramount, not the adequacy of resources.

They get their results with the "cogs" that march through their doors each day not a select few. Impediments to those results recieve attention appropriate to the impediment. If the kids are shivering because the furnace doesn't work, they call a repair man. If the books are too raggedy to use they replace them or find some other means of dealing with that situation so results are not imperilled. If a teacher, or a principal, is bad enough at the job they've been hired to perform, the remedy isn't to wait until they retire and hope for the best. They get their walking papers. There's your "drastic and uncomfortable change(s)".

Precisely what reforms will work on creating uniform information uptake rates on an intellectually diverse range of students? I don't know of any.

Don't be cute. Nowhere did I write that a uniform information uptake rate(s) is the goal of reform or a valid measure of the efficacy of reform and, oh by the way, that's not standard used to measure the adequacy of district-based public schools now or ever. Until the advent of NCLB, nothing was used to measure the competence of schools. The concept, however, seems to hold a certain fascination for the public. Fancy that.

SteveH said...

"Your statement can be read two ways - 1.) the teachers are incompetent; and 2.) the troubled students are incompetent.

K-4 kids are incompetent? Or, just the troubled ones? What percent of the student population is "troubled"?

Perhaps incompetent is too broad or harsh. How about teachers and schools who take absolutely no responsibility for results from day one. Then, they blame bad results on "troubled kids". These poor and "troubled" kids need more than this from schools to succeed.


"You're completely overlooking the fact that the gatekeeper for education efficacy is the student. As the old saying goes, 'You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.'"

How troubled does a student have to be to not learn their adds and subtracts to 20 by third grade? Our public schools (in an affluent town with no troubled kids) sets very low expectations on learning. The ENTIRE responsibility rests with the kids and their parents. The problem is that schools feel that their ONLY responsibility is to present the material; lead the kids to the material. This doesn't work even for un-troubled kids.

For KIPP schools, they use a brute force technique of more time, but they also accept much more responsibility for education than bringing the horse to the water. Their curricula and teaching techniques may need improvement, but this one step of accepting responsibility for learning makes a huge difference. Eventually, kids will take on that responsibility themselves. It is incredible to expect kids to be able to do that themselves from the first day of school.


"Precisely what reforms will work on creating uniform information uptake rates on an intellectually diverse range of students? I don't know of any."

"Uniform information uptake rates"?

What the heck is that? Besides, we're not talking rocket science here. Everyone seems to ignore how trivial the standardized tests are. Education is just not that complex.

In our state, the standardized tests are trivial. On top of that, the "proficiency" cutoff is about 50 percent correct. Even in the early grades, the results are horrible. This is about much more than "troubled" kids. It's very hard not to use the word incompetent.

Instructivist said...

"Problem is, Plum's entertaining bile doesn't do much to focus on the problems of public education."

Plum's extensive writings are all about the problems of public education. Here is a sampling: http://www.educationation.org/page5.html

"While you're chuckling about "butt-based learning" you're not looking for the reasons this nonsense sells. There are reasons edu-crap is valued but sneering won't help you figure out what they are. If you don't know why reasonable, sane adults would spout edu-crap then how can you hope to find a remedy?"

Give me a hint of why you think educationists value edu-crap.

KDeRosa said...

Give me a hint of why you think educationists value edu-crap.

This is the problem and I've still not seen a satisfying answer yet.

I suppose when we do see a satisfying answer, we'll have an answer as to why (watered-down) socialism still sells.

allen said...

steveh wrote:

Perhaps incompetent is too broad or harsh.

I'll admit to that but offer as a defense the quite extraordinary attitude that the public education system, and by extension public education employees, have no inherent responsibility for the quality of their work. The acceptance of responsibility in individual schools or districts is purely a function of local circumstances, politics, etc and not a feature of the public education system.

I plead that the particulars of the situation, the tolerance for incompetent employees, the infatuation with unsupported and not particularly reasonable sounding edu-fads, justify being too broad or too harsh.

For KIPP schools, they use a brute force technique of more time, but they also accept much more responsibility for education than bringing the horse to the water.

And the acceptance of responsibility necessitates determining the efficacy of every facet of the school. That determination is accomplished by, among other things, tests. The tests are used to determine where the school is found wanting and can be improved.

As I wrote somewhere else, in engineer-speak this is know as "closing the feedback loop".

You measure outcomes using a metric that's appropriate to the purpose of the system and you use the knowledge gleaned from the test to adjust inputs. If the adjustment moves the metric in the desired direction you keep it. If it moves the metric in the wrong direction you dump it.

This is such an everyday activity that it hardly needs description. When you drive a care it's feedback that keeps it on the road. When you decide which restaurant to patronize it's commonly on the basis of how the restaurant met your expections in previous visits. The wonder is that this simple, powerful, common concept has no place in the improvement of education in the public education system.

That's why I claim that education doesn't matter in the public education system.

instructivist wrote:

Plum's extensive writings are all about the problems of public education. Here is a sampling: http://www.educationation.org/page5.html

Right you are but when it comes to what ails the public education system, particularly what ails ed schools, his writing is much more entertaining then diagnostic.

Give me a hint of why you think educationists value edu-crap.

If you'll stipulate that education is not an important function of the public education system then it follows that one teacher certification program is as good as another. Why strive to graduate the best teachers who, one would assume, would be produced by the best ed schools if what they do, i.e. educate, isn't seen as important by the employers of those teachers?

Just because teaching teachers to teach isn't seen as important doesn't mean that ed school profs won't try to distinguish themselves. There's the pursuit of tenure, grants, fame, influence but one activity that won't result in the achievement of any of those goals is teaching teachers to teach better. Ergo, you've got to do something else to stand out.

That "something else" is the development of impressive-sounding but unsupported and valueless programs that appeal to the conceits of the various players in the public education system - edu-crap. School board members and administrators can talk about "brain-based learning" or "multiple intelligences" proving to the uninformed public that they're on the cutting edge, that they are in touch with the latest research and understand complex, indecipherable jargon. Edu-crap allows these worthies to fade the rubes which is a pretty good reason to buy buckets of edu-crap.

rightwingprof said...

"you're not looking for the reasons this nonsense sells"

This nonsense sells for the same reason self-help books sell and the same reason people watch Oprah.

There is nothing "deeper" to it than that.

allen said...

kderosa wrote:

This is the problem and I've still not seen a satisfying answer yet.

Critique my hypothesis then. I think it explains much of the observed phenomena in and of the public education system including, but not limited to, the attraction of edu-crap.

SteveH said...

"If you'll stipulate that education is not an important function of the public education system ..."

Our public schools care about education, but in the lower schools, their definition of education is quite different from mine. I have emailed members of our school board and told them that they should hand out Hirsch's series of books: "What your first (second, third,..) grader needs to know" to parents and tell them that this is NOT the education their child will receive. The problem is not about the particular content of the series, but the fact that it emphasizes content and skills at all. By the way, I never heard back from these people.

My own feeling is that teachers who have any content knowledge and skills teach in high school. Those who do not have these skills get drawn to teaching in the lower grades. These people downplay these skills. (They are the people who were probably really glad there was no algebra requirement for their degree.) Schools that teach these teachers don't do content (in any real sense) so they carve out (create) their own opinion-based academic turf. Without content and skills, that leaves little but fluff to focus on. Add to this the curriculum and philosophy wall between lower schools and high schools, and you get a separate reality. In high school, kids and parents start to care about college so there are more external forces that drive quality and accountability.

There is nothing like this in the lower schools. Even high schools will do little to change the lower schools, even though the Freshman are unprepared. I saw this at our high school. The math chair could only advise the lower schools and her advice was very weak. I was quite astounded that she saw the problem, but felt that she would only give them non-critical advice: "Have kids develop better study habits."

I think that lower schools attact those who don't have good content knowledge and skills - their college degree didn't require them. (Good students are not drawn to lower school education.) They don't think they are important. Their college education reinforces those beliefs. When they get into lower school teaching, they are surrounded by the same sorts of people.

Most of the teachers in our public schools really care about education and the kids. They just don't see that it's all based only on their own opinion.

Catherine Johnson said...

My theory is that bad schools are the cause of education failure in of and themselves. This failuire hits poor kids especially hard.

yes

Catherine Johnson said...

Even high schools will do little to change the lower schools, even though the Freshman are unprepared. I saw this at our high school. The math chair could only advise the lower schools and her advice was very weak. I was quite astounded that she saw the problem, but felt that she would only give them non-critical advice: "Have kids develop better study habits."

I'm beginning to see what's going on inside a wealthy high school with high AP enrollment.

It's not good.