July 14, 2008

Not Even Wrong

The New York Times reports on soon-to-be AFT presidente-for-life, Randi Weingarten's "new" vision for American education:


Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?

...

Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities, child care and preschool, tutoring and homework assistance.

...

Schools that include dental, medical and counseling clinics.


This is a very slick way of selling the proposed expansion of the public sector (and the expansion of the unionized jobs controlled by Weingarten that expansion entails).

Telemarketers do the same thing: Let me tell you about this great new service x we're offering ... Doesn't that sound great? let me verify your address ... can I go ahead and sign you up?

Telemarketer Weingarten wants you to focus on, i.e., imagine, all these great services provided for "the neediest children" instead of focusing on whether these services will boost student achievement and whether schools are the best vehicle for providing these non-educational services.

Weingarten just wants us to assume she is right. But, she's not right. She's not even wrong.

The problem is that she has no real basis for concluding that having schools take over the provisioning of these services will lead to increased student achievement.

She doesn't have evidence that providing more of these services will lead to increased student achievement.

That's because the research doesn't exist. There are no real world examples of schools providing these services and student achievement having risen. We have nothing, but for Weingarten's pretty words.

Call me a cynic, but I don't have much faith that public sector schools, especially those with unionized labor, are capable of providing these non-educational services any better than they currently provide educational services.

As long as a student (1) learns things easily from technically unsound teacher presentations, (2) readily retains what has been learned with technically unsound practice afterwards, and (3) has a strong familial support structure in place to keep the student on track and make sure the student's learning is progressing, then the student stands a good chance of becoming educated in public schools. This is because this student can be educated in virtually any school. We don't need a public sector monopoly to provide educational services to these students; any fool is up to the task.

Whether we need a public sector monopoly for providing educational services for the remaining kids is debatable. There certainly is no evidence that the public sector provides these services any better than the private sector. And, they've had an awfully long time trying to get their game together. Too long, maybe. It appears that they've given up. But for a few reformers, the present consensus, reflected in Weingarten's speech, is that students need to change for there to be improvement in student achievement. So Weingarten's idea is for schools to take over all the social services that they believe affect student achievement.

This is what we're supposed to be imagining -- allowing a dysfunctional monopoly to take over responsibilities outside of its core function. That makes little sense.

I find it easier to imagine just the opposite -- taking away the monopoly powers for providing educational services we've given to the public sector.

I'll print out this blog post and eat if, if anyone can provide a good reason why we shouldn't. The comments are open.

Update: Commenter Oldtimer informs us that the Cincinnati Public School stem has a school that provides all the social services Weingarten is advocating and has yet to show any improvement.

18 comments:

Jon Becker said...

I'm not going to make you eat your blog post by any stretch, but I must ask why you push "student achievement" into this story.

You wrote: "The problem is that she has no real basis for concluding that having schools take over the provisioning of these services will lead to increased student achievement."

Weingarten never talks about this "approach" as an effort to improve student achievement. IMHO, there are more purposes for the institution of schooling than just "student achievement."

That being said, I have NO idea if Weingarten's ideas are worthy, but I do know that the "model" or "approach" of which she speaks is not new. Durham HS in Durham, NC was doing what she proposes back in the 1990's. So, what might be useful would be for her to state what her goals are and then to see if there's any evidence that her ideas can yield the outcomes she desires.

KDeRosa said...

You're probably right.

I just naturally assumed that the goal of education would be educational in nature, rather than non-educational.

This is what they do with the pre-school studies, They don't raise student achievement so they point to other non-educational and quasi-educational things like high school completion rates, more years of completed education, lower rates of juvenile arrest, violent arrests, and school dropout rates.

Parentalcation said...

"I find it easier to imagine just the opposite -- taking away the monopoly powers for providing educational services we've given to the public sector.

I'll print out this blog post and eat if, if anyone can provide a good reason why we shouldn't. The comments are open."

Ok... don't eat your blog, but let me give it a try.

Assuming the question is why we shouldn't take away the monopoly on education.

The private sector would be no more likely than the public sector to provide a good education. The masses simply lack the knowledge to effectively compare schools. Most parents are more concerned about their childs self esteem, than they are about their academic progress. At least with a public sector, there is hope that a powerful reformer can come in... witness Michele Rhee. If it was a private system, she wouldn't have as much power (however limited).

Perhaps I am prejudiced. I have seen so much of the military privatized, with it almost universally resulting in poorer service and longer waits.

Then again, if the private or charter schools near me were any more successful, I would be all for vouchers and the like. I have checked them all out, and they are the same old thing wrapped up in pretty packages... truthfully, most of them a lot worse.

KDeRosa said...

Rory, the fact that the private sector wouldn't necessarily do a better job (and I do believe that education may be exceptional in this respect) is not a reason to permit the public sector to have monopoly power. At least, competition is good at providing people what they want and weeding out the bad performers.

Anonymous said...

We have many private universities and Pell grants and other government aid can be applied to them. I don't understand why k-12 education must be different.

ari-free

Robert said...

Parentalcation, is what you have seen in the military more privatization or sub-contracting?

Sub-contracting to the government, in particular with the military has its own weird set of incentives and rules.

The private market brings the hope that an innovator will actually be able to grow and not just get crushed by politics. How many "Michele Rhee's" have there been, and what happens when they move to the next step on the ladder? Usually things go back to the way they were before. That seems to be the tragic story of DI implementations so far.

But when a business re-makes an industry there is no going back. There is no longer a time before Walmart etc. I think the institutional changes made through competitive markets are more enduring than those of political office.

Consumers may be irrational, but they are the same people that vote...and they tend to vote with even less rationality than they shop!

Kathy said...

Just look at Phila, the town you live near. The charter schools and the for profit schools run by Edison are doing either the same or only slightly better and some are doing worse than the public schools. Recently the SDP announced it would have to take back some of the for profit schools as their tests scores were so low. Even some schools run by Temple and Penn are in trouble.

The problem is in the training of our teachers not in the schools.

I have tutored kids from expensive private schools, charter schools, Catholic schools and public schools. All the teachers in all these schools are clueless about how to teach reading.

Where will all these "new private" schools find staff who know how to teach reading? Our colleges are not preparing teachers correctly?

And why not use school buildings which sit empty all evening, all weekend and all summer to provide other services? I would love to see the computer labs and libraries in schools opened in the evening for parents and students.

Maybe you have great medical and dental care paid for by your employer but many do not. Why not use all those buildings for these services.

KDeRosa said...

Kathy, that's the point. If private-sector schools are capable of doing the job why let the public sector monopoly continue?

Tracy W said...

And why not use school buildings which sit empty all evening, all weekend and all summer to provide other services? I would love to see the computer labs and libraries in schools opened in the evening for parents and students.

Maybe you have great medical and dental care paid for by your employer but many do not. Why not use all those buildings for these services.


Well dentistry and medical care require specialised equipment which is rather different to what a typical classroom uses. NZ primary schools have onsite dentistry services, but that's done in separate, purpose-built buildings (dating back to the time when if it was more complicated than a basic filling a dentist's only option was to pull out teeth).

And of course some dentistry and some medical equipment should be kept well away from school kids, unless their teacher is truly amazing at classroom discipline. :)

Some school buildings in NZ are used for adult education purposes, or for recreation, but there just doesn't seem to be enough demand to use every school. And of course, many recreation purposes have their own space requirements -eg many dance styles are incompatible with a room filled with school desks.

Opening up computer labs and libraries after school hours may be more generally useful if the staffing can be supplied.

Oldtimer said...

Ken...

There is a K-8 school(Rockdale Academy)in the Cincinnati Public School (CPS) district that precisely makes your point.

In addition to having all the usual high-tech instructional toys, this newly opened (Jan.2005) school has an after-hours Community Learning Center for students and adults and a health clinic operated by Children's Hospital that serves the ongoing medical and dental needs of the students and all (yes...all) of their siblings whether they attend Rockdale or not.

Rockdale is an inner-city school. About 95% of the students are African American with about 85% of the student body characterized as "Economically Disadvantaged."

There were no changes in Rockdale's management (principal, et al) or teaching staff when everyone moved into the new facility.

Details can be found here:
http://shrinkify.com/b09

How has this affected student achievement? Not much. It remains abyssmal. Rockdale remains rated in the lowest tier of Ohio's five-tier rating system.

The school's latest available State report card for the 2006-07 year can be found here:
http://shrinkify.com/b08

(Scroll down to Rockdale and click the 3rd "lightning" icon from the left.)

The 2007-08 report card will be made public next month.

CPS officials say it is too soon to see student achievement improvements due to the new facilities. Rockdale has been occupied for half of the 2004-05 and all of the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years....three and a half school years total.

CPS is spending $985 million ($400 million in local taxpayer bonds plus $585 million from the state's capital improvement fund)to re-build/renovate many of their school buildings.

CPS has promised the taxpayers that the improvements in the physical plants will lead to increased student achievement.

So far, there has been no overall systematic study to measure student acievement changes as a result of these new facilities.

Jon Becker said...

I can't tell if your response is sarcastic or not. Either way you wrote "I just naturally assumed that the goal of education would be educational in nature, rather than non-educational."

Do you see a distinction between education and schooling? I do and would argue that schools are only a part of education. Further, I would argue that "student achievement" is a schooling outcome. Weingarten is after an idea that might improve schooling outcomes (maybe not, as you suggest) but that could probably improve educational outcomes.

KDeRosa said...

No sarcasm intended.

I see a difference, but not necessarily a meaningful distinction.

I'm not sure there is an advantage of, say, having students delay dropping out of schools for an extra few months if student achievement hasn't improved, for example.

Anonymous said...

Even voucher supporters typically do not understand how free markets work to improve student achievement.

Simply because a school is private or charter does not mean it is better than the average public school. Currently, some are better; some are worse; many are comparable.

The magic of free markets is NOT that every private school or charter school is superior. It is that the superior schools will be replicated and the inferior schools will go "bankrupt" due to lack of parental demand.

In the short term, when voucher programs and charter schools are studied as a group, they do not substantially outperform traditional public schools. That's because many of those schools are lousy, just like most traditional public schools.

Global studies that lump all private or charter schools together are used to convince people that school is choice is not a "magic bullet" and leads to only nominal improvements in student achievement.

But these studies really miss the point. The real issue is "Are the superior private/charter schools increasing in enrollment? And are the inferior schools either declining in enrollment or starting to imitate the more effective schools?"

According to this criteria, school choice IS the magic bullet -- but only over time.

Schools that use effective approaches such as Direct Instruction are rarely duplicated in the current monopoly system of public education.

But in the choice arena, enrollment continues to increase in Direct Instruction effective schools. Direct Instruction is very popular among charter schools, for example. And they don't arbitrarily drop it for no reason like many successful people schools have.

Another example is the KIPP schools, which are gradually growing across the country.

It takes time for free markets to work their magic. But over time, more and more charter and voucher schools will be outstanding.

How long does it take?

It partly depends on the presence of disruptive innovation driven by a few brilliant entrepreneurs. For an example, look at the success of Southwest airlines.

This single airline dramatically outperforms all other airlines on almost every measure, from plane turnaround time to employee productivity. Southwest has lead the industry in customer satisfaction for 15 years.

But it was founded in 1971 -- almost 40 years ago -- and still has only 8% of the total US market.

This is partly because there are obstacles to achieving scale in the airline industry that are comparable to those in education. These include large capital costs, high amounts of government regulation, and the political resources of entrenched competitors.

The beneficiaries of Southwest's dramatic improvements in efficiency and service are not limited to Southwest customers. Anywhere Southwest offers flights, competing airlines have responded to the competitive pressure and improved service or reduced prices. But the major airlines are so entrenched in their substandard business models and restrictive union contracts that their ability to imitate Southwest is limited. Sound familiar?

KIPP and a few other superior educational models have been around only about 10 years now. After all, charter schools only started in 1992, and before then there was no education free market available for innovative entrepreneurs to work their magic.

So, about 30 years from now, we should find that 10% of low income American students in states with strong school choice legislation will have access to an outstanding school.

Let's define an "outstanding school" as a school where 90% of low income students score above grade level on tests of basic skills. This is a reasonable definition because current research (and our best schools) show it is possible with currently available levels of education funding.

In thirty years, the power of free markets to improve education will be obvious. And even unsophisticated consumers of education will be clamoring for access to the "Southwest equivalents" in the school choice marketplace.

If you agree with the above line of reasoning, here are a few implications:

1) It will take a few more decades before the average voter sees the dramatic impact of free markets on our educational system.
2) A few brilliant entrepreneurs will be essential to improving American education, and they need our support.
3) Like the major US airlines, the monopoly public school system will improve significantly in markets where "Southwest equivalents" take hold. But also like the major US airlines, these improvements will not be nearly enough for them to catch up.

Matt Johnston said...

Kathy said: "And why not use school buildings which sit empty all evening, all weekend and all summer to provide other services? I would love to see the computer labs and libraries in schools opened in the evening for parents and students.

Maybe you have great medical and dental care paid for by your employer but many do not. Why not use all those buildings for these services."

But there is a important distinction between what Kathy said and what Weingarten proposes. Most schools systems make school facilities available for use by community groups, extra-curricular activities and even churches, usually on a "first-come, first-served" basis and usually for no fee or a very small fee. There is no reason to think that a free clinic type of operation couldn't do the same, provided it didn't need specialized equipment.

But there is a vast difference between making "facilities" available and providing the service as part of the school's mission. The first can be a small revenue stream, or at least make the buildings useful for other purposes. The latter is a massive expenditure of resources on a mission that is not related to actually providing educational services.

Anonymous said...

When I see so many schools using "Everyday Math" and refusing to use DI (if they even know what it is), my entrepreneurial side says "opportunity."

ari-free

avoiceinthewilderness said...

In my leadership classes, I often heard that the new vision for schools was the model of "schools as the new cathedrals"- open all night and providing services such as you mentioned.
This and the "market model" which is apparently being hailed globally as a wonderful idea.
This vision has been proposed for a while, and the movement is definitely going in that direction.

Tracy W said...

The latter is a massive expenditure of resources on a mission that is not related to actually providing educational services.

And of course would take management time away from dealing with education achievement issues and into managing the range of services.

Stacy said...

I'm just going to point out that most low SES students, the kids on free lunch, may already have access to medicaid. The social services that Weingarten suggest be provided via the school are already available to those willing to take advantage of services. The problem isn't the lack of social services, it's the lack of willingness to take advantage of services to better the lives of the adults and kids that live in poverty. This is a profound cultural issue.

This is another way for Weingarten to expand her "sector".

When schools show they can competently provide the services they are currently tasked with (i.e. educating kids) then perhaps we can contemplate expanding their responsibilites.