March 30, 2009

Parental Involvement in Low-Income Areas

Uncle Jay has a good column on how the need for parental involvement in low-income schools isn't all that critical.

The story of his school and others like it suggests that the importance of parental involvement, at least in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, has been exaggerated, probably because middle-class commentators have been imposing their suburban experiences on very different situations. Unchallenged, this misunderstanding of what works for low-income children could stymie efforts to improve the country's worst schools.

The best school leaders say that they don't need much parental involvement when they are hiring staff, creating class schedules and putting discipline procedures in place.


Low-income parents may often be distracted just trying to make a living, but they know what works. Once they see a school keeping its promises, they provide the kind of support found in suburban schools. But it's important to remember that good schooling must come before parental support, not the other way around.

That seems about right to me. Parents need to make sure their kids get to school timely and regularly. But then the school needs to demonstrate that it is doing its job. Or why would parents think its important to send their kids to school every day?

March 23, 2009

Reboot III

In this post I'll lay out the final main points in my plan for school reform.

Lots of Data, Set Free

The most important aspect of the plan is data. Useful data must be made freely available to all parents and students so that parents can make sense of the various educational offerings. Parents must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the predicted performance of my child in this education program based on the past performance of children, like my child, in this program?

  • How much better (or worse) is the predicted performance of my child in education program A compared to educational programs B, C, ... , n.

The disaggregation of data made available has to go far beyond that provided under NCLB. For example, a male student with two Hispanic parents - one with a high school degree and the other with a college STEM degree, a family income of $ x, from neighborhood z, with various scores on prior tests taken should be able to drill down through the data and find out similar students like him and see how they fared in a particular course.

Such a system is predicated on accurate demographic data being collected, initial placement exams being taken when the student enters formal education, and all subsequent testing results.

Furthermore, the data should be made publicly available (while respecting FERPA regs) so that organizations, like S& P, can provide services for the public to use to evaluate the various educational offerings.

Maintain the Default System, Allowing Educators to Experiment with Their Top-Down Schemes

Under my plan, in which teachers take responsibility for student learning within the agreed upon obligations agreed upon by the students, there will remain some students that no teachers believe thay are capable of educating. These students must still be provided with a free appropriate education, so an educational system of last resort must be maintained. In all liklihood, states will maintain a scaled-down version of their present public education system for these children (and those parenst who favor the present system and wish to keep their children in it). These children will remain a political problem and states and the federal government will continue to employ top-down edicts and experiments in an attempt to solve the problem. They'll also continue to pump money into the system. None of it will work because the nature of the present precludes such a system working. Nonetheless, eventually some educators will be enticed by the per pupil funding available (the reward) and agree to the risks inherent in educating this kids.


I've left this one for last because I have no ecific ideas how to employ an equitable funding system. Basically, some kids are much easier to educate than others and, as such, require more effort to educate. This effort is likely to cost more and you'd think there should be additional compensation for those endeavoring to educate these kids.

There's also an argument that the present funding levels are more than adequate to educate most kids.

I don't have an answer for this problem. Nor does anyone else.

I do know how you might go about solving the problem. First you gather all the educators who think they know how to educate these kids. Then have all of these educators bid to take as many schools worth of children that they think they can handle. The losing educators can then be offered to participate in a small scale experiment and take a random sample of children at the winning bid price and see what they can do. The winning bidder will be paid only for the children they are capable of successfully educating. If the winning bidder (and any of the successful losing bidders) is sufficinetly successful, they should be provided any needed funding to scale up.


That's it. The minimal framework needed for a bottom-up evolution of the present system within a top-down regulatory framework which provides for a fair environment for professional educators to work and permits for top-down efforts for the difficult to educate children.

I'll discuss how a system might work in practice in my next post.

March 20, 2009

Reboot II

I noted in the previous post that the public education system needs a reboot to get a fresh start.

To use another metaphor, the public school system needs to be declared bankrupt so it can be restructured, eliminating all the conditions that drove it into bankruptcy in the first place.

The primary reason for the reboot, as opposed to less drastic measures, is to extinguish all the bad contracts, obligations, and relationships they've entangled themselves in and have had thrust upon them by political means.

As I pointed out in the previous post, after the great reboot of aught nine you'd have students, teachers, buildings, equipment/instructional material, and existing funding. All that is needed is to restructure the relationship between these existing elements so the incentives are better aligned while avoiding the mistakes of the present system.

So how should the system be rebuilt?

Power to the People

The first, and most important, fix is to return the power to the people. Education funding should go directly to the students to spend on education services as they see fit. One way to do this would be to set up education savings accounts for each student, like medical savings accounts, that can only be used for education services.

People pay taxes for education. A certain percentage of those taxes go to fund the education for the benefit of the public. But a person should a get a credit for a percentage of the taxes they pay each year that goes into their education savings account for at least the benefit of their own children's education. The idea is to provide parents (and students) control over their children's education commensurate with resources they've contributed into the system free from interference from the government or otherwise. To the extent that students are being subsidized from public funds, then it is likely that taxpayers, through their elected representatives, will want some control how those funds are spent. That seems to me to be a fair compromise.

Teachers Will Be Professionals

Teachers need to be professionalized, whether they like it or not, with all the benefits and responsibilities that flow from that status. We need professionals to do the hard work of education because we need educators to be responsible for student outcomes. Teachers should be like treated like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. Doctors don't have to cure every patient and lawyers don't have to win every dispute, but they are required to render their services competently. If they fail to do so they risk having their license revoked and having to compensate for their malpractice. The upside is that as professionals, teachers will be free to render their services (within the guidelines established by the profession) in the manner of their choosing and free from the silly micro-regulations in effect today because educators have failed to police themselves like other professions.

The main benefit for teachers for professionalizing is that teachers themselves get to decide how they will organize themselves to offer their services. Any professional teacher can put out a shingle and offer services as a sole practitioner. Or than can partner up with one or more lawyers and offer services as a partnership. They can enter into more complicated organizational structures as they grow, much like modern day law firms and doctor practices.

Of course, since educators haven't yet developed their own code of professional responsibility (especially one that people trust), they're going to need some objective criteria for determining when services have been rendered adequately. This can be accomplished by ...

All Educational Services Will be Rendered on a Contractual Basis

Students and their teacher would have a contract setting forth the manner in which educational services will be rendered and criteria against which learning will be measured. Students will have obligations and so would teachers. Ideally, the system might work like this:

The teachers would determine her entrance requirements and placement criteria. The teacher should be able to determine if the student has the skills,knowledge, and other factors needed to succeed in the class. The teacher would also determine the obligations of the students accepted for instruction, such attendance criteria, homework criteria, and the like. Teachers are in the best position to determine whether a student is capable of succeeding with the instructional methods that will be employed and the teacher's assessment of her own skills. This is only fair since the teacher will be on the hook for educating the students she accepts. Bear in mind that the more stringent the teacher's requirements, the more difficult it will be for the teacher to attract students, so this process should find an efficient equilibrium point that satisfies both teachers and students.

teachers will also be required to spell out everything that will take place in the classroom and exactly what skills and knowledge will be taught and learned by the students -- what will be taught, how it will be taught, what curriculum will be used, how will the curriculum be supplemented, and the like. The student and her parents should be able to determine in advance exactly what will be taking place in the classroom and what will be learned.

Most importantly, the education contract will specify the class's exit criteria and whether it has been met by the student. The exit criteria should include the content specified by the State which will likely be a minimal skills test to assure the public that it has gotten the expected value from its investment. The exit criteria should also include any additional content, if any, that the teacher has promised to teach in the education contract.

Also, spelled out in the education contract should be the downstream teachers/programs that accept this teacher's final exam as fulfilling their entrance requirements. For example, the final arithmetic teacher would specify in her education contract which algebra teachers accept a passing grade in her class as fulfilling their algebra class prerequisites. This will encourage teachers to work together to develop their own standards that will carry students from the beginning of their formal education to the end, whether it be college or work.

As professionals, teachers would be responsible for assuring that all the students they accept learn everything they've promised to teach and pass the final exam. Otherwise, the teacher will be given a brief period (say two weeks) to cure the student's deficiencies through remediation. Failing to cure the student's deficiencies will result in the teaching forfeiting some or all of the funding she received to educate the student which will go to remediating the student.

Education Colleges Will No Longer Have a Monopoly on Teacher Preparation

Any person with an undergraduate degree should be able to teach if she is capable of passing the state's licensing exam and background check. This would include degrees from college's of education.

College's of education mostly teach pedagogy. But pedagogy should be determined by practicing teachers. Some teachers may find value in the pedagogy taught in Ed colleges in which case they should be free to hire Ed school graduates. Other teachers may feel that content knowledge is more valuable and that pedagogy is best taught by them according to their own philosophy in which case they should be free to hire graduates of their choosing.

Classrooms should be allocated to teachers who've attracted sufficient students in the district the school Building serves

Since the community owns the school buildings and the equipment therein, these resources should be offered to any teacher who has attracted sufficient students from the district to consume the eduction services they're offering.

Any licensed teacher (or group of teachers) should be able to offer educational services to students in any school district. For example, before every semester there might be an educational services "fair" in which all teachers interested in offering educational services in a particular school district advertise their offerings and attempt to attract students. Each classroom should be rated as to the minimum and maximum students it can hold. Once a teacher has attracted the minimum number of students in the district that teacher would be entitled to lease a classroom in that district for that semester. That teacher determines the maximum number of students she believes she can educate. The number of students successfully educated per semester determines the compensation that teacher receives. This provides an incentive for teachers to maximize the efficiency of the services they provide.

If students don't like the educational services offered in their home district, they are free to go to any other school district that has room. In this way, classroom space will be efficiently allocated. This also permits niche educational offerings to pull students from different districts.

I'm going to stop here for this post and let you chew this over. I haven't included everything that a well run public school system should have, such as funding allocation, but I think you have enough to see how my proposed system better aligns the incentives needed to improve education.

No doubt I've failed to include much and have failed to account for various factors. That's what the comments are for to point out my mistakes and help to improve on this basic framework. Or to argue that certain parts should simply be thrown out.

Do your worst.

I'll attempt to draft a post that includes the rest of the framework while responding to your critiques.

March 19, 2009

Blog Update

As some commenters may have noticed I've activated the CAPTCHA verification system and the comment moderation system for posts older than 30 days old. I had to do this to combat the influx of Chinese spam I've been receiving over the course of the last week. Last night alone I had to manually delete, one by one, about 200 comments that were spam. Let's see if this drives them away. if it does I'll remove the CAPTCHA system.

I'm currently trying to finish my reboot post. It's turning out to be a little more difficult than I originally thought.

I'll answer Brian's and Dick's comments after I've posted the conclusion of the reboot post.

March 17, 2009


The administration's tentative rhetoric-heavy, action-light education policies aren't going to work.

Wishful thinking isn't going to make up the deficiencies.

The problem isn't necessarily that the Administration's policies are bad, though in this case most of them are. (The Bush Administration's policies weren't much better.)

And let's not forget that each state has the primary role in education anyway. That's federalism and it's usually a good thing. Mississippi's education needs are much different than Massachusetts'. Why should their education policies be the same? Moreover, no one has found the recipe for providing a good education for all students yet, so the need for experimentation remains. And, the more laboratories the better until one state finds a system that works and can be replicated.

To improve education, the Administration needs to take an important first step:

Admit defeat.

The current system simply doesn't work well for many children (and teachers). The incentives are all screwed up. There is not enough "choice" in the system, hence all the "wars." There is a "reading war" because some parents don't agree with the reading instruction services favored by some educators, yet have no choice when it comes to selecting those services. Educators should be able to choose what instructional services they offer and parents and students should be able to choose which educator's services they want to consume. There would be a market for both "progressive" education services and "traditional" education services.

Henry Ford used to offer his Model T automobile in any color the customer wanted provided they wanted black. Ford's competitors soon offered a choice of colors. Everybody was happy, except perhaps Henry. In education you're only happy if you like black. If you don't, you're at "war" with the system because you don't have a choice.

But I digress.

The first step to improve education has to be to admit defeat. We picked a bad system a century or so ago and it didn't deliver on its promises. We tried to educate the masses and we failed. We don't educate the masses; we educate the same small group of students that have always been easily educable. For the rest, we offer an expensive facsimile of education that fails to educate. We're good at claiming we've educated; not so good on delivering the education. We're good at shifting goal posts to make it appear that we're doing a good job, but few people are fooled.

Worse yet, the present system has attracted many powerful entrenched special interests whose best interest is to maintain the status quo. Those special interests are not students or teachers.

Instead of playing the blame game, it is more productive to say that the education incentives are not aligned. They need to be aligned for the system to work. Until they are aligned, no "reform" is going to work. There is lots of data proving this point.

To get the incentives aligned you need to take the right second step after you admit defeat. Admitting defeat provides the political will to take the second step. And, there's only one right second step. And that is to ...


The system needs to be rebooted.

We need a do over.

All the existing ties need to be severed. Then they can be rebuilt. The right way.

After the reboot what would have when the system comes back online?
  • A bunch of students with varying education needs.
  • A bunch of teachers with varying teaching abilities.
  • A bunch of administrators and support personnel with varying administrative capabilities.
  • A bunch of school buildings where education services and transportation services can be provided.
  • A lot of instructional material and many publishers willing to supply almost any instructional need.
  • Over $10k per student for operational expenses from existing tax revenue.
  • An information superhighway capable of providing all the information services needed for a transparent network linking parents, students, taxpayers, and educators.

That's more than enough to get us started on Education System 2.0 - 21st century edition.

Actually, you need to do one more thing. Throw out all the existing rules and regulations and institute a ten year moratorium on all education-specific rules, like we did with the Internet when it was opened up to consumers. When the reboot goes into effect, you want only a bare minimum of rules in place to bootstrap the new system.

Then its just a matter of realigning the incentives which is easy.

That'll be the next post.

March 10, 2009

New P21 Video Found Lacking

Is it me, or is the the new P21 Video lacking some 21st century skills or, at least, 21st century production values?

I mean it's not exactly a good use of technology or the video format.

Would you buy a suit from this guy.

Obama's Five Ponies of Education Speech

Today, President Obama promised us five ponies to cure our education woes.

It started off well enough:

My outstanding Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars. It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.

But then he goes on to offer us five ideas which largely don't work.

In other words, we won't be getting five ponies; we'll be getting at best one pony, three broken down mares, and a gelding.

And a large pile of horseshit for the next generation to clean-up.

Let's take a look at each of our ponies.

Pony One: Early childhood initiatives.

Obama sells this pony by pointing us to some non-educational benefits.

For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly ten dollars back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health costs, and less crime.

He has to do this because these early childhood initiatives tend not to have any educational benefits that don't wash out rapidly once the child enters the public school system.

He also offers what appears to be an preschool version of NCLB by offering grants to states that:

[d]evelop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of [their] early learning programs. Show us how you’ll work to ensure that children are better prepared for success by the time they enter kindergarten.

Letting states develop their own plans and then define what success looks like didn't work too well under NCLB.

This pony might have offered some hope if the funding went to actual preschool programs that directly remedied identifiable deficits that many low-SES children enter school with: low language skills.

Pony Two: Better standards and assessments.

Next, Obama wants to challenge states to enact better standards and assessments.

Why would they ever want to do a thing like that? It's much easier to enact low standards that appear to show that students are achieving, rather than actually getting them to achieve to high standards. Where is the incentive? And Obama isn't providing any new incentives in this speech. States will either answer the "challenge" or they won't. My money is on "they won't."

Obama is also promising funding for data systems "to track how much progress a student is making and where that student is struggling."

This is one of the few good ideas in the speech. Although, why states aren't doing this for themselves is beyond me.

Pony Three: Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers.

Then Obama attacks teachers. Apparently, the ones we have now aren't any good. I disagree.

When the automakers ran their businesses into the ground and came begging for relief, the CEOs got the spanking from Congress, not the assembly line workers.

The problem isn't the teachers. The problem is with the management from top to bottom. They are the ones who made the silly rules, who created the impossible work environment, that entered into bad contracts wit the unions, and hired teachers from education schools that failed to prepare teachers with the skills they need.

And, let's be honest, you'd have to be a little crazy to want to work in many schools today given the conditions. I think most teachers simply don't realize what's in store for them. That's changing with the Internet.

Pony Four: Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools.

Obama promises to remove the current caps on charter schools. This is a good thing. No student should be forced to go to a failing school. There's no guarantee that a particular charter will be any good, but at least the student gets a choice and isn't forced to attend a bad school.

Obama also ants to increase the school day and year. That's great, students get to waste even more time in crappy schools. Let's focus on improving the schools first and then we'll worry about gaining further efficiencies by lengthening the time requirements.

He's also going to develop "new strategies to make sure at-risk students don’t give up on their education" by dropping out in high school. Here's a good way: improving their K-8 education. I thought that was what this whole speech was about in the first place.

Pony Five: Providing every American with a quality higher education ...

... by making it more expensive to go to college by floating more "grant" money into the system.

This one fails Econ 101. It also ignores the primary problem preventing students from attending college: they aren't sufficiently prepared for the rigors of college. And, there's precious little in this new plan that's going to help here. Let's work on that.

This plan is long on lofty rhetoric, but short on anything that stands a good chance of working, much less has an established track record. Basically, more of what we've come to expect from education from the Feds.

March 8, 2009

21st Century Skills, Not So new

21st Century skills aren't so 21st century. They've been peddled under various names for a long time.

Flawed in 1940; flawed in 2009.

Now with no more research base than they had back then. Yet educators are still "convinced" of their efficacy.

March 5, 2009

Of education and strawmen

Now this is funny.

Stephen Downes, in a post arguing that Joanne Jacobs has erected strawmen in her post on the 21st Century Skills debate, erects a few of his own.

Each of these three formulations serves to misrepresents actual positions held by educators that do stand up to scrutiny: that knowledge depends on critical thinking skills (not the other way around), that teachers address multiple cognitive needs (not just drill and recall), and that self-direction does not entail content-free learning.

Let's take each in turn.

Knowledge depends on critical thinking skills (not the other way around)

This is a demonstrably false statement.

Knowledge is defined as (i) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

Since knowledge includes facts and information, and facts and information can be acquired by rote (albeit inefficiently), knowledge does not depend on critical thinking skills.

The converse (Critical thinking skills depend on knowledge) is, however, true. You can't think critically unless you've learned a procedure for thinking critically (such as the critical reading procedure I laid out) without the knowledge of the steps (this would be information and facts) that make up that procedure.

That teachers address multiple cognitive needs (not just drill and recall)

This would be a strawman. Does anyone actually think that teachers should only address drill and recall?

That self-direction does not entail content-free learning

Another strawman. Does anyone actually believe that self-direction entails content-free learning? I suppose there is a risk that the self-chosen direction might not entail enough content, but this gets dangerously close to making a point that is educationally relevant.

The journalistic standards of the New York Times continue to decline

Critical thinking is easier when you know something about a subject. Take for example the following statement:

For decades, educators have warned against teaching children to read, they say — many children who are taught to read become struggling readers who hate to read — so teaching a child to read instead of allowing them to learn to read naturally can undermine the joy of reading for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.

Clearly this is a ridiculous statement (though it comes extremely close to the logic propounded by whole-language ideologues). And, it is easily identified as based on faulty logic. The problem is faulty reading instruction is bad, not all reading instruction. The statement can be easily remedied:

For decades, educators have warned against faulty reading instruction, they say — many children who are taught to read poorly become struggling readers who hate to read — so faulty reading instruction can undermine the joy of reading for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.

That's much better.

Let's try the exercise again with the lede paragraph of this Times article:

For decades, psychologists have warned against giving children prizes or money for their performance in school. “Extrinsic” rewards, they say — a stuffed animal for a 4-year-old who learns her alphabet, cash for a good report card in middle or high school — can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.

This statement suffers from the same deficiencies as the first statement, but it's more difficult to understand why unless you know something about basic principles of behavior. The problem isn't that all "extrinsic" rewards can backfire, just poorly designed extrinsic reward systems. Let's fix the statement up.

For decades, psychologists have warned against giving children prizes or money for their performance in school when the children are already motivated to learn. “Extrinsic” rewards, they say in this situation — a stuffed animal for a 4-year-old who learns her alphabet, cash for a good report card in middle or high school — can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.

The basic rule is to never use a stronger motivational system than you need to get the job done. If praise and grades will do the job then there's no need to implement a token reward system, such as cash or rewards for grades. If a token reward system is needed to motivate a child, then use the least invasive rewards that'll motivate the child to engage in the desired behavior (i.e., learning) and fade out the system as soon as possible. For example, trying rewarding with free time or other reinforcing activities before offering cash, candy, treats, or other tangible rewards.

This is not exactly controversial. About the only person who might disagree with such a statement is Alfie Kohn, but then again he's not a psychologist.

The Times then goes on to use the faulty lede to set up a false dichotomy with the view of "economists" and "businesspeople":

But many economists and businesspeople disagree, and their views often prevail in the educational marketplace. Reward programs that pay students are under way in many cities. In some places, students can bring home hundreds of dollars for, say, taking an Advanced Placement course and scoring well on the exam.

The Times has framed the debate poorly for the reader to understand the real issues and the possible dangers of these kinds of reward programs. And do you really trust the Times as it butchers the statement of its lead "he said - she said" expert:

Whether such efforts work or backfire “continues to be a raging debate,” said Barbara A. Marinak, an assistant professor of education at Penn State, who opposes using prizes as incentives.

I question whether Dr. Marinak would support the paraphrase as written. Seems like they dug awfully deep to find someone who supports the unqualified "extrinsic rewards likely to backfire" position. Especially when it's pretty easy to find an article co-authored by Dr. Marinak that supports the use of rewards for motivating children to read:

If your reading program uses incentives, consider using rewards that are proximal to reading. The importance of reading-related rewards may go beyond recognizing the relationship between reward proximity and the desired behavior. It could be that the real value of reading-related rewards is that both the desired behavior (reading) and the reward (books, self-selection, time) define a classroom culture that supports and nurtures the intrinsic motivation to read.

And the Times wonders why it is slowly going bankrupt.

March 4, 2009

Some kids excel regardless of the school

A new study from across the pond shows that bad schools are relative:

Middle-class parents obsessed with getting their children into the best schools may be wasting their time and money, academics say today.

They found that children from privileged backgrounds excelled when they were deliberately sent to inner-city comprehensives by parents opposed to private schooling.

Most of the children “performed brilliantly” at GCSE and A level and 15 per cent of those who went on to university took places at Oxford or Cambridge.

This shouldn't be surprising. Most schools teach roughly the same hodge-podge of topics and skills. Teacher skill varies, but it's generally suficient to induce learning in a typical middle-class child with educated parents.

These kids will thrive in the better public schools and also in schools that we don't typically consider to be that good. But, that's because these kids are full of the "less privileged" students, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.

Thanks to NCLB, we know that a large achievement gap exists betwen the lower-SES kids and the higher-SES kids, and black and Hispanic kids and white and Asian kids. Even in affluent schools districts.

And, thanks to studies like the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study we know that familial environment doesn't make much, if any, of a difference either when it comes to student success.

The only thing that does seem to matter is improved instruction, the earlier the better.

March 3, 2009

Arne Learned How to Exaggerate

Super-blogger Russo points us to an interview with our new Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, in which he makes the following claim:

And the Chicago public schools are desperately underfunded by the state.

This is misleading statement. The source of the funding is largely irrelevant (I understand that many states and the Feds often attach certain strings to funding that can be unproductive). What is important is the Chicago School District's actual funding.

How much do you think a chronically underfunded school district has to spend? Five? Six thousand dollars per pupil?

According to the district's own budget reporting the number is closer to "$10,555 operating expenditure per pupil."

And even that is a gross understatement.

The Chicago School District spends more than that. The $10,555 per pupil figure is for operating expenses (Operation Expenses Budget: $ 4.648 Billion ) . (It also seems to include about 31,759 extra students over the officially reported 408,601 student who attend schools in the district)

The total expenditures for Fiscal Year 2008 (full budget, p. 11: pdf) were actually $ 5.786 Billion. That means that the Chicago School District spent between $13,140 and $14,161 per pupil. (Depending on whether you count the 31,759 mystery students )
That's a lot of chicken now matter how you slice it.

March 1, 2009

Watch what you ask for

For years we've been hearing from educators that their failure to improve under NCLB is because NCLB wasn't "fully funded." Only with more money could we expect education utopia.

Educators just lost that convenient excuse. The recently passed stimulus plan just gave educators all they've been asking for and then some.

And, the Administration is (naively) expecting to see results and soon. Here's Biden talking to educators.

I genuinely need your help to make this work because, folks, look at it this way. We've been given all the ammunition. If we shoot and miss, if we squander the opportunity, tell me how long you think it's going to take for another American president to go and ask for more dollars to correct the education system.


You've got a president and vice president absolutely committed to having all the tools you need to finally get it right in American public education

He doesn't realize it yet, but he'll regret those words.

Public schools have lots of problems, but lack of money isn't one of them (though fiscal management certainly is).

This graph only captures a fraction of educational spending (mostly operating expenditures) but is sufficient to show the real dollar increase schools have gotten since the 1970s. Don't try looking for an increase in achievement during this doubling of funding, you won't find it.

Educators now find themselves in a pickle -- they've been given everything they've been asking for and which they've promised us will lead to miracles. Now they have to perform.

Of course, we already know that they're not going to be able to perform. And, quite frankly, I think they know it too.

But it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years. Expect lots of backpedaling and "I don't remember saying that" type of stuff.

The NYT Doesn't Understand What a Charter School Is

At least based on this article.

Let's start with the title which doesn't make any sense.

Charters Offer More Choices in Harlem, but Stir Concern for Public Schools

Charter schools are public schools. What the Times means to say is that charters are stirring concern for non-charter public schools (or whatever retronym you prefer).

Even the definition given by the Times is off.

Charter schools, which are publicly financed but have latitude in how they operate

What the Times means is that charters aren't constrained by the legacy of conditions and agreements they agreed to or had imposed upon them during the decades of non-competition which, while generally true, misses the main distinction.

The main difference between charter schools and non-charter schools is that charter schools have to earn their customers, i.e., students and then retain them, thus, creating a quasi-market.

This is, of course, no guarantee that charter schools will perform any better than non-charter schools. Many won't. The market doesn't guarantee winners. The market works by ruthlessly weeding out the losers.

It's pretty clear that the Times doesn't now why or how a market works. But, they are quickly learning that lesson as they slowly drive themselves out of business as their financial losses continue to mount.