September 27, 2010

Obama: D.C. schools don't measure up to Sidwell Friends

The president, in a television appearance Monday morning on NBC's "Today" show, was asked by a woman from an audience whether a public school in his home city could measure up to the standards of his children's private school.

"I'll be blunt with you: The answer is no right now," the president replied. Obama said the D.C. schools are "struggling." There are "terrific individual schools" in the city, he said, and because he is president he could "probably maneuver" to get his daughters into one of them.

Nonsense, I say.

Take all the Sidwell Friends students and put them into a random DC public school.  Then take all the students from that DC public school and put them in Sidwell Friends.

(Don't forget the control group.)

Then cook for whatever period of time you think is needed for there to be observable results.

The result shouldn't be surprising to anyone who follows education.

The Sidwell Friends educated students will still perform as miserably as they did in their DC public school.  The Sidwell teachers aren't trained to and don't know how to educate the difficult-to-educate students found in the typical DC school.  Also, the curriculum at Sidwell Friends, is most certainly not accessible to the typical DC student.  Never has been.

On the other hand, the DC public school educated Sidwell students will perform about the same as they did back at Sidwell.  The quality of the teachers and the curriculum won't matter much.  It doesn't take a fabulous super-teacher to educate the kind of kids who go to Sidwell.  And, as far as the curriculum goes, what's being peddled at Sidwell is only superficially different (from an instructional basis at least) than the curriculum used in every other school.

Tuition-wise the DC public schools have about $26,000 per pupil to squander far more than it takes to teach students how to read, write, do basic math, and learn some content.  Sidwell is only about 20% higher and no one believes that money is needed to educate the students at Sidwell.  Everyone knows that tuition is high at Sidwell in order to keep out the kind of kids that typically go to the DC Public schools.

As far as the "terrific individual schools" in the city line goes, these are mostly magnet schools, i.e., schools that use the admissions process also keep out the the kind of kids that typically go to the DC Public schools.  Might as well call them Sidwell-lite schools.


Anonymous said...

How confident are you of your assertions? You don't buy that teachers/administrators at Sidwell MIGHT do a better job than those in DCPS? Or you don't think that it matters anyway?

KDeRosa said...

I'm playing the odds which are highly in my favor.

They MIGHT, but it's highly unlikely.

It does matter quite a bit; instruction can make an educationally significant difference.

Anonymous said...

Given what you've said, I think you're off base here. You don't KNOW that instruction at Sidwell is no better than DCPS, so I wouldn't be so quick to criticize.

KDeRosa said...

Two wrongs don't make a right.

What evidence, besides wishful thinking, do you have that Sidwell Friends are capable of raising the performance of a typical DC public school student?

Anonymous said...

I have none, but you were the one doing the criticizing, and you have no evidence to support your statement.

I'm just suggesting that you don't throw stones.

P.S. - You seem to be critical of attempts at improvement because, well, most of them don't appear to have much impact. Point taken. What would you do if you were in charge? Just curious.

KDeRosa said...

Actually, I was criticizing the President who opined that suggested that DC public schools weren't as good as Sidwell.

There is no evidence for that assertion. In fact there is no evidence that any private school exists that primarily educates high SES students that is capable of similarly educating low SES students.

Read the archives.

Kathy said...

I've tutored kids in reading from several top notch private schools in my area. Those schools are just as clueless on how to help kids who need explicit reading instruction as the public schools, sometimes even worse.

Private schools have very small classes and lots of extras for the kids, but as far as instruction, those teachers are trained in the same colleges as the teachers in the DC schools. They buy the same materials from the same publishers as public schools.

I think you will find many private schools using a whole language reading approach with little to no phonics instruction.

The following excerpt is taken from the Sidwell Friends School website. It is the description of the kdg reading program: (sounds like whole language to me, which is fine if your child does not need instruction to learn to read)

"Kindergarteners deepen and refine their understanding of letters and sounds, words and phrases. Predictable stories, poetry, literature, simple non-fiction, and a wealth of reference books are part of each classroom’s library. Children take home short reading books each week to share with their families. Kindergarteners have many opportunities to write. They make signs for the block area, labels, and short sentences for pictures and paintings. They offer thoughts, impressions, compose notes and messages, and write about their experiences. Writing may be a collaborative effort or a solitary pursuit. Invented spelling is encouraged. Students “write what they hear” with the understanding that a story can be edited with the help of a teacher when they are ready to produce a completed work. Children look forward to publishing their own stories and proudly read their finished books to friends, teachers, and partners in other classes. "