War on Education

Beating up on John Stossel is almost too easy, but Doghouse Riley took it on after watching “Stupid in America: How We Cheat Our Kids,” an eye-poppingly disingenuous video essay about public education. * Nonetheless, Riley takes on Stossel and many of the popular myths about education in the United States in comparison to European countries that have higher test scores while allegedly spending less money per student.

Riley promises more on the subject and I’m waiting ever so patiently. Highly recommended.

A curtsy for Daily Pepper.

UPDATE: Riley has a response to Part I up.

UPDATE II: Riley proctors our final exam

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* Eye-poppingly is now a word, says I, the recent graduate from the School of American Public School Edumacation. We welcome as many made up words as possible on this blog, even if we confuse others.

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Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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53 Responses

  1. EricP
    EricP January 14, 2006 at 9:15 pm |

    I watched the special out of dumb luck (ended a movie and it was starting on the channel the vcr was set to) and I’m not sure what the problem is. I’m sure Stossel probably played around with things a bit to best make his point but people on both sides of every issue do that. I noticed that the site linked to counters the fact that the US spends more than Belgium by quoting the percentage of the GDP. Since the report dealt in raw dollars and the site didn’t counter by citing raw dollars, that raises a red flag for me. Maybe the US really does spend less in terms of raw dollars as well but if so, why not counter with that instead. I smell spin…

    Anyway, would someone please explain the problem with the following scenerio:

    1) Each student in the state gets $10,000 (as an example)towards their yearly education. This removes funding from the local level and gives all children regardless of wealth equal money.
    2) They can use it on any school of their choice.
    3) The state develops yearly tests on many subjects and publishes the results for all schools and distributes a booklet containing the results to all parents each year. Some schools will focus on and excel in math while others focus on social science, athletics, etc. Some would focus on a well rounded education. Parents could choose the right school based on what they feel is best for their child. Schools that can’t do anything right won’t get students and will close.
    4) In the transition phase, poorer schools get a one time alotment allowing them to upgrade facilities so they start at an even level with schools who have had more money in the past.
    5) Good teachers from failing schools would be snapped up or even competed over by better schools.

    Please feel free to poke holes in this because I am actually really curious about where the hostility lies. Even my girlfriend who won’t discuss politics with me (she’s very liberal) thinks that this kind of system would be work well.

  2. EricP
    EricP January 14, 2006 at 9:45 pm |

    BTW, I live in Quebec and as a good socialist province (compared to the US), no money is given to private schools. However you can choose among several public schools. School bus routes are pretty good and you have the option or arranging private transportation. Growing up, my parents had the choice of at least 5-6 elementary/primary schools that would have sent a school bus to my door. They could have chosen among 50+ if they arranged transportation. The same thing goes for high school (in Quebec there are only 2 levels, 1-6 and then 7-11 – after that you go to CEGEP/College and then University). For high school in Montreal all students take public transportation at a heavily discounted (from adult rates) price. We had the choice of at least 15 different high schools within 30 mintues travelling distance.

    Schools (all public) competed for students since they got their money per student. Some schools were very selective with tests required to attend, others took anyone. The more selective ones had less students but better education – a trade-off. School boards, of which there were quite a few, with each school associated with one board were similarly rewarded. The school boards set specific curriculum (the province set broad curriculum).

    I lived in a major city so I had more choices but even my girlfriend who grew up in the “sticks” had at least 3-4 choices at each level. She ended up taking a 45 minute bus ride to a good school even though there was a school less than 5 minutes away.

  3. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 14, 2006 at 11:10 pm |

    EricP,

    1) Each student in the state gets $10,000 (as an example)towards their yearly education. This removes funding from the local level and gives all children regardless of wealth equal money.

    As a Canadian you’re probably aware of the recent blunder made by the Liberals who were responding to the Conservative plan to fund national child-care by sending monthly payments directly to the parents, rather than the Liberal version which has the money going to established day-care centers. The Liberal response was:

    “(Children) need care that is regulated, safe and secure and that’s what we’re building here. Don’t give people $25 a day to blow on beer and popcorn. Give them child-care spaces that work.”

    I think the problem is that centralized unions, bureaucracies, and monopolies don’t really trust people to make informed (choosing as the monopoly would prefer) decisions. You have two different mindsets and it works against public school interests to decentralize the power to the parents.

  4. Robert
    Robert January 15, 2006 at 1:13 am |

    Eric, in the US, opposition to similar programs seems to come from two groups:

    1) Professional educators, their dedication to children destroyed by exposure to the cognitively toxic atmosphere of ed school (hi Lauren!), who feel that such a system would be of detriment to poorer kids – whether from sincere concern, or as a cover story to smokescreen their personal empire-building, and

    2) Vociferous secularists, who fear that many millions of American parents would choose schools that provide a religious education. They are correct about the choice that would be made; I differ on whether this choice would lead to bad outcomes.

  5. Darleen
    Darleen January 15, 2006 at 1:31 am |

    Granted, I did not see the segment. But could you tell me what “popular” myths we’re talking about?

    Let me toss out, for starters, that LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) has a $13.3 BILLION budget with 746,000 students … and I wouldn’t send a dog for obediance training in it.

  6. Moebius Stripper
    Moebius Stripper January 15, 2006 at 1:51 am |

    Lauren, apologies if this is off-topic, but I have to correct two things, Tangoman:

    1) the Liberal plan wasn’t to invest in existing daycare centres, but to use the money to implement a national daycare program, which doesn’t exist now. (Would they do that in the increasingly-unlikely chance that they were elected? I don’t know; all I know is that this has been part of their platform since 1993 and they have been in power since then; meanwhile, this daycare program is nowhere to be found.)

    2) The “$25 a day” statement was either a misquote or a very generous miscalculation: the Conservative plan has $1200 per year per preschool child going to families, which comes out to more like $25/week (actually more like $22/week) than $25/month. Which pays for, what four or five hours per week of babysitting, maybe. This sets EricP’s idea apart from the Conservative daycare plan in one significant way: $10000/year pays to send a child to private school, whereas $1200/year does NOT pay for much childcare. From what I’ve read and heard, the bulk of the objection to the Conservative childcare plan has less to do with not trusting parents to make informed decisions, than it has to do with the fact that the Conservative plan won’t do much help poor families care for their children, either in daycare centres or at home. As I understand it, this is similar to some of the American objections to school vouchers: they don’t cover tuition, and families that can’t make up the difference can’t send their kids to the schools of their choosing (I could be wrong on that, though).

    -MS, Canadian who voted in the advance polls today

  7. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 15, 2006 at 2:27 am |

    Moebius Stripper,

    Thanks for the clarifications. You caught my main point though, trust parents or trust institutions. I see this ideological point as the source of division between the Left and the Right.

    As to your points, which is worth more, the bird in the hand or the bird in the bush? :)

    Granted, $1,200/year won’t fund full time daycare. It is however, more generous than the nothing that exists now. Further, it is more achievable, in fiscal terms, than a more ambitious scheme. Lastly, it is easier to implement by simply depositing the funds into people’s accounts every month, rather than getting a whole bunch of new daycares built and, as with any gov’t project the world over, with the money will come conditions and regulations, which need to be written, vetted, passed, disseminated, then come the revisions, then the building, inspections, etc. etc. Kids not even born will be in high school before anyone qualifies. Recall the gun registry – a simple database that ballooned from what? $100 million to $2 Billion +. Start small and grow the daycare industry and subsidy (program creep is inevitable) organically rather than design and try to implement some centrally controlled grand scheme, that would likely be engineered to favor the political machine of the Liberals.

    From what I’ve read and heard, the bulk of the objection to the Conservative childcare plan has less to do with not trusting parents to make informed decisions,

    It’s kind of hard to ignore a top political official who states otherwise. I’d say the rest is spin to diminish the unvarnished truth that was inadvertently revealed, and then the same comment was later confirmed by another official. It’s always easier to nitpick the faults of a realistic plan from the vantage point of a plan that is perfect in design (?) but unaffordable.

  8. David Thompson
    David Thompson January 15, 2006 at 9:39 am |

    Parents could choose the right school based on what they feel is best for their child.

    What does a kid do when the science-specialized school is two hours away? Four hours a day on the school bus pretty much eliminates any extracurricular activity.

  9. B Moe
    B Moe January 15, 2006 at 10:38 am |

    Riley gets taken to school pretty good in his comment section over his math skills, be sure to check that out.

  10. Robert
    Robert January 15, 2006 at 12:16 pm |

    What does a kid do when the science-specialized school is two hours away? Four hours a day on the school bus pretty much eliminates any extracurricular activity.

    You pretty much answered your own question there, David. The kid (and hisher parents) make a choice – football practice or science school.

  11. Moebius Stripper
    Moebius Stripper January 15, 2006 at 1:32 pm |


    From what I’ve read and heard, the bulk of the objection to the Conservative childcare plan has less to do with not trusting parents to make informed decisions,

    It’s kind of hard to ignore a top political official who states otherwise. I’d say the rest is spin to diminish the unvarnished truth that was inadvertently revealed, and then the same comment was later confirmed by another official. It’s always easier to nitpick the faults of a realistic plan from the vantage point of a plan that is perfect in design (?) but unaffordable.

    Fair enough, then replace “the bulk of” with “my” ;), and transfer my criticism of the proposed Liberal daycare plan to the actual, existing daycare program in Quebec. Quebec provides heavily subsidized daycare to parents: $5/day, or something. (That figure might be out of date, but I know for a fact that it was $5/day at some point.) If that doesn’t explicitly encourage families, even ones that would like to have a stay-at-home parent, to send their preschoolers to daycare, I don’t know what does. Meanwhile, the government is [was?] paying (cost of daycare [minus] $5) per day to daycare centres…and families with a stay-at-home parent are effectively subsidizing that. Since government is committing to shelling out that sort of money anyway, I’d like to see them provide the option of having parents receive it in cash, which would be a lot more fair to families with a stay-at-home parent.

    It’s always easier to nitpick the faults of a realistic plan from the vantage point of a plan that is perfect in design (?) but unaffordable.

    Hey, reread my first point, where I implied that suspect that the Liberal plan is all talk anyway, as it has been for the last twelve years. And as far as this applies to schools, I’m not sure how giving the same amount of money, per student, to parents, as a government currently gives to public schools, is unaffordable. Ditto for daycare.

    Oh, and regarding the gun registry, that’s more a result of poor planning and gross mismanagement than the mere fact of them being run by government. There are plenty of countries that do have state-run daycare facilities, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to get cost and time estimates by studying them if we want a realistic idea of a price tag. (Have the Liberals and the NDP done that? I don’t know, and to be honest, my money would be on ‘no’.)

  12. EricP
    EricP January 15, 2006 at 2:31 pm |

    I wouldn’t recommend that anyone follow the Quebec example on childcare. First, the system is costing 10 times what it was supposed to (like the gun registry, Quebec drug-insurance plan, etc.). Second, it has become so regulated that there is very little innovation. Third, despite the fact that the daycares are privately owned, to participate they must guarantee $5/day for all kids. Many parents would love to be able to spend a bit more (say $6-$7 per day) and have their kids have a better experience – more trips to the park, better healthier meals, better facilities, higher adult to child-ratios, etc. As it stands the parents would need to cough up the full cost or stick with the current system.

    Ironically, in this case the unions (child-care workers have a union here) want more flexibility here too.

  13. EricP
    EricP January 15, 2006 at 2:38 pm |

    BTW, I’m surprised that no one has defended the current system. I’m honestly curious about the hostility to school choice in the US.

  14. Moebius Stripper
    Moebius Stripper January 15, 2006 at 2:40 pm |

    Thanks, EricP; I’m not surprised that the Quebec system is falling so far short of its proponents’ expectations of it. But I do stand by my statement that IF Quebec is going to almost fully subsidize provincially-run daycare, they should also offer that kind of money to parents who want to provide other kinds of daycare, and that that wouldn’t necessarily be any more expensive than what they’re actually doing.

  15. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 15, 2006 at 3:13 pm |

    MS,

    And as far as this applies to schools, I’m not sure how giving the same amount of money, per student, to parents, as a government currently gives to public schools, is unaffordable. Ditto for daycare.

    No argument from me. What I’m saying is that a liberal tenet is to have professionals spearhead social action/remedy/service on behalf of the people and a conservative tenet is that someone else doesn’t necessarily make a better decision for you.

    I suspect that liberal resistance to making funding portable is that there is a concern that many parents will chose an outcome to which the liberals are adverse. On top of that, liberals tend to like institutions to a stronger degree than conservatives, and by funding the status quo the interests of the institutions can be more easily aligned with the interests of liberals.

  16. zuzu
    zuzu January 15, 2006 at 3:43 pm |

    BTW, I’m surprised that no one has defended the current system. I’m honestly curious about the hostility to school choice in the US.

    Here are a few problems with school choice as framed by, for instance, people pushing vouchers.

    For one thing, private schools often outperform public schools because they can be selective. They don’t have to take everyone, and they can kick out students who bring down the curve. Public schools can’t do that.

    Because these schools can be selective, there are only a limited number of spots available. There’s no guarantee that all students from a failing school could be accommodated in the available private schools.

    There’s also the problem of how much tuition the vouchers would actually cover. Would the parents have to make up a shortfall? How much would that be?

    Many private schools are religious in nature. Aside from the problem of using public funds to pay for religious education, there are a lot of differences in approach. Take, for instance, Catholic schools. My mother was a teacher and a Catholic school survivor from the days when the nuns would beat the crap out of students. She refused to let any of her kids go to Catholic school despite my father’s pushing it (he went to public schools), and not just because of the ruler scars. She didn’t like the way they taught, which relied heavily on rote. For some kids, that’s appropriate — my nephew, for instance, has autism and would benefit from the structure and repetition. But my mother didn’t think it would work well for me and my siblings, and besides, the public schools were a big reason they chose the town we lived in. (Incidentally, she had no issue with Catholic colleges and universities or some of the better Catholic high schools, especially those run by Jesuits.)

    Then there’s the problem of what to do with the kids remaining behind when school funds have been taken out of their already-failing schools.

  17. zuzu
    zuzu January 15, 2006 at 3:48 pm |

    I should also mention that, before anything is done with vouchers, the school funding system needs to be revamped. There’s no reason that funding should come mostly from property taxes, because that creates huge disparities between rich and poor communities. And even where the state, rather than the locality, provides funding, there can be huge disparities based on politics — the state government in New York, for instance, has been fighting tooth and nail against a suit by New York City school children arguing that state funding formulas give the City short shrift (and, if I’m not mistaken, rural upstate schools also get screwed). Judges at the trial and appellate levels have ruled against the state, but they’re still fighting it, and our esteemed governor is on record saying that the “sound basic education” the state is required by law to provide should do no more than prepare someone to work at McDonald’s.

  18. Anna
    Anna January 15, 2006 at 5:38 pm |

    In New Zealand the funding system works in almost direct reverse of the way it does in America. Schools are rated based on the census income levels of the community in which they are situated and are then funded on a sliding scale with schools in the poorest communities getting the most money. This is not to say that it’s a wonderful system or anything like that but it just strikes me as intensely counter-intuitive to set schools up so that the wealthiest areas get the most money.

    The problem with setting up winning schools and losing schools is that invariably the losing schools have an entire school full of pupils who lose out. That’s absolutely fine in the business community but are you really willing to condemn an entire school full of students?

  19. EricP
    EricP January 15, 2006 at 5:40 pm |

    I should also mention that, before anything is done with vouchers, the school funding system needs to be revamped. There’s no reason that funding should come mostly from property taxes, because that creates huge disparities between rich and poor communities.

    That has always struck me as odd about the American system. This is why I specifically mentioned that the state would provide $10,000 (the average mentioned in the report) to all children. It would be untied from the locality.

    And even where the state, rather than the locality, provides funding, there can be huge disparities based on politics

    The beauty of democracy is the ability to vote and change the politics. The other advantage is the ability to move.

    — the state government in New York, for instance, has been fighting tooth and nail against a suit by New York City school children arguing that state funding formulas give the City short shrift (and, if I’m not mistaken, rural upstate schools also get screwed).

    Which is where associating the child with the money makes sense. Urban schools might “make” less money per child because it costs more to opperate but they’ll get more students and benefit from volume. Rural schools will have less children but lower costs.

  20. EricP
    EricP January 15, 2006 at 6:23 pm |

    I don’t know what I did in the last post but the quoting is way off. Sorry.

  21. EricP
    EricP January 15, 2006 at 6:24 pm |

    For one thing, private schools often outperform public schools because they can be selective. They don’t have to take everyone, and they can kick out students who bring down the curve. Public schools can’t do that.

    My point is that public schools should have the same choice. Parents should also be able to be selective about the results.

    Because these schools can be selective, there are only a limited number of spots available. There’s no guarantee that all students from a failing school could be accommodated in the available private schools.

    Under a “voucher” system or “school-choice” system, the number of schools won’t automatically decrease. In fact I predict an increase in schools as businesses jump in. There will of course be schools that specialize in taking in the less able. There is $10,000 per year per student at stake. Even these schools will compete to better than the other schools that are willing to take less able students. Of course, schools full of the less able students who are competing against other schools could develop curriculum designed for those students instead of using a general curriculum that treats all students the same. Current schools short-change the gifted and the less able because they need to teach to the middle.

    There’s also the problem of how much tuition the vouchers would actually cover. Would the parents have to make up a shortfall? How much would that be?

    In my example, I said $10,000. The actual amount would be decided by the elected representatives of the state. The states would would be answerable to the voters and would also be competing against other states for mobile workers. Schools could choose to charge extra while accepting that they would have less students. Figure, most schools would charge what the state was paying (which would cover what they are getting today presumably). Schools that charged more would need to prove to the parents that they are getting their money’s worth.

  22. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 15, 2006 at 6:45 pm |

    EricP.

    I’m with you on the idea of the funds being tied to the kids rather than to the school. I’m fully on board. However, I think I’ve found another reason why status-quo advocates will be against it – there’ll be no money to fund the schooling of illegal immigrants. Now, while I think that this is in fact a bonus to the scheme, they’ll surely point out that it is a negative.

    Think about it – the state is giving $10,000 annual payments per child to criminals in our midst. The public would be outraged. With the status-quo that funding is subsumed in the budget allocations and not broken out – a kid is a kid, a citizen or an illegal.

  23. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 15, 2006 at 6:56 pm |

    zuzu,
    For one thing, private schools often outperform public schools because they can be selective. They don’t have to take everyone, and they can kick out students who bring down the curve. Public schools can’t do that.

    Do you agree that a transition would play out something like this – a sorting would begin to occur with the more able students congregating towards a few schools. After a while a hierarchy would start to develop with the top schools attracting the best students based on their reputation, earned either from the calibre of their teaching or the quality of student selection. Those who don’t qualify for admittance to the top schools would go to the next lowest tier, and so on down the ladder until you got to schools that specialized in educating the underperforming, the learning impaired, the belligerent, the violent, etc. Each school would have a reputation of sorts and could specialize.

    I’m not asking if you favor such an outcome only whether you think it is a likely development.

    If you think it is likely, then I’d be most interested in reading what your fundamental premise on education is. I’m drawing a vague inference from your writing that there would be a disasterous outcome awaiting less able students by removing the better performing students from the same environment. That less abled students would be shortchanged in some fashion. Am I close here or completely off-base? What’s the concern about having a market sorting mechanism.

  24. zuzu
    zuzu January 16, 2006 at 11:50 am |

    What’s the concern about having a market sorting mechanism.

    Not everything can or should be subject to market forces.

    Education is a public good and not a commodity. I certainly agree that gifted kids get the shaft, and I think that, where possible, there should be options available for those kids or for kids who want more of a challenge. But not every school system is big enough to provide a Bronx Science or Stuyvesant or Hunter.

    The problem with letting failing, violent or problem students collect in one school is that it’s very easy to write them off. And it’s also easy to track kids into those schools early and basically consign them to a life of being second-class citizens. Not all kids who wind up in special education or who fail are hopeless cases; some have learning disabilities or behavioral issues that can be addressed. It was also the case, particularly in the past, that black students would be sent to special ed far more frequently than white kids. Separating and stigmatizing them by sticking them into a school for failures is not going to motivate them or their teachers and parents to move them out of there. I would imagine as well that the teachers who wind up in those schools will be the ones who are burnt-out or not terribly competent to begin with, so that the cycle continues.

    And the stigma of being in a failing school is going to follow them into the job market. Would you rather hire someone from a generic high school who didn’t do so well, or someone who came from a school known for its failure?

    There have been experiments in various cities with turning over the schools to for-profit enterprises, and by and large, they have not worked out well. There’s an inherent tension between the state’s mission to provide a sound basic education and the for-profit corporation’s need to watch the bottom line.

  25. Robert
    Robert January 16, 2006 at 1:12 pm |

    Not everything can or should be subject to market forces.

    The second part is probably true. There are things that we wish were not subject to market forces. The first part is empirically false. Market forces operate, the end. We can either allow them to operate, pay the costs and reap the benefits thereof, or we can try and stop them, King Canute-style. But they will continue to operate, heedless of our wishes.

    Education is a public good and not a commodity.

    Yes and no. It is a public good in the sense that educating random third parties has benefits to the larger society. It is not a public good in the classical sense of meaning that it cannot be deprived to one person while given to another. Quite the contrary; in fact, most education is a profoundly private good, and other people’s education devalues the worth of our own. When everyone can read, that has social benefits – but when only you and I can read, we reap tremendous private benefits.

    The rest of your comments are good arguments against racism, against ignoring troubled kids, against disregard for kids who have special needs. They don’t go to the question of whether parental and student choice, and assigning money to students rather than institutions, would be a good idea.

  26. Tex
    Tex January 16, 2006 at 1:17 pm |

    Tango Man, you make your arguments look very weak when you start with a premise like

    I’m not asking if you favor such an outcome only whether you think it is a likely development.

    and then you ask a question like this

    What’s the concern about having a market sorting mechanism.

    Is this second question a question about the desirability of the outcomes of a market based sorting system?

  27. Thomas
    Thomas January 16, 2006 at 1:19 pm |

    It is not a public good in the classical sense of meaning that it cannot be deprived to one person while given to another.

    Very little is a public good in this sense — clean air perhaps. But I think of a water fountain as a public good; yet in the Jim Crow South it was a good reserved to only part of the community.

  28. Darleen
    Darleen January 16, 2006 at 2:02 pm |

    zuzu

    And it’s also easy to track kids into those schools early and basically consign them to a life of being second-class citizens.

    And what do you think happens now in public schools who receive extra money per student based on “special needs?” While they do, indeed, need extra money for smaller, more intensive programs, perversely it is an incentive to both mis-identify students for those programs in order to get more $$$ and to continue to keep the students in those programs in perpetuality to maintain the $$$.

    I’ll point to the huge scandal and failure of so-called “bi-lingual” education in California as an example.

    And why shouldn’t students be educated “differently” according to their abilities? A one-size-fits-all education is a one-size-fails-all education.

  29. Darleen
    Darleen January 16, 2006 at 2:05 pm |

    argh…grammar challenged this morning

    perpetuity is a word “perpetuality” is not.

    more.coffee.needed.

  30. zuzu
    zuzu January 16, 2006 at 2:33 pm |

    And what do you think happens now in public schools who receive extra money per student based on “special needs?” While they do, indeed, need extra money for smaller, more intensive programs, perversely it is an incentive to both mis-identify students for those programs in order to get more $$$ and to continue to keep the students in those programs in perpetuality to maintain the $$$.

    School districts don’t necessarily like to have special education students because they have to spend more money per student and can’t cut programs. They have certain mandates for special-needs students that they do not have for mainstream students, and not all of the cost is covered by state or federal aid.

    It’s not a windfall, IOW. And schools are often highly resistant — my sister, for instance, had a hell of a time with a DOD school trying to get very basic services for her high-functioning autistic son. And not all of them involved money; some only required that the teacher or aide be aware of his triggers.

    I do agree that one-size-fits-all education is not the best model; God knows I could have benefited from a more challenging curriculum. But it makes absolutely no sense to cluster all the kids who’ve been labeled as failures into one school.

    The rest of your comments are good arguments against racism, against ignoring troubled kids, against disregard for kids who have special needs. They don’t go to the question of whether parental and student choice, and assigning money to students rather than institutions, would be a good idea.

    I addressed all that in an earlier comment. I was responding to TangoMan’s question about market forces.

    I also wonder where exactly all this choice is supposed to come from, except in larger cities. My high school was the only game in town except for private schools, and they were pretty limited. There was some ability to attend schools in other districts, but only if your school didn’t offer a particular kind of program, like Vo-Ag, but that wound up pulling funds away from your home district because they had to pay the other district.

    Larger cities already have school choice to some extent, since many have public schools that are not neighborhood-based but based on competitive admissions tests. But again, there are limited slots available and parents who can afford to have their kids coached are at a distinct advantage. You even have absurdities like having kids coached for preschool admissions tests like the one for Hunter College’s grade school (public).

  31. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 3:21 pm |

    The problem with letting failing, violent or problem students collect in one school is that it’s very easy to write them off.

    These kids are the primary agents that are responsible for their own behavior. The solution to helping these children seems to be that they should be inflicted upon better behaved children. Did you read the report last week from Toronto, where the gov’t has a problem with kids who have been expelled from school for their bad behavior and are now causing all sorts of criminal havoc. The gov’t's proposed solution? Make schools readmit these kids. Great – they’re causing so much havoc to the innocent citizens of Toronto that it’s better that they concentrate the havoc on the innocent kids in the schools and have the teachers be the enforcers, because we all know that cops and courts certainly aren’t trained and equipped to deal with people who cause trouble.

    And it’s also easy to track kids into those schools early and basically consign them to a life of being second-class citizens

    If this tendency is recognized as being easy to fall prey to then a concerted effort should be made to create mechanisms which allow kids to jump tracks if they have earned their way to that position. On the one hand, as you point out, there is the potential to hinder the development of these kids. On the other hand there is the real costs inflicted upon classmates by slowing the class down in order to accomodate the slow kids. The costs of preserving the self-esteem of the troubled kids is being passed to innocent children.

    It was also the case, particularly in the past, that black students would be sent to special ed far more frequently than white kids.

    The achievement gap is stable and it persists. If you have more black kids on the left half of the distribution then you’re going to have more black kids in remedial classes. Cases like Larry p. v Riles are political correctness run amok because they bar black children from having to take IQ tests to determine their placement into special ed. classes. Sure, it certainly looks bad, but to dress up the pig and put lipstick on it by mainstreaming the kids only insures that they are not being served properly.

    Separating and stigmatizing them by sticking them into a school for failures is not going to motivate them or their teachers and parents to move them out of there.

    So the solution is what? To protect their self-esteem by subjectiing better behaved children to the disruption, threats and violence caused by the subsets of the troubled kids?

    Why is improvement in the performance of a troubled kid any sweeter than the improvement in a average student or better? You can’t escape from opportunity costs. If a teacher devotes time to a troubled student then other students are deprived of what they could have accomplished in that same amount of time with the teacher. They could have soared higher. So, disproportionate time spent on remedial kids who are mainstreamed harms the better students.

    Certainly, kids who only qualify for a lower tier school aren’t going to be having their egos enhanced by such a placement but I don’t see any argument that sufficiently makes the case that other children should be hindered so that the feelings of the troubled student can be assuaged. If a lower tier student does well, then a school of better reputation should be interested in that student for they will see a benefit to themselves in offering admission to the student. As long as mobility is insured and the system doesn’t become ossified, then maximum educational efficiency can be sought.

    Now one problem that I see that threatens the concept of mobility is a widening skill gap. The better schools will be able to teach, and their students will master, the curriculm at a faster rate than the slower students, and a gap in knowledge will start to form. This poses a problem for a student in a lower tier school who is performing above expectations. The longer that student is kept in the lower school the more difficult it becomes to make a seamless transition because the gap wold continue to widen.

    And the stigma of being in a failing school is going to follow them into the job market.

    Again, this seeks to shelter the poor performing student from their own doing and shift the costs onto average and better students. Shouldn’t the better students reap the benefit of graduating from a school with a good reputation? Why shouldn’t a poor student bear the responsibility for their own academic performance? Why dilute the reputation of a school by purposely mixing in troubled students?

  32. zuzu
    zuzu January 16, 2006 at 3:37 pm |

    Dammit, my comment got eaten.

    So, what’s your solution, Tango Man? How would you administer the school-choice program of your dreams?

  33. Sally
    Sally January 16, 2006 at 4:26 pm |

    On the other hand there is the real costs inflicted upon classmates by slowing the class down in order to accomodate the slow kids. The costs of preserving the self-esteem of the troubled kids is being passed to innocent children.

    I don’t think it has to do with protecting the self-esteem of troubled kids. My brother has an auditory processing disorder and had a terrible time learning to read. In order to stay in a mainstream school, he had to repeat second grade. Being the huge (he was tall for his age, and he was a year and half older than many of his classmates), old, stupid kid in his class was hell on his self-esteem. It shattered his self-esteem in ways that, twenty years later, still affect him. But he’s glad that my parents put him through that pretty brutal experience, because if he’d been segregated off with the other “slow” kids, he wouldn’t have been in a position to blossom in seventh grade, which is what happened. By high school, he was still huge and old, but he was labeled “gifted,” rather than slow. He graduated from college with honors. He spent several years teaching in Japan, and he’s pointed out that if he had grown up there, with their ruthless tracking system, he would never have been allowed to recover from his elementary-school difficulties. A Japanese person in the slow track at the age of 8 can never get off the slow track, no matter what his or her capacities at 15 or 18 or 35. The problem with that isn’t so much that it hurts the person’s feelings as that it prevents the person from having a shot at the jobs for which he or she might be most suited. The whole society loses out when the school system prevents people from reaching their potential.

    The current American school system prevents a lot of kids from reaching their potential. That stinks, and we need to fix it. I am open to the idea that school choice is part of the way to fix it, although I think you’d have to put a lot of thought into how it would work. But segregating “slow” kids has the potential to cause a whole different set of problems, and one that I think we want to avoid.

  34. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 4:41 pm |

    Zuzu,

    Specialization. For a moment let’s just focus on poorly performing students. Some have behavioral problems that are the primary roadblock to academic progress, therefore I see little sense in grouping them with cognitively impaired children simply because they test out at the same level. They need an environment that specifically address the behavioral aspect of their impairment. The larger the population pool that the school can draw from, the greater the specialization it can offer, and we might see schools that concentrate on behavior associated with aggression and dominance issues that leave other schools to address short attention span or dyslexia cases.

    So, the schools that address aggressive students could try a variety of approaches. One school could be synpathetic and understanding and involve lots of talk therapy. Another school could take in these badass kids and have even badder-asser teachers who out-intimidate the students. They play the game better than the student. The results that the schools generate will be testimony to the effectiveness of their approach. Those that fail will fold or adapt.

    My core propositions are that students are the primary agents of their own academic success and that each student deserves to be pushed to achieve as close to their limitations as possible. From these propositions I reject the notion that some students deserve more attention than others simply so that more of the students can cross an artificial proficiency level. That to me is stealing potential from some students in order to give it to others. Helping a troubled student doesn’t pose any sweeter reward than helping an average student. All that teachers are seeing is a troubled student is operating closer to their limits and when they have a hard won success that success is more visible. If the teacher pushed the average student to operate near their limits then the results would also be the same, and so would the teacher satisfaction.

    The results would be more efficiency in the system of teaching and less wheel spinning. Specialization yields efficiency. Right now, when kids graduate from HS, their abilities are distributed in a bell curve. The normal distribution is all around us, in many different realms. You can even see it play out in this simulation of Galton’s Quincunx. What’s happening is that because of the lack of specialization there is a lot of “transaction cost” or “slack” in the system because the process of teaching to individual challenges doesn’t allow the teacher to develop the breadth of expertise that they need. Therefore most of the students could have gotten more from their experiences but were shortchanged and the top students’ potentials were taxed in order to subsidize the lower performing students.

  35. zuzu
    zuzu January 16, 2006 at 4:55 pm |

    Where is this specialization going to happen?

    My high school had 1600 students, and was one of the larger ones in the state. But it was the only one in town.

    Where was this specialization going to happen? Within the school? With another school? A new school? Private school? For that matter, how would I have gotten to a different school?

    You know, you keep saying that students are the agents of their own change and their own education, but then you turn around and say that the “good” kids need to be protected from the “bad” kids, or the performers need to be protected from the underperformers. Why are you not arguing that they should be agents of their own education as well? Why are they the only ones for whom opportunity needs to be preserved?

    I know plenty of people who struggled in school due to unrecognized disabilities or conditions. With rigid specialization, these people might have been locked into a course of education that would not have allowed them to realize their potential, because they would have been labeled as failures and the bar would have been set artificially low.

    Another point you miss is that early intervention in programs such as Head Start can make a huge difference in the course of a kid’s education. The time to work on their opportunities is when they’re very young, not when they’re in high school. You may sneer about high-school thugs, but they didn’t start that way.

  36. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 4:58 pm |

    Sally,

    because if he’d been segregated off with the other “slow” kids, he wouldn’t have been in a position to blossom in seventh grade, which is what happened.

    It’s exactly for situations like yours that I wrote this in my comment “As long as mobility is insured and the system doesn’t become ossified, then maximum educational efficiency can be sought..”

    The performance of a child at a certain stage in their life is no guarantee that the same level of performance is a permanent feature. Environment, genetics and even personal beliefs and motivations can work remarkable changes in levels of performance. We can’t predict when, or if, these switches will be thrown, so we need to insure that the pathways of moving up and down, or sideways, in the educational world are open and well-worn paths so that students like your brother don’t have doors closed to them. However, I think there is an important caveat to this reasoning, and that is that we shouldn’t hold back more able students only in order to minimize the gap that the up-and-coming student will have to jump. Your brother blossomed in 7th grade quite likely because he wasn’t too far behind, or perhaps not at all, from his peers. Terrific for him. What though, would the situation have been if during his pre 7th grade years, while he was surmounting his personal challenges the classes of his future peers were moving at a faster pace? Could he have blossomed in that situation? Perhaps a different strategy would have been followed, and your brother would have gone to an intensive catch-up class when he showed that he was ready to blossom. He’d have to work harder than his peers in order to bridge the gap but eventually he could join the faster paced cohort.

  37. Sally
    Sally January 16, 2006 at 5:00 pm |

    You seem to be making a lot of assumptions about how kids learn, tangoman. For instance, you seem to assume that the effort that teachers expend on “average” students has exactly the same relative effect as the effort that teachers expend on “slow” students. Can I assume that you have some experience or data to back that up?

    I agree with zuzu that the level of specialization you advocate is going to be very difficult to pull off in many places.

  38. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 5:17 pm |

    Head Start has been shown to raise social skills but not cognitive skills. Social skills are important and shouldn’t be denigrated but they can only take you so far.

    My high school had 1600 students, and was one of the larger ones in the state. But it was the only one in town.

    It’s an inescapable fact that larger cities can afford more specialization. Most small towns don’t have the same depth and breadth of medical specialization that is found in larger metropolitan areas.

    There doesn’t need to be a top-down plan for how to implement specialization. That’s a feature of the central planning mindset. What happens instead is that some teachers or administrators see opportunity in a market that they think is being ill-served and they mount a response.

    The implementation of these prinicples can take a variety of forms. Schools can be open for bidding, either on dollar amounts, or achievement results. Take the latter case. The lowest performing school loses it’s charter status and from within the district, other teachers can form a collective and bid to take over the school. Instead of money, they can use commitment to educate troubled kids in the district. Alternatively, they can “pre-sell” enrollment by having parents sign a commitment to enroll their kids in the school, therefore removing risk from the school district that their resource would be underutilized. Obviously these examples are not using a complete free market approach but instead are modeling on districts still owning the physical assets and leasing them to groups of teachers.

    There are a thousand permutations that can be implemented but key to all of them is the notion of freedom to try different things and to be rewarded or punished for how well the different strategies work.

    For smaller districts, obviously the degree of specialization would be diminished and that’s simply a cost that goes with living in a small community. Alternatively, perhaps the local districts can implement some form of specialization within the school itself. If we believe that teachers really are professionals then we should grant them more autonomy to practice their profession and the teachers should be held accountable for the results they produce and not count on union support to shield them from consequences. Perhaps that’s how smaller districts could address the issue of reform.

    Notwithstanding all of the above, the achievement gap will still persist but the procedural slack in the system will have been reduced and a greater number of students will be performing closer to their own personal limits.

  39. Darleen
    Darleen January 16, 2006 at 5:33 pm |

    zuzu

    One of the biggest dollar-sucks in a government school is highly inefficient administrations.

    I’ve argued this several times on my own blog and from the perspective as a very involved parent who has shepherded her own children through the k-12 gauntlet (both private and public), and doing uncounted hours in volunteer work in these schools.

    One person was so incensed by what I had to say they sneered — “like you could do better!” So with a bit of research, I demonstrated that I could open and run a school with the same per student budget that LAUSD had AND provide TWO master-degreed teachers per 25 student classroom. More than enough to cater to each child’s particular needs.

  40. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 5:35 pm |

    Sally,

    For instance, you seem to assume that the effort that teachers expend on “average” students has exactly the same relative effect as the effort that teachers expend on “slow” students.

    What is the goal of the teacher? If you and I disagree on that fundamental question then derivative issues will also be fraught with misunderstanding.

    Would I be correct to assume that you view the goal of the teacher being to get all of the students to pass a threshold that some administrator has mandated? If that’s the goal then it surely follows that the apportioning of teaching would result in those in most need getting the most attention so that the goal of getting the whole class across the proficiency threshold is achieved.

    If you take a different philosophical tack, as I do, that each student deserves an equal effort from the teacher to help them reach their fullest potential, then an unequal apportionment of teacher focus leads to shortchanging some students in favor of others.

    The marginal gain achieved from the lower performing student comes at the cost of foregone gain from the better performing students. Combine this fact with the “yield” of gain, or the rate of gain per teacher input, and the disparity becomes even greater.

    Can I assume that you have some experience or data to back that up?

    Sure, what would you like? I’m sure I can look through my pdfs to find specific studies which link a student’s IQ to how long it takes them to master the task set out before them with the higher IQ students have a faster time to mastery than lower IQ students. Lower IQ students require things explained in more ways, more often and need more practice to achieve mastery than do the higher IQ students. This takes teacher time. I’ve got studies that link these features of IQ to parenting styles, SES, race, adoption, and a host of other variables.

  41. Sally
    Sally January 16, 2006 at 9:31 pm |

    Would I be correct to assume that you view the goal of the teacher being to get all of the students to pass a threshold that some administrator has mandated?

    That might well be one goal. It’s certainly not the only one.

    If you take a different philosophical tack, as I do, that each student deserves an equal effort from the teacher to help them reach their fullest potential, then an unequal apportionment of teacher focus leads to shortchanging some students in favor of others.

    I don’t believe that every student learns in the same way or requires the same amount or kind of attention in order to reach their fullest potential. In high school, I lucked out and ended up with a couple of teachers who realized that what I needed was to be given a challenging task and left to my own devices to accomplish it. It may have seemed like neglecting the relatively-smart kid, but I think it was really paying attention to my particular personality and learning style. And it did free up the teachers to give more hands-on help to the students who would benefit from it.

    I’m sure I can look through my pdfs to find specific studies which link a student’s IQ to how long it takes them to master the task set out before them with the higher IQ students have a faster time to mastery than lower IQ students.

    Maybe you could, but I suspect for a lot of kids it would depend on the task. I can learn to solve a logic puzzle very fast, but try to teach me to tie a complicated knot and it’s another story. At any rate, what I asked about was your assumption that all students benefit equally from the same amout of teacher attention, and I’m not sure how your studies would address that.

  42. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 10:35 pm |

    I don’t believe that every student learns in the same way or requires the same amount or kind of attention in order to reach their fullest potential.

    Neither do I. I’m sorry if I was giving that impression. Perhaps if I rephrased the situation – a kid who is struggling has hit a cognitive speedbump of sorts. The kid can’t figure out on their own how to master the material that is being taught. This is where the help of a teacher is essential. A good teacher can, through an iterative process, determine what’s holding the kid back, then find a way to get the kid to see the subject in a way that they understand. Once that happens the kid has been taught the material successfully. I’ll leave aside for the moment the whole issue of whether they remember how they got across the speedbump.

    Everyone has these cognitive speedbumps as they’re learning – that’s why we need teachers.

    When the teacher gave you a challenging task and left you to your own devices, you were still operating under your potential. The teacher could have done more for you, to get you to the speedbump, and then over it. Your speedbump, however, would have been at a higher level than the slower kid’s and the teacher’s tactics would quite likely have had to be different.

    My point is that you left some cognitive development on the table when the teacher gave you the independent project so as to free up time to disproportionately devote instruction to the troubled student. I’m not saying that you didn’t gain from your project, nor that you didn’t exceed the gains of your classmates, but as the old Army saying goes “Be all that you can be” and in this case that didn’t apply because you were off teaching yourself (which is fabulous.)

    for a lot of kids it would depend on the task. I can learn to solve a logic puzzle very fast, but try to teach me to tie a complicated knot and it’s another story.

    Most certainly, but with the IQ tests that have a very high g-loading, you’d be very surprised at how high the correlations between, in this example puzzle-solving and knot tieing, really are.

    assumption that all students benefit equally from the same amout of teacher attention,

    Obviously I’m not advocating that a teacher apportion their time with a stop watch :) but instead that a move away from getting the class across a minimum proficiency line towards the goal of pushing each student as high as they can go regardless of any classroom disparities that may open up as a result would result in an aggregate class improvement.

    In economics-speak, the poorest students are gaining the largest amount of marginal utility from the teacher and the most gifted are gaining the least. Teachers should strive to provide each of their students with a roughly equal level of marginal utility in that they try to get students to their own personal speedbumps and then the teacher provides their unique talents to get the kids over the bumps.

    Going back down to fundamental premises, I don’t see how fairness or justice are served by following a teaching philosophy which disproportionately advantages the weakest students.

  43. Jill
    Jill January 16, 2006 at 10:59 pm | *

    I’m with other commenters here who have pointed out the flaws in our one-size-fits-all education. But what seems to be sorely lacking here is any discussion of race or class as they relate to educational access, and how “school choice” and voucher programs just don’t meet the need or solve the problems. First and foremost, there simply aren’t enough private schools to effectively accept every kid currently in the public school system. Secondly, private schools, which are partially funded by government-sponsored vouchers, really blur the line between church and state. And finally, voucher programs are really only effective for students who already have some basic advantages, like an involved parent.

    Living in Manhattan, I’ve been somewhat exposed to a whole series of education problems. Here, the “haves” are able to enroll their kids in private school, but the entire school system — private and public — is incredibly competitive, leading to those with the greatest access to wealth more able to pay for things like private tutors, music lessons, and language lessons that are more likely to get their kids into the best schools. And like zuzu said, this process starts as early as preschool – preschools here advertise how many of their “graduates” go on to Ivy League schools (read The Nanny Diaries if you want a good example; they do not even exaggerate the situation). The best high schools in Manhattan send nearly all of their students to four-year colleges. But if your parents aren’t able to afford private school, you get stuck in the New York City public schools, which is fine if you’re in the top 5% of students (or again, if you have parents who will hire you private tutors and help you get ahead), but in many ways leaves behind the rest — or at least, leaves them far less competitive than their more privileged peers. It should go without saying that private schools are dominated by wealthy white kids while lower-income black and hispanic students are far more common in public schools.

    And like zuzu said, funding schools through property taxes is thoroughly fucked. It leads to situations where students in Westchester and on Long Island have a very high rate of graduation and admittance to four-year colleges, and students in the poorest areas end up at schools that aren’t even accredited — meaning that they couldn’t get into a decent college if they wanted to. “School choice” inherently leaves some kids behind, and it just isn’t a solution.

  44. Robert
    Robert January 16, 2006 at 11:14 pm |

    “School choice” inherently leaves some kids behind, and it just isn’t a solution.

    But the public system you would leave us with also inherently leaves some kids behind. Even if some magical fairy could wave her redistributive wand and evenly distribute resources without causing flight from the system (which she can’t), there are still disparities in intrinsic intelligence, intrinsic motivation, and parental involvement – two factors which will cause performance differentials substantial enough that some kids will be “left behind”.

    It is axiomatic that some kids will be “left behind” – it isn’t the result of our systemic choices. It’s a result of the nature of the educational process itself.

    But what seems to be sorely lacking here is any discussion of race or class as they relate to educational access, and how “school choice” and voucher programs just don’t meet the need or solve the problems

    Race seems immaterial to a school choice program; since there are teachers willing to teach students of any race if compensated for doing so, I’m not sure what “problem” the school choice movement is expected to “solve”.

    As far as class is concerned, it’s relevant to education in that parents of lower socioeconomic class tend – though by no means universally – to be less involved in their kids’ education, probably more from lack of time than lack of interest. Again, there is no problem being fixed by hierarchical centralized school system that would be made worse by giving these kids a choice, so what exactly is the relevance of class to the debate? Many poor kids are boned under one system and boned under another system; seems like a null factor to me.

    There is an argument that can be made that poor parents will get less use from a voucher/choice system than will rich, motivated parents. This is probably true. However, it is also true that rich and motivated parents have more resources available to manipulate the hierarchical and centralized school system.

    It is again axiomatic that rich, motivated parents will have advantages for their children in any school system. Short of communism, where the rich parents are being trucked off to re-education camps in the Ozarks, this will always be the case.

    Most advocates of the centralized school model end up arguing against these axioms.

  45. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 16, 2006 at 11:31 pm |

    Jill,

    students in the poorest areas end up at schools that aren’t even accredited — meaning that they couldn’t get into a decent college if they wanted to.

    So what happens to the test scores when you take some of these students and educate them in districts with far less poverty, thus a better tax base, and do this for 7 years? Almost Nothing;

    Families originally living in public housing were assigned housing vouchers by lottery, encouraging moves to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates. Although we had hypothesized that reading and math test scores would be higher among children in families offered vouchers (with larger effects among younger children), the results show no significant effects on test scores for any age group among over 5000 children ages 6 to 20 in 2002 who were assessed four to seven years after randomization. Program impacts on school environments were considerably smaller than impacts on neighborhoods, suggesting that achievement-related benefits from improved neighborhood environments are alone small.

    And like zuzu said, funding schools through property taxes is thoroughly fucked. It leads to situations where students in Westchester and on Long Island have a very high rate of graduation and admittance to four-year colleges,

    You’re presuming a causal relationship here – increased school funding leads to high rates of graduation and admittance to college. Here is a falsification of that relationship:

    On average this year, the state’s 31 special-needs districts are outspending their suburban counterparts by about $3,500 per student.

    Trenton, which receives 84 percent of its budget from the state, now spends $14,567 per child, higher than its most affluent neighbor in Mercer County, Princeton Regional ($13,230), and far above rapidly growing Washington Township ($9,383).

    The New Jersey education statistics are available on-line and you’ll see little correlation between levels of funding and achievement.

    Your causal model needs to step back a few steps.

  46. zuzu
    zuzu January 16, 2006 at 11:43 pm |

    TM, “special needs” districts will by definition outspend regular districts.

    Special education is a different funding structure than “regular” education. Meaning, where funding could be cut for “regular” education, funding for special ed cannot.

    I can’t verify what you’re claiming about the Trenton schools since the link you’re providing does not lead to a specific article.

  47. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 17, 2006 at 2:14 am |

    zuzu,

    I think we’re crossing our wires on the PC codeword “special needs.”

    The New Jersey funding formula isn’t tied to special education. It’s not likely that a whole district is composed of special education students.

    Sorry about the link. I found another article on the New Jersey Abbott funding formula. Here is the google cache link.

    - Parity/remedy aid is meant to ensure spending levels per pupil in Abbott districts are the same as the most affluent districts in the state. The money can be used at the district’s discretion, Vespucci said.

    - Supplemental aid is awarded to an Abbott district for a specific need the district says it cannot pay for through its regular budget. An example, Vespucci said, would be a program to reduce the number of high school dropouts. Districts can request supplemental aid each year, but it can be rejected, he said.

    Abbott districts receive more money for new buildings, additions and renovations than their richer counterparts. The state pays 100 percent of eligible costs of Abbott needs, Vespucci said, adding that $6 billion of the state’s $8.6 billion school construction program is earmarked for Abbott districts.

    In other school districts, total reimbursement from the state generally is between 40 percent and 60 percent, he said.

    Additionally, the state pays for Abbott districts to provide all-day, year-round preschool and kindergarten programs.

  48. zuzu
    zuzu January 17, 2006 at 1:03 pm |

    That’s all very well and good, TM, but how long have schools been funded under the Abbott formula in New Jersey? A year or two is not going to make a dent in graduation rates of kids who have already spent many years in shitty schools. And it’s also not enough time for a school district which has been chronically underfunded and probably pays its teachers poorly to do the kind of recruiting of new teachers they will likely need to turn themselves around. The real test is several years down the road. Those schools are still playing catch-up at this point.

    And I still would like you to answer the question of what kind of school choice you advocate, particularly in small districts where there are limited numbers of public schools. Do you advocate vouchers for private and/or religious schools?

  49. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 17, 2006 at 3:19 pm |

    how long have schools been funded under the Abbott formula in New Jersey?

    Since 1977.

    There are 31 Abbott districts, 28 of which were determined by the Supreme Court from a list appended to a decision in 1977 of low-income, property-poor, low-performing K-12 school districts that were eligible for state “urban aid.”

    zuzu, I have no idea how closely you follow these issues, but we see from real world implementations of a variety of “solutions” that they tend to have little effect. Funding more generous than that spent on the HS students of Princeton. Little change. Moving poor students from the projects, via housing vouchers, to a more prosperous neighborhood, thus yielding better school environment, supposedly better teachers, higher performing peers, and a less trraumatic social mileau, and all that yields little in results. We’ve tried many other tactics and yet the achievement gap persists What all of these approaches ignore is the ideologically unpleasant fact that IQ has a very strong effect upon SES, far, far stronger, in fact, than SES has on IQ. IQ is notoriously difficult to raise through environmental interventions, though an adequate supply of micronutrients when a new born and having been breastfed are known to actually have a positive effect. Look, the gap exists even at the age of 3. That’s long before the influence of teaching pedagogy, good or bad teachers, different levels of school funding, the influence of peer groups, the influence of media imagery, etc. My point – it’s not as “simple” as increasing funding because that solution ignores biology, and New Jersey has had 29 years to prove out the experiment of school funding being equalized. Consider the problem as laid out in this PBS (who is going to acuse PBS of not being liberal enough?) interview:

    You make an interesting point that the higher levels of income and education of black parents are not translating to the next generation. Can you talk about that at all?

    One of the most disturbing, I think perhaps the most disturbing fact in our whole book is that black students coming from families earning over 70,000 are doing worse on their SATS, on average–it’s always on average–than white students from families in the lowest income group. You want to cry hearing that figure. I mean, it’s so terrible.

    If you’re interested, I could point you to the technical genetic literature that explains why this intergenerational slippage is occuring.

    small districts where there are limited numbers of public schools. Do you advocate vouchers for private and/or religious schools?

    Small districts should put schools out for lease. Groups of teachers can group up thematically and make their bids. The district can establish goals that the school must meet in order to win the bid and if more than one group is bidding to manage a school, they can, for instance, commit themselves to admitting more troubled students, as a means of sweetening their bid proposal. The winning lease is signed for a fixed period, and independent arbitors determine the success of the school. If the school is not meeting goals, then their lease can come up for rebidding and perhaps another group, with another philosophy, will make a bid and try a new approach.

    For small districts, usually associated with a narrower band of SES students, there may not be a market for specialized education and neighborhood schools may be the preferred model. That’s fine and the same bidding process can be followed.

    The point, as I see it, is that there should be some dynamism introduced to the process. Some threat from outside forces that think that they can do a better job than the existing arrangement. This can focus people on staying sharp and if the school is keeping all the stakeholders happy then they really face little outside threat.

    As for religious schools, well I’m an athiest so I really have no dog in that hunt, but if the school meets the state minimum curricula and wants to offer religious instruction by having a longer school day, then I don’t have a problem. If the school properly teaches a science curricula and then has an afterschool creationist class, then it’s too bad for the students, but I don’t suffer under the delusion that these students will only get this fable from a classroom, so I don’t see a way to forcibly prevent instruction or forcibly insure adherence to good scientific thinking.

    Lastly, as EricP noted above, I think that the funding should attach to individual students, rather than to the institutions. If states really feel that more money for troubled students is the best motivating mechanism to get teachers interested in tackling the problem effectively, then as troubled students are indentified, the state can offer a premium tuition bonus. Of course, a number of parents are going to object to such singling out of some students being more equal than others, but that’s a political problem. This increases the teacher motivation to take on troubled students, and creates a dynamic between larger class sizes, (more profit for teachers) versus lessoned effectiveness (lower scores) and the resulting increased probability that another group will outbid them by vowing to have smaller classes (less pay) and increased scores. Teachers can put their money where their mouth is. Soon we’ll see teachers advocating what the research is now showing, knocking the class size down by a few kids doesn’t noticably increase performance.

  50. zuzu
    zuzu January 17, 2006 at 5:16 pm |

    Let’s say we go with your leased schools idea. How will the kids be chosen? What happens to the kids who aren’t chosen?

    Again: private schools can refuse to admit or kick out students who are not performing or who are discipline problems. Public schools cannot do that, and so public schools *must* deal with those kids.

    If you’re interested, I could point you to the technical genetic literature that explains why this intergenerational slippage is occuring.

    Why do I have the feeling that it will involve some version of The Bell Curve?

  51. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 17, 2006 at 6:23 pm |

    How will the kids be chosen? What happens to the kids who aren’t chosen?

    Let’s start with the obvious. Schools need money to operate. The schools also have fixed costs that have to be met even if there is not one student bringing money in. Students also have variable costs associated with their education. Given these limitations, any existing school has a lower and upper bound on the number of students that they can teach. If the school is too selective and limits the number of students admitted to below capacity, then their budget takes a hit. They have an incentive to increase the students that they admit so as to optimize the fixed and variable costs and thus achieve a balance of goals, which could include higher teacher salaries, good test scores, optimum teaching environment, optimum learning environment, and what have you. Each school would likely follow a different optimization formula and the individual parents could decide which school’s results match most closely with their own preferences. What I’m saying is that the market will clear, and that some school will take the students who you think won’t be chosen because the school will have an incentive to take that extra kid. The issue for them will be: we can get another $10,000 per kid and we’re already committed to paying the state $1,500,000 per year for the lease of the school. We have to pay that regardless of whether that kid is enrolled or not. We still have to pay the heating for the school, with or without that kid, same with the custodial services, etc. Now, is that kid going to cause us more grief than benefit, considering the $10,000 that is attached to him? Probably not.

    Why do I have the feeling that it will involve some version of The Bell Curve

    The Bell Curve is old, old news. It’s certainly not as old as The Mismeasure of Man but it’s still quite outdated, in fact, it’s a decade out of date and a lot has changed in that time. The International HapMap Project wasn’t even on the drawing boards back then. Here’s the thing that I see a lot of as I debate conservatives and especially I.D. advocates. They get a lot of liberals coming over and hammering them for their creationist views. Now, as someone who values science over faith, I think the conservatives are getting what they deserve. However, what the liberals don’t realize is that they too hold creationist views, but they worship a different faith and while they ask the conservatives to let the scientific process, and the accumulation of evidence, guide them away from faith-based, anti-science, positions, the liberals aren’t willing to subject themselves and their own belief systems to the same standards. Conservatives don’t want evolution taught in schools, and liberals want it taught, but taught as though evolution stopped working on humans before the OOA exodus.

    I certainly wouldn’t characterize this University of British Columbia teaching guide to be equivalent to The Bell Curve, and in fact they go far out of their way to minimize genetic influence (and this slanting results in some errors) yet they reference this finding:

    These observations suggest that some genetic variants that influence g will vary between populations rather than within populations. For instance, certain Asian populations have a frequency of 0.60 in COMT Met158 allele, which predicts lower COMT-enzyme activity and thereby better cognitive performance, while Caucasians have a frequency of 0.42 for the same allele.

    It’s right there in the allelic frequency distributions. This isn’t muddy social science where you can postulate that some unseen factor-X is skewing the results. You can’t yell KKK because this study looks at the difference between certain Asian and Caucasion populations.

    Let Occam be your guide. Not arbiter, but simply your guide. Let the strength of the evidence guide you. I have no idea whether you consider yourself a member of the “reality-based community” but if you are, then don’t let the moniker be devoid of meaning. That means looking at all of the evidence, even if you eventually disgard much of it. Nothing should, a priori be off the table, unless of course it conflicts with creationist views.

    Genetic research is accelerating, and the news of findings aren’t going away. The naturist case is strengthening over the nurturist model. It will be telling how people deal with these issues over the coming years. The reason none of these massive education reforms work is because they purposely exclude powerful variables. If you wipe a dominant factor off the table, then you’ll never fully understand the issue you’re working with, and all of the ambitious schemes will be for naught because they are trying to solve a problem that has been misdiagnosed. Imagine if medicine was practiced in this fashion.

  52. La Lubu
    La Lubu January 17, 2006 at 7:49 pm |

    If you’re interested, I could point you to the technical genetic literature that explains why this intergenerational slippage is occuring.

    Sounds like a higher-tech version of the same old bullshit that’s been trotted out since the early 1900′s—it’s just now the prime targets are no longer southern/eastern Europeans…and, ahem, Asians. I’m quite sure as a Sicilian-American I have plenty of genetic markers that would biologically “prove” my not-so-brightness, yet I score in the “genius” range on IQ tests. Huh. How ’bout that.

    Anyway, I didn’t want to pay the $5 for the New Jersey study, but I already have my doubts. Unless this study specifically followed each child as they entered the program, it’s pretty meaningless. See, one of the best predictors of a child’s success in school is the educational level of the mother. And who are the mothers least likely to remain in a public housing voucher program? That’s right, the ones who obtain higher education, and with it, higher-paying jobs that disqualify them from those programs. In other words, many of the kindergarten children who qualified for this program in 1977 did not continue to qualify for it years later. My guess is that this study was tracking a different population at the end than it was at the beginning—and it was self-selecting for the children that were least likely to start doing better in school—the children of mothers who did not further their education or job opportunities (hence, income).

    Come to think of it, mobility is a problem that plagues lower income schools. The school my daughter attends is mostly a lower income school (over 90% of the kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunch). Over half of the children who start their year there, finish their year at another school—sometimes in the same city, sometimes in a different city. Sometimes this is because of the upward-mobility of the parent(s), but mostly these are “lateral” moves—from one poor/working class neighborhood to the other. Moves are disruptive to a child’s education; I know—I attended six different grade schools in three different cities.

    Vouchers would more than likely result in a lot more shuffling of children from one school to the next. And I don’t think that would be beneficial. Continuity helps—so much so, that some schools have adopted a “teacher moves with the class” method, with the teacher having the same students for three or four years instead of one. I like the idea of being able to choose between different public schools, but I don’t want my tax dollars being shunted off to private religious schools. I don’t think I should be forced to donate to churches I don’t belong to, especially those churches that preach hatred of me and mine to their congregation. Rethinking Schools has a number of good articles on why vouchers are a bad idea. In areas where vouchers are in place, numerous fly-by-night “schools” have opened up that are worse than the worst public schools. Parents aren’t pulling their children out of these schools, even though their children are receiving a substandard education. Vouchers don’t necessarily mean better options, and this is especially true for those of us in “flyover country”. Businesses are not going to flock towards the education market. Why? Because it’s a helluva lot of hard work, that’s why. With a lot of visible public criticism if results aren’t obtained. A lot of investment for very little financial return. Shit. I live in the rust belt, where companies routinely shut down profitable businesses because more money can be made elsewhere. Name me one company that would continue to operate a school where the profit margin was two percent—even if the students at that school were performing well. Plenty of Midwestern business with profits in the double-digits shut down in search of greener pastures.

    Want higher test scores? More literacy? The schools are probably the primary site to focus on in order to achieve those goals—but not the only one. And dredging up hoary old myths of genetic inferiority is designed to encourage more apathy and unequal opportunity (save your breath citing DNA “studies”; none of them control for all relevant outside factors—nor can they).

    Oh, on a side note: teacher-bashing seems to remain a favorite sport. There was some hoo-rah a few weeks ago in my local paper about how eeee-vil the IEA was, and why aren’t more poor-performing teachers fired, yadda yadda. What ended up coming out was, that poor-performing teachers end up quitting long before any firing process is activated. When it comes down to it, the percentage of piss-poor teachers in the field is probably lower than any other occupation. Darleen had a good point about administrations—yet they seem immune to most of the criticism that teachers receive.

  53. TangoMan
    TangoMan January 17, 2006 at 8:43 pm |

    Sounds like a higher-tech version of the same old bullshit that’s been trotted out

    OK, you’ve established your bona fides as a progressive and enlightened thinker, a person untainted by crass motives, and you’re clearly a step more advanced than the unsophisticated yokels who congregate under the Republican banner. Now that we all now that you’re too sophisticated to be taken in by science that doesn’t align with your ideological preconceptions, we can rest easy.

    See, one of the best predictors of a child’s success in school is the educational level of the mother.

    Surprisingly, you got that exactly right. What do you think this means? While you’re at it, how do you square these findings (free) with your observation”

    Having a college educated mother increases an adoptee’s probability of graduating from college by 7 percentage points, but raises a biological child’s probability of graduating from college by 26 percentage points. In contrast, transmission of drinking and smoking behavior from parents to children is as strong for adoptees as for non-adoptees. For height, obesity, and income, transmission coefficients are significantly higher for non-adoptees than for adoptees

    Vouchers would more than likely result in a lot more shuffling of children from one school to the next. And I don’t think that would be beneficial.

    I must say that I do appreciate the artistry of the way you construct arguments. You make an unsupported declaration and then go to town on it. What do you call your technique? Something to do with farming, right? Hay? Straw?

    Businesses are not going to flock towards the education market. Why? Because it’s a helluva lot of hard work, that’s why.

    Thanks for that insightful analysis. I never realized that businesses don’t like hard work. Apparently only public school teachers like hard work. I’ll have to remember this useful piece of information.

    Did you ever think that a voucher program could be run as a teacher co-op system, with very minor capital requirements to get the co-ops off the ground? No, I bet you didn’t. Please enlighten us with your concerns about a group of teachers, all agreeing to a common set of principles and practices which they can’t implement in their current positions, forming a co-op, bidding to lease a school, signing up students and teaching in a manner that they think will yield better results than those of their competitors who chose to pay heed to different priorities or practices?

    Name me one company that would continue to operate a school where the profit margin was two percent

    There are lots. What’s the return on capital? Follow the leasing alternative I laid out above and the teacher co-ops have started a school with very minimal investment. Let’s say that the elementary school has 400 students, each charged $10,000 Without having to carry the huge Administration burden on their backs, the school should be able to allocate 65% to classroom instruction. What’s your ideal class size? 25 students? You’ve got $162,500 to work with. What’s the teacher salary? Now, the 16 teachers share their 2% profit at the end of the year. So, that $80,000 profit, after salaries, amounts to a $5,000 bonus and if the teachers each contributed $50,000 to get their co-op off the ground, that 2% profit margin is yielding a 10% return on their capital. What’s so awful about that?

    And dredging up hoary old myths of genetic inferiority is designed to encourage more apathy and unequal opportunity

    Well, maybe you aren’t the progressive person that I first thought you were for you seem quite willing to condone apathy and unequal opportunity based on people’s differences. Thankfully, others aren’t so willing to subscribe to the naturalistic fallacy, where is is thought to inform ought. I’m surprised that you think imagining reality away is the best strategy to follow. You certainly are confirming a perception of “reality-based” thinking, but I’m quite certain that that wasn’t your intent.

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