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President Obama's Manufactured Crisis Speech

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Dear Deborah,

I want to go back and discuss President Obama’s big speech on education. At the time I heard it, I was surprised by some of his statistics about how terrible things are, but I didn’t have time (or inclination) to do the fact-checking on my own. I was too busy working on my book, trying to finish a chapter on a different topic.

Just the other day, a friend sent me an item that was posted on FactCheck.org, which is published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. A group of diligent researchers at FactCheck.org did exactly what needed to be done. They went through every single statement in the speech about the condition of American education and posted the results on March 18. I highly recommend it.

FactCheck notes the irony: President Bush left office boasting of the great improvement in U.S. education performance as a result of No Child Left Behind. Then comes President Obama, painting a dismal portrait of a nation whose education system is locked in steep educational decline.

Three specific assertions capture the essence of FactCheck’s findings:

1. President Obama said that the high school dropout rate had tripled over the past three decades. In fact, says FactCheck, “it has actually declined by a third.”
2. The President said that our 8th graders had “fallen to ninth place” in the world, but FactCheck says that “U.S. scores have climbed to that ranking from as low as 28th place in 1995.”
3. He said that we should have a national goal of “having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” by 2020, but it turns out that we are within reach of that goal already. Says FactCheck, “The U.S. is already second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with a four-year degree, and trails by just 1 percentage point.” Perhaps we will reach President Obama’s not-so-ambitious goal in a year or two, not by 2020!

So, I ask you, Deborah, what gives? Why is the President fear-mongering about the schools? Heaven knows, it is an old and well-established tradition to claim that things are worse than ever as a way to demand drastic changes. In my graduate school days, I recall discovering a “crisis in education” in almost every decade of the 20th Century.

Maybe that is the accepted way to prepare the public for big changes, but it ought at least to be based on credible data (which the President’s staff and speechwriters certainly could have easily obtained from the U.S. Department of Education). Clearly the President wants the American people to believe that things are so awful that a radical transformation is needed. What do you think he wants to do that requires this groundwork?

Diane

51 Comments

The summary of exaggerations by FactCheck.org is nicely done. It is nice to see a more nuanced assessment of statistics without the attempts to manipulate the public to support a favored policy—which is what politicians do too often.

It might be interesting to do an international comparison between the capacities of presidents and prime ministers to fact check and exaggerate. I wonder how President Obama would stack up relative not only to President Bush, but also the leaders of Norway, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the other “winners” in such an international competition? Perhaps there is even a correlation between the hubris of the leaders, and score averages on the science and math tests!

Tony Waters

Oh, the President's Teleprompter goofed for once!

I'll quickly copy some stats I wrote up last spring:

Is it good enough if only 60 percent of your freshmen make it to senior year? At 1 in 10 US schools (labeled dropout factories), thats the case.

A report [Mar 08] noted that the US Ed dept will grant greater powers to states to focus on the very worst of their schools. Who are these schools? Last fall work done at Johns Hopkins (here) counted these schools.

In 1700 high schools--1 in 8--at least 2 of every five kids will be gone before they are done. But its much worse than that (JHU brief). Many schools (How does your local high school measure up?) see as little as 20%, 25%, 30% of their students stay in school. One actually hit 16% in 2005! And they were back to report again after 2006!

Because such schools often have larger than average population they affect more than their share of students. Fully one in five US students attends such a school.

Today, at 900 - 1,000 high schools across the country, graduating is at best a 50/50 proposition.


Also, check Jay Greene's wokr on how states misreport dropout rates.

I read the factcheck article, and actually found it to be a well-balanced explanation--not of why the above facts are wrong, per se (they all have sources), but why they don't represent a full picture, and how to resolve the picture they present with the picture presented by other data. My first thought, though, was about who supports the particular vision that was presented. The increasing drop-out rate (and that is probably the thorniest to work out--there being many ways to get at what looks like a simple statistic) is one that I have heard mostly from teachers who attribute it to exit exams. I have seen this repeated over and over--in the face of data showing that graduation rates have stayed the same of climbed. Amrein & Berliner are generally cited. While I knew that their study of the relationship between "high stakes" testing and drop-out rates (among other things) goes back some years (to the very early years of high stakes), what I didn't realize until looking it up this morning was the amount of criticism that has been levied against their methodology. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0MJG/is_3_3/ai_104835535

Nonetheless, I have certainly encountered many in the teaching profession who espouse a firm and unshakeable belief that the result of testing has been teaching to the test (another Amrein and Berliner claim) and an increase in the drop-out rate.

But regardless of the direction of the trend, we know that we are sacrificing far too many young people and that they are disproportionately male, minority and low income. We need to be very clear that this is a problem that needs our attention.

The eighth grade stat comes from TIMSS. I would tend to place it in context with PISA, where the US scores below the median in both mathematics and science--in a test that is designed to measure the ability to apply knowledge in a problem-solving context--rather than simply measuring knowledge. Looking at PISA scores provides a number of examples to understand and emulate. We are not leading the world.

College graduation is an area where we have in fact led the world, but the world is catching up. And depending on how the numbers are computed (including two-year as well as four-year degrees, for instance), the world is beginning to surpass us. We have long assumed that we stood alone among the nations of the world in offering universal access to education. Certainly this always provided the blinders that kept our outlying and unincluded populations out of our periferal vision, but it also has led us to discount the growing accomplishments of other countries. We dismiss their scores as being only the scores of the top echelons. This is less and less true. Also less and less true is our ability to lead the world in the percentage of our young people who go on to (and complete) college or other form of education beyond high school. We may not have gotten worse--the others have gotten better. This may not be a crisis--but it feels like one. At least a crisis of conscience. Are we content to recall that we got there first, or is it time to get up and move forward?

Hi Diane... hope this finds you well.

Clearly the President wants the American people to believe that things are so awful that a radical transformation is needed. What do you think he wants to do that requires this groundwork? ( Diane )

My guess... he and many others would like to dismantle the public school system....

My guess... they have aready started in our urban school districts and i believe they have concluded they are not fixable. They have narrowed the purpose of public schooling to preparation for ecconomic gain and a meritocracy based off of test scores.

They have no interest in the other purposes of public education which include:
1. To provide universal access to free education
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
3. To unify a diverse population
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
6. To improve social conditions

I think they and many others are also interested in breaking up teachers unions.... and the best place they have found to start is over school districts in most need of more suppport not less.

Thats my short take.... what do others see as a purpose behind this "crisis"?


Is it good enough if only 60 percent of your freshmen make it to senior year? At 1 in 10 US schools (labeled dropout factories), that's the case.

A Mar 2008 US Ed dept directive granted greater powers to states to focus on the very worst of their schools. Who are these schools? Work done at Johns Hopkins counted them.

In 1700 high schools--1 in 8--at least 2 of every five kids will be gone before they are done. But its much worse than that. Many schools see as little as 20%, 25%, 30% of their students stay in school. One actually hit 16% in 2005! And they were back to report again after 2006!

Because such schools often have larger than average population they affect more than their share of students. Fully one in five US students attends such a school.

Today, at 900 - 1,000 high schools across the country, graduating is at best a 50/50 proposition.


(Sorry. The blog software refuses my posts with hyperlinks).

Also, see Jay Greene's work on how Ed Depts undereport dropouts.

Diane,

Several quick points. (1) Wasn't it one of Margaret Spellings last acts as Secretary of Education to finally have all states adopt one common method for calculating the dropout rate? (2) I wish I had a nickel for every time I had to read a new book or article in grad school about education at a "crossroad." (3) Many politicians in initiating their new administration go to great lengths to make their predecessor's record look awful, i.e., budgets, deficits, etc.

What does he want from his fear-mongering tactics? It seems almost rhetorical, doesn’t it? He probably wants some of the things he supported in his speech; lift the cap on charter schools, merit pay for teachers, greater emphasis on early childhood education, more federal money for college loans, increased money in the federal budget for schools, etc.

Paul Hoss

Mike, I’m not so sure about the nefarious designs. (For some people out there, definitely.) But I have talked to too many people who I know are well-intentioned and totally committed to public education, but who still see merit in all the accountability nonsense.

They are looking at the problem wrong, but their mistakes flow from assumptions so deep that they cannot see things in a fundamentally different way.

Teachers, who understand the reality, must find a way to turn these attitudes around, but I have no idea how. I try to explain to close friends and relatives (who know I'm no whiner) how hard teaching is, and in fifteen years I haven’t succeeded once. It just doesn't compute for people.

Mike is right to keep raising the question of the increasing inequality in income, schooling, expectations, and so forth which underlie many of the problems of the United States’ schools. Most of the countries for which participants on this blog are fond of comparing the United States to, do not tolerate the levels of poverty and inequality that the United States does. The poor in the United States have poorer health care, income, employment security, family security, and schooling available than do the poor in other countries. They are also much more likely to be incarcerated for extended periods than are our “competitors” in places like Finland, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

The United States is a great place to be rich—ask Bill Gates and the several million people who are in what has been called the “first mass upper class.” But America is also a terrible place to be poor. At the other extreme though, the United States also has the first mass incarcerated class. At any one time, over 1% of our adult population is in jail or prison, and more are supervised by the probation and parole system. Many (most) of these men and women have children who suffer from being part of the “incarcerated class” even though they themselves are on the outside.

This burden of poverty and incarceration of course falls disproportionately on the poor, African-Americans, and other minority groups. This I suspect is why Mike keeps pointing us at the conditions in the still-segregated schools of our inner cities.

Better schooling is one part of addressing the problems of American social problems. But it is only one of many parts. One brilliant teacher, fantastic school, or great management technique in an impoverished area can help address such issues, just as one brilliant teacher (or school) was important in the pre-Brown vs. Board of Education segregated south. But no teacher or school, no matter how brilliant, could have addressed the broader issues de jure segregation before Brown vs. the Board of Education. Why do we expect this to happen today in the context of the issues created by poverty today?

Children coming from insecure families are more difficult to teach than those coming from secure families. And the way to improve that is to create a society which has better job security, health insurance, unemployment insurance, a justice system which incarcerates less, and so forth. Certainly, teachers should be encouraged to teach great classes. But the larger problems of society need not be laid solely at the door step of the schools, as even President Obama seems to be doing. Test scores can go up some as a result of great teaching, but the United States is unlikely to challenge Finland in science and math until the poverty in our midst is dealt with. If the United States goes into “decline” it is not only the fault of the schools, but of the larger society’s incapacity to make the most vulnerable less so.


I, for one, do not thrill at the thought that so many Americans graduate from college. Here's why: many Americans HAVE to go to college to achieve the level of education that kids in Finland get by grade 10! I recall the comment of a high school senior I met in Texas who said he was planning to attend community college "to get the basics". Twelve years of education and he had yet to get the basics! The inefficiency of our system is staggering (I think this could be solved by adopting a core knowledge curriculum a la E.D. Hirsch). I wouldn't be surprised if many lycee graduates are better educated than the graduates of our lower-tier universities (and maybe even our higher-tier schools --I've talked to Oberlin grads who've taken such an eclectic smogasbord of classes that they have massive gaps in general knowledge). The high college attendance rate in this country can be viewed as a symptom of the flabbiness of our k-12 system.

Ben's comment helped me formulate some thoughts. Neither the high school drop out rate, nor the college graduation rate establishes anything about the quality of our high school or college education. International comparisons, I presume, can tell us something about the quality of our education, but I think only with lots of questions and qualifiers. Certainly we ought to be concerned about American education, but I continue to think that "crisis" is not a beneficial perspective.

Diane,

I think of Alice Miel and her advice to "utilize dissatisfaction" in order to bring about curriculum change in the schools. I don't know enough about Obama to determine what he's doing or thinking, but his tactics remind me of many a PR campaign in education.

The skewed logic seems to be: If we desire X as a result, then all facts (or distortions of facts, or lies) supporting X must somehow be good and true. Truth bends over to worship the desired outcome.

I see that with P21: proponents want certain things to happen in the classrooms, so they portray the current classrooms as places where no critical thinking or communication takes place, and the current tests as focused on on "content" alone (see Robert Pondiscio's excellent post "The Slippery Slope of Content"), etc.

P21 came out with a poll. They asked 800 registered voters, "Are 21st century skills, such as computer and technology skills, critical thinking, self-direction and communication skills important for schools to teach?" Eighty-eight percent of respondents said yes. Why would they not? The response proves nothing. People define these terms differently and translate them differently into action. The consensus is only apparent. But P21 got what it wanted: a pie chart with a big section of blue.

Another example of distorted "truth" in service of a desired outcome: Recently there was a little uproar in Australia when Brian Cambourne suggested a "subliminal campaign" to undermine phonics. He sent a mass email to literacy educators suggesting that they inundate an education minister’s office with emails linking phonics to “readicide.” (See the post "Conditions of Lying...I Mean Learning!" on the Core Knowledge blog.) Of course, if the education minister dislikes spam and words like "readicide," such a campaign may backfire. But in any case it suggests that Cambourne views truth as something malleable, something to serve his ends.

Now is Obama doing anything of the sort? I don't know. But it seems that we are going beyond a philosophy that "the ends justify the means" into something more like "the ends define the facts."

Diana Senechal

I guess I wonder what you would call a crisis.

Now, the President's Teleprompter did him no favors here. His words implies a system-wide crisis. While that may be fair in terms of history education and STEM, it certainly isn't true of all education across the board.

Where we continue to have what is aptly termed a crisis is among African Americans.

At 1000 high schools across this country, every other young person does not graduate. Most are Black. This is an intolerable state of the Union.

The results of this crisis are many: far more black Americans in jail. Far fewer African American doctors, lawyers, designers, programmers, scientists, engineers, business owners, marketing executives, financial analysts, CEO's.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the President and Mr. Geitner are using the term 'crisis' to make themselves near gods. In the singular case of repairing the education of Black Americans, I'm willing to give him such license.

Tony wants 'the poverty in our midst' dealt with. Poverty we will always have. Yet extreme poverty should not forever be a Black thing. Education can and must fix this. We must change how the next generation sees themselves and their world. We must not merely teach them the words "We Shall Overcome". We must teach them the spirit and the means to overcome.

The spirit and means to overcome starts with looking them in the eye and saying, 'You are not oppressed.' 'Maybe your grandparents were oppressed. You, son, are not oppressed. Everything you need is here.'

The means to overcome includes accounting. It means we teach them that money comes by going out and saving to start a business and working extra hours and making careful choices and never buying bling unless you own 4 record labels.

The means to overcome includes many stories of those who did. Not just stories of athletes and musicians, nor even stories of Justice Thomas whose grandfather put him in a great school, but stories of those who had worked and worked and worked at any trade and in the end succeeded in moving out of poverty and on to very great or even decently normal things.

In America today, we can not even get the number of video game designers up to racial equality. Were you at South By SouthWest Interactive festival last month, at this mecca of entertainment and networking businesses you still would not have found anywhere near parity.

The means to overcome includes economic understanding. 'Tis not enough to look enviously at the rich. We need to teach them to become part of some business that satisfies peoples needs. Teach them about real property.

Most of all, the means to overcome means that we teach them to speak with clear, scarcely accented diction. That their cultural literacy is as Barack Obama or Justice Thomas' teachers gave them.

And to read for understanding and gain. Across this nation, the Wall Street Journal is available in libraries and stores. Your desire to pick up a copy and read, your ability to fully comprehend the articles on the front and opinion pages should never be a function of your race or ethnicity.

The means to overcome are those educational gifts which lead a young man to feel that he can be part of those with real means. Remain he cash-poor all his life, if in his head he sees himself among the financially successful, at least that gift he can pass on to daughter and son.

Well said, Ed. But it certainly begs the question why Obama didn't say anything like that. Does he not understand the real crisis? I suspect it's that he does not intend to take it on.

I don't know where the assumption that Obama is ignoring real problems like poverty, health care and the like come from. We may be borrowing ourselves into oblivion, but there is clear commitment to health care reform, maintaining (and creating, if possible) jobs, support for early childhood education. But anyone who thinks that waiting until the problems of poverty and inequitable distribution of wealth are solved is a good strategy for education reform is just silly.

About as silly as those who suspect an underground movement from the White House to blow up urban education. Maintaining educational establishments that house urban youth, culling but a few of the best and brightest and caring deeply about but unable to address the needs of the rest is a strategy to maintain the status quo. BTW--for anyone who is looking for a "real" crisis, consider the prison systems. In many, if not most states, the inmate population has ballooned, at great cost, as Tony pointed out. This wasn't an underground movement. Such emotional movements as "get tough," "zero tolerance," "three strikes," etc. took place in full public view and with considerable cheering from the sidelines.

Recently I received an email from someone whose little tag line was something about Harriet Tubman. She led X number of slaves to freedom. She could have led X + thousands more if she could have convinced them that they were slaves. This, in response to Ed, who wants to educate African-Americans that they are no longer in chains and to get up and fend for themselves. Maybe. Some of that is needed--but not only for African-Americans and students. Most of us live within confines that are mostly built of our own acquiesence. When we teach about the folks who have broken bonds, we need to include not only those who were able to compete in climbing the traditional ladders, but those whose decisions look different. What about Gandhi, what about Malcolm X, what about Che Guevarra or Fidel Castro? There was a keenness in each of their struggles that grew from recognizing who held the power and the structures and institutions that maintained the power division.

Do we teach about Rosa Parks in a way that students understand that what gave power to her action on the day she refused to give up her seat on the bus was not just her defiance, but her understanding of the depth of this wrong and the numbers of people she was already engaged with who were ready to take a meaningful stand as well? Do we teach anything about Harvey Milk (I just saw the movie again on DVD and I recall him telling a young man--you have to do more than cruise in Castro--you have to be willing to be politically involved)?

We are too focused on who will get the dollars for education to think deeply about what that education may be able to accomplish. We have to be willing to ask ourselves if the public system as currently constructed is serving ends that are counter to any big business who might want to take over. And what are those ends, and are they the ones that we believe in?

Schools are not by and large revolutionary places. They are and have been tools of maintaining the status quo. And we go along with this, for many reasons. We go along as adult citizens willing to pay extra tax bucks for suburban houses that keep our kids away from the urban kids. We go along when we believe that those urban kids are destined for lesser lives that justify the differential in resources. We go along when we accept a 30% non-graduation rate and quibble about how we count it and who is responsible.

A couple of decades ago, Finland was in crisis. Their economy collapsed. Their solution was to pump resources into education--including research and development. Maybe we're not there yet. Anyone eager to wait?

Tom, the President seems unschooled in most things which a world leader might study. He certainly paid little heed to Machiavelli's advice that a prince study above all things military matters. His words and actions on matters economic seem - well, like a kid in a candy store.

The one thing he did study (besides Chicago politics) is inner city problems. Lets give him that at the very least.

Thus did Obama the candidate run even in opposition to his most needed constituents, the teachers associations, on a platform which skirted things like more charter schools, continued testing, merit pay, etc. Near the primary, he hedged more on these, and came back to them in the general runup. Still, given the risk he ran with this core group, I think we can take him as sincere in at least this area of policy.

A word here on facts. Last week Diane corrected my positing of 6 million US teachers (she claimed 3M). Yet I got that number straight from the US census. What gives? Well, even accounting for variances in the definition of teacher, the census disagrees with itself, which is different from the BLS, which varies from DoEd. So, again, give hurried speechwriters some slack.

Still, Diane is right to ask about what a crisis mentality gives. We here should take it as a challenge to make sure that the 1000-1700 worst schools are aided whilst money and other effects are not tossed to the wide corners.

Examples from previous 'crises':
1) In the 90's President Clinton got 100,000 police officers added to the roles to combat urban crime. Result: this rural Appalachian village of 2500 (main municipal crime problem unpaid penny parking meters) got an additional officer.
2) In the wake of 9/11 President Bush funded huge amounts of emergency preparedness and public health facilities. Results here: An inflatable screen they wanted to use for movies in the park (it rained, the thing wouldn't inflate). A full time EMA manager who buys expensive trucks and toys and starts things he can't finish. Unused radios and PDA's. Etc.

'Crises' can have good effects. Our public health infrastructure was probably overdue for a tuneup, even here. And the police that made it to cities helped cut violent crime by half.

Yet crises are also expensive, and we now have a government spending like there was no tomorrow. Education spending was already the major state and local expenditure. Is more money helpful or possible?

To me the answer is many more flexible arrangements in our school systems. Charters and vouchers in cities. Flexibility to reward great teachers everywhere. Flexibility to pick more rich content Professional Development. Flexibility to spend advanced education dollars not on masters degrees from entrenched Ed schools, but on seminars like Teaching American History at Ashland, or Summer at Sea, or teacher space camp, or whatever.

Margo says that my above advice applies to all students. Indeed. Diane, you last week accused me of blaming everything on government. ‘Tisn’t my case at all. I spend much of my days in and around government; I know what it can do for people. I also know that private enterprise does much more.

I have no fear that the President aims to undo public education. By the same token, it would be nice if he would make it push for more flexible educational institutions. I’m not holding my breath.

Hi All...
hope this finds everyone well!

Many of us certainly come from very...very... different places!

Yikes...

"The spirit and means to overcome starts with looking them in the eye and saying, 'You are not oppressed.' 'Maybe your grandparents were oppressed. You, son, are not oppressed. Everything you need is here.'" ( Ed )

Have you been to inner city Detroit, Phila, Chicago, Camden, LA......
Everything you need is here?????

"Most of all, the means to overcome means that we teach them to speak with clear, scarcely accented diction." (Ed)

Most of all this is what we can do!!!

I find this language condescending and scary. It is not well grounded in any urban area that i have worked in....

We...who ever the all powerful we are...we will teach these people how to pick themselves up and while we are at it... we can dress them and teach them to speak "proper english"!!!


Tom and Ed.... please come visit some of the above places....and please stay a while!

be well... mike


Mike, Peace and good will!
I grew up in a place where the public library occupied an abandoned say 1200 sq. ft. 'Modern' books were nearly unheard of. Magazines, newspapers, media were scarce indeed. This was the nearest library for about 30 miles.

The nearest bookstore, hospital, clothing store, college, Burger King, engineering firm, office supply, Walmart, mall, Kinkos, etc. is similarly 30 miles or more away.

Here there was not, til recently, any public transportation of any kind. Going to see a museum or a theater or a library or a sporting event or a concert of any type was, and still is for many, beyond conceptualization.

Here, as I have mentioned, the per capita income is $16,701 - compared to Camden's $22.354. I'm not saying you're rich; I'm just saying I know a little of lack.

To answer your question, yes, I have been to Detroit, Phila, Chicago, Camden, LA.

Philadelphia, in deed, was where my politics--before that moment uninformed and ambivalent--crystallized. Standing along the Main Line, looking from wealth I had never known, across one avenue, toward urban blight I had rarely encountered, struck the systems engineer in me as impossible. Systems do not work like that.

Unless, unless there is some type of unnatural disruption in the system. Say a government boundary drawn down the center of that street. A government boundary which allows those north of the line to trade, whilst those south of the line must keep the status quo.

Government boundaries enshrine evils private groups could never aim at.

So, how is it that you disagree with my concept that a 2009 student of Camden is not so oppressed as their grandparents were?

We know the pre-civil rights act America; and we know the America of unbounded resources and opportunity today.

In Camden, 24% of the population have a bachelor degree or higher. Here it is 9.1%. We have little knowledge to pass on to youth. Or do we?

Mike, I don't understand your characterization of my words as 'condescending'.

Can we please stop using poverty as an excuse for poor parenting and other irresponsible social behaviors? Schools need not be modern, high-tech, or even glossy, in their delivery.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law. It does not guarantee equality of condition. Freedom to go about one's life, with AS LITTLE government intrusion as possible, is one the gifts provided by our Founding Fathers through the Bill of Rights. Each community (and more importantly, the citizens within it) makes choices about quality of life.

Teaching work ethic, or a lack of it, is RARELY the domain of a school. When the auto industry in Detroit (hmmmm... funny), and in turn the steel industry of Pittsburgh, went into steep decline during the 1970's, so soon thereafter went the coal mines of my native West Virginia. The mine where my father worked from the age of 14 (and where HIS father also worked) closed. Armed with his 7th grade public school education, my father reinvented himself and NEVER received a handout from the government. We went hungry from time to time. I wore my older brothers' clothes. And as cliche as it sounds... yes... I walked to school more than a mile.. often with holes in my shoes during the rainy and snowy winters. Being poor is not EVER justification for being lazy, dependent, helpless, or immoral.

Children who infringe upon the educational rights of their peers (be it within their control, or not) MUST be removed... not from the classroom... but from their parents.

These children with difficulties managing concentration, consideration, and positive group-related conduct LEARNED how to create disruption from THEIR PARENTS. The proverbial cry for attention which manifests itself in so many ways that drive educators to all sorts of vices. Put these children in a 16-hour a day, all weekend long, and through the summer PROPER environment and watch the amazing transformation. Proper does NOT require blood relatives. Teachers will NEVER win the battle for these lost souls with only 8 hours a day and 185 days a year.

There is only one way to end "inner city problems"..... USE LOTS OF BULLDOZERS.

As long as the Supreme Court continues to favor "parental rights" and the "rights" of the individual over the rights of the larger community, and as long as the Court refuses to strike a realistic balance between the two, one bad apple CAN and WILL continue to spoil the bunch. Utah (while I would not likely choose to live there) is proof that more money and gimmicks need not be applied to the "situation at hand."

Diane,

Here is additional evidence as to what Obama is attempting to do with education as reported by Sam Dillon in a piece in this morning's New York Times. Obama/Duncan are basing additional stimulus monies to states on the report of some vital information which in the past proved to be as fraudulent as states could make it.

"The data is likely to reveal that in many states, tests have been dumbed-down so that students score far higher than on tests administered by the federal Department of Education.
It will also probably show that many local teacher-evaluation systems are so perfunctory that they rate 99 of every 100 teachers as excellent and that diplomas often mean so little that millions of high school graduates each year must enroll in remediation classes upon entering college."


For me, this credibilizes his demands for a national "plan" (standards plus a common definition for "proficient") for education accompanied by national exams (NAEP's would do just fine), as well as merit pay for teachers based on something beyond the previous BS evaluations of the past.

I can hear the howls and protests now, led of course by the notorious NEA plus Fair (what’s fair about them?) Tests as to why none of this could possibly be feasible. Bull! This is the same crowd plus anyone else they can “purchase” to support them because we all know how much money they have (3.2 million dues-paying members). This is the same crowd who is still screaming about the lack of validity/reliability of MCAS and other credible state tests and why they should never be used to evaluate students (and soon to be teachers – that’s right boys and girls, it’s coming to a school district near you soon, like it or not, merit pay for teachers).

As a quick aside, I’ll once again ask the rhetorical question, what teacher worth a dime, would shy away from the opportunity to make more money based on their classroom performance? Only the slugs!!! You need to read up on value-added assessments if you don't understand this.

Now here's a president who gets it! This is a reauthorization plan for No Child Left Behind I could support. It’s taken awhile to get here, but it looks as though the sun is coming up and it could be a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Paul Hoss

Paul,
Thanks for the reference to Sam Dillon's article in the NY Times today. I may well refer to it in my next post. The interesting thing about the data that Duncan told the governors to collect in exchange for stimulus money is that almost every bit of it is already available.
Why must governors get tens of millions of dollars to submit a comparison of their state scores and their NAEP scores? EdWeek created such a chart in a recent issue and didn't get any stimulus money to do it!
As for using value-added data for teacher pay, I'll respond to that in a future post. For many reasons, it is a bad idea to use test scores for high-stakes personnel decisions. But I can't explain it in a comment!
Diane

Paul,

I look forward to Diane's analysis of the merit pay problem. I have one point to make right now, during my remaining minutes of lunch. I have made it before, but it doesn't seem to sink in with merit pay proponents.

Merit pay invariably comes with strings. One of those is a long day, long week, long year. This means that teachers have little or no time for their own projects, intellectual life, friendships, families. Moreover, they have limited freedom to say what they think while at work. Their time is supposed to be spent performing required duties, not thinking independently about what they are doing and why. Yes, some schools do support teachers in their own projects and pursuits, but all too often "professional development" is viewed narrowly.

As it is, even with all the support I receive at my school, I have too little time for my own life. If I gave up more time, no amount of money could compensate for the loss. It would not be an appealing existence.

The things I do on my own contribute to my teaching. I would not teach as well or with as much joy if I had no room for reading, writing, music, and other things. Moreover, I would not teach with integrity if I had no room to develop my thoughts about education, outside the confines of "cooperative learning" and such.

Merit pay, no matter how you look at it, is based on the assumption that the school owns the teachers. It thus cuts at the soul of teaching.

Diana Senechal

Diane and Diana,

Your thoughts are well grounded and well taken. I laud you for them. But I also have gained a tremendous amount of respect for President Obama and his ability to do the right thing. I believe on the issue of teacher evaluations he and Secretary Duncan are on the right path.

We are here to “bridge differences” and it looks like we’re on the verge of making an extremely important decision regarding our schools. Do we continue with the fraudulent, subjective evaluations in our teaching profession of the past or do we finally attempt to get an objective view of how they are actually performing.

William Sanders’ work has been around for awhile now. I believe it has great merit, is to be considered and eventually adopted for practice. I also strongly believe it will help improve instruction in our schools. It will finally develop a meritocracy for teachers who are doing the right things in their classrooms while also prompting those who are not to either correct their practice or find alternative employment. I firmly believe it will allow those who genuinely care about children to correct their errant ways and make a positive difference in the lives of their students.

Again, the world screamed bloody murder when we demanded objective proof of student learning. I expect the uproar to be no less when we demand the same for teacher performance. The good thing about it all - it's finally at the schoolhouse gate and will soon it will be in our classrooms.

Paul

Rory:
Poverty and segregation are part of the world view of children growing up in many of our urban areas. Children growing up in this context will not, on average, achieve at the same level as those who grow up in middle class desegregated schools. A few always do make it out (like Ed), but on average, children from such environments do not attend college at the same rates, are incarcerated at higher rates, are more like to be crime victims, and are more likely to be single parents. These are not excuses, but well-documented facts.

So no, I do not think we should turn our eyes away from the toll that poverty and segregation take. Irresponsibility, in parenting, or anything else, occurs in a broader social context, and is not solely the product of free will. If the individual parent can be assessed for levels of "responsibility," so can the broader society that creates the context.

So, in answer to your rhetorical question, "Can we please stop using poverty as an excuse for poor parenting and other irresponsible social behaviors?" my answer would be no, not yet.

Tony Waters

Rory:
Poverty and segregation are part of the world view of children growing up in many of our urban areas. Children growing up in this context will not, on average, achieve at the same level as those who grow up in middle class desegregated schools. A few always do make it out (like Ed), but on average, children from such environments do not attend college at the same rates, are incarcerated at higher rates, are more like to be crime victims, and are more likely to be single parents. These are not excuses, but well-documented facts.

So no, I do not think we should turn our eyes away from the toll that poverty and segregation take. Irresponsibility, in parenting, or anything else, occurs in a broader social context, and is not solely the product of free will. If the individual parent can be assessed for levels of "responsibility," so can the broader society that creates the context.

So, in answer to your rhetorical question, "Can we please stop using poverty as an excuse for poor parenting and other irresponsible social behaviors?" my answer would be no, not yet.

Tony Waters

Paul,

Your comments are always intelligent, but I wonder: are you a teacher?

I think I'm doing a half-way decent job teaching my 12 year olds about medieval history --though I definitely could stand improvement. My principal seems to appreciate me. But --have you seen the rubrics principals have to use to evaluate teachers? With a less-sympathetic principal, those rubrics could be used to fail me because I lecture a lot. By the same rubrics, a more orthodox progressive ed teacher could pass with flying colors. Do you see my point? There is no consensus on what "merit" is. In fact, I fear that the prevailing view of what merit is, is, in fact, NOT merit --it's fancy-looking trendy teaching that doesn't actually enrich kids' brains.

Look, I've worked at five public schools and what I see is empty teacher lounges and cars in the parking lot after 4. Underwork is not the problem. The problem is HOW we work. Progressive ed orthodoxy hobbles us. Unless we change the IDEAS underlying our efforts, schemes like merit pay will just engender more MISGUIDED effort.

Tony,
I certainly can appreciate the compassion in your response. Each day, I look at many of my students' faces and wish I could wipe away the problems/obstacles they encounter. I also wish their parents, some of them on the verge of becoming established in the middle class, would turn on the nightly news instead of "Flava of Love."


I would like to address a few points you have made. Urban 6th graders are well aware of the disparities you mention. They also know that the comforts of suburbia are not paid for by money which grows on the trees there.

No doubt the repeated patterns of behavior, from one generation to the next, are imitations of that which is most familiar. However, I disagree with the argument that urban conditions somehow hinder/prevent the application of free will.

Each generation of urban youth become more savvy than their parents. A friend of mine, in his crude way, calls it "being dumb like a fox." Criminals overwhelmingly have proven they understand the idea of creating advantage and opportunity. The weak have shown us all how to swiftly apply strength in numbers.

I agree with the notion that we must not turn away from the reality of these conditions. However, until a generation has been permanently removed from such an evironment, well before the age at which there is a "tipping point", likely against their will, and certainly against the will of their parent(s)(?)... history will continue its negatively exponential march forward. I would like to see President Obama try to sell THAT idea. (chuckle)The housing project experiements of the 1960's and 1970's certainly taught us a lesson.

"Victims" of circumstance will continue playing their Oscar-worthy performances if allowed to do so by the society. This has become a craft all its own. Therefore, without highly controversial and almost unimagineable reform, the society will continue to perpetuate the context you assert it has created. Even the most well-intended educators and politicians do not have the guts to be resolute and stand firm. We all want to be liked, if not loved by our clients.

The collective promotion of "we're all in this together" automatically opens the door for one, or more, groups within society's "Team" to stand back and watch as the rest do the heavy lifting.
Additionally, I often get the feeling that suburban America is, at a much slower pace, churning out armies of middle class adults with "entitlement" issues. We all know the unlikelihood of humans "securing the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity" when they did not sacrifice to attain it.

Tony,
I certainly can appreciate the compassion in your response. Each day, I look at many of my students' faces and wish I could wipe away the problems/obstacles they encounter. I also wish their parents, some of them on the verge of becoming established in the middle class, would turn on the nightly news instead of "Flava of Love."


I would like to address a few points you have made. Urban 6th graders are well aware of the disparities you mention. They also know that the comforts of suburbia are not paid for by money which grows on the trees there.

No doubt the repeated patterns of behavior, from one generation to the next, are imitations of that which is most familiar. However, I disagree with the argument that urban conditions somehow hinder/prevent the application of free will.

Each generation of urban youth become more savvy than their parents. A friend of mine, in his crude way, calls it "being dumb like a fox." Criminals overwhelmingly have proven they understand the idea of creating advantage and opportunity. The weak have shown us all how to swiftly apply strength in numbers.

I agree with the notion that we must not turn away from the reality of these conditions. However, until a generation has been permanently removed from such an evironment, well before the age at which there is a "tipping point", likely against their will, and certainly against the will of their parent(s)(?)... history will continue its negatively exponential march forward. I would like to see President Obama try to sell THAT idea. (chuckle)The housing project experiements of the 1960's and 1970's certainly taught us a lesson.

"Victims" of circumstance will continue playing their Oscar-worthy performances if allowed to do so by the society. This has become a craft all its own. Therefore, without highly controversial and almost unimagineable reform, the society will continue to perpetuate the context you assert it has created. Even the most well-intended educators and politicians do not have the guts to be resolute and stand firm. We all want to be liked, if not loved by our clients.

The collective promotion of "we're all in this together" automatically opens the door for one, or more, groups within society's "Team" to stand back and watch as the rest do the heavy lifting.
Additionally, I often get the feeling that suburban America is, at a much slower pace, churning out armies of middle class adults with "entitlement" issues. We all know the unlikelihood of humans "securing the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity" when they did not sacrifice to attain it.

Paul,

This is the second time you've used the word "slugs" to disparage teachers. In your mind 'some' teachers, but your simplistic prescriptions of psedu-merit only serve to make the rest of us think you are really talking about teachers generally. I find your language disrespectful.

May I also remind you that two weeks ago you admitted thinking that the small schools movement was a no-brainer that everyone thought would work out but it just didn't in the end. I reminded you that not everyone thought that. As a matter of fact, most teachers thought the opposite, at least about the way it was being implemented on large campuses. And we were right.

The same applies to merit pay. Those of us working in the trenches know better, as usual. It not only won't work, it will make things demonstratively worse. THAT is why teachers oppose it, not because of some trumped up charges that some teachers' inadequacies will somehow be exposed by it. To use your type of baiting, in-your-face responses - Mark our words on that and refer to them again in however many years it takes to figure out the same thing we all knew about small schools.

And to answer your "rhetorical" question - I'd bet a plug nickel that NO teacher who understands how the dynamics of educational systems affect their students would support a merit pay system, because they know better. Unless of course that system has so beaten them down, - or just plain brainwashed them - that they just take the money and run. I mean that does seem to be the American way these days, doesn't it?

Rory,

You voice some refreshingly unconventional opinions.

I think you're right on when you say that some kids learn to be disruptive --and to play the victim/race card --from their parents. It's a pathological cultural meme.

Are you familiar with the KIPP schools? It seems to me they approximate the sort of total cultural re-education you advocate, albeit with a group of inner-city kids whose parents are relatively conscientious.

Doesn't Socrates suggest that the ideal state would need to take control of its kids' rearing? I, for one, tend to agree with you that immersing these kids in a more salubrious environment --away from neighborhood peers, invidious media and parents --would make them happier, healthier and more functional humans. But such as solution would seem to go against our American DNA.


Ben,

I am a retired (34 years) Massachusetts public school teacher at the elementary level. You state, "There is no consensus on what "merit" is." That's my point exactly, Ben. Merit is too subjective, that is for now. It looks like Obama/Duncan are about to change all that.

Jason,

It was my experience that some teachers were "slugs." They put in a marginal if not inadequate effort and their students suffered immeasurably for it. Exacerbating that situation, they were paid from the same salary schedule (years of experience plus college credits/degrees) as those teachers that put in commendable/exemplary efforts. That's simply not right. I would contend it's borderline criminal. In five different schools over almost three and a half decades, under seven different administrators there were always at least a couple of these lowlifes in each school. They didn’t deserve to be there but nothing was ever done to remedy the crime.

As for small schools not working to the benefit of students, I was not the only believer they could possibly help. Gates, et al, with their extensive research teams, thought they would be beneficial. It has been a lesson well learned. Your apparent clairvoyance on that point is noted.

As for merit pay - it is the manifest destiny of education reform. It is coming to a school district near you, soon, regardless of what you or I think about it. I for one will applaud it when it arrives. If that offends you or strikes you to the contrary, there's not much I can offer other than condolences. As I expressed in my post above, I expect the uproar to be at least as loud over this issue as it was fifteen to twenty years ago when state tests were initiated. Teacher unions knew exactly what the state tests meant. They could read the handwriting on the wall. They knew was going to lead to merit pay for teachers. State tests were simply the precursor to this step of objectively examining the performances of teachers.


Paul

Gentlepersons, Great Discussion!!!

Briefly, On Poverty: I'm still here, Tony, and needing my teeth fixed and still struggling with doing the building I want to do in a community with so few resources.

Yet we also have 50+% college attendance.

That's not to say that urban poverty doesn't affect learning; of course it does. But we need to focus on what we can fix.

One of the things we can fix is how Black Americans look at solutions. Their situation, 5 and more generations as residents but only 1-2 generations as full citizens is much different from other poor groups. Black males, especially view and respond to educational opportunity much differently from other groups.

When we look deeper, the shortage of strong male role models looks to play a big role in this.

Similarly feeding the cycle is the lack of strong fathers looking out over their daughters when young Terrell comes a'courtin.

Education can't fix this in a year. But solutions that put more strong males in high poverty schools (and of course after school activities) might go a long way. Also, strong values of self-reliance and integrity should replace the "Bold Approach" thought pattern, which gives these kids nothing helpful. (Black Americans continue to vote (with teachers) for Big Handout solutions at a much greater rate than either Hispanics or the country as a whole).

Merit pay: Merit pay ties in with the above. It helps drive out the less energetic teachers, whatever the cause, and (as all salaries will rise) will help bring in a broader spectrum of new teachers.

I read in these forums 'but how do you determine merit?' and I'm just dumbfounded. How do you determine the pay of a Boeing engineer who labors at a Kalman Filter to hopefully help some soldier or pilot someday ten years down the road?

Paul,

You state there were "at least a couple" slug teachers at each of the schools at which you've worked. That does not make it sound as if sluggishness in teachers is a big part of the problem (granted, such teachers deserve no sympathy, but why devote much energy to rousing or rousting them when the main problems lie elsewhere?)

And on the logistics of implementing a merit pay schemel: hey, I know I'm worth my salt, and in a wise system of determining merit, I think I'd get pay raises. My fear is not pay-based-on-merit per se; rather, I worry that Obama/Duncan will listen to the mainstream "authorities" in the field of education today (as opposed to Ravitch, Hirsch and Willingham) and concoct a scheme in which lecture-heavy teachers like myself are penalized and dazzling, fancy-pants content-lite teachers will be rewarded. If the wrong people get to define "merit" such a plan could actually do a lot of damage. I guess standardized test scores of teachers' kids could be a sounder way of determining a teacher's effectiveness, but I have yet to hear a plan that does this in a fair and feasible way.

In the meantime, I'll continue agitating for what I think will make the biggest difference: a core knowledge curriculum and beefing up the CONTENT knowledge in our teaching force!


Ben,

I am a long time supporter and have used Hirsch's CK program in much of my teaching.

You state, "I guess standardized test scores of teachers' kids could be a sounder way of determining a teacher's effectiveness, but I have yet to hear a plan that does this in a fair and feasible way." Have you heard of or read anything about William Sanders, University of Tennessee? His work in statistics has been around now for awhile. You might want to read about his theory of value-added assessments as they relate to merit pay for teachers.


Paul,
I have read Sanders' work on value-added assessment, and I don't believe it changes any of the fundamental problems about basing teachers' pay on their students' test scores. I wrote my blog on this subject for next Tuesday so I won't go into greater detail now.
I will point out however that Sanders' method does nothing to change the fact that test-based payment is insidious and forces teachers to "teach to the test." If you have great tests--and very few are--that may be swell. But if your tests are low-level, as most are, then it has the effect of dumbing down education. The tests and the VAA calculations are not good enough for high-stakes decisions about teachers. There is quite a lot of research making this point, and I would direct you to one piece that is easily accessible on the web by Dale Ballou, in Education Next, called "Sizing Up Test Scores" 2002.

Diane

Diane,

I too am uncertain as to whether Sanders' work is at a sophisticated enough level yet to make high-stakes decisions about teachers but I do believe his work is on the right track. I also believe his work to date could be tweaked to the point where it would be capable of making these decisions.

In the meantime I believe his VAA calculations could be used to inform teachers and evaluators what is and is not getting done adequately in the classroom. This could then be used to improve instruction which is all I ever believed VAA should be used for. I do NOT believe it should be used as a retain/fire tool on teachers. However, if some teachers got the message from these VAAs that they were not performing well and left the profession because of this feedback that could be a positive for students.

Do you remember one of your posts from the past on the topic of VAA? “The conventional wisdom changed because of William Sanders' value-added-assessment methodology. Sanders concluded that teachers make a huge difference, that a string of good teachers produces enormous gains, while a string of ineffective teachers dooms a kid for life. Other economists soon reached the same conclusion, and now the race is on to use VAA methods to find the good teachers and give them bonuses, and to find the "bad" teachers and fire them."

I’ve read the articles you suggested on this topic but still need additional convincing.

Paul

Ahhhhhh.... school reform, merit pay, and accountability.

A few weeks ago, I sent President Obama a letter. I hope he reads it. Simply, I promised him my vote in 2012 if he could accomplish two educational goals:

1. Show me a charter school which accepts only students whose parents DO NOT apply, yet is able to achieve a 100% graduation rate, and of those graduates, 90% continue their education by attending a 4-year college or university.

2. Show me a stadardized test which PROVES, BEYOND A DOUBT, EXACTLY which teacher helped Johnny improve his reading comprehension, math, and science skills the most:

a. Mr. Greene - the art teacher who also taught Johnny about "perspective"
b. Coach Hightower - who helped Johnny understand the application of "strategy"
or
c. Mrs. Hightower - the choir director who taught Johnny how to look for "context" clues when sightreading a new song in Latin

Hi All....

Schools are embedded in communities.

To only focus on our schools is to narrow problems that run deeply with-in America....

For instance.....

"The Cradle to Prison Pipeline: America’s New Apartheid"-
Marian Wright Edelman's

Release Date: February 6, 2009


Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid and poor children of color are the fodder. It is time to sound a loud alarm about this threat to American unity and community, act to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages, and tackle the unjust treatment of minority youths and adults in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems with urgency and persistence.

So many poor babies in rich America enter the world with multiple strikes against them: born without prenatal care, at low birthweight, and to a teen, poor, and poorly educated single mother and absent father.

At crucial points in their development after birth until adulthood, more risks pile on, making a successful transition to productive adulthood significantly less likely and involvement in the criminal justice system significantly more likely.

As Black children are more than three times as likely as White children to be poor, and are four times as likely to live in extreme poverty, a poor Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and is almost six times as likely as a White boy to be incarcerated for a drug offense.

The past continues to strangle the present and the future.

Children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to become incarcerated. Black children are nearly nine times and Latino children are three times as likely as White children to have an incarcerated parent.

Blacks constitute one-third and Latinos one-fifth of the prisoners in America, and 1 in 3 Black men, 20 to 29 years old, is under correctional supervision or control.

Of the 2.3 million in jail or prison, 64 percent are minority.

Of the 4.2 million persons on probation, 45 percent are minority; of the 800,000 on parole, 59 percent are minority. Inequitable drug sentencing policies including mandatory minimums have greatly escalated the incarceration of minority adults and youths.

Child poverty and neglect, racial disparities in systems that serve children, and the pipeline to prison are not acts of God.

They are America’s immoral political and economic choices that can and must be changed with strong political, corporate and community leadership.

Do you not think this may have an effect in our urban schools?

BE WELL.../mike

Wow--lot going on here. Tony--I appreciate your response to Rory, I had to sit back for a while before throwing in my few cents.

Removing kids from their incompetent parents is not a new strategy, it has been implemented before in various ways. One famous such experiment was the "orphan train" that took children from New York City for "adoption" as farm laborers. Some, I am sure found loving families, others suffered. But they were not universally children whose parents had died or left them. They were largely delinquents removed from parents supposed to be inadequate.

As an adoptive parent, I can tell you that any such removal, even in cases in which parents are substantially neglectful, abusive, deceased or otherwise completely indadequate, causes a profound wound that lasts a lifetime. This does not mean that all such children are forever lost. It does mean that a change from one family to another does not bring any miracle cures. Even children who are removed from their biological family at birth must at some point wrestle with who they are and what they owe to their family of origin.

Of course, you may have meant your recommendation more or less rhetorically. Fix the families and we fix the child (and thereby render them educable within the schools that are succeeding with the other, non-broken, children). Having worked for a good many years with children and families of disadvantage, I am not at all certaint that either families or children are broken. I have seen children demonstrate wholly appropriate learning behavior--given appropriate circumstances. I have at times envied the strength of some families that I encountered. I hear the frustration of parents who visit their child's school and cannot understand why no one appears to be concerned about the chaos. I have known scarcely literate grandmothers who could command the respect of a classroom that their teacher considers to be unmanageable.

Ed--you have said some things here that I find to be wholly unacceptable--but I am cognizant that rural areas are also no strangers to both poverty and lack of resources. As I ponder the reasons that so many rural districts have not only managed the "turnaround" of their schools but also seem to produce more kids who graduate and go on to college, I have to wonder if it is because they are more likely to function as a single community. The school in which one teaches is much more likely to be the one where one's kids attend. Not only is this a motivator of quality--but it cuts down on the us/them lens. Teachers don't leave school every night to go home to another world. They may go the same churches, shop at the same grocery stores as their students. They may have their hair done or their will prepared by a parent. It is much harder to suppose that the people you know are sitting at home watching Flava of Luv when they should be doing something that you would prefer that they do.

Personally, I am a news junky. My kids grew up watching 60 Minutes. My teen-aged son watches Rachel Maddow with me. Do his teachers know that, or expect that. Absolutely not. I was embarrassed for his English teacher when he went through his shuck and jive about it's too bad he had to teach Shakespeare (they put it in the curriculum), ho-hum, how boring, but we have to get through it. He didn't even know how much my son can enjoy Shakespeare, but then, how would he know? My son is African-American. He has "special needs." Of course, he wouldn't be into that stuff. The teacher would rather teach Flava of Luv--I guess. My son gets into that as well. But--it's not his only interest.

Paul,
Let me say it as nicely as possible. The theory that four great teachers in a row will close the achievement gap completely is a theory, nothing more. It has never been demonstrated anywhere. Not in any school or district or city or state. Nowhere. It is a theory. It was stated first not by Sanders but by Eric Hanushek and later by Robert Gordon, Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger (they called it "a suggestion"). It is based on circular logic: those who get high test scores are great teachers and you can't know who they are until they get great test scores. If they get great gains one year and not the next--well, are they still a great teacher?
Let it go, Paul. This approach to education is mechanistic and I predict without hesitation that it will not lead to the broad improvement of education.
Watch for next column on Tuesday,
Diane

Diane,

I RESPECTFULLY disagree.

As reported by Sawchuck and Robelen, “The new reporting on teacher evaluations…will lay out baseline data on the state of current teacher-evaluation systems, as well as whether they incorporate some measure of student achievement.” This is what Obama and Duncan will be looking for from states to award them additional stimulus monies. What state would conciously pass up the free money?

The standards movement, accompanied by state assessments, has not necessarily "improved" public education but it has at least allowed us to identify which students are having problems which consequently allowed us to get these kids the help they need rather than continue to pretend everything is wonderful in our public schools.

I expect this next round of education reform, objective teacher evaluations, to be congruent. The teacher evaluations based on student teat scores will not, in and of themselves, improve public education. However, they will allow us to identify teachers lacking in areas x, y, or z and from there allow us to get these teachers the professional development they need rather than continue to pretend every teacher is doing a superlative job.

I believe these two quantitative measures, one of students and the other of teachers, COMBINED, will lead to improved public schools. That’s why I strongly believe value-added assessment will be part of teacher evaluations very soon. It’s inevitable.

As I've stated from the outset, the uproar on this will be at least as loud as that experienced for state student tests. In the end that uproar will be silenced by the appropriate action - teachers will be linked to their students' test performance.

Paul

Margo/Mom and others:
When I discuss the "context" of poverty, incarceration, etc., it is not to advocate having the state establish new foster care situations, or (ugh) orphanages. Rather it is to point out that free will and social context exist side-by-side in an uneasy logical relationship that cannot necessarily be reconciled.

In my view, a way to address this paradox is to reduce the amount of inequality between the rich and poor. There are of course a number of ways to do this, most of which are, as Rory points out, "unrealistic" in the current political climate. But the cost of failing to address such social conditions does generate many of the problems of urban schools discussed on this blog. And the fact of the matter is that there are some great countries which are rich,have less poverty, and are nice places to live for most, and do not have a large underclass.

I can also imagine that thirty years ago, the idea that 1% of American adults would be incarcerated on any night during the year would have been considered far-fetched and unrealistic. But here we are.

Good Easter week to all! Easter being the holiday of rebirth and redemption, what a fitting topic!

Margo, I wish you would be more explicit about things said which you find unacceptable. I'm trying to be careful here, while still helping us drill down to the factors we can lay our hands on and change. To find the true 'crisis' if there is one. I'm not an expert; I am a good systems thinker, and the system is what we're all trying to improve.

It has become standard to blame the achievement gap on poverty. Yet when we correct for income, the achievement gap still exists. So we try to blame the tests. Yet the graduation rate stares us in the face unyielding.

So we look at the graduation rate and say, most Black Americans are urban and urban poverty and urban areas are densely populated and unforgiving. And this is certainly true enough. Yet Black Americans fill the suburbs as well and the achievement results seem to follow.

Abigail Thermstrom and Stephan Thermstrom work through these results in their book, No Excuses. They look at Cambridge which goes to unimagined extremes to desegregate and which also spends unheard-of sums per child. They look at other factors, controlling for classroom size, school race composition, teacher makeup. The results remain.

In the end, the bottom line is: to catch up, to close the achievement gap, Black children are going to have to work longer and harder than their white and Hispanic counterparts. There is so much which they need to compensate for, the longer, harder work sentence is simply unavoidable.

Sadly, the statistics reveal that the opposite is true; that less homework is done by Black children, not more.

Ed:

Ferguson's findings say otherwise with regard to homework. Many indicators show that the aspirations of black/urban parents for their children are frequently higher than those of their teachers for those same students.

I am not opposed to longer school days or year for those districts where there are large numbers of youth behind the curve. Research shows that "summer learning loss," is not really "loss" per se, but the reality that some kids stay at the same level over the summer, while others with greater advantage, continue to move forward. I suspect that if we studied the ways in which those two groups spent their summer we would find enormous differences.

But I do not see this as a work harder if you're poor and black argument. Doing more worksheets is unlikely to close any gaps. Yet, this is the ongoing quality of "homework" for many urban kids. All of the qualitative differences matter--whether they are newer and glitzier schools, or being welcomed by the same communities that welcome their teachers, or "extra-curriculars" that build on what happens in the classroom, or being a part of a community that believes in you and expects you to succeed.

Margo,
I don't know what qualifies as a 'worksheet'. If it asks them to develop the building blocks toward understanding a Fourier Transform or Enantiomeric Rotation, or Markov Processes, or plain old Capital Asset Pricing, then I guess I won't complain.

Is there a solution mixture that might allow a set of students to overcome the gap they arrive with; without extra work? Maybe. But I'll be we can't quickly replicate it across the board. Certainly throwing money does not do the job. Not that I'd begrudge the money if it worked.

Would you re-cite the Ferguson study? One of the weaknesses of the Thernstrom's work is the age of some of these studies. (We all have to be aware that some big changes took place with the Welfare Reform acts in the 90's and NCLB this decade).

Also, you didn't fill me in on the 'unacceptable' part of my words here.

For now, though, I can't find any logical path toward getting us more Black Doctors, engineers, video game programmers, pharmacists, drug researchers, web designers, agronomists, precision machining foremen, bond analysts, Geek Squad technicians, software brand managers, Wendy's Systems managers, etc., than setting the kids to working away at all those little things which result in 40-50% dropping out.

Ed:

Here's an interview with Ferguson, which gives brief explanations of many of his findings. Re: homework--African-American kids report a lower rate of completion, but an equivalent amount of time spent. He also discusses some of the barriers faced with regard to students seeking help when they don't understand things--which counter the assumption that there are cultural norms against "acting white," or achieving.

I recoil from your statements that:

"One of the things we can fix is how Black Americans look at solutions. Their situation, 5 and more generations as residents but only 1-2 generations as full citizens is much different from other poor groups. Black males, especially view and respond to educational opportunity much differently from other groups.

When we look deeper, the shortage of strong male role models looks to play a big role in this.

Similarly feeding the cycle is the lack of strong fathers looking out over their daughters when young Terrell comes a'courtin."

Certainly Ferguson casts a far more nuanced and subtle interpretation of black culture than this, as well as refuting the general assumption that black males culturally respond differently to education. What is the possibility that we can entertain a consideration of whether education responds differently to black males? Is an exuberant and verbose black six-year-old in an urban first grade responded to in the same way that an exuberant and verbose white six-year-old in an upper middle class white suburb is responded to? What are the differences at age 13? At age 15 and age 17?

Can we honestly say that retardation and emotional disturbance are plagues more heavily visited on black males than on white males (or white females)? School data would indicate that they are. In fact, the greater the level of subjectivity in arriving at a diagnosis, the wider is the gap. Low-incidence disabilities, such as blindness, deafness, physical disability are far more equal-opportunity oppressors.

What set of school administrators in a white middle class community could honestly face parents and pretend that a 70% (or lower) graduation rate had nothing to do with the schools or their efforts to educate? Are there white middle class districts who arrest (or seek restraining orders against) parents who address the school board, or seek access to administrators or teachers? This is a too-common practice in urban districts, parents and family members are viewed with suspicion--representatives of an inferior community and culture that staff need to be protected from.

Sure--a very white field of educators can seek to change the way that black parents and students view education. But, they have to start by knowing and understanding the way that black parents and students view education. They might be very surprised at how they look to those groups on the outside.

Sorry--forgot the link to the Ferguson interview: http://www.edletter.org/current/ferguson.shtml

Margo, I'm not sure I'm getting all of what you're saying here, but let me give it a go; we may not be so much in disagreement.

Ferguson says, "It concerns me that black kids whose parents have college degrees on average have much lower test scores than white kids whose parents have college degrees, for example." OK, so you can take that as somehow the testing biases against the Black kids. Or, you can take what the college educated dads sometimes report, which is that Jr. is doing fine and then towards high school hooks up with a group of kids and the grades drop.

OK, that's not so uncommon in any sector of kids; the question is how Jr. recovers.

Another bit from the agi site you reference is that Hispanic children start with a gap and then work through the years to close it; the Black achievement gap stays equal or grows slightly as the children progress from K-8. What gives here?

You ask if maybe education is responding to these kids differently.

I'm a big fan of Occam's Razor, which would seem to indicate that yes, it probably is. Which is why I'm so offended by our hosts signatures on the Broader, Bolder initiative which says, 'there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner'.

Joe Average Teacher reads this statement and says, look, I'm doing good enough. Sure my kids are demonstrating an increasing achievement gap, but what am I to do? Its the way of things until social policy is fixed.

Joe Average Teacher isn't average at all in his political views; by 85-90% he votes democratic and echoes the views from that side of the argument.

And Jr. above, confronted by Dad or Uncle or Mom recalls what he has been taught about racism and inequality of services, what he has picked up from the Times or MSNBC, and says, OK, I can work to overcome some of that gap, but some of its just not gonna go away.

Along the way, Jr. and his friends may claim to want education, but not have the right habits. Ferguson says, "Now you do pick up racial differences when you get at parenting practices more directly: TVs in the bedroom, which our studies show are associated with sleepiness in class; whether kids say they watch TV at home more than anything else; how much leisure reading they do; how many books are provided in the house." These things are not directly in school's control; but they are things a school can work at with parents and communities.

Jr. isn't likely to come in contact with the Wall Street Journal or National Review; as he is far less likely than his white counterparts to come into contact with adults so thinking. He's less likely to know an engineer or a scientist. His school needs to work harder to overcome these needs; they need to ask him to work harder as well.

Meanwhile, little Tyra, in one of Paul Vallas' New Orleans schools that doesn't have an effective reading program in place, is poised to begin her middle school career with woefully deficient reading skills. The school a couple neighborhoods away had a good team, with good reading results, but Tyra wasn't so lucky to get in that school. Tyra will have great difficulty recovering by high school.

So Paul gathers together all the 15 year old eighth graders from his middle schools and puts them together, but now he's got a discipline problem; he hires a non-public specialty firm to help with the problem and let teachers focus on instruction; but here's more fodder for the reactionaries who hate change, especially giving public work to private organizations.

And the cycle goes on...

Ed, kid, how'd I get stuck in middle school? I spent all my time at the elementary level and fortunately, I had only minor discipline problems.

As for Tyra or Jr., you neglected one major motivator to them reading more - the reading habits of Mom and Dad. If Mom and Dad spend the majority of their time in front of the tube, guess what Jr., and Tyra will be doing with their leisure time? It’s important for parents to be aware of this. It’s more important they practice the desired habits.

Ed !! Eureka !!

I try to teach my kids this lesson every day. Additionally, with so few details, but lots of rhetoric...it is what the President, I believe, is asking educators to do "FOR" an entire nation, instead of "WITH" the nation.

LESSON: Nothing will replace "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"
(and then I throw on an old tune of theirs for dramatic effect).

WOW !! All this chatter made me feel a bit nostalgic... I went into the attic, dusted off my old cedar chest, and found some of the pictures I drew when I was 3 and 4 years old. I would sit at the dining room table with my older brothers while they completed their homework. My mother gave me some crayons and blank paper. I was doing my "homework" too.

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmmm" !
(queue the entitled song by C and C Music Factory)

Paul, in characterizing two youngsters, I was illustrating two very different situations of the many that keep Black Americans in those low graduation and achievement rates.

Tyra's case is clearly one of being failed by the school itself, at the very core of its duties to a child. You can view the video here: New Orleans School Reform Targets Young Readers.

Jr.'s case is a bit more subtle, but the evidence is that his peer group and sometimes his adult group don't push him as they must if the gap is to be overcome. (On average).

Paul's comments about Mom and Dads reading habits have a truth to them which rings even here into my own family. Yet the cycle is about more than parents choices; its about whether parents learned enough themselves, and often, for minorities, they haven't. That doesn't have to hold the kids back--think of all the immigrants who demanded their kids excellence in schools--but it does emphasize that the schools must fill that gap.

BTW, over at FiresideLearning good friend Laura brings up the crisis in Writing. I'm of two minds about the 'crisis'. Yet it would help much if college English instructors acted more as if they themselves were fine craftsmen passing on an art to journeymen writers. The President must have had such a teacher.

Hi All.... hope this finds you all well.

As we kick around school reform:

31st Chicago Public Schools student slain


Associated Press - April 4, 2009 6:44 AM ET

CHICAGO (AP) - An 18-year-old has become the 31st Chicago Public Schools student slain during the current school year.

Police say Chicago Vocational Career Academy student Tommie Williams was shot Thursday. Officials say the shooting was likely gang-related.

Deputy Supt. Steve Peterson says Williams was standing in a group of young people when someone drew a gun and began firing. Peterson says Williams was a member of the Black P Stones gang with a history of arrests for weapons possession, theft, and trespassing.

Williams' grandmother and guardian, Lois Davis, says the shooting took place close to their South Side home. She says Williams socialized with gang members but wasn't an active member himself.

Police on Friday said no arrests had been made.

mike

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