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skoolboy Goes to the Olympics, IV: Differences across Schools

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skoolboy’s jaunt to the Olympics concludes today with an examination of how much going to one school versus another matters for students’ achievement in different countries. The basic approach is to look at the average achievement in a sample of schools within a country, and to see how much those averages differ from one another. If students were randomly distributed across schools in a country, and each school had similar resources, we might expect to see relatively similar average achievement across schools, and we might conclude that which school a student attends in that country doesn’t matter that much. On the other hand, if some schools in a country enroll poor students and others enroll wealthy students, and the schools serving poor students have fewer social, cultural, and economic resources available to support student achievement than the schools serving wealthy students, we might expect to see large differences in achievement across schools, suggesting that which school a student goes to in such a country matters a lot.

Data such as these don’t tell us about school effects , because they confound two different processes: selection into a school, and what happens to students after they enter the school. The latter is what we usually think of as a school effect. School-to-school differences in achievement could represent either selection or impact; they could occur because some schools raise students’ achievement more than others, or because schools enroll students who are already achieving at very different levels, or some combination of the two. In contrast, school-to-school differences in the social and economic composition of who is enrolled are best interpreted as evidence of selection, because going to one school or another doesn’t typically affect a student’s family background.

Once again, I’m using data from the PISA 2006 assessments of science, reading and math, a sample of about 30 OECD countries and an additional 25 partner countries or economies. (For those playing along at home, the data are from Chapter 4 of the report PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World.)

The first figure below shows the proportion of the variation in individual student achievement in a country that is between schools; put differently, how much the average achievement in a school differs from one school to the next within a country. I’ve averaged the proportions for reading, math and science for each country (they’re very highly correlated with one another.) This proportion can vary from 0% to 100%. Zero percent of the variance in achievement between schools would be observed if every school in the country had exactly the same average achievement, with some students in each school doing very well, and others doing poorly. It’s hard to picture what 100% of the variance between schools would look like, but imagine a ladder with many, many rungs that are pretty far apart, and each rung represents a particular school’s average achievement, with everybody in that school scoring right at the level of the rung. Some schools would have very high average achievement, and some would have very low average achievement, and there’d be no overlap among the schools—if you knew which school a student attended, you could predict that student’s performance perfectly.
PISA%20ICC%20Ach.JPG
Not surprisingly, the reality lies somewhere in between, and the figure shows that countries differ substantially from one another in how spread out achievement is across different schools. Fifteen countries, headed by Hungary, Slovenia, and Germany, have systems in which more than 50% of the variance in student achievement lies between schools. Conversely, Scandinavian countries have the most even distribution of student achievement across schools, headed by Finland, Iceland and Norway. In the U.S., 25% of the achievement of 15-year-olds is between schools, which is significantly lower than the proportion in 37 countries, and significantly higher than the proportion in a dozen countries.

The second figure shows the proportion of the variation in individual students’ socioeconomic background that is between schools—how much the school average socioeconomic status differs from one school to the next within a country, using the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status I described last week. If none of the variance in students’ socioeconomic status were between schools, we could say that students are randomly distributed across schools according to their socioeconomic backgrounds. If a great deal of the variance in students’ socioeconomic status is between schools, schools in that country are socially segregated from one another.
PISA%20ICC%20SES.JPG
The U.S. is pretty much in the middle of the distribution of countries in terms of how spread out schools are from one another in their socioeconomic composition. 26% of the variance in individual student socioeconomic status is between schools in the U.S., which is significantly lower than 18 countries, and significantly higher than 16 countries. The countries that have the most socially segregated schools are headed by Chile, Bulgaria, Thailand, and Hungary; those that have the least socially segregated schools are the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

It’s likely no surprise to thoughtful readers that schools differ substantially in their achievement levels and social compositions in most countries, but what is intriguing is that this happens in spite of the fact that there are substantial differences across countries in how education systems are organized, with some systems centralized, and others decentralized; variability in the extent to which schools are run by the state or by private entities such as religious institutions; and differences in the extent to which the secondary schools in a country prepare students for particular vocational or postsecondary destinations. The U.S. is recognized as a large, decentralized system of schools that are mostly local. Residential segregation by race, ethnicity and economic status leads to neighborhood schools that are similarly segregated, as poor people live in different places than rich folks, and therefore generally attend different schools. Increasingly, we see in the U.S. more explicit processes by which students and schools mutually select one another, on the basis of economic status (in the case of private schools charging tuition, or high-spending suburban districts with high property taxes), or on the basis of prior academic achievement (in the case of schools with entrance exams or, as eduwonkette has shown repeatedly in New York City, in the ways that new small high schools enroll higher-performing students than the large, comprehensive high schools they’ve replaced). It is important to recognize that when a school is selecting on achievement, it’s also selecting on social class background, and vice versa, because achievement and family background are correlated.

A final caveat: The PISA data I’ve reported are at the country level, but this may not be the most meaningful geographic unit when it comes to the distribution of students across schools by socioeconomic background and achievement. What we see at the national level might not apply to geographic subunits such as states, counties, or large school districts.

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It is important to recognize that when a school is selecting on achievement, it’s also selecting on social class background, and vice versa, because achievement and family background are correlated.

Which also means that that selection is taking place on IQ since IQ is also correlated with social class background and achievement.

On the other hand, if some schools in a country enroll poor students and others enroll wealthy students, and the schools serving poor students have fewer social, cultural, and economic resources available to support student achievement than the schools serving wealthy students, we might expect to see large differences in achievement across schools

In the US at least this has not been the case for quite some time. The correlation between the number of poor kids (using free and reduced lunches as a proxy) attending a school and the amount of school resources is very low.

If students were randomly distributed across schools in a country, and each school had similar resources, we might expect to see relatively similar average achievement across schools, and we might conclude that which school a student attends in that country doesn’t matter that much.

At today's funding levels, at least in the US, the amount of resources has a very low correlation with student achievement, so the bolded proviso isn't needed.

In the U.S., 25% of the achievement of 15-year-olds is between schools, which is significantly lower than the proportion in 37 countries,

So does this mean that 75% of the variance is within schools? Sounds like this is consistent with Christopher Jencks' analysis of the Coleman Report data in the 1970s. On page 86 of the book "On Equality of Educational Opportunity" (ed. by Mosteller and Moynihan), Jencks says:

Contrary to popular belief, the students who performed best on these tests were often enrolled in the same schools as the students who performed worst. . . . In some ways this is the most important and most neglected single finding of the EEOS. It means that if our objective is to equalize the outcomes of schooling, efforts to reduce differences between schools cannot possibly take us very far. If by some magic we were able to make the mean achievement of every Northern urban elementary school the same, we would only have reduced the variance in test scores by 16-22 percent. If, on the other hand, we left the disparities between schools untouched but were somehow able to eliminate all disparities within schools, we would eliminate 78-84 percent of the variation in 6th-grade competence.

The implications of this are in many ways more revolutionary than anything else in the EEOS. In the short run it remains true that our most pressing political problem is the achievement gap between Harlem and Scarsdale. But in the long run it seems that our primary problem is not the disparity between Harlem and Scarsdale but the disparity between the top and the bottom of the class in both Harlem and Scarsdale.

Ken: If you think that the resources and spending patterns in schools attended by poor children are equivalent to those in schools attended by more affluent students, you're kidding yourself. There is ample evidence of a correlation between social class and school resources both between and within districts. The correlation does vary according to the unit of analysis.

Let me give a concrete example of how misleading per pupil expenditures can be in characterizing the resources available in a school to support student learning. One of my former students teaches in a Harlem elementary school. It's a high-spending school, by New York City standards, with a per-pupil expenditure about 25% higher than the average school in New York City. She spent yesterday opening up her classroom to prepare for the new school year. Part of this consisted of dealing with the accumulation of mice (or rats, depending on your preference) -- both dead and alive -- that had accumulated in her classroom over the past three months. I would say that the absence of rats in the classroom is a resource that supports student learning.

Stuart: Yes, the finding that 25% of the variance in achievement is between schools and 75% is within schools is wholly consistent with the Coleman Report. It's one of the reasons why I dislike our heavy reliance on average achievement in a school as a way of figuring out what the best educational environment for a child might be. In general, what happens to a child within a school is at least as important as what school that child attends.

That finding does limit the degree to which differences in school spending could even conceivably matter, doesn't it? If 75% of the differences between students are found within the same school, then school spending isn't the main issue. Right? It might account for, at most, a portion of that other 25% variance between schools.

Skoolboy, I wish I were kidding myself because this would be an easy problem to fix if it were true. But, every time I run the numbers for a state, the correlation comes out low, and lately negative as well.

I just ran the correlation for Pennsylvania on a district wide basis using the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (those receiving free and reduced lunches) in the district and the total expenditures for the district. The R was -0.0098. So the correlation was not only low, it was also negative. In Pennsylvania, school districts are small and each school in the district spends the amount, except for the presence of state and federal aid which is doled out on the basis of poverty anyway. Yes, there are a few wealthy suburban school districts that rent-seek their way to an unholy amount of expenditures, but they are few and far between.

If you have data or a study that says otherwise, I'd like to see it.

Part of this consisted of dealing with the accumulation of mice (or rats, depending on your preference) -- both dead and alive -- that had accumulated in her classroom over the past three months. I would say that the absence of rats in the classroom is a resource that supports student learning.

Is this a resource problem or a mismanagement of resource problem? It would seem that no amount a resources are sufficient when there is a mismanagement of resources problem in a district. I'm sure you are aware of what happened in Kansas City when a federal court broke open the coffers to remedy "discrimination" (See http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html)

Ken: I know you take data seriously, and I credit your Pennsylvania analysis. I'm going to try to take a look at some recent national data to address your question more systematically.

One of the few things that the various parties to disputes over whether money matters for achievement can agree upon is that how resources are used matters a great deal -- they can be spent wisely, in ways that might support student learning, or poorly, in ways that might not. When I juxtapose spending levels and walk into a school that's in incredible disrepair, it's shocking: can the challenges of managing large urban districts be so great that smart, committed educators and administrators can't figure out how to see that resources get used in fundamental and obvious ways? Whether the issue is the amount of resources or their management, I am quite convinced that poor children typically are in school environments that are not providing the same levels of support for their learning as are more affluent children.

Stuart: An excellent question, that's challenging to answer. Whether expenditures are the "main issue" depends on the policy objectives and the prevailing policy values. In general, a school-level phenomenon such as average PPE will only operate on school-level variance in achievement. But expenditures are tricky, because they can be further decomposed into resources that can be distributed differentially within a school (although we have not yet figured out how to measure this at the level of the individual student.) An increase in average school spending that resulted in a shift in how resources were distributed within a school could influence the within-school variance in achievement.

I don't believe that school funding is the big reason for different patterns of achievement between students of different SES levels.

For one thing, as this research indicated, bigger differences in achievement exist within schools than across schools. But my main argument comes from my own teaching experiences, in a large school district in California.

In the district, schools were funded equally, for the most part. They had the same buildings and facilities, same class sizes. But there were huge differences in student performance between the high-minority, low-income, low-SES schools and the schools with higher income, middle class students.

Funding may impact education - in fact, I'm sure it does. But from my experience it doesn't appear that funding is at all the main issue in determining achievement problems.

I am quite convinced that poor children typically are in school environments that are not providing the same levels of support for their learning as are more affluent children.

I certainly don't disagree. This is the case in many big city schools. However, econ-disadvantaged students seem fairly spread out, at least in PA. Many attend very affluent school ditricts and all that social capital and extra funding does not seem to be having a very signficant effect on their performance. Perhaps it's part of the low variance problem that Stuart is referring to.

But expenditures are tricky, because they can be further decomposed into resources that can be distributed differentially within a school (although we have not yet figured out how to measure this at the level of the individual student.)

FYI, I've run the data on both instructional expenditures and total expenditures and the correlation is about the same. Even though, I agree that after a certain point additional expenditures seem to be going to pay for fancy facilities rather than to instruction. Apparently, not enough yet to skew the correlations.

As usual, I come back to my main conclusion: Student success depends very much on their family. It is very hard for a student without strong parental support or involvement to do well academically.

Similarly, correlates of poverty such as low quality health care, frequent moves, no quiet place to study, parents working two jobs, single parents, and having to care for younger siblings all make it really hard for disadvantaged kids to do well in school - no matter how great the school or the teachers.

It's tough for a school to overcome an unsupportive home environment. Culture doesn't help, either - for many kids, the "cool" thing to do is NOT school. It's an uphill battle for the schools educating these students.

One of the "resources" that middle class schools tend to have is an active parent community that acts as a check on mismanagement.

In part, middle class schools don't have rats because middle class parents won't send their kids to schools with rats. They may pull their kids out and send them to private schools, or show up at every principal's coffee and school board meeting until the problem get fixed, or the PTA may donate funds so the principal can call an exterminator. But they won't send their kids to schools with rats.

Rachel's argument is compelling.

Externalities nothwithsatnding, government does an adequate job redistributing tax dollars such that all children can get schooling. However, government does an awful job provisioning educational services to children from the bottom of the SES barrel. By and large, middle-class parents are capable of selecting educational services and assuring that their children are adequately educated. But government has proven to be a rotten proxy for the parents who are incapable. So why do we need government to run the schools? I don't see the benefit and I do see many downsides.

Student success depends very much on their family.

I'm with you there, brother.

It is very hard for a student without strong parental support or involvement to do well academically.

You're starting to lose me here. This isn't the family contribution that is most important.

It's tough for a school to overcome an unsupportive home environment.

It doesn't really have to overcome an unsupportive home environment for the school has a monopoly on the child's day for the entirety of the school day, and that is where the bulk of the learning and reinforcement take place.

Now I don't want to go too far in that if the child is showing up to school hungry, without enough sleep, traumatized from violence or emotional abuse, etc then the home environment will certainly leak into the school environment and corrode the school experience. However, we have plenty of evidence that the reasons behind a parent's low socioeconomic status have more to do with student outcome than the status itself, so if circumstance, not low intelligence, is why a family is struggling, and consequently a student finds themselves looking after younger siblings, moving frequently, caring for themselves as the parents are at work, etc then the effects of these responsibilities are far less powerful.

TangoMan: When I say the family matters, I don't just mean that the family loves the child, or wants him to have a good life. I mean that ALL the qualities of the family matter, including:

1. Parents' education level
2. Neighborhood the family lives in
3. Emphasis placed on the importance of school by the family (including things like punishing kids for bad grades, rewarding for good grades, putting up with truancy, attending parent-teacher conferences)
4. Whether parents speak English fluently
5. Amount of time spent interacting with child, developing language skills, helping with homework
6. Enforcing curfews, punishing kid for staying out late on school night, skipping school

I think from your comments you thought I was referring simply to the family's current income level. While that often correlates with these other factors, that wasn't what I meant. Obviously, a doctor working at a non-profit clinic can have a child just as academically inclined a doctor working in private practice (with a larger income).

1. Parents' education level

Is the metric being measured accurately capturing the characteristics thought associated with the measurement? Probably not. In other words, which effect is stronger, intelligence of the individual or the years of schooling layered on top of intelligence?

2. Neighborhood the family lives in

It's not the neighborhood effect that is important, it's the nature of the residents who qualify to live in the neighborhood. Consider:

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.

3. Emphasis placed on the importance of school by the family (including things like punishing kids for bad grades, rewarding for good grades, putting up with truancy, attending parent-teacher conferences)

Point of agreement.

4. Whether parents speak English fluently

Not as important as imagined. Compare the cases of Mexican immigrants who don't speak English in the home to Russian Jewish immigrants who don't speak English in the home, or to Chinese immigrants who don't speak English in the home. The common factor of not speaking English in the home, or fluently in general, has little bearing on student achievement rates.

5. Amount of time spent interacting with child, developing language skills, helping with homework

Nope. Consider (No link provided in order to avoid having this comment sit in moderation for a few days):

Yet whites and blacks taking similar level courses report that they spend the same time on homework. It is just that the results are different: 38 percent of whites who spend two hours on homework nightly get all their work done; only 20 percent of blacks spending two hours finish their homework - the Gap. [ . . . . ] It would be politically convenient for Professor Ferguson, a black man raising his two children plus a nephew in a Boston suburb, if the Gap could be explained away by economics. [ . . . . ] It cannot. When he controls for income, half the Gap persists. Among the richest families, blacks average B+, whites A-. How to explain it?

Also, as noted in argument #4, there are plenty of households where English language skills are not reinforced in the home and the children are not negatively affected and there are plenty of homes where English is the native language and the children underperform the children of the former group.

6. Enforcing curfews, punishing kid for staying out late on school night, skipping school

Agree on this as well.

TangoMan: After writing my earlier comment, I thought about another point to add. Your basic position seems to be that native intelligence has a large effect on school performance. I think part of the reason we disagree on some of these issues is that, in my experience as a teacher, I didn't see "intelligence" of a kid as being the main roadblock to school success.

The HUGE problem contributing to the under-performance of low income kids is, in my opinion, due to lack of effort, general negative/careless attitude toward school, and bad behavior and attendance. In my experience, if the kids make a concerted effort, come to class, pay attention, ask questions if they have problems, do their homework, and generally behave like good students, they will at least come out with at least a "B" most of the time.

In my view, the big problem with educational achievement in America is not a lack of intelligence. Instead, the problem lies with the vast number of kids who don't care, don't try and fool around/misbehave instead of working.

My points above about family effects largely have to do with trying to tease out the CAUSE of these students' lack of interest in school, lack of effort and poor behavior. I think if all students put their best effort (or even a pretty good effort) forth, most of the gaps between low and high income students' performance would be erased.

Of course, not all students would perform exactly equally - I believe some would score on IQ tests and standardized tests than others, even with equal effort. But, in general, I believe that effort, attitude and behavior are the main roadblocks to students' academic success in America today.

Have you taught in low-income schools? Has this been your experience in the classroom as well?

Correction: The first sentence in the next to last paragraph above should say "...some would score HIGHER on IQ tests..." Sorry!

The HUGE problem contributing to the under-performance of low income kids is, in my opinion, due to lack of effort, general negative/careless attitude toward school, and bad behavior and attendance.

Attorney DC, do you like engaging in activities you're not very good at? Would you want to engage in such an activity for six hours a day, 180 days a year for 13 years?

These students aren't motivated to learn because they do not find learning to be rewarding.

These kids have options, One option is to do nothing and get socially promoted. That's the option I'd pick.

Your basic position seems to be that native intelligence has a large effect on school performance.

It's the single largest factor. See here:

Studies carried out in the US on the level of prediction of intelligence tests indicate that they are valuable instruments: "psychometric tests are the best predictors of success in school and in the world of work. And what’s more, they are no mean predictors of failure in everyday life, such as falling into poverty or dependence on the state (…). To say that other things are important, apart from intelligence, is not really a challenge until you say precisely what those other things are." According to the APA, standardised measures of intelligence correlate at levels of .50 with school performance, .55 with years of schooling, .54 with work performance, and –.19 with juvenile delinquency. No other psychological variable is capable of producing these correlations.

In my view, the big problem with educational achievement in America is not a lack of intelligence. Instead, the problem lies with the vast number of kids who don't care, don't try and fool around/misbehave instead of working.

I'm not saying that these attitudes and behaviors are not a problem and don't hinder a student's progress. I suspect that for a good many kids they'd rather shirk the difficulty of learning and instead assume attitude and misbehave. Now, if mastering the content wasn't difficult for them then they'd have less ego at stake and wouldn't have to confront failure and thus learning would be easy. In other words, they don't want to put in hard work only to fail, so to save face, and not think themselves failures, they preemptively give up thus avoiding having to confront the ego blow of having given it their best shot and come up short.

My points above about family effects largely have to do with trying to tease out the CAUSE of these students' lack of interest in school, lack of effort and poor behavior.

I'd say a good chunk of the cause has to do with the dynamic I wrote above. The cause of failure, in most cases, is internal to the student, and less so obvious external factors, such as a student who is sleep deprived because they work until 3 am, or a student who is emotionally traumatized.

I think if all students put their best effort (or even a pretty good effort) forth, most of the gaps between low and high income students' performance would be erased.

I agree to a point. The basic elementary and high school curricula can be mastered by someone with an IQ in the 85-90 range. Not too much higher math, no AP classes, but the fundamentals are achievable. The problem here is that the mean level of IQ for Blacks is 85. Those on the right side of the curve are reachable while those on the left side are going to have some problems even with the basics.

As for the notion of best efforts yielding a closing of the gap between high and low achievers, that might be possible if you set the proficiency bar very low, but if you allow each student to strive to reach their potential then no way, no how, is that gap going to close.

Attorney DC, There is a great deal of research support for most of the attributes of families that you list - thanks for putting it out there. I'm also glad that you brought up the importance of these non-cognitive skills as there is a large and growing body of literature that suggests that they play a substantial role in students' educational and labor market outcomes. Jim Heckman at Chicago has a number of papers on this issue - he has links to some of these papers here, and of course email me if you'd like them and can't get them.

Re this debate about the impact of expenditures, one area that has not been explored is the impact of school environments (think rats) on students' motivation and other non-cognitive skills. I'd like to see more attention focused on this area.

Ken: I wasn't trying to assign blame for the kids' lack of motivation. My general purpose in mentioning the importance of trying hard, paying attention, and coming to class was to refute TangoMan's assertion that innate intelligence (IQ, genetic differences) is the reason low-income kids don't succeed.

In my experience as a teacher, it's not that the kids aren't SMART. It's that they're not putting the same EFFORT into school as most middle class kids do. We can debate the reasons for this lack of effort and disengagement from academics till the cows come home. It's obviously a mix of many, many variables, including the one you mentioned (they "don't find learning to be rewarding"). Other major factors may include the emphasis their families and communities place on education, peer influences, societal influences, consequences (both at school and at home) for succeeding or failing academically, and so many other things.

I just don't want people to think that the kids can't succeed because they aren't intellectually capable of success - that wasn't my experience as a teacher of low-income students.

Atty DC:

I would like to add one item to your list and that is the amount of regard the parent receives from the teacher/school system. Parent effect is enhanced when schools and parents are closely aligned with regard to vision, goals, norms, etc. This cannot be the case in schools that dismiss parents as "part of the problem," or a defect for students to overcome.

KDR--I would challenge your methodology on relating school resource to SES for several reasons. One, your unit of analysis (district) supposes an equal distribution to schools within a district. Frequently this is not the case, as Marguerite Rosa found in a building by building analysis in Cincinnati. One frequent masking factor is the allocation of building budgets based on a standard FTE unit for salary that obscures variation in the number of years of teacher experience. But second, the per-pupil expenditure as a unit of analysis assumes that all resources are purchased and all students have identical needs. An elementary school next door to an incredible public library may need far fewer books on site than a rural elementary at a great distance from the nearest community resource for books. Social capital is unevenly distributed among students based on such things as parent education and connectedness, immigrant experience or the availability of other community resources.

Even using the per-pupil expenditure as an indicator, every state has an incredible range, and while these do not follow SES exactly, there are still large gaps, and these tend to be in a direction that favors those who have more to begin with.

There is a great deal of research support for most of the attributes of families that you list - thanks for putting it out there.

I never argued that these effects didn't exist. I simply argued that they had marginal influence or that the independent variable wasn't properly recognized. See, I've reconciled my position to yours.

I'm also glad that you brought up the importance of these non-cognitive skills as there is a large and growing body of literature that suggests that they play a substantial role in students' educational and labor market outcomes.

If you are taking the position that these non-cognitive skills play a substantial role then what adjective do you assign to IQ, to which plays an even larger role? Ignoring the pink elephant in the room is a conspiracy that works only so long as none of the other conspirators mentions the obvious pink elephant prancing around in a tutu. Policy that is designed as though IQ doesn't exist, doesn't matter, and doesn't differ in distribution profile across groups is a policy that will never achieve predicted results.

In this article, I address the nagging thought that none of the famous factors that education researchers study for links to achievement seem to actually account for achievement. Parker J, Palmer, citing a Chicago schools study, explains that "relational trust" is the salient factor predicting education achievement.

It makes sense to me. Looking back now at my 30+ years of teaching in a variety of educational settings, I see that "relational trust" was the main ingredient that produced high levels of academic achievement in situations where SES, IQ, school funding, etc., would have supposedly predicted otherwise.

sgoya:

I am not familiar with Parker Palmer, but I have read some of the works of Hoy, Woolfolk-Hoy and Tschannen-Moran on trust within school environments. I suspect that you are right in suggesting that the lack of trusting relationships may account for the difference between successful and unsuccessful implementation of effective strategies to improve academic achievement, particularly in the face of challenges.

I do take issue with Palmer when he suggests that the current testing and accountability environment are detrimental to the the development of trust. I do not believe that building trust is a laissez-faire activity--which often seems to be the preferred counter to accountability systems.

In fact, some of the transparency required by NCLB (reporting requirements of varying kinds) are an element of trust-building, particularly when following years of trust destruction. Specifying roles for parents (as consumers with choice, but also as stakeholders) can also provide the structure for trust to flourish. Yet the stakeholder role for parents is one that receives the least attention. The consumer role is one that many within education would remove if possible.

Certainly there are many indicators of a lack of trust, particularly among schools doing poorly. Think about it every time an educator from an urban district starts pointing out that the parents of their students don't care about education, or discipline.

Margo/Mom: Just wanted to respond to your comment about parental involvement with the schools. I definitely agree with you that it is to the school's advantage (and the child's advantage) to get the parents involved in the child's education. As a teacher, I often got good results from contacting a parent about a potential problem, or alerting them to a student's successes (in the vein of 'tell Johnny to keep it up').

However, going back to SES correlations, often the low income or immigrant parents are difficult to get involved in their children's education.

First, some parents don't have phones. Second (at least in California) many low-income parents did not speak English. Therefore, communication had to be accomplished through interpreters. Third, due to finances and work schedules, low income parents often couldn't come to parent teacher conferences, back to school night, and the like. These parents were more likely to be single parents, and were spread thin between multiple children and without support from a spouse.

That said, I do think it would be beneficial for schools to make a greater effort to get the parents on board with the school's mission. Hiring more interpreters, and making them more available to teachers would be great. Also, keeping phone and address lists as up-to-date as possible for parents would be helpful. Another idea would be to translate school notices into different languages. Schools could also hold things like back-to-school night at different times, to be more convenient for people working non-traditional job schedules. I remember one district in California that provided transportation to take parents from their homes to schools for important events.

One counselor I worked with in California was part of an evening program set up to counsel immigrant parents on how to guarantee their children's success in school. It advised them on issues like which tests were required for college (SAT, ACT), how to pay for college, gave information about college scholarships, etc. It was given entirely in Spanish by bilingual instructors.

The point is that of course schools should try to work with parents to help their children succeed. However, as with many things, this goal is often much more easily accomplished with middle class parents than with many low-income parents.

Given the make-up of American public schools and the existence of voluntary segregation (which probably has more to do with quality of life than race) do you support a voucher system rather more than neighborhood schools?

Patrick: I'm not sure if you were directing your question at me or at Eduwonkette?

My response is that I'm generally against vouchers, for the reason that they are an incomplete and not very effective solution to major problems in low-income public education.

I think the reason vouchers work (to the extent they do) is that they allow the most motivated and involved families to put their children in an environment with like-minded families.

But vouchers do not solve the rampant problems of bad behavior, uninvolved parents, gangs and other major issues that afflict the typical students in low-income schools.

I also am against vouchers because I believe they lend credence to the incorrect assumption that private schools somehow magically teach better than public schools.

In my belief, it is the quality of the students who make the private schools a better place - if we forced all children to attend "private" schools, and forced private schools to accept all students, no matter how disruptive or unenthusiastic, I think private schools would quickly experience the same problems as many public schools - misbehavior, disrespect and lack of learning.

I think the reason vouchers work (to the extent they do) is that they allow the most motivated and involved families to put their children in an environment with like-minded families.

And why exactly shouldn't the goal of public education be to provide the maximum benefit to each individual child instead of the current misguided goal of concentrating benefits to the disruptive or remedial child even when the goal comes at the expense of the well-behaved or average student?

Here's an example:

The researchers linked domestic violence cases to 4.6 percent of the elementary school students in their sample. These children scored nearly 4 percentile points lower on standardized reading and math scores than their peers whose parents were not involved in domestic violence cases. (A percentile score reflects the percentage of scores that fall below it; a student who scores in the 51st percentile on a test, for example, has scored higher than 51 percent of all students who took that test.) In addition, the children from households linked to domestic violence were 44 percent more likely to have been suspended from school and 28 percent more likely to have been disciplined for bad behavior. The impact was seen across genders, races and income levels.
-Not only did children from troubled homes suffer, however: Test scores fell and behavior problems increased for their classmates as well.
-Troubled boys caused the bulk of the disruption, and the largest effects were on other boys. Indeed, Carrell and Hoekstra estimate that adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 children reduces the standardized reading and math scores of other boys in the room by nearly two percentile points. And adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 students increases the likelihood that another boy in the class will commit a disciplinary infraction by 17 percent.

But vouchers do not solve the rampant problems of bad behavior, uninvolved parents, gangs and other major issues that afflict the typical students in low-income schools.

How is it just that the solution you seek must come at the expense of innocent children? A major benefit, perhaps the principal benefit, of voucher plans is that they provide non-disruptive children an escape from corrosive peer influence and interaction.

I once had a class with a group of about seven "troubled boys." The administration wanted to break them up and spread them throughout my day. I refused. I did not want every class to become "troubled." It seemed wiser to keep them all in one place.

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