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The Full Page Ad That Won't Be in the Washington Post Tomorrow

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Recall the Great Charter School War of 2004: After the NY Times published the results of an AFT report finding that traditional public schools outperformed charters, all hell broke loose. Every charter school advocate and their mother intervened in the name of educational research, arguing that the study was fundamentally flawed and that the Times story was biased against charter schools. Shortly thereafter, charter advocates took out a full page ad in the Times blasting the study and the Times for putting it forward.

To be sure, students are not randomly assigned to charter schools, so these critiques were not without merit. So keep your eyes on the Washington Post over the next week and see if charter school advocates again swoop in to defend educational research from the bad guys who would misuse it for their own purposes. Yesterday, the Post published an almost identical analysis claiming that DC charters, which currently enroll a third of DC students, "have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools."

Again, for those who are willing to endure the occasional recycled rant on selection versus treatment effects:

First, that students selected into a charter lottery makes them different from those who did not. It may be that their parents are more involved in their education, that they are having a particularly bad experience at their neighborhood school, or that their parents can no longer pay for private school. Whatever the reason, families selecting in, even if they are all poor and minority kids, are different by virtue of choosing a non-neighborhood school.

Lots of choice advocates will spar on this point, and argue that everyone wants a better choice for their children, so there is no selection problem. While rhetorically effective, anyone arguing that families that choose into a charter school are the same as those who don’t is simply wrong. Saying that two-thirds of the kids are poor and that the overwhelming majority are African-American and Hispanic doesn't solve this problem. (Btw, in the small schools context, this is Joel Klein's favorite pasttime.) Even if charter kids had prior test scores identical to their neighborhood school peers, we still couldn't compare charter and neighborhood school kids who didn't opt in with any confidence because there is selection on unobservables - things like motivation and aspirations that are not measured by administrative datasets used to make these comparisons.

The only defensible approach here is to compare students who entered the charter lottery and won with those who entered the lottery and lost. But if the Post wants to extend its logic, here's a free story idea from your friendly neighborhood Secret Santa: go ahead and compare the NAEP results of charters and public schools nationally (and for extra credit, go one step further and compare the outcomes of free lunch kids in charter and traditional public schools), and let's get the Charter War of 2008 started.
31 Comments

Even if you were to pick kids who won the lottery versus those who lost, you'd still have to deal with kids who chose not to go to a charter school after winning the lottery, and thus could only really measure the effect of offering a placement at a charter school. And what about the argument that losing the lottery has some sort of effect, such as demoralizing students?

You can always pick at the internal validity of research, but at the end of the day, it's the plausibility and controversy of research that gets it to the headlines, not it's scientific rigor.

The headline of the Washington Post story was "Charter Schools Make Gains On Tests," but the body of the story offered a very different picture. It made clear that there was an explanation that left me wondering more how several non-charter nighborhood schools manage to score near the top of the list with significantly less in the way of per-pupil spending. All charter schools in DCPS get a facility allotment, on top of their per puipil spending, that is more than the cost of their facilities. It gets used for additional staff, lower class size, and other goodies. They also frequently get private foundation grants from Walton, Gates, etc. Howard Charter Middle School, for example, gets a full $5,000 above the $12,000 per pupil spending that the regular public schools get. One principal in the article was quoted as marveling at all the extras when she switched to the better funded charter school -- a copying machine that works, etc. Doesn't unequal funding figure in to the poor research design and invalidate the comparison? The POST series on Charters has actually been very controversial and has led to investigations and calls for the resignations of the Board that oversees charters. The good reporting in the articles belied the simplistic headlines.

While I was surprised to see the funding levels of the DC charters (in my state they primarily get the state allocation, not local tax dollars and a three year start-up allocation--leading many to fall into fiscal difficulties after the first three years, if not before, and to put considerable energy into fundraising if they are successful), I don't know that I am convinced that they are better off from a funding perspective than the DC public schools (where the per pupil expenditure seems enormous from my seat in the midwest).

I rather suspect that the current outcome is a result of a combination of factors. One is certainly the selection factor of parents who take the initiative to act. Another is the relatively level playing field funding-wise. The third is the very low level of competition offered by the DC Schools--which has been notorious for its problems for decades.

One can only hope that those who favor public school districts (such as WTU) as organized entities take the competition seriously and start to "bring it" to the competition. This means acting to engage with parents instead of driving them away, placing educational aims ahead of bickering between union factions and the superintendent, and recognizing that there just may be something to be learned from what the charters are doing in the classroooms.

speaking of nitpicking about research, can we please stop using "unobservable" when we really mean "unobserved?"

Here are the results for the national NAEP, broken down by Disadvantaged (eligible for free or reduced-price lunches) and Not Disadvantaged. The 8th grade results are only available for 2005 and 2007.

2003 2003 2005 2005 2007 2007
Charter Public Charter Public Charter Public
4th grade Math
Disadvantaged 216 222 221 225 222 227
Not Disadvantaged 238 244 241 248 246 249
4th grade Reading
Disadvantaged 195 201 203 203 201 205
Not Disadvantaged 226 229 226 230 227 232
8th grade Math
Disadvantaged 255 262 261 265
Not Disadvantaged 277 289 283 291
8th grade Reading
Disadvantaged 243 247 247 247
Not Disadvantaged 265 270 271 271

I've been informed that "unobservable" is not an absolute term -- that, instead, it is used to mean unobservable in the context of that particular study (at least when used properly). I only half-accept that definition, and even so I still see it misused.

The only defensible approach here is to compare students who entered the charter lottery and won with those who entered the lottery and lost.

not only is that absolutely right, but that's actually what the lead evaluator of the washington OSP (patrick wolf) does. that control group was built into the washington OSP from the start! and as you might expect, the achievement differences between kids who applied for vouchers & got it and the kids who applied and didn't get it is minimal.

Secret Santa's suggested NAEP research is a good idea. In fact, I did the research on NAEP Explorer and published the findings in Monday's paper as part of the graphic package with the story.


Here's the graphic comparing charter v non-charter NAEP scores nationally and for the district since 2003 for economically disadvantaged children.


I published a similar graphic a year ago comparing DC to the other major urban systems.


I just want to make three additional comments.


First, we obviously don't have the full panoply of variables available to control for mother's and father's education, teacher experience, year-over-year improvement for an individual student, etc., not to mention unobservable motivation. But on the other hand, we are not teasing apart a tiny difference. The performance difference here is quite vast. Researchers are welcome to delve more deeply into the factors, but the charter results are enough that parents in poor neighborhoods are voting with their feet. On the other hand, I strongly caution against extrapolating this finding to any place outside DC, where charters have the advantage of competing against a truly weakened foe.


Second, in reporting this story, the first question in my mind was the effect of involved parents. I asked every charter teacher and administrator who came from DC Public Schools whether the parents and students were very different, and the answer was uniformly "no." They said there's no noticeable difference in the kids or parents. They could all be lying. I can't prove otherwise. But remember that in these neighborhoods, the charters have sometimes taken over the buildings that DCPS closed, so going to charter meant just staying in the same buildings. And charters go to supermarkets and even door-to-door to recruit, so parents don't have to be extremely motivated to seek them out. The charters are the largest schools in these areas, so they're seen as the neighborhood school.
Finally, remember that more than half of DC Public School kids attend out-of-boundary schools, so most DCPS families have made an active choice, as well.


Third and last, I went into this story as neither a charter fan nor foe. I remain neutral. But I am surprised by how some people are so eager to embrace failure rather than adopt success. I keep hearing, "It's easy to have successful schools if you can get rid of disruptive kids," or "It's easy to have success when the teachers are on-board." Then adopt those strategies, don't dismiss them.

Dan

My argument against making comparisons between charter students and public school students has always been one of selection: Charter schools only enroll students who have self-selected to attend the charter school.

As noted by several other posters, this means that charter school kids can't be compared "apples-to-apples" with traditional public school students. As David noted above, it's not even possible to compare students who "won" the lottery with those who applied but "lost" the lottery because we don't know which kids who "lost" would have actually taken the next step and enrolled in the charter schools (presumably all kids who are accepted do not elect to attend).

It irks me when people compare charters with public schools and then state that charters must be "better" because their (self-selected, motivated) students make certain gains on tests.

You are entirely right, Jennifer (formerly known as Eduwonkette), that "The only defensible approach here is to compare students who entered the charter lottery and won with those who entered the lottery and lost." But the problem with your extra credit assignment to compare free lunch students in charter and traditional public schools extends beyond one of selection bias. Another fatal flaw in such a comparison is that administrative classifications (like free lunch or special education) are not equivalent across sectors. Charter and private schools typically do not have the administrative structure to receive subsidies for providing free lunch or for students classified as disabled. That doesn't mean that their students wouldn't be classified as deserving free lunch or special ed if they had been in traditional public school. It just means that charter and private schools don't have the same financial incentives to classify students in this way. Since the same standards are not used for classification across charter, private, and traditional public schools, comparisons of students in those categories or attempts to control for those administrative variables statistically are not valid. Of course, this is exactly the flaw in Chris Lubienski's analysis of private school achievement but that did not prevent it from being on the front page of the NYT.

David, Very good point - we would end up with an "intent to treat" estimate of the effect of charter schools.

Mark and Margo, I think there's a lot of important work to be done measuring the true per-pupil cost of charter schools, since many are receiving foundation funds that are off the books. But Margo is right that we may have a warped perception of how much money is involved here because we only hear about the cases that get loads of extra $$$.

Joydeep - Thanks for those numbers.

Corey - Fair points all around.

Steven and Attorney DC - Couldn't agree more.

Jay - I guess my sarcasm wasn't pronounced enough here - that is what the Washington Post did (compare poor students in charter/noncharter). Of course this is a ridiculous thing to do. Glad we finally agree on something!


Jay- I've often seen this claim that charter schools typically don't classify free-lunch or special-ed kids because they don't have the administrative structures to receive subsidies for these kids. What I've never seen is any evidence to support that claim. My experience -- extensive, though still anecdotal -- is that charter schools are adept at getting every last public dollar they're entitled to, and then some. Can you provide any references for your claim, besides other such claims?

Did it ever occur to anyone that allowing urban parents to put their kids in an educational environment where they can assume other urban parents care about education is in itself a huge value. Who cares about control groups. Why should i have to put my child in a school where a significant segment of the population is out to lunch and is goign to damage my kid. Charters are necessary so that kids whose parents care have a fair option. If they cream. GREAT. someone has to.

Jay Greene writes:

Charter and private schools typically do not have the administrative structure to receive subsidies for providing free lunch or for students classified as disabled. That doesn't mean that their students wouldn't be classified as deserving free lunch or special ed if they had been in traditional public school.

However, if this is true, it also means that charter schools will tend not to attract students for whom those services are critical. This is particularly true with special education -- some kids have disabilities where a little extra one on one attention or a more structured environment can make a difference even if there are no specially funded services. But the most disabled kids need the services that special ed funding (insufficient though it is in most states) provides.

This becomes yet another way that charter school populations are not directly comparable to "regular" district schools.

Back when the charter school concept was first introduced, the idea (as I understood it) was that these were schools that could be testing grounds for innovation -- and that the most successful innovations would spread.

But now most journalist seem to take "charter" to be the be-all and end-all of the innovation -- as if only governance, not what the schools do, or how well they are funded, matter.

For the charter schools that are succeeding, I'd like to see more focus on what it is that works, not just that they are charters. Is it the self-selection of the families? Grant funding for smaller classes and additional programs? The ability to fire bad teachers? Greater autonomy?

The Washington Post presented school means only for math scores and only for middle and JH schools. KIPP Schools scores --there are several campuses, were high, accounting for most of the "charter" advantage effect. The reporters explain their success as due to instruction that is intensive, extensive, high quality, and supported by technology. And money. I dunno. Maybe Kipp just hires wonderful teachers and the rest of those extra resources, as at most expensive private schools, is wasteful (like AP test prep courses.)

The Post reporters --no researchers or experts were credited --did not explain awful scores of numerous charter schools on the same graphic, the only data presentation, school-specific bars in mean math-proficiency order. At 12 schools, over half, student proficiency was below 50%. (One wag asked why the Post didn't put all the failures, with short bars on top. Scary.)
Nor did the reporters explain the very high scores of the large oldest charter school in DC, located in the same old facility as when it converted itself from DCPS to charter operation. I believe it remains a rather traditional school, with a majority subsidized school-lunch population, vanishing test-score gap, and is much better managed than most of Michelle Rhee's. (Known to some in a DC education list as "The Chancer"; which name is thought by others to be a poor 'bama's mispronunciation of 'Chancellor', but is instead an education statistician's punning reference to her extended offer/demand of a Faustian bargain of abrupt career termination in exchange for opportunity to win merit pay exceeding the principals own (by $40k!!). 'Chancer" is showing her the shoe, as it were.)

The Washington Post has exhausted its suburban readers' interest in DCPS, a piddling 45k student system, a bauble for one of Joel Klein' labor contractors to play with until she is old and experienced enough to be entrusted with Arne's toy. WaPo audaciously "put down a marker", a statistical lie not unlike the one we ALL know or believe is Detroit autoworker's wages+benefits are (I won't repeat that lie, here.)

Summary: Some DC charter middle schools are no doubt better schools for most DC children than are most of DCPS's. But, it is worth repeating: Why, without the protection of a wicked, conniving central bureaucracy supported by politicians, are so many independent charter schools in DC continuing to operate with such desultory results as those presented by WaPo? Where's the Darwinian selection? Why --in Ric Hannushek's terms -- so much harm or opportunity costs still perpetrated by them? Why don't bad charter schools, untied to local service area and communities just fly (away) by night? Why are so many so far below the good ones? Why aren't the weak ones closed for cause, failure or neglect?

monique--I know that DC is different, being a city-state sort of arrangement--but I thought they were still in America. No, creaming is not OK. I don't buy heavily into the "parents don't care," excuse, myself--I have known far too many low income parents who found the bars to meaningful involvement to be effectively barred--but public schools (including charters) are public schools and have certain obligations to the public. This includes equitable access to all comers.

I have some anecdotal evidence regarding the equity aspect as it pertains to students with special needs as well as those who qualify for free-reduced lunch. As a charter school parent, filling out the standard gov't form for free lunch has been a part of the paperwork--regardless of whether lunch was provided, simply because it is a proxy for low-income determination and generally brings in extra dollars not related to the provision of lunch. I would say that in public school, this tends to be less true. There, the paperwork is sent home for the purpose of qualifying for free lunch. It works fairly well in the lower grades, but falls off dramatically in high school. Either family income rises at that point, low-income kids drop out, or kids recoil from eating free lunch in high school. Heavy emphasis on the latter.

RE: kids with special needs--my anecdotal experience is that this one is far more mixed. Every charter has the same obligations as every public school. Legally they cannot turn away a student that they are not prepared to educated due to disability. That's legally. I have had charter school administrators advise me that perhaps their curriculum wasn't "right" for my child, or hold up an application until all slots were filled waiting for the public school to provide "needed" paperwork, or set policies that eliminated kids who failed courses. By the same token, I have experienced charters who saw students with various disabilities as a "niche" market, developed services and went after them.

Looking at the percentages of students with disabilities in charter schools--now that would be a study, particularly if followed by some qualitative work around the experience of students with disabilites.

It's good to be "Incredulous" but it would take a real slanted eye to pretend that my story said all charter schools are good, especially when I wrote very near the top

"Not all charters are successful. Many struggle to raise money and attract students. A few have gone out of business or been absorbed by other schools."

Later in the story I talked about Mary McLeod Bethune, which has lower test performance and is struggling to attract students and sufficient funding.

You can see my post above for more detail, but it amazes me how many people can't jump fast enough to dismiss charter success as the product of hyper-active parents. I thought that might be true until I visited the schools in DC and saw that they are the neighborhood schools in those communities. They are often the default choice. Charters recruit very aggressively, so parents don't have to make a great effort to find them. DC is not the same as everyplace else. Don't pretend you know about DC charter school parents in poor neighborhoods until you've met some.

As to all the success being "just KIPP" -- if it were that, it would be telling us something huge. But as it is, they represent three of the seven middle-school charters that have a majority of economically disadvantaged kids passing the test.

Finally, please know something about schools before you condemn them. Some of the lower performing schools are aimed entirely at kids who have already dropped out of school, so any success there is with students that batted .000 at traditional schools.


Once again, I'm not pro-charter or anti-charter, but amazed at the people whose ideological stance forces them to reject success rather than find ways to adopt it.

You can see test score performance and demographics, including special ed registration, for every DC charter here.

http://www.dcpubliccharter.com/publications/spr.html

The special ed info is generic so you don't see a breakout by level of service.

The first link on this page is for a pdf that has a description of what each school is about. Several of the serve only a particular niche.

http://www.dcpubliccharter.com/pcschools/index.html

DC Charters collect federal compensation for free and reduced-price meals, so they get the same paperwork as traditional public schools.

I wouldn't be surprised if Dan Keating and I disagreed on many many things, but I like the way he thinks. And Margo/mom, I think he makes an important point regarding our area of disagreement. As he says, the majority of parents who still live in D.C. have made choices, so we don't need to assume that its parent-bashing to say that many of the remainder have not made the best decisions for thier kids. (I wasn't abused, incarcerated, addicted, born with a predispostion towards mental illness and I've never been in combat or in a family where I'd be subject to Post Traumatic Shoock, and I have no right to blame my students parents. But I can't deny reality if I want to help my students).

Similarly, we're comparing charters with one of the worst-run districts in America. So, we don't have to be hyper-sensitive if charters in D.C. do relatively better job than charters nation-wide.

Neither do we have to assume the best or the worst for charters nation-wide. It would not be easy to run high poverty neighborhood schools if they could assess disciplinary consequences, but it would be much more doable.

Outsiders may not understand that neighborhood schools don't control our discipline problems because we can't. We can't have orderly schools because the central offices won't let it us. The central offices can't let us enforce discipline because society has chosen to limit the number of alternative schools. And one reason why we've limited alternative schools is that we don't want to "blame the victim," and because its easier to believe that "High Expectations" will solve everything.

Another reason why neighborhood schools can't enforce discipline is because of our own consciences. Can we suspend a kid who is running wild, but who also has a bunch of classes with incompetent teachers and subs? (but neither should we deny that neighborhood school lose many of their best to charters and other schools where they do not have to fight chronic discipline problems daily.)

We are facing a complex mix. Why try to prejudge the outcome of every research project? Why can't we all be less hyper in asserting out innocence?

I wouldn't be surprised if Dan Keating and I disagreed on many many things, but I like the way he thinks. And Margo/mom, I think he makes an important point regarding our area of disagreement. As he says, the majority of parents who still live in D.C. have made choices, so we don't need to assume that its parent-bashing to say that many of the remainder have not made the best decisions for thier kids. (I wasn't abused, incarcerated, addicted, born with a predispostion towards mental illness and I've never been in combat or in a family where I'd be subject to Post Traumatic Shoock, and I have no right to blame my students parents. But I can't deny reality if I want to help my students).

Similarly, we're comparing charters with one of the worst-run districts in America. So, we don't have to be hyper-sensitive if charters in D.C. do relatively better job than charters nation-wide.

Neither do we have to assume the best or the worst for charters nation-wide. It would not be easy to run high poverty neighborhood schools if they could assess disciplinary consequences, but it would be much more doable.

Outsiders may not understand that neighborhood schools don't control our discipline problems because we can't. We can't have orderly schools because the central offices won't let it us. The central offices can't let us enforce discipline because society has chosen to limit the number of alternative schools. And one reason why we've limited alternative schools is that we don't want to "blame the victim," and because its easier to believe that "High Expectations" will solve everything.

Another reason why neighborhood schools can't enforce discipline is because of our own consciences. Can we suspend a kid who is running wild, but who also has a bunch of classes with incompetent teachers and subs? (but neither should we deny that neighborhood school lose many of their best to charters and other schools where they do not have to fight chronic discipline problems daily.)

We are facing a complex mix. Why try to prejudge the outcome of every research project? Why can't we all be less hyper in asserting out innocence?

John Thompson: I wrote a comment on eduwonkette's 12-16 post that touched on the issue of discipline that you mention, above. I agree with you that public schools cannot hold students to the same level of behavior standards as private or charter schools. They also cannot require the same level of effort and attendance on the part of the students or their families.

Unless public schools are allowed to remove students who skip class, misbehave, disrupt the education of other students, and fail to do classwork or homework assignments on a regular basis, they will always be at a disadvantage to private and charter schools. First, they will be at a disadvantage b/c the non-engaged students will themselves likely post low scores and not perform well. But they will also be at a disadvantage because the education of other students will be affected by the disruptive and negative actions of the students who misbehave and disparage education. I don't know how to solve the problem of these students, but I do know that simply saying, "charter schools are great" is not a comprehensive solution to the problem.

John and Atty:

Sending kids away does not resolve discipline problems. As John also points out--we have some moral obligations to those kids that we would like to get rid of. But even those kids, John, cannot survive solely based on the islands that people like you provide.

My kid had a wonderful three-year island in the form of an ED resource room. The guy who taught in that (half of a) classroom understood some basic things about giving kids space and how to de-escalate rather than escalate problems. He was also teaching all core content areas to three grade levels, assisted by an aid with a two-year degree. Because he was a good guy and could maintain order, he also supervised a lunch period (I think he did it so "his" kids had some level of protection) and coached girl's basketball.

He was an island of stability that kept my son from drowning in the daily system of unchecked abuse that is middle school. I am really glad he didn't drown. I wish he had also had the opportunity to learn something. Every foray into classrooms that had the ability to actually deal with grade level content, however was close to a disaster. And, of course, his ability to learn in these environments became diminished as he fell further and further behind the rest of his grade level peers.

I consider it a success that I have managed to (for the most part) keep my son out of the kinds of alternative schools that you suggest are needed to improve the ability of public schools to maintain order. Some are genuine hell-holes. If they are successful, it is because they are employing the same kinds of teaching and discipline strategies that would benefit every child in every school.

Our Superintendent would tell you that our distict is now "doing" Positive Behavior Support--which is really the right school of thought. But like many of the things that we merely dabble in following a couple of workshops, I would say that efforts are pretty haphazard. There may be some elementary buildings with strong principals that have really wrestled with how to do things differently. But at the upper levels it will take way more training and support (and willingness to change) than has been available at this point. I can only wonder how long it will be until it becomes a case of "been there, done that, didn't work."

Christina Samuels had a guest chat recently and one of her guests made the point that as long as we build alternative programs, we will continue to identify kids to fill them. The separation is not helping the kids who are sent away (some of them over and over again), and it is definitely not helping classroom teachers (and schools as a whole) learn any better how to "deal" with critical teachings about behavior.

You say, "sending kids away does not resolve discipline problems."

But I can't imagine a teacher who hasn't seen the opposite. Remove one student from a class, and the class is completely transformed. Remove a small percentage from walking the halls, starting fights, defying authority and the whole school changes. And rarely do those kids ever come close to graduating.

But that is only 1/2 of the reason why we need more alternative schools. When we allow those kids to run wild, we're doing the worst thing we can do to them. We're writing them off as we are sentencing their classmates to educational underperformance.

All I know about PBIS is that clearly there is institutional pressures to adopt their approach. I listened to two off their sales pitches and I figured it would be fine in low poverty schools. They promised to extend IDEA to everyone. It sounded like a suicide trip to me.

We've got to see the problem from the perspectives of troubled students and their parents, but we have have to also see things from the perpective of the other students and teachers. There are no "good" answers. We just have to do the best we can.

John:

Somewhere between "letting those kids run wild," and sending them away to alternative schools, perhaps there might be some room for dialogue. I always begin by asking--what would be happening in those alternative schools and what prevents us from doing it right here? I have been sent over that hill too many times. What is over there is generally people with less training (not the "specially trained" people who are always promised), lowered expectations, more fights and defiance, fewer kids who without major difficulties "getting along," greater likelihood of bullying and harassment and less hope.

Why are we so wedded to the belief that all problems are resident within the student? Frequently the one kid who everyone wants to get rid of is simply the "lightening rod" that draws the attention of a class in which really unhealthy things are going on. Removal just shifts the dynamics to the next kid. Try to imagine any other relationship in real life in which a 10 day separation is seriously intended as a solution to a problem.

You are right--the kids we kick out are also the ones least likely to graduate. What is the appropriate age at which to give up on them? High school? Middle school? Fifth grade? Kindergarten? At what age do we give up on them now?

If we continue the way we're going, we're giving up on our most vulnerable students. If we warehouse kids in lousy alternative schools, we're giving up on them.

What the best answers are, I don't know. I'd start with middle school kids with absenteeism problems so bad that they have little chance. After all, I'm not willing to place a risky gamble on my theories - like NCLB did. Of course, we must start much earlier in indentifying and addressing elementary absenteeism and repeat failure.

Without claiming to have answers, I'd start with the "no-brainer" decisions, trying to send the chronic hallwalkers to a place that is better for them as well as everyone else. I'd start with students who disrupt and/or sleep in almost every hour of every day.

A few years ago, a brave and charismatic principal tried to enforce the rules and eventually she allowed me to study every disciplinary referral of the year. We (and by we I mean everyone we talked to) estimated that 15 to 20% of students would have been Long Term Suspended if we had enforced the rules. Asked whether she would be allowed to enforce the rules by her bosses, my principal replied, "I don't know. I just don't know. ... But let's see if they will look at the facts." It turns out that 8% of the students were responsible for 85% of the infractions. Maybe two of them graduated eventually. The principal gave in to exhaustion and went to a low poverty school. Our inner ring suburban school became a hardcore inner city school.

The closest thing I'd see as a solution is this: when everyone in the room is publically supporting the quick and easy solutions that we are allowed to consider, and everyone knows we're making a bad mistake, then why not create an environment where people are allowed to express their best professional judgements. After all, charters aren't required to keep pursuing suicidal policies.

John,

You and teachers like you should be sainted. I've always maintained urban secondary school teachers should be paid AT LEAST twice as much as their suburban counterparts, if not more. I don't know how you do it.

I spent some time working with at-risk (behavior and academic) kids but had the luxury of district support to enforce the rules. If not allowed to enforce the rules everything/one would have gone to &%$#, I'm sure of it.

_______________________________________________________________________

Margo,

My rationale for removing problem kids from the room/school was the other kids in the room had the right to an adequate/appropriate education and that right was NOT going to be impugned by one disorderly individual. In many instances the disorderly kid's parents weren't even paying taxes to the district while the parents of the other kids in the room were.

At some point someone must decide whether the aberrant behavior of an individual student infringes negatively enough on the rights of the rest of the class to remove the disruptive student. If it’s sacrificing an individual for the benefit of the rest of the class, I believe it has to be done. The school cannot jeopardize the learning experience of the majority by allowing a problem youngster to remain in the classroom. They have to be placed in an alternative setting to preserve the rights of the majority.

As a former teacher in an alternative school for elementary students with discipline problems, I think the idea of putting those kids in a separate school site is a bad idea. The kids become too isolated. I liked the ED resource model that Margo/Mom described, and have seen self-contained classes within regular school sites that worked like that. Those kids need SOME example of what normal classroom behavior looks like, but the smaller class size and increased attention they get in those classes make a better learning environment.
I have a friend working in an inclusion class where she team teaches with a Special Ed teacher, and they have a mix of students. That seems harder to successfully replicate since a lot of the success depends on the personalities involved, but it can be a good alternative.

A. Mercer,

The idea of alternative schools for elementary schools sacres me even more than expanding alternative schools for tounger middle school students. I see no alternative but to take the risk of expanding alternative middle schools, but I don't know that I'd support alternative schools for elementary. We had a small one in Oklahoma City, but I'm pretty sure it was closed.

The option of self-contained classes for disruptive students is an option, but it runs into the same political opposition, and I think that opposition is equally ideological. Many times I have seen a student who would flourish in enclosed classes but be moved back to the regular class where they get in fights or get kicked out of class daily. We had an award winning school for the homeless in the back of a magnet school, but last year the Feds shut it down. Sending those vulnerable kids into the chaos and violence of my school was just cruel. Whenenever we see a student transferred in and he or she immediately puts his head on the desk and tries to disappear, we try to help. But the adults are overwhelmed and the homeless kids transferring in were just easy prey. It made us all sick at our stomaches to see the way we couldn't protect kids under our care.

But we still need to ask the tough question for any age. What happens if a student is assigned to a self contained class, but he doesn't comply? We can't tie a kid down so he won't walk the halls. The theorists never seem to ask the question of what adults do WHEN, not if, the kids call our bluffs? The more that adults back down, the more we lose credibility, and the more kids learn that they can defy the system at will.

Once, in a non-school work setting, a coworker left and the whole atmosphere of the office changed for the better. The biggest shock was that this person was not perceived as a problem while she was there. She was lovely, well spoken and competent. What we didn't realize until she left, was that she very craftily pitted us against each other and was personally responsible for discord in the office. When she left, it was gone. We were all amazed and painfully aware of what the difference was.

I've heard of a similar situation in a church. No one realized how much power an outwardly mild-mannered pastor wielded until he left.

One person can really make a difference.

Did Dan Keating REALLY say this, and NO ONE called him on it?

"Second, in reporting this story, the first question in my mind was the effect of involved parents. I asked every charter teacher and administrator who came from DC Public Schools whether the parents and students were very different, and the answer was uniformly "no." They said there's no noticeable difference in the kids or parents. They could all be lying. I can't prove otherwise."

That level of reportage is suitable ONLY for the lifestyle page.

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