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Wish #1: Taking Kids' Out of School Time Seriously

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Sexy sound bite solutions dominate education policy airtime – paying kids for test scores, paying teachers for test scores, and eliminating teacher certification are some of the latest examples.

My final wish for the next four years is much more banal. Kids spent the overwhelming majority of their 0-18 years outside of school – the average American has spent 87% of his or her waking hours outside of school by age 18. If we want to reduce inequality, we need to start thinking seriously about how kids are spending the majority of their time, and support interventions like pre-school and an extended school day and year.

Even if all kids attended schools of identical quality, we would still see inequality in educational outcomes by socioeconomic status because of the 87% conundrum. Home learning environments, it turns out, are much more unequal than school environments. Below, this figure in a terrific paper by Doug Downey and colleagues makes this very clear. To be sure, schools offer unequal learning opportunities, but there is even more inequality in learning opportunities between families.

downey.jpg

In other words, the difference between the best and worst schools is smaller than the difference between the most and least enriched home learning environments. As Downey put it, “As a result, a disadvantaged child attending a low-quality school can still enjoy a larger ‘school boost’ than an advantaged child attending a high quality school. In this way schools can favor advantaged students, but still serve as equalizers.”

This is not to say that we shouldn’t also focus on that 13%, but that increasing the amount of time that poor kids spend in school is a promising strategy for reducing inequality. While it is an expensive intervention, keeping poor kids in school longer – both for preschool and during the school year and summer - is a policy option that deserves more attention.

(For those who are interested in the research here, Karl Alexander found that two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between poor and rich 9th graders in Baltimore is explained by how much they learned during their elementary school summers: Karl Alexander's recent work - written up here in Ed Week - or Doug Downey and colleagues paper using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. )
24 Comments

I suppose I will have to actually read Downey to understand what on earth he can have meant by “As a result, a disadvantaged child attending a low-quality school can still enjoy a larger ‘school boost’ than an advantaged child attending a high quality school. In this way schools can favor advantaged students, but still serve as equalizers.” My reading is that he thinks that we can take the kids who have less to start, give them a boost, give the kids who have more a bigger boost and still call it more equal at the end.

I don't have any problem with trying to ramp up the summer experiences of low-income kids, having dedicated a fair number of my professional summers doing exactly that. I do shudder however, when I see the attempts of my local school system to do so. An enriched summer experience (a la the high quality homes and neighborhoods experience) would include time outdoors, work and play with peers, quality supervision, exploration, a casual atmosphere.

What my local district offers is summers indoors, with severe punishment for anything (specifically family vacations, camps or sports) that might interfere with the schedule (determined not, of course, in consultation with families). There is no transportation and frequently no air conditioning. The primary prerequisite for entrance is FAILURE! Through some arcane formula teachers are selected for this experience based on their not having done so last year, and their willingness to stew in this environment for some small stipend (and presumably having nothing better to do with their time).

I mentioned the word enrichment one summer to the head guy. His response was something like "huh?" Summer school has nothing to do with enrichment. It has to do with making up for failure (in as unpleasant a way as possible, by way of atonement). I talked to our Superintendent about the paucity of summer offerings to PREVENT failure. She talked in terms (of course) of funding and of MAKING IT MANDITORY for parents to send their kids.

If taking out of school time seriously means public support for the kinds of enriching opportunities that allow kids from well-resourced families to continue their growth and learning across the summer, then I am all for it. If it just means more of the same, well, can't we try something different?

EW, how do you square the call for increased out-of school attention with the adoption studies that show little or no benefit for placing low-SES children with high-SES families were presumably the children have received all of the suppsoed benefits of a high-SES upbringing and school and yet achieve at the levels one would predict based on their biological family's SES.

Also, the Alexander study is hardly definitive research. It wasn't even an experimental study. There are many explanations for the observed correlations (such as the low SES children not learning the material at teh same level as the higher SES kids and, thus, being incapable of retaining and building upon that knowledge over the summer).

You can't apply Occam's butter knife to the studies with which you agree and reserve the sharp knife for only the studies with which you disagree (such as the charter school studies).

KDeRosa:

Perhaps you could cite some adoption studies with the results that you allude to. As an adoptive parent, I can suggest that many things are going on. Adoption is seldom the neat placement of an ill-timed baby born to a high school cheerleader with a two-parent family, despite the mythology.

Far more frequently, adoption occurs after years of neglect and/or abuse in the family of origin, necessitating a permanent change of placement to ensure the kid growing up at all (not to mention one or a succession of foster placements while the adults are figuring things out). While low SES is frequently a factor (which always makes one wonder what the protective system is missing in the better off families), by law it cannot be the only factor.

That said, there are adoptive kids, even from really challenging backgrounds (one of the news mags just did a feature on one such--a kid who was permanently disabled by her mother's drug deal gone bad--while living in the parking lot of a gambling casino) who do very well. Some have a very hard time confronting their sense of allegiance to their roots and the opportunities presented by their adoptive families. There may be some innate differences (within bio families) in the ability to bounce back, or roll with adversity. There is also evidence that various factors (stability, unconditional acceptance, etc) can bolster these things. It's really a "both/and" situation. The more good things, the better the outcome--generally, but without guarantees.

We have the Minnesota Twin Family Study and Brouchard's Reanalysis, the Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project and Willerman's various analyses, the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study, and the Colorado Adoption Project.

There is lots of good consistent data generated from those studies.

Margo/mom,

We've really been in agreement on your last three posts so let me address them all here.

Thanks for the Koppich article. I never feel like I've read something until I read it in print and my printer is broken, but I think she's done very well.

These things are supposed to be easy. Reform contracts can't be worked out without both negotiations and discussions. Communication, I'd argue is an inherent good and it provides an essential foundation for substantial improvements. I don't recall what we call our negotiating process but its basically a "Win Win" approach. Our motto is slightly different than the motto in Koppich. We say, "You are not the problem, I'm not the problem. The problem is the problem."

In regard to surveys of school climate, Leadership Talk has a link, but it didn't work for my ancient computer. Our district finds those surveys valuable, but we neglected to negotiate on the use of that data with the principals union. Of course, teachers would love an expansion of climate surveys for accountability purposes like you suggest (and are compatible with Randi Weingarten's 360 degree accountability proposal.) But I also want fairness for principals, so again I support hard bargaining by the district on that form of accountability.

I also agree with you that multiple measures are overhyped. We won't find results that are dramatically different on the whole. What I want is more reliable data. Like you, I want data that is usable for helping instruct kids.To me, multiple measures/growth models are just putting a band aide on NCLB. Let's make data usable for decision-making as opposed to the charades of compliance,like Diane Ravich wants, be open and get the conversations going.

Yes, Charlie Barone is correct about Safe Harbor. But how widely is that known? Did Charlie share that info widely seven years ago in order to stimulate open discussions, or did accountability hawks keep it under a bushel as a part of the intidmate the status quo bluff? After all, NCLB is fundamentally a bluff. Had we openly discussed less impossible options, NCLB would have been less destructive. As I've said, it was the panic caused by NCLB that prompted destructive policies.
(I probably met with some of the same Ed staff from Ohio who set the policies you cite. Everyone knew the reason. Ohio was going to be important in the 2004 election so they got a better deal so everyone wanted to copy their plans. It had nothing to do with serving kids.)

Where we really agree, though, is on your post on summer school. Summer school, today, is a perfect illustration of the destructivenss of the culture of compliance. Has anyone seen good come from it? But we see plenty of harm with the CYA mentality it prompts, just passing on failing students while pretending that that disgusting institution isn't doing more harm than good.

We can't move on the summer school enrichment programs until we first start talking to each other. Just the process of planning summer field trips would force various educational and social providers to talk to each other.

I'm a true believer in summer enrichment. I recently blogged on a camping trip to the Grand Canyon that ultimately changed my life. One of the students was a home schooled member of the Nation of Islam who kept running back and forth reporting, "I just met a Sikh. They are ... He said..." I just met some Poles who told me ..." I just met people from Indonesia who said ..." My first camping trip with inner city kids, we were hunting for fossils and this second grader found a dinosaur horn. Look she exclained, "Its still got blood on it!" She listened to my other theories but stuck by hers.

But let me add another point about the value of communication. It is not only essential to effective reforms. But, I think the best way to improve schools is to reduce the number of bone-headed mistakes. By trying to limit discussion, debate, and the exchange of ideas, the accountability hawks are just inviting mistakes that continue to damage students.

These reforms AREN'T supposed to be easy. The was a terrible typo to start the post.

I fear the fact that I'm the only one to comment on that pesky little American value of liberty. The idea of the government becoming the nanny of kids within and outside of regular school time is very frightening. Let the private organizations that provide quality enrichment and care do what they do best, especially since it is voluntary, not compulsory. An example is the Boys and Girls clubs of America. I think it's clear that government does not make a good mommy - why are you asking for more? I'd rather have the mediocre upbringing that I had (and overcame on my own) than have the government telling me where I have to be from 7 am to 5 pm each day. If you like the government running your life, poor or rich, move to China.

More entertaining than much sociology of education, but by someone who appears to have read much of it, is Linda Perlstein's "Tested".
http://tinyurl.com/c5yz3h

(I promise, it is not a "woe is them; WE are the fools or brutes to have allowed it!" screed.)

A brief poignant part of "Tested", is the contrast in joy of children (and teachers) in classrooms and schools challenged by the response of educators to NCLB with those in a middle-class school in which educators feel greater freedom --nay, responsibility -- to enable children to more broadly learn from the rest of their world and days. That's not an insignificant part of arts education at the foundation.

No, keeping kids in schools longer will restrict access to the outside world for yet more time, giving educators in schools yet greater dominion over their lives. Besides, EW underestimates how much time kids are already at their schools in extended day programs.

How about public funding of museums, music and sports leagues, and youth clubs instead, including support for teaching how to teach in them? This is the time when those programs will be otherwise cut-back.

Following John Thompson, why entrust children to professionals who led a panic that narrows children's lives absent evidence that what was gained --more Title 1 funds --was worth the opportunity cost?

I'll invoke Ofsted, again. (www.oftsted.gov.uk). Service programs are auditable.

(Disgruntled as the researchers hosting this blog must be with research in education, I'm sure they'd not be comfortable with research on recreation.)

Extending the school day and year is probably the best way to provide an equal education for very poor children. However, I agree with those of you who believe the extra time should be spent with enriching activities and not more of the same. All children need art, music, conversation with adults, sports, storytime and time to interact with construction toys, creative playthings and computers.

President Obama has proposed VOLUNTARY preschool, summer school, parent education, infant and toddler classes in addition to qualified teachers for every classroom. It's likely true that children are best served by parents at home, but when this is not forthcoming it's a huge benefit to society to make sure every child gets the best possible education -in and out of the regular school day.

The Wallace Foundation releases a new study today providing, for the first time, comparable cost data on a wide variety of high-quality OST program types. Conducted by Public/Private Ventures and The Finance Project. http://www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/CurrentAreasofFocus/Out-Of-SchoolLearning/Pages/The-Cost-of-Quality-Out-of-School-Time-Programs.aspx

Kdrosa:

The twin studies that you refer to offer a whole lot of information about differences and similarities of separated twins raised in various environments. In fact there are many, many studies that draw on that data pool. What I am not seeing is the conclusion that kids adopted from low SES backgrounds into higher SES backgrounds display some innate limitation based on where they come from.

John--glad to see that we are finding some common ground. Sort of. Yes--building reform collaboratively is a hard slow process (like all democratic actions). But communication is not made easier when accountability for school climate is pre-defined as a principal (rather than school) issue that must be contractually negotiated. (BTW--try www.wholechildeducation.com--I think that is where I most recently encountered school climate surveys)

As far as I can tell, Charlie B. has been sharing the truth about Safe Harbor relentlessly, but it's hard to be heard over the well-orchestrated chorus bleating "one size doesn't fit all." OK--snarkiness aside. I know that my district is very well acquainted with Safe Harbor--as well as every other means by which the data can be spun annually to announce progress. Not that they they announce which schools have met AYP through Safe Harbor. Not with the clarity with which they proclaimed that four special needs students kept them from making AYP (via Safe Harbor, no less) one year (I still wonder about whatever happened to those four, who were they?). Remember, we are talking about the same people who have figured out that keeping the numbers of special needs kids small in any particular building or tested grade keeps them invisible (with regard to AYP), and the folks who know how (and why) to boost attendance during count weeks and redefine "present" to include kids who weren't there if someone sent their assignments home to them and invent a distinction between in-school and out-of-school suspension to keep the numbers down. I think they all pretty much knew about Safe Harbor.

But you are right. There is a larger conversation that needs to take place--between the professionals who work with kids out of school and the professionals who work with kids in schools. In my town, the parks and rec department has had excellent drama offerings (unfortunately just got axed due to lack of city revenue). They were able to coordinate with home schoolers to provide weekday classes. I gotta wonder why the home school crowd was more accessible than the school school crowd. Clearly they had an excess of daytime personnel--and everyone seems to have a lack of art support. But these entities don't talk. City is city and school system is unto itself in most municipalities.

I had a kid in an afterschool program, locate in school but run by a non-profit. The principal closed it because he had "security concerns" that students were in the building during non-school hours. I tried to make the point that even poorly supervised kids (which these were not) were better off in the school building than on the street. He couldn't grasp this idea.

Many non-profits that I know are very good at the agility thing. When museums and health organizations lost they field trip and guest speaker market in schools, they reformatted their materials to fit state standards. Some do an excellent job of presenting aligned and engaging materials. Schools could learn from them. As you know very well, some do a really good job of working with the kinds of kids that give schools fits.

There has been a lot of conversation here about not making the state into a parent or "forcing" more school on kids. If "school" means hours in an airless room with someone who resents your presence, I would agree. But it doesn't have to. It could mean that the school district sponsors a reading enrichment program as a part of every summer day camp program in the city. It could mean that schools provide two hours of content in the morning and then feed the kids lunch and send them off with the rec department for field trips every afternoon (and working parents line up every year to get a spot in those day camps because they provide a means of supervision for school age children of working parents).

Maybe we could get really revolutionary and plan new buildings jointly with the library system and public swimming pools. This doesn't have to look like the state snatching kids away from their parents--just doing a better job of the things that we are already doing.

Kdrosa:

The twin studies that you refer to offer a whole lot of information about differences and similarities of separated twins raised in various environments. In fact there are many, many studies that draw on that data pool. What I am not seeing is the conclusion that kids adopted from low SES backgrounds into higher SES backgrounds display some innate limitation based on where they come from.

John--glad to see that we are finding some common ground. Sort of. Yes--building reform collaboratively is a hard slow process (like all democratic actions). But communication is not made easier when accountability for school climate is pre-defined as a principal (rather than school) issue that must be contractually negotiated. (BTW--try www.wholechildeducation.com--I think that is where I most recently encountered school climate surveys)

As far as I can tell, Charlie B. has been sharing the truth about Safe Harbor relentlessly, but it's hard to be heard over the well-orchestrated chorus bleating "one size doesn't fit all." OK--snarkiness aside. I know that my district is very well acquainted with Safe Harbor--as well as every other means by which the data can be spun annually to announce progress. Not that they they announce which schools have met AYP through Safe Harbor. Not with the clarity with which they proclaimed that four special needs students kept them from making AYP (via Safe Harbor, no less) one year (I still wonder about whatever happened to those four, who were they?). Remember, we are talking about the same people who have figured out that keeping the numbers of special needs kids small in any particular building or tested grade keeps them invisible (with regard to AYP), and the folks who know how (and why) to boost attendance during count weeks and redefine "present" to include kids who weren't there if someone sent their assignments home to them and invent a distinction between in-school and out-of-school suspension to keep the numbers down. I think they all pretty much knew about Safe Harbor.

But you are right. There is a larger conversation that needs to take place--between the professionals who work with kids out of school and the professionals who work with kids in schools. In my town, the parks and rec department has had excellent drama offerings (unfortunately just got axed due to lack of city revenue). They were able to coordinate with home schoolers to provide weekday classes. I gotta wonder why the home school crowd was more accessible than the school school crowd. Clearly they had an excess of daytime personnel--and everyone seems to have a lack of art support. But these entities don't talk. City is city and school system is unto itself in most municipalities.

I had a kid in an afterschool program, locate in school but run by a non-profit. The principal closed it because he had "security concerns" that students were in the building during non-school hours. I tried to make the point that even poorly supervised kids (which these were not) were better off in the school building than on the street. He couldn't grasp this idea.

Many non-profits that I know are very good at the agility thing. When museums and health organizations lost they field trip and guest speaker market in schools, they reformatted their materials to fit state standards. Some do an excellent job of presenting aligned and engaging materials. Schools could learn from them. As you know very well, some do a really good job of working with the kinds of kids that give schools fits.

There has been a lot of conversation here about not making the state into a parent or "forcing" more school on kids. If "school" means hours in an airless room with someone who resents your presence, I would agree. But it doesn't have to. It could mean that the school district sponsors a reading enrichment program as a part of every summer day camp program in the city. It could mean that schools provide two hours of content in the morning and then feed the kids lunch and send them off with the rec department for field trips every afternoon (and working parents line up every year to get a spot in those day camps because they provide a means of supervision for school age children of working parents).

Maybe we could get really revolutionary and plan new buildings jointly with the library system and public swimming pools. This doesn't have to look like the state snatching kids away from their parents--just doing a better job of the things that we are already doing.

What I am not seeing is the conclusion that kids adopted from low SES backgrounds into higher SES backgrounds display some innate limitation based on where they come from.

Maybe this will make it clearer.

KDR:

Citing yourself (even with the back-up citations from wikipedia and ERIC catalogue) is not persuasive but tautalogical.

The difference is that I am not citing myself as authority, I am merely providing an explanation of the findings, which by the way are not in dispute, which I cannot simply cut and paste here or else the spam filter will flag the post.


I'm wondering which parts you're finding unpersuasive. Have you discounted your own confirmation bias which appears to be quite large judging by your comments?

How about public funding of museums, music and sports leagues, and youth clubs

While I support this idea, unfortunately it may not benefit the kids from the poorest homes who need it the most. It's been my observation that the families attending the free admission days at museums and the free performances by local arts groups are primarily middle-class ones on a budget.

The barriers are not just economic but also cultural. You've got to convince the low-income parents to actually take advantage of the opportunities.

KDR:

My bias, or lack thereof, might be important if I were a researcher. At this point, I am just a reader trying to get an honest answer to the question of who has come up with the undisputed conclusions that you allude to. Even accepting the Wikipedia summaries and ERIC abstracts in place of actual research articles, I don't see a piece of research among those that you have cited that concludes that there is an "expected" level of achievement that correlates to SES based on study of twins. The studies that you point to do, in fact, establish that twins are more like one another than they are like the general population, and are even more like one another than non-biological adoptive siblings with whom they have been raised. This does not add up to the conclusion which you stated, which is that low SES children, even when adopted by upper SES families do not achieve like upper SES families.

This does not add up to the conclusion which you stated, which is that low SES children, even when adopted by upper SES families do not achieve like upper SES families.

Actually, that's exactly what the studies found. take for example the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study which measured IQ, Student GPA, class rank, and school aptitude.

The high SES biological siblings scored the highest on all measures, followed by the adopted children with two white parents, adopted children with one white and one black parent, and adopted children with two black parents respectively.

The researcher was expectingto find an SES effect. But the results showed the opposite.

Those reults directly and empirically refute the arguments you've been making.

But don't take my word for it, go get a copy of the research and see for yourself.

KDR:

You are mixing ethnicity and SES here (along with adoption), and implying causality based on SES.

Sorry--make that causality based on SES of the biological parent.

The part with the two white college educated adoptive parents and the adopted children with two white biological parents is the relevant part. The adoption part is also relevant becuase it controls for environmental factors.

The adopted children were selected randomly and the parent's SES was average for whites (from the north). The independent variable is (adopted) parent SES. That's where we get the causality or in the case lack of causality because the adopted parents' higher SES had almost no effect on the outcomes of the adopted children. That blows a big hole in your theory.

The Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study was published way back in 1976. Given the progress that has been made in the past several decades in reducing racial prejudice in our society, I am skeptical about the study's relevance today. Remember that the 70's was the decade of fights over busing and racial quotas in higher education (e.g. the Bakke case).

KDR:

I am not sure what you think my theory is. I would suggest to you, however that adoption, while providing control for some factors, introduces others.

I have found that tools such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDfew0YcDTo to be extremely helpful in inspiring pre-college aged kids.

J Swoboda
Education Dynamics

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  • Crimson Wife: The Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study was published way back in read more
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