Friday, May 12, 2006


There were some really interesting comments on the last post. I'd like to say that I agree with the commentor who said that not all schools should be like KIPP schools. Obviously education is not a one size fits all type of joint. There should be choices, for parents and for students. Choice is part of the appeal of the charter school movement, and something that I think makes it so promising. In our society, we are obsessed with choice. New brands and flavors and colors are constantly cropping up, competing for our attention. And yet we are somehow afraid of letting people choose schools, as if the whole world would fall around us. Well, wealthy people have school choice because they have money. Less wealthy people should have choice too.

Having a choice, rather than something pushed on you, really creates a level of buy-in. If all schools were charter schools (it's ok, breathe), parents would have a tremendous level of choice as to where to send their child. The schools with the best records, teachers, and programs would be in high demand (and could be allocated money to expand), whereas the bad schools would have to improve or be pushed to the side. Even though there aren't huge profits in education, I think with some kind of market forces in place you will have schools cropping up if there is a demand for them. For example, if too many kids are getting kicked out of charter schools, more schools for kids with EBD will step in to fill the void. Believe it or not, there are people willing and able to help kids like that, and the state has allocated money for them. The DOE is so incredibly inefficient right now, in so many ways, that introducing any kind of market forces (through school choice, teacher selection, merit pay, etc) will free up money to be funneled into areas that need it, like special ed.

This is rambly assortment of ideas with no order imposed, so bear with me.

As for expulsion, I have a child in my class who was asked to leave a KIPP school in the 8th grade. He has a load of emotional/behavioral problems that prevent him from being able to handle such a structured environment. However, he is also the smartest kid in my class. A lot of the knowledge he has he learned at KIPP. He scores 4's on all his state exams. Now, he is a naturally smart young kid, but he didn't learn what he knows from watching TV. And his home life has been so chaotic for so long that the only possibility, I think, is that he learned at school. So even though he was expelled, I think he really did benefit from being at that school.

Furthermore, for a school to create a certain kind of culture, the power to ultimately expel a student has to be there. So let's say 3 kids out of a school of 75 kids are expelled in one year. If expelling those 3 kids was necessary (and often, it is) to maintain the culture and safety of the school for the other 72, does that mean we need to shut down the school? As for screening, even if there is some selection based on motivated parents and door-knocking, all the data shows that the students who enter these schools are almost identical to students at the neighborhood schools. Same low test scores, same income levels, same ethnic/racial backgrounds, same obstacles. That small sliver of selection cannot, in my view, ever overshadow the difference in gains between KIPP-type charter school kids and neighborhood public school kids. Let's say there were 5 KIPP schools in one area instead of 1. Maybe, because the program is so rigorous and not for everyone, those five schools would only help 3-4 times the number of students that the 1st one did. Does that mean those other 5 are not worth having? Just because not every kid can succeed (and many can) at a particular charter school does not provide a reason to shut down that school. That's just stupid. The purpose of a free public education is not to keep all kids at the same mediocre levels. If one school is doing things better than another, complain about the second school, not the first! Let's stop attacking things that work so we can cover our own asses.

As for the comment about preparing every kid for public office--yello? Isn't that what American democracy is all about? An assumption that everyone has the potential to be what he creates himself to be, and not what he was born as? Listen, if the kid is not interested in that path, fine. But how am I supposed to tell which kids should be afforded privileges? Which kids get the keys to power and which don't? If a sixth grader is unmotivated to do math, that doesn't mean he can't someday be an engineer. I don't think I have the right to select which students get which knowledge. I have to push them all, try to motivate them all. When they're older, then they can make a choice. Which is why I would definitely support a greater variety of high-quality high schools (charter high schools? eh? eh?)--vocational, professional, college prep, whatever. Students at that age are a little more self-aware.

Aaaanyway, I shall end with some typical whining, since that is really the true essence of this blog. My students are going nuts! They're 8th graders and want OUT of the school. This week 6 of them were suspended for having a crayon fight in another class. I believe I heard the phrase "the air was thick with crayons," or something to that effect. One little boy, who is constantly in trouble, saw what was about to start, got up, and ran out of the room, stating "I am not about to get expelled for no crayon fight." I was proud of his self-restraint. It's funny though, about this suspension punishment, since last week in class one of my students made an incredibly obscene remark/insult to another student (this was the worst behavior incident I have seen in my class) and was sent to the office. And yet, the very same day, she was playing in the championship basketball game. Oh, did I mention she's the star player? Right. Great message to send. Oh well, that's life. And at a charter school, no less! :)


At May 23, 2006 7:30 AM, Blogger NMD said...

I think that you're a little too optimistic about the ability of markets to improve academic achievement in education. Yes, the college-prep charter schools are making a difference in some kids lives, and that’s great. If people want an opportunity for such an experience, they shouldn't be denied it because they can't afford a private prep school. It’s why, on balance, I’m a charter supporter. But for every charter school with traditional academic goals, there is one that has some other kind of central goal: that students become good artists, or social activists, or nice people. If every person agreed that academic strength is the Number One determinant of a good school, then market choice might improve academic achievement overall. But as it is, a charter school could perform on par w/ (or worse than) the public system, and still maintain a healthy “market niche.”

Remember the paradox that 25% of Americans think that America's public school system should be graded an A or a B but 70% think the same about the school their oldest child attends. By academic achievement alone, the former is far closer to the truth than the latter.

At July 31, 2006 10:20 AM, Anonymous Catherine Johnson said...

re: choice (and somewhat off-topic), I've felt for some time that suburban parents would be far more accepting of standardized testing if they could choose whether or not to take part. There's no statistical need for every student in every school to take the tests, and statisticians would be able to adjust for the bias involved in self-selection.

My guess is that many parents would opt to have their kids take the tests as a check on their schools, especially if it were possible for parents to know the scores while individual teachers and administrators did not. newoldteacher is correct that the more choice and control a person has, the more buy in.

I would love to see the federal government post norm- and criterion-referenced tests on the web parents could download and give to their children in private if they choose. Before NCLB many schools used old, venerable tests like ITBS; now, with NCLB, states are using new tests given only to their own students. We parents have no idea what the crude 1 - 4 scoring rubrics used by state DOEs means.

What does a '4' on a New York state test actually tell you?

What is a '3'? What does it mean to "meet standards"? How do our standards compare to standards in other states and countries?

We don't know. Post NCLB (I support of the law) parents don't know how their children's achievement stacks up against students in other states or in other countries.

We have less information than we did before.

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