A couple of education items:
First, at TPM, they’re having a book club on Amanda Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World. I read the first chapter there and, unless she makes arguments elsewhere in the book, it’s quite weak. Her argument, which is that poverty alone doesn’t explain why our scores on a critical thinking test are lower than other countries, treats children in the US as one undifferentiated mass, when it’s clear that there are two American educational systems, one for inner-city kids and one for the rest of them, which have two different outcomes. She also slings around a lot of terms without defining them (e.g., “poverty”). If anyone has read the whole thing, is the rest of the book this bad?
Second, those of you interested in charter schools might be interested find [pdf] from one of our local reporters (whose blog is down at the moment). It’s a state audit of a local charter school that found that only one of the service contracts at the school had competitive bidding, including the lease of the school building, and that a number of the contracts were with companies that had various relationships with school board members and their friends. Since this is a charter school, there are no state laws enforcing competitive bids, and the response from the school is a couple of short paragraphs saying that they’ll take the audit under consideration. The reason that the lease wasn’t bid competitively, they said, was due to a “sense of urgency”.
I understand that urban schools are a mess. I don’t see how shoveling a bunch of money to (at best) some well-intentioned but naive parents, or (at worst) a bunch of grifters, is going to provide a workable alternative.
Is Ripley the person that Drum (I think) has beat up on because she shifts between what statistics she uses, picking the one most convenient to what she is trying to support?
To answer my own question:
Alabama Blue Dot
When we say there are two educational systems, “inner-city kids” and “everyone else” you are are leaving out huge numbers of poor kids in the rural South. They are largely but not entirely African-American. They are isolated and overlooked. My daughter teaches high school English in one such school, and the stories are heartbreaking. We have got to get out of this rut that the only poor, disadvantaged school children are in urban areas.
Davis X. Machina
Public schools are public. They’re not imposed from without by some occupying army. If they suck — assuming arguendo they suck — they suck because there’s a constituency for suck. Or a politically more powerful constituency for whatever the alternative to un-sucking them at the time is.
@Alabama Blue Dot: it is more complicated than that. in truth, and the dirty little secret is that “we” dont have a singular purpose behind education so our pedagogy is necessarily scattershot. For some it is to get a job; for some it is to foster assimilation into one nation; for some it is to learn facts; for some it is to learn critical thinking. While many pedagogical tools can serve many of those goals, not all will and if you believe, as i do, that critical thinking in the service of a democratic republic is the true goal then even the rich white suburban schools dont necessarily do kids justice. this is a much larger conversation that goes back to greek notion of a polis as the guiding light to all things done for social man.
Actually, it is more like three or possibly even four different education systems according to the education policy class I took a couple of years back. The public schools for the top twenty five percenters’ kids are amazing(think Fairfax County, Virgina or Gross Pointe) . Schools for white upper middle class kids are still good, but tend to focus less on individual initiative in the children and much more on rote learning.
Schools for lower middle class and upper working class whites and people of color are meant to produce workers, plain and simple…and that reflects a nationwide policy that has been in place for the better part of a century where obedient factory workers were considered a national priority.
Schools in the ghetto often emphasize dehumanizing Skinnerian obedience techniques (non verbal hand gestures that you would associate with dog training!) and produce low income service sector workers at best (and that is deliberate. I remember reading one heart breaking interview with a bright young girl in an inner city high school in Los Angeles who wanted to go to medical school. The high school was trying to steer her into being a beautician. All of the work related programs they had were low income stuff like that and the kids knew they were being fucked over)
@Davis X. Machina:
You’re exactly right, that is an assumption — a powerful one that should be examined more closely than it has been.
“I understand that urban schools are a mess. I don’t see how shoveling a bunch of money to (at best) some well-intentioned but naive parents, or (at worst) a bunch of grifters, is going to provide a workable alternative.”
It’s not supposed to be a “workable” alternative – it’s supposed to be a LUCRATIVE alternative. Kids (and the school budget that goes with them) are getting bought and sold for political advantage
Yes. It’s not good.
You know, you could read what Somerby has to say about Ripley’s book. Doing so might give you some insight.
@celticdragonchick: Thank you for that comment. Our education system functions in way that ensures existing class inequalities will be perpetuated. By reducing this to a simple black inner city/white suburban dichotomy we miss the true picture of what is happening.
Lies, damned lies and statistics…
I’ve heard that a lot of these countries that beat us in the almighty testing only test their “pre-college” kids, and so are only testing the top 50-60% of their students. Germany, I know, tracks kids into vo-tech education. I doubt they are being tested on their calculus. It’s always fascinating to me how LONG American education has been failing, and how the Russians…er…Germans… em… Japanese… er…Chinese are going to “eat our lunch”.
And I do think that education varies widely among regions. My oldest kid is in special ed here in CT, and he gets services that Georgia couldn’t dream of providing. If/when he finally succeeds, it will be because of a real commitment not to “leave any child behind.” Not rhetoric, creationism and reduced property taxes.
Davis X. Machina
@Cervantes: If they suck — again, arguendo — then the problem is one we aren’t willing to grapple with. Neil Postman put it nicely years ago. Given any sufficiently solid “Why” to learn, students will succeed with nearly any “How” — and all we do is endlessly work on how — we tinker with it on a good day, and on a bad day we completely change, in most cases change it for the third time in ten years. (When I’m on an accreditation visiting team, I can tell in two hours if the building principal is a paid-up member of the panacea-of-the-month club…) Sir Humphrey Appleby’s rule holds good. “Something must be done. This is something. So this must be done.”
OT: I usually watch Rachel Maddow on line the next day, but today I can’t get her show to run at all. Is it just NBC’s horrible site? Or have the Koch brothers wiped her out?
Made me think of one of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s most pungent observations:
This is exactly the case. Most comparisons of our untracked students are made against countries who use strong tracking of their students – often moving them into a vo-tech path by what we would consider middle school age in this country.
There’s a reason that, while the narrative has always been that our public secondary education system is “failing”, our public university system is the “best in the world”. Comparisons to other nations that don’t explicitly take the differences in tracking between the countries into account are either innocently mistaken or intentional lies intended to drum up panic and have money shoveled over to “innovators” who will “fix” our system (and fix it damn good).
I can solve a lot of this, but it will take a concerted effort to take down conservative religionists on teaching critical thinking with regard to multiple sacred cows, including, but not limited to, evolution, ethics, biology, sex ed, history of the Exalted Republic and White People in general, the root causes of the Civil War and the reality of what the heroic and saintly leadership – including military – of the Lost Cause were.
Also getting hobnailed boot kicks in the taint are
– Technocrati who insist that every classroom be interconnected to the web to the nth degree, including projection screens, when cheap blackboards can do quite nicely in many subjects;
– Curriculum designers who too frequently change textbooks for the latest fad, when some textbooks work perfectly across many years;
– Budget saving board members who shut down science labs, language studies and music programs in order to find money for interconnectivity, laptops and tablets for 3rd graders;
– Dumb as rocks, well-meaning parents and community members who demand standardized test improvements every year in the name of bullshit “accountability”, completely missing the fact that demographic shifts dictate fluctuating results;
– Organizational gurus who create expensive administrative bloat and a hideous redundancy in the name of providing checks and balances;
– Unions which focus more on defending against terminations and reassignments (which are generally justifiable) while ignoring issues of overall compensation, benefits and working conditions and schedules;
– Food service jackasses who think that cheap, processed crap and vending machines full of soft drinks and snacks are decent food;
– Randian assholes who think that teachers are overcompensated and that the job is easy.
Basically I’d pare back the number of assistant principals, office people and counselors, go back to chalk or dry erase boards in math, language and history and would expect that the principal live in the district that the school is located in.
FIFY. Of course not all urban schools or neighborhoods are a mess, but the problems go way deeper than the schools. When a population of children is living with constant stressors like undernourishment, displacement, and the threat of violence, the best school in the world isn’t going to be able to get them up to speed with suburban kids whose biggest problem is that soccer practice conflicts with their piano lesson time.
If charter schools are so good for the education of our children, why aren’t the parents of Clayton and Kirkwood MO children clamoring for them?
Interesting that the top ranked high school in MO is the Metro Academic and Classical High School. It is a Magnet school in the city of St. Louis born of the court ordered desegregation from the 80s (??) between the city and STL county school districts. I knew it was good as I have several city friends who fought like hell to get their kids into it, but I had no idea it was that good.
The success of the MACHS shows that we know what works and that turning a profit is not integral to fixing our inner city schools.
ps: as an alumni of Kirkwood, I can only say it has come a long way since the mid 70s. I once had a history teacher say, “You can get an “F” on every paper and every test, but if you show up in class every day, and I don’t care if you sleep right thru it, you will pass.” So naturally enough I, a history buff, skipped every class but the test days. I hated that school.
Okay, I’m forced to rebut Amanda Ripley with Amanda Ripley.
South Korea is one of the countries that does well on the standardized tests she relies on to measure the value of schools. They’re all talking about South Korea, which has replaced Finland as the Best Country because they found out Finland doesn’t rely on standardized tests and has a unionized workforce. Finland has been brutally dumped. It doesn’t fit the narrative. They’re losers in Finland.
Here she is in the WSJ:
So let’s talk seriously about this. Where is the money for the huge tutoring sector coming from? Is it in addition to public ed spending? Is that why they do so well on standardized tests? Is that ALSO why private (additional) education spending is second only to housing for middle class families in South Korea?
Is it fair to compare South Korea’s public school system PLUS a ‘shadow system” to US public education spending? What is she comparing? I have no idea what constitutes “public education spending” in Poland. Does she? Wouldn’t that be an important thing to know?
@Davis X. Machina:
While it would be premature to commit myself to a definitive position on the merits, if any, of any given “How,” and while further study of “good days,” in contradistinction to “bad days,” may not be entirely unwelcome in the fullness of time, for the moment all I can say with any surety is that you may well be right, if “right” is, indeed, the word I am looking for.
Oh, and you don’t need brand-spanking new buildings every 15 years.
Basically, I’m looking to see the teachers paid more, retention and promotion being the goal. Assistant principal titles and money would be assigned to teachers with genuine promise.
Yes, it just makes all sorts of sense to compare kids of the United States, a continental size country with multiple races and a large immigrant population with places like Finland (population of 5,432,00 and some – most with the same ethnic origin- and all the other Nordic countries are similar). The Chicago Metro region alone is twice that population. Ditto places like Singapore and Hong Kong, city states where racial tribalism plays a rather small role in their history. Further, it is not just inner city urban v. suburban schools, it is also rather crappy rural schools versus suburban and a general reluctance of the white tribe, particularly the Southern White tribe and its northern adherents, to pay for the education of the children of the Black and Hispanic tribes.
Under the Third Republic in France, a conscious effort was made to use the public education system as a tool against the old elites and all their bullshit. The cliche of the culture wars was of the opposition in every village between the schoolteacher and the priest.
Of course, can’t do that in America. But I often think we should.
@Kay: At the TPM link, South Korea hates their schools.
Korea’s education minister, Lee Ju-Ho: “You Americans see a bright side of the Korean education system,” he said. “But Koreans are not happy with it.”
The country had created a monster, Lee told me. The system had become overly competitive, leading to an unhealthy preoccupation with test scores and a dependence on private tutoring academies. Even over summer break, libraries got so crowded that kids had to get tickets to get a space. Many paid $4 to rent a small air-conditioned carrel in the city’s plentiful supply of for-profit self-study libraries.
@Chris: At the very least, we should acknowledge that our current public education system is being used BY the elites to perpetuate their bullshit. Until this simple fact is addressed, there is no hope of improving the situation. Too many liberals instinctively buy into David Brooks-style meritocracy crap without considering that the system as it exists today works exactly in the way our elites want it to.
Because it’s also wildly inequitable, which Ripley barely mentions. The “shadow system” is a for-profit tutoring sector OUTSIDE public education. Parents pay for it. Those who can pay more, pay more, but ALL parents are trapped in it.
We already have inequality in education. Why would we want more of it? So we can brag about a test score?
Why is she crowing about a tutor who makes 4 million dollars a year? Where does she think that money is coming from? It’s coming from working and middle class South Koreans.
It’s exhausting to me, because I have heard this argument before. Over and over and over.
We have it here! Anti-public school people used to point to the local Catholic school and crow about “bang for the buck” and lower per pupil spending.
They pay teachers 15k less a year, they don’t pay for transportation or special educations services or textbooks (in Ohio those costs go to public school districts). I think I found the missing education spending!
How many times do we have to do this? Could we at least start accumulating and applying what we’ve learned? Or do we have to start over with each new 25 year old expert?
Oh great, another schmuck trying to privatize public schools as a “solution” to some poorly defined set of problems regarding public schools.
Oftentime the “problem” goes like this:
“Something something MY KID HAD A BAD TEACHER THIS ONE TIME PLUS SOME KIDS ARE ASSHOLES back in my day reading riting rithmatic ARGLE BARGLE grades”
I have and do teach some kids from Korea. They are very adept at memorizing information. It’s pretty amazing. But they rarely beat out the other students on essays, Harkness discussions or other forms of evaluations and assessments. I’ve also seen Korean kids who memorize every College Board AP rubric in order to do better on the exams. They hire AP tutors over the summer to drill the rubrics into them.
That’s one way to educate yourself I guess.
>> (at best) some well-intentioned but naive parents, or (at worst) a bunch of grifters
uh, both. Useful idiots and the grifters they enable.
I’d also like to know why they dumped Finland as the “model”. Is it because the Finnish expert contradicted everything they said about ed reform ?
Here he is, speaking for himself.
No offense meant to her personally, but Amanda Ripley is a writer with a BA in government. I would not be surprised, given that lack of academic (or feet on the ground) experience, that she is likely to postulate a mistaken idea or two.
Re Charter Schools: As long as the pursuit of a non public educational process can be see as a way to make profits, it will be a prime magnet for con people and scammers – and they are certainly making themselves home in the charter school movement.
oh, since we’re talking about public ed, I’ll add this note about my lovely wife.
Working in Philly Education is so stressful lately, that yesterday, after driving herself to school, instead of taking the bus, she literally forgot she drove the car, and took the bus back home instead. She did not remember until after I asked, this morning, “Where did you park the car?”
“In the driveway, why?”
I start looking around the street parking near the house; I start wondering, “Shit, our car got *stolen*?!?” A few minutes go by.
“Dad!” “Yeah?” “Mom forgot the car at school yesterday!”
Which is certainly better than the car being stolen.
US public schools take any kid that shows up. They do because they (mostly) want to, and because they have to. English Language Learners, mentally and physically handicapped kids, foster kids, name’em. They’re in the public schools. And frankly, almost all the teachers about kill themselves trying to reach and teach all the kids.
But there is something to the idea of everybody bringing a different philosophy to the table. Me? I want to see no grades, and no grade levels. This notion that because a kid is 8 or 9 means he should be in the 3rd grade, doing 3rd grade reading or math, goes against everything we know about human development.
I want kids to have every opportunity to learn the material. I’d love to see it all about mastery. However, when a nearby district proposed to move towards mastery, as opposed to traditional grades, the parents lost their minds. What do you mean everyone will have every opportunity reach mastery? How will I know my little Jimmy is the best if he doesn’t get all A’s?
This is probably an unanswerable question, but have we ever actually tried “throwing money” at poor urban and rural schools, or did we decide long ago that it would be wasteful for kids in inner-city Detroit or rural Alabama to have the things my suburban school had (including an indoor pool and a theater that was the envy of visitors from Northwestern University) so we shouldn’t even try to provide them?
You know, it’s fine to write a book and add to the discussion or whatever, but I resent what I see as recklessness and celebrity and fads driving this. Both Duncan and Tom Friedman are quoting this book. I see it being used to drive a very specific agenda, and that can be true whether she intended it or not.
I’ve watched this happen in my own field, in my own profession. I am, right now, dealing with what was a stupid, reckless fear-driven approach to juvenile sex offenders. It’s a disaster, just like “zero tolerance” was a disaster.
The fact is, people KNEW it was reckless, and they were ignored.
There are two costs to this. There’s the immediate cost, and there’s “opportunity costs”. Had we resisted the urge to hammer 15 year old sex offenders, had we not jumped on that bandwagon with NO thought for the ‘morrow, we could have been doing something that worked.
I’m 51. I’ve seen this before. I’m wary of trumped-up emergencies. This blaring siren “ed reform!” where Condaleeza Rice is calling it a “national security issue” and urging immediate privatization runs counter to both my temperament and my experience.
You’re forgetting the system that the 1 percenters have access to, which is an entity unto itself. Also,
Isn’t privatization grand? I Just love the sense of accountability…
Also, I’ll note this article again:
Meet The Nate Silver Of Education. Bruce Baker Will Bring Sanity To Reform Hype
@Davis X. Machina:
Also, you know, routinely placing teachers and education on the chopping block first when the economy goes south, and never giving any money back when times get better…
I just finished reading Ingenious by Jason Fagone about the automotive X Prize. There was a high school team from South Philly that made it to the top five. One of their teachers put it as succinctly as I’ve ever seen–that he’s been in education a long time and been through four different school reform ‘models’. And every one of them was basically put kids at desks and beat them to perform.
The ‘latest thing’ is differentiated instruction. Meeting every kid where their need is. In an average classroom of 24-25 kids, tell me how one person does that. You sure don’t hear any talk about more than one teacher in the classroom, or heaven forbid, decoupling sports from the public schools.
What do you have against assistant principals?
When I was in high school 20+ years ago they got all the tough discipline case students the teachers could not handle. The good ones had the respect of those students and the rest of the student body for being leaders in the school.
Another example of how fucked up our system is: a woman was sentenced to 10 days of jail and three years of probation in 2011 for sending her kids to a better school by using her father’s address. Because that’s legally regarded as theft, in case you didn’t know. Poors have to stay in their own underfunded districts or risk jail time.
ETA: To be clear, that story is from 2011, but it sticks in my mind as an example of how screwed many people are.
@Mnemosyne: I do not understand that at all. If it’s a public school, let them in. There’s a parallel there somewhere from when I worked at social services. I’d interview folks who live five miles from our office, but in another county. I’d work up their case, then transfer it over to the neighboring county. Having to come to social services is hard enough, why have a pissing contest over an arbitrary county line. The supervisors would have a fit about it, which I didn’t get. It’s not like we were getting commissions for signing up clients.
It’s about the wrong kind of people getting benefits from the right kind of people. It’s basically the reason we can’t have nice things in this country. Basically the grocery clerks kids don’t deserve the same education as the doctors kids because one earns less than the other, does wonders for perpetuating poverty.
@Mnemosyne: I agree with the message of this comment in the abstract. Money needs to be used as investment in all stages of the process.
Issues arise when it becomes evident that the ways that we need to spend money in schools to help education seem to not yet exist. Will they ever?
School problems are societal problems. What happens in a child’s life ages 0-5 will have as much impact on the core trajectory of that child’s life than any assortment of teachers. Our society has not been designed to address this reality with any consistency. Finding workable ways to address the social inequities that confront so many in their earliest years is essential. Spending money on a better high school theater is a good thing and still not the best thing.
That said, during my decades as a high school teacher in an urban/near-suburban ecosystem, I wanted more money spent at the primary grades. Differentiating instruction properly is expensive and this is where it most certainly needs to be done. This is where so much important development occurs. Putting kids in oversized classes having limited individual contact with a nurturing professional is obscene.
yeah, class size is a huge issue. everybody wants their kid to get individual attention, but when you have 30 first graders in a single classroom it isn’t going to happen.
my oldest is in a private kindergarten right now and we’re deciding whether to transition her to public school next year. she’s in a class of 12, but at the public school it would be more than double that. how a single teacher is supposed to get anything done with the better part of 30 6-year olds i have no idea.
also, her current school is small. small enough that the older kids aren’t socialized solely with kids their own age (and with all the shit behaviour that comes with that), which i like. the 3rd-5th graders are actually really nice kids, because they don’t only stick with their direct peers. they don’t shit all over the younger kids.
I can’t comment on that case, but generally in my state: If the custodial parent lives in school district “A”, but the child is sent to live with a non-guardian (legally speaking) adult in school district “B”, then “B” is obligated to address that situation. The taxpayers of “B” are footing the bill for a nonresident.
A few points of clarification with her book… Ripley makes an argument for paying teachers more, but also weakening labor unions, which is why Duncan, et al like her arguments. She also argues for making teaching schools more prestigious and not only harder to get into, but more rigorous while there. That has seemingly been one of the key determinants for Finland’s success, according to her book. (She does not discuss the social services there for poorer families, by the way.) There’s a bit of wish fulfillment there, since the low rate of pay for teachers makes it less attractive to fight to get into teaching schools. She actually is quite critical of South Korea’s educational system and notes that it is almost entirely based on drill ‘n’ kill and has spawned an industry in test prep that only the richer kids can afford. She advocates the PISA test, which examines students’ problem-solving abilities, and which seems somewhat similar to the CWRA test, which some colleges are beginning to use for the same reason. So she is not necessarily an advocate for pedagogical strategies that are based on test preparation, but rather on the always nebulous “real world preparation.” In all other respects, she does miss the boat with respect to the sampling she does to compare US students to the student in other countries, and to her failure to address the significant political and economic problems of inequality here.
By the way, some of the arguments against using technology in schools are a bit disingenuous. I’m sympathetic to the arguments about costs, but if kids aren’t exposed to tech in school, they really are being trained for the service industry (if even that – so much of the service industry is being digitized…) And to say that kids get their tech training in the home, that’s pretty much true only for the wealthier kids, anyway. Technology in the classroom is not a magic bullet by itself, but used correctly, is a key resource for student success…
@Keith G: It’s a fairly typical rule, that you can’t send your kid to live with someone else specifically for educational purposes. Or use the address of a family member to get kids into a particular school. Having said that, in SC at least, if the kid’s enrolled in a school in our district, we’re getting the state funding for him. And he’s probably living with someone who is paying school taxes.
I object to criminalizing it.
Davis X. Machina
She’s supposed to save money, not teach…
Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler, did an excellent job debunking Ripley’s book before, like most topics he tackles, he turned his posts into repetitive self parody.
Reviewers seem to like Ripley’s book because she personalizes it by following three American exchange students to foreign countries. They seem to like that she takes her work into the field, so to speak. But when she gets to analysis, she goes from the field to the orchard. The cherry orchard. She is truly one of The Smartest Cherry Pickers in the World of Journalism.
Obviously, different schools have different needs, but I don’t think that the “throwing money at the problem” solution has ever been tried, only mocked. What if we put health clinics staffed by nurse practitioners (or even — gasp! — real doctors!) in inner-city schools? What if there was a food bank that parents could get food from when they picked up/dropped their kids off from school? What if they had fully-funded after-school care with enrichment programs in art, music, etc. so working parents knew their kids were safe until they got off work? What if there were tutors available for every grade level to help the kids who needed it? What if there were enrichment summer schools offered — not just punishment ones for kids who are behind, but also fun ones for kids with interests that aren’t always covered by standardized tests?
And those are just the ideas off the top of my head that we could “throw money” at that I think would help both inner-city and rural schools, but we’re not even allowed to talk about them as a society because everyone knows our schools are failing and everyone knows that “throwing money” doesn’t work, even though it’s never actually been tried.
I work in public procurement, and even in public schools where there are state laws, there are some very fishy practices for procurement in education, because they have waivers if they determine that a purchase is necessary for educational reason.
But isn’t “B” paying taxes in that community even if s/he does not have legal custody of the child? So (IMO, of course, not a legal opinion), the school district is telling “B” that s/he is good enough to pay taxes to support the school, but not good enough to send a related child to that school.
jake the snake
Growing up and living in what is basically a rural/small town area, I may have a little different insight. The county I grew up is relatively small, even for Kentucky. (In Kentucky we have 120 counties for 40,409 sq. mi. and 4.4 million people.)
There was one High School. There was a lot of class segregation by (supposed) aptitude, but grades 9-12 of all socio-economic
classes were in one building.
In the county that I live in now, there is one city high school and four county schools. The city school is mixed racially and economically. There is one county school that is mostly rural, but is racially mixed and mostly working class. One county school is mostly working class and poor, with high population of minorities, African-American, Latino, Bosnian, and Asian, mostly Vietnamese and Cambodian. There is another high school that is mostly working class and above. The professionals whose
children don’t go to the city school go there. The last high school is the newest and seems to working class and above, though it did siphon off some minorities from the second county school.
Even with those differences, all the local schools are more diverse than schools in larger urban and suburban areas. Outside of Louisville, to my knowledge, most school systems in Kentucky have similar diversity, though city schools tend to have more minorities.
As I said earlier, 40 plus years ago, when I was in school, there was a lot of segregation by “aptitude”. Which mostly meant that the children and lower middle class and poor were tracked into “trade school”, while others were tracked into college prep classes. I don’t know how much of that goes on now, since it has been 15 years since my children were in school.
Back in the day (70s), there were these things called ‘magnet schools.’ I went to one for K-3rd grade before my family moved. These schools were public (you had to live in the neighborhood to attend). They had open classrooms, so that if my little first grade self was good at math, I’d be taught 4th grade math. If my little first grade self sucked at writing, I’d be taught K-level writing. Each kid got this treatment.
I’m sure someone called this a failed experiment since this method isn’t around anymore. My question is why? It was brilliant. I transferred to a regular public school and was bored out of my mind for years. This is probably why I have both a GED and a PhD:) Any BJers in Ed know why this system failed (or point me to the lit that tells me? In this, Google is not my friend)
Paul in KY
@Gene108: In my school, they were generally hated. Probably because of the tasks they had to do.
Another Holocene Human
Charter schools in the inner city sell the fantasy of the old community race-segregated school in the old days of the ghetto when rich and poor all supported each other and the Black principal made sure that every child felt valued and reached their potential–basically nostalgia porn for a generation of parents who went to school during the desegregation/busing wars and never experienced it.
Which is why they can sell it.
However, as the NYC mayoral race can attest, the population buying it is dwarfed by the demo who want their public schools BACK and not leased out for free to charter scammers while special needs kids and their families are left holding the bag. Lhota marched with charter supporters and got pummeled in a landslide for the ages. Of course, I don’t think his position on kittens helped his campaign much. ;)
What’s needed is to get rid of the old paradigm of putting “magnets” in minority district schools and busing in whites and to bring in the same fucking resources given to white kids to the minority-majority neighborhood schools, but let’s be real here: a lot of those resources come from PTAs and are a function of parental wealth. However, it is SICK that a place like Montgomery County, MD can have white kids doing accelerated programs in separate classrooms and then have the gall to claim that they’re spreading the ed dollars around. BULLSHIT. In fact, the shithole high school I went to CUT HONORS programs out to feed the magnet pig, and the magnet kids were majority not from the school region. I took the entrance exam, looked like only half the test sitters were white yet magically 95% of the magnet acceptees were white. Monkey County got sued about a decade later after they shafted some Vietamese pre-K kids out of a French immersion program because they needed the kids to make their numbers at their home school. FUCK those motherfuckers. The most integrated classroom I was ever in was SUMMER SCHOOL. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. We could have been integrated all year round. FUCKERS.
Paul in KY
@Mnemosyne: I think the fines, etc. are there, because if they wern’t then the ‘good’ school would be inundated with kids sent there from outside the district.
Paul in KY
@jake the snake:Outside of Louisville, Newport, Hopkinsville, Paducah, Lexington, Bowling Green, and whatever town Trigg Co hosts there may be economic diversity in the public schools, but there is hardly any racial diversity, as there are very few blacks living outside of the areas I mentioned above.
@Mnemosyne: Fair enough. All that is needed is to rewrite the law.
Attendance regs can be more flexible, but remember that there is a chance for disruption that comes with flexibility. Many resources used in contemporary classroom are expensive and therefore limited. A lot of money is spent by schools on demographic projections so that adequate resources are at hand to meet the students as they arrive and not several months later.
Just Some Fuckhead
@themis: Magnet schools were widely used by school districts that were under scrutiny for segregation issues. It was seen as a rather quick and acceptable fix to neighborhood school attendance zones that balkanized ethnic populations. Unlike pure bussing, it was mostly carrot and little stick.
AFAIK, most big urban districts still do this.
@Keith G: Granted for what are called magnet schools today. That’s not what I’m talking about. The magnet schools of the 70s (yep, I’m an old fart) were actual neighborhood public schools that taught kids at their own level in all topics. The student population wasn’t bussed in… you couldn’t attend if you didn’t live there (thanks Mom for telling the district that I lived with Grandma!). It was the teaching system that made it different from other schools in the district. I didn’t have a 2nd grade class – I went to 4th grade math, 3rd grade reading, etc. when I was 6.
Why did that education system fail?
@themis: You were fortunate to be in a place and time when educational psychology was listening to open classroom theorists and less to those espousing stage theory. Alas, proper open classroom technique is labor intensive and there was quite a bit of malpractice among the school districts that were “using” it. It became known as a fad that fell into disfavor at most places except elite programs.
@Another Holocene Human:
What I love about the vitriolic reaction to de Blasio is (and it isn’t just Republicans- Democratic ed reformers are freaking out too) is what he said is completely uncontroversial.
He said he wants to focus on existing public schools. His new school chief said she has a particular interest in improving public middle schools. He said it’s wrong to “turn our back” on existing public schools. He’s a mayor who supports public schools. That is now RADICALLY Left-wing, apparently, focusing on the schools that 90% of kids attend.
Seems sensible, right? Put time, energy and money into the schools where most of the kids are?
Privatization is just a way of saying embezzlement of public funds by people too lazy to make a living another way.
@themis: What you’re talking about wasn’t “magnet schools” per se. It was the “open classroom” movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Teams of teachers worked with groups of kids of different ages but similar ability (in any given subject). In some schools, kids weren’t even assigned to particular grade levels.
You ask why it was deemed a failure. “Conservative” back-lash, that’s why (the same counter-revolution that eventually gave us Reagan at the end of the ’70s). Right-wingers, authoritarians, and their enablers in the mass media blamed flexibility in the classroom for lowering our “standards” and fomenting urban violence. The call went up that we should all “go back to basics.” And so we did.
Pretty soon after, Reagan could even propose to cut budgets for school lunches by re-classifying ketchup as a vegetable. That is how much “conservatives” hate our kids. Are we surprised the kids are suffering?
@Keith G: Thank you – you’ve both explained why it disappeared and what new Google terms to search:)
I’m a Psych prof, but my knowledge of Ed Psych is extremely limited. Losing the open classroom model never made sense to me. In a lot of ways, that’s how we teach college. Why oh why don’t we do that earlier?
It almost makes me want to run for a School Board seat, but I don’t want to spend my free time arguing evolution to people who are too stupid to pass my freshman class.
Is it too early to start drinking?
And remember, who can afford those tutoring services? (I work for one now part-time). I don’t see many students from the large urban district here, just those from ritzy private schools.
@Cervantes: Thank you for the explanation – that makes sense to me as I think back to my 7-year-old self. (my biggest political statement back then was licking envelopes to support the ERA)
The conservative ‘back to basics’ movement was particularly active in my little burb in Oklahoma, and my open classroom elementary school reverted back to a regular school in the early 80s. No wonder I dropped out due to sheer boredom.
The conservative movement is now on it’s 3rd generation of screwing good things up.
We had mostly open classrooms when I was in junior high (early 1980s) but I think they were starting to be phased out. They worked well when the teachers were able to have “open learning time” that had us get into small groups, but traditional lecture style just didn’t work in those rooms and a lot of teachers couldn’t (or were unwilling to) adapt.
I also accidentally ended up in your ideal learning environment for grades 1-3 because I was in a minuscule Catholic school that didn’t have enough kids for full classes, so they ended up having to combine grades. I was in 1st Grade, but in the 3rd Grade reading group since I was already reading at that level.
You’re welcome, and thanks for reminding me about those times.
Here’s an example of a surviving “open school” (it’s a public school in Charlotte, NC).
Yes, another story for another day.
Don’t let the bastards get you down. That seat on the School Board is yours for the winning.
IMO, the problem is more the screwed-up way we do school funding — if you didn’t have a better (i.e. richer) school half a mile away from a crappy school, you wouldn’t have as many people who would be tempted to try and cheat the system on behalf of their kids. But the way school funding is set up, schools in richer (usually higher tax) districts have much better resources than schools in poorer districts, so parents will always be tempted to try and game the system to get their kids a better education.
@themis: And in SC at least, it’s impossible to annually ‘test’ students in an open setting like that. We get one answer booklet per kid, for all four tested subjects, in the grade that student is in. You can’t ‘off-grade level’ test a student or it will count against you for federal accountability purposes. On the one hand, that was done to put a stop to below-average and/or special ed kids from being tested below-grade level. Unfortunately, it prevents us from moving kids up as well.
Bingo. But to be fair, Ripley says in the book “this is what a free market for teachers looks like.” I don’t think that’s exactly true, I think it’s what a free market for test prep tutors looks like (and we already have one of those, as you note) but it is MORE TRUE than how the US Sec of Ed and Tom Friedman are presenting her work.
She’s actually not pushing South Korea as a model. Duncan and Tom Friedman are. One has to wonder if they actually read this book they’re all talking about, because what’s the plan? We take our struggling middle class and shove the costs of test prep off on them? That’s what South Korea appears to have done. It’s just cost-shifting, right? It’s not like there’s a net decrease in “spending on education”.
On tutors, Texas already tried the publicly-funded private tutors gambit. It failed. It was part of NCLB. It was a black hole for public money that could have gone into schools, but instead went to for-profit tutoring companies.
In other words, we already TRIED “South Korea test prep/tutor” approach, a decade ago, in Texas.
Ripley may not know this, because I think she was still in a (private) high school a decade ago :)
Cornell graduated her in ’96.
See, in my fantasy world, the tutors are right there on-site after school and, at most, you need to make an appointment ahead of time. One-stop shopping, rather than putting parents through the stress of a “free market” where they have to figure out who’s a decent tutor and who isn’t.
Thanks. I was just teasing. I really don’t have any personal objection to the book or her. As I said, my fear at this point is “they’re all going to follow this person off a cliff, just as they always do”.
Chris Christie said the two sources that most influenced his approach to education were Waiting for Superman and an anti-public school anti-labor movie called The Cartel. I know Chris Christie entered this with an ideological commitment, so I know he’s (somewhat) bullshitting with his claim of “that movie convinced me!” He was halfway to “public schools suck” just as a conservative. I also know he was once an actual registered lobbyist for Edison, the for-profit ed group, so he leans privatization going in.
Still, how do politicians and supposed “experts” get away with such a cavalier, surface approach to this? Really? He watched two movies and that was sufficient “education” to radically transform the public schools in his state?
They’re supposed to be demanding “rigor” and “hard work” from 5th graders. They don’t even demand it of themselves.
Given what today’s teachers are asked to adapt to (teaching tests, carrying guns, etc.), I have to wonder if adapting to open classrooms wouldn’t be easier.
@Cervantes: Thanks for the link – I lived in NC for grad school and saw a lot of innovative teaching at both the K-12 and university level. Glad to see some of it caught on and has survived the conservative insanity.
As for the School Board thing – I’d never be elected in Cincinnati. I’m not married (probably lesbian! Cooties!), I don’t have kids (no skin in the game, and probably lesbian too, also!), I’m not from here (foreigner! Oklahoma isn’t even in the same time zone!), I’m not Catholic (probably atheist! and lesbian too, also!) and I have an education (liberal!!). I’d be screwed 6 ways to Sunday. But the bastards will never get me down – I’m stubborn that way:)
@Phylllis: I think that’s the most depressing thing I’ve read all day. I get it, but it still sucks. My mother and grandmother are both retired public school teachers in the district I grew up in, and I’ve watched them rail to the rooftops (both are currently education lobbyists) about the amount of ‘test-teaching’ they had to do over the decades. It kills good teachers. I don’t even want to think about what it does to students. Oh wait – I don’t have to. I see the repercussions every day in my freshman classes.
@Paul in KY:
High school I went to was one of the bigger ones in NC. We went through three (maybe four can’t remember for sure), when I was there.
The principal my freshman year had been at the HS a number of years and transferred to an elementary school. The others used us as a springboard to super indentent type positions. The assistant principals held the place together.
Not enough profit in it
@Jado: Too true. And thanks for reminding me that I haven’t sacrificed to the Free Market gods today (pays credit card bill…). Done.
There are many many many reasons I loathe the Bush clan, but NCLB is creeping to the top of the list (won’t replace wars as #1).
Just BTW – my ‘all day stew because university is closed today’ is almost done and there is about a glass of wine left in the bottle. I’m seriously considering polishing it off now. Damn conservatives.
Yes, I knew you were making a joke about her youth possibly justifying her ignorance. I’m not as nice as you are and wanted to make clear that she has no such excuse.
Paul in KY
@Gene108: Thought being an Asst Principal (at least at my school) was a thankless job.
We got what sounds like a good grant here. They’re doing after school enrichment for “at risk” kids, but it’s open to all of them. Some will be recommended for the program, but they can all go if they want. They won’t “all” go, of course. The better-off kids (like mine) are in after school enrichment stuff we pay for privately, like music lessons and such.
They’re using local teachers who apply for a supplemental contract, so it’s optional for teachers too -they’ll be there because they want to be there.
The hope is it won’t be stigmatizing or grim and horrible for those who need it.
I got the tail end of a Moyers & Company interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson that gets to point that there really are two different education systems – one for places/people with money and those without. I don’t understand why this point isn’t pounded on over and over and over again because it really does make a huge difference.
On another note – I really, really like listening to him. He is obviously smart and passionate but he doesn’t talk over the heads of his audience. That is actually not an easy balance.
@themis: A wrap up from me on open classrooms:
I entered the biz in 82 just as the concept was being terminated with extreme prejudice as being a totally failed pursuit.
But here was the reality: That type of instruction requires highly trained, highly creative, and highly interactive instructors. To make it really work, a school would need to convert and train, or turnover a good part of its staff. The training and costs would be ongoing. In the pre computer era, planning, performing and evaluating differentiated learning modules was very labor intensive.
Meanwhile, school boards and administrators saw the geography of open instruction as as a potential win/win.** Schools designed for wide open class rooms cut down on building costs – walls are more expensive. Staffing can be more flexible as student to teacher ratio is no longer constrained by architecture.**
So, open schools were built and built. Yet those agencies never followed up on the expensive hiring and training regimes (or tech support) to truly implement open teaching. It was handicapped from the start and became the butt of much derision.
**Did they ever intend to follow through or was this just a quick and very short term financial scheme? Open classroom process was hardly ever implemented as it was designed to be used.
Feature not bug.
The 1% do not want equality in education. Their kids are no smarter than anyone else’s and there’s a lot more poor people with kids. The odds work against them. So they cheat and rig the game.
Same with their tools, the GOP. They often use Atwater-speak, because race works on enough of the people the 1% do not want to give those kids an equal shot. Separate but equal is what they’re after (again), at least as an interim, and their base intuits this.
Ok, I know you really were asking a rhetorical question. So consider this a rhetorical answer.
Funny how these money-draining black holes in public education money always seem to dump out in gooper cronies’ pockets.
@Keith G: Everything you’ve written should be quoted, but I’m pulling this out for starters…
Damn them. Damn them all to hell. If we would have kept this up in the 70s and 80s, there would be no need to ‘retrain’ teachers. It might have been expensive to start, but even the Free Market gods should have seen that the ROI would have been worth it. Even the ongoing education would have returned ‘investment’ since the Ed schools would have adapted. FSM knows that they’re hopping on every new thing to keep current.
Oh, and yes, we should pay teachers at every level more than we do now. Also good ROI.
But I think I’m preaching to the choir… Onward…
First (second off?) – thank you for this conversation. I’m off work today (see cold and stew and wine references up thread), so I have time to really think about this. Your input has given me a lot of references that my Google-fu wasn’t giving me, and I’m starting to see a pattern in the Ed lit thinking (and outlining a grant proposal as we speak – and no, I don’t know how to take a day off. Why do you ask?).
As a Psych prof, I have a lot of Ed majors churning through my classroom. They are very good at learning the bullet points of whatever is in fashion now, but don’t want to actually learn a damn thing (but a few of them would kill me in the street for splitting that last infinitive). At the student level, all they care about is the test. Even our Ed departments don’t encourage all the wonderful things you mention in the quote I pulled.
And just to flip the narrative a bit… if all kids are ‘special snowflakes’ now, why aren’t we educating them like that? It seems like our failed, silly 70s-80s experiment would be just the thing…
Now, where’s the wine…
I read Ripley’s book, and I also read the article that was linked earlier by Kay at #30. The Finnish experiment, where they closed 90% of teacher colleges and nationalized the teacher training curriculum, has resulted in a teacher corps of fucking educational ninjas. Contrast that to the USandA, where a common refrain is, “Oh well, I can’t get a job in my field, I guess I’ll go teach.”
I have three elementary school kids in a school that’s considered a charter but is part of the public school system. The curriculum is a hodgepodge of best-known practices: Riggs for language, Singapore for math, Core Knowledge for science & history. They wear uniforms and get “character” education. There are two teachers for each 30-child classroom and 2 classrooms in each grade, so there’s an opportunity to split the class into 4 different tracks, so the smart kids stay smart and the dumb kids get the attention they need. They intentionally do ZERO prep for the statewide standardized test, yet they have taken this school, which is 78% minority and 85% poor, from #34 (of 38 schools) to #5 on that stupid test, in 6 years.
I shared Ripley’s book with the school’s director over the Xmas break. He agreed with many of her prescriptions, and said his biggest challenge was finding teachers who were capable of delivering on his vision. There may not be many one-size-fits-all solutions in public education, but changing how teachers are selected & trained is definitely one of them.
@Kay: I went to a Catholic high school. My 11th grade math teacher, who taught several math courses all day long, would moonlight at the deli counter at Stop & Shop in the evenings. Because this was what he needed to do to survive and support his family. Even at 16, this struck me as terribly wrong.
I got an outstanding education for my parents’ money, but it still doesn’t sit well with me that the teachers who made this happen were paid so poorly. Meanwhile, half their students (not me) were headed to Vail for Winter Break and the Bahamas for Spring Break.
@Phylllis: US public schools take all comers, as you note (English Language Learners, mentally and physically handicapped kids, foster kids, name’em) because, well, we have this crazy idea that all of us are created equally and as a result, should be treated in the same manner.
That is, if one type of kid (i.e., the typically developing and native speaker) is required to go to school, then it is the civil right of all other types of kids to also receive a public education.
Really, it is something to be proud of, that we made laws to make sure every kid will be educated, even the ones who “pull down” the overall scores. Not every country does that (says the mom of one of those IEP kids who pull down his school’s scores).