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Tilting at Windmills

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July 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE....The Department of Education has released a new report on the quality of education offered by public schools vs. private schools. The release was timed for Friday and, according to the New York Times, "was made with without a news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings."

If this suggests to you that public schools came out OK in this new study, you'd be right. Basically, it was a review of NAEP scores in math and reading that was controlled for things like gender, race, English proficiency, poverty level, etc. Here are the average scores for public schools compared to private schools:

  • 4th grade reading: +1.1 points.

  • 4th grade math: +4.1 points.

  • 8th grade reading: -5.7 points.

  • 8th grade math: +0.6 points.

This obviously suggests that private schools haven't discovered a magic bullet for educational reform, despite what their supporters might sometimes claim. Still, I don't think this report is exactly cause for breaking out champagne among public school champions.

First, there's that 8th grade reading score, which is a whopping 5.7 points (about half a grade level) below that of private schools. That's a big difference.

Second, these scores confirm a widely-reported and disturbing trend: public schools seem to do OK at the elementary level, but student scores start to drop significantly in secondary school. In this study, the delta between public and private schools dropped 6.8 points in reading and 3.5 points in math between 4th and 8th grades. If the study had been extended to 11th grade, I suspect that decline would have continued.

I don't have any answers here except for a guess: namely that the pedagogy wars don't really matter much. Phonics vs. whole word? New math vs. old? Open classrooms vs. strict discipline? Without disparaging the people who work hard trying to figure this stuff out, it seems as if practically any of these approaches can succeed or fail depending on how well they're implemented.

But what does seem to show up over and over again is the effect of concentrated poverty. Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible and that this matters much more in secondary school than in elementary school.

Unfortunately, nobody has any good answers for this, so instead we mostly fuss around on the edges. Any suggestions?

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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Comments

Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible and that this matters much more in secondary school than in elementary school.

I'd say that pretty much answers the question of why the public school advantage diminished (and probably reverses) as children approach high school age.

Posted by: Peter on July 15, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, when my Dad went to school back in the Depression, 'poverty' had no such effect.

Posted by: gcochran on July 15, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Two points:

First:

It is bizzare beyond thinking that schools - public or private - fail to provide foreign language instruction at the elementary or even pre-school levels. The need for foreign language skills is massive, and the younger the student the more effective the instruction. Spanish is the obvious language to teach.

Second - and I don't expect many readers here to buy this point but it's important anyway.

In today's rapidly changing world, it is more important to teach students to learn how to learn than to master any specific skill set. Whatever the skill set, it will become obsolte. Therefore, we should strive to teach students to learn how to learn. Actually, the medieval trivium - grammar, rhetoric, and logic - would meet this. Grammar would not only include rigorous English language instruction but also the foreign language skills I mentioned above. Rhetoric means to communicate effectively. While tradtionally this meant Aristotle's rhetoric, it would actually include such modern matters as good blogging technique and effective social skills. Logic means clear thinking. Aristotle actually wrote a manual on how to detect BS while Plutarch wrote about how to tell a flatterer from a friend.

Posted by: Thinker on July 15, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

The overall reading level difference for 8th grade private versus public is 18.1., which based on what Kevin said may be almost 2 grade levels. It is the adjustments for gender [?], race English proficiency, poverty level, etc. that makes the numbers close in reading and other categories. I don't know if the adjustments are warranted, but even if they are, it further demonstrates the serious problem faced in education.

Anyone who has been around inner city education knows that private schools generally do significantly better than public schools, and as a general proposition if more kids could be put in private schools, it would be a good thing.

The "answer" is to try vouchers and see how much it improves the situation. It would not be a panacea, but it would at a minimum help some kids and I doubt that it really would hurt kids who for whatever reason got left behind in public school -- it is where they are anyway.

Posted by: brian on July 15, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

gcochran: There's more to poverty than just how much money you have. If a middle-class family is bankrupted into poverty, they still maintain all their knowledge and code of conduct about how to behave in the middle class world. A family that has been in poverty for generations does not enjoy that same benefit.

Posted by: Chris O. on July 15, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Any suggestions?

Sure, but you won't be interested. Because this is like listening to an alocholic's problems and then suggesting he quit drinking. He wanted to know how to solve his problems without quitting booze.

Anyway, the answer (the only answer) is to Throw Off The Plutocracy.

Funny, when my Dad went to school back in the Depression, 'poverty' had no such effect.

Funny how you can make up history just by tapping on a bunch of keys.

Posted by: sober on July 15, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

public schools seem to do OK at the elementary level, but student scores start to drop significantly in secondary school.

At the local elementary school, the kids run off the bus to get to school at 9:00. At the local high school, they run out of the school to get on the bus at 2:15.

It's a teenager thing.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 15, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

It is the adjustments for gender [?]

Adolescent boys will skew any reading score downwards, if they are disproportionately represented in your sample.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 15, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Comparing what the Finns and the Californians are doing in public school 8th grade (=7th in Finnish system). Class sizes are still small (17-21 pupils), whereas they increased after 3rd in California. There is variety in the length and program of each day of the week. Kids are adding their fourth language into the mix (they've already been studying Finnish, Swedish and English). Topics are broken out into eight-week modules.

Posted by: kostya on July 15, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Virginia has quite a lot of success with economic integration. People such as Jonathan Kozol--amongst many, many, many others--have been pushing for this for a really long time. The whole point of Brown was that separate was not equal, but we no longer believe in the principles of Brown or are unwilling to try.

Since the Reagan 80s, segregation--economic and racial--in schools has been on the increase and has given rise to what some are calling "a modern day Plessy". It's not really that there are no answers, it's that there is no way you're going to integrate schools fully without a fight. And few are willing to put up the fight.

Posted by: gq on July 15, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

CAUTION: Anecdote posing as data warning!

In the schools around here, one possible explaination for the decline in reading over age is the influx in each grade of those whose first language is not English.
Some children are taught English as a second language at home. Imagine the child of an executive sent to the US. Part of the reason for selecting the employee to go to the US is their English knowledge. The child's new found skills can be reinforced outside of school.
Some children are taught English exclusively at school. Imagine the child of a field worker. The parent has, and does not require, English skills. They were choosen for their low wages, not language fluency. They may or may not be literate in their first language. The school is entirely responsible for learning English, including reading, as the parent has no way to reinforce the skills taught in school.
The second group of children may enter the school system at any point in their academic careers. Those that enter at early grades have a shot as the amount to make up is smaller. Those that enter at later grade levels are in a spot however. They are expected to make up several grades of language, literacy, and ability. By this logic, the scores should go down in English more than math (as math is less dependant on language).
My only idea for this impasse is special English language immersion institutes, seperate from the day-to-day classroom. As new students reached grade level language mastery, they would be transferred into classrooms.
Thanks for listening.
Mawado

Posted by: mawado on July 15, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"But what does seem to show up over and over again is the effect of concentrated poverty. Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible... Unfortunately, nobody has any good answers for this, so instead we mostly fuss around on the edges. Any suggestions?"

Yes. Fight poverty by raising the federal minimum wage to a living wage, meaning that anyone who works 40 hours per week can earn, at the very least, a paycheck equivalent to the poverty line.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on July 15, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

As far as poverty goes, imagine a child who has not had dental care--ever. Cavities, impacted teeth and the pain that goes along with that. How about those of us who don't think poverty should matter, try to work under those conditions. What about broken bones or the inability to get medication to more effectively deal with illness? What about some of the pshycological problems that go along with poverty--and lack of counselors to deal with it?

Some of the brightest and talented people I've ever encountered--and this includes my time in graduate school--have been poor. But we brush them aside because of perceptions of their inferiority.

Posted by: gq on July 15, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

My education plan:

Goals:

1) 80% literacy for all citizens
2) 90% graduation from high school (or the GED)
3) 100% guaranteed coverage for all public, post-secondary education
4) 100% increase in research grants to all universities

Objectives:

1) Increase number and quality of teachers by 100%
2) Replace state student achievement tests with national instruments
3) Identify and improve school infrastructure on a national basis

Tasks:

1) Repeal the wasteful and debilitating No Child Left Behind Act
2) Initiate a Federal Education Program to cover Goals and Objectives
3) Consolidate and fund a National Home School Center
4) Replace the Republican administration
5) Shift 100 billion dollars a year from war (and defense) to education

Posted by: Literate_Fool on July 15, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I realize this may be a simplistic view, and I'm not a teacher, but it seems to me reduced class size is and obvious first step.

But then I think of the things my father has seen as a classroom volunteer in an "urban" school--including a thirteen year old fifth grader who was just starting to show when school ended--I don't know what could cure things like that.

Posted by: Jim on July 15, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

I take a back seat to no one in advocating ameliorating poverty, but we also need to look at the cultural artefacts of poverty: lack of access to computer equipment, lack of support for early schooling, a decrease in funding for early schooling (thank you GWB), discouragement due to these factors, a cultural psychological depression due to a concentration of disempowered people of color in the ranks of the poor, and so on ad nauseam. We do need to lift people out of poverty, but we also need to give them tools to learn. This would take a massive change in our social policy, one I have a hard time seeing the public endorsing. After all, the right wing has been loudly declaiming that we can do more with less, so we can cut back on funding and still do just as well by depriving people of the tools needed to progress.

Oh, I guess I will just crawl into my corner and shut up.

Posted by: Carol on July 15, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who's taught at the secondary level, there are a number of issues at play here. But the overarching one is poverty. The poorer the district, the worse the scores and the reason is simple: school just isn't these kids biggest problem. GQ above listed a few of them above, but there are many, many more. That's the problem that has to be attacked first and foremost.

Posted by: Double B on July 15, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Thinker, what is REALLY needed, beyond foreign language classes, at the start of high school, right when the Piagetian "abstract thinking" stage kicks in, is a class in critical thinking sklls, including informal logic topics such as valid and invalid arguments, analysis of mass media, public relations and advertising for typical logical fallacies committed there, such as incomplete comparisons, etc., and so forth.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 15, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

another possibly overly simplistic point: What role does simple anti-intellectualism play in boys' lower reading scores? ie readin's fer gulrz, without mentioning any current presidents as an example.

Posted by: Jim on July 15, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Any suggestions?

Sure. The same suggestion that has been offered by "blue ribbon commissions" studying the problem since, oh, the Truman administration.

Throw Money At It.

Look, the median starting public school salary in the US is around $30,000 a year, chunks of which immediately get spent on basic school supplies that are not otherwise available. If you dedicate your life to helping kids, one by one or a few by a few, or just to trying to create a semblance of order amid chaos, you might get that number up as high as, say, $70,000 a year, although that's probably highly dependent on whether you're in a well-funded exurban district or a poorly-funded urban one.

And we expect exactly what, from a system that rewards its front-line producers in this way?

We're not gonna solve poverty, or racism, or eliminate language barriers, or much any of the other "underlying causes" of educational difficulties, at least not without a lifetime of effort and enormous political will.

But if we can spend $8 billion dollars a month for over three years on a stupid, wasteful, destructive war waged in the name of a muddled and grandiose scheme concocted by armchair theorists with hidden agendas and without a lick of worthwhile military experience among them, maybe we could goddam throw some money at public education.

How's that for a suggestion?

Posted by: bleh on July 15, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with Double B, the main issue is poverty, plain and simple. At the high school I teach at, there is a huge difference in skill levels between the better off students and the "rednecks" and it's not just due to thier family's attitudes.

The scary thing about these numbers, and something that I'm surprised that Kevin didn't point out, is that the public schools are that close to the private schools considering that the public schools must take EVERY student within their district while the private schools can, and in most cases, are very selective in setting up their student body.

You would think that if these private schools can take the best of the best of the best, their schools would run circles around the underfunded public schools, but the only place we see that is in 8th grade reading (which can certainly be connected to both puberty and the fact that we live in a society that doesn't teach its kids that reading is important).

I've known for years that my best students can hold their own with anyone in the state, public or private. This past year I taught some Honors 9th grade history classes that had some of the brightest students I've seen in the past 4 years (on the flip side, the class ahead of them is the worst I have seen in my 8 years at this school).

Posted by: Chuck on July 15, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

As a teacher, I know the one factor consistenly left out of most of these studies is parental involvement and parental attitudes toward education.

I've taught in great schools in a diverse district facing poverty and a high influx of non-native English speakers. And I've taught in one terrible school - a school that confirms all of the worst stereotypes about public education: low expectations, bitter teachers, pervasive disrespect and disruptive behavior, and little learning going on.

One of the main differences I observed between a great school and a terrible school (both with similar ethnic, racial, and socio-economic diversity) was a difference in what I call "parental culture", for lack of a better term. In the terrible school, the relationship between parents and school was usually adversarial. If parents were involved at all (and few were) it was usually only when a student had been in trouble for something, and parental attitudes were almost universally hostile and defensive. I did note more of a culture of despair about education -- at one parent conference for a 12 year old student, I met his 25 year old mother and 39 year old grandmother, both high school dropouts who had attended the same middle school and hated it equally. It's hard to overcome three generations of hostility toward education -- and this feeling was often echoed back by staff members who had very low expectations for parental involvement and engagement.

When I see studies comparing kids in poverty who attend private schools using vouchers with kids in public school, my main conclusion is that any achievement advantage is much more likely to be attributable to parental engagement than it is to actual pedagogical superiority in the private school.

After all, kids with vouchers are kids with parents who are involved enough and engaged enough to seek out such programs and pursue all of the paperwork and extra effort involved. These kids are likely to have done all right anyway, but will do even better when surrounded by other self-selected kids of engaged parents.

I don't mean to say that the schools are not to blame, too. I failed that year, too. And I knew I had to get out of that school because it was so completely de-humanizing to me as well, and I knew I wasn't strong enough to fix everything that was wrong myself.

The commenter above who suggested class size is a factor is on the right track. If I have 80 students total, it's a heckuva lot easier to keep on top of all of them and keep in contact with families than if I have 150 students.

It's simple math. Let's say I'm an English teacher and assign my classes a composition. Let's say each student's paper is about 3 pages in length. For me to give any real feedback to help a student, I need about 5 minutes per paper. That's 500 minutes, or over 8 hours, per assignment.

Now let's say I want to talk to each student's parent. With only 5 minutes per conversation (again, a very low estimate), we're talking over 8 hours again.

And that's only for 100 students. Most secondary teachers have between 125 and 150.

Class size matters.

Posted by: Maura on July 15, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of money... Here's what a good private education in CA is going for. Stevenson really is an excellent school and delivers what it promises.

Posted by: kostya on July 15, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, nobody has any good answers for this, so instead we mostly fuss around on the edges. Any suggestions?

There are answers: treat education like something important enough to invest in. If we're worried about national defense, we pay more; we don't complain that you "can't solve the problem by throwing money at it." We don't do this with education, because for some crazy reason *cough* racism *cough*, America just isn't willing to pay for functioning schools.

Posted by: dj moonbat on July 15, 2006 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kids in public elementary schools are just clobbered by "no child left behind". My first-grader had nightly homework and was expected to read for 1 1/2 hours at a time in school. Hello? Do you know any 6-year-olds who can concentrate that much? OTOH, his (public) school has some of the best scores in the state. Contrast this to some of his privately-schooled friends who are eased into reading, math, et cetera much more slowly. I would suggest that in this scenario the publicly schooled students will look fine on paper early on, but that they may be more subject to early burn-out from the pressure. Whereas the privates who took it more slowly early on, may be more enthusiastic later, as they don't feel force-fed.

The other thing is that private schools have much more independence to throw out the bad apples. The child with a terrible family and community life may be somewhat controlable early on, but when he or she hits pre-adolescence, the familial neglect comes fully to bear and that child becomes a burden on the school system with inadequate resources to give the child what they need.

Posted by: Berk on July 15, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

As a teacher, I know the one factor consistenly left out of most of these studies is parental involvement and parental attitudes toward education.

And this may help to explain the relative success of homeschooling. You won't find a more involved parent anywhere than a home educator.

Posted by: Daryl Cobranchi on July 15, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Everyone's right -- more money, smaller classes, critical thinking, yeah, yeah.
But on this one, as Maura points out, the wingnuts are not ENTIRELY wrong. It's a cultural thing, which is why here in Massachusetts, we see some first-generation immigrants showing up as high school valedictorians -- and other kids who might possibly have had a chance, had they only had families and peer groups who valued education to any degree at all, who drop out of school and wind up in jail or dead before they're 17.
Of course increased funding, better infrastructures, more qualified teachers, and smaller class sizes are all necessary, but none will be sufficient until we get the kids out of anti-intellectual environments. Only someone with the wealth and contacts of a W can survive attitudes towards education and cognition itself as negative as those encountered in most lower-class and under-class homes and neighborhoods (and, apparently, the occasional upper-class home, too).
I never did understand why people on the left castigated Gingrich for suggesting taking the kids of parents who simply could not parent and putting them in orphanges or other institutions. Given the right institutions, at least then the kids might have some chance. As it is, many of these kids -- and therefore all the rest of us, who have to bear all the long-term costs of our failures to socialize and educate them -- are well & truly fucked.

Posted by: smartalek on July 15, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, so from this conversation we have two points of interest. First, poverty is a problem. So what can we do about that? Raise the minimum wage so that a 35-hour workweek (Forget 40. More and more jobs are scheduled and not shifted, meaning that hours can fluctuate), raises a single worker family over the poverty line. As well, universal health care to delink jobs from health care, so people can jump up to better jobs without losing their health insurance. Finally, make as the primary goal reducing the real unemployment numbers. You can fight inflation through cultural means, not only economic. (Those WIN buttons? That was a damn good idea)

#2. Second, you have parental involvement. Here, you have two issues. First, as Maura mentioned, it's the family history with education.

Our schools are designed as advisarial. This is a very bad thing. It means that if you're not at the top of a heap (there's multiple heaps), the school kinda grinds you out. Instead of helped, you feel punished.

The second is not teaching a love of learning. A critical thinking class would be well recieved by students at EVERY level. As well, less reliance on rote memorization and testing, and more reliance on challening kids to better themselves.

So yeah. There it is. Fix the poverty problem, and change the culture away from hating a love of learning.

Posted by: Karmakin on July 15, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

I think Maura above comes close to committing left-wing blog blasphemy when she mentions parental responsibility. Maybe if we started holding some of these brainless bimbos responsible for the social chaos they create in having kids they have no intention of supporting or nurturing we could start to address this problem. Unfortunately the left has too much invested in the welfare-industrial complex to ever demand Norplant as a condition of parole or public assistance. Before the tired ol' feminist argument is raised I would also support a crash program on male contraceptives as well, and a crackdown on the playa fathers that contribute to the problem just as much.

Posted by: minion of rove on July 15, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

minion of rove, it's the left that would like to have contraception and abortion available for women to use -- it's the right that wants to take them away. I would think optional contraception should be well-established before mandatory contraception is considered, don't you?

Way up at the beginning of this thread, I couldn't help but notice brian wrote, "private schools generally do significantly better than public schools." That seems like a rather odd take on a study which demonstrates exactly that this is false. The explanation, of course, is that the student body at private schools is not even remotely comparable to that at public schools.

Posted by: JBL on July 15, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing public schools compete that well. I suspect it has to do with some of the religious schools (having a lot of curriculim outside the range of standardized tests)dragging down the college prep schools.

There are very different demographics going to private and public schools. If you believe gcochran it's because the wealthy that can afford private schools are genetically advantaged. If you believe the social workers, it's because poor kids spend a lot of time helping the family make ends meet, don't have computers, don't have educated parents, don't have parents that have time to help out with homework, have stressful lives, don't get enough food, etc. I knew a significant number of wealthy idiots at my ivy league school and I knew some savants that were forced to drop out of high school to wash dishes to pay the rent. So I guess I lean a bit toward the latter.

Posted by: B on July 15, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

My thanks to JBL in extending the hand for bipartisanship. I do not believe there is any woman in America on public assistance that is not encouraged to use and provided with contraceptives, and if more public health resources are needed I would strongly support that public expenditure. Are you now willing to agree that those hard cases on public assistance that treat having illegitimate children as a cash crop shoulc be sanctioned by the state?

Posted by: minion of rove on July 15, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Note that the differences quoted by Kevin are adjusted for {"selected student characteristics", not raw. E.g., from the report,

In the first set of analyses, all private schools were again compared to all public schools. The average private school mean mathematics score was 7.8 points higher than the average public school mean mathematics score, corresponding to an effect size of .29. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was -4.5...

Posted by: ex-liberal on July 15, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Thinker, what is REALLY needed, beyond foreign language classes, at the start of high school, right when the Piagetian "abstract thinking" stage kicks in, is a class in critical thinking sklls, including informal logic topics such as valid and invalid arguments, analysis of mass media, public relations and advertising for typical logical fallacies committed there, such as incomplete comparisons, etc., and so forth.

That would be covered by Logic within the scope of the Trivium.

Posted by: Thinker on July 15, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks current-conservative, I suspected that but was too lazy to click through. Obviously the analysis would be very sensitive to the adjustment algorithm.

Posted by: B on July 15, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Many of the problems here are more sociological than pedagogical. By 13 yrs old, many kids are in full blown rebellion, some of them to the point of checking out mentally. Good public middle and high schools are getting better at pulling these students back to the real world but the damage often has been done and it can take a while to make up the lost ground.

Why reading? I dont think any other skill draws on a childs whole life experience more than reading. The jump in vocabulary skills from 4th gr to 8th gr + is staggering. Im not talking number of words, but complexity of meaning.

As far as poverty and other related life experience, go here for an eye-opening report.

http://parenting.families.com/blog/studyonvocabularydevelopment.

As stated above, class size and the ability to address each students individual needs is paramount in present day society. Still competent parental involvement ,supervision, and expectations is overwhelmingly important.

Posted by: Keith G on July 15, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

8th grade reading is better in private schools because they chiefly read Leviticus?

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on July 15, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Another high school teacher chimes in.

Reducing class size is critical for the students who are reading significantly below grade level. These students require almost one on one attention.

There are many other things I'd like to see done, but that is the One Big Thing that I believe would pay off in a relatively short period of time.

Unfortunately, reducing class size means hiring more teachers. Hiring more teachers means that the current ones will not get signficant increases in salaries. Low salaries makes it hard to attract all those new teachers.

Posted by: James E. Powell on July 15, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

I myself did not go through the K-12 classes here, but my kids did. My sense is that remarkable cultural indifference to high academic achievement in this country is the main reason that the kids themselves are not that much interested in education. And there is no way you can teach well to those who are not interested, no matter how good the teachers are or what kind of educational theory is used to design the curricula.

Posted by: nut on July 15, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

The culture of public and private schools at the primary level does not differ radically in any number of cases, but that is simply - and often dramatically - not the case for middle and high schools; that is where kids (including millions of gifted kids) begin to slip through the cracks.

Part of it is classroom size. Part of it is (probably even more crucially) school size. Part of it is the bureaucracy, which allows kids who may not be performing up to capability but also may not have behavioral problems (or parents who care), to drift. Part of it is the toxic web of rules and regulations that prevent anything resembling human contact between students and faculty, and faculty from properly disciplining (and expelling) the genuine troublemakers (straight A students with plastic knives in their backpacks for cutting the apple in their lunchbag however seem to have no trouble getting expelled). Part of it is an educational culture that doesn't sufficiently value creativity and critical thinking, and trains kids to accept authoritarianism (what do we think the outbreak of metal detectors, video surveillance, barbed wire fences, drug testing, and lockdown accomplish?). Part of it is a social culture that values conformity, cruelty, and stupidity.

It seems clear by now that we should be seeking to dramatically expand access to the kind of liberal education provided by private and parochial schools at the secondary (and preferably all) levels, and the only rational way to do that is to stop pretending that in a pluralistic society like America (where the elites send their own children to private schools, and religious conservatives - 40% of the population - have permanently lost faith in the system) will ever have a richly-funded public school system like monoethnic Japan's (which like other richly funded public school systems has any number of ugly downsides, from suicide-inducing bullying to an even more grotesque ethic of conformity).

Progressives love to look to northern Europe for their model welfare states, generous social services, and humane criminal justice systems, but apparently don't realize that they have gone far further in introducing school choice than any other part of the world. A center-left government in the Netherlands resolved the country's longstanding culture wars (which almost verged on civil war in the first two decades of the last century) by giving the Christian right (which is about as large a percentage of the population as it is in America) school choice (in the form of direct funding for private and parochial schools), and ultimately faith-based funding. The left eventually got abortion rights, drug decrminalization, legal prostitution, and gay rights.

As the hotheaded boomers enter old age, I expect that America will begin to seek something like a permanent peace in its culture wars by similiar means. If policymakers are smart about it, they will pay careful attention to the Danish model (which is based on the Swedish model, which is based on the Dutch model), and opt for a system that provides direct (foundational, developmental, and per-student) funding to schools of any denomination or educational philosophy founded by groups of parents or teachers (and regulated by independent school boards, as they are in the Netherlands). The Danish model also (wisely, in my estimation) offers tuition credits (ie vouchers) for students attending private and parochial schools not subsidized or regulated by the state (but which in this country should be accredited by the organization that accredits independent schools). Last, there ought to be a nominal tax credit (perhaps 1500 a year) for homeschool parents (to cover the cost of supplies, seminars, and educational travel).

The fact of the matter is that American taxpayers have been providing funding for religious institutions (notably colleges) for many decades, and laws that might now bar direct funding for parochial schools in many states would need to be repealed or struck down; they ought to be.

A rich system of choice would be so widely popular in this country the American people would demand it be funded at rates above the current system, and with far greater equity; they would allow cuts over their proverbial dead bodies.

Posted by: Linus on July 15, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

I went to public school through 8th grade, then switched to one of the top college-prep schools in the country for high school. Test scores aside, I was so much better prepared for college than friends who went to even well-regarded public schools that it was astonishing. I agree with the comments saying we need to teach kids how to think (particularly since people who could think critically might actually start electing competent politicians), but public schools also fail at teaching writing. My private school focused on analytical writing in all of my humanities/social science courses, and that has helped me enormously.

Also, I agree that our public schools are often segregated, but I just can't subscribe to the idea that if you through together students from different races and classes, things will improve. I lived in a school district with extensive affirmative action programs and school busing, but no programming to foster understanding. The result: self-segregation, reverse racism, and great disparities between test scores between races and classes.

Integration or throwing money, additional teachers, or regulations at the problem is not going to help. We need a comprehensive approach plus a big change in attitude among those sectors of society to whom education doesn't matter.

Posted by: CG on July 15, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Also, I agree that our public schools are often segregated, but I just can't subscribe to the idea that if you through together students from different races and classes, things will improve.

Wow. That prep school really must have throughn you for a loop with all that writing.

Posted by: dj moonbat on July 15, 2006 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah but the kids in public school are screwing and giving blow jobs, while in private school they are very strict against such behavior and throw your child the hell out if they are caught. I know! believe me, I know, and now my kid is public schooling and way out of control with all the extracirricular nonsense that goes on over there.

Posted by: patricia on July 15, 2006 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

I do not believe there is any woman in America on public assistance that is not encouraged to use and provided with contraceptives

I know of at least one, which demonstrates that your belief is in error.

I live in a town where (so I've heard) the public schools beat the average private school, and we have substantial parental involvement, and the elementary schools pretty much have a SWAT team that they deploy for any child who is behind the curve on learning to read, AND the junior high school and high school field math teams. Proximity to Cambridge and all its universities helps a lot, though actually being in Cambridge does not (they definitely have a poorer population to start with, but I've stories of incompetence sufficient to cause parents to leave town -- kids with serious medical problems not getting ed plans, that sort of thing).

We are also saddled with boneheaded funding rules, such that most of the money for schools comes from property taxes. Towns full of poor people (and not enough businesses) find it hard to raise the money to run the schools. Teacher's salaries grow faster than inflation (this is an economic fact of life, and it is because good teachers often have both college and postgraduate education; usually, people with that sort of education see faster-than-inflation income growth) but many people have this idea that the cost of government should only grow as fast as inflation. Since nobody knows how to increase the students-per-teacher productivity of teachers, this doesn't work.

And, by-the-way, some "liberal ideas" actually end up saving money, not costing. Working hard on special ed and making accommodations for kids with disabilities, saves money overall, because special placements are more expensive than the accommodations.

Posted by: dr2chase on July 15, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Many years ago, Playboy ran a very interesting interview with William B Shockley [one of the inventors of the transistor].
He at the time advocated a program whereby people with low IQ scores would be paid by the federal government to have their tubes tied.
He presented many humanitarian reasons why this was a good idea.

It was interesting discussion because it raised a series of questions involving race, eugenics, "slippery slopes", the efficacy of IQ testing, and on and on.

But, you know, these 2-plus decades later, I read Minions posts and think of the opportunity lost.
His mama cudda had enough cash to keep herself in Pabst Blue Ribbon for a year, and wed never have to read his moronic rants.

Posted by: Pierre Asciutto on July 15, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Seems that the bottom line is that private schools are allowed to expel problem students, and the public schools can't do that.

IOW, private schools do well when there is no accountability.

But of course, anyone does well if there is no accountability.

Even a C Student can become president when that is the case.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 15, 2006 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible"

I think I understand the point being made here, but I don't like the wording, which seems to suggest that student learning is wholly dependant upon student characteristics (i.e., it is impossible to teach large numbers of impoverished students becuase of their poverty). I think that this sentiment both underappreciates the role of schooling in student learning and lets schools off the hook in terms of accountability, two points with which I disagree.

Since the Coleman Report was published in the mid 60s, it has been commonly understood that student characteristics (e.g., household income, race, ethnicity, family composition, primary language) relate to student achievement. At the same time, however, there is a significant body of research that suggests that schools have a profound impact on student learning, independent of student characteristics. And the most important factor in terms of school impact is teacher quality.

Poor students, and minorities, are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers, teachers without subject-area certification, and teachers with questionable pedagogical skills than are non-poor, white students. In other words, poor students come to school with a host of challenges (in the aggregate) that wealthier students do not have, and on top of this, those poor students tend to have proportionately more limited access to high-quality resources within districts and within schools.

There are plenty of examples of schools that do an excellent job educating high proportions of poor students, but they are unfortunately the exception. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of public education and public educators to ensure that all students are academically successful. Ensuring equitable distribution of resources within schools and districts would go a long way towards addressing achievement gaps.

Posted by: unceph on July 15, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

What the right would like you to forget is- our public schools system goes back to the Northwest Ordnance of 1787- it actually predates the beginning of the country. The public schools are what the American people got out of the great giveaway of the the national lands.

The public schools are the one element of government that is infallibly local. Anything else may be state, county, municipal, federal, or "all of the above", but wherever you live in the U.S. you will be able to vote for local school board candidates.

This legacy, local control of this share of the national patrimony, is what the rightwingers want to destroy.

Of course, they can only do that if we ourselves are not very well educated, don't know our own history, and are unable to form coherent thoughts or express them forcibly.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 15, 2006 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

The obvious answer is to create as many boarding schools for poor minority kids as possible. Also support A Better Chance, which provides both scholarships for poor minority kids to established boarding schools, and establishes residential facilities in suburbs with excellent schools which typically house 6-8 inner city minority kids along with a residential director. It's a very successful program, the vast majority of ABC kids go on to graduate from college.

BTW, Oprah is the single largest donor to ABC.

Posted by: DBL on July 15, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ah yes, boarding schools worked (ha ha!) for the British upper class, so they'll work for poor kids.

Of course, the British upper classes were not only notorious morons, but also incredibly gay. But maybe you have to have known someone who went to a boarding school to understand the connection.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 15, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

I am an assistant principal at any inner city, high poverty (99% free and reduced lunch) middle school. I am part of the new administrative team moved to this school because it is a school in its 5th year of not making "Adequate Yearly Progress" as defined by N.C.L.B.

My district has two "magnet" schools with alternative programs, fantastic facilities, and a focus on exploratory learning. Students must apply from elementary schools throughout the district and competition is very high. The effect on my school? The "top" students who weren't already "creamed out" to go to magnet elementary schools (for example...language immersion schools) are now pulled out of my school to go across town.

Whats left in my school? Kids whose parents couldn't get them into a magnet or private school or who never tried.

Middle school is all about peer groups. The peers that could've set an example are mostly gone.

Many of the best teachers want to teach the "best" students, so they are also drawn to these other schools. Whats left are the kids that can't go anywhere else and the teachers who have been systematically dumped there over the years. We have some outstanding teachers, but we also have some that have landed there after being repeatedly transferred over and over again.

We spent the spring trying to attract teachers and it was rough sledding. They fear the neighborhood. They fear the violence. They worry about their cars being vandalized. Some of this is myth but it is difficult to convince people of that.

We have many plans to clean this school up. Intensive remedial reading programs. A greatly enhanced science and technology curriculum. Extended school hours. Mentoring and tutoring programs. No fluff, just a lot of hard work. It won't be easy but I think we can make great strides.

Previous commenters that cited poverty and parental involvement are right on. Some of my kids come in Monday morning and haven't had a decent meal all weekend. They faced countervailing pressures in their community, a gang culture, and violence right outside their homes.

The comparison to private schools is a bit facile, considering they can pick and choose their student body. Let me do that and I can knock test scores out of the park.

Posted by: Plato on July 15, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's amusing how Kevin is pointing out the problem fairly explicitly -- the quality of the student matters far more than the quality of the school, and we don't have much of a clue how to change that -- and yet nobody is picking up the bait.

The most obvious policy implication is: First, do no more harm. Stop letting in uneducated illegal immigrants, because their children and grandchildren won't, on average, do very well in school.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on July 15, 2006 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Every bit of this is nonsense, of course. Poverty, defined as absolute standard of living, has nothing to do with it: you could have a schoolful of near-starving Norwegian dirt farmer kids in 1860 and they would have been as quiet as mice. Jewish kids in the Lower East Side in 1900 were poorer than anyone you've ever seen -
with real-world problems like tuberculosis - in tenements more crowded than you could believe - and they were easy to teach. And their crime rate was extremely low, even counting Gurrah Shapiro.
I doubt if they were all that computer-literate either - but of course computer exposure doesn't help kids learn. As has been shown.
Money, the way we spend it, has next to no effect on academic perforamnce, at least over per-pupil spending ranges seen in the US. Public schools are not worse than private schools, nor are they materially better - the student matters more than the schools, _immensely_ more. Charter schools offer no advantages. They are a right-wing nostrum, put forth by liars and thieves. And, to be fair, by stupid people.
When kids are allowed to transfer under NCLB - from 'bad' schools with low average scores to 'good' schools with high average scores - their personal scores do not improve. Not do they, on average, get worse. It just doesn't matter.

The college you attend has no effect on GRE scores, and only a tiny effect on income on graduation.

And so on. Sheeesh, the degree of ignorance, unrealism, and fuzzy thinking in these disucssions of education would almost make you think you were hearing Bush talk about Iraq.


Posted by: gcochran on July 15, 2006 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you really ought to learn how to read these "studies" -- and search for rebuttals before you opine.

The reason this study was oft-delayed is because it is a massive fudge. There's no new data. Indeed, the data show significant improvement in scores at non-public and charter schools.

What this study attempts to do is to argue that the improved performance can be explained by student populations -- and then it fudges up its own categorization for student groupings.

This study is yet another hack job by the entrenched interest groups intent on growing fat on public dollars without thought or interest in doing the jobs our kids need.

As Al Shanker once said (and I paraphrase), "When the students start paying my salary, I'll advance their interests".

Posted by: Norman Rogers on July 15, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

In the thread above I proposed an agressive public campaign to limit the number of children born in the most pathological home environments. I know this is an explosive topic so I'm not going to belabor it. I'd also like to propose we work at the opposite end of the spectrum as well. There have been some proposals made recently, usually in connection to the Social Security/declining birthrate topic, to subsidize stay at home moms in stable marriages to have more children. Waiver of the FICA withholding for a third or fourth child [maybe with some additional tax credit/subsidy] to couples that have been married, employed, self-sufficient and with no brushes with the law for five years would help increase the pool of students Plato is looking for as exemple-setting peers.

Posted by: minion of rove on July 15, 2006 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

"It's amusing how Kevin is pointing out the problem fairly explicitly -- the quality of the student matters far more than the quality of the school"

Here's a research study (only one of many) that directly refutes this point:

Wenglinsky, H. (2002). How schools matter: The link between teacher classroom practices and student academic performance. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(12). Found at http:// epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n12/

Posted by: unceph on July 15, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

Plato's story above is a perfect example of the point I made earlier -- the inequitable distribution of resources within schools and districts along racial and socio-economic lines.

Posted by: unceph on July 15, 2006 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

One reason for falling high school achievement scores, compared to other countries, is that in Germany kids spend their afternoons doing homework and in American they spend their afternoons, evenings and weekends making tacos or stocking shelves. I often see kids half dead at 10am because they were working until 2am. I only ask if the boss knows they're in high school, and they always say yes.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 15, 2006 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, the British upper classes were not only notorious morons, but also incredibly gay.

serial catowner, could you please carify what you were trying to communicate with the above statment?

thx.

Posted by: Keith G on July 15, 2006 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

And I will clarify that I meant to type 'clarify'

Posted by: Keith G on July 15, 2006 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

I went to public school through 8th grade, then switched to one of the top college-prep schools in the country for high school. Test scores aside, I was so much better prepared for college than friends who went to even well-regarded public schools that it was astonishing. I agree with the comments saying we need to teach kids how to think (particularly since people who could think critically might actually start electing competent politicians), but public schools also fail at teaching writing. My private school focused on analytical writing in all of my humanities/social science courses, and that has helped me enormously.

This would be included within the Rhetoric part of the Trivium ( and Grammar, to some extent ).

Posted by: Thinker on July 15, 2006 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

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Everyone's right -- more money, smaller classes, critical thinking, yeah, yeah.
But on this one, as Maura points out, the wingnuts are not ENTIRELY wrong. It's a cultural thing, which is why here in Massachusetts, we see some first-generation immigrants showing up as high school valedictorians -- and other kids who might possibly have had a chance, had they only had families and peer groups who valued education to any degree at all, who drop out of school and wind up in jail or dead before they're 17.
Of course increased funding, better infrastructures, more qualified teachers, and smaller class sizes are all necessary, but none will be sufficient until we get the kids out of anti-intellectual environments. Only someone with the wealth and contacts of a W can survive attitudes towards education and cognition itself as negative as those encountered in most lower-class and under-class homes and neighborhoods (and, apparently, the occasional upper-class home, too).
I never did understand why people on the left castigated Gingrich for suggesting taking the kids of parents who simply could not parent and putting them in orphanges or other institutions. Given the right institutions, at least then the kids might have some chance. As it is, many of these kids -- and therefore all the rest of us, who have to bear all the long-term costs of our failures to socialize and educate them -- are well & truly fucked.

Posted by: dd on July 15, 2006 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

"This would be included within the Rhetoric part of the Trivium ( and Grammar, to some extent )."

The current fascination with Carolingian education is odd to me.

Posted by: me2i81 on July 15, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

>when the number of kids in poverty reaches >about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly >impossible
> Any suggestions?
Stop import poverty.

Posted by: jt on July 15, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

In the thread above I proposed an aggressive public campaign to limit the number of children born in the most pathological home environments.

Wrong
In the thread above you made some asinine comments about people using kids as cash cows.
Comments dont get any stupider than that. Well, seldom.
As someone pointed out, the scenario you advocate will not happen as long as the administration is beholden to the Christo-Talinbanists for its success and survival.

Furthermore, you did not talk about the most pathological home environment.
You were making asshat references to people on public assistance.
Of the poor discussed on this thread, what percentage are on public assistance & what percentage are working poor?

Posted by: Pierre Asciutto on July 15, 2006 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Did anyone here go to a middle school like the one that I attended? It was the cruelest, most violent, most frightening environment I have ever been in. Judging from the comments here, maybe Monnig Middle in Fort Worth is an exception, and every other middle school is all peaches and cream.

Just kidding. All middle schools are horrible -- especially the public ones, which can't kick out the worst predators. If you want to know why reading scores fall in eighth grade, just take a look at the dehumanizing environment the students have suffered through for three years.

Anyone with common sense can identify the kids with no future by the time they're in seventh or eighth grade. They're the bullies and disruptors. Let public schools kick them out, with kangaroo court-like administrative review. Make school compulsory only through fifth grade, and encourage future felons to drop out early in middle school, so they're not there to tormen the kids who want to learn. Let the dropouts learn to read in prison, if they feel like learning then.

Whenever a school board considers cutting back on sports to balance the budget, parents protest. "Junior won't feel like he has a reason to go to school if you cut back on football," mom and dad whine. Well, fuck those kids if they're going to drop out just because the football budget has been cut. If Junior's desire to be educated is that weak, he should be our of school and roaming the streets, unworried about the truant officer. Or he can keep his after-school job and work full-time.

Eliminate sports and let Junior drop out. Hell, encourage him to. The school districts saves money by not wasting it on sports, and it can spent the saved money on smaller class sizes. It's a win-win-win-win-win-win.

Posted by: Holdie Lewie on July 15, 2006 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

public schools seem to do OK at the elementary level, but student scores start to drop significantly in secondary school.

I wonder how much of that is due to parents who will send their children to public elementary school, but as soon as they reach a certain age ship them off to a parochial or private school for sundry reasons (e.g., fear of certain ethnic minorities post-puberty; worries that the curriculum or environment might jeopardize their son or daughter's chances of going to a "good" -- invariably private -- college or university). In other words, the student socio-economic pool for public vs. private schools in 2nd grade is far different than it is in 7th or 12th grade.

You see the aforementioned frequently among the professional crowd in Manhattan and Washington; both often decide to move to the suburbs for public education once their children reach a certain age if they feel it's a better personal or economic choice than staying and sending their kids to a private school.

Posted by: Vincent on July 16, 2006 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone with common sense can identify the kids with no future by the time they're in seventh or eighth grade.

Posted by: Emily on July 16, 2006 at 4:29 AM | PERMALINK

Furthermore, you did not talk about the most pathological home environment.
You were making asshat references to people on public assistance.

Posted by: Cameron on July 16, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I said the "hard cases" on public assistance, not everyone collecting benefits. Dowdification of my statement does not rebut my argument. I dare you to spend an afternoon at a social services agency or child support court hearing and not feel as I do for a large percentage of the kids involved. Until the left is willing to give up it's bromides and platitudes and face the world as it is there will be no improvement.

Posted by: minion of rove on July 16, 2006 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Everybody seems to be focused on keeping kids on a path straight to Harvard or Yale. What do I need to do to make sure my kid's school is going to help him into Harvard or Yale? Why isn't my kid going to Harvard or Yale? Why aren't his friends? My kid's world is going to end if he doesn't go to Harvard or Yale. (Harvard and Yale are examples, feel free to substitute the university or college of your choice.)

Everybody has an idea. Everybody has a position. Everybody has a set of statistics he or she says justifies his or her prejudice. Failure in school is the kid's fault. It is the school's fault. It is the parent's fault. School is too hard. School is too easy.

I don't know the answer. I have known too many kids,including some very bright kids, who have foundered after high school. Kids whose parents had driven them like dogs, filled all their hours with training, to help them earn scholarships in to the "best" colleges.

My oldest son lost 5 roommates his first year in college. They just kept dropping out. They didn't know what they wanted, except they didn't want to do what mommy and daddy had told them to do the last 18 years.

Real life isn't like high school. Nobody is patting you on the head and telling you to study your calculus. Nobody sets up a daily schedule. The lesson plans are not nearly so obvious.

My son tells me that ultimately most of those 5 roommates found themselves. Some where in their late 20s before they found their path. What they had to find was their own path. Their own motivation.

Let me tell you a real life story. I had a partner who graduated from Harvard Law. Bright guy. His father, also a graduate of Harvard Law, had pushed him through high school. He pushed him throgh college. He pushed him without mercy. The father convinced him (by force of his own will) that he was born to be a lawyer. A Harvard man. He made his way into Harvard Law. He did well in school.

My partner was a good lawyer, but about 20 years into his practice he came to me and told me he didn't want to be a lawyer. He told me he had never really wanted to be a lawyer. He told me that he has always wanted to please his dad. He told me he had decided to do what he always wanted to do. He became a welder. He might be the only welder in America with a Harvard law degree. He is happy. He is the best damn welder I have ever met.

Another true story. I have a brother who was one of those high school screw ups. The kind who wasn't considered college material. Always in fights. Grades were poor. Always charming. Always had a girl friend. Think the Fonz with out the limp wrist. After high school my brother got married. He and his wife started a small auto parts business. It succeeded. Why not, his only passion had been fast cars. He was charming and knew what his customers wanted. About 10 years into the auto parts business, he was approached by a larger company and sold out. He had a pile of money. He thought about what he wanted to do. Well he elected to go to college. He got straight A's as he earned a degree in accounting. He says his college time wasn't fair for the other students. He looked upon college as his job and approached it like he had approached his business. His classmates were still drinking and chasing each other.

I don't know what it takes to be a parent these days. Lord knows I have been struggling with my youngest (now a high school senior), but I have a hunch that part of good parenting requires the parent to let the child find his or her own path.

I think that starts someplace around middle school. The key, and the hardest thing for any parent or teacher to accomplish, is to instill a love of learning in his or her children.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 16, 2006 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

1. Parental involvment (after the first years of school, I bet Parental invovlement of Public v private schoole students differs greatly)
2. Class size (ditto above)
3. Education funding per student (ditto above)
4. Environemntal expectations (i.e "public schoo;;s are bad)
5)Ciriculum (betcha there are few shop class classes on private schools?)
6) Neighborshood environment

Posted by: jon on July 16, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'd guess that the kids in private school are motivated by the promise/pressure of college admissions much more than those in public school, for a variety of reasons. That motivation pushes them to do better than kids in public school.

For poorer kids whose families can't afford college, pushing yourself to get good grades in high school at subjects you don't care about seems like a cruel joke when you know you're going to be unemployed or working at a grocery store after graduation.

Those kids who are in private school know there will be a payoff to their misery when college admissions time rolls around. Also they are scared shitless by their parents, peers and college counselors about the need to get into a good college. Fear can be a tremendous motivator. Not saying it's healthy, just that it's a big factor in why kids push themselves to get into good schools.

Of course, there are always some kids who do well in school because they like their studies, even if their family won't be able to afford college, and there are those who choose college because they want to learn more about something they like, or want to acquire more skill at something they like to do. But let's be honest, they're a puny minority and mostly our culture sees a college degree as money in the bank, a machiavellian maneuver to ensure higher income after graduation.

Posted by: danm on July 16, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Damm

You might have hit on something. Fear is the great motivator for most parents, and college counselors.

What happens after the kid motivated by fear starts college? I suspect a lot of them dropout, or at least change their majors.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 16, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'd guess that the kids in private school are motivated by the promise/pressure of college admissions much more than those in public school, for a variety of reasons. That motivation pushes them to do better than kids in public school.

It's environment and expectation, too. Along the eastern branch of the Washington Metro's Red Line (northeast D.C., Takoma/older parts of Silver Spring) having their child attend the University of Maryland at College Park would be perceived as a nice upward achievement. If you're a parent in the vicinity of a western Red Line station (Bethesda, Friendship Heights or upper northwest D.C.), sending your child to Maryland screams "safety school" and probably triggers fears of downward mobility.

Posted by: Vincent on July 16, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

what it boils down to is eductaional performance is just a side symptom.

All the reform proposals are like treating chicken pox by covering all the spots with makeup - your just at best hiding the problem.

Posted by: eric on July 16, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I am not sure why this discussion is so focused on poverty. For one thing, the statisticians running the study tried to correct for it. For another thing, most students, public or private, are above the poverty line.

It is difficult to draw useful conclusions from this study because the data is so wide-ranging. The only disaggregation I found looking at it has to do with the religious affiliation, or lack thereof, of the private schools.

Compare the best public schools to the best private schools and tell me what the differences are. Compare the worst public schools to the worst private schools and tell me what the differences are. Compare a bunch of schools that have poverty rates around 90%. Compare a bunch of schools that have poverty rates around 10%. Then we might have some data to discuss.

When you look at all public schools, you are looking at a diverse group in terms of student demographics, community backing, and administrative abilities. Ditto for private schools. As a result, you find that there isn't much total difference between them. Dog bites man.

Posted by: reino on July 16, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK
Second, these scores confirm a widely-reported and disturbing trend: public schools seem to do OK at the elementary level, but student scores start to drop significantly in secondary school. In this study, the delta between public and private schools dropped 6.8 points in reading and 3.5 points in math between 4th and 8th grades. If the study had been extended to 11th grade, I suspect that decline would have continued.

You can't validly draw the conclusion you suggest from the change in the delta there; that just as easily could mean that private schools suck really bad at the elementary level, and suddenly suck less at the middle school level as that public schools are good at the elementary level and suck at the middle school level.

It could also, for instance, mean that private schools in general do worse, but by the middle school level, the ability to filter out—by both ability and family wealth—the incoming student body shows up more in the results, closing most of the gap in math and producing a huge gap in the other direction in reading.

But what does seem to show up over and over again is the effect of concentrated poverty. Nearly everything I've read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible and that this matters much more in secondary school than in elementary school.

Unfortunately, nobody has any good answers for this, so instead we mostly fuss around on the edges. Any suggestions?

The solution is obvious, but avoided because it is requires challenging the existing social and economic order—to acheive anything even vaguely resembling equality of opportunity, economic reform aimed at massive reduction in poverty is necessary.

You can't fix the education system as if it were a separate isolated system because it isn't.


Posted by: cmdicely on July 16, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Simple explanation about the larger deltas at later years.

Private schools don't do better, they just have a select student population. The delatas emerge at about the time kids reach adolescence, start to mess up and stop going to school, while still formally registered. This group or kids is disproprotionately represented in public schools and accounts for the deltas.

Posted by: Ba'al on July 16, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely is right.

Posted by: Ba'al on July 16, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Late to this thread. If someone's already mentioned this, my apologies. But when it comes to poverty, one important characteristic is the lack of stable housing. My wife is a social worker in the St. Paul, MN public schools. She tells of families moving 2, 3 even 4 times in a school year, and this can mean the student attends the same amount of schools in a given year. Think about that - attending 3 different schools in one year. Three different teachers. Three schools full of kids to get to know. And then there's also the psychological issues stemming from the instability itself. Not exactly the ideal environment for learning.

Posted by: Kurzleg on July 17, 2006 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, nobody has any good answers for this, so instead we mostly fuss around on the edges. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Lauren on July 17, 2006 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Local control is essential, as are global standards. Our schools are not competing with each other, they are competing with the best students around the world -- and should be measured against them. And by "measure", I mean outputs (results), not inputs (money).

In addition, there is no way that you can integrate school systems forcibly -- parents that can will move away from undesirable systems and bid-up the price of desirable ones.

Finally, get over the notion that everyone is capable of graduating from high-school, never mind college. Pretending otherwise is a monstrous waste of resources.

Posted by: m on July 17, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Solution to the problem of schools with predominate low income students:

Turn those schools into magnets for higher income students by placing additional resources at the school. Place the best principals at those schools; the best, most engaging teachers. Make the facilities more welcoming, and not the crumbling, unsafe buildings that too many are.

Do NOT do bussing-- bad, bad, bad! Focus on improving the neighborhood schools so that those in the neighborhood improve their economic status and stay in their community. Those of high economic status may be willing to take a chance on the school if they see a school that is truly improving.

Every child deserves a great school in their own neighborhood.

Posted by: Louisa on July 17, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Plato" above has given part of the answer: the institution of "middle schools", in and of themselves.

There is (and was) absolutely no "scholarly" justification for the creation of Middle Schools, post-war; they were established during the "baby boom" as simply a function of space, and have become an established part of the institution. If fact, studies have shown that students do much better, socially and scholarly, if they remain with the rest of the K-(5/6) students (the transition varies by region).

"Plato" is correct; Middle School is all about the social - peer groups, social structures, etc. as these children (and children they are) run headlong into puberty.

When we take them from the support and social structure of Elementary, and isolate them, socially they are bound to be pressured to be "more like the more ... mature ... kids." And, plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face, they are clearly not ready for it.

There is a growing movement, especially but not exclusively amongst private schools, toward abandoning the separate Middle School model, and allowing our kids to make the difficult transition through puberty is a more socially appropriate environment.

Posted by: Tracy Hall on July 17, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

nut says his "sense is that remarkable cultural indifference to high academic achievement in this country is the main reason that the kids themselves are not that much interested in education."

Apparently nut has not met any Korean (or Korean-American) parents.

Posted by: bob on July 17, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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