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Tilting at Windmills

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September 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EDWARDS ON EDUCATION....A "West Point" for teachers? I'll hold off on endorsing that idea until it gets fleshed out a little more. But John Edwards' new education plan also includes this:

No Child Left Behind used cheap standardized tests to measure our children's learning, failed to accurately identify struggling schools, and mandated unproven cookie-cutter solutions for our schools' problems. Edwards will totally overhaul it so it meets its goals of helping all children learn through accurately identifying and improving struggling schools. Based on North Carolina's successful education reforms, Edwards proposed a School Success Fund to allow teams of experienced educators to spend a year at struggling schools helping launch reforms.

If you're wondering just what problem Edwards is addressing here, check out "Hire Ed," by Marc Tucker and Tom Toch from our March 2004 issue. It turns out that identifying failing schools — let alone turning them around — is a lot harder than you think.

Kevin Drum 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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I'm sure we are all familiar with a school(s) locally that is "failing" academically by any objective standard. But until we have uniform levels of funding nationwide, you can't expect most inner city schools, usually scraping by on half the budgets that public schools in wealthier suburbs enjoy, to perform as well regardless of how many times conservatives drool, crack the whip and scream "accountability!"

And even with fatter budgets, smaller class size, and more support for teachers, you can't raise children from shitty homes when you have them for only 6 or 7 hours a day, unless you are willing to take the children out of the homes and put them in state run boarding schools.

Posted by: JeffII on September 24, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

But rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?

Posted by: El Presidente Jorge Doblevay on September 24, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

I can't imagine attacking this problem any other way then generational. The only way to really attempt is via addressing the great poverty/education/dysfunctional family triangle.

i.e. The poorer a family is, the greater the chance that it will have dysfunctional family behavior which is THE major factor in educational disadvantage for the child. It runs in any direction you care to do it too.

The less educated a family is, the poorer it is, in which it is inflicted with poverty related stresses which enhance dysfunctional behavior types. etc etc.

If anyone has good ideas on how to break such a cycle, post up, I personally have no idea.

Posted by: Aaron on September 24, 2007 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think the West Point idea comes from the frustration a lot of people have with the idea that teacher training programs generally suck. The idea would be to get a bunch of respected teacher trainers together with a bunch of trainees and have them serve as a model that other teacher training programs could copy.

I don't buy it myself--each program is affected in major ways by demographics and geography, and there are already schools of education with lots of respected people. I'm not entirely convinced that the West Point school would be great, and I'm much less convinced that it would be a useful model.

That being said, Edwards is currently the only candidate who has education proposals that seem intelligent. If you look through the candidate websites for education proposals, it's pretty much a lock guarantee that you'll be most impressed by Edwards no matter who you support overall.

Posted by: reino on September 24, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

I think "a West Point for teachers" (or diplomats, or civil servants, or need-of-the-day) is a little far fetched.

I think an "ROTC for diplomats" (or whatever) is not a bad idea. Not sure if there's really a huge teacher shortfall - maybe we just refuse to pay teachers enough.

Posted by: Wapiti on September 24, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to see how effective teacher education programs are, look at the number of their graduates who, if they get a teaching job, are still teaching in five years. The bad programs will have a low number, while the good ones will be in the 80% range.

Posted by: Mike on September 24, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

With all these young people so desperately in need of guidance and structure, wouldn't it be far more fruitful to offer them an opportunity for gainful and productive employment in, let's say, a chain of laundries, perhaps?

Posted by: Sister Bridget -- Mother Superior & CEO, Magdelene Asylum Industries on September 24, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

How about a 'West Point' for presidential candidates? Would ANY of the thugs pass?

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08 on September 24, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

I think an "ROTC for diplomats" (or whatever) is not a bad idea. Not sure if there's really a huge teacher shortfall - maybe we just refuse to pay teachers enough. Posted by: Wapiti

It exists already in a sense. You won't even get a toe in the door at State without a BA degree at a minimum, a masters in poli-sci with country specialization is great, though you're gonna go wherever they send you regardless (you work for the U.S. first, second and third - you ability to understand the culture of the country you are assigned to is way down the list). You will be sent to language school as necessary.

The exam process is very rigorous. The faint of heart or "really nice" need not apply.

Posted by: JeffII on September 24, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

A lot harder than *who* would think? It's about the hardest thing any social policy maker would have to address, but most people assume it's just about a bunch of lazy people rolling up their sleeves and putting their nose to the grindstone and other cliches.

Dreaming up quick-fix solutions based on half-assed microeconomic theory, though, is about the easiest thing I can think of.

Bottom line -- if people cared about public education, rather than lip service, things could be done. When it comes down to it, there is no real political will to improve schools. Posturing.

Posted by: qarll on September 24, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think a "West Point" for educators might be really good--especially if its researchers sorted through all the Ed Research out there to pick the best methods. If you consider how good it would be for the U.S. to have an institution that compared medical procedures for efficacy & cost, you should consider that a central, federal institution devoted to examining the efficacy of curricula & materials would make it easier for school boards and administrators to judge what to buy for their schools. Right now, schools that want to look at best practices would have to choose between different ed school's opinions of things: Harvard's Ed School says do this, Brown University's Ed School says do that. Who's to know which is better? (yeah, I know, Otto the Bus Driver went to Brown...)

I'm sure such an institution wouldn't be a perfect judge, but it might have a certain reliability, that would reduce the number of really poor choices by school leaders.

Posted by: Redbeard on September 24, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

What, a centrally planned regime has a difficult time gathering and organizing enough data on the delivery of services to tens of millions of people to actually know who is being served well, or served poorly, and thus adjust resources and modify strategies accordingly!? My, that's a shocker, but I'm sure it is merely limited to the delivery of educational services to underage children.

Posted by: Will Allen on September 24, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK
a central, federal institution devoted to examining the efficacy of curricula & materials would make it easier for school boards and administrators to judge what to buy for their schools.

I'm insanely Liberal by Texas standards, but this a chiller. In light of the helltrain we're on visavis Executive Authority, you're effectively saying "let the President decide what will (and what won't) be taught to every single dadgum American child."

Posted by: de Selby on September 24, 2007 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

One of those best practices from the rest of the industrial world that we don't use enough is the kind of rotating teacher and inservice observation that Edwards seems to be hinting at. Teachers can be observed by teams of other teachers, with a critique and discussion afterwards. In Japan, teachers move around from school to school -- just as executives move from office to office -- students aren't the only ones that can benefit from observation and increased training. In fact, the students probably benefit more from this than testing. Testing is just a formatlity that indicates you have well trained teachers leading organized classrooms.

Posted by: DC1974 on September 24, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

It turns out that identifying failing schools... is a lot harder than you think.

I dunno. I think a starting point would be Egbert or Al's alma maters.

Posted by: anonymuss on September 24, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen,

In fact it is not a centrally planned regime. Nothing in the US exemplifies local control like the educational system does. NCLB adds central accountability to the system in a way to give us the worst of both local control and central planning for an outcome that is the worst of all possible worlds.

Posted by: Stuart on September 24, 2007 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

Today is Vertical Day! To learn more, go to:

http://www.mikehuckabee.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=VerticalDay.Home&l=0A8242CD3D2CBFD6D6C0957CD339A949

Posted by: Peter on September 24, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Stuart, when a good chunk of the operating capital comes from central authority, that's close enough to central planning to label it as such.

Posted by: Will Allen on September 24, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

"And even with fatter budgets, smaller class size, and more support for teachers, you can't raise children from shitty homes when you have them for only 6 or 7 hours a day, unless you are willing to take the children out of the homes and put them in state run boarding schools."
Posted by: JeffII on September 24, 2007 at 7:30 PM
---
"The less educated a family is, the poorer it is, in which it is inflicted with poverty related stresses which enhance dysfunctional behavior types. etc etc.

If anyone has good ideas on how to break such a cycle, post up, I personally have no idea."
Posted by: Aaron on September 24, 2007 at 7:42 PM
---

That's why I think focusing on the post-secondary side is more sure-fire:

"In May, Edwards introduced an initiative to improve access to higher education by making college more affordable for millions of students. Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda includes a national "College for Everyone" initiative, which would pay for public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble."

I remember clearly when Reagan took over from Carter and college PELL grant money dried up. If you can do well enough on ACT's and SAT's to get *admitted* to an open-admission State University or a Community College, i.e., then there shouldn't be a huge financial burden in order to attend. They made it next to impossible to receive any grant money at all, especially if students were from a working class family where the parents either couldn't afford to pay or were unwilling to sacrifice for their children's post-secondary education. These are the young adults who have been through the wringer and still WANT to go to school.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 24, 2007 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

It turns out that identifying failing schools — let alone turning them around — is a lot harder than you think.

Who woulda thought? At least coming up with glib slogans is easy - without those, there wouldn't even be a GOP.

Posted by: craigie on September 24, 2007 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

Stuart, when a good chunk of the operating capital comes from central authority, that's close enough to central planning to label it as such.

A good chunk of the operating capital for public schools comes from local property taxes. NCLB is pretty much a big unfunded mandate.

It sets up public schools for failure, which is exactly what the GOP wanted.

Posted by: whatever on September 24, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Universal daycare with approved language and reading-ready curriculum is a must. So are books. Give simple books away to young'uns, several books a year until age....say...six.

As I recall around 1/2 of children living in the U.S. age 10 and younger come from homes where English is not the dominate language. Other kids live with highly mobile adults who tend to be lowly educated.

Get them in daycare and get them school ready. Paying for all of them to be in day are will be cheaper than paying for 1/5 of them to be in jail some 15 years later.

Until we get more kids school ready all else is polishing the woodwork on th Titanic.

West Point #*&%#! Like that place has done us any good lately.

Posted by: Keith G on September 24, 2007 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'll hold off on endorsing that idea until it gets fleshed out a little more.

'Edwards tries to bribe Teacher's Unions during Primary season.'

Edwards' plan for Restoring the Promise of American Schools is based on three guiding principles: every child should be prepared to succeed when they show up in the classroom; every classroom should be led by an excellent teacher; and every teacher should work in an outstanding school.

Every classroom should have a pony.

No Child Left Behind used cheap standardized tests to measure our children's learning, failed to accurately identify struggling schools, and mandated unproven cookie-cutter solutions for our schools' problems.

Which means... what? Let's see:

Better tests:Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards believes that we must invest in the development of higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments.

Testing (which could be improved in many many ways) works for some things, not so much for others. So testing will be replaced by subjective measures that will make it easier to fake it for students who aren't learning. Yes? Wouldn't be cheaper and easier to simply repeal NCLB, since NCLB allows states to cheat, and this would just be the retail version of that?

Broader measures of school success: Edwards believes that the law should consider additional measures of academic performance. The law should also allow states to track the growth of students over time, rather than only counting the number of students who clear an arbitrary bar, and give more flexibility to small rural schools.

This would be grand, if you have testing that produces useful metric, but since we don't, it would again simply be easier to dump the whole thing.

More flexibility: Edwards will give states more flexibility by distinguishing between schools where many children are failing and those where a particular group is falling behind. He will also let states implement their own reforms in underperforming schools when there is good reason to believe that they will be at least equally effective.

This would be fine, if you have a useful metric. Let the feds test them regularly, and look, free money no strings attached for the states. With the proviso, of course, that the information becomes public. If you have no metric, why bother? In fact, just set up a dedicated federal tax of some sort, and just hand out the money, (ala the Social Security Administration) and just abolish the Education Department; it's not like they're doing any good.

Edwards will create multiple paths to graduation such as Second Chance schools for former dropouts and smaller alternative schools for at-risk students.

That's what the CC's are primed for doing. Doing we have to create a lot of extra crud to do this with?


Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda includes a national "College for Everyone" initiative, which would pay for public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble.

For a year, or perhaps to, but no one has yet answered my question about why you would want the poor students to work and study at the same time. Can you say 'counter-productive'?

"The 'American Century' was built on the skills and knowledge of American workers, trained by one of the best education systems in the world.

Most expensive. Not 'best'.

NCLB is a case study in the broken system in Washington, D.C., a system that has looked the other way as its failed policies and incompetent leadership have broken our schools and broken the spirits of our children and their teachers."

It's all due to the sabateur lackeys of the imperialist running dogs. FIND THEM AND SHOOT THEM!

And today, we are failing to equip them with those skills."

Well, you got that part correct, Comrade Gorbechev.

max
['Well, that was a depressing flashback to the GOSPLANs of yore.']

Posted by: max on September 25, 2007 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Edwards is acting like Washington is Paris or Berlin in the nineteenth century, where a group of elite mandarins can dictate educational policy for a nation of their social lessers using ENS-like institutions. The US just doesn't work that way. The federal gov't. needs to finance poverty-relief programs in conjunction with the states that treat the structural social problems that hamper education rather than just the curricular/staffing stuff at the delivery point. That should be up to the local community. Ensuring affordable housing, health care and good jobs for parents are ultimately what create the stable environments conducive to educational advancement. All the fancy teachers, institutes and whatever else in the world ain't worth a damn if you don't have that basic environment in the community to begin with.

Posted by: jonas on September 25, 2007 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

You can lead a child to knowledge, but you can't make him drink. That's why it doesn't really matter very much how good the school or teacher is, but how disciplined the child is by his parents, culture, and school.

The children of the 50's were highly regimented, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but they made good students. If you spend time on forums, the generations are apparent from the grammar, the recent grads having so much self-esteem pumped into them for so little academic accomplishment that they truly feel comfortable making up their own spelling and rules of grammar as they go along. They can't be shamed into such elementary things as starting sentences with capital letters. I know; I have tried. They respond that they have too many ideas to put forth in too little time(most of which are as superficial as their grammar).

Students should be the target of reform efforts. Laying the blame on innocent people for the failings of others is a dead end strategy as well as unfair.

Posted by: Luther on September 25, 2007 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Improving working conditions would do a lot to increase retention of teachers. We need a West Point for *administrators*.

Posted by: William on September 25, 2007 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

I think it is a big mistake to focus on identifying failing or successful schools. The focus should be on identifying children who are being "left behind" and intervening as early as possible. The good versus bad schools is a false dichotomy because some children do well in the worst schools, and some children fail in the best schools.

To me, the problem is exactly the children who are "left behind". The title of Bush's program was good, but the actual details of his program did nothing to address at-risk children. In my experience, many children manage to slip through the cracks, they manage to get into high school without actually knowing the fundamentals of math, science, history or language arts. A child cannot succeed in high school mathematics if he hasn't mastered the prerequisites: arithmetic, working with fractions, solving linear equations, etc. If there are such gaps in a child's education, they have to be identified and addressed early.

My suggested approach, although it would be a lot of work on the part of teachers, is to break down broad subjects such as mathematics into topics that are small enough for a child to master completely. Figure out the dependencies of these topics: e.g.: You can't master multiplication if you haven't mastered addition. You can't master addition if you haven't mastered counting. Then keep track of the topics that children have mastered. Don't try to teach a topic to a child if the child hasn't mastered the prerequisites.


Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 25, 2007 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK

Amen, William

Posted by: reino on September 25, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on September 25, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

What we really need, IMO, is to address the major problem affecting (though not originating in) the educational system: we need better support for working people, and particularly working families, in terms of labor law and tax policy, so that more parents are able to provide both the necessary material support their children require immediately and the social support and guidance they require for long-term (educational and otherwise) success.

But Edwards School Success Fund sounds like a worthwhile reform within the context of the educational system. I'm not so sure about the "West Point" for teachers, but certainly there are areas where teacher instruction could probably be improved. But I think good people being driven out or burnt out by a combination bad working conditions and better financial prospects elsewhere in the marketplace is a more significant problem influencing teacher quality than any problems in teacher training.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 25, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

The article "Hire Ed" is pretty good, actually. The big problem they fail to identify (I blew through it quickly) is our repeated insistance on pretending that student performance and school performance are the same. They could not be more different. And this pretending is why we stand to reward mediocre schools coasting on their kids' parents' high incomes - all while punishing high performing schools serving kids in poverty. I work in a system where we have schools with among the highest poverty rates in the US, where 82%+ of the kids are meeting among the highest standards in the US. So I've seen it done.

Also, the feds are even now really minor players in terms of $$$. The states and localities call the tune. Look up in your copy of the Constitution to see the federal role in public education.

There are many vitues of NCLB. Unfortunately the bad stuff is so bad that it is just now on the verge of overwhelming the good, because even the so-called "experts" can't seem to either figure it out or have the courage to say so. So this will likely crash and burn, and we'll have to start over again.

Posted by: MaxGowan on September 25, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"If you spend time on forums, the generations are apparent from the grammar..."

As age of internet users increases so does their average educational level and wealth. This is not primarily because older people are wealthier (they are) or have achieved higher degrees (they have not). It is because computer and internet use is less common among older people so older users are a more select group than younger users.

I know at least two people who would be high school teachers now if they were paid more. Both looked into it, found out what the salaries really are, and went other ways.

Ugh, "West Point for teachers!". Military fetishism runs rampant.

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Posted by: Kelby on March 8, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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