kitchen table math, the sequel: why the financial system collapsed

Saturday, November 7, 2009

why the financial system collapsed

Calvin Trillin is one of my favorite writers --- I'm adding this essay to my file of 'models for writing.'

Wall Street Smarts


Allison said...

Yeah, it's not the greedy men's fault. It's the nerds! Blame the nerds! Greed's been there forever, but they couldn't have possibly made stupid bets on securitization without smart guys!

BS. BS. BS. The securitization he's talking about started before the last decade. Read Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker.

To read about this crisis, read Lewis on AIGFP:

Heck, read about the collapse of an entire country, didn't require geniuses to be blamed.

Doug Sundseth said...

I'm sure there's no correlation between Wall St., where the nominally responsible people were dimwits and our current school system, where teachers and administrators are predominantly drawn from the bottom quintile of college graduates.

I mean, how could there be a problem when the teachers are less bright than the average student?

Catherine Johnson said...

you guys....this is Calvin Trillin

It's satire!

Catherine Johnson said...

Swapped emails with Karen H, who alerted me to the fact that that excerpt didn't work **at all.**

I'm sure Calvin Trillin doesn't have the faintest idea what caused the financial meltdown -- this is a satire, in part, on well-educated, reasonably intelligent, Ivy League humanities/social science types who, 1 year after their world blew up, still don't know what a credit default swap is.

Redkudu said...

>>I mean, how could there be a problem when the teachers are less bright than the average student?<<

There are, to my knowledge, quite a few teachers who are associated with or are followers of this blog. (Some of whom speak much more eloquently than I ever could about the teacher experience.) Disparaging generalities of those "in the trenches" won't facilitate productive conversation between the two groups most invested in student success - parents and teachers.

Doug Sundseth said...

"Disparaging generalities of those 'in the trenches' won't facilitate productive conversation between the two groups most invested in student success - parents and teachers."

I started to write an extended rant* in reply, then I realized that it just wasn't worth it. I'm not convinced that teachers, as a group**, are actually both willing to work and capable of working to increase student success, and I no longer much care why. If teachers aren't both effective and on my child's side, why should I care what they think?

Why should I believe that polite conversation is more effective than robust opposition? I've tried the first for years, as have others; I've neither had nor heard of others having success. Why is it not time to try the second? Perhaps we're not at that point; convince me.

When teachers treat me as an obstacle or an enemy, it's only fair that they should receive a reply in kind.

And I'm all about fairness.

* Yes, this is the short, more polite version.

** Some individual teachers excepted, of course; some teachers really are part of the solution. Any teacher not actually making effective changes, though, is part of the problem, even if he really, really wants to make those changes and tries really, really hard.

Anonymous said...

If one is in the top quintile of college graduates with a presumably top quintile income, why would that person send their children to a public school staffed by bottom quintile college graduates?

It seems to me that quintile measures may have certain limitations, eh?

Just sayin'

SteveH said...

"Disparaging generalities of those "in the trenches" won't facilitate productive conversation between the two groups most invested in student success - parents and teachers."

I don't care much for quintiles, but I don't see this parent and teacher group alignment. Not one of my son's K-8 teachers has been on my side. All of the conversations I have had with them were not productive one bit. They have generally not been two-way conversations. Some of them have been preemptive strikes. Actually, the general feeling I get from teachers is dread when I start to have any sort of real conversation about education.

At parent-teacher conferences, all of the teachers seem to be in full defensive mode. You can easily see it if anything strays a tiny bit off of the script. In fact, my son's teachers don't talk to me anymore. We don't have parent-teacher conferences. In early December, my son will lead a two-hour review of his work and portfolio and tell us how he will improve. (If I think about this much, I will go into a full-scale rant.) If teachers are on my side, they have a funny way of showing it.

One of the big arguments teachers give is that they have no power. How can any conversation be productive? How can we have any conversation if contact is avoided.

I would say the generality is that teachers are not on my side. In fact, I've had more success dealing with administrations. At least they have the power to do things.

If the goal is to define a productive process, then what is that, exactly? It surely doesn't come from having conversations with teachers who have no power and push me away.

And why should there be a conversation with teachers at all. Conversation about what? Balance? Compromise? Curricula? Teaching methods? Full inclusion? Forcing other parents to have the kind of education I want for my son? These are conversations I should be having with the administration.

Actually, I don't want or need a conversation. I know what I want, thank you. I want choice. Let's converse about that.

palisadesk said...

Sure, let's have a conversation about choice. I'll bet most KTM regulars are in favor of it. Choice is a market-driven phenomenon, within certain parameters: it needs to be legal and an available option in the relevant jurisdiction. But then what?

For effective choice of the sort you seek, you need fellow-consumers whose wants are similar to yours, and who will take steps towards initiating the service -- in this case, a school--that meets their requirements. Like-minded people have to join forces.

What I know about your district comes entirely from you, but you have stated that the constructivist, feel-good, full-inclusion, low expectations environment is in fact popular with the parents and taxpayers where you live, that the full inclusion movement even originated from parents. Some kids go to private schools, but you mentioned that you tried this yourself and even the private school was not so different in fundamental ways (curriculum rigor, high expectations, etc) from the public school.

A good barometer of what local people want is what businesses have been set up to meet local needs. If all the private educational service providers are in the same general class as the public school, there must not *be* much of a demand for the kind of school you want (you have in fact suggested as much by mentioning, on many occasions, how inclusion, differentiation and happy togetherness at the expense of learning are well-accepted by the community).

So where does that leave you with "choice"? If you're the lone voice, or one of only a tiny handful who want something different, it just isn't going to happen in the public system (and it would be hard to get a viable private school going with only a few families involved). The fact that you can say that you have *never* had a productive conversation with one of your son's teachers (including at the private school, I guess) and that nary a one has ever been sympathetic to your point of view, does suggest that you are on a very different wavelength than the personnel in the system who apparently are more in tune with the rest of the community.

What good is choice when you are a minority of one? How, realistically, can this "choice" be achieved?

In a larger district, like mine, you could find others who shared your vision and work to start an alternative school along the parameters you prefer. Parents do this in my district on a regular basis. Most of the schools are successful, although small and frequently struggling to make ends meet. But that is the logistics of numbers: in a large population you have more chance of finding people who think like you.

Choice is a something many teachers want, as well. In my district more than half of the alternative schools, and all of the academically rigorous ones, have been started by teachers. I'd like to have choice myself. I would like to be able to use effective curricula openly, to insist on certain standards of work completion and quality, to teach kids "above grade level" skills (overtly) if appropriate, and to be able to refuse time-wasting assignments and fluff. Bottom line, my employer can tell me what to do. As long as I am secretive about using DI, explicit math etc. I can get good results for my students. Parents are always happy with this. Quite a few of my colleagues, besides myself, however, would love to have a "traditional" school in the area where we could teach with good curricula and really push the students to excel. It's not just the odd parent who wants this.

Even in districts where people have choice, though, the overall system is not much affected. I don't subscribe to the notion that if only choice were everywhere, we would see a flowering of rigorous, academically demanding schools. The mediocrity that we see is more representative of what many of the public (alas) actually want. The value of choice when it does provide some rigorous options is that at least those who want that choice can obtain it and not drown in masscult.

Anonymous said...


I recently read an article (can't remember the source now) about South Korea where 'everybody' sends their kids to after school schools. These are private schools which I gather are set up to supplement the public schools. This practice has become so pervasive and destructive that they had to pass a law making it illegal for kids to go to school after 11:00 PM.

That's not a typo. 11:00 PM! Now there's a culture of like minded parents.

I've long felt that public school funding is a Faustian bargain. Parents get 'free' schooling for their offspring by giving away their rights to 'purchase' what they want. Many (most???) communities have devolved into a sort of homogeneous chicken ranch. A parent who is an eagle will never be happy with the bargain that was made with the chickens and if every parent is an eagle (South Korea) it's no better.

palisadesk said...

Paul B, I've read about similar "afterschooling" schools in Japan -- called juku, I believe. It may not be quite as pervasive as what you describe in S. Korea but certainly plays a large role.

I like your "Faustian" reference -- indeed, in ways it is a deal with the devil. Since the powers that be ultimately see public education as a route to achieve social goals (as befits the system's origins in Prussia in the 19th century), these cannot fail to be at odds with what many parents actually want, weven parents who are not in pursuit of intellectual rigor.

SteveH said...

"..and that nary a one has ever been sympathetic to your point of view, does suggest that you are on a very different wavelength than the personnel in the system who apparently are more in tune with the rest of the community."

Balderdash! They do what they do, and maybe some parents like it. They didn't do a survey of the community. At least 20% of the kids get sent to other schools. Many more keep quiet because they can't afford private school and they don't want to create a problem.

"What good is choice when you are a minority of one?"

Strawman. Are you arguing against choice? Besides, this is just false.

"In a larger district, like mine, you could find others who shared your vision and work to start an alternative school along the parameters you prefer."

Are you talking about a private school? Our state would NEVER allow a charter school that offered a high expectation, Core Knowledge school, even when parents want it.

"I don't subscribe to the notion that if only choice were everywhere, we would see a flowering of rigorous, academically demanding schools."

Is there a better chance of this with a monopoly? How do you see this happening?

"The mediocrity that we see is more representative of what many of the public (alas) actually want."

Great. Blame the parents. So ed schools are just giving parents what they want? Schools are just a reflection of parents?

"The value of choice when it does provide some rigorous options is that at least those who want that choice can obtain it and not drown in masscult."

So what's your problem with choice? You don't want to allow the poor to get out? Our state educational establishment is actively fighting it, especially the unions. Teachers might want choice for themselves, but not for parents.

This all started with a comment that somehow teachers and parents could form a team or have a conversation for improvement. This is just crap. Teachers don't form a "group" any more than "parents" do. Besides, the proper avenue for systemic improvement should be through the administration. But schools don't care. Schools don't reflect what parents want. They hold open houses to tell parents how good it is for little Suzie to explain why 2 + 2 = 4 in third grade.

palisadesk said...

Well, SteveH, it may be a waste of your time to try to sort this out, because I clearly can’t express ideas well enough for you to get my point. The proof is that you inferred I was making points that are the opposite to what I was saying and other points that are opposite to everything I have *ever* said. My only information about your district is what you yourself provided. If you are now saying parents are unhappy with the school system, fine, I believe you. My question was, and remains, how does a small minority, who want something very different from what others in the community want, get their needs met through school choice? A critical mass is needed, and lacking that, I don’t see a viable option.

My comment that the public is, in general, satisfied with mediocrity is supported by data. I do not equate “the public” with “parents.” A majority of people in most communities are not parents of school-aged children. However, they are usually taxpayers with an interest in the public schools. The anti-intellectual streak in American culture is well-documented.. Relative to schools specifically, polls regularly show a high approval rating for the public schools. I don’t interpret this as meaning that parents in particular value mediocrity, but that many do not know what other possibilities exist.

I have met few or no uncaring or “stupid” parents, although I have known many whose own education was lacking and who want more for their own children. They may be satisfied with what their child gets because they do not realize how much better it could be. There is no getting around the fact that school systems, and governments, are a reflection of the “will of the people” to some degree in a representative democratic republic,and part of the problem we see is due to insufficient involvement by citizens in many areas. Apathy is dangerous.

As for my having a “problem with choice,” I am puzzled you could infer this. I have supported choice for years, and helped parents found an alternative program in my district some years back. My experience has been that teachers favor choice, too, once they have thought it through. It gives them the opportunity to teach in a community with a shared vision, and it minimizes the kind of problem you describe – where the parent wants one kind of programming/ curriculum, and the teacher/school provide another, which leads to inevitable conflict. Teachers see how having a community generally supportive of the type of program the school offers is a good thing, and the opportunity to direct dissatisfied parents to a program that meets their needs better is also a good thing. Better for everyone – especially the students, who are the main concern.

Alternative programs in my district are *not* mean private schools, nor yet charter schools, which we do not have. Alternative schools are public schools, in the regular district system and subject to the same budget, but they can offer programs that make them distinct, and be run with considerable parent input. We have both elementary and secondary alternative programs: some focus on the arts or technology, one has an environmental focus, another is based on Waldorf education principles, and so on. The middle school programs with a strong academic focus were started by teachers, but parents have initiated most of the others. They are housed in regular school buildings and share facilities like libraries and gyms. I’m disappointed that no one has started a strong academically-focused program, but since the opportunity is there, it may well be due to a lack of demand.
I am all for choice but do not see it as a panacea. I still do not know how “choice” will help those whose numbers are too small in their district to lobby effectively for the program they want. Your descriptions of your own situation suggest that you don’t have a community of parents locally who want what you want – if you do, that’s wonderful! Go for it. My question remains, how will choice help those who do NOT have such a like-minded community to work with?

Anonymous said...

There's a broad continuum of parental expectations in my community. On one end there is school as daycare. On the other, far, far, away is school as academic resource.

I can say, without exaggeration, I have never had a parent conversation about academic delivery. I can also say that the surest way to get angry parents knocking on my door is to mess up their schedule.

The longest meeting series I've ever had was when a parent was pushing for an IEP (we were resistant due to a bias towards the belief that the child was simply a behavioral problem). When he finally got his IEP (over our objections) we never heard from the parent again. The child never really got services anyway because we have inadequate budget for such things. You would think this parent would be engaged in the delivery of services she fought so diligently for but IEP's are SSI generators. Motivation may not be what you think.

So parents have all manner of goals for 'their' schools and in mine, at least, the anecdotal evidence is that academics is not real high on the list.

palisadesk said...

PaulB,I find these differences fascinating. My school community is one of the lowest-income in the district (75% of our families have family incomes under $20,000, and the families are large), and highly diverse, with about 20 language groups represented. Very few of the parents were born here, although we do have some who have migrated to the city for economic reasons but are living in our area because it is one with cheap housing and services for low-income people.

I wouldn't say academic discussions with parents are routine, but I do talk to many parents who are very interested in the details of "academic delivery" and how it affects their child, now and in the future. They may have little education themselves, but they are intensely interested in their child's education, ask intelligent questions, bring a family member to translate if needed, and like to be shown examples of work, exemplars of good work at different grade levels, see the books and materials being used, and much more.

I'd say I get at least a half-dozen parents a year with this level of interest. I always need to book special appointments for them, because they need to have plenty of time for discussion,clarification and information sharing. Most are already thinking ahead to preparing their child for college. Even if this does not seem to be a realistic goal, I never tell parents it is unrealistic, because I have seen what hard work and determination can do to beat the odds. My first year at this school (2000) I tested all the middle school students in math and writing skills. One child, who had been getting decent grades, scored at a second grade level -- in sixth grade. Her parent was appalled, and we worked to get some intensive remedial instruction in place.

I lost track of her, but a few weeks ago I saw an elegant young lady in a hijab visiting one of the primary classes. I did a double-take. "Is that you, Zainab?" She smiled. Turns out she got a scholarship to a prestigious, top-tier university and is doing well, studying psychology I think. She would not have seemed a likely prospect at age 11! Her parents knew she was capable and supported her, even though they lacked financial resources (for tutors, etc.).
Our parents, at least many of them, are keenly interested in "academics." I feel justified in surreptitious "guerrilla instructivism" in order to ensure as much as possible that their goals for their child can be met.

Cranberry said...

This is a fascinating discussion. I tend to agree with Palisadesk. Within 2-3 years, we won't have any children in the local public schools. If we find we cannot afford private schooling, we will move. Over the years, we have learned that our values and academic goals for our children are out-of-step with those of most of our neighbors. After a while, it's time to accept that parents look for different outcomes from schooling.

For our neighbors, I would venture to say that, so long as a respectable number of graduating seniors win admission to the "right" colleges, all's right with the world. Doing well in the college admissions scramble is proof that the town has "good schools." Another parent in town told me she was happy that the curriculum in the middle school was less demanding than the previous year's curriculum.

If we couldn't afford tuition, I would try to move to the next town over. It's not as prosperous, but their superintendent speaks of academic matters. Our local schools are too progressive for us, but many parents are very happy. Yes, the system is set up to limit parental input, but parents who are unhappy are reluctant to speak up, because they fear reprisals. They move. They send their children to private school. By the way, if they're sending their children to private school, they need recommendations from the teachers and school administrators for the application. Some send their children to the few magnet schools in the area, but admission is usually by lottery, and out-of-district children are last on the list for spots.

If we had a college admissions exam, that would refocus the attention of the middle class on academics. At present, to judge from my neighbors, they really believe that extracurricular activities will get their children in. The SAT tests don't have that effect, because they're set up to measure aptitude, not achievement. Something like the Bac, the Abitur, A levels, or the exams asian children face, would change parents from sports and band boosters to academic hawks.

Allison said...

--If we had a college admissions exam, that would refocus the attention of the middle class on academics.

How naive this sounds. Of course there won't be a college admissions exam.

k-12 schools get billions of dollars for being in crisis. Universities get billions more by bringing in new students who never graduate. There is practically no one, from the President of the USA on down who wants to LIMIT the number of children going to college. There's Charles Murray and that's about it.

The top ten schools already have more applications than they need, and what really matters for college success is aptitude, not achievement, anyway, whether it's nice to admit it or not.

Societies that wanted to limit who got into the upper echelons of a meritocracy create rigorous uncorrupted exams. Our society doesn't want that. The upper echelons don't want the competition of a meritocracy, and they've cemented their place in society arguing for egalitarianism instead. Those just below are afraid their child won't measure up anyway, so everyone feels better by believing the lie that their child is ready for college.

The spigot isn't going to close. There is too much rent seeking to limit college admissions.

SteveH said...

"I clearly can’t express ideas well enough for you to get my point."

It could be me. I am definitely missing something.

"My question was, and remains, how does a small minority, who want something very different from what others in the community want, get their needs met through school choice?"

They send their kids to a private or charter school in another community. A few parents in our town like the idea of thematic schools and send their kids to a school that draws kids from many communities. However, our state strictly controls the charters and will not allow many types of schools.

"... public is, in general, satisfied with mediocrity..."

I don't believe this. You have to at least use a different word. There is no anti-intellectual streak anywhere in our area.

"I don’t interpret this as meaning that parents in particular value mediocrity, but that many do not know what other possibilities exist."

That's completely different. So something else is going on here.

"There is no getting around the fact that school systems, and governments, are a reflection of the “will of the people” to some degree in a representative democratic republic,..."

"to some degree"

What degree is it for public schools? Isn't that the problem we've been discussing for years at KTM, that for public school monopolies, this degree is not very large; that the degree is artificially kept low?

Many parents are not apathetic. Parents are not involved because they are not allowed to be involved. I was supposed to be on a Citizen's Curriculum Committee years ago. It just never happened. We could have made a big stink, but it was clear that the school wasn't going to make it work. I'll repeat myself. Many parents have tried really, really hard and have gotten nowhere. Since some parents have the resources, the kids are gone.

"Your descriptions of your own situation suggest that you don’t have a community of parents locally who want what you want – if you do, that’s wonderful! Go for it."

I guess you don't understand. This is not possible, locally or state-wide. Up until a year ago, there was a moratorium on charter schools. This is the the only way to offer anything different. The schools and unions fight against all charters that would take students away from the regular local schools. There is now a limit to charters and they all have to be approved by the state education hierarchy. They will NOT allow charters that set higher academic standards. The state budgets zero dollars for gifted and talented programs, and they mandate that all students need to be taught together.

My question remains, how "will choice help those who do NOT have such a like-minded community to work with?"

We have plenty of communities of parents who would love choice and meet the critical mass to get that done. They are not allowed to do so. There are also parents asking for changes in our regular public schools. There is no process for change. Schools do what they do. This has nothing to do with apathy or anti-intellectualism.

"I am all for choice but do not see it as a panacea."

What kind of panacea are you talking about? If our charter school law was opened up, you would begin to see some very large changes. Would it be a panacea? To many kids it would be. I'll take panacea on a small scale. Right now we have nothing.

Allison said...


In our area, the MSP metro area, there are more than 5 dozen charter schools and counting. 66 as of the 2009 school year. Two of the two dozen are academically rigorous. Two. Those two have great test scores, great achievement scores, etc. The rest are between nominally above average and significantly below average, some failing.

66. Among others, we've got the Latino school, the bilingual latino school, the Bioscience school, the medical sciences school, the project based learning school, the Montessori-style eco-green school, the Montessori based IB school, the Peace school, the Hmong school, the African culture school, the Fine Arts school, the recording arts school, the KIPP school, the all-girls school, the military school, and don't forget the Jihadist Muslim school.

The people sending their kids to this variety of school don't have the same goals in mind. Mostly, though, even with different goals, there are not very large changes in outcomes. The talented kids do well; the lower SES kids don't, and little changes that.

I agree with you that the issue is not that "the public is satisfied with mediocrity".

In fact, I believe that the public, meaning the taxpayers who are not current parents in the school districts, have NOT THE FAINTEST IDEA what is happening in the schools. They appear satisfied because they simply do not believe that kids are not being taught to read or add or spell.

Two acquaintances of mine, far far apart on the political spectrum, who agree on practically nothing, agreed a few weeks ago that the problem is "kids today!" "They need to learn to stay in school! They need to value their education more!" Neither the liberal or the conservative had the faintest idea what he was talking about--they assumed that the kids would have received and comprehended pre calc and british lit if they had just stayed an extra semester or so in school. Neither believed me when I said many kids arrive in high school unable to pass any required math courses whatsoever, and are never remediated.

The public assumes the children have learned something in their decade of incarceration. It's not the mediocrity they accept; it's the fiction that the children have learned what they themselves remember learning.

Anonymous said...

It's always dangerous to extrapolate from your own experience and perceptions to more general or universal assumptions. I'm as guilty of that as anybody.

Having said that, humor me if I make an extrapolation based more on logic than personal perception....

Most people and therefore students, reside on our coasts and there, in our largest cities. If you're a publisher, academic, or politician,this is what drives your 'business' model. The 'exceptional' parent in the burbs is the exception, not the norm.

My presumption is that the vast majority of parents in these settings rank academics differently than the exceptional ones.

This population block drives mediocrity by shear weight of its numbers. Remember things like NCLB were not created for the exceptional. KIPP was not created for the burbs. Federal nannyism and intervention in education does not have its roots in the 90th percentile of kids who were doing quite well without intervention.

Steve, you are an eagle flying in a flock of starlings. You will never drive this monolith of forces that conspire to create mediocrity. You can knock off a bird hear or there but you will flap your wings off if you try to move the whole menagerie.

Bless you for trying but accept that some windmills are beyond spinning.

SteveH said...

"...have NOT THE FAINTEST IDEA what is happening in the schools."

I don't have the faintest idea either and I try to find out. My son tells me things, but if I'm careful, I have to take them with a grain of salt. Even now that he is in 8th grade, I have to reserve judgment when he tells me about what goes on. However, I know that there are some weird things happening and that the school protects their own.

The school and teachers don't want me to know what's going on. I've talked about all of the preemptive strikes I've had over the years. I've talked about the veil of secrecy. The message is clear. Keep your distance and don't become one of "those" parents.

I would argue that most parents in our area would like changes (not necessarily the same things), but there is no process for change. Many have tried really hard and have gotten nowhere. Unfortunately, there is little school choice in our area and that choice is dominated by the same ed school thought. This doesn't mean that choice is wrong. It's just going to take longer and there will have to be more choices.

SteveH said...

"This population block drives mediocrity by shear weight of its numbers."

I don't buy the idea that schools just reflect the population. They reflect ed school thought.

"You will never drive this monolith of forces that conspire to create mediocrity."

"Forces"? Nobody is for or drives mediocrity. This sounds more like a quintile argument against ed school graduates than a reflection of poor and urban parents. If the argument is that schools can do no more than reflect their students, then we might as well give up and not waste our time blogging. Blogging has to be more than some sort of warm and fuzzy way to bond with like-minded people.

Some (or many, in some areas) parents might not care about education, but I don't think care is the right word. They care, but they don't know what to do about it. However, kids are in school for 6+ hours a day. Are schools abdicating all responsibility by being just mirrors?

I don't want to move the mountain. I want to allow kids to go around it. In our state, the public educational establishment is actively fighting against that. I want other parents to know that what they are thinking is not crazy; that they have the right to complain and demand changes. It's a start.

I don't understand this focus on trying to solve "the" problem. I've never assumed that could be done. But I also won't take a defeatist attitude about things that can help. I've always argued that this is about individual educational opportunity, not statistics or reducing some sort of academic gap.

I'm looking for solutions that help individuals right now. More choice helps that. For those who won't or can't take advantage of choice (or the choices stink), there has to be other angles of attack. I don't want to move the mountain, I want to chip away at it.

One of the goals of KTM is to chip away at all of the arguments for fuzzy, low mastery math. If I didn't think this helped, I wouldn't have wasted my time over that last ten years.

I'm not interested in grand ideas about the big picture or hopping on one political bus or another. I want to see schools that value and ensure mastery of skills and content. If that can't happen, then I at least want to help some kids get out now.

Allison said...

To this issue of what parents what, I think the issue is not mediocrity but observability.

When given a choice, parents make decisions about schools as they make on everything else: based on what they can observe.

It's easy to observe whether a school is clean, new, run down, or physically safe. It's easy to see if the facilities are in good condition. It's easy to see if the administration and teachers are smiling or not. It's easy to see if there's order in the classrooms. A long list of clubs, a list of AP classes, these are observable.

These things become proxies for a "good academic school" because there's no direct way to see what a good academic school looks like.

NCLB was a move in the right direction, by showing data so that academic progress could become an observable. It's done a good job of showing that lack of progress by cohort, for example. But as we know, the excellence in the data is confounded by other variables that could account for good scores.

Parents don't have direct tools to observe what's wrong in a classroom. Deficiencies in an arithemtic or reading curriculum won't be apparent in hours, days, or weeks. Changing the observables to outputs is not something easily managed.

Allison said...

Er, read as:

changing the output observables is not something easily managed.

Transparency in the classroom would be a big start. Transparency every where else in the decision making process is needed to. But even so, how do you show that kids are not learning?

If you showed every single idiotic assignment for that world history class, maybe you'd get somewhere.
every time we put up one, someone says "but that's an isolated incident." We need the Giles-O'Keefe response which is to show the whole pattern somehow, not just at this classroom or this school, but across classrooms, across schools, across states.

Parents aware that something is wrong still don't assume it's wrong everywhere. They are astonished to hear their concerns about their kids not receiving instruction and support in their middle school is mirrored across the nation.

palisadesk said...

“changing the output observables is not something easily managed”

Not easy, but doable. A good example is the Charter Day School in North Carolina.
They have daily data on every student in several areas, which is keyed into the sophisticated computer system and charted. They can see immediately if there is an instructional problem or if a student or group of students are not making appropriate progress.

See here

SteveH said...

Some parents see clearly what is going on. Is there a critical mass of understanding that needs to be achieved before things happen? Is there a flexible model that will satisfy more parents? Are schools willing to provide that flexibility even if a large enough demand appeared? Unfortunately, parents move their kids and a critical mass never builds up.

The only leverage I've seen is competition. Our public schools do not want to see their enrollment numbers drop. They see their best students leave. However, they just see it as a need to try harder with differentiated instruction.

The problem in K-6 is that many parents have quite different views of education. I don't know if one model would work. It will come down to low versus high expectations, not just Everyday Math versus Singapore Math.

SteveH said...

There are two issues; seeing whether a school does what it says it does, and whether a school does what you want it to do.

Is it possible to evolve a regular public school into something like the Charter Day School?

This is from their web site:

"The Roger Bacon Academy teaches a classical curriculum espousing the values of traditional western civilization and founded on the belief that one must be able to communicate one’s ideas clearly and understand the communications of others."


I don't think I would be happy if our schools somehow had an on-line, daily parental feedback of how kids are doing in Everyday Math. Transparency might help up to a point, but I really don't want our school to just try harder with differentiated instruction.

CassyT said...

SteveH: The problem in K-6 is that many parents have quite different views of education. ... It will come down to low versus high expectations, not just Everyday Math versus Singapore Math.

Hmmm, teachers, as well as parents, sometimes could boost those expectations. I am working with a school that has used Singapore Math for a couple of years. Last spring, the 1st grade teacher told me that her students could not do the 1B book, it was simply too hard.

Allison said...

--The problem in K-6 is that many parents have quite different views of education.

Problems without solutions are not problems; they are facts.

Any improvement in education has to just accept the above is true--yes, parents have different views. This is not a problem; it's a fact. This can not be fixed, because it doesn't need fixing.

None of what I'm saying above about transparency should be interpreted to be a silver bullet. If there were one, someone would have used it already. But you can't change the problems if people can't see what the problems are, so transparency is a piece of a solution.

someone else mentioned that some parents were happy that the middle school wasn't pushing as hard. They may sound like low expectations or anti-intellectualism, but it could be something else: wanting one's child not to be unhappy. If the "push" was the standard "you hae to learn for yourself; we're not going to help you" and the child was miserable, and the parent interpreted this to mean the school was pushing her child too hard, then it's reasonable for her to want them to "push less".

It may be that she is just mistaken about what was going on, mistaken about what was making her child unhappy. It may be that her solution will be worse, not better. But it's another plausible interpretation.

SteveH said...

"Problems without solutions are not problems; they are facts."

Would it be better if I said that the problem is that the system doesn't take this fact into account? It assumes that ed school graduates are the ones trained to decide on what is best. Even one parent told me that they are the "experts".

Is it possible for a school to provide enough of a choice to satisfy most parents, or is the only solution separate schools? I think our schools could come close if they made some changes to K-6. Maybe not. It won't please everyone but I know why many parents leave in the first place. I was one of them.

palisadesk said...

Is it possible to evolve a regular public school into something like the Charter Day School?
Probably not. You need to have everyone on the same page, working towards the same goals, and marching to the same drummer, as it were. You don’t get this in a regular public school, even one with fairly general consensus on values, curricula and expectations. Leadership comes and goes, “Five-Year-Plans" like something out of the old Soviet Union are all the rage and then sink without a trace, to be followed up by a new fad, often a recycled one from a decade or two earlier, with different jargon and window dressing. Many staff stay through all these changes and adapt as necessary but become quite skeptical of the latest flavor of the month improvement plan.

Baker Mitchell, who started Charter Day School, is an ex-Marine who is devastatingly witty, knowledgeable and not one to suffer fools gladly. He demands a lot of his staff and students. One key to the school’s success is probably the fact that he had the ability to hire (and fire, if necessary) teachers that fit the model he wanted to create. He provided lots of training and support but demanded results to match. I’ve heard him present data at conferences and found him a formidable figure – one that I can’t imagine encountering in a public school.

Other charter schools with excellent outcomes that I’m familiar with have similarly been started by someone who was(is) a strong leader with a detailed and uncompromising vision. A similar story on the west coast can be found at Arthur Academy

Is it possible for a school to provide enough choice to satisfy most parents?

I would hazard that it depends on local conditions.

A neighborhood/community school could certainly have a kind of two-track program that catered to different parental expectations, but it would almost certainly do so in a watered-down sort of way. When I joined a group of parents looking for a different sort of program for their children, which resulted in them getting a school-within-a-school of their own, the result was something like what you speculate upon. The main school program was the “regular” curriculum and teaching practice (more traditional in those days than now, but still constructivist) while the parent-initiated alternative was more activity and discovery-based, with a lot of parental involvement and “hands on” learning. At first there was some friction but over the years the two programs have co-existed in harmony and each benefits the other, as students or families not satisfied with one approach can readily try the other, without moving, commuting, loss of neighborhood friends, etc.

A caveat: any changes to a particular school are always subject to repeal and evisceration on short notice. Lasting change almost never happens. A new administration, superintendent, a significant demographic shift or some other external variable can wipe out years of work to bring in and stabilize a particular instructional program or approach. Very discouraging.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a very chaotic, innovative, successful, computer company. Over a decade or so, the culture shifted. Accountants and marketeers enveloped and snuffed out the chaos in the name of order, efficiency, and the elimination of duplication and waste.

Of course, all of that order and efficiency won the day and snuffed out the company. After a decade of explosive innovation and growth it went belly up (in a very orderly way). In a free market this was a just and correct ending.

The forces that changed that culture are endemic to everything from organisms to organizations. It's why you comb your hair in the morning and it's why you pick up your sidewalk. Order is more comfortable than disorder.

The only force that counteracts this tendency is outside the entity. Free competition is like wind in your hair. It's always messing it up so you're forced to comb it everyday. You make it better every time you fix it. Need evidence, walk into a cell phone store. Look at the mind numbing variety on display. This is free wheeling competition at its best.

Now walk into a school, pretty much anywhere. They're all the same. That organizational drive towards order has made them all the same and there is no counter force messing their hair. If you want lots and lots of choices inside that system you have to first understand that everyone of your 'innovations' represents disorder for them.

If you want a special program to bring a transient intakes up to speed (like I do), that's a special room and dedicated staff for an indeterminate number of kids over an indeterminate time frame with indeterminate materials required. Messy! Very messy! Why would an administrator, with all their hairs in place, sign up for a hurricane like that?

If you want a special program to push the envelope on gifted students (like Steve does), or an alternative to constructivist paradigms, or an injection of the arts, whatever it is, you are, first, making a mess.

It's far easier to hide that intake, gifted, or artistic student in a mainstreamed classroom held down by generous gobs of hair gel than it is to have it sticking out like bed hair on a bad day.

If you want lots of choices they have to come from the outside. There, they'll be more like that cell phone store and less like that black thing with the dial on it that came from the phone company for 30 years. Remember those?

Anonymous said...

While listening to a radio show today, a caller discussed the word "public" as in the public option in healthcare. She commented that the word was a red flag to her because it conjured up public housing and public schools. Her concern was what would happen to healthcare in urban areas...would they become neglected like public schools? Or would people buy their homes based on public care in their area like they do now for public schools?

She expressed being horrified if President Obama went on TV and said, "because there's homeless people and because greedy real estate agents want to make a profit, that all of us should move into public housing."

The radio host said all you need to think when you hear the word "public option" is "lines, rationed care, meaning you won't get what you want or need."

I couldn't help but think of the situation in public schools and especially the outcry in some areas when the word choice is discussed.

I thought of the mainstream media calling tea partiers "teabaggers" and how they vilified their very own countrymen who refused to go along with the status quo. The same can be said of those parents who speak out against their school administrators or the teachers who are afraid they might lose their jobs if they dare tell what they truly think so they fly under the radar.

Of course, then there are teachers like Palisadesk and Paul B and all the others who drop by KTM, and somehow you don't feel so crummy when you read their posts and comments.

--Paula V.

SteveH said...

"...chaotic, innovative, successful, computer company..."

Was that DEC?

"If you want a special program to push the envelope on gifted students (like Steve does), ..."

There are several angles I look at, not just G/T. In this thread, I'm focusing on whether there still is a disconnect in K-6 regarding mastery of the basics. The public discussion has moved towards a talk of balance. Is it just talk? NCLB is forcing the issue, but the tests don't reflect the timed testing that Paul describes. Palisadesk talks about being told directly not to work on the basics. This seems like a fundamental belief and that the only solution is to go somewhere else. How can we talk about constructivism versus direct instruction if there is this fundamental disconnect? We're not going in the same direction.

"Lasting change almost never happens."

This is a good case for increasing choice as much as possible. Again, it's not a complete solution.

"If you want lots of choices they have to come from the outside."

I'll agree with that.

Anonymous said...

It was DEC. I rode that horse from $300M to $13B.

Very fun ride but a classic demonstration of a top down cluster.

Anonymous said...

I'm LOL because I just reread this entire thread. It's a fantastic demonstration of the free market (of ideas).

Without a moderator (central government) to restrain us, the thread wanders all over the place (free market). It started out as satire and morphed itself into some pretty deep thoughts about education, capitalism, public policy, etc. Amazing!

It's EXACTLY what is not allowed in the highest circles of the education establishment. There, every child must be proficient, every child must go to college, every child must do algebra, every child must be placed in buckets based on hat size, and the list goes on.

Catherine, you should do a study to see if the longest threads are all like this one.

SteveH said...

I loved DEC. Some of my first assembly language programming was on a PDP-8. I think it had 12-bit words or something like that. My wife got to be an expert in VMS. She saw the light early and now Unix is her thing. That (along with Linux) will soon be gone. Her current multi-billion dollar company is now bound and determined to go to Windows. It's a cost thing. Money matters more than technology if there is a big gap. I think that's what happened with DEC. It was too successful to reinvent itself. Remember the Rainbow? Arrogance. They could have had the market. They were reduced to being bought out by Compaq and then Compaq bit the dust.

Maybe we can morph this thread into something else.

Catherine Johnson said...

Catherine, you should do a study to see if the longest threads are all like this one.

Catherine should start reading her own blog, thank you very much.



AND I have to collar Andrew, escort him to the car, and go pick up C.

Right this minute.

AND AND AND....I'm frustrated because I had a thought relating exactly to Paul's comment just the other day (vis a vis ktm & ideas, idea development, 'market of ideas' WHICH I FAILED TO WRITE DOWN.)

Maybe I'll think of it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Not that ktm is 'my' blog!

It's been incredibly cool seeing everyone write posts!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember the 8s. Never worked on them though. I was an 11/70 guy when 8s were going down.

When Rainbow was being built I was working on the 11/70 PC, Rainbow's cousin. I worked in Westfield, Westminster, Enfield, Littleton, and Boxboro. DEC was too 'smart' to pick up DOS from Gates. Sort of like those dino's that didn't see the meteor coming.