kitchen table math, the sequel: lgm on school district problems

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

lgm on school district problems

Up in my area of NY, folks (mainy blue collar [people who] work in NYC gov't agencies and came here for the 'good schools') could care less about charters. They see that concept as a waste of resources that would be better devoted to fixing public school. Essentially, they want the district to be the charter by having the state stop forcing full inclusion and go back to grouping by academic instructional need. Allow test out, allow honors courses, allow slow learner courses, have alternative school, but do not allow the inclusion of violent children, druggies, gang members, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill and severe needs to be an excuse not to offer a year or more's worth of curriculum to each unclassified child each year. They propose that unclassified disruptors/nonparticipants pay the difference in cost between the alternative school and the regular setting.

Additionally, they'd like to fire the teachers who are presenting rather than teaching or are incompetent or abusive. It's been six years since the middle school failed AYP and the taxpayers stopped the 'blame the student' game and funded 'extra help' and rTi. They want to cut costs by having the unclassified students learn the material in the classroom, not from the extra help/resource teacher.

On the other hand, some parents view this proposal as racist or elitist. They work behind the scenes rather than engage in debate at board meetings for continuing full inclusion. Homeschool, homebound, alternative, and private school numbers continue to increase as does the number of hours of 1:1 aides for the emotionally disturbed and behaviorally challenged, and the security guards to remove the violent and disruptive.


Catherine Johnson said...

I'm very interested in your situation -- I hope you'll write more as you have time.

A couple of questions:

What is the situation with parents who oppose the proposal as racist? I gather they have kids currently in the school --- do their children's situations relate to their position?

Are the violent kids primarily black and/or Hispanic?

How have parents become aware that there are teachers who are presenting but not teaching?

What is the school board composition?


lgm said...

Quick answers:

Racist and (elitist) label seems to be coming from those who are nonCaucasian and had children in elementary back when the district did flexibly group reading by instructional need. Their beef was that the lowest students could never catch up and excel, even though the district was providing daily inclass instruction plus frequent reading resource help to the lowest groups while the top groups were only receiving instruction 2-3 times per week. They are firm with the no child gets ahead view and want nothing offered to advanced children. Its an emotional argument, not rational as about half the nonHispanic minority (by race) children are middle to upper middle class and are privately tutored.

Violent unclassified students are from the city street culture - seems to be white, black (african american), latino, & bi; no Asians, middle Eastern, caribbean, or Indian. Most have moved here for the better schools but need assistance in adapting to the new culture. They have no conflict resolution skills other than fighting.

Parents b/c aware of teachers that are presenting if they are monitoring hw and tests - child can't do either. ime questions by students are discouraged. In math teacher will claim child is struggling and recommend dropping him in level.

School board is majority union backed candidates. The two independents were ousted about 4 years ago. Board consistently chooses against courses for advanced students and pours money into remedial, support and full inclusion. Board meetings have little discussion. Folks are withholding votes now rather than voting for the incumbents...shouldn't be long before some new faces are able to be elected.

VickyS said...

Well now that's the thing: middle and upper class families who can afford tutoring almost have to do it, in order to educate their kids in an environment like this, thereby increasing the gap even further.

Ability grouping with summer catch up is an answer. As Paul B once pointed out, because the learning rates of kids vary, there is no way for slower learners to "catch up" to faster learners without holding the faster learners back or giving the slower learners tons more time in the classroom (another distance-rate-time problem!). To be fair, the focus should be on getting all kids to reach their potentials, which includes understanding that potentials may vary given a constant input. Once you group by ability/achievement/learning rate to give you a more effective, efficient learning group, if a child is misclassified but not able to step directly to the next higher level, summer school can be used fill in the gap. I did that between 2nd and 3rd grade and was ready to move up by the end of that summer.

Our most successful low income elementary school here in St Paul, which according to our newspaper "consistently defied the odds," attributes its success to the fact the "[t]eachers know the students, group them by ability, and focus on mastering the basics" the latter two of which, ironically, are pretty much diametrically opposed to district policy.

I know I've read studies that ability grouping benefits kids at all levels--i.e., both the kids at the lower levels and the kids at the higher levels learn more than they do in heterogenous classrooms. Am I wrong? Does "the research show" that heterogenous grouping benefits anyone academically?

And of course, as some in urban school districts know all too well, heterogenous classrooms are not half the issue that classrooms containing violent disruptive students are. I regularly wonder: the law protects me, as an adult, from having to put up with a hostile workplace. The smallest infractions are jumped on. Yet young, impressionable minors are forced to bear witness to violent speech and actions that would be actionable in an adult workplace. What a world.

SteveH said...

"Does 'the research show' that heterogenous grouping benefits anyone academically?"

Our schools would probably claim that both types of groupings can be beneficial, and, voila, that's what full inclusion and differentiated instruction offer. What might be more difficult to counter, however, is the idea of acceleration as a main benefit of grouping by ability. Full inclusion strictly limits acceleration and claims that enrichment works just as well.

I find it amazing that it's not possible to have these sorts of discussions with our schools. They have decided on full inclusion and differentiated instruction and that's that. They would point to all of the kids who have gone to the high school and done well.

They KNOW that some parents want more for their kids. (They kind of gloss over the part where the parents want something different.) They KNOW that they need to work more on differentiated learning, but it's never seen as a fundamental flaw, only something that still needs work. They do work with parents to get more for their kids. I was able to get my son to skip EM in 6th grade to get to pre-algebra. They are quite sincere. However, if you are a capable student who doesn't have a parent advocate, you're out of luck.

momof4 said...

Even with a parent advocate, capable students can be out of luck. One of my kids wanted to take computer keyboarding in the summer prior to his freshman year (he was registered to take it in September) and was told that was impossible because he "wasn't in HS yet." As we wended our way up the county bureaucracy, I was finally told that, since he had taken Honors Algebra I in 8th grade, he could take geometry in summer school. This was the only course open to incoming freshment. I was assured by the last EdD in the chain (deputy supt for curriculum or some such) that taking regular geometry with kids who had just failed it was adequate preparation for Honors Algebra II for a kid on the STEM track at a HS with a well-deserved reputation for outstanding math and sciences. I admit that I lost it at that point. BTW, keyboarding was dropped from summer school due to low enrollment.

palisadesk said...

(Part 1 of 2)
Does 'the research show' that heterogenous grouping benefits anyone academically?

In fact, there's a pretty large body of evidence that homogeneous grouping is detrimental to the learning of students with mild cogntive disabilities or low IQ "normal" children, and that heterogeneous grouping, even without any special support or resource assistance, improves the achievement of lower-performing students.

The seminal work that kick-started the inclusion movement was Lloyd Dunn's 1968 study, Special education for the mildly retarded-- Is much of it justifiable? , which surveyed the available evidence and concluded that both the diagnostic and labelling criteria in use were highly suspect, and the "special" programs offered were frequently inferior and not geared towards optimum learning for students. Dunn called for a more rigorous special education system overall with highly skilled teachers, intensive instruction based on identified learning needs (as opposed to disability labels -- there is no empirical basis for different teaching methodologies or practices based on students' supposed "diagnoses;" reading-delayed students, for example, have similar instructional needs whether they are labelled mildly retarded, learning-disabled, communication-impaired, behaviorally-disordered, or whatever).

His article was a call to action to make "special education" more than well-meaning daycare with lots of arts and crafts, vocational training and low expectations. Sadly many of his criticisms remain true today.

Subsequent studies and meta-analyses of the research reached similar conclusions. Carlberg and Kavale's 1980 meta-analysis found that special class placement was significantly damaging to students with mild to moderate intellectual delays but segregated settings were beneficial for emotionally disturbed and LD students. Mildly retarded kids in special classes showed a definite drop in standard scores vis-a-vis their peers in "mainstreamed" settings, indicating that they not only did not hold their own, they lost ground despite the "special" placement, lower class size, etc.

Epps and Tindal in 1987 examined the literature on segregated class vs. inclusion placement over the period from around 1930 onward and concluded that no benefit could be attributed to special class placement, generally speaking. They found no evidence for the efficacy of the academic programming or the teaching provided.

Wang, Anderson and Bram published another exhaustive meta-analysis of studies involving thousands of students that showed large achievement differences for mildly delayed students in mainstreamed setting versus ones in segregated classes (including segregated classes with part-time integration in the mainstream), these differences being in favour of the former.

In short, there is no available evidence that segregated special classes for low-achieving students generally produce better outcomes for students than the heterogeneous class; in fact, exactly the opposite is true.

palisadesk said...

(Part 2 of 2)

However, here an important distinction must be made. The statistics tell us about the "big picture," but they tell us nothing about the individual case. The fact that homogeneous groupings as a rule deliver a poorer outcome than heterogeneous classes as a rule does not mean that individual schools, or tracked classes, might not be vastly superior. The number of these would be too small to affect results in large-scale studies.

Effective teaching depends on teacher skill and knowledge, availability of appropriate curriculum materials, and other variables. Given these, homogeneous grouping can produce outstanding, even "miraculous" results. Zig Engelmann did this in his preschool program back in the '60's. See his "Teaching Reading to Children With Low Mental Ages" (1967) and "The Effectiveness of Direct Verbal Instruction on IQ Performance and Achievement in Reading and Arithmetic" (1968).

There are effective teaching programs for low achievers and children with mild developmental disabilities; effective private schools and some public school programs as well have always provided these. What the research shows should not surprise anyone: that the majority of public school programs offered these students are ineffective and a waste of time and money, not to mention the troubling issues of equity and the crippling of life opportunity. Of course, by inference, it also suggests that the standards in the general education class are not all that high either.

Other benefits to heterogeneous grouping and inclusion that have not been separately validated as effective, but which make sense as contributing factors, are: more time on task, higher expectations, better peer models, more instructional time, fewer transitions, and a more enriched learning environment (less able students benefit as much from interesting and engaging curriculum as higher-performing students do).

Unfortunately, available data doesn't show benefit for lower-ability students being grouped homogeneously in public schools. My own district did a longitudinal study some years ago that found almost all students in the lower tracks dropped out, most before finishing tenth grade. Even providing good vocational programs and expensive high-tech job-related apprenticeship opportunities in high school did not help. These programs are not popular and most parents, even of classified Special Education students, want their child in the academic track even if the child's prospect of earning the needed credits is very remote.

OTOH, the same research department found that special homogeneous-grouping programming for students with LD or behavior exceptionalities and for gifted students had positive effects on achievement and graduation rates.

It seems that the issue of how to deal most effectively with students who are not academically inclined, or who have genuine limitations, has simply not been adequately addressed. The data suggest that these students actually do better, left in the "mainstream" with minimal or no support, than they do in homogeneous settings. That this has negative impact on the achievement of higher-performing students is a taboo subject.


Carlberg, C., & Kavale, K. (1980). The efficacy of special versus regular class placement for exceptional children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Special Education, 14, 295-309.

Dunn, L. M. (1968). Special education for the mildly retarded-- Is much of it justifiable? Exceptional Children, 35, 5-22.

Engelmann, Siegfried.(1968) The Effectiveness of Direct Verbal Instruction IQ Performance and Achievement in Reading and Arithmetic. In Jerome Helmuth (ed) Disadvantaged Child, v. 3

Engelmann, Siegfried (1967) Teaching Reading to Children With Low Mental Ages, from Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, v.2, no.4 Council for Exceptional Children, Arlington, Va.

momof4 said...

Palisadesk: I don't have your expertise in the area, but your comments suggest to me that the content/methods/attitudes in the spec ed classes may be a significant part of the problem. If removing a kid from a regular (heterogeneous) classroom means having teachers with less content knowledge and low expectations delivering a weak curriculum (which I have observed and been told by some parents), that problem should be addressed directly. The Englemann results suggest that the homogeneous vs. heterogeneous nature of the classroom is not the problem; what happens in those classrooms may well be.

palisadesk said...

The Englemann results suggest that the homogeneous vs. heterogeneous nature of the classroom is not the problem; what happens in those classrooms may well be.

Absolutely. Unfortunately, the Engelmann data (and data from other effective programs that raise achievement for low-performing students, with and without disabilities) gets lost in the morass.

Even if, mirabile dictu, education leaders would realize that Engelmann's and similar approaches were the ones to take, cost and lack of trained personnel would greatly inhibit scaling those success stories up to a system level.

Go to the D-Ed Reckoning blog (on blogroll on left) and search for "Gering." The experiment in progress in Gering, NE may point the way forward.

Catherine Johnson said...

School board is majority union backed candidates. The two independents were ousted about 4 years ago. Board consistently chooses against courses for advanced students and pours money into remedial, support and full inclusion.


Catherine Johnson said...

double wow

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read the thread yet, but wanted to say that Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) says all the great charter schools use homogeneous grouping.

I had a different impression from Jay Mathews' KIPP book, but I believe Lemov.

I'll pull that passage & post.

Bostonian said...

Lgm, could you please explain what you mean by "classified" vs. "unclassified" children?

Dadof3 said...

VickyS wrote, "Well now that's the thing: middle and upper class families who can afford tutoring almost have to do it, in order to educate their kids in an environment like this, thereby increasing the gap even further."

In the early grades, just teaching your kids at home may be cheaper and more convenient for many parents. My boys both use the EPGY math program and the Singapore math workbooks. Their working about 1/2 hour a day using these resources has enabled them to progress ahead of grade level so far. Perhaps as important, EPGY has sparked an interest in math, especially in the younger boy. He likes to quiz his parents in math and be quizzed in return. For info about enrolling in EPGY please see
a thread "new access to Stanford EPGY math" at the Davidson Gifted Forum .

lgm said...

Classified = student meets criteria to qualify for special education or has learning disability that prevents success in the regular classroom

unclassified = all others

Catherine Johnson said...

I know I've read studies that ability grouping benefits kids at all levels--i.e., both the kids at the lower levels and the kids at the higher levels learn more than they do in heterogenous classrooms.

To my knowledge there is currently only one randomized experiment of homogeneous grouping: the Kenya study done by Esther Duflo & colleagues.

They found all students benefited.

I don't know whether very low-functioning SPED kids were included; I doubt it.

Catherine Johnson said...

It really is incredible.

A mom here, who works as a sub in Bronx schools, told me that the principal in her school now essentially forbids teachers to send misbehaving kids to the office no matter how serious the behavior.

Apparently NYC now has a rule that **all** such referrals must be reported to the city, so he doesn't want anything to report.