kitchen table math, the sequel: "The Death and Life of the Great American School System"

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"The Death and Life of the Great American School System"

Ravitch suspects, with good reason, that her favorite teacher, the intelligent, exacting, and highly literary Mrs. Ratliff, would languish under NCLB. But would Mrs. Ratliff even have become a teacher in today's world? Would someone who is "stifled by the jargon, the indifference to classical literature, and the hostility to her manner of teaching" last through even one week of ed school pabulum, projects, peer-group activities, and proselytizing about Balanced Literacy?
An excerpt of my review of Diane Ravitch's latest book at the Nonpartisan Education Review. You can access the entire review here.

In this book Ravitch brings up her next most recent book: The Language Police. Intrigued (and embarrassed that I hadn't yet read it) I devoured that one a few days ago. If you haven't read it yet, it's a great read.

64 comments:

SteveH said...

Great review Katharine.

"Parental choice does not figure in Ravitch's solutions."

It seems that she has painted herself into a corner and is hoping more than thinking.


"Indeed, Ravitch makes just this argument against choice: it favors those with the more resourceful, educated parents. Perhaps only the latter will realize that a particular educational model is the better one."

Baloney! What about the urban parents who fought for Green Dot schools? Some parents might not know what "good" really means, but they sure know "better" when they see it. Her position on this is quite amazing. The affluent get choice, but the rest are held hostage to some overall solution.

What happens in with in-school choice? The more resourceful or educated parents will select the better curriculum. How is that any different? What does fairness in education mean? Is it OK if the resourceful parents are poor? What about separating kids who are willing and able from those who are not? Is that self-selection not going to be allowed? Some parents prefer unschooling approaches and some prefer Core Knowledge approaches. Does Ms. Ravitch (or others) presume to control what defines a good education?

LynnG said...

Excellent review, Katherine!

I suggest Diane Ravitch visit an inner city magnet school during an open house. Sit with the parents in the auditorium and act like just another parent interested in the school.

She might be very surprised by the level of caring and the desire for better options, right now, among those parents she writes off as less resourceful and less educated.

What next said...

Isn't her point that children without very interested parents are as deserving of a quality education -- and more in need of it being delivered in their own neighborhood school?

My personal answer to the "how long would they last" question was 1 year and 3 months. The three months were under a new administrator who believed that the mishmash, go on whether they get it or not, just trust and read the script curriculum was the way, the truth and the light. Besides her bonus would depend on how closely she followed her rubric.

The old admin had been able to skirt the pressure mostly because...test scores were appreciably higher at this school than comparable ones. Amazing that teachers told to get it done, using what they think best, are more motivated and capable than teachers told they are responsible for parroting someone else's plans whether or not they are appropriate for the students. I couldn't make myself accountable for doing something I knew was wrong.

New admin will likely be surprised at the drop in scores. But will likely chalk it up to not following the script closely enough. (Yes, teachers have been asked why they spent 7 minutes on a section of a lesson, when it clearly stated it should only take 4 minutes.)

SteveH said...

"Isn't her point that children without very interested parents are as deserving of a quality education -- and more in need of it being delivered in their own neighborhood school?"

Nothing is stopping neighborhood schools from doing this now. In fact, preventing the more willing or able kids from leaving hides how bad things really are. Even so, schools still hide behind the escape clause of socioeconomic problems. They want it both ways.

John said...

I, too, think you've written a fine review, Katharine. I read Ravitch's book some time ago and it's been making me think ever since.
However, I think she made a very interesting point in a review in The New Republic (Oct 14 2010) she wrote of Martha Minow's In Brown's Wake: Legacies of America's Educational Landmark.
Here are a couple of quotations I've pulled out that I think are worth mulling over:
'The present turn to the free market and deregulation represents a sense of hopelessness about our society's capacity to provide educational opportunity to poor and minority children, especially those who live in poor neighbour hoods.'
And, 'Charter schools and vouchers provide an escape hatch for some students, but they are no replacement for a sturdy and reliable public school system. No high-performing school system in the world achieved its eminence by privatizing its public school system.'
Such a sturdy and reliable school system is precisely that which we are also lacking in UK, where parents, teachers and politicians are casting about for answers.

What next said...

"Nothing is stopping neighborhood schools from doing this now. In fact, preventing the more willing or able kids from leaving hides how bad things really are. Even so, schools still hide behind the escape clause of socioeconomic problems. They want it both ways."

Both ways? I truly don't get the "escape clause" mentality.

Did you read to your kids? Talk with them from infancy on up, asking questions, explaining, discussing? Did you provide nutritious meals, a safe place to sleep, and a general structure that encouraged good eating and sleeping habits? Were you a role model who read in front of your children, actively learned things, and showed interest and even delight in learning?

Well, all I can say then is why? Why did you even bother if they would have just as much of a chance at success if they'd grown up without books or reading, rarely anyone talking directly to them about something besides demands, without structure and consistency?

I'm not saying that poverty PREVENTS a child from learning, but the ramifications of it DO mean they come to school with a totally different skill set than your kids did.

Allison said...

Yes, and yet schools are refusing to separate by preparation or ability or whatever you want to call it. They push full inclusion with the cover of differentiated instruction, and say various textbooks aren't good for their "mix" of students.

What next said...

Yup, Allison, and it ends up up that almost every single kid in the room is frustrated (as well as many of the teachers, if they're forced as many are now, to teach to the script).

My son's school has run a pilot program using the Purdue Total Cluster grouping model, which at the very least begins to recognize that no teacher can teach to a huge range of abilities in a single roomful of kids. And their research shows that most kids do better with a little more "clustering."

What next said...

Oh, forgot to add, though that the biggest problem with the Total Cluster Grouping is that the district doesn't want to give individual schools or teachers permission to go "off-curriculum" -- even if there are kids reading 3-8 grade levels above that curriculum, they are reluctant to consider compacting, accelerating, or the most obvious -- not using it!

Katharine Beals said...

'The present turn to the free market and deregulation represents a sense of hopelessness about our society's capacity to provide educational opportunity to poor and minority children, especially those who live in poor neighbour hoods.'

I'd say that the growing interest the free market and deregulation represents a sense of hopelessness about our society's capacity to provide educational opportunity to children in general, regardless of race, income level, or neighborhood.

'No high-performing school system in the world achieved its eminence by privatizing its public school system.'

And no high-performing school system in the world achieved its eminence by behaving like a corrupt cartel, ignoring the concerns of the public, and ignoring the expertise of mathematicians, scientists, and cognitive scientists.

If I had to guess which of these two statements more likely expresses a necessary truth, I'd choose the second one. The first one might be false only to the extent that there doesn't yet exist a country that has privatized its public school system.

Katharine Beals said...

Woops, meant to say:

The first one might be *true* only to the extent that there doesn't yet exist a country that
has privatized its public school system.

Allison said...

But WhatNext, don't you see the connection between schools refusing to group and "wanting it both ways"--using SES as an excuse for not doing their job--teaching the kids--, but then arguing they can't help the high performers because it would increase the achievement gap?

SteveH said...

'The present turn to the free market and deregulation represents a sense of hopelessness about our society's capacity to provide educational opportunity to poor and minority children, especially those who live in poor neighbour hoods.'

The hopelessness is not about our society's capacity (that means individuals too), but about the particular educational philosophies and techniques being used in public schools. They appear incapable of solving the problem.


'Charter schools and vouchers provide an escape hatch for some students, but they are no replacement for a sturdy and reliable public school system.'


Who ever said that choice will solve everything? Is there supposed to be one technique that solves everything? If there is no choice and schools figure out how to provide "sturdy and reliable" school systems, is that all there is to it? Who decides what sturdy and reliable mean? Many educators are thrilled if little urban Suzie can get to the local community college. It doesn't matter if she had the ability to get into Harvard. Who gets to decide what the problems are?


"No high-performing school system in the world achieved its eminence by privatizing its public school system."

Choice is only a process, not a solution to everything. You can get the same sorts of educational issues in private schools because most all of the teachers come from the same philosophical source. But how is non-choice theoretically better ... educators know better than parents?


'Such a sturdy and reliable school system is precisely that which we are also lacking in UK, where parents, teachers and politicians are casting about for answers.'


Many parents are not "casting about". They know exactly what they want. They know better when they see it. The goals for their kids are much more than sturdy and reliable.

SteveH said...

"I'm not saying that poverty PREVENTS a child from learning, but the ramifications of it DO mean they come to school with a totally different skill set than your kids did."

This is one of those escape clauses. You have to quantify this. You can't just throw it out there as an excuse for failure. Look at actual standardized test questions and results. Few seem to do that. They are trivial, and the proficiency cutoff levels are very low.

If kids come to school knowing next to nothing, you have to define what you expect to achieve. Many kids get to fifth grade not knowing the times table. At what point do you realize that it's a specific issue with the school and not the kids? Never?

What next said...

"between schools refusing to group and "wanting it both ways"--using SES as an excuse for not doing their job--teaching the kids--, but then arguing they can't help the high performers because it would increase the achievement gap?"

Allison -- I've seen both hard-working and poorly run low SES schools. I can't do what you've done and say that all "bad" schools are the same. There are some schools with bad scores because the kids run wild and the teachers have given up trying to do much of anything.

I've seen more "bad" schools with hard-working teachers doing good, hard work and being maligned for not having scores as high as other schools with high SES and college educated parents. Usually their scores are higher, but not "high enough."

At one school I'm thinking of, I can guarantee you that if you brought in teachers like I had at my suburban, considered good school district, they'd flounder. They certainly wouldn't have the scores that the teachers there now have. BUT are those kids still behind even with these great teachers? Yes, they are. They need MORE, not the same.

What next said...

"DO mean they come to school with a totally different skill set than your kids did."

This is one of those escape clauses."

It would be an escape clause if I had thrown up my hands and said that it can't be overcome. I didn't do that.

"If kids come to school knowing next to nothing, you have to define what you expect to achieve."

Well, yes! And not just kids who "know next to nothing." All kids. Believe me, classroom math teachers know that kids should know their multiplication tables -- it would make the teachers lives far easier! They also know that with scripted curriculums, sent from the district, you have to be wily to get enough practice in there. You will be written up if you aren't "on pace." You will be written up for using techniques or activities that aren't on the script. You are told not to go back to something and teach it to mastery, but to blindly follow and believe that they will somehow get it. That's what I couldn't do.

However, you escaped from answering why you provided your own children with an enriched life if it has no effect on them and they could learn just as well without it.

I certainly agree that th

Allison said...

WN, what a ridiculous straw man. No parent is saying what they taught doesn't matter. It's at this point the schools that need to prove they are doing anything at all above what parents are doing.

lgm said...

>>"I'm not saying that poverty PREVENTS a child from learning, but the ramifications of it DO mean they come to school with a totally different skill set than your kids did."

Look, it's culture not poverty. I know, I'm from rural poverty combined with literate culture on one side and barely literate on the other. My parents' teachers and my teachers didn't dumb anything down - they had us rise to the occasion and they had the school board backing them in behavior expectations. If you worked, you learned.

Here in NY, it's giant pity party. The money in my district is being spent on the urban poor who have moved here post 9/11 - we have double period classes, half speed classes, rTi, tutoring, summer school, alternative, night high school, and beaucoup security guards plus of course the litigation expenses. We no longer have 90% of the extracurriculars, honors math/science, IB, and 90% of the electives we had 10 years ago. As a matter of fact, Poughkeepsie City High School - a much poorer and urban area with same size high school - has more than we do. Newburgh High School - w/ all its gang problems - offers more.

Our teachers are the same as always. They are good. They cannot succeed because the urban poor will not attend in a diverse setting - physically or mentally - unless they are in alternative settings that cost about $28K per student per year. And this is a district that is only 15% ex-inner city, 30% poverty. There is now no way that a child can have a math education good enough to succeed in college...those classes have been eliminated. But, if I moved to a Title I school, they'd be available.

We need to get off the mindset that killing honors/AP opportunities to divert to those who 'need more' is 'fair'. It's not. Every child deserves high expectations and the pathway to acheive.

What next said...

Allison: "WN, what a ridiculous straw man. No parent is saying what they taught doesn't matter. It's at this point the schools that need to prove they are doing anything at all above what parents are doing."

That's exactly what "no excuses" says. It says that it's the teacher's fault or the curriculum's fault if a child with no advantages doesn't catch up and succeed at the same pace as a child with advantages.

It's ridiculous to argue that but it happens every day.

In my smaller urban district, the lie is that just using their excellent curriculum will enable all children to succeed -- in the same classrooms, taught the same thing at the same time, regardless of their skills coming in. 20 minutes out of 90 is devoted to "differentiation" and that's when the teacher is supposed to choose from a list of approved activities and manage to both enrich the high achievers and remediate the low.

Allison said...

I'm sorry--you're the TEACHER. If you and your colleagues don't like differentiated instruction, YOU ARE THE PEOPLE IN A POSITION TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. NOT THE BLOODY PARENTS.

No? You're not in such a position? That's impossible? Then WHAT ARE YOU FOR?

Seriously, what is it you provide if you don't provide that? Do you admit to parents ahead of time that you can't provide that?

"No excuses" means YOU teach the children you say you are the teacher of. That means teach a year's material in a year's time. Can't do that? Then what is a teacher is for? What is a school for? Why are you wasting these childrens' years? Their parents years?

You can't teach your charges because you're hamstrung? Then act like a professional, and find a solution where you're not hamstrung anymore--work around the problem, create a group of people who push for improvement, or leave and go elsewhere.

Professionals create procedures, methods, and policies in their professions that they use and approve of. Professionals don't say "my hands are tied" and whine about it. They create working groups, industry standards groups, etc. They work to track down problems and fix the sources. They open their procedures up to other experts for criticism.

You pull this "I can't teach the children because my situation is untenable" line when it suits you. Okay, I'll take you at their word: you can't teach their charges, and should not be holding these children hostages.

Ari-free said...

I'm tired of the low-SES argument. Abraham Lincoln didn't need smartboards. Why can't our kids be at the same level of literacy as his generation?

SteveH said...

'That's exactly what "no excuses" says.'

No excuses for what, exactly?


"It says that it's the teacher's fault or the curriculum's fault if a child with no advantages doesn't catch up and succeed at the same pace as a child with advantages."

Nobody said anything about this.

However, there are no excuses for not digging into the details and quantifying whether an approach works or not. When schools use Everyday Math and its spiraling approach, they are saying that if kids don't learn, they are not ready yet; that they will learn (by definition) if they keep spiraling through the material. Even when capable kids get to fifth grade not knowing 6*7, they don't question the process. My son's fifth grade teacher tried to remediate, but she wouldn't or couldn't try to fix the underlying problem. At the end of the year, even after not covering 35% of the material, she sent home a note claiming victory over critical thinking and problem solving.

When schools use full-inclusion and differentiated instruction techniques, they can't just assume that the approach works. Our schools see problems, but they assume that all they need to do is try harder. They never quantify what goes on at home. They might find that parents are doing their job. Most parents have recieved notes telling all parents to work on basic math facts with their kids. How simple does it have to get before success can be achieved only from the school; learning to tie your shoes?

I've also heard the excuse that public schools have to teach "all" kids. There are certainly issues with this, but it can't be used as a blanket escape clause for any educational philosophy. This is not about no excuse for success. It's about no excuse for passing the buck.

As for defining success, do school systems (especially K-8) know it when they see it? If they won't separate those who are willing and able from those who aren't, then the best they can offer is whatever they dream up for differentiated instruction. Their butts are saved by the success of those kids who get help at home. I'm not talking about some sort of grand high-SES knowledge and culture. I'm talking about learning to read, write, and do basic math. Their excuses hide problems in basic competence. Look at the questions on the standardized tests.

With NCLB, the definition of success is now defined by low proficiency cutoffs. The problem is not standardized testing, but how low expectations have now become the target high expectations. Little urban Suzie will only ever get to the community college, but educators will be thrilled.

Ravitch seems to be interested in raising a low statistical average while keeping the spread of the distribution as narrow as possible. She doesn't want to let anyone escape. That, apparently, would not be fair.

What next said...

Allison --

Yes, I do hold parents in part responsible for what's taught and I'm a parent, with 15 years and counting of continuous public school attendance by my children -- though that may end soon for the youngest. You and I vote for and fund these districts.

If you read above, you will note that I DID quit due to the impossibility of teaching what I was forced to teach. And yes, I do mean forced -- walk-throughs with people commenting on how well I hewed to their script. Comments that would then be used to write my evaluations and determine my future. Before that I taught for a principal who had the time in/determination/fearlessness to stand up to the admin and free up her teachers to do their work.

The very real risk of losing a job, or getting a "u" rating affects teachers -- I was lucky because I *could* quit. Most people don't have that kind of leeway in their lives and budgets.

Why do you think that teachers could personally do something about it, while you can't?

SCHOOL BOARDS are the way to change your schools. I know it's hard work to get them to listen. I live in an area with lots of Broad and Gates money and the school board is totally (not totally, there is one member who stands up to them) in the pocket of the administration. Parents and complaining teachers are "listened to" (what they do isn't really listening) and then forgotten. Mostly they hope the pesky older teachers will be so disgusted that they retire (and they are in droves).

They'll tell you those are the "bad" teachers who can't hack the fancy reforms. But in fact, those are the teachers who know how to teach and are being replaced by 21 yo teachers who will do whatever they're told.

However, *I* am still working on changing the board, too. There are plenty of people (mostly older teachers and administrators) who would be excellent board members and could stand up and demand change. So, I focus on getting the word out.

But to get any sort of realistic changes made, parents will have to work with teachers and understand that teachers don't choose their curriculum in most places, teachers don't choose their classes, teachers didn't make the laws against tracking, etc.

What next said...

Steve H: "When schools use full-inclusion and differentiated instruction techniques, they can't just assume that the approach works. Our schools see problems, but they assume that all they need to do is try harder."

That's exactly right. If your scores don't go up using their awful scripts, you're told that you weren't doing it well enough, hard enough, etc.

There is no emphasis on using what really works rather than what they want to work. I can think of two schools in my district whose scores are much higher than those of other similar schools in the district. But, is the district talking about those schools, studying those schools, having new principals train in those schools?

Nope. Those principals are considered renegades to be stopped or at least hassled and marginalized. These principals allow...let's say, differentiated grouping (since that's not illegal like tracking is), they provide enrichment activities in the school day to everyone and sometimes break up the 90+ minute blocks of one subject for elementary age students. They let their teachers do special units and create an exciting atmosphere around learning.

But they aren't encouraged, let alone celebrated by the district at all.

lgm said...

>>But in fact, those are the teachers who know how to teach and are being replaced by 21 yo teachers who will do whatever they're told.

I some cases yes, in many no. The acheivement rates cannot be ignored. The lack of discipline in the classroom canot be ignored. The priorities of the local unions - who spent the last ten years demanding money for its members, not safety, not professional working conditions cannot be ignored. The amount of lessons sent home with elementary and middle school children for their parents to teach cannot be ignored.

Let's think back to our youth. Parents worked, and worked hard. Some, like today, are away overseas fighting wars. Their teachers taught. Children weren't sent home with homework they couldn't do, with the expectation that parents would fill in, or hire tutors. The expectation was that the teacher would teach and all but the brain damaged could learn. That expectation needs to be in place again - but since we do not have teachers or their unions demanding that the professional in the classroom be responible and accountable, we are getting the scripts plus the referral to rTi.

Frankly, my son's internet course is better than the included classrooms. They cost way less too. I see the future for the lady engineers and scientists who took the mommy track after being downsized.

ChemProf said...

Sorry, What next, but the approach you are talking about is really familiar to me. I come from a family of educators (my mother has been an elementary school teacher for 35 years and my sister teaches in an elementary education program), so I've heard this before. We just need the parents to be involved, we just need more money/smaller classes/etc. I don't see most teachers arguing for tracking or gifted education. Never mind that many students are failing to make the (dismally low) state cut-offs even at the best school in our district, or that the local fifth grade teacher is asking parents to review multiplication facts.

At my college, where the education school is highly regarded locally, there are lots of classes in "community and diversity", very few on math education, and none on gifted education. How do parents change this? How do we change the school board, when most of the money in the race is from the teacher's unions, to support their preferred candidates? We also know that schools are great at waiting out problem parents, who will only be a problem for 3-5 years before their kids age out.

All of which is why I am planning on shocking my family and homeschooling my kids.

What next said...

"How do parents change this? How do we change the school board, when most of the money in the race is from the teacher's unions, to support their preferred candidates?"

Grassroots organizing -- getting out the word and getting out the vote. Obviously, not an easy answer. There is not a lot of money in our local races coming from the union -- if any. Honestly, here, I'd welcome it, the teachers are horrified at the rubber stamping board we have.

Not to say that we've had much success as parents. The latest thing to be planned is that the high school level gifted classes will now be open to anyone who can get an 80% in the regular version of the class and has over 90% attendance.

I most likely will be homeschooling my youngest as well, unless there's some sort of windfall that makes three college tuitions AND 4 years of private high school possible.

SteveH said...

"SCHOOL BOARDS are the way to change your schools."

When does democracy become tyranny of the majority (or minority)? Which products require democracy and which ones don't, especially for products where there is a large difference of opinion. Affluent parents get choice, but the rest apparently are not smart enough to figure it out.

Then there is the practical issue of how a school board gets schools to do something they don't want to do; that they were not trained to do?


"But to get any sort of realistic changes made, parents will have to work with teachers and understand that teachers don't choose their curriculum in most places, teachers don't choose their classes, teachers didn't make the laws against tracking, etc."


Don't expect me to hop on the "it's the administration" bandwagon. Don't expect me to take sides with teachers as a group. Few K-6 teachers have anything close to my philosophy of education and level of expectations. There is no basis for working with them or their union. Both sides (teachers and administrations) are trying to protect their turf, and they do their best to keep parents out. The only interest teachers have with parents is as support for their own agenda. It's never the other way around.

If you have been reading KTM for very long, you will know the enormous (!) effort many of us have put into working within the system ... with little success. You seem to be very early in this process, and in spite of your optimism, you sound very pessimistic. I would be surprised if you can accomplish anything much.

What next said...

"in an elementary education program), so I've heard this before. We just need the parents to be involved, we just need more money/smaller classes/etc. I don't see most teachers arguing for tracking or gifted education. "

Personally? I could care less about parental involvement! I'd have liked parents to respond to ongoing, severe behavioral problems, sure. But the truth is most of the parents have the same problems with the child at home.

But, if you read through what I've written, I'm all for ability grouping and gifted education and I think it's ridiculous to assume that a cross-section of 5th graders are all going to learn equally well from a scripted lesson. And 20 minutes a day of "differentiated activities" isn't going to change that. But, as a teacher, my two choices were do what didn't work or quit/be fired at some point. The year before when I could do what I felt was needed? My kids' scores went up.

This year? I'd have been held accountable for teaching something I knew was bad and wasn't working, and the resulting test scores would be held against me.

What next said...

"If you have been reading KTM for very long, you will know the enormous (!) effort many of us have put into working within the system ... with little success. You seem to be very early in this process, and in spite of your optimism, you sound very pessimistic. I would be surprised if you can accomplish anything much."

I have been reading here for years and been involved in my public schools for even longer (my oldest is 20). Generally, I avoid commenting, because if you think the teacher's unions promote orthodoxy, I can promise you the comments section here gives them a run for the money!

Pessimistic? Absolutely (note posting name). The last five years in our urban district have destroyed almost all that was good in the district while adding in all sorts of silly, bad-progressive, "just think it hard enough and it will happen" reforms. The administration is overrun with overpaid Broad fellows who've got less teaching experience than I do. Parent feedback is taken in cute little meetings with post-it poster pads, typed into a report and promptly circular filed. Schools have been closed, re-opened, remodeled and then closed, reconfigured and reconfigured again, and all sorts of crazy "themes" have been tried. I can think of one successful school created out of all of this. The school that was to be their "flagship" of urban education has already made our state's failing schools list.

I went back to get certified (I have two other degrees) due to my beliefs which are very similar to many here. I lasted all of 1 1/2 years in my district, realizing that there is no way to do what I think needs to be done in this environment.

My time was spent in very high poverty schools (>90%) in the classrooms with the highest concentrations of IEPs (25-60%). I've seen included 7th graders who cannot read. I've seen 7th graders who can't do simple addition accurately. And there's no reason for it, they've got (or at least had) plenty of potential. I spent my year trying to teach them those basic skills and prepare them for proficiency on our state tests (which my own children do find ridiculously easy). I often realized that my 2nd grader was far better prepared than many 6th graders.

The discipline situation is horrible -- the solution from the administration? Tie principal bonuses to suspension rates. Few to none suspensions? Big bonus! The kids may not score well, but they sure aren't dumb. They've figured out what makes the new, administration trained principals tick and they exploit it to the best of their ability.

But hey, if you want to decide that I'm a dilettante and an idiot because I think that there are lasting effects of an impoverished childhood that are not at all effectively dealt with in our schools, I can't stop you!

Not going back to reread, because my last try got eaten when I tried to post it (it was shorter, too!)

Allison said...

--But to get any sort of realistic changes made, parents will have to work with teachers and understand that teachers don't choose their curriculum in most places, teachers don't choose their classes, teachers didn't make the laws against tracking, etc.

I actually do work with teachers. I know teachers who have written the curriculum. I know teachers who basically told their admin what they want from textbooks, and gave the admins a handful to choose from. I know teachers who were consulted about textbooks. I know teachers who weren't. Teachers picking curriculum hasn't been a model that has worked very well in the schools I've seen.

Picking a textbook series is not a sufficient condition for success.

Likewise, I know teachers who are pro tracking. Others who are anti tracking. Some of made their schools follow suit; some have been forced by their school to do what the school wished. Again, picking ability group is not a sufficient condition for success.

I know school boards that rubber stamp supers. I know school boards that listen to teachers. I know boards that are unaccountable. Again, no prescription of school board is a sufficient condition for success.

But overwhelmingly, what works in a classroom even when that teacher has little say in textbook, or tracking, or policy, is when a teacher take accountability for their students' success regardless.

And overwhelmingly, what works in a school is when the teachers, the admins, the board, and the parents all take accountability for the students' progress. When all levels have the "no excuses" attitude, it works. When everyone looks to everyone else first rather than take accountability, it doesn't work.

SteveH said...

"But hey, if you want to decide that I'm a dilettante and an idiot because I think that there are lasting effects of an impoverished childhood that are not at all effectively dealt with in our schools, I can't stop you!"

Once again, you're claiming things that people haven't said.


But somehow this is supposed to be fixed by, well...


"SCHOOL BOARDS are the way to change your schools. I know it's hard work to get them to listen."

and

"Grassroots organizing -- getting out the word and getting out the vote. Obviously, not an easy answer."

and then:


"Pessimistic? Absolutely (note posting name). The last five years in our urban district have destroyed almost all that was good in the district while adding in all sorts of silly, bad-progressive, "just think it hard enough and it will happen" reforms."

"Not to say that we've had much success as parents."



Where are you going with this line of thinking? Keep trying harder with the school board and with teachers? How will that fix the "lasting effects of an impoverished childhood"? How do you even define that?

What next said...

"Where are you going with this line of thinking? Keep trying harder with the school board and with teachers?"

I'd add in the administration too. I don't know of any other way,if you do, please enlighten me!

The administration and board are setting and enforcing everything in my district (including the daily homework at the elementary level), so parents have no other recourse but to deal with them. They may deal with them directly or via teachers/principals, but the admin is calling the shots.

There may be a state takeover at some point, but the state doesn't really want to do that again. The districts they have taken over have not improved and generally have actually gotten worse.

Maybe the union? That seems to be the one thing that is seen to be powerful here.

How will that fix the "lasting effects of an impoverished childhood"? How do you even define that?

Clarifying the scope and sequence for the curriculum and using teaching practices that work, rather than a script filled with group problem solving and little direct instruction, will go a long way. Just like self-esteem is built on actual achievement, learning builds on previous learning.

Having an ability range no larger than a couple of grade levels in a classroom wouldn't hurt. (Even in a basically tracked room, there was at least that -- in other schools that didn't do some ability grouping, there is often a 3-8 grade level difference)

Emphasis during first two years in school on how to be in a group learning situation (meaning a classroom, not just smaller groups), how to not give in to impulses instantly, etc.

Or did you mean defining the effects I see of impoverishment (meaning an amalgam of income, "class" and "culture.")?

SteveH said...

"I don't know of any other way,if you do, please enlighten me!"

Our non-urban school district uses full-inclusion and differentiated instruction for K-8. Only in math do they begin to separate kids in 7th grade based on a test given in 6th grade and the recommendation of the teacher.

They finally got rid of CMP and changed it to a real sequence of pre-algebra and algebra in 7th and 8th grade. What drove this change was a very clear curriculum gap some kids faced when they went from 8th grade CMP to Geometry in high school. Parents were able to argue that the middle school had to use the same math textbook as the high school for the top level algebra course. The middle school could have kept CMP and added a separate algebra course, but they decided to use the same pre-algebra and algebra books for all. They just varied the amount of material covered.

The downside to this is that this push for higher expectations and rigor stops in 7th grade. They still use Everyday Math in K-6 and assume that all kids reach their potential by definition. They see "enough" kids get to geometry in high school that they don't try to do more. Most of these kids, however, get help at home. I used Singapore Math with my son, but I'm sure they have pointed to him as one of their Everyday Math successes.

Differentiated Instruction also works both ways. We were able to use that to claim that our son needed much more than what is offered in class. We were able to have him take a test and skip 6th grade Everyday Math and go straight into pre-algebra. However, the question is what do they do for kids with parents who don't advocate for them? Nothing.

Language requirements have also been driven down into middle school by the desire for some kids to be prepared for a second level language class as a freshman in high school. Language seems to be an easier sell than math because more people can relate (in theory, at least) to the need to know a foreign language. Our language courses are now aligned, curriculum-wise, to connect directly with the second year language class in high school.

Other that that, there is little to drive more rigor into the lower expectation world of K-6. High SES families will provide the push and enforce mastery of the basics. Their kids will be the ones getting to honors classes, geometry, and a second year language class in high school. If K-6 schools don't provide that push and enforce mastery, then even though there might be a rigorous curriculum path, the low SES kids will never get there.

I'm not talking about some deep or mysterious SES culture thing. I'm talking about mastery of the basics. Look at our 6th grade math test to determine what skills and knowledge are needed to get on the algebra in 8th grade math track. It's not difficult for most kids if the schools would take responsibility to ensure mastery of basic skills. Instead, they "trust the spiral" and send home notes telling parents to work on basic math facts. And they wonder why there is an academic gap.

As Allison says, someone has to take responsibility for ensuring that basic learning get done. High SES parents do that, and it's not some vague high culture thing. It's ensuring mastery of the basics.

Hainish said...

However, the question is what do they do for kids with parents who don't advocate for them? Nothing.

Yes, this.

lgm said...

>>However, the question is what do they do for kids with parents who don't advocate for them? Nothing.

Not necessarily. It depends on the board's diversity objectives. Look at your district's admittance critera for honors and then look at test scores. There will be some interesting conclusions and you'll come to understand what 'teacher recommendation' is really used for.

Parents who do advocate but aren't wanted (ie quota filled) will be told that, even with '4' scores in preceding years, there are many children like that (despite public data saying that the percent scoring a '4' is less than the seats available in honors)and their child was not 'mature enough' to be in honors in 7th.

The fact of the matter is that schools are withholding grade level education.

Crimson Wife said...

"Look, it's culture not poverty. I know, I'm from rural poverty combined with literate culture on one side"

I couldn't agree more. One set of great-grandparents were immigrants with little money or formal education but very much into books. My great-grandfather apparently was well-known in his neighborhood for the way he could recite Shakespeare from heart in his Irish brogue. All of their 6 children graduated from college, back when hardly anyone did (particularly girls).

SteveH said...

".. to understand what 'teacher recommendation' is really used for."

I forgot about that, but that's just pumping kids along, not really helping them. If they can handle the course, then the issue is about how the school has limited slots. Some schools will open up more slots, but the classes get watered down by the increased range of abilities. You can't flunk half the class.

Hainish said...

My district's criteria for honors in the middle school includes the number of absences. This keeps out a number of students, minorities included, who would benefit from honors but are stuck in the non-honors classes.

Teacher recommendation seems to be a tool to reward compliance more than anything else.

What next said...

"Look, it's culture not poverty. I know, I'm from rural poverty combined with literate culture on one side"

I couldn't agree more. One set of great-grandparents were immigrants with little money or formal education but very much into books.


Maybe we need a word or an asterisk to denote that using the word poverty is, in the education field as well as others, denoting a set of conditions.

Certainly all people below an income number don' share them, just as all people above a number don't share the same set of conditions.

However, these are the conditions that could be generally covered under the "label":

little or no reading material in the home for either children or adults, no library available nearby and/or little use by the majority of families

home insecurity -- multiple living situations in a year, frequent moving, living with a variety of relatives in a variety of homes

neighborhood -- many abandoned or neglected buildings and empty, trash-filled lots, high crime rates (both drug crimes and violent crimes) so that children are often prevented from playing outside

Food and health care -- little access to healthy food or even supermarket priced food, multiple bus rides needed for major food purchases or medical care. (For instance, many kids are eligible for a pair of glasses...but their parent/guardian has a hard time making two trips just to get the initial pair, let alone return trips for repairs)


Leading to (again, generalizing rather than specifying every child) limited vocabulary upon entering school, limited experience with education setting, and often, difficulty in reacting to conflicts with words/problem solving methods -- whether it's in relation to other students or to teachers and administrators.

What next said...

Our district is going in the other direction -- there are never limits on the number of kids going into higher level classes (though there have been various testing schemes).

Our district push has been to get more kids into those classes. However, if a student is a low B student in a "regular" class, there's a likelihood s/he may be a C/D/F student in a more advanced class. But as noted, that's seen as unacceptable and the teachers are told it's unacceptable.

However, in our district, as long as you put something on the paper...the lowest grade you can get is a 50. Yes, you read that right. It was awful to give a kid who rarely did much of anything, and learned very little the same grade as a kid who worked really hard to get a C. It seemed like the report cards should note how many grades were truly less than that minimum 50.

lgm said...

>>Maybe we need a word or an asterisk to denote that using the word poverty is, in the education field as well as others, denoting a set of conditions

The world already has an appropriate phrase to describe this set of conditions. Using a general word like 'poverty' instead of the appropriate phrase means that students who truly are in poverty are ignored and starved of the resources they need to move on.

The culture you are describing with the word 'poverty' is NOT the majority culture in the US.

What next said...

The world already has an appropriate phrase to describe this set of conditions. Using a general word like 'poverty' instead of the appropriate phrase means that students who truly are in poverty are ignored and starved of the resources they need to move on.

While they are not entirely causal, these problems are highly correlated. Are you saying that if they have these problems they are *not* in poverty?

The culture you are describing with the word 'poverty' is NOT the majority culture in the US.

No, it's not. However, between 20 to 25% of children in this country are in what researchers call "poverty." Our urban public schools are far higher than that, for sure. (Several schools I've been in have > 90% free/reduced lunch students.)

Do you believe there is a "majority culture" in the US? Please describe it.

What next said...

The world already has an appropriate phrase to describe this set of conditions.

And that word is _____?

rocky said...

The world already has an appropriate phrase to describe this set of conditions.

And that word is _____?

Ignorance.

What next said...

Really? That's where you want to go with that?

Okay, well at least it's clear the agenda here! I realize now that it really is all about your own kid(s).

Silly me, concerned both with my own children *and* providing a fair and decent education to all children.

Allison said...

Why do you say such things without evidence? "it really is all about your own kids(s)". To whom are you speaking?

Catherine pulled her son out of the Irvington public schools a year ago? And she's been instrumental in getting 2 of 5 board members to be a reform party, and is working to get a 3rd on board this year. She keeps fighting for the kids and parents in Irvington at every turn, but you accuse her of only caring about her own?

Cassy teaches teachers about Singapore Math. PalisadesK is a teacher, too. Michael Weiss is a prof who teachers teaches and tutors on the side. VickyS teaches high school bio while also having another full time job. Steve, Lgm, Rocky-they've all contributed by running programs, volunteering, fighting schools or boards.

You missed the mark. It doesn't make your arguments any stronger.

What next said...

Seems quite obvious that I was referring to Rocky who informed me that "ignorant" is the correct term for the conditions related to poverty I've talked about.

Don't worry though, I do understand that you're all very nice and very smart people, even if you're pretty sure that anyone who is in a poor urban school and not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps like great-grandpa did is ignorant.

SteveH said...

"All"? You can't have it both ways.

I have no idea how you came to this conclusion from the comments in the thread. One of the main themes at KTM is how K-6 schools don't provide any bootstraps, scaffolding, or assurance of mastery at any level for those who don't have help at home or with tutors, even for kids from affluent families.

Talk of poverty only lowers expectations, especially for those urban kids without major environmental issues. It also distracts from examining the details of the problem. As long as urban schools keep seeing kids as statistical poverty widgets, they will never set or offer rigorous paths of learning.

What next said...

I have no idea how you came to this conclusion from the comments in the thread. One of the main themes at KTM is how K-6 schools don't provide any bootstraps, scaffolding, or assurance of mastery at any level for those who don't have help at home or with tutors, even for kids from affluent families.

That's why I read here. I've not disagreed with that.

Talk of poverty only lowers expectations, especially for those urban kids without major environmental issues. It also distracts from examining the details of the problem. As long as urban schools keep seeing kids as statistical poverty widgets, they will never set or offer rigorous paths of learning.

Talk of poverty doesn't lower expectations. Low expectations and lowering expectations do that. Teaching to a state test does that.

Talking about poverty means facing up to reality. I don't understand why you seem to think that there is no attention to data or to individual needs in high poverty schools. Data and its analysis is a necessary (and it's being done) but not at all sufficient piece.

SteveH said...

"I don't understand why you seem to think that there is no attention to data or to individual needs in high poverty schools."

Beyond IEPs or free lunch, what are you referring to educationally? Remediation programs? What are they remediating, the influence of poverty ,the influence of bad curricula and teaching, or the unwillingness to separate those who can from those who can't? When they see kids in fifth grade who don't know their times table, do they think it's a poverty issue? As I've already pointed out, many (non-poverty) kids in my son's fifth grade class didn't know the times table. They had to remediate. I have no idea what that data told them, but they weren't thinking poverty. They still couldn't fix the problem.

What reality does the data tell urban schools to face up to? There are lots of issues. When do they decide that poverty is not a factor? What are the lower expectations based on?


"Teaching to a state test does that."

Low expectations existed long before state tests. NCLB at least forces schools to have a level of expectations (still very low) that are higher than what they had before. The downside is that for many schools, the minimum becomes the maximum. And still, schools fail to achieve good results even though the questions are so simple that they defy the poverty argument.

rocky said...

Some people think the word "ignorance" is just an insult; I was using it as though it had the meaning of "lack of knowledge". Lack of money and lack of knowledge are two separate problems, and while lack of money can make it harder to get a high school education, lack of knowledge is more serious.

You had already acknowledged this point when you suggested using an asterisk to the word "poverty" to imply poverty with ignorance.

1. Little or no reading material in the home. Not because books are so expensive. You can pick them up for fifty cents at a second hand store. But unlike Abraham Lincoln, some people don't see the value of books, or don't know how to read.

2. Home insecurity -- multiple living situations in a year, frequent moving. Military kids and their parents know why it takes so much effort every time they move. They realize they need to find out where the resources are, the phone numbers of the teachers, and the textbook, homework, and study requirements. People who are ignorant of this process might assume that the new place will work exactly as the old place.

3. Neighborhood -- many abandoned or neglected buildings and empty, trash-filled lots, high crime rates. People who have not walked the neighborhood, or visited other parents, may not know about the dangers and strategies to avoid them (such as children walking together, to known destinations, with supervision).

4. Food and health care -- little access to healthy food or even supermarket priced food, multiple bus rides needed for major food purchases or medical care. (For instance, many kids are eligible for a pair of glasses...but their parent/guardian has a hard time making two trips just to get the initial pair, let alone return trips for repairs)
I have never had to deal with this problem. I've always had a car, or a friend who had a car. Can I just answer with bravado and say I would "let my fingers do the walking" and phone around for supermarkets or food banks who provided delivery service?

5. Limited vocabulary upon entering school, limited experience with education setting, and often, difficulty in reacting to conflicts with words/problem solving methods. This is obviously a problem of ignorance rather than poverty.

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read the comments yet, but I got an interesting perspective on Ravitch when I attended the "Celebration of Teaching and Learning" here in NYC.

Every time Ravitch's name was mentioned, the entire crowd broke out in cheers and applause.

Is there a single other policy wonk who gets huge auditoriums of people roaring applause?

Inside a teacher convention, Ravitch is a rock star.

Catherine Johnson said...

lgm wrote:

their child was not 'mature enough' to be in honors in 7th

REMIND ME TO PUT THIS UP FRONT AS A POST.

The 'maturity' criterion was one of THE most infuriating aspects of our entire middle school experience (here in New York state - which is where lgm hails from).

Catherine Johnson said...

Those principals are considered renegades to be stopped or at least hassled and marginalized.

wow

doesn't surprise me, though

momof4 said...

"Not mature enough" not infrequently means "not a teacher-pleaser", particularly if it takes the form of asking inconvenient questions; not uncommon among bright kids with lots of background knowledge.

Anonymous said...

It also means "doesn't have the executive function skills of a legal secretary at all times."

Little Johnny may have a genius IQ, but if he can't keep track of all of his projects, then too bad.

SusanS

Glen said...

momof4: ""Not mature enough" not infrequently means "not a teacher-pleaser", particularly if it takes the form of asking inconvenient questions; not uncommon among bright kids with lots of background knowledge.

AND

anonymous: "It also means "doesn't have the executive function skills of a legal secretary at all times."

Ah, bless both of you, you are so right.

When I was a kid, I was mostly a teacher pleaser. I learned most of my "background knowledge" from school, so when elementary school teachers asked questions, I would usually reply with something they had taught me. A faithful apprentice, I had paid attention to them. They loved me.

My young sons are in "good neighborhood" public schools where they no longer teach "background knowledge" or serious skills, so now I have to teach them at home, after school. The result is that most of their knowledge and skill comes from outside the teacher's realm.

This means that when my kids' teachers ask questions, they are no longer expecting kids to "merely regurgitate facts"; they're expecting them to not know. If a kid does know, if a kid provides an answer demonstrating serious content knowledge, it implicitly threatens the teacher's position as The Expert.

So the well-trained kid, who had to be trained outside school to be well-trained, intimidates the poorly-trained teacher. The teacher won't love them, and will put them in their place by evaluating them, not on their educational accomplishment, but on the basis of "following directions," "creativity" and, most ironic of all, "using time wisely."

SteveH said...

My old story is that when my wife and I mentioned to our son's first grade teacher that he loved geography and could find any country in the world, she replied:

"Yes, he has a lot of superficial knowledge."

Those were her exact words. This wasn't the first or the last teacher slap-down we got. It wasn't so much that she was threatened; she was trying to enforce her turf.

Ironically, later that year our son had to show the student teacher where Kuwait was when they had a thematic "Sands from around the world" unit in class.

Grace Nunez said...

Steve - I remember your story well, because in elementary school one of my son's teacher commented that he was "a font of general knowledge". Our impression was that this was not intended to be a compliment.

Glen said...

And more from the Dept. of Irony: Yesterday, I chaperoned a small group of kids from my son's 4th grade class on a field trip to NASA Ames Research Center. A couple of young NASA scientists were showing them equipment from a Mars lander, and my son surprised them by understanding a lot more than they expected. His understanding was mostly recognition, not reasoning.

At one point, my son speculated that "maybe Mars is red because the dirt is full of iron, and it oxidized." One of the Mars scientists, a young woman, just about fell over and demanded to know what school they went to so, "If I ever have kids of my own, I can send them there." So, ironically, our public school, which disdains such "superficial knowledge" and thinks turning white paper into red paper with colored pencils is superior education, gets credited by NASA scientists for the extraordinary quality of its teaching.

Richard Cathcart said...

I will be administering our state's exit exam this week, to sophomores. It is the central data point in the evaluation of the school, which is in a low-income district. It's a very big deal, but it is a very easy test. My colleagues and I will be praised for the inevitably high passing rate, which "we" attain. I perceive the praise as hollow, and I am sure that most of my students do, too, because they could have passed the test back in middle school. Most of the faculty realize this and pursue a legitimate h.s. course of studies despite the looming challenge of the Big Test. Since our Big Test results are so good, we are not harrassed by supervision, and it is assumed we are teaching to the test to get such results. So more teaching to the test is prescribed for the next year. It would be funny if it wasn't so absurd.

What next said...

Rocky said: Some people think the word "ignorance" is just an insult; I was using it as though it had the meaning of "lack of knowledge". Lack of money and lack of knowledge are two separate problems, and while lack of money can make it harder to get a high school education, lack of knowledge is more serious.

You had already acknowledged this point when you suggested using an asterisk to the word "poverty" to imply poverty with ignorance.


In the literature about education, poverty, SES and "free/reduced lunch status" are the terms used to imply that many, though not all, of these children may share a constellation of characteristics. You, personally, may not agree with that, or not use it that way, but that doesn't change the accepted usage.

Reading your answers to the list of characteristics only confirms for me though, your ignorance of the realities of poverty.

A delivering food bank?! This made me laugh out loud (bitterly, but still, I laughed) None in my city, there are no delivery services at the one chain that serves our city, either. Some small markets in more upscale neighborhoods do deliver. Their prices reflect that service.

Call a friend with a car? Well this sort of happens. They're called jitneys (unlicensed taxi service) and you pay them. That money is now money you don't have to spend on food.

There are no secondhand book shops with a selection of children's books within a several mile radius around the school where I taught. The nearest store that might have some books from time to time is a Goodwill.

I do challenge you though, to go to one near YOUR house, since it's likely much better stocked, and find 5 books on a 2nd-5th grade reading level whose covers portray children who look like or live like the kids I taught. I'd bet you a lot of money you'll find none. I always paid full price to stock my shelves with books like that -- they're rare, especially good ones.

But, to address the general issue, are you really making the argument that every child of poverty should have the drive and ability of a Lincoln to get an education?

kcab said...

The lack of reasonably-priced groceries in cities (at least, some of them) is real, and affects more people than solely those who are poor. (Though, affects poorer people the most.) We've got that problem in the city I live near and it's been a problem for at least 30 years. Markets open up, but then close, and lots of time passes without one nearby.

Books though...libraries often have free used books to give away (or nearly). Of course, there is using the library too. While my particular near-by city has no food, it does have books, including a book bank set up specifically to give away books to anyone who needs them. (Quality does vary. I've gotten books there too, when I needed them for homeschooling. I've also dropped them off.)

I tend to think the lack of books is easier to solve than the lack of food. I supposed that's basically because books are reusable.