kitchen table math, the sequel: Nobody Gets Out Unless Everybody Gets Out

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nobody Gets Out Unless Everybody Gets Out

Why to oppose Mayoral Academies

While it's true that charter schools form a way to self-select into a more willing group of students, the author's assumption is that those left behind will be less well served. She does not explain why that would happen. Although she argues that separation does help, she does not explain why public schools will not offer the same separation. She does not argue that Achievemnt First does not work. She does not argue that some public school are failing. She offers no solution other than the supporters of Achievement First should be putting their efforts into public schools.

OK. Separate kids by willingness to work hard. Offer them a more rigorous curriculum.


FedUpMom said...

The assumption is that the mere presence of well-behaved kids with involved parents "improves" the public schools. In a sense this is true, because those kids probably rack up better test scores and make the school look better.

Of course, none of this means that the public schools are offering a decent education to any of the kids, involved parents or not.

It reminds me of the argument I've heard, that middle-class parents like me have a duty to send our kids to public schools, to "improve" them. How could I possibly improve the public schools? They are immune to anything I say or do. The only way they might look "improved" is if I send my kids there, and the schools get to take credit for their high test scores.

Catherine Johnson said...

FedUpMom- You've put it beautifully.

Jo in OKC said...

Also note that the school some families want is not what will best serve others. KIPP is a wonderful program, but it would have been horrible for our family.

Give people choices and force them to actually at least think about the education their children are getting.

FedUpMom said...

I wouldn't want KIPP for my kids, either.

"Force parents to actually think" about their kids' education? I don't think parents are the villains here. It's not unreasonable for parents to send their kids to school with the expectation that the school will teach the kids to read, write, and figure. Schools should deliver the basics, no matter what the parents do.

SteveH said...

Public schools want it both ways; they want to be a solution to poverty, but they use poverty as an excuse for failure. It's like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

They don't want any kids to leave, but they don't offer any kind of choice. They don't allow outsiders to make decisions on their turf, but they complain about how charter school supporters are not being helpful.

This is a common meme; school complainers are not being constructive. If they would only work with the school, they could find solutions. Of course, they just want parents to support (validate) their solutions.

There are lots of things that can be done with urban public schools, but the schools cannot or will not do them. They won't even separate out the disrupters who keep more able kids from reaching their potential. How do they think they are going to close the achievement gap if everyone is stuck on the same leaky boat?

Public schools allow students to separate by ability and willingness in high school. Why don't they offer that in the lower grades? This is even a problem in affuent towns with full inclusion, but parents hide the problem by fixing things.

Educational opportunity requires separating kids by results and willingness to learn. Egalitarian means equal rights and equal opportunities. It doesn't mean equal education. It doesn't mean tracking by age.

I've mentioned before that a rising tide might float all boats, but nobody will learn how to fly. Educators might be thrilled that little urban Suzie made it into the community college even though she had the potential to go to Harvard.

Affluent parents help their kids reach their potential. Urban schools want to float all boats. How do they think they are going to close the achievement gap? If they separated the more able kids, they could do much better and raise their average test scores. They can't bring themselves to do that and they won't let these kids leave.

palisadesk said...

How do they think they are going to close the achievement gap? If they separated the more able kids, they could do much better and raise their average test scores.

The research is actually very mixed on this -- I was quite surprised to find this out, since I am predisposed to favor homogeneous grouping. At least some longitudinal studies found that brighter students in homogeneous settings did not fare better or score higher than matched controls in heterogeneous groups (if anyone is really interested I will see if I can run down the sources for you).

For low performing students, the research is clear, that slower learners and low average students do significantly better in heterogeneous settings, even *without* any special resource or remedial support.

That I found virtually incredible but the evidence is very strong.

What seems to matter most is excellent instruction and a solid curriculum, but how to deliver this effectively to very mixed groups is something I really can't visualize. Some teachers do manage it, however, which suggests that more could learn to do it if we could isolate and replicate the successful strategies and procedures.

Catherine will be interested to know that we have taken up a lot of Richard Elmore's work very seriously, especially his ideas on instructional rounds (our next PLC topic).

If we meet the needs of students at the top of the curve, the gap will never really "close" because we will always have lower performers. What we can aim for is toreduce the gaps between groups. My district has identified particular populations as underachieving (for those who believe in race as the dominant factor, the poorest performers are white, as is also true in the UK) and is targeting particular initiatives to raise achievement for those groups.

We are seeing a big emphasis on teaching excellence, and that is a very good thing, but curriculum reform is also needed, and as Pondiscio has said more than once, it seems to be the forgotten element in reform efforts.

Lsquared said...

I've read some of the same studies palisadesk has, though the one I remember best has the same problem most education studies have (small sample size, hard to separate variables, that sort of thing). One thing I'm fairly sure it didn't have was disruptive students. The positive results seem to be associated with putting children in a group and with a curriculum that is higher than what one would expect them to be successful with. That seems to work for the slower students (on average) and doesn't impede the faster students (on average). I suspect that students with learning disabilities who are mainstreamed in would not have the same positive response. I also suspect that you would not get the same results in, say, a high school geometry or algebra II (something where lack of prior knowledge is more unforgiving).

This is a different problem than the one that I hear that most parents (and teachers) want to most avoid, which is that they want to avoid having motivated children grouped with disruptive students. I can't think of any studies where the students in the group being studied actively interrupted and derailed lessons and learning by the rest of the group, and yet I'm sure that some of those urban parents who want to move their children to a charter school have exactly that motivation.

SteveH said...

"At least some longitudinal studies found that brighter students in homogeneous settings did not fare better or score higher than matched controls in heterogeneous groups"

Did the brighter students have a different curriculum or higher expectations? What's the point in the context of this thread - that it's OK to have heterogeneous groups even when the ability or skill gap exceeds a year of school? Many schools won't even separate out the disrupters. What about kids who don't really try? This makes no sense.

"For low performing students, the research is clear, that slower learners and low average students do significantly better in heterogeneous settings, even *without* any special resource or remedial support."

This isn't clear. Is it due to a higher level of expectations or that there are more able students in the class? What is the exact mechanism that causes the improvement? I don't believe this either.

At best, top students might create a sort of social pressure on the lower level kids. These kids cannot just complain that the teacher is being mean. But what happens when the top kids get A's and the lowest level kids flunk? At some level of separation, there can only be a negative effect.

Schools don't use full inclusion because they think it's a better academic model. Schools don't track kids by age because it's a better academic model. The claim by those who support social promotion is that it keeps kids motivated and moving in the right direction. I see it as passing problems along until it's too late. It's easier to blame a 7th grader than it is a 3rd grader - and the 7th grader will probably believe it.

Cal said...

Palisa, I'm not sure what data you are using, but the data on tracking is pretty unambiguous. It almost always has a negative affect on high achieving kids. There's also very little support for the claim that low achieving kids do better.

"One way to narrow the gap between high and low achievers is to boost low-ability students' learning while either holding steady or lowering everyone else's. A study by Argys, Rees, and Brewer suggests that detracking works in precisely this manner. The analysis focused on 10th graders in the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS) sample. When assigned to heterogeneous math classes rather than to low tracks, low-ability 10th graders gained about 5 percentage points on achievement tests. Detracking helped them. Average students, in contrast, lost 2 percentage points from detracking, and high-ability students lost even more, about 5 points (Argys, Rees, & Brewer, 1996). The achievement gap was indeed narrowed, but apparently at the expense of students in regular and high tracks, representing about 70 percent of 10th graders in the United States. Overall, achievement was approximately 2 percentage points lower in detracked schools."


"Researchers at Johns Hopkins University analyzed NELS data to find out what happened to the math achievement of 8th graders who were grouped in different ways (Epstein & MacIver, 1992). Students in heterogeneously grouped algebra classes didn't learn as much as students in tracked algebra classes. This held true for all ability levels—high, average, and low. In contrast, when survey courses in math were heterogeneously grouped, low-ability students benefitted. Tracking apparently doesn't affect all math courses identically. This finding assumes added importance as the idea of all students taking an algebra course at an earlier age gains popularity. If the finding is valid, then tracking reform may seriously diminish the prospect that universal 8th grade algebra will boost U.S. math achievement."

Glen said...

If we meet the needs of students at the top of the curve, the gap will never really "close" because we will always have lower performers. What we can aim for is to reduce the gaps between groups.

If we meet the needs of groups at the top, the gap will never really close, because we will always have lower-performing groups. I realize that you're not claiming the group gap will close, you're just talking about narrowing it.

But if we do a better job of meeting the needs of all kids, I think it's just as likely that we'll widen the gap, not narrow it. Increase everyone's performance by X%, and you magnify all gaps, individual and group, by X%.

It seems to me that a lot of the "narrow the gap" concept is based on an assumption that if groups were treated equally, they'd have equal averages.

I doubt it. I think group differences are a natural consequence of individual differences, which would likely persist, even if all individuals were treated equally. As long as we have individual diversity, and we group people, not randomly, but by obvious and fundamental similarities to fellow group members, we'll have group diversity.

SteveH said...

The top students at an urban school won't be the same as the top students at an affluent school, where parents do much more for their kids, and I'm not talking about just turning off the TV.

The "gap" is not between the top and bottom students of a particular school, it's between urban schools and affluent schools. If affluent school students get outside help from their parents or tutors, how could urban schools possibly close the average gap when they don't offer the same opportunities to their top students? Claiming that separating these students won't help is not believable.

Of course, what's more important than any kind of gap is the absolute level of knowledge and skills. Everyone talks about relatively improving things like PISA or NAEP scores, but what's really important is to keep as many STEM doors open for as long as possible. This means a rigorous course in algebra by 8th or 9th grade. As you improve individual educational opportunities for all, I expect that the top-to-bottom gap would increase, but everyone will be in a much higher absolute level of education. This would have a better chance at closing the average gap between urban and suburban schools, but the gap is not the problem, it's the absolute height.

However, a fixation on relative scores means that one has no expectation of fundamental flaws in the curriculum or pedagogy. Generally, educators blame poverty and then just focus on relative improvements. Many affluent parents fix these fundamental flaws. K-8 educators will continue with their relative guess and check approach to solving problems that consist of many different variables, and they will see only those variables that validate their beliefs.

SteveH said...

Then there is the problem of how the gap is defined. I've seen people refer to state testing scores. This often means the percentage of kids who get over some very low proficiency cutoff. Horribly bad raw test scores on easy tests (designed by educators) get converted in our state into a not-so-bad looking proficiency index. Most discussions about gap refer to this number. This is only about whether a student flunks or not. In affluent communities, meeting this cutoff is easy. In our town, it leads them to claim that they provide a quality education. In urban neighborhoods, it forces schools to focus on trying to solve problems they are not able to solve, while at the same time, ignoring the needs of students who could best benefit from their help. They track by age with huge ability gaps, but they won't let parents find their own solution.

FedUpMom said...

SteveH, those state testing scores are very misleading.

When our older daughter was in public school, she was of course tested every year from 3d grade. We'd get her results in the mail and she would always be in the 98th or 99th percentile.

I'm human like everybody else, so in the back of my mind I would think "Of course she's brilliant. She probably inherited it from her mother!"

When she applied to Friends Omphalos, she took a standardized test that's designed for private-school admission. They showed us the scores two ways; one, compared to the population at large, and the other, compared to other kids applying to private schools. In the general comparison, she was still in the 98th and 99th percentiles; among kids applying to private schools, she was in the low 80's percentiles.

SteveH said...

"...those state testing scores are very misleading."

That was my point. People worry about some sort of gap without really defining it or knowing what it measures. As long as students meet a minimum proficiency cutoff, schools don't worry about them much.

Our town likes to compare its average scores (not just the cutoff) with other top schools in the state, but they are left to guess on how to improve them. The problem with these "authentic" tests is that they don't want to directly test things like whether a student knows the times table or can reliably manipulate fractions. The problems combine things and the test designers separate out factors like numeracy or problem solving. It's virtually impossible to look at the test and see how they do it. The schools get a breakdown for these categories, but have lost any one-to-one sense of what the problems are. I remember one teacher/parent review of the state test scores that showed that the problem solving scores went down. What was the solution? Spend more time on problem solving - whatever that means. Teachers were left to figure it out.

North of 49th said...

Steve H said "Public schools allow students to separate by ability and willingness in high school. Why don't they offer that in the lower grades?"

You might find what our district (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) does interesting. Here, parents do have considerable choice among a variety of alternative programs. Some alternative schools are started by parents, some by teachers, some by both. There are more specialized programs at the secondary level, when you count IB, arts schools, science academies, technology specialist programs, ones that focus on CAD and highly specialized skills, and so forth. At the elementary level there are however quite a few schools that cater precisely to the motivated student and which offer a more demanding and rigorous curriculum. We have a curriculum that must be followed but we don’t have programs like Everyday Math or others I have heard mentioned here.

Since these are public schools, but not part of a catchment area, they don’t give preference to anybody. They can set general eligibility criteria. These include: student must want to attend; student must be able to get to the school, since transportation is not provided; student applying for a middle school must have passed Grade 5 and shown the ability to do average work; student must, if he or she has learning problems, be able to manage with very little resource support, since the school does not have any special education staff, although the district has itinerant teacher who will assist IEP’d students once or twice weekly if required. Admission is by lottery.

Here are a couple of examples:

The achievement at these schools is very high. I’ve had friends who taught in them and taken students of mine on tours and a few have applied and gone to these alternatives and flourished. The K-5 alternatives sound pretty loosey-goosey – family grouping, hugs and kisses and all that – but several of them are academically very strong, too. They attract kids and parents who are keen and interested in learning.

I don’t know if U.S. districts have alternative schools like this. You have charters and magnet schools, which we don’t. But most of the alternative schools fill a real need and they are all started by parents and teachers, not by the district.

SteveH said...

Nothing stops charter schools from setting high standards, but this is usually seen only for magnet or science academies in high school. For K-8, however, it hasn't happened much. I'm not sure why, but it probably has to do with how all educators are cut from the same cloth. Perhaps there is also the feeling that K-8 charter schools should not evolve into elite escapes. Since many private K-8 schools offer the same sort of curricula and low standards, it doesn't look like they have figured it out either.

For urban K-8 charter schools, the issue is different. Parents don't expect elite. They just want decent. It's easy for them to see that charter school A is better than public school B.

Philosophically, I don't like the need for charter schools in K-8. I would rather have the regular public schools offer educational choices and better curricula. However, it's gone the other way. Our state has no budget for Talented and Gifted (TAG) programs, although many of these programs are nothing to write home about. Everything is required to be done using full inclusion and differentiated learning. It doesn't work.

Some affluent parents figure out what's going on and fix the problems at home. I'm surprised that Ms. Teixeira de Sousa doesn't complain about affluent parents who pay to put their kids into private schools. Many consider these parents to be elitist by definition. That thinking is challenged when urban parents demand the alternative charter schools. It must be a tough position for the social justice crowd - to fight against those they are dedicated to serve.

Catherine Johnson said...

If we meet the needs of students at the top of the curve, the gap will never really "close" because we will always have lower performers.

Ed and I just met with our interim superintendent & were tremendously impressed.

He is a close-the-achievement-gap person who headed Ossining for years. He said you could walk into one of the schools and ask anyone what the mission was, and they would tell you: Close the achievement gap.

He had a full-time data person analyzing student data!

What happened in reality, he said, was that all of the groups achieved more --- so the gap didn't narrow. (I didn't think to ask whether it widened, but he didn't suggest that it did.)

I was very interested to hear this.

I'm not comfortable with a district taking "Close the achievement gap" as its ENTIRE mission --- what about the white kids?

No mission for them?

It sounded like he had a fair amount of trouble with parents of high achievers, which doesn't surprise me at all. You simply can't tell parents: we're spending our time and energy on those other kids, not yours.

Nevertheless, focusing intensely on closing the achievement gap raised achievement across the board. I don't find that necessarily surprising in that any sense of mission is going to motivate everyone to do his best.

That said, I am uncomfortable with "Close the achievement gap" as the sole mission of a district even if it works for all groups.

I told him the goal needs to be to move the bell curve.

Just pick up the whole darn thing and move it down the field. I've been saying that here in Irvington for years.

The mission should be to help each individual student reach his or her potential.

Because bell curves do exist in reality, a mission of helping each child reach his or her potential is probably going to produce a bell curve, too.

Closing gaps that **shouldn't** be there should be part of what you must do to help children reach their potential.

FedUpMom said...

Off topic (but I don't know where to post this), my older daughter (age 14) has become very interested in the Fibonacci series. Are there books or webpages that I could steer her to? I could use advice from the math brains at ktm! Thank you.

SteveH said...

Wikipedia is always a good place to start. I like the section on applications ... but I'm sure you've already been there. It's a simple sequence and I remember learning about the series and thinking "So what?" I later found it popping up all over the place. I guess the problem is deciding where to go after you learn the basics. There is Pascal's Triangle and the Binomial coefficient. That's useful. The difficult part is finding an explanation that's at the right level - not too much and not too little.

Your daughter sounds like my son (15) who loves to play with GeoGebra and cruises the math world of Wikipedia. Many things are over his head, but at least he doesn't get cute and simplistic explanations. I try to explain the main ideas and uses.

SteveH said...

"What happened in reality, he said, was that all of the groups achieved more --- so the gap didn't narrow."

He's talking about gap as in the spread of the bell curve? I always thought gap meant the gap between affluent and urban towns.

There are two issues here. For the bell curve, what I have seen are bell curves that are narrow because they don't let better students get ahead. In effect, the bell curve is truncated at the top. It's like giving a test and finding that half the kids get 100's. I have seen in my son's schools (using rubrics) that the bell shape is created by grading better students to a higher standard. The rubric is non-linear. It reminds me of SAT scoring. The material is not that difficult, so they have to do something to force a smooth shape in the bell curve at the top. If you fix this, then the spread of the bell curve should increase.

For an individual school, reducing the bell curve spread is only meaningfull if they are doing things that specifically hurt the lowest level students. One way this could happen is when some teachers give out zeros on work. Those grades kill an average and perhaps form a disincentive to put in more effort. Teachers could drop the lowest grade or help kids from falling behind. Then again, reducing the spread could be achieved by grading easily. In my son's Spanish III (honors!) class, the test medians are always over 90.

FedUpMom said...

SteveH, thanks for the recommendations! I will check out GeoGebra.

Anonymous said...

The book Fascinating Fibonaccis (available on Amazon) contains some interesting information about the Fibonacci sequence.