kitchen table math, the sequel: If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you want your children to sit in rows, you have to pay extra

Reading David Cutler's "The Private-School Stigma," I came across this:
In a Washington Post opinion piece last year about their book, the coauthors also wrote that private schools too often use their autonomy from state regulations to teach in such a way that may please parents but isn’t effective for learning. In the piece, the Lubienskis wrote:

For example, private school students are more likely than their public school counterparts to sit in rows, complete math worksheets and believe that mathematics is 'mostly memorizing facts'—a narrow view that captures neither the breadth of the discipline nor the reasoning that is central to it. In contrast, public schools have moved beyond traditional, repetitive exercises, and more often ask students to solve complex, real-world problems and to learn geometry, data analysis, and early algebra ideas, in addition to basic arithmetic.
So it's official.

If you want your children learning inside a teacher-centered classroom, you have to a) make enough money to pay for private or parochial school; b) live in an area that has a decent private or parochial school or two; c) hope your kids get in.

Can you spell 'hegemony,' part 2

The private/parochial school option may not be long for this world.

For one thing, the National Association of Independent Schools seems to come down on the side of progressive education, no surprise given that many private schools were founded as progressive alternatives to public school in the first place, at least here in New York:
The 70-odd private schools in or near Manhattan are a varied lot, but with few exceptions they share one notable quality: age. They have the mystique of wood-paneled privilege that is hard to manufacture anew and that continues to radiate the glamour that makes even pop divas like Madonna aspire to Scottish castles and English nannies. Many of these schools are housed in fine, old Upper East Side buildings or ivy-covered campuses; students often wear uniforms, including blazers or kilts; they honor traditions like teas and Founder's Days; they may even call teachers "Sir." History has given each of these institutions a unique character. Towne and Allen-Stevenson are small, traditional schools with a neighborhood tone; Little Red Schoolhouse and Trevor Day have a staunchly 1920s left-wing feel; Grace Church, Marymount, and Sacred Heart have proud religious affiliations.

But it is what Victoria Goldman, co-author of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools, calls the Baby Ivies that are the million-dollar prize of this Survivor game. These are the crème de la crème, the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of the K-12 set. Decades ago, these schools could easily be divided into two broad categories. The coed, progressive schools—Dalton, Fieldston, Friends Seminary, Horace Mann, Riverdale, and St. Ann's—appealed to New York's artistic and intellectual elite. The unisex traditional schools—Buckley, Collegiate, St. Bernard's, and Trinity (now coed) for boys or Brearley, Chapin, Nightingale-Bamford, and Spence for girls—educated the children of the Protestant establishment, at least until adolescence, when many of the boys went on to board at Groton and Choate. (St. Bernard's and Buckley still only go up to ninth grade.) These days, all the schools pride themselves on a progressive, multicultural curriculum that counts as today's conventional wisdom; you would be just as likely to find a first-grade "interdisciplinary project" on Eskimos at Collegiate as at Dalton and a tenth-grade African-American literature course at Spence as at Fieldston. All of them "respect different learning styles." Yet despite the trendy veneer, the curricula remain fairly rigorous, and the schools still turn out graduates who know the difference between a Van Gogh and a Vermeer, speak French, and play decent tennis.

Survivor: The Manhattan Kindergarten by Kay Hymowitz
And then there are the forces of hegemony, which are pervasive and powerful, and which explain why every reform is the same non-reform all over again, for the most part. The hegemon never quite wins, so the battle never (quite) ends.

That's one theory.

Hirsch has a different take on the one hundred years' war:
The history of American education since the 1930s has been the stubborn persistence of illusion in the face of reality. Illusion has not been defeated. But since reality cannot be defeated, either, and since it determines what actually happens in the world, the result has been educational decline.
And this:
In a conflict between ideology and reality, reality always trumps.
I think that's true.

"Reality always trumps" explains why our schools grind on and on, innovating and disrupting, disrupting and innovating, adopting open classrooms, flipped classrooms, station classrooms--any permutation they can dream up--but nothing ever sticks, and the conflict never ends.


Anonymous said...

I don't get the Madonna reference. She attended a rather ordinary HS in Michigan (Rochester Adams). She didn't get her high-class tastes from a boarding school.

froggiemama said...

The reason the private schools are going this way is because this is what parents want. I notice that the traditional line-up-in-rows Catholic schools are closing right and left. Parents don't want that for their kids (including me). This is why I think it is a mistake when parents who want high standards and a more rigorous education to think that vouchers and school choice will get them there. In fact, I think if we went to a privatized solution, you would see many MORE project-based schools that stress "imaginative art projects", station-based math, and of course, fancy buildings and athletic fields. It is what parents WANT.

If you don't believe me, look at what has happened in higher ed, which is a great example of a full school choice system (with vouchers, aka Pell grants, for the poor)

Benjamin Leis said...

Maybe I'm in the minority but I don't really care what seating configuration my kids have. Nor do I want them to explicitly believe math is mostly memorizing facts. I just don't believe the current trends in public school math education are all about solving complex real world problems or doing data analysis either. David Cutler's statement is a false dichotomy and I don't buy into that being the framework I must choose between.

Barry Garelick said...

Typical mischaracterization of traditional math: it's all about rote memorization with no understanding. More accurate to say that reform math is about rote understanding.

Anonymous said...

If traditional math had been all about memorization, I could have rocked at all of it, because I'm great at memorizing. Unfortunately, that got me not very far in Calculus. Prior to that year, I understood it all, thru explanation, practice, and review.

SteveH said...

"The history of American education since the 1930s has been the stubborn persistence of illusion in the face of reality. Illusion has not been defeated."

It's more than this. Illusion pushes up from K-6 and from the pedagogy of ed schools. Reality pushes down from college and the real world. Middle school is often a battle ground. K-6 is far enough away from reality that parents often go along with the illusion of natural learning and hands-on engagement. However, once kids get to high school, they and their parents begin to take notice of things like the reality of ACT/SAT and GPA. Some kids are left stuck in the ed school illusion of K-6, and other kids, with the help of parents and tutors, adapt to the reality of high school and college. It's a nonlinear change and now you need outside help to make the transition. I got to calculus with no help from my parents or tutors. You can't do that now.

In K-6, many private schools also fall victim to the illusion of ed school thinking, but they can get away with it because parents will be there to pick up the pieces and make the reality transition to the high school prep schools. A friend of mine, while complaining about our K-8 public schools, also complained about her private (Everyday Math) school. However, she ensured that her kids knew the material and were prepared to go on to Phillips Andover.

In our schools, reality was pushed down from high school to get rid of CMP and force the school to provide proper math and language tracks so that some kids can start high school at the next class level. Now, with CCSS, the illusion of K-6 is being pushed back to cause some schools to limit the number of students who get the advanced class opportunities. K-6 pedagogues don't seem to appreciate that these seats will go to those kids best supported against their K-6 illusion.

There is also their illusion of full inclusion and differentiated instruction (learning). They choose to widen the ability range in the early grades and use curricula that allow that spread to increase year after year, but then talk about how critical thinking and understanding in math are done better than the old rote traditional math. Meanwhile, CCSS implementations are forced to declare that they do not support a STEM level in K-6. This is a clear example of their inability to deal with reality.

My view is that educators who gravitate towards K-6 are less interested in content and more interested in kind and gentle support. They assume that this and natural learning will produce the best results. They also like to think that "all kids will learn when they are ready." However, most individual students will never reach their potential without some direct teaching and pushing. The reality of high school clearly shows this.

SteveH said...

In addition to reality versus illusion, there is also the battle between statistical relativity and individual educational opportunities. Only the children of some parents get individual educational support in K-6. They are the ones who survive to do well in high school, and are often the ones who the illusionists point to as success cases. My son is probably their poster boy for Everyday Math.

While kind and gentle are always good things, full inclusion and social promotion require an abdication of almost all expectations. This is dealt with in math by claiming the higher ground of critical thinking and understanding. It is dealt with by putting the onus on children with engagement and with becoming a "lifelong learners". Schools just want a process and to "trust the spiral". This is the only way to justify full inclusion and social promotion.

However, children of some parents get high expectations (and content and skills) at home in K-8. They make the transition to high school. In our case, school changed dramatically when our son got to the reality of high school, and it was for the better. There is what I call a curriculum and pedagogy wall between K-8 and high school. The education world changes when you get past that wall. Interestingly, 7th and 8th grades were better because they had to be taught by teachers certified in their subject areas. They were an odd mix of the illusion of K-6 pedagogy and the importance of content and skills. However, only parent-supported students survive, and we parents are not just turning off the TV and taking our kids to museums.

SteveH said...

"...I think if we went to a privatized solution, you would see many MORE project-based schools that stress "imaginative art projects", station-based math, and of course, fancy buildings and athletic fields. It is what parents WANT."

No it isn't. Private school parents want a lot of different things and there are all sorts of private schools. Parents will gravitate to those that offer what they want. Some may want an elitist atmosphere, but some just want a school that's better than their public school. In high school, it's all about getting into college. Private high schools can't just do whatever they or the parents want.

It's hard to find non-fuzzy K-6 schools because most teachers are trained that way and because warm and fuzzy is so appealing. Private high schools and prep schools cover a much larger range of philosophies. It's not that parents are driving a school's philosophy as much as parents picking the school that best gives them what they want.

You can't say that no choice is better than choice or that choice will lead to MORE of one thing. Urban parents in our state are desperate to get their kids into charter schools, but the education system gets to decide which charters are accepted. They will not accept charters that appear to skim the cream off the top, but they have no problem with allowing charters that sludge off the bottom. Our public schools try to offer more because they have to compete with charter schools and private schools. Competition forces them to care what parents think at least a little bit.

"If you don't believe me, look at what has happened in higher ed, which is a great example of a full school choice system ..."

Are you claiming that there is no real choice in college or that they are all fuzzy and project based? What do you think that an ed school driven K-16 system would look like?

Choice is no guarantee, but no choice is just that. No choice. A benevolent dictator approach might work in some carefully selected situations, but not in the whole of education.

momof4 said...

Seating kids at tables facilitates group work, so the kids who "get it" can do the work for those who can't - enabling the fantasy that "all" are learning. Sitting in rows - which my kids and I prefer - facilitates independent, individual work.

I think that many ES teachers aren't interested in content; they like the artsy, touchy-feely stuff. I'm guessing that many played school as kids - and those aspects are what they like and with which they are comfortable. I think things changed - for the worse - when older teachers retired in the 80s-90s. They always seemed to be more interested in academics than the young teachers and more willing to push kids to do their best.

There are 6 ES in my older kids' HS cluster, located in affluent leafy suburbs with highly-educated parents. I'm betting that if my kids' ES switched (starting k-1) to Singapore Primary Math and Core Knowledge (or classical), with real phonics, grammar and composition,art/architecture, music history and leveled grouping by subject (with acceleration as needed), the kids would be so far ahead of their peers in the neighboring schools that those parents would be screaming for the same. That area should have almost all kids in algebra by 8th, with a large number in 7th and some in 6th - with comparable reading and writing abilities.

momof4 said...

I should have added that not all private schools, particularly the very academic independents, want teachers with ed school background. My son played soccer with the son of the Head of one of the top-academic (HS) independents, which catered to the serious students, and he said he specifically did not want ed school background; he wanted academic degrees in their subjects. He said that was also true of the k-8 privates which fed into his school. Other privates varied; one which attracted jocks and average students, others with serious academics and a number which weren't as strong in AP/honors as the best publics, but which might be better choices for non-honors kids at those schools or for strong students at weaker public HS.

Cassandra Turner said...

Lemov says in rows, 2 next to each other, facing teacher is most effective configuration in classroom. Easy to get into groups of 4 when needed.

Froggiemama said...

SteveH, this is what is going on in colleges these days

As administrators, many with ed school backgrounds, increasingly dictate what goes on in university classrooms, we are seeing a lot of the same fads and buzzwords: project -based learning, gamification, clickers, flipped classrooms, experiental learning, group collaborations, and my own personal dislike Reacting To the Past, which has swept campuses. Not all of it is a bad thing - research is showing that Peer Instruction, which is becomeing popular in STEM education, is actually quite effective. But largely this is all administration driven, and is being pushed because photos of students doing role playing games are easy to market to parents and prospective students.

SteveH said...

Your link says nothing about your claim that choice will create "MORE project-based schools that stress "imaginative art projects",...". There are clear differences in our private high schools. Less so for the more ed school influenced K-6 schools. However, there is less difference between K-8 public monopoly schools.

Whether college is effective for students is a separate issue, but I see enormous differences between colleges and different degree programs.

Glen said...

FM, I have no doubt that you're right about fluffy ed school ideas infecting colleges, too, but my guess is that they are most influential in the fluffy majors. If your content is built on sand, your pedagogy may as well be, too. What's the loss? People doing Physics or MolBio or EE or CS have to make things work in the real world, which provides significantly more (though never perfect) shielding against fluffiness initiatives from administrators.

But, Steve's right about college offering an enormous range of options. You could choose to be a Cosmetology major at community college, a Gender Studies major at a women's college, or an Electrical Engineering major at your flagship state university, and you will be choosing entirely different lifestyles, even if they all advertise new athletic centers.

He's also right that "it's what parents want" is incorrect. It's what some parents want and others don't.

Here in Silicon Valley, we don't have any public school options for, say, escaping Common Core. Middle schools around us are moving to strict rationing of Algebra and elimination of Geometry entirely because, they say, some kids weren't ready for them, and Common Core apparently means that none are allowed to take a class until all are ready to take it. And who can stop them?

But if we had vouchers, parents could freely choose schools, and schools could choose what and how to teach (curriculum, teaching method, and who to employ to teach it, so real choices were available), the first middle school to offer Algebra, Geometry, and even 8th grade Algebra II to anyone who could pass the readiness tests, there would be a giant sucking sound as many (not all) vouchers were yanked out of the Common Core schools and deposited at the new school. Of course the Common Core schools could counter-punch by reinstating advanced math and even adding a programming class taught, not by a union member with a state 4-function calculator credential but by a retired, real programmer. That would be a low blow. And parents who wanted their kids to take advanced math at the schools offering advanced math would start shopping around for elementary schools with the best records of preparing kids, putting pressure on those schools, too. That's the sort of chaos you get from schools that have to start thinking of parents as their customers and are forced to compete for their vouchers.

Of course, the unions and the legislators they employ say they will protect our children from all that, and I believe them. But if we parents could decide which school got our vouchers and schools were free to offer educational alternatives that were popular where they were located, it wouldn't solve all problems, but it would be a big improvement.

SteveH said...

With no choice, the infiltration of fuzzy learning and low expectations will be more complete. With choice, you still might not be able to escape Everyday Math, but you can often find more rigor and higher expectations. Unfortunately, in our state, charter schools are only allowed if they have a charter that doesn't attract the most motivated students or parents. I'm not just talking about kids from affluent families. I'm talking about urban parents and kids who want more. It's quite extraordinary to see educators fighting against those they claim to champion.

Educators don't like this self-selecting process because they think that fair means that all kids (no matter the ability or willingness) have to be in the same classroom. Affluent parents who can pay for private schools get individual educational opportunities, but not the urban poor (and many others), where able and motivated kids are forced to be in the same classroom with those who are not, and some of these kids are VERY not. This is all done in the name of social justice. It's everyone or no one. These kids are being used. On one hand, they claim that they can't educate kids unless poverty is solved, and on the other hand, they use poverty as the means to control these kids (and the money they bring in). These educators are thrilled if little urban Suzie is the first in her family to ever get to the community college, never mind the fact that Suzie might be bright enough to get into Harvard.

Public schools don't have to be this way. They can offer individual educational opportunities, especially at the upper end. They just have to let go of some of their deep down beliefs. They have the home turf advantage, and it won't take much. However, they are going in the wrong direction with full inclusion and social promotion. If schools cannot separate kids by ability and willingness in the same school, then parents and kids MUST have the choice to fix that. Most high schools offer different levels, but not in K-6 even though they have increased the ability range with full inclusion. Where is the magic pixie dust that made them think that was OK? This is their illusion. Differentiated instruction and yakity-yak about understanding that they really don't understand.

SteveH said...

Vouchers have a lot of baggage. The biggest is the fact that they rarely covered the entire cost of the school. But now the game has changed with charter schools and we see that this is more than just arguing against monetary support of rich people. This is about control of beliefs, pedagogy, and money.

We see now that it's OK for the affluent to get individual educational opportunities, but not for those unable to pay for private schools. Even when kids are in public schools, more educated parents support (track) their individual kids at home. Tracking happens even if educators feel good when they don't see it in schools.

Educators increase the classroom ability range in K-6, but claim to do a better job for all kids when they talk of critical thinking and understanding. Meanwhile CCSS institutionalizes a NO-STEM curriculum in K-6, guaranteeing that kids will never have a chance at a STEM career unless they have outside support.

I could come up with a good solution for public schools (I've talked in the past about El Sistema), but I think that anything like that would be impossible to happen here. The only solution is choice. Individuals matter and parents know what's best for their kids.

I agree with Glen. Choice might not guarantee the choice you want, but parents are quite able to tell if school A is better than school B for their individual kids. As for limited choice, that will improve if those in state education have less control over what schools are allowed.

Froggiemama said...

I think your view of what might happen under a fully private, voucher system may happen in very dense, well educated, urban areas - Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC, etc. But what will happen in the towns out in the middle of the country, the ones that are say 50,000 people? My guess is that there won't be a lot of choice happening. If the town in in SC or Arkansas, likely there will be a Christian, creationist choice and a choice that looks more or less like the current public schools in that area, perhaps with more sports emphasis. If the town has a college, you will see a Montessori school and something more townie, maybe again a evangelical school. If the town is in Rockland County, the choice will be a yeshiva and something KIPP-like, with a heavy ESL focus. Here in my affluent county, if they somehow could set up a county-wide choice systems (dubious because local control is a religion here), we would likely see a lot of shiny schools with iPads galore and lots of fancy bellsand whistles. The problem for those of us who want a strong academic focus, is that unless we live in an area with a lot of likeminded people, the options will be worse rather than better. Most people don't have the time or resources to drive their kids 50 miles over to the next town to find the one decent school. At least in the current system, there are some brakes built in against the race to the most sports-oriented, the most iPad-oriented, or the most Christ-focused specialized schools

Froggiemama said...

Shaking my head in amazement at your optimism regarding higher ed....

The reality is that outcomes in higher ed are largely determined by the admissions process, not anything great happening in terms of teaching. Harvard has great outcomes because they only accept a teeny fraction of the most well prepared kids in the country. Podunk Valley Community College has poor outcomes because they are accepting very underprepared students. There are many in higher ed who don't think Harvard and Yale are actually adding very much in terms of educational outcome.

Froggiemama said...

Charter school results have been very mixed. The worrisome thing is that unsuccessful charter schools persist.

There was an interesting study done here in NYC that compared successful and unsucessful charter schools, looking for common factors in the successful ones. They came up with 5 factors
1. focusing on human capital (hiring and keeping good teachers, lots of professional development and feedback)
2. using student data to drive instruction
3. providing high dosage tutoring
4. extending time on task (longer school days, more days in the school year)
5. establishing a culture of high expectations, in particular, stressing that everyone would be going to college

That was it. The study found that none of the other factors they looked at made much difference.

SteveH said...

"But what will happen in the towns out in the middle of the country, the ones that are say 50,000 people? My guess is that there won't be a lot of choice happening."

Does choice have the burden of making it universally available for everyone?

"The problem for those of us who want a strong academic focus, is that unless we live in an area with a lot of likeminded people, the options will be worse rather than better."

It's like that in our area in part because state educators will not allow charter schools that have a charter that focuses on academics. Like us, you have few choices, but how does that make choice wrong?

"At least in the current system, there are some brakes built in against the race to the most sports-oriented, the most iPad-oriented, or the most Christ-focused specialized schools."

We have some private schools like that and some that are focused on academics. Parents can choose what they want. Why would bad choice schools speed up those changes for the "current system?"

SteveH said...

"The reality is that outcomes in higher ed are largely determined by the admissions process, not anything great happening in terms of teaching"

Students don't learn the material by osmosis. Besides, college is not just the teaching but the curriculum and expectations.

"There are many in higher ed who don't think Harvard and Yale are actually adding very much in terms of educational outcome."

Compared to which other colleges? When I taught college math and CS, I could never teach at the same level I had at Michigan. I would flunk them all. This correlates to the average abilities of the students accepted, but the courses did add a lot of value for those students, and, thank you very much, I did add value beyond their SAT scores.

SteveH said...

"The worrisome thing is that unsuccessful charter schools persist."

Do you not trust the parents to make the right choice between school A and school B? A public school could be rated better than a charter, but the charter could be better for the student than the public school. That's the point of a "charter." And actually, our state can and does revoke charters.

Unless regular public schools can meet the needs of individuals (which affluent parents get to do), then choice is the only solution. There can be bad choices, but who gets to decide? There are some bad private schools and some of their parents are fools, but I don't see anyone worrying about their kids.

Hainish said...

"The worrisome thing is that unsuccessful charter schools persist."

Unsuccessful district-run schools also persist. Somehow, though, that never seems to be a problem for the anti-charter crowd.

Anonymous said...

I find the discussion of charter school outcomes frustrating. Unsurprisingly in a system that has limited controls there will be some bad actors. The fact that these schools are not prevented is mark against the system that approves schools. The fact they are not dealt with quickly is a statement about the slowness and inefficiency of bureaucracies to deal with problems. As Hainish said there are plenty of bad district schools that continue on as well. The fact that some of these schools are full long after the fact that they are mediocre is apparent is a statement to the limited options parents face. Districts try to keep the number of seats that schools can offer in line with the number of students in the district. Of course this makes sense but it limits “choice” in a very real way. So there are some good schools and some bad schools. What the discussion invariably leads to is a discussion of how the schools are creaming off the students. Limited access . . .only the most involved get their kids in . . .therefore not only are they not representative they are evil because it is why all the other schools are bad. The things listed by Froggiemama as being correlated with better schools are not just trivial asides they are the markers of a well-run school(good staff, keeping a close watch of student performance, extra support to students who need to get up to speed, more time on education tasks, a strong academic culture). This is of course why parents choose charters (looking for the same thing all of us want) with the hope that their children will receive a good education. It is clearly an imperfect system but what better do we have to offer other than platitudes about how “all schools should be good.”

SteveH said...

Actually, I didn't want the choice to send my son 45 minutes away to a charter or private school. I wanted my son to be part of our community. I wanted my local public K-6 schools to change. I wasn't expecting much, but I wanted something that would at least provide an option for stronger academics, including a STEM-level curriculum in math. I wanted K-6 schools that cared at least a little bit about content and skills.

Our K-8 public schools are sensitive to choice and don't like seeing more capable students going elsewhere, but not enough so to alter their fundamental assumptions and low expectations. So the solution, whether I like it or not, has to be more choice. Maybe if enough students go away they will change, but there are no guarantees.

However, choice will dramatically help many kids right now (!), not sometime in the future when CCSS or whatever takes effect. Many parents are desperate to get their kids into a school where they are separated from those who don't care and where they set higher expectations. This is not the best solution for those kids left behind who do care about school and have parents who don't care or are unable to deal with choice. But that is not the fault of the choice schools.

Public schools should change, but that's not likely to happen. In fact, they've gone in the wrong direction with full inclusion and "trusting the spiral." I thought that CCSS might force higher expectations (at least the option) into the lower grades, but it has institutionalized one-size-fits-all low expectations where tracking ends up being hidden at home or with tutors.

However, the solution in public schools is not tracking where only those supported at home get on the higher tracks. We need K-6 public schools that do what some parents do at home; push and set higher expectations for all. K-6 schools need to care about contents and ensure proper development of skills. I don't see that ever happening. Before full inclusion, we had at least some pressure in school or else we would have to go to summer school or be held back a year. I got to calculus with no help from my parents. Now, schools increase the range of abilities in the classroom and that precludes almost all pushing. Learning is now supposed to be natural (engagement will fix everything), which turns out to be IQ-based and based on help from parents. The highest math level set by PARCC ("distinguished") only means that one will likely be able to pass a course in college algebra. There it is in black and white. CCSS institutionalized one- low size-fits-all.

The only (not best) solution is choice. CCSS has proven that. Individuals matter, not statistics.

froggiemama said...

This is my prediction for how things would shake out if we ever implemented a fully voucher-based school choice program.
1. The first political choice that would need to be made would be simply: how much money per voucher? That isn't simple if this is being done on a national or even state level. Here in NY, districts, even districts right next to each other, spend wildly different amounts of money per pupil. Somehow, an amount that is the same for every student will have to be determined. My prediction is that it would end up at the very high part of the spending range. Why? Because otherwise, affluent parents will have a fit. Nobody in Scarsdale wants their kid forced into a 16K education when they are used to a 27K education. This problem could, though, be mitigated by the next choice...
2. The next difficult choice to be made is whether to allow schools to charge parents extra over and above the voucher value. If the voucher value is low, there will be massive pressure, again from affluent parents, to allow this. If it isn't allowed, there will be pressure to set the voucher value at the highest possible.

These choices lead to two possible trajectories.
Trajectory1: Schools are not permitted to charge beyond the voucher value. Since schools now have to compete for students, they will tend to spend their money on technology, sports, and pretty classrooms, since that impresses parents. This is what happened in higher ed, and I have no doubt it would happen for K12 too. It has already happened in the elite private school sector. Because of this, the school mamangement lobby will put pressure every year on the state government to increase the voucher value. Voucher costs will start exploding, the same way costs have gone up in higher ed.

Trajectory2: Schools can charge over and above the voucher value. Affluent parents will flock to higher cost schools since that is a way to keep their kids away from the poorer kids. Also, boarding schools will spring up as an option for affluent parents who live in areas where the only choices are creationist schools or schools that focus on lower income kids. The pressure to build beautiful classrooms and have the latest tech will also drive up costs, as they do in Trajectory 1. Pretty soon, everyone will be complaining about lack of access to the schools with better outcomes. Someone will propose a subsidized student loan program to allow families to spread out the tuition payments over time. The loan program will pass, and now the schools have even more cash for their sports fields, study abroad programs and boarding schools. Costs escalate, but are largely funded by families via loans.

This is of course what has happened in higher education, especially at private colleges, where the schools felt pressured to compete via building sprees and fancy student activities.

In any case, I don't see any of this coming to pass here in affluent leafy Westchester County. There is no way people in our towns would give up local control, and the microdistricts are too small to support any kind of real options within them. The idea that kids from Mount Vernon could end up in a school located in Scarsdale would simply make people howl.

SteveH said...

Your examples are non-starters because that's not how it's done these days. Choice is not a voucher system and it's not what I'm talking about. Also, most schools - even public ones - have extra monetary support for those activities/trips where students may get charged and some can't afford. all of our private schools do that. They try very hard to bring in students from low income families.

Just because you can't picture choice working in your area doesn't mean that it cannot work, especially for some kids. Who are you to decide? What is your solution?

"" there is no way people in our towns would give up local control.."

That's not how charter school choice works. It's a state thing and some states allow kids to go to any public school. Our town does not have a high school and parents have two public high schools to choose from in neighboring towns. That is our town's decision. Those schools set a "tuition in" fee and our town pays the full cost. Each high school has different tuitions. One provide a large school experience and the other a small one.

There are lots of ways choice can work.

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read the thread - I will! -- but noticed Cassy's cite of Doug Lemov:

"Lemov says in rows, 2 next to each other, facing teacher is most effective configuration in classroom. Easy to get into groups of 4 when needed."

Reading Lemov, I was very taken by that!

Then, when we went to Aruba, I insisted on scouting the Catholic school next to a church we'd visited, and sure enough: they had the desks arranged that way.

Lemov also likes that arrangement because it leaves a lot of space for the teacher to patrol the classroom.

One more data point: Morningside Academy seems to use quite a lot of paired work, but no group work at all **that I recall.** (Palisadesk can weigh in if I'm wrong.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Obviously, I'm completely in favor of choice --- also completely in favor of school boards that represent the voters who elected them rather than the administrators they are supposed to be overseeing.

My district adopts more constructivist "innovations" year in and year out, which no parent (& no taxpayer) asked for, and a majority of parents (& taxpayers) don't want.

Democracy deficit.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've skimmed froggiemama's predictions.....

Public funding of just about anything is a real conundrum, it seems.

Apparently, economics has better answers than the approaches we've been using in the U.S.

After Jean Tirole won the Nobel Prize, I saw a couple of articles saying that we have some of the regulatory problems we do because no one here has taken his work on board.

Reading William W. Barnett's book on the crash, I discovered that the name for the branch of economics that studies things like setting up a system that works is "mechanism design."

"Mechanism design" is about how to design organizations and systems so that people actually do what you want them to do.

The situation in my district is absurd almost beyond belief:

Inside the school, teachers "innovate' by having the kids teach themselves

Outside the school, parents hire district teachers to provide 1-to-1 direct instruction.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here we go:

"The mechanism design problem is to design a mechanism so that when individuals interact through the mechanism, they have incentives to choose messages as a func- tion of their private information that leads to socially desired outcomes. In order to make predictions of how individuals will choose messages as a function of their pri- vate information, game theoretic reasoning is used (see game theory)."

SteveH said...

"... so that people actually do what you want them to do."

"... that leads to socially desired outcomes."

Who gets to decide what those outcomes are? Do they limit individual choice? Do they separate "religious" educational ideas from the state? I find that planners tend to be control freaks who claim to know what's best for all.

"Public funding of just about anything is a real conundrum, it seems."

Having the money follow the student is nothing new. The problem is what are the limitations and strings attached? Our state limits charters to those that don't emphasize higher expectations. Apparently, their "social outcome" means trying to teach all K-8 kids in the same classroom no matter what their ability or willingness. Individual outcomes conflict with social outcomes.

cranberry said...

I want to observe that it's possible to do group work, to use technology, and to teach. It isn't an either/or choice, although it does become that in the public schools.

There are many private schools which are known to be progressive, but which provide an excellent education. It's the sort of progressive education which comes with a heavy reading list and lots of homework, especially long research papers.

One thing the private schools I know emphasize is public speaking. In practice, it would prepare a student for presenting research to a group or dealing with an oral exam. It's a "21st century skill," in my estimation. How many powerpoint presentations take place every day? And yet the public schools don't tackle this essential skill.

momof4 said...

Cranberry: I agree about the homework preparation and the oral presentations but would add two other conditions for useful group work: all are at the same academic level and each member has a defined assignment on which he is graded.

As I have seen it implemented, the top kids in the group do all the work and the others get the same grade and that's dishonest and fraudulent - along with being massively unfair to those actually doing the work. It's a great way to build resentment.

Glen said...

I'll see your additions to Cranberry's comment, momof4, and raise you one. Unequal groups are not only massively unfair to the best students but also to the worst. In theory, a group project at school is different from one at work. At work, it is about accomplishing the project, which is presumably of more value to the employer than whatever the employer pays to get it accomplished. A worker who either can't or won't contribute is, on that project (not necessarily overall) shortchanging the employer.

At school, a group project should be about producing skill and knowledge in the participants, who are *paying* to be allowed to work on the project. If a participant is not doing the work, for whatever reason, he is getting no benefit. Sometimes, this is the student's own fault; he's not going to do the work no matter what you do. But sometimes, the fault is that the school put him into a situation that he can't realistically contribute much to, and he knows that if he tries, he'll end up looking stupid. In these situations, it is the non-contributing student who is being shortchanged.

The main beneficiary of unequally yoked project teams is the teacher who, by carefully allocating can-do and can-not-do students to teams, can claim that ALL students learned how to complete the project, because all students were on teams that completed it. In these situations, it is possible that the can-do students didn't learn, because they were only doing what they already knew how to do, and the can-not-do students didn't learn, because they didn't do anything.

SteveH said...

Good point.

It's the same for mixed ability student-driven group work in class, but the only goal is "active" learning, and "active" has a low and inexact threshold. So teachers "flip" a classroom and instead of using class time to ensure mastery of homework (real flipping), they use the class time to make themselves feel all warm and fuzzy and let the videos do the direct teaching at home. And in class, a few might discover something (perhaps not quite correct) and then directly teach it (perhaps badly) to other students. You can't discover everything, so somebody has to be doing the direct teaching.

Auntie Ann said...

As I have seen it implemented, the top kids in the group do all the work and the others get the same grade and that's dishonest and fraudulent - along with being massively unfair to those actually doing the work. It's a great way to build resentment.

This had our girl in tears in 5 grade. All of the other girls grouped up in groups of 3, and she ended up paired with a boy who did absolutely nothing. So, her friends were creating beautiful, multi-color posters, and she barely had time to do the basics. Finally we were at the school and saw the poster and asked her about it. She started crying: "All my other friends get to work together, and I'm stuck with Eric, and he doesn't do anything, and they all have three in their groups, and I'm the only one doing anything in mine..." Finally, the teacher noticed--but not until late in the year--and told Eric he would no longer get the same grade as our kid.

Auntie Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Auntie Ann said...

To go deeper into Glen's comment about the differences in adult and student work...

In the adult world, everyone on a project has the exact same goal: maximize the work to produce something salable, which someone will be willing to pay for, thus generating the money from which everyone gets paid. This even works in the non-profit world, where you are looking to please donors. If someone doesn't pull their weight, they get fired and replaced. Furthermore, in the adult world, people specialize. The graphic design will be done by a graphic designer, the programming by a computer programmer, the sales by sales representatives, the accounting by an accountant, all with a manager on the top to create timetables and keep everyone on target. It would be absurd for the graphic designer to sit down with the accountant to decide how to keep the books, or for the computer expert to man the phones and make cold calls along with the sales reps. Sometimes, such as with drug research, individual specialists will have spent year after year learning their skills. The manager has usually gotten there only after working on many projects and gaining expertise in project management (keeping in mind the Peter Principle.)

In the classroom, none of that is true. Instead of one group goal, you have as many individual goals as you have students: each individual should maximize their learning. It should be that when one student isn't paying attention, they have little or no effect on the other students. Ideally, if one student doesn't do the work, this has no effect on the others. Unless massively disruptive, the slacker doesn't get thrown out. Also, students are still generalists. In a project, each one should do the reading and research, each one the writing, the data plotting, the graphic design, and the project management. Too often in group work in classrooms, the student who is good at computers gets handed the data plotting, the student who is good at art gets handed the artwork, the studious might get handed the research, and the student with good handwriting gets the lettering of the poster. Management tends to be by the individual or friends who are highest in the social pecking order, who can choose the most fun parts for themselves, boss the others around, give the worst jobs to kids they don't like, and in general use the playground hierarchy to run the show. But this means that the artist gets better at art, and the others get nowhere. The computer person will get better at computers, and the others get nothing. The researcher will get far more of the extra information that doesn’t fit in the bullet points, and the others will get nothing. The experts all get better, but no one else does. Essentially, though the students should still be generalists and working to get better at each skill, they are actually already specialists who learn little of the other skills. The pecking order also gets reinforced under the supervision of the teacher, with the high status kids feeling better about their status, and the low status kids feeling worse.

I will never understand the thinking of ed people that these two things are somehow parallel, and that the latter prepares students for their future.

momof4 said...

Auntie Ann: That's why I think kids should do their own work (science labs a partial exception, with each kid writing their own report of the experiment). Group work is also a great way to bring the playground dynamics into the classroom; bullying, shunning, ignoring, ridiculing etc. The most social adept/powerful can play tyrant. One of my kids' teachers loved to assign group project (both in and out of school) until her own kid had his first one; she never assigned another in any of her classes.

Yes, some teachers deliberately use group work to avoid teaching, especially the more difficult students. In 9th, my DD and her honors friends were required to have a SLD kid in their group -refused to do any work and cried if asked. Teacher admitted he didn't want to deal with her.

owen thomas said...

You could choose to be a Cosmetology major at community college, a Gender Studies major at a women's college, or an Electrical Engineering major at your flagship state university, and you will be choosing entirely different lifestyles, even if they all advertise new athletic centers.

you are hallucinating wildly. gee i like it here.

Glen said...

"you are hallucinating wildly"

No, I'm not. Given that you have offered no evidence for your claim whatsoever, I guess, "no" is a comprehensive rebuttal.

SteveH said...

"....The computer person will get better at computers, and the others get nothing. "

I saw this in fifth grade with the First Lego League (FLL)competition. I was one of the parent coaches. In the FLL case, however, the separation is built in. One would think that FLL would introduce all kids to the wonders of Mindstorms and programming. It doesn't. Everyone has a role to play and only two kids got to program. We tried to allow others to have time on the equipment if they wanted, but if they didn't much care, then they ended up in an area that they seemed to like, and that could be researching (in that year, the theme was nanotechnology), writing, or art. They had to do a presentation because this is about the idea of a big project, not just about learning how robots worked. The art consisted of hats that had big foam molecules on top (they won first in the state for them). I don't think the artists learned a thing about programming or how the robot worked, but it was STEM or STEAM (don't get me started on that).

This is supposed to model how real engineering teams work and each student has a role to play. As Auntie Ann says, what are these people thinking? This isn't like the non-democratic real world and this isn't what's best for each student. I advocated that the school have a robotics club where the goal is just to learn and play with Mindstorms - at least for 5th and 6th grades. No. The goal is the competition (engagement, teamwork, etc.) ... and the write-ups in the paper.

Even for the programmers, the process was wrong - project/goal-based learning. Instead of having time to play around, they had to rush to get the robot to do the tasks. However, there were serious systemic and repeatability problems. There really is a reason why learning content and developing skills should come first. Engagement might drive learning, but project deadlines do not. The best teams at the competition were the ones who had built up a history of knowledge and skills that they directly taught to newbies. In fact, most of them didn't allow new students on the team that went to the competition. I saw this with the state Science Olympiad. The best schools controlled the process and passed on knowledge and skills. Adults were in control, whereas my son's 7th and 8th grade science teacher didn't much care if students were prepared or not. There was no year-to-year transfer of anything. Of course, I was instrumental in helping my son get his "Scambler" done in terms of time management and the simple help of translating ideas into a real object. Whatever happened to wood and metal shop in 7th and 8th grades?

Anonymous said...

Replaced with idiocies like the home ec teacher teaching kids how to create nutritional disasters (chili cheese dip, anyone?) with highly processed "foods" (Velveeta, canned salsa,packaged mac and cheese etc). It was so bad that I finally made an appointment with her and took some easy recipes for real foods (omelets, frittatas, biscuits, cornbread, soups, simple chicken dishes etc )made with nothing more processed than canned tomatoes and broths). Useless. Worse, it was the least useless of any of the available courses to meet the state's practical arts requirement - especially since my kids could already cook from scratch and wouldn't eat anything she "taught" under any circumstances. They would have been happier building birdhouses - we could always use more.

Auntie Ann said...

Our 14 year old did FIRST for the first time this year (at the jr. high level), and I was very disappointed in it. What surprised and disappointed me the most was the low levels of actual building and programming. A couple of people did the building, and did it late. Our kid was one of two who had programmed before and all the programming was left to her: and they left her about 2 days to do it, *and* she got a migraine-like headache one of those days. It was a mess.

A lot of First seemed to be about all the bells and whistles around the edge: community service, keeping the logbook (which is okay, and real scientists do that), making t-shirts, advertising the team, and making a video--they ended up winning a first prize for a video the team leader spent about an hour on.

The group work was specialized and no one learned programming except for 2 kids who had already done some.

I was hoping the focus would actually be on the robotics, but it wasn't at all.

I think VEX might be more robot focused.

SteveH said...

I think FLL could be good if you have the right adults in charge and they provide a long term structure. However, FLL would have to be a part of a larger program; not just the main goal and learning tool.

Catherine Johnson said...

Glen - re: group work being unfair to the least capable students in the group .... several years ago, on the Middle School association's website (I see there are a couple of associations, so I'm not linking) I read an amazing column by a middle school teaching openly advocating having the ADHD kids do **none** of the academic work the group was assigned.

Even more amazing, the teacher said that the ADHD kids could be assigned the task of keeping materials **organized.**

The whole thing was batty beyond belief.

When I went back a year or two later, realizing I needed to save that essay for posterity, I couldn't find it. I think they may have taken it down.

Anonymous said...

I've written several posts on group work—what can make it work and what makes it (usually) fail:

(I've done 9 posts I've tagged with "group work", but those 5 are probably the best.)