October 14, 2011
Another Reason Not To Privatize Our Public Schools

Ken@Popehat flags a particularly absurd example:

Thirteen years ago, at Greenbrier High School in Evans, Georgia, senior Mike Cameron’s smart mouth got him in trouble.

What did he do? Did he talk about drugs and God, like that “Bong Hits For Jesus” kid? Oh, no. Mike did something far worse than promoting demon weed or disrespecting Christ: he risked offending Greenbrier High’s corporate sponsor. Mike wore a Pepsi shirt on Coke Day. It earned him a suspension.

“I know it sounds bad — `Child suspended for wearing Pepsi shirt on Coke Day,’” said Gloria Hamilton, principal of Greenbrier High School in Evans, about 130 miles east of Atlanta, the world headquarters of Coca-Cola. `’It really would have been acceptable if it had just been in- house, but we had the regional president here and people flew in from Atlanta to do us the honor of being resource speakers. These students knew we had guests.” Friday’s Coke in Education Day was part of Greenbrier’s effort to win a $500 local contest run by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Augusta and a national contest with a $10,000 prize.

Adequately funded public schools don’t need to rely on “corporate sponsors” to raise money.  This is the kind of conflict-of-interest that can (and will) occur when you spend all your time complaining about property taxes and over-paid teachers, and less time worrying about whether your school can pay the bills.  

Now obviously a well funded private school would have no need to resort to corporate sponsorship either.  But therein lies the rub: schools desperate for funds are obviously going to seek alternative revenue sources, and selling out to private sponsors makes sense from a fiscal standpoint.  Private schools are particularly vulnerable to this remedy because, in theory, they are competing against one another; and the quality of services they can provide will depend in part on the amount of money they bring in.  And the problem with bringing corporate sponsors in on a business arrangement is that they generally expect to be compensated for their investment, whether by marketing, advertising, or whatever.  In this case, it means the entire institution temporarily became a monument to the Coca-cola corporation as they tried to win funds from the Corporate High Viceroy-Lords of High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Free thinking goes out the window, and dissenters are punished for veering from the “educational” message.

This quote from the principal’s office says it all:

Cameron was sent to the principal’s office, where he said Hamilton “talked about how important that day was to the school and that I might have cost the school 10 grand.”

Oh well.  At least there’s an up-side to the story:

Pepsi spokesman Brad Shaw said, “Without knowing all the details, it sounds like Mike’s obviously a trendsetter with impeccable taste in clothes. We’re going to make sure he’s got plenty of Pepsi shirts to wear in the future once we track him down.” 

September 24, 2011
Student Disciplined For Telling Classmate He Views Homosexuality As Wrong

I actually support the student here.  If he was merely stating his opinion in response to a question, that doesn’t constitute coercive or injurious behavior, in either the moral or legal sense.  The remedy is discussion, not discipline; especially since the latter often only serves to further entrench earnestly-held beliefs rather than mitigate them. 

Turley mirrors my sentiment:

I understand the concern of the teacher, but this sounds like a circumstance where a correction [sic] comment from the teacher would have sufficed — particularly in refocusing the class on language rather than morality. I have long believed in letting high school students talk through such divisive issues when they come up in a relevant class (not German class) while being guided by a teacher. These are kids who will soon be voting adults. I would prefer to guide a civil discourse than punish such expressions. In this case, it was not relevant to the class, but the reaction was out of proportion and unnecessary. I think a discussion on relevancy and civility would have done more for the class than the controversy.

April 12, 2011
Why the Right should hate "Waiting for Superman"

But knowing the Right is singing the praises of the film, I have to ask, Why? If you look into the three schools the film spotlights as examples of educational success, you find all of them spend far more money per student than public schools, and 2 out of 3 believe you can’t improve education for disadvantaged kids without dealing with their out-of-school environments. Conservatives are trying to sell the idea you can educate students for less money without worrying about the homes and neighborhoods they come from. Just throw 40 kids in a room with a great teacher, conservatives say, and learning will skyrocket. The three schools give the lie to conservative educational theory.

Let’s look at the three schools “Waiting for Superman” focuses on.

  1. The Harlem Children’s Zone. The school spends about $16,000 per student in the classroom on top of thousands more outside of the classroom. The kids get medical, dental and mental health services. They get special, nutritious cafeteria meals. Parents get food baskets, meals and bus fares. The school is in session 11 months, has longer school days and gives the kids tutoring when they need it. And still, though the students outscore similar students on standardized tests, the increases aren’t huge.

  2. SEED School of Washington: This is a public boarding school. It spends about $35,000 per student. The kids are taken out of their homes and have 24 hour adult supervision as well as medical and mental health services and a variety of enrichment programs. [I haven’t seen a scholarly analysis of student achievement at SEED, so I can’t say how well the kids do.]

  3. KIPP: Unlike the first two schools, KIPP is the umbrella for a number of schools across the country, and it doesn’t offer services beyond the school-based education. Still, KIPP schools spend about $6,500 more per student than traditional public schools in the region, for things like small class sizes, longer school hours, longer school years as well as added tutoring and enrichment. The schools also have a very high turnover rate, because so many students and their families can’t live up to the demands the school puts on the children. Those who stay through graduation do very well academically, but the attrition rates make it impossible to create head-to-head comparisons of its students’ achievement with students at other schools.

To sum up: All three schools spend far more per student than all those “wasteful” district schools. The students get smaller classes and far more individual attention. Two of the schools have the philosophy that you have to change the students’ lives out of school before you can expect them to perform well in school. More money. Smaller classes. More personal attention. Improving social conditions. That all sounds pretty liberal to me.

Then there is one of the heroes of the film, Michelle Rhee. She’s portrayed as a hero because, as D.C. superintendent, she stood up to the big, bad unions, reformed D.C. schools and got results from the students. I have a feeling the filmmaker would like to cut some of the praise he heaped on Rhee based on recent reporting indicating there was a whole lot of cheating on student tests to inflate scores during her watch. Rhee knew about the allegations but kept them quiet. She stood up to the unions, all right, but the effectiveness of her “reforms” are now seriously in doubt.

School vouchers are a terrible idea.  There is a reason that most, if not every State in the union has a Public Education Guarantee in its constitution.  Private schools only perform better because they do not have to take everyone who applies; public schools have to accept every student, no matter how indigent, incapable, disabled, or disruptive they are.  I guarantee you that if we privatized education across the country, performance at newly-converted “private” institutions would instantly level out to match that of public institutions, who do not have the luxury of filtering their student population.

(Source: azspot, via liberal-lad)

February 22, 2011
Blowing Up CNS on Wisconsin Schools

CNS has an article up that is critical of Wisconsin’s spending on education, with the obvious implication that they are paying their teachers too much for poor outcomes.  Some folks in the Right Wing blogosphere are holding it up as evidence that public schools and public teacher’s unions are failing to educate our children:

Two-thirds of the eighth graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently according to the U.S. Department of Education, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest.

In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009—the latest year available—only 32 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 2 percent earned an “advanced” rating. The other 66 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 44 percent who earned a rating of “basic” and 22 percent who earned a rating of “below basic.”

Let’s take this one step at a time.

1. There are large differences between private schools and public schools.  The largest of those differences is that Public schools have to take everyone.  The NAEP report, which the CNS article above is relying on, says that only 9% of the nation’s 8th graders attend private school.  This level of selectivity is no accident.  Not only do private schools have the luxury of being able to choose who gets access and who to keep out, but poor families (whose students historically do worse on standardized tests) generally can not afford to send their kids to private schools.  These two factors combine to elevate test scores at private schools, because they sit behind a paywall that keeps the poor underprivileged kids out.

2.  Looking at the NAEP report, we see statistics that confirm everything in the above paragraph: private school students in 8th grade outperform public school students on the NAEP’s scoring scale by roughly 19 points..  Meanwhile, the data demonstrates a consistent historical correlation between family income and scholastic achievement: “As was seen in the results for grade 4, eighth-graders who were not eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch scored higher on average than those who were eligible, and students eligible for reduced-price lunch scored higher than those eligible for free lunch.”

3. As I said above, private schools are comprised of students who come from families that can afford to pay their tuition.  Parents of students who qualify for reduced or free lunches aren’t making enough money to be able to afford tuition at a private school. The NAEP report shows that kids from low income families historically do worse, but public schools still have to take them.  Private schools do not.  This fact alone accounts for most of the disparity between private and public school achievement.  If we switched to school vouchers tomorrow, and privatized every single one of our schools, I GUARANTEE you that achievement rates at private schools would go down to reflect the influx of students from low-income families.

4.  Spending on education reflects a lot more than teacher salaries.  States with more urban municipalities and higher population density tend to have more low income students to take care of.  Providing services to these students cost money.  And while I highly doubt that this accounts for all of the spending gap between Wisconsin and other midwest states, it certainly plays a role.  Again, this is a service that private schools are under no obligation to provide.  Public schools, however, have additional costs on their books as a result of being all-inclusive.

5.  There is a fundamental dishonesty here in comparing Wisconsin only to “other midwestern states.”  Without going through the NAEP report with a fine-tooth comb, I suspect that there is a reason that CNS made this very narrow and exclusive comparison, instead of comparing Wisconsin outcomes to the rest of the nation.  It allows them to craft a quick, cheap talking point without having to do an honest analysis of the factors driving the data.  This is yet another example of the tendency of Conservative advocates to make superficial claims about a set of data without bothering to investigate the underlying causes of that data.

There is plenty more to say on this topic, but I think there’s plenty here to rebut CNS’s hatchet job on Wisconsin schools.  I’ll leave the rest for another day.

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