Charters in Public-Private Limbo

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

I’m in the minority among my ideological peers, on this, but my thinking on charter schools has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Many conservatives, I believe, see them as a sly way to insert wedges into public education’s cracks in order to bring about wider-scale reform of the system.  If we create this alternate system of schools, literally entered with the luck of the draw, that is free of the restrictions that (for some reason) we continue to tolerate in district schools, then parents will demand that district schools be made free of the restrictions, too.

To advance this stratagem, we’ve been willing to overlook basic descriptive facts about charters that would normally concern us a great deal.  In order to work around the damage that the democratic nature of our government has wrought in education (thanks, largely, to the self-interested activism of teacher unions), we’re creating institutions over which the public has less control.  On the one hand, charter advocates insist that they are “public schools of choice,” so they should fall within the range of inside-government benefits, but on the other hand, they are demanding that the people paying the bills should not have immediate, democratic control over them.

In any other context, conservatives would recoil against that just as surely as they ought to recoil against crony capitalist deals giving connected insiders taxpayer cash for their private business dealings.  Principle should not be something to be weighed against practicality.  Rather, we should hold to our principles because they produce the outcome that we desire; it is in determining our goals that we should weigh morality and practicality.

My concern, in treading off our principled path, is that we’re more likely to get lost than to return to our firm ground.  Instead of breaking the rigid grip of special interests on public schools, charters will kill off private schools — at least all of them that are accessible to anybody who’s less than rich.  Then special interests will successfully tighten the vice, making government education a true monopoly rather than the near-monopoly that it currently is.



  • Warrington Faust

    It is doubtless that Justin makes a valid point. As “institutions” grow, they tend to use the government to seek a monopoly. Look at the way airlines shamelessly manipulate the tax code. I wonder how much Microsoft budgets for “lobbying”? If I have any argument with Justin it is that “charter schools” are not necessarily the last stop on the bus line. If they become unwieldy, is there no other alternative? I’ll bet there is, even if presently unthought of. How about an entirely web based private school?

    • helen

      Warrington, web based schools sound like a great idea and I do agree with it because it would provide competition so that the best would be accessible to many more students and the costs could be kept down as so many could be served by far fewer teachers.
      Problems are internet access and that most parents and guardians have to work, so how and where would the classes be held? I’m imagining a home school based system for a web based school system to work well, however there could be other solutions. What are your thoughts about these aspects? How do you imagine the logistics?

  • Mike678

    Charters may “kill off” private schools (data please–I suspect that people preferring Private schools often bypass the Charters), but aren’t private schools a way of opting out of dysfunctional or underperforming schools? And why, given the MONOPOLY on publicly funded schools (until RI gets vouchers), why should parents have to double pay to get their children a good education?

    IMO, Charters are the new private schools–schools that trade bureaucracy for performance. And since they are publicly funded, more people have access to schools that actually perform. Admittedly, some charters do not perform–and, by law, should have their charters revoked. So there is a form of oversight…

    In every program tradeoffs exist. But question your assumptions. Do our traditional public schools provide “immediate, democratic” access? Given the nature of the RI Gen Assembly, the laws slanted towards school control vice local town control and so forth, that argument is a non-starter. And does not the public actually have the freedom of choice in Charters? After all, if you don’t like them, go to the traditional school. After all, if the Charter option wasn’t present, then you’d have little choice but the traditional–and often under-performing–public schools–unless you have a lot of $.

    • Justin Katz

      As to data, I don’t have a whole lot of time to dig for it. Here’s a study showing students leaving private schools are more likely to choose charters. There are other studies of private schools that closed and reopened as charters (sans religious identity). Listening to testimony the other day at a House Finance hearing, I definitely picked up the theme that “my child was at a private school, but it was tough to make ends meet, which is why we were happy to win the charter lottery.”
      The basic impression is this: families go for the charter lottery. If they win, great. If they don’t, those who can’t afford private stick with public, and those who would have gone with private anyway go to private. It’s like a skim off the top of the market.
      Look at numbers, and the number of students in charters is curiously close to the former student populations of midrange Catholic schools that have closed over the same years. Could be a mix of coincidence and transfer.
      You say it perfectly: “Charters are the new private schools.” They’re killing the market. Ultimately, they’re under control of the government, and they’ll be brought into line when they’ve served their purpose.
      Regarding your “tradeoffs” paragraph, you’re kind of making my point in a different way. The special interests thwart democratic victories in public schools, but there’s still some process for a say; charters simply take that process away under the belief that the right side will win at higher levels of government. It won’t for long.
      But you’re missing the point of “if you don’t like them, go to the traditional school.” The choice that the public doesn’t have is to fund the charter and how much. The district schools HAVE to give a disproportionate payment to any charters to which their students go. There’s no say in it, unless activists change the makeup of the General Assembly.
      You’re also missing the point talking about “a lot of $” for private schools. The schools that charters are killing are the ones that charge more-modest amounts. We’re not talking the Portsmouth Abbeys and St. Georges, with their $30k tuitions. We’re talking diocesan schools that (1) cost in the mid-thousands, (2) work to offer financial aid, and (3) find other ways to subsidize needy students’ tuitions. The schools the charters are killing are the ones that actually offer an affordable option, and when charters are either killed or fully made “public schools,” there will be no affordable alternatives remaining.

      • Mike678

        That’s one problem…you are making assumptions. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Furthermore, why would the more affordable schools be failing due to Charters? Seems the high-cost schools would suffer more, but given this is RI, it also might indicate the middle class is getting really squeezed. The upper middle and wealthy could bear the cost of expensive
        private schools, while others default to charters. Or could it be the falling “faith” numbers recently in the news that is responsible for falling religious school numbers? Both? Without data, it is speculation…pick according to your bias!

        That said, you may be correct…the charters and falling student numbers in the state may reduce the private schools…and then Charters may be “captured” by the teachers union….oops, I mean educators. Recent legislation attempts…dead, I think for this year…support your fears.

        But that is a “maybe”. What we have now are high priced schools that generate mediocre results…look at where RI stacks up in national…and international rankings. Our underperforming schools drove the creation of charters. If the charters are captured, then shame on us. What would you do as an alternative?

        • Justin Katz

          I’m going to push back on that. I’m not claiming to have made an extensive study of this specific question, but I’ve done a large amount of research and analysis in related areas, such that my educated opinion on the effects of charters isn’t just unsubstantiated opinion to be waved off. The only real question is whether I’m describing the whole story or part of the story.
          What I’m saying is happening, and I’ve done enough work in this area of inquiry that there’s at least a little bit of a burden on you to provide evidence that raises doubt. Otherwise, you’re the one who’s doing nothing but speculating… while calling for sending large sums of money to somewhat-public organizations with no option for taxpayers, and your debate gimmick is a little insulting, given the work I’ve put into the topic of RI education over the past couple of years and beyond.
          The alternative is school choice as the Center for Freedom & Prosperity has described. The proposed legislation — backed with research and an economic model that (I’d argue) is more rigorous than the recent General Assembly report compiled years and years after charters were initiated — carefully balances incentives to provide potentially greater benefit to students and greater incentive to competition on educational products (rather than competition for legislative preference) without gutting districts’ funding for each student.

          • Mike678

            Debate gimmick? Oh, I see. No insult intended. The advantage of this site is that you allow differences of opinion and actual give and take. Refreshing given the quality of comments/restriction on other sites.

            I have read the center’s proposals and while they sound good in theory, but people intrude making it a complex vice complicated problem.
            People come in all shapes, sizes…and capacity. People generally want their kids close…this would limit the schools they would probably attend. Also, parents need to care. It isn’t a secret that kids with parents that care about their education do better in school. It is no secret that higher socio-economic parents generally have kids that do better in school.

            Overall, I disagree with many of your generalizations. Public schools in RI are far from democratic and responsive…they are more semi-independent entities living in a town and supported by it. Charters have some oversight…also in general. They trade bureaucratic control for performance as I stated earlier. Also, they provide parents choice now…not years in the future. As for funding discrepancies, who pays for the charter facilities? That must be included in any formula. If Charters weren’t effective, would local public school officials/unions be as aggressive in trying to shut them down? To co opt them?

            Bottom line: given the larger picture, I’d rather have some good with charters today-with possible future risk-rather than the slim potential for a better system somewhere down the line.

          • Justin Katz

            In my tiredness, last night, I fear I overstated my objection.
            My point was that it’s a bit of a debater’s tactic to imply an equivalence between parties on a point of contention that isn’t thoroughly proven through evidence. A person giving some initial evidence and putting it in the context of a period of study shouldn’t be counterbalanced by (in hyperbolic rephrasing), “it’s all speculation, so I’ll choose to believe the other side.”
            On the control point, I’m not saying that school districts are adequately responsive to the needs of taxpayers, but there is a direct avenue of influence that doesn’t exist with charters. The fact that Rhode Islanders have been apathetic about exercising it is no excuse to brush it aside.
            And on your bottom line, I’m not 100% objecting to your conclusion. I’m just pointing out a consideration that hasn’t been voiced at all and that people who take a politically conservative view (i.e., reasonable people who apply common sense to as much evidence as is available), should take the consideration under… well… consideration.

          • Mike678

            Understood your last, and it’s a good point.

  • guest

    “the self-interested activism of teacher unions”? You mean as opposed to the self-interested activism of the Koch brothers?

    • Mike678

      Thank you for the perfect example of why Charters, schools that can actually educate and teach people how to think, are needed.

      • guest

        Typical bagger response. Looking for government to find a solution only when it benefits their ideology. How have we made it this far without charters? You folks can’t really think for yourselves, can you? Critical thought isn’t a strength. Where did your schooling take place?

        • Mike678

          “Critical thought isn’t a strength.” Perhaps. But your lack of it is a weakness. Ad hominem is also an indication of a lack of thought. New York, Boston, Providence and Washington DC, by the way.

          • guest

            I hope you weren’t forced to attend public institutions, you know…before charters were an option. I would counter that an accusation of “ad hominem” where there isn’t any is a poor reflection on your education.

          • ShannonEntropy

            Calling someone who you believe belongs to the Tea Party a “tea bagger” — which just happens to be a slang term for a rather disgusting male homosexual act — is about as “ad hominem” as you can get, guest

          • Mike678

            Actually I attended a mix. But then again, 25 years ago was a different story. So, “typical bagger response” isn’t “an attempt to discredit a persons character so as to cast doubt on their argument”? Perhaps you are correct…it is more a compliment gIven the alternative.

  • Walter

    It’s our understanding that you had a brief career as a teacher, Justin. Could you share with us why you left the profession?

    • Warrington Faust

      I had a very brief career at it, I walked out after 3 months. It was insanity. Teachers hid my coffee cup in the teachers room. another let the air out of my tires because I was in their parking space. Finally, one asked me to “get a kid” in my class because he hadn’t had a chance to “get him”. They behaved like children.

  • ShannonEntropy

    Mike ,,

    I have to agree with Justin here, esp in regards to the Charter School ‘lottery’ seeing as a lot of people have trouble paying for private schools. That starts the process of draining the population of private school enrollees — it only makes sense

    As for Catholic schools dropping enrollment being linked to the increasing secularism of the population: I am Roman Catholic and live a few minutes walk from St Peter’s in Warwick which runs an elementary school. Heck there are prolly more Jewish kids enrolled there than RC & being RC is not a requirement to attend … so your argument doesn’t hold water

    As for my own 6 month old grand·daughter — no way is going to Cranston East when the time comes. There are so many kids sneaking in there from LaProv that RIPTA had to add extra buses to the Prov-Cranston routes to accommodate them all. She is going to St George’s — my treat

    • Mike678

      I don’t disagree on the lottery–as I wrote, Charters are becomming the alternative of choice. I disagree that we need to get away from Charters because they might be ‘captured’ by the status quo in the future.

      As for declining moderate-priced religious private schools, perhaps you missed the point. I wasn’t claiming declining enrollment causality–I was pointing out, albeitly less clear than I could have been, that claims without data to support is speculation–and not a great foundation for a complex argument. I offered more speculation without data to make my point. I will also point out that your anecdotal evidence, while data, is an interesting start for a research effort but probably not generalizable to the state or country.

      Good luck to your grand-daughter.

      • ShannonEntropy

        I will also point out that your anecdotal evidence, while data, is an interesting start for a research effort …

        I am a retired Brown U. faculty member who worked in a STEM field. There is an old aphorism amongst us old scientific-types =►

        ” The plural of ‘anecdote’ is NOT ‘data’ ”

        Anywayz … thanks for the clarification of your points and the wishes for my G·D altho she will need to qualify & be accepted. Which may well be a bigger hurdle than the tuition there — currently $56K / yr + assorted other ‘fees’ … YIKES!

  • ShannonEntropy

    p.s. Mike writes =► And why, given the MONOPOLY on publicly funded schools (until RI gets vouchers), why should parents have to double pay to get their children a good education?

    How would you like to live on the east side of LaProv, pay $25K or more in property taxes a year and then, what ?, send your kid to fricken HOPE HS ??

    My friends who live there all use private schools and keep their kids in line by saying stuff like “If you don’t shut up & behave, I am sending you to Hope !!”

    • Warrington Faust

      “My friends who live there all use private schools”
      Happened to pass through the East Side today. Not for the first time I noticed the number of private schools. The buildings are large and not new, I suspect the situation is not new. I understand Hope High has a police substation and the kids have to wear name tags.

      For what it is worth, when I lived in Cambridge, public schools were out of the question. Kids were threatened with being sent to Rindge Latin.

  • SteveH

    There are lots of things going on in K-12 education, and the issues don’t fall neatly into conservative/liberal agendas through which many filter everything. The only way to really improve education over the long term is to provide all types of parental choices. In the short term, many choices might not seem very good, but as I said in another thread, the choice is really about whether school A or B is best for each student, and the parent has to be the one to decide. Nobody is looking over the shoulders of affluent parents to see if they make the right choice with Waldorf, Montessori or Prout.
    CCSS is not a solution. It institutionalizes low expectations. The highest level in PARCC (“distinguished”) in math only means that one is likely to pass a college algebra course. This starts in the lowest grades. It defines no STEM path. This was true with NCLB and NECAP, but now it’s official. PARCC says it in black and white. NO STEM in K-6 unless the schools specifically provide it. That is not likely in our no-tracking world.
    Another systemic problem has to do with ed school training, especially for K-6 teachers. Our town is now all about full inclusion and differentiated instruction. It’s a complete failure. They want thematic learning and eschew “mere” facts. When my son was in first grade 13 years ago, I happened to mention to his teacher that he loved studying maps and could find any country in the world. She told me: “Yes, he has a lot of superficial knowledge.” Ironically, later that year my son had to show the student teacher where Kuwait was when they were doing a thematic unit on “Sands from around the world.”
    They don’t teach and ensure math facts. They don’t teach phonics or spelling. They didn’t even teach my son to hold a pencil correctly. They want to do the fun stuff in class with the teacher as the guide-on-the-side. They want kids to discover everything in groups in class. They want to go through the motions. This didn’t stop them from sending home notes telling us parents to do their jobs – to practice math facts. They need to spell this out to parents – that our job is not to turn off the TV or computer, but to ensure that learning gets done. TERC doesn’t do it. Everyday Math (“trust the spiral”) doesn’t do it. My son did very well in math not because I modeled a love of learning, but because I used flash cards and worksheets and did what the schools should be doing. This is not a liberal versus conservative issue. I’ve been involved with this debate since my son was in Pre-K when I found out that our schools were using MathLand, a curriculum so bad that it’s been erased from the face of the web – except for the remaining very bad reviews.
    Things began to change in 7th and 8th grades because RI requires subject certification to teach each subject. Finally (!), our son had teachers who seemed to care about content knowledge and skills. The teachers also wanted to “toughen them up” to get them ready for high school. So, K-6 is all about fuzzy learning in a low expectation full inclusion environment where they tell parents that kids will “learn when they are ready” and then changes to one where the reality of college and the real world finally filters down. Many kids do not make the non-linear transition to high school, which usually requires help from parents or tutors.
    High school at NKHS was a completely different world. Kids are separated by level, there are honors and AP classes, and teachers actually know something about their subjects. We no longer heard all of the same ed school claptrap of different learning styles and the trashing of content and skills. There were few silly group art projects. So one cannot just talk about education in general. There are lots of pieces to the puzzle. I really don’t care if schools have unions as long as parents have more school choices. Regular public high schools provide a little choice by separating the willing and able from those who are not, but that is not the case in K-8. It’s a pedagogical and philosophical wasteland.
    This is not an argument about money or whether choice is inherently good or not. There is an astronomical amount of money spent on education and it’s really not that difficult. Kids who get to fifth grade not knowing the times table don’t need more engagement or parents who understand Everyday Math. They need schools and teachers who do what I had to do at home with my son – ensure that knowledge and skills were achieved. Schools could ask the parents of their best students what we had to do at home. They would like to call us pushy or helicopter parents, but that’s a copout. We taught phonics, basic math skills, spelling, vocabulary, how to hold a pencil, and how to actually build all of those stupid dioramas. In other words, we did their jobs. But, as I said, NKHS was lovely in comparison. Private schools (even Wheeler and Moses Brown) held no advantage.

    • Justin Katz

      The system you describe might be defensible as a pedagogical choice (although still a bad choice), but it’s entirely indefensible when one considers that the rigid labor union model requires equal steps for teachers whether they’re actually teaching or babysitting kids through an amorphous journey of discovery.

      • SteveH

        I’m not defining a “system” or defending anything. I’m talking about how there are many different issues going on that have nothing to do with unions. I’m not a fan of unions, but they did not stop NKHS from providing good educational opportunities. Unions, however, were a much bigger problem in K-8. A big issue was seniority bumping chain reactions.
        However, more of a systemic problem than unions is the rigid pedagogy taught to ed school students by rote. Ironically, they are not allowed to discover anything else. This affects education in all schools, public or private, and with and without unions. The private K-6 school my son attended for a few years was a perfect example of that. Getting rid of unions won’t fix ed schools or help students learn the times table or fractions.

        • Justin Katz

          I wasn’t saying you were defending anything. I was tacking on an additional thought to what you described. I wouldn’t be so quick, though, to assume that getting rid of unions wouldn’t help students learn the times table or fractions.
          If teachers could climb the professional ladder and better compete with other teachers without the inapplicable assembly-line model of labor unions, some of them might discover that their students do better (and better meet parental expectations) if they’re taught the times table and fractions. Upon other teachers’ trying to compete by the same method, and the district’s self realization that it’s giving raises to teachers who use such methods, the paradigm might change.
          This problem does NOT affect all schools, public or private. It MIGHT affect any particular school, but I’d wager it’s worse among the publics.

          • SteveH

            Bad pedagogy is independent of unions. However, unions can’t have both a monopoly and no choice. That’s an ancient model of education. Unions also can’t force or expect choice schools to use all of their assumptions and limitations. If schools cannot or will not separate the willing and able from those who cannot or will not, then parents have to be given the choice to go to schools that do. I really disliked many of the charter school choices I saw when my son was growing up, but CCSS made it clear that the public school monopoly will NEVER fix the problems of education by themselves. They see (low) statistics, but parents see individuals.
            Good choice schools make take a long time to overcome ed school influences, but the public school monopoly never will change. Then again, what are good choices? Some parents like discovery and unschooling approaches, and some love the idea of full inclusion. However, ed school pedagogy forces only one type on all. That, more than unions, is the biggest problem in education.

        • Mike678

          You have a point–many teachers don’t like common core or the system they are tied to. They are as frustrated with ‘the system’ as any parent.

          What unions drive is cost–cost without accountability in many cases. The mantra is “you get what you pay for”–but do a little research and see where in the college class ranking the majority of our teachers came from. Many are more than able to do the job–but many aren’t. The union protects the over-paid incompetent teachers and inflicts them on our children–with predictable results. Remove the bureaucratic self-serving barriers, reward the best teachers and watch good things happen….

    • helen

      Steve,nail on the head about low expectations. The expectations have to be high but reachable. The students have to feel confident through the attitudes of teachers that goals can be reached.
      When I was kid in Catholic school we would get the “talk” at the start of every school year. It went something like this:
      The nun would tell the class that she had looked over each and every one of our records and she knew that each and every one of us could succeed in the coming year’s work. In other words,there were no excuses for failure,short of extreme illness which would result in a prolonged absence.
      We all believed that we could succeed and we did. We all knew it as much of the work was in front of the rest the class with prolific oral drills,correcting each others papers and so forth.
      The expectation was high,as were the standards. It started in kindergarten. I think that kind of real tough love is what is needed in schools today.

      • SteveH

        When I was in school in the 50’s and 60’s, the lowest level kids went to other schools. The rest of us were expected to all be on the same page educationally. Teachers cared about facts and mastery of basic skills. I distinctly remember learning phonics, spelling, geography, and using flash cards in math in 3rd grade. If you didn’t meet some basic level, you had to go to summer school or were held back a year. That put pressure on kids, parents, AND teachers.
        This is all gone now. The lowest level kids are kept in the same classrooms and ed schools tell all teachers that “kids will learn when they are ready.” It’s not true, but it’s the justification for dismissing “mere” facts and basic skills and trying to claim the higher ground of critical thinking and problem solving. Everyday Math is all about using a spiral approach to the material and telling teachers to “trust the spiral.” I call it circling – repeated partial learning. It’s the hope that K-6 schools can keep all levels of kids together as one happy family with the teacher as the guide-on-the-side. While I saw the great social benefits of full inclusion in my son’s public K-6 school, I also saw the huge problems. Differentiated instruction did not work and most teachers understand that or else they convince themselves that it works by seeing some kids who do succeed. They just never ask us parents what we had to do at home. It’s educational incompetence not to ask us parents what we had to do. We were sent notes telling us to practice math facts at home.
        However, K-6 does NOT have to have full inclusion academic classrooms to achieve the social benefits of full inclusion. Schools could separate kids by ability or willingness in the academic classes, but provide a full inclusion environment. High schools do this. I knew one student with Asperger’s Syndrome who got to calculus as a junior, but didn’t do well in other subjects. This is not the model for K-6 because of the dislike of tracking at such early grades. But what do they expect when they increase the range of abilities with full inclusion? Is it educational fairy dust engagement or “trust the spiral” that will get the job done? I didn’t do that with my son.
        They don’t use tracking because they don’t want to directly see the results of their failed pedagogy. They don’t want to see the upper tracks filled with students whose parents DO practice math facts at home, along with phonics, spelling, geography, and vocabulary. This is not as some sort of amazingly high level of helicopter parent involvement. I never did that, but I ensured that my son kept up to a proper STEM grade level – something PARCC does not require even for its highest level. How incompetent is it that most K-6 schools do not offer a proper STEM track in K-6? When I was in school, I got to calculus in high school with no help from my parents. That is almost impossible to do these days.
        I’ll be glad to rant about specific union issues, but they’re not the main problem. And, as I said, NKHS was a completely different world from K-8. Many parents send their kids to private K-8 schools, but return them to their public high schools. NKHS has many kids who don’t care much about school, but for those kids filling the honors and AP classes, it’s like a private prep school. My son got eight 5’s on AP tests just from the preparation in their classes. A friend of mine who teaches at St. George’s said that they don’t do anything magical academically beyond AP classes. However, they do support individual students more than regular public high schools. And schools like Wheeler and Moses Brown have the experienced counselors and support to help individual students maximize their college options.
        However, many students struggled to overcome the really bad pedagogical education they received in K-8. I also noted that one high school student lamented the general inability of ex-Waldorf students to compete at the top levels of honors and AP classes – classes filled with students whose parents helped them at home or with tutors.
        The reality of real life and the competition for college barely filters down through high school. K-8 still lives in it’s own pedagogical La La Land. Some of us hoped that CCSS would fix that, but they were completely let off the hook. Low expectations for all are now institutionalized for K-8. It’s now officially up to parents to ensure that their kids are prepared for anything more than no remediation in college. Educators are thrilled when little Urban Suzie is the first in her family to ever get to the community college level. It doesn’t matter if Suzie really could have gotten into Harvard. Everyone should read about the music system El Sistema in Venezuela. It shows how kids from the barrios can make it to Carnegie Hall and the BBC Proms in one generation. Music is not a special case. It shows what can be done when content specialists, who set high expectations from pre-school age, are in control of education. It shows what can happen when educators push, provide unlimited opportunities, and care about mastery of knowledge and skills. It shows what can happen when educators are not afraid of differences in ability or willingness.

    • helen

      By the way Steve,your post is fantastic!

      • ShannonEntropy

        I have completely 100% changed my mind about mandatory public school standarized testing [NECAP] as a condition to graduate

        As the posts supra show, everyone knows that the teachers aren’t teaching & the kids aren’t learning anything … so why waste millions of $$ documenting these failures ??

        • Mike678

          ??? Since standards aren’t being met–we should eliminate the standards? I don’t think, for he sake of the future, that we should so easily throw in the towel. Perhaps I am too hopeful….

          • ShannonEntropy

            Kinda reminds me of the NCLB debacle which included the “full inclusion” you discussed supra

            One criticism went: if every kid in the phys ed class has to able to dunk a basketball, the only way to do that is to lower the hoop to 3 ft

            This article made me chuckle cuz it just goes to prove that most adults are as poorly-educated as our kids these days =►

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/19/sixty-percent-of-adults-who-took-standardized-test-bombed/

          • Warrington Faust

            20 odd years ago, Dr. Silber the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education (or similar title) announced that “When we decided everyone should graduate from high school we implicitly agreed to lower the standards”. Among other things, that cost him his job.

        • SteveH

          Yearly testing has gone on for a very long time. I had the Iowa Basics Skills Test when I was growing up. It was no big deal and nobody prepared for it. It gave schools feedback on how they compared to other schools. Teachers didn’t need it to evaluate individual kids in class. They saw them on a day-to-day basis. They handed back report cards quarterly with average numerical grades based on tests graded to 100 or at least had letter grades. It was meaningful to parents.
          Now, testing is a big deal and they don’t test the basics like whether kids know the times table and can add fractions. They want to test “number sense” and “problem solving.” Are teachers suddenly potted plant guides-on-the-side who can’t figure that out? Why does it take a yearly test to provide that information? Why would parents find that information valuable for their kids? What happened to quarterly report cards? In my son’s school, they switched to rubrics (they must have been about 5 pages long) that talked about things like “number sense” and NOT his raw numerical grades on tests of specific skills, like fractions. They are all drinking from the same cup of ed school Kool-Aid. When my son was in first grade, I sent an email to some of the school committee members telling them that they need to send parents Hirsch’s series: “What your first (second, third…) grader needs to know” and tell parents that THAT was NOT the education their kids were getting.
          In one parent/teacher SALT review of yearly standardized testing, we found that our “problem solving” scores went down. What was the answer? To work harder on “problem solving.” I didn’t go to another meeting. How do you tell people that they are completely wrong? If parents wait for yearly state test results with vague categories to define a school or student improvement feedback loop (where PARCC defines “distinguished” as meaning the likelihood of passing college algebra), then parents are a year late and many tutoring dollars short.
          As I said, when my son was in K-6, he got quarterly rubric grades of 1-5 for something like 40 different categories. Amazingly, most graded homework and tests did not come home. They were stored away at school in “portfolios.” I once asked to see them and was told that I had to make an appointment with each teacher after school. I had to take time off from work and arrange meetings with each of my son’s teachers. This was impossible since I wanted to keep up with his work on at least a weekly basis. This might be better now with the Aspen online system, but I suspect they still use rubrics and not homework and test scores on specific knowledge and skills.
          Again, everything changed once my son got to NKHS. They graded on a number scale where 90-100 was an ‘A’, etc. and I could often see my son’s grades on Aspen before even he got the homework or test back. I could see if he missed an assignment and have him find out what went wrong. Again, it was a completely different world than the fuzzy, anti-reality pedagogical world of K-6.
          My advice to parents is to not trust the K-8 schools. Do not assume that students can just start to work harder in high school. By the end of 6th grade, your child will be sorted into either the high track to algebra (hopefully a proper one, not CMP) in eighth grade, or the permanent low track to no possibility of a STEM career. CCSS claims that kids can either catch up or cross over using summer classes in math or doubling up in math in high school, but they are dreaming. It’s just a cover-up for pathetically low and bad math teaching in K-6. CCSS let K-6 completely off-the-hook. I’m not talking about grand concepts of math. I’m talking about just ensuring mastery of basic skills. In my son’s fifth grade class, some didn’t yet know the times table and a few were still using their fingers for things like adding 7+8. These were bright kids. The parents were too trusting. The school was using Everyday math in a full inclusion environment where teachers want to be potted plants on the side and to “trust the spiral.” If you wait long enough, you can blame bad results on the kids, parents, peers, society, poverty, and many kids will believe. I’ve tutored kids in math who tell me that they are just bad in math as if it’s some sort of inherent brain deficiency. It’s not true. Some think that success in math is some sort of “math brain” requirement. No. Not everyone can get to calculus in high school, but most can comfortably get through Algebra II and do very well on the ACT/SAT. the problem is incompetent math curricula and low standards in K-6 math. It ruins kids. By the time anyone looks at the details, the kids are older and there are too many other factors to blame. Some even cover up for this incompetence by claiming that half of the students do not have the IQ to be successful in algebra I. They have no basis for this calibration. When kids in K-6 are provided with a proper math curriculum that emphasizes basic skills and knowledge, they do very well. Those examples are hard to find because ALL future teachers in ed schools are directly (!) taught something else. It’s not something they “discover.” It’s all very ironic and tragic.

          • Mike678

            Problem solving is important–but, as you state, it is difficult to solve anything unless you have facts/knowledge to draw from. Curriculum should contain both.

            Look at the NECAP math scores in RI. In NK, the NECAP scores in K-8 are really good in most schools, but by 11th grade they fall from the K-8 90% proficient and above to about 51% proficient and above . The educators explain this decrease on the NECAP on the test–it tests flexible thinking: Problem solving and critical thought.

            Children need facts to problem solve–they are the building blocks. Both need to be taught–more fact-based in the earlier grades, and more critical thought as the knowledge foundation is laid.

          • SteveH

            K-6 educators have no clue to what problem solving is in math. Understanding is built upon skills and basic knowledge. What is currently done in K-6 math curricula is top down and fails in both. Talk is cheap.
            NECAP scores, like CCSS will be, are meaningless, low expectation numbers. “Really good” is not calibrated to anything meaningful. Who calls a SAT math score of 500 “really good?” Proficiency is an arbitrary calibration so comparing arbitrary calibrations between K-8 and high school is meaningless. Proficiency doesn’t even mean that one will avoid remediation for math at CCRI.
            NECAP and CCSS test no such thing as flexible thinking, problem solving and critical thought. How could this possibly be if they don’t teach to a STEM level and kids fail at manipulating fractions? What kind of understanding makes it OK to not know fractions, percentages, and how to deal with minus signs?
            Do NOT buy into the educational blather. They talk the talk, but where are the results? We’ve had this sort of claptrap in math education for decades now. This is nothing new. We’ve had Everyday Math for 12 years and the pathetically poor MathLand before that. They all talk about critical thinking and problem solving. Meanwhile, many of us parents create their best students at home or with tutors, We specifically focus on basic math skills. Schools have the audacity to send home notes telling us parents to work on math facts while they play potted-plant-on-the-side while kids waste an enormous amount of time in groups in class “discovering” perhaps the wrong things. They think that all kids need is engagement. No. They need teachers who are competent in math, set expectations, and ensure that skills are mastered on a grade-by-grade basis. Those things do not exist in K-6.
            Look at how Coleman at the College Board and the ACT are trying desperately to map proficiencies for CCSS in K-6 into decent SAT/ACT scores. They have to use a non-linear mapping. That’s why kids look like they go from good proficiencies in K-6 to poorer ones in high school. The proficiencies in K-6 are based on fairy dust, but the high school ones (especially for ACT and SAT) are based on real life tests. The only thing that really saves them are all of the students who received years of help at home and with tutors. What does PARCC use to calibrate their high school scores? What SAT score does their “Distinguished” level in math translate into?
            I find it to be extraordinarily arrogant when K-6 teachers lecture me on understanding and critical thinking in math. It’s not as if they are claiming more understanding by trading off speed of coverage. They are claiming the higher ground of better critical thinking and problem solving for all. It’s the vanity of ed schools that think that pedagogy trumps content and skills.
            My son went from fuzzy MathLand and Everyday Math in K-6 to decent math textbooks for pre-algebra through calculus. The fuzzy stupid math talk gave away to proper textbooks and daily homework assignments. The teachers went from blathering about problem solving and critical thinking to ones who were trained in the subject and didn’t need to use those terms as excuses for low expectations. AP classes drive standards down from the real world, but they run into a fuzzy, unreal pedagogical wall in K-6. Many have high proficiency in early grades because it’s mostly fairy dust. Parents who believe the K-6 rubrics will be in for a big surprise later on. It will be too late.
            Standardized tests change a raw percent correct score to a proficiency index. The cutoff index for “proficiency” is really low, but schools look at the percent of students who get over the low cutoff. That looks better. Then they look at how they compare to other schools in the state. Voila! A stinking bad raw percent correct score turns into a great sounding ranking in the state. Send the press releases to the local papers. It’s a sign of quality education. I saw this with my own two eyes in our paper. A claim to a quality education with a no STEM path curriculum by definition.

          • Jeff R

            Interesting article. Relevant. Brings up some interesting points, specifically K-6.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201505/early-academic-training-produces-long-term-harm

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