Archive for July, 2018

Atlantic Article Advises Against Aggregating Nation’s Schools

July 31, 2018 Comments off

Earlier this month, Atlantic writer Jack Schneider wrote an article urging our nation to stop thinking of “America’s Schools” as a monolith, arguing that in doing so we are doing more harm than good. At the outset of his essay. Mr. Schneider identified A Nation at Risk as the the point when we established “…a new way of talking about public education in the United States, a master narrative that has endured — and even subtly changed American education policy for the worse — over the past several decades.” That “master narrative” is that public education is a monolith and that it is “failing”. But Mr. Schneider asserts that this is not the case at all:

The abstraction of “America’s schools” may be convenient for rousing the collective conscience, but it is not particularly useful for the purpose of understanding (or improving) American education. Consider the issue of funding. On average, federal money accounts for less than 10 percent of education budgets across the country, and the rest of the financial responsibility falls to states and local schools. If local schools are unable to raise what they need, the state is usually well positioned to make up the difference, but states differ dramatically in their approaches. On average, states spend roughly $13,000 per student on public education — but looking at the average alone is misleading. Only about half of states spend anything close to that figure: A dozen spend 25 percent more than the national average, and 10 states spend 25 percent less. The result is significant disparities, and some striking incongruities. New York’s schools, for instance, spend roughly three times as much per student as Utah’s schools — a huge difference, even after accounting for New York’s higher cost of living.

And once the “collective conscience” of the politicians was roused by A Nation at Risk, both political parties bought into the “failing schools” narrative and began imposing one-size-fits-all solutions to the monolith, ignoring the reality that funding was hugely disparate and the policies governing schools resided in state and local governments. But Mr. Schneider does see a value in looking at public education as a national issue.

This is not to say that taking the national perspective can’t be valuable. Troubling patterns do exist across the U.S., and discussions about them can play an important role in shaping both public understanding and education policy. Achievement gaps across race and class, for instance, are an important reminder of broader social and economic inequalities, and advocates have used evidence about those patterns to make the case for universal early-childhood education. Similarly, a national dialogue about the disproportionate punishment of black and brown children in schools has drawn attention to an issue that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. These kinds of broad conversations can generate both political will and policy responses.

But, alas, while these kinds of broad conversations CAN generate political will and policy responses, they have not done so thus far. Instead, they’ve generated policy responses like NCLB, Race to the Top, and ESSA, all of which use standardized testing to reinforce the notion that public education is a monolith and it is failing. Mr. Schneider concludes his essay with this question:

The authors of “A Nation at Risk” concluded their report with a simple claim: “Education should be at the top of the Nation’s agenda.” And in creating a new kind of school-reform rhetoric, they seem to have achieved their aim. The question is, has it done more harm than good?

The answer is clear: it has done far more harm than good.

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America Loves Rankings and Lists… And WalletHub Delivers One of the Worst

July 31, 2018 Comments off

This morning’s Google feed on public education was full of articles from newspapers across the country reporting on their state’s ranking based on WalletHub’s analysis. This immediately led me to ask the following question: Who did the rankings and how were they determined?

I clicked on the WalletHub report link and found this synopsis, which, as my highlights indicate, if full of flawed thinking that immediately led me to the accurate conclusion that this was developed by conservative “reformers” who value the market place over “government schools”:

Securing a child’s academic success begins with choosing the right schools.But how can parents decide where to enroll their kids? Because children develop and learn at different rates, the ideal answer to that question varies based on each student’s needs. Unfortunately, most parents can’t afford to place their children in exclusive, private or preparatory schools that give their students greater individual attention.

For the majority of U.S. families, public education is the only option. But the quality of public school systems varies widely from state to state and is often a question of funding. Public elementary and secondary education money usually flows from three sources: the federal, state and local governments. According to the U.S. Department of Education, states contribute nearly as much as local governments, while the federal government supplies the smallest share. Some researchers have found that more resources — or taxes paid by residents — typically result in better school-system performance.

In the first sentence the writers state that “choice of schools” is readily available to parents, a notion supported by the second sentence. In the last sentence of the first paragraph the writers repeat the erroneous claim that “exclusive private or preparatory schools” offer students better outcomes than public schools. And the last sentence of the second paragraph cherry picks an unsubstantiated research finding that reliance on property taxes results in superior performance. These are all bullet points that conservative researchers love… and sure enough the team of experts who prepared this report come from think tanks and colleges and universities underwritten by “reform minded” billionaires.

So… how DID WalletHub generate their rankings? Here’s the overview:

Unlike other research that focuses primarily on academic outcomes or school finance, WalletHub’s analysis takes a more comprehensive approach. It accounts for performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. To determine the top-performing school systems in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 key metrics. Read on for our findings, expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.

This sounds eminently reasonable… but in fact it relies mostly on test scores (roughly 50%), dropout rates (15%), and other external rankings (7%). Pupil-teacher ratio’s account for 3.64% of the rankings as does “share of licensed teachers”. 20% of the rankings are based on a list of ten variables that include “Number of School Shootings” and “Presence of Adopted and Enacted Laws Regulating Mandatory School Resource Officers”, the presumption being that there is some correlation between the two.

When all is said and done, the top ranked states are predictable: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. And here’s what is interesting: had the researchers used union membership, per pupil spending, and parent education levels as their primary metrics they would have come up with a similar ranking…. But those variables would undercut their baseline premises.

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YIKES! Are DeVos and Sessions Tipping Their Hand on School Safety by Visiting Armed Teachers in Arkansas?

July 30, 2018 Comments off

Herewith is a report from Politico‘s education blog, which provides daily updates on Betsy DeVos’ scheduled visits:

DEVOS, SESSIONS PLAN ARKANSAS VISIT THIS WEEK: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Sessions are headed to Arkansas this week to discuss school safety, according to local news reports. The superintendent of Lake Hamilton School District in Garland County told The Hot Springs Sentinel-Record that the planned visit on Wednesday is part of the Trump administration’s school safety commission. The rural school district has long employed armed security officers and some staff began carrying concealed weapons at school after Arkansas lawmakers recently legalized the practice, according to The Arkansas Times.

Is this the way Ms. DeVos’ school safety commission is headed? I hope not!

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