Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by former Presidential aspirant and current Ohio Governor John Kasich. In his essay, Mr. Kasich singles out the “one-size-fits-all” approach for special condemnation:
But today, it’s clear that our welfare system is still deeply flawed, thanks in part to later changes from Washington. In 2005, Congress pulled power back from the states, reducing local flexibility by enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach that sets arbitrary time limits on education and training for people seeking sustainable employment. As a result, too many lives are thrown away by a rigid and counterproductive system that treats an individual as a number, not as a person who is desperate to gain new skills and opportunities in life.
As anyone who is familiar with “school reform” realizes, Ohio was one of several states who embraced the test-and-punish model of schooling with Ohio simultaneously rushing to institute market-based deregulated charter schools to help meet the needs of those students who could not pass the graduation test the first time around. The performance of these schools drew criticism from the Fordham Institute, which is usually a reliable cheerleader for “reform”:
Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more illusion than reality, for dropping out of school tends to be a process over time rather than a discrete event. Hence, it is not resolved whether dropouts should be entirely attributed to a student’s final schooling destination—a thorny issue that the report acknowledges. For instance, consider a student who went to Cleveland Metropolitan School District in grades K–8 but then went to one year at a dropout-recovery school before dropping out. Should the dropout-recovery school be held wholly accountable? Probably not. Nevertheless, as the report highlights, there are too many “dropout factories” among Ohio’s high schools—and, as evidenced, too many of the state’s second-chance “recovery” efforts fail to get our high schoolers to the finish line.
So while he condemns the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform, Mr. Kasich is all in on the one-size-fits-all approach to public education and, in doing so, has created more drop outs among low income students than most states in our country… and, as the Fordham Institute notes, the drop out rates of the so-called “recovery schools”, on-line for profit schools specifically designed to help students who fail the one-size-fits-all graduation examination, are especially appalling. If Mr. Kasich wants to address job placement for 16-24 years olds, he would be wise to abandon “reform” in K-12 schooling.
Diane Ravitch’s wrote a post yesterday critiquing questions Michael Hansen of the Brooking Institute would pose to the Presidential candidates regarding public education. Mr. Hansen’s questions were:
- What kind of person would you choose for Secretary of Education?
- How can Title I be improved?
- Have the Obama administration policies for higher education helped students?
- Which federal education programs would you expand, which would you shrink?
- How much would you increase funding for education research?
Diane Ravitch added these questions:
1. Do you think the federal government should continue to support the privatization of public education? Does the federal government have a role in strengthening and protecting public schools that have democratic governance?
2. Would you expand or shrink the funds now dedicated to privately managed charter schools?
3. What is your view of vouchers that allow public dollars to be spent in religious schools?
4. How would you define the federal role in education?
5. What do you see as the federal role in increasing equitable resources among districts and schools?
6. Would you be willing to persuade Congress to reduce the burden of standardized testing? Specifically, how would you change the federal law to ease the federal pressure to test students annually, a practice unknown in high-performing countries?
7. Do you think that every child should be instructed by a professionally prepared and certified teacher? How can the federal government verify that states are hiring fully qualified teachers?
She invited commenters to offer their own questions. Here are three I suggested I would pose:
=> We have tested children for over two decades and all the results show a strong correlation between low test scores and poverty. What steps should the federal government take to address persistent poverty?
=> The lack of affordable housing in affluent communities is contributing to resegregation. What steps would you take to promote fair housing practices in the suburbs?
=> Do you think that schools should be run like a business? (i.e. Do the rules of free markets apply to public education?)
But here’s what is especially frustrating from my perspective: I doubt very much that either Presidential candidate will be asked any questions about public education because now that ESSA is on the books the questions about public education are delegated to the State level.
Last Sunday the NYTimes op ed writer David Kirp’s essay detailed the positive impact of “community schools”, a reform initiative advocated by NYC Mayor de Blasio instead of the market-based “reform” movement advocated by his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg. What is a community school? Kirp offers this description:
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intended to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds widespread appeal, and 150 school districts, including Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., have bought into the idea.
While a “community school” costs roughly $800 annually, an analysis by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Columbia indicates that every dollar spent to provide community schools “…generates a return of at least $3”. Their analysis indicates that:
“Providing the program to 100 students over six years would cost society $457,000 but yield $1,385,000 in social benefits” — higher incomes, lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare.
Kira’s article is titled “To Teach a Child to Read, First Give Him Glasses”, and he notes early in the article that poverty stricken parents often cannot afford glasses but schools educating a vision impaired student are nevertheless held accountable for that child’s progress. Kirp offers this anecdote as an example:
“You wouldn’t think it’s acceptable to send a child to school without having glasses or without dental care, but it’s O.K. for that child to take a reading or math test,” Mark Gaither, the principal of Wolfe Street Academy, a justly renowned community school in Baltimore, told Maryland lawmakers. “But that’s the situation poor parents face.”
As Mr. Kirp notes, community schools are designed “…to deliver the emotional support that battle-scarred children badly need — recruiting a squadron of social workers, training teachers to counsel students and teaching older students how to mentor their younger classmates.” And when schools have the wherewithal to provide social and emotional support, students can thrive. He writes: “After-school and summer programs not only keep poor kids off the streets, but they also give them the academic leg up and the array of opportunities that better-off families can afford to buy.”
There is one big problem with community schools: achieving the kinds of test score improvements used as a metric for success often takes time and persistence.
Results-hungry policy makers expect test scores to rise overnight, but getting students engaged in their own education must come first. A recent evaluation of Baltimore’s community schools concluded that the schools whose students did best academically were those in the program longest.
As noted in an earlier blog post, Mayor de Blasio ultimately needs to satisfy those “results hungry policy makers” who never got the results they anticipated when they used the test-and-punish methods for over a decade but somehow believe the mayor’s approach should be deemed a failure after only two years in place. Chirps’ concluding paragraph indicates that he “gets it”:
New York’s experiment is drawing attention among educators nationwide. If the venture succeeds, other cities may follow suit, but if fails, the community schools movement will take a hit. The impressive evaluations will recede in significance, and critics will dismiss the strategy as just another failed fad. Fingers crossed, then, that the city gives the experiment enough time before rushing to judgment.
From my perspective, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the public recognizes that a return to the test-and-punish model is bankrupt…
In her blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch shined a light on the Vermont State Board of Education, hailing their letter to Secretary of Education John King as “brilliant”, and noting that “Vermont education officials think for themselves”.
As one who served as a Superintendent in a Vermont district for seven years and currently works as a consultant in Vermont I am pleased that Ms. Ravitch recognizes the independent thinking that exists throughout the State and especially pleased that she shared the letter the State Board composed in response to ESSA. I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the letter in its entirety, but want to shine a light on some phrases that underscore many of the points made in previous posts on this blog. Most importantly, as the italicized phrases indicate, the State Board recognizes that real improvement cannot be accomplished without the commitment of resources:
Education and Accountability is More Than Test Scores: The Narrowness of the Measures – The plan relies on what we can easily measure, rather than on what is important. By requiring that test scores in two subjects and graduation rates be given preferential weight, we discourage schools from supporting truly broad opportunities to learn and the skills necessary for a healthy society…. While we appreciate your nod toward the humanities, these words ring hollow when faced with an underfunded system which punishes based on basic skills test scores. Unless our programs are adequately supported, they will neither close the opportunity gap nor build a better society or a stronger nation.
Summative Labels/Ranking Schools by a Single Score – ESSA requires states to inform the public on the status of education – which has seen more than a century of state practice in our town reports. But the proposed federal rules propose combining all measures into a single score. The result is an invalid measure with a false precision claiming to be transparent….More dangerously, with this single measure being so highly test-based, the interaction of test scores with background factors systematically and invalidly penalizes the disadvantaged. The result is that our neediest children are stigmatized through negative labelswhile we deny them the essential resources.
Lock-Stepping/Lack of flexibility– The statute places undue emphasis on students graduating on time. And, ESSA still requires all students to take the grade-level tests. Any parent of two or more children knows that children are not inter-changeable. Some students need more time, greater support and more resources to reach the same goal.
Disaggregation– According to ESSA, test scores must be disaggregated by schools by demographic groups. This is often referred to as “shining a light” on a problem. It is pointless, even harmful, if this illumination is not accompanied by adequate resources and programs to resolve the inequities. The federal government has never matched their requirements with the money. It is time to quit blaming the victims of our neglect.
The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better… We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools…We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.
The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.
It is heartening to see one State Board standing up to the federal government’s approaches that penalize children born into poverty, demonize hard-working teachers and administrators, and slash funding needed to improve public schools. Read the letter… it’s thoughtful, measured, and forceful.
Several months ago the NYTimes published an article by Caitlin Daniel titled “A Hidden Cost to Giving Kids Their Vegetables”, an article that could just as easily and accurately had the title “Why Children Raised in Poverty Eat Poorly”. The reason? Introducing new foods costs money… and when you rely on government funding for food money is in short supply. Daniel explains in her article:
The problem isn’t poor children. According to psychologists, most children treat new foods with trepidation. Often, they accept novel offerings only after eight to 15 attempts. But kids across the world learn to like a staggering array of edibles, in large part by tasting foods repeatedly. When children try a variety of options, they approach unfamiliar foods less gingerly. Experiences stick. Preferences learned in childhood often persist.For the poor parents I met, children’s food rejections cost too much. To avoid risking waste, these parents fall back on their children’s preferences. As the mother of the 3 year old said: “Trying to get him to eat vegetables or anything like that is really hard. I just get stuff that he likes, which isn’t always the best stuff.” Like many children, her son prefers foods that are bland and sweet. Unable to afford the luxury of meals he won’t consume, she opts for mac and cheese.
Schools can familiarize children with nourishing foods through gardening, experience-based nutrition education and healthy school meals. Because many schools lack the funding to expose children to varied, wholesome foods, it is essential to expand the promising programs that have begun to address this problem.