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Good for Business; Kids Not So Much
December 5, 2011 1:04 PM   Subscribe

The Failure of Corporate School Reform: schools and school systems desperate for funding often turn to businesses for help. According to some critics, the U.S. educational system has also adopted a corporate philosophy that is at odds with the historical notion of the "common school." Next up: "virtual education reform." A critic's claim: "controlled, rigid, anti-critical teaching results not in subjects with a greater capacity for economic productivity, but the opposite."
posted by mrgrimm (46 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this a Corporate Reform School, where you would send ne'er-do-well banks or incorrigible mineral extraction companies before they become a menace to society. Actually, that's a pretty good idea.
posted by shothotbot at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is a big surprise for anyone. Running a school on a budget and running one as a profit center are two very different things. As modern corps are basically run a quarter at a time, any process that requires 13 years to show results is going to be completely out of their grasp.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:41 PM on December 5, 2011


Isn't a truth-out.org FPP editorializing by definition?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


As modern corps are basically run a quarter at a time, any process that requires 13 years to show results is going to be completely out of their grasp.

What implications would this have for schools that are not publicly traded?
posted by madcaptenor at 1:58 PM on December 5, 2011


"What implications would this have for schools that are not publicly traded?"

You joke, but NCLB rewards year-over-year improvement, regardless of whether those improvements are realistic, sustained, meaningful, or reflect actual learning.

It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to implement programs or reforms that will take more than three years to show results -- and really, any system that's not just bullshit gaming the statistics will take more than three years. (Three years is a cutoff for a lot of federal school improvement grant programs.) It's hard enough to keep a system in place that doesn't show dramatic improvement in one year.

"Students are not machines and teachers are not robots" is no excuse. Corporate leaders want to know why we can't fix their programming so a 10-year-old reading at a 1st-grade level will suddenly be achieving at grade level within a year. And it's moderately appalling how uncritical otherwise-sophisticated businesspeople can be of those miraculous results when they occur.

There's also a lot of maddening, "This is how I learned it in 1967 in an all-white wealthy suburban enclave with no special ed students* so let's do it that way in 2011 in an impoverished, majority-minority urban center with 1/4 of the student population in special ed." And what truly makes me want to bang my head, an insistence on seeing the data and tracking the data by business leaders, but when the data doesn't fit their conceptions of how a school ought to work, they ignore that data.

*Schools were not required by law to education special education students until later. Makes a big difference in how schools operate.

Can you turn around a failing school system with students ranging in age from 3 to 21 in three years such that ALL grade levels met federal standards? Because that's what corporate turnaround specialists expect from schools, and they get irate when the interchangeable child widgets don't cooperate. And when you have not achieved it in three years, the whole system will be chucked and something entirely different brought in -- which typically results in at least a six-month loss of learning. And then we'll do that for three years, tops, and then something entirely different again. Data will be cherry picked. Interchangeable child widgets will continue to fail, and root causes of poverty that dramatically impact student achievement will continue to be ignored.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:10 PM on December 5, 2011 [21 favorites]


But what about the magic of the marketplace? Can't that fix anything?
posted by octothorpe at 3:00 PM on December 5, 2011


Hell, CEOs drive perfectly good businesses into the ground with this kind of short-term thinking, why would anyone think it would work on something as decidedly non-efficient as a school?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2011


octothorpe: "But what about the magic of the marketplace? Can't that fix anything?"

Define "fix."
posted by klanawa at 3:47 PM on December 5, 2011


I was about to make a joke that the solution is to fire students. Then I realized it wouldn't exactly be a joke, would it.
posted by effugas at 3:59 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


From 'business" : “schools, according to philosophers such as John Dewey and Benjamin Barber, are the mechanisms by which democracies maintain and recreate themselves and must be tended by a mindful citizenry, not corporate leaders.”

Money quote.
The Nation piece is good too.

That said, kinda slanty post.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scoff at the market all you like, but it is no accident that high performing schools are nearly always the result of an actual, well-established, consumer-driven market.

In the common K-12 version of these markets, parents compete to buy houses in good school districts, or to avoid moving or further to specify their children's education, compete to be obtain admission to, and then pay tuition to, for private school. Teachers and administrators compete to be hired, and to retain their jobs, in these schools. Schools compete for students by showing strong test scores and college admission rates. Textbook and curriculum vendors compete to supply the classrooms. Parents contribute further time and money to the schools to assure that their investment in real estate and taxes has a return in education for their children and (in the case of public schools) growth in their property values.

In the college version of these markets, and on rare occasions primary and secondary, students compete straightforwardly by transcript and examination for admission, and the schools compete for students' portable tuition and subsidy dollars by showing strong graduate admissions (if not terminal) and career prospects. Schools that succeed rise up, those that do not, fall down.

Given that the above facts have characterized the successful segments of our education system for many decades, it remains inexplicable that education reformers don't try to synthesize for lower-performing schools for as many parents as possible. "Let's see what works in Scarsdale, and do the opposite" is no formula for success in the Bronx.
posted by MattD at 4:19 PM on December 5, 2011


mattd so basically seed the bronx with hell of rich people, or what
posted by beefetish at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2011


There are more rich people in the Bronx than in Scarsdale (check out Riverdale sometime) but they use the market, not the market-failure, schools.

For those who aren't rich -- convert every fifth school in the Bronx into one whose students are selected solely on the basis of tests of intelligence (and, after a few grades, knowledge), and permit them to hire their faculty freely from among any certified teacher whether or not in the current system.

Make half the converted schools for students in the top decile, and the other half for those in the next-highest decile.

The top-decile schools will have results that compare favorably with all but the very best suburban public schools and private schools, and will beat the pants off most of the rest from a value-added perspective (given parental income, education, and English-fluency levels).

The second-decile schools will have okay results to start, and better results after a few years after bad habits and influences fade away.

Over time, make the top-decile schools into top-15%, and the second-decile schools into next-20%, as the culture and methods of success take root. At some point maybe you can go beyond that, but 35% would be an amazing transformation from where things now stand.
posted by MattD at 4:44 PM on December 5, 2011


MattD: Your facts don't match the self-evident worldview of the MeFi progressives, therefore they are invalid and worthy of mockery.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:05 PM on December 5, 2011


The top-decile schools will have results that compare favorably with all but the very best suburban public schools and private schools, and will beat the pants off most of the rest from a value-added perspective (given parental income, education, and English-fluency levels).

The second-decile schools will have okay results to start, and better results after a few years after bad habits and influences fade away.

Over time, make the top-decile schools into top-15%, and the second-decile schools into next-20%, as the culture and methods of success take root. At some point maybe you can go beyond that, but 35% would be an amazing transformation from where things now stand.


I teach second grade in a public school in Washington, D.C. The problem with this is what about all the other kids, the ones who DON'T go to those top 15% schools? DC has a ton of charter schools and one of the biggest differences between the charter schools and the school where I work is that they have the option of kicking kids out and we don't. I'm not saying that I'm pro-expelling second graders or anything (on most of my discipline referral forms I explicitly state that I don't want the kid suspended) but in at least some charter schools the consequence for getting in a fight at all or hitting another student is automatically expulsion. I don't even report it to the office every time my students get in a fight because I really just don't have time and I'd rather have the kids in my class than at home for educational and behavioral reasons.

Add that to the fact that I have a very high number of students with special education needs (diagnosed and undiagnosed; I am referring several of my students now in the hope that they will get the services they need) and also the fact that while I have many really helpful and involved parents there are also many parents at the school who lack the time or understanding to advocate for their children's education. Sure, there could be great schools (and there are some excellent charter schools as well) but that doesn't help all the other kids and, because of issues like lead paint, nutrition, parenting skills and other really complicated issues I think that odds are good that these schools would end up with a lot of families that are already doing pretty well and very few of my students.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:35 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


MattD was providing facts? They looked more like "facts" to me. "The market is perfect! Nothing interferes with the invisible hand! Look at how great it has worked out for, you know, the already well-off and empowered!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:08 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problems I have with the "what about all the other kids" objections are:

(1) the only equity it achieves is of the bulldozer kind: smart kids of responsible parents are hurt, and other kids receive no benefit;

(2) the only people we ask to bear this equity burden are parents who are responsible despite their poverty, and children who are gifted despite their poverty. Responsible middle-class parents are permitted to put their children's well-being above other children's, and their children get that benefit in spades. (Some of those parents feel guilty about it, but it doesn't actually change behavior.)

And, Saxon -- do you dispute that the education system works quite well, and on market terms, for those who are well-off and empowered, and that this functionality provides most of our real-world examples of actual good education in this country? Is the real world evidence of how actual high performance schools function to be disregarded because you have an ideological distaste for them? I bet you shelf that distaste when you choose a doctor or hire a lawyer or drive over a bridge designed by an engineer.
posted by MattD at 7:17 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


smart kids of responsible parents are hurt, and other kids receive no benefit

(2) the only people we ask to bear this equity burden are parents who are responsible despite their poverty, and children who are gifted despite their poverty.


I do see these points although I disagree (and I also think that smart kids of "irresponsible" parents are hurt, which is a separate issue). I think that the other kids do receive a benefit in that the schools are overall better when there are families who are invested in those schools. What that proposal would accomplish (and this does happen to a certain extend, I agree) is draining all of the involved families or families with resources away from regular public schools.

Also, what about the kids who aren't that "smart"? I have plenty of kids who are not candidates for SpEd but who wouldn't make it into a school based on an intelligence test. And what about kids who are really bright but have serious behavior issues or emotional disabilities? Do they go to the "smart schools"? I agree with you that there can be an additional burden on some parents who are really doing their best in difficult circumstances and I don't know how to address that, but I think that there IS a benefit to the students. I also don't really see a good alternative; I feel like every way I try to play out the scenario it involves regular schools basically becoming warehouses for indigent, high-needs children.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:28 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


P.S. I need to finish getting ready for tomorrow and go to bed so I will be bowing out of the conversation now and I can't check Metafilter at school (stupid lightspeed) but I do appreciate reading perspectives on this from outside education, even if I don't agree with them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:29 PM on December 5, 2011


convert every fifth school in the Bronx into one whose students are selected solely on the basis of tests of intelligence

How exactly are you going to test the intelligence of 5-year-olds? IQ? You realize that it's fairly well-accepted that IQ can change, right? And that it's not a measure of innate intelligence? Also, students who stress out during tests count as dumb, right? Or kids who score very high in a visual test, but not on a written test?

So we test every student every year and then have them switch schools according to how they score that year? What if there's a family crisis during testing week? What if a child is very high in math, but very low in reading? What if a parent doesn't want to switch schools? Who pays for all the busing?

What about the kids who are inspired and motivated by the 'smarter' kids around them? I've had many first graders literally learn to read because they wanted to read the book their friend was reading. When a teacher differentiates because of a high-performing child, it benefits the other children, too.

As mentioned by Mrs. P, what about the 'smart' kids who have emotional or behavior problems? What about high-functioning autistic kids who simply can't take a test? How many kids won't fit the mold of your test and be stuck in the 'dumb' school?

Do you have any actual evidence that skimming the 'best' kids off the top and giving them their own schools will help them in any way? It'll certainly teach them that they can safely ignore all those dumb kids in the stupid school, or will you have sensitivity classes built into the system to teach them to pity their lessers?

As a teacher of 15 years or so, 5 in a very low-income area, I'm not willing to admit that any child is beyond redemption. I've seen those kids blossom suddenly. Our schools could use a lot of changes, but those changes have to be positive for everyone, not just the 30% that you've decided are worth it.
posted by Huck500 at 8:45 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


do you dispute that the education system works quite well, and on market terms, for those who are well-off and empowered

There are plenty of people who would contest this, and say that it works fairly crappily even for the lucky students. I'm not sure it makes sense to start by assuming this premise when, philisophically and cognitively, even "good" schools are not doing a particularly good job at producing an educated person for a complex world.

MattD's argument, though, is a red herring. The system he describes is not the pure result of market forces but the product of an intentionally skewed system created by manipulating the political environment to favor wealthy communities. The unequal distribution of school funding across a state, even while standards of education are distributed with perfect equality across a state, is the first clue that the difference between school success and school failure not simply due to competition for students somehow designated as "smarter." We could begin by equalizing per-student funding in every school across the state - something many state Supreme Courts have already mandated, or are currently hearing cases on, though in all cases I'm aware of it has yet to be fully implemented because of contention or neglect in state senates or assemblies.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you have any actual evidence that skimming the 'best' kids off the top and giving them their own schools will help them in any way?

If a kid can do algebra, I think they'd benefit immensely from being taught algebra 2 instead of repeating arithmetic, and I don't know of any effective method to do that other than segregating the students by proficiency. Maybe you can deal with this by having separate classes within a school-- but sometimes that's not possible for practical reasons, and in any case you're right back to "teaching them that they can safely ignore all those dumb kids in the stupid class".

All you'll teach them that school is a miserable waste of time and that no mental effort is required on their part-- only the effort of completing endless trivial busywork (or they fail despite knowing the subject, because to do otherwise wouldn't be fair to the other students, would it?)

And on the flip side, do students who are behind really benefit from being placed with more advanced peers. I can see it working in kindergarten-- but it's a lot harder to see it working in 7th grade.

What that proposal would accomplish (and this does happen to a certain extend, I agree) is draining all of the involved families or families with resources away from regular public schools.

You mean to say that they're not being drained already? I think that the popularity of private schools (and the suburbs) suggests that we're way past that. At least with advanced public schools, you can reserve some spots for "kids who are really bright but have serious behavior issues or emotional disabilities" or "smart kids of "irresponsible" parents".

I'm sure there are benefits to having students assigned to widely diverse classrooms. A year ago I read an article on SFGate about middle-class families who had, as a result of the economy, accepted their lottery-based placement into what were considered fairly poor public elementary schools, and were relatively happy with the result. But this is the result of some unusual economic times, plus a healthy dollop of gentrification, so it's hard to see it being a model for improving public schools in general.

We live in a country where you're allowed to opt out of public school, and people with options are going to choose what seems best to them. Either we can have schools segregated by proficiency and behavior, or we can have schools segregated by money and parental effort. There is some overlap, but I still prefer the former.
posted by alexei at 2:31 AM on December 6, 2011


We could begin by equalizing per-student funding in every school across the state

I agree that this would be great in many ways but part of the problem with this is fucking PTAs (please forgive my vitriol). I've had experience in some public elementary schools in a very different part of DC and each of them had some massive benefit conferred by the PTA. In one school the PTA was building them an entirely new playground, in another the PTA had purchased supplies and furniture to organize their rooms so they had these beautiful, inviting, well-stocked classrooms, and in one school the PTA actually pays to have an educational aide in EVERY classroom. I would love to have an aide in every classroom and frankly I think our school needs that pretty badly but our families don't have the resources to provide that extra benefit.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:39 AM on December 6, 2011


You mean to say that they're not being drained already? I think that the popularity of private schools (and the suburbs) suggests that we're way past that.

There are a lot of families who are involved and have really bright kids who lack the resources to attend private school or move.

Either we can have schools segregated by proficiency and behavior, or we can have schools segregated by money and parental effort.

There are also some families who are just always going to go with private schools. Part of Maryland and Northern Virginia have PHENOMENAL public schools, really amazing ones, and families still send their kids to private school.

I also think that a big, complicated issue here is inclusion and how to support kids with SpEd needs. I would really like to talk about it but unfortunately I have to head out soon.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:43 AM on December 6, 2011


MattD, bo you know even the first thing about the post-war history of British education? Or contemporary German education? With students being selected for state schools based on the 11+ examination - between grammar schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary modern schools. This is almost exactly the situation you want. Germany likewise has the Gymnasium - good for those who get in and bad for those who don't.

In fact it was better than the situation you want. At least the grammar schools provided a general rounded standard of education rather than a corporatist one. The corporatist schools you want are more akin to the Secondary Technical Schools (which were the big agreed failure of the 11+)

Alexi, supposition isn't evidence. From what I remember of educational research (I had an ex who was a professional educational researcher, and this is second hand so please don't treat me as authoritative), one of the best things you can do for the bright kids is get them to teach the less able actively within the lessons. (This of course needs some supervising). And this also helps the less able within the set.
posted by Francis at 3:22 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a question: How do we determine what "grade-level" skills are in any given subject?

We refer about four graders reading a first-grade level, but I honestly don't know exactly what that means. Do we determine it with standardized tests? (That would be my first guess, if only because that's how so much seems to be determined these days.) If so, are these school-wide, statewide, or nation-wide tests? Are the students compared with other students in their school or across the whole country?
posted by hypotheticole at 5:40 AM on December 6, 2011


DC has a ton of charter schools and one of the biggest differences between the charter schools and the school where I work is that they have the option of kicking kids out and we don't.

There's a lot of talk about bringing more discipline into the public schools. The biggest step they could take is simply being willing to expel the students who detract from the environment. Expelling second graders who fight is a little ridiculous, but a school that refuses to make time for the disruptive will have a huge advantage over one that does not. Charter school may or may not offer additional advantages over public school but I doubt that any can be bigger than the refusal to baby sit those who don't want to be there.
posted by BigSky at 6:01 AM on December 6, 2011


each of them had some massive benefit conferred by the PTA.

Yeah, up here too we have these community "education foundations" which supplement the school budget. In the town I last lived in they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and actually built the middle school a new science lab (not something I am convinced is so utterly necessary in middle school, but anyway). I agree that it adds to inequality but I'd still like to see us correct the basic funding inequality first, and then structure any donations to schools in such a way that you don't continue to create discrepancies like this. It's not hard to regulate donations if there's any political will to do so.
posted by Miko at 6:25 AM on December 6, 2011


I agree with BigSky that some kids are a disruptive presence. And maybe they don't want to be there, but I want them to be there. I really don't want to live in a nation that takes a handful of kids and throws them away without a basic education. What do you think the life trajectory of such kids will be once you remove the last protective factors in their lives? Those kids deserve the education standard of the country just as much as anyone else, and wanting to be in school should not be a necessary prerequisite for being in school (otherwise the schools would be pretty damn empty by 12th grade). I agree that the problem of disruption/distraction needs solutions and other students need to not be impacted, but it is rarely a situation without complicating factors, and I don't agree that not schooling them at all is the solution. Of all the reforms we need, reforms that creates human refuse are not among them.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on December 6, 2011


If a kid can do algebra, I think they'd benefit immensely from being taught algebra 2 instead of repeating arithmetic, and I don't know of any effective method to do that other than segregating the students by proficiency. Maybe you can deal with this by having separate classes within a school-- but sometimes that's not possible for practical reasons, and in any case you're right back to "teaching them that they can safely ignore all those dumb kids in the stupid class".

My school does this all the time. The problems that arise from grouping kids by ability within a school pale in comparison to creating new schools for them... and there are many advantages:

- It's much easier to change a child's group if they advance significantly.
- Great readers who are struggling in math can be in the high reading group and the remedial math group
- The high kids socialize with everyone, not just each other, and motivate the other students (this requires a good school culture, which is another problem altogether).
- It's much cheaper than busing people all over the place

I teach in a very high-performing school right now, and I think it's valuable for my high kids to learn to interact with everyone, including the boy with Down's Syndrome in our class. He'd be in the 'dumb' school, I guess, or maybe another third tier of school.

The biggest problem as I see it is that desperate people don't learn well or parent well, and people with money problems are desperate. As long as we allow children and parents (or anyone, really), to be extremely poor, they're not going to be focusing too much on algebra.

My school has a dedicated computer teacher, an art teacher, and an extra PE teacher, all because the PTA pays for it. We raise ~$200,000 per year just from parent donations, and there are other fundraisers. We have three computer labs (for a k-6 school). Again, income disparity is a huge problem. Giving money to poor schools probably isn't the best answer... making sure that every working person in this country makes enough money to participate in a meaningful way in their child's school and education seems more likely to help. I guess that's unlikely, though.
posted by Huck500 at 6:40 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The biggest step they could take is simply being willing to expel the students who detract from the environment.

Seriously, you're just going to throw away the disruptive kids? What happens to them after that? Look, I have one of those. In first and second grade, he was That Kid who "ruins it for everyone else", who is "out of control", who had been described by teachers as rude, mean, disobedient, violent. He is autistic. He had twelve days of suspensions there. I'm sure if the school had been able to throw him away, they would have. Instead, he's now a third grader in a self-contained class for kids with high-functioning autism, with eight kids and a teacher and a full-time assistant. And he is thriving. Straight A's, a fourth-place finish in the school-wide spelling bee, friends, adults who want to help him rather than just punish him. Guess what? There hasn't been a single incident of the kind that made his first and second grade years so difficult. But he only has this because we are in a well-funded school district that is commited to meeting the needs of children with disabilities, and because we are well-educated, well-off, and able to fiercely advocate for him.

The "problem" kids need MORE resources directed toward them, not less.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:57 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What do you think the life trajectory of such kids will be once you remove the last protective factors in their lives?

This goes both ways. To what degree is the education of the rest of the students compromised by the continued presence of the most disruptive? The compromised education isn't just comprised of less material being covered in class, but also in the erosion of standards for behavior and schoolwork, as well as a decrease in the teacher's attention and energy. Let's also recognize that these same kids are typically engaging in more hostile behavior towards other children than the average student. Sure, lot's of kids don't want to go to school. But the presence of these kids contributes to the schools being as unattractive to children as they are. Let's also look at the hidden costs of keeping the discipline problems enrolled. Is the continued presence of these children likely to make the more well behaved students more or less curious? Do they help make learning more fun, or do they make it more tedious? Is compulsory public school attendance, and more specifically a relative poorly funded public school in some economically disadvantaged area, likely to make enough of a difference in the lives of the biggest discipline problems to discount all of these costs? I doubt it. I'm sure you can find anecdotes of a few kids who were saved, but we rarely hear the anecdotes of the other sides: the burned out teachers and bored, resentful students who may have both thrived in a more purposeful environment.

Those kids deserve the education standard of the country just as much as anyone else, and wanting to be in school should not be a necessary prerequisite for being in school (otherwise the schools would be pretty damn empty by 12th grade).

They deserve it and they're going to get it whether they like it or not? That sounds curiously similar to punishment. Well I think their desire to participate does count for a lot. Some of them may go on to be successful and happy without having attended the public schools. Realistically, many will not and those can be passed on to other public institutions that emphasize coercion to an even greater degree, perhaps some to the military at the earliest opportunity, others the reformatory.
posted by BigSky at 7:15 AM on December 6, 2011


To what degree is the education of the rest of the students compromised by the continued presence of the most disruptive?

Due to the presence of other protective factors in the lives of kids who don't have as many challenges, not as much as eliminating formal education from these kids' lives.

Realistically, many will not and those can be passed on to other public institutions that emphasize coercion to an even greater degree, perhaps some to the military at the earliest opportunity, others the reformatory.


Mm. Your comparison of formal education to punishment is as apt for the best students as for the worst, because in this society we do coerce formal education. It's not negotiable. I don't agree that many people without an education will "go on to be successful and happy," because that's not what statistics show us for people without a high school diploma - not at all. And I certainly don't think using badly behaved kids as cannon fodder is a realistic, humane or likely solution.

I doubt many of the people in this thread tossing around their ideas about how schools should be run are actually involved , even at the volunteer level, in running any schools, so I'm not going to bother much with debating. I would recommend a good solid look into the history and criticism of public educational systems and would recommend a healthy dose of Jonathan Kozol in particular.

If you're truly concerned about kids dealing with environments that impede learning, there are most likely some tutoring or mentoring programs near you which would appreciate your help to ameliorate that impact.
posted by Miko at 7:32 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your comparison of formal education to punishment is as apt for the best students as for the worst, because in this society we do coerce formal education.

No, I did not compare formal education to punishment. I compared your emphatic address that these children belong in public school to the scolding of an authority figure.

I don't agree that many people without an education will "go on to be successful and happy," because that's not what statistics show us for people without a high school diploma - not at all.

I said precisely the opposite, "Realistically, many will not".

I'm not going to bother much with debating.

Sounds good.
posted by BigSky at 7:48 AM on December 6, 2011


They deserve it and they're going to get it whether they like it or not? That sounds curiously similar to punishment.

I did not compare formal education to punishment.

Yes you did; this is comparing to formal education to punishment, because all students are required to receive an education in this country, whether they like it or not. My exact point was that your statment was not a criticism of my personal view, but a criticism of the broad legal requirement to receive education.
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on December 6, 2011


We're talking about expelling disruptive students from school. I phrased my enthusiasm for it in terms of not baby sitting "those who don't want to be there." In other words, they're showing they don't want to be there by acting out.

You focused on their lack of desire to attend and said it was irrelevant. Fine, but remember I'm talking about expelling students because they're disrupting the class not just disinterested. When they're making it difficult for others to participate then perhaps it's time to give them what they supposedly want.

My exact point was that your statment was not a criticism of my personal view, but a criticism of the broad legal requirement to receive education.

But I never made this argument. The United States has compulsory schooling and public schools can still expel students. I just wish they would do more of it.
posted by BigSky at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2011


Isn't a truth-out.org FPP editorializing by definition?

lol.

Your comparison of formal education to punishment is as apt for the best students as for the worst, because in this society we do coerce formal education.

"... public schools and compulsory attendance laws benefit educators, administrators, and politicians more than citizens or their children ... one might argue that public education is the greatest evil of all, and that it must be struck down in one mighty blow before we begin to find ourselves as persons, families, and a people again."
posted by mrgrimm at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2011


"Either we can have schools segregated by proficiency and behavior, or we can have schools segregated by money and parental effort. There is some overlap, but I still prefer the former."

Some overlap? The largest single predictor of student achievement, with all other factors equalized, is parental socioeconomic status.

"There's a lot of talk about bringing more discipline into the public schools. The biggest step they could take is simply being willing to expel the students who detract from the environment. Expelling second graders who fight is a little ridiculous, but a school that refuses to make time for the disruptive will have a huge advantage over one that does not."

Hi, I've expelled two second graders in the last three months! Students in the United States have a legal right to a free, appropriate public education. Even if they are expelled they must be placed in an appropriate educational program. Funding for such programs is not adequate to our need for such programs. Twenty-four percent of our students (in my impoverished urban district) are special ed. A lot of those students have serious behavioral issues. Special ed expulsions laws are different than regular division expulsion laws, and those students are similarly protected by various federal and state laws.

We actually expel considerably more often than the nearby wealthy suburban districts. They have considerably lower special ed rates, and the parents in those districts can afford outside services. They rarely expel. We expel often. It doesn't give us an advantage; it reflects that our students have few options for social, medical, emotional, and educational support when they are struggling.

Also you may not have thought through the part that expelled students who aren't placed are wandering the streets being hooligans. Generally that's considered a suboptimal outcome. (Not suboptimal enough to get adequate funding for expulsion placements, though.)

"Is compulsory public school attendance, and more specifically a relative poorly funded public school in some economically disadvantaged area, likely to make enough of a difference in the lives of the biggest discipline problems to discount all of these costs? I doubt it."

I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but: In my district we have a number of students who eat ten meals a week: Five federal free breakfasts, five federal free lunches. Nobody feeds them on weekends. If we close school for a snow day, those children do not eat. They are, unsurprisingly, often among our biggest discipline problem students.

Does it make enough of a difference in their lives to force them to come to school? Given that the alternative is that they starve, even if they don't learn a thing, I'm going to go with yes.

I'm not sure you have a real conception of the sort of grinding poverty that afflicts these districts with very low achievement and very high discipline problems. The thing that would go farthest towards improving MY district would be adequate food in students' homes. Remediating lead paint might be second, as it leads to both educational problems and behavioral problems, and our lead paint rate is the highest in the state and public health has calculated the difference it makes in our special ed rates.

Expelling these students is a failure of all the other interventions that ought to have come before, and expulsion INCREASES these problems in the future. It doesn't fix a damn thing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hi, I've expelled two second graders in the last three months!

You know, I don't read this and cackle while alternately rubbing my hands with glee and polishing my monocle. Some kids do and will get left behind. I acknowledge that's tragic. My thoughts on expelling students have to do with making sure that there is something offered to those who attend.

We expel often. It doesn't give us an advantage; it reflects that our students have few options for social, medical, emotional, and educational support when they are struggling.

OK. You're directly contradicting my reasoning here. Perhaps you're right. Apparently you have direct experience and I don't. But in this thread we also have a comment by a teacher stating that "one of the biggest differences between the charter schools and the school where I work is that they have the option of kicking kids out and we don't." I've also read a number of account by teachers talking about the huge toll that disruptive students take on the class's time and the teacher's energy and how they long to get rid of the worst discipline problems.

Why are the kids who aren't fed at home remaining with their parents or current guardians? This should be the concern of CPS not the school system. The school is trying to be more than just a school. The Special Ed students evoke the same reaction from me. This is outside the scope of a school and moving towards daycare / warehousing. It's difficult for me to see the merit in the money spent on Special Ed.

That said, I appreciate your thoughtful response.
posted by BigSky at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2011


It's difficult for me to see the merit in the money spent on Special Ed.

What would you suggest be done for my autistic child? He's nine years old. It'll be a few years before he's allowed to be a greeter at Wal-Mart. fwiw, he is twice exceptional - disabled and with a gifted IQ - his current ambition is to be an astrophysicist. But since he has challenging behaviors and needs to be in a special class, I guess we should just throw him away, right? Wouldn't want to spend any money helping him become a productive citizen.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:35 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


""one of the biggest differences between the charter schools and the school where I work is that they have the option of kicking kids out and we don't." I've also read a number of account by teachers talking about the huge toll that disruptive students take on the class's time and the teacher's energy and how they long to get rid of the worst discipline problems."

Those are both absolutely true statements. Those expelled charter school kids generally get kicked back to the public district; there are accusations in many cases of massaging their discipline numbers or even their test scores through strategic expulsions. And one of our main goals as a district right now is to remove disruptive students and place them in more appropriate placements, both for the sake of the non-disruptive students and for their own sakes.

Perhaps the difference is, you're thinking about a class of 30 students or a school of 500 students, and I'm thinking about a district and a city of 14,000 students. Yes, if you're a principal, you can aggressively discipline students until you have a school of 500 students with no behavior problems, but you have merely pushed out those "problem" students to other parts of the district. They don't disappear, and a lot of solutions for failing schools assumes those student can be made to disappear. One option is to shuffle them around and around the district. A second option is to collect and warehouse them in failed, underfunded schools that get ignored. The right thing to do is to provide supportive interventions for those specific students, before the problems escalate to expulsion, and have a toolbox of different strategies for coping with the many, many different problems students bring to the classroom. Some of them will require alternative placements. Some of them will require expulsion (and placement in an expulsion program or safe school). Some of them require DCFS.

"Why are the kids who aren't fed at home remaining with their parents or current guardians? This should be the concern of CPS not the school system. The school is trying to be more than just a school."

This does highlight that you're unaware of bad the problems of poverty are in a lot of these districts -- we have an elementary school (enrollment about 400) where NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT of students receive federal free meals. A high school of 1,100 students -- 90% low income. DCFS (CPS) can't keep up with the actual abuse complaints they receive. It's honestly laughable to imagine DCFS intervening in the 75% of households in the district where students qualify for free lunch. Where would the resources come from? Where would these children be placed, if not with their families? (Not all students who qualify for free lunch aren't eating at home, obviously, but families that qualify are often "food insecure.")

Also, that's federal law. It doesn't matter what the school is "trying" to do -- students below a certain poverty level are entitled to a federal free lunch.

"The Special Ed students evoke the same reaction from me. This is outside the scope of a school and moving towards daycare / warehousing. It's difficult for me to see the merit in the money spent on Special Ed."

Again, it's federal law. And the reason, I think, is that the only place children can receive services -- supportive services for mental and physical disability issues, food, even medical care -- is in the schools. There really isn't much of a safety net outside the schools, and voters are often willing to fund things "for the children" that they won't fund "for the poor people." Politicians can be bullied into voting for things "for education" that they won't vote for "for the poor." So poverty services are increasingly provided through the schools. We have a four-person department that does nothing but Medicaid reimbursements because we provide so much medical care. We run the severe-and-profound unit for the region (which is students who are so severely disabled, both mentally and physically, that they are generally wheelchair or bed-bound, and will not develop beyond a mental age of two or so), and for those students, we pay $28,000/year for a "one-on-one" aide for each child (as required) as well as for certified teachers, so they can be "educated" to their fullest potential -- AND these students are tested on NCLB tests.

Which isn't exactly a bad thing -- every student DOES deserve the right to be educated to their fullest potential, and it's not that long ago that districts didn't have to admit deaf, blind, autistic, down's, etc., children. But the truth is that with some of these students we are simply providing medical care because we've decided, as a society, only to provide medical care to severely disabled children through schools.

Anyway, the point is, when you are dealing with a level of poverty where NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT of students are judged not to have adequate food at home, where are you even going to begin to attack that? (Malnutrition in early childhood, incidentally, can lead to behavioral problems later in life.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:16 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This does highlight that you're unaware of bad the problems of poverty are in a lot of these districts -- we have an elementary school (enrollment about 400) where NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT of students receive federal free meals. A high school of 1,100 students -- 90% low income. DCFS (CPS) can't keep up with the actual abuse complaints they receive. It's honestly laughable to imagine DCFS intervening in the 75% of households in the district where students qualify for free lunch. Where would the resources come from? Where would these children be placed, if not with their families? (Not all students who qualify for free lunch aren't eating at home, obviously, but families that qualify are often "food insecure.")

Also, that's federal law. It doesn't matter what the school is "trying" to do -- students below a certain poverty level are entitled to a federal free lunch.


There's a pretty big difference between qualifying for free lunch and only eating the ten free meals a week that the public school provides. Some child protective services websites list conditions for intervention. As one would expect, failure to provide food or clothing makes the list. Furthermore, unless the guardian of the child is severely disabled, they should be able to secure food for the child through an assistance program, or a food bank, or a church. This is serious neglect.

Again, it's federal law. And the reason, I think, is that the only place children can receive services -- supportive services for mental and physical disability issues, food, even medical care -- is in the schools. There really isn't much of a safety net outside the schools, and voters are often willing to fund things "for the children" that they won't fund "for the poor people." Politicians can be bullied into voting for things "for education" that they won't vote for "for the poor." So poverty services are increasingly provided through the schools. We have a four-person department that does nothing but Medicaid reimbursements because we provide so much medical care. We run the severe-and-profound unit for the region (which is students who are so severely disabled, both mentally and physically, that they are generally wheelchair or bed-bound, and will not develop beyond a mental age of two or so), and for those students, we pay $28,000/year for a "one-on-one" aide for each child (as required) as well as for certified teachers, so they can be "educated" to their fullest potential -- AND these students are tested on NCLB tests.

Which isn't exactly a bad thing -- every student DOES deserve the right to be educated to their fullest potential, and it's not that long ago that districts didn't have to admit deaf, blind, autistic, down's, etc., children. But the truth is that with some of these students we are simply providing medical care because we've decided, as a society, only to provide medical care to severely disabled children through schools.


I shouldn't have implied that the school has some sort of agency in this mission creep. Of course this is a matter of federal law and not a particular school "trying" to do this or that. My opinion though is that the schools should have a narrower focus. And turning schools into poverty services can't help but detract from that. Malnutrition may play a role in the child's development, but this shouldn't be something for the school to take on. Your goals have shifted from teaching the three R's to concerning yourself with the total welfare of the child through graduation.

These attempts at educating the profoundly retarded just seem like a farce. That they're being given the NCLB tests doesn't require comment. There's nothing wrong with recognizing the limits of a child's capabilities and when they're reached stopping and it's strange that as a nation we fail to recognize it.

But of course, my own views on what schools should and shouldn't concern themselves have nothing to do with what you're faced with. Despite the tragic circumstances you're describing I can't say that I want to see public schools expanding in this way, with the state making more and more interventions in raising the children of the poor. It's not that I want it all cut to the bone, but if we want to provide medical care to the severely disabled then we can call it what it is. I also find myself in some sympathy with the earlier policy of segregating more moderately disabled children. However I think this is all small potatoes, the major issue is the deterioration of minority schools in low income areas. Thomas Sowell has written quite a bit about the quality of black schools before civil rights and their rapid destruction after integration. A lot of the responsibility is put on welfare for destroying the incentives for the parents to stay married. You've convinced me that as things stand expulsion does little for the district. I've never been much of a social conservative but reading about inner city schools pushes me in that direction, that and wanting to see an end to the federal government's involvement in education.

Anyway, the point is, when you are dealing with a level of poverty where NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT of students are judged not to have adequate food at home, where are you even going to begin to attack that? (Malnutrition in early childhood, incidentally, can lead to behavioral problems later in life.)

Perhaps it shouldn't be on a third party, any third party, to make that attack.
posted by BigSky at 3:17 PM on December 6, 2011


A government's role is to wait until deliquents and retards are old enough for prison
posted by moorooka at 5:14 PM on December 6, 2011


"There's a pretty big difference between qualifying for free lunch and only eating the ten free meals a week that the public school provides. ... This is serious neglect."

Yes, and some of our teachers call DCFS weekly about these students, but DCFS is overworked and underfunded. I've had some teachers tell that in their 2nd-grade classroom, they've called on 15 of the 30 students in the room for serious abuse or neglect, and only one or two students have had follow-up from DCFS. We're talking physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition, unsafe homes, chronic truancy, parents on drugs, all kinds of awful things. DCFS does good work but they don't have the resources to do the amount of work necessary. Even if they did, there are not placements for all of these children, and I truly think that a lot of these problems could be ameliorated by improved poverty services and a better safety net -- removing a child from his or her parents, even when those parents are not great parents, is traumatic. (Also, and I guess this isn't a secret, sometimes the kids being neglected and abused are in their foster placements and are being neglected or abused in their placement.)

(There's also situations where there's no precipitating event of abuse or clear evidence of neglect, but over the course of knowing a child for a year it becomes obvious to a teacher that there IS abuse or neglect in that child's home. Or a child comes through the disciplinary process so many times that the district's discipline officer begins to build a suspicious picture. But in neither case does the information fit the statutory definitions. We're actually working with the state on creating guidelines for reporting and getting DCFS involvement in those sorts of cases; suspending and expelling a student repeatedly is not a substitute for DCFS services, although, again, we sometimes act like it is.)

"However I think this is all small potatoes, the major issue is the deterioration of minority schools in low income areas."

Yes, and I truly feel, having worked closely with it for three years now, that the most necessary reforms are not within schools, but to anti-poverty programs, which would have to drastically expand. (Also lead abatement -- My favorite drum to beat, for my town, anyway.) It's not going to happen by bootstrapping, and schools are doing everything they can do -- including providing a lot of services, that, as you note, probably really don't belong in schools. We either need a vast expansion of low-skilled jobs that pay middle-class wages, which I don't think is going to happen, or we need a broad safety net that provides better anti-poverty programs. (We also need some sanity in the "war on drugs.") Individual students and individual families will always find ways to succeed, but sadly the vast majority of students coming from this kind of poverty do not.

"You've convinced me that as things stand expulsion does little for the district."

If you were near me, I'd invite you to come tour our schools with me, including our expulsion placement program. (In fact, if you call a local urban district and tell them you're interested in schools in poverty and student discipline and so on, they'd probably give you a tour of what you wanted to see.) We have some fantastic programs, but funding is such a difficult issue. One "non-traditional" solution we have in place now is a re-vitalized voc-tech program, where students who aren't succeeding in a traditional classroom/college prep environment can do voc-tech -- if they keep their grades up. They have to meet all the same graduation requirements, but they also do voc-tech. Like a cosmetology program where students graduate with a diploma AND a cosmetology license. A skilled trades program that leads to direct entry to their apprenticeship programs. For a lot of students, working with their hands and doing "real" work is motivating and exciting, and they can start to see how reading and math and so on are important to the work they want to do, so they work harder at those classes ... we have a group of students for whom suspension rates have gone down and achievement rates have gone up, because they're not *just* sitting in a classroom. We have mentorship programs, work-study programs, drug and alcohol abuse programs, lots of things like this that cut down behavioral problems before they get out of hand, and then we've expanded our programs for suspended and expelled students to increase available interventions and get more of them either successfully back into the classroom, or successfully placed in an alternative placement. But all of this costs money and requires community support.

But yeah. Expulsion, almost every time, and I probably do 10-15 every two weeks, just feels like a failure by us. Some of them are stupid ("what the hell was this kid even THINKING? Sex in the janitor's closet???"), a lot of them are sad, a handful of them you just know "this kid is going to end up in jail within the year."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, and I truly feel, having worked closely with it for three years now, that the most necessary reforms are not within schools, but to anti-poverty programs, which would have to drastically expand.

While this is something of a different subject, I'll make a brief response as it helps clarify why we're unlikely to reach agreement. Support for anti-poverty programs will not increase until their advocates can make a strong case that this is the most efficient use of the resources they will demand. Since Walter Williams showed several years ago that the cost of giving each poor person enough money to be above the poverty level would be less than the money already spent on various anti-poverty programs, that will be tough to do.

Thomas Sowell has an interesting essay, "The Education of Minority Children", describing some successful predominantly minority attended schools. Poverty doesn't seem to have been a key variable. A number of predominantly minority schools were successful prior to the 1950s and 1960s, and then declined after integration. Their poor performance today can't be attributed to poverty. There was plenty of poverty then as well. In absolute terms, poverty was much worse.

Is there data showing that an increase in spending on anti-poverty programs correlates with an increase in academic performance in those districts receiving money? Perhaps there is, but I haven't seen any. I have however, read a number of arguments claiming the data shows the opposite.
posted by BigSky at 5:39 AM on December 8, 2011


Since Walter Williams showed several years ago that the cost of giving each poor person enough money to be above the poverty level would be less than the money already spent on various anti-poverty programs, that will be tough to do.

Just spend the same on public education for poor people and rich people. Take property taxes out of the equation and spread the education money equally across a state. What is the argument against that, other than "I'm rich (and most likely white) and my kids deserve my education money but poor people don't"? I find that severely fucked up and just can't understand how anyone can rationalize tying local property taxes to school funding. It's fucking feudal.

Without that equality, there's no moral ground for the system to stand on and it is ultimately doomed to fail no matter how many standardized tests its kids can pass.

A number of predominantly minority schools were successful prior to the 1950s and 1960s, and then declined after integration.

After integration?! When did that happen? There are plenty of schools in NYC that are 98%+ black/hispanic.

Apartheid America is a review of Shame of the Nation.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2011


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