The Texas Miracle
January 9, 2004 12:44 PM   Subscribe

More on the Texas Miracle
It was called the “Texas Miracle,” and you may remember it because President Bush wanted everyone to know about it during his presidential campaign. It was about an approach to education that was showing amazing results, particularly in Houston, where dropout rates plunged and test scores soared. Houston School Superintendent Rod Paige was given credit for the school success, by making principals and administrators accountable for how well their students did. Once he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Paige as secretary of education. And Houston became the model for the president’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform act.
After yesterday's fund raising and self congratulatory orgy in Knoxville TN it seems appropriate that the record be examined more closely. No child left behind indeed.
posted by nofundy (28 comments total)
mmm, NewsFilter.
posted by keswick at 12:55 PM on January 9, 2004

Prior discussion of the "Texas Miracle" on Metafilter also posted by nofundy (so just informational, not a dp callout!).
posted by anastasiav at 12:55 PM on January 9, 2004

Well, it should be a double post callout. Different link + same content still = bad FPP. I respect and agree with nofundy's outrage, but this place isn't a soapbox for his pet issues.
posted by Cyrano at 1:00 PM on January 9, 2004

As my title implies, this is "more" on the same subject. This article contains significantly more information than was available previously. Call it what you like though.
posted by nofundy at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2004

I simply cannot believe that Bush lied again. Ok, he only has 4,683 chances left before I am forced to stop believing every word the President says. On second thought, I should just stop counting (too scientific) and just have faith that the next thing he says won't be a lie.

/retarded Bush fanatic comment
posted by sic at 1:05 PM on January 9, 2004

Thanks for posting this, nofundy. I had missed the previous post and this is an important subject.
posted by bas67 at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2004


it's not really a lie (like you know, 'systematically misrepresenting' the alleged Iraqi WMD threat). it's more like politically cooking the books, so to speak -- more like Enron, or Parmalat
posted by matteo at 1:13 PM on January 9, 2004

(it's been a while since it's been said)
Wait a minute... Bush lied to us? Now I'm pissed!
posted by keswick at 1:17 PM on January 9, 2004

Ironic, isn't it, that no matter what anyone does with education, students rigidly fit in the Standard Deviation Curve.

I knew a man who had been a school principal back in the 1940s. As the new guy, every PTA in the state wanted him to give a speech, even insisted on it. So he began to start speeches by saying, "No matter what I or you do, 17 and a half percent of your children will fail."

They stopped inviting him all of a sudden. They didn't want to hear that. It couldn't be true. It mustn't.

Experiment after experiment has failed, following the same pattern. Great promises of radical improvement, "shown to work" in ideal situations: with big budgets, good facilities, motivated children and parents, top-notch teachers. *Obviously* it can extrapolated to education at large!

And yet, when applied in ordinary situations, 17 and one half percent of the students fail. It's even obvious in experiments that refuse to fail, like in the Special Olympics. Because failure isn't just a grade.
posted by kablam at 1:46 PM on January 9, 2004

Because failure isn't just a grade.

Here's the problem with your principal: suggesting to a large group of people that there is nothing you or I can do to change the 17 and one half percent is admitting defeat, immediately. Fact is, many people understand the terrible reality. But they also want a leader who can honestly work their ass off to get results, and ignoring reality to achieve the impossible.

Principals, like teachers, are leaders. They exist to inspire students and help them accomplish their goals for knowledge. If you concede to statistics, imagination is dead.
posted by BlueTrain at 1:57 PM on January 9, 2004

the deeper you scrape the surface of the shrub, the closer you get to the core of shit it encloses.
posted by quonsar at 2:39 PM on January 9, 2004

Ahh, but quonsar, Shrubs grow WELL in bovine excrement.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2004

If you concede to statistics, imagination is dead.

My wise uncle once said, "never let truth get in the way of a good story." I didn't know there are people who take it so literally, though.
posted by VeGiTo at 4:10 PM on January 9, 2004

Adding to the wise quotation (disclaimer, not taken from a terrorist almanac ! ) my grandpa says "truth is like turds, it smells and nobody want to be near it, but eventually you'll step on it someday and you'll notice"
posted by elpapacito at 5:11 PM on January 9, 2004

BlueTrain: Good intentions aren't enough. Let me explain.

First of all, the curve isn't static, it's dynamic. A student isn't blessed or cursed from the beginning with success or failure. They usually alternate between above average and below average (statistically). A great school and a great teacher can't help a student brought low with mono that semester.

Second, how many teachers did you have K-high school? How many of them were "great"? Maybe "great" for you, but not for others, or maybe "great" on one subject, not others. How often did you even *see* the principal, much less get inspired by him?

Third, students do not progress at the same rate, and vary a lot over different subjects. An ESL student has to do double duty to catch up with his peers (English and whatever catch-up work).

The bottom line is that motivation and enthusiasm really don't tweak the SDC, or at least for very long. This is not to say that teachers and administrators don't try, but like doctors, they just know that they will lose some anyway.

So now, take it to the realm of politics. Politicians and parents *always* assume that the curve is high (that is, more students are failing then normally should (bulge on the left side)). So the first thing they try to do is find out how bad things are with testing.

Testing fails because either students who shouldn't be in school, because they have failed, bias the test; students who *could* do better, don't (ESL and migratory families), which also deceives the results; and lastly because the test is not appropriate for what the students have been learning. So they prove to themselves they are right.

Then comes the issue of how to "fix the schools". The fastest way is to train the succeeding students how to score high on the test. In the case above, schools then fudged what happened to students that dropped out.

In other words: imaginary solutions to imaginary problems.

Ironically, one thing that *could* lower the seventeen and a half percent failure rate is a "second" educational system concurrent with the first. Impractical as a physical thing, it would take a student, as soon as they are falling behind, and give them extra attention on that subject.

That would almost require that every students learning be monitored by computer. Not impossible, and maybe the course of the future.
posted by kablam at 5:24 PM on January 9, 2004

How do you know a Bush is lying to you?

Just read his lips!
posted by Bag Man at 5:56 PM on January 9, 2004

The education thing should be the 6th question (or 7th, after jobs) on this great list.
posted by amberglow at 6:59 PM on January 9, 2004

So, fixing or not fixing the problem is not the question.

It's "How dare Bush not fix a problem that can't be fixed, but people want to be fixed, with a solution that solves nothing but makes them think some solution has happened to their unsolveable problem."

Next thing, criticize him for that persistent problem of darkness at night and the total lack of any government program to do something about it. And the excessive wetness of water problem.
posted by kablam at 7:26 PM on January 9, 2004

kablam, other countries in the world fund their schools adequately, and professionally train their teachers and value them--surely we could do that little?
posted by amberglow at 7:46 PM on January 9, 2004

kablam: perhaps he shouldn't have labeled himself the Education President, then. And maybe he shouldn't have promised to fix an unfixable problem. But since he did, and he did, how is it our fault for calling him on it?
posted by Ptrin at 7:52 PM on January 9, 2004

the normal curve argument is flawed, sure people's relative grades will adhere to a normal curve, but what is the mean education level? is the mean sitting at barely literate, or fully proficient in 5 languages. either way, it will be a normal curve and people will fail, but the mean certainly isn't the same.
posted by rhyax at 10:11 PM on January 9, 2004

The "17% (or whatever) percent of students will fail" is a rather artificial construction.

Assuming that there is some general human intelligence factor, then that intelligence will fall along the Bell Curve - fine.

But it is much more likely that human intelligence is composite. I have seen it with my own eyes.

And - even if the "X" factor of human intelligence were found to be true, what would that imply? What would society be saying to that 17% - "You can't make the grade, you are defective!" - ? Apply that sort of statement to a subgroup of any other species and it would seem quite absurd.

"Yes - you are a dog. However, you are not qualified to do what the other dogs do."

That would be absurd. I have worked with retarded adults and while - at the upper boundaries of human intelligence - the human capacity for the formation of abstract concepts is considerable, at the lower boundaries "retarded" adults can be capable of rather subtle and complex manipulative strategies : far from dumb. Subtle even.

The tyranny of words weighs heavily on this debate.

The spread between the most and the least intelligent humans is less than some would make out and - surely - the pedagogically gifted among us are brilliant enough to teach them all. There are distinctions surely. But they are not as marked as is commonly made out. This, I believe.
posted by troutfishing at 10:40 PM on January 9, 2004

how many teachers did you have K-high school? How many of them were "great"?

About 17.5% No matter what I did.

posted by namespan at 11:59 PM on January 9, 2004

17.5% of politicians are defective.
posted by troutfishing at 6:52 AM on January 10, 2004

troutfishing: you just made the "Paper Chase" argument, which is quite valid. Success and failure *are* relative. Intelligence, motivation, and creativity are not associated with a letter grade.
But, in the system in which we operate, employers have little enough to evaluate potential hires other than with their paper. So, you *will* be discriminated against if your paper grades are not good. (You will be discriminated against if you are ugly, too.)

You also end up with is an oddity: the 17.5% who *might* have profited from alternative education (at some point, again, dynamically throughout their education), are *not necessarily* the same 17.5% who are discriminated against when "The Final Transcript Grades" are given.
(That is, if you screw up as a senior, you are in a much worse way then if you were a terrible student in K-10, and then excelled for a couple of years, let us say.)

The bunch everyone is concerned about are the "hopeless" cases, the 5% on the high end that nothing will help, be they terribly physically, mentally or emotionally incapacitated; incarcerated in such a way that education is denied them; or so intellectually abandoned at an early age that catch-up is impossible *within the system*.

They are not dynamic as a group, save for accident or disease victims, and the "unlucky" that join them later. They started out with almost no chance *in the system*, and there they remain. Most drop out.

And the argument about special education or "mainstreaming" continues with these 5% students. Extra effort can help a few, as it can with the other 12.5% in the 17.5%, but its costs can be sky-high. When education dollars are tight, and the choice is between average education of most children, or extra education of a few children, the few children usually lose. Federal law even requires extra assistance; so either other students or teachers are shortchanged, resentfully.

So in many ways, education is for those people who value it most for their children, and will lobby and pressure for the best results. This is the great discriminator, the difference between all the niggling at budget time for short sighted gains and long term results. Students are most shortchanged when their parents don't or can't squeeze the heck out of every level of government involved in the process.

The SDC can tell you many things, but only if interpreted correctly. It is way too easy to interpolate or extrapolate nonsense from it. (And the same applies to the "mean".)
posted by kablam at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2004

Thanks for the FPP - it illustrates the terrible epidemic of mendacity that is crippling a once mighty nation - self-delusion as a way of life.

It also shows how arbitrary and bureaucratic the whole idea of standardized testing is - the education system is founded on false principles, or rather principles quite different from what they are assumed to be. The origins of compulsory education began in Prussia - which, after getting their butts kicked by the French decided they needed a more obedient and regimented populace - "soldiers for the armies, workers for the factories". These ideas were imported into America for similar purposes - read John Taylor Gatto for complete details... "Abundant data exist to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent, wherever such a thing mattered. Yet compulsory schooling existed nowhere."

How do we *know* that a group of children with nothing in common but a birth year must necessarily all learn the same thing at the same time - and that a top-heavy and inertia-bound bureaucracy is competent to decide what that might be. And that somehow grilling kids to regurgitate a bunch of "facts" is going to help them to become happy and productive members of society.

Compulsory state-run education is a monumental failure because its supposed goals - giving kids the tools to think and act as citizens of a democratic society - is completely contradicted by its actual methods. which are essentially top-down and totalitarian in nature - "sit down, shut up and do what you're told."

A lot of folks are starting to become aware of the various flavors of unschooling, deschooling and democratic schooling, all of which are based on the principle that children learn best what they are actively interested in, that this will differ from child to child, and that education should therefore be flexible, self-motivated, and where possible, self-directed.
posted by dinsdale at 11:18 AM on January 10, 2004

Your suggestion has been tried multiple times, from Lenin through the Summerhill experiment and beyond. It works in an ideal situation, but fails at the real world level.

I've actually spent years on ideas to radically improve education, and think that technology might finally give us a way. Not perfect, but far better then what we have now.

When a child starts out in school, their first teachers are much like teachers are today. It is the curriculum that is different. Early teachers convey the discipline students need to concentrate and focus--not an easy task--and get them started concurrently spelling and typing. Teacher lecture beyond this point is not the norm, it is only for special reasons. The basic idea is to get the children behind an individual multimedia computer and fixated on their interactive lessons with that computer. The teacher then uses lots of diagnostic evaluation to find out if a child has any impairment, such as dyslexia.

Here's an important point: the children's entire education is available on disk before they begin. Multimedia presentations of the BEST teachers, with the BEST training aids and graphics and video, etc. (Even with multiple versions based on parental choice.)

Then each and every child interacts continually with their computer, with motivation and teaching and evaluation and review and diagnosis of progress all happening at the same time.

Each student goes at their own pace, with the computer "remembering" how they have done before and how fast they can learn, and *immediately* correcting mistakes and catch-ups. And giving them stimulus to push themselves a bit, not too much, into a "good" stress level.

If the student really gets going, they may proceed *on a given subject* far beyond their grade level, within the total learning constraints. The information is there if they want it.

"To waste a student's time is the worst crime."

The best part of this idea is the enormous time savings, which allow for a much broader curriculum, everything from advanced memorization techniques and foreign languages taught simultaneously with their native language, to music, geography, first aid and penmanship.
It is also transporatable. A student leaves one school and arrives at another without missing any studies. They can even learn at home with the same effectiveness as they can at school.

The computer can judge when a student is getting fatigued on a subject, so can switch to something different. It can go into great depth in subjects the student just doesn't grasp, until they get that critical step. It can also tell quickly what review a student needs and what they don't.

And teachers will be just as busy with this system, but dealing with students at a higher level, not just rehashing old material endlessly.

Right now, 9/10ths of school is waste time. If that was reduced to even 1/2, students would graduate high school with the equivalent of a Master's degree. They would know beyond doubt what they wanted to do with their lives, where their talents and interests lay, and what their real potential was. Multilingualism would be the norm, along with an appreciation of liberal arts.
posted by kablam at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2004

Right now, 9/10ths of school is waste time.
Now this is the truth. Even though I took the hardest curriculum my school offered including 3 AP classes my senior year I found myself bored silly during the never ending review sessions. I could have easily graduated a year earlier if the course work had been accelerated.
posted by Mitheral at 10:21 AM on January 11, 2004

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