Back to the basics
May 30, 2009 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Breaking from established educational models, the American Indian Public Charter school has created a back-to-the-books, minority-focused, and no-excuses academic system-- and has been wildly successful.

The American Indian Public Charter school has created a successful school system in which discipline is highly regarded, teachers are hired and fired solely for performance, and advancement to college for students is not an option but an assumption. Conservatives are happy. Despite its no-frills system, students score extremely well-- and not just any students, but frequently children from low-income minority households. Chavis, its founder, is a harsh disciplinarian and uses racial stereotypes to motivate his students, but has nevertheless transformed the school from one of Oakland's worst to its best.
posted by gushn (43 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmmmm... highly dedicated staff and very small classes, so that said staff can give every student a lot of individual attention and instruction.

Yet, that's not the reason that the school does well. No, it's the Conservative Work Ethic (tm).
posted by oddman at 9:37 PM on May 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


We keep doing this debate, but fine. I love charter schools. Poor moms in bad neighborhoods with smart kids, they love charter schools. Shitty teachers in public schools, they hate charter schools. But then (how did I start that sentence) I hate the NEA, I think they are out to pad their wallet at the expense of my child. Teachers are there for our kids, almost all of them, their union on the other hand are against kids. Rich kids in suburbs with good school funding do great under the union plan. Poor kids in inner city neighborhoods, not so much, and a lot of that comes down to waste and graft. Charter schools fight waste and graft better than public schools. That is why so many poor mothers want their kids to go to charter schools. They know that the emphasis on quality of education trumps their local public school, and usually by quite a wide margin. Further, I think the competition will make the public schools better. I am such a Republican pragmatist at times. Sorry.
posted by caddis at 9:39 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


That makes American Indian a rarity in American education, defying the axiom that poor black and Latino children will lag behind others in school.

I guess the author of this piece wasn't given enough detention in statistics class.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:44 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reporting from Oakland -- Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multi-cultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots, and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."

That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hard-scrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.
Sounds wonderful. Of course, if they actually followed their own ideology, they wouldn't be running this school at all.

One of the key elements:
The short answer is that American Indian ... relentlessly (and unapologetically) teaches to the test ... There is no basket weaving at American Indian now -- and little else that won't directly affect standardized test scores.
I think if you demand perfection, you'll get a lot closer. It's interesting that kids actually get punished for their academic performance. That's a a somewhat innovative idea, but it would be nice if there were some "carrots" as well. But the fact that they're 'teaching to the test' means the kids could be missing out on a lot of useful information.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 PM on May 30, 2009


Teachers are there for our kids, almost all of them, their union on the other hand are against kids.

Wow, it's strange how teachers would keep voting for union representation that completely disagrees with them on this key issue! If only someone would take the time to explain to teachers that they should stop voting for union leadership that's "anti-child" I'm sure they would vote for union leadership who would be willing to have their pay cut, their jobs more unpredictable, etc.

These teachers must just be confused.
posted by delmoi at 9:48 PM on May 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


In passing, I might note that neither the teacher nor the Times seemed to care that, in a grammar lesson, it was not mentioned that the student erred in writing that Smith (or Brown) was hung. He was hanged. I think most English teachers are aware of this irregularity in the English language, at least in the public schools in which I have worked.

And hasn't this teaching-to-the-test pedagogical mode been pretty much played out? (I know the answer is, in practical effect: No.) But parents who keep an eye on these trends are most definitely sad about the dearth of great science and social studies learning at the elementary school level, a time in a child's growth when interest about his/her environment is very high, but is not part of the literacy and math high-stakes testing.

The evisceration of the arts on a K-12 level is criminal and has been decried for what has become decades now. Bureaucracies are slow to change, but with many schools having more autonomy now, there are fewer excuses for this gaping hole in the education of an American child.

This school and their high test scores...well, I know it is better for many families than the usual Oakland public school, but there is a price to pay. American culture is very rich. Its greatness should be reflected in every school's curriculum. Test scores have become a sadly ubiquitous and an inarguably one-dimensional measure of student success.
posted by kozad at 9:57 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "These teachers must just be confused."

Well they are the product of the Great Liberal Orthodoxy Mindless Inculcation Camps. Not like the heterodoxical plurality mindset that conservative schools are known for.
posted by boo_radley at 9:58 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


it was not mentioned that the student erred in writing that Smith (or Brown) was hung. He was hanged.

Ruh, roh, better hope languagehat doesn't read this.
posted by signal at 10:19 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Test scores have become a sadly ubiquitous and an inarguably one-dimensional measure of student success.

The problem I think is that it is hard to judge success in arts & music objectively.

Also, I would argue, in terms of priorities, it's better to have foundations in math, verbal, science, history before branching out to more liberal arts disciplines.

I would actually prefer to have middle school students educated in many, many other subjects-- say, health issues, basic financial management, language/communication, technology, even cooking or carpentry-- before we even get to more subjective schooling in art and music. Kids don't need to learn how to play violin or draw a picture to be successful in our society, but they do need to understand how diseases are spread or how to handle their money, especially if they live in an inner city.
posted by gushn at 10:20 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any teacher worth her salt knows that students learn in different ways, and it's best to vary your approaches to presenting subjects. Change things up, so to speak.

What amazes me is that many teachers and the pedagogy industry generally (i.e., Ed Schools) keep falling over themselves to find "The One True Method." I have an obnoxious co-teacher who took a few years of Ed School (but never managed to get his actual certification, hmm). Just enough knowledge to be dangerous and incredibly annoying. Spouting that bizarre mixture of pop-psychology and dubious educational philosophy all the time. Dude can do just about everything in a classroom except teach the fucking class.

The larger point being, different educational approaches (teaching to the test vs. teaching the "whole child") can work, if you implement them correctly. As mentioned, it sounds like you've got small class sizes and motivated teachers at work here. That's exactly what it takes.

So good for them -- I'm all for poor kids going to be best colleges. But it's also sad to see yet another meaningless pedagogical pissing match that obscures the cold, hard fact that it's all about money at the end of the day. Pay teacers more, cut class sizes in half, and America will be a hell of a lot better off.
posted by bardic at 10:37 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


The problem I think is that it is hard to judge success in arts & music objectively.

Also, I would argue, in terms of priorities, it's better to have foundations in math, verbal, science, history before branching out to more liberal arts disciplines.


But that's not the point at all - the point is that classes as math and history are too tied to test scores. The standardized tests kids face in school today often reward shallow, rote memorization - they can be useful tools, but when you make the entire curriculum revolve around teaching the specific facts that a test wants you to cover it takes away a lot of power from teachers to do interesting things or to adapt to each student's needs.

From personal experience, I can say I learned the most in my AP Government class. Incidentally, the AP Gov test is known for being ridiculously easy to the point of requiring little preparation. My point is that in my Gov class we could spend less time trying to stay on track with the required material and more time doing things like simulating the legislative branch, or volunteering at the polls, or doing interactive excersises about how our tax system works.

All of those things greatly increased our understanding of and enjoyment of the subject, yet had little bearing on the ABCD/simple essay questions we received for the test. The APs tests in "stricter" classes were obnoxious and rewarded breadth rather than depth of any sort, and those tests are manyfold times better than some of the state standardized waste-of-time tests I took.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:20 PM on May 30, 2009


Addition: Sorry, gushn, I didn't read closely enough and I thought you were quoting delmoi and not kozad so I completely misunderstood where you were coming from about arts.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:34 PM on May 30, 2009


Transforming a school from worst to best is a phrase usually describing a reversal for a school whose demographic is assumed to be static. However, this is a private school and the students were just different recruits. The tabloid sensationalism of this article simply astounds me.
posted by Brian B. at 11:50 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of bothered by this paragraph, no matter that the person who uttered it is Native American: "'What we're doing is so easy,' said Ben Chavis, the man who created the school's success and personifies its ethos, especially in its more outrageous manifestations. (One example: He tends to call all nonwhite students, including African Americans, "darkies.") Although he retired in 2007, Chavis remains a presence at the school."

I sincerely hope that the part about 'darkies' was taken out of context, and that Chavis has some reasoning for picking a particularly unfortunate word to describe darker-skinned people at his former school.
posted by librarylis at 2:26 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kids don't need to learn how to play violin or draw a picture to be successful in our society, but they do need to understand how diseases are spread or how to handle their money, especially if they live in an inner city.
No.
Music and art teach and nurture broad skills. Greek and Latin would also be more useful than your narrow task specific focus.
Teaching children how to think critically and analytically should be the goal of education.
A person cannot understand how diseases are spread or how to handle money if she cannot think logically.
posted by hooptycritter at 4:02 AM on May 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


I agree with librarylis, the statement "One example: He tends to call all nonwhite students, including African Americans, "darkies."" is outrageous.

It instantly brought to mind the concept of slavery... I speculate that the production levels on cotton farms prior to the civil war was pretty high, I would guess it was, oh, maybe in the 900's on the cotton farm rating scale.

This doesn't sit well with me.
posted by HuronBob at 4:07 AM on May 31, 2009


Teachers are there for our kids, almost all of them, their union on the other hand are against kids. Rich kids in suburbs with good school funding do great under the union plan. Poor kids in inner city neighborhoods, not so much, and a lot of that comes down to waste and graft.

In NC, like many "right to work states", it is against the law for teacher to unionize. Who do you blame for our schools' problems?

I agree with the others who point out that smaller class sizes and teaching to the test seem to be the key to the American Indian Schools success. Also, all charter schools, like all magnet schools, have a select population because the kids there have parents who went to the trouble to learn about a school and to fill out a form. The underserved students in our schools are frequently those whose parents lack either the time or inclination for that step.

To brag on the success of charter/magnet schools while ignoring the difference involved parenting makes is misleading at best, and criminal at worst as we continue to increase funding for these programs while ignoring the kids for whom things like special programs and small class sizes could really make a difference.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:21 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, it is pretty clear from the article, this school is cherry picking students, as mentioned above, and it appears to be removing (no matter what word you want to use) those students who struggle and don't respond to the oppressive approach.

I've seen schools run by people like this. They become a personality cult kind of place. Some kids respond to this, some need a different method.

Bottom line, I wouldn't send my kids (ok, grandkids) here...and I probably couldn't sit down and have a beer with this guy and discuss education without walking away with a bad taste in my mouth.

disclaimer... I've been working in alternative education for 30 years and am a bit opinionated about it!
posted by HuronBob at 4:39 AM on May 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


But the fact that they're 'teaching to the test' means the kids could be missing out on a lot of useful information.

The emphasis on standardized testing is a very large part of the damage being done to public education. The urge to manage by measurement is profound, but you have to measure the right thing, and standardized tests largely measure the student's ability to reproduce facts on demand.

In the Internet era, reproducing facts perfectly on demand is very possibly the most obsolete skill we could possibly be teaching. Yes, having facts in your head is important to help you think, but that's the START, not the end. Fuzzy approximations are often enough to get by with until you can pin down the actual truth. Civil War before 1900 is close enough most of the time. 1861 is more precise, but not usefully precise for most applications. And they DRILL you and DRILL you on 1861, when it's just not that important in the overall scheme of things.

Students primarily need the ability to critically think, which is the ability to understand an argument, to understand what the arguer believes, to separate that from what the arguer wants the STUDENT to believe, and then compare and contrast that position with known facts. That's the skill you need out of high school. If you've got that, and your basic math and English skills, you can educate yourself just fine from there.

But standardized tests don't generally get at this at all, and I've actually seen a real live teacher on ask.mefi claim he or she was 'teaching critical thinking' by giving kids busted computers to fix. Even TEACHERS don't know what critical thinking is anymore -- they think it's simple problem solving. So of course the kids are coming out brain-dead, and of course the tests don't test for the right stuff, because even the educators don't know what they're supposed to be teaching.

We've let the school system go for so long that we've now got an entire generation of bright-eyed and enthusiatic teachers that are completely clueless. There are certainly some that are brilliant and wonderful, but many just do what they've been taught to do, with no actual insight into teaching at all. They diligently follow the bureaucracy-provided curriculum, teaching to the tests. They feel great when the students do well at fact regurgitation. But the kids come out so ignorant that colleges end up spending another year on many of them just to get them up to minimal standards, and that's if the student even sticks around after going from 13 years of "Oh you're so wonderful" overnight to "Jesus, you're ignorant." That kind of shock puts a lot of students off their feed.

It's like watching Idiocracy in slow motion. And the rot has gone so deep that I don't see any way that the existing public system can be fixed, because if there's one thing ignorant people don't like to hear, it's that they're idiots and shouldn't be teaching. That whole glass-eyed culture of stupidity has taken very powerful hold in the United States, and I think claims that we can get competence back into that broken system are foolish. The incompetent have too much power, and will fight tooth and claw at every step, at every millimeter advance, because there is nothing as threatening to the clueless as actual competence.

There are certainly individual exceptions -- brilliant, wonderful people. I remember talking with a principal from an inner city school in California that struck me as an absolutely amazing educator. But there just aren't enough of them, and the ones that are there are crippled by bureaucrats and politicians... who are, shock of shocks, themselves completely incompetent. That's what incompetent voters, produced by the incompetent school system, are comfortable with voting into office. And each new generation of ignorant people damages the next batch of kids even more profoundly.

This school sounds like it's more of the same. They just teach the wrong things better than the mainstream schools. Also included: a heaping helping of propaganda.

I do really like the no-frills approach, though. Focus on the knowledge, not on the gizmos. Technology is mostly a distraction from the real mission.
posted by Malor at 4:56 AM on May 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


"Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?"
posted by caddis at 5:56 AM on May 31, 2009


Students primarily need the ability to critically think, which is the ability to understand an argument, to understand what the arguer believes, to separate that from what the arguer wants the STUDENT to believe, and then compare and contrast that position with known facts.

Ah, but what good critical thinking if all those things you reasoned-out are stuck inside your head?

I would happily exchange each and every math class for a language comprehension & composition class. It is positively dumbfounding how many high school students graduate without even the most basic reading and writing skills these days.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:40 AM on May 31, 2009


Charter schools fight waste and graft better than public schools.

Perhaps statistically as a whole, this is true, but the ovrall lack of accountability still disturbs me. We had a rash (I think three in one year) of charter schools shutting down without notice of any sort. Basically, parents went to drop their kids off at school one morning, and they were locked up tight, and no one ever heard from the owners again.

My experience with two charter schools here is that they can & do expel students for underperforming with regularity. This school in Oakland may be at the top of the curve for charter school performance, but I would caution against using them as an example by which to form blanket statements or policies.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:42 AM on May 31, 2009


I dunno. I agree that no one approach works for every student — and the upshot is that I'm really glad this place exists, especially as a school of choice.

I woulda gone crazy there as a kid. I think a lot of other Mefites would have too. But I know smart, creative people who fucking thrived at hardass religious schools and military academies, and who it sounds like woulda thrived at this place too.

(What most of them have in common is that they got self-discipline and some technical skills out of their formal education, and were inspired to learn the sort of critical thinking that Malor's talking about elsewhere. Science fiction, punk rock and local politics seem to be popular sources.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:49 AM on May 31, 2009


I do kind of wish they'd change their name as well, seeing as they have fuck-all to do with American Indians. When I saw the headline, I at first had some high hopes the article would be about someone doing something positive about educating poor American Indian children, who need the help more than about any other demographic in education right now, and was disappointed by the misleading name of the school, and thus the headline.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:50 AM on May 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


What really sticks in my mind is that the school doesn't have computers. Now, I'm a diehard book person and I'm getting an ulcer over the imminent death of the print media, but even I admit that you have to be able to use the damn things.* Based on the reporter's description of the student body, it's probably safe to assume that many or most have computers at home, but still.

*And I don't mean just typing essays and googling, either. Even die-trying deadtree people have to admit that they're damn useful tools for all kinds of things.
posted by scratch at 6:57 AM on May 31, 2009


Kids don't need to learn how to play violin or draw a picture to be successful in our society, but they do need to understand how diseases are spread or how to handle their money, especially if they live in an inner city.

I know it's been pointed out, but it bears repeating that music and art classes teach children far more than just how to play a violin or draw a picture.
posted by Jeeb at 6:58 AM on May 31, 2009


"Kids don't need to learn how to play violin or draw a picture to be successful in our society"

So much the worse for our society, then.
posted by oddman at 7:50 AM on May 31, 2009


A month spent as a substitute teacher in the local school district should be mandatory for non-teachers commenting on education issues, much less for the utterly clueless legislators who pass worthless but costly "education reforms" (NCLB) that only benefit the testing industry.

Classroom discipline today is non-existent. I don't mean "whack 'em with a ruler" discipline, I mean "kids knowing how to behave and doing it".

Parents let their little darlings grow up doing whatever without consequence and then blame the schools when those same behaviors make it impossible for their kid, or anybody else's, to understand a newspaper article or make change for a dollar by the time they graduate from high school.

Administrators that make "strict" rules but don't require compliance can do more damage than the occasional incompetent teacher, because they create a disruptive environment for all students. When proper behavior is not maintained, 80% of the teacher's energy is spent dealing with disruptions, while 80% of the student's energy is spent vying for control. The kids today are winning this battle, to everyone's detriment. Is it any wonder so few learn anything at all, or so many are shocked when the real world doesn't excuse similar behavior outside the classroom?

I don't agree with many of the methods mentioned in the article. (Shaving a kid's head in front of the whole class for any infraction is goes too far.) Once the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, however, it takes a massive effort to to bring things back to the center. I do think that whatever success they have achieved has a lot to do with simple discipline.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:58 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many years ago while taking classes for certification to teach Vocational Education one of my instructors clearly defined what is required of all education.

It is a simple three tier method of determining the worth of teaching a particular subject. Where does the subject rate on the following scale.

1.) MUST know
2.) SHOULD know
3.) NICE to know

This system is what should be strived for in teaching Vocational Education. I think that it would apply to general education just as well.

Art and music, according to me, would be classed as NICE to know.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:53 AM on May 31, 2009


Two things from the comments above with which I agree: all teachers should substitute for a month (at least) in the district in which they plan to teach (but isn't that also called "student-teaching?), and "In the Internet era, reproducing facts perfectly on demand is very possibly the most obsolete skill we could possibly be teaching."

And a third: Music and art are at least as important and English and math.

So, wearing my heart on my sleeve, I will begin.

I taught for the Princeton Review way back when the Educational Testing Service was still denying any possibility of "Teaching to the Test," whether the test be the SAT, the GMAT, or the GRE. Now all but kindergarteners are "taught to the test," because it is so easily done, mind-numbing though it may be.

Before that I had a brief stint as--you guessed it!--a substitute teacher in the OUSD for a few months in 1986. Corporal punishment was outlawed in my adopted state of CA in '84, but believe you me it was alive and well. Kindergartners offering my the yardstick if things got the littlest bit dicey. I was horrified as I still believe I should have been. (I know I have mentioned this in a previous comment on MeFi, so forgive me for repeating myself. Some things never go away.)

As an Oakland resident, I have been reading here and there about Chavis and his school for years. To me his crowing over his test results is not unlike Mr. Cheney's recent self-back-patting about saving us all from the next 9/11. Teaching to the test "works"; boot camps "work"; torture "works". It's all in your definition of the word "work." As one of the best teachers I had in high school (or anywhere else for that matter) calmly, gently and firmly emphasized, "defining your terms in an argument isn't everything, but it is an absolutely necessary beginning."

"School" and "Education" are hardly equivalent terms. "School" is an institutional environment into which most children in industrialized (doesn't that term sound anachronistic somehow?) nations will find themselves for most of their childhood years. "Education" is the process through which learning is drawn out of an individual, and by which an individual comes to the awareness that information and understanding are available, optionable experiences there for the taking.

"School" is a holding tank, not unlike jail. It is a place we put people we need to put someplace to get them out of the way so we can do other things, many of which are absolutely necessary at the moment, like earning wages (sometimes so we can pay the purveyors of "school").

"Education" happens when it happens. Sometimes a teacher and a classroom and classmates are part of it. Many times not. Many times it is reading for nine hours a day when you're nine years old. Many times it is being outside doing nothing. Sometimes it is that you suffer no humiliation for not turning in your homework because you don't have any homework. Or maybe you learn to read music before you learn to read letters and that's just fine.

Middle school is a wasteland, quite literally. Chavis is a martinet and a self-appointed shepherd to his flock of "ghetto darkies" or whatever it is he sees there. What happens to them after they leave his strict, punishing, humiliating environment?

I don't know, actually, but I don't think what has happened to them along the way, filtered through his crucible, is anything I would wish on anyone.

As a substitute teacher (again!) for the past year in the elementary schools here in the Oakland flatlands I have seen the successes and failures of No Child Left Behind. I have read the tests and even administered them. I have signed affadavits swearing not to release the specifics of their contents. But my sworn signatures cannot prevent me from decrying their utter meaninglessness when it comes to anything I might call either learning or education. The tests show nothing, or at best next to nothing. I don't know who writes them, but if it's anyone like the ETS test-writers back in the day, say no more.

A disclaimer: I have a child in the OUSD, not a charter, a public elementary school. (His older siblings were homeschooled, rather, unschooled, but he likes school and his has been what I can only call an excellent educational experience.) Why? Because of the principal, the parental involvement, and the nurturing whole-child approach.

To sum up this ramble: school can be okay, even good, even excellent, but it should never involve humiliation or indoctrination, and the possibility of a life entirely without/outside it should never be unimagined.
posted by emhutchinson at 9:25 AM on May 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


Schools can be dreary places; they can be lively places. Agreed: going to school does not equal getting an education. One of the reasons for the existence of public schools, historically, is that they would prepare agrarian workers for factory work. Obey the whistles and bells, etc.

As a teacher, I don't believe in teaching. I believe in setting up situations in which students have to write their way out of a paper bag in order to receive credit for his or her thinking.

By the way - and I never thought I'd ever say a good word for standardized tests in my life - I don't think most people know what these tests look like. Although they not an ideal way of measuring real education, and in my perfect world, students would not have to take these tests, they do not, usually, require students to "regurgitate facts," as several postings here indicate. Literacy tests measure a student's ability to understand text (including meaning, tone and rhetorical/literary devices), and to recognize and create sentences with correct Standard Written English, among other things. Questions of labeling grammatical terms are rare, and although there may be some questions that require having a decent vocabulary, I'm not sure that those questions are inconsequential measures of a student's literacy.

(And, yes, if languagehat says "hung" is OK, so be it, although hanged is apparently preferred my most usage guides in formal written English in this context.)
posted by kozad at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2009


Every few years, some strict disciplinarian like this gets national attention for getting those "unruly ghetto kids" in line and performing the miracle of good test scores.

You know what I always find disturbing about this? The fact that it's seen as ok for kids in poor neighborhoods to be in these militaristic schools, devoid of arts or music classes, while kids in affluent suburbs or in private schools get music lessons, drama clubs, and so on. I'm the product of an affluent suburban school district and I can say, without hesitation, that my experiences in drama club and chorus contributed more to my success in college and the real world than any of the math or reading classes I took.

Yes, I know such a statement assumes that I already knew how to read and add. I learned those skills in my inner-city, experimental public elementary school where most of the kids were in the school lunch program. Somehow my teachers managed to teach those skills without having to threaten us with humiliation.

It seems like such militaristic schools serve no purpose beyond teaching obedience. So while the rich or middle class kids in the suburbs learn to be mobile members of the creative class, kids in schools like this learn to be great janitors and fast food employees.
posted by lunasol at 10:19 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always a little confused by NCLB-teach-to-test moaning. The test checks only the minimum you could possibly expect from kids-at-age. If your children lack the ability to adequately read as demonstrated by the basic tasks on a test, or are on track for total innumeracy, then your school has problems. It's easy to think that these deficits (reading, numerical comprehension) are worse than deficits from substandard art education.

While false-negatives are easy to imagine (people with bad skills could pass the test), it's hard to see false-positives. If you are teaching meaningfully, then the kids should pass.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:34 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is no one size fits all approach for every kid. Small is typically better but there are plenty of honors classes in math and sciences with 25 kids in which cutting the class size in half wouldn't make much difference. Kids who have no discipline at home, they need a firm hand in school and that is hard without a small class size. Those standardized tests ruin what could otherwise be a rich education for many of the best students, yet they do seem to help those at the bottom.

I'm always a little confused by NCLB-teach-to-test moaning. The test checks only the minimum you could possibly expect from kids-at-age. If your children lack the ability to adequately read as demonstrated by the basic tasks on a test, or are on track for total innumeracy, then your school has problems.

True, but when the class is taught to the test all they learn are the minimums. For some kids that is all they probably can achieve and teaching them to that test is the best thing for them. For the rest is waste as it denies them the sort of stuff talked about above, learning how to think critically, learning how to learn. We all should walk away from high school knowing how to balance our check books, determine if a room is laid out square, write coherently and have a basic understanding of history etc. However, if you leave with a love of reading, a quest for knowledge, the ability to research and teach yourself, to analyze social and political situations, then you have achieved much more than those silly tests will measure.
posted by caddis at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2009


Caddis, I think you set your sights too low . . .
posted by emhutchinson at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2009


Thank you caddis, and I might add that the best teachers are the ones who are really passionate about learning, and enthusiastic about public discourse, wherever it can be found. These teachers model learning for their kids (unconsciously, often), and learn from the kids, which students notice, believe me.
posted by kozad at 12:11 PM on May 31, 2009


agreed
posted by caddis at 2:16 PM on May 31, 2009


There is no one size fits all approach for every kid. Small is typically better but there are plenty of honors classes in math and sciences with 25 kids in which cutting the class size in half wouldn't make much difference.

25? I went to a suburban high school touted as one of the best in the state and my AP classes all had 35-40 students. The only class I ever had with 25 was AP Spanish because not that many kids were qualified to take it. Have things changed so much?
posted by hydropsyche at 3:48 PM on May 31, 2009


Some charter schools are bad schools, or designed deceptively. Much in the same way, some public schools are bad. The question you have to ask yourself (especially if you went to a good school) is this: is it better for poor parents to have a choice from among 5-10 schools (as rich parents can do when they choose where to live) or to be forced into a neighborhood public school?

Are we willing to fill innovative schools, the good ones and the bad ones, only with people who can pay tuition?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:13 PM on May 31, 2009


I went to a magnet school that routinely kicked ass on standardized tests, while inculcating us with all that liberal hippy-dippy bullshit, like having all us white kids read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. The secret? Small class sizes, block scheduling, individualized instruction…

As to the question of charter schools, some five years back I was working for a guidebook, updating charter school listings and reading independent audits. Of the 15 we'd had in the county, versus some 120 schools total, ten had closed in the course of that year. The audit was a horror-show, with reports of standing water and one school having to shut down due to heavy metal contamination; hardly any of them were accredited, most had a mish-mash of Christian secessionism and motivational posters as pedagogy.

I don't doubt that there are successful charter schools, I do doubt that it's the particular "back-to-basics" philosophy that makes this one successful. And, like a good socialist, I do worry that the local "efficiencies" of charter schools serve to make the entire system less efficient.
posted by klangklangston at 5:36 PM on May 31, 2009


25? I went to a suburban high school touted as one of the best in the state and my AP classes all had 35-40 students. The only class I ever had with 25 was AP Spanish because not that many kids were qualified to take it. Have things changed so much?

I think 26 is the legal maximum here in Jersey, but I wouldn't swear to it.

As for many charter schools not being good and many of them failing, well that is the point. It is the free market. The parents get to choose and if the school is not good then the parents will choose a different school. Getting good info though can be difficult. If you are a long term resident with many connections, the school has been there for a long time and is stable then you can reasonably know that it is good. Otherwise it is a bit of a crap shoot. Lack of consumer information is often the downfall of the free market functioning well, which you would know all too well if you had say invested in any investment banks a few years ago. If easy answers existed to our education issues we would have solved the problems long ago. There are no easy answers.
posted by caddis at 9:27 PM on May 31, 2009


caddis: "Lack of consumer information is often the downfall of the free market functioning well, which you would know all too well if you had say invested in any investment banks a few years ago. If easy answers existed to our education issues we would have solved the problems long ago. There are no easy answers."

Well said. Lack of consumer information among the poor and non-English speakers, for example, can weigh a charter's lottery heavily in favor of higher income students whose parents have the Internet and have the time / patience to Google around for schools.

To me, charters offer one big advantage over a private school market: no matter their income, each student has buying power in the market because each student brings their state per-pupil allowance with them. (Where this was sort of true under the DC voucher program, private schools didn't have much incentive to change their practices because there were still far more tuition-payers than voucher students. Sidwell Friends didn't relocate to Anacostia because of vouchers). Under the right conditions, a voucher system gets us one step (albeit only one step) closer to the end goal of a good neighborhood school for every child.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:12 PM on May 31, 2009


"As for many charter schools not being good and many of them failing, well that is the point. It is the free market. The parents get to choose and if the school is not good then the parents will choose a different school. Getting good info though can be difficult. If you are a long term resident with many connections, the school has been there for a long time and is stable then you can reasonably know that it is good. Otherwise it is a bit of a crap shoot.

A crap shoot that wastes years of a kid's life.

It's like the lottery—those than can least afford to play it are the ones that play it most.
posted by klangklangston at 9:21 AM on June 1, 2009


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