Thursday, September 21, 2006


In The Ghetto

That's a little lingo from the kids. We're supposed to be connecting to their world, you see. You can't make the parents care about their kids' education. Or perhaps I should say you can't make the parents behave in ways that show they care about their kids' educations. You can't make the kids care about their educations.

All that's left is tricking them by making every math problem deal with how many hubcaps you can steal. No, that can't be right. You do it by writing on the board and preparing all documents in a "tagging" font. No, they couldn't have meant that. Maybe you're supposed to rap all your lessons. Not that either?

Every kid who's ever been told by a doctor that it will only sting a little only fell for it once, and we're supposed to expect that kids are going to fall for us tricking them into learning? With all the complaining I do, even I don't think our kids are stupid. Most of them are pretty darn smart. And even the kids who aren't smart can still pass easily. One of the big slabs of bedrock foundation in my thoughts about education is that any willing student can pass any high school class easily. It's just unfortunate that "willing" is the reef that sinks the ship of education for many kids.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." "A penny saved is a penny earned." "A sh-t sandwich still tastes like sh-t, no matter how fancy the restaurant." The reason sayings like these permeate a culture, in some cases for hundreds of years, is that they have been found true in the court of human experience. That's why you don't hear people running around saying, "Jabbing needles in your eyes feels good!" If it doesn't have some fairly large helping of truth in it, people ain't saying it. I'll give you one more, just to complete the point. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." 'Nuff said.

I happened to pass through a town recently, near our lovely state capital. A town that I looked at as a sort of dream town. Not too big. Not too small. Had some cool stores and all. And five or ten years ago, I guess it really was that way. Now? Not so much.

Driving around through several neighborhoods, I couldn't help but notice that things were looking really shabby. Houses and yards were run down. Lawns untended. Through some trick involving multiple dimensions and the folding of space-time, every house seemed to have fifteen cars parked out front. I couldn't believe that at one point, I had actually thought about moving there. The place has become ghetto, as the kids would say. The only thing I would consider about this town is moving away from it.

Funny thing is, I actually heard a realtor going on and on about how good the schools are in this area. "Oh, you should definitely think about moving here, for the schools alone, if for no other reason."

So I wondered to myself, if this was a dream town ten years ago, and maybe even five years ago, and is a run-down shabbyville now, is there any chance that these dream schools may be clinging to dream scores from five or ten years ago? "Self," I wondered, "could it be that in another five or ten years, when all these shabby people have shabby kids that are moving through the dream school system, the dream school system might end up becoming a nightmare?"

I was reminded of this rumination after following the first link in this post here, and commented to that effect. That's Darren's blog, Right on the Left Coast: Views from a Conservative Teacher. He writes about education the other way: with all the brains and none of the whining.

Then I saw this post here by Joanne Jacobs. She links to a study that, well, I don't want to subconsciously slant the paraphrase, so I'll give you the quote she used from the Public Policy Institute of California:

With some exceptions—elevated math achievement for students in magnet high schools — those who won lotteries that allowed them to attend choice programs did about the same on standardized tests as non-winners one to three years later.

Of course, one study is only one study. In addition, this study seems (I didn't read the entire report) to have looked at how the kids did who had access to choice of schools, but not necessarily at how the schools did overall. Here's the headline of their press release:
School Choice Increases Integration – But Not Student Achievement.

Racial and socioeconomic integration were greatly improved, but student achievement, with the exception noted above, did not improve. Let me put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and see if I can puzzle this one out.

Some kids attend School Z, which has terrible scores. Let's say that at School Z, the 900 kids there average a 200 on their statewide testing scores. One hundred of them win the lottery and can choose another school. They choose School A, the best school in the district. School A has 900 students, and they average 800 on their statewide testing scores. Please understand that I'm just making up these numbers to make the point; they do not actually reflect scores at any specific school.

School A, with its one hundred new students, takes its next statewide test. As we saw from the study, the new kids did "about the same." So they're still averaging 200, while the original kids got their 800 average again. If I do all the adding and dividing, and use all my fingers and toes, I come up with a new school average of 740, and suddenly, the best school in the district has dropped sixty points. Again, I didn't read the study, so I don't know if they did or did not mention this, or if they even looked at this at all; however, it seems reasonable to conclude that if the scores of these kids aren't going up, then the overall scores of the schools they went to must be going down.

Remember this was a study of kids one to three years after they transferred to schools of their choice. Their scores aren't going up. Therefore, the scores of the schools must be going down. I now redirect your attention to this bit from up above there:

"Self," I wondered, "could it be that in another five or ten years, when all these shabby people have shabby kids that are moving through the dream school system, the dream school system might end up becoming a nightmare?"

They didn't even have the courtesy to wait five years, they had to do it in one to three. They're practically overachievers!

So. Kids with bad scores go to new, better school. A new, better school with good scores. The scores of the kids don't improve. But, b-but . . . I, I thought it was the bad school that was failing the kids. The children are pure and perfect. That's what you said. It could never be the fault of the children. Even Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says it:

In No Child Left Behind now, already parents and families have the opportunity to transfer to better performing public schools or get some extra help through tutoring or summer schools, but there will come a time in year five or six when we have these chronically underperforming schools, of which today we have about 2000 in our country, and that number will go up some next year, where we have to be real with ourselves and say we're not going to trap kids in failing schools which have been so for six years and what ought to happen.

You see? It's all the fault of the schools! They are chronically underperforming! We have to be real! We can't trap kids in these failing schools! Send them to the better performing public schools! Like those schools in San Deigo where they . . . oh.

Well, Secretary of Education Spellings, in order to help you be real with yourself, I will redirect you to this bit of wisdom from up above:
"A sh-t sandwich still tastes like sh-t, no matter how fancy the restaurant."

Remember too that a student isn't given a grade. He earns it. Even if that grade is an "F."

Thank you very much, and goodnight. Elvis has left the building.
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