How to decide if anybody should listen to your ideas on how and whether to re-open schools, or maybe you should just hush.

Peter Greene has provided a nice flow chart to let you decide whether you should open your mouth with your ideas on how and whether to re-open the public schools, or whether you should just be quiet and listen.

So, should you just hush, or do you have something valuable to contribute to this subject?

My wife and I each taught for 30 years or so, and so we would be in the ‘speak right up’ category, but I don’t really know how the USA can get public education to work next year, especially since the danger is not going away, but apparently once more growing at an exponential clip.

Nobody should be listening to billionaires or their bought-and-paid-for policy wonks who once spent a whole two years in a classroom.

A few quotes from Greene’s column. (He is a much better writer than me, and much more original as well.)

==================================

To everyone who was never a classroom teacher but who has some ideas about how school should be reopened in the fall:

Hush.

Just hush.

There are some special categories of life experiences. Divorce. Parenthood. Deafness. Living as a Black person in the US. Classroom teacher. They are very different experiences, but they all have on thing in common.

You can read about these things. But if you haven’t lived it, you don’t know. You can study up, read up, talk to people. And in some rare cases that brings you close enough to knowing that your insights might actually be useful.

But mostly, you are a Dunning-Krueger case study just waiting to be written up.

The last thirty-seven-ish years of education have been marked by one major feature– a whole lot of people who just don’t know, throwing their weight around and trying to set the conditions under which the people who actually do the work will have to try to actually do the work. Policy wonks, privateers, Teach for America pass-throughs, guys who wanted to run for President, folks walking by on the street who happen to be filthy rich, amateurs who believe their ignorance is a qualification– everyone has stuck their oar in to try to reshape US education. And in ordinary times, as much as I argue against these folks, I would not wave my magic wand to silence them, because 1) educators are just as susceptible as anyone to becoming too insular and entrenched and convinced of their own eternal rightness and 2) it is a teacher’s job to serve all those amateurs, so it behooves the education world to listen, even if what they hear is 98% bosh.

But that’s in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

There’s a whole lot of discussion about the issues involved in starting up school this fall. The discussion is made difficult by the fact that all options stink. It is further complicated by the loud voices of people who literally do not know what they are talking about.

How Dutch Schools are Re-Opening

Schools in The Netherlands are opening back up with no social distancing for the littlest students. A Dutch writer describes the details at Larry Cuban’s site. She says one ingredient for success with younger kids was bubbles.

I hope it all works.

https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/how-dutch-schools-reopened-with-no-pupil-distancing-linda-van-druijten/

Trends on NAEP for 8th grade math, black students in DC, DCPS, DC charters, and nation

Yet another graph, this one showing how this year’s group of African-American 8th grade students did on the NAEP math tests in the regular DC public schools, in all DC publicly-funded schools, in the DC charter schools, in large cities across the nation, and in all US public school systems, going back to the early 1990s.

dc, dcps, charters, national - black 8th graders, math to 2013

As usual, I had to do a bit of algebra to calculate what the average charter school scores were in the post-Rhee era, since those are not explicitly given anywhere. I give the explanation in my previous two posts.

My previous results seem to disagree a bit with those produced by NCES (by a couple of points). Therefore I used their data instead of what I calculated; the graph above is new as of 1/6/2014.

I still make these conclusions:

(1) Since the establishment of mayoral control of the schools, as a whole, the overall average for DC students in publicly-supported schools is following just about the exact same trends that were established from 2000 through 2007.  As a result, math scores for DC’s African-American 8th graders are now equal to those in large cities across the nation, which is a positive development.

(2) The DC charter schools seemed to have siphoned off the more motivated black 8th grade students and their families; as a result, scores for students in the regular DC public schools at that level in math lag significantly behind those of their counterparts in the charter schools, whose scores now surpass those of black 8th graders n the nation’s public schools as a whole and also those in large urban school systems as well.

As usual, if anybody finds any errors in my work, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Trends in DC on the NAEP for 4th grade reading, black students only: regular DCPS, charter schools, and pre- and post-Rhee

Here is a graph showing how African-American 4th students have been doing over time in Washington DC public schools and charter schools. I have drawn a clear dividing line at year 2008, because the scores before that were under the influence of DC’s former school board and superintendents. After that time, DC has been under a chancellor answerable only to the mayor.

dc, dcps, dc charter, and national naep trends, 4th grade reading to 2013You may notice that the blue, black and purple lines separate after 2007. That’s because NAEP began reporting separate scores for DC’s regular public schools and for all publicly-supported schools, though not for the charter schools as a bloc. As a result, you have to do a little bit of linear algebra to calculate what the average scales were for the charter schools from 2009 onwards. (I used essentially the same equation that I did in the previous post. Please write me a note if you think I made an error.)

As usual, we can see that since the late 1990s and up until Rhee took over, the overall trend in all large cities, in the nation’s public schools, and in DC’s publicly-supported schools was upwards on this test. (Yes, I know, these are not scores that follow the same kids year after year, but for whatever reason, the group of kids answering these tests are in general getting more answers right every two years.) Before that, i.e. from 1992 to 1998, scores bounced around or went down.

After Rhee took over, those scores seem to have entered another bouncy period. In fact, in DCPS, the scores on this test in 2013 were only back up to the level of 2007. There is a clear demarcation between the scores in the charter schools (blue line) and the regular public schools. The line for the charter schools seems to follow the trend from 1998 to 2007.

If I knew nothing about the politics of EduDeform, I would wonder why the WaPo editorial board is claiming victory.

 

 

Fact-free Praises for “Rhee-form” in DC from a Dick

Richard Whitmire is at it again, claiming huge success for the eduDEformers without the slightest evidence.

I’ll explain.

I think I have showed pretty clearly in my last several posts that the current trends (that is, slow but fairly steady progress as measured by the NAEP) in DCPS have been going on for the past decade or so: There has been no perceptible change in trends post-Rhee as opposed to pre-Rhee that we can see in any of the officially-produced data from the NCES on the NAEP and the TUDA. (Write something like NAEP TUDA DC in the little ‘search’ box on this page, perhaps to the right, and you’ll see a lot of my recent posts that have graphs and so on; you can see for yourself. )

From 2002 through the taking of the 2007 NAEP, DCPS used to have superintendents, an elected school board, and a veteran teaching staff, mostly black, that often had deep roots in the local community. DCPS also had a union that had to be listened to and reckoned with, because it actually was something that the members had themselves helped to build. (As in many other areas, we certainly had our share of crooks. It’s my contention that the crooks have had a very bad effect, by allowing themselves to be an example of black, inner-city corruption at all levels, so, as Richard Whitmire has argued, the African-American teachers and principals were precisely the ones who were holding their black DC students back. (I’m not making up this accusation – read The Bee Eater)). DCPS certainly had its share of very serious problems, about which I and many other teachers and parents spoke up and tried to fix in one way or another, not always successfully…

But for the last five years, Washington now has a completely powerless school board, a mayor who appoints chancellors based on wishful thinking, and a loss of about 80% of the former teaching staff (retired, resigned, or fired) and their replacement by overwhelmingly young, white recent college grads who find it a VERY difficult job and seldom last more than 2-3 years in the classroom, because the work load has become so overwhelming and crisis-like, with no support from any administration member at any level…

And over the last 5 years of Rhee-form, in a time when enrollment in K-12 was booming again in DC after many decades of free-fall, regular DC public schools have managed steadily to lose market share to charter schools, to such a degree that today, it’s nearly 50% charter, 50% regular public. And teaching staff are judged by a pseudo-scientific formula couched in impenetrably complex and ENORMOUS AMOUNTS of mathematical processing that literally no one can do by hand: a prominent mathematician calls this “Intimidation by Mathematics” is used to judge teachers’ and administrators’ worth. The pressure on teachers is unrelenting.

Nowadays, all of the principals and all of the downtown staff is new, too. Many of the higher-ups seem to be connected through Teach for America and various other foundations funded by a relative handful of billionaires (some very public, such as Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or the Walton family) but they often jump from city to city, too, seeking higher pay and better perks wherever they go…

The curriculum has now become preparation for standardized tests; art, music, gym, recess, projects, libraries, and anything else not tested is disappearing from the curriculum.

On the charter-school side, it’s fairly easy for someone to open up a few charter schools and pay him/herself high salaries, set up a separate for-profit corporation that the “public” charter school does all its business with, and it’s often perfectly legal. But it’s very common for charter school operators to earn half-a-million dollars a year, or more. (Options PCS, anybody? Many charter heads report that they earn large six figures, and I wonder what they don’t report…)

So, to repeat, there has been an almost complete changeover of teaching and administrative staff in the District of Columbia’s public education sector.  And the ‘system’ appears to have totally changed, to the point that every administrator and every teachers knows full well that he/she has absolutely no right to any due process: they can be fired or forced to resign at almost any time, even in the middle of the school year, while they waste untold amounts of time that could be used actively engaging kids in real thought-provoking activities, they are expected to follow scripted lessons to the letter, and spend almost the entire year preparing a test that many of the students don’t care about all and means nothing at all to their future.

And what has changed regarding these all-important test scores? Nothing..

The trends before Rhee in the NAEP tests are almost exactly the same as after Rhee, on all levels that NAEP reports on, for DCPS.

All those changes – for NOTHING?

(I have not yet teased out the charter schools data for DC, so I won’t say anything about how they compare with the regular public schools.)

In any case, this same Dick Whitmire has, as usual, been given yet another opportunity in the Washington Post to pour his accolades on his  personal friends, Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the rest of the new millionaire class of edupreneurs who made good via TFA, and their billionaire backers.

Here’s a quote from that Dick:

“The education momentum has shifted so dramatically in the past few years that most Washingtonians have no idea why D.C. students suddenly are being singled out for making remarkable progress.”

A Look at population trends in DC’s school population

I’m going my best to play it straight.

In the following fiew posts I will try to give you a clear look at how the publicly-funded student enrollment in Washington, DC has been trending over the past decade or so.

I’ll then make a few predictions of how I think things will continue in the next few years.

And then make some judgments on what these records mean.

I think that graphs are often one of the very easiest ways to make things clear, but as Darrell Huff wrote a long time ago in a classic work called “How to Lie With Statistics“, you can still use them in many ways to mislead if you want to.

Here is the very first graph given by DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education, or OSSE:

Looks like a huge jump, right? Maybe the latest enrollment is about twice as much as it was at its low point just after Rhee got here to save the day in 2008, right?

No.

It’s not such a huge jump.

And it’s for the regular DC public schools combined with the DC charter schools (privately run tho funded by taxpayers). Not just DCPS, which I’ll look at in a subsequent blog.

The scale is really misleading. The total population is in fact increasing, but (a) most of it seems to have occurred after Rhee left, and (b) from the current high of 80,854 from a nadir of 70,922 is only a 14% increase, or about one-seventh, not a doubling of population.

One’s eye wouldn’t trick one so if one used a scale that went all the way to zero on the vertical axis. (BTW, this is precisely one of Huff’s methods of lying with statistics!) So here is what I think is a fairer way to represent the data, with a scale that goes from 0 to 90,000.

You can see that over the past decade or so, there was a modest drop, followed by a modest rise. These are NOT huge changes, folks!

Is there something special and weird going on? Not really. The population of DC is rebounding somewhat, as well. Take a look at this graph prepared by Google and the US Census Bureau, not by me:

I hope it’s not a surprise that the school enrollment numbers and the total DC population of all ages do not move in lockstep! But, as a general rule, if you get more adults, they have a mysterious way of making babies, and those little’uns eventually do grow up and go to school somewhere!

Published in: on October 25, 2012 at 11:49 am  Comments (2)  
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Charter Schools in DC Have A Track Record — And It’s Not Good

The Corporate Educational Deformers (or GERM) now have a record by which they can and should be judged; after all, they have been severely criticizing the regular public schools for all sorts of failings that they promised to fix by, among other things, establishing charter schools that would perform miracles with all the students that the regular public schools were supposedly giving up on and ignoring.

Two of those ills are: students dropping out, and not good enough test scores — particularly among poor students in general of all ethnicities and minority students in particular.

How are the charter schools doing?

Erich Martel, a veteran DCPS social studies teacher who has been a persistent and eloquent critic for many years of the errors and abuses perpetrated by the administrators of DCPS, now has prepared a number of charts that show how many students are in each of the charter schools’ grade levels over time. I modified the formatting a little bit and made Excel calculate the percentages of growth or decline for each cohort as they approached their senior year of high school. I hope he will forgive any errors I made.

Erich has kindly colored the cells so that you can follow each cohort of students as they move from 9th grade through 10th, 11th, and eventually on to 12th grade.

For example, in the first school listed below, Maya Angelou at Evans, you can follow the blue diagonal. You will see that in the 9th grade in 2003/4, there were 14 students. The next year, that same cohort swelled to 26 students, and in the 11th grade they had increased their numbers to 29. (Don’t ask me details on exactly how this all happened — you would have to ask somebody who had close connections to the school.)

But by 12th grade, that cohort had shrunk all the way down to 11 students.

How and why? I can only guess. But that is an enormous shrinkage from either 10th or 11th grade.

The next cohort, in green, went from 50 freshmen in grade 9 in 2004/5, to 53 sophomores (grade 10) in 2005/6, but only 50 are listed as taking the 10th grade DC-CAS; that’s what column “10 CAS” means. By 11th grade, their numbers increased to 56 students, but in the 12th grade during SY 2007/8, they lost 23 students and shrunk to merely 33 seniors.

Where’d they all go? Your guess is probably as good as mine, unless you have more inside information than I do.   When the numbers went down, at least some of the students returned to regular public schools (forced out? pressured out? got disgusted? too long a commute? we don’t know), and certainly some of them dropped out of school completely, got a job, or moved out of the city to another state. Hopefully, very few of the dropouts met an early grave! I don’t exactly know how many belong to which category; anecdotal information is not quite the same as data…

However, the data people downtown in DCPS and OSSE do have that information available, easily, since they can track each and every single student via standard computer database queries using the DCPS student information numbers; but so far they choose not to reveal it. I suspect that some data experts would love nothing more to reveal secrets like that but are under strict orders not to.

The last three columns in these charts show how the number of students changes from 9th grade to 12th grade and then from the 10th grade to the 12th grade, or from incoming 9th graders to those taking the DC-CAS as sophomores the next year. If you want to make any other comparisons, feel free to  get out a calculator and do it yourself.

In those last three columns, percentages shown in black letters mean that the student body actually grew from freshman (or sophomore) year through the senior year, 12th grade. Red lettering means it fell, i.e. students dropped out of this particular cohort in this particular school in one way or another.

 

So for the blue cohort at Angelou Evans, the class that was to graduate in 2007, their numbers overall went from 14 freshmen to 11 seniors, a drop of 3 kids; 3 divided by 14 by calculator gives 0.2142857…, which we rounded off to  NEGATIVE 21%, which is indicated in red and with a minus sign. That same cohort went from 26 sophomores to 11 seniors, a drop of 15 kids. A loss of 15 students, compared with a starting number of 26 students, by division, yields a loss of about 58%. Not so good.

And so on for all the other cohorts at that school and at all the other DC privately-run “public” charter schools.
In many cases, Martel simply doesn’t have any numbers. That can be for a variety of reasons. In those cases, I did not calculate a percentage of growth or shrinkage, because I simply don’t know the facts.

The myth is that DC charter schools are NOT experiencing dropouts over the high school years. Unfortunately, this is not the case.  If the last two columns were all black, that would show that HS students are flocking to the charter schools in significant numbers and are in general, not dropping out (or being forced out).

Lots of red is a very, very bad sign.

However, the vast majority of the last three columns are printed in RED, meaning that enrollment of the vast number of cohorts declined, according to this data.

So where exactly are  these miracles about solving the drop-out rate taking place in these supposedly miracle-working charter schools?

I only see two charter schools, out of the entire lot, that have a significant number of percentages printed in BLACK, showing cohort growths over time: Washington Math-Science .Tech Academy and the Booker T. Washington charter schools. The rest are either in RED, or are blank because numbers are not being released.

Let me add that I am very impressed with Martel’s data. I’ve been looking for stuff like this for quite some time!

Police, Discipline, and Zero Tolerance in Urban Classrooms

Have you ever thought about whether police in school hallways is a good idea or not?

I strongly recommend this review by James Boutin , a former DCPS teacher, about a book on just this topic. I won’t pretend that I handled interactions regarding student discipline well in every case. But things are getting even worse these days in the poorer schools with browner student populations. Teachers find that they lose their authority to police officers and security guards, and that incidents that used to be handled inside the school system now become judicial matters; as a result, many kids end up with a criminal record for defying authority in the only way that they know how to do it. For example: wearing hats inside the building.

A quote from James’ review:

Consider a brief example (Police in the Hallways provides many more). Nolan notes that students identify their apparel as fundamental to their self-expression of identity. (One student compares the DOE requirement that no hats be worn in school to requiring adults to walk around with no shoes.) Those who disobey this policy (one that Nolan feels has little reasoning to justify it) by wearing hats are simultaneously engaging in an act of self-expression AND opposition to institutional rules they view as illegitimate. Furthermore, by refusing to remove one’s hat for a teacher or security agent, students potentially gain favor with peers for proving that they’re not “a punk” AND continuing to resist illegitimate authority. Thus students can carve out a modicum of control in an institution that constantly attempts to deprive them of it.

Highly punitive zero tolerance policies and students’ reactions to them have had the effect of repositioning some schools as institutions of control rather than learning, and the impact is disproportionately harmful for poor and minority school children. Nolan writes, “It is a moral outrage that we would take such punitive stand in matters of urban school discipline when so little is offered to urban schools.” Rather than relying on increasingly harsh consequences as our only recourse for students in schools who don’t conform to our expectations, Nolan calls for a reevaluation both of the policies we impose on low-income schools and also of our responses when students and communities resist them. Importantly, such a reevaluation must be done in light of a nuanced and holistic understanding of the challenges people living in urban poverty in the United States in the early 21st century are facing – e.g. lack of available legal employment, the influence of drugs and gangs, and the highly transient nature of families who live there.

It reminds me of two other books that I am also reading: Slavery By Another Name, and The New Jim Crow. More on those later, but I strongly recommend both of those books, too.

Published in: on July 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Modest Proposal: NRFEL

I have a modest proposal.


The lower a student performs on the various tests, obviously the more resources it takes to get that student up to par (however you define “par”).

Obviously, right now, regular public schools, especially those in low-income areas, have disproportionately large percentages of those such low-performing, high-needs students.

The current, popular accusation is that the school teachers in those inner-city schools are deliberately sabotaging the learning of those students (and causing that low performance), under union protection.

It is charged that if schools were privatized in general, and/or if teacher union organizations were smashed, then freed-up non-union public schools, and also charter and private and parochial schools, would do a better job.

But today, let’s be honest. All of those high-performing schools are selective. And/or, they put out the low-performers, and the ones they consider ‘rotten apples.’

There has to be some place for housing the kids who are put out of, or simply not allowed in to, more-exclusive schools (be they charter, boarding, magnet, ritzy private, ritzy public, etc., etc…). And guess where that is?

Right. The regular, comprehensive public schools. Especially in poor rural areas and the inner city, there are lots of kids with lots of serious deficiencies, which take a LOT of work to overcome. But many of these schools are totally overwhelmed — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen schools in total chaos, where much of the time, nearly no teaching and learning can possibly take place. Or else it takes an absolute Superman or Wonder Woman to accomplish some teaching in one corner of the school, and only with lots of administrative support, which is denied to the rest of the school…  I’ve seen that, too.

OK,  If those other schools do so much better, let’s try a truly randomized experiment to see if that’s really true. Or else let’s give all of our kids the opportunity to go there.


But what if we turn that on its head? And actually use the ONE positive proposal that Michele Rhee, ever came up with?

Here it is: In four words, it’s this:

USE A REAL LOTTERY.

Use a real lottery for all.

I will call my proposal the Non-Revokable Full-year-long Exchange Lottery (NRFEL for short).

Under NRFEL, in every officially designated ‘failing’ public school, all of the low-performing students would be placed in a lottery. Based on the outcome of the lottery, those students would be selected either to :


(1) stay at their regular school, or

(2) to attend a randomly-selected high-performing school; said school would be either…

(a) located within a two-hour bus ride of the home of the student, or

(b) be a boarding school located anywhere in the USA.

Important terms:

(3) All this would be for no extra taxpayer dollars. Yup.

(4) None of these exchange students could be denied entry, for any reason.

(5) None of these exchange students could be subsequently be put out by the receiving school, FOR ANY REASON until the end of the school year, and the students and their parents would know that. (6) Re-assessments would take place exactly once a year, during the summer break, to discern whether the exchange should continue. If the student then is performing adequately, he or she would return to his or her original school. Let me repeat: those high-performing schools would include ALL high-performing schools within a 2-hour bus ride. Oh, and they also include ALL boarding schools in the nation. For no additional money.

Don’t worry about overcrowding the receiving schools. NRFEL takes care of that. as follows.

(7) Each student in each high-achieving school is also placed in a lottery.

(8) Every school that receives one of the low-achieving or handicapped students from a ‘failing’ would simply send back one adequately -performing student, chosen at random in this second lottery. It could be worked out later whether there would be exact, one-for-one exchanges, or whether all students being moved would be put into a general “pool”.  This is a 1:1 exchange ratio: one kid in, one kid out. So class sizes, overall, wouldn’t rise. But there might be need for physical therapists, mental health and social service professionals, reading and math specialists, as well as security guards in some cases. None of which the school district shall be liable for funding.

A very good question arises: what if the receiving school receives so many low-achieving students that it is overwhelmed and enters the category of “failing school” because they are unable to work enough of a miracle in one year? Well, then they can enter the lottery the next year on the other side of the tracks (so to speak).


One aspect I haven’t decided on yet for NRFEL is whether there should also be a similar randomized exchanges of teachers and staff and administration between high-achieveing and low-achieving schools. So I will put this is up for debate. Perhaps this feature could be a separate experiment in geographical region. (Imagine teachers and staff at Sidwell, Holton-Arms, and BCC randomly exchanging places with teachers at schools in deepest Anacostia or inside the near-DC PG County Beltway area.)


I know what you are thinking: NCLB has something like this, but often there is no room in the ‘receiving schools’. In fact, this has happened a lot in DCPS already. NRFEL takes care of this. First, it’s random, so it’s not merely selecting the kids with the most-motivated parents. Second, it’s ALL schools, no matter what denomination, ownership status, or jurisdiction. The exact numbers of exchange students and their distribution could be debated in committee hearings. I propose that each geographical region (think, Washington Metro Area, or Greater Washington, or Delmarva Peninsula, or Greater New York) would take a census of all youth, and their academic levels, to decide how to allot those students among high-and-low-achieving schools. After all, just about all of our public school students have to take lots of standardized tests. What better possible use could we make of this data? NRFEL’s goal is equalizing educational opportunity for all youth, and isn’t that supposedly what America is based on?
Let me emphasize one thing. None of these receiving schools would have the right or capacity to send any of these students back, nor to expel them. They would have to keep them and deal with them for a full school year, whether they are sick, incarcerated or hospitalized, or truant, or  whether they come to school each and every single day and join the rugby or football or hockey or computer-tech club at their new school. For no extra expense, remember.


What ever could we use to ‘persuade’ parochial and private schools to go along? Public charter schools and magnet schools are funded by public money anyway, so they would have to comply. But think of this: private and religious schools get substantial benefits and subsidies from society and government. I will just mention one public subsidy for these schools: tax exemption!


(BTW: have you recently noticed the bill for tuition at the high-flying local private schools?)


Oh, and the low-performing schools can’t put their high-performing return-exchange students out, either. Though those schools might just find that those students will hold their own pretty well, forming substantial fractions of the school’s student government, athletic teams, and other clubs, not to mention their honor roll…


Waddaya say?

Impossible Goals for Schools

From “Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right” by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder, (Teachers College Press, 2008) pages 70-71

Impossible Goals for Schools

Inadequate schools are only one reason disadvantaged children perform poorly. They come to school under stress from high-crime neighborhoods and economically insecure households. Their low-cost day care tends to park them before televisions, rather than provide opportunities for developmentally appropriate play. They switch schools more often because of inadequate housing and rents rising faster than parents’ wages. They have greater health problems, some (like lead poisoning or iron-deficiency anemia) directly depressing cognitive ability, and some (like asthma and vision difficulties) causing more absenteeism or inattentiveness. Their household include fewer college-educated adults to provide more sophisticated intellectual environments, and their parents are less likely to expect academic success.* Nearly 15% of the black-white score gap can be traced to differences in housing mobility, and 25% to differences in child and maternal health.**

Yet contemporary test-based accountability policies that establish the goal of all students being proficient require that school improvement alone – higher expectations, better teachers, improved curriculum, and more testing – should raise all children to high levels of achievement, poised for college and professional success. Natural human variability would still distinguish children, but these distinctions would have nothing to do with family disadvantage. If true, there really would he no reason for progressive housing or health and economic policies. The nation’s social and economic problems would take care of themselves, by the next generation.

Teachers of children who come to school hungry, scared, abused, or ill consider this absurd. But increasingly, in our test-based accountability environment, pronouncements of politicians and some educational leaders intimidate teachers from acknowledging the obvious. Instead, teachers are expected to repeat the mantra “all children can learn,” a truth carrying the false implication that the level to which children learn has nothing to do with their starting points. Policy makers and school administrators warn teachers that any mention of children’s socioeconomic disadvantages only “makes excuses” for teachers’ own poor performance.

Of course, there are better and worse schools and better and worse teachers. And of course, some disadvantaged children excel more than others. But our federal and state test-based accountability policies, anchored to the demand for a single standard of proficiency for all students, regardless of background, have turned these obvious truths into the fantasy that teachers can wipe out socioeconomic differences among children simply by trying harder.

Denouncing schools as the chief cause of American inequality – in academic achievement, thus in the labor market, and thus in life generally – stimulates cynicism among teachers who are expected to act on a theory they know to be false. Many dedicated and talented teachers are abandoning education; they may have achieved exceptional results with disadvantaged children but, with state and federal proficiency bars set so impossibly high, even these teachers are labeled failures.

Continuation of the rhetoric of test-based accountability will also erode support for public education. Under pressure, educators now publicly vow they can eliminate achievement gaps, but they will inevitably fall short. When these educators then fail to fulfill the impossible expectations they themselves have endorsed, the reasonable conclusion can only be that they and their colleagues in public education are hopelessly incompetent.

* Discussed at length in Richard Rothstein, Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press, 2004); see also Susan B. Neuman, Changing the Odds for Children at Risk: Seven Essential Principles of Education Programs that Break the Cycle of Poverty (Praeger, 2008); and Susan B Neuman, “Education Should Lift All Children” (Detroit Free Press, July 31, 2008).
** For an estimate of the effect of mobility, see Eric Hanushek, John Kain, and Steven Rivkin, “Disruption versus Tiebout*** Improvement: The Costs and Benefits of Switching Schools” (Journal of Public Education, 2004, 88(9-10): 1721-46). For an estimate of the effect of child and maternal health, see Janet Currie, “Health Disparities and Gaps in School Readiness” (The Future of Children, 2005m 15(1): 117-38)
*** A technical economic model that I [GFB] have never heard of before. Here is the beginning of the Wikipedia entry: The Tiebout model, also known as Tiebout sorting, Tiebout migration, or Tiebout hypothesis, is a positive political theory model first described by economist Charles Tiebout in his article “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures” (1956). The essence of the model is that there is in fact a non-political solution to the free rider problem in local governance.
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