Friday, April 26, 2013

Lincoln on Reform

While President Lincoln was addressing another crisis of conscience when he wrote his message to Congress, his choice of words could certainly apply to the debate over education reform and equity of opportunity for children today:

"Will not the good people respond to a united, and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means, so certainly, or so speedily, assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not "can any of us imagine better?" but, "can we all do better?" The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Baker: The Perils of Economic Thinking about Human Behavior

There's a very high risk to taking the typical economist seriously when they advocate in favor of education reform policy, especially when it comes to the attempt to use economic carrots and sticks to motivate higher test scores.

Bruce D. Baker points out the fallacy fairly eloquently (in his typical style):

"...many...economists operate in a world where they can influence/control public policy and they too have an incentive in how they behave in this system. They are not impartial observers by any stretch of the imagination. Their goal is to use their economic research to shape public policy to their own advantage.

"Put simply, just because the average morally bankrupt economist might do pretty much anything for an extra buck (or a billion), doesn’t mean the average teacher, doctor, nurse, fireman or police officer would!"

The Perils of Economic Thinking about Human Behavior | School Finance 101

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

And the REAL magic formula is...

USA Today recently published it’s opinion on the “charter school debate” that would lead one to believe the solution to public education is more KIPP schools, or at least more charter schools like KIPP. The editors base their opinion not on any real causal data but on the disputed results of a “rigorous new study of KIPP.” (Charter school debate nears a promising new phase. April 9, 2013, p. 6A)

An opposing view penned by Kevin G. Welner, professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and director of the National Education Policy Center, calls the KIPP study into question (Charters possess no magic formula, same edition), not because they haven’t experienced better test-based results (they have in most cases) but why they are getting those results. This was something conveniently left out of the USA Today opinion. What the editors did conclude was:

“There’s little doubt left that top-performing charters have introduced new educational models that have already achieved startling results in even the most difficult circumstances.” ~ USA Today

Welner contends the key ingredient lending itself to KIPP’s successful formula is “opportunities to learn.”  He disputes any conclusions pointing merely to better teaching methods or other “magic charter formula.” Instead, what KIPP and other successful charter schools have that financially struggling traditional public schools do not have is “more money.” Not money from the state legislature, since charter schools are usually funded through appropriations about the same as traditional public schools, but significant private funding from organizations often bent on destroying the public school system more than helping low-income and minority kids.

Welner points out that as recently as 2007, KIPP schools in eleven districts received an average of $5,760 more per pupil than the local districts, all from private funding. Another charter school in Houston brought in 25% more in per-pupil funding compared to other middle schools. As Welner so concisely puts it, “Whether a school is a charter or a neighborhood school, resources matter.

Here’s what those additional funds provide for KIPP and other charters: “more time in schools while placing a reasonable limit on class size.” According to Welner:
  • ·       KIPP schools provided 192 days of school each year
  • ·       Students in KIPP schools attend school nine hours per day
  • ·       In total, KIPP schools are able to provide 45% more learning time than conventional schools (equivalent to 4 additional months) 

“We should not be surprised when four extra months results in several additional months of test-score growth.” ~ Welner

The USA Today editors claim public schools can learn valuable lessons from KIPP and other successful charters. That’s very true. What we can learn is that students attending high-poverty, high-minority, high limited-English-speaking schools could benefit from the additional funding to provide more time for learning. As Welner concludes, “we see positive results when we make concentrated and sustained investments in our children.”

So when will Michigan’s political leaders finally see the real replicable lesson? According to the current House School Aid Appropriations Bill and Governor Snyder’s budget request, not anytime soon. Both perpetuate the $470 per-pupil cut in the foundation grant begun by Snyder in 2011-12, and the House bill adds to it by cutting the $52 per pupil “best practices” grant.

Michigan is one of the least fair and equitable states in the country when it comes to funding public education. For the time being, I don’t see that changing. After all, that doesn’t further profits for corporate-run schools nor does it satisfy the anti-public education crowd.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Safety of our children - a reality check

Sadly, while we've been preoccupied these past few months with the post-tragedy analysis of Sandy Hook Elementary, including hearing the latest plans by groups such as the NRA, Advancement Project, ACLU, and the NAACP -- none of which any semi-intelligent person would conclude are experts in school safety -- an estimated 1,650 children and teens ages 5-20 have died in automobile crashes, and another estimated 100,000 have been seriously injured. This is according to data easily available on the Internet from organizations charged with tracking this kind of thing.

The estimated cost of a year's worth of accidents involving children is placed at $26 billion, more than twice what it would cost to put an armed police officer in every school.

I don't see the same sense of urgency for preventing or reducing this type of loss of life or injury. In fact, we aren't engaging in any kind of serious discussion that remotely rises to the level of alarm that followed the mostly-isolated event at Sandy Hook.

No one wants to see any child hurt or killed, especially at school. But one has to wonder what it's going to take before we make any real progress towards reducing the carnage on our roads. One young life lost or a child badly hurt is one too many. It doesn't matter if it was at school or in a car.