Saturday, February 12, 2011

Focus on Student Achievement

I just added a comment to the thread about the Seattle Speaks event in which I noted that, despite saying that the conversation would focus on student achievement, the bulk of the time was taken up discussing the Strategic Plan - which is a management plan, not an academic plan - and the teacher contract. Neither of these matters has anything more than a peripheral impact on student achievement.

So let's talk about student achievement for real.

In 2010, 83.5% of Seattle Public Schools 10th graders passed the writing portion of the HSPE. 74.4% passed in reading, 46.6% in science, and 44.7% in math. That's for all 10th graders.

Those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch had slightly lower pass rates in writing and reading, 74.8% and 60.3%, and much lower pass rates in science and math, 25.0% and 22.3%.

Here are some numbers you don't often see reported: the pass rates for NON-FRE students: 89.4% in writing, 84.2% in reading, 61.6% in science and 60.4% in math. While these numbers in writing and reading are okay (obviously we would like to see 100% but that may not be a practical goal), it's clear that we are not doing well in science and math even for students who aren't living in poverty. As badly as these students are doing in math and science, that's where the gap is greatest.

The gap - the real gap - is not between FRE students and all students, but between FRE students and NON-FRE students. Those gaps are 14.6 percentage points, 24.0 percentage points, 36.6 percentage points and 38.1 percentage points. These are big, serious gaps.

For those who wonder if poverty or race matters, I offer these results for Black students: 74.9% in writing, 56.3% in reading, 19.5% in science and 12.1% in math. Black students have essentially the same outcomes as FRE students in writing, reading, and science and significantly underperform FRE students in math. That's very, very bad. The gap between Black students and non-Black students are 11.1 percentage points, 23.7 percentage points, 35.3 percentage points and a whopping 42.5 percentage points in math. Even if four times as many Black students in Seattle passed the math portion of the HSPE, they still would not pass as frequently as their non-Black classmates.

So what are we going to do about it?

The District's response has been to send highly skilled people to coach the teachers at schools with high concentrations of low-performing students.

Why? They must believe that these students are performing poorly on the tests because their teachers are so un-skilled. This is consistent with the Education Reform belief that "teacher quality" is the primary determinant of student achievement. If that were true, then the under-performance in the students is attributable to ineffective teachers and the solution would be to improve the teachers. Hence, they send teacher coaches.

On one hand, I think that the District is to be congratulated for their logical consistency. If teacher quality were the determining factor, then coaching the teachers should solve the problem. This is a strange sort of congratulations, though. 18th century doctors believed that disease was due to an imbalance of humors, so they would bleed their patients. That therapy might make sense if they were right about the cause of disease, but they were wrong.

The Education Reformers and the District are wrong. Teacher quality isn't the root cause of this underperformance. Maybe a little (because there are more novice teachers in these schools and novice teachers, in general, aren't as good as experienced teachers, in general), but not to extent that it has this kind of impact. Teacher quality isn't anything like the determinant that the Education Reform movement believes. They are simply wrong about this. The very suggestion is absurd.

As I have suggested before, does anyone believe that the difference in student outcomes between Aki Kurose and Eckstein is due to a difference in teacher quality between the two schools? Does anyone really believe that the schools would swap test scores if they swapped teaching staffs? Really?

Maybe the gap is due to the lack of cultural competency among the teaching staff. If only the Black students had teachers who understood and were fluent with their culture, and had culturally relevent materials then they would blossom and achieve. But we tried that with the African-American Academy. Could there have been a school with a more culturally competent staff? Could there have been a school with more culturally relevent curricula? The student outcomes at the AAA were very very bad. The AAA did not close the gap. Not at all.

The difference between student outcomes is much more likely attributable to economic and cultural factors than anything school-based. I say that because all studies show that half of the gap is present on the first day of kindergarten, that it shrinks during the school year, and that it grows over the summer. School isn't the source of the gap; school is the cure for it.

It is important to understand the root causes of the gap because that's where we are going to find the means to close it. Two students sit next to each other in a classroom, but one passes the MSP and the other doesn't. Why? They each got the same instruction - it's not as if the teacher is whispering the lesson to select students and while refusing to teach the others. So why did some learn it and some didn't? I refuse to believe it has to do with the native talent for learning within the students. The distribution of that talent is essentially the same among classes and cultures. I think the difference comes in preparation. Some students had the foundational education to make sense and make use of the lesson while other students did not. It would be extraordinarily difficult to understand third grade math if you don't know second grade math.

I suspect the layering of learning in math - the need to understand each new concept in series, building on prior knowledge - is the reason that the gap in math is the widest. Because math (and science) require preparation for progress, the less prepared students can't make nearly as much progress as the prepared ones. Reading and writing are single skills. They are accomplished with rising levels of sophistication, but they remain the same fundamental skills. Preparation and prior exposure - except in narrow areas like vocabulary - just doesn't play the same role.

This is why a lot of people no longer refer to the gap as the "academic achievement gap", but as the "opportunity gap".

When the root cause of the problem is exposed in this way the solution becomes obvious: provide the opportunity. In the case of math and science, we need to confirm - absolutely - that students have mastered the foundational skills before advancing to the next layer. In the case of other disciplines we need to provide the opportunities that middle class children get: trips to the library, the zoo, the aquarium, the theater, the concert hall, the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the sports arena, the mountains, to businesses, to factories, and to other cities. They need exposure to a wider variety of experiences, on horses, on boats, on planes, on skis, on the golf course, on the tennis court, and anywhere else you can think of. They need to be taught how to study, to take notes, and how to think critically. All students need these sorts of things. There are many, however, who aren't getting it outside of school, so the school needs to provide it for them.

Finally, but more than anything else, all students need someone who is interested in their education. Again, if that person isn't at home, then that person needs to be at school.

Is this so hard to figure out? It isn't. But Education Reformers and School Leaders aren't going to be able to see it from looking at the data. They have to look at the students.

Is this so hard to do? Not really. Not if we dare to try. It will mean that some classes will be bigger than others. It does mean that some students will get more services than others. That's the difference between equity and equality.

39 comments:

WenD said...

Thank you for this, Charlie. I agree with you. This is why I see most reform efforts as a shake down, because at core, they're a lot like the Gates vaccine initiatives. Instead of giving communities clean water or ending war, they give jabs.

Seriously, reform efforts want to have more bang for less buck and make money off it in the long run. They blame labor the way Boeing blamed labor, then fail to deliver the jet. Same old same old.

I hope this sense of clarity doesn't lead to major brain explosions over at LEV.

Anonymous said...

And while the district is wasting recource on math coaches, families with means are smartly putting resources into private instruction. And the gap continues to increase.

So, what if the math coaches were turned into math tutors and worked with small groups of students? This essentially provides these students with the same opportunity that children coming from homes with resources to provide tutors have.


Po3

Melissa Westbrook said...

Great piece. We need to get this to city leaders (and I will make sure this happens if Charlie doesn't). It should go national (and I'll try to do that as well if Charlie doesn't).

This is exactly what needs to be said out loud. This is what LEV and Stand for Children and TFA need to hear.

zb said...

What percent of Black students are FRE students?

Anonymous said...

In our school, we resort to parent tutors along with a part-time math specialist to help our struggling kids. Does it help? Slightly. I don't think I am very effective as a tutor for an hour 1-2 x/ week. What these kids need is a tutor for them every day of the week. A math tutor (preferably a teacher, not a parent) who can assess and cluster them based on abilities into smaller groups.

It is so frustrating to go in and work with a small group of 4th graders who "don't get fraction", be given an hour to "review" fraction and by the following week, come back to be told that the class is now moving on to decimals. These students have yet to develop competency at equivalence or know the difference between mixed number vs. improper fraction. In fact, many of these kids are still counting by fingers when doing subtraction or multiplication. Why can't we slow it down for them and make sure they get the basics before moving on?

Our school's FRL populartion is < 15% and if you were to look through the data 5 years back, there is a "gap" we can't seem to overcome. I don't know if it is a combination of mandated pacing by the distrcit, lack of coordination among teachers, principal turnover or lack of cohesive planning at our school to help these struggling learners. (At our school our lower performing students come from all SES).

I think Charlie is right. So much energy is aimed at the BIG strategy, and testing. Why can't their education be more coordinated with more follow up and reassessment to see what they know or don't know. Why can't ALL our teachers work together and do walk to math and perhaps the same for reading/writing? There is so much that one can do that is common sense, yet somehow it doesn't get done.

So much talk.

seattle citizen said...

Excellent piece that gets at the heart of the matter. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

yes. yes. and yes again.

- altmama

Patrick said...

Thanks for the post, Charlie. But I think most edu reformers realize that their prescription isn't going to help by now. Most of them aren't expecting better results and just want to get all that public money into private companies' hands. So, union busting, private schools for those that can afford them, charter schools that are no more effective at student achievement than public schools but are very effective at transferring public money to private companies.

Anonymous said...

and what about the abysmal pass rates for spec ed students...? it is pathetic and cannot be explained by saying all/most spec ed students have cognitive impairment, simply untrue.

-SE Shorttimer

Guppy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emeraldkity said...

Well actually Boeing F*&*ed up the 787, because they expected people who were inexperienced & whom never had built an aircraft before ( but were cheaper- like TFA?), to be able to perform identically to experienced local workers.

Anon- Yes it is untrue that all individuals who qualify for special education services have a cognitive delay. In fact some are quite gifted and have gone on to great accomplishments.

Unfortunately there are a great many children are not ready to benefit from enrichment activities like field trips & interesting classes.

Before kids can benefit from field trips,they need to be in a place that they can learn.

They need a safe place to live, to not worry if their parent will have a job & they will have food next week. They need to not worry about being harassed on the bus & they need some books to call their own. They need someone to take them to the dr for checkups & pay for glasses if needed.

They need adults they can depend on, on a classroom teacher that will be there all year & who doesn't have the attitude that materials need to be dumbed down, because they are too hard.

They need to have someone at school, like a family support worker or the drug/alcohol counselor my daughter knew at Summit ( she was funded by a grant), who ran groups for kids to practice social skills at lunch time & who became a great advocate for all the students.

I know it is unfortunate that schools are expected to provide these services for students- however- they are & they may not be duplicated or available somewhere else.

We need to look at what the raw material is- ( sorry I cant think of a better metaphor right now), instead of only what we want the finished product to be.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks back, at the Haller Lake Community Center event Melissa wrote about, there was mention made of a program run by Powerful Schools to help kids get up to speed in reading. From 2 different pages on their web site, they say that a $1400 donation will pay the same tutor to work with the same child for ½ an hour a day, 4 days a week, 28 weeks a year.

WHY aren't there 20 or 200 of these best practice / program things figured out in some big lists on the internet? Projected times to implement and cost estimates to pay for the time?

I believe the ed reformers don't do it on a massive scale cuz their string pullers are about wrecking opportunity, not creating it. Period. (Need a stamp to send money to LEV or Stand On Children - I'll buy the stamp!)

I believe the education establishment doesn't do it cuz too many of their managers are blindingly incompetent when it comes to making anything run well. There are different reasons for not being able to make things run well. Too often making things run well has meant hiring those kinds who bragged of making the trains the run on time. Making things run well means firing everyone making a semi family wage, and replacing them with poorly paid "contractors" overseen by well paid thieving managers. Our colleges train tome writing pontificators, not efficiency oriented public servants. Lots of the world's white collar work keeps lots of people real busy - being busy doesn't mean you're work is useful.

A few of us get to be George Kennan and write the containment paper - fewer get to be One of The Big Three at Yalta - the rest of us outta do something useful.

Maybe Charlie should have signed this outstanding piece

"X"

Anonymous said...

What about students with learning disabilities? That's the biggest gap of all.

30 students total passed math HSPE.
0 students at Franklin, Ranier Beach, and Ingraham passed. 0!!!

It's likely that the 30 who actually did pass, weren't even in real special ed, but were just getting a related service.

Students with learning disabilities are routinely denied ANY access to specialists: like reading, math, test-prep offered to those without disabilties. Reason? Well, students with disabilities have got special ed don't they? And obviously, their special education isn't doing them much good.

And by the way, students with disabilities are disproportionately minority also. So, that's a big double-whamey. If you're a minority student, you can just be tossed in special ed and forgotten about. A special form of "twice exceptional", and "twice acheivement gapped".

--SPED parent

Anonymous said...

What percent of Black students are FRE students?...

I did a spreadsheet and charts on comparing FRL to test scores and demographic info provided in the School Report Cards for all 51 K-5 schools.

Very high correlation between "African-Am" and FRL (keep in mind that in their infinite wisdom the District chose to include African students with African-AM in this category).

Also, another interesting correlation is that parental response rates to the survey of how they feel about their child's school drops dramatically as FRL population at a school increases; that is, parents of disadvantaged, minority children don't bother to respond.

Has their been anything in the Strategic Plan for outreach to these parents? The Report Card results don't indicate that.

ken berry

wsnorth said...

Does anyone ever really analyze root cause of "the achievement gap" in detail?

Tonight I was just discussing this issue with three diverse multi-racial families. Do we ever stop to consider that maybe some % of the FRE population is FRE due to the fact that they don't work very hard, do not value education at home, or that they just do not value material wealth?

Some success is luck and some is hard work, but should we measure the "gap" between one person and another or between what a person wants to/can achieve vs. what they are achieving?

Maybe some poor/FRE are just not good at math or science and that is just the way it is. It doesn't even have to be a bad thing, it seems to me there is a lot of opportunity for people who can read and write well, even if they are not very good at math or science.

dan dempsey said...

Seems to me that what the "Administrative WE" are going to do about it is nothing. The spending on WA State's adoption of the Common Core Standards will just kick the can down the road for at least the next six years.

Meanwhile, check the remediation rates for Seattle's Three Community Colleges for Fall 2009. HERE.

HERE is a Historical Look at that data.

HERE is clearly a fine example of "Separate and increasingly unequal schools", courtesy of the NEW STUDENT ASSIGNMENT PLAN ---- remember the NSAP will make every school a quality school.

Except NSAP has no mechanism other than hand waiving to accomplish that "quality school" transformation task.

Note: another one meeting Intro/Action is occurring in regard to the NSAP on Wednesday at the Board meeting.... must be an emergency.

dan dempsey said...

Dear WS North,

Much of what you say is valid. In fact the socio-economic challenge factor is likely a lot more socio than economic.

I encourage you to examine what is known to work with educationally disadvantaged learners and contrast that with what the Seattle Schools actually does.

There is a shocking mismatch between what has been proven to work and what is done by the SPS.

You can find a lot of that information on my blog. You're quick snap-shot are these PFT graphs.

Sadly Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards Initiative are little more than expensive chaotic direction that again ignores what has been proven to work.

To improve a product that is functionally inadequate requires more than lots of additional sales persons.

Chris said...

I don't really know what to say about this, but what struck me from this post, stellar as it is throughout, is the highlighting of the MATH gap.

Dan Dempsey is right. There must be something deeply wrong with the curriculum when so few overall is that can meet the standards. And I might be suspicious of the standards, but Cliff Mass is also right. It's no surprise many college entrants need remediation in math.

This ought to be something we can all agree to work on because it affects all our kids.

ps: it's also puzzling to how science can be improving while math not..didn't I hear science was improving somewhere recently?

nikki said...

I think it is very interesting that there have been a number of students who have just been "passed" through the system. Some of these students were special ed students who could not read. I'm talking special ed students who did not have mental or physical disabilities.

There have also been students that would skip, skip, skip and given a PASS packet towards the end of their senior year and allowed to graduate. Wow! maybe all students should be given that opportunity.

What this has done however, is forced college and university professors to question how incoming college students are getting A's and B's in certain advanced subjects but when they reach college they can't even do the basic work. Well, could be that there was a lot of cheating going on or that they were just being passed through the system.
Interesting huh???

Syd said...

Not ready for enrichment? Not ready to benefit from interesting classes? That just sound completely counter-intuitive to me. Getting kids interested and putting learning in context (field trips) is how you acquire and keep a child's attention.

Re: Tonight I was just discussing this issue with three diverse multi-racial families. Do we ever stop to consider that maybe some % of the FRE population is FRE due to the fact that they don't work very hard, do not value education at home, or that they just do not value material wealth?

Seriously? This sounds like a "I'm not racist but" statement. Who honestly believes that being poor is easy? No one. I think you probably have a point you are trying to make here, but I am getting lost in the presentation.

Cap'n Billy Keg said...

The answer...? Who knows, but if you didn't see this program on PBS (Friday, 11 Feb) this link will take you to it... A program worth watching... Who knows, maybe what was done in Brockton, MA could be done here in Seattle...? Just a thought...

emeraldkity said...

Not ready for enrichment? Not ready to benefit from interesting classes?

If you haven't gotten enough sleep & are hungry, how much work are you able to do? Is it your best effort?
How about that preparation for the big meeting on Monday. What about when you are not able to take your materials home & you have to rely on your notes & your memory to get ready.
How did you do?

You barely got used to your last company, just being there three months, but now you are some place else. Everyone already has their routine & introductions have been made long ago. You are basically on your own.
Since you know you likely won't be staying long at this place either, you just try not to get over your head or into trouble.

Tell me again how poverty & upheaval doesn't affect a student's ability to learn.

wsnorth said...

Syd, I think Dan got my point in the "Dear wsnorth", and provided some interesting links, thank you, Dan.

To be overly blunt, don't you think some people are naturally better at math than others? In turn, is it possible that people who are naturally better at math are less likely to be poor?

We say we value diversity yet we despair when "this group's" math scores aren't as good as "that group's".

I think everyday math sucks, and every kid deserves a chance to unlock their potential, and I certainly hope the district finds a formula that works better, but maybe looking at the problem in a different way might lead to more progress.

Anonymous said...

wsnorth, you're talking about two different things-nature and nurture and I think you're getting them mixed up. If "some groups" are "naturally better at math" that would be NATURE, as in born that way, like my oldest who came out of the womb doing math and my youngest who hasn't stopped talking yet. But being poor is not NATURE, it's NURTURE, or an ipediment to nurture, yet you're implying that poor kids are maybe less good at math. And since in this discussion it's the black kids who are both poor and doing less well in math, what you're saying sounds a lot like "poor black kids aren't NATURALLY good at math", and isn't that what Chris Korsmo was saying she was hearing, that poor and black and brown kids can't learn as well as others? And here you are SAYING exactly that, even if that's not what you mean. But maybe I'm missing your point like you think she is. Maybe what you're really trying to say is that "some groups" are better at say, basketball than math. So we should do what, exactly? Teach those poor, black, not-naturally good at math some other way than those better-off white ones so that everyone can reach the artificial potential (or lack therof) you're seeing in them?

--junebug--

Charlie Mas said...

You can be sure that I'm not saying that poor kids or black kids aren't good at math. I didn't say that and I wouldn't say that because I don't believe that.

I would say that poor kids and black kids, in general, get less preparation to succeed at math class and get less support for success at math class. Individual cases vary.

More to the point, I'm saying that poor kids and black kids are seriously hampered in their ability to succeed in math by schools' practice of moving them along to second grade math when they don't have a solid grasp of first grade math, then moving them along to third grade math when they don't have a solid grasp of second grade math, and so on, every year, year after year.

What I'm saying, as I have been saying for about ten years now, is that the way to address the academic achievement gap is to identify the students working below grade level and get them the early and effective interventions they need to succeed - whatever those interventions might be for each individual student.

In this particular post on that theme, I'm hypothesizing that in math - in particular - it is critically important that we deliver the interventions early since new learning in this discipline is predicated on mastery of the foundational lessons.

Guppy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guppy said...

Charlie, very well said, and I agree.

As for wsnorth saying "don't you think some people are naturally better at math than others? In turn, is it possible that people who are naturally better at math are less likely to be poor? We say we value diversity yet we despair when "this group's" math scores aren't as good as "that group's". "

wsnorth, yes, of course some people are naturally better at math than others. The problem comes when we think whole groups of people are better at math than others. Do you really think all white, or all rich children are naturally better at math than all black and low income students?

There are certainly plenty of environmental factors that would cause low income black students to not perform as well as their rich white counterparts, none of which have anything to do with their natural talents and capabilities.

Chris said...

I think wsnorth is talking about cause and effect, not nature vs. nurture, although none of the four can really be isolated.

I think there is a point in there somewhere. Clearly our economy values talent and skills in math and basketball.

This is making me think of a passage in Yong Zhao's book where he says there are standardized tests out there that rely less on content knowledge than cognitive skills and creativity. Apparently there are both better predictors of future success and show less of a gap between ethnic/racial groups than the tests currently in use. Why don't we use them? I can think of two reasons. What do you think?

Cascadian Chronicler said...

This is a very nice piece of liberal preaching to the choir. My question: how are you going to frame this discussion in a way that makes sense to those who are more conservative than the typical reader of this blog? By that, I mean the typical voter in Washington State.

If I am a conservative suburban parent, the question that springs to mind is "why should my tax money fund smaller class sizes for inner-city black kids and my kids are in big classes? If the kids' own families don't care about preparing them for school, why should I have to make up the difference?"

In the eyes of the suburban school districts, SPS has a bloated central office, a bloated transportation budget (up to twice as much money per student as that of the large suburban districts in Washington, and the suburban districts don't have schools as close together!), and overpaid teachers (one of the most generous contracts of any western Washington school district). And then SPS whines to the legislature about not having enough funding.

I myself mostly agree with the viewpoint expressed here, but I can tell you, as one who lives in one of the suburban school districts, this whole line of discussion will get nearly zero traction outside of the Seattle city limits.

SPS depends on its funding from the state legislature, and most of the legislature represents places who have a rather dim view of SPS's attitude and how it conducts business. How do you propose to make your case in a language they understand?

Dorothy Neville said...

Cascadian Chronicler, I agree with you 100%. That's why I think we in Seattle MUST work for reform at the top, we MUST restore credibility of SPS by insisting on a transparent, lean, efficient central office, we MUST reform the culture of JSCEE.

wseadawg said...

C.C.: Good points, but to answer the "why should I pay for them(?)" question, it's pay now, or pay a lot more later.

WSNorth: I get what you're trying to say, but you'll touch a lot of nerves in P.C. Seattle by asking honest questions without qualifying, qualifying again, filtering, and accommodating every possible exception and outlier in your question. C'mon folks, you sound like Chris Korsmo, who made an ass of herself on TV the other night. Nobody is suggesting black kids can't learn, blah, blah, blah. The scores are saying they AREN'T! Not that they CAN'T! And Dan and others have been telling us why and how for years. If a crappy approach is hard on average or high achieving kids, it is that much harder on the lower performing and struggling kids. (Duh, SPS! What did you think would happen?)

Like Everett, Tukwila and Renton are demonstrating, getting grown-ups involved and looking after the struggling kids whose parents can't, whether because of single parenting, multiple jobs, addiction or jail (what does it really matter?), role models, counselors, or generally a reliable, available person who gives a damn can move mountains. But SPS takes a different route.

For 25 million in worthless math textbooks, we could have hired and retained enough tutors and counselors to close the achievement gap by 20 or 30 points. But people are not "flashy" like the latest fad of the Ed Reformers or Waiting for Superman fantasy chasers.

It's about getting to the root cause without judging or presuming, and delivering the best we can for each kid, whether that kid winds up with an A or a C+ in any given subject.

Some will be naturally better, but I feel this is mostly about kids being demanded to meet standards without every realistically being told why. Why should I(?) is probably the most commonly asked question of the 12 year old kid in 7th grade who's decided school just isn't that important anymore. If we're going to beat on them constantly to do their homework, we might want to present them with a world and future not riddled with debt and worn out American dreams long dead as a result of our own bad habits and greed.

Is it culture? Is it race? Is it socio-economic status? Is it teacher quality? Which is it?

It's all of it and more.

Bless every teacher you know for continuing to fight the good fight. They deserve it.

Charlie Mas said...

SPED Parent is, of course, right. the Achievement Gap is even greater for students with IEPs - the vast majority of whom do not have any cognitive impairment.

Again, the answer is the same: we need to regard the students as individuals and respond to their individual needs on a case-by-case basis. Everybody needs some support; the achievement gap is the measure of how schools and districts have failed to provide needed support.

Chris said...

OK, back in my "MATH gap" comment, I was talking about the fact that only 60.4% of NON-FRL kids pass math tests (44% overall.) Folks, regardless of the families economic success, over half of our kids are not "getting" math. Add in the fact that the 60% pass rate relies on Kumon, Sylvan & Math-n-stuff, ouch!

This just struck me as a case we should prioritize as a rising tide could life a lot of boats. Andre Helmstetter said something intriguing when he was running for school board that math could benefit from initiatives like reading has from all the literacy initiatives.

Charlie Mas said...

Cascadian Chronicler has written what is probably the best comment I have read this year - if not ever - on this blog.

The question, put in the mouth of a conservative suburban voter, could just as easily have come from any reasonable person living anywhere, including Seattle:

"Why should my tax money fund smaller class sizes for inner-city black kids and my kids are in big classes? If the kids' own families don't care about preparing them for school, why should I have to make up the difference?"

I'm ready with an answer.

We, as a society, have decided that it serves the public good to provide for the education of every student in the state. That is, in fact, the state government's paramount duty, according to the state constitution. You can agree with that goal or disagree with it, but it is indisputable that we have accepted the task.

Some students cost more to educate than others. There area number of required elements to learning and, while some students get those things at home, some students do not. If they don't get it at home then the school district will have to provide it to fulfill their charge.

Why should YOU pay for it? Because we have accepted the job whatever it takes and that's what it takes.

Does it mean larger class sizes for your kids? Yes, but it also means your kids will learn more.

In a typically formed class of thirty-two there will be one or two students who are not ready to do the work (many more in some schools). These students, incapable of engaging in the lesson, will act out and misbehave, interrupting your child's education and occupying the teacher's time with their discipline issues. Even if they don't misbehave, the teacher will have to devote precious class time to providing them with remedial lessons, reviewing material that your child learned last year or the year before. The pace of the class will be slowed and your child will learn less.

Imagine what your child's fourth grade class would be like if every student in the class were ready to do fourth grade work. It would go like a rocket.

As for the question about why we should care about the kids' education if their families don't, I can only say that the lack of concern for education is not the child's choice and the child should not have to suffer for it.

We provide support for children living in poverty because, no matter what you believe to be at the root of the adults' poverty, no matter how much you think they brought it on themselves, their children made no such choices. Similarly, these kids did not choose to be born into a family that doesn't support their education.

Cascadian Chronicler said...

Charlie, in order to effectively change the discussion among conservatives, the answer can't be much longer than the question. They have stated a simple question in two sentences that apparently lends itself to a simple, obvious answer ("You shouldn't have to pay for them because that would be an unequitable use of resources"), and you have answered in eight paragraphs. Do you think they will be listening by the end of your second paragraph, let alone the eighth?

Point by point, argued from a conservative point of view:
We, as a society, have decided that it serves the public good to provide for the education of every student in the state. That is, in fact, the state government's paramount duty, according to the state constitution. You can agree with that goal or disagree with it, but it is indisputable that we have accepted the task.

Here is what the state Constitution says:
SECTION 1 PREAMBLE. It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.


This section refers to: providing education "without distinction or preference . . .", and a "general and uniform system of public schools". Those would seem to support the argument against unequal distribution of resources.

Some students cost more to educate than others. There area number of required elements to learning and, while some students get those things at home, some students do not. If they don't get it at home then the school district will have to provide it to fulfill their charge.

Does "ample provision for the education of all children" mean "ample provision to make all children ready to learn"? Why is this second item not the responsibility of families? If my family can do it without government assistance, and largely without spending any money at all, why should my tax dollars be obligated to do something that shouldn't be a public obligation?

By this time the conservative reader will probably have concluded that you are full of crap and will have moved on to another subject.

Why should YOU pay for it? Because we have accepted the job whatever it takes and that's what it takes.

I accepted the job, through the Constitution, of providing for the education of children, not providing for the preparation of children for schools that my family does and other families ought to do. The public education is available, whenever the families and their children want to take advantage of it.

Does it mean larger class sizes for your kids? Yes, but it also means your kids will learn more.

Haven't liberals been screaming for more money for schools because "kids do better in smaller classes"? Which is it? Is it just that poor kids do better in smaller classes but my kids will do better in bigger classes?

Cascadian Chronicler said...

Part 2:

In a typically formed class of thirty-two there will be one or two students who are not ready to do the work (many more in some schools). These students, incapable of engaging in the lesson, will act out and misbehave, interrupting your child's education and occupying the teacher's time with their discipline issues. Even if they don't misbehave, the teacher will have to devote precious class time to providing them with remedial lessons, reviewing material that your child learned last year or the year before. The pace of the class will be slowed and your child will learn less.

At my kid's school, the teacher does remedial lessons during recess, lunch, or after school, not during class time (not hypothetical here; this is what really happens in my kid's suburban elementary school class). For those who are progressing normally, their time is not wasted on those who are having trouble keeping up.

As for the question about why we should care about the kids' education if their families don't, I can only say that the lack of concern for education is not the child's choice and the child should not have to suffer for it.

We provide support for children living in poverty because, no matter what you believe to be at the root of the adults' poverty, no matter how much you think they brought it on themselves, their children made no such choices. Similarly, these kids did not choose to be born into a family that doesn't support their education.


Answer from my hypothetical suburban parent: It's not something I should have to suffer for, either. Why not tax the kids' own parents for the additional services?

A lot of conservatives seem very much to want the children to suffer from their parents' mistakes, even if they don't say it in that many words. In any event, saying that "they didn't do anything to deserve it" doesn't qualify as justification for government support in the conservative worldview.

I'm not saying your answer is wrong; again, in general, I agree with it. The problem is most voters in this state won't even give that line of argument a hearing, because it still seems to attack one of their fundamental assumptions, which is that their children should be allocated resources that are reasonably equivalent to those allocated to other children. Anything else smacks of unfairness or worse.

Restating the conservative viewpoint using a simplistic analogy: The water (education) is being provided. If the horse (families/students) won't drink, why is that my problem?

So, back to my original line of inquiry: how do you propose to sell these kinds of ideas to the Legislature (and by extension, to the people of Washington) in a way that doesn't do violence to their fundamental ideas about what fairness and equal opportunity mean?

Jan said...

Hmm, Cascadian Chronicler. I am not Charlie, and will let him speak for himself. But here is an argument far less "sanguine" than Charlie's.

Unless conservatives are prepared to suspend the constitution and move to dictatorship, or oligarchy at the least, in the end, they had better be invested in doing what it takes to move "a majority" in the society to their income/social level. Otherwise, there will come a time when those who are no longer cowed by threats of disappearing jobs (they don't have one anyway), or lured by the prospect of a better future (they no longer have any hope) outvote those in power, and then impose their "income redistribution" rules in ways that are truly unpleasant to consider.

There is a goose here, as well as a golden egg. I think that conservatives would do well to think what may happen to the golden eggs they enjoy if they continue to starve their goose.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm not a fan of bumper-sticker politics, but I'll try.

We need to do whatever it takes to educate these kids because it is outcomes that matter, not process. When you are boosting people over a wall, you have to lift short people higher than tall people. Don't leave the job half-done.

Cascadian Chronicler said...

With regard to the last two comments, you are still essentially arguing from your own worldview. I think it is generally underappreciated in liberal enclaves, such as Seattle, just how totally and completely a scary number of people buy into all of the propraganda coming out of conservative talk radio and the Tea-Party noise machine (a world in which the core assumptions of most liberals are deemed invalid, ipso facto (though they would never dream of using the Latin phrase :) )), and how many of these are poor people with few prospects that would benefit enormously from a little income redistribution of the sort that they have learned to be violently against.

But I think we've all made our points as well as they will be made, so I will now leave it alone.