November 29, 2004

NO LIBERAL SHIBBOLETH LEFT BEHIND:

A city's schools test a new way: School privatization gets a boost from good results in Philadelphia. (Mary Beth McCauley, 11/30/04, CS Monitor)

[I]f privatizing school management has not proven to be the panacea many in Philadelphia had hoped, neither has Edison been the district's undoing, as activists and others warned when the firm was brought in during the rancorous and bitter state takeover of the district in 2002. On the contrary, test scores are up district-wide, and some of the most impressive gains have come in 20 of the toughest schools, those turned over to Edison in a last-ditch effort to jump-start them into performing.

"They've done a superb job with the most difficult schools," said James Nevels, chairman of the state-appointed School Reform Commission, which took over after the school board was disbanded. [...]

Not everyone has been converted. Barbara Goodman, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which fought the partnership, and whose members now staff the Edison schools, credits the district workforce with the gains in performance, and says the PFT favors uniform administration. Lois Yampolsky, a community activist who also fought privatization, still believes profitmaking Edison shouldn't be there, rejecting the company's argument that in public schools everything from transportation to textbooks comes from the private sector - and that there's no reason management shouldn't as well.


Nicly illustrating that critics don't care what works but about protecting union jobs and opposing capitalist ideas. The only thing missing is the opposition to letting kids get religious educations instead of being captives of the State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 29, 2004 6:52 PM
Comments

Also demonstrating that they don't really care about the welfare of the children.

Posted by: jd watson at November 29, 2004 7:59 PM

Don't be jumping ahead of the results or anything, oj.

Among the year's achievement highlights, student scores on the 2003-04 Pennsylvania state tests were up substantially in the district as a whole, and Edison's gains mirrored the district's

So, good. It's assumed that keeping pace is harder in the bad schools (regression to the mean notwithstanding), and that may well be true. But, then, one year of successful triage is hardly proof that the model is the best (or even better) for all schools.

And, of course, the teachers were PFT, not Edison hires.

I like Edison, but their basic strength is not the magic of the free market. It is (I paraphrase Chris Whittle on this point) the ability to organize and analyze data as a corporation might do, and to make empirically-validated changes across their entire system. Of course, this is what Bratton and Giuliani did so successfully with the NYPD, and that wasn't private sector.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 29, 2004 8:07 PM

S.S. - Please stop muddying the waters with facts!

Posted by: at November 29, 2004 8:08 PM

All true, but the NEA and the teachers' unions are opposed to even incremental reform like that. Plus, the idea of accountability terrifies them.

And just what do "community activists" know about education? Only that better schools probably won't line up with their politics.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 29, 2004 10:51 PM

ss:

No, Bratton and Guiliani reversed forty years of liberal social theory. When we do that in schools it'll work too.

Posted by: oj at November 29, 2004 11:17 PM

"I like Edison, but their basic strength is not the magic of the free market."

What?

There is not a single company, not one, whose strength is in the "magic of the free market". Free markets work not because they imbue participating organizations with "magic", but because they force them to produce to survive. It's not Edison's ability to "organize and analyze data as a corporation might do", but their need to do so under the pressure of competition and public scrutiny. Yes, the City of Philadelphia probably could have done the same thing, but they didn't. They didn't need to.

By the way, Edison's 20 school's are not the only ones turned over to outside contractors, 25 others were turned over to the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Chancellor-Beacon Inc., Victory Schools Inc., Foundations Inc. and Universal Companies. Is it really surprising that with a little competition, tests were up district-wide? But maybe you're right, I'm sure that 2003 would have been the city's year even without the competition.

Posted by: djs at November 29, 2004 11:39 PM

Jim--

One man's incremental reform is another's pay cut, loss of job, or loss of pension.

oj--

Actually, it was the Dinkins Administration that started the James Q. Wilson-style "broken windows" (e.g. wiping out subway graffitti) policies. Bratton and Giuliani's major reform was just what I said.

djs--

I'm sure that 2003 would have been the city's year even without the competition.
Well, I think it's yet to be shown that the other 231 schools (84% of the district providing a proportionate amount of the gains) suddenly gotten their act together through fear or the spirit of competition. That's a little too post hoc ergo propter hoc for me.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 12:10 AM

The idea that the improvements shown are not causally related to the free market reforms that immediately preceded them is a little bit too wild-*ss coincidium for me.

Posted by: djs at November 30, 2004 12:58 AM

Accountability is a disaster and a minefield.

How can a teacher be held responsible for the little snotnoses not learning anything when the ACLU is waiting around every corner looking to sue the school when the teacher tells a kid to 'sit down and shut up' thereby using state power to chill that child's First Amendment rights?

How can a teacher be held responsible when the school administration refuses to employ police as security so the animals can get away with all manner of felonious predation?

How can the teacher be held responsible where there is no mechanism to remove the violently disruptive from the school population and we have a political culture which worries more about the problems of the mentally-defective and the rights of the violent than about the normal kid just trying to get by?

How can the teacher be held responsible when after school is over the kid goes back to a physically unsafe housing project or his crack-addicted mother is too strung out to feed him?

How can the teacher be held responsible when the entire culture of the American inner city is geared to opposing any attempt at self-improvement through learning, or didn't you know that a Black kid who tries to read and write decently is beaten up by his peers for 'acting White?'

How can the teacher be blamed for becoming a discouraged, disheartened clock-punching bureaucrat in such an environment?

Posted by: Bart at November 30, 2004 6:30 AM

SS:

"...the ability to organize and analyze data as a corporation might do, and to make empirically-validated changes across their entire system."

There is you problem. Do you honestly believe such organizational hocus-pocus makes any difference to the kids? Down with systems!

Let the good teachers teach, get rid of the ones that can't, keep out teenagers that don't want to be there and choose a demanding principal who has a sense of vocation and fosters collective pride. The rest is detail. Whether you do that through a profit or non-profit set-up is secondary--go with what works. But surely we know by now you won't do it with a bueaucratic public system and a powerful teacher's union.

Posted by: Peter B at November 30, 2004 6:36 AM

Peter--

Whether you do that through a profit or non-profit set-up is secondary--go with what works.

And how do we know what works without a feedback system?

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 7:33 AM

SS:

Parental satisfaction and the success of the kids. What's wrong with that?

If by feedback systen you mean a superstructure of educational "experts" (many young and childless) testing this and that and introducing all the latest theories and mumbo-jumbo curricula, that can be a real menace. At my wife's small private school, there are some parents who get into that and are always challenging the school and teachers on the basis of what they read in the latest avant-garde educational journals. Many keep switching schools and seem oblivious to what their kids are actually doing and how happy they are.

Teaching is a hands-on art, not the delivery of pre-packaged theory and system.

Posted by: Peter B at November 30, 2004 8:22 AM

Parents are the consumers, after all.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 8:37 AM

Peter B,

There is a quantum of knowledge that we should be able to expect the bulk of children to master at each grade level. This gives us an objective standard. E.D. Hirsch's books are quite instructive though not dispositive.

Relying on 'parental satisfaction' is loopy. Parents want their kids to get A's, they don't really care if it involves learning anything. Parents want their kids to go to an Ivy League school. Whether they are capable of doing sophisticated study or whether they learn anything is incidental. The emphasis on 'parental satisfaction' is precisely why the schools have dumbed down the curriculum since the 50s.

Unless you're in a university town or in a high-income suburb where the parents are involved in the professions or techie stuff, most parents don't know doodley-squat about education, and in most cases think learning is irrelevant in that American anti-intellectual tradition.

Posted by: Bart at November 30, 2004 8:39 AM

Bart:

That's not what schools are for.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 8:41 AM

OJ,

Schools aren't about learning????

What are they for then? Just warehousing the little bastards until they're old enough to commit real felonies?

Posted by: Bart at November 30, 2004 8:51 AM

Bart:

Creating democratic citizens. Most of the kids aren't actually educable.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 9:08 AM

Peter--

If by feedback systen you mean a superstructure of educational "experts"
No, I mean an interdisciplinary review by experts in behavior and learning, based on parental reports, teacher reports, and measured academic progress. Like what schools do now, only with a broad enough collection of data and expertise to allow policy conclusions to be drawn.

introducing all the latest theories and mumbo-jumbo curricula, that can be a real menace.
That's exactly what I'm hoping will be avoided. The scandalous Whole Language episode in American education came about because teachers, schools, or school districts made decisions on their own, based on crappy research that they were in no position to evaluate.

Teaching is a hands-on art, not the delivery of pre-packaged theory and system.
Amen to that. But it's a little much to expect each teacher to write his/her own curriculum, textbooks, etc. The central structure should provide intellectual and logistical support to the teachers, not just emotional.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 9:12 AM

Schools aren't about learning???? What are they for then? Just warehousing the little bastards until they're old enough to commit real felonies?

As to public schools, that's part of it. They also exist to accumulate political power (budget dollars) in the hands of the school superintendent and his lackeys, to provide government jobs for DNC delegates--oops, I meant to type "educators"--and, in certain communities, to provide bread and circuses for the peasantry in the form of Friday night football.

There are many good people in public education, but they have to work within a system that does not have, as its prime objective, the education of students. (Want to see a public school superintendent have a public meltdown? Just suggest she ought to be accountable for student performance.) And before the local troll (that means you, SS!) pops off at how ignorant I am, please be advised that I am a former public school teacher, and I know whereof I speak.

It will not surprise you to learn that my children do not attend public schools.

Posted by: Mike Morley at November 30, 2004 9:12 AM

an interdisciplinary review by experts in behavior and learning

Yes. By all means. Gaia forbid that we should let anyone who didn't go to all the right schools, and doesn't subscribe to all the right views, should have anything to say about the education of children. Like, say, parents.

Posted by: Mike Morley at November 30, 2004 9:16 AM

SS:

Give every kid a voucher and the feedback loop is where it gets spent.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 9:28 AM

oj,

Math class ain't a democracy. If I tell you 2+2=4, we do not then take a vote on it.

And that's pretty funny coming from you, given your approval of vouchers. Whether it is a Catholic, Protestant or Jewish parochial school, there is nothing even resembling democracy. If the principal of a Catholic school doesn't want Freddy Mercury's We Are The Champions played at graduation, even after the kids vote for it, IT DOESN'T GET PLAYED. If all the kids in a Jewish school want cheeseburgers in the cafeteria, it still doesn't happen.

Mike,

In my earlier parade of horribles, I forgot to mention the sports and other frills that parents consider so important but are essentially wastes of time and money. Drama class, the Science fair, etc.

My teaching experience is college-level, but I have the benefit of two parents with about 70 years of NYC public school teaching experience, and a whole bushel of relatives with experience in the rural and small-town Upper Midwest, so I also have some idea about what I'm talking about here. Measures of accountability are meaningless in many school environments. For the reasons stated in my earlier posts, it is entirely unreasonable to hold individual teachers accountable for a system-wide failure well beyond their control. If the school system and the municipality won't take a violent kid out of the classroom and put him in jail where he belongs, what is the teacher supposed to do? If the school system insists on 'mainstreaming' the mentally-retarded into normal classes, what is the teacher supposed to do? If the parents sign out an arrest warrant on a teacher when he breaks up a fight between two students, what is the teacher supposed to do?

The loss of standards, the breakdown of discipline, the rampant crime and violence in the schools that combine to make them so horrible are the result of courts, municipalities and adminstrators truckling under to the ACLU and to a very significant percentage of the parents. Every parent in America is going to talk about how they want their kid to learn, how they worry about standards, etc but when push comes to shove and THEIR little snotnose has assaulted some other kid in the boys room, or runs around the classroom screaming like a banshee, or refuses to do any schoolwork whatsover it is an entirely different matter. In that case, even the merest attempt by a teacher to impose some soupcon, some scintilla of discipline of that little bastard gets greeted not with appreciation by a parent grateful that someone cares enough about their kid that he gets civilized, but instead with complaints, lawsuits, harassment, defamatory letters to the local paper, etc.

Posted by: Bart at November 30, 2004 10:10 AM

Yes. By all means. Gaia forbid that we should let anyone who didn't go to all the right schools, and doesn't subscribe to all the right views, should have anything to say about the education of children. Like, say, parents.

Mike--
Parents are already part of the process for their own child. Not at the policy and curriculum level, though. If they want to teach little Johnny that the earth is flat, they're just going to have to accept that the teachers aren't going to do it for them. Or send them to a Christian school. OK?

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 10:25 AM

Bart:

It's not important that they know math.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 10:27 AM

SS:

Yes, that's the point of vouchers, to liberate kids from the indoctrination of the public schools.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 10:33 AM

In America, schools exist to develop a work force for the economy. They are currently trapped in a 1950s model and screwing that up rather badly so it is no surprise that our schools are so lousy and our kids are so irredeemably rotten.

In this brave, new post-industrial world, schools should be about one basic tenet ' Don't Be a Victim!.' Knowledge, particularly math and science, but also entrepreneurial skills is going to be essential to keeping yourself safe from exploitation by public and private sector malefactors.

OJ, when you say that math isn't important you should just hand every kid a large jar of Vaseline to make his life easier, because of where he's going to be getting it the rest of his life.

Posted by: Bart at November 30, 2004 10:36 AM

Bart:

They'll have computers. Math is useless.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 10:47 AM

oj--

Yes, I see. They should go to a school where they can be taught
--Christian math (it's not in the Bible, so forget it)
--Christian science (anything that happens, it's because the Lord did it. Don't look any deeper.)
--Christian reading skills (don't read any books that aren't the Bible).
--Christian critical thinking (don't listen to anyone who's not a Christian).
That way, they'll avoid indoctrination, and will be perfectly equipped for a long, productive life.

As bloggers.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 11:02 AM

My sons who attend a Catholic school are learning math, science, and computer programming at levels far above their public school peers in this community, as measured by state-administered standardized tests. They are also reading some pretty classy literature (J.R.R. Tolkein, Michael Sharra, Gary Paulsen's "Hatchet" series, Roald Dahl), and the 6th-grader is discussing articles from Policy Review and Foreign Affairs Quarterly in his social studies class. Most important, they are learning a sense of humility and respect for others which should insure that they do not grow up to be obnoxious know-it-all blog trolls--oops, I meant to type "Social Scientists."

Posted by: Mike Morley at November 30, 2004 11:25 AM

SS:

Do you know any Christians?

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 11:37 AM

SS--

And just when I began to think you weren't a troll.

OJ, of course he doesn't know any actual Christians.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at November 30, 2004 11:42 AM

Oh, and Mr "Scientist," show us the religious schools that teach the curriculum you describe.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at November 30, 2004 11:48 AM

One of the main functions of public schools is to cement the power of the poltical bosses who run a lot of the big cities by driving opposition voter out to the suburbs. Every family that flees the cities schools means two fewer Republican voters to contend with.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 30, 2004 11:56 AM

Social Scientist: Amen!

Posted by: at November 30, 2004 11:57 AM

Bart's got it right, but he's wrong to think it's outmoded. Elementary school is about showing up on time, sitting quietly and doing your work. And learning to read. Nothing else matters.

Middle school is about getting out of puberty alive and free.

In High School, what you're learning starts to matter, as people divide up between those who learn something useful, and College prep.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 30, 2004 1:04 PM

The idea that nobody needs to learn math because we have computers and calculators is mad.

Computers will quickly execute any mathmatical formula that they're called on to do, but if the operator has no knowledge of math concepts, how will they know what to ask the computer to do ?

It's like saying that because we have word processing programmes, everyone is capable of writing great literature.
Clearly, not.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 30, 2004 5:47 PM

Michael:

I don't know any math and it's never held me back.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 5:58 PM

oj--

I don't know any Christians. All I understand of them I glean from the haloscan posts here.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 6:02 PM

Try at least reading about a few--they made almost every scientific, mathematical, etc., advance that you think their faith is incompatible with.

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 6:07 PM

oj--

Maybe usta be. Now:

Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).
http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

NAS is the National Academy of Sciences, the top rung in the American scientific ladder.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 30, 2004 6:40 PM

SS

"NAS is the National Academy of Sciences, the top rung in the American scientific ladder."

High praise indeed.

Posted by: Peter B at November 30, 2004 6:49 PM

Edward Larson has written about this a fair amount, the numbers are pretty much unchanged over the past century:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/1/story_193_1.html

Posted by: oj at November 30, 2004 7:58 PM

"... keep out teenagers that don't want to be there."

Peter is on to something. Anyone here know what the highest rated school system in the US is?

Hint: I'm not certain but it is probably also the largest.

Second hint: Peter's statement.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 1, 2004 7:07 AM

Jeff: Good point, but that system does have certain inherent advantages that would be hard to duplicate (and I'd be surprised if it were the nation's largest, other than geographically).

Posted by: David Cohen at December 3, 2004 12:55 PM
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