Monday, December 08, 2008

Tough Line On Education: Am I Wrong For That?

Arkansas House Majority Leader Steve Harrelson has an excellent blog for covering state issues called "Under the Dome". Occasionally I comment on it, but this time I got into such a dialogue that I found myself doing more writing there than here. Now that's not right!

So what I am going to do is transport the dialog over here. Let me do the set up first. Steve posted an article on education reform. Someone lauded the KIPP school, which is a charter school for children from educationally challenged backgrounds that has very high standards. I will start with the poster I will call "The Utopian", because it was their remarks I was responding to. The Uptopian was down on KIPP and was for the current educational model.

"One of the things that charter schools do is take students who want to succeed, work hard, and keep their noses to the grindstone and educate them without the distractions of the not-so-motivated students. Regular public schools do not have that luxury...they have to educate any and all comers. They really cannot send those less motivated students somewhere else...they MUST do their best with them.

What happens is that charter schools take those that can and leave those that don't really want to do much for the regular schools to deal with. For the students (usually lower income) who do not have parents who are willing (or, who are able) to transport their children to a charter school and who do not have parents who are able to provide the parental input and support usually required in charter environments, they are left to get along as best as possible with all of the rest of the less-desired students in a district. That is not fair.

Charter schools never tell how many dropouts they have who start the year and fail to finish...or how many are sent back to the public schools for not "abiding" by the contract they initially sign when they enroll.

If charter schools had to take all comers, not allow any to drop out, and deal with the same problems as regular public schools, you would see the same results.

They are perpetuating a hoax on everyone as to their success rate and how it is achieved.

If all the time, money, and effort that is being expended on charter schools (and yes, I'm talking about KIPP, too) were applied to making the local regular schools work, they would perform better, do better, and show better results. As for me, don't even talk about charter schools being the end all to our problems in educating our children, as I am a non-believer."

My response and the dialog is on the jump. Tell me folks, am I being unreasonable Monday below and scroll down.


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

A former public school teacher here:

There is a lot of good advice on this thread. The high stakes testing leads to absurd unintended consequences and should be scrapped pronto.

If you think about it, Arkansas has been an early adopter of almost every stupid "reform" idea that has come down the pike for the last 25 years. They all ignored student accountability. They treated children like humans are just machines, that if you push the right buttons then you WOULD get the right results, therefore all failures were due to staff not pushing the right buttons.

We have taken the lead on all these trendy fads in education, and we are still on the bottom. That's why we need to at least give the parents who care a choice to get back to the kind of schools we had a generation ago, which worked better and cost us less. Get away from the fads.

Teachers have always had "accountability", to the principals, parents, and school board members of their district. The talk of "accountability" in education was just a smokescreen from central authorities who wanted more control and bigger budgets. Except for the most serious abuses the state and the Feds should get out of the way and let community schools be community schools again.

I know it is almost impossible to do that when egos are involved and when there is public money to be scammed off the latest "reform", but it is the truth.

Would doing so insure that each public school is an excellent school? Of course not, but neither will all of this hand-binding nonsense from D.C.. If the community only values education X amount, you can't make the school into a 3X school, you can only waste people's time and money trying. It is up to the community to start caring. We can't care for them.

As for the complaints that charter schools only do well because they have students who care and the public schools have a bunch who don't- the answer is as obvious as it is UN-PC. Kick the ones who don't care out of public school. They are not really "students" anyway. Why let them ruin it for the rest of them?

We have people here who want the public schools to take hostages. First the "students" who don't want to be there and just cause trouble are supposed to be warehoused until 18, then when the real students attempt a jail-break by fleeing to a charter school they want to grab them and put them back in the poor environment that they fled from.

I say again for possible penetration: GET RID OF THE NON-STUDENTS. They don't want to be there, their parents don't care much if they are learning anything there, and they are contributing to an environment that provokes the good students to flee.

The other main problem is spoiled students and parents who enable them, but that is another rant.

9:18 AM, December 08, 2008  
Anonymous The Utopian said...

For the person above who wants to kick the non-interested students out of the regular public schools, I ask this question: are you prepared for you and your children to be responsible for providing public support and benefits for an entire society of people who are uneducated? Will there be enough prisons and jails to take care of them? Can we afford to ignore their future needs just because, as youths, they are are not good students? Do you want to perpetuate into eternity their being on the hind end of society, or you not think that we owe it to them to at least attempt to give them the tools they need to succeed later on?

I say that we must make the effort to assist them now. After all, by giving them an education now, we will save money in the long run. Besides that, we are not an elitist society (just yet) who says to them "let them eat cake." America has traditionally believed in bringing everyone along on the trip to a better life. That means providing an education for all. It is in the constitution of almost all 50 states to provide an adequate and equal education to all of its citizens (remember "Lake View?").

When you set up a system where the privileged (those with the means to get to school on their own, those who have involved parents, etc.) are the ones getting the best of a public education, you begin a journey down a road I don't think our nation wishes to take.

9:20 AM, December 08, 2008  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

You may be talking to me.

No, I am not prepared for me and my children to provide support and benefits for an entire society full of uneducated people. That is why I say we must expel the non-students from our schools, to give those on the margins a better chance.

I have been there, I gave over a decade of my life to the classroom. I understand the dynamic. Take a class of 200 students per grade in a school. Even within the same school, classes vary greatly in their attitude toward education. One year you may have a class that values education, and the next year it is a struggle every day.

I have observed that a few strong personalities can sway the whole class one way or another. The administration is the same, the teachers are the same, the course work is the same, the physical plant of the school is the same.

The variable is the individual personalities of the class. In theory, that should average out and each grade will have a similar number of disruptors and dream students with the average half-way between. But the theory does not match the facts on the ground. In reality, one ethos or the other tends to dominate the whole grade.

The solution is to make a deliberate effort to isolate the strong personalities that don't care to learn and don't care for anyone else to learn either. Get them away from the rest of them ASAP. That is how to help the underprivileged youth you (and I) are so concerned about. The upper class kids will get by even in an environment where the rest of them are dragged down by the disruptors.

So the difference between us is not that one cares about underprivileged youth and one does not, rather the difference is that one of us is a statist uptopian and the other is not.

We can offer everyone many opportunities but we CAN'T insure they will take advantage of them. What you advocate is simply not one of our options, but we are destroying public education and wasting piles of money pretending that it is.

They are free moral agents who can choose to reject what we see as the best path for them. I don't agree with the decisions that some parents and non-students make, but you know what, its not my choice and not my life. It is theirs, and ultimately I want to respect them enough to respect their choice for themselves even if it is not the one I would make for them.

"by giving them an education we will save money in the long run". Maybe we are not talking about the same group. You CAN'T give the people I am talking about an education because they don't WANT to exert the great effort it takes to get it and don't value what you are trying to sell. You can only warehouse them at great expense and reduced efficiency towards those that are willing to work at it.

This also applies to the unfounded assertion that we "will save money in the long run". Money per student has doubled, even tripled in the last generation, but achievement is stagnant on non-rigged measures. Most of the money has been spent on low achievers.

Some of them are their because of real educational disability, so I don't count those. Some are there because they are lazy and don't want to do the hard work of learning. We have tried spending more on this group. It has not worked because human beings are not machines, but free moral agents. We keep dumping more money in there hoping to find a way to push the right buttons. They are not machines. Increased investment in this group has been a money pit for society, not a rational investment.

And yes I remember Lakeview. It was a judicial travesty then and it is a judicial travesty now. I agree with the two justices in the dissent who said that they did not have the authority to determine what an "adequate" level of spending for education was. That was Gunter and Hannah. As for the rest of them, it is my view that they should be impeached for usurpation of legislative and executive authority- not that Arkansas has a system where the ledge can really do that.

We CAN'T "give them an education", we can only give them an OPPORTUNITY to get one for themselves. If they consistently refuse it for themselves and act in a way that will make it an obstacle for others, then justice demands we act.

As for your last paragraph, what percentage of the student body do you think I want tossed? It would not take that many, and there are plenty of ways a person who comes to value education later in life can get it.

9:21 AM, December 08, 2008  
Anonymous The Utopian said...

Yes, Mark Moore (Moderator),I am talking to you.

I don't know that I have spoken with anyone in recent memory to someone who is as blatantly honest as you are in your desire to set up a society where the "haves" get the best we have and the "have-nots" get what left.

So, you expel the "non-students" from our public schools and all will be hunky-dory? Again, I ask you, what do you propose we do when those expelled students you do not wish to attempt to educate later on show up at the welfare office asking for public assistance? Turn them away you say, for they didn't want to get an education (they were "lazy," they were "disruptors," and they have been a "money pit for society.") Oh, don't forget, that they will probably engender more children themselves who have the same propensities they themselves once exhibited. Turn their children away, too. Do this and, you know what, before long, we will have become a third world country, much like most of Central America...(where all of those people come from that most folks like you don't want to allow into our country...undeducated and with but two classes of citizens: upper and lower.)

Also, Mark, these "non-stedents" to whom you refer are children. They are very immature. Most of them come from homes that don't value an education. How are they to know at such an early juncture in their young lives that it is really in their best interests to avail themselves of the opportunity to receive an education? They don't. They are children. It is society's job to ensure that they receive one, no matter the cost or the effort.

To do as you propose by expelling them from school and acting like an ostrich sticking its head in a hole in the ground is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

Mark, we're going to have to deal with these types of students. Taking away their educational opportunities is not the way to do it. It is of exteme importance to the future of our country to do everything humanly possible to persuade them to receive the education that is offered to them. Not only their future depends upon it, but so do yours, mine, our children, and our grandchildren.

I don't care what you say. Our country has always believed in the concept of universal education for everyone and I still do, too. I was an educator for 28 years (classroom teacher, not an administer). I did not like the fact that many students were disruptive, that many did not seem to be interested in what I was trying to do for them, but I never gave up trying. That was what my calling as a teacher was teach. And teach I did. Did I reach all of them? No. Did I make a difference? I believe I did. But never once did I advocate a classed society where those with means and availability received an education and to hell with all of the others.

9:22 AM, December 08, 2008  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

AAAAARGGH this is frustrating. Please listen to what I am saying and don't simply stick me in a mental stereotype. You are not even responding to what I am proposing. I believe you are responding to your mis-perception of what you THINK I said because it has one or two concepts in common with your stereotype.

I will answer your question as to what I think we should do with this group, in the hopes that you will re-read my post and engage on its actual content rather than your pre-conceived stereo type.

I think people who don't value education should get jobs that don't require one. Most of them are low paying, but since you mention it, if we did expel illegal aliens these jobs would pay a lot better, because there would be less supply of workers.

A lot of the illegal aliens came here and some did fine for themselves. They could not read, write, or speak English, but they could and did work hard and avoid doing stupid stuff. If they can make it, then the people I am talking about can too. They are proof positive that lack of education is not a death sentence.

You CAN'T educate the small group I am talking about anyway because they don't want to play your game, so again it is not a question of whether we should educate them or not, but rather will they be allowed to remain warehoused in the system where they can drag others down with them or not.

And again, the people I am talking about don't want that education at age 16. Maybe at 24 they will think better of it, and if so there are ways to get it.

If you spent 28 years in the classroom then doubtless you have seen the movie "Lean on Me" the Joe Clark story. He was an inner-city Principal who took over a completely disfunctional school. He turned it around by doing EXACTLY what I am suggesting. In fact, this is not my plan. This is Principal Joe Clark's plan, and it is a proven winner.

The only downside is that one has to have the courage to face harsh realities rather than pleasant fantasies and we increasingly lack the grit to do that.

I honestly believe that the proven plan I am suggesting will allow more young people at the margin to make it than what we are currently doing. This plan is not to benefit the children of the upper class- those kids are going to make it no matter what. It is the kids on the edge that need to be protected from the bad apples the most.

Look, parents of these young people are doing it anyway. That is just what the KIPP school is. My remarks were a response to intimations that they should not be allowed to do that because it will drain the public schools who MUST educate ALL students. Really, can they? Do they? Must they?

All I am saying is lets not just protect the KIPP students from the bad-apples. Those borderline students whose parents don't value education enough to find them a KIPP school also deserve a chance to be protected from them.

9:31 AM, December 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Utopian 'solution': Equal distribution of misery.

That is, drag down the other students so that the punks "might" learn something in between moments spent bullying of the 'nerds.'

And what's this "are we prepared to pay" nonsense? We're already paying out the wazoo for these disasters they call public education. There isn't any one thing we spend more from the state budget on than education, yet every year the kids get dumber

We've tried it your way for the last several decades, Tope, and it's been an unmitigated failure. Now that some schools are breaking away from the "new fad" models, getting back to what works and are succeeding, the equal-distribution-of-misery crowd is up in arms.

12:59 PM, December 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great topic. But you mistakenly said Steve Harrelson is the "House Speaker." Steve is instead the House Majority Leader.

5:53 PM, December 08, 2008  

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