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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Failing Highschools

The New York Times:

While the problems of low achievement and poor high-school graduation rates are clear, however, their solutions are not. The reformist governors, for example, want to require all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. These steps will very likely increase the dropout rate, not reduce it. To understand why, you have to consider what the high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large numbers are ill prepared in mathematics, science and history. It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students. If students start high school without the basic skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems, then the governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states' junior high schools. And that first year of high school is often the most important one - many students who eventually drop out do so after becoming discouraged when they can't earn the credits to advance beyond ninth grade. Ninth grade is often referred to by educators as a 'parking lot.' This is because social promotion - the endemic practice of moving students up to the next grade whether they have earned it or not - comes to a crashing halt in high school.
Social promotion always was a huge mistake. The rest of the article is good as well and deserves reading. I believe though, that our mistakes with education are more fundamental than that. Before I go into my preferred system though, I'd like to direct you to this post by The Anchoress and this related post of her 15 yo son's opinions as well as this post by Joseph Marshall. They discuss in what highschools should be teaching, what are the minimums we feel our students, as future members of society need to know. Some of what they say I agree with, and some of what they say I don't but these posts serve very well to illustrate my main point. My belief is that we have failed kids primarily by trying to build one size fits all schools. Different kids learn stuff in different ways and failing to realize that is, in my opinion, a huge mistake. I would envision lots of smaller private schools for both primary and secondary education that have the ability to create custom environments for different learning styles as well as different focuses. Competition based on results (rather than beurocratic manuevering) would weed out failing schools. This entire program would be funded by a voucher system with additional contributions from parents if desired. I would demand, as a tax payer, some basic guidlines that any school would have to meet to be eligible for the vouchers. And yes, these would have to be administered through standardized tests. But they would be very basic. Probably just literacy and core math skills (yes the old 3 R's.) For the rest, the parents, students and schools can determine what is important to them, and what method is most appropriate to achieve those goals.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Alan. said...

“For the rest, the parents, students and schools can determine what is important”. That statement needs to be heard by the Federal Government. I believe we are heading for a complete turn around due the NCLB act, the effects of which will be manifest years from now. The individual states need to be more vocal in saying leadership belongs at home? Enough testing already and the news that Bush is completely cutting funding for vocational training is going to be the last straw for those who can’t cut the mustard! Alan.

3/16/2005 07:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael C said...

NCLB is a good first start. To fix our education it will have to be in steps. Dave I like your proposal. But this is an uphill battle. School systems now have career administrators. People who have never taught.

3/16/2005 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

This is my pie-in-the-sky dream for education. I have no expectation of seeing to come to be any time soon, or even at all.

I think that NCLB is a good thing, in theory anyway, if you accept the current situation which is government having an effective monopoly on education. This requires us to have some standardized way of judging schools, since market forces have been removed from the equation.

3/16/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger The probligo said...

Dave, I have read this, and your other comments in the past about the state of the education system in your country. My interest stems from the fact that in many ways there are parallel developments in this country as well.

Now I know how easy it is to blame the faults of the present system on government involvement; to hold the teachers responsible for the failings of the system in geting the kids to actually learn something.

I came across this blog during an idle lunch break today. In some ways it makes quite chilling reading.

What I would like, if you would be so kind, would be for you to bend some of your Justus to considering just how NCLB might help the kids, highschool kids, that this guy is doing his best to teach. Tell me if you think it is him as a teacher that is failing the kids... Tell me particularly please how you see the educational standards of the kids being improved by NCLB.

http://hombreblanco.blogspot.com/

Look particularly for his requiem to a student who was killed...

3/16/2005 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Probligio,

That blog is interesting, thanks for sharing it.

I certainly don't claim to be an expert on education, and I don't have any expirience at all with minority education in an inner city.

Further, as my original post indicated, I think that the fundamental premise of how we deal with education and schools is flawed.

However, I think that schools do need to have some sort of measurement by which they can be judged. Since they have a monopoly in a geographic area, market forces have little effect, so some sort of artificial means will have to be built. Achieving a determined level on a standardized test seems to be as good a measuring stick as any I have seen.

Additionally, the only factor that I believe will motivate the institutions as a whole to change their way of doing things is money, so tying failure to a loss of money is the only way to achieve change.

Ideally of course, local parents would put pressure on school boards and cause change on their own. This system does work in many cases (most of these cases are upper-middle class districts.) Poorer areas are naturally filled with parents who have both less access to the reins of power and are less able to employ them, so it seems that they are unable to create positive change on their own.

This effect tends to be acentuated by 'urban flight' because it is easier for any individual parent who is successful and might be able to change things to simply move to a more middle class area. Obviously this creates a very vicious cycle.

So with these basic facts, NCLB or something like it seems necessary if we have a monopoly system in public schools.

I won't opine as to wether the standardized tests that have been developed emphasize the correct things or not, I don't know enough about them to say, but I think the concept is sound.

3/17/2005 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger The probligo said...

Dave, no criticism at all of your comment. I raised the point because there is always the tendancy to try for "one size fits all" solutions when topics such as education, health and other public provided services are discussed or criticised.

Concentrating on education, NZ introduced some years back a system of "bulk funding" of schools. It came in on the back of legislation to allow voluntary unionism and the negotiation of individual employment contracts; it was strongly influenced by the desire to reduce government involvement in a wide range of activities; it introduced the "school board" principles of governance to encourage parent and society involvement in the schools; and it was precursor to a very heated debate about the standard of education and the "qualifications" that kids were leaving school with. Over a period of some 5 to 10 years the entire education system was willynilly taken apart.

Yes, it was a "right wing" government that started the process; such is the momentum of change in this country that once started, no one is brave enough to say "We are going the wrong way - we got to stop this". It becomes a matter of "Well, that is rolling down the hill all right. But lets see if we can get it to go that way over there..."

Did it work? It got rid of the teachers union, mostly, for about two years. It has split the ground between teachers and administration. It has put both schools and children at risk through poor governance. It has resulted in a plethora of new controls as parents strove to have their children taught at the "best schools", the ones with the most money, the best teachers, the elite. There are three of them in Auckland, out of a total of perhaps 30 highschools. "Zoning" was reintroduced to force parents to take their kids to other schools. "Vouchering" was discussed as an alternative to the bulk funding principle and discarded (they got that right at least...)

No, in many respects it did not work at all. And the reason is very similar to the example I pointed up from Mr Babylon. Nothing like as extreme perhaps, but very similar.

I strikes me that a very large part of the problem, both here and in your country, is that too many people (as a result of their own experiences within the education system, or their own parents' attitudes... a multitude of reasons) do not value learning enough to instil the desire to learn in their own children.

Does that mean we should "leave them behind"? Like h3!! we do!!

They are the kids who should get the best teachers, the most encouragement of all.

Vain hope indeed...


ps "Bulk Funding" - every school is provided with funding commensurate with the number of pupils, the socio-economic rating of the school ("Poor" schools supposedly get more than "rich" schools - yeah right!) and a range of other factors. The school board in theory at least is responsible for the spending of the grants to provide the education of the children.

3/17/2005 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I am fully willing to conceed that half measures toward implimenting my plan may be worse than no change at all.

I am sceptical of a voucher system that moves some kids from a failing school to another school, along with the money for them, but leave other children in that school. The government controls of when and which kids can move seem to me to be very inefficient. A fluid system that lets parents quickly and easily move children from one school to another on their own is a different thing entirely, and having the individual schools be private concerns accountable only to the parents of the children invovled seems very different from that though.

I would say though, that even in the case of when some kids are left at a failing school because of lost 'voucher' money it may be difficult to judge the overall effectiveness of the program. If 3 out of 4 failing schools reform and improve, and the forth one doesn't and looses students and ends up worse, we will only hear about the 4th school.

That situation would obviously be very unfortunate for students still at the forth school, but a lot better for students that the other three and may be, in aggregate, better overall.

3/17/2005 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Cubicle said...

the article was right about one thing.

it starts early, not in highschool

If their is one think i like about NCLB, that is it.

it started with the low grades and is know addressing highschool.

3/19/2005 04:27:00 PM  

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