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Marcus A. Winters
Better Schools, Fewer Dollars « Back to Story

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Have the statisticians eliminated the Hawthorne Effect?
Keep them dumb. They will then vote Democrat. The End.
Finland does not believe in school choice, charter schools or vouchers and it has outlawed private schools.
Peter Schaeffer June 21, 2012 at 6:43 PM
The single most important thing America can do to improve its schools is immigration reform. Not Amnesty, but enforcing the law. California shows in tragic detail that mass unskilled immigration (legal and illegal) is the death knell of public education.

California once had the best schools in the nation. Now they rank 49th (sometimes 50th). Why? Everyone knows, but no one wants to admit it. Let me quote from John Judis

“End State Is California finished?”

“At the gathering, held in a plush conference room, one of the experts projected tables and graphs comparing various states. It was there that I had my own “AHA!” moment. The states with thriving educational systems were generally northern, predominately white, and with relatively few immigrants: the New England states, North Dakota, and Minnesota. That bore out the late Senator Patrick Moynihan’s quip that the strongest factor in predicting SAT scores was proximity to the Canadian border. The states grouped with California on the lower end of the bar graph were Deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama with a legacy of racism and with a relative absence of new-economy jobs; states like West Virginia that have relatively few jobs for college grads; and states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Hawaii that have huge numbers of non-English-speaking, downscale immigrants whose children are entering the schools. California clearly falls into the last group, suggesting that California’s poor performance since the 1960s may not have been due to an influx of bad teachers, or the rise of teachers’ unions, but to the growth of the state’s immigrant population after the 1965 federal legislation on immigration opened the gates.”

The core of education policy must be sending the existing illegals home and stopping unskilled immigration (legal and illegal) into the United States.
Peter Schaeffer June 21, 2012 at 6:28 PM
Our schools are fine. Excellent in fact. We have other problems. Problems that we don't want to talk about.

See "The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia" - http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazing-truth-about-pisa-scores-usa.html

Quote

"What I have learned recently and want to share with you is that once we correct (even crudely) for demography in the 2009 PISA scores, American students outperform Western Europe by significant margins and tie with Asian students. Jump to the graphs if you don't want to read my boring set-up and methodology."

Read it all.
Sharon Beth Long June 21, 2012 at 6:15 PM
Part of the reason that charter shcools do better is that parents who send their kids to charter schools, even if they are from a low socio economic level tend to be more interested in education and therefore their kids are more motivated also. Thus the more motivated kids are siphoned off from the public schools decreasing the public schools' quality. Inner city Catholic schools do the same although I understand the desire of parents not to want to "sacrifice their kids for the systen". We are even beginning to see this process in lesser developed countries where the kids who go to the 1 rupee or the equivalent a day private schools siphon off the best kids from the public schools in low income areas.
Sharon Beth Long June 21, 2012 at 5:59 PM
Part of the reason that charter schools do better is that parents who sent their kids to charter schools, even if they are from a low socio economic level tend to be more interested in education, and therefore their children are more motivated also. Thus the more motivated kids are siphoned off from the public schools decreasing their quality. Inner city public schools do the same and now we are beginning to see the same trend in lesser developed countries with these 1 rupee a day private schools
misleading statistics June 18, 2012 at 1:01 PM
Another significant distortion which you did not mention is that spending on the average pupil is frequently significantly lower than average spending per pupil.
Our district has a number of students who have been labelled by psychiatrists as potentially dangerous to themselves or others. The result is that each has to be followed all day and all year by a dedicated adult at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Of course that results in higher average per pupil spending and fewer dollars for the average pupil. We also have a multitude of full time RNs to provide the mandated least restrictive environment for students who can barely hold up their heads. I have yet to see any evidence that the school system is the most efficient or even the most compassionate place to care for those students, but I'm certain they raise the average cost.
The sad point is that the schools that we rely on today have been corrupted by a perverse form of "standardization" over 60 years! We have failed to realize that "political correctness" has completely invaded out school system. I grew up in the '50s & '60s and have a profound disrespect for the k-12 education that I received. Regretfully, my education was light years superior to the crap that is promulgated in our k-12 education systems today. I found out in College (after a mediocre Grade & High School education) that my local library, the Elmhurst Public Library, Elmhurst, Illinois, had a wealth of educational opportunities in its stacks that my High School never, ever, provided.
Consider the following:
The Jungle, Norris
The History of Greece, J.B. Bury
The History of Rome, W. Cary
The Works of Mark Twain
The Works of Dickens
The History Plays of W. Shakespeare
and the opportunity to order books of all kinds and topics through the Inter-Library-Loan system!
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Things have since gotten even worse. Where are the true classes on literature, mathematics (my High School did have an exemplary Mathematics curriculum), history, and general civics? Today all that I see is crap. The only educational experience that I can relate to in the High School level over the past 40 years is the movie about Jamie Escalantie in "Stand and Deliver." I, too took a Calculus class. It was the one outstanding memory of my High School years. The rest fade to dust. ...
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That said, the answer is very simple: Go back to the three Rs. And also remember that a basic grade school and high school education should produce three basic (and critically needed) outcomes: 1) An ability to read, write, and understand the English Language; 2) To be able to understand and use basic mathematical concepts, including the concepts of compound interest, the cost of money (loans and interest), and how to balance finances in the real world; and 3) the basis of our political system and its virtues and foibles.
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Other than that, the skills to seek out further library sources for history, literature, & etc. as the individual wishes over his/her lifetime is a critical endeavor.
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And, finally, here is an example of what a true education can rise to. This was a question that was given by a professor at a college to a student striving for a degree with honors (ca. 1973):
"An English author once stated that 'Shakespeare's plays have stood the test of time.' Can you expand on this comment and explain the source and reasoning of the sentence's author?" Answer that and you have a good chance of achieving a fine well rounded education that will stand you in good stead throughout the years.
Monopolies generally produce lower quality at higher cost. School Choice for Every Family will produce free market improvements in cost and quality.

The Washington DC voucher program saved $20,000 per voucher student while achieving much better outcomes. Why is it being eliminated?

Independent community schools -- not just government controlled charter schools -- are the best choice.
As long as the government is paying, government is the boss. This is only a temporary fix. If this is as far as you go, the reassertion of central control is inevitable.
Nunzio Splendorio June 04, 2012 at 4:01 PM
The statement that schools can't hire whom they would like because of seniority rules is preposterous. If it were the case, all the schools in better districts (like Douglaston, Belle Harbour,and Forest Hills in Queens) would be populated by greying teachers, who "bump" and take the jobs with the easiest students. That, I can assure you, is simply not the case.
You adjust for demographic changes in the population of students being tested?

Of course not.

Dropout rates are far lower. Minorities, the poor and english language learners stay in school far longer than ever before. Each of those groups scores have gone up significantly, as have scores of middle and upper class whites.

Disaggregate the scores and you see a VERY different picture than the one your paint. You see that the students who are the most challenging for our schools are staying longer AND doing better when they get tested (doubly hard, that).

Or, you know, you could take the simplton's view: no improvement for a lot more money.
While our public schools are indeed bastions of failure and teacher-tenure honeypots, you fail to mention -- importantly -- that New York Charter schools expend $2,000 MORE than public schools here, and produce graduates who are woefully less prepared for college!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (though American public schools are hardly producing any today) to conclude that charter schools are a convenient distraction to temporarily allay the growing apprehensions of parents slowly discerning such abject failure; this pseudo carrot steers them away form the uber-efficient parochial schools: less-than-half of public school per-pupil costs, universal graduation, and near-universal college-enrollment -- all with larger class-size, and skimping on "technology" as panacea.

The perennial counter to this reality, that private schools don't have spec ed kids, is a canard: some do -- and educate (versus baby-sit) at a much lower cost; moreover, the public sped-cost is actually three times as much as its regular-ed population, and this explains why public-school staff LOVE the swift classifying of spec ed kids.
While our public schools are indeed bastions of failure and teacher-tenure honeypots, you fail to mention -- importantly -- that New York Charter schools expend $2,000 MORE than public schools here, and produce graduates who are woefully less prepared for college!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (though American public schools are hardly producing any today) to conclude that charter schools are a convenient distraction to temporarily allay the growing apprehensions of parent slowly discerning the abject failure; this pseudo carrot steers them away form the uber-efficient parochial schools: less-than-half public school per-pupil costs, universal graduation, and near-universal college-enrollment-- all with greater class-size, and skimping on "technology" as panacea.

The perennial counter to this reality, that private schools don't have spec ed kids, is a canard: some do -- and educate (versus baby-sit) at a much lower cost; moreover, the public sped-cost is actually three times as much as its regular-ed population, and this explains why public-school staff LOVE the swift classifying of spec ed kids.
While our public schools are indeed bastions of failure and teacher-tenure honeypots, you fail to mention -- importantly -- that New York Charter schools expend $2,000 MORE than public schools here, and produce graduates who are woefully less prepared for college!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (though American public schools are hardly producing any today) to conclude that charter schools are a convenient distraction to temporarily allay the growing apprehensions of parents slowly discerning this abject failure; this decoy carrot steers them away form the uber-efficient parochial schools.
While our public schools are indeed bastions of failure and teacher-tenure honeypots, you fail to mention -- importantly -- that New York Charter schools expend $2,000 MORE than public schools here, and produce graduates who are woefully less prepared for college!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist (though American public schools are hardly producing any today) to conclude that charter schools are a convenient distraction to temporarily allay the growing apprehensions of parent slowly discerning the abject failure; this pseudo carrot steers them away form the uber-efficient parochial schools.
The analysis presented over average vs. adequate funding to boost student reading scores raises an interesting matter. Thanks to the approach created by federal and state governments, money is distributed in an "equal" but not proactive manner to acheive specific results. This guarantees excess spending in most instances and in most school districts, and the fostering of a mentality toward mediocrity. It's like reactive energy in electricity. A certain minimum energy in the lines is necessary to prevent blackouts when some devices are turned on at once. But that is how political nature works, not education.

Suppose school funding were like an insurance policy? Every school district may have its bad performance years. A state authority or the Dept. of Education can wave a big stick, but also kick in funding for a limited time to solve the problem. This would minimize the likelihood that many districts will complain of inadequate funding, and highlight ones that have inadequate management. To further define "adequate funding" we would screen first for the relationship between union based wages and benefits, and effectiveness in teaching. If it were true that badly paid teachers teach badly, then fine -- But all school districts will deal with the issue on their own and not with federal help. And the districts will do so through the election of school boards, school budget referenda, and the PTSA.

This would do nothing less than put education back to local control and out of Washington and the statehouses.
What should legislators think about military spending, Mr. Winters? Where is yout concern about our child poverty rate? YIKES!
Bill Saved from California June 01, 2012 at 8:21 PM
My wife and I attended Catholic school for eight years. Every one of our classmates are now college grads. And just think of it. We were schooled by a bunch of mean old nuns that did not have teaching credentials. Why did we do so well? Our parents were writing out checks every month and wanted to make sure they got their money's worth! Also, if you got out of line, the nuns whould whip your behind back into shape. I still shake today when I see one of those nuns walking down the street! But it make me a better person. I graduated with an MA with honors from the University of California at Los Angles. That is what is wrong with our schools today. Let the parents start paying for this education out of their pockets and I bet things will change over night!
As a high school teacher, I can tell you how to improve schools' test scores almost overnight with very little cost.

If you look at the poor performing schools, you will generally see that there are a few students in each class that act up and prevent the others from learning. Make it easier for a teacher to remove the disruptive student(s) from the classroom. then the other students will be able to learn as they should.

What to do with the removed students? Won't they be uneducated? Yes, but aren't they uneducated now? Perhaps we could set up alternative schools where there is super strict discipline and real consequences for their behavior. Or maybe, realize that although a free public education is a right, that right, like many others, can be forfeited by ones actions and proper judicial actions.
Two big problems in public education that go ignored: Lousy curriculum/textbooks/program and lousy teaching methods.

Constructivism, group learning, project based learning, fuzzy math, no grammar instruction, etc.

The private/parochial schools still focus on the basics. Many public schools do not. They no longer teacher cursive writing, grammar or require mastery of basic math. Memorization is a bad word.

Academic excellence is no longer the goal, it's been replaced by social engineering.

One thing is clear, we will see more community organizers and political activists graduating from public schools. If you are looking for future Engineers, Scientists and Doctors, you will need to look at the Private and Home-school community for that.
This is a good start, but may I suggest thinking further outside the box? There is a population of a few million students who are running circles around there peers, with average scores on standardized tests at the 85th percentile. Wouldn't be interesting to find out what their schools are doing? I refer to home schools in America.

In addition, we have a terrible tendency to be far too eurocentric when looking at education in other countries. James Tooley, Sugata Mitra, and Paula Dizon are making amazing discoveries in India, China, Africa, and South America. In many of the poorest parts, about 2 out of 3 students go to private schools, many of which are "off the radar" for lack of government oversight. Their children are doing better than comparable children at government schools, at lower cost.
Another area of massive inefficiency in the district-based public education system - and that description ought to be borne in mind - is the substantial increase in non-teaching professionals. That segment of the public education job roll has grown about three times faster then the teaching population for some fifteen years.

This is another area in which charters shine. Denied the funding stream district schools "enjoy", charters are forced to maintain the focus on the teachers and not on the plethora of edu-fads, non-teaching professionals and any other frippery that's dragged under the noses of the school board.
B. Samuel Davis May 31, 2012 at 1:52 PM
One other comment - your endorsement of freedom to spent reminds me of the way that the military reformed its way of doing battle - by giving more freedom/flexibility to commanders on the ground to take their own initiative. Same thing in the corporate world - the old General Motors top down leadership just doesn't work - it's how Chrysler developed good looking automobiles.

Somewhere in here, there is a human element at work, something about us that works better with more freedom. Such freedom - liberty - is not well liked by the left. But, how else to explain it?

P.S. Money still doesn't matter that much.
B. Samuel Davis May 31, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Marcus: You make the same fundamental mistake that every other author makes when discussing money and education - you confound the two. Like the New Jersey Supreme Court in its Abbott decision which made the awful mistake of equating money with education, thereby dooming the rest of the state to supporting the 'crumbling' schools of the inner cities, your linkage of education with money is dead wrong.

Education doesn't equal money - it just doesn't. Or rather, like having computers in the classroom, it's importance is vastly overstated - to the benefit of certain groups of course which have a certain vested interest in the formula "money = education." But this formula is wrong, or rather it is way too simplistic.

Over the years I've read article after article which says if only we did education this way, or trained teachers differently, or got rid of bad teachers, or by using this method, or by spending more wisely, or if only parents had 'choice', or if only we got rid of the teachers unions, then the children would be better educated.

In none of the articles I've read in the last dozen or so years, which analyze the failure of schools in a hundred different ways, and suggest a thousand so called 'better' ways of doing education, is there ever mentioned - EVER- the critical role that culture and parenting, meaning parents staying together, plays in education. NONE!

Look, what difference does all the money in the world make if the student is unmotivated, uninterested or believes that education is unimportant, or worse that it is something to be avoided? And what if the parents aren't pressing their child or children to get an education, do their homework, or are not there at all? Or what if the culture that the child is exposed to is either indifferent or even hostile to education? In these instances, I would submit all the money in the world won't make one bit of difference.

Why do Asian kids outperform all others no matter where they go to school? How about Jewish children from another generation? Why do certain other ethnic and racial groups not do as well - or rather have dismal performance no matter where they go to school and how much money is spent? And why is it politically incorrect to even mention the name of the group or cite the statistics?

Well, is there a difference in performance between students whose parents stay together and those whose parents are divorced? If so why is this never mentioned?

The answer to the last question is - of course - yes, it makes a big difference. And cultural attitudes toward education also make an enormous difference. Where is the discussion of this and how to impute those cultural attitudes to all education and all children? To learn from these cultures about how to educate?

So how about this - rather than 'educators' telling us about this or that program, very few of which have verifiable results, or some more pie in the sky strategies (very sorry, but your article will soon be forgotten, to be replaced with something else that will also be forgotten) about spending money or talking about school 'choice' which is something about which there is a huge difference of opinion even within conservative circles, how about AT LEAST bringing into the discussion the #1 predictor of student achievement - culture and whether the parents stay together?

But then I hear - "we have no control over whether parents stay together", or "we can't change cultural attitudes on education." But that's ridiculous - how about at least a universal acknowledgement that whether family's are together does matter when it comes to education? - in fact, it matters more than anything else except cultural attitudes - moreover, family 'togetherness' may be part and parcel of cultural attitudes since it just so happens that those cultures where divorce is rare and/or unacceptable are also the cultures whose children do the best when it comes to education. (is this true? Can you believe that I've not heard of a study that looked at this).

Look, Marcus, - there's no doubt that better teachers, more money, certain programs - and certainly lessening the power of unions would help - as well as spending money more wisely. All I'm saying is that until there is a general understanding that the biggest factors as to whether a child does well is parents and culture can we begin to comprehend why, and maybe encourage families with children to find a way to stay together, or to change cultural attitudes on education, or even examine how to better educate children whose parents are divorced or not there.

Certainly, there is no reason to simply ignore these factors, right?

I know first hand that homework doesn't come naturally to children - it isn't as if there aren't enough distractions out there. And what my children's school used to do - de-facto segregation - the so called 'honors' classes which really ended up separating children from certain race and ethnicity from other children isn't the way to do it either.

But until we even start talking about this and maybe recognize and learn those things which certain cultures do with respect to education nothing will change. If anything, your article points to the conclusion that money isn't that important when it comes to education. Ok now we know that money isn't that important. It can't be the programs that are important- there must be five to ten articles in City Journal every year on some program or other that supposedly would make the difference.

But: year by year nothing ever changes - except that education gets more and more expensive, and children are educated less well. If I were a bit more paranoid, I would argue that the avoidance of discussions about culture and family is on purpose, and the rest is just window dressing so that the taxpayer can be squeezed out of more and more money. But I'll accept the bona fides of those looking at education, even though I can't understand why when the solution to the problem is right there, no one is even talking about it. Why?

After all it doesn't cost anything to encourage parents to be more involved with their children's education, or to change cultural attitudes on divorce when there are children in the household. Maybe there was something to the old mantra "we stayed together for the children." That's an expression I bet few have ever heard today. At the very least, we should recognize that children whose parents are divorced may have to treated different. (or maybe that is something we do NOT want to do - we do not want to define a new group of 'victims).

You are correct if you hear frustration - it is inexplicable that we never hear about the critical importance of culture or family when it comes to education. Where are the statistics? I read in one column that some study showed that black children whose parents stay married do as well as white children overall. There is still a gap, but doesn't this point to the enormous difference family makes? Why don't we hear about it? Why!

Why?
If you boil this all down to its unifying principle, then the crux of issue becomes weaning unions, school boards, teachers, and attendant 'experts' and 'consultants' of unearned, ineffective and / or unnecessary salaries, benefits, entitlements, and / or administrative control. Short of an educational calamity of biblical proportions, creating the political will to stop this deeply entrenched juggernaut will be an Herculean effort. Make no mistake, this is nothing short of wresting power from a group of people who feel absolutely entitled to, who are absolutely addicted to, and who are absolutely willing to do anything to maintain their life of largely unearned and unquestioned power and influence. This is akin to taking a candy bar away from an obese child in the super market. The Americans in 1776, the French in 1789, and the Russians in 1918 had to mount full blown revolutions to take down the power elite; containing teachers union, boards of education, and governmental 'programs' will be only slightly less difficult. Considering that what’s at stake is the future of our country, it is depressing how long even small changes have taken, but also infuriating that the health and welfare of our children has become a pawn in a childish and moronic turf war. I have long said that the staggering amount of money wasted on local, state, and federal government educational administrative ‘costs’ would be enough to solve most if not all educational problems: including providing decent teacher salaries; securing proven educational resources; addressing cognitive-, socio-economic-, and/or physiologically- based learning gaps; and producing better student academic achievement, critical thinking, and work ethic. It seems this is a correct notion.
Charter and private schools also do not have to educate special education students. Please also include the parent involvement factor. Parents who sign their children up for charter schools are obviously more concerned with their child's education than parents who are uninvolved in their children's lives. I have to deal with parents who don't care. If you want to improve education, make parents have some responsibility!
Might it not be that the alternative schools succeed because the parents are collectively more active in their childrens' educations than typical parents? That this parental involvement is effective only when combined with the involvement of many other parents?

This hypothesis could be tested: select a public school to have, instead of its usual mix, exclusively lottery-loser families. If the lottery-loser school also did better than the average school, the hypothesis would tend to be confirmed. If it did no better than the other public schools, the hypothesis would need to be rejected.