Charters & Choice

I've already weighed in on Alfie Kohn's ?pedagogy of poverty? article that appeared in Ed Week last week. (See here.) The debate sparked by Kohn's article rages on?in blogs and on Twitter?and my colleague, Mike Petrilli, weighed in today, arguing:

The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious one. This discussion is easily demagogued (particularly on Twitter). But it's not racist to say that poor kids?who generally come to school with much less vocabulary, exposure to print, and much else?might need something different?more intense, more structured?than their well-off, better-prepared peers.

On some level, we're overcomplicating this. In the end, the ?achievement gap,? as we now call it, is really little more than a practice gap. And schools that are succeeding in closing it are simply better at creating a culture that makes time for that practice.

In his bestselling book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that, across divergent fields (athletics, music, business, academia), the people who rose to the top had two things in common:

  1. They had been exposed to and given the opportunity to learn, and
  2. They had logged at least 10,000 hours of practice.

That's because extraordinary achievement is a function of extraordinary practice. Unfortunately, the sad truth for too many of America's poor children is that they are never given the opportunity to learn. ?And they are even more rarely given...

Markets are a tool with many uses, and we employ them broadly in our society because on balance they create a lot of good. Kevin Welner doesn't see it that way, however, especially in education (PDF):

This points to what should be the fundamental progressive response?the critique that many progressives seem hesitant to seize: that educational opportunities should be among the most precious public goods. While public education does provide an important private benefit to children and their families, it also lies at the center of our societal well-being. Educational opportunities should therefore never be distributed by market forces, because markets exist to create inequalities?they thrive by creating ?winners? and? ?losers.?

Progressives may be hesitant to seize this critique because it's wrong and misunderstands markets. First, Welner ignores consumers. If Wal-Mart and another retailer compete, in a well-functioning market the consumer wins by paying lower prices, enjoying higher quality, or both, regardless of whether Wal-Mart or its competitor wins a given customer's business. Markets don't exist for the sake of competition, or to provide wealth for "winning" competitors. Competition is intended to serve end users.

Second, education markets, unlike the ones in business, are not usually tasked with allocating profits. Even in places where for-profit charter operators are permitted, profits for those operators should not be a primary or even secondary concern of the education system. Instead, markets provide a mechanism for empowering parents, decentralizing decision-making, and fostering a variety of educational approaches.

Best of all...

Liam Julian

Andrew Rotherham turns in a nice column for Time magazine in which he reports on the findings of a study of the rates of college completion by graduates of the Knowledge is Power Program. The results: 33 percent of pupils who graduated from a KIPP middle school at least ten years ago have also since graduated from a four-year college. It's important to remember, of course, that 95 percent of KIPP students are black or Latino and most are from low-income families; among similar students (black or Latino, and low-income) nationwide, only 8 percent have bachelor's degrees. So though KIPP has failed to meet its goal?75 percent college completion? and failed by a lot, it has nonetheless done well, comparatively.

That is not how KIPP chooses to see it, however. In fact, what's most astounding about this study may well be the refusal of the KIPP brass to twist or spin its findings in any way.? The organization runs middle schools. It could easily have noted that 95 percent of KIPP graduates also graduate high school, which is an unqualified marvel. It might have pointed out that 89 percent of its alumni matriculate at college and that, frankly, the effectiveness of a network of middle schools really shouldn't be determined by college graduation rates. But no. KIPP has, as Rotherham writes, not moved ?the goal posts on its own targets for success,? and it has ?owned ?the outcomes for its graduates? regardless of outside factors beyond the...

Kelley Williams-Bolar made national headlines back in January when she was caught sending her two daughters across district lines from the woeful Akron Public Schools to the plusher Copley-Fairlawn School District. In the name of her cause, pitchforks were raised, battle trumpets were sounded, and petitions were signed?no fewer than eight ?Save Kelley? Facebook pages were created.

And the same predictable tempest has already begun to brew around the case of Tonya McDowell, a Connecticut mother now fined over $15,000 for sending her son to a neighboring, out-of-bounds school district. Probably rightfully so. Both cases offer school-choice advocates clear examples of students and parents hurt by onerous and antiquated districting systems. They both offer a Rosa Parks-like poster child to prove how decent people are being hurt. Williams-Bolar was a student-teacher, working to become licensed in Ohio educator, clearly dedicated to K-12 education. And McDowell is homeless.

Where they diverge, and what is most interesting about McDowell's situation, is in the last word of the previous sentence: homeless.

Per the McKinney-Vento Act (really, it's just 185 pages of NCLB), homeless students must be allowed access to their ?school of origin for the duration of their homelessness.? Details about McDowell's situation have yet to surface, but out of the fog we learn a few key facts: McDowell and her son are homeless, splitting their time between a homeless shelter and a friend's apartment in Bridgeport, CT. To attain access to the Norwalk Public Schools, McDowell...

Big Red ButtonDetroit, with its embarrassingly low NAEP scores, seems to have tried it all: They've gone from an elected school board to one that is mayorally appointed and back again. They've fallen under state control and been assigned an emergency financial manager. They've closed schools, renegotiated teacher contracts, and, most recently, pledged to convert over 30 percent of its schools into charters.

These are all reasonable, actionable initiatives. But none are what DPS needs. The district needs to break the glass and hit the reset button. It needs more than minor tweaks to the collective-bargaining agreement and promises that a few charters will be the kryptonite to the chronic failure that has plagued Motown schools.

As famed Recovery School District leader Paul Vallas frankly put it:

I think what Detroit has to do?they have to right-size themselves. Or the budget spiral is going to continue.? Converting schools that you were thinking of closing to charters, that's not getting at the end-of-the-line financial problems that plague the district.

Golly, that's a smart man.

?Daniela Fairchild...

Following Diane Ravitch on Twitter is sort of like giving a six-year-old a kazoo on a long car trip. You know that by doing so, there's a very strong probability that it will result in near constant aggravation or annoyance. But you do it anyway, because somewhere deep in your troubled psyche you thrive on provocation.

Being provocative isn't always a bad thing ? and Ravitch does it well. Her latest charge to Twitter followers is pretty pointless, though. She suggests a naming contest for charter school names (#charterschoolnames) and then retweets suggestions from followers that range from mildly funny to offensive, especially to the poor, mostly minority families who flee their traditional school for an alternative and who certainly wouldn't categorize themselves as ?privileged.? Here are some of the worst:

  • Dollars First Academy
  • Privilege Academy
  • Test Purgatory Hi-Tech High
  • Letuslineourpockets High
  • Erasure Secondary
  • Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Academy
  • Results By Attrition Network, Inc
  • Wishful Thinking, Heavy Spending Academy
  • I'm Better Than You Academy
  • Village of Stepford Charter School
  • W.A.S.P. Academy (Why Ask Stupid People)
  • TFA Tours

Wow. This ridiculous Twitter anti-charter rant is more like giving the child a drum set. Ohio Gadfly suggests other charter school names that are probably more accurate, at least from the perspective of the families and kids who utilize such options, like ?Kids who would otherwise not have a shot in hell because their current school is failing ACADEMY.?

Flypaper readers, please weigh in with other suggestions...

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