Charters & Choice

Diana Senechal wrote a thoughtful response to my post Private School Idolatry and the Case of the Missing Solution. In it, she argues that

Many children in urban schools are not on the brink of failure; they desperately need more challenge. They are placed in classes with students who lag them by several years. I'm not saying tracking is the solution?but these students should at least be acknowledged.

Because of the belief that urban students in general must be yanked into success, some reformers assert that every moment of the lesson should be directly tied to its objective and that the lesson should be swift, purposeful, and productive. This precludes the sort of discussion that allows for tangents and open questions and that does not lead to a physical product or concrete result.

First, I agree that there are many urban students who do not come in behind?or at least not as far behind as many of their peers.

That said, I think we do need to deal with the reality that we face in far too many urban classrooms. Here are a few fast facts (gathered together by the Education Equality Project) that we should remember when we're debating the tough choices and tradeoffs that urban schools face every day:

I received a lot of responses to the ?Pedagogy of Practice? post I wrote the other day. Many were positive. Among the more critical was Diane Ravitch, whose responses on Twitter and Flypaper indicated that I was misrepresenting and distorting her views.

In this post, I'm going to try to explain why I believe the characterization of her position is accurate and why it matters to this larger debate.

My post on Wednesday was focused not on particular curricular preferences, as Diane's response seems to suggest, but rather on the idea that we are overcomplicating the debate about closing the achievement gap. Ultimately the achievement gap is rooted in a ?practice gap,? where disadvantaged students have been exposed to far less content (reading, vocabulary, etc.) than their peers. Urban education organizations (KIPP, AF, Uncommon, TFA, etc.) make tough decisions everyday that are focused on trying to maximize every moment in the school day in an attempt to close that gap.

This process of maximizing every moment (what I called ?a pedagogy of practice?) creates a distinct sense of urgency that permeates the school culture. And that culture is not often shared by schools without this driving mission to close the achievement gap. (It doesn't need to be.) This theory of action and the school models it encourages is not without its critics, which is why it is worthy of debate.

I assume that the quote that Diane thought distorted her views was the only...

My name is Mike and I'm a Twitter-holic.

It started innocently enough. My friends were doing it, so I decided to join them. I'd send a tweet here, a tweet there, maybe retweet something funny I read.

But then it started to get out of control. When I was away from work I would obsess about when I could send my next tweet. I downloaded the Twitter app for my iPhone so I could tweet any time. And before I knew it I was tweeting 10, 20, 30 times a day.

But I'm here thanks to my friend Jay, who called me out on my addiction. Jay, I'm ready to get help.


I'm only half-joking. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@michaelpetrilli - follow me today!) know that I've been tweeting a lot lately. It's like my shiny new toy I just can't put down. And yes, I'm sure it's affected my writing and thinking too. And thus, Jay Greene writes today:

Twitter must be infecting the brains of Washington and NY education policy ?analysts.? I say this because I can't figure out what else could explain the short and inexplicable missives emanating from Fordham these days....I fear that the brains of the people at Fordham have been shrunk by over-use of Twitter. Everything is a one-line quip. No need for facts, evidence, analysis, etc? Everything is a catty little fight.

Everything? Even thoughtful discussions like...

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...