Subsidiarity and public education

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    They can help identify (…) schools that may need more resources or intervention.

    Hmmm. Fail the test, get more funding? How could that possibly go wrong?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Trumwill
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      says:

      I think the incentives are much worse now. Human nature will prevent most schools from purposefully failing.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        I’m not worried about schools that were successful or could be successful suddenly failing in order to get more money. I’m more worried about schools accepting failure and the money that comes along with it. Accepting existing failure is something human nature does quite readily.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Trumwill
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          says:

          Well more funding is certainly not the only answer or even the only suggestion.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain
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            No, it isn’t. But the possibilities you remove from the table (school choice, punitive measures, etc) make acceptance of failure easier. I pointed out that sentence because that one goes a step further and rewards it.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Trumwill
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              says:

              First off, no more federal assistance to schools. Let the states keep the money.

              Second, financial assistance for failing schools is simple. You get 5, maybe 10, years of extra help. If you can’t meet your (realistic*) goals in that amount of time, all the administrators get fired, and all the teachers get to re-apply for their jobs.

              *by realistic, I mean accounting for things like systemic poverty amongst the school kids, etc.Report

              • I’m on board with the Second. The First, well, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with having a grants foundation for education at the federal level.

                Not to pay for normal operations, but to give funding streams for alternative projects that might not fall under the state’s normal operational budget. Like the NSF.

                I also don’t necessarily see a problem with short term funding coverage bills. State liquidity is going to be tied to the economy a lot tighter than the Feds are. If Congress wants to grant particular states coverage for ongoing operational expenses during critical times, that’s a reasonable thing for the feds to do.Report

              • Avatar MadRocketScientist in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                While I’d have few issues with emergency grants, general funding streams from the states, through the fed & back to the states is a waste of time & money. BlaiseP below is right, there is an abnormally high cost associated with wealth redistribution in the country.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MadRocketScientist
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                says:

                The several states have their own problems with Leaky Barrels. I remember, with dark amusement, when the State of Illinois legalized gambling. They piously intoned, their grubby hands clutched sweetly under their unshaved chins, that it would All Go To Education.

                To nobody’s surprise, very little of that gambling revenue went to the school systems.

                Education has been reduced to a political football. It’s time to get these political micromanagers away from the controls and let the pros run the tactics, as we’ve always done with the military.Report

              • Avatar MadRocketScientist in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Or Indiana, who swore up & down that all the money siezed in Civil Asset Forfeiture proceedings would go to local schools, and not police & DA budgets.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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                says:

                True dat. Any money which goes to Washington and back seems to be shipped in leaky barrels. And let’s just put these aggressive beggar states who get more money than they put in on notice, immediately.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                > Any money which goes to Washington and
                > back seems to be shipped in leaky barrels.

                Fair enough. I just don’t see this paradigm changing. Not now, and not anytime soon.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                Look at Europe to see how this is managed. The round trip between taxation and payout is astonishingly short.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Oh, I can imagine plenty of ways for the system to work better than it does not.

                I just don’t see a road map to get there from here, is all. Might be a failure of my imagination.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Well, here’s how it could be managed, intellectually and politically, from where I sit.

                We know there’s a sort of political schizophrenia on the rise in America: we can watch it manifest by asking two questions:

                1. What grade would you give Congress?
                2. What grade would you give your Congresscritter?

                If I’m correct, the grade average from Question 1 will be lower than Question 2. People understand local government because they can put a human face on it. Where bureaucracy reaches out to its constituency, as with the USDA facilities in pretty much every farming county in America, it will have public support.

                Behind the scenes, there’s a national program, of course. It would be absurd to think a country the size of France could manage its health care system, delegating to every arrondissement and préfecture without some form of coordination.

                We’ve reached another logical crisis point as a nation, as we did in the era of the Civil War. The lasting outcome of the Civil War was the triumph of Federalism. In these days, we must consider the problem anew: too much goes on in Washington and not enough at the local level, where the problems appear. Accepting the King’s Shilling of the Federal Dollar has led to resentment, not because those shillings are not needed, they are and there should be more of them. The resentment arises from the fact that they are thrown from Washington’s carriage, not put in someone’s hand by a fair-minded administrator whose name he knows.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Trumwill
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      says:

      I don’t object to carrots and sticks when they’re used appropriately.

      Some schools need more resources, that’s clearly the case. Someone has to be in charge of doling out the resources to the schools that need it. Optimally, they do this responsibly, but of course there will be exceptions.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
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        says:

        Yeah, but doling them out “responsibly” means taking some degree of control over the recipient. More than suggestions.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Trumwill
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          says:

          No, it doesn’t.

          It means chopping people’s heads off.

          “You need more resources, because you’re underserving your students. Here’s a bucket with money. If you can’t solve this problem with the bucket of money, your contract as principal is terminated and we hire a new one.”

          I don’t have to tell you *how* to solve the problem. I just have to lop your head off if you don’t solve it.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
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            says:

            I don’t disagree, but threats are more than suggestions. And firing a principal due to lower test scores runs afoul EDK’s view of the role of assessment tests.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Trumwill
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              says:

              I wouldn’t fire a principal because of low test scores. I would fire a principal because they’re not doing a good job.

              That may or may not have anything to do with test scores. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                Well, if you base it on test scores, you’re basing it on test scores, which is bad. If you base it on something else, you’re running the risk of it being considered arbitrary, which is unfair and bad.

                The ultimate solution here is not to fire anybody for any reason unless they’re smacking students across the face. That way we can be fair. And the best and brightest will be attracted to the fairness and security…

                I’ve been in a bad mood today and perhaps my above comment is unfair, but it does seem to be where one side of the argument is headed. I actually quite agree with EDK about it being problematic to use tests as the gold standard and I am quite critical of any sort of strict pay-for-performance for teachers. But I find what I consider the other extreme to be unpalatable. It may not be as “extreme” as it seems to me, but it’s hard to say without more concrete ideas of what “accountability” means to them (aside from being a dirty word).Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                Here’s my thought. Let the principal run their school. By that, I mean, the principal decides what sort of teaching they want, and if they don’t want a particular teacher, they inform the district and the district finds that teacher another school in which to work; one with a more acceptable pedagogical environment. The teacher is protected from bad principal by the district and the union (this assumes you want to keep tenure).

                The principal is answerable to the superintendent for the school’s performance. It’s up to the principal to convince the superintendent that the school’s performance is up to par, given the state of the school and the metrics that the principal and superintendent agree upon. The principal is protected from bad superintendents by the school board (through whom they can file a grievance), the teachers, the parents. The principal is also protected from the school board and the parents by the superintendent.

                I get that you run the risk of being considered arbitrary, and that being arbitrary is unfair and bad. But if you only use tests to measure school performance, you’re going to have bad outcomes. We know that already. So yeah, it’s a risk, but it’s sort of one that we need to run, I’d say.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                I am more in favor of a choice-based solution (so that if parents happened to be assigned to a school with an outlook that is antithetical to what they think is best for their kid, they can find a more appropriate environment), but by and large I would be on board with this.Report

  2. Avatar Pat Cahalan
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    says:

    > but if you don’t have a constant how can you measure
    > the results of these myriad experiments?

    Mike’s argument from the previous thread is the negative consequence of not having this.

    “If you let everyone set their own standards, the nuts will push their own standard” + “If you let everyone set their own standard, you can’t compare directly” sums up the previous two threads.

    So, my question is, “Are these really problems? How big are the problems?”

    Like I said on the previous thread, I’m pretty sure that colleges and universities can compare incoming students on their own, just fine… as can the U.S. military and trade schools. So who else needs to judge education efficacy? Presumably the people who are asking for the education in the first place, but if they’re setting their own pedagogical goals, shouldn’t they be testing the outcomes themselves?

    If colleges and universities get together and say, “This is what we expect of an incoming freshman at the collegiate level”, doesn’t that solve that problem? And wouldn’t it be harder to suborn that process?

    I’m not against a broad minimum standard (like I was talking about on the previous thread): a collection of base requirements for someone to be considered a grade school or high school graduate. But more than that, I don’t see the utility outweighing the staggering impulse of the standard-setters to *do something*, which at least as often as not is a bad idea.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Pat Cahalan
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      Pat, very different incentives are at work when it comes to universities. I think that’s very important.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Here’s my rub:

        > If you move your family from New York to New
        > Mexico, you should not discover to your dismay
        > that New Mexico’s students are two grades behind
        > New York’s students.

        I get this, but as an objection it’s tied pretty directly to the system that we currently use now. If you move from New York to New Mexico, you’re not moving your child from the New York Educational System to the New Mexico Educational System, though.

        You’re moving your child from New York’s *3rd grade* to New Mexico’s *3rd grade*.

        So this only matters if (a) your child is in the third grade container set of skills that New York considers to be “appropriate” and (b) New Mexico’s third grade container skill set is different and (c) New Mexico’s container is *less* appropriate for your child than New York’s was.

        But this whole problem is predicated on the assumption that child development and educational skills map to grades… which is a very dubious assumption. Rather than getting everyone to decide what huge swath of educational goals (math, science, reading, history, civics, art, music, whatever) are appropriate for an arbitrary and small set age range of child, why don’t we junk the whole damn thing altogether?

        If a student gets to eighth grade and they’ve managed to learn everything they are supposed to know, does it matter if one year they were taking 3rd grade math and 6th grade reading while working really hard on 2nd grade art?

        Now, one can argue that a monolithic standard works reasonably well across all populations, but I know plenty of people who really hated school not because they weren’t taught what they needed to know but because they weren’t taught enough to interest them. Some of them suffered at the college level really badly because of it (dropouts aren’t limited to stupid people).

        This is why I don’t like a monolithic standard. It’s too rigid, for one thing, and I’m not really sure what problem it’s actually solving that isn’t solved by a very simple set of baseline goals… and it by its very nature precludes a wide set of pedagogical techniques.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          says:

          A bit more (we really need an edit button):

          So this only matters if (a) your child is in the third grade container set of skills that New York considers to be “appropriate” and (b) New Mexico’s third grade container skill set is different and (c) New Mexico’s container is *less* appropriate for your child than New York’s was.

          If you have a national standard for grades, you still haven’t made my life any better if my child isn’t in the national standard appropriate skill set container for third grade, right?

          In fact, you may have made it a lot *worse*, because now no matter where I go THIS IS WHAT YOU WILL LEARN IN THIRD GRADE is the same.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          No doubt age based grade levels are a crude system. The problem is that there are mo better workable, scalable alternatives. Standards can be very broad and still be useful.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          If schools teach whatever they want without any standard and use the Mil or College as the sorting tool to tell people what education is good enough then we don’t know what is good enough until essentially a generation has been screwed over. What happens to, potentially many thousands of kids who get their degree from Acme HS Diploma Mill and Fro Yo Stand when they hit adulthood without any usauable education. We do have some innner city school districts to show how well that works. By the time the Mil and Colleges have sent their message about what is good enough and what isn’t it will be a serious problem for many.

          Is it really that hard to come up with what a basic education needs to include? I just don’t believe it isReport

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to greginak
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            says:

            > If schools teach whatever they want without
            > any standard and use the Mil or College as the
            > sorting tool to tell people what education is
            > good enough then we don’t know what is
            > good enough until essentially a generation
            > has been screwed over

            This is an argument to have a standard. It is not an argument to have *one* standard.

            I’m also *really* doubtful that a state, and *all* of the parents in it, is going to let an entire generation of its populace go 12 years without major upheaval and correction if the state has completely bugger-ass crazy ideas of what constitutes an education.

            I just don’t see that as a compelling exception scenario.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Pat Cahalan
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              States are already moving toward common standards. I believe 43 have already adopted a common set.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.D. Kain
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                says:

                So if the States are getting together to set this standard already, why not let them solve this problem?

                Then, if you want to change the standard, you need to get a whole bunch of states on board with changing the standard. If the Federal Dept. of Education sets the standard, all you need to do is win an election about taxes.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain
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    Just a question, and I’m not predisposed to any particular answer. Who decides about mainstreaming children with disabilities of various sorts?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Cain
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      The IDEA Act gave rise to the IEP process. It’s quite involved.

      The trouble arises within state policy. It’s a wildly swinging pendulum: one year they’ll favour Mainstreaming, the next it’s Segregation. Most teachers, including the SpecEd teachers, favour segregation, with exceptions noted on the basis of each student’s IEP.Report

  4. From E.D.
    “How students learn, on the other hand, is best left to local school districts and to teachers.”

    I still really wish you would explain this point. I don’t understand how students in one state would learn differently than students in another state. Granted, there are differences from student to student but you still aren’t explaining how goeography (and the cultural traits that go with it) directly affect the way a student learns.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      So you think every teacher should teach the exact same way in every school across the country? I think that’s entirely insane. Pray tell how this is even possible?Report

      • More or less. Techniques that work well on a variety of kids in one states should work well on a variety of kids in another. I’m not contending that kids don’t learn differently but I am contending that geography and culture don’t affect learning ability. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

        And let’s keep in mind that techers are not social workers. We’re talking specifically about transmitting knowledge, not dealing with their home life.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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          says:

          There’s a problem buried in there. The Devil is in the details. I work with refugees, so my experience is a bit skewed, I’ll grant you.

          Refugees tend to congregate in specific communities, as was the case with most immigrant communities as America was settled. The problem is even larger when you add the children of migrant workers and illegal immigrants to the mix, but here’s how it works out in fact.

          A bolus of new students is thrust into the maw of a school system. These students don’t speak English and can’t even write in their own native language. The teacher may not be a social worker, but that teacher finds himself acting like one, faut de mieux. The current educational euphemism for these children is Semilingual. Ten year olds who don’t know the alphabet. That kid is not going to Princeton, okay?

          Well, the school system goes berserk every time these situations arise. The state looks at their testing stats and concludes the school is failing. So someone from the State arrives on site, sees what’s going on, and there’s a huge brouhaha. Doesn’t change anything: the bureaucrat is hamstrung and so are the teachers.

          Migrant kids come and go in school districts, we see a lot of that in southern Illinois. They’re just ghosts: they appear, they’re processed into the system, then one day ya se fueron, y no sabemos por donde, a dozen kids disappear from a classroom without warning.Report

          • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to BlaiseP
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            Migrants are indeed a challenge and my wife (a social worker in our school system) deals with them on a regular basis. But the educational problems they pose (transience, language skills, etc) are not unique to a given locale e.g a Somalia immigrant presents the same problem in Los Angeles or in Louisville.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle
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    says:

    I really want to like this but there is one key point here that I don’t think are as strong as you assert and two other things that I think are misleading.

    First, teaching to the tests and the limitations of tests. It’s a refrain that sounds bad and so it’s very easy to agree with it without any further exploration of what that means. Indeed, I’ve always found it ironic that teachers and educational professionals who speak with such disdain of the practice are among those most impressed (and most seeking to impress) by elite success in IB and AP classes, which are classes and curriculum, rigorously designed of course, focused on passing a test.

    Few people like tests so they’re easy scapegoats but they’re not random and arbitrary. Very well designed tests can measure critical skills like analytical and synthetic ability. They can measure reading comprehension, mastery of concepts, and basic literacy and numeracy. So in the real world teaching to the test need not actually imply a lack of learning, or even learning the wrong skills as is so often assumed. Simply put, if a test measures whether you can read, then teaching to pass the test must necessarily involve teaching reading as it is the sine qua non. If our goal is for children to read, this is not bad.

    The inherent problems with testing are related to cost and capacity. Very good tests are very expensive so there’s less ability to use them, they take time and critically talented people to design them and score them, so there isn’t the industrial capacity to simply crank out more at a whim.

    Relatedly, people misuse statistics, science, and tests all the time. The problem with value-added measurement for teachers is not that it’s an inherently unfair – conceptually it’s designed to cut through bias which places it among the most progressive of evaluative tools – it’s that reformers care more about its possibility than limitations and treat it accordingly. Which can be said to your vision of national tests meant only to compare. The very first test would show that 6th graders in Massachusetts are well ahead of 6th graders in Arkansas. The moment Arkansas or the federal government moved to fix that by placing more pressure on systems and people to improve, is the moment that test is no longer simply comparing, it’s the next version of NCLB.

    In short, the problems identified are less problems with the tools (tests) than they are with how they’re used and misused, which in this case track a normal human tendency to do so. I don’t see how any plan that relies on smart people not misusing tools is one that is politically or practically viable.

    As for the misleading bits, as much as your well-publicized criticism of Bloomberg’s reforms in NYC are, even you should know that the assessment tests used to measure progress are state designed tests, so while the phenomenon of states using less difficult tests is both true and overblown (Connecticut, Massachusetts, among others continue to resist that particular pressure) the generally not-so-pro-Bloomberg government in Albany is chiefly responsible.

    “Both programs – the most federally invasive programs to date in education” I’m going to go with federal efforts to encourage desegregation on this one, this effort involved guns, courts, and riots. It’s probably the most invasive in recent memory, granted.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle
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      says:

      I really want to like this but there is one key point here that I don’t think are as strong as you assert and two other things that I think are misleading.

      First, teaching to the tests and the limitations of tests. It’s a refrain that sounds bad and so it’s very easy to agree with it without any further exploration of what that means. Indeed, I’ve always found it ironic that teachers and educational professionals who speak with such disdain of the practice are among those most impressed (and most seeking to impress) by elite success in IB and AP classes, which are classes and curriculum, rigorously designed of course, focused on passing a test.

      Surely you see the difference here? AP classes are designed for kids already excelling, and teachers who want to teach generally gifted students. They then teach to nationally uniform tests on specific subjects beyond just reading and math. You may teach to a test, but you do so in vastly different circumstances than those in the current accountability regime. 

      Few people like tests so they’re easy scapegoats but they’re not random and arbitrary. Very well designed tests can measure critical skills like analytical and synthetic ability. They can measure reading comprehension, mastery of concepts, and basic literacy and numeracy. So in the real world teaching to the test need not actually imply a lack of learning, or even learning the wrong skills as is so often assumed. Simply put, if a test measures whether you can read, then teaching to pass the test must necessarily involve teaching reading as it is the sine qua non. If our goal is for children to read, this is not bad.

      Measuring all these things is fine, but again the current accountability movement wants testing to be the final word on teacher quality, and largely this has led to less resources for all subjects other than reading and math. I am a big fan of a much more well-rounded education. Reading is good, and we should push literacy for sure, but this says next to nothing about how tests are being used to punish teachers and schools, or how states are gaming the system.

      The inherent problems with testing are related to cost and capacity. Very good tests are very expensive so there’s less ability to use them, they take time and critically talented people to design them and score them, so there isn’t the industrial capacity to simply crank out more at a whim.

      Another good reason to have national tests, like the AP tests for instance.

      Relatedly, people misuse statistics, science, and tests all the time. The problem with value-added measurement for teachers is not that it’s an inherently unfair – conceptually it’s designed to cut through bias which places it among the most progressive of evaluative tools – it’s that reformers care more about its possibility than limitations and treat it accordingly. Which can be said to your vision of national tests meant only to compare. The very first test would show that 6th graders in Massachusetts are well ahead of 6th graders in Arkansas. The moment Arkansas or the federal government moved to fix that by placing more pressure on systems and people to improve, is the moment that test is no longer simply comparing, it’s the next version of NCLB.

      Exactly. Nobody is saying tests aren’t good tools. I am saying tests have been administered, evaluated, and used improperly. 

      In short, the problems identified are less problems with the tools (tests) than they are with how they’re used and misused, which in this case track a normal human tendency to do so. I don’t see how any plan that relies on smart people not misusing tools is one that is politically or practically viable.

      Right – but what are you getting at? Are you agreeing that the current testing regime and accountability movement is fundamentally flawed or not? We did test before NCLB. The national tests we currently administer to test the testing as it were show that no gains have been made at all.

      As for the misleading bits, as much as your well-publicized criticism of Bloomberg’s reforms in NYC are, even you should know that the assessment tests used to measure progress are state designed tests, so while the phenomenon of states using less difficult tests is both true and overblown (Connecticut, Massachusetts, among others continue to resist that particular pressure) the generally not-so-pro-Bloomberg government in Albany is chiefly responsible.

      This is a bit more complicated than you make it sound. Here’s a fact: the national, state, and NYC tests and results are all in serious conflict with each other. All this says is that cities and states should not be designing tests by which to measure their success against other cities and states. You need a central arbiter for that. If Bloomberg wants to have tests to measure performance, fine, but he should be much wiser with their results. Tests should not be weapons.

      “Both programs – the most federally invasive programs to date in education” I’m going to go with federal efforts to encourage desegregation on this one, this effort involved guns, courts, and riots. It’s probably the most invasive in recent memory, granted.

      Sure but that goes way outside of the education reform debate. Back in those days, by the way, school choice was used to further segregation between blacks and whites in the south…Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Yes, I would agree with you that the current vogue regarding testing and accountability represents a misappropriation of the tool. However, I think it’s less clear that comparative national tests won’t result in the same thing and therefore attempts to teach to that test to simply look better. Indeed, I think it’s probably better to invest in expanding the capacitive limits of the testing industry and make tests into better tools. IOW adapt the tool to our imperfect use of it. I think we should have more tests like the AP tests, not fewer.

        I also think the AP example indicates the importance of value added measurements. How many really bad teachers look good because they luck out and teach self-motivated, intelligent students? Anecdotally, quite a few.

        In any case, I’m not opposed to national comparative testing. I’m also not opposed to state devising their own testing regimes. Connecticut’s is quite good and Massachusetts’ alignment of testing, standards, and curriculum, is brilliant. Mostly, I think we need smarter testing and better tests.

        I think you’re right that tests are misused and should be used more to identify where assistance is needed than in firing decisions. However, they should not be excluded either, local and personal bias are incredibly important and as our tortured history of race in the South illustrates sometimes an objective party is necessary and in education evaluation that party is testing. Which is why I believe we should focus on achieving a better balance through higher quality tests than an imbalance predicated on misplaced mistrust of a useful tool.

        As for crowding out other subjects to the detriment of a well-rounded education. I think this issue is inextricably linked to issues of wealth, class, and social justice. It’s not purely an educational one. I don’t think that there’s some cadre of people out there opposed to a well-rounded education ideal. I think there is a growing movement of people who are primarily concerned that everyone have mastery of the basics and promote a kind of resource redistribution and systemic shakeup to achieve that goal. Plenty of (mostly upper-class, mostly well-educated, mostly advantaged) people are quick to point out the problems and loss of squeezing out other subjects to focus on reading and math but they are almost uniformly silent on what practical changes meant to fix that problem would mean for those deprived of basic educational necessities.

        Last point, I think referring to the accountability/reform crowd as if it were monolithic is inaccurate, it’s more like the AGW crowd in that there’s widespread agreement on the problems and a fair amount of controversy and disagreement on the proposed solutions.Report

  6. Avatar Tim Ellis
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    says:

    The simple fact of the matter is that there is an objective, measurable reality, and as long as that remains the case, there are going to be specific facts relating to that reality which people and society are going to be well-served by knowing. In addition, increasingly complex civilization means that failure to attain at least a baseline competence in these facts will basically ensure failure to attain one’s aims and goals.

    Consequently, I think the notion of a standardized national test for core competencies is not only a good idea, but an essential one. Yes, that will wind up showing that New York or Connecticut are years ahead of Mississippi or Texas, but let the states sort that out. Having the information as a benchmark will give people yet another reference point when determining where to raise a family, and give businesses a reference point on determining where to recruit and open factories. I know I’d want to set up my business in a place where I can get employees who can keep up with advancing technology, or at least basic math.

    And as E.D. said, human nature will inspire a great many schools to at least attempt to grow towards higher achievement on the national battery of tests. Any school not inclined to try to meet basic competence standards the rest of the nation is achieving is probably not much of a school to begin with.Report

  7. Avatar tom van dyke
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m gratified Mr. Kain is onboard with subsidiarity.

    It is the states that are failing on this issue; I consider the state level the proper level for “subsidiarity” here, the primary level of responsibility. Why:

    The national government should always be the last resort. Still, I think the arguments presented for some sort of national standard to compare apples to apples makes sense.

    That is, if education is indeed a national issue, a different question. But I poked through some data recently, and the states’ self-reporting was all over the map. [North Dakota far worse than South Dakota.] Something fishy.

    If you’re with me this far, the scandal is the states devolving education to the localities. This is perpetuates and accentuates the primary problem, bad parents [or none atall].

    The schools in the shitty localities will tend to be shitty; in the posh localities, more posh. This is not equality of opportunity for our young.

    The scandal is that both liberals and conservatives of means are concerned only with making sure their own children get theirs, and so, abet and abide the current system.

    And it’s the states that let it happen, and only the states that can level the playing field.

    And yes, I’m aware of when the federal gov’t took over the Kansas City schools, bypassing the state of Missouri completely, and flushing billions down the loo to no measurable effect.

    http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1614/article_detail.asp

    Hey, I’m not in the ed establishment, not into wonkage either. But I think the dynamic is in here somewhere, subsidiarity and the local-state-federal maze, and in the Kansas City case as an extreme illustration. And I have no solution. I just wanted to pick up on EDK here and his very good post. [I also thought the challenges about what a locality can do better vs. the state as a whole was a needed question.]

    Mebbe it’s because I don’t have any kids in school, but I’m troubled by this. Scandalized, even. I think few would deny that liberal or conservative, if you got your kids in a decent set of schools K-12, this doesn’t keep you up at night. And if this applies to you personally, gentle reader, I don’t blame you. There’s only so much you can worry about.Report

  8. Avatar Will
    Ignored
    says:

    Just to follow up, I’m not talking about any small, culturally homogeneous country. I’m talking about high-trust, highly cooperative, culturally homogeneous Western European societies. Societies like Finland’s, in other words.

    Here’s the acid test for the culture question: Why don’t liberals support modeling Sweden’s voucherized system instead of Finland’s heavily-unionized alternative? The answer, I think, is that everyone knows that these countries succeed because they’re dealing with a school-age population that is already very amenable to teaching. People opportunistically cherry-pick Nordic countries that have implemented some of their preferred policy choices all the time, knowing full well that underlying factors we can’t model and don’t understand are what really make the difference.

    On a related note, I recommend checking out Matt Yglesias and Noah Millman’s Bloggingheads dialog on school reform. About 20 minutes in, they compare Finland’s success to a rich jurisdiction using zoning ordinances to keep poor kids out of their schools. I think this is exactly right.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Will
      Ignored
      says:

      Will Sweden is just as unionized and their voucher system is similarly reliant on cultural homogeneity.Report

      • Avatar Will in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        Right, that’s my point. These countries’ successes are attributable to underlying cultural factors, not the architecture of their public school systems.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Will
          Ignored
          says:

          No, I disagree. That’s only one factor among many.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will
          Ignored
          says:

          I question all that Cultural Factors business. Finland and Sweden have radically different mindsets within their own cultures.

          Here’s the difference. Sweden’s constitution was established in 1974: Finland’s constitution is from 2000. Those countries haven’t had enough time to build up much institutional plaque in their arteries.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Will
          Ignored
          says:

          And then there’s Iowa. I haven’t checked the demographic make-up of that state lately, but I imagine it’s still pretty homegenus (it’s own dropping edcuation outcomes are often used in response to using diversity as an explanation for poor urban schooling outcomes).Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            That doesn’t mean that heterogeneity can’t still be a contributing factor.

            Although, on the face of it, I suspect it’s probably only a catalyst for other base factors.

            A homogeneous school of poor people might do okay, if the overall community has a good support system.

            A heterogeneous school of poor people might do okay, if the community has a good support system.

            A heterogeneous school of poor people might not do okay, if one community has a good support system and the other doesn’t.

            A heterogeneous school of poor people probably will be a mess, if nobody has a good support system.

            What “hetero-” and “homo-” -geneous is can be ethnic, racial, religious, or other. And those factors themselves are probably very complex; in a school where 20% of the students are Catholic, 35% are Sunni, 35% are Shia, and 10% are “other”, are there religious tensions? Which groups are forming coalitions? That probably depends a very large amount on the greater context of the community.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Will
      Ignored
      says:

      Is Japan unionized? Let’s move closer to the base demographic… how about Australia? New Zealand?

      In Australia and New Zealand, both of which have a homogeneous majority (and I’m given to understand both rank higher than the U.S.), how do the minorities do, comparative to the U.S.? Are *they* unionized?

      For the record, I think you can probably make educational systems work with a lot of different designs, as long as they cover the weaknesses of the designs fine.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        (We *really* need an edit button)

        To add:

        Is the U.S. system really that bad, when it comes to the people who are actually succeeding under the system? Do we need to take off and nuke the entire site from orbit?

        Should we be discussing tearing the whole thing down and starting over, or can we just take the part of it that isn’t doing well and take that out of the current setup? If the U.S. system is largely succeeding for the middle class, but failing the lower class, maybe it makes more sense to let the current school districts who serve largely middle class and succeeding communities *do their thing*, and fix the part that’s broken?

        If local property tax funding models are working reasonable well for some schools, do we need to change that? Do all schools need to have their funding coming from the same source?Report

        • Pat,

          Well the think is that most school systems are diverse in the people they serve and it’s a small % of the overall student population that is failing. That’s why I like busing because socio-economic integraion smoothes out a lot of those bumps.Report

          • I agree with busing in principle, but in practice it has way too many unintended consequences.

            Here in Pasadena, busing did serious damage to the entire public school community, because instead of getting socio-economic integration, we got *many* parents taking their middle class kids out of public school altogether and sending them to private school, which didn’t help integration any, took a large chunk of the parents who were of the demographic to be able to effectively participate as volunteers out of the public school system, and hosed those parents by making them have to pay $$$$ a year to send their kids to private school.

            If you want to talk integration, something that would make *way* more sense is to give the underserved kids a voucher and let *them* go to private school. But my God, the political fallout from that sucker would be a nightmare.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              And trotzdem alles, once busing ended, the schools sorted themselves out along the racial lines congruent with their neighbourhoods.

              Vouchers are so much intellectual flimflam. The vouchers would be issued by the same taxing bodies which can’t collect enough money at present to fund the public schools.Report

            • I just don’t see that many kids rolling out to private schools. Private schools are expensive, even for middle class families. And also, if you give all the kids vouchers to go to private schools you lost the very exclusivity which makes private schools succeed.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
                Ignored
                says:

                Surprisingly, this isn’t always true. The Lilywhite Christian Academies which sprung up like so many mushrooms on horse turds aren’t all that expensive. They keep costs down by running their operations within the confines of church property and under the church’s incorporation. They hire straight out of the Christian College pipeline, Wheaton, Taylor, Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Liberty and the like: it’s a default destination for a recently married couple graduating from those colleges: the faculties are very young. Often they live in housing provided by the church, again, all under the tax-exempt umbrella.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The cheapest private high school in Los Angeles County, from about 1970 until 1999 (the last time I checked), was Loyola High School, a long-established Jesuit school with very high academic marks.

                The base tuition was very low, and economic status was no bar, as both the endowment and the alumni association were very strong. When I worked there, about half of the kids got some sort of financial assistance and a solid chunk of them were on full free rides.

                No “church coffers” assistance, for the record. The Catholics are very adverse to top-down funding.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, the Catholics have always had a strong educational system. I’ve always admired the Jesuits, fwiw. Sound thinkers, every one of them I’ve met. Knew quite a few SJ’s from Notre Dame’s Moreau Seminary. Very sad situation: at the time I was writing a system for them, their seminary was not well-attended.

                I can only speak for the Protestants, for I grew up among them.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Growing up around Jesuits very much alters your perception of the clergy in the Catholic church, let me tell you. I’m still surprised by how the average priest acts and thinks.Report

              • I spent 12 years in Catholic schools and paid my last two years of high school tuition myself. It was $3,500 per year when I graduated in 1993. That school is now about $6,000 per year and that’s normal for Louisville parochial schools. Many middle class families find that to be a hardship when state college tuition is about the same.

                i guess it differss from location to location.Report

              • Typically parochial schools have higher base tuition that the ones run by the Jesuits, they also typically have less financial aid.

                One could do a dissertation just on the different types of parochial schools and their funding models.Report

              • They did here. White flight is fairly well documented in PUSD.

                Entertainingly (if you’re into tragic entertainment), I know of people who lost their house because they couldn’t think of giving up their kids’ private school, even though they couldn’t afford the tuition and their mortgage payment at the same time. And this is *now*, today, when Pasadena schools are actually quite good. The rep is still around from the early 90s.

                I’m not saying give *everybody* vouchers, Blaise. I’m saying, if you think integration is a good idea, giving underserved kids vouchers to go to private school makes more sense from an integration standpoint than busing them to schools where the currently performing fine kids are… when those currently performing fine kids will pack up and go elsewhere.

                If there’s one think I know for *sure*, attending PTA meetings and listening to parents of all political stripes talk about their kids and their schools, it’s this: the minute you tell the parent they have *no choice* (even if it’s just a lottery choice, and they only get one shot at it) in school selection, they are going to freak out and go elsewhere. Private school, or they *will* move.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                School desegregation is impractical while neighbourhoods sort themselves along economic and by extension racial lines. Put Pasadena in one hand, Compton in the other, see how this works.

                Pasadena is mostly white with maybe a third Hispanic and blacks maybe a fifth. Compton was mostly white until after WW2. After redlining was outlawed,

                Compton filled up with blacks and the Latinos arrived shortly after. Now it’s mostly Latino, maybe 40% black and about 15% white.

                These “underserved” kids don’t appear in well-to-do neighbourhoods, because those neighbourhoods hike up their property taxes to keep their real estate values high. Compton, well, they want charter schools now because their system sucks.

                Bill Gates has been watching the charter school movement and he says charter schools are what parents want, not what kids need. About 17% of charter schools succeed, about 37% end up worse than before. I just don’t think vouchers or charter schools are the answer, and neither does Bill Gates. The problem goes deeper: I know everyone likes to sneer and jeer when the Hildebeest said it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it does take a village, specifically a school district, to educate that child, and without the property taxes to support that child, we’re going to end up with Dollar Store Charter Schools.Report

              • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Are there multiple school systems in Los Angeles County? If so, why not just combine them all and then bus the kids to create economic integration? That’s what we do here in Louisville. We have one school system.Report

              • Yes, there are multiple schools systems in Los Angeles county.

                Busing is a horrible idea for this geographic area, IMO. It can take 2 hours to go 35 miles in high traffic time slots and an hour to go 15, door-to-door. Busing kids from Azusa to Pasadena (12 miles on the freeway) would require them to put in 2 hours a day in a commute.

                That’s maybe justifiable at the high school level, when kids have more autonomy and self direction. Put 40 2nd graders on a bus for two hours a day and you’ll have a homicidal bus driver within a month, if nothing else.

                True, there are some smaller areas (like Pasadena) that have enough socioeconomic diversity within a small footprint that busing might be feasible, but when busing was tried in those areas it just gave a huge incentive for the middle class people out of the public school system.

                Now, that was the case last time it was tried, and people might not generally react the same way now (generally, I’d say people are less race-bigoted now than they were in 1980). But I don’t see compelling evidence to suggest that it *won’t* just happen again, and it’s taken almost 15 years now for the school system to recover from the previous 10.Report

              • I think busing can be improved on if it’s not race-based (and after the recent SCOTUS decision that is illegal anyhow).

                Maybe create busing zones within the Los Anglese area? Break it up into smaller areas?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
                Ignored
                says:

                At the time, I thought school busing was an awful decision. Solomon, in the school busing decision, did cut the baby in half. Well, y’know when a court decision is fair: both sides leave the courthouse unhappy.

                History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. I remember the lunchroom tables were as segregated as the schools had been.

                If anyone could have foreseen the fallout, they would never have chosen the busing route. They would have improved the schools themselves.

                I knew teachers at previously all-black schools: they hectored those kids saying “society will demand you be twice as good as your anglo counterparts, so by God, I’m going to demand you succeed on those terms.” And some of those schools produced excellent graduates, despite the vicious inequalities within the system.

                Dr. King’s vision has died, and good riddance to it. America will never be color blind. At best, it can be color neutral. Marcus Garvey’s vision of self-reliance and mutual aid within the black culture might have worked, as it did in many other cultures, such as the Asian and Irish cultures. Those cultures suffered discrimination, too. You might argue the black culture was different, for it had suffered from generations of systematic under-education but I don’t buy it. Every parent wants their children to succeed.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
                Ignored
                says:

                Charlton Heston, in remembering Planet of the Apes, told a story about how, at lunch, Chimpanzees ate with Chimpanzees, Apes with Apes, and Orangutans with Orangutans. There were no rules dictating this. People who may have been friends out of makeup but happened to be different “species” in makeup didn’t eat together.

                This is something that seems pretty hard wired.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Australia has a dark skinned underclass very similar to native Americans and also a lot of immigrants especially from asia and some places in Europe.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Neither Australia nor New Zealand is especially homogeneous. They’re both new world countries that have significant immigration.

        As for unions, I can’t speak for Australia but in New Zealand there are unions, but our labour relations laws are quite different from the US. For one thing union shops are illegal, for another you can only strike while renegotiating your employment contract (including pay or conditions).

        As for how well minorities do, outcomes are worse than average, but my intuition is that they do better than minorities in the US. The fact that funding is allocated centrally based on income (so a decile 1 school gets more funding than a decile 10 school does) probably has something to do with this, but I don’t know how much.Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to James K
          Ignored
          says:

          A quick point about Australia:

          Compared to most Western countries, the United States is an extremely diverse place. You can imagine a scenario in which a culturally homogeneous country does a better job of educating a smaller ethnic minority because of certain second-order effects stemming from its favorable demographic position.

          For example, if you have a class with 20 Anglophone Australians and two immigrants, teachers can devote a disproportionate amount of time and resources to the immigrant kids because the Australians have already developed the habits of good students and require little hands-on attention. In the United States, a class of 10 white kids and 10 ethnic minorities would not enjoy similar advantages.

          That said, I know little about Australia, so maybe its level of ethnic and cultural diversity there is comparable to the United States’ (I kind of doubt it, if only because there’s no Mexico on the Australian border). I’d be interested to read a breakdown of Australian student achievement along ethnic lines. Taking a look at the performance of certain minorities within the Finnish school system (there’s a fairly substantial community of Somalian refugees in Helsinki) would also be revealing.Report

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