Public Education in the United States, Part I


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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174 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I thought the big issue in California is that the funding is done at the state level so this even things out as opposed to New York where it is still done through local property taxes.

    However, wealthier places in California ask for annual contributions from parents. A few years ago I heard that Walnut Creek asked for 500 dollars per a kid per year. Orinda and Lafayette asked for 1500 per a kid per a year.

    In the end, I don’t know if local school boards are a good or bad thing. In some ways, they might prevent more big fights. Imagine Texas and California and New York needing to agree on educational policies.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Texas is also done through local property taxes. Which has led to Texas’ funding system being under Court supervision, on and off again, for decades now.

      Which leads to the “Robin Hood” system we have now, wherein wealthier districts have their money taken and given to poor districts. Given these districts are funded by extra, higher property taxes, this irritates the locals.

      (Who strangely would mind a lot less if, say, there was a dedicated portion of the state property tax that was allocated out on a need basis to poor districts. It’s the fact that the locals raise their own taxes to provide for better services, then have some of that taken, that irks them, even if the final shuffling of money was exactly the same).Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

        It’s funny how often we use taxes as a proxy for social attitudes. You are right that you can get the same funding if you structure a tax his way, but it was set up that way, and it seems to me that it was set up that way so specific demographic ‘feels’ it more obviously.

        In Seattle, they are pushing a head tax for large employers as a way to fight homelessness, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. Large employers are not the cause of the homelessness issue, that’s on the city planning board and all the wealthy NIMBYs who refuse to let any kind of affordable housing projects and/or shelters move forward. But large employers are going to be taxed for every hour every employee works.

        The first and second order effects of that are obvious as hell.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          In Seattle, they are pushing a head tax for large employers as a way to fight homelessness, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. Large employers are not the cause of the homelessness issue

          “Why should people with homes pay taxes to solve the homelessness problem? Is that fair? Look, let’s be very clear here: if the homeless want to be enhomed they should pay their own damn taxes to make it happen.”Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          There’s a reason Texas is stuck with this system — statewide property taxes are against our state constitution, we don’t have an income tax, and sales taxes are already rather high.

          The amount of money the State sends towards education is…pretty minimal. It’s really, really heavy on local property taxes.

          So the state was pretty much unable to raise the revenue required to send cash to poorer districts to meet their own minimum mandates. So they punted — and told school districts “You can raise property taxes up to X per 100k in value, but no more” and then added “And the maximum you’re allowed to spend per district is Y per student” (some value metric dealing with student population, infrastructure, etc. Bonds to build new facilities and stuff don’t count, even if they’re repaid via a raised property tax over the bond life).

          So districts that raise more than Y see that extra money either recaptured by the State and parceled out, or can enter into joint agreements with other districts to send the money.

          And that’s where the fun part comes in, because so many districts had capped their property taxes to pay for their students that the Texas Supreme Court ruled it was effectively a state-wide property tax hidden as a local property tax, which led Texas to change the caps and blow a huge hole in it’s already minimal education budget.

          School funding in Texas is all sorts of effed up.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Morat20 says:

        Colorado funding is a mix of local property taxes and the state general fund (state income, sales, and property taxes mostly). K-12 education is the largest single line item in the state general fund budget (about 40% of the total). Local districts (Colorado skips the county-level thing) are now required to have a minimum mill levy and the state makes up the difference to reach a specified per-pupil level. In some of the poorest districts, state money is as much as 80% of the budget. In rich districts, about 40% if my memory is correct. In Patrick’s map, lower per-pupil spending in Colorado is well-correlated with population density — there are economies of scale, and the large dense districts get more bang for their buck.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Funding of education, per state, is really complicated.

      When I get to that stage (Part III), I’m going to talk solely about California, because the history of ed funding in California is crazy but it does illustrate a lot of factors that also apply elsewhere.Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    The other big issue is that we can’t decide what education is for in the United States. Is the purpose to make people well-rounded educated citizens? Is it to get them skilled for the global economy/workforce? Or for the more cynical, to make Americans into good little worker bees who never complain?Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      All of the above.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      And the question also rises: what do we WANT vs. what can we afford given austerity/ financial crashes/ people unwilling to pay more in taxes. You see this at the university level as well; lots of corners get cut that I wish weren’t cut.

      There’s a lot of stuff people want, but when it comes down to it, they may not be willing to pay for it and there’s only so much you can push your teachers to get grants or cozy up to potential donors.

      This looks to be an interesting series; am looking forward to the next installments.Report

    • Fidelio in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      This really is the fundamental question, and the answer gets pretty uncomfortable pretty fast. The economics of public education (or at least the economics of the idea of public education) are such that any given system can pick two of three ideas: an okay education for everyone, a good education for only some people, or a system that’s cheap. You can have a just-okay education for everyone that’s relatively cheap (which is essentially what we have now, wealthy property-tax-as-tuition districts notwithstanding); or an excellent system that’s also relatively cheap (by stringently defining who the Excellent People are and then restricting provision to those people); or a system that educates everybody where some people get a just-okay education and others get an outstanding education, but which, because of the cost of the excellent part of the equation, becomes very expensive very quickly.

      If we thought carefully about what a public education is meant to do, then the choice might become more clear. Right now, we have stakeholders across the spectrum who want all the children to become Platonic philosopher kings but who would prefer to pay as little as possible. This is… not a sustainable proposition.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    There is a joke that the United States does not have a public education system but many private education systems funded by the real estate market. It’s pithy but has a grain of truth. The decision to fund public education by property taxes was made by the city of Akron, Ohio before the Civil War. It made sense at the time and quickly become a default. There was a brief attempt to create a more centralized educational system during Reconstruction with the nascent Department of Education creating standards and inspecting schools. That did not go well, especially in the South where the political elite did not want mass education even for white people let alone blacks.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    Eager to read more. Thanks, Patrick.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon says:

    I am most certainly looking forward to this series!Report

  6. J_A says:

    I feel a big part of the problem is, as you say, that there is no public education in the USA.

    So lot’s of things are not like the others, but also, they shouldn’t be very different. Whatever education is(*), it should t be different in MS that in CA that in HI than in AK. Math is the same in the whole 50 states. So is biology, music, shop, accounting, English, foreign languages, chemistry and physical Ed. It should’t even be different in Chicago from Peoria. Finns, Koreans, or Brazilians would be shocked if they were told that education should be different in this town versus the other.

    So at the end of the day, we end having thousands of small institutions not-really-in-control of much (see the text books controlled by big states issue), mostly continuing the culture war by other means, while “education” )scare quotes intended) just goes along, somehow, adrift, without measurable goals.

    (*) as @saul-degraw points out, that’s an even more fundamental, and more meta, questionReport

    • Saul Degraw in reply to J_A says:

      The one area where a bit of localization seems to be okay is in history. The United States is a large country with a lot of history and my anecdotal observation is that different regions focus on their history. My Californian friends all fondly recall the Mission project that they do in 4th grade. Obviously New York kids don’t do this.

      But you are correct on the rest but I suspect it gets driven apart by social politics and these are not going away. I suspect one reason to focus on economics and worker-bees is that it gives kids enough knowledge but also cowardly avoids divisive social issues.Report

      • fillyjonk in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Old Ohio kid here: Moundbuilders, all the way.

        I know people from other states who never even heard of the Moundbuilders. But they’ve remained one of my “history interests” to this day.Report

        • We have them in WV. Right down to a town actually names Moundsville. Mostly famous for The West Virginia State Penitentiary, but also for the moundbuilders. There are several preserved sites scattered across the state.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            Mounds here in KY too. OH, WV and KY were the home ranges for the Moundbuilders.Report

            • fillyjonk in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              Oklahoma had some (a different culture, as far as I can tell). Waaaaay up in the northeast corner of the state is the Spiro Mounds, an archaeological site. I drove up there on one of my breaks to see them. (It’s not well-funded, nothing in this state is, but it was interesting to me to see the mounds).

              Some day I want to go to Toltec Mounds in Arkansas.
              Apparently there was a more “urban” (in the sense of “concentrated population”) Native culture in southern and South-Central North America some thousand years before European settlement.

              I don’t know why it interests me so much but it does. I’ve read a few books on it.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

          Plains Indians where I was. They had to do something for state/local history. The area in Northwest Iowa where I went to grade school was partially evacuated in 1861 due to an actual Indian raid and fear of follow-on raids. The town in Nebraska where I graduated high school celebrated its centennial the summer between my junior and senior years.Report

        • J_A in reply to fillyjonk says:

          Even though I know about the Missions, the Moundbuilderrs, and even about the Iroquois Confederation and the French and Indian Wars, I’d rather my hipothetical children learned about Rasputin than about the Allen brothers.

          Believe it or not, the XX century history might have been much different if the Tsarina Alexandra had never heard of Rasputin.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to J_A says:

            I doubt it. Nicholas II was over his head and unwilling to compromise and create a parliament until forced to do so. Alexandra reinforced Nicholas II,s worst traits since the early days of their marriage.Report

        • Em Carpenter in reply to fillyjonk says:

          West Virginia history is a huge deal in public schools here. Is it that way everywhere? I have always imagined so. (Not that WV history is a huge deal everywhere, but each particular state’s history).Report

          • fillyjonk in reply to Em Carpenter says:

            Ohio history was pretty big when I was a kid.

            Here, until recently, they used to re-enact something like the “land run” with the primary school students (with wagons decorated up to look like Conestogas and everything).

            I think some of the Native groups complained and most districts don’t do it any more.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        When I was working with school groups as an archaeologist, and later when I was helping put together the public education program at a local museum, we spent a lot of time making sure we were compliant with the curriculums of our local school system(s). As long as you meet their core requirements, you’re good. As I noted in another comment, I like the idea of a national curriculum, so long as it builds in flexibility for local districts and yes, history education is one area where this is a must.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Total side note, but as someone who grew up in a mission town, one that was still active in local Catholic life, we did not cover it in 4th. Probably because it was still active, and that was a pretty deep river to cross in the ’70’s.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t remember local history being a thing in New York public schools. The Iroquois did not get any special mention. Neither did the Dutch.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to J_A says:

      Funnily enough, Common Core arose out of just that belief — and was immediately denounced as”Big Government federal” overreach, despite having nothing to do with the Feds. It’s a multi-state compact, designed and handled by the various states that voluntarily joined.

      Since there’s 33 of them, it honestly does sound like something the Federal Government should do (create a unified set of standards) but I don’t think actually has the power to do.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Morat20 says:

        Counter-argument (mild spoiler, this will come up in Part IV: Measurement):

        The use of measurements in education is not to produce better educational outcomes.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Patrick says:

          Common Core doesn’t have a lot to do with measurement, does it? It seems more akin to sketch out “This is roughly what a K-12 education should cover” on a very high level basis, mostly so that grads are roughly on the same footing across the states.

          A framework that States use to build a curriculum.Report

      • CJColucci in reply to Morat20 says:

        To be picky and legalistic, the feds don’t have the power to impose a common core curriculum directly, but it could bribe the states by conditioning federal aid on its adoption.Report

    • J_A in reply to J_A says:

      Finns, Koreans, or Brazilians would be shocked if they were told that education should be different in this town versus the other.

      I am currently in Brazil, and I just watched a TV commercial from the Ministry of Education, extolling the greatness that the curriculum is the same in all the schools of Brazil: “Equal curriculum means equal opportunities and equal rights”, is the motto

      Serendipity is a great thing 🙂Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to J_A says:

        The French ideal was that you can look up at a clock and know what every ten year old in France was studying to a page.Report

  7. Em Carpenter says:

    Funny you mention that larger states have a board of education in every county. My tiny state of West Virginia also has one for each of its 55 counties. I wonder if that isn’t overkill?
    I’ll be interested to see how this series develops. West Virginia has one of the higher per-student expenditures but always ranks nearly dead last in education- in all of those nation-wide type studies that you propose to ignore.
    Really good start, can’t wait to read more.Report

    • We could go for a week on the disaster and lawsuits going over my home county in WV, Nicholas county, the local board of education, state board of education, and federal funding going on two years now trying to replace flood damaged schools. Utter disgrace of bad government.Report

  8. Mike Dwyer says:

    Realy interesting piece Patrick. Thinking about this:

    “And yet almost all thinkpieces about public education in the United States rely far too much, if not entirely, on general conclusions based upon average properties.”

    I have long-advocated for a national curriculum, with lots of flexibility built in for local educators to tailor subjects for a local audience. The problem, of course, is that we would also need to complete revamp the way education funding is done.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series Patrick.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      @mike-dwyer “I have long-advocated for a national curriculum, with lots of flexibility built in for local educators to tailor subjects for a local audience. The problem, of course, is that we would also need to complete revamp the way education funding is done”

      Agreed. I think that most schools do this very thing in history. We don’t teach every single thing mentioned on the larger Common Core framework in depth, but the big things (like the Constitution in 8th grade and how our government works) really needs to be a requirement in every classroom. The rest should be up to local districts.Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    Perhaps you’ll delve into this in a later piece, but another area of massive disagreement yet presumptive agreement is the very purpose of public education. If we can’t agree on the goals or don’t even know what the goals are, how can we even begin to evaluate the system(s)?Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    To what extent is it likely to be true that what works in school district #5282 is going to work very differently in school district #3978?

    If it is true, then it’s a good thing that there are umpty-million different school districts.Report

    • A Teacher in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird: To what extent is it likely to be true that what works in school district #5282 is going to work very differently in school district #3978?

      From an instructive point of view what works in my 3rd hour is often radically different than what works in my 4th hour and we’re in the same district!

      But from a content point of view, I really question how relevant the variations are. There may be some regional flavors to the same core facts but they are just that. Math is pretty danged universal, “proper” English the same. Yes there are regional dialects which can be recognized when talking about the difference between informal and formal language but a single unified curriculum can address that. The Civil War became a shooting war with the first shots fired on Fort Sumter though I think “the Civil War was about slavery” could be a kind of fact that gets a lot of push back in certain areas.

      What scares me about not unifying the curriculum is the propagation half truths and non-science in areas where dealing with the truth is actively resisted by local interests. Evolution is a thing, for example, and it’s fundamental to understanding how we have antibiotic resistant bacteria now. When a local community feels threatened by teaching it, they are setting up their kids for more of a headache later when it comes to understanding the medicine and science at work.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to A Teacher says:

        I’m not talking about any given curriculum, really.

        I imagine that teaching Algebra 1 and teaching Animal Farm differs mightily in its own right but I’m more wondering if teaching Algebra 1 in this school district over here needs to be done differently than in that school district of there.

        (As for the teaching of evolution, polls periodically come out that talk about how the majority of people in the country want creationism taught alongside evolution. So my take on whether we should unify the curriculum is one that assumes that unifying the curriculum would mean that it’d take away the option of not teaching creationism. I see local control as allowing *MORE* evolution to be taught without the taint of creationism rather than something preventing it.)Report

    • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:


      To what extent is it likely to be true that what works in school district #5282 is going to work very differently in school district #3978?

      Implicit but unsaid in your question is “works for who?”

      If if is for the children, more likely what works well in A works well in B. There are reasonable outliers. The Wire’s Baltimore school’s population have issues that have to be addressed that are not about math or biology. Likewise, a small school in Alaska has seasonal challenges that will need to be addressed, perhaps with classes in the summer and holidays in the winter. But for the most of the USA something similar to what we end actually doing in most schools should work more or less well.

      But if your concern is a culture war concern (or a cut my taxes, my child doesn’t use your school district system concern) then the children are a minor issue, compared to making sure we teach the controversy, or about the real cause of the Civil War (tariffs!!!!), or that anti bullying ordnance’s are not passed because how can my children witness against The Gheyz otherwise.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to J_A says:

        “works for who?”

        Yeah. I suppose that this is the fundamental question but I wasn’t really thinking about culture war stuff as much as I was thinking about class stuff.Report

        • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

          For inside classroom stuff, content should be essentially the same all over the country (the planet?)

          Other boundary conditions between classroom and community (climate, crime, transportation) can vary from district to district.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to J_A says:

            One Size Fits All.

            The clothing people had to change that to “One Size Fits Most”.

            The school people will have to do the same.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

              I would suggest that there is a distinction between curriculum and pedagogy.

              Curriculum should be pretty constant everywhere (with exceptions for local history, climate, etc.).

              Pedagogy can vary considerably from one kid to the next (much less one district to the next).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                So when I read that, I see “college prep for all”.

                Should I not jump to that conclusion?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                College prep should be overdetermined by the course requirements. I mean, if we want something more than Garbage In, Garbage Out, we want kids who can at least vote for my preferred policies apply critical reasoning skills to the information they consume.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

                Seems one first has to answer the question, what is the purpose of public education? And you can’t just answer with “produce good citizens”, because that has all kinds of priors attached to it. Are we making good workers, or engaged citizens, or intellectual elites, or god fearing people, or something else?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Lower lower class: day care
                Middle lower class: day care, maybe a few students will be able to aspire to Upper Lower class
                Upper lower class: get a diploma and a job

                Lower middle class: get a diploma and a steady job (if you’re lucky, a union job)
                Middle middle class: college prep
                Upper middle class: college prep

                Lower upper class: college prep, networking
                Middle upper class: networking, college prep
                Upper upper class: networkingReport

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                That’s what it is. Is that what it should be?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, there are two kinds of “should”, here.

                There’s the “should” that ain’t never gonna happen, never in a million years. There’s the “should” that might succeed if implemented.

                Any plan that doesn’t take into account the fact that the lower classes will need different things taught to them than the middle classes is very likely to fail.

                (I’m not mentioning the upper classes because they’re going to get good schooling no matter what and any policy we pass probably won’t touch them at all.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can’t decode the negatives. Are you saying that public education *should* provide lower class kids a different type of education than middle and upper class kids and if it doesn’t it will fail?

                That seems both counterintuitive (which is fine, tho it shifts the burden of proof) but wrong as well.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m saying that lower class kids have some vague idea of what they are likely to find useful in the future and schooling that caters to them as if they had the same aspirations as the kids in the middle classes will not be engaged with meaningfully.

                I am not saying that there will be no outliers. I’m not saying that these outliers would be better off under a plan that does a better job of catering to everybody else in the school.

                But giving everybody a college prep education strikes me as saying “like what we’re doing now, only better!” and that strikes me as likely to give outcomes similar to our current outcomes, only more so.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Still not sure what you’re suggesting. Is it that poor kids should get *more* education juice than middle and upper income kids to make up for privilege-derived complacency?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                How much more education juice would get DC’s schools back up to a 70ish graduation rate?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                That’s a question for you to answer. And I hope you do.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I don’t think that doubling down will work.

                I think that the entire idea of what we’re doing in DC needs to change and change fundamentally and a school that works for DC will look very, very, very, very different than the one that I went to (and I presume the one that everybody who hangs out on this site went to).Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Keep going…

                In what ways will the school be different?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                It’ll focus a lot more on stuff like making sure the students are fed and a lot more emphasis on Adulting 101 and employability and whatnot.

                A graduation rate in the 40’s won’t be fixed by more and better college prep textbooks even if those are the exact same textbooks that they use in Danbury.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, I’m certainly not going to argue against the idea that poor kids should be well fed…Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                This is the interlocutor/Socratic problem in a nutshell: problems and their proposed solutions are very easy to criticize and challenge, very hard to solve.

                Add: not that there’s anything wrong with that! It just *inclines* people to a sense of skepticism if not nihilism which is worse than imperfection.Report

              • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:


                Germany has a similar concept, the vocational schools (lower and higher branches) versus the Gymnasium – The criticism is that it’s based on grades, and that kids are irrevocably marked for one of the three routes at 10-12 years of age.

                It is not impossible to go from the lower High School to the University, eventually, but you cannot do that directly, you have to do remedial Gymnasium before – Lower High School (Haupschule) graduates normally go into basic apprenticeships, secretarial or clerical work, low level state bureaucracy, etc.

                High level High School (Realschule) is geared towards the trades and technical (specialized working class jobs) – It’s an ominous mark of the times that Realschules are being phased out in some German states, merging them with the Haupschuler)

                Gymnasium is the fancy schools were everyone is college boundReport

              • Jaybird in reply to J_A says:

                I’m certain that there are kids who get sent to Haupschule who ought to have been assigned to Realschule or Gymnasium and kids who get sent to Realschule who ought to have been assigned to Gymnasium and kids who got assigned to Gymnasium who only got there because their parents pulled strings.

                But Gymnasium For Everybody is failing the kids in DC and while I’m sure that switching to a more Haupschulish mindset would also fail some of the DC students, I think that the school would start failing a lot fewer students than its failing now.Report

              • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t really disagree – I do like the German model – I just point out that most parents in the USA will hate it is somehow someone says their precious is not Gymnasium material

                But what would I know – I was an A student since kindergarten :-). There was no doubt I would go to college – and I did, aged 16 (17 in November, I was skipped 1st grade)Report

              • J_A in reply to J_A says:

                For what’s it’s worth my parents said, when I was like 6, yo, that everyone had to work/have a job (both my parents did), and that school was my work, and I was supposed to be good at school because that was my job.

                My family has always been great at explaining things to children in a rational manner, with proper reasoning, and addressing you in a way that you felt respected and treated like a grown-upReport

              • Maribou in reply to J_A says:

                ” most parents in the USA will hate it is somehow someone says their precious is not Gymnasium material”

                You know, I wonder and worry about this. I mean, maybe so. but my personal inclination is to think that *most* parents in the US have even bigger or more immediate problems on their plate to deal with, and/or are far more disengaged than to care what track their kiddo gets slotted into (and they certainly do have tracks in many US states / cities as well, just not quite as obviously as in Germany.).

                Does anyone know national level stats about parent engagement? I wonder/worry enough to bring it up, but not enough to do some research on this very low-energy night.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Maribou says:

                My biggest worry is that in the parts of the US where the unions are still strong — eg, here in Colorado the pipefitters — that the unions won’t accept the vocational training and will insist that graduates start at the bottom-level apprentice position. If that’s the case, why not drop out at 16 and start your apprenticeship rather than wasting two years?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Michael Cain says:

                @michael-cain I want to say when I was growing up the various unions worked with the vo-track in our high school. Not *exactly* 1:1 but there was a very large amount of cooperation going on. Of course that raises all kinds of political issues on its own, and may be nonfeasible in Colorado for reasons that didn’t come up in the Maritimes. But it did help with the whole “will this even get them anywhere?” part of things.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Maribou says:

                Part of the pipefitters’ advantage in Colorado is their continuing education program — lots of push for anyone who is not out on a job to sign up for additional training through the union. I have a friend who now has a PhD in economics who kept his union card current after he screwed up his back and decided to go to college and graduate school. When he lost his PhD position in a corporate acquisition, he dropped by the union hall. The shop steward told him he couldn’t just sit on the bench, because he’d get assigned to a job he couldn’t do (ie, back issue) within ten days. Instead he took classes to get qualified for specialty work on hospital gas systems while he found another PhD slot.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

                If that’s the case, why not drop out at 16 and start your apprenticeship rather than wasting two years?

                What would high school have to look like to make it worth staying in for this apprentice?

                Shouldn’t we have a wing of the high school dedicated to that sort of thing?Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to J_A says:

                I think the multi-track novel not only goes against American ideas about equality, America’s racial history will make it extremely difficult to implement fairly. African-American and Hispanic kids would be shuttled towards vocational schools while white and Asian kids will get moved towards academic schools.

                I’m also going to point out that the multi-track model works in Europe because the welfare state guantees that even if you hand up on the bottom rung of the education scale, you still get healthcare, decent public housing, and mandatory paid vacations. There are no such protections in the United States.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I think a multi-track system could work in the US, as long as it wasn’t burdensome to move up. If a kid graduates lower tier, they should be able to attend community college and complete the pre-reqs for university admission without a lot of bureaucratic hullabaloo.

                That said, I do agree that even if it didn’t sort by race, it would most certainly sort by class.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                From what I understand, Canada or Australia attempted to implement a multi-track system during the 19th century but found it really didn’t work well in a big country with a small population. Many areas simply didn’t have enough students to justify multiple types of schools. They switched to a single-track system at this point. We are more densely populated now but there are areas without the student density.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I went to High School in New York for a few years and they had three tracks at my high school:


                It feels like there was a bigger gap between General and Regents than there was between Regents and Honors, but I was a Regents kid so of course I’d think that.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I think that’s right, but here’s the weird thing about this issue, especially in light of Patrick’s warnings/admonitions in the OP: I don’t understand why education is so damn hard. I really don’t. I mean, it seems like the easiest thing in the world to keep kids safe, teach them how to rede and rite, provide some extracurriculars like sports and theater…. How the hell could it get so effing derailed from that minimal mission?

                Is it all politics and perception, or is the public education system just an inexplicably hopeless institutional quagmire?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

                I don’t think the pedagogy is hard. It’s hard because education is often a proxy fight for politics and society and culture.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Right. I agree. But how the hell did we get here?

                On the other hand, lots of people at the forefront of the culture war think public education is the enemy of the people… (How did we get here?)Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I don’t think the pedagogy is hard.

                Who have you taught?

                It’s a serious question, not a snarky one. Adults are easy to teach — specifically, by the time they’re adults they’re pretty good at making up for shortfalls in pedagogy. (In fact, a surprising amount of college is dealing with trying to learn from subject-master experts who can’t teach it to non-experts. That’s pretty much a non-starter for anyone younger, or less motivated).

                Your own kids are easy to teach — a parent is, by the time the kids are about school age, pretty expert in your own kid and how to get things through to them (or tell when you’re not).

                But 150 random kids a year? 20 to 25 at a time?

                If you that and find pedagogy easy, I implore you to switch to teaching.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:


                How many different ways can you interpret the word ‘hard’ in that sentence, and you both decided I meant ‘teacher effort’?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon Honestly, it seemed like a pretty narrow-interpretation sentence to me, before I saw what Morat20 said.

                And for the record, I didn’t think you meant ‘teacher effort’ anyway, I thought you meant ‘skill required to be a good teacher’. Not effort. Skill/talent/training/difficulty-level. That whole complex of things. As in, the opposite of “easy”. I don’t think of hard or easy as being primarily a matter of effort, unless there are other indicators in the context to imply that it’s an effort thing.

                So, uh, I guess there were there were at least 2 ways to interpret it?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                More probably 3, if neither ‘effort’ nor ‘complex of skill/talent/training/difficulty level’ were what you meant?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                Except we were talking about the political side of it.

                There are spats about pedagogy, but most of them amount to, “Well, that’s not how I learned it back in my day!” 99% of those would evaporate with better parent/teacher engagement and education (and most of that is probably on the parents, honestly, for not paying attention).

                Curriculum is where the bulk of the pissing matches happen.

                I mean, right now Bug is reading better than I did in 2nd grade, and he’s still in kindergarten. I’m not gonna argue with the pedagogy his teacher is using, even though it looks nothing like how I learned to read.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Except we were talking about the political side of it.

                “Look, I want my kid to understand math, biology, literature, semantics.”

                “Like the meaning of terms like “natural selection”, “climate change” and “labor surplus”?”

                “Absolutely. Take the term “labor surplus”. I want my kid to learn that a labor surplus is a wonderful thing. It means costs are low and profits can be maximized.”

                “Ah. Yes. I see….”Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Perhaps I have too “inside baseball” of a perspective on pedagogy. When I think of the politics of pedagogy, I don’t think as much about parental interference (though my god is there a lot of that, kudos to you for not being one of those parents), or politician vs politician duke-outs (like there are about curriculum), I think very local, about teachers on committees or in a school arguing with each other (sometimes with cultural animus, more often in other politically charged ways) and, even more so, bureaucrats/administrators at a sub-school-board level (but multi-school) imposing pedagogy on teachers. Which there is also tons of.

                It literally did not occur to me that a sentence like “pedagogy isn’t hard” would refer to “pedagogy isn’t a hard problem to solve politically” because as far back as I can remember, I’ve been observing local-political jousting about pedagogical methods, at a sub-elected-official leve (in PEI, in Colorado, even in the education dept at McGill during the 3 years I was in Montreal. Daughter of a teacher, I keep a bit of an eye on these things / make friends with education students.) Phonics vs whole language vs whatever is a DRAMATIC political fight at that level, same thing with math, same thing with everything else. Not in a culture war kind of way, but that doesn’t mean it’s apolitical (and actually, sometimes it very much is a culture war kind of way. not every school is nearly-consensus culture-war wise, and some pedagogies line up more with some assumptions than with others… though I’ve seen opposite pedagogical positions being treated as the politically-apt alternative by different people in different schools… sigh.)

                As you say, it’s invisible at higher ones, but it wasn’t clear to me that Stillwater’s very general complaint was as narrow as you think it clearly was. Nor that you were only referring to the political side of things.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                All that said, I offered a single line on a short comment, and both you and Morat jumped, rather than simply asking me to clarify what I meant.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon Hey,I didn’t “jump,” it literally didn’t occur to me that you meant something different. And so I disagreed with what I thought you meant.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                it literally didn’t occur to me that you meant something different

                Because I have a history of treating the profession as anything but a serious professional career?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon No, because I tend to take what people say about things fairly literally and I took what you said at face value.

                ETA: Also, to be clear, I thought you were *mistaken*, not hostile or dismissive. I wasn’t intending to throw shade. Apologies if it seemed otherwise.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                Fair enough.

                For future reference, I have no illusions regarding the difficulty of developing and implementing curriculum and pedagogy. I’ve done both at the corporate level, where the students were all professional adults, and that was a hell of a thing. I can’t imagine the order of magnitude of difficulty when doing it for kids and teenagers who are still mastering emotions and struggling with a home-life largely out of their control.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Discourse just shouldn’t be this hard.

                By saying that I don’t mean to diminish the efforts of people working in the field of discourse.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I’m married to a teacher — you have no idea the amount of efforts that go into pedagogy, and the arguments among staff over approaches. And I’m not talking politics, unless you mean “office politics”.

                I’m talking no-holds barred arguments over the nuts and bolts of different approaches, and teachers take it seriously because if you screw up, those kids don’t get a year or three back.

                Moreover, you must have an idea of how many people will cheerfully pipe up “Teaching isn’t hard”.

                Curriculum is where the bulk of the pissing matches happen.

                Um, that’s also pedagogy. That’s the bit where you go from “I want a student to learn X” as a nice conceptual idea, and turn it into “And here’s how I will do it”.

                That’s not classroom management or instruction, but it’s what you create first so you can do those things.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Morat20 says:

                @morat20 “office politics” strikes me as just as much politics as any other kind, espeicially once more than one school gets involved… but this may be the kind of local difference that Patrick is somewhat referring to.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                If it’s true that all politics is local, politics starts in the family. Work would prolly be number 2 on the list.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater Yeah, that’s kind of how I see it.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                Me too. But policy is different than politics (despite Trump’s best efforts to collapse the two) 🙂Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Maribou says:

                I don’t know political Bob badmouthing Tina, because Bob wants a promotion really is.

                Teaching seems like any other sort of job. The usual bell curve of aptitude, skill, and energy. The people that are constantly slacking, and the ones that are busting their humps and dragging things forward. The people pushing for promotion and the ones perfectly content to do their jobs and clock out.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Morat20 says:

                @morat20 I was thinking more of situations like Bob, Grace, and Ellen all coming to a on-the-conscious-level sincere agreement that Tina’s style of pedagogy is detrimental to the children for the following evidence-based (cherry-picked) reasons, because on-the-subconscious-level (or actually Bob could be aware, I just think most of this politicking happens through self-justification rather than deliberate malice), Bob wants a promotion and Grace and Ellen resent that students and parents alike seem to like Tina so much better than they like Grace and Ellen, which is really unfair because….

                Politics, office or otherwise, rarely involve only 3 people.

                I think every job has its own weird cultural contexts, but overall, yes, I agree that that sort of politics happens at any large employer (more than 15? more than 10? more than 6? I’m not sure of the minimal required number of employees), not just in schools. Schools just tend to have low turnover, which gives many years, sometimes decades, for the subconscious grievances to pile up. There may also be some gender-related differences between mostly woman-employing and mostly male-employing situations, though I am both skeptical and wary of those.

                (And I’ve seen the same patterns going on, IMO, writ larger, like among schools that are near each other or otherwise in competition for resources.)Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Maribou says:

                If you want the nasty version of politics — stuff closer to “real” politics rather than “office”, let me tell you a story:

                There once was an ISD in a poor area of a State. They got a new Superintendent. Now, as it was a poor area, the salary wasn’t very much on the low end. It had no prestige, it was not ripe for any sort of realistic turnaround (rural, plenty of ESL speakers, no real chance of some big economic turn-around boosting the population up the socio-economic ladder, or an influx of children whose parents had more time and energy to ensure they were good students).

                Seemed kind of a dead end. I mean sure, his resume would reflect he was Superintendent of a school district but…nothing special. And it’s not like he had the drive or talent or power to really do anything flashily successful.

                Except the Super had a plan. And the plan was simple. He’d make his resume look flashy and successful! So year after year, he’d “implement” new policies, mandate new teaching methods, new administrative methods, new policies on oversight, on dress code, on discipline, on everything.

                And pretty much every year, he’d mandate a new policy that’d replace the old “must obey” policy. So that in five or six years, he’d have a resume full of shiny policy initiatives he pushed, looking like a forward-thinking go-getter — so he could get the job he really wanted, the one in the rich district with the really good salary.

                The wreckage he left behind was atrocious. Teachers who distrusted administration and refused training — just another passing fad, right? Administration that couldn’t tell whether a given teacher was bad (and thus needed help, training, or firing) or whether the teacher had just been stuck switching back and forth between plans that never lasted long enough to actually work — of those that would.

                Falling test scores, from an already low starting point — five years of yanking kids back and forth between teaching methods, curriculum, and goals will do that.

                And of course, no one trusted the school board. They’d hired the guy in the first place, and were the ones who actually had oversight on him. So half of them were kicked out, and replaced by people promising a return to the three “Rs” who then went on to spend a few years furious that education was, in fact, slightly more complex than “Make them diagram sentences and read Hamlet, that’s English done”.

                For the sake of bumping his career and salary, one man screwed over a school district that most people wouldn’t have thought could get worse. And left a mess they’re still trying to put together years later.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Morat20 says:

                @morat20 That story sounds very familiar, at both smaller and larger levels.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Maribou says:

                Funny thing is — most administrators who took a look at his resume would see what he’d done. (“There’s no way you can push all the initiatives with any success. Half of them step on the other half, and the rest are pretty much gibberish!”).

                Pity that School Boards are the ones that pick Superintendents. The good Boards will actually listen to educators and administrators (after all, they have relevant experience and expertise), but many don’t.

                A neighboring district to mine used a head-hunting firm to vet candidates — but apparently didn’t read the reports attached. They hired the one the firm returned as the worst candidate (for, among other things, being fired from her last two jobs in education).

                She lasted a year. She showed up to work about 4 hours a week, disappeared completely for two months, and abused district funds to pay for luxury car rental, a vacation, and office upgrades. (And office she was rarely actually in).

                IIRC, the school board ultimately had to hire someone to track her down and serve her with termination papers, which she then showed up at the next meeting to contest. This was after about three months of not being able to be contacted at all.

                And the Board never could explain why they picked that candidate over the rest. I suspect she baffled and bedazzled them with BS in the interview stage.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

                And somehow everyone on the board got voted in for another term, right?Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Pretty much. I mean they did eventually fire the superintendent after a year. Oh I’m sorry, I meant “buy out her contract”. Unlike teachers, the superintendent had a multi-year contract that was a PITA to cancel. (Teacher contracts are, ironic given all the complaints, a lot easier to void for cause in Texas than the average superintendent).

                (Texas teachers work on 1, 2, or 3 year contracts. Technically you can get a “lifetime” contract, but I don’t think there’s a living teacher in the state on one. They were phased out decades ago. Like 5 decades ago. New teachers — whether to the district or new to teaching — almost always get 1 year contracts, unless the district poached a known quantity. 3 year contracts are reserved for teachers who have demonstrated quality for quite some time.).

                Frankly, most people don’t pay attention to their local school board, much less go so far as to vote in the elections.

                Which is somewhat ironic, given that school boards are basically the most potent expression of “local control” you can get in the US.

                If you’ve got a problem with a local school, 95% of the time the school board contains the people to yell at. But most people will just randomly blame the state, the City Council, the federal government, or public education in general .Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

                I have an idea (I have teachers in my family, too). But as both you and Maribou point out, those are ‘office politics’ kinds of fights, and for the most part, people not involved with the profession of teaching are largely ignorant of the fights themselves, much less the specifics of the arguments.

                Hence, on the larger political front, pedagogy isn’t hard, because you don’t have the masses getting involved in the same way you do over curriculum. Most people don’t care about the pedagogy unless their kid is the one struggling to learn a given topic. You get the memes about techniques, but I doubt most parents even know what technique is currently being used to teach any given topic. So your public pedagogy fights involve the loud, squeaky wheels.

                But what to teach? Well everyone has an opinion on that. That’s a much nastier larger political fight.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon Adding to what @morat20 says below, it’s also often hard because the people (kids) you are teaching don’t want to be there, or are distracted and just not that into the topic, or had the worst day ever yesterday and because they’re 8 they don’t really know how to compartmentalize the horrible thing they observed, or because the way you’re explaining things just isn’t clicking for them, or because their gramma stayed over and they had nothing but sugar for breakfast, or because …. I’ve only rarely taught kids under 18 for more than an hour or two at a time, and it’s really hard! And those were kids who were pretty well-fed, well-off, and interested. I have a lot of friends who are teachers and I am constantly impressed by how much they manage to get done in terms of both teaching and forming relationships. The culture war stuff is an impediment, but that just levels pedagogy up from hard to impossible… not from easy to hard.

                If every teacher was a decent teacher, had like 6 students, and was very willing to also to let them teach each other, yeah, I’d agree, teaching would be relatively easy (there’d still be poverty and trauma issues, unless we magically fixed a bunch of other stuff with the same wand, of course). But I don’t really see how to get there from here *without* some kind of major cultural upheaval. And in the absence of that, pedagogy will be hard.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                For starters, not everyone agrees on even that minimal mission.

                Then add in a wide range of vested interests in the funding and running of schools.

                It’s not enough to say: “How’d we get lost trying to keep kids safe while teaching them to read and write?”

                Because immediately you’ll have one person saying, “Keeping other people’s kids safe costs how much?” And someone else saying, “You want to teach them to read WHAT?!” And another saying, “That isn’t how you teach reading!” And yet another reminding you, “Susie already knows how to read. When will you start Advanced Rhetoric for Kindergarteners?”

                And that’s before someone mentions the teachers union.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                For starters, not everyone agrees on even that minimal mission.

                The minimal mission I identified is keeping kids safe, teaching them to read and write, and offer some extracurriculars. What nut jobs don’t think those three things are the minimal mission of public education?

                They think we shouldn’t keep kids safe, shouldn’t teach kids to read, shouldn’t offer things like sports and band practice?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater That last one is a huge area of dispute. HUGE.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                I’ve never heard about it being an issue, so it can’t be bigger than (eg) teaching science, factually based US history, funding, teachers unions, EVOLUTION, and so on.

                Add: not saying you’re wrong (how would I know?) but that it’s not a keystone issue in the media-based public side of the war.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater You’ve never heard about it because it gets handled on the local level and doesn’t worry the (deep breath, I’m going to use a political label, it’s at least partially tongue in cheek) neoliberal media elite since they know THEIR kids aren’t going to be the ones stripped of extra-curriculars, and nor are their primary consumers. And since it is usually the result of cuts on a local level, and choices made about how to apply those cuts, rather than a partisan culture war thing directly *itself*, it doesn’t get a lot of national airtime.

                It’s also not a flavor of dumb that Colorado is especially prone to (as opposed to many other flavors).

                But in terms of actual school districts elsewhere actually stripping schools of extra-curriculars, it’s hugely in dispute.

                I hear about it from the teachers, not from the news. Extra-curriculars get threatened on the regular. “Why am I paying for this crap when reading and writing and math are all a kid really needs? More reading teachers! Fewer music teachers!”Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                Got it. Thanks for elaborating. As well as the use of “neoliberal media elite”!Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                The local public school — very well funded and high achieving — makes kids bring their own tissues.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                To soak up their liberal tears?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                To loop onto their boot straps.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Heh. With tools like that kids are American-guaranteed to succeed.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                Some people want MUCH more, to the point that agreeing on the minimum is useless.

                Now, define safe. Safe from GMOs?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Exactly. How the hell did we get here?

                (I’d remind you of my hypothesis from the last time we talked about this stuff: that public ed is *fundamentally* a form of day care. If that’s right, then parents will demand education institutions express their personal morality, commitments, and values. Which is what you’re saying is the case. 🙂Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:


              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Don’t get me started…Report

              • J_A in reply to Stillwater says:

                Exactly. How the hell did we get here?

                Peanuts!!!!!!!!! The school is not peanut free!!!!!!!!!!!! Murderers!!!!!!! I’ll see you in court!!!!!!!!!!

                Does it ring a bell?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to J_A says:

                The end of class bell. I’m going home woooohooooo!

                More seriously: the bell it rings is Garbage In, Garbage Out. Maybe I’m unique, but I hear that bell ringing all the damn time.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Kazzy says:

                Now, define safe. Safe from GMOs?

                Safe from resource draining kids?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Right. That’s the poison, Dark. That’s the problem. The idea that “resource draining” kids negatively effect “resource using” kids. It’s all about “resource extraction” without regard to humanity. (and I mean that broadly enough to include humans as resources.)

                Individualism ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Lonely sociopaths testimony notwithstanding)Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

                Right. That’s the poison, Dark. That’s the problem. The idea that “resource draining” kids negatively affect “resource using” kids.

                The problem isn’t the idea. The problem is the reality.

                Put five disruptive kids in a classroom and there is no learning. Even one is a massive time sink for the teacher (taking her away from her job which should be focusing on my kid). At the absurd extreme we have the 5th(?) grader who physically attacked my substitute teaching wife.

                Any classroom is better off if my kids are there. But the brutal truth is my kids are MUCH better off if she’s not in the same classroom as kids with serious problems.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “as kids with serious problems”
                @dark-matter I’m not arguing the larger idea here, but just this minor point: many of the kids who directly or indirectly *benefit* your kid may well have serious problems, also. Perhaps not of the acting out in class variety, but probably just as serious. It’s a mistake to think of kids as “good kids from good homes who will do great in school and make their classroom better” and “kids with serious problems”. The dichotomy isn’t that clear.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

                Layer on the fact that the structure of most (like, almost every) schools is designed to further exacerbate whatever dichotomies do exist.

                Mayo is a kid who could be looked at as having “serious problems”. However, in a differently structured school — one with similar if not identical goals but something other than the traditional means of pursuing them — he might be the All-Star while the current All-Stars might be the “serious problems”.

                None of this happens in a vacuum. This is in part evidenced by the many folks who struggle in school and thrive in the real world or vice versa.

                Schools create a particular environment that are suitable for some and hell for others. How kids manage within them is often a symptom rather than a cause.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Right. The issue isn’t ‘bad’ kids, it’s that parents and schools are very hesitant to move kids to proper environments. Parents don’t want their kids labelled as having to go to the special school, and schools don’t want to lose the headcount and the money attached.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon Again, the dichotomy is not that stark. Plenty of kids who are labeled “special” or who actually have serious problems or whatever (whether or not mainstreamed) are, on average when you look at their total effect as an individual, more of a contribution to the classroom than a loss.

                All I was pushing back against was the idea that kids with serious problems can be easily identified from the outside, such that they overlap with “kids who are a disruption and/or harm my kid,” in this clearcut way. That’s not true. I expect you know that, and I expect Dark does, but I just wish people would stop talking that way, because it shores up a system that *does* treat kids that way. (albeit not in a practical manner that would result in dangerous/disruptive kids not being mainstreamed. worst of both worlds.)Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                As with all things, ‘disruptive’ is something that exists on a gradient, as do the potential interventions that could help a kid be successful. My point was rather that even if a kid is identified as disruptive and an intervention is proposed, parents and school administrations often stand in the way of implementing the intervention, or even trying to triage the disruptive elements.

                It’s like ignoring that funny noise under the hood of your car because you really don’t want to take the time or spend the money to get it looked at and fixed.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                What I was saying is that a lot of times people from the school’s end of things are very eager to insist there’s a funny noise under the hood of the car when actually, the car may be pretty banged up, maybe has a hole in the floor that *really needs fixing* even, but it runs better than a lot of the other cars in the lot. And has no funny noises under the hood. but “funny noise under the hood, needs to go to the shop indefinitely” is what the system knows how to label them with, so then people are justifiably suspicious about being told that (given how often it’s not accurate), whether in a particular case it is, or it isn’t. The system is *equally* likely, btw, to insist that just because there are holes in the floor and a flat tire, it doesn’t mean it needs to go to the shop, even for an afternoon, because hey! going to the shop is reserved for there being a funny noise under the hood. and this car runs as well or better than other cars in the lot, so what would the point of fixing the problems be? (And I’m aware those things are opposites… that’s part of the problem, there’s no consistency OR individuals being treated like individuals…)

                I agree with what you are saying, in other words, but I just was pushing back against Dark’s original framing which (to me) implied that “serious problems” / neediness on the part of a kid are something a) easily identifiable and b) 1:1 correlated with disruption / not being a positive net to the classroom environment. This not being the case might seem obvious to you but given how broken the system is, and the research I’ve done into disabilities and trauma in the classroom environment, it’s really not the default assumption. It’s also the case that a lot of times the same behavior is diagnosed / intervened with very differently based on race, class, etc. – which, again, not saying you or Dark Matter would do that, but since it’s so common, it’s worth mentioning.

                At least I think it is. I’m sure having been a kid that teachers/the system treated like a rockstar (in Kazzy’s phrasing), but who also had a lot of serious problems (including not just family / emotional problems, but also some learning deficits that I had to figure out how to adjust for on my own, years later, when I was failing out of college – because until then when I asked for help with them I got brushed off) influences my perspective on what does or doesn’t need to be said about it.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Maribou says:

                All I was pushing back against was the idea that kids with serious problems can be easily identified from the outside…

                First, “serious problems” in this context doesn’t mean he should be taken from his home by CPS, it means he’s a problem to my kid’s education.

                And I agree with your statement, but follow the logic. I can’t tell which kids of group X will be a problem problem to mine, but I know group X has a higher percentage of that sort of thing, so it’s a useful filter to pretend they all are. Which is how we end up with parents protesting against the bottom quartile of some test being shipped into their school.

                I don’t mind any kid benefiting from being in class with my daughter provided he doesn’t get in the way. However since I don’t have the ability to kick him out I’d better make sure he’s never in there to start. If the system doesn’t put my kid’s needs first then I need to.

                This parallels why if we’re serious about enabling job creation we should make it easy for people to be fired. If job creation is risk free then business can experiment with it and see if it works out. I agree that normally the answer is that it would work out, but the benefits to this educational experiment go to someone else.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Maybe the issue is less “bad kids” and more about “bad environments”.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                I doubt it’s even ‘bad environments’, more like ‘not right for that kid’.

                In a way, that’s how I think about @jaybird ‘s ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ point. It’s not the curriculum so much that not everyone is going to be successful in the normal school system, and we have weird hang-ups regarding alternative education systems.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                “weird hang-ups” – I don’t think they’re weird though! If you look at the history of such, they’re mostly (not only, not exclusively, but more than halfly) centers of abuse, humiliation, and/or complete misses at actually educating the kids in their care, all the way through until the late 20th century… that seems like a pretty normal set of hangups to me.

                I mean, I am, in general, very pro-alternative-education. I think there are good alternative schools that have saved a lot of kids who were falling through the cracks. (I’ve even done a little bit of volunteer work for one of ’em.) But it being an uphill battle to convince folks it’s safe to trust such schools is not at all weird when you look at the history before mainstreaming happened.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                If the school says, “your kid has to go here”, yeah, I hear ya*.

                If, however, it’s offered as an option that the district will assist with… People are less likely to get their hackles up if they are offered reasonable choices, rather than told what to do.

                *Especially given things both the US and Canada have done to the indigenous populations when it comes to schools.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                How many “that kids” have to exist before we start looking at environment and not kids?

                Mayo’s math and physical/athletic skills are extreme strengths. His literacy skills are typical. His need for movement is high and ability to self-regulate is below typical.

                For a variety of reasons not related to optimizing education, most schools emphasize literacy and self-regulation. So Mayo struggles and/or is labeled disruptive.

                Who’s the problem here: The person whose existed for approximately 60 months or the system that demands he exist differently?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                I say the system.

                We are getting ready to move to AZ for a year. Getting ready for the move and getting our house rented for the year is stressful, Bug is feeling it (because we are stressed, and kids are emotional sponges), and acting out in school. We got a few emails from his teacher about keeping his hands to himself, etc. We explained to her what was going on, and she got him a wobble chair for class, so he can burn off energy in class without being disruptive (we got him one for home too, he loves it).

                Props to the teacher for recognizing that a 5 year old boy who is feeling stress is going to need an outlet for that energy, more so than others in class. Props to the school for having wobble chairs on hand for just such things*. Yea!, the system is working pretty well for my kid. Not everyone is so fortunate.

                *And honestly, if the school didn’t have a handful, I’d buy them a half dozen.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                And all too often, those other kids are immediately labeled as obstacles and treated as such.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Also, I’m glad your kid has what sounds like a great teacher. Wobble cushions can we worth their weight in gold.

                And kudos to you for recognizing what was really going on and effectively advocating on his behalf.

                Good luck with the move.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                I have a secret advantage in that mom ran a daycare out of the house from the time I was 10 until she was diagnosed with cancer. She kept her rates low and really tried to help people who couldn’t afford corporate daycare. Usually that worked well and the kids were normal, well adjusted kids, but we also had our share of terrible dysfunction (negligence, abuse, and parents with serious substance issues).

                I’ve seen how quickly kids reflect what’s happening in the home, so when Bug acts out, the first thing my wife and I look at is what’s going on with us.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Have you considered NOT ruining bug’s life?

                Oddly, I’m actually handcuffed in certain ways with Mayo cuz I work at the school. Funny how that works. But his new (public school) has already awarded me “Most Proactive” for the 2018-19 year.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Dude! Congrats!

                Is that an official thing, or just a break room atta boy?Report

              • Separate from the current discussion, this is darn fine-and universally true-parenting advice.

                I’ve seen how quickly kids reflect what’s happening in the home, so when Bug acts out, the first thing my wife and I look at is what’s going on with us.


              • Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Right. The issue isn’t ‘bad’ kids, it’s that parents and schools are very hesitant to move kids to proper environments. Parents don’t want their kids labelled as having to go to the special school, and schools don’t want to lose the headcount and the money attached.

                Not so much “hesitant” as “strongly opposed”.

                We decided to have my third daughter repeat a grade (she was young for her grade and not doing well)… and there was a lot of pushback against this from the administration. They really REALLY wanted “special instruction” or whatever and to have her advance in grade anyway.

                Her teacher, the Principal, a counselor, & maybe more it’s been a while all met with us.
                All the voices of authority were “advising” us in lockstep that there were better solutions. Making her repeat a grade also meant moving her to a different elementary, so everyone we were talking to worked at a school which would lose that headcount even if the overall system would not.

                Normally the system’s needs and desires are pretty well aligned with my own, this was an exception.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Maribou says:

                [serious problems] not of the acting out in class variety, but probably just as serious.

                The first part of that statement disagrees with the second. I’m viewing this through the lens of my kids’ education so the definition of “serious problems” is “things affecting her”. Ergo “acting out in class” is the bottom of the barrel (we’ll include in that physical safety offenses).

                2nd, agreed. It’s not a binary situation, it’s a bell curve. There are going to be kids whose presence greatly uplifts mine all the time in multiple ways. There will be some that do less than that or do it less commonly, there will be some who are a mix but still a strong net positive, there will be some who net zero, etc.

                Then at the tail there are kids who, by whatever standard you want to use, are a massive net negative, for whom “a good day” means not getting into a fight with another kid and/or acting out. It’s possible it’s not his fault and he’s got serious problems at home, or he’s hyper and bored, or there are cultural issues, or even PTSD.

                My job is do what’s best for my daughter (all of my kids are female), which includes not picking up other people’s emotional luggage. I can’t control other people’s actions, I lack a magic wand to fix his issues, my first priority is to prevent my kid from being negatively impacted.

                And it’s weird how that attitude isn’t normally expressed openly or coldly considering how many people vote (or move) the way they do. If I were a tiny minority then a number of larger situations would be different and less intractable. IMHO there’s a lot of people like me, they’re just less self aware or less forthcoming on what they’re doing and why (or they’ll interject emotional nonsense into the conversation like that parental quote from NY).Report

              • Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:

                @dark-matter *shrug* all the kids who were a serious net negative for me in school (and we were mainstreamed) were also rich kids, most of whom teachers thought were just great because they confined their disruption of other kids’ learning to situations where the teachers couldn’t see it (or to classrooms where those particular teachers didn’t care. They were still plenty disruptive though. Some of the kids who had trouble not getting in fights every day, or got in trouble regularly for disrupting class, were my protectors and my teachers, and contributed a *lot* to my experience (and if you think about how much of a positive I was to other random well-achieving kids – which I was, I was so far ahead that I spent most of my in-class time teaching people, and there were years when I taught more than the crappy teacher in a subject or two, mostly STEM subjects for whatever reason – those protector kids were a positive as well, through me, even if you discount their other effects). It’s not an on/off switch or a bell curve along a spectrum. A classroom is a really darn complicated social ecology that would take some pretty spectacular equations to solve.

                That said, I wasn’t actually criticizing your choices, just your description of “with serious problems” instead of “causing me/my kid serious problems”. I agree with you that many (possibly I agree with you that most) parents are pretty much like you are, only won’t admit it. I also agree with you (at least I think this is part of what you said) that mainstreaming is not working out as hoped for kids whose behavioral issues are most severe, and that the incentives for continuing it are corrupted. As I said, I wasn’t meaning to argue the larger point. Just don’t like hearing kids lumped as “with serious problems” without more specificity.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “The first part of that statement disagrees with the second. I’m viewing this through the lens of my kids’ education so the definition of “serious problems” is “things affecting her”… My job is do what’s best for my daughter (all of my kids are female), which includes not picking up other people’s emotional luggage.“

                How’d we get here? Here’s how.Report

              • …with exceptions for local history…

                So, the places where I did K-12 didn’t want to talk about the Native American genocide that was a critical part of local history. Different places have very different takes on the Civil War. When I lived on the East Coast, it was pretty obvious that what students there were taught about Eastern businesses’ role in the opening of the interior West was quite different than the version I got where those businesses’ malfeasance culminated in the widespread initiative/recall provisions in state constitutions.

                Do those differences continue?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Yes, they do. State and regional history will vary. One would hope that the people who come up with the history curriculum would not engage in obfuscation or rewriting, but I’m not giving up breathing waiting for the day when it doesn’t happen.

                We can’t even default to developing the curriculum at the federal level, because the federal government engages in obfuscation and rewriting when it suits it’s agenda as well.

                Just gotta hope the teachers find a way to help kids develop a healthy distrust of the victors who get to write history.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird says:

          First, this series is a great idea, and the starting topic post was dead on.

          “works for who?”

          Me. (Or even ME!) I’m the one with The One Ring with regards to choices about my kids for which local system they go into.

          I care about other children a lot less than my own. Fundamentally I’m not opposed to other children succeeding, but my kids are much better off if they don’t need to deal with… what’s the PC word here? Negative kids? Disruptive? Needy?

          IMHO there’s a lot of people like me, some claim to be lefties, but they still magically vote local zoning regs which make bad situations worse. We don’t plan to act collectively, but the end result is still to concentrate bad schools into really bad schools.Report

          • Patrick in reply to Dark Matter says:

            IMHO there’s a lot of people like me, some claim to be lefties, but they still magically vote local zoning regs which make bad situations worse. We don’t plan to act collectively, but the end result is still to concentrate bad schools into really bad schools.


            Also elsewhereReport

            • Dark Matter in reply to Patrick says:

              Patrick: Also elsewhere

              Thank you, great link.

              Hmm. They’re trying to implement “real” diversity. …reserve a quarter of its seats for students scoring below grade level on state English and math exams.

              Serious media bias. All the reasonable people support the plan, and so does everyone not in the room. And the unreasonable people are rich and “advantaged”, so they have it coming. One upset parent is quoted, no reasonable arguments supporting their position are mentioned.

              So how dare they object to sacrificing their children on the altar of diversity. 🙂

              More seriously, I expect people like me are one of the root causes driving a lot of these issues, and if I lived there I wouldn’t be dissuaded by what I’d presumably view as an uninformed news article.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird says:

      Different system, but: for a while I was teaching two sections of the same intro-biol (college freshman) class IN the same semester ON the same days. (One was an 8-9:15 section, the other was 11-12:15)

      TOTALLY different sections. Different average grades. Different stuff going on even though I strove HARD to keep everything lined up and coordinated so I didn’t have to remember what I hadn’t covered yet in one class when writing the (four different forms of – to discourage cheating) exams for both.

      I’ve also found that classes semester to semester are totally different and if one semester I’m pulling my hair out and swearing I’m gonna quit and go learn to drive a truck instead, if I just hang on, there’s a good chance the very same class, the next semester, will be full of interesting wonderful people who care about learning.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to fillyjonk says:

        If we have to tweak this much between 8AM and 11AM, I’m pretty sure that any attempt to regularize is likely doomed to fail.

        The teachers who do the best will be the ones who are the best at measuring their own students and tailoring themselves to what the students need most.Report

  11. William Deutsch says:

    Patrick, this is not a comment on this blog but a reply to your story in 2011 about your grandfather Maurice Freeland. I was a student of his in high school and if you would like to reach me, contact me at about those years 1953 to 1956.Report