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Proviso Probe

Monday, July 28, 2008

what's needed to fix U.S. public schools?

First, Kill All the School Boards (The Atlantic, Matt Miller) makes the case that local control is bad for schools.

While it's easy to cherry-pick data to make this case, Chicago Public Schools are much less locally controlled than suburban districts and CPS hasn't produced great results. Although, CPS is kinda an odd case to include in the debate because the district has a hybrid system of strong central control combined with elected Local School Councils that can exert some influence.

Back to Miller's article.
But let’s look at what local control gives us today, in the “flat” world in which our students will have to compete.

The United States spends more than nearly every other nation on schools, but out of 29 developed countries in a 2003 assessment, we ranked 24th in math and in problem-solving, 18th in science, and 15th in reading. Half of all black and Latino students in the U.S. don’t graduate on time (or ever) from high school. As of 2005, about 70 percent of eighth-graders were not proficient in reading. By the end of eighth grade, what passes for a math curriculum in America is two years behind that of other countries.

In Bowling For Columbine Michael Moore analyzed violence in the United States by comparing it to Canada, especially levels of violence and rates of firearm ownership. As I understood the film, Moore at least suggested that U.S. attitudes and traditions of violence were influenced by the history of racism and bigotry (against Native Americans, Blacks, certain religious groups, immigrants and descendants of non-European immigrants).

So, it seems possible that local control is not the only uniquely American attribute contributing to our public schools being different and inferior to other countries' public school systems.
Many reformers across the political spectrum agree that local control has become a disaster for our schools. But the case against it is almost never articulated. Public officials are loath to take on powerful school-board associations and teachers’ unions; foundations and advocacy groups, who must work with the boards and unions, also pull their punches. For these reasons, as well as our natural preference for having things done nearby, support for local control still lingers, largely unexamined, among the public.

Would District 88 (Bellwood and Stone Park elementary schools) be better off if bureaucrats appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich controlled the district? (FYI D88 just fired its fourth superintendent in four years. Three of the four were not allowed to even complete the academic year.)

Would District 209 (Proviso Township High Schools) be better off if state bureaucrats controlled the school district? Let me rephrase that, would students and taxpayers get better educations with more efficiency in spending if the State of Illinois was calling the shots?

I would give a relatively high probability to things improving if the state controlled these two districts.

But how would Oak Park do? Would Oak Park and River Forest High Schools (District 200) improve? Would District 97 (Oak Park elementary schools) improve?

Which community has more clout: Oak Park or Proviso? Oak Park has succeeded in preventing I-290 from being widened to four lanes causing traffic to bottleneck.

Back to Miller's article. He lists two problems facing local school districts and then writes:
Incompetent school boards and union dominance. “In the first place, God made idiots,” Mark Twain once wrote. “This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.” Things don’t appear to have improved much since Twain’s time. “The job has become more difficult, more complicated, and more political, and as a result, it’s driven out many of the good candidates,” Vander Ark says. “So while teachers’ unions have become more sophisticated and have smarter people who are better-equipped and -prepared at the table, the quality of school-board members, particularly in urban areas, has decreased.” Board members routinely spend their time on minor matters, from mid-level personnel decisions to bus routes. “The tradition goes back to the rural era, where the school board hired the schoolmarm and oversaw the repair of the roof, looked into the stove in the room, and deliberated on every detail of operating the schools,” says Michael Kirst, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “A lot of big-city school boards still do these kinds of things.” Because of Progressive-era reforms meant to get school boards out of “politics,” most urban school districts are independent, beyond the reach of mayors and city councils. Usually elected in off-year races that few people vote in or even notice, school boards are, in effect, accountable to no one.

Thoughts? Reactions?

Miller also lists the inequalities in education funding as being interrelated with local control of education. I have shown in the case of Proviso Township High Schools that lack of resources is not the problem. Per student Proviso spends less that Oak Park-River Forest, but a comparable about to Lyons Township and Riverside-Brookfield. The following local high school districts spend less and get better test scores: Elmwood Park, Leyden, Morton and York.

The beginning of Miller's conclusion poses a good question.
I asked Marc Tucker, the head of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (a 2006 bipartisan panel that called for an overhaul of the education system), how he convinces people that local control is hobbling our schools. He said he asks a simple question: If we have the second-most-expensive K–12 system of all those measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but consistently perform between the middle and the bottom of the pack, shouldn’t we examine the systems of countries that spend less and get better results? “I then point out that the system of local control that we have is almost unique,” Tucker says. “One then has to defend a practice that is uncharacteristic of the countries with the best performance.

Miller comes down on the side of federalizing public education. To respond with a cheap shot, do you want the guys who decided to invade Iraq (and can't get us out) to decide how to fix Proviso Township High Schools?

I found Kevin Drum's entry (Washington Monthly) more persuasive than Miller's article in The Atlantic Monthly.
[Emily Bazelon's article about school integration in [the] New York Times Magazine is] basically a review of many decades of research showing that the most important way to improve school performance is to eliminate high concentrations of poverty: other things equal, it turns out that academic achievement for all races shows dramatic gains when the proportion of low-income students in a school falls below 50% or, even better, 40%. This finding, says UCLA education professor Gary Orfield, is "one of the most consistent findings in research on education."

Drum notes that many districts don't have the ability to dilute students from families in poverty with students from more affluent families.

But to bring it back to Miller's way of questioning the status quo, what do other countries with high levels of poverty do to deliver education?

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7 Comments:

  • When Will it Change? says,

    Carl, great thread! Rev. Meeks is presenting a bill in the state's legislative for parents to be able to choose any school in the state for their child to attend. It is a drastic measure and it probably won't pass, but it is courageous. I have not seen even our state rep or state senator do anything comparable to this. Lightford is the state's education committee chair and like Lightford, Yarbrough has done jack shit in relation to education in her district. Also, Meeks and 75 other ministers are boycotting the CPS on the first day and going to communities like Doweners Grove and Winnetka and attempt to register kids there. Will the Proviso ministers begin a protest against the schools in 88, 89, or 209? NOT!

    Proviso, 88, and 89 have serious problems, but is it because of racism? All three school districts have Black men as the President and the majority of the boards are Black. District
    89's board president does not even send his own children to a district 89 school or a 209 school. MESSAGE!!!!!

    These districts can't pull the race card, can they? Unless the board presidents are being controlled by others. It has always been speculation that they are controlled by the Italians in Melrose Park. Maybe, one can assume that Proviso's problem is racism. Would the Black board presidents and board members sell out their own to appease and cater to "others"? It seems that way. Black on Black crime is nothing new to our community.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:20 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • Well here I go again, the problem with most of these urban school districts is that they are controlled by individuals who run the systems where the education of children comes in a distant third to their first two goals, which are jobs and contracts. Fixing the academic inequities that american public school children have from other developed nations is simple, we must address the social needs and develop schools as temporary communities...Like Outward Bound does with its Expeditionary Learning program and others like Project Adventure. By the way, where have all the White children gone in Chicago, for only 8.3% of the children are white in the system of 390,243 children and 46.9% are Black. I submit that this system already educates those children it intends to educate. The exodus of a whole race of children may have signaled the death of that system as far as hope and competition go.

    Yes Chicago is a hybrid but it is too big and needs to be broken up into smaller pieces.

    The way to fix these struggling schools is to build true community schools, where everybody involved in taking care of our most prized assets (or most expensive liabilities) understands their role and place in our academic families...

    By OpenID taftjam, at 1:19 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • How would it work for permissive transfers?

    Let's break schools into top 1/3 (Group A), middle 1/3 (Group B) and bottom 1/3 (Group C).

    I think it's safe to assume that students in Group A schools will only transfer to other Group A schools.

    Some students will transfer from B to A. How many? Maybe some; maybe a bunch. Which families are more likely to transfer? Families who values education, are more engage and better at working the beauracracy, right?

    Group B schools will be worse off for allowing transfers.

    Group C schools will be decimated by permissive transfers. You think the worse schools suck now, wait until you let the students from families who give a shit transfer out.

    How will Group A schools react to transfers? I predict that they will resist accepting students. If they are forced to accept students, I further predict the Group A schools will enact a policy of aggressively expelling students who are perceived as being behavior problems (with exceptions made for star athletes).

    So, what will happen to these expelled students? They will go to schools in Group B and C.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 1:25 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • The Federal Reserve Board's "beige book" for June and July offers a clear explanation for why the economy has slowed to a crawl. It shows American consumers cutting way back on their purchases of everything from food to cars to appliances to name-brand products. As they do so, employers inevitably are cutting back on the hours they need people to work for them, thereby contributing to a downward spiral.

    The normal remedies for economic downturns are necessary. But even an adequate stimulus package will offer only temporary relief this time, because this isn’t a normal downturn. The problem lies deeper. Most Americans can no longer maintain their standard of living. The only lasting remedy is to improve their standard of living by widening the circle of prosperity.

    The heart of the matter isn't the collapse in housing prices or even the frenetic rise in oil and food prices. These are contributing to the mess but they are not creating it directly. The basic reality is this: For most Americans, earnings have not kept up with the cost of living. This is not a new phenomenon but it has finally caught up with the pocketbooks of average people. If you look at the earnings of non-government workers, especially the hourly workers who comprise 80 percent of the workforce, you'll find they are barely higher than they were in the mid-1970s, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Per-person productivity has grown considerably since then, but most Americans have not reaped the benefits of those productivity gains. They've gone largely to the top.

    Inequality on this scale is bad for many reasons but it is also bad for the economy. The wealthy devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they’re rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, the very wealthy are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

    This underlying earnings problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found means to live beyond their paychecks. But they have now run out of such coping mechanisms. As I've noted elsewhere, the first coping mechanism was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 — to more than 70 percent. But there’s a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

    So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours. The typical American now works more each year than he or she did three decades ago. Americans became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

    But there’s also a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third coping mechanism. They began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster from 2002 to 2006, they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans. But this third strategy also had a built-in limit. And now, with the bursting of the housing bubble, the piggy banks are closing. Americans are reaching the end of their ability to borrow and lenders have reached the end of their capacity to lend. Credit-card debt, meanwhile, has reached dangerous proportions. Banks are now pulling back.

    As a result, typical Americans have run out of coping mechanisms to keep up their standard of living. That means there's not enough purhasing power in the economy to buy all the goods and services it's producing. We’re finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth.

    The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the real earnings of middle and lower-middle class Americans. The answer is not to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway. Nor is the answer to give tax breaks to the very wealthy and to giant corporations in the hope they will trickle down to everyone else. We've tried that and it hasn't worked. Nothing has trickled down.

    Rather, the long-term answer is for us to invest in the productivity of our working people -- enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education, while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state, and local levels. In other words, we must rebuild the American economy from the bottom up. It cannot be rebuilt from the top down.

    By Anonymous truth, at 6:03 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • Ms.Coffee says: Don't get me started! Dist. 88, 89 and 209 have a bunch of problems.
    1. school boards who don't care about education
    2. no real discipline in the schools
    3. parents who don't care about education (and you can see this by the amt. of parents who show up for board meetings, PTA. Also the amt of parents who even call teachers when they get a failure notice)
    4 a revolving door of teachers and administrators. When an admin. comes in with a new plan, parents can't expect the school to turn around in one yr. or even in 5 yrs.
    Can the state or the feds save us? Hell no! It's the stupid feds who put in NCLB. That's why every year 209's test scores decline yet they manage to graduate more kids. The state? Blago can't even run his own office. The Regional superintendent? Flowers? you must be kidding.
    NCLB already allows for some students to switch to better schools. Schools are reluctant to take students.
    Until the parents start taking charge of their kids' education, start coming to board meetings, start asking questions, and demand that their kids behave and learn in school, nothing will change.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • CUT THE CRAP! PUT UP OR SHUT UP! Its the parents - You will find successful students from any school you compare. So what is the difference. It is the parents. Don't blame the legislators, school board, or local government. How many of the parents that are upset with the schools are involved. Go sit in a classroom or get involved in the PTA. No sit on your butt and point your finger at the school board or the teachers. I'll bet you blame the cops when your kid gets caught stealing, or using drugs, or involved with a gang. ITS EVERYONE ELSES FAULT OR RESPONSIBILITY, CUT THE CRAP, PARENTS NEED TO BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MISBEHAVIOR OF THEIR CHILDREN, AS WELL AS THE NEGLECT OF THEIR OWN CHILDREN. CHILD NEGLECT IS THE MAIN PROBLEM HERE. PARENTS TAKE CARE OF YOUR CHILDREN. At 88 and 89 it is common to see young students, arrive late for kindergarden. Whose fault is that? By 6th grade students are missing class regularly. Parents routinely drop students off at 209 schools and they go in the front and run out the back. These parents are oblivious to their childrens attendance never mind their grades. PARENTS CUT THE CRAP AND START TAKING CARE OF YOUR KIDS! THEN YOU CAN BITCH AT THE TEACHERS, SCHOOL BOARDS, LOCAL GOVERNMENT. IF YOU DO NOT, I HOPE YOU ARE MAKING A TON OF CASH, YOU WILL NEED IT.

    By Anonymous cut the crap, at 10:08 PM, July 28, 2008  

  • Here's a no brainer...run Chris Welch out of town...District 209 will improve.

    Simple equation...simple solution.

    By Anonymous Simply Welch, at 11:04 PM, July 30, 2008  

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