Tag: Education in the United States

The NOLA Experiment Forges Ahead


Benjamin Banneker Elementary closed Wednesday as New Orleans’s Recovery School District permanently shuttered its last five traditional public schools this week.

With the start of the next school year, the Recovery School District will be the first in the country made up completely of public charter schools, a milestone for New Orleans and a grand experiment in urban education for the nation.

It has been two decades since the first public charter school opened in Minnesota, conceived as a laboratory where innovations could be tested before their introduction into public schools. Now, 42 states encourage charters as an alternative to conventional schools, and enrollment has been growing, particularly in cities. In the District of Columbia, 44 percent of the city’s students attend charter schools.

But in New Orleans, under the Recovery School District, the Louisiana state agency that seized control of almost all public schools after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, the traditional system has been swept away.

This move is naturally drawing fire from the Left, some of which is misinformed. They are claiming that the entire school district has been turned over to “fundamentalist schools”, confusing Louisiana’s experiment in vouchers with their experiment in charter schools. They are claiming that the RSD fired 7,000 mostly black teachers in favor of white ones. In fact, those teachers were fired immediately after Katrina (as the WaPo later corrects) and most found employment in whatever areas the escaped to after Katrina. They claim that this is “re-segregating” New Orleans because some charter schools are mostly white. There may be some validity to that, but dysfunctional schools that don’t teach anything are probably the most effective means of resegregation you could imagine.

The initial results are impressive:

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.

There is a big caveat to this: the population of the RSD is different so a direct comparison is tenuous. And charter schools elsewhere have had mixed results. So we’ll have to see how this pans out in the years ahead.

I do know that this idea is better than anything the Left has had for the last half century. Those ideas have included spending more money, spending more money, spending more money, spending more money and spending more money. They have included changing to a new paradigm every few years just as the teachers get used to the old one. They have included standardized testing, which encourages teachers to “teach to the test”. They have included the new Core Standards, which are becoming highly controversial. The results have been … well, nothing. Educational accomplishment has remained flat despite ever-increasing funding. Even when they have been given free reign to do whatever they want, the results have been unimpressive:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” The education establishment and its supporters have replied, “No one’s ever tried.” In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

That was 20 years ago. We’re spending twice as much per student now. You can look at a more recent example in Newark where hundreds of millions of private funds were poured into the school district to accomplish nothing except enriching some consultants. You can also check out Hot Air, which has some details about DeBlasio shutting down charters that are performing well to send funds to traditional schools that aren’t.

Maybe New Orleans’ experiment won’t work. But when your schools cost a fortune and accomplish nothing, you’ve got to try something other than burning more money. I hope this does work because the state of our education system is maddening to everyone … especially the people working in it.

Over at the Lefty blogs, you can find plenty of people hoping it doesn’t work (that is, hoping that poor children don’t get educated) and flinging racist insults against supporters of the model. It’s not hard to see why the Left wing is so terrified. If this works, it will undermine basically everything they’ve been saying about education for the last fifty years. And severely weaken one of the Democrats’ principle sources of campaign contributions.

Update: I was thinking about this some more and thought about something Megan McArdle said in the context of reforming the VA:

This is the sort of turnaround that a lot of corporate chief executive officers promise: We’ll handle more customers, but faster! Most of them fail, too. And corporate CEOs have a weapon that the president doesn’t: They can fire most of the staff. When looking at corporate turnarounds for my book on failure, I came across a lot of stories of successful turnarounds, and a lot of them started with just that step.

I know, that sounds cruel. Capital against labor! And actually, it is pretty terrible for workers who get the sack. On the other hand, it may be necessary to save the company.

Over time, institutions develop a strong culture, a set of institutional practices, customs and norms that control what the organization is capable of doing. To see what I mean, imagine the staff of the New York Times producing Gawker — or the staff of Gawker Media producing the New York Times. This is functionally what companies are often trying to do in a turnaround situation: transform a company that had a profitable niche in one part of the industry into the very different sort of company that competes in a different niche.

But the inability to make this kind of radical change does hamper would-be government reformers. So does the way that our government now functions after decade upon decade of prior reform: which is to say, it prioritizes processes, which can be measured, over outcomes, which often can’t be; rules over discretion; and rights over trade-offs.

What that means in plain English is that when you put reforms in place, you can’t just rip out the stuff that’s not working and do something different. What you’re actually reforming is the process, and because many of the current elements of the process are functionally mandated by other government rules, or court rulings, or bits of legislation that your reform effort didn’t amend, you have to layer your reform on top of the system you wanted to reform, rather than in place of it. Many of your reforms simply stack another layer of bureaucracy on top of the bureaucracy that was already causing problems. This is a problem that CEOs don’t face, unless they’re in some heavily regulated business such as banking or oil refining.

Eventually, almost every organization gets to the point where you have to burn it down and start all over. It’s not the people are evil or stupid or incompetent. It’s that they think a certain way and approach problems a certain way even if that way no longer works. They do this because that is the way it has always been done. Look at what happened in Newark. A truckload of money was backed up and it went to the same old stuff and devolved into the same political battles.

Again, maybe remaking the RSD school system won’t work. But it’s the first time we’re going to completely reboot a school system. That’s at least worth a shot, isn’t it?

Duncan Flips Us the Finger

What’s the definition of a gaffe again? When a politician accidentally says what he really thinks:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

I haven’t written much about Common Core because I honestly haven’t studied the issue enough. They are set of national standards — long on the Left’s education wish list — that most states have accepted. Except that they seem unrealistic. I haven’t just heard this from opponents of top down education, I’ve heard it from pediatricians, teachers and parents who believe the material is not developmentally appropriate — meaning they’re pushing young kids too fast (see details linked in the above article and here). I live in a college town with excellent schools and the teachers here are very worried that they will not be able to teach Common Core. You can imagine what it’s like in the inner cities.

Fundamentally, Common Core just sounds wrong. Imposing a one-size-fits-all education model sounds good to an technocratic fool like Duncan, who sees children and parents and simply interchangeable parts of a massive system. But to anyone who has actually taught in classroom (Duncan hasn’t), it sounds insane. It’s great if a kid can learn fractions by third grade but not all kids can. Even kids who have mathematical skill may bloom late.

Common Core also crosses me as a politico’s misunderstanding of how the world works. It’s not unusual to challenge employees or divisions to meet ambitious goals. But you do not throw those challenges out at divisions that are already failing. Many schools in this country aren’t even teaching the basics. But Common Core will … I dunno .. make them raise their game? In a way that, say, school choice wouldn’t? One suspects, given the strong union support, part of the goal is that the schools will fail Common Core and this failure will be used to demand more funding. The Obama Administration has already made noises about year-round schooling (ignoring that countries with year-round schooling have shorter school days). We all know the way people Duncan and Obama think: there isn’t a fundamental failure that can’t be overcome by more money, more hours and less freedom.

In any case, putting Common Core aside, the arrogance and condescension of Duncan’s remark is simply stunning, a peek at what this man — who has made a lot of education noise with little actual success — thinks. If we think his beloved Common Core is too aggressive or inappropriate, it’s because we are whiny little bitches who don’t realize how stupid our kids really are and how glorious his plans for them are.

Progressivism 101: get rid of anything that shows how bad your ideology stinks

And that’s exactly what the plan by the Obama administration that will exempt handpicked schools from the No Child Left Behind federal law’s testing mandate is all about:

(AP) – State and local education officials have been begging the federal government for relief from student testing mandates in the federal No Child Left Behind law, but school starts soon and Congress still hasn’t answered the call. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he will announce a new waiver system Monday to give schools a break. The plan to offer waivers to all 50 states, as long as they meet other school reform requirements, comes at the request of President Barack Obama, Duncan said. More details on the waivers will come in September, he said.

The goal of the No Child Left Behind law is to have every student proficient in math and reading by 2014. States have been required to bring more students up to the math and reading standards each year, based on tests that usually take place each spring. The step-by-step ramping up of the 9-year-old law has caused heartburn in states and most school districts, because more and more schools are labeled as failures as too few of their students meet testing goals.

The liberal controlled education system is failing – because instead of really teaching the three “Rs” we now focus on such idiotic things as self esteem building and education targeted at making one group or another feel included & valuable, at ridiculously high costs mostly to feed the massive bureaucracy around the public school system, while completely ignoring the fact that the indoctrination, while producing many leftard drones also produces the dumbest generation in a while – and the answer is to look away and keep doing more of the same.

Can’t say I am surprised. The liberal nanny state is also failing, and the answer there is to pretend all is well because we haven’t yet – and the operative word is yet – run out of other people’s money to pay for the beast.

Why do you ask are they doing this? Well. What the hell, here is are the critics of No Child Left behind saying it themselves:

Critics say the benchmarks are unrealistic and brands schools as failures even if they make progress. Schools and districts where too few kids pass the tests for several years are subject to sanctions that can include firing teachers or closing the school entirely.

Self esteem. They made progress. So what that they are now still reading at a 4th grade level in 12th grade, if they are even reading, and can’t do math. They where reading at a third grade level and couldn’t do any math before, and that’s an improvement!

We are doomed. But we can not say that the progressive experiment is responsible, because that might hurt progressive people’s self esteem.