Thursday, November 11, 2004

But These Children Are Supposed To Be Left Behind

Amazing. Apparently some educators believe that "No Child Left Behind" is supposed to work like this: A school is declared "failing", so parents of children with substandard test performance transfer their kids to other schools, the better performing children stay behind, and the school performance magically "rises" without a lick of effort.
The legislation is intended to give struggling students the chance to move from high-poverty, low-performing schools, but Fairfax school officials have found that the students who take the transfers generally aren't the ones who need extra help.

Instead, they are like Umaid: higher-scoring students from middle-class homes. The trend, evident in suburban school districts nationwide, means that the receiving schools don't have to augment their remedial programs or worry about test scores dropping. It also means that resources spent on transfer students aren't going to the students who need them most, some educators said.
Yup. That's right. Smart kids don't need resources, and can do just fine in crappy schools. To his credit, a spokesman for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), one of the principal authors of the legislation, expressed that "the law also envisions times when successful students will transfer."

And this gets to a big part of the problem - schools can't fix what is going on at home. We as a society seem to think that a school should accomplish over the course of a few hours per day, in an ever-shrinking school year, what many parents can't be bothered to do for themselves. Why is it a surprise that the parents of higher-achieving kids are more attuned to their children's needs, and are more willing to take advantage of alternative educational opportunities when their children's schools are declared "failing"? That should have been expected - and it certainly should not be distorted into a problem.


  1. Yet another example of educators who put their own self-interest above the kids. When, oh when, will we bust the Education Cartel and give parents choice?

    Federalist No. 84

  2. I'm not sure how that would work, either. Most efforts to "bust the educational cartel" are thinly veiled efforts to divert public school funds into parochial schools, with no intention of providing alternatives for kids that private and parochials schools will (in most cases) continue to refuse to take - kids with learning, behavioral, and developmental disabilities. And when you offer private school alternatives through such programs as charter schools, you risk first the possibility (as seems to be the case so far in the U.S.) that charter schools will underperform public schools, and second (as was the case in California) that an operator of multiple schools will go bankrupt and dump its students onto the street at the start of a new school year.

  3. The problems you present are *potential* and could be addressed via legislation and contracts. For example, adequate capitalization could be a condition precedent to obtaining school vouchers. So too could be a requirement that a school take X% of underperforming children.

    The problems with our school systems are *real*. Why run from paper tigers when a real lion is eating our children?

  4. Um... No. The problems I described are real, and happen. The California bankruptcy happened.

    How do you propose we could ensure that a charter school had and maintained literally millions of dollars in reserve funds, in case of financial crisis? And if they have a financial crisis, and spend those reserve funds... do you propose that they be shut down, to avoid a possible bankruptcy the following year?

    Incidentally, when you talk about the "real" problems with public schools, would those "problems" include the fact that they outperform charter schools on academic achievement tests? The "problem" that most parents with kids in public schools are happy with their kids' schools? Where's the "paper tiger" here?

    The notion that charter and private schools be mandated to take children with behavioral, learning, and developmental disorders is curious. Do you have any notion of how much extra public schools presently pay to support education for those kids? Are you aware that private and parochial school performance, where it does exceed public school performance, is premised in no small part upon selectivity - their ability to expel students who don't meet educational or behavioral standards expected of the student body?

  5. I don't know a whole lot about this issue. However, I can think of some advantages to charter schools. I think it is nice to give parents as many choices as possible about their children's education. Every child is different and different types of educational methods work differently for various children. Some children benefit from Open Classroom style. Some need a more rigid structure. Some kids thrive in a school with the Waldorf Method and others need something else. It seems unlikely that this kind of diversity in educational style could ever exist in a regular public school system.

    There may be problems with some charter schools as they are set up now but surely those problems can be addressed. Charter schools should be not be allowed to select kids based on ability. There should be some kind of safety net if a school goes out of business. I haven't given that much thought to be honest. I guess I just think that the problems you bring up can probably be handled without scrapping the entire idea of charter schools.

  6. Given that nobody presented that particular false dichotomy, I'm not sure what response is necessary.

  7. Abigail Thernstrom (No Excuses: Narrowing the Racial Gap in Education) details several instances where private schools took the worst of the worst, and made them among the best. The Institute for Justice ( ) similarly has compiled numerous examples of private schools making bad children good.

    The people I've met in the school choice movement really do care about the kids. Generally, the people in the public school systems care about their jobs. Outside the school choice context, this becomes more clear. I grew up in a rural area, and every time school districts tried consolidating (which would undeniably have been more efficient and led to more money being spent per pupil), school teachers resisted.

    Alas, school choice has become so politicized that talking about it makes about as much sense as talking about abortion. It's good exercise for the brain (and the insults are usually so prevalent that it thickens the skin), but outside of those virtues, such discussions are generally pointless.



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