Pablo put up a very interesting post that led to a good discussion of federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and state Ed Reform. My response to a good comment on that thread by Publius got so long that I decided I better create new post instead of a one-inch wide, three-foot-long comment.
I share Publius’ sense that public schools are worthwhile, but need a kick in the pants. Unfortunately, I don’t see charter schools providing a good model for change.
The federal NCLB act and MA state Ed Reform are having a mixed effect – I have seen kids drop out (or be pushed out) because they know they won’t pass the test, teachers who feel compelled to help their kids cheat on the tests, charter schools that have been shut down for poor performance, many decent and otherwise qualified teachers dismissed from their jobs because they are not good test-takers, vocational course offerings – which offer appropriate and viable tracks for many kids who are not “book smart” – reduced because those classes don’t help to increase test scores, etc.
The most recent study comparing outcomes (as measured by student test scores) between public and private schools shows them virtually tied – one has an edge in some 4th grade scores, the other is ahead with some 8th graders.
Those who have worked in this field much longer than I have argue persuasively that it is the child’s environment at home – his or her socioeconomic status – that matters more than anything a teacher can do to help that child absorb information and apply it in new and useful ways. (See the Lubienski study cited in this DailyKos diary.)
This emphasis on socioeconomic status jibes with what I have seen as a public official and in the (admittedly brief) time I have spent in classrooms over the last year. Kids who have been abused, or who are hungry, or who don’t have a father figure they can turn to, or who are being raised by a substance abuser, or whose family member has been arrested, or who live in a garbage-filled house, or whose parents had bad experiences with the schools – are less likely to be focused, “good” students. There are exceptions, but I suspect these kinds of distractions correlate with socioeconomic status.
Instead of assuming that charter schools are the only alternative for the kids who had previously been neglected by the public schools, I seek candidates (gov. and legislative) who will create an atmosphere that allows us to improve the schools we have, using a variety of tools.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a Deval Patrick supporter, and I believe that Patrick has listened to people and understood the need for a broader approach to both assessment and frameworks, leading to his pledge to work toward schools that will educate the “whole child”.
I had not been conscious of Chris Gabrieli’s investment in private, for-profit charter schools as described by Pablo in the post I cited earlier. Gabrieli’s pro-charter school position puts him in the same category with Weld and Romney only if he fails to recognize the failures of charter schools to fulfill the lofty promises their proponents made in 1993.
This brings me back to my opening paragraph which was about the ’06 election. We have reduced the education debate to haggling over public vs. charter, or how many different and better ways we can raise test scores. Fresh leadership and perspective is greatly needed.
Since we do see a difference between candidates who some perceive to be otherwise similar on some issues, public education may be the issue that allows us to differentiate, and to choose the candidate who defines Education Reform in a new way.