Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rosy Rhetoric From a Pro-Public Ed. Person

Our adversary is at it again. KDeRosa had this post over at D-ed Reckoning in which he relays an account of a teacher about where the seventh graders he will be working with are at educationally. Among other things, the teacher says this about his students:

1. 20% of my students earned a zero percent on my parts of speech diagnostic
(Ex: write the definition of a noun; which of the following is a verb, etc.)
100% failed.
2. 35% of students earned below ten percent on a writing
diagnostic assessing specific writing skills that, according to a Board of
Trustees presentation I recently attended, are being taught in classrooms across
the District. 100% earned a D or below.
3. The average independent reading
level is 2.5 -- that's second grade, fifth month, for those scoring at home.

I could go on, but it doesn't get any better.

KDeRosa responded by saying this:
"My understanding is that many of these kids have been in the public school
system since K. Let's see six years of elementary school--years when these
kids were easily controlled and could be motivated to learn if properly
taught.In 2006, there is absolutely no reason for kids to know so little after
seven years of schooling. All of you pro-public education people need to
reconcile this abysmal performance with your rosy rhetoric before I can take you

I would guess that one of those pro-public education people that KDeRosa was referring to was me, so here is a little rosy rhetoric.

First of all, although KDeRosa does provide a link to the post he's talking about, he doesn't point out in his own post that this teacher works with special education and ELL students. That being said, I have to admit that this all sounds pretty bad. It's possible that the people who have worked with these kids can defend what has happened, but I can't.

We all know that there are some bad public schools. KDeRosa insists that schools are bad because of their teaching methods, but I don't claim to know the reason. Maybe he's right. But then again, maybe it's because of the neighborhoods they're in, or maybe it's some other reason. Regardless of why, when a school really is bad, I cannot argue against doing whatever is necessary to give parents who want their kids to get a good education the means to do just that. If that means vouchers in those areas, so be it.

My disagreement with KDeRosa is about the state of public education overall. He thinks it's terrible. I think most public schools do a good job. He bases his assertion on test scores. I base mine on the people that we are producing. While I want to improve those test scores that he is so concerned about, our primary purpose is not to beat the scores of students foreign countries; it is to help students to grow up to become productive citizens. There are thousands of public schools around the nation that are doing that.

Although many people believe that the scores of American students have been dropping and continue to do so, even Jay P. Greene argues that that is a myth. They have held constant and even increased slightly since the late 1960s. During the last fifty years, we've heard over and over again that our education system is in crisis and that it is putting our nation in danger. After Sputnik was launched in 1957, experts made it clear that our education system was inferior to that of the Soviet Union's, and this would cause us to lose the space race and the Cold War. After all, their test scores were higher than ours. But we put a man on the moon twelve years later, the Soviets never made it, and by 1991, their empire had collapsed. Then in the early 1990s the experts made it clear that our education system was inferior to that of the Japanese, and that they were about to take over our country economically. After all, their test scores were higher than ours. But their economy collapsed, and our economy became the envy of the world for the rest of the decade. I think just about everyone would agree that our nation has consistently produced amazing entrepreneurs, and our work force is now viewed as the most productive in the world. All of this has happened over the last fifty years with a population made up largely of people who attended our public schools--schools that were supposedly constantly in crisis.

Minnesota has a better than average reputation when it comes to education, but within the state, my school--at least according to test scores (please pause while I genuflect)--is probably about average. We are a working class community, and a majority of our parents work in the plants at Marvin Windows in Warroad, or Polaris in Roseau. We are definitely not the picture of suburbia. Yet, year after year I see the kids who want to go to college graduating from our school and going to colleges and being successful there. I see the kids who want to go to vo-techs going to them and being successful. I have three sons who have graduated from college, and two of them definitely did not resemble rocket scientists while they were in high school. These were average kids from an average public school, just like many of their friends who have done just as well as they have. Two of my sons are now in technical fields, and they are making much more money than I am. KDeRosa has criticized me in the past for using anecdotes like these, but THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE. And I write about this because the picture he paints of public schools does not come anywhere near fitting with my experience in the two school districts I've taught in during the last thirty-two years.

I agree with KDeRosa that public schools must find ways to improve. I have made proposals for that purpose, and I even promoted one of his ideas in my last post. I also agree that there are horror stories involving public education--too many of them. But there are horror stories in every profession, and there are horror stories in every area of American life. KDeRosa has provided a dandy horror story in his post, and he presents this as the norm for public education. I firmly believe that my "anecdotes" are much better representations of the job that public schools have been doing and continue to do.


Blogger jettybetty said...

I appreciate the balance you bring to this discussion--I've seen lots of GREAT things public schools have done--and I am thankful you are sharing some of that!

9/12/2006 7:30 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

Dennis, you may need to put a warning label on this blog after this latest post: Infested with Strawmen.

I do not believe that every student in that class is a SpEd or ELL student. But to the extent that students do fall in those groups, I'm certain that most SpED student is not cognitively impaired and not every ELL student just walked over the border from Mexico. Most of these students are most likely "learning disabled" which I contend should be more accurately termed "teaching disabled" and ELL students who've been in U.S. for most if not all of their academic years.

Most importantly, TMAO has indicated that he'll have all these students performing at grade level in 1-3 years. So I ask you why are they so far behind now?

I base mine on the people that we are producing.

With respect to our college bound kids, what we are producing is lots of kids who are in need of extensive remediation when they go to college. This means that they didn't learn what the schools claimed to teach them, yet graduated them anyway.

And of our non-college bound students, lets not go there. Productive citizens would be a stretch with the skills they graduate with.

And as far as the drop-out rate goes, do you really think that Jay Greene's estimated rate of over 30% represents a well-functioning system?

In the next paragraph you are confusing the gains made by the dynamic US economy with the stagnant education K-12 system. Our top students have always managed to learn and receive a good education even in public schools. No one disputes this. Our high schools do a generally decent job with students prepared to do high school level work. Unfortunately, too few students make it to high school with these skills.

KDeRosa has provided a dandy horror story in his post, and he presents this as the norm for public education. I firmly believe that my "anecdotes" are much better representations of the job that public schools have been doing and continue to do.

I never represented this as the norm for public schools. It is a low SES school and it is likely representative of a typical low SES school.

I also attended a technical school and I can assure you mosr of my fellow students were not adequately prepared for the rigors of a technical college education.

You are making way to many excuses for the failures of a stagnant socialized education system that continues to fail to adequately educate too many students.

9/12/2006 8:09 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

KDR wrote: "I do not believe that every student in that class is a SpEd or ELL student."

They are. The two kids who are not ELLs are SpEd. Eleven of the ELLs are ALSO SpEd.

9/12/2006 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

I like that your focus is "productive citizens" rather than "college-bound students." It's closer to my own values. However, with respect to preparedness for communication and functioning well in the workplace and at home, as well as higher education, I do believe there's more we can do, and that it can be tempting to use the "productive citizens" contention as a cop-out. Also, anti-public-ed folk are at least as likel to question our success there (although it might not be particularly wise with recent spates of bad-boy behavior from Duke, etc.)

I agree with you, and I know you constantly strive for improvement in education too, so I just wanted to be sure that belief was noted by our opponents.

In this discourse, I dislike arguments that attack harshly from the outset. It is something I would steer my young writers toward in a persuasive essay, but I feel it's counterproductive in this forum. I think you, at least, have toned down your rhetoric, and I think that makes your side easier to hear. Again, thank you.

9/12/2006 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Have you ever considered the idea that Americans has done as well as we have in spite of the fact that most of us were educated at public schools, instead of because of the fact that most of us were educated at public schools? From my observations, that would be my conclusion.

9/13/2006 4:54 AM  
Blogger rory said...


"Nearly 75 percent of U.S. high school graduates enroll in college within two years of graduation,1 yet only 56 percent of 2005 high school graduates who took the
ACT® test took a core preparatory curriculum in high school. And even among those who report taking a core high school curriculum—four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, social sciences, and natural sciences—a significant number are still not prepared to succeed in credit-bearing first year courses."

“Nearly one-third of students entering some type of postsecondary education need to take remedial courses in one or more subjects because they lack the skills to take standard credit-bearing courses. This figure balloons to 43 percent for students entering predominantly minority colleges.”


Degree Attainment Rates at American Colleges and Universities," prepared by education professor Dr. Alexander W. Astin and doctoral student Leticia Oseguera, found that among freshmen that entered baccalaureate-granting colleges in fall 1994, only 36.4 percent were able to complete their bachelor's within four years. That compares to 39.9 percent a decade earlier and 46.7 percent in the late 1960s. The degree-completion rate jumps by nearly two-thirds, to 58.8 percent, for students taking six years to complete college, and to 61.6 percent when including those enrolled after six years are counted as "completers."
Let’s put this in to perspective. Out of my 5 kids, 1 will not graduate high school. Only 3 out of 4 of the HS graduates will enroll in college. 1 of the 3 entering college will need remedial education prior to taking basic courses. Only 1 out of my 5 kids will graduate college in 4 years, another 1 will graduated in 6 years. The other 1 will drop out.
I started out with 5 kids, and only 2 of them managed to enter college. Am I a successful parent? Personally, I hoped for better.
When we talk about whether schools are failing or merely need improvement, it’s all semantics. We need to ask ourselves if this scenario is acceptable or whether we could do a lot better than this.

9/13/2006 5:17 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

And by the by Dennis, I'm the same educator you called "ignorant" and "stupid," over at NYCEducator not so long ago. Didn't know if you also wanted to add those tags to the link you provided to my site.

9/13/2006 6:47 AM  
Anonymous steven said...

I would go farther than Rory and ask whether we should even continue to operate our public schools, or should we find another solution. This is a question that doesn't get the respect it deserves. It deals with more than just whether are children are receiving a quality education from our public schools.

To those who would write me off as a nut, I ask you to seriously consider this question: Given that we are a nation founded on the idea that all have been created equal, and ALL of us have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how can anyone justify the government's right to determine what people will be taught? Giving the government that right seems like a very dangerous proposition to me.

9/13/2006 9:50 AM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Steven, this is the very reason why there are alternatives to public education....private schools of all types, homeschooling, charter schools, etc. and more and more we see a move to create public schools that emphasize particular academic areas or philosophies. I don't have any links presently but check out the Gainesville City School System in Georgia. They took a small city school system and removed all of the barriers regarding attendance lines, etc. Each school chose a particular emphasis such as science/math, technical, arts, etc. Parents could chooose any elementary school in the system to send their child. This is a system with extremely high numbers of students who are classified "free and reduced lunch" and ESOL. I don't know recent numbers but their test scores consistently rise and they have alot of success to crow about.

9/13/2006 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Steven said...

elementaryhistoryteacher, I'm not sure that I understand exactly what you mean by "this is the very reason why there are alternatives to public education." If it means that these alternatives provide educational options that are not subject to the government determining what people are to be taught, then you are incorrect. All of these alternatives are subject to some form of government determination.

The Home School Legal Defense Association website lists the homeschooling laws for all 50 states. Even in the states that the HSLDA describes as low regulation the law gives the government the right to exercise some control over what parents are to teach their children. Many states require parents to keep a record of their activity, and to submit notification, test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress to the local superintendent or the state department of education. Thus homeschools are not free from government determination.

Anyone can't just start up a charter school. Charter schools must be authorized by the state board of education or the local school district. Most charters are granted for 3-5 years. This means that charter schools are not free from government determination.

Even private schools are subject to some form of supervision by the state departments of education. Of course, it is worth mentioning that parents of children who attend private schools must pay twice for their children's education. This makes private schooling unavailable to many lower income families. The situation of these parents is similar to having to buy two automobiles while only being able to use one. The other one just sits in the garage gathering dust.

elementaryhistoryteacher, I really appreciate the respectful nature of your response. I had visions of being called all kind of nasty things from people who don't agree with me on this.

9/13/2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Steven, you are right. There is government control in all forms of education to one degree or another. What I was getting at was that we do have a choice in this country regarding the type of philosophy our kids are educated under. For example, many Christians prefer to have their children in Christ-centered schools. Yes, there are certain government restrictions regarding admissions, safety issues, so on and so on, however, these kids are inundated with their religion in all aspects of their education. My public school students only have that at church and at home. This is a choice those Christian parents can make. There are countries where citizens cannot make those choices at all. In those countries there is only one row to hoe, so to speak.

Believe me, every aspect of my job as a law attached to it and it can get pretty daunting if you know what I mean. However, the alternative is no legal interference and I would not like the consequences of unsafe buildings, unfair practices, and gee, all that testing might go away. Then what would I do? I don't mean to be flip....

I would love to see more school choice....more competition....more freedom for parents to choose, but total lack of some type of legal authority? I don't know if I'd be ready to go that far.

and Steven....I thank you for your respectful response. I think we are setting a fine example of discourse here in Mr. Fermoyle's salon of educational issues. :)

9/13/2006 9:13 PM  
Blogger rory said...

Steve you said:

"how can anyone justify the government's right to determine what people will be taught? Giving the government that right seems like a very dangerous proposition to me."

I disagree with this argument. We can all agree that the government has an obligation to step in to private lives when harm is being done to children, i.e. child abuse. I would argue that depriving a child of a basic education is a form of harm, and since there are parents who would ignore there responsibilities to educate a child or just not capable of doing it, then the government has to ensure that there is a method to regulate/control to a certain level how education is carried out. As to it being dangerous for our government to control education, I would say that WE are the government. We elect the policy makers who set the curriculums and make the decisions. That is the beauty of democracy.

I am against vouchers, since I don't believe the government should have to pay for any sort of religious education (and we know vouchers would be used for religious based schools). I do think there needs to be more choice and competition in education, whether public or charter, but as to lack of government controls... I would caution against it.

9/14/2006 4:28 AM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Rory, in regard to your comments about government control and democracy, I think that we should always remember why we have a bill of rights. Our bill of rights protects things like freedom of speech and religion from being supressed by majority vote. That is the way our founders intended it to be. It always makes me uneasy to hear people equate democracy with freedom. Yes, democracy is the one best form of government to protect our freedom, but there are situations where the majority can abuse the minority by outvoting them. Our bill of rights was meant to provide us some protection against this happening. But, of course, it's not perfect, and neither are we.

As for school vouchers, I agree with Ed Brayton, who blogs over at Positive Liberty, when he says that school vouchers no more violate the establishment clause than allowing a church bus to operate on public roads. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled on this issue (the Cleveland voucher program, the case was decided on June 27th), and they did rule that school vouchers were not a violation of the establishment clause when fashioned so that the parents were making a free choice about what school their children were to attend. So hopefully our education system will be moving even more in the direction of parental control.

The problem I have with governmental control of education is that if we allow the government to dictate what our children should learn, then where should governmental control stop? Should the government mandate that every child should eat three servings of vegetables each day, or should we leave that up to parents to determine? I believe that parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children, and that right includes the right to educate their children as they see fit.

9/14/2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger rory said...

White supremacists are allowed to operate on our roads. Should we allow people to use vouchers to send kids to white supremacist survival camps? While not in favor of vouchers, I would not protest as long as they were used to send kids to private schools that submitted to government oversight.

Unfortunately, if the government were to cede control of education, the harm to society would be much greater than any posed by ensuring that children at a minimum educational basis. Community (national and local) values and history are taught and learned in public schools, it is one of the few institutions in our country that is available to all people regardless of location or status. Getting rid of it, would inevitably result in an even greater compartmentalization and segregation that we see now. Public education serves to keep our country from descending into anarchy and ignorance.

Note: Pakistan’s madrassas’ which are known to encourage terrorism are examples of private schools that have no oversight.

9/14/2006 9:49 AM  
Anonymous steven said...

Rory - we're just going to have to agree to disagree. But, hey, this is America. We can do that without blowing each other up.

elementaryschoolteacher - I couldn't find anything on the Gainseville example you gave, but I can't find a lot of stuff. I do remember reading something along the same line a few months ago about the San Francisco school district that allowed parents to send their children to any of the 27 schools in the district. I believe the article was in Reason Magazine. As I recall the results were positive.

9/14/2006 2:21 PM  

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