Sunday, January 15

Response to Part I

1. Thanks to all first-time visitors, and especially to those who left comments. Stick around for Part II.

2. Regular readers of this little hole in the blogosphere know that my wife is a public school teacher. She's been one for over fifteen years. She's taught in a wealthy utopian "exburb" district and in the worst-performing inner city middle schools of IPS. She now teaches in the high school Magnet program, and is highly regarded. As an art teacher her direct experience has more to do with funding, or the lack of it, than the particulars of fad-of-the-month and political pressure on curricula of teachers in the "hard" subjects. Still she's plenty affected. She presently has a class (non-Magnet) of forty students in a room with thirty seats. I invite anyone interested to try it.

3. I've put my arm around her as she cried uncontrollably over the home life some students endure. I've stood beside her at the funeral of a sixteen-year-old who was shot by a crazy woman whose son he bumped on an apartment staircase. I've researched OSHA laws to prevent uncaring administrators from shutting her paint-and-solvent using classes in an unventilated room, and I've read Indiana employment laws to put a stop to a business using her students until 2AM on weekdays. I'm no mindless cheerleader for incompetent teachers, unions, administrators, and politicians. I think there are enormous structural problems with our Factory School programs in this country.

4. Be that as it may, I believe, from an admittedly limited and non-professional perspective colored by my unapologetic political biases, that the greater problem for our schools over the last thirty years has been political meddling which has sought to portray public schools in the worst possible light, and often a racist one at that. This is not to impugn the honesty or sincerity of everyone who disagrees with me. It is rather to say that the landscape must be cleared of half-truths and hidden agendas, and the case for public education made over and over.

5. This is just my web journal. I talk about whatever catches my fancy. This weekend that's the 20/20 report. I have a rough idea that after dealing with that I'll write another piece more descriptive of our public educational system. Or I might get distracted and rate some power tools. There are plenty of good professional education sites where people don't just talk off the top of their heads.

Let's go to the phones:

There are those who will mischaracterize Stossel as being “anti-education.” This label is inaccurately conveyed, as it should be labeled “pro-education reform”. So to use “anti-education.” and denominate those is misinforming.

As my personal bodyguard D. Sidhe has pointed out, I didn't call him that. I'll have more to say about Stossel's motivation later, but the short answer is, you can't reform what you refuse to understand beyond a caricature.
The “War on Public Education” is a straw man. There has never been such a war.... [There] are simply observers, who pointedly remind us of the many facets of public education which can use serious reform....Part of the debate is calling a spade a spade, shining a light on egregious examples of the misdeeds of public educators, their union, administrators, and aspects of the system itself.

I'll talk about unions in the next part. But frankly, the denial that there's a war on public education doesn't jibe with the strong anti-union sentiments that so frequently accompany it. I never hear an opponent of teacher unions or the "educational establishment" discuss what these groups actually do, just offer horror stories and assertions that bad teachers can't be fired.

The U.S. spent around $3,700 per student in 1970. Using the handy-dandy government inflation calculator...we find that would purchase $18,843 in 2005, pretty close to a private school tuition.

Interesting in that one of Mr. Stossel's informants claimed that education spending had doubled, adjusted for inflation, in that same period.

Parents for Competitive Education:
Your defensive tone, angry words, and shallow ranting proves unequivocally that Stossel and ABC are right on.

First time reader, I take it. Stossel should have had me on, I guess. Would have saved a trip to Belgium.
Introducing competition, and making schools and teachers accountable for student performance, would give the U.S. education system the intellectual and organizational reform it so badly needs.

[shallow rant alert] "The good news, Janie, is you passed into the fourth grade. The bad news is, we're downsizing it." Competition is a tool; you'll have to excuse me for passing whenever it's offered as a panacea. We have competition now, for the wealthy and a few lucky Lotto winners. And as Stossel pointed out last night, 57% of the public gives its own public school an A or B. When I hear the plan that takes care of the poorest of the poor, and the most hopeless, as its first priority, I'll listen.

Peter Jackson:
[T]he main question I have for the anti-reformers is this: if a universal voucher system destroyed public education, how would we tell?

Off the top o' me head: when the only students left in what remains of our public schools are the special needs children and disciplinary problems the private schools now routinely dump back on them, if they accept any in the first place. And when the rising price tag is used as an excuse to rejigger the system, as it will be.

Tango Man:
You quote Stossel as saying: "Here in Belgium the government spends less than American schools do per student..." and you offer some unlinked data to support your attempted falsification of his thesis. Because I couldn't easily find the data you were basing your analysis on, I searched and found better data. Here it is:Expenditure on educational institutions per student (2000)BelgiumPrimary education: - $4,310.15All Secondary education: - $6,889United StatesPrimary education: - $6,994.63All Secondary education: - $8,855.06Expenditure on educational institutions per student relative to GDP per capita (2000)BelgiumPrimary education: - $16.33All Secondary education: - $26.10 United StatesPrimary education: - $20.21All Secondary education: - $25.59So, Stossel is correct on his point. The only place you can find a technical violation is in regards to secondary education when analyzed on a per capita basis, and it's quite a minor quibble at that.Further, your choice of using % of GDP is inappropriate. What Stossel asked was who spent more on education.

Thanks. I'm an old guy. I quoted the study the figures came from and the page number, which was sufficient in the last century. I didn't link it in part because it's a 70-page .pdf file, and the citation was sufficient to check my accuracy. I'll dig up the link if you'd like it.

Why I used % of GDP: first, it's the method from the test study Stossel was (presumably) using. Second, the spending in actual dollar figures (I didn't avoid them, btw. I didn't look, partly for this reason.) is something of a canard. "What Stossel asked" was a loaded question; the only way to truly compare the two would be to look at services. Percent of GDP certainly offers a better way to compare government commitment to education, I think, but either that or actual dollars/student leave a lot of questions unanswered. What do we spend on athletics, say, vs. Belgium? Believe me, athletics has a lot to do with parental approval; we're planning a high school athletic Magnet program for IPS here despite a plummeting budget. But they don't test hand/eye coordination on the PISA. To use the car analogy, it's not a question of who spent what, but who got what. Korea and Japan, for example, spend less as a percent of GDP than the US does, but they pay their teachers more.

The OECD report found a slight correlation between expendature and performance. So there are obviously a number of other factors involved. It was wrong to say Stossel "fabricated" the numbers without an exhaustive search for evidence, but then he's the one doing the network television report. He had the time for a citation. And his "question" simply ignored all complexities.
So, let me get this straight. Your criticism is that he targeted these districts as being unrepresentative of the nation's school districts but you let stand his characterization of the facts unchallenged. Is that right? Everything Stossel said was accurate,but only for NYC and Washington?

Um, well, the only "facts" Stossel offered about either, besides the general drift of the report, was the final section about NYC unions. And that's in the next part.
...could you sketch out a cursory argument of the perils of choice?

My comment was that "choice" was a major theme of the first part of the report. I don't think that can be addressed in a cursory way; maybe later, more fully.
"Program impacts on school environments were considerably smaller than impacts on neighborhoods, suggesting that achievement-related benefits from improved neighborhood environments are alone small." So the parents are acting to separate their kids from whatever bad influences they perceive, whether justified or not, whether rational or not, whether moral or not. Those parents are making choices but have to go through a convoluted process, rather than a straightforward one.

The major predictors of academic achievement are socio-economic status and parent's educational level. If we're really serious about not Leaving Children Behind we'll concern ourselves more with getting them adequate nutrition and health care, and much less about how they compare with Poland.

What's the "straightforward" process? Everybody on the bus, we're going to the successful school?
Umm, it's pretty boring for a TV reporter to stand in front of a camera and hold a document and tell the audience the content of that document. It's quite a bit more engaging to create a situation that is dynamic, such as using real students, the students taking the test, the commentary from the students. As near I can tell your beef with Stossel is that the test results, which indeed supported his thesis, were unduly amplified by his selection bias. So, it's the amplification, not the binary truthfulness that is the problem.

The way it's boring to wait a couple minutes for the Pinto to actually catch fire? C'mon. What stopped him from reporting the actual results, and admitting his little teevee dynamic produced results worse than average? There was a lot of talking heads stuff in the report. In the NYC union bit he unfurled a diagram instead of dramatizing the process.
You're citing Middle School curricula as a mitigating circumstance to excuse the lowering of student performance because middle school is preparing the students with a good foundation for later study. Is that right? If so, please back it up.

What I said was that's one of the arguments offered in mitigation. And it is. That's all. Neither this blog nor that last post is my life's work.


julia said...

Well, with D Sidhe on your side you don't need any help from me, but fwiw, my dad taught in those infamous NYC schools, specifically in the South Bronx.

The kids he taught didn't speak english yet, because they and their parents had just gotten here. The students who were born in this country often didn't have family support for their homework because their parents had been refused an education in the south. They weren't in any shape to concentrate, because their parents couldn't afford to feed them breakfast. Their classrooms were out of Dickens, because education was the first thing on the block when we'd spent a little too much on bribing businesses with tax incentives to stay in New York, after which the businesses more often than not moved the middle class jobs down south anyway, because honor is a joke when there's money to be made. They lived in neighborhoods that the city couldn't bother to police, because they needed to make sure that nobody panhandled or made noise between 96th and 59th.

They left his class reading at or above grade level.

John Stossel was one of our local reporters at the time. Very big on the little guy and the consumer, at the time. Loads of sympathy for the oppressed.

At some later point, he discovered that being a soulless whore for anyone who could afford to buy his sympathies paid better. Did a big 180 on who was oppressed. You'll be astonished to hear that now, he believes that it's for-profit entities making lots and lots of profits who are being blocked by mere societal concerns from making even more profits at the expense of people who can't afford his good graces (google Chris Whittle, if you have a minute).

Let's see: on the one side, my dad, who took his college education and worked in miserable conditions handing a future to children who weren't ever going to have one. On the other, John "hey, I may have flushed the principles I pretended to have when it paid down the nearest gas station restroom urinal, but I've been true to my Harry Reems mustache, and that ought to count for something" Stossel, who has never advocated that government be smaller in any area that would have an impact on John Stossel.

Yeah, that's a tough one.

What's even funnier is that he has an issue with poor people who aren't producing enough to justify their place in society, and he thinks that Wal-Mart is doing the uneducated a favor by treating them like disposable diapers.

John Stossel, the people who educated me and are educating my child would be thorougly appalled to hear me say, can blow me.

Although while deploring my mode of expression, I suspect strongly they'd identify with the sentiment.

Go read Frank McCourt's book, come back and tell me that public schools should be killed by attrition.

I can't believe that anyone would be credulous (and callous) enough to argue that we're doing too much for the least of these rather than supporting the schools that are educating the children who are going to pay for your social security.

Which, I suppose, is why my child reads four years above grade level. Because she goes to a public school and her mother's not an idiot.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, with me on his side, Doghouse probably especially needs support from reasonable and articulate people like you, julia.

I've generally paid a great deal off attention to what Mr Stossel says and does, just because his voyage from consumer crusader to magic of the market valiant fascinated me.
I've come to the conclusion that he never really cared that much about the little guy or the consumer vs big anything, he just saw it as a good path to career success and fame, which seems to me to be what he wanted all along.
I think he *has* been true to his principles, it's just that for a while his principles ("Get on TV a lot and be successful") coincided with the consumer activist pose, back when hidden cameras and exposes and investigative journalism were all seen as glamorous. And now his principles align more closely with the anti-PC, libertarian, well-funded think tank, iconoclast pose.

Based on his habit of deceptive reporting (check the links I offered yesterday), I'd personally be amazed to discover he believes much of anything he says at all.
He's pre-conversion (and unlikely-conversion) David Brock.

All of which aside, more excellent writing by Mr Riley, and I look forward to seeing some more on this. It's interesting because I know a lot of teachers, and only one of them strikes me as in any way underqualified. And even then it's not the sort of failure the anti-teaching-union crowd would get up in arms about, someone whose spelling is substandard at best. Not sexy, is it?
And yet, her students like her a great deal, and the parents of her students seem to like her also, and I suspect that school choice would leave her with as good a job as she has now, if not better, thanks to the magic of spell check.

Meanwhile, every time I watch the tax-relief-and-privatization forces in my state gear up for another round of schools bashing, it just makes me that much more happy to vote to approve school bonds and library bonds. Last time was particularly ugly, as they explained to us that school vouchers would *especially* help the poor minority kids.

I'd have laughed if it hadn't been so goddamned vicious.
I don't even have kids, and I can see the advantages in making sure everyone gets a good education. And I can see that a school voucher isn't going to get a poor kid into a private school, the "good" public schools (and let's consider how willing the general public is to assume that "trendy" or "popular" is the same thing as "good") are going to be overloaded beyond what they can handle, and the private schools will still, as someone pointed out yesterday, be able to reject your kid because he or she is not already the cream of the crop and they don't want to have to work that hard to keep their high rankings and scores. (And, hey, as Mr Stossel would undoubtedly say, why should they have to? Let the free market do the work!)

Meanwhile, Doghouse, do you like the DeWalt 18v reciprocating saw, the Craftsman 18v reciprocating saw, or the Black & Decker? Or do you prefer the Makita 18v reciprocating saw and drill combo? I'm not a huge fan of all-in-one tools, really. But I rarely have to drill *and* cut something within a limited timeframe, and I have a small home, so it's not like I have to hitch the huskies to the sled and trek across the workshop to grab the other.
I just don't like that if something on my drill goes wrong, I'm out a saw, too, while it's in for repair.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Stossel is an ass.

I teach at a community college. The problem for me is the kiddos have been taught "the test" whatever it is called this week and any curiousity has been educated right the hell out of them.

They don't want to study, they don't see any need for education other than it may help them move from the window at the fast food restaurant to running a fast food restaurant.

As for powertools, I am still working on why their is a flathead and a Phillips? Why not just one or the other?

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

there not their

Anonymous said...

At one point in my varied career, I taught math in an inner city high school. I'll not bore you with the details but some thoughts are in this comment for any masochists.

To anyone not an acolyte of Jonathan Livingston Heydrich, Stossel's schtick is nothing more than a transparent script written according to the usual formula: Here's the message, find some way to hammer it, whether true, false or misleading, who cares, i.e., the very essence of propaganda.
Here's but one mild example from the previous thread:
By the way, the average private school tuition in the US has been running about half of the average public school expenditure per pupil for thirty years now.

This is a very misleading statement. There are simply no data available on average per pupil expenditures for private schools. As such, even the NCES says that any valid comparison of costs of public and private elementary and secondary education is not possible. This is why you will always see this framed by the Stosselites as average private tuition vs. per pupil public expenditure, but they are simply not the same thing.

In fact, when speaking of average per pupil expenditures the discussion always degenerates quickly because it doesn't even get into the disparity in funding between public schools even within one state. (For anyone really interested in the issue, I suggest you read Jonathan Kozol's latest book, or his article in the September Harpers.)

And to those who say "It's not about funding! Money isn't the answer!" then how about we stop public funding of schools with local property taxes, and instead apportion state funds based on equivalent per-pupil expenditures across the board, for all elementary and secondary schools within the state? This way pupils in all districts are equally funded, regardless of whether they attend school in the most affluent suburb or the inner city. Everyone would be in favor of this, right? Since it's not at all about money.

Anonymous said...

Stossel is a pig and an enemy of the people. He is worse than any terrorist organization that we are fighting. He says the war on drugs only hurts innocent people. However the fact is that most--if not all--murderers are drug users. Stossel wants me and you to risk being murdered so that drug users can enjoy a ten minute high. Stossel claims to under stand economics, however one of the basic rules of economics assumes that people are rational. Those who are on drugs are not rational. If someone shot this pig in the head it would be in self defense.