Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, March 11, 2013

School daze: DCPS edition

The Monday Post regular feature on education by Jay Mathews, "Arguing about school reforms that go nowhere," features Stanford Professor Larry Cuban's research on "reform," which shows for the most part, reform means change but not improvement.  From the column:

Cuban identifies what he considers three positive outcomes of the last three decades of reforms inspired by the view that schools should follow business practices. They are:

1.“Hastening the shift from defining school effectiveness as the level of resources that go into schooling children and youth to exclusive concentration on outcomes.” We stopped judging schools by how much they spent per student and how credentialed their teachers were, and started looked at test scores and graduation rates. This hurt trust in Cuban teachers, but says on balance it was better to focus on what schools were doing that raised student performance.

2. “Tapping nontraditional pools for new teachers and administrators.” Alternative routes to teaching and supervising were provided by mid-career programs and intensive college recruitment, giving university education schools some competition.

3. “Increasing parental choice of public schools—charters, magnets and portfolios of options.” This has a downside, he says. The new competition does not appear to have improved regular schools. But dissatisfied parents now have choices that don’t require them to pay tuition.

Cuban sees hope in the growth of schools that emphasize teacher creativity and collaboration. As always, he warns that those of us who think we know how to fix the black box of classroom learning that we just haven’t been paying attention.

As it relates to DC Public Schools, I have written a few hundred entries on K-12 education matters over the years. 

Since the "reform" effort commenced under Mayor Adrian Fenty (2007-2010), for the most part, all but the already existing successful schools (which tracks household income) have been consistently wrecked.

DCPS school enrollment for the K-12 grades has shrunk by 15% since Michelle Rhee was Chancellor.  Shrinkage continues under Kaya Henderson, albeit with a slight uptick in 2012 compared to 2011.

Published reports showing enrollment increases are based on the inclusion of DC's mandatory Pre-K program, which consistently shows growth--why shouldn't it, it's cheaper ("free") than daycare.
Despite this year's showing of slight increases in student enrollment, for the most part the student population continues to decline, with scalar declines once children reach 6th grade, and then again over the entire four years of high school.

My frustration with "reform" in DC is threefold.

(1) the charter school movement (+ vouchers) has spread organizational, financial, and community capital too thinly across the school universe.  In retrospect, it would have been better for the school system for it to have adopted innovative practices, rather than see the charter schools cream off both innovation and motivated parents.  On the other hand, I don't begrudge anyone seeking a better education for their children than what they expected they could get from DCPS.

(2) Mayoral control means a disconnection of accountability.  DC City Council lacks the ability to provide adequate oversight.  And it's not like the people in charge of the schools have been particularly great.

(3) The real issue with "poor" school performance for low income children is mostly due to poverty.  There are proven methods for dealing with that (see for example Montgomery County) but the DCPS "reform" program has instead focused on testing students and mostly blaming teachers for being unable to overcome poverty through teaching, even though research demonstrates that 15% of a student's ."success in school is attributable to "teacher inputs."

See "When ‘Unequal’ Is Fair Treatment" from Education Week. From the article:

When Jerry D. Weast became the superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools in 1999, he spent the summer poring over student-achievement results and demographic trends. Then he created a map to illustrate what he’d found.

The map divided the suburban district, just outside the nation’s capital, into two distinct areas, which he dubbed the “red zone” and the “green zone.” Most poor, minority, and English-language learners lived in the red zone, an urbanized core that was attracting a growing immigrant population. The green zone was predominantly white, affluent, and English-speaking. Academic performance closely mirrored the demographic trends, with the lowest-performing schools overwhelmingly concentrated in the red zone.

Without swift and deliberate action, the district faced the prospect of becoming split in two, divided by opportunity. To Mr. Weast, the solution was obvious. Montgomery County needed a differentiated strategy that funneled extra attention and resources to schools in the red zone, while increasing academic rigor for everyone.

“There’s this American thing about treating everybody equal,” he explained recently. “Our theory was, the most unequal treatment is equal treatment.”

By failing to set up a similar program--and note all the charter schools lauded across the US do provide special resources and programs that target the impact and repercussions of poverty--of course DC Public Schools are going to continue to decline to the point where the "traditional" public schools will only be operating in the high income areas where the schools (because the material and the matériel are superior) are successful already and in the most impoverished areas, where the charter schools don't want to operate.

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At 9:49 AM, Blogger Mari said...

You don't seem to acknowledge that motivated parents were motivated to move out of the District. With greater school choice they are willing to stick around a little bit longer. That capital is volunteer capital where it has to be worth it for a parent or group of parents to spend extra hours and brain power working for free.

There are charter schools on the other side of the river, in poorer neighborhoods who help poor kids excel. KIPP is in Ward 7 and 8. We do a great disservice to poorer kids by thinking they are unteachable or just too stupid to learn. Yes, they have challenges, but a good, safe school environment with teachers invested in their sucess can make, and has made, a difference.

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I don't think MoCo county is duplicable; immigrants (and limited english) are easier to work with than what we have in DC.

As you said, we need a Marshall Plan to combat 3-4 generations of poverty. It isn't coming, and while I think your criticism of Rhee are spot on, the DCPS system is far from perfect pre-Rhee.*

In terms of urbanism, the charter schools would seem to very negative in terms of both localism and transport. Is this necessarily a bad thing? We haven't seen it yet.

And getting hipsters involved in education might show the benefits of mixed-income living. Might.

* yes, if you take what DC is spending on the effects of poverty (crime, health care, etc) and instead invest it curing the problems you might find the cash. As I said, on GGW, is DCPS + charter schools better for perparing students for college or jail? I'd strongly suspect -- espcially for YBM - the answer is jail.

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

1. Mari, I don't need to acknowledge "flight" (cf. _Exit, Voice or Loyalty_ by Albert O. Hirschmann) because it's obvious, at least to me.

2. And yes, it's "obvious" because of what Charlie writes, the obvious dysfunction and the lack of alternatives.

3. and yes, DCPS pre-the current regime was hardly successful. I'm just recommending a different course.

Of course, it's academic and theoretical since everything else has already happened.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Some datapoints, which are already familiar.

from 2006:

" asserts that nine out of 10 of the freshmen will be confined to low-paying jobs because they never began college or gave up before obtaining a degree"

from 2011, after they started tracking:

"The D.C. government recently released data on the first five years of the TAG program, including college graduation rates for 80 percent of TAG recipients. Importantly, TAG grants allowed those 5,000 students to attend institutions that have, on average, graduation rates of 60 percent — above the national average. Yet, only 1,900 of those students, or 38 percent, graduated, far below the national average."

So, perhaps the answer really is residental boarding school ala SEED Foundation. That might not be scaable as well, but clearly the pathology is on the parental side, not the students.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks for looking more deeply into this.

I think the "lesson" is a corollary of the Paul Tough books, by the time the average DC student from low income households gets to college, there is a good chance that they are poorly educated and not capable of what we would call "college work."

(It's not just access to college that matters. Note the article I just read--can't find it at the moment--about the DC College Access Program, which mentioned a bunch of the kids being murder victims etc. in Delaware and Maryland at their colleges.)

I did think that the SEED program is interesting. But you also have to get people out of the destructive peer group relations and the dysfunctional communities.

The thing that frustrated Geoffrey Canada was the difference between helping a few individuals break out vs. systemic, structural change.

The jury's out on whether or not it's truly possible. It probably is, but requires an approach and resources far beyond what is done (in the US, or anywhere for that matter).

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

"The jury's out on whether or not it's truly possible. It probably is, but requires an approach and resources far beyond what is done (in the US, or anywhere for that matter)."

Oh, there are plenty of examples. And I have no doubt that in a few generations we'll look at SEED/KIPP with the same genteel horror as Indian boarding schools or Australian orphan schools -- basically cultural genocide.

(of course, at the current rate, assuming we can promote more abortion/birth control, we can also elimate the black race via poverty and crime in 3-4 generations. In terms of cultural genocide vs. actual genocide I'm not sure what is worse)

I'd say the real model is the Freedman's bureau, I remember reading that literacy shot up after the civil war from maybe 5-10% to close to 90% in a generation. In fact I'm not sure we are much better off right now than in 1890.

From this same reading, you've got 3-4K black secondary school students in DC in the 1920s. Yes, college prep isn't for everyone. But I'd question whether we are seeing more than 1K black college grads with DCPS alumni tags per year today.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Mari said...

The difference btn the Indian Schools and SEED/KIPP is the SEED/KIPP parents are working hard to get their kids in, as opposed to their children being taken away from them by well meaning social workers.
Considering how much money is to be made off of hip hop there is little danger of getting rid of that one aspect of African American culture. It would be a different story if Native American pow-wow music was commerically viable.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

searing comments both. Thank you.


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