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.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

9 years of school "reform" failure in DC

I recognize that successful change takes many many years (e.g., I think of building developments that I've been involved in that have taken 13 years to "deliver"). But all too often, change is unsuccessful because the approach is flawed.

It's likely that's the case with "school reform" in DC.

The Power of Bad Ideas
While the Washington Post continues to laud the effort, started under Mayor Fenty who at the behest of NYC schools chief Joel Klein hired Michelle Rhee for the newly minted title of Chancellor of the DC Public Schools and continued by her lieutenant Kaya Henderson, schooling outcomes for minority children continue to lag--according to the National Research Council (An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape, improved test score mostly result from the increase in the enrollment of higher income students in the system.

John Merrow, education correspondent for PBS News Hour, is not impressed.  His piece on the subject,"A Premature Celebration in DC," is worth a read.

Some past blog entries on the topic include:

-- Education "reform" (2007)
-- Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform (2009)
-- Power of bad ideas: DC Public Schools (2010)
-- Muddling through on urban education reform in the Washington Post (2011)
-- Speaking of schools #3: school reform in DC is mostly flawed (2011)
-- DC public schools as permanent snafu (2012)
-- More mendaciousness about school reform: Joel Klein (2012)
-- Education update: school reform as focus on the test, not critical thinking (2013)
-- Frustration #2: school reform discussions mostly miss the point (2013)

In the comment thread of the last entry, readers suggest two good articles, "Linking Home and Classroom, Oakland Bets on Community Schools" (Atlantic) and "The Gift of Doubt" (New Yorker).

which in part, reminds me of this piece:

-- International Baccalaureate program at an impoverished high school in Seattle as a way to improve academic outcomes

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At 12:27 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

If you use the "corporate speak" mentality -- which is not always a bad one when you are trying to raise cash from rich people -- what is the product here? Children? School systems? Teachers?

We've elevated the status of teachers and their income. The new school buildings are nice.

The children are as badly educated as before -- as I said there are probably more felons than college grads in the DC graduate pool over a 30 year time frame.

There was a nice comparison on the indian schools when the money doesn't flow in so easily.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

theoretically the outcome is supposed to be better educated children.

Do you really feel teacher status has improved? Teachers and unions have been demonized mostly, at least under the Rhee model.

I don't know if income, at least in DC, has significantly increased, but it may have in other jurisdictions.

in one of the above-posts that I cited, I was reading the comment stream on one, and in response to my point that the big private funders were more oriented to discipline and social control, you commented about how they would be that way, because they want people who can work.

I am surprised I didn't respond about the book _Schooling in Capitalist America_ and the discussion of Horace Mann and the creation of the schooling system as a way to train good workers.

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt better schools etc., again in comment threads, you've made the point about cross-district magnet schools.

I noticed that there is a new "regional high school" for IT in Greater Richmond.

... anyway, yes the better school buildings are a plus. But as the federal court desegregation monitoring of KC MO schools found, big investments in new school buildings and programs wasn't enough to spur integration. White kids still left. And the other issues faced by high poverty students ended up getting in the way of generating better educational outcomes.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Status, using the term in a technical/word of art form.

And yes, a major part of the "school reform" is to raise the status of teachers vis a vis other professions. Goes back to teach for america. If only Ivy League graduates would get into teaching we wouldn't have stupid teachers!

Of course in urban school districts having nice young white kids try to "teach" is pretty useless.

And of course you don't want to raise teacher status too high or men will start to become teachers!

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

tricky. There are two views of "the status" of teachers. From the standpoint of teachers, the belief that you could give some Ivy League graduate a wee bit of extra training and throw /em into a classroom to help the natives is seen as demeaning the profession, putting forth the idea that teaching "is easy" something anyone can do with no or very little training.

Look at Michelle Rhee's description of her level of skill in a Baltimore classroom. Horrifying. TFA probably should have been sued for ripping off the public.

But from the standpoint of higher income people taking on, albeit temporary "lark" jobs teaching, before they get their JDs or MBAs, maybe somehow that lifts perception of status in terms of the type of people taking jobs as teachers.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

but yes it is an important job, and we should want great people doing it, and we should pay more, so the profession attracts people capable of great work and outcomes.

I know with young children -- I have done class presentations here and there over the years -- it must be hard as hell to keep 20-30 little kids on track for 6-8 hours. And then dealing with kids who have terrible/neglected family situations, makes it that much harder.

I don't think I could do it.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, I am talking about your second reaction.

American schools are designed as day-care, not as education. That is why all americans -- in particular middle class ones -- start to get less competitive as they spend more time in primary and secondary education.

So bringing in smarter people for shorter tenures makes a great deal of sense -- if you have middle class students. Obviously urban systems are different.

But again I question the product -- school reformers don't care about student outcomes but improving the status of teachers in society generally. And it might be working -- certainly the higher wages that DC pays is having an effect on school wages in FCPS and elsewhere. Those teachers know they can make a lot more here.

After 6th grade, the teachers I had that make a difference were ones that had a deep understanding of their subject, not "teaching skills". Sometimes that was based on experience, sometimes it was based on their knowledge.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

this is a quibble. While I don't disagree with you, generally people great with content knowledge who are able to convey it are good with classroom management and teaching too.

... but I used to say that the point of teaching, once you get to more advanced levels, is "exciting the student enough about the subject so they go and learn it on their own" (through projects, readings, practice, etc.).

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting cover story in this week's WCP:



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