Closing the Achievement Gap

If we want children to learn to read, teach them stuff! Natalie Wexler writes in the Atlantic about the progress children make when they have knowledge about topics and they want to learn more about them. In other words, teach social studies and science, not skill sets to identify the main idea or to make inferences based on sterile paragraphs written for tests.

Children have to know something in order to think about what they know and what it means. It is the classic educational debate i.e. learning to read vs. reading to learn.

Children from low-income families tend to have less exposure to the world around them.  Their vocabulary and knowledge base is lower than for other children.  Wexler cites studies that demonstrate how the achievement gap narrows when both groups are given unfamiliar content to decipher.  She cites the dramatic progress poor readers make when they are excited about what they are reading.

The test-driven curriculum has made a bad problem worse.  The solution is to give children time and incentives to actually read, not just to take tests.

Are Teachers’ Salaries Going Up?

There is a blog called Teachers Voice that originates in Hillsborough County. It has a nice analysis of teacher salaries over the last ten years. The rate is adjusted for inflation. Salaries are down, not up.  Florida’s salary ranking is near the bottom.  See the evidence here. 

Media reports show more money this year than last year for the per pupil school allocation. What is not obvious is that last year’s bonus funds from the lottery were rolled into the per pupil FEFP account this year. It looked like an increase, but it was money moved around.  Moreover, how the bonus funds were allocated to teachers was changed, so some teachers earned less money, not more.

It was never about busing.

Today’s New York Times published two full pages on the impact of desegregation in America’s schools. During the 70’s and 80’s, schools were integrated, especially in the south. Achievement scores rose and achievement gaps between black and white students fell. With the introduction of school choice in the 90’s, segregation increased. An attack on public schools began. Why?

As the U.S. reverted to the doctrine of separate but equal, it became obvious that low-income area schools were not equal. Equality in funding was a myth. Wealthy districts had better funding even if states required a minimum level of funds for each district.  Better funding provides better opportunities.

Children with greater physical and mental needs cost more, and a higher proportion of them reside in low-income areas. Higher-income areas often resist paying for educating ‘those other children’. As a result, lower-cost private and charter schools are sold as the symbol for better schools even though they are not better; they just choose which students to accept.

The point of the article, ‘It was never about busing‘ is that we are substituting code words for racist policies. The word ‘Busing’ has become a bugaboo (an imaginary object of fear). Many white children were always bused but not to black schools. Advocates for neighborhood schools used these code words for segregated schools.

Vouchers are supposed to reduce costs by housing more schools in churches, but they aren’t required to meet state standards for teaching and learning, and they do increase segregation.  Charters are designed to give lower-income parents an escape valve from the local schools struggling to meet the needs of all students.  Nevertheless, charters that reflect double segregation of race and income cannot overcome their lack of access to the wider world.

Improved access to high-quality preschool programs is the current panacea. Yes, they initially help minority children succeed, but their academic gains fade as they enter segregated schools.

The author of the article, Nicole Hannah-Jones, concludes that busing did not fail, we did.

Charter Industry Fights Reform

California’s charter reform commission, which included many charter operators, was convened by the governor as the result of a huge scandal in online charters that collected state funds for nonexistent students. The commission recommended improvements in charter school authorization and oversight. The charter industry is fighting back.

According to Jeff Bryant’s latest article, the charter industry is arguing that frequent closures of charters shows its accountability. Frequent opening and closures are good! The Network for Public Education’s report that a billion dollars in federal funds has been lost to charter operators. The question is good for whom? Is it good for the students and families who must scramble to find a new school or just for those who pocket the money?

Read Jeff Bryants’ article here and decide who benefits.