Oct 02 2011

Panel with Ravitch and Rhee Part III

Click here for part I
Click here for part II

So far the panelists have had two rounds to discuss what the they think the cause of the achievement gap is and also what some possible remedies are.

Only Rhee, as expected, thinks that more accountability will be a significant part of the solution. Amazingly, however, Rhee did mention the importance of ‘wrap-around’ services and how D.C., under her, made sure schools had nurses, free breakfast and supper, and also guidance counselors and social workers. I’ve never heard her speak of the importance of any of these things before. That would be a nice focus for StudentsFirst — to get more resources for those sorts of things, rather than just trying to use inaccurate metrics to weed out ineffective teachers.

1:35:32 to 1:42:21. Professor Bobo has been sitting patiently for the past hour and a half, getting ready to summarize and give his own perspective on the issues. He says about the different panelists — Angel: Depth of problem and respect for depth of the problem, but thinks the problem is even worse than Harris describes. Ravitch: Country decided in the 80s not to follow path that was slowly closing gap, but to go on this new path. Comer: Developmental studies knowledge is vital. More educated having fewer kids. Teachers don’t have the ability to deal with these issues. This is why the accountability issue is “troubling” to Bobo. “It says, ‘teacher, your classroom, OVERCOME POVERTY. It ain’t gonna happen.” Applause from all but Rhee. Rhee: Politics and institutionalized disorganization makes things harder.

He also says that “Black poverty is not white poverty,” which is something I have never heard before. Anytime I’ve been in a discussion about the racial achievement gap, someone generally is careful to say that it’s not a racial thing but a social thing, and that poor whites have the same problems as poor blacks.

Bobo says that to expect a teacher to overcome that much disadvantage is an “extraordinarily displaced message.”

He is concerned that the policies put forth nowadays (he doesn’t say this, but of course Rhee is a leader in this) do not match with what works.

1:42:21 to 1:46:10 John Payton from the Legal Defense and education fund, which brought Brown vs. Board decision and is now opposing NCLB since it would “dismantle civil rights protections for poor students.” He says that two important things from the discussion was 1) The depth of the problem (Harris, Ravitch, Bobo) and also 2) The urgency of the problem (a nod to Rhee).

We have to be able to measure what we’re doing, but we don’t want the test to ‘pervert’ education. Original purpose of NCLB is not happening. Need to appreciate depth of problem and with the urgency, need to find soutions.

Questions and Answers
1:46:10 to 1:49:53
Question 1: Head of a high performing charter school in Rhode Island. “Are we asking schools to compensate for too much?” Don’t we need more resources to to this? Rhee: More resources probably are needed, but when we doubled resources the outcomes have not gotten any better. If doubling money doubled results then the argument would be better for more money. We have to first change the fundamentals before we can make a case to taxpayers to put more money into it. Ravitch: It’s gonna cost more money. Much of the new money has gone into special education. Early childhood education, prenatal care, smaller class size, it will cost money. Cutting public education budgets is crazy.

1:49:53 to 1:51:58
Question 2: KIPP has been able to consistently raise achievement and hire excellent teachers. Why can’t we scale them? Comer: There are non-charter schools that have done the same without extra money. Why haven’t we tried to replicate those schools? Because, he says, there is no ‘mechanism’ for really looking at what makes a difference.

In a sense, he is right. We don’t have a system for determining what strategies are the ones that are making the real difference in high-performing schools. What makes some KIPPs work. (I say some, because plenty of them are underperforming. In New York City there are 4 KIPP middle schools. Two have As while one is a B and the other is a C, if you’re into those kind of stats.) Is it the extended day? Is it the fact that they give their teachers bonuses and 3rd year teachers are making $90,000? Is it the self-selection of the lottery? Is it the ‘counseling out’ of the low performing students? Is it the strict discipline that prevents kids from ‘ruining it’ for their peers? What is it? Unfortunately it is in KIPPs interest to keep their secrets since they would lose their monopoly on all that money. I feel, though, that KIPP doesn’t even know what it is that makes the good ones work otherwise there wouldn’t be so many KIPPs that are not doing well. A little known fact is that KIPP only once tried to takeover an underperforming middle school in Denver and they failed miserably and blamed it on the fact that they couldn’t find the right leader.

1:51:59 to 1:54:09
Question 3: What do you think of Obama’s 2020 goal of having America have more college graduates that anywhere? Harris: Need to invest in earlier interventions.

1:54:09 to 1:58:17
Question 4: What is the role of schools of education in determining what works in successful schools like KIPP rather than be ‘mired’ in research? Bobo: Early childhood supports have been found to work. Need money to support them. Obama’s aspiration won’t work until we get away from the accountability model and into helping families help their kids be ready to learn. Teachers need to be supported and prepared. Teaching needs to be a respected profession. Comer: Schools of ed are entrenched in the problem and need to improve so they don’t turn out teachers who leave within 5 years. Ravitch: Points out the little known fact that KIPP has 40% dropout rate for black males. To put this number into more context, I’d like to add that this is in a 5th through 8th grade school, usually, which makes that drop out rate even more dramatic since kids generally don’t drop out of middle school the way they do in high school.

Ravitch says let’s see them take over a district to demonstrate that they’ve really figured out what works. This is a similar dare that she has said before.

My opinion is that KIPP won’t even take over a single school, let alone a district, as it does not benefit them to show that they don’t have any magic methods that can be scaled. This is such a shame. KIPP was just given 10 million dollars by the federal government to make more schools, because so many have bought into the myth that they truly know what works.

1:58:17 to 2:00:30
Question/Comment 5: A New York Businessman who ‘adopted’ a school district says we have to do things from the ground up. Not really a question, so panel does not respond.

2:00:30 to 2:02:30
Question/Comment 6: How do we get students to want to learn? Is what we do the same as what we say? Do we overemphasize athletics and entertainment? There is a lack of innovation in education. We are looking for silver bullets.

2:02:30 to 2:03:04
Question/Comment 7:
Martha’s Vineyard has great schools because of early childhood education and resources from tourists.

2:03:04 to 2:04:50
Question/Comment 8:
Is there any data with effect to family values and achievement? Value systems in parental homes that can affect achievement?

Harris: Parents do WANT their kids to get a good education, but they don’t know how. Comer: The quality of the interaction between parent and child.

2:04:50 to 2:07:15
Question/Comment 9:
A guy asks Rhee to comment on the ‘fact’ that teachers unions and politicians are preventing charters from opening in Philly. There is a 50,000 student waiting list. As we ‘learned’ in ‘Waiting For Superman,’ these charters are working.

Rhee: Teacher’s unions have a lot of influence. The problem is there is no group with same heft advocating for children. She is a proponent of effective charters. But charter movement as a whole has not ‘done itself right’ because there are a lot of ineffective charters out there. We have not closed down the poor performing charters. The charter sector needs to take a stand against this.

Well, I’m impressed that Rhee gave this response. She could have easily took the side of the questioner who was setting her up with a slow-ball. Instead she made a very valid balanced point, which I appreciate.

2:07:15 to 2:16:00
Questions 10, 11, 12
Question 10:
There are forces at work who might want us to have a consumerocracy and an ignoracracy.
Question 11:
A teacher that used Dr. Comer’s methods. They were so successful that they got shut down. His methods really work.
Question 12:
A retired teacher worries that each state has its own standards. What do we want? Good workers? Good test takers? What is our goal as educators?

Harris: What’s at stake? What if half the population is not educated. Ravitch: Such a big disconnect between pubic policy and what they are saying on the panel. Need more arts. Future of our nation is at stake and the future of public education. The purpose of education is to develop citizens for promoting our democracy. Cannot toss away anyone. Comer: Don’t need to focus on choice or innovation. Every child needs to have adults to help them grow. Has to start at home first and in school second. That’s why the arts are important. Rhee: Wants to respond to something Bobo said earlier. “I don’t say that teachers have to solve poverty.” We have kids for 6 1/2 hours 185 days a year. We have to believe there are things we can do to help. Only 10% of children born in poverty will graduate college. Nobody is saying ‘teachers solve poverty.’ In the confines of the school, what should we aspire to do? Bobo: He comes back with the response of the night, and I highly recommend you watch this part. Says he didn’t say Rhee said teachers need to solve poverty, but that that is what has happened in effect, even if that isn’t how anyone describes it. That was the last word, and there couldn’t be a better one than that. Watching the whole discussion where Bobo had to be silent for the first ninety minutes, I love that he finishes with this point.

2:16:00 to 2:24:09
Moderator finishes up. We can’t afford to have miserable children. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Concluding poem from Joshua Bennett.

Well, that ends my take on the discussion in Edgartown. There weren’t a lot of big surprises. More recently, a great ‘Meet The Press’ on NBC’s Education Nation with Ravitch and Canada had a lot more fireworks. I think the rhythm with five panelists got in the way. Still, I hope that by splitting it up into these 20 minute segments, more people will watch it in parts than tried to get through it on the official site.

6 Responses

  1. MeghanK

    Thanks, this was really helpful.

  2. We do need to weed out teachers who are ineffective, but most I know in the profession are committed to professional excellence. Lets find ways to help parents connect to the school and provide the environment that can support world class education. If we can field the world’s most powerful army, we can field the world’s most prepared students it’s just a matter of where we place our priorities.

  3. Thank you! It’s pretty much impossible for me to spend a long stretch viewing this, and I very much appreciate being able to read it.

  4. Andrew

    Rhee misses the point that college inflation has been more than 120% over the same time period. People are expensive.

  5. C

    A proponent of a KIPP school in MA claims that the school gets better scores because of the WAY they teach math compared to other schools, the note taking skills they teach and the extended day. Ignores the point that the local community is 52.7% ELL, 21.6% LEP, and 16.1% Special Education while that KIPP is 38.1% ELL, 1.6% LEP and 10.5% Special Education. I would say that would be part of the difference, no?

  6. Thanks for these panel recaps. I think Professor Bobo’s point is critical for many reasons. The narrow focus on poverty and its impact on education is too simple. Poverty is racialized in the United States, and poverty is not the same for all Americans. Ignoring race makes conversations easier, I think especially for white educators like myself. But it’s inadequate and avoids a deep look at the structures and institutions that nurture inequity.

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