Sunday, June 01, 2008

Apples to Apples

But what if its all fruit from a poisoned tree?

The voucher argument is still ruffling feathers in New Orleans, as evidenced by this recent editorial by Jarvis DeBerry.

The new anti-voucher talking point is that the private and parochial schools that will be affected do not have to subject their students to the endless standardized testing that public schools are forced to endure. The new compromise is that, if any students recieve state money to attend private or parochial schools, they will have to take the LEAP exams - other students (the ones whose parents are paying for them to be there) still will not.

One sticking point is this: "if private and parochial schools are so good, why don't they prove it by making their students take the LEAP?" I read a letter to the editor today demanding a comparison of "apples to apples." Another point: why spend state money to send students to schools that aren't accountable to the public?

Another one I read (not in DeBerry's column) is that discipline problems and special education students will not be assisted by this, because they will be turned away by the private or parochial school.

To answer these questions and concerns, this post is about to get long and complicated, so bear with me.

First of all, let me state that I do not like the idea of vouchers. I was educated K - BA in a public education system, I've worked for public education in various forms, and I remain a stalwart believer that public education is one of the bedrock institutions of our democratic society. Let me also state that the current crop of folks running the public education system at high, high levels are doing everything in their power to shake me of this belief. While I do not agree with vouchers, I understand why they have so much support, in NOLA and nationally, and I understand why voucher proponents are winning more hearts and minds with every year. I also understand that most folks who are anti-voucher use rhetoric that only feeds the other side's credibility with the public.

I addressed many of the voucher issues in this post, which generally touched on issues of teacher certification, why the public school systems are strapped for cash and who the voucher programs actually would assist.

Having that out of the way, I'll address Mr. DeBerry's points:

1.) If public and parochial schools are so good, why don't they force their students to take the same kind of standardized exams as public schools?

First of all, people don't take their kids out of public school because instruction is better elsewhere, but I'll touch on that more in a moment. To speak directly to the "same kind of standardized exams as public schools" issue: in order to comply with state and national educational 'standards,' cash strapped school systems at the state and local levels spend huge sums of money paying testing organizations to generate numerous tests, distribute and deliver said tests, grade said tests, check said tests for cheating, then compile the results and compare them to all test takers.

What? Did you think LEAP tests fell magically from the sky? Princeton Review is gonna make their money off the taxpayers, believe that. That the Archdiocese of New Orleans doesn't give LEAP tests to their students probably has far more to do with a cost-benefit analysis than any attempt to decieve the public. Add to this information: parents who send their kids to private and parochial schools already pay for LEAP tests or similar exams for public schools through whatever mechanism the state uses to pay for schools, generally through a system we have around here called taxes.

2.) Let us compare "apples to apples."

In order to teach at a public school, I had to take a training course. I had to take certification classes. I've been around Master of Education classes and I took certification classes waay back at UGA for my first major. Every single one of these "how to be a teacher" programs stressed the idea that not every child learns in the same way. They all stressed that there will be students in my classes who are not on the same level. Every single class drilled into me that there was no "one size fits all" model in education. Every. Single. Class.

So, why the f**k do we force our students to endure "one size fits all" testing? No comparison in the world would be 'apples to apples.' Hell, comparing the testing results from the school I taught at this year to the testing results from other schools wouldn't even be considered 'apples to apples.' More like 'apples to orange soda.'

These tests aren't even designed to compare apples to the same apples! They exist in a vaccum of assuming every student shows up in the 4th or 8th grade with the same amount of pre-knowledge from the 3rd or 7th grade, regardless of their 3rd or 7th grade iLEAP scores.

And Princeton Review keeps makin' that money!!

3.) Why spend state money to send students to schools that are not accountable to the public.

You already do. The public education system is in its current state because high ranking officials are nearly free from accountability. When was the last time something changed because of a large public outcry? When was the last time the whole state legislature was kicked out for letting our schools get to such a point of disarray? What public accountability? But that's what happens when you focus on liability rather than accountability.

4.) Students with discipline problems and special education needs will be turned away at the door from private and parochial schools.

This. Is. The. Main. Selling. Point. Of. Vouchers. You know why public school LEAP scores are in the toilet? Because there are no consequences for students with discipline problems. They get suspended enough, they just get sent to another school to terrorize the student population there. Who the F can learn in a classroom, how can a teacher teach in a classroom when Student with a Discipline Problem is throwing rocks at everyone? Running around slapping other students on the neck and face? Its a classroom, not an uprising. Parents complained about their students not having textbooks, but didn't beleive the schools when they were told the students threw all the textbooks out the windows into the rain.

And they know what to say to people to keep getting away with it. One student, a rock thrower who liked to rip apart science experiments and slap young ladies in my class, told me that the answer was to "teach harder."

You don't have to turn them away at the door, but letting them terrorize your student body keeps every student down and the scores very low. Your system has to have mechanisms in place to deal with discipline problems. This does not include just "sending them to another school."

And the special education students? Same thing. There's a world of difference between "inclusion" and "dumping." I was able to do a lot with my students who had mild problems. They could still learn about the material. But if there's a student in my class who can't do anything more than drool on her paper; if there's a student in my class who can't do anything but copy words from around the room onto her paper...that's not learning, that's torture. Those students aren't supposed to be in the same classes as a bunch of squirmy 7th and 8th graders who need a great deal of attention anyway.

So you don't have to turn them away at the door, but you have to have a plan on how to deal with them so they aren't destroying every other student's ability to get an education, and forcing a high rate of teacher turnover.


1 comment:

Dante said...

If I had to point to one major failing of the public school system it would be that they have no idea what works and what doesn't because they don't stick with something long enough to find out. Private school systems seem to be a lot more resistant to changing their teaching methodology which more often than not is a good thing.

The good news about integrated classrooms is that they won't be around for long. Some other form of snake oil will get passed down the line as a cure-all for the educational system.

The big push behind not punishing kids with discipline problems comes from two places:
1. The school doesn't get the money for that student if that student is not in class.
2. That student counts towards testing goals so any suspension short of an expulsion will do hurt the school more than it hurts the student.

I'm surprised more schools haven't learned to game the system and bounce the worst trouble-makers right before testing. They won't count towards the new school since they haven't been there long enough and they won't count towards the old school because they didn't take the test there.

Then again, the biggest problem at my wife's school (ok, I Guess it's a former school now since she took a job closer to home) isn't the trouble makers, it's the absurdly high special education population. It seems anyone these days can qualify for special ed but these are the old-school needs-a-helmet variety special ed kids that we are all familiar with growing up. Funny how many crack babies come from the projects. If you take those special ed kids out of the mix, then the poorest of the poor student populations in Clarke County would make "Adequate Yearly Progress" across the board.