Responding to Tough, round 2

jccohen's picture

Comments

jcb2013's picture

Charter schools and standardized testing

There are a lot of comments already posted discussing Canada's obsession with stardardized test scores.  While I agree that his methods and curriculum were over-the-top in response to stardardized tests, I do not think that it is without reason.  Many other people commented in response to our class discussion about whether charter schools are "the answer," or whether they are a good alternative to public schools? I believe that these two topics are related.

Policy-wise, in order for charter schools to remain open they must perform well enough by the district, state, and charter school board's standards.  These standards are created and evaluated using standardized tests. Stated simply, standardized test scores are very important for charter schools because of their influence on whether the school remain open or not.  And this is justified, charter schools should have to provide positive results in order to stay open (whether or not standardizing testing is the way to do this is another argument that I won't comment on in this post).  The requirement to demonstrate "success" is reflected in an argument made in class that the years that it took for HCZ to develop into a "successful" school were years that were being wasted (Canada also references this).  In class it was stated (paraphrasing), that it wasn't fair to the children that their school was not meeting the established standards for the first few years.  While I strongly believe that the years that it takes for schools to become "successful" are not as benefitial as they could be, I believe that progress is the key.  Students who enter a school already behind are very unlikely to catch up just in one school year, therefore, their standardized testing scores will reflect this.  So is it possible that these years aren't being wasted, but that these are progress years working towards success?  In this argument we must reflect on whether standardized tests really demonstrate "success" or not.

Remember that we are considering "successful schools" successful primarily because of their standardized test scores.  Therefore, Canada's focus on standardized testing is clearly very overwhelming, but possibly neccessary in order to decrease the number of "wasted years" or progress making years (or whatever you believe that these initial years are).  

I feel that my this post is a bit unorganized and confused, and I apologize for that. But I, myself, am still trying to organize my thought/opinions on these topics. In summary, I am reflecting on how for some topics we discuss the problems with using standardized testing scores as a standard to measure success, while in other arguments we say that new charter schools who are not meeting these standards (as in demonstrating high standardized test scores) in the first few years are "bad" and "wasting" the students time.  Just something to reflect on. Hopefully my ramblings made some sense!

ellenv's picture

I think that your post speaks

I think that your post speaks to the frustration that I have with the interaction between education reform and standardized tests. There are certain realities of the current education system as it stands that makes it difficult to ignore standardized testing and overhaul/change/revolutionize public education. I guess the question that im left with (which I was struggling to articulate in my inital post about HCZ and testing) is a chicken-or-egg question. Esentially, I am interested in whether it is possible to reform the system by going against norms and establishing a new reality (reform before conform) or whether you have to play into the system as it stands and then work to change it from the inside (conform before reform). I don't think the HCZ falls perfectly into either of those categories, it is an interesting hybrid between the two, which makes its trajectory even harder to completely understand.

Sarah's picture

Reflections from last class

In my post this week, I want to reflect on a lot of issues that came up last week.  I felt like I was Geoffrey Canada’s biggest critic, but I do really support a lot of what he does.  In my last post I wrote about when I saw him speak at Haverford, I agreed with everything he said.  It wasn’t until class the next day, when other people criticized some of what he said, and then I too began to think about what might be problematic.  Here are some thoughts I had after leaving last week’s class, that basically discuss my concerns about how we think about/discuss communities of poor people especially in relation to education.

-I was surprised at how few people were critical of Canada.  Generally, in BiCo classes, I’ve come to expect that we will be critical of just about any piece of writing.  There was a comment in class about the expectation that poor people are expected to be grateful for whatever they are given. This really resonated with me.  I know the comparison is a little faulty, but bear with me: if Canada had done the same thing in our neighborhoods growing up, would we have wanted a say? Would your parents have wanted to give more input in the school you were going too, especially if your previous schools had be so awful? This really makes me question who we believe DESERVES to have input when it comes to education.  Put bluntly like that, I think we would all agree that parent voice is generally desired and welcomed and I’m wondering if, unconsciously, we feel like certain peoples’ voices are less valuable than others.

-Going off of that, comments about free will really stuck with me.  I think people talked about how no one forced parents to send their kids to HCZ, but again, to echo one of my classmate’s words, is a choice between bad and worse really a choice? I think in general when we discuss free will we have to recognize all the barriers that disempower poor communities and take away free choice.  The phrase learned helplessness comes to mind, though I don’t think it gets to the heart of what I’m trying to say. In addition, as we’ve studied in previous classes, people of different socioeconomic classes approach schools/intuitions of power differently.  Many parents don’t “interfere” with schools because they feel that is not their “realm”.  I think when we bring up free choice, we have to realize was makes free choice somewhat of an illusion for some populations.

-I was also concerned with how a conversation about spanking and pinching became a conversation about beating.  I’m almost certain we would all agree beating is wrong (though maybe some would say spanking is a form of beating, which is where things get tricky).  But I think it’s unfair to clump all forms of physical discipline together.  I was also surprised at the reference to numbers and statistics when several of the studies shown in the book were proven to be bad.  Yes, studies that provide numbers and statistics can often be helpful, but we have to be wary of various aspects of the study, like intent, methodology, who is doing the study, etc.

-After class, I felt concerned that people thought about the “culture of poverty” as generally bad, with nothing to offer.  One thing I appreciate about Canada is that he doesn’t believe that poor culture is all bad.  I think when people talk about “culture” they are generally talking about the subordinate culture, but we forget that middle class culture is also socially created and not innate or inherently right.  In my opinion, there are plenty of things middle class culture could take from poor/working class culture.  For example, in many poor, and particularly families of color, I notice that family comes first.  In my high school it was often said that for Hispanic kids school wasn’t the priority and that family came first, and this was said as though it was a bad thing.  I think family SHOULD come first.  Family is a living thing, school is not.  You can’t “take a break” from family, but you can take a break from school.  Also, I think middle class kids are too overloaded with activities and their parents are overly involved.  Poor children are often better at entertaining themselves and learn to solve conflicts without adult interference (I’m thinking “Unequal Childhoods” here). 

 

Those were just a few thoughts I had.  I am not trying to call anyone out or make anyone feel any strong negative emotions; I truly respect this class and think that we are all really working hard to get at these tough issues.  I am critical because of my appreciation for other people’s thoughts and ideas.

ccalderon's picture

two things "Culture of Poverty" and Testing

 I understand how when talking about spanking and pinching could easily turn into a conversation of beating but I do not think they are the same in certain cultures. In this sense one culture may not agree with another culture but that does not necessarily mean that it is not the right way. I too was disappointed with the reference to numbers and statics with the studies. We have to think about were these studies are coming from and Who are completed these. As for the "culture of poverty" I do not think that we should necessarily name it that. Culture of poverty refers to the term coined by Oscar Lewis in his book 1961 book "The Children of Sanchez". The way he used it was commonality he found between the people he studied. He said that these communities shared: frequent violence, a lack of a sense of history, a neglect of planning for the future and so on. But the culture of poverty concept is constructed from a collection of smaller stereotypes. I understand what you are trying to say but I think what we need to be careful naming it Culture of Poverty.

Going back to the culture from which this society does not cater too, I do think that there are values that should be up held and valued more. And I also completely thought of unequal childhoods when thinking about this section when reading Tough. 

As for testing I would like to just add that I agree I was a little thrown off how much emphasis Canada was putting on testing. It was scary to think but I think maybe the reasoning there was that Canada was trying to raise the school up working with the education system and therefore he had to focus on testing. Do I agree with this, no, but he was working with the education system.

ccalderon's picture

two things "Culture of Poverty" and Testing

 I understand how when talking about spanking and pinching could easily turn into a conversation of beating but I do not think they are the same in certain cultures. In this sense one culture may not agree with another culture but that does not necessarily mean that it is not the right way. I too was disappointed with the reference to numbers and statics with the studies. We have to think about were these studies are coming from and Who are completed these. As for the "culture of poverty" I do not think that we should necessarily name it that. Culture of poverty refers to the term coined by Oscar Lewis in his book 1961 book "The Children of Sanchez". The way he used it was commonality he found between the people he studied. He said that these communities shared: frequent violence, a lack of a sense of history, a neglect of planning for the future and so on. But the culture of poverty concept is constructed from a collection of smaller stereotypes. I understand what you are trying to say but I think what we need to be careful naming it Culture of Poverty.

Going back to the culture from which this society does not cater too, I do think that there are values that should be up held and valued more. And I also completely thought of unequal childhoods when thinking about this section when reading Tough. 

As for testing I would like to just add that I agree I was a little thrown off how much emphasis Canada was putting on testing. It was scary to think but I think maybe the reasoning there was that Canada was trying to raise the school up working with the education system and therefore he had to focus on testing. Do I agree with this, no, but he was working with the education system.

ellenv's picture

One point where I think it is

One point where I think it is particurarly important to be critical is in the Zone's approach to defining success (or at least how they are portrayed as defining it in the text). While I understand that standardized tests are a very very huge reality, I was struck by the extent to which the HCZ stressed these scores as the ultimate indicators of success in their students. Perhaps this has to do with the public image of the zone, and the need for quanifiable/visible success as a result. That being said, to me it seems like a tension exists between this intense focus on standardized tests and the mission of the zone. On page 164, Tough states: "the idea that children in Harlem and the Bronx needed an entirely different schooling than children in the suburbs - that made Canada more than a little uncomfortable" and later "it was hard for [Langore/Druckenmiller] to accept that KIPPs highly successful model was somehow wrong for Promise students if it was working so well a couple miles away in the South Bronx." These two quotes speak to the tension between theory and practice that plays out in the text. On the one hand, Canada is looking to go beyond a band-aid fix and is attempting to overhaul the system as a whole. This is a long-term plan. This implies that he was truly interested in approaching the students holistically, but when the first middle school principle adopts this approach and looks at the school in the long term, it results in poor scores and it ends up getting her fired.  On the other hand, Canada feels outside pressures because of the very public nature of the zone and therefore moves more towards a KIPP approach to satisfy those like Langore and Druckenmiller who are interested in immediate and visisble success. My question is: why do we always feel pressure to look for immediate success (measured through standardized test scores in this case) in education reform when the problems that have been plauging the system are established, persistent problems? If we believe that standardized test scores aren't an accurate measure of learning, then this adds another complicating layer to the conversation. Basically, this means that define the success of a reform by its ability to quickly alter performance on a task we don't believe in, and where does that get us?

dshu's picture

Performance on Standardized Testing

The placement school I am currently at is preparing for the upcoming benchmark week. I have never heard the classification of standardized testing as benchmark week. After reading an article from The Notebook, (http://thenotebook.org/blog/102297/benchmark-time-again), it put me back in the testing environment. I can feel that the teachers and the principal at my school placement are nervously getting ready. In an “honors” math class, the teacher reminds her students, "If you do not know how to do a problem, study it, this will appear on the benchmark." My first reaction is, how does the teacher know exactly what is on the test? Aren't these testing measuring what the students should have learned and known over the years? An important theme I have noticed at my placement school is the emphasis of improving student learning, not necessarily a heavy focus on raising test scores. But is this a contradiction? Hoping to achieve and excel academically lead teachers pushing students to higher scores.


As many of us know, if not all of us, have gone through numerous standardized testing. For me, I do think standardized test scores aren't an accurate measure of learning. I believe that students find ways to learn and understand their own learning styles play a more important role than teaching students to score higher in standardized test. As Barahal writes, in “Thinking About Thinking”, "…just as an artist working with paint can create limitless hues and shades from just a few different colors, students move naturally among various thinking dispositions, blending or overlapping the various kinds of thinking" (299). Because everyone's learning style is unique, everyone's approach to academics is different so standardized test scores are not necessarily an accurate measure of learning.

hl13's picture

Defining Success

I was also thinking a lot about how Tough's book, and how our education system in general, defines succes. I agree with Ellen and Laura that standardized test are a huge-unavoidable reality in today's education system. I was disappointed to find how pervasively important standardized tests were to the children in the HCZ, and how it regulated seemingly every day of their schooling. A previous post of mine took a more forgiving stance towards the idea of standardized testing, but I am since returning to my previous views. The more I read of the book, the more it seemed like the HCZ was using the student's test scores to fight the system--"explode the status quo" as Canada put it--rather than use their learning to fight the system.  This was the case especially for the sixth graders, who at points seemed nothing more than members in an experiment to prove to board members that these students could score just as highly as white kids from Scarsdale. Clearly, I found this very troubling.

However, I wonder how much of this is a reflection of Tough's reporting rather than the daily functionings of the school and the concerns of the students. It seems Tough is most concered with the test scores, and the HCZ students definitely devote way too much time prepping for a test that I would be comfortable with as a teacher (or a student). However, Tough spends much less time writing about the teachers of the school, so I wonder how our view of HCZ is altered by his narration.

In the end, I agreed with much of Canada's and the HCZ mission. But, as I've learned from the class discussion and continued reflection on the book, our definitions of success can be equally important if they purport means that might trouble us as educators. I am not yet ready to say that the HCZ should not be open or that it does not offer a wonderful opportunity for students. However, I do not think that a charter school (or any school) can justify prepping its students to pass tests in order to stay open at the expense of providing the quality education stated in its mission. 

A little while ago, I read a response by Howard Gardner to an article written in the NY Times about how middle-class parents are prepping their toddlers for kindergarten entrance exams, that I think is pertinent to our discussion. He wrote, "What we test for signals what we ultimately desire. The use of tests for which 4-year-olds can be prepped signals that we want to find those youngsters who can do well on future tests. In that way, the process works perfectly — whether in China or in New York City."

rbp13's picture

Standardized Testing

Like ellenv, I agree that it is fair to be critical of Canada's emphasis on standardized test results. While I admire the fact that he expects to significantly improve his students' academic skills, and understand that standardized tests are an efficient way to uniformly evaluate students' performance, I find his obsession with results somewhat disturbing. Specifically, I took issue with the "drop-everything-and-cram campaign" as Terri Grey referred to it (150). This "boot camp" atmosphere with a focus on "training" students to perform was disturbing and contradicts what I see as being the purpose of school (146). Although some students, like Chastity WIlliams who was in Mr. U's early morning test-prep class, were motivated by the competition that inevitably comes with scores, I worry that other students are disillusioned by this emphasis on empirical results. While it may sound idealistic, I believe that an effective educational environment is one in which the teachers, students, and administrators form a community and engage in reciprocal learning. At the Promise Academy, the power dynamic between the teachers and the students makes me uncomfortable. Furthermore, as Grey points out "Test prep has started eating into classes like music and gym...this obsessive focus on tests was burning the kids out" (148). This is problematic for obvious reasons. 

Although I disagree with this emphasis on test results, I do appreciate the focus on students' success. Tough writes, "the school's teachers and administrators were focused on the students like no one had ever focused on them before, not only drilling them and testing them and disciplining them for every misstep they made, but also hugging them and congratulating them and encouraging" (143). Especially when the emphasis on "training" students is so great, this type of positive reinforcement is crucial. While Tough acknowledges that positive reinforcement was also a component of the Promise Academy, I wish that had been as evident as the pressure that was put on them to achieve.

rbp13's picture

Standardized Testing

Like ellenv, I agree that it is fair to be critical of Canada's emphasis on standardized test results. While I admire the fact that he expects to significantly improve his students' academic skills, and understand that standardized tests are an efficient way to uniformly evaluate students' performance, I find his obsession with results somewhat disturbing. Specifically, I took issue with the "drop-everything-and-cram campaign" as Terri Grey referred to it (150). This "boot camp" atmosphere with a focus on "training" students to perform was disturbing and contradicts what I see as being the purpose of school (146). Although some students, like Chastity WIlliams who was in Mr. U's early morning test-prep class, were motivated by the competition that inevitably comes with scores, I worry that other students are disillusioned by this emphasis on empirical results. While it may sound idealistic, I believe that an effective educational environment is one in which the teachers, students, and administrators form a community and engage in reciprocal learning. At the Promise Academy, the power dynamic between the teachers and the students makes me uncomfortable. Furthermore, as Grey points out "Test prep has started eating into classes like music and gym...this obsessive focus on tests was burning the kids out" (148). This is problematic for obvious reasons. 

Although I disagree with this emphasis on test results, I do appreciate the focus on students' success. Tough writes, "the school's teachers and administrators were focused on the students like no one had ever focused on them before, not only drilling them and testing them and disciplining them for every misstep they made, but also hugging them and congratulating them and encouraging" (143). Especially when the emphasis on "training" students is so great, this type of positive reinforcement is crucial. While Tough acknowledges that positive reinforcement was also a component of the Promise Academy, I wish that had been as evident as the pressure that was put on them to achieve.

Laura H's picture

Ellen- I think the question

Ellen- I think the question you pose "why do we always feel pressure to look for immediate success (measured through standardized test scores in this case) in education reform when the problems that have been plauging the system are established, persistent problems?" gets at the heart of a lot of what we have been talking about these past few classes. If deep systematic change will take time, are we left with having to work within the confines of the current system until something truly changes? Lately I have been thinking that we need to simply be more realistic and practical, but you are right to be critical of this approach and ask the question of where does that get us? If focusing on "working within the system" (i.e. emphasizing test scores) is one strategy, we should not only be thinking about how it is helping students succeed, but how it is also working toward that long term goal that Canada refers to (fixing a broken system and changing how we view education). Again, I am cautious of swaying too far toward the side of idealism, but I think it's hard to strike a balance. I had an interesting experience today at my field placement where I went from my history class, which is very progressive and emphasizes creativity and critical thinking, to an SAT prep course. The experience was truly jarring. I felt completely uninspired and saddened because I knew how bright and talented these students were, yet they had to sit for an hour during lunch and be told exactly how to take this test. Again, it's not ideal, but maybe until we reach the point where our country as a whole values a different type of education, we need to find a balance and compromise. 

sully04's picture

A light at the end of the tunnel

I cannot stop thinking about our fishbowl activity last week- where we debated whether or not charter schools are the answer to our failing schools’ prayers. And I, myself, am stuck. On the one hand, I believe the money and funding going into charter cchools could be well spent trying to reinvigorate and re-imagine our public schools, without leaving most students behind. Images from The Golden Ticket or Waiting for Superman- documentaries that show the thousands of students (and their heartbroken parents) every year who don’t get into these charter schools and continue to fall behind in their public schools- are fresh in my mind and are extremely jarring. On the other hand, I appreciate the argument that we have to start somewhere. Why keep some students from getting a great education when they have that opportunity, just because not everyone does? Canada seems to address the population of students who don’t get into charter schools in the final chapter Whatever it Takes.  Strategy #2- providing programs and structured activities for students to take advantage of outside of school to help them succeed in the long run, is again, at least starting somewhere. I am comforted by the fact that Canada doesn’t completely write off the students who don’t get into those lotteries; that he thinks of them as a big part of his plan and that if he ultimately had his way, there wouldn’t be students who don’t make the cut. Still, it is hard to watch such a tangible moment of a life of success or failure played out in a lottery number.

This debate and our class discussions are somewhat put to rest for me in the finals words of the book:

 

If the stars align,” Canada told me that fall, “there could be a real conversation developing in America bout a new strategy on poverty. If it happens, I think it would give Americans a belief again that not only can you do something, but we should do something- that there’s a self- interest involved in helping these kids. In the end, it’s going to make America a stronger country.” (266).

 

In having our classroom fishbowl conversations and in writing out blog posts, I would like to believe that we are doing exactly what Canada was hoping for. We are brainstorming towards a future in which we don’t this debate anymore and simply “run out of explanations” and excuses that get in the way of change. In 4 years of education classes where we’ve talked about charter schools, change, unions, school closings, test scores, math and science teachers, public policy, school reform movements, teacher burn-out, TFA, the conveyor-belt strategy, factory-models, college acceptance rates, parenting, etc. – and never coming to concrete answers on how to fix it, I feel alittle more at peace reading this book as I know that we are doing the first steps towards change: talking about it. 

Sharaai's picture

In reading hdavis' , i really

In reading hdavis' , i really appreciate the positive put on a conversation that I left full of doubts. with that conversationt hat we did have in class, I didn't realize how much we were pitting charters vs public schools, the lottery system and Canada's ideas all at the same time. ( Thinkning back, I think this was due to the turn of the conversation and just how much there was to comment on and the little amount of time we did have).

I wonder what Canada would say to the conversations we have been having in class about his ideas and about his ideologies in general? I am really curious.

ccalderon's picture

Charter schools/Bandaid

At first I thought charter school where great and I still think they are great but they are not the solution. My thought on this topic is that although charter schools help communities they aren't the solution. Why are we looking at charter schools when we should be looking at public schools? Why can't we allow the public schools to have as much freedom as charter schools do? If we see the success with charter schools why not convert them into public schools instead of converting public schools into charter schools. This may sound like I am against charter, which I am not I really appreciate them ( I went to a charter high school and middle school). But I do not think they are solution but rather a band-aid to a deeper problem. Also I do think that we are taking the first steps. 

lyoo's picture

Funding for charter schools

I may not agree a hundred percent with all of Geoffrey Canada's methods and strategies for his Harlem Children Zone's project, but I strongly believe that charter schools are the step in the right direction.  I understand the fear that some people have that these new charter schools will disservice neighborhood public schools by taking away part of their funding, but I want to challenge this notion.  WFMY news, a local news agency in North Carolina, reports "This year, Guilford County schools had to take $4.1 million away from it's schools and give it to charter schools. That's because the funding for each student travels with them as they transfer to a charter school." So yes, money is taken away from public schools to fund charter schools, BUT one needs to keep in mind that kids are transferring out of these public schools and therefore the public schools are left with less students to support.  I think this could actually be a positive thing for public schools. This means smaller classroom sizes which leads to a greater teacher-to-student ratio and more attention on each individual student.   

I also love the idea that charter schools are not beholden to the many rules and regulation of the state. So in this way, diverse charter schools are allowed to test which educational practices and theories actually work. I think this is so progressive and much needed after decades of little freedom, and a top-down/chain of order approach to education. Tough writes:

But as charter school proponents studied the successes and learned from the mistakes of their predecessors, patterns, even a consensus, began to emerge. There were certain practices that seemed to deliver consistently positive results, and those became increasingly popular-- especially within the growing contingent of charter schools that were dedicated specifically to educating poor and minority students (159).

I think diversity leads to advancement. Allowing for freedom in the education sphere allows for diversity, and in studying the practices that lead to the best results we can be constantly coming up with tried and tested methods of improving education.  I don't think that there is any one solution to education because I believe that education is not a one-size-fits-all type of entity.  There should be different options for kids and they and their parents should be able to decide what works and doesn't work for them. 

Another notion that came up in the book that I want to challenge is that kids who go to charter schools are a self-selecting group and so charter schools do little to help those kids who are really in trouble. I think each charter school is different and their missions vary. Yes, schools like KIPP may attract kids whose parents are more engaged and the students more motivated than the average student living in Harlem. But Geoffrey Canada's mission, for example, is to help the truly troubled kids who live in Harlem.  As long as diversity in missions exists and people like Canada who are motivated to actually start projects like the HCZ exist, then there is no reason that the charter school movement can't help the kids who often get left behind. 

I recognize the fact that not all charter schools will be a success story, and a lot of them do fail. But that is the beauty of charter schools--the failing ones are allowed to fail. This is not the case in the public school sector where failing and often violent public schools are legislated to stay open and actually helped by the government to keep going at the expense of the students stuck in an oppressive and violent system.  

Riley's picture

Responses

While I agree with you on several points, I think it's worth unpacking some of these statements:

 "...BUT one needs to keep in mind that kids are transferring out of these public schools and therefore the public schools are left with less students to support.  I think this could actually be a positive thing for public schools. This means smaller classroom sizes which leads to a greater teacher-to-student ratio and more attention on each individual student." (your quote)

One fallback to this logic is that when these students move on to charters, these students are taking the money from the already strapped public school system away with them. While more "attention" can be given to each individual student, the fact remains that incredibly valuable resources are leaving with the students choosing charters. Also, thinking about the students who go to charters: they are often the best and the brightest. In terms of your statement that "diversity leads to advancement," what about diversity in terms of student population's interests and learning styles? A public school under the pressure to make AYP whose most talented and gifted students left is just going to be left even more in the dust. What does this mean for the already struggling students? While the charter students might be doing just fine, it's at the same an aggravation of these problems for the students left behind at the struggling public school. It's a vaccuum of problems with no clear solution....

Julie Mazz's picture

I agree with a lot of the

I agree with a lot of the points you're making here, and before this year I was pretty pro-charter schools. Now that I've read and written so much about the school closings plan here in Philadelphia, I see it very differently. 

While the idea that less students in a school means more individualized attention, that definitely is not usually the case. With less students to teach, that means that more teachers will be laid off because they're not needed. Rather than smaller classes, classes stay at the same size, but there are more unused classrooms.

To your point about charter schools having less restrictions about what they teach, I agree that it can be a very positive thing. I remember in high school my teachers would always complain about the course restrictions from the school district over what they could teach. My hesitation is that many of these schools lack any kind of oversight. This was brought up in class last week, the surprise over how Canada barely had anyone checking what he was doing. I think oversight is hugely important in everything we do. It's how our government works, with each branch working together (sometimes...) to create a system that takes various viewpoints in to account. I think Canada lacked that at Promise Academy at times. His ideas about how to prepare students for the state tests differed from the first principal, Grey, but they never talked about it. They just avoided conflict by not talking about it, and nothing happened. I wonder what the test scores would have been if Canada and Grey collaborated more.

It's interesting, because No Child Left Behind was intended to create more oversight in education, particularly for teachers. Last semester, I took a politics and education class, and one student, a McBride scholar, said that at first she applauded NCLB for ensuring that her kids had great, or "highly qualified" teachers. She was glad that there would be tighter restrictions that would put her at ease. To me, the rapid growth of charter schools largely stems from the ability to bypass those strict oversights from the federal government. I'm not saying I think we need all of the restrictions that came from NCLB, but I wish there was a happy medium between intense oversight and complete freedom. 

Uninhibited's picture

Funding as a Source of Hope?

I also think that the end of the gives us hope that quality education for everyone is just better for the country, and that we'll seriously start thinking about how to make it happen. I like the idea of the Conveyor Belt particularly after doing my cross-visitation last week, where I saw 4th grade students learning algebra. They were so engaged and confident while solving complex math problems and I think that strategies, which not only close the gap but go beyond academic expectations are key to get students to college.

I think that there's a way in which Canada is saying that the gaps needs to be stopped early and often, and that's what makes his program different. I do think that are some fundamental issues about how it runs, however, I just really think that the idea of systematically solving this issue is important. I saw this the most when he spoke about "superhero complex" in which you want to "save" children that are 2 or three grades behind, but isn't it more heroic to never let them fall behind? Isn't it more strategic? More effective?

I do think that there's a point that get's neglected, however, and that is the inequality of funding for public schools. Canada's model is expensive and difficult to replicate but what if all schools had equal funding? If going to Lower Merion or Philadelphia didn't change your chances of going to college? Money can have such an impact on classroom size, teacher preparation, availability of up-to-date books, research, classroom materials, art classes... the list could go on and on. What if we replicated Canada's model by restructuring the way we fund our public schools?

transitfan's picture

if all schools had equal funding...

Yes, the inequality in education financing is astounding. But equal funding would not be enough. My middle-class hometown in Massachusetts spends slightly less per pupil than the City of Boston. However, its test scores are so much higher that students from Boston are bused in through the Metco program- to a town with *less* education spending. To some extent, Boston is spending less on education if they are spending more on security, free lunches, etc. But I suspect the main difference is that in my town, parents provide additional resources that allow their children to thrive academically. So historically marginalized neighborhoods would need more money to close that gap, IF our goal is to get all students scoring the same on standardized tests.

This made me wonder what the spending per pupil at Harlem Children's Zone actually is. I did a bit of research suggesting a little over $19,000 per pupil, which would be more than most public schools but not much more. (For comparison; I just looked up tuition at my placement and it varies by grade from $19,500 to $32,625) although their expenditures per student could be higher. Given what HCZ is able offer, and given the influence of Wall Street millionaires on their board, I was actually expecting HCZ to be spending more than that. Still, I suppose they are saving money by using non-union labor.

Another question to making equal funding a reality would of course be where that funding should come from. It seems unlikely that it could come from government in the near future, although I would argue we should advocate for it. I'm not a fan of selling our schools to millionaires like the HCZ Board of Trustees.

And then another question would be if we were able to give ALL children equally good college-preparation, how would colleges finance the influx of low-income students submitting increasingly strong applications? I hypothesize that no colleges would remain need-blind in such a circumstance; so that even as poor and working class students' test-scores increased, their acceptance rates into college would not.

All of which goes to say: I definitely agree that increasing financing of education in poor neighborhoods is essential in our present society; but I do not believe that equal-funding of education could be a solution to unequal opportunities in society.

mencabo's picture

Changing the Blame Game

The title for this post is taken from At the Heart of Teaching, the book that we read a few weeks ago. I thought of it because in the “Graduation” chapter, Canada tended to say that it was his/the school’s fault that the middle school was shrinking/temporarily closing. He explained to the parents that it wasn’t the kids’ fault. While I understand his decision to say those words, “‘from a political standpoint that was the right thing to say,’” I also agree with Pinder when he said, “‘Yes, we failed them, but they failed themselves as well. It can’t just be us’” (249). The parents also play a part in this so it isn’t fair to push all the blame on the school and the staff. This cycle of blaming should probably be one of the first things that should stop if any school and any child are to make progress.

I’ve heard many teachers over the years tell students to stop bringing a bad attitude to class. I understand now that it is not just the students who should stop having a bad attitude toward schools and education. I am aware that Canada is dealing with students with many personal and behavioral issues so it might be harder to connect with them, but if he truly wants to push students toward college and beyond, then he has to stop shielding the “bad apples” and ask them to live up to the school’s expectations. (I’m not saying they are not trying though.) Just as Canada and the teachers acknowledge their failures, students and parents should also identify and acknowledge their faults. I think this is the least that they can do to show the burned-out teachers that they appreciate and support teachers’ efforts.

On another note, I liked McKesey’s strategy in raising students’ scores. His approach indicates that he recognizes the importance of giving students confidence and most importantly, time. I think most of us agree that spacing out our schoolwork over a span of a few days/weeks is much more effective than cramming them in the last minute. The same idea can be applied to McKesey’s approach. Others might argue that teachers are just teaching to the test, but my take is that those exams, while they are time-consuming and bland, still have value to them. Test-taking strategies and the ability to discern relevant information are going to be useful especially if the purpose of the school is to get students beyond the college admission process.

McKesey also mentions that “‘it’s [his] responsibility to explain why it’s so important [for parents to read to their kids]. If they don’t understand what it takes for their child to be successful, it’s [his] responsibility to tell them. It’s [his] responsibility to educate them on that’” (229). It will be another part of a teacher’s job description, but given the fact that some parents will easily blame the school if it fails, then it is necessary for the faculty to make them see their position in the school system and in the learning community.

AmbrosiaJ's picture

Slipping Through the Cracks vs. Coming Up on Top

"Skill begets skill; learning begets learning. Early disadvantage, if left untreated, leads to academic and social difficulties in later years. Avantages accumulate; so do disadvantages." Geoffrey Canada gave his plan a lot of thought, in terms of what he was trying to do- I honestly believe that. However, it baffles me that he didn't believe that the 6th grade would be too late to get a grasp on "at risk" children and change their lives for the better. I know that Canada wanted to close the achievement/education gap with all of his heart, but I think he bit off a little more than he could chew. His idea of The Conveyor Belt was great: you get children while they are in the womb, stay with them throughout their toddler years, keep them in your schools and out of the streets, into college, and on to success. The statistics and all the numbers show that this plan was great, but Canada  came to this realization too late. He had already made promises to these middle school students that he couldn't keep- not because he wasn't supplying them with the right resources, but because they were already SO far behind that it almost seemed impossible. It's sad because his heart was in the right place, "he still believed it was possible to get every single one of Promise Academy's middle school students to college; he refused to believe that it was too late for them." I was also moved by the disappointment of so many of the students when they found out there would be no continuation for them at Promise Academy. It was an extremely unfortunate situation because Canada and his staff all had a genuine mission to help change the lives of their students, and the children knew that. They knew what was out there and it wasn't appealing. It saddens me that there are so many children who slip through the cracks and don't succeed because they didn't get a real chance to an adequate education. But I do believe that charter schools such as Uncommon Schools: North Star Academy, KIPP, and Leadership Prep are on the rise. Prayerfully more schools will see their success and begin to emulate their structures so that less and less students fall through the cracks, and more end up on top. 

mschoyer's picture

Crisis is good

I felt disheartened reading the part about the middle school failing. It was sad knowing how badly Canada wanted the middle school to work out and to see it fail was disappointing. In last class, someone brought up that it was a shame that some students are simply experimented on. They are put into new schools with completely novel ideas that sometimes succeed, but more oftne do not. It's upsetting that there is no way to test these methods without using real students. In an ideal world, a new charter school, no matter how progressive, would only begin if it was guaranteed to succeed. That is not the case. Although schools are going to fail, and I'm in no way neglecting how awful it is for the students when these schools fail, we need to continue to be progressive and try new things in order to get it right. Canada said, "In the primary school, there is no sense of crisis... well that's not the way it feels in middle school... would I change my mind now, knowing how hard it's been to get my school where I want it? No I wouldn't, Crisis is good... I think it's well worth it to be in the heart of this battle and to struggle with it." This quote really resonated with me. Had Canada just started with Primary School, it most likely still would have been hard. Would it have been as hard as middle school? Probably not. Many charter schools (I know KIPP does this) begin their schools with Pre-k and then build up, adding a grade a year. It's easier to start young and build a foundation. With this said, the first time someone attempted to start a primary school, it was not an exact science. There was no model to follow, and most likely, it didn't go well. However, they were doing it for the good of the students. I feel that by taking a risk and starting the middle school, Geoffrey Canada's failure will serve as an example. Perhaps in the future, starting a successful charter middle school will be a reality (in some places, it probably already is). From failure comes success. As I stated before, it's completely awful that students are negatively affected by this failure. It is my hope, however, that if we continue to learn from past failures, more and more students and schools will become success stories.

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