Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blog Post In Need of Improvement

Despite my hesitance, my first edition of Blog Posts In Need of Improvement was a rousing success -- it remains my most-viewed post. I've been keeping an eye out for others that need improvement since then. I have a few marked that I've been thinking about, but I'm not quite ready to roll them out. In the meantime, I noticed this one on Friday and it's so glaringly problematic that I feel I need to address it ASAP. So I'll interrupt my regularly scheduled program to bring you this special edition of Blog Post (singular) In Need of Improvement.

Same rules apply as last time:

BPINI 3: Success: Over the meadow and through the woods, Flypaper (Fordham Institute)

Liam Julian posits on why moving poor kids to wealthier schools doesn't help -- using an offensive and ill-fitting analogy. He cites a recent article in The Atlantic (not online yet) that chronicles the move of many former project residents in Memphis to outlying areas. Apparently the result (or at least one corresponding occurrence) was that crime spread throughout the city. Julian argues that this happened because "Dangerous neighborhoods are dangerous for a variety of reasons, but at the core it’s because they’re inhabited by... criminals, who, when transplanted to better neighborhoods, are simply able to steal better merchandise."

First of all, I find the insinuation that most people who live in the projects are criminals both false and offensive. Let's not forget that these are people that we're talking about. Secondly, the analogy that follows -- that dispersing kids to richer schools also doesn't work -- fails in a number of areas.

1. He argues that the reason dispersing poor people to wealthier neighborhoods doesn't work because they're criminals and they simply drag down the other neighborhoods. Does this mean that dispersing poor schoolchildren to wealthier schools won't work b/c they're bad people and will just drag down the students in their new school? That's the logical direction of the analogy, but it's not where Julian goes.

2. After a number of clicks, I ascertained that he was basing his assertion that spreading kids out to different schools doesn't work on this article. When I read the article, however, I found out that it was further refinement of the findings in this article that found that a group of public housing residents who applied for vouchers to move and received them did not, for the most apart, out-achieve those who applied and didn't receive them. Both articles offer a number of convincing reasons for the result. Among other things, only about half of the people actually moved, only 1/5 of that group moved to areas where the poverty rate was below the state median, and the new schools that children attended were only marginally better than their old ones. The point being that both articles raise serious caution about simply claiming that moving to a different neighborhood doesn't help. I'm not too familiar with the research base on integrating schools, but I asked around a bit and am under the distinct impression that moving low-SES students into higher-SES schools has been found to have positive effects.

3. He eventually concludes that "Bad schools are bad not because of who sits next to whom, but mostly because of the... bad teachers and bad administrators who work in them." While there's merit to this sentiment, this does not support his argument. If schools are bad simply because of the teachers and administrators that work there, and are not influenced by anything else, then moving a kid from a low-performing school to a high-performing school should work wonders. Indeed, that's the premise of the school choice movement.

After reading the post it's hard to conclude anything but that not enough thought was put into it. I don't find the misleading summarizing of previous research and offensive assumptions to be particularly helpful in our quest to improve America's schools.

Better Post, Same Blog: The Remorseful Joel Klein
Why: Mike Petrilli reports back on an interesting presentation and discussion with Joel Klein. His summary is both interesting and insightful, and he offers a pretty balanced view of Klein's tenure in NYC.

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