Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Links on Paternalism

More follow-up on my review of David Whitman's new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism:

George Will weighs in on the book today (hat tip: Mike Petrilli). I normally find Will's columns engaging and intelligent, but I must be missing something today. I'll read it again later, but it seems like a random mishmash of thoughts and opinions. Two things stand out to me most about the column:

1.) He begins by chronicling a student who has been told that he's not good enough to attend AIPCS and is working hard so that he will be admitted. This is either semantics or illegal. Unless I'm mistaken, AIPCS (like virtually all charter schools) admits students by lottery. A student cannot be refused admittance because they're not "up to the rigors" of the program. I'm guessing that the student was admitted via lottery but Ben Chavis, the principal, simply told him that he had to earn his way in. Either way, how many traditional public schools wish they could tell their students that?

2.) He decides to blame the failure of our educational system on Democrats, liberals, Education Schools, and teachers unions in the last paragraph without really providing any evidence. Granted, it's a short column -- but he could've devoted another paragraph to why he was assigning blame to these groups. He might be right, but it comes across as sloppy, ideological finger-pointing to me. And I don't buy his assertion that these schools prove that "we know how to close the achievement gap" and the only reason we can't is because these groups are standing in our way.

Also, I neglected to point out earlier that Whitman wrote a quasi-summary of his book for the next issue of Education Next (posted here). Quite handy for anybody who doesn't have the time right now to read the book in whole.


Attorney DC said...

I read the book excerpt of Whitman you provided (from Education Next). I generally agree with the concept of the "paternalistic" schools, in the sense that I agree with the emphasis on behavior standards, respect for teachers, and other "middle class values" (as Whitman puts it).

However, I take issue with the idea that these small schools do not "cream" from the overall population, and that their successes can be replicated across the country. For instance:

1. Only students who want to attend these schools, and abide by the strict rules, longer hours, dress code, and behavior standards apply to and attend the schools. Although Whitman says the parents aren't "involved" in paternalistic schools, they are all "involved" enough to enroll their children in these schools. Presumably, they are involved enough to encourage their kids to stick it out when the going gets tough, and to not discourage their children from putting in the extra time and work it takes to succeed.

2. Presumably the penalty for students who repeatedly violate the rules of the school is to be asked to leave. E.g., they will be sent back to their public schools. Can the public schools then ask the same kids to leave if they don't give 100% effort? No. Hence a major difference between the general public schools and charter schools.

3. Did anyone notice the extra-long, superhuman hours the teachers are expected to work in these schools? There's no way that the 3 million or so teachers in America would to all agree to work these hours, for the same pay. The younger teachers might do this for two or three years, but nobody's going to do that for the long haul, especially once they start their own families. It's just too much work, for too little pay.

Attorney DC said...

One more comment: Whitman states that these schools to not "cream," because the entering students typically are performing at slightly below grade level. My response: (1) Many of the students I taught in low-income public schools were WAY below grade level. It would have been a treat to teach 8th graders performing at 7th grade levels, rather than at the 4th or 5th grade levels common in my classrooms. (2) Highly motivated students, like those who apply to "paternalistic" charter schools are NOT the same as students who are not highly motivated, even if they are entering the school with relatively similar test scores. It's much easier to teach an 8th grader performing below grade level if that child comes to school motivated to succeed, with dedication and committment to the school. That's what these schools are getting - not run of the mill low-SES students.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

There's certainly a logical argument to be made that charter school students are fundamentally different from traditional public school students, but as far as I'm aware there's no in-depth, rigorous research that really answers that question.

Attorney DC said...

Corey: I don't think you need an in-depth study to see that charter schools (particularly schools like the ones described by Whitman) are able to select and retain students in a very different manner than public schools.

If public schools suddenly mandated all the same school rules, hours, and behavior norms that Whitman's charter schools mandate, what would be their available remedy when a huge segment of the student population failed to live up to these rules?

Answer: There is no remedy, because public school can't "kick out" students who skip class, act disrespectfully, fail to complete homework, or wear rumpled clothing. Without any enforcement mechanism, there is no way for public schools to maintain the same rules of behavior required by these charter schools.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

I meant that in-depth, rigorous research is needed to see how students who enroll in charters compare to those who enroll in traditional public schools.

But I would also argue that in-depth, rigorous research is needed to compare the operation of charter and traditional public schools in regards to student selection and retention. Hypothetically, charters can encourage certain students to apply and ask certain students to leave. But we don't know exactly how prevalent those practices are nor how large of an effect they have. In Whitman's book he cites one school that expels 5% of its students and one school that retains virtually 100%.

Attorney DC said...

In response to your argument about expulsion records, I would argue that it is less the actual expulsion of children that helps the school attain its goals than the THREAT of expulsion.

Even if few students are actually expelled, the general knowledge that any student can (and will) be expelled for failing to live up to the required norms is a big motivator for the other children to stay on track.