Monday, January 23, 2017

Education is Hard, Continued

Via the Post, the Obama administration is issuing a depressing report on its own school reform efforts:
One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not. The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door. . . .

The School Improvement Grants program has been around since the administration of President George W. Bush, but it received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015 — far exceeding the $4 billion it spent on Race to the Top grants.

The money went to states to distribute to their poorest-performing schools — those with exceedingly low graduation rates, or poor math and reading test scores, or both. Individual schools could receive up to $2 million per year for three years, on the condition that they adopt one of the Obama administration’s four preferred measures: replacing the principal and at least half the teachers, converting into a charter school, closing altogether, or undergoing a “transformation,” including hiring a new principal and adopting new instructional strategies, new teacher evaluations and a longer school day.
This program was an experiment; the idea was to give bad schools a million dollars or so to reinvent themselves. While a few schools were very successful, they were balanced out by many more that achieved no measurable improvement.


pootrsox said...

Not surprising-- even assuming all the money sent actually went into the particular school being targeted, the money did nothing to correct or improve the baseline reason for those schools being failures: the poverty in the surrounding community whose children were the students in those schools.

G. Verloren said...


I agree with your assessment.

You can attend the best school in the world, but if you're a latchkey kid in a broken home living paycheck to paycheck, odds are good that you've got far more pressing demands on your time and sanity than studying or doing homework.

Even if you're a particularly dedicated child and try to learn despite all the obstacles of your home life, there's only so much a child can do on their own to learn.

Simple things like going to the library can become impossible if you lack the proper resources. If you live too far away and have no access to transportation, then you're not going to the library any time soon. Even if it's close enough to walk to, you might be stuck babysitting younger siblings, or preparing dinner for the family, or doing all the household chores. Or your family might be so hard pressed for money that you're stuck working a part time job to help make ends meet, and there simply isn't any free time available to spend on going to the library.

So that leaves such a student trying to find help at school. But most schools don't schedule any kind of free or unstructured time. You can't stop after classes to ask your teacher questions about something you don't understand, because you're given just barely enough time to get to your next class, and the teachers themselves don't have any time either, having to launch straight into instructing their next class.

Maybe if you're lucky you can get a teacher to let you see them during a lunch hour or something - except many lunch systems send the kids to eat in small batches, such that the teachers are still giving classes while each different group of students goes off to their respective lunch time slot, so that doesn't work. And even if your particular teacher has some other free period at some point during the day, odds are good your own schedule will have you busy at that time. And don't even think about requesting to be excused from other classes, because these days teachers frequently aren't even allowed to make such allowances.

Basically from the minute you arrive at school, you're on a tight and rigid schedule, and deviation from the norm is not just frowned upon, but actively discouraged or even punished. "Because after all," the spineless amdministration will argue, "if we make an exception and allow one child to be excused from class, suddenly we have to excuse everyone, or we'll be accused of favoritism!"

And they're not wrong - there will always be petty and idiotic parents out there ready at the drop of a hat to raise hell about how someone else's child is being treated differently than their own, no matter the justification. But the job of a school administration is to be the voice of reason, and to make rational judgement calls to help each student receive the help they personally need. If a parent whines that it's unfair that their child isn't being given a free lunch like some of the other kids are, it is supposed to be the administration's job to point out that those other kids live in poverty and can't afford lunch otherwise, while their own child enjoys a secure middle class lifestyle and has been fortunate enough to never know hunger because they could afford enough food to eat every day.

But alas, too many school administrations are run by cowards who value appeasing the unpleasantly self entitled more than they value standing up for their most vulnerable and needy charges. Because it turns out when you piss off middle class parents, they can afford to sue the school and frequently will. Far safer to simply underserve the poor instead, because not only will most poor parents not care enough to complain (busy as they are with making ends meet), they also couldn't afford a laywer even if they wanted to sue.