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Journal of No. 118

April 16th, 2010

Cardinal Sins @ 10:12 am

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Varoujan pointed out a NYT article on a charter school that was denied an extension of its contract due to low performance. The kicker? The school is run by the Stanford Dept. of Ed.

The article is very interesting, and provides more than just some random anecdata supporting my dim views about both Ed schools AND the feeling of superiority that oozes from Stanford. (obquote: “I would have expected that any school that is overseen by Stanford would have the best scores.”)

To their credit, they didn't choose an easy student population of, say, children of Stanford faculty and Google employees. Instead the population is primarily Latino, with 80% non-native English speakers.

Also to their credit: "Still, Stanford New School has had success in certain areas. The state’s high school completion rate is 80 percent, Stanford New School is 86 percent; and an impressive 96 percent of the charter school’s seniors are accepted to college, even though the most current state numbers show that the average SAT scores per subject hover in the high 300s."

The LA Times' truly marvellous school guide puts Stanford New School's SAT average at 1030. Not too horrible, til you remember that nowadays the SAT has three components instead of two. 1030 coincidentally ties for the lowest average SAT score in LA County's schools. Now there must be an effect due to the higher percentage of the Stanford school's students taking the SAT (since so many are applying to college), but I think there's no question that 1030 is abysmal.

And you'd think the Stanford school would be able to do pretty well with a K-12 school with 500 students. 40-50 kids per grade level? Compared to poor Santee Dairy, er Santee Education Complex, with 3400 kids in 4 grades?

And yet, even if the Stanford New School kids are mainly going to community college and junior college, it does seem that the school has imparted a desire for education in its students, and this is laudable. Unfortunately, the school seems to be a failure at imparting an education.

I'm not saying there's an easy answer to the problem of education. Indeed, if the answer really were 'just listen to the eggheads from Stanford,' then there would be an easy answer, and there isn't.
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Date:April 16th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)

Ignorant commenting

I'll have to actually read the article at some point but, for now, I'll comment based entirely on your commenting. I'm wondering if there's a confounding factor in the student's poor performance on standardized testing, other than the Language issue. If the school is ahead of the average in passing the graduation exam (which, as I understand it, is significant) and has a very high college matriculation rate (does the article break down the 2yr vs 4yr admissions) it's possible they're just not teaching to the test.

There is no easy answer, indeed, partly because there is no one correct answer. Unfortunately, we don't put the resources into education to give every child a tailored education plan, and probably never will.
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Date:April 16th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Ignorant commenting

it's possible they're just not teaching to the test.

Certainly that seems to be part of their message:
The school “puts a lot of attention on a variety of skills and provides opportunities that don’t necessarily promote higher scores,” Dr. Stipek said.

One day this week, for example, Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II spoke to one class, while another class toured Cisco Systems to learn about jobs.

“If you’re just looking at test scores, then you don’t see what we’re learning,” said Jonathan Solis, a sophomore.

Like I said, the number of kids they send to college must affect the low SAT average. So a fairer comparison is API, since all kids take those tests. API is a 1000 point scale with 800 as the target. The LA Times website has Stanford in the bottom 10%, though the actual API score (605) is nowhere near the real bottom of the barrel. There are more than 100 schools in LA county with worse scores, ranging down to 325 (though it looks like most of the schools way down there are alternative or continuation schools [they also have no reported SAT scores, which probably means nobody took it since I see averages reported for schools with 3 SAT takers]).

To make a slightly fairer comparison, I could totally pick at complete random a school like Leuzinger.

Similar ethnic profile, though Stanford has more ESL to deal with. Stanford beats Leuzinger in API, 605 to 576.

Stanford beats Leuzinger in STAR math
Leuzinger beats Stanford in STAR English
(though no one should crow when both schools have proficiency percentages in the teens)

Leuzinger beats Stanford at SAT, 1180 - 1030
But only about 200 out of Leuzingers 750ish seniors took it.
vs 31 of Stanford's 40-50? seniors.

It would be interesting to see where the kids are going to college. I expect a lot of community college. I mean, if there really are 40-some seniors, then there are a dozen kids going to college without an SAT score.

Ouch, I used the power of internet to find the AP scores for the school --

Total of 57 seniors. 28 seniors took 33 AP tests. 23 scores of 1. Four 3's, two 4's and four 5's.

You can slide over to the SAT's as well. 32 of 57 took it. So a little over half, compared to 25% for Leuzinger. Two scored over 1500.
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Date:April 16th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)

The Real Problem

Why is it that this problem resists ordinary problem-solving techniques? I think there must be a handful of meta-problems that have to be addressed before the real issues can be tackled. So, here's a back-of-the-napkin first draft of those meta-problems:

a. Politicization: Schools and what we teach kids is more political than other county level services. Or, at least, it is often as political as any other. This means that there are some who will oppose your good idea if you are from the wrong party.
b. Panic and Despair: In a completely unscientific survey, people seem to agree that the system is broken. But many people excuse themselves from having a serious opinion about it because they feel that it can't be fixed, or that the Powers That Be are working somehow to keep it broken. (it is X's fault)
c. Money: I might just be plum wrong about this one. But it seems to me that in some cases certain companies stand to gain or lose money based on the acceptance or defeat of specific educational initiatives. That would act like another, separate political force.

So, if the above is true, then when you try to deal with something like class size, better pay for teachers, or more accurate text books, you must first penetrate the hurricane wall of these other forces that are working invisibly (or maybe not so invisibly) against you.

Maybe the real problem is that enough people aren't decrying the meta-problems which cripple the effort to reform education.

But this may be naive. Perhaps I am late to formulate something that is already well-understood by educators and reformers across the country. If *that's* true, then fuck; I don't know what to do.
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Date:April 16th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)

Re: The Real Problem

Those are fine meta-problems in general, but part of the point of a charter school like Stanford New School is that it is exempt from many of the rules entrenched in the current messed up system. So SNS should be less affected by your point A. And it has the support of a major university that clearly isn't just shrugging its shoulders, so it should be less affected by B. Although I don't see anything directly related to your C, SNS also gets an additional $3,000 per student in private funding. And yet, the performance is not not markedly better (and arguably it's worse) than comparable schools mired more deeply in the metaproblems you mention.

I'm hopeful that when we have a lot more experience with a lot more different kinds of charter schools, that it will be easier to determine what works and what doesn't, and as this evidence mounts, it will be harder to defend the things that don't work on political grounds. And this will also alleviate the Panic and Despair aspect.

This reminds me of another recent story I saw, about essentially bribing kids with money. The interesting thing they found (though there is plenty of room for further study) was that simply bribing kids for good grades or good test grades did not improve performance. Sure the smart kids got money, and good for them. But telling a less prepared kid "do better" does not give them a concrete enough goal to follow. Holding money in front of them gets them excited, but they just don't know what they need to do to improve their own performance.
On the other hand, paying kids for a concrete reward (like $X per book they read) did have a positive effect on their reading scores.
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Date:April 17th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
Three components to the SAT now? Further proof that I am old.

--- Ajax.

Journal of No. 118