Friday, January 09, 2009

Weird KIPP Op-Ed

I find the new op-ed by KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin to be weird. They start out by reminding of how small KIPP still is in real terms after fourteen years, most of the time heavily backed by the wealthiest philanthropies in America: "66 public charter schools serving 17,000 children." That's not much more than half the size of the Providence School Department. That's comparable to the parochial school system in Manhattan. If they scale up by a third every year of Obama's first term, they may hit around one thousandth of US school enrollment. Now, creating a single good school is an accomplishment, let alone 66, but we need to keep this in perspective if we're going to shift to a national policy scale.

Anyhow, here's point one:

Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal -- ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program.
I have a few reactions to this:

  • um... then what is the paradigmatic goal of our education system currently? Isn't this like starting an op-ed on defense policy by stating "We need to set a paradigm-shifting goal: the US military will defend the United States and its interests around the world."
  • This is much less than what our ambitions should be as Americans. We do not seek to simply prepare children for more school, we must first prepare them to be citizens.
  • There is some pretty good research indicating that setting college as a goal rather than a career leads to bad decisions about post-secondary education and unfortunate outcomes after you get to college.
  • See also Meier/Murray.

Moving on:

Second, perhaps the single greatest lever for raising expectations and achievement for all children in America would be the creation of national learning standards and assessments. With KIPP schools operating in 19 states, we have seen how the maze of state standards and tests keeps great teachers from sharing ideas, inhibits innovation, and prevents meaningful comparison of student, teacher and school performance.

Well, yes, I can see how this could be inconvenient if I was running a school system the size of a small city across 19 states, but do we need to be shaping national education policy to suit this use case?

Beyond that, I haven't pored over the various state standards at this point, but it seems to me that there are two possibilities: they are substantially similar, or they are substantially different. If they are similar, this is a trivial problem. Sit some folks down and make a database mapping them to each other and propose a unified consensus document. There is plenty of money floating around to do it, if it is possible. But if they aren't very different anyhow, why does this make such a big difference?

If all these state standards are substantially different, how do you propose we reconcile them? Which ones do we use? My suspicion is that my child's education would not be improved by making Rhode Island's standards more like Florida's, or Utah's, or Alaska's, or Alabama's or Kansas's, and I suspect people in those states feel the same way. So, good luck with that.

Certainly their point one suggests that math standards should be designed to prepare students for more math classes, English standards for more English classes, etc. Right there, I don't see how I reconcile that with my vision for public education.

Also, the one thing I have to give props to the 21st Century Skills folks is that if nothing else they have pulled off a successful defensive maneuver. While one side has been fighting for national standards, on another front the 21st Century People have made sure that if there are national standards, they will include lots of stuff that most national standards people hate. It is pretty funny, actually.

Skipping over "Obama could help build enthusiasm and respect for all who enter the teaching profession" (bold!), we have two final points which aren't so much interesting in themselves as how they interact with each other and an earlier point:

At KIPP, we have the ability to hire, fire and reward principals and teachers based on their students' progress and achievement. If we are going to hold all public schools accountable for their results -- and we should -- we need to grant this same power to all public schools. (...)

Finally, we urge Obama to follow through on his campaign pledge to double federal funding for public charter schools with proven results.

If you've got a system where everyone--charter or district school--is teaching to the same standards, and perhaps the same curriculum, and everyone has the same control over staffing, why do we need charter schools? Can't all schools be like charter schools then? Or are there other differences? If so, can we give those privileges and resources to other public schools as well, or are they reserved for schools run by private organizations?


Chris Lehmann said...

Well, this is the post I wish I had written.

Brendan said...

David Warlick wrote a blog a few days ago.
A quote from the blog
"You operate these devices natively, by approaching it with a certain frame of mind, not by method. There is absolutely no harm in this."

This I think might be the problem with the philosophy of standards and many so called "reforms" that seem to be popular these days. The focus is on the method or process while many 21 Century schools focus more on concept, or owning knowledge.

As Dan Meyer says in his blog New teachers teach procedure better than concept. Procedure is important — you'll never hear me suggest otherwise — but procedural knowledge is a lot easier to teach than conceptual knowledge, which demands of the teacher both a broad and narrow understanding

I've read and worked with many state standards and I think for the most part they could be mapped to each other. Though most states would have some unique to themselves. The point is most of the standards focus on process and not concept.