Wednesday, July 07, 2010

History Lesson: What Conservatives Used to Think About Education

Heritage Foundation, 1997:

The school choice measures now before Congress would give parents the option to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools of choice. Thanks to the growing body of research supporting Catholic school education, Congress can be certain that inner-city children would benefit from these measures. This research looks at the impact of Catholic schools on a range of outcomes such as grades, standardized test scores, dropout and graduation rates, college attendance, and future wage gains.

In a study published in 1990, for example, the Rand Corporation analyzed big-city high schools to determine how education for low income minority youth could be improved. It looked at 13 public, private, and Catholic high schools in New York City that attracted minority and disadvantaged youth. Of the Catholic school students in these schools, 75 to 90 percent were black or Hispanic. The study found that:

  • The Catholic high schools graduated 95 percent of their students each year, while the public schools graduated slightly more 50 percent of their senior class;
  • Over 66 percent of the Catholic school graduates received the New York State Regents diploma to signify completion of an academically demanding college preparatory curriculum, while only about 5 percent of the public school students received this distinction;
  • 85 percent of the Catholic high school students took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), compared with just 33 percent of the public high school students;
  • The Catholic school students achieved an average combined SAT score of 803, while the public school students' average combined SAT score was 642; and
  • 60 percent of the Catholic school black students scored above the national average for black students on the SAT, and over 70 percent of public school black students scored below the same national average.

The line that "everyone" thought it was impossible to educate poor, inner-city, minority youth until KIPP arrived is a fiction. Conservatives thought Catholic schools worked. Liberals thought integration, head start, progressive schools or other alternatives would work.

Somehow we've ended up with a model of public, secular, data-driven parochial schools with TFA-ers taking the place of nuns.

And I came up with that example in the first page of the first Google search I tried. It is not an obscure mystery.


Jason said...

There was easy criticism of the conclusion that Catholic schools were doing better-- the data was not causal and we were comparing students with drastically different unobserved variables.

I'm sure many good liberal social scientists pointed this out frequently.

There was pretty good evidence that true integration rarely happened, Head Start had only modest and quickly fading gains (though still 100% worth the investment, it's not enough), and that progressivism failed miserably in its promise to transform schools after 70+ years of enjoying near universal support by academia and teacher training centers (though admittedly highly variable implementation in the field).

The truth is all of these ideas had only been shown to be moderately successful at such an unimpressive level that all of them combined would still leave massive achievement gaps.

The most success in closing the achievement gap is still largely found within no-excuses charters and a subset of traditional public schools, most of which share DNA with the no-excuses model. That's not to say that this is something which is scalable or a solution for all students. But I do believe it's fair to say that these schools and their results represent a new bar on what's possible with traditionally under-served students and has changed the zeitgeist of education reformers.

More people are saying, "It's the school, dummy," and, "It's the teacher, dummy," rather than, "It's their parents... the system... poverty... health..."

Ultimately, successful schooling breaks with other forms of systemic inequality and provides an excellent education (based on results) to all students regardless of need and background.

Tom Hoffman said...

But there were always successful schools serving minority, high-poverty students. There were good Catholic schools, there were good segregated blacks-only schools, there were good alternative schools, there were good integrated public schools.

They were objectively, empirically good enough to drive upward mobility in generations of immigrants, African Americans, and plain old poor white folk. Good enough to make this the wealthiest, most technologically advanced country in the world (at least for a while).

"No excuses" charters are simply not different enough from what came before them to represent a dramatic break from the past. Which is not to say many aren't good schools.

The fact of the matter is, the "achievement gap" is an unfortunate construct. My three year old can, to my amazement, identify the Galilean moons of Jupiter by sight and may randomly launch into a discussion of which planets have visible ice on their surface.

The kids in section 8 housing living next door to us aren't really going to catch up to that. But that really has nothing to do with whether or not they'll be successful.

The achievement gap is a political construct. Right now it is based on cut scores in reading and math. If we close that gap, there's plenty of other ways to define it to keep it unclosable.