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I’ve been thinking.

CathyF gave a sketchy indication of how she would change things, and I will have to admit that I’ve got a problem right off the back.

She would end the practice of funding schools with local property taxes, and I definitely would not.

The local control of schools is very important to me–and I do mean local control.

I don’t even like state boards of education.

I think what goes on in local schools should be controlled and directed by local communities–parents, not experts or outside bureaucrats, should determine the curriculum, textbooks, teaching and administrative personnel and their duties.

The end of local funding would mean that every school in the country would run like one of the big city systems, where decisions are made by “experts” at the top and “parental involvement” means coming to cheer what the “experts” have decided they want to do.

And it would end the diversity of schools, which would, I think be a big mistake.   I think we have far less to fear from a few towns who would install intelligent design in biology classes than we do from centralized control of schools.

But the issue is, in fact, much bigger than that.  So let me get to it.

1) Cathy F says we have lots of studies showing good things coming from HeadStart.  Like Roberts, most of the studies I’ve seen have shown academic achievement to be a wash between HS and non-HS kids after only a few years–but that’s not the same thing as not dropping out or not getting pregnant.

And I have nothing against HS.  Even if it doesn’t do anything to increase levels of academic ability and performance over time, preschool is a lot of fun for kids, it gets them out of the house and introduces them to a wider world–in other words, if we want to provide preschool as part of our school system, why not?


2) I did some googling of my own, trying to find studies that show that “we know” what it takes to make kids high achievers.

And what I found was what I expected to find–the studies I was being recommended were all studies of high SES kids with high levels of academic achievement.

The studies would then look into their family backgrounds and environment and go:  here are the things these families are doing that low SES families are not.  That must be what gets these kids to be high achievers.

But–and this is a great big but–there are two things enormously wrong with this.

The first is that the people doing these studies always abstract some, but not all, the differential factors between the two environments.

They’ll talk about good nutrition or parents talking to children, but not about

having both biological parents in the home or the relative IQ levels of each set of parents.

And yet, if you set out to do a study on those two factors alone, you’d find yourself able to explain most of the differential without ever bothering to get into the other issues.

And, the real kicker–getting a low SES parent to talk to her child when she isn’t inclined to do that, to feed herself and her child food she does not like, to go to museums when they bore the hell out of her, and to have books around the house when she hates to read–

Getting her to do all that will not replicate the environment of the high SES child, or even the low SES child with a different kind of parent. 

What the parent says when he talks to his child matters, and it matters more than the just talking as the child gets older. 

To get the kick you want here would require you to change the parent in ways that are both profound and intrusive–and maybe not even possible. 

I would say that they are especially not possible in the context of a “program,” which will–necessarily, by the very fact that it IS a program–inevitably teach one thing primarily:  passivity and dependence. 

And no, I do not think it is possible to avoid this. 

But there’s more.

One of the thing that does make a little sense here is the idea that it would help a low-achieving low-SES child to have his school environment be Wilton’s, rather than Bridgeport’s.

This is not because Wilton hires better teachers or has more money for music programs and lab sciences.

This is because the kid would be surrounded by other kids whose priorities are very different from the ones in his own neighborhood. Kids who start prepping for Harvard in kindergarten, who read all the time, who know lots of stuff about the Surpreme Court and current affairs and classic literature.  Kids who do math for fun.

And, you know, that kind of thing will in fact have an impact.

It’s just really hard to create the right conditions.  And they could not be created wholesale for all the children in an inner city or poor rural system.

It’s the numbers that are going to kill you here.

Take a system like one of the ones in the tight suburbs of Gold Coast Connecticut, where the local high school has maybe 1000 kids.

If you take in one low-achieving, low-SES kid, he’ll get swallowed up by the school culture and either sink hard or learn to swim.

Any child you take after that runs the risk of creating a situation where the low-SES kids huddle together, eat lunch together, are friends only with each other and do their damnedest to defend themselves against the school’s alien environment.

And that will be the case until the mass of low SES kids reaches the critical point, at which time they will be able to change and determine the culture of the school for themselves, and what you’ll have is a low-SES culture school with some rich kids in it.

If the rich kids’ parents haven’t long since pulled them out and put them in private schools.

I say long since because the point would have come, much before the critical mass stage, where the school’s curriculum and teaching program would have been changed to fit the low-SES kids who would have become a mandated priority.

And the high-level academics would have been watered down enough to make sure they didn’t look as if they were discriminating against the low-SES kids.

To the extent that it’s possible to change any of this, what’s needed is not a program, but a rejection of programs–a return (were we ever there?) to treating citizens as citizens and not as clients or patients.

The only way anybody can learn to take responsibility for themselves, their families, and the world around them is by doing it. 

And yes, to the extent that anything changes, it will take generations to get done–but rushing in to try to “fix” THIS generation not only does not work, it backfires.

Of course, a good start might be to insist on the integrity and validity of academic standards to begin with–to insist that they are not marginal, that they are not arbitrary, that they are not “wrong” if not everybody can meet them–

But I’m not expecting that any time soon.

Written by janeh

February 14th, 2012 at 8:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Zip Files'

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  1. I give up. What does SRS stand for?

    Jane mentioned wanting local schools kept local. That reminded me of a classic Western, The Virginian, by Owen Wister. The major woman character is a school teacher who was hired by the local parents who organized their own school. No involvement of the state (or territory).

    I suspect that Jane wants to go back to how the earliest schools were run. Perhaps a good idea.


    14 Feb 12 at 6:32 pm

  2. John, not SRS.


    Socio-economic status.


    14 Feb 12 at 6:37 pm

  3. Hear, hear! Any return to clear objective educational standards would by itself solve many of the nation’s troubles, and make it a lot easier to identify and attack several others. A couple of points:

    One problem with Head Start is inherent: it adds 200,000+ voters to the Federal payroll. Some full-time government employees are inevitable. There’s no way to avoid tax collectors, for instance, and at least some standing armed forces. But government employees are especially dangerous for a democracy, because of their ability to vote themselves money taken from someone else. Apart from injustice, you can kill a democracy that way. Anyone who thinks I’m being paranoid is cordially invited to re-read classical history, or the writings of Enlightenment political theorists in Britain and America. You hire Federal employees when there’s no other way to solve the problem. Is anyone seriously prepared to argue that we can’t prepare children for school without a literal Federal army?

    As for “equalizing” education spending, it reminds me strikingly of European “harmonization” in that there only seems to be one acceptable outcome. The working assumption seems to be that every community must value education equally–and the same kinds of education at that. All exceptions are to be cured by the more enlightened.

    I am not, frankly, convinced that we have too many places which can’t afford to teach their children English, mathematics, history and civics. The poorest communities north of the Mason-Dixon line did so for centuries, and generally threw in a little Latin if the student was interested. Our poor neighborhoods are much wealthier than 17th or 18th Century rural Massachusetts. If they can’t afford as good an education, exactly why not?

    That said, I see no objection to state or in extreme cases Federal aid to the poorest districts, but
    –It should be to the poorest. No more taking from the middle class to give back to the middle class if they do as they’re told.
    –It should only be given when asked for, because it should come with strings–auditors, at least.
    –The money should be for education–not “awareness” “sensitivity” or “self-esteem” but the aforementioned languages, mathematics, sciences history and civics: the Volkswagen Beetle/Japanese econobox education.

    Mostly, the Feds prefer BMWs. Which is why the books won’t balance.


    15 Feb 12 at 7:06 pm

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