Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Market for Bad Education

I've mentioned before my hypothesis about the continued ability of unsuccessful charter schools to attract students. It goes like this. Good education is hard. If done right, it is hard for the students and the parents. Charter proponents claim that market forces provide all the accountability we need for charter schools. If the schools aren't educating kids, the parents will move them elsewhere.

All well and good if the parents and kids want good eduction and the hard work that goes with it. But not everyone is so virtuous. Some kids -- especially some older high schoolers -- and some parents are more interested in getting through school with a minimum of inconvenience than a maximum of effort and resultant knowledge. If I were unscrupulously pitching a substandard charter school, I would drop hints like "we don't believe homework helps kids any and it creates a burden at home, so we don't assign it."

An interesting hypothesis, but no evidence to back it.

Wait, yesterday's BJ has something. Just maybe . . .

Here's how Stephen Staats spends a typical school day: an hour in a traditional class, followed by three hours at a computer studying English and math. One 15-minute break.

A teacher monitors his progress on a computer screen and is on hand to answer questions and provide encouragement. There are no lectures.

Stephen, 17, likes the short school day. He's out of the building at noon.

``There's no homework,'' he said. ``That's pretty cool, too.''

Pretty cool indeed. What's not cool is the credulousness of the rest of the story.

The story is about Schnee Learning Center, anew charter school sponsored by Cuyahoga Falls School District to try and tap into the alternative high school market David Brennan has thus far cornered. The school set up sounds suspiciously like the Life Skills schools. Fine. But here is a Cuyahoga Falls official explaining the reason behind the school:
Like other charter schools, Schnee is free from some state regulations. It can
offer a shortened school day, which gives students more flexibility for work.
``That's a biggie for many of these kids,'' said Schnee Executive Director Jeff Harrison.
-Really? Teenagers like having less school? Ya think?

Harrison said some have fallen ``through the cracks'' because they don't do well in big schools. Others simply learn better on their own, he said.
-Still others do better not learning on their own but pretending they are.

The article contains neither a critic questioning these rationales, nor any skepticism on the part of the reporter. Katie Byard at one time was considered the go-to education reporter. Stories like these may be why Oplinger and Willard appear to have taken over much of the beat. They at least know how to make a call to Tom Mooney.

Here's how simple it is to cast some doubt on all this. Try this thought experiment. You are arguing with a public schools critic. You mention a new program being tried in Berkely. Students pace themselves at a computer three hours a day. The only drawbacks -- it costs the same as traditional schooling and the graduation rate is only 20%. Your adversary dies laughing at your wooly-headed liberalism.

Actually, that's Life Skills. School districts may have economic reasons for emulating it. But it's hardly a pedagogical innovation we want replicated.


judeandelise said...

Great blog. I've worked with troubled teens in Akron for almost 10 years. These schools are not helping these kids.

Educator20 said...

Your attempted to judge a program that is trying to improve the community school approach is weak at best. Did you read the whole story about how that progrma is different from other community schools (charter schools)? That program is offering not only computer driven curriculum, but also teacher directed instruciton. They also report service for the special education student as well as those students seeking job assistance. I do understand the ease at which those who are unware of the community school approach can take shots at the idea, but to target programs that are trying to use the community school status as it was meant to be used is unfair.

Community schools were created in 1997 to provide the opportunity to provide an education in an environment that will foster inovative teaching by releasing the school from some requirements.

Do you understand that the program requires students to demonstrate mastery, not just the ability to sit through a traditional school day. If you study the traditional school day and remove the 30 minute lunch, 50 minute study hall, the 30 minutes of travel time within the building, and other distractions for events such as pep assemblies,and fundraisers. You will find that a four hour school day that requires the student to show mastery without any on the above mentined distractions would stack up to the traditional approach.

Maybe a better description of the above example would help. Let's say Steven in attending a traditional high school taking 5 academic classes with one study hall. Steven attends school everyday, shows respect to his teachers, turns in most homework, and fails more tests then he passes. What grade do you think Steven will receive? I would be willing to bet that a teacher who is being held accountable for student success who give Steven the benefit of the doubt and give him a grade of a "D" and write it off as Steven not being a good test taker. Sound any different from your experiences in a traditional high school?

Now lets image Steven at Schnee Learning Center. Steven reports to school at 8:00, spends 3 hours of uninterupted time working at a computer work station on Language Art. Steven works through tutorials, practices, and yet more tutorials with the occasional teacher redirection. Steven then takes a mastery test that requires not less than 80% before being able to move to the next lesson. After spending three hours working on Language Arts Steven then moves on to a teacher led traditional classroom to receive instruction on American Sign Language, which at the completion of the class he will have the ability to comunicate with those he thought not possible.

For some reason I am having a hard time believeing that this program does not have some merit. It may not be right for all high school students, but at least it is offering an education in an alternative approach that may be a benefit for some.

Now if you want to attack "charter schools" take a look at the same Akron Beacon Journal (12/14/05) and read the caption on the front of the local section. It is a picture on two students hugging each other after a LifeSkills graduation. Read it careful becasue it does say that the one young lady did receive her diploma in a very short time after dropping out of Butchel High School. I will leave you with the assignment of explaining the details to that photo. Do you think that the ABJ had a motive to write the caption the way that they did????? Please let me know what you think about that story.