Where The Schools Debate Heads Next

THomas MacMillan Photos(Analysis) After the experts, students, teachers and fans finished weighing in, after the bloggers completed their real-time discussion, and as readers posted morning-after comments, two observations emerged about the current state of the debate over school change in New Haven: Our city wants to chart its own “third path” that differs from how most of how the rest of the country thinks about public education. And we’re not quite sure how to get there yet.

That sense emerged from the jumble of conversations that took places on several levels at once Tuesday night in a first-of-its-kind multi-media public forum over school reform. It took place on the stage of Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, where author Diane Ravitch discussed ideas from her controversial book “The Death and Life Of The Great American School System” with parents, students, teachers, and administrators from New Haven schools. It took place off the to side of the stage and in cyberspace, where journalists and elected officials led a real-time online discussion about the panel discussion. It took place in the audience, where hundreds of people showed up to hear the panel and then many lined up to ask Ravitch questions. And it took place at home, where people could watch the event and follow the discussion in live streams on their computers; and then, Wednesday morning, weighed in with more comments about the events at the bottom of a news story. (Check all of that action out here in this file.)

In all that conversation, people who disagreed on specifics largely agreed on some central ideas. They agreed with the current consensus among Democrats and Republicans alike in the country that dramatic change must come to public schools. They largely rejected that bipartisan consensus about how to proceed; in that sense they echoed Ravitch, who helped chart that new consensus as an official in the first Bush administration then concluded that No Child Left Behind and similar bipartisan reforms have failed.

So what should a city do instead if it wants change? The broad outlines have emerged in New Haven’s early changes and the discussion Tuesday night: Work with teachers to draw up meaningful evaluations while offering struggling teachers and schools more help; recruit great teachers and principals more effectively; focus on a broader curriculum than just math and English assignments that match standardized tests; reconstitute failed schools either with not-for-profit charters or by giving public school administrators new powers to make new rules; promise students a free college tuition if they work hard and give them lots of help along the way.

But New Haven’s participants admitted they haven’t quite figured out the alternatives yet. In New Haven, the third path is a work in progress. (Click here for an archive of Independent stories on school reform.)

Unlike in debates in Congress or at most think tanks or White House press conferences, participants in this discussion largely rejected the idea of largely focusing on test scores to rate schools and teachers, to decide which schools to close and whom to fire. But they also agreed that test scores do need to be used as part of a broader way to evaluate success and failure. But panelists spoke in only general terms about what those other metrics would be.

“I’m still not hearing a clear alternative,” Register reporter Angela Carter blogged at one point.

“Ravitch is talking about her big jump from the right to the left. She became increasingly discouraged about the importance of testing as she watched NCLB unfold across the country,” the Courant’s Rick Green added. “I’m waiting to hear how we will know whether third graders are learning to read.”

Most striking was the absence of blaming teachers or their unions for the failings of schools. Nationally, philanthropists, politicians, reformers—and the movie “Waiting For Superman”—have blamed the unions for blocking needed changes or making it too hard to fire failing teachers. They’ve promoted charters as a way to work around unions. In Washington and New York school officials have been at war with unions. Onstage Tuesday, the teachers union’s Tom Burns praised the city’s school reform drive. Charter advocates Michael Thomas of Achievement First and Alex Johnston of ConnCAN echoed city officials’ contention that charters play an important role but aren’t the only solution for the city.

A reader named “JimJim” added this thought to the online live chat: “I’ve heard the most union-enthusiastic teachers say they’d be happy to eliminate tenure, if there is a fair system of termination. People want to be treated fairly - and we can’t let budget constraints cost an experienced (and more expensive) teacher his job just to be replaced by 2 younger, cheaper ones.”

Similarly, in other cities Teach for America has proved controversial. TFA participants come into urban schools, often from elite colleges, with a short-cut training program, then often leave after two years. They are welcomed by some, then criticized by teachers unions or critics like Ravitch, who feel more professional training is needed to produce a larger corps of committed career teachers.

Some of those issues emerged in discussion over TFA Tuesday night. But mostly—as with charters, as with testing—TFA was seen as one constructive idea among many, not a silver bullet.

“Tom Burns from the teachers union doesn’t take a swing at Teach for America,” the Independent’s Melissa Baily noted on the live blog when the issue arose on the panel. “He said he welcomes their energy/idealism—if they stick around.”

A New Haven school administrator named Richard Therrien weighed in on the live blog.

“TFA teachers (at least in science), do about the same in NH, no better/no worse than traditional/alternate route… and yes, we are happy when they stay!” he wrote. “But if they do a good job for the 2-3 years, then I know kids have learned…”

Alex Johnston, a Board of Ed member who also runs a pro-reform group called ConnCAN, discussed another idea that’s controversial in other cities: Seeking to involve parents more by having teachers offer “parent training.”

In New Orleans and Washington, many low-income parents have resented what they saw as condescension from young, elite teachers trying to tell them how to raise their kids but not really understanding urban family life. Johnston spoke of how teachers can provide videos, for instance, about good parenting.

Another panelist, Nilda Aponte of the the Teach Our Child parent advocacy groups, was asked if that is a good idea. Yes, she responded. She spoke of how she and other parents often feel unequipped to help their kids with homework, for instance. New Haven teachers have helped her with that, she said. She has kids in both traditional and charter public schools in New Haven; when teachers have reached out with parenting ideas, it has always been a plus, she said.

Participants also seemed unanimous in praising but also in asking nuanced questions about Promise to New Haven, the plan under which Yale and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (a financial sponsor of Tuesday’s event) are guaranteeing that students who do well in city schools will get significant, sometimes 100 percent, help in paying for college tuition.

“Well, kids graduating from NH high schools, even with good grades are having trouble doing college work,” someone going by the handle “Fair Haven Fair Haven” blogged.

“Robert Robert” added: “In studying states with incentives for students to attend college, the mandate that the students have a B average has defeated the purpose of moving urban kids with no history of college into college kids. Realistic thinking and enhanced opportunities can go hand in hand. This is not to say that students shouldn’t reach as high a level as possible to attain the Promise, but the reality is that going above a C average for many (most) urban students is a dream. The Promise is great; it just won’t reach the kids who need it most, and it will help middle class city kids who would have attended college anyway.”

Mayor John DeStefano, one of the live bloggers, responded to Robert Robert.

“Promise isn’t a entitlement. If you can’t get a B in HS are you really likely to do well in college. So let’s get these kids from pre-k and build the aspiration and work ethic for success,” he wrote.

To be sure, some shortcomings of planning made the event and ensuing discussion different from the national debate. More aggressive union detractors and charter opponents declined impassioned invitations to participate. And the panel had 13 members; that made it difficult for any one participant to get into more extended debates.

But when you factor in the hundreds of people who showed up in the audience, the many more who joined in the online conversation, and the ability of school officials to make big policy changes in conjunction with the teachers union, there was no doubt that New Haven, as often happens, is marching to a different drum from much of the rest of the U.S.

Marching while also still working on what the map will look like. That was clear from the continued search for solid ways to measure the success and failure of schools and teachers.

In numerous comments on the live blog discussion, the Courant’s Rick Green sought more specifics from Diane Ravitch (“DR”) and other participants:

• “How do we measure success?  DR: “We are relying on very flawed measures of success ... We are judging students by the test scores”
Does she really know the CMTs? Shouldn’t we have a test that tells us whether third graders are reading?”

• “DR says a successful school is one that has a ‘rich and balanced’ curriculum.’ What on earth does that mean?”

• “I agree that the test-crazy bureaucrats makes it seem like testing is the answer. But to pretend that tests are the villain is just as bad.”

• “I think it’s OK to test an 8-year-old on fundamental reading skills. That’s what the CMTs do. Why is that a problem?”

Meanwhile, deputy schools chief Garth Harries sent in an update on the measurements question to the live blog as the panel was wrapping up. “On the question of 21st century skills - just this afternoon, we were presenting to our HS principals a plan to better assess 21st century skills, in parallel to conventional subject grades. Good stuff, developed with our leaders and teachers - stay tuned,” he wrote.

What struck many participants wasn’t so much the specifics of Tuesday’s multi-layered conversation, but the fact of the conversation itself: How many people in New Haven care about school change and want to improve public education.

“What’s interesting about all this to me, a reporter from Hartford, is that I’m hearing a community discussion that includes a variety of groups,” Rick Green noted. “We aren’t seeing this in Hartford.”

Or as “GuestGuest” wrote in: “thank you for this forum and look forward to being involved in the future! Thank You!!!”

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Comments

posted by: Townie on December 1, 2010  1:31pm

It seems that we are over thinking the education issue. And a cynic might say this is just an attempt to create a greater bureaucracy and further institutionalize our youth. The education of children depends, on the most part, of the charecteristics of the family and community from which the child emerges. Until our personal behaviors change, our communities will remain damaged and our students will continue to suffer.
The New Haven Public School system is not a bad one. The failure of any student is not a failure of our city’s government, it is a failure of that student’s family and community.

posted by: Allan Brison on December 1, 2010  1:49pm

I thought it was good that some of the ideas around school “reform” were aired. During the panel discussion some key matters such as the importance of poverty and the problems with high-stakes testing and “accountability” were aired well.

BUT other ideas such as how the charter movement is a back-door method of privatizing our schools, and the importance of our neighborhoods schools which the magnet/charter process is undermining, didn’t come up at all until the Q&A session.

And the Q & A sessions was apparently deemed unworthy of being covered in this story. I thought it was the most important part of the evening.

I felt that the panel, with one or two exceptions, were basically administrative folks with a unified line:

(1) Don’t disagree with Ravitch on anything substantial, (2) agree with her that the Bush NCLB and Obama Race to the Top are flawed, and (3) claim that New Haven is somehow getting it right.

For example, as reported, everybody agreed that means other than test results need to be used for teacher evaluation, but how these other criteria would be applied remains a mystery.

I was hoping for more but at least some of the important ideas were put out there. Thanks to Paul for getting this event together.

And thanks to Diane Ravitch for coming. Everybody interested in public education should read her book.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on December 1, 2010  5:19pm

Allan,  Whether you consider charters to be private schools or not, do you ever give thought to the human value of simply receiving a good education irrespective of who delivers it? 

Does your belief about who should deliver tuition-free education to all residents of New Haven outweigh any concerns that you might have about the quality of education that is delivered to low income children, and how that impacts them for the rest of their lives?

posted by: A Parent and A Teacher on December 1, 2010  10:37pm

Consider the difference in the history of New Haven’s NHPS if the residents of the City of New Haven were given the right to ELECT the BOE.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 1, 2010  11:22pm

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on December 1, 2010 5:19pm
Allan,  Whether you consider charters to be private schools or not, do you ever give thought to the human value of simply receiving a good education irrespective of who delivers it? 

Does your belief about who should deliver tuition-free education to all residents of New Haven outweigh any concerns that you might have about the quality of education that is delivered to low income children, and how that impacts them for the rest of their lives?


There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.
Jiddu Krishnamurti


posted by: A Parent and A Teacher on December 1, 2010 10:37pm
Consider the difference in the history of New Haven’s NHPS if the residents of the City of New Haven were given the right to ELECT the BOE.

I agree.

posted by: Truth Avenger on December 2, 2010  5:24am

Fix The Schools: Charter Schools fare no better and many times worse than Public Schools, according to studies. They are not the all-consuming remedy to our education needs that you seem to think. So long as charter schools do not degrade, drain, or deflect resources from the public schools, they should be welcomed alternatives. I also categorically reject your continued assertion that Public Schools are in such dire straits that we need to seed and sprout charters (a money making venture for many)like so many spring plantings.  What we need to do, is steadily improve public schools and make reforms meaningful so that all schools meet the metrics of a great education. This is doable- but will not be accomplished by attacking public schools, teachers, or their unions.

posted by: Allan Brison on December 2, 2010  9:24am

truth

I agree that meaningful change is doable. I would suggest that Dr. Comer points the way in his work. Relationships, relationships, relationships. A true, non-blame collaberation of parents, students, teachers, principals.  De-emphasis on testing of young kids. A re-emphasis on neighborhoods and neighborhood schools.

One of the things that achievement first schools do well is to encourage parental involvement. Thesuccessful public schools such at Hooker, in my district, also have strong parental involvement.
But this involvement is often discouraged in many of the low performing schools according to parent avocacy groups. Parents need to be brought into the process in a no blame manner.

posted by: Gary Doyens on December 2, 2010  11:36am

It is not clear that any of these participants or even a blending of them all, yields the solution for nearly two generations of just plain sloppy, poor education and predictably bad outcomes.

I most certainly do not trust DR who designed the heavy testing model and now swings 180 degrees. Are we selling books, sucking up to the unions, a post administration money making scheme or is this assessment real? If it’s real, why were these questions not asked and answered before NCLB? Should not a program that affects every child in America been means tested before shoving it down our throats and pretending it would yield the hyped results? Everybody knew then that teachers were already teaching to the test and that superintendents were cooking the books on graduation rates. In Texas alone, parents routinely complained about spending 2- 3 weeks of class time just to prepare for the test. In Houston, they were dismissing special needs kids, poor performers, Spanish only students and chronic education problem kids so they weren’t even taking the tests. They reported postive but phony results. DR didn’t know this stuff? I highly doubt it. It was a political football then and it continues to be prostituted today.

More importantly for New Haven - the fundamental question of “what’s it going to take?” is either missing or left mostly unanswered while there is more dialogue with many of the same players who oversaw 30 years of well documented failure. Are we talking too much and doing too little? Are we moving fast enough? Are we doing things with a proven history of working or are we just throwing it against the wall, hoping something will work? I’m just asking.

I’m reminded of a certain New Haven neighborhood with a chronic street crime problem. Some people argued for more dialogue. Others started patroling the streets, packing heat. Crime decreased.

posted by: Teacher Gal on December 2, 2010  5:40pm

Kudos to Amanda Aponte for her interview with Daine.
Kudos to Amanda’s Journalism teacher @ Coop who encourages and motivates children to think critically and write for authentic reasons every day.
Kudos to Diane Ravitch who should be consulting New Haven Schools and helping them move in the right direction.
Kudos to our administrators for, hopefully, keeping an open-mind to the changes ahead.
Kudos to New Haven parents and students who attend school and participate in school events, in and out of school.
KUDOS, to all NHPS teachers who walk the walk and talk the talk daily to make NHPS students the best they can be despite many obstacles.
And lastly, Kudos to all my students who come every day, or almost every day, and struggle to succeed despite many odds. I love you all!
PS….Kudos to Paul who made this all happen! Thanks Paul!

posted by: In the Know on December 2, 2010  9:39pm

Is this the political re-birth of Henry Fernandez? What post will he be taking up in the administration shortly? Who are the ones that are going on to better things? How desperate is DeStefano? How bankrupt is New Haven? Not so well kept secrets, but the citizens have the right to know.

posted by: Tom Burns on December 3, 2010  2:10am

Paul Bass- never met you before but you and the other fella leading the discussion were amazing—with so many people on the panel I knew I may only speak once or twice, although I wanted to say so much more(that’s why the t-shirt about too much testing and not enough inquiry and student based learning)—-the panel selection was phenomenal and the blog people were an ingenious idea—-it served its purpose many times over—-

One thing I need to say is that I am very impressed by our parents——and our students——only the people who want to make money at the expense of our children purport that our educational system is failing and in disarray—-and that we need charters—Ask yourself—why did we never need them in the past——we are still the best and will continue to be because of our public school system—please don’t let the business people con you into thinking they can do it better—just as they did with our economy they will destroy our education system just to make a buck for themselves—-they have never worked continuously with your children providing direct services in the classroom—but instead stand on the outside of the classroom telling us how they can make it better—-they have achieved nothing of their own doing and deserve nothing in return—-Look at the business model and how they have destroyed America while enriching themselves—Bernie Madoff, AIG, Martha Stewart and on and on—do not let these educational frauds take you down the same failing road———we have the best public education system in the world—and we ask you parents to join us in making it even better——-All the best, Tom

I need your help in beating back this selfish movement of the business crowd——and I look forward to your assistance

posted by: An Audience Member on December 3, 2010  7:49am

It was a moving event. The moderators did a wonderful job. One of the highlights for me was the question from the eleventh-grader near the end—she was so ardent in her desire to improve her vocabulary and in her concern for her father, who is a teacher.

posted by: Gary Doyens on December 3, 2010  10:58am

Tom Burns:

Only those who support charters or other alternative educational models to what we have today want to make money? Only those people think our schools are in disarray and produce poor results?

Our drop out rate in New Haven is extraordinary. Those that graduate and go to college struggle to keep up and many of them require tutors or should have tutors. This is success? We have a central office staff of highly paid people in New Haven with great benefits. We have built more schools than we need and employ an army of principals and assistant principals, among the highest paid in the system to run the schools. That’s before you get to the political prostitution of education at the federal, state and local level. Are you saying none of these folks, because they are on the public payroll profit from maintaining the status quo or wrap themselves in the “reform” flag profit from education? DR hasn’t profited from education? The panelists haven’t profited?

Argue against charters and other corporate driven solutions if you will, but don’t do it on the basis of profit. From teachers to administrators, from consultants to contractors, even the NHI, there are plenty of people who are profiting from the current educational system and the dialogue of reform.

From a parent/taxpayer’s point of view - I don’t care who profits as long as what we are doing works, that these efforts are effective, efficient and aren’t just a bunch of hot air, more wasted time and money. We have been gamed for decades, being told of make believe progress and to be told to be happy with incremental improvement even as the drop out rate, the achievement gap and other metrics of effectiveness have declined. The only question I care about is what’s it going to take to turn this around and how will we know it’s working?

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on December 3, 2010  10:58am

Tom,  On what basis do you consider our public education system to be the “best in the world?”  Do you know of a single person on any side of the debate who believes that?  Not Ravitch, not Kozol, not Gates, not Destefano, not Rhee, not Mayo, not Weingarten, etc., etc., etc. ...

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 3, 2010  12:23pm

posted by: Gary Doyens on December 3, 2010 10:58am

Our drop out rate in New Haven is extraordinary. Those that graduate and go to college struggle to keep up and many of them require tutors or should have tutors. This is success? We have a central office staff of highly paid people in New Haven with great benefits. We have built more schools than we need and employ an army of principals and assistant principals, among the highest paid in the system to run the schools. That’s before you get to the political prostitution of education at the federal, state and local level. Are you saying none of these folks, because they are on the public payroll profit from maintaining the status quo or wrap themselves in the “reform” flag profit from education? DR hasn’t profited from education? The panelists haven’t profited?

I agree with you that everyone does profit.But there are those who profit more they others.Case in point look at how king Bloomberg of New York put a person in charge of the largest school system in the country and she has never ran a school system.Do you know the bigguest profit makers in the public school system are the companies that get the contract for text books,food and toilet paper.


From a parent/taxpayer’s point of view - I don’t care who profits as long as what we are doing works, that these efforts are effective, efficient and aren’t just a bunch of hot air, more wasted time and money. We have been gamed for decades, being told of make believe progress and to be told to be happy with incremental improvement even as the drop out rate, the achievement gap and other metrics of effectiveness have declined. The only question I care about is what’s it going to take to turn this around and how will we know it’s working?

As a taxpayer I do care who makes profit from this.In fact the Prison Industrial Complex want the urban schools to fail so they can make profit from them.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 3, 2010  1:24pm

If the goal is improving education, where the greatest impact that can be made isn’t in the schools at all. Sure, a massive investment in school buildings, highly qualified teachers, curricula designed for optimum effectiveness by leading scholars, expanded after school programs, affordable preschool for all and other measures would most likely have a positive overall effect on school performance, ensuring that some kids who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks end up succeeding and improving the productivity of the US economy. However, these measures will come at enormous cost and we will be disappointed at their effectiveness at curbing the drop out rate, decreasing the US incarceration rate, significantly reducing poverty, lowering crime and creating places that are affordable and also worth investing in.
Improvements in schools will always be needed. Every generation, facilities will need to be updated, breakthroughs in the curriculum design will occur, teacher qualification to teach will need to reflect advancements in their fields, etc. Getting wrapped up in what happens in the schools is a mistake, because the effectiveness of teachers and the curriculum are heavily dependent upon the preparedness of the children. For instance, I came in to kindergarten not knowing the entire alphabet - I could recite the A,B,C’s but I had poor letter recognition and association. Some of my peers, on the other hand, came into kindergarten with the ability to recognize words and even sentences. West Hills Elementary school in 1995 was probably one of the top 3 or 5 public schools in the city because it drew students from every neighborhood and every economic background, so the teacher was able to build off the knowledge that many of the students already had. I had to do a little catching up, so during one of the play sessions every day, I had to work on my letter flashcards with the teacher while other students played. Because of these extra sessions, and supplemental work I did at home with me mom, I caught up to the curriculum, and was able to assimilate with the class. A few were a bit ahead of the group and got slightly harder “assignments” (it was kindergarten) to work on in class than the rest. However, there were also some kids that weren’t up to even my level because they didn’t know the alphabet to begin with. Some of them managed to catch up by the end of the year, but a few had to stay behind. This is somewhat of a unique condition. What exists in the suburbs are largely kids who come from backgrounds of college educated parents, economic stability and a understanding of social conduct. In certain urban schools that have a large student body that is from a background of chronic unemployment or underemployment and television babysitters, the kids are more likely to be behind as compared to their suburban peers. Are the results at the end of the year, purely a reflection of the teacher’s ability, the effectiveness of the curriculum and the quality of the facilities?
This is true later on as well, when kids start receiving homework and long-term projects. If their education received at school is not being supplemented or at least reinforced at home, then is there any wonder why we have an education gap? What about a child who has a stable home life, but returns home every day to a crime ridden neighborhood? When the neighborhood bully snatches his backpack with the child’s homework in it (this happens frequently), does that reflect on the school, or does the ripple effect of that one 0 grade on the assignment reflect something much more insidious than bad schools?
The performance of schools, under the current rubric, is tied to test results and graduation rates. Test results are tied to the ability of the teacher to prepare students for the test. The ability of the teacher to prepare students for tests is tied to the teaching ability of the teacher AND the teachability of the students based on their behavior and the knowledge they initially come into class with. Graduation rates are tied to the ability of students to find the relevance of the school in the scope of the rest of their life. For instance, if the choice is between getting mugged and beaten regularly in a child’s neighborhood and gaining protection with a neighborhood posse to stop the beatings, the child most often isn’t going to stay in school and put up with beatings just so he can explain the symbolism in Moby Dick to some random adult from Cheshire in a classroom. All the after school programs, extra teacher sessions and homework help, isn’t going to change what is happening to children on a regular basis in their neighborhoods.
It is a complicated issue, but if the cause of high crime rates, moral ambiguity, generational downward mobility, family erosion, poverty, high incarceration rates, demand for underground drug markets, and failing schools could be summed up in one image, it’d be this:
http://photos-f.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs194.snc3/20155_1226207810425_1085910074_30557053_6365722_n.jpg

posted by: Truth Avenger on December 3, 2010  7:27pm

Jonathan Hopkins: Graphs and data can be misleading and have actually become part of the problem… Data never tells the whole story, and the graphic you proffer does not really say anything about “the cause of high crime rates, moral ambiguity, generational downward mobility, family erosion, poverty, high incarceration rates, demand for underground drug markets, and failing schools could be summed up in one image”-in fact(speaking as an Hispanic), it boarders on being offensive.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 4, 2010  7:10pm

Truth Avenger,
That last sentence, which you refer to, contained a qualifier that you seem to have ignored.
“It is a complicated issue, but if the cause of…could be summed up in one image, it’d be this”
However, I realize that all those issues I listed cannot possibly be summed up in one image, which is why I worded that statement that way by qualifying it. The point was that image, more than any other single image, best explains the list of issues I posted. That list generally describes what problems exist in the underclass of our society. The underclass in America is largely made up of poor rural whites. The majority black and hispanic New Haven residents work, pay taxes and raise families, it is a minority within these groups that continue to suffer from the effects of deindustrialization (and some other events and circumstances).
My statement in no way was meant to describe the entire black and hispanic population, but merely explain the origin of the issues that exist in small percentages of those groups. If poor rural whites were relevant in this discussion, I’d talk about it. But in this discussion, the relevant topic is the undeniable achievement gap between urban dwelling black and hispanic children and white suburban, or even white urban, peers.

posted by: Truth Avenger on December 5, 2010  11:58am

Jonathan Hopkins: You said: “It is a complicated issue, but if the cause of…could be summed up in one image, it’d be this.” Sounds fairly dogmatic in it’s implication to me. Saying the issue is complicated is hardly a qualifier.  It is stating the obvious. The problem is, the cause of all the maladies you describe, including the chasm of the achievement gap, cannot possibly be summed up in a singular graphic or in its implications.  There is never a singular or simplistic way to analyze the causes of underachievement, and there is, just as certainly, no magic bullet to closing the achievement gap.  Your original post did indeed omit any mention of whites who suffer the same social ills and chronic under achievement, and I’m glad you clarified that in your subsequent post.

Poverty among the sub groups you mention, is one of the root causes of underachievement, but so are systemic failures in the educational delivery system, our social network systems, our collective parenting skills and involvement and perhaps, even our collective will as a society to provide comprehensive solutions.  The forum that engendered these discussions, was an important first step in creating a dialogue among education stakeholders.  It is a dialogue that must continue before well-meaning reforms (like NCLB and other reform initiatives) end up causing more problems than they solve.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 5, 2010  1:48pm

Truth avenger,
“It is a complicated issue”, wasn’t the qualifier. “If the cause of…could be summed up in one image, it’d be this”. If it could be, but it can’t, so that image is just the one, that in my opinion, speaks the most about current social ills.
The basis for our nation is on economic opportunity - that’s been true since early settlements. Because we operate under a money system, the viability of individuals in our society depends on access to capital. I would agree that addressing issues like poverty, crime and education require simultaneously addressing many facets of our society, but at the basis of any effort to address these issues within the reality of our society needs to be economic opportunity. I also made it clear that changes in schooling will always need to happen, its a continual process. However, the schools, or at least the teachers, are not to blame for the education gap. I’m in an excellence graduate degree program at a University, and I sat next to people in class who are now high school drop outs, single mothers, in jail, etc. The education couldn’t possibly have been the cause, because someone like me, a conventionally successful person, received the exact same in-school education as people who are considered failures. Sure, the curriculum and delivery process could probably be improved, but that won’t address the education gap, students who are getting supplemental help at home will continue to do better than students that don’t.
It is largely the neighborhood and home life of students that effects their success. The quality of neighborhood and home life largely has to do with the economic situation.

posted by: Truth Avenger on December 5, 2010  3:59pm

Jonathan: “If it could be, but it can’t”  so why post it (the graph and its generalized implications)?

posted by: Wicked Lester on December 5, 2010  7:10pm

Townie wrote: “The New Haven Public School system is not a bad one. The failure of any student is not a failure of our city’s government, it is a failure of that student’s family and community”.

And THAT is the elephant in the room no one wants to recognize. New Haven Public Schools offer the same educational opportunities to EVERY student.

posted by: Yawn, Yawn on December 5, 2010  10:52pm

All the muckity mucks have talked and talked and talked. All there egos are swollen but smoothed. All the book writers have there royaltys. Nothing will happen. All the teachers will do there best as ever. Some kids will succeed, most will fail. Nothing changes.