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  • Cynewulf

    It looks like the discussion has gotten bogged down on whether the people who graduate from public schools go on to be successful in life. I went graduated from a public school. My wife did. Here, in the upper-middle class subdivision I live in, most of my neighbors went to public schools. The dorm rooms at the university I attended were full of public high school grads. My parents and all my friends' parents all went to public schools. I have several friends who went to a K-12 private school (some went to public universities, some to private). All of us are gainfully employed, tax-paying citizens. My private school friends are on par with my public school friends. The key, though, is we were all from the same socio-economic background. I would have done well in my friends' private school; they would have done well in my public school. We don't have a public school problem. We have a society problem. You won't fix it by monkeying with the schools. In fact, you're likely to make things worse.

    Really, though, Shaun is right; this is self-evident and shouldn't need data to back it up. And it's beside the main point of the article. If we concede that these private prep schools are the elite schools of the nation, and if we posit that the reforms being pushed by Duncan, et al are the best practices for education, shouldn't these private prep schools be jumping on board? Do we think they'll fall behind over time if they don't? I keep telling people that I wish my kids could get the education that I got in the 70s and early 80s, before all of this reform craziness started. I'm not very happy with public education right now, but my discontent all stems from things that were born out of the reform movement.

  • JJ Tennessee

    I am not certain about the details of the present "reform initiative" and don't claim to have all of the answers. However, common sense tells me we need to do something. Our results on testing of basic skills such as math, reading and science compared to other nations is, at best, embarrassing. I recently had a discussion with an owner of a fast food franchise who was frustrated that he could not find enough high school graduates who could make change for a dollar and who could have a clue what to do if the automated cash register did not tell them what change to give. In my opinion, that should never happen with someone whom we grant a HS diploma. My opinion of what might help is not at all popular with educators, but it is a fact that not all children are created equal, no matter how much we wish it to be so. I think we should begin in early grades to find the more capable students and segregate them into separate classes. The goal would be to try to help the next levels to catch up and for all to reach as high as they are capable of achieving. It is my experience that the present system requires teachers to teach to the median, boring the better students and leaving further behind the slower learners. I believe a portion of the Sec. of Education's statement concerning parents from socially and economically advantaged families not accepting that all of their kids may not be equally brilliant. If we taught each child what he or she could comprehend at a specific rate, many might not be able to get 4 years of math and science, but maybe all who graduate could at least be able to function with computer, economic and social skills and have basics simple knowledge allowing them to function in modern society. I understand that the US has a complicated population of mixtures of many different races and cultures, but my comments do not address a racial or cultural bias. Youngsters from all racial and cultural backgrounds have the same variety of brilliant as well as slower thinkers. Granted, cultural and economic backgrounds will require an effort to develop and allow those students to get to an equal starting point. I realize that my thoughts may not be practical, but for goodness sake, we better start doing something! JJ Tennessee

  • pilgrimish

    "Our public education system, with all of its admitted flaws, manages to nurture the vast majority of young people, many of whom go on to be hugely successful."

    What a whopper of a claim in the first line! Do you have any sources to back that, Shaun?

    • Shaun Johnson

      I don't understand why that's such a whopper. The majority of students in this country attend public schools. Additionally, think of all the successful public school attendees, like Presidents, famous actors, scientists, engineers, and so forth. Try NCES, I'm not going to do your work for you.

      • Sherie C

        Shaun , as much as I respect your article/ contribution and I agree with most of what you say, I do feel your response here to pilgrimish's question is a little harsh.
        You write in your article "As a teacher educator and former classroom teacher, I’m happy to provide all the proof I need that their messages, every last one of them, are destructive. But for now, I have a simpler demonstration." So now, someone is questioning your argument and asking for some verification or proof and your response is "Try NCES, I'm not going to do the work for you".
        Good citizen journalism needs sources and for the sake of transparency, we all deserve them.

        • Shaun Johnson


          Pilgrim's request for verification is so commonsense it doesn't even merit any further research. It's not really something that requires attribution. Look at all the anecdotal evidence available that public schools can and will continue to nurture successful people. Celebrities like Matt Damon, who has been very vocal about his support for public schools, is indeed a public school graduate. Shall we continue with Presidents, like our current one? He attended a public high school, for instance. Does that suffice?

          • winoceros

            But he doesn't send his kids to public school in CA, does he?

          • winoceros

            For starters, Damon has run, not walked, to the private school in LA to enroll his children.

            Second, President Obama went to an elite private high school on scholarship. It is one of the largest in the nation. He spent much of the time stoned, by his own admission, with a band of like-minded slackers called "The Choom Gang."

            I hope these "facts" aren't as "common sense" as the rest of the assertions in the article.

            Anecdotes have their place. They should not, however, serve as the premise of an argument

            • Cynewulf

              Given the current reforms in place in public schools and current leadership priorities in LA (billion dollars spent on iPads instead of on repairing/improving existing schools), I would send my kids to a private school, too.

              • winoceros

                Indeed. But the issue is the platform Damon enjoys as a self-proclaimed government education advocate, and his avoidance of same when his own progeny are at risk.

                He is a hypocrite, and graduating from a top-tier public prep school doesn't make him an expert in public school reform, nor the perfect anecdote masquerading as evidence that the author seems to laud.

          • 7evenseaz

            Not at all, actually. Anecdote is not evidence, Shaun. Especially when attempted to make a argument based on statistical evidence which you haven't actually provided or even attempted to shine more light on. So far, you've confidently mentioned 44 men, several of whom have received boarding school or private secondary educations, comprising the small set of people who make up our American Presidents. You then continue to mention actors, one to be exact, who have attended public school. What's the tally for that group of individuals? And then engineers and scientists... do you actually have a number? The conversation about the value of public education in America needs hard truths, Shaun. Not fluff.

            • Kevin Cordeiro

              As a researcher of Subaltern and Periphery histories the constant dismissal of anecdotal evidence perpetuates a western-centric view of evidence and substantially accurate analysis. Especially in education can this by incredibly vital. One point that should be remembered is that statistical data is expensive, therefore its collection is often funded by (and more often biased towards) well resourced and empowered institutions or groups. Those high-capital investors in educational research are looking out for the interest of their capital. [Gates Foundation is an excellent example of this] Secondly part of this question of 'value' and 'success' are loaded with cultural and classist presumptions of the meanings of those terms. Post-modernist linguistic analysis has shown that terms such as these show drastic chasms of meaning between the super-structures meaning of those terms and that of the working class (the majority of our students and their families). Part of Shaun's article that is part of the more subtle analysis here is that we are applying different dimensions of success for our students and of effective schools between private elite schools and public working class schools. You show me one organization collecting data relative to this argument and I'll be more than happy to sit and analyze as much as possible to give to the data.

              • Shaun Johnson

                Beautiful. Have any good readings to recommend on subaltern theories and education? I've read some basics, Prison Notebooks, and so forth.

            • Shaun Johnson

              All right, so let me get this straight. You want me to actually use descriptive statistics to make the argument that a good majority of the roughly 50 million public school students, in roughly 14,000 school districts, in approximately 100,000 public schools, might possibly, actually, likely become successful and otherwise happy, healthy, and productive human beings? You need evidence, cold hard, quantitative evidence, that maybe, just maybe, the roughly 50 million students attending public schools on any given day might one day become successful? You need statistical evidence for that argument? Would you also require statistical evidence if I were to assert that gravity exists?

              • 7evenseaz

                Do you have any sources to back the second line of your last statement, Shaun? And Kevin, did you go to public school or private for either primary and secondary education?

                • pilgrimish

                  While your point, Kevin, is a "logical" one, this has nothing to do with a "subaltern" or "periphery" historical perspective, nor "western" for that matter. I'm simply asking for any evidence, numerical, statistical, and/or anecdotal, if it be wholesome, to tell me that public schools in America manage "to nurture the vast majority of young people, many of whom go on to be hugely successful."

                  Really, this is a whole bunch of beating around the bush. Shaun.. your last comment was redundant. You're still not saying anything. What's not to get about what I'm asking?

                  • Shaun Johnson

                    But it actually does, if you understand the term "positivist." The gold standard under NCLB, for instance, is quantitative research. Thus, statistical and numerical research is privileged over the potential insights gained from, for example, case studies, interviews, ethnographies, and document analysis. We can learn a great deal from qualitative methods, or even mixed designs. An over-reliance on numerical methods limits the potential for alternative ways of knowing. As I sit here in a coffee shop right now, there are a couple of dozen people, the vast majority of which I'm sure went to public school. They are talking, joking, feeding their children. They seem like very well-adjusted, happy, healthy human beings. To dismiss this contention in favor of simple descriptive statistics is just really weird.

                  • Shaun Johnson

                    Again. There are 50 million public school students at any given moment. No statistical or numerical data is necessary to support such a statement. It would be as if requiring numerical data to support the contention that the sky is blue. We can ask for numerical information to support almost any assertion; for instance, I am hungry. Your potential reply, "got any numbers to back that up?" I could measure my blood sugar, but why waste my time?

                  • Kevin Cordeiro

                    7evenseaz, I attended public school at the primary level in the 2nd "worst performing" district in my state, I went to a state operated vocational secondary school whose sending districts contained 3 of the "worst performing" districts in the state. My Alma Mater was also a state school. Pilgrimish, I disagree both as a product of public schools and a teacher in them this is an environment in which a vast amount (I wont say majority for fear of reprisal) of those effected by its policies are within the marginalized demographics and class. My main contention here is that it is a classic Western trope to negate a statement by labeling it as in some way hallow because it lacks the statistical data that is rooted in Taylorism and the scientific management of society beyond the factory. I don't mean to portray this post as a new breakthrough in the analysis of education policy in the United States. However, nor do I feel it is productive or legitimate to dismiss its judgments because it lacks dense sourcing or statistics.

  • Jesse Sloan

    Remove the test and learn more abstract objective focus. This is more creative, fun, and efficient, if you're not scared to. In this way a broad focus is better, but a broad focus would remove the class levels, unless the level was based on the understanding of a particular class alone and not one's age/ethnic/social group. A person who knows how to read but can't do algebra shouldn't take the whole grade over again. And to put a time limit to complete a class to answer the standards, is to put a time limit on understanding what really matters.

  • Carolyn Wilson

    I share your passion for public schools and your outrage at the narrow, shallow and mechanized aproaches to teaching and learning that are being imposed on public schools. I also see the advantages of having a common set of standards as part of a baseline for what our children need to know and be able to do. Children need to know multiplication facts, they need to understand ratios and how to determine rate or slope. Independent schools have standards or learning outcomes. They simply measure them in mulitple ways. Some even teach them in multiple ways. The problems with school reform movements, NCLB and Race To The Top is that they measure a narrow slice of student performance and encourage a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to teaching and assessment. Standardized tests, computer-based instruction (which is not the same as online instruction) are all designed for economies of scale. Indepenedent schools succeed, in part, because they are strong communities where children are known well and have opportunities to contribute to the community. It costs a lot of time and money to support educators in building and maintaining rich learning communities where there is a shared set of expectations for what should be taught and measured and many paths to acquiring mastery. How many Americans really value the complex set of practices and underlying values which are the foundation of great learning communities? Too many settle for test scores and college admissions as a metric of educational success. I despair that our society will ever devote the resources to create and maintain public schools that are inspiring, supportive, challenging and accountable. But we must not fear being accountable- we simply have to redefine the measures to which we hold schools accountable.

    • Shaun Johnson

      We can certainly practice multiplication facts without an expensive common core standards apparatus.

      • Carolyn Wilson

        Shaun, I have worked in and with public schools off and on for 34 years. I can assure you that there have been teachers who embraced the idea that calculators would and should replace the need to learn multiplication facts, or, as they are more appropriately viewed factor families. I could give you multiple examples of shallow thinking that sometimes shapes thought and instructional trends in education. Common Core Standards, rightly considered, are a starting place for shared vocabulary and discussion about what children should learn and be able to do. They can be taught and assessed in a variety of ways but careful analysis of how children learn, what they should learn and how we are doing in supporting their learning is not destructive. Certainly that is not achieved on a single measure, high stakes test but Common Standards are not the enemy of deep, meaningful and effective teaching. They are simply one tool.

  • Wendy Finch

    We live in Texas. We've done both private & public for our children. We now have the STARR testing where the kids must test out of every subject. Try that on for size. No support for the teacher or students - it's touted as a broad test for each subject. This is CRAZY and it's not going away.An immense amount of public money is spent on re mediating these kids.

    • DemiBG

      The government should take care of the social status of the students in the USA, not in Irak or Afghanistan, but here behind the Hill in DC where 3000 kids a day are being afraid to go to school because they are not saved. How many of the ones that are making it to school are hungry; that is another question. All these questions cannot be solved by the teachers, and yet they have been damped on teachers. The DC teachers became responsible for everything. Get the troops back home and put them in schools and areas where is dangerous even to walk out on the street.

      • Shaun Johnson

        Very interesting ideas, DC is a prime example of educational inequalities.