Category Archives: School choice

Back to the future

Via Slashdot, here’s an article from Modern Mechanix magazine from 1968 (complete with the original article scanned in) predicting what life will be like in 2008. The technological predictions are often surprisingly accurate:

The single most important item in 2008 households is the computer. These electronic brains govern everything from meal preparation and waking up the household to assembling shopping lists and keeping track of the bank balance. Sensors in kitchen appliances, climatizing units, communicators, power supply and other household utilities warn the computer when the item is likely to fail. A repairman will show up even before any obvious breakdown occurs.

Computers also handle travel reservations, relay telephone messages, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, compute taxes and even figure the monthly bills for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities. Not every family has its private computer. Many families reserve time on a city or regional computer to serve their needs. The machine tallies up its own services and submits a bill, just as it does with other utilities.

While the social predictions are, um, not:

Other conveniences ease kitchenwork. The housewife simply determines in advance her menus for the week, then slips prepackaged meals into the freezer and lets the automatic food utility do the rest. At preset times, each meal slides into the microwave oven and is cooked or thawed. The meal then is served on disposable plastic plates. These plates, as well as knives, forks and spoons of the same material, are so inexpensive they can be discarded after use.

I guess neither women’s liberation nor conservation were on anybody’s radar screen 40 years ago!

The obvious next step is to give predictions for what life will be like in 2048. I’ll give one for education: The development of cheap, secure, high-speed computer network components will render physical location irrelevant for almost all social gatherings, including schools. Rather than attending schools physically and being tied down to the schools or college’s in one’s local area, students “attend” the school of their choice anywhere in the world.

My prediction will probably also be way off on the social end of things just by the mere fact I am suggesting that reasonable school choice provisions will be in place 40 years from now. At that time some people will still be arguing against charter schools because they “take money away from the public schools” despite the fact that physical location really will be irrelevant due to network technology advances.

Your predictions for 2048? You think we’ll have flying cars by then?

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Filed under Education, Educational technology, School choice, Technology

School choice and streamlining

BusinessWeek’s TechBeat blog has this article about the federal panel report on K-8 mathematics instruction that I blogged about here. It’s good to see this report getting attention in the blogosphere and MSM. It needs more. One thing from the BusinessWeek article that needs a slight bit of correction, though — it says:

The sad thing about the report that despite the unanimity on a panel that represents a broad spectrum of the mathematics and math education communities, it will take a decade or more for its recommendations to be implemented. It simply takes that long for curriculum guidelines to be recast, textbooks to be rewritten, and teachers to be trained or retrained. And in that time, a lot more damage can be done.

That may be true of traditional public schools, where red tape and opposing political forces must be overcome at every turn, but it does not have to be true of private or charter schools where reaction times to changing pedagogical climates can be much faster. I think this report, and the dire consequences of ignoring it, create a prime situation for charter schools and private schools to lead the way to better education for our kids. If governments would open up schools to market forces to a greater degree, we might even get the traditional public schools on board once parents choose to send their kids to places that are getting on the ball faster.

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Filed under Education, Math, School choice, Teaching

Wednesday link-fest

You know, there’s some good stuff showing up in my RSS reader once I get a chance to read it:

  • There’s a 21-page paper titled “Are There Infinitely Many Primes?” over at arXiv. How do you write 21 pages on a question that was answered “yes” about 2500 years ago? You’ll have to go see for yourself.
  • xkcd turns the Turing Test around.
  • IHE has this article on dual enrollment (high school students taking college courses) and its benefits. I agree. I’ve been involved with a dual-enrollment program at my college, and I’m definitely preferring this approach over taking a so-called AP course taught and designed outside the auspices of a college that may or may not prepare students well for actual college courses.
  • Dana Huff is wondering whether there are programs out there that will donate laptops to teachers. There’s this program from the One Laptop Per Child project, but I’ve not seen a similar program for teachers looking for “grown-up” laptops. Anybody able to help her out?
  • Homeschool2.0 has a cartoon to share about the socialization of homeschooled kids.
  • Jackie at Continuities joins me in my skepticism about digital natives.

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Filed under Education, Educational technology, Math, School choice, Teaching, Technology

Unlikely mentors?

A task force in Maryland has been looking at ways to improve the performances of African-American boys in its public schools. Among the 18 different recommendations the task force has made is to initiate a mentoring program between these kids and adults. But look who the task force would like those adults to be:

Two of the more controversial proposals are suggestions to place troubled students at black-majority high schools into single-sex classes and to encourage nonviolent offenders to be mentors to students. […]

On the recommendation to encourage ex-offenders convicted of nonviolent felonies to serve as mentors, the report says: “Maybe it’s counterintuitive to put children and ex-offenders together. And maybe it’s exactly what each one needs. Life’s lessons aren’t always learned from those who lived it flawlessly.”

But the report notes likely community concerns about such a venture. “Obviously, the program would require strict eligibility restrictions, extensive background checks, and close and continued monitoring,” it says.

This is the kind of idea that could only come from a government-sponsored, 49-member, statewide task force. Let’s take kids — many of whom are mired in a culture which glorifies violence and crime — who are struggling in school, and put them under the mentorship of convicted criminals. At least the task force is smart enough to anticipate “community concerns”.

I know the idea here is to put students with the nonviolent offenders so that they can learn “life lessons”. But it seems to me that the best and most natural place to learn these life lessons is, shockingly, from family. You know, fathers, mothers, siblings, extended family — you can include neighbors if you like — whatever happened to them? Nowhere in the article does it mention any sort of recommendation that would better enable families to help boys in the family succeed in school. Maybe this is harder for governments to do than pulling people out of jail to “mentor” young kids — in which case the government really ought to stay out of it, if that’s the best they can do.

On the other hand, a decent voucher system or enhanced support for charter schools would go a long way toward letting families put their kids in schools that they feel are best for them. Oh, but that would pull money away from the public schools. Sorry I mentioned it.

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Filed under Education, High school, School choice

Blocking kids from Indiana public schools

Here in Indiana, the state court of appeals has ruled that public school districts can refuse to enroll students if they want to go to public school part-time. An important example of when this might happen is in the case of homeschooled kids who want to pick up advanced or specialized courses. From the article:

The case involved Brownsburg schools, which had refused to accept two home-school students in three high school classes in the 2004-05 school year.

There were a lot of parents who wanted to pick and choose how to use public schools who will now have to reconsider,” said Steven D. Groth, an attorney for Brownsburg schools.

Appeals court Chief Judge John G. Baker wrote in the ruling issued this week that “home rule” statutes adopted in 1999 give Brownsburg “the authority to regulate and control the enrollment of students in its course offerings under its policy.”

Brownsburg parent Catherine Johnson wanted to enroll her sons in advanced calculus, choir and band classes at Brownsburg High School. Superintendent Kathleen Corbin refused, saying school policy required students to take at least six classes, with rare exceptions for disabled children.[…]

The school district asserted that part-time enrollment would place an added teaching and security burden on the school. Besides, district officials said, it had the authority to make and enforce its own rules. [emph. added]

Yes, God forbid that schools should be “burdened” with all those pesky kids wanting to take classes. Does this mean that public schools could, for example, bar known gang members from enrolling in public schools? Because surely that’s a security burden. How about kids of illegal immigrants who can’t speak English? Surely that’s a teaching burden. Who gets to decide what how much of a “burden” a class of students is, and whether or not the burden is unacceptable?

And do parents not have the right to “pick and choose how to use public schools”, if their tax dollars are paying for the public schools and if they are given no other option for how to use that money for educational purposes ala vouchers or tax credits?

This seems like a terrible ruling. But on the bright side, we enroll an awful lot of homeschooled kids part-time here at my college, and they are (with only rare exceptions) extremely bright, well-prepared, conscientious, focused, and enjoyable to teach. If the public schools want to sniff about “teaching and security burdens” and hand-deliver this entire demographic to my doorstep instead, then I’m for it.

Update: Upon further review, I don’t think the ruling is bad, but I do think that Brownsburg’s decision is bad (certainly for them, and probably for the homeschooled kids they are turning away). The ruling itself is actually something I basically agree with in principle, namely that communities ought to be able to decide how exactly to run their schools. But I also believe the idea of local control ought to be taken to its logical extreme, and individual families ought to be given the same degree of choice in how they educate their kids. If they want to homeschool and want to send their kids to the local public school for a class — but the local public school chooses not to admit their kids part-time — then the homeschooling family ought to be refunded the tax money they are paying into the schools and be allowed to use it elsewhere for education.


Filed under Education, High school, School choice, Teaching

Looking for an adventure?

The school system in New Orleans says it has just the ticket for you:

Some of New Orleans’ most desperate, run-down schools are beset with a severe shortage of teachers, and they are struggling mightily to attract candidates by appealing to their sense of adventure and desire to make a difference. Education officials are even offering to help new teachers find housing.

“There’s been an incredible outpouring of sympathy toward New Orleans. We feel we’re trying to say, ‘Here’s a clear path to go down if you want to act on that emotion,”’ said Matthew Candler, chief executive of the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, which is trying to recruit teachers. […]

“Recruiting is a challenge,” said Kevin George, principal of Rabouin High School in downtown New Orleans. “The housing market is terrible. The area has a poor image due to the violence. … And then there’s just coming into a place that historically had just a terrible track record of education.”

Indeed. It takes a certain kind of person to look at a hurricane-devastated, crime- and corruption-ridden, almost completely dysfunctional school system such as what exists in New Orleans now and feel the desire to move toward it rather than away from it.

In fact, it seems that if the folks in NOLA really want to attract the kind of teachers who possess the ability and toughness required to handle the situation and begin to “make a difference”, there will have to be a little a lot more put on the table than just help with finding housing. If I were a K-12 teacher considering this opportunity, I’d be looking for big rewards to balance out the big risks. A premium salary/benefits package would certainly be appropriate. But in the midst of this crisis, New Orleans also has a profound opportunity to enact fundamental changes in the way in which these schools are organized and managed. If the track record for education is as terrible as the article indicates, then why not totally restructure the way schools operate in New Orleans, so that teachers are given autonomy and the freedom to educate and use their talents as they see fit?

Consider this bit from the article:

In a reorganization that followed Katrina, the New Orleans school board got to keep a few of the city’s best-performing public schools, while those that did relatively poorly academically went to the state or to private groups that turned them into charter schools.

In all, 55 public schools are now open in the city, with about 27,400 students, or less than half the pre-Katrina enrollment. But a group that monitors the charter schools said it was unaware of any widespread teaching vacancies among the charters. And the superintendent of the Orleans Parish schools recently reported only one teaching vacancy.

If your data say that (1) NOLA has a terrible track record for education and (2) the schools turned into charter schools showed improvements in teacher retention, if not academic performance, then it would seem that a logical conclusion would be that chartering the schools has a positive effect on retaining teachers, which is exactly what NOLA wants.

My experience with K-12 teachers is that they will flock to any school that gives them the autonomy to teach, backs them up in their decision making, and gives them a reasonably positive work environment. I think NOLA will have more success this route than just making a plea for people who want to make a difference — they should try making a difference themselves.

[Hat tip: Education Wonks]

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Filed under Education, Higher ed, School choice, Teaching