I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Great Moments In Reformy Backtracking

Earlier this week, I blogged about a reformyist group in Connecticut, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, that said something pretty dumb: poverty doesn't much matter in student achievement. Their proof was that poor students in New Jersey and Massachusetts do better than those in Connecticut; the reason was that NJ and MA had implemented reformy policies similar to those proposed by Governor Malloy.

There are two reasons that this is nonsense: first, neither NJ or MA has yet implemented anything like Malloy proposes; second, NJ and MA actually addressed school financing reform years ago when CT didn't, and that is far more likely to stand as the reason for their relative successes.

Bruce Baker weighed in on this - twice. Jon Pelto weighed in. Jon Pelto then pointed to a whole bunch of other people who weighed in. All said the same thing: the notion that poverty has little to do with student achievement is absurd on its face.

Well, I guess embarrassment can be a powerful motivator, because Rae Ann Knopf of CCER is dialing it way, way back. What follows is a classic case of reformy damage control, which I will happily translate for you:
It’s important to clarify a point made earlier this week by the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). CCER understands and appreciates all of the challenges that poverty presents to our state’s educators.  We know that there are great teachers and great school leaders across the state who are tirelessly working to improve the lives of children in poverty, but the statistics tell us that we have to do more because we are not meeting the needs of all of our state’s children.  We appreciate everyone’s efforts, but we need to do more because we know that education is the key to career success and economic self-sufficiency. 
OK, I said: "We cannot continue to blame the current state of education in Connecticut on poverty," but that's not what I meant! I meant that we need to do more; and by "we," I mean teachers, and not the people funding my operation, who are taking more of the money and paying less in taxes than just about any time in modern history.
If you are looking for evidence to show the effects of poverty can be overcome by good teaching, it is not hard to find. There are reams of data to show a difference can be made in the achievement levels of children who start out behind because they live in poverty.  Teachers play the central role in accomplishing this.
See, teachers can help poor kids learn. Therefore, we just need to force them to make poor kids learn more! That way, I won't have to call for policies that address childhood poverty outside of the school; I just plop the whole thing down on the teachers' laps! Neat trick, huh?
This is why we started this work, to put into practice ways to help teachers and principals to accomplish this on a more regular basis. For the more than 1 in 5 Connecticut students who don’t graduate high school or the 2 in 5 who don’t if they live in poverty; continuing these efforts is essential. For the rest of us, failure to change this equation creates dramatic consequences for our state. Students who drop out of high school in Connecticut can expect to make an average of $19,000 a year during their most productive years – between the ages of 25 and 34, and cost the state $518,000 in lost revenues and expenses. These statistics can be changed. I know they can because I have lived them.
I'm putting these statistics out there in the hope that you don't ask how I think schools can possibly alleviate all of the effects of childhood poverty, and hoping you ignore all the evidence that they can't.
It’s time we stopped talking about who is right, and focus attentions on doing what is right. Restore the essential policies that will help Connecticut educators change the stars of our most disadvantaged children today. They cannot wait another year.
Please don't continue to make me eat my own words; it's embarrassing.

It sure is.


Anonymous said...

I fully support your conclusion that we ought to stop spending so much money on schools. Finland seems to spend about $2,000 less per student per year than we do (see the second chart here: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/45/48/37864432.pdf ). We should take that money and direct it to anti-poverty efforts instead of wasting it on teachers who, in your words, aren't going to make much difference anyway.

Duke said...

"In my words..."

Please, find the quote where I say teachers "aren't going to make much difference anyway." You have two years of blog to wade through. Gp ahead, tell me where it is. Give me the link.

As to your per country spending comparison: do Finland's costs include teacher health care and pensions?

Come back when you have an answer.

Anonymous said...

Finland does NOT have charter schools, school vouchers or any of the school choice crapola. It's not about to undermine its national school system with all this reform nonsense that's going on in the US. By the way, in Finland, about 3% to 5% of their kids live in poverty while more than 21% of US kids live in poverty. Finnish kids spend less time in school than most of the other advanced countries, they do not test their kids to death, they don't have rich oligarchs trying to privatize their educational system. Home schooling is non existent. Finland has universal health care, generous social benefits and free university education. Finland is NOT burdened with school privatizer trolls that demonize unions and teachers 24/7. Oh yeah, Finnish teachers are all UNIONIZED.

Anonymous said...

That's the whole gist of your comments here and elsewhere: in this very post you mock the idea that teachers can do much good for poor kids, and elsewhere you constantly claim that teachers are only responsible for 10-20% of learning, while home environment is responsible for 60%.

Ok, then, let's cut the education budget in half and put the money into anti-poverty programs. I'm all with you. Why spend near the tops in the world on teachers, when even teachers admit that they can't do much good compared to what anti-poverty programs could do?

Anonymous said...

@anon 5:49 AM
Are you joking, are you out of your mind? Cut an education budget in half that has already been slashed? Gee, class size will be about 70 kids in a classroom. Instead of slashing the education budget to fund the anti-poverty program, why not reduce the defense budget to fund the anti-poverty program? A sizeable portion of the education budget goes to buildings, books, tests and upkeep of same. Cut the ed. budget in half more than it has already been cut and school buildings will be rotting in place.

Anonymous said...

Folks, do you notice that whenever the troll's agruments are questioned, he switches to a different reformist talking point, (rather than defend the point in question)? What happened to Finland? They're just like us, except for their economy, health care, population, and history, right?

Ah, go to Helsinki! (The noble Finns won't want you either.)

What else do you have in your bag of tricks . . . status quo, greedy unions, bogus studies, lies, comparisons to (tiny) homogeneous populations, beneficent billionaires, phony charges of racism, exigency (We must do SOMETHING now!) are there logical fallacies you haven't used yet?
Just keep us running, it works--some of the most successful figures in history have used this plan--but you wouldn't want to be compared to them.

Let's not forget your sincere concern: it's green, fits into your wallet, and can be exchanged for goods and services.

A Nonny Mouse said...

BTW- why Finland costs less to educate?

Special education students are not educated in the regular system. They are educated under Finland's national healthcare system. Imagine how inexpensive our schools would be if we educated every classified child under a different line item in the state budget? It's not that they are denied an education, just that that education is paid for under a different program and NOT counted into the education budget.

Just something to think about, when the cost of educating just ONE autistic student can top $30K per year. Finland probably spends quite a bit more per non-classified student than NJ does.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the troll will just move on to another line of attack--or another country. How about Singapore--the SL printed a story yesterday about a private school hero just back from that paradise--oh what they do with math there--and they have the gum-chewing problem solved too--WHACK!

Well, he's just doing his job--professional chain yanker!

Duke said...

A Nonny: I did not know that about Finland and spec ed students. Do you have a source?

Anonymous said...

A better question would be: Why are Estonia's test scores so high, consistently second in Europe and well outpacing the US, despite spending about half of what the U.S. (and Finland) spend? And, why are the test scores of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland so mediocre? The answer is, Finno-Ugric, spoken officially only in Finland and Estonia. It is a pure, simple language, extremely easy to learn compared to English and other cobbled together languages. The jump start Finnish and Estonian kids get in speaking carries benefit all the way through. And, another piece of data, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland, despite being gernerally wealthier, do not perform as well as the students benefiting from the simple Finno-Urgic speech. Yet....you don't hear of any teacher union junkets to Estonia to see how they achieve so much on so little. I think half of Finland's GNP is on PR for their schools! Read all about it: http://finnish-and-pisa.blogspot.com/