Monday, September 27, 2010

Waiting for Mr. Moneybags

Early this summer when Alex Johnston told a Minnesota Meeting how to hurt public school teachers, he recounted an anecdote about a charter school in Connecticut that was having attendance problems with certain students. It turned out that this particular charter school required students to wear uniforms, and that the truant students didn't have enough money or parental support to regularly wash their clothes, resulting in the students staying home rather than showing up for school wearing dirty clothes. Johnston giddly asked the crowd - "What did the school do? They installed washing machines and dryers in the basement," which resulted in a "double whammy when parents showed up with their children to do their laundry."

Simple solution, right? Only - what school in Minnesota would do the same? They have had almost $2 billion - TWO BILLION DOLLARS - withheld by the state of Minnesota. They're having trouble paying the heating and busing bills, let alone installing washers and dryers for the families of their students.

Just yesterday President Obama told NBC that money alone isn’t the cure for America’s ailing school system. Try telling that to the producers of the anti-teacher movie about to hit theaters called Waiting for Superman, which profiles successful charter schools in New York as examples of the possibilities of choice in education. Only what you won't see in the movie is that two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources - funds that provide free medical care and social supports for children in those schools.

Obama might have been right that money alone won't solve America's education woes - the problems go much deeper than that - straight to the heart of the society that produces the children that populate our schools.  But the converse is also true - starving regular public schools of funds, as Governor Bridgefail has done in Minnesota makes the problems that much worse. And it is emblematic of our education discourse that the successes pointed to by education deformers are as much due to hidden extra outside money and support as due to the freedom of management afforded by charter schools.

UPDATE: From what I can find, schools in Minnesota apparently can require students to wear uniforms; but it appears the school themselves may have to pay for them.


Aaron Klemz said...

It makes you wonder what the effect of simply providing free medical care and social support services for children in public schools would be, even in the absence of any "reform."

Note to social scientists: that's called a "control group."

blogspotdog said...

I have also heard that Waiting for Superman doesn't have any public schools in it.

blogspotdog said...

Wasn't there a school in the northern suburbs that made a specific effort to get eye exams and other medical and social services for students, and met with spectacular results? I've got to look that up; I think it was just this spring I saw a story about it.

Alec, do you know the school I'm referring to?

Rob Levine said...

It was Brooklyn Center. The principal got the clinic built and funded, and saw immediate results in improved behaviour and increased test scores. In an irony of ironies, No Child Left Behind MANDATED his firing for not meeting AYP goals.

Alec Timmerman said...

All of this stuff is already hapening in our public schools that work. St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff, highly touted for its turnaround, combined the two most successful, and proven reforms. They attached a community resources center to the school itself for the families and parents. They committe to abandoning the centuries old practice of teacher isolation and competition to work as a collaborative community of professionals. Those two reforms work.

As far as "clean clothes" and how creative and do anything ca do attitude only happens in charters? Every year we have an influx of students from countries where they don't even know what a coat is. Who the hell do you think provides the kids with coats, mittens, boots, etc? The public school teachers and the public schools.

Also, my daughter attends a uniform public school. We have to buy them, but they have used uniforms and I think they might have scholarship uniforms. The uniform expense is an expectation of the school, and their are other schools kids can choose. I'm pretty sure they accomodate poor kids though, because it is about 60% poverty.

As an aside, you'll never guess what the number one reform trend is for minority kids and poor kids. Make them wear uniforms. It's easy, highly visible, and makes people think they are doing something about the problem. Kind of like performance pay. My daughters school is good, and the uniforms make my life easier, but they have nothing to do with learning.

Also, as far as doing whatever it takes to care for the whole child, EVERY ST. Paul High School has a full service clinic with Nurse practioners, social workers, and therapists. The clinics are run by an outside provider. They take insurance if the kid has it, but will see them for aything that a normal clinic would.

One last small story. Last year I supervised the weight room after school for kids. I kept having to kick kids out who didn't have shorts because their jeans/belts would rip the covering of the benches. Anyway, some kids didn't even have shorts. I e-mailed our staff to see if anyone had any olf work out shorts they wanted to donate. The next day I had two garbage bags full of brand new work out shorts. The kids were grateful to get them and I didn't have to kick them out anymore. Public schools have always been doing stuff like "putting in washers and dryers". We just consider it part of the job of taking care of kids and don't need a movie made about it.

I welcome anyone, anytime, to film my school, and my students. Heck, just visit.

blogspotdog said...

I will take you up on that offer, Alec, after the election. Deal?

Alec Timmerman said...

minn stat 123B.36 subdivision 4

Looks like schools can require them but they have to make accomodations for kids who cannot afford the uniforms.

    Subd. 4. School uniforms. Notwithstanding section 123B.37, a board may require students to furnish or purchase clothing that constitutes a school uniform if the board has adopted a uniform requirement or program for the student's school. In adopting a uniform requirement, the board shall promote student, staff, parent, and community involvement in the program and account for the financial ability of students to purchase uniforms.

Alec Timmerman said...


blogspotdog said...

I'll bring a video camera.

blogspotdog said...

If you haven't read it yet, you should go and read Jeff Fecke's blog post If I Go Crazy Now Will You Stil Wait For Superman? Here's an interesting graph from his post. Note that the biggest gains happened during the period from about 1960 to 1980. They what happened in America, boys and girls?

Randy said...

<p><span>Most Americans don’t give any thought to education unless it affects them at the moment, or unless schools and teachers can be used as proxies in broader cultural/political wars.</span>
</p><p><span> </span>
</p><p><span>Charter schools are the classic example of that thinking. <span> </span>For the last three decades, the received wisdom in the US has been that government is bad, privatization is good. <span> </span>Charter schools, run by private enterprise with little, if any, oversight by the government, must therefore be good. <span> </span>It doesn’t matter if every study shows that their students do no better than students in public school. <span> </span>They are not run by government, so charter schools must be the bee’s roller skates.</span>
</p><p><span> </span>
</p><p><span>There are a lot of other examples of schools being held hostage to other fights.<span>  </span>Look at Texas, or look at the bickering over teaching evolution.  Does it matter hat students will not learn? <span> </span>Of course not—we are preserving the hegemony of Christian fundamentalists.</span>
</p><p><span> </span>
</p><p><span>Rob, you have identified the biggest cause for student failure:<span>  </span>their home environment. <span> </span>What can be done about that?<span>  </span>Charitable measures like washers and dryers are alright, I suppose, if they don’t become a habit. <span> </span>How about some bigger things that address root causes?<span>  </span>Continuously accessible medical care? <span> </span>Safe, affordable housing?<span>  </span>Adequate nutrition for all children?<span>  </span>NO!!!<span>  </span>Heaven forfend!<span>  </span>We would rather have our children fail, and perpetuate a cycle, than allow that kind of bolshevism to take hold.</span></p>

blogspotdog said...

The overblown educational "crisis": an article in The New Yorker.

Alec Timmerman said...

Pretty rigorous studies (Marzanno, DuFour, etc.) show that a functional, collaboratively organized public school can overcome any of the aforementioned external challenges. They take time (Dayton's Bluff took 5 or 6 years). The reforms also require teaches, admin, students, districts and parents to break a hundred years of habits and traditions that probably worked well for them since most teachers, admin, etc. were above average learners.

The problem, is that today's "reformers" are doing things that encourage the teacher to work in isolated competition against other teachers and students. In schools that work, all the kids in the school belong to all the teachers. It's not a test to see if my kids did better than your kids. 

Anyway, it's a huge, and grinding challenge to work with schools that are mostly super high need, but if we don't believe we can overcome all of those externalities than we might as well pack it in. Of course, it would be nice if society helped take care of some of those externalities and made teacher's jobs a little more manageable.