January 17, 2012

Trapping the Motivated in Failing Schools

Justin Katz

This thinking, expressed by "Cranston parent," "graduate of the Pawtucket public schools," and "professor of law at New England Law - Boston" Monica Teixeira de Sousa in an op-ed, yesterday, is telling of a certain mentality:

We know that parental involvement in a child's education is one of the most powerful predictors of educational success. It is clear that a lottery system admissions process results in enrolling those students who have parents or guardians who are willing and able to take the affirmative step of placing their child's name on the list.

This seemingly small act is no small feat for many families who may be experiencing crippling problems such as illness, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness, among others. The children being raised in such circumstances and whose parents for whatever reason may not enter them into the lottery are denied any educational choice.

Underlying this sentiment is a broadly held and deeply flawed worldview that our circumstances can make us something less than human. Illness, violence, poverty, and homelessness can so rob us of our individual agency that we lack the capacity to choose even to try to overcome by the minor act of placing a name on a list. And that, naturally, is why we need leftists and education bureaucrats to tell parents where they must send their children to school and what models to use for the design of their services.

More acutely disturbing is the insistence that parents who are truly motivated to find opportunities for their children should be denied those opportunities because other parents may not seek them. It reminds me of the video making the rounds of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher explaining that progressives would rather that the poor live in worse conditions so long as the wealthy lived in worse conditions, as well. I wonder whether Teixeira de Sousa has considered that the presence of a choice might inspire some parents to realize that they should be involved and considering their options.

Be that as it may, I'm inclined to take her argument and run with it. Fine, let's amplify educational choices by developing a voucher system allowing parents to send their children wherever they like.

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"This seemingly small act is no small feat for many families who may be experiencing crippling problems such as illness, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness, among others. The children being raised in such circumstances and whose parents for whatever reason may not enter them into the lottery are denied any educational choice."

If a child's guardian is so ill, battered, poor, or homeless that they cannot fill out a simple form for their child's future, then the child requires that a more capable guardian be appointed.

I will refrain from making any derogatory remarks about the fine legal institution that is New England Law School, which supplies so many of Rhode Island's judges and public officials. Let's just say that their ranking is "not published" any longer by U.S. News & World Report.

Posted by: Dan at January 17, 2012 3:09 PM

Also, in case anyone is interested in the true agenda at work here:

Monica Teixeira de Sousa

Selected Publications:

"The State of Our Unions: How President Obama’s Education Reforms Threaten the Working Class, 50 U. Louisville L. Rev. 230 (forthcoming 2011)"

Posted by: Dan at January 17, 2012 3:23 PM

Nobody gets out unless everybody gets out. The social justice crowd is holding these kids hostage for their own agenda. But what, exactly, is that agenda? The author admits that AF could be better for these kids, but wants them to stay because of what? To help the schools find a better solution to fix the problem for all? I would go for that if she defined a process for how this would work? But when do parents have any input over how schools operate. It's their turf and they are going to keep it that way. They just want parents to validate their decisions.

Having more kids stay at (regular) public schools would increase the dollars that a school would receive, but then they would have more students to teach and more costs. Duh! The cost per student is not going down. With fewer students one could argue that they might be better able to focus on their more identical needs (non-involved parents).

Even in affluent towns, public schools do NOT want to see their best (or most willing) students leave. These students make the school look better than it really is. One of the reasons for the academic gap is that high SES parents teach and make up for the fundamental problems of the schools. This is NOT just a matter of turning off the TV. I have even gotten notes sent home telling us parents to practice basic math facts. What on earth do they expect kids to do if they have uninvoloved parents?

"Who stands to gain from mayoral academies? The short answer is that the most vulnerable among us surely stand to lose."

She does not explain how those left behind would lose. If AF is better, then why don't the schools use that model? The author admits that separating students by willingness is a good thing, so why don't public schools do that? They don't because they see education as tool for trying to eliminate poverty, not provide equal educational opportunity. They don't want to set or offer rigorous educational opportunities because they will see winners and losers rather than kids living up to their potential. They are happy if little urban Suzie gets to the community college even though she has the ability to get to Harvard.

Ultimately, they want it both ways; they want to fix poverty, but they claim that there is only so much they can do because of poverty. This view offers little room for determining if it IS poverty or if it's a matter of them providing a really bad education, ESPECIALLY when they don't separate students.

For the record, I am not right wing or left wing. I don't see anything through one political position. What I see here, however, is the soft bigotry of low expectations. This is not about affluent parents who want vouchers to send their kids to tony academies. This is about urban parents who want something more because they can't get it from the regular public schools. They are smart enough to figure out whether school A or school B is better. If it isn't, they can find another school. I wonder how it feels for the social justice crowd to be arguing against those they are dedicated to help. It's the same as the Green Dot school issue in CA. The affluent get choice, but urban parents are apparently too stupid to figure it out.

Posted by: SteveH at January 21, 2012 9:35 AM

There is also this by Winston Churchill:

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

They focus on the relative educational gap when they should be working towards raising the overall educational level. The gap might actually increase (between towns and between the low achievers and the high achievers, but everyone would be better off. A rising tide may float all boats, but nobody will learn to fly. Unfortunately, they haven't even figured out how to raise the tide. Sincerity is not good enough.

Posted by: SteveH at January 21, 2012 9:51 AM
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