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Sunday, June 29, 2008

How To Compare Schools?

How to compare schools is always an interesting topic. Here are some quotes
from Kitchen Table Math Blog. Go to the site to read the whole article:
the homework gap
from Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us by Daniel
Koretz --

...these critics usually miss the flip side of the coin: ignoring
noneducational causes of variations in scores--that is, assuming that scores
are a direct indication of school quality--lets some high-scoring schools
off the hook. Some schools have high test scores because of the students
they serve rather than the quality of the education they offer, but those
who are convinced that scores most reflect educational quality consider them
good schools regardless. My own children attended some of the
highest-scoring schools in our state. They did indeed have some truly superb
teachers, but they also had some mediocre ones and a few I thought should
not have been allowed to teach at all, including one English teacher whose
grammatical and vocabulary errors during parents' visiting day were so
egregious that they sparked repeated and audible protests from the parents
sitting in the back of the room. Test scores were nevertheless always high,
a reflection in part of the very high education level in the community,
which was full of attorneys, physicians, academics, economists, foreign
diplomats, biomedical researchers, and the like...Not only did these parents
provide--on average--environments highly conducive to academic achievement,
but many also provided supplementary instruction, either by reteaching
material themselves or by paying for the services of neighborhood tutoring

A concrete example: when my son was in seventh grade, took a math class
that was not well taught. (I went and watched, to confirm my hunch.) One
evening he told me that he was confused by his math homework, which was part
of an introduction to probability and statistics. I first tried to clarify
the homework, but I soon realized that he was missing a few key notions. I
asked him for his class materials, looked them over, and retaught him some
of the core concepts, and after that he was able to handle the homework. I
went back to the kitchen to clean up from dinner, but he soon called me
upstairs again. He had just auditioned successfully for the school's jazz
band, and he was having trouble counting out rhythms in the piece he was
supposed to practice. I counted them out for him, but he still found them
confusing (as I had too, many years earlier, when I first tried playing
jazz). So I fetched my own horn and played the music at about half tempo
while he counted it out. That worked. As I resumed scrubbing pots, my wife
turned to me and said, "There you have it: social class differences in
educational achievement."

Disappointing scores can mask good instruction, and high scores can hide
problems that need to be addressed.

First of all, public schools are built to provide inputs, not outputs:
instruction, not achievement.

That may not have been so deadly when schools grouped kids homogeneously.
With homogeneous grouping the classroom teacher probably had a decent chance
of knowing where the kids were and of being able to teach to their level.

Along comes the de-tracking movement, and now you've got heterogeneously
grouped classrooms with kids all over the map in terms of readiness. The
inputs model hasn't changed, so teachers are told to teach to the middle, or
they're told to differentiate instruction, and when teaching to the middle
or differentiating instruction work for some of the kids but not all of the
kids, you assume the problem is the kid, not the school. After all, the
school's job is to provide opportunities to learn, and as long as you've put
PowerPoints on the SMARTBoard, you've done that.

Then add to this set-up school districts in which the vast majority of
parents are college-educated and affluent enough to hire tutors, and what do
you get?

You get "high-performing" schools where the kids are being retaught by
parents and tutored by tutors.

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