November 30, 2008

On Delaware education

Dave Burris has a couple posts up about reforming education right here in Delaware, to which the Energizer Bunny Perry has responded. Perry writes:

Dave, I heard your rant the other day and you have a point. However, you seem to think the solution involves cutting out the union and reducing administration duplication and costs. I think there is much more that we can do, which has to do with our continued propensity for so-called local control and continued segregation according to class and race. To improve our schools, we need to start to move away from these concepts.

Say what? Why do away with local control? I always fail to grasp the "progressive" infatuation with top-down control, in this case from one state superintendent downward. What, precisely, is so anathema with having local superintendents, who're much more attuned to their population and district needs? If the issue is saving cash, each individual school district can cut plenty of fat at the central office level.

And what is meant "continued segregation according to class and race?" You mean ... since desegregation? Is it the growing propensity for parents to take advantage of choice -- whether it be public or charter schools? How precisely is this a bad thing? Unfortunately, the only thing I can think of is the usual predilection of "progressives" like Perry to engage in the bigotry of low expectations; in other words, if choice is open to everyone, what does it actually matter if economic and/or racial proportions are disparate? ("Disparate" meaning based on the "progressive" notion of "proportionate representation." The usual crapola.) Y'see, for "progressives" like Perry, equal opportunity is insufficient. Equal outcomes are of primary importance. If, in Delaware, it is a majority of more affluent and/or white parents who are taking advantage of the state's school choice law, then ... something's wrong with the law. Poor[er] people might not utilize school choice. Therefore, we cannot allow the decision of where to attend school to be in parents' hands.

Perry then goes on to make a comparison to Fairfax County, VA's district:

* One superintendent over the entire system.
* Takes advantage of economy of scale.
* Costs $13.4K per student, about 18% less than DE.
* Average SAT score: 1654
* Much smaller number of charter and private schools than DE.
* Has an extensive teacher in-service training system.
* Well organized teacher orientation.
* High standards for teacher hires.
* Pays good salaries/benefits.
* Extensive AP and IB offerings.
* Thomas Jefferson HS of Science and Technology, world class.
* Gifted and talented program available at all schools.
* Extensive adult education offerings.

He writes "good comparison of our school system can be made to the Fairfax County Public School System." But what, precisely, is the "good" comparison? Why is having less private and charter schools "good?" Who says DE districts don't pay well and offer good bennies? Who says DE districts don't have extensive in-service and teacher orientation? What constitutes "good" teacher in-service and orientation? Who says DE districts don't have high standards for new hires?

He then asks,

Now granted, we do not have a $2.2 billion budget to work with, (gee, that might be a "small" factor! -- Hube) but, having a renowned and exemplary school system on our doorsteps, why are we Delawareans so parochial as to not avail ourselves of this model for the improvement of our school system?

Perhaps because, like too much in education today, much of what you say is undefinable fluff. How easy is it to say "We need high standards for teachers." Or, "we need high standards for students." It continually amazes me when education "think tanks" or "study groups" remarkably come up with ideas such as these. I mean, how long does it take a task force to come up with such these "terrific ideas?"

I've had a few conversations with Dave Burris about education reform. While I always note my suggestions are far from a universal panacea, I believe common sense measures include:

  • Keep local control. Look at what a fiasco the New County School District was at the beginning of desegregation. If that was a mess, imagine what making the entire state a single district would be.
  • Trim the administrative fat at [district] central offices. Concentrate administrators at the school level for improved concentration on curriculum and discipline. Discipline is usually always noted as the #1 concern of teachers and parents alike, so why not increase the administrative presence in this area -- at individual schools?
  • In accordance with the above, change the state formula for "teaching unit" allocations. At present, many folks in administrative positions are still labeled as "teaching units." This obviously takes away from classroom resources as principals currently have to count such administrators as "teachers."
  • Cut the state DOE, same as above (Kilroy agrees with me). There's no need for many of the top-down regulations at the state level that we currently have.
  • Ditch the way-too expensive DSTP for something much cheaper (like the online NWEA). No Child Left Behind doesn't stipulate on what test a state must use for its assessment. It's amazing we've kept the DSTP for as long as we have.
  • Common sense teacher evaluations. Some of the stuff "thought up" by our legislators and others makes little sense. For instance, basing a non-core subject teacher's evaluation [partly] on students' performance in math, reading and writing is just flat-out dumb and grossly unfair.
  • Allow school choice and charters to continue to grow. Competition within this framework can only benefit students and keeps teachers on their "creative toes." (See the News Journal's report on school choice in Canada.)

Feel free, as always, to chime in with your own ideas.

Posted by Hube at November 30, 2008 12:06 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Hube, I'm pleased that I posted my piece on Burris' blog, because it prompted you to come forward with some excellent suggestions.

Please note, Hube, that I did not criticize the DE school system, though you responded as though I had, your usual straw man fallacy approach. If you reread my piece, you will see that I picked the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) System as a model which may serve us well in looking into what they do to achieve what they do for their students and faculty. We Delawareans might learn a few things!

My one point of criticism is the segregation that I observe in DE. You call it choice, which is true, but the outcome is segregation, resulting in an impediment for the Public Schools to deliver a higher quality education for all. I would expect you, a public school teacher, to agree with me on this point. It is a fact that DE has proportionately more private and charter schools than Fairfax County, VA.

And by the way, FCPS does offer choice of public schools. However, it is the responsibility of the parents to deliver their child either to the school or to a bus stop.

One more misstatement you made: "Y'see, for "progressives" like Perry, equal opportunity is insufficient. Equal outcomes are of primary importance."

You made this up, Hube. I don't for a second agree with that! Here is what I did say on the Michelle Rhee topic on the same Burris blog, which I'm sure you read: "We need to nurture robust and safe public schools, so that the more gifted and affluent children are not skimmed off as is happening too often nowadays. It has to do with creating equal opportunity for all to succeed." I made no mention of "equal outcomes".

Dave Burris was decrying the high per pupil cost in DE. In addition to my highlighting FCPS, in VA, I suggested we practice economy of scale by consolidating all districts in the state under one superintendent, as is already done at FCPS.

Finally, I believe in providing robust, quality, and safe neighborhood schools. If we do that, then "choice" will not produce as much of a brain drain as that we now have going to our private and some charter schools. Dr. Stone, the superintendent of the Cape school district, has made the same point. FCPS proves that this can be done, which was my point. Parochialism results in closed minds due to the arrogant concept of "not invented here", which is a foolish mistake in my opinion. Is this your view too, Hube?

Posted by: Perry at November 30, 2008 07:29 PM

"Please note, Hube, that I did not criticize the DE school system, though you responded as though I had, your usual straw man fallacy approach."

It isn't a straw man when I quote precisely what you wrote -- which is INDEED a criticism -- and then proceed to show why the premise is wrong-headed. How is your view about the "resegregation" of DE schools NOT a criticism, Perry? Are you that insecure in your statements? Your view is wrong-headed b/c it is NOT segregation based on law. Any resegregation is based solely on parental choices, whether they be private, public or charter. Indeed, you even blatantly contradict your own criticism when you invoke neighborhood schools! Indeed, if neighborhood schools were to become just that, the segregation you bemoan would be even worse than it currently is!

Consider that.

Posted by: Hube at November 30, 2008 07:41 PM

Wrong again, Hube. My criticism was aimed at those who do not support the DE public school system, not at the public school system itself. Moreover, you twist my words, as I pointed out, with no acknowledgment whatsoever from you. Although segregation by class and race is to be avoided, having robust, quality and safe neighborhood schools is a better education solution than what we have now, in my view.

You also continue to take on a parochial Delawarean view, like we have nothing to learn from the success of others. Now that is downright stupid; I would have expected better of you!

Posted by: Perry at November 30, 2008 11:43 PM

Nowhere have I indicated that we shouldn't learn from others. Indeed, my suggestions were quite a bit more specific than the generalities you offered.

If your words were aimed at those who do not support the public schools at all, perhaps you ought to make that clear. As it is, your initials comments do not. When you say "I think there is much more that we can do, which has to do with our continued propensity for so-called local control and continued segregation according to class and race," the clear implication is that "much" is this "continued segregation" that you mention. Yet, now, you chastise me for somehow not reading your mind and knowing that "robust, quality and safe neighborhood schools" are preferable to [voluntary] segegation. Oh.

This is why I posted my thoughts here so I'd at least have a modicum of control over your verbal nonsense.

Posted by: Hube at December 1, 2008 07:55 AM

Modeling a unified state district on Fairfax County won't work.

Delaware is six times larger but still has a smaller population. Driving across Fairfax county takes 30 minutes. Driving across Delaware takes almost 2 hours. This has a huge effect on who can provide feedback or attend anything resembling a school board meeting.

Fairfax is suburban sprawl, but Delaware is a mix of urban, suburban, and rural populations. The economy varies from industrial/finance in the North to agricultural in the south. Which means that education needs vary across the state, so a single highly standardized system won't work.

You might be able to base a Newcastle County School District on Fairfax, but not something statewide.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at December 1, 2008 09:53 AM

Jeff, good points for discussion.

How about 1 super plus three assistant supers, one for each county, plus cutting out redundant administrators and clerical workers?

How about school choice within the public school system instead of this plethora of charters that skim students from the publics?

Hube, segregation is certainly a neighborhood issue, about which government has no role other than to promote an attitude of equal opportunity for all. One way this can be done is if we decide to run our schools to provide a robust, high quality and safe public school system. No problem providing choice, but within the public school system. Choice outside the system must be permitted, of course, but without public funding and without publicly funded transportation. Thus, voluntary segregation could still occur, but not on the public dole. Finally, charter and private schools should be held to the same academic standards as the public schools, in terms of publishing the performance of all students.

Posted by: Perry at December 1, 2008 02:49 PM

I'll second what Jeff said: we have school districts because different population bases have different needs. Better to let someone local and familiar with the issues they face make decisions about how to deal with said issues.

I'll also offer without comment this article from the Wall Street Journal. But you can figure out where I stand on at least one of the proposals in the editorial.

Posted by: Paul Smith at December 1, 2008 03:30 PM

Good article, Paul. I agree with most of it, as it incorporates some of what I have already been saying, including my comparison to the Fairfax County Public Schools. Hube has some good ideas as well.

Gerstner does incorporate the idea of a more centralized administration of standards and standards, for teachers too, plus good pay for outstanding teaching. Hube should like that too! I don't agree that since our demography and geography are not identical to Fairfax County, that there are not some practices and principles that could work here. We must look to the achievers for ideas to complement our own, otherwise the charge of parochialism has some merit, unfortunately.

Posted by: Perry at December 1, 2008 05:02 PM

"No problem providing choice, but within the public school system. Choice outside the system must be permitted, of course, but without public funding and without publicly funded transportation."

This already occurs. There's public school choice, and charters are part of the public system. Private schools do not get publicly funded transport (that is, unless, there has been a court-order to do so based a student's specialized needs, 'tho such cases are rare).

Thus, voluntary segregation could still occur, but not on the public dole.

Moot. See above.

Finally, charter and private schools should be held to the same academic standards as the public schools, in terms of publishing the performance of all students.

Charters are; private schools are not. Nor should they be. They are, after all, private entities. After you just demanded [rightfully] all this "no public dole" stuff, you now want private schools to be held to the same standards as public schools ... why? To what/whom would they owe that other than to the parents who might be interested in sending their kids to that school? If they desire to publish standards and test scores, great. If not, that's their choice. They are accountable to no one but those who support the school via their tuition $$.

Posted by: Hube at December 1, 2008 07:15 PM

Charters are not fully public schools. True, they run on public money, but their administrations are independent of the public school system. So for one thing, charters can determine their own admission policies, as in Charter of Wilmington. The effect is to skim students from the Public Schools, causing public school teachers like Hube a much greater challenge with classroom management and student achievement. I know well the competition argument that charter advocates present; my point, given choice in public schools, this argument becomes moot.

I support the magnet school approach for gifted and talented, but it should be done holistically by the Public School System, not the Charter of Wilmington situation. This way the magnet, standard and alternative school array can be properly balanced and controlled.

I claim that education quality will improve in DE while costs will decrease by incorporating some of the elements of a successful system like in Fairfax County: Centralized administration, reduced administration bureaucracy, economies of scale, teacher achievement salaries and awards, improved teacher in-service and access to teaching resources, robust magnet and alternative schools for students with special needs that cannot be adequately addressed effectively in a standard school setting, honors classes including access to AP and IB programs, ....

Finally, re requiring private schools and state testing, I agree, we cannot hold them accountable to the standard. However, if we require public school students to take the standard tests, private school and home schooled students should be required to take the same tests, then make the results public. The outcome then would be to level the playing field, so to speak. The alternative is to not hold public schools accountable as in NCLB. In my view, the NCLB approach causes more problems than are solved. Standard tests are helpful; public disclosure of results is then sufficient for parents to make judgments and choices for their children, including the public versus private school decisions.

Posted by: Perry at December 2, 2008 09:03 AM

Charters are not fully public schools.

True, but if we're talking about TRUE reform, this is one of great things about charters. CSoW is not w/o its controversy regarding its admissions policies, mind you. I have some reservations about them myself; however, admittedly I'd need to investigate them more to make a reasoned judgment. That being said, many charters do not "skim" the best students from public schools; indeed, many serve "at risk" students.

Please do not attempt to speak for me, as it were, about the apparent difficulties public schools would face if charters "skim" the best students. What would be a logical effect of such a situation? Public schools would have to adjust what THEY do in order to retain these types of students! How is this a bad thing? It's the competition of the marketplace at work in classic fashion. In fact, my own school is making such an adjustment for next year by becoming a "magnet school."

However, if we require public school students to take the standard tests, private school and home schooled students should be required to take the same tests, then make the results public.

Again, no we shouldn't for the reasons I stated previously. We could REQUEST private schools make their results public (and for them to take the DSTP), but requiring them to is unlawful.

I largely agree w/you about NCLB; I'll address that another time.

Posted by: Hube at December 2, 2008 09:29 AM

On skimming by charters, charters are not forced to keep disruptive students, or even special needs students, whereas the public schools are, short of expulsion. I don't know about DE, but in VA the expulsion case has to be made to the Superintendent's office. With charters, the school alone decides, thus the public school teacher has a greater burden than charter school teachers.

Charter schools, as in CSoW, make their own admission decisions. I have a problem with that. But true, some do serve special needs, like David Anderson's charter (Dover).

On competition, given school choice in public schools, we then do not need charters to provide competition.

On standard testing, since the State requires all children to attend "school" until age 16, it seems to me the State could also require EVERY student to take a standard proficiency test and publish the results by each school. That is worth looking into. Without a comparison possible, I suspect the public schools may be getting a bad rap.

My overall point, fix the public schools, then the appeal of charters and privates and home schooling will diminish, a good thing in my view. Again, the overall performance of the Fairfax County Public Schools demonstrates this. (Incidentally, I don't mean to imply that FCPS does not have their share of problems, like bureaucracy, like admin-teacher tensions -- they do!)

Good discussion!

Posted by: Perry at December 2, 2008 10:34 PM