THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Highlights From The Comments On DC Graduation Rates

Bizzolt writes:

DC Public Schools HS teacher here (although I’m not returning next year, as is the case with many of my colleagues). As noted, one of the biggest factors in the graduation rates is the unexcused absences–if you look at the results of our external audit and investigation here, you see that for many schools, a significant number of our seniors “Passed Despite Excessive Absences in Regular Instruction Courses Required for Graduation”–over 40% of 2017 graduates at my high school, for example.

So the attendance policy is being strictly enforced now, and you can see how from that alone, a ~30% drop in expected graduates is possible. Some more details about strictly enforcing the attendance policy though:

1: DCPS has what’s called the ’80 20′ rule: A student that is absent for at least 20% of their classes is considered absent for the whole day.
2: Most schools have 5 periods, so an absence in one class would be considered an absence for the whole day.
3: If you have 10 or more unexcused absences in a class, you automatically get an F for the term.
4: If you are over 15 minutes late for a class, that is considered an unexcused absence.
5: A majority of these absences are in first period.
6: A majority of students in my school and many others live in single parent households.
7: These students are typically responsible for making sure their younger siblings get to school, if they have any.
8: Elementary and middle schools in my neighborhood start at the exact same time as high school.
9: Their doors do not open until 5 to 10 minutes before the starting bell, presumably for safety reasons.
10: Refer to point 4.

There’s many other problems at DCPS to be sure, but this set of circumstances alone is causing the largest increase in failing grades and graduation ineligibility at my high school, and basically every other 90+% black school in the district. You could see how this accounts for quite a bit of the difference between white and black graduation rates as well. There’s a reason why across the board, DCPS schools were not strictly enforcing this policy in previous years.

It looks like most other school districts don’t have this policy; it seems plausible that this is the main difference between DC and other poor school districts that nevertheless manage to pass most of their kids.

Userfriendlyyy also focuses on the absences:

Looks to me like the policy they changed was losing credit for bad attendance. This might be from a few things. Kids might need to help out with the family finances. The only part of the job market that is doing well right now is low end unskilled workers who are willing to get paid crap (no matter how much the financial press wants to pretend otherwise, I listened to an hour of local NPR and the Topic was ‘call in and tell us how the booming job market is helping you out’, 20 callers not one had anything good to say and my state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country). If you know you don’t have the grades for a scholarship, your family is broke and since we have effectively made going to college impossible for anyone but the offspring of the oligarchy, and you can find a minimum wage job easily; what exactly is the utility of that little piece of paper compared to the ability to put food on the table tonight?

Static focuses on absences too:

The amazing thing to me is that they are largely failing due to unexcused absences. [See Washington Post:] I Feel Really Bad For The Class Of 2018: Graduation May Be Imperiled

I think that does point a little to the signalling difference between the GED and the diploma- can you show up every day?

That said, DC is planning to add an exam requirement for graduation. It would be better if they made that an alternative to attendance.

The absence requirement seems infuriating insofar as it probably fails mostly poor children, and if those children are failing due to the absence requirement rather than because they actually flunk their exams, then it seems mean-spirited to punish inputs rather than actual success.

Maybe they have it because they don’t actually grade students on exam performance (or have lots of different ways to make sure students who flunk exams graduate anyway), but they only want to extend this benefit-of-the-doubt to students who really try. I wonder if it would work to say you can graduate if you manage to make it to school enough times or pass your examinations. That would at least be fairer to poor children who can’t always attend but are able to figure out ways to succeed anyway.

Proyas writes:

I was friends with a guy who briefly worked as a teacher at a public high school in central DC (I’m 80% sure it was Cardozo High). He had an education background thanks to spending several years working as a youth camp counselor and as an after-school program counselor, and that was sufficient to qualify him for DCPS’ abbreviated teacher training program (such a thing existed in 2009 when he did it; I’m unsure if it is still around). During the training program, I remember him speaking about his enthusiasm for the teaching skills he was learning and about his eagerness to put them to use (in retrospect, I think some of this was a nervous attempt to convince himself the job wouldn’t be bad). After a break of several months, we spoke again, and he was almost totally disillusioned with the job and was already thinking of quitting. This is what I remember him saying:

1) On the first day of classes, there was no orientation for new teachers, no brief meeting where the Principal shook his hand and said “Welcome Aboard,” nothing. He had to go to the front office and ask a secretary what classroom was his and walk there by himself.

2) Unexcused absences were chronic and undermined his ability to teach anything. At the start of each of his classes, he had a written roster of students, and he had to check off which students were there. For any class, typically 20-30% of students would be missing, without explanation (This is a very important point to remember whenever anyone tries to blame DCPS’ poor outcomes on large class sizes–on paper, each class might have 35 students, but typically, only 23 are actually showing up). Additionally, the 20-30% of students who were absent each class varied from day-to-day, meaning one student didn’t know what was taught on Monday, the one next to him was there Monday but not Tuesday, the third was there the first two days but not Wednesday, etc.

3) Student misbehavior was atrocious. For example, out of the students who showed up to class, it was common for some to walk into the classroom late, again without any explanation and often behaving disruptively. As a rule, whenever a student did that, he was obligated to sign his name on a clipboard for the teacher’s attendance records (there was no punishment for tardiness–late students merely had to write their names down). Some late students would chronically resist doing this, either ignoring him and just going to their desks or yelling curses at him. My friend described an incident where one student–who was physically bigger than he was–yelled out he was a “FAGGOT” when asked to sign the clipboard, provoking laughs from all the other students, before sitting down without signing it. After seeing he could get away with that, the student started calling my friend “FAGGOT” all the time. Other examples of misbehavior included near-constant talking among the students during lessons and fooling around with cell phones.

4) Teachers received almost no support from the school administration. Had sane rules been followed at this high school, students would have been immediately sent to the office for formal punishment for these sorts of offenses I’ve described. However, under such a policy, the office would have been overwhelmed with misbehaving students and probably some of their enraged parents, so the administration solved the problem by forbidding teachers from sending students to the office for anything other than physical violence in the classroom. My friend had no ability to formally punish the student who liked to call him “FAGGOT” other than to use stern verbal warnings.

5) Most of the students were unwilling and in some cases unable to learn. During class sessions, the students were clearly disengaged from what he was teaching. Homework completion rates were abysmal. As the end of the academic semester neared, he saw that a huge fraction of them were on track to fail, so he resorted to pitiful cajoling, pizza parties, reward schemes, and deals involving large curves to everyone’s grades if they could only, for once do a little work, and it didn’t work. Some of his students were Latino and understood little or even no English, meaning they learned (almost) nothing, even when they tried. He resorted to seating the students who knew no English next to bilingual Latinos who could translate for them. That was the best he could do. In fairness, he spoke glowingly of some of his students, who actually put in some effort and were surprisingly smart.

6) At the time my friend was teaching, DCPS was in the grips of some harebrained, faddish teaching philosophy that said students of different academic abilities shouldn’t be put in different course tracks, but rather, should be deliberately put in the same class. This of course caused immediate problems since the curriculum was too hard for the weakest students and too easy for the strongest ones. I think my friend said his training program basically told teachers to “try harder” if any problems arose from the setup.

I’ll never forget how crestfallen and stressed out he was when he described these things to me. Having never taught in American public schools, I didn’t realize just how bad it was, and the detailed nature of his anecdotes really had an impact on me. I advised him to finish his year at the high school and then to transfer to ANY non-urban school in the area, even if it meant lower pay or a longer commute. We lost touch after that, but I can’t imagine he still works in DCPS.

Okay, maybe this goes deeper than just the absence thing.

MrApophenia writes:

One thing to keep in mind is that DC really is uniquely bad as a school district. A few years back, the Washington Post did a really in depth analysis of why it was so broken. (Sadly, with Google being totally swamped by the current scandal, I was unable to find a link.)

The conclusion they found was pretty interesting –

If you go back to the 60s, DC had some of the best urban schools in the country by every metric they had to track things back then. What changed? Well, see, back then DC still didn’t have home rule. They were almost entirely run by the federal government. So the highest elected office the city had was the DC Board of Education.

In 1971, an ambitious young politician by the name of Marion Barry got elected to the board, and almost immediately began farming out school administration positions as political rewards for his cronies. This practice caught on, and within a matter of years, the whole enterprise basically descended into naked corruption.

I recall they showed a figure in that article that the DC public school system spends the third most money per student of any district in the country (after NY and Boston); however, the Post also found that in terms of the quantity of money that is actually spent on students, DC was roughly at the level of the most poverty-stricken districts in the poorest Southern, rural school districts.

Michelle Rhee did not change any of this, Waiting for Superman or no.

This isn’t meant to argue with the premise of the rest of the article – the idea that everyone else is committing fraud seems quite plausible. But I wouldn’t necessarily reject the idea that DC’s school system really is a special, unique snowflake of terrible practices, either.

There’s also this comment on home rule and Puerto Rico which seems to reinforce this idea that districts carefully monitored by competent national authorities do well, and districts that have control of their own standards devolve into corruption and failure really quickly. How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

I won’t quote it directly because it’s not from an SSC comment, but some people on the subreddit link to this Reddit post by a DC public school teacher.

See also this thread in the subreddit on how sub-Saharan African schools – despite being much poorer than anywhere in DC – are really well-run, quite safe (except that apparently “baboons are a huge problem”), and a delight to teach at.

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275 Responses to Highlights From The Comments On DC Graduation Rates

  1. shakeddown says:

    Is there any evidence localist bureaucracies actually work better? Seeing like a state seems more about formal planning vs practical concerns than global vs local control – in the schools case, it might say schools run by the teachers are better than those run by the city administration, but wouldn’t tell us anything about city vs. federal administration.
    (see also https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/graham-cassidy-states-federal-efficiency/541599/)

    • Alsadius says:

      In the specific case where you have a highly corrupt local area that is part of a minimally corrupt larger government, having the larger government administer things will reduce corruption for sure. But the same dynamic works in reverse – if the nation was 80% DC and 20% Minneapolis, then letting Minneapolis run its own affairs would result in less corruption than federalization.

    • Watchman says:

      There’s a (classical) liberal viewpoint that different activities are likely to have different ideal levels of government to run them, so local government probably runs provision of parking better than national government but is probably not such an ideal level to run defence from (insert joke about militarised police departments here…). So the correct level of government for any activity has to be determined for that activity: and this probably varies over time and distance, as well as degree of corruption.

      What this discussion has suggested (to me anyway) is that in the USA at present the correct level for secondary education certification might be national (not necessarily federal – privately offered qualifications might also work). The correct level for running the DC school system seems to be up for debate, but the Board of Education might not be the answer. My inner free-marketeer suggests perhaps more local school boards to at least offer competition to drive improvements (and reduce the potential for corruption as reward for control becomes much lower than the risk).

    • gbdub says:

      See Mr. Apophenia’s clarification further down in this thread. Scott misread the intent of his original post. (Short version: problem was that pre-home rule, the school board was the only place for a local politician to advance to, and a particularly corrupt one (who otherwise would, and later did, do his cronyism mischief in the mayor’s office) took over the school board)

    • Jaskologist says:

      Localism doesn’t claim that it always works better, just that it works better on average. Even the localist would still expect that the absolute worst school district in the country (which is what’s we’re looking at) would probably be better run by someone else; that doesn’t justify the harm centralism would bring to the majority of other districts which are not being run terribly.

      There’s also an aspect of localism which is concerned with containing damage. You can’t eliminate bad management in toto, but you can at least make sure it’s visited on those who most deserve/vote for it. This aspect actually amounts to a moral claim that even if localism and centralism gave the same results on average, localism would still be preferable. But it never stays there for long, because that pretty quickly feeds into the practical claim that maybe the municipalities that are doing badly will look at the municipalities that are doing well, adopt some of the stuff that works, and stop doing quite so badly, so most localists would have a hard time conceding that centralized and decentralized systems would yield the same results for very long (see also “Laboratories of Democracy”).

      • M says:

        The advantages for localism are:

        1. Customers have more choice
        2. Customers can vote with their feet
        3. Administrations have fewer customers to satisfy and are therefore more likely to satisfy them.
        4. There are fewer voters so each one is more important.
        5. It’s easier for customers to compare small administrative areas that are near each other than huge areas that cover many people.

        Disadvantages:
        1. If you are in a poor catchment area, the service is not likely to be good.
        2. People know a lot about each other – this may make nepotism more likely.
        3. Until recently, it was hard to get a lot of people up in arms about a scandal that happened locally. This seems to have changed, depending on the specifics of the scandal.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          The interesting question is, what would happen if we subdivided a major urban area (like DC) into, say, eight entirely separate administrative subdividsions- eight school districts? It would be infeasible to gerrymander all the poorest kids and the roughest neighborhoods into one subdivision, so there’d be a reasonable measure of competition…

          And parents in one district who had crony politicians running their school district would be in a MUCH better position to compare to the parents in the next district over, who aren’t, and say “we want what they have!”

          • deciusbrutus says:

            You don’t have to gerrymander the rough and poor into one district. You have to gerrymander the rich and influential into one district.

            Which can be done almost perfectly if that one district allows a limited number of certain students who would otherwise reside outside of the borders.

          • sharper13 says:

            Taking that approach a little farther, what if we divided the city into a separate school board and administration for every school. Then we could allow parents to vote with their children’s feet to a different school as desired, really putting the pressure on the “bad” schools. If a school got oversubscribed, they’d have to have a random lottery for new students, of course.

            At the same time, we could empower the parents even more by allowing only that school’s parents to elect the board which ran it. We could call them, oh…, charter schools?

            Less tongue in cheek, the DC Charter overall graduation rate is 73.4%. They also have some absence-related issues to clean up, but seem to have done better.

            DCPS graduated 88 percent of students missing 54 days and 49 percent of those who missed half the year. By comparison, D.C. charter high schools were exacting, graduating 47 percent of students who missed 54 days, and none who were absent half the year.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            To answer Sharper, the underlying assumption here is that it’s logistically necessary to have a system of schools organized into districts to solve certain coordination problems that would otherwise arise schools.

            You can counter-argue that this is not necessary at all, we could have that conversation, but it’d be a pretty big conversation in its own right, because there are quite a few of the coordination problems in question. I’d kind of like to postpone that a bit.

            IF we stipulate for the sake of argument, for the moment, that at least some schools should be organized into districts, there still remains a valid conversation to be had about what the optimum size of a district is. It’s entirely possible that the correct answer is “larger than a single school, but smaller than the entire DC public school system.”

            To answer deciusbrutus, the object of the game here is to give people a chance to try multiple approaches to organizing a school system. School systems in impoverished regions CAN have reasonable quality of administration and organization and discipline, after all. They don’t HAVE to be terrible. Having a situation where DC voters in Sub-District Four can go “hey, the people in Sub-District Three aren’t that different from us, how come they can have schools that aren’t blatantly corrupt and we can’t, let’s throw some bums out!” would be a good thing.

          • educationrealist says:

            Taking that approach a little farther, what if we divided the city into a separate school board and administration for every school. Then we could allow parents to vote with their children’s feet to a different school as desired, really putting the pressure on the “bad” schools.

            Why the heck do you think school districts exist, if not to stop exactly that sort of behavior?

            Parents in good schools don’t want the kids from “bad” schools. Good lord.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Washington DC has access to a lot of federal tax revenue, which is presumably why the Constitution doesn’t give it Congressional representation. So, DC has particularly strong incentives for Marion Barry-type local politicians to try to rip off the taxpayers because most of the taxpayers aren’t local.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      My impression is that big school districts see themselves as less needing to be competitive than small school districts. As a natural experiment, Los Angeles has two fairly similar suburban areas: the San Fernando Valley to the northwest and the San Gabriel Valley to the northeast The San Fernando Valley is mostly part of the immense Los Angeles Unified School District, while the San Gabriel Valley is mostly small independent school districts.

      The San Fernando Valley is ringed by smaller school districts with decent reputations for trying hard to attract young families with decent schools — Los Virgenes, Santa Clarita, Burbank, and Glendale. But public schools in the main part of the vast San Fernando Valley seldom have a good reputation. But LAUSD doesn’t see itself as in a desperate competition with small school districts. It has something like 600,000 students.

      In contrast, over the last 40 years, Asian parents have been flocking to various San Gabriel Valley school districts to take them over and reorient them to supporting their children’s ambitions. For example, Arcadia HS, where my cousins went in the 1970s, is now majority Asians and has about 30 National Merit semifinalists per year.

      • Nornagest says:

        has about 30 National Merit semifinalists per year.

        Not saying your overall point is wrong, but this doesn’t say much about quality of education. The National Merit scholarship selections up to semifinalist level are determined entirely by scores on the PSAT, which is essentially a practice test for the very similar SAT and therefore essentially an IQ test.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          True, but think about how nice it would be to be able to be able to assure your children of being able to go to a free school with 30 national merit scholars in each class just by living in the district?

          In contrast, the last time I check for all LAUSD schools in the main Los Angeles Basin (i.e., not the San Fernando Valley) there were only 5 National Merit Semifinalists overall:

          http://www.unz.com/isteve/national-merit-semifinalists-by-school/

          In other words, LAUSD, the second biggest school district in the country, isn’t working very hard to attract the best students. My guess is that large school districts don’t see themselves as locked in a life or death struggle to attract families with good students, while smaller school districts are more likely to feel competitive and thus act competitive.

          • educationrealist says:

            True, but think about how nice it would be to be able to be able to assure your children of being able to go to a free school with 30 national merit scholars in each class just by living in the district?

            If white suburbans are any guide, it’s not nice at all. That’s why they run like hell when Asians show up in droves.

            It’s also not good for Asians to do this, because the competition level is insane. If Asians cared more about access than culture, they’d spread out across the US, giving their kids a better chance against the about-as-smart-but much-less-obsessed-about-grades whites. However, because Asians are convinced (with some justification) that these lazy whites will corrupt their kids, they flock to Asian areas, thus assuring that hundreds of Asian kids will have lower GPAs and not have access to the best schools. Ah, well.

            By the way, last I checked (a year or so ago), the only way Irvine and San Gabriel have been able to hold onto whites is because they have white schools and Asian schools. Whites aren’t terribly happy about what’s happened to Irvine.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If white suburbans are any guide, it’s not nice at all. That’s why they run like hell when Asians show up in droves.

            Not in New Jersey they don’t.

          • educationrealist says:
          • The Nybbler says:

            Your first article only mentions some white parents in West Windsor complaining about an accelerated elementary school program due to Asian influence. Nothing about flight (because there aren’t any whites fleeing from West Windsor).

            Your second article is about the white population dropping in NJ, and says nothing about Asians in schools causing it (it’s mostly retirees). It talks specifically about Middlesex County (where it’s mostly South Asians), and notes that they really _aren’t_ running things.

            Your third article doesn’t address the subject at all, and it’s implicitly more about blacks and Hispanics than Asians. There are a LOT of integrated white and Asian towns; it’s just not remarkable. The band in Essex County running from Maplewood to Montclair where you have wealthy suburbs with whites, blacks, and Hispanics (and Asians too) is unusual.

          • educationrealist says:

            Yeah, not sure what to tell you, but go ahead and deny reality.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I was curious about er’s links after his disagreement with Nybbler. so I looked at them myself. I mostly agree with Nybbler after reading them. The first one seemed to be about Georgia, not New Jersey, although the annoying changing ads on the right made it hard to concentrate on the article, so I might have missed some of it. The second one never really answered the question of the title, but never mentioned Asian flight — it sounded like they thought Whites were fleeing the high taxes more than anything. The third one did seem to be a racial thing, but implied Whites were fleeing Blacks.

            It is very annoying when someone puts up several links that purports to prove something, and it turns out they prove nothing. It appears someone is just looking for links that kind of talk about the subject, and expect their opponent to do the heavy lifting. That’s a nasty way to argue. I’m calling you out on this one, er.

        • educationrealist says:

          The National Merit scholarship selections up to semifinalist level are determined entirely by scores on the PSAT, which is essentially a practice test for the very similar SAT and therefore essentially an IQ test.

          Chinese immigrants broke the PSAT a decade ago, at least. And the SAT hasn’t been a decent proxy for an IQ test in ten years or more.

          American tests weren’t designed for the Asian test prep assault.

  2. James Green says:

    DC and Puerto Rico have circumstances that perhaps make them especially favourable at getting motivated/smart people to leave: DC is small, just commute from the out of DC suburbs; and the PR/Mainland wage gap is very large.

  3. amaranth says:

    > districts carefully monitored by competent national authorities do well, and districts that have control of their own standards devolve into corruption and failure really quickly. How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    cronies in control of things are not communites?

    • christhenottopher says:

      Yeah but I’m confused why the federal government controlling DC schools would make cronies less likely. Who exactly would punish federal elected officials for allowing the DC school system to become corrupt? DC residents can’t vote, legislators can afford private school for their own kids (or leave them in their home districts), and people outside DC don’t have a strong reason to care about the schools in Washington that their families won’t use. So even ignoring federalism and just the idea that democracy is good, why would making a system transition from one where no voters affected have a say to one where the voters affected do have a say make the system worse?

      Alternative hypothesis, home rule wasn’t the cause. Inner cities everywhere in the US declined in the 70s and a poorly run education system was a symptom of the decline. Cities only started recovering some since the late 90s, but education systems weren’t improved since the upper middle classes now returning to cities either didn’t have kids or already used private schools. Under this, we don’t really have a good reason to think that returning control of DC schools to the federal government would actually improve matters.

      • gbdub says:

        See Mr. Apophenia’s clarification below – “home rule is bad” wasn’t the hypothesis, “really corrupt officials taking over the school board instead of the mayor’s office” is.

      • Watchman says:

        You’re assuming urban decay happened as a reason in itself there, but 70s decay across the west has a number of linked causes (varying by area) including cronyism, so I don’t think your hypothesis is an alternative.

        Also the reason federal rule over DC might have produced less cronyism than local rule is that you need to have cronies for cronyism to work. If DC was being administered by say a Harvard-educated bureaucrat from Ohio living in the Maryland suburbs, who are the likely cronies being appointed to sine cures in DC? There would be no local pool of people to appoint linked to our hypothetical administrator, who wouldn’t need to build up a support base to run DC as they were already doing that…

        • christhenottopher says:

          You’re assuming urban decay happened as a reason in itself there, but 70s decay across the west has a number of linked causes (varying by area) including cronyism, so I don’t think your hypothesis is an alternative.

          I don’t really buy this. Cronyism is as old as large human organizations and cities grew and prospered just fine under previous eras of high cronyism (such as the late 19th/early 20th centuries). I still think we should put cronyism primarily in the symptom rather than cause bucket.

          who are the likely cronies being appointed to sine cures in DC?

          Family members who didn’t go to Harvard, friends from Harvard not good enough to get jobs on their own, constituents from back in the home state/district, guys who campaigned for a Senator/representative. As a matter of fact DC is even better than a job back home, since if they screw things up the only people who would be mad are people who can’t vote for the office of the person putting that crony in a position. If you give your worthless cousin a job running some government office back home, you might wind up pissing off enough people to lose your re-election campaign. No chance of that in DC.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            Which cities grew and prospered under eras of high cronyism? Which ones failed to do so despite low cronyism?

        • userfriendlyyy says:

          “70’s decay across the west”, specifically in urban centers has a very strong likelihood of being the product of leaded gasoline.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        “Yeah but I’m confused why the federal government controlling DC schools would make cronies less likely. Who exactly would punish federal elected officials for allowing the DC school system to become corrupt?”

        Federal prosecutors who like being able to build up their resumes because a reputation for taking down corrupt federal officials earns you prosecutor-cred?

        More generally, the issue is that federal control of DC schools wouldn’t eliminate corruption altogether, if nothing else because modern standardized testing is a massive licensing racket ( >_< )…

        But it would reset the corruption to the ‘default’ level of background corruption and venality found in the US federal government, which is… actually not that bad, certainly not compared to the most corrupt city governments.

        So that’s the short answer- it’s not that it would eliminate corruption, it’s that whatever existing management culture and incentives are present in the federal government would be less corrupt and more competitive than the management culture and incentives that run DC public schools.

  4. Sniffnoy says:

    The “one thing to keep in mind” quote is missing the link to the comment it comes from, which seems to be here: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/04/10/why-dcs-low-graduation-rates/#comment-618122

  5. Sniffnoy says:

    The comment about Marion Barry mentions home rule but it’s not clear how home rule is relevant. DC got home rule at the end of 1973; Marion Barry is described as having gotten elected to the board of education before that, and it’s not clear how home rule would contribute to that anyhow if that office already existed prior to home rule. Going just by that comment, this would appear to be a matter of political culture, not home rule.

  6. poignardazur says:

    I’ll never forget how crestfallen and stressed out he was when he described these things to me. Having never taught in American public schools, I didn’t realize just how bad it was, and the detailed nature of his anecdotes really had an impact on me.

    It’s not specific to American schools. French schools for poor communities (called ZEP, Priority Education Zones) have the exact same problems described above.

    I’d wager that all Western *and* Asian school systems based on “no child left behind” styles of policy, and more broadly any top-down standard-based school system (so basically everyone except Sweden), has the same problems; but please-please-please don’t quote me on this.

    • JDG1980 says:

      In the U.S., these kind of pervasive discipline problems generally don’t happen in middle-class public schools. They are limited to areas with substantial underclass populations. Sure, teachers in middle-class areas no doubt still wish that the kids would goof off less and that the parents would provide them more support, but the kind of flagrantly disruptive behavior that might be tolerated at Switchblade High will result in formal disciplinary action at a middle-class school.

      This, at least, was true a decade or two back. It’s possible that the recent intersectionalist push has made it impossible to discipline any black students in public schools anywhere.

    • Deiseach says:

      French schools for poor communities (called ZEP, Priority Education Zones) have the exact same problems described above.

      Over here they’re DEIS schools and yeah, I think the problem may not be so much “all the public schools in the American system” as “certain schools in certain areas, and we can pretty much say what those areas will look like” – that is, whether urban or rural, there are going to be pecking orders of schools from the most academic to the least, with the most troublesome students ending up in the schools at the bottom.

      And that’s the kind of war zone you get, where the best students are separated out into going to the best school in the area and the less able/poor/learning difficulties students get sent to the worst school. “Worst” can be “least academically oriented” and not necessarily “the students are all thugs and gang members”, the school I worked at was classed as a DEIS school and as the “worst” in that sense of the mainstream schools in the town, with a clear ranking of the most academically successful/middle-class to least that wasn’t official but everyone knew existed.

      That school was lucky in that it is in a small country town rather than (what passes for) a major city; there were the future delinquents and early dropouts attending along with the special educational needs/troubled family background meaning a lot of truancy and the ordinary not very academic but will pass the State exams kids, but not a huge proportion of the students. In some places there would be a very definite majority of “likely to pull a knife on you if they even bother to turn up that day, and don’t bother trying to get the parents involved, they’re likely to turn up screeching abuse and being physically violent” crowd.

    • Tenacious D says:

      I have a former roommate who taught for a year on a fly-in reservation in Saskatchewan. I heard similar stories (especially about mind-boggling levels of absenteeism) from him.

      • Hitfoav says:

        I taught a GED course for adults in Nunavut (Canadian Arctic) for about four months. I was 23 and without teaching credentials (though both parents were teachers and I had informal experience); the youngest student was 28 but the mean was late 30s.

        I came to understand the “school” as more of a community service providing a place to be, some form of socializing and stimulation, and a cog in some kind of machine that determined welfare benefits.

        The students were on the whole really sweet and interesting people to meet and spend time with, if deeply uninterested or incapable of any real academic advancements.

        Once I let go of my own naive and somewhat absurd expectations, I really appreciated getting to know them, and participating in “Elders Week” where we did traditional Inuit cultural activities.

        It was an awkward but very enriching introduction to the culture of the Inuit, and the depth of the social problems in that (local and territorial) community.

        (This is related to the stories of classroom chaos Scott quotes in the sense that a fckd up culture/community will make formal schooling virtually impossible for some proportion of its members.)

  7. dlr says:

    There’s also this comment on home rule and Puerto Rico which seems to reinforce this idea that districts carefully monitored by competent national authorities do well, and districts that have control of their own standards devolve into corruption and failure really quickly. How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    You are ignoring the fact that different ethnic groups are running things at the federal level and at the local level in both of those examples. Different ethnic groups have different cultural norms and, often, different mean personality scores on a variety of dimensions. Institutions generally only work well if they are run and used by people with the same basic cultural norms and the same average personality types as the people who set up the institution.
    Institutions are implicitly designed; they are set up with certain assumptions about what the average person using the system/running the system will do in situations x, y, and z. If those assumptions aren’t correct, the system will break down, or it won’t work very well.
    If the average trust levels toward strangers are different in two groups, the same institution isn’t going to work for both groups. Ditto if the cultural norms about cooperating with strangers, or dealing honestly with strangers are different in two groups, or if the average time preferences are different in two groups, or the cultural norms about helping family vs nepotism. It’s really controversial why different groups vary along these dimensions. ( Some people think it is due to the different incentives and assumptions that have evolved in different cultures due to historical events or random accidents. Some think it is due to different childhood experiences that occur to the average members of different groups. Others think that differing incentives have been stable long enough that evolutionary pressure has had enough time to actually change the average personality type. I wouldn’t have any trouble believing all three effects are present. ) But it’s not controversial that different groups do vary along these dimensions and plenty of others besides. Which means that institutions designed to work by one group aren’t going to work well when used by another group.

    • James Green says:

      Imagine if, after the Civil War, southern blacks were concentrated into one of the states, like Louisiana, and whites moved out of it. Kind of like Turkey/Greece or India/Pakistan. Would everyone have been better off? I think they probably would, although it is hard to be sure.

      • David Speyer says:

        The history of Oklahoma makes me very pessimistic. Set aside for Native Americans in the 1830s, only to have them driven out by legal and illegal murder in the 1870s and 80s once whites wanted it. I would expect the same to happen to your hypothetical black state.

      • Eponymous says:

        Liberia might be a useful reference point. You know, that time free black Americans decided to colonize an African country.

        • christhenottopher says:

          Potentially important difference, the American blacks were always a minority (and still are) in Liberia. So the dynamic of a minority culture ruling over a majority who didn’t exactly sign up to be ruled is likely quite different from a state with a more homogeneous culture.

    • userfriendlyyy says:

      I would lay the argument for poor performance of minorities at a few other things before we throw our hands up and say it’s cultural. Poverty period causes poor performance. Poor people are much more likely to grow up in house with lead paint:

      A Reuters examination of lead testing results across the country found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in the tainted Michigan city. Yet many of these lead hotspots are receiving little attention or funding.

      and

      Reuters investigation has found another 449 areas around the U.S. with lead exposure rates double those found in Flint.

      I wonder why this story didn’t get more coverage? Oh yeah, it only effects poor people.

      • Education Hero says:

        Your hypothesis can be tested by controlling for SES.

        • userfriendlyyy says:

          I don’t have the energy to give this the rebuttal it deserves, but implying that the poor descendants of slaves whose culture involves relatives who have dealt with jim crow, mass incarceration, unemployment at double the rate of whites (making crime a much more viable alternative source of income) living in a country where they know cops look at them and think ‘criminal might need to shoot them’, and pretending that all that is somehow their fault and hand wave it away as ‘cultural differences’ seams like a desperate attempt to not want to deal with a problem. The single best way to improve minorities education and career prospects is to integrate schools. IMO that works because success in the job market is almost entirely due to who you know, not what you know. If you’ve spent your whole educational experience surrounded by other poor people with bad prospects you don’t have the social connections to land a good job. If you are in a school full of only people who are seen by society as not likely to make much of yourself it makes beating that stereotype that much harder. Sure genetics plays a role in intelligence, that doesn’t mean race does.

          • Education Hero says:

            pretending that all that is somehow their fault and hand wave it away as ‘cultural differences’ seams like a desperate attempt to not want to deal with a problem.

            This is so far off the mark that I have to ask whether you read and understood the linked article.

            The single best way to improve minorities education and career prospects is to integrate schools.

            Do you have any empirical evidence to support this claim?

            IMO that works because success in the job market is almost entirely due to who you know, not what you know.

            In that case, would you support revamping schools so that they focus “almost entirely” on socializing rather than education?

            If you’ve spent your whole educational experience surrounded by other poor people with bad prospects you don’t have the social connections to land a good job. If you are in a school full of only people who are seen by society as not likely to make much of yourself it makes beating that stereotype that much harder.

            Given that the topic is high school education, how likely do you think employers are to discriminate on the basis of your high school when hiring for “good jobs”?

          • albatross11 says:

            If a substantial part of the black/white IQ gap is indeed caused by differences in lead exposure, then the “single best way to improve minorities education and career prospects” probably involves lead remediation. I have no idea whether or not it is, but that sure seems like an important issue to investigate. Anyone know if there’s any research about it?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Almost nobody in the Mainland United States is aware of how remarkably horrible Puerto Rican public schools are at getting their students to score anything other than Below Basic on a special Spanish-version of the federal NAEP test that was designed to be as fair as possible to Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico:

      http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-amazingly-horrible-test-scores-of-students-in-puerto-rico/

      I’m not shocked by too much, but I was shocked when I discovered these numbers in 2015:

      “For example, among Puerto Rican 8th graders tested in mathematics in 2013, 95% scored Below Basic, 5% scored Basic, and (to the limits of rounding) 0% scored Proficient, and 0% scored Advanced. These results were the same in 2011. …

      “Puerto Rico’s test scores are just shamefully low, suggesting that Puerto Rican schools are completely dropping the ball. By way of contrast, in the U.S., among black 8th graders, 38% score Basic, 13% score Proficient, and 2% score Advanced. In the U.S. among Hispanic 8th graders, 41% reach Basic, 18% Proficient, and 3% Advanced.”

  8. meltedcheesefondue says:

    >That said, DC is planning to add an exam requirement for graduation.

    What? Never did I even imagine they wouldn’t have a final exam (my experience is in France and a bit less in the UK; France has major final exams – BAC and Brevet – while the UK has a cluster of smaller exams you can choose from – GCSEs and A-Levels.

    I can’t wrap my head around not having a final exam. With all the complaints in the US about teaching to the test and so on – how does this work when you don’t have a final test?

    • poignardazur says:

      And the nationwide exams don’t really solve the problem either, the government just lowers the bar until most schools have a decent pass rate.

    • aristides says:

      It varies state to state. There are actually only 12 states that require a test to graduate, but virtually every state has placement tests during middle and high school. Media coverage always makes foreign countries look like one cohesive unit, when on the inside there can be 100 subdivisions.

    • Randy M says:

      To graduate, the student has had to pass certain required courses–2 years of math, 4 years of English, etc. In each of those classes, the student will be evaluated by a certified instructor and only passed if they are minimally proficient.
      In states without an exam, they believe that this is sufficient, and teachers won’t be pressured by administrators, or by students and parents, or let students slip by, or whatever.
      In states with an exam, they believe that the exams will be administered fairly, with no cheating by administrators, etc.

      Neither belief is entirely accurate in practice, of course.

    • Eponymous says:

      No offense, but as an American I find your comment somewhat amusing.

      You don’t get the level of antipathy towards standardized testing (or really tests in general) in America. It’s really remarkable, and an interesting sociological case study.

      • gbdub says:

        Yep. “Teaching to the test” is the great sin here.

        Far better to teach nothing at all.

        Don’t you know that studies have shown students with diplomas and degrees are more successful? So all we need to do is lower the standards so that everyone gets a diploma and degree – that way everyone will be successful!

        • antpocalypse says:

          I think this is too glib about what “teaching to the test” actually entails. At the high school level, I agree it’s not a horrible thing as long as the tests actually assess the subjects broadly enough that the teacher isn’t forced to narrow their instruction.

          At the elementary level, though, it involves a lot of time teaching kids how to even take a test (both conceptually in terms of how questions are posed and practically how to use computer testing software), convincing panicking or defiant kids that their performance on the test won’t get them in trouble but they still need to take it seriously and finish it, and passing up enriching curriculum/activity ideas you have because you need to stay on track to cover assessment material. Moreover, teachers I know are frustrated that they have to waste their class’s time on frequent assessments that only measure what they already know from actually being in the classroom: of course Timmy tests below a 5th grade level, Timmy can’t read, and you just made him sit and be reminded that he can’t read for two hours instead of using that time for literacy support.

          I can see how standardized assessment sets a floor for bad or lazy teachers and makes them teach something, and talented teachers will make the best of whatever they need to teach. It also makes sense that we need some quantifiable assessment somewhere along the line to judge effectiveness. But a constant drive at the elementary and middle school level to teach to tests definitely hamstrings good teachers and probably hurts the development of their students.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            (I accidentally hit a button that may have reported the above comment and I am SUPER SORRY!!!)

            I just wanted to agree with this. High school level tests are generally a good measure of what high school students ought to know, or at least CAN be a good measure if designed by someone competent. You could do a lot worse than to design a math or English class that “teaches to” the SAT. And AP classes teach to tests and it works out just fine.

            But for elementary and to a lesser extent middle school, a huge amount of what we’re “teaching” students is behaviors, habits, mindsets, and qualitative things that simply do not transfer well into a testing environment. Testing once in a while to a modest extent is fine, but making kids sit down to My Little Baby SAT Clone in the fourth grade is a terrible idea. And making sure they’re prepared for those tests can easily become counterproductive.

          • gdanning says:

            I think there is a distinction between “teaching to the test” in the sense of “teaching the material that will be on the test” and “teaching to the test” in the sense of, “the purpose of this class is to get students to pass the test.” The former is not generally problematic, but the latter is. Example 1: I taught in CA for many years, and the state social studies standard had 1) content standards; and 2) historical thinking standards. The latter were not tested in any meaningful way. A teacher who fails to teach thinking skills because only content standards are tested is “teaching to the test” in the negative sense. Example 2: I taught AP World history for many years. At the end of the year, I could have spent class time 1) prepping for the test; or 2) having students research and write a research paper. I chose #2, and I would argue that choosing #1 is also “teaching to the test” in a negative sense.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, but there’s a difference between “teachers irked that they have to cover a very rigid curricula” and “basically allergic reaction to any effort to quantitatively assess performance”. A lot of opposition to testing feels like the latter.

            I went to pretty good but not stellar public schools, and as far as I remember we spent zero time “teaching to the test” for the regular state assessments. They were barely even mentioned except to remind us we’d be having them the next week. Yet our school had very good passage rates. Why? Because the students were actually learning the curriculum items that the test was supposed to assess against.

            The thing is, most of these tests are not that hard and the passage rates at the sort of schools we’re talking about here are abysmal. Like, literally illiterate and innumerate bad. You should not have to “teach to the test” unless your students are so far behind where they are supposed to be that holding their hands through practice exams until they achieve rote memorization is basically the only way they can get any right, because they have zero actual mastery of the material.

            Now it may be, and probably often is, that it’s unfair to blame individual teacher performance on the results of these tests (if a disruptive illiterate kid shows up in 8th grade, it’s insane to think a teacher is going to get them back up to speed by the end of the year). And perhaps some of these tests are unusually badly written (e.g. like the infamous analogies on the SAT, which were very hard, very esoteric, and kind of useless).

            But the concept of a basic test of core concepts is a sound one, and the vehemence of the reaction to them seems outsized.

          • We spent a year in Cambridge, England, when I was about nine or ten. My sister was in the class immediately before the 11+ exam, which at that time largely determined the rest of a child’s life.

            Introduced in 1944, the examination was used to determine which type of school the student should attend after primary education: a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school.

            By her account, the year was spent mostly in training the kids on how to get a good result on the test.

            The general problem in teaching to the test is that a test evaluates a subset of what you want a student to learn. That may work pretty well if you are, in effect, testing a random selection of the relevant skills. But if the teacher has a strong incentive to get the kids to do well on the test, the teacher uses knowledge of the text to teach the kids the particular material that will be tested, at which point the test is no longer a good measure of overall knowledge/ability.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            To gbdub:

            A lot of the objection to standardized testing I’ve seen isn’t about “why are you even trying to measure kids’ performance.” It’s about the volume and scope of testing.

            It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where students are being hit with multiple overlapping layers of standardized tests every year: diagnostic tests mandated by the district as part of the curriculum, high-level graduation requirement tests mandated by state and federal law, college placement tests like the PSAT and SAT. It adds up.

            My students meet ninety days a year (every other day). If nine of those days get eaten up by one or another of the tests… Well. If you routinely have students spending 10% of their year sitting and taking standardized tests to assess their knowledge, it’s no mystery if you observe in the 11th and 12th grades that they only know 90% of what they were supposed to know.

            You used the word ‘allergic,’ and I think that was well-chosen, because one of the most common sources of the seemingly wild overreactions found in allergies is overexposure to the stimulus. Wear enough latex gloves and you may get a latex allergy; watch your students groan through week after week of standardized test with barely time to teach a meaningful lesson in the middle of it all and you may get a standardized testing allergy.

          • christhenottopher says:

            You used the word ‘allergic,’ and I think that was well-chosen, because one of the most common sources of the seemingly wild overreactions found in allergies is overexposure to the stimulus.

            I’m sorry I don’t mean to pick too much on what is a rhetorical point, but the consensus in the medical literature seems to be going in the opposite direction on allergies In a fairly recent randomized control trial for instance with infants testing the development of peanut allergies, early consumption of peanuts drastically decreased the prevalence of peanut allergies at age 5 compared to those who avoided peanuts. For infants who had a skin test with positive results for developing allergies (aka more likely to develop them), exposure cut the peanut allergy rate from 35% to 10%. For those with a negative result (aka less likely to develop allergies) exposure cut the allergy rate from 14% to 2%.

            Your point on over testing students is well taken and I don’t disagree our current system has likely gone too far with test taking, but given results like those above I do want to push back against the still too common belief that exposure is more likely to cause than prevent allergies.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Exposure to allergens resulting in sensitization is well established. Early exposure to peanuts resulting in no development of allergy is recently established. Desensitization of allergies already developed by controlled exposure is rather less well-established, though a lot of people believe in it.

          • gbdub says:

            @Simon_Jester – where are you teaching that adminisitering standardized testing is taking 10% of total class time? That of course seems like a lot.

            But when I was in school (90s-2000s Michigan) the standardized state tests were a couple days, at most, out of a 180 day school year, in grades 3-8 (I think it was a couple hours a day spread over a couple days). We didn’t take a state test every year in high school, although typically you’d end up taking either the pre-SAT, SAT, and/or ACT at least once a year (but still, those are < 1 day tests). It looks like NCLB standards increased the annual testing since I left school, but maybe by a factor of 2, not 10.

            That hardly seems like an absurd load?

          • Simon_Jester says:

            To christhenottopher:

            Thank you for correcting me on allergies, and extra double plus super thank you for acknowledging that you get my point *despite* having reason to believe I’m wrong about allergies. That being said, I was specifically thinking in terms of protracted overexposures to certain substances, latex being a biggie.

            To gbdub:

            While 10% might be an exaggeration overall, it is NOT an exaggeration to say that it’s taking up at least a high single digit percentage of quite a few students’ years. And while that’s not significant over any one year, integrated over a whole education it can still cost you something close to a full grade level.

            Suffice to say that it depends heavily on exactly what subjects are being discussed, how the tests are configured, what grade level you’re in, and other factors.

            My students, in a given year, have mandatory pre- and mid-year assessments that serve no purpose other than teacher evaluation. The test is long enough that many students need two days to actually complete it if they know what they’re doing.

            They have two or in some years *three* sittings of an extremely brilliantly and wonderfully designed test for measuring overall mathematical knowledge, which our district then completely fails to use the results of to for reasons I cannot fathom.

            Nominally the students have mandatory county-published tests to be taken at the end of each curriculum unit (there are about four), again taking a day or so.

            THEN you add in the PSAT, the all-day PARCC testing sessions for one or more courses (PARCC being the mandatory must-pass-to-graduate test aligned to the Common Core State Standards).

            It, to put it mildly, adds up.

            NCLB has significantly increased the testing load, and so has the broader trend NCLB is a part of. Every level of the educational system wants data and wants to prescribe its own tests. Every level wants tests to evaluate students, teachers, or both. The cumulative impact of all the testing is pretty overwhelming.

            I’m glad for you that you were not thus overwhelmed. I wasn’t overwhelmed either- and I went to the same school district where I now teach! The standardized testing load was a great deal lighter fifteen or twenty years ago than it is today.

          • antpocalypse says:

            @Simon_Jester

            The standardized testing load was a great deal lighter fifteen or twenty years ago than it is today.

            I was about to comment that even when I was in elementary it was much lighter than my teacher friends say it is now, but then I realized that that was… nearly fifteen years ago. Yikes.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        I think a lot of the frustration toward the importance placed on tests and test scores comes from the fact that the information students learn for tests is not, itself, inherently useful. And also students tend to forget the information soon after taking the test.

        I did well in school, but I don’t remember most of the things I learned there. And I suspect that’s the case for most people. If you don’t actually use that information in your everyday life, why would you remember it? It’s easy to look at the entire system and feel like it’s just a bunch of pointless memorization rituals.

        But I think that’s missing a big part of it. Students aren’t being judged on their test scores because the material on the tests is important to know; they are being judged on their ability to learn material, period. The material itself is mostly irrelevant. The general ability to sit still, focus, memorize information, figure out how to apply it, and then prove that you put in the effort to memorize and learn how to apply the information…that’s what’s relevant.

        Adulthood requires people to spend a lot of time filling out forms, focusing on tedious stuff, and figuring out how to do shit even when it’s not fun or relevant to your interests. In that sense, school and testing does do a pretty good job of preparing kids for adulthood and also sorting out those who can handle it and those who can’t.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Honestly, it depends on how you define ‘what is learned.’ If you define it in terms of “so when will we solve for X on a big geometric diagram,” the answer is “maybe not so often.” If you define it in terms of lot of what’s being learned actually is useful, it’s just useful as the foundation-slab for any kind of meaningful advanced knowledge.

          Students in an English class are supposed to learn how to read a multi-paragraph text and extract fundamental facts as well as the overall gist of the text. This is tested for on things like the SAT and the PARCC. No *specific* text passage that is thus tested is critical… but the ability to implement the skill in general is!

          If you leave high school unable to do that, you’re going to spend the rest of your life running into problems due to being at best functionally semi-literate.

          So it’s not just a measure of abstract ability to learn things, it’s a measure of whether you have learned certain very general skills that are normally hard to measure unless you devise a specialized, ‘canned’ test of them. Sort of like measuring people’s physical fitness by having them compete in a decathlon; all the individual activities in the decathlon are in themselves pointless, but they form a solid collective measure of the nebulous quality we call “fitness,” not just of “ability to learn to do pointless physical tasks.”

    • John Schilling says:

      how does this work when you don’t have a final test?

      The way this traditionally works is, each class is graded in its own way, which often involves a final test in that class but also other tests throughout the year plus graded homework assignments, individual or group projects, term papers, whatever, averaged together in whatever fashion the teacher prefers. And it’s the teacher who usually writes and grades the tests, which necessarily vary between classes even in the same school.

      If the average grade in all classes is (usually) at least a “C”, and if you get a passing grade in each of the specifically required classes, you graduate. If not, you don’t. Since you asked.

      This system depends heavily on the skill and honesty of the individual teachers, which is a definite weakness especially if you then load perverse incentives on those teachers. But most Americans are comfortable with it, and most American teachers are passionately in favor of it. So when some state or federal agency notes the problems with this system and proposes the alternative system whereby a bunch of government bureaucrats will create and administer the One True Test that decides who passes and who fails, then as Eponymous and gbdub notes, that gets a lot of pushback. From teachers, from parents who genuinely prefer the traditional system, from parents who don’t much care but will trust the friendly local teacher to tell them what’s best…

      Mostly we still just use the traditional system.

      • antpocalypse says:

        I think one definite strength of the traditional system is that it gives room for teachers to recognize mastery not captured by examinations. It reduces the burden of, “Whoops, I had a panic attack during the One True Test and now I can’t go to college”.

        That said, it’s also subject to the whims of less scrupulous or skilled teachers, and it may well be easier to fix the issues in the One True Test model than to close that gap. But it’s not like there’s nothing to say in favor of the model where teachers are treated as professionals that have the competence and boots-on-the-ground perspective to holistically assess students’ performance. After all, we basically trust university professors (or committees of professors) to do that, and most of them have far less training in education than primary or secondary teachers.

    • Nornagest says:

      With all the complaints in the US about teaching to the test and so on – how does this work when you don’t have a final test?

      How things work in most states is that there are many standardized tests, but — with the exception of the SAT and ACT, which are administered by third-party organizations for the purpose of college admissions, and the ASVAB, which is administered by the military for the purpose of determining whether incoming recruits can be trusted to know which end of a rifle is the dangerous one — they are used primarily to assess the school, not the student. They may factor into tracking decisions, or what passes for them around here, but no one in these states is going to fail a grade because they didn’t pass the test. On the other hand they are often extremely important to the teacher, the school, and the district, because their results determine how well they’re deemed to be doing by the higher levels of the educational bureaucracy, which affects funding levels and whether or not you have to deal with well-meaning functionaries poking around and can occasionally even make the difference between a school staying open or not.

      Yes, this produces some crazy incentives.

    • educationrealist says:

      OK, I read through all the responses to this and not a single one of them is correct. America has plenty of tests, and our reason for not having a high school final exam has nothing whatsoever to do with any so-called “test phobia”, to the point that I find those responses terrifyingly ignorant. Because the reason is completely obvious and has been widely discussed here and elsewhere.

      Few states have a final high school exam because of the 1SD difference between whites and blacks, and the slightly less than one SD difference between whites and Hispanics.

      How on earth can you create a meaningful high school final exam that challenges the average white that won’t fail the average black? It’s impossible.

      So states with high school final exams set the English grammar test to about the sophomore level, and the math standards at a middle school level. And then they spend a ton of time and money getting the kids who fail the test the first time over the finish line. Until they finally throw up their hands and end the exam, as California did just recently, and issue retroactive high school diplomas for everyone who didn’t pass the exam during the ten years or so of its existence.

      Look, everything in American education comes down to race and the 1SD gap. Everything. It’s really quite simple. If you don’t live in US and don’t know this, then you live in Marshmallow land and thus have a blissfully ignorant restricted range of understanding.

  9. enye-word says:

    1: DCPS has what’s called the ’80 20′ rule: A student that is absent for at least 20% of their classes is considered absent for the whole day.

    This sounds like DCPS has fundamentally misunderstood the 80/20 rule; surely, the true “80/20 rule” would be that you are allowed to miss up to 80% of your classes before you’re counted absent. This would allow students to strategically get 80% of an education at 20% of the cost.

    The current rule seems to imply that each 20% of the school day is worth 80% of a school day, and thus each school day is 400% of a school day. And we know DC schools aren’t that good.

  10. Robert Jones says:

    Proyas’ comment sheds some light on the policies re unexcused absences. It seems like unexcused absences have been a big problem, so the policy is designed to clamp down on them. There clearly is an issue here: even if the individual student is able to make up the ground so as to pass the final exam, the effect on the classroom as a whole of allowing students to attend or not as they please is going to be detrimental.

    I don’t really understand the significance of “graduating high school” (in this country you just leave school with some qualifications, or not) but I gather that not being allowed to graduate high school is a fairly draconian sanction, which might effect people’s ability to obtain employment or enter higher education. The punishment is a bit drastic for what is essentially a disciplinary offence, so I can see why it’s been fudged in the past.

    At the same time, it’s also too far removed from the offence. I believe high schoolers are typically aged 14-18, and people of that age are not known for their impulse control. What is needed is a minor but immediate sanction, so that the student clearly understands that non attendance is not tolerated.

    • gbdub says:

      “Not graduating” is basically just equivalent to leaving without qualifications. You can retake your senior year or get your GED or whatever to obtain the same qualifications, we aren’t talking about a punishment that permanently bars you from getting a diiploma or equivalent.

      The point of the absence problem is that if you don’t show up, you don’t get credit for completing the classes you need to complete to get your qualification.

      You can’t just completely ignore the problem, because it’s impossible to teach a class when half your students are gone half the time.

      And while some percentage of the absences are due to sympathetic “taking care of little siblings” reasons, I think many are still just kids not showing up.

      What are your ideas for “immediate sanction”? Most sanction options are suspension or expulsion, which, how exactly is that punishment for someone who doesn’t want to be there in the first place?

      • albatross11 says:

        My guess is that some of the students who seldom show up to class are the result of an earlier iteration of Goodhart’s law. States and cities were being judged on their dropout rates back when it was legal to drop out at (say) 14. So they mostly passed laws forbidding kids from dropping out until age 16 or 17.

        This probably helped some kids at the margins, by not letting them make a dumb long-term decision of dropping out at 16 to go get a job hanging drywall.
        On the other hand, it also probably made the population of students in high school a lot worse–lots of kids with no interest in school, or kids who are so far behind they’re not getting anything out of any high school class, end up forced to go to school by the law.

        That could probably work, more-or-less, if the schools were actually able to keep those kids in line and provide them an education that was useful to them. (Aka, don’t put the kids who can’t do long division in Algebra 2–even an adult will be restless and miserable in a math class where they don’t understand anything, let alone a 16 year old kid!)

        • gbdub says:

          Yeah, I agree, but am very cynical about our ability to achieve your last paragraph. Giving up on trying to graduate the bottom ~20% (not necessarily lowest IQ, just least likely to graduate) would probably make life a lot nicer for the remaining 80% without significantly altering the outcome of the abandoned 20%.

          But no child left behind and all that (not the policy, the attitude, which lives on strong even among the people who mocked the policy).

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Part of it is, the educational system is the only ladder up and out of this pit of hellish idiots, for the fairly large number of non-idiots trapped in there with them.

            You can look yourself in the mirror and say inequality of outcome is justified, but you can’t look yourself in the mirror as a decent person if you don’t provide equality of opportunity for a bunch of kids. Not when a lot of them need that opportunity to get anywhere.

            And that includes giving them the chance to have their metaphorical “Come-to-Jesus” moment and realize they need to straighten out their stupid mess of a life.

            The problem is figuring out which kids to keep cultivating because, despite lack of talent or being grossly undereducated for several years, they’re still going to grab that ladder and keep climbing [i]now[/i]… And which kids to weed out of the garden because you can’t fix them; they simply will not extract head from colon until it is too late for a general-education high school to reach them usefully.

          • gbdub says:

            My (again admittedly cynical) assessment is that we are currently so averse to doing any pruning at all that the weeds are (sometimes quite literally) choking the life out of way more non-idiots than could possibly be worth the small number of weeds that will ever “Come-to-Jesus”.

            Some of the “weeds” are better modeled as “viruses” – not only are they beyond salvage, but they bring down a lot of marginal students with them. “Giving everyone a chance (well, really dozens of chances)” feels good, but if you refuse to cut out any of the worst, you’re actually taking away a lot of chances from others.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            You’re not wrong; it’s a difficult balance to strike and is made all the more difficult by the very real history of people saying “so and so is uneducable” when so and so is in fact entirely educable if you’d take ten goddamn minutes to work out a better approach.

            The level of abuses involved inspires a lot of shell-shocked Never Agains, often to the point of overreaction.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In the year 2018, schools are set up to be easy to run. What’s best for students is secondary. It’s the Iron Law of Institutions: the people running them by definition are running them and want them to be easy.

        If you had classes with chronic absences, you could just run the class at a slower pace, and have the students graduate in a slightly longer period of time. At the end of some unit of time, you regroup the students so that similar mastery levels (what they’ve already done) and skill levels (how fast they will proceed) are together and go again. Schools do this only at extremely low levels of resolution currently. You have a class for at least half the school year, and there are only 3 or 4 possible classes you could end up in.

        • Randy M says:

          Generally that accomplished by making up the class over the summer, although if this district is flunking the students from all their classes for being 15 minutes late to the first one of the day, summer won’t be sufficient to catch up.

          Bear in mind that your solution isn’t just about convenience; if a student misses 25% of their classes and has to make that up, then you are going to need to provide them 25% more schooling, at least (because by missing some things early, they will fail to understand subsequent concepts) which increases your expenses. Or else you’d end up with a possibly quite sizable group of disruptive 19 year olds in Freshman Algebra, increasing the class sizes there.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Schools are so hard to run even under their current design that I strongly suspect that schools designed to satisfy your idea of “best for students” would be literally impossible to run. Or would run only as specialist private academies that are free to vet their incoming students and expel any child who starts consuming more of the school’s resources than his share of the budget can justify paying for.

          The big problem this is going to run into is creating enough groups and ensuring everyone is grouped correctly, without in effect just hiring one-on-one tutors for every single child.

      • JDG1980 says:

        What are your ideas for “immediate sanction”? Most sanction options are suspension or expulsion, which, how exactly is that punishment for someone who doesn’t want to be there in the first place?

        Traditionally, corporal punishment was used for this purpose.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A further challenge with enforcing attendance is that most of the discipline options open to schools (e.g. suspensions) result in the offender missing even more classroom time.

    • educationrealist says:

      What is needed is a minor but immediate sanction, so that the student clearly understands that non attendance is not tolerated.

      Damn. Why the hell hasn’t anyone tried that?

      Oh. Wait

      We spend MILLIONS if not more on trying to get kids to school. We give them thousands of chances. We work with counsellors, truant officers, we cut deals, we give kids EVERY INCENTIVE, including amnesty, to come to school.

      Try again.

  11. Robert Jones says:

    Of course there is another question: why do we make high-schoolers attend classes in the first place? It seems suspicious that the “classroom” model of schooling is basically unchanged since the nineteenth century. The “chalk and talk” part seems like it could be done via MOOC or even just a video. The individual attention part seems like it would be better delivered by infrequent small-group tuition. I suspect that the main reason for having the students in a class is to ensure that they are actually spending the time studying, but that involves the teacher combining pedagogical and disciplinary roles. Why should those roles not be separated?

    For instance, suppose that schools provided a variety of educational materials (written, video, interactive etc) and set tests to allow the students to demonstrate their understanding of particular topics. Then the students could decide (with guidance) how to prepare for the tests and when to take them. In each subject area there would be a prescribed order of tests and the students would have to show progress in different subject areas over the course of the year.

    The students would be obliged to attend school in normal school hours (as now) and they would be monitored by responsible adults (not necessarily teachers) to enforce discipline and ensure they were engaged in study during study periods. Their learning would be monitored to check that they were engaged in relevant activities and making reasonable progress so that an early intervention could be made if anything seemed to be going wrong. Students would be able to access online or in person tuition where they (or their counsellor) deemed it necessary and various activities could be available in-school for them to sign up to (some of which might be mandatory requirements for certain modules).

    • Incurian says:

      This does not strike me as completely unreasonable, but I see a couple a problems. I suspect a lot of students will be incapable of learning on their own, even if it’s because they can’t read. And teachers unions are unlikely to embrace a system where they are not the centerpiece.

    • Malarious says:

      This is pretty much exactly how my high school calculus class worked. We had tests every two weeks and online the teacher posted a list of topics that would be on each test. In class, there was a binder filled with example problems (with answers in the back). Each class, the teacher would work through these example problems on the board and you could ask questions if you had them, but you were free to do whatever you wanted: there was no homework, and nothing contributed to your grade except your results on the tests. So if you already knew the curriculum and were confident in your skills, you could read a book or do other class’s homework during the period. The class size was also pretty small, with only 12 students. If every one of my high school classes was taught like that, I would’ve done much better academically.

      Across my 3 years of Canadian high school I had a 12% attendance rate. I managed to work with the administration and they were willing to adjust the weighting of the final exam for each subject up to 50% (from 30%) so I actually passed all of my classes despite rarely being there or doing homework, which was incredibly generous of them in retrospect — but I can’t help but wonder how things might’ve been different if I could’ve just ‘tested out’ of 90% of my classes. The gifted program I was inducted into in middle school was much better about these things, but had issues of its own (specifically, shuttling the students into some of the worst schools in the city, presumably in an effort to fluff up their standardized testing scores. Putting ~20 intelligent, precocious teens into a school with 500 underachieving, mostly ESL students with behavioral problems — well, you can probably guess how it went).

      • Randy M says:

        Also similar to my High School AP Physics class, but that was with the intention of giving a college like experience and since the real goal of the class was not the grade but a score on the AP test.

    • gbdub says:

      I think this idea suffers badly from the typical mind fallacy.

      There are certainly some percentage of students who have the diligence, self motivation, and smarts to do better with that approach. But definitely not the majority and probably not a significant minority. Hell, I was the valedictorian and I struggled to stay motivated in a couple of self-learning courses I was allowed to take. Plenty of otherwise successful adults struggle with this.

      I highly doubt that 60% of high school students in DC are simply too inherently stupid to handle basic readin’ ritin’ and ‘rithmatic. But I can certainly believe there is a large enough fraction that simply don’t value getting educated and lack the positive adult influences they’d need to get the right kick in the pants.

    • John Schilling says:

      Then the students could decide (with guidance) how to prepare for the tests and when to take them.

      So, prepare for the test by cramming a year’s worth of material the day before the test, which will be taken on the last day allowed?

      In each subject area there would be a prescribed order of tests and the students would have to show progress in different subject areas over the course of the year.

      No they wouldn’t. Students will always have the option of not showing progress, and then what? You’ll fail them? Saying “we’ll fail you unless you show progress on the tests” has the same problem as “we’ll fail you unless you show up for class”, and leads to 58% of your students not graduating. Which you’re not going actually going to do, and they’ll figure that out soon enough.

      I’m all for considering better ways to educate children and adolescents, but treating them as if all or even most of them are motivated autodidacts who would flourish if not being stifled by The Man is, as gbdub points out, pure typical-minding.

      • Garrett says:

        So, prepare for the test by cramming a year’s worth of material the day before the test, which will be taken on the last day allowed?

        I passed my engineering chemistry course by failing almost every test and then doing every other assigned homework problem 3 days prior to the exam and getting a really high score. So it’s possible. But not always likely.

      • I think a lot of kids are autodidacts when they are learning things they want to learn, whether that’s baseball trivia or how to play a computer game.

    • CatCube says:

      To chime in with gbdub and John, I absolutely hate recorded online classes. I loved both high school and college, was high school valedictorian and magna cum laude in college, but I learn much more quickly and effectively with teacher interaction and a structured class schedule. If I have a half-decent instructor who covers the material that I can interact with to get clarification (and I’m the dude who will raise his hand to ask questions in a large lecture hall), I barely have to study outside of class. If you just flip me a book and a video recording of a lecture, it takes me about 5 times as long, assuming that I can even motivate myself to keep it up.

      I can’t imagine how useless this would be for people who can’t even bother to show up for class.

      • Lillian says:

        Some people just don’t seem able to process information unless they get some manner of interaction. Both my sister and my Boyfriend are like that, they are both very smart, they both pick up concepts very quickly, but they need, like absolutely need, to be able to interact with someone or something in order to learn. For abstract concepts like mathematics or physics, this requires having someone physically present who can answer questions and clarify lessons. Like i have personally seem them go from completely lost and confused to firmly grasping a subject in the space of a quick one minute Q&A session. It’s easier with things like electronic or mechanical devices, since having the subject on hand to play with means they can usually self-learn without much problem.

        The most interesting thing about it though is that while this learning style caused them to struggle in school, since the teachers doesn’t always have the time to give even a minute’s personal attention to each student, it’s actually been very useful in other spheres. For example my sister, after years of struggling with book learning of all kinds, proved herself to be an excellent line manager when she went to work at a chemical plant. Having all the machinery and measuring devices right in front of her, as well the operators to interact with, meant she knew her line better than any other engineer at the factory knew theirs. Likely because her mental model of the production line was built not on the theory of how it should operate, but on the actual thing operating in front of her.

      • tlwest says:

        > I absolutely hate recorded online classes.

        I’ve always wondered about that.

        My hypothesis is that learning new stuff is hard, and most us cannot motivate ourselves to spend the effort to learn if there isn’t someone spending the effort to teach.

        Sort of the same reason that I’m completely hopeless playing chess against a computer, and only mildly hopeless playing against a human.

    • Jiro says:

      Is this another case of proposing something that works great with 110 IQ educated rationalists and would fail when applied to the general public?

      • antpocalypse says:

        I mean, I’m in a PhD program and not particularly dumb and I still have chronic difficulty structuring my time effectively. That proposed system definitely would not have worked for me; I benefited a lot in both high school and college from having real-time access to the instructor to ask questions and clarify confusing points (and also from not being in control of the schedule).

      • honhonhonhon says:

        On the one hand, when reading the FAGGOT quote, it struck me that the teacher perceived things that would be normal in many universities as misbehavior because it was in high school. Students being late or disengaged to the point of doing other stuff during a lecture is acceptable; and though shouting obscenities and being disruptive is not, I can only see it as escalation in response to being forced to attend (wheareas the uni I attended did not have mandatory attendance). The post read like a prison warden getting surprised that the inmates lack enthusiasm. That’s not meant as a moral statement, rather I found the account unsurprising and think most people would resort to “near-constant talking during lessons and fooling around with cell phones” if forced to spend hours in class every day for years. I think adults would if anything be way less patient if office meetings are anything to go by.

        On the other hand, you are right. Pretty much everyone has trouble in university due to the laxer oversight, and I can’t imagine it getting better if that is also extended to high school.

        • Randy M says:

          Yes, but keep in mind the teacher is judged on how well these prisoners learn the curriculum those students have no interest in. In college, the sinking or swimming is up to the students, who will be expelled if they fail, thereby solving any disengagement problems by later years. In public k-12 education, the teachers are expected to be capable of presenting content in a way that is accessible and engaging to the students. Teachers might be judged negatively if they have many discipline referrals or many failing students; if they were “good teachers” the students would find their discussion of linear equations interesting and grokable. In many cases, the student won’t face consequences for disengagement until they get rejection letters from college for low marks or have to pass up employment opportunities for lacking a diploma. This is too far ahead for a, say, 8th grader to contemplate. Unless the student for whatever reason values the verbal praise of the teacher, or has parents that provide rewards or punishments, they need to be unusually motivated to see the point of the studies. One thing teachers often appreciate is having students that care about athletics or other activities they are involved in; these will usually require at least a 2.0 average to participate, often checked quarterly or more, and moreover a phone call to the coach can straighten out behavior problems.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Attendance in college is more rare. Not completely rare, and even at some elite schools attendance is taken in some classes.

          It’s a combination of assuming college students are adults responsible for their actions, and having selected students based on prior ability to manage themselves.

          We’re also okay (relatively, and pushback is coming here) with college students failing, at least compared to high school students failing.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Apparently taking attendance in college lectures has become more common, with the “iClicker” being the typical means of enforcement. Whether this is push due to technology, pull due to lower-quality students, pull due to classes being used for indoctrination, or isn’t actually happening (I have only secondhand anecdote, not data), I don’t know.

          • Lab Rat says:

            Attendance points and iClickers are gaining ground in non-major classes. In my experience, administration drones are pushing them for two reasons. First, your instinct is right, they want to increase retention by minimizing failing grades in general education classes. This backfires horribly, because bad students don’t come to class. Istead of just missing a lecture, they forgo attendance and iClicker points. Second the iClicker is catnip for box-checkers. They push hard for its use as on official course assessments. Tenured professors mostly flat out refuse, but adjuncts and term faculty, the ones mostly teaching introductory and non-major classes, have little recourse.

        • Adam Smith wrote that the discipline of schools is for the benefit of the masters, not the students, and complained that not only were students forced to attend lectures, they weren’t even allowed to express their discontent by their behavior in class. He went on to claim that no discipline is required to get students to attend those lectures that are worth the attending, as is known where such lectures are given (from memory so probably not verbatim).

          I think he was specifically targeting Oxford and Cambridge, but he did say that compulsion might sometimes be needed for children or young boys, but that beyond the age of twelve or thirteen it need play no role in education.

          • DavidS says:

            Pretty sure that would be Oxbridge, yes. The Scottish universities at his time were far better and Oxbridge in a long slumber where they taught very little. I think it was Gladstone who eventually pushed them to start educating people again.

            I certainly went to gpod/relevant lectures at uni – including some not actually for my course – and ignored others. I am suspicious of enforced attendance as it does seem to remove the need to engage students.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I’ve certainly been irritated by fellow students. Of course one can blame that on the teaching (and in some cases the teacher was so boring that I can see why people would fail to be engaged), but the teachees can also sometimes be blamed.

    • An improved version of your model is one where passing the test actually buys the student some freedom. If you have completed high school, as measured by tests, at sixteen, you get to graduate and leave. Alternatively, if you are completing tests fast enough so that you will have finished this year in six months, you get to leave school, or at least shift to someplace in school where you can play instead of work, several hours early each day.

    • yodelyak says:

      Epistemic status: no idea. Very curious.

      Claim: Most people do anything effortful only because the haka is doing it. The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is completely wrong. A normal person can pick up Melville on his own, but he can’t read it effortfully unless he’s learned to effortfully read because his haka leaders love reading, and are leading the love-reading-haka, in his mind, at present.

    • dwg says:

      If a lot of unexcused absences are due to the student coming from a poor family without many resources, then they might not be able to watch videos or take online classes. They might not have a computer or cell phone with a good plan.

    • educationrealist says:

      Of course there is another question: why do we make high-schoolers attend classes in the first place

      Because teachers are cheaper than cops.

      And, as I said here:

      Teachers are cheaper than cops and prisons and by this I do not mean “uneducated kids will end up in prison” or whatever pious do-gooders might say about the value of education. I mean it literally: some substantial chunk of kids who are now forced to stay in school will get out onto the streets three to eight years earlier and crime will increase.

  12. ManyCookies says:

    That attendance policy reminds me of the Dazexiang Uprising:

    “So what’s the penalty for 15 minutes of lateness, exactly?”

    “It’s an unexcused absence for the entire day.”

    “I see. And, uh, what’s the penalty for playing CoD all day?”

    • I believe our sources for that story are from the Han dynasty, which had obvious reasons to make their predecessors look bad. When a tomb from the Qin, containing written material, was excavated, it was not consistent with the Han account of the evils of the Qin legal system.

      The same idea is proverbial in English: “as well hang for a sheep as a lamb.”

      • DavidS says:

        On its so sad when cool historical anecdotes turn out to be deeply dodgy!

        But yeah the idea is more widespread. I remember hearing it as an argument against death penalty for rape (where there is the death penalty for murder) as you don’t want to make it rational for the rapist to murder their victim.

        • Protagoras says:

          That version of the argument is questionable, too. Murders are much more likely to be solved than lesser crimes (apparently because police work a lot harder to solve murders, and in the case of rape there is the extra reason that there is usually much less controversy that a crime has occurred anyway), so that killing potential witnesses almost certainly increases the risk of being caught even though it deprives the authorities of those particular sources of information.

    • Lillian says:

      This reminds me of my high school’s approach to coming late to school in the morning: Any students not in class by the time the second bell rang, would be rounded up and sent to the cafeteria to hand copy a tediously long essay on the importance of attending class on time, on top of having a tardy marked on their record. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that i got more value out of skipping first period entirely, since nobody seemed to be keeping track of unexcused absences. It also didn’t take long for the less by-the-book teachers to realize they got more value out of letting students enter their class late than having them get held up even later doing punishment work.

      Also the way the school tracked infractions gave me the opportunity to do some amusing rules lawyering. Three class tardies would result in one day’s suspension, six tardies in two day’s suspension. So one year i had five tardies, get to a class late, and that particular teacher doesn’t much like me, so she demands i go to the administration to report the tardy, which would have given me two day’s suspension. Instead i went to the library and never came back, so she reported me as skipping class. While i did skip frequently, this was the my first (and only) reported offence so they only gave me one day’s suspension. Thereby i succeeded in getting a lesser punishment by committing a greater crime.

      Another fun thing that happened in that school: The dress code required students to wear their student ID on a lanyard, and forbade the wearing of open-toed footwear. After two years of the student body consistently refusing to abide by either regulation, they eventually gave up entirely. The ID rule changed to simply having it on your person, and the footwear restrictions were completely removed. Thus the school dress code bowed before the might of hundreds of teenagers wanting to be fashionable, since lanyards were super lame, and flipflops were super in.

  13. MrApophenia says:

    To clarify my comment a bit, the Post article (as I recall anyway – it was a couple years ago, I believe written by Bill Turque, but still can’t find a link for the life of me. Anyone who can help out will be hugely appreciated) wasn’t arguing that it was giving DC home rule that broke things. Both the time the schools were good, and the time after it’s alleged that Marion Barry turned it into a corruption-swamp, were before DC got home rule.

    This was actually the problem, in a sense. Because there was no city government, the only avenue for advancement for a local politician was to the school board. Barry realized that and used the school board as the place to build his empire – and it clearly worked, given the results after home rule was given to DC and he became the so-called “Mayor for Life” – but the theory is that it wrecked the school system in the process.

    (Which I guess still fits the idea of local authorities run out of control, but the lack of federal oversight for DC schools doesn’t seem to have been the unique thing. That was the same as everywhere else. The unique thing was the abnormally high status of a school board job, which motivated more vicious career politicians to want the job than normal.)

    • gbdub says:

      This is how I read it, but I wanted to give your clarification needs a signal boost because it seems like everyone else, Scott included, is badly misreading it.

  14. aristides says:

    My school in Florida had a similar attendance policy that you could get a waiver for. I was very worried I wouldn’t graduate from it, despite being in the top of my class, and spoke to a guidance counselor. She told me that every student with good grades and little discipline got the waiver, and sure enough I did. There were also rumors that everyone who applied got the waiver, that the school board used it to control their graduation rate, and that mostly white people got the waiver, but I have no idea of any of that is true.

  15. Calvin says:

    There’s also this comment on home rule and Puerto Rico which seems to reinforce this idea that districts carefully monitored by competent national authorities do well, and districts that have control of their own standards devolve into corruption and failure really quickly. How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    I’d like to point out that education is strictly run by provincial governments in Canada, with no federal input; and that the province of Alberta uniquely has one of the best education systems in the world according to The Programme for International Student Assessment. Federal input may help, but I do not think it is necessary to run a good school system.

  16. Deiseach says:

    Okay, maybe this goes deeper than just the absence thing.

    There’s many reasons for the school-to-prison pipeline and they’re not all down to structural racism.

    Some teenagers/young adults do not want to be in school, do not want to learn, do not want to be working. They want to smoke weed and make easy money through petty crime. School is a holding pen in that case until they do eventually get themselves into enough trouble, and burn through enough last chances, that they end up in jail.

    I’ve seen them when I’ve been working in an early school leavers’ programme and when I was attending courses at a training centre; young guys in their late teens/early twenties at break on their phones boasting to their mates about how they were baked coming in to the training course that morning because they smoked right before leaving the house. They don’t care if the instructors know, because no-one is going to do anything about it (too much hassle getting the police involved when all you have is “but I know he was high as a kite” and no evidence), and they don’t care that they’re not learning the skills to get themselves a job that the course is intended to teach them.

    They don’t want to be there and are only there because the dole put them on a training course and would cut off their benefits if they didn’t go, and eventually they’ll get into petty crime (if not engaged in it already), and end up in jail.

    And these are white guys in a majority white society, so it’s not “structural racism anti-blackness prejudice”, and I’m damn sure human nature being what it is, some of the kids in DC are the exact same. You have the poor kids who are taking on part of the parenting duties in the home, and getting failed because they can’t be at school and looking after their siblings at the same time. You have the kids with behavioural/learning disabilities from struggling backgrounds who are falling behind year on year and struggling just to keep their head above water because maybe there’s no responsible adult in their background to take care of them.

    And you have the kids who are criminals in training and don’t want anything to do with school or engaging with society, and they’re the exact disruptive influences as described above. And they are the ones who know how to play the system and scream about “my rights!” when anyone tries to discipline them. So they can’t be disciplined in school, they laugh at any attempts to control them, and eventually they end up in prison which is a lot tougher, harsher and more extreme than any discipline a school might have exerted, if the school were permitted (I imagine in the US it’s as hard to expel a student as it is over here, because of the “right to an education” where some school somewhere is forced to take the hard cases).

    • DavidS says:

      Just wanted to note that at sixth form college i knew lots of people who got stoned during the school day, boasted about it and sometimes sold cannabis on a small scale who got decent grades, went to uni and are probably now accountants or some such.

      Need to be careful not to see drug use as confirming delinquency as it’s quite easy to end up reinforcing whatever preconception already existed.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Indeed. When I was in the sixth form, I turned up when hangovers permitted, was a nuisance in the lessons I did make it to, and handed in approximately three pieces of written work over the whole course of my final year. I also got straight As at A level and went on to Oxford, and the reason I’m not an approximate accountant is disinclination rather than anything else. Not wanting to be in school, learn or work seems to me to be a relatively common symptom of teenagerdom by no means confined to those destined for a life of intermittent incarceration.

  17. Eponymous says:

    I find the contrast between the two quotes from DCPS teachers (admittedly one secondhand and older) interesting. The first quote makes it sound like the problem is just kids arriving 25 minutes late to their first class because they had to drop off their little sister at the middle school 5 blocks away being screwed over by an irrational policy. The second story makes it sound like the school system is a madhouse.

    I don’t know which view is correct, but the second story is consistent with everything else I’ve heard from teachers and accords with my own experiences and observations in related settings, not to mention other lines of evidence (e.g. test scores), whereas the first strikes me as a story that flatters PC sentiment and is inconsistent with all the incentives of the bureaucracy (why institute an attendance policy that completely forks the one measure anyone judges you by?).

    On the other hand, I can easily imagine a temporary bureaucratic snafu due to overreaction to a scandal, with nobody thinking through the consequences. Thus I think it likely that both quotes are correct: the school district is complete bedlam with chronic absenteeism and precious little learning going on, but *also* a bunch of students are being screwed over (at least relative to the baseline of handing out diplomas to illiterates, with employers valuing them accordingly) by a ridiculous policy instituted by a mindless bureaucracy.

    In short, I’m going with option 3, plus fraud and really low standards everywhere else. Basically, most places have a policy of “You graduate if you show up, but you don’t really need to show up”, whereas DC shifted to “You actually need to show up”. And the bureaucracy is in the process of saying “whoops, that sure was a bad idea!” and are going to try to figure out a way to fix it since everyone is yelling at them for screwing over a bunch of poor black/hispanic kids. So I predict they will “fix it” next year, and get back to their usual practice of screwing over any poor black/hispanic kid who wants to learn anything or make anything out of their lives.

    • albatross11 says:

      Both can be true.

      Two of my kids are in very selective magnet schools, located inside bigger schools that mainly have local students. Both have been in classes where there was a seriously disruptive student about whom the teachers could or would do very little. Short of completely sealing off the magnet kids from the regular kids, that happens.

      This is in a county with an extremely well-funded school system. The problem here isn’t resources[1], it’s a political or policy problem that the school system doesn’t have any way to keep disruptive kids from running a denial of service attack on a whole classroom. I don’t know the right solution here, but it’s 100% clear to me that allowing one problem student to shut down a year of middle-school science class is a very bad idea.

      [1] There’s probably as much corruption as in many failing inner-city schools, but more total wealth to work with, so there’s a lot of money for school buildings and teachers and such even after all the featherbedding and self-dealing.

    • John Schilling says:

      …a bunch of students are being screwed over (at least relative to the baseline of handing out diplomas to illiterates, with employers valuing them accordingly) by a ridiculous policy instituted by a mindless bureaucracy.

      Or a less-ridiculous policy instituted by a bureaucracy that thought its people would never be so daft as to actually implement the policy without first applying common sense, then blindsided by a zero-tolerance policy being imposed from on high because of widely-publicized failings elsewhere.

      Zero tolerance policies almost never lead to good outcomes, but are a common and irresistible enough temptation that you really ought to make sure all your other policies will survive zero-tolerance implementation.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      My impression from following the newspapers is that public school districts tend to be extremely bad at statistically modeling the consequences of policy change brainstorms they come up with. This example of DC changing some attendance rules and then being shocked by the collapse in the graduation rates happens all the time across the country — the main difference is that usually principals and teachers intervene to keep the consequences of the head office’s Big Idea from being quite so severe.

      If America’s public school districts employed, say, just 10% of the quantitative talent that shows up annually to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference looking for Moneyball jobs in sports, they’d have a much stronger ability to anticipate the likely consequences of their various hot new ideas.

      http://www.sloansportsconference.com/

      • Simon_Jester says:

        “My impression from following the newspapers is that public school districts tend to be extremely bad at statistically modeling the consequences of policy change brainstorms they come up with.”

        THIS. So, so this.

      • tlwest says:

        Not often I’m agreeing with Mr. Sailer, but indeed I think he is correct here.

        On the other hand, I think a *lot* of both public and private policy (especially medical policy) would be infinitely better with 10% of the quantitative talent that shows up annually to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference.

  18. Carl Milsted says:

    Regarding home rule: a citywide school district is not truly local. Truly local government is government close enough to the voters where voters can actually talk to the leaders.

    Those who want local government should start with a campaign to give each high school — with the schools below it — its own elected school board. Now you have a situation where parental involvement is worth the bother.

    • BBA says:

      It’s not about school district size. Neighboring Montgomery County is larger than DC by both population and area, and its countywide school board doesn’t have remotely these levels of dysfunction. (I hated my two-and-a-half years at a high school there, but that’s because if you drop a naturally anti-social person into a school full of strangers in mid-year he’s going to be miserable no matter what. My better-adjusted younger brother did fine.) Likewise Prince George’s County, which is majority African-American in case anyone thinks it’s just a race thing.

      NYC experimented with splitting local schools into autonomous districts with their own elected boards in the ’60s. The result was a massive teachers’ strike and the city settling on a compromise where there were both elected local boards and an appointed citywide board – a confusing mess that somehow lasted 30 years.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The Ocean Hill-Brownsville imbroglio of the late 1960s in Brooklyn public schools came about when the Lindsay Administration gave black power activists control of a chunk of the public schools. They immediately started trying to fire Jewish and Irish schoolteachers and replace them with blacks. The white teachers under union leader Albert Shanker went on the warpath to save their jobs.

        The whole story has pretty much been memoryholed, but it was a huge deal at the time. Thus in Woody Allen’s 1973 sci-fi movie Sleeper, a scientist explains that the old American civilization came to an end when:

        “According to history, over 100 years ago, a man named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead.”

    • sharper13 says:

      Pretty sure they call that a Charter School. Interestingly enough, the DC Charters didn’t do nearly as bad in terms of ignoring absences to inflate graduation rates as the District schools did (i.e. graduated no one who missed more than 1/2 a year of school), while still maintaining a 73.4% graduation rate.

  19. xXxanonxXx says:

    Okay. Nobody is going to ask for details about the baboon problem?

    Edit: First hit on google. In Northern Cape baboons invading and occupying your school just happens from time to time.

    • Watchman says:

      Probably less disruptive than a couple of kids I had the pleasure of having to share classes with…

      • Simon_Jester says:

        There is a <1% proportion of students I have observed for which this might, yes, be a good exchange. Depends on the baboon. I imagine that baboons have delinquents too.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I am now imagining baboon delinquents, who, instead of swinging from trees chucking banana peels at each other like they’re supposed to, run away from the pack every day to attend classes at the local human school. Some of them might even be getting As ! Oh, the scandal ! Their baboon parents are so distraught…

  20. John Schilling says:

    How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    That argument moved to the suburbs back in the 1970s, with all the parents who thought a good education would be best for their children and managed to arrange pretty much that under local control.

    Quite possibly the school systems like DC actually are optimized (or were before the recent “reforms”) for the needs of most of their students. Most of whom can at best aspire to jobs selling either french fries or recreational pharmaceuticals, will never need to do algebra, would benefit from a certificate that says “almost always shows up within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time”, and mostly just need some level of adult supervision during the hours their single parents are at work.

    SSC, and most of the journalistic / thinkfluencer community, will typical-mind and judge inner-city public school districts by how well they prepare students for a university education and middle-class life that maybe 10% of them will ever actually see, imagining that if we just instituted the right reforms that number would magically reach 90%. What would a school system look like that was truly optimized for the 90%, and how would it differ from pre-shakeup DC?

    • yodelyak says:

      Saw your comment standing alone, wanted to participate, but have been drinking and got rambly…

      I am still grappling with trying to even find edges to the “innate differences” versus “cultural capital” arguments for why quality/outcomes/life is so variable, but I think the right rejoinder to “truly optimized for the 90%” is that the 90% is a shifting target that shifts whenever you much move the middle, such that “truly optimized for the 90%” just looks like “successful at preparing kids for good, low-debt or debt-free, basically decent and gainfully employed/productive lives.”

      If the cultural capital thesis is true, and it must at least sorta be true (nobody is born knowing English, algebra, or innately aware that large groups can’t function if people aren’t sticklers for arriving on time), then the cultural capital thesis should be about equally true for D.C. schools in good decades as for D.C. schools as in bad decades, and as equally true in D.C. as in the suburbs. I tend to think the main difference in D.C. is that instead of teachers and parents who mostly find that other teachers and parents are coordinating to present a united front and keep students disciplined and invested, you have teachers and parents who mostly find the other teachers and parents are individually optimizing for the fact that teacher-parent-community coordination has broken down. If all the other teachers and parents and admins are already sliding into abandoning discipline and/or embracing cynicism/nihilism/what-have-you, and/or bowing to crushing realities of the attitudes the students already have, doesn’t that make it much harder not to do so oneself? It’s moloch pumped up to larger-than-usual-size (in America) by political corruption, racism, one-parent families, and poverty. Not race determinism or urbanism-determinism or some proof that standardized tests / political correctness / your-favorite-educational-pet-theory is somehow uniquely corroding performance in D.C.

      My prior is pretty strongly that cultural capital is real, and strongly, strongly important. I think even a single teacher who connects with 20% of students well enough for them to viscerally acquire a new lesson–especially something basic like “arrives consistently within 15 minutes of start time” is the bare minimum for “employable”–that teacher adds huge value for those kids and their networks.

      I had a programming teacher (a computer scientist who’d done large visual basic projects, including a major retailer’s cashier software back in the late nineties, for >$200k/yr back when that was real money, and who’d taken his chunk and retired to teach high school programming and coach golf) who connected with 5 or so students in every class of 25 well enough for them to understand the difference between “usually puts in enough effort to make a good showing” versus “consistently gets 90% or so right, and will make a good employee who does a lot of work” versus “understands precision and effort well enough to be able to choose to not stop trying until 100% correct, and who can therefore work independently or manage a high value project where small failures are still failures.”

      His trick was, each problem he’d assign, he would hand out the grading rubric at the same time as announcing the assignment. All his assignments were designed to be roughly equivalently effortful, and all were worth 100 points. If you got 99.95% of the points on the rubric (all of which would be objectively testable based on whether your program worked, generated exactly the right output, and contained the phrases of comment you were told to include)… well, 99.95% is worth 99.95 points. If you got 100% of the points, that was worth 150 points. An assignment that was a day late was docked 10%. An assignment more than a day late lost 20% (but you could still pass the class with a b, if I recall correctly, if you turned everything in on the last day… or heck, if you turned everything in two days late, but got a 100% on two assignments you could get an A!) An assignment that got less than 75% (? I forget this number) of the points could be re-submitted a second time, as though merely turned in late. (But there’s no route to “perfect” if it’s late.) Okay, I say that was his “trick” but also, he’d gotten a perfect 36-36-36-36 on the A.C.T., and he put in the effort to make each assignment teach both conceptual tools and specific software / programming applications. He was a great, great teacher.

      The assignments were quite challenging and the rubrics had literally dozens of things to check, so fewer than 1/3 of students got a single “perfect” at any point (perfects were generally announced) even though (I’m guessing wildly) about half got As, and everyone who did all the work got Bs or Cs. But the students (including me) who tried to get “perfects” several times, and never succeeded or finally succeeded once (I was so thrilled!)… you get something real from that kind of experience, but it’s latent and more like a small uptick in a 3rd derivative than like a once-off boost. And it’s probably socially contagious, such that the benefit is as likely to accrue to your friends/spouse/that-one-ex-you-dated-for-five-years-but-it-didn’t-work-out… so it’s probably really hard to find with statistics.

      But if that’s what school is mostly for–getting those upticks in 3rd derivatives that affect one’s whole network–then a school that is failing badly will fail *everyone* connected to it. Even the teachers who are there for just a year or two will get “contact fail” from the experience, potentially. I know a couple of teachers whose bad experiences while teaching in mostly making-it schools seem to have soured their attitude toward life the way a failed marriage can… the struggle is real. It’s the kind of thing that makes a fella’ want to invest in getting religion.

  21. RMc says:

    My friend described an incident where one student–who was physically bigger than he was–yelled out he was a “FAGGOT” when asked to sign the clipboard, provoking laughs from all the other students, before sitting down without signing it.

    Another reason to give teachers guns.

  22. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Other people have highlighted important problems but one that I haven’t seen mentioned much is that one of the reasons that education reforms fail is that our expectations are unreasonably high.

    Right now, roughly 20% of kids graduating highschool who are functionally illiterate according to the numbers I’ve seen. This fits with my mother’s experience teaching remedial English: even though she was technically a “special education” teacher, only a fraction of the kids she worked with were mentally retarded or dyslexic. Most of them just never learned the first time and moved through the subsequent grades of English classes in an uncomprehending daze.

    These kids will never be able to appreciate Shakespeare or even read the New York Times, but they’re absolutely capable of the level of literacy needed to work the register at a department store. Trying to force them through the entire K-12 English program by the time they’re 18 is counterproductive; they spend too little time working on their fundamental skills and too much time on inappropriately advanced material.

    Most kids shouldn’t go to college but every kid of normal intelligence should be able to read and perform basic sums. Refocusing highschool standards on basic literacy and numeracy rather than on college prep would mean that those people could be taught appropriate material for their abilities. Ideally this would feed into trade schools or apprenticeship programs to offer a parallel non-college path for skilled blue collar workers a la Germany.

    • Evan Þ says:

      “Refocusing highschool standards on basic literacy and numeracy rather than on college prep,” with existing conditions, will mean that no one gets taught college prep.

      Better to specifically target two separate diplomas, with tests to get into the higher-tracked classes.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        You’re right but I think that’s a problem that takes care of itself.

        The kids who will go to college will take college prep courses anyway. If their public school offers AP courses they’ll take them, if not they’ll leave in favor of private preparatory schools or public magnet schools.

        Diamonds in the rough pretty rare to start with and g-loaded standardized tests will pick them out regardless of their educational background.

        • John Schilling says:

          I can think of several big problems with a plan where “kids who will go to college” is by policy limited to kids whose parents can afford private schools and kids who live in the sort of school districts that offer AP courses.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Hm, actually limiting college to the rich independent of actual merit of their schoolwork might be a net gain for equality. Consider that college degrees right now are a pretty strong signal that a person has decent intelligence and conscientiousness. If colleges become just the playground for rich young kids, then that signalling value of degrees will drop. Since degrees signal less valuable information for employers in that case, fewer jobs will demand a college degree. The more you can emphasize “colleges are for the kids of the idle rich” rather than “colleges are where smart people go,” the more this trend holds.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Reply to Christthenottopher above:

            The problem is, college is ALSO:

            1) The place people go to learn advanced technical subjects. Which are one of the better ways for talented low-income children to get rich…

            2) AND, they’re the place people go to learn what they need in order to have advanced philosophical and academic discussions about their society. Without which, you have deprived the poor of a native-born intelligentsia capable of recognizing any injustices they may suffer.

            Basically, this reverts to an equilibrium state very much like that of some medieval mess where the aristocracy doesn’t encourage you to teach the serfs how to read and it may be illegal to try. Because the first thing the peasants would do if they could read would be to organize a peasant revolt.

            Just canceling out the problem of college degrees being used for signaling value doesn’t solve the other problems caused by locking everyone but the upper class out of higher education.

          • christhenottopher says:

            The problem is, college is ALSO:

            1) The place people go to learn advanced technical subjects. Which are one of the better ways for talented low-income children to get rich…

            Yes…but also a lot no. Consider things like coding where that field first thrived outside of classrooms with people learning at home. Or Germany where apprenticeship models are a common way to enter middle class professions. People use colleges as ways to get skills in part because they’re also getting a signal there. And the skills effect seems to be only a minor part of the income gains from college (Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education goes deep into these numbers).

            2) AND, they’re the place people go to learn what they need in order to have advanced philosophical and academic discussions about their society. Without which, you have deprived the poor of a native-born intelligentsia capable of recognizing any injustices they may suffer.

            Says the guy commenting on a blog dedicated to advanced philosophical and academic discussions about society. 🙂

            But yeah people find ways to have those discussions in every free society through history outside the walls of the academy. In pre-20th century France it was the salons, in England the pubs, in Greece the agora, Rome the forum, and today there’s the internet. Colleges do happen to bring together lots of smart people, but smart people like congregating regardless of whether there’s a school building around them.

            Basically, this reverts to an equilibrium state very much like that of some medieval mess where the aristocracy doesn’t encourage you to teach the serfs how to read and it may be illegal to try. Because the first thing the peasants would do if they could read would be to organize a peasant revolt.

            I dispute that reading of medieval history! Peasants revolted all the time, but it wasn’t philosophical ideas that moved them but taxes or the price of bread. And the first people to get educated outside the clergy were not aristocrats, but commoner merchants and craftsmen (basic reading and sums helps with business after all). Mass education didn’t spread not because the people at the top of the hierarchy feared the educated peasant, but because there was no demand for it. There weren’t laws against reading (otherwise you’re going to have trouble explaining the lack of formal education in areas with weak aristocracies like the Netherlands).

            And if universal higher education is so necessary to avoid the ills of aristocracy, why has US inequality been increasing with increasing access to higher education? More Americans have degrees than ever, and inequality has been rising right along with that rate.

          • John Schilling says:

            If colleges become just the playground for rich young kids, then that signalling value of degrees will drop.

            The literally rich young kids who treat college as a literal playground, won’t be the ones applying for jobs – if they need jobs, their parents will make a phone call and it will happen for them.

            The economic signal of a college degree, in this hypothetical, is that it signifies a person comes from an upper middle class background and was smart/conscientious enough to not actually flunk out of college and now wants a job. Some employers might prefer a signal that is more heavily weighted on competence and less on class. Others will actually prefer the new version. But they are going to be stuck with the signals that you will allow to be sent, and destroying the semi-merit-based signal we’ve got doesn’t cause new full-merit signals to come into being.

            So, at least in the short term, you get a system where employment decisions for management and high-end professional positions are based more strongly on social class than they are now. Which in turn has implications for how those jobs are done, and what institutional culture will look like. And we know from long experience that this works well enough to be stable, rather than driving a desperate search through the marketplace for alternative signals.

          • mdet says:

            Noah Smith has several posts pushing back against Bryan Caplan’s idea that a college degree is 100% signalling. The most recent is here, and he links to two more in the first paragraph.

          • christhenottopher says:

            Noah Smith has several posts pushing back against Bryan Caplan’s idea that a college degree is 100% signalling. The most recent is here, and he links to two more in the first paragraph.

            Caplan specifically says he doesn’t believe in 100% signalling (he’s more 80%). And he does in fact cover aspects like criminality (mostly winds up being kids with their act together enough to get through college have lower criminality) and even factoring in what protective effect against that university does provide doesn’t significantly shift the calculus that education is more expensive for society than it’s benefits are worth. Noah’s not wrong that actually rebutting Caplan would require a book length treatment, because Caplan was really thorough.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @John Schilling,

            You imply that this policy would lead to there being fewer competent white-collar professionals, but I dispute that.

            If you had to estimate, what fraction of our professionals would you say come from bad school districts? Looking around at the budding scientists and doctors I know, maybe one in fifty. About half have parents in the salaried class, and the other half (myself included) are first or second generation immigrants from Europe or East Asia plus one or two from Ghana or Nigeria

            There was probably a time in our history when you could easily find bright kids working the cash register at their family store in a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. But that was before generations of brain drain and the destruction of anything like a decent blue collar career in most of the country. Anyone who could have gotten out of the bad neighborhoods got out decades ago.

          • John Schilling says:

            You imply that this policy would lead to there being fewer competent white-collar professionals, but I dispute that. If you had to estimate, what fraction of our professionals would you say come from bad school districts?

            But the system you and chris propose doesn’t draw the line between “bad school districts” and the rest. It draws the line between Rich+Upper Middle Class (can afford private or quasi-private college prep schools) and the rest (no college for you!). That’s going to exclude an awful lot of our better professionals, and I am exceedingly skeptical that the market will respond by promptly devaluing college diplomas and introducing alternate training/educational systems for aspiring professionals.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            That may be true. I’ll need to look into that once to see whether my intuition about the distribution of quality schools holds outside of the tri-state area.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Yes…but also a lot no. Consider things like coding where that field first thrived outside of classrooms with people learning at home. Or Germany where apprenticeship models are a common way to enter middle class professions. People use colleges as ways to get skills in part because they’re also getting a signal there. And the skills effect seems to be only a minor part of the income gains from college (Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education goes deep into these numbers).

            Transitioning to an apprenticeship model might well work, and for a few highly specific skills that can be learned readily with minimal human interaction and cheapish special equipment (like coding), relying mainly on autodidacts might work (sort of).

            But these things are not going to emerge instantaneously, and the transition period from a college-based system to such a different system has several pitfalls.

            Says the guy commenting on a blog dedicated to advanced philosophical and academic discussions about society. 🙂

            Aaand lo and behold, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of us have college diplomas, and I’d bet that a supermajority of the others are autodidacts whose intelligence is somewhere in excess of 2.5 standard deviations above the mean. I’m going to add my voice to the crowd cautioning us against the typical mind fallacy here.

            The point remains, in our society, a college degree or a similar level of intellectual polish acquired by other means is the “you must be this tall to enter” bar required to participate meaningfully in public discourse. Or even to really understand said discourse.

            And most people who get there, get there via a college degree. Not by being brilliant autodidacts.

            But yeah people find ways to have those discussions in every free society through history outside the walls of the academy. In pre-20th century France it was the salons, in England the pubs, in Greece the agora, Rome the forum, and today there’s the internet.

            There’s a catch.
            Stop to think about who was participating in philosophical discussions about society in those cases. The salons were frequented by the aristocracy and the upper middle class. The agora and the forum were frequented by the citizens, who excluded women (50% of the population) slaves (another large chunk) and non-citizen free males (‘metics’ in Greece, and I don’t know the Roman legal term). In each of these societies, the right to participate in intellectual discourse was restricted to, oh, 10-25% of the population (spitballing here).

            And with the exception of France on the verge or in the wake of its Revolution, access to the ‘grand conversation’ about what society should be and do was largely limited to a hereditary elite, with large chunks of the population deliberately and permanently kept well out of it.

            France c. 1750-1914 would be your exception, perhaps, but it’s not exactly a good example of a stable society in which the elite is holding onto access to higher education in a way that works out for everyone involved.

            [I cannot comment on the English pubs as I actually know less about English history, but I would be shocked if there was much political discourse except at ‘pubs’ or coffeehouses that were the functional equivalent of French salons]

            Colleges do happen to bring together lots of smart people, but smart people like congregating regardless of whether there’s a school building around them.The catch is, you can’t join the smart-people club, or the political-wonk club, if you don’t have a membership pass. In past times, the membership pass was aristocratic status and oratorical/legal skills taught only to the elite, who were supported by a large class of people who worked in various degrees of subjugation.

            In present times, the membership pass is, well, a college diploma. Or rather, the skills of debate and analysis and criticism and ability to create coherent texts. Skills that most people learn in college or at an elite high school, again with the exception of a handful of brilliant autodidacts whom I just love to pieces but whom I am grimly aware make up something like 1% of the population, tops.

            If we transition to a system where only those with extraordinary wealth can afford college diplomas, we are likely to tip our society further over towards the extreme I describe above- a largely hereditary “real citizen” class that makes up, say, 10-25% of the population, supported by a big mass of metics/servants/proles/etc who have effectively zero access to the “citizen” class. The “real citizens” have reasons both of self-interest and of class prejudice for upholding this status quo. Because, y’know, the servile majority are a bunch of boring uneducated oiks, and it’s a waste of time to educate the servile majority.

            Now, to an extent this has already happened and we’re living in the aftermath… But we can go farther in this direction. There’s a difference between living in a society sorted to permit policy-participants with an ‘entry pass’ to public discourse to come from the great majority of a 10% citizen-minority (a la Greece or Rome)… Versus a society sorted to permit participation from 60-70% of the population, for anyone who shows enough natural aptitude to win their way up the ladder.

            Both societies have an underclass and “the bad neighborhoods,” that produce effectively no participants in public discourse. But one of them is waaay more oligarchic than the other.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal:

            From this College Board link something like half the kids from the bottom income quintile go to college. (That’s surprisingly high to me.) I don’t know what fraction of them graduate in a high-value field, but it’s not zero.

        • Randy M says:

          How about “Colleges prep kids for college?” They basically are doing lots of remedial intro classes lately anyway. Get the high achievers out of high school sooner, keep the lower achievers in longer for some intensive training on fundamentals, and figure out some way for society to adapt to the loss of the belief that everyone can and should go to college.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Some high schools are by default doing a thing that reduces to this; it’s called “dual enrollment”

      • Jeffery Mewtamer says:

        I’d argue adolescents lacking basic literacy and math skills would be a failing of primary education, though allowing, or worse forcing, individuals lacking those skills into secondary education that assumes those skills does a disservice both to them and to everyone who’s actually ready for secondary education but has to deal with those not ready being disruptive out of frustration.

        Of course, even where social promotions don’t result in a child’s classes being decided by age rather than skill, passing a grade is often an all-or-nothing affair that results in either repeating material the child mastered the first time around in the subjects they excel in or being plunged into more advanced material they didn’t understand the prerequisites for in subjects they’re weak in.

        It would probably complicate scheduling, especially at smaller schools that can only support one section of a given class, but I think it would benefit the vast majority of students if pass/fail determinations were done on a subject-by-subject basis throughout the entirety of K-12 education, and given how long a year is from the prospective of a child or adolescent, it would be nice if such was done every semester or even every quarter. And if this results in frequent cases that take the form of a 8-year-old who’s good at math, sucks at history, and is average in most other things being in a third grade class filled with fellow 8-year-olds for most of the day, a fourth grade math class full of nine-year-olds, and a second grade History class full of seven-year-olds, I don’t see any rational reason to object if all students are in the class most appropriate to their current level of development in each subject.

        Granted, even if we had perfect pedagogical AIs that could cater to every student’s particular needs adjusting to the appropriate level and pace in every subject and deploying the most effective teaching techniques for how each individual learns, there would probably still be problem students who either don’t care or are hellbent on disrupting the learning process of others, but reducing inattentiveness due to material being too far above or below a student’s current skill level in a given subject seems like a good first step.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Teaching functional literacy is the job of primary education; that is, you should have it before entering high school. If you’re doing what my old district (Frederick County, MD, not far from DC but substantially rural at the time) did in high school — teach “General Math I-IV” for four years for the “basic track”, all four courses having the same content which should have been learned earlier (but still won’t be), and the same for other fields — you’re just babysitting. At least the district had vocational programs, so it wasn’t a complete waste for some of them. (There were plenty of not too bright students who also weren’t good with their hands, though)

      It probably makes sense to abandon the idea of secondary education for a fair number of students, and turn high school for them into 4 years of drill or work-study or just let them drop out and find work. But as soon as you formally separate this group from the “actually getting an education” group, Campbell’s law kicks in and you get pressure to put everyone in the more-prestigious group. My old district no longer has that basic track; I’m sure the not-too-bright students still exist, so they must have figured out something else to do with them (probably moved more to special ed).

    • educationrealist says:

      Like I said above–everything in American education comes down to race.

      The reason we don’t track and just get the kids capable of college is because too few of them would be black or Hispanic.

      It is *not*, as is posited by all the other comments, because only the rich would qualify for college. If you’re a smart, motivated kid, even in the worst school possible, you’ll get the opportunities you need to learn the material for college.

  23. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    I’m no expert on how things are done in all of the 50 states and all of the however many foreign countries are considered part of the developed world, but I get the impression that one problem the US has compared to its peers is that the US tends to favor an all or nothing approach while several foreign countries allow a more flexible take what interests you/your good at approach.

    E.g. as I understand it, a US HS Diploma is roughly equivalent to a full set of British GCSEs, but whereas British students can pick and choose which subjects they pursue a GCSE in, a US HS Diploma requires you complete the High school curriculum in several subjects, and failing even one subject bars you from getting your diploma. I don’t know what the requirements are now, but circa 2005 in North Carolina, this meant completing four years of English, four years of Math, 3 years of Natural Science, 3 Years of social science, 2 years of the same foreign language, 1 year of physical Education/Health, and enough electives to total 24 credits in total. And even the really smart kids are penalized(I took Algebra 1 and Geometry in middle school when they are normally high school courses, and had to take two advanced maths beyond the standard curriculum in order to meet my 4 maths requirement).

    And even at the college level, American Schools often require two years of intensive “we want you good at everything” general education course work if you want to get a Bachelor’s degree(and it gets bumped up to 4 years in fields that don’t exist at the Bachelor’s level, such as becoming a Lawyer or Medical Doctor).

    And the aboved mentioned attendence policy, penalizing students in the classes they show up for on account of the classes they miss seems another symptom of this all or nothing approach to issueing qualifications.

    I wonder how many US HS Seniors fail to graduate either because they failed the last year of their worse subject with an otherwise good GPA or because a draconian attendance policy barred them because they showed up for and passed all the classes required for graduation but conronicalled skipped an elective that would put them over the required minimum.

    • Tarpitz says:

      To clarify, GCSEs are taken at 16, and core subjects such as English and maths are compulsory. While there certainly is an element of choice, bright students would generally be expected to take ten or more, covering a wide range of subjects. A levels are the exams taken at 18 by those inclined to continue in academic education beyond the age of 16, and there specialisation is much more common, with three or four subjects being the norm, often though not always closely clustered (say maths, physics and chemistry, or English, modern history, geography and ancient history). Once at university, most people would study only one or two subjects, with three being a rare exception (though a prominent one, in the case of Philosophy, Politics and Economics).

  24. Murphy says:

    I find the objections to streaming of students kind of bizarre.

    Back in highschool/secondary they streamed students based on yearly exams. From the A-class to the D-class.

    Students at the margins would move up/down between the classes from year to year.

    There wasn’t a huge difference between A and B and there wasn’t a massive gap between B and C.

    but D… D was different. About 15 students out of a year of a little over 100. It was depressing the difference. When a teacher left unexpectedly and the 2 lower foreign language classes had to be merged for a few months I shared a class with them. Every class they’d be literally throwing things at the teacher, constantly fucking around, trying to pick fights. The kind of kids who would much prefer to be off setting fire to something and would occasionally go and indulge that urge. The kind of people where the only thing separating them and prison for a domestic battery charge was time.

    If the rest of the students had had to try to learn with those guys in every class everything would be basically fucked.

    What kind of psycho looks at that and says “you know who should have the cost of these fuckers presence inflicted on them? the other children!”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      There are two big problems with tracking in America.

      The #1 problem is race, and I’m not even just talking about black and hispanic students. The NYC magnet highschools are some of the best schools in the world and are constantly fighting to survive because they’re too Asian. Nobody likes “over-achieving” Asian students on either side of the aisle and they don’t have an established political lobby the way New York’s Jewish communities do.

      The #2 problem is the American Dream. There’s nothing less American than a bureaucrat sitting down with a twelve year old and patiently explaining to them why they’ll never become an astronaut. Tracking works because it recognizes inherent strengths and weaknesses; our civil religion is centered around rejecting limitations on individual achievement.

      Tracking is important and America desperately needs it, but it can’t be sold as tracking. Our pride as a nation and our ethnic pride won’t allow it.

      • M says:

        Yes, but that’s like saying to an 18 year old guy who’s 5’4″ and 130 lbs “Yes, yes, you can be a football fullback in the NFL if you try hard enough and believe in yourself.”

        There’s the American Dream, and then there’s delusional. Not tracking (even if you call it something else) is delusional.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          There is a very large portion of America — possibly a majority — who have the belief that every single student (that isn’t literally retarded) can be made into an engineer or architect or mathematician.

          For a lot of them, it is a fundamental value. They will sacrifice lots of other things before that one breaks.

          • gdanning says:

            The problem is not that people have unrealistic expectations about who can be academically successful. It is that is hard to decide who is not capable. Tracking got a bad reputation because so many students were diverted from more academic tracks unnecessarily.

          • gbdub says:

            “Tracking got a bad reputation because so many students were diverted from more academic tracks unnecessarily.”

            Did it, or was that merely assumed because of the relative melanin or Y chromosome or Hebrewness or whatever distribution was undesirable by the decisionmakers?

            And is it really that hard? I think you’ve stated you’re a teacher – I would hazard to guess you can pick out the likely flunkers pretty easily, and the disciplinary problems immediately.

          • gdanning says:

            gbbub:

            As I understand it, tracking was not about weeding out the very lowest students. It was about putting the top 20% or so into the college track, and everyone else into a vocational track. And, that seems to be very much what people here are advocating. There is no way that the median teacher or administrator is competent to make that sort of judgment re a 15-yr-old . And I have seen plenty of kids who were out of control in 9th grade but were perfectly teachable 2 yrs later.

          • Education Hero says:

            And, that seems to be very much what people here are advocating. There is no way that the median teacher or administrator is competent to make that sort of judgment re a 15-yr-old

            To steelman the tracking advocates, tracking can (and has been) accomplished through a combination of testing and teacher recommendations.

          • gbdub says:

            “There is no way that the median teacher or administrator is competent to make that sort of judgment re a 15-yr-old”

            Have you tried talking to the 15 year olds? By sophomore year of high school, it was pretty damn clear among ourselves who were the students destined for academic success and who were not.

            Student choice could play a big role in this.

            I’m not sure who is advocating for tracking so strict that only 20% get even an opportunity to go to college – I’m certainly not. And in any case we already have a lot of soft tracking for the top end in the form of AP and honors classes, which seems like a legitimately good thing for those students.

            I’m advocating primarily for a bottom track, of making it easier to get the disruptive the hell out of there so that the middle students aren’t dragged down by them. And the middle track ought to be strengthened and diversified, for the students who either can’t or don’t want to give college a go to have real skills and real options out of high school.

            It’s the abject horror at the idea of “giving up on” kids by not putting them on the college prep track that needs to die. The idea that anyone who doesn’t go to college is worthless is part of the problem. There are plenty of students who are ill served by that path, but the only options are “college prep”, “college prep lite (HA! try getting into a good college with no AP credits!)” and “special needs”. That middle group needs more definition and more options.

          • gdanning says:

            gbdub:

            Re student choice, if there is anyone less competent to make that sort of choice than the median teacher/median administrator, it is the median 15-yr-old (of whom I have known hundreds), who has little idea of what opportunities he or she is surrendering when he or she decides on taking a particular track. If I am an average student, and I am struggling with, say, algebra, it is the easiest thing in the world to opt into some sort of vocational track. But that will severely restrict my options 10 yrs later, when I might want to go to community college in order to change careers. How many 15-yr-olds will even look that far down the road, let alone be able to competently assess the cost and benefits of choosing a particular track? Maybe the top quintile – maybe – but that is not who we are talking about.

            Re kids not being able to get into a “good” school without AP classes, well, that depends on what you mean by a “good” school. For example, if you look at the top schools for social mobility here, you will find plenty that admit kids without AP courses, such as all of the Cal State U schools on the list. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171024005623/en/2017-Social-Mobility-Index-SMI-Identifies-Universities

          • Jeffery Mewtamer says:

            Are there really schools that require AP credits for undergraduate admission? I graduated high school with only a single honors credit and did so poorly in the only AP class I attempted I didn’t bother taking the AP exam, but I was still accepted straight out of high school to what I understand to be the most prestigious Computer Science program offered by a public institution in my home state.

            That said, given how much harder my Freshmen year of university was compared to highschool, and how much it would’ve cost me if I hadn’t had financial aid, part of me says it would be a good idea if Bachelors programs universally up the minimum admission requirements to Associates Degree, IB Diploma, or a minimum number of AP credits because even on the college prep track, a standard diploma doesn’t seem to guarantee one is ready for the rigors of university. If there’s one thing I’d do differently about my College Career, it would be going to Community College straight out of high school instead of jumping straight into University and only going to Community College when the inadequacy of my high school education was made painfully obvious. I managed to avoid student debt altogether, but I can’t help wondering how many people end up in crippling debt thanks to experimenting with University before they’re ready.

            As for tracking, I don’t think tracking in and of itself is a bad thing. What is a bad thing is when tracking closes of options permanently. Perhaps someone has been taking the standard math curriculum at the “normal” pace and doing well, but they suddenly hit a wall at algebra because its too abstract for them. In a no tracking situation, they’d be forced to set through algebra, then geometry, algebra 2, and Algebra 3/Trig or repeat algebra 1 no matter how much they fail to comprehend the material. A rigid tracking system might transfer them to a vocational program that puts the math they did learn to practical use and never give them the option of trying algebra again. In a more flexible system, perhaps the vocational program helps make some things they barely understood from algebra “click” and they decide to give learning more maths another try.

            If a student is given a choice between taking class A and taking class B, choosing to take class B should never cut off the option of taking class A in the future.

            As for attendence policies, I have to question why we insist that K-12 students always have a full course load and be in school from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. Every college I’ve ever attended allowed students to take less than a full course load even if their program of study recommends more than a full course load to finish “on time”, and many employers actually prefer to hire part-time workers instead of full-time workers, so why don’t K-12 students get this option? Perhaps some of the absentees among highschoolers would be happy to show up for class given the option to sign up for a few afternoon classes in subjects they actually want to learn instead of being forced to spend most of the day cooped up in a classroom and fill out their schedules with classes they don’t care about.

            Also, regarding school choice, I’ve never understood the whole, “your address determines which public school you attend” malarkey. I can understand logistics determining how far school buses go, but I see no reason students shouldn’t be allowed to apply to any school they can realistically commute to. WHo knows, for districts with multiple schools, this might even encourage the lower quality schools to try and make themselves as good as the best school in the district if there’s enough people willing to deal with a longer commute to school to go to the best school in the area.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why would community colleges reject 25-year-olds who took a vocational track in high school?

          • gdanning says:

            @The Nybbler:

            I didn’t mean that they would reject him, but rather that a 25-yr-old who never had any exposure to pre-college curriculum in high school is likely to struggle far more in community college than a comparable student who took those courses in high school, but who struggled in them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Now we’re talking about some lesser tradeoffs, though. Life being somewhat harder for Algebra-I-marginal 25-year-olds who want to switch careers (to a more intellectually-challenging one) balanced against providing a track for those who are not going to succeed in Algebra I, and not having the Algebra I classes full of people who aren’t going to learn. I suspect this is a clear win for tracking. I thought your objection was to the whole “entire life determined at 15” thing, which is certainly a problem with some forms of tracking.

          • gdanning says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Re “not having the Algebra I classes full of people who aren’t going to learn” – I think a lot depends on the costs thereof. When I taught in CA, passing algebra was a graduation requirement. So, there were certainly many kids enrolled in algebra classes who were struggling with it (in fact, I subbed a few times for algebra teachers, and it seemed to me that some kids were not developmentally ready for the abstract thinking needed for algebra). BUT: that did not stop my school from offering 2-3 sections of AP Calculus. So, it did not seem to be holding back the top students, at least. And, horror stories to the contrary notwithstanding, most students were at least trying to master the material. (At least that is true of the students who showed up on the day that the teacher was out). Now, there might be costs to some relatively advanced students in those classes (ie, those who are not yet in AP Calc when they are seniors), but I would like to see evidence that there are large costs to not tracking, given that the costs of tracking are pretty clear (at least to me).

          • gbdub says:

            I did not mean to imply that schools require AP for admissions, most don’t explicitly. Rather, if you went to a school that offered a lot AP courses, most of the kids who are reasonably likely to be accepted at selective universities end up in the AP courses. The students who aren’t taking those courses generally end up in community college or less selective state universities (which is a totally fine track and shouldn’t be looked down on!)

            As for the abilities of 15 year olds – that’s an age where everyone is an idiot, but it doesn’t mean we need to infantilize them. If a kid isn’t motivated to learn by that point, that’s unlikely to change radically. Not impossible, but it will probably take a lot of resources and will usually fail. How much are you willing to impede the rest of your students to dump resources into the long shot? And they may not know exactly what they want to do with their life, but they probably have some broad idea, and teaching them the possible paths shouldn’t be any harder than abstract maths. It also has the benefit of making them feel like they have some control over their life, which can itself be a positive motivator.

            So you’re left with a quixotic mission to convince a slacker of the value of Algebra I to a life path they don’t want anyway, with the most likely outcome that they get carried along until they finally get dumped out of HS into a place they need to sink or swim on their own, or of offering them an alternative to do something they are actually interested but is still beneficial to society.

          • gdanning says:

            @gbdub

            I don’t think that it is infantilyzing 15-yr-olds to acknowledge that they are unlikely to have the maturity and wisdom needed to make such life-altering decisions.

            Re: “If a kid isn’t motivated to learn by [age 15], that’s unlikely to change radically,” in my experience many, many students mature quite a bit in the year or two after age 15, and become much more serious about school. It is really not all that rare for that to change radically. And, the idea that resources are “wasted” on certain students is very questionable; I have met very few students, including some who were complete assholes most of the time, who were completely incorrigible.

            And, it seems to me that the best use of resources is to spend them on those kids, because they are the ones who have have the most upside, relative to their current position. Moreover, as an ethical matter, those kids are often the victims of awful parenting, and hence are deserving of having a lot of resources spent on trying to give them a better shot.

          • Nornagest says:

            And, it seems to me that the best use of resources is to spend them on those kids, because they are the ones who have have the most upside, relative to their current position.

            High upside does not imply high expected value. Lottery tickets have a high upside.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Let’s be clear on something: anyone who’s been force-tracked onto the high-school path – which is currently everyone – could easily find himself screwed at 25 when he has no vocation to pursue.

            Learning the basics isn’t all that hard if you’re motivated; you can always go back to community college if you want. Why force everyone to do it, just in case some people decide that they made a mistake?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I never claimed that it made any sense.

          But yes, that is what we believe. Watch GATACA: the central conflict in the film is driven by the injustice of not allowing a man with a fatal heart defect to become an astronaut. NASA wouldn’t even do something that idiotic but it’s the primary sin leveled against the neo-noir aristocratic society of GATACA.

          If you tell the kid with no arms and no legs that he’s not going to get into the NBA Hall of Fame then you’re the villian. The hero is the guy who gives him the inspirational speech right before he scores fifteen full-court baskets using only his neck. If the story is running too long we can cut the scene of him actually shooting any of those baskets and just assume that he scored them all after the fade to black.

          • Lillian says:

            Even better, the man in question uses [i]sheer force of will[/i] to prevent the fatal heart defect from actually killing him. In fact the climatic scene of the movie is the character’s superior will triumphing over another character’s superior physique. Honestly as far as religions go, believing that spirit can triumph over flesh strikes me as actually pretty good. The real problem here is refusing to recognize that some people have already bent their wills towards not giving a damn.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      So, tracking.

      A close friend of my high school is now the director of math at some Chicago Charter school or another.

      Quick aside: Given that I’m in my VERY low 30s, this should give you a good idea of the talent shortage facing inner city schools. He mentioned that the median tenure at his school was 4 years, and he is by far the most experienced teacher in his department. Also based on what he says, his first 4 years were spent entirely on classroom management: he talks a lot about how he has his “look” down. The “go ahead and try it. I dare you” look.
      He can’t control a classroom without it. He’s also old-school Irish Catholic, so I’m not sure if this “look”is even scalable across the population….

      Anyways!
      He recently abolished tracking in his school. This came after a heated debate among the teachers in his department. This debate was apparent so vicious that afterwards he led a group discussion that was basically supposed to serve as a lesson in how to have civilized disagreements, involving talking sticks and talking about feelings and probably a pillow-fight led by Pajama Boy.

      The debate was basically entirely about race and privilege, as he described it. Tracking is racist and encourages white privilege, therefore tracking is bad and that’s the end of the discussion. Countered by a bunch of people who obviously disagreed with this rather disagreeable stance.

      He ultimately with the “race and privilege, tracking is bad” crowd.

      His stance is that sorting kids into “college” and “not college” will cause whole sub-sections of society to give up on life. He struggles daily to get any sort of motivation out of his kids. Listening to him talk, it’s just a struggle to convince his kids that there is a life strategy that is neither McDonald’s nor welfare. Sending any signals of “you’re just not going to college” only reinforces their general apathy.

      He’s not coming at this from the perspective of a culture warrior. He’s an Irish Catholic neoliberal who majored in economics. He just realllllllyyyyy wants his kids to be motivated to learn, and thinks tracking is just one more thing that makes his kids think they aren’t smart and therefore shouldn’t even try.

      I don’t agree with him, but it’s hard to fault him, especially since he’s directly on the “frontlines” every day, and I count beans.

      • gdanning says:

        This reminds me that there is another potential cause for low achievement in schools with challenging student populations. In order to be effective, your friend has to be 1) good at classroom management; 2) good at motivating students; 3) good at pedagogy. In contrast, to be an effective teacher at, say, Beverly Hill High School, a teacher needs only #3. Now, obviously, the universe of people who are good at 1, 2 and 3 is much smaller than the universe of people who are good at only #3. So, it should come as no surprise that outcomes at your friend’s school are worse than the outcomes at Beverly Hills High.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        The problem with his plan is that kids are surprisingly good at smelling bullshit.

        I’m guessing that his school doesn’t send a whole lot of kids to four-year colleges, and that most of the kids who go on to community college don’t end up transferring. If that’s true, the students already know that they aren’t going to a real college because by senior year they’ve seen three classes above them not go to real colleges. Telling them that they’re on the track to college is an insultingly obvious lie.

        I don’t want to imply that it’s somehow alright that blue collar work in our economy has mostly collapsed, and that the only decent jobs left require a skillset they’ll never acquire. It isn’t; it’s a crime. But lying to them about it isn’t going to help them and it isn’t worth sabotaging the education of their fellow students.

        • gdanning says:

          @Nabil ad Dajjal

          I think that what you say about what kids “know” assumes that high school students buy into the belief that their fates are determined by forces outside their control. In my experience teaching in an urban public school, that is generally not true. Some students think that, but the vast majority of time when I would ask a student why he or she did not take a challenging course or do a challenging assignment, etc, the answer was “because it was too much work” or “because I was lazy.” So, no, telling students that they are capable of successfully attending college is unlikely to be perceived by them to be a lie, in my experience.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Interesting.

            Even if that’s true, though, it doesn’t justify putting the D students in with the A students.

            My school was pretty well-behaved as far as public schools go but the difference between opt-in AP and honors classes and mandatory ones was unreal. The pace, the depth, even just how much class time was devoted to wrangling hooting idiots.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think the main difference is “opt-in”, not “AP”. In my junior year of high school, I took a year’s worth of elective classes on technical drafting; many of my classmates there were on vocational tracks, but they did the work and weren’t particularly disruptive. This included one guy who had a mandatory social studies class with me later in the day, and who’d generally spend it telling dirty jokes and bragging about girls and the booze he’d stolen from his dad.

          • Randy M says:

            See, how do you expect children to learn if they are coming from home environments where they are competing with their fathers for girls?

          • Lillian says:

            See, how do you expect children to learn if they are coming from home environments where they are competing with their fathers for girls?

            Apparently, by not forcing them to.

          • educationrealist says:

            I’m wondering if gdanning is just trolling by pretending to be a teacher.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m wondering if educationrealist is just an edgelord troll pretending to be a decent human being with something interesting to say. I’d like a lot more of the latter and a lot less of the former, please.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            In my experience teaching in an urban public school, that is generally not true. Some students think that, but the vast majority of time when I would ask a student why he or she did not take a challenging course or do a challenging assignment, etc, the answer was “because it was too much work” or “because I was lazy.”

            Speaking from a very great deal of personal experience, “It was too much work” or “I was lazy” are ego defenses against the actual fear: “I am not good enough”. The *actually* lazy people go with “I don’t want to” or “I didn’t feel like it”. Everyone goes with the less scary option rather than the more scary option; driven people would rather think themselves lazy than untalented, because fighting laziness is what they’re actually good at. Lazy people would rather highlight their own desires than either their relative talent or their relative drive, because doing what they want is what they’re good at.

          • gdanning says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            Yes, I think it is often true that it is an ego defense. But I have also heard it many, many times from students who clearly had the skills to do well in an honors or other more difficult class, and seemed not to lack self-confidence. And, of course, my broader point is that I rarely heard them blame external factors.

          • albatross11 says:

            Well, “that sounds like a hell of a lot of work” is a pretty good reason not to do something, when you don’t expect much extra benefit from it.

            So, suppose you don’t expect to continue your education past college. You can take the more demanding math class or the easier one. Both will let you graduate on time. You’re bright enough to do the more demanding math class. But why bother, when you’re not expecting to use it?

            If you’re not getting some kind of internal reward from it (like really loving math and wanting to learn more because it’s so cook) or external reward from it (like expecting to get into a better college or be able to skip out of an otherwise-required college class), then why would it make sense to take it.

            Now, it may be that those kids are short-sighted about whether they’ll want more education in the future, or whether they’d benefit from the more demanding class. But it’s not an obviously irrational decision

        • gdanning says:

          @Nabil ad Dajjal:

          I completely agree that “the difference between opt-in AP and honors classes and mandatory ones was unreal. The pace, the depth, even just how much class time was devoted to wrangling hooting idiots.” But the original poster’s friend wasn’t talking about honors vs non-honors. He was talking about college track vs non-college track. That is a completely different animal. Eg: In CA, the course requirements for HS graduation are pretty much indistinguishable from the minimum requirements for admission to the Cal State U system. As a result, every student is on a “college track,” at least in theory; as in the friend’s school, no kid is excluded from pursuing admission to a 4-yr college by being put on a non-college track. Yet, schools still offer honors and AP History, English, etc courses.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Kids can definitely smell bullshit, but sometimes they are naive and horribly, horribly wrong. His school has a ton of illegal immigrants, and one of his students was justifying not doing anything because he couldn’t get a driver’s licenses. My friend pointed he can definitely get a driver’s license in the state of Illinois, which apparently is something he never knew.

          Also, even if he can’t get his kids into college, he would at least like them to be able to do something besides collect welfare, and reasons that the math skills will help them with that.

        • gdanning says:

          @educationrealist

          As a former teacher, I am gratified that you have not lost your sense of wonder. Well, wonder no more: https://www.ratemyteachers.com/gordon-danning/26799-t

      • gbdub says:

        “His stance is that sorting kids into “college” and “not college” will cause whole sub-sections of society to give up on life.”

        Where did this ridiculous notion of “not college = give up on life” come from? Probably from the same Ed. majors who are critiquing tracking in the first place, who apparently care more about abstract notions of social justice than tangible success. Otherwise why are they so down on skilled trades? “Vocational” doesn’t need to be a euphemism for “broom pusher”.

        Maybe if the Ed. majors would stop typical minding and actually give credit to career paths other than “go to a four year university or YOU FAIL AT LIFE”, we could help provide students with more options.

        At my school we had one particular student who would disrupt any traditional class he was in. If “college” and “fail” were the only options, this dude was pure fail, and take as many with him as he can. This guy was such a pain in the ass that I literally watched my young bright eyed social studies teacher turn into a cynical how-long-till-I-retire old man in front of my eyes.

        But our school had a vocational program with an onsite auto shop and this guy was a savant with car parts. He spent most of his days there, got some sort of certification out of HS, and ended up in a reasonably comfortable living as a mechanic with a modest house and a pickup truck. That certainly seems better than tracking him into a college where he’d eventually flunk out in a ton of debt, being a disruptive ass the whole way.

        And of course there are plenty of students who are less disruptive, more diligent, but are still going to be better off taking on a skilled trade or paraprofessional or whatever. A lot of these students are just good enough academically to get into college, but either can’t or don’t want to go into a field where that makes financial sense, and those are the folks that end up in a job they could have done straight out of HS or with a little post-secondary vocational school, only now they’ve got $80k of college debt.

        Tracking isn’t “giving up”. It’s “giving realistic options for success”, and admins and teachers are guilty of perpetuating the very stigmas and stereotypes that are the main downsides of the non-college track.

  25. Jiro says:

    How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    You answered the question yourself. Usually. Just because central planners are usually worse doesn’t mean that they can’t be better in specific cases, which are then the ones you’re going to notice.

  26. John Richards says:

    I worked in relatively high wealth schools, and I was disillusioned with public schools about as much as the teacher who worked in D.C. Things may be worse in the inner cities, but in your average well-performing public school things are still pretty bad. Standards are declining, the student is placed ahead of the teacher, there is widespread cynicism among students and teachers, there is a sense of nihilism, that the work being done doesn’t matter. Furthermore, on a deeper level I have come to believe that our schools really do perform ideological work in terms of inculcating in our children various world-views which ultimately serve consumerist culture. We are all yuppies now. Of course, part of the problem is a wide-spread teacher-culture which is simply too lenient and does not ask enough of our children.

    I think that the core of the problem is at the elementary level, personally. The core skills of reading/writing/arithmetic need to being there, and the focus in the earlier grades is increasingly time spent on socialization and other stuff, away from fundamentals. Although, perhaps the problem is a deeper, cultural one. Difficult to point to any one thing and say: “there, the problem is there.”

  27. gdanning says:

    Re the unexcused absence policy, and whether it is fair to poor students:
    1. The policy refers to unexcused absences. A student who arrives late in the AM with a note from a parent or guardian that says “please excuse my child’s tardiness; he was dropping his brother off at school,” or “please excuse my child’s absence; he was interpreting for me at the DMV” would presumably have an excused absence, not an unexcused absence.

    2. Ten unexcused absences is equivalent to one-ninth of a semester. That is a good chunk of time. I taught for 15 years at an urban public high school, and I can attest that there is a lot of learning that goes on in class that is never tested. If a student misses a large % of class time, it might well be that I cannot , in good conscience, tell him that he has learned enough that he should be given a passing grade (which says to him, yes, you are prepared for higher education), even if he has passed a standardized, multiple choice exam. Now, whether that line should be drawn at 1/9 of the class missed, or 3/9, or 8/9, I don’t know. But I am not sure that it is per se unjust that such a line exists.

    • bizzolt says:

      Neither of your examples in (1) would be excused by DCPS policy: https://dcps.dc.gov/attendance

      Babysitting and doing errands are both under the unexcused absence examples list, “with or without parental approval.”

      • gdanning says:

        I don’t think that either of my examples falls under either “babysitting” or “running errands.” The regs also say that an excused absence includes “Emergency or other circumstances approved by the Director of Attendance and Support Services or designee.”

        So, we can’t know if the policy is unfair unless we know how these provisions are enforced. In my experience, administrators, etc, are very much aware that students often have to act as interpreters for their parents, and sometimes have to take younger siblings to school. And, in my experience, a designee of the Director of Attendance (which usually means a school principal or asst principal) who has discretion to consider those excused absences under the “other circumstances” exception would probably do so. (After all, believe it or not, most school employees WANT kids to succeed, and try to remove barriers to success). Now, my experience might not be representative, but again, until we know how the policy actually works on the ground, we can’t condemn it.

        • Evan Þ says:

          It’s not an “emergency” if it’s planned in advance. And even if the Director has a policy of approving all such absences – which we don’t know – you’re still making students jump through uncertain hoops to get them approved.

          • gdanning says:

            No, it is not an emergency. But, the “other circumstances” language does not require that there be an emergency. Again, in my experience, I would expect that asst principals would exercise their discretion under the “other circumstances” clause to deem such absences excused. Re hoops, you are overstating how much jumping is involved – the decision would almost certainly be made at the school site, not downtown (the “designee” language almost always means the school site administrators). High school students generally know how to negotiate the attendance office.

        • bizzolt says:

          I’m the DCPS teacher quoted at the top of this page. Up until this year’s scandal, staff did give exceptions and leniency for this type of thing. Now, the policy is enforced strictly, as written, with the expected results.

          Additionally, the only available recourse would take place at the district office. We have had 4 administrators fired at my school alone this year–no one is giving students breaks at the school site level if they value their positions.

          • gdanning says:

            Four administrators fired in one year? How many is a full complement? And, any clue why they were fired?

    • John Schilling says:

      Ten unexcused absences is equivalent to one-ninth of a semester. That is a good chunk of time.

      Ten unexcused absences is “equivalent to one-ninth of a semester” and “a good chunk of time”, only if you define absence as not showing up at school at all. Once you redefine “absence” to mean “fifteen minutes late for their first-period class”, then ten unexcused absences may be no more than two and a half hours and you don’t get to play those cards any more.

      Trying to deny someone an otherwise-earned high school diploma because they missed two and a half hours of class, is the sort of thing you should be ashamed to be seen defending in public.

      • gbdub says:

        We know from the teacher’s post that some number of students meet that description, but it’s hinted that it’s not everybody getting failed for absences.

        Do we have an idea of the number who would totally pass except that they are chronically late to first period? I find 30% (i.e. ~ the difference between the previous and newly reported rate) tough to swallow.

        • bizzolt says:

          Anecdotally, in my first period algebra class around a fourth of the class had passing grades that were dropped to FA (Failure for Absence). Only a few students (though that could still mean around 10%) with FA grades were already failing before being dropped down per the attendance policy.

          And of course, a decent amount of students on the pass/fail border, after getting the attendance-based failure partway through the term, stopped showing up altogether and now are failing by every metric.

          I am not sure how different this is in higher grades, as I teach 9th grade, but I would imagine that the older you are, the more responsibilities you might have outside the classroom, or at least the more competing interests. I know quite a few upperclassmen working early morning shifts, for example.

          • gbdub says:

            Thanks for the data point – how many of the FAs were the “show up for most of almost every school day, but late” group vs. those that were really just missing full days of class frequently?

      • gdanning says:

        I think if you read a little more closely, you will see that I did not defend that. I said that there is a point at which missing class means a student is unlikely to have learned enough to be given a passing grade, even if he or she managed to pass a standardized test. I stated that I am agnostic re where that line might be.

        Regarding your hypothetical of the student missing 2 1/2 hrs, well, it is an empirical question as to whether that ever happens. In my experience, the distribution of absences tends to be bimodal, so that students who miss at least 10 days probably miss far more than that. If students are actually being given failing grades for missing 2 1/2 hrs over a semester, then the policy should be changed. But many here seem to be objecting to the principle that a student who passes a standardized test should be given a passing grade, regardless of how much class time he or she misses. I just think that that is based on a misunderstanding of what actually happens in a classroom.

        • Incurian says:

          I just think that that is based on a misunderstanding of what actually happens in a classroom.

          Presumably everyone here has a couple decades experience in actual classrooms.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Experience being a student has to do with understanding how a classroom works as an instrument to provide education to children. While we’re at it, experience eating at a restaurant has to do with understanding how the restaurant works as an instrument to provide food to patrons.

            It can tell you the difference between a badly prepared meal and a well-prepared meal, and it’ll give you a long list of things you love/hate about the restaurants you frequent. But it won’t tell you how to cook.

            On the one hand, one’s experience eating at a bad restaurant MAY, often but not always, help one to identify what the restaurant is doing wrong at an underlying level.

            On the other hand, there are any number of flawed or mistaken hypotheses about how to run a good restaurant, which no amount of experience eating at restaurants would ever correct.

            The same goes for schools and educations.

          • gdanning says:

            I hope that most people here have no more than 4 years of experience in an actual high school classroom. And, I am guessing that the high school classrooms that most people here experienced were very different from that experienced by most students outside the top quintile or so. Moreover, as Simon_Jester notes, I am actually talking about how it works from the supply end, not the consumption end. I also doubt that most people know which fellow student failed what class back in HS, and why.

        • Incurian says:

          Specifically, we know how about the relative merits of attending lecture and just passing standardized tests. I don’t buy the “you can’t understand education unless you’re a teacher” argument.

          • gdanning says:

            Incurian: I don’t think that “you can’t understand education unless you’re a teacher.” I am specifically referring to how a high school classroom works – not about the relative merits of specific sorts of pedagogy – and how a lot of people here are making claims that seem to reveal a lack of understanding thereof. Eg: a former student once emailed me and said “I don’t know how you do it, but you have that weird manner of teaching that I can’t seem to describe, but I think it is mainly due to your vigorous focus on analysis. Your “so what’s” and your “why’s that so important” phrases seem to do the trick to help open up minds, or at least, my mind.” That is the sort of thing that students miss if they are not in class. A kid could easily skip class for 3 months, study the textbook, and pass a standardized test. But that kid would be missing a huge amount of the actual learning that takes place in class. (The same is true, i would think, of a chemistry student who skipped all the labs). And, remember, we are specifically talking about K-12 education, not college. So, someone who implies that a high school student who manages to pass tests without going to class has learned enough to be given a diploma, well, that might be true in some cases, but in most, the student has missed out on a lot, and is not being done any favors by being given a (relatively) meaningless diploma. (And, remember, kids who miss a lot of class are, as a general rule, not high achievers who can learn on their own).

          • Incurian says:

            That is the sort of thing that students miss if they are not in class. A kid could easily skip class for 3 months, study the textbook, and pass a standardized test. But that kid would be missing a huge amount of the actual learning that takes place in class

            This is a fair response. However, in my experience, most teachers are not worth sitting through class for. Perhaps my experiences have been especially negative, or maybe you’re an especially good teacher (probably both).

          • gdanning says:

            Incurian:

            I like to think I was a good teacher, but I think it is a matter of degree. While I am sure there are teachers for whom attending class yields nothing, even in classes taught by average teachers there will be things going on in class that are valuable, but not tested (and perhaps not testable)

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            A kid could easily skip class for 3 months, study the textbook, and pass a standardized test. But that kid would be missing a huge amount of the actual learning that takes place in class.

            I am very skeptical of this. What is it you are teaching that can’t be tested? I was in high school many many years ago, but in my memory I learned little sitting in the classroom.

            Edit: I see you talked about this issue below. I guess it makes sense to teach skills such as doing historical research — although I certainly wasn’t taught anything like that at my school. I do think a lot of these issues can be tested, even by standardized tests. You just ask the test-taker how they would go about doing various tasks. Although it is probably true that doing the task and taking a test about the task are somewhat different. But I am pretty skeptical that teaching skills like this constitute much of high school. My kids went to high school recently, and I don’t remember them doing this sort of thing, any more than I did.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          @gdanning:

          I said that there is a point at which missing class means a student is unlikely to have learned enough to be given a passing grade, even if he or she managed to pass a standardized test.

          If the student knows enough to pass the test, what more ought we to ask of em? Granted, coincidences happen, but not predictably.

          If (for instance) the test is so easy a monkey should pass it, that seems like a good candidate for the top of our to-do list, since fixing it replaces bad information about student mastery with good.

          EDIT: Just saw you addressed this.

          A kid could easily skip class for 3 months, study the textbook, and pass a standardized test. But that kid would be missing a huge amount of the actual learning that takes place in class.

          I still find myself hostile to the position that we should foist this additional learning on people who’d rather be elsewhere and not even test them on it afterward. If the effect of said learning is too subtle to be tested, I find myself skeptical to what extent it’s actually present. (‘Skeptical’ meaning ‘skeptical’, not ‘totally unbelieving’; this kind of metis is certainly the sort of thing that exists, but it’s also the sort of thing teachers might detect even if it weren’t there).

          I say ‘the’ position rather than ‘your’ position because I very much doubt this is your ideal system, either. I nonetheless worry that it’s where this sort of discussion tends to take us.

          Also, I can’t decide whether this is a nitpick or not:

          I said that there is a point at which missing class means a student is unlikely to have learned enough to be given a passing grade, even if he or she managed to pass a standardized test

          I’m very much opposed to grading students based on how much they’ve learned. Grades ought, in my view, to be based on knowledge, or understanding. Learning presumably increases these, and so correlates with them, but imperfectly. I think there is a certain mentality that attaches importance to the amount learned, in itself; on a personal level I’m pretty sympathetic to this mentality, but I worry that the general feeling of ‘goodness’ attached to learning sometimes influences grading, to which it is (or ought to be) irrelevant.

          • gdanning says:

            @Jack Lecter:

            Re: “If the effect of said learning is too subtle to be tested, I find myself skeptical to what extent it’s actually present,” in my experience, is very, very difficult to access all sorts of skills that are very important, and do exist. For example, the CA History-Social Science Historical Thinking Standards include “Students construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from
            multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations” and “Students recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect.” Those are not easy to test, esp on a standardized test.

            More broadly, I think we deeply disagree on a basic point: You say that grades ought to be based on knowledge, or understanding. But, I think that skills are more important than knowledge. (And, FWIW, knowledge and understanding are at the very lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/). In a perfect world, a standardized test would accurately test for that sort of thing. But as I noted, it is very difficult, and extremely expensive, to do so. So, given that I am pretty sure that those skills can be improved only through practice, I am skeptical that is it either good public policy or in the best interest of students to allow a student to pass a course if he or she has missed substantial class time.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @gdanning:

            I’d include some types of skills in my definition of ‘knowledge’. As to the ones that don’t fit organically, you have a point. (I would see ‘understanding’ as reaching at least the fourth level of that taxonomy- if you can’t make connections, you’re just guessing the teacher’s password. But I also would have thought the third and fourth level would be reversed- if you can’t manipulate an idea, you can’t apply it to a new contex- so evidently Bloom and I aren’t on the same page about this.)

            If a standardized test is that thing with the little bubbles, the first example you cite is indeed beyond what it can measure; it still seems like something that could be measured with the faintest scintilla of subjectivity, though- there’s only so much wiggle room as to what is or is not a hypothesis, only so much grey area between primary and secondary sources, and not a lot of question as to what constitutes an oral or written presentation.

            Of course, it seems well within these criteria to use an example like: “The lady down the street is a witch; she did it.” This example fails to meet certain other criteria, but those would seem to be beyond the scope of the assignment. If they aren’t, and aren’t otherwise elucidated, one might be justified in thinking the actual assignment different from that described in the Standards.

            As to your second example, I find it somewhat nonsensical; I’m pretty sure students can’t recognize the full complexity of historical causes and effects, since the events involve more atoms than their brains are made of. And I’m pretty sure they recognize a nonzero amount of this complexity without any instruction at all. Ditto, with a little less certainty, for the limitations. I thus suspect that, whatever criterion this sentence is meant to gesture to, it can’t be derived from consideration of the words themselves.

            I agree with you that

            in my experience, is very, very difficult to access all sorts of skills that are very important, and do exist.

            .

            However, I strongly suspect that, where there is known to be some important thing which is difficult to test, people will reliably begin to falsely percieve its presence (Partly because of charlatanism, but mostly due to good old-fashioned bias). I take issue less with the idea that there are important-but-difficult-to-measure skills than with any particular claim that, not having measured them, we can be sure of their presence. And I’m skeptical of using class time as a proxy for them; the caliber of both teacher and student are likely to vary widely, and both will need to be above a certain minimal quality if a transfer of metis is to take place. And a lot of the students who make that cut are the ones who’ll come to class volitionally anyway, at least if the teacher’s any good.

            So, given that I am pretty sure that those skills can be improved only through practice, I am skeptical that is it either good public policy or in the best interest of students to allow a student to pass a course if he or she has missed substantial class time.

            Well, it’s certainly in the interest of the student- and society as a whole- that the student have the skills, rather than not have them. And they’re more likely to have the skills if they come to class. And they’re more likely to come to class if we make graduation depend on attendance. So if this policy were costless- if there were no bad students, made to sit in a class where they won’t learn, and no bad teachers, holding class where students fail to learn, and bad students never refrained from doing good things to come to class, and good students never refrained from learning independently to come to poorly-taught class, it would clearly be in everyone’s interests to make graduation conditional on attendance. Otherwise, the utility of this policy depends on the percenof bad students, the percentage of bad teachers, and a long list of other things. If the numbers are good enough, it’s still a good idea. But I don’t think they are.

            I’m not totally satisfied with this comment, but I’m almost out of battery, and (ironically) I have a class project I need to finish. Thanks for engaging 🙂 .

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If you have students chronically late/absent from first period, scale it down.

      Group the late-r students together, and move the class at half-speed.

      This is inconvenient to manage, as I said elsewhere on this thread. But it’s pretty obvious that students do not behave the exact way administrators want and forcing them do to it through draconian rules when we don’t like the results is silly.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Many schools actually have early-departure programs for cases like seniors with work-study. The easiest way to administer a program like this would be to create a comparable option for “late start,” where you (an adult who knows your child is likely to be chronically tardy for honorable reasons) sign your student up for a program where their school day starts with second period and runs to (N+1)th period.

        The biggest ‘flaw’ is that so many people would sign up for it that it might become tantamount to starting school a full period later with a handful of “opt-out” children as the early students… At which point you could reasonably say “working as intended.”

  28. adrian.ratnapala says:

    … and districts that have control of their own standards devolve into corruption and failure really quickly. How does this mesh with the standard federalist/localist/Seeing-Like-A-State style arguments that individual communities know what’s best for them and central planners usually make things worse?

    This is expected because we have looked at only badly performing localities. Thus we see only the boring point that the Federal government is more competent than the worst localities.

    Ideologically, it shows that Federalism is not localism. Federalism welcomes multiple levels of government so that we are not at the mercy of failures at a single level. In this case it works when the higher level has a real (if limited) ability to correct the lower levels.

    So should a nation like the US have a single education system, since the Feds will at least be consistent? My guess is no: a federal education system will evolve in under different pressures to what the department faces now. At the moment, all the special-interest pressure to turn teaching into a do-nothing sinecure is applied to local and state governments. If the Feds employed the teachers directly, it would face that lobbying? Would it cope better? Why should we expect it to?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      This is expected because we have looked at only badly performing localities. Thus we see only the boring point that the Federal government is more competent than the worst localities.

      Good point.

  29. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Compulsory education is one of the worst ideas in a sea of bad ideas.

  30. googolplexbyte says:

    >6) At the time my friend was teaching, DCPS was in the grips of some harebrained, faddish teaching philosophy that said students of different academic abilities shouldn’t be put in different course tracks, but rather, should be deliberately put in the same class. This of course caused immediate problems since the curriculum was too hard for the weakest students and too easy for the strongest ones. I think my friend said his training program basically told teachers to “try harder” if any problems arose from the setup.

    Not hare-brained or faddish, the evidence against different course tracks is long and consistent:

    https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/setting-or-streaming/

  31. JDG1980 says:

    I think a major part of the problem is that 12 years of formal classroom education is far too much for a lot of young people. Not everyone can, should, or even wants to go to college, and there need to be other paths into productive middle-class jobs. But the rules get set by people with high IQs who generally attended good schools and colleges and liked (or at least tolerated) them, so the perspective of those who aren’t as well suited for a traditional classroom is ignored.

    For people who wish to enter a blue-collar trade of some sort, 8 years of classroom education followed by 2 to 4 years of vocational training would make more sense. An apprentice certification in plumbing, HVAC, or auto repair would be a much more valuable credential than a high school diploma (especially one from a bad school) and wouldn’t cost the state that much more to provide. For those who don’t have the necessary intellectual horsepower for vocational training, a diploma from 8th grade would be as meaningful as one from high school; as others have noted, employers at this level are basically looking for “shows up on time and isn’t blatantly disruptive”.

    And the curriculum should be overhauled as well. Forget the Renaissance Man ideal; that’s aiming far too high, and should be reserved for the college prep track (which should probably only be about 25% of students nationwide). Focus on what everyone really *needs* to know, not what we think would be *nice* for them to know. Reading; writing; basic math up to fractions and decimals (some will struggle even with this); basic household management skills (including budgeting); a basic understanding of civics and the most important events of American history; how not to get fooled or tricked by advertising, salesmen, and scams.

    Far too much of our modern educational system is the Typical Mind Fallacy writ large.

    • CatCube says:

      I agree with this. I loved school, but a significant fraction of people–smart people with skills that I don’t have–feel like they’re getting their soul sucked out through their left nostril when they’re trapped in a classroom. (There are also violent idiots who don’t want to be there, as well) Wrapping our entire society around people who love school is a mistake, and it’s bad for the people who love school as well, since it means they’re trapped in a classroom with disruptive people who don’t want to be there.

    • Bugmaster says:

      The problem is, you can’t know ahead of time whether any given student will have an affinity for any given subject. It’s perfectly fine to say, “most kids will neither need nor want trig”, but how can you identify the outliers ? They are not just going to magically absorb trigonometry from the aether — someone has to exist them to it. Same thing goes for every other subject; and thus it makes sense to teach a bit of everything to everyone.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        and thus it makes sense to teach a bit of everything to everyone.

        Do we, though?

        Architecture? Horticulture? Anthropology? Law? Psychology? Actuarial analysis?

        Arguably this is abusing the term ‘everything’. We can’t actually teach them a little of everything, since ‘everything’ is very large. So we teach them a cultivated cross-section which has been statistically demonstrated to match more people with subjects they’re passionate about than any plausible alternatives. /sarcasm.

        (To be clear, that chunk of bile isn’t aimed at you; I’m having trouble breaking the habit of living in the should-universe, and it’s making me bitter).

        (I mean, unless this analysis happened without me being aware of it, in which case I’ll have egg on my face.)

        • Simon_Jester says:

          The analysis hasn’t been very rigorous, but it’s been done in good faith.

          What science classes actually try to teach is, broadly speaking, general scientific knowledge about the world we live in, the kind that all of us here on SSC really wish everyone knew.

          What math classes actually try to teach is a representative sample of the math skills students need to succeed in STEM fields or apply mathematical knowledge to non-STEM fields.

          What English classes actually try to to teach is interpretation of text, creation of text, and ability to assemble a cogent evidence-based argument from a sample of text. Yes, this tends to inexplicably result in students being forced to read the Scarlet Letter. But that’s not because English class is about the Scarlet Letter. It’s because the Scarlet Letter is to textual analysis what fruit flies and mice are to genetic experimentation- easy to work on and morally non-problematic. Cancer researchers don’t experiment on flies and mice because they think curing cancer in flies and mice is an intrinsic good.

          What social studies classes try to teach is, well, actually a skill set that strongly overlaps with English class (which is why the dominant form of assignment in both subject areas is the essay or presentation), but specifically in the context of giving the student a sense of historical and cultural grounding in the ‘world’ of human society, much as science class seeks to ground students in the physical world by giving them basic general knowledge about that.

          All of this makes sense; it is hard to imagine a democratic society actually dropping any of these core four areas. The details of what gets taught in the subjects might be negotiable, sure, fine, but that’s not because the subject areas themselves are ill-chosen or because the content is in broad outline ill-chosen. Insofar as random extraneous crap shows up on the list, it’s usually crap we have to teach because it keeps showing up on tests, because some utter jerk decided it’d be easy to test for.

          The biggest subjects left out of schooling that you see people agitating for are:

          1) Vocational skills. Which ARE very specific to individuals; while relatively few people need trigonometry for the economy to function, even fewer people need to know how to weld. And…

          2) “General life” skills (e.g how to drive, how to cook, how to make and stick to a budget, et cetera). Some of these are fraught with politics due to their history as part of gender-biased “home economics” classes pushed on girls with the assumption they’d all grow up as housewives anyway. Others… well, mainly they’re simply not part of what is by general social-consensus the school’s mandate. Society expects us to teach algebra, society might get a little cranky if we were teaching everyone specific values regarding subjects like housekeeping or family lifestyles.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      12 years of education is too much for everybody. Can you imagine how much knowledge you could accumulate if you really got 12 years of education? I think about my four years of college, where I learned about as much as the 12 years I spent in the grades. And then my one year of grad school, where I learned more than in my four years of college. They say kids are magnets for knowledge, and yet very little is learned in those 12,960 hours (6 hours times 180 days times 12 years).

      I think the main point of school is to keep the kids out of trouble and off the street. This is arguably even more important for the worse performing kids the higher performing ones, so they are the ones who need to stay in school. But if we do expect kids to learn a little bit, we probably do need different tracks. Although I was on a college prep track myself in high school, and I don’t think I learned anymore there than I could of in remedial work in 6 months of college. It probably doesn’t matter too much what you learn in high school. I am back to my suggestion in the last posting Scott made that we should just give diplomas to all 18 year olds, so they aren’t disadvantaged by the arbitrary loss of a high school degree.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Another issue is that when you’re a kid, like a literal small child, your incompletely developed child brain usually isn’t so ready to learn. Not at he same pace that a motivated adult in a favorable working environment (e.g. the prototypical college student) can. There are entire modes of thinking that all but the most precocious children just plain are not capable of until their age hits double digits, maybe even into their teens.

        So for the first 6-8 years of that twelve-year process, you’re simply not learning at the same pace you’d be capable of in college, not even under the best of circumstances.

        I’d say the relative importance of the ‘babysitting’ and ‘actual learning’ shift as one approaches adulthood. We could probably design a society where kids are free-range until twelve, then go to school for six years and still learn as much as in real life… but it would only work if we had some other way of keeping ten year old children safe.

        Furthermore, it’s non-obvious that we could start kids from ‘bare bones,’ knowing literally nothing, without the elementary school years to teach them things like “how to read” and “how to function in large groups.” Some kids, maybe even most kids, would be fine, but I hesitate to say that it would work out for society as a whole.

  32. MB says:

    We are rapidly nearing the stage at which a high school diploma is becoming a human right and denying a student his or her diploma becomes a human rights violation, or maybe cruel and unusual punishment.
    If the Supreme Court doesn’t soon establish that the constitutional right to education entails the constitutional right to a high school diploma, then there will be UN delegations visiting “American inner cities” to point out this deplorable state of affairs. And then the Supreme Court will establish the right to a high school diploma.

  33. mtl1882 says:

    The problem is the students’ complete lack of interest, which in many cases is due to the way things are taught. They have to feel invested in it, but it’s nearly impossible to achieve this in a school situation. I work as a one-on-one tutor, and if every kid had one of those, things would be a lot different. Of course, that is unrealistic. Then there are some kids who just can’t or won’t learn – we have to have a better plan for such students, because forcing them to attend isn’t helping anyone. For a long time and still in other countries, many kids just didn’t go to school. We also have to accept that some kids can only learn up to a certain point, and have them get there. No “everyone must be proficient” ridiculousness with the scale being defined such that a certain percentage of kids is always below where they put the bar of proficiency. It kills me because I know I can make a difference with many of these kids one-on-one or in small groups, but I know in a classroom situation with kids with these issues, it’d be nearly impossible. I taught a class to six well-off 8th grade boys and that was, predictably, not fun. They did learn something, but not much. They also threw a ball around constantly. This is at a very expensive boarding school. Education could just be done in such a smarter way, but it never will be, because people have trouble accepting the idea that all kids aren’t going to just “smarten up” and want to learn or be able to in a traditional environment. And we can’t just write them off. I’m very passionate about education, but it’s such a frustrating field I stay away from most of it. I am very good with helping students of all levels understand things, and I also give off a vibe that for the most part prevents too much troublemaking. I call it basic respect and a desire to help, but whatever it is, I get sent in when the oppositional defiant disorder kids have scared off the other tutors. But there aren’t a lot of people with these skills.

    I mean, keep in mind that I think a survey recently came out saying 3/4 of the country had not read one book in the last year. Most people are really not good with literacy and education. There are other ways to learn besides books, of course, but come on. Not one? I often read one a day, and have since I was 6. But my siblings have never read for pleasure. It is something that can be taught, but only to a degree. Most people just don’t like it. Some people love it. My 21-year-old brother is telling me he’s really going to try to read a book this July. It is just pulling teeth for some people. So many kids, even from well-off backgrounds and good schools, the population that I work with, are functionally illiterate.

    I have a trick for this. Kids who show no reading comprehension whatsoever respond to it. I make them read the lyrics to Piano Man and tell me what is going on. Most of them somehow come to the understanding that the people at the bar are lonely and they recognize that they’re telling Billy Joel not to get stuck like them. They can suddenly understand how the ideas build on each other with each verse. And I tell them books are like this. I mention how you don’t need to know who Davy is – he literally only exists for the line that rhymes with Navy, and he’s there to symbolize a lonely, drifting person. For whatever reason, this helps them understand literature.

    • Jeffery Mewtamer says:

      While 3/4 of Americans having not read a single book in the last year sounds alarming at first glance, how bad it really is depends on how you define “read a book”.

      I haven’t read a physical book since at least 2012, and between blindness and being crap at touch reading braille couldn’t read a physical book if my life depended on it, but even with a screen reader being much slower than how fast I could read back when I could see, I’d estimate I consume around a million words of digital text in a typical month. Granted, that’s including things like the forums I frequent, e-mails, SSC posts, etc. though the bulk of it is reading literature and a lot of it is reading articles on places like Wikipedia.

      Granted, I miss being able to enjoy ink on paper reading material, but there are plenty of people who have the option of picking up an actual book who prefer the convenience of reading online or having their library saved digitally on their desktop or smartphone, and even without the whole several bookcases worth of books in the palm of your hand factor, there are so many free and low cost digital texts in circulation that hardcopy is a comparatively expensive luxury. Even as someone who buys his music and audiobooks on CD, I much prefer carrying my flac rips saved to and SD card around with me to carrying the actual discs.

      If that 3/4 of Americans haven’t read a book in the last year statistic is only counting actual ink-on-paper books, I have to wonder how many of those 3/4 have consumed at least a million words of digital text in the last year.

      • Bugmaster says:

        In my purely anecdotal experience, most Americans consider fiction books to be raw material for movies. Reading a book is akin to watching an iPhone getting assembled. Sure, if might be intetesting to experience that once, but after that, you’d rather just have the iPhone. Reading books is for those few professionals whose job it is to produce movies.

        Non-fiction books are something you read for work. They’re important, but the idea is to finish them as quickly as possible, so you can move on to the next task.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I agree that is how most people see it. I pretty much only read non-fiction now and love it, but a lot of it is history. I wish more people would read history – what bugs me is there are certainly books out there most people would enjoy reading and benefit from, but the idea of reading a book is unappealing to them, so they never get to have the experience. I’m not saying people should read for the sake of reading, but there are books written at a conversational level that are very entertaining, and could be quite enjoyable. The lack of curiosity is what gets me – the idea that there’s nothing to gain from the reading. Some people may get this information from television shows, but most just forego the experience altogether. They view reading as being much more unpleasant and useless than it is. And even if they do read non-fiction only for work, why are so many people not trying to learn anything new for work? It bugs me that we act like learning ends at 18. In prior eras, it was viewed as more a lifelong thing – it was normal for a 45 year old to decide to study geometry to help with their business reasoning, even if they were farmers or lawyers.

      • mtl1882 says:

        That’s a good point that many people read online instead – and I’m one of them. I do feel that often the experience of reading online articles lacks the depth of reading a good book, but there there are certainly places to find high quality online content if you know where to look. I assume it is counting ebooks. I don’t find it hard to believe that 70% of people have neither read an ebook nor a physical book. I didn’t mean to imply that those who were unable to read a physical book due to vision impairment, etc., or those who seek out high quality content digitally, were the problem. I’m talking about people who can’t manage the curiosity to commit to reading anything at length.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        I would object that reading a ton of aggregate words from forums, SSC, emails, etc. isn’t really equivalent to reading a book. Even 50 long-form pieces in the Atlantic aren’t really working the same part of your cognition as reading a long but unchallenging book like Harry Potter. Concentrating through 150,000 words on one thing is different than 15×10,000 words on 15 different things

        Everyone knows the guy who is fairly bright and reads each new issue of Economist cover to cover, reads whole chains of wikipedia links, etc. and thinks he’s an expert on any number of topics but hasn’t read a book since school and as a result can’t really get the nuances of the argument. (reddit is absolutely lousy with this sort of person)

        • Nornagest says:

          I know the guys you’re talking about, but I’m not sure there’s a causal relationship between “hasn’t read a book since high school” and “can’t get the nuances of the argument”. Some people just aren’t good at nuanced arguments. I am not convinced that long-form books train them to be, especially if we’re talking about books like Harry Potter — I know plenty of literary fantasy fans who’d have trouble appreciating an argument if you rolled it up and hit them on the head with it.

        • mtl1882 says:

          @ilikekittycat I totally agree – thank you for putting it so clearly.

          @nornagest You also have a point – there’s not necessarily a correlation, especially with books like Harry Potter. But for non-fiction issues, I think it often connects. They can’t perceive depth in the subject because they are so used to reading shallowly. They don’t realize there’s always an extensive debate going on elsewhere. Part of that may just be a lack of curiosity, but part of it is never having dug into longer material. Once I started reading books about the Civil War, I would honestly say my life changed. I realized there were so many letters and diaries from the time period where people directly addressed issues, and that there was so much more information available. That led me to the same realization regarding other subjects.

    • Incurian says:

      I have a trick for this. Kids who show no reading comprehension whatsoever respond to it. I make them read the lyrics to Piano Man and tell me what is going on.

      That is brilliant. Have any more tricks? Any books you recommend on this subject?

      • mtl1882 says:

        There’s one called Train Your Brain for Success that I think has a lot of good information, although it’s a little corporate-self-help-y. Reading Like a Lawyer is one I like also, and Neil Postman’s books on education have good points.

        I have more, but my brain isn’t really generating them at the moment. I try to explain the equation of a line using the game Roller Coaster Tycoon as an example (I’m old). Explaining how you have to make calculations about the number of attendees in order to figure out your profit, how many restrooms you need, etc,. which are the slope and constant, etc. Also I use Disney for vocab because a lot of it applies. Malificent = mal = bad. Flotsam and jetsam. Lumiere = light.

  34. pacificverse says:

    Just have high pressure national examinations like the GCEs or Gaokao.
    In my experience, the limiting factors seem to be individual ability and home situation ratger than taecher quality.

  35. behrangamini says:

    The issues described by Proyas are there at the elementary school level (although the tardiness probably isn’t as bad, and the kids don’t know as many curse words).

    Everyone is setting the starting line at 9th grade and saying “let’s see what we need to do to fix this **high school** problem.” For a lot of kids, high school is too late. Heck, even elementary school is too late to fix the baggage some of these poor kids are already carrying. Any real fix will take 14+ years to manifest, because you need to start at pre-K or even earlier.

    In short, if we see improvements in DC’s graduation rates next year that people attribute to some common-sense or feel-good reform, we have to suspect that it’s fraud because it will have arrived 13+ years ahead of schedule.

    • albatross11 says:

      behrangamini:

      That seems plausible, but how do we know whether improving the elementary schools or pre-K schools or whatever would actually improve the performance of kids in high school?

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Well, you could run comparative studies of students who attended good versus bad elementary and middle schools and who then go on to attend the same high school. Because of the way elementary schools tend to have smaller ‘catchment basins’ than the middle and high schools they feed, and because middle schools’ basins often don’t precisely overlay the corresponding high schools’ basins, this experiment is in effect being run continuously throughout the country. I would be flabbergasted if research had not been done.

  36. yodelyak says:

    Wow. This high school valedictorian would have failed out of DC high school for lack of attendance. My suburban high school had a purportedly very strict policy: 5 unexcused absences in a semester and you fail. I didn’t know they would, but when I ended up with 6 or 7 unexcused absences, despite thinking they’d fail me, they “rounded” down and passed me (which since I did well on tests and papers and etc., meant passed with a 4.7 on a 4.0) pretty readily.

  37. poster123 says:

    “The absence requirement seems infuriating insofar as it probably fails mostly poor children, and if those children are failing due to the absence requirement rather than because they actually flunk their exams, then it seems mean-spirited to punish inputs rather than actual success.”

    If employers of high school graduates care as much about punctuality and reliability as cognitive ability, it makes sense for the high school diploma to have an attendance requirement. Even better would be the availability of electronic high school transcripts with the number of absences shown each year.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      The problem, then, is that the diploma isn’t differentiating between “student had poor attendance because they were reliably, punctually taking good care of their little sister” and “student had poor attendance because they were a lazy git with oppositional defiant disorder so that no one could motivate them to get off their butt without a shouting match.”

      From the point of view of a prospective employer those are two very, VERY different cases, but the attendance rule as described aggregates them together, which is still a flaw in the system.

  38. Phil Goetz says:

    I posted a comment, but the website deleted it after I edited it twice within 10 minutes of posting it.

    This has happened to me before. It’s an idiotic restriction. Why does the site allow you to edit your comment for 1 hour, if it doesn’t actually allow you to edit your comment for 1 hour? Why is there no warning or explanation or even notice that the comment has been deleted?

    • yodelyak says:

      You can edit your comment for an hour, usually, and as many edits as you like. Maybe one of your edits ran afoul of the filter? Certain words/phrases are not allowed, for heat-to-light ratio / feeding-the-culture-war reasons. They’re listed at the comments policy page.

  39. huy says:

    I remember having a friend in secondary school who — while not academically bright — I thought was clever in his own way. I remember this guy got disciplined a lot for poor organisation and late work, and now that I think about it, it was probably a waste of time for both him and the school. Nobody with his set of natural talents was going to sit still, shut up, and do his homework. The guy was never going to solve an algebraic equation in his life, so why were they constantly punishing him for not doing his algebra homework? School for him was a prison. I think there’s a place for “non-academically bright” people like him, and it’s not in the prison system that is schools. We’re all different; some of us are going to be mathematicians or engineers, some of us are going to be policemen or firemen, and some of us are going to help out the sick and elderly, et cetera. I don’t know why we’re lumping the former with everyone else. I learned how to solve a system of equations because (you may find this hard to believe) I wanted to, and not because I was afraid of being disciplined. In my school, we were being taught a wide range of subjects ranging from cooking to music to English; the stuff I became good at is the stuff I did on my own, not the crap they were shoving down my throat. Nothing kills enthusiasm like needing to do something because you’re being threatened with detention. I think school teaches you learned helplessness, conformity and regimentation. The education system itself is learned helplessness and conformity. My criticism is that it’s good for a certain subset of people who we can call “academically bright” and is oppressive to those people we can call “non-academically bright”; it’s the latter group which, through no fault of their own, will be repeatedly disciplined, and ultimately won’t learn much. I’m backing this up with the assumption that we’re all naturally good at different things, and pushing the non-academically bright to do things they aren’t naturally good at is not going to make much of a difference in their lives. It won’t make much of a difference to their lives because they’re going to avoid doing those things in the future. The non-academically bright will find their niche, and it won’t be anything they learn at school. I also think that even an adult will find it hard to sit still and shut up in an environment like the one in school.

    I guess the above is a disorganised ramble. My alternative to the current education system would be to offer up a wide range of elective courses to children, including ones on how to fight fires or give first aid or solve a quadratic equation. Maybe some of the academically non-bright will find meaning in learning how to do some of these. I think children should be offered carrots for doing their homework, not sticks; for example, the homework for Differential Equations Course 1 could be 5% of the final mark, and you need to get 50% to pass. These elective courses would depend on other elective courses. Children might learn faster this way. They’ll only learn the things they’re naturally good at.

    Feel free to pick apart everything I’ve said. As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. (Also feel free to pick apart *how* I said it; I could do with some help in honing my writing skills).

    [edit]

    It’s interesting to read the comments on a Guardian article about a particularly strict English school. A lot of the commenters say that they’re very left-leaning, but in spite of that they think school should be as strict and soul-crushing to children as possible. It makes me wonder: Is the point of school to crush children into conformity or to teach them skills in later life? How many of the skills they’re forced to learn will they forget straight away? How are they going to remember something if they’re not in the least bit interested in it? How is such a school going to inspire any kind of interest in anything?

    • Simon_Jester says:

      The fundamental problem is straightforward, and will always be so long as society exists in more or less its present form.

      The ideal school is a log with a student at one end, a teacher at the other, and a suitable minimum of props in between for them to work with. The ideal student-teacher ratio is unity. Every student will get their best learning experience if appropriately matched with an instructor who has the precise skill set required to provide them what they need best.

      And unless we find a cure for aging, coupled with massive declines in age-specific fertility rates (e.g. from, say, 6% of women pregnant on their 29th birthday to 0.6%), so that generation length stretches out and the population’s adult:child ratio becomes ridiculously large…

      Well, that’s simply not going to be a reality for every child.

      The system we have is in large part a compromise between what we should provide, in terms of what we know would be optimal, and what we can provide, subject to various logistical and legal constraints. We don’t have enough warm bodies to throw at he problem of individualized tutoring for all, and people won’t pay umpty times more taxes to fund that, so we pack kids into classrooms of 20-30 and teach them in batches.

      Do they learn less? Yes, but not as much less if we had the teacher working as one kid’s private tutor while the other 19-29 went with no formal education at all. So it’s a utilitarian win.

      Then you tell the school “oh, we’re more or less dropping placement; all students entering the 9th grade are now in your Algebra 1 class irrespective of whether they know how to divide fractions, convert percentages into decimals, and work with ratios like they were supposed to learn in middle school.” That’s basically a policy imperative, but it means that the classroom drifts farther from the ideal of lessons customized to what he students individually need, because the students in any given classroom are scattered over a broader region of the possible “solution space” to the question “so, what does this student need/not need?” The teacher winds up either dumbing down their lessons (they can teach this kid who’s two years behind grade level to solve equations but only by NOT giving out any equations that involve fractions, percentages, or ratios, thus eliminating a lot of the practical applications of algebra), frustrating the slow kids (who just plain get left behind), or having to massively overwork and overextend themselves trying to create weird multi-tiered multi-accessible individualized-ish lesson plans. And we still don’t have any more warm bodies to do that with.

      Then you tell the school “oh, you have to take in that kid with an IQ of 65 and seven known behavioral disorders.” That’s a legal constraint; they have a right to an education and that education will be delivered into a public school until the school and the parent (who has long since sailed clear up the river to the source of De Nile) agree otherwise. The school now needs a whole dedicated warm (paraprofessional) body whose ONE JOB, in effect, is following that one kid around to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble or become the local distribution agent of the neighborhood’s illicit recreational pharmaceutical consortium. Because he is, bluntly, too stupid to know better and too nasty a personality to have better instincts. That takes up one of our warm bodies. Multiply that by enough students like that, and even if taxes go up to pay for this, we can’t individualize our lessons better.

  40. hopaulius says:

    “That is, lawyers / health-care-workers / etc often have to deal with sexist customers, whereas female programmers might not encounter anyone on the job except their coworkers. But this seems unlikely to make much difference; this survey finds that customers represent only 9% of sexual harassment incidents.” I’m a man who has been married to a female R.N who works in hospitals for 37 years. There are a lot of problems with a general question to that group about sexual harassment. For one thing, in many environments it is a women’s world. Most of my wife’s colleagues and supervisors are women, as are many of the physicians. There are affairs among physicians and nurses, hetero- and homosexual. One that turns out badly for a nurse might be labeled sexual harassment, even though said nurse had pursued the physician for months. For another, the nurses work with patients who are often at their worst. My wife has had patients fling feces at her, grab her, try to hit her, make sexually explicit remarks to her. Any of these things could be called sexual harassment or violence in the workplace. But they’re usually the effects of drugs or other physical or mental problems. I think it’s important to differentiate whether the harassment is coming from a client/customer, a workplace peer, or someone higher in the hierarchy. Finally, there is the ideological version of sexual harassment: some women trained in university feminist programs are going to label unequal pay, or indeed being paid less than any man in the system, sexual harassment.
    When I took the SSC survey, I answered yes about sexual harassment outside the workplace. It was more than 40 years ago. I was a nightclub musician. In the restroom a man pinned me against the wall and tried to kiss me. On reflection, that was in my workplace, and the “harasser” was a customer/client, and a bit too much of a fan. I’m not sure that tells us anything at all.

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