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Articles, Debate, Education

Privatization of K-12 Education

It helps to have the polarized stands on education articulated before beginning a debate. Chubb and Moe’s controversial book, Politics, Markets and America’s Schools do this best when they write,

“America’s public schools are governed by institutions of direct democratic control, and their organizations should be expected to bear the indelible stamp of those institutions. They should tend to be highly bureaucratic and systematically lacking in the requisites of effective performance. Private schools, on the other hand, operate in a very different institutional setting distinguished by the basic features of markets – decentralization, competition and choice – and their organizations should be expected to bear a very different stamp as a result. They should tend to possess autonomy, clarity of mission, strong leadership, teacher professionalism and team cooperation that public schools want but … are unlikely to have.”

The statement lays the onus of the argument on the structural difference between public and private schools. But in all truth, therein lies the only difference. The structure determines the funds, the decision about the allocation of funds, the accountability relative to the usage of funds, the academic climate created thereby and finally the student achievement whose positive numbers should in turn generate more funds to start the conveyor belt all over again. Note how structures and funds are so intimate!

The problem is that the structure (and the race for funds) is inhabited by people, all with a wide range of interests, ideas, opinions and perspectives about what education stands for and should achieve. This inherent conflict, in a ‘democratic’ setting, creates constraints by the players within a structure. More precisely, it creates (1) administrative constraint, concerned with the authority of central office administrators, (2) personnel constraint, which focuses on union issues over personnel issues and (3) school board influence/constraint, which deals with the school board’s authority.

The multiple bureaucratic levels of involvement are correlated with a depressed academic climate and low student achievement in the public school system. When you throw a highly diverse socio-economic student body and volatile classroom dynamics into the mix, the odds seem to stack up heavily against public schools.

But data suggests we take a step back from all these negative perceptions regarding public schools and take a closer look. A study by Sandra Glass (1993), showed that public and private schools experienced similar constraints – they had to deal with the same state and federal laws, limited funds, the demands of parents, college admission requirements, the same College Board examinations and so forth. Moreover both exhibited a high level of administrative autonomy and a high level of student achievement. In fact the data seems to portray that these public and private schools had a high level of administrative autonomy because of high levels of student achievement. This explains why there are heavier constraints on public urban schools which face low student achievement.

The National Center for Education Statistics conducts regular NAEP surveys of student achievement in American high schools. One such survey (Shankar and Rosenberg, 1991) compared the mathematical proficiency of grade twelve students who had been exposed to various levels of mathematical instruction. Those students who had taken higher-level mathematics courses scored higher than those that had taken only lower-level courses – this irrespective of public or private schooling. In fact, the data showed public school students with a slight edge.

When private schools can control the selection of their students giving them more opportunity to choose the more talented ones with economical and educational support at home, enforce disciplinary standards and create a sense of ‘community’ why is the difference in achievement so marginal? By contrast, public schools must enroll all students, even those from impoverished backgrounds who lack a support structure at home to give them educational direction.

The gap between data and perception can be closed if we jump through the loopholes. Student achievement results in mathematics are based on the levels of mathematics that the students had studied. Therefore, the opportunity to learn at higher levels was more influential rather than a public or private setting. There is no denying that private schools can provide greater challenges and variety to students in curriculum but there is nothing stopping the public schools from doing the same. In fact the best public schools in America provide unique programmatic advantages which reflect a broader range of interests.

None of this means that American schools do not face serious problems, that educational opportunities are equitable in our country or that our schools cannot be improved. Dr. Ken Robinson’s (Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! – YouTube.)talk provides some unique insights on an educational revolution that might be necessary to adapt to the changing pace and tempo of our road ahead. As for now, “We have no reason to be complacent about schools’ performance …. But when schools are doing better than ever before, the best way to encourage continued improvement is not a concerted attack on school governance and organization. A more effective approach would be praise for accomplishment, provision of additional resources to programs whose results justify support, and reforms on the margin to correct programs and curricula shown to be ineffective.” (Richard Rothstein, The Myth of Public School Failure, 1993)

 

Articles, Education

Which is More Likely When Teachers Know What to Do with Twice Exceptionality? Survive or Thrive?

8927257-head-silhouette-couple-rainbow-communicationBack in 2009, 2e Newsletter reported the launch of a five-year grant project in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. We interviewed project director Karen B. Rogers, Professor of Gifted Studies at the University of St. Thomas, College of Applied Professional Studies, in Minneapolis, who said, “We received notice in September, 2008, that we had been granted funds for a project to identify twice-exceptional students systematically and to program for them.”

The team for this undertaking, called Project 2Excel, was to get nearly half a million dollars over a five-year pe- riod. The aim was to have project team members receive and develop teacher training in twice-exceptional educa- tion and provide support for parents of 2e children. The purpose was to see if these efforts would lead to success for bright children who qualify for placement in gifted pro- grams but who end up struggling because of unidentified learning or attention issues, emotional or behavior disorders, or autism spectrum disorders.

Now, approximately three years into the research project, what has been the outcome? First, the bad news. The project has been de-funded, according to Rogers. The money was awarded under the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. This federal law, passed in 1988, established a program for conducting scientifi- cally-based research to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students. The main focus of the Act is students traditionally underrepresented in gifted programs: the economically disadvantaged, those with limited English proficiency, and the disabled. Each year Congress must fund this program, the only one aimed at benefiting gifted students in the United States. In 2011, Congress eliminated the funding, leaving Project 2Excel to close up shop. Training of the first (and only) cohort of 2e educators will conclude, and a final analysis of all of the teacher and student data collected will be completed.

Now for the good news. Karen Rogers can point to successes for both educators and learners who have been participating in the project.

The 24 educators in Project 2Excel have been participating in yearly in-service sessions and on-line graduate-level coursework. In addition, they’ve received paid writing/planning time. Among these educators are 12 classroom teachers who work directly with the twice- exceptional students placed in their respective homogeneous gifted classrooms. The remaining 12 include special educationists, associate principals, curriculum directors/coaches, and future classroom teachers at the middle school level. Training for participants began with initial introductions to both gifted education and special education. Next came an introductory twice exceptional education course.

With this foundation, the educators were able to conduct careful case studies of individual gifted children in the project with accompanying attention deficit disor- ders, specific learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, or autism spectrum disorders. Either working singly or in teams,  the educators looked both generally and in depth at each form of twice exceptionality, learning to systematically identify a child as 2e and then making educational plans to address the child’s specific cognitive, academic, physical, social, and emotional needs.

Rogers explained that through these case studies project team members were able to develop a toolkit of strategies for each kind of need. This information is avail- able at the project website: www.stthomas.edu/project-2excel.

Rogers, who is responsible for analyzing the data gathered during the project, looked at what the effects of their efforts appear to be for educators. She stated that the data gathered through biweekly observations and interviews with participating educators suggests the following:

  • •Increased confidence that the educators can“handle” these children and address their needs appropriately
  • •Increased flexibility in adapting or accommodating the curriculum so that it better addresses the needs of individual children in their gifted classrooms
  • Substantial refocus on individual learners in their classrooms rather than perceptions that one cannot make adjustments for an individual child in the classroom or that what is good for the twice- exceptional learner should be good for all learners
  • Increased use of toolbox strategies on a daily basis as suggested by student behavior and attention
  • Increased use of collaboration with others in the school to address the individual needs of a child, whether that collaboration is with a colleague or a special educationist, school nurse, curriculum leader, or instructional coach
  • Simplified classroom systems for displaying ideas-to-be-learned, student work, student “turn in” arrangements, desk arrangements, as well as for homework and classroom task instructions.

As for students, Rogers looked at what the two years of participating in the project has meant for them both quantitatively and qualitatively. She analyzed achievement measures, self-perception inventories, academic attitude scales, and classroom observations as well as interviews conducted with the learners. The results indicate the following.

  • •In general, students have made moderate gains in their math and language arts achievement. For some individuals, the gains have been substantial.
  • Student attitudes toward tackling difficult work in math and language arts have improved moderately, while their attitudes about the importance of academic learning have improved substantially.
  • The students see themselves as academically competent and as “good” school citizens (meaning that they behave well). However, they continue to recognize that they may have some social difficulties, although they feel more equipped to handle them.
  • The students’ ability to self-advocate has improved substantially. They, as well their teachers, report that the students know what to ask of their teachers when something does not make sense or if they are unsure about what they are to do. For example, the students will ask to be placed in a certain section of a classroom to avoid distractions or to hear the teacher better; they will negotiate with their teachers if they can think of a way to show what they have learned in a “better” way than what the teachers has required; they will ask for something to be given to them in writing or to be able to use assistive technology when important information is presented orally or if handwriting is involved; and they know how to ask for space or quiet time when stimuli get to be too overwhelming for them.

So what is the verdict at this point in the project – do twice-exceptional students thrive with the changes their teachers have instituted or do these learners just continue to survive? Rogers is pleased with the results of what she calls “this remarkable project.” In her words, “The children engaged in Project 2Excel have graduated well beyond the potential doom and gloom described so poignantly by Samantha Abeel in her book My Thirteenth Winter.” (The book Rogers refers to, published in 2003, is a memoir that describes what it was like to be a bright and creative child growing up and struggling through school with a learning disability.) Rogers went on to say, “These children, scheduled to enter middle school this fall, have every reason to believe they will be able to ‘hold it together,’ not suffer from anxiety and tension when things become overwhelming, and be able to communicate with their teachers about how best to get their learning done! I think we can say they are thriving!”

By Linda C. Neumann