Tag Archives: Mike Petrilli

Modeling Exponential Growth/Decay Interspersed with a Reform Rant

Quadratics have become my new nadir, which is cheerier news than it sounds since it means I’ve kicked linear equations into obedient submission. For the first two and a half years of my teaching career, I felt good about quadratics because if nothing else, most kids remembered how to factor, and remembered that factors had something to do with zeros on the graph. Which was a big step up compared to what they retained of linear equations. But then, last year, I cracked linear equations in a big way, which is great except now I just feel bad about quadratics, because as I develop as a teacher I realize the suckers are absurdly complicated and don’t model very easily. The kids learn a lot, but at their level of ability I’d need to do two months to have them internalize quadratics the way most of them internalize linear equations. And I don’t have two months. I just tell myself they still learn a lot. Consequently, I am relieved to see quadratics in the rear view as I move them onto the third of the models that define second year algebra (at least, as I teach it).

Exponential functions are awesome. First, they’re absurdly simple compared to both lines and quadratics. Second, they model actual, honest to god, real life situations. I’m not a big teacher for “Hey, this is something you’ll use again” but automobile depreciation or interest payments are, in fact, something they’ll use again. Third, they provide a memorable and again, useful, reason to review (or learn for the first time) percentage increase and decrease. Finally, they present a situation in which any kid who has even somewhat grasped the course essentials can see hey: Given y, I can’t solve for x. This leads beautifully and meaningfully into logarithms.

So like linear equations, I can kick off the unit with a modeling activity and get the kids moving easily into the math.

I begin with a brief lecture reminding them of the two previous models.

ExpBoardwork1

No. Quadratics aren’t repeated multiplication. Exponential functions involve repeated multiplication, as they’ll see in the lesson.

Then I review percentage increase and decrease. I am of two minds about this review. On the plus side, it’s immediately relevant, easy to apply, and gives them a good reason to remember it long term. The downside: the kids never remember what I taught them when they get to the percentage problems. So I explain it up front, knowing that 90% of the kids will forget everything I said just 20 minutes later, when they get to the first percentage exponential increase. Increase%age

So I explain it, go round the room asking “So, if I want to increase a number by 8%, what do I multiply it by, Jose?” “1 point…..8?” “Watch that leading zero!” “Oh, 1.08.” “Right.” Do that with five or six times, think everyone gets it, and set them to working on models. This is one side of the worksheet, crunched for space so I could “snip” it.

ExpGrowthWS

And sure enough, the kids work through the models, making great progress, and stop cold at the third one.

“I can’t do this. How do you increase by a percentage?”

“Excuse me while I beat myself on the head with this whiteboard.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Do you remember me just talking about percentages?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you see it on the board there? All the stuff about turning it from two steps into one step, and why you need to do that?”

“Yeah.”

“DO YOU SEE ANY POSSIBLE CONNECTION BETWEEN THAT CONVERSATION AND THIS PROBLEM?”

“Man, I don’t see why you’re so mean.”

“Read what it says on the board. Right there. In red.”

“Increase x by a%.”

“Yes. Can you read problem 3 and tell me what you think might possibly qualify as x?”

“The population?”

“Yes. And do you see the value that might possibly qualify as a%?”

“Um.” Long pause as the student stares at the problem, and finds the ONLY OTHER VALUE MENTIONED. “Twenty percent?”

“Indeed.”

“Okay.”

I repeat that four or five times to four or five groups and then, miracle of miracles, find a student with a full table of five values for the population problem. There is a god.

“Great.”

“But I don’t know how to find the equation for this one like I did the first two. This one isn’t repeated multiplication. I had to take 20% of 250 and then add it….why are you hitting yourself on the head?”

“We need a function. We need an operation in which we can plug in x—do you have any thoughts on what x might be?”

“How many months?”

“How is it you know that, you smart child, and yet make me go through this torture? Yes. We need an operation that we can plug in the number of months (x) and get the population (y).”

“Right. But this is like three steps.”

“And we need only one.”

“Right.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a way to increase a number by a given percentage in just one step?”

“How do you do that?”

“LOOK AT THE BOARD!”

“Oh, is that what you were talking about? I was already doing the worksheet.”

And still, the lesson is largely a success. Kids are absolutely freaked out at the cell growth caused just by doubling and yes, I bring up the million dollar mission example, but at the end of the lesson, not as part of it. Most of the kids correctly graph the models, although a few end up with lines that I correct. The flip side of the handout is a blank graph, which they use to take notes on the basic exponential growth model.

Total Amount = Initial Amount * Ratetime

Initial Amount > 0
Rate > 1

One thing I mull over—the book, and the state test, go through the exponential equation (basically, Initial Amount = 1), along with the transformation model (f(x) = ax-c +- k. I haven’t focused on this in previous classes, because in my experience the kids don’t even get tranformations of lines and quadratics. But I’m going to give it a try on Monday.

Anyway. Day 2 is exponential decay, but I start by going over percentage decrease. I am nothing if not optimistic.
Decrease%age

“So if I take away a third of something, how much is left?”

Pause. Pause some more. Pause still more. I grab three whiteboard pens.

“Rhea, decrease these pens by a third.” Rhea obediently takes one pen.

“Class, how much is left after she decreased the pens by 33%, or a third?”

“TWO!!!”

“Two……?” I wait. No. I sigh, and grab three more pens, getting the one back from Rhea as well.

“Paul, take away a third of these six pens.” Paul takes two pens.

“Class, he’s taken away 33% of the pens. How much is left?”

“FOUR!”

“AUUGGGGHHH!”

It all works out. Seriously. By the end of the exercise, most of the class is shouting back the correct answers as I ask “I take away 30%, how much is left?” 35%? 23%?” and the only mistakes they make are place errors—that is, 100-23 does not, in fact, equal 87.

The second day is always better, because it has slowly permeated their skulls that I’m serious about this percentage nonsense, that it has some relationship to the worksheet. So when they ask questions, it’s more of the “could you run this whole percentage decrease by me again? If they take away a third, I have two thirds left? But what’s two thirds as a decimal?” and trust me, this is a big step up for my blood pressure. Well, a step down. And they do the decay modeling and notes with no small degree of interest:
ExpDecayWS
They have the model graph on the back, too, for exponential decay:

Total Amount = Initial Amount * Ratetime

Yes, it’s the same equation, so what’s different?

Initial Amount > 0
0 < Rate < 1

By day’s end, they have registered the import of the realization that Estefania has 95 cents left after ten days, and they’ve figured out that Jose is right, that his car is worth more than Stan’s after five years, which they managed by using an equation they built themselves, by golly, rather than decrease 25,000 by 5% 5 times.

You notice, of course, that I’ve spent most of this post talking about the percentage issue, something the kids learned were first taught back in middle school, than the exponential growth/decay functions, the actual new material. This should not come as a shock to regular readers.

Back in March, there was much fuss about a study revealing that algebra and geometry classes aren’t rigorous enough.

Of course the classes aren’t rigorous enough. They can’t be. I refer you again to the false god of elementary school test scores and the Wise Words of Barbie.

This twitter debate between reformers Mike Petrilli and Rishawn Biddle is typical of reform debates about “rigor”. Petrilli wants end of course exams to stop us teachers from pretending to teach a subject. Biddle wants more of the same, just shout louder and MANDATE instruction, particularly to those disenfranchised black and Hispanic youth who are being let down by lousy teachers with low expectations.

Both of them assume that the problem is ineffective teaching, that all us math teachers could actually teach percentages and fractions to all seventh graders if we were just smarter and better. Or maybe they just think we take the easy way out, that it’d be really really hard to teach the kids properly, and what the hell, we get paid no matter what and behind close doors it’s easier to just go through the motions. Well, sure.

Petrilli’s proposal, end-of-course exams, would trigger a bloodbath. People really don’t seem to understand how I’d be all in favor of that, if the result were a rethinking of expectations. But of course, what would actually happen is that we’d end the end-of-course exams. That’s what always happens whenever a state or district tries to enforce higher standards (cf Oklahoma and now Texas). And of course, that’s what’s going to happen with Common Core standards, assuming that anyone actually takes them seriously after the testing bloodbath this year. But I’d be all for end-of-course testing if reformers would accept responsibility for the 80% decrease in graduation rates among blacks and Hispanics who would never get past algebra I and understand, finally, that they believe in a myth.

But I digress. And I’m still going to like exponential functions, at least until I crack quadratics. Because you know what? The kids do make progress in understanding percentages, and they learn for the first time not only about exponential functions, but about asymptotes, as I explain Zeno’s Paradox. I don’t use Achilles and the tortoise as an example, but instead talk about how I could throw a stapler right at BTS’s head and know that the stapler would never draw blood because it wouldn’t reach his noggin, so I couldn’t get fired. Or that I could walk to the door and never get there. I do get to the door, of course, and alas, the stapler would eventually crack BTS’s skull. But even though we know that this is true, the tools for proving the paradox false, as opposed to demonstrating it, don’t come around until calculus. They get a kick out of that.

If all that’s not fun enough, I see genuine, honest-to-god intellectual curiosity among most students as they realize that they don’t have the tools to isolate x in the equation 8 = 3x. That for all these years they’ve been getting along fine with addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, nth power/nth root, but none of those will work here. Which sets us up beautifully for both logs and a proper discussion of inverses, leading into inverse functions. Yes, their skills are still basic, but I can see the glimmering of understanding of the underlying concepts. If the damn state tests would just ask questions about those underlying concepts instead of demanding underlying concepts and advanced operations, I might even be able to get the kids to show that understanding.

And in writing up this essay, I am struck by the obvious solution to the percentage problem on day one: I need a worksheet. They fill it out, and not until they are done with that do I give them the worksheets on growth and decay. Naturally, this solution is again a lowering of expectations, a realization that a clear explanation on a blackboard that they can refer to isn’t enough, that I need to give fifteen to seventeen year olds an activity so the information will sink in and they use the method right away without asking me to explain it all again group by group. But to hell with expectations. It will be much better for my bloodpressure.


Diversity Dilemma in Action

A month ago, I wrote about the real diversity dilemma, not the faux trauma that Mike Petrilli is hawking. Happily, an illustrative example that’s been cooking along for a year or so just went back on the burner.

Novato charter supporters, opponents square off

I will recap the relevant points.

  1. Novato is part of Marin County, California. The white people there are rich, but not super-rich. No one in Novato says “I live in Marin”, as such a statement would mislead the audience as to the speaker’s financial status.
  2. Rancho Elementary is a Novato magnet school that takes kids from throughout the district, has a lottery, requires an onsite visit and other commitments from the parents.
  3. In 2011, after years of complaints from the other schools (more on that in a moment), the district alerts the parents to its decision to , convert Rancho to a district school, requiring it to draw primarily from the neighborhood students.
  4. The parents at Rancho respond by seeking to convert their school to a charter. They abandon the plan when the school administrators and teachers refuse to support the idea.
  5. In early 2012, the North Bay Educational Foundation is formed to petition the district for a new charter. Of the 365 parents signing the petition, 181 of them are Rancho parents. Another 75 are parents from the other seven elementary schools, a whole bunch are kindergartner parents eager to avoid their current district school, and some are private school parents.

Wow, you’re saying. Those Rancho parents must really, really like the lottery!

So here’s some other info. This story takes place in California. Raise your hand if you think the Hispanic population has increased dramatically over the last decade. Hey, you in the back, why is your hand still….oh, he’s asleep. Okay. Novato’s census indeed shows that Hispanic population has risen from 13 to 21% of the population.

Of course, the public school population will have an even higher population of Hispanic students than the overall population. California test results show that the district population is 30% Hispanic.

But then, the population of Hispanics isn’t evenly distributed, so let’s look at the individual elementary schools.
Using the CST results again:

School Total
Pop
Hisp
Pop
%age
Lu Sutton 295 142 48%
Loma Verde 260 135 52%
Lynwood 285 147 52%
Olive 254 81 32%
Pleasant Valley 270 24 9%
San Ramon 290 82 28%
Rancho 336 20 6%

Rancho has the lowest Hispanic population of all the elementary schools, and only Pleasant Valley has a similarly low population. The rest of the schools have five to eight times the Hispanic population.

Maybe Rancho is just located in an area with fewer Hispanics, so let’s check out the district map. Click to enlarge. (Source)
NovDistrictMap

Ah. So the three L schools (Lynwood, Loma Verde, and Lu Sutton), which are all roughly 50% Hispanic, surround Rancho Elementary, just 6% Hispanic. Rancho, which doesn’t take neighborhood kids, relies on a lottery, gives preference to siblings, and requires a parental visit to the school and other commitments, is just 6% Hispanic, despite being smack dab in the middle of the Hispanic population center of Novato.

Totally coincidental, of course.

So Rancho parents, told that their school must draw students from its half Hispanic local population, seek first to convert their school to a charter and then, when denied this, seek to create a new charter.

The Mercury News article observes that only 11 ELL and 13 Hispanic students are represented on the charter petition. But not to worry, says the charter foundation,:

In responding to charges that the few minority names on the foundation’s petition reflect poorly on a diversity goal, the foundation said that it would embark on a vigorous outreach effort to attract students from throughout the community after the district approved it petition. The petition states, “The Academy will institute a recruitment program designed to educate and inform potential students and their families about its instructional program and to insure that all Novato residents are given an equal opportunity to enroll their children at the school.”

(emphasis mine)

Or, as I said in my first post:

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

(emphasis mine for this piece)

Another irony rich moment: this op ed by Robert Verhoeff, the primary charter advocate, arguing that the chosen curriculum, Core Knowledge, will be just the ticket for Novato’s diverse population:

The school will be based on Core Knowledge — a rigorous, sequential curriculum rich in language arts, history, geography, math, science, art and music. The breadth of subjects taught each year far exceeds what is being taught in Novato elementary schools. Core Knowledge repeats subjects each year in an age appropriate way so knowledge builds or spirals. This encourages children to build cognitive connections between diverse subjects, while ensuring that rich, specific content provides a level playing field for students no matter their incoming cultural knowledge base.
….One of the primary reasons the founders of NBEF brought forth this petition was to address the achievement gap that exists in Novato public schools. Currently more than two thirds of white students in Novato elementary schools are proficient in language arts while only about one third of Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students are proficient, according to the most recent state Department of Education reports.

Hahahahaha! Yes, indeed, Bob, the primary reason you brought this petition forward was to use this wonderful curriculum to help the Hispanic kids—that you fought like hell for three years to keep out of your school. Or, as I said in my essay:

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students? …Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out!

So what did the district do to the charter parents? It denied their petition, citing the legal requirements that weren’t met. The district, of course, is lying. It denied their petition because it doesn’t want to lose money to a charter started by a few parents who are too cheap or too broke for private school, but the district isn’t allowed to say so.

What will the charter school pushers do? Go to the county, and then to the state. One of the two entities will override the district, because “a certain group of white taxpayer parents who win the lottery is trying to keep Hispanics to a minimum at the expense of all the other white taxpayer parents who lose the lottery” is not a legal reason to deny a charter application.

Or, as I put it here:

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics.

I invite you to read my description, and then go through the links I’ve included. To quote Mr. Potter, do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?

When I last wrote about this, Steve Sailer commented on my site: “Personally, I’m in favor of taxpayers being able to arrange things so their children can attend public schools in cities and not have to flee to the exurbs.”

This is the pragmatist’s response (although this is happening primarily in the suburbs, not the cities). But it’s a short-sighted one because, as I point out above, it doesn’t benefit all taxpayers equally. It benefits the richest kids first, the ones whose parents can pony up seed money, and then the lucky kids who win the lottery. This is a small group. It won’t stop white flight to the exurbs. Suburban charters, if they are successful on a large scale, will be incredibly disruptive to the public school system. Which is, I suspect, exactly why eduformers have recently started pushing them hard.

Personally, I find it disgusting to allow a select group of parents to hijack taxpayer dollars for their own limited benefit, while they preen about their desire to help the brown folk. But I’m also well aware that suburban charters are only different in this respect in color, not intent. Majority URM charters are doing the same thing–using taxpayer dollars and billionaire philanthropy instead of parent seed money—but in these cases, all the kids are the same color.

I’ve said this before: charters are popular because they allow the owners to keep certain students out. All the talk about curricular freedom, non-union teachers, and dedication to achievement is garbage. Parents sign their kids up for charters to keep their kids away from the undesirables.

So let them do that, you say. But charters can’t possibly scale. This is so obvious that I can’t even be bothered to spell it out. You aren’t going to make me, are you? Charters “work”–that is, they are able to operate, not raise achievement—because non-charters have to take all the other kids by default, and have to do so without any say in the matter. When public schools don’t work by default, charters or no, the outcome is ugly, as this report on NYC’s all choice program reveals (and boy, is that system several lawsuits waiting to happen). We will never have a system in which all students everywhere are able to avoid undesirable students by going to a charter, and therefore we are creating a system in which students luck out on expensive, functionally private schools simply by lottery. It can’t last. I don’t know what will give first.

So what’s the solution? The answer depends on whether the undesirable kids are low income URM kids in a middle-class or higher (usually white) district, or horribly-behaved, low-incentive URM kids in a low income URM district.

For the first: bring back tracking, or ability grouping. Reassure white parents that their kids will be learning based on their ability, and then stare those parents down when their kids get slotted into the low ability groups. This approach, of course, leads to lawsuits. But remember, charters are just doing the same thing except on a smaller and wholly unfair scale. Tracking is cheaper and, if done properly, fairer.

For the second: start charters for low ability, low-incentive kids. Make these schools two steps up from jail or bootcamp. Kids who misbehave get expelled from their local school and sent to the charters, which are so ruthlessly strict and brutal that the kids would anything to get out and anything to avoid being put back in.

Unfortunately, eduformers will probably continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that charters are a noble means of closing the achievement gap, and ignore the realities of the havoc they propose. Progressives and unions will continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that money is all we need to close the achievement gap, and that tracking is racist.

It’s a crazy world.


The Parental “Diversity” Dilemma

Ah, the eduformers have discovered the progressive charter:

Fueled by a confluence of interests among urban parents, progressive educators, and school reform refugees, a small but growing handful of diverse charter schools like Capital City has sprouted up in big cities over the past decade…These schools attract children of city workers, project residents, New York Times reporters, and government officials, and simultaneously attempt to address the weaknesses of “no-excuses” charter schools, progressive education, and school segregation: “Usually in the places that are all about accountability it doesn’t feel like there is a ton of learning going on as the primary outcome,” says Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher who is set to open Bricolage Academy next year. “In schools where it’s all about learning, discovery, and projects and teamwork, there seems to me to be an absence of or a reluctance to have any kind of accountability.”

Russo, who’s a pretty even-handed education reporter, touches delicately and indirectly on the cause for the attention: progressive, “diverse” charters spring up in “diverse” environments precisely because the environments are diverse.

Look at the history of most progressive charters and you’ll find they are initiated by white people who fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • Unnerved by the high percentage of low-achieving, low-income kids at their neighborhood school.
  • Unwilling to risk the lottery system for the good schools in their district.
  • Unable to afford private school, or a house in a homogenous suburb.
  • Unsure their kids are going to be able to compete with the top kids in their neighborhood school (particularly in high school)
  • Unhappy with the public school’s treatment of their idiosyncratic little snowflake.

These are people who would move to homogeneous environments, but can’t.

So a bunch of well-off but not super-rich white folks* who don’t want to or can’t move and don’t want to or can’t pay for private school live in a school district in which low-income black/Hispanic kids must be a part of their kids’ school environment. This is not optimal. However, if they can create a charter school and require a bunch of commitments, they can skim the cream off of this population, minimize the impact of low ability kids on their own child’s education, get their kids something close to straight As with far less work than they’d have to do in a public school, congratulate themselves on their tolerance and dedication to diversity, and all for less than the cost of a mid-tier private school. Such a deal.

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics. (Of course, if the charter’s in a rich enough district, then they don’t even have to worry about finding URMs.)

Am I painting this in the worst possible light? Probably, but it’s not all that pretty. Using taxpayer dollars for upscale liberals (they are, usually, liberals) who don’t want their kids in the overly “diverse” local schools or have a little snowflake who just isn’t good enough to compete in a more competitive public school, gaming the system and using their own dollars to bootstrap a plan to qualify for state and federal dollars? If you’re going to do it, then own it. We can argue about whether or not it’s appropriate to create charters for entirely low income populations, schools that skim the motivated kids without any disabilities or sped problems from the local public schools overloaded with all that and more and then take those kids and mercilessly beat information into them in the hopes of moving them to a better-educated life and middle class jobs. But at least, there, we are working with kids who have no other options, who are being funded largely by grants from billionaires who want to pat themselves on the back for helping the little people.

None of this means that the teachers aren’t hardworking and dedicated and that some low income kids are getting a much safer education than they otherwise would. (In high school, however, it does mean that the kids are all getting much, much better grades than they would be getting in their local comprehensive high schools, which gives them a huge advantage in college admissions.)

The eduformers have started to notice these progressive, “diverse” charters, as well as gentrifying urban schools, which spring from the same motivations. Mike Petrilli** has a book out (What, you didn’t know? You must not be on his Twitter feed.) celebrating the parents who seek out this choice for their kids, despite their concerns about performance and their own little snowflakes’ educations. Why, Petrilli himself suffered through the “diverse schools dilemma”. His own local school in Takoma Park had a student body in which THIRTY FIVE PERCENT of the students qualified for free lunch! I mean, that school almost qualified for Title I! Oh, the humanity. So you can see why Petrilli felt the need to write a book celebrating the parents who brave these schools full of the great illiterate unwashed, and showing them how to find schools that only looked bad on the outside, but weren’t, you know, actually bad.

In fairness, Petrilli, like all educational policy folks, is fixated on elementary and middle schools, which are far more segregated than high schools. So 35% probably seems like a rilly rilly high number to him. But I can list at least five high schools in my general vicinity that have are 65% free-reduced lunch and 65% ELL (mostly Hispanic) with a 30% population of white students, ranging from working class to well-off, a situation that’s becoming increasingly common in many suburbs. So Petrilli’s intro has already spotlighted him as a dilettante. I mean, gosh. 35%!!!

But Petrilli as a eduform policy wonk has been focused on pulling in whites to the reform movement for a while—in fact, I’m deeply skeptical that he ever really researched the issue for his own kids, given how neatly this book ties in with his clear policy goals. In his summary of takeaways from the 2012 election, #1 on his list is “don’t piss off the suburbs”. (And of course, Petrilli didn’t take any of his own advice, running away from the scarily “diverse” Takoma Park in favor of uprooting his family to an expensive house in the suburbs and sending his kids to lily white Wood Acres Elementary, a school he tsks tsks in the intro for being over 90% white. Really, who hands out book deals to people like this?)

So call me uncharitable, but I figure Petrilli and other eduformers are pushing “diversity” as a means of gently tempting house-poor or other economically stretched white folks into seeking out charters in order to further undercut public schools, while also reassuring the suburbs that the reform movement won’t drill and kill their kids to test heaven.

Of course, the real “dilemma” is one I wrote about earlier:

….why are charter schools growing like weeds?

I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around, much less black or Hispanic….So charters become a way for parents to sculpt their school environments. White parents stuck in majority/minority districts start progressive charters that brag about their minority population but are really a way to keep the brown kids limited to the well-behaved ones. Low income black and Hispanic parents want safe schools. Many of them apply for charter school lotteries because they know charters can kick out the “bad kids” without fear of lawsuits. But they still blame the “bad kids”, not the teachers, which is why they might send their kids to charter schools while still ejecting Adrian Fenty for Michelle Rhee’s sins.

As I’ve mentioned before, education reformers are now pushing suburban charters with strong academic focus, which are nothing more than tracking for parents who can’t get their public schools to do it for them.

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students?

Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out! (They just don’t mention the part about controlling it.)

And then, wait patiently for step two: Eventually, all but the best low income students will either behave badly enough or get tired of the rules and leave the charter schools for the required-to-take-them comprehensives, and eventually, gentrification will be complete and all the low income students, good and bad, will go off to an exurb somewhere.

So all they have to do is cope until that happy day, and avoid the lawsuits. Tiptoe tentatively around the cultural issues in the meantime. If you want to worry, worry that you bet on the wrong neighborhood and that gentrification won’t take hold.

That’s the diversity dilemma, in a nut shell: a white parents strategy to minimize the impact of low income low ability students on their kids without the expense of a private school or a new house. If the economy or the housing market picks up, expect the trend to fade. Sorry, eduformers, but by and large, white folks like big high schools and full-service middle schools.

Anyway. Russo touches on another point directly: the upper middle class white funded charters are, in almost every case, progressive. They hire their teachers from straight from top-ranked ed schools, all of them thoroughly steeped in the tea of social justice, heterogeneous classrooms, complex instruction, and Freire. Teachers dedicated to closing the achievement gap not by drill and kill, but by shrinking the range by pulling the top-end in sharply. Not, to put it mildly, teachers who will provide an academically rigorous education.

What this means in practice is that progressive charters (and, probably, the gentrified publics) do not have a high-achieving white population–particularly at the high school level. The parents who start progressive charters are more likely to have idiosyncratic kids who would be labelled weird in their public school. Others, like the parents of Emily Jones in Waiting for Superman, are worried their kids wouldn’t track into the top group in their local suburban high school, and thus be stuck with the lower achieving kids. Still others just know their kids won’t work terribly hard and will get weaker grades at the local high school than they would at a progressive charter where they’d be the top students (and where, of course, they will be donating quite a bit of money for that sort of consideration). Parents with high achievers are either going to seek out academic charters (which are rare) or leave their kids in the comprehensive high school, where they are able to compete and perform at the top level.

You can see this reality reflected in the research on charter schools, with one of its key findings: Study charter schools’ impacts on student achievement were inversely related to students’ income levels.

Yep. Drill and kill works great for low ability kids, but heterogeneous complex instruction is a lousy way to teach a mixed ability classroom without many high achievers.

But that’s predictable, isn’t it? After all, progressive charters are a hybrid of the worst of both sides of the education debate. Progressive instruction and goals, social justice crap given full rein, all in an organizational structure designed to pull off exactly the sort of kids who wouldn’t benefit from it, courtesy of the reform movement.

*****************

* I know many nice parents who send their kids to charters. I get it. But stripped of all the rationalizations, this is what’s left.

**I am normally a middling fan of Petrilli. He does come off a bit like a hyper-enthusiastic, gormless Richie Cunningham. But the minute he decided to move his family out to the homogenous zone, he should have dropped the book deal.


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