Why school choice works in Massachusetts

Mar 2012
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There is more too it as well. The failing schools in our inner cities have as much to do with the parents as the school. You have parents who don't value education who outnumber those who do.

To alleviate that charters schools and vouchers are the answer. Why keep kids in failing schools who want to learn? Why fight against charter schools and vouchers?
Well that was the origins of the charter school movement, which ironically hails from the very progressive left.

"The charter school idea in the United States was originated in 1974 by Ray Budde,[11] a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, embraced the concept in 1988, when he called for the reform of the public schools by establishing "charter schools" or "schools of choice."[12]Gloria Ladson-Billings called him "the first person to publicly propose charter schools."[13] At the time, a few schools already existed that were not called charter schools but embodied some of their principles, such as H-B Woodlawn. "

Charter schools in the United States - Wikipedia
 
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Sep 2017
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Well here is my issue with going broader than ACT/SAT. Colleges do not look at anything else.
I think you're wrong. Certainly most highly-competitive colleges do ask for other tests. I assume they look at them and they do factor in. But, regardless, I think it would be a mistake to teach narrowly just to the SAT or ACT, since that tests such a narrow set of skills. It's basically a test of whether you can do low-level math with a relatively low error rate, and whether you have mastered most basic vocabulary and reading-comprehension skills. Those are good things to have as a foundation for higher learning. But you could know pretty much nothing about any substantive subject and still do well on those, if you'd focused narrowly on just those things for 13 years. I want a high school diploma to mean more than "this person can read and do arithmetic, algebra, and geometry." I want it to mean the student knows the basics of history, science, art, literature, etc. I don't want someone with a diploma who couldn't name a book by Dickens or tell you what big US event happened in 1776, or what the capital of France is, or tell the difference between an atom and a molecule.

If it isn’t on the SAT/ACT? Then it is subject to change from school to school anyway
What I'm calling for is something that's consistent from school to school. With the SAT, for example, there's a pretty consistent body of vocabulary that gets tested from year to year. I used to teach the SAT Verbal section for the Princeton Review, and we focused on vocab lists drawn from words that had come up in prior test years, and other vocab in that same basic range of frequency of use in modern written English. For example, we'd teach "itinerant" and "migratory," because they were likely to come up on the test, but not "peripatetic" and "peregrinations," since those were obscure enough they probably wouldn't. In effect, there's a particular body of vocabulary words that's "fair game" for testing, and that's what we taught to. Well, I think you can have something similar for most topics. For example, you could have a standard physics test where they may expect you to know that the acceleration of gravity is 9.8 m/s^2, but not what the electric charge of a quark is. You could be expected to know on the history test in what year the Battle of Hastings happened, but not when the Battle of Kadesh was. There could be a set of, say, 5,000 "fair game" facts and problem types for each subject , of which the tests would randomly sample 100 each (which would be enough to gauge what portion of the 5,000 the students had mastered). This would be identical from school to school. All the schools would focus on making the kids know as high a portion of the 5,000, in each of, say, five subject areas, as possible. And performance on the tests would give universities and employers a sense for where the student stands relative to peers in each area.
 
Sep 2017
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I have actually heard the woman that runs the charter school system in NYC, Success Academies, which is predominantly low income in Harlem, tout this is a good thing. She says life isnt fair and this is how parents and kids learn the reality of life. She strongly believes that we should have at least 50% charter schools nationwide, so kids learn to compete and get more of life. She basically likened this to getting a job and having to apply. It sounded odd but I guess her schools are immensely popular in NYC. For me I find it all fascinating since none of this was around in my poor town growing up. We had a parochial elementary school and a public school system. No choices. However, I do recall parents telling some of us not to think about the other districts that had more stuff than us because we "were meant to be poor." I feel that could be a bad mindset as well and encourages generational poverty.
Certainly I'd expect someone whose bills are paid by a charter school business, like her, to speak well of even the negatives of a charter school set up. But I don't find that rhetoric convincing. It's kind of like arguing that we should kick poor kids in the teeth every day before school, so they're ready for what life is going to do to them when they get out.

I think my mindset here is influenced by having gone to high school in a highly economically diverse small down with no local private schools. Because of that set-up, I had classmates from all kinds of economic backgrounds. There was a small elite college locally, so we had the academically-intense kids of the professors. We also had the local aristocratic kids -- the children of the owners of the local businesses, and the old-money families. And we had the kids of the doctors and lawyers and the rest of the professional class. And the working class -- kids of fishermen, farmers, janitors, and so on. And military brats. And the poor. And the kids of the most messed up families in the area -- kids in foster homes with parents in prison, and so on. We had tracks within the school, so if you were an academic high-performer you were not usually in the same classes as kids from some of those backgrounds, but you were on the same sports teams and had overlapping social circles, etc. And I think that has value for social cohesion of the nation.
 
Mar 2012
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Certainly I'd expect someone whose bills are paid by a charter school business, like her, to speak well of even the negatives of a charter school set up. But I don't find that rhetoric convincing. It's kind of like arguing that we should kick poor kids in the teeth every day before school, so they're ready for what life is going to do to them when they get out.

I think my mindset here is influenced by having gone to high school in a highly economically diverse small down with no local private schools. Because of that set-up, I had classmates from all kinds of economic backgrounds. There was a small elite college locally, so we had the academically-intense kids of the professors. We also had the local aristocratic kids -- the children of the owners of the local businesses, and the old-money families. And we had the kids of the doctors and lawyers and the rest of the professional class. And the working class -- kids of fishermen, farmers, janitors, and so on. And military brats. And the poor. And the kids of the most messed up families in the area -- kids in foster homes with parents in prison, and so on. We had tracks within the school, so if you were an academic high-performer you were not usually in the same classes as kids from some of those backgrounds, but you were on the same sports teams and had overlapping social circles, etc. And I think that has value for social cohesion of the nation.
But does that really happen anymore? I have lived in 5 states and never have I had a district where that happens. Its always been the lower income (wrong side of the tracks) goes to the "other" high school or district and the middle or upper incomes go to the other one. Plus many towns are fairly economically stable anymore with most residents living in a similar income bracket. Sure there are some that are vastly different but not usually. Its why in a state like MA we see terrific scores in places like Lexington or Acton but not the same in Gardner or Ayer. The income levels of those communities dictate the budgets and levels of education.
 
Sep 2017
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But does that really happen anymore?
I think it probably only happens in places with fairly small, centralized towns -- places that aren't populous enough to support multiple neighborhood high schools, and with too much distance to the next population area for regional magnet schools or private schools to be practical. Certainly, in more urban settings, residents tend to sort economically by neighborhood, which means even local schools will tend to be economically segregated. However, there are policies that can combat that. For example, in Massachusetts there is a lot of use of a policy where property developers are allowed to circumvent certain zoning rules, thereby stream-lining the process, if they set aside a certain portion of units for "affordable" housing. That results in mixed-income housing, which in turn means mixed-income neighborhood schools.

Its why in a state like MA we see terrific scores in places like Lexington or Acton but not the same in Gardner or Ayer
Even those aren't terribly bad, though. For example, US News ranks the Ayer Shirley Regaional High School #2,539 nationally, out of 17,000 they ranked:

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/massachusetts/districts/ayer-shirley-school-district/ayer-shirley-regional-high-school-9272
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings

That's top 15% nationally. If you look at "math and reading performance rank" (which scores relative to where one would expect them to be given the demographics and economics), they're 1,339 out of 17,000, which is top 8%.

Clearly it's possible to have high-performing education even in a region that's economically challenged.
 
Mar 2012
59,991
41,456
New Hampshire
I think it probably only happens in places with fairly small, centralized towns -- places that aren't populous enough to support multiple neighborhood high schools, and with too much distance to the next population area for regional magnet schools or private schools to be practical. Certainly, in more urban settings, residents tend to sort economically by neighborhood, which means even local schools will tend to be economically segregated. However, there are policies that can combat that. For example, in Massachusetts there is a lot of use of a policy where property developers are allowed to circumvent certain zoning rules, thereby stream-lining the process, if they set aside a certain portion of units for "affordable" housing. That results in mixed-income housing, which in turn means mixed-income neighborhood schools.



Even those aren't terribly bad, though. For example, US News ranks the Ayer Shirley Regaional High School #2,539 nationally, out of 17,000 they ranked:

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/massachusetts/districts/ayer-shirley-school-district/ayer-shirley-regional-high-school-9272
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings

That's top 15% nationally. If you look at "math and reading performance rank" (which scores relative to where one would expect them to be given the demographics and economics, they're 1,339 out of 17,000, which is top 8%.

Clearly it's possible to have high-performing education even in a region that's economically challenged.
But comparing MA isnt really fair. I would bet virtually all the schools in the entire state do better than the very best schools in other states. A lot of it is still economics. Even in economically poor towns in MA the income is still above most in other states. Average incomes vary dramatically and due to property taxes it tends to affect the quality of the schools.
 
Sep 2017
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Massachusetts
But comparing MA isnt really fair. I would bet virtually all the schools in the entire state do better than the very best schools in other states. A lot of it is still economics. Even in economically poor towns in MA the income is still above most in other states. Average incomes vary dramatically and due to property taxes it tends to affect the quality of the schools.
It can be described as economics, but not simple income-based economics. Massachusetts has high median incomes, for example, but seldom the highest. For many years (2013 to 2016, at least), Alaska had higher incomes than Massachusetts, and yet Alaska's schools are shitty, and Massachusetts consistently leads the nation. Or look to Hawaii. As of 2017, it has higher income than Massachusetts, yet doesn't do nearly as well academically. Or check out the environs of economic boomtowns like Houston. They're economically strong, in terms of income, but very few of those neighborhoods are academically decent.

I think it has a lot to do with WHY an area is rich. If you're rich because you were in the right place, at the right time, to ride an economic wave, or because you control natural resources, that's good for an income boost, but not for social or intellectual advancement. That's why places like Alaska, Texas, North Dakota, or the Middle East aren't exactly setting the world on fire academically and intellectually. Those who control the wealth have little incentive to develop a broad-based knowledge class. They only need a handful of brain-power types, and otherwise their wealth will flow from control of the land. If, on the other hand, your prosperity is rooted in your region doing brain work better than others, then even those who control the wealth have a strong incentive to make sure there's very broad-based, high-quality education. Massachusetts can't just sink another well and bubble up the billions. We can't suck up the tourist and retiree dollars like Hawaii. We have to create value with our brains, and those who control the purse strings here know that.