We continue with part two of four in our review of Educational Freedom in Urban America: Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education edited by David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue Jr.  Part one is available to read Here.  Keep in mind we are only sharing that which really jumped out at us as enlightening, helpful, informative or, in some cases, profound, but there is much we aren’t sharing that you may find helpful by reading the book in full.  Should we stir your interest to learn more the ebook is available for $9.99 Here.

Chapter four is “The Meaning of Zelman and the Future of School Choice” by Paul E. Peterson.

For decades, and despite a host of compensatory reforms, the sizable gap in educational performance between blacks and whites has remained roughly the same.

When parents choose a neighborhood or town in which to live, they also select, often quite self-consciously, a school for their children.

African-Americans are often the losers in this arrangement. Holding less financial equity and still facing discrimination in the housing market, they choose from a limited set of housing options.

It is thus unsurprising that blacks have benefited most when school choice has been expanded. In multi-year evaluations of private voucher programs in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio, my colleagues and I found that African-American students, when given the chance to attend private schools, scored significantly higher on standardized tests than comparable students who remained in the public schools.

These findings about the especially positive effects of private schools on African-American students are hardly isolated.

Families are more likely to want to opt out of a school if their child is doing badly than if that child is doing well. A number of families, moreover, select a private school because they like the religious education it provides, or because it is safe, or because they like the discipline. When all of these factors operate simultaneously, the types of students who take a voucher usually look little different from those who pass up the opportunity.

If vouchers do not simply pick off the top students within the public schools but attract instead a cross-section of students, then there is no obvious educational reason why public schools should suffer as a result of the initiative. On the contrary, public schools, confronted by the possibility that they could lose substantial numbers of students to competing schools within the community, might well pull up their socks and reach out more effectively to those they are serving. Interestingly enough, there is already some evidence that public schools do exactly that.

As a result, the amount of money the district has per pupil actually increases if a district suffers a net loss of students simply because local revenues can now be spread over fewer pupils.

Still, the key to change lies within the black community, and especially with parents, who increasingly know that private schools provide a better education for their children.

Chapter five is “Educational Freedom for D.C. Schools” by Casey Lartigue Jr.

As the above facts show, the DCPS [ Washington, D.C. Public Schools ] has not put children at the center of the educational process. Instead, too many people have focused on saving the system as a whole, even at the cost of students being poorly educated.

What could be the argument against allowing children a choice to leave the worst performing schools? It certainly can’t be that they’ll somehow be worse off than they already are. Not every child would leave, but children whose parents want to make a change should be allowed to do so.

Rather than trying to reform the system, future efforts should be directed at ending the monopoly that public schools currently have over education by giving parents the freedom to choose between private and public schools.

A review of standardized test scores since 1978 reveals that D.C. children show up for school achieving at the national average, but that they get farther behind the longer they remain in DCPS.

Chapter six is “Undermining Teacher Quality: The Perverse Consequences of Certification” by Chaim Karczag

While most observers can agree on the importance of teacher quality in adding to student achievement, there is less agreement about what attributes contribute to it.

Well-designed studies in Dallas and Tennessee have produced similar results—students with math teachers whose effectiveness is in the top quintile for three straight years were 50 percentile points ahead of peers who had had three straight years of bottom quintile teachers. The effect for reading was similar, if less dramatic in scale. Clearly, an ample supply and equitable distribution of high-quality teachers is a requirement for a fair and effective education system.

Although 99 percent of teachers have a bachelor’s degree, only 38 percent have a degree in an academic field rather than in education. Although such a specialized academic degree may not be necessary for those who seek to teach elementary education, among middle and high school teachers the rates are still only 44 percent and 66 percent, respectively.  Research indicates that teachers who have a greater knowledge of their subject matter are more effective at improving student achievement—it stands to reason that you can’t teach what you don’t know—making these relatively low rates worrisome.

Analyzing public secondary schools (grades 7–12), Ingersoll finds that 24 percent of students learn English from a teacher without an English background. Likewise, 31 percent of math teachers, 20 percent of science teachers (including 57 percent in the physical sciences), and 53 percent of history teachers teach out-of-field.

Perhaps worst of all are the statistics from high-poverty schools, in which one quarter of English teachers, 43 percent of math teachers, 28 percent of science teachers (fully 65 percent in physical sciences), and 60 percent of history teachers are out-of-field.

An exhaustive meta-analysis by Kate Walsh at the Abell Foundation catalogs more than 200 studies between 1950 and the present day on the relationship between certification and improved student achievement. Although Walsh’s survey points to several teacher characteristics that are linked to student achievement—including subject-matter mastery, selectivity of college, experience, and (interestingly) verbal ability—she fails to find a correlation between certification and student achievement.  Even worse, there is reason to believe that certification actually lowers the quality of the applicant pool.

…the instruction in pedagogy is marked by fads, conflicts, and a dearth of scientific research.  Controlled experiments, randomized trials, and use of large-scale longitudinal data are all rare. In their place is a large body of jargon-laden theory, pseudopsychology, and radical social criticism.

If the future of teacher preparation and certification will be shaped by a broad program of liberalization that will make America’s currently sclerotic education sector more closely resemble its dynamic business sector, we can expect more emphasis on the bottom line (‘‘student achievement’’) and less on the processes employed to get there. Put another way, ‘‘best practices’’ will not be imposed from above by panels of experts; they will emerge from a competitive process.

America’s labyrinthine licensure laws are a paradigmatic example of good intentions gone awry.  Rather than simply ensuring the qualifications of all educators, U.S. teacher certification laws have the unintended consequence of depressing teacher quality. Originally envisioned as a prudent gatekeeper that would ensure the qualifications of teachers entering the profession, teacher certification instead serves as the worst sort of barrier to entry.

Chapter seven is “Private and Public School Desegregation in Atlanta 50 Years after Brown v. Board of Education” by Eric Wearne.

Brown itself was an important court order, but the situation in Atlanta today is evidence that educational quality now takes precedence over race when parents choose their children’s schools.

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