Schools and Neighborhoods

So apparently NCLB is still a political hotbutton. Two little issues with this post.

First, the issue of economic disparity is much more sophisticated than simply talking about raw income number. Place of residence was established experimentally in Britain in the early 2000’s as having a causal link to education outcomes. Given schools tend to represent the communities from which they draw, we can say that:

  1. Looking at schools is reasonable because they become a proxy for communities and
  2. Unless we want to do social engineering, we can’t impact the underlying community, but we can impact the culture at the school.

As far as testing goes, the fact that most people are poor consumers of test data doesn’t mean tests aren’t valuable. Concepts like “fair tests” are hardly appropriate so long as the tests can be (and actually generally are) validated as being reasonable gauges of whether or not a student has mastered the curriculum. In any case, the best way to fix the issue isn’t to get rid of the test but to make the test longer thus reducing the error associated with the scores and reducing the likelihood of misclassifying the student.

Vouchers are actually a form of social engineering. Admittedly I’d like to see vouchers for housing before I see vouchers to private schools, but it’s a start. Parents who make the sacrifices necessary to apply for and be accepted into such a program have clearly placed their emphasis on getting their children out of poverty because education levels are a direct driver of long-term economic outcomes (it can hardly be otherwise . . . the majority of people complete most of their formal eduction by 18 and most of their work after 16). Moving everyone else together offers an opportunity to focus resources of meeting a more uniform set of needs more effectively.

As a personal side note, one of the greatest farces I ever experienced in high school was the idea that one could effectively teach a class filled with a mix of students from various levels of motivation. Those of us highly motivated to learn were held back because the instructor needed to spend extra time with the lower-level students. The one person who cared least about both their performance and their behavior in class took up more time and caused more problems than the rest of the class combined to the point of requiring their own personal sitter in class to ensure they behaved. This, I would argue, is actually quite common.


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