Re: Fw: Re: [eddra] prediction of a natinal curriculum
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Re: Fw: Re: [eddra] prediction of a natinal curriculum
- From: Victor Steinbok <email@example.com>
- Date: Sun, 28 Dec 2003 02:04:26 -0500
- Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, LeoCasey@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- In-reply-to: <email@example.com>
- References: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is a dual response to Leo Casey's post on ARN and to Keith Baker's message
that was only posted on EDDRA.
At 11:38 PM 12/27/2003, LeoCasey@aol.com wrote:
I say all of this not because I think that a national educational system is
an immediately realizable goal in the US; it is not. But it will be most
unfortunate if, in the wake of NCLB, educational progressives myopically and
ahistorically wave the banner of states' rights against the federal
they may well find themselves to have been their own worst enemy.
Since Leo so kindly has pointed out the ahistorical nature of a part of the
debate, I may have to return the favor. It is, to a large extent, the educational
progressives who have initially argued for a national curriculum. There is little
doubt that it is exactly this kind of thinking, backed by some cognitive and
anthropologically-flavored research, that went into the initial projects that
resulted in National Standards for mathematics, science, and several flavors of
history (I suspect, there have been other such standards, but I don't know enough
about them to bring them up here). Similarly, in several states, it is
educational progressives who rallied behind state testing as a means to reforming
the educational system, in particular, in forcing local districts to comply with
the aforementioned standards. It is only after these projects have been hijacked
that they've seen the error of their ways and joined the religious conservative
groups in opposition to centralized testing. NCLB really has become a lightning
rod for such opposition, but the would-be reformers have no one to blame but
themselves for being outmaneuvered.
That said, I don't want to leave an impression that the opinion on either central
curriculum or centralized, standardized testing is uniform within different
regions of the political spectrum. There have been both supporters and opponents
of both on either side of the political and philosophical divide. One has to
wonder where, for example, the Cato Institute stands on the NCLB--last I heard,
they were calling it "a waste of money", and Cato has never been labelled
"liberal". On the other hand, there are voices among the more progressive
educational thinkers who support standardized testing and national curricula
(self-proclaimed "liberals" such as E.D. Hirsch and his fellow neo-cons are not
the ones I am referring to here). Certainly, there are reasonable arguments both
pro and con, so one should not be able to take the opposing position lightly.
I have more to say about Victor's comments on urban and suburban schools, but
that will have to wait for another day.
I can't wait.
At 10:13 PM 12/26/2003, email@example.com wrote:
&n= bsp; I knew when I wrote it that some bleeding heart would go all
over my concise but accurate summary of the facts-- "Suburban schools get
the cream of the student crop, inner cities the dregs" and come up with
something along the lines of Steinbok's "This is an insult to the urban
school students." However, let us try to avoid irrationality, for the
facts are far more interesting.
Interestingly enough, I've never been called "bleeding heart", even though
socially I stand in the more liberal corner of the political spectrum. However, I
stand by my assessment of Baker's statement--it is both discriminatory in its
assumptions and counterfactual in nature.
&n= bsp; To his credit, Steinbok continued "This is an insult to the
school students--well, at least some of them." When we are looking at
research, we look at patterns called central tendencies-- averages, if
you will, not individual exceptions to the average.
This is the unfortunate problem with statistics--actually, a problem with those
not recognizing the complexities of statistically reported data who nonetheless
attempt to divine rational conclusions merely from "averages". It is quite
common, for example, to proclaim a curriculum a "success" if the scores on some
obscure test improve more after exposure to that particular curriculum then to
one of its predecessors. What is often neglected, however, is that the
differences may be insignificant compared to the failures of both approaches--one
may help, say, 55% of the students, while the other helps 60%, or one has the
median score increase of 2.3 while the other has 3.6, disregarding the fact that
the "sub-median" groups may have nearly identical distributions and the change
may be entirely due to the "super-median" subgroup. In this case, we are talking
about some abstractly defined idea of "cream of the crop" in suburban schools and
"the dregs" in the urban ones. IMHO, the distinction is pure drek. As I have
already stated, the differences are due to a number of factors that contribute to
the academic differences between the two populations. Jerry has already followed
up on this. I'll try to sum up again.
The distinctions fall into two categories--economic and cultural. Generally, the
economic factors, to a large extent, are also directly responsible for some of
the cultural differences, although this is not an exclusive arrangement. The fact
the "suburban" students tend to come from higher SES households offers a number
of advantages, including better background when starting school, more access to
learning tools, such as books and educational toys, in the formative years,
better access to corrective measures should something go wrong, potentially more
parental involvement (although this difference is also part cultural) and access
to more academic resources outside of school. The list of economic advantages is
not exclusive--the SES status also closely correlates with parents' educational
attainment, which is another significant factor in student success.
The cultural component involves the attitudes of both family members and friends
(including, particularly, classmates) toward education. Both the family and the
peer support are important and tend to be in short supply for urban students.
This is not to say that parents of urban students don't necessarily care about
their children's education, but their interactions with school personnel and with
the students is radically different from that of suburban parents (again, we are
talking about trends, not universals).
These differences are real, but the comments concerning "cream of the crop vs.
dregs" implies something else entirely--that the NATURE of the students is such
that they are or are not able to learn or to succeed. I maintain that these
differences can be overcome with proper measures (that do not include removing
children from homes so that "the State" can take better care of them,
educationally speaking). Furthermore, anyone who claims the "cream of the crop
vs. dregs" distinction has not taught recently in either school system or
willfully ignores information that comes out of the classroom. There is a
tendency for the urban schools to have more disciplinary problems, more truancy
and lower average eventual educational attainment by its students, but, once
again, this is due to the external factors, and not to the nature of the
students. How schools deal with all these problems can be generally predicted
from the location of the school, but these problems exist in all schools. My wife
had taught at a suburban school that has been recognized as one of the most
successful in the state on the narrow standardized measures, however, the school
had its share of crime (weapon possession, larceny and assault), drug problems,
truancy, LD, teacher-parent conflicts, etc. Neither teachers nor the students
were immune to blatant stupidity. However, the more successful students were
effectively isolated from all these problems--it is as if there was a school
within a school for those who were more academically inclined. It is this
distinction, more than anything else, that is largely absent in urban schools. I
should also add, that unlike several local urban schools, few if any of the
problems of the criminal nature had been reported to either state educational or
local law enforcement authorities. Both the administration and the security
officers usually knew who the thieves and the drug dealers, for example, were at
the school and did very little about it. That's the cream of the crop for you.
The average is that
suburban schools get great students, inner cites schools get much worse
quality raw material to work with, something Steinbok realizes but can't
admit because the truth is upsetting to many.
It depends what you mean by "quality". If the implication is that the students
are a lost cause, which is what you appear to imply, I could not disagree more.
There are plenty of quality raw materials in urban schools, but the costs--both
financial and human--of extracting them from he matrix are far higher than in the
suburbs. What "Steinbok realizes" is that these "raw materials" often come with a
baggage that is responsible for the greater costs, that some are "damaged
goods"--ones who despite unmitigated potential have been browbeaten to believe
that there is not much they should aspire to and have been denied the services
that would have kept them among the "cream of the crop".
&n= bsp; To further illuminate this issue, let me share the results of
I am working on. A nationally representative sample of 60,000 student
was followed for six years, being tested twice a year, once each fall and
once each spring. The results show that
1] minority students start each school year well behind their white
I've observed preK classes at both low SES urban districts and suburban ones and
when equal resources are offered there is no perceptible (or measurable)
difference in performance. However, as soon as these students are placed in
regular classrooms, from grade 1 up, the gap reappears. Any claim that this is
somehow due to the students themselves borders on bigotry. However, no matter how
many of these observations are offered, there will always be people who simply
don't get it.
&n= bsp; 2] during the school year, minority students learn a lot more
3] over the summer, minority students lose everything they learned
during the school year.
This is a peculiarly broad generalization and one I cannot believe at face value.
I'd like to say that I want to see the data, however, this is likely a pointless
exercise since I am yet to see a measure of this "loss" that is not flawed beyond
repair. How can I make such a statement without having seen the actual data? I've
seen enough similar data to recognize the measures and the structure of the
argument--neither would pass for "scientific" in any other discipline (except,
perhaps, economics). This is not dissimilar from Charles Murray's latest attempt
to whitewash cognitive anthropology:
Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800
B.C. to 1950--even a casual browse through the book (or a careful consideration
of a publicly aired interview with Murray) is sufficient to dismiss the entire
project as unscientific. This is simply another variation of the Piltdown
&= nbsp; 4] whites don't learn anything over the summer, but they
Another peculiar observation that can only be made from statistical reports--any
classroom observations or teaching experiences are likely to dispel this notion.
&n= bsp; The lesson learned is that the home environment is detrimental
academic learning, especially minority homes. The schools, on the other
hand, are doing a good job. All academic learning comes from school,
especially for minorities who learn more at school than do majority
students. The obvious fix for what are perceived to be the shortcomings
of our educational system is to make school a year round operation and
get kids away from the detrimental home environment.
It appears from this statement that the idea should be to remove children from
homes that some higher power (Baker, for example) would consider not conducive to
the children's education. I believe we've seen such attempts in the past--either
State or Catholic orphanages, and other "correctional" facilities, common in the
first half of the XXth century in such diverse environments as Canada, Ireland,
Soviet Union, Australia and Germany (or, in more recent memory, in Romania and in
the Middle East). I don't think there is more to be said on this subject.
&n= bsp; If you can't wait to see this analysis explained in plain
highly mathematical version can be found in:
Rosenthal, A., Baker, K., and Ginsburg, A. (1983). The effect of
language background on achievement level and learning among
elementary school students. Sociology of Education, 56(4), 157-
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