Reform for the Difficult, Too

Much has been made of the peculiar meeting of flip-flopped-to-union-friendly education writer Dianne Ravitch and RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, but Ed Fitzpatrick highlighted something from Ravitch’s latest book that points to a more substantive debate:

In her book, Ravitch raises valid concerns, saying, “The question for the future is whether the continued growth of charter schools in urban districts will leave regular public schools with the most difficult students to educate, thus creating a two-tier system of widening inequality.”

I’m not saying it’s not, but I wonder what makes Fitzpatrick so sure that concern is valid. My brief experience teaching in a Fall River Catholic school included seeing the school accept children who were struggling in the public school system because it was part of the religious mission to help those in need. Similarly, consider the following, from an article in the Sakonnet Times about former Board of Regents member Angus Davis, who was a key figure in the hiring of Gist:

… he said, the current public schools system is not designed to allow underprivileged, impoverished students to prosper, which Mr. Davis sees at nothing less than a civil rights issue. “Fundamentally, it’s so unfair,” he said. “Today, low-income children of color have a huge disadvantage in their public school achievement compared to their wealthier peers. If we could close that achievement gap it would be an incredible lift for our nation.”

The point is that, given a less rigid system for funding and executing education, there are people who would be driven to help the “difficult students” on moral and charitable grounds. And let’s not forget that difficult children can be more profitable, because they’re more costly to educate.
It seems to me that Ravitch’s complaint might born of fear that only children with the least motivated parents will remain in public schools if better choices become available, which (if accurate) suggests that she should devote more effort to changing the status quo than fighting educational choice. Moreover, others who share her particular concern should reassess a dynamic by which public schools running low on funds tend to attack the extracurriculars and electives that the least difficult students and their families most desire. Perhaps those funds should not be siphoned off for unjustifiable longevity-based pay and benefits.

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Stuart Buck
Stuart Buck
10 years ago

Ravitch should agree to release the video — Gist already has. See Jay Greene’s blog (your comment form wouldn’t accept a link).

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

I’m not saying it’s not, but I wonder what makes Fitzpatrick so sure that concern is valid.

I can personally attest that “problem” students are quickly shown the door in many private schools, especially a problem for young boys.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Russ – What do you think public schools do with those hopeless cases now? When I attended public school we had a 1-10 tier system. The 1’s, my class, learned advanced math and studied American and European history. The 10’s took remedial classes in the basement and threw things at each other. Everyone was more or less fine with the arrangement, but you will undoubtedly consider such a system “racist” and “socially unjust.” The alternative, which I support short of a voucher system, is putting the problem kids into vocational programs and teaching them things they actually care about, like how to repair a motorcycle or how to work in a restaurant. I’m sure that’s racist, classist, and socially unjust in your book as well, and more money will supposedly solve the problem as well.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

I just know for a fact that kids with learning differences or attention/behavior problems aren’t welcome in many private schools.
I don’t categorize my own kids as “hopeless cases.” I’ve yet to find a good vocational program for my five year-old, who btw likely can’t fix a car anyway but would certainly get your attention when wielding power tools.
And, yes, educational system that automatically shunts the poor into menial work is unjust.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Russ takes some significant liberties with my post here, as usual. Please show me where I made an idiotic suggestion like putting 5-year-olds in vocational programs. While you’re at it, Russ, please show me where I said anything about such programs being “automatic,” or applying disproportionately to poor children.
Do you always have to warp, twist, and lie to make your points, Russ? Why can’t you make arguments at face value?

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

“When I attended public school we had a 1-10 tier system. The 1’s, my class, learned advanced math and studied American and European history. The 10’s took remedial classes in the basement and threw things at each other.”
A ‘secret’ 3-tier system existed at Providence’s BEST public elementary schools when I was there in the early 1990s… The teachers (who I later went to work for in high school) tell me that they broke things down by academic ability, then ‘traded’ students to figure out how to have classes that would be ‘controllable’ and to maintain some racial/socioeconomic integration despite the academic segregation.
That’s been eliminated, from what I’ve heard. Class assignments come from administration now. It used to be that four teachers would get handed 100 students and they could divide them themselves, and now it’s ‘automated’.
I might have this wrong, I heard it all over several stiff drinks with teacher friends after the termination rescinding letters landed.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Le’s recap…
My comment:

I can personally attest that “problem” students are quickly shown the door in many private schools, especially a problem for young boys.

Your comment:

What do you think public schools do with those hopeless cases now?

Open mouth, insert foot.
As for the rest, you brought it up, not me (“I’m sure that’s racist, classist, and socially unjust in your book as well…”). I just made the mistake of responding to the sniping.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Will somebody please bop Russ on the forehead for me? A good old three-stooges eye poke might also be sufficient.
His intentional distortions are becoming incredibly annoying, and I know I’m not the only he’s pestered with them here.

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