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OP-ED | It Doesn’t Take Captain Obvious to Identify A Stacked Deck

by Barth Keck | Aug 11, 2014 8:00am
(6) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Bill Gates might be the most notable celebrity wanting to reform education, but he’s certainly not alone.

Campbell Brown, former CNN news anchor, has joined the celebrity reformers by filing a lawsuit in New York to overturn teacher tenure laws.

Considering the publicity these celebrity reformers receive, it seems like the little guys in public schools need their own big name to speak for them.

I nominate Captain Obvious. Who better to serve as spokesman for the issues of public education since most issues are, well, rather obvious?

Among the obvious realities of public schools:

1. A disadvantaged family life negatively affects educational achievement.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” says Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander, whose research tracked nearly 800 Baltimore schoolchildren for 25 years. “This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune.”

Another recent study from the Washington University School of Medicine found that “children who are exposed to poverty at a young age often have trouble academically later in life” since poverty “appears to be associated with smaller brain volumes in areas involved in emotion processing and memory.”

Brain scans of 145 children between 6 and 12 showed that “poverty also appears to alter the physical makeup of a child’s brain; those children exposed to poverty at an early age had smaller volumes of white and cortical gray matter, as well as hippocampal and amygdala volumes.”

This is especially bad news for Connecticut, as poverty among children has increased by 50 percent since 1990, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

I can hear Captain Obvious now: “The better off a child’s family, the better she will do in school.”

2. Measuring schools and teachers with an annual standardized test can be misleading and limiting.

Journalist Ron Berler spent the 2010-11 school year (before the onset of the Common Core) observing students and teachers at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, just one of thousands of “failing schools” as classified by standardized test results. Berler chronicled his observations in the book “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.”

In a U.S. News and World Report interview, Berler said that “we’re doing way too much of this testing, and it is changing the way in which we educate our children.”

According to research reported in Educational Leadership, “standardized tests can only assess a small portion of the curriculum.” In the end, “it’s more likely that what’s missing from the tests will disappear from the curriculum, especially in schools with low-performing students.”

As Captain Obvious might say, “Standardized tests do not improve the overall education process.”

3. Charter schools’ effectiveness is directly related to their exclusive student population.

Parents with kids in charter schools absolutely love charter schools. And why not, considering the anecdotal and statistical success of those schools? But a closer look at charters is quite telling.

“An analysis of [charter schools’] enrollment by the Connecticut Mirror shows that students who speak limited English or have special education needs have been largely left out of most of the state’s charters.”

Specifically, “Public schools (in Connecticut) serve twice the percentage of limited-English students in the districts where 12 of the 17 charter schools are located, the data show. No charter in the state has a higher percentage of ELL students than their local district, and only four enroll more special education students.”

Captain Obvious’ interpretation? “Schools that serve fewer special-needs students face fewer challenges.”

The obvious realities of public education are endless. Unfortunately, the solutions that receive the most attention often disregard these issues because they are proposed by education-reform celebrities like Bill Gates and Campbell Brown. And, like it or not, people tend to see such celebrities as the “Wizards of Educational Oz.”

But not Captain Obvious. He says, “Pay no attention to those celebrities behind the curtain.”

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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(6) Comments

posted by: Historian | August 11, 2014  9:19am

Nothing new here - Catholic schools track record of success is due to the cherry picking of the school’s student body = no handicapped, no weird kids with tatoos,etc and all carefully prescreened to fit in. Unsaid is that these “speciality” schools lower public school performance by taking away excellant students and forcing them to deal with all the problem children.

posted by: CitizenCT | August 11, 2014  10:30am

Obviously, Captain Obvious has it backwards.  Instead of “A disadvantaged family life negatively affects educational achievement”, it should read “an advantaged family life positively affects educational achievement”.  Unfortunately, current federal and state policies have stagnated economic growth and fostered an entitlement culture driving a decline in real wages, resulting in less advantaged families, less educational achievement.  Instead of “standardized tests can be misleading and limiting”, it should read “standardized tests can be eye opening”.  They can provide an important data point when not taken out of context.  One more that Captain Obvious should add is, “teaching is like many other professions, where seeking greater rewards while resisting change and protecting the status quo is a natural bias”.

posted by: Joebigjoe | August 11, 2014  12:23pm

Historian I went to a Catholic high school. Granted it was years ago but we had handicapped classmates and we had kids that were probably getting a free ride that were not top students or athletes because of their race or socioeconomic background. They all had one thing in common and that was they were all great kids and had pride.

Catholic schools do a little bit better than good public schools because parents are willing to spend more money on top of the taxes they pay for the local public school so there is an expectation there on the children and teachers. They also do better because of discipline. There are rules that Catholic schools have that would never be used in the public schools even in the top schools. Bring dope into a Catholic school and you’re gone and do it at a local high school and we will see you in detention…we hope. Dont you think that when the rope is a little shorter in terms of what you can get away with in schools and what you cant that in the end all students benefit. The good ones can learn and the weaker ones can also stay out of trouble or a bit more focused on not screwing around as much.

As for tattoos call me old school but I think if someone has a tattoo other than something really small and very modest in high school, they have mental issues and so do their parents if they allowed something other than something really small and modest. If you feel the need to permanently draw on your body in big ways in high school you are totally focused on the wrong thing in life and I’m hoping I dont hear someone respond by saying “its their right to express themselves.”

posted by: ocoandasoc | August 11, 2014  2:05pm

And it’s also obvious that Captain Obvious has apparently joined the teachers’ union and has been reduced to parroting their tired talking points. This is, by my count, the third time Mr. Keck has expressed the identical thoughts in this forum trying to trivialize the efforts of those wishing to reform public education. When will he give us his thoughts or ideas on how our public school educators can improve on their dismal performance?

posted by: Historian | August 11, 2014  9:54pm

I have a daughter who is dyslexic. I talked to the local catholic school about enrolling here in an setting I knew was controlled and vigorous. The good nun told me that I should go to the public schools - they were set up to deal with handicapped and learning disabled.
  Church and elite schools do better for another reason = expectaions of the parents are higher and they simply demand more from their children get the message - part of the reason charter schools do better - plus a sense of elitism..  Pity things never really change - think the “public school system in England…. Re tatoos - spent quite a bit of time trying not to get holes punched in me - never will understand anyone deliberately violating their bodies in such a common way..

posted by: Barth Keck | August 12, 2014  6:56am

As always, I enjoy the feedback here. Thanks to all for commenting. As for ocoandasoc’s statement that I’m “trying to trivialize the efforts of those wishing to reform public education,” I say, in a sense, you’re right. The fact is, many of those “reform”  efforts deserve to be trivialized because they not only trivialize the real successes of public schools themselves; they completely ignore them.

Do public schools have very real challenges? Yes. Are some public schools failing in their attempts to meet these challenges? Yes. But I patently disagree with ocoandasoc’s condescending assessment that essentially all public schools and teachers have nothing but a “dismal performance” to show for themselves.

I encourage ocoandasoc to keep reading about the issues of education—including my op-eds and the variety of linked articles I always offer. I promise if he/she reads with the critical eye that I have always required of my students (long before the Common Core), ocoandasoc will learn about the many REAL “thoughts and ideas” from public school teachers that have achieved positive results.