Wednesday, December 7, 2011

San Diego's Poor Students Fall Behind

Recent testing of San Diego fourth and eighth graders showed that the poor kids are doing even less well in San Diego's schools than when similar tests conducted in 2003. From the U-T.

Among San Diego’s fourth-graders eligible for free lunch, those tested last year earned a math score that was 38 points lower than those who do not receive that income-based subsidy. That’s a deeper chasm than the 27-point difference reported in 2003.
Budget cuts are blamed by some in the article for the drop in scores, but the gap is consistent with other research.

In his 2008 book, the Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits that the reason for lower test scores achieved by lower income students was due to lack of summer activities that promote further development of reading skills. From the book, he addresses research performed by Johns Hopkins University sociologist Karl Alexander. He reviewed changes in reading test scores that occurred over summer vacation, dividing scores by income groups, top, middle and bottom.

(Source: Gladwell, Malcolm (2008-10-29). Outliers: The Story of Success (p. 257). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.) We see that the those in the high income group achieve a 52 point cumulative increase in test scores over their summer vacations, compared to poor children, who make no progress.

In Outliers, Gladwell looks at KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) where students spend considerably more time in school than the national average. The program has lifted almost everyone one of its poor students into college eligibility. From The Economist:
In particular, charter schools in the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) start the school day at 7.30am and end at 5pm, hold classes on some Saturdays and teach for a couple of weeks in the summer. All in all, KIPP students get about 60% more class time than their peers and routinely score better in tests.
The lengthy school days, and the work over the summer allow these poorer children to perform as well as students in wealthy districts. One of the criticisms of the KIPP program is the self-selection of children whose parents are motivated to be involved. However, I see it differently. They have a program that demands high commitment from parents, and being free from the shackles of the public education system, they can do so. It is just one of many innovations available when schools are freed from tight legal restrictions.

A public school cannot compel the compliance of parents to be involved in their child's education in the manner that a charter such as KIPP can. When government takes over the duty of educating all children, we lose the flexibility to allow education to innovate to 21st century demands. Further, the schools no longer view parents as clients they must please in order to maintain their business of educating children. For this reason, I believe we should end the system of public education and provide subsidies to allow parents to pay for the education of their children.

Will that fix the system? Probably not, because parental involvement and longer hours are also needed and full privatization won't fix that. However, as schools who implement reforms that draw the parents into greater involvement and longer hours, including summer studies for students, their free market success will spawn imitators.

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