Thursday, February 26, 2009 -- Here's how you fix what's wrong with K-12 education.
Heard that before?
How is it we put so much energy into reforming K-12 education without ever getting it where we want it?
It might be that we keep pursuing the wrong solutions.
W. Norton Grubb, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been investigating that.
Grubb, an economist, published his findings in a book called "The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity."
I asked him why he thought his book was different from the annual avalanche.
"There are a couple of puzzles in education reform that have never been solved," he said. His book addresses them.
"First, why is it so difficult to link money to outcomes?" There are lots of examples of programs that spend more money without getting better results, he said.
Second, what works? If more money isn't the answer, what is?
Grubb says money is important, you need a basic level of it, but there are other resources that affect outcome.
A huge problem in education reform is that people get stuck arguing about money and class size, class units, teacher credentials, and test scores — things that can be reduced to numbers and easily measured.
What gets left out are critical attributes that are more difficult to get at, "compound, complex and abstract" factors.
Those include teaching approaches, school culture and stability, tracking systems. Resources that he says must be "constructed by school leaders and teachers working cooperatively with one another."
Grubb draws his conclusions from studies of schools that have dramatically improved outcomes for their students.
And he makes extensive use of data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, which followed a national sample of students from eighth grade in 1988 through 2000 when most had been out of high school for eight years.
So he had much more than a couple of test scores to go on, and that depth infuses his analysis.
That shows in his discussion of race and equity issues.
The achievement gap actually gets worse as students move through school, falling further behind because in early grades they didn't get the skills higher levels build on.
Many Latino and black students are hurt by ineffective teaching, low-quality curriculum tracks and detrimental school climates. He also cites the way in which discipline is applied, "the tendency to ignore racial-minority students, lower expectations and various forms of disparagement."
All of this is compounded by poverty.
Grubb writes, "In the United States, then, we have created a vicious circle between education inequality and social and economic inequality, each contributing to the other."
Grubb notes that many studies have shown that money and class size matter a little, teacher experience is weakly associated with student performance, but family matters heavily.
That suggests a need for more emphasis on early education and parent education.
That's one of the recommendations a state task force report delivered to the Legislature this session. Maybe people are starting to see beyond numbers.
There is no single magic bullet, but shifting focus from what's easy to count to what really counts is a good first step.
W. Norton Grubb
Publication Date: January 2009
Can money buy high-quality education? Studies find only a weak relationship between public school funding and educational outcomes. In The Money Myth, W. Norton Grubb proposes a powerful paradigm shift in the way we think about why some schools thrive and others fail. The greatest inequalities in America’s schools lie in factors other than fiscal support. Fundamental differences in resources other than money—for example, in leadership, instruction, and tracking policies—explain the deepening divide in the success of our nation’s schoolchildren.
The Money Myth establishes several principles for a bold new approach to education reform. Drawing on a national longitudinal dataset collected over twelve years, Grubb makes a crucial distinction between “simple” resources and those “compound,” “complex,” and “abstract” resources that cannot be readily bought. Money can buy simple resources—such as higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes—but these resources are actually some of the weakest predictors of educational outcomes. On the other hand, complex resources pertaining to school practices are astonishingly strong predictors of success. Grubb finds that tracking policies have the most profound and consistent impact on student outcomes over time. Schools often relegate low-performing students—particularly minorities—to vocational, remedial, and special education tracks. So even in well-funded schools, resources may never reach the students who need them most. Grubb also finds that innovation in the classroom has a critical impact on student success. Here, too, America’s schools are stratified. Teachers in underperforming schools tend to devote significant amounts of time to administration and discipline, while instructors in highly ranked schools dedicate the bulk of their time to “engaged learning,” using varied pedagogical approaches.
Effective schools distribute leadership among many instructors and administrators, and they foster a sense of both trust and accountability. These schools have a clear mission and coherent agenda for reaching goals. Underperforming schools, by contrast, implement a variety of fragmented reforms and practices without developing a unified plan. This phenomenon is perhaps most powerfully visible in the negative repercussions of No Child Left Behind. In a frantic attempt to meet federal standards and raise test scores quickly, more and more schools are turning to scripted “off the shelf” curricula. These practices discourage student engagement, suppress teacher creativity, and hold little promise of improving learning beyond the most basic skills.
Grubb shows that infusions of money alone won’t eradicate inequality in America’s schools. We need to address the vast differences in the way school communities operate. By looking beyond school finance, The Money Myth gets to the core reasons why education in America is so unequal and provides clear recommendations for addressing this chronic national problem.
W. NORTON GRUBB is David Pierpont Gardner Professor in Higher Education and faculty coordinator of the Principal Leadership Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.