I Can’t . . . It’s Just Too Easy

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

A charter school founded by Linda Darling-Hammond and overseen by Stanford’s education school is being shut down by the state for persistant abysmal performance.

I can’t do it. The ed-school hacks tried to make their Cloudcoocooland theories work in real life and it came crashing down in humiliating failure. Twist the knife now? C’mon, it’s just cruel. Not even I can do that.

So I’ll quote Whitney Tilson doing it! From his e-mail blast on Monday:

Normally, a low-quality charter school being denied a full extension of its charter isn’t worth of a STOP THE PRESSES, but this isn’t just any charter school: it’s the one started by Stanford’s School of Education (where my father earned a doctorate, by the way) and, in particular, Linda Darling-Hammond, author of the infamous Teach for America hatchet job (my full critique of her is posted at: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/12/obamas-disappointing-choice-of-linda.html).  LDH (along with Ravitch, Meier, and Kozol) is among the best known of your typical ed school, loosey-goosey, left-wing, politically correct, ivory tower, don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts-my-mind’s-made-up, disconnected-from-reality critics of genuine school reform.  (Forgive my bluntness, but I can’t stand ideological extremists of any persuasion, especially when kids end up getting screwed.)

LDH and Stanford’s Ed School decided to test their educational theories in the real world, starting a charter school in 2001 to serve the low-income, mostly-Latino children of East Palo Alto.  I credit them for this – in fact, I think EVERY ed school should be REQUIRED to start and run, or at least partner with, a real live school.  What they set out to do is REALLY, REALLY hard, so I also credit them for having the good sense to start the school via a joint venture with a proven, first-rate operator, Aspire.  However, their anti-testing ideology soon got in the way of their good sense:

The two cultures clashed. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, said Don Shalvey, who started Aspire and is now with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Five years ago the relationship ended amicably and Stanford New School was on its own.

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened when, freed of Aspire’s rigor and focus on the critical basics (like teaching children to read properly!), the ivory tower theories ran head on into the reality of East Palo Alto kids.  The results were easy to predict: the school fell on its face:

…test results for Stanford New School students are almost uniformly poor. On last year’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Results only 16 percent of the students were proficient or advanced in English and math, an improvement from the previous year. And in a three-year comparison of similar schools in 2007 and 2008 — the most recent state results — the school scored 6, 7 and most recently a 3 out of 10.

LDH cynically tries to explain away this failure by – surprise! – blaming both the evaluation system and the kids:

Ms. Darling-Hammond — who told the board that the school “takes all kids” and changes their “trajectory” — was angered by the state’s categorization of the charter as a persistently worst-performing school. “It is not the most accurate measure of student achievement,” she said, “particularly if you have new English language learners.”

To understand what nonsense this is, see the comparison of Ravenswood to other schools with comparable percentages of low-income and ELL students in Andy Rotherham’s blog post….

This appears to be your classic “happy school”, a phrase coined by Howard Fuller to describe the most dangerous type of school – not the handful of violent, gang-infested high schools, but rather the elementary schools that are safe and appear ok: the students are happy, the parents are happy, the teachers are happy, the principal is happy…  There’s only one problem: THE KIDS CAN’T READ!!! 

There’s one thing in this passage I have to object to. Every education school should start a charter? Good gravy, cripes, and sakes alive, man! Have you no decency? How many children’s lives do you want to destroy?

Whitney Tilson calls down a plague of locusts on America

Kicking the ed-school hacks while they’re down is one thing. But a nationwide epidemic of schools run by them? Now that’s what I call cruel.

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8 Responses to I Can’t . . . It’s Just Too Easy

  1. allen says:

    I’m sure this’ll result in Linda Darling-Hammond disgraced and fired, the Standford ed school will look like Georgia after Sherman got through with it and purveyors of edu-crap will secure gainful employment in telemarketing.

    Oh wait, that’s what would happen in the alternate universe in which education is an obsession of every education professional, the pivot about which their professional lives revolve rather then being the sport of philosopher-kings as it is in our reality.

  2. Great post, but I would take issue with one thing and add one thing. The one point on which I disagree is that I think it would be good for more Ed Schools to have K-12 schools that they ran. Ed Schools aren’t going away, so we need to think how to arrange things so that they are most likely to offer a useful education. The most useful teacher education is probably an apprenticeship. With an affiliated K-12 school, the Ed Schools could focus on that sort of preparation. It would also check the amount of nonsense because failure would be evident (as it was with Stanford).

    The point I would add is that LDH is also the person in charge of the Obama administration’s effort to make a new, national test. It will feature group projects, creativity, and a bunch of other stuff that I am sure they won’t be able to measure reliably. So, we will lose the one great benefit of NCLB, widely available and generally valid information about how schools are doing (when the cut scores are recalibrated using NAEP). This is how we reward LDH’s failure — responsibility to ruin schools nationwide.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    I suppose that’s what you’d call creative destruction. But do you think apprenticeships in the crazy, messed-up schools the ed schools would start would be as useful as apprenticeships in ordinary schools?

    And – much more importantly – are the ed schools actually capable of learning? You can see right here that LDH doesn’t even think her school was actually low-performing; much less would she agree that her theories were the cause of any low performance she might be forced to fess up to. My guess is everybody in her ed school thinks the same way. So I wouldn’t expect the school’s failure to produce any positive results at Stanford or any other ed school. (Allen’s already made this point.)

  4. Randy says:

    Phase 1) Steal underpants
    Phase 2)
    Phase 3) Kill qualitative ed-schools

  5. Brian Rude says:

    When we’re bashing ed school I like to join in. However I also think we ought to go beyond just bashing, and try to explain what we’re complaining about, and what alternatives we might have in mind. So I’ve tried to do that at http://www.brianrude.com/indict-ed.htm.

  6. Daniel Earley says:

    I have to agree that owning up to mistakes in order to learn from them is so impaired in the Ivory Tower that running a charter school would be inadequate. Lessons in reality bearing enough force of clarity to penetrate the skulls shielded in such echo chambers requires tutoring more akin to watching your crops fail during a drought. Instead of running charters, require ed schools to run small unsubsidized farms and they might develop some sense of earthbound reality. Also not going to happen – swap a teaching practicum for serving as an aide to a local prosecuting attorney. Such lessons in reality being unlikely, I see no remedy for subsidized denial.

  7. Greg Forster says:

    On the other hand, here’s a concession I’ll make to Jay and Whitney: While I doubt that ed schools can learn, it appears that media elites, opinion leaders and policymakers often can. Just look how many of them have jumped on the union-bashing bandwagon!

    Maybe a nationwide epidemic of disastrously abysmal charter schools run by ed schools would help expose the fraudulent nature of the entire ed school system. I compared Whitney’s call for every ed school to start a charter with Moses calling down a plague of locusts. Maybe that comparison is more apt than I realized. As terrible as the plagues were, they did eventaully accomplish their purpose by prompting Pharoah to relent – temporarily, but long enough.

  8. [...] Greg Forster prints a Whitney Tilson e-mail: Linda Darling-Hammond (along with Ravitch, Meier, and Kozol) is among the best known of your [...]

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