Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The K-8 debate continues

The New York Times recently posted an online debate question that's of great interest in Charlotte:  Do adolescents fare better in K-8 schools or traditional middle schools?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools launched eight K-8 schools (actually preK-8) in 2011-12, created after the closing of three high-poverty middle schools.  At midyear, there were some serious challenges with discipline at the new schools. Now that a full year has wrapped up,  I'm hoping the school board will get a report on academic performance, discipline, teacher surveys and other measures that might gauge how well this new setup worked for almost 5,000 students.

If there were a clear-cut advantage to one structure or the other,  there wouldn't be much room for debate. In the Times forum, former Los Angeles Superintendent David Brewer makes just that point: Changing the grade-level structure is too simple a "solution" for the problems of educating kids in high-poverty schools. He concludes that the K-8 structure has some advantages if there's lots of support.

Paul Vallas,  who has been superintendent of several districts,  argues for "a more nuanced system" for adolescents, with small, separate middle-school buildings on elementary campuses.  At least some of the CMS preK-8s are using that system.

The middle school debate is important for everyone in Mecklenburg County.  When the CMS board talked about future school construction, one of the questions was whether new schools should be designed to combine elementary and middle grades.

Addition: While I'm tossing out reading material, EdWeek has a fascinating (but long) educator roundtable going about whether the traditional school schedule is outmoded. Contributors raise points about the length of the school day and year  --  again, hot topics here -- but they also discuss whether there are just better ways to use teachers' and students' time.


Anonymous said...

Ann, I would suggest that you try to interview some of the principals of those schools in question. It would especially be helpful if they were able to speak candidly knowing that their identities would be protected. Then, I am sure you would get a great amount of information.

Anonymous said...

Principals are never allowed to speak candidly in this system. You've got to be kidding.

Anonymous said...

I stated that they could speak if they knew that their comments would remain anonymous. No, I am not kidding.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure Los Angeles superintendent has a clue. Of course, not just with K-8 but with educating in any setup with high poverty kids depends on a LOT of support. The problem is that this support is sucking human and financial resources out of this society for its advancement.

It is like tying a rope around this demographic and trying to help them up a hill. The problem is they are not trying to help. They simply stand still or dig their heels in. Let me give you 2 examples. One, these kids will show up to school with the latest smartphones, tennis shoes, etc. but not with pencil and paper. Second, what former superintendent John Murphy found on his late night patrols in these neighborhoods still goes on. These kids are out all hours of the night and these parents/birthers are not working with them on their reading, etc. This is even documented in the book about Dr. Canada and the Harlem Achievement Zone. And that study took place in NC.

There is a saying "you lead a horse to water but you can not make it drink". Simply put, it is time to let them start finding their water. It is there. They need to be part of the solution.

Anonymous said...

Ann , Are you kidding me CMS had no trouble with kids at the new schools (K-8) this past year. You were at the meeting when they paraded a few principals in and they spoke highly of it. I think they were paid by the PR department that night. Its too early to see established numbers on these new K-8 select schools. It would be nice to see that data from CMS on the outcome from this past year which I am sure is compiled. I am not a fan of this K-8 system by any means. I also feel they forced it in some situations , because they closed schools the previous year. They have had issues at those select schools I just wish they were truthful about it. I am just not a fan of 5 yr olds and 12 yr olds put in situations like that. We simply dont have the resources to police that activity. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

To start, CMS' prek-8 were enacted as a budget-cutting measure. Considering that student success was never the first priority, this does not bode well for student success. Second, there is a LOT of credible research that supports the idea that middle school students, developmentally and emotionally, learn the best when in an environment of their own. Third, much of the leadership at these prek-8 schools can't keep their head above water, don't know how to support their teachers, and frankly, are not cut out for the job. But sadly, they would never admit these things or speak up to ask for help from the district. Ann, I wish there was a way for you to really know what goes on in these prek-8 schools; I appreciate your willingness to bring a loaded issue to the table, but I'm afraid you don't know the ins and outs of what really goes down. Ultimately, it's unfair on teachers, but more importantly, it's a devastating for the students. I'd be curious to learn two things: what was teacher retention like this past year and how was student performance affected by this new school model? We already know from earlier reports that behavior worsened. Bottom line: it doesn't have to be this way!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:38- I agree with your thoughts , but CMS says nope its all rosey so I gotta go with that. No issues no trouble in any of those schools. Show me student performance and how many parents are opting out of that same school for this coming fall then we have data. CMS should have that available to furnish to Ann by now. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Keith: Parent choice is a GREAT idea. Unfortunately for many of these parents, that option isn't a reality (even if they wanted it). For others, they simply know no different. Thus, I don't think that data wouldn't accurately reflect parent/family satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

I agree its going to take a few years to get that data on parent satisfaction. These parents need to know the difference and their choices. From what I can see the schools that they put k-8 in are possible trouble schools as is. The older kids are simple not ready for the younger ones to come in. I dont blame kids or parents I blame CMS for getting in over their head with school closings. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

The middle school situations these kids were in were far from satisfactory. In fact I remember Ann once asked "Would you be willing to put their child at Wilson (I believe it was Wilson)?

Anonymous said...

The CMS answer has always been " the kids will never come into contact with the younger ones no worries". Certainly puts alot of pressure on our bus drivers ? Thats a poor answer we all know these kids are going to come into contact with one another. I just dont feel its a ideal answer for the middle future. CMS as a whole can do better for the middle school kids/families. CMS has the money not even a question they know that. The schools they closed are losing money and some not even leased out as they have a 0 value on open market. Next campaign will focus on 40 kids in a classroom what is CMS doing to alleviate that? Dont tell me its a 3% teacher raise either ! Keith W. Hurley

Ann Doss Helms said...

On the anonymity/intimidation factor: It's an ongoing challenge. I understand that teachers and principals may feel unable to speak publicly about problems at their school. I do talk to people frequently whose names I never use, and anyone is free to call me at 704-358-5033. Such conversations often help me ask better questions or frame better stories.

However, I used unnamed sources sparingly in articles (and only when I know who they are). If key points hinge on anonymous quotes and observations, readers and CMS officials might legitimately question the accuracy and accountability of my reporting.

I would be especially reluctant to use material from an unnamed principal. If you're talking about the preK-8s, that would narrow it down to eight people, and anything a principal said would be specific to his or her school. It's tough, but I think principals have to be willing to speak honestly and publicly about challenges so they have credibility when they claim success. Some do that, and I'm grateful for their courage.

The Big Four Seven said...


Kudos to you for continually and consistently following the rules of journalistic ethics and still giving us hard-hitting and insightful news about the education world. I do not say this lightly: you are our Woodward & Bernstein. Keep at it.

On the subject, the K-8 model has been a touchy subject, but it will take more than one school year to actually realize the impact, whether positive or negative, on student performance and achievement. Whether you're a proponent or not, you have to give the model at least a few school years to succeed or fail before you condemn it or call it a success.

Anonymous said...

There is proof in CMS that k-8 works. However, this has not succeeded as a last resort in merging closed schools. The language program at Smith and Waddell has prospered because of a parent support, vertical curriculum, strong arts, talented staff and a educational and life skill that benefits the student forever. The acquisition of a foreign language and fluency at an early age is proven. The hard part will be keeping these teachers due to demand from around the world. The pay and respect issues from NC and CMS is already draining amazing talent to areas that offer much better career opportunities.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks, TBFS! And I agree it takes several years to see real success or failure. But still want to hear how the first year went.

Anonymous said...

The K-8 Debate:

I hope we don't lose sight that this isn't all about a K-8 model. Unless CMS creates K-8 models in schools that aren't strictly low-income, it won't be possible to determine if K-8 schools (in and of themselves) are more or less successful than traditional K-5 schools or 6-8 schools. A lot of other things come into play which may or may not correlate with student achievement in a K-8 setting. There are plenty of successful public schools across America that house all sorts of combinations of grade levels. I've seen K-3 schools, K-6 schools, 4-5 schools, 5-8 schools, PK-1 schools, and so on. Some of Charlotte's best private schools house grades K-12. Again, the success or failure of a CMS K-8 school in a high-poverty area isn't going to be strictly determined by some grade composite "model". It's not that complicated, and yet, it is.

- AD

Anonymous said...

I just love reading about all the "problems" these "urban" schools have.

I went to a school which housed kids from 1-12. Yep, the entire 12 years were in on "L" shaped building with the 1-8 in one part of the "L" and 9-12 in the other part.

And we all rode on the buses together too.

And there were poor kids, too.

Big difference is that they were white and it was a rural school.

And we had almost no discipline problems at all.

Nothing to worry about with the right kids and parents.

And they're still running this school the same way today as they have for decades.

And still no problems because the demographic has not changed much.

Wiley Coyote said...

I occasionally ask the question, "how did Lincoln or any other President up to the 1900's ever get by without going to pre-K? How did Amrica become the greatest nation on Earth during that time without pre-K"?

When I went to school, kindergarten wasn't part of the school. They were separate facilities specifically for kindergarten.

Elementary school was 1 - 6, JUNIOR HIGH was 7 - 9 and high school was 10 - 12.

Today we have K - 5, 6 - 8 (or now K - 8)and 9 - 12, so to me, the debate over middle schoolers comes down t0 7th and 8th grades.

I don't buy the rhetoric middle schoolers learn better one way or the other.

I do believe there used to be one room schoolhouses where children of all ages were taught.

Maybe Lincoln was just a special kid.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...I realized something today. I attended a K-8 school...don't laugh...55 years ago. I never thought about it until today's article that although I was there from 5th thru 8th grades I never spoke one on one with a little kid. All the older classes were on the second floor and all the younger ones were on the first floor. In those days we brown bagged it in our classrooms so no interaction at lunch; recess and PE must have been scheduled so we didn't interact. It never occurred to me how much extra work that must have been for my dear teachers. I'm a little late with thanks for one more way those terrific people helped all of us in that school during those vulnerable years.

Times change, but I have noticed teachers are pretty much the same.

Anonymous said...

I also attended a K-12 school for 3 years in one of the poorest areas in the entire state of NY. The area was exclusively white and rural. K-12 students all rode the same school bus together. I learned to milk cows there. Most of my friends lived in trailers and received welfare. Lice was rampant. If you lived in a home, it was most likely heated by a wood stove. One of my friends lived in a dilapidated shack with a dirt floor. I'm not making this up. I am not exaggerating.

I disagree with your assessment about poverty. Only a handful of students at the poor, rural, white K-12 school I attended went on to college. Research also shows that rural schools generally perform worse than urban schools. So your theory about "demographics" doesn't add up.

My father has a PhD from an Ivy League univ. THIS is what impacted the trajectory of my education and my sibling's the most - not the configuration of any of the schools I attended.


Anonymous said...

So, did your K-12 suffer from a lot of violence or "problems" between the elementary and high school kids?

Mine didn't. I think that is what parents fear the most, the "bad" influence of the older kids.

Sure, you don't get a stellar education in these extremely poor rural schools just as you don't in the urban schools, but I don't think you have the other problems as with the urban demographic.

At least that was my experience.

I spent the ninth grade in an "urban" school which had to install a police substation the year after I left due to the violence.

And, yes, only a handful of kids at the rural school went to college, but many did at least graduate from HS.

And no one got shot or stabbed in the hallways.

Everyone I knew in 10th grade (when I moved there) graduated.

And I was the first in my family to go to college from this school.

So the school didn't hurt, either.

And absolutely no violence the whole time I was there (3 years).

Anonymous said...

Totally random but the white, rural, poverty stricken school I attended for 3 years took me on a field trip to an old lady's house who lived with beavers. There was actually an old lady in the area who lived with beavers. When I wasn't learning to milk cows and visiting old ladies with beavers, my grades 4-12 school band director took us all to see the symphony - about an hour away.

Anyone remember Utica beer?

Anonymous said...


My father was threatened with a rifle. Does this count as violent?

Anonymous said...

It was a hunting rifle.

Anonymous said...


So, there isn't a correlation between poverty and student achievement? Is this what you're saying?

Wiley Coyote said...

Poverty and student achievement...

I believe every child "in poverty" as defined by the government has an equal chance - school - to learn like every other child.

Support at home? Varies.

Anonymous said...

OK Wiley,
A quick Google search produced this. Here are the current stats for the rural, high poverty school I attended 40 years ago.

White population: 98.77%
8th Grade test scores (2011)

Math - 13% on grade level (state average 60%)

English Language Arts - 27% on grade level (state average 47%)

So, explain to me again how poverty doesn't affect student achievement?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the aforementioned rural K-12 school I attended only has about 375 students currently attending it so overcrowding doesn't appear to be an issue affecting student achievement. However, I think it's possible generational poverty could be at play here. Just a theory.


Anonymous said...

Re: Parent Satisfaction.

Based on "scientific data", there appears to be a "Parent Satisfaction Gap" at most schools. In other words, based on test scores, there is little correlation between parent satisfaction and student achievement.

Parents will rarely admit their children attend a "bad" school.


Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 5:43...

More money is spent on programs for low income students and has been the case for decades, than for all other students on a per pupil basis.

At school, key words AT SCHOOL, every child has the same opportunity to learn as the next child.

Whatever support they get at home or outside the school is another matter, but not the responsibility of taxpayers.

We just read of a homeless girl in Cleveland County who is now going to Harvard and a girl in Texas who was working 2 jobs to support her siblings after their parents abandoned them and thrown in jail because she missed too many days of school. She is an honor student.

We have spent trillions since the 70's on poverty and the rate has stayed the same. It doesn't go down.

The Obama administration is trying to sign up more and more people on food stamps and school systems are doing the same with students to get more federal dollars under using the National School Lunch Program.

So for me, I'm tired of hearing the same rhetoric year after year about why little Johnny can't learn because of household income.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me?

The homeless girl going to Harvard also had several school advocates helping her navigate the college admissions process. I don't care who you are, nobody gets into Harvard unless they have the academic ability to be there which obviously this particular girl has. I wish her well.

Of course, this story wouldn't have made international headlines had this brilliant student decided to accept a full-ride scholarship offer to CPCC because no one at her school encouraged her to apply to Harvard.

What about the "average student" homeless kid in CMS who isn't at risk of failing high school but isn't a genius either? Based on personal experience, CMS does little or nothing to help these kids.

Anonymous said...


I'm as tired as you are of having the same rhetoric shoved down my throat that Johnny can't read because of household income. The problem in Charlotte is that household income is synonymous with race - from a political standpoint. I don't think it will ever be possible (in my lifetime) in Charlotte to separate race and poverty which is a major part of the problem. The poor, all white, rural school I attended for 3 years doesn't appear to be performing any better than it probably did 40 years ago which leads me to believe that poverty does impact how Johnny and Sha'niqua learn to read. Politicians keep trying to address student achievement externally without really addressing the internal root of the problem. Just my 2 cents.

Wiley Coyote said...

9:14 ...

I'm not kidding.

So the student had advisors in school helping her. Isn't that why we pay counselors in high school?

Graduating high school increases a person's chance of not living poor as compared to one who drops out.

Public education's job is to ensure as many kids graduate as possible and have programs in place to ensure they do.

If those "average students" concern you, step up and donate $55 million to a few schools for healthcare, internet service, programs to teach parents how to parent and other social services that tax funded public education is not responsible for.

Anonymous said...


Back to the original blog question...

Why the heck are we debating the effectiveness of a K-8 configuration? It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, this won't significantly impact student achievement one way or the other. Come on, people. At what point do we start addressing the needs of students where they are without all the nonsense and experiments that never work? Stop moving students around.

Anonymous said...


I don't know the answer to this question but maybe you do. What is the ratio of CMS counselors per-students who plan to attend college? I could be wrong, but CMS appears to completely focus it's claimed overall success based on high school graduation rates - not college attendance rates. BTW, about 50% of students who start college never finish. What is CMS' college completion rate compared to a school like Charlotte Country Day? What about trade careers? What is CMS' long-term success rate for it's vocational students?

Wiley Coyote said...


What you household income is.
What your skin color is.
What your zipcode is.

Has no bearing on the fact 2+2=4. In every school.

It's that basic.

Anonymous said...

9:49, 2 things to your comment. Debating K-8 configuration is just another distraction to this whole issue, why this demographic is difficult to educate when CMS spends $8k to $11k on each one each year. As Wiley has documented before, the illegal hispanic students do better and they have a language barrier. No this demographic, west Charlotte AA's are not truly financial disadvantaged, they are culturally deficient, plain and simple.

The second point is why do you think this demographic should not be "moved around". Suburban Mecklenburg students have endured multiple student reassignment during each schoolhouse level. I had a child that had a different middle school assignment every year. And Louise Woods said that was necessary to balance out too many schools from looking too bad. Thanks goodness for Cappichione and Gauvreau.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that having nothing but a high school diploma increases a person's chances of not living poor. Come on, Wiley. This might have been the case during the Depression but it isn't now. Do you really believe this? That a standard high school diploma, on it's own, is likely to pull a person out of poverty? That the the only job of public education is to graduate as many students from high school as possible? Did I miss something?

Wiley Coyote said...


I have no clue as to the ratio.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 10:10...

Look it up.

Also, this is some older data I had but it still rings true today:

Stay in School.

Simply completing high school greatly increases a person's chances of not being poor.

The Census Bureau reports that:

•Only 9.6 percent of high school graduates are poor, compared to 22.2 percent of those without a diploma.
•Of those people who complete some college, only 6.6 percent fall below the poverty line.
•This drops to 3.3 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Furthermore, these lower propensities for poverty last throughout a person's life. In every adult age group, people who fail to obtain a high school degree are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty. People ages 25 to 54 are nearly three times as likely.

The numbers are worse for long-term poverty - poverty that lasts for years. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report found that in the United States:

•High school dropouts suffer a long-term poverty rate of 14.2 percent, while high school grads have only a 3.8 percent long-term poverty rate.
•Only 1.2 percent of adults receiving some education beyond high school are poor long-term

Getting married, not having children out of wedlock and getting a job, makes living in long term poverty virtually non-existant.

Anonymous said...


I don't disagree with you. I lived through 2 highly contentious boundary reassignment issues within a 4 year period. That's my point. Stop moving students around. It doesn't solve anything. This being said, I strongly believe there is a correlation between poverty and student achievement. I strongly believe there is truth to the struggles of generational poverty. However, I don't believe the solution to this problem can be rectified by moving students around and reconfiguring a school's grade level composition. We need to start tailoring education to where students are. This means ending the practice of excessive (note; excessive, not all) standardized testing which does nothing more than stigmatize groups of students and schools. We should be measuring and rating schools based on individual student progress. Period. In a perfect world, every student would come to school equally prepared and ready to learn. In the real world, this doesn't happen. It just doesn't and it never will.

9:59 PM

Anonymous said...


I'm not going to dispute your data regarding high school graduation rates. However, what is the definition of "poor"? What is the average or medium income of a high school graduate (within the last 10 years with only a high school diploma) vs. someone who dropped out of high school?

Anonymous said...

median income. Not medium.

Anonymous said...

You could easily argue that the poor, rural white school I attended for 3 years was and still is "culturally deficient". By all measures, there doesn't appear to have been much improvement despite the lack of AA "demographics".

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the problem with CMS is not having a rural, poor, low-performing, predominately white populated school to round out it's wonderful diversity. The irony is, you don't have to travel that far to find one.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:21 (the "other" K-12).

My school was in Alabama, haven't checked the achievement stats on it.

Since the topic was school discipline, that's what I was reporting on.

Maybe your school with kids living in shacks with dirt floors was poorer than mine where most of the homes had floors, but many lived in mobile homes.

My school was small, but several students attended college each year.

The whole school barely had 1000 students (1-12) when I went there.

As far as discipline goes, I'm not sure how being "threatened" with a rifle compares to ACTUALLY being shot with a handgun or cut with a razor in the bathroom, but I guess it depends on how serious the "threat" was.

There are the "I'm gonna shoot you" kind of threats and then there are the bullet through the window kind.

If there was no action taken, then I wouldn't consider it violence, because THAT kind of "violence" would have been off the chart in the urban school.

As for poverty having "no effect" on achievement, of course it has an effect.

But I don't think it has as much of an effect as the parents and the individual student do.

And, of course, the prevailing culture has a LARGE impact on the level of ambition of many kids.

I actually had one kid in an English class tell the teacher that he didn't need to learn English because he was going to be a lumberjack just like his daddy.

And he wasn't particularly poor.

But that lumbejack job didn't work out too well for him.

So it wasn't strictly about money.

Even in my own family.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:57

And what are the "discipline" problems like in those poor white schools?

Anything like the poor black schools?

After all, that was the topic of the article. At least the one I was responding to.

That was exactly why my parents moved out to the sticks, to avoid the violence and be in a safe school.

And it worked.

Now, of course, we have "distance" education and other ways of overcoming the cultural deficiencies of living out in the woods that weren't available even 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Also, the main problem I have with the discussion of the impact of "poverty" on achievement is the definition of "poverty".

It is usually dependent on the FRL program, which I don't trust.

The FRL program may be a better measure of the dishonesty and honesty of the parents as much as family poverty.

Anonymous said...

I didn't attend a poor black school in a city so I have no personal experience with violence as a child in this particular setting. I did attend a magnet high school in a city with a fairly equal number of black and white students with no violence whatsoever. In fact, most of my black classmates at the magnet school I attended had highly educated parents. Everyone went on to college.

Again, my main point is acknowledging the direct correlation between poverty and student achievement regardless of race. As far as most politicians are concerned in Charlotte, race and poverty are synonymous. This is not the case in other places. There are low-achieving schools in rural white areas that score worse than some schools in urban black areas. Again, I don't think the configuration of grade levels makes much of a difference if improving students achievement is the primary goal - at a poor black school or a poor white school. I agree with you that parents and the prevailing culture have the greatest impact on student learning whoever and wherever you are. This is what I believe. It's not about race. It's about poverty.

Anonymous said...


Also, contrary to popular wisdom, schools are one of the safest places for students to be. While things like discipline, hallway fights and issues of theft can vary from school to school, American students aren't getting maimed, shot and killed on a regular basis. It just doesn't happen. Millions of students go to school everyday and aren't subjected to violence. At least not on school property.


Anonymous said...

I don't think that race, poverty, and achievement are all synonymous, either.

I would NOT say that there is a direct correlation between poverty and achievement,regardless of race, though.

I think race plays a factor in culture, and expectations, if nothing else.

We see this when we expand "race" to include Asians and others.

And, whether nature or nurture, the difference is there and is measurable, and is fairly consistent.

Even across countries and continents, if you're willing to go that far.

Just look at where the high performing schools in the world are and you'll see.

And when you try to control for the effects of poverty, you will still find that black kids (especially boys) perform below their economic peers.

I could go on about this, but I do not accept the poverty excuse.

There is plenty of evidence against it.

South Korea's performance on PISA tests is one example.

Middle class black boy performance "gaps" in the US is another.

I also don't think you can compare a magnet school to a take-all-comers public school as far as the discipline problems go.

I know schools are relatively safe places, overall, but I did have the misfortune of attending one which wasn't and had other friends at other schools with similar experiences.

And most of the time the problems weren't heard of outside the school walls.

Anonymous said...

Curious what you would call this when a smart black boy in a poor neighborhood is harassed by the other black kids because he does his homework, participates in class and makes good grades?

And do you know what eventually happens to him?

Anonymous said...

But I don't think South Korea tests all their students.

Anonymous said...

It used to be called "acting white". I taught at a high school over 20 years ago where this was a problem. Interestingly, I sub at a CMS majority minority school where sometimes black students will tell other black students to stop acting "ghetto" when they aren't trying or are misbehaving. Peer pressure does factor into a school climate.

Anonymous said...

Correlation does not automatically mean cause & effect. Perhaps "poor" people aren't as skilled or capable, therefore make money. However not all "poor" have less skills and those "poor" are more successful at school, allowing them to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Of course we all know "poor" is a euphemism.

Anonymous said...

No country gives all their students the PISA test, so South Korea is no exception.

What they do, though, is test their poor students as well as their richer students.

The people who give the PISA test (OECD) have specifically mentioned a few countries as "exceptions" to the "poor=disadvantaged" rule that they typically promote.

And trust me, the OECD is definitely one of the groups that constantly beats the poverty drum.

But even they cannot deny the obvious exceptions.

They refer to these exceptions as "RESILIENT".

And you can google what they say about them.

They also have a document on the subject since they can't deny that it happens:

"Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School"

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:03

I've always wondered why no one seems to be aware of the chicken/egg problem of poverty and poor school performance.

It's not like poverty and educational achievement aren't correlated in our society.

But being correlated doesn't mean that one CAUSES the other.

There could be a third or fourth factor behind both (family, culture, attitudes, etc.) that isn't even being measured.

And if we don't measure those other factors, we'll never consider them.

All they really have is FRL. basic demographics, and some test scores.

So, of course, they're going to use one of them as a "cause" for the other.

So, they pick poverty because it is the easiest problem to "solve".

You just throw money at it.

Anonymous said...

Well yes. You are correct. There is a difference between correlation and cause and effect.

SO, what IS South Korea doing that we aren't doing right? Finland performs fabulously too but the U.S. isn't Finland.

Anonymous said...


Ah, so there are "other factors" that affect student achievement that can't be measured on a standardized test? Really?

Anonymous said...

Also, in addition to South Korea, you have China where poor students do well on the PISA tests (are "resilient").

So there is certainly more than poverty at work in educational success, but we don't want to even think about that.

See "China: the world's cleverest country?" on BBC's website.

From that article:

There were also major cultural differences when teenagers were asked about why people succeeded at school.

"North Americans tell you typically it's all luck. 'I'm born talented in mathematics, or I'm born less talented so I'll study something else.'

"In Europe, it's all about social heritage: 'My father was a plumber so I'm going to be a plumber'.

"In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: 'It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.'

"They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say 'I'm the owner of my own success', rather than blaming it on the system."

Anonymous said...

Cut and paste: South Korea.

South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, and it is difficult for outsiders to be fully accepted. Legal protections for the rights of minority populations are often weak. The large population of workers from Southeast Asia, over half of whom are estimated to be in the country illegally, face considerable discrimination both in and out of the workplace. Other significant immigrant groups affected by discrimination include Mongolians, Nigerians and Chinese. This has led to the privately funded establishment of a school specifically targeted at children with an immigrated parent, with English and Korean as its main languages. When Hines Ward, who is of mixed Korean and African American heritage, earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XL, it sparked a debate in Korean society about the treatment mixed children receive.

So, are you suggesting the U.S. should be emulating South Korea?

Anonymous said...

I suppose we could try to make the United States more "ethnically homogeneous"? Seems to work for the educational systems in China, Finland and South Korea.

Anonymous said...

Or, we can put all the white kids in one school, all the black kids in a different school, all the Asians in their own school, and all the illegal Spanish speaking kids in a privately established special school because this is the successful educational model they use in South Korea.

Yep. This oughta' work.

Anonymous said...

Canada also beats us in PISA tests.

So it's not just "homogeneous" nations.

Also, China is not as homogeneous as many might believe.

And neither is Singapore.

But keep making excuses because we are behind a LOT of countries, even though we spend much more money per student.

They must be doing something right that we aren't.

And our old solutions don't seem to be getting the job done.

And isn't that the whole problem?

Anonymous said...

Now as for what these "other" countries are doing that we aren't, THAT is what I suggest we look into for solutions.

Because the tired old solutions we've been using are not working.

The fact that these other countries have figured out how to solve their education problems (and, yes, Finland had those, too) just means that they will be more competetive with us in the future, leaving us with less and less.

Anyway, that's what will happen, and most likely is even happening now, whether we like it or not.

Because we no longer run the world.

Anonymous said...

I agree that our old solutions aren't getting the job done. From a global standpoint, we are not the boss of everyone anymore. Although, a huge and growing number of foreign students still come to the United States to attend college. Students who can't attend college in China because they don't meet the criteria to do so come here. A large number of students from India come to the United States to receive advanced degrees as well as a host of other countries. So, it appears we're still doing something right in the realms of higher education.

However, I don't agree that poverty isn't a driving force that greatly influences academic achievement - not just in the United States but all over the world. Extensive research is clear that students who are poor generally don't perform as well academically as their higher income counterparts. There is also a strong relationship between parent education and student achievement. I don't know how anyone can refute this.

Anonymous said...

Now, one could argue that restricting the number of U.S. students who can attend college is a better way to run things which is a practice (or model) in many other countries. Don't pass a college state test by 8th grade, go directly to beauty school. This practice would seem to defy our cultural belief as Americans but if we're really trying to be more like China, maybe we should give it a shot? In this way, a K-8 model makes perfect sense. Educate everyone up until 8th grade and then separate the best from the rest.

Anonymous said...

I believe students in Canada attend school until grade 13. I don't know at what age Canadian students start school. Maybe a grade 11-13 model is the way to go?

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of information showing that there are exceptions to the "poverty=poor performance" in education claims.

Again, the OECD (thru PISA) has documented this and even developed the term "resilience" to describe it.

Articles about it are all over the place.

Since it is such a big problem in the US, it just might be worthwhile for us to look at the countries which have succeeded in reducing the effect.

We would call that "closing the gap" and often claim it as a priority, only no one wants to look at how others have done this outside the US for some oddball reason.

Maybe it's just the "Not Invented Here" arrogance of many in the US that stops us from looking abroad.

I don't see what the problem could possibly be with looking at what works in other countries unless someone is afraid their particular ox or special interest group will get gored.

There's at least one summary out there I ran into that had a few suggestions.

Schleicher, an official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, wrote, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president and a former West Virginia schools superintendent.

Anonymous said...

I know it's hard to accept when one of our favorite myths has been shattered, but we need to be open to the fact that MANY other countries have broken through the malaise in their education systems to produce much better results.

Even among their poor students.

Too many people are probably making a living off the poverty pimp mentality that seems to pervade our culture and keeps us from looking at where others have overcome the problems we claim to want to solve.

Anonymous said...

For those who are still afraid to look at foreign success...

Here's an excerpt from “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts”

Dr. Paine remembers, “Because they do so exceptionally well in math, I asked one math teacher who was responsible for creating the curriculum in Singapore. She replied that it was very similar to one used in the U.S. – the curriculum promoted by our own National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “‘We use the same instructional theories for math that you do in the States,’ she told me.

“‘So then why,’ I asked her, ‘do your students perform so much better than ours if we’re using the same theories?’”

She replied: “We actually apply them.”

Anonymous said...

Don't expect Ericka E-S to look to resolve any of those other causes. Gullible US politicians have been too successful blaming all the problems on NAACP visions of what causes poor school performance. We continue to throw $ at irrelevant causes, and the ones supposedly "helped" continue to suffer.

Anonymous said...

"Poverty Pimp"? That's a new one. Why do I feel like I'm debating the defunct Rhino Times? Although, I really miss walking into the Teeter and picking up the latest addition.

Speaking of educational buzzwords...

Can the anonymous person who loves the phrase "smoke and mirrors" please come up with something more interesting.

OK. I'm a fine arts teacher NOT a math teacher. However, I believe math books in places like Finland are different than they are here. Yes, students are covering the same material but at different paces. My understanding is that students in some countries use math books that cover a limited amount of material over the course of a year. In the United States, a typical math book covers a lot of material over the course of a year. Put simply, students in countries that outscore the U.S. in math cover less material in a year. In other words, students don't progress to a new math concept until they've learned a previous math skill really, really well. This repetitive "rote" approach to learning isn't that different than learning to play the piano. This was the problem with "New Math" which, back in my day, was supposedly going to revolutionize math education. Educational "experts" decided math should be fun and that the old ways of teaching math were outdated. And look where we are.

Anonymous said...


Don't get me going on the Peason's educational book company that has a monopoly on K-12 and college level text books not to mention this company's profit making hand in the area of standardized testing. Don't EVEN get me going.

Anonymous said...


I miss picking up the latest edition of the Rhino Times. Math addition, edition. Did I mention my childhood journey into the "Whole Language" movement?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about how Finland teaches math, but I know the Chinese are a good bit ahead of us.

The PISA tests, for example, show that even the poorest Chinese in the rural provinces are a full year ahead of our students who attend good public or private schools.

That's sad.

I have a BS in math, so it is one of my pet peeves to see how we neglect math in the US.

Since my wife is from China we try to teach our children with the Chinese system in mind, just in case we ever want to send our kids to China for school.

As a result, my first grade son is able to do 3-digit multiplication without much trouble. Stuff like 357x156 doesn't phase him at all.

I asked the schools when they would get to that and they said probably the third or fourth grade.

This is totally unnecessary since it is easy to teach these rote methods to children at a much earlier age.

There is no real reason to delay it since children have the ability at that age for these things.

Later, when their reasoning skills develop, is the time to focus on problem solving skills.

The first grade math material I've seen in the US is laughable at best.

Of course, my son can still do it, but the classwork bores him silly.

And he can be really silly at times...

Anonymous said...

I don't know why schools would listen to what anyone in the NAACP says.

It's not like the NAACP has any experience teaching children or running a school that I know of.

I'd like to see them do it, though, just to see if they can walk their talk.

But I think they'd be miserable failures.

Of course, the more blacks fail, the more they "need" the NAACP, though, so that would still be a win for them.

Great gig if you can get it...

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I would think how we teach math is as important as what we teach and when. This gets into text books and teacher training. NC is adopting the National Srandard Course Cirriculum so it will be interesting to see how this impacts math education. The other problem is supply and demand. Someone with a B.S. in math has higher salary options outside of the U.S. teaching profession. I yanked my oldest son out of a 7th grade "gifted" one year Algebra 1 class because he wasn't retaining the material. As it turned out, kids who took
Algebra 1 over a two year period scored just as well on the math section of the SAT and ACT as "gifted" kids taking the course over a one year period. Gets back to learning material in a repetitive and, perhaps, at a slower pace. Learning to play the piano or learning ballet is all about rote repetition. One highly repetitive thing builds to the next skill. And then you go back to your basic C scale or plies in first position at the barre and repeat the same thing over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Those who have discussed the teaching of math have hit on a major reason why we have a problem in this area in the United States. When the push for "new math" came about, it assumed all children were taught how to add, multiply, subtract and divide before they entered school. Of course, a lot of them did 30-40 years ago when playtime included older siblings simulating "school" and teaching their younger ones what they were learning in at the time.

Without a strong foundation, it is difficult to take the critical leaps in thinking that problem solving requires. So I submit to you that if one doesn't memorize the multiplication tables and have continuous (rote) practice in basic math skills at the earliest age possible, that person will never do well in math. You must be able to determine if the answers on that calculator are logical if the leap to higher levels can take place with a degree confidence and lowered anxiety.

Rote learning of the basics is why older US generations are better in math than younger ones. We must get back to teaching phonics in order to help students gain enough confidence to attempt to read aloud. Reading skills will then improve as students hear themselves succeed.