Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teeth, grades, links and causes

Suppose I did a study that demonstrated beyond all statistical doubt that children who are hospitalized are more likely to die before their 21st birthday than those who never enter a hospital.

My recommendation:  Save children's lives by refusing to admit them to hospitals.

I'd be hooted down, right?  In this case,  it's intuitively clear that even though one event is a strong predictor of another,  hospitalization is not the cause of death.  Instead,  both result from a complex array of illness and trauma.  It's smart to keep looking for ways to prevent early death,  but shutting down children's wards won't help.

In the world of education,  a lot of links look like causes.  Kids who fail in school are more likely than successful students to grow up to be adults in prison.  Heck, everybody knows that jail planners use third-grade reading scores to plot the number of cells they'll need.  (It's not actually true,  but everybody knows it.)  So if we stop social promotions and/or adopt someone's favorite reading program,  we'll keep young people out of jail.

Or  ... children who enter kindergarten lacking in basic skills are starting down that track to bad outcomes. So we can spend $1 on prekindergarten and save taxpayers $7 on jail and welfare costs down the road.  That ratio is based on a long-term study of children in a couple of high-quality preschool program decades ago  (read summaries of the Abcedarian Project and the Perry Preschool study).  But locally and in many other programs across the nation,  researchers have struggled to find measurable academic benefits that last past elementary school.

The most recent example to catch my attention was an Observer article about a Pew study on use of dental sealants to prevent tooth decay. “Oral health problems not only can be painful but are linked to lower academic scores and additional physical problems,”  said a Pew official arguing for better dental treatments in school.  Implicit was the suggestion that fixing kids' teeth would boost their scores.

Most people who are serious about education understand that the issues that cause academic failure and bad lives for adults are at least as complex as the physical ailments that send children to the hospital.  But when it comes time to sell a new program,  it's tempting to tout it as the thing that will break all these cycles and fix the future.

And when it comes time to oppose those programs,  it's tempting to shoot down the inflated claims and dismiss it all as a waste of time and money.

As a new superintendent gears up his vision,  we can expect to hear a lot of pitches and rebuttals.  I'm thinking back to what Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp wrote about one-percent solutions. She cautions that no one program can be expected to transform children's lives  --  but doesn't see that as an excuse to stop seeking the right combination of measures to make a real difference.

We Americans like quick fixes and easy "gotchas."  As citizens,  politicians and educators delve into preK and reading programs and cultural competency and new technology,  I'm hoping for a serious,  thoughtful discussion of what it takes to give Mecklenburg's kids their best shot at the future. Though I have to admit,  I kind of hope there's not a CMS task force on tooth decay looming.


Anonymous said...

interested, engaged parents - that's your link. This is not limited to race or socio-economic status.

BolynMcClung said...


The Vicious Half-Life Decay Cycle That Leads to Generational Poverty.**

"…A child from a family with one high school dropout parent is more likely to have bad teeth because the family won't be able to afford a dentist.

Children in families where both parents are dropouts will only be visited by the penny tooth fairy"
**-----source: Americans for Smarter Wisdom Teeth.

Is this Predictive Link believable? Yes. Except that there are teachers out there that don't believe educating poverty children trapped in poverty is as difficult as pulling teeth.

Bolyn McClung

Missouri said...

Here's to your first pitch, Ann, how then do you explain why children die if they have never been in the hospital?

Anyway, back to the subect at hand. Your two projects you mention supporting pre-K had many, many more aspects to them other than pre-K. So to say then that the pre-K was the key is misleading. We've seen plenty of research that once you dig into it, you do not find what they tout. But the horse is out of the barn and everyone, politicians, philanthropists, etc. have latched on to get their PR, their 15 minutes in the sun to show the media who eats it up, how noble they are and now they are entitled to the glory and influence their egos demand.

Sorry but the issue is not sinmply social-economic. But similar to the arguments I've gotten into with Coach White about FRL fraud, if their parents are that sorry to defraud this program then they are sorry enough parents that the child does need all the extra help society can bring to bear.

How is it our more heavily hispanic schools like Winterfield bringing achievement gains with no extra help like LIFT, Strategic Staffing and additional per pupil spending?

Quit being so short sighted and dig more and challenge more of assertions of these educrats and politicians.

Anonymous said...

Ann, what is the most requested book in prisons?

The Bible. Think about it.

Shamash said...

Most "root cause" analysis rarely looks below the upper branches.

That's the real problem. Once the politically correct crowd finds a "solution" which fits its agenda it stops looking.

Keep looking, you aren't there yet.

That "bad track" those kids are starting down may begin at birth, or even before.

As the saying goes, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

Anonymous said...

Children with poor dental hygiene do poor in school cause they don't grow up in a loving enviroment... fixing their teeth isn't going to help!

Thats the same as keeping kids out of hospitals

Anonymous said...

Anyone looking for a 1% solution?


Allyson said...

Why not do an article on SUCCESSFUL students and dig into why THEY are that way? You will obviously see a pattern that is not consistently 2-parent, wealthy with regular visits to the dentist. But what I think you WILL see is ANY parent that stays on top of the student, acts like a parent, makes sure the child is reasonably cared for to the best of their ability and encourages that student to do better than just average. I say this as a single mom of 2 that were ap/honors students, I worked 60+ hrs a week, I made sure they had what they needed, did their homework (or not and suffered the consequences) and I did NOT do their homework for them at all. What about why students DO succeed. What's the pattern there?

BolynMcClung said...

TO: Allyson 9:40

I get your drift but you didn't get mine.

The news article's point is Predictive Links may be as useful as a bucket of cold spit. That's sort of mine too.

One predictive link I find absurd is how CMS funds WSS for all FRL families with the wacky theory that poor always means ill prepared for achievement. One school board member explained the use of that predictive link as, "We don't have anything better." I disagree. But that’s another story.

Bolyn McClung

Missouri said...

Interesting newa article on Head Start.


Got to go find actual study on HHS's website (I hope) and see if it really jives.

Anonymous said...

I saw that article yesterday. Its a dental sponsored study so its "spoon Fed" with the outcome go get your dental treatment. Its simply another excuse for why minorites dont do well in school. The minority fact withing CMS is White kids are the minority so wake up and eat the data served CMS.

Shamash said...

Too bad so many people (especially in gubmint) are so ignorant of statistics.

The first thing you learn is that CORRELATION is not CAUSATION.

Unfortunately, most people never get that far in math.

Or most anything else for that matter.

Missouri said...

Okay Ann, as I pointed out earlier, those other 2 programs you mentioned earlier where one, pre-K services were not the only aspect of the program and two, both had agendas to promote much like the dental story yesterday.

So the Head Start study that the department of HHS carefully and deliberately released the last working day before Christmas with all the raucus around the fiscal cliff going on, says you can not make an objective study come out what you propose. And as Shamash has pointed out "correlation is not causation".

But the politicans are held hostage by the black special interest groups so bad that they forced another $100 million into the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Each Haed Start center will get an additional $377,000. To do what? Line somebody's special buddy's pockets.

Shamash said...


I found the studies.

Some interesting stuff in them.


Pg 116 had some interesting results along racial lines.

Such as Head Start helping black kids, but hurting white kids.

Hispanic kids had mixed results.

Maybe they should take the white kids out of that program.

(3rd grade followup, pg 116, Race/Ethnicity).

What's most interesting about this study is how little anyone knows of the effects of a program that's been sucking billions of dollars for nearly three generations.

My guess is that it was just part of Johnson's "New Deal" to give out more "free stuff".

Missouri said...

Shamash, no, my theory it is just forward paying of reparations.

We already see in CMS that hispanic kids have surpassed the black kids without WSS or SS or LIFT.

Missouri said...

Okay, maybe that was a little harsh. But the harshness is required because the politicans are being held hostage now by the domestic terrorists of this urban movement. While maybe noble in the initial concept, it has not panned out but no one will end the wasteful spending.

Shamash said...


Yeah, well if it's reparations they want, then take the white and Hispanic kids out of the program.

At least save a few bucks that way.

Especially since white and Hispanic kids either get mostly mixed or negative results from the program by third grade.

Or maybe keep the white kids in Head Start if it's hurting them.

Maybe that's a part of "reparations", too.

So call it reparations, if we must.

But I'd at least like it made clear that Head Start is at least worth an acre of land and a few pounds of mule meat in exchange.

If it's part of a "reparations" package, that is...

Missouri said...

Okay maybe not reparations but it is a payoff/extortion.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Missouri, there are not a lot of Hispanic students in LIFT schools (though there are some), but they and students of all races have been part of Weighted Student Staffing (which allocates additional teachers based on poverty levels) and Strategic Staffing (which has targeted specific schools, including some with significant Hispanic enrollment).

Missouri said...

Ann, it is apparent when you look at various reports that some of these schools get significant increases in WSS and which do not, though it's touted as being in the program. I tend to give a 10% variance from average to allow variations in teachers years of service. Look a little deeper. And as well as those that do not get SS such was reported in the Winterfield story a couple of weeks ago. SS has been a relatively small set of schools. CMS however never misses to mislead us especially with their last celebration they had about how much the scores have improved at Greenville Park (Byers I think) when all along those of us who knew better, know the characteristics of the demographic makeup at that school had changed dramatically.

But to your point about some hispanic schools getting more funding and others do not, that is the beauty in being able to tell when WSS and SS do not make much difference.

Here is another example. The recent story about Billingsley ES talked about how they were proud of their academic improvement. Looking at them solely, you see the increases, but when you step back, you see all the other similar ES schools with as much or more increase. As a school rank, they were still 101 out of 103.

Ann, and Bolyn, you've have got to get a little more critical eye.

Anonymous said...

Ann, here's another recent story about the futility of fighting poverty.


Ann Doss Helms said...

Missouri, I totally agree that just looking at gains without looking at comparisons can be misleading. I've reported on that many times, including in the context of strategic staffing. You reference Winterfield article -- do you mean the story about Windsor Park?

Unless WSS has changes w/o my knowledge, it's a formula applied to all schools. Kids who qualify for FRL are counted as 1.3 in calculating teacher allocations. All schools have some FRL students, so all schools get some benefit. A large school with a relatively low FRL population might still get a couple of extra teachers based on the formula. The whole idea was to get away from the "equity schools" approach, which had an arbitrary all-or-nothing cutoff based on FRL percentage.

Jeff Wise said...

The great thing about Ann's post here is how it also works for teacher merit pay.

Just as tooth decay is one part of the overall picture and can't seriously be judged as the cause of poor student achievement, student test scores cannot seriously be judged as the primary indicator of teacher effectiveness.

Regarding Pre-K:

Most everyone is missing the overall point of pre-K. Yes, it's true that a fair amount of the cognitive skill advantages that pre-K students get dissipate around 3rd-4th grade, however recent research is showing that it's the non-cognitive, or so-called soft skills, that stick with the students through the rest of their lives.

Something like 20-30 years ago it was touted that cognitive skills were the predictor of future success. Parents started (and still do) push their 2- and 3-year olds into early learning classes with worksheets on math, letters, reading, etc.

Yet, studies show that cognitive learning does not equate to high adult success rates. What does equate though, are people imbued with the so-called soft skills. And this is what good pre-K programs teach.

So to look at test scores of pre-K and non-pre-K students in 3rd grade or beyond is missing the point.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wise,

It is predictive that government wants to get their hands on their voter's children from cradle to grave.

It is also predictive that taxpayers will be funding pre-K while other parents do the responsible thing and take care of the cost of pre-K and getting their children ready for K-12 themselves.

It is also predictive that more and more baby mamas will be having offspring that shouldn't be, which leads to predictive comments #1 and #2.

Jeff Wise said...


Oklahoma, one of the more conservative, small-government states in the union has implemented universal pre-K. With solid results.

Shamash said...


Again, the long term academic benefits don't seem to be the case for Oklahoma, either.

They've had their universal Pre-K program in place for around 15 years.

This is long enough for it to have had some effect on such measures as NAEP scores in the 4th and 8th grades and other measures as well, yet Oklahoma isn't anything special.

In fact Oklahoma kids score WORSE than NC and SC kids for the most part.

I am pretty sure that if you check other national tests, you will see that Oklahoma is pretty much a loser state, academically.

It's not even in the top half.

(Also, I know because I used to live in Tulsa...)

Of course, you can always hold out hope for some other future success from their "Emotional Quotient" (or some such thing), but, at least academically, the pre-K program doesn't seem to matter much by either the 4th or 8th grade.

And, of course, we are comparing Oklahomans to non-Oklahomans, but we can't compare them against themselves with "universal" pre-K.

The Georgetown study of Oklahoma that I saw seemed to focus on Kindergarten skills (such as letter recognition, etc.), which I would certainly hope were helped with a pre-K program, or else it would be totally worthless.

I am really disappointed in what the eduocracy considers a "success" by these standards.

Shamash said...

I guess if there was a study out there that showed that across the board, Head Start (or some other pre-K program), produced kids less likely to end up in prison, that would be a good thing.

However, given that Head Start has shown conflicting results depending on whether the families were black, white, or Hispanic, (with whites actually doing WORSE after being in Head Start), I would hope they aren't closing those "gaps" by making one group worse than it otherwise could have been without the help.

So maybe instead of looking for "positive" outcomes academically we should look for less negative outcomes socially speaking.

Could be, I guess...

But it sure would be nice to show some kind of benefit other than the obvious one of a child knowing their letters a year earlier.

Jeff Wise said...


Check out the work of James Heckman, he's been a fair amount work the last number of years on the effects of pre-K. It started when he was asked to study the efficacy of GED's and found that they're essentially useless.

His pre-K studies are showing that sure the measurable cognitive effects might level out as students progress through grades, but the soft skills aspects don't.

A number of his papers are easily googled, and he's been the focus of at least 2 Planet Money podcasts and is prominently discussed in Paul Tough's latest book "How Children Succeed".

The thing is, current education reformers and others push aside this kind of work because it's not easily measurable at every grade level. We are sadly stuck with poring over test results as if they are the sole indicator of what predicates a successful student, teacher or school.

Missouri said...

Shamash, current philanthropic and educrat practice to close the achievement gap depends heavily on restraining or even suppressing the gains of the upper kids, the white kids. CMS has successfully strangled this group. The suppression has been 25% of the gap closing the last 2 years.

Lastly, Jeff and others, these reports about the soft skills keep saying "the study suggests...", "the study suggests... And we all know that is simply reaching trying to find any, any nuance to help keep funding their feeding trough.

As in everything governmental, follow the money!

Anonymous said...

Tooth decay is just the latest excuse the CO can point too. Spend your time looking at project LIFT as it provides dental care to the kids. So no excuses and still no data to show the $50 mm works. This article is baseless since its source was a dental company. Do you not have any better use of time for a article?

Anonymous said...

The recent story Ann wrote about Windsor Park ES was intriguing.

Windsor Park is a high-poverty/majority-minority school that's consistently produced results without hiring bonuses, big-wig philanthropic grants, strategic staffing initiatives, gifted magnet programs, and innovated curriculum enhancements. Windsor Park ES has miraculously managed to overcome the link between poverty, race and academic failure simply by finding the right people with dedication and talent, minimizing turnover and disruptions, giving teachers more freedom and flexibility in crafting lesson plans, and grouping students by ability. Also, the principal has a lofty goal of reaching the test score heights of Providence Spring ES which has the highest test scores and lowest FRL population in the district. Windsor Park isn't about going from the bottom of the barrel to mediocre. Windsor Park is about going from average (good) to great. We should all pray this school gets there.

Of course, all the local, state and national "experts" are now descending on this school like flies on doo-doo to figure out it's magic formula. The problem with this is CMS has a decades long reputation of "fixing" things that aren't broken. I had a highly regarded and well-known principal tell me that one of (his/her) primary jobs as a CMS principal was to stay under CMS' radar. I've heard similar tales from other CMS principals. All I could think about after reading Ann's story was, "God Save Windsor Park". In my opinion, if CMS can screw-up the successful mixture of things that are working at Windsor Park, it will. Schools in CMS get targeted if they're too successful because every politician, CMS downtown leader, and school board member want a piece of the pie. Every outside leader wants a slap on the back for making things work.

If Windsor Park is smart, they'll circle their wagons, hunker down and secure their fort!

Alicia Durand

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of a career change with a goal of becoming a 4th or 5th grade classroom teacher. I haven't decided yet if I want to work for a public school system, private school system or charter school system. What I do know is that I'm not interested in working at the lowest performing school. I'm also not interested in working at the highest performing school. I'm interested in working at a school like Windsor Park. I want to work at a school with an attainable goal to be the best combined with the vision and drive necessary to get there. Working at a school with a declared mission statement to beat the best is exactly where I want to be. For me, striving to be the best is exciting, thrilling and motivating. I want to be a part of this team - wherever it is.

Dear Principal Kevin Woods and distinguished members of the Windsor Park staff,

My name is Durand. Mrs. Alicia Durand

Anonymous said...

Wake up CMeS

White students are the MINORITY in CMS. The white male population will be a MINORITY in the United States in 2030.

Americans and CMeS need to rise up and stop dumbing down society.

Trillions spent with no measurable improvement. Way to waste more and more of our taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps you SHOULD hire an ex porn star teacher. She has done nothing illeagal as opposed to the many FRL and illeagal students that CMeS and the state educates on the backs of leagal residents.

Anonymous said...

Morrison and the BOE are


Shamash said...


I did check out Heckman. Some of what I read made sense.

His emphasis on family influence in education in particular. I think that is what a lot of people have been saying, though.

Some of his other ideas, such as the solutions, I'm not so sure about.

Sure, soft skills matter, but I think that family will still make a bigger difference than any external programs (such as that Perry program he talks about).

But at least he is taking a reasonable approach to the matter and is not swallowing ALL the PC bull being dished out without analyzing the facts.

His papers are on the uchicago.edu website. I read The American Family In Black And White, and thought it was reasonable.

(Especially good at debunking some of the wage inequity BS out there; his thinking goes along my line of reasoning on this...).

When all is said and done, though, I don't think he is going to find any program out there which adequately erases the effects of dysfunctional families on kids.

And I'm not sure the schools should be in that particular business, anyway.

As he somewhat alludes to, sometimes gubmint intervention just seems to make things worse.

Shamash said...


Yeah, I am kinda concerned that after 60 years of social experimentation ending in failure of NCLB, the "study suggesters" are going to change their tune and say that it's not "cognitive" skills that we need to address, but "non-cognitive" skills which are even MORE DIFFICULT to measure, and go off on another 60 year spending spree.

I could easily see that happening.

I don't think we're really going to solve this problem, though, because it's just too inconvenient for those most affected by it to actually put forth the effort.

And no one else can do it for them.

So I just expect that our society will become more poliarized between the haves and have nots.

I think the key to a good future will be a good family life, probably more so than other things.

And I don't think that is something that will come from any social programs promoted through the schools or by government.

And I think it will still depend heavily on personal responsibility, just as it always has.

Unwed, divorced, baby-daddied, etc., etc., etc., just won't cut it.

As much as people do not want to hear that...

Anonymous said...

What is Heaths response to the swim coach dating the student? CMS you have huge issues and these lead to cash settlements. Once again too late the the draw and it will cost millions.

Anonymous said...

Catch him when he is finished going "Door to Door".

Dropped the Drop out rate!

Way to go BROAD!

Anonymous said...

This guy Morrisson is already way in over his head and has no clue what they signed him up for. Typical CMS way of business take the small guy from Reno were his job was to keep kids coming to school instead of being bellhops. Ridiculous and great job BOE, Chamber , Kojo and the ILK.

Anonymous said...

Worked for CMS for almost 20 years.

An endless series of ready, fire, and aim by the administrators.

The Human Resourses fiasco over the last 6 years is about the last straw that breaks the back.

Anonymous said...

Can we call the Bozo back from Tennesse Mr. Cash his name has such a ring and he fits the makeup of CMS. He would mesh with Kojo and has a terrible track record so over qualified for CMS. Bring him back give him some Gorman like money and he will lead CMS into its JV with LIFT folks.