In my AP Stats class a learner wanted to see if there was an association between poverty or income and graduation rates in the local Washoe County high schools. This project was done in May and it is an initial project that does have some shortcomings. First, I will explain the methodology the learner used to construct the data, explain the results, and then the shortcomings that can be addressed in a future study.

First, the learner gathered a list of high schools in Washoe County and collected data from the Census Bureau’s “American  Community Survey” to gather information about the corresponding zip code. The learner did ignore the schools that select their learners such as Truckee Meadows Community College High School, the Academy of Arts, Computers & Technology and charter schools. Including those schools would skew the results, especially since they are not associated with a specific zone.

The learner then used JMP to create graphs and calculate statistics on the data, focusing on only 2 associations; median income on grad rate and %below poverty on grade rate.

R is –.836 for the poverty, graph and r = .727 for the median income graph.

Grad Rates = 89.03 – 1.055*(Percent Below Poverty Line)

Grad Rates = 52.69 + 0.0003837*(Median Income in dollars)

Both of these regressions had statistically significant slopes, but the interpretation of the slopes makes the case even more apparent. For the poverty graph, as the percent below poverty increases by 1 percent, the graduation rate drops by 1.06 percent. Clearly, poverty is having an outsized impact on graduation rate.

For the median income graph, for every \$1000 change in median household income, the graduation rate increased by only .38%. Clearly, the larger impact on graduation rate is the percent below poverty, not the rising median income.

The problem with this initial analysis is that not every zip code in Washoe County is represented. I know my school zone covers 3 different zip codes, while some of the other schools split a zip code between them. As an initial analysis the results are very interesting, and shows that a more detailed study needs to be performed to get a better handle on impact poverty has on Washoe County’s graduation rates.

Why bring this up with such a long explanation? Why post this project in such detail? Because it needs to be seen, especially in light of the recent national and international news / discussion on the impact poverty has on education.

Michael Pershan did a very good analysis of the PISA data and it shows that in the US, poverty matters, a lot.

Secretary Paul Reville also did a take down of the idea that poverty doesn’t matter. The association between poverty and low educational outcomes is well established, but the deniers and the ideologues won’t allow for reality to impact their thinking. Mr. Reville’s statement that,

“Some want to make the absurd argument that the reason low-income youngsters do poorly is that, mysteriously, all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students.”

is as close as it gets to a perfect description of the state of the political attacks on education.

The problem as I see it is an AP Statistics learner in Reno, NV can figure out the reality of the situation with publically available data. When will we stop denying the obvious and start acting on the good data?

I started out to write a post about my frustrations and fears last week, and deleted it over and over again. I just couldn’t get what I wanted to say correctly on the screen, nor could I collect the facts and links that led me to the conclusions I was making.

I had previously said, “as public school math teachers … we are screwed” in my first Exeter article, and I still feel that way. The alignment of major money against teachers is overwhelming, and I definitely see signs of attacks on public schools and public school teachers. Just look at the research about education right now, it is about merit pay, charter schools, and how to abuse teachers more, not about how to benefit learners more. Look at what the publishers are doing with Common Core.

Example 1

Example 2

You can’t look at these examples and not get a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. If this is common core, then we are just doubling down on mediocrity. And as I struggle with the CCSS and my Exeter project, I am finding out just how difficult it is to work with the CCSS in a substantive way.

Then I read Kris Nielsen’s post, This is How Democracy Ends – An Apology, and it struck a vibe with me.

Here is my takeaway question though. Given that this is occurring, and I believe it is, then what can I do in my classroom to have a positive effect?

After all, I believe I can and do have a positive impact on my learners, and I have faith and confidence in them that they are not all “common”. I need to keep Kris’ article on my desk and re-read it weekly, to remind myself that just because this is the trend, I don’t have to accept it. I can fight against it and give my learners skills and abilities to reach beyond it.

Which brings me to my reason for posting, my resolution for the new year: To reach beyond and push my learners above common place standard thinking, and to give them skills to do the same. In short, my resolution is to fight, every day, to do my small part in not allowing the worst case to occur.

I am re-blogging Kris’ article in its entirety below the fold. It is worth reading, and even has an interesting Venn diagram to explain his arguments. I don’t think I agree with everything he says, but it resonates strongly none-the-less.

Read it. My thoughts above will make much more sense afterwards. I just found myself quoting most of his piece in sections the first time, and realized it would have a better flow this way.

I was having a conversation the other day with a recent graduate of my high school. This person was shocked at how bad education is, because they are in college and doing well. All the things they hear in the media was creating a huge cloud over their head because they had a great high school experience, learned a ton, challenged themselves daily, and is now excelling in college.

They asked, “How did education go so downhill in such a short amount of time.” Essentially, the graduate didn’t understand how, in the span of two short years, education went from being something people support and want to succeed, to something people are constantly attacking. This post is for that learner, as well as to consolidate some of the information I have for that person and have it for myself in an easier to locate place.

First off, the issue that is most frustrating is the constant barrage of bad, wrong and very negative information about teachers and teaching. Bill Ferriter, at The Tempered Radical summed it up very succinctly. It really isn’t easy to be positive everyday in the classroom when you know that people who would be lividly angry if someone told them how to do their job feel that they are “experts” at education and start demeaning teachers and telling us how to do our job. They believe they are somehow experts at education just because they went to school 20 years ago.

Then you have the Governor of Minnesota declare war on educators, oh sorry, just the unions. And it goes on. Creationist attacks on science education occurred in over 10 states last year. School vouchers, which are code words for allowing public money to be used at religious schools are brought up every year by the republicans.

It goes on and on and on. Education is under a concerted and organized attack in the United States. Our learners are being tested to the point where teachers can’t teach anything but the material on the test, the tests are re-written every few years to make them harder and harder, and then the republicans scream bloody murder because the same number of learners are passing the tests. Duh.

And everyone just allows the republicans to get away with the lies, the distortions and the rampant framing of the debate. Randy Turner has a great piece entitled “Gutless media has failed American Schools.” Absolutely correct.

The media has not challenged the rampant lies about education. The facts are easy to find and dig up. Not only have the scores gone UP on the NEAP exam, but they have gone up significantly! The number of graduates from American colleges have DOUBLED in the last decade! (But Bill Gates is allowed to spin this as a negative?) The number of kids graduating high school is at an all time HIGH! (But the graduation rates are so low? How are graduation rates calculated? Do you know? I do. It is a shell game, designed to make the numbers appear lower. This school district has a good explanation of the game.)

So the politicians have defined schools as failing, independent of any facts. The media has gutlessly gone along with the redefinitions, therefore allowing the entire discussion to be framed in purely negative terms.

If this was the military, people would be screaming bloody murder! When the soldiers in the field do not accomplish the goals set out for them, we do not blame them, we blame the generals. but in education …

When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives. via

Not for teachers though. The gutless media has allowed the debate to be framed entirely in the context of greedy teachers (who have to work second jobs to make ends meet) and failing schools (that will see record cuts this year because they are failing?)

No. This is wrong. I, for one, will be standing up to anyone who repeats the framing of the discussion. In formal debate terms, the framework is being rejected by this debater. I will explain this in public, in person face to face, and in public on the internet.

As teachers, we need to stop being complacent and allowing the people who created the problem to frame the discussion about how to “fix” the problem. Instead, we need to reject their assumptions and start over.

Now.

————

Edit: 14 May 2011.  The facts are even easier to find as people start actually looking at the economy and taxes.

I wonder where this terrific economic “trickle down” is? Clearly the richest Americans are making more, but they are paying taxes less than ever, and they certainly are not creating jobs with that wealth. Well, maybe jobs in China (manufacturing) or Switzerland (banking).

Edit 31 May 2011

And more evidence of the fact that effective tax rates are the lowest not only in the recent history of the US, but that the US has the lowest corportate tax rate of all industrialized nations. From the NY Times.

Edit 1 June 2011

Well, the issue of when is still open, but how is pretty well detailed. I have been on the receiving end of the religious right’s anger before, so I do understand exactly what is the issue here. Susan Ohanian, who has won awards for her investigative journalism has followed the money trails on the attacks on education and teachers. The religious right is a large mover in this, because they want to dismantle the public education system in the US, as well as Bill Gates and friends. The money rarely lies in issues such as these.

Edit 6 June 2011

This just gets worse and worse. At the federal level, corporations are taxed less than citizens are. The website ThinkProgress breaks down an article on 12 corporations that had \$173 BILLION in profits and payed no taxes! Really.  This is based off of an article by Citizens for Tax Justice that shows clearly our revenue problem in the United States.  I guess idealogues like InvestorJunkie have less and less leg to stand on, just the same lame arguments based on a flawed and outdated ideology.

Edit 10 June 2011

Wow, the edits on this post are going to deserve a post of themselves, I think.  One of the complaints is that teachers are “ineffective”, whatever that means. Usually, what they mean is that the test scores of the teacher don’t meet some arbitrary and illusory criteria that will change every year in order to make more teachers appear to be ineffective.  Of course, the reality is that the learners family income level matters more than a teacher ever could. The quantity of research on this is staggering, but the ideologues dismiss it all with things like, “the poor in the US are better off than the rich in other countries,” as if that comparison actually means anything.

Edit 25 July 2011

As the summer winds on, the debt ceiling debate rages on, and the republicans are lying to the public continuously about the debt and why / how it occurred.  The rational person sees the evidence and realizes that the Bush tax cuts are a major cause of the current problem, and need to be reversed. The delusional just keep denying the evidence as usual.

Edit 7 Aug 2011

Scott McLoud posted this graphic today showing the true amount of dollars in taxes actually paid in the US both compared to other countries and ourselves over time. It is very telling, as well as indicative of just how much the teabaggers lie about taxes. Something has to give.

I don’t often post political issues here, but I was doing a bit of reading this morning and felt the need to consolidate some of the posts as well as express some opinions on the issues.

Of course, we all read the news, and know of the constant and abusive attacks on teachers and education by a certain political party. It is unfortunate that the person who is best showing the rampant hypocrisy of the that party is a comedian! None of the traditional news outlets are highlighting the fact that the Republican party has framed the debate very carefully as an “us vs. them” situation where “us” really is incredibly rich vs. the “them” of educators. Jon Stewart’s “Crisis in Dairyland” shows  this incredibly well. (Teachers v. Wall StreetFor Richer and Poorer, Interview with Diane Ravitch and Angry Curds.)

During  the height of the Wisconsin tragedy, I had a very impassioned discussion with some wall street type folks here.  What I realized out of this discussion is that they are brain dead. No seriously. Brain dead. Walking zombies who have come to the conclusion that it is okay to break contracts with teachers, but not with them, that they have no clue what it takes to educate, and that the entire problem with education can be solved by simply throwing a couple of bucks at teachers if the teachers raise scores on a test.

Of course, the wall street banker assumed that everyone is motivated by money, and that the only type of motivation that is allowed, possible, or important is extrinsic motivation. Motivate the teachers to teacher better and all the problems are solved! Yippee!

But wait! This assumes that the truly important people in this discussion have only to sit there and allow the supremely motivated teacher pour knowledge into their heads like wonderfully passive little widgets. What a terrific idea! (I guess we know why the bankers have brought our country to near ruin through the banking crisis. See what I mean; brain dead zombies.)

And then Tim Stahmer posts on his blog about a couple of studies done on extrinsic motivation and education. Guess what! Extrinsically motivating teachers is a recipe for failure! Why? Because the motivation of the TEACHERS is irrelevant. It is the motivation of the LEARNERS that matter! Throwing a few bucks at me will not mean my learners are more motivated!

So let’s look at these studies. Maybe the studies were severely biased, and that is the problem. The Washington Post has an article on one of the studies, (and here is a pdf of the story in case it disappears.) Wow, \$15,000 is a lot of money! That is over 1/3 of my salary right now, and yet that huge amount of money did not cause students to do better? Imagine that? Paying the teachers did not cause the learners to do better!

But that is just one study. Not too conclusive at all. After all, one study in one school district means really nothing in the grand scheme of things. So Harvard does another study in a different school district. Guess what. Same thing. (here is the pdf text of the study.)

When are Michelle Rhee and company going to be thrown in the trash bin where they belong? They really have no plan, just more tired and wrong conclusions that do more damage than success. That is clear. If you read the book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” it is pretty clear they are causing significant damage to education.

But then, the brain dead zombies don’t want a good education system, do they? They want a system where they can teach creationism and can create good little worker bees who will be satisfied with low pay and no benefits. It is the educated citizen who demands more.

Lest you think that I am just complaining without offering a suggestion for improvement, I offer the following article. Bill Ferriter is a person who does suggest a positive vision for improving education. It is not an easy, magic bullet like merit pay. It is a hard slog. Structurally change how we teach. Change what we teach.

Yes, we can learn a lot of lesson from handwashing. Unfortunately for reality, it is not easy, but it is worth the price of admission.