Home > Uncategorized > Inputs Do Matter in Education

Inputs Do Matter in Education

David Frum this morning says:

One of the truest and most powerful conservative ideas of the 1980s and 1990s was to stop measuring our commitment to “education” by measuring “inputs” (spending per student, class-size)  and instead to measure “outputs” (student learning). Schools and teachers resisted, but were rightly over-ruled.

This is the problem with conservative education reformers, and recently is the problem with many “liberal” reformers as well.  It’s always interesting to note that many of the people who think that input isn’t that important tend to go to private schools (Frum when to a private high school, and Yale and Harvard).  Which there is nothing wrong with, but it sometimes seems like they are disconnected with what is actually happening in education today and never really experienced it in the past.

To assume that the outputs, namely test scores, is the best way to measure our commitment to education is a flawed point of view.  One, as I have stated in previous posts, this will lead to narrowing of curriculum.  Since the passing of No Child Left Behind, this is has become the main occupation of most schools.  Preparing for standardized tests and then taking them. (If you want to attack a special interest group, look how much money we spend on tests and test preparation.)  Now with the push to have these tests and student’s scores on them, tied to teacher evaluation, it will lead to more teaching to the test.  Is this what we want out of our education?  Students who can fill in multiple choice questions really well. Students all over the country that are prepared the exact same way. Or do we want something different?

The problem with Frum’s point here, is that inputs really do matter.  Now I am not saying that you need to just throw cash at the problem, but it does help.  Linda Darling-Hammond (it’s long I know, but very relevant):

Deepening segregation tied to dwindling resources has occurred as African American and Hispanic American students are increasingly concentrated in central city public schools, many of which have become majority “minority” over the past decade while their funding has fallen further behind that of their suburbs.  In 2005, students of color comprised 71% of those served by the 100 largest school districts.  By the late 1990s, in cities across the nation, a group of schools emerged that might be characterized as “apartheid schools”–schools serving exclusively students of color in low-income communities.  Whether in Compton, California; Chicago, Illinois; or Camden, New Jersey, these schools have featured crumbling, overcrowded buildings, poor libraries and few materials old and dilapidated texts so scarce that students must share them in class and cannot take them home for homework, and a revolving-door teaching force with little professional expertise.
In part, these conditions arose as taxpayer revolts pulled the bottom out of state education funding, and the distribution of funds became more unequal.  The extent to which urban and poor rural schools serving high proportions of low-income students of color could be abandoned without major outcry was in part a function of their intense segregation.  This, indeed, was one of the reasons civil rights advocates sought desegregation in the first place.  Their long struggle to end segregation was not motivated purely by desire to have Black children sit next to White children.  Instead, there was strong evidence that the “equal” part of the “separate but equal” principle-enunciated by Supreme Court in its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision had never been honored, and that predominantly White schools offered better opportunities on many levels–more resources, high graduation and college attendance rates, more demanding courses, and better facilities and equipment.  Furthermore, there was a belief that such schools, once integrated, would continue to be advantaged by the greater public commitment occasioned by the more advantaged community they serve.  This belief seems borne out by the rapid slide of resegregated schools in cities that were turning black and brown during the 1980s and 1990s into conditions of severe resource impoverishment comparable to those in undeveloped nations.
This connection between inadequate funding and the race and social status of students exacerbates the difficulties of creating either integrated schools or adequately funded ones.  The vicious cycle was described early on in the fight for schools funding reform:

School inequality between suburbia and central city crucially reinforces racial isolation in housing; and the resulting racial segregation of the schools constantly inhibits progress toward funding a therapeutic answer for the elimination of school inequality.  If we are to exorcise the evils of separateness and inequality, we must view them together, for each dimension of the problem renders the other more difficult to solve–racially separate schools inhibit elimination of school inequality, and unequal schools retard eradication of school segregation.

The differences in resources that typically exist between city and suburban schools can strongly influence school outcomes. For example, an experimental study of African American high school youth randomly placed in public housing in the Chicago suburbs rather than in the city found that, compared to their city-placed peers, who started with equivalent income and academic attainment, the students who were enabled to attend better-funded, largely White suburban schools with higher-quality teachers and curriculum had better educational outcomes across many dimensions:  They were substantially more likely to have the opportunity to take challenging courses, receive additional academic help, graduate on time, attend college, and secure good jobs.
Finally, not only do funding systems and other policies create a situation in which urban districts receive fewer resources than their suburban neighbors, but schools with high concentrations of low-income and “minority” students typically receive fewer resources than other schools within these districts.  This occurs both because upper-income parents lobby more effectively for academic programs, computers, libraries, and other supports–and tolerate less neglect when it comes to building maintenance and physical amenities–ad because more affluent schools generally secure more experience and educated teachers through initial assignments and seniority transfers.
The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future  p. 38-39

Now what I’m not saying what we do is take down the funding for these suburban schools, but to bring up the support for the city schools.  This has been a problem not only in education, but our society recently.  During the collective bargaining fight in Wisconsin, many people I talked to in the private sector complained that they didn’t have collective bargaining.  We shouldn’t be bringing down one group because they have more than another (rich schools v. poor school, private employees v. public employees) we should be striving to bring up the lesser to the level of the better off.  Don’t take collective bargaining rights away.  Fight for your right to have them as well.

Frum points to class size as another input (I sure hope he doesn’t only think there are two).  Anybody who thinks that class size doesn’t matter has never been a teacher.  In the future I might expand on this further, but let me be clear on this, class size really does matter.  The difference between 25 students and 30 is huge.  This input has a big effect on students.

The one input that Frum doesn’t talk about is home life.  Frum made the above quote talking about hospitals.  He thinks we should judge hospitals on outputs instead of inputs.  I feel bad for those doctors that they are going to fire because John Doe ate McDonalds every day and never worked out. Those doctors should have saved him.  Home life matters as an output.  If there are neglectful parents, or parents working multiple jobs, or students don’t get breakfast in the morning, or many other socioeconomic things that might affect the child, will also have an affect on educational outcomes.  If you wanted to improve educational quality across the board, you should eliminate poverty, strive for full employment, and create a more economically just society.  That will have huge impacts on student achievement.

To focus only on outputs is to view education as a business and students as products.  That is not what education is.  Student learning is the main goal, but to blind yourself from the inputs of education is to blind yourself from a major problem in our society today.  Student learning is the goal, but the important things that you learn in school are the things that you can’t measure.

Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. 06/03/2011 at 5:41 pm

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