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No, I am not quoting Al Michaels at the end of the Lake Placid Gold Medal Hockey game.  Rather, I am quoting my friend Diane Ravitch, for the title of this important blog post

Often we are in education presented with supposed examples of "miracles" - high poverty schools that have a remarkable performance, or so we are told.  As Diane begins her post,

One of the central claims of the corporate-reform movement is that poverty is not destiny and that a school staffed with great teachers can eliminate poverty. This is a very appealing sort of rhetoric because we all harbor the hope that every single person can overcome the obstacles of poverty to achieve success in school and in life.

If this remind you in some ways of the earlier mythology of Horatio Alger stories, perhaps it is appropriate.

Diane had previously written about 3 such miracle schools -  Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, Bruce Randolph in Denver, and Miami Central High School in Florida.

Gary Rubinstein, as Diane notes,

has just updated the statistics on these schools, and he shows that they continue to struggle despite the accolades of officials in search of a miracle.

(side note -  Gary is a former TFAer who has now become an important voice critical of TFA).

Please keep reading. . .

Diane goes through the data Gary provides of three schools that have receive praise - Urban Prep in Chicago, Bruce Randolph in Denver, and Miami Central High School.   The praise has come from Secretary Duncan, President Obama and (unfortunately, along with the President), Jeb Bush.

The reality is somewhat different.

Urban Prep -  yes, 100% of the kids went to college, but

Only 15 percent met Illinois' Prairie State assessment standards
zero percent were rated by the state as "college-ready.

Bruce Randolph -

continues to be one of the lowest-performing schools in Colorado.

Miami Central - here I think I need Diane's entire paragraph:  

Last March, President Obama and Secretary Duncan joined with Jeb Bush to hail the alleged transformation of Miami Central High, evidence that firing staff could work wonders. Except that it didn't. Miami Central remains one of the state's lowest-performing schools and was slated for closure, but has been saved because of pleas by local officials.

Ravitch will give you an example of a school that really is closing the achievement gap - South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York.  She provides a hyperlink to a PDF that will support that statement, then writes bluntly:  

Reformers, take note. Go visit. It's closer than Finland.

This evening I am reading Finnish Lessons:  What can the world learn from educational change in Finland, because tomorrow I am going to a book event at the Finnish Embassy with its author, Pasi Sahlberg.  As a teacher and an advocate for public education, I do want to learn from the Finns, but it is also nice to realize that there are good things going on here in the United States.

I am going to push fair use.  I am going to quote all of Diane Ravitch's final paragraph, because I believe it is that important:  

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: There are no silver bullets in education. There are no magic feathers that enable elephants like Dumbo to fly. It's hard work to improve schools. It takes dedication, resources, and time. And the work is never done, the magic number of 100 percent is always out of reach. Just when you think that you've achieved success with this year's students, another new group arrives, each student with his or her issues. Or students leave and arrive mid-year. Or the state changes the testing program or releases new regulations requiring more paperwork. Claims of overnight or one-year transformations should be suspect on their face. It can happen, perhaps, but I'm skeptical and need far better evidence than has yet appeared.

Real educational reform is needed.  It will involve hard work.  It will need the commitment of teachers, parents, the community, legislators, and more.

What we call "reform" now will not get it done.  Diane Ravitch is right to deflate the idea of "miracle" schools.

I decided I should bring her thoughts to your attention.


Originally posted to teacherken on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 01:41 PM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good post. (6+ / 0-)

    I worry about the attacks on public education.  Good public education is the foundation of democracy.  

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 01:57:56 PM PST

  •  What about magical janitorial apprenticeships (7+ / 0-)

    to  raise up children in poverty by their boot straps?

    Magical thinking is the backbone of right wing ideology and it is destroying the fabric of this country.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 01:58:42 PM PST

    •  It is one thing to believe in miracles (9+ / 0-)

      It is quite another to insist on them.

      In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

      by blue aardvark on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 02:06:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  it's not magical thinking, that's just a beard (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      crystal eyes, aliasalias, fumie, BruceMcF

      for the real world solutions they won't come up with because they simply do not care about other human beings and their problems. When they espouse what we like to call "magical thinking," most if not all of them know they are full of shit and it won't matter because they've garnered their true desires in life already -- unlimited wealth and power to insulate themselves from the consequences of their barbaric neglect and self-absorption -- and the rest of us can just rot for all they care.  Their magical "solutions" aren't any more real to them than they are to us, IMO... they only offer them as a placeholder as they wait for us to starve and die amid their intentional degradation of our world and its resources.

      "Some of you are going to die... martyrs, of course, to the Freedom that I will provide!"

      by emperor nobody on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 02:07:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Their "shining city on the hill" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        emperor nobody

        is in fact a ramshackle  third world ghetto with gated  enclaves for the few.
        The shine is only for those who are club members.

        If cats could blog, they wouldn't

        by crystal eyes on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 02:39:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  indeed (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          aliasalias, crystal eyes, ChuckInReno

          The shine is also for us, to be applied to their shoes for about 8 cents an hour.

          Like I said, I don't buy "magical thinking," that they are all sincere when they offer spurious, fantasy-based solutions to stuff. I mean, many are successful in the cut-throat world of competitive business... do they just rely on magical Jesus Fairy Dust in that realm? I doubt it... more likely they viciously climb the ladder using the most hostile, State-of-Nature maneuvers -- many that would make Thomas Hobbes himself blush.

          No, I think most of them -- excluding the total psychofreaks like maybe Bachmann, for example -- use the Jesus Shining City On The Hill Fairy Dust arguments to make themselves seem like they espouse an egalitarian, "Christian" philosophy emphasizing their (phony) belief that they love other people and that they want the best for everyone.  As someone once said, "You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to, so that when they turn their backs on you you'll get the chance to put the knife in."

          They pretend to be caring human beings, a lot of them... but really they are just talking Animals.

          "Some of you are going to die... martyrs, of course, to the Freedom that I will provide!"

          by emperor nobody on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 03:02:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  What they believe to be the power ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        emperor nobody

        ... to insulate themselves from the consequences of their barbaric neglect and self-absorption.

        Its not necessarily the case that their belief's are warranted over the long haul.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 03:44:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Oh but they had a great movie!!! (4+ / 0-)

    All about how Horatio Santa came in with the miracle of Charter Faith-Based schools and instantly transformed all the evil gang members into college ready responsible working teens by the power of a single teacher who actually cared enough to not accept excuses and instead inspire the student through his gruff nature.


    One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass.

    by detroitmechworks on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 02:00:23 PM PST

  •  Miracle Schools (5+ / 0-)

    are like Bush's Mission Accomplished banner.  The political PR value vastly exceeds the reality.

  •  If I understand correctly (7+ / 0-)

    in Finland, along with their high test scores, they have strong teacher's unions, highly paid teachers, small class sizes, a Federal Department of Education, and few charter schools.

    So we know what works. Why don't we just do that?

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 02:05:43 PM PST

    •  It's kinda complicated.... (8+ / 0-)

      The Finns do have all you mention, and a bit more.   One thing you forget to mention is this:  there, teaching is a high-prestige profession.  Right up there with physician, lawyer, etc....   Standards are extremely high:  you must have a Master's to teach, even pre-school.  And those standards are set at the Federal level.  

      We don't have that.  

      There are a lot of things about the Finnish system that would probably be treading on thin ice in the US, from a legal standpoint, including the way it's funded.   In Finland, funding follows each student to whichever accredited school they attend, including private ones.   It's worth nothing however, that there, private schools do not have the prestige they normally do here:  over there most private schools are reformatory type places. With the exception of a few elite prep schools in Helsinki, if your kid is in "private school" over there, it's not something you brag about, because it usually means they've been kicked out of public schools.  99% of the time, public schools are the better, more prestigious choice over there.  

      Giving funding that follows the student to any accredited school the kid attends reeks of what we call over here a "voucher program."   The government's job is to make sure that the school meets accreditation standards, and write the check.    This opens another door we in the US may not care to open:  religious studies.   In Finland, the government sets a basic curriculum.   It is full of math science, civics and other basics.   However, "elective" classes above and beyond the basic curriculum can be up to the locals.  

      What this means is that every kid learns evolution first.  The school won't get paid unless they do.  But students may also be exposed to religion.   Many of the public schools teach religion in a secular way e.g.:  Philosophy of religion, or comparative religion, etc.  

      So those are two obstacles that need to be dealt with if we want to copy to Finns.   We have to reconcile ourselves to a strong federal government that sets the curriculum, sets standards, ensures standards are met, and writes the checks.  Many people in the US don't like ceding that much control to the Federal Government.  

      We also might have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that some tax dollars may go to religious studies.   Granted, in most cases in Finland, they are secular religious studies that approach it from a historical or philosophical standpoint, but it's still religion.  

      And the one thing Finland does that we do not:  it makes sure every child is given the exact same chance, no matter who they are or how rich or poor their parents are.   Over there, if you work hard at school, you can go to University and become anything you want to be, and the government will pay your tuition and give you a yearly stipend.  

      That is the carrot on the end of the stick -- something this nation lacks.   We have entire groups of people who do not believe in the value of education, and it's understandable since they don't get the same quality of education that others do.  Nor do they have access to the same opportunities others do.  For many of them, college is a pipe dream.   So if that's the way it is, can we blame them for asking  "what's the point?"  

      The above point is the root of what I call the "Finland is Homogenous" defense.  This defense insinuates that Finns are capable of doing this because they are all the same.  It's double-speak.  

      Finland is not Homogenous.  There are rich, there are poor.  There are doctors, lawyers, teachers and CEOs, and there are also car mechanics and plumbers.   There are Christians (both orthodox and protestant), Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and anything else you can imagine.   There are urbane and sophisticated city dwellers, and there are rural farmers that live in the country, drive pickups, and shoot reindeer to eat.   There is pretty much every possible group and sub-group there.  

      So when people say "This works in Finland because Finland is a homogenous society" I always have to ask: "How are they homogenous?  Is it that 99% of them are white?"

      This, to me is the other thing sorely lacking in the US.   Many people have convinced themselves that "certain people" will not take advantage of the opportunities presented them, and thus justify not presenting them those opportunities.   And systems that work -- Like that of Finland -- are dismissed as unattainable in the US since Finland does not have "those people."   They're "homogenous" don't ya know?  

      •  Yep (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JMoore, RerumCognoscereCausas

        Racism is at the core of why we tolerate entire school districts that underachieve.

        In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

        by blue aardvark on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 03:30:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, there's a world of difference ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JMoore, RerumCognoscereCausas

        ... between learning from their experience and attempting to photocopy their system.

        We've tried the "photocopy the system" in the opposite direction in USAID programs for low income nations around the world in the 50's and 60's and 70's and 80's and 90's and Two Thousandsies ... with predictably disappointing results, since for an institutions to thrive, it needs to work in concert with the other institutions of the society in which it is to exist, and the photocopy approach all to often relies on relationship with another institution that does not work the same way in the host nation.

        If we were to have a voucher system in our country, it would remain the case that the public schools would act as insurance against being kicked out of private school, and some fixed portion of the per child funding would have to be directed to the local public school district to compensate for that insurance function.

        For me, I'd think 50% of the voucher to the school of attendance and 50% of the voucher to the public school of residence is about right, but somehow I don't think voucher advocates would go for that ratio.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 03:52:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, Finland's Educational system is a symptom... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF, mmacdDE

          ...of a highly functional and efficient government that benefits from extremely low levels of corruption, coupled with the exacting expectations and the widely accepted social contract of  the populace.  

          Like you, I don't believe the "photocopy" method would work in the US or anywhere else.  We'd have to re-engineer our government and completely change people's expectations of what the government's and society's priorities should be.  And we'd have to hold the government (and ourselves) to that strict standard.  

          Culturally, the Finns have an intensely low bullshit tolerance.  They tell the truth, and expect that everyone else does.  In that regard, many people see Finns as naive, and easy to take advantage of, since they will take you at your word without thinking too much about it.   And the people who think they are easy to cheat are right -- but only the first time.  You lie, cheat or steal once, and for the rest of your life you'll be branded a liar, cheat or thief who is never to be trusted again, even in the most pedestrian of things.   It's easy to understand why their government is the way it is, and why the government apparatus works as well as it does.  


          •  also several key factors we lack (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RerumCognoscereCausas, BruceMcF

            agreed upon purpose to education, and seeing it as a public good, to the point that there is free post-secondary education

            idea of social justice as a key part of society

            "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

            by teacherken on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 06:01:49 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  And a bit more, too. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              The Finns are extremely competitive.   Everything is a competition with them, and a point of pride.  You cannot read a Newspaper over there or watch the TV news without them pointing out how well they are doing in whatever area, and then going on to compare their success to others.  

              It's not enough for them to point out that they have the number 1 educational system in the world -- they must point out where Sweden, UK and US fall in the rankings as well.  

              Many an American CEO who found his company competing with a Finnish upstart has been rudely shocked at how competitive they are.  When they set a goal, they achieve it.  Nokia (they used to make rubber boots) decided that the rubber boot business was limited, so they set out to not only make cell phones, but to own 50% of global market share.  And at one point in time, they did.  

              When Finland resolved itself in the 1960s to have the world's best educational system, it became a national goal, and they didn't stop until they attained it.   It was their equivalent of putting a man on the moon.      

              •  Well, we USED to be competitive (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                but not much anymore.

                Now, we're just complacent. And for no real reason, because we're getting our asses handed to us in a lot of areas.

                We USED to have good schools. We USED to have world class research facilities, both public and private. We USED to be the innovators, the leading edge of technology, the ones to follow.

                Now we just get run over.

                And what really annoys me is that the govt doesn't seem to care, and a large chunk of the populace thinks that we're still hot shit.

                Kinda like that star quarterback in HS who shows up at the 30th reunion 50 lbs heavier and completely out of shape, but still thinks he's an athlete.

      •  Finland becoming increasingly more diverse (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        first, it has three national languages -  Finnish, Swedish and Sami.

        It's largest language and ethnic minorities are Russian, Estonian, and Somali (!!!!).

        Having now read half the book, I think there is actually much we can learn from them.  I will write about the book sometime in the near future.

        "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

        by teacherken on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 06:00:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's not been easy for them, either. (0+ / 0-)

          I was living there when the first Somalis were relocated there as refugees.  As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of culture shock for both parties.   I'd be lying if I said that racism was not a problem.  

          The Russians have never been well liked, dating back to the 1800s.  

          Estonians are culturally and linguistically their cousins.  

  •  Dumbo and the feather (5+ / 0-)

    I particularly like the attribution to Dumbo and the feather, a fundamentally childish belief in irrational transformations. That is so much like Arne Duncan, Gates, and the rest of the Billionaire Boys Club. The term used to be "horsefeathers" but the deformers' BS is so much more fanciful and fallacious, perhaps the new term should be "Elephantfeathers!"

  •  Thank-you ,teacherken (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barbwires, teacherken

    For the link and for giving me more fuel in my desire to understand what my kids...hell all our kids are going thru...

    My oldest is only a year & half away from being a teacher...he's afraid that our problems today are going to get worse and not better but he is determined to be a teacher...

    My youngest just entered high school... his brother and I have chosen to home school him on several topics that the school just doesn't cover anymore...

    Other than going to the school board meetings and trying to get some things changed I don't know what else I can do as a parent but I am willing to keep watching....reading...and learning....thanks

    “And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

    by JMoore on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 04:15:23 PM PST

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