SPOILER: M. Night’s new work has a shocking twist

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M. Night Shyamalan Steps Into the Education Wars
[Via Kevin Drum – Mother Jones]

This is kind of weird. M. Night Shyamalan has apparently gotten a little bored with making movies, and has instead spent the past year or so writing a book. About education. And unlike other folks who parachute into the ed debates with the usual silver bullets (more charter schools! higher standards! fewer teachers unions!), he actually diagnoses the problem correctly:

You know how everyone says America is behind in education, compared to all the countries? Technically, right now, we’re a little bit behind Poland and a little bit ahead of Liechtenstein, right? So that’s where we land in the list, right? So that’s actually not the truth. The truth is actually bizarrely black and white, literally, which is, if you pulled out the inner-city schools — just pull out the inner-city, low-income schools, just pull that group out of the United States, put them to the side — and just took every other public school in the United States, we lead the world in public-school education by a lot.

And what’s interesting is, we always think about Finland, right? Well, Finland, obviously, is mainly white kids, right? They teach their white kids really well. But guess what, we teach our white kids even better. We beat everyone. Our white kids are getting taught the best public-school education on the planet. Those are the facts.

This is true. If you compare American white kids to, say, Finnish or Polish or German white kids, we do just as well. But we do an execrable job of teaching our black and Hispanic kids. In ed conversations, this usually gets referred to as the “achievement gap”—a deliberately watery term that Shyamalan has no use for. He calls it “education apartheid,” and what it means is that our schools qua schools are basically fine. It’s mostly our inner city schools with big low-income black and Hispanic populations that fail us:

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I  knew he was a ghost all along.  Wait, wrong work. Mr. Glass is really a bad guy? Wrong again. The aliens are killed by water? The trees are trying to kill us? Nope.

M. NIght reveals that we can actually teach quite well – remove inner city youth from the numbers and we have the best public schools in the world. Who knew?

Well, readers of this blog might have. I’ve mentioned some of this data before. In fact, it is even more interesting in some ways. Because we have 50 states that are all doing education experiments, so we can get more granular with how well each is doing.

And some of them are doing really well.  If we compare states to the countries of the world, it turns out in grade 4 that Massachusetts, Kansas, New Jersey, Minnesota and Vermont all do great. If they were a country, they would be one of the best in the world, doing better than every European country and almost as good as the best in the world.

Here are the country numbers for grade 4:
 Here are the states:

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It is states such as California, Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico that pull the average down. They do about as well as the international mean.

At least early on, we are going pretty good in some states. 

Well, it also appears that a large part of this correlates with child poverty rates. In fact, it is possible to estimate the test scores based on poverty rates. 

So we have an example of how to do it right. Perhaps we should study these states in greater detail and figure out what is making them so successful?

M. Night suggests some things that might help the poorer, urban youth. They are all things ti enhance the social fabric of these communities. Make the principle an academic coach, not an administrator; get rid of the really, really bad teachers and use constant feedback amongst teachers, principle and parents;  make the schools smaller so that students can see that this is a vibrant community, not a workhouse; extend the school day and get rid of long 3 month vacations.

Might be worth a shot.