Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cyber-Bullying & Public Moral Education

Interesting article on cyber-bullying in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. That is to say, it's not a must-read in and of itself, but it leads to some interesting discussions. If you have a special interest in cyber-bullying, though, you can read the original article here.

Here's the issue: say you're the 42-year-old parent of a sixth-grade girl who has just received a series of text- and Facebook-messages from a classmate, in which she is addressed as "whore" and "prude," along with a couple four-letter words, and directed to perform sexual acts that you had assumed she'd never even heard of. Now, hopefully you have the wherewithal to recognize the obvious solution—stop giving your twelve-year-old unlimited access to technology whose social, or for that matter cognitive, impact you don't really understand; actually, hopefully you never gave her such access in the first place—but if you're the average American, chances are you don't and you did, and so you're left with a dilemma. You have neither the means nor the experience to protect your child; and at the same time, you want to lash out at someone, but the someone in question is someone else's 12-year-old, so you have no recourse whatsoever.

According Sunday's article, more and more parents are turning to schools to protect victims and punish bullies. The trouble is, almost all of the actual cyber-bullying goes on outside of school, and there is no consensus among school administrators, school boards, parents, or state governments as to how much authority the school has to resolve such issues.

I'm interested in this discussion because it relates to two important trends in how we, as a society, deal with kids. One is the increasing involvement of the state in child-rearing; the other is the increasing involvement of adults in the lives and especially the social-lives of children. These are both part of a larger trend of paternalism within this country, arising it seems from the growing societal fear that if anybody is ever left too much to their own devices they will probably injure themselves and others, physically or emotionally—and somebody somewhere might get sued… or worse!

I don't mean to be glib, though. The obsession with oversight and regulation isn't coming out of nowhere, and we had better understand why it's happening before we start making fun of it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Overhaul of Locke Highschool not That Pricey

The New York Times reported today on the $15,000,000 Charter-based reform effort at Locke High School, in Los Angeles; but that number's not really as big as everyone thinks it is.

(You can see the original article here.)

The further you read, the mathier this post will get, so, as they say in ancient Rome, cave lector!

According to the Times article, Locke High, located in South Central LA, was a prime example of America's failing urban public schools, when it was turned over to a Charter School Group, Green Dot Public Schools, in 2008. Since taking over, Green Dot has cleaned up the school: "gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward." (The only state-test data we have for the reform effort come from the spring of '09, just a few months after Green Dot took over. Given the other data, we're likely to see much larger gains in test scores when the '09-'10 results comes in.)

The projected cost of this overhaul is $15 million over the course of a four-year transition period—which sounds like a lot at first blush. The Times article, which is entitled "School is Turned Around but Cost Gives Pause," splits its time between reporting on the changes in the school and discussing the debate over whether that price-tag is exorbitant. Let's get a little perspective on that number, though.

In America, public money is assigned to a school on a per-pupil basis: within a given school district, each public school gets a given amount of money for each pupil that attends that school. This money constitutes the school's operating budget. For Locke High, that is expected to come to about $115 million total over the course of the four-year turnaround period. The $15 million price-tag on Green Dot's turnaround effort is above and beyond the operating budget and is paid for largely by donations from private foundations.

$15 million over four years amounts to an expenditure of 13% above the regular operating budget for each of those four years. Put another way, it's an investment of $1,172 per student per year, for four years. That's a small and fairly short-term investment to turn a failing school into a good school; or, put another way, to give 3,200 students a decent education.[1]