Every time I read an article about public school, I assume I’ll run into research from people who have a conflict of interest. Here are three studies that made me nuts this week.
Valedictorians at low-income schools stay low income. That’s what the study says. It’s mind-blowing, really. We’ve known for more than 20 years that the tax base of your high school determines your income when you graduate.
Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg just dumped seemingly infinite money into Newark, NJ, schools accidentally proving what we already knew: not even more funding can create class mobility for kids with low-income parents.
This was a cover story for the Globe. Which signals to the city that it is shocking that poor kids grow up to be poor. Then we can pretend there are ways to solve this problem with school. What if the Globe ran a story that said, “We already knew the valedictorians would be poor. Everyone knows public schools have created a caste system in the US.”
The Globe doesn’t say that because it would be really hard to say we need to completely overhaul our social service system—which is what public school is. Any suggestions for action would offend most of their subscribers.
This research shows that by the time a kid is in preschool, the disparities between rich and poor are too big for school to overcome.
To give you an idea about how much we did not need more research on this topic, the Ford Foundation has already run through multiple cycles of funding to overcome the problem that by age four poor kids are at a disadvantage for learning a musical instrument.
That’s right. We have so much data about how ineffective schools are at educating poor kids that we are now studying minutiae like learning to play the violin.
So why did Georgetown do a new study on this very old topic? Because Georgetown has funding to figure out why students are totally unprepared for the workforce.
The answer, of course, is that there is no correlation between doing well in school and doing well at work. The correlation is between having a lot of money and making a lot of money. But a university can’t use their funding to do a study that says that school is a terrible way to prepare for work.
Here’s a good rule of thumb when reading studies. The more insanely obvious a title is, the more certain you can be that the data does not even support the insanely obvious and the paper should never have been published.
This study says the most common benefits of recess before lunch are “increased consumption of lunch, improved behavior in the cafeteria, and an increased focus on consuming lunch.” I read all three of those benefits as the same benefit: kids finish their lunch before lunch is over.
Maybe we should forget about the timing of recess and just get good food. School lunch in France looks like dinner at a restaurant in Brooklyn. And school lunch in Finland looks just as good.
Maybe we could notice the pattern: other countries have good food at school.
The real finding of the recess/lunch study is that kids have a better focus on whatever they are doing after they go outside for exercise. We already know this, of course. If you put math after recess kids will focus better on math. Similarly, if kids have lunch then recess then social studies, then kids will focus less on lunch and more on social studies.
This study was funded by the School Nutrition Association. Which needs school in order to maintain their influence. So they cannot risk a conclusion that says kids can’t focus when they sit in classrooms all day. That would mean the end of school as we know it.
Instead, the paper says there are benefits to moving recess. And the government continues to fund these researchers because no amount of money will fix public schools, but money makes researchers feel like they have meaningful careers and things will be fine. For them.