Saturday, August 7, 2010

Treating the Healthiest Patients

If you were going to choose a doctor, what would you look for? You'd like a doctor with a low mortality rate, right?

Not so fast! In a famous study (I'll post the reference as soon as I find it!) of the effects of ranking doctors by mortality rates, it was found that doctors started winnowing out the riskiest patients to improve their rates. It's much easier to attain a low mortality rate if you only accept the strongest, healthiest patients to begin with.

The exact same thing has happened, predictably, with NCLB. There's a population of kids who will perform well on standardized tests no matter what the school does, namely bright, motivated kids from solid middle-class backgrounds. Naturally, these are the students all the public schools want to teach.

I started out sympathetic to the principal profiled in this New York Times article, A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government's Good Intentions. Joyce Irvine was the principal at Wheeler Elementary School in Burlington, Vt. She worked hard and was well-liked, but the school had low test scores, because the district contains many children of refugees. Most of the children at her school are poor, some are traumatized, many don't speak English well, and many arrive with no previous education.

So what was Ms. Irvine's plan to improve the school? Intensive English classes? Adult education for the undereducated parents, who could then help teach the kids? No. Her plan was to transform the school into an arts magnet, in order to attract middle-class kids who would rack up high test scores.

And that's where I stopped feeling sympathetic to Ms. Irvine.

No comments:

Post a Comment