Anyone with experience in schools will tell you that most attempts to quantify and classify what happens there, including standardized test results, illuminate only a tiny part of the story. Two studies released in recent days reveal some of what usually remains hidden.

How Parents Really Choose Schools and Why It Matters

The first compares how parents choose schools with how they SAY they choose them. Findings indicate that parents appear to be more interested in factors other than academic quality as the state defines it. Proximity and after-school opportunities are more important to many parents, especially those with less financial resources. This New Orleans study suggests that school choice could actually increase, rather than diminish, achievement gaps within a city. (Story here.)

The Iceberg Effect

The second study, tellingly called “The Iceberg Effect,” compares nine nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and Finland – in six education-related characteristics, including four that usually remain unseen, under the water-line, so to speak, in education studies.

The study was commissioned by the Horace Mann League, an organization dedicated to support of public schools, and the National Superintendents Roundtable. It looks at two areas commonly studied – the visible parts of the iceberg: student outcomes and system outcomes. But it doesn’t stop there, instead examining four areas of the iceberg that many school-based studies ignore: inequity and inequality, support for schools, social stress and violence, and support for young families.

The Iceberg Effect found that the U.S. – which has the highest Gross Domestic Product of the nine nations studied and the highest GDP per capita – “is clearly in a very precarious position on each of the 4 indicators” (p.6 summary). Violent deaths in the U.S. are three times as high as those in any of the eight other nations, for example, and only China has more children living in poverty.

The summary notes that U.S. “teachers, administrators, parents, and students in many communities face complicated challenges” with regard to all four areas below the water-line in education discussions. While this is not news to many of us, the study provides detailed and compelling evidence.

Here is the full Iceberg Effect report (58 pages), a 20-page summary, and a brief overview from the Washington Post’s Emma Brown.

Classroom Grief

Another rarely acknowledged challenge that students and teachers constantly face is grief.

Census data indicate that one in twenty U.S. students will face the death of a parent during the childhood. In addition, many lose grandparents, and other relatives and friends to natural causes and accident. In some communities, moreover, regular losses due to violence add to student mourning.

Grief affects ability to concentrate and many other aspects of a young person’s academic life. But teachers are not necessarily trained to respond in ways helpful to the mourning child. A new website – GrievingStudents.org – is dedicated to helping educators handle the death of a student’s loved one. (See also NPR story.)

Listen to the January 22 show —

The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia in Washington, DC, Thursdays at 11 Eastern on We Act Radio.
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The Education Town Hall BUS is a monthly program organized by BadAss Teachers, United Opt Out, and SOS March. The program regularly airs on the 4th Thursday of each month.