Saturday, January 08, 2005

So what's wrong with the public schools?

There are many fine public schools in America where students learn the 3R's and emerge well prepared for college. But still they are failing our children and our country. Then there are those mostly in poorer areas "serving" blacks and immigrants where failure is endemic. During the last 25 years nearly everything in America has improved while public schools have resisted reform. The average K-12 test scores in America more resemble the 3rd world than the developed nations. This at a time when our economy is robust and the expenditures on education are enormous (eg 40% of the California budget). So what the hell is wrong with this picture?

The problem begins with the teacher's unions, among the most reactionary institutions in America. Reforms such as pay for performance and vouchers are strenuously and expensively fought, while the blame is placed on politicians and voters who refuse to pay even more. When the issue is debated the two sides are accountability (Republicans) and money (Democrats). But the debate does not even address the most important problems.

Liberals say that more money will attract better teachers and reduce class size and the result will be better education. Seems obvious, right? But this only addresses a tiny part of the problem. Teachers and classroom learning account for a small fraction of the educational process, maybe 10% or less. Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine you have a fabuluous teacher, a small class of well behaved students and a luxurious facility. The pupils pay attention as they usually do, but then do no homework. The fab teacher is also nice, as she never demands homework, so nobody is stressed out. The semester flies by and final exams arrive. Still nobody studies and, of course, everybody flunks. The test scores range from 2 - 10% depending on intelligence. (If you don't agree, what do you think your score would be if you never studied?) I conclude that the teacher and classroom experience account for maybe 10% of the result. The rest comes from personal effort. And the students are 100% responsible for their achievement. What really matters is the behavior and effort of the students, and that is the responsibility of the students themselves and their parents. Good students are the product of good parents.

What about the fine schools where most of the families have dedicated mothers and fathers and the kids get into the best colleges? I maintain that those schools are still failing their students, parents and country. Because the schools of education, the teacher's and administrator's associations and the school boards have moved so far to the political left, they actually harm their students. They no longer teach about good and evil, our judeo-christian heritage, the true constitutional rights and responsibilities, patriotism and the exceptionalism of America. Instead, moral relativism, agressive secularism and anti-Americanism are force fed for 12 years.

Then these kids enter the elite colleges where 90% of the professors are political leftists. Every kind of diversity is celebrated on college campuses except intellectual diversity. Schools of law and journalism graduate leftists who wind up practicing judicial activitism and praising it in the mainstream media.

So what can we do about this dismal state of affairs? In poor districts we should enable parents who really care about education to send their kids to private schools where discipline will be maintained and standards upheld. Support school vouchers. We should applaud and support leaders like Bill Cosby who tell the black community that their kids are failing due to an appalling lack of parental control and involvement. In all school districts we must elect right- minded candidates to the school boards and hold them accountable for a curriculum that teaches moral values and celebrates our national heritage and American goodness. At the college level, search out institutions like Hillsdale college that "vigorously defends the classical liberal arts, individual rights, limited government and the free market." (Go to www.hillsdale.edu for a free subscription to their fine monthly letter "Imprimis.") Let your alma maters know that they need to change or your donations will cease. Support the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (www.cspc.org) that is promoting the "academic bill of rights" aimed at liberal bias in colleges. Just do something!

12 Comments:

Blogger Ralph said...

Just a comment on my experience with public schools in California. When we moved to California in the 70's, California was number one for everything. When my kids got into school (in Palos Verdes), insanity broke out. After elementary, every school they could walk to was closed and the only kids the district seemed to care about were the incredably focused asian majority which appeared and the few focused caucasians. Everybody wants to get into the PV school district but I don't think it does much for most kids. Penninsula High was a refuge camp for my kids - 3000+ students crowded in a run down campus designed for 1500 max - all because the officials were convinced that families would never be able to buy houses in PV after the rapid increase in housing prices during the 70's.
You may be right about the teacher's union as the reason for the decline in education. I am certainly past the point where I think money has anything to do with it. What I do know is that I was constantly surprized by issues which the schools emphasized as important - like self-esteem (that one still has me boiling)that were 1) irrelevant to learning and 2) destructive to the focus of my kids.
My older son decided that he wanted no part of any education beyond high school. He is very intellegent and focused on his goals - one of which was to give no satisfaction to his teachers. We had no idea how intelligent and motivated he was until he started working.
Anyway, I am ranting and being specific when the issue is the general one of education melt-down in California. I really have no hope for the government run schools. And here I see the union as the obstacle because their only objective is money to them. Unions don't care about their members (prey). Witness the grocery employees union duping all their members in LA last year where NOBODY but the union got a benefit. How do we kill this beast.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments regarding unions. For the most part they have out-lived their usefulness in my opinion. Generally they care nothing for their members, they've become a beast hungry for more and more $$$. Bureaucracy...it's a dangerous thing when coupled with greed.
Dori

10:50 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Hoping to get back on target with the original question about what to do about our schools. My work experience has been almost exclusivly in government and quasi-government organizations (municipal utilities). I have always been impressed with the quality and dedication of my co-workers who cannot be rewarded with bonuses and merit pay. The limitations have come from timid managers. Imaginary rules that inhibit changes. (We always do it this way). When I was able to through monkey wrenches in the way of the machine, changes had to happen and it brought out all the repressed creativity and encouraged teamwork. You have to fix a failed machine but a useless or ineffective one which keeps running is maintained forever.
Perhaps it is like the invisible hand of free markets compared to command and control socialism. Freed of obsolete rules, dedicated employees who both want to do a good job (customer service) and make their life easier improve the operation - until it ossifies again.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

And finally, getting to my point. All Arnold can do it try to find the wrench and through it into the machine. Since the unions controls politics in California, they will fight him - and win, unless we rise up as we did in the recall.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

And finally, getting to my point. All Arnold can do it try to find the wrench and through it into the machine. Since the unions controls politics in California, they will fight him - and win, unless we rise up as we did in the recall.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

And finally, getting to my point. All Arnold can do it try to find the wrench and through it into the machine. Since the unions controls politics in California, they will fight him - and win, unless we rise up as we did in the recall.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

And finally, getting to my point. All Arnold can do it try to find the wrench and through it into the machine. Since the unions controls politics in California, they will fight him - and win, unless we rise up as we did in the recall.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

And finally, getting to my point. All Arnold can do it try to find the wrench and through it into the machine. Since the unions controls politics in California, they will fight him - and win, unless we rise up as we did in the recall.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a retired public high school teacher. I see the NEA as a big obstacle to improvement in the schools. A friend still teaching and a big union guy says to look at att the benefits the union got for teachers. But I saw teachers having movie day once a week, allowing students to catch up on their sleep. And I worked hard to insure quality learning, only to be disliked because I did not allow students to eat in the classroom, or sleep, for that matter.

More money will not cure that. Student responsibility is and must be a key factor. Schools are more interested in diversity, bully management, and other causes like the self esteem already mentioned. Let teachers teach! Make students responsible. Get the parents into the schools and involved. And yes, measure student progress.

I am also in favor of vouchers. If the public schools fail, there must be a viable alternative.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I picked up on you from Hugh and couldn't resist. You even convinced me to set up my own blog - no entries yet while I think this out. I just wanted to correct your thinking that I live in PV. After two years of weekly commuting (by car) each weekend from my job in Sacramento to my family in Palos Verdes, my wife and younger son moved to El Dorado Hills after 25 years in Palos Verdes Estates. I am thinking about the adjustment from southern to northern California. It is way different here,but not in any way I can easily identify

9:27 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

As an example of strange priorities in education which handcuff teachers, this from OpinionJournal for today.

Why Can't Johnny Add?
Schoolkids in Newton, a Boston suburb, aren't measuring up in math tests, writes Tom Mountain in the Newton Tab. Thirty-two percent of sixth-graders are in the "warning" or "needs improvement" category in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, and school officials are flummoxed:

The school department offered no tangible explanation for these declining scores other than to admit that they have no explanation, as articulated by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Wyatt (salary $106,804), "[The results] have decreased, incrementally, each year and continue to puzzle us." She went on to admit that this downward trend is peculiar to Newton and "is not being seen statewide." Again, she offered no explanation, but she did assure the School Committee that her assistant, Math Coordinator Mary Eich (salary $101,399), is currently investigating the problem.

But according to Mountain, it turns out that between 1999 and 2001, Newton adopted an "anti-racist multicultural math" curriculum:

In 2001 [Superintendent Jeffrey] Young, Mrs. Wyatt and an assortment of other well-paid school administrators, defined the new number-one priority for teaching mathematics, as documented in the curriculum benchmarks, "Respect for Human Differences--students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors."

It continues, "Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others . . ." It goes on and on.

"Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math," Mountain observes. "That's a distant second." It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out why Newton's kids are falling behind.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Nan Cameron said...

In a world in which events can be shared almost instantaneously, where we truly are part of a global community, it is essential that education meets the needs of our youth. Though all children do not have the same socio-economic advantages and all children are not formed perfectly, it is imperative that all children be integrated productively into our society and economic structure.

Truly effective schools are those which encourage emotional, physical, social, as well as academic skills to fully empower students to live, work, and perform successfully to become a productive, contributing member of our democratic society. Educators must provide a place in which children feel safe physically, psychologically, and intellectually in order to produce confident, independent critical thinkers, intelligent risk-takers, skillful decision-makers. We must produce generalists with cognitive goals who can adapt, rather than specialists who will become obsolete.

Education must awaken students’ interests in all subjects while encouraging them to have a love of learning which will last for a lifetime. Every student must master basic skills while the encouragement of practical imagination and conceptual vitality challenges students to learn for themselves.

Expectations of excellence, cooperative efforts, and a sense of community in the school must be fostered by strong, accountable leadership. The school leader’s role must be to give guidance in instruction and curriculum, to act as a resource provider, to be an active member of all education-related interactions. The leader must keep teachers focused on solving common problems through teaching strategies relevant in their own surroundings.

Most importantly, the leader must cultivate collaboration among teachers, parents, community, business, and students to produce child-centered, relevant, effective education.

~~ Nan Cameron

8:21 PM  

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