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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Radically Bad

How not to improve education in five easy steps:

Raise the age of compulsory education. Twenty-six states require children to attend school until age 16, the rest until 17 or 18, but we should ensure that all children stay in school until age 19. Simply completing high school no longer provides students with an education sufficient for them to compete in the 21st-century economy. So every child should receive a year of post-secondary education.

Which begs the question, does every child have the capacity, motivation or need to receive a year of post-secondary education?  A drive toward universal tertiary education would merely transform college and university degrees, like high school diplomas before them, into de facto certificates of attendance. Nor is schooling the same thing as education. Some learn better outside of academic settings. Some learn only when properly motivated, after getting a taste of the real world of menial jobs.  Some simply don't have the capacity.  Trying to leave no child behind often holds back the rest of the class.  All this seems a very high price to pay for providing more employment for unionized teachers.

But truant officers can borrow a page from salesmen, who have developed high-pressure tactics so effective they can overwhelm the consumer’s will. Making repeated home visits and early morning phone calls, securing written commitments and eliciting oral commitments in front of witnesses might be egregious tactics when used by, say, a credit card company. But these could be valuable ways to compel parents to ensure that their children go to school every day.

I ask, knowing the answer, do these truant children have parents? When public education was established, the early truant officers spent a good chunk of their time trying to convince parents to send their children to school.  The parents were a little skeptical, wondering if their children needed all that fancy book learning.  That's probably not the problem today.  The problem is a lack of stable two parent families, something truant officers can do precious little about.

Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment. The University of Phoenix, a private, for-profit institution, spent $278 million on advertising, most of it online, in 2007. 

The author of those words is Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor from 2000 to 2002. It's not often that you see a public school educrat calling for the emulation of the private sector.  Here's a radical leap, if the University of Phoenix is doing such a great job, why don't you start privatizing America's public elementary, middle and high schools?  Outrage in 5,4,3,2....

Unseal college accreditation reports so that the Department of Education can take over the business of ranking colleges and universities. Accreditation reports — rigorous evaluations, prepared by representatives of peer institutions — include everything students need to know when making decisions about schools, yet the specifics of most reports remain secret.

Because a government run ranking systems would be fairer, more transparent and...heck I can't even finish that sentence sarcastically.  We can just see some second tier state school mysteriously beating out Princeton in the first annual survey, proving that education in a government university is just as good as those expensive private Ivy League schools.  Then again...

The biggest improvement we can make in higher education is to produce more qualified applicants. Half of the freshmen at community colleges and a third of freshmen at four-year colleges matriculate with academic skills in at least one subject too weak to allow them to do college work. Unsurprisingly, the average college graduation rates even at four-year institutions are less than 60 percent.

One could not agree more.  However....

President Obama has again led the way [Cue the Beethoven - Publius] : “As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.” Better teachers, smaller classes and more modern schools are all part of the solution. But improving parenting skills and providing struggling parents with assistance are part of the solution too.

Right. It's the parents. When the car breaks-down, the mechanic doesn't say we need better drivers. When the electrical wiring wears out, the electrician doesn't demand better switch flipping techniques be taught to consumers - though I'm sure there's a government grant application waiting to be written. What exactly are parents paying - via the state -  teachers to do if not teach? The teachers often spend more time, and have more time, with their children than the parents do. If Johnny Can't Read, might it not be the responsibility of the teacher of reading?  


Posted by Richard Anderson on June 17, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink


Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/opinion/08levy.html

(1) "Raise the age of compulsory education"

Idiotic idea. Forcing adults againt their will to be in school? Riiiiight.

(2) "truant officers can borrow a page from salesmen"

Also idiotic. Throwing horses into water won't make them drink.

(3) "Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment."

A much better idea. Advertising products is often about creting desires and needs in people that they did not already have. Maybe it can work with colleges (and other forms of adult education). BTW, Pubis, you seem to think Levy is recomending advertising for public schools. He isn't. The recommendation is for colleges.

(4) "Unseal college accreditation reports"

Zzzzzzzzz. Administratively bureaucratic solutions to quality of education problems are virtually useless.

(5) "produce more qualified applicants"

DUH! It's pretty easy to say that you think we need to make high school graduates smarter, but it is to empty a statement to count as a recommendation. I want world peace and an end to world hunger, too, but saying we should do that is not to say much of anything.

"improving parenting skills and providing struggling parents with assistance are part of the solution too."

Absolutely right. There is a very strong correlation between the committment that parents have to their children's education and their educational outcomes. This is a much stranger correlation than the one between the level of education of parents and that of their kids. Quite simply, parents with very limited educations who value the education of their own kids have kids who do better in school than highly educated parents who are much less involved in making sure their kids do well.

Pubis, your car and electrical analogies sound clever, but they miss the mark by a mile. Car manufacturers cannot do much to make sure a car will run very long if the driver never changes the oil, grinds the gears every time he tries to shift, and drives while operating both the accelerator and the brakes at the same time. There is not much a school can do to get little Johnny to learn if his parents don't make him do his homework and don't teach him to value having an education. If some kids in a class are doing very well and others are not, then either your little precious darling is naturally dumb (which is not the schools' fault) or the difference lies in the educational support parents either do or don't provide which is also not the schools' fault). It's even harder to blame the teachers when, as often is the case, it's kids who do well in one class do well in many classes with many different teachers and the kids who do poorly in one class do poorly across the board. The best explanation for variation in results is bad genes or bad parents. Take your pick.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-06-17 8:31:37 AM

the public school system would shape up if the voucher system could somehow be implemented.

we could write tomes about problems and solutions. too much theory. too much bullsh:)t.

there's nothing like markets and competition to motivate an institution.

Posted by: shel | 2009-06-17 5:31:07 PM


Sometime between 4th and 8th grade, the public school system fails completely. . . it's beyond time to disband the Dept of Edu (fed, state, and local) and let schools go back to what they once were. . . private businesses.

Posted by: Reverend Draco | 2009-06-18 8:59:18 AM

John Taylor Gatto. New York City Teacher of the Year. New York State Teacher of the Year. And he hates the public eduacation system. Brilliant man.

Posted by: Sam T. | 2009-06-18 7:51:40 PM

The ruling class has the schools and press under its thumb. This enables it to sway the emotions of the masses. ~ Albert Einstein

Capital must protect itself in every way... Debts must be collected and loans and mortgages foreclosed as soon as possible. When through a process of law the common people have lost their homes, they will be more tractable and more easily governed by the strong arm of the law applied by the central power of leading financiers. People without homes will not quarrel with their leaders. This is well known among our principle men now engaged in forming an imperialism of capitalism to govern the world. By dividing the people we can get them to expend their energies in fighting over questions of no importance to us except as teachers of the common herd. ~ J. P. Morgan

Don't expect it to get any better any time soon.
If you can't afford private schools, do what I do, get involved and counter-teach the kids.
Let them know what real values and responsibility are. Teach them fundamental rights. And of course the finer points of marksmanship. :)

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-06-20 11:18:57 AM

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