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  1. The literacy rate in Massachusetts was 98% in 1850.
  2. Massachusetts passed a compulsory education law in 1852.
  3. Senator Kennedy released a paper in the 1980s indicating that the literacy rate in Massachusetts was 91%.

4 Responses to “Public Schooling in Massachusetts”

  1. Gordon Barnes says:

    Correlation is grossly insufficient to establish causation. The changes that took place in Massachussetts between 1850 and 1990 are legion, and any one of those changes is a candidate for the correct causal explanation of the decrease in literacy over that 150 years. This is a point that I usually only have to make to my freshman students in Critical Thinking.

    Seriously: between 1850 and 1990, the demographics in Massachussetts changed completely, in myriad ways, and you must be aware of that. So how could you reasonably infer that, of all these changes, compulsory education was the causally relevant factor here? Are you seriously unaware of the need for further argument here?

    While we’re talking about facts concerning public education, here is one to note. The ratio of spending per pupil, between suburban public schools in New York, and the average public school in New York, is about 2:1. So suburban public schools (which you seem to agree work pretty well) have TWICE AS MUCH MONEY to spend per pupil as the average school. And the gap between suburban schools and inner city schools is even larger. Now, is it possible that this factor contributes to the struggles of inner city public schools? Hmmm.

  2. Sonia Keyah says:

    That commentor seems to be missing the point. It has nothing to do with correlation or causation, merely the fact that literacy rates were nearly universal BEFORE the introduction of compulsory schooling laws. That fact alone seems to undermine the legitimacy of calls for compulsory schooling and for publicly provided education – the “market failure” never actually took place.

  3. Gordon Barnes says:

    Wrong again. The fact that private education was sufficient for the population of Massachussetts in 1850 does not come anywhere close to supporting the claim that private education would be sufficient for the population of Massachussetts today. The differences between the population of Massachussetts in 1850, and the population of Massachussetts today is directly, obviously relevant to the issue of what would suffice. (Would the system of roads in Massachussetts in 1850 suffice for the population of Massachussetts today? Do you get the point?) And this is not even to mention the fact that mere “literacy” is so much less than anyone should aim for in a system of education. Would you be satisfied with your child’s education if the teachers said “She is, indeed, literate, and therefore her education is a success!” No, of course not. Mere “literacy” might have been sufficient for life on the farm in 1850, but it is nowhere near sufficient for life today.)

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