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We Have Failed

I honestly believe that “friends of the market” do more damage to the cause of freedom and markets than the statists. Now, we’ve let Randi Weingarten win the day by calling these market reforms:

Market-based reformers advocate using student test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, firing teachers in low-performing schools, and relying on corporate executives and business practices to run school districts. This ideological approach has generated a great deal of media attention, and it has been sold aggressively by its advocates. But there is increasing evidence it doesn’t work.

So sometime in between my first economics class and my last, I must have fallen asleep during the lecture where using a massive administrative bureaucracy to write exams and evaluate test scores qualifies as a market process. I guess I was sleeping when nationalizing and exerting state control over the entire K12 school system was a market reform. I guess I was sleeping when we learned that forcefully appropriating property taxes from one person to pay for the education of another was a market reform (a charter school IS a public school).

And for those of you “market reformers” out there, get a new name. You were stupid to argue that any of this would improve outcomes and you are wrong to argue that a bunch of lazy teachers are the reasons the schools are failing. If you were a true market reformer the only thing you would be supporting is simply ending the public schooling monopoly, outcomes be damned. If we got the SAME outcomes we get today for half the cost that would be a startling success. Or how about proposing some other reforms, like, you know, allowing schools to experiment with curriculum and standards, and other unfathomable reforms.

6 Responses to “We Have Failed”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Some claim that education is too important to be left to the “whims” of the market. I believe the 180 degree opposite.

  2. Greg says:

    Two thoughts. I agree “market reformers” is the incorrect title for these people, but all of those reforms do lead us closer to something that resembles a market process and farther away from a government/union controlled system.

    Second, I am just wondering here…but is there any historical example of an occupational sector (something comparable to education) going from almost entirely controlled by government to the market?

  3. Rod says:

    I have one son, and when he was five, we had only two options for his schooling: Catholic parochial school or the public schools. Back in 1979, home schooling was not what it is today — there was no network of homeschool families, nor was there there much in the way of books and curricular materials for us to use. Because we were not Roman Catholics, we sent our son to public school.

    I have to say, however, that I doubt our son could have learned less if we had home schooled him.

    On the first day of first grade, my son’s teacher held up a reading book and asked, “Who has read this book?” It was an important question. All of the parents of the kids in his class who were in the know about how tracking worked in our schools knew that the correct answer was “I do.” All the kids who answered in the affirmative were put in a group that would be pushed ahead, and the ones who said they had not read that particular book were classified as dummyheads. In my son’s class was the son of the school system’s curriculum director: he said “I can.” Ian, my son, had not read the book, so he did not raise his hand.

    Maybe it was not so bad that Ian was in the lower reading group because all the kids then were subjected to a 1980’s version of sight reading, where they were encouraged to see a printed word as a picture, as opposed to breaking it down and sounding it out with phonics. Because my son has a photographic memory, he got perfect scores in spelling for his entire elementary school career. My wife and I, however, taught him phonics when we realized he could spell “veterinarian” but mixed up other simpler words.

    I volunteered for a committee that was reviewing the curriculum, and at the beginning all the members of the committee were asked to offer their ideas about “goals and objectives” of our inquiry. I was a dairy farmer at the time, but I had also earlier in my life taught English at Perkiomen School, a private school, and I taught all the 8th and 9th graders grammar until it came out of their ears. “I think that every 9th grade English teacher would like to see his or her students proficient in grammar before they reach 9th grade,” I said. “Why not set as goal the mastery of English grammar by he time our kids finish grammar school?”

    A snotty third grade teacher on the committee huffed and said, “Well, I don’t think I’m completely proficient in English grammar, and I’m a teacher!” she announced. She had me pegged as a dumb farmer.

    “Mrs. [forget her name], I think our kids can learn grammar, and all they have to do is do one page a day of Warriner’s Handbook, and they’ll have it mastered before fifth grade.”

    I did not win that argument, in the end. A year later, my son came home with his new textbooks at the beginning of the school year, and I thumbed through the “Language” book to see if it had any rigor. Just as I suspected, it did not: in defining the parts of speech, the section on prepositions showed a half a page of prepositions and then asserted, “These words are usually used at the end of a sentence.” That was it. No mention about modifiers, prepositional phrases, objects of prepositions, nothing. Just a garbage definition, if one can even call it that. I immediately called the curriculum director and read the language book’s misinformation to him. “This is worth less than nothing, George!” I told him. “Rod, we are stuck with this language book series for another three years; there’s nothing I can do,” he responded.

    So I was licked, and it was only September. My wife and I taught Ian about prepositions at home, and he easily got it. It was not like this was something a third grader can’t grasp. But someone had obviously earned a PhD in Education proving that third graders will undergo frustration and psychological harm if they have to learn English grammar. No, it’s Language.

    Continuing through grade school, Ian also once had a table of personal pronouns that I had given him snatched away by a teacher who considered it a crib sheet. She would not have any kids owning personal pronoun declensions in HER class, no sir!

    Then came the middle school. My wife and I insisted that Ian be put in the top group because we knew he was ready to be challenged. (All the parents who knew the system did the same). Problem was, the top group was not that great. For most tests, the teachers gave our son review sheets where the actual test questions were written, and they were told which of the items on the review sheets would be on the test. Then nearly all of the kids in the class would get perfect scores, and that made the principal of the school very happy because the top kids in the top class were at the top of the bell curve. When I would go over the review sheets with my son, he would say, “Dad, that’s not going to be on the test; I don’t have to know it.” “You’re going to know it, shut up, dammit,” I would say (I was not teaching him to swear; he had already learned that in kindergarten).

    So when my son reached seventh grade, we sent him to Perkiomen, where he won two scholarships. We stll had to pay a lot of tuition, however — more than it would have been to send him to St. Pius X, the Catholic school. But because I was an alumnus and a big Perkiomen fan, he went to Perkiomen.

    Even there, however, the curriculum was not the high-powered curriculum of my years as a student. For one thing, Ian’s English teacher used the lesson plans the local public schools used, so it was just routine, dilute public school fare. They spent six whole weeks on The Diary of Anne Frank. They did no Shakespeare. One composition a month. Ack!

    The problem was that the school was loaded with teachers who themselves were products of the public schools and who had been trained in education at Pennsylvania teachers’ colleges. They did not have a clue about what turning the burners up was. When I was a student, we had mostly teachers who did not have education degrees, and many of them had no idea what they should not expect their students to learn. So they just piled on the work, and we kept up. My point here is that even when one opts for private school, not all private schools are Exeter or St. PAul’s, and the difference one pays in tuition might not be worth it.

  4. Colleen Filipek says:

    I don’t think test scores is a very good way to rate a teacher in the first place, because some students are just bad test takers. My aunt is a terrible test taker, not because she doesn’t know the material, but because she just doesn’t think in that way, in college, when she convinced the teacher to let her do an essay test instead she did much better, and she is now a dean of students at a college, and getting her PhD to be an online teacher. Also, you could have a great teacher, they could be the best in the world, but if the student is unwilling to learn or unmotivated there is really nothing they can do.
    Similarly, with the “No Child Left Behind” all students of a certain age, in the case of my school Juniors, had to take an achievement test to determine if the school was good enough. If a certain point was not reached then the government would raise the level the school needs to reach and cut school funding (which would make it harder to reach the level in the first place). On top of that, the special needs kids and the ESL kids had to take the same test in the same amount of time, which would automatically lower the score as they are in separate and different classes and may need more time to be able to read it (especially if they are not proficient in English). Taking these test scores into account would lower the total score of the school and make it seem as though the school was doing worse than it was, and we never made the mark; yet I went to a very good school in a good district, and our curriculum was fairly rigorous, especially in the AP classes. Taking test scores like this to determine how good a teacher or a school is does not really make much sense because it ignores things that should be obvious, not all people are the same, nor do they have the same abilities or motivations or skills, and they should not be treated as though they do.

  5. Greg says:

    Collen I disagree with one point: “Also, you could have a great teacher, they could be the best in the world, but if the student is unwilling to learn or unmotivated there is really nothing they can do.” I would argue that a great teacher has the ability to motivate each of their students to the point where they want to/can succeed.

  6. Harry says:

    I love it when socialists talk about the marketplace, especially when talking about such things as “market-based reforms. For them, the notion of a market does not entail freedom. Hence we get cap-and-trade, where the government gets to create fiat rights, where they can be traded on some exchange, and where they are given to plutocrats wholesale as billion-dollar party favors.

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