How to Raise a Nation of Ill-Prepared Under-Informed Dolts

Anybody who has followed No Child Left Behind knows it has a mixed record of success so far. A huge boondoggle, big government program, national bureaucracy, blah blah blah. Teachers and schools and teachers’ unions complain about unfunded mandates. But once we peel back the layers of this particular onion, we see what might be the real problems with education in the USA, and none of them is money. Or more accurately, more money won’t fix what is wrong with our schools today, because we have bigger problems that are social and cultural in nature. And also, lots of bad teachers.

First, a disclaimer. I know a couple of teachers, and my kids have had many teachers over the years, and my comments below are not intended against any of them. Well, maybe a couple of the teachers my oldest son had in middle school. 🙂 But other than that, I can’t complain too much. And the teachers my 7 year old has had so far (K-2) have been very, very good, from my vantage point. But my kids go to public schools in one of the wealthiest, highest achieving areas of one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., and my kids are pretty damn smart (hey, facts is facts), so anything less would be completely off the tracks.

Sunday’s Chicago Tribune has an article that goes into some of these issues today. Let’s take a look at it. Click the headline to read it (registration req’d at Tribune site).

Pupils still far behind despite law

Little progress shown 5 years after `No Child’

By Stephanie Banchero
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 7, 2007

Five years after the landmark No Child Left Behind education reform was enacted, Illinois students have made minimal progress on national achievement exams, while many of the state’s minority and low-income students are still enrolled in the worst schools with the least qualified teachers, national and state data show.

Despite pumping more than $4 billion in No Child Left Behind funds into Illinois, most of the law’s intended improvements have either fallen flat or have not been enacted fully.

Fewer than 1 percent of Illinois students trapped in low-performing schools have transferred to better ones, mainly because there are not enough good alternatives nearby. Only one-third of children eligible for free tutoring receive the help, in part because districts have been lax about notifying parents.

Low-income and minority students are more likely to have unqualified teachers than their white and middle-class counterparts, and the dramatic overhaul of the worst schools has not materialized because of watered down policies.

The story is much the same across the country.

Now for some of the money quotes, highlighting by me.

When the law was enacted in 2002, 31 percent of 4th graders in the U.S. were proficient in reading, according to national test data. Last year, that number had not budged. In 2002, 17 percent of low-income 8th graders were proficient in reading, compared with 15 percent last year.

This is stunning. Only 31 percent of 4th graders were proficient in reading? That is a ridiculous number, and parents across the county should be demanding heads on a platter. 31 percent!? How is it even possible to do that poorly? Surely we can’t blame it all on low-income students; even if 0 percent of them were proficient, which is surely not the case, there aren’t enough of them to drag down all the rest of the country. And any way you define “proficient”, this is completely unacceptable.

And speaking of low-income numbers, they are even worse, at least for 8th grader. Nobody should be surprised by this. Of course, “low income” can mean a variety of different school settings and student demographics: the first two that come to mind are inner city schools, and poor rural areas with lots of immigrants. There is a lot going on here, under the surface, that complicates questions about education, and I don’t want to get too far off the track on this, but I will note a couple of things that seem quite relevant, because they deal with social and cultural issues that must take precedence over education.

In inner city schools, many of these kids grow up in environments where the lure of gangs and drugs is overpowering, at least to the mind of a 14 year old. Never mind that you’re more likely to end up dead or in jail by the time you’re 21 than to make a success out of your life. The desire to get good grades just doesn’t rate, in that world. Of course, if those kids came from intact families, where Dads lived in the home and provided a net positive role model and a little bit of discipline when needed, maybe the kids would be more serious about school, because maybe the gangs and drugs wouldn’t have taken over completely in the first place. When compared to today, none of this trouble for “inner city poor folks” existed, to any appreciable degree, until the Great Society stepped up to the plate and handed money to women for having kids out of wedlock, and created a welfare state that said in so many words “black men not wanted”. Reap, sow, etc.

Immigrants, on the other hand, are often coddled by political correctness meant to help them, by not forcing them to learn English soon enough, or at all. It is just a part of our crazy immigration policies puzzle, where we absorb them into our society, and throw money at them in the form of health care, free school, and even admission into state universities based on state residence for illegal aliens. When they grow up, we allow those illegals to get drivers licenses and register to vote. Why do we do all this? If you’re like me, you’re thinking “pandering for votes”, and just between you and me, I think you’re right. Politicians pandering for votes, imagine that!

In both cases, the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations” rings in my ears. And both scenarios are messes that our Federal Government got us into (or at least helped); now they pretend that more money will fix these larger problems in a piecemeal fashion, by focusing on the educational problems that are masking deeper social and cultural problems. This cannot work; social and cultural problems must be fixed first.

Back to the article, and the topic at hand:

Nationwide, the percentage of 4th graders who passed a national math exam jumped from 32 percent in 2003 to 36 percent last year, and the gap in the pass rates of Hispanic and white 8th graders shrunk from 25.6 points to 24.5 points.

Similarly craptacular achievement in math. All those billions of dollars we spend on education, for this? Earth to educators: we’ve been progressively getting worse over the last 40 years, not better. Even with diversity training.

But even critics of the law acknowledge it has had its benefits, if for no other reason than it focused the nation’s attention on education reform, especially for disadvantaged children.

I would put forth the assertion that we knew we were failing at this in 2002, with a 31 percent proficiency number for 4th graders. Before spending 108 Billion Dollars to confirm it.

Federal education officials argue that the law has laid a vital foundation. Every state now has a testing system. Districts must pay attention to the performance of minority and low-income students, and schools must let parents know if their children are being taught by unqualified teachers.

In other words, “it was a godawful mess”.

“The law is working, and we see that evidenced in the narrowing of some of the achievement gaps and the enhanced test scores of our minority students,” said Katherine McLane, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. “One of the greatest achievements of No Child Left Behind is that it put a spotlight on the students who have been underserved. Now that we know where the needs are, we have to work faster and harder to better serve those students.”

Oh, this is rich. Translated into simpler language, “we’ve finally forced public schools in minority areas — under threat of yanking funding — to be a little less shitty”. Surely MBAs are in their future now. See discussion above. Meanwhile, what about the rest of us? More of the same, apparently.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think test scores are a function of how hard the DOE works. You? Here’s the thing: these education bureaucrat types see “achievement gaps” and think “why do poor kids in drug-infested gang-controlled neighborhoods struggle in school, and how can we get their test scores up so we know we’re doing our jobs?” Oh, please. And whether those kids are actually learning anything useful, like how to read and write and communicate with actual people, using the English language as understood by others for hundreds of years, well, this is another question. Place your bets. Left unspoken, and probably un-thought, is the idea that poor kids in this country have bigger problems than education, largely caused by, ahem, large Federal bureaucracies.

To keep states honest, the law also requires participation in the National Assessment of Education Progress, given to students in 4th and 8th grades and commonly referred to as the nation’s report card.

Those results show that students in Illinois and across the nation have posted minimal gains and that the achievement gap has hardly budged. Reading scores have been especially troubling, given all the additional money provided through the much-maligned federal Reading First Program.

Illinois education officials acknowledge that the academic improvement has not been what they had hoped for.

“I think it’s important to point out that we have made some progress on state tests,” said Ginger Reynolds, an assistant superintendent of education at the state board. “Is it enough? No. It is never enough until we’ve been able to get rid of the achievement gap.”

Following this logic to its extreme, you could accomplish that goal by reducing achievement for the rich white suburban kids. Voila! No more gap! Based on some of the things I see going on, the plan seems to be working so far. And some wonder why home schooling has become so much more popular?

By the way, am I the only one who sees “achievement gap” and thinks “equal outcomes”? I.e., socialism? That phrase is starting to annoy me.

Research shows that the quality of the educator in front of the classroom is one of the biggest determinants of student success. Poor and minority children benefit the most from a good teacher but are more likely to get the least qualified ones.

Do you think this is because most teachers don’t dream of dodging bullets and pandering to illegals? Eh, too close to call.

Yet, at least a dozen states, including Illinois, have relaxed teacher licensing requirements in recent years.

It’s called supply and demand. Seems that in a roaring economy over the last 20 years, not so many people want to go into a profession where you don’t make much money, and where doddering old farts who should retire instead hang on because of the protectionist ways of their union. Who knew?

States also have been slow to address a mandate in the law that required a qualified teacher in every classroom by the end of last school year. States were so delinquent, in fact, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings extended the timeline until the end of this school year.

Earlier this year, Spellings warned Illinois officials that if they did not create a better plan to get highly qualified teachers into poor schools, they could risk losing funding.

Qualified teacher in every classroom? Huh. Well, sure, if you think that will help. Whatever.

Reynolds, with the state board, said last week that a new plan has been submitted, but she said she did not know enough details to discuss it.

Here’s a plan. A couple, actually, and I won’t charge you for either of them.

  • Hire teachers that know something about the various subject matters, instead of the mostly ill-educated, brainwashed, generally useless clumps of flesh that our current teaching universities mass produce. Schools of education are the biggest waste of resources imaginable. They routinely open their doors wide to take in the lowest performing students, have the lowest graduation standards, and while there, spend too much of their time on teaching as a craft, rather than on becoming an educated person. They are then unleashed on our children, at our expense.
  • Phase out teachers’ unions. Despite any good intentions of the teachers themselves, the union leadership itself is protectionist, and cares nothing for the actual process of education. They conspire to keep our kids dumb, in effect, by focusing on raising money and protecting jobs, at whatever cost. And speaking of money, let’s follow it: we pay tax money to fund schools, who pay teachers, who then have to pay union dues from this salary, much of which turns into Democratic campaign money by about a 95% – 5% ratio. Democrats are in bed with union leadership, most especially the teachers unions. Rinse, repeat. And you wondered why teachers always want more money, and see every problem as fixable by more of it? When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Read Linda Chavez’ Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics for more.

More from the article:

Under its lofty goals, schools must make sure all children–whether they are poor, disabled or non-English speaking–read and do math at grade level by 2014. The law is aimed at closing the achievement gap between poor and minority children and their white and middle-income counterparts.

States must test students in reading and math from grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. The passing rate schools must meet increases every year, until 100 percent of children pass in 2014.

Low-income schools that fail to make enough progress face escalating penalties, from student transfers to a full overhaul.

The law, a key domestic policy for President Bush, also requires a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and provides billions to boost reading.

Where the legislation has been most effective, experts say, is in revealing the shortcomings of the educational system.

Expecting all kids to read and do math at grade level is a “lofty goal”? I suppose, especially if you discriminate against kids by not demanding much of them.

You’ll have to read the rest yourself, I’m tired. And Life is short. But I’ll sum up by saying, first, there is a lot more going on here than just education policy and teachers and students, and second, our drive to lower the bar in order to supposedly make life easier for poor folks has been a spectacular failure which has hurt almost all children, almost across the board, and third, keep all this mind when evaluating whether or not a government solution to any given problem is a worthy idea.

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