October 22, 2009
David W. Kirkpatrick - Senior Education Fellow
It's that time of year when Americans can exercise their constitutional right to abstain from voting. Which they do. Even in the presidential election of 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson received more than 60% of total votes, that was still a smaller number than the votes not cast.
And presidential years are regularly the ones with the highest voter turnouts.
A classic example of what can happen in an "on" year occurred in Pennsylvania in 1990 when a popular incumbent governor won reelection by a roughly 2-1 margin, often cited as a tremendous victory. It was a great win almost any way you look at it. Almost but not quite.
In 1990 Pennsylvania had a total population of about twelve million. Of course this included children and other ineligible voters. There were about nine million eligible voters. Of these six million were registered. Of these, about three million voted, of which the governor received two million and his opponent one million.
In brief, his "overwhelming" victory totaled two million of a potential nine million, about 22%.
Which, of course, is no reflection on the governor, or his opponent. They did the best they could. But it is a necessary assumption that those who voted were representative of the entire electorate.
Assumed but not necessarily so.
By contrast, this year is a so-called "off-year" when neither the presidency, members of the Congressional House and Senate, nor even most state governors and members of the state legislatures have to face the voters. Turnouts for the local elections in these years may be as low as 10%.
One argument of many nonvoters is that all politicians holding or seeking the 700,000 or so elective offices in the nation are not good enough to earn their support. It apparently can be quite satisfying to feel so superior to what over the years amounts to millions of your fellow citizens.
Another is the statement that the voter is going to cast a protest vote by not voting. Where else is something going to be done by not doing it. In fact, a nonvoter is agreeing to accept the decision of the electorate whatever it may be. Better to be former Vice President Alben Barkley of Kentucky who, according to Dean Acheson, when asked which of two candidates would get his vote said, "I haven't made up my mind yet; but when I do, I'll be bitter as hell."
Then there are the circumstances where third party, or atypical major party, candidates present themselves, and voters are urged to not "waste" their votes.
When that happens there is no way to know what might have happened if they had voted their true preference. Voting for a perceived winner is a true wasted vote because it indicates support and authority that is not there. Not only does it not affect the ultimate outcome but it distorts the truth and permits a winner to claim an unwarranted mandate and may scuttle the opportunity for real change.
There are only two true "wasted" votes - the one that is not cast and the one cast falsely.
And, the reason for this commentary which normally concerns education, perhaps nowhere is this more likely, and unfortunate, than in local school board elections where the turnout is often so low a few miscast votes may determine the outcome.
A few examples, good and bad, of the difference one vote has made:
In 1645 it gave Cromwell control of England. In 1649 it led to Charles I being executed. In 1845, if brought Texas into the Union; in 1868 one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment; In 1875, one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic; in 1876 one vote made Rutherford B. Hayes president; in 1923 one vote made Adolph Hitler leader of the Nazi Party; in 1941, just weeks before Pearl Harbor, one vote saved Selective Service. On a larger scale, in 1796 a change of less than 100 popular votes in Pennsylvania would have cost Jefferson the presidency, and in 1800 a shift of 214 votes in New York City would have cost him reelection. Imagine no President Thomas Jefferson.
Such examples are endless, even if unknown.
September 09, 2009
A Class-ic Mistake
David W. Kirkpatrick - A word - or two or three - about class size - The following dates from March 2003. Since the debate over class size is ongoing and everlasting, it is being sent again since many may not recall it and today there are many recipients who never saw it the first time around. After 6.5 years some of the material is dated but it is running as originally stated since the general substance is valid now as then.
Let it first be acknowledged that class size does make a difference but that difference depends on many variables, including grade level, the types of students, the subject matter, teacher skills, teaching method, etc.
California, under former Gov. Pete Wilson, mandated smaller class size in some grades. An initial cost of
$1.5 billion, now grown to $4 billion, resulted in a mad scramble to find teachers and space. Even child-care
centers and libraries were converted to classrooms, hardly a net gain.
Peter Jennings on ABC-TV's "World News Tonight," February 17 of 1998, reported that 21,000 noncertified teachers were hired. Jennings also cited a district that reduced class size only to see student achievement go down and another did not do so because eight new teachers, and eight new classrooms, would cost more than $1,000,000, money the district did not have.
A little historic perspective might be helpful. On May 19, 1806, the Free School Society in New York
City opened its first school, adopting the Lancasterian, or monitorial system, developed in England, whereby one teacher, using student monitors, was in charge of a school of 1,000 students.
By the 1860s, the public system had smaller classes but one New York City teacher had a class of 269
pupils and another had 162. The superintendent said classes of 60 or more were acceptable but they should not exceed 100 students. It was common for even a young woman teacher just out of grammar school to be given a class of nearly 100 six- and seven-year-olds.
A generation ago, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan noted a study by James C. Coleman which concluded that class size, by itself, is unimportant. Moynihan added this was consistent with findings over the previous 40 years.
Students in other nations are commonly in larger classes. The children of the "boat people" from Vietnam in the 1970s performed very well in our public schools, scoring, for example, in the 95th percentile in mathematics.
Yet in Vietnam they had been in schools where the average class size was 75. Japanese high school classes typically have 50 students. A Chinese immigrant who is a computer scientist in Maryland, has said her classes in China typically had 50-60 students. South Korea's students ranked first in math among 20 nations, yet the average class size there was 43 students.
Oddly enough, the argument that classes are too large has intensified at the same time that the student-
teacher ratio, and average class size, has declined. From about 37 students per teacher in 1900, the average dropped to 27 in 1955, to 18 in 1986, and about 17 today.
Eric Hanushek, former Chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Rochester looked at 152 class size studies. He found only 14, less than 1 in 10, reported positive relationships, about an equal number showed negative results, while most showed no significant difference either way.
Assume that reducing classes to 15 in the first two grades would bring gains of 14% as one study suggests.
To go from the current average of about 25 students per class to 15 means there must be 5 teachers and 5 classrooms for every 75 students, compared to the present three of each. That's a cost increase of 67%, nearly five times the percentage increase in achievement.
And what does a 14% gain mean? If students rank in the 35th percentile a 14% gain, one-seventh, would move them, at great expense, from the 35th to the 42nd percentile still leaving them still well below average.
Further, class size is almost invariably discussed in terms of classes being too big. But many are too small. Enlarging those classes could save money that could be spent where smaller classes are be proven useful.
During World War II, the U.S. Army taught typing in rooms so large that the instructor - a non-certified
soldier-teacher - used a microphone and students listened on headphones. This is because typing is a mechanical skill requiring only repetition until it becomes a habit.
A public school not only could do this, at least one has; Melbourne, Florida High School in the 1960s.
One typing teacher had 125 students per class, five classes per day, for a daily student-load of 625. Principal B. Frank Brown said, "The surprising thing is that we never thought of this before." Few other high schools have thought of it yet.
Or, another example, which should be obvious but is similarly overlooked.
The most common teaching method to this day is the lecture. A high school teacher may have six classes per day of 25 students (I used to have about 33). Presenting a lecture six times, once to each class, is highly inefficient. Would it not be better for the teacher to give the lecture once to the 150 students as a group, and have five periods available for other purposes?
Finally, even if the money is available, to spend billions of dollars on an ineffective practice, such as
arbitrary class sizes, consumes funds that could be better used where there are demonstrated needs or more efficient options.
The fact that people believe something doesn't make it true.
If it did, the world would be flat.
March 21, 2009
The Public School Myth
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
It has been said that if something is said loud enough, long enough and consistently enough it will likely be widely believed. Especially if contrary views are not forthcoming.
Such is the case with public schooling.
Given the responsibility for education, and thus the potential for indoctrination as well, the public school establishment has long praised itself as the primary source of our democracy. It has not only largely convinced the general public, it has persuaded itself as well. "Rarely is heard a discouraging word."
Herewith is evidence to the contrary. The following is not only from a single source, but is drawn from only the first five of 52 pages of text and seven pages containing 206 footnotes.
"...rather then bringing people together, public schooling often forces people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs into political combat. This paper traces almost 150 such incidents in the 2005-06 year alone." Executive Summary, p. 1
"Throughout American history, public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people. Such clashes are inevitable in government-run schooling because all Americans are required to support the public schools, but only those with the most political power control them. Political–and sometimes even physical–conflict has thus been an inescapable public schooling reality." ibid.
"All taxpayers must support the public schools, but only those able to summon sufficient political power can determine what the schools will teach and how they'll be run." p. 2
"In the 1840s, disputes over the Bible's place in Philadelphia's public schools sparked rioting that inflicted millions of dollars in damage and killed or injured hundreds of people....In the mid-1970s, court-ordered bussing of children in Boston precipitated constant brawling in the schools and unrest in the streets." p. 2
"Decisions debated literally every day in public schools thrust Americans into political conflict, whether over district budgets, dress codes, the amount of time children spend in art classes, or countless other matters. To see this, most people need do little more than read about school board meetings in their local newspapers." p 2
"All public school conflicts have the potential to inflict social pain, but the most wrenching are those that pit people's fundamental values–values that cannot be proven right or wrong, and that deserve equal respect by government–against each other" "...in the 2005-06 academic year... None ...garnered more national attention than wrestling matches over intelligent design, with 18 states reporting some debate over it..." p. 3
"There were two major intelligent design battlegrounds in 2005-06: Dover Pennsylvania and the entire state of Kansas. In Dover...it was not uncommon for townspeople to refuse to even speak to those in their community who came down on the opposite side of the issue...Kansas, for its part continued a long-running roller coaster ride that has seen the state board of education change its stance on evolution several times in recent years... In August 2006, the evolution-skeptic majority on the board was eliminated in primary elections..." p. 3
"The basic problem is this: Government has the right neither to censor speech nor to compel people to support the speech of others, yet public schooling does both. Whenever a school district buys a book with public funds, it forces every district taxpayer to support the speech contained in it, and whenever it removes a book from a library, it condemns that speech"
"Perhaps nothing–not even creationism–has produced as much anger as the portrayal of difference races, ethnicities, and cultures in America's schools. What groups should be included in history textbooks? What aspects of their histories? How does a school handle disputed ‘facts' about different groups? Questions such as these produced a geyser of vitriol in 2005-06..." p. 5
"Overall, it has been the nation's commitment to limited government and individual liberty–not public schools' ability to indoctrinate children into some civic religion, or to mold them into ‘proper' Americans–that has been the key to America's success...the only system of education that can effectively support a free society is one that is itself grounded in freedom." p. 2
And we only reached page five of a document with 52 pages of text and seven containing 206 footnotes.
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Neal McCluskey, "Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict. Policy Analysis No. 587. January 23, 2007. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave. N. W.
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February 28, 2009
Academic Achievement - No Excuses Please
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
It is no secret that the public school system fails millions of students. Reasons given for this almost invariably concern the students, their families, their communities, their lack of ability, or other excuses that don't place responsibility on the system, or its practitioners.
Certainly outside factors do exist and need to be recognized so they can be dealt with. But a reason is not an excuse. To a degree little recognized by those responsible for the present system its practices are a large part of the problem. Public educators simply don't know what to do with students who are not sufficiently motivated, or equipped with a proper background and value system to learn largely on their own. Self-education is a significant part of the reason why some students are high achievers.
It has been said that banks will loan you money if you can prove you don't need it. Similarly, it might be said that public schools can teach students who can learn on their own..
A major part of the problem with too many public educators, is not what they don't know but what they know that isn't so. Much of the rest of the problem is explained by their unwillingness, indeed their inability, to utilize, or even recognize, successful alternatives that already exist.
Nor is this new. The idea that there was once a golden age for public education when everyone succeeded is largely an illusion. While, for example, students may have been more successful a hundred years ago the reason was not that the schools were more effective but that it was largely the better students who were still there as the years passed. It is reported that at the beginning of the 20th century, only about 6% of the students were still there to graduate from high school. To this day, although on a smaller scale, the easiest way for schools to raise average achievement scores is for poorer students to drop, or be pushed, out.
For example, as Colin Greer reported in "Public Schools: The Myth of the Melting Pot" in the November 15, 1969 Saturday Review, "The factory, the union, the political machine were agents of mobility and Americanization before the school...The establishment of an ethnic middle class was basic to entry onto a wider, middle class stage via public education...The correlation between school achievement and economic status was so high that in school surveys carried out in the mid-West during the 1920's, its became necessary to separate Scandinavian-Americans from other ‘ethnic' Americans because the school performance of their children so outdistanced other foreign mid-West groups."
Knowing that fact or today's contemporary finding that students with an Asian heritage tend to do much better than students of other ethnic groups, may be interesting but, by itself, is not especially useful since other students can't become Scandinavians or Asians, or be raised in an optimum environment.
Unfortunately, what can be done, besides separating high-achieving groups from the mix, as stated above, is to change how achievement is measured to, as former New York State and City Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto has written, introduce "dumbing down" of tests and try to con the public into thinking the results are still valid.
Martin Wooster, in his 1994 book, Angry Classrooms, noted that dumbing down apparently dates from 1919, in Boston, when "The city attempted to administer a test for eighth grade honor students previously given in 1845, but had to change 82 percent of the questions because the nineteenth-century test was too difficult for their school generation."
Even the 1919 "dumbed down" test might be too difficult today.
This is suggested by the fact that literacy, which most people assume has been increasing as mass education has expanded in the United States, is decreasing. Twenty years ago it was reported that there were not only 23 million functionally illiterate adults in the country but that their numbers were growing. Our dropout rates were also among the highest among developed nations and student achievement was often last.
But not to worry. In per pupil expenditures and pro-public schooling rhetoric we are probably consistently in or near first place.
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Portland, Arkansas, Elementary school - half the 4-6 grade pupils were 2 or more years below grade level. With a new principal, and Direct Instruction, 100% of students read at grade level or higher and most students are above the national average in both reading and math. Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005, chapter on "Black Education, Achievement, Myths and Tragedies"
September 15, 2008
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Presidential Candidates on School Choice
The profound failure of inner-city public schools to teach children may be the nation's greatest scandal. The differences between the two Presidential candidates on this could hardly be more stark. John McCain is calling for alternatives to the system; Barack Obama wants the kids to stay within that system. We think the facts support Senator McCain.
Wall Street Journal, July 28 2008, Page A14, Review & Outlook
"Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent and diplomas that open doors of opportunity," said Mr. McCain in remarks recently to the NAACP. "When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children." Some parents may opt for a better public school or a charter school; others for a private school. The point, said the Senator, is that "no entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity."
Mr. McCain cited the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, a federally financed school-choice program for disadvantaged kids signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Qualifying families in the District of Columbia receive up to $7,500 a year to attend private K-12 schools. To qualify, a child must live in a family with a household income below 185% of the poverty level. Some 1,900 children participate; 99% are black or Hispanic. Average annual income is just over $22,000 for a family of four.
A recent Department o f Education report found nearly 90% of participants in the D.C. program have higher reading scores than peers who didn't receive a scholarship. There are five applicants for every opening.
Mr. McCain could have mentioned EdisonLearning, a private company that took over 20 of Philadelphia's 45 lowest performing district schools in 2002 to create a new management model for public schools. The most recent state test-score data show that student performance at Philadelphia public schools managed by Edison and other outside providers has improved by nearly twice the amount as the schools run by the district.
The number of students performing at grade level or higher in reading at the schools managed by private providers increased by 6.1% overall compared to 3.3% in district-managed schools. In math, the results for Edison and other outside managers was 4.6% and 6.0%, respectively, compared to 3.1% in the district-run schools.
The state of California just announced that one in three students in the Los Angeles public school system drops out before graduating. Among black and Latino students in L.A. district schools, the numbers are 42% and 30%. In the past five years, the number of dropouts has grown by more than 80%. The numbe r of high school graduates has gone up only 9%.
The silver linings in these dismal clouds are L.A.'s charter high schools. Writing in the Los Angeles Daily News last week, Caprice Young, who heads the California Charter Schools Association, noted that "every charter high school in Los Angeles Unified last year reported a dropout rate significantly lower than not only the school district's average, but the state's as well."
On recent evidence, the Democrat Party's policy on these alternatives is simply massive opposition.
Congressional Democrats have refused to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program and are threatening to kill it. Last month, Philadelphia's school reform commission voted to seize six schools from outside managers, including four from Edison. In L.A., local school board members oppose the expansion of charters even though seven in 10 charters in the district outperform their neighborhood peers.
It's well known that the force calling the Democratic tune here is the teachers unions. Earlier this month, Senator Obama accepted the endorsement of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union. Speaking recently before the American Federation of Teachers, he described the alternative efforts as "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice."
Mr. Obama told an interviewer recently that he opposes school choice because, "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The Illinois Senator has it exactly backward. Those at the top don't need voucher programs and they already exercise school choice. They can afford exclusive private schools, or they can afford to live in a neighborhood with decent public schools. The point of providing educational options is to extend this freedom to the "kids at the bottom."
A visitor to Mr. Obama's Web site finds plenty of information about his plans to fix public education in this country. Everyone knows this is a long, hard slog, but Mr. Obama and his wife aren't waiting. Their daughters attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where annual tuition ranges from $15,528 for kindergarten to $20,445 for high school.
When the day arrives that these two candidates face off, we hope Senator McCain comes prepared to press his opponent hard on change, hope and choice in the schools.
December 28, 2007
School Reform: Easier Said Than Done
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
Perhaps no institution, occupation or profession is as difficult, or impossible, to reform as public education. Schools are bigger, more expensive, and have some recent features such as computers but, in the main, they are basically the same as they have been since the public school system began to officially emerge in the 1830s with passage of the Common School Act in Pennsylvania.
Even ignoring for the moment reforms such as vouchers, tuition tax credits or charter schools, it isn't that needed reforms are not introduced or that, in those rare instances where something better is introduced and shown to work, other districts don't replicate it - it's that there is virtually no recognition that they exist. Curiosity and interest in what is occurring in their field seems to be almost nonexistent in the ranks of public educators.
When doctors, with whom teachers dearly love to be compared, introduce a new technique, such as heart transplants, or an advance, such as the polio vaccine, its use often spreads rapidly throughout the profession and becomes so common that in some instances, of which polio is one, the medical condition may virtually disappear.
In the public schools, however, even the successful pioneer is rarely hailed as a model but, rather, is viewed as a threat or a troublemaker and may even be treated as a pariah. The more successful they are the more vehement may be the opposition to them and what they are doing. Consider Jaime Escalante, who had virtually unique success teaching math to disadvantaged students in classes as large as 70. His reward was to be pressured by his colleagues, removed as department chairman and later driven from his district entirely.
What might be regarded as the ultimate absurdity in school reform history came in a district that introduced changes in one of its schools that were so successful and popular that the district was overwhelmed with students and parents clamoring to participate in its programs.
One might compare this with what happened when Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's several decades ago and it was swamped with customers. Capitalizing on this success he standardized and franchised his system, becoming extremely wealthy in the process. Today there are thousands of McDonald's around the world, with more opening regularly.
In a rational world this is what one would expect.
But public schooling is not a rational world. Rather than replicate their success the school district's board and administration decided that the popular school was distracting from the district's regular operations and closed it down.
On a broader scale consider this when reviewing the charter school movement. Whatever one thinks of charter schools in general there is no question but that some of these schools are having remarkable success, such as the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools. In isolated instances there are some public educators who think there may be something here that they can learn. But, more generally, the reaction of public educators to charter schools is to, first, oppose legislation that authorizes their creation; second, failing the first object, keep the authorizing law as weak as possible; and, third, then try to get such laws repealed, overturned in court or otherwise negated.
The first charter school law, in Minnesota, is now nearly 20 years old. Nationally, there are currently more than 4,200 charter schools with new ones being opened every year, and they enroll an estimated 1,200,000 students, a number that also continues to increase. In brief, charter schools are here to stay but much of the public school establishment remains in denial.
Another example of the possible is a report on the Terraset School in Reston, Virginia which uses both the sun and the earth for heat. Built partially below ground level, its two to three feet of ground cover keeps the temperature relatively constant. In the winter air conditioning is sometimes used to compensate for heat generated by lights and people.
Given the interest in the environment and rising energy costs, you might expect to see more Terrasets. The report about it appeared in the American Educator of December 1977, 30 years ago!!
But, in public education such things take time.
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"The near-impossibility of true educational reform has been documented in a number of studies...Now that I'm off the board and able to think more calmly, it is even clearer to me that the system can't be rehabilitated, only replaced." Howard Good, "Losing It, The Confessions of an Ex-School Board President," Education Week, March 17, 2004
October 30, 2007: for immediate release
Free Tuition at Harvard? The State of U.S. College Endowments
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow, U.S. Freedom Foundation
A commentary a few years ago looked at college and university endowments, HarvardUniversity's in particular since it was the largest, worth about $18 billion. It was suggested part of the earnings thereof could be used to eliminate student tuition.
About a decade ago, seventeen institutions had endowments of a billion dollars or more. Today sixty two do. Harvard is still first, now with $35 billion, up some $9 billion in the past year alone. (NOTE: there are discrepancies among various reports. One says the endowment is up 23% in the past year, another 25.2%, while separate reported figures for 2006 and 2007 give a difference of $9 billion, up more than one-third. This demonstrates the old adage that if you are truly rich you don't know how much money you have.)
Recently, some members of Congress, in particular Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), have suggested college endowments be legally required to annually spend at least 5 percent of their endowments on their missions, including reducing tuition. Private foundations currently must meet this standard but public charities, including college endowments, do not.
Not to pick on Harvard - as noted 62 institutions have endowments of at least $1 billion, and Yale not only has one of $22.5 billion but has grown at a slightly faster rate in the past year than has Harvard -but it has the most money.
Here's a snapshot of Harvard's endowment over the past quarter century: 1983, $1.6 billion; 1998, $11 billion; 2003, $17 billion; 2005, $22 billion, 2006, $26 billion (up four billion in one year); and 2007, $35 billion ($9 billion in one year - that's an average increase of $750 million per month.) Note the progression. During the 15 years from 1983 to 1998, it grew by about $9 billion. Then it grew that much just from 2006 to 2007.
If Senator Grassley's five percent requirement should become law, most if not all of the 62 institutions with $1 billion or more in their endowment will have to spend money on more than just tuition. Currently, for example, Harvard has about 6,700 undergraduates. The cost to them is about $45,000 a year - $31,000 in tuition and $14,000 additional, mostly room and board but also a few thousand dollars in various fees.
In round numbers, $45,000 each for 6,700 undergraduates gives a total cost of about $300 million. But 5% of Harvard's endowment is almost six times that much, $1,750,000,000. Thus, $300 million is less than half of the endowment's average monthly increase of $750 million over the past year. The endowment grew enough in less than two weeks to pay all the annual expenses of all undergraduates.
In actual practice it won't even take an additional $300 million to cover all student expenses since most students already receive financial aid, although much of it is loans which must be paid back, with interest.
If it so chose, Harvard could afford to be not only a private institution, which it already is, but an independent one as well. It need not rely on any source to be financially self-sufficient indefinitely.
Students would be free to select a major without repaying a large debt. Currently students may need to consider relatively few fields, such as medicine and law, where they can earn enough to repay debts. Debt free they could consider lower-paying fields such as teaching school or the clergy.
Former college president Howard Bowen once said there are two rules in funding higher education: 1, raise all the money you can; 2, spend all the money you raise. This is apparently now only one rule: raise all the money you can, even if you already have more than you can spend.
A free education is not unknown. The military academies provide it. Of course they get federal money. But Harvard's endowment more than compensates for that.
Harvard might look at BereaCollege in Kentucky. The August 23, 2004 NEWSWEEK reported that all of Berea's 1500 students receive a full tuition scholarship. Many also receive financial aid for room board, and books. Berea thus prepares professionals that Appalachia greatly needs.
Does Berea have a social conscience that Harvard lacks?
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"The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions." p. 342, Vol 2, Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776, 2 Vols, (NY: August M Kelley, 1966, Facsimile Edition, 650 copies printed)
September 21, 2007
Teacher Competency and The Eye of the Beholder
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
Teacher competency is an area of public schooling where strongly held views trump careful judgment. At one extreme are the teacher unions and other establishment figures who would have you believe the present staff is almost universally competent.
At the other are those who are so anti-union and anti-teacher they who would have you believe competent teachers are practically nonexistent. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between, although not necessarily in the exact middle.
A former high school history teacher, I was for several years also president of the local association. While it would be too much to say the staff was fully representative of all the nation's public school teachers then or now, my personal experience was that the more than 400 professionals with whom I worked, were, in general, caring, competent and decent. So the following instances only represent a need to take teacher competency and accountability seriously.
With 3,000,000 public school teachers in the nation, even a one percent failure rate would mean there are 30,000 teachers who shouldn't be there. The late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, suggested that as many as one-quarter of all classroom teachers should not be there. That's 750,000. Unfortunately, along with a number of other positions he occasionally took, he did little to improve matters.
Consider the following:
- Former President Bill Clinton recalled one of his teachers who referred to World War II as "World War Eleven," misreading the Roman numerals.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted as saying he had "met more school teachers recently who...wouldn't know a verb if it was as big as a table."
- Journalist Art Carey, looking at education in Pennsylvania, noted the second-grade teacher who asked him how many weeks there are in a year. When he said, "fifty-two," she responded, "How did you know that?" Then she asked, "how many days in a year. She truly did not know."
- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was for a time a student in a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also the home of Harvard where he later taught. His public school career ended abruptly when he came home one day in his sophomore year in high school and told his father his teacher "had informed the class that the inhabitants of Albania were called Albinos and had white hair and pink eyes." His father promptly had him admitted to PhillipsExeterAcademy. That, by the way, was in "the good old days" of education - 1931.
On occasion, public evidence is provided directly by teachers themselves. A few years ago the New York Post received complaints from Brooklyn teachers about stories the paper had printed about shortcomings in the city's school system. Post reporter Andrea Peyser said "one teacher after another demonstrates a grasp of written language that one might reasonably expect from a low-functioning second grader."
This was then demonstrated by publishing something a teacher had written. For example, in an attempt to show concern about a student's inability to keep up in class, one teacher wrote:
"Why is he not learning or learning so but so little, with my help. How comes his past teachers have been passing him from grade to grade without he advancing or progressing academicly. I will like to know what is causing the mental blockage."
She answered her own question.
And there are instances where, while the teacher might have some level of competency, it wasn't demonstrated by the teaching method. A perhaps classic example occurred just a few years ago in a Los Angeles classroom in a school with predominantly black students. The teacher took the multiple-hours 1970s television miniseries, "Roots," and showed it not once, not twice but six times in a single year.
Yet most states have reported that more than 90 percent of their teachers meet the federal No Child Left Behind law requirement that all teachers be highly qualified.
It needs to be remembered that, a few years ago, when a citizen surveyed the states as to how well their students were performing, every state responded that their students were achieving above the national average.
And they wonder why so many have lost faith in the system.
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"...students taught by teachers trained in teachers colleges do no better than laymen (housewives, automobile mechanics, and electricians) in promoting student achievement...children taught by inexperienced college students learned just as much as did students taught by college-trained, experienced teachers." R. Barker Bausell and William B. Moody, "Are Teacher Preparatory Institutions Necessary?", p. 298, Phi Delta Kappan, January 1973
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August 24, 2007
Public School Criticism
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
Few institutions are as sensitive to criticism as the public school establishment, particularly teacher unions. Any critique, however mild or soundly based, is likely to be countered with name-calling or worse.
Arkansas Gov. Mick Huckabee has written that the National Education Association describes those who disagree with it as "congenital reactionaries," "dangerous witch hunters," "wayward dogma peddlers" and "vitriolic race haters."
Former NEA President Keith Geiger said school choice advocates are "voucher pushers." Former Executive Director Don Cameron termed the idea of vouchers as "corrupt," "wrong-headed" and "un-American."
One Pennsylvania state representative suggested the Catholic Church supports vouchers so it can get money to pay off pedophile lawsuits against priests, while another said vouchers would permit the KKK to use tax dollars to fund "Hate High." A president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association referred to voucher proponents as "voucher vultures."
Columnist Molly Ivins described voucher supporters as "fruitcakes unlimited, flat-earthers, creationists..." North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said vouchers are like "leeches." When school choice was proposed for the District of Columbia, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said its supporters "should stop acting like plantation masters and start treating the people of D.C. with the respect they deserve." Since, rather than allow people to decide for themselves, plantation masters want to decide for them, Kennedy's rhetoric was a self-description.
Kennedy has also defended actions by those such as himself by saying it is necessary to be the voice for the voiceless. Why doesn't he make it possible for people to speak for themselves?
David Berliner, Dean of Education at Arizona State University said vouchers could resemble "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. Public school superintendents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, made this same charge while opposing former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge's 1999 school choice plan.
Another Pennsylvania school superintendent said permitting people to choose a school for their children would create a "Hitlerian regime." Giving them no options is apparently his idea of democracy.
On the other side of this issue, who are some of these terrible people who support school choice?
In 1968 Hubert Humphrey favored giving parents a tax credit so they could send their children to private schools. Another is Sen. Patrick Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) who said he favored school choice "long before it was either conservative or liberal," and, "if it prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism..."
Former Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, said "We've got to stop having a knee-jerk opposition to school vouchers..." Wisconsin state Rep. Annette "Polly" Williams, twice state chairman of the Jesse Jackson for president campaign, sponsored the state's school choice plan in Milwaukee. Is she a racist? A plantation master? A reactionary?
All of these school choice supporters are liberal Democrats, among a growing list who could be cited. Would Sen. Kennedy include them with his vicious remarks?
Colin Powell, when interviewed by the NEA, said, "I support using vouchers and seeing where it takes us..." Does the NEA regard him as among "vitriolic race haters," "congenital reactionaries," "dangerous witch hunters," or "wayward dogma peddlers?"
A national survey of 2,732 public school teachers some years ago found 53% believing "schools would be better if students could attend the school of their choice." A decade ago, a poll of 26-35 year-old African-Americans found 86.5% supported vouchers, up 16% in one year.
If these are "fruit-cakes," "voucher vultures," "racists," "communists," or members of the "radical right," public schools are in real trouble. One might also ask where were these dangerous people educated? The answer for most is the public schools.
As for those who could be listed as school "bashers"they include former NEA President Keith Geiger who said inner city schools "are absolutely terrible -- they ought to be blown up." He also said that we "can't let the kids escape." If we take his words literally, the public schools are prisons that ought to be blown up with the kids inside.
And it was the late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said, "It is time to admit that public education ... more resembles a communist economy than our own market economy."
How should Geiger and Shanker be described?
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"Now that I'm off the board and able to think more calmly, it is even clearer to me that the system can't be rehabilitated, only replaced." p. 59 Howard Good, "Losing It, The Confessions of an Ex-School Board President," pp l54 & 58-9, Education Week, March 17, 2004. Good is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is the author of Educated Guess: A School Board Member Reflects (ScarecrowEducation, 2003
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July 31, 2007
Pre-K Schooling: An Irresistible Force?
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
The public school establishment likes to talk reform. Remember Competency Based Teacher Education? Outcome Based Education? The Open Classroom? Once all the rage, although lacking support from research or practical experience, they are rarely mentioned today.
Some ideas have a longer gestation period, even though similarly lacking justification from research or practical experience. One is the ongoing push for smaller classes. The past 200 years has seen a decline from as many as 1,000 students for one teacher in the Lancasterian system in the early 1800s to a more typical 25 students per class today. And the decline continues although the principal result is much greater costs not student achievement.
There is a similar emerging push to introduce schooling at earlier ages without justifying evidence.
This movement is based on the sound premise that a child's first five years are extremely important. During this time, with rare exceptions, children learn to walk, talk, perhaps read and write, develop social skills and otherwise develop a personality and skills base that may heavily determine their path through life.
The problem comes with taking a quantum jump from that premise to assuming earlier schooling is the way to overcome any deficiencies in the child's private life. As Richard Salzer wrote in 1972, "Some critics are unwilling to see a school which has failed to deal with its current students as worthwhile human beings being given similar authority over younger ones."
Perhaps that's a biased view. But in 1985, Raymond Moore wrote in Phi Delta Kappan, an educational fraternity publication, that "reviews by the Hewitt Research Foundation of more than 8,000 studies have failed to turn up any replicable research suggesting that normal children should be schooled before age 8..."
That same article noted that "studies by Urie Bronfenbrenner, a professor at Cornell University, suggest that, at least until grade 5 or 6, children who spend more time with their peers than with their parents become peer-dependent... they lose their sense of self-worth, their optimism, their respect for parents, and even their trust in peers."
In 1989, U.S. News & World Report, citing Professor of Education James Uphoff of Wright State University in Ohio, said "Studies show that children who started kindergarten before age 5 Â½ â€?are far more likely' to flunk a grade, need special tutoring and emotional counseling, be socially ill at ease and later be diagnosed as learning disabled.'
In 1998, the Family Research Council recalled a 1992 study at the City University of New York, that "showed that the average IQ scores of low-income preschoolers rose nearly seven percentage points for each day of the week that their mother read to them" while a subsequent study concluded "that preschoolers who stay home with their parents perform better academically than their peers in preschool."
More recently, in 2004, Yale Professor Edward F. Zigler, known as "the Father of Headstart," and is thus hardly an opponent of meaningful early education experiences, said "those who argue in favor of universal preschool education ignore evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many 4-year-olds, and that it may even be harmful to their development."
Despite this, 2005 found eight states, including Georgia, offering universal preschool. Darcy Olsen, Executive Director of the Goldwater Institute, after researching early education noted that Georgia's 10-year-old preschool program had "served over 300,000 children at a cost of $1.15 billion and children's test scores are unchanged."
Nor is Georgia alone. After Oklahoma began universal preschool in 1998, student test scores fell. A review of preschooling in California "found no measured gain in educational improvement..." In the 40-year-period from 1965 to 2004 enrollments in preschool programs grew from 16 to 66 percent. A survey of Oklahoma teachers found 86% object to introducing a voluntary early childhood program for 3-year-olds.
The same School Reform News article that reported on Olsen's work, included an oddity on this topic. The American Legislative Council, which represents more than 2,500 state legislators, concluded "there are better ways to educate children without expanding the state education monopoly, such as tax credits for early education."
Although ALEC represents about a third of all state legislators, to date its views haven't persuaded their colleagues.
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"Martin Engle, then head of the NationalDemonstrationCenter for Early Childhood Education in Washington, D.C., declares that children sense rejection when they are schooled early. Indeed, early schooling may be the most pervasive form of child abuse in the eighties." p. 64, Raymond S. Moore, "It Depends on Your Aim, pp 62-64, Phi Delta Kappan, Sept. 1985
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June 13, 2007
Blaming the Student
In 1971 William Ryan's book, Blaming the Victim, was published. His thesis was that there is a tendency to blame the unfortunate, such as those on welfare or homeless, for their condition. This is not to say that victims have no responsibility for their situation. But blaming them is useful for those such as teachers and social workers who are paid to assist those entrusted to their care.
This attitude of blaming the victim is a common occurrence in the public schools. Other than constant cries for more money, perhaps nothing is heard so often as arguments by educators that students who do not learn are to blame. It is alleged they simply don't try, their home conditions are the cause of failure or they can't learn regardless of what teachers or schools might do.
This is reminiscent of the perhaps apocryphal story of the high school language teacher who was complaining to a colleague that a particular student "simply can't learn French."
To which the colleague replied "Isn't it fortunate he wasn't born in France."
Clearly, infants born in France, with very few exceptions, learn French. And, as with youngsters in other nations, whatever the language, they do so without formal instruction.
Anyone remotely resembling a normal person is able to learn French, or math, or whatever. On the other hand, there is a too long list of teachers who are unable to teach.
That teachers are generally the problem, not students, is indicated by the thousands of schools - public, private, secular, religious - where disadvantaged students consistently learn. This includes schools with well below average funding. Among many other sources, this is clearly demonstrated in the chapter, Black Education, in Thomas Sowell's book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.
Bennett-KewElementary School in Inglewood, CA is 97% minority. In three years with a new principal and the introduction of phonics, reading levels rose from the 3rd to the 50th percentile. The principal was threatened with a loss of funds for his unconventional approach but prevailed because of strong parental support.
In Houston, Texas, students in WesleyElementary School, 92% black and 7% Hispanic, were reading several years below grade level. After a new principal changed the curriculum, reading and math scores moved above the national average. Again there were objections but the changes were backed by then Supt. Rod Paige, later U.S. Secretary of Education.
In the Portland, Arkansas Elementary school half the 4-6 grade pupils were performing two or more years below grade level. After a new principal introduced a proven approach to learning, Direct Instruction, 100% of students read at grade level or higher. Most students are also above the national average in math.
Note the common features: a new principal, a new successful approach of methods that work, and opposition from others in the school systems.
Elsewhere, the Heritage Foundation issued a report, "No Excuses" about 21 schools where students scored at or above the 65th percentile on national tests, even though 75% or more qualified for subsidized or free lunches.
The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools, developed by two classroom teachers in Houston had twelve trailers as the first campus. There are now dozens of them across the nation, generally working with students not known for their prior success. While KIPP schools have some common features, such as a longer day and year, teachers have considerable freedom to teach as they wish as long as they succeed.
Not least of all, there are 400 or more independent Black schools in the nation that generally do better than comparable public schools.
Among the things these varied schools have in common are high standards and expectations and hard work.
Sadly, these comparisons illustrate characteristics too often found in the public schools: a lack of success, a disinterest in what is working elsewhere, a tendency to dismiss any suggestions that there might be better ways to educate nontraditional students, and even a willingness to sabotage colleagues who are enjoying more success.
As a package these actions and attitudes amount to what President George W. Bush, in one of his more telling phrases, has termed "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
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"Now that I'm off the board and able to think more calmly, it is even clearer to me that the system can't be rehabilitated, only replaced." p. 59 Howard Good, "Losing It, The Confessions of an Ex-School Board President," pp l54 & 58-9, Education Week, March 17, 2004. Good is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is the author of Educated Guess: A School Board Member Reflects, ScarecrowEducation, 2003
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December 7, 2006
NorthStarAcademyCharterSchool of Newark, New Jersey
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
North Star Academy Charter School of Newark (NJ), named for Frederick Douglass' abolitionist paper The North Star, promotes higher education as the guiding "north star" of success for its inner city students, the majority of whom are African-American.
The story of North Star Academy begins with James Verrilli, a teacher in the Newark public schools, and Norman Atkins, a journalist with a private foundation, both of whom set out to improve the outlook for students in the second poorest city in the United States. In 1997, the year that North Star was founded, only 50 percent of freshmen enrolled in Newark high schools reached their senior year. Of those, only 26 percent planned to attend college, six percent actually enrolled, and only two percent earned degrees. Now in its ninth year of operation, 100 percent of North Star's class of 2005 graduated and 95 percent went on to college.
North Star began as a middle school, but was expanded to serve high school students at the request of local parents who wanted better school options for their students after the eighth grade. The school currently serves 384 students in fifth through twelfth grade, with 125 students in the high school section. Ninety-nine percent of the students are African-American or Hispanic. All students who are accepted through the school's lottery system understand that they will be required to work hard throughout North Star's 11-month academic year. To graduate, students must take four years of English, mathematics, science, and history, and three years of foreign language, physical education, and the arts. North Star also encourages its students to enroll in Advanced Placement calculus, U.S. history, U.S. government, and English. All classes offer honors-level, college-preparatory work. Additional graduation requirements include passing the New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment, completing a senior thesis and composition, taking the SAT at least twice, engaging in 40 hours of community service, and applying to at least two colleges.
North Star also offers internships and special programs. For example, there is a journalism project in partnership with PrincetonUniversity, a Junior Statesman program through GeorgetownUniversity , and an FBI Summer Training Institute. Students who keep up their grades may spend a month off campus on work sites or traveling to foreign countries. Through a partnership with AFS Intercultural Programs, Inc., North Star students can spend time in China, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and Argentina. A relationship with VISIONS Service Adventures enables students to volunteer in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
Two of North Star's most innovative features are its use of data to inform instruction and its commitment to ensuring that all students understand the subject matter they are taught. Every six to eight weeks, teachers administer a set of interim assessments that are aligned with state standards and the school's curriculum. Teachers, department chairs, and the school principal examine the results and determine which students need additional help. Teachers then re-teach key concepts to the whole class or offer tutoring to individual students before, during, or after the school day. North Star also offers a Saturday tutoring session, so that no student slips behind.
Another distinctive element at the school is the principal's presence as an instructional leader. Every day, high school principal Julie Jackson and the principal at North Star's sister middle school visit at least 85 percent of classrooms. The principals observe classes, provide informal feedback to teachers, and use data from the interim assessments to draw connections between instruction and student learning.
The hard work of principals, teachers, and students at North Star Academy Charter School of Newark appears to be paying off with 100 percent of twelfth grade students in the class of 2005 passing the New Jersey High School Statewide Assessment, compared to 85.1 percent of students statewide, 44.2 percent of students in the district, and 19.5 percent of students in neighborhood schools. With the highest rate of four-year college acceptance and attendance of any school in New Jersey, North Star's success with some of Newark's most needy students offers a model for other schools across the country trying to eliminate the achievement gap.
(The preceding is adapted from The Educational Innovator, U.S. Dept. of Education, Nov. 17, 2006)
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"Anyone really working at changing the establishment is bound to be in trouble much of the time. And leaders who are successful in even a small way are usually in big trouble." p. 14, Hierarchy, Power, and Women in Educational Policy Making, Leadership Training Institute, Washington, DC: IEL Reports, August 1975.
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School Violence: Are Large Schools the Problem?
David W. Kirkpatrick, Senior Education Fellow
Thirty years ago, one student in four said violence was a problem at their school. At one point, nearly half of the nation's students reported they were afraid to use their school's restrooms.
School violence thus has a long history and efforts to counter often show little success.
Fifteen times in five years violent death and injury struck at a school. Each time everyone asked why?
One standard response is that too many families are dysfunctional. Yet few if any of the families of the assailants have been judged to be guilty on this count. Frequently, they don't even fit the stereotype of low-income or urban families. Many, if not most, of the assailants have come from middle- and upper middle-class families, some from reportedly expensive homes.
But, even if the charge of family failure should be true, there is no way "society" can enter the homes of millions of families (and which families?) to determine the upbringing of their children.
Even more nebulous is the response that society has lost its bearings and no longer honors the old-fashioned values. Again, even if true, it's not a helpful guide. Even the federal government with all its resources cannot control "society."
More importantly, such broad-based explanations ignore the role of the schools. While schools cannot "correct" families or society, they can improve themselves.
Even the proposed and enacted solutions within the schools tend to concentrate on security. Some "zero-tolerance" weapon policies which result in students being suspended or even expelled for such things as pointing a finger and saying "bang," seem to border on the irrational.
Others responses, while perhaps having merit still have shortcomings. One call is for security guards. In at least one instance of school violence , one of the guards was among those shot.
Some people prescribe the use of more metal detectors. While this may have a deterrence effect, it should not lead to complacency. In one instance, two students set off a false fire alarm and, from a distance, shot at those leaving the building. Metal detectors would have been useless. In others, had the assailants faced metal detectors, the ones staffing them might have been among those shot, perhaps even the first ones to be victims.
What are some of the things many major tragedies have in common?
First, they have not occurred in inner city schools.
Second, with rare exceptions, minorities and low-income students have not been involved either as assailants nor as victims, which means race was not a factor.
In virtually every case the perpetrators indicated they were the targets of bullying, that they were loners who believed that no one cared for them or seemed to be aware they existed. These are things about which the school system can and should do something.
While it is true that these events generally occur in public schools, not in the 25,000 nonpublic schools, to frame it as a public vs. private school phenomenon is too simplistic.
Violent incidents have not involved many public schools in general but mostly large ones where attendance is compulsory.
Violence, at least of this magnitude, is rare in the nation's 100,000 public schools that are small. More to the point, and often overlooked in the school choice debate, thousands of public schools whatever their size, such as magnet schools and charter schools, are schools of choice. Everyone, staff and student alike, is there voluntarily.
One federal study of charter schools concluded that the average size of new ones is 137 students -- larger ones tend to be converted public schools. The average nonpublic school is also smaller than the average public one -- with about 200 pupils enrolled in each of the former to 500 in the latter. Even there, averages can be misleading. It has been reported that half of all public high schools enroll more than 1,500 students; 70% have more than 1,000.
Hundreds of studies have found that large schools are less effective and more dangerous than small ones. In addition to the research, we are repeatedly given living, or dying, proof.
Why can't we learn?
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"Research tentatively suggests that student improvement ‘may require sweeping changes in the organization, structure and conduct of educational experience.'...Change is unlikely to come from the schools themselves." Andrew Barnes, "Study Disputes Money-Education Link," p A-14, The Washington Post, March 8, 1972
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