Excerpted from Undernews:
The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.
This was not a special-needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.
We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance...
Why am I not surprised? But, once again, saddened at the nation of sniveling, fearful cowards that we have become. Zero-sum thinking is not the prudent, responsible attitude toward the normal risks of childhood; it is pathological. It is paranoid. Carried far enough it leads to Cheney land.
MIT professor Les Perelman wondered how computers would score at scoring student papers:
“As our government agencies and various reform efforts seek to shift high stakes testing away from multiple choice questions, there is growing interest in computer programs that can read and score student essays. But questions persist, given the limitations of the algorithms these programs use.
“So Mr. Perelman has done an experiment. He created something he calls the Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator, BABEL for short. During his interview with Carol Off, Perelman fed his machine a topic she suggested, ‘Fair Elections Act.’”
Here is what the BABEL machine provided in response:Fun fair for adherents and presumably will never be altruistic in the extent to which we purloin the analysis. Fair is the most fundamental postulate of humankind. Whiner to act in the study of semiotics in addition to the search for reality. Act is intrepidly and clandestinely axiomatic by most of the scenarios. As I have learned in my semiotics class, act is the most fundamental exposition of humanity.“Mr. Perelman then submits this essay for grading. The result, a score of 5.4 out of 6, placing this essay in the 90th percentile.”
Are our kids left behind by China, South Korea and Germany? Not really. Maybe not at all. It is true that we get mediocre scores on international tests, but we have been getting mediocre scores on international tests since the first such test was offered in 1964. We were never a world leader on the international tests. Most years, our scores were at the median or even in the bottom quartile.
Yet in the intervening fifty years, we have far surpassed all those nations — economically, technologically, and on every other dimension — whose students got higher test scores. Basically, the test scores don’t predict anything about the future of the economy. Should we worry that Estonia might surpass us? The fact is that our international scores reflect the very high proportion of kids who live in poverty, whose scores are lowest. We are No. 1 among the rich nations of the world in child poverty; nearly one-quarter of our children live in poverty. Our kids who live in affluent communities do very well indeed on the international tests. If we reduced the proportion of children living in poverty, our international test scores would go up.
But in the end, as I said, the international scores don’t predict anything other than an emphasis on test-taking in the schools or the general socio-economic well-being of the society. We would be far better off investing more money in providing direct services to children — small classes for struggling students, experienced teachers, social workers, counselors, psychologists, and a full curriculum — rather than investing in more test preparation…
The excerpt below comes from a Bill Moyers interview with Diane Ravitch, the former advocate of both Bush’s educational policies who changed her mind upon further reflection. Presently she sees those policies as part of a drive by the 1% to destroy our public schools. Read the whole scary transcript.
They’re not all bad. The worst thing about the charters is the profit motive. And I want to reiterate that most charters are not for-profit. Although many of the non-profits are run by for-profit organizations. For instance, in Ohio, where they’re overrun with for-profit operations, they’re actually not for-profit charters. It’s just they’re run by a company, in one case, called the White Hat company. Which has extracted about a billion dollars in taxpayer funds since 1999.
In Florida where there are some nearly 600 charter schools, they’re overrun with for-profit schools. There’s a charter empire in Southern Florida where the brother-in-law of the guy who runs the charter empire, which is worth more than $100 million, is in the state legislature and is in charge of education appropriations. And he never recuses himself. And the charter industry has basically taken over the legislature of Florida.
…or more likely forgot. From Undernews:
Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers. In 1983, his National Commission on Excellence in Education issued “A Nation At Risk,” a report that declared, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”
It also said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
For a document that’s had such lasting impact, “A Nation At Risk” is remarkably free of facts and solid data. Not so the Sandia Report, a little-known follow-up study commissioned by Admiral James Watkins, Reagan’s secretary of energy; it discovered that the falling test scores which caused such an uproar were really a matter of an expansion in the number of students taking the tests. In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every economic and ethnic segment of students — it’s just that, as more and more students began taking these tests over the 20-year period of the study, this more representative sample of America’s youth better reflected the true national average. It wasn’t a teacher problem. It was a statistical misread....
Did you happen to notice that Democrats, except for Senator Elizabeth Warren at least, have stopped talking about “income inequality” and starting talking about “the opportunity gap”? It seems the party’s donors get worried that people talking about income inequality might get the idea that you should — horror of horrors! — redistribute some income from them to the people who need it. If we talk about an opportunity gap, we simply plan on providing some additional pseudo-opportunities to the less fortunate but they will have to man up and accept responsibility for their own economic fate.
No less a conservative icon than David Brooks wrote a column on the opportunity gap where he talked about the uncomfortable decisions that “liberals” would need to take to address it. According to Brooks, to address an opportunity gap you must champion traditional marriage and stop trying to exploit class divisions.
If you have trouble making that connection, it seems that single parents or gay parents are unlikely to spend enough time reading Goodnight Moon to their kids, and pointing out the incessant class warfare against working people is just going to get them all upset and they’ll start demanding things instead of taking advantage of whatever opportunities their betters choose to hand them.
Of course, Democrats aren’t really going to be that successful in creating new “opportunities”, but they might sneak a couple of them through the Neanderthals in the House in an election year. My senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is on a PR tour for her “American Opportunity Agenda” which represents the Democrat’s best hope for addressing “income inequality,” er, the opportunity gap.
Here are her proposals:
1. Set up a dedicated Paid Family and Medical Leave trust fund within the Social Security Administration supported by a .2% increase in the employee and employer SS payroll tax. So we are taxing working people to pay for this and creating another bureaucracy to determine who is eligible and not eligible and how much they can get, and of course, no one is saying whether their job will exist when they return from taking advantage of this opportunity.
2. Increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next 3 years (by which time that will be an even more inadequate wage) and index future increases to inflation (Obviously this will be sacrificed to get the horrid Republicans to agree).
3. Expand the Dependent and Child Care Tax Credits and make them refundable — not a bad idea, just an inadequate one. Also she wants to create some kind of incentive for college students to work in child care through loan payoffs or tax credits — something other than making the work pay enough to be attractive to college grads.
4. Create a federal-state partnership to increase the availability of Pre-K programs — which might work in New York but don’t bother dressing little Johnny in the morning if you live in Mississippi or Texas.
5. Pass a Paycheck Fairness Act to require employers to demonstrate a business justification for wage gaps between men and women doing the same work. She’s obviously pandering with this one since even those who support the concept would realize that this would be difficult and expensive to enforce so will be opposed by the donor class with a vengeance.
This is what we have come to expect from our “liberal” party: half-baked halfway measures that don’t even pretend to address the underlying systemic problem and have little chance of being enacted into law. Even if some parts manage to get through Congress, you can be sure they will be distorted into a kind of Obamacare of opportunity. When you’re a Democrat, even when you win — you lose.
Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone:
Only slightly more than thirty percent of Americans over the age of 25 have earned the B.A. or its equivalent. It is important to pause for a moment to reflect on the significance of that statistic. Seventy per cent of the adults in this country are simply ineligible for almost every decent job because they lack the appropriate educational credentials.
To be sure, you need a college degree to be a professor, a doctor, or a lawyer. Indeed, you need several. But you also need a college degree to be a high school teacher, to be an elementary school teacher, to get into a corporate management training program, to work for a business consulting firm, to be an architect, a Registered Nurse, an FBI agent, to have any hope of working for a non-profit. If the Walmart website is to be believed, your chances of becoming a Walmart store manager without a college degree are minimal. So seventy percent of Americans can kiss all of those jobs goodbye.
Since virtually everyone who talks or writes about education and the American economy is in that thirty percent — and most are in the very much tinier segment of graduates of top colleges and universities (counting UMass and its equivalents as part of the “top”), the talk is all about how hard it is to get into the elite handful of Ivy League schools and their equivalents, as though that were the only question worth discussing.
Save when the conversation turns to African-Americans and Latinos, no one really acknowledges that most Americans do not have college degrees. Now, to be sure, a larger share of each age cohort gets some post-secondary education. After all, those 2774 four-year schools manage, on average, to graduate within six years only about 55% of the students who enroll. But the fact remains that even now, not having a college degree is the norm. By the way, when I was an undergraduate, only about six or seven percent of Americans had a college degree!
Education in America has been transformed from a pathway to prosperity into a barrier across the road. Through underfunding and overcharging, colleges have become important tools in our pursuit of inequality. I served in the army with a fellow draftee named John Schaar, a poor kid from the rural slums of western Pennsylvania. He had heard that a college education was essentially free in California, and so he hitchhiked out.
By the time I knew him he had his Ph.D. in political science. After the government got through with wasting his time at Fort Bragg, he went back to the California and became a legendary scholar and teacher in the state university system that Reagan later did his best to destroy. Today Jack would never have made it out of Pennsylvania.
For today ballooning tuition and crushing student loans effectively wall off most Americans from a college degree. And that wall itself is in large measure artificial. Law schools do little or nothing to prepare graduates for the actual practice of law. The skills required to be successful on the floor of the Stock Exchange are difficult to distinguish from those of a retiree who can keep track of a dozen cards at once at the Bingo parlor. Any good watchmaker or taxidermist or seamstress could become an equally good surgeon after an apprenticeship in the operating room. It is, after all, a manual skill.
By the time I started out as a reporter in the 1950s some of the major papers and a few of the smaller ones had begun to require a bachelor's degree. But the two best writers at the Washington Post in my time there were veterans who had started out as copyboys.
The same barriers were going up in other businesses, with even less justification. At least newspaper work required crude reading and writing skills, but what reason could there be for demanding a college degree from would-be bond salesmen, bankers, advertising men, and insurance adjusters?
Over and over universities have tried to demonstrate the relevance of a college education to job performance. Over and over they have failed, because no such relevance exists. The best argument the academy can come up with is entirely circular: college graduates make more money than nongraduates. Well, duh. People with enough money to buy into the game wind up richer than people who don’t? Is that the best you got? Post hoc is not propter hoc, as the academy should have learned in college.
From the New York Times:
Amid growing alarm over the slipping international competitiveness of American students, a report comparing math and science test scores of eighth graders in individual states to those in other countries has found that a majority outperformed the international average…
From the Los Angeles Times
According to an email survey of more than 1,300 incoming Harvard students, The Harvard Crimson reports, 10 percent of the campus' new freshman class have cheated on tests and 42 percent have cheated on homework…And in a possibly unrelated development:
A university spokesman did not immediately reply after-hours on Thursday to a request for comment on the Crimson's survey, which also reported that 80 percent of the incoming class expected to get jobs in the finance industry.
Why are high schools free but colleges aren’t? For over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth.
By the middle of the 19th century, New York City also provided free higher education through what would become the City College of New York. Hunter and Brooklyn colleges also were tuition-free, as was California’s rapidly growing post-WWII state college and university system. The GI Bill of Rights after WWII provided significant resources to over three million returning veterans to go to school tuition-free, which in no small part, helped to build American prosperity for the next generation. (Tuition was even provided if GIs attended private colleges and universities.) A further impetus to free higher education came as America fell behind the USSR during the Sputnik-era space race.
But the spread of free higher education stalled and then retreated precisely as Wall Street began to grab more and more of the nation’s wealth. As financialization transformed the economy starting in the late 1970s, average wages flattened while Wall Street incomes shot through the roof. At the same time taxes on the super-rich collapsed placing more and more of the burden on working people. Lo and behold, free higher education rapidly became “unaffordable.” Wall Street then swooped in with loans as students and their families loaded up on debt in order to gain access to higher education. This is the very definition of financialization.
From the New York Times:
“Having condoms distributed on campus is the university kind of validating hookup culture,” said Katelyn Conroy, a junior who leads the college’s Pro-Life Club. “The argument is that condoms prevent the spread of S.T.D.’s, but, really, if you hand out condoms on campus, it puts an idea in their head.”
An idea such as, “Holy Mackerel, maybe this weird balloon-type thing is one of those things all the other kids are always talking about that you can supposedly use to do that other thing that they’re always talking about. Whatever that thing is. Hey, Katelyn…”
To refresh your memory, here’s the Cliff Notes version of the Atlanta test-rigging scandal:
In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.Sadly for Dr. Hall she is not — unlike Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Paulson, Ken Lewis of Bank of America, et cetera and ad nauseam — too big to jail. As are also the massed forces of the Republican Party working so effectively to destroy our public school system. Dr. Hall and her teachers were just caught up in the process. Jay Bookman explains:
Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.
After all, Hall and other education leaders operate within a structure of reward and punishment every bit as real as that within APS. And as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets have reported, similar cheating problems have popped up in school districts around the country. Most have occurred in poverty-stricken districts where the educational challenges can be overwhelming, the pressure to improve is immense and the needle is very hard to move.
Hall did not enact the federal No Child Left Behind policy mandating a strict regimen of testing, including a menu of rewards for success and harsh punishment for failure. She did not wave hundreds of millions of dollars in private foundation money in front of school districts to encourage them to hire, fire, promote and pay almost exclusively on the basis of standardized testing. Hall didn’t treat academic progress as an economic development tool too useful to Atlanta’s “brand” to be questioned, as some in the business community did. Like her APS underlings, Hall merely responded, somewhat rationally, to a system that was designed by others and that demanded results too good to be true too quickly.
That is an underappreciated aspect of this tragedy. By other standards, including untainted National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, Atlanta public schools did make measurable, sustained progress during the Hall era. But in an environment that demands a scale of improvement that only charlatans can deliver, it wasn’t enough.
Jim Hightower writes:
In 2009, an interim Texas school superintendent declared that sex-education classes were unnecessary in his rural district. Most of the area’s school kids live on farms, he explained, therefore: “They get a pretty good sex education from their animals.”
It’s this kind of thinking that makes Texas so special… (To continue with Hightower, go here.)
Maybe you’ve heard the old joke about the farm boy showing a girl around the ranch when they come across a bull mounting a cow and stop to watch.
Boy: I wouldn’t mind doing that, would you?
Girl: Go ahead, she’s your cow.
Here’s Noam Chomsky, musing about, among other things, baseball:
I remember when my grandson was about ten and he was very interested in sports, he was always playing for teams for the town. Once we were over at his mother’s house and he came back pretty disconsolate because there was supposed to be a baseball game but the other team that they were playing only had eight players. I don’t know if you know how baseball works but everybody’s sitting all the time, there’s about three people actually doing anything, everybody else is just sitting around. But his team simply couldn’t give the other team an extra player so that the kids could have fun because you have to keep by the league rules.
Concerning culture as a process, one would say that it means learning a great many things and then forgetting them; and the forgetting is as necessary as the learning. Diligent as one must be in learning, one must be as diligent in forgetting; otherwise the process is one of pedantry, not culture. The trouble with the pedant is not that be has learned too much, for one can never do that, but that he has not forgotten enough. In the view of culture, the human spirit is somewhat like the oldfashioned hectograph which had to be laid aside for a day or so after each use, to let the surface impression sink down into the gelatine pad. The pedant’s learning remains too long on the surface of his mind; it confuses and distorts succeeding impressions, thus aiding him only to give himself a conventional account of things, rather than leaving his consciousness free to penetrate as close as possible to their reality, and to see them as they actually are.
This is from our local weekly, The Lakeville Journal:
LAKEVILLE — Diplomat John L. Loeb shared a startling memory with students at The Hotchkiss School in a talk on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
It was the fall of 1945 and Loeb was one of a handful of Jewish students at the school.
During movie night, the students saw newsreel footage of Nazi concentration camps.
Far from being horrified, Loeb said his fellow students “cheered and hooted.”
Afterward, one young man told Loeb, “We don’t like Hitler but at least he killed Jews.”
I didn’t know Ambassador Loeb, who was an upperclassman and, if I remember right, editor of the school newspaper. But one of my classmates was Jewish, as well as being musical, intelligent, small, and unathletic. He was, that is to say, asking for it.
So he was taken to the woods alongside the golf course, depantsed, and made to mimic masturbation. Photos of this were circulated. The following year he was expelled for stealing a watch that one of his tormentors had planted in his bureau drawer.
This was long ago and I’m told by people familiar with the school today that sadism and hate crimes are no longer condoned and tacitly approved at Hotchkiss. This may well be, as a fish rots from the top. In my day the headmaster turned a blind and benign eye on this sort of thing. His successors, I understand, have not.
From Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Harper & Brothers, 1943:
Universal literacy helps business by extending the reach of advertising, and increasing its force; and also in other ways. Beyond that, I see nothing on the credit side. On the debit side, it enables scoundrels to beset, dishevel and debauch such intelligence as is in the power of the vast majority of mankind to exercise.What about this? Is Nock right on the money? Half right? Provocative at least? Crazy as a loon?
There can be no doubt of this, for the evidence of it is daily spread far and wide before us on all sides. More than this, it makes many articulate who should not be so, and otherwise would not be so. It enables mediocrity and submediocrity to run rampant, to the detriment of both intelligence and taste. In a word, it puts into people’s hands an instrument which very few can use, but which everyone supposes himself fully able to use; and the mischief thus wrought is very great.
Eat your heart out, American students. This from the New York Times:
As is the case throughout Canada, Quebec’s colleges and universities are mostly publicly supported, and their tuition rates are set by the provincial government. Quebec residents pay the lowest rates in Canada.
The government wants to increase the annual university tuition of $2,144 by $321 a year for five years.
While the rest of us were giggling over Rick Santorum’s fact-free attack in California’s university system, Sara Robinson wasn’t. I’d bet ten thousand Romney dollars that her decoding of Santorum’s babble is right on target.
Santorum was setting the stage. He warned us, very clearly: Following the War on Public Employees and the War on Women, this will be the summer of the War on Public Universities. Whether the proposals will be to revoke their charters, close campuses, or sell off their facilities to for-profit colleges, you can bet that ALEC already has the bills in the can, and will be introducing them in state legislatures presently.
Bertrand Russell in Education and the Good Life, 1926:
In so far as the schools can rely upon the genuine merits of America, there is no need to associate the teaching of American patriotism with the inculcation of false standards. But where the Old World is superior to the New, it becomes necessary to instill a contempt for genuine excellence. The intellectual level in Western Europe and the artistic level in Eastern Europe are, on the whole, higher than in America. Throughout Western Europe, except in Spain and Portugal, there is less theological superstition than in America. In almost all European countries the individual is less subject to herd domination than in America: his inner freedom is greater even where his political freedom is less. In these respects, the American public schools do harm. The harm is essential to the teaching of an exclusive American patriotism. The harm, as with the Japanese and the Jesuits, comes from regarding the pupil as a means to an end, not as ends in themselves. The teacher should love his children better than his State or his Church; otherwise he is not an ideal teacher.
Sure, it’s Alabama. But still…
Alabama legislators were given a 62 percent raise in 2007, and State Senator Shadrack McGill (R-AL) says the raise discourages corruption among lawmakers. The previous low salaries “played into the corruption, guys, big time,” he says. “You had your higher-ranking legislators that were connected with the lobbyists making up in the millions of dollars. They weren’t worried about that $30,000 paid salary they were getting.” By paying lawmakers more up front, he says, they are less susceptible to taking bribes: “He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation.”
However, if teachers were given pay raises, then people who are not “called” to teach would begin joining the profession, he says. “Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you’re paying education, you know what’s going to happen? I’ve heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education’s going to go up.’ That’s never proven to happen, guys. It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach. To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK? And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach.
From a New York Times op-ed by Michael A. Rebell and Jessica R. Wolff of Columbia University’s Teachers College:
Many schools that have already reduced hours, increased class sizes and eliminated electives are also now charging fees for workbooks, use of lab equipment and other basic instructional materials; extracurricular activities long considered essential are now available only to students who can afford them.What America needs is a little nation-building to rescue us from the Third World into which we seem to be determined to sink. If we would only listen to them, teams of education experts from Finland and Singapore could do us a world of good.
In Medina, Ohio, The Wall Street Journal reported, it now costs $660 for a child to play on a high school sports team, $200 to join the concert choir and $50 to act in the school play. High school students in Overland Park, Kan., pay a $120 “activity programming fee” and a $100 “learning resources fee.” In Naperville, Ill., they are charged textbook and workbook fees, even for basic requirements like English and French, according to The Chicago Tribune.
And pigs would fly, except they don’t have wings.