HBD: Human Biodiversity

LA Times: School Reform Will Fail

An op-ed in the LA Times all but admits that it’s impossible to educate some kids.

There have been two features that regularly mark the history of U.S. public schools. Over the last century, our education system has been regularly captivated by a Big Idea -- a savant or an organization that promised a simple solution to the problems of our schools. The second is that there are no simple solutions, no miracle cures to those problems.

Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.

As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.

Our era is no different. We now face a wave of education reforms based on the belief that school choice, test-driven accountability and the resulting competition will dramatically improve student achievement.

Once again, I find myself sounding the alarm that the latest vision of education reform is deeply flawed. But this time my warning carries a personal rebuke. For much of the last two decades, I was among those who jumped aboard the choice and accountability bandwagon. Choice and accountability, I believed, would offer a chance for poor children to escape failing schools. Testing and accountability, I thought, would cast sunshine on low-performing schools and lead to improvement. It all seemed to make sense, even if there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope.

Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform -- codified in its signature Race to the Top program -- that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better...

Like the grand plans of previous eras, they sound sensible but will leave education no better off. Charter schools are no panacea. The nation now has about 5,000 of them, and they vary in quality. Some are excellent, some terrible; most are in between. Most studies have found that charters, on average, are no better than public schools.

Maybe, but at least they can probably get their mediocre results for less money.

Imagine how much better off students would be if we just gave each one the $19,000 a year we spend per pupil.  Instead of twelve years of compulsory education, you’d get a check for $228,000 on your eighteenth birthday.  Or you could give parents a $6,600 per year voucher for private school and still save enough to give the kid $148,000 when he graduates.

The fact of the matter is, that for all the inefficiencies in the public school system, we’ve spent so much money that it’s done all that it can do for those with below average IQs.  Like North Korea which maintains one of the largest armies in the world while it’s population lives in abject poverty, we’ve brought down the living standard of the population in order to feel good about ourselves.  There’s at least a practical reason for North Korea’s defense spending as it’s still threatened by the American regime.  We get nothing from the bulk of the money wasted on education.

Public education in America is partly a story of liberal creationism and partly one of the evils of unionism and government spending.