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War on Education

You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “American schools are falling behind our international peers.”

We’re not “falling” – we’re already behind (a whopping 14th in the world for reading, worse for math and science) and we’re getting stuck.  This is not because American students are less capable than their peers in other nations; it’s because big government keeps lowering the standard at which students are asked to achieve.

The top five “epicenters of the graduation crisis” are New York City, Los Angeles, Clark County Nevada, Chicago, and Miami-Dade.  It’s no coincidence that they’re all located in Blue States (and all but one – Miami – has a local government controlled by liberals).

So what do lower standards do for our students?  According to a University of Minnesota-Twin Cities professor who has dedicated his career to the study of standardized exit exams,

“The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them.”

In short:  Dumbed-down “standards” help zero students.  They do help teacher’s unions by releasing teachers of their responsibility to, you know, teach!  What a stunning coincidence that government is harming the taxpayer to help the unions!  I am sure that no one could have possibly seen that coming!

So just how easy are American public schools?  Since 1983, ten million high school seniors somehow entered the twelfth grade without being able to read.  In my home state of Georgia, “what shape is a basketball?” is a question on the state-mandated graduation test.  Unfortunately, these incidents are not isolated occurrences.  Since the founding of the Department of Education in 1980, the national high school graduation rate has declined by about three percentage points.  The creation of this department shifted the responsibility of learning from the student to a government program, creating a channel where students, parents, and teachers – the three crucial ingredients for education – are no longer held responsible for the student’s learning.  Our current system does not hold educators or students responsible for learning and instead shifts that responsibility to Department of Education employees, who spend little to no time in the schools they are supposed to be running.

In addition to lowering education standards, big government has increased funding for education.  Not surprisingly, studies show that an increase in education spending does not actually improve school performance.  Maybe someday, American leaders will recognize that increased spending rarely fixes anything.  President Obama seems to also have ignored the facts, approving an increase in federal spending for education in 2012.

In fact, studies show that schools have the resources they need for better performance; resource allocation is the problem.  Look at Allen, Texas, a school district that spent $60 million on a new stadium and $32 million on a parking garage.  A recent study from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory says it all: The best way to get a return on an investment in education is to invest specifically in instruction and teaching.  It is heartbreaking to see money that could change the lives of students directed to functions that, while they may be beneficial, are not nearly as crucial to the next generation as learning.  (You could also take it from a girl who knows.  I went to one of the highest-ranked public high schools in the country, and my district spent millions on astroturf in the same year they laid off hundreds of teachers.)

Rational actors continue an action only so long as the benefit of that action outweighs its cost.  When students realize they’re getting a terrible education that qualifies them for nothing and perhaps doesn’t even teach them to read, they will see better opportunities elsewhere and take them.  It’s scary that so many are dropping out, but it is even scarier to admit that these kids may be right to think a McJob will do more for them than remaining in a corrupt, mediocre school system.

We should give everyone an equal opportunity for education – and then let them decide if they want to “purchase” the “service” that the school provides.  Let students be free to drop out at age sixteen.  If you can legally drive a car – putting your life and the lives of others at a higher risk of danger, you should be able to “legally drive” your own education.  However, it should never be too late to learn; anyone who has dropped out should be able to drop back in at the start of the next semester, simply by proving to the principal that he or she does not pose a threat to the safety of other students.  As a result, teachers would spend less time babysitting and more time teaching.

The backlash to this notion is predictable; the more dropouts we have, the more crimes committed.  However, those crimes are already happening, and they’re happening in our schools.  The higher grade level, the less likely it is for a person to be in a fight, dropping to 1 out of 15 students getting into fights at school their senior year.  There are fewer incidences of violence at higher grade levels because those with violent proclivities are dropping out.  In fact, the students who are most prone to drop out are the students we are fighting so hard to keep in school.  Television ads beg kids to be “above the influence,” and a big government drive for low, yet meaningless dropout rates is what keeps “the influence” in their schools.

We need to weed out those who don’t want to learn in order to allow proactive people to prosper.  We need to start a war on education.

Angela Morabito :: Georgetown University :: Washington, DC :: @_AngelaMorabito


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Comments

  1. Hmmm,,,,Really? says:

    It is interesting that you blame liberals for the demise of education, when Allen, Texas is right smack dab in the middle of ultra conservative TEXAS. And you use them as an example of the avarice in some school systems.

    If you’d really like to make a difference for public education, it may be informative for you to check into the motives behind Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation. Legislation which, in fact, while purported to “raise the bar” has done more to destroy the capacity of this nation’s schools to perform. There has been a long term strategy in place by conservatives who wish to privatize education by destroying public education. Education reform has been cleverly used for decades as the tool to accomplish this task.

    War on education? Its been being waged for a long time already. Conservatives are winning in that the system is near collapse. Your adolescent opinions and ideas are really late to the table. The war you wish for is going on before your eyes as covert right wing/business conspiracy adroitly disguised as a political left right battle.

  2. “We need to weed out those who don’t want to learn in order to allow proactive people to prosper. We need to start a war on education.”

    Now THIS is some jiucy liberal mantra for the next decade!

    You want to solve the problems in education? The drop-out rates? The violence amongst students? Simple!

    You remove the liberal judges from the benches of our family courts, you shut down the child support cash cows, you demand EQUAL in divorce matters having to do with child custody, you remove the financial incentives for divorce, you put the Fathers BACK into the child’s lives, (rather than run them off through false allegations), you shut-down the food stamp lines for people that dio not EARN the entitlements, you put the school systems BACK under the power of the individual cities and towns; paid for throught their property taxes, kick out the big college-minded sports incentives, you put parents BACK in charge of disciplining their children. Once you put matters BACK IN ORDER from which all thins WORKED, then apply your daily duty and responsibilities as citizens and MAINTAIN YOUR GOVERNMENT from your city councils, your county commissions and on up through your state and federal REPRESENTATIVES…

    But, I guess that’s too much to ask of people. Being that it’s easier to swap diatribe over the issues rather than pick up a piece of the big shit-sandwhich and take a bite out of it…

    Then again, maybe the NEXT GENERATION will have the answer and just do away with schools all together and just spend the money on sports and abortions?

  3. Hmmm,,,,Really? says:

    @Gregory-“Simple!” Its really simple? I just love you know-it-all types who brag about the simplicity of your plan and then tell others what to do. It goes like this, “I know what to do and it is simple. YOU do this. YOU do that. You do the other.” Is it possible that you know-it-all’s that want others to solve the problems are actually a part of the problem rather than a source of the solution?

  4. Not Everyone Gets to Go to Walton says:

    I’d like to take issue with one of your main points in this article, particularly where you say that, “We need to weed out those who don’t want to learn in order to allow proactive people to prosper.” If you want to understand where the Occupy movement started, it is directly from statements like this. You do not “weed out” children from their right to education simply because you see their actions as not up to par or too violent. It is very easy to paint a broad stroke over those that are less educated than yourself and it is again easier to refuse to understand the experiences that have brought this child to where they are now. Instead of wiping away the detritus of what you believe to be the chaff and the wheat; perhaps compassion should be the first thing you learn. Do not be so quick to judge a child that cannot read because he has failed in his classes. Instead, know that schools are forced to pass underachieving children through multiple grades because the No Child Left Behind Act, did not allow for children to be left behind; they were just forced through school no matter the amount they had learned in the previous grade level. Not only is your argument narrow-minded in that you see a singular problem in the education system and decide that your menial research has allowed you to pass judgement, but it is also completely insulting to suggest that the land of equality should “weed out” those that do not achieve up to your standards, simply to satisfy your indignation at being ranked below Poland and Estonia.

  5. Christopher says:

    Visit an innner city high school in Nyc, then tell me it’s simple. I don’t know much about this subject, but I do know, from experience, that there are entire school districts in our Nations biggest cities that would drop out if the pressure to stay in school was lessened. This isn’t an issue of policy, its an issue of entire generatations without parents, role models, or hope.

  6. This whole “war on education” thinking is unnecessarily aggressive. Why does everything conservatives do have to be in the mentality of everything being a war? Why get so angry, anger is one of the least proactive emotions. Learning is something that everyone is entitled to, and the schools aren’t “dumbing” themselves down, it is the standardization of education that leads to that perception. Education is unique to each person and by forcing students to take these test, that is where the problem lies. Everyone learns and understands differently. By forcing children to believe that a score or grade matters is what is ruining this country’s momentum and passion for learning. The goal of education is to learn something, not be part of some capitalism machine that turns out drones to just serve jobs and buy goods- that’s so 1984. The standards of students to get As and test well motivates some students while many become frustrated because they don’t test well and they believe themselves to be inferior. This leads them to stay in a system that benefits no one. If classrooms were designed in a way that promoting learning for the sake of knowledge instead of learning meets some end than I think we’d see an improvement in our country’s international standing (but personally who cares if we’re not number one? This extreme nationalism that people feel is frightening and why should our ratings matter? They are completely arbitrary and promote unhealthy competition among nations, when a more cooperative ideology should be in place).

    I think that teacher’s unions are the only real incentive for anyone to want to grow up and be a teacher. Otherwise, why bother? I mean they get paid nothing while celebrities, athletes, and politicians make millions, if anything teachers and counselors should be getting way more than they do. This is a problem with the structure of our society and I think if teachers were recognized and honored for the jobs they do than there might be more of a reason to teach and do a great job educating others.

    Also I STRONGLY disagree with your point that only certain students should have the right to learn “… then let them decide if they want to “purchase” the “service” that the school provides. ” education can not be bought! It is NOT a consumer good. This again goes back to the standardization of education. Funding should go to schools in districts where there are lower incomes. I think that schools in wealthy areas should get less funding so they don’t allocate the money towards astro-turf or parking lots. If that much money went to inner city schools or extremely rural schools than the money would be used towards bettering education. It is in areas like East Cobb, the money is used unnecessarily and I understand your frustration; going back to the teachers’ union discussion, if Georgia had stronger unions, teachers wouldn’t be layed off in the thousands. I think that money given to each district should be inversely proportionate the average income of those who live there. That way, poorer districts could get the funding they need to even compete with wealthier areas and level out the academic playing field. “Weeding” out people to me is as though you are saying that some people don’t deserve or have the right to learn. Everyone is equal and so their right to be educated.

  7. You have some good points. However I’m not sure I agree about letting kids drop out at 16. It may have merit in some locales, but I’m not sold on wholesale implementation.
    What I do believe needs to happen is for parents to receive vouchers and decide for themselves where to send their kids. When schools have to compete for students and the money that would follow perhaps it would help in reassessing their budgets.
    Personally I was educated at home and graduated early. I would have been insulted if I had been expected to answer that basketball question. My parents passed on their high expectations. :) Now a college junior, I have been teaching myself since age 14, albeit I was guided, held accountable, and provided with great materials.
    My war on education is going to include educating my future children myself. :)

  8. This is one of the most misguided assessments that I have read in a very long time. Firstly, it is unfair to compare the success of American high school students with students of many other high achieving countries for one simple reason, those other countries do not let under achieving students attend high school. They are sent to vocational schools to learn a trade, leaving only the high achievers to go through traditional high school and be measured in those statistics. In America, all of our students, including special education students, test scores count. In essence, we are virtually comparing the top 25% in some countries, like China, to all of our students. Sound like a fair fight to you?

    Secondly, our country is not lowering graduation standards. The dept of ed has its graduation standards, then states have there own grad standards, which have to be at least meet the state standards, then districts can set their own, as long as they meet the state and federal standards. NCLB requires that all students be 100% proficient in reading writing, and math by 2012. While this is completely unrealistic, schools and states have increased their standards so students can pass these tests so schools do not loose federal dollars.

    Those 10 million who cant read? Many of those students are special education students. Yes, there are kids that slip through the cracks and should be able to read, but you can’t blame that on the department of education! That is the fault of the teachers in that school and the parents, and that student. It has nothing to do with how ‘easy’ school is.

    She is right about school funding. School funding needs to be more equitable, especially in MN. But you also need to know how schools get money and what they can spend it on. A school may have $300,000,000, but they cant just spend it on whatever they want. Within that there are budget areas that money can only be spent, so if the school gets money from the state for tech, they have to spend it there. If a school gets money that has to go to arts programs, it has to go there.

    In probably her most absurd assertion, she tries to say there is a correlation between how many fights there are at a grade level and students who drop out. I’m going to call BS on that. First, young people mature over time. Just because someone fights a lot in middle school does not mean they will always be a fighter. Just teaching last year I witnessed children who were incredible wild at the beginning of the year develop in to much more considerate and respectful individuals.

    It really sounds like this girl found some numbers she was shocked by and then tried to connect the dots without trying to understand the nature of child development and how our education system actually functions. The only thing ‘fascinating’ about this article is how il-informed the author is.

  9. Congratulations for tackling a subject that has bedeviled the best minds of hundreds of thinkers.

    Unfortunately you have made sweeping generalizations and over-simplified the problem which is complex and not amenable to a quick solution. But I don’t condemn your effort as you have had the courage to tackle this immense problem.

    Solid research into these problems have revealed how far beyond the school doors this problem goes. Simply labeling it as a problem of a particular party does not point toward solutions because the problem cuts across both parties and all the various segments within each.

    Perhaps we need to look at the way we train teachers contrasted with that of the way we train physicians. After all, the teacher is dealing with a student’s mind that influences the ultimate trajectory of that person. You would not ask help from a doctor fresh from undergraduate school. Your physician has years of training post graduation. Why expect teachers, absent such post graduate training, to be the best they can be in the classroom except after years of teaching. Of course, those students in the initial years are the training ground for what we all hope will be a fully functioning professional in later years.

    May I suggest that you take one of your points and develop it more fully that you have. Your post will be perhaps same length, but much better.

  10. 1980, huh? How in the world did we ever get along without the DOE? I’ll oversimplify and say that as with everything the government tries to fix, it fails miserably. It’s taken on way too many responsibilities, and its citizens have allowed it, even encouraged it, which begs the question, why don’t citizens care enough to do something about the state of education for their children instead of inviting the government in? What a sick society we all live in. Each generation gets worse, just look around, is there a teenager anywhere not glued to a small screen who does not think he/she deserves it? Deserves the right to be constantly interrupted on the job by his iPhone? Parents are at fault, and it’s my generation who are the biggest culprits. They all wanted to make life easier and better for their children. This is wrong and has caused all the problems of society we face today and includes our so-called leaders in government, who are the biggest recipients of entitlements which we allow them to have. All because we are too lazy to DEMAND conscious government by honest individuals who care more about their constituents than themselves getting elected and reelected.
    The goal of education should be to teach the student HOW to learn, not anything else. The goal of parents should be to teach their children HOW to live and make a living, and not to provide them with everything they never had. Parents should have earned their children’s respect, not their friendship. If they manage to get that too, great.

  11. We all must remember that most students in foreign countries attend many more days per year than USA students as well as often being in system where ONLY the HIGHEST achievers can go on. Compare that system with the USA where virtually ANYONE can attempt higher education.

    Change the US system to one of merit and see what happens!

  12. The school systems throughout the U.S. WAS on the merit system for well over 200 years prior to progressives changing things to make all students feel better about themselves and when one excelled, they all excelled. It is no longer school. It’s now called indoctrination.

  13. I have got to ask you Keith, WHEN did we start calling those that are to be REPRESENTATIVE of OUR VOICE… “Leaders”?

  14. WITeacher says:

    Wow, lots of liberals responding to your article, Angela. In case you haven’t figure this out, it means your article has a good START to fixing education, something liberals don’t want to deal with.

    The facts are, we are dealing with an education system that IS failing, and as I see the responses above and I read the rhetoric about the feelings and emotions of students, families and students, I just have to laugh at the nonsense. Liberals are all about feelings and emotions, yet lack one characteristic; common sense. Until we start holding people accountable for their actions or lack thereof, our education system will continue to fail, and so with the United States of America. As Barack Obama will never take responsibility for his policies, neither will teachers, students, parents, administrators, teacher union’s, or communities, this is the real problems public education. It is time to stop the bickering and start addressing the problems.

    Now, to get to the point, public schools, under a socialistic regime, has begun to deteriorate as all socialistic economies/programs do over time. The solution? Competition. We need school choice and more funding for charter schools, such as KIPP, Noble Street Academy, and so on, so school districts start becoming accountable for the work they do in public schools, private schools, or charter schools.

    Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and Liberals have all agreed on legislation towards increasing funding towards charter schools and school choice programs to break away from the bureaucracy and traditional public schools, where some students are not equipped to learn in. I could go on and on about this, but a good book to start with is, “Work Hard, Be Nice,” by Jay Matthews. There are several other good reads out there about how to START to fix the problems we face in heavily unionized public education, and from the responses above I think you all need to do a little more studying.

  15. An excellent article, enriched by informative links. The instacritics with their push-button opinions have obviously not take the trouble to check those links out. Nor do they take the trouble to address the salient points. Instead we have standard blather about “generalizations”, implications about insensitivity, and affectations of superior knowledge coupled with displays of ignorance about an educational debate that has been going on for years.

  16. As a high school education major, this is a very important topic to me. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I have one question. “Since 1983, ten million high school seniors somehow entered the twelfth grade without being able to read.” Where does this statistic come from? Thanks

  17. Nevermind. I just got to the link. Thanks for the citations!

  18. angelamorabito says:

    I am truly shocked at the feedback this post is getting, both on this site and on social media. I’ve had parents and teachers tell me how this reflects their experience with the school system and share fascinating stories with me – and on the other hand, I’ve gotten some really scathing email and been subject to a few jabs at my upbringing.

    1. Yes, I went to one of the best public high schools in the nation. Walton gets a lot of things right. I am thankful that I got to go there. Walton is successful in part because it has a charter, which allows it to break some of the rules set at the county and state level. Give the power and responsibility to the people who know the students best – their parents, teachers, and administrators – and watch what kinds of great things happen.

    2. Sure – some of the illiterate high school seniors may be in that situation because they have special challenges that most others don’t face. But only 2 million high school students have disabilities – and even if they were all seniors, you would still have 8 million fully able seniors who are illiterate. It’s a pretty serious crack when 8 million fall through. http://www.edweek.org/rc/articles/2008/10/27/special_education_in_america.html

    3. To whoever called me “il-informed”…heh.

  19. You’re right, Angela. So many ill-informed know-nothings posted comments here. They know who they are. They saw a chance to belittle you and they took it. Keep standing tall and writing. We all know good writing when we see it. Some people just can’t stand it. If not for forums such as this, no one would ever have to listen to their drivel.

  20. I’m sorry, but where did you get the figure that education spending has increased? States nationwide are slashing education spending and trying to privatize it left and right.

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