Nationalize Public Schools

By Sean Carroll | April 6, 2008 11:54 pm

One of the most bizarre aspects of the United States is how we organize public education at the elementary and secondary levels. For mysterious historical reasons, we leave all of the important decisions — from curriculum and testing to financing and bus routes — in the hands of local school boards. 130,000 of them, all told. The result, predictably enough, is screaming chaos. Not only do we have haphazard ideas about what to teach and how to judge how well it’s been taught, but the dispersal of resources makes economies of scale impossible, so we don’t put anything like the appropriate amount of effort into developing new techniques and training our teachers.

And it shows. Matt Miller has written a compelling article in The Atlantic, documenting how our screwy system — unique, apparently, in the developed world — has utterly failed to give our children the educations they deserve.

The United States spends more than nearly every other nation on schools, but out of 29 developed countries in a 2003 assessment, we ranked 24th in math and in problem-solving, 18th in science, and 15th in reading. Half of all black and Latino students in the U.S. don’t graduate on time (or ever) from high school. As of 2005, about 70 percent of eighth-graders were not proficient in reading. By the end of eighth grade, what passes for a math curriculum in America is two years behind that of other countries.

This dismal failure might at least be explicable if it served some misguided egalitarian impulse, but it doesn’t. This map, from Miller’s article, shows the spending per pupil on a county-by-county basis; the poorest counties spend less than $7,500 per student, while the rich ones are over $17,500. (Click for larger version.)

US school district spending

Is there any theory behind the idea that students should getter significantly better or worse educations based on the county in which they are born? This isn’t an issue of private vs. public; it’s a public service, paid for by taxes, just like Medicare or national defense. But we finance public education by combination of state and local revenues, rather than through the national government.

Faced with such a patently misguided system, the most common calls for reform involve the imposition of some sort of national standards, such as those featured in the No Child Left Behind Act that has lately been foisted on our schools. In principle, national standards are a great idea; in a sensible system, however, they be the last of a series of necessary reforms. It’s like a team that hires a new football coach, who addresses the team on the first day of practice by saying “Here’s the system: we’re going to win all of our games!” Without an actual playbook, appropriate equipment, and some strategy, exhortations to do better aren’t going to achieve any tangible results.

It’s obvious what is needed: a basic national curriculum that is shared by all schools, with a set of requirements that leave room for creativity and innovation by individual districts within the overall framework. (There is no reason why American math classes should be two grade levels behind European math classes.) Plus, crucially, an overhaul of the financing system so that resources are distributed fairly. Those are just the minimal reforms that every sensible person should be able to agree on; after those are implemented, we can return to our regularly scheduled debates about school choice and bilingual education. Apparently the problem is that conservatives hate “national” and liberals hate “standards,” and both are afraid of the teachers’ unions. So we should all be able to compromise and do the right thing! As Miller says, “We started down this road on schooling a long time ago. Time now to finish the journey.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia
  • tacitus

    Ooh – now here’s a subject that’ll be a red rag to a bull for many! Should be interesting.

    If I recall correctly, the $7,500 per child per year figure was quoted by someone on Bill Maher’s show last week in contrast to the $20,000 per inmate per year we’re spending on keeping criminals incarcerated. When even the most affluent school districts are paying less to educated your child than it costs to keep one of millions of drug addicts locked up then there is definitely something screwy with the system.

    My parents are over from England at the moment (where the same problems of funding education are evident, though where having a national curriculum doesn’t come close to solving all the school system’s ills) and my father, who has been an educator all his life, made a very pertinent observation about his circle of friends back in the UK. He has wealthy friends–friends who are bank managers, accountants, and actuaries; and he has less well off friends–friends who are teachers. The people we employ to look after our money, we pay generously. The people we pay to look after the education of our children… not so much. Something seems not quite right about that.

    Of course, simply funneling more money into teachers’ pockets is not going to solve the ills of the US education system, since the situation is much more complicated than that, but when the disparity in pay between teaching and the private sector is so large the capable people, the brightest and the best are not going to hang around on teacher’s wages when there is much more money to be earned elsewhere.

    Every so often you see what huge difference a wonderful teacher can make in a child’s life, especially of those who have no stable family background through no fault of their own. Imagine what our future would be like if teachers were the cream of the crop, those who could afford to follow their vocation without being lured by the big bucks available to them elsewhere.

  • tacitus

    (I should add that I do know that there are plenty of wonderful teachers out there who endure low wages for the love of teaching and dedication to their pupils, so my above post was not meant as a slight to those who are currently in the teaching profession.)

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    What happened? It seemed that both you and The Atlantic were taken down and replaced with those annoying typo-portals (the ones that I would expect if I typed in http://www.cosmicvarience.com) and The Atlantic still has that problem.

  • Mark

    A significant factor in the disparity in school funding is the fact that the source of these funds is property taxes. Poor neighborhoods have lower value property and so the local schools receive less money while the schools in rich areas are flush with cash. It’s a rather alarming positive feedback mechanism for enlarging the gap between the rich and poor.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts John S. Wilkins

    The problem is not that your curricula are set locally – this is quite common in the developed world. Your problem is that you elect school boards. In most countries the curriculum is set by (usually) State or Province level by educational experts (often university level experts int he subject), and funding is set by the State not the local government. [I think the UK is not consistent about this.] Hence local politics and religious agendas do not fly in state schools, and since there are standards for government funding of private (mostly religious) schools, they don’t fly much in those schools either.

    The American tendency to Elect Dogcatchers and above is problematic – some things cannot be properly determined by majority vote.

  • http://lddubeau.com/avaktavyam Louis Dubeau

    I have to ask…

    What methodology was used to produce that map?

    Specifically, have the differences in cost-of-living been taken into account?

    If the cost-of-living was factored in, it seems likely that if it were factored in, then the differences would look much less dramatic.

  • Mike

    I suspect that deep down many people like the system as it is. If you have enough money, you can buy advantage for your children by buying a home in a higher quality school district. When there is a huge population of less-advantaged people, the competition for your child to get into the top colleges is less fierce. Leveling the playing field is fair, but by virtue of its fairness it takes power away from parents to control their child’s destiny. The parents who have such power will not want to give it away.

  • anonymous

    Are you familiar with all the joys that have been foisted upon teachers and students alike with the advent of standardized testing? Having to achieve a certain level of scoring in your class (to keep your job) and in your school (to keep your funding) frequently means that teachers are teaching to the test, and only the test. Everybody says there is room for creativity, and there is, when the students are willing to put forth the effort to achieve the basics in a timely manner.

    But when students don’t care, and parents don’t care, teachers are often forced to spend more time than is desirable (to teachers and students) ‘teaching the test’. This the great drawback of ‘No Child Left Behind’. You might as well call it ‘Enthusiasm Left Behind’. Money doesn’t fix this problem.

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  • http://www.pieter-kok.staff.shef.ac.uk Pieter Kok

    There is nothing wrong with teaching to the test (and only the test), as long as the test is of a sufficiently high level, and the ones who teach do not design the test.

  • Count Iblis

    Teaching to the test is done almost everywhere. For physics and math, the tests are of a very low level (not just in the US but almost everywhere else in the world too).

    Teaching to the test then leads to education at a very low level. This in turns dumbs down students. And not surprisingly, the students then find math and physics difficult. It then becomes difficult to raise the level of the tests. :(

  • http://www.mybusiness-advisors.com Stuart

    I have two kids: one homeschooled, one in a charter school. It has become apparent that my homeschooled kid’s agenda is education and my schooled kid’s agenda is to win an academic game of attendance, tests, and conformity.

    Our teachers aren’t paid enough and they are stripped of their freedom to teach by boards and imposed standards (local and national). Until we fix that problem, I don’t think we can expect our kids to be educated in our public schools.

  • JerseyBoy

    There’s another aspect that I think we’re missing here. I have a number of relatives who are teachers. In talking with them, I’ve realized that a large number of teachers aren’t qualified to teach the topics they cover. This is especially true in advanced science and math courses. A solid curriculum will only hold-up if the teachers understand what they are teaching.

    There is an ass-backwards approach to teaching where you need to be “certified” by the state. As a result of this implementation, a person with a B.A in liberal arts who took a few teaching credits is deemed “better suited” to teach a high-school physics course than a person with an MS in physics who teaches Physics 101 lectures at a state university. I vaguely remember a story about some noted physicist (Carl Wieman?)trying to teach high-school classes but being shot down because of the state saying “he wasn’t qualified”.

  • http://lddubeau.com/avaktavyam Louis Dubeau

    Eeek! I dropped a key word. Instead of:

    If the cost-of-living was factored in, it seems likely that if it were factored in, then the differences would look much less dramatic.

    I meant to write:

    If the cost-of-living was not factored in, then it seems likely that if it were factored in, the differences would look much less dramatic.

  • James Nightshade

    Regarding the “mysterious historical reasons”, James Madison had this to say about the US Constitution and the principle of limited government:

    “If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their Own hands; they may a point teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit of the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.”

    “The language held in various discussions of this house is a proof that the doctrine in question was never entertained by this body. Arguments, wherever the subject would permit, have constantly been drawn from the peculiar nature of this government, as limited to certain enumerated powers, instead of extending, like other governments, to all cases not particularly excepted.”

    “In short, sir, without going farther into the subject. Which I should not have here touched at all but for the reasons already mentioned, I venture to declare it as my opinion, that, were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America; and what inferences might be drawn, or what consequences ensue, from such a step, it is incumbent on us all to consider.”

    James Madison on the Cod Fishery Bill debate, February 7, 1792, as quoted in
    Debates, Vol. 4, p. 429, (Elliot, ed. 1836).

  • imho

    Let me preface this comment by stating: I hate the Republicans (Newt Gingrich more than most).

    Anyway, Newt’s recent response to Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” touched on many of these issues. Surprisingly, the response is serious and worthy of discussion.

  • imho
  • http://www.matthewsumpter.com Matthew

    Instead of combining 130,000 bureaucracies into one giant one (yeah, that will really help things), why don’t you look at what actually works? Public (government) schools don’t work. Public healthcare won’t work. Name one country that it does work in. Private school children outscore public school children almost across the board. Home schooled children outscore public school children. Maybe the government is actually the problem here.

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  • Count Iblis

    Bad math education leads to this :)

  • Chris

    Matthew, you’re forgetting, the people who go to private schools are not the same group of people who go to public schools. Last time I remember about trying to get into a private school, I had to take an entrance exam.

  • The Almighty Bob

    Matthew? I can name two. France. Cuba.

  • Roman

    At 20. That’s hilarious. But wait a minute – didn’t bad math education actually created jobs and wealth in this case?

  • http://blog.domenicdenicola.com/ Domenic

    While limited-government principles such as the ones that are just starting to poke their heads into the debate do appeal to me on an ideological ground, I think it might be more sensible to set that aside until we can answer a key question. Namely, is there any (successful) large-scale implementation of nationwide education wherein the government plays no part? I’m genuinely curious to see if anyone has an affirmative answer, or even a case where it has been tried and then failed.

  • Rien

    Matthew, you didn’t ask about countries where public schools work, maybe because you know there are many so it would destroy your argument. In fact your statement that they don’t work is wrong, but I guess you can’t be a libertarian if you actually look at how the world is. So I will answer that question anyway with just one example: Scandinavia and Finland have mostly public schools and consistently perform better than the US on for example literacy and math tests. (Article in Science.)

    At least in Sweden, public schools are run on the muncipal level but curricula are set by the government and must be adhered to, even by private schools.

  • Rien

    Addendum: note that I am not saying that the difference to the US is the crucial thing. There are too many other differences to be able to make that comparison. The point is that the public school systems in these countries work.

  • http://desuntcetera.com/blogs R.

    I don’t understand how anyone who has gone through public schools in this country can think that the point of school is learning. It isn’t. I learned far more in my own time experimenting with the natural world is various (sometimes dangerous) ways then I ever did sitting in a class, learning the same thing I was taught the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that…

    I think public schooling does way more harm than good in terms of dissuading children from wanting anything to do with learning. It sets up a bad association with anything that’s associated with school, in particular reading.

    Does anyone really think that taking a random sample of children of a given age, throwing them into a room with a single adult, will generate a learning environment, instead of a lord of the flies environment? The answer to that, of course, is no. That’s why we divide them up by aptitude. But that turns into an excuse to not waste your time with the bad kids, who “don’t want to learn anyway.” But then why have them in school? Etc.

    The whole system makes no sense when you try to interpret it as teaching, and makes perfect sense when you consider it conditioning and day sitting.

    But don’t take my word for. Read John Gatto’s essays. In particular, The Six Lesson School Teacher. Gatto won several state teacher awards in NY, and every acceptance speech turned into a damning critique of the ideas the school system is founded upon.

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  • TomR

    I don’t know, I think local control of public schools is an important safety net.

    We’ve left the era of fact-based politics, or even reality-based politics. How many readers of this blog would really be comfortable with the current administration setting a nationwide curriclium? Young-universe “theories” in science classes? “Teach the controversey” on climate change and evolution? Straight-up lies passing for sex-education? And lord only knows what distorted version of history they’d come up with.

    I’m sure someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum could come up with their own examples. But, my real point is that it’s harder for periods of national madness to mess up 13,000 separate school boards than one national one.

  • RockHoward

    What I find bizarre about the United States is that we have a Constitution that our office holders swear to uphold and yet at the same time we have things like a federal Department of Education that is simply not allowed by the Constitution. (Of course education is just one of hundreds of major activities of our federal government that are similarly unconstitutional.)

    I am tired of the lawlessness of our government. We need a return to a federal government that adheres to the small set of enumerated powers listed in the Consitition. Then if people want “national education” or “national health insurance” or “a national identity card”, then fine — they can work to amend the Constitution to allow it. That is the lawful process that we set up for ourselves.

    Sadly “The United States of America” as once envisioned is no longer functional. Instead we have “The American Empire” which is really not my cup of joe.

  • Mark

    @ RockHoward (#30): The Department of Education gets its authority from the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Art. 1, Sec. 8, Para. 3). It’s very easy to argue that the education of the populace has a huge effect on commerce both national and international. Thus Congress has legal authority in this area. In fact, most of Congress’ regulatory authority comes from this clause.

    The same argument can be made for national health insurance.

  • fh

    Matthew, as this is a science blog I’m sure you will appreciate some data. On public health levels there is now some very good data at gapminder, the general patern is clear, health increases with wealth till an income of about 10.000$ per capita per year, then it levels of and we see many countries with a variety of public/private systems at roughly the same level. Many countries with public health beat the US on the criteria of
    Infant mortality, under 5 year mortality, and Life expectancy.

    As a matter of fact the US often trails the entire rest of the medium to high income world.

    PISA is the authorative study on what children actually learn, here is the most recent executive summary.

    The top performers here are:

    Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand and the partner countries/economies Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and Estonia.

    If you want a very entertaining and interesting talk about the actual state of the world this is a good place to start:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92

    excellent talk.

  • James Nightshade

    Re: #31
    What’s the point of Congress having limited, enumerated powers if the ‘interstate commerce’ clause can be used to justify any act that Congress deems beneficial to the U.S.? Might as well be honest and ditch the whole notion of constitutional limitations on government.

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    In the wake of Sputnik, a great deal of money and effort went into improving American schools with good results. No doubt there was plenty of waste and abuse, but the take away message from the era is that determined efforts yield results. It matters if you require lots of math, science, and foreign languages in high schools. Indeed, it matters that you make education attractive to kids by including art, music, and physical education in the curriculum. In the late 60s and especially in the 70s, we just stopped trying and also got stingy, especially out here in California. The enthusiasm for testing of the last few years hasn’t mitigated our abdication of responsibility. Testing is just a cheap way of avoiding real commitment: it’s a gimmick that can and is being gamed all across the country.

    A note on homeschooling: it’s no wonder that homeschooled children do better than public school kids. One of the best predictors of academic performance is the amount of time that a child spends talking to adults. It would be take a miraculous public school system to duplicate the effect of three or four hours a day spent talking to an adult, almost any adult.

  • Haelfix

    Equal distribution of funding doesn’t solve anything either really.

    There are plenty of examples of public schools in rich neighborhoods that do poorly, and the contrapositive.

    As we already mentioned, many of these schools in poor neighborhoods recieve more funding per capita than most places in the rest of the world, so its disengenous to imply that equal funds will somehow cure the problem.

    The US university system is the best in the world, and its almost completely privatized as well, further contradicting the nationalization claims.

    Now having much higher nationalized standards (with penalties and incentives) strikes me as the obvious first step. Also its unclear to me why teachers salaries are so low, since there should be rampant competition for them if there are penalties and such. The teachers union is so powerful it almost erases any semblance of balance in the system.

    Also the funding appropriations is completely fubar, with so much emphasis on sports. It really doesn’t make sense.

  • Marci

    I found the graph quite honest in regards to the southern states and Louisiana, where I live. The problem I see is the mismanagement of government, federal and state, funds. Louisiana had the highest tax revenue last year, since Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (an ex-teacher) saw fit to cut about 7 million from Louisiana school funds and appropriate them to the development of golf courses and tourism.

    This hurt the rural area of Louisiana excluding Shreveport/Bossier City and Baton Rouge. According to the graph, those are the only 2 parishes shaded darker than “light gray.” What else is new?

    I was forced to pull my son out of public school due to lack of discipline and qualified teachers/principals that actually gave a crap about the education and safety of their student body. I’m now working more hours and spending less time with my family just so my kid can have a decent education at a local religious private school. The teachers there are qualified and decent. Then again, I’m paying their salaries directly instead of relying on the state to hire someone that just shows up for a paycheck. I say the problem lies in the government as well as the uselessness of the school board heirarchy.

    Just another dumbed down Southerner fighting against the government agenda.
    Later Gators “

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  • SLC

    Re Haelfix

    “The US university system is the best in the world, and its almost completely privatized as well, further contradicting the nationalization claims.”

    This statement doesn’t even that the decency to be wrong. It is, in fact, a lie. The majority of college students in the US attend state universities or state colleges.

  • http://thechocolatefish.blogspot.com Yvette

    I’ve spent a fair bit of my life in New Hampshire, and my friends there say the system in NH is that all the property taxes go to the state, and then the state distributes the pot evenly amongst all the districts (ie the local districts still have control). I always thought this was a great idea personally, as I never understood why kids who arguably need all the help they can get coming from poverty get the least amount of money to help them there.

    (I should also note at this point that I am very libertarian in my politics, but always insist that education should be more evenly distributed. Why? Because no one gets a choice as to where they’re born, and everyone knows it’s better for society to have people who make something of themselves rather than end up in jail.)

    I will also note that I’ve spent a good deal of time in the Hungarian school system back in the day- one of those countries that leaves the US in the dust- and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that in an American school teachers usually teach to the lowest common denominator, whereas in Hungarian schools they teach to the highest one. I still remember in disbelief how I was in one of the best school districts in the country in 4th grade and I was forced to spend months learning simple addition and subtraction again because “we’re trying to make you see how fast you can do them.” Everyone knew even with 4th grade intellect that it was because some of the kids in the class hadn’t yet mastered 4+5, so we were all going to waste our time as a result.

    And as a final note, for the love of God we need to get more money into the teaching profession. I know several wonderful, talented physics students who will be graduating college this year and would want nothing more of life than to teach high school physics to the benefit of everyone involved… but can’t pay loans off if they become teachers, so it’s off to industry. It gets more and more upsetting at each new occurrence.

  • Cameron

    For our education system to truly prosper, we also need better child rearing in addition to fixes to the system.

  • Scott S.

    A few years ago a friend from Russia asked the question, “why don’t you have a national agency defining what your children should be taught?” My response was, “Do you want someone in Washington deciding what your child would learn, or would you prefer to keep it local, close to you, where you have a say?” He never asked again.

    The system has problems, but I think strongly dictated national system will encounter resistance from an old American belief. There is a belief, probably not supported by the facts, but that is why it is a belief, that we are all self made, we control our own destiny. As a result, we seem to want the most control over our most critical decisions. What our children are taught is one of those decisions.

    In the global economy, education reform may help, but I do you really think it could happen? The United States is much large and, much more individually focus then Europeans. We don’t have centuries of culture to bind us. We have the romance of the Old West and spirit of the ’49s. For better or worse, here we are.

    Now on the plus side, maybe everyone getting a different take on the world is one of the reasons we are so inventive. None of us see the same problem the same way, and those different views lead to different solutions, and sometimes its the odd ball solution that actually works.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I think that this idea that local control makes it easier to watch over what our children are being taught has it exactly backwards. Most parents do not have time to pore over state standards and individual lesson plans, and there’s no way that appropriate supervision can occur over 130,000 districts. Whereas, if there was a basic national curriculum, all sorts of relevant watchdog groups would be working to keep it sensible.

    To judge whether our current system is effective, we can simply compare it to other similar countries. Our system is terrible; the data don’t lie.

  • James

    There’s also a middle road that wouldn’t involve amending the Constitution. We could move school control from the local level to the state level. This would have another advantage over nationalization in that there would be 50 different experiments running at the same time.

  • http://vacuumenergy.blogspot.com/ Joseph

    Sean wrote (my emphasis):

    Not only do we have haphazard ideas about what to teach and how to judge how well it’s been taught, but the dispersal of resources makes economies of scale impossible, so we don’t put anything like the appropriate amount of effort into developing new techniques and training our teachers.

    Let’s assume, everything else remaining equal, that there is an economy of scale to be gained by aggregating local public schools into larger administrative units. What, then, is the ideal size of the administrative units that we should be aggregating local public schools into to maximize this economy of scale? Why should the United States adopt a specifically national public school administration when some form of sub-national — or perhaps supranational — school administration would maximize economies of scale?

    I think you can see where I’m going with this. If Sean wasn’t just blowing hot air when he suggested that economies of scale could be important for the performance of the public school system, then that’s an argument for market reforms to seek the optimal economy of scale for the system.

  • Kristie

    I’m a new teacher, ending year two, and I feel that to improve education it needs to be supported at home. Our nation’s families are falling apart, and when families fall apart so does everything- especially education. How often are parents not involved enough? How often do teachers hear “less homework,” and get mad at a teacher when their son/daughter does poorly- just to move them to an easier class for the easy “A.” We need families that care about education enough to sit down and teach their children. We need families that stick together and don’t give up. We need families to work so education and everything else will work.

  • Haelfix

    SLC, the best universities are mostly private. Indeed, where it not for the competition that they bring, I suspect that things wouldn’t be as rosy for the US.

    Places like Princeton/Stanford et al have greatly benefited the U Chicago’s/U Michigans of the world over the years

    Otoh the majority of nationalized places like community colleges and so forth, im less enthusiastic about. There are some serious dumps amongst that lot.

  • Rachel

    Apparently the problem is that conservatives hate “national” and liberals hate “standards,” and both are afraid of the teachers’ unions.

    Disclaimer: I’m a member of a local school board, so I have a certain bias here…

    I definitely agree with the first two thirds of Sean’s t summary of the problem. The same point was made by Checker Finn (with whom I don’t usually agree) who said that “Compromises needed to pass NCLB left the law laid-back about standards yet fussy about what states and districts should do when those standards aren’t met.”

    In fact, the compromises the NCLB is built on provide perverse disincentives against raising standards. As a case in point, California’s recent decision to redefine “Algebra I” to be an 8th grade standard , rather than a 9th grade standard, has made compliance with NCLB significantly more difficult.

    However, I don’t see either local school boards or teacher unions as the root of the problem — or nationalization — at least until it can come up with something less insanely counter-productive than NCLB — as the answer. At the moment, parents and teachers provide some of the most forceful counterpoint to the simplistic mentality on which many of the NCLB sanctions and interventions are based.

    In addition, the American Federation of Teachers is one of the strongest advocates stronger content standards (see, for example, here ). They, and Diane Ravitch, are probably the strongest voices heard in education circles for the sorts of things Sean describes as “the minimal reforms that every sensible person should be able to agree on.”

    I would argue that the biggest impediment to a strong public school system is, in many respects, a strong streak of anti-intellectualism found both on the left and right of the political spectrum in the U.S. We don’t have good schools because, as a nation, we don’t respect the work of educating children, or believe that something more that basic math and reading proficiency is really needed by most of the population.

    Affluent, educated parents are willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that their children are well educated — either through local property taxes and public schools were that is an option, or through tuition at private schools when demographics or funding structure make that difficult. Hence, the suburban enclaves of New York and New Jersey that willing vote each year to increase property taxes to maintain some of the highest per-pupil spending in the country.

    Ironically, states like California which have reduced spending inequities may not have actually improved education for any students because districts are equalized at a fairly low level. In California, 1/3 of the State Assembly or 1/3 of the State Senate can effectively veto a budget, so the Republican minority in the legislature has a very large voice in the overall funding level for California schools. Individual districts look for ways to supplement this (and effectively raise the level of inequality between districts) but their ability to do this is pretty limited.

    I don’t see an easy answer, particularly to the funding question. Stronger national standards maybe a part of the equation — but I think building a national commitment to the type of education that most readers of this blog would like to see is going to be a long, hard slog. But my main motivation for running for school board was to try to see that, at least in my small piece of the world, public education didn’t decay on my watch, and I suspect there are thousands of other people like me on local school boards across the country.

  • cvj

    Performance cannot improve without accountability. There is less accountability in government then any other form of monopoly. Centralizing management does remove the ability for small groups of citizens to make a difference and hence hold their government schools accountable.

  • Anon

    Haelfix:

    Do you even live in the United States?

    First off, University of Chicago is a public school.

    Second off, by what metric are you using to say that Private Universities are among the best in the United States?

    The fact of the matter is, the United States is blessed with world-class public institutions that have probably done more for the United States and its individual states than any private universities could have done.

    Case in point: what is the number one patent holder in the United States? It isn’t IBM, it isn’t Merck, it isn’t Pfizer. It’s the University of California system.

    And speaking of which about the University of California system, just one campus (Berkeley) can count 25 of its graduates as Nobel Laureates. Not many Universities (private or otherwise!) can compete with that.

    Really, are do you have any data to back up your claims? I could go on and on about the University of Michigan, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts and how they’re just as good (if not better) than any other private University.

  • Anon

    Er, that’s of course meant to say that the University of Chicago ISN’T a public school.

  • SLC

    Re Haelfix

    1. Mr. anon has already corrected Mr. Haelfix relative to the Un. of Chicago being a private school.

    2. Mr. Haelfix stated that most college students in the US attend private schools. When called on that statement, he moves the goal posts and states that the best schools are private schools. Although the IVY league schools, Un. of Chicago, and Stanford are excellent schools, so are most of the public institutions such as the Un. of California, as already mentioned by Mr. anon.

    3. In many states, virtually all students attend public universities. For instance, in Virginia, there are no private colleges of any significance.

  • Haelfix

    I didn’t know that about U Chicago -shrug- Otoh the point stands. If the US had nationalized all the Ivy leagues and every private university 60 years ago, I very much doubt the system would be as competitive and wonderful as it is today.

    You might have a few great schools, but not nearly as many as that which competition engenders. No data, just semi obvious anecdotes.

    For a laugh, why not wander over to a Harvard forum and try to sell the idea that they need to be nationalized.

  • Wayne

    The state of our educational system, and our trailing behind numerous foreign powers in standards of learning and testing, is a direct result of the American society’s lack of interest in their children.

    Sean said:

    Most parents do not have time to pore over state standards and individual lesson plans, and there’s no way that appropriate supervision can occur over 130,000 districts.

    If this is true, than we are worse off than I thought. Parents don’t have time to put effort into their children? Their children’s education and their children’s futures are too time-consuming for parents? Then fine, we deserve collapse. We deserve a dim future. But our children do not, yet we are laying the crumbling foundations for just that anyways. We aren’t going to have to live through the torment of rebuilding society from a collapse we caused, who cares about who’s left, right? We’ll be dead right? It is that mentality that spells sadness for the lives of our children or would-be children for their future. It is the lack of planning, of foresight in adults today to care about a future and the next step than they selfishly care about them alone, and their own lives. Disregarding others and their well-being will, inevitably, leads whatever system that requires such involvement, to an end.

    If parents are not going to put themselves on the backburner for their children, to ensure that their children’s future is secure because they made the conscious decision to help teach or be closely involved in the teaching of their children, informing them of how to succeed, how to love and care about themselves and others, how to contribute to something greater than themselves, then it is no wonder to me why our government is in financial disarray, why the education system plummets as consumerism, media (propaganda), drug dealers, rich bankers/politicians or any other person who takes advantage of a misinformed and depressed public, profit.

    We let it happen. We are so internal in thinking all of this is attacking us from the outside in, when it’s really happening because of what we do from the inside out. Each individual person in this country is responsible for their actions, and the collective actions of every individual person is manifest in what our country appears to be doing, dying. We, as individuals, have pointed the blame at any and every person but ourselves for our problems. What is our country doing right now? Pointing the blame at terrorists, any other person than ourselves, for the hole we have dug ourselves into. But no, we didn’t do it, it was the other guy.

    Until people begin to care, actually care about their own lives, about their children’s lives and futures, and their community’s well-being, nothing in this country will shine ever again. There will be no fast food chains stuffing 4% more food into our people than is necessary for annual needs in this country, there will be no fancy electronics, no sports games, no holidays, no high-energy physics experiments, no NASA. The system will collapse if the people no longer want it or no longer care about it, and the only sign of people actually wanting the system is the system succeeding. It doesn’t take much to realize that the system, in this case, isn’t.

    We are trying so hard to ignore what we consider “bad” in this country with more sports, more alcohol, harder drugs, raunchier illicit sex, less work, and longer holidays. The same thing Rome did before the Praetorian guard began assassinating Caeser after Caeser desperately trying to find a leader who could lay down the disgusting truth of what the Roman Empire had become, and turned the people into a greater society by leading them to rebuild. That Caeser never came, and Rome has been gone for 1500 years.

    Its because we don’t care enough to be educated, or that its so much easier to be distracted by shiny things, than to crack a book and get some culture in you, some science, some mystery or fiction, some history, some other information than what is sucking your life away in the telescreen. If people are too comfortable to be educated, if people are too comfortable to try and learn about anything, then they will never know that the collapse of civilized society happens over, and over, and over again for the same reasons. Funny, there was a discovery made a few years back about a civilization that “fell into the sea” on the coast of India. It is carbon dated at 9,000 BC. Humans have been on this planet for a long time, and we’ve constructed civilization after civilization and apparently have yet to learn from our mistakes.

    The clincher is coming. We’ll see if humanity is up to the task. I fear that the world stage has escalated so greatly in significant events, warming, nuclear threat, political legerdemain, that we may only have this last chance.

    Wayne

  • Tim May

    Nationalizing the public school system would simply entrench the bureaucracy even further. And would remove local, state control. Something the Founders wished to avoid unless absolutely necessary.

    More expensive areas (higher real estate prices, higher average salaries, greater overall wealth) need to spend more on schools than less expensive areas. This is to attract teachers (for example, so that they can afford to live in the area, or at least within commuting range of the area).

    Some areas spend $7500 per pupil, some spend $17,500 per pupil. Hardly surprising. A combination of factors.

    (I didn’t see a proposal to actually equalize spending, and I hope we don’t. This would have the obvious effects of making it virtually impossible to hire teachers in expensive areas, while dumping a lot of money into rural, poor, nonindustrialized, low tech regions. While some teachers might then live like kinds in these poor regions, this would solve nothing.)

    The problems with our public school system, as with our medical care system, have many causes. Listing a few:

    * The removal of fear. Kids are no longer frightened into thinking about what they learn so as to be able to find a job someday. They just coast along, barely studying, content in the belief that things will work out. Many university grads are now “barristas” at Starbucks. Sure, the world needs philosophers and historians, but the large numbers of people with BAs in “Sociology” or “History of Consciousness” (a popular major at UC Santa Cruz, near me), and the swelling ranks of underemployed college grads tells the important story.

    (And things are even grimmer for high school grads and dropouts who are reading 2-4 levels below their nominal grade level.)

    * My first and last employer, Intel, is busy moving design and engineering jobs offshore as fast as it possibly can. It finds American students less capable than in decades past. (We had hourly workers who could not read simple instructions. We had engineers who could not compose a single-page memo. Sad to say, many Indian and Chinese engineers had a better grasp of English, in the sense of explaining things, than the native Americans had.)

    * The decoupling between effort and success is happening in other ways as well. Kids look to financial success as a “get rich quick” scam, with corners cut, with financial shenanigans, with government being the bail out sugar daddy for those who gamble and lose. (We are privatizing the gains, socializing the losses. The younger generation has grown up thinking this is the way things work.)

    * Schools ended “tracking” decades ago. Now classes tend to move at the pace of the slowest, dullest child. (“No child left behind.”)

    * Whatever the situation with “juvenile delinquents” was in the 50s, things are undeniably vastly worse today. Gangs in the schools, lock-down of campuses, teachers hired primarily to maintain order.

    * In my area, my four nearest neighbors who have public-school-aged kids all, and I mean all four of the families, are paying through the nose to put their kids in private schools. These range from a Christian school, a Catholic school, and even a Hindu-oriented school (that takes non-Indians–Mount Madonna School, for anyone interested in Googling). They would rather pay their property taxes (about $6000 per year per house, regardless of whether one has kids) AND then pay $8-20K a year per child to send their kids to a private school. Private schools can discipline students (I don’t mean corporal punishment, BTW) in ways that public schools are not allowed. Students can simply be told not to return to class. Gangs and disruptions are now allowed. Academics are emphasized. Sort of the way things were at one time in the U.S.

    Meanwhile, the local high schools are “gladiator academies.” (Watsonville High, Renaissance High.) And not just because they are about 95% Hispanic. More than the ethnicity is the cultural attitude toward education, gangs, and teenaged pregnancy. An article a couple of days ago captures the situation:

    “Smart vs. cool: Culture, race and ethnicity in Silicon Valley schools
    By Sharon Noguchi and Jessie Mangaliman
    Mercury News
    Article Launched: 04/06/2008 01:38:55 AM PDT

    Sandra Romero and Bibiana Vega do their best to shrug off taunts from fellow Latino classmates at Del Mar High School in San Jose.

    The 17-year-old seniors are called “whitewashed.” Mataditas – dorks. Cerebritas – brainiacs. They’re told they’re “losing their culture” – just because Sandra has a 4.0 grade-point average and Bibiana has a 3.5.

    The put-downs are clear: Smart is not cool.

    And too many Latino students are choosing cool over school.

    But a few miles away at Hyde Middle School, in the heavily Asian Cupertino Union School District, Tiffany Nguyen detects the opposite attitude. If you’re not smart, “you’re really looked down on,” said the Vietnamese-American eighth-grader.

    (Google on characteristic phrases to find the ever-changing URL.)

    I think things are pretty hopeless, frankly. We live in a society addicted to debt, to putting toys and luxuries on the credit card, to worrying about tomorrow at some later time, to decoupling hard work and success. We live in a fantasy world.

    –Tim May

  • Anon

    Haelfix,

    You know what they say about anecdotal evidence versus hard data.

    Fact of the matter is, most other countries would kill to have a system like UT, UM, or UC.

  • Kordan the Merciless

    You want George Bush and Dick Cheney telling our
    kids how and what to think???

    Nuff said right there.

  • Dave

    For Anon and Haelfix,
    Here is a ranking of world universities done by some university in China: http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2007/ARWU2007_Top100.htm
    This is an academic status ranking, and the US dominance is incredible: 17 of the top 20 and 39 of the top 50 are US universities. Even if the US private schools are removed, the US would still lead. Of course, part of the strength of the US system is due to the fact that US schools hire so many foreign born professors.

  • Haelfix

    Getting back to the high school debate..

    I do think some of that money could be rerouted and spent on preparing a comprehensive exam for 8th graders. At least, something better than the SSAT (or whatever its called), which reads like something a psychologist would have outputed, rather than a test of knowledge and skill. Its poor as it stands.

    Also it would be easier to get a real benchmark of academic competence per area, rather than simply polling who has high IQ scores.

  • Costanza

    A root cause of all this is a rampant anti-intellectual streak that runs thru American history, and therefore the cultural (this problem is addressed in an old book, Anti-Intellectualism in America, by I can’t remember (sorry)) backdrop of America. For example, the near reverence of the “self-made man”, of sports figures over teachers (even at the secondary school level), and so forth. I’ve taught at the high school, middle school (8th grade, ick) (public and private), and university level (undergrad and grad). In all cases, teaching is considered a lesser profession and skill (even at the university level…be honest…good performance in the classroom in the least factor in being awarded tenure, tho poor performance can be an excuse for denial). This is a major reason for such things as lousy salaries and poor parental participation (altho notice how eagerly they support athletics); teaching is simply not a respected profession in this country. Given the work load, often crappy conditions and the lack of support mentioned above, it’s nearly impossible to attract and retain excellent teachers. There are marvelous teachers out there, and they probably should be canonized. But unless there is a remake of the infrastructure AND a change in society’s attitude towards teaching as a profession, I think the outlook is pretty bleak.

  • SLC

    Re Haelfix

    Back to secondary schools, there is a school in the US which has graduated 7 Nobel Prize winners in physics. I would be willing to bet Mr. Haelfix a considerable sum of money that he will not find another secondary school anywhere in the world with such a record. A private school? Not so; it’s the Bronx School of Science, a public school.

  • Rien

    Wayne wrote:

    If parents are not going to put themselves on the backburner for their children, to ensure that their children’s future is secure because they made the conscious decision to help teach or be closely involved in the teaching of their children, informing them of how to succeed, how to love and care about themselves and others, how to contribute to something greater than themselves, …

    So Wayne, why do we have teachers and other education professionals? Why should amateurs decide what should be taught and how, when there are people who, you know, are professionals at this kind of thing? To go a bit further, why do we have experts at all?

  • Wayne

    It’s the matter of parents wanting to dump all that responsibility on someone else. The point is that we assume everyone else to do our job for us because we’re just “too busy.” We have experts in the first place because their parents helped establish such an environment during their youth that they could be educated. The public school system has become merely a crutch for parents to dump more responsibilities of raising a child on someone else instead of bucking up and not only being involved in establishing a healthy environment for their children to grow and learn in, but being involved in that education by ensuring the experts involved are up to the task.

    Just casting off their children’s education, a significant factor in their growth, to “experts” is not something a parent who truly wishes their children to grow up and enjoy a future better than their own should be doing. Raising children is raising the future, if you cannot see the importance in this then I’ve made my point all over again.

    Furthermore, what “experts” are teaching our children to be disinterested in school, drop out, and score worse and worse on “standardized exams?” Clearly the experts aren’t doing enough, or are not being supported enough by, whom? Parents.

    I am not saying “amateurs” as you say, should be deemed the ruler of all things educational, that’s absurd. Clearly the experts know more efficient tools, but that has not been enough. We’ve left our children to be taught under the regulations of “experts” thus far, and it isn’t working. It isn’t working because parents have not been interested enough in their children’s lives to ask the right questions or act accordingly when their children are failing school, to ensure these experts are indeed doing their job, or that those who are employing these experts are doing their job.

    It’s a lack of interest on both fronts that leads to our present situation.

    If one says parents are uneducated or have no idea what they are doing, that is ridiculous. Of course parenting is an overwhelming task at times, but saying one does not know how to ensure a healthy environment for their children is not true. It becomes a matter of how much do they care to do the job they promised to do when they had a child to begin with. If one isn’t going to put forth the effort that is called for, then don’t have children. This, still, isn’t the case. This, still, is why our children are less educated than others abroad.

    Wayne

  • Ray

    My parents got a more thorough education than I did, albeit less broad. I received a better education than my children. I question whether my grandchildren are getting educated at all – their ignorance is usually appalling. They have learned nothing in 10 years I couldn’t learn in in 3 months. They have no interest in learning for the sake of knowing, for the challenge, for just learning.

    If you really investigate where children are and are not being educated, you will find it less a matter of money or politics and more an question of culture. I grew up in the rural Western Colorado in a culture that valued education. It still has a pretty good school system, locally administered, locally financed, and locally supported by the parents and community. I now live a couple of hours North of NYC. The local school system is decidedly mediocre – locally misadministered, locally misfianaced – because it is not really supported by the community. Politics only take over a school system when the parents abdicate their responsibility and fail to support good school teachers and administrators. Then time-servers carve out their careers and real teaching goes down the tubes. We are now at least one generation into ignorance and I can’t tell you how many times I have seen teachers who are incompetent, uncultured and ignorant. Of course, I see writers and commentators whose livelihood is the use of language – and they are unable to write or speak properly. Politicians, particularly at the state level, are usually as ignorant as they are venal.

    I suspect the real problem is that learning is no longer rewarded – the ignorant can prosper as well as the educated, so why bother. I could dig into the debasement of criteria in the name of equality, but that would take a book.

  • Haelfix

    SLC, thats an impressive school certainly, but I’d put Andover/Exeter and some of the other prep schools up against it any day of the week. If you insist, we can look at acceptance rate to Ivy Leagues, SAT or AP scores or whatever other measure you’d like.

  • SLC

    Re Haelfix

    1. How many graduates of Andover or Exeter have won Nobel prizes in Physics (or in any other field, i.e. medicine, chemistry, etc.)? SAT scores are not measures of accomplishment, merely indications of persons who can do well on tests. SAT scores don’t measure creativity which is the basis of scientific accomplishment. I rather suspect that the greatest scientist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, would not have done well on SAT tests (he was a mediocre student in Germany and Switzerland, mostly because he was mildly dyslexic).

    2. Mr. Haelfix seems to be infatuated with Ivy League schools. Actually, for a student interested in engineering, the Ivy League schools would be a poor choice (except perhaps Cornell). Such a student would be much better served at state universities or schools like MIT or Cal Tech.

  • http://catownersregrets.blogspot.com serial catowner

    Admittedly not having read the entire thread carefully, I would add some points.

    The foundation of local and public education in the US is the Northwest Ordnance of 1787.

    Is there a nation where a lack of a national curriculum has nonetheless resulted in success? Yes- the US.

    Parents help their children if they read or pay higher levies in richer districts. It is not necessary for them to read what their children read to see an improvement in outcomes. In fact, it seems likely that much of the “boost” from growing up in an affluent family results from other experiences than education in a school.

    Do local schoolboards set curriculum? I find that to be just about as likely as that the schoolboards would be building their own buses. Textbooks are acknowledged to set the pace, and I imagine that somewhere there are “curriculum committees”. Cannot say I have researched this, but the idea of schoolboards making up curriculum just seems unlikely.

    And just as a personal opinion, I haven’t been that impressed with what the federal government has done in my lifetime. My enthusiasm for taking the power out of my neighbor’s hands and giving it to the federal government is about zero.

  • Wayne

    Thank you Ray. Well put.

    Ray said:

    I suspect the real problem is that learning is no longer rewarded – the ignorant can prosper as well as the educated, so why bother.

    He is correct. We must ask ourselves why this is so. I read an article about two weeks ago that discussed how, given the recent financial debacle in the United States, that more and more thirty, forty, and fifty year olds are moving back in with their parents.

    Let me say that again. More and more thirty, forty, and fifty year olds are moving back in with their parents.

    They can no longer afford car payments, credit card payments (for all the fancy toys they couldn’t afford), rent, and living expenses because they have recently been laid off and cannot find work to compensate their lifestyles. Or, they are too lazy to find work at all and only feel obligated to when their parents’ finances begin to suffer from their presence. For all those who were legitimately ravaged by the financial situation and honestly had no other way to survive, this is not meant for you, and you are the minority.

    Warning: Abandon all hope ye who read what’s here.

    Parallel this with the vast majority of college students moving back in with their parents immediately following college (after taking six years to finish their degree). Immediately. They can’t find a job, or again, are too lazy to find one, or further still, are not equipped with life skills to do so and cannot support themselves. Parents feel “guilty” if they do not shelter their children once again, and are now opening their doors to “help out” their kids who apparently were “shafted” in the whole growing up/education/life-lesson experiences.

    This is absurd. When my Dad was a kid, it was normal to be kicked out at 18 (or earlier) with a wad of cash (or not) in their hand and respectfully told “Good luck.” Those kids joined the military or got married. More fortunate ones went to college on their parents’ ticket. Those kids are my generation’s parents. Those kids made a living, got jobs, prospered, and finally had children that they devoted their time and energy towards ensuring they had a better future. Some thought kicking out kids at 18 was harsh. In all the pampering, in all the ways they thought they were giving a little extra help, their children never learned how to get along on their own, and we end up with thirty, forty, and fifty year old babies.

    Chicks in the nest are slowly nudged out by the mother when they are properly grown. Each little chick plummets to the earth to a seemingly gruesome fate when instinct kicks in and their wings start flapping. How is a chick that can’t fly possibly going to live past day one? How is a chick going to learn how to fly without getting pushed the hell out by the parents? Parents assume their 18 years olds will be taught how to fly in college, when really, all they are being taught is how to hang up their wings and get fat in the nest.

    What kind of society is developing here? What can we expect when fifty year old babies are casting conservative votes, or collecting unemployment, or for god’s sake driving when they can’t even afford their own car payments? I am extra extra careful on the road these days, I may look over and see a toddler in the driver’s seat of an SUV with a cell phone in their ear. A fifty year old toddler.

    Give me a break. I understand that it took a generation or so for this crap to sink in to the American public but still no one has the faintest notion of doing anything about it. Everyone is so glossy-eyed by the glorious telescreen and fancy electronics and MySpace that while the real world crumbles around them, their misreality stays intact. Why? So that the ones in power now have to barely lift a finger or two to mastermind something like a North American Union. Google it.

    The awesome part about all this is it hits me, and my friends, and our futures. It hits my generation that has to clean up all this garbage, while baby-boomers (no pun intended) are shriveling away, golfing and drinking beer on an even sicklier social security fund that only siphons the life force away from our generation’s counterattack to this mess. I’m not complaining, because I already know we (those less ignorant in this generation) are capable of the challenge. I’m trying to make obvious the truth. The fact is, I witness a majority of students at universities across the country that don’t give a rat’s ass more than the next fraternity boy. The next hundred years will be entirely held on the shoulders of the students today that want our children to have a better future. So it’s our obligation to fix this desecration.

    I’ll get off the soap box, I apologize for the rant, but this is significant right here. It all started with a lack of effort from the parents of the recent generations that are still willing to remove the responsibilities of life from their children and take on “parenthood” all over again. It’s not even parenthood anymore, for parenthood is preparing one’s children for life. It’s more of a sponsorship for ignorance.

    Those babies are never going to grow up, and those babies are still going to be voting for conservatives that will do nothing to change this shite state of affairs, sucking money from the system, and for god’s sake driving SUVs, shooting up petroleum, all while talking on cell phones as the only ones capable of changing this country for the better are undermined for their youth. God bless the Holy American Empire. I mean the USA.

    Wayne

  • John R Ramsden

    Wayne (#67) wrote:
    >
    > .. Those babies are never going to grow up ..

    We have a similar problem in the UK, whereby young people leaving college are now saddled with large debts for their tuition fees and find the cheapest property costs several times their salary, so that a mortgage (even before the credit crunch) is out of the question.

    The main problem here is that the Government (partly at the behest of the EU, but mostly on their own initiative) has thrown open the doors to literally millions of immigrants over the last ten years, for so-called cheap labour and to bolster property prices and give property owners a specious “feel good” feeling.

    Also, when offspring of the indigenous populace (and of earlier immigrants, who also of course suffer the same effects) can’t afford properties to raise families of their own, the age profile will be further skewed, leading to more calls from the baboons in charge to admit yet more immigrants to maintain the working/retired ratio.

  • Changcho

    Interesting discussions. I’m with you on this Sean (for the record, I’ve got two kids in public schools).

  • http://ReRamsden Ray

    I suppose the American equivalent of opening the doors to all immigrants was the over-reaction involved in the Equal Rights movement. Sensible and decent people were always appalled by the racism that has existed here since the country was founded. In attempting to correct that, the government went crazy. Instead of creating equal opportunity, it tried to legislate equal results. Instead of making college available to all, it tried to guarantee a college degree to everyone, whether it is earned or not. All this did was debase the value of a degree. I might seem that viewed that way, it is appropriate to feel education is not necessary, but this mistakes education for diplomas. Given the current situation, diplomas are meaningless, but education is still valuable. Problem is that society can’t seem to tell the difference. Result is an uneducated populace.

  • Pingback: Declive de la civilización « Antipática

  • doublehelix

    I am amazed that no one has yet raised the possibility that not all children are created equal. There seems to be a general assumption on this list that if the conditions were fixed just so, all children would be above average.

    Unfortunately, intelligence and thus educational achievement is tightly linked to genes. IQ is at least 50% heritable folks! No amount of social engineering will ever eliminate the wide disparities between certain groups in terms of their educational achievement, unless that engineering includes weeding out the dim and mentally unfit via eugenics, which I strongly oppose. Eugenics was, however, an important part of the Progressive agenda during the early 20th century.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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