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A Bad Choice in Education

 

Ahead Of His Time, Rereading Friedman

 

The Weak Case Against Homework

 

Problem of Discipline in US Public Schools

 

She Found Abuses in U.S. Plan for Reading

 

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

 

Leaders aim to curb cheating on tests

 

When Unaccountable Courts Meet Dysfunctional Schools

 

A Coming Crisis in Suburban Schooling?

 

Students think high, fall short on math skills

 

Crash Course In Classroom Collectivism

 

Old math is getting new life

 

Federalization is the Wrong Answer

 

Bush Making Education Bill a Priority

 

The Real Educational Scandals

 

Report Says Education Officials Violated Rules  ("Reading First" Program Favored)

 

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

 

Schools Need Competition Now by John Stossel

 

SAT Reading and Math Scores Show a Significant Decline

 

Governors Face a Quandary on Education

 

 
Education Leader Urges Teachers to Consider Alternatives to NEA

 


SAT Reading and Math Scores Show a Significant Decline

By KAREN W. ARENSON

The New York Times

August 30, 2006

The average score on the reading and math portions of the newly expanded SAT showed the largest decline in 31 years, according to a report released yesterday by the College Board on the performance of the high school class of 2006.

The drop confirmed earlier reports from puzzled college officials that they were seeing lower scores from applicants. The average score on the critical reading portion of the SAT, formerly known as the verbal test, fell 5 points, to 503, out of a maximum possible score of 800. The average math score fell 2 points, to 518. Together they amounted to the lowest combined score since 2002.

Officials of the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT, dismissed suggestions by numerous high school guidance counselors that students were getting tired out by the new three-part test which now runs three and three-quarters hours, rather than three.

“Fatigue is not a factor,” Wayne Camara, vice president for research and analysis at the College Board said at a news conference. “We are not trying to say that students are not tired. But it is not affecting, on the whole, student performance.”

Instead, the officials attributed the drop to a decline in the number of students who took the exam more than once. The board said 47 percent of this year’s students took the test only once, up from 44 percent last year. The number taking the test three times fell to less than 13 percent from nearly 15 percent.

Students typically gain 14 points a section when they take the test a second time, and another 10 or 11 points a section on the third try.

The SAT writing test includes a 25-minute essay, which counts for about 30 percent of the writing score, and 49 multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage, which count for the rest. The average score on the writing section was 497 out of a possible 800, the board said.

Girls performed better than boys on this section of the exam, averaging 502 versus 491 for boys. That partly offset girls’ lower scores on math and reading, but did not close the longstanding score gap between boy and girls.

Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, pointed out that the decline in scores represented less than one-half of a test question in reading and one-fifth of one test question in math. Still it was the largest year to year decline since 1975, and officials expressed concerns about the overall performance of American students.

“The data does suggest that as a nation, critical reading and writing are lagging behind the progress we are making in math,” Mr. Camara said.

The SAT score decline contrasted with the increase in scores on the ACT exam, the other primary college admissions test. This month, ACT reported its biggest score increase in 20 years. The ACT also has a writing section, but it is optional.

Seppy Basili, senior vice president at Kaplan Inc., the education and test preparation company, said the new SAT test undoubtedly affected scores because students were less familiar with it and because fewer students repeated it. But Mr. Basili said he thought the length played a greater role than the College Board acknowledged.

“It is not just that the test is 3 hours and 45 minutes,” he said. “It is that the whole experience is five hours or more,” he said, factoring in things like breaks.

Most states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, saw scores decline in reading and math. In New York, average reading scores fell 4 points to 493 and math scores 1 point to 510. In Connecticut, reading was down 5 points to 512 and math 1 point to 516. In New Jersey, reading fell 7 points to 496 and math 2 points to 515.

In New York City, Joel I. Klein, the chancellor of the education department, said, “My only reaction is, it shows that we have to continue to work harder.”

The number of students taking the SAT nationally fell slightly, by about 10,000 students, to just under 1.5 million, or about 48 percent of more than 3 million students who graduated from high school this year.

At a time when many elite colleges have expressed interest in recruiting more low-income students, the number of students from families earning $30,000 or less who took the SAT fell by more than 13 percent, to 183,317, while the number from families earning $100,000 or more rose 8 percent, to 225,869.

Mr. Camara said that of the information collected about students, the income data was the least reliable. He said he did not know what accounted for the decrease in low-income students taking the test.

Counselors in high schools where the SAT has long dominated, said more of their students were taking the ACT. Some have said that in the wake of the College Board’s disclosure this spring that it had mis-scored more than 5,000 exams, they have urged their students to consider the ACT.

 

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Governors Face a Quandary on Education

Posted August 8, 2006

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Education was once again a major focus of the National Governors Association’s annual meeting, which concluded here Monday. Governors were left with the chore of reconciling the ideas they heard from business and foundation leaders — that they should do more to promote creativity and math and science education — with the fact that the push toward standardization and high-stakes tests have seemed to weaken those kinds of efforts.

”Education systems have to multitask,” said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who announced that as NGA’s new chair she will focus the organization’s attention on fostering innovation. “Standardized tests should be passable as a natural response,” she said. “Those engaged in math and science don’t have any problem passing the tests.”

But many education critics have noted that the focus on reading and math in standardized tests, such as those required under the federal No Child Left Behind law, has shifted attention away from math and science courses. “We tend to teach a mile wide and an inch deep in math,” complained Bob Corcoran, president of the GE Foundation. He told governors that states need to adopt more rigorous math standards, rather than leaving the job to local districts.

”Math is no different at sea level in Charleston than it is at a mile high in Denver,” said Corcoran, one of several foundation leaders who led the cheering for greater emphasis on science. “We may have differences on Shakespeare and other interpretive things, but we can’t disagree on math.”

Sir Ken Robinson, an education consultant, told governors that they need to retool education systems to promote, rather than stifle, creativity. Robinson appeared to get governors’ attention with word that China is engaged in a massive education reform effort that makes creativity a central focus. “Standardization promotes conformity and the same ideas, not creativity,” he said.

Even as governors work to emphasize math, science and innovation, however, they have to contend with the fact that large portions of their school populations can’t pass basic knowledge tests and fail to graduate from high school.

NGA released a survey on the progress states have made in adopting a common method for calculating each state’s high school graduation rate — an effort that grew out of an initiative of a previous chairman, then-Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

Thirteen states will report their graduation rates based on a formula developed through the NGA effort in 2006, with the number growing to 39 by 2010, according to the survey.

Based on current measurements, the high school graduation rate is about 70 percent. Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education programs at the Gates Foundation, said he believed that number could reach 80 percent by the end of the decade.

But in an interview, Vander Ark conceded that states are still struggling to translate reform efforts into meaningful success.

”We’ve spent the last 10 years building up these accountability standards, capped by NCLB — now what do we do?” he said. “We had 11,000 schools that were determined to be failing last year and we’ll have 20,000 next year. There’s not a state in the union that has the capacity to deal with that.”

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Education Leader Urges Teachers to Consider Alternatives to NEA
By Jim Brown
AgapePress
August 7, 2006

(AgapePress) -- A non-union conservative teacher's group says it is holding the National Education Association (NEA) accountable for its liberal agenda by offering state and local alternatives to that most powerful of America's teachers unions.

In response to the NEA's endorsement of homosexual "marriage" at its recent convention in Orlando, Florida, teachers have been fleeing the union for other groups, such as the Christian Educators Association International and the Association of American Educators (AAE). Tracey Bailey, the 1993 National Teacher of the Year and Director of Education Policy for the AAE, says tens of thousands of teachers have called his group to express their outrage over the NEA's political agenda.

At its Orlando meeting, the NEA approved a resolution to amend a section of its anti-discrimination policy handbook to include homosexual "marriage," where it states the union's belief that discrimination based on "race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification ... must be eliminated." The delegates' adoption of this resolution is "just another step in their direction of promoting controversial social agendas like gay marriage and abortion," Bailey asserts, "and they've been doing it for decades now."

The liberal teachers union also has an abortion resolution on its books, the AAE official notes, one that has been there for 25 years now. That NEA measure "endorses school-based family planning clinics, making the range of services available to young people at school," he explains -- adding, "It's crazy."

Bailey says because AAE does not use members' dues for political activism, the alternative group is able to provide teachers with legal protection and benefits at a fraction of the cost of NEA dues. As for those members who feel they have no viable option to membership in the powerful national union, the award-winning teacher says those educators need to ask themselves what political issues and activism their dues are being used to support and how they feel about that personally and professionally.

"In many places," Bailey notes, "we're looking for young conservative teachers, for retirees who can help us set up alternatives so that teachers will have a choice." His group's desire, he explains, is to provide "a local choice" for teachers who object to the political direction the NEA has taken for years and its increasingly radical liberal agenda.

With a presence in those teachers' communities, the conservative group's head of education policy asserts, "there will be a conservative voice there to go to the school board and say not all teachers feel this way about these gay marriage issues or about some curriculum issues that the NEA has tried to push in the past."

It is not too late, Bailey contends, for disgruntled teachers to leave the NEA over its endorsement of issues like abortion and homosexual marriage. In fact, he says he encourages teachers who object to the union's political agenda to drop their membership before the start of the 2006-07 school year.

Copyright © 2006 AgapePress -- All rights reserved.

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Schools Need Competition Now

by John Stossel
Posted Aug 30, 2006

This week's back-to-school ads offer amazing bargains on lightweight backpacks and nifty school supplies. All those businesses scramble to offer us good stuff at low prices. It's amazing what competition does for consumers. The power to say no to one business and yes to another is awesome.

Too bad we don't apply that idea to schools themselves.

Education bureaucrats and teachers unions are against it. They insist they must dictate where kids go to school, what they study, and when. When I went on TV to say that it's a myth that a government monopoly can educate kids effectively, hundreds of union teachers demonstrated outside my office demanding that I apologize and "re-educate" myself by teaching for a week. (I'll show you the demonstration and what happened next this Friday night, when ABC updates my "Stupid in America" TV special.)

The teachers union didn't like my "government monopoly" comment, but even the late Albert Shanker, once president of the American Federation of Teachers, admitted that our schools are virtual monopolies of the state -- run pretty much like Cuban and North Korean schools. He said, "It's time to admit that the public education system operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve. It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."

When a government monopoly limits competition, we can't know what ideas would bloom if competition were allowed. Surveys show that most American parents are satisfied with their kids' public schools, but that's only because they don't know what their kids might have had!

As Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek wrote, "[C]ompetition is valuable only because, and so far as, its results are unpredictable and on the whole different from those which anyone has, or could have, deliberately aimed at."

What Hayek means is that no mortal being can imagine what improvements a competitive market would bring.

But I'll try anyway: I bet we'd see cheap and efficient Costco-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows what?

Every economics textbook says monopolies are bad because they charge high prices for shoddy goods. But it's government that gives us monopolies. So why do we entrust something as important as our children's education to a government monopoly?

The monopoly fails so many kids that more than a million parents now make big sacrifices to homeschool their kids. Two percent of school-aged kids are homeschooled now. If parents weren't taxed to pay for lousy government schools, more might teach their kids at home.

Some parents choose to homeschool for religious reasons, but homeschooling has been increasing by 10 percent a year because so many parents are just fed up with the government's schools.

Homeschooled students blow past their public-school counterparts in terms of achievement. Brian Ray, who taught in both public and private schools before becoming president of the National Home Education Research Institute, says, "In study after study, children who learn at home consistently score 15-30 percentile points above the national averages," he says. Homeschooled kids also score almost 10 percent higher than the average American high school student on the ACT.

I don't know how these homeschooling parents do it. I couldn't do it. I'd get impatient and fight with my kids too much.

But it works for lots of kids and parents. So do private schools. It's time to give parents more options.

Instead of pouring more money into the failed government monopoly, let's free parents to control their own education money. Competition is a lot smarter than bureaucrats.
 

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September 18, 2006
Editorial

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school has a high-quality curriculum that is harnessed to clearly articulated national goals. This country, by contrast, has a wildly uneven system of standards and tests that varies from place to place. We are also notoriously susceptible to educational fads.

One of the most infamous fads took root in the late 1980’s, when many schools moved away from traditional mathematics instruction, which required drills and problem solving. The new system, sometimes derided as “fuzzy math,’’ allowed children to wander through problems in a random way without ever learning basic multiplication or division. As a result, mastery of high-level math and science was unlikely. The new math curriculum was a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, touching on dozens of topics each year.

Many people trace this unfortunate development to a 1989 report by an influential group, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. School districts read its recommendations as a call to reject rote learning. Last week the council reversed itself, laying out new recommendations that will focus on a few basic skills at each grade level.

Under the new (old) plan, students will once again move through the basics — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and so on — building the skills that are meant to prepare them for algebra by seventh grade. This new approach is being seen as an attempt to emulate countries like Singapore, which ranks at the top internationally in math.

All these references to Singapore are encouraging, given this country’s longstanding resistance to the idea of importing superior teaching strategies from abroad. But a few things need to happen before this approach can succeed.

First of all, the United States will need to abandon its destructive practice of having so many math and science courses taught by people who have not majored in the subjects — or even studied them seriously.

We also need to fix the current patchwork system of standards and measurement for academic achievement, and make sure that students everywhere have access to both high-quality teachers and high-quality math and science curriculums that aspire to clearly articulated goals.

Until we bite the bullet on those basic, critical reforms, we will continue to lose ground to the countries with which we must compete in the global information economy.


 

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Report Says Education Officials Violated Rules

September 23, 2006 

The New York Times

By SAM DILLON

Department of Education officials violated conflict of interest rules when awarding grants to states under President Bush’s billion-dollar reading initiative, and steered contracts to favored textbook publishers, the department’s inspector general said yesterday.

In a searing report that concludes the first in a series of investigations into complaints of political favoritism in the reading initiative, known as Reading First, the report said officials improperly selected the members of review panels that awarded large grants to states, often failing to detect conflicts of interest. The money was used to buy reading textbooks and curriculum for public schools nationwide.

States have received more than $4.8 billion in Reading First grants during the Bush administration, and a recent survey by an independent group, the Center on Education Policy, reported that many state officials consider the initiative to be highly effective in raising reading achievement. But the report describes a tangled process in which some states had to apply for grants as many as six times before receiving approval, with department officials scheming to stack panels with experts tied to favored publishers.

In one e-mail message cited in the report, from which the inspector general deleted some vulgarities, the director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, urged staff members to make clear to one company that it was not favored at the department.

“They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,” Mr. Doherty wrote.

Mr. Doherty recently resigned from the department to “return to the private sector,” Katherine McLane, a department spokeswoman said.

Officials relayed reporters’ requests for comment to Mr. Doherty, and he declined to be interviewed, an official said.

The abuses described in the report occurred during 2002 and 2003, when Rod Paige was education secretary. John Grimaldi, spokesman for the Chartwell Education Group where Mr. Paige is chairman, said he had not read the report but would seek Mr. Paige’s reaction to it.

“Some of the actions taken by department officials and described in the inspector general’s report reflect individual mistakes,” Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. “Although these events occurred before I became secretary of education, I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them.”

Officials will review by the end of the year all Reading First applications that the department approved, to determine that they met all applicable requirements, Ms. McLane said.

The report recounts how during the formation of a review panel in 2002 a journalist asked the department whether federal officials were trying to stack the panel so that some reading programs would not be treated fairly.

The report cited the Reading First director’s response to the department employee who relayed the journalist’s question: “Stack the panel? ... I have never heard of such a thing ....<harumph, harumph>” the director replied.

“The response,” the report concluded, “suggests that he may indeed have intended to ‘stack’ the expert review panel.”

The report mentions Reid Lyon, the former chief of a branch of the National Institutes of Health, who was a research adviser to President Bush and an architect of Reading First. He exerted immense influence at the department when Mr. Paige was there.

In 2002, Dr. Lyon told the Reading First director and other department officials that a woman whom the department had already selected to be on a review panel had been “actively working to undermine” a reading initiative he favored, the report said.

“Chances are that other reviewers can trump any bias on her part,” Dr. Lyon told the officials.

“We can’t uninvite her,” a senior adviser to Mr. Paige wrote in response, the report said. “Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”

The incident demonstrated “the intention of the former senior adviser to the secretary to control another panelist,” the report said.

In an interview yesterday, Dr. Lyon said that in the 2002 incident he sought to neutralize bias.

“If we detected bias, we had to make sure that the review panel was put together so that that bias would be neutralized,” he said.

Dr. Lyon left the national institutes in August 2005 and is now an executive vice president for Higher Ed Holdings, a company based in Dallas that is working to found a college of education.

“Oh man, I’m mortified,” Dr. Lyon said of the report. “To see the facts that were presented today was very disappointing, because it’s an outstanding program.”

The investigation was opened last year after the inspector general received accusations of mismanagement and other abuses at the department from publishers of several reading programs, including Robert E. Slavin, a director of a research center at the Johns Hopkins University who is chairman of Success for All, a nonprofit foundation that produces reading materials.

“The department has said at least 10,000 times that they had no favored reading programs, and this report provides clear evidence that they were very aggressively pressing districts to use certain programs and not use others,” Dr. Slavin said.

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THE REAL EDUCATIONAL SCANDALS

Symptoms of a Colossal Failing of America’s Public Education System

Article Release Date: September 7, 2006 - - Very frequently the media reports on scandals involving teachers.  For example on March 4th, 2006 the media covered a scandal involving a Geography teacher who had abused his position to indoctrinate students with his own political agenda.   On April 11th, 2006 the media covered a similar scandal involving a science teacher who had abused his position of trust and power to indoctrinate thirteen year old students with vulgar anti-Bush videos while demanding the students to chant inappropriate slogans such as: “John Kerry rocks!”  


Not withstanding that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to teach children how to think vs. what to think, it’s regrettable that the media chooses to focus on such incidents as if they were isolated cases when in reality this type of blatant disregard of school Board policies and educational codes is an everyday occurrence virtually on every campus across the country.  This incident is only the tip of the iceberg and an indication of America’s failing public education system.   

The truth is that America’s public education system is broken big time and is fast becoming the schools of the poor and a breeding ground for violence and indoctrination, as acknowledged by many high-ranking governmental officials (including Alan Greenspan) and the media.  The real scandal is not so much that teachers, such as this particular Geography teacher or the highly publicized case of a certain professor at the University of Colorado, used class time indoctrinating our kids, or that 10% of students who have had sexual contact with their teachers (that can’t be fired), or the increase in sexual molestation by peers, or an increase in drugs and violence in campuses nationwide, or the categorical violation of students and parents’ rights, or even the increase in high school drop outs. 

The real scandal is that we have educators all across the nation who exhibit political arrogance that regardless of their conduct they can’t be touched and be held accountable for their own actions (as reflected in these particular teachers going back to their jobs and back to business as usual of no accountability).  These are the very people who are entrusted with our most precious commodity, our kids.   Administrators and the school Board are the very people who have both the authority and the responsibility to do something about it but instead are looking the other way.  They allow these harmful, questionable and illegal practices to happen everyday, often with their full knowledge and consent.  That’s the real scandal.  There is no difference between this scandal and some of the other newsworthy scandals (e.g. Enron) in terms of corruption, lack of integrity and the courage to stand up for what is right vs. what’s politically correct.  The real scandal is that the very people who are in a position to do something about this growing problem, choose to ignore the problem, which is nothing short of a shock to the conscious.

Obviously, these educators exploit the fact that the system is broken and corrupt as reflected in a total lack of a system of accountability.  Without an effective system of accountability, educators will not be held accountable for their actions (e.g. will not lose their job if they don’t perform with integrity).  After all, there is no other industry/career field where the workers are guaranteed a job for life regardless of their performance and conduct (we’re talking about teachers’ tenure).

In the absence of accountability, teachers will continue to indoctrinate our kids with their personal political agenda instead of teaching what they were hired to do.  Likewise, school administrators will continue to ignore serious problems such as bullying and sexual molestations by peers and educators on campus since addressing these problems would mean consequences for the perpetrators which will result in costly litigation in the face of a budget crisis.

Sadly, education is no longer about educating kids in the truest form.  It has become a big business and a political football all driven by money.   So, instead of focusing on a child’s education by providing highly qualified teachers to teach what they were hired to do, or providing a safe and healthy environment conducive to learning where each child is encouraged to realize their full potential, administrators focus on avenues that can bring the most revenues to the school (mostly to keep their jobs and not necessarily to directly benefit the kids) such as a child’s state and federal test scores and school attendance.


As a result kids are not learning or being adequately prepared for success in college, the workforce and in life with meaningful life skills to compete successfully in an increasingly competitive and technologically driven global economy.  This is reflected in America’s ranking near or at the bottom on international test scores and multi-national corporations who now hire an engineer from Pakistan not an American for an important project in the U.S.  However, the damage is not limited to our economy alone, which is dependent on highly educated and skilled workers.  The damage is also intangible as reflected in an increase in social ills (from violence in our schools and on our streets to drug abuse and teen pregnancy and suicide), a decline in morality and human values and the destruction of the family institution.   It is a “stealth” scandal because the American public has not yet realized what is being stolen from them and how every American is going to be impacted by it directly or indirectly.  After all, the attainment of the American Dream has now become just that - a dream – for most of the new generation.  

It’s the media’s moral obligation to address critical issues such as the growing educational crisis, which according to both Alan Greenspan and Sen. Ted Kennedy is a matter of national security (it takes technologically advanced, highly creative and talented people to protect America’s vital interests both at home and abroad and win the war on terror). 

In the words of Los Angeles talk radio show host, Doug McEntyer (KABC), “Since the failing of our public education system is everyone’s problem, it’s in the best interest of every sector in the community, including the media, to step up to the plate and become part of the solution.”  Anything short of that is just paying lip service and sensationalizing the news for rating purposes which don’t solve the problem at all much less serve the public’s best interest. 

The need to appropriately address the root cause of our failing institutions, growing social ills and America’s declining leadership in the world has never been more urgent, simply because it’s linked to education and moral values, which are the foundation of a free and a thriving society.  Given the high stakes, it’s obvious that transforming America’s dysfunctional and corrupt educational system is truly worthy and deserving of media attention.

To many whose voices can’t be heard otherwise, the media is a beacon of truth, hope and inspiration and therefore, spotlighting the continued educational crisis in America (from which no school district is exempt) needs to be viewed as an opportunity to contribute and make a meaningful difference today thus become a bridge between millions of children and their families who continue to suffer in silence with no one to turn to for help trapped in a cycle of despair and failure and their hope for a better tomorrow made possible by the generous spirit of caring people who have the courage to stand up for what is right.   This sentiment is best captured in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, former U.S. president who said, "This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in."
                    

Copyright © 2006, Geela
Author of “The American Dream”

www.Geela.com

Geela is an award winning nationally syndicated columnist, author of the highly-praised book “The American Dream,” and founder of The Parent Advocacy Group

www.theparentadvocacygroup.org

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Bush making education bill a priority

By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
Published 1:46 pm PDT Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Sacramento Bee

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush said Thursday that renewing the No Child Left Behind law will be a priority for him next year but acknowledged the law isn't working as well for parents as it should.

The law requires schools that get federal poverty aid and fall short of their yearly progress goals for two straight years to offer transfers to students. After three years of failure, schools must offer low-income parents a choice of tutors.

Bush acknowledged, however, that those promises to parents aren't working as they should.

For example, many schools report their test scores late. So many parents don't find out that their children have a right to transfer until a new school year has begun.

"It kind of looks like people are afraid to put out results for some reason," Bush said in a speech at the Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus, a thriving charter school in a run-down neighborhood five miles from the White House. "And so we'll work with Congress to clarify the law and to strengthen the law to make sure our parents get timely information and useful information."

Of more than 2.2 million children eligible for tutoring, only 19 percen't of them got it in 2004-05, according to auditors at the congressional Government Accountability Office.

Even fewer kids take advantage of the option to transfer to another school - about 1 or 2 percent of those eligible, according to national estimates.

It is unsurprising that Bush would tout the No Child Left Behind law, considered the centerpiece of his first-term domestic agenda. As a matter of timing, though, making the law's renewal a priority could be significant.

The law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress next year, but some education observers have speculated it may be bumped until as late as 2009, after the next presidential election.

The sooner the better - that's the view among dozens of education groups that are seeking changes in the law, such as how kids are tested and how schools are graded.

Bush outlined a series of ways in which the law could be improved, such as by expanding testing in high schools, an idea he has pitched to Congress for two years. He also said he wants the federal government to pay for 28,000 low income students across the country to transfer to private schools, an initiative he has in the current budget request at a cost of $100 million.

His comments come after Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently told reporters that that law is "like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something." Spellings later said she was referring to the core principles of the law and is willing to consider improvements to the law.

The law was passed with support of some leading Democrats who now say Bush has not provided enough funding to carry out the goals. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he welcomes the opportunity to "get these essential reforms back on track."

"This administration and the Republican Congress have turned the No Child Left Behind Act into a political slogan rather than the solemn oath it was intended to be to our nation's students, parents, and teachers," Kennedy said.

---

Associated Press Education Writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.

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Federalization is the wrong answer

By Michael Smith
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published October 9, 2006
 

In this era of globalization, the education debate has taken on new urgency. How are we going to compete globally if our public schools continue to produce poor quality students?
    This sentiment has been on the mind of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who declared last year that American high schools are obsolete. ABC's John Stossel showed how the public school monopoly delivers a low quality of education, especially at the high school level, in a provocatively titled report, "Stupid in America," that aired this summer.
    This is a serious problem, but what is to be done about education?
    At the moment, one strategy is to expand community colleges and adult education centers so people can learn the skills they need to compete. These are skills that should have been learned in high school, but students did not acquire them. It is good that people eventually acquire the necessary skills, but this is incredibly wasteful and inefficient because taxpayers should not have to pay for remedial education.
    The problems in public schools have been well-documented and various solutions have been proposed. One is to adopt a voucher system, which is the idea presented by Mr. Stossel, in which the money would be directed to the student, and parents could choose the school. Schools providing the best education would attract more students, and every school would have an incentive to give children the best education possible.
    Other parents have opted out of the public system and have chosen to educate their children at home. Home-schooling is growing rapidly and home-schooled children are outperforming their public-school peers on standardized achievement tests. Proponents of school choice and home-schooling both believe in local control and competition to improve education but, unfortunately, powerful special interest groups successfully oppose these ideas.
    To address these education problems, William Bennett and Rod Paige, former secretaries of education, recently argued in The Washington Post that the federal government should develop a national test to measure the progress of children. Taking away local control and setting federal standards is not a new idea, but it is one that was rejected by our country's Founding Fathers. The Constitution grants no authority to the federal government to regulate education. Education policy is reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment.
    Another problem with creating a federal test is that it may lead to a national curriculum. How do we expect students to be fairly evaluated if they are not taught the subject matter contained in the federal test? As the federal test becomes a feature of the educational landscape, the Department of Education could impose more and more regulations, and American education could be effectively nationalized.
    Centralizing education is the opposite of sound policy for this globalized era when innovation and flexibility are demanded. Of course, students need to have basic skills, and this is where localities and states must be allowed to innovate with their own programs.
    Parents are in the best position to educate children, but if education policy is shifted to Washington, it will be nearly impossible for parents to have any direct effect on what their children are taught. It is much easier to make policy changes at the state and local level.
    The answer to our education problems lies in more parental choice, not more government programs. At HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), we advocate that parents teach their own children at home. The research shows that the closer an education method resembles a home school, the better the results.
    Moving the federal government into the role of educator in chief has no chance of improving the education standards of the nation's children. Our overall education policy has to change if we want our children to be literate and self-sufficient when they graduate from high school.
    
    Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.
    
Copyright © 2006 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Old math is getting new life

By Dan Walters - Sacramento Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, October 10, 2006

There are prodigies -- children who have an inexplicable, innate ability to perform virtuoso mental, artistic or physical feats -- but for the vast majority of human beings, acquiring skills is a more laborious process. Simply put, we must crawl before we can walk, walk before we can run, and run before we can aspire to higher levels.

Mental development is fundamentally no different. Most of us may be born with the potential to learn -- to gain knowledge and reasoning skills -- but realizing that potential takes hard work and good instruction from parents, other adults and, eventually, professional teachers.

We Americans used to understand the concept of educational progression -- of instilling fundamental skills early and completely so that they became natural extensions of children's lives, thus equipping them for moving into higher realms of learning and reasoning. But somewhere and somehow, we lost our way and began embracing panaceas that promised educational gain without pain.

Educational concepts that had stood generations of Americans in good stead -- phonics-based reading, memorizing multiplication tables, basic rules of grammar -- were cast aside in the 1970s and 1980s in favor of "reforms" that reflected the moral relativism of the age and would, their advocates insisted, make learning more fun and less work.

A 1989 decree by the National Council of Mathematics Teachers typified the trend, casting aside such concepts as multiplication tables in favor of what came to be known as "fuzzy math" that favored estimates over exactitude and assumed that everyone would always use a calculator, rendering paper and pencil figuring obsolete.

Innumeracy -- a chronic inability to understand and apply mathematics to work and daily life -- is rampant, and the abysmally poor performance of American children in international mathematics test comparisons is graphic proof that "fuzzy math" is an abject failure. For nearly two decades, "math wars" have raged in academic and political circles over what children should learn. California, as the most populous and diverse state, has been a major front.

Hostilities erupted in California during the mid-1990s when then-Gov. Pete Wilson and legislators prodded the state Board of Education to adopt new standards. Marion Joseph, a one-time top state education official, came out of retirement to take a seat on the state board and lead the charge for change.

An advisory panel recommended standards that moved toward more mathematical fundamentals, but the state board put even more emphasis on basics and adopted them after a battle with Delaine Eastin, then the state schools superintendent.

Some states followed California's model and others continued a fuzzier version of math. But Joseph and the other back-to-basics advocates appear to be having the last laugh. With the nation moving toward national academic standards, but with huge differences in approaches among the states, the National Council of Mathematics Teachers has revisited the issue and in a new encyclical has figuratively abandoned the fuzzy approach and recommended grade-by-grade guidelines that move substantially back to fundamentals.

You have to wade through reams of jargon to find the changes. The guidelines don't use the term "multiplication tables," for example, but say that kids in elementary school should become proficient in "multiplication facts." Leaders of the math teachers' council are reluctant to say that there is a major change, instead describing the new guidelines as building on previous suggestions. But a side-by-side comparison indicates that what the council is proposing and what California adopted a decade ago are quite similar.

Readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic -- maybe there's some hope for the three R's after all.

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Crash Course In Classroom Collectivism
The Post Chronicle Commentary

By Frederick Meekins
Oct 17, 2006

 

 

Each year as the school year gets underway, I write a column about the mandatory communalism that takes place in numerous schools across the country.  Unsuspecting students and parents are forced to surrender their supplies to educational authorities, deemed by the state to be of superior enlightenment than those actually acquiring the school supplies, for redistribution as these demagogic pedagogues see fit.

While satisfying to write -- as there are few topics as visceral as one's school experiences and the attachment one has to one's possessions -- somehow these most debated of my epistles somehow felt incomplete, as they primarily dealt with a symptom rather than the underlying disease.  The socialistic communitarians that have infiltrated the public school system -- and taken it over for the most part -- do not primarily want your paper and pencils; the thing the really lust over are the hearts and minds of your children. 

Usually, those concerned about the state of the public school system are told that if they don't like how things are run, they are perfectly free to withdraw their children and pursue private or home-based alternatives to their liking.  Overall, better advice could not be given.  However, in the years and decades ahead, such wisdom will prove to be charmingly naive and old-fashioned, for if things continue along their current path, there will probably come a day in which it will be against the law to educate one's offspring in anything BUT a state-run school.

Already devotees of secularism and radicalism are laying down the perceptual framework necessary to bring about the paradigm shift as to whom has the ultimate authority over the minds of the young.  Some of those opposed to parents having the final say over the education of children won't come out and say so directly.  Rather, the subversions of the traditional family are often dressed in altruistic platitudes about socialization and COMMUNITY.

Often communal and anti-individualistic in their epistemological orientation, such critics claim that homeschooling should not be curtailed so much for the proverbial "sake of the children", but rather for the benefit of the government schools themselves.  According to a May 16, 2003 FoxNews.com story titled "Parents Fight Government To Homeschool" by Trace Gallagher, "Many say that as more parents pull their kids out of public schools, confidence quickly erodes and has a domino effect on other public policy issues."

In other words, liberals are afraid that, if children learn to think for themselves, they will do for themselves later on, and the cycle of dependency on the state will be significantly diminished if not broken all together.  As a parent, one's responsibility is to the wellbeing of one's own children, not to the budgetary ego of some petty bureaucrat.  For as the Fox News story concludes, "...the issue is about money -- every home-schooled child means fewer dollars in the public school budget."

As such, those opposed to educational freedom will go out of their way to shame and penalize parents and students from leaving the system.  Some enemies of mental liberty even suggest parents not feeding their children to the public beast are guilty of child abuse.  Back in 2003, WorldNetDaily.com ran a story about a proposed law in California that had the potential to outlaw homeschooling by criminalizing parents of the "habitually truant" defined as five unexcused absences.

This proposal was a concern since, under certain interpretations of California law, parents without a teaching credential homeschooling their children could be construed as operating outside the law.  According to WorldNetDaily.com, in 2000 truancy charges were brought against several families in the Berkeley Unified School District who withdrew their children from the public system -- despite the fact that the parents had properly filed all the necessary paperwork to establish a legitimate homeschool under the law.

Some might dismiss such legislative posturing as the kind of kookiness for which California is renowned around the world.  Unfortunately, such radicalism is embraced by a broad swath of liberal leaders.

For example, Stanford University Professor Robert Reich, according to the Chalcedon Foundation Report article titled "A Quiet Threat To Homeschooling", believes that the state should force homeschool parents to teach their children values at odds with those held by the parents.  Reich, staying true to his name by bringing to mind thoughts of totalist control, claims that the state has a compelling interest in allowing students the opportunity to select a way of life abhorred by the parents.  And if the parents do not agree to this, Reich believes, they should be compelled to send their offspring to public school by court order -- and thus, under the following corollary of "at the end of a barrel of a gun" -- since anything the state requires ultimately has the threat of force backing it up.

Children have pretty much always had the right to chuck what their parents taught them into the philosophical waste basket.  It's usually called turning 18 or 21.  And unless a provision has been added to the Patriot Act outlawing libraries altogether like something out of Ray Bradbury rather than simply allowing some government hack to snoop through our checkout records, children will have every opportunity they need to hoe their own path at that point in their lives.

Mind you, while the likes of Robert Reich think that public educators have their right to have their way with the minds of your children -- to such an extent that would make Michael Jackson blush -- at no time will children indentured to the state have the right to formulate a system of values at variance with those espoused by the public schools while under the auspices of the public schools.

For example, homeschoolers favoring creation science as their preferred theory as to the origins of the cosmos might be compelled to teach evolution, or face having their children snatched as if the parents were common crack addicts.  So-called "educators" and their ACLU taskmasters have gone out of their way to promote the perception that only the materialist conception of reality can be presented as part of the science curricula.  Conversely, parents with children in the public schools believing that monogamous marriage is the only legitimate human relationship through which to enjoy conjugal affections have been told by judges -- hardly worthy of the silk in their robes -- that parents with children in the public schools do not have the right to exempt their offspring from the perverse education these scholastic pederasts seek to cram down the throats of unsuspecting students.

Even liberals less blatantly secular than elite university professors and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals are edging ever closer to implementing a policy that any schools other than public schools are child abuse.  Ordained minister and former public servant Andrew Young, in a bit of oratory that would probably make his mentor Martin Luther King role over in his grave, was recorded by the 3/18/04 edition of the Montgomery Sentinel as saying of parents pursuing private education for their children, "You are socially retarded and you ought to have better sense than to do something like that."

Young claims private schools are a waste of money, and deprive the children of opportunities to enhance their leadership abilities by not exposing pupils to the broadest possible swath of people and circumstances.  But what exactly are the leadership abilities did Young allude to?

Obviously not those classic schoolroom disciplines of readin', writin' and 'rithmetic.  In Prince George's County, Maryland (just one county over from where Young delivered his comments), according to the 10/20/03 Prince George's Journal, in the southern portion of that county only 36% of third graders were proficient in reading and only 38% of eight graders were assessed as such.  That is an area of the jurisdiction lit with the type of diversity propagandists such as Young likes to rub the noses of the American people in.

Maybe Rev. Young was not referring to those skills we half-wit private school graduates thought school was primarily convened to convey.  Maybe he was alluding to the following behavior, displayed by the young scholars elaborated below, since such skills should do them well as members of Congress and the like.

According to Gazette.net in a story posted on May 24, 2005, four students at Wheaton High School (in the same county where Young delivered a speech in which he labeled as retarded [a put-down most give up by later elementary]) surrounded the desk of a female student and touched her inappropriately.  However, a study by University of Wales Professor Leslie J. Francis featured in the May 5, 2005 ThisIsLondon.com concluded that 62% of boys in private Christian schools believed sex outside of marriage was wrong, while only 13% educated at non-Christian schools believed the same way.

I ask you, if this young woman really was violated in the way she described (as nowadays spurned females as reprobate as the young males prowling the hallways of the nation's public schools are not themselves above concocting such reputation-shattering rumors when they don't get what they want), what group of young people would her parents would want her to be around?  If being pawed over and felt up like a slab of supermarket beef is what Young has in mind when he says, "Your children will learn more sociology from bad kids than they will from European sociologists" ..that is one lesson our children should not have to learn.  Young is perfectly free to hand over his own daughters and granddaughters for such "hands on learning" if he so desires, but most decent people take their responsibilities as parents a bit more seriously.

Contrary to Young's contention that parents have the obligation to cultivate "the sensitivity to problems we're going to have to deal with all our lives" (code words for increased welfare and racial preferences for minorities), the first order of duty of any parent is to protect their own children from the physical dangers and moral filth permeating our culture.  You are not expected to take up the cause of every whelp rambling down the street; that is the responsibility of their own parents.

From Young's insinuation and innuendos, you'd expect home and private schooled kids to be sitting on their hands rocking back and forth drooling on themselves as if they were in some Eastern European orphanage.  However, such young people are not the ones filling prisons, clogging our welfare roles, and pumping out out-of-wedlock babies as often as those on Metamucil run to the restroom.

So what if private and homeschool graduates aren't as "sociable" (a fancy Ivy League word used nowadays as a euphemism to characterize a willingness to participate in various forms of deviancy)?  So long as they aren't getting public handouts, why is it any of the government's business how such young people spend their time?

Even if objective assessments such as standardized tests measuring acquired knowledge rather than social opinions, competitions such as Spelling/Geography bees, and the accomplishments of those educated in this fashion in terms of books published, businesses opened, and scholastic prizes won are proof of the superiority of non-statist education, woe unto the public official daring to suggest that private schools with a solid religious foundation might be able to accomplish some good that the public schools cannot.

For example, back in 2003, then Secretary of Education Rod Paige dared to suggest that the reason Christian schools appeared to be growing was the result of their strong value system, not found in their public counterparts as a result of these government institutions insisting that no form of morality is better than any other.  For enunciating his own preference, numerous liberals condemned Paige for daring to believe that what he believes might be better than what those that claim there are no better beliefs believe.

But by condemning someone that believes that what they believe is better than what others believe (whether you like it or not), aren't you saying that what you believe is better than what the other person believes?  For if all views really are equal and you condemn someone for not believing that, aren't you saying that the belief that there are no superior beliefs is actually a superior belief?

Exposing the lunacy of those out to undermine parental control of education should be just as easy.  Thing is, one has to make an effort at doing so.

Within the Southern Baptist Convention, one group has counseled that parents should remove their children from public schools in favor of either Christian or homeschools.  However, other voices with just as much sway within the nation's largest Protestant denomination have coalesced around a counter claim  that Christian parents are somehow obligated to send their children to public school since these are an untapped mission field.

Leading the charge in 2004 was none other than Franklin Graham.  At the time, Graham told the Convention, "One important forum where American believers must share their faith is in the public schools.  Instead of withdrawing from public schools, Christians should train their children to share the Gospel with their non-Christian classmates."

Having spent much of his ministerial career assisting believers and the downtrodden in the hell-holes of the earth such as parts of Africa, the Graham lad certainly has a heart for mission work.  However, he decided upon this calling freely as an adult and did not have it thrust upon him against his better judgment by denominational luminaries.

One would not send a child to face fanatical Muslims on their own turf.  Then why should we send such youngsters into the hovels of the Humanists?  For though they are not quite as violent as the Islamofascists, they are just as intent on ensnaring the minds of your children with their damnable ideology.

Franklin continues, "I want to see at least one child in every class in America who is trained as a witness for Jesus Christ."  Frankly, the primary duty of parents is not to please Franklin Graham, but to do what is in the best interests of their own children.

It's nice that it would make Franklin Graham happy to see an outspoken Christian youngster in every public school classroom across America.  Since such would provide him considerable delight, will he be there for these kids when things go south?  As the son of a Christian celebrity and now one in his own right, Franklin Graham does not have to worry about losing his livelihood or the custody of his children should he decide to exercise his God-given right to express his faith publicly -- as might happen these days in a climate were allegations of abuse fly and are believed so easily.

As a single voice (influential as he might be), Franklin Graham would not have all that much sway.  However, one might contend that Franklin's position rather than the alternative of withdrawal from the public system is the prevailing attitude among many SBC leaders.

According to Graddy Arnold of GetTheKidsOut.org in a Dec. 22, 2002 Agape Press story titled "SBC Pastor: Biased Mission Board Ignores Public Schools' Reverse Evangelism", the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board insinuates homeschooled students lack "adult contact" (I guess Deborah LeFay can't get her hands on such virile youngsters), exhibit "lack of socialization" (less likely to go boozing, or at least less likely to go along with the group for the sake of the group, as is occurring in many contemporary churches where the leadership structure is based more on personality than the Bible), and that "public schools have produced leaders in every arena of public life" (usually occupational advancement is not based on what you know, but who you know or whom you've brown-nosed, and the thieving overclass is simply likely to promote to their ranks those of a similar ethical background to themselves).

It has been said (a piece of wisdom attributed often attributed to Lincoln) that the philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.  From the degree of collectivism being pushed on the nation's youths, it won't be long until Communism will once again be the predominant ideological threat of the foreseeable future and just not some best-forgotten historical nightmare.

Frederick Meekins is an independent columnist

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Students think high, fall short on math skills

By Chrissie Thompson
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
October 20, 2006

American students enjoy math and think they are good at the subject, but their knowledge of the subject falls short of their self-assessment, according to a report released this week.
    Almost 40 percent of American eighth-graders "agree a lot" with the statement, "I usually do well in mathematics," exceeding the international average of 27 percent. Those students, however, scored only about 8 percent higher than the worldwide average on an international math test, according to the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank.
    Singapore's eighth-graders scored highest on the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam, but only 18 percent of them strongly agreed in a survey that they usually did well in math. Even the least confident Singaporean students scored higher than the most confident American eighth-graders.
    Tom Loveless, author of the report, said the U.S. should adjust standards so American students understand how they measure up to international students.
    "If they're not learning it, we need to be honest with them," he said. "There's no reason that American students can't perform as well as Singapore students."
    Mr. Loveless also found that students who do well in math don't necessarily like the subject. The 10 countries with the fewest students who strongly agreed that they enjoy mathematics scored above the international test average. U.S. eighth-graders' enthusiasm for math was slightly lower than the international average, while U.S. fourth-graders enjoyed math a bit more than average.
    Math tests and survey questions were given to eighth-graders in 46 nations and fourth-graders in 25 nations. Teachers also answered survey questions about their education methods. The National Center for Education Statistics' Web site showed that 19,000 U.S. students took the TIMSS in 2003.
    Mr. Loveless blamed the disjuncture between U.S. pupils' achievement levels and their self-assessment on lax U.S. grading and attempts at "relevance."
    "There's nothing wrong with making sure kids are confident in themselves or enjoy math," Mr. Loveless said. "The bottom line is they need to learn math."
    He thinks teachers should spend less time applying math to everyday life and use fewer pictures and games, instead mimicking more-challenging curricula elsewhere in the world. The study found that teachers in countries with higher test scores did not emphasize relevancy.
    Mr. Loveless has been recommending such changes "for quite a few years," said Michael Pearson, director of programs and services at the Mathematical Association of America. Mr. Pearson instead advocates a balance between traditional mathematics and what some call "fuzzy math."
    "I think that it's absolutely essential for students to have a basic knowledge of facts," he said. "On the other hand, I'd also like my students to be able to reason about the mathematics that they know and to apply that mathematics."
    Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and an education professor at McDaniel College in Maryland, said teachers must work in the context of students' cultures and age levels.
    "We use the phrase 'real-world mathematics.' Well, whose world is it?" he asked.
    
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A Coming Crisis in Suburban Schooling?
By Lewis Andrews

The American Enterprise Online

We are all accustomed to the idea that America faces problems in its public education systems. But mostly it’s the other guy’s school, in the city next door, where we think the troubles center. Suburban schools in neighborhoods with rising home prices—those are the ones where U.S. education is just fine. Right?

Not exactly. Suburbia is afflicted with its own problems of public school mediocrity. That much is beginning to become apparent to some striving middle-class parents. And there’s another threat stalking public education in upscale commuter enclaves that hasn’t even begun to sink into the public consciousness: money troubles.

Bell and whistle bonanza

The tax base supporting public education in the suburbs is broad. Those who have no children contribute. So do families who send their children to private schools. Couples who have seen their children graduate and move out are also paying. The beneficiaries, meanwhile, are a much smaller group. Families with children attending public schools can easily net a yearly gain from the community of $10,000-$20,000 in educational services.

While the vast majority of Americans have historically accepted a common interest in paying for the education of successive generations, today’s suburban parents and educators have increasingly abused that sense of obligation. Families are more and more being provided with benefits that go far beyond any traditional notion of required schooling. Last year, a researcher at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy at Trinity College completed a study of every school district in Connecticut, a state noted for its affluent suburbs. Using per pupil costs and student scores on mastery tests, he found that very little of the heavy funding funneled into schools in wealthy commuter districts was spent on improved academic performance. “Many affluent towns spend much moreÉfor the same educational outcomes,” the study concluded.

Where then does this surplus money go? Much of what passes for a quality education today in America’s prosperous suburbs has little to do with academic rigor. “Quality” has become a deceptive code word for an ever-expanding menu of non-essential services, hobbies, and recreational activities for school children and their families. These include low-cost forms of day care (both before and after school), expensive and eclectic sports programs, holiday “socials,” subsidized recreation camps run out of public school buildings during summers and holidays, and a variety of school-day distractions for students like pottery and ballet lessons, cafeteria pasta bars, media centers with state-of-the-art video technology, glitzy rooms overflowing with shiny electronic equipment, and even costly observatories, stadiums, and galleries.

High schools in commuter enclaves outside of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other large cities have curricula as diverse as many small colleges, offering credit for hundreds of nonacademic electives, including courses in jewelry making, computer animation, and television. The burgeoning cost of these services is only partially reflected in the staffing lines of annual school operating budgets. Much of the expense is buried in 20- to 30-year bonding for school additions and renovations. “Back in the 1950s and ’60s,” explains James Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University, schools “were so much cheaper. You didn’t have the bells and whistles. A lot of high schools now have TV studios, swimming pools, and computer labs. The schools have to be triple-wired and air conditioned.”

Persuading taxpayers that high school pupils should have the right to take exotic electives has proven a surprisingly easy sell—particularly since parent-dominated school boards have crafted mutually advantageous relationships with the educators they are supposed to be regulating. That’s how we’ve ended up with thousands of suburban schools where all students are entitled to study video production or play golf at voter expense.

Middle-class racketeering

Margaret Tannenbaum, professor of education at New Jersey’s Rowan University and formerly on the school board in her home town, notes that the resulting quid pro quos are never publicly stated, but always clearly understood. In most cases, she explains, parent board members know that being “supportive of the schools” is code for accommodating generous salary and benefit increases for unionized teachers and schools administrators. In return, even the most superfluous perks for suburban schoolchildren—like academic credit for district-subsidized trips abroad—are deemed “educational” by local school officials.

The existence of self-serving relationships between municipal officials and the public employees they supposedly supervise is hardly news. But suburban school boards and administrators are especially gifted in their ability to portray mutual backscratching to the broader taxpaying public as academic idealism. Organized public-school parents have in many places ensured that both Republicans and Democrats produce local candidates who think identically on the 65 to 80 percent of local expenditures that are related to public education. On most school boards and town councils, would-be reformers have little or no influence.

For their part, educators have developed a language which makes the self-serving policies of parents and teachers appear pedagogically sound. More financially efficient alternatives are characterized as “too risky” or “cold-hearted.” Costly requirements like smaller class sizes, which create a need for more teachers and administrators, are consistently praised for the “personal attention” and “individualized instruction” they supposedly offer students. Such glowing phrases are rarely used to describe Internet-based courses, however, though they too can provide truly individualized instruction, without the need to hire more educators.

Biased language is supplemented with selective statistics. Washington Post education writer Jay Matthew has noted how suburban principals brag about the large number of advanced placement (AP) courses their schools offer, conveniently ignoring the fact that only a fraction of the students who take them actually earn college credit by passing an objective test. Suburban administrators similarly boast about the high percentage of seniors that go on to college. Few care to find out how many of their graduates drop out of college, or are required to take remedial courses in math, reading, and writing.

The successful partnership between suburban parents and professional educators is facilitated by America’s continuing tolerance for a blatant conflict of interest, whereby a school board member is permitted to vote on an issue that can directly affect his own family. It is not an exaggeration to say that public schooling in many suburbs is a form of upper-middle-class racketeering. Under the banner of “advancing learning,” parents of district children and their public-sector allies collaborate to serve their own narrow interests, at the expense of the broader taxpaying community.

Backlash on property taxes

One need only observe the swarms of angry parents who descend on local politicians whenever the school athletic budget is threatened, or see the care school boards take not to offend the inevitable union monitor at their meetings, to conclude that the vested interests currently driving suburban education are firmly in control. Yet history shows that recipients of public subsidies inevitably court opposition from those who pay the bills. And suburban public schools are beginning to come under fire.

Those with the most obvious reason to be critical are voters without children in public schools, many of them increasingly restless under heavy and soaring local tax burdens. With house assessments ballooning, the property taxes that support most schools are becoming onerous burdens for many newlyweds, widows, families with children in private or parochial schools, or older couples on fixed pensions. Property tax collections went up an average of 23 percent nationwide between 2000 and 2004, and are now approaching $300 billion—totaling very close to what Americans spend annually on mortgage interest.

The true costs of suburban education are obscured in many parts of the country by regionalized school systems, which tap a labyrinth of funding sources, including state income taxes, state and local sales taxes, casino gaming licenses, and lottery profits. Nonetheless, clearer connections are beginning to be established in many taxpayers’ minds between skyrocketing public school costs and ever steeper real estate levies. Led mostly by activist seniors, dissident taxpayer groups in Maine, Ohio, New Jersey, and Texas have succeeded in getting property-tax reductions on state or local ballots. Politicians in Nevada, Iowa, and Indiana have been forced to establish commissions on tax reduction; and the legislatures in South Carolina and Virginia are considering annual limitations on how much their localities can raise local levies.

In the Northeast in particular, where a longstanding tradition of each town managing its own school system gives local citizens the ability to vote on their school district budgets, a tax rebellion is clearly under way. In a special report on Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, the state’s Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) found that rejections of school budgets recently reached a peak “since ACIR started tracking these figures.” Less than half of the budgets going to referendum were approved on the first vote.

In what is perhaps the most ominous sign for suburban parents and public educators, the leadership of local taxpayer groups—historically dismissed as “kooks” and “cranks”—is becoming more politically sophisticated. Just as the 1980s saw the creation of more than 40 state-oriented think tanks devoted to monitoring and shrinking the costs of government, so today there is a similar growth of county- and town-level groups. It is not a coincidence that the increased rejection rate of local budgets by Connecticut towns was accompanied by a doubling in the number of town taxpayer groups (from 25 to 50), with many employing spreadsheets, attractive Web sites, and well-researched policy papers.

Priced out and dumbed down

At the same time that watchdogs are becoming more effective politically, discontent is also brewing among some parents who in the past would have considered themselves beneficiaries of the public school system. In a 2003 book (written before the explosion in housing prices), Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren studied bankruptcy filings in America and found that the biggest squeeze on middle- and upper-middle-class families came from high mortgage payments and escalating property taxes on homes in towns with desirable public schools. Today, says Warren, “young parents buy houses with just three thoughts in mind: schools, schools, and schools.” The problem is that “in inflation-adjusted dollars, they’re paying more than 70 percent more than their parents paid for a house.” In other words, lavish “free” public education is pricing many families out of homes and neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most telling defectors from suburban education are the growing numbers of parents who believe that local schools are failing in their most important obligation—to provide children (between soccer games and class field trips) with a challenging and academically sound curriculum. University of Missouri political scientist Martin Rochester is one such parent. The low academic expectations at his own children’s schools inspired him to conduct a 2003 survey of numerous suburban systems. He found many costly distractions from the basic educational tasks that should be the central work of schooling.

Another critic is Margaret McIntyre, a member of the Wilmette, Illinois school board from 1999 to 2003, who argues that the expensive infrastructure at suburban schools is intellectually counterproductive. “The spending on special programs, technology, and ‘enrichments’,” she writes, “actually crowds out time for math, reading, writing, geography, and history.” She estimates that more than 40 percent of families in Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs have been forced to pay for tutors and other supplemental instruction.

A recent poll on the subject of public education conducted by the Business Roundtable shows “overwhelming support for standards-based reform among all groups, regardless of race, income, or political party.” Similar polls by the non-partisan Public Agenda suggest that many suburbanites are just as concerned about low academic standards in local schools as urban and rural parents are known to be.

On April 28, 2001, the New York Times ran a front page story entitled “Parents Hungry for ABCs Lead New School Movement.” It profiled Princeton, New Jersey parents who had become “horrified” by the poor quality of local education and founded a no-frills charter school, free from the yoke of district bureaucracy and dedicated to a more demanding academic curriculum. Today, notes Joe Nathan, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for School Change, charter schools are starting to become more common in affluent suburbs.

Mediocrity forever?

Could these political, financial, and academic trends combine to force a broad restructuring of suburban education? They might if there is a bursting of today’s inflated real estate bubble. The ensuing calls for proportional reductions in property taxes would surely increase pressure for a back-to-basics restructuring of public education. Rather than being a problem, such a development might be a good thing, to be welcomed by suburban parents now coping with mediocre public schooling by hiring tutors or sending their children to private or parochial institutions.

Even without impetus from home price distortions, change could come. Certainly the decades-old alliance between opportunistic parents and self-interested local educators is not nearly as sound as it appears. And certainly many of the suburban schools just down the street are much less successful in getting top results than many parents glibly assume. “A lot of suburban Americans are living in a kind of fantasyland” right now, says education expert Chester Finn. In an era of globalization and heightened competition in education and jobs, more sober and realistic assessments of the training being offered by typical neighborhood institutions may become inevitable.

Take a critical mass of disillusioned and financially pressed parents, add in the growing political clout of taxpayers without school-age children, the lax oversight of district budgeting, and a tempestuous real estate market, and public education in America’s suburbs could soon experience some jarring and unexpected changes. And you know what? That is long overdue.

Lewis M. Andrews is executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Hartford, Connecticut.