Thursday, June 16, 2005


Most Americans embrace the separation of church and state on the grounds that something as important and personal as religion ought to be left to private decision-making. The inviolability of the individual conscience is a cherished American principle. Yet decisions about one's children's education are equally matters of conscience. Nevertheless, government routinely makes all the big decisions about education without regard to the preferences and convictions of parents. Such decisions cannot help but impinge on freedom of conscience. From the beginning, the movement to establish tax-financed government school systems created conflicts among people with different worldviews, starting with Protestants and Catholics.

The debates that have taken place over school curriculums-multiculturalism versus Western orientation, evolution versus creationism, phonics versus whole language, traditional math versus new math-have been grounded in diverging views of how children should learn and think. Government-generated standards and curriculums cannot avoid controversy. A noncontroversial curriculum is as chimerical as a value-free education. Thus the claims that a government-adopted curriculum would create solidarity by inculcating children with a common educational experience are highly suspect. What has caused more social division than "public" education?

Governments operate virtual school monopolies outside the competitive marketplace. That may be taken to mean only that business people do not run the schools for profit. But the competitive marketplace is more than a way to organize production of known products and services according to known methods. In F. A. Hayek's words, it's a "discovery procedure." Competition enables us to learn things we would not learn otherwise from people we might never suspect of being capable of teaching us anything. This is as true for education as for anything else.

The vogue word in education is "accountability." But this is precisely where government solutions fall down. Accountability to whom? The current administration says the states should be accountable to the federal government. But that is just the sort of artificial accountability that has brought education to its present unsatisfactory condition. We are in roughly the 150th year of an experiment in which governments, not parents, are responsible for education. Teachers and administrators are theoretically accountable to school boards, which are theoretically accountable to state governments. Giving a larger role to yet a higher, more distant level of government hardly sounds promising. Real accountability means accountability to parents. But that requires separation of school and state, and parents' control of their own money; in a phrase, Parent Power.

Are there to be no standards for education? It is an unfortunate emblem of our world that alternatives to government services are difficult to imagine-even when there are historical examples to draw on. We do not face a choice between government standards and no standards at all, any more than we face a choice between government standards for computers and no standards at all. The spontaneous, self-adjusting market process is well qualified to generate standards. And it does so in a way that avoids the pitfalls of the political process.

To the extent that parents want similar things with respect to their children's education-a broadening of horizons and preparation for college and for economic self-sufficiency-the market will furnish them because doing so will produce profits for entrepreneurs. Out of that process will emerge standards. We should expect not one set of standards but competing sets with varying degrees of differences.

Different approaches to education in a competitive market will lead to competition. It is precisely the competition among standards-real-world rivalrous activity, not ivory-tower debates-that will teach us things we would not learn otherwise. The market, moreover, will do what governments cannot do: it will avoid the extremes of dogmatism (one imposed standard) and chaos (no stable standards). At any given time, a manageable number of standards will coexist, giving people stability and predictability, yet no standard will be locked in by legislation, which would threaten stagnation....

The entrepreneurial system gives us the greatest hope of having the best educational institutions possible. We can expect it to offer a wide variety of schools, from traditional to innovative, for-profit and nonprofit, secular and sectarian. Homeschooling would thrive also. But entrepreneurship has prerequisites: freedom and private property for both entrepreneurs and parents. The way out of the education morass is Parent Power

More here


Dumbing down tests in search of politically correct results only hurts those the schools are trying to help

Gifted individuals, those with an IQ of 125 or higher, appear in only about five percent of the population, according to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. In nearby Davis, school officials are attempting to boost that percentage by dubious means. Two years ago, the Davis school board, concerned that not enough black and Hispanic children were testing into the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, lowered the score for GATE identification. That led to 35 percent of third graders in Davis being identified as gifted. Trying to correct the absurd result, the board again tinkered with the identification procedures. This still yielded 26 percent of its students as gifted this year.

The board is due to take up the issue of identifying gifted students again this week. They do so not because 26 percent is still more than three times the state average, but because three of the five board members are concerned that those identified as gifted are predominantly white and Asian. This is an example of a misguided and feel-good insistence that all children are gifted somehow, in their own way. It fails the needs of those brightest young minds that the GATE program is designed to foster.

Laura Vanderkam, co-author of Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds, says, "If only the top one percent of students are in the `gifted' group, then it actually means something. If the top 25 percent are in it, then you've made it so broad as to be meaningless, and not helpful to the highly gifted in the group." That seems to be exactly what several of the Davis trustees have in mind. Trustee Jim Provenza wants classes offered to GATE-identified students also made available to any student whose parents request them. His colleague, Martha West, would prefer to see the GATE program dismantled altogether and the money spent elsewhere.

The brightest minds could go eat cake or, as James Delisle, a Kent State University professor of education and part-time teacher of gifted children in Ohio public schools, more delicately states the obvious: a "schoolwide enrichment plan generally fails to provide the sustenance necessary to fulfill the complex lives of gifted children."

Equally misguided is the attempt to engineer racial parity in the GATE program. The Davis board may succeed in manipulating the racial breakdowns to look more politically correct, but no amount of engineering or quotas will lead to real gains for students. Real gains come only with true education reform. Where that exists, minorities succeed, often in high numbers. From the rough inner city of Oakland, each year students from the American Indian Charter School qualify for the nationally noted talent search program conducted by Johns Hopkins University. This is because principal Ben Chavis maintains a tough curriculum with high expectations for his all-minority student body.

Lowered standards and racial quotas cannot create gifted children. In fact, these policies are a recipe for mediocrity. To boost minority achievement and meet the needs of gifted children, school boards statewide would do better to follow the example of Mr. Chavis.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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