Thursday, December 02, 2010

Feds should flunk out of education

If there's one thing the 2010 elections made clear, it's that voters want a smaller, cheaper, more effective federal government. A terrific place to start giving them that is education. Washington meddles in our schools without constitutional authority to do so, and, as newly released test scores illustrate, without making things any better.

The scores in question are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called "Nation's Report Card." More specifically, they are reading and mathematics scores for 12th-graders — our schools' "final products" — and they reveal federal failure on at least two levels.

First, there are the scores themselves. In reading, they were slightly lower than in 1998 or 1992, and they are part of an overall trend of almost pure stagnation. In mathematics, there was a tiny uptick from 2005-09 and ... that was it. The NAEP framework for math was changed so drastically from 2002-05 that no pre-2005 scores were comparable, making no meaningful trend discernable. Nonetheless, the NAEP press release touted gains for math and reading.

So our latest federal test results show stagnation in reading, and for all practical purposes nothing in math. The federal government has neither improved outcomes on its own metric, nor kept its metric very useful.

To be fair, there are lots of NAEP tests, including a long-term mathematics assessment that tracks achievement consistently since the early 1970s. Only the so-called "main" math NAEP is hobbled right now. The long-term test, though, confirms the big point: There's been essentially no change in high school math achievement for the last nearly four decades.

It hasn't been for a lack of spending or legislating.

According to the federal Digest of Education Statistics, in 1970 Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $32 billion on elementary and secondary education. In 2009, the feds blew an estimated $83 billion — about a 160 percent increase. On a per-pupil basis, the Digest reports an inflation-adjusted rise from $435 in 1970 to $1,015 in 2006 (the latest year with per-pupil data).

Of course, Washington hasn't just spent money. It's increasingly demanded more standards, testing, and "accountability." The No Child Left Behind Act is the apogee of that, as well as a terrific example of federal failure. While it's impossible to ascribe results completely to NCLB, we know for sure that scores haven't improved under the law. High school reading results were slightly higher before NCLB than after according to the most recent NAEP scores, and the long-term trend shows math achievement a wee bit higher before the law.

Why does Washington fail? In part because actual educational success hasn't mattered that much. On the assumption that it would translate into better results, well-intentioned voters have generally supported politicians who have promised to spend more money and make schools "accountable."

The problem is that politicians say lots of things, and, unlike when you pay more for a car to get better safety or mileage, when politicians spend money it's often not to get better education. No, it's to curry favor with teacher unions, administrator associations or other special interests whose members get paid with increased federal funding and will raise hell for politicians who don't push it. So spending goes up, up, up, but achievement stays down, down, down.

Perhaps, though, the public has finally wised up. It certainly has when it comes to the overall size of government: According to Nov. 2 exit polls, 56 percent of voters think "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals." Only 38 percent feel "government should do more to solve problems."

There isn't such exit polling data for education, but other bits of information suggest that the sentiment applies there, too. For instance, several victorious Tea Party-type candidates such as Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have spoken explicitly about eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. And the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on attitudes about public schooling revealed that a sizable majority of Americans think education should remain primarily a state and local function.

In light of all this, it seems that the time has come to start pulling Washington out of education. Not only might the political stars have aligned, but we have fresh new evidence that the federal government is an educational failure.


Latin lessons for British state school pupils aged five in language revival bid

The study of Latin is one of the best ways of learning to use English well so I heartily approve -- but I would like to know where they are going to get the teachers for it

Children as young as five will be given Latin lessons as ministers attempt to revive the language in primary and secondary schools. Condemning the long-term ‘decimation’ of Latin in state schools, Education Minister Nick Gibb swept away Labour guidance which effectively restricted primaries to teaching modern languages.

He also revealed teenagers taking a GCSE in Latin or Greek will be able to count the qualification towards the new English Baccalaureate, the proposed benchmark for secondary school achievement. It will be awarded to youngsters gaining at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, a science, a humanities subject and a language.

The emphasis on languages comes as ministers prepare to overhaul the National Curriculum. Mr Gibb told the Politeia think-tank in London that learning Latin helps general language skills, but it had been squeezed out by a curriculum ‘straitjacket’.

Those who argued it should not be taught to state pupils as it was ‘elitist’ were widening the gap between the rich and poor, he said. A ‘pitifully small’ number of primaries teach Latin and only 9,246 teenagers took a GCSE in it last year – 70 per cent of them at private schools, he added.


Weak excuse to ban conservative student group at USF

Mike Adams

The University of South Florida (USF) has reversed its denial of recognition to the USF Young Pakistani Student Cultural group. USF had argued that the Young Pakistanis were too "similar" to the Young Indian Student Cultural group on campus. After USF denied the Young Pakistani application for recognition, they came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

This case is disturbing because USF currently recognizes over 60 multicultural groups and no fewer than 20 engineering clubs. But, according to USF, the Pakistanis are considered too similar to Indians to be allowed on campus. The Pakistanis were initially told to simply join the Indian group because USF administrators were unable to discern a difference between the two groups.

The ordeal of the USF Young Pakistanis began in April 2010 when they submitted a constitution in order to gain official recognition. USF rejected the application in a September e-mail from the USF Student Programs Coordinator. She told the Young Pakistani Founding Chairman the following: "the purpose of your proposed organization may be fairly similar, if not the same, as another existing organization that is established at the USF Tampa campus." She added "no other student organization can exist with the same or similar mission/purpose."

By now, the reader of this column may be sensing some familiarity with the general argument employed by USF. A few years ago, the University of Miami refused to recognize Advocates for Conservative Thought (ACT), a student organization that was created for "the exposition and promotion of conservative principles and ideas." The University of Miami argued that this decision was justified because it had previously recognized the College Republicans. FIRE also intervened in that case and ACT finally received official recognition. This was after four failed attempts without the help of FIRE.

By now, the reader of this column may also be sensing that it is a parody. USF did not ban the Pakistanis because they were similar to the Indians. USF banned a conservative group, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), because it was similar to a libertarian group, Young Americans for Liberty. The analogy is a good one given the extent to which conservatives and libertarians often fight over important issues.

Fortunately, FIRE wrote USF President Judy Genshaft in October in order to explain (slowly) that YAF and Young Americans for Liberty are indeed different in terms of their ideology and stated goals. FIRE also explained that USF's policy is unconstitutional. Specifically, the policy gives administrators too much discretion to reject new student organizations. Such discretion fails the Supreme Court's 40-year old requirement that government representatives use "narrow, objective, and definite standards" when subjecting First Amendment rights to a permit system. See Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham (1969).

The good news is that USF Dean of Students Kevin Banks has responded to FIRE. And he has provisionally recognized YAF pending approval of the group's constitution. The bad news is that USF has yet to revise its unconstitutional policy of preventing groups "with the same purpose/goals" from obtaining recognition.

FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel observed that, after the College Republicans, YAF is the largest and oldest conservative student organization in the United States. Given that fact, it seems a stretch to imagine that USF administrators really are ignorant and/or confused about how YAF differs from Young Americans for Liberty, which is only a couple of years old. After all, the folks who approve different student organizations should know something about how student organizations differ.

Maybe the great minds roaming the administrative halls of USF really failed to grasp the difference between these two groups. Maybe they still fail to grasp the larger differences between conservatives and libertarians. It is more likely, however, that USF administrators knew the groups were different from each other – and, more importantly, different from the administration. And because neither is liberal their collective campus influence had to be minimized.

The sad thing about all of this is that these administrators usually call themselves liberals. There used to be a difference between liberals and totalitarians. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference anymore.


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