Friday, February 20, 2015

How Government Ruined Your Kids' Textbooks

Common core education standards have attracted criticism from across the political spectrum due to lack of choice and competition inherent in a top-down, federal mandate. Students succeed when parents and teachers have flexibility to tailor their education programs to individual children, celebrating rather than ignoring their differences.

But the lack of choice in America’s education system is not unique to one policy. It’s an institutional problem that requires broader reforms than the repeal of a single law. Across the board, choice is sacrificed for uniformity thanks to misguided government policy. One of the areas that receives too little attention is the textbook monopoly by publishing giant Pearson.

This is an important issue for parents concerned specifically with the content and curriculum of their children’s educations, since the textbooks schools purchase will largely determine what is taught. For those worried about the kinds of values children are being exposed to, confronting a lack of choice in textbooks should be a top priority.

Politico recently published an expose on Pearson, revealing the numerous ways that government conspires to limit competition in the textbook market. To begin with, state education departments frequently purchase their materials from Pearson without allowing competitors the opportunity to underbid them. Since public schools are funded by taxation, not happy customers, there is no incentive to purchase cheaper books or ones that would please the students more, so familiarity wins out.

This would be bad enough were it not also for the fact that the education standards necessary for states to receive federal funding. The Common Core standards were developed in alignment with the curricula used by Pearson. This means that school administrators wishing to comply with the standards have few options other than Pearson’s products to ensure that they will maintain their federal funding or waivers from the unpopular No Child Left Behind policy.

Pearson’s business practices have been marked by political corruption as well, with lobbyists from the company spending lavishly (and illegally) on school officials until the practice was reined in in 2013.

The unholy alliance between business and government is at the heart of a great many of our nation’s problems, not least the inflexibility of our education system. Federal funding mandates, Common Core standards at the state level, a lack of competitive bidding for materials, and few mechanisms for students to escape from failing schools all work together to damage educational outcomes and our children’s opportunities for the future.

We need to sever the ties between federal funding and state education policy, as well as promote more school choice at the local level. Only this will help break up the textbook monopoly and give parents more control over what their children are learning.


The Inherent Defectiveness of Public Schooling

The Washington Post reported yesterday that an outgoing superintendent of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, Joshua P. Starr, is lamenting the short tenure of school superintendents. Starr took the job of school superintendent in 2011 and is now leaving because he failed to garner the support of the local school board.

Starr stated, “I think the expectations for the superintendent can be not aligned with reality sometimes. People want to see dramatic improvement quickly. The expectation that a superintendent can do it alone I think just doesn’t work well. And we also have to comply with the accountability regs from the state and the feds.

Unfortunately, all too many believers in public schools just don’t get it: It doesn’t matter who they get to be superintendent, and it doesn’t matter what reforms they adopt. It won’t make any difference whatsoever. The problem with public schooling is public schooling. It is an inherently defective system. When a system is inherently defective, that means it cannot be fixed and it cannot be reformed. In fact, oftentimes when a system is inherently defective, any reforms only make the situation worse.

Why is public schooling inherently defective? In the final analysis, it is a socialist system and as most everyone knows by now, socialism itself is an inherently defective paradigm. It always produces a shoddy product no matter who is in charge of the system and no matter what reforms are brought to the system. The only solution to socialism is the dismantling of socialism, which means the free market. The free market is the only system that works. It produces the best possible product.

Consider the public schooling system in Montgomery County. Eight people on a school board are planning, in a top-down, command-and-control manner, the education of 154,000 students. That is no different in principle from the old central planning models employed by the Soviet Union, those in which a central board planned the production of clothing, food, and other important things. The results in terms of quality of product were always horrendous. The only solution was to dismantle the boards, the commissions, and the central planning and to leave the production of goods and services entirely to the free market.

That normally is a scary thing to people who have become dependent on socialist systems. “What if the free market fails to produce any shoes at all?” a person might ask. “What if all the shoes produced are in the wrong sizes?”

It’s no different with respect to educational socialism. “What if children fail to learn?” What if parents are irresponsible?”

But as someone once said, better to be educated not at all than to be educated by the state.

There are many reasons for that. Education by the state is really army-lite. Think about what the army teaches people — regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking are not treasured traits within the military structure. In fact, the military does everything they can to stamp them out of its members.

It’s no different with public schooling. It’s army-lite — an environment of regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Like the army, public school authorities stamp out individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking.

True education is a seeking process, one in which a person voraciously seeks to acquire more knowledge about a particular area about which he is passionate. When a person gets interested in a particular subject, he will do everything he can to learn about it, which oftentimes means learning about other areas that relate to the primary area of interest. Ultimately, a person might seek out a tutor, a class, or even a school that specializes in the area he’s interested in.

That’s what makes education fun and exciting.

From birth to the age of six, it’s that natural love of learning that characterizes everyone. Think about that infamous 3-letter word that bedevils every parent of every child six or under: Why? Why? Why?

By the time the child has spent 12 years in public school, that three-letter word has been smashed out of him. The passionate love of learning is gone. All that matters is doing well on the tests, which inevitably involves lots of memorization. Getting good grades is all that matters because that’s how one gets into college.

At the same time, over those twelve years of state schooling, children have been molded into becoming what one might call a “good, little citizen,” one who is a cog in a vast machinery, deferring to authority, blindly supporting the authorities in whatever they are doing, and not questioning the political, economic, or educational systems in any fundamental way.

Central planning isn’t the only socialistic characteristic of public schooling. Attendance is compulsory and financing is done through force. The textbooks are chosen by the government. The schoolteachers, no matter how good and how dedicated they are, are government employees and must, in the final analysis, make certain that what they are teaching is acceptable to the authorities. That’s why one could do a study of every public school in the land and find very few, if any, courses taught on libertarianism, a subject that is growing in popularity across the land.

In fact, libertarianism provides a good example of how genuine education works. Most every libertarian in the country today knows about libertarianism because he has sought it out and educated himself on libertarian principles. Since libertarianism is a subject that is not taught n public schools or even most state-supported colleges and universities, libertarians have gone out and done the studying themselves, at nights, on weekends, and during work or school breaks. They have found the books, the websites, and the conferences. They seek knowledge, rather than have it crammed into them by others. They don’t memorize, they just learn. And they are passionate about what they are learning. It’s fun for them. It’s like they were age 0-6 again.

That’s the way education should be for everybody, in whatever area they get passionate about. Unfortunately, the public school system, which people would like to think is about education, actually destroys education by destroying the love of learning that comes to every single person naturally.

No reform can fix that. Neither can getting better school superintendents. The only solution to public schooling is to dismantle it — to separate school and state — to rely on freedom and the free market for education.


Australia: Back to basics! Student teachers will have to pass literacy and maths tests before they are allowed to graduate

All student teachers will have to pass a reading, writing and maths test before they can graduate.

The new rule will come into force across Australia in 2016 as part of an overhaul of teacher training.

The government has pledged 'swift and decisive action' to improve the education of teachers, as it releases a report on Friday about how to do just that.

The review, led by Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, found some courses were not up to scratch and said the standard across the board had to be lifted.

In response, the government will beef up regulator Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

All universities offering teaching courses face tougher accreditation to make sure standards are high and kept that way.

As part of that new accreditation process, universities will have to prove they have strong partnerships with schools.

This should ensure student teachers get to spend more time in real classrooms instead of university lecture halls and make sure what they are learning matches the skills they will need in the real world.

Professor Craven said having close partnerships between universities and schools was 'the single most important action to be pursued'.

The review found there were many concerns about how 'classroom-ready' beginner teachers were under the current system.

And there isn't enough professional support for new teachers, which can lead to them leaving the job altogether.

The review recommended every new teacher be paired with a highly skilled mentor.

It also said universities must take personal attributes into account when recruiting people into teaching courses, and that trainees should get classroom time early in their study so they can decide if teaching is really for them.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the review set high expectations for everyone involved in initial teacher education including universities.

'It also makes a clear case that providers be held accountable for the quality of the teaching graduates they produce,' he said.

Mr Pyne hopes the majority of the review's five key proposals and 38 recommendations will be implemented within two years.


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