Thursday, February 05, 2015

Tragic School Stories

By Walter E. Williams

New York's schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away. That was Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch's message to New York's governor and Legislature. She said that minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success.

Simply calling for more school resources will produce disappointing results. There are several minimum requirements that must be met for any child to do well in school. Someone must make the youngster do his homework, ensure that he gets eight to nine hours of sleep, feed him breakfast and make sure that he behaves in school and respects the teachers. None of these requirements can be satisfied by larger education budgets. They must be accomplished by families, or all else is for naught.

Linda Ball, a public high-school history and government teacher in Cincinnati, has written an engaging book about her experiences, titled "185 Days: School Stories." Let's look at a few of her days.

On Day 167, Mrs. Ball ordered a student to the in-school discipline room for disruption and being in her class without permission. When the student finally decided to leave the room, he told her, "F—- you," and then he swatted her on the head with some papers. In her Day 10 section, there's a brief story about how respect is earned. Wesley, a student with an IQ of 140, did an outstanding job on a paper about the Enlightenment but completed only half his assignment and earned an F. Jake, a student repeating her class, told Wesley, "I have newfound respect for you today." Failure earns respect.

Here's one result of Mrs. Ball's assignment to propose a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, written by a high-school senior: "I think the 28th Amendment should be about a choice weather (sic) to join school or not. I think it should be a choice not something you have to do. Because school just ain't for someone like me. For example school just ain't for me."

Then there's "Day 44: The Graduate." David, a senior, hasn't learned much since the third grade, but he has been passed along and is about to graduate. Mrs. Ball says that not everyone needs to be able to analyze a literary character's motives or whether the U.S. motives in the Spanish-American War were justified. David should have been spared the torture and given suitable activities. He could surely wash cafeteria tables, run errands and change oil and tires. She asks why educators try to force square pegs into round holes year after year, kid after kid.

The grossly poor education that so many blacks receive exacerbates racial problems. During last year's disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, some people complained that of the city's 53 police officers, only four were black. Such an observation typically leads to suggestions of racial discrimination but never leads to a question about the ability of black high-school graduates to pass a civil service exam.

It's natural for a black man with a high-school diploma to see himself as equal to a white man with a high-school diploma. In his eyes, differences in employer treatment are ascribed to racial discrimination. It dawns on few that the average black high-school graduate has the level of academic achievement of a white seventh- or eighth-grader or lower. The black high-school graduates who have unearned diplomas have no knowledge of their being fraudulent. If black politicians and civil rights leaders know it, they refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

The bottom line is that if nothing is done to affect the home life and cultural values that produce the non-learning attitudes and climate that are the subject of Linda Ball's "185 Days: School Stories," there's little that can be done to improve black education. The best that politicians can do is to give parents and children who are serious about education a mechanism to opt out of rotten schools. That option is something the education establishment fights tooth and nail against.


Taxing College Savings

In less time than it takes to fill out a college application, Barack Obama dropped his plan to tax 529 college savings accounts in order to offer two "free" (ahem) years of community college. Just seven days after floating the idea in the State of the Union address, the White House deduced that it had become such a "distraction" as to warrant abandonment.

Given this administration's penchant for coming up with, and then bitterly clinging to, economically disastrous ideas (ObamaCare, anyone?), political resistance was quick and universal enough that even Obama couldn't ignore reality.

You see, 529s are education savings plans that help families set aside money for college. While contributions are not tax-deductible on federal tax returns, distributions from the funds to pay for college are tax-free, making 529 plans highly attractive for families wanting to save for their children's education. The problem -- well, one among many -- is that the president seemed to assume those who take advantage of these accounts are "rich," defined in his parallel universe as those who make $250,000 per year. So taxing these accounts would be the obvious choice in Obama's class-warfare utopia. Shared responsibility and all.

He grossly underestimated the backlash given how many middle-class people actually have college savings. As of last year, there were more than 12 million accounts, and the average balance was $19,774 -- far less than the $240,000 the Obamas put into college savings for their private-school-educated daughters in one year alone.

Furthermore, according to the College Savings Foundation, some 70% of 529 accounts are held by households earning less than $150,000 per year -- hardly "rich." Almost 10% are held by households making less than $50,000 per year, and nearly 95% of 529 plans are owned by households making less than $250,000 annually. The president can't pass this one off as trying to tax the One Percent.

Still, demonstrating his ever-present disconnect from reality, he actually pitched his proposal as part of his "middle-class economics" plan. He defines this campaign theme as "the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

In reality, Obamanomics means government calls the shots, fair share is forcibly relinquishing what you earn fair and square to those who do squat, and the rules are whatever the latest executive order says they are. It would be better known as middle-crush economics.

Far from helping the middle class, Obama's plan took direct aim at average Americans, as the truly "rich" often pay out of pocket for college and the poor are eligible for financial aid, something middle-class families are often deemed too well-off to receive.

The idea that anyone would propose such a middle-class-crushing tax seems ludicrous, but it's par for the course when you're trying to fund exponentially bigger government and running out of revenue sources.

The president must have realized things were bad when two of his top cheerleaders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), pleaded with him to drop the idea. They realized that nothing says "don't re-elect me" quite like "I want to scalp your college savings."

While some may call the plan a political blunder, at the end of the day it was simply a case of Obama exposing his true economic philosophy. As Robert Tracinski notes, "The truly committed leftist looks upon our private savings as a vast reserve of capital unfairly withheld from its proper function of servicing the needs of the state."

So don't think the president's money grab is over. Instead, be on the lookout for what he'll try to commandeer next.


Tories pledge leap in 'Three Rs' - with plans to push England from 26th to 5th in the world for maths and reading

The biggest ever leap in the standard of the 'three Rs' has been pledged by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Mrs Morgan will this week set out ambitious plans to rocket England to the top of the European league tables for reading and maths by 2020 – and become fifth best in the world.

Mrs Morgan says the dramatic rise in literacy and numeracy – which will be a cornerstone of the Tory manifesto – can be achieved by driving up standards in the 'three Rs' – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Under a future Conservative Government, all 11 year olds will be expected to:

*   Know their times tables up to 12 x 12 by heart.
*  Handle long division and complex multiplication.

*    Write a short story without errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation.

*   Read and understand a novel.

If Mrs Morgan fails to live up to her bold promise, she can expect to pay a heavy price.

Former Labour Education Secretary Estelle Morris was forced to resign in 2002 after she made a similarly bold declaration – and failed to deliver.

However, Mrs Morgan – one of the rising stars of the Government – has given herself some wriggle room by saying that she will be judged on whether she has met her target by tests in 2021, one year after the next Parliament if, as expected, it lasts until 2020.

At present Shanghai, China is top of the world league in maths, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and, in fifth place, Korea. The Netherlands are 10th, Germany 16th, Australia 19th with France one place ahead of England at 25th.

To leapfrog Korea into fifth place, the standard of maths in England would have to increase by a huge 12 per cent.

The pledge by Mrs Morgan amounts to her first major policy announcement since replacing Michael Gove as Education Secretary last July.

She will be keen to make her mark on the department after being called 'U-turn Nicky' for reversing some of Mr Gove's policies such as snap inspections of schools to root out Islamic extremism and relaxing rules on taking children out of school in term time.

Education is expected to be a key Election battleground, with polls indictaing that Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck on the issue.

As part of the new drive, Mrs Morgan will also toughen up existing tests in the 'three Rs' for all children when they leave primary school.

And there will be stiff sanctions for schools which do not meet Mrs Morgan's standards: those which fail to ensure all pupils master the basics of English and maths for two years in a row will be forced to become academies free of town hall control, or join up with local high-performing schools.

At present only one in four state schools are academies.


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