Tuesday, December 31, 2002

30 December, 2002


Present realities are the best argument for making education voucher-funded:

If money were the answer, Washington public schools would be the best in the nation -- if not the world. Per student expenditures are $10,500 a year, second highest in the nation. With a student-teacher ration of 15.8, they have smaller-than-average class sizes. What is the result?

In only one of the city's 19 high schools do as many as 50 percent of its students test as proficient in reading, and at no school are 50 percent of the students proficient in math. At nine high schools, only 5 percent or fewer of its students test proficient in reading; and in 11 high schools, only 5 percent or less are proficient in math. The story gets worse when we look at the percentages for "below basic" performance, which means that the student has little or no mastery of subject skills.

But that's not the worst of the story: Each year, more than 80 percent -- and up to 96 percent -- of high school students are promoted to the next grade. This is nothing but fraud, dishonesty and deception, plain and simple. While the education establishment can rightfully point to education problems beyond their control, -- irresponsible parents, students with alien and hostile minds, and rotten teaching conditions -- they bear the sole responsibility for fraudulent promotions and fraudulent diplomas.

The bottom line is that if one didn't know better, one would think that Washington's predominantly black public school system was being run by the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, hell-bent on a mission to sabotage black academic excellence. Instead, it's a system being run by blacks for blacks.

More here.


15 December, 2002


Marc Miyake has been having a lot of fun about some crazy college course where students are allowed to pick up trash as part of their credit for studying English composition! Everybody already knows that a lot of educational qualifications are pretty useless so one wonders what sort of favour the college thinks it is doing its students by now totally demolishing the credibility of any credentials that any student will receive from it: Typical Leftist failure to consider the disastrous consequences of their "compassionate" policies.


9 December, 2002


This is what passes for education at the University of Michigan. Read this excerpt from one female student's account of a COMPULSORY "course" she had to do there:

We had to go around and talk about at least one way in which we have been/are oppressed. When my turn came up, and I answered that I have never been oppressed, the instructor corrected me, saying that I must have been, as I'm female. I persisted, saying that being female has never been anything short of a blessing for me. The instructor was relentless, insisting that I was necessarily oppressed at one point in my life. The instructor asked to speak with me after class. He was visibly shaken and angry. He told me that my classroom behavior was disruptive in the least (although I was never voluntarily disagreeing), and that I would be kicked out of class and would thereby lose my job and my housing for the next year unless I learned to be more cooperative."

Link via Cruel Shoes


2 December, 2002


Wow! Razib (who appears to be a dark-skinned American whose parents came from the Indian subcontinent) pulls no punches about the reasons why even those African-American students who come from middle-class homes are not doing well at school.

I think that he overlooks the most obvious reason for the failure, though: "regression to the mean". As a statistical phenomenon that is rather beyond full explication on a blog but hopefully it will suffice to say that middle class blacks would be way above the black average on (for instance) IQ and ANY parent who is way above the average on any characteristic can expect to have children closer to the group average on that characteristic. Middle class whites, on the other hand, are probably only a little above their group mean on IQ so regression effects among their children are much smaller.


29 November, 2002


There seems to be a lot of nonsense around at the moment about offering education in a special mushy form so that "the lesser races" can understand it. Marc Miyake has been especially scathing about the situation in Hawaii, where it is now proposed that "Hawaiian" mathematics be taught in the schools.

Australia's WogBlog, however has done a delicious spoof of the whole idea in his post of 28th. It helps if you have ever been to the Western suburbs of Sydney to understand it all but I think most people will have a laugh anyway.


25 November, 2002


Brian Micklethwaite is one of the Samizdata team. He has been interested in educational policy for a long time. I remember discussing such matters with him when I was in London in the 70s and 80s. The latest expression of that interest is a new blog devoted entirely to a discussion of educational policy.

His basic dilemma seems to be how to reconcile his strong libertarian principles with some rather conservative instincts about what an education should consist of. For instance, in response to a recent post of mine, he ended up concluding that a "Prussian" system of education has some merit!

I think Brian is crucifying himself unnecessarily, however. There is indeed a continuum of schools from "Prussian" to "permissive" but that is not the usual choice parents have. I can speak only of Australia from experience but certainly here most schools would be around the middle of the continuum. And in the grand old Anglo-Saxon tradition of compromise, I think that is a good place to be. Kids are not allowed to run riot nor are they oppressed.

Another issue Brian has is whether education should be compulsory. I think any libertarian would argue that it should not be compulsory but it is going to be compulsory forever and a day as far as I can see so the only issue that interests me is how to live with that. And maximizing parental choice seems to be the libertarian way to go there.

The USA is now just beginning to use "vouchers" to maximize educational choice but there is huge resistance to it. The Australian system is less purist but achieves something of the same ends with only token resistance. Here the Federal government simply gives subsidies to private schools -- subsidies that come pretty close to what is spent per pupil on government schools. So I send my son to a private school and it costs me a fairly token sum. So "choice" CAN be achieved within the existing system and I am happy to live in one country that has achieved a degree of choice.

Brian also has some grumbles about the bad effect of TV watching and computer games on education but he seems to be rethinking that one in the light of recent evidence that both are beneficial.

The big issue, however, is educational standards and there seems to be a widespread consensus on the conservative side of politics that standards are low almost everywhere these days -- a consensus in which Brian seems to participate. I do too. Education has definitely been "dumbed down" by our Left-leaning educators in recent decades.

The irony of this is that it is those for whom the Leftists claim "compassion" who are most hurt by this. Bright kids will do well in any system. My 15-year-old son, for instance, has written his first novel and dips into Homer from time to time -- and he was NOT taught to do those things at school! Nor did I suggest those things to him either. He just has an enquiring and creative mind.

But average kids who need to be LED into more intellectual effort just do not seem to get that these days. So the Leftists have, as usual, betrayed those they purport to help. I think parental activism is the only cure there. "Vegie" education is all that less gifted kids will get unless parents do start to protest in some way. (In case "vegie" is a solely Australian expression, what I mean is that the kids will be treated at about the level of vegetables).


19 November, 2002


I do occasionally get emails from Leftists. Here is an excerpt from one:

[Conservatives] do not think about how society has helped them get where they are and about maintaining a cohesive supportive society, but instead only think of what will immediately put more money in their pocket. The extreme example is the wealth childless business owner who feels that he should not have to pay taxes that go towards educating children that are not his. Yet he fails to realize that without a good education system, there would not be a large amount of reasonably priced skilled professional labor that makes his business run.

To which I replied:

Your thoughts about greed are reasonable IF and only IF you assume that government provision of education etc is important. Conservatives reject that utterly. Almost any conservative these days thinks that public schools are punk. That is why they want vouchers to help them choose a private school instead. The same goes for hospitals, health insurance, superannuation for old age etc. Conservatives object to being forced to pay in taxes money that they know will be spent stupidly. Passing a law to say that everybody MUST take out health insurance and age insurance (of their choice) would be as far as conservatives would like to go. If people got back what they now pay in taxes they would be a lot better able to afford it too.

I might add that the above reply was for what appeared to be an American reader. The Australian situation is a bit different. State schools here are generally quite reasonable -- perhaps in part because the government provides funding for private schools at a level not much lower than the level of funding provided to State schools. That means that the annual fees I pay to send my son to a large local private High School are only $800 (in US dollars).

Kids in almost all Australian schools do however get subjected to some level of lying Red/Green propaganda -- such as "global warming" and "blacks are just like us only browner". That in turn reflects the attitudes of those who teach the teachers -- our very Leftist universities and colleges.


18 November, 2002


Come to the good old US of A for a Fascist education! No, not in the 1930s -- right now. Jeff Jacoby sets it all out in detail.



Who would have thought that US universities would one day become hotbeds of antisemitism? Once they would have rejected antisemitism outright and condemned it as racism. Yet thoroughly antisemitic they are today -- as Arlene Peck sets out at some length.


10 November, 2002


There is a good post on Clayton Cramer's blog in which he takes on Leftist economist Mark Kleiman over the issue of government funding for private schools. Now that support for educational choice by way of a voucher system is gradually being implemented in the USA, lots of people are asking "but where should we draw the line?" Some of my US correspondents have even asked me that. Should the US taxpayer support wacko schools that (for instance) teach Muslim fundamentalism? One is inclined to say "No" but if we do say "no" the danger is that we will give the green light for Leftist bureaucrats to set up another vast layer of bureaucracy that will end up withold funding for schools that the Leftists disapprove of: Which will effectively give them the last laugh. So the only safe rule is: "Draw no lines". Fund the lot. It's a pity that we cannot be more selective but ANY selectivity would be sure to have even worse results than giving open slather. If some fanatical parents use the chance to indoctrinate their kids into some wacko religion, the kids will probably just end up rebelling sometime in their teenage years anyway and modelling themselves on Homer Simpson instead. And as Clayton points out, the schools are ALREADY heavily politicized (in a Leftist direction) so we really have nothing to lose.

Here in Australia and New Zealand, schoolkids at the moment get fed a lot of nonsensical Greenie propaganda about global warming and the like. My impression, however, is that this serves mainly to bore the kids to death: Which I regard as not too bad an outcome. In the end propaganda is no substitute for real education.


17 August, 2002

A rather clear example of the current insane pursuit of at least nominal equality is the way that almost all students in some places now pass their final high-school examinations. In Britain in 2002, for instance, 94% of A-level students passed and the UK educational authorities, far from being embarrassed, asserted that they hope soon to get 100% of students passing (BBC Thursday, 15 August, 2002, GMT 04:29). This does of course achieve the Leftist ideal of Procrustean equality but at the expense of making an A-level pass completely uninformative, meaningless and useless. Despite such cosmetic and obscurantist nonsense, reality still asserts itself of course. As the bare certificate has now become meaningless, students subsequently have to be assessed in more difficult and complicated ways -- either by use of additional tests or by use of the relative marks each student got within the examination.