In "Left behind," Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom argue that the racial gap in educational achievement can be closed if we follow the example of the best charter schools. Do charter schools provide an answer to a national crisis?
The problem with public education is that it's public. Only when the government gets out of the education business will the schools improve. U.S. students led the world in the late 1800's. When the public education movement began, ironically, Mark Twain, who was on the committee promoting it, neatly exempted his own daughter! Isn't it interesting that liberals side-step the messes they impose on the rest of us? (As an aside, federal employees aren't in the Social Security system). It sounds a little crass, but schools should be private, like restaurants. The good ones will succeed and the bad ones will fail. The power will be in the hands of the people, not the unions and the government. The quality will be uneven, but Winston Churchill once said that capitalism distributes wealth unevenly, but socialism distributes poverty evenly. The people can't stand chaos, so it's inevitable that public education will collapse. Public education is a power grab. But paradoxically, that reduces your power. Spreading freedom increases power.
Summers has a tough job if he is fretting about basics at the collegiate level. How about stressing basics at elementary, middle and the first three years of high school?
The Globe left out one of Abigail's relevant affiliations: she's on the board of the Pioneer Institute, a major lobbyist and consultant to charter schools. She is one of several on the state board with this affiliation, which accounts for their bias against public schools. Charter schools are not the answer; the answer, despite their dismissal of it, is smaller classes and more resources for public schools. And, a teacher's experience is the most important factor in making an excellent teacher, not how many degrees they have. I wonder: has Abigail ever taught a K-12 classroom herself?
I guess we should be partially grateful to the Thernstroms for arguing against the traditional, failed prescriptions for education. But their argument is, at least in the Globe article, inconsistent with itself and broader data on the racial achievement gap. It’s easy agree with part 1 of their article: a substantial racial gap (usually measured at about 1 standard deviation) exists independent of socioeconomic status (SES), school spending and other frequently cited excuses. The data is overwhelming in this regard. It also seems obvious that the US school systems, public schools in particular, have inflicted great damage to the potential of their students over the last hundred years, part 2 of their argument. Pedagogy is the primary culprit (a de-emphasis of basic learning skills and teaching rigor), but other factors such as the breakdown in discipline also contribute. Smarter teachers and common sense lesson plans, of course, will improve performance. But how are parts 1 and 2 connected? By their own example in the opening paragraph, blacks and whites from the same community, going to the same school system, from families with the same SES still evidence the yawning gap in performance. It’s not that they went to different schools with different teachers in different systems. But this is a good example because it shows the gap exists not just between the inner city and the suburbs, it exists everywhere. Better curriculum, better textbooks and better teachers help everyone, but that doesn’t close the gap. In fact, there’s good evidence that as the tools of education get better the gap expands. (Better tools, educational or otherwise, always benefit the most talented in a group more than the less talented – the former simply have the ability to use them to a greater extent). Perhaps the Thernstroms are caught in these seeming contradictions because they don’t recognize the two most likely explanations for the gap: culture and cognitive ability. John McWhorter (“Losing the Race, Self Sabotage in Black America”), William Raspberry (recent Globe and Washington Post articles), Arthur Jensen (“The G Factor”), and Charles Murray (“Losing Ground: American Social Policy” and “The Bell Curve”) are all more instructive as to causes and solutions than the Thernstroms’ self-limited analysis.
The future of our democracy lies in the ability to provide free, equal, quality education to all. To move to a charter or private model, we will not only admit defeat, but also veer away from the principle that "anybody can make it" here in the USA.
To Peter from Cambridge..how is privatizing all schools going to make things any better?? Its such a shame that there are people in this country that think education should be treated as a business. That is not going to solve anything in the long run. At least you recognize where the problem is and that's where it should be fixed. The government needs to fix up all the schools and make sure that every teacher gets a good wage. None of this "some are more equal than others" crap. Every public school deserves the same facilities, same budgets,same class size, etc. That is what fair and equal education is all about. Granted there are teachers out there that should not be teaching but the solution starts from the ground up. You dont expect miracles from teachers that have no budgets and horrible salaries. Instead, we treat people unfairly and expect them to improve things out of nothing. As if more testing is going to improve anything. And with Bush's "no child left behind" program we can already see the downside to this issue. Schools are now giving false information about their drop out rates just so kids will come to their schools. As a result, schools are now behaving like used car dealerships. Its mind boggling when a problem becomes so obvious people look elsewhere to fix it. They actually avoid the issue. Of course there is a beauracracy in our public schools as there is in our government itself but the issue does not change. Our schools NEED more money to improve period. Teachers are not the root of the problem. Our government is the problem and they are the ones that turn the problem around . So as far as privatizing is concerned...I have no idea how you expect every family to afford a private education. Its a ridiculous argument and its absurd that anyone would think to bring that up. Oh and we liberals are just so naive....I love it.
Is anyone else sick of this constant whining? When my brothers and I were in school in the 1970's-1980's, it was without question that our "job" was to go to school and to learn. Whose fault is it if students don't come prepared to do their jobs? My father was blue collar and yet he and my mother managed to send my brothers to private school for much of their education. Don't bother asking me for a voucher if you want to send your kids to private school. I already pay for public education. Private school is a "luxury". You want it, pay for it yourself.
Kim, formerly of Ipswich
Folllowup to earlier post: see excellent review of Thernstroms' book at following link: http://www.vdare.com/sailer/no_excuses.htm
Charter schools are not the answer to the educational gap. I believe public education, although flawed, is one of the best means in elevating someone to a higher social class. Charter schools do have a way of addressing some of these flaws in our educational system, but at a price. Becuase, charter schools also compete for the same dollars allotted to other area schools. So, in the end, the only people who suffer our the children.
I know one way the racial gap in educational achievement can be closed-more two parent families and supportive family structures from those racial groups. Time for some responsibility. There is nothing public schools can do if there is no father at home! or the child is being raised by his grandmother. Give me a break.