David Leonard’s Upshot article in today’s NYTimes describes the results from a recent study completed by Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills research at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group that brought us the PISA test. According to the OECD, US Principals are more likely than their counterparts in other parts of the world to “…believe that many of their students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.” The study also reports that “Based on the views of principals, a larger share of children in the United States are “socioeconomically disadvantaged” compared with those in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries.
Leonard offers a rationale for the first finding:
The usual caveats about correlation and causation apply, though. It’s also possible that an outside factor is driving the results of the survey question. The United States, for example, has an extensive and high-profile program of subsidizing lunches for lower-income children. If that program were driving principals’ definition of socioeconomic disadvantage, and other countries did not have similar programs, it could explain why this country is an outlier in the survey. In that case, American principals may or may not have lower academic expectations of their students.
Neither the OECD nor Mr. Leonard posed the question about the student demographics of “…Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries” but I would guess that none of those countries offer universal education to all students through high school and that many of them do not have or aggressively enforce child labor laws. Given those assumptions, it may be true that those countries, in fact, do have fewer “socioeconomically disadvantaged” children in their schools. I did some quick Google research and, using some of the data and some back-of-the-envelope lowball estimates offered the following comment:
Your notion that the principals answered honestly based on free and reduced lunch counts is plausible given the number of students who now qualify for that program, which is a proxy for “sociological disadvantage”. It is interesting that Mr. Schleicher is willing to suggest causality between expectations and performance based on the answer to a question posed to school principals on a questionnaire whose statistical basis is arguable but is unwilling to acknowledge ANY causality between poverty levels and academic performance as measured by a (presumably) valid standardized test (e.g. the PISA). Most voters and taxpayers like the notion that all you need to do is expect more from students and they will perform better academically. It’s an easy, quick and cheap fix to a complicated problem that requires time and— yes—money.
Add “set higher expectations” to the long list of agreeable fantasies that fuel the fire of those who want easy, quick, and, most of all, CHEAP fixes to improving public education.
Myrtle Beach Online posted an editorial from the Los Angeles Times with the chilling title “Children in the United States Get an Unequal Education; That’s Unfair But Unlikely to Change in the Future”. The editorial describes the workaround several affluent districts have come up with to work around the CA law that says public schools can’t charge for courses. It seems that several districts have established private foundations that are offering AP summer school courses to students who can pay $600 to $800 to enroll.
In CA these privately funded foundations are nothing new. As districts cut “frills” like art, music, PE, clubs, and transportation to-and-from school, as a result of budget pressures created under proposition 13, parents in affluent communities banded together to form foundations whose mission was to raise money to restore these budget cuts. Of course not every district has the wherewithal to create a foundation and not every district has parents who can afford to pay a de facto user fee… but districts were hard pressed to squelch this grassroots movement and taxpayers loved it because they could have it both ways: lower bills for them and no complaints from the engaged and affluent parents who willingly accepted the “user fee” model. After all, parents are increasingly used to digging into their pockets to pay for activities like little league, soccer leagues, gymnastics, music lessons, etc. We don’t ask the public to subsidize those activities, why should they pay for, say, art, music, PE, school buses… or a wide array of elective courses at the HS?
If you don’t think this trend is heading eastward, take a look at the deliberations going on when your school budget is being considered. User fees are increasingly used for athletics and clubs and PTOs are called on more and more to buy materials of instruction and technology. And when someone reads a headline from a nationally known newspaper that reads “Children in the United States Get an Unequal Education; That’s Unfair But Unlikely to Change in the Future”… what are they to do? Question the conventional wisdom that while it IS unfair it is equally unlikely to change in the future?
Alas, the editors at Myrtle Beach Online’s headline reads “Better Educated Public School Kids For A Price”. They seem to be acquiescing to the notion that unfairness cannot be addressed… that they are accepting the price of unequally educated populous rather than paying the price of higher taxes to provide equitable opportunities for all children.
I read a recent Huffington Post essay titled “Koch High: How the Koch Brothers are Buying Their Way Into the Minds of Public School Students” with a combination of revulsion, horror, and fascination. The extended article describes the evolution of the Young Entrepreneurs (YE) program, a program ostensibly designed to help disadvantaged teenagers learn and apply entrepreneurial skills but explicitly designed to counter the “left’s” efforts to “infiltrate” public schools.
I was revolted by the Young Entrepreneurs program because, at its root, it is brainwashing. Here are some paragraphs that support this assertion:
The focus on high school students is a key part of the Kochs’ long-term effort to create a libertarian-minded society from the ground up.
“We hope to develop students’ appreciation of liberty by improving free-market education,” the Koch associates wrote during the program’s initial planning stages. “Ultimately, we hope this will change the behavior of students who will apply these principles later on in life.”
“We are operating under the assumption that high-school students do not receive an education that gives them an understanding and an affinity toward free markets… Without the knowledge or affinity for free markets, students cannot appreciate the role that free markets play in laying the foundations for prosperity and freedom in society.”
The article details the kinds of recruiting and training conducted by the Koch brothers. The organization uses libertarian listservs to identify teachers who will be sympathetic to the training and provided an examples of the videos and “textbooks” (including ones written by the Koch brothers themselves) that were required reading. and offered examples of quiz questions like:
- “If people who make very little money have modern conveniences, are they really poor?”
- “True or False: International trade should be heavily regulated for the good of a country’s economy”
And the article is sprinkled with examples of Newspeak from the libertarians, two of which are highlighted in the following paragraph describing the YE curriculum:
Today, to teach its most controversial lessons, YE often relies on videos provided by the Charles Koch-chaired Institute for Humane Studies, which operates out of George Mason University in Virginia. The videos are produced and marketed under an institute arm called Learn Liberty, which offers dozens of educational videos on libertarian and conservative topics
Who could possibly oppose “Humane Studies” or a course that advocates “liberty”?
I reacted with horror because the underlying economics echo a prediction I made regarding the ultimate effects of the private-public partnerships now advocated and embraced by the President… and echoed statements I might have made as School superintendent in the 1990s when school-business partnerships seemed like an innocuous win-win opportunity. Here’s a description of how YE got its foothold in Kansas:
Kansas is a particularly ripe state for YE to target. In addition to serving as Koch Industries’ home base, the state has a public school system hungry for extra help: It’s so underfunded that a few months ago the state’s Supreme Court deemed school funding levels unconstitutionally low. (see earlier posts on this topic)
(Topeka School superintendent) Singer saw YE as a welcome boon to the ailing school system — the latest in a long string of partnerships that turned to outsiders to increase school resources for free. He came across the organization when teachers involved in an entrepreneurial club brought YE materials to his attention.
“If you can generate revenue outside of taxation, that’s a positive thing,” said Singer… “We couldn’t have done what we did in Topeka, in giving opportunities for kids, had we not had our business partners.”
So… starve the schools of resources so that they cannot offer elective courses in, say, business education… or afford to operate after school clubs in, say, entrepreneurship and then provide stipends to teachers and “grants” to disadvantaged students to offset the programs formerly funded and overseen by the schools. The whole scheme puts superintendents and school boards in political peril if they refuse the “opportunity” to offer a program that describes “the benefits of the free enterprise system” and gives hard-working and diligent students an opportunity for success. But as this article indicates, if you accept the money you need to accept the content of the curriculum… and Koch’s curriculum is far from “fair and balanced”.
I was fascinated with the Koch brother’s techniques in the same way that I am fascinated with the techniques of propagandists and advertisers. Like the technology corporations that gather information about us without our knowledge or explicit approval, the Koch brothers are developing ways of inculcating values into public schools and teenagers… and they are casting “liberty” as being more important than “compassion”. When a quiz includes a question like “If people who make very little money have modern conveniences, are they really poor?” they are feeding into the idea that you can’t claim to be poor if you have a flush toilet and a flat-screen television. They are, in effect, reinforcing the notion that the possession of “things” is sufficient and one should not feel compassion for those individuals who can afford “modern conveniences” because they have everything they need.
We need liberty and we need compassion. Liberty, to me, means the opportunity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of every form of economics and governance— and yes, capitalism and democracy have weaknesses as well as strengths… and one of the strengths when both are working in harmony is the provision of a sound infrastructure through taxes. Compassion, to me, means empathizing with and providing for those less fortunate, even if those less fortunate have “modern conveniences”.
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