Fixing Schools Requires Changing the Social Contract

Solving the problems created by neighborhood-based schools isn't going to be easy.

Several Facebook friends are debating a charged piece at The Root titled “Watch: Roomful of Rich, White NYC Parents Get Big Mad at Plan to Diversify Neighborhood’s Schools.”

Anyone laboring under the delusion that New York City is a progressive bastion need look no further than the city’s school system, which remains among the most segregated in the country.

In an effort to fight that trend, which has only gotten worse thanks to gentrification, rising income and wealth inequality throughout the city’s five boroughs, schools on the Upper West Side—one of the wealthiest and whitest sections of Manhattan—are looking to adopt a plan that would require all local middle schools to reserve a quarter of their seats for students who score below grade level on state English and math tests.

The plan is designed to make Upper West Side schools more reflective of New York City’s diverse demographics, and make sure underprivileged students have access to the sorts of advantages and resources that the neighborhood’s well-funded schools can provide.

Well, that plan didn’t go over so well in a room full of wealthy white parents.

Local TV station Spectrum News NY1 captured footage of a contentious meeting during which rich, white Manhattanites shouted, ranted and complained about the perceived disadvantages their children would face.

The parents couldn’t fathom their children not getting into the middle school of their choice because they might have to hand their seat over to a black or Latinx child.

“You’re talking about an 11-year-old, you worked your butt off and you didn’t get that, what you needed or wanted,” said one big-mad woman. “You’re telling them that you’re not going to go to a school that’s going to educate them the same way you’ve been educated. Life sucks!”

District officials didn’t take the parents’ heated comments lying down. As News NY1 reports, virtually all of the district’s principals and many of the elected parent-leaders support the desegregation plan. During the meeting, middle school principal Henry Zymeck clapped back at the angry parents.

“There are kids that are tremendously disadvantaged,” he said. “And to compare these students and say, ‘My already advantaged kid needs more advantage; they need to be kept away from those kids,’ is tremendously offensive to me.”

The city’s highly segregated school system is the result of a number of factors. As Michelle Chen wrote for The Nation, the city’s system of school choice “encourages privileged parents to move to higher-performing, affluent, and often disproportionately white districts, which inevitably leaves behind, and excludes, poor children of color who get stuck in unstable, underfunded schools.”

Gentrification compounds the problem by forcing low-income families out of neighborhoods that were previously underserved; as resources and income pour in, the children of these families are also squeezed out of their schools. Chen notes that academic testing, which applies “rigid standards of ‘merit,'” also results in biased outcomes and helps exacerbate racial and class divisions across the city’s schools.

Because the problems of our educational system are so intertwined with our history of racial segregation, it’s impossible to separate the two issues. But from a public policy standpoint, we really have to.

While I don’t know the specific dynamics of New York City’s situation nearly well enough to comment as to whether this specific proposal is right for them, I support the general concept, not just for the Upper West Side but for the country. It’s simply unconscionable to provide unequal public education to our children based on the ability of their parents to afford to live in the “right” communities. And, again, that’s especially the case when one factors in our history of racial segregation and discrimination.

At the same time, I’m highly sympathetic to the parents being shamed here. Yes, their kids are “advantaged.” In most cases, it’s because their parents worked hard to make that happen. Yes, it’s problematic that the longstanding system “encourages privileged parents to move to higher-performing, affluent, and often disproportionately white districts.” But, having spent a lifetime playing the game by those rules, making the sacrifices entailed in buying a house in a top school district, I’d be madder than hell, too, if my kids’ school was suddenly flooded with “students who score below grade level on state English and math tests.”

Yes, those kids deserve a quality education as much as mine. But, no, I wouldn’t want my girls to get a worse education than they otherwise would have because we’ve suddenly changed the rules of the game.

While much more nuanced than The Root‘s polemic, the linked Chen essay (“New York’s Separate and Unequal Schools“) is oblivious to the politics here.

Decades after Brown v. Board of Education, school segregation is still rendering the nation’s most diverse public school district its most divided, putting children on divergent paths to poverty and privilege virtually from birth, undermining the entire city’s future prospects.

So far, however, [NYC Mayor Bill] de Blasio has treated school segregation as a policy problem to be fixed, rather than a symptom of ingrained structural injustice in the city institutions, from its public housing to its police force. The city’s new school “diversity plan” has centered on tellingly unambitious goals: One aim is creating more racial diversity by boosting enrollment at “racially representative” schools by 50,000 students. To address “economic stratification” across district lines, the mayor aims to shave 10 percent off the proportion of schools (about 150 total) that are considered highly segregated by family income.

The focus on statistics ensures that the changes will be perilously incremental—for example, a school can be up to 90 percent black and Latino and still be considered sufficiently “diverse.” So when the Center for NYC Affairs calculated the impact of the plan, it found that the reforms would not actually dent the overall segregation patterns—and the city’s targets were essentially already on track to be met anyway, through ongoing population shifts, rather than policy interventions. In other words, de Blasio’s diversity plan in its current form wouldn’t do the hard work of desegregation that parents and teachers have been demanding.

Setting arbitrary “diversity” standards obscures the institutional factors driving racial segregation in education. The city’s system of school choice encourages privileged parents to move to higher-performing, affluent, and often disproportionately white districts, which inevitably leaves behind, and excludes, poor children of color who get stuck in unstable, underfunded schools. Gentrification in previously underserved neighborhoods is compounding the division by squeezing low-income families out of their own neighborhoods by raising the cost of living and pushing communities away from their local schools. Many families, in turn, are struggling with eviction as new neighbors jack up the rent on their streets while taking over the local PTA, changing the culture and programming of their children’s education.

[…]

Segregation persists today in part because de facto housing patterns have replaced the more explicit segregation policies of the past, such as real-estate redlining and blockbusting. The demographics of the city’s school districts are changing because neighborhoods are, statistically, becoming more ethnically mixed, but they’re also more divided: As more whites move in, inequality grows and schools become polarized internally by academic performance. This trend is exacerbated by testing systems that sort children based on rigid standards of “meri,” but often result in biased outcomes that are skewed by race and socioeconomic status across public-school institutions. The segregation of neighborhoods is then further aggravated by wholesale housing displacement when rents rise, which erodes the entire neighborhood’s social and cultural fabric. For the mayor’s second term, Kahlenberg argues, “boosting affordable housing will have a direct impact on school integration, particularly at the elementary level.” And on that front, neighborhoods must be seen holistically: “Housing policy is school policy.”

Chen is right to note the complex web of overlapping issues that contribute to the problem. But that’s precisely why criticizing de Blasio for not moving fast enough, when his proposal is already seen as radical, is counterproductive.

Rather clearly, we need to move beyond a system where schools are funded at a micro-local level. Community-based schools can be a fantastic thing in an affluent area where parents care deeply about their children’s education and have the time to support and money to fund it. Affluent parents are simply going to be more willing to say Yes to higher school taxes if the money directly benefits their children and their community. But, of course, that leaves children in communities lacking those advantages in a lurch, creating a cycle of disadvantage. It’s a primary reason why, despite our mythology, the United States is among the least socially-mobile of the advanced countries.

From a sheer public policy standpoint, it would be far better to fund education at a statewide, or preferably Federal, level. That way, we could invest equal resources in kids’ education regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

The problem, alas, is Americans tend not to think of ourselves in communitarian terms. Not only will the affluent fight like hell the removal of advantages for their children that they believe hard-won, but we’re likelier to invest less in education under a combined model. It’s simply much easier to get people to vote for funding their neighborhood schools.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Lounsbury says:

    Latinx? What the bloody hell is that linguistic monstrosity?




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  2. becca says:

    Republicans have been undermining public education for 50 years now. All schools, public and private, rich and poor, have suffered for it, albeit in different ways.

    They changed the “social contract” to “contract out on social …”and it’s been downhill ever since.




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  3. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Latinx is a gender-neutral term devised first in academe to include gender non-conforming and trans Latinos and Latinas.




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  4. michael reynolds says:

    School performance is a major contributor to real estate prices. In other words, most people’s largest investment – their home – can rise or fall in value depending on school test scores. There is money on the line and that tends to influence all other considerations. As long as test scores equal ROI we’ll have a hard time getting suburbanites to take a hit on principle.

    We have a number of obsolete structures in our government, starting with the states. The idea of neighborhood schools and real-estate dependent school financing is one of those obsolete structures. The countries that regularly eat our lunch on schooling do not have our fragmented system. Countries create curricula and finance schools out of general funds, for the most part, while we have curricula set by yokel politicians and clueless academics and religious nuts, all financed by property taxes and desperate bond issues.




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  5. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    My friends on the Left really need to stop inventing unusable words that will never catch on. What is the pronunciation of Latinx? In what way does the invented word ‘latinx’ honor people of central or South American culture? Why are we denying Spanish-speakers the right to have gender-denominated words?




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  6. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s pronounced “Latinex.” The movement seems to have originated with Hispanic/Latin students themselves. I read it first on the college website I edit about five ears ago, and it’s been expanding in its use ever since. The irony is, of course, that the effort to increase diversity results in homogeneity.




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  7. Kit says:

    As a concerned citizen, I’m all for providing quality education to all, especially the disadvantaged. As a concerned parent, I’m all for giving my children every educational advantage that I can, even if it requires putting my thumb on the scale. That might be ugly, but no more ugly than human nature. Then again, modern government is built on such principles as separation of powers, transparency and accountability precisely because of human nature.

    In my experience, the student body counts for even more than the quality of the teachers. Quality education starts with an environment where every serious pupil is free to study in a distraction-free environment, surrounded by like-minded kids, and supported by parents who take an active interest. The advantages of a good student body simply cannot be shared with kids who would rather be elsewhere, but those advantages can be easily removed by such kids.

    What galls me, however, is the pernicious notion that on can enjoy every advantage only to finish with the self-satisfied Randian conviction that it was all earned and that the beneficiary owes nothing to anyone. Putting education back on track will involve putting the country back on track.




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  8. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: The Wiki on “latinx” addresses some of your points:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latinx#Controversy




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  9. Dave Schuler says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Latina/Latino.

    It’s the sort of construction you get into when you’re trying to be inclusive and trying to incorporate foreign languages into English.




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  10. Andy says:

    I think your assumption that school funding differences are the primary driver behind differences in achievement is wrong. Furthermore, while I agree the way many districts fund schools isn’t ideal, attempting to equalize funding will not make schools equal – any more than state funding makes state universities/colleges equal.

    NYC, for the past decade, has used a “fair funding formula” – to attempt to even out school funding and it hasn’t worked out as intended. In that case, the issue isn’t, as you put it, at the “micro-local level” it’s a system that applies to over a million students and a total population of eight-and-a-half million. That isn’t micro-local.

    There are other facts that argue against your proposal. In the US we spend about three times as much on primary education as equivalent OECD countries with generally worse outcomes. We’ve doubled and in some cases tripled education spending since the 1970’s yet student achievement hasn’t gone up at all in that time.

    The Department of Education’s efforts since it was created in 1980 cannot be statistically seen in outcomes whether it is funding or federal standards. Why should we assume that centralizing primary school education will be any different?

    In short, it’s not the money. Certainly, in many cases, funds could be allocated better and NYC is a good example of this – their current funding formula isn’t working the way it was intended. We are spending a lot more money than we used to but most of that increase seems to be spent on administration and not teachers and their salaries.

    But the bigger issue is that disparities in education cannot be fixed by throwing money around. We’ve tried that for a very long time and it hasn’t worked.




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  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey: @CSK:
    Progressives don’t understand language. They just don’t. This idea that by changing a word choice you change reality is nonsense. How many different word choices have we been through for black people? And are they still getting shot in their back yards for making a phone call?

    It’s not the word, it’s how you use it. I’m not surprised that an increasingly illiterate population would imagine that there’s some magic word that will change everything, but sorry, that’s not how it works. Language evolves. Latinx won’t work, Ms. didn’t work, trans as a word just hanging in air doesn’t work, African-American didn’t work, replacing all gender-specific pronouns doesn’t work because they didn’t evolve, they are shoehorned awkwardly into the language. These are all just means of virtue-signaling, an effortless way to look ‘woke’ on Twitter.




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  12. Hal_10000 says:

    “From a sheer public policy standpoint, it would be far better to fund education at a statewide, or preferably Federal, level. That way, we could invest equal resources in kids’ education regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.”

    Two things to note here: 1) the federal government is already spending a lot of money on needy schools and many states allocate their funding based on factors like poverty. Our school district, for example, has comparable or lower per pupil funding that some of the worst districts in the state. But it doesn’t matter because; 2) a huge factor in how well a child does in school tends to be parental involvement, which you can imagine is pretty strong in a college town.

    I might add that this problem isn’t being helped by mindless Democratic opposition to vouchers and charter schools.




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  13. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I would just add that attempts to impose this new language are probably doomed to fail. At the end of the day, it’s just going to be another tool to police the in-group and differentiate from out-groups.




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  14. @michael reynolds:

    In what way does the invented word ‘latinx’ honor people of central or South American culture? Why are we denying Spanish-speakers the right to have gender-denominated words?

    FWIW, it is my experience that “latinx” is more likely to be used by persons of hispanic descent than not.

    Keep in mind that latino is both male and inclusive, linguistically, and latina is only feminine. Having heard the term used with some frequency in the last several years, I have found it more natural than I thought would be the case when I first encountered it.




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  15. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I agree. As a writer, I agree even more.




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  16. @Andy:

    In short, it’s not the money.

    Clearly, it is not just the money, and money alone will not solve all ills. But trust me: isn’t not the money, either. I see it up close and personal here in Montgomery, AL.




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  17. @michael reynolds:

    Progressives don’t understand language.

    I get your basic point, and I personally often find certain attempts at language shift to be problematic. But, in fact, we have gotten away from using male-specific pronouns and whatnot as inclusive of all people in English, so it is not beyond the pale to suggest such in Spanish.

    And I think you are undercutting to degree to which language on race has been important–I don’t think the standard for success is solving all ills, but I do think we have made important strides in how we refer to African-Americans now than in the past.




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  18. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Clearly, it is not just the money, and money alone will not solve all ills. But trust me: isn’t not the money, either. I see it up close and personal here in Montgomery, AL.

    I agree money is not a non-factor. However, too often, like in this post, increased funding is sold as the cure-all. We have a lot of experience and research about the limits of what funding can do.

    A bigger issue is not the level of funding, but how the money is allocated. We’ve doubled and in some cases tripled education funding since the 1970’s (and much of that increase has come from the state and especially feds), yet achievement has not increased. This indicates to me that we are not getting good value for the money we currently spend.

    Additionally, money can’t prevent people from self-selecting a school. Parents who are able to move and prioritize education will go where the good schools are regardless of funding levels. This concentrates students who are more likely to be high achievers. That’s a problem that more spending can’t solve.




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  19. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But, in fact, we have gotten away from using male-specific pronouns and whatnot as inclusive of all people in English, so it is not beyond the pale to suggest such in Spanish.

    As a practical matter, it’s a lot more difficult to do in languages built on a masculine/feminine grammatical construct than it is in English.




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  20. Modulo Myself says:

    In NYC it clearly is the money. Better public schools have parents funding what the DOE can’t. And the parents who are deeply upset about this are idiots. If your child struggles because a ‘wave’ of evil poor black and hispanic kids arrive at the school, it’s the fault of the parent and not the school. “Little Celery and Milo would have gone to Harvard, but instead they had these kids from poor families in their classes and now they’re stuck at Colgate.”




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  21. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    This concentrates students who are more likely to be high achievers. That’s a problem that more spending can’t solve.

    Honest question: For whom is this a problem? Are high achievers being short changed by avoiding low achievers? Or is it the opposite way around?

    I suspect that, at least for school system that could afford it, we would see some benefit from separating the particularly high and low from the general mass of students, and catering education more closely to each groups needs and abilities. Plenty of difficult students might find real value in old-fashion vocational training, just as the truly gifted might thrive in more demanding environments.

    If the aim is exposure to other ethnicities and social classes, then that should be addressed separately, perhaps through extracurricular activities.




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  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Yes, we have made progress on rights for black people I just don’t think you can graph it against linguistic changes and show causality, at least not the intended direction.

    Polls show pretty conclusively that the Trump vote was a reaction to cultural shifts they found threatening. In effect the Left won battle after battle and showed zero understanding of or pity for, the defeated. When you take no prisoners people don’t surrender. (And mea culpa on this, God knows I’m not exactly patient with people catching up.)

    For the most part Red State America is never exposed to an actual trans person, and they probably don’t have gay neighbors, and they likely have few black people around, and no one’s telling them they can’t go to church or hand in their guns. But the cultural shift hit them on the level of language first and most universally, and entirely to their disadvantage. It’s arrogance on our part and a smug intolerance and it serves no useful purpose but to further alienate coastal America from flyover America.

    We are in danger of becoming the Mean Girl’s table in the lunchroom. We have our own cool phrases and our own conversation-killing memes and the kids over at the Future Farmers of America table feel uncool and derided. From my perspective, they’re backward yokels who haven’t spent ten seconds thinking about the effect their vote might have on the country at large and are just expressing their frustration at falling behind in the cool-kid olympics. But that’s not the same as saying they have no reason to be frustrated, because they do.

    Now the mean girls are starting to eat their own, as is inevitable with extremists. Feminism is divided into at least three mutually contemptuous groups, we are on all sides of free speech, we create carve-outs for some religions and not for others, we’re riddled with anti-Semitism, the ‘POC’ fiction will inevitably break down as black people get tired of Asian-Americans and gays and other groups coasting on their movement. The Left is united solely in hating Trump and despising Trump voters. We don’t have an agenda or a plan because we can’t even agree among ourselves on what words we can and cannot use. We’re suffocating on our own smug and refusing to face our contradictions.




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  23. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    While I think it’s somewhat inevitable, I also think it is a problem.

    It promotes a lack of diversity – intellectual as well as race and class. It promotes credentialism. Most of all, it harnesses the powerful effects of peer-pressure and social norms in the worst way.

    I suspect that, at least for school system that could afford it, we would see some benefit from separating the particularly high and low from the general mass of students, and catering education more closely to each groups needs and abilities. Plenty of difficult students might find real value in old-fashion vocational training, just as the truly gifted might thrive in more demanding environments.

    Well, I do agree that students need options that fit their abilities and interests, but I reject the notion that vocational training is for “difficult” students and “gifted” students need something “more demanding.” That sort of attitude is part of the problem IMO.




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  24. @michael reynolds:

    Yes, we have made progress on rights for black people I just don’t think you can graph it against linguistic changes and show causality, at least not the intended direction.

    I didn’t claim a relationship between language and rights. I specifically noted that we have made progress in linguistic usages. What is considered acceptable in terms of language has improved–this isn’t everything, not by a long shot, but it is something.




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  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    It’s more difficult and it’s an actual, real-world example of the fabled ‘cultural imperialism.’ What right do we have to tell every Romance language that they are offensive? English is a language devoid of consistency or recognizable rules. We have three different spellings and meanings for the word pronounced ‘there.’ We think ‘tough’ should be pronounced ‘tuff’ but ‘though’ should be pronounced ‘tho’ with a voiced ‘th’ and ‘thought’ should be pronounced ‘thot” with a voiceless ‘th.’ We should not be in the business of lecturing other people on their languages.




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  26. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    It promotes a lack of diversity – intellectual as well as race

    Kids go to school to learn, not to teach. While I hope that I’m not being ungenerous in assuming what you meant, I cannot help but think that the conclusion to your statement is that no group has ever been properly educated, and that the real goal is to form men for a new age.

    Most of all, it harnesses the powerful effects of peer-pressure and social norms in the worst way.

    I cannot see how any system does much against this. Encouraging kids to grow beyond the influence of peer pressure sounds noble but pie-in-the-sky idealistic, but to actively educate kids against social norms… Well that sounds crazy! That sounds like indoctrination. I rather doubt that you would hand over your kids to have them educated to reject the norms you respect, just as I suspect that you likely take a dim view on missionaries setting up schools abroad with the aim of producing kids that reject the views of their own society.

    I reject the notion that vocational training is for “difficult” students and “gifted” students need something “more demanding.” That sort of attitude is part of the problem IMO.

    If the assumption behind this is that you don’t believe that people have different intellectual capacities, well we will just have to disagree. Education is a serious subject, but it’s also a practical one, and good intentions are not enough if they require wishing away hard facts.




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  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    Well, I do agree that students need options that fit their abilities and interests, but I reject the notion that vocational training is for “difficult” students and “gifted” students need something “more demanding.” That sort of attitude is part of the problem IMO.

    Yes. I have a daughter in a Marin County HS who may someday become a talented chef (the girl has a palate) or an artist (she has an eye) but is never going to attend a four year university. But she is hammered night and day with the crying need to go to college, college, college, what are your plans, what are you going to major in, did you apply, did you get in, grades and test scores and around and around we go.

    If everyone goes to college, college loses its cachet and society just has to ramp it up to grad school and beyond, piling up ever more debt to buy meaningless credentials. I find I have no shortage of lawyers, no shortage of medical specialists in my life, but I would crawl over broken glass to find a decent handyman.




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  28. michael reynolds says:

    @Kit:
    I don’t send my kids to school to be educated, I send them there because no one knows what else to do with them. Not 5% of what my kids know came via school, and what they retained from school is generally useless. I didn’t learn to read at school, I learned it at home, as did my kids. This thing we do of sticking kids in schools for twelve years to come away with no more knowledge than they could pick up over a weekend of diving into Wikipedia and watching YouTube is absurdly wasteful.

    I only spent 10 years – having dropped out shortly thereafter – but I have a pretty clear idea of what I know, and of the provenance of that knowledge and I’d be hard put to name a single thing I took away from school that I can actually use. The history that schools teach is dull and forgettable and wrong, not 2% of the population ever uses algebra and English classes are practically designed to make you hate reading. What school taught me was contempt for the system and my teachers and my fellow students. I have never regretted dropping out, on the contrary, the best educational experience by far was my first job at age 16 stocking shelves at Toys R Us. I learned a lot from that, and most of it was useful. And they paid me!




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  29. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    While I hope that I’m not being ungenerous in assuming what you meant

    It’s about grouping like with like which tends to create monocultures. Monocultures are, IMO, bad for a number of reasons.

    I cannot see how any system does much against this.

    The problem is monocultures increase it.

    And I’m not talking about teachers indoctrinating students. As any parent with teens understands, the most important and influential people in their lives are their peers. And humans, being social animals, tend to adopt the norms of the people around them. So if you want to divide students and segregate them based on some perceived level of achievement, well then that will become self-fulfilling. That’s a different kind of indoctrination, one that is extremely powerful.

    If the assumption behind this is that you don’t believe that people have different intellectual capacities, well we will just have to disagree.

    The assumption that intellectual capacities should determine future career paths is what I reject. I reject the notion that so-called “vocational” careers are for stupid people and the university is for bright people. Furthermore, I reject the notion that our schools should indoctrinate children to accept this false construct and should purposely steer students in a certain direction.

    Or said another way, all children should have exposure to vocational as well as other educational opportunities and they should choose their own future career and education path.




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  30. Kit says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael, while I can agree that plenty of schooling is awful and could be improved, I don’t really think that your experience is a valid roadmap for society as a whole. How many following in your footsteps would have turned out so well? And the way you tell it, your experience was hardly a slam dunk. The school system failed you and you found your own way. But we can’t all be writers: some of us need to scratch out a living with algebra!

    On this subject, I feel you are falling into the trap of thinking that if you can do it, then so can everyone. I don’t particularly like the educational ideals that I see in Asia, but they are hungry and already starting to eat our lunch. Some people need to be taught for 20-30 years to run in the sort of fields the country will need. We need good schools for that.

    What we mean by educated is a mess, and school suffers because of it. A few generations ago, we knew what it meant to be educated. Today? Not really. The world is a bigger place now, and we probably need a few generations to find our footing again.

    For what it’s worth, at least through highschool, I’d like to see half of what students get exposed to being far more practical for what real life requires of us, with the other half simply cracking open the door of what life can offer.




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  31. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    So if you want to divide students and segregate them based on some perceived level of achievement, well then that will become self-fulfilling.

    So, if we take one kid from the bottom of intellectual capacity and put him with the those from the top, we would get another high achiever? Hardly! You’d get someone with zero self-confidence. The race doesn’t always go to the swift, but you’d be a fool to bet against it. Kids need positive experiences as well as negative ones. Had I been born in a time when the school system only pushed me in my weakest ability, of have grown up thinking myself a loser, and all the more so for having to mingle with the kids who excelled.

    I see no shame in manual labor, especially for those who are simply never going to shine in purely intellectual circles. In fact, I think these kids would leave school the better for it, and society would too.

    I reject the notion that our schools should indoctrinate children to accept this false construct and should purposely steer students in a certain direction.

    Any school that would claim to be able to take a math prodigy and produce a cobbler is not one that I’d ever send my kids to. While I rather doubt that any appeal to authority will cut much ice around here, Goethe said:

    A person born with a talent he is meant to use will find his greatest happiness in using it.

    And Homer:

    Each man delights in the work that suits him best

    Looks like you are outnumbered!

    More seriously, while I think your views show decency and concern, I don’t share them.




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  32. Tyrell says:

    In one city near here a busing plan was put in several years ago in response to a misguided federal court order. The black parents got fed up with their kids riding a school bus two hours a day across
    town. They finally got it stopped and went back to their neighborhood schools.
    They got more involved and their schools flourished. There are excellent inner city schools. They have a lot of parent involvement and high standards of academics and discipline.
    The schools should be ran by the teachers, principals, and parents. Not over paid bureaucrats and judges: few of whom have ever worked in a real classroom.
    Why not let the parents choose what school their kids go to? Also, the magnet schools program has worked in many places. Different types of schools are set up according to interests and curriculum emphasis: science, arts, tech, traditional. Parents pick the school. More charter schools are needed. They get to operate without a lot of the bureaucratic restraints that teachers work under.
    It all goes back to the failed, false idea of some misguided people that a black child can’t learn unless they are sitting next to a white child. Proven wrong time and again.




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  33. Mu says:

    My big question is, how often are we going to “desegregate” and claim it will solve all problems? New better schools usually come with new development, and it will always be the privilege of the affluent to move there. So a resegregation according to income is sure to follow every time. We’re having the third post-Brown generation in the schools now, and the problems haven’t changed. Is there actual evidence that busing leads to an improvement for kids whose main problem is culture and poverty at home? Does taking a kid out of the project for 8 h a day make a difference if no one cares if you do homework, or show up for that matter? And if they do, won’t have time between two jobs to efficiently help? I know my town doesn’t use microfunding, and sees the same issues despite equal or even better funding for low performing schools.




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  34. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    Any school that would claim to be able to take a math prodigy and produce a cobbler is not one that I’d ever send my kids to.

    The decision about what path a student should take should rest with the student and his/her parents, not any school.

    So, if we take one kid from the bottom of intellectual capacity and put him with the those from the top, we would get another high achiever? Hardly!

    Actually, that is often the case. Your comment is a perfect example of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

    Additionally, we don’t know what a student’s actual abilities are until they are given the chance to actually test their limits. Outside the very rare prodigies and the developmentally disabled, I do not believe we can determine an individual’s “intellectual capacity” ahead of time, nor do I believe that school administrators or other technocratic “experts” have the knowledge to know what a student’s limits are ahead of time.

    So even if one believes that building educational monocultures is a good idea, the actual ability to accurately sort and guide students into them is questionable at best.

    More seriously, while I think your views show decency and concern, I don’t share them.

    Nothing wrong with that! It’s perfectly OK to agree to disagree.




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  35. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    The decision about what path a student should take should rest with the student and his/her parents, not any school.

    I think that it’s safe to assume that a math prodigy would almost always be send to a school meant to develop his abilities. That decision would not have been the school’s.

    Actually, that is often the case. Your comment is a perfect example of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

    Send along any study’s you have.

    So even if one believes that building educational monocultures is a good idea, the actual ability to accurately sort and guide students into them is questionable at best.

    So then, we might conclude that your worries about the school system creating monocultures are misplaced.

    I’d pay good money to see you go into one of these classrooms and dismiss all the students as belonging to a monoculture. My bet is that you would find yourself persona non grata from all corners in short order.




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  36. michael reynolds says:

    @Kit:

    And the way you tell it, your experience was hardly a slam dunk. The school system failed you and you found your own way. But we can’t all be writers: some of us need to scratch out a living with algebra!

    My difficulties are all of my own devising, nothing to do with school, in fact the arrogance school taught me played a critical role in smoothing the path to criminality. School taught me that people are mostly rather stupid, generally have their heads stuffed with pillow ticking, and are easily conned. Not great lessons for one with a sociopathic bent.

    No, I don’t think everyone gets to do my job, but they might be plumbers or bakers or mechanics, and our schools actively discourage any pursuit but a four year degree in. . . whatever. We’re using education to construct a new ruling class, dividing the Eloi from the Morlocks, or Alphas from Betas and Deltas if you prefer Huxley. It has very little to do with imparting actual knowledge and a great deal more to do with stigmatizing working people and glorifying ‘education’ which doesn’t actually educate. American high school graduates can’t find the United States on a map of North America and think maybe WW2 was us against ISIS, but they have a piece of paper, by God.

    You know who school is good for? The B+ striver. For future chefs and future store managers it’s useless. For future creatives it’s on-balance destructive. For the highly intelligent it’s purgatory. Ditto for the slow. The system is geared for the malleable middle class kid of no great talent or ability, but with ambitious parents. It’s a system designed for conformist strivers.




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  37. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Ms. didn’t work

    I almost never hear of anyone referred to as Miss or Mrs. anymore, except when someone is trying to make a point. And we have hit a point in society where women are more often valued for their own contributions than simply as an accessory of the man they or are not involved with.

    I don’t know if the acceptance of Ms. led that change, or whether it is simply an indicator of that change, but it’s become a real word that has gained traction and mostly replaced the words that came before.

    Dropping the honorific altogether is completely trouncing Miss, Mrs., Mr., and Ms. however.

    Apparently, I am supposed to refer to my boss by his first name and pretend that we are all equals and all on the same side, despite him having the power to fire me, judge my performance, determine my raises, set my working conditions, etc. If I call him “Bob” that makes it all equal.




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  38. Gustopher says:

    @Tyrell:

    It all goes back to the failed, false idea of some misguided people that a black child can’t learn unless they are sitting next to a white child. Proven wrong time and again.

    What about what the white child learns, when there are no black kids present?




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  39. Kit says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You know who school is good for? The B+ striver. For future chefs and future store managers it’s useless. For future creatives it’s on-balance destructive. For the highly intelligent it’s purgatory. Ditto for the slow.

    We seem to agree on so much, that I feel it’s a bit invidious on my part to concentrate on the differences. Still, what else are the comment sections for? This is my last post before going to bed.

    I think you are overly harsh on the B+ strivers, who represent the intellectual backbone of any country, and simply need to be educated. And they need to be found first. Additionally, at least as far as the STEM subjects are concerned, all the A students have no choice but to pass through that way. I dare say that most MIT students graduated highschool, perhaps bored but at least prepared.

    Side note: I remember reading a biography about Mao. Twenty years later, the only part that stuck with me was the educational culture in which he grew up. In the earliest years, the goal was not to educate but simply to find those individuals strong enough to survive. Once the lucky few were whittled down to a manageable number, the state could start investing its energy in real education.

    Modern education is a mess, but the world we know depends on it. And, really, what’s the alternative? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

    Let me know the next time you are in Paris: this B+ striver would be happy to buy you a drink 🙂




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  40. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Well, I do agree that students need options that fit their abilities and interests, but I reject the notion that vocational training is for “difficult” students and “gifted” students need something “more demanding.” That sort of attitude is part of the problem IMO.

    The gifted students and the difficult students often end up with the same problem — no idea how to deal with failure.

    The difficult students give up at an early age, telling themselves that they are too cool for school, or that math is racist, or who cares what dead white men wrote or whatever. The gifted kids coast and never get challenged and then flake out later when they hit problems they can’t just coast over.

    I think we have done kids a great disservice when we cut so much art funding in schools, and stopped making it mandatory. It was a place where both the high performers and the low performers could come together and realize that not only do they suck at art, but that it’s ok to suck at art — it’s still worth doing.

    God help the high performing “gifted” child who is actually good at art though…




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  41. JKB says:

    Diversity is not conducive to compulsory public education.

    If one leaves to the parents the choice of the school to which they wish to send their children, then one exposes them to every conceivable form of political coercion. In all areas of mixed nationality, the school is a political prize of the highest importance. It cannot be deprived of its political character as long as it remains a public and compulsory institution. There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.
    –Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism (pp. 115-116)

    Public-funded education will always be run as a means to impose conformity to the prevailing political power’s belief system. In the past, it was used to suppress diverse cultures, today it is used to promote the prevailing culture that uses the illusion of supporting diversity as a cudgel.




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  42. gVOR08 says:

    A couple years ago I saw on TV a high school graduate complaining that she didn’t get into her first choice school instead of one of the other excellent schools that had accepted her, she assumed because of affirmative action. She was a beautiful blond golden girl. Obviously quite bright and with quite wealthy parents. I fear my reaction was, “Get over yourself. Take all your obvious success in the birth lottery and leave something for someone else.”




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  43. JKB says:

    The greatest tragedy of government education is the false impression that what is taught in government schools is what is needed for future success. As well as the impression that failure to achieve the approval of the government “educators” is the same as failure in life.




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  44. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “We should not be in the business of lecturing other people on their languages.”

    I know you’re on a roll, but this is ludicrous. “Latinx,” for whatever you feel about it, is being used by English speakers in an English context. No one is flying to Madrid and demanding they give up gendered nouns to make students at Wesleyan feel better.




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  45. Tyrell says:

    @Gustopher: They could be placed in a class full of Rhodes scholars, but if they don’t have strong family support and involvement it won’t help.
    The state of New York spends over $20,000 a year per student. This is almost twice as much as any other state.




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  46. An Interested Party says:

    I might add that this problem isn’t being helped by mindless Democratic opposition to vouchers and charter schools.

    So much for separation of church and state, huh? Just a mindless problem I guess…and what happens when charter schools receive resources that are taken away from local neighborhood schools? The children in those schools just have to deal with it, I guess…meanwhile, it’s so obvious how powerful it is that certain people don’t want certain other people to go to the same schools that they send their children to…politicians have been exploiting that one for decades…




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  47. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    Send along any study’s you have.

    There is actually a lot of research on various factors related to academic performance. Lots of references in this meta-study:

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1178441

    Upthread, you said this:

    If the assumption behind this is that you don’t believe that people have different intellectual capacities, well we will just have to disagree.

    People do have different intellectual capacities but they are often hard to determine. Students are often misplaced into programs below their abilities, or their academic performance is affected by factors other than their natural ability. Need a study? See the many examples in the link above.

    Sorting the dumb kids into one school, the middle bell-curve kids into their own school and the smart kids into a third school is, therefore, a bad idea because you don’t know if the dumb kid is actually dumb or is if there is some other factor affecting their performance.

    I also remain firmly against career sorting along similar lines, where only the dumb kids are pushed toward vocational training and everyone else is told to go to college.

    So then, we might conclude that your worries about the school system creating monocultures are misplaced.

    I’d pay good money to see you go into one of these classrooms and dismiss all the students as belonging to a monoculture. My bet is that you would find yourself persona non grata from all corners in short order.

    Uh, at this point I think we’re talking past each other. I think it’s clear you’re not understanding the points I’m trying to make and it’s quite possible the reverse is true as well. I’ll exit here and agree to disagree.




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  48. Stormy Dragon says:

    The city’s system of school choice encourages privileged parents to move to higher-performing, affluent, and often disproportionately white districts, which inevitably leaves behind, and excludes, poor children of color who get stuck in unstable, underfunded schools. Gentrification in previously underserved neighborhoods is compounding the division by squeezing low-income families out of their own neighborhoods by raising the cost of living and pushing communities away from their local schools.

    It’s not clear to me what Chen wants done here. If white parents don’t live in minority neighborhoods, that’s bad because they’re segregating; but if they do live in minority neighborhoods, that’s bad because they’re gentrifying?




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  49. Franklin says:

    @Gustopher:

    God help the high performing “gifted” child who is actually good at art though…

    I was reaching to upvote your comment even before the last line. But it struck me extra because one of our children fits that description. And we ended up putting him in a private school for gifted kids, one that spends a lot of resources on the arts.

    I’m generally for the public schools and think that a mix of abilities is good … to an extent. And they’re pretty good around here and I’m sending the other two kids to them. But when you’ve got somebody coming home every day bored stiff and complaining about some disruptive idiots, you do what you can as a parent.

    Yeah I’m sort of equating disruptive kids with less-intelligent kids; it’s not one-to-one but there seems to be some correlation. Most parents I talk to are concerned about *disruptions* and/or kids that require all the teacher’s time, not the fact that some kids have less ability.




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  50. Franklin says:

    @Andy: Good link, and straight out of the gate it mentions a point that has been hardly discussed here today.

    Early childhood, including the part in the womb, has a massive effect on future performance. To a large degree, schools can’t fix that. Parents reading to their children is, I recently saw, the #1 factor affecting future success. Now I certainly wouldn’t write off a child that wasn’t nurtured before school age, because brains are quite malleable and still growing new neurons up to around age 12 according to recent research. But if their parents don’t have the resources to nurture them properly in those early years, they’re behind their peers which causes additional problems – for everybody!

    Personally I think addressing those early years could be more effective than additional school funding. And yet I understand HeadStart, for example, didn’t really produce results. Probably because it didn’t fix poverty.




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  51. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @Hal_10000: it isn’t mindless–the technocrats pushing for charters and vouchers (mostly) aren’t running a con, but the rightists (mostly) are.




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  52. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    not 2% of the population ever uses algebra

    I’m curious how you determine whether you have gotten a good deal buying anything?
    Most people use algebra regularly. Many don’t seem to realize they are using it.




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  53. Monala says:

    @michael reynolds: Ms. didn’t work??? I know very few professional women, regardless of marital status, who use Miss or Mrs. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone who uses Miss for a woman over 18, and very few who use Mrs. unless they are specifically addressing the woman and her husband together.




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  54. Monala says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Not just pronouns. Most of us easily say firefighter instead of fireman, police officer instead of policeman, and flight attendant instead of stewardess.




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  55. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Hal_10000: “mindless . . . opposition to vouchers” isn’t a contributor to the larger problem. All vouchers do is to give students a right to compete for the (limited) number of places in better-quality schools. In other words, another zero-sum solution. We need to search for win-win solutions to school funding problems.




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  56. @Monala: Good points.




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  57. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: What’s lost on many in the academic cartel is “intelligence” is man-made construct that describes peoples abilities to exceed societal averages..specific to THAT society. To use a sports analogy, if the game basketball was the world, what Michael Jordan accomplished was the Einstein of the history of that world. However, when he joined the society of baseball, a completely different world with different intellectual requirements needed to exceed the average…well.. MJ wasn’t quite His Airness in that society

    Intelligence also has a spectrum that academics claim the mantle– to but ignore it application in environments outside of a classroom. What Reynolds does is form of intelligence…it just can’t be measured and cultivated using the present methodologies of the academics cartel so it’s of no use to them. The same for the rest of the population that the academics snobs have slapped the “vocational” learner slur on.

    Full disclosure…I have multiple degrees up the the graduate level including multiple professional credentials. If there were a better way to guarantee a ticket into the middle class I would have taken it. A Black man running a sole proprietorship in my prime was extremely risky…mostly because it’s tough surviving off only black customers and white people are especially keen on hiring black owners




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  58. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kit: One problem with your assumption, though, is that you don’t know how many math prodigies are slipping through the cracks in over crowded, underfunded urban schools where the teachers don’t expect the students to be good at, well, anything.

    If you take teaching STEM, for instance, and you teach STEM using the engineering design process (EDP) using a challenge-based or problem-based learning (CBL /PBL) scenario, all kinds of kids in all kinds of schools can learn to think through a problem. We often see kids who are not usually engaged or kids who are C or D students are the ones who are getting involved in a CBL lesson; the kids who get As tend to become flustered because there’s not necessarily one right answer in the engineering design process, and failure/refinement is a necessary part of the process. But the kids who are used to getting As (in part because of how the education system has “trained” them to “succeed” – some of what Michael Reynolds is alluding to, I think) get pretty stressed out in EDP/CBL lessons, interestingly enough.

    And the urban teachers in the urban schools are also rethinking their own assumptions about all their students, including the ones they previously dismissed as “disengaged” (well, they probably were but now they’re not) and the ones they identified as “successful” who have trouble thinking in terms of a process instead of an outcome.

    I think a lot of kids could be in a position to succeed if we could figure out how to teach them better, and I think that does include both rethinking education and, yes, throwing more money (SMALLER CLASS SIZES!) at the problem.




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  59. Blue Galangal says:

    @Franklin: HeadStart actually does work – I’m curious as to the studies you’re citing. One of the biggest problems with HeadStart is, you guessed it, lack of funding/spaces. There’s not enough of it; in some cases you’re bailing out the Titanic with a clamshell, and the kids who are lucky enough to get into HeadStart will see a difference, but it’s not enough. Universal preschool – funded, quality spaces with quality teachers who are paid what they’re worth to engage the kids – would have an effect, just as preschool already does have an effect on kindergarten preparedness.

    To your point about reading, yes – this is the single best thing a parent can do. And this is, in part, what universal preschool is designed to try to remediate. Because the other issue here is systemic poverty and our modern ode to capitalism that is a working class life in 2018.

    A single mom with three kids who works shift work at the local hospital is not necessarily in a position to read to her kids every day. But a preschool teacher is actually in a position to read to, and talk to, the children in his or her charge every day. I don’t want to get into arguments about why she’s single and how she shouldn’t have kids if she can’t read to them. The reality is what we have now, and this is a mom who’s working a steady job and giving the kids a roof over their head and making sure they do their homework. So what else can we do – through schools, through society – to help these kids? HeadStart is definitely one part of a solution. Some kind of basic literacy training for high school kids- before they grow up and become parents – is another part of the solution. They can engage their kids a lot with language without reading to them. They can narrate what they do when they are getting the kids ready for bed, or for school, for instance, or when they make dinner or breakfast. Kids will learn the rhythm of the language, they hear how words come together, they learn new words. A lot of parents think that if they can’t sit down and read a chapter of a book every day there’s no point in even trying, but they could read the back of a cereal carton, for instance, and talk about how to make cereal and that’s still exposing a child to language, narration, and vocabulary.

    There are many other parts. But the reality is when you’re scraping to make ends meet, or even when you’re not scraping but you happen to work in a field like healthcare that does require 12 hour shifts, one of our questions as a society we should be asking is, do we support that mom and her kids the best way we can? Or do we make her life harder and write her kids off because she couldn’t read to them before bed every night?




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  60. Tyrell says:

    @Gustopher: The state department of education certainly has a curriculum in place for each grade level. That is what they are all supposed to be learning. And how to pass multiple choice tests.
    “Testing isn’t everything.
    Testing is the only thing”




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  61. DrDaveT says:

    Yes, their kids are “advantaged.” In most cases, it’s because their parents worked hard to make that happen.

    Bullshit. In most cases, it’s because their parents inherited a head start. I challenge you to prove (or even provide nonzero evidence) otherwise.

    But, no, I wouldn’t want my girls to get a worse education than they otherwise would have because we’ve suddenly changed the rules of the game.

    What’s the problem? You just need to care about your girls enough to work hard and put them through a good private school. You asserted above that it’s that easy — just a question of wanting it enough, and being willing to work hard to make it happen. Right?




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  62. Kit says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    I think a lot of kids could be in a position to succeed if we could figure out how to teach them better, and I think that does include both rethinking education and, yes, throwing more money (SMALLER CLASS SIZES!) at the problem.

    I’m all for this. I want to see more success for more kids. Too much in the realm of primary and secondary education seems to me to be driven by an ideology that sleeps all too easily with failure, as long as everyone is failing equally. I’ve got too much riding on the outcome to sit back and watch with indifference.

    I will go back to one of my earlier points and reiterate that I have very little tolerance for difficult kids being allowed to ruin the educational experience for their better behaved classmates. Maybe education is working well in your neck of the woods, but it is not in mine. The first steps need to be practical ones.




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  63. James Joyner says:

    @Jim Brown 32: I’m not sure why you think the academy doesn’t value literature, much less presumes its authors aren’t highly intelligent? The fine arts don’t enjoy the same prestige as the hard sciences, perhaps, but that’s mostly a construct of the larger society, not the academy. Indeed, the humanities may be the most historically prized within the academy, since it’s more pure “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” than, say, physics.

    @Blue Galangal: My understanding is that Head Start works quite well in getting disadvantaged kids ready for primary school but that its disadvantages dissolve by high school. Thus, there seems to be no evidence that it has longer-term benefits.

    @gVOR08: I think expecting that sort of perspective from a teenager who’s worked hard her whole life to achieve a particular prize and then was denied it because there was a second set of rules is unreasonable.

    @DrDaveT: I don’t discount privilege. Obviously, there are huge advantages to being born with a high IQ, to parents who provided a stable homelife, etc. But that doesn’t mean that most of us in the professional class didn’t work hard to get here. Few of us are trust fund kids. Further, it takes a certain amount of discipline and self-sacrifice to get to a position where you can put your kids in the better public schools. So, yes, I think these parents have a right to be angry at the proposal.




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