The appointment of a person who knows literally nothing about the profession as Secretary of Education reignited interest in our deeply flawed educational system. During her confirmation hearings, this was perhaps the best commentary I saw on an internet that overflowed with them.

The most basic problem with the educational system (K-12 only; colleges have a different set of issues) is that it is increasingly expected to show improvement in a society in which so many of the measurable things affecting educational outcomes are getting worse. When you have students who are basically on their own before the age of ten, or move eight times in three years, or live in violent and impoverished homes, or go days at a time without seeing their substance-abusing parent, or spend evenings trying to decide whether to call the cops because that man is beating up Mom again but you don't want to be taken away into a foster home so what should you do, or have reached adolescence without once seeing an adult set an alarm clock to wake up and go to work, very little in terms of policy is going to matter. Give 'em vouchers, send them to charter schools, public schools, Catholic schools, whatever you want; those kids are not going to succeed. Teachers are expected to extract good test scores from students who are absent 50% of the time or don't have an adult to reliably feed and shelter them.

Teachers are equipped, at their best and in the best environments, to be teachers. They are not prepared to be psychologists, social workers, parents, guardians, and miracle workers.

Certainly not every public school draws from a population of students as poor and disadvantaged as what I described here. But it's hardly rare. Increasingly – and vouchers will serve only to worsen this problem – public school systems are a grease trap for the students no other school would take. The kid didn't do well enough on tests for a charter or magnet school, and whatever adult supervisor is responsible for him or her can't shell out for private school. Public schools, in essence, are expected to show constant and near-miraculous improvement with a student population from which the best and most well-supported students have already been plucked out.

So, when people ponder the solutions to the problems of education in this country, feel free to cut off anyone who starts ranting about teacher salaries, classroom sizes, No Child Left Behind, or any other education-specific issue.

The problem is poverty. The solution is to mitigate poverty and the other social problems that flow from it.

We don't want to face that reality because we don't like doing things that are hard; we want to maintain a delusion that there is some magic policy that will get our schools to start churning out great, well educated students. It does not exist. Teachers and schools have only so much contact with students and no power to solve or even push back meaningfully against the growing pile of problems many of these kids face outside of school. A good teacher will always get the most out of his or her students, and our elected officials will never recognize that many of them are doing exactly that – they are getting the most out of students who have everything stacked against them in life.

The unfortunate reality is that sometimes "the most" a teacher can produce with a given child is not much.

We have to stop considering the problems of our schools in a vacuum. Throw all the money you want at schools or enforce whatever "teacher accountability" BS the Koch think tanks are pushing this month – none of that will make a lick of difference in the outcomes of students in communities that are both literally and figuratively falling apart.

68 thoughts on “THE ROOT”

  • What do we do when we just give up?

    Do those of us who haven't had children just refuse to do so and console ourselves by saying, "let 'em have the future; they're the ones having litters of kids?"

    The future will be much worse.

    in b4 some baby boomer talks about living under the bomb, as though the creeps who run the world would end the civilization that gives them the power that they crave

  • Excellent point. It's a lot easier to blame teachers than it is to address complex issues like widespread poverty.

  • For some perspective (though little solace); during the W era, one of the especially-impoverished schools in the city near where I live decided to feed the kids both breakfast and lunch at school, for free, every day. I thought that was a great start; many of the kids come from food-insecure families, and knowing they'd get at least 2 meals a day just by showing up to school would get some of the older ones to at least…show up.

    You should have *heard* the whining and the carrying on in the comments section of the local paper. You would have thought handing a kid an oat bar in the morning was tantamount to buying them all Cadillacs plus season tickets at the local Sportsball Palace.

    Ed makes a great point–for kids without the home support (enough food, clean clothes, stable and supportive family), teachers can't wring miracles. What does DeVos know about any of this? She comes from a rich family with a long, long history of grifting from We-The-People and the gummint. Moar Jebus is her answer to everything, whether that would be Constitutional or not.

  • This argument, like so many of our modern political arguments, is really impossible to resolve because we're not ACTUALLY arguing about the same thing. Charters, "accountability", school choice…these are not proposals that are honestly intended to improve schools. They are canards to achieve the REAL goals of the anti-school movement, which are, in some order:

    1. Smash the public school system entirely so wealthy people who don't send their kids to public schools don't have to pay for them at all.

    2. Destroy teacher's unions because all unions are evil, period.

    3. Allow tax dollars to be funneled into religious schools so that every child learns that science is just an opinion.

    The two sides are at loggerheads not because they have different strategies to achieve the same goal, but because their goals are actually totally opposite and incompatible.

  • @Ed, I read your link to the teacher's letter, and it was a must-read. The comments ranged from very-good to hilarious, but were on the whole very good. I did laugh at the vociferous homeschool supporter. I ended up homeschooling my oldest for high school because he was so asynchronous in math, science, and English–never saw myself as a homeschooling parent, but was able to tap into MIT's college classes for calc and the local community college for a bunch of other classes. As a complete newbie to homeschooling, I made an effort to join the homeschooling groups in my community and to get to know the parents involved. In our group of about 350 kids, there were 2 other parents who were homeschooling for academics; the rest "didn't like to get up in the morning", refused to adapt to schedules, or were so far down the fundagelical rabbit hole that they lived in stark terror that their children might discover facts contrary to the brainwashing they were trying to instill.

    You talk about poverty and instability on public schooled children–it's very, very real for many homeschooled children, too. My experience was that for every family that had its act together, there were 20 who were simply too disorganized or dysfunctional to provide any stability or learning to their kids. They cover it up by claiming to be Unschoolers ("unschooling" is the idea that the children pick the topics that interest them to study, which can work great for a high schooler who'd rather learn to draw as an elective than to play the guitar or act in a play, for example…but fails utterly when the responsibility to self-teach falls into the hands of a 5-year-old).

    Fun "facts" my kid learned from other homeschooled kids:
    * The south actually won the Civil War, but the government covered it up because Reasons
    * Never, ever use a microwave because it "turns molecules inside out" so the food becomes "toxic"
    * Every single child who goes to public school turns gay and serial killer

  • I have a graduate degree in Education, which, I'm going to be honest, isn't worth a whole lot except for the fact that I now have a few letters after my name and some people I was trying to impress in the job market are impressed by that.

    One of the things that struck me as I took my required slate of educational theory courses was that *every single last one of them*, be it social cognitive theory or constructivism or scaffolding or whatever, works. They just work in a place where students are not dealing with poverty and teachers who have access to decent pay and adequate professional development. The entire field is obsessed with finding the magic bullet that turns impoverished neighborhoods with underappreciated and underpaid teachers into sparkling, successful school systems with great test scores.

    It's really weird having to think about education absent the social issues, and it makes every single class discussion and project into a whistling past the graveyard experience that is kind of off-putting. I think a lot of education graduate programs are like that. One could argue that doing so is the entire purpose of the Department of Education, too.

  • Thanks for this. I work for one of the two education unions in this country, and we spend all of our time trying to make this statement. For their efforts our members are called greedy, lazy, and/or incompetent. We have no allies in this fight. Between Michelle Rhee and the Democratic "reformers" (I love Obama but education was one area he really sucked) and the Republican "all gubmint should be privatized" we are almost entirely without political allies.

  • In the news this morning; a Washington DC charter school made the news because of rampant child sexual abuse. I suspect charter schools have much less vetting than public schools.

  • Don't forget the classrooms with no/almost no native English speakers and a myriad of languages spoken by the children, not just one foreign language. LA has this problem even when the kids come from families that value education. Add on a standardized test regime and the schools look like failures when actually they are over-performing.

  • The problem is more fundamental than you suggest. Education has been faddish for decades, perhaps centuries. Memorization comes and goes. Ditto phonics. Enormous amounts of time have been spent diagramming sentences in the past. We get back to basics which is mostly dull repetition or occasionally chaotic versions of progressive education. Teaching to a test goes back at least to the 50s when the NY Regents Exam was used as a criterion by school districts.

    There's tons of research on different instructional methods and curricula. For the bulk of kids, some approaches work just as well as others. For kids who are behind, things like phonics are essential. For everyone else, they're a bore. Every blowhard thinks they know what makes for good schools and every billionaire has the money to amplify that stupidity.

    Turning around schools that have real problems rather than our periodic "crisis" that call for faddish nonsense, take a lot of time. You need competent teachers and principals and parents who feel they have a stake in their children's education. All easier said than done.

    DeVos is a disaster–the worst of all worlds, faddish, corporatized garbage delivered by someone whose been empowered by lots of money raised in a pyramid scheme.

  • @loh nah

    We did come close to ending the world more than once during the Cold War.

    Not intentionally, mind you, but events sometimes have a way of getting away from you. 1914 was one of those times. Nobody in 1914 thought they were starting a world war that was going to kill 17 million people and change the course of history in ways we're still dealing with (see East, Middle).

    The Berlin Crisis and Cuban Missile Crisis both could have gotten out of hand. Ironically enough, in October 1962 JFK was reading Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August.

  • Ed… Thanks for this. The sad truth is that the best predictors for student achievement are parental income and parental education. We simply cannot wish away the effects of poverty and social dislocation, no matter how hard we try.

    NC_Nate: I hear you brother, but what you describe is part and parcel with Ed's larger point. As a sociologist of education, I can tell you that Colleges of Ed have purged folks who point out uncomfortable truths, and the primary reason is that they are under similar pressures as K-12 schools.

  • I have always considered the main problem to be parental accountability and th lack thereof. No accountability is the main problem of the United States Government as well.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    My husband and I have been sending our special needs sons to public schools. Both of us are college educated native English speakers – he has a corporate business employment background, I was career civil service. We have had ample support from various sources; at least in our county, adopting children from foster care entitles parents to such support.

    It's still been a challenge. When I think of the additional challenges that some other parents face on a daily basis, I'm impressed that any of them survive.

    Had a contentious exchange with some homeschooling parents online recently; when I pointed out that the primary reason I could see for it was their reluctance to have their children in school with children like mine they clutched their pearls into powder.

  • @Squeaky Wheel – I have always considered "accountability" to be an underhanded way of blaming people in difficult circumstances for problems that are out of their control.

  • Speaking of accountability, how about a bit for the .001% types who ceased investing in cities and seek to shrug off the cultural fallout that resulted?

  • @Robert Walker-Smith; homeschooling parents want in the public school system when it comes to their sons and fooootbaw! Where I live, they're up-in-arms about the fact that the high school sports teams rosters are limited to those who actually, you know, *go to the public schools*. How else is little Jaxxxxsin going to be discovered by a foooootbaw! scout if the parents can't have the taxpayers pay the bills to have their snowflake bump out actual public school students from the team?

  • Also @Robert; I struggled with my oldest, who was an asynchronous learner (advanced in a few areas, average in others). Because he did very well in the yearly standardized tests, the principal of his elementary school informed us he wasn't eligible for any sort of special help. My spouse and I are also college educated, stable, and motivated to see our children succeed, and yet school was a struggle for us for the older one. I also can't imagine how families cope who don't have the advantages my family does. We sent the school a well-nourished, well-rested child who didn't cause any problems (he daydreamed through the "boring" classes) and he got lost in the shuffle because so many kids were in so much more dire straits.

    We tried a private, college-prep school before we homeschooled. Know what we learned? $30k/year tuition doesn't get you any better of an education or any more assists than the public school–and in fact, an appalling number of the teachers were barely-paid trust-fund babies right out of college themselves, who hadn't had the benefit of an Education major (or even necessarily any education classes whatsoever).

    We ended up homeschooling for high school so we could take each subject at an appropriate level…and the boy graduated from an accredited high school program (we had to seek this out–it isn't the norm for homeschoolers) and was also a sophomore in college because of all the community college credits. I'd be rich if I had a nickel for every homeschool parent who bragged to me that their child had a personal relationship with Jesus (but sadly couldn't spell his own name). In many states, there's absolutely zero oversight for homeschooling families–the kids drop out–or never enter–public school and there's zero accountability for the parents about producing a child with any academic knowledge whatsoever.

    The Christian charter schools that Betsy DeVos is so gung-ho about are the same–there's pretty much no accountability as to whether the kids actually learn anything.

  • Public schools imply (should imply) a decent regard for a country's responsibility to its children, to the kind of world they'll be living in, to the rights of citizenship they will exercise. If you can't be bothered to worry about whether those kids are living in poverty and despair, if you don't think every person in the country is entitled to a minimum level of economic security, healthcare, and other basic needs, then you aren't going to give a shit what their schools are doing.

  • "I have always considered the main problem to be parental accountability and th lack thereof. No accountability is the main problem of the United States Government as well.".

    Well, as to the educational system. You are correct, but…accountability should be the province of all parties to the process. It's not. School boards and many other persons, not least taxpayers prefer to ignore the realities of endemic generational poverty. There is also a lack of hope–it, like Elvis, has left the building.

    And you're also right about goverenment in the U.S. not just at the National Level. The national goverment has in addition to whatever problems the fact that Trumpligula has ENTERED the building.

  • @ Katydid:

    "Asynchchronous learner", man, that would have been good to know about me when I was in school.

    I read everything that was put in front of me from the time I was about 5 or 6. I absorbed all of the interesting things and the other shit just bounced off my brainpan. I can't do math–period. I didn't know why until I was 44. I still wish I could do math, but knowing why I can't takes some of the sting out of it.

    Traditional educational models are not, I think, invented by sadists (although there are certainly some complete assholes involved in the process) but by people who are in most cases looking for "bang for the buck.". When you apply business metrics to non-business enterprises (programs in the public service sector) it generally doesn't work so well.

    Programs like The NY Regents, MCAS, "No child left behind" and "Common Core" are not put together by educators but by committees that include educators, accountants, pols and "blue ribbon" types like, FUCK ME, Betsy DeVoid. A lot of people who make decisions about public schools NEVER went to one.

    Charter Schools are unusually adept at not educating their charges worth a shit.

  • Every one of these discussions about the issues or symptoms is, in some fashion, whistling past the graveyard. People are poor. People are uneducated. People have no civic pride. Yes, yes. That's all part of the plan.

    We are watching the ascendancy of The Iron Heel after three generations of preparations for its ascent. Our best (only?) real hope is that the same security services that have spent the last century engaged in international torture and destabilization turn their efforts inward in a coup against the regime before the regime captures and subverts their efforts.

    And even if this coup is wildly successful and its leaders are more humane than can reasonably be imagined, the effort just buys us some more time until the same well-armed and monied forces succeed with the slow-drip neofascism/neofeudalism that they've been honing and deploying since the end of WWII.

  • @democommie; I'd never heard of the term "asynchronous learner" until the expensive counselor we hired to do a battery of tests caught it. Some people's brains just mature at different rates in different areas. The ideal solution is to tailor the education to meet the various levels, but No Child Left Untested had just debuted and our local public school had its hands full futilely trying to get the kids that would never pass the tests to come closer to the failure bar. My kid was acing the tests and not disruptive in school, so as the principal scoffed at me, "What more do you WANT?" (apparently a fair and appropriate education was completely out of the question).

    All Common Core is, is setting up grade standards and using several methods to get (particularly) math presented. It sure does rile up the fundies, though.

  • @Katydid

    I worked for a time for a state agency developing school field trips to state parks, and part of my job was making sure that the programming offered corresponded to Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards, so I spent a lot of time in those weeds so to speak.

    I actually quite like these new standards. Instead of randomly assigning scientific disciplines to various grades (Astronomy is 3rd, Ecology is 5th, etc) is provides a framework to build from simple to complex as the kids age up. It also allows field trip providers to offer programming to a much wider age range because it's more about complexity rather than topic.

    I don't do that anymore, but my 2nd grader is in in public school and I can see it applied to math, in particular. It's not the stuff I used to do, but it's very clear how what they are doing with grouping now will lead to multiplication next year.

    So I think Common Core is pretty neat, but as you say, it manages to rile up the nutjobs like nothing I've ever seen.

  • For heck's sake, Ed is writing a column assuming that people are in some sense trying to "solve" education. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Republicans are here to steer a large chunk of annual government education spending to their cronies. A major secondary priority is breaking the backs of teachers unions. Additionally, they're here to butter up particular demographics such as church-goers and suburbanites who don't want their kids going to school with black people. No one is interested in the actual content of education or educational outcomes. Are you new here?

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    Katydid – I got to kindergarten reading at a second grade level.

    In second grade, I was doing arithmetic at a kindergarten level.

    After much testing, I was put in Special Ed, which at my school was called EH (educationally handicapped; it was the '60s). I had the times table taped to my desk, and the teachers brought in high school history textbooks for me. In retrospect, it was due to my parents being ferociously stubborn; the seating system the elementary school used was alphabetically based, which put me in the back row. My parents got me moved to the front row, then to EH, all in the name of getting me an education. They also got me into the speech therapy program and paid for orthodontia, so I did not go through adolescence with crooked teeth and a stammer. So much of what I've achieved in life can be traced to the efforts of my parents.

    If my husband and I worked full time jobs (or multiple jobs), and lacked the advantages brought by our own upbringing and backgrounds, our sons would not have done as well in school as they have.

  • I raised nine kids, and not a one of them sailed smoothly through the very good public schools to which they were exposed. I used to wonder if the other kids were really that well adapted to what the schools offered, or whether their parents just dismissed the problems because they would be too difficult to deal with. I know I deliberately accepted less remunerative jobs because I needed the time gained to teach my kids.

    Their problems were not all the same. I had a bunch of very bright kids with various learning disabilities, and some without any (also a biiig problem for most public schools, but we found them places in community college). I also had several adopted foreign kids who were, alas, not Hispanic. They could not get any assistance from the schools "because they were not retarded". No kidding!

    It was difficult, and fun, and rewarding, but it should not have had to be my problem alone.

    I myself was a problem to the local schools, and to myself and my mother. She was a tireless advocate for special deals for me in both elementary school and high school. It must have been an enormous relief for her when I entered college. Not that I "fit in" so much more there. I spent about ten years taking whatever classes struck my fancy, then assembled my pile of credits into two degrees and applied for graduation.

    But it was a pretty good background for my batch of mismatched kids. I started out knowing that this kind of problem could be handled, thanks to my mom. (She also taught me that many other types of problems could be handled.)

    Perhaps I should say that she graduated from high school at the age of 13.

    All I know about my maternal grandparents' educations is that they both had advanced degrees (he was a physician). This was in the very early 1900's, so, very unusual.

    I have a lot of opinions about how public education could be improved, but they are all out of date by now.

  • I'm not picking on Common Core in particular but it is not just the fundies and complete morons pissed off about it, here in Oswego and environs. Lots of teachers and people with kids who are doing just fine in school don't like it. I think that the primary reason is them feeling that they have no input or decision making involvememt.

  • I didn't see this in the comments yet, so here we go:

    I grew up in GA, public school (and damn good ones). Most of the private schools in my area were miraculously chartered the year after mandatory de-segregation. The religious fundies are an issue but never forget that it's basically an educational poll tax.

    The only girl I new who went to one of the above charter schools wound up there after her parents found out she was dating a black guy, in 2002 or so mind you.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    Yes, we have a poverty problem, not an education problem as Ed notes. But as Katydid points out, whenever we take action to even attempt to address poverty in kids at the most basic level (e.g., feeding them), the conservatives show up and shout it down.

    Why? Because today's conservatism is very Ayn Randian, and under that viewpoint if you're poor, that means you're a loser and a failure, and we cannot reward failure.

    It's sick and heartless, but it's what's driving much of our public policy.

  • I think our public school teachers do a pretty good job given all the social problems we keep dumping on them.

    Have you noticed that the countries that keep beating the US in educational outcomes have much more centralized school systems? Finland, f'rinstance, doesn't even allow private schools.

  • I want to address something else, but this is as good a place as any, since the issue arises on most threads.

    There is a sort of "resistance of manners" to calling Trumpligula and some number of his administration, "fascists". I think that such resistance stems, at least in part, from being too polite to call the out-n-out fucking insanity of the GOP and its splinter's what it really is, Reactionism. Whatever the GOP might have been, even 10 years ago, it has morphed into a group of whining, self-entitled, pissed-off racists, misogynists, anti-pretty much everything decent and shit-scared crybabies.

    THEY are not Conservatives of any stripe.

  • What Democommie said.

    Also, @Robert, to be clear, I wasn't arguing with you at all. I find it interesting that you had so many struggles and grateful your parents were there to help you and advocate for you. It's sobering to think of what happens to the kids who struggle and don't have parental support. The school system doesn't seem to have the resources to deal with kids who fall even slightly out of the norm. I had one kid with zero issues and another who seemed to have nothing but issues. The issues-kid is finishing up a masters degree in a STEM field, working part-time, and thinking about marriage. The non-issues kid is an undergrad in a different STEM field, working part-time, and dating. The amount of work it took to get both kids to the same place is stunning. We know what happens to those kids who don't have that kind of support.

  • Often children do not see parents because the parents are working 3-4 jobs trying to make ends meet. None of the jobs provide enough hours to qualify for health care or retirement, and god forbid no sick leave or family leave. Parents are often doing the best they can and not getting any support from the community or government, and then the state wants them to not be able to choose whether to have more children or not. The "system" needs to be looked at holistically not "schools" "healthcare" "welfare" "jobs". All of these things are connected.

  • Forgot to mention, the reason schools have free/reduced meals and even meals at all is that there were studies done back in the day when our government could actually accomplish shit that clearly demonstrated that children did much better, hands down, with reliable calories. Tl;dr the whining about free food for poor kids is just more science denial.

  • 1. I strongly believe that every child should be HomeSchooled. As soon as they get off the bus, the homeschooling can start.

    2. In the 1970's we had a different word for homeschooled kids: Truant.

  • My dad went to deaf school in the 1940's. He was extremely hard of hearing, fifty per cent hearing loss as a child. He became an expert lip reader, and his speech pronunciation was damn near perfect thanks to deaf school. He was an amatuer magician so that required a lot of public speaking. You could never tell.

  • About that great commentary? Partly aimed at Gov Kasich of Ohio? Kasich just blew off the schools who are bitching about his funding cuts and telling them to cut all the "fat" off their budgets. So….

  • I would go one step further (or add an addendum) that this poverty is an offshoot of rampant fucking greed. Our country is the greediest nation on Earth by a good length. Unless something directly benefits voters in this country (and I mean monetarily, not in an abstract way) they will not support it. If you tell someone you can cut their taxes by $20/month but it will increase their chances of being the victim of a crime by 20%, I'll bet most people would say, "Oh well. That's an extra case of Bud Light a month!" Money is literally the only thing that matters to a large, large portion of this country. Good Christians, the lot of them.

    We won't fix poverty until we fix greed. How we do that, I have no idea. Hopefully Millenials are less greedy than these fucking baby boomers.

  • @Katydid…have to disagree with you here. Unschooling works very well, provided some rules (like no tv watching or computer game playing) are in place, and the home has adequate resources (read, books, workbooks, manipulatives, parents who actually can talk intelligently with their kids, whatnot) are available. I unschooled both of mine until they were 8 and 10 respectively and when they entered school the both tested 2 or more grades ahead in every subject. I still don't know how my eldest learned to read. The Sudbury Valley system – an unschooling type of school – also shows this.

    Bottom line is what several people have already said…repugs don't want an educated public. Educated people, by and large, don't vote repug. So they do everything they can to fuck up education for everyone who isn't them. Can't fix this until we get rid of them.

  • A couple points about Ohio:

    1) The Dayton Daily News published a story a couple years ago which basically said that the charter schools in Dayton, and there are a TON of them, are just as worthless as the public schools. Basically, if the kids are poor, no amount of charter school magic beans or whatever else they claim to have will fix that and the outcomes will be the same.

    2) Charter schools in Ohio is a huge scam. There was one school that closed halfway through the school year and didn't have to give refunds to the parents or the school district because reasons and they were a "religious" based charter school scammers out of Florida.

    The other story that I remember from a couple years ago was the massively inflated attendance numbers that the charters were claiming that culminated in a school in Youngstown which had a enrollment of ~50 kids (iirc) that had no kids present. None. So a ton of schools were inflating numbers that they were reporting to the state and getting funding based on, but there was no method of actually making sure kids weren't signed up multiple times or that the kids on the lists actually went to the schools.

    Charter schools, as MS points out, are like private prisons. Devices to shovel public money into private hands. The Health Savings Accounts, privatized Social Security, etc., are all the same goddamn thing. Take a public function, do it shitty and cheaply, and then "sell" it as for efficient, all the while collecting public $$.

  • April, I agree with you that if the parents are willing and ready to support learning, learning will occur. I have no doubt your kids kicked academic butt. What I saw going on in my little corner of the world was the exact opposite. Poorly-educated and fundagelical parents were "unschooling" their children, who were mostly feral. As Ed points out above; if a child grows up in a house where no adult ever sets an alarm clock and there are no books in the house or expectations that the children will learn the basic skills of life (readin', ritin', 'rithmatick), the children will play videogames all day.

    I depended on an accredited high school program in addition to community college for my homeschooling, and I still spent my time running around to Teen Book Group and various programs at the aquarium and science center and observatory in addition to recreational things like team sports and a regularly-meeting laser tag group. It was absolutely work.

    I agree with you 100% that the overarching Republican strategy is to have a majority of uneducated slaves and an overclass of educated masters.

  • @Khaled; I saw a news special (60 Minutes, perhaps?) about the charter schools in Ohio with no students, or who went out of business halfway through the year. Anything coming out of Florida can't be trusted.

  • Yep. Yes. YES.

    I left the field of education research because of precisely this. I was tired of throwing away my life researching education interventions when I knew exactly what the problems was, and that we weren't doing jack to address the problem. Instead I was watching waterfalls of money cascade into the accounts of all manner of private institutions (well-meaning as they may be) to tweak this and tweak that and expect… what, exactly? What did we think we would achieve?

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Public schools suffer from the same problem that universal health care suffers from — it's very, very hard to sell any social provision in a country where half the nation — half the political nation anyways — doesn't believe the noun 'society' refers to any actually-existing thing.

  • "The problem is poverty."


    And we can at the very least offer every motherfucking student as close to an equal chance as humanly possible.

    And that starts with an equal opportunity at an education.

  • @Joe Jonas:
    The culture of greed is promoted because it's divisive, and because it normalizes the outright dickishness of our corporate fellow "citizens" and their attendant aristocracy in the eyes of those being dicked. It's difficult to enlighten someone whose world view is built on a willful, prideful ignorance of the actual world.

  • One thing that I don't think gets brought up enough in these debates is how all of these standards and cores and whatever actually affect teachers. If you're given a new system of guidelines every few years about how you're supposed to teach you don't overhaul your entire system of teaching. You'd go insane if you did that. What you do is make a few cosmetic tweaks and fill out some forms about how what you were doing already miraculously fulfills the new standards and go about your business. You just have to spend more time filling out stupid forms and jump through hoops so you have less time for lesson planning.

  • Monkey Business says:

    My mom was a substitute teacher in the public district where my sister and I attended. From the time I started at 6 to when I graduated at 18, the district got a little worse every year, got worse under my sister, and today is unrecognizable. What was once a nationally recognized school system has fallen apart, and if I had kids and still lived in that district, I probably wouldn't send them there.

    So, what happened?

    Well, twenty years ago the district was middle class/upper middle class. Two caring parent homes, disposable incomes, a stable tax base, etc. Today most of the district is on free or reduced lunch, two caring parent families are in short supply, no one has disposable income, and the tax base is shit.

    Some of the kids in the district I grew up in will break the cycle, get an education, raise kids, and send them to better schools than the ones they went to, but honestly most will not. They will fall into the same patterns of poverty, substance abuse, intermittent employment, and just generally hovering around the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder as their parents did. The funny thing is that you can reproduce the exact same scenario in any lower class community in America, from Appalachia to the inner city.

    At some point a decision has to be made. Should we even bother pretending like we as a society give a crap about these people anymore? Ignoring the staggering human cost, isn't it better to go "Sorry guys, it's not your fault, but the fault of your stupid ass ancestors that never managed to make anything of themselves."?

    The alternative is a war on poverty, but that's going to mean tackling tough questions about our society that I don't think the folks in charge want to answer. It's going to mean asking the rich to pay more to keep the mob off their doorstep. And we all know that's exactly why no one takes it seriously.

  • "And we all know that's exactly why no one takes it seriously."

    Well, you know that someone famously said that the 1% could hire half of the 99% to keep an eye on the rest?

    "Jay Gould captured the zeitgeist: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."*

    The irony is in the fact that in the intrerest of saving money, to buy a pair of solid diamond water skis–to use on the lake Chateua Latour 2000 Red–they would scrap the vetting function and bring their assassins right into their own compounds.


  • And after decades of voting against their best interests you can add
    "…..and then get them to kill themselves." to that quote.

  • Interesting and painful question:

    Is part of the reason for failure in much of the American working class the reality that our Owners have decided to replace American workers with cheaper, more pliable imported workers of varying legality? Read some of the history of the meat packing industry. Massive building of monopoly trust structure in the industry, deliberate decision to destroy the unions, massive importing of Mexican workers.

    This sounds like "blaming the victims," but 11 million illegals sounds like a lot of working class jobs-and not all of them are farm field work (the construction trades in California are dominated by unskilled Mexican labor now). and this does not even include the H1 visa program which supposedly addresses the need for tech workers.

    Hence…TRUMP. That does not mean the racism is horrific. That does not mean I don't understand the police state horrors that would be involved in deporting millions of people. It will be devastating.

    But, as the past, our Owners made a decision…for their own profit and convenience…to import much of the lower level workforce. People left behind feel angry about that.

    Throw in the serious cultural decay (gosh, I am sounding like a right winger here, but meth addiction is a factor) and it is a vicious circle.

  • With regard to DeVos as policymaker and those of her ilk (wealthy evangelical Christians) – their politics are intertwined with their religious beliefs. Their obscene wealth is in fact a sign of their god's favor, an endorsement of their status as a member of the elect. God let them accumulate vast riches because he wants them to use it to restore godliness to the wretchedness that is the American public education system. I assume that DeVos would acknowledge that living in poverty poses obstacles to doing well in school. But even poverty is a moral problem in their world view, and providing more funding for "failing" public schools perpetuates the income and learning gap. Unfettered, deregulated free market capitalism may as well be the eleventh commandment (ED WHERE IS THAT BIBLE). Public subsidies – whether for schools, food, or shelter – undermine the individual's inherent ability to help themselves. (Note: these are not my views, but what I assume are the views of DeVos et al).

    My point is: I'm not sure there is disagreement that poverty is a problem in public education. The disagreement is what we see as the root of poverty, and the religious angle is fundamental (ha ha! pun intended) for understanding that disconnect.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    Katydid – no argument perceived. I acknowledge you as a fellow member of an honorable club – children of responsible parents who strive to be responsible parents themselves. You sound like you have done the work that your children needed; that's what parenting should be about.

    Postcaroline – I think it's related to the Just World fallacy. If you have been granted extreme privilege by complete chance, it's tempting to believe that you somehow deserve it. As far as I can see, being born a millionaire's child is morally equivalent to winning the lottery – but the children of millionaires get tetchy when you tell them so.

  • @Robert; what cracks me up is people who are financially struggling and *still* believe in that prosperity gospel crap. I mean, according to their own faith, they're losers and their god hates them. What kind of person buys into that garbage?

  • caroline: What bothers me further in this particular case is a very strong argument can be made that Amway, the source of her fortune, is a very questionable business model…verging on a scam. So for this person in particular to consider her wealth a sign of Divine Favor seems particularly egregious.

    Calvinism may be the single most evil version of Christianity. "tis a shame it dominates so much of American Christendom, but…

  • "Amway, the source of her fortune, is a very questionable business model…a scam."

    Honesty is the best policy. Just because those fuckers have been able to avoid going to jail doesn't mean it's legal.

  • This sounds a lot like the 1960s when all sorts of school experiments were in progress. Decentralization was the big thing back then, not charters, but the idea was the same as was the grift. Everyone who actually knew anything about the schools knew that the problem revolved around unstable family lives and that poverty was the big driver. I'm guessing they knew this back in the time of Jacob Riis.

    The big tell all book of the era was 'Up the Down Staircase', an epistolary novel about a young idealistic teacher's first year in a tough inner city high school. I recently re-read it. It still has a lot of truth to it, including just where one should shove all the tintin scheisserei.

    Interestingly, we have a fifty state educational laboratory, but we refuse to look at what the science is telling us since it runs counter to prevailing ideologies. Massachusetts public schools are as good as any in the world. e.g. Black students in Massachusetts match Finnish kids in Finland. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has well paid teachers, a powerful teachers' union, the state balances local school budgets and so on. Even worse, the state is full of flake-ball liberals, well educated ones, but still liberals.

  • We would never apply the same accountability to Police Precincts because they fail to consistently reduce criminal behavior and we would be correct in refusing for reasons of common sense. The human condition is not one of consistent advance. The demand that schools adhere to that standard is simply a pretext for vandalizing the public school system. The kids of parents who blew off their schooling are not going to be transformed by teaching.

  • If you've been working to guarantee a dysfunctional system of education since, when was the first public school opened in the U.S.? then you gotta be glowing with pride as it's all over but the re-establishment of Jim Crow, debtor's prisons and a new, YUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUge plantation system.

  • Sky Horse-England says:

    Interesting debate viewed from this side of "The Pond." We too endure the same "politicking", from every spectrum, by so called "experts" paddeling in the nation's education crucible. And as for ticking boxes……… However, both democommie and Larkin justify what these crass blinkered myopic experts and loony liberals don't want to admit. There are none so blind as those who cannot see! The poem is so right, it's frightening.

    By Philip Larkin

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

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