"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thoughts from Some Heartlanders on Educational Flatlining and Enormous Federal Spending

I am going to link two EXCELLENT posts on education. Both links refer to the Cato Institute's study on educational spending during the last four decades and student scores. While spending has has increased 180%, scores have flatlined. These two bloggers theorize why this has happened and how (or if) it can be turned around.

Darin, one of the team members on Missouri Education Watchdog, wrote on his main blogsite, Reboot Congress, about the history of education, the enormous amount of money spent on education with no measurable improvement, and his thoughts on how he believes education will evolve in the future:

I think that the reason that we "turn our kids over to an institution" (schools) is that historically educational institutions had a high degree of quality. That past quality has translated into current pedigree and so we wind up with graduates who are credentialed, but not educated. The historic quality of education was derived from the fact that educators of yore were at the top of the yet-to-be-named knowledge worker pyramid. Today, they're basically at the bottom--no one fails out of an early education degree and decides to go into engineering. What's happened is that there are a lot more job opportunities for the smartest people so they go work for Google or whatever while the marginal college students tack on the courses necessary to become a teacher as a fall back position. Or, worse, they go into public policy or some other apprenticeship for bureaucrats/education administrators. A hundred years ago that education bureaucracy didn't really exist. A few people noticed that every time education issues were voted on, more money went to schools. Now, there are battalions of administrators studying everything in their school district except their own efficacy. The first rule of every bureaucracy is to spend your budget. The second rule of every bureaucracy is to fail. They're effective bureaucrats. And the response of parents (homeschooling or private school) has now become common. They've basically exited the system. In a perfect Hayekian world, a new educational order would emerge. I believe what homeschoolers are unintentionally doing is implementing, testing, and refining that new educational order. At some point, there will be a better and free alternative to public education and shortly there after, public education ceases to be a line item in government budgets.Well, that's how I think the education bubble will pop. In practice, what will happen is that a town or city facing a huge budget hole will notice a free alternative and implement it while firing their teachers and education administrators. That process will repeat, if the free alternative adequately meets the educational needs of the community, so maybe the bubble has a slow leak instead of just popping.

Van then chimed in from Blogodidact on his ideas of the problems in education today:

Look at the Cato chart of performance across the years… the lesson to learn from it is that no matter what ‘strategy’, format or ‘standards’ or tests are followed, or how the classroom is arranged or stocked with various electronic gadgets or graphically enhanced textbooks… the materials taught from, and the purposes of the lessons themselves, are uninteresting, unintegrated and entirely uninspiring. No matter how much money is thrown at whichever part of the modern educational process, so long as the purpose of education is taken to be to impart skills and responses, it will fail. Or as the more cynically minded have said, it has succeeded, succeeded in producing people who cannot hope to be self governing, and who therefore welcome the government stepping into their lives to fill the gap.

...When we find a way to enable real teachers to provide their services, and include parents in participation with them, and provide the materials in such a way that the teachers themselves can Teach as they see fit, where they wish, and how they wish, and Parents can send their kids to those ones who most reflect their values and wishes... then we'll see a revolutionary change in Education.

Both make excellent points. Read both posts and I believe you will understand why the mandates are educational nonsense cranked out by the Department of Education. Until we start really educating children instead of expecting rote answers to the "teaching to the test" teachers are forced to implement, we will have the flatlined scores so vividly portrayed by Cato. And, as long as the bureaucracy of education exists, students will not show improved test scores. As I have noted in my posts, I discovered many years ago, "the system protects the system, it does not exist to serve the student".

We wrote on the "Trigger Option" and why we believe it may not be the panacea some organizations and politicians believe it to be. Darin's and Van's insights support this theory. If you have a floor about to cave in on your house, do you replace the floor without fixing the foundation? If you fix the floor without addressing the underlying problem of what's holding up the floor, you still have the same problem! The new floor may last for a while, but eventually, the new floor will collapse as well. If the foundation is faulty, it won't matter how much you repair the floor or gloss it over by carpeting. It is still unstable and will fall.

I believe that's what the Cato diagram illustrates and what Van wrote-- No matter how much money is thrown at whichever part of the modern educational process, so long as the purpose of education is taken to be to impart skills and responses, it will fail. The Federal government can mandate away all it wants--if the content and process are faulty, real education will not occur and the flatlining will continue. How much more money will we keep pumping into a system that is not responsive to educational purposes? Our students have been flatlining for forty years and this system cannot be resuscitated.

Here was a response to our posting on Florida Governor Elect Rick Scott's rather revolutionary idea of providing vouchers for Florida families:

I am a public school teacher but believe it or not I am not against vouchers nor do I think that school choice would end public education.

Read the rest of the reader's comment...he is in the trenches and understands the problems of public education and has some good observations on how it should be addressed. None of his suggestions, nor Darin's or Van's, suggested schools need more federal dollars, Race to the Top, common core standards or other additional federal mandates.

Darin, Van and I are from the state of Missouri, the Show Me state. We've seen what four decades of increased mandates and federal spending have meant for students. We've seen enough. We want to see real education for students, not watered down instruction so students can pass assessment tests. I hope other citizens are becoming as concerned and frustrated as we are about the state of public education. It has become a huge expense for little results.

Educational policies are being written by lobbying groups. Is there ANYONE in the state of Missouri or on the national level that truly cares about students and understands why special interest groups should not be writing or implementing educational policies?

It's time for Missourians to insist on their state sovereignty and refuse to fund any of these underfunded Federal mandates. Legislators, are you listening?

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