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Good Ol’ Public Education
Posted by: Dale Franks on Wednesday, February 01, 2006

John Stossel casts a gimlet eye on public education. In doing so, he takes a look at the case of young Dorian Cain, a 12th-grader in South Carolina. Dorian, despite having gone through 12 years of school, can't actually read on a first-grade level.
His mom, Gena Cain, has been trying to get him help for years. If Dorian were in private school, or if South Carolina allowed parents to choose schools the way we choose other products and services in life, Dorian and Gena would be "customers" and able to go elsewhere — if any school were dumb enough to serve a customer as poorly as Dorian has been served. But since Gena is merely a taxpayer, forced to pay for the public schools whether they do her any good or not, she can't even demand a better education for her son. "You have to beg," she said. "Whatever you ask for, you're begging. Because they have the power." They do. What are you going to do — go elsewhere? Gena can't afford that.

Gena's begging eventually got results — just not results that helped her son. What the school bureaucrats did was hold meetings to talk about Dorian. (Bureaucrats are good at holding meetings.) At the meeting we watched, lots of important people attended: a director of programs for exceptional children, a resource teacher, a district special education coordinator, a counselor and even a gym teacher. The meeting went on for 45 minutes.

"I'm seeing great progress in him," said the principal. "So I don't have any concerns."
Of course he doesn't. After all, he doesn't take a cut in pay if Dorian, or anyone else, graduates from school without being able to read. He's already got tenure, a cushy administrative job, and a guaranteed salary. I wouldn't have any concerns, either.

For people who actually care about Dorian, the picture is slightly different.
Well, Gena still had a concern: Her son could barely read.

Was Dorian just incapable of learning? No. ABC News did see great progress in him — when we sent him to a private, for-profit tutoring center. In just 72 hours of tutoring, Sylvan Learning Center brought Dorian's reading up more than two grade levels.

In 72 hours, a private company did what South Carolina's government schools could not do in over 12 years.
But, Sylvan Learning Centers are in the private sector. Like the immortal Dr. Ray Stantz once put it, "You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results." When you ask people to pay you good money for a service, you pretty much have to provide the service in the private sector.

Government doesn't generally work that way. Transactions with the government aren't consensual, so the government doesn't have to provide satisfactory results. Or, rather, they don't have to provide them until they are absolutely forced to.

The sad thing is that we've been hearing stories like this for the last ten years at least, about high school senior and graduates who are functionally illiterate. And employers aren't stupid. They know that the rot is deep in public schools, which is why that any job more complicated than burger-flipping now requires a college degree.

But don't look to public school "educators" for any answers. Stossel spoke with South Carolina's superintendent of education, who enthuses that the state has had a massive improvement in SAT Test scores. Stossel, however, isn't impressed.
That's great. But when you're ranked at the bottom, improvement doesn't mean much, and South Carolina, even after its "No. 1 improvement" is still last among states. SATs don't make for perfect comparisons because states have different participation rates, but South Carolina's participation rate is about average, and yet its students perform well below the average.

That's not good. Yet the superintendent said, "We are making tremendous progress in South Carolina, and we're very proud."

In government monopolies, that's how bureaucrats think.
I'm kind of curious as to how many teachers public schools would be able to attract if they required teachers to enroll their own children in the school system. In districts like Los Angeles Unified, for example, the majority of LAUSD teachers send their children to private schools. Too bad their students' parents don't have the same ability.

But any reform suggestion like vouchers or privatization faces the stiffest opposition imagineable. "Educators" who work in the bureaucracy hate the idea of reform, because it means less money and power for them. The NEA-associated teachers unions hate the idea, because, despite their pious mouthings about how much they love our children, at the end of the day, the NEA is a labor union, whose sole purpose—like all labor unions—is to provide its members with more jobs and higher pay.

But, until we change the system we have, there'll be no end of Dorian Cains.
 
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That’s great. But when you’re ranked at the bottom, improvement doesn’t mean much, and South Carolina, even after its "No. 1 improvement" is still last among states. SATs don’t make for perfect comparisons because states have different participation rates, but South Carolina’s participation rate is about average, and yet its students perform well below the average.

That’s not good. Yet the superintendent said, "We are making tremendous progress in South Carolina, and we’re very proud."


So because SC couldn’t make the jump up into next to last place, their improvement is to be denigrated and disregarded? I don’t think so. Improvement should always be applauded and continued- that’s the trick!

It just means that they have a long way to go, sometimes you can’t get there in one big leap.
 
Written By: Shark
URL: http://
So because SC couldn’t make the jump up into next to last place, their improvement is to be denigrated and disregarded? I don’t think so. Improvement should always be applauded and continued- that’s the trick!

It just means that they have a long way to go, sometimes you can’t get there in one big leap.
What ... are you from the NEA or something?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
I certainly wouldn’t deny that there are problems with the public education system in many areas, nor that bureaucracy and unions deserve their share of the blame. But Stossel’s Sylvan experiment is ridiculous — vouchers and school choice wouldn’t have given this kid a year’s worth of one-on-one tutoring sessions. Those places charge up to $100 per hour, depending on how specialized the need is — the $9,000 per kid per year that SC spends would get them less than a month’s worth of education for each student.

And note that the 72 hours was spent only on reading, ignoring all other subjects, and of course this child’s rate of progress would surely start tailing off — you can’t assume that another 5 x 72 hours would get him 10 grade levels higher.

There are good arguments to be made for a voucher system (as well as against them), but comparisons like this are bullsh*t — they’re a sign that someone has an agenda rather than an argument.
 
Written By: kenB
URL: http://
""Educators" who work in the bureaucracy hate the idea of reform, because it means less money and power for them."
I agree with everything you’re saying - I’ve said it myself over and over. But I’d like to point out that a small minority of educators exist in the public school system who are exceptional teachers (and administrators) but can’t stand what the unions, apathetic parents, and government have done to the system. These people are there for the love of teaching and helping students improve, despite the multitude of problems. It certainly isn’t for the money. I watch my wife do it every day and I’m amazed that she endures so much crap for so little reward.

Shark, improvement should be applauded, but the applause should be governed by the quantity & quality of effort and potential for achievement. I doubt there are any factors that make the students of SC any less capable than the students of any other state, so their average potential should be the same. I suspect, however, that the quality of effort is sorely lacking.

kenB, I think you’re missing the point. Stossel isn’t trying to say the solution is to spend $100/hr per student, nor that it is a reasonable expectation to spend that much (if anything Stossel says we already spend too much with not enouogh to show for it). He’s pointing out that a few hours of focused, dedicated effort from someone who is being held accountable for results accomplished far more than the school system in 12 years! It is not implied that a couple more weeks of Sylvan will make him a HS grad either. But don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, the school system should have accomplished the same thing that Sylvan did within a 12 year window? I’m betting that the cost to put him through those 12 years was a lot higher - with worse results - than the 72 elapsed hours in Sylvan.
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Those places charge up to $100 per hour, depending on how specialized the need is — the $9,000 per kid per year that SC spends would get them less than a month’s worth of education for each student.
But given the results of many public schools, at the end of the month of one on one instruction, would the student have learned more? Isn’t that the real measure of education? Not time spent learning, or dollars spent learning, but actual knowledge acquired?

Crazy, I know.


Of course if you want a great solution to deal with kids failing to learn enough by the end of 12 years you just pay for another two years.

Makes me want to scream.
 
Written By: Ryan
URL: http://
Ryan, I’d say you have to measure the output against the input.

Knowledge acquired per unit of money and time spent is the metric; those are constraints we have to live with. We can’t take 50 years to provide a HS level education even if the cost is free and we can’t spend the money to accomplish it in 5 years even if it is possible, so it’s a question of finding the point of optimization.
 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
I feel for Dorian Cain. I feel sorry for him. Although not because the school let him down, but because his mother did.

I watched Stossel’s 20/20 report, “Stupid in America” that highlighted Dorian Cain. And what I saw, was a mother who didn’t make sure her son knew how to read.
Gena Cain was furious with the school, and she had a right to be. But I remember my wife and I sitting there watching this and we simultaneously came to the same conclusion, Woman… teach your boy how to read!

Parents have more responsibility than teachers do when it comes to the basics of education. I remember I knew how to read before I went to school, I remember this because the teacher enlisted me to help others See Spot Run.
If you want to leave it to the school to teach your children when the Magna Carta was signed, fine. You just make sure your children can count to 1215, mmkay.
Gena Cain should bare the brunt of criticism here. That certainly doesn’t let the school off the hook, though. It was pathetic.

John Stossel was trying to convey the privatization of schools, an argument to be made, certainly. But in true Stossel form, he picked a horrible example. I can only imagine how many other viewers were thinking the same thing my wife and I were, and essentially ignoring his message.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Pogue, not only do I wonder what the crap his parents were doing when the kid was age 1-5, I also wonder why the school didn’t hold him back or get him remedial help (maybe they tried?). I didn’t see the show, but the article doesn’t mention any of this.

I agree fully that parents are ultimately responsible, but it is also completely reasonable to have expectations about what the schools will deliver since we do pay for them. They have to be accountable.

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
The responsibility should run something like this:

Student
Parents
Teacher
System

Each can screw up, but among the list, wouldn’t we all say Parent is the most likely to be the most responsible and concerned?

However, my Mom had to work 3 jobs to keep me fed, so I can understand after the final night shift she may not have had the time to check my homework. So, I’d say if the student isn’t doing it himself, then yeah, the teachers and schools are up to bat. If they fail, it’s pretty sad.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
What are yall talking about, I spent 13 years in public school and I speak good...

but seriously Pogue makes a good point, that it is the parents responsibility to teach him how to read and learn and such. So what’s the most common way to accomplish this? Send them to public school since you’re paying for it with taxes anyways. So the parents’ method for teaching their son was to send him to public school, and they did not get what they expected from the deal, not by a long shot.
 
Written By: Chris
URL: http://
This is also interesting. Dr. Pournelle has written about this subject many times. From one of his comments...
In 1983 the National Commission on Education, Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman, wrote "If a foreign nation had imposed this system of education on the United States we would rightly consider it an act of war."

Things are worse now.

This is OT: On an unrelated issue, could you add a "paragraph" button to the HTML tools? It’s a pain in the fourth point of contact to manually add <p> and </p> tags by hand to split up lines as in the above quote. For that matter, you’re always adding a blank line prior to seeing a <p> instead of after you see a </p>. That’s why my replies always have a starting blank line, unless I remove the markers from the first paragraph as I did in this post. Or is there an easier way to do this that I don’t see because I’ve worked with XML too much?

 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
He’s pointing out that a few hours of focused, dedicated effort from someone who is being held accountable for results accomplished far more than the school system in 12 years!

This is my point — he’s leaping to the conclusion that it’s the being-held-accountable portion of the equation that made the difference, not the level of resources that Stossel dumped onto this one child. Private single-subject tutoring is so far removed from what a public school could reasonably be expected to do for its student body as a whole that it’s a useless comparison. It would’ve been fairer to put the kid in a private school for a year (one that charged $9,000/year or less) and see how much progress he made, across all subjects. I have no doubt that they could’ve found one that would’ve made a big difference.
 
Written By: kenB
URL: http://
Why are you using P tags? I think pretty much everybody else, including me, just hits the return key when they want a blank line.

So, what, exactly, are you asking for? Are you using some odd browser like Opera that makes you see things differently than everybody else?
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
I think pretty much everybody else, including me, just hits the return key when they want a blank line.
This doesn’t work for me (according to Preview). I need to use a P tag to make paragraphs look right in Preview.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Questions:

1. What sort of grades did Dorian Cain get on his report cards for the last twelve years? Were his schools inflating his grades in the interests of "social promotion"?

2. At what point did Gena Cain become aware that her son was having serious problems in school? What did she do about it beyond complaining to the school?

3. What did the school tell her?

4. How prevalent is this problem in the school / district / state, and what is being done about it?

5. Can Gena Cain read at an adequate level to allow her to teach her son, or at least supervise his education?

RECOMMENDATION:

The public schools are not doing an adequate job of educating children, but instead have become a lab for half-baked educational and social theories and a guaranteed job for lack-lustre civil servants. I say that we disband the public schools and transfer complete responsibility for the education of children to their parents / guardians, who will then turn to the free market to get what they want.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
Questions:
[...]
All good questions, doc. But you’ll have to ask Stossel.
Good luck with that.
Especially when Stossel conveniently omits facts that do not support his agenda…, umm…, I mean journalism.

And I would support something along your recommendation. You’d have to come up with something for the children whose parents couldn’t afford schooling. Like Medicaid. They could apply for the “education welfare” and receive funds for their children’s education.
And everyone else can pay for it with their own money.

I’ll leave it to wiser men than I to work out the details.

Cheers.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
AHA!

I see what the deal is. This is one of those things that the way you work determines what you see. I don’t use the comment pages. I usually comment from the permalink/details page, where the preview works the way it’s supposed to.

Apparently, in the class module containing the code for the comments.aspx page, I commented out the line of code that formatted the text box for display in HTML. I probably did it for testing purposes, then neglected to un-comment the line.

It’s fixed now. So, you don’t have to put in HTML code for paragraph breaks or what have you on the comments page. Just type into the text box, and the comments page will now format everything properly for the HTML preview.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
transfer complete responsibility for the education of children to their parents / guardians,

So if a parent decides that his/her child needs no education, or has very strange ideas about what constitutes good education, we’re cool with that? Our society has tended to be reluctant to give parents full control over their kids in this way, at least over the last century or so.

(The preview looks much better now — thanks, Dale!)
 
Written By: kenB
URL: http://
kenB wrote:

"So if a parent decides that his/her child needs no education, or has very strange ideas about what constitutes good education, we’re cool with that?"

Absolutely. Right now, many people are not satisfied with the "strange ideas" being foisted off on their kids by the public schools. Hence, they homeschool or send their kids to private school.

There are also those foolish parents who don’t think that their kids need an education. Oh, their kids go to school; it’s the law, your know, and anyway it’s cheaper to send them there than hire a babysitter. But the parents really couldn’t care less about whether or not the kids learn anything.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
Thanks for the Pournelle quote. I believe that I remember the buzz it made at the time.

Back in the 70’s, I had the opportunity to tutor functionally illiterate college students. Face it folks, government schooling is just that...government schooling. Schooling is not an education. It is only one facet of an education. Even with that, there’s nothing sacred about government schools. Personally, the quality of government schools’ ’education’ big decline began with the New Left’s fads taking over back in the 60’s.

Here’s a line that I like: "You can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink, and you can lead a child/person to knowledge but can’t make him think."
 
Written By: Charles D. Quarles
URL: http://spaces.msn.com/members/cdquarles/
I didn’t see the program on T.V. The way I see it the State is responsible. Every state receives federal funding for education and every State is required to comply with the provisions of our educational statutes as well as other civil rights statutes to ensure nondiscrimination. I don’t know what the mom did or did not do, or if she herself is literate, but I do know this.....the local educational agencies (LEA’s) pretty much do what they want to do without regard to their promises to comply with the federal, state and local laws pertaining to providing a free appropriate public education to all school age children. If a parent happens to recognize their child is not progressing appropriately in school they can complain. Trust me, complaining doesn’t get you results. I have notebooks and computers full of complaints. I have peoples names in my cell phone from the US Department of Ed, and they know me by name. I have other numbers... our states office of governmental and legal affairs, they know me by name. You get the idea. The enabler here is that most parents don’t utilize the formal processes available that have a chance of impacting change. Most parents don’t have a clue and all school personnel lie. When they tell me my deafblind daughter is doing so well, I stare them down and ask them why her brother, 4.5 years her junior, is performing at a level, in most areas, two to three years beyond her actual age and her progress amounts to an age level range of 7-10years. The schools are not going to do what they promised, the state is not going to make the local schools comply and the federal just looks at the progress. AHH...now we have NCLB....all have to report to the feds. The school has to count my daughter too (report progress)! The law in our state says I’m responsible for her until she’s 21; during that year she can still go to high school if she has not yet qualified for a diploma. I have lots of time left to perfect complaining.
 
Written By: Tam
URL: http://

 
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