Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to get to Kentucky.....from Oregon in less than Three Seconds

On every exam I give my college students I insert a "bonus question" (normally worth 2-3 points) somewhere in the exam to ease the tension a bit.  Usually it is a question from a funny YouTube or movie clip. 
Last week, without any good ideas to go with, I settled on this question:
"If you were driving in a car in Oregon, heading west, where would you be immediately upon leaving Oregon?"
About 15 percent of my students correctly wrote, "The Pacific Ocean"
Many left it blank.  Many more should have left it blank.
I got a bunch of Utah, Montana, Washington, Nevada and Idaho answers.  One student picked Alaska.  One picked Arizona.  Then one headed east and picked Iowa.  Not to be outdone, another picked Kentucky.  Then I read "Atlantic Ocean" and gave up hope that our government schools would ever amount to anything more than glorified day care centers for 6-18 year old kids.
When I was in the fifth grade we were required to know every state, where it was located and its capitol.
We had contests every week between each fifth grade class at Eugene Field Elementary School. 
When I was 11 I knew that you could not get to Kentucky upon leaving Oregon heading west and I doggone sure knew that the Atlantic Ocean was a little east of Oregon.
How in the name of Ernest T. Bass are we supposed to know about Crimea, Ukraine and Russia if most students probably think Ukraine is a rare bird that lives on the border of Oregon and Kentucky and that Russia is something you do when you are late for work?
Ernest T. Bass?  Yep.  Enjoy this clip from The Andy Griffith Show.  My students are like this guy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How the Public Education Monopoly harms Black Americans

What follows is my Op-Ed in today's Orlando Sentinel.  I hope you will share it with people you care about and maybe even people you don't...

Another February has come and gone, and Black History Month also comes to a close.

As a white father of three kids — two who are home-educated — I have enjoyed over the years sharing biographies with my sons that examine the lives of great Americans like Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson.

My boys will never know what it is like to be a descendent of slaves. They will also never know what it is like to belong to a race of people that arguably still suffers from the vestiges of slavery. For that I am simultaneously grateful and outraged.

Fifty years after President Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty in America, the picture for black Americans is not good.
In addition to higher levels of poverty, unemployment, out-of-wedlock births and incarceration, black people in the United States suffer from a less visible but far more insidious form of discrimination that has no end in sight.

Consider this.

If you are a rich parent in the United States, you have complete school choice. You can send your kids to elite private schools, a religious school or home-school them, firm in the belief that the resources will be there to provide your child with the best educational opportunities money can buy.
Middle-class parents, though not always able to pay for the top-end private schools, can with some effort also place their children in the more desirable home-school or private-school setting.
Then we come to poorer Americans and the realistic choices they face.

The facts are clear. If you are poor in America — and you are unlucky enough to live in a ZIP code where school choice or charter schools are not accessible — you are stuck with the school your local government forces you to attend. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not be segreted by race. Today they are segregated by economic status.

The same low-income parents who are allowed to shop anywhere they want for food, clothing, home appliances, cellphones, etc., are told by the government that they must send their children to the school they are zoned for. Translation? They must attend the local monopoly.

Monopolies always charge high prices and give poor service because they face no competitive pressure. Look at what we see in the public-school monopoly: In America we spend, on average, more than $10,000 per child, per year (much more in New York, D.C. and other places), and yet we routinely see our kids finish near the bottom in international math, science and general-education tests.

In much of Europe, tax dollars are attached to the children so they can go wherever they want. This means that schools are forced to deliver high-quality services or face extinction.

Moreover, in countries like Finland, to teach any subject, a person has to have a master's degree in his field of study and six years of on-the-job training before he is allowed to teach on his own.
In America, our education colleges routinely turn out people who have four years largely devoted to teaching-methodology training, but we do not often see experts in chemistry, business, engineering and so forth becoming teachers. This means that in addition to parents having no choice where they can send their kids, poor children often have teachers who are not experts in their subject matter and thus not as prepared to impart subject mastery as they should be.

Compounding matters is the issue of tenure and union power. Over and over we hear about incompetent or borderline dangerous teachers who are first exposed, then protected by archaic rules that protect their jobs and heavy-handed union support that makes it difficult for schools to fire bad teachers.

The victims of this largely hopeless government education model are, and always will be, poorer Americans.

With the highest poverty rates in the country, it is black Americans who are the primary losers in this monopolized market structure.

Until that changes, black Americans will continue to be the primary victims of laws that limit their freedom of mobility and choice.