Thursday, May 19, 2022

How to save public education

Kevin Baker - whose blog just celebrated its nineteenth blogoversary - has an uberpost about the dire state of education in this country.  You should go read the whole thing which lays out in detail (it's an uberpost, remember?) just how FUBAR'ed public education is on these shores.

It's an uberpost so it's impossible to excerpt, but Kevin's conclusion is what made me think:

The public school system cannot be reformed. I must be destroyed and the people in it must never have power over children again. 

Alas, destruction would be very difficult as there are too many vested interests at play here.  What we need to do it minimize the enemies our plan will make, and maximize the allies it will get.  I posted about this several years back, and still think that this plan has at least a fighting chance of getting through:

A modest proposal to prevent the fall of civilization

Every person has two educations, one which he receives from others, and one, more important, which he gives to himself.
― Edward Gibbon
The Silicon Graybeard muses on the fall of civilization:
Over the years, I've said (and more often hinted) that what I see in the future is not just the chance of an economic collapse due to the world's unsustainable debt levels. I see a real chance for another Dark Ages. The main driving force there is the Postmodernists in academia pushing the idea of "my truth and your truth"; the idea that there isn't anything other than our perceptions of things. That works fine for simple questions like, "what's your favorite color?" but is completely wrong for "what's the speed of light?", "will this virus survive in air?" or any interactions with the real world. VDH follows those trends to the conclusion a Dark Age may already be starting.
When civilization falls, it falls hard.  We hear mostly dry statistics about the collapse of civilization, things like the population of Rome in 100 AD was around a million people.  That's impossible to visualize.  Instead, we should look at this:

Immagine gentilmente concessa da Wikipedia
This is Monte Testaccio in Rome.  It is a hill made entirely of broken pottery, and it dates to the first and second centuries AD.  It's over 100 feet high, around a kilometer around, and historians think that it used to be much larger but has eroded over the last two millennia.  The Roman "bread and circuses" was a huge welfare project that fed much of the city's population, and which required huge imports of not just grain but also olive oil - over a million gallons of oil each year, every year, for hundreds of years.  The oil was shipped in big clay pots, but what do you do with the pots when you've distributed the oil?  The Romans were the best engineers until at least the eighteenth century, and so they came up with an engineering solution: they made a mountain out of broken up pots.

And then it all fell, and fell so far and hard that it was forgotten.  The Roman Forum itself - the political center of the Ancient World for centuries - became a cow field, the Campo Vaccino:

Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino by J.M.W. Turner, painted in 1839
It's been said that any system can survive only three generations before facing crisis. The first generation is the generation that created the system. They knew it intimately. The second generation saw the system being created, and so at least understood its main functions and how they worked. The third generation inherited the system. They may or may not know anything at all about how it works.

If this is a system created by the government - and remember that government is politics - then politics will be the main thing that we can expect the third generation to understand.  NASA is an excellent example of this dynamic: the generation that won World War II created it.  They landed a man on the Moon and returned him safely to the Earth, all in that decade.  The generation that followed watched that.  They were able to make a Space Shuttle and a Mars Rover.  Now NASA is in the third generation and the Space Launch System is pushing a decade late and $20B over budget, all while offering less capability than SpaceX at ten times the price.  But hey, a Senator is happy so it's all good, amirite?

This Republic has a population that is observably more stupid than when I wore a younger man's shoes. This isn't just get offa my lawn ranting, it's a measurable fact:
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), test scores for 17 year olds have not improved since the early 1970s. That is, the average 17 year old in 2012 got about the same score in reading and math (287 and 306, respectively) as a 17 year old in 1971 or 1973 did (285 and 304, respectively). 
The response from professional educators?
Carr argues that flat scores aren’t terrible. “It’s a good thing that they’re not going down,” she said.
Well okay, then.  This is the same time period when per-pupil spending on K-12 education has skyrocketed:

If anything, this understates the scope of the problem: there is lots of discussion about how incoming college students can't read or do math very well, and so they have to take remedial course (and take on student debt while doing so) before they can start what would otherwise be their studies.

Note that this discussion has been about the portion of the public education system that is arguably working; it doesn't work at all in the inner cities.  None of Baltimore's schools graduate students who can do mathematics, and Atlanta's school system had a huge scandal where test scores were massively manipulated so that administrators could get their incentive bonus.  People went to jail for that, but the system is no better almost a decade later.

In short, the more government has gotten itself into education, the dumber the population has gotten - and at fabulous expense.  The system is broken, and since it's a government system (in which politics is uber alles) it will not reform itself.  Further, the public education system is generally popular throughout the land, so the normal political process will be useless for reform.

And so the Republic slouches towards the Campo Vaccino.  The third generation will lead to a fourth, and as Graybeard fears, a new Dark Age approaches.

Immodestly, I believe that there is a solution.  It's one that will improve performance, reduce costs, and be politically acceptable to large portions of the voters.  The Department of Education can issue a rule saying that if a public school system does not issue vouchers allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice, that the Department will withhold education grants to that school system equal to the average per-pupil cost in that district.  The Department will then issue an Income Tax credit to the parents for that amount.  The Department will provide a free home schooling curriculum and teaching materials for free with the tax credit.

Simples.  No fuss, no muss.  It may even be that the Education Department can do this without any action of Congress.  I Am Not A Lawyer, but Congress has granted a huge amount of authority to the Regulatory State.

So why do I think that this is politically possible when the Teacher's Unions and Democratic Party (but I repeat myself) will fight this to the death?  Consider:

  • Vouchers are popular among blacks and hispanics and have been for a long time.  This makes sense, as its their kids who are locked into failing school districts.  You don't get much more White Privilege than mandatory public schools.
  • Tax Credits allow stay-at-home Moms to school their kids if they want.  Home schooling three kids at an average tax credit of around $12,000 per kid is the equivalent of a pre-tax job paying around $50,000/year.  Politically, this will play very well with women.
  • We can expect this to be especially popular with black and hispanic women.  No doubt some upper middle class white women will complain that these women of color cannot be trusted to educate their children but we can dismiss this as veiled racism, and the women certainly can't do any worse than the current inner-city schools are doing.  At the very worst, the money wouldn't be going to an impenetrable education bureaucracy but rather directly to voters.
  • Public schools will have to do a better job, at a lower cost.  Competition will focus on results, rather than on a politicized curriculum.

Now what's interesting about this is that politically this would hurt democrats and help republicans.  However, the people who think that politics doesn't enter into the public education system shouldn't concern themselves about, well, politics entering into the public education system.  And anyway, since government is politics, a better  description of "public education" is "government education", leading to "political education".

This is no panacea against the New Dark Age.  However, it puts resources in the hands of parents who presumably care more about their kids than a set of bureaucrats.  Eliminating all the nonsense permeating the schools (hello, Critical Race Theory!) will let teachers and parents focus on reading and math and you know, education.


Aesop said...

There's nothing wrong with public education that cannot be saved by liberal application of nooses and napalm.

Old NFO said...

That graphic says it all... sigh

Glen Filthie said...


BP - much as I hate public school teachers… no. The national IQ is dropping as more and more coloured immigrants flood into the country. Genetics is real. The average black IQ is 85. Mohammed Ali had an IQ of 79, which is considered mild mental retardation in white people. Roughly 40% of black people are too stupid to hold a mundane job. So it goes for the browns, perhaps to a lesser but still significant extent.

The effect compounds when you send pooch screwing Democrat union slobs to deal, with it, obviously… but even competent teachers are going to face the problems created by demographic replacement of white people.

Beans said...

Want to get more actual teachers in schools? Three things. Okay, Four things. Really, okay, Five things.

First, have mandatory competency tests, no passes, no adjusting for race/sex/mental illness/time of day/time already spent teaching. MANDATORY. If'n you can't do it, you can't teach it.

Second, shoot (not fire, shoot as in kill, well, okay, fire) three quarters of the administrators and non-essential not-teacher staff. If you aren't cleaning, serving food, fixing things, or teaching, you can be replaced by one person and a computer.

Third, preference for veterans. No, I'm not shilling for a system like in "Starship Troopers" (the book, not that dogsqeeze of a movie franchise) but veterans have learned a unique and functional way of learning that is useable in the schools.

Fourth, lock the doors on the Department of Education and fumigate it. Make sure the lobbyists are in it.

Fifth, ban all teachers' unions in government schools (well, ban all government employee unions.) Want to be in a teachers' union? Work at a private school. Work for a public one and you work for your neighbors so embrace the suck.

Okay, Six things.

Ban Education Majors. Simply banning the 2nd easiest degree to get at any university system (the easiest is social work, which needs to be banned also) and forcing the teachers to get a real subject matter degree, like MATH or SCIENCE or ENGLISH, not some nebulous easy-to-get degree that teaches the degree student absolutely nothing. Sure, maybe a minor in getting a teaching certificate, but really, now, anything connected to the modern education degree/certificate is basically an 'I sat through X hours of Socialist Indoctrination and all I got was this stupid piece of paper.'

Six good starting points.

Oh, yeah, MANDATORY THING: Bring back "Warriners' English Grammar and Composition." If you aren't familiar with this book, then you haven't ever seen the single finest teaching tool for, well, English Grammar and Composition that has ever graced the education field. It does it all. Grammar, composition, sentence and paragraph structure, poetry and story forms, business and personal letters, research papers (up to the Thesis level) and more. All in one compact, easy to use book. If it's not in Warriner's, then it's either some really obscure thing or it's some made-up bullscat that needs to stop.

Tacitus said...

Introducing race into the discussion does little to advance towards a goal. Muhammed Ali made a career out of being punched, and while he was pretty good at avoiding it there is a cumulative effect. By many measures some of the smartest, hardest working people in America are from places of alternate pigmentation. It is culture more than "race" whatever that is these days.

The teacher's unions are the most obvious source of the decline of public education and I agree we'd be better off without them. But we would still have a generation coming up with their brains aligned to screens showing superficial manipulative content, and in homes increasingly without effective two parent teams. There is no obvious fix for this.

The suggestion of military vets getting precedence has merit. Not just as students but as teachers they excel.

Demand competence and laud excellence. What to do with the unfortunate mass of young people who will attain neither is the difficult question.


Richard said...

Trying to come up with "good government" solutions to the dysfunction of the education system is futile. Our enemies are too numerous and powerful. Note I said enemies. This is a concept that most conservatives don't get. We must separate if we are to avoid having them drag us into a Dark Age.

danielbarger said...

More proof that we are NOT an intelligent species. Merely a clever one. There may occasionally be an intelligent person, but as a society we are not intelligent.

HMS Defiant said...

Remember, good dictionaries had a grammar chapter in the back. Short, to the point, easy to comprehend. Why anybody needs to sit through hundreds of hours of instruction on it never made sense to me. I agree that a person who is unable to read is of no use at all in modern society. That we waste billions on education that sits students down in classes for 12 years and turns out illiterates at the end is an outrage. OTOH, I had to study all summer when my dad yanked me out of Annandale public schools and wanted me to enter the third grade at a private school. I had to learn all the math and English schools had failed to teach in the second grade.

One thing I read that struck home. The first three years in school teach you numbers and to read, after that you start teaching yourself. Fail to learn the first 3 years and everything after that is a waste.

Glen Filthie said...

Any goal you have Tacitus, must be based on reality, not virtue signalling. If your goal is basic literacy and numeracy you can virtue signal and tell all the pretty lies you want… but at the end of the day, 40% of blacks will not make the grade. If it makes ya feel any better, 13% of whites won’t make the grade either. There’s no magic bullet or warm fuzzy politically correct way to get around that. Those people don’t have the software to do what you want them to do.

So yes, race definitely IS part of this discussion whether you like it or not.

Will said...


"By many measures SOME of the smartest, hardest working people in America are from places of alternate pigmentation."
Not enough, unfortunately. 200 years ago, that was good enough. 50 years ago, not so much. Nowadays, not hardly.

"The average black IQ is 85." In the US, maybe. Worldwide, it's 75, IIRC. Interbreeding has bumped it 10 points here. Whoopie. How much has it lowered the average US IQ?

"It is culture more than "race" whatever that is these days."
The Black Culture, here in the US, sucks, and is part of the problem. Their apparent builtin attraction for violence is a MAJOR problem, that is seen worldwide. Is it genetic, or culture? (I'm guessing BOTH) I don't see any practical way to fix that predilection. Shame the Liberian Gambit didn't work. The US would be in much better shape if it had.

Avraham said...

This is a fascinating blog entry. It reminds me of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind.

Will said...

Borepatch, did blogger remove my comment, or did you? Can't find your email, so...

blogger said...

Will, I didn’t delete any comments.