It is no secret that the public school system fails millions of
students. Reasons given for this almost invariably concern the students, their families, their communities, their lack of ability, or other excuses that don’t place responsibility on the system, or its practitioners.
Certainly outside factors do exist and need to be recognized so they can be dealt with. But a reason is not an excuse. To a degree little
recognized by those responsible for the present system its practces are a large part of the problem. Public educators simply don’t know what to do with students who are not sufficiently motivated, or equipped with a proper background and value system to learn largely on their own. Self-education is a significant part of the reason why some students are high achievers.
It has been said that banks will loan you money if you can prove you don’t need it. Similarly, it might be said that public schools can teach students who can learn on their own..
A major part of the problem with too many public educators, is not what they don’t know but what they know that isn’t so. Much of the rest of the problem is explained by their unwillingness, indeed their inability, to utilize, or even recognize, successful alternatives that already exist.
Nor is this new. The idea that there was once a golden age for public education when everyone succeeded is largely an illusion. While, for
example, students may have been more successful a hundred years ago the reason was not that the schools were more effective but that it was largely the better students who were still there as the years passed. It is reported that at the beginning of the 20th century, only about 6% of the students were still there to graduate from high school. To this day, although on a smaller scale, the easiest way for schools to raise average achievement scores is for
poorer students to drop, or be pushed, out.
For example, as Colin Greer reported in "Public Schools: The Myth
of the Melting Pot" in the November 15, 1969 Saturday Review, "The factory,
the union, the political machine were agents of mobility and Americanization
before the school…The establishment of an ethnic middle class was basic to
entry onto a wider, middle class stage via public education…The correlation
between school achievement and economic status was so high that in school
surveys carried out in the mid-West during the 1920’s, its became necessary to separate Scandinavian-Americans from other ‘ethnic’ Americans because the
school performance of their children so outdistanced other foreign mid-West
Knowing that fact or today’s contemporary finding that students
with an Asian heritage tend to do much better than students of other ethnic
groups, may be interesting but, by itself, is not especially useful since other students can’t become Scandinavians or Asians, or be raised in an optimum environment.
Unfortunately, what can be done, besides separating high-achieving
groups from the mix, as stated above, is to change how achievement is
measured to, as former New York State and City Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto has written, introduce "dumbing down" of tests and try to con the public into thinking the results are still valid.
Martin Wooster, in his 1994 book, Angry Classrooms, noted that
dumbing down apparently dates from 1919, in Boston, when "The city attempted to administer a test for eighth grade honor students previously given in 1845, but had to change 82 percent of the questions because the nineteenth-century test was too difficult for their school generation."
Even the 1919 "dumbed down" test might be too difficult today.
This is suggested by the fact that literacy, which most people
assume has been increasing as mass education has expanded in the United States, is decreasing. Twenty years ago it was reported that there were not only 23 million functionally illiterate adults in the country but that their numbers were growing. Our dropout rates were also among the highest among developed nations and student achievement was often last.
But not to worry. In per pupil expenditures and pro-public
schooling rhetoric we are probably consistently in or near first place.
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Portland, Arkansas, Elementary school – half the 4-6 grade pupils
were 2 or more years below grade level. With a new principal, and Direct
Instruction, 100% of students read at grade level or higher and most students are
above the national average in both reading and math. Thomas Sowell,
Black Rednecks and White Liberals, San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005, chapter
on "Black Education, Achievement, Myths and Tragedies"
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