Saturday, April 09, 2011

Obama and the Equal Distribution of Blame

President Obama has given a speech on education where he admits that far, far too many students are failing and receiving substandard education. Well, that’s true, of course. Is this an admission that government has got its fingers into so many pies that it can’t even run the schools well? Of course not! Obama noted: “We are all to blame.” No, it’s not the government schools that deserve blame. It isn’t the unions that want school run for the benefits of teachers. It’s not the politicians who actually control the schools. It’s not the federal government that increasing tells schools how they must be run. Nope! None of the people who actually run the schools are said to be responsible except as they share responsibility with the rest of us.

You might remember that Harry Truman, when president, had a sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.” Not Obama. His motto is: The buck starts here and he quickly passes blame on to everyone! Obama is a true egalitarian—which is NOT a good thing—he wants the equal distribution of blame. Unfortunately he wants the uneven distribution of power; taking it from those who have little and redistributing to those who have much: he, his fellow politicians and the special interest groups that fund his side of the political debate.

Odd, how this works. There are, of course, tens of thousands of privately run schools that are doing very well with students. But apparently they share the blame for the government’s failure to run decent schools. Hundreds of thousands of kids get homeschooled and do pretty damn well compared to the government-held hostages in politically-controlled schools. But their parents are to blame as well. All those parents in the inner city, who desperately try to qualify their children for vouches to attend private schools, well they are to blame as well. We all have to share the blame. I suspect, however, that if Obama had good news about state-controlled schools, his administration would be taking all the credit for it.

I am told that the classes are too big. When I check average class sizes in the various states none of them were similar to the class sizes I had as a kid. My schools ran 30 to 35. I once asked me peers what they remembered and they said the same thing. Yet our schools had much better performances than what we see today. In truth pupils per teacher have been falling dramatically even as testing scores for students fail to improve. The Department of Education writes:

For public schools, the number of pupils per teacher—that is, the pupil/teacher ratio —declined from 22.3 in 1970 to 17.9 in 1985. After 1985, the public school pupil/teacher ratio continued to decline, reaching 17.2 in 1989. After a period of relative stability during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the ratio declined from 17.3 in 1995 to 16.0 in 2000. Decreases have continued since then, and the public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.5 in 2007. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 13.0 in 2007. The average class size in 2007–08 was 20.0 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.

The Department says that more and more teachers are being hired even while the number of school children are not increasing. They said that by 2009 the pupils per teacher ratio had reached a new low of 15.3 students per teacher. Yet, Obama admits the government schools are an educational disaster zone.

This does not surprise me. Teachers, through their unions in particular, are major funders of Democrats. The more of them there are the better off the President’s political party is. The kids aren’t better off because it and the taxpayers are much worse off. But those teachers are faithful bureaucrats who vote to expand state power, confiscate more wealth and contribute mightily to Democratic campaign coffers.

I am told that the government does not spend enough money to educate kids. Again the average private school spends less per student, on average, and still gets better results. One of the absolute worst school systems in the country is the Washington, DC district. I once looked at their total budget, divided it by the number of students they deal and got the average amount spent per student.

I next looked at the tuition rates at the various prestigious private schools in the area. You know the ones I mean— those schools where Obama, Congressman, Senators and other government bureaucrats, send their children. Their children got superior educations from what they provide District schoolchildren and it cost less per student. They had a voucher system in DC and parents fought hard to include their kids in the system. The parents wanted it, the kids needed it; but the teacher’s unions whined that it was “unfair” since all kids apparently need equally bad unionized education. The Democrats, who kiss the ass of the unions, immediately caved and abolished vouchers for the poor. The unions were happy, the Democrats were happy, kids got screwed but you don’t think education is about the kids, do you?

I attended a small private residential school, not because my family was wealthy, which is how we libertarians are viewed by those who earn much more than we do. Actually I was admitted precisely because we were NOT wealthy. We were four kids and a single mother who was a widow. The oldest of us was barely 12 years old. The school was a charity for needy kids with tuition determined by whatever benefits the family received for the children. Various civic groups paid the rest of the cost.

Now I have some horror stories to tell about the place and might do so some day, but I doubt it. Some demons are best left buried. But those monsters are not related to the education per se. There were a handful of teachers for the students. The school itself had around 250 students. Most left in high school. There were really only a couple dozen students at that level and they lived on campus but attended the local public school. The bulk of the students, about 230 of us were pretty evenly distributed through the different grade school levels. That works out to close to 30 per grade.

There was a small school band, ROTC (yep) and some sports. There was a rec hall and open space to play but playtime was limited. There were no parents to help us with homework. We just sat down and did it ourselves. But the education itself was certainly adequate and on par with the public schools of the day, and vastly superior to the schools we now have.

After that I did one year in a huge, relatively awful suburban public high school but complained so much about it my mother tried to send us to a local private school. It had low tuition and was funded charitably but even that got too much of a burden. One day we were called to the school office and told we were being withdrawn from the school and sent back to government schools because the few hundreds dollars it cost per month, was too much for my mother to afford. We were shocked and disappointed, none of us wanted to go back to the government schools. Word spread we were leaving. By the end of the day our tuition was paid by our teachers, who took the money out of their relatively low wages—much lower than their government counterparts. The students at this school tested 2 years above their peer groups in government schools.

Being a private, unaccredited high school my diploma wasn’t recognized by the state. I had to take a GED test to make sure I was worthy of university. In most the categories I tested in the 90 percentile and 95 in one of them. All our students had to take GED tests because our school wasn’t deemed as good as the schools where our peers were two years behind us. By the way, the fact it was religious didn’t prevent my becoming an atheist and I know of quite a few atheists who graduated from Christian schools.

I think of Marva Collin’s an inner city schoolteacher who got sick and tired of the government bureaucracy. She started a school in her home and took kids the government schools said were too dumb to learn, or too problematic. She taught them and they excelled. To this day her ghetto kids, from poor families, many of whom were failing in the government schools, continue to outshine their public school counterparts. Ronald Reagan offered her the position of chairman of the federal Department of Education. She turned it down. Smart move – she knew the government system and why it was failing and simply shuffling staff around wouldn’t solve it.

We have a school system that is run like a prison. We have teachers who are more concerned about their pensions funds and early retirement that about teaching. We have school boards and politicians running the schools who are beholden to the teacher’s unions for their positions and who are more interested in satisfying their donors than teaching kids. We have a school system that has all the flaws of any system run by bureaucrats and politicians. No, Mr. Obama, we are not all to blame.

You are to blame. So is Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, George Bush Jr., a slew of Congressman, Senators, millions of politicians and bureaucrats across the country, along with teachers, and their unions. Parents feel powerless. Most have few options but to send to their kids to the nearest state educational asylum and hope for the best. They have choices in most other matters. Not in education. Kids are held hostage to the system and will be sacrificed to the gods of politics and used in the most contemptible ways to promote personal political agendas.

The whole mess will come down one day. I’m not keen for that to happen but it will happen. Government is a lumbering dinosaur that doesn’t know how to educate very well. It is a cookie-cutter system that imposes the same sort of regimen on every student, no matter how individualized the needs. Politicians make it worse, not only is every student treated the same, but they impose regulations to make every school the same—no diversity, no choice, just regimented politically motivated courses.

We should liberate the educational system. Defund all schools completely. Take the average funding per student and distribute it to the parents in the form of vouchers. Take every state educational asylum and turn them into private LLCs with all the teachers as joint owners. Let the teachers decide the curriculum; let them decide how many officials they need at the top of the rung. Abolish the department of education at the federal and state levels. Let private schools compete on the same terms as the teacher-run schools. Who ever can attract students, and keeps them, gets the funding. Those who fail students lose students and lose funding. Some of them may even go broke. And this atheist says “Thank God” for that. They deserve to go broke. Services that don’t perform should go under. But in government, failures get more funding because they are failures.

Let humanists, progressives, rationalists, libertarians and others who want secular, quality education open their own schools, or buy out the teachers at the failing schools. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Kids who thrive when left to explore on their own can go to schools that follow that policy. Those who require more discipline and regimentation can go there. We could have quality schools that aren’t bogged down in abstinence courses and fighting about “intelligent design,” because secular, science-based education is emphasized.

Will there be some awful schools that might still survive? Sure, just as today their tens of thousands of awful schools that suck in billions from the taxpayers and fail their students. But I bet there would be less of them. These god-awful educational asylums may fool the politicians but they aren’t fooling the parents. Today parents are pretty much powerless. With funding following students those parents would be empowered and they won’t take the crap that substandard schools are dishing out. Parents would move their kids and the funding would follow them to better schools. The mere threat that shitty schools could go bankrupt and close down is precisely the sort of discipline the educational establishment needs.