Monday, December 10, 2007

Education & Money

The lead editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington, Ky., of 09 December and a column about public education in the 10 December issue by Marty Solomon, retired University of Kentucky professor, point to problems and suggestions regarding the subject, but do not emphasize, at least with facts and figures, the enormous increase in funds their suggestions would entail, particularly with respect to the latter column, in which is a call for a “tiered education system” marked by at least three layers, one for the “hopelessly behind at the get-go,” another as a technical-training system (though optional), and a third for the “best and brightest,” as Solomon designated them.

The defining factor in the Solomon suggestion is that such systems, obviously available only in cities but not in districts with small student-populations, is their labor-intensive component, translated, very expensive. The editorial pointed to the areas in which Kentucky is behind the other states in all categories such as number of high-school graduates, number of college degrees, etc.,…the usual. The suggestion was made that the governor and legislature “should move quickly on a major overhaul of need-based financial aid,” translated, throw much more money at the problem.

This is where the latest efficiency-rating activity of U.S. News & World Report magazine comes in. Just as it has done annually with regard to determining the best universities, colleges, med schools, hospitals, etc., USN&WR, using the expertise of School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor’s, issued its first accounting of the nation’s public high schools in the 10 December issue and listed the 100 best high schools in the nation as determined by a complex formula indicating how schools discharge their responsibility to all students, not just based on grades. Forty states were examined for the 2005-06 school year, representing 93% of high school seniors.

Predictably, there were no high schools in Kentucky among the top 100; however, Kentucky ranked 17th overall, meaning that, on average, its system performed better than either two-thirds of those of other states (counting all 50) or far better than half, counting the 40. The former figure would seem to hold up, since it represented all but seven percent of all seniors in the country.

This is surprising, since the alleged doleful aspect of Kentucky public education as compared to that of all other states and many countries is the usual fare offered up by the media, especially as they continue to scream for more money to be thrown at this area. It is NOT surprising in the fact that legislatures subsequent to 1992 or thereabouts have been gradually dismantling the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (outcomes-based education emphasizing self-esteem), getting rid of its silly mixing of K-5 students in the same classes quite a while ago, for instance, and doing away with bonuses for teachers who supposedly perform better than other teachers, never mind the gross unfairness of that protocol on the basis of demographics alone.

For Solomon, “class-distinction” was the defining factor in calling for “accelerated schools as an option for kids who are failing,” with the usual reason, to wit, “children from poverty, on average, start school far behind their more fortunate peers.” Well, of course. Later, regarding these schools, he states, “…but these schools are not for families that cannot abide such a regime.”

His regime includes nine or ten hours a day in school, Saturday school, summer school, nightly homework, and “parents who insist on academics as a first priority.” In other words, the key is the parent, and if the parent had been on the job in the first place there would be no need of the “regime,” notwithstanding the fact that Head-start, a very expensive project, has been in operation since the 1960s to get at this problem on the front end, with virtually no success.

The problem is primarily social, and no volume of new techniques, new pedagogy, new facilities or new legislation (except to finish off KERA) will make a dent in the problem until parents quit damning their children’s education-achievement right from the get-go. This problem will grow worse no matter the efforts, since 70% and nearly 30% of black and white children, respectively, are illegitimate, having no father of record and no documented family. In most cases, poverty is the outcome of these circumstances, thus Solomon’s defining factor, with which the education establishment cannot successfully deal no matter how much money is thrown out there.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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