Not Why This. Just Why Not That.

I like to argue why not a lot.

Why not public school choice? Because it won’t improve educational outcomes and will increase expenses. Why not higher standards? Because they are based on well-meant but foolish delusions about reasonable academic goals for large, heterogeneous populations. Why not poverty as a reason for the achievement gap? Because poverty is trumped by race, which is probably a proxy for cognitive ability distribution (which does not mandate a genetic cause). Why not blame unintelligent teachers? Why not blame unions that protect those teachers? Because teachers aren’t incompetent, there’s vanishingly little evidence that teacher smarts affect educational outcomes, and unions can be blamed for increasing costs, but not for educational outcomes of any sort. Why not believe we can change and improve public education? Because given its task, public education is not doing a bad job. Certainly not as bad a job as many people believe. Cf: blood from turnips.

What I don’t do is openly advocate for my own vision of public education, which entails ending, limiting, or at least challenging the reforms of the last 40 years.

I gave a brief history of education reform since 1965 or so in The Fallacy at the Heart of All Reform, which doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should, and so I shall quote myself:

So here we are. Schools are stuck with the outcome of two different waves of political reform—first, the progressive mandates designed to enforce surface “equality” of their dreams, then the reforms mandated by conservatives to make the surface equality a reality, which they knew was impossible but would give them a tool to break progressives and, more importantly, unions.

From the schools’ point of view, all these mandates, progressive or “reform” are alike in one key sense: they are bent on imposing political and ideological mandates that haven’t the slightest link to educational validity.

I’ve written before of my perplexity on this point: Why has there been no organized effort to resist or repeal the legislation and court decisions that buttress progressive reforms?

For example, only recently has the reform movement taken up the tracking gauntlet again, and they are doing so most timidly—even blaming Americans for their reluctance to sort by ability. (Um. What?) And sometimes, they tentatively advocate reforms that teachers want, like discipline and tracking, but never with any acknowledgement that these restrictions weren’t organically generated by public schools, but rather mandates imposed by courts and lawsuits. Other reformers gently chastise us for even thinking about sorting by ability, which can “condemn these high-potential, low-performing students into lower classes…sadly, these “tracks” frequently become castes from which it is all but impossible to escape.” With nonsense like this, who needs progressives? Last summer, Checker Finn announced that private schools were being replaced by charters, as if we should celebrate the increased costs incurred by parents who might otherwise fork out money to educate Junior at a Catholic school. Just recently, Fordham tentatively suggested that districts band together to educate severely disabled students, and a decade ago, it cheered the reauthorization of IDEA without ever challenging it.

Whenever I ask why the right, broadly speaking, has abandoned the field to expensive federal intrusion, a commenter will post in a sepulchral voice, “Conservatives have given up. Regular people have given up. The game is lost.”

As I write this, conservatives are busily pushing voter ID and reviling the mainstream press for claiming the knockout game is a myth. So clearly, it’s okay to mock the liberal obsession with political correctness, access, and race…..except when education is involved?

In twenty years, the modern reform movement has certainly achieved results, but not public buy-in. They get legislative victories occasionally, but polls routinely show lukewarm support at best for their main objectives. The public likes public schools. Where’s the political opportunism, the craven catering to public whim? It’s very irritating.

So this next part is my best effort to interpret the absence of any attempt to push back on the original progressive reforms, and it’s….not to be taken as some grand scheme. Just a combination of typical advocacy fund hunger and genuine—and unobjectionable—political goals. And the absence does need explaining. The current reform movement really doesn’t make sense, given that lack of buy-in.

But advocacy groups need money and the group of education givers include a lot of billionaires, many of them conservatives. Not a group, I’m thinking, that would be open to the idea that public education is doing a good job, that teachers aren’t incompetent, that we should stop treating parents as consumers who can re-allocate their portion of tax dollars to the detriment of public schools. And of course, the billionaires who aren’t well right of center are way off to the middlebrow left and would not take kindly to cognitive reality. So they found their own group of “new left” reformers.

So that explains billionaires and the reform agenda, but it doesn’t explain Republicans as a whole. Why aren’t they pushing back on the reform agenda, which implicitly adopts the same progressive objectives of equity, access, and equal results? That, too, seems more a political strategy than a genuine effort to improve education. Teacher unions pour millions into the Democrat coffers. So I guess the thinking from the Republican point of view is why invite media castigation and endless legal battles on disparate impact, why piss off the extremely activist parents of disabled children, when the alternative is attacking and hopefully obliterating a major source of Democrat money? Once they kill the unions they can focus on actually improving public education. And so the culling of teachers for special opprobrium, for job features that apply to all government workers, particularly those relative bastions of Republican support, cops and firefighters.

Oh lord, you’re thinking, Ed’s gone the way of Diane Ravitch. No. Well. Yeah. But not because I think it’s bad. I’m fine with, you know, whatever. It’s fine to want to stop union money from going all Dem. It’s fine to want to end unions, if that’s your bag. I am not criticizing the goal or the desire to spend money to achieve a goal. If you’re a reformer insulted by my conclusion that you’re tailoring your message to please the moneymen, or a Republican angry that I doubt the purity of your motives, well, remember, I’m trying to figure out an interpretation of your stated objectives that doesn’t make you an idiot. At least naked opportunism and a political agenda makes you deviously dishonest.

So the groups that would logically push for ending or at least curtailing the progressive overreaches, the absurd mandates that hurt public education, are funded by people who, for various reasons, aren’t interested in kicking them over, and the political party most likely to push back sees a big pile of Democrat money. That’s my current take as to the puzzling absence of pushback on public education mandates and expectations.

Whatever the motives, the current reform agenda will only make things worse by delegitimizing and ultimately destroying the public school’s still-essential role as community resource, and increasing both direct and indirect costs at the same time. No, thank you.

Of course, my consistent rejection of reform means I support the status quo, imposed upon us by progressives. Yes. Not happily, and only as an alternative to reform goals. Remember, progressives aren’t deviously dishonest, in my paradigm. They’re idiots. No offense, progressives. But you didn’t need donors to cater to; you all had an entire academic infrastructure supporting your reforms, and a whole bunch of lawyers happy to sue for equal access, disparate impact, and a host of other millstones you hoisted around public education’s neck. And you did all this on purpose.

So here we are, billions wasted on ideas that most people understand won’t ever work. And no one openly challenges the modern mandates of public education.

I don’t spend much time arguing for an end to the progressive reforms. I’m not sure I want to end them all. I just want people to discuss it more, dammit. But I must confess to a temperament that prefers analysis to advocacy. If you put up a list of your top ten films, I’ll critique your choices. Where’s my list for you to critique? Don’t have one. Too limiting. Let’s get back to debating your list.

This gives rise to the claim that I’m just a naysayer. Okay. That I can’t be taken seriously unless I put up my own proposal. Whoops, back up. Sure I can. I am, in fact, taken seriously, far more seriously than I ever envisioned. Good opposition is best when it’s done by the relatively pure of heart. I have no agenda other than convincing you that everyone else is wrong.

This next part is what I set out to do five days ago when I began this essay, without the excessively long throat-clearing:

So suppose I were going to advocate for a particular vision. What would it entail? To which I say oh, please. I can’t even come up with a list of ten best films. However, I will offer up the questions, the issues, that I think we should seriously engage with:

  1. The public, not the parent, is the intended beneficiary of public education.
  2. The state should be able to charge immigrants, both legal and illegal, for their K-12 education.
  3. The state should not be responsible for the education of English Language Learners, whether immigrants or not.
  4. We should consider centralized schools, possibly federal, for educating the organically retarded or any students with physical disabilities requiring significant financial support. The familial retarded should remain as a local responsibility.
  5. Public schools should be able to organize their students by cognitive or demonstrated ability without consideration of race, class, religion, or gender.
  6. High school diplomas should denote tiers of ability, to better reflect a diverse population with a broad range of cognitive abilities.
  7. Publicly funded college should be restricted as described in this essay, and restricted to the top two tiers of high school diplomas.
  8. Adult education, as opposed to college, should be an offering for those who haven’t met the top two tiers.
  9. Immigration’s impact on public education and the job opportunities of the cognitive spectrum’s lower half should be a matter of national attention and debate.
  10. Public K-12 education should not include charters, magnets, gifted student schools, or any other specialized resource school that can restrict access.
  11. Select schools should be reserved for incorrigible students who disrupt education for others—and these schools should be educational, but not terribly fun. Hey. We could call them “reform” schools!
  12. Private school tuition should be tax deductible, with a cap. Benefits of deduction should accrue primarily to middle income savers, not the rich. (I’m in favor of this approach for tuition and other investments in education.)
  13. The federal government’s role in education should be limited to data collection and investigation. I would like very much to learn what, exactly, we can teach people with IQs lower than 100, for starters.

Far fewer words: roll back Plyler, Lau, IDEA, and any notion of evaluating for disparate impact (as opposed to actual racial discrimination which, for the record, I consider a Bad Thing).

There. I am not necessarily advocating for these positions (cop out! you betcha.) But these are the issues I’d like to see discussed.

We must broaden the field of debate. That’s agenda enough for the time being.

**************************

I went off to dinner a few minutes after I posted this, came back and read it again. Ack. Spent four hours rewriting it. The message is the same, but it’s much shorter and, I hope, more focused. Apologies if you read the earlier version.

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115 responses to “Not Why This. Just Why Not That.

  • Audrey

    “The state should not be responsible for the education of English Language Learners, whether immigrants or not. ”

    I haven’t read your whole article yet, and I’m not sure if I agree with this comment or not, but I do think that English Language Learners should not be allowed to slow down students who already speak English or consume an inordinate amount of our tax dollars. Isn’t that why people who immigrate to our country are supposed to already be able to speak English (or at least I think this used to be the case)?

  • Audrey

    Thanks for this new post! I was hoping you might post something over Thanksgiving break.

  • DensityDuck

    ” I don’t offer my own vision of public education”

    Oh BS, anyone who’s read more than four posts on this weblog knows exactly what your vision of public education is. (It’s what you outlined in this post.)

    The issue is that American society has never let go of its Puritan roots; the attitude that hating sin is not sinful has been part of this society since the seventeenth century. And hate just feels so good. But we spent the back half of the Twentieth Century eradicating the connection between “this feels good” and “this is sinful”. About the only sins left in American society are racism and child molestation (gluttony is hanging on but fading fast).

    So anyone who evinces the slightest taint of racism gets the full force of all that pent-up anger; all that desperate need to be mean, to rage and raven and shout, to surrender to pure animal-brain hormonal instinct.

    • educationrealist

      Hey, I was able to give a list because it’s not my vision. Don’t destroy my delusion.

      In all seriousness, it’s a placeholder. I don’t have clear ideas until they are discussed. So yes, this is a starting point, but I don’t advocate it. Too many unknowns.

      And I don’t think your description is accurate. It’s more like a spiral that’s getting tighter.

      • DensityDuck

        “a spiral getting tighter” isn’t incompatible with my notion of American society as a sort of secular Puritanism. Americans never stopped being religious; we just changed what we were religious about.

        There are two end states for religious societies; one is the utter corruption of pre-Luther Catholicism, the other is increasingly maddended attempts to prove one’s faith (or identify the other’s lack of it) which is what you saw in pre-Gorbachev Russia. Endless cycles of purges and counterpurges, accusations, investigations, redefinition of history to eliminate the possibility that sin might have even been contemplated let alone actually happen.

        The solution is that we need to stop defining things we don’t like as Evil Sins. Unfortunately, people are too focused on the idea that Being Againt Evil is more important than making life as good as possible for the greatest number, and so we ignore the possible world in favor of one in which we are clearly and visibly Against Evil.

        ******

        Have you read any of The Last Psychiatrist’s posts? I think you would find them interesting.

      • educationrealist

        I don’t disagree with your analysis, but this feels as it is being “done to” America, not organically coming from within. By the way, I significantly rewrote the essay and made it tighter since your original comments. Since you read the original, let me know if my efforts made any difference!

      • DensityDuck

        I agree, the shorter (and slightly reordered) version is better.

        I think the issue is that while you did not ever formally state the items in this list as a list, they were clearly visible in your writings. So there wasn’t as much need for the whole “oh I don’t really have a philosophy of my own” thing, because you did; you just hadn’t articulated it clearly, to yourself.

        *******

        I disagree that this isn’t coming “organically, from within”. Remember that the ancestry of the American intellectual/political wing is based on people who ragequit Europe over religious issues. It’s entirely natural for the people in charge to be bigger on the idea of Sin than they are on the idea of results.

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, that’s one of the things I realized in rereading it. Wait a minute: I want, well, if not a rollback, I want it to be on the table for discussion. I want us to re-evaluate these original reforms. To hell with everyone else. But it’s also true that I’m not openly advocating rollback, that I’m not so much interested in people adopting my ideas as I am telling people what’s wrong with their ideas.

        I’ll have to mull your idea on it being the new original sin.

  • Jake

    “5.Public schools should be able to organize their students by cognitive or demonstrated ability ”

    “10.Public K-12 education should not include charters, magnets, gifted student schools…”

    So separating by ability is good… but only if you do it in the same building? I don’t follow.

  • JayMan

    Great post! I’ll have more to say later, but it seemed well-timed given that article that mentioned Robert Plomin’s & Kathryn Asbury’s ideas for ed reform (I thought you’d have something to say).

    Feel free to delete the two previous comments of mine. My phone was being a pain.

  • Mountain

    If I hadn’t have read a lot of your previous stuff I would think you were a troll on you own website.
    Show me where in Calif. conservatives made a dent in the public schools and I might believe there is hope for positive change.
    I would happily go for the tax deduction. BTW it would fund massive white and asian flight. It would also fund a private school in my little town. I’d trade it for the charter school run by the school district any day.

  • Mountain

    No you don’t, you’re simply insulting.

  • S

    1 and 2 seem to be in a little bit of conflict

  • Roger Sweeny

    “1. The public, not the parent, is the intended beneficiary of public education.”

    I think most Americans would be flummoxed by this statement. If you pushed them for an explanation, they would say something like this (but without the ed jargon):

    The public is the intended beneficiary because schools should create good citizens and productive workers. The schools should provide the best (“free and appropriate”) education for each child to help him or her reach his or her potential. This will benefit everyone; it is in the public interest. But parents are equally the intended beneficiary because the schools try to turn their children into good citizens and productive workers, which, of course, all parents want. Schools should do this by providing the education that works for each individual student, helping each child reach his or her potential, which, again, is, of course, what all parents want.

    This may be delusion but I think most educational debate occurs within this box.

    • DensityDuck

      I think it might be that what parents want is for their kid to be the next Elon Musk (or at least Larry Ellison) but what society needs is for their kid to be a career auto mechanic, because the teacher would otherwise spend so much time trying to turn them into Elon Musk that the actual next Elon Musk gets ignored.

    • educationrealist

      I don’t think most Americans would be at all flummoxed by this statement.

      But parents are equally the intended beneficiary because the schools try to turn their children into good citizens and productive workers, which, of course, all parents want. Schools should do this by providing the education that works for each individual student, helping each child reach his or her potential, which, again, is, of course, what all parents want.

      I absolutely disagree that most Americans are onboard with this. For one thing, Americans are very clear that not all parents want that. Second, this would justify unlimited funds for any kid for any form of education. Again, Americans don’t want that. You yourself pointed out that parents aren’t forced to send their kids to public school, although they are required by law to provide education.

      This may be delusion but I think most educational debate occurs within this box.

      I don’t think it’s delusion, but it’s very much the incorrect paradigm that leads people to make all the wrong arguments about public education.

      You are arguing, unknowingly, that public education is just a pot of tax dollars to let parents do what they want and call it education. That the public’s desire is totally irrelevant. It’s actually the other way round. You might assume that most parents want what’s best for their kids, but in the event that a parent doesn’t want that, it’s the public will that trumps.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I think that just about all educational debate occurs within the box of “all parents want their children to get ‘the education that works for each individual student, helping each child reach his or her potential.'” Second, very few Americans who talk about education are willing to say that a student “doesn’t deserve” the money being spent on him or her, whether it is special ed or the kid with low SATs and barely passing high school grades who enrolls in college.

        I don’t think that the public’s desire is totally irrelevant at all. I do think the representatives of “the public” are afraid to look mean and unwilling to spend necessary money. Parents can’t do whatever they want with tax dollars and call it education. But if education professionals call it education, very few representatives of the public are going to try to take it away.

      • educationrealist

        You don’t appear to be clear on what you are arguing. You began by saying that the public would reject the definition. Now you’re saying they wouldn’t reject it, they agree with it, but they don’t want to feel mean.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I don’t think that most people think that much about education policy. To the extent that they do, they think that in general, “parents want their children to get the education that works for each individual student, helping each child reach his or her potential.” They also think providing this education is in the public interest. They don’t want to overspend on it but if education professionals and their elected representatives say something is necessary to achieve it, they will go along. They feel bad if they are accused of “denying” education to anyone.

      • educationrealist

        I think your feelings about what “people” think about and what they will do are totally unsupported by evidence. And remember, you began by asserting that most people would reject the statement that public school is for the public.

      • Roger Sweeny

        No, I did not begin “by asserting that most people would reject the statement that public school is for the public.” I began by saying (or at least trying to say) that most people don’t think that there is a difference between benefiting the public and benefiting the parents. They would be flummoxed that someone thought there was a difference. I could certainly be wrong but my impression is that most people think that both the public and the parents benefit when children “get the education that works for each individual student, helping each child reach his or her potential.”

        This may be extraordinarily naive. People may believe it more because they want it to be true than for any other reason. No doubt most people haven’t thought much about it, and perhaps could be convinced otherwise. But I don’t see anyone with much of a megaphone trying to convince them otherwise.

      • educationrealist

        They would be flummoxed that someone thought there was a difference.

        I doubt they would, but if so, that’s where the education process begins.

        In our country, naivete about education, or exploiting that naivete, is a problem.

      • Roger Sweeny

        “In our country, naivete about education, or exploiting that naivete, is a problem,”

        I couldn’t agree more.

  • momof4

    I disagree with #10, because I think that all (educable; see #4) kids deserve to have their academic needs met. Cutoff points for such schools should be able to vary locally. Some urban areas with large numbers of lower-ability and/or less-motivated kids could have lower cut scores than affluent suburban schools where most of the kids are at that level. Magnets like Thomas Jefferson, in the DC suburbs, are a valuable resource and our country’s economic well-being depends on providing challenging education to the top kids.

    • educationrealist

      Bright kids can have their needs met in local public schools. I’m not saying they don’t matter. I’m saying that we can’t restrict access. I would be in favor of a high IQ special state school that took all comers. But if it only took as many as it wanted to, nix.

      • Randall Parker (@futurepundit)

        Bright kids can not have their needs met in a school where the average kid’s IQ is 80 or even 90 and probably not 100. No way. Bright kids will be bored out of their skulls and learn way slower than they could. That was my childhood experience. Extremely frustrating.

      • educationrealist

        Sure they can, if there’s tracking. And there aren’t that many bright kids in schools where the average IQ is 90, much less 80. I doubt there are many schools where the average IQ is 80.

  • Hattie

    You might want to go more into details about (1). A lot of people (myself included) feel an instinctive rebellion against any appeal to “the public” or “the common good”. I’ve mostly found it used as a way to bully people into acting against their own interests. That’s not how you mean it, but the charter loving eduformers are gonna have a fit over it.

    My first point would on education, especially in American public schools is “well, I wouldn’t start from there”. Education has such emotional resonance because it’s attempting to alleviate the effects of godawful labour/immigration/economic plans. So much of my reading has me screeching at the screen “and you had to bring in all this diversity WHHHYYYYY?” Yeah, it’s there and you have to deal with it, but it seems like stopping digging would be a good start, and making the arguments in the proper arenas (moving it from education to, say, questions of trade) would be hugely helpful.

  • Bill

    The problem I have with the magnet programs in generally affluent, well educated Montgomery County, MD is that they are magnets, intended to attract a certain number of unusually bright kids to a school with bad demographics. The magnets help the county school system make its numbers, but how does dropping a few hundred very bright kids into the same building as a thousand or so not so bright kids, who have few classes with the bright kids, help anybody? The big disadvantage for the bright kids is the long school bus rides. My daughter refused to do it, much to the dismay of her Asian tiger mom, and went to the reasonably good high school 2 miles from home, so she’d have time to play soccer and lacrosse. That worked out OK, she’s now a young associate in a top law firm and apparently loving it and doing well. I think Montgomery County could have more productive GT programs by locating them where the smart actually kids live. Do you want the smartest kids spending 2 hours a day just riding school buses?

    • momof4

      At the time the Blair and RM magnets were started (possibly the BCC also, I don’t remember), schools only had to report average test scores, so the schools looked OK even with a strongly bimodal achievement pattern between the two groups (with minimal contact between them, even in extracurriculars) The magnet program also kept high-performing kids in the public system. The RM IB magnet was begun at the time the Ritchie Park kids were moved from Wootton to RM,and there was enough parent displeasure that the magnet program (for which many RP kids would likely qualify) was intended to reduce protests about the change. NCLB mandated disaggregated data, so the original premise no longer worked, but the schools were already there and doing well. At the time we lived there, the kids attending the Blair magnet seemed to be disproportionately from weak high schools; very few kids from the top HS even applied AFAIK, and my kids played travel sports with kids from many different schools.

      • vijay

        Almost everything in the above two posts is wrong; Blair magnet is ultra-competitive, and a large number of kids have INTENTIONALLY chosen to walk away from that competition,

        I do not believe the intent of magnet schools is to produce associates in law firms. They are principally science and technology oriented.

  • anon

    “As I write this, conservatives are busily pushing voter ID and reviling the mainstream press for claiming the knockout game is a myth. So clearly, it’s okay to mock the liberal obsession with political correctness, access, and race…..except when education is involved?”

    This is key, and you are not getting the point. Its ok to push voter ID because the target is voter crime (it may be that voter crime is disproportionately black, or it might not. But the target is still crime). Its ok to revile the knockout game because the knockout game is a violent crime (that happens to be performed by blacks).

    But cognitive difference arguments are essentially statements that blacks are not equal to whites (and of course other races/groups have differences as well, but they are not as important). It would require overthrowing a pretty basic assumption in Western society (that all human beings are equal) to state, and act upon, cognitive difference arguments.

    If that happens, a tremendous amount of problems-particularly with regards to education- would be solved. But it is a huge step. Even if it is scientifically defensible, it is a huge step.

    anon

    • Hattie

      “But cognitive difference arguments are essentially statements that blacks are not equal to whites…It would require overthrowing a pretty basic assumption in Western society (that all human beings are equal)…”

      Um, no. I have to stick my oar in here. It means making a distinction between empirical equality (never gonna happen) and moral equality (that we’re all equal in the eyes of god and the law) and focusing on the latter.

      Yes, black people have a lower average IQ. They’re still equal as human beings and, at least for African Americans, as your fellow citizens. The absolute worst thing that race realists do for their cause is refuse to counter the leftist notion that if there are group differences in IQ, it somehow means that some peoples are superior and some inferior. It’s repugnant to most observers, and if educational romanticism is the only alternative, they’ll take it. Anything to avoid the deeply unpleasant types who tend to write for and comment on race realist blogs.

      • Lucius Somesuch

        Metaphysically speaking, I’m not averse to the idea that all humans are children of God, etc., but to pretend that “empirical equality” and “moral equality” can be so completely severed is deeply problematic.

        I’d quibble with the very phrase “empirical equalty”, though I understand what Hattie means by that: differences that are testable and, as far as we can reasonably tell, statistically valid.

        But we’re talking about mental abilities here, indeed the whole cognitive nexus that creates a human personality. These cognitive differences (and even, I would imply, characterological ones) make for real gaps between what different groups contribute economically or expect out of the polity.

      • educationrealist

        But we aren’t talking about groups. We’re talking about individuals.

        If I understand you both, you appear to be saying (cue world weary music): “Look, we all know that blacks are inferior. But we can’t just come out and say it, because, you know, it would shake the foundations of our society. So we all pretend.”

        Well, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Not even a little bit. I reject the premise. I don’t think IQ denotes quality of person or character. I don’t really care what “groups” can contribute economically, and I don’t want a society that evaluates people on that basis. I don’t think that’s why conservatives are not talking about this, either.

        No one knows really, what we can achieve if we try to educate people with low IQs–regardless of race. I’m not saying that a person with an IQ of 90 can be a neurosurgeon. But we don’t know for sure whether or not he or she can be a health care provider, or run his or her own housecleaning business, or manage a McDonald’s.

        I’m not simplistic or idealistic. I understand that society balanced at or around 100 IQ is, all things equal, something we want to keep and that Western civ’s numbers are getting out of whack. But the best way to achieve a better balance would be to give the lower IQ members of society (again, regardless of race) the sense that they have something to work towards, to reward impulse control, to hold off having kids until they have a secure and stable life. We won’t do that if we lie about IQ, and we certainly won’t do that by sneering at people or groups and dismissing their worth simply because the average IQ isn’t what you find suitable.

      • Audrey

        “But the best way to achieve a better balance would be to give the lower IQ members of society (again, regardless of race) the sense that they have something to work towards, to reward impulse control, to hold off having kids until they have a secure and stable life. We won’t do that if we lie about IQ, and we certainly won’t do that by sneering at people or groups and dismissing their worth simply because the average IQ isn’t what you find suitable.”

        I completely agree with you.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Ed, I completely agree with your December 2nd, 2013 at 12:03 am comment.

        On the other hand, I think that many people who work in education–and lots of people who did well in school–do indeed believe that smarter people are better people. It doesn’t sound very nice, so no one wants to say so publicly, or maybe even admit it to themselves. However, they will say that there is nothing wrong with people who do better in school making more money and being more successful in life. In fact, many would even say that it would be wrong if that weren’t so.

        But if 1) mean black IQ is one standard deviation below mean white IQ, and 2) IQ is a good predictor of how well someone does in school, and 3) people who do better in school deserve to make more money and be more successful in life, then blacks deserve to, on average, do worse than whites.

        No one wants to say this. Hell, most people don’t want to believe it. So most people are going to reject 1, 2, or 3–or reinterpret, perhaps along the lines of: 1 and 2 are true now because IQ tests measure the ability of people who grow up in a structurally racist society to do well in schools in that society. But if we fixed the tests and fixed the society, that would no longer be true.

      • educationrealist

        I think what you are doing is assessing my objectives as strategy, like “oh, we should do this”. Instead, what I’m saying is that yes, people have that perception. But debate changes perception. That is, if there are people who think that people who aren’t as smart aren’t as good, let them realize that this isn’t a particularly acceptable view to have. if people think that public school is for the parents, let them see the ramifications of that. If people think it’s good to restrict the access to a public school, ask why kids who meet the same criteria shouldn’t be allowed to attend that school, given that their parents pay the same taxes as a member of the public. And so on.

    • educationrealist

      I just reread your comment, based on Hattie’s remarks, and she’s right. You don’t appear to realize that lower IQ has nothing to do with equality. You further think that all blacks have IQs lower than all whites.

      If you just think our society is based on pretense that blacks are equal to whites, or that blacks by definition have lower IQs than whites, then I don’t think you’ll ever understand my suggestions.

      • anon

        I’d suggest you reread my and Hatti’s comment, based on Lucius’ comments (“…to pretend that “empirical equality” and “moral equality” can be so completely severed is deeply problematic.”)

        There is an argument that Jewish IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than gentile IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is reasonable and acceptable to talk about.

        There is an additional argument that white IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than black IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is unreasonable and social suicide to discuss it.

        In a perfect world, the second paragraph would be just as ‘discussable’ as the first (even if it is partially or wholly wrong). But the shift to that point will be tremendous.

        “You further think that all blacks have IQs lower than all whites.”

        For this to be true, a white mentally handicapped person would have to have a higher IQ than every black person in the country.

        This is so absurd that it is impossible to believe it. It is also so absurd that it is impossible to think that I believe it. It is also so absurd that it is impossible to believe that you really thought I said it. Don’t throw up strawman arguments (this is educationalrealist: not educationalfantasist).

        “If you just think our society is based on pretense that blacks are equal to whites, or that blacks by definition have lower IQs than whites, then I don’t think you’ll ever understand my suggestions.”

        Perhaps you should expand on it, then. Here are your words:

        “As I write this, conservatives are busily pushing voter ID and reviling the mainstream press for claiming the knockout game is a myth. So clearly, it’s okay to mock the liberal obsession with political correctness, access, and race…..except when education is involved?”

        What are you suggesting with this paragraph?

        My sense is that you are trying to backtrack. You are willing to throw around ‘educationalrealist’ and discuss cognitive differences to show how intellectually independent you are, but when confronted with the implications of those concepts, even hypothetically or indirectly, you bawk (as you are now).

        Attempting to openly and rationally discuss IQ differences between groups will have significant social implications (its happening here, in this discussion string, and your blog is supposedly a ‘realist’ site: imagine if this same conversation were being held at Washington Post or CNN) . If you are only willing to spout the language in order to show off your independence, you should just drop it. If you want your language to be taken seriously, educationalREALIST, face up to the consequences of that language.

        anon

      • educationrealist

        It’s “balk”. And go find a grandma to teach her eggsucking. Good lord, what idiot thinks I’m scared? You’re just tedious, predictable, and wrong. It’s a crappy combination.

      • educationrealist

        I mean, look at this idiot:

        There is an argument that Jewish IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than gentile IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is reasonable and acceptable to talk about.

        There is an additional argument that white IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than black IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is unreasonable and social suicide to discuss it.

        There’s not an argument. You apparently don’t understand the difference between argument and fact. It is a fact that mean Ashkenazi (not Jewish) IQ is higher than white, a fact that mean black IQ is 1sd lower than mean whites. A fact. Not an argument. The debate has moved tremendously far in the past decade, and it’s quite unobjectionable to point this out. Science has moved so far, so fast, that liberals are left only with “IQ doesn’t mean anything”. So the argument, such as it is, is about the meaning of IQ. And on that front, too, few bother to argue these days.

        It is not social suicide to discuss IQ differences. It’s dangerous to argue that the differences are linked to the achievement gap. And these two paragraphs, outside of the aforementioned errors, are so tedious. Do you understand? You aren’t adding anything to the discussion. You are blathering on and on, patting yourself on the back for being a truthteller, and you’re telling a two year old that the potty is for poopoo.

        This is so absurd that it is impossible to believe it. It is also so absurd that it is impossible to think that I believe it. It is also so absurd that it is impossible to believe that you really thought I said it. Don’t throw up strawman arguments (this is educationalrealist: not educationalfantasist).

        No, it’s not impossible. The minute you link IQ to equality, especially given the other obviously stupid comments you’ve made, you look like a piker, and it’s quite possible to believe you’re that stupid. If you’re going to lecture your betters, then don’t be surprised when they think you’re even more stupid than you actually are. I was doing you the courtesy of assuming you weren’t stupid, and actually did believe that IQ = equality, just as you said.

        My sense is that you are trying to backtrack.

        Alas. You have no sense. So stop trying to use it.

        And I’m not trying to backtrack. Read the proposals again–or find that two year old to help you—and notice that I never mentioned race as a category, other than to say that we can’t use it as a consideration. These proposals are racially neutral. Conservatives offer many things up that are racially neutral yet would have a disparate impact on blacks. I am saying that I do not find the upset that would occur over my proposals is sufficient, given the current level of discourse, for that to be a reason to stop the debate. I suspect that conservative politicians are not afraid for the reasons that you go on about, as if anyone reading here needs the explanation.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I’ll bet a substantial majority of the editorial boards (and reporters and analysts) at the New York Times and the Washington Post would agree with the statement, “Yes, mean black IQ is one standard deviation below mean white IQ. However, IQ is not an accurate measure of smarts and in a properly run school in a properly run society, IQ differences will not be reflected in performance differences.”

        The debate may have “moved tremendously far” among some people but the public debate certainly hasn’t. (Is there a public debate at all?)

      • educationrealist

        “Yes, mean black IQ is one standard deviation below mean white IQ. However, IQ is not an accurate measure of smarts

        If you look closely, you’ll see that you just repeated what I said. 20 years ago, just mentioning the IQ difference alone would have been a problem. I call that a tremendous difference. They are now arguing something further along the line. And we are getting closer and closer to that going away, since poor whites outscore non-poor blacks.

        This whole line of argument boils down to “It’s not that conservatives want to hurt unions, it’s that they’re afraid to be castigated.” I mean, that’s hard to take seriously. Conservatives themselves would argue that no, destroying unions is a necessary first step. They would argue that unions are the reasons that these arguments hold. They would be wrong, but they wouldn’t whine about how scared they were of being criticized.

      • anon

        “There is an argument that Jewish IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than gentile IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is reasonable and acceptable to talk about.
        There is an additional argument that white IQ is higher (by roughly 1 standard deviation) than black IQ. I suspect it is broadly correct. But whether it is or is not correct, it is unreasonable and social suicide to discuss it.
        There’s not an argument. You apparently don’t understand the difference between argument and fact. It is a fact that mean Ashkenazi (not Jewish) IQ is higher than white, a fact that mean black IQ is 1sd lower than mean whites. A fact. Not an argument.”

        Nope. They are arguments. It is a fact that Jews score a certain average on IQ tests, and whites and blacks score certain averages on IQ tests. The argument: that IQ test scores accurately reflect inherent intellectual ability, is refuted (in my mind, not successfully) by counterarguments (test bias, Flynn effect will eliminate the difference, educational opportunity in preschool will eliminate the difference, exposure to spoken language in toddlerhood accounts for the difference, etc etc). The entire existence of the HeadStart program, as one example, is premised on the idea that the IQ gap can be closed with good preschool!

        “It is not social suicide to discuss IQ differences. It’s dangerous to argue that the differences are linked to the achievement gap.”

        This doesn’t even make sense. Its ok to notice group differences in IQ, but its not ok to notice that IQ influences high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, and future financial success? You’ve got it mixed up. The second (IQ correlates with success) is so obvious that it causes social avoidance of the first (different groups have different average IQs). You’re not only splitting hairs; you’re even doing it wrong.

        Listen to Roger Sweeny, and Lucius Somesuch. You’re not angry with them, so perhaps what they are saying won’t inspire such an overthetop response.

        IQ inequalities aren’t identical with moral/legal inequalities. But separating the two would be extremely difficult-ethically, socially, and educationally. That is why there is no public discussion of IQ differences between groups: conversations among 10 people on obscure blogs don’t count.

        Don’t worry: I won’t be back. You were interesting for a while, but this overthetop response to pretty mild criticism is odd enough to drive me away. The nine of you who remain can go at it.

        anon

      • educationrealist

        Door, ass, etc. Off you go to find a toothless grandma.

  • retired

    A provocative list, mostly sensible and substantially politically impossible.
    1. You cannot separate the 2 since parents are the largest voting block in the country. If only we would vote accordingly.
    2. Why would poor hispanics, the dominant group of immigrants pay for education? They aren’t used to paying for things. (Food, rent medical taxes…) I suspect a bunch would stop sending their kids to school rather than reduce remittances to mexico. The rest of the immigrants are largely taxpayers and warrant free pub. ed. It is in the public interest to try to educate all including the illegals, the downside is too great.
    3. See #2 above. In the public interest although it galls me.
    4. Above my pay grade.
    5. They do in in HS, why not in primary and Mid sch?
    6. Again above my pay grade. I think employers can figure out who is literate and can do arithmetic.
    7. Yes! Resurrect CSU from the dead!
    8. Great, redo the moribund JC’s. SFCC anyone?
    9. Universally known but the Voldemort effect is very strong here.
    10. Do you agree with Charles Murray that how we educate the brightest is crucial? A lot of ed for these kids is jumping through hoops to get into college. College is more of the same to get jobs, although STEM and other fields like accounting actually teach job skills.
    11. Already done, expand it? At one school I saw that 90% of the special ed kids were hispanic while they were less than 20% of the total pop.
    12. Great idea. Terminate the Dept of Ed. to pay for it. Politically impossible.

    • educationrealist

      One thing to remember (this goes for Roger Sweeney’s remarks as well), there’s no point in evaluating these simply by their political reality. My point is that we need to open discussions, get people thinking about them.

      1. I am not looking to separate the two. I am looking for educational voices to articulate public goals for education that put the public interest in the mix.

      2. They wouldn’t have a choice, if state law required it. And if state law required it, and Hispanics (and indeed Asians) couldn’t pay, then it leads directly to the next issue: what are you doing here? Remember, it will still be required to send your children to school. It’s a condition of being a resident in a state: come to the state with kids, you have to pay for their education.

      3. Again, not a choice. You are not thinking broadly. Obviously, this isn’t possible today. We should be seriously debating these issues. Why are we not only paying for students who can’t speak English, but then holding the public schools responsible if they aren’t educated well?

      4. It shouldn’t be. Special ed costs, particularly of the severely disabled, are a HUGE reason education costs have ballooned. So if you aren’t thinking about the cost of special ed, you aren’t really thinking about education.

      5. No, they don’t do it in high school. Any school diverse enough to require tracking can’t track for fear of lawsuits.

      6. Um. No. They can’t. That’s precisely why they began requiring a college diploma, which ultimately devalued it.

      7. Rescuing public universities, making them affordable for bright working and middle class kids, is probably the most achievable item on this list, with some Republican effort.

      8. Ditto.

      9. No, it’s really not. We don’t talk about the impact of immigration on public education. We debate it in regards to unskilled workers, but not education.

      10. We are perfectly capable of educating bright kids now, if we give them focused attention. I do not want to see a lottery-based school, creating haves and have nots by luck.

      11. No, we don’t do this. We do the opposite–create charter schools for motivated kids and leave the incorrigibles behind to screw it up for the many kids who can’t luck out into charters.

      12. See above comments–the issue is that we should be discussing it.

  • Elliot

    You talk a lot about tracking in high school. How many of the high schools would you say don’t track? My school(I’m a student) tracks, and I had thought that they all did. In my school there are six math subjects: Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus, AP Calculus 2. Are the schools that don’t track the ones that don’t have AP math programs?

    • educationrealist

      That’s not tracking. That’s just the typical math sequence.

      Tracking is when you have from 1-3 ability levels per class. So ninth grade remedial, standard, and honors English. Honors Geometry 9, Std. Geometry 9, and Geometry 10-12. Honors Pre-calc, Honors Math Analysis, and std Precalc. History and History honors. Biology for kids who have flunked it three times, Biology 9, Honors Bio and AP Bio.

      High school tracking is mostly gone. It still exists in wealthy high schools and mostly homogenous white or Asian high schools. Schools that have a 65-30 URM split are usually loathe to track unless it’s a very wealthy school.

  • countenance

    EdReal wrote:

    I’ve written before of my perplexity on this point: Why has there been no organized effort [among Republicans/conservatives] to resist or repeal the legislation and court decisions that buttress progressive reforms?

    I respond:

    Because the typical lamestream conservative Republican is paralyzed by the (real) conversation about race. And to do what you think they should do, push back against regressive reforms, would mean they would have to start grokking race and legislating around race. From a party whose founding father was Abraham Lincoln, the great egalitarian emancipator? The one 150 years ago the month you wrote this post essentially engaged in a virtual constitutional convention at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to reconstruct the Constitution around notions of racial egalitarianism that its authors not only didn’t mean, but implicitly rejected?

    • educationrealist

      Not clear on what you’re saying, but highly unlikely that Republicans are all noble about their Lincoln history.

    • Anthony

      Countenance is broadly right – the Republicans are too gun-shy of talking about anything that touches directly on race to deal with this.

      The Republican strategy came to fruition with NCLB – make the progs live up to their rhetoric. It’s only those schools that can’t “close the gap” that get screwed over. Too bad all those progressive administrators and teachers just can’t do it!

  • anonymousskimmer

    One of the nice things about tracking in places such as Germany is that you know you’re being tracked from the get-go. The student or their family can object if they think the placement is wrong.

    In the US, in many districts, you don’t know you’ve been tracked until it’s too late to do anything about it.

    • educationrealist

      That’s not even remotely true. There isn’t any formal tracking done in the US, and everyone–EVERYONE–knows what group they’re in.

      • anonymousskimmer

        I was ignorant as hell coming from a small city, one high school, school district. And the recent analyses by Hoxby, etc… show that I am not nearly alone.

        http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/projects/bpea/spring%202013/2013a_hoxby.pdf

        It’s the informal tracking that you don’t notice until it’s too late.

        How many Intel science fair finalists come from other than the large cities? Of these how many come from other than a research university town? Geographic tracking is part of the hidden tracking that’s so pernicious.

      • educationrealist

        That’s not informal tracking. Has nothing to do with the subject at hand. And I’ve written about Hoxby’s data.

        Intel science fair finalists come from large cities because Asians don’t live in the country.

        Unless you wish to argue that rural schools are deliberately denying their kids the chance to be in science fairs.

      • anonymousskimmer

        Yes, I am extending the use of the word tracking to a whole country level instead of an intra-school level.

        Well I know I ended up in the county and district I ended up because my father was affiliated with the military (and specifically submarines).

        I’ve read every one of your articles here, at least skimmingly, though I had forgotten about that particular post. What I find interesting about the Hoxby paper is that, all else held equal (which it isn’t), family income level seems to give an average SAT percentile boost of something like 1.6% between the top quartile (95.7% average SAT) and the bottom (94.1%? average SAT – recalling from memory). It would be interesting figuring out why – non-SES demographics?, test prep?

        I believe some administrators at rural schools are denying their students chances to be in science fairs, but as a side effect of policy, not a direct effect (usually, there are a few “levelers”, but bigots exist in every walk of life). To equalize things the state university network would have to directly interact with every school district to make sure HS students are both informed, and have the knowledge, of the resources and mentors available to them if they’d like to pursue Intel-level science.

  • Mark Roulo

    ER,

    How do you feel about public schools like “Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology” or the “The Bronx High School of Science”? Make more of them? Shut them down? Keep them, but make them open enrollement?

    • educationrealist

      Those are the magnet and high achieving schools. I would either close them down OR require them to set a particular standard and take everyone who meets that standard. No “we’re full” or lotteries or admissions committees. I don’t want public schools creating even more of a have/have not problem. Geography is a given–and a good way of distributing the have and have not (parents like to choose peers).But special schools using public funds and limiting it to a lucky few is the thing I want to avoid, whether in charters or magnets or “gifted” schools.

  • Roger Sweeny

    I know this is going to sound nit-picky but I trained where we had to think this way. Would you approve or disapprove of:

    1. The school admits by the applicant’s score on a special exam. The school announces that it has 200 spaces in the entering class, and since it expects an 80% take-up, it will admit the top 250 scorers.

    1a. The school admits the top 240 scorers and tells the next 20 that they are on the “waiting list.” If fewer than 200 of the 240 take up the offer, it admits from the waiting list until the 200 spaces are filled.

    2. The school admits by the applicant’s score on a special exam. It knows from past experience that about 250 applicants will score above 363. It announces that it will accept everyone who scores above 363 and no one who scores below, which, with an 80% take-up means that it will get about 200 members of the entering class.

    • educationrealist

      No. You give the test, you have to accept everyone. Public schools have to do the same thing. They can’t plan. So if someone comes in mid-year and wants to take the test, you give them the test.

      • Roger Sweeny

        You have to take everyone, or everyone who gets above a certain score on the test? Or everyone who get above a certain score only if that score is pre-announced?

      • educationrealist

        Score has to be preannounced. It’s not just for the top 10% of kids, but all kids with this level of ability.

      • Mark Roulo

        In your ideal world, if a student gets into one of these magnet/high-achieving schools (based on a test), do they get to remain their even if they are flunking? Or can they flunk out?

      • educationrealist

        Good question, but given that they have open access, I would say not.

        Keep in mind that I think all these schools should be ended. I am just saying I don’t want the “smart kids school” to be open to just the lucky few who win the lottery or get good grades.

      • John

        So, in your world, does the preannounced cutoff score need to be a raw score or can it be normed (e.g. 700 SAT)?

      • educationrealist

        Well, a 700 SAT mostly (mostly) means the same thing one year to the other. But I wouldn’t want it to be top 10% on the school’s test.

  • Roger Sweeny

    I see. But isn’t okay school number 2 just not-okay school number 1 with a few year’s experience? I’m sorry. Schools bring out the cynicism in me, like when I am told that California’s state institutions of higher learning don’t consider race when making admission decisions; they just look at the “whole person.”

  • Steve Sailer

    Here in L.A., the lawyers pretty much control the public schools through lawsuits. Is it like that in the rest of the country? Or does L.A. just have particularly shark-like lawyers and LAUSD has a huge deep pocket?

    • educationrealist

      Lawyers drive a huge part of this. Lawyers are a lot of the reason that schools with a mixed population started tracking; it’s why the push towards “differentiation” and “heterogeneous classrooms” took hold.

      I talked about this in my last post on choice:
      Besides, public schools are held accountable in all sorts of ways that the officially designated accountability advocates ignore entirely. For example, public schools are held accountable if they suspend too many black or Hispanic students. They are held accountable if they group kids by ability and the racial demographics are unrepresentative of the school community. They are held accountable if girls can’t play football, or LBQT students are referred to by the wrong gender. They are held accountable if their students use social media to torment each other about events that occurred off-campus, on the weekend, with no school involvement.

      This sort of accountability goes by another name: lawsuits. Lawsuits or the threat thereof are highly effective accountability measures, and are much scarier than Mike Petrilli and Andrew Rotherham. Or even Michelle Rhee. Unfortunately, giving in to these accountability measures does nothing to improve public education and often, in fact, does much to harm it. Not that this matters to lawsuits. Or schools fearing them.

      Lately it seems to be driving a lot of the allergy stuff, the sped stuff, and of course the transgender stuff.

    • vijay

      Yes; the above is truly important. Steps 1 through 13 (what? why 13) would be impossible with any self-respecting lawyer around. Hell, I can prepare a lawsuit on 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and I am no lawyer.

      • educationrealist

        You are also apparently no reader, if you think my post and the last one doesn’t make it clear that I’m aware of this. Really, just as the other people are informing me that you know, it’s tough to talk cognitive ability in this country, now others are saying man, these would cause lawsuits. I mean.

        I said are these are the issues we should be discussing. Do you think the public, as a whole, or parents, as a whole, support many of the issues that are out of the question because of lawsuits? Are you literally saying—LITERALLY—that we are completely bound by our legal system, that our legislative system has no ability to impact how the law is interpreted? And that public discourse doesn’t bring this out?

        Of course it does. That’s why there’s so much effort to shut down public discourse on certain topics—to ensure that it doesn’t become something that “reasonable people” say.

      • vijay

        Yes, I am saying that today we are completely a legal system-bounded society. You are having trouble accepting that because you do not venture out into the world where this plutarchy rules. Public discourse only brings out a set of allowable outcomes.

        I will give you countless examples from my life:

        1. I work on E&C; both coal fired and nuclear power plant construction is impossible today because EPA and several agencies have mandated (without any input from congress ) that coal-fired power plant will not happen.

        2. It would be impossible to build a new refinery in the US, because air permitting for new build is LEGALLY impossible. The smog mandates were brought up several friends of the earth club. Today we can only expand existing refineries because we have an existing permit.

        3. The reality of college admissions are driven by a combination of legal mandates and financial obligations.

        4. Building a new plant to make steel or aluminum or copper in the US will bring down upon it a host of pollution mandates that cannot be overcome, and nothing new iwll be built.

        5. Every new fuel pollution mandate is imposed by the EPA, by presidential decree. They are not ever discussed or passed by the congress. Many if not all mandates are driven by lawsuits which demand further protection against smog.

        6. Lawyers have demanded that ash dump cleanup, superfund cleanup which we do constantly should bring it to levels of metal and ash contamination below what existed before the fundite was built.

        7. The department of education adds new mandates will limit suspensions and expelling by race. This was initiated by a perceived lawsuit by a group that includes civilrights project of UCLA, and Open society institute campaign. Not an actual lawsuit, but a threat of a lawsuit.

        8. I worked on a solar power plant construction for the last two years; we had to wait for 24 months to overcome a desert tortoise mandate, for a tortoise that does not exist in the Nevada area where the plant will be built. Further investigation revealed that the line to protect the desert tortoise was added by an Oregon Lawyer.

        I can give out a hundred more legal examples but I will get no further traction. I am not arguing for or against these mandates. I am just saying that is the reality.

        You can discuss everything until you and I die (the second of which will happen in the not far future) but we are now in the endgame of the society where decisions are made by lawyers, and not by managers, leaders or entrepreneurs. Once again, I am not saying that these rules are wrong or right, but a rule of lawyers does exist, and you cannot say that talking about these points will overcome the plutarchy based on blogs and twitter.

  • Rightist

    I am not an educator and don’t claim to have thought about issues in education to anything like the degree that Ed has. Having said that, I think the internet age will have a profound impact on the provision of education in society, just as it is having in other spheres of human activities. The internet has sharply reduced the cost of acquiring basic factual material, to such a degree that it seems there is not really much point in schools pursuing fact-based teaching in many subjects (STEM subjects excepted). So what, then, is “education” nowadays, and does it serve any purpose to many of the (non-academic) population anyway? I don’t think a one-size-fits-all State system works anymore: I think the State needs to retrench from education, certainly in terms of dictating syllabus etc. to the whole nation. Parents need more control and choice in the educational services their children receive, and schools need to be free to accommodate those choices. In many cases, that will involve a vocational education – for many children academic learning serves no purpose when all have access to computers etc that will perform all practical tasks for you. But at the other end of the ability spectrum, we need elite schools that will push high-IQ children to their limits (and which are open to all, as Ed says). For this system to work well, we need data to allow parents to make sensible choices at an early age. In the internet age of low costs of compiling data on student abilities, etc etc, that should be the focus of government. I think Ed has agreed with this?

  • Pincher Martin

    “…I’m trying to figure out an interpretation of your [Republicans'] stated objectives that doesn’t make you an idiot. At least naked opportunism and a political agenda makes you deviously dishonest.”

    Rubbish.

    Republicans earnestly believe that diminishing the power of public unions is a good thing for the country. To turn the first two sentences of your second paragraph around, “Why abolish teachers’ unions? Because it won’t diminish educational outcomes and it will reduce expenditures.”

    Why would Republicans need any other rationale? For them, fighting the unions transcends “naked opportunism” and a “deviously dishonest” political agenda because it adds to the public welfare. They believe that. Firmly.

    But a lot of Republicans get caught up in the enthusiasm of their task. They start to believe all kinds of nonsense about unions that aren’t true. Abolishing unions won’t make students better test takers, for example. And while being able to toss out incompetent unionized teachers is a good thing on principle, it’s not the reason some schools are failing.

    But you can hardly blame conservatives for believing and promoting such things because 1) superficially, they make sense; and 2) a lot of Democrats believe in them, too. The environmentalist dogma is strong in this country and it cuts across partisan and class lines.

    You’re just naive about U.S. politics if you think the GOP and public unions could ever come to a political understanding. You’ll have a better chance of getting lions and cape buffalo to come to a mutual understanding at the water hole. The two have been at each other’s throats for over a century because their interests are fundamentally at odds. Republicans are the party of business. Unions in the private sector, by their very nature, want to raise the cost of doing business. Public-sector unions want to raise expenditures in public budgets and, therefore, raise taxes on productive businesses and individuals.

    Criticize the Republican Party if you want, but don’t do so on the stupid grounds that they are deviously against teachers’ unions. There’s nothing devious about it. The problem with the GOP today has nothing to do with its position on unions. The party simply doesn’t have a coherent and believable agenda that will attract most Americans outside of its core constituencies. If anything, the Republican propaganda about school choice polls pretty well, which is why nearly every GOP candidate likes to talk about it.

    • educationrealist

      “Why would Republicans need any other rationale?”

      They don’t. I said that explicitly. What do you suppose “political agenda” (the Republican reason) means? Republicans can continue to seek to end unions. (Naked opportunism refers to the advocacy groups). I’m good with that. But this part here:

      But a lot of Republicans get caught up in the enthusiasm of their task. They start to believe all kinds of nonsense about unions that aren’t true. Abolishing unions won’t make students better test takers, for example. And while being able to toss out incompetent unionized teachers is a good thing on principle, it’s not the reason some schools are failing.

      is a BIG PROBLEM. It’s not a little problem. And what I’m saying is, go after unions, but why not go after government unions as a group? Then focus on schools separately. But they aren’t. And part of that is because teacher’s unions are huge and give to Dems. so they are conflating things and to you, this is an understandable issue. To me, it’s THE ISSUE. It’s a huge problem.

      Criticize the Republican Party if you want, but don’t do so on the stupid grounds that they are deviously against teachers’ unions.

      I wasn’t.

      There’s nothing devious about it.

      Agreed.

      The problem with the GOP today has nothing to do with its position on unions. The party simply doesn’t have a coherent and believable agenda that will attract most Americans outside of its core constituencies. If anything, the Republican propaganda about school choice polls pretty well, which is why nearly every GOP candidate likes to talk about it.

      I agree with the first part. But school choice doesn’t poll very well with the mainstream. I think the Republicans are making priority 1 bashing teacher unions as a genuine political priority, with “fixing schools” being implicitly or explicitly linked to ending unions. I’m saying if unions are priority 1, then go after all government unions. Make education policy a separate issue, irrespective of unions, and take on some of the objectives I’ve laid out.

      • Pincher Martin

        “They don’t. I said that explicitly. What do you suppose “political agenda” (the Republican reason) means? Republicans can continue to seek to end unions. (Naked opportunism refers to the advocacy groups).”

        You made it sound darkly sinister that Republicans should oppose teachers’ unions, and that the real reason behind GOP opposition had nothing to do with education reform.

        But most Republicans are completely sincere in their belief that by opposing unions they are helping to both ease the strain on public budgets and improve the education of countless public school kids.

        They may be right or wrong in those two beliefs. They might be lazy in thinking through the consequences of what they’re proposing, just as many were in pushing for the invasion of Iraq. But they’re certainly very earnest about it.

        So, please, don’t tell me that you’re for the status quo in education because at least progressives are sincere – unlike those nasty, devious, double-talking conservative reformers. That’s just rubbish.

        “And what I’m saying is, go after unions, but why not go after government unions as a group?”

        Because it’s too hard, politically, to take on all the unions at once. So Republicans divide and conquer. They think it’s better to get half a loaf – or at least a slice of bread – than it is to get no loaf at all.

        But what do you care? Political strategy is not political principle. The issue of tactics should only be important to the degree it helps or hurts the goal you’re striving for.

        You can criticize Republicans for being hypocrites by taking on the teachers’ unions under the guise of reform, but then you’re left trying to explain how Republicans are only now insincere when they’ve consistently been fighting unions over the last century. Or you can criticize the GOP strategy of selectively targeting certain unions as not being the best way to advance their principles, in which case you’re left trying to explain how your idea of taking on all unions at the same time would work better for them.

        Good luck selling either one of those critiques.

        ” But they aren’t. And part of that is because teacher’s unions are huge and give to Dems. so they are conflating things and to you, this is an understandable issue. To me, it’s THE ISSUE. It’s a huge problem.”

        Let’s set aside the obvious strong self interest Republicans have in sticking it to their political enemies by bleeding the unions dry, and instead just look at the two principles I mentioned earlier.

        Do conservatives believe in shrinking public budgets? Yes, in principle, they should. Do conservatives believe that choice and freedom in the marketplace are generally good things? Yes, in general, they do.

        So how is their education reform based on union-bashing conflating the issue if conservatives believe it helps them reach either one of those two goals?

        Look, education reform will either work or it won’t. But the key will be in how it’s implemented. If you really want to slow down the push for school reform among conservatives, keep pointing out how the expansion of school choice is likely to explode education budgets if it’s not done properly, which appears to be the way most Republicans are looking to do it right now.

        Instead you focus on the hidden motivations of conservatives in pushing for reform. You don’t need to. The motivations of conservatives in this fight are crystal clear. If either side of the political divide on school choice needs a psychological examination right now, it would be those Democrats who are taking on their own party’s interest groups by promoting more charters, vouchers, and school choice.

        “But school choice doesn’t poll very well with the mainstream. “

        It polls great with the mainstream as long as it’s presented as talking points. It’s not a mistake that nearly all GOP candidates, from Chris Christie to Jeb Bush to Scott Walker to Rick Santorum highlight school choice in their education platforms, and that even many Democrats have taken up the cause. They have no problem reading the polls.

      • educationrealist

        Keerist.

        I was not making it sound dark and devious.

        I don’t know that many Republicans genuinely believe that unions are the cause of bad schools. If that were true, they would be idiots. There are only two choices. Choice 1: you genuinely believe that kids could do much better, either by changing society or changing education. Idiot. Choice 2: You know better, but are constrained because you get money from people who want to kill unions (reformers) or you don’t care, because the more pressing problem is to kill unions. (Republicans). In this case, you are either devious (that is, you know better) or political (republican).

        So, please, don’t tell me that you’re for the status quo in education because at least progressives are sincere – unlike those nasty, devious, double-talking conservative reformers. That’s just rubbish.

        The rubbish is in your reading skills. Progressives are the idiots. And I don’t support them. I merely support the status quo (which they’ve imposed) over reform, not becuase they are sincere, but because reform will cause more damage, which I spelled out.

        Because it’s too hard, politically, to take on all the unions at once. So Republicans divide and conquer.

        Oh, horseshit. Seriously. That’s garbage. You want to take on unions and crack the facade, take on the damn DMV, or the prison guards. No. They do it because teachers are a huge Democrat union.

        The rest of it is just why you think Republicans should go after unions. Fine, whatever. I’m saying that they go after unions because they care about them more than education. Got it. You’re just proving it.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I suspect that most Republicans “genuinely believe that kids could do much better, either by changing society or changing education.” After all, the last Republican president told them that to believe otherwise was “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

        This may be a big delusion, but it is a delusion they share with just about all Democrats and a whole lot of independents.

        It is extremely bad manners to argue the contrary in public, and, as far as I can tell, there is no one with a big megaphone who does.

      • Sisyphean

        @Roger Sweeny The idea that if only we taught kids correctly they could achieve massively more is an old one… I don’t know where it began but I’m sure it was around far before I first encountered it (dating myself) on Star Trek the Next Generation where young children were often shown learning calculus or other advanced concepts in the presence of advanced teaching technology. I was in high-school at the time and I remember thinking how odd it was, how divorced from my real life experience (of avoiding bullies by taking varying routes home from High school every day, etc).

        In retrospect I can see that the trek writers saw education as just another technology to be improved, if only the right smart people (i.e. technical ones) are involved (and possibly given free reign to design the system as they see fit). it is assumed that every human has great intellectual potential that is being squandered by our inefficient stone age education system. I see echoes of this in today’s ‘give them X’ push where X is ipads, laptops.. some form of technology.

        ~S

      • Pincher Martin

        Education Realist complains about the quality of my reading skills because I wrote, “you’re for the status quo in education because at least progressives are sincere – unlike those nasty, devious, double-talking conservative reformers.”

        Here are the two relevant sections from ER’s piece which will prove there’s nothing wrong with my reading comprehension:

        1) “If you’re … a Republican angry that I doubt the purity of your motives, well, remember, I’m trying to figure out an interpretation of your stated objectives that doesn’t make you an idiot. At least naked opportunism and a political agenda makes you deviously dishonest.”

        So to ER, Republicans are either idiots or – and ER is trying to be nice here – nakedly opportunistic and deviously dishonest in their attempts at education reform.

        2) “Of course, my consistent rejection of reform means I support the status quo, imposed upon us by progressives. Yes. Not happily, and only as an alternative to reform goals. Remember, progressives aren’t deviously dishonest, in my paradigm. They’re idiots. “

        Progressives are just idiots, not deviously dishonest like Republicans. So ER supports the status quo for reasons of character – just as I pointed out.

        ER certainly can’t say he supports the status quo out of principle. He ignores that unions are a financial drag, for example. He is perfectly willing to bash school choice because “it won’t improve educational outcomes and will increase expenses.” But ER doesn’t apply that same standard to unions.

        Do teachers’ unions improve educational outcomes? No. Do they increase expenses? Yes. So true education reform ought to include getting rid of – or at least diminishing the power of – teachers unions. After all, that’s the same standard ER uses for NOT supporting school choice.

        He has good sense. Why should he support paying more for the same good? Unfortunately, the logic ER applies to school choice is lacking when the subject is unions. Instead, he elides back to the safety of the progressive status quo and a foolish consistency. He’ll take those idiot old-style progressives over those deviously dishonest Republicans. Because, you know, the GOP doesn’t advocate taking on all unions simultaneously.

      • Apollo

        School choice is unlikely to have more than marginally positive effect on student achievement, but it’s unclear that it’s actually more expensive. Teachers’ unions probably have a small but marginally negative effect (protecting bad teachers is a marginal negative, but not a big one since the students’ cognitive abilities are the main factor in outcomes anyway), and we know with certainty that they’re more expensive.

        You’re absolutely right. Ed is not looking at the two things through the same lens at all. One of these things is “arguably worth trying–or not–but definitely discussable”. The other is an unqualified drag on the system. Pretty clear to me which has to go.

      • educationrealist

        School choice is unlikely to have more than marginally positive effect on student achievement, but it’s unclear that it’s actually more expensive.

        It’s clear. First off, charters allow parents who would otherwise go to private school to sculpt their own environment and get it for free. All charters have smaller classes than public schools, and are able to cap enrollment. So we’ll need more staff on the public dime.

        As for unions, you’re insane if you think giving teachers more control over their salary negotiations is going to make things cheaper. Districts will lose more control than they gain. Most people have no idea how hard it is to staff teachers. As I’ve said a million times, districts have a much harder time hiring teachers than firing them.

      • Pincher Martin

        “As for unions, you’re insane if you think giving teachers more control over their salary negotiations is going to make things cheaper.”

        We already know they makes things cheaper. You’re insane for even pretending this is up for dispute. Studies have been done on this subject for decades. The only thing up for dispute is how much collective bargaining for teachers unions increase costs. Some studies find a very small impact on salaries and benefits – as small as five percent. Other studies find a much larger impact.

        But nobody finds they have a positive impact – or even no impact – on costs.

        So if you’re worried about the additional costs of charter schools, you shouldn’t be an educational fantasist about unions.

      • educationrealist

        I didn’t say anything about unions. I said giving teachers more control over their salaries.

        Everyone envisions something like today, except cheaper salaries. But if teachers had genuine control, districts would have a much harder time hiring teachers. Plus, without unions and job security, fewer teachers would want to teach, I suspect.

      • Pincher Martin

        “I didn’t say anything about unions.”

        Your very first sentence of the paragraph I highlighted has the words “unions” in it.

      • educationrealist

        Not in the sentence you quoted. Sorry if that’s too hyperliteral with you, but in fact as I’ve said several times, giving teachers true freedom to move around, take away all the protections that come from staying in one place, and districts will suffer.

      • Pincher Martin

        “Not in the sentence you quoted.”

        Yes, in the sentence I quoted. You’ll notice I hid it at the top of my post made at 3:47 AM.

        “Sorry if that’s too hyperliteral with you…”

        It’s not too hyperliteral or even literal. It’s just wrong.

        “But if teachers had genuine control, districts would have a much harder time hiring teachers. Plus, without unions and job security, fewer teachers would want to teach, I suspect.”

        Which must explain why they’re having all kinds of trouble finding teachers in non-union states.

        Oh wait.

  • Sisyphean

    Just wanted to chime in here and mention that I love this post and I applaud the effort even with all the caveats. I’ve always understood you as a thinker who prefers to discuss ideas without becoming mired in the details of implementation. What’s good about posts like these is that you provide a framework for the implementers to get thinking about how to make your ideas real, to grind out the details, to consider what needs to happen first before point 3 can be realized, etc. I’d like to see you take each one of your bullet points and dig in deeper, give us more in the way of an imagined idealized implementation.

    Also, oddly, despite considering myself a ‘liberal’ (if a somewhat crappy one) your list here conforms very closely to my own thoughts regarding education. I think largely because part of self identifying as liberal is that one doesn’t immediately equate the word “public good” with “evil”.

    @hattie:
    “It means making a distinction between empirical equality (never gonna happen) and moral equality (that we’re all equal in the eyes of god and the law) and focusing on the latter.”

    I think this is an admirable idea, however I question how many people can actually make this distinction. As an aside I found it interesting that this was a featured part of the recent Abraham Lincoln movie with Daniel Day Lewis. What struck me the most about that is how Americans have been having (or pointedly avoiding) these discussions for a very long time. Yet they never seem to go away.

    ~S

    • educationrealist

      Bless you. Just when I was feeling woefully misunderstood!

      It’s not so much that I dislike implementation. I just think the two efforts should remain separate. What I’m trying to point out here is an utter absence of the dialogue on these subjects, subject that I feel many Americans (of all races) would like to see discussed.

      I’ll try to map things out, but the *middle* level is hard for me. I’m good at top level and bottom level. Moving from one to the other is a challenge.

      • Sisyphean

        It’s funny because in a previous draft of that sentence I had typed ‘dislike’ but changed it to ‘become mired in’ precisely because I wanted to avoid the connotation of the dreamer who doesn’t do the difficult stuff. If we didn’t have theorists willing to send every sacred cow to the butcher there’d be very little for anyone to implement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized that I don’t really know what I think about something until I’ve started to argue for or against it, often my position will shift midstream. It makes one a very frustrating conversation partner for those who’ve already decided what they believe.

        ~S

  • S James

    Can you expand on why you think schools for gifted children are bad ?

  • S James

    I was a student at a non selective school in a lower middle class suburb during primary school.  In the first year of high school I won a scholarship to the most exclusive private school in the country. This school had a student body whose abilities were well above average, the scholarship students were however, in a completely different class.  We had separate teachers, materials,  and rules. We were required, as a condition of our financial support, to complete the school’s internal final year exams at the end of our second year. The students in my class were an exceptional group and the experience of being in a class like this cannot be compared to being the brightest student in an average or even good school.  My parents had both grown up in tough working class neighbourhoods and whilst they both ended up at excellent universities they did not want me or my elder brother to have the experience of  having to constantly be waiting for the other students to catch up, or of being better informed or read than the teacher. I realize this is not a generally applicable model but I would like to hear why you think it is wrong for at least some students.

  • Bart L.

    I’m going into occupational therapy in the school setting and I’d love to hear more from you about IDEA.

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  • malcolmthecynic

    Public K-12 education should not include charters, magnets, gifted student schools, or any other specialized resource school that can restrict access.

    See, this I’m not sure I agree with, because as far as I can see it only makes sense to have schools specially designed to help students with particular learning needs…hence my very broad support for charter schools, to a very limited degree (my opinion can be changed on that one).

    Anyway, I oppose the unions on principle. For what it’s worth, I also oppose the firemen and policemen unions…how’s that for an unpopular opinion?

    • educationrealist

      I would say the opposite–public schools should be able to educate the broad swath in the middle and the very smart. But if you want specialized education, that’s what private schools are for. Charters are essentially private schools bootstrapped with public funds. Better to make private school tuition tax-deductible.

      So long as the government can’t easily fire, I don’t think we should have government unions as a general principle. However, teachers and cops, as two groups with huge power and huge vulnerability, should probably have unions for protections.

      • malcolmthecynic

        Perhaps, but the strength of the unions should at least be considerably weakened.

        I actually think your idea of making private school tuition tax-deductible is a very good one, which I’ve honestly never thought of until now.

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