Tuesday, September 13, 2005

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Is the U.S. losing out on science and math education?

The FT article in the previous post is based on the OECD's Education at a Glance 2005. Here's a link to the OECD's press release. The data on Korea's educational progress is truly astounding:

In recent years, some countries have shown spectacular improvements in schooling performance. In Korea, for example, a striking 97%, of people born in the 1970s have completed upper secondary education, putting Korea in top place for this age group ahead of Norway with 95% and Japan and the Slovak Republic with 94%. By comparison, only 32% of Koreans born in the 1940s have upper secondary qualifications.

And what about the U.S.? We're constantly fretting about the decline in our educational system -- does the OECD data support this anxiety?

Yes and no. If you rifle through the executive summary of Education at a Glance, you come away with three observations about the U.S. performance:

1) In science and math, the U.S. is ahead of only the really poor OECD countries -- Turkey, Mexico, etc. So yes, there is reason to worry.

2) The poor performance is not because of a downward trend -- in fact, if you look at chart A7.1 ("Differences in mean performance of eighth-grade students from 1995 to 2003"), you discover an interesting fact: the United States showed the greatest improvement in science and math scores of the sample -- including Korea.

3) The poor performance isn't because of a dearth of funds -- table B1.1 shows that, Switzerland excepted, the United States spends the most amount of money per student in the OECD. You get a similar result if the metric is education spending as a percentage of GDP. Indeed, the OECD comments:

Lower expenditure cannot automatically be equated with a lower quality of educational services. Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and New-Zealand, which have moderate expenditure on education per student at the primary and lower secondary levels, are among the OECD countries with the highest levels of performance by 15-year-old students in mathematics.

posted by Dan on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM


I don't think the US has anything to worry about. East Asian education is always going to be good at the rote fundamentals, but that's a far cry from producing strong students.

I went to a well-known Ivy league school and my profs. admitted to me privately that the Koreans and Mainland Chinese were by far the weakest students. Why? Because of their inability to think analytically. They admitted this to me since I've spent a lot of my life living in East Asia (and live there now). None of these East Asian societies have been good at reforming their education systems and they have nothing like the US's system of higher education which is superb.

Even working in a research laboratory in the US is better than working in an Asian lab. They may be better at their multiplication tables, but education is about a lot more than that.

As for American scores rising, this probably has something to do with the new generation. Generation X was overall pretty unmotivated. This current generation is showing a much more serious side than my generation. I expect that scores will continue to rise for this generation and levels of drug use and premarital sex will continue to drop as they have been doing.

Now if only higher education in America would teach people something other than 1960's counter-cultural, reactionary liberalism that would be great.

posted by: Patrick on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

"3) The poor performance isn't because of a dearth of funds -- table B1.1 shows that, Switzerland excepted, the United States spends the most amount of money per student in the OECD. You get a similar result if the metric is education spending as a percentage of GDP. Indeed, the OECD comments:"

the average expenditure is irrelevant if there a 'sufficiency level' of funding which many school districts far excede but some do not meet at all.

posted by: yoyo on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

One has to be careful of educational spending figures. Most of them are calculated on a simple per pupil basis, and many have sought to show that our increases in spending have yielded relatively little return on the basis of test scores or international rankings. However, this is to ignore the significant changes to the US educational system in the last several decades. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the ADA all imposed mandates upon schools systems to comply with that can be crippling in terms of expense, especially for a small district. As the number of these students rise, the costs of complying with this law will rise, as it has in the past. It has to: IEP's and 504 plans are legally binding documents. Indeed, I would guess that if one separated out non-special education funding (which is usually just lumped in with per pupil expenditures) that educational funding has either been stagnant, or even may have decreased, in real terms in the last couple of decades. Ask yourself this: how many other countries allow students with IQ's in the 50's to be in regular classrooms as part of allowing for "least restrictive environment" regulations? How many countries in turn might spend $25,000 a year for a full time aide for that student from age 5 until 21? On top of that, many schools are increasingly less institutions of education and more Wal-Marts of social services--one stop and you can hit them all. Many of these social service aspects come out of state education budgets, not necessarily out of the social services aspect.

One can argue that we are diverting our resources into the least productive of our human resources, or you can argue that we are a morally superior society for ensuring that all of our citzenry is educated to some degree. But one cannot argue that the federal government has imposed costs upon education in the US that many other states have chosen not to incur.

posted by: CMC79 on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Pardon my lack of serious commentary, but I couldn't help chortling at your typo of "Edication at a Glance 2005" for "Education" in the first sentence. From what I recall of when I took the TIMSS back in 1995 or '96, spelling was on there, though, so pay me no heed.

posted by: Tom on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Why do we lag in math and science?

1. We don't value teachers. They have responsibility but no authority; they get assigned to violent schools, falling-apart schools, schools without supplies/textbooks/etc., and they are expected to pay out of their own pockets for more supplies/textbooks/etc., from salaries that aren't much to start with.

Teachers who can teach hard subjects, like math and science, wind up in magnet schools, private schools - or don't teach at all, preferring some other profession, since teaching is such a thankless one.

2. We don't value children. Not really, despite the current "Cult of the Child." The more affluent the parents, the *more* likely they are to put the kids in institutional settings - daycare, preschool - and farm their upbringing out to nannies and au pairs. How many parents discuss the day's lessons with their kids? or watch them do their homework? or attend PTA meetings, teacher-parent conferences, etc?

Kids will take the path of least resistance if they can. So, rather than bust their butts on subjects which are difficult, badly taught, and that parents can't or won't help them with, they do other stuff. Like TV, music, and web surfing. Which are not only distractions but have the unfortunate side-effect of reducing attention spans and concentration skills.

There's little to no money for special ed. (because nobody wants to pay taxes to support it) and little to no support for "gifted child" ed (because god forbid a child should think s/he is smarter than other kids; it'll damage the less-smart kids' self esteem!).

3. A lot of parents aren't too good at math and science themselves, so they can't help their kids with those subjects, even if they want to.

4. We don't value math, and we esp. don't value science. Math education has gotten really wierd and abstract, with "process" emphasized over "solving the equation correctly," - again, to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. And science is under attack from religious interest groups who want Bible stories taught in science class.

So really good math and science instruction, when you can find it at all, is mostly in magnet schools and private schools. The vast majority of students are in neither. That's a whole lot of potential "mute inglorious Miltons" - kids who might be fantastic mathematicians and scientists, but will never be exposed to those subjects by someone who can give them the time and attention they need to grasp them.

Most of the problem is fixable - if only we had the social and political will to do so.

posted by: CaseyL on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Because American students don't specialize until graduate school, they are less well prepared for, and have more of a transition to make, both from high school level math to college level math and, from college level math onto graduate school math. Whereas if you are specializing at 15, then it is a smoother path from high school to college and college to graduate school. This explanation is consistent with the data: equal at 15, but diverging as you go forward.

posted by: Isaac on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]


You make numerous good points. I honestly believe that teachers are devalued in part because contemporary educational theory tends to devalue the teacher anyway. The idea of the teacher as an authentic source of knowledge fell under ideological attack in the 1960's as part of that decades' general disdain for authority figures; most education professors are products of that era and ed schools are stridently ideological. Teachers who do have authentic expertise have no wish to be devalued, so they either stick it out teaching AP courses to stay sane or they don't bother at all. I would say that much of current pedagogical theory that emphasizes the teacher as a "facilitator" who creates "learning environments" so that students can practice "authentic discovery learning" has much to do with the fact that very few teachers possess the requisite content knowledge to be that dominant classroom figure. Those possessing such expertise who also wish to deal with unpunishable surliness and paltry salaries are small in number; evidently, American education suffers because of a dearth of intellectual, masochistic ascetics.

You are spot on in describing the math curriculum today--it is abysmal and leaves bright students enormously frustrated with both the slow pace and the obviously pointless nature of its underlying theory. And the consequences for increasing obscurantism with regard to science...well, it scares the hell out of me.

As for your contention about funding for special needs, both high and low, I have to disagree. The first to get cut is nearly always the high end. It is quite literally rationalized away under the belief that "they'll get it anyway." The lower end rarely is deprived in the same way, in part because the nature of the IEP's and 504 plans leave motivated parents with ample opportunity for lawsuits. (The fear factor in public education cannot be overstated. It's the driving factor for unionization--NEA features liability insurance and touts it often.) The funding for those programs is nearly always federal--only its largesse is capable of covering many of the costs, especially those of the low end who have expensive disabilities that the school must accomodate.

posted by: CMC79 on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

CMC79 must have direct, first hand knowledge
of public education in 2005.

After retiring from the real world, my wife
became an administrator at our local school
board's district office.

She would be in absolute 100% agreement with
everything CMC79 has posted.

posted by: Ted on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

I was able to bluff my way through two college degrees and a CPA certificate, but I could not help my seventh grader do long division.

We have innovated the math curriculum into a bizarre shambles which makes absolutely no sense to anyone who acutally knows arithmetic.

My daughter got a "D" on a paper with all correct answers because she did long division the way I was taught, rather than using the "process," whatever the hell that is.

In the sixties my small, poor school produced a 100% reading literacy rate and a 100% literacy rate in basic mathematics, including the student who took "shop." How far we have fallen.

Teach arithmetic in grade school, teach real math after that.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Save the Rustbelt,
You hit the key term: "innovate." You can't make a career and you can't get a piece of the federal grant pie unless you have a new idea in education to push. There are two motivations at work here. One is the typical economic motivation: come up with a new idea and sell it. This is why a lot of "research" is so suspect. Every one of these latest and greatest programs will use the phrase "research based." Of course it is, but to what rigors? How fairly? Trusting some of these educational programs is like buying a Chevy based on GM's own marketing hype. The second motivation is just as powerful and is relatively Burkean: the tendency for intellectuals to want to tinker and "innovate" for their own ends; to rationalize a world they see as unfair/imperfect/ideologically blinkered, and in doing so make a name and reputation for themselves as scholars. You can't make a career in the field of education (that is in the research area) by saying that students learn best with traditional methods--you aren't differentiated enough for scholars (or at worst, you are perpetuating inimical sexist/racist structures in the classroom), and you don't have anything new to sell to schools. It's difficult, too, for states to resist, because textbook companies cater to the standards adopted by the largest states--California and Texas have enormous pull over textbooks and other curricular materials. Since California has been very prone to such "innovation" (such as its tendency to totally redo reading philosophies every ten years), these trends creep across the entire nation as each state undergoes textbook adoption.

posted by: CMC79 on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

I'm curious about the spending comparison: is that all in the same currency (dollars, I assume)? Is there any correction for local standard of living, median income, that sort of thing? I would think that the relative pay of teachers may matter more (in terms of recruiting the most qualified individuals) than absolute pay.

[Not to disagree with the many excellent comments above, which are also relevant of course.]

posted by: Matt Newman on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

The idea that we "don't value teachers" is highly suspect. It is probably true that we "value" current teachers (protected by monopolistic rules, government regulation and political clout that makes the NRA jealous) way too much.

Paying some one $80,000 to teach 18 6 year olds to read; when a paying $35,000 salary for a dedicated 26 year-old to teach 25 kids will suffice; is economically suspect.

Also suspect are the bloated pension schemes that bear no relation to actuarial reality. (I know IL well enough, and the same games are played to some extent everywhere)

We (as a nation) "value" our ossified and corrupt (legally and illegal corruption lie side by side) "public education" system way too highly, and therefore cede all too much power to a protected class that has, in effect, "privatized" public education for their own political and financial gain.

You want better teachers? Open the system up to people who haven't been through "Ed school" and let those who want to teach do so.

Skip charters and "alternative certification" and go right to fully funded vouchers/tax credits for all.

Fund the child, not the system. The "value" of teachers will rapidly be determined accurately.

There is no intellectually sound argument against such as system.

posted by: Bruno on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

The "US lags in math, science education" is a total canard. The reality is that engineers, scientists, and mathematicians in the US are poorly paid relative to general business jobs suitable for people with limited quantitative skills. The reason our math education sucks is that smart students realize this and plan accordingly -- they benefit more in college admissions and job offers from social networking, playing sports, and otherwise becoming "well-rounded" than they benefit from working harder on math homework.

Only journalists and political science professors think the US is "behind" in math education. Real scientists and economists can see that American students are simply being rational in following the incentives society presents them.

posted by: DK on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

random responses ...

in order to become a teacher you have to get a "masters" in education; the fact that you have no idea how to do simple math is not relevant to your becoming a "math" teacher ... political doctrination is more important.

we can't get rid of bad teachers ... unions PLUS tenure.

as far as education reform outside of the u.s., when i was living in taiwan during the 90's they were beginning the process of education reform ... increasing the # of private colleges/universities, adding an enrollment process (as opposed to the centralized confucian entrance examination which determined not only where you studied but WHAT you studied).

of course i am opptomistic about the future: the dems are closing to jumping fully off the cliffs and then it will be easy to get rid of the teacher mafia, cough, i mean unions.

posted by: bdb on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Don't underestimate the importance of fundamentals.

When it comes to math/science, the higher levels of study are impossible - not difficult, but impossible - without a solid grounding in fundamentals. The U of C is actually a key player in the erosion of those fundamental skills due its part in the development of the "Everyday Math" curriculum (used throughout Illinois), which stresses group activities and manipulatives at the expense of basic skills. Illinois Loop has lots of details and links on the subject. Kitchen Table Math is a blog devoted to the subject; its two authors are parents of middle-school children, currently dealing with the shortcomings of US math education (click here and here for their stories). Take a look at what they have to say before dismissing the math gap.

posted by: Independent George on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Here is a concrete example of what I was saying, from KTM.

posted by: Independent George on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Patrick sez: "Now if only higher education in America would teach people something other than 1960's counter-cultural, reactionary liberalism that would be great."

Dude! You are so lucky, cuz there is a definite movement to teach K-12 students pseudo-1950's Leave it to Beaver, fundamentalist Christian, susperstition and ignorance. I mean we are talking medieval level ignorance here dude!

The unwashed are so much easier to control when they are ignorant, and the right has now taken the lead to insure ignorance beyond the every day apathy and disdain for readin, writin and rithmatic.

We are already seeing the results of this glorious cultural revolution in the person of great young thinkers like Ben Shapiro and other strong, nationalistic and patriotric youngsters who complain of their hippie profs, their porn addicted peers and generally wrong thinking.

Screw the Enlightenment, here is to the theocratic republic, cheers!

posted by: j swift on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]


If only the substandard humans were removed the potential of the higher strata could be realized?

Is that what I'm hearing?

Frankly, expenditures for special education in large public school districts like Chicago's are relatively fixed--that means that regardless of how many additional kids are identified as needing services, the pool remains roughly the same. IDEA notwithstanding, schools have very different approaches to dealing with parents of special needs kids. Some make them wait (sometimes years) for spots in good programs, some respond only to a lawyer's phone calls and the intervention of various (expensive) experts.

You are right that pretty much no other country in the world does for its handicapped and special needs students what we do. Good on us. Shame on them.

More of these kids (and there are more OF them all the time) will be able to live indepent, productive lives, adding their strengths to the community rather than drawing on its resources. They deserve every bit as much investment as other human resources in the country, if you don't mind my saying so. They may not produce many Nobel prizes (though, who knows?) but they needn't waste their lives in an institutional warehouse either.


You are about 50% right and 50% wrong. Teachers are actually quite valued, though the relationship between parents, students, administrators and students has become increasingly adversarial in recent years and it has real repercussions for all involved.

As for society not valuing children, I think you're right to a certain extent, sadly. However, you're wrong that only private or magnet schools get the best teachers or results. The key is really parental and community involvement, on a massive scale. I oversee hours of homework per week, and my kids are only 6 and 8. Parents like myself volunteer still more hours in classrooms, outside them, in sports, organizing clubs, etc. Whatever anyone may tell you (and you may believe before you have school age kids) this stuff cannot be outsourced. Rich parents spend MORE time at this kind of thing, not less, than working and middle class parents because they CAN.

From what I can see, at least in elementary schools, teachers (who tend to be women) vastly prefer teaching writing and "creative" subjects to teaching math and science. Kids pick up on this, and it shapes their own preferences. If we could remedy the gender imbalance in early childhood education, strive for a more balanced curriculum in those years (yes, more math and science) we would probably go some way toward raising our standings in the long term.

posted by: Kelli on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

We are merely moving along the path of the post industrial society. Leading the way in fact. Math and science are for those designing and engineering the products we consume. If we don't make them, we have little need for them. We have a service economy, and services are mostly soft skills. Our innovation is producing a really great tasting coffee and a place to drink it, building luxurious homes and superior amusement parks. If we produced more math/science students we would have to export them to find work.

posted by: Lord on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

The simplest explanation I've heard:

Do any of the Americans here remember taking this OECD test? When you were in high school, had you ever heard of it? (Except, perhaps, for reading the annual "Americans fall behind in math!" story in the newspaper.)

What I've read is that in many of the other countries this test is a big deal, they prep students for it, have pep rallies for it, in some cases encourage the slower students to take a sick day. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that it's a complete non-issue in US schools.

posted by: JSinger on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

First, I'd like Patrick to explain exactly what "reactionary liberalism" is. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, even if, in education, liberals are as much of a problem as conservatives.

Second, we can move on to the real debate. American public education is overloaded with institutionalized laziness that neither liberals or conservatives seem willing to address. The school administrators are appalling, especially in K-12, and a lot of the faculty aren't much better. And the Bush Republicans and a good many liberal Democrats seem to think standardized testing is some kind of magic bullet solution to the problem. We are training kids simply to pass standardized tests, we are losing some of the analytical skills that have traditionally been an American strength, all the while providing a level of service that makes kids and parents really wonder what they're getting for their many thousands of dollars. And any time a curriculum reform is attempted that builds on that analytical tradition (e.g. Minnesota's Profiles of Learning) rather than depends on yet more testing, it is quickly kiboshed by people who are scared of challenging themselves and their kids.

The only extenuating circumstance is that the screwed up state of healthcare in the US is costing education of all levels big-time; but even in the unlikely circumstance that this is fixed in the near future, the internal issues in education aren't going to go away. After all, even when you allow for the grotesque cost of US healthcare and therefore employee benefits, we still spend a lot by world standards on education.

posted by: Daniel on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Okay, am I the only one in this debate who even has kids in the public schools? Because there's a lot of gibberish going around here about schools and administrators failing, the deplorable effects of standardized testing, etc. Bottom line: schools are still under local control and local communities have the single biggest say over what goes on in them. I'm about to go to the first of two curriculum nights at my kids' school. Teachers and administrators will lay out the theories and substance they are about to dish out to my own and everyone else's kids. Everyone in town will be there. Can every community say the same? No, but most parents try to keep an eye on what their kids are learning. And study after study says they are pleased with their local schools. They must be doing something right.

Patrick opened this round up with a call to stay calm--it's a good point. There are weaknesses in the US educational system but its very chaos is its salvation. There is not much rote learning, true. Kids today very much question everything. They are weaned on "thinking outside the box". That means they pretty much stink at learning formulae and ironclad principles (the bad news), but they are awesome at taking something they've never seen before and using it in ways never thought of by their inventors. Kindof reassuring.

And it's just garbage to say that a significant number of brilliant foreigners are going to shun this country in favor of...what, New Zealand? Serious? People who want to spread their wings need plenty of room. Only this country provides it. We're not losing anything yet.

posted by: Kelli on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Kelli, commenting on Special Ed kids - wrote: "and there more of them all the time."

Why would that be? According to Ed School Dogma, they are all special ed kids.

Perhaps we should call their bluff, sue to have our children designated as "special needs", and ask for funding each child equally ...

(forget about funding ficticious concepts like "districts" and "systems")...

and let each parent choose the best thing to meet their child's "special needs."

Though you may be right that we are the only nation that really attempts to address the needs of "special" kids, the staffing, bureaucracy, and out of control spending that go with it indicate that

(as with every other big bureaucracy)

it could be done far more reasonably and inexpensively. The system is designed to be gamed by the protected monopoly that created it.

That has to end.


Thanks for the "Everyday Hash" post George - it was fantastic.

posted by: Bruno on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

I'm with Patrick on this one. I manage a group of engineers and programmers for a small hi-tech company in California. A little while back, I had dinner with a counterpart of mine, an engineering/software manager from a large Korean conglomerate (you all would recognize the name). After a few drinks, he loosened up and started bemoaning the fact that even though he had his pick of South Korean graduates, he could not find any decent programmers. None!

I see the same thing when I'm in Japan, and can get the same admissions if we drink enough sake together. We get a lot of business in Japan and Korea that there is no good reason we should get, given the difficulties in support from language differences, time-zone differences, and physical distance -- but they really have no choice, because no one in their home countries can do the job.

I've recently been dragged into a patent fight in the US that hinges on the issue of "non-obviousness" (I'm on the "obvious" side.) But when proposing the use of these ideas to a major Japanese customer, their eyes went wide -- they had never considered the idea. At that point, my colleague (who grew up poor in South-Central LA) passed me a note saying, "This is unbelievable! Is there no creativity in Japan?"

posted by: Curt on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

To Bruno and anyone else interested in "out of control" special ed. funding,

I think you're falling victim to some kind of conspiracy theory about people with "normal" kids horning in on special ed. status because of ambitious/unscrupulous parents. Give me a break. Would you run the gauntlet of having your child labelled "special needs" (which requires multiple evaluations, often at parents' expense) to get him/her an extra 10 minutes on tests? Would you sit through endless IEP meetings, inclusion meetings, therapy sessions, and evaluations for said ten minutes? Only if you're an idiot.

The fact is that autism spectrum disorders (don't worry if you have no idea what that is, it's a fairly recent label that encompasses a huge range of developmental problems and learning disabilities) are rapidly rising. We don't know if that's because of increased testing (a factor) or a real increase in numbers. Some people blame thimeresol in vaccines. Personally, I think we're exposed to minute traces of so many chemicals and toxins, it's a wonder any of us are normal.

We've also ratcheted up our expectations of what young children can learn and when. Kindergarden is the new first grade, and so on. Children learn at enormously varied rates (even the typical ones) but there are few allowances for this built into a one-size fits all classroom. That's the problem.

There seems to be this idea that there are enormous numbers of brilliant children floating around whose need to be challenged is not being met because everyone is too busy helping the dummies. Get over it people. Truly gifted children are quite rare, they can be challenged by taking classes above their age level, through unsupervised independent study, with enrichment programs at universities, museums and on the internet. The world is their oyster. Above average students, ditto. Average students are the majority of heads in the classroom and, guess what, it's largely geared toward them, so they do pretty well in a decently equipped, decently taught setting. That really does leave underachievers of all stripes in need of extras--extra one on one time, extra specialists (who, by the way, also work with "normal" kids to overcome relatively minor problems or simply enhance existing skills--thereby speeding them on their merry way), etc.

Let's recap. Most kids are good at some things and need help with others. Gifted kids are rare, and can by definition seek out all manner of stimulation (and do). All students can learn. American schools are under (still) local control. If you don't like seeing your tax dollars going to teach dumb kids, tell their parents, tell the schools, and try to discourage such people from living in your district. Believe me, it happens. Then pray that none of your kids or their kids is anything other than brilliant. Good luck.

posted by: Kelli on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Kelli -- have you ever checked out an education curriculum lately, BA, MA, Phd and so on? Have you ever seen the immense trouble school districts have in finding even minimally competent superintendents? How many good people have you met who have opted not to pursue a career in education administration because of how off-base it is? Have you ever spent five years covering small rural school districts for a newspaper? Do you know how much time is spent preparing students for acing standardized tests Princeton Review-style rather than regular instruction on the basics of math, science, foreign language and so on? Do you know what a "unit school district" is under Illinois law and what happens to kids in certain schools with districts that aren't unitary? (*clue on that last one, imagine an elementary school with 40 students in K-8 and its own superintendent and school board, and you have some idea of why we need to mandate unit school districts to get rid of this nonsense) If you can answer yes to all the above, I will take what you say in regards to administrators and local control on the one hand and kidless commentators on the other more seriously.

To everyone else -- Yes, money spent on special education is necessary. There are a good many school districts out there with 30 to 40 percent of students eligible for it. In the vast majority of cases, it is not going to what some might dismissively view as "hopeless students". I would add that this huge demand for special ed is also a side effect on the extreme degree of child poverty we have in this country. But apparently we'd rather grant an estate tax cut to people who don't need it and will only grow fatter and lazier on the money, than ensure that everyone reaches adulthood with the capability of functioning in a free society and a free market to the best of their personal ability.

posted by: Daniel on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]


I have lived in two vastly different school districts in states halfway across the country from each other. I have attended countless school board meetings and met with administrators, teachers, etc. In short, this IS my world. If your kids' administrators or teachers aren't cutting it, look in the mirror. There's a lot you can do, other than whining on some blog.

The fact that you claim a direct correlation between poverty and special education demonstrates to me that you have no idea whereof you speak. Yes, poor districts have a very high rate of special needs pupils, but that has as much to do with the poor educational levels of parents (which the state can do pretty much nada about), nutritional and other medical deficiencies, unstable home lives, and, finally, substandard educators and schools. Go to a rich school district and, lo and behold, you will still find 15 to 30% of kids with IEPs, lots of them with severe LDs. What went wrong there? I don't think tax cuts enter into it.

posted by: Kelli on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Daniel & Kelli,

Though I'm sure the two of you are wonderful people working to do your best to make the world a better place, just look at the items you are discussing and the context in which you are discussing it.

Districts, LD's, Administrators...etc.

Our Education 'system' is a slow burn example of what we witnessed in NO over the last two weeks.

The entire stucture is designed for self perpetuation, political power, and "privatization" (by a protected class) of taxpayer dollars.

Neither Kelli nor Dan needs an "Administrator" or "district" to educate their child!! The entire concept is a fraud.

What purpose does a "district" and its protected "managerial class" serve for a "normal" child or a "Special needs" child? If you are intellectually honest (and intelligent) the only rational answer is "none at all."

This entire post started with the proposition that we have a problem with "math & science" education.

Some have posted that we maintain our 'creativity' while others point to OECD comparisons that highlight our growing weaknesses.

Somewhere inside all of this we lost the idea that we are free agents able to "pursue our happiness". We don't need education bureaucracies for this. Rather, we need to be free of them.

I'm watching Nightline's redux of Katrina in the background and listening to some "Administrator" talk about how "only government could have solved [this]."

Like a flash, Dunkirk jumped into my head. Skiffs, sailboats, rowboats, all manned by civilians who (when asked) risked death to save an army. (The metaphor for the STATE we all seem to worship)

In the greatest country on earth, with the largest pool of goods and capital on the planet, we believe we need "adminstrators" and fake experts to educate our children, and FEMA to save our poorer and less educated countrymen from the aftermath of a storm.

We have truly become sheep. We are truly on the path to serfdom.

Unless we DEFUND and DEPOPULATE the bureaucracies that are draining our lifeblood, we have no hope of remaining a dynamic civilization.


An aside:

In the 60s there was a story about a Central American factory the decided that the people who worked there could take home (for free) all the "scrap" cloth that was produced.

Soon, the factory was producing nothing but scrap. The new policy had to scrapped. (pun intended)

Draw your own conclusions as to the application to "special needs" kids. The "system" has an incentive structure, and labeling as many kids as possible as LD is part of it.

I resent the impact that "mainstreaming" has had on my son, who appears "normal." (though I have my doubts)

Why should your child's needs trump my kid's needs?

In all these arguments about policy and differing viewpoints, funding the child and NOT the system is the only rational answer.

posted by: Bruno on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Yes, perhaps gifted students can learn on their own. Perhaps they can also learn that studying for school is useless, that they don't need to pay attention in class, and that they can still get As. This is not a good attitude to be inculcating on the gifted children of this country, and it's one that's going to come back and bite them later. Why do you support that attitude? Why is it so unreasonable for them to be taken out - just an hour a day! An hour a week! - so that they can learn early that school is worth paying attention in and working hard for?

posted by: Caddie on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

I'm with JSinger on this one. Has anyone you've ever heard of ever taken one of these "international tests"? My (Chinese) wife said that only the top students in her high school were eligible to take the tests, and it was regarded as a patriotic duty to study hard and do well on the tests.

posted by: Foobarista on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Caddie, Forget the hour a day.

Shed all the fear of PC backlash, ignore the absurd experts that say it will "hurt the self-esteem" of "regular" students, and just bring back "ability grouping."

posted by: Bruno on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

Daniel : Want an outsider view ? I went to live in the US when my children were 12, 10 and 5 , the middle child made the Iowa test of skills and rated into the best 8 percent in the country...I will never forget the face of the teacher that interview me afterwards , when I told her my daughter , did not speak any english a year before, pretty amazing for a family coming from a third world country, ah ?
You americans must stop looking only to your navel, brag about your good schools , sorry for the bad news they are pretty bad indeed, at many levels(even though I believe they are a few exceptions but the average cultural level of an us studentin Atlantaīs good neighborhood, golfcouse condo kind of neighborhood is lousy in my experience) , and learn from others in Europe and elsewere ...we have found a few things:
-Yes , respect for the teacher is important, respect, no fear , is different you know.
-Respect is teached by parents,in their daily interactions, fear too I am afraid
-Respect in high school is earned
-The kid uniqueness and personal gifts , we all have some ,you know, are important to acknowledge
-american teachers ,I am a witness to some of them loving ability, do they have time for that ?
those in contact with my southamerican educated children were amazed at them ...My oldest one got an achievement certificate from the US President in high school, it took me only an afternoon to teach them how to go through those impressively shallow text books ...and get the right answers for the minimal test they got , does that rings any bell ?
-Something that got my attention , no recess , how do you expect a child 10 or older, full of energy to behave at lunch time if he does not have 10 , 20 min of rest in between ...do you know anything about how the brain works ?it needs a rest after 45 mins , or donīt you adults , do ? That is only in Georgia schools , I hope, for the sake of children.
-Math and science are abilities too , as is art , some children will develop them , in spite of the enviroment , my younger one , teached by mom , who homeschooled him (great possibility , I agree, for those who can )until we came back to our third world education , is fully bilingual , reads english and pronounces it no accent without formal training , is great at chemistry and math now , in high school.
-Down here education is mostly private ,mine were in a Waldorf school,that education in the US ... impossible , too expensive to even think of it
- it is so sad, how many kids lose their zest this way ,I wonder.
-I agree , support the child , not the system .
You have wonderful things up there , this blog is a great example ,keep talking , keep looking for answers , but just look around , you can learn from others a bit too .

posted by: Pat on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

From my experience as a product of public education as a parent of students in public education, the ULTIMATE problem is: IGNORANT teachers.

There is NO WAY teachers can teach what they don't know. PERIOD.

The fact that ignorant teachers are still hired/protected within the system is a basic failing of our current public education system (for wahtever reason). Yes, there are ADDITIONAL PROBLEMS.


posted by: cj on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

As to special ed soaking up education funds, here is Jay Greene, Blaming Special Ed

the most pernicious thing about blaming special education is not that it is politically correct, it is that it's not true. Special education can be held responsible neither for soaring education costs nor for stagnant student achievement. Yes, more money is spent on special education than on regular-education students. And yes, more students are being enrolled in special-education programs. But the shell game in education is that there has only been an increase in the students labeled as needing special education and not an actual increase in students with those learning difficulties.

His new book is out: Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So

posted by: Catherine Johnson on 09.13.05 at 05:32 PM [permalink]

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