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Americans Lose Faith in Public Schools

The latest Gallup polls measuring Americans’ confidence in the nation’s institutions have been released, and the news is not good. Newspapers, banks, and small businesses all took a hit, while gains for the Congress, the Presidency, and the criminal justice system were relatively minor. One of the largest drops was for public schools. According to the poll, confidence in public schools has dropped five percentage points in the past year to 29 percent, a historic low since the question was first asked in the early 1970s.

That number has been in a long, slow slide for the past forty years:

This decline is alarming but understandable. With each passing year it becomes increasingly clear that the big-box school model that carried America through much of the 20th century is no longer working. School expenditures have increased even as performance has declined or stagnated, and international comparisons consistently show America falling short relative to other developed nations. Meanwhile, across the country, parents who can afford it are pulling their children out of highly bureaucratized public schools and putting them into private ones where they can at least have some influence in the shape of their children’s education. Small wonder that public schools are losing the support of the public they were created to serve.

The solution, as we have remarked before, is a decentralized system that puts more power into the hands of parents and teachers. This would work wonders to restore people’s confidence in our schools as a whole.

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  • Bruno Behrend

    It is time for all of us to drive these numbers down lower.

    The alternative is a wider array of more independent schools, and expanded parental empowerment through money following the child.

  • Bruno Behrend

    and another thing…

    This battle will not be won at the school district or federal level. It is won at the legislative and gubernatorial level in your state.

    You simply have to find candidates to run on, and win, this issue against Government Education Complex candidates and legislators.

    This is no longer an academic debate, but a pitched political battle. White papers will not win this, elections will.

    Unions and administrative lackeys are on the political ropes, so this is not the time to come to the table to negotiate terms. This is the time to knock them out, as the poll indicate can happen.

  • silia

    As my chart shows:

    Asian Americans outscored every Asian country, and lost out only to the city of Shanghai, China’s financial capital.

    White Americans students outperformed the national average in every one of the 37 historically white countries tested, except Finland (which is, perhaps not coincidentally, an immigration restrictionist nation where whites make up about 99 percent of the population).

    Hispanic Americans beat all eight Latin American countries.

    African Americans would likely have outscored any sub-Saharan country, if any had bothered to compete. The closest thing to a black country out of PISA’s 65 participants is the fairly prosperous oil-refining Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is roughly evenly divided between blacks and South Asians. African Americans outscored Trinidadians by 25 points.

  • thibaud

    Sheesh. Just when you thought the noise:signal ratio at VM was starting to come closer to earth (cf Mead’s balanced, non-berserker WSJ piece), you’re treated to another Meadian shoot-from-the-lip bogus conclusion about a social trend.

    For starters, Mead hasn’t even bothered to get his facts right. Class sizes in the US have been shrinking, not increasing.

    As reported not long ago in WaPo by one of those fact-driven, balanced, careful “legacy media” scribblers whom Mead loathes, since 1960, the average US class size has decreased by more than HALF:

    Even the data that mead reprints, about the slow decline of public faith in one institution, fails to have any context. Clue: since 1970 we’ve seen a decline in Americans’ respect for nearly ALL social institutions, incl the two major parties, the military, Congress, the Catholic Church etc etc.

    And then Mead mashes up his mangling of the facts and his inability to see the big picture surrounding them, and concludes:

    “the big-box school model that carried America through much of the 20th century is no longer working.”

    Here’s more of Mead’s wearily typical confusion of terms, muddied further by employing a Friedman-esque reference to a business or tech-related trend.

    What exactly is the “big-box school model”?

    Does Mead mean simply, large classrooms?

    Alternatively, perhaps Mead’s weird reference to the Best Buy vs Amazon conflict is meant to suggest simply that the schools don’t use enough digital technology. But then why would this be at all relevant to a public opinion survey over a period that began decades before the Netscape IPO?

    Re. small classrooms, more disinformation from Mead. A gentleman in Seattle not long ago funded a multi-millin dollar, multi-year study to promote small classrooms, and lo and behold, he seconded the conclusions of most other researchers that class size is all but irrelevant to school achievement.

    In other words, it’s better to pay teachers more and RAISE, not lower, the student:teacher ratio. Here’s the WaPo education reporter on Gates:

    “Over the years, though, the research community has more or less confirmed that class-size reduction doesn’t yield significant performance gains. The most expensive education reform is among the least effective.

    “[Bill] Gates proposes ending class-size reduction experiments, lifting caps on class size and offering good teachers financial incentives to teach more students.

    “If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it’s the effective teachers you’re retaining,” [Bill Gates] said, “by any measure, you’re raising the quality of education as you do that.”


    Mead really ought to get better research assistants or else engage brain before starting mouth.

  • thibaud

    Bruno – what’s the average class size in South Korea? How about Hungary?

    How do their kids perform on international tests?

    The great American dream of small class size long ago was exploded as a myth, yet another fitful American effort to deny the obvious and central fact about educational performance: culture matters, not resources or resources per child.

    The societies that do best are those that preserve a culture of deep respect for teachers and for the man/woman of cultural attainment, what the Russians call an “intelligent” (plural: intelligentsia).

    Spend all you like, shrink the class from 27 to 22: it won’t make an ounce of difference without a cultural shift in this country.

  • Gerald

    Public School Systems work for “the lowest common denominator”. Their effort is expended on the disadvantaged (parentally, mentally, physically) because that is what our government requires and rewards.

    When our son was in public schools (in the 1980’s), it became increasingly obvious that the teachers were not competent in the subject matter they were responsible for teaching, and the discipline/security in the schools was poor and deteriorating rapidly. Yet, they had plenty of time to trumpet environmental and community activist activities. Math and Science were too challenging for the average teacher or student, and therefore were secondary to “feel good” activities and political correctness.

    As a consequence, we paid the price to enroll him in excellent private schools where he was in a disciplined student body, with excellent teachers and flourished. Later, he earned a PhD in Neuroscience and a position in a premier research laboratory. This would have been impossible if we had continued in public schools.

    We all have a choice. Do we do the best we can for our children, or do we sacrifice them to attempt to improve the average? For us the choice was obvious, and public schools were not a viable option.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Thibaud: I think the numbers Bruno was referring to are the approval numbers in the chart in the FP. Sort of an Emily Litella moment, say what?

  • Bruno Behrend

    No one is denying that culture matters, and I’ve said as much to both you and Thibaud on other WRM post debates.

    I don’t know where we really disagree, save over a matter of form.

    1. I could just as easily argue that loss of respect for teachers correlates with the increasing centralization and ossification of the system that took place from the early 60s on.

    2. I could also begin a debate between defining intellect and culture from conservative v. progressive viewpoints.

    As a conservative, I have great deal of respect for intellect, but not the current crop of intellectuals. I respect culture, but see only “idiocracy” (see the movie) oozing from our “ruling class.”

    3. I could also make the case that before we can bring back the “respect” and the “culture” you so longingly yearn for, we will have to break up the education monopoly so that culture can find a place a flourish in a more atomized environment.

    Re-introducing “culture” through a Government Education Complex the intentionally destroyed it is a fool’s errand.

    We could have all these debates, as they would be valid and enlightening with a well-read and erudite critic such as yourself.

    Where you and Thibaud fail is not in your case that culture matters, but in your mistaken belief that the existing system has any ability, or even an interest, in reasserting and rebuilding it.

    Too bad I don’t have my radio show anymore, but if you’d like to turn this into an hour long podcast, I’m up for it.

    I just lack the time to do three separate shows via text (outlined above) by checking comments on Via Meadia.

  • thibaud

    Hi Bruno – I’d love to hear a radio show that you host! Re your 3 ripostes:

    1. I could just as easily argue that loss of respect for teachers correlates with the increasing centralization and ossification of the system that took place from the early 60s on.

    Correlation, maybe, but the causes here are exogenous to the school system. Part of it was the 1960s/early 1970s decline in respect for authority figures generally – again, not the teachers’ fault in any way. Another part was the feminist movement + increased opportunities for highly capable and talented women, depleting the teaching ranks.

    But another part, surely, is the relentless dumbing down of American culture, social life and political discussion – and here, the digital age has, on balance, made things even worse.


    “2. I could also begin a debate between defining intellect and culture from conservative v. progressive viewpoints.”

    No argument there. I’m speaking very specifically about a badge of intellectual achievement, not a defined social class; I mean the status and respect accorded to people of learning generally, a trait that is shared across the Russian, Jewish, and many East Asian cultures. Teachers today are viewed as on a par with firemen: fungible, not terribly intelligent. Big problem here.

    “3. I could also make the case that before we can bring back the “respect” and the “culture” you so longingly yearn for, we will have to break up the education monopoly so that culture can find a place a flourish in a more atomized environment”

    Disagree very strongly here. I used to share your views about 10-12 years ago. I was an early partisan of the blogosphere and mouthed many of the criticisms that WRM continues to make today about the MSM, NYT/WaPo etc. But the last 10 years have sobered me up. The “atomization” of culture has allowed a few wonderful voices to gain a following, but for the most part, the discussion today is dumber, louder, noisier and nastier than it was in the pre-digital era. Conspiracy-mongering is if anything even more rampant than it was pre-2001. People do not read more, definitely write less, and certainly write worse, than they did before the age of texting and tweeting.

    We’ve really lost a great deal with the decline of curators/gatekeepers, of the mandarin media that our own era’s bloggers, incl WRM, hate so bitterly.

    As a conservative, you’ve probably read this interesting survey of the 1950s in Commentary by Fred Siegel – he’s attacking the Left, but it’s interesting to note the ironic parallels between our anti-MSM blogblatherers and the anti-TIME, anti-NBC/CBS etc left-wing culture critics of the 1940s and ’50s:

    Fred Siegel:

    “The public’s expanding taste and increased income produced a 250 percent growth in the number of local symphony orchestras between 1940 and 1955. In that same year, 1955, 15 million people paid to attend major league baseball games, while 35 million paid to attend classical music concerts. The New York Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon radio broadcast drew a listenership of 15 million out of an overall population of 165 million.

    “…sociologist David White, co-editor with Rosenberg of Mass Culture, … notes that “on March 16, 1956, a Sunday chosen at random,” the viewer could have seen a discussion of the life and times of Toulouse-Lautrec by three prominent art critics, an interview with theologian Paul Tillich, an adaptation of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s Hook, a documentary on mental illness with Dr. William Menninger, and a 90-minute performance of The Taming of the Shrew….

    “In 1947, notes Alex Beam in his recent book A Great Idea at the Time, Robert Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago, and the autodidact philosopher Mortimer Adler launched an effort to bring the great books of Western Civilization to the people. In 1948 Hutchins and Adler drew 2,500 people to a Chicago auditorium to hear them lead a discussion of the trial of Socrates.

    “By 1951 there were 2,500 Great Books discussion groups, with roughly 25,000 members meeting “all over the country, in public libraries, in church basements, Chamber of Commerce offices, corporate conference rooms at IBM and Grumman Aircraft, in private homes, on army bases,” and even prisons.

    “At the peak of the Great Books boom, Beam writes, 50,000 Americans a year were buying collections of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, the Founding Fathers, and Hegel at prices that “started at $298 and topped out at $1,175, the equivalent of $2,500 to $9,800 today.”

    /end excerpt

  • chase

    Here is a school system that works. Education in Sinagpore is excellent, healthcare is excellent, and they have lower tax rates than we do. They obviously know what they are doing. Lee Kwan hew for President of the USA!

  • thibaud

    # 3 – silia. Amen. Any discussion of US schools performance that does not disaggregate by ethnicity is going to produce noise.

    Interestingly, the California Dept of Education (CDE) publishes its school performance database, easily and quickly sortable by ethnicity (including by different Asian nationalities), for STAR test results for all CA public schoolkids in grades 2-11.

    Here’s an example: the 2011 LA Unified STAR Test results for Group: Ethnicity => Subgroup: Hispanics

  • Kris

    thibaud@4 spends a lot of space refuting something that is not in the post in its current form. If a post is changed, it is preferable that this be noted, so that we don’t start wondering, for example, if thibaud is loopy (as opposed to merely contrary).

  • John Barker

    “The solution, as we have remarked before, is a decentralized system that puts more power into the hands of parents and teachers”
    This will only be true if the “system” creates a disposition for real intellectual work that centers on important ideas rather than the memorization of disembodied bits of information and endless and mindless drill and practice of algorithms with no conceptual understanding.

    I have been listening to commercials for summer school based on the fact that students forget so much in three months of summer vacation. They might not forget if what they learned was meaningful and interesting in the first place.

  • Alex Scipio

    The ONLY fix worthy of the name – or our attention, money or time -is the removal of unions from the public schools, whether through rejection of withheld dues or RTW laws making membership voluntary. Anything other than getting unions out of the classroom is rearranging the deck chairs. Take a look at your local school and ascertain how many teachers with school-age kids have those kids in private school.

  • thibaud

    Kris – I’m refuting Mead’s contention that “the big-box model” is “no longer working.”

    I have no idea what he means by that phrase. It seems to connote some concept of administrative “centralization”, which seems foolish on the face of it, given that American primary and secondary schooling has far too many administrative units ie is far too DE-centralized.

    Perhaps he means that schools are too big. Well, that’s what Bill Gates assumed to be the problem – until, many millions of dollars and many years later, Gates concluded that school size has [nothing] to do with outcomes.

    Perhaps Mead has no idea at all what he means, and is just spouting techno-babble about decentralized this, digital that, anti-statist whatever.

  • bob sykes

    People seem to be ignoring silia’s link to Steve Sailer’s article. This article is important because it demonstrates that our schools are actually quite good, and our students’ performance on tests like PISA is among the best in the world. It ought to be. We spend far more per student than almost any other country. Our national average is low compared to Asian and European countries because those countries are racially homogeneous and we aren’t.

    As to decentralization, I don’t see how our schools could be more decentralized than they already are. Immediate control is at the local town level, and the schools boards are elected by the local people. The teacher and staff unions do distort school administration and do warp priorities, but that can only be solved by suppressing the unions. And then another group will dominate and warp priorities in another direction.

    I think the real problem is ideological. Specifically, the schools are run by and for lefties, and many of the parents are righties.

  • Eurydice

    Restoring confidence in public schools doesn’t necessarily mean the children will be better educated – just that those responding to the polls will have restored confidence. But, confidence in what? What exactly is meant by education? Does it mean besting students from other countries in a series of standardized tests? Do we define it by how many students are able to get into college – and with the issue of college expenses, what does that mean? Do we measure it by how many students can get a job – and with a changing employment landscape, what does that mean? I don’t think anybody can answer these questions with “There should be 5 fewer students in each class.”

    I’d be interested to see the changes in percentage of people who have confidence in polls.

  • Eurydice

    @bob #16 – I had the same impression – that, in our highly charged political environment, a poll about education would end up being more about the politics of education than the quality. Each side is accusing the other of taking us to heel in a handbasket. And with our ever-increasing ability to air grievances and the bloggers’ need to complain about something every single day – we’ve become a nation of great big whiners. And that’s my whine for the day. 🙂

  • Eurydice

    Ok, it’s not “heel”, but I wasn’t sure if Professor Mead’s grandmother would accept the other word. Yes, that’s my explanation for the typo.

  • Bruno Behrend


    WRM posts very interesting data, and usually makes very broad generalizations on that data. While one can critique broad generalizations and undefined broad phrases, the fact is that WRM’s points are, frankly, “generally” correct.

    There is data that smaller schools are more effective, as there is data that independent schools are more effective. I posted some in an earlier blog entry, which seemed to be ignored.

    My view, amply verbalized, is the insanity of the “district” system. IMO, zip code education promotes educational apartheid, which is a direct cause of the cultural Balkinization you seem to have a problem with. Almost as important, it’s obscenely expensive.

    I view the district system as morally illegitimate, and seek its destruction (but will settle for forcing it into open competition with independent schools, tutors, digital schools or courses, etc.).

  • craig

    While I don’t believe class size is a good measure of quality, I wouldn’t be so quick to buy into the notion that class sizes in the US have been shrinking. Statistics lie. I have seen locally how special-ed programs skew the reported class size figures — e.g., if you have 12 teachers for 8 students, and 28 teachers for the other 992, then the official average class size is 25:1 but the real average is 35:1.

  • Bruno Behrend

    Sykes, Silia, and Thibaud,

    The data from comment #3 theoretically supports the view that ethnicity and socio-economic status matters. This has been true since Jesus told us that “the poor will always be with us.”

    The question is whether it proves that American schools are “pretty good,” as floated by Mr. Sykes. It does not.

    First, we spend too much. The “high” scores among our most advantaged students does not tell us that the bloated payrolls, the $250,000 superintendent salaries and $100,000 teacher salaries (see the NE and IL) produce good results. Rather, they show what we all know is obvious – that the rich/educationally motivated make sure their kids get educated.

    How many of these randomly selected suburban test takers were driven to Sylvan Learning centers, KUMON lessons, or had tutors/siblings/helicopter parents making sure they learned something?

    This phenomenon even explains the “better” scores comparing American Hispanics to Latin American nations, blacks to non-American blacks, etc. American socio-economic status is higher than in these other nations, so it isn’t surprising that we look OK when the data is dis-aggregated.

    The only real question, neither proven nor dis-proven by PISA, is whether we can do better than we do, and for the same, or less money?

    The aftermath of Katrina, the improved graduation rates of voucher/charter students, the equal results for less spending, and scads of other data, indicate the more parental empowerment, charters, and choice, offer the potential for improved educational attainment for most Americans (rich less so than poor).

    No one is saying choice, charters, and digital learning options are panaceas. We are merely saying that they offer more potential for success/improvement than attempting to get such improvement out of a corrupt, ossified, centralized, and overstaffed bureaucracy whose goal is to protect the status quo.

  • Bruno Behrend

    Thibaud wrote:

    Disagree very strongly here. I used to share your views about 10-12 years ago. I was an early partisan of the blogosphere and mouthed many of the criticisms that WRM continues to make today about the MSM, NYT/WaPo etc. But the last 10 years have sobered me up. The “atomization” of culture has allowed a few wonderful voices to gain a following, but for the most part, the discussion today is dumber, louder, noisier…

    We’ve really lost a great deal with the decline of curators/gatekeepers, of the mandarin media that our own era’s bloggers, incl WRM, hate so bitterly.

    I concede that atomization is a double-edged sword. I might concede that good “curators/gatekeepers” provided a service that would shield us from the flotsam out there today, except for the fact that they became a closed class of “peer-reviewers” who confirmed their own biases.

    You can’t put the genie back in the bottle in any event.

    This brings me back to the application of “independent schools” v. centralization as applied to the goal of educating a “populace.”

    Lacking time again, let’s cut to the chase. You take East of the Mississippi, and I’ll take west.

    I’ll reallocate resources that they follow the child to a vast new array of independent options, merely setting standards and allowing the parents and provider decide on the best way to meet them.

    You take the East, and attempt to reimpose sanity on the district system (1950s mixed with the best of your model – Finland, perhaps?)

    If the goal is better/good education outcomes, I’ll win.

    Even if both of us could DICTATE, surpassing the political process, I’d probably still win, though I’d have no problem installing you as dictator.

    You can theorize, but Walker, Daniels, Jindal, and soon to be others will prove the concept soon enough.

  • John

    As if the schools care what you and I think. They can’t be fired, why should they?

  • Susan P

    Yes – the “big box” model is out of date and no longer working. But to compare U.S. education to that of other nations is like comparing apples to muffins. Ours is the only nation that requires that ALL students be tested in our standardized tests, and we are the only nation that doesn’t track students with lower than average iq’s out of school or into vocational education.

  • glitchus

    I remember driving past a big construction project for our school district a couple of years ago, thinking that they were building a new school. Was I ever wrong! As I discovered once the massive compound was nearing completion and saw the fancy engraved marble sign for it. It was the districts new office complex! All that real estate just for the bureaucracy…your tax dollars at work.

  • Lorenzo

    Big city school districts should be sliced and diced into smaller school districts. Perhaps each school district should be limited to just one high school and its related middle schools and grade schools.

    I read that during WW2 there were over a hundred thousand school districts in the US. Now there are only some 15,000. Obviously, this is mostly related to people moving from rural areas to the cities. Presumably bigger school districts are more efficient and they benefit from economies of scale, and such. However, we shouldn’t confuse bureaucracy with stewardship.

    There are more than 200k students enrolled in Houston independent school district. HISD has some 30 high schools. However, it appears there are only 9 elected members of the school board. I suspect those 9 school board members are less connected to parents and the rest of the voting public than they are to district’s bureaucracy and to other advocates of big education at the state and national level.

    Yes, I am suggesting that HISD be busted up into approx 30 school districts. I am convinced there are more than enough doctors and lawyers and other professional men and women who would stand for election and serve on these way more local school boards. This would go a long way towards redirecting the mission of K thru 12 education to be more aligned with the parents and local interests.

  • thibaud

    @ Bruno #20 – “WRM posts very interesting data, and usually makes very broad generalizations on that data. While one can critique broad generalizations and undefined broad phrases, the fact is that WRM’s points are, frankly, ‘generally’ correct.”

    Why the quote marks around “generally”? Are these ironic? Or do you mean to imply that Mead’s use of facts and data sets is not very precise or even competent but is nonetheless directionally correct?

    If the latter, it’s often not the case – especially when the issue at hand touches on one of Parson Mead’s moralistic hot buttons. When that happens – as it invariably does involving what the Parson deems to be stupid/dangerous/wicked programs that invoke the power of the interventionist State, either domestically or internationally, on behalf of liberal ideals – Mead’s judgment goes out the window.

    He tends to, as he would say, “shoot from the lip” , avoids doing even the most basic digging to get a handle, even a rudimentary one, on the relevant data and facts, and ends up spouting eloquent, tendentious nonsense.

    We’ve seen this repeatedly with the “blue social model” canard re. public pension management – even though the facts are that New York State and the District of Columbia top the US league tables for funded ratios/solvency, while Alaska, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Kentucky are at the bottom of the league tables.

    We see it again and again regarding Putin’s foreign policy, where the Parson, desperately wishing to bash naive Wilsonians, has in best Walter Duranty fashion concocted a ludicrous image of Putin as St. Vladimir the Defender of Orthodox minorities across the muslim world.

    And now we see it again with regard to school size and class size and decentralization.

    At least Bill Gates decided to actually do some research. And when the data showed clearly that Gates’ small schools:Good presumption was wrong, Gates changed his mind and said so publicly.

    But then, in Gates’s world, you don’t ignore data and facts and treat complex issues as part of some grand morality play.

  • College Professor

    I’m a college professor. The level of preparation exhibited by public High School students has decreased in every one of the 35 years that I have taught. Correlation is not proof of causation, but the precipitous drop in displayed student ability marches in step with the unionization of public schools.

    The focus has changed from service to the student to unwavering service to the union members. More pay and benefits has little relation to the educational performance of their students. OTOH, the best teacher can occasionally get stuck with a class without potential. But not every class, every year.

  • thibaud

    @ Bruno #23 – “a vast new array of independent options, merely setting standards and allowing the parents and provider decide on the best way to meet them.”

    I think WigWag on another recent Education thread pretty effectively demolished this idea.

    WigWag gave a litany of examples of how loopy parents of particular religious persuasions or ethnic biases would likely yield us a nation of EVEN MORE millions of kids who’d never heard of the Holocaust. Or even more millions who believe in Greater Aztlan. Or even more millions who believe the Genesis story of the universe’s formation. Or who believe that immunizations cause allergies etc etc

    As Wig memorably put it, your approach would out the lunatics in charge of the asylum.

  • thibaud

    correction to above: “put the lunatics in charge of the asylum”

  • RS

    There is no institution in America so utterly dominated by liberals than public education.

    And they have destroyed it by re-designing education to fit their own ideology.

  • koblog

    Public school unions to the public that funds them: “Shut up you! All your ejukayshun are belong to us”

  • teapartydoc

    Big-box education=school consolidation, and the assembly-line model of education. Class size has nothing to do with school size. Thibaud is a statist.

  • R Richard Schweitzer

    Let’s ask ourselves:

    How and by whom are the objectives and the means of attaining them currently determined for our several layers of educational facilities?

    How and why has this current condition for those determinations come into being?

    I cite the following only into bring into focus the morhpology that has produced this “institutionalized” education system, permeated by what is at least a “guild mentality” at best and rampant “self interests” too commonly:

    My father’s (b. 1879) schooling began in the rural midwest where the common interests of parents set the objectives and determined the means by creating small schools in localized areas. Those efforts were expanded to providing secondary education, whilst the objectives at the primary level required more proficiencies than required today. By setting his own objective, he was the first in his family to attain a High School Diploma, the limit of his “formal” education, but the beginning of 50 more years of learning, with success in engineering, manufacturing and inventions.
    His brothers stopped at 8th and 9th grades, but also continued learning as highly successful farmers, like many, many of their era.

    By time of my start in the “system” in 1929, there was still input by parents into the determinations of objectives (but less of the means) and the capital needs for the basic objectives had brought the “system” within the realm of politics. Still, the school boards were responsive to the objectives of parents, and moderating factors in the determinations of means.

    All that has now gone. those once charged with meeting the objectives and using the means determined by those puportedly to be benefited now determine the objectives and determine the means to which they will choose to respond.

    We could draw analogy to civil control of the military. That does not demean those who serve. It recognizes the need for specific separation of functions.

    In the case of education, “reforming” the “system” now so institutionalized would be a diversion of energies that can be more effective in creating new alternatives that will circumvent rather than reform. Some of that has begun at the primary levels, and others are invading the “Higher Education Bubble.”

    Even so, families have to have objectives, they have to be “families” or have relations between adults and children that will result in seeking objectives, first for the children; then, by the maturing person.

  • Kris

    thibaud@15: “I have no idea what he means by that phrase [‘big-box school model’].”

    And yet you not only ascribe a specific meaning to it (big class size), but expend much effort arguing against it?

    Without wishing to set myself up as your editor, your comment 15 seems like a much more relevant (and thus effective) reply than your initial comment @4.

    By the way, it seems clear to me that “big box” is shorthand for what Lorenzo@27 or teapartydoc@32 refer to. (And which you are obviously welcome to argue against.)

  • ChrisGreen


    I read the Commentary article you reference. Very interesting. I agree with most it. The only part I question is wheather the Jose Ortega’s of the world actually had any influence over the ‘common man’ during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I don’t think their mockery was keenly felt by your average book club member. Most were not aware of it. I think it was the late 60’s and 70’s that demolished the emerging middle brow culture the article references. During the late 60’s and 70’s, all things of the older generation were cast aside contemptuously. The youth movement of the 60’s effected most if not all youth while the musings of the snark-filled intelligencia only reached a few ears in the 40’s and 50’s.
    I agree with you that problems in education have more to do with culture than with unions. Unions may not be the most efficient way of handling education. However, good cultural (which I think includes a good moral code (which includes personal responsibility and healthy respect for educators)) makes a civilization robust to mild and moderate inefficiencies in most things. That being said, all aspects of high culture are not for everybody. I love Tolstoy but dislike symphony. Some art and literature is for lovers of art and literature, and those to whom it doesn’t speak still have a great capacity to love and feel and perceive subtly.

  • susan berger

    The biggest problem is tenure of teachers. I was once the biggest proponent of public schools until I sent my children through the system. One Chemistry teacher actually gave everyone a zero in her lab class because she had worn open toe shoes.

  • Cato the Youngest

    The public continues to have less and less faith in public schools as an institution, but poll after poll also shows that parents love the schools their kids attend. Therein lies part of the difficulty: Even in troubled urban and rural districts, the relationships which children form with their teachers end up being more important than the education actually received. Is your teacher incompetent? Well, we’ll find out after the year-end tests are done. But, meanwhile, what a nice lady she is! How well she deals with little Johnny’s idiosyncrasies and little Suzie’s sensitivity! In a society in which both adults (if there are two adults) work away from home and, when they return, have only enough time and energy left to settle the panic over dinner and the tussles over homework and bedtime, the nurturing and caring that children need becomes the province of the schools.

    The school at which I teach thus has the ridiculous motto “It’s all about everything.” We value relationships and don’t get all twisted about whether the kids learn all they need to before they toddle off to whichever second- or third-tier college looks to take in such well-adjusted tikes. When any of us actually try to get kids ready for college, we meet stiff resistance from every quarter. I do think that the relationships I have formed with my students have been very important for them, and that I have shown them a great deal about what it means to be an intelligent human being simply, to use Bennett’s phrase, by not just doing something, but standing there. I think I’d prefer to be remembered as the one whose subject matter the students will never forget, but I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll get paid more for showing up next year.

  • thibaud

    @ Kris #36: nice try, but the confusion here, as usual, was created by Mead’s bizarre mash-up of a single public opinion data series on a general topic and a set of very specific issues that may or may not have any relation to that polling data.

    Mead segwayed from data on public confidence in the schools – omitting to analyze whether this decline is greater or not than for other institutions, such as the military or the Catholic Church or Congress – to a riff on
    how parents “across the country” are “pulling their children out of highly bureaucratized public schools and putting them into private ones.”

    Then, just to make sure no one missed his point, he draws his completely unwarranted conclusion that lower public confidence is being CAUSED BY “bureaucratization” and “centralization.” Here’s Mead:

    “Small wonder that public schools are losing the support of the public they were created to serve. The solution, as we have remarked before, is a decentralized system that puts more power into the hands of parents and teachers.”

    Again, Mead does not put forth any evidence of a causal link between the public’s confidence in the schools generally and the very specific issue of the degree of school centralization.

    Neither did Mead even bother to define what aspect of “centralization” he has in mind, beyond some vague reference to parents wishing to “at least have some influence.”

    Again, in reality, the US public school system is heavily DE-centralized, far more so than any public school system in the world. As to “bureaucracy,” well, by gum, I’m agin’ it, too! Bureaucrats: Bad. You go, Perfesser!

    Really, a blog that has Fukuyama and Bhagwati on the masthead should produce more light and less heat than this.

  • Mack Hall

    Fine, fine, but did anyone here vote in his or her last school board election? Or are ya just talking?

  • Ellen K

    It’s a shame that our public schools are held in such low esteem. It was one of the foundations of our rise as a nation and it was what separated us from other nations where only the elite got an education and a path to professions. As a parent, I’ve seen things in the public education system that worries me. As a teacher in a public school, I privately rail against measures imposed on classroom teachers that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the social goals of outside forces.

    Two factors have driven schools into a frenzy. First, the use of schools to promote social agendas is absolutely out of line. As teachers our job is to teach our subjects. Yet within that, political forces on both sides seek to get footholds that will allow them to shape students’ opinions. The second are the imposition of the concept that every single child must be provided with a free education even when that situation is inappropriate. We have children who will never work or live outside of a sheltered environment who are given priority over the average kid who we hope will someday earn a living. While I have great sympathy for the families of disabled children, I do not believe it is the role of public schools to provide what amounts to daycare for these students until they are 22 years old. That is a biproduct of the ADA and is yet another expensive federal mandate along with ESL/ELL programs that are breaking the backs of school budgets.

    If you eliminate such programs, you lower costs and get rid of layers of bureaucracy that are both costly and burdensome. Their implementation takes crucial time and effort of teachers away from teaching their classes. And in many cases these students are mainstreamed into programs where classroom teachers are expected to make their personal education the priority over the rest of the class.

    Haveing said all that, I still believe that our public education system is crucial to our nation. But without a population that values education and without a means to truly address the needs of the many over the needs of the few, it’s going to be a tough job. I doubt there’s a single charter or private school that could do the job for the same amount of money.

  • Captain Kirk

    Look, we’ve known the answer to this since the 70’s…vouchers. When you subsidize something you get more of it, so stop subsidizing teachers and failing public schools, start subsidizing the students! The DC voucher program WILL SERVE as a model to revolutionize education in America.

  • john werneken

    The solution is to prohibit private lawsuits for discrimination in employment. Schools do not teach, they serve as gatekeepers. Earn enough, buy a home in an expensive area, send kids to expensive schools, let Uncle Sam pay inflated prices through student aid for worthless colleges, and viola! A new generation certified for high status jobs. Second, abolish local school boards- put schools that are public in the same government department as collects the garbage – susceptible to patronage and inefficiency but run as a utility and not by just one special interest group. End tenure except for real professors at real universities…full Profs at the top 100. Abolish it entirely in primary/secondary education.
    Abolish local taxes for public schools. Collect at the state level, and where the city straddles states, at the multi-state level. Give vouchers to parents. Allow anyone to say they are a school and cash the vouchers. Period. No regulation certification or curriculum requirement. Why should a school be different than a restaurant? It’s a similar combination of location, ambiance, customers, staff, business efficiency, and art. Anyone wants to know if Johnny can write read add or think? Let them figure it out.
    As a side benefit, suburbs unfunded infrastructure and auto pollution would all lose their main excuses for being tolerated…the credentialing school mafia.

    This is the kind of thing that can only be fixed after a foreign conquest of the country or a civil war. No point worrying unless you are ready for one of those. Though the odds of seeing one the other or both of THOSE goes up every month..

  • hamidog

    My wife and I realized the public schools were failing years ago, as did many others. But here is the real problem: we were wrong. The public schools are succeeding – at indoctrinating our children. I myself would have thought I was crazy for saying that a decade ago, but all you have to do is look at the text books, go online and look at the curriculum for your childrens’ courses, and stroll the hallways of the schools where you will see posters extolling the virtues of the LGBT life, giving credence to transgenerism, glorifying Che and socialism. We have been asleep too long, people. They have almost got a firm grip on us. They do have a grip on our children. Vote, and vote right. And if the voting fails, prepare for the worst.

  • No Lawyers

    There are a host of problems with schools but the single most important one is lack of discipline which has its roots in the home. If you were to see parents demanding that their kids behave in school and help the school with discipline, there would be a radical change.

  • andrei radulescu-banu

    WRM thinks the solution is to further decentralize the schools, but what he is not saying is that the American School system, with its tens of thousands of independent school districts, is already one of the most decentralized in the world.

    He think the schools need more democratic input from parents and citizens – but in many instances the democratic process has been perverted to stop experts from having a say in what goes on in the schools.

    Take the example of Texas with its elected state school board, and the politicized manner it decided its history curriculum. Or read “The Language Police” by Diane Ravitch, about our dumbed-down textbooks written to appease political sensitivities on the left and on the right.

    We should make a difference between
    (a) public perception of the public schools
    (b) public perception of the local schools
    (c) the reality in the schools

    The fact is, American schools were always scoring in the bottom third among advanced economies, since comparison tests started being organized in the 1950s – and the ‘public perception’ graph from Gallup shows 58% approval in 1970 and 29% in 2012.

    WRM’s theory about public anger serving to fix schools through democratic process would hold some weight if the anger was directed to the local school districts. We do not have statistics about the perception of schools at the local level, but we can take a cue from the public perception Congress – the perceived quality of Congress as a whole is much lower than that of individual local representatives. Everybody thinks poorly of Congressmen – just not of the ones representing their district.

  • Henry Miller

    My observation is that class size isn’t a dominant factor in affecting the quality of education, it’s range of competence of the kids in the class. A room full of uniformly smart kids can be taught efficiently, as can a room full of dumb kids. But when you mix the smart kids and dumb kids together, the teacher can either teach to the smart kids, losing the dumb kids, or teach to the dumb kids, thereby wasting the potential of the smart kids. Either way, the result is suboptimal.

    Unfortunately, these days, at least until high-school level, the mix-them-all-together approach seems to be just about universal in public schools, and typically in the teach-to-the-dumb-kids mode. That wasn’t true forty years ago–even in primary education, schools that were large enough to support multiple classes in each given grade tended to sort the kids by competence. Even schools too small to do that seemed to differentiate instruction within the class–something I expect takes a great deal of skill on the part of the teacher.*

    So long as schools insist on teaching to the fallacy that all kids are of equal competence, American education will continue to yield less-than-ideal results. It looks to me like, in the interests of “equality of results,” American school systems have chosen to sacrifice the potential of the smarter kids and put their efforts into the slower kids. This, it seems to me, is not a good way to achieve a first-rate educational system.

    * In my elementary school, in the early 60s, kids were seated by competence, the brighter ones at the front at the teacher’s right, the slower kids at the back at the teacher’s left. This arrangement was never formally stated, but it was absolutely consistent throughout my six years in Fairfield Elementary school.

  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    This is not a complicated subject. America spends more on primary & secondary education, per capita, than any other advanced nation. By every measurement, the results are horrible, our graduates rank almost dead last in the learned survival skills: written communication and quantitative analysis of the work: language, math and science. It has been this way for two generations, hence our leaders, our voters, and our teachers, are dummies.

    The problem is institutional stupidity and corruption. Most of the money is not spent in a class room filled with students. We have new $0.5 Bn high schools with enormous drop out rates, and failure rates. The problem is that money does not flow to good teachers. Hence it is considered wasted by most people. Teachers complain that undisciplined disruptive kids, the product of dysfunctional families, destroy the quiet focus, necessary for learning. When they confront the miscreant, the Administration, and parents overwhelm their attempt at discipline.

    The solution: cut capital and administrative costs to 20% of the school budget, spend 80% in populated classrooms. Fire lousy teachers, and send lousy parents to jail.

  • Matthew Hall

    As a former high school teacher who left the profession very demoralized, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Prof33

    I’m a professor at a state university and also the director of a youth group at my church.
    As a professor, I can tell you I’m unimpressed with the majority of students coming out of public schools here in Illinois. I just finished grading short papers for a summer gen-ed class that includes students from different majors. Because of the poor quality of the writing, I am giving them lessons on basic grammar and sentence structure. This is not unusual. I am frequently having to teach college students material that should have been learned in high school. Out of 25 students in my current 300-level class, only 4 or 5 have even a high school writing level. I’m talking about basic writing skills (spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure) that should be in place by junior high.
    Writing is not their only deficiency, though. Every year, I give incoming freshmen a “basic knowledge” quiz. The results, unfortunately, are always the same. The first question asks them to identify two pictures. One is the U.S. Vice-President and the other is a celebrity. Never once in 15 years have I had a group where more than 50% can name the current VP, but 95-100% can identify the celebrity. Another two-part question: Each state has how many members in the U.S. Senate? How many judges are there on American Idol? Again, the majority of students can’t answer the first question correctly, but usually 100% get the second question right.
    My eyes were truly opened years ago when I began directing a youth group at my church. I oversee a group of 20 kids who are in 5th and 6th grade, most of whom attend public school. I’ve learned that schools are doing a great job teaching these kids about self-esteem, recycling, tolerance, etc. However, year after year, I become more dismayed as I discover more of what they don’t know. Recently, I was doing a lesson about missionaries, and I asked the kids how many continents there are. Not ONE of the 20 kids knew! Several asked, “What’s a continent?” I was floored. (I later asked my daughter the same question. She was in 4th grade at the time at a Christian school, and she shouted out proudly, “Seven!) The year before, I discovered half of these kids couldn’t name George Washington as our first president!
    Unfortunately, I could go on and on, because these are just a few examples. I can’t pass these off as isolated incidents because it’s the same scenario year after year after year. Count me as one of those Americans who has lost faith in public schools.

  • CobbleHill

    Per Silia, presumably Steven Sailer, it should be noted that Denmark and the Netherlands have long had school choice. No, Milton Friedman did not invent it.

    I believe Sweden adopted it more recently as well. There was a long article in the FT about a year ago, as I remember, where Swedish officials were saying to Cameron in the U.K. that it didn’t really work.

    Personally, I support school choice. It’s just that it’s diverted way too much attention, especially on the part of the WSJ and like minded conservatives.

    One caveat: I think have seen data that white students in the United States are not that competitive. And it may have come from the OECD as well. I once wrote a speech about it, but would have to open a lot of boxes to find. But that doesn’t undermine the point about school choice. Finally, it’s worth noting that Finland does not have school choice.

  • scott cooper

    Most public schools are doing fine . The crisis is in the cycle of poverty we have never been able to fix resulting in poor performing urban schools . As far as raising academic achievement everywhere until we treat readind as importantly as sports ,and we never as a national culture will .Also until our nation as a whole improves its emotional intelligence our society will continue to suffer and all the test scores in the world don’t matter .

  • scott cooper

    sorry for typos ,it got sent before I could proofread it and add the necessary commas etc .

  • suibne

    If Americans knew the horror that went on inside public urban high schools every day they would demand the system be shut down and the teachers be put in jail along with the parents. The Administrators, Board of ED reps…..all of them in jail.

  • suibne

    ….and wait till you see the imbeciles that turn up with caps and gowns in the next ten years.

  • Tom Genin

    When anyone in my nephews class, who’s 8, gets a passing grade at any point during the school term, they’re marked as “meets requirements” and are passed on to the next grade.

    Even the 8 year olds quickly learn to pass the first test, then do nothing, no homework, no studying, no caring about the next test or quiz, and forget class participation.

    But amazingly, the teachers and administrators are too stupid to figure out that their killing these students learning ability…And that’s in Beacon Falls, CT, not the Adorondacks as you may have suspected.

  • JC

    Given a choice, many would leave the public schools. The teachers unions seem unified in making sure that choice is not available. They want captive consumers in big box schools. Education is secondary.

  • Ken Puck

    Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the public education system is irredeemably broken and corrupt. We simply have to start over:

    1. Pass laws which prohibit lawyers and the ACLU from suing school districts.

    2. Decertify all teachers unions.

    3. Institute codes of conduct that make it crystal clear that threatening or assaulting a teacher will result in police intervention, and disruptive behavior in the classroom will result in expulsion. Then follow through on the promise.

    4. Dismantle the Department of Education and return control of the schools to the states.

    Absent these reforms, all colloquys, forums, and debates on the topic are just so much hot air.

  • Frank Youell

    The truth is that American schools are fine. However, we have very serious demographic problems being made drastically worse by uncontrolled immigration (legal and illegal).

    See “The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia” over at the Super Economy blog site.


    “What I have learned recently and want to share with you is that once we correct (even crudely) for demography in the 2009 PISA scores, American students outperform Western Europe by significant margins and tie with Asian students. Jump to the graphs if you don’t want to read my boring set-up and methodology.”

    The bottom line is that the legacy of slavery and Open Borders are crippling American education. We can’t change America’s history of slavery. We can send the illegals home and enforce our borders.

    Like it or not, the “Dream Act” is dagger to the heart of education in America.

    At this point, even (some) notable liberals are willing to (occasionally) admit the truth. See End State Is California finished?” by John Judis in the New Republic. Money quote

    “At the gathering, held in a plush conference room, one of the experts projected tables and graphs comparing various states. It was there that I had my own “AHA!” moment. The states with thriving educational systems were generally northern, predominately white, and with relatively few immigrants: the New England states, North Dakota, and Minnesota. That bore out the late Senator Patrick Moynihan’s quip that the strongest factor in predicting SAT scores was proximity to the Canadian border. The states grouped with California on the lower end of the bar graph were Deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama with a legacy of racism and with a relative absence of new-economy jobs; states like West Virginia that have relatively few jobs for college grads; and states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Hawaii that have huge numbers of non-English-speaking, downscale immigrants whose children are entering the schools. California clearly falls into the last group, suggesting that California’s poor performance since the 1960s may not have been due to an influx of bad teachers, or the rise of teachers’ unions, but to the growth of the state’s immigrant population after the 1965 federal legislation on immigration opened the gates.”

    If John Judis can “get it”, anyone can.

  • Dennis Sinclair

    Among the things causing the failings of government education is the disconnect between achievement and reward forced on administrators by the unions. The best teacher, and the worst with tenure receive the same pay. There is no reward for performance. Believe me, I know. I just finished 8 years as a parent of high school students in Southern Oregon (44th out of 50th but with the highest paid teachers in the nation). Government education is a criminal enterprise.

  • Ulysses S. Rant

    Gerald@9 … had some very impressive things to say. And his experience with his son should remind us that the constant conservative “de-centralize” mantra that Professor Mead is championing doesn’t work as a stand-alone philosophy. You don’t fight one extreme by just moving over to the other.

    The problem with education today has just as much to do with parents as it does with teachers. It’s parents who refuse to discipline their children. It’s parents who insist that teachers give their kids good grades regardless of whether or not they’ve actually earned them. It’s parents who want control without responsibility.

    The best school systems in the world are not de-centralized; most are actually quite centralized — BUT they’re also focused on real excellence. They hire the best and the brightest to be teachers, and they pay them accordingly. Those teachers have enormous flexibility to actually teach…and to maintain discipline within their classrooms. And parents are expected to keep their children under control while treating their children’s teachers with respect (which, most of the time in those cultures, has actually been earned by quality teachers).

    I thrived in such an environment growing up. Gerald’s son thrived in this culture as well. It’s long past time we start expanding it throughout the country.

  • Ulysses S. Rant

    I would add to what I said above that the well-paid and well-empowered teachers in these top systems are also held accountable for actual results. That matters too!

  • Randy

    It will never work. How are you going to get all the parents to join the union?

  • Bullmoose

    Competition is the key.

    Right now, public schools have no incentive to improve, and teacher benefits take priority over top notch education.

    Support private schools – And fund them in part via school vouchers (but only to the extent public schools save money via student transfers to non-public schools.

    Encourage charter schools.

    Once the teachers’ unions see that their empire is shrinking due to low productivity in the classroom, it’s inevitable that public education will improve, and improve dramatically.

  • Kurlis

    It would be useful to bring back corporal punishment.

  • Kris

    thibaud@40: Valid points in this comment as well; I’m not going to argue with it. My sole point is that your lengthy argument @4 seemed to come out of left field. (To the point that I was sincere in wondering @12 whether the original post had been changed.) I’ll skip the conclusions stage.

  • Paul B.

    Support for the schools is almost down to the level of families of people who work for the schools. Do the math, and then work to set our children free through school choice.

  • thibaud

    @ #60 re. demographics- yes, liberals like John Judis are coming around to the recognition of the elephant in the room, the overwhelming driver of school performance that is well known to every teacher, parent and young-family homebuyer in suburban California: ethnicity.

    Which itself is just a proxy for the real driver, the culture of the home, specifically the degree of respect for teachers and for intellectual attainment. This is what really matters, far more than any tweaking of the curriculum, or funding, or class size, or relaxation of union rules, or choice.

    You don’t need to be a data scientist to spot the pattern in the carpet when it comes to California public school scores, which the CDE helpfully allows to be sorted in extreme detail by ethnicity (including national Asian subgroups).

    California schools’ steady decline over 30 year has not been caused by changes in funding or teacher quality or greater “centralization.” The real driver is the demographic shift, the extraordinary increase in that demographic that has a failing rate in the 40-50% range in the early grades and the 70-100% range in the upper grades. In 1980, that demographic accounted for <15% of CA public school enrollment. Today, it accounts for 53%. That share of total has been increasing by about one percentage point per year.

    Which means that California, once the shining light of public education for the US and the world, ground zero for many of the world's most advanced technologies, dear old California can look forward to a severe shortage of skilled, educated graduates in another 20 years.


    And totally self-inflected by a corrupt and clueless political elite and their partisan cheerleaders, both of them desperate to deny an electoral edge to OtherSide.

    Here's the CDE testing data, sorted for the above-mentioned demographic. Enjoy.

  • CobbleHill

    With respect to comment 60 and John Judis, if he can get it, anyone can, apparently not the WSJ.

    Though with respect to southern states, you have to take into account cost of living. If you correct for cost of living, i.e. if you try to calculate purchasing power parity, you find that these states are much more prosperous than misleading nominal census data indicates. That is why blacks are moving south. Some of the reason that you may find high test scores in, say, Massachusetts, is that you have to be well educated to live there. It’s very expensive. Edward Glaeser has written about the zoning issues in Massachusetts. Also, per my current professional interest, the legacy of industry in these states is under recognized. Because the U.S. has such an onerous liability regime for pollution, it’s really hard to redevelop formerly industrial states. It’s not just that they are liberal. You can’t attract investment. This applies to MA, RI, NY, NJ, and interestingly CT. Plus Great Lakes. And, I would think Jefferson County in Alabama vs. say Fulton Country in Georgia.

    So there is a kinda weird dynamic, where the high cost Northeast liberal states rely on their old cultural strengths and they do well in new industries but per, say a Joel Kotkin, they are screwing up when it comes to lesser skilled demographics. And then per Charles Murray, these high skilled, culturally competitive people are not preaching what they practice. Which only exacerbates these trends.

    What’s necessary is to pull all these strands together.

  • SL

    Public schools have become the liberal social experimental labs to indoctrinate, not educate. The curriculum usually consists of foisting the multicultural, feminist, homosexual, and egalitarian dogma.
    Throw in local politicians who saturate suburbs containing decent schools with government subsidized housing filled with minorities, whose “needs” must be fulfilled by catering to the lowest common denominator.
    Result: good schools ruined and white flight (at great cost to families) to find another alternative. Parents are fighting a war to educate their children today.

  • ReaganTeaPartyConservative

    US President and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson-

    “Government that is closest to the people is best”

    In other words, the public school system is controlled by the unions and the liberal politicians in govt, but more and more control is being given to the Federal govt.

    This all contributes to the decline of the quality of education, as the nation raises a bunch of illiterate incompetent useful idiots, instead of a nation full of bright free thinking enlightened young people as the next generation, to put into a more serious whole perspective and context.

    Parents and Teachers, as Mr Mead’s blog states, should be the deciding element in the students educational direction based on quality, not quantity, and especially not anti-American politically biased ideology of marxist theory..

  • Amused

    More power in hands of the parents and the teachers?

    And the teachers?

    The same teachers who pay their union dues to ensure that bad teachers can NEVER be fired.

    The same teachers who belong to the unions that have blocked education reform for the past 40 years.

    The same teachers who belong to the unions that have effectively destroyed the public education system

    Those teachers?


  • Jeff

    An interesting debate from many well-meaning people, but I think a critical point has not been elicited clearly: choice. Who can sit on the mountain top and tell me (or anyone) how to educate my child. This is the fatal flaw in the current public education system, and why it will never gain mass approval – it is tailored to the masses, while each individual wants it tailored to them. The only way this improves is by providing choice, unleashing the ingenuity and creativity of the people to find better solutions. It certainly won’t come from a bunch of intellectuals on the mountain top, assuming they know what is best for the masses.

  • Wm.

    I’m guessing some of you have never heard of the PTA or the school board. At least in Indiana, the curriculum and the standards come from the state, and it’s a GOP state. The problem is that we don’t have a uniform student population or end result job market. Our curriculum is still designed to produce and educate white college bound kids. Shifting more to a private system is just going to transfer the white college bound kids there. What happens to everyone else who are already being left behind in the public system?

  • James Martin

    Think of some other variables: Textbooks are decided by states, not local government. Teacher licensing is decided by states also. Teachers have less control in the classroom….no one is touched, let alone paddled. Teachers used to have BA’s in the field, like science or they come through colleges of education. And PARENTS!!! How many more children are born out of wedlock, without fathers in the household, mothers working jobs AND raising children. Also, outside of administrators, teachers are not paid much, and take work home. Students are MUCH more disrespectful…no wonder, since teachers are now considered “problems.” Why would students respect teachers when the media castigates teachers so often? And the “local” superintendent (not counting HIS extra benefits) makes a salary equal to many University presidents.The buck stops at the top, and since that is local, that is where to start..The REAL money starts at the State Commissioner of Education, and moves down to the local superintendents, and these are political appointments.

  • Robert

    So many garbage theories floating around on here. The school model that served America in the 20th century doesn’t work anymore because of so-called “civil rights”, demographic changes caused by immigration from the third world and schools afraid of losing their federal funding if a child fails.

  • Tim Ehrgott

    As one who was shuttled through “the big-box school model that carried America through much of the 20th century . . .” I can state that it is not a case of “[it] is no longer working. . .” but that it never worked well. And our continued reliance on it is one of our problems. Even charter schools mimic the design, they just think smaller will automatically be better. It won’t.

  • Karl Priest

    As a retired public school teacher I am convinced that our only hope is to rescue our children from the public (government) schools and raise a godly generation.

    Please see “Call to Dunkirk” at

    Public schools cannot be redeemed. Saying we should not abandon them is like saying the passengers of the Titanic should have stayed aboard because the band was playing good music and the captain was a good man.

    Please also see IndoctriNation at

    Please also see


  • Bruno Behrend

    Thibaud wrote: “I think WigWag on another recent Education thread pretty effectively demolished this idea.

    …that “lunatics will run the asylum.”

    Actually, you and WigWag haven’t effectively demolished anything, and have lost credibility by merely repeating the same points with out looking at data in links that I’ve posted.

    Choice and Charters, while far from being a panacea, show clear, steady, and substantial improvement over district schools in poor areas.

    All you and Wig do is post the same obvious point that “culture and socio-economic factors matter.” No one disputes that.

    All the potential “lunatics” using vouchers to send their kids to “madrassas” do not amount to an iota of the human potential being flushed down the toilet in our current system.

    You and Wig can carp all you want about how PISA shows that whites are rich kids here get and adequate education. Yet, you ignore any suggestion or reform that might actually solve the education issue for the 80% of American kids stuck in our increasingly expensive and mediocre system.

    Both you and Wig have posted standard, and weak arguments and ignored data showing choice, charters, and digital learning offer numerous benefits. In short, it is now the 2 of you who are resorting to generalizations and shop-worn sound bites.

  • Bruno Behrend

    _Banu wrote: WRM thinks the solution is to further decentralize the schools, but what he is not saying is that the American School system, with its tens of thousands of independent school districts, is already one of the most decentralized in the world.

    Our schools are “decentralized” like McDonalds is decentralized. I support my local McDonalds’ sounds ridiculous, and it is.

    Your local district has the appearance of local control, but is actually the hand-maiden of the state school code it must answer to, which in turn is written by the unions and bureaucrats that control the writing of the school code.

    This can’t be proven in one blog comment, but any in-depth look at what has happened since the advent of “districts” will prove the point.

    A private and charter school is decentralized. A district school is a franchise of the “government-education complex.” The more you look into it, the more you will understand that this is true.

  • thibaud

    Bruno – re parental control, I used to think like you, until I actually begin to get to know the parents in my kids’ school. A very high proportion of them are either

    a) slack / unwilling to push their kids, and hostile to anything they deem to be “rote” learning – as if you can master multiplication tables or calculus or historical timelines or chemistry or grammar without relentless repetition and drilling,


    b) in the grip of one or another weird hobbyhorse, e.g. immunizations-cause-allergies


    c) from a particular religious or ethnic background that predisposes them to believe in loony versions of human or natural history.

    At the same time, I’ve gotten to know my school’s principal and the district superintendant. They are extremely savvy, dedicated, politically astute, sure-footed ladies with about 7 decades of experience between them. Despite all the obstacles in their path, they are doing an amazing job.

    So, no, I do NOT want more “parental control” in my school or my district, because it would without question represent a huge step BACKWARD. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but I don’t think my experience is unusual.

    As to charters, I have no problem with using them as a “hail mary” pass in the inner city or other places where the alternative is 100% of 10th-11th grade students failing math, as is the case in LA Unified for the 72% hispanic student majority. Try anything, sure.

    There’s one small problem with charters: they DON’T SCALE. Look at San Jose: the “RocketShip” schools in East San Jose have been successful, but they serve a tiny fraction of a fraction of the students in SJ Unified. Perhaps charters would, like Rocketship, save 1-2% of the urban underclass school population. By all means, let’s do so if we can – but Mead’s original post was not focused on the school system OVERALL, ie winning the battle across a vast landscape – not about performing triage in Fort Apache, The Bronx.

  • mixplix

    Geeeeee, I wonder why I lose faith in schools when teachers who are banned from teaching are assigned to the rubber rooms in the schools in NYC drawing their full paychecks and bennies and the unions are backing the teachers.

  • Ulysses S. Rant

    @82 – Thibaud and I finally agree on something! Giving parents more direct control over schools (as opposed to more indirect control through more options, like charter schools, which I support) won’t solve the problem, because the parents have nearly as little incentive to promote real excellence as the teachers’ unions do.

    What we need are strong top-down standards that apply to everybody — standards that are actually enabled and enforced. That’s what the best educated countries have today.

  • Nic Haag

    Competition, plain and simple. Schools need to know they are not right solely because they monopolize the business. Allow students and parents to decide what school in their district they would like to attend.

    Allow for more practical classes to be taught such as more computer science and technology courses. The fact such heavy emphasis is placed on English and writing and sentence composition is a disservice to everyone but English teachers.

    Outlaw teacher unions: They are only out to safeguard their own existence. All Public sector unions serve to do is increase inflation by artificially increasing tax based salaries.

  • Elizabeth Stump

    When Gary Johnson was governor of New Mexico, he increased the education budget, but after a while, no matter how much money was thrown at the public school system, grades improved little. Being governor, Johnson said for every 11 cents a state receives from the Federal government, there are 16 cents of string attached making it a losing proposition to accept money from the Federal government. Gary Johnson then began advocating for school voucher and choice, which does seem to make a difference in the quality of a child’s education where the parents can vote with their dollars where the best school for their child is instead of the monopoly the government presents as an only choice.

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