The Echo Chamber
Thursday, February 19, 2004
  10:54 AM

[Joseph Horan]

I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen's post below. My fiance will soon be entering into the educational establishment full-time as a vocal educator and a few things about the current system worry me:

1. I fully believe that the federal government will never formulate an individualized education initiative. It completely goes against what Washington stands for. In fact, it might be down-right unrealistic for us as constituents to believe that a system based on utilitarianistic values could throw off over two hundred years of such thought for the sake of the individual. What then is the answer? To be honest, I don't know. I do, however, think that the first step lies in the realm of local responsibility. For our educational system to move its focus and to become efficient, we must start with our local school boards. I would love to hear about of local school that had gone five years with any type of corruption being alleged. Until, we change who and how we do things locally, we cannot change how we do things nationally.

2. There exists an overwhelming lack of parental support in the current system, especially in lower socio-economic areas (be they urban or rural). Very few children will take learning seriously if their parents do take it seriously. The political correctness that refuses to point this out is killing our schools and condemning our children. Whether rich of poor, it is the parents responsibility to help and make(when necessary) their child learn. It is especially important to stress this in poorer areas where we allow excuses to make up for the lack of parental involvement.

3. At some point we have to stop hiring bodies to fill classrooms. It would make a very powerful point for a school superintendent to look at a TV camera and say, we can't teach your child because we don't have any more resources to hire qualified TEACHERS. That's the dividing line, teachers teach, bodies sit and fill space with busy work. If they're not certified or have an education degree they shouldn't even get an interview. It would be a horrible day to be an administrator or an superintendent, but the reality that crash down upon this system and the sudden drastic change that would occur would be undeniable.

These are just a few thoughts from someone who grew up in a teacher's home and saw the things his mother dealt with and who will now raise his children in a teacher's home. I hope and pray that something changes, because I refuse to abandon my future children to a system that drags them to the lowest common denominator to not hurt others feelings and that refuses to take their education seriously to get drastic about it.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
  10:04 AM

Equal Worth, Diversely Gifted

[Stephen Gordon]

Recently I discussed the "No Child Left Behind" plan with an old college buddy who is a school principal. The subject came up while we spoke about problems we were having at work. I wondered why this program would cause problems in a school that's doing its job. Shouldn't a program that seeks to bring all children up to a certain standard be beneficial? Perhaps, I thought to myself, the problem is resistance on the part of the teachers and the administration (to include my friend) to outside interference.

My friend explained that the problem is inefficiency. If you push all students, regardless of their talents, into a college preparatory program, bad things happen. First, the less gifted students become frustrated with their inability to do the work. Sometimes they muddle through with barely passing grades wasting time on concepts that will have little sticking power with them and will be of little benefit to them. Other times these students become so frustrated they drop out. And sometimes the classes are dumbed down for these students. This is detrimental to the more talented students.

This reminded me of a concept I learned in my master's program regarding real estate. All pieces of property are said to have a "highest and best use." A smart developer would not build a skyscraper on isolated swampland, nor would he raise cattle in Manhattan.

I should ask to be forgiven for this analogy. Unlike property, people should not be treated as a means to an end. People have spiritual value apart from their performance. Nevertheless, I believe that schools have a responsibility to each individual child, not just a responsibility to the student "body" as a whole. Programs should be tailored to allow each child to perform to their highest and best potential.

When and where it's been tried "highest and best potential" programs (magnet schools, gifted programs, remedial education, votech training) are as controversial as "no child left behind." Parents constantly object to the placement of their child. Schools have to be careful not to stigmatize children based on a single poor evaluation that follows the child unfairly. Schools have to be careful not to discriminate on the basis of race or socio-economic background (and this includes being careful not to practice reverse discrimination). Schools have to be flexible enough to realize that different students advance at different rates throughout their education. The schools have to be ready to advance the student when progress is made. Also, the schools have to guard against students living down to expectations - the "if I don't perform they won't ask much of me" problem.

Still, it always works better to treat people as individuals rather than groups. The efficiencies of individualized education are ultimately greater than cookie-cutter economies of scale. This is basic conservative philosophy that should never have been forgotten by the Bush administration.

Two neocons solving the world's problems

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