Why Isn't Our Billionaires Learning?

The lede to this article says it all:

Eli Broad and Bill Gates, two of the most important philanthropists in American public education, have pumped more than $2 billion into improving schools. But now, dissatisfied with the pace of change, they are joining forces for a $60 million foray into politics in an effort to vault education high onto the agenda of the 2008 presidential race.

There were quite a few proponents or education choice who warned Broad and Gates that they'd be disappointed with the results of their investments. Yet their response is to spend $60 million more to nudge 2008 presidential candidates to promise even more spending on public schools.

Far be it from me to tell Messrs. Gates or Broad how to spend their money, but I'd imagine that $2.06 billion would have bought a lot of scholarships for poor kids to attend private schools that have proven records.

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  • ||

    The US spends something like $500 billion a year on education so it's hard to see exactly how much improvement you can expect by adding an additional .4%

  • Fluffy||

    The thing about Gates is that he came from a very comfortable background, and probably assumes in an open-hearted way that if everyone just went to a school like his, everything would be OK. And the Lakeside School probably was a kick-ass place to get an education.

    But in the modern era, the average public school ALREADY is better equipped, particularly digitally, than even Gates' exclusive prep school was thirty years ago. I also went to private schools, and they tended to be less well equipped than comparable public schools across the board, starting with the ancient chairs and desks, proceeding through the library that largely consisted of some encyclopedias and a rack with old science fiction paperbacks, right up through the sports facilities. Gates' Lakeside School had ONE computer, if we can dignify the equipment used in the 70's with the name "computer". Public schools now often have computers in every classroom. If money was going to make the difference, why hasn't it already?

  • SugarFree||

    Dan T.,

    I agree. Additional money is wasted on public schools.

  • Russ 2000||

    I'm sure if we tripled our spending on education our students' average IQ's would be about 300.

  • ||

    If only we had a Federal law that would do something about the children in public schools.

  • ||

    I think public schools are necessary, but we probably should re-examine our basic philosophy as to what they are supposed to accomplish. It seems like a good percentage of students who are not going to pursue higher education would benefit from more real-world skills being taught.

  • ||

    The people who went to school in log cabins and wrote with quill pens were more educated than the majority of pinheads the public school system turns out today. Computers are great but they are no replacement for learning the old fashioned way. Once you have learned the basic tools you use the more advanced tools to learn more (IE Computers). You can't jump on the CNC machine before you know what a screw driver does etc.

    Does paying $329.00 for VCRs in bulk that costs $79 in singles at any box store make kids smarter or just us dumber for allowing it to happen? I saw this very thing happen with a stack of 52 VCR's at the local school board office. Talk about wasting money like a dog with the chocolate shits. But what did they have up for vote at that very same time, another fucking sales tax for education, for the children.

    The problem as with all these big government programs is not a lack of funding its a lack of oversight and fiscal responsibility. After all its not their money.

    Combine that with the wonderful parenting skills of todays parents and you have a model of disaster waiting to unfold. No one is accountable on either end yet they all tell us we need to do it for the children. Tell you what I will be accountable for mine and everyone else do the same with yours. If you can't afford them nor want them to begin with don't have them! Sure as hell don't expect me to fund them either.

  • Guy Montag||

    Far be it from me to tell Messrs. Gates or Broad how to spend their money, but I'd imagine that $2.06 billion would have bought a lot of scholarships for poor kids to attend private schools that have proven records.

    And that truly says it all. Good show Mr. Balko!

  • ||

    $2 Billion would earn what $100 million a year in interest at 5%? The cost of a good private primary or seconddary education is maybe $10,000 a year? Just to make the math easy let's say that is the case. If Bill Gates wanted to do some good he would take that money endow it and fund 10,000 smart motiviated kids stuck in worst schools in the country and pay for them to go to a top flight private school. That would do more good for more people than giving the money to the educrats.

  • ||

    I also went to private schools, and they tended to be less well equipped than comparable public schools across the board, starting with the ancient chairs and desks, proceeding through the library that largely consisted of some encyclopedias and a rack with old science fiction paperbacks, right up through the sports facilities

    I put my three kids through private Catholic school. Interestingly enough, Catholics are the minority in the school.

    I can tell you that the above hasn't changed, and it's amazing listening to the contortions that the state house (Merry Land) goes through in order to justify not buying nonreligious textbooks for the kids.

    Our county puts out literature on how it costs just shy of $8K/kid/yr. I figure I'm saving the county $24K/yr. Why they can't afford books for that, much less a voucher for half the amount per kid, boggles my mind. How much more would they have to spend if I put my three in the Public system.

  • ||

    Bill Gates should start his own space program, like Paul Allen. That would do more to inspire at least some students to perform than throwing his money into a singularity.

  • ||

    The people who went to school in log cabins and wrote with quill pens were more educated than the majority of pinheads the public school system parents turns out today.

    I don't think this is an issue of private verse public, I think it is an issue of the parents taking an adversarial position against the schools. They'll defend their kid till the end of time, as if screwing up isn't part of the learning process. Schools can be improved, but until parents stop sucking, there can be no fix. And, duh, it isn't all parents, but I don't think defensive parents are in the minority.

  • ||

    If Bill Gates wanted to do some good he would take that money endow it and fund 10,000 smart motiviated kids stuck in worst schools in the country and pay for them to go to a top flight private school. That would do more good for more people than giving the money to the educrats.

    Kids who are smart and motivated are already finding ways to attend better schools. Your idea would water down the good schools by making it easier for less smart/motivated kids to attend.

  • ||

    The people who went to school in log cabins and wrote with quill pens were more educated than the majority of pinheads the public school system turns out today.

    That's pretty debatable, but even if true it's because back in the day only the elite attended school, whereas today in America everybody does.

    When was the last time you met somebody who was truly illiterate, for example? Back in the old days, it was very common.

  • ||

    Lamar,

    You are exactly right. That is the dirty secret of the whole problem; parents. If the education fairy came down tomorrow and waived her wand and gave every school great facilities, high standards and great teachers, half the kids in school would flunk out next year and the parents would be screaming bloody murder. It doesn't matter how good the school is, if the kid doesn't work and the parents don't back up the school the kid won't get an education.

    My roommate in college's mother was a first grade teacher for 30+ years. She had a theory that one of the worst things that ever happened to education in this country was Sesame Street. Yeah, Sesame Street. She said that starting with that show, kids were given this idea that learning has to be fun or you shouldn't do it. Kids stopped having the idea that education is not fun but a reward that is to be worked and sacrificed for. After Sesame Street, it had to be fun or the kids wouldn't do it. Of course, a lot of education is not fun and can't be made to be fun. A lot of it is just drudgery and hard work. Kids stopped doing that and they stopped getting a good education.

  • ||

    Of course, public, compulsory education has never been about education so much as social control. When understood in that light, the state governments (and probably the billionaire philanthropists) are getting a GREAT return on their investments.

    My senior class was full of people who were far more interested in shopping than in exploring the world of ideas or questioning authority.

    They weren't born that way, they got that way after 12 years of nonstop indoctrination. So yeah, I guess the billionaires who want to keep control of society know exactly where to put their 'education money'.

  • Chris Monnier||

    > I don't think this is an issue of private verse public, I think it is an issue of the parents taking an adversarial position against the schools.

    The monopoly status of public schools has fostered such parental behavior.

  • ||

    Bill Gates and Eli Broad are walking along a path.

    BILL: Hey! What's that?
    ELI: It looks like a hole.
    BILL: Are you sure?
    ELI: Yeah I'm sure! Do you think I don't know what a hole looks like?
    BILL: Smell it.
    ELI: Wha?
    BILL: Smell it!
    ELI: **sniff** Eeeeewww man! It smells like a dog shit!
    BILL: Are you sure?
    ELI: Yeha I'm sure!
    BILL: Taste it.
    ELI: Wha?
    BILL: Taste it!
    ELI: **taste** Aaaarrrrgh!! It taste like a dog shit!
    BILL: Are you sure?
    ELI: Yeah I'm sure!
    BILL: Feel it.

    Some time later....

    BILL: So, it's dog shit?
    ELI: Yeah man! But it look like a hole! There must be dog shit in it!
    BILL: Let's walk around it then.
    ELI: Yeah, good thing we didn't fall into it. Can we stop pouring money into it?
    BILL: Yesh. There's another hole over here.
    ELI: I see it!

    Bill and Eli walk over to it....
    BILL: Smell it....

  • ||

    "Kids who are smart and motivated are already finding ways to attend better schools."

    So there are no smart motivated kids whatsoever in the poorly performing schools in this country? Bullshit. There are lots of smart motivated kids in every school who are managing to get an education in spite of the lousy school they attend. I gaurentee you the top students at even the worst schools are bright motivated kids. They just don't get to reach their potential because they go to a lousy school.

  • crap-action-jackson||

    How about a scholarship for any kid in Los Angeles to attend a private school (of any kind, of their choosing).

    Gates could shut down the entire LA Unified School District within a year or two.

  • ||

    Say, Radley, care to provide any backup to the assertion that this political campaign is aimed at getting "even more spending on public schools?"

  • ||

    You are exactly right. That is the dirty secret of the whole problem; parents. If the education fairy came down tomorrow and waived her wand and gave every school great facilities, high standards and great teachers, half the kids in school would flunk out next year and the parents would be screaming bloody murder. It doesn't matter how good the school is, if the kid doesn't work and the parents don't back up the school the kid won't get an education.

    Sounds like you're blaming the customer for not liking the product.


    My roommate in college's mother was a first grade teacher for 30+ years. She had a theory that one of the worst things that ever happened to education in this country was Sesame Street. Yeah, Sesame Street. She said that starting with that show, kids were given this idea that learning has to be fun or you shouldn't do it. Kids stopped having the idea that education is not fun but a reward that is to be worked and sacrificed for. After Sesame Street, it had to be fun or the kids wouldn't do it. Of course, a lot of education is not fun and can't be made to be fun. A lot of it is just drudgery and hard work. Kids stopped doing that and they stopped getting a good education.


    The only problem with that theory is that kids today are much smarter than children of the past. They have to be, as the world is a much more complex place to navigate.

    A lot of this crap is just a rehash of the age-old "kids today are stupid" argument that every generation of bitter old people trot out. Meanwhile, they need their "stupid" kids to show them how to work their iPods.

  • Guy Montag||

    I also went to private schools, and they tended to be less well equipped than comparable public schools across the board, starting with the ancient chairs and desks, proceeding through the library that largely consisted of some encyclopedias and a rack with old science fiction paperbacks, right up through the sports facilities

    The trappings do not make the education, the educators do.

    I attended a Lutheran school in Illinois when I was a kid. You don't need computers to teach algebra to third graders. All you need is a good math text book and a teacher who knows how to teach.

    Same with reading. Here is a little secret to modern educators: reading is important, teach it early. All you need is books and you are way ahead of they are OLD books. Writing is quite important too. Do you need a $500,000 gym to play that?

    As for athletic "facilities", how about a small lot, a softball and a bat? Mayeb a soccer ball too? WOOO! Such a rough problem to solve.

    Besides, no matter what facilities you have the 'education establishment' will still say they don't have enough of x to do their job, so they need to be paid more and have more time off.

  • ||

    I figure I'm saving the county $24K/yr.

    I don't. 8K may be the average cost per kid, but it isn't the marginal cost.

    After you account for infrastructure, adding or subtracting 3 kids is small beans.

  • Guy Montag||

    Writing is quite important too. Do you need a $500,000 gym to TEACH that?

    Calmness helps with writing too. Banging the keyboard does not help.

  • ||

    The monopoly status of public schools has fostered such parental behavior.

    You hear this a lot, but it makes no sense. How are public schools a "monopoly"? Not only are there plenty of private/religious schools, but there are thousands of public school districts that are independent from each other and compete with one another for students.

  • ||

    The only problem with that theory is that kids today are much smarter than children of the past.

    And you accuse us of not being taken seriously.

    A lot of this crap is just a rehash of the age-old "kids today are stupid" argument that every generation of bitter old people trot out.

    No, it's that kids now have a ginormous education "industry" dedicated just to making them smarter and yet...

    How'd they ever learn to build rockets without Baby Einstein tapes to enrich them?

  • ||

    "Sounds like you're blaming the customer for not liking the product."

    Yes Dan because education is a product not a process. It has nothing to do with my effort. I can just go to class and learn stuff magically or by osmosis I guess. Education is a lifetime project. You get yourself. If you are not motivated and work, it won't happen. No amount of self esteem camp is going to teach me to speak French. Only hard work will.

    "The only problem with that theory is that kids today are much smarter than children of the past. They have to be, as the world is a much more complex place to navigate.

    A lot of this crap is just a rehash of the age-old "kids today are stupid" argument that every generation of bitter old people trot out. Meanwhile, they need their "stupid" kids to show them how to work their iPods."

    I don't write the test scores, I just read them. Kids are not smarter today. Working an i-pod is not substitute for being able to do reading and math and things like that. By any measure, kids simply do not know as much about those things as they did 50 years ago.

  • ||

    Guy,

    Calculus is the same today as it was when Liebenitz invented it. The same text book that someone in the 1930s used could be used today. Why do we constantly replace text books? Because the textbook industry are in bed with the education establishment and gang banging the taxpayer. Read the chapter in Feynman's biography about his foray into judging science books for the California schools. The books were completely wrong, in some cases not even finished when they were submitted, the panel didn't bother reading the books or make any effort to have a fair contest, and instead just awarded it on what publisher gave out the best favors. That was in the good old days. God knows how bad it is now.

  • Dave W.||

    $2.06 billion would have bought a lot of scholarships for poor kids to attend private schools that have proven records

    If we assume that private school costs $10,000 per year, and ignore inflation, the time value of money and similar complications, then that money could have put:

    17,166 students

    through the private schools first grade through twelvth grade. that doesn't seem like that many, really.

  • Guy Montag||

    Calculus is the same today as it was when Liebenitz invented it. The same text book that someone in the 1930s used could be used today. Why do we constantly replace text books? Because the textbook industry are in bed with the education establishment and gang banging the taxpayer. Read the chapter in Feynman's biography about his foray into judging science books for the California schools. The books were completely wrong, in some cases not even finished when they were submitted, the panel didn't bother reading the books or make any effort to have a fair contest, and instead just awarded it on what publisher gave out the best favors. That was in the good old days. God knows how bad it is now.

    Yep, that is another way of saying what I have been saying for a long time.

  • ||

    All of the money we've thrown at the education problem over the past few decades hasn't solved it. But really, promise, if we just throw a little more at it this year...

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Say, Radley, care to provide any backup to the assertion that this political campaign is aimed at getting "even more spending on public schools?"

    Good point, joe. Until such backup is provided I think we should all assume it's equally likely their goal is to get candidates in the 2008 presidential race to support drastic cutbacks in public school spending.

  • ||

    Maybe those guys should invite Steve Jobs to lunch, and ask what he thinks.

  • Pat||

    You hear this a lot, but it makes no sense. How are public schools a "monopoly"?

    If Wal-Mart could use force to coerce you into paying for Wal-Mart goods whether you used them or not and had greater than 90% market share, what would you call it? Public education is WORSE than a monopoly because they use force (taxation) to stay in business and to limit competition (regulation).

  • Dave W.||

    whether you used them or not

    there is an argument to be made that when the populace is decently educated, we all benefit. Just having educated, as opposed to uneducated, people roaming around the streets is a nice thing.

  • thoreau||

    Calculus is the same today as it was when Liebenitz invented it. The same text book that someone in the 1930s used could be used today. Why do we constantly replace text books? Because the textbook industry are in bed with the education establishment and gang banging the taxpayer.

    True to some extent, and textbook publishers are definitely part of the reason why books change every 2 to 3 years (or so it seems).

    But college level math, even intro college level math, is not a good example for subjects that could be taught well today with 1930's textbooks. Leaving aside the changes (frequently good ones) in classroom methods, there are new technological applications for the math, and hence a need to write books with more relevant examples, since the students will be applying this math in other classes. Then there's the fact that with the availability of computing power, it's important for students to learn the subject with an eye toward computational work. If nothing else, instructors should be incorporating tools like Mathematica and Matlab into their courses.

    Not to mention that some now suggest that even many college science majors need a bit less calculus (the courses tend to be designed for engineers, emphasizing things like volume integrals) and a bit more discrete mathematics, to prepare them for subjects like genetics.

    At the high school level, it's arguable that we need to spend more time preparing students for basic numerical reasoning, i.e. understanding probability, statistics, estimation, compound interest, and related subjects, to complement the preparation for calculus. This may serve many people better in their careers, their personal lives, and as educated citizens trying to read a newspaper.

    So no, I can't agree that my great-grandfather's math book is good enough for today.

  • Lichtenberg||

    I will vote for the presidential candidate who first says, "Nothing," in answer to the question, "What Sir, would you as President do about education?"

    He could elaborate, "Nothing, because education is a state responsibility, not a federal one. All the national government can do is throw money with attached strings--all of which have produced little good in the past. Indeed, most states' educational budgets are federally-funded in the single digits, yet federal strings demand a level of control rapidly approaching the triple digit. So, I would do nothing. I would not spend a single federal dime on education, and I would dissolve (not just cut, but dissolve with nitric acid) all federal strings."

  • ||

    I don't write the test scores, I just read them. Kids are not smarter today. Working an i-pod is not substitute for being able to do reading and math and things like that. By any measure, kids simply do not know as much about those things as they did 50 years ago.

    Ah, yes, the holy "test scores".

    Of course, you may be right that today's kids wouldn't do as well on a 1960's test as the kids in 1960 did. Who cares? 2007 requires a whole different type of education.

    But if you're interested in comparisons, tell me the % of people with high school diplomas compared to the 60's. What about college degrees? Graduate/professional degrees?

    And yeah, knowing how to use technology is more important today than being able to recite multiplication tables by heart.

    Every generation is convinced that "today's kids" are somehow less than they were. I think it stems from resentment of youth as much as anything.

  • ||

    "Sounds like you're blaming the customer for not liking the product."

    That's like blaming the hobby shop for selling a crappy model airplane when the whole reason the model stinks is because the person who built it didn't take care. Sure, you can blame the store for not liking the product. You can also blame martians for zits. People have to get real. If you're a parent, it is your job to further your child's education, not act as his/her defense attorney.

  • Lichtenberg||

    "...we need to spend more time preparing students for basic numerical reasoning, i.e. understanding probability, statistics, estimation, compound interest, and related subjects..."

    Never was a truer statement uttered! I am eternally grateful to my high school trig & calc teacher for doing a voluntary after-school class in probability and basic stats. He was incredible--even had a "Las Vegas Idiocy Week" in which he taught probability by having us gamble (with chips, not real money) against him as the House. Had us all write reports on exactly why we all lost our shirts.

  • ||

    "But college level math, even intro college level math, is not a good example for subjects that could be taught well today with 1930's textbooks. Leaving aside the changes (frequently good ones) in classroom methods, there are new technological applications for the math, and hence a need to write books with more relevant examples, since the students will be applying this math in other classes. Then there's the fact that with the availability of computing power, it's important for students to learn the subject with an eye toward computational work. If nothing else, instructors should be incorporating tools like Mathematica and Matlab into their courses."


    Fair enough and my use of the 1930s was more for effect. I would not argue that text books should not change over the course of 70 years. However, basic computation skills are basic computation skills. There is no reason to constantly change the books. Further, I think we overemphasize computers. My nephew never went to school without a calculator. I see no reason why anyone should ever be allowed to use a calculator before the 10th grade at the earliest.

  • ||

    Another angle on the whole public education thing is this: why do taxpayers have to fund job training for businesses, who in turn do everything they can to avoid paying taxes themselves?

  • ||

    I sometimes feel that everyone - libertarians, conservatives, and liberals - makes too much fuss over the importance of the non discretionary educational institutions in society. It is important that we have them, and it is important that are constructed such that students who try can shoot for the moon. Where I become skeptical is in the notion that you can create institutions that will educate kids in spite of themselves, in spite of their parents and in spite of their peer groups.

    Even if you are interested primarily in egalitarian outcomes, I'm suggesting that the education system is not really the way to go about it once you have a semi workable institution. You just can't take opportunity or knowledge and shove it down someone's throat. You can present it to them and you have to live with the fact that many won't recognize its value until much after they've rejected it.

    I would like to see more innovation in the primary education classroom, but I won't under a universal mandate. For years I wondered how I could insert competition into the mix, but now I wonder if the secondary education system isn't the best place for competition anyway.

  • ||

    "Of course, you may be right that today's kids wouldn't do as well on a 1960's test as the kids in 1960 did. Who cares? 2007 requires a whole different type of education."

    Yeah, no need for things like reading comprehension or the ability to understand probability or do basic math. No need for that today. All you need to do is know how to score well on playstation and use an I-Pod.

  • ||

    Those taking the "blame the parents" stance; I think your blame is ill placed. Parents in general want their children to get the best education possible, it is a small minority that doesn't care (I can't even imagine the monster that wants their children to receive a poor education). That said I think a big problem is a system that puts parents and teachers at odds. The incentives put before teachers are often at odds with what parents want for their children, and I'm not even talking about tenure based pay here. Education mandates delivered at the state level are never going to please everyone in the state, probably not even a majority. Even at the county level they are bad, and we have them coming down from the federal level. The incentive for teachers now is not to impart knowledge and skills it is to deliver good grades and get their kids good scores on standardized tests and then push them along the "education" trail. A trail which is itself a rigid, unchanging system that is never going to fit the needs of every child or even a majority of them. So parents, especially those who can't afford private education, feel forced into a system that isn't serving their needs and the guy or gal at the "point of sale" is the teacher. Of course this is going to set them at odds.

  • ||

    I see no reason why anyone should ever be allowed to use a calculator before the 10th grade at the earliest.

    That's because you're a bitter old coot.

    I see no reason why people shouldn't use calculators since they're faster and more accurate than doing math by hand.

  • Lichtenberg||

    Dan T.

    I agree in principle to what you just wrote.

    Still, I am often astounded when my younger colleagues (by only 10 years, and we're all accountants, no less!) have the hardest time figuring out the bill and tip when we all go out to eat. One of my staff, who's a very smart, well-educated kid, recently intended to give a 20% tip. He gave a 35% tip instead. I liked the server, so I didn't correct him, but I laughed all the way home. He's great with Excel spreadsheets, though.

  • ||

    I would like to see more innovation in the primary education classroom, but I won't under a universal mandate. For years I wondered how I could insert competition into the mix, but now I wonder if the secondary education system isn't the best place for competition anyway.

    There is a window of opportunity to teach children the many basic skills they are going to need (ie. reading, writing, abstract thinking). After this window is closed it is very very hard to do so. Believe me, it is long closed once they get to college.

  • ||

    Yeah, no need for things like reading comprehension or the ability to understand probability or do basic math. No need for that today. All you need to do is know how to score well on playstation and use an I-Pod.

    The current US literacy rate is 99.9%. I don't know what it was in 1960 but I'd wager it was quite a bit lower.

    Meanwhile, today's kids are able to do stuff much more advanced than the kids of the 60's would have dreamed.

  • ||

    "Another angle on the whole public education thing is this: why do taxpayers have to fund job training for businesses, who in turn do everything they can to avoid paying taxes themselves?"

    Because no one really perceives the value of education to be identical to job training. You can't act as though parents and the children themselves don't get anything out of the education. And because every taxpayer does everything they can to avoid paying taxes. And because much of corporate taxation is passed to consumers anyway.

  • ||

    And because much of corporate taxation is passed to consumers anyway.

    What?

  • ||

    Not in all markets, but in many, the burden of corporate taxation is carried in the form of higher prices.

  • Rhywun||

    Where did this silly "bad school" anthropomorphism come from? Schools aren't bad--teachers and administrators are bad. Put too many of them in one school--say, the school in the ghetto that nobody wants to work at--and you've got a "bad school". The current solution seems to be to close down the "bad school" and shuffle the rotten teachers and administrators out to other schools so they can ruin them, too. Of course this is the only "solution" the teachers unions will allow...

  • ||

    JasonL,
    Sorry, my confusion. I thought you were making some weird point about taxes being used to serve the needs of the people or whatever.

  • Guy Montag||

    "And because much of corporate taxation is passed to consumers anyway."

    What?


    Actually, all of it is passed to consumers and the owners of publically traded corporations get taxed twice.

  • Lichtenberg||

    Dan T.,

    I'm going to have to challenge you on the 99.9% literacy rate statement. The challenge is what you define as "literate." Ability to read a stop sign? Or ability to read a job application. BTW, I'm assuming your figure excludes the significant population under the age of 6.

  • Scooby||

    I see no reason why people shouldn't use calculators since they're faster and more accurate than doing math by hand.
    Somebody's got to know how to do the math by hand, in order to program the calculators to do the math for us. The purpose of math homework isn't to accurately crank out computations as fast as possible, it is to teach the computation processes (and the analytical thinking necessary to produce novel computation algoritms).

    But sure, since 21st education consists basically of just babysitting and marking time between standardized tests, go ahead and allow calculators.

  • ||

    Rhywun,
    Exactly. Teachers Unions are a huge influence on this whole charade. Tenure based pay and inordinately complicated firing procedures being two of the major things keeping bad teachers around. Not to mention that they fight any sort of school choice or privatization reforms with tooth and nail.

  • Scooby, public school survivor||

    "21st education" = "21st century education"

  • Dave W.||

    Actually, all of it is passed to consumers

    Oh, then it works like a consumption tax and not a tax on productivity. More corporate taxes and less income taxes, then? Is that what you are trying to tell us, my fireman friend?

  • Rhywun||

    My senior class was full of people who were far more interested in shopping than in exploring the world of ideas or questioning authority.

    Education throughout recorded history has always been about indoctrination in addition to learning facts and skills. Like the private/public argument, this one gets in the way of discussion of real problems. And by the way, what parent sends their kid to school in order to learn to "question authority"?!

  • ||

    Just to inject some facts into the debate...

    Kids are smarter today according to the tests.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

    Kids today given an IQ test from the 1960's would on average score about a standard deviation higher than their 1960's counterparts.

  • ||

    My whole career has been in education.

    Each school has it own unique problems.
    There is not monolithic educational failure in the United States. Solutions will all be local as will failures.

    The federal role is better constrained to setting targets and minimum benchmarks.

    IDEA is also an important law.

  • LarryA||

    I don't think this is an issue of private verse public, I think it is an issue of the parents taking an adversarial position against the schools.

    In many cases the adversarial position is by the school. When my younger child would get into trouble the school never bothered to tell us about it. When we would go , or call, and say, "What can we do to help?" the answer was always, "Don't help. Just stay out of our way." When we tried to back up the school by reinforcing school rules, the school would work around the rules and undercut our efforts.

    For instance our daughter started cutting classes. We got no notice this was occurring. We started warning the kid that excess absences (per state law) would result in her having to repeat the grade. Near the end of the semester the school called her into a meeting of the "attendance committee" without any parental input whatsoever, "forgave" a huge number of absences, and allowed her to pass. Nor was she unique. I know a half-dozen other concerned parents who experienced the same thing. That way the school wouldn't be dinged for having to hold students back.

    Turns out the students expected this, as it happened every year. Other students had passed the word, "Don't sweat cutting."

    The only problem with that theory is that kids today are much smarter than children of the past. They have to be, as the world is a much more complex place to navigate.

    Not. Complexity is producing a balanced diet starting with raising the ingredients, or shaping trees into something that will play a symphony. Technology makes things much simpler, and far less risky.

    Meanwhile, today's kids are able to do stuff much more advanced than the kids of the 60's would have dreamed.

    Meanwhile, today's kids are able to get machines they don't know how to build to do stuff much more advanced than the kids of the 60's would have dreamed.

    How is playing an mp3 on an iPod "more advanced" than playing a 45RPM record on a phonograph? As far as the kid's "ability," how is it "more advanced" to IM than to have a telephone conversation?

    Say, Radley, care to provide any backup to the assertion that this political campaign is aimed at getting "even more spending on public schools?"

    The example of every other "government needs to show more interest in X" campaign in history?

    there are thousands of public school districts that are independent from each other and compete with one another for students.

    If parents are able to sell their houses and purchase one in the other district, and the district doesn't then change the boundaries because they have too many students.

    One symptom no one seems to consider:

    When I turned eight (1955) I joined the Cub Scouts. Every week, on den meeting day, we wore our uniforms to school. Part of that uniform was the Cub Scout pocketknife. It was maybe three inches long, with a blue plastic grip. It had a knife blade, screw driver, can opener, and bottle opener. It hung down into the right front pants pocket on a brass clip.

    When we got our knives, adults taught us how to whittle safely, and how to keep them sharp. They also taught us we were responsible for using them properly. Then we were packed off to school, where we were trusted to exercise that responsibility. All this in the third grade.

    Today (2007) schools expel honor student high school seniors if the law enforcement search team discovers a butter knife that was lost in the back seat of the student's car.

    I exercised more personal responsibility in elementary school than we permit in high school.

  • ||

    "17,166 students

    through the private schools first grade through twelvth grade. that doesn't seem like that many, really."

    What an excellent argument; unless and until we can save everyone, everywhere, there is no point in saving anyone, anywhere. You should run for office.

  • Fluffy||

    Dan -

    The kids of today that can do things no one dreamed of in the 1960's aren't the kids driving down today's average test scores.

    And let's consider the verbal portion of the SAT, which certainly isn't technology-dependent and thus should be consistent over time. Verbal scores were deteriorating to the degree that they had to redesign the entire test.

    It's possible that this doesn't mean anything - but only if you're one of those people who asserts that being able to read, understand the meanings of words, and follow simple analogies has nothing to do with education.

  • Russ 2000||

    Just having educated, as opposed to uneducated, people roaming around the streets is a nice thing.

    True. But my mechanic always changes the subject when I try to discuss Austrian Economic Theory with him and just says "Fuck you. Pay me."

  • Lichtenberg||

    LarryA

    And I thought I was being irresponsible for letting my 12-yo nephew handle my Revolutionary War musket! (or try to, anyway, they're damned heavy after all, I can barely lift it)

    Your parents and teachers and scoutmasters, if still alive, should be put to death! No person under 40 is responsible enough to hold a knife other than professional cooks! Doesn't everyone know that?!? What the hell is wrong with you? OMG!!!!

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,

    Just because IQ scores are going up doesn't mean the quality of education is. Even if you do take IQ scores as a good measure of intelligence they are an intrinsic quality of people, they say nothing about education.

    We can debate the merits of IDEA and teaching disabled children, but one of the most pernicious effects of that law has been giving poor teachers using terrible teaching methods the ability to then label those kids who don't learn as "learning disabled" and shuffle them into a special needs program (where they, by the way, won't effect the statistics on standardized testing scores).

  • thoreau||

    Wait, corporate taxes don't bite into profits? They are usually passed to consumers, and only rarely reduce profits?

  • Guy Montag||

    Still, I am often astounded when my younger colleagues (by only 10 years, and we're all accountants, no less!) have the hardest time figuring out the bill and tip when we all go out to eat. One of my staff, who's a very smart, well-educated kid, recently intended to give a 20% tip. He gave a 35% tip instead. I liked the server, so I didn't correct him, but I laughed all the way home. He's great with Excel spreadsheets, though.

    Since there are no wrong answers in school any more then this os perfectly understandable.

  • ||

    Fluffy,

    That is a serious mischaracterization of the motivation for reconfiguring the SAT.

  • Dave W.||

    What an excellent argument; unless and until we can save everyone, everywhere, there is no point in saving anyone, anywhere. You should run for office.

    Clarification: Mr. Balko said that the money would buy a lot of scholarships. My point was not as many as you might think. The 17,166 scholarships may indeed be the best and highest use for the $2.06B philanthropic gesture, but I still think it is helpful to quantify it in terms of students served.

  • Mike Laursen||

    When was the last time you met somebody who was truly illiterate, for example?

    All the time. A lot more who have piss poor reading and writing skills. Sadly, one of them is a nephew of mine.

    Back in the old days, it was very common.

    Not true. In early American culture it was considered critical to teach children to read. Why? As one Massachusetts law put it: to fight "one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from knowledge of Scriptures".

  • Fluffy||

    Neu -

    No, it's not.

    I really don't trust the motives for adding a subjective section to the test. And that's what the essay section is - an opportunity to hand out points.

    And the test was being rebalanced for difficulty for years before it was comprehensively redesigned. When an organization spends years tweaking a test and a scoring system to make the test easier, and then announces they're redesigning the test as a whole to make it "a better tool of measurement", well - color me skeptical.

  • ||

    Maybe those guys should invite Steve Jobs to lunch, and ask what he thinks.

    Just wait a couple of weeks. By then, Job's appointment book will be backdated to show that he already had that lunch.

  • ||

    SamB,

    I was refuting the assertion that kids today aren't as smart as they were in 1960.

    Education is one of the potential explanations for the Flynn effect, but there are certainly others.

    "but one of the most pernicious effects of that law has been giving poor teachers using terrible teaching methods the ability to then label those kids who don't learn as "learning disabled" and shuffle them into a special needs program (where they, by the way, won't effect the statistics on standardized testing scores)."

    Teacher's don't really have this ability, but you identify an important issue about misapplication of the law.

    It is more subtle, I think. The law created a class of specialists within education (special education teachers). Regular teachers, therefore, when faced with a challenging child feel like they do not have the specialized skills needed to teach that child and seek out the specialists. This makes sense for some children, but the longer this mindset has been around, the lower the bar has become for seeking out that expertise.

  • ||

    Fluffy,

    Each time you change a measurement instrument you are measuring something different.

    No argument there.

    But to say that the motivation was to make children look smarter is inaccurate.

    The motivation was to provide universities with a metric that better predicted college success.

  • ||

    Kids today given an IQ test from the 1960's would on average score about a standard deviation higher than their 1960's counterparts.



    Really? I know that when I take any of the IQ tests I see on the web and elsewhere, I score just about where I did during the 1950s and 60s -- right around 1000. Does that mean I've gotten dumber or smarter?

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,
    Fair enough, but the incidence of "learning disability" HAS risen dramatically since IDEA was introduced while other mental disabilities have remained at the same rate. Teachers might not have the direct ability to label kids learning disabled but they can make suggestions to parents. I find this especially pernicious because it applies a label to a child at a very young age that they will carry with them the rest of their life and all because some crappy teacher couldn't teach them to read using a "whole language" approach.

  • ||

    Doctor Duck,
    You were taking IQ tests on the web in the 50s and 60s?

  • ||

    "the incidence of "learning disability" HAS risen dramatically since IDEA was introduced'

    No argument there. But there is serious debate about how much of that is due to better identification (attention focused on the issue by IDEA and earlier special ed laws), and how much is due to the potential increase in actual incidence of LD in the population due to prenatal exposures, greater survival rates for preterm births, and other factors that could be considered causes for a real increases.

    As far as early identification goes.
    All the best science points to the fact that earlier identification of neurocognitively based (special education) or socio-culturally based (not qualified for special education) learning problems will increase the chances of good outcomes. Waiting until those outcomes turn out bad and then attempting remediation has been demonstrated to be far less effective.

    The trick is finding early markers of learning problems that accurately predict poor outcomes.

    The science is making pretty good strides in this area, even if there is a long way to go.

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,
    Ok, those are all good points. I guess I tend to lean more towards the Szaszian side when it comes to mental disorders. And when it comes to mental disorders and education, well then it is hard for me to trust anything that any supposed "authority" says.

  • Guy Montag||

    Oh, then it works like a consumption tax and not a tax on productivity. More corporate taxes and less income taxes, then? Is that what you are trying to tell us, my fireman friend?

    See, Dave W, this is why I normally don't read you or joe (if you really are differentl people). You truncated a quote to invent an argument about what was answered in the quote.

    Now, run back to the whole quote and you will get the answer to your stupid question.

    The whoe thing answers thoreau's question too.

    Just a few more worda in the whole thing that what you quoted. See if you can find them.

  • ||

    "Good point, joe. Until such backup is provided I think we should all assume it's equally likely their goal is to get candidates in the 2008 presidential race to support drastic cutbacks in public school spending."

    Good point, D.A. Ridgley, because all political beliefs are best understood by laying them out along a single axis. In the case of education, the only possible question anybody could be asking is, "Should we spend more, or less?"

    Now if only I could figure out if libertarians are slightly more or slightly less right-wing than Pat Robertson.

  • Dave W.||

    Actually, all of it is passed to consumers and the owners of publically traded corporations get taxed twice.

    I found the full quote even more mysterious. It seems to say there is some magical tax that consumers pay once and owners of corporations pay twice. That is three payments in all!

    Probably a better way to look at taxes on corporate profits (that is what you were referring to, wasn't it?) is that this tax is partially passed on consumers and partially borne by the corporate owners. It is paid once. To the partial extent it is passed on it is a (hidden) tax on consumption. To the partial extent the corporate owners pay it, it is a (not hidden) tax on productivity.

    Now isn't that a more realistic way to look at it? Really, if it is all passed on, it is tough to see why a guy with your leanings would have any problem with it. The fact that you do have a problem with it suggests that it is not really all passed on.

  • ||

    "I tend to lean more towards the Szaszian side when it comes to mental disorders"

    That's okay, Szaszian mental disorders only lead to Scientology and other negative outcomes in a small percentage of individuals...

    ;^)

    The science is pretty strong that there are real brain-based differences that lead to difficulties in learning.

    Bruce Tomlin, a leading scientist in the field, made a nice statement about this at a conference I attended.

    "Learning disabilities are differences in innate mental capacities that lead to negative outcomes we care about."

    It is the second half of that statement that is the real challenge.

    Which differences matter?

    Tough question.

  • Guy Montag||

    Jesus Christ, I am not smart enough to explain this to you or a post.

    I found the full quote even more mysterious. It seems to say there is some magical tax that consumers pay once and owners of corporations pay twice. That is three payments in all!

    The corporation is owned by shareholders (it is not some mythical entity that sprang from the earth ala Noam Chomsly). The corporation pays a corporate income tax and many other taxes, which are passed on to the consumers AND reduce the profits realised by the shareholders. The shareholders get to pay for their realized capital gains in another little known (to dopes who spout abotu this 'little-known' vehicle, the capital gains tax. Yea, I know you never think of that one until it is time to try to raise it.

    It is not enough that their shares of the profit of the firm were taxed before they realized any gain, they get taxed again for having a gain after the first tax.

    I am going back to ignoring you.

  • ||

    That's okay, Szaszian mental disorders only lead to Scientology and other negative outcomes in a small percentage of individuals...

    Don't worry about that, I think what Scientology espouses is worse than what I see as the failings of psychiatry. I'd rather someone take zoloft than vitamins.

  • Guy Montag||

    Correction:

    "in another little known (to dopes who spout abotu this 'little-known' vehicle, the capital gains tax. Yea, I know you never think of that one until it is time to try to raise it."

    should read

    in another 'little-known' vehicle, the capital gains tax. Yea, I know you never think of that one until it is time to try to raise it.

  • ||

    What's the difference between corporate taxes and income taxes for a 1-man company? (sole proprietor)

  • Pat||


    there is an argument to be made that when the populace is decently educated, we all benefit. Just having educated, as opposed to uneducated, people roaming around the streets is a nice thing.


    Perhaps, but then we'd have to rely on the false premise that the only way to have an educated populace is through involuntary taxation for Government education centers. We all benefit from having food readily available at our local grocery stores. That doesn't make it the responsibility of the Government.

  • ||

    Broad also pumps a lot of money into Steve Barr's Green Dot Schools here in LA, a chain of charter schools that challenge the ossified public district, both directly - they'll take a big, old-style, failing public school, ring it with smaller charters, and put a lot of energy into pitching them to the parents, trying to claim as much of the student body as possible - and indirectly - each charter has a lot of autonomy, and when a principal hits on something that seems to work, it'll get written up and circulated around the district.

  • ||

    Doctor Duck,
    You were taking IQ tests on the web in the 50s and 60s?


    Short answer - everything a stand-up duck does, is on the web.

    But really, if a modern kid would do better on an old IQ test, then an 'old kid' should do worse on a modern IQ test -- or the comparison is flawed.

    So if every time I take an IQ test today, I score about where I did on IQ tests of the past, that means what?

    I like apples, and oranges too. Why can't I have both?

  • Dave W.||

    Yea, I know you never think of that one until it is time to try to raise it.

    I think of capital gains all the time. i think it is where the entire military and security budget should come from, as I have explained at least a couple times here at HnR.

    I would have a lot less problem with you and your Chargers suckling at the government teat, if it were a capital gains and inheritance tax funded teat you guys was sucking on.

    I don't agree with your triple taxation argument by the way, but probably not worth going further with that here. Neo-cons are so cranky these days! Like a young Dave W. back when Bush was on the carrier. Oh how I wish that carrier had been purchased with capital gains monies!

  • Guy Montag||

    I prefer the more descriptive term "gun schools" over "public schools". Any chance that Reason will adopt that change?

  • Guy Montag||

    Oh, Radley, totally off topic, but those Missile Defence Agency folks shot down a pair of targets in the same engagement. Might be a good story in there someplace.

  • ||

    To clairify why I mentioned corporate taxation:

    I was suggesting in response to Dan T that it isn't obvious how to make corporations 'pay for their own training' because corporations raise income from consumers. In some cases corporations may pass attempts to tax them directly back to consumers. Even when the taxes eat into profits, you can't act as though that is a neutral proposition for society at large.

  • thoreau||

    Even when the taxes eat into profits, you can't act as though that is a neutral proposition for society at large.

    I'm not suggesting that it is. I'm just saying that the effects of a tax can be mixed, reducing profit per unit as well as increasing consumer price per unit. Some taxes will increase one more than the other, others will be rather even. It isn't a neutral position for society at large, but it isn't accurate to imply that a seller's bottom line isn't affected by taxes.

  • ||

    "But really, if a modern kid would do better on an old IQ test, then an 'old kid' should do worse on a modern IQ test -- or the comparison is flawed.

    So if every time I take an IQ test today, I score about where I did on IQ tests of the past, that means what? "

    It means that they are continuing to compare you to your peers. IQ tests are norm referenced, not criterion referenced.

  • ||

    Then on top of all this the politicians want us have tax payer funded adult education classes. After all the adults that blew off school as kids when it was free the 1st time around now want it free a 2nd time around.

    The text books change and are selected in many colleges based on the fact that the author of the book teaches at the school. I had several books that feel into that catagory. Now they charge you another $50 for a worthless CD as well. When you go to sell the book back its suddenly only worth maybe 20% of what you paid for it then a few weeks later the market value goes back up to 95% of the original price you paid.

    Think about what a racket that is. How many places can sell a product at prices that are overly inflated to begin with to customers with no choice in the matter. Then have those same products sold back to them for a fraction of what was paid and be re-sold several more times over. The fucking bookstores are making a huge profit off the same item up to 9 times in most cases. Then they get a new book and the price goes up and the game starts again.

    Nothing used to piss me off more than spending $120 on a book and the teacher never once uses it or has us use it for anything. You learn to wait and make sure you even need it before getting one after awhile.

    The best deal I have seen is where my daughter goes to college and they rent the books each semester. I think the total for this last semester was $78 for 15 hours of books. Quite the deal considering most average more than that for one at the usual college bookstores. You still have to be workbooks etc but the savings is huge and the school knows it will pay off the books in no time. They also aren't so quick to change books anytime they edit one doing this, they wait till the books need replacing and then replace them.

    Its obvious by now to anyone with 1/10000000th of a brain cell that more money is not the answer or we would have nothing but smart kids walking around not the dumbass kids I always see. Throwing more money at making kids smarter is about as likely to work as making them take longer bus rides to schools far from their homes so they can be diverse.

  • ||

    From the wikipedia article on rising IQ scores:

    Because children attend school longer now and have become much more familiar with the testing of school-related material, one might expect the greatest gains to occur on such school content-related tests as vocabulary, arithmetic or general information. Just the opposite is the case: abilities such as these have experienced relatively small gains and even occasional declines over the years.

    Whatever is causing IQ scores to rise, it seems to be working in spite of, not because of, formal schooling.

  • ||

    RC Dean,

    "Whatever is causing IQ scores to rise, it seems to be working in spite of, not because of, formal schooling."

    That is way too simplistic an analysis. Even the wikipedia article (hardly an indepth analysis) gets into some of the complexities.

    For instance, if, as some have proposed, the rise in average IQ is carried mainly by the lower end of the distribution, it would seem that improved access to education is at least, in part, helping to raise IQ scores.

    I am not committed to the role of education here, but it can't be discounted outright.

  • ||

    So if every time I take an IQ test today, I score about where I did on IQ tests of the past, that means what?

    It means that they are continuing to compare you to your peers. IQ tests are norm referenced, not criterion referenced.



    How is it possible for a blind, web-based IQ test to know what my peer group is? My score doesn't change if I 'tell' the test I'm 10 or 100.

    The claim was made that the cohort of today's kids, taking a test from the 60s, would score higher than the cohort of the 60s did on the same test. Does that not imply that the 60s group should score lower than modern kids on a test from today? If not, then what does that claim mean?

  • ||

    "How is it possible for a blind, web-based IQ test to know what my peer group is? My score doesn't change if I 'tell' the test I'm 10 or 100.

    "The claim was made that the cohort of today's kids, taking a test from the 60s, would score higher than the cohort of the 60s did on the same test. Does that not imply that the 60s group should score lower than modern kids on a test from today? If not, then what does that claim mean?"

    Without more details it would be hard to say for sure, but it sounds like the test your using is comparing you to your peers defined as "other people who have taken said web-based IQ test." Otherwise, they may have collapsed the entire age range into a single norm curve. Many of the web-base IQ tests I have seen just use old norms collapsed across age groups... and seriously over-estimate IQ.

    The Flynn Effect has been documented around the world with well controlled studies. A cohort of children from today taking an IQ test from 1960 would be expected to score, on average, about one standard deviation higher than the mean of the cohort on which the test was normed.

    To say the least, it would be difficult to travel back in time and test the reverse hypothesis.

    It clearly does not imply that someone who was a child in 1960 who is now taking a well normed modern test should do worse (have a lower score) than someone from a younger cohort taking the same test, since both would have scores normed on their age group. Being older (up to a point- if you were born in 1960, that trend will turn around on your before you would like) predicts that you will get more questions correct than those younger than you, but the same factor holds for all of your peers, so your score does not change relative to those you are being compared with.

    If you are actually interested, the wikipedia entry on IQ tests is reasonable in accuracy up to the point at which you see warnings from editors.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iq_tests

  • ||

    A very recent study on the Flynn Effect.

    GENERATIONAL CHANGES ON THE DRAW-A-MAN TEST: A COMPARISON OF BRAZILIAN URBAN AND RURAL CHILDREN TESTED IN 1930, 2002 AND 2004
    ROBERTO COLOM, CARMEN E. FLORES-MENDOZA and FRANCISCO J. ABAD
    Journal of Biosocial Science, Volume 39, Issue 01, January 2007, pp 79-89

    Although gains in generational intelligence test scores have been widely demonstrated around the world, researchers still do not know what has caused them. The cognitive stimulation and nutritional hypotheses summarize the several diverse potential causes that have been considered. This article analyses data for a sample of 499 children tested in 1930 and one equivalent sample of 710 children tested 72 years later, the largest gap ever considered. Both samples comprised children aged between 7 and 11 who were assessed by the Draw-a-Man test in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Further, one additional sample of 132 children was assessed in 2004 in a rural area very similar in several diverse factors to the 1930 urban sample. The results are consistent with both the cognitive stimulation and the nutritional hypotheses.

  • Untermensch||

    I'm going to have to challenge you on the 99.9% literacy rate statement. The challenge is what you define as "literate." Ability to read a stop sign? Or ability to read a job application. BTW, I'm assuming your figure excludes the significant population under the age of 6.



    In Dan T's defense, I believe he was citing official US numbers for adults. That said, my own experience puts functional literacy numbers much lower. I know a number of adults who can, with difficulty, read basic texts, but who do not read on a regular basis because of their difficulty. I have no empirical evidence for the numbers, but I'd put the actual literacy rate in the upper eighth decile. The 99.9% figure, however, is just wrong when you exclude those who would get "the cat sat on the mat" eventually, but who can't tell you what it says without an effort...

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