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Public Schools Repeat Proven Failure
By David W. Kirkpatrick (June 08, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
        An ongoing education myth is that government schools will get different results if they  can get more money to do more of what they are already doing.
 
         Exhibit A? New York City's More Effective Schools program initiated in the late 1960s with much fanfare, as a collaborative effort between the district and the city's United Federation of Teachers union, then headed by Al Shanker. The selected schools were given smaller classes, a pupil-teacher ratio of about 12 to 1; more experienced teachers, better facilities, compensatory education, greater per-pupil expenditures, and more. At only four of the 21 schools in the program did students' reading skills reach grade level, and these were schools with mostly white middle-class students. Student backgrounds proved to be more important than anything the schools did under the much-heralded effort. In the mid-1970s, without the fanfare which accompanied its introduction, the effort was abandoned as a costly failure.
 
         In 1970 Neil Sullivan described to Congress a similar experience when he was superintendent of schools in Oakland, California. That system, too, hired more teachers, reduced class size, provided remedial teachers and instituted other "reforms." After three years, achievement levels for Oakland's inner city children had gone down.
 
         In his 1972 book, "Free to Learn," John Henry Martin told a similar story.   In the district of which he was superintendent, the annual budget was increased by 35% a year to implement "reforms that work." Average class size went from over 30 to 20.  More guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, classroom aides, and remedial teachers were added. Two full-time remedial reading teachers were assigned to each elementary school. Teachers with advanced degrees were hired, the curriculum was updated, an extensive teacher in-service program was initiated, a teacher council was chosen by secret ballot and dozens of other reforms were introduced.
 
         After two years, outside evaluators were hired to assess the results which were analyzed by class size, teacher age and experience, and the students' race, sex and family income. In Martin's words:
 
         "In the end, the cherished faith died ... All the patented prescriptions ... that made such a grand appearance in the college textbooks and the theses of the pedagogues had failed the hard test of reality in the field."
 
         But Kansas City, Missouri is the classic case. In the mid-1980s, a Federal district judge accepted the assurances of educational experts that if he would introduce the reforms they advocated the district would turn around in five years.  He did. Over a dozen years, he required the school district and state of Missouri to spend about an additional $1.5 billion, that's BILLION, about $40,000 for each of the initial 40,000 students.
 
         Expensive schools were built. One new high school featured an Olympic size swimming pool, complete with a room permitting underwater viewing. A former coach of a Russian Olympic fencing team was hired to coach a district fencing team. A miniature United Nations system was introduced with simultaneous translations in different languages.
 
         The result? Dropout rates went up; enrollment continued to decline and achievement rates were stagnant or sagged. Oddly, what progress was made tended to be in schools that weren't modernized.
 
         Finally, upon a legal appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court told the district judge to give up and phase out his control of the district. That hasn't helped either.
 
         A few years ago, California mandated statewide reductions in class size in certain grades. The result was classes being held anywhere room could be found, and teachers being hired whether or not they were properly certified and qualified.  Many better inner city teachers, as in Los Angeles, left for the easier, higher-paying suburbs, leaving their former students with a higher percentage of  inexperienced and/or uncertified teachers. The cost to date is billions of dollars and growing.
 
         But not everyone lost. The California Teachers Association reportedly gained 36,000 members.  With total per teacher dues approximating $600, not counting special assessments, more than $21,000,000 has been added annually to local, state and national union treasuries.
 
         The powers that be seem determined to repeatedly try "reforms" that have been proven not to work.
 
         Those who claim to be capable of educating seem to be incapable of learning.
 
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         "History shows that in crisis the people in power tend to refine and intensify the status quo system which eventually destroys them. This is the present movement in education." L. Thomas Hopkins, "The Overlooked Factor," pp 694-7, PHI DELTA KAPPAN, June 1974.

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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