PAYING ATTENTION WITH TOM DUGGAN
By: Tom Duggan – May, 2004
Recent headlines in Merrimack Valley newspapers have proven that the sacred cow ideologies of public education espoused by liberals are in fact, myths.
Myth #1 Money equals education:
Most people have bought into the myth that spending more money on education results in a better-educated student body. In fact, state educators believe that the solution to low test scores in poor communities is the result of fewer financial resources. The State education formula for per pupil expenditures is based on the socio-economic level of a school district
Take Lawrence for example, 100% of its school budget (more than 110 million dollars this year), comes from the state and federal government. Lawrence has become the living, breathing example of how flawed the “money equals education” myth truly is. Lawrence receives more money than any other school system in the state and yet consistently has the lowest test scores and highest teen pregnancy and drop out rates.
Sure, under the leadership of Superintendent Laboy Lawrence has gone from last to ‘almost last’ showing improvement in some areas, but, if money were the answer, the children of Lawrence would be competing with Andover and North Andover in the academic arena. Sadly, with some minor exceptions, Lawrence isn’t even close.
Then there is the bogus excuse about race. As though Hispanics from Lawrence aren’t as capable of learning as white kids from Andover. That’s nothing short of racism and any educator or politician who espouses such a belief is either ignorant or racist. It’s that simple.
Myth #2 Racial Diversity equals a better educational environment:
Speaking of race, we also seem to have bought into the myth that “racial diversity” is as important to the educational process as history, science and math (and much more important than English). So much so that state educators tie school building assistance funding to “racial diversity” in each individual school in every school district seeking such funds.
But, now the City of Lowell has given us another real life example of how the myths of education standards have invaded our school systems (and our culture) with no legitimate educational value.
It was revealed recently in the Lowell Sun that the Lowell School System has not complied with the “voluntary” desegregation policy which requires that each school have a percentage of children from specific races in each school.
“According to last year’s enrollment numbers,” the Sun reported, “the district wide ratio of minorities to non-minorities (whites) is 56.4 percent to 44.2 percent. That means that last year, each school’s student-body ratio should have been between 46.4 percent and 66.4 percent minority students to between 34.2 percent to 54.2 percent white students.
At one school, the Murkland Elementary School, only 26.6 percent of the students are white [That’s “the majority” in case you lost count!]. A travesty of monumental proportions if you believe in the race politics of proportional placement.
Yet, there is no evidence that the 26.6% of Murkland’s “white” students are getting any less of a quality education than the “white” students in other schools. Moreover, the Moody Elementary School has an overwhelming percentage of “white” students (81.9%) with no evidence that the so-called “minority” students at Moody are getting any less of an education than minorities at Murkland as the result of these disproportionate numbers.
In fact, nationwide, no evidence has ever been presented to prove that ethnic percentages in any public schools have a positive affect on classroom learning, period.
“Diversity” has done nothing to promote educational excellence, higher test scores, lower teen pregnancy rates or stricter discipline in the schools [although it has been correlated with an increase in the incidence of multi-racial teen pregnancies!]. It has done nothing to promote American values, love of country, a common culture or to lower the incidence of violence in our schools.
Don’t believe me?
Again, I quote from the Lowell Sun:
“Travers (the principal of the Bartlett School) said the percentage of minority students does not affect the school’s MCAS scores, despite a statewide trend that shows that students with limited English proficiency are struggling. Bartlett achieved the federally required Annual Yearly Progress standard this month.”
Given the fact that some students are labeled “white” even though there is no real “white” race (as there is a distinct Black and Asian race) the classification of students by race is arbitrary and has no business in education standards or funding formulas.
Mexican students, who are born in the U.S. and speak English as their primary language are considered minorities (i.e., Hispanics) yet; Portuguese students are classified as “white” by the State and Federal Government’s class-ification. This means they don’t count as minorities even though most of these students require more resources to educate them because English is not their native language.
Myth #3: Mandatory Minimum Classroom Hours:
Another Merrimack Valley school system is debunking an education myth; that of minimum classroom hours affecting the quality of education a student receives.
The Massachusetts Department of Education requires every community to provide 900 hours per year of instructional time for students in lower grades, 990 hours of instructional time to those in high school.
But, it has been revealed within the last year that the Town of Andover has not met that requirement and officials from the State Department of Education ordered the town to bring the system into compliance.
The question not being asked here is, why?
The Town of Andover should be seen as a model school system. Compared with two-thirds of Massachusetts public schools, Andover test scores are higher, drop out rates are lower, teen pregnancy rates are lower and more students graduating from Andover High are attending better colleges.
Given these facts, common sense would dictate that this state requirement is just another feel good standard designed to look as though education professionals and politicians are actually doing something to increase educational excellence.
How is it that reasonably intelligent people can buy into such urban myths about education, and despite what they see happening in real life, continue to treat these myths as gospel?
The most glaring reason is the power of teacher unions which financially benefit from the myth that “smaller class sizes result in increased educational opportunity.” Smaller class sizes mean hiring more teachers. When a school system increases the number of teachers on the payroll, the unions increase their membership and political clout.
The idea of minimum instructional time works the same way. If schools have to provide a minimum number of classroom hours, more teachers need to be hired to cover those classrooms. Again, teacher’s unions benefit financially (through mandatory dues) which bolsters their political clout to lobby for more feel good legislation that has nothing to do with educational excellence.
Instead of bowing to the Department of Education, (and therefore the unions) Andover officials should have held a press conference on the steps of Andover High School. The Andover School Committee should have called for an end of pandering to the teacher unions and the irrelevant laws they purchase at The State House with our tax dollars.
Superintendent Bach should have opened the press conference by reading the many success stories of Andover students, compared them to Lawrence (which receives much more money in State and Federal funding) and championed real education reform.
If students in Andover can receive such a great education without the minimum required classroom instruction, (and with less money than Lawrence, which cannot match Andover in any category) it is the requirement that should come into compliance with the reality of Andover’s success, not the other way around.
Dinosaur ideologies such as class size, classroom hours, per pupil spending, and (now) diversity in the classroom must be abandoned for accountability- based measures that allow parents to measure the teachers’ performance and the students’ progress.
MCAS has gone a long way towards achieving that. But if the myths of educational standards are to continue festering in the hearts and minds of education professionals, politicians, and well meaning parents, MCAS will only be a Band-Aid.
Just think, if the billions (perhaps trillions) of dollars spent on unnecessary ideals (class size, class hours, diversity, etc) were put into real classroom learning, materials and books, or programs and discipline, just imagine how great our education system in America would be today. Just imagine how smart our children would be!