May 21, 2014

‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’

Decades of cash and “reforms” haven’t improved the trajectory of education.

In 1955 Time magazine published the story “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” Parents were shocked and concerned that public schools were failing, but they decided to let the “experts” fix the problem.

Those who control public schools, i.e., the Leftist elite, the “experts,” claim that the problem is inadequate funding (always inadequate funding). This mindset has driven spending on public schools and higher education through the roof. In 1950 federal spending on K-12 was about $400,000. Since then it has climbed to $71.2 billion. Spending for higher education has risen from $250 million in 1958 to $60 billion in 2013, not counting Obama’s bailout for students carrying federal loans. Since the 1970s, spending per pupil has increased 138%, but student enrollment has increased only 8%. Spending per student ranges from $6,000 to a whopping $29,000 in Washington, DC, where the graduation rate is a dismal 58%.

Last year Obama sought an extra $60 billion “to keep hundreds of thousands of teachers on the job.” But the country doesn’t need more teachers. Since 1970 student enrollment has increased by 7.8% while the number of teachers grew by 60% and non-teaching employees by 84%.

What has all this profligate spending accomplished? Despite decades of “reforms,” the downward slide continues unabated. Occasional plateaus occur when test scores remain close for a year or two, but considering that the United States once had the best education system in the world, excuses simply cannot be accepted anymore.

In the last five decades reform movements have come and gone like the seasons. Only one made any headway against the decline. But it didn’t last long because the NEA and their local affiliates fought it viciously. Their reason for killing it is simple: Genuine reform calls for accountability. The prime directive of these unions is self-preservation. No member, regardless how incompetent, may be fired without a fight that will go to court and cost the district thousands. Districts cave in to avoid the court fights and usually move the teachers into positions where they can do the least harm.

And then along comes ObamaCore (the Common Core standards), written by the Council of Chief School Officers, a group loaded with bureaucrats but almost no teachers. The CORE program was passed out like homework to the National Governors Association, and as is common today, very few read it, but they signed off on it anyway because they saw a pot of federal gold coming. Now parents who’ve discovered the “curriculum’s” content are furious. Protests are springing up throughout the country and growing.

The curriculum is standardized and heavily propagandized with leftist views on capitalism, environmentalism, American history, etc. so students will ingest the Left’s agenda, even more so than previously. The “curriculum standards” are ridiculous, but the most worrisome are those for English and math. After 13 years of Common Core, graduates will know less than eighth graders of a generation ago. Of the dumbed-down “curriculum,” Sandra Stotsky, professor of Education Reform, said that the standards “come in at about between a sixth- and eighth-grade level on average, and that [emphasis added] will constitute college readiness.” Even the SAT has adjusted its level of difficulty downward to accommodate the new cohort of college-bound graduates. AEI’s Rick Hess calls it the Common Core-ification of the SAT. One example of SAT changes is the elimination of difficult words like “punctilious” and “phlegmatic” from the vocabulary section.

But killing ObamaCore isn’t the answer – defanging the NEA is. As long as they have closed shops or can bully new, young teachers into joining, they will block reform. Their secret finances need to be opened to daylight so their members can see what’s being done with their $10,000 or more per year dues. If we want to prevent a nation of zombies in 20 years, we must take on the NEA.

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