Urban public schools are losing students

The nation’s two largest school districts, New York City and Los Angeles, are hemorrhaging students at an alarming rate (“Why NYC’s public schools are losing kids – and how to get them back,” New York Daily News, Jul. 24). It’s easy to attribute the decline to the pandemic, which resulted in the closing of their doors.  But I submit there is a more fundamental problem.

The truth is that parents don’t believe traditional public schools offer a quality education.  That’s why they have enrolled their children in charter schools, private schools or in home schools. The curriculum that once was solidly grounded in the basics has been weakened by the obsession with racial issues.  I don’t see matters getting any better.

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College is not always a good investment

Anyone doubting that a bachelor’s degree is financially not what it claims to be needs to read what those interviewed by The New York Times said in its survey (“We’re Not Asking for the Moon,” Jul. 17). Onerous student debt has made it nearly impossible for young people to live on a scale even remotely close to what their parents had achieved at their age.

As readers of this column know, I believe that we’ve been wildly oversold on the importance of a bachelor’s degree. I wonder how majoring in, say, gender studies is financially worthwhile.  I urge more high school students to seriously consider a vocational curriculum combined with an apprenticeship. No student debt and a well-paying job.

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New York City test for teachers lacks validity

When white test takers passed at significantly higher rates than Black and Hispanic test takers on the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, the test was found to be  culturally biased (“Black, Latino Teachers Collecting $835 Million in Discrimination Lawsuit,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 14).  I maintain that it is impossible to design any assessment instrument that is totally devoid of such bias when it is taken by a diverse group.

Instead, I submit that the test does not permit valid inferences to be drawn about effectiveness in the classroom. That’s because so much depends on the students that any teacher happens to be given.  If a teacher is handed a group of Talmudic scholars, for example, he or she will shine in spite of their qualifications.  The only way to know beforehand if a teacher will likely be effective is to use performance assessment. 

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Legacy preferences have to go

Despite pressure to make the admissions process fairer, 42 percent of private colleges and 6 percent of public colleges still give legacies a leg up (“Elite Colleges’ Quiet Fight to Favor Alumni Children,” The New York Times, Jul. 13).  I’ve long maintained that neither affirmative action nor legacies has a place in deciding who is admitted.

The only factors that should count are grades and test scores.  The further we move away from those criteria, the less valuable a college degree will be. If that sounds elitist, so be it.

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Are Florida schools a model for the nation?

The Parental Rights in Education Act that went into effect in Florida has far-reaching implications that should concern everyone (“Ron DeSantis’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Has Already Made Florida Schools Dystopian Hellscapes, vanityfair.com/news, Jul. 1). By banning any discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools, it overreaches.

I agree that what is taught about such subjects must be age appropriate.  That’s why I have no problem with barring instruction in K-3.  But by the time that students are in high school at the latest, such prohibition is counterproductive. They already know much more than we suppose because of images they’ve been exposed to on television. How do we teach tolerance if teachers can’t address such issues?

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Lab schools are latest push for parental choice

Virginia’s constitution makes it exceedingly hard to establish charter schools, which explains its novel approach in the form of lab schools (“Virginia Breaks the School-Choice Barrier,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 4). These are publicly-funded schools under the control of public universities. They will appeal to supporters of parental choice, particularly because they are outside the state’s collective-bargaining agreement.

As readers of this column know, I support parental choice, but I’ve long stressed the intrinsic advantage that charter schools, for example, possess in being largely exempt from the rules facing traditional public schools. I maintain that if the latter were allowed to operate the same way that charters do, there would be little difference in outcomes.  I say the same thing applies to lab schools.

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Teachers need union representation

Teachers unions are routinely depicted as the villains for the shortcomings of public schools.  But without them, even the best teachers are vulnerable in the face of unfounded charges (“ ‘I was publicly shamed’: A Rocklin teacher was punished for showing students the news,” The Sacramento Bee, Jul. 3).  When a 7th grade teacher showed her students CNN 10 news that included a segment about the mandatory vaccine, it was the start of a nightmare that was totally unnecessary.

Although the newscast showed both sides of the controversial issue, it was enough to infuriate the parent of one of her students, who proceeded to threaten the teacher via emails.  The principal initially supported the teacher, but then backed off. The stress created by her treatment could have been avoided if the teacher had a strong union. But few seem to care.

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Arizona leads in school choice

Every parent in Arizona will receive a debit card for about $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school, religious school, homeschool, tutoring, online classes and education supplies (“School’s out forever: Arizona moves “to kill public education” with new universal voucher law,” salon.com, Jul. 1).

The state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts goes farther than any other state in giving parents the option to educate their children almost any way they want. I understand the anger and frustration that so many parents feel about how their children are educated.  But unless the program has strict oversight, it will be abused by those wanting to make a fast buck and then closing shop, leaving students stranded.

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Unlicensed teachers in the classroom

A new report found that 10 percent of teachers in California are not fully credentialed, raising concern about ongoing instruction (“10% of teachers lack full credentials,” Los Angeles Times, Jul. 2).  Schools serving low-income families are most at risk.

There was a time when a California teaching credential meant taking so many useless subjects, but even now when the requirements are more relevant there is a shortage. Some reformers argue that if private and religious schools don’t require a credential to teach and yet still produce impressive results, then why are public schools held to a higher standard?

The answer is that traditional public schools must by law enroll all students who show up at their doors regardless of ability or motivation.  As a result, teachers need further training to help them teach these students.  Private and religious schools are able to select only those students they alone want to.

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Library books are latest issue in culture wars

The usual battle over textbook adoptions in public schools is now extended to their library books (“Push to Remove Sexually Explicit Books Divides a Texas School District,” The Wall Street Journal, July 1).  Although such books are not required reading, their mere presence on the shelves is enough to divide stakeholders.

Although young people are far more sophisticated today than their peers decades ago because of the images they routinely see on television, I believe that not all material is appropriate for all.  The hard question is who is to decide?  I’d rather err on the side of openness because targeted books can help students understand people who are different from them.

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