Let all public schools play by same rules

So much has been written about Success Academy’s ability to post results with disadvantaged children on a par with affluent children from the New York suburbs that people are wondering if the outcomes are too good to be true (“The Parent Trap,” The New York Times, Sep. 29).  Yet a closer look reveals that there is no miracle there.  It’s that Success Academy functions essentially as a private school, albeit supported by taxes like traditional public schools.

Traditional public schools by law must enroll all who show up at their door regardless of motivation, ability or interest.  Moreover, they can’t expel problem students except for the most egregious behavior.  As a result, they can’t possibly compete with Success Academy, which requires parents to sign a contract to agree to read aloud six books to their children every week through second grade and monitor their children’s reading and homework through high school.  Parents of students with behavior problems are pressured to withdraw them.  Other public schools can do none of the above.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that Success Academy is in a league of its own, operating by its own rules.  That’s why I continue to believe that if all public schools were allowed to do what Success Academy does, there would be no significant differences in outcomes.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Thank teachers before it’s too late

At a time when morale among teachers is at an all-time low because of unrelenting criticism, anything that uplifts their spirit is welcome (“I Should Have Thanked My Teachers,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 23).  I’m referring now to the remarks made by Fay Vincent, the commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1989 to 1992.

Belatedly, he realizes the debt he owes to two of his former teachers and sadly his failure to thank them when they were still alive.  The truth is that teachers never make the classroom their career to become affluent.  They do so to try to leave an indelible imprint on their students. Of course, not all succeed. But those who do deserve every student’s gratitude.  Doing so would uplift teachers’ spirits more than anything else.

Like Vincent, I had two great teachers in high school.  I owe my fluency in Spanish to Anne Phillips, who taught me more in three years with her than several professors did in college.  Fortunately, I wrote her a letter before she died expressing my appreciation.  I still have her reply in my safe deposit box.  I’m glad I did.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


De facto segregation not school board responsibility

The tiny Sausalito Marin City School District, which consists of two schools, is being sued by California Att. Gen. Xavier Becerra for maintaining unequal treatment (“First desegregation order in 50 years hits Marin schools,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 22). Yet I maintain that the district is not legally responsible for de facto segregation that is a result of conditions beyond its control.

At issue is the racially mixed enrollment of Willow Creek in Sausalito and the racially imbalanced enrollment of Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City.  Yet in the 1960s, the school board voted to put black children from Marin City and white children from Sausalito in the same schools. In other words, its intent was to have integrated schools.  But when several local military bases closed in the 1990s, enrollment declined and white flight ensued.  Parents then stepped in to create a new charter school in Sausalito, which remains a gem.

Nevertheless, if Becerra persists in his lawsuit, he runs the risk of the community seceding to form its own even tinier school district.  That has happened in Gardendale, Alabama, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee.  I grant that Sausalito is far more progressive than these other three places, but there’s always the possibility of parents becoming angry and frustrated enough to do so.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Teaching assistants deserve employee status

If the new rule proposed by the National Labor Relations Board passes a final vote, graduate students, who teach the majority of university classes, would lose their status as employees and their right to join a union (“Graduate Students to Lose Unionization Rights Under NLRB Rule,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 21).  I understand the argument for this change, but I submit that it is anachronistic.

Yes, graduate students gain invaluable experience as they perform their duties.  But that doesn’t mean they should be exploited.  And they most certainly are.  Tenured professors, who are listed in catalogs as teaching a class, are totally relieved of this duty.  Since universities are permitted to continue to engage in false advertising without a penalty, the least they can do is to treat graduate students as employees, with the right to unionize.

As things stand, graduate students are essentially indentured servants, who are taken advantage of by professors.  They are afraid to complain out of fear that doing so will undermine their future.  So much depends on their getting favorable recommendations from their professors.  Reports of unwanted sexual advances by male professors toward their female graduate assistants show the power imbalance at work.  It’s time to get real about what goes on in higher education.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

College is a bad investment for most young people

When few young people had a bachelor’s degree decades ago, it mattered little what they majored in or where they graduated from.  But today the reverse is true.  Student debt is making many degree holders question whether they had made the correct decision (“Is It Still Possible to Pay for College?” The New York Times, Sep. 20).

Unless students have the ability and desire to major in fields that are hungry for workers, they would be far better off pursuing a vocational certificate from a community college, coupled with an apprenticeship.  Not only would they not be burdened with onerous debt, but they would be immediately hired.  The widely hailed wage premium attached to a college degree over a high school diploma does not take into account the major and the cost of paying back student loans.

I hope students in high school get better counseling about their future plans than they have been receiving so far.  College is not for everyone.  That’s a hard message that needs to be learned to avoid the heartbreaking stories of underemployed college graduates.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Don’t judge teachers based solely on student complaint

No parent wants to subject their children to teachers who hurt their self-esteem.  But it’s far too common for parents to jump to conclusions when their children complain (“When You Think Your Child’s Teacher Is a Bad Fit,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 16).

Although a bad fit can occur at any age in a child’s education, it’s usual most difficult to evaluate when children are in elementary school because they often misinterpret what a teacher says to them.  When I was in elementary school, my mother always took the side of the teacher when I complained.  That is so rare today.

The best advice when children manifest physical and/or emotional signs is to request a conference with the teacher.  The teacher may be totally unaware of the situation.  If the conference doesn’t improve matters, parents can then go to the principal as a last resort.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


Get real about meritocracy

Whenever the subject is education, you can be sure that the issue will be equality, whether in the form of opportunities, outcomes, or both.  Its latest version is consumed by the umbrella term “meritocracy” (“American Universities Must Choose: Do They Want to Be Equal or Elite?”  Time, Sep. 12.)

I’m going to restrict my comments in today’s column to higher education, although my views have relevance as well to K-12.  I don’t think it’s possible for colleges and universities to be simultaneously equal and elite. Until fairly recently, they have had no trouble being seen as elite.  For example, prep schools have always paved the way for their graduates to have a leg up for entrance into college.  That was their primary purpose.

But today, prep schools, as well as colleges and universities, are under attack for their exclusivity.  In other words, they are not democratic enough.  The fact that they differentiate in their admissions is considered unfair.  Yet there will always be unequal outcomes even if there are equal opportunities because people are by their very nature different.  Some are inherently smarter and willing to work harder.  Some make better choices than others.

I also don’t buy the argument that poverty is the No. 1 cause of unequal outcomes.  Yes, it plays an important role, but it is not an absolute determinant as reformers claim.  For example, Asian students continue to excel academically even when they come from low-income families.  How to explain that?  Is it their culture?

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)




Credit card debt is serious threat to students

When it comes to student debt, most people think of college tuition.  But credit card debt can be almost as crippling (“Buy Now, Pay Later,” by Niko Amber, The Concord Review, Fall 2019).  With little regulation, banks have been able to reap huge profits at the expense of young people barely out of high school.

To understand why, it’s necessary to rewind the tape to the early 1970s when credit card companies miscalculated the number of cardholders who would pay their balance promptly.  These companies only make real money when cardholders roll over their debt from one month to the next.  When cardholders pay on time, profits are severely reduced.

To enhance profits, credit card companies began to seek out young people because they correctly realized that this group typically do not pay their bills on time.  These riskier consumers, therefore, incurred high interest rates as they rolled over their debt from one month to another. So-called kiddie credit cards began to be issued that did not require a parental co-signer.  And the strategy has been enormously successful. More than half of the nation’s college students owned a credit card, even though they have no credit history.  The Los Angeles Times reported that marketing credit cards to high school students was growing.

The only bright note is the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act that was passed in 2009.  It gave some protection to consumers under the age of 21 by banning aggressive marketing to college students and required that credit card companies give consumers clear warnings about now much interest would be charged if they paid only their minimum monthly payment.

The problem is that young people today want instant gratification.  As a result, I doubt that CARD will do much to change matters.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Private schools don’t deserve diplomatic immunity

New York State law requires that private schools, whether secular or religious, must provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that provided by public schools.  But the former schools are arguing that means micromanaging the curriculum and instruction (“Call off the state bid to micromanage private schools,” New York Post, Sep. 11).

That’s hardly the case.  All schools must comply with the law.  Regular inspections are a reasonable way to determine if the law is being obeyed.  In light of complaints that some yeshivas in New York City were not providing students with a sufficient secular education, there is a clear need for oversight.

No one is trying to meddle with how private schools operate.  Parents choose them for one reason or another.  That is their right.  But I think the state law is reasonable.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


The college major determines the premium of a degree

Repeating something often enough does not necessarily make it true.  That is most certainly the case when the issue is the difference in lifetime earnings between holders of a bachelor’s degree and a high school diploma (“Is Majoring in English Worth It?” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 10).

A new Bankrate study found that English majors, for example, reported median income of $47,000.  I’ll bet that those who have a vocational high school diploma, coupled with an apprenticeship, make far more.  Moreover, the latter are not saddled with onerous student debt.

Whatever critical thinking skills once were associated with majoring in English no longer exist.  Political correctness has made it almost impossible for unpopular views to be heard.  Middlebury College is a case in point.  In March 2017, more than 200 students prevented Charles Murray from delivering his address.

A college degree today makes a travesty of education.  With the exception of STEM, the years spent on campus are a waste of time and money.  Yet the obsession persists.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)