woody zimmermann 120This series was originally meant to have two parts, but the volume of material compelled me to expand it to three parts. In Part I we examined unions, teacher-quality, and performance. In this second article we assess other significant public-school problems.

4. Mistreatment of students and statistical games.

In his article – “Champion of Bright Children” – respected columnist and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell noted that gifted American students fare poorly in public schools. Their performance levels, he says, “…lag behind foreign counterparts. Our brightest kids have been going downhill even faster than our average kids.”

Dr. Sowell said gifted students are “…often resented by their classmates and teachers alike. Given the low academic records of most public school teachers, it is hard to imagine them being enthusiastic about kids so obviously brighter than they were – and often brighter than they are. Gross neglect of gifted students in our public schools is the old story of the dog in the manger.”

These devastating critiques of public education were reinforced by Manhattan Institute findings in 2003 that only 72% of female students and 65% of male students graduated from American high schools in 2003. [1] (Black males 55%; Hispanic males 53%.)

Today things appear much improved. The official rate for high school graduation is now 81%. But evaluators say this figure should be taken with a grain of salt. In a 2015 article, columnist and education expert Anya Kamenetz described how public school systems game the system. [2] She found states, cities and districts pursuing a range of strategies to improve the graduation-rate, as follows:

  • “Some are mislabeling students or finding ways of moving them off the books. In Chicago, reports Becky Vevea (of WBEZ), ‘the district is misclassifying hundreds of students who enroll in its alternative schools.’ District officials say that they're ‘investigating the issue.’
  • “Schools in places like Detroit and Camden, N.J., are making it easier to get a diploma. In all, 21 states offer alternative, sometimes much easier, paths to graduation.
  • “In Des Moines, Iowa, and suburban Atlanta, we found schools digging in and actually giving students the long-term support required to raise the grad rate for real.
  • “In many places there are more than one of these strategies at work, suggesting that the 81 percent figure mixes the good, the bad and the ambiguous.”

Social analysts say high school dropouts and low-standards “grads” are a drain on society because of wasted potential, low wages, poorer purchasing power, lower income taxes paid, and a greater draw on welfare and other public benefits.

5. Political correctness.

When my daughter reached high school in the late 1970s, we attended the September Parents Night to meet her teachers. In her history classroom, we sat at the students’ desks and listened to the teacher describe the curriculum. At one point she held up the text that lay on the desk before us. She described it as “totally unsuitable,” and she asked us to request funding from the school board for new texts. I had been flipping through the text and thought it looked OK, so I raised my hand and asked what the problem was. The teacher said the students couldn’t read them. I found that hard to believe, so I asked how that could be. She said it was because the school had abandoned the “track system” that formerly grouped college-bound students together in classes; students with lower aims (and abilities) were similarly grouped together. Under the new regimen, students of all ability-levels populated any given class. Thus, for everyone in a class to participate, texts had to be “dumbed down” (my term, not hers). A politically correct attempt to be “non-elitist” had produced a scenario that would almost certainly hurt higher-ability students, while doing precious little for those of lesser abilities.

But PC has done much more harm to public education than this modest step. Racial-pressures have produced what Ronald Reagan called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Ironically, liberals’ attempts to “help” minorities have ended up crippling them far more than the Klan ever did. Lower standards have denied minorities the solid education I received in the 1940s and ‘50s. Held to lower standards than whites or Asians, minority students have consequently scored poorly on standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Those results have produced a furious assault against those tests on grounds that they are fundamentally “racist.” (Racist algebra? Who knew?)

Racialists want minority students’ acceptance to colleges and universities to be based solely on their high school grades, which are often inflated. More extreme activists demand a strict “diversity” protocol for college admissions, and many administrators are rushing to comply. But will this new “holy grail” of diversity quotas really produce better educations? As a former college trustee, I can definitively say that there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. It is another educational red herring. Diversity is fine as a result, but as an objective it cannot deliver what its true believers expect.

6. Feminized Education.

Discrimination against boys in public schools has also increased in recent decades. In her book The War on Boys, sociologist Christina Hoff Sommers describes how boys are being denigrated and disadvantaged by liberals’ attempts to “feminize” education. She notes that those feminists we thought just hated men have now turned on vulnerable boys. The catechism, she says, is destructively simple: “Girls, good; boys, bad.” The predictable result is that fewer boys are pursuing higher education. Nationwide, college-enrollments are now 60% female and 40% male. Feminists cheer this as a “victory,” but college administrators are not pleased with the trend. They understand that this cannot be good for the country or for their institutions.

In a previous article [3] I wrote:

In many schools, even the propensity of boys to run and jump and engage in rough-and-tumble play is now being suppressed. This radical educational change has actually evolved into a movement to abolish recess at the very time when health activists are railing about overweight and inactive American children. If sedentary and junk-food-nourished children must be denied free outdoor exercise, says Mrs. Sommers, there must be some powerful reason for doing so.

The reason is that boys behave differently from girls. This cannot be allowed. Feminists insist that boys should be raised like girls – indeed, should be like girls. More active male behavior or interests – once considered normal for boys – are considered the spawn of “patriarchy” and must be treated as deviant expressions that will lead directly to rape, mass murder, and capitalism. They must be stamped out with every means possible. Mrs. Sommers does not use the term “castration” for this kind of reeducation, but it certainly comes to mind. Some critics believe it is what some feminists would really like to do. Ritalin has been the traditional stopgap remedy, but the current transgender craze offers a more permanent treatment for the ‘disease’ of masculinity.

This is a rough time to be a boy. If you have one in public school, make yourself aware of how he is being treated – particularly with respect to his sexuality and ‘gender-identity.’ Above all, resist all official pressure to put him on drugs to ‘control his behavior.’ Boyhood is not a pathology. It’s not a social disease requiring correction. Whatever some past wicked men might have done, your little guy or teen is not responsible. He doesn’t deserve to be punished and have his manhood and his future destroyed because corrupt feminists hate men or because militant homosexuals lust after more converts to their perversions. …Boys are not the enemies of our culture... Boys are the men of the future. The country is going to need them. Their boldness, their will, and their nerve will be indispensible to the nation.

7. Valuing and Measuring Quality.

Should teachers and teachers’ unions take all the blame for what has happened to public education? Probably not. But they’re not entirely innocent, either. During my wife’s Masters Degree internship at a Maryland public school, she met a brilliant young teacher who far exceeded the minimum standards with her class of third graders. Parents and administrators loved her, but her colleagues hated her because she made them look mediocre. (They were.) They made her professional life so miserable that she finally left. (So much for everyone pulling together and working as hard as possible.)

We need accurate, objective evaluations of teaching skills that can ensure retention of good teachers. Yes, we can see if teachers have been effective (or not) at the close of a student’s twelve-year public school education. But this is like finally seeing, in 2029, how the Yankees did in the 2017 season. At that time-remove you can’t tell who did (or didn’t) perform, and it’s way too late to correct anything. Better, more immediate measurements are needed for public education. Standardized teacher-testing is barely a start, but teachers’ unions are fighting it furiously. (Al Shanker would probably say that teacher-quality isn’t his concern – only teachers’ jobs and pay.)

The final article in the series will review additional significant problems and present possible alternatives.


[1] From “Leaving Boys Behind”: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_48.htm     

[2] See Miss Kamenetz’s article of June 9, 2015, “High School Graduation Rates: The Good, The Bad and The Ambiguous,” at http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/06/09/412939852/high-school-graduation-rates-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ambiguous 

[3] “Boys and Girls Together” - http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/22901-boys-and-girls-together%E2%80%A6