woody zimmermann 120Two previous articles of this series reviewed various problems in public education:

Unions

Teacher-quality

Performance

Mistreatment of students and statistical games

Political correctness

Feminized education

Valuing quality

In this final article of the series, we examine two additional problems of considerable moment and conclude with a discussion of some possible solutions and alternatives.

8. Politics.

Although politics are no strangers to education, their wholesale invasion of the public schools is certainly unprecedented. During the recent presidential campaign, students were allowed – even encouraged – to rally and demonstrate against Donald Trump. Teachers denounced him with epithets not used in civil discourse, and tossed the term “Hitlerian” around with abandon. The Donald was declared a “threat” to both America and the entire world. Pscho-graybeards pronounced him unquestionably “deranged.”  I don’t know if he quite achieved “anti-Christ” status – do modern academics even know the term? – but the hysterical polemics came close. The shtick has continued on into Mr. Trump’s term, with students skipping classes to protest what Mr. Trump “is doing to the country.” (Hearing exactly what those students think he’s doing would probably be very educational.)

How the times have changed. I was in the fifth grade in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower ran for president against Adlai Stevenson. The general’s heroic leadership in the recent war had made him very popular, both in our class and across the country. Our dads, uncles and brothers who had served under Ike thought he could do no wrong. “I Like Ike” buttons and pennants flourished in our classroom. If there was support for Mr. Stevenson, I don’t recall it. (In truth, most of us had no idea who he was.) Keeping her own politics hidden, our teacher ordered us to put all those “political things” away and get to work.

In ’52 Harry Truman was wrapping up 20 years of Democrat presidencies, so no one younger than age 35 could remember a Republican in the White House. Although many of our teachers were probably Democrats, we never heard about it. Except in universities where some profs were commies, it was uncommon for educators to push political doctrines. That came later, after the federal government started shoveling big bucks into public education. Democrats were better at this than Republicans, so they became known as the “education party.” That federal largesse helped push teacher starting-salaries from $5,000 a year in 1962 to ten times that today. Is it any wonder that teachers love the Democrats. As Willie Sutton famously said (in another venue), “It’s where the money is…”

As they migrated to the Democrat-side – if they weren’t there already – educators bought into Democrats’ increasingly radical agenda that pandered to nationality, race, gender, sexual-deviance and gender-confusion. Along the way, morality that had unified Western Civilization for centuries got the bums-rush from the public schools. (Reading to students from the Bible? Surely you jest.) The Bible, the Ten Commandments, and all vestiges of Judeo-Christian teaching were banned. (Islam is OK, but Christianity must go!) The mere mention of the word “Christmas” became strengstens verboten. (Jawohl!) “Intolerance” became the unforgivable social sin, and First Amendment guarantees of free speech came under withering attack. Tragically, public education’s original mission – i.e., cultivation of academic excellence in students – took a back seat in far too many schools.

This brief summary only skims the surface, but it shows the harm done to public education by politics. Democrat presidents for sixteen of the last twenty-four years have cemented educators’ conviction that the Democrats’ liberal agenda is normal and right for the country. Donald Trump – an interloper who might turn off the money-spigot and undo all the glorious “progress” toward morality-revision – must be fought to the bloody last. Every student (including many who have no idea what’s going on) must be enlisted to unseat him. Not all teachers are in this camp, of course, but too many are. It’s taken us fifty years to get into this mess, and it might take another fifty to put things right – if it’s not too late already.

9. Illegal Immigration.

Entire libraries of books have been written on this, so my two cents worth won’t add much. Germane to our discussion, however, is the fact that floods of illegal immigrant children are overwhelming the public schools of many communities. Busloads of children shipped into communities by federal authorities – often over legal residents’ objections – have precipitated a crisis of funding and educational quality in those schools. Except in the wealthiest locales, most public schools are ill-equipped to handle large numbers of students who possess minimal English skills and, in many cases, have very little experience with classroom education. Lacking special classes and staff for such students, many schools try to integrate them into regular classes. Often the result is disruption – including violence – which degrades the education of American kids who are there to learn, not to participate in a “social experiment.” Parents who complain might produce some changes, but often they are either ignored or called “racists.”

Unless you’re a Native American, your people (and mine) came here from another country. So we’re sympathetic about kids who were brought (or sent) here – up to a point. Yes, those kids need a break, but so do our own kids. A solid public-school education made my future. That and whatever brains and talent I possessed were all I had going for me. My parents were ordinary folks who couldn’t afford college costs. I earned my way through by shoveling snow, mowing grass, delivering newspapers, and stacking ice cream cartons in the local dairy. Had I been cheated out of a sound foundation for my higher education, God only knows where I might have ended up. Every American kid deserves an education of that quality in a safe, secure environment.

When my sons were little guys, I could always be had by the plaintive bedtime cry of “Dad, I’m hungry…” (A bowl of cereal in the kitchen would usually follow.) In a nutshell (or possibly a cereal-bowl) that illustrates American attitudes. We don’t want to see anyone hungry or uncared-for – certainly not a child. This includes immigrants – both legal and illegal. The problem is that communities and schools can handle only so many needy people. There has to be a limit.

Congress anticipated this long ago by enacting laws which limited legal immigration and mandated control of our borders to prevent illegal entries. But those legislators didn’t foresee presidents or parties using non-enforcement as an instrument of public policy. Our “illegals” problem today derives from disregard of our laws by unscrupulous politicians, for political and economic advantage. Both Republicans and Democrats have played “let’s pretend” with what those floods of children would cost the public schools that had to handle them – not just in money, but also in instructional quality and safety. “Open-borders” advocates often send their kids to private schools, so they needn’t worry about these problems. But millions of Americans can’t do that. It’s time that we paid some attention to them.

10. Alternatives.

Democrats and teachers’ unions fought confirmation of new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos like tigers, saying she lacked public-school experience. They almost stopped her, but she squeaked by with a 51-50 vote. Mrs. DeVos is not an education “novice,” however. For decades she has been an advocate and major funder of vouchers that enable students to escape failing public schools. She and other educators believe school-competition, fostered by vouchers, could stop public education’s long slide. Vouchers show promising results in some locales. Private schools are not usually unionized. They seem more interested in finding and retaining teachers of high quality, and their students do well. This includes minority students whom public schools have long considered unable to learn.

Public school educators see a move toward vouchers as a mortal threat to their money and influence. So obtaining genuine school choice for all children promises to be a long, difficult struggle – a war, really – against public education’s entrenched forces, including politically powerful teachers’ unions. Media organs – politically aligned with the teachers – have joined the campaign to distort and smear the vouchers-effort. Even the left’s sainted “champion of education,” Barack Obama, joined Public Ed’s blitz against vouchers. Soon after taking office he quashed a popular program in Washington, DC, that funded vouchers so worthy students of limited means could attend top private schools like Sidwell Friends, where the Obama daughters attended. (Good grief! Some of those urchins might have ended up sitting next to his kids. How crazy would that have been?) Studies show that some 40% of public school teachers enroll their own children in private schools. [1] (Maybe teachers are smarter than we thought.)

Public Education’s losing streak has coincided with two significant political movements. The first of these was general agreement by government at all levels that every American student is entitled to a college education. When I finished high school in 1960, roughly 21% of high school grads went on to graduate from college. (I don’t have figures for how many students started college but didn’t finish.) In 2010, the latest year for which I could find data, 48% of high school grads finished college – an all-time high. [2] Are American high school grads really that much smarter today than they were fifty years ago? Or have public schools inflated grades to please parents and help more students get into college? You tell me. But there’s definitely something fishy about those data. From personal experience I can affirm that too many primary and secondary school students don’t get the kind of education I got. Attending college is one thing, but it’s another thing to actually know something useful when you finish. Isn’t it remarkable that college-enrollments are at historical highs while public education is at such a low point?

The second great political movement during PE’s losing streak has been the Great Society idea that the federal government should supply significant funding for the public schools. Until the 1960s, public schools were funded entirely by state and local taxes. Towns and counties took pride in funding excellent schools that gave their children a good start to a productive future. But federal monies changed the game. In 1969 public education expenditures for the USA totaled just over $34 billion. Today those school-expenditures are $550 billion, of which about 9% ($50 billion) are federal funds. That’s not a major part of public education’s expenditures, but no state or locality wants to pass it up. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for instance, annual public education costs stand at $24 billion, so federal funds amount to $2 billion or so. No (sane) public-school educator wants to pass up $2 billion in “free” money.

The problem is that federal money is never free. It comes tied to all kinds of regulations on how public schools should be run and how students should be treated. Among the latest of these was the infamous “potty-diktat” that required schools to let students use the bathroom or locker-room corresponding to their declared “gender” instead of their biological sex. Whether useful or not, federal education mandates do two unproductive things: (1) they take control of public education away from the people most affected by the mandates; and (2) they focus public school administrators on keeping those federal dollars flowing instead of on how best to educate the children in their charge. We might not have to dig down any deeper than to the federal-money layer to understand where public education went off the rails. Follow the Money is more than just a figment of folk wisdom.

Teachers who have read these articles might be mad at me for being unfair. Many of them are good teachers who are working very hard. I understand their point of view, but I’m not apologetic. The world outside public education is a tough place. I have known people who worked their hearts out in a business. When it failed they lost a dream and a lot of money. (How fair was that?) Some failed because they lacked sufficient skill, or because their product wasn’t competitive. This is the harsh way the real world works. Shouldn’t an enterprise as important as public education be held to the same standards? Public education has some serious problems. I’m not sure what all the solutions should be, but something must change beyond the latest education-fad. The public is right to insist on it. The team ain’t winnin’.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++         

 [1] See “Where do public school teachers send their own kids?” by Larry Elder – https://onenewsnow.com/perspectives/larry-elder/2013/10/17/where-do-public-school-teachers-send-their-own-kids

[2] High school and college graduation data:

High school

College

Men

Women

Total2

Men

Women

Total

School  year

College/HS%

1899–1900

38,000

57,000

95,000

22,173

5,237

26,410

27.80%

1909–1910

64,000

93,000

156,000

28,762

8,437

37,199

23.85%

1919–1920

124,000

188,000

311,000

31,980

16,642

48,622

15.63%

1929–1930

300,000

367,000

667,000

73,615

48,869

122,484

18.36%

1939–1940

579,000

643,000

1,221,000

109,546

76,954

186,500

15.27%

1949–1950

571,000

629,000

1,200,000

328,841

103,217

432,058

36.00%

1959–1960

895,000

963,000

1,858,000

254,063

138,377

392,440

21.12%

1969–1970

1,430,000

1,459,000

2,889,000

451,097

341,219

792,316

27.43%

1974–1975

1,542,000

1,591,000

3,133,000

504,841

418,092

922,933

29.46%

1979–1980

1,491,000

1,552,000

3,043,000

473,611

455,806

929,417

30.54%

1984–1985

2,767,000

482,528

496,949

979,477

35.40%

1989–1990

2,744,000

491,696

559,648

1,051,344

38.31%

1994–1995

2,520,000

526,131

634,003

1,160,134

46.04%

1999–2000

2,832,844

530,367

707,508

1,237,875

43.70%

2004–2005

3,106,499

613,000

826,264

1,439,264

46.33%

2009–2010

3,440,185

706,660

943,259

1,649,919

47.96%