Mike the Mad Biologist

Regular readers will know that one of the things I routinely flog is the errant belief that U.S. schools are failing, even though international comparisons seem to suggest that our educational system is DOOMMEEDD!!! Jennifer Ouellette, in an otherwise superb post about integrating art and science education, makes the same error:

By now the depressing statistics are all too familiar: the US ranks #25th worldwide in math, #21st in science (behind countries like Estonia and Slovenia), #27th in percentage of college graduates in science and technology, and a pathetic #48th in the quality of K-12 math and science education. The only area where American students excelled? Self confidence! US students are #1 in thinking they rock at math and science, which would be fine if this confidence were based in reality. It isn’t. “The rest of the world is rising and the US is falling asleep at the wheel,” Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering, told the assembled crowd.

The problem is that many schools, those that have fewer than 25% of their students below the poverty line, do extremely well–in fact, schools with less than 10% in poverty, outclass every other country. Likewise, when one controls for poverty, U.S. schools overall excel. So, while I’m not a big ‘self-esteem’ supporter, many U.S. students should feel good about how they’re doing, since, at least in relative terms, they are doing very well.

But this simply isn’t about indulging a “someone is wrong on the internet” streak (hell, I like Cocktail Party Physics). There is a serious issue here. And it’s serious because this faulty definition of the problem is so widespread, even among the Coalition of the Sane.

Our educational system is not failing. In fact, large sections of it–those not associated with poverty–do extremely well. But the bottom third, give or take, is doing poorly to miserably. That’s correlated with poverty. We can argue about why that might be the case: conservatives will have one set of explanations, liberals another, and batshitloonitarians yet another. Unfortunately, we’re not even having the appropriate discussion because we are wasting our time with a non-existent problem.

The Coalition of the Sane really needs to step up the intellectual rigor regarding education, especially if we claim to value education (as opposed to solely using it as a bludgeon against the theopolitical right).

Comments

  1. #1 Lyle
    February 11, 2011

    Put that way the system has always failed the poor, in the past the poor just got no access to the system. I would have to say that no access was a failure.
    Further I suspect that its not explictly poverty, but rather the culture and world view that go with it in general that are the problem. After all one would have to say that Lincoln grew up poor (actually dirt poor as a plain subsistence farmer).
    I wonder if something like the CCC is needed for the poor to change their attitudes about life

  2. #2 Seth
    February 11, 2011

    Just another pretext for busting up teachers’ unions, progressive education movements, etc. And since conservatives (not even the batshitloonitarians, but all of ‘em) refuse to acknowledge systemic reasons for anything, the pretext is even easier to maintain.

    By the way, if there were a Nobel Prize for neologisms, I’d nominate batshitloonitarian in a heartbeat.

  3. #3 becca
    February 11, 2011

    Actually, given their penchant for dismantling the federal government, I think you’d get the batshitloonitarians to agree that there are excellent educational systems in the US much more readily than your ‘coalition of the sane’.

  4. #4 Wow
    February 11, 2011

    “But the bottom third, give or take, is doing poorly to miserably. That’s correlated with poverty.”

    In the USA I’m given to understand that the money available for a school is proportional to the rents paid for owning property in the catchment area.

    And, as every CEO tells us, if you want the best, you have to pay for it.

    So the poor schools have kids who are already pissed off at the lack of prospects (you need connections) and the lack of anything to do (paedos exist on every street corner! BE AFRAID!) get to go to a school that can’t afford modern teaching aids, up to date books and in some cases even pens and paper, never mind teachers and you have a recipe for, if not actual inability to excel, the lack of resources to allow achievement to occur.

    Then compare with the rich kids school with lots of computers (OK, maybe not much of a help…), good teachers (or better paid, so more sought after, anyway) and at least an opportunity to use the schooling to progress yourself.

    Any wonder why it all goes titsup?

    100% inheritance tax. A rich kid with a dead parent giving them millions doesn’t need to be any good at anything to make money (not that they won’t be any good, but they don’t have much of a problem being no good), but a poor kid with poor parents gains nothing and they need luck as well as ability to get ahead.

    Take the money away from the dead who don’t need it. If their children can’t make it on their own with the advantages already theirs, they can only dilute the excellence of the well off.

    Give the money to the schools to allow some kid who may never have known they would be a champion tennis player a chance to find out. Give them an education that maximises the chances of the cream making something of themselves and raising their own family out of poverty.

  5. #5 coolwalker
    February 11, 2011

    Oh let’s not hold the parents responsible, after all they have hair weave appointments to keep and they have to detail their new Escalade and we can’t forget the nail appointments and Bingo games. It’s the teachers at fault…right. The parents are doing enough just by birthing the little kids and with everything they have to do they just can’t take the time to check homework and attend PTA or the like. Not to mention the politicians that keep taking money away from eduction to build bridges that go nowhere. Yep, it’s the teachers fault. No one else is responsible.

    If you believe this, please let me sell you a bridge.

  6. #6 Bob O`Bob
    February 11, 2011

    “By the way, if there were a Nobel Prize for neologisms, I’d nominate batshitloonitarian in a heartbeat.”

    I can’t help myself, I absolutely must shout “SECONDED!”

  7. #7 joemac53
    February 11, 2011

    I’m that old teacher back again. Many times during stupid meetings I would doodle some blues lyrics. This is a verse from “Paradigm Blues” from 1989 or ’90. (I was whining about reading jargon-filled educational research articles)

    Nowhere in my ten pages
    Are drugs or poverty
    Or parents who don’t give a damn
    Don’t make no sense to me…
    I’m gonna cruise, wear out my shoes,
    ‘Til Nirvana jumps right out at me,
    I got the paradigm blues.

    We still won’t talk about the real problems

  8. #8 Dean Austin
    February 11, 2011

    Since no one else is going to call out coolwalker for his racist, conservative trolling bullshit, I will. coolwalker, you’re a bullshit racist.

  9. #9 Katharine
    February 13, 2011

    I still say we should tax based on wordsum score.

  10. #10 sissycat
    April 28, 2011

    I’ll second the racist coolwalker. The poor do not own Escalades, they own rusted out crap cars that threaten to die every time they turn the key over. They do not get hair weaves unless they take the 3 dollars in their pocket and go to a discount beauty store, buy the supplies and do it themselves. The poor work 2-3 jobs just to survive, they look embarassed every time they pull out their child’s medical assistance card and worry daily about when the fact that they can’t afford their own insurance is going to catch up with them and if they will survive the illness. The poor have no time to work with their children on homework because 9 times out of 10 they are working their asses off to pay their rent and electric bill and hope to all things holy that they can afford their heat. They are uneducated and can not afford higher education to fix that fact. Their children do homework with little to no help and fall through the educational cracks. It goes on for years, decades and as soon as they pull ahead, they lose part of the support they had governmentally, which looks good on the surface until you realize that they BARELY pulled ahead, by maybe 20 dollars and they just lost 300 dollars worth of assistance. One can not keep up with those odds.

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