Nope, Don’t See Any Connection Here…

Today’s Boston Globe has two stories that, when I looked at them side by side, proved far more enlightening than, I suspect, the Globe intended.

The first was an account from a rather prestigious school in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Officials at the John D. O’Bryant School Of Mathematics And Science have been noticing that the students have been rather lackadaisical about getting from one class to another on time, so they implemented a new, tough tardiness policy. The headmaster walked through the halls, gathered up a bunch of students who were lollygagging, and took them off to the auditorium. There, they had to write a “reflection” on why they were late to their classes.

Well, the student body didn’t take that well at all. They responded the next day with a show of force — they blocked doors and entrances to make pretty much all the students late for their class.

The superintendant met force with force, and put the school in “lockdown” for the rest of the day. Students spent the last two periods in the same classrooms, and the administration made it clear just who owns the hallways — and the schools.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out…

Meanwhile, a study by the Massachusetts Department of Education and Board of Higher Education (gee, I bet there isn’t too much redundancy there, and I’m certain that every single bureaucrat in each organization is absolutely essential) shows that, while Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of high school graduates going on to college, well over a third of them are woefully unprepared for the academic demands of college.

I couldn’t find more recent figures than 2004-2005 online, but here it shows that Massachusetts ranks fifth in per-student expenditures — behind the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. (Scroll down to Table 5.)

$11,681 dollars per year (it’s probably up around $12,000 by now) per student, and they STILL can’t get two-thirds of them educated enough to make it in college without “remedial” help.

That means the colleges have to teach their students stuff they should have learned in high school, but didn’t — despite the possession of a diploma.

Now, I’m just a product of the public school systems in the 16th-ranked state in per student funding (still about $800 more than the national average), so I know better than to make the “correlation equals causation” fallacy, but it seems to me that, generally, the more money we spend on education, the less we actually get in results.

The first story shows students focusing not on their education, but their perceived “right” to loiter in hallways and stroll into class whenever it strikes them as convenient — and the administration reminding the students just who has the real authority in the schools. That sort of thing is all too rare, and — I suspect — is a factor in the second story: too many students getting diplomas that simply don’t mean what they are purported to represent: a solid general education, and the educational system certifying that the holder has achieved a certain level of knowledge and skill.

Every now and then, you hear rumors of school districts being sued for malpractice by former students who coasted through and were given (word carefully chosen here; they did NOT “earn” the right to graduate, but got them as gifts) their diplomas despite not being able to read, write, and perform other basic tasks to the level the diploma ought to guarantee. I think it’s long past time for such lawsuits to start to break out.

Also, I’d like to see colleges take a hard look at the schools that are graduating so many students that need “remedial” classes, and inform them that their word (as represented by the guarantee implicit in a diploma) is no longer trustworthy. They’re committing a fraud, and need to be held accountable.

A little while ago, I advocated abolishing the entire federal Department of Education and giving half its annual budget to the states, on a per-student basis, to use as they see fit in educating our children. I’m starting to wonder if I didn’t think grandly enough — perhaps we should bypass the state level entirely and simply grant it to the individual school districts.

I’ve always believed that the most efficient use of government resources is done at the lowest levels, when the government is most accountable to the people. The higher level of government, the less accountability there is, and the more inefficient the spending gets. This is possibly best exemplified by the federal Department of Education, which teaches not a single student, runs not a single school, hires not a single teacher. To the best of my knowledge, all they do is pass along federal monies to actual schools and colleges — after skimming off a healthy amount for their own operations.

If you need any more proof, the Boston Globe has a third piece in today’s edition. It’s an opinion piece by a professor of political science and education, and it’s just as muddled and confused and vague as you could possibly expect. As far as I can tell, Professor Henig wants all three of the leading candidates to think a lot about education, and talk about how important it is. Oh, and how the things we’re trying right now aren’t all good or all bad.

The one thing I agree with Professor Henig on is this: “When education does enter national political debates, it’s highly polarized and not fruitful.”

Somehow, though, I doubt he’d sign on to my plan to solve that by simply getting education out of the national debate by getting the federal government out of the education racket.

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Good Saturday Morning! Round up.