Category Archives: Education

Public Schools In Washington, D.C.: Broken Beyond Repair

The Distrct of Columbia spends more per pupil on it’s public education system than 47 out of the 50 states, and yet it’s public education system ranks as one of the worst in the nation. If nothing else, this is testament to the idea that throwing money at public schools will not solve their problems. It also makes you wonder where the money is going if problems like this still exist:

To fix D.C. public schools — better yet, to make the school system a model for the nation — look no further than what the students say they need. Donell Kie, a sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, and fellow student leaders came up with a pretty good list that was shared Saturday at a D.C. Council hearing on school reform.

Among the things that they wanted to see in every public school: “books when school starts,” “heat in winter,” “air conditioning in summer,” “healthy meals,” “water fountains that work,” “music and art classes,” “counselors who are able to help us” and “teachers who care about their students and can teach.” Speaking of having air conditioning in the summer, seeing as there are companies such as Universal HVAC that exist, there shouldn’t be any excuses as to why these students can enjoy this during the summer months. Having students work in unsuitable conditions isn’t going to help them progress. Perhaps the school should install evaporative cooling to keep students cool and comfortable. Being too hot can be really disruptive, so keeping them cool could increase their productivity. It could be the same in the winter; students wouldn’t be able to work in fridged temperatures, luckily there are companies similar to Green Horizon – see more at Https:// – to ensure that their heating is completely working.

These students aren’t just belly-aching about non-existent problems, they are expressing the harsh reality of what the D.C. Public School system is like. During the recent cold wave, when temperatures dipped into the single digits for days, schools in the District remained closed for days because of lack of heat:

This is just completely unacceptable, especially with the number of heating and air conditioning experts that could easily rectify this issue. With professionals like Indoor Comfort Specialists, these issues could be gone and students can get back to being educated.

For the fourth day in a row, D.C. school officials scrambled to keep routines as normal as possible as they tried to repair boilers that failed during the cold snap. This resulted in hot water problems and no heating. Nearly 1,800 students from four schools were reassigned to other facilities this week because of heating and water problems. The four schools were Woodson and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, both in Northeast, and Johnson Junior High and Simon Elementary in Southeast.

More than 30 other schools had boiler malfunctions this week that left rooms or sections of buildings cold. This could have created a lot of unnecessary interruption for the staff and pupils of these 30 schools. To ensure that this doesn’t happen again, they may want to have a read of some of these safety tips to avoid heating emergencies so that their boilers can efficiently provide warm heat for the buildings. However, school system leaders accused the city of not providing sufficient funds to maintain aging buildings. Parents blamed everyone.

Answer me this question, if the heat doesn’t work in the winter, if there’s no air conditioning like that available from sites similar to in the summer, and if the students don’t have books when the school year starts, then just what is the District of Columbia spending more that $ 16,000 per pupil per year on?

Education and Liberty

In a recent thread on schools and gifted children, one of our frequent commenters said a couple of things that I think bear further discussion. First, she said:

I do believe there are successful public schools.

Well, I do too. I happen to be, from an education perspective, a product of public schools. My first two years of school were in a private school, actually, and everything else was public education. Including university for that matter (California State University). But, I sincerely believe, based on my current experience with the public education system in two different states, that the typical public education today is mediocre, at best. Then again, I don’t define success as attendance, standardized test scores and a diploma.

A significant portion of the problem here is what we define as a successful school. I consider a school to be successful that teaches students to learn and think critically. That, of course, is not in the mission statements of most schools today. In fact, I find the opposite today. I find that schools teach students to accept what authority tells them and that it teaches them to pass standardized tests rather than think critically about the material presented. Most schools view their mission as preparing children to become part of the workforce, I think an education is about being a successful citizen.

By any measure I can find, our current education system is failing, even its own defined criteria.

The fact that a few schools succeed proves the rule when we call them out as examples of what all schools could be.

The next thing our commenter said was:

I also believe that if we must continue to have government that works and a successful country, we need public schools. I think they are essential to democracy.

While there is a certain strength to this statement, it isn’t quite right in my opinion. I would say that in order to have a successful, liberal society we need schools that work. They are essential to the preservation of liberty.

Now, it seems obvious to me, that education and liberty go hand in hand. Democracy is a means, just as education is, to a desired end. That desired end, which I believe is a common goal of the great majority of the commenters and contributors on this site, is a liberal society, one that values the individual and individual rights above the collective whole. It is possible, although reasonably unlikely, to have liberty without democracy. It is quite possible to have democracy with no liberty, as we see daily around the world.

It is entirely improbably that you could have a liberal society without education. Given that, a liberal society should provide a mechanism where all citizens receive an education to a certain level. However, it seems to me, that a truly liberal society would provide publicly funded education as a safety net for those citizens that cannot provide an education themselves. A mandatory education monopoly, such as we currently have, is not a product of a liberal society. In fact, it has, in the past, been used for distinctly illiberal ends, and continues to be today.

While vouchers may not produce a perfect system, I tend to believe that competition will always work better than a given government monopoly. The sad thing about Utah’s approach is that it will isolate the public schools from market competition. There will be no incentive to improve their offering, leading to a unique situation where the public schools will actually do better financially when a student leaves the school for a private one than when the student stays. Still, many students will benefit from leaving the failed public school system.

The bottom line is two-fold. Education is essential to the preservation of liberty. Our current approach to education is a failure.

How To Fix Education For Gifted Students

In the Washington Post, Joann DiGenarro discusses what needs to be done for gifted students in our schools. As she points out at the beginning of her article, the problems facing gifted students are largely ignored, and this is a situation that there are no plans to change (emphasis added):

At an educators’ meeting in Washington last fall, conversation turned to whether the federal government should support programming for this nation’s most gifted and talented high school students. The information gathered by the Etalab in France suggested that the creativity of students should be nurtured. Projects overseen by the likes of Franck de Vedrines were a rousing success. Maybe this is something the United States should try to replicate. Educators overwhelmingly said that top students in secondary schools need no assistance, much to my dismay. Priority must be given to those not meeting the minimal standards in science and math, they reasoned.

By the time students reach 12th grade in math and science, they are near the bottom or dead last compared with international competition, according to the Education Department. These are the critical years for supporting students in science and math, for it is when they make career-determining decisions for college studies.

While there’s a small number of people lamenting the fact that a greater number of students are shying away from engineering and scientific professions, the main focus of our governmental programs is to ensure that there is “No Child Left Behind.” Unfortunately, they choose to avoid leaving children behind by ensuring that the kids in front of them aren’t cultivated for success.

Few people understand the challenges that gifted students face. For remedial students, it is simpler. They have a tough time grasping the lesson plans before them, and need additional time, additional instruction, and very hands-on teaching to help them through. Gifted students have little trouble understanding the material before them, though. For gifted students, it’s a matter of motivation.

I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up in an affluent school district, where money was available for gifted programs. Yet I was constant trouble to most of my grade-school teachers. I understood at the time that nothing really mattered until I got into high school (as that was the point at which my grades would be tracked for college), so I didn’t really ever pay attention, do homework, etc. I wasn’t a troublemaker, but I spent most of my time from kindergarten through eighth grade in my own little world. Outside of a few great teachers along the way, the only thing I ever had to look forward to was the 30-45 minutes a week where I’d go off with the other gifted students to do things like logic puzzles and discussion groups beyond the pace of the class. My grades during those years suffered greatly, largely due to a complete lack of effort, but nobody can say I wasn’t learning (I was always at the top of Illinois standardized tests for my grade level). When I finally reached high school, I got on track and started putting forth effort, in order to make my way into college. But still, I was only as motivated as I had to be to get the grades, and no more (again, with the exception of a couple of exceptional teachers who knew how to motivate kids like me). All this, and I was in a “good” school district for gifted kids. In less affluent areas, I can only imagine how mind-numbing it must be.

The problem with gifted kids is not that they won’t understand the material, or that they’ll ruin test scores for No Child Left Behind. The problem is that these kids need to be properly motivated to prepare them for everything they can accomplish. Remedial students don’t become accomplished doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists. The gifted kids do that. Too many of them, though, languish in boredom and never develop a love of learning. They grow up knowing that all they have to do is coast along and they’ll be ahead of the pack, but without understanding that history isn’t written by people who “coast along”. Because of this, by the time it comes to their career search, they will end up becoming complacent and settling for something that is easy rather than striving for more. All the hard work parents put in, reading, singing with the kids, and trips prior to them entering the education system just falls by the wayside. We’re not just failing the children, we’re failing the parents who worked so hard to give them the best shot at life.

Clearly, something in our system has to be done to change this. We have focused for too long, as DiGenarro mentions, on being a “lowest-common-denominator” school system. We have worried that the people at the bottom are failing, but never even ask what’s going on with the people at the top.

It’s too bad that DiGenarro completely misses the solution to the problem…

At the strategic level, the United States must establish a policy for nurturing its most talented science and technology students and integrate this policy with a long-term vision of U.S. economic and military development. The White House and State Department science advisers should make this task a priority.

The next step should be a thorough assessment of all government educational programs geared to science and math. Shockingly, there are few assessments and little coordination among governmental agencies for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on educational programs from kindergarten through the undergraduate level.

Finally, some of the millions of dollars devoted to educational programs and policy must be reallocated for the most talented high school students.

The Department of Education doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars and years of study to solve this problem. All they need to do is provide vouchers. A one-size-fits-all, lowest-common-denominator school system will never provide the right type of education for gifted students, because it’s created mainly by government bureaucrats, a profession that doesn’t attract too many of the gifted. You need innovation, free thought, and the ability to think outside the box, responding to new situations and pressures quickly and dynamically. None of these traits are found in government.

Where they are found, however, is in the free market. Currently, gifted children have all sorts of options available to them in the private school market. Some of these options even include faith-based schools such as The Christian Academy in Pennsylvania (you can take a look at their website here: A few less wealthy children in large cities also have access to charter schools. But the vast majority are left languishing in the public school purgatory, waiting for their chance to get out into the real world and do something.

It is time we understand that all students are individuals, and if you try to stick a square peg in a round hole, you’re going to end up mashing that peg. It doesn’t matter if that’s a remedial child forced to fit into a regular school, or a gifted child forced to fit into a regular school. Neither one fits, and the harder you try to force them to fit, the more damage you do.

We’re failing the most capable students in our schools, and as a result, we’re crippling the best resources in our entire society. It’s time we stop trying to force these kids into a public school system that cannot serve them. The only solution is to help them get out of that system, and vouchers are the simplest and most effective way to help them escape.

Signs Of Progress For School Choice

In today’s Washington Post, George Will writes about what may be signs that the battle for school choice has taken a turn:

The public school lobby, which apparently has little confidence in its product, lives in fear of competition — the fear that if parents’ choices are expanded, there will be a flight from public schools. But the tide is turning:

Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, a member of the board of the national Alliance for School Choice, proposes a scholarship program similar to Arizona’s. New Jersey corporations could get tax credits totaling $20 million a year collectively for scholarships for low-income students in five cities with especially troubled schools.

New York’s new Democratic governor, Eliot L. Spitzer, proposes lifting the cap that restricts the state to a mere 100 charter schools. This common-sense idea — lowering a barrier the government has erected to limit innovative schools that compete with the government’s existing system — is welcome, but it is not as bold as what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is doing with the nation’s largest school system, New York City’s, with 1.1 million pupils.

He is dividing large schools into smaller ones, emancipating many principals to be educational entrepreneurs under a system that holds them accountable for cognitive results. The logic is that public money should follow wherever students are attracted by competing schools. So school choice is gaining ground in the city that has historically been ground zero for collectivist, centralizing liberalism.

If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Another Reason To Homeschool

Why? Because if you miss a parent-teacher conference, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor:

(a) A parent of a student commits an offense if:
(1) the parent receives written notice by certified mail of at least three proposed dates from which the parent can choose for scheduling a parent-teacher conference between the parent and the student’s teacher;
(2) the parent:
(A) fails to respond to the notice; or
(B) schedules a parent-teacher conference on one of the dates proposed in the notice or on an alternative date agreed to by the parent and teacher and fails to:
(i) attend the scheduled conference; or
(ii) before the scheduled conference, notify the teacher or an administrator of the campus to which the teacher is assigned that the parent will be unable to attend the conference;

(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

Yep. Skip a parent-teacher conference, and you’re headed to court!

Thankfully, there’s an exception for a “reasonable excuse”, although it’s not clear what’s “reasonable” or who decides. But hey, if Texas still had blue laws, maybe these parents would have better time management

Ridiculous. If we had a free market in education, this would be simple. If you don’t make it to parent-teacher conferences, the private school your child is attending can threaten to expel, or threaten to issue its own fine, etc. But when the government is involved, you’re headed in front of a judge, buddy!

Hat Tip: Cato@Liberty

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