Friday, May 06, 2011

Indiana Education Reform

Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law yesterday a bill that allows students to take the tax money appropriated for them in the public schools and use it toward private schools.  If I understand correctly, it mainly funds middle and lower income families, which I presume is what Governor Daniels meant by social justice.

First of all, I like Daniels.  I voted for Daniels.  I consider him an honorable man.  He would make a better Republican President than anyone else I know in the field.

I have two strong concerns about this particular program.

1. The first is that the public school system, when it functions properly, is meant to provide a neutral education zone that equips the public to be profitable and fully functioning members of society.  Private schools, on the other hand, like home schools, are often mechanisms for insulating children into tribal backwaters.

Let's say there was a city where most people were Schenckacrucians, a new religion that believes the earth is flat and that we should abolish the Constitution in favor of my Book of Schenck.  The redistribution of funds for public education will only add to the return to pre-modern tribalism that is well underway in America by allowing the loony parents of Cultsville to send their children to my private school.

2. The problem with the public schools--I say as someone with several children in them and very, very close friends who are on the ground in them--is not the teachers.  The problem are the kids who daily call their teachers obscenities in the middle of class that I can't even mention here (I'm talking elementary school).  These are the kids who have all manner of defiance disorders who, because of funding cuts, have nowhere to go but the public school classroom.  They flip desks, daily cause classrooms to be emptied of the good students so that whoever--sometimes funding cuts have reduced support staff almost to secretaries in the office--can talk them down.  School personnel are not allowed to touch them and are discouraged from calling the police.

These are the kids who are in class with your children who, if they were adults, would be locked up or be put in a mental health facility.  Funding cuts take away support systems like behaviorists and clinical social workers--four such jobs have been eliminated from the Marion Community Schools system already for next year.  And we criticize and hold accountable teachers who are not trained to do that level of psychotherapy and abnormal behavior management on a daily basis. These are not special ed issues--they are mental health issues beyond the competency of teacher training.

How can a school pass ISTEP when these students, and mentally challenged students, and students who have  massive attendance problems are part of the assessment?  And then we tell the teacher they will be penalized if their class as a whole doesn't improve?  We discourage them from taking on hard classes because their pay would be contingent on a no win situation.

My son takes Taekwondo and occasionally, the master will have them play a game where they compete to see who can pull a strip of cloth out from behind their opponent.  But he sometimes ties it so that, without the person knowing it, there's no real chance he or she can win.

That's what we've been doing to the public school system these last ten years.  We've set it up for failure and then treated our teachers like dirt when their students' test scores don't improve.  This new law, however well intentioned, is yet another example of hamstringing an incredibly important part of the American social contract... in my opinion.

19 comments:

El Bryan Libre said...

If they signed that law in Texas I would definitely take advantage of it. Heck, while they're at it why not extend it to homeschoolers?

If students are the problems in public schools doesn't that mean parents are the problem in public schools? That's the draw of private school for me. At least you know parents there care enough to pay for their child to go to school and to arrange to pick them up and drop them off. It seems the public school system enables parents to take as little responsibility as possible in their kids education. I don't think it is intended to do this but that is what happens.

JohnM said...

Public schools are no less indoctrination centers than private schools, just not as "insulating", and I'm not even sure all private schools are that.

Ironically the fact that progressivism has succeded partly through control of the public education system is one of the reasons public schools have become what you describe in your second concern.

I do agree with not blaming the teachers, at least not the ones who are actual teachers, vice educrats. For the record, I sent my kids to public schools. Of course I'm also a product of the public education system, so if you don't like my opinions... :)

Ken Schenck said...

El Bryan, I agree that the students are the presenting issue, but the home environment is the underlying cause.

John, I agree that checks and balances are needed on every side to keep from cliffs on every side...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

From what I remember when we first moved to Indiana, it is a "home-school" state, meaning that there are no "standards" to hold parents accountable.

In Maryland, for instance, the friends I had that home-schooled had to have the program they used approved by the State. I think this is a great idea, as it makes sure that certain basics are met. A nation cannot do without an educated populace! And this is a real problem all around, not just with unaccounatbility of home-schoolers, but the whole public school system.

We have limited teachers and adminstratiors in their ability to educate in more ways than just textbook knowledge. And is it any wonder when most of America isn't educated? I can't believe I even got out of high school! What were the standards even back then? Now, the standards, I'm sure are lower, though the public system has many more hoops to jump through in maintaining accredidation! It is disheartening, because it is a cultural problem, not just an educational one!

Education is not a value anymore. The only reason one is educated is to get a job to make money. Education is not a cultivation of the person, but a project of stamping the person with approval for society's use. Education is viewed as mass production, instead of human capital.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to Mitch Daniels reform, it is "fair" for the parents to be able to make a choice about their children's education, not only because the children are theirs, but because the parents foot the bill in taxes. But, it is based on a market system.

Competition might not at first seem to benefit the educational systme, but after awhile, the good schools will produce more productie students, which will draw parents because of their desire for their children's success!

::athada:: said...

It seems homeschooling types view public schools as progressive indoctrination centers, but there are plenty of students to testify (myself included) that this is a false fear (in fact, mine might have been considered the opposite). The educational experience laregly reflects the local/regional culture, as one would expect.

Pilgrim said...

So if I understand the argument correctly...a neutral, lowest common denominator, sub-standard public education is better than a "tribal" homeschool education where the tribe consists of exposure to a wide-range of literature, Greek, Latin, (eventually Spanish or French), and higher standards in math and science. I don't know about you, but I think I'll stick with my tribal approach.

There are certainly protectivistic parents out there...but their kids go to all kinds of schools (even Christian universities ;-).

I love your "take" on Wesleyan issues, but don't assume "home schooling" is monolithic...you wouldn't make that assumption about Calvinism.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm not making an "all" statement about home school, private schools, or private universities. Yes, Christian colleges like mine were founded on this same principle of insulation and tribalism, protectionism. They also tend to gravitate toward the mainstream over time.

There are excellent private schools like the kind you mention, ones that are founded not to insulate but to accelerate. None around where I live, IMHO.

John Mark said...

I don't like the current atmosphere in the local schools where I reside, and I don't blame the teachers (as a whole).
Perhaps we could look at what happened in the Roman Catholic culture years ago: they built their own schools, and as far as I know never asked for a dollar from the govt to do so. I'm sure it was expensive, but they--or many of them--were willing to pay a price to keep their kids out of school situations they saw as detrimental for Catholic kids.

Scott F said...

I chuckle/cry every time I hear these draconian efforts to purge the education system of the supposed millions of "bad teachers". Where are the millions of "good" teachers just itching to get into the schools? Think about how we are demonizing the entire occupation, dumping all of our failures on their heads. Who is going to want to be a teacher? Without this apocryphal pool of talent, all the promises of tough love are completely empty.

As to the free-market approach, just think about the number of business that have gone bankrupt in the past few years. Businessmen can do that. How you gonna feel when your child comes home with a note telling you that the doors on their school will be padlocked tomorrow? Schools are not supermarkets. You can't just go down to the Wal*Mart on the next block.

As I recall, the superintendent of Detroit schools re-calculated his test scores, including only students who had been in the same school for at least 24 months, and, lo, the difference in performance was dramatic. Eric Turkheimer's detailed review of classic Twin research finds that a poor environment swamps genes as a predictor of IQ. The environment where the children actually live (ie, being passed from mother to aunt to grandmother in Detroit) matters more than the greatest voucher system in the world.

I would recommend everyone have a listen to Dianne Ravitch who switched her position from charter supporter to opponent.

Sarah said...

Hey, Dr. Schenck! I enjoy keeping up with your blog very much, and I appreciate when you strike out every once in a while to address things not particularly in your field. However, I wonder what experience you've had with homeschooling that would cause you to make such an assertive statement. The idea that it's used as a "mechanism for insulating children into tribal backwaters" is pretty darn offensive, and seems based on intuition rather than research.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm sure I embarrass myself all the time without knowing it Sarah. I'm not meaning to make absolute statements here. Do you disagree that homeschooling is usually done for protectionist reasons, to insulate and protect, usually with a strong ideological component--to perpetuate certain ideological perspectives? That's basically what I was saying.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Homeschooling is done for many reasons, most view it as the "ideal" for parental oversight over their child's education, and some homeschool without any ideological concerns/indoctrination. But, I have to agree that those that don't want any State accountability are those that don't want education for its own sake, but are ideologically driven...usually by religious concerns. This is what makes ideology dangerous, as it supresses and/or denies education for "more transcendental purposes"!

Education should be to equip the child, young person for the "real world", not a transcentdental one! When these areas are separated, then the "ideal" or transcendental replaces the "real" or political (society) and does a disservice to the child or young person in preparing them for thier particular areas of interests.

Ken Schenck said...

Sarah, you have to be one of the most intelligent students I ever was in class with and your home education suited you extremely well. And knowing where you are from, I am extremely sympathetic to your parents' choice. My tone online when I'm in my Platonic bubble is usually quite different than when I am down on Aristotelian earth with specific people in specific circumstances.

My wife and I have thought long and hard about alternatives to the public school system here in Marion and have even brainstormed some sort of home school consortium of like minded families. Yes, sometimes the protectionism is from academic mediocrity or behavioral psychosis rather than Schenckacrucians.

You remain a super-star in my book... ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sarah and Ken,
You have made a point about those whose parents are concerned and engaged with their children's education. But, those that are "left out" are the State's concern. And public educators are at stale=mate to make a difference. No institution can take the place of a parent's concern and love, that is for sure.

Sarah, I am sorry if I said anything that offended you. But, I am also concerned about those that homeschool without a proper education themselves. I, for one, would not want my child to suffer for my own deficiencies...which they would have if I had tried to homeschool them. I am not trained as a teacher, and I think this is to the disadvantage of some homeschooled children...

Scott F., I can see the point of not making the school a business, as education should not be about money making.....and dependent upon it...as not only might it deny the right of education, unless it was properly driven by "market values" or "ideology" (if the institution was dependent upon such)...

Certainly, I think the point has been made that there are no "ideal" solutions in any regard concerning public education or individual children....

Sarah said...

Thank you, Dr. Schenck, I appreciate the compliment. But out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks (or types), so I'd urge you to reconsider your view of backwater, pre-modern tribal homeschoolers (or private-schoolers) as somewhat misguided in general, both as your Platonic or Aristotelian self.

Angie: no worries, no offense taken. One thing I'd ask you to consider, though, is that out of all the things that influence a homeschooled child's education, two things that show no statistical correlation to academic performance are whether the parents are certified teachers, and the degree of governmental regulation.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm not conceding the basic point, only acknowledging the important exceptions...

Ken Schenck said...

I do apologize for the word backwater, although, as you say, it does reveal something about me nonetheless.

Sarah said...

Thank you, Dr. Schenck, I appreciate that - and please don't think your super-star status in my book is dependent on an apology. I am sure your willingness to step on a few toes is part of what has made you such an excellent professor.