Has the USA Education System Been Set-Up to Fail?

I have to say up front that I have no expertise whatsoever in the field of education. This post is just a comment on what looks to me like a disaster waiting to happen. If anyone can give me evidence that my instinct is wrong, I’ll be glad to hear it.

From an outsider’s point of view, pre-tertiary education in the US hasn’t looked that great for a while. They’ve been slipping down international rankings for years. However, it was easy to dismiss that because several countries, particularly in Asia, have been making huge efforts to improve their own systems. Therefore the reasoning was that it wasn’t that the US had gone down, it’s that the others had caught up. That excuse can no longer hold water and I think things are set to get worse.

PISA Scores

mathsThe Programme for International Assessment (PISA) assesses 15 year old students every three years in reading, maths* and science. In 2012 65 countries participated, 34 of which are OECD nations. (The 2015 results will be available on 6 December 2016.)

Overall 510,000 students representing the 28 million of that age in the participating countries were tested. That included just over 6,000 students from 161 randomly selected schools in the United States. They came 36th in maths, 24th in reading, and 28th in science.

For a country that prides itself on its education and spends more per student than (almost) any other nation, that’s really bad. Clearly something needs to be done. PISA reports that the 10% most disadvantaged students in Shanghai achieved similar maths scores to the 10% most privileged students in the United States. My opinion is that it’s not the average spend per student that’s the problem, it’s the way the funding is allocated.

(The OECD average is c. US$8,500 per student.)


Click graph to go to source.


Funding of public schools is an area which I think New Zealand does a better job than the United States. In the US, school funding is based on property taxes. Therefore schools in wealthy areas get much more money than those in poorer areas.

In New Zealand, all schools get the same basic amount per student. However, extra funding goes to schools with students with higher needs. There are multiple criteria for eligibility for extra funding.

This results in schools in poorer areas receiving significantly more funding than schools in wealthy areas. Thus, parents can be confident that whichever school their children attend, it will have adequate funding and resources. Further, there will be less calls for extra money from parents from schools in poorer areas.

Also, almost all intermediate and high schools, and more and more primary schools, have uniforms. This reduces the cost of clothing for children significantly. More importantly in my opinion, it stops the tendency amongst students to judge others by what they wear.

The Reasons for Declining Education Standards in the United States

Education in the United States has been going downhill for a while. My own opinion is that there are three main reasons for this:
1. The increase in charter schools. Politicians from all quarters praise them in the US, which seems to be because that’s what they think the public want to hear.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports:

From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 0.3 million to 2.1 million students. During this period, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 0.7 to 4.2 percent.

Some of these schools are good of course, and they are used to promote the cause. But no one knows for sure because they don’t appear to be routinely monitored or held accountable.

There are many though that aren’t so good. The Washington Post reports:

Several recent studies have found that voucher recipients’ math and reading test scores decline after they transfer from public to private schools.

Also private Christian schools are teaching rubbish like so-called Intelligent Design alongside, or even instead of, the proven theory of evolution.

This report from John Oliver also concerned me:

2. The increasing number of students who are home-schooled. In the 2011-12 education year the NCES says 3.4% (1,770,000) of students were home-schooled. That’s up from 2.2% in 2002-03 and 3% in 2006-07. Again, while many parents do an excellent job home-schooling their children, this isn’t consistent.

3. The lack of commitment to public schools and the teachers in those schools. It seems that teachers are regarded as being unworthy of respect. Anecdotally, I often hear that people end up as teachers because they’re unable to succeed elsewhere. I see little commitment to ongoing support and skill maintenance of teachers. Good teachers are overworked and underpaid, and bad ones are protected by naturally defensive unions.

Private schools hire teachers that are not properly qualified, which is naturally problematic.

The Current Situation

Despite the public perception, most people are actually happy with the education their children are receiving. I think that Republican electioneering has manufactured the idea that more charter schools are needed. Their raison d’être (apart from power of course) is privatization. A look at some of the statistics around US education demonstrates this.

Gallup reported that 32% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats were satisfied with the US education system in August 2016. There was a sharp divergence after the 2014 election. During the best days of the Bush presidency in 2004, Republican satisfaction exceeded that of Democrats, but the system then was much the same.


Click graph to go to source.

Despite this, parents have high levels of satisfaction with the quality of education that their own child is receiving. In addition, Gallup reports that:

Parents’ assessments of their own child’s education have differed less by party over the years compared with attitudes about U.S. education in general. This year, identical percentages of Republican and Democratic parents (76%) report feeling satisfied.


Click graph to go to source.

Trump Appointment: Betsy DeVos

This picture has been doing the social media rounds since the appointment of DeVos.

This picture has been doing the social media rounds since the appointment of DeVos.

A few days ago Donald Trump announced that billionaire and GOP donor Betsy DeVos would be his Education Secretary. Many of those in the running for this role were creationists but I don’t know DeVos’s view on this. My guess is that she is an evolution-denier too. She is a strong advocate of conservative Christian education which tends to be creationist. Also, when he was a candidate for governor of Michigan, her husband said to the Associated Press:

I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design — that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory — that that theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less.

She also comes from a family that has always strongly supported the anti-LGBT hate group Focus on the Family.

Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America has spoken out strongly in support of DeVos’s appointment.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten said in a press release:

The President-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a cabinet-level Department of Education.

In nominating DeVos, Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.

DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools. The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation. …

Betsy DeVos is everything Donald Trump said is wrong in America—an ultra-wealthy heiress who uses her money to game the system and push a special-interest agenda that is opposed by the majority of voters. Installing her in the Department of Education is the opposite of Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.

Why Trump’s Approach is Wrong

Focusing on “school choice” is precisely the wrong approach to improving the education system.

1. It relies on students having parents who care. Most parents do care but the students who need the most help are the ones whose parents don’t care.

2. It relies on parents having the capacity, whether mental or physical, to intervene on behalf of their children.

3. It relies on private and charter schools having the capacity to take more students.

4. It relies on private and charter schools having the inclination to take more students. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the United States in the wake of Trump’s victory, it’s that some see a lack of racial or cultural diversity as a good thing.

5. It doesn’t take into account students who need extra resources whether because of physical, mental, or behavioural challenges.

6. Less than 4% of students are currently in charter schools. In focusing on charter schooling, at least 90% of students are being ignored.

7. 23% of parents are unhappy with their eldest child’s education. Assuming that all of those are in public schools means at least a 500% increase in the capacity of charter schools within four years. Since George W Bush, all presidents have spoken in support of charter schools, and it’s taken ten years to increase their capacity from 2.2% to 3.4%.

What Should Happen

devos-2The focus should be on the public education system as a whole where most students are, and will remain. 76% of parents are happy with their own children’s education and will not be concerned with changing schools. However, in comparison with other OECD countries, the average level of US education needs to improve.

I don’t know enough to suggest what would see the US move back up the international rankings. I doubt that Betsy DeVos knows either and would suggest that what she has done to education in Michigan is part of the country’s problem.

Appointing a genuine education expert rather than a wealthy ideologue to the position of Education Secretary would go a long way to help.


Maths: 2012 PISA Results – all participating countries

(See page 11 of pdf: PISA 2012: New Zealand Summary Report)


Reading: 2012 PISA Results – all participating countries

(See page 17 of pdf: PISA 2012: New Zealand Summary Report)


Science: 2012 PISA Results – all participating countries

(See page 21 of pdf: PISA 2012: New Zealand Summary Report)



De Vos is heir to the Amway fortune. I don’t know what others think of Amway, but I think the pyramid sales system is appalling. That’s clearly what Pliny-the-in-between had in mind with this cartoon:

Click cartoon to go to'The Far Corner' website.

Click cartoon to go to ‘The Far Corner’ website.


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114 Responses to “Has the USA Education System Been Set-Up to Fail?”

  1. Ken says:

    Outrageous, Heather! Imagine wanting to educate all children to a similar standard and thereby take away their God-given right to be ignorant. That you could argue that parents shouldn’t be able to determine what facts their children are taught, and even what facts exist, says all we need to know about your perverted atheist worldview. Your clear lack of understanding of the superior ideological position of the US towards individual freedom is pitiable and makes it obvious why NZ is such a backward socialist hellhole. The US voted for Trump exactly to save us from this fate. God bless America!

  2. rickflick says:

    The graphs are a little hard to read. Is there a direct link to the source? I searched on “PISA-2012” and got some tables of a similar nature, but not the same graphs.

  3. rickflick says:

    Good info Heather. I have taught in several school districts both low and high income schools. My general impression is that the schools do a good job. Teachers are generally very well motivated and do the best they can under the circumstances. They are often resigned, however, to the fact that some students are not on a path to success. These are the ones from lower income homes where parental support is poor.
    The problem in education in the US is, I think, largely a product of our diversity. As you point out, property taxes are a very regressive means of financing schools. Advocates of this arrangement always tout the advantages of ‘local’ control – where the community can vote on whether to teach creationism or fund a swimming pool or a new football field with lights for night games.
    Diversity is racial, of course, as well as due to the wide spread in income levels. Rich suburban districts are happy with the system as is and do not want their “hard earned money” going to help black and brown people in the inner city. Charter schools may, however, be seen as a way of segregating students.
    Part of the problem seems to be a widespread distrust of government in general. Many people imagine a world where government is just responsible for national defense and nothing else. They think they live in a wild west culture and associate government with rules and regulations, encumbering bureaucracy, and inefficiency. One way this is expressed is that most Americans find the notion of socialism anathema. That label was what made many feel Sanders would have been a dead man walking if nominated for the presidency.
    With that much distrust and disgust toward the social project, it is no wonder it is difficult to get everyone to join hands in supporting and improving the public school system. There is simply not as much public spirit as private angst.
    Your description of NZ’s system seems a Utopia compared to American attitudes.
    Thanks for reporting on this. The more informed we are, the greater the chance for improvement in the long run.

    • New Zealand schools have heavy parental input, so the excuses the Libertarians use don’t hold weight. Every school has its own Board of Governors, nominated and elected by the parents, who make all sorts of important decisions about how the school is run. They hire and fire, make decisions on how to spend the money allocated to them etc.

      • j.a.m. says:

        What you just described is a charter school.

        • No, because they do it all within government criteria. The government trains all teachers and teachers have to have at least a Bachelors degree plus teacher training. The level of minimum teacher education is gradually being raised also.

          Teachers undergo ongoing training.

          The curriculum is set, though teachers decide how to teach it. All students are assessed every term (there are four ten-week terms each year with a two week break between them except at Christmas/New Year when the break is six weeks). All schools are assessed by the Education Review Office (ERO) to ensure students are being taught well.

          If a student isn’t able to keep up, extra help is provided.

          If the Board isn’t doing a good job, the Ministry of Education steps in.

          There are very few charter schools. They receive extra attention from the ERO. If their students are not being taught well with, they are closed.

          The focus is the students and ensuring they get the best possible.

          However, students who are ahead of their age group in learning tend to miss out in our system. They often don’t get to realize their full potential, especially if they are in a smaller school. Nothing extra is provided for them.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Charter schools in the US may have greater latitude to tailor curricula, but everything else you mention would apply to them.

          • Ken says:

            There are few charter schools in NZ, but the National govt with ACT have tried hard to change that and it’s still early days. At the same time charter school legislation was passed, allowing teachers to be hired with no qualifications as you say, the govt actually raised the standards required to teach in state schools, by requiring an undergraduate degree before being able to attend teachers college, despite offering no real need for such a move. Coincidence? I think not.

            And let’s not forget that, as in the States, charter schools are being used to channel public money to religious indoctrination, Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church school being one such example. That alone is reason enough to oppose them.

          • I oppose them in NZ. I think we’ve had that discussion in the comments before somewhere. There’s enough room within the current regulations for a school to be set up that helps a particular group, for example, without making it a charter school.

            I think Hekia Parata’s plan was to eventually require Masters degrees. She was looking to Finland where that’s the case. Teachers there are amongst the most respected professions, the best people go into teaching, and they’re very well paid.

            National agreed to look at charter schools as a coalition agreement. I wish they hadn’t but it sounds like ACT made it a bottom line. On the whole, I think most prefer state schools to charter schools anyway. Parata has kept a very close eye on them and closed some down. Privately, I don’t think she likes them.

            (As an aside, she and I went to the same high school, though she’s slightly younger.)

          • j.a.m. says:

            @Ken: With respect, that is a misleading statement as relates to the situation in the USA. US charter schools are strictly non-sectarian. They are a poor substitute, therefore, for genuine school choice, but they’re better than nothing.

            The New Orleans school district, by the way, is now comprised entirely of charter schools. You can’t hold back the spring.

          • @j.a.m. All governments have to make a choice where to spend their money. It seems Trump would rather spend billions offering “choice” for a tiny proportion than improving the system they already have for the majority.

            You’re the one who always goes on about wasting money on ideology. That’s exactly what Trump and DeVos are doing. In the meantime, US students are slipping down the international rankings through no fault of their own.

          • @j.a.m. I’ve seen no indication that charter schools are non-sectarian. In fact, I’d say many are deeply religious. The schools that DeVos and her family have always supported are conservative Christian. The religious charter schools in NZ I know get their material from religious schools in the US, and the quality is appalling. One page of lessons I have a copy of includes:
            11. In whom should we always trust? (correct answer = God)
            12. What is the “History Book of the Universe? (correct answer = the Bible)
            13. What did God tell Noah to build? (correct answer = an ark)
            14. True of False? Noah’s Ark looked like this: common pic of small boat with animals spilling over the sides (correct answer = false)
            15. The average size of a dinosaur was:
            (a) Giraffe (b) rhino (c) elephant (d) sheep (correct answer = sheep)
            15. What caused there to be fossils?
            (a) lightning (b) Global Flood (c) tornado (d) evolution (correct answer = Global Flood)
            17. Fossils are: (correct answer) billions of dead things (illegible – maybe placed) in rock layers all over the earth.
            18. The next time someone says the earth was billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say? (correct answer = were you there?)

            I don’t think you would like your children taught this in a science classroom. I don’t want it taught to anyone in a science classroom.

            Then there’s this:


          • j.a.m. says:

            20 U.S. Code § 7221i:

            (2) Charter school

            The term “charter school” means a public school that—

            (E) is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution;

          • You’ve got a lot of illegal charter schools then!

          • rickflick says:

            From a WaPo article:
            Para -“Some charter schools are religious schools.”

            “At national conferences, it is not uncommon to see at least one report session devoted to research on religious-oriented charter schools, and there is in fact a growing body of literature about “religious” and “faith-based” charter schools. If researchers are studying religious charter schools, it is very likely that religious charter schools do in fact exist.”

            This can be found by scrolling about 3/4 down the report where the topic is discussed in some detail:


          • That whole article is excellent and well worth reading. As Ken mentioned elsewhere, we’re starting to see charters in NZ because of one tiny political party (ACT) under a coalition agreement. The influence on this party comes from the US example so we need to know this stuff too.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Absent actual physical evidence of a “religious” school operating with public funds in violation of the law of the land, we’re talking about a pink unicorn. And until evidence has been adjudicated in a court of law, we’re just bloviating.

            Of course, in a free, self-governed society, the rational way to avoid such pointless disputes in the first place is to disentangle school and state entirely, for good and all. Yes, the common good requires universal education, and provision must be made according to need. But decisions must be left to the family that knows and loves an individual child.

          • Ken says:

            He’ll be promoting vouchers next, an even better scam to funnel public money into religious indoctrination.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Yes, vouchers would be a rational way to provide for the poor (you do care about the poor, don’t you Ken?) In any case, education is far too precious to leave to politicians, bureaucrats, unions and other interest groups. Perpetuating an archaic state monopoly in our time is a needless injustice, and long past tolerable.

            And yes, it is absurd to suppose that education can flourish in an environment in which the most basic and most urgent questions are illegal.

          • I think education is far too precious to be left in the hands of those whose primary motivation is clearly making money, as the increasing prevalence of EMOs is evidence of. It also shouldn’t be with those whose primary aim is religious indoctrination. (Just look what Saudi funding of madrasses has done in the last 30-40 years.)

            I know many USians have a culture of fear of the government that NZers just don’t share, but if your democracy is so wonderful and so much better than everyone else’s, and you’re convinced you elect the government fairly, and they work for you, and Obama never came for your guns, why don’t you trust them to educate your kids? And if it’s really a country that cares about its kids, why is their education being funded in such an unfair and inequitable manner? Why is the education of kids being made to suffer because their parents are poor?

            Our prime minister grew up in a state house. When was the last time that was possible in the US?

          • j.a.m. says:

            Neither the Obamas nor the Clintons condemned their own children to government-run schools. How do you justify denying the same choice to poor families?

          • Sorry, but that is a really stupid answer which contains all sorts of unproven assumptions. You’re going to have to do better than that.

          • j.a.m. says:

            @HH: May we ask to whom you addressed your post of 7:15 AM (and/or to what allegedly “unproven assumptions” it refers)? Thank you.

          • @j.a.m. That was directed at your comment about where the Clintons and Obamas sent their kids to school.

          • Ken says:

            She’s talking to you, mate, who else? Which charter schools did the Presidents’ kids go to then?

            As Heather has amply described, NZ has achieved a mix of central standard setting and local parental control that largely works as intended. And despite appearances, Americans are not so stupid that they couldn’t achieve this too if they wished it. The unfortunate fact is that way too many most definitely do not wish it. Despite all the talk of what’s best for the poor, the Reps oft repeated top goal is simply to dismantle as much govt as they can. If something govt does has a good chance of working, well that’s all the more reason to kill it before it succeeds. And if it’s working already? Then defund it until it stops working and then blame the program itself for failing. Medicare is next on the hit list. So hearing you go on as though you care about the poor is rich! It doesn’t matter to Reps who gets hurt so long as the dogma (both kinds) is fed and the good ol’ boys make money along the way. This is just another ideological killing field where the poor are collateral damage. And if they could tear down the wall that prevents the state from supporting religion as you desire, despite that you know full well that most of these states would not be seeking honest answers to “questions”, but would be indoctrinating children with anti-science creationist bullshit, they would happily do that too, the republic be damned.

          • j.a.m. says:

            @Ken: The facts are easily verified — or has Google not yet reached your diminutive workers’ paradise?

            Since you seem confused on this point, charter schools are public schools funded by taxpayers. They are not private schools. As such they do not charge tuition, and cater to the common folk, not the children of Nobel Peace Prize winners. Sidwell, on the other hand, will set you back $39,360 per annum per pupil (lunch is included). So over eight years for two kids, the Obamas would have paid a sum roughly comparable to the GDP of New Zealand (or half a missile). But that’s cool because Obama cares so darn much about the poor. Plus he’s a Nobel laureate. Plus they say his absentee daddy was an African prince or something, which is waaaaay cool.


          • You didn’t read the Washington Post report linked to above did you j.a.m?

          • j.a.m. says:

            @HH: Yes, actually I happened to read that article before it appeared here. It’s spun from an anti-choice perspective and quoted by a highly ideological anti-reform columnist/blogger (Valerie Strauss).

            Did I miss something?

          • Valerie Strauss didn’t write the article except for the introduction. It was written by the independent researcher. It’s not her fault or mine that the independent research happened to back up what was her opinion.

            As for standards, it depends what they’re used for. If they’re going to be used for determining performance pay rather than helping children, then I’m not surprised that the unions are against them. Because of the way your schools are funded, the kids in schools in poorer areas do less well. It’s not fair that the teachers in those areas should be paid less. It will mean that those schools get the worst teachers and those kids will be at an even bigger disadvantage.

            The criteria for extra funding for schools in NZ include things like kids from sole-parent families, kids with parent/s on a government benefit, kids with a parent in prison, as well as the usual things like physical and/or intellectual disability. Also Maori or Pasifika ancestry kids get extra funding for their schools because their achievement levels are lower than the average.

          • j.a.m. says:

            The WaPo/Strauss column is thin on facts but full of innuendo. For example, after acknowledging that the law and the Constitution require charter schools to operate on a non-sectarian basis, it alleges that somebody once saw somebody praying on their lunch hour. Well, that happens to be perfectly legal activity — indeed, constitutionally protected — even in a standard government school. The piece is just a polemic written by three ax-grinding ideologues, promoted by another ax-grinding ideologue.

            But no matter. Charter schools are at best a half measure. As should be clear, I’m even more appalled than you are by the injustices of the archaic and corrupt government school monopoly. It needs to be bulldozed. As you say, education is too important to mess around with. Families can make infinitely better choices on behalf of the children they know best. And that’s the simplest and most rational solution if one truly is concerned about allocating resources fairly.

            P.S. I’m puzzled by the suggestion that improving teacher performance and “helping children” are contradictory goals.

          • I don’t recall anything about praying in the lunch hour in the article. Are we talking about the same article? It specifically referred to modules about Christian education at charter schools.

            And I’ve also repeatedly said that improving the quality of teachers is a good thing. Research shows that teacher quality is the most important thing in teaching children. However, the introduction of performance pay based on student test scores is NOT a good way to improve the quality of teaching, and high student test scores are NOT necessarily a good way of judging teacher quality.

          • j.a.m. says:

            @HH: Okay, now I’m confused. Standardized metrics are okay to evaluate student performance, but not teacher performance? How does that work? Isn’t the whole point of this thread to tout standardized test scores and the supposedly urgent need to raise them? If the stated goal is to raise standardized test scores, why shouldn’t teachers who achieve that goal be rewarded? And why would human beings in the teaching profession behave differently from other human beings in response to incentives and accountability? On the other hand, if the be-all is higher test scores, and teacher performance really has no bearing on achieving that goal, then why have teachers?

            To your question, the article I’m referring to is the Feb. 28 Valerie Strauss column that’s linked above in the comment dated Nov. 29 2:01 p.m. It states that someone called Miron observed people “engaged in Christian prayers at lunch time and outside the regular classroom schedule” but that Miron “never observed religious instruction during classroom instruction”.

            I can’t find anything in that piece about Christian education modules. Indeed it offers no concrete factual evidence of any church/state infraction. The relevant section concludes with this hilarious line: “If researchers are studying religious charter schools, it is very likely that religious charter schools do in fact exist.”

            Okay, but if these “researchers” haven’t managed to locate the pink unicorn after all this time, they must be incompetent.

          • Researchers are studying religious charter schools, therefore they must exist. Surely that’s obvious from the sentence? They will be hidden in some way because they’re illegal.

            There is no doubt that the quality of teaching and teachers is the most important thing when it comes to children’s learning. However, you can’t just test kids and use the results in isolation to decide teacher quality.

            Think of two sports teams with two coaches. On one team the players live in safe, warm, comfortable, quiet, stress-, pest- and insect-free conditions where they are well fed with healthy, nutritious food by people who are there for them. That’s not the case with the other team. One team has the best of training facilities, equipment, and everything else they need to succeed. Is it then fair to say the coach with all the advantages is the better coach based solely on the team’s results? Of course not.

            Before it starts blaming teachers for the failure of students, the US needs to look at its failure to fund the schools in poorer areas. How can teachers in schools that sometimes don’t even have textbooks be blamed if their students don’t do as well as those in well-resourced schools?

            It’s bad enough that so many USians blame adults when they’re in sh*t situations through no fault of their own (that’s where their sicko God meant them to be), but to then make their children suffer for it and condemn them to equally sh*t lives is unconscionable.

          • j.a.m. says:

            There seems to be a misunderstanding about how merit pay works. Generally it rewards individual improvement year on year. It does not compare employees in unlike circumstances without factoring out variables that are unrelated to individual job performance.

            But again, the point is that it’s your business if you choose to trust unaccountable, unionized, lowest-denominator classroom personnel. That’s your right. It’s just that you must respect every other family’s identical right to choose differently for themselves.

            And I can only reiterate that if one truly is concerned about allocating resources fairly, the simplest and most rational solution is to put resources directly in the hands of each family.

          • Do you really believe that’s how performance pay would be applied to teachers? And even if it was, it’s still unfair because you have a different group of kids each year.

          • j.a.m. says:

            You may have a point, but wouldn’t you say that comparing consecutive cohorts in a single school makes a good deal more sense than drawing crude extrapolations about entire countries on the basis of a handful of dubious test scores?

          • No. They test enough students for their results to be a valid representation. That’s why they test so many. As I noted in the post, more than 6,000 students from 161 US schools were tested. Worldwide, more than half a million students were tested.

          • rickflick says:

            Teacher performance is a complex issue. It isn’t likely it would be resolved by simply testing in one way or another. It seems to me the issue has to be dealt with in a broader framework. A new teacher comes into the profession with only so many skills and talents. They have to be mentored and coached and evaluated fairly to bring their performance up to the highest level possible. This it seems to me can only be done with some objective testing, and with a lot of personal and group attention within a friendly professional setting. Teachers given time to help each other learn. As far as I have seen this is achieved to some degree in some settings. I’d say the goal should be to take the best of these practices and spread them into all schools. To do this well will take more money because time is required for the extra work involved. So, in the US, it means finding a more efficient way to fund schools equitably. If we expect really first rate school performance, not too much else is going to work I don’t think. Charter schools might create some incentives for innovation, but for 90% of children, it’s not going to solve the problem. It sounds to me like a cheap gimmick to try to accomplish for little what will take more. In general, you get what you pay for.

          • Excellent comment. It’s one of the things that our education minister is trying to introduce here. They’re finding the best teachers and what they do that works then sharing those skills etc via mentoring etc with other teachers. It costs more, but as the end result is better educated students and better, happier teachers, in the long-term it saves the country money.

          • j.a.m. says:

            6,000 students (out of over 55,000,000). And not even a randomized sample, but selected from the same 161 schools (out of 132,000 schools in 14,000 systems). So the student sample in turn represents at most a few hundred teachers (out of 3,500,000).

            This exercise hardly seems adequate to yield much in the way of useful insight.

          • Where did you get 55 million? They’re only testing 15 year olds, and there are 28 million of those in the participating countries. The 161 schools were chosen randomly. There are statistical models that tell you how many people you need to select in a given population to ensure the selection is representative. They used those models. More than half a million out of 28 million is pretty good actually.

            Perhaps you should read the PISA report for the US. It does not make for pretty reading. I didn’t read this before I wrote my post, and I wish I had because there are a few things I would have added, like the fact that if common core was adopted properly, students would do better in PISA. It confirms the strong link between school funding in the US and poor performance in PISA as well. Here’s the link:

          • j.a.m. says:

            You also have to wonder (and this applies not only to the USA) what conceivable motivation a typical 15-year-old would have to excel on this test, since it’s not a “real” one.

          • For goodness sake. Any excuse.

            I thought that was why we needed religion – so people are good even when no one is looking.

            Or do people in your world only do their best when they’re going to get something out of it?

            Is doing your best for its own sake an alien concept to you?

            Perhaps Republican and Christian school students are dragging down the results of Democrat and atheist ones? 😉

          • j.a.m. says:

            If we’re going to use the PISA numbers to talk about elementary and secondary education in general, then we’re saying the 6,000 test-takers represent the entire US elementary/secondary student population of 55,000,000.

            I realize PISA claims to select its test-taking schools randomly, but that of course is not at all the same as a random sample of the whole student population. Indeed, the student sample inevitably will be skewed toward an unrepresentative group of communities and even (as mentioned) of teachers. Beyond that flaw, a model that reflected all the nuances of American education and society would take some serious data science, and I see no indication that PISA has that degree of sophistication.

            Again, I don’t need to be convinced that education in the USA needs reform. But that said, I find the PISA report pretty superficial and unpersuasive.

            I don’t see where the PISA report “confirms the strong link between school funding in the US and poor performance in PISA.” In fact it says the opposite: “[H]igher expenditure on education is not highly predictive of better mathematics scores in PISA.” It suggests that “disadvantaged” schools suffer from teacher shortages, but it doesn’t say the shortages are due to funding. (Often they have more to do with safety and discipline issues.) In any case, I’ve already suggested my solution for more equitable funding.

          • You’re mixing a general comment about maths worldwide with one about the US in particular, there were more comments than just that one, and that’s just the summary report.

            PISA is supposed to represent 10 years in the local school system. And you need to read up on how sample sizes are determined in statistics.

            As you could probably tell from that summary report, when comparing data within countries all sorts of criteria are taken into account. And you can’t just dismiss the results because you don’t like them. The US appears to have a lower proportion of top students these days too, so even the better schools are no longer doing as good a job as they used to.

            In New Zealand we have owned the fact that we’re not doing as well as we used to and are trying to do better. All you can do is find things to complain about and make up reasons to dismiss the results. That might be your problem right there.

            And NZers have heard of PISA. Is it general knowledge amongst USians? Or do all those Republican governors hide these results from the general public? Do USians know how badly their education system performs internationally? Do they know what the international experts recommend? Or are they too busy blaming it all on teachers and their unions? (Our teachers are unionized too by the way. Doesn’t stop them doing a great job.)

            Your ideas for funding do nothing to address the inequities in the system.

          • j.a.m. says:

            As it happens, it’s been Republican governors who have been at the forefront of education reform for the past 30 years (most prominently Jeb Bush), while your pals the Dems have had their heads firmly planted in the sand (with a few exceptions from the business world like Bill Gates). The unions naturally fight reform tooth and nail.

            The Reagan administration catalyzed the reform movement with a landmark report called “A Nation at Risk”. Test scores already were in decline, and concern already was growing that education trends would threaten our economic vitality and competitiveness. Anybody paying attention (including many rank-and-file teachers) has long known how dire the situation is.

            That being said, I doubt many Americans have heard of PISA, or would give much weight to the opinions of international technocrats. My comments regarding PISA have to do not with the need for reform, which is a given, but rather with whether PISA actually provides any meaningful information.

            (Overlooking the snarky comment about my grasp of undergraduate statistics…) Sample size is just one consideration. A valid sample must be selected in an unbiased fashion from a homogeneous population or sub-population. Needless to say, if you’re going to draw conclusions about the whole American student population, then you’re talking about an extraordinarily heterogeneous phenomenon. And a sampling methodology that selects first by locale and institution is biased right off the bat by self-selection, inasmuch as a school’s participation is voluntary. Moreover, a given school’s test-takers inevitably will have more in common with each other (including the same teachers) than would be the case for a similar cohort randomly selected from the broader population.

            As mentioned already, Pres. Bush worked out a compromise with liberal Democrats to jack up federal aid in return for some very modest reforms. One result is that there are tons of achievement data that are more current and much more comprehensive than something like PISA. And those data models are designed with our society, demographics, and educational practices in view.

            I’ll summarize my position on resourcing as: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” I’m sure you agree.

          • If the Republican governors are doing such a great job, why is the quality of education steadily falling under their watch?

            Jeb Bush means well, and I think the Republicans would be a lot better off if he was the president-elect now. I think GWB meant well too when it comes to education. I have a major problem with his position on the Iraq War etc, but other than that I think he was a good man. I also think a lot of the governors have the kids best interests at heart, though a small number let religion dominate their thinking and that ruins their policy positions. But school choice is not a long-term or universal solution. It helps only a very small percentage of kids.

            If you believe “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which I agree is a good philosophy and one I would agree with, how can you justify policies like funding schools from property taxes so the poorer areas get little or nothing and the wealthy areas get wonderful schools?

            It’s not possible to just bus all the kids in the poor areas to the rich areas, and even if you could, it’s still not fair. Because wealthy kids get to go to a school in their neighbourhood, and poor kids have to travel hours every day and don’t have that neighbourhood focus to pull the community together.

            The kids are less able to engage in extra-curricular activities, and have less time for study in they have to travel a long way to school.

            Then there’s the 10% who get motion sickness (like me) who would spend all day feeling ill and unable to learn (or eat), and be unable to eat or study when they got home after the second trip of the day. A lot of disabled kids struggle with buses. And we all know humanity hasn’t got rid of bullying yet, and that would make travelling difficult for a whole lot more, extending their horror.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Yes, the pace of reform is too slow, although the reformers have done a valiant job fighting an uphill battle. School choice was nonexistent 30 years ago. Charter schools have blossomed, yet still account for only about 5% of total public school enrollment, and vouchers less than 1%. For that you can blame the corrupt extortion rackets (aka unions) that control most school systems. And the largest school systems are all run by Democrats. States where Republicans have undivided control of government make up less than half of the total student population.

            School choice based on complete separation of school and state IS the only solution. There’s no going back. Government has no business running schools in an advanced economy. With the absurd sums we spend per pupil, it’s irrational to think that an average family could not get better value for money.

            As for education resources being a function of property taxes, kindly show me where I’ve justified that or any other aspect of the status quo. To the contrary, I’m with Ms. DeVos when she says that every family should have the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children “regardless of their zip code.” (And by all means, yes, those opportunities should available WITHIN their zip codes, not across town.)

            That being said, schools receive more state and federal aid today than ever before, yet performance has never been worse. Perhaps there are more important factors?

          • Most the countries that are performing best have state-run school systems. We have very few private schools and even less charter schools. Private schools and religious schools have to follow the same curriculum as state schools, though all schools can chose how they teach it. There is your evidence that it can be done better and cheaper by the government.

            Of course, those same countries don’t have half the country running teachers down, trying to pay them as little as possible, or allowing people to teach with few or no qualifications.

            From Forbes:

            According to a Free Enterprise infographic, the top US states in overall academic proficiency are, from 1-10: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t those mostly Dem states?

            From the same article:

            According to Free Enterprise, the bottom 10 performing US states (the list includes the District of Columbia) are, from best to worst: Nevada, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Louisiana, the District of Columbia and Mississippi.

            Again – arent’t those mostly Rep states.

          • j.a.m. says:

            In point of fact, the governors of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland are Republicans (as are governors just elected in Vermont and New Hampshire). On the other hand, the governors of Hawaii, West Virginia, and Louisiana are Democrats.

            Of the states (and D.C.) where Democrats had undivided control of government prior to this election, here are the rankings:

            California: Rank 41 (C-)
            Connecticut: Rank 5 (B-)
            Delaware: Rank 16 (C+)
            D.C. Rank 28 (C)
            Hawaii: Rank 25 (C)
            Oregon: Rank 39 (C-)
            Rhode Island: Rank 13 (C+)

            Not seeing much of a correlation.


            And the ten largest school systems are all troubled and run by Democrats:
            New York City 995,336
            Los Angeles 667,273
            Puerto Rico 437,202
            Chicago 405,644
            Miami-Dade, FL 347,366
            Clark Co., NV 314,059
            Broward Co., FL 256,472
            Houston 204,245
            Hills. Co., FL 194,525
            Hawai’i 179,600

            But this is quite literally a non-partisan issue. It’s not that either side is preferable — we need to get rid of the partisans and the interest groups altogether, regardless of their stripes.

            And no, we have not seen any evidence or argument to justify perpetuating an archaic monopoly. You acknowledge that we have little or no experience with the alternative. And even if we did, only controlled experimentation could establish a factual basis for comparison.

            But in the final analysis, school choice is a matter of simple justice for the child on whose behalf decisions are made, and for the family whose duty and right it is to make them.

    • darrelle says:

      Excellent comment rickflick.

      I think underlying all of the other problems, and contributing to them, is that our US culture does not value education as highly as many other cultures. By comparison many other cultures are fanatical about education.

      But here in the US we’d rather the people who are running things be good folk you could sit down and have a beer with rather than people that are really smart. Here in the US there is actually a fairly strong anti intelligence / education current.

      You couldn’t get me to sit down and have a beer with Bush Jr, let alone Trump. But I’d love to have a drink or two with Obama.

  4. rickflick says:

    Is this part of the problem?

    “Court rules Michigan has no responsibility to provide quality public education”

    Apparently, since the state constitution does NOT contain the word, “…the state is responsible for providing quality public education…”, they feel the state can just leave it to the local school districts to do what they can.

    • I hadn’t seen that before. It’s absolutely outrageous! In NZ it would see the government lose the election.

      To Gravelinspector Aidan and Lee Knuth as well, in NZ quality education for all is considered to benefit the whole of society. It makes for better workers whatever the job. It makes people more employable. It reduces crime. It enables people to make better decisions. It helps people find what they’re most interested in and best at. It reduces teen pregnancy and early marriage (which is more likely to lead to divorce). Better educated people are usually healthier too.

      It’s been discovered, for example, that the vast majority of those in prison have literacy and numeracy problems. Clearly, if those people hadn’t slipped through the system they might not have ended up in jail.

      The better educated all people are, the better it is for everyone.

      It’s also cheaper in the long run for government. If less people are going to prison, there’s money available to spend elsewhere or return in tax cuts.

      • rickflick says:

        Yes, education has all these benefits. But in order for people to understand these as important, even ultimate, values, it is necessary to be sufficiently educated to understand how important they are. Ignorance breeds more ignorance so you have a catch 22 of sorts. At least this is the way I see things in light of Trump’s victory. He was supported by many ignorant people who were unable to read tea leaves. Unable to realize they were hurting themselves. Hillary was truly, I believe, a family and child oriented candidate who should have been adored by the under educated. They were unable to recognize what a disaster Trump was for them and their children mainly because they lacked information about what it takes to promote education and the social wellbeing you mentioned.
        Now, get some sleep.

  5. GravelInspectorAidan says:

    The big question that is missing from your article, and which “rickflick” seems to hint indirectly at, is what is the purpose of the (pre-tertiary) education system? (With a secondary aspect of “what is the purpose in America”, versus “what is the purpose in NZ”, and “what is the purpose in other PISA” countries?

    • nicky says:

      Are you implying that the purpose of the US system might be to keep the ‘plebs’ ignorant? So that they will keep voting against their own interests? Somewhat farfetched, but with the present indication of systematic voter ‘suppression’ not totally unthinkable. ?
      Makes me think of the (RC) priest to the notary in 19th Century Europe: “You keep them poor, I’ll keep them stupid”.

      • rickflick says:

        The republican party in the US is very conservative and as you notice does not accept democratic representative government as envisioned by Jefferson. They are deeply pessimistic about human nature and feel that a quasi- plutocracy is essential for a successful culture. The masses, according to this framework are a danger to civilization and must be controlled. But, in order to operate under the current constitution, which argues otherwise, they can only hope to undercut the aspirations of the lower echelons of humanity.

      • GravelInspectorAidan says:

        People are born into a state of ignorance. It takes an education system to teach them how to operate cash registers and read price labels and road signs. So yes, there is a desirable minimum of education. However,

        an educational system that teaches people to challenge the opinions of their natural elders and betters (e.g., the 1% and their politician minions ; and God and her self-selected minions) is definitely not in the interest of many businesses. It has led to such undesirable things as environmental regulations that prevent businesses from wantonly poisoning the 99%, tree-huggers who object to the efficiency of clear-felling forests, and people having the temerity – the unabashed temerity – to object to drinking polluted water.
        All of these are undesirable effects of excessive education, which will not happen once America Is Made Great Again.

        I’m just quoting from next year’s Trumpublican Agenda document. Why it’s being printed in Scotland, I don’t know. Probably because without any Americans in the process, it won’t get leaked before the Broadcast News Purity Tests have been introduced. What do you mean – Scottish printers speak English? The Donald has been to Scotlandica – he knows that’s not true.

  6. Lee Knuth says:

    Many of us agree with the views on charter schools and our funding of schools. With the new administration it will be a difficult fight to stop the further eroding of public education.

  7. Mark Sturtevant says:

    A masterful summary! Well done! The biggest hurdle to making the improvements is the non-uniformity of school funding, a pattern which i think is maintained at the state level. But I see no sign of any interest in changing that issue.

  8. Mark R. says:

    Excellent analysis Heather. DeVos will be a disaster for American education…thanks Trump!

    I would also add that having “summer vacation” is a disservice to American students. Students are educated by a series of building blocks, this is especially true in subjects like math, science and reading. With a 3 month break where kids don’t think about school, a lot is forgotten from one year to the next, and continuity is broken. No country I know of in the world has this kind of 3-month break. Like daylight savings, it is an anachronism from our agrarian past.

    America is failing on so many fronts, it’s truly a frightening spectacle to behold. Trump’s election is a blatant example of America’s decline…death by a thousand lashes.

    • I agree about the three month break. I also think just two semesters is too much for kids, especially the younger ones. There were three terms when I was a kid, but they’ve changed it to four and it seems to have been a positive move. We all know that kids need plenty of rest, and they learn better and grow better if they’re not tired. But three months is too long – they’ve forgotten too much.

      Most adults in the US get less holidays then we do though, so it might be hard for parents to handle three two week breaks. I assume they’d handle a six week summer break the same way they do a three month one. The minimum number of annual leave days in a job here is three weeks (plus public holidays – c. 10 more days) by law. A lot of people get more. We also have mandated minimum sick leave, which can legally be used for looking after a sick child. And parental leave. The point is, it’s a bit easier for parents to manage the time off here.

    • rickflick says:

      I can see the need for continuity through early education. However, it might be that we demand too many total hours of our kids. I think the Swedes have a much shorter day and no homework and find that kids do better.

  9. j.a.m. says:

    You overlook the fact that so-called “genuine education experts” have run the federal DOE for the past eight years (and indeed for most of its existence) with little or nothing to show for it.

    But in truth it makes no difference who the federal Education Secretary is, because the US DOE has little reason to exist and is all but irrelevant. There are more than 14,000 local school systems governed by the fifty sovereign states. Modest bipartisan efforts (under Bush and Obama) to link federal aid to accountability and standards met with fierce bipartisan backlash. Last year Congress gave up (leaving taxpayers with the worst of both worlds: higher federal expenditures, and no standards).

    But we must go further and eliminate political meddling at all levels of government. To borrow a pet phrase of the left, those who oppose separation of school and state are on the wrong side of history. Every family should have the same choice the Obamas had. It is the only education reform that would be worthy of the name.

    The objections to choice that you posit don’t hold water. You say that “students who need the most help are the ones whose parents don’t care [or are incapable for some reason].” But that’s the case under any system, so it hardly counts as a reason not to offer families a choice. As for special needs funding, again that has nothing to do with offering choice (indeed, there are more existing voucher programs for disabled students than for the general population).

    This year the usual anti-reform special interests showered more than $24 million and considerable muscle on behalf of Clinton and other anti-reform candidates. Even so, between one-third (NEA) and one-fifth (AFT) of the teacher union rank and file defied the bosses and voted for Trump.

  10. Randall Schenck says:

    All I can say is your posting is on the money. Just keep watching and you will see the U.S. going further down the scale on education. I think it is so broken it cannot be fixed. It is like Climate change – there is a dipping point where it can no longer be saved. The less educated generation is now the voter who will just vote for more of the same. Sadly, the massive low education situation is also responsible for our high unemployment rates for minorities. Look at how they stack up in the public schools. Lower scores across the board so the large intercity problems just get bigger and bigger. It is all connect and a blind person could see it.

    Just one more piece of this lousy system is the individual state control of education. Each state get to make their own decisions on the hours of education, the text books and on and on. It is a well know but true joke that a 4 year degree in Alabama is not much more than a high school education in Iowa. And Iowa is nothing to brag about. I think the graduation rate for High School nation wide finally hit 80%. And everyone thinks that must be good? But lower standards is likely the cause. 20% of your population walking around without a high school education, sounds like a disaster to me.

    • I didn’t write about that because I know even less about that than the rest of this stuff, but I think it’s terrible that a school, college, or university can hand out a qualification with nothing to back it up.

      People don’t graduate from high school here, so it’s a bit different anyway. Until fairly recently we had a low rate of people staying at high school, but most stay until 18 now. When I was at school, you sat national exams in years 11, 12, and 13 and had to pass them to get to the next year at school or university. It’s changed a bit since then so now a lot is internally assessed, but the criteria are still nationally set and consistent, and there are still exams in those years. The year 13 exams qualify you for government scholarships. We don’t have sports scholarships, only academic ones. Some kids do go to US universities on sports scholarships though.

      If someone passed a certain exam or achieved some certificate, degree etc you can be confident of its quality and find out about it, and what people have to know to pass it. All quals have to be registered with the NZ Qualifications Authority and have to meet criteria. We’ve had issues with some dodgy schools, especially teaching English as a second language, so there’s been a big effort in the last few years to clean it up. One of the ways the country makes money is international students so it’s important that we have a good reputation in the area. Most people are more likely to want to go somewhere like the US, GB, Canada, or Aus, so quality is our only chance to be a point of difference.

      All qualifications, including things like apprenticeships are part of the system and are assessed to be at a certain level too. Year 11 at high school is Level 1, year 12 is level 2, a masters degree is level 7, PhD level 9 etc.

  11. Jack says:

    Heather, your articles are thoughtful, thorough and well-written. Keep them coming please.

  12. Jenny Haniver says:

    Thank you for this excellent post. My mother was a teacher in the Los Angeles City school system for 60 years. She taught first grade and was a reading specialist, working mostly with “disadvantaged” and immigrant children, some of whom went on to places such as Harvard, and had successful careers in various professions. One young boy came to her as an immigrant from Belize and became a physician. She was the kind of teacher her students never forgot. She was able to teach well past the then mandatory retirement age of 65 because the administrators recognized her talents and just how valuable her skills and innovations were, and they made a special place for her so that she could continue to teach as long as she wanted to or was able; she stopped teaching only because she became ill, and died shortly therafter. Beyond her exceptional talents, what she brought to her job was love — a passionate love of teaching, and she was extremely fortunate to be able to do what she loved. She told me that she’d wanted to be a first grade teacher ever since she was in the second grade (don’t get that anomaly, but what the heck). Even now, there’s no place for a person such as my mom. Once they started “teaching to the test,” those days were gone; but with Trump’s ascendancy and the appointment of Betsy DeVos, things promise to descend completely into the abyss.

    I commented on WEIT on PCC’s post about yours, and noted that De Vos’s brother is Erik Prince, who founded Blackwater. I’m sure she and her darlings will be able to profit nicely by destroying public education in the US. And given her husband’s ties to Scamway, and all the other people Trump is drawing to his presidential bosom, it’s going to be a kleptocracy from top to bottom, and an idiocracy as well.

    By the way, perhaps I missed someone else correcting J.A.M.’s assertion that charter schools in the US are strictly non-sectarian. Many are indeed religious, various religions and denominations, some not religious but tailored specifically to an ethnic group and have a cult-like ideology (such as deep-end Afrocentrism). and not infrequently, they’re in the news for some educational hanky-panky.

    • Jenny Haniver says:

      PS I tried to correct J.A.M.s assertion at the point of origin, but could find no “reply” button for his comment (even outside the right margin, where the text bleeds past).

    • I saw that her brother was the founder of Blackwater. They were investigated for the deaths of 17 civilians when he owned it. We can’t blame her for that, but the whole family seems to have dubious morals imo.

    • Your mum sounds like an amazing women! We need more like her in the system! 🙂

      • Jenny Haniver says:

        Yes, she was an amazing woman, and very unassuming, too. I didn’t really realize all she’d accomplished as a teacher until after she died, when I went through her effects and found various encomia — she never tooted her own horn, just had a genuine love for children and for teaching children, especially teaching reading.

        When I wrote my comment in WEIT, I hadn’t yet read your post, so didn’t know that you’d covered all the points I made in spades. And, no, one can’t blame her for her brother’s reprobate acts, as you observe, it does seem that the family seems to have dubious morals. But they’re Calvinists, by cracky, and just looking up the word “reprobate” to make sure I was using it correctly as an adjective (hope so), I find an “archaic” definition in Calvinist theology where it means “predestined to damnation.” As a noun it means “a sinner who is not of the elect and so predestined to damnation. It must surely be the case that the family considers itself (somehow ‘genetically’?) predestined to be of the elect, so they can all do whatever the hell they want and go to heaven anyhow.

  13. nicky says:

    In the PISA scorecards, there is consistently a majority of far-eastern countries in the top 10.’Shangbai-China’ is no 1 in all three lists as Rickflick already poin#ed
    Now I know that one of the things that struck me in those cultures is the very high esteem in which teachers are held. Also there is a culture of learning, eg. making homework is an important family activity. Note, those two were just anecdotal observations, but it might be worthwhile to have a closer look at the educational system in those countries and in countries like Finland.
    If the US were split into 50 states, I wonder how the individual states would do. It is not always clear, but I understand there is not really a US system, but 50 different ones.

    • Teachers and learning are held in very high esteem in the cultures that do the best. The only area where that’s a problem is where “learning” means being able to recite religious texts verbatim.

      Many in the US have a thing about keeping education at state level. However, the reasons for that are usually less than altruistic imo. It seems to be because they want Christianity to play as big a part as they can get away with.

      There’s also, imo, too much focus on elite sport and not enough on getting everyone involved. People make money off high school sport, albeit illegally, and a school’s reputation seems to depend on their football team in many parts of the country.

      There’s a resistance to meeting academic standards which I don’t understand. Standards, when properly applied, are about improving the quality of education for all. For example, if students aren’t meeting age group levels for reading they’re given extra help. However, you can’t give extra help if you don’t know who needs it.

      • darrelle says:

        “There’s a resistance to meeting academic standards which I don’t understand. Standards, when properly applied, are about improving the quality of education for all.”

        “Properly applied” is indeed the key. There is quite a bit of resistance to meeting academic standards even among pro-education types in the US because of how the system works. Just as in New Zealand public school funding in the US is based in part on the scores the students achieve on the standards tests. But, courtesy of Bush Jr who’s administration really codified this in their NCLB program, we have it exactly ass backwards. Instead of lower scores resulting in more money they result in less. It is so fucking stupid it is enough to make you cry in frustration.

        Our kids, luckily, go to the best public school in our area and, even more luckily, were evaluated and drafted into the public school gifted program years ago (once in you are in for all of your public school years unless you screw up). Even so, or maybe especially so, parents are constantly asked to donate money. Not just from one entity, but from nearly ever teacher specifically for their class. For example, their school prides itself as a music school and it is highly rated for that. They have excellent orchestra and band classes. And the first meeting you go to you the instructor is begging you to buy a new chair and music stand for your child, and for other children if you have the means, because the school’s equipment is decrepit. This isn’t a modest donation, it is hundreds of dollars. In a country that is supposed to be the best we should be able to figure out how to do education better than that.

        • j.a.m. says:

          Congress enacted NCLB with strong bipartisan majorities (384–45 in the House, 91–8 in the Senate). The intent was to offer a huge increase in federal aid in return for greater accountability and measurable standards. (It included provisions for under-performing schools that were more complicated than what is suggested above.)

          As we mentioned previously, this effort met with a fierce bipartisan backlash, and Congress scrapped NCLB last year (it was big news at the time, but I guess some people missed it). That vote likewise was hugely bipartisan (359-64 in the House, 85-12 in the Senate).

          It turns out both left and right hate standards. The special interests (namely, unions) and their allies hate standards because controlling compensation is key to their power. Accountability and merit pay would completely undermine that power, so they fight them ferociously.

          On the other hand, conservatives hate standards, especially in the humanities and social studies, because those standards inevitably are authored by far-left academics, and predictably are replete with ideological jargon, claptrap and mush.

          So now federal taxpayers are left holding the bag for higher spending, with no performance standards to show for it. Brilliant!

          • darrelle says:

            It is impossible to tell if you are lying or if you really believe what you related in your above comment is more than about 10% accurate. In any case given your above comment, and nearly every other comment of yours’ I’ve read here, I’ve got no interest in having a conversation of any kind with you. I wouldn’t mind throwing some insults and mockery your way, as you have done, but I’m sure Heather doesn’t want her site reduced to that kind of place.

  14. Jenny Haniver says:

    I read yr. comment back at the top to J.A.M. and J.A.M’s reply. Again, I cannot reply in place, so do here. Reading into the matter, he is indeed correct about the stipulations; so what’s going on, because, despite the injunctions, there sure are a lot of religious and ethnocentric charter schools. What’s going on is a lot of weaseling around, playing the system; and those who should be exercising oversight and ensuring that the stipulations are upheld conveniently letting things slide because it’s to their advantage to do so — at least to take the path of least resistance, and surely sometimes they’re in sympathy.

    • nicky says:

      “…those who should be exercising oversight and ensuring that stipulations are upheld conveniently letting things slide because it’s to their advantage to do so…”

      One can easily see the parallel with voter suppression and discarding votes. The difference is between letting it slide and actively ‘sliding’ it.

  15. lizzyorg says:

    Charter schools in PA are adept at gaming the system.They identify children as having special needs, usually an easily addressed speech defect, and collect additional money for those services. But not one charter school in PA enrolls children with profound needs which can cost in excess of $100,000 per year in services, while the amount of reimbursement is the same. they enroll children long enough to get reimbursement from their home district and then push them back to the local school after the check has cleared the bank.PA Auditor General has characterized our charter school system as the worst in the nation in terms of outcomes and accountability. Oh, and there is no educational innovation.They focus on innovative financing to send money to for-profit groups providing curricular, administrative and property services.

    • So much for charter schools focusing on the needs of children. As seems to be the norm, it’s the needs of the founder’s pocket that is the first concern.

      • j.a.m. says:

        And in government-run schools, the needs of politicians and special interests are the first concern. It’s human nature. Students and their families aren’t the decision-makers. Therefore they have no power and nobody’s accountable to them.

        • Elected officials are accountable to the people who elected them. It’s not my fault so many USians insist on voting for the same political party for ideological reasons, no matter how the politicians perform.

          I’ve seen Republicans get re-elected in red states when they’re running on a religion and family ticket, despite being caught having an affair, procuring an abortion for their mistress, financial irregularities, and more.

          And special interests have such a big say because of the amount of money in your election system. “Corporations are people too” comes to mind. Get rid of super-pacs. Introduce some campaign finance laws. I bet Trump doesn’t drain that swamp.

          • j.a.m. says:

            The biggest spenders and offenders are the government employee unions — especially the teachers. Dues are compulsory, the government actually collects their revenue for them, and members have no say in how those funds are directed to political activity. Notwithstanding the unions’ massive push for Clinton, 20-33% of members (depending on the union) voted for Trump (per the unions’ own estimates).

  16. nicky says:

    Summarising: there is no evidence that charter schools do better than public schools. There is quite some evidence that many charter schools do worse.
    So what are we talking about? Betsy, get Back into your Burrow! (intended allitteration)

  17. darrelle says:

    In the area I live in an outfit called Imagine Schools came in a few years ago and manages several charter schools. This New York Times article, For School Company, Issues of Money and Control
    has some good information about these shysters.

    Neighbors of ours were ecstatic when one of these Imagine charter schools opened up just down the road from us. They enrolled 3 children in the school. Initially we heard stories about how wonderful the school was. A few years down the road now the story has changed. They’ve pulled their one remaining child young enough to still attend the school out of it. Now we hear stories about how bad of a school it is. About how far behind their youngest child is (spent the most time at the school) and how poorly the school is run.

    A note on our local Imagine school’s facilities. They built all new schools, modest in size. I’ve seen the plans and specifications for several of them, observed the bidding, contract awards and building of them. They are shoddy from beginning to end. Proposals were shopped around. Contracts were awarded to the lowest bidders in some cases with no qualification and prices that were abnormally below the average and the next lowest price. All these things are ingredients that invariably result in substandard quality. No worries if a private company wants to build shitty facilities for themselves but these are public schools. I’d really like to know how much Imagine charges the school board for rent, and how much they are profiting from their real estate deal.

    • Just the building would have parents up in arms here because they’d all be imagining them collapsing on their kids in an earthquake. It’s unlikely building regs would enable it to happen. Building is expensive here, but it’s pretty safe.

      What you describe is the worst thing about these schools – when they go wrong it’s too late. Kids’ lives have already been damaged. Even one bad year can screw them up completely.

      A person’s whole future can be decided by some a-hole out to game the system. Dozens, or hundreds, or more, lives can be and are damaged.

      Kids’ education is too important to mess around with.

      I read an interview yesterday with Jerry Falwell, I think in the RNS (Religious News Service). Even though he turned down the job, Trump is still going to consult with him. Falwell said Trump was dividing the job into two: K-12 and tertiary. Falwell’s focus will be tertiary. So as well as K-12 being made worse, the ‘Liberty Model’ could be a thing!

      Rejection of the Theory of Evolution, already a bigger problem in the US than any other developed country, is set to get worse. And that’s the least of the potential problems.

  18. darrelle says:

    It is so over-the-top ridiculous that Trump would tap Falwell Jr. for education, but it is just one more over-the-top Trumpism. By now it is becoming cliche. Not even George Carlin could have out-parodied the reality that is President Elect Trump. It is as if Trump is trying to see how quickly he can turn the US into Idiocracy, just for shits and giggles. He just doesn’t give a shit. He is the epitome of selfish assholesness. That something like 23% or 24% of eligible voters in the US voted for him says something about them, and I can’t think of any scenarios in which what it says about them is a positive thing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that voting for Trump means you are an awful person. Some people that I know well and love dearly voted for Trump. Everyone has bad attributes. Being gullible enough, lazy enough, misinformed enough, ignorant enough to have voted for Trump is a bad thing. Having an accurate understanding of what Trump is and still voting for him is much worse.

    Veering a bit off topic there. Sorry!

  19. This story has been posted to the ‘Friendly Atheist’ website about Betsy DeVos and her extreme views about religion in education:

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