Sneak-privatization of public schools: attacking teachers, unions and standards

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I’ve been watching these trends more closely since I became a parent, and I’ve seen a lot of the same things. But I never connected some of these dots before. Good essay!


If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, “The New Economics,” Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — a costly myth.”

They completely invert the meaning of a recognized expert’s quote by omitting a critical part of the sentence in order to support their own agenda. So they’re either cheating or they didn’t read the homework assignment. Ironic.

They’re not wrong about one thing though, American public schools suck compared to the public education systems of much of the industrialized world. Which is not to say that schools in Germany or Japan are paragons of excellence. But they tend to be far more competent at producing at least somewhat capable populaces.

I weep for our future, and that’s no joke.


Why do you think that is?

There’s pretty much just this, plus Medicare and Social Security left. Once all that is Privatized, this Great Nation can finally sail free on the Seas of Plenty, freed from the terrible anchor of moochers stealing from the hard-working American taxpayer! Plus, private industry will have unrestricted and unaccountable access to all the taxes taken from the hard-working American taxpayer, so it’s win-win.

Follow me, citizens, on our way over the cliff to Utopia!


[quote=“Mister44, post:4, topic:72038, full:true”]

Why do you think that is?
[/quote]Because of the shift in schools to teaching “facts”, and the almost complete lack of teaching kids how to actually think for themselves and reason things out?


I’ll add that it’s also because teachers have long been woefully underpaid, and schools woefully underfunded, and classrooms woefully overcrowded.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, “The New Economics,” Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — a costly myth.”

Reminds me of how the context was similarly stripped from Elizabeth Warren’s quote, “You didn’t build that.”


That’s a big chunk of it, but it’s far from the only factor.

Class sizes.

Parental involvement (or lack thereof) in their kids’ educations.

Presumption of delinquency and prison-like school environments.

Disastrous sex and drug education policies motivated by panicky morons and feckless politicians.

Disparate school funding due to regional inequality in taxable income.

Emphasis on passing standardized tests at the expense of applicable problem-solving skill sets because funding gets awarded to whichever schools can induce the most students to score highest on the poorly made tests.

Students that are bored or disinterested in or simply not good at passing poorly made standardized tests being dumped into remedial education despite any aptitude for real problem solving.

Poor and misused remedial education.

A whole generation of parents and teachers that are themselves a product of this declining system and thus often lack any exposure to a higher benchmark or real education and are fatalistically resigned to a doomed system.

Lack of real competition to incentivize the system to improve.

Underpaid and underqualified educators whose careers (such as they are) are tied to standardized testing, disciplinary enforcement and not pissing off the pet special interests of parents who though often unwilling to participate in their own children’s’ education, will gladly grandstand for their neighbors their personal politics and prickly sense of affront.

Teachers getting canned for teaching evolution.

Teachers getting canned for teaching controversial literature.

Teachers getting canned for teaching anything politically sensitive.

This list could go one for some while.

TL;DR ~ Welcome to America, land of the lowest common denominator.


I think the data says that american public schools in general don’t suck compared to systems in other wealthy nations, but they are much more unequal than schools systems in most other wealthy nations.

A large share of the public schools in the US are very good, similar to the very good schools in other wealthy nations.
A large share of the public schools in the US are very bad, but most other wealthy nations have very few such schools.

This is in large part because we have a highly decentralized funding system so the level of funding varies wildly between schools, and contrary to what many say there is a very strong correlation between spending and performance in schools. There are some outliers and intentional failures to correct for location based cost differences which those who oppose public schools out of ideology or profit motive can use to obscure, but in general more money = better schools.


[quote=“TheRizz, post:6, topic:72038, full:true”]

Mmm - not sure that is it. Heck, ever see the memes about what kid had to learn around the turn of the century? You are like, wow, who knows all of that? But they focused on a lot of rote memory of facts.

While I am not an expert, it seems to me there IS emphasis on teaching kids the under lying concepts and how to think. I see all these memes bemoaning “Stupid Common Core math”. Though it has nothing really to do with Common Core, and everything to do with attempting to get kids to understand the concepts of math, vs just plugging in the algorithms for the answers. Like I took high end math classes in school, but I have to say I was just decent at following the formula. I had not a great understanding of WTF I was actually doing.

That at least is a couple examples.

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Finally…I’ve been wondering when everyone else was going to catch on. The attack on public education has been going on, full force, for years now. I keep telling people that one day they are going to wonder where all the public schools went, just like they suddenly (!) wondered where all the manufacturing jobs went. Stop drinking the reformer’s koolaid, American public schools are not broken, the unions do not control them or make curriculum decisions, we are not behind every civilized nation in education. We need to stand up for our public schools. They were paid for and created by tax payer dollars. They continue to be supported by tax payer dollars and a certain group of people (hedge fund managers and their clients) can’t stand to see those dollars by pass their pockets. Without public education we don’t stand a chance of competing in this ever shrinking global market place. Charter school for profit or not (?) do not benefit the public. Once you add profit as an education goal, cost cutting at the expense of education is the very next step…ahhhh I could go on and on but really people WAKE UP, this is happening across the entire country…just check our Nevada, Michigan, Chicago…


The average American I meet outside of my line of work doesn’t know a sine from a cosine, can barely write coherent sentences let alone eloquently, has scant knowledge of world or American history before they were born, doesn’t understand the financial realities their lives hinge upon, barely remember what the periodic table of elements is, let alone why it’s organized that way, and can maybe stumble through their own personal pidginisation of a second language.


It’s part of a larger trend in American society, which is trying to force reality to conform to and reflect (often ideological) models instead of the other way around.

This sequence from “The Wire” encapsulates America’s “juking the stats” problem nicely:

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The funding structure based on local property taxes is one of the biggest factors and deserves special attention. Other Western countries have more equitable funding structures, where taxes are pooled and all schools in a given state/administrative region are allocated the same amounts on a per-capita basis.


But is that really any different than the average anywhere else?

It seems to me that most people are more or less… very… average. Not only do they not know of the many things you mentioned, but they really, really don’t care about it. They know enough to enjoy their lives and that’s enough.


Have you ever lived abroad? Among people who live in another country?

I have, and middle-class Americans, and even working-class ones, have tended to be FAR less informed and interested than their counterparts abroad in anything that’s not right in front of their noses. Their relative interest in and understanding of how societies work, different political systems and histories, economics, and many other topics is generally stunted, parochial, almost infantile. The U.S. is a huge place geographically and in terms of its self-inflated global stature, so that’s one cause (there’s already so much here to care about and be engaged with), but it seems to me that a bigger one is the widespread lack of serious, effective education.


There’s also a weird interaction that self-cycles. It works like this:
In areas where education is good, there tends to be deep public pride and buy-in or the quality of public education. So people who care deeply about their children’s education move into those communities exactly for those services.
In areas where the public isn’t as deeply invested, there’s little pressure for the schools to improve- people that went through school and viewed it as something to be tolerated and endured tend to pass that message on to their kids, who pass it on to theirs and so on. Those people often don’t earn the sort of income the highly-educated people do, and thus don’t live places that charge the high property taxes required to do really good public education.
There’s a strong culture of local government having lots of control over the local public education, and that can lead to these super-wide variances in quality. Indeed, I live in a part of the country that has public schools that compete with any public education system you care to compare them to internationally- but that comes a the cost of brutal property taxes and a systematic effort to improve (regardless of outside pressure).
Because so many other districts don’t have the internal pressure to improve, they end up reaching out (and thus opening the door for profiteering) to meet the (wonky) federal standards.
It’s frustrating. People want better public education but they’re totally unwilling to a) pay for it or b) trust the highly trained professionals to provide that education.


In other words the dysfunctional system cycles back on itself. People who graduate from K-12 thinking that economics and civics don’t matter (or who are given low-quality Texas textbook versions of those topics) aren’t going to see basic and obvious ways in which their children’s K-12 experience can be improved.


I was gobsmacked at first, as public schools like Eton and Harrow are private, and charge a fortune for the chance to get beaten by older schoolboys before going to Oxford and later joining the Conservative cabinet.

But then I realised that you were talking about ordinary US schools.

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I’ve traveled to 4 different countries, not counting a few islands in the Caribbean. People seem fairly similar to me. I have friends who are from other countries, and they don’t seem that different. Then again, I will confess my friends in general are above average. A few of them even genuine geniuses. So maybe I am out of touch with the common man.

At any rate, though, while I agree our system needs fixing, I am still not sure what the cause of the breaking. Funding is only part of the problem, as even well funded schools can have lacking results. @GulliverFoyle 's list was pretty detailed, but what is a problem one place, is not a problem other places.

Personally I thought my public education was acceptable. My kid is in a private school, and other than I bet if I could home school her I could get her through high school at least 2 years early, her education seems pretty good. I don’t have a lot to compare it too, though. And the public schools in her area are nicer than some of the other metro schools.

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