Tuesday, January 17, 2012


There has been a lot of news out of our public schools over the past few months of varying degrees of importance.  From epic fails to blatant corruption, our schools have become less about education and more about social agendas and the illusion of success.
First - and silliest - on the list is the school lunch fiasco out in California.  The Los Angeles Unified School District implemented Michelle Obama's program for healthier school lunches and created a new menu that was apparently taste-tested in the exclusive, vegetarian enclaves of Beverly Hills.  The new, upgraded menu had such teen-friendly gems as quinoa and black-eyed pea salad and black bean burgers.  These exotic offerings have resulted in a record number of students dropping out of the lunch program, opting instead to bring Flamin' Hot Cheetos and sodas from home.  How bad is it?  Well, according to the LA Times, a junk food black market has sprung up in the wake of the new menu:

At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.

Oh, if only liberals were as good at encouraging the growth of the free market as they are at encouraging the growth of black markets due to their policies....
They are now revamping the menu, hoping to find healthier versions of the foods kids love, such as pizza with a whole wheat crust, reduced fat cheese and reduced sodium sauce.  Might I also suggest baked chicken nuggets instead of fried?  Perhaps a salad bar (maybe with an optional grilled chicken breast) or hamburgers made of a beef/turkey blend to reduce fat but keep flavor on whole wheat buns with lettuce, tomato and reduced fat cheese.  Some kids might still turn their noses up at the food, but there is a better chance of the kids' palates "adjusting" to these changes than vegetable curry and lentil and brown rice cutlets.  One would think that would just be common sense, but, then again, this is California we're talking about.

On a more serious note, there are a few school scandals coming out of the state of Georgia that deserve attention.  The first involves school faculty cheating on tests for their students.  This one engulfed first the Atlanta school system and then the Dougherty county school district a few months later.  While the falsely improved test scores made the schools - and thus the teachers and faculty - look great for a while, the reality is that there are hundreds of students who have been sent out into the world not just unprepared, but actually illiterate:

“The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County School System (DCSS) is a tragedy, sadly illustrated by a comment made by a teacher who said that her fifth-grade students could not read, yet did well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).

Remember when teachers took up their low paying, mostlly thankless careers in hopes of reaching and opening young minds?  It seems that for every dedicated, devoted teacher these days there is one of the new breed, out for tenure and an easy ride, using their classrooms to push political agendas and leveraging themselves in any way possible, even to the detriment of their own students.  Right now, the former outnumber the latter.  But in a system where merit means little and tenure and the unions make it impossible to get rid of bad teachers, that paradigm is destined to shift. 

The cheating scandals are being blamed, in part, on No Child Left Behind.  Yup, it's Bush's fault.  While there is a lot of consternation on the left about "teaching to a test", the reality is, teachers have always been teaching to a test of some major or minor magnitude, from pop quizzes to midterms and finals to the Regents exams I took as a high school student in New York lo those many years ago.  The test is to make sure the kids got the lesson or grasped the overreaching arc of the class.  A standardized test means a standardized curriculum with a (one would hope) balanced, well-rounded approach to education encompassing all the major requirements of a basic education.  Teaching to a test does not make it impossible to produce graduates who can read a job or college application or figure out how much they will owe if they want three pounds of apples at $2.59 per pound.  

In Atlanta, 78 teachers and the principals of 44 out of 56 schools were found to have cheated.  In Dougherty county, 49 teachers and 11 principals have been implicated.  Hundreds, if not thousands of Georgia students have been cheated of an education.  There will probably be lawsuits over this, which means that the taxpayer will be paying the price for these unethical public servants.  What a waste, all the way around.

The second Georgia school scandal is about a little blended-lesson oopsie over at Beaver Ridge elementary school.  Nine third grade teachers, in an attempt to do a "cross-curricular activity" combining a segment on Frederick Douglass with math word problems, sent home work in which some problems referenced slavery:

The first asked, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” The other said, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

The thing about Frederick Douglass was that, while his life in slavery was violent and brutal, he escaped to freedom at the age of twenty and spent the rest of his life as an outspoken abolitionist and suffragist who affected change through his oratory.  His gift for words eventually won him the respect and friendship of none other than Abraham Lincoln, and it isn't hard to imagine that long fireside talks between Lincoln and Douglass helped keep the steel in the president's spine and the fire in his belly.  It is, unfortunately, unsurprising that the teachers at Beaver Ridge chose to focus on the twenty years Douglass was enslaved as opposed to the fifty-seven years he spent crusading for the final fulfillment of the Founders's vision of a truly free people.  Their students would have been better served with questions like, "If Frederick gave four speeches on abolishing slavery and two hundred people came to each one, how many people heard him speak?" or "If Frederick's abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, published twenty-one editions per week, how many editions were printed each day?".   But no, one must push the America-is-a-mean-country meme at every opportunity, mustn't one?  Yes, slavery happened in this country.  Yes, it was a bad thing.  But was his enslavement the point of his life, or was it his breaking of the bonds of slavery and rising from those horrible circumstances to create a bold, outspoken life that lead to enlightenment and, eventually, freedom for all?  Instead of that fine legacy, all those kids will remember is that he was a slave who was supposedly beaten every day and apparently had to pick oranges.  Again - what a shame.

Our public schools are rotting from the inside out.  The widespread corruption and lack of ethics, combined with the complete disregard for the harm they are doing to the students in their care is breathtaking.  What makes it worse is that these cases in Georgia are just the tip of the iceberg.  In the past three years, FairTest (the National Center for Fair and Open Testing) has documented confirmed cases of test cheating in thirty states, as well as the District of Columbia. 

Many parents feel as though they are hostage to the school in whose district they live.  While they desperately wish there was another alternative, for most families private and parochial schools are out of reach.  While there are some great charter schools out there, there are also some really, really bad ones, too and it's pretty much a crap shoot on what might pop up in your neighborhood.  So what's a parent to do? 

Get involved.

Let's face it.  Parents who are involved in their child's education are going to realize that little Timmy, while in 6th grade, is reading at a first grade level.  Involved parents will hold teachers and schools accountable.  Widespread corruption resulting in hundreds of kids falling through the cracks can only happen when people aren't paying attention.  Not only have we gotten used to the idea that our schools are solely responsible for teaching our children everything they need to know about life from mathematics to birth control, but we apparently don't even feel the need to make sure they're competent at it.

What a shame.



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