The Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry

Join / Donate

All Forums > Open Discussion >

Open Discussion

Sep 22 2008
Abysmal Education

In another discussion, Alex wrote:

The idea that the public schools are a failure is yet another myth spread by politicians. It seems that voters are always willing to believe this, though I'm not sure why.

This is what I dislike about posting on this forum of rationalists/free thinkers - we have to defend our opinions. :roll:

Launch your favorite browser (IE Explorer, Firefox, Opera, etc.) and plug in "South Carolina Education". What do you see as the second entry? - lottery

By Samuel Stevens at the New York Times
Iíve seen firsthand how exasperatingly difficult it has been for principals to oust abusive, incapable or negligent teachers who are protected by a powerful union. ... Throughout New York City, the Department of Education operates 12 reassignment centers, populated at any one time by about 760 teachers from a total work force of 80,000.

There are 80,000 teachers in NYC, yet fewer then 800 are sent to the "reassignment centers". I've never observed a failure rate/mismatch job rate of less than 1%.

Graduation rate up in S.C., still 4th-lowest in the nation

A new report shows South Carolina's graduation rate has improved slightly in five years, but remains among the nation's worst.

The state of Florida this week is getting a taste of New York City's efforts to improve public schools ó including some new ideas Chancellor Joel Klein is mulling, such as a plan that for the first time would grant the Department of Education authority to certify teachers and principals.

Teachers Unions Oppose Education Reform

The California Teachers Association spent more than $50 million to defeat this slate of ballot initiatives, which included a measure to cap state spending, partly rolling back Proposition 98.

Is the teacher's union too powerful?

Jim Rex wrote
It is true that South Carolina's "one-size-fits-all" approach is inadequate in a state that needs to take a quantum leap forward in order to compete with the remainder of the country -- if not the world.

Aren't we proud?

Now we move to anecdotal level. I have hired between 100 and 200 people over the years. When I employed them to be sales reps (account executives or whatever the current PC term is), I had to teach every one of them percentages.

Based upon my observations of casinos and the lottery, teaching 6th graders probability hasn't been successful. Teaching return on investment/risk analysis hasn't worked either.

So I ask - what math are we teaching?


Sep 22 2008
Re: Abysmal Education

The California Teachers Association spent more than $50 millionto defeat his slate of ballot initiatives, which included a measure to cap state spending, partly rolling back Proposition 98.

Money, I might add, that they could have spent on new computers, etc to actually help the students.

Jim Rex wrote

It is true that South Carolina's "one-size-fits-all" approach is inadequate in a state that needs to take a quantum leap forward in order to compete with the remainder of the country -- if not the world.

Aren't we proud?

I'm glad that he knows that something is wrong... The problem now is fixing it. I hate the government bureaucracy that goes over state schools. To a degree, it is needed, but, for example, they recently installed projectors in all classrooms. They have one for the study hall, which will never be used, but there isn't one in the library, where it would be used a lot more often.

Federally, it is no better. No child left behind means that no excelling student is allowed to...well, excel.

I think that state run things have their place in education; standards are necessary. Also, I would really love to do a course not offered at my school as independent study, take a state-standardized test, and receive credit for it. I mean, that would be the most self-paced test of all.

However, the kind of government beaurocracy placed in schools I spoke of earlier needs to go.

Sep 23 2008
Re: Abysmal Education


Like our discussion of politics in the other forum, this is clearly a complicated topic and it is actually refreshing to see that members of the SHL have different opinions on it. The SHL doesn't and shouldn't be politically homogeneous.

I guess the important question is: what can we do to make the schools as good as they can be? (And, implied in there is "how good CAN they be?")

It is interesting to me that you lay the blame for the bad schools on the Democrats and the teacher's unions, and also complain that the schools here in South Carolina are among the worst. If those were the real sources of the problems, wouldn't you expect the schools in South Carolina (a completely red, "right to work state") to be among the best in the country?

Clearly, even if you are right to complain about the Democrats and unions, there are other factors involved than just these. In my opinion, two of the biggest problems can be traced back to the Republicans. They are the ones who underfund public schools and have imposed the frequent standardized testing and imposed standardized curricula through things like the "No Child Left Behind" act. (This is some of what Dave_C has complained about in his post.)

Other factors affecting South Carolina schools -- economic and cultural ones -- may be the MOST significant ones resulting in our rankings as compared to other states. If so, it is unreasonable (and unproductive) to blame the teachers and school boards.

Your anecdotal points about math education are well taken. But, what is realistic? If we could agree that the one thing every student must know about math is how to take percentages, there would still be a small fraction of the students who couldn't get it no matter how well it was taught, and a large fraction of students who did just fine with it in school and then forget it as soon as they graduated. Add into this the fact that there are lots of different topics in math that must be covered (these days it is expected that every high school student will learn pre-calculus and many calculus -- though I personally wish this was not true) and even fewer adults will remember this one skill from their schooling. (Or, to put it another way, I suspect that many of these people whom you taught percentages when they worked for you probably couldn't remember a thing about it a year after they found another job, but this does not necessarily mean that you were deficient in your teaching.)

To close, let me say that even though I don't think the schools are as bad as the frequent complaints about them suggest, I do think they can be improved. But, that doesn't mean that you should support any political candidate who says "the schools are bad and can be improved with my plan". Many of these plans involve more standardized testing and squeezing even more topics into the curriculum. These may seem sensible, but take a look at what the schools are actually forced to do already: they spend far too many days on standardized testing and are forced to cover so many topics that none of them can be covered in detail. Ironically, I think the schools would actually be improved if we allowed them to cover LESS material (but cover it in depth) and got rid of the "one size fits all" approach of the standardized testing which has recently been imposed on them. Another common suggestion is to "make it easier to fire teachers who are underperforming". Again, this sounds like a reasonable suggestion, and in the right circumstances it would be. However, these are not those circumstances. We have a teacher shortage. If we were to get rid of the ones who are underperforming, all you'd be left with was understaffed schools. (Then we get into the question of how to get more people interested in teaching, but I doubt you'd be happy with my suggestions.) Also, the high workloads (including lots of paperwork that has been imposed by these new rules) and focus on standardized testing prevents many teachers from being as good as they could be. Rather than firing them for being underproductive, we ought to give them the environment they need to excel.

At least, that's how it looks to me. I acknowledge that you've made some good points, Dennis, and will try to keep them in mind as I reconsider my positions.



Return to Open Discussion Forum
Return to Discussion Home

Webmaster: Alex Kasman 2016