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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spending Less for Better Education

“I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.” — Al McGuire, head coach of the Marquette University men's basketball team from 1964 to 1977

“The GOP's victories on November 2 have once again raised the call for smaller government, and given soaring budgets and lack of improvement, reducing K-12 education spending is one obvious target. This will not be easy, but there is a sensible strategy.”

“Begin by recognizing that abolishing any specific program, even clear-cut ineffective boondoggles, is doomed to fail. All have constituencies -- education school professors, benefiting parents, program employees, foundation experts, bureaucratic administrators, plus erstwhile pro-education members of Congress who can readily mobilize to defeat axe-wielders. Scanning the budget line by line to cut waste is a cost-saving dead end. GOP skinflints will be overwhelmed and labeled mean-spirited enemies of "helping the children."  Robert Weissberg, American Thinker November 10, 2010.”

Robert Weissberg, a Professor of Political Science-Emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana goes on to say in the article; “Successful cost-cutting requires satisfying three conditions. First, reductions must improve  education, not just make mediocrity less expensive. Second, measures must defeat interests who sustain an expensive, personally lucrative status quo. Finally, cutbacks must create powerful counter-constituencies to resist the inevitable rear-guard action from teachers' unions and all profiting from government's largess.”

“The aim should be to reduce demand for conventional K-12 schooling: lower enrollments bring lower expenses, so cut enrollments. In practice, this requires ending the largely failed efforts to keep kids in school who are dying to leave. Here's how: award every currently enrolled student past the age of sixteen a lifetime GI Bill-like, no-expiration-date voucher cashable at any government-approved vocational school, internship, or union or business apprenticeship (and simultaneously remove all financial incentives for schools to prevent dropouts).”

“A ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card for millions, but we'll call it "Lifetime Learning." The exact amount is negotiable, but to prevent cries of cheapness, $10,000, yearly adjusted for inflation, would suffice, since this is about what the average U.S. schools spend per pupil.”

“This voucher would undoubtedly heighten an already large exodus from schools, but it is unambiguously pro-education! It acknowledges that learning occurs over a lifetime while conceding the uselessness of keeping a restless, bored sixteen-year-old cooped up in school. The pattern is a familiar one whereby an immature teenager drifts aimlessly and gets into trouble, then grows up and "gets religion," and then seeks -- but cannot always find -- a better job. Now, however, thanks to the Lifetime Learning voucher plus a little maturity, he or she is finally motivated and in a position to acquire market-relevant skills. This was the secret of the GI bill -- college for those hungry to learn with minimal bureaucratic overhead.”

“American schools would dramatically improve almost overnight and without any multi-billion-dollar Washington panaceas or massive bureaucratic directives. With few exceptions, refugees would be the most rambunctious, those  who impede the learning of classmates. Many violent, low-performing "bad" schools would suddenly turn "good" almost by magic, and diligent students could now learn unimpeded. In addition, while there now would be fewer staff, those who remain would relish the improvement, and without all the miscreants, the teaching profession would attract better recruits. And by ending make-the-numbers pressures to bestow diplomas at all costs, this exodus would restore the value of the high school diploma, a substantial economic benefit for those who stay the course. A more effective, quicker, less expensive way to improve schools academically is hard to imagine.”

“The cash savings would be immense. If the Lifetime Learning voucher were equal to a single year of school expenditures, and if those who took it departed at the end of their sophomore year, the instant overall education budget savings would be huge. This savings would be especially large in school districts showering immense resources on kids struggling with basics, e.g., Washington, D.C. Relieved of uplifting the troublesome bottom, schools could cut back educationally unproductive school security, the armies of counselors ministering to disruptive students, paperwork to ensure racial fairness in school discipline, and countless resource-draining social welfare-type programs. Administrators would also no longer be pressured to fudge the numbers regarding "progress" for those disinclined to learn.”

I find professor Weissberg’s comments interesting and provocative; however, I cannot see this ever happening in the United States. To some extent his proposal works in other western nations. The best known and most successful example would be Germany. The Germans, known for their passionate regard for education have been doing something similar to what Professor Weissberg is proposing for well over 100 years.

The Germans have what is known as a three track educational system. Each student begins at the age of five in a kindergarden similar the U.S. system. In fact the word kindergarden is an anglicized version of the German “Kindergarten” or child’s garden. All students advance through the early grades (Grundschule) in an equal manner until the sixth grade. This is when the German system becomes unique.

At the sixth grade, based on test scores and I.Q. tests the students are noted for their learning abilities and educational aptitudes. Since the states (Lands) are responsible for education in Germany the federal government plays little part in the schooling of German children. It also should be noticed that, also depending on the state, private (mainly Parochial) schools are supported by he state.

After the sixth grade German children have three tracks to follow. The first track, for the brightest students with the highest learning aptitudes is a course that will take them through the Gymnasium (university preparatory school). The course study in the Gymnasium is weighted towards the academic, i.e. history, language, mathematics, science, world history and philosophy. All students, no matter what track get a heavy dose of German and German history.

The second track is the Realschule with has a broader range of emphasis for intermediate pupils. These pupils finish with the final examination Mittlere Reife, after grade 10 (16 years old) and can either leave school, petition for the Gymnasium, go on to a technical college where they can learn engineering or business skills or they can enter the work force. If the go to the technical college they have the option of working in the profession they are studying in school — sort of a work and learn program.

The third track is the Hauptschule, which prepares pupils for vocational education. Like the Realschule the student finishes with the final examination at grade 10 and has two options. They can petition to enter the Gymnasium or enter the work force in a apprenticeship program. This apprenticeship usually runs for four years while the student studies his craft while working under master craftsman. Here is where most of Germany’s skilled work force comes from.

Keep in mind that in all tracks the student learns German, German literature, German history and German culture. In essence they are prepared for responsible German citizenship. Graduates from the Gymnasium, based on their final examination scores, are eligible to enter a German university. this is where the educators, doctors, scientists and business leaders come from. It will take 13 years of Grundschule and Gymnasium to enter the University and another five to receive the equivalent of a Masters Degree.

Germany has a population of about 85 million and is culturally homogeneous. This is why their system works for them and would probably not work for us. To me Professor Weissberg is proposing an American hybrid of the German system. While Weissberg makes a few good points for several reasons I do not think his “Get Out of Jail Free” card or permanent G.I Bill would work.

America is not Germany. We do not have a homogeneous society and a common culture. The Germans do not have immigrant gangs ruling the streets of their big cities. If a German student gets a high grade he is respected by his peers. Conversely, if an inner city student gets a high grade he is mugged or beaten by his peers. This is real disincentive to education.

All pupils in Germany must learn to speak, read and write in proper German. This is not the case with our government schools. Even students graduating from high school are not proficient in English, the common language of the land. If a student drops out a age 16 and then wants to reenter the education system several years later he or she will still not be proficient in English.

Professor Weissberg is placing a great deal of faith in the dropout growing up and deciding to reenter the education system. My question is, what will they do during the growing up period and how long will it take? Will they acquire a criminal record and how many babies will they have? Hopefully, some would be able to make it through this period, but the odds are stacked against them. Many will drop out of school to join gangs, become indolent and come to rely on the state for their existence.

Rather than a “Get Out of Jail Free” card I would much rather see a total restructuring of our educational system that would result in:
  • Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and all federal monies for local schools.
  • Return all school decision making to the local level
  • The option of local school boards to opt out of teacher unions and hire non-union, qualified teachers
  • The institution of vouchers that would allow parents to select the schools they want their children attend, including private and parochial schools
  • Requiring that all classes be taught in English
  • Mandate that all pupils study US History, World History (including WWI and WWII) US Geography, mathematics, civics and the US Constitution.
  • Institute and dress and discipline code in all public schools
  • Do not pass a student to the next grade level unless they can demonstrate proficiency in their present grade.
  • Steer students towards vocational schools after graduation from high school. All students do not need to go to college.
  • Make students aware of the possibilities of using online universities for their higher education. They can get a university degree at a much lower cost without the left-wing political indoctrination offered by today’s colleges and universities.
  • Stop hindering those who want to home school their children and provide hem he same assistance the local school board provides the local schools.
I believe that if we would take the steps I have listed we could once again have a world-class primary and secondary education system, a system that would produce informed citizens and people well qualified for higher paying jobs.

You can read Professor Weissberg’s complete article by clicking here.

1 comment:

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