January 28, 2006

NEA head shaker -- again

I'm a member of the NEA -- National Education Association -- but it sure ain't because of most of their beliefs. Being a member, I get their monthly newsletter, NEA Today. The only place where conservative/libertarian viewpoints are voiced in a non-attacking/mocking way is in the letters page. But, of course, we're treated to lengthy articles about the "latest" in leftist educational theory!

February's edition is certainly no exception. First, we have NEA President Reg Weaver rapping with education author Jonathan Kozol. I've read some of Kozol's stuff, notably Savage Inequalities, and at times he offers up some striking material. Just be sure to research alternate viewpoints before you let yourself be driven to despair, or at least to the pharmacy for some Prozac. Kozol, in his latest, blasts what he terms the "restoration of apartheid schooling." This is preposterous on its face, and deliberately provocative (which I'm sure is Kozol's intent). Apartheid was a repugnant legally enforced system of racial separation (in South Africa, of course). As little as 40 years ago, many areas of the United States had laws quite similar to apartheid. But for Kozol to utilize such terminology today is asinine. Where are blacks and other minorities being legally separated today in the United States? Where are blacks being legally denied to he right to live in a predominately white neighborhood? Where are black students being legally denied the right to attend predominately white schools? Answer: Nowhere, Mr. Kozol.

Oh, but you see, Mr. Kozol is a social crusader for REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE! He says

I’m going to encourage teachers...to speak out politically, to rise up and protest, not only against this testing madness...but also about the perpetual separation of our children so they don’t know each other any longer in America.

The idealism is so viscous you can....well, you know. Look, not to engage in too much of an ad hominem (don't want to upset Mr. Garrett! ;-) but Kozol is the epitomy of the "limousine liberal" -- born to wealthy parents, Harvard and Oxford educated, he has now come to "save us from ourselves" with the glorious "enlightened" pedagogy of social revolution. (Aside: He did travel to Cuba -- surprise -- fairly early in his career and wrote Children of the Revolution which features this enlightening line:

"There is a sense of shared achievement, of hard work that remains . . . one good notch below the level of competitive obsession"—unlike capitalism's dog-eat-dog way of life. The school is "able to combine . . . a reverence for productive labor and an impressive level of true humanistic education of the whole man and the whole woman."

Further,

Like all Cuban schools, this one is based "on a firm and vivid grasp upon the concrete truths of life itself. Almost all ideas and skills that are acquired in these schools are meant to lead to action, to real work, and to real dedication. . . . There is a sense, within the Cuban schools, that one is working for a purpose and that that purpose is a great deal more profound and more important than the selfish pleasure of an individual reward." [Link.]

Just so you know where Jonathan is coming from, folks.)

In addition, Kozol is vehemently anti-testing and even anti-discipline. He notes that

Principals in segregated schools "create an architecture of adaptive strategies" that include "a relentless emphasis on raising test scores," "scripted lesson plans," "heightened discipline" and other policies that emulate the military--a "command and absolute control."

One of Kozol's biggest critics, Abigail Thernstrom, says

[Kozol] is against longer school days, summer school for kids who need it, charter schools (and other forms of choice), merit pay and every promising avenue of school reform. He does, as an aside, acknowledge that kids should learn "essential skills," but his main concern is with schools that exude "warmth and playfulness and informality and cheerful camaraderie among the teachers and their children."

And in a sadly all-too-typical liberal belief that blacks and other "disadvantaged minorities" are somehow not responsible for their actions (because white racism is the overarching cause of all their ills), Kozol justifies the "self-destructive behavior" of these young people:

After one of his students is accused of stealing, he writes: "I do not think that he had stolen anything, but I would consider it quite understandable and almost natural if he had. Any Negro child who stole anything movable out of any home or Boston schoolhouse would not have stolen back as much as has been stolen from him."

Maybe "stolen from him," Mr. Kozol, like what you'd do regarding his basic education? Why are you against successful literacy programs? The NEA article notes the reason: "[Kozol] reserves some of his most passionate denunciations for what he sees as the assault on professionalism by advocates of scripted literacy programs—which, he notes, are used almost exclusively in low-income, minority communities. White, middle-class parents, he says, would never stand for these programs’ rote learning strategies."

Whaaaat? So, how dare teachers use "scripted" strategies -- despite their success -- because they "assault" the "professionalism" of teachers. Meanwhile, the students would remain ... blissfully illiterate? (And, of course, the white, middle-class parents to whom Kozol refers probably wouldn't be in favor of such a strategy since, as Kozol himself and virtually all statistics show, their children aren't as in need of such basic programs.)

The exposé could continue, but I think you get the point about Kozol, and sadly, the NEA. It's neatly summarized in four words (for education): More of the same.

"More of the same" did I say? Oh oh. Because next the NEA Today gives us David Berliner whose philosophy includes more Section 8 housing vouchers so kids' education will improve (while the neighborhood goes to hell, which, Berliner doesn't say, of course). Berliner's solutions for kids include "raising a family’s income by $13,000 a year" (increases IQ "significantly"), an increase in the minimum wage, universal healthcare, and ... not shopping at Wal-Mart.

In the "Up Front" section of the newsletter we read "Mixing Wealth for Academic Health" which advocates for ... busing! (Did I say "more of the same" above?) Oh, but it isn't "race-based" busing -- it's "parental income-based" busing. Riiiiight. Silly, then, that in the very next paragraph, the article states "Last spring, 80 percent of Black third- through eighth-graders scored at grade level on the state’s standardized tests. A decade earlier, only 40 percent had. This evidence of economic integration’s benefits comes at a key time for Wake County." But it's not race-based! (Y'see, the NEA can do the semantical thing and say what they've claimed is indeed accurate; it just so happens that more average black parents' incomes are lower than those of white parents.)

But this is unnecessary verbal jousting. The real issue is, is the busing the cause for the increase in academic achievement? Of course, the NEA article says "yes," citing

But these results aren’t surprising to many researchers. Decades’ worth of evidence suggests that exposing kids at all economic levels to middle class educational values provides a better learning environment for all, says Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation, a New York-based non-profit that touts economic diversity in schools.

Not to quibble, but how is a "better learning environment" the same as academic achievement? Nevertheless, Kahlenberg differs from Kozol in that he states "Educators know that a school's quality derives less from per-pupil expenditure as from the people who make up the school community children, parents, and teachers." But he still adheres to old school (no pun intended) notions of busing to raise academic achievement. He uses terms like "choice," which seem palatable, but when you read how the limits on choice actually work, one wonders:

Socioeconomic integration plans can be implemented in a number of different ways. For example, once a jurisdiction commits to the goal of having a majority of students in all of its schools who are not eligible for free or reduced-price meals, it can pursue that goal by redrawing school boundaries, siting new schools in particular locations, or approving only those transfers that promote economic integration.

Given existing residential segregation by class and race, the best way to achieve integration is through a strategy known as "controlled public school choice." Under controlled choice, families are not assigned to neighborhood schools but instead may choose from a variety of public schools within a given geographic cluster, each emphasizing a particular specialty or pedagogy. The choices are approved by the district with an eye to promoting economic integration.

In Wake County, it seems all is not settled. Many parents, white and black, are tired of the social engineering, and want their kids closer to home. But does it work -- economic or racial integration, that is, for improved academics? Well, regarding Wake County, John H. Gilbert, a professor emeritus at North Carolina State University in Raleigh says "There is a lot of evidence that it's just sound educational policy, sound public policy, to try to avoid concentrations of low-achieving students." Again, is "sound educational policy" the same as "academic achievement"? And was Wake really the "example" of successful "socioecomic integration" that the NEA and others claim? The NEA article states "Last spring, 80 percent of Black third- through eighth-graders scored at grade level on the state’s standardized tests. A decade earlier, only 40 percent had." What they (and others) don't tell you is that 77% of black students across the entire state of North Carolina did the same. That, and the same goes for the overall increase over the decade measured. (You can check out North Carolina scores online here.)

We're back again to the question: Does busing work to improve academic achievement? I'm sure there are better studies than Wake County's out there, but so far, in my experience, I haven't seen a convincing argument and hence, overall, I believe forced busing is a failure when talking about academic improvement (for minority/low-income students). After nearly two decades of federally mandated busing in New Castle County (DE) (and virtually unchanged feeder patterns since the overturning of the court order), black student achievement remains essentially unchanged. And note to Kozol: Per pupil spending in (pre-busing) 1977 Wilmington (Delaware's largest city and where most black students live and went to school) was approximately $2900, while the rest of the county (primarily white) averaged $1850. In Kansas City, a judge ordered $1.3 billion in new spending by 1995. That's over $36,000 per student. The result? "White enrollment fell further and African-American students failed to improve their academic performance. White/black test scores remained as far apart as they had ever been."

David Armor, a desegregation supporter and "who has studied desegregation efforts extensively in communities around the United States since the mid 1960s has nevertheless remarked that, based on the evidence, improved school performance is the last reason for one to favor desegregation." If anything, the "sociological father" of forced busing, James Coleman, eventually concluded that, instead of good (middle class) students "raising up" poorer students' academic performance, it turns out the bad behavior of the latter negatively affects the former (via University of Delaware professor Raymond Wolters' report to the DE State House during consideration of the 1993 busing "consent decree"). Coleman also noted

"But the concept of a complete household ... has been undermined so much that we now just call them single-parent households." Overall, Coleman found child rearing was one of the great casualties of the modern age. He continued, "Of all the changes in society, I think this breakdown of the family is going to prove to be the most powerful, the most destructive and the most enduring."
Posted by Hube at January 28, 2006 11:54 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Hube:
Know what you mean about being a member of a group whose philosphy is at odds with your own. Wait until you join AARP, I lasted a year then had to quit.

Re Kozol, he's of course trying to sell his books but I agree with you- he is liberal throwback but tries to mask that with some form of "new urbanism" expertise.

Have a good weekend.

Posted by: AJ Lynch at January 28, 2006 06:29 PM

Hube, why are you still a member of the NEA? I know plenty of teachers who are not.

Posted by: Delathought at January 29, 2006 07:04 PM

DT: Being that we're the most litigious society in the world, I'm backed by up to $1 million should I need it.

Posted by: Hube at January 29, 2006 08:38 PM

Hube - just thought you would find this amusing, but the head of the union where I'm doing my student teaching is a Conservative Republican. Don't think that's really related to the post, but I figured I'd share, because it kind of weirded me out. lol.

Posted by: Mike McKain at January 29, 2006 09:12 PM

I have seen the "progressive" conclusions based upon the Wake County data. However, to spin it another way would be to say: If you can keep the dominate culture of black american from establishing itself at a school, the school is much better off. I wonder if Kozol would agree with such a conclusion?

Posted by: superdestroyer at February 1, 2006 09:41 AM

My wife is a teacher, and does not belong to the NEA. However, one day I picked up one of the NEA publications and was surprised to learn about their position on nuclear disarmament, abortion, gun control and all sorts of liberal thought.

She was very concerned, because she did not have liability coverage because of not being a member. She did find another resource to provide coverage, but it comes out of her pocket.

In Arkansas, it is if you join the local (county) educational society, you have to join the state, and you have to join the NEA. There is no way to short circuit the process. If you join the local, you have to join the national.

Posted by: David at February 3, 2006 05:25 PM

Man, that you even read that rag amazes me. It goes straight into the trash when it arrives at my house.

Posted by: Science Teacher at February 7, 2006 04:10 PM

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