Appeal to Authority

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. P.J. O’Rourke says End Them, Don’t Mend Them, and the article is accompanied by this image:

Some excerpts:

The Digest of Educational Statistics (read by Monday, there will be a quiz) says inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending increased by 49 percent from 1984 to 2004 and by more than 100 percent from 1970 to 2005.

Bell bottoms and Jerry Rubin hair versus piercings and tattoos—are kids getting smarter? No. National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test scores remained essentially the same from 1970 to 2004. SAT scores in 1970 averaged 537 in reading and 512 in math, and 38 years later the scores were 502 and 515. (More kids are taking SATs, but the nitwit factor can be discounted—scores below 400 have decreased slightly.) American College Testing (ACT) composite scores have increased only slightly from 20.6 (out of 36) in 1990 to 21.1 in 2008. And the extraordinary expense of the D.C. public school system produced a 2007 class of eighth graders in which, according to the NAEP, 12 percent of the students were at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent were at or above proficiency in math. Many of these young people are now entering the work force. Count your change in D.C.

The average IQ in America is—and this can be proven mathematically—average. Logic therefore dictates that National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth grade “at or above proficient” reading and math levels should average 50. This is true in only one of the 50 states. National averages are 29 and 31 percent. Either logic has nothing to do with public education or that NAEP test is a bear. Which I doubt.

Massachusetts (fifth in spending per student) and Vermont (first) do lead the reading proficiency list with 43 and 42 percent respectively. But there’s not much to choose between that and 25th-biggest spender Montana’s 39 percent. Montana, in turn, is tied with third-most-expensive New Jersey. And the four states with 37 percent proficiencies on the NAEP are sixth-in-spending hyper-literate Connecticut, 19th-in-spending rube Minnesota, eighth-in-spending canny Yankee Maine, and 43rd-in-spending hayseed South Dakota.

Looking at the bottom of the heap is just as confusing. Perhaps it’s possible to spend too little on public education, and 47th-ranked Mississippi is trying to prove it. The District of Columbia aside, Mississippi’s proficiency levels are the worst in the nation—17 percent in reading; 14 percent in math. However, the state that spends the least, Utah, slightly exceeds national averages. Meanwhile the second-worst state, New Mexico, is completely average in its school spending, ranked at 24. Tenth-in-spending Hawaii, with 20 percent in reading and 21 percent in math, is marginally inferior to 31st-in-spending California with 20 and 24 percent. And 49th-in-spending Arizona is a few points better than either.

Here’s my proposal: Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt.

“Wait a minute,” the earnest liberal says, “we’ve got swell public schools here in Flourishing Heights. The kids take yoga. We just brought in a law school placement coordinator at the junior high. The gym has solar panels on the roof. Our Girls Ultimate Frisbee team is third in the state. The food in the cafeteria is locally grown. And the vending machines dispense carrots and kiwi juice.”

Close them anyway. I’ve got 11,749 reasons. Or, given the Cato report, call it 15,000. Abandon the schools. Gather the kids together in groups of 15.4. Sit them down at your house, or the Moose Lodge, or the VFW Hall or—gasp—a church. Multiply 15.4 by $15,000. That’s $231,000. Subtract a few grand for snacks and cleaning your carpet. What remains is a pay and benefit package of a quarter of a million dollars. Average 2008 public school classroom teacher salary: $51,391. For a quarter of a million dollars you could hire Aristotle. The kids wouldn’t have band practice, but they’d have Aristotle. (Incidentally this worked for Philip of Macedon. His son did very well.)

Money’s not the problem. P.J. has much more to say. Please, go read. We don’t need Aristotles, but we do need a bunch of E.D. Hirsch, Jr’s.

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