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The Department of Education’s Fantasy World
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Just as toddlers ask “Where do babies come from,” adults often ask, “Where do expensive, doomed-to-fail government policies come from?” In both instances the answer is simple: they start out little, barely noticed “embryonic cells” and, if all goes well, grow and grow and grow. In the case of public policies, this expansion is often almost unstoppable even as the costly failures mount. That said, it is crucial that that these policy “cells” be carefully scrutinized and, if necessary, destroyed prior to their second trimester.

With this task in mind, let us consider the latest toxic idea from the US Department of Education that still remains embryonic–eliminating the gap in race-related academic achievement by showering largely black schools with the top-of-the line resources typically found at high performing schools with white and Asian students. Though predictably endorsed by the New York Times, this is a terrible, quixotic idea but more important is that it suggests a deeper disconnect among the Mandarins and these inadequacies are far more troubling than garden variety incompetence and fiscal prolificacy.

This nonsense is all laid out in an October 1, 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter from Catherine E. Lhamon, the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. The missive reminds school districts about their obligation to achieve racial equality in education. It begins: “today, I write to call your attention to disparities that persist in access to educational resources, and to help you address those disparities and comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.” A bit further on: “Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of students of color today.”

Put concretely, the hundreds of largely African American schools in Detroit, East St. Louis, Camden, NJ, Garry, IN among many others where few students can even read at adequate levels and do basic arithmetic will now, thanks to Washington coercion, be taught by highly skilled experienced teachers, have up-to-date in science labs and other cutting edge technology. Further add multiple Advanced Placement Courses, academically themed extracurricular activities (e.g., debate clubs), classes for the gifted and all the rest that characterize high-performing largely white and Asian schools. This is social engineering on steroids, far beyond what was attempted in the Soviet Union.

Expensive failure is inevitable. Most plainly, and contrary to millennia of obvious experience and decades of scientific evidence, Ms. Lhamon assumes that there are zero group-related differences in academic ability and motivation. All children are just blank slates so differences in outcomes merely reflect unequal resources (sort of like empty bottles at the bottling plant—some are filled with Coke, others with Sprite). So, Asian children academically out-perform African Americans simply due to more resources being invested in schools attended by Asians. Keep schools the same and exchange student bodies and, voilà, the test scores of black students would sky-rocket while those of whites and Asians will plummet.

That this exchange of students did occur thousands of times with scant academic benefits thanks to coerced racial integration naturally goes unmentioned. Similarly, myriad illustrations exist of schools whose student bodies shifted as neighborhood demography changed, and academic outcomes similarly altered despite unchanging resources.

And what about all the billions lavished on the failed No Child Left Behind (and the more recent Race to the Top) that explicitly targeted race-related differences in academic achievement? Surely, if under-the-gun teachers and administrators knew that giving every struggling student of color a laptop, adding AP course and the like would have equalized scores and thereby helped them keep their jobs, even receive performance bonuses, the gap would have vanished decades ago. Hard to imagine public officials denying these resources if they performed as advertised, but experienced educators (and those who allocate funds) know full well though they dare not express it in public: cutting edge pedagogical software is worthless when students disdain learning.

Then there are all the hundred million dollar plus “Taj Mahal” high schools that target struggling largely minority students with every imaginable resource. The Robert Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles cost tax-payers $578 million to build while two other LA schools came in at $377 and $232 million each. New York City now has one costing $235 million. And let’s not forget the famous Kansas City high school experiment where a judge ordered the construction of a high school that provided Olympic size swimming pools, an underwater viewing room, state-of-art language labs, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, small teacher-to-student ratios, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal plus academic amenities galore but test scores actually declined. All and all, nothing worked in this extravagant experiment and I suspect that the academic component of this court-ordered largess was under-utilized.

What about the idealistic but ineffective effort to transform mediocre black and Hispanic students into gifted ones by simply inserting them in classes for the gifted? The Assistant Secretary also ignores numerous schools with sizeable black enrollments that enjoy every imaginable academic resource. In Shaker Heights, OH, for example, blacks, many of whom have affluent parents, attend a high school famous for its academics and stellar facilities—an educational paradise, so to speak. Only the most qualified well-credentialed teachers are hired and the school goes out of its way to help blacks, including encouraging them to take AP courses. Yet in the 1990s black students perform poorly on the SAT and resemble blacks in other Ohio towns that lack schools with top-of-the-line facilities and teachers. And the Shaker Heights “you can take a horse to water…” phenomena is commonplace.

ORDER IT NOW

It is equally futile to move star teachers from high-performing schools to horrific inner-city schools. I can envision these stellar teachers now facing academically lagging students in possibly life-threatening settings. Meanwhile, former inner-city teachers will now have smart students eager to learn. The upshot, almost guaranteed, will be that former stars become failures and former failures become stars and every few months, the newly minted “star” teachers as per the Assistant Secretary’s mandate are returned to their previous job at Thomas Hobbes HS. Meanwhile, the failing former stars likewise return to their old jobs since they have failed to perform the required miracle. This is a perfect scheme to push experienced, skilled teachers into private schools to escape the likes of Thomas Hobbes HS.

This unwelcome reality acknowledged, how does this Washington bureaucrat justify this scheme? The Secretary misrepresents the evidence and instead finesses the a weak empirical case by admitting that the supporting studies cited in the “Dear Colleague” letter are intended to illustrate the problems we face rather than exhaustively review the relevant research literature. To be sure, the missive does cite a few studies showing the relevance of resources to student outcomes but such cherry-picked bits and pieces of evidence hardly contravenes the repeated failure of billion dollar government interventions to eliminate racial disparities (and keep in mind that few will actually read these supposedly supportive studies, let alone be professionally competent to judge their scientific merit). Actually, most of the citations simply document the obvious—black and Hispanic students attend schools with fewer AP courses, science labs and the rest, a reality undoubtedly best explained by the lack of student abilities, not racial or ethnic discrimination.

Now for the depressing political bottom line: What justified the call for centralized power to socially engineer thousands of local schools so as to, supposedly, eliminates racial differences? Her answer goes far beyond the usual feel-good “we must do something” about racial gaps rhetoric. The Assistant Secretary sets the stage for this massive and hugely expensive expansion of state power by distorting federal law and key court cases beyond all recognition to advance a costly, doomed scheme.

Here’s how this duplicitous enterprise unfolds. The legal justification, according to Ms. Lhamon includes the “Equal Protection” cause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Right Act that forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origins where federal funding is involved. Now comes The Great Leap Forward: discrimination occurs when schools allocate resources (e.g., science labs) that disproportionately benefit some racial groups but not others. So, if New York City offers advanced Calculus at the elite Bronx High School of Science where the student body is overwhelmingly Asian, Indian and White but not to high schools with a largely black enrollment, this allocation is not only discriminatory but also unconstitutional as per Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. That these Calculus classes are pointless given that many black students lag years behind in basic math is irrelevant since allocation and only allocation of resources is all that counts. Moreover, it makes no difference that every black and Hispanic youngster in New York City has a shot at attending admitted to these resource rich schools thanks to objective tests.

The legal twisting hardly ends with this surrealistic interpretation of the Constitution or the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The missive also cites several landmark court-ordered racial integration cases (e.g.,Green v. County School Bd. of New Kent County, Va.(1968) ) to establish an alleged long-standing federal commitment to equalize educational resources thereby eliminating racial gaps.

This exegesis is bizarre–these cases focused on school enrollment demography in specific school districts, not equality of resources nationally. Nothing in these decisions concerned eliminating national gaps race-related academic achievement let alone providing dicta for upgrading schools with large black enrollments. Indeed, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision, the lynch pin of this missive, explicitly outlawed racial segregation even if resources were identical (the separate but equal doctrine)—only laws requiring racial segregation were the issue. Our Department of Education functionary has her legal history backwards.

If this missive were to become law, every public school (plus all private ones that receive any federal money) will be obligated to offer the same curriculum and level of facilities or risk some Washington lawyer arriving with a consent decree. Hard to envisage a greater expansion of centralized authority. This is also a guaranteed recipe to eviscerate public education since education-minded parents who want “discriminatory” courses (e.g., AP physics) must now seek them in private schools that absolutely refuse any federal money, even for subsidized school meals or programs for the handicapped. Tuition for such “discriminatory” school would be at least $30,000 per year and would thus make a quality education impossible for all but the top 1%, Chalk up yet one more unexpected perverse outcome for egalitarian ideologues.

Ironically, under this novel interpretation of “discrimination” New York City and most other schools in America might be advised to ban all advanced courses, all scientific laboratories, all after school academic organizations and on and on rather than go bankrupt so as to bring all of the city’s non-elite high schools up to speed. What a wonderful plan to dumb down American education or, conceivably, spend every nickel of public money on schools that do not require or want stellar academic facilities.

Our central point is not that Washington is about to impose yet one more stupid, exceedingly expensive doomed-to-fail policy on an oblivious public. Yes, there are now some 40 on-going investigations into this resource inequality, but I’d guess that the project is DOA if only for reasons of affordability. More noteworthy is what the “Dear Colleague” letter reveals over and above an appetite for expensive foolishness.

First, the missive demonstrates a willful and complete denial of a half century of failed social engineering and thus constitutes a learning disorder of the first order. Do the apparatchiki honestlybelieve that AP courses and advanced math classes are the ticket to turning around the dismal performances of schools in Detroit or Trenton, NJ? (Detroit students have long had school-supplied computers.) Or that teaching ability exists independent of the students one must teach? It exaggerates only slightly to suggest that such an “education expert” asserting such contrary-to-reality claims might be put on medical leave and advised to seek psychological counseling.

ORDER IT NOW

Second, while some misrepresentation of research and legal outcomes is de rigueur in political debate, Ms. Lhamon’s twisting is mendacious and obviously so. There is almost a post-modern element here—a court case becomes a “text” whose meaning is socially constructed so a decision that rejects equality of resources as certifying racial equality now becomes an established legal principle in which equality of courses and facilities becomes the standard for racial equality. Or that a tiny number of academic studies can contravene decades of obdurate experience.

Third, these arguments betrays an obliviousness to costs and trade-offs that one might associate with thinking among young children or the dim witted. Has any Department of Education expert put a price tag on this enterprise or is raising the funding issue tantamount to being “mean spirited”? Has anybody told the Assistant Secretary that perhaps these funds could be better allocated elsewhere so as to help academically struggling African Americans? For example, what about intensive one-on-one tutoring to boost reading skills instead of expensive microscopes? And what about the burdens imposed on education-minded parents who will be forced to enroll junior in a private school since public schools will drop advanced courses?

To repeat, the missive is far more than just yet one more call for an ineffective policy. It is certainly is that but what makes it scary is that the missive suggests serious cognitive deficiencies-the inability to see the obvious, a proclivity to misinterpret well-known laws and court cases and a failure to make the most elementary cost/benefit calculations. Government by incompetence, even rule by thieves is bad enough; quite another is to be rule by those who disdain the most obvious reality.

 
• Category: Ideology, Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Public Schools 
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  1. Michael Meo says: • Website

    I liked the Thomas Hobbes HS: that was a definite touch.

  2. rod1963 says:

    “Government by incompetence, even rule by thieves is bad enough; quite another is to be rule by those who disdain the most obvious reality.”

    What was Einstein’s definition of insanity – ” doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    This fits what the DOE is attempting to do to a tee. It also fits that mad dog offspring of Marxism called socialism.

    In my view the government has went insane and so has large parts of academia that has repeatedly promoted the very sort of delusional and dangerous thinking that has led up to the DOE missive
    being issued.

    However for the average or above white or Asian kid, it means you will get even a bigger screwing in public schooling. Not only do kids now have to face Common Core and its stupefying effects, they must contend with minority kids who have no interest in learning and worse, many are hostile towards white and Asian kids. It’s going to be a hell on Earth for them.

    The best thing Asian and white parents can is take their kids out of public school and either home school them or send them to a private school. Let the public schools die, let them be the repositories for low IQ and violent minorities.

  3. Priss Factor [AKA "gubbler chechenva"] says:

    If you fit an Asian-heavy school with high-tech gym equipment, you will produce tons of Asian stars as running backs and point guards.

    • Replies: @Robert Weissberg
  4. “This is a perfect scheme to push experienced, skilled teachers into private schools…” Highly unlikely, at least in the NY-NJ-CT region, as private schools, for the most part, do not hired teachers who have taught in public schools.

  5. Jim says:

    We seem to have a thing about teaching calculus in high schools. A course in linear algebra would probably be more useful for those students who are ready for higher level work.

    It seems to be a case of calculus having more status than linear algebra although the latter is more useful.

    • Replies: @pyrrhus
  6. Jim says:

    Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick is a lot saner than our educational policy. The current situation is best described as obsessive madness.

    • Replies: @Realist
  7. @Priss Factor

    Absolutely true…but only in the virtual reality of a video game. And let me now suggest the opposite. We can have video games in the worse schools where illiterate, inumerate kids build rocket ships that enter black holes to travel at warp speed to visit galaxies hundreds of light years ago and, here’s the key point, earn science credit for these adventures. After all, what is real and what is fantasy in today’s education.

  8. panjoomby says:

    sad, b/c only the very bright really benefit from good instruction. good instruction makes gaps larger b/c it increases the variability – brighter students benefit more from good instruction than duller students. yet policy is created that flies in the face of reality.

  9. Realist says:
    @Jim

    Calculas would be more useful in chasing Moby Dick than linear algebra

  10. American curricula and pedagogy have always been mediocre. For two hundred years we’ve been trying one misguided idea after another, while holding our brightest kids hostage to the milleau leftward on the curve. We do this apparently because we misinterpret our founding ideals to mean that all children are created academically equal.

    It would be better to use the method common in many countries in Europe and elsewhere: By the time kids complete middle school, it is obvious what their strengths are. They go to separate high schools, based on their previous performance. Done here, this would result in racially segregated high schools, so it will never happen.

    • Replies: @Hubbub
  11. unit472 says:

    The public schools in the US need to be shut down.The current model was built for an America that no longer exists. The 2000 student high school campus is an artifact from a time when we had stable neighborhoods and stay at home moms not polyglot neighborhoods with multiple cultures, languages and single parent households. These have turned into Lord of the Flies academies where adult control has been lost

    • Replies: @Hare Krishna
  12. So it’s official then, equal opportunity has finally become federally mandated equal outcome. Out here in the real world, the sane are left with two options; move away from the undertow, or let it drag your children down into the depths. Mighty Whitey, don your flight suits! Not sure what the Asians will do, but I imagine there will be plenty of ire drawn. “Disparate impact” certainly applies here.

  13. There’s nothing the least bit accidental about this policy.  We know it will dumb down and destroy all public education above a rather low common denominator.  That is its intent.  It is supposed to dumb down and exclude the middle-class children who might challenge the elites for spaces in the top universities and the positions after graduation that come from them.  Only private schools will have courses of sufficiently advanced material and cognitive depth to make students Ivy-ready on graduation; students of the rest will require remediation or simply flunk out.

    It’s class warfare.

    • Replies: @Hare Krishna
  14. Wally says: • Website

    Low IQs are what cause educational failures. Good heavens, look at basket case Africa where median IQs in some areas are in the 70s. Defendants in US courts of law with IQs that low are routinely ruled mentally unfit for trial. Even the US armed forces tests for IQ, hard to believe I know.

    Yes, it matters.

    Tired of excuses.

  15. gored says:

    This reminds me of the giant health study in which they were going to prove that estrogen lowers heart attack risk. But not too long into the carefully controlled double blind study, the number of heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer was so high that the committee that approves the use of human subjects withdrew its permission.

    The Kansas City experiment was certainly a large enough sample to demonstrate that facilities and opportunities may be necessary but are not sufficient for student success. Meanwhile across the state line Blue Valley inherited the talent and test scores.

    Last year more students graduated from private schools in Kansas City than from the public schools. The Kansas City school district graduated about 1200 students total.

  16. Sam J. says:

    Why wasn’t that judge in Kansas impeached? He ruled on the law, raised taxes to implement policy and then made the policy. All three branches of government in one offensive package.

    • Replies: @pyrrhus
  17. I just finished re-watching season four of HBO’s “The Wire”
    FYI – It’s number 85 on the satirically sinful web site “Stuff White People Like” There are several arcs going on in the series but one of them follows four Black boys of middle school age in and out of the classroom. The series received critical claim (for good reason) for it’s realism. But it’s no holds bar look in a 100% Black school should be an eye opener for everyone. Just as in real life you may get a few wins but illustrates, however sadly, no amount of money was going to change anything for most of those kids.

  18. Reminds one of the cargo cult religions of Polynesia . They would build runways, towers, even wear headsets trying to make the planes full beads land.

  19. @George Taylor

    “The series received critical claim (for good reason) for it’s realism.”

    Seriously? Do you really believe that?

    *The Wire* was fairly entertaining. But it never had anything to do with “realism.”

  20. donut says:

    Our education system like so much else in our doomed society is based on diverting nutrients from healthy cells to malignant cells. In season 4 of the wire the the standout lesson is that social services and really the system as a whole in no way helps anybody but rather makes every effort to keep every body down. When Carver volunteers to take Randy under his care the system intervenes to make sure he will never be anything but a shit stain .That’s policy. As soon as Dukie starts to show potential the system intervenes to drag him back where he belongs.
    Some years ago when my mother had a home in Vt. she rented it out to a woman who was a social worker ,the daughter of a well off Methodist pastor.This massive hypocrite was very comfortable herself but resented any other white person who had money and prided herself on her ability to scam the system to get funds for her beloved Negro clients, of which there were very few in the whitest state in the Union.She had originally worked in Mass. but had to leave there for some unspecified reason.She once said to me that she terribly missed Black culture.Is there really such a thing ?Anyway in the neighbors barn there were of course some barn cats.She used to put out cat food for them in front of my mother’s house despite my mother asking her not to.When she felt she wasn’t doing enough good by feeding these strays she began to trespass on the neighbors property to feed the cats in the barn.In addition to this disregard of white peoples property rights for the higher good this fool would capture the male cats and have them castrated. This of course didn’t keep other stray males form coming by and impregnating the females .In the end there was a small population explosion in the neighbors barn before he told her to keep off his property.Nothing penetrated her smug self-assurance .She was very pleased with herself in her righteousness. In the end she accomplished what all these meddling do gooders do, created more misery than than ever would have existed without her actions.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  21. Sam says:

    When are we going to be free of this hellish political, legal, and criminal dystopia?

    It’s too much.

  22. Gordo says:

    Staring into the abyss of Civil War, that is where we all are.

    Don’t be on the wrong side of the line when the front appears.

    • Replies: @donut
  23. Don’t just get angry with bureaucrats. Get angry with those well-meaning whites who have led us into this box canyon. Get VERY angry.

  24. They’ll try everything but the most obvious and most effective solutions: school choice and vouchers.

    The unions would howl in protest, but that would solve the problems and narrow the gap.

    • Replies: @Bobbala
  25. @unit472

    Goes without saying.

    Specifically the system of comprehensive public secondary schools that we have is a relic of post WWII America, in which there was a certain level of homogenity such that a one size fits all program could fit the majority of kids, even if some were left out.

    We need to go back to having specialized schools for the best and the brightest, as was the case pre-war. It would not be racist. If anything it would greatly solve America’s racial issues. Just as specialized schools in the early 20th century helped assimilate immigrants then, they could assimilate immigrants now.

    • Replies: @Engineer-Poet
  26. @Hare Krishna

    You’re going to have to abolish “disparate impact” law first.

    • Replies: @Hare Krishna
  27. @Engineer-Poet

    One of the federal courts of appeal struck disparate impact down. The Supreme Court probably will next year.

  28. pyrrhus says:
    @Jim

    I think circular trigonometry is probably the key course at that level. It unlocks many crucial aspects of math.

  29. pyrrhus says:
    @Sam J.

    Because our politicians are cowardly jackasses in thrall to the media. Unless you are in a completely non-diverse area, get your kids out of public schools.

  30. Bobbala says:
    @Hare Krishna

    The problem with freedom is that people tend to use it. Now if people would only choose negro of their own free will … for themselves! The Obama would permit you your freedom.

  31. Part of the problem is the success of pilot schemes. A small pilot scheme, staffed by enthusiastic, capable people can achieve wonders. Add in the Hawthorne Effect, and the assessment of the outcomes by people who are already committed to the cause, and almost any scheme can have a large positive effect: even teaching Latin or Philosophy in under-achieving schools.

    When the scheme is rolled out nationwide, and staffed by average people, the results are not so impressive.

  32. Hubbub says:
    @Buzz Mohawk

    “…trying one misguided idea after another…” Not so much. We’ve being recycling the same few ideas now for well over a century. We just give them a different name. There are no ‘new’ ideas in eduction. Education is the greatest recycler of disproven ideas known to man.

    Race to the Top
    No Child Left Behind
    Why Johnny Can’t Read
    Every Child a College Graduate
    Block Scheduling
    Individualized Instruction
    etc.

    No one with a smidgen of intellect expects any of these programs, new or old, to change the present situation. What we can expect is more and more of our tax money thrown at an unsolvable problem. As my coach use to say when he wanted to shame us: ‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t!” But, this is exactly what our betters give us, wrapped up in meaningless rhetoric.

  33. Wally says: • Website

    Catherine Lhamon is just another example of the destructive & racist Obama agenda to loot and hold back whites.

    Regardless of costs? White people pay the bills as usual, so who cares?

    Legality? Since when do unproductive Marxists follow law or constitutions?

    AP classes in black-brown schools? Empty classrooms.

    Secession, the only option to avoid leftist insanity.

    Thanks.

  34. GrimmTale says:

    Seems to me, if the book – The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, was required reading (by the dept of Education, and other political agencies/groups who inflict these laws and budgetary spending free-falls), none of this wasteful spending would occur. Especially IF… afterward, honest oversight were in place to avoid known failures.

  35. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @donut

    She’a an idiot. Sure that her way is the best way. The trap-neuter-release program does work in keeping down the feral cat population — mass killing just creates room for more, they breed that fast — but you make sure the females are neutered first and foremost. Also, you sure as hell don’t need to go trespassing on others’ property to feed the critters. Put it out on your own and the hungry will come.

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