Skip to comments.Stupid in America -- Why your kids are probably dumber than Belgians
Posted on 01/13/2006 3:34:41 AM PST by JTN
For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid."
We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.
The American boy who got the highest score told me: "I'm shocked, 'cause it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."
The Belgians did better because their schools are better. At age ten, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.
This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.
In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein. The new union contract offers slight relief, but it's still about 200 pages of bureaucracy. "We tolerate mediocrity," said Klein, because "people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years, "He hasn't taught, but we have had to pay him, because that's what's required under the contract."
They've paid him more than $300,000, and only after 6 years of litigation were they able to fire him. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence.
When I confronted Union president Randi Weingarten about that, she said, "they [the NYC school board] just don't want to do the work that's entailed." But the "work that's entailed" is so onerous that most principals just give up, or get bad teachers to transfer to another school. They even have a name for it: "the dance of the lemons."
The inability to fire the bad and reward the good is the biggest reason schools fail the kids. Lack of money is often cited the reason schools fail, but America doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years. Test scores and graduation rates stayed flat. New York City now spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. That's $220,000 for a classroom of twenty kids. Couldn't you hire two or three excellent teachers and do a better job with $220,000?
Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.
The U.S. Postal Service couldn't get it there overnight. But once others were allowed to compete, Federal Express, United Parcel, and others suddenly could get it there overnight. Now even the post office does it (sometimes). Competition inspires people to do what we didn't think we could do.
If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows? If there were competition, all kinds of new ideas would bloom.
This already happens overseas. In Belgium, for example, the government funds educationat any schoolbut if the school can't attract students, it goes out of business. Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents. "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, "You can't afford ten teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."
"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."
Last week, Florida's Supreme Court shut down "opportunity scholarships," Florida's small attempt at competition. Public money can't be spent on private schools, said the court, because the state constitution commands the funding only of "uniform, . . . high-quality" schools. But government schools are neither uniform nor high-quality, and without competition, no new teaching plan or No Child Left Behind law will get the monopoly to serve its customers well.
A Gallup Poll survey shows 76 percent of Americans are either completely or somewhat satisfied with their kids' public school, but that's only because they don't know what their kids are missing. Without competition, unlike Belgian parents, they don't know what their kids might have had.
Three myths of American education:
1. Education is the key to our future.
2. To get a good job you need a college education.
3. Teachers are underpaid.
Add those up and you get a public-education monopoly run by unions.
Stupid in America -- Why your kids are probably dumber than Belgians
American parents bear a lot of the blame. Many have bought into the idea that self-esteem is somehow unrelated to self-respect, and have emphasized the former rather than the latter in rearing their kids. That true self-esteem can arise only out of self-respect, and that self-respect can arise only out of hard work and self-discipline, are facts that would appear to have escaped their notice.
So much the worse for us and our posterity...
Back a couple of years ago when I was in high school the teachers were about to go on strike because they were "underpaid". One teacher who was only about 32 who was against the union told us he made $50,000+, full medical and dental, as much vacation as students, 2 free periods per day, full pension, medical and dental until death, whole and term life insurance, and a paid funeral. 90% of people in the working world only wish they had that kind of package.
It'll be watched by no one and nothing will change. I'm no tinfoil-hatter, but you almost have to assume that our education system is the way it is for a reason. It's pretty much designed to create generation after generation of mindless drones who will do exactly what they're told, exercise no creativity, and will not question authority.
Their economies are in the toilet because their economies are more socialist than ours is. Their education system is better because it's less socialist. The lesson is clear -- socialism stinks.
And the time-off package is ridiculous.
This is awful. We have to spend much more money on education. They have the right idea in the new high school they built in my area, with it's indoor olympic size swimming pool, and plasma TV screens in the hallways.
I remember reading somewhere awhile back (though I don't remember where) that teachers actually make as much as or more than most professionals with similar educations when calculated on a per hour basis.
Today's parents were educated in the same system that is the problem. You need to go back 40 years to find something that resembles decent education and even then it was not nearly as rigorous as at was 40 years earlier than that time.
"Stupid in America airs every night."
The term "tin-foil hat" was created by those same people. I do not believe it is possible for education to have regressed as far as it has, while nearly everything else has been PROGRESSING, purely by accident.
There's only one important myth of American education, which does not exist anywhere else in the world.
That is the myth that all, or virtually all, young adults are capable of tenth-grade level work and beyond.
This is manifestly false and has resulted in the erection and maintenance, at huge cost, of giant holding pens for 15-18 year olds, and the debasement of academic values and evaluation systems for all.
Free universal public education must end at age 14.
Some of the holding pens are really nice.
But they're not schools.