WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Perfect storm for schools

In his weekly radio address this past weekend, Governor Markell addressed the issue of ongoing work-force education, as he celebrated the opening of a construction job training facility in Newark.

But in many other radio addresses - and in his public speeches - the governor has talked at length about K-12 education, and the need for Delaware to develop a "world-class" education system.

Indeed, from President Obama on down, politicians bandy that term a lot: "World-class education".

I roll my eyes. Really?

You mean we're going to foreign-language immersion from the early grades, as other countries have done for generations? You mean we're instilling an interest and respect for science from the early grades? You mean we're adding more academic extra-curriculars, and de-emphasizing competitive sports? You mean we've changed the popular culture, which still makes fun of the academically gifted, and from which Corporate America reaps Millions of dollars in junk entertainment that denigrates the nerds? You mean we've made parents who march into classrooms - into pariahs - for demanding a grade change for their precious son or daughter? (As I've noted on this blog before, this phenomenon may be even more rampant in religious / private schools, where some parents feel entitled to bully teachers because the parents directly pay the bills!) And finally - as covered before recently on this blog - you mean we're going to take a serious look at staggered, year-round schooling? Oh yes, and decoupling schools from property-tax referenda, an anachronistic system of funding practiced virtually nowhere else in the world? (Hey, if we get to vote on how our tax dollars are spent, I'd like to have a say on DelDOT's prioritization of projects!)

Give me a break! Also... spare me "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top"!

Now let's get to the perfect storm: State and Federal funding cuts are hitting public schools in Delaware and elsewhere hard.

As a Monday NEWS JOURNAL article notes, school districts are contemplating lay-offs of paraprofessionals and other support staff in a last-ditch effort to preserve current class sizes. Sequestration is hitting. An irony noted by Karen Kennedy of the Brandywine school district's American Federation of Teachers: State government links so much to examinations, but some of the very computer lab facilitators who handle those standardized tests risk lay-offs.

Add one factor not mentioned in that NJ story: Catholic school closings - and an overall tough economic enviornment for parents who had been footing the bills - are sending more kids into the public school system (although such parents often aim for charter schools, when possible!).

(I've covered before in this blog how the public/private school competition in northern Delaware - in my view - undermines nearly ALL our schools in the breadth of their curricula and the opportunities which can be provided. As does this obsession with competitive sports!)

When you think about it, how could any U.S. politician proclaim - with a straight face - that he/she is prioritizing lifting the schools to "world-class"? Not in this enviornment. Maybe never.

Posted at 7:48am on May 20, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mon, May 20, 2013 8:10am
Glad you touched on this topic. This push to a world-class education is one based solely on the parsing of numbers... We are told we are 27th on test results. Yet, we test everyone, and most civilized nations do not put everyone through high school. In fact, they consider themselves lucky to put everyone through primary grades.

So, when the US tests its top 15% of students with those of another nation, we come out on top. Way on top.

We are dismantling our entire educational system with junk, kindly supported by $360 million of federal funding to just two consortiums, which are just like "think tanks" picking and pulling only information that, if twisted, supports their point of view.

This is a unifying cause sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, Progressives and Reactionaries... All are saying RTTT is not good for this nation.. This could be the Republican silver bullet, if they act on it immediately.

Mon, May 20, 2013 8:23am
In the 1930's, after the collapse of the world economy, America decided that we would prioritize the wealth of the middle-class over that of Wall Street. In other words, investment income was not given first veto power over legislation and policy changes. The middle-class was. That policy-change built America and its powerful economy under which we grew up. Back then, if you needed money for schools, you raised taxes and spent it.

Somehow, over the course of the past 30 years, our national priorities shifted. (Could be timed with the ability to buy out of Congress). But currently the impact of policy and legislation is first prioritized as to how it grows business. Not how it affects people of the middle-class.

The solution to fixing schools is obvious. That is to increase taxes on the top echelons who are doing extremely well, and use those funds to invest in schools. Tax what ever is needed with no limitations. The demise of public education can trace its fall from its lack of funding, which has declined per student ever since the tax revolt of 1979 began in California.... If you cut funding, you are going to teach worse than if you have unlimited resources.

It is a fundamental shift that needs first to occur in the people of the United States of America, and from there spread to its elected officials... We need to move money away from business investments, and put it back into paychecks and salaries, thereby increasing purchasing power across the economic spectrum. As a nation, we have the resources. We just have been putting them into the wrong accounts.

Allan Loudell
Mon, May 20, 2013 8:38am
I must differ on one fundamental point, kavips:

Whether in early childhood enrollment levels - or high school graduation rates - the United States consistently lags behind other developed (OECD) nations.

Unless... by parsing words... you're arguing that some students never make it into high school (secondary school) in some of these countries, and consequently, are never in the pool of those graduating. If so, please show me the evidence!

Allan Loudell

Mike from Delaware
Mon, May 20, 2013 8:52am
Kavips said: "In the 1930's, after the collapse of the world economy, America decided that we would prioritize the wealth of the middle-class over that of Wall Street. In other words, investment income was not given first veto power over legislation and policy changes. The middle-class was. That policy-change built America and its powerful economy under which we grew up. Back then, if you needed money for schools, you raised taxes and spent it.

Somehow, over the course of the past 30 years, our national priorities shifted. (Could be timed with the ability to buy out of Congress). But currently the impact of policy and legislation is first prioritized as to how it grows business. Not how it affects people of the middle-class."

Well said.

Mon, May 20, 2013 9:29am
Wrong! In the 1930s, when jobs were scarce, universal high school education was pushed to keep young people out of the work force. Just as social security was pushed to get older people out of the work force. The solution to too few jobs: fewer workers.

Now the education industry pushes college for everybody. Politicians tell working class people they are middle class when young people are not being prepared for working class or blue collar jobs and therefore we don't have enough young people learning to be plumbers, electricians, mechanics ... Instead we have a surplus of graduates with massive student loan debt and not enough white collar, managerial, professional or academic jobs for them.

Something is screwy.

Mon, May 20, 2013 9:33am

Calm down. "World class" is your typical public relations crutch that can be inserted into speeches about schools, police, roads, or anything else. When he says "world class" it's just a figure of speech. No need to take him literally, and get yourself into a lather.

Allan Loudell
Mon, May 20, 2013 9:43am
Mr. Smith---

Although it is interesting that while Europe suffered from high unemployment rates during the 1930's, Europe did not rush to embrace universal secondary schooling as quickly as the United States. Maybe it didn't dawn on the Europeans, or maybe they were already preoccupied with the war clouds on the horizon!

Also, looks like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would agree with you on some students aiming for some of the rather lucrative trades. Bloomberg said Friday that "so-so" students might consider attending a trade school and becoming a plumber as a better economic bet than going for an expensive undergrad degree.

To tea time... "World class" as a figure of speech or not, this country now suffers from its parochial approach to education.

Allan Loudell

Mon, May 20, 2013 9:47am
Allan, I don't think parents of children who previously went to Catholic school -- "such parents," in your words -- "aim for charter schools" any more or less than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Most charter schools that I know of are filled with students who have not attended non-public schools. I'm not sure what information you have to back up your claim.

I just don't see any validity to your claim. Most of the parents I know who have left the Catholic schools have turned to the traditional public schools, not charters. You make no mention of the school choice system, which in Brandywine has resulted in Concord High School becoming the clear choice of parents and students, or in Red Clay, where McKean and Dickinson are nearly forgotten. On the middle-school level, the divide in Red Clay is wide enough to drive a truck through, as parents can't get their kids into North Star or Brandywine Springs fast enough.

It is also not my experience that parents are banging down doors trying to get grades changed. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but do you have any evidence other than a gut feeling that it's more prevalent than in public schools? Perhaps parents of non-public school children are used to being more involved in their education. These schools, elementary schools in particular, usually need and even require parents to provide volunteer hours, so parents are used to being at school.

You made so many good points in this post. It's a shame you added two assertions with no basis in fact.

Mon, May 20, 2013 10:08am
AllanLoudell: Europe is more class-conscious than the US, which likes to pretend class does not exist here. Related to that, Europe has not embraced the idea of education as something to prepare one for a job. Europe still sticks to the idea of pure education in the liberals arts and sciences to develop the mind and socialize students to participate in the upper classes.

Allan Loudell
Mon, May 20, 2013 10:20am
Mike (as opposed to Mike from Delaware):

You're correct. I just threw those things in, based on stories I've heard.

I agree: Most charter schools would appear to be filled with students who HAVE attended public school. That doesn't necessarily mean the inverse isn't also true, however: That parents having to take their kids out of religious/private education might be particularly interested in the charters, and yes, within the traditional public school districts, those schools perceived as much more attractive than others. (Parents in the swath of territory through Wilmington Manor, New Castle to Bear may sense they have fewer choices than further north!)

I agree: Parents aren't "banging down the doors" to get grades changed, but it happens. I could've added kids themselves pleading to get a grade changed, including at the university level. ...As though the grade in itself is the absolute goal in the educational enterprise -- not longterm learning for life and critical thinking.

Mr. Smith: Agreed on the class-conscious thing - Europe vs. the U.S. - but I wonder if the lines have actually increased in the United States, and decreased in parts of Europe.

By the way - while most politicians/parents obviously view education as a ticket for a job - a part of me DOES gravitate to that idea of a pure education in the arts & sciences as an end in itself. And something tells me you did receive that kind of education.

Allan Loudell

Mon, May 20, 2013 10:42am
Allan Loudell: Maybe you haven't had a chance to check today's Daily Mail yet...

Bloomberg knows best: New York mayor tells 'so-so' students to skip college and become plumbers

* The billionaire has advised 'so-so' students to avoid expensive college fees and learn a practical skill like plumbing
* Plumbing is also good because it can't be outsourced or done by computer, he advised

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2326580/Bloomberg-knows-best-New-York-mayor-tells-so-students-skip-college-plumbers.html#ixzz2TqMUMB3p

I did both. I had a vocational education and then, when the military was finished with me, I took advantage of the educational benefits to receive a pure education. Based on that, it seems to me a pure education has the greater practical value. With a pure education, you learn to learn and you learn to think (that is to gather information, process it, and draw conclusions from it). What one learns in a vocational program can be learned as well - maybe better - on the job. But the education industry and the lending industry profit greatly from vocational education. If businesses don't have to train people as much, then they benefit, too.

Allan Loudell
Mon, May 20, 2013 11:05am
Mr. Smith---

I did see that news account about Mayor Bloomberg, and referred to it in my 9:43 a.m. response to you (although I think I added it a few minutes later, so perhaps you didn't see it!).

Allan Loudell

Tue, May 21, 2013 8:41am
kavips had an interesting article on his blog about Common Core that is worth a read...as a Tea Party-type I am against Common Core, but found it interesting how many others (from all spectrums of politics/backgrounds) are also opposed to Common Core in our schools.

Tue, May 21, 2013 8:43am

Tue, May 21, 2013 10:29am

A lot has changed in education since our time, as the the cartoon sketch above shows.

Allan, per your question... One can quickly see by using Wikipedia and searching for Education in ________________. There is a box consistently on the right, and in that box is the graduation percent. One can deduce that the remainder are in vo-tech or dropped out.

These were quickly compiled from Wikipedia. I won't put all the links, but will tell you how to get there. Wiki Education in the United States. Then use the top right box and just change the countries name.

The United States is at 85%
Singapore.... 66%
Finland...... 67%
New Zealand...82%

Although some nations come close to the US's graduation percentage, the United States graduates the highest percentage overall.. Which means we are testing all US students, and other nations are only testing those who choose, or made the grade to go into secondary school education. As mentioned by another commenter above, the European Model splits students into vocational and secondary school pathways. The vocational students are removed from the rigors of testing.

I'll pick on Shanghai because it was held up in a State of the Union speech. The scores of Shanghai were held as our Sputnik moment. But it was Shanghai, not all of China. Imagine to our horror if all of America were compared to Cambridge Massachusetts? (Gee, it's unexplainable why our scores are so down here in Harlem. Cambridge can do it!).


And here was a personal study done where immigrant data was removed from all nations testing, and when done, the US was near the top.


Finland has an immigrant population of 4%. The United States has 16.7% of first generation Hispanics alone! How can anyone make a tit for tat comparison?

When investigated fully our educational system does rather well, considering. Eliminate poverty, we'd do much better in 20 years... The best way to eliminate poverty is to have enough jobs available everyone can work two. The best way to reach full employment is to tax the wealthy enough, so that investing in plants, factories, and job producing entities becomes cheaper for them than investing in paper....

Why then, are we befuddled with all these reports stressing how poorly American education is and how behind we are on a global scale?

1/2 a trillion dollars or our GDP is spent on public education every year... That alone should tell you why.

The schemes of late night TV advertising with its info-mercials and loud startling noises, has come to education.

Tue, May 21, 2013 10:47am
And above, BillS presents a misperception. The Great Depression did not create our current system of education to keep students out of the workforce. Although that philosophy was used on farmers to keep crops out of circulation and manufacturers to keep supply below demand, it was not part of the educational equation.

In fact, The Great Depression in the thirties was very destructive to the current school system... By 1933, many public schools closed, leaving three million students with no school to go to. However the educational system did benefit from the depression in other ways... The Works Progress Administration (WPA) gave money to schools to hire more teachers and buy supplies. It also enabled public schools to provide free hot lunches for students. The WPA and PWA (Public Works Administration) built larger schools to replace the one-room schools.

During the Great Depression, teachers' salaries were cut; school programs were eliminated. Facing budget cuts, teachers organized into militant unions that in many cases successfully represented their interests. Economic consolidation led to standardization of curriculum, textbooks, and testing. The financing of school districts, which had been variable in the 1920s, was reformed and made efficient by the Depression.


Allan Loudell
Tue, May 21, 2013 11:17am

A quick reply, because I have a lot to do today.

Granted, comparing countries' rates and academic achievements is somewhat like apples and oranges, especially when some countries set up separate vocational tracks (although we have our vo-tech schools).

But, in turn, I'd ask you to use your search engine for OECD countries, graduation rates, etc.

And I accept your point that it would be highly misleading to accept data for a particular metropolitan area (Shanghai)in a country for the entire country.

That said, I could point to a report from Harvard University's program on Educational Policy & Governance a year ago, which showed the U.S. lagging behind other advanced countries.

And I've seen different media accounts over the years about manipulation of data: Principals and superintendents subtly encouraging early drop-outs, in part, so they wouldn't drag down a school's test scores, and early drop-outs might not even be counted in a particular school's graduation stats.

Allan Loudell

Tue, May 21, 2013 3:23pm
The headline here takes on a particular irony in the wake of schools leveled by the storm in Oklahoma.

Tue, May 28, 2013 1:25pm
I do hope you saw on the Harvard study that since the US has been focused on education in the 90's, we have achieved and increase in absolute test scores amounting to 1.6% each year, and over the span, we have accomplished a 22% gain over standard deviation?

Just remember that the next time someone says the sky is falling on education and things are falling apart.

They aren't. Someone is simply trying to sell you something.

Tue, May 28, 2013 1:43pm
Here is the flaw with the Harvard study. It is about improvement. Some of the biggest improver's were countries with no previous educational policy what so ever. For example of all these countries listed, Latvia, Chile, and Brazil, and Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania, none are what we consider big industrial powers listed in other reports of the best educated countries. Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, all countries with excellent educational systems based on their total scores, are absent... Some declined: Sweden, Bulgaria, Thailand, the Slovak and Czech Republics, Romania, Norway, Ireland, and France all dropped in their "improvement" levels. Which makes the United States look even better!

It is harder to improve on top of perfection than from starting at zero. A simple analogy of a marathon, verses a 100 mile dash might be in order. Someone doing a dash can cover a hundred yards faster than someone on their 25th mile. Yet you wouldn't say the child running 100 yards is the better athlete of the two.

Specifically this Harvard study is focused on improvement and not the net results. If someone knows nothing, and you teach them 10 things, they gained a 1000% improvement. Someone who knows 100 things and you teach them 10 things, they have a 10% gain in improvement.... That is what this study shows, and the factual data seems to comply to reality.

But what is wrong is the inference that: "because of this study, we are behind, just look at that percent difference!" And yet, over the course of time, both test subjects learned 10 new things so the rate of learning is equal.

That is misleading. The educational gains made by the US are impressive, as the study mentions at its beginning..

Someone is selling us something....

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