Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TEACHING OUR KIDS....Go read Somerby today. There's no Bush bashing or Gore-mongering in today's column, and as usual he doesn't write in a way likely to win friends or influence people, but go read him anyway. I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools, but he's got a point.

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (134)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Sounds like the result of Every Child Left Behind.

Bush and the GOP have been in charge of the edumacation (sic) system for five years.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Well done, Kevin -- get in some slams on someone who dares to call bullshit on our rightly Bush-loving media!

Now, if you can continue supporting Bush on this ports thing, and slamming liberals who dare question him, that would be good, too.

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 1, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools ...

I'm sure his new pet cause will get a much better deal from the other guys. Is there something we can take to help us excrete Somerby? He's no good to anyone on his own side.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on March 1, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

What is this 'Gore-mongering' of which Drum speaks?

If I call an Amarone 'a distinguished Italian red wine', am I 'wine-mongering'?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 1, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ninety percent of the time someone says "liberals believe this" or "liberals do that", they are lying.

This is a fine example of one of those times.

Obviously the liberals Somerby knows aren't spending enough time on this issue for his tastes.

And I like how he states "In the modern world, conservatives talk about low-income kidsbut we liberals no longer bother", and then proceeds to provide absolutely no examples of the former but several examples of the latter.

Guilty conscience, I'm thinking.

Posted by: S Ra on March 1, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools, but he's got a point.

Liberals supporting vouchers would be a good start.

Posted by: Al on March 1, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: aren't you too busy kiss-kiss-kissing up to the foppish and perfumed media elites to read Somerby's painstakingly cut-and-pasted-and-repasted-and-repasted-and-repasted-and-repasted...

wait, where was I? Oh yeah, hey rubes!

Posted by: brent on March 1, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Liberals supporting vouchers would be a good start."

All for it! With a few minor conditions:

1) Like public schools, the private schools have to take all comers. No cherry-picking allowed.

2) Put an income cap on the vouchers- maybe up to 150% of the average household income to qualify.

3) The voucher covers the entire cost of the private school.

I'm sure that these minor considerations should be no problem. After all, it's not like most voucher supporters are trying to subsidize the upper-middle class folks who are already sending their kids to private schools, while making sure the value of the vouchers is low enough to still keep the cost too high for most lower-class folks, right?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 1, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

I take it that such blog posts are from the gw school of never-blame-yourselves?

The lion's share of the issue is: white folks don't much care about black folks.

The thing is, white folks try to HIDE this fact by saying it's "liberals" who don't care about "low-income" people.

It's just white folks doing their best to deny the existence of racism, by simply ignoring it. Nice try Drum, et al.

Posted by: cdj on March 1, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Al: Liberals supporting vouchers would be a good start.

Since vouchers haven't worked to raise academic achievement where implemented, why would we expand that implementation at the risk of continued deterioration of our public school system?

We do understand, however, why conservatives would want to continue and expand a program that has failed - its the same reason they continue to engage in foreign policies and economic policies that have consistently failed to produce the promised results.

Bush's motto?

"If at first you fail, continue trying but don't do anything different. Continue to do the same thing over and over, no matter how many times it doesn't work, and by faith you will succeed. Or at least you can claim to have succeeded despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and hope the public isn't paying attention."

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Well done, Kevin -- get in some slams on someone who dares to call bullshit on our rightly Bush-loving media!"

Well, there's one commenter who didn't bother to click the link. Somerby actually praises the L.A. Times in this series and slams the reliable anti-Bush voices among opinion writers.

Somerby is, of course, right. Show me the liberal opinion-makers who are standing against the silly, faddish stampede to improve education by "raising standards." Where are the liberal lawmakers offering alternatives to NCLB?

As far for Kevin's remark:
"I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools,"

I'll play along. Maybe Somerby overshot. What level of scorn do they deserve for not caring?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

If you are old enough to remember the political discourse before Regan you know exactly what he is talking about.

Posted by: thebewilderness on March 1, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker: Show me the liberal opinion-makers who are standing against the silly, faddish stampede to improve education by "raising standards."

I agree to a certain extent, but then Dems have little control right now over the congressional agenda and have been eviscerated by the GOP of any minority rights, rights which the Dems didn't deny the GOP when the Dems were in power - something the Righties keep pointing out, in between flip-flopping and insisting that the Dems should use those "minority rights" that they've just recently insisted the Dems have no right to.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

"...but then Dems have little control right now over the congressional agenda..."

Right. I forgot that federal law prohibits the minority party from holding opinions or speaking outside the halls of Congress.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Advocate for God,

Since vouchers haven't worked to raise academic achievement where implemented, why would we expand that implementation at the risk of continued deterioration of our public school system?

There you go again, trying to insert reality into a pathetic faith-based policy/mindset.

Posted by: Edo on March 1, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

"I'll play along. Maybe Somerby overshot. What level of scorn do they deserve for not caring?"

He didn't overshoot at all. Politically powerful liberals gave up on education because it didn't get them elected. Just like they've given up on guns. And state-run health care.

Ironic that being willing to toss out their convictions for political expediancy only further convinces the electorate that liberals have no core beliefs. The electorate opts to elect people it sees as having strong beliefs and resolve.

Posted by: Tom on March 1, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

I put the rather more knowledgeable opinions of my two sisters, one of whom teaches math to poor black kids and the other who teaches history to poor latino kids, ahead of Somerby's little self-indulgent rant. Trust me Kevin, most liberals do give a damn about the education of poor kids, and don't just pay the subject lip service as Somerby does.

Posted by: David W. on March 1, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Bull Shit - he is blaming liberals for the fact that the school system is not set up to do what he says it ought to be doing.

Moreover, the entire idea of vouchers is "free lunch" promise. There is absolutely no substance behind the claim that vouchers will solve the education problem.

There is no problem with public education in afflunt and middle class communities. We are now trying to educate kids from poor backgounds that we use to tell drop out and work for a living. But we are trying to use the same educational methodology that works for kids from enriched home environments. But the private schools use exactly the same methodology.

The fact that this girl was not given the teaching she needed to learn algebra is both a conservative and liberal problem.

He is just ranting without any substance behind his rants.

His rant is the equivalent of blaming the liberals on the mess in Iraq because we did not stop Bush.

Posted by: spencer on March 1, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker: I forgot that federal law prohibits the minority party from holding opinions or speaking outside the halls of Congress.

If you will explain how this results in actual legislation, I'll be happy to listen.

When the people deliberately want to be misled into believing lies (e.g., Iraq), no taking to the bully-pulpit while lacking a base of power to effectuate change through action will be of much use.

Edo: There you go again, trying to insert reality into a pathetic faith-based policy/mindset.

Since "Al" isn't real (in that "Al" is apparently a parody), it is somewhat futile, but because "Al" does anticipate what some rdw-like fool will eventually post in all seriousness . . .

Well, all of us on the reality-based plane do try.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

"If you will explain how this results in actual legislation, I'll be happy to listen."

If you will explain how sitting quietly on the sidelines educates children, I'll listen.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

One difficulty with commenting on the Howler is the mind numbing redundancy. I think the point is well made that simply demanding that something be done is not the same thing as making sure it gets done. There, we've said it, and that covers several thousand words of Howler rant.

The author (apparently in Baltimore) misses one point that dare not speak its name: Tens of thousands of students come into LA schools several years late because they have only recently entered the country. They lack not only English skills, but even a reasonably grammatical knowledge of their own language. They have not been taken through the basic math series that we use in this country, much less the rest of the curriculum. Some students catch up and thrive. Many do not.

There is one more question that we might consider asking: At what point can we say that the public education system has done a reasonable job and should not be blamed if some students lack the ability or the personality to do the work?

What was missing from the L.A. Times series was any deeper analysis of how all those students entered Birmingham High School so far behind and so unprepared. The series actually followed a number of students (in particular, one group of eleven), but there was no effort to examine how well prepared any of them were as they entered the ninth grade. For example, the reporters could have asked to see report cards from the eighth grade (surely they could have found some parents who were willing to cooperate at least that far). They could have asked permission to interview former teachers. The series leaves this a mystery.

There is a much deeper question, which involves the purposes of the education system and possible tracking of students. Germany, for example, offers a well thought-out program in technical studies that graduates people capable of doing high class work for industry. Those students go on to high paying jobs, and the basic infrastructure of their society benefits. We graduate people who can discuss Sartre but can't fix a drain. One famous novelist summarized our approach thusly: "Neither their theories nor their pipes will hold water."

Posted by: Bob G on March 1, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

most liberals do give a damn about the education of poor kids, and don't just pay the subject lip service as Somerby does.

Still desperately searching for these who "give a damn". Which liberal writers and opinion-makers are advocating change? Which lawmakers have bothered with the issue? Names please.

(As for Mr. Somerby's "lip service," perhaps you haven't read enough of his series to know the number of years he spent teaching children from low-income families. Correct answer: 10.)

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the info on Somerby's past in teaching QinaB, and I am glad to be set to rights about his actual committment to kids. As far as lawmakers/opinionmakers committed to helping kids, are you interested in some from Minnesota and Wisconsin?

Posted by: David W. on March 1, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker: If you will explain how sitting quietly on the sidelines educates children, I'll listen.

It doesn't.

But neither will calling a press conference to announce a program of legislation that has no chance to pass and to which no one will pay any attention.

You can't legislate a desire to have an educated public.

If a case can be made, it must be made by the education establishment, with concrete research and results to back up that case.

Depending on the Democrats in Congress to wave a magic wand, tell us what's wrong with the education system, and offer a fix to a public who will remain deaf to what they say is, to say the least, tilting at windmills built of steel.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, the members of Congress, whether Democrats or Republicans, do not constitute a think tank or research center capable of defining the problem, creating possible solutions, and testing those solutions.

They certainly can, and certainly should, fund such efforts, demand such efforts, as well as funding the building and maintenance of basic educational facilities and and the development of educational staffs; they can and should certainly demand accountability from state and local officials for ensuring equal spending on and educational opportunity for each American child; but determining how best to educate our children would seem to be a bit far beyond either their constitutional mandate or their expertise.

Every Child Left Behind was destined to fail from the start, because of such reasons and, of course, because idiots are in charge of our government right now and are incompetent with respect to virtually every public policy effort they attempt to implement.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Still desperately searching for these who "give a damn".

I would venture to guess that the teachers manning the front lines in these schools give a damn. But I guess they don't count.

Posted by: tam1MI on March 1, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Somerby speaks directly to issues of class that liberal / Democratic elites routinely dance around. He's doing valuable work. And I don't think it's fair to say that he's doing a disservice to "our team". Somerby is vastly sharper, more coherent, and moral than, say, Wittman or Lieberman, who really do routinely undercut progressive causes.

Posted by: sglover on March 1, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

What's the point we're supposed to find in the Daily Howler posts? I flipped through them quickly and didn't detect much of interest.

Was it the conjecture that liberals don't care about low-income kids? The belief that if blogs don't pick up on a story, this is somehow reflective of liberal views? The apparent argument that the real problem with public schools lies in unrealistic new standards? The various rants about how 2d rate public schools are?

Posted by: Aidan on March 1, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Depending on the Democrats in Congress to wave a magic wand, tell us what's wrong with the education system, and offer a fix to a public who will remain deaf to what they say is, to say the least, tilting at windmills built of steel.
"

If I run into anyone who's making that argument, I'll pass along your rebuttal.

Let's get back to what the L.A. Times wrote and to Mr. Somerby's favorite topic, shall we?

The L.A. School District recently decided to "raise standards" by requiring all students to pass an algebra course to receive a high school diploma.

The new standard demands that ninth graders are placed in algebra class, prepared or not. If they fail, they take the same class again. If they fail again, they take the same class again.

The Times writer follows the story of a handful of kids who eventually drop out because they'll never receive a diploma because they can't meet the new standard. In a rush to sign up for "raising standards" the L.A. school district is willing to fail in their responsibility to educate children from low-income families.

Who have you seen, liberal or conservative, writer or lawmaker, educator or activist, who is making an issue of this failure?

It's not an easy question to answer. Perhaps that's why finding fault with Mr. Somerby's analysis is an appealing alternative.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

I wish people would stop criticizing Bush's No Child Left Behind program - it's an ingenious plan, to create a domestic pool of uneducted, unskilled labor, to take up all the low-end jobs in the country, thereby solving our terrible illegal immigration problem, by taking away the incentive for people to come here illegally (low-end jobs).

Bravo, Mister Bush!

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 1, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'm slightly startled to find myself saying this, but I can think of one politician who came close to addressing root causes of educational problems: Hillary Clinton, with her much-derided idea that "It Takes A Village".

Posted by: sglover on March 1, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

MJ Memphis,

What are you trying to achieve with condition #1 (Take all comers?)

It seems to me that one huge strength of a more varied school system would be more specialized schools. If you have one school saying, "We specialize in kinetic learners", another saying "We specialize in kids who benefit from a very structured environment", and a third saying "We specialize in kids who need to catch up in reading"--why shouldn't each school admit only the kids it thinks it can help?

Posted by: SamChevre on March 1, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Moreover, the entire idea of vouchers is "free lunch" promise. There is absolutely no substance behind the claim that vouchers will solve the education problem."

The porblem is with the unions, and the liberals aren't going to fix their main constituency group.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 1, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

The elementary school scores have been going up a lot under Romer, and he has also built a lot of new facilities to relieve the crowding and bad conditions in the L.A. schools. Hopefully, when those students are in HS scores and conditions will improve. Given the resources he had, Romer probably concentrated on the right things, but it doesn't help current HS students much.

Its true that liberals in CA haven't been willing to pony up the $ to pay for a full education for the mainly brown and black poor kids.

You can gnash your teeth and rend your garments about how awful the liberals are, or you can recognize that there is limit to how much average people are going to contribute towards people who don't look like them (while continuing to push people). It's why I think immigration restrictions are necessary. Nobody is going to pony up sufficient $ for education, health for the wave of poor immigrant kids. It would be better for us as a society to bring fewer up in decent schools than condemn many to checkout jobs.

Posted by: CalDem on March 1, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

"What's the point we're supposed to find in the Daily Howler posts? I flipped through them quickly and didn't detect much of interest."

That, in a nutshell, is the point.

The largest school district in the state of California adopts a new policy that's cranking out dropouts by the thousands. Our commentor can't "detect much of interest." The commenter isn't alone. One must search diligently to find liberal lawmakers, writers, or even school board members who "detect much of interest" in a serious discussion about what it takes to educate children from low-income families.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on March 1, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, at least they know how to chew gum and look at art at the same time:

link

Posted by: tripoley on March 1, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Nobody is going to pony up sufficient $ for education, health for the wave of poor immigrant kids. It would be better for us as a society to bring fewer up in decent schools than condemn many to checkout jobs."

So how are private schools doing a much better job at half the costs?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 1, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

SamChevre- the point of condition #1 is to give a level playing field. As it stands, public schools do not get an option on who they take or do not take. If taxpayer money is going to go to the private schools, they should be willing to accept the same condition. It's easy to get "better results" if you get to choose your student body.

However, in an ideal world (or with proper oversight) I can see the virtue of the setup you propose, with more specialized schools using different learning methodologies. In practice, for that to work there would probably need to be some sort of outside oversight to make sure that the admissions standards are applied fairly. Otherwise, it would be far too easy (and, in many areas where I've lived, very likely) to end up with a situation where, say, 90% of the inner-city applicants are told, so sorry, your child doesn't fit our specialty, while 95% of the (upper middle class, suburban) applicants are deemed to be "kinetic learners" or whatever.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 1, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Welcome to California, the blue-est state in the union.

To our eternal shame, it took one of the worst governors in human history to settle the ACLU law suit allowing poor schools access to AP classes and adequate text books.

Think about that for a second. How can we claim to support poor kids if we won't demand that they get the even the same level of opportunity as kids in the 'burbs, when, in fact they need a hell of a lot more?

Face it kids, not since Pat Brown have liberals demanded educational access for everyone.

Somerby's a pain in the ass, but if he's offended you today, you likely deserve it.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Freedom F*cker: So how are private schools doing a much better job at half the costs?

They aren't.

That's what happens when you live in a faith-based (delusional) version of reality: you adopt myth as fact.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

WHAT??? Liberals insufficiently committed to education?

Ted Kennedy was willing to make a deal with the devil because it would get more federal money into schools. He was willing to a political enemy a political issue to run on (look how I fixed the schools!) because he was committed to actually trying to do something good for education.

Liberals have just spent the last God knows how many years trying to get more money for NYC schools. A liberal walked all the way from New York City to Albany. Liberals spent years fighting a HUGE court battle, and they won. And it's conservatives who are opposing them and refusing to spend the billions ordered by the court.

It's liberals who are fighting to improve the basic conditions that make a decent education possible--we're opposing cuts to head start, we're pushing for better school lunches, we're pushing for healthcare access for kids, we're pushing for minimum wage increases. And yeah, minimum wage is an education issue because when mommy works 2 jobs she can't help with homework.

The real liberals aren't the problem. The problem is a media that thinks Joe Klein is a left-wing liberal! Seriously, grassroots organizations are no less engaged than they were 10 years ago, it's just that Republicans took over Congress and now insane people run Washington, so nobody talks about ed policy anymore.

Sorry, but you can't blame liberals for this. The real liberals are in teh trenches, bleeding away. It's the moderates who have the microphone, and who are saying NOTHING.

Posted by: theorajones on March 1, 2006 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks MJ Memphis--that makes sense. I think, though, that the income cap would be solve that problem by itself.

My POV is based on my and my wife's experience (both of us have been special-ed teachers.) Some students really need a classroom that is relatively unstructured and hands-on ("kinetic learners" is edu-speak for those kids); some kids (esp those with mild ADD) need a very still, quiet classroom to work effectively. (Both tend to suffer in standard classrooms.) I can teach either, but I can't teach both at the same time--their needs conflict.

Posted by: SamChevre on March 1, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know about liberal/Democratic elites, since I don't pay much attention to them, but personally I became a teacher largely because of this issue.

Perhaps part of the liberals-ignoring-education problem (to the extent that it exists beyond the DLC and Yglesias'* blogging choices) is that you can only yell "Hey! We really need some money** down here" so many times and be completely ignored before your voice (and heart) get tired. I don't know how Kozol does it. The man is a prophet, in the Old Testament sense.

*and c'mon! Complaining about Yglesias not having a sensible take on ed. issues is like complaining about about Yglesias not having covering environmental issues. That's just the way he is.

** money partly being a shorthand for some pretense of equality, but really, most of that involves, well, money.

Posted by: Dan S. on March 1, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Did somebody claim that private schools do better at half the cost? That person hasn't paid to send a kid to private school anytime recently. And believe me, the occasional cheap ones do lousy jobs (charter schools are failing all over).

Posted by: David in NY on March 1, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

And who would expect Yglesias to have any ideas about poor schools anyway. Where did he go to school for high school and college? To two schools that would today cost about $325,000 for the experience. (And I bet at his college, he didn't participate in the tutoring programs in his fair city.)

Posted by: David in NY on March 1, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker in a Basement:

Who have you seen, liberal or conservative, writer or lawmaker, educator or activist, who is making an issue of this failure?

We liberals, as a group, are worse than useless on this issue. Not only do we NOT champion the poor underdogs, our recent love of standardized testing is designed to make the situation worse: we raise standards, but do not commit to spend resources on the children who fall below the mark.

If you go to local school board meetings, you see that spending is treated in block-grant fashion - staff is shifted - to improve the scores of the children who are easiest to teach, at the expense of those who require intensive remedial help.

No moral society would hold all children to the same standards, if it was unwilling to offer the same basic resources, like certified teachers.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

"So how are private schools doing a much better job at half the costs?"

Because they're not unionized? I imagine that the power of the teachers union could block efforts at reform.

Posted by: Tom on March 1, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

California's problems go back to Prop 13, and it wasn't the liberals who decided they didn't want to pay to educate immigrant children, it was largely the conservatives and their anti-tax philosophy still cripples California.

The LA Times series is correct that a large problem is kids unprepared for Algebra. Better teaching in the lower grades and smaller classes are going to help that, but it doesn't help the kids now in Ninth Grade.

But anyone who has spent any time in classrooms for underperforming kids has to face the lackadasical attitude the kids have toward their education. Read that article about the poor attendance. And the poor behavior. The kids aren't helping matters with their refusal to meet minimal behavior standards and their apparent belief until it is too late that no one is ever really going to hold them accountable.

I have volunteered for several years in both 4th grade math and 8th grade Algebra. It is very true that kids have very different readiness, and different mental and emotional make-up. Some kids need a great deal of help, and it is up to the community to supply that. Older kids are very difficult, but younger kids do respond most of the time. I would urge retired or otherwise idle people to try classroom volunteering to help alleviate the problem. Hillary was right, it does take a village to raise a child.

Posted by: Mimikatz on March 1, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker: Show me the liberal opinion-makers who are standing against the silly, faddish stampede to improve education by "raising standards."

Sen. Hillary Clinton:

"Yes, we need to end social promotion. Social promotion-peers are allowed to graduate without consideration for academic performance. But what good does it do to raise the bar if we dont lift up our young people to be able to vault across it. You cannot raise standards without increasing the resources needed to meet those standards."

"We need extended learning time. We need after-school and summer programs. We need smaller classroom sizes. Reducing class size is one of the most critical investments we can make, not only in our childrens future, but in our teachers ability to succeed. Too many teachers have to spend more time keeping order, dealing with personal problems, trying to understand what one child out of 30 or 35 needs, than maintaining high academic standards for the entire classroom."

"Ive been involved with schools now for 17 years, working on behalf of education reform. And I think we know what works. We know that getting classroom size down works. Thats why Im for adding 100,000 teachers to the classroom. We know that modernizing and better equipping our schools works. And we know that high standards works. But whats important is to stay committed to the public school system, not siphon off money, as my opponent would, with vouchers."

"I could not support vouchers that would take money away from schools where teachers are in partitioned hallways, where the teacher has the only textbook in the classroom. If we can get class size down, if we can provide qualified teachers, we can make a difference. I support adding 100,000 teachers to lower class size. I support the bipartisan school construction funding authority that would permit New York to have school construction without raising taxes."

"What are we going to do about education? I have put forth an education plan that is based on my years of working to reform and improve education.

"I have very specific proposals about lowering classroom size, getting more qualified teachers into the classroom, starting a national teacher corps to recruit young people.

"If theyre willing to teach, they would get a scholarship. As well as some mid-career people that I would like to see, perhaps, go into teaching with some incentives.

"I support the 100,000 teachers from the federal government, which my opponent has opposed -- we need those teachers in New York.

I also support modernizing our schools with the construction bonds that are a bipartisan piece of legislation that would be such a help to us because we could deal with our repair and construction challenges without having to raise property taxes."


So, what exactly is Sen. Clinton failing to say that you think needs to be said, Quaker?

Is any mention of high standards anywhere, even combined with many other proposed solutions, wrong?

If you aren't finding and Dems talking tough and smart about education and criticizing Bush's policy, then I think you aren't looking very hard.

Could they do better?

Probably. But they do have a few other issues on their mind besides just ranting about education to a deaf and blind American public.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Tom: Because they're not unionized? I imagine that the power of the teachers union could block efforts at reform.

Unions are irrelevant.

Private schools aren't doing better.

And principles and school boards are as likely to block reforms as anyone, since they would have to answer for any failure to meet the goals of such reforms.

Your anti-union bias is pretty clear, however.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK


KEVIN DRUM: There's no Bush bashing or Gore-mongering in today's column, and as usual he doesn't write in a way likely to win friends or influence people, but go read him anyway. I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools, but he's got a point.

What's his point, Kevin? I doubt if you saw any beyond his link to your point, which likely saved him from even heavier derision from you.

Bob Somerby isn't selling cars or insurance, so your criticism that his writing lacks the ability to "win friends or influence people" only exposes your smarminess and your used car salesman disingenuousness.

As to the level of scorn Somerby delivers to liberals, would you be happier if he wrote Gabriela and told her she really should learn algebra so she could discover how "achinly beautiful" calculus is?

People like Somerby who speak skillfully from experience, conviction and dedication to the common good should be the first read among policy makers and citizen activists . . . and parents. Somerby's opinion isn't paid for, nor shaped by personal ambition. I miss his more general commentary--including the Gore-mongering, but his current focus on education is as relevant as any issue facing this country. Millions of under-educated children means millions of adults not prepared even for entry-level employment. What they mean for the rest of us is a very big problem.


Posted by: jayarbee on March 1, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

So long as the feds are involved,the programs will spend more to accomplish less. The NCLB is more useful as an enlistment tool for the military than as an educational tool. Somersby's exaggerated point is that the schools need to be able to react to their individual circumstances and the talk of higher "standards" is a joke.
Providing federal $s for schools at all is a scam. Why does the money have to pass through the tax bureau which hands it over to the Dept. of Education bureau which passes it back to a state bureau which doles it out to a school district. That helps explain why the most significant job growth in the last 5 years has been government jobs.

Posted by: TJM on March 1, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

David in NY:

You'll notice that private school ideologues, as motivated and well-funded as they are, can't produce apples-to-apples data that shows private schools are worth the money.

The only relevant work I'm aware of is the large 1994 survey by Money Magazine, "Why Private Schools Are Rarely Worth the Money." The title says it all, and illuminates why there have not been a raft of reports trumpeting anti-public education case. The silence contains the truth.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

So how are private schools doing a much better job at half the costs? Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 1, 2006 at 5:00 PM

We're talking about real schools. Not the imaginary ones inside your head. The facts show that private schools are more expensive and fail to educate worse than do public schools.

That's the reality of the situation Freedumb. And speaking of which, shouldn't you be in class?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 1, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Pacific John: No moral society would hold all children to the same standards, if it was unwilling to offer the same basic resources, like certified teachers.

Again, I ask, given the above quotes from Sen. Clinton, and talk is all Quaker asked for and all any Democrat can at this time accomplish given the draconian control imposed by the GOP, how does the senator's stated positions justify a claim that she and other Democrats are unwilling to offer the same basic resources to meet high standards, to reform the system to provide the necessary opportunities for performance improvement for disadvantaged children?

Is it because it hasn't gotten as much press as Democratic opposition to other Bush failures and inept policy decisions?

So sorry if education isn't the top issue for Democrats right now, what with troops dying unnecessarily in Iraq, torture being practiced by our country's leaders, alliances being ripped apart by an administration that engages in defamation and deceipt with respect to even our most trusted allies, a soaring national debt due to fiscal irresponsibility by the GOP, etc, etc, etc.

Posted by: Advocate for God on March 1, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

mimikatz:

The 1971 and 1976 Serrano vs. Priest state Supreme Court decisions found that property tax based un-equal funding of schools violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

While Prop. 13 stunted efforts to generally, adequately fund public education, the problems of poor districts pre-dated the GOP's civic arsony.

The sad irony is that Prop 13 actually helped equalize funding for poor districts, since it sent property tax dollars which previously stayed within counties to the state for redistribution.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

"We're talking about real schools. Not the imaginary ones inside your head. The facts show that private schools are more expensive and fail to educate worse than do public schools."

Is there any recent research that supports this? I'd be interested in reading it.

Posted by: Tom on March 1, 2006 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Advocate for God: you're jousting at windmills. We can find positive anecdotes, especially at the federal level not responsible for k-12 education. But the truth remains that Dems, as on display in CA, do not champion adequate support for the educational opportunities for poor children.

Perhaps you could show me the Dept of ed line items when Davis was Gov, Easton was Sup of Ed, and we had around 2/3 of the legislative seats. Oh yeah, those guys were fighting the ACLU.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I am of the growing opinion that accountability standards are fine, but that they should be applied to the parents, not just the kids.

If you treat (public) school like free babysitting, then you get what you pay for.

Posted by: craigie on March 1, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Tom:

As I mentioned upthread, there was a large Money Mag study on the topic you should be able to get at the library. Small wonder it hasn't been duplicated.

Posted by: Pacific John on March 1, 2006 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

There's no Bush bashing or Gore-mongering in today's column, and as usual he doesn't write in a way likely to win friends or influence people

Huh. His writing has influenced my thinking on a variety of subjects, including education.

I think the guy deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the media's coverage of the last two presidential elections.


Posted by: Walter Concrete on March 1, 2006 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Well, there's one commenter who didn't bother to click the link. Somerby actually praises the L.A. Times in this series and slams the reliable anti-Bush voices among opinion writers."

Um, this is the exception. Duh. And Kevin still takes pain to slam Bob, while "praising" him.

Posted by: Gore / Obama 08 on March 1, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty much all teaching is a function of a combination of (i) the difficulty of what is being taught (how difficult it is for the particular student trying to learn it), (ii) the skill of the instructor, and (iii) the size of the class.

What the hell, obviously, for kids who are not lucky enough to be born to educated parents, factor (i) for them is a problem. Perhaps the teachers in inner city schools are not as good as private schools, who knows, perhaps they are better, either way (iii) insures that its almost irrelevant.

Because, the class size in problem schools is never reduced to make up for the difficulty the students are having with the material.

If 20 kids in a class in a top flight private school, all 20 from highly educated families, can cover a certain amount of material from a decent teacher with one teacher's aid and at least one parent per day volunteering to help, what would it take to get an immigrant kid, fresh off the boat, up to the same level in one school year? Jeez, probably a private, one-on-one tutorial, IF YOU WERE LUCKY!

Yet, not a single proposal from any liberal to radically lower class size (other than, I guess Hillary Clinton, unless hers is too vague). Its funny, the chances of a bill being passed never stop the Republicans from lobbing in stuff like a repeal of the entire Internal Revnue Code every year.

Those who state that the general population is simply not going to fund education for the poor are, I guess, not far wrong.

Posted by: hank on March 1, 2006 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

My letter to ol' Bob-the-Know-it-all:

you state "What happened when Helfands report appeared? In liberal circles, nothing happened! Liberal journals didnt discuss it, nor did liberal bloggers. Whatever one thinks of the L.A. school boards new policies, Helfands report was quite remarkableand it opened with a well-known former Democratic politician, L.A. superintendent Roy Romer, wringing his hands about the cumulative failure involved in the massive algebra drop-outs. But liberal bloggers and liberal journals didnt say a word about this. In the modern world, conservatives talk about low-income kidsbut we liberals no longer bother. We simply dont care about low-income kids. We dont waste our time on their problems. "

Now, why is that? Of course, since you know-it-all, the answer is LIBERAL INDIFFERENCE. Wow, how dumb can you get?

In today's world, Mr. Somersby, we liberals are suffering from a great problem - OUTRAGE FATIGUE. THERE ARE JUST SO MANY THINGS TO BE OUTRAGED ABOUT. Take the high school that my children go to. It is a very good high school, and it is on the FTP list for the third year now. Now, why is that? THe failure of 2 of 28 groups to progress adequately - retarded and blacks. I'm outraged at that.

I'm outraged at the science rape going on. I'm outraged, on a given day, at about 40 different things, and the outrage list from one day to the next is never the same. That makes between 80 - 200 per week.

And now you hold my feet to the fire on your little pet peeve? You must, sir, be an idiot. Seriously.

Why not be a little more polite to liberals? Gawd knows that there are enough outrages going on that we now must respond to yours.

Posted by: POed Liberal on March 1, 2006 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

The article is painfully fair. The Bush bashing and NCLB bashing here is the knee jerk reflex. What we see in the schools is partly a labor union approach on the part of teachers. The other part is the fact that women have better career choices now. Nursing and teaching are suffering because of that.

How to improve the situation ? Vouchers would provide competition. You know how the unions regard this prospect when you see them go berserk at any suggestion of reform, such as a longer probationary period before tenure. Why in hell do elementary teachers need tenure anyway ?

Another approach would be better pay for certain skills such as math. The unions are death on this too. The Ed schools are part of the problem as they adopt every new fad that comes along. I think a lot of teachers are bored teaching basic phonetics and multiplication tables. The looney concerns with self-esteem are another. Spelling bees were used by generations of teachers until the PC types decided that they harmed kids who lost.

Now you can't play dodge-ball. This is lunacy.

My ex-wife went back to teaching briefly a few years ago. She has a life-time credential and hadn't taught in 30 years. She had been laid off in a bank merger. She was appalled at the changes. The teachers didn't care about the kids. It was a lower middle class school in the LA area. She did it for about 5 months as a long-term sub. She used to be a big public school advocate. Now she says, if she were doing it again, she would home school the kids.

My Catholic high school in Chicago is now all black and serves a lower middle class area, sort of a blue collar prep school. 96% of the kids go to college. The tuition is modest and parents scrimp and save to pay it. The white alumni support the school and I will go back for the 50th reunion in April. Vouchers would save those Catholic inner city schools. This one is kept going by the alumni.

Posted by: Mike K on March 1, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Groan. Somerby frequently makes good points. He also frequently fails to make good points. This latest mission of his to pin the blame for poor schools on liberal hearts not bleeding enough is just dumb. He's mad because not enough liberal bloggers wrote about the article in the Times. Who cares? What matters is whether anyone is DOING anything about it, not whether anyone is writing about it.

We passed that article around at the school where I volunteer on a daily basis and talked about what can be done to address the problem. Gabriela couldn't learn algebra because she can't multiply. We have lots of those kids in our school, and I've worked with dozens of them. It's a surprisingly tough problem, and setting standards higher doesn't do a damn bit of good. In fact, it's harmful because it means teachers (whose livelihood depends on getting kids through the entire curriculum) have that much less time to spend on the basics.

Posted by: cmac on March 1, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, we discussed that Cohen column (that Somersby is speaking about) at Balloonjuice. One reader had read the LA Times story that Cohens description of Gabriella comes from. Turned out she had missed incredible lots of school lessons in her high school years. So, sorry, Somersbys article is good, but based on a lousy example. Gabriella may have passed Algebra 1 if she had cared to attend the lessons, we will never now. But she shouldn't put the blame on anybody else.

Posted by: Gray on March 1, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Spencer above: There is no problem with public education in affluent and middle class communities.

Oh really? Not at my kids school. With changing demographics comes a reduction in Title I funding. This year, as last year, our parents (in a school of 900 elementary students) must close a $100,000 shortfall or face losing the school nurse, school psychiatrist, art teacher and music teacher.

Quaker: It's not an easy question to answer. Perhaps that's why finding fault with Mr. Somerby's analysis is an appealing alternative.

Exactly!

Mike K: While I agree with everything you wrote (Im also from a Catholic HS in Chicago), this comment is far from universally true: The teachers didn't care about the kids. It was a lower middle class school in the LA area. My kids are in the LAUSD and the teachers Ive encountered are remarkable.

Cmac Youre right about Somerby failing to make certain points like leaving out the point that Gabriella skipped two-thirds of her Algebra classes in her final year. In many ways it's beside the point, but it doesn't fit his thesis so he ignores it.

Posted by: danyinla on March 1, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

"I am of the growing opinion that accountability standards are fine, but that they should be applied to the parents, not just the kids" from Craigie (see above post) reminds me of an Edge Dangerious Ideas post from someonw who suggested we might have to license parenture...

Posted by: whatnow on March 1, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

WoooOOooO!!
KablaMmmMMmm!!

Skool. Lemme tell yew bout skool.
ms petrash used to jump outta the closet to scare us kids fer sum dang crazy reeson

an da girls if'n they akted up gott to brush ms petrash greezy dandruffy hair.

sheet that other skool marm ms wiliams wood make ya stik gum on yer nose fer the whol klass
if n yew got cauhht chewin gum.

an the blak stripe in the halls was to go stand on the line 'n boss hogg wood come by n say grab yer ankles 'n he'd let fly with wood paddle, holes drilt in it. whappo whappo whappo

yeh we lernt reel good n skool.

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^B on March 1, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Wow...that's harsh, but not unwarranted. I do care about education (God help me since I live in Texas) but just looking around the blogosphere, all I see are shots at Bush for No Child Left Behind, and various dispirited defenses of public education whenever some right-winger starts yammering about vouchers. Other that that? Not much. Maybe he's right. But that's just my experience. If anybody knows of liberals out there hammering away at education, let me know. I'm not being sarcastic-I'd really like to read and know more.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on March 1, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

Algebra algebra, alolgebra!

OK,OK you can graduate without it, but what say we give anyone who passes it a 10% tax cut for life?

Posted by: Matt on March 1, 2006 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Too many posts.

So, the obvious solution. Graduate with specialties (or deficiencies) whatever you call them.

H.S. Diploma with advanced math?

Posted by: Matt on March 1, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

I help teach math to 5th graders. Currently the district is using Everyday Mathematics. I won't weigh in on that program here, suffice it to say that I give the children math homework challenges which are "extra" curricular.

One math homework challenge was to make a line graph from the following data (actually collected, daily, during recess at 12:30pm)
date/ temp F/ number of open windows
2/13/ 31 4
2/14/ 35 6
2/15/ 52 30+
2/17/ 23 4
2/26/ 19 2 (a sunday during winter break)
2/27/ 20 5
2/28/ 22 4
3/1/06/ 24 5

The inside temp is set at ~70.4F for the building.

The 5th graders are using this data to convince the district to SAVE ENERGY by educating the adults about heat-loss.

For every degree that you lower the themostat (heating) you can save ~ 2% of the usage. But you have to convince educated adults that they are wasting tax-payers' dollars when there is a significant temperature differential between the outside and the inside when they open a window for "fresh" air.

Real numbers, real dollars. It's amazing how easily children grasp simple realities.

One adult's reasoning: "I need to have the fresh air to dilute the germs." crikey

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on March 1, 2006 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Go read Somerby today.

Can I get a refund of the time I spent following this suggestion?

Somerby and his godawful, stupid, and utterly unsupported generalizations about what liberals think about can fuck the hell off. Yeah, I get that he -- not unlike you, Kevin -- thinks that gratuitous bashing of liberals gets him "maverick" credibility, but, you know, I don't put up with that crap from the Right, and I'm not going to put up with it from the notional Left, either.

What's worse, is that he doesn't even make any substantive point in the whole piece. He just makes a few unsupported generalizations sprinkled with excerpts from other sources that he riffs off of obliquely rather than marshalling into anything like a coherent argument.

I have better things to do with my time than read rambling, unfocussed, gratuitously insulting, incoherent rants from people who are, apparently, projecting the deficiencies they see themselces as recovering from onto an entire group they are notionally associated with.

Maybe Somerby should focus on the issue first, and save the gratuitous insulting generalizations till he's had a go and convincing us that he actually has a better answer, that he's really thought things through better. But, no, the gratuitous insults have to come first, before any analysis. Why? Probably because there is no analysis and all; the "support" for the recommendations promised in Somerby's last installment of his tedious series will be "supported", instead, by more of the same rambling, analysis-free ranting that the previous installments have consisted of; we'll be expected to accept them merely because of how stupid Somerby has characterized the status quo.

Call me when Somerby has a coherent policy recommendation supported by something resembling an argument, rather than meandering rant claiming that "liberals", as an undifferentiate mass, don't care about the poor, supported by the fact that a handful of bloggers responded to different aspects of the Cohen piece than Somersby thinks they should have.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 1, 2006 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK
As to the level of scorn Somerby delivers to liberals, would you be happier if he wrote Gabriela and told her she really should learn algebra so she could discover how "achinly beautiful" calculus is?

I'd be happier if he wrote a coherent, well-supported argument as to (1) what the problem was in the outcomes, (2) what the status quo policy was that created the problem in the outcomes, and (3) what recommendation he had to correct the failed policy, along with reasons why we should expect the policy to succeed.

Your ludicrous false dichotomy is better than his rant only because it has the merit of considerable brevity; like his piece, it substitutes cheap rhetorical tricks and ridiculous linguistic manipulation for reason and argument.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 1, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as our society stops prioritizing convenience, productivity, entertainment and greedy materialism w-a-a-a-a-a-y over education, then Mr. Howler Monkey* (heh-heh - ok, I'm generally a fan of his, but not today) can stop complaining how liberals, of all people, are failing our nation's poor children. The schools wouldn't have to bend over backward trying to do much of the heavy lifting in raising so many of these kids if the rest of society really cared. And then they could concentrate on delivering an education, rather than being oddly structured day care.

And enough, enough, enough of the overly simplistic wailing about the perfomance of our high schools. It is damn plain and clear that the many of the kids being shovelled into the high schools aren't ready for that level of work. Much more needs to be done to make sure that primary education gets the job done.

*For what it's worth, I once went to Tikal in Guatemala. It was amazing to hear the howler monkeys and the rest of the jungle "wake up" in the morning from the top of one of the temples there!

Posted by: mroberts on March 1, 2006 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

One adult's reasoning: "I need to have the fresh air to dilute the germs." crikey

Made me laugh. But this is what you get when you wage war on science.

Posted by: craigie on March 1, 2006 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if the math doesn't matter in media - he can hire her as a trainee. Put up or shut up!

Generally speaking, school tests irrelevant stuff lots. Its just a good indicator of:

1) Raw brains
2) Self-discipline to follow orders
3) Self-discipline to understand there is good and bad in any activity

I mean, the school gave her 6 tries to pass the test. If she can't hack it - do you want her measuring your medication. You just pass the burden of kicking her out of a nursing course to the community college.

Posted by: McA on March 1, 2006 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK


CMDICELY: Your ludicrous false dichotomy is better than his rant

Thanks. To be compared favorably with Bob Somerby in any fashion is, for me, a genuine compliment.

The particulars of your criticism against me are difficult to answer since I'm not absolutely certain which dichotomy you are referring to. But based on the snippet of mine which you quoted, I'm guessing that your point is that referencing Kevin's "achingly beautiful" description of geometry was, except for the mathematical component, completely unrelated to Gabriella's inability to grasp algebra.

I won't deny that plucking out that phrase and placing it there was driven by a desire to mock Kevin's word choices, given their rather flowery nature. But I also thought, in the context of my other remarks, it was apt. As is the case for a number of issues, though he posted about it, Kevin didn't really have an opinion regarding the necessity of algebra. And part of Somerby's complaint is that liberal opinion writers have failed to drive toward any improvement in the education of children from the under-classes. Somerby, no matter what you think of him or of his solutions or lack thereof, is attempting to bring focus to the issue. Meanwhile, Kevin waxes about the esoteric joys of calculus. Clearly, whether interesting or even useful to some, this is of no benefit whatsoever to the children who are deficient in even basic math.

Other than that, I await Somerby's "epilog," promised for tomorrow.

But for my own epilog, I'd like to say that I make no secret of my dissatisfaction over Kevin's take on most things, and particularly on his priorities. I do not believe his philosophies are in line with serving the public good. Rather, he is more than content to serve power and too satisfied with scraps that may be tossed. Most of the suffering that exists in this world is due to the indifference over it by the powerful. Kevin never addresses that fact. Nothing he advocates would make a sizeable dent in alleviating the abject poverty endured by billions.

I don't agree with everything Somerby says, but I see almost nothing from him that is self-serving or which smacks of elitism.

But, hey, whaddya gonna do? Somerby comes out of education and Kevin's background is marketing.

Anyway, thanks again.

Oh, by the way, I simply can't afford expensive rhetorical tricks.

Posted by: jayarbee on March 1, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I'm for fixed standards because it gives you a chance to manage the problem.
Once you have dropouts - you can look at the schools (and algebra teachers) that are involved.

If you have no standards, its easy to pass the buck. Then employers will just look at the district and laugh at high school certs from the whole district.

-----------------

what would it take to get an immigrant kid, fresh off the boat, up to the same level in one school year? Jeez, probably a private, one-on-one tutorial, IF YOU WERE LUCKY!

Posted by: hank on March 1, 2006 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

I know lots of first generation asian-americans who kick ass in high school in their second language.

You need talent for post-graduate work in math or english but other than that determination and discipline is what works.

I came from primary schools with 50 students to a teacher. GMAT 760 is the only American exam score I have.

Posted by: McA on March 1, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't liberals talk more about educating poor children? Because when they do, the only response is a bunch of conservatives with their fingers stuck in their ears going "Vouchers, vouchers, lalalala vouchers, I can't hear you, lalalala voouuuucherzzzz...."

Posted by: NotThatMo on March 1, 2006 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

So, what did all those great pre-Reagan liberals accomplish? Did inner city schools improve during the 1970s? Did the students benefit greatly from not learning algebra? Did the Democrats who controlled the House every year in the 1970s pump lots of money into urban schools?

Perhaps the liberals who discuss school inequality the most are the ones in school themselves because it is an issue that is easy for them to relate to. It may have seemed to Somerby when he was in college that this was a big talking point. In college today, it is still a big talking point. Witness the popularity of Teach For America and the ability of schools to hire young people with martyr complexes willing to put their all into urban education.

Posted by: reino on March 1, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Call me when Somerby has a coherent policy recommendation supported by something resembling an argument, rather than meandering rant claiming that "liberals", as an undifferentiate mass, don't care about the poor, supported by the fact that a handful of bloggers responded to different aspects of the Cohen piece than Somersby thinks they should have.

No, but cmdicely, he's right. Liberals have spent zero time actually engaging with the issue of how to stop the perennial catastrophe that is our school system over the last 15 years or so. We don't talk about it partly because our belief is that we need to save the public school system - but few of us are actually willing to send our kids to the same public schools we think need to be rescued.

I had the privilege of listening to Jonathan Kozol point this out a few years back, and it was a humiliating experience. Liberals are perfectly willing to send their kids to public schools, as long as they're the "good" public schools, in well-off suburbs or in urban neighborhoods where the dark-skinned people are Asian, not African-American or Hispanic. Otherwise, we mainly preach public but go private ourselves. What white liberal in liberal white Northwest Washington DC can claim to have a serious approach to saving the public schools of Washington DC, when only 1% of whites send their kids there?

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 1, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

If you have no standards, its easy to pass the buck. Then employers will just look at the district and laugh at high school certs from the whole district.

Coming from a culture that reveres education, you cannot possibly understand what America is trying to cope with.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 1, 2006 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

when only 1% of whites send their kids there?

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 1, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Liberal whining, is compensating for guilt to some degree. Them tax dollars or whitey students ain't headed to the inner skool!

----------------

culture that reveres education, you cannot possibly understand what America is trying to cope with.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 1, 2006 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

True. Although I don't know how much of the reverence for education in your society got wiped out by 60's hippy philosophy and aspects of the Black Power ideology.

When everything is relative, the need for education is also relative.

When you let African American academia condemn all white literature as 'dead white man' material, that didn't help.

Posted by: McA on March 1, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Mike K: While I agree with everything you wrote (Im also from a Catholic HS in Chicago), this comment is far from universally true: The teachers didn't care about the kids. It was a lower middle class school in the LA area. My kids are in the LAUSD and the teachers Ive encountered are remarkable."

Oh, I didn't mean it was universal. She taught in East LA when I was a medical student. Her experiences with that poor neighborhood was entirely different in 1964 than what she saw in 1998. It's an anecdote but I don't see better explanations.

My 15 year old is in private school and is doing true zeros in higher order equations in sophomore year. She's past quadratics. I gave up on even well funded public schools years ago.

Posted by: Mike K on March 1, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

No Bush-bashing from Somerby today? Well, Kevin, if you were a regular reader of Somerby's brilliant work, you'd know that on most days you won't find much Bush-bashing. The people Somerby bashes are the Washington Press Corps - the ones with those Millionaire Pundit Values - the "perfumed and pampered" whores who have done serious damage to this country's discourse, resulting in serious damage to this country's future.

The "Gore-mongering" has a purpose - to discuss the most remarkable tale in Washington Press Corps history - their 22 month long War on Al Gore that clearly put George W. Bush in the Whitehouse. The War that, oddly enough, "liberal" writers like you, Josh and Matt go out of your way to avoid addressing.

As a long time reader of Somerby, your referring to his brilliant work as "Gore-mongering" really pisses me off.

Posted by: joe on March 1, 2006 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

No, but cmdicely, he's right. Liberals have spent zero time actually engaging with the issue of how to stop the perennial catastrophe that is our school system over the last 15 years or so.

Plenty of liberals I know engage with that on an almost daily basis; several of them on the very ground level. In poor school districts. Further, that wasn't what Somerby said. What Somerby said went beyond that to claim that liberals -- particularly, young liberals -- don't give a shit about poor people, period, and that's the cause of the school problem.

Of course, Somerby also confuses the center-right elite chattering classes that make up the institutional core of the Democratic Party with liberals, and takes a handful of bloggers as emblematic of that group, too.

But the bigger issue, is, frankly, aside from the fact that I know for a fact that what Somerby says is, at best, a gross overgeneralization that is emblematic of extreme laziness, I don't care if it is correct on some level or not, once heavily qualified.

What I care about is a coherent argument tracing a problem to a policy and proposing a specific solution. Aside from the fact that he's saved actually proposing a solution until after the liberal-bashing rant, he hasn't even begun to make a coherent, well-supported argument establishing a clear, well-defined problem in outcomes, linked, with evidence or strong argument, to a particular problem. He's used the liberal bashing as a substitute for evidence, figuring if he calls the people whom he blames for the problem (which he doesn't establish all that well, itself), that will substitute for evidence or strong argument linking the problem to a particular status quo policy.

We don't talk about it partly because our belief is that we need to save the public school system - but few of us are actually willing to send our kids to the same public schools we think need to be rescued.

Every liberal I've known personally my entire life has sent their children, or some of them, to public schools for most of their schooling, at least until (and often through) college; many of them in the very same schools those liberals taught in.

I suspect any actual study of self-identified liberals would show that most liberals are, in fact, willing to send their children to public schools, unless one uses a bizarre and tendentiously narrow definition of "liberal" (say, limiting to wealthy, educated, "elite" centrist Democrats) or "willing" (limiting it to "what would you choose to do if you had infinite resources.)

What white liberal in liberal white Northwest Washington DC...

...and suddenly, even ignoring the accuracy of the argument, the argument changes again. Since when was Somerby's claim restricted to "white liberals".

Is the next shift to "upper middle-class and above, Ivy-League-educated, white liberals"?

Most liberals care about the poor. Most liberals want to solve the problems of the poor, including the problems of poor inner city schools indeed, its tempting to argue that this is definitional. Most liberals are not upper middle class white liberals living in elite enclaves in depressed majority-minority urban areas looking down their noses at the darkies. Though, it certainly might be the case that too many of the pundits that presume to speak for liberals, and spend as much time talking about how all (other, presumably) liberals are misguided as about how to deal with real problems might be people whose experience of other liberals is largely restricted to that environment.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 1, 2006 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

And enough, enough, enough of the overly simplistic wailing about the perfomance of our high schools. It is damn plain and clear that the many of the kids being shovelled into the high schools aren't ready for that level of work. Much more needs to be done to make sure that primary education gets the job done.

The problem, I think, is even more fundamental than that, and harder to deal with. The problem is that vast swaths of American society have been failed entirely and alienated by our social structure; trying to address that problem by focussing on narrow outcome areas rather than dealing with the fundamental social, political, and economic inequities is like looking at a half empty glass, and trying to figure out how you can raise the water around the edge up to the top -- if you manage to solve it, it will be by finding something to push down the water in the middle, which will then be the next complaint.

We don't need to push things around, we need to deal with the fundamental distributional injustice across the American system. And the roots of that aren't in the educational system (the best we can hope for their alone is band-aids, though the failures there are so bad that we need the best band-aids we can find!), and no solution there will be enough to do much more than scratch the surface of even that segment of the problem.

Universal healthcare -- that includes substance abuse and mental health services -- and dealing with the fundamental distributional problems of the economic system by finding some way to encourage the radical, substantive redistribution of capital ownership so that laborers can really enjoy the fruits of their labor, in a real "ownership society" that isn't a code for a society ruled by today's "owners" (and those elements are just a start) may not sound too broad of an approach for fixing education, but a narrower approach, I fear, won't work.

The poor aren't being failed because the educational standards are too high for them to reach; the poor are being failed because the resources aren't available for them to reach the educational levels that success (sans connections with the money to bail you out every time you fail) in the modern world demands.

The poor aren't being failed because liberals don't care about the poor. The poor are being failed because liberalism is failing at acheiving much substantive, or even holding the line.

And "liberals" that are at least as interested in bashing liberals qua liberals as in advancing substantive policy reforms are helping to maintain that status quo.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure some liberals care but my experience is that there are more talker's than doer's where doing involves:

- living inner city

- voting to raise your own taxes

- transferring funds from your district to another

60-70% of Americans whine about one or more liberal but the voting public seems very different. Got to love that secret ballot!

At the end of the day your society has a lot of incentives to care less about the poor.

- you don't have an immigration policy, so transfer payments to the poor are a bottomless pit

- you are not homogenous, so racism must have some subtle play.

- your minority community activists are poor at public relations (or are genuine assholes) and seem to have an entitlement mentality that turns people off as opposed to the self-reliance mentality of Asian/Indian or genuine African migrants.

Every problem always ends up as a justification
for more money on African American/Hispanic districts... where as the communities that are politically silent (poor Asians, some Hispanics and Indians) seem to have a high degree of social mobility...so much so that quotas restrict 1st generation American Asians instead of helping.

The poor are failed because they aren't being told that government talks big but does very little and its up to you to make the best of what you have.



Posted by: McA on March 2, 2006 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

If'n 'libruls' dunt care so's why iz NCLB underfunded so badly?
Az i 'member that Ted Kennedy werked on dat dere NCLB thangy az well as Bush...
yeh dats watt i thunk
typical blame game neo speak spin cycle madness

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^B on March 2, 2006 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

WooOOOoOOoo!! Ted and Bush!!!!
Heckuva Jobb!

KablaMMmmMMm !!
dere go that 'point' o'
watt his name had.


Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^B on March 2, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

I regret clicking that link. Somerby has written passionately about some important issues, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and read someone's essay telling me, incorrectly, what I think and what I care about.

Every decent teacher and every good active member of a school board that I've ever known has been liberal, but Somerby would rather pretend those people don't exist so that he can flagellate liberals for "not caring" about low-income students. He might as well be writing for Pajamas Media.

Posted by: A. Signalstation on March 2, 2006 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Kevin Drum:

Go read Somerby today. He kisses my ass.

Posted by: space on March 2, 2006 at 4:53 AM | PERMALINK

It's 2006. We've had five years of Bush. There are many, many things I used to have time and energy to care about that have simply been pushed down the list too far to reach anymore.

Take the environment. I'm about as green as you can get, and I know the Bushies are busily selling off public lands and stuff. And it's just too far down the list anymore for me to deal with.

I want to be in a world where there's room for the problems of high school dropouts - and why they had to drop out to begin with - to get back in the discussion. But it just isn't happening until Dems actually have some political power again.

Posted by: RT on March 2, 2006 at 5:06 AM | PERMALINK

But it just isn't happening until Dems actually have some political power again.

Posted by: RT on March 2, 2006 at 5:06 AM | PERMALINK

But you ain't going to get power without saying what you are going to do with it.
The Repugs already have 'McCain' lined up as a 'I'm not Bush'.

Posted by: McA on March 2, 2006 at 5:13 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Exactly so. I don't think anyone could have said it better.

Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

Posted by: S Ra on March 2, 2006 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Bravo, cmdicely. Bravo.

That's the thing - much of this issue comes down to underlying class-based and racial inequalities, and as a nation, politically and policy-wise, we just can't admit it (we refering to the popular dominant narrative, response, etc.) Much conservative criticism of public ed. (bad unions! lazy teachers! etc.) is a way of reconciling two irreconciliable ideas a) we're a greatgoodjust nation and b) we're crapping on kids because of who they are/where they live/how much money and education their parents have. It's a myth, in other worlds.
(Of course, ideology, get-what's-mine-ism, etc. matter too . . )

A year or two ago there was an amusing development: Harrisburg (PA state capital) had for years been saying, stop whining, Philadelphia!* Stop begging for more money for your schools, you nasty, ah . . . urban area. Look how generous we are! You have tons more money than surrounding suburban districts and they're doing fine!* You're just lazy! And strictly speaking, it was true: the city school system did have more money overall.

Except then there was this little report that broke local school funding down, and it did something that the folks in Harrisburg somehow never quite got around to doing - it looked at funding/per child. You see, the Philadelphia school district has rather more children than the others . . .

* Think NYC/NY State/Albany, but much, much, much more extreme. Are there any other examples out there of large diverse cities, relatively rural hinterlands, and decidely unfriendly state capitals?

Posted by: Dan S. on March 2, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

That really was an excellent post, Dice.

(The predictable ensuing wails from selective free marketers notwithstanding.)

Posted by: shortstop on March 2, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Oh - the sending whiteaffluentliberal kids to public school thing. It's like the sending kids to voucher schools, in the hope they might be better thing - individual vs. collective action.
As parents, individuals need to do what they think best for their kids (rightly, wrongly, morally iffy, whatever). As a society, we need to fight for a just and equitable system of public education.
Life's just like that.

"Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?"
Or at least a blog? We want our cmdicely! : )

-Dan S.

Posted by: Dan S. on March 2, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a meta-comment, or maybe meta-meta. The discourse in this country has really become poisonous. I'm not sure exactly what to do about it, but when progressives start lumping Kevin Drum and Bob Somersby together as "the opposition", then it seems pretty hopeless. Kevin and the Howler guy agree with almost all the progressive goals. They are allies to progressives.

(And for that matter, conservatives aren't actually the enemy either, but that's another story...)

I actually like Somersby's approach when he disagrees with you: He lets you have it with both barrels, but then the next day, if he likes what you have to say, he'll say so. He's given Kevin both abuse and praise in approximately equal amounts. There is no point in making permanent enemies unless there is no overlap in your goals whatsoever.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 2, 2006 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, I spelled "Somerby" wrong on multiple occasions.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 2, 2006 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

sooo, i was gonna make a comment, but cmdicely said it better. thank you sir!

one thing i will add, in general whenever there is a dicussion about poverty the assumption is made that it's an urban issue. i just hope that we can remember that it's not; poverty and the attendant concerns re education, healthcare, and community is very much a rural problem too.

Posted by: e1 on March 2, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

e1: "poverty and the attendant concerns re education, healthcare, and community is very much a rural problem too."

A worthwhile observation.

Mr. McCullough: I am having trouble reconciling your like for Somerby's "let[ting] you have it with both barrels" and your lament that "the discourse in this country has really become poisonous." This seems like eating your cake and having it too. It is precisely people such as Somerby who are putting the poison in the discourse.

Although, of course, they pale next to the professional slime merchants of the RNC and their dittoheads.

Posted by: S Ra on March 2, 2006 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Mike K,

The teachers didn't care about the kids. It was a lower middle class school in the LA area. She did it for about 5 months as a long-term sub.

Wow. Your wife manages to stick with teaching for a total of five whole months and then quits, complaining that the teachers don't care about the kids. I guess she proved her own point, eh?

Did she ask the teachers why they didn't seem to care? Did you ask her why she didn't care enough to teach more than 5 months?

Nope. Instead you blame unions and fads and lack of dodgeball. It sounds to me like you want something easy to blame and have found it.

Posted by: Tripp on March 2, 2006 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

The major problem with Bob's article is that he condemns all liberals for "not caring about low-income children" and uses as evidence the lack of concerns coming from liberal journalists and liberal bloggers.

Huh? I think the liberal worls is a bit bigger than Bob's journalists and bloggers. He manages to disparage the great many liberals who are actually trying to solve the problems of low income students on the ground rather than just writing about it.

Posted by: Paul on March 2, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I don't wanna read Howler unless he's bashing Bush.

Posted by: Flamethrower on March 2, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK
The discourse in this country has really become poisonous. I'm not sure exactly what to do about it, but when progressives start lumping Kevin Drum and Bob Somersby together as "the opposition", then it seems pretty hopeless.

Um, its Somersby that attacked liberals, as a class and without distinction. Not liberals attacking Somersby, at least not first. Ignoring Drum for the moment, I think you have the blame kind of reversed on who is lumping people together as "the opposition". Yeah, the discourse is poisonous -- largely because of broad, sweeping, ill-considered generalizations like Somersby's, which are no different than what conservatives do with there unjustified, self-serving, stereotyped attacks on liberals. Including in being targetted on liberals.

If Somersby doesn't want to be characterized as the opposition by liberals, maybe he shouldn't, you know, actually be launching overgeneralized stereotyped attacks on liberals. But, you know, when you launch that kind of attack, you are the opposition to liberals.

As for Kevin, where there is a problem, its not exactly the same thing; Kevin's more prone to just accept, without qualification, and promote major points of right-wing propaganda with no factual support in order to skip on to the subsidiary dispute he wants to make.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

"True. Although I don't know how much of the reverence for education in your society got wiped out by 60's hippy philosophy and aspects of the Black Power ideology."

Neither, McA. Much more damaging was the Reaganite faith that nothing matters but money; certainly not knowledge.

Posted by: Ace Franze on March 2, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

All I can say is:

Lame.

Algebra is abstracting math. There's nothing huge or secret about it; it's not any different than the equations that children were faced with in primary school.

Yes, the fact that she failed it shows that there was a problem teaching it...

...But that's because the cheapest 'easiest' books teach only one way, which is endless repetition.

Look, I failed Algrebra a couple times in High School - but not because I hadn't mastered the concept in second grade, but because I didn't do the repetitive homework.

In my high school our class passed Algebra I in eighth grade, but we had to repeat it, then two years of Algebra II because we didn't have any more advanced books.

...But to graduate we were required to take math every year. So I did a semesters' work in a week to graduate on time.

PS: The 'lower' math classes were worse.

Posted by: Crissa on March 2, 2006 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Much of the anti-Howler venom in this thread seems to be coming from people who don't regularly read Somerby. (For example, he rarely if ever bashes Bush... but does bash clowns like Elizabeth Bumiller who plants her big sloppy ones right on Bush's behind.) Regular readers understand that when he uses the term "liberals" he is targeting the so-called "liberal" names and faces that we see on TV and in print. (You should know the ones - the millionaire pundits who have fancy homes in Nantucket.) He has long attacked that segment of the media for their refusal to recognize their own complicity in the "war on Gore" and for failing to truly care about the poor and the working class. After years of pointing out the faults of TV and print "liberals", Somerby has shifted his focus to education writing. Someone has to keep liberal feet to the fire - and he's just about the only one who does.

Posted by: dannyinla on March 2, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely and S ra,

I agree that Somerby's remarks are pretty nasty and over-the-top, but his criticism of liberals is coming from a liberal perspective. His accusations are that his targets are not living up to their own principles (which he shares).

The main thing that I like about Somerby is his willingness to give credit for an insightful comment, no matter where it comes from. That's the flip side of his willingness to slam something he disagrees with, no matter where it comes from.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 2, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I may try getting going with blogging again. Its hard to keep up with -- blog posts demand a lot more (at least, what I think a blog post should be demands more) than blog commenting.

At any rate, I'd like to add that I don't think there is nothing to be done in the education system itself -- certainly, the year I spent substitute teaching in a poor, majority-minority (but not precisely "urban" in the usual sense, Vallejo being on the periphery of the Bay Area sprawl) district, and what I've learned from my mother who was then and is still a teacher in that same district, has shown me quite a lot that needs to be done -- and its not "lowering standards".

Getting actual teachers for classes is one thing that's needed -- classes that spend most, or even all, of a year with a series of substitutes that don't have the education, experience, or, all to often, administration support that regular teachers have certainly poison the system. The intersection of legitimate due process concerns and mindless zero tolerance policies create bizarre disciplinary paradoxes -- where administrators will avoid taking official cognizance of anything that they can find an excuse not to notice, but where they cannot find an excuse, will impose harsh punishments on trivial transgressions. When there are long suspensions for bringing a squirt gun to campus, and no substantive consequences for returning to campus 45 minutes late from lunch reeking of marijuana, well, lowering standards may increase the graduation rate, but they won't deal with the problems.

We need more teachers. We need better -- and maybe more, its possible that some of the administrative chaos is a result of workload, I don't know -- administrators. We need better focus on real problems and research-based solutions that work, not sound bit policies like "zero tolerance".

We need to deal effectively with the problems of drugs and crime in the schools -- particularly the schools in poor areas. But, this illustrates how the problem extends beyond the schools -- to do that, we need to deal effectively with the problems of drugs and crime in the communities, particular poor communities.

We need also to deal with the problems facing families. The US has seen great productivity -- but are large part of the edge over Europe there has been the longer and longer hours worked by the American worker lucky enough to have a job. Which means those that do have jobs but still can't afford to spend the money for reliable, quality programs for the children become absentee parents, if they want to provide at all.

We need to deal with the breakdown in families, and, particularly the incredibly high rates of incarceration -- and early death -- of African-American males.

All of these problems, and more, impact our schools. We can easily just forego high standards, and that will make the graduation numbers look better. And we can pretend that we've done something about a real problem when we've done that. But unless we are dealing with the problems that prevent students, especially in poor districts, from having an environment where they can effectively learn, we haven't dealt with any of the real problems, just swept them under the rug.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa -

In Los Angeles, it became a high graduation requirement to get a passing grade in algebra... in 2003. The problem is that high schoolers like Gabriella didn't even understand basic math concepts in 4th grade. However, because there were minimal math requirements before 2003, there was no urgency to educate her in algebra. She was just going to be another kid who failed algebra... and she'd still get her diploma. In 2003 it all changes. Before that time, she could still get an HS diploma. Now she can't. It's not a question of whether or not she should learn algebra. (Kevin posted about this a few days ago.) We all know that she won't get into college without a HS diploma... but now she can't even get a decent job in Encino because she lacks a HS diploma.

You can throw all the math tutoring classes at her that you want. She doesn't understand algebra because she doesn't understand basic math concepts. The LAUSD failed to properly prepare her and now she's the one who's at fault. Adding another day of algebra tutoring on Saturday (which they did) isn't going to help her. If they have a bad system for teaching algebra on Mon-Fri, the system isn't going to get better on Saturday.

The one thing that Somerby doesn't tell his readers is that Gabriella didn't do her part either. And he doesn't tell you this because it doesn't fit his thesis (and, in reality, it's not relevent to his thesis) -- Gabriella skipped two-thirds of her algebra classes in the year that she dropped out.

Posted by: danyinla on March 2, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK
I agree that Somerby's remarks are pretty nasty and over-the-top, but his criticism of liberals is coming from a liberal perspective. His accusations are that his targets are not living up to their own principles (which he shares).

Allegedly. Though when you make accusations like that without actually marshalling any substantive evidence, it looks a lot more like self-aggrandisement than anything else.

If he wanted to make the case that there are better policies for dealing with the problems the poor face than those currently embraced by "liberals" (as if "liberals" spoke with anything like one voice on the issue in the first place), he could present a well-reasoned argument establishing the problem and proposing the solution, and let it speak for itself. That he's presented an long series of unfocussed rants that don't do that, that he's made overgeneralized and unsupported attacks on liberals before offering a solution, all speak to a fundamental unseriousness about the problem.

I've read the Howler off and on -- increasingly, more off than on -- for years. Somersby shows every sign of being very interested in telling us why every other pundit and other public figure on the face of the planet is stupider than Somersby -- and ill-motived, to boot -- and a lot less in actually championing issues. Now, admittedly, sometimes that is nice to read because there are enough genuinely stupid and evil pundits and public figures that Somersby often nails real problems.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

TOMORROWEPILOG: What should these kids be studying?

This will be where we find out if this guy knows what he's talking about or not... Right now it sounds to me like he's saying, "Minorities are too dumb to learn Algebra so we may as well just teach them Business Math and let that be that." I'll be pleasantly surprised if I'm wrong about this.

Posted by: E. Nonee Moose on March 2, 2006 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Gabriella skipped two-thirds of her algebra classes in the year that she dropped out.

90% of life is just showing up...

Posted by: E. Nonee Moose on March 2, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

E. Nonee Mouse -

"Minorities are too dumb to learn" - that's not Somerby at all. More like - LAUSD failed these kids, specifically minorities.

Posted by: dannyinla on March 2, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

In my unhumble opinion, liberals (I include myself in that august group) dropped the poor because we found they would not conform to the standard liberal belief system. All people are little more than lumps of clay when they exit the womb, goes the standard, beyond that environment is everything, so with the right money spent in the right places, we could eliminate the underclass.

But we went far toward eliminating racism, closed the economic disparities somewhat, bussed the poor kids to good schools, and still they did poorly. So instead of dropping our theories, we dropped the kids.

Folks, if we are ever to get a real start at doing something about the hopelessness of the underclasses, we have to change the outdated theories that are freezing them in place.

1. Admit that some people dont have the intellectual ability that some others do. Admit that intellectual ability is more pronounced in East Asians and European descended Caucasians than in the native peoples of Africa and South America. Then admit that intellectual ability is not a major requirement for a good life.

2. Having admitted the obvious, think of new ways to deal with old problems. The most radical and effective would be to give up our European-derived notions of what constitutes a good life. Our very definition of success needs to change. People who grow things and make things with their hands and serve others are every bit as capable of achieving happiness as CEOs and university professorsmore so, in my experience, but that is another subject. You may believe you dont have class or ability prejudices, but if you believe we need to elevate the Gabriellas of the world to a life something like yours, you do.

3. If we must make the round peg Gabriellas fit into the square holes of Western civilization, we need to spend a hell of a lot more on special education. Here, the right and left conspire together to hurt Gabriella. The right believes in social Darwinism and helping only themselves, and the left wont admit that whole classes and races do need help to conform to the standards we Caucasians have set. If we paid for Gabrieallas medical education, sans algebra, think how much better off she and society would be.

The old left believed in the dignity of the worker, of physical labor. The new one believes only in the dignity of the diploma. I could go on, but Im sure the standard issue liberals who haunt this blog are hating this post with passion already. Please think a little about what Heisenberg saidthat new ideas can only take root after the older generation diesand think a little about not being one of them.

Posted by: James of DC on March 2, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly thoughtful for someone who is so incredibly wrong on one basic point.

JoDC writes: give up our European-derived notions of what constitutes a good life but then scolds the left with this gem: Admit that intellectual ability is more pronounced in East Asians and European descended Caucasians than in the native peoples of Africa and South America.

The problem here, that I think most people will realize, is that JoDC wants us to surrender our notion of what constitutes a "good life" but retain our notion of what constitutes "intellectual ability."

I can't do that. I can, however, look back in time and see a civilization of Africans in Egypt or Incans in Peru that represents both "good life" and "intellecual ability" but contrasts that of, say, present day Appalachians who have neither.

It seems to me that your theory leads to the "happy savage." A paternalistic belief that those who descend from East Asia or Europe should just let the Negro be the Negro, or let the Mexican be the Mexican - and we should expect no more than that. If that ISN'T your arguement, then you must at least see the very slippery slope upon which it rests.

Posted by: dannyinla on March 2, 2006 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

It's great that Kevin can stir up so much stuff by simply pointing people to Somerby. I consider Somerby a valuable resource.

The poster who said that the real culprit is white and black is on the money. Too many people here don't think that we're all in this together, there's always a great deal of cognitive dissonance inspired marginalization, and there always has been. It's an American tradition to stratify society by race.

Unable to easily solve the problems, liberals give up - and the RW steps in. And because they're passionate and vocal about it, they make headway.

We should take the education issue away from conservatives.

Posted by: horatio parker on March 2, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK
"Minorities are too dumb to learn" - that's not Somerby at all. More like - LAUSD failed these kids, specifically minorities.

The "too dumb to learn" is implicit in the description so far of the kind of failure, which is setting the bar too high when the poor (minorities isn't Somerby's categorization of the affected class) are incapable of learning the more advanced material.

While he doesn't come out and say it, the whole structure of his description of the problem, so far, implies that the poor are inferior in ability to the middle-class and rich.

(As an aside, another thing that's irritating about Somerby's style is that he refers to himself, in his capacity as a blogger, as "we". If he was the editor of a group blog, and used that approach only when writing on behalf of the whole group rather than himself, or if he were a monarch, that would be understandable. As it is, its rather irksome and pretensious.)

Ooh. And Somerby responded to me in his post today! His grand strategy for solving the problem of schools failing the poor? Don't require algebra to graduate. That's, apparently, it.

And his other comments today -- that you never see Reiner's proposal or the merits of preschool discussed -- rings rather hollow as well; while I haven't seen much debate on the particular proposal, I've seen quite a bit of back and forth about the merits and cost-effectiveness of universal preschool in general; mostly from liberals.

Though I don't know its the kind of big name pundits that seem to be the only "liberals" Somerby cares about.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

As it may be possible for cm to read one more post, I'll lob in the question of class size. The one chance I had to vote for anything on this specific subject, the Cal initiative on class size, I did.

The current standard I see in my upper class neighborhood is (i) children of highly educated parents tend to have a high amount of non-school exposture to education through pre-school, (ii) these same children attend educational pre schools, and (iii) putting aside the specific standard of elementary school, the private elementary schools tend to assign "homework" in Grades 1-5 or so which is really a joint tutorial with the same highly educated parents, in other words, there is no reasonable expectation that the children will do the homework by themselves.

All of these standards are "extra-curricular" to the issue, in the sense that we cannot legislate the capability of someone's parents.

It strikes me that if we wanted a class made up of the children of Hispanic ESL laborer parents to achieve the same thing, we would need either (i) "superteachers" who I am not sure exist, or (ii) a vast reduction in class size to reflect the amount of attention those students are not getting outside of class.

I don't think the answer is (i). Point (ii) appears to be almost the only rational choice if you really care about educating the unlucky.

Posted by: hank on March 2, 2006 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

And I'll say this, not to cm in particular, but every time this thread comes up, a platoon of posters assert that its not a question of class size, that if only "__________________" were different, mostly conservatives blaming the teachers. I just don't see it. It seems more basic than that to me.

Not too many people would argue that someone who practices something for 2000 hours might achieve a higher level of proficiency than someone who practiced for only 200 hours.

Posted by: hank on March 2, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

hank,

Class size is important for everyone, and perhaps most so for the otherwise educationally disadvantaged (which, as you note, maps approximately to "the poor".)

At the same time, providing some kind of outside-of-normal-class tutorial service with some kind of need criteria, as well as improving adult education systems and perhaps even coordinating them with what the kids are getting, would also help with the problem you identify. But you nail an important problem, and the reason that the best predictor of educational attainment -- even better than wealth -- is the parent's degree of educational attainment.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 2, 2006 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

I know I should just take that acknowledgement and run, but I've also noticed that (and I'll admit this is anecdotal) the highly educated parents of 2006 are a bit more paranoid about education than the previous generation.

This paranoia means that they are more likely to invest time with their kids. Basically, every single family at my kids school are actively working their way backwards from the U.C. Irvine class of 2018. Preparing for a graduate school is an assumption.

Now, one can argue whether this is rational, perhaps there is a bit of over meddling along the way, but compared to kids who are not getting the extra academic attention, well, its always seemed a bit much to me to blame either the parents (who may have no real basis in education themselves) or, for that matter the teachers, who do the best they can in the time they have.

Posted by: hank on March 2, 2006 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely - His grand strategy for solving the problem of schools failing the poor? Don't require algebra to graduate. That's, apparently, it.

I wouldnt go so far as to say its his grand strategy, but I (unlike Kevin who has stated he has no opinion on this matter) believe it IS a mistake to require algebra for HS graduation if the school district has not adequately taught the student. And thats the problem here. Its not (and this is where Somerby is off target) that LAUSD should or shouldnt require algebra for a HS degree . Its that the LAUSD failed Gabriella eight years ago in 4th grade by letting her fall behind in math. They let her repeatedly fall behind in math in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. Then, in 2003, when she was in the 10th grade they lengthened the playing field. The said you must be able to pass algebra to get a degree. And when she couldnt pass algebra (because she lacked the basic skills), they told her to take math tutoring on Saturdays. But more of the same is no good when the Mon-Fri math lessons dont work. In short you can only require these kids to pass algebra if youve prepared them since 4th grade.

Hank - the private elementary schools tend to assign "homework" in Grades 1-5 or so which is really a joint tutorial with the same highly educated parents, in other words, there is no reasonable expectation that the children will do the homework by themselves.

An excellent point which Im going to make even more excellent. This happens in public elementary schools as well as private. Yes, how can kids do their increasingly advanced homework w/o the help of their parents. They cant. So those ESL children whose parents DO NOT EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH are, in short, kinda fucked.

Posted by: dannyinla on March 2, 2006 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK
I wouldnt go so far as to say its his grand strategy, but I (unlike Kevin who has stated he has no opinion on this matter) believe it IS a mistake to require algebra for HS graduation if the school district has not adequately taught the student.

I, on the other hand, think its a mistake for the district not to adequately teach, and changing standards to accommodate that failure is a good way to sweep it under the rug, but not a way to deal with the central problem.

nd when she couldnt pass algebra (because she lacked the basic skills), they told her to take math tutoring on Saturdays. But more of the same is no good when the Mon-Fri math lessons dont work.

Since when is tutoring more of the same with regular classroom instruction; I've been on both sides of tutoring, and its very different, not "more of the same".

Now, it could be that the tutoring was inadequate as well. But that's a different issue.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 3, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Nice discussion the last few posts - even James has some pretty good points, if you edit out the racism.

Think of it like this. Say most kids start off with a certain score range, representing potential school success. Certainly IQ seems to have a heritable component, although what that says about intelligence, wedunno. And certainly people - not peoples, when will we get rid of this racistbellcurve crap!, but people differ. So our little person - really, our little fetus - starts off with a potential score range, say 30-70.

And now start adding and subtracting: What happens next? Is it exposed to malnutrition or toxins (recreationally or unintentionally) in utero? After birth, does our little person get proper nutrition? Are they exposed to a stimulating environment? As they grow, as they provided - in or out of the home - with experiences that promote cognitive growth & skills - and how well do these practices match up with what will be required and expected when they reach formal schooling? (ie - nightly bedtime readings - but that shows how complicated it is, because what is the content&context of the bedtime reading? Is it someone not fully comfortable with the world of literacy reading to their kid because they were told it will help them suceed? Or is it someone with a stack of novels by their bed who is modeling an enjoyable, happy experience as well as certain expectations of text and the kinds of questions and responses (unconsciously) that matches nearly exactly the kind of pattern the kid will face in school in a bit) Does their overall environment support a certain kind of psychological health (presumably stressed, frightened, etc. kids may not learn as well...)? Do they have, as pointed out, people at home who can prepare for, support and add to what the child is learning in school? (Lots of teachers can tell you lots of stories about parents who try to help their kids with homework and get it wrong). Do they know strategies - from work/study skills for the kid to how to deal with adminstrators if things start going wrong - for helping their child? Do they have the English language ability and cultural/class confidence to storm into the school, go - what on earth is going on? My daughter has failed Algebra how many times (as if it would get that far!) ( And there is a world of distance between the lower-income. lower-status mom sitting in the office upset and angry about her child's performance and the school's failure to help (real, perceived, both) and the high income, well educated professional who moves in the same - or higher circles, has connections, etc.)What is the value given towards education? How is this value understood? Is it expected that the child will go to college? Are there role models of academic success and achievement around? What's the class size? Do the teacher and child share cultural common ground, or are there barriers (not insurmountable, but there) to understanding, communicating, relating?

And so on. And so on. And so on. As mentioned above, what you see in affluent suburban settings, or their urban equivalents, is massive value-adding stuff. It's why many - not all! - private schools aren't really all that good, and why if you dump disadvantaged kids in there they don't necessarily shoot up.

Note: a lot of what I list may seem a bit victim-blaming, at least for the parents, but we're talking about time, energy, access to education -


Dan S. - not in LA, which must be much warmer than here {shiver}

Posted by: Dan S. on March 3, 2006 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

And certainly almost all parents (you get really dysfunctional ones, where you want to just smack them or call DHS - or worst case, you do have to call, but those are the exceptions) do as much as they can for their children. It's just that we count what some parents can do a heck of a lot more . . .


Basically:
We need boutique education, but we're trying to get it for bargain-basement prices.

(Substitute Manolo Blahnik and Payless if so inclined, or etc. )

Posted by: Dan S. on March 3, 2006 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely writes: The "too dumb to learn" is implicit in the description so far of the kind of failure, which is setting the bar too high when the poor (minorities isn't Somerby's categorization of the affected class) are incapable of learning the more advanced material.

That is not the message that I get from Somerby. It's not that many students are incapable of learning advanced material, it is that they are unprepared to learn it. Many children in high school are still struggling with skills that they should have learned in elementary school. In particular, they lack proficiency in reading, writing and basic arithmetic.

I took Somerby as advocating that we address these fundamental problems first. He says: "At one point, Helfand presents some (weak) anecdotal information which suggests an intriguing possibilityGabriela might have ended up passing algebra if shed gotten the review she really needed:..."

Somerby is not advocating giving up on kids like Gabriela, he's advocating taking her existing skills into account.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 3, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Dan S

Points well taken and points that fly completely in the statement made by James - Admit that intellectual ability is more pronounced in East Asians and European descended Caucasians than in the native peoples of Africa and South America. Your statement acknowledges the environment as being heavily influential while James most values genetic disposition.

PS - not so sunny or warm in LA today - cool and rainy. (And, my softball game got rained out for a 3rd week in a row!)

Posted by: dannyinla on March 3, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Eveyone who has read this far ought to just let the last elaboration lobbed in by danny just sink in.

Really, imagine the kids who have no help at all with homework. Now imagine the kids who have a hour tutorial at home with two university professor parents. Think about how much actual work is done in an elementary school day, factoring in recess, lunch, time spent putting stuff away.

I would not be surprised if a study was done which showed that more work was done at home than during the actual school day.

The point is that if something should be done about this, the logical place to do it is elementary school class size. What a waste of time to give Saturday tutoring to a high school student when the same tutoring in third grade might have insured that by the time she got to high school she knew the material.

A friend from law school works with, I beleive, a Cal state senator. I'm going to call him up and see if its possible to do what the Republicans do. Maybe she can start introducing a bill every year to lower class size in the most underperforming schools to a maximum of ten kids per class.

Sure, it doesn't have a prayer of being funded today, but maybe someday the logic will sink in.

I'm not even sure that would put the least advantaged students on a par with the most advantaged, but I bet they could pass Algebra in high school.

Posted by: hank on March 3, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly