The beatings will continue until morale improves

The Federal government has been active in primary and secondary education since 1954, with good reasons, first to foster equality; then to pursue excellence. The equality part worked, as the formerly smarter segments of the population have become dumber, although I doubt dumbing down was a goal. Excellence, however, has been elusive, despite massive increases in funding & planning. Education is an Obama priority, as it has been for every president. Why can’t they get it right?

Maybe this has failed not in spite of all the effort but because of it. Standards are not being met, so we impose tougher and more comprehensive standards. When they don't work, we get tougher.

Back in 1983 the President's National Commission on Excellence in Education published a report called, "A Nation at Risk." It was pretty scary stuff and is called a landmark in educational reform. Since that time we redoubled our efforts and redoubled them again. Thirty years and billions of dollars later things are worse.

Maybe maybe less effort would produce more result than more effort.

Think of how gasoline works in a cylinder. A small amount of gasoline produces a big bang. Adding two or three times as much produces smaller results and if you flood the engine with gasoline it doesn't work at all. Perhaps our best efforts are the problem, not the solution.

We have subjected our whole education system to the bureaucratic imperative that identifies problems, makes rules to fix them and then "holds people accountable" for results. This sounds really good and may be good when there is a simple and well defined problem. But as the rules and procedures accrete, the goal is often lost. Sometimes you can't find a pony in the pile of manure.

I recall a joke (I think it was a joke) among the Marines that the response to low morale was to say "the beatings will continue until morale improves." Maybe we should lighten up on the Federal rules, accept some disorder and some ostensible sub-optimization so that we can make real progress.

Posted by Christine & John at August 18, 2013 8:31 AM
Comment #369517

There is another common thread running through many years of our education failures…unions.

Posted by: Royal Flush at August 18, 2013 10:46 AM
Comment #369521


IMO, public employees who work for the people and enjoy a variety of civil service protections should not have unions with collective bargaining ability. This would be especially true for teachers, who have the responsibility to teach our kids. Teaching is their task. Protecting poor performers, as unions often do, is immoral in this context.

Presumably, teachers would have professional associations with the goal of improving the quality of instruction and sharing best practices. They are professionals, after all, not assembly line workers.

I fear union leader sometimes lose sight of their mission, which is to improve the profession of teaching and not protecting particular teachers.

Posted by: CJ at August 18, 2013 12:46 PM
Comment #369532

While the stats do look bad there are some valid reasons why US education seems lacking. For one, note that the US is comprised of several ethnic groups with widely varying socio-economic conditions. Whereas, Japan, Finland, the top contenders have relatively small populations and are largely of singular ethnicity. I would suggest the top contenders socio-economic condition relates fairly close to our upper middle class folks.

Throwing wads of money at education in such a diverse population just doesn’t get you the bang for the buck.

Highly social, highly developed countries are keenly aware of the value of an education and will pursue that objective way more aggressively than competing countries.

A big, big reason you don’t get the bang for the buck is that teacher standards are significantly different from the top contenders to the lesser ranked nations. If one were to place several top teachers in Singapore in a big city US school I suggest you would get a big bump in achievement for those kids. What with the unions, traditions and cultures it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind in some school systems, IMO. And, that’s a hard, hard thing to change.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at August 18, 2013 8:43 PM
Comment #370603

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