REDUX: Rx For Education

Moral courage is the courage of one’s convictions, the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age old struggle – the roar of the crowd on one side and the voice of your conscience on the other.” ~ Douglas MacArthur

America has become a ‘band-aid‘ society. Daily we are bombarded with a vast litany of social ills. Some are critical, some are serious and some are just worrisome. Our country has been invaded by a vast army of people from other countries. They are here illegally and they are costing enormous amounts of money to provide health care, housing and education. I need not belabor the problem.

I often wonder if our neighbors to the South would be so patient, so understanding and so eager to resolve the problems created by this massive influx if the situation were reversed. This is a worrisome problem to most Americans. Our taxes increase, our wages decrease, unemployment in some sectors rises. Our schools are bursting at the seams, the emergency room at the hospital is overcrowded. Yes these are worrisome and vexing problems. The solution is to throw money. This is the one thing that our government does better than any other on the face of the earth. As long as we have an inexhaustible supply of cash, no one has to seriously consider cures. We hire more border guards, build higher fences, put more sophisticated surveillance systems in place and it gets us through another day, another week, another month. We have placed a band-aid strategically in place. It does not stop the flow of blood. It does not alleviate the human misery. It solves nothing, cures nothing and is very short-lived. We have a worrisome situation and no one seems to be intelligent enough to offer solutions or even recognize the deep seated problems.

Millions of people do not voluntarily break up their families, leave their birthplace and suffer enormous hardship just for the sake of adventure. We can continue with our pathetic attempts, we can apply band aids but no one has the willpower or the fortitude to tackle the root causes and place the blame directly where it belongs. We are a politically correct society. We never point the finger and name the guilty. It is much better to circumvent and gloss over the really inept and immoral leaders. We have become a patch-up society. We have a temporary solution for everything. This is a worrisome problem that we live with daily. This is a contributing factor to the inflation issues which are beginning to grip our nation. How long do we sit and listen to the President of Mexico berate us for not giving his citizens a free pass? How long can we continue to tolerate the Ambassador of Mexico who joins with the illegal marchers in our street, flies the Mexican flag and demands amnesty for his countrymen? We have become a dumping ground for all of the impoverished and starving people of the world who cannot survive in their own homeland. The attitudes of the world’s people are a true paradox. To all the depressed and starving we represent Shangri-La or the Mecca of survival. We furnish the major source of income for untold millions of people with our consumption of illegal drugs. These are worrisome issues but in the broad scheme of things rather mundane.

Now we consider the serious things which face each and every American citizen in their everyday life. We have a department of government called the FDA or Food and Drug Administration. This office of government is responsible for our health and welfare. They monitor our drugs to assure purity and safety. They monitor our imports to protect from such dangers as disease, contamination or harmful components. In recent months we have been told of dangerous deadly drugs which were allowed to be used by our doctors. We have been warned of millions of children’s toys, contaminated with lead paints. We have at the moment, an outbreak of a virulent strain of salmonella poisoning. It is probably coming from imported produce. On the home front we are suddenly confronted with a collapse of the mortgage market.

At least two million of our fellow citizens have lost their new homes because they were lied to and defrauded by a few greedy and ruthless men. Thousands of Americans have lost their jobs, their pensions and even their life’s savings in the collapse of some giant corporations, created by unscrupulous and greedy manipulators. At every turn in these beginning years of the twenty-first century we are besieged by corruption, greed and dis-honesty. We have been attacked with rising prices and inflation that is threatening to create hardships among our poorest citizens. These are serious concerns. They deserve honest answers. We the people must call to account the weak, ineffectual government officials who have allowed these problems to develop. The people of the United States deserve better. These are bumps in the road, irritating to some, harmful to many and devastating to a few but they can be fixed. As never before we need someone with the wisdom of Ockham’s razor to apply some common sense and logic and find the solutions to some serious issues.

We have considered some of the worrisome aspects of life in America today. We have examined a sampling of the serious issues facing us and now we must consider the critical problems that have the potential of destroying our country and our democracy. Few people ever stop to rationalize the concept of a country, a nationality and a way of life. A country is defined by its government but its character is defined by its people. Even the poorest war-torn and starving nations of the world have a government of some sort. As with most aspects of life, some are better than others. Fortunately we are honored to live in what has been for the last couple of hundred years one of the very best. We have been recognized by the world for the last several centuries as leaders. Today we are recognized as the most powerful nation on the face of the earth.

Our government has been good but our people have been magnificent. People make a country. It is not one nationality but a spirit of oneness and togetherness binding many races, colors and religions into one whole. It is totally dependent on the intelligence and education of its citizens. The United States created a public education system that was as good as the world has ever seen. Over the past 100 years we have managed to practically remove illiteracy from our populace. Americans can read and write. We have proven outstanding leadership in Math and Science. We’ve built more complex machines discovered more medical marvels than any other country. Now out of a euphoria of backslapping and congratulations we are awakened to a clarion call of deep troubles in paradise. The very foundations of our country – the welfare and survival depend upon our young generations now in the halls of Academia.

Failure has an insidious way of creeping up on a culture. The destruction of a mighty dam is presaged by a tiny crack. In hindsight we now recognize that our system of education has been on a downward slide for many years. As I have indicated the stage was set and the actors created by a paradigm shift in the social consciousness of a weary country flush with victory, which was determined to never let such a catastrophe occur again. It became in the words of George Herbert Walker Bush – “a kinder and gentler nation“.” Unfortunately these feelings only work in fiction books. To those who grasp it as a panacea to cure all ills and salve all wounds, it becomes an albatross. Not to belabor a point the last sixty years of public education have given us the following scenario.

Approximately 40% of our young are dropping out of High School without receiving a diploma. This in its own impact is a frightening statistic. The schools are found in many instances to be using two sets of books for record keeping. The ‘cooked books‘ are used for official reports to the government for grants and aid programs. This is made possible and perfectly lawful because the writers of our government programs are not bright enough to build in reporting criteria and legal safeguards. If enhanced figures are reported for public consumption – each entity federal, state and local look so much better.

On March 20, 2008 a reporter named Sam Dillon wrote an article for the New York Times datelined Jackson, Mississippi. In a published report he indicated that his investigation uncovered the state education headquarters of the state of Mississippi were keeping two sets of books. The set reported to Washington for inclusion in Federal reports on drop out rates indicated a respectable 87% graduation rate. This would indicate that for every freshman who entered High School in 2004-2005 eighty seven out of every hundred finished the four year curriculum. Thirteen out of the hundred presumably became drop-outs. This report was a skewed and distorted recording of the actual figures. There is a saying “figures don’t lie but liars figure.” Unbelievably the government is complicit in accepting these grossly inaccurate and misleading figures.

The good set of books reported faithfully and accepted unquestioned by the government are calculated by using the 12th grade as the criteria. For every senior entering the 12th grade in the fall of 2007, 87% graduated the next spring of 2008. The real set of books and the actual records indicate that out of every 100 freshmen who entered the system in 2004-2005 only 64% graduated.

Instead of losing only 13 out of every hundred – the real number is 36 out of every hundred who fell by the wayside. That’s just over one-third and is very close to a nation wide average. The state superintendent of schools, Hank Bounds was quoted as saying, “We are losing about 13000 dropouts a year, but publishing reports that said we had a graduation rate percentage in the mid 80’s. Mathematically that just doesn’t work out.

California sent to Washington an official graduation rate of 83%but reports an estimated 67% on a state web site. Delaware reported 84% to the Federal government but published four lower rates at home. The most generous of those was 73% graduation so they were losing about three out of every ten.

The “No Child Left Behind” law is seriously and fatally flawed. It set ambitious goals to be enforced through sanctions to increase proficiency in math and reading but it establishes no national school completion laws. A former governor of West Virginia is quoted as saying, “Under N.C.L.B. students are tested rigorously every tenth of a mile, but nobody keeps track as to whether they cross the finish line.”

The law allows states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Nevada pledged to get just 50% of its students to graduate on time. California proposed to insure a one-tenth of one percent annual improvement in graduation rates. It was pointed out by an observer that this pace would take California 500 years to meet its graduation goals. It should be noted that the state of New Mexico with one of the highest per capita Latino population in the nation ranks as number 13 most successful with a Latino graduation rate of 58%. That means that a state with a predominant Latino population graduates barely over half its children. That is unacceptable.

It is fair to report that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has begun using her executive powers to introduce a measure aimed at focusing resources on the nation’s worst schools. She also announced that she might require states to calculate their graduation rates according to one standard federal formula. In an astounding announcement of attacking a problem which has existed for years she said, “In considering settling this once and for all by defining a single federal graduation rate and requesting states to report that way. That would finally put this issue to rest.” My only question would be why it has taken 8 years and billions of dollars of wasted money to finally reach a simple conclusion. It should have been obvious from day one. If multiple reports are to have value they must be derived from the same source and use the same formulas. That is simply good common sense. This is a quality which we seem to be lacking in large portions of our present federal government.

Originally published by Kettle Moraine, Ltd. Publications on August 21, 2011. The book, Rx For Education-Using Ockham’s Razor (from which Chapter 2 above is derived) is currently being updated and is scheduled for publication in 2017.

~ The Author ~
Frank Newby has a 60 year background in education. He has a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. During a long career, he has taught grades K-12, been a principal and sold textbooks to the schools for 30 years. He was a pioneer in the introduction of computers into the schools. He has called on a majority of the school systems in the inter-mountain West and done numerous guest lectures in western colleges. In retirement he spent three years substitute teaching to experience the conditions of the secondary schools. He is the author of many books and a life long researcher. His pastimes include painting, woodworking, gardening and writing.

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