Sunday, April 16, 2006

Set a higher goal: Truly equal education - Rochelle Riley, The Detroit Free Press

The Free Press' Rochelle Riley wrote a great opinion piece in Sunday's (4/16/2006) edition suggesting incredibly superficial solutions to poor districts' education problems. The editorial shows symptoms of attention deficit for reasoning beyond skin color syndrome, commonly shortened to just Attention Deficit for Reasoning (ADR).

It starts off well-intentioned enough suggesting Michigan level the playing field between districts by equally distributing chemical labs and algebra classes between better-to-do districts (like Farmington and Bloomfield Hills) and not-so-better-to-do districts (Detroit and Pontiac). Ms. Riley mistakes the accouterments of education for education's substance.

She, and others like her, would feel better if Detroit's Western International High School had the same number of chemistry labs and algebra classes (4 and 20) as Farmington High School (11 and 22). Of course, the way she writes the difference seems greater:
"For instance, to match the 11 chemistry labs and 22 algebra classes offered to Farmington High School's 1,430 students, the state would have to add seven chem labs and two algebra classes at Detroit's Western International High School, which 1,402 students attend."
And according to Ms. Riley, Pontiac Central High School's student performance and drop-out rates are the result of having five fewer foreign language classes than Bloomfield's Andover High School. She is more familiar with each school's curriculum than we are and her insights suggest fixing under-performing districts' education problems are as simple as a few missing selections in the course catalog.

Her editorial actually had little to do with education but was instead directed at affirmative action and her opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). Her thinking on education is worth considering on its own because it demonstrates flawed reasoning that makes suspicious her understanding of the MCRI.
"Affirmative action programs have always been the best way to overcome both past race and sex discrimination and the immoral, but legal, affirmative action program for white men that existed for centuries."
For as long as affirmative action (as we know it) has been in place we have to wonder how effective it's been. Thomas Sowell has written two books on the subject, Vision of the Anointed and Affirmative Action Around the World and has found the results of such programs don't warrant their continuation and their support masks either more serious problems or propagate the myth they're needed when they've outlived their purpose. Rather than having faith in themselves affirmative action prefers minorities place their faith in quotas, ratios, incantations, high priests, and Jessie Jackson.

Sowell's thorough research both for what's happening today with affirmative action and what happened throughout history shows many well-intentioned government-sponsored programs are not innocent misdirections of resources. They're examples of M√ľnchhausen by proxy politics. Research showing good intentions don't yield good results is unwelcome when we'd rather just feel good about ourselves. But sticking to programs that don't work is dishonest and betrays those that need help.

More skin-deep analysis from the editorial:
"If you think that affirmative action policies are unfair, imagine being a child forced to learn in a secondhand school with secondhand books, knowing that one day you'll compete with someone whose school has the best of everything."
Five more language classes won't bring more jobs to Pontiac or Detroit. Two more algebra classes won't change families' attitudes toward education or lessen discipline problems in the classroom. Many schools in India and China have even fewer resources than Detroit's high schools and still they're taking our jobs -- low and high-wage. Many of those students have fewer material possessions than even our big cities' poor, but take their studies more seriously because they believe education is the path to prosperity from poverty. This is one of the important messages in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat: it's not how or what-with these students are studying--it's why they're studying, and there's nothing superficial about that. Those same Indian and Chinese students are going to take jobs away from Detroit and Farmington graduates alike. Outsourcing doesn't discriminate. Indian's care little if the job they took came from Pontiac or Bloomfield Hills.

But from a progressive's way of thinking it's more important to feel good than to do good. And you darling--mmm... You must feel marvelous.

1 comment:

  1. Just to add a little fuel to your fire. Apparently the judging the quality of a teacher by test scores is about as accurate as judging a book by it's cover.