The Locker Room

June 21, 2005

Re: Inflated Illiterates

Posted by Jon Sanders at 3:47 PM

Janie, don't forget a couple of years ago when the writing test scores were so bad, education officials decided to throw them out, presumably using the stat-norming method introduced by David Mulligan.

I must confess, however, my fondness for this justification: "Tens of thousands of students are a couple of points shy of passing scores." *Whew!* What a relief! (Let's not take the alternative tack and see how many thousands barely passed, though.)

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Cut the Thread: The Walking Option

Posted by Dr. Karen Y. Palasek at 3:38 PM

So the state is dumping more writing tests this year. This is more of the same from previous years, and likely to be repeated in the future—don't we all believe that?

As Ms. Neely points out, there are endless excuses. I would suggest that we simply acknowledge that there ever will be excuses, because that's the way the game is rigged. Sadly, it favors the employee, not the customer.

Rather than continue hand-wringing in the face of reforms aimed more at preserving school jobs than at breaking down persistent student ignorance, I suggest the market option—the walking option.

A truly radical, truly effective, and truly parent-directed alternative to the juggernaut of public education ignorance is not more charter schools, or magnet schools, or private schools or home schools, although any and all of these can be fine options, under the right circumstances.

Changing K12 education for the better can be accomplished by allowing choice, but market-wide choice rather than "school choice."

Radical change in favor of parent choice and quality in education could be accomplished by one simple but far-reaching reform: dump compulsory education laws. This is most eloquently argued by John Merrifield in his book School Choices: True and False.

People will willingly fund good public schools. Bad ones will see their student numbers bleed away to better options. Fund them publicly if you will, but don't force kids to attend, or parents to send kids. Will parents abandon their kids to ignorance and helplessness? Unlikley, especially if we believe that parent demands are driving many of the calls for more, higher quality or individualized programs of various types in the current public schools.

No law requires us to engage in commerce, but we do because it is so self-evidently in our own interest. Education, especially good education, is in the the same category.

There is room for every option for payment, including tax credits (all of which are not equal) once the process begins. There is also room for every educational standard as a precondition for employment or higher education, once the process begins.

What there is no room for under a non-compulsory education system is non-education, in the guise of schools.

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Inflated Illiterates

Posted by Janie Neeley at 1:44 PM

State writing tests stump students

If you are wondering why this is happening, just take a look at the direct quotes found in this article. Every anti-intellectual excuse is employed:

"… Triangle educators wonder whether the state has set standards that often are too difficult for students and schools to meet. In fourth grade statewide, fewer than 2 percent of students earned a score greater than 16 points -- which represents the top achievement rung, or Level IV. In seventh and 10th grades, fewer than 1 percent earned scores high enough to rank in Level IV."
That's right, let's blame the test. It has nothing to do with the fact that most students cannot construct a coherent sentence, spell, or punctuate. Instead of looking failure in the eye and taking corrective steps, our schools scramble to point fingers in every direction but their own. This is great modeling for our future generation; never take responsibility for your mistakes if someone nearby can be blamed. It's great fodder for our future trial lawyers.

"Even though about half of the state's students scored below proficient levels, Fabrizio said thousands were within easy reach of passing the writing test. Tens of thousands of students are a couple of points shy of passing scores."
Reward effort, not performance. Self-esteem is at stake here!
Of course, the result is that we graduate tens of thousands of inflated illiterates who know nothing but feel good about themselves.
As the saying goes…ignorance is bliss! Which leads us to our next quote…

"Diane Villwock, testing director for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system, said that she would struggle to respond to the prompt 10th-graders were asked to tackle."
Maybe Diane shouldn't be working as a school district administrator if she is challenged by a 10th grade test. Then again, this just highlights the fact that our best and brightest are leaving the profession.

Speaking of administration...

"My belief is that as teachers get a better handle on what they can do with students, we could be looking at a lot more of these students scoring proficient in the future," Fabrizio said."
My belief is that teachers could do a better job, if bureaucrats like Fabrizio at the DPI would get out of their way. I worked with intelligent and capable teachers that constantly had to compromise their beliefs to follow district or state mandates. Whole language, new math, open classrooms, noncompetitive grading, teachers as 'facilitators', and character education are just a few examples of "progressive" reforms forced on teachers. Who has time for the basics when you are constantly being retrained in the latest and greatest program?


"In response to criticism, the state retooled the scoring of the test and changed the focus of the exam"
"Retooled" means you really won't know the actual score or whether your child is proficient because the state will use creative math to report rosy results. Next year, we could have remarkable improvements!

Sadly, that's all the public wants to hear.

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Re: Dangerous Consequences

Posted by Hal Young at 12:40 AM

Karen's posting and the article it references bring up a whole raft of interesting issues. For one, it highlights the fact that no subject is immune from the Weltanshauung of the instructor. The "objective" sciences are not immune, particularly in a world where highly-degreed people argue over whether they themselves exist in fact or only perception, and "fact" is established by a vote of the "experts", not by an independent standard or source of truth. Don Nickels' book Mathmatics: Is God Silent? deals with the question of the philosophical, even theological, basis of Western mathmatics, and it arose from this very debate.

As Karen indicates, the present article is not so much about math as about atomizing cultural chauvinism. It's not critical to the application of mathmatics to know whether certain concepts originated from India, China, Persia, or Peru; I would certainly expect teachers and students in those cultures to take whatever justifiable pride they wish in their teaching of the subject. But as Ravitch points out, in Korea, the schools don't teach ancient Korean math -- they teach math. Likewise, we don't require the use of Latin or Greek in the study of civics, though the Roman republic and Athenian democracy were the obvious models for much of our political structure. But visit any rapidly developing country in the world, most especially China and India, and you will find significant portions of the population striving to master English, adapting Western popular culture into their own society's context, and looking to Europe and especially the U.S. for a model for their future. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

We Americans don't need to be ashamed of the heritage we received, nor do I need to jealously defend my particular Anglo-Scot-Irish-Germano-Huguenot identity to flourish in this uniquely American model of individuality within the larger community. There's room for plenty more cultural heritages here, so come and welcome. Neither English literacy nor "Eurocentric" mathmatics destroy them.

Why is that such a problem?

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Is it all in the genes?

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 12:32 AM

Furthering the notion that Americans are genetically primed to take risks is a story in today's New York Times (subscription required).

Geneticists who study behavior and personality have known for 30 years that genes play a large role in people's instinctive emotional responses to certain issues, their social temperament.

It is not that opinions on specific issues are written into a person's DNA. Rather, genes prime people to respond cautiously or openly to the mores of a social group.

Surprisingly, attitudes on school prayer, property taxes, and capitalism are among those most tied to DNA. This may give further credence to the idea of a "Roe Effect" as well and the optimism in today's WSJ column by Micklethwait and Wooldridge.

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Re: Joseph's Dangerous Consequence

Posted by Hal Young at 12:04 AM

Joseph -- Why is the title of Thomas Friedman's new book on page 16 of the Road to Serfdom booklet? Is there a connection with your reference to his cudgel? Eerie linkage … ?

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Revaluation and Meck

Posted by Chad Adams at 11:10 AM

Just for clarification and to extoll the virtues of the achievement in Charlotte, the county actually performs the revaluations (required by law every 8 years), the city is thus removed from the process but uses the values given them by the county. Mecklenburg had one in '03-'04 so holding the tax rate was truly "holding the tax rate".

Having said that, many cities were able to hold their tax rates steady this year as a result of having raised the rates last year. Remember, cities hold elections in "off years" so who wants to raise taxes this year in the city when they have to run for re-election?

Counties (whose elections are next year) are having far more success in passing increases. In Buncombe County they are planning on holding the tax rate steady this year (per the manager's office) and the revaluation is set for next year.

The proposal you suggest about indexing increases to inflation and/or population growth is actually the basis for a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) which the General Assembly has ignored each year in NC since 1994.

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Re: Dangerous Consequences

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 11:01 AM

One of the interesting things about the link Karen posted at the end of her entry: General Motors sponsored the booklet on "The Road to Serfdom." Fortunately, neither GM nor any other company has taken up Thomas Friedman's cudgel for a single-payer health system or more government funding of the sciences. That hasn't stopped companies from taking incentives from states, however.

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Re: Sowell on Budweiser

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 10:56 AM

George, I also read Sowell's piece on the history of Budweiser, though I'll have to admit, I was disappointed. While traveling and studying in Prague last summer, I happened to learn a lot about the pub culture of the Bohemian region. All of the pubs are sponsored by a particular regional beer. Although each pub serves many different varieties of beer, they only focus on one in particular. The reason for this is because the sponsoring beer brings the pub new glasses, advertisements, and beer every few days (think an alcoholic version of the 1950s milkman).

At any rate, I happened to have one of my first Czech beers at a pub sponsored by Budweiser, the original Czech beer (even older than the currently popular Pilsner Urquell, which is mistakenly labeled as the oldest Czech beer because, I suspect, of it's world-wide popularity). Locals told me that Budweiser, aka Budvar, (pronounced Boodvar) had its name stollen by American brewers during communist rule. Legend has it that communists, believing that capitalism would eventually fail, initially did not care that Adolphus Bush used the name in America. Their lack of foresight has caused long standing trademark disputes.

I think this adds another dimension to the whole idenity fiasco in Budweis.

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Dangerous Consequences

Posted by Dr. Karen Y. Palasek at 10:38 AM

As the parent of a child about to enter college, and a college instructor myself, I am horrified to read the latest from Diane Ravitch, education historian, on the politicization of mathematics. Granted, the humanities have long been in the wasteland of the politically correct and left-indoctrinating University faculties. With the partial exception of economics, the social sciences are generally devoid of thinking, reasoning faculties as well, leaving the hard sciences and math as the last bastions of logic and clarity in the university. No more.

In her Wall Street Journal "Ethnomathematics," Ravitch discusses how mathematics is fast becoming a tool of the mind-twisting social programmers who want your kids not to think, but to think the thoughts they put in their heads. Doing this with math, a discipline that almost everyone would presume is pure and objective, is a perfect and completely dishonest way to accomplish this, and it's in your schools and playing with your child's head now.

Beyond "innocent dumbing-down," the new, new, new,…,mathematics is aggressively anti-West, anti-capitalist, and pro-multicultural socialist. Mathematics professors are promoting themselves as "critical theorists," advocating learning and using mathematics as 'traditional ancestors' used it, and recasting the curriculum as tool for measuring social justice and injustice. The "critical theorists" assert that students "will learn math best if taught in ways that relate to their ancestral culture."

This approach would have us believe that we are all imprinted pre-birth with some ancestral inclinations in the area of math. If we want to be successful in life (why should this be limited to just math?) we have to observe those inclinations in our teaching and methods with students. And I thought imprinting was nature's way of insuring that non-reasoning animals' offspring don't wander from the nest, lest they come to believe that a U.S. Postal truck is their mother.

Should one doubt that the new direction in math is turning toward a divisive, ethnocentric feeding frenzy on Western culture and accomplishments, here are some of the items Ravitch mentions: a text titled "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice By the Numbers," which includes chapters called "Sweatshop Accounting," "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood," "Home Buying While Brown or Black," and others in this strait-jacket, anti-white, anti-market mindset. These are in use, not wild pipe dreams, and they will grow in use. Even a superficial look at the number and breadth of social tasks with which the schools have charged themselves guarantees this. Teachers are already using the 'unit studies'—integrated teaching of all subjects in a teaching plan that revolves around a general topic area—approach to try to cover the vast amount of social and cultural material they are charged with. It's but a small step to make the topic of that unit "Western Oppression of Other Cultures," in spirit, if not in name. Now multicultural racists will "prove" it, with numbers. (Ravitch calls this racism 'particularism,' to contrast it with the use of the populist buzzword 'pluralism.')

I myself have attended parochial schools as well as public school in the K12 years; I've been a home school parent and a private school parent. I would not under any circumstances, excepting destitute poverty and welfare, place my child in a public K12 school at this point. I could not in good conscience sign my child's mind over to the state. There are a few wonderful teachers out there, and many public schools fabulously equipped, but it's not enough, not by a long stretch, in a system that is deliberately promoting mindlessness.

As my own child, who achieved a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement test in Composition, and won one of three writing portfolio awards in a very tough writing curriculum, noted after looking over the titles of course selections for college freshmen in English, "I could never be an English or a History major at this school." She was audibly distraught, as this is one of the most prestigious universities in North Carolina. I told her that I agreed, and that she's lucky that she is planning a career in the sciences. Now I'm not so confident.

Social and economic engineering--we've seen this before, with horrifying results.

Addendum: I've also taught in the public schools, which doesn't alter my assessment here in any way.

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Re: Facts Don't Matter

Posted by Paul Chesser at 09:47 AM

Donna, I don't know why you should be surprised by the hat lady's comments...after all, she is part of a magical place where there are no rules, the supply of money is endless, and silly economics can be miraculously overcome with compassion...


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'This Was the Right Thing to Do'

Posted by Paul Chesser at 09:21 AM

Vietnam veterans serving in Iraq know the difference between the two wars.

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Conservative Disapproval

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 09:12 AM

John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge counter the malaise on the nation's right in this morning's Wall Street Journal and their column, together with a roundtable on the radio yesterday, reminded me of another problem with polls on the president's approval rating.

The questions are simply approve/disapprove without any understanding of the reason for disapproval. The president has reportedly lost ground among those 30-44 on Social Security reform and the commentators saw that as a sign that his reform proposals were unpopular. The Cato Institute and others on the right, however, have complained about the president's poor job of selling the reform. They likely "disapprove of the president's handling of Social Security" because they agree with him on the need for reform and the desirability of personal lockboxes.

Medicare drug benefits, the war in Iraq, and other issues often have disapproval from the right and left, but most take it as simply disapproval from the left and propose more spending for drugs, no reform of social security, and timelines for withdrawal--positions that guaranteed to have narrow appeal.

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Sowell on Budweiser

Posted by George Leef at 08:44 AM

No, he isn't writing about his preference in beer.

In his intriguing column, Sowell points out that there was a Bohemian city named Budweis in which people from different ethnic groups got along fine until the arrival of identity politics in the early 20th century. It's an excellent lesson for the whole "diversity" crowd -- stop obsessing about people's differences.

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re: Making A Difference

Posted by Matt Mittan at 08:32 AM


Congrats on a successful endeavor in Charlotte. However, I have a follow-up question that is often overlooked in media reports about prop. tax rates. Does the City of Charlotte plan on doing a property re-valuation this year?

If the tax rate stays the same but the property values go up - the residents will end up paying more in taxes. That is what's happening in Buncombe County, where I live. The County Commission went on bragging about holding the tax rate steady but failed to mention that a tax-reval is scheduled for county residents this year.

Some area residents here may see a MAJOR increase in their tax bill this fall. For the residents to pay the same amount in property taxes - the property tax rate would actually have to come DOWN.

Food for thought... What if we pushed for legislation that capped property tax rate growth to the rate of inflation in NC? Or some other form of legislation that protected the property owners of NC? (Rather than city by city, county by county - battles over tax rates every budget cycle.) Many other states have taken such steps, with great success.

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Legislative Question...

Posted by Matt Mittan at 08:13 AM

According to my research, the General Assembly has had close to 3,000 bills introduced between the two chambers this year. Of the bills that have actually been adopted, hardly any of them actually impact governmental functioning.

Here's my question for the fine inventory of brains here in the Locker Room - Can anyone tell me how many bills have ACTUALLY been adopted into law during this session of the Legislature and what they were? I can only find a few and they are mostly useless proclamations.

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Making a difference

Posted by John Hood at 08:06 AM

It can sometimes be difficult to tell here in the public-policy business whether what you do truly makes a difference in people’s lives. Sure, you hear from readers, listeners, and viewers about what they like or don’t like about your work. Your events may draw crowds, your papers may be cited by public officials, your website may get page views. But what does it add up to in the end?

If you are lucky, the sum is impact: framing the debate over public issues, providing decisionmakers with useful information and intellectual ammunition, and swaying policymakers or the public with cogent argument.

I think that the John Locke Foundation, and in particular our new initiative focusing on the Charlotte region of the state, can fairly claim to have played a constructive role in heading off a proposed city tax increase. We wrote about Charlotte’s city budget, offered suggestions for savings, and made the case at a public hearing that the city’s combined tax burden was already above average compared with peer communities in North Carolina and beyond. Our efforts got significant press attention and draw comments (not all favorable, of course) from members of the city council.

The result was that within a couple of weeks, the council began fashioning a no-tax-increase budget. It passed yesterday. Congratulations to all involved — including the taxpayers of Charlotte.

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RE: Min. Wage

Posted by Matt Mittan at 08:00 AM

Despite people's philosophy on the min. wage - the ultimate "let them eat cake" decision was handed down by legislators last week. Two weeks after saying that a $1 increase to the min. wage was not appropriate for workers across NC, the House approved a min. wage for state workers of $9.67. (A full $4.42 ABOVE the fed. min. wage.)

"Joe Six Pack" may not understand the economics of the min. wage fully but they sure understand "good enough for us but not good enough for you."

The majority in Raleigh continues to alienate themselves further and further from the working people of NC.

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