Oy. Anyone who thinks Jews are smarter than other people, well, that’s because we gave all of the stupid to Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve). Last week, in The New York Times, Murray had an op-ed about charter schools wherein he scribbled about the failure to find differences in performance between charter and public schools:
So let’s not try to explain them away. Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.
Actually, what Murray said isn’t accurate: class size has been shown to affect learning. But Murray has a long history of being unencumbered by data, and we wouldn’t want to weight the poor dear down. But the main point is the call for the abandonment of test scores. Instead, Murray argues that school choice will allow parents to choose a school with a curriculum and educational philosophy they like:
Schools differ in what they teach and how they teach it, and parents care deeply about both, regardless of whether test scores rise.
Here’s an illustration. The day after the Milwaukee results were released, I learned that parents in the Maryland county where I live are trying to start a charter school that will offer a highly traditional curriculum long on history, science, foreign languages, classic literature, mathematics and English composition, taught with structure and discipline. This would give parents a choice radically different from the progressive curriculum used in the county’s other public schools.
For twenty years, charter school advocates have been bashing public schools, and the single most potent force for evil in human history, The Teachers Unions, with the arguments that if the schools were run like a business using THE METRICS!, and if teachers were ‘incentivized’ to perform better (rather than being civil service dullards, of course), all our children would be wicked smaht! Or something.
The main idea was that our educational problems were managerial. With the right managerial structure, reporting scheme, and so on, we could right most, or even all, of the wrongs our educational system inflicts on our children. The Broad and Gates Foundation spent millions of dollars following this philosophy, only to conclude that, erm, that wasn’t really the problem. For those of us who worried that schools were being judged on factors they can’t control, like poverty, or that the other issues were curricula, or that precision was being substituted for accuracy, we were derided as non-numerical lightweights. Test scores would lead us to freedom!
And now, forget shifting the goalposts, Murray wants to completely nuke them. Now curriculum, childhood development, and parental involvement matter? While I don’t like what he derides as ‘progressive’ teaching (because, in my case, the old school style worked), the far more pernicious radicalism has been the testing über alles approach. It has completely deformed curricula, demoralized teachers, in some cases, led to outright cheating, and been used as an excuse to decrease teacher compensation.
I think this will be the rallying cry for charter schools: parent choice, which in Murray’s formulation is just selfish separatism. Why? Becuase there’s nothing stopping parents from getting involved and requiring that multiple options be available within the public school system. This doesn’t require ‘charters’ with all their attendant baggage, just a political willingness to embrace options. After all, many districts have science- or art-focused schools. So go push for a ‘classic’ curriculum school in the district–I would support that strongly. If it does well, maybe other public schools will even adopt the curriculum–which helps those parents who don’t know what a good education looks like.