View Full Version : The Private School Advantage

10-09-2009, 07:31 AM
The Private School Advantage (http://www.jbs.org/jbs-news-feed/5473-the-private-school-advantage)

Beverly K. Eakman | John Birch Society (http://www.jbs.org/)
08 October 2009

An article by John Cloud for Time Magazine (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1670063,00.html) cited a study by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) alleging there’s “no evidence that private schools increase student performance” and that private schools don’t improve student performance “once you control for socioeconomic status.” By the end of the article, however, one finds several caveats.

Mr. Cloud makes an important distinction between “developed abilities” and “achievement tests,” and, it turns out that, well, yes, there is evidence showing that parochial and private schools do a better job of developing critical-thinking abilities and ensuring a college-bound outcome, inasmuch as their students outperform public-schoolers on the Scholastic Achievement Tests (SATs).

“Studies” like CEP’s abound, unfortunately, and rarely are read in their entirety. Mr. Cloud actually did a fine job on his article, noting that CEP “is an advocacy group for public schools” (and therefore not impartial) and pointing out that developed abilities are “honed competencies” rather than inborn traits baring any relation to IQ.

Even if one does not “control” for socio-economic status (i.e., minority, disadvantaged children), Marva Collins’ Westside Preparatory School in Chicago (including “unteachable,” expelled kids); the DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland (one-third minority enrollment); and Barclay Elementary Middle School in Baltimore (95 percent black) all put the lie to goofball ideas about schools being incapable of educating kids from even the toughest backgrounds. Furthermore, IQ tests are notoriously irrelevant in young children, mainly because they fail to focus on nine elements, which just happen to be the keys to successful learning:

* spatial and abstract reasoning (2)
* visual identification
* visual and auditory memory (2)
* perceptual speed
* mental stamina
* hand-eye coordination
* thought-expression synchronization

High-priced learning centers use these nine elements to assess learning problems. They have found that nearly everyone is weak in at least one. When pupils are then directed to teachers trained to handle the child’s weakest element, the problem is usually resolved. That is because these elements are not learning “styles”; they are make-or-break, innate skills that require “honing.”

For example, if a child thinks that ¼ is larger than ½ because “4” is bigger than “2,” then the youngster has an abstract-reasoning problem and maybe a spatial-reasoning deficit, too. This will not only affect the student in math, but eventually in geography and science. The problem will become noticeable once the student attempts word problems. Asked to work with a map, the pupil won’t be able to make heads or tails of it. By the time such youngsters get into algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics, they give up and try to memorize their way through, to little avail. Thus, schools have everything to gain by diagnosing abstract and spatial reasoning difficulties early on so they can be corrected from the get-go.

Public schools approach diagnostic testing as mental illnesses, not as competencies. They use essentially psychiatric testing instruments, even clinical surveys such as the Personality Assessment Inventory, the State-Straight Depression Adjective Checklist, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Emotional Problems Scale, etc.

Government educators take the view of John Dewey, father of “progressive” education, that social adjustment trumps factual knowledge, and “flexible” attitudes supersede firm beliefs. Since short shrift is given to academics under this model, youngsters who develop problems in basic subjects are labeled with a “learning disability,” as if it were a mental illness instead of a teaching problem. The child may even be directed away from the regular classroom to “Special Ed,” especially if the student starts misbehaving—a likely scenario given sustained frustration over subject matter.

Unfortunately, Special Education teachers have nothing in their arsenals to help the child, which leaves the parent to locate a learning center or tutor. Thus, the child with math difficulties may find himself in a peer-pressure-cooker all day, where the only way to survive is to become either aggressive or apathetic. Even fairly successful students may fail to meet their potential because the chaos quotient is so high in public schools that youngsters can barely focus on the instruction. Kids become jumpy and irritable, a state compounded by a brutal Lord-of-the-Flies-style subculture in which children rule and adults have no clout.

Since Sputnik was launched in 1957, alerting all Americans for the first time to the nation’s dwindling level of academic competency, the federal government has applied one band-aid after another, encroaching on state and local agencies in the process. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), for example, has emerged as a haven for young scoundrels by expanding the term “disability” to include misbehavior. Through the years, unchecked juvenile delinquency has merged with adult criminality, requiring more prisons and jeopardizing the American way of life as we once knew it.

Special interests learned to use schools as the front line for their political agendas, primarily to oust Christian mores and twist our constitutional freedoms. For example, on August 25, 2005, a U.S. District judge overturned the expulsion of 14-year-old Anthony Latour from a Pennsylvania public school for writing vulgar, violence-laden rap lyrics—on First Amendment grounds. The miscreant was ordered readmitted to classes.

Other special interests forced the eradication of rote-learning activities such as memorization of multiplication tables and dictation exercise—on the grounds that students disliked them. While rote exercises may be tedious to adults, young children like them. Kids enjoy repeating expressions and jingles, and writing their names over and over. Nevertheless, child “experts” substituted fads like:

* “constructivist math” (a.k.a. “guess-and-check);
* “whole language” (reading) and “inventive spelling”;
* “ebonics” (substandard grammar legitimized);
* “multicultural studies” at the expense of Western civilization;
* “junk science” (to promote socialist positions, taught as facts); and
* “situational ethics” and “value-neutral education,” without reference to philosophy or religion to enhance thinking skills.

Such politicized actions spurred private-school enrollment. Demand soon overwhelmed supply, causing tuitions to soar, while bureaucratic red tape stalled the establishment of more private options. By the late 1980s, private schooling was beyond the reach of most middle-class families, lending credibility to earlier leftist claims, however erroneous at the time, about private education being for “the rich.”

Now, it is actually true: Schools that charged $600 in the 1960s and ’70s have upped the ante to $23,000—far above the level of mere “belt-tightening,” even adjusting for inflation. For about half the price, parochial schools began admitting youngsters not affiliated with their faiths, often watering down religious tenets to accommodate the influx.

It is instructive to note a 1950s-era article, also for Time Magazine by the late, liberal historian Henry Steele Commager: He remarked that the goal of schooling in America up to that year was still centered on passing along a “common body of knowledge.” Eying the future, he warned that “[a] society…indifferent to its own heritage cannot expect schools to make good the indifference.” Today, that comment would mark him as a traditionalist conservative.

Factor in a leftist ideological bent to curriculum, and you have a recipe for educational anarchy. The latest (and most legitimate) international rankings (the 2007 International Mathematics and Science Study and the 2006 Progress in International Literacy Study) place U.S. public schools toward the bottom of the global heap in math, reading, general literacy, and science.

Today, our public schools are mini-societies that substitute the authority of peers for teachers, churches and parents. The only Attention Deficit Disorder lies within the classroom, not the students; chaotic environments are not conducive to concentration. Out-of-control school crime is not caused by a lack of police and metal detectors, but, rather, results from decades of lax discipline and a standard of “functionality” that replaced merit and excellence. Rigorous course work has been exchanged for outrageous nonsense like the 2004 taxpayer-funded program called the “Great Sex Workshop.” To enthuse students (i.e., to keep them in school), the program advertises: “Get ready for some fun interactive intimacy games to help you keep sex safe and hot! Then share your techniques for finding Mr. Right….” This little gem came with a 5-year, $5.5 million budget.

With President Barack Obama now coming out in favor of a longer school year and mandatory pre-kindergarten enrollment (age 3), the responsible family may soon be unable to pass along its heritage, morals or even help with homework. While the home school movement continues to grow, government becomes increasingly hostile to it, forcing parents to navigate multiple hurdles.

As demand for private schools increase, the “process” of enrollment becomes more onerous, too. Interested parents run a gauntlet of demeaning, time-consuming Mickey Mouse exercises aimed at reducing the number of contenders for limited openings. Voucher programs become problematic, too, as participating schools wind up having to adhere to state mandates and adopt unwanted curricula. For example, a private school whose health curriculum focuses, appropriately, on physiology suddenly is awash in graphic sex films and mental-health surveys.

All private schools are not alike, of course. But, then, that’s the point: One size doesn’t fit all. Some youngsters thrive in a highly structured environment; others in a more creative one. Unfortunately, most parents don’t know to ask the right questions, such as: Do you promote a phonics curriculum over “whole language” for reading and spelling? Which standardized testing programs do you use? How do you handle the student with poor visual memory? How much time is devoted to Western culture? It is important for parents to shop around, but they are often intimidated into silence on the important questions.

If the government was really concerned about cognitive learning (which it isn’t), it would jettison the red tape and encourage the market to provide choice. The Roman Catholic Church has been essentially “franchising” its schools successfully for years, holding tuition down in the process.

If a “government option” for schools is to be made viable, we must re-think its objectives. Today’s elementary and secondary institutions try to do too much, turning schools into glorified day-care centers. Educational priorities should instead be built around just four things:

* creating a literate citizenry, capable of self-government;
* ensuring financial independence for that free citizenry (because doing so ensures political stability);
* enhancing the general level of culture and reversing its present decline via mandatory inclusion of art, music, sculpture and philosophy (as doing so helps youngsters navigate today’s “emotional overload” by focusing the complex interplay of their five senses);
* bolstering the Christian standards from which the Founders articulated unique concepts relating to life, pursuit of happiness, national sovereignty, property rights, free speech and conscience.
* Any activity that does not accommodate one of these four goals should be shelved in a tax-supported environment or, as with private facilities, turned into an elective for which additional payment is expected.

If we are to save the Republic, average citizens must tailor the private option to the tax-supported environment—which means ousting the agendas of special interests. Instead of throwing money at schools and its various bloated bureaucracies, tax dollars would be better spent on university departments of teacher preparation—to help revise instructional methods so that they focus on those nine keys to learning.

Despite these challenges, the teacher-pupil ratio and the close-knit climate of private schools make them an all-around better bet for kids. Public, or government, schools have been enjoying “bailout” status for decades, with worsening outcomes. It’s time for Americans to start voting with their feet.