Escaping Backwards Thinking in Education


Future generations may study the education system in our day as a lesson in how difficult it is to make government do the right thing when there are entrenched interests involved.  Indeed, reading a post by Annie Holmquist on the Foundation for Economic Education site, I wondered if our progeny will think us downright backwards.

Quoting a former public-school-teacher-turned-homeschool-mom named Nikita Bush, The Monitor explains this movement:

“Despite the promises of the civil rights movement, ‘people are starting to realize that public education in America was designed for the masses of poor, and its intent has been to trap poor people into being workers and servants. If you don’t want that for your children, then you look for something else,’ she says.”

Bush is not alone in thinking that the public schools are keeping minority children from reaching their potential. According to a poll released in 2016 by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, minority parents “strongly reject the notion that students from low-income families should be held to lower standards.” In fact, “Nine-out-of-ten African Americans and 84 percent of Latinos disagree that students today work hard enough and instead believe that students should be challenged more to help ensure they are successful later in life.”

According to Holmquist’s post, black students who are homeschooled perform as well or better than the national average in reading, language, and math, and the contrast with black public school students is stunning.  (Having not reviewed the underlying research, I should note the possibility that there may be factors affecting the numbers, such as the relative income of the group.)

The thing that seems backwards, though, is that only in Georgia is it possible for parents to work together for a sort of homeschooling co-op.  How did we get to a place in a supposedly free country in which the government’s underlying assumption is that parents cannot be trusted to educate their children?  That doesn’t strike me as the proper relationship between government and the governed.

Of course, it may be an exercise in unreasonable optimism to think that future generations will have a better sense of how that relationship ought to be structured.

  • Joe Smith

    (Having not reviewed the underlying research, I should note the possibility that there may be factors affecting the numbers, such as the relative income of the group.) the homeschool sample was 60% females while the public school one was only 49%; or that 98% of the homeschool came from a married, two parent household compared to “unavailable” for the public..or that 35% of the homeschool families had income > 90K and the median for the entire sample was 70K compare to unavailable for the public school..

    No doubt black student achievement is lagging in many public schools, but I’m not sure how “stunning’ it is that children of almost exclusively two parent, probably educated, middle to upper income households, oversampled females, do better than a sample of unknown but more male populated children (but if public school then, arguably more likely to be from single parent households and well below 70K median household income)

    How did we get to a place in a supposedly free country in which the government’s underlying assumption is that parents cannot be trusted to educate their children?

    Doesn’t that assume we started in a place where the underlying assumption was parents could be trusted?

    Well, brief overview – From 1852 (MA compulsory law) through 1917 you have the creep of compulsory education in all states (some variances on ages and subjects), increasingly only at public schools unless exempted by public officials (usually challenged/disabled, upper class whites going to privates, farm/factory working teenagers and of course segregated in the south. Prior to that, education was mainly private or through businesses (trades/apprentice programs)/homeschooling.

    You can blame fear of mass catholic immigrants (right, need to mainstream them into secular schools), “progressive idealism” (lack of trust?), or recognition of skill set changes for migration from agriculture to manufacturing, but I the rise to an “underlying assumption about trusting parents” peaked a hundred years ago (yes, well before public sector unions existed!) and has been moving back (with ups and downs for sure) since then.

    You have Pierce decision in 1925 that affirmed (or reaffirmed) central role of parents and constitutional right of parents to control education – although that expansion of the 14th amendment/due process also led down the road to abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. rights.

    Yoder in 1972 and other state/circuit decisions (like in MA where the mandatory home “inspection” by the state for home schooling was struck down) seem to show that shift from a hundred years ago toward more parental trust.

    You could argue the no “co-op” for homeschooling is more about safety / health and *private competition* concerns than simply the state (education bureaucracy) worried about not trusting parents (education wise). Georgia maybe realizes with 65% single black parents that homeschooling for those households may require a bit more flexibility.
    However, your assertion about “only in Georgia” is not correct – there are a lot of homeschooing groups (even “co-ops”) that exist in some form or another for groups of homeschool parents to join/use.

    It seems in the era of charter schools, momentum for personalized learning pathways through a variety of sources, single sex public schools, and credit attainment available on demand, 24/7, and remotely, that we are moving increasingly away from 1917, not back to that time. Our are you saying we should go back to pre-1852 period?

    We’ll look back going “did you really teach with kids just sitting in a classroom with a physical book mostly listening passively to one person lecturing about a subject?”

    • Mike678

      “We’ll look back going “did you really teach with kids just sitting in a classroom with a physical book mostly listening passively to one person lecturing about a subject?”

      Actually, I remember interacting with the teacher and students in my earlier years…not so passive. That said, teachers transmitting at the earlier grades it is more training than education–basically building the database. It is easier to critically think/problem solve if you have basic understanding/knowledge.

      That said, why, with all our inferred advantages and education improvements, why have SAT scores decreased over the last 40 years despite being ‘recentered’.

      • Joe Smith

        I think a couple of reasons (citing work done by others).

        Kelchen argued using research from areas that adopted mandatory SAT testing for all that 20% or so of the decline (2011-2015) was due to the mandatory testing changing the demographics of what was previously self-selected test takers. Loveless posits that using race/ethnicity changes in test taking population – by controlling the percentages of test takers in 2005 by race and applying that to scores in 2015 would have produce roughly 2/3rds the decline so the increase proportionally of the lower scoring demographics might explain (although that’s correlation not necessarily causation) a good chunk. Also, while 40% leave income blank (so it’s far less reliable than race), fee waivers (where income must be demonstrated) has gone up 20% in terms of percentage of test takers so to the extent test scores and income are correlated you would also expect to see a decline unless the non-fee waiver groups outperform their predecessors.

        Arguably there would be overlap between race and mandatory test taking, but demographics I think have played a significant part. Such is the price of equity in terms of expanding college access.

        It’s also important to remember that the SAT until just recently was not about measuring mastery of curricula or deep understanding of a body of knowledge, but general analytic/critical reasoning skills.

        The new SAT is supposedly aligned with common core and my cynical assumption is the College Board folks saw a declining market for self-selected takers and an expanding market for assessment of curricula and thus mandatory test takers.

        I had passive and active teachers as well, but as much as we think of the monopoly (really more monopolistic competition currently) existing in “schools”, the greater monopoly in many cases – public, private, charter – is the monopoly in the course provision. You may generally like a school, but get a bad teacher.

        With an emphasis on competition at the course/credit level, you change the dynamic a lot more than fighting the larger “whole” school choice. If we move to a world where parents and students pick a schedule (arguably this is more MS/HS than ES for sure) that comes from a cafeteria style of providers, using a “school’ as merely the home base, then you introduce competition at new levels.

        You make homeschooling more an option and even introduce competition among charters/private schools (except perhaps the elite boarding schools since that is a differentiated experience).

        • Mike678

          Understood. The research partially explains the decrease, but don’t you think with all our new educational tools that the rising educational tide should float all boats? That better educational models (not the stale old classroom) would hold the line on any decrease? From the data, it’s hard to conclude that todays students (in general) are better educated/prepared than they were 50 years ago.