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Nessie

Earlier this week, the Left Wing Echosphere was atwitter at the news that a Louisiana school eligible for vouchers had a fundamentalist religious science agenda that teaches, among other things, that the Loch Ness Monster is real and its existence refutes evolution. “Oh, Woe!” they cried, “our tax dollars are going to teach students this rubbish!”

Now never mind that, with hundreds of schools eligible for vouchers, you’re almost certain going to find some that are run by whack jobs. I’m sure there’s a school out there that will teach that Marxism works. The more important point, which I hinted at on Twitter, is expanded on by Neal McCluskey.

First, no matter how loudly government-failure deniers might protest — the government is omnipotent, dammit! – government schooling does not overcome religious belief. The latest Gallup poll assessing views on human origins came out a few weeks ago, and found as it has since 1982: The vast majority of Americans believe that God created human beings, and a plurality believes that God created us in our ”present form.” Only 15 percent hold that human beings evolved without any divine involvement. And this is with roughly 85 percent of students attending public schools.

Next, take a look at overall science achievement. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results, only 32 percent of U.S. eighth graders are “proficient” in science. And private versus public schools? 43 percent of private school students are proficient, versus 31 percent for public schools. A significant part of the difference is likely that private schools tend to serve better prepared kids, but the data certainly doesn’t suggest that public schooling beats private when it comes to science instruction.

Finally, there’s the reason government schools are so inept at teaching science: All people, no matter what their beliefs, are forced to support public schools — a perfect recipe for wrenching conflict. To avoid war without end, some 60 percent of high school biology teachers gloss over the mega flash-point that is evolution. The result is that no one, no matter what their beliefs, gets coherent biology instruction.

When discussing vouchers, liberals like to pretend there is some system of idealized perfect schools that we are draining money away from. This is simply not the case, especially in the low-achievement state of Louisiana. Bobby Jindal has seen the state of Louisiana schools and decided that tweaking it at the edges is simply not an option. A game changer is needed.

An unfortunate side effect is that few schools won’t teach science. Well, guess what, friends? The public schools aren’t teaching science either. Many, if not most, of the students in the public schools are as ignorant about evolution, cosmology and astrophysics as if they’d been educated in a fundamentalist rain barrel. You can site bad examples from the private sector all day; I will site the overall massive improvement in all phases of education, including science, that the private system has over the public system.

When it comes to policy, we can’t get bogged down in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to look at the big picture. And the big picture is that Louisiana’s public schools are not cutting it in any dimension: science, reading, math, you name it. Maybe the great voucher experiment won’t produce the stunning results its supporters think it does. But we’ve got to try something other than pouring more money into the same rathole. And there are very good reasons to believe that this particular something is a good thing.

There’s one other point and it’s the one McCluskey makes last: the current public furor over teaching evolution in our schools. The libertarians have been talking about this for some time, saying we could diffuse the evolution debate by privatizing schools. I didn’t agree at first but am now coming around to that point. Half of Americans do not believe in evolution. I’m beginning to think that at least part of that is because of the deliberate politicization of the science. There is tremendous political benefit in making science a point of contention, and not just for the Religious Right. Whether portraying ones self as a stalwart against evil secular atheists or a stalwart against dogmatic religious fundamentalists, the evolution controversy empower politicians. It is always the case: when the politicians manage to divide us against each other, both sides win. If you think that the Democrats would rather the evolution issue go way, you simply don’t understand how the political mind works.

Perhaps, by moving science out of the public sphere, we can take some of the ardor out the debate. We can stop the acceptance of evolution from being absurdly equated with being a Democrat. And, in the long run, I think that will better for the science as well as the schools.

13 comments

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  1. Section8 says:

    news that a Louisiana school eligible for vouchers had a fundamentalist religious science agenda that teaches, among other things, that the Loch Ness Monster is real and its existence refutes evolution.

    Huh? How does Loch Ness tie into religion? Anyhow, that aside, I still think it’s ridiculous the Left go all nuts with the fundamental religion is going to ruin science and all education meme. Incompetent school administration and lack of accountability by liberal minds who basically run the damn thing has done this long ago, yet no one seems to give a shit. The whole creationism thing is just a distraction of “look what can happen if we allow this!” to cover up the, “Holy shit looks what’s already happened!” Creationism isn’t going to take over science in the classroom ever, but the “Let’s not give Johnny an F, that will make him sad.”, and the we can’t make our scores go up so let’s lower the standards bullshit has done quite a number. For the money we spend per child we currently already have the worst case scenario.

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  2. georgebalella says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. InsipiD says:

    Catholic schools are often used as an example of a place that otherwise impoverished children manage to receive a serviceable education that prepares them for a real job. Of course a Catholic school will have parts of its curriculum that disagree with accepted public schools’, but it seems to not harm the kids. Anti-voucher liberals are just sure that this will be “made worse” by expanding the number of kids in schools like that. It’s almost like they’re afraid that kids won’t receive the required brainwashing.

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  4. Seattle Outcast says:

    There is nothing wrong with our schools. The problem is one of poverty

    Ironically, your link doesn’t support your position. Perhaps if you’d gone to a better school you’d have a better grasp of data analysis.

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  5. Miguelito says:

    Of course a Catholic school will have parts of its curriculum that disagree with accepted public schools’, but it seems to not harm the kids.

    I can speak from experience. My parents pulled my sister and I from public and put us into a local catholic school when I was in Kindergarten (my sister was in 3rd). We got a far better education then friends that went through the public system and I’m not the least bit religious. Went all the way through HS in catholic school too.

    We actually likely got a far better science education then most kids that attend public schools do. Yes, there were “religion” classes but we learned early on that you just give the answers you know they want whether you actually believe it or not and you’ll get decent grades. The religion class each year was the easy one that helped take off the load and give you more time to work on the physics or AP Calc work or whatever. The HS had a great AP/ honors track too.

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  6. Technomad says:

    As long as schools are public, they are going to be political pushmi-pullyus. Unfortunately, most people literally can’t imagine a system where all schooling is private; it’s like North Koreans coming to freedom and finding it overwhelming.

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  7. salinger says:

    You know – I am reluctant to even comment since I actually have experience working within multiple education systems – and one thing that quite a few regulars around here despise above all else is someone who actually has experience in whatever the subject at hand is.

    I have worked with literally thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and administrators across the globe every year for the past ten years. I’ve provided curriculum advice to public, private, charter, non-profit and for profit schools pre K – 12. I am the author of three teacher professional books on literacy and comprehension and am currently writing a book to help teachers teach writing and reading across content areas. I’ve seen schools that work and I’ve seen schools that fail. Whether the school is private or public has just about no bearing on its success. In fact the success rate (and subsequently the failure rate) of charter schools is pretty much the same as the success rate of public schools.

    What makes for a successful school is:
    Teachers, who are respected, do not have to fear for their jobs and feel that they have a say in their classroom.
    A goal oriented curriculum that allows schools to decide the path to those goals best suited for their students.
    Parent involvement.
    A public service component.
    Research based lesson plans.
    Ongoing assessment rather than a single high stakes test.

    What makes for an unsuccessful school is:
    High stress high stake tests as the curriculum bull’s-eye.
    Poor teacher morale.
    Big money per-packaged programs foisted upon schools when research clearly shows they do not work.
    Non-educators making education policy.
    Uninvolved parents.

    These traits can exist in any school. I’ve seen affluent private schools where the teachers didn’t have a clue and I’ve seen inner city public schools producing stellar results as well as this scenario flipped. There is no magic bullet – money is not the answer (some of the worse performing schools are also those with the highest student spending – of course this spending is on programs that do nothing other than make their sellers rich), charter schools are not the answer, all private schools is not the answer, no prepackaged program is the answer. This being said I do hold some hope for the new Common Core Language Arts Standards – while not perfect by any means they are a step in the right direction after the fiasco NCLB became in the end. There seems to be some leeway allowing teachers to teach. We’ll see.

    I wonder though – if it can ever be fixed with all the animosity and anti-intellectual fervor floating around now. Even though I think the Language Arts Common Core Standards is a step in the right direction I am very interested in whether the science and social studies standards will ever get rolled out. I mean what are they going to do with evolution, carbon dating, or even the civil war? We live in a country where a vocal part of the population thinks the world is 5,000 years old. How can you write standards when the facts are in dispute?

    By far the best schools I have worked in are outside of the USA.

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  8. hist_ed says:

    There is no magic bullet

    Fucking bingo on a pogo stick. This has been my complaint since I started teaching-there is always some new magic bullet around the corner that will make things all so wonderful. Open schools, small schools, learning targets, one to one, integrated honors, middle schools vs junior highs, et fucking cetera. Next year my school will convert from a junior high to a middle school (that’s going from 7-9 to 6-8 for you non ed heads), adopt one to one computing (every kid gets a laptop), integrate honors LA/SS into the regular classrooms, end pull out special ed language arts classes, adopt a crazy modified block schedule (so for a five day week there are four different daily schedules), continue to house our classrooms by grade level instead of department (that started last year) . Somehow, our administration thinks all this is going to improve learning for our kids. My guess is we see a dip for the next few years as teachers try to get used to all the changes and then we’ll be back to about where we were last year.

    In my three seventh grade history classes, not a single student could give me a coherent explanation of why July 4th in a holliday and no that really isn’t an exageration. This after 6 years of elementary school social studies. These are middle class students in an affluent suburban district, but the district emphasizes process and learning skills over facts in social studies.

    In all this, I am a bad teacher because I give my kids an occasional lecture about history, and require them to take traditional notes and then make them accountable for that information (They all know about July 4th now). Doesn’t matter if they are learning in my classroom, all that matters is process-whether I use the politically in vogue newest instructional technique.

    Sorry, you hit a sore spot there Salinger.

    I’m really interested in your work around literacy-will probably ask about it soon, but now I have to finish my “professional certification” portfolio-another exersize in idiocy that has nothing to do with how well I teach but without which I will lose my license.

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  9. Section8 says:

    We live in a country where a vocal part of the population thinks the world is 5,000 years old. How can you write standards when the facts are in dispute?

    Did they just start thinking this? I bet that could have been argued about the population 50 years ago when the religious minded had even more influence, but contrary to popular belief, there were some standards and we were considered front runners. So let’s cut this old bullshit tired line out. See my very first post regarding this very nonsense you guys repeat over and over. So what really changed? Education started falling apart when we started becoming a society of victims and excuses. I’ll let you try to figure which side spearheaded that one.

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  10. CM says:

    Education started falling apart when we started becoming a society of victims and excuses.

    I think this line of argument is exaggerated. I don’t see how encouraging kids even when they fail (i.e. rewarding effort) automatically leads to “a society of victims and excuses”. You guys seem obssessed with this narrative, whereas there is a whole spectrum of what defines success in many areas of schooling. Surely it’s a matter of context/degree.

    I’m sure you’d point to my country and say we’re “a society of victims and excuses” and yet our education system is already ranked at or near the top of international comparisons.

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  11. Section8 says:

    Well CM, YOU DON’T LIVE HERE. I do, and I’ve seen the progression over time. And it’s not about rewarding Johnny for effort, it’s about not fixing his god damn problem. Effort only gets you so far, then you actually have to do something right.

    There are other factors that do have an effect on our scores. We do have a large immigrant population many of whom are not educated when they get here and that alters our scores. It takes time to get them up to speed. We don’t have the homogenized population like much of Europe for example. As for NZ, I believe you guys have a more open immigration policy, but aren’t most of your immigrants for GB? I don’t know either way. Someday I might get around to researching.

    Anyhow, for the amount of money we spend per kid we should be smoking the rest of the world. I’ll tell you what though, this bullshit about how it’s religious people’s fault is a load of shit. There were probably more religious people per capita here when we were at the top. So it doesn’t take much thought to rule that variable out now does it?

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  12. Poosh says:

    lol the fact that Cuba score highly is enough to make me dismiss those scores. Though I have no doubt in a reliable overview of education, New Zealand would score highly.

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  13. CM says:

    Well CM, YOU DON’T LIVE HERE. I do, and I’ve seen the progression over time.

    Fair enough.

    And it’s not about rewarding Johnny for effort, it’s about not fixing his god damn problem. Effort only gets you so far, then you actually have to do something right.

    Again, can’t disagree with that.

    We don’t have the homogenized population like much of Europe for example. As for NZ, I believe you guys have a more open immigration policy, but aren’t most of your immigrants for GB? I don’t know either way. Someday I might get around to researching.

    I just did a little. This year (to the end of May) we had 83,000 permanent arrivals. 27,000 of those were from Asia (so almost one-third). 14,000 from the UK (only 17%). 13,000 from Aussie, 10,000 from the rest of Europe (not UK), 3600 from the USA, and all other contrbuting countries were less than 3000.

    http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/Migration/IntTravelAndMigration_HOTPMay12/Tables.aspx

    At the last census (2006, thr 2011 one was postponed because of the earthquakes):
    European 56.8%, Asian 8%, Maori 7.4%, Pacific islander 4.6%, mixed 9.7%, other 13.5%

    http://www.indexmundi.com/new_zealand/demographics_profile.html

    lol the fact that Cuba score highly is enough to make me dismiss those scores. Though I have no doubt in a reliable overview of education, New Zealand would score highly.

    Why do you dispute the Cuba score? Because you don’t agree with their system of government? Why would that necessarily mean they can’t have a high standard of education? That’s just ridiculous. They spend 10% of the govt budget on education (in the US it’s 2%, in the UK it’s 4%). Over half their teachers have a masters degree.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Cuba
    What else do you ‘dismiss’ because you just don’t like it?

    As for the subject of teaching evolution:

    …rejecting evolution expresses more than an inability to think critically; it relies on a fundamentally paranoid worldview. Think what the world would have to be like for evolution to be false. Almost every scientist on earth would have to be engaged in a fraud so complex and extensive it involved every field from archaeology, paleontology, geology and genetics to biology, chemistry and physics. And yet this massive concatenation of lies and delusion is so full of obvious holes that a pastor with a Bible-college degree or a homeschooling parent with no degree at all can see right through it.

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