Education Tomfoolery

In 1990, the Kentucky legislature heaved and groaned and delivered itself of something called the Kentucky Education Reform Act, its purpose – on paper, of course – to virtually turn the state's public-school students (all of them, no kidding) into budding geniuses by the year 2015…one generation by age, two generations by school-age. It switched the state's pedagogy from whatever it was to something called "Outcomes-Based Education," which had "self-esteem" at its core, a non-academic entity, but eminently politically correct. It boggles the mind to think that these guys – quite a number of whom went to the Big House just months later on bribery convictions – actually thought they could do pedagogy, while a gaggle of them didn't even have enough sense to successfully take money under the table.

The Act involved the biggest tax increase in the state's history and was so loaded with pork that it easily greased (sorry about that) its way through the voting, with the solons almost literally wiping the residue from their elbows. Despite much, if not most, of the Act being rescinded by later legislative fiats, it still attacks the state with its blatant ignorance and threatens almost total mental retardation by 2015. As an example of the legislative approach, the Act mandated CASH REWARDS for schools, administrators, and teachers when their little darlings made good grades on state tests. OUTCOME (couldn't resist that): gobs of teachers and administrators cheated (now, isn't that strange…acting like legislators) and rigged the results, laughing all the way to the bank…but at least they didn't go to the Big House, even though they were guilty of something – make it theft by deception.

The current big deal educationally throughout the nation involves the fact that African-American boys are three times as likely as whites to be placed in "special needs" classes but only half as likely to make it into classes for gifted and high-achieving students. There are all sorts of reasons given for this, but the most cogent are politically incorrect to repeat and therefore ignored. In tests in Kentucky in 2006, the reading scores for black and white boys in grades 3, 4, 7 and 10, respectively, indicated the following percentages reading at the proficient/distinguished level, respectively, to be 41, 79; 48, 73; 37, 68; and 17, 52. In math, using the same respective readings for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11, the results were 35, 68; 33, 69; 20, 54; and 19, 56. Obviously, the gaps are huge in these fields, 3-to-1 in the last category each of both sophomores and juniors.

Those results are tragic enough, but a more serious tragedy lies in the fact that in both races the progress (actually lack of it) spirals steadily and precipitously downward as the students pass through the system. Forty percent of blacks (boys, remember) are top readers in the third grade, but only 17 percent are tops in the tenth grade. For whites, the numbers are 79 and 52, respectively, both races dropping at about the same rate. In math, the numbers for blacks are 35% tops in grade 3, but only 19% in grade 11. For whites, the numbers are 68 and 56. This circumstance is graphically remarked in the fact that more than 50% of first-year students at the state universities must take remedial courses in at least one subject.

This is from the Lexington Herald-Leader of June 24, with regard to the Fayette County, Ky., system: "The initiative, the first of its kind in a public school statewide, is expected to place 20 African-American boys, based on a preschool test, in a special kindergarten class with a rigorous curriculum that will focus on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. The students would remain together through the second grade, when they would be tested for placement in the district's gifted and talented program. The class could be taught all three years by a teacher from the gifted and talented program who would work with an assistant instructor and a speech pathologist."

A specialist with 15 years experience is in the $60-70,000 range. Throw in at least $35,000 for an assistant instructor (not a teacher's aide), and that works out to about $160,000 per year in salaries alone – about $8,000 per student per year, with a guarantee for the gifted and talented program at the end, the obvious presumption being that the student will belong there. Perhaps it's worth a try, though the remaining student body of 34,000 will not be affected, just 20 special cases, none of them girls.

If the 20 are successful (and they should be), will the system then separate students into blocs of 20 and give them the same treatment? Of course not…far too expensive! The large-scale learning gap will not be narrowed until the social aspects of the problem are corrected, meaning that the vast majority of black male students will stay in the gap, caused primarily because black men and women engage in non-support mode, primarily due to their refusal to establish viable families as the vital support instruments that actually will make a difference.

In 1960, the rate of illegitimacy among blacks was 23.6% of births, meaning that more than 75% of black families could be assumed to be headed by a man and wife. Now, that illegitimacy rate is 70%, probably much higher in places like New Orleans, the logical conclusion being that currently only 30% of black families or fewer are headed by both parents. Whites have also gotten into the act, with illegitimacy rates increasing from 3 percent in 1960 to 28.5% in 2002 and probably 30% by now, for a probable increase of 900%. Besides connoting a perverse lifestyle, these figures explain in large part why millions of youngsters are damned educationally and economically. They lack the most important kind of support – that of the family.

The school systems can try everything under the sun, but pedagogy-change is not the primary answer, just as KERA, the Kentucky legislative fiasco, with its self-esteem nonsense, hasn't been. Students do their best in every area of endeavor when they function in stable households. The school people know this, but political correctness rules the day, and ever-changing programs come on line, only to make no difference.