Much of this is a matter of how public schools are funded: Real estate taxes of each township. School boards are elected because they must tax us to pay for our public education so we must be able to fire them through the electoral process. BUT if you live in a school district filled with $1 million dollar homes you can pay for your schools with a lower tax rate than a school district with $50,000 homes. So the poor neighborhoods simply cannot afford to pay for the quality of education that the wealthy neighborhoods can afford. Lower tax rates for the rich buy the best teachers and most beautiful schools with enormous marching bands whereas higher tax rates for the poor buy lousy teachers, stodgy buildings and maybe a few bass drums and a cymbal or two.

Expand full comment

Here we go again: Putting the focus on everything except what works in learning and achievement. This is not a non-partisan organization, it’s clearly yet another social justice organization that values politics over learning. We know that kids from low-income neighborhoods can learn and excel. Some charter schools in New York City are among the highest-performing schools in the state. But Democrats value teacher union money over educating children. Just look at what the Pennsylvania governor did this week.

Expand full comment

“…we’ve designed the public education system so that disputes like these will be political. It’s an inevitable result of compulsory attendance, centralized school assignment, and political control.”

I’ve been saying this for years - everything about decision making under this set of circumstances IS political. And parents are at a serious disadvantage against entrenched interests who commit to their cause full time.

The only fair solution is to defund public schools and enable a totally private system with student vouchers. Parents would get autonomy and choice, teachers would get a free market for their services - and teachers unions would mostly be stymied.

Expand full comment

"Civilian oversight is appropriate, even necessary" No wonder US literacy and IQ fall like a rock. Public schools are not public. As long as the author and school unions act on their Ownership of the schools, the schools are just the fascist tools of their ruling party.

And the kids are just collateral damage like in the evidence of the teachers union forcing the closing of schools and keeping them closed based on lies.

Expand full comment

Above the door of every public school there should be this quote from Dante , "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate".

Expand full comment

Made me look it up....

Expand full comment
Jun 18, 2023·edited Jun 18, 2023

The author makes a good case of the primary issue with disparate quality in public education, which is the "local" aspect of it, and of course the "localized" funding that controls it and creates these disparities, in favor of making some vague hand wave that perhaps public schools need to go back to being nominally Protestant Christian dominated outlets ??

A "fix" for public schools should include an elimination of "zip code" funding and enrollment. Truly "public schools" would receive an equivalent amount of funding and resources, irrespective of zip code. We should have an excellently equipped school in every location, not crumbling buildings and overpacked classrooms forced to warehouse a concentration of poverty and dysfunction in one zip code just miles away from green and well outfitted campuses benefiting from wealthy and involved parents in another. Disperse the student population with the funding, suddenly you'll find an investment interest from taxpayers everywhere into funding an overall excellent system rather than just a district or handful of schools. This is the principle that the globally high rated Finnish school systems operate on (let alone, the ban on private education, again, when everyone has a stake in excellence and excellence is available everywhere, the money and investment issues solve themselves).

That, and reforming educational training and programs - along with professionalizing the field. Teachers should be paid and respected as professionals in their field - with the caveat they are delivering results commensurate with that, and trained to do so, along with raising the bar for admittance into the field. Make admittance and certifications/graduation into educational programs on par with those of law and medicine and improve the quality of the field and of those teaching it. Educational training should also focus on learning and the ability to teach disciplines using proven methods, not "theories", fads and attempts to leverage political and cultural ideologies into education .

At the same time, we also need to stop expecting schools and teachers to function as de facto social workers, mental health counselors, police, etc. This does mean there needs to be more holistic community and family interventions where needed that exist outside of the school system. It is unrealistic, and unfair, to expect schools that are functioning as little more than day cares for a student population coming from dysfunctional families and communities to somehow compensate for the background lives of these children, let alone as dumping grounds for special needs students that "choice academies" and private schools can avoid - and punish them for not being able to compete with schools that can avoid these students. Which is also why an "open district" policy, enforced, is necessary. Dispersing the populations of differently prepared children so that not one school is dominated by a single demographic of wealth, class, race, needs, etc would be overall more effective - but requires a much different sort of communal buy in and investment than is traditional in American communities and education, and therefore why it is likely to never happen, and why we'll just settle into being a very disparate system of performance, to our detriment.

Those who champion the dissolution of the public school system have no idea what will likely replace it - but we do have an example: Betsy DeVos's Detroit privatized "charter" system that featured a bunch of fly by night operators opening and closing schools willy nilly, with a host of untrained and unqualified staff, all while raking in significant public funds, while the wealthy continued their retreat untouched. A truly for profit private education system will not deliver high quality results for all income levels in the community - and yes, this includes suburban and working class neighborhoods as well as underfunded rural and urban districts. A privatized system will either concentrate in a few wealthy districts, or will suck out public monies to deliver inferior results - basically, what we have now except more scamming. We are much better off retaining a commitment to public education - but in ways that actually work and are truly "public". If that means upending some of the administrative and union layers along with removing ideological capture in the training, so be it. But that also will necessitate a different approach from the actual "public" as well.

Expand full comment

Nebraska just did away with the basic skills test because so many "great' teachers could not pass it. Visit the local public school and you can't tell the custodial staff from the teachers - jeans with holes in them, etc.

Expand full comment

I'm not privy to all the background about that decision, but yeah, that sounds like the wrong direction to go.

Expand full comment

A couple of random thoughts:

1. New Jersey has experimented with equalized funding for well over 40 years. (the poorest ghetto gets state aid so their per-pupil expenditure matches the wealthiest suburb). The experiment has mostly failed. Academic proficiency has barely moved up in the 30 poor districts that received the enhanced state aid. We need to stop saying "more money, more money" - the problems lie elsewhere.

2. The credentialing requirements to become a certified teacher are greater than what's required for law. The latter requires 3 years of post-bachelor's education, two of which are useless) and more importantly, NO practical skills training. Law does not have an equivalent of the student-teaching practicum. Medicine is of course a much different story.

3. Is there any proof that shuffling poor kids off to a "better" suburban school closes the achievement gaps. Do kids learn by osmosis from the kid sitting behind or next to them? We've learned 70 years after Brown that racial integration in and of itself doesn't necessarily improve outcomes. Unfortunately, there are deep family/cultural dynamics that cannot be easily ameliorated by law and public policy.

Expand full comment
Jun 20, 2023·edited Jun 20, 2023

Thanks for the response :)

1. I allude towards equalized funding as well as cross-pollination of school districts, so that not one district comprises a "majority poor" or "majority well off" student population. I think that may be the "secret sauce" in the Finnish model, although I confess to not being an expert. But I do believe the concept of "local schools", even with equalized funding, is that schools that serve a broadly disadvantaged population become warehouses for the dysfunction that a high poverty/dysfunctional community dynamic can be. Dispersing those students across the district/county to where schools have a smaller portion of "disadvantaged" students mixed in with more advantages, I do believe, will deliver benefits in how all students socialize and learn under those circumstances. There was, I believe, an experiment done along similar lines with housing - rather than subsidizing and warehousing low income populations in "projects" and isolated neighborhoods of low income housing, the experiment dispersed them into "Section 8" housing in a variety of communities. The advantages experienced were real - the lower income residents were able to thrive better in communities with less poverty and dysfunction, and dispersing poverty resulted in less dysfunction overall - but I think this was also a limited experiment in Chicago. Point being, it showed promising results, but for "reasons" was shelved to go back to the broken way of doing things when it comes to dealing with the lower income population and housing and schools.

2. Yes - I'm not arguing for teaching programs to exactly mirror that of law and medicine, but to at least, raise the bar of entry into those programs. We should be seeking the best and brightest to teach. And yes, part of that also involves making teaching a financially and culturally rewarding profession to attract those sorts of applicants. A terrible saying that somehow got traction is "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach". It's symbolic of how we, as a society, devalue teaching and its value to our society. This is also something that Finland does right - teaching is culturally valued as highly as medicine and other professions. They are paid commensurately, *and*, crucially, screened and trained properly to deliver results.

3. See # 1. Yes, I think there are advantages to breaking up high poverty/high dysfunction school environments, to learn different behaviors and norms outside of the communities they come from, and ideally, take them back home to spread.

I'll concede, however, that Finland doesn't have as broad income disparity so it becomes less of a social/cultural resistance to "mixing" - so I'll leave it with I think "fixing schooling" involves really raising the floor of poverty in the US as a holistic approach.

At the least - it does seem to require some sort of recognition that perhaps schools dealing with high poverty/high community dysfunction populations require different approaches to how school is administered. There was a movie made about a reformer back in the 80's in I think was Paterson, NJ "Lean on Me" where there was a need for stricter discipline and an elevation of expectations that was successful. Modern educational theories may be doing more harm than good in some respects in excusing failure or lowering the bar for success : /

Expand full comment

I think another problem with public schools is the way they are set up to let kids socially marinate in their childishness rather that get them focused on becoming actual adults. I am so sick about hearing crap about "making learning fun!" Learning should be a reward of its own. Let play be play and school be school.

My third grader spent this year playing computer games and watching videos on a regular basis as a class "reward" for bare minimum behavior. Most of the "books" they read in class were simple novelizations of Disney movies and Nickelodeon shows (because its "relevant" to the children!) My daughter still doesn't know her multiplication tables.

This is at an otherwise decent parish Catholic school in an upper middle class Fairfield County, Connecticut town.

I contrast this with my neighbor growing up, who went to his parish school in Hamtramak when it was a working class Polish ghetto. The nuns might not have been "Kind", and the parents were mostly factory workers. But in third grade he was learning Latin and Greek and reading Homer; once when talking about his childhood education at a neighborhood bonfire he closed his eyes, almost in a rapture, leaned back in his lawn chair, and sang O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo from memory.

It was sublime.

Don't tell me that the crap they call "education" today is an improvement on that.

High School especially is a mess. It's just a vector for "Youth Culture" - a culture characterized by hostility to adults, immaturity, decadence, irresponsibility, and the worship of the some of the most grotesque and useless members of society AKA celebrities. The actual "learning" seems to be considered by most students as either a hoop to jump through to college with little meaningful content of its own, or a waste of time to be passively endured while hanging with friends until "graduating" into a life of... more hanging out.

Why are we OK with this as a society? We now have a massive population of 20 and 30 year olds who don't know how to grow up. But that is because we never taught them to grow up! We literally raise our young people to be culturally barbaric hedonists and then wonder why they don't get married, don't have babies, don't learn how to do real jobs, and then take out 100k in college loans to Follow Their Dreamz without learning to contribute anything of actual worth to the common good.

It's time to demolish high school.

This is what education should look like:

Local, reasonably sized (200-300 kids max) grade schools that are K-8. These schools would cover all the academic basics. They would also give older kids opportunities to be mentors for younger kids and would foster friendships between different ages (this is one of the most beautiful aspects of our parish Catholic school.)

When kids graduate 8th grade, they would be able to choose a vocational or college track. The vocational track would train them with every skill they need to have a productive job at graduation at 18. There would be opportunities to learn and be certified in a trade as well. It would involve a lot of mentoring by adults and tradesmen who teach young people with the goal of making them into ADULTS and giving them an adult, civic minded mindset.

The college track would focus on building the academic skills to succeed in college and choose a profession.

Colleges would jettison about 2/3 of their administrations and useless majors (we all know what they are) and focus primarily on passing on *valuable* cultural patrimony through a less niche and more generalized liberal arts and legitimate professional training.

All athletics and "activities" should be separated from school and should be run by an mix of public and private community organizations and clubs. School should be focused on school.

The goal should be that students on the Voc Ed path are prepared for marriage, family life, and full financial adulthood by 18 and students on the college path are prepared for the same by 22.

Expand full comment

This makes my heart ache. When I think of the education I got in my working class neighborhood in the 50’s and 60’s, I want to scream. My grandchildren, in the same city school district I grew up in may as well be attending on another planet. Or not at all. And I saw it begin with my own children, when the priority became, yes, Make Learning Fun. Which rules out phonics, grammar, multiplication tables, recitation and repetition, memorization of any kind (yes, I can still sing Tantum Ergum”, thanks to the mean nuns in my catechism class). But those things worked and I became literate.

Did I say I want to scream? I tell everyone who will listen, the schools can teach all the social nonsense they want, just as soon as ALL the kids have mastered the basics. No worries that THAT is going to happen.

Your ideas and suggestions are sound and once worked. Why do we always think we need to reinvent the wheel??

Expand full comment

I think the need to constantly reinvent the wheel comes from all the incentives we have created to do so - there are entire "consulting" and "professional development" industries that exist off of remaking the wheel - not to mention the restless egos of school administrators who are always looking to justify their existence. (Even though they have no shortage of real things to do!)

Change employs the people who facilitate the change.

Also, I think the whole "make education fun" is an extension of our collective cultural idealization of "youth" and "coolness", which leads to a refusal to grow up, and therefore a desire to constantly please and appeal to children and adolescents in order to remain "cool."

"Pop culture" / "youth culture" is a cancerous infestation in our society. Being soaked in it as a young person leads to an inability to ever really grow up, which is why we have so many teachers and parents who agonize over appealing to the sensitivities of kids and being liked by them and therefore fail to ever really educate or guide them into adulthood.

We are reaping the consequences at a massive scale right now in our society.

Expand full comment

Right: One error (a big one, I'll grant you, and one I never agreed with): Whole language reading teaching, and therefore that means that public school teachers don't know how to instruct children. Good grief what a lame non-sequitur. Curriculum decisions are usually made by school boards.

Of course people will move to better schools if they can afford it! What else are you going to spend your money on before getting good schools for your kids, good food for them, and security? More lattes at Starbucks? You can try to force people to not do this; but that will not work.

All public institutions are inherently political. No kidding. Does he propose to abolish compulsory attendance? Or political control of schools?

His subtitle: "How most American kids are kept out of the best public schools" No kidding? If there are fewer than half of schools that are considered "the best" (and that seems to be by definition -- how could "the best" constitute more than half of the sample?) then "most" kids won't be going to them. It's arithmetic. Good luck changing that.

Expand full comment

Education "fads" are the worst, and even private schools are captive to it. My daughters' Catholic parish school just announced that all summer work would be through IXL and monitored remotely by the teachers.




I emailed and said I bought a workbook for my kids and we wouldn't be doing the digital app.

10 years ago I worked for a large graduate school of education as a counselor. At the time my oldest children were babies, and I got into a conversation with the head of the literacy program about screen use in children. The professor was distressed about the pressure on her to use and promote learning on tablets, even in the youngest grades. She said it was all coming from corporations who held the purse strings for grant money; it had nothing to do with actually improving education. She said that they KNEW that learning on apps and tablets was less effective than pencil and paper, that all the evidence was against this, that she was seeing the damage herself.

But "1:1 digital learning" was the fad, backed by money, and no one would listen to her sounding the alarm.

It just infuriates me as a parent. I otherwise love my kids school for the community and the (mostly) excellent and dedicated teachers, and I can tolerate a "little" bit of the digital cr*p at school as long as it isn't every day and most of their education remains analog.

But I absolutely will not use the apps at home. My kids don't have tablets, we aren't set up for it, and I'm not facilitating something that isn't beneficial to my children.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I'll resist, and if it gets to the point where I can't resist anymore, then there is a growing Regina Caeli classical school in the next town over.

Expand full comment

School choice will help alleviate a lot of these issues. We already have school choice for those who can afford it. Extend that privilege to others.

Expand full comment
Jun 17, 2023·edited Jun 17, 2023

Teachers unions are a part of the problem—but that’s been well covered. What hasn’t been covered very much is how often parents—usually upper middle class and upper class ones—sabotage the education of lower income children by taking the resources for their own kids at the expense of others. This article makes a good start of pointing that out. Teachers unions aren’t powerful everywhere. The ones you hear about tend to be in major metropolitan areas. However, upper income parents taking for their own kids through districting, charter schools, etc. are nationwide.

Expand full comment

What are you talking about, "taking the resources"? We paid to send our kids to private schools because we wanted phonics and discipline. We didn't take anyone's resources. Our state has now instituted a school choice bill, is that what you're referring to?

Expand full comment

Can you elaborate on this point? I'm not sure what you mean by "taking the resources for their own kids at the expense of others," in this context. Perhaps you can give a specific example to help me undertstand.

Expand full comment

jealousy always works... not.

Expand full comment

“A home within the zone will often cost $200,000 or more than an equivalent home just outside it. This is the real cost of a supposedly “free” public education.”

That’s a damned interesting point.

Regarding the legacy of redlining and education, this is a huge topic with possible huge implications of the “systemic racism” variety. I didn’t read the article but the methods in the abstract look thorough. Whatever the data says, bettering education along these lines is not going to be like simple algebra.

Expand full comment

This is an excellent real world example of systemic racism.

Expand full comment

If anything, this is an example of systemic classism. But it is really about how capitalism works. Facts are in a capitalistic based economy, those that make more, are able to get more/better of everything. While it has been obvious for a while that whole word reading failed compared to phonetics, the basic problem is with children from poverty circumstances. Jonathon Kozol writing in the 1960s-1980s pointed out the inequalities of schools and for the most part we have remedied it (still some really poor school systems spread out over the country). He also wrote on adult illiteracy. 21% of adults in the USA are illiterate. But over 40% of those are using English as a second or third language. If you would take out those folks, then illiteracy would line up directly with poverty. And poverty can not be remedied merely by the schools. The real enemy to literacy is and has been poverty and that is what needs to be worked on. FYI, Black poverty has dropped from 32% to 17-18% in the last 30 years. Still a ways to go, but it's not like, as a country, we aren't continue to try and improve in this category. Even white poverty (7-8%) is extremely problematic. Looking to the schools to remedy stratification of wealth/income is a wrong headed approach.

Expand full comment

So that’s what I was thinking. But there’s also some complexity because the worst redlines zones according to the NatGeo map are: (“Hazardous”): Neighborhoods where Black, Mexican, Asian, Jewish, or other groups lived.

Today these groups perform differently in education. So systemic racism is easier to invoke if demography stayed the same over the last 100 years.

Expand full comment

Yep, there are always confounding variables. Nothing is as simple as the media makes it out to be.

Expand full comment
Jun 17, 2023·edited Jun 17, 2023

Why haven't teachers in the upper grades been up in arms about student inability to read? How can a teacher in 4th or 5th grade hope to succeed when the kids haven't been taught to read, but are still passed to the next grade? Why on earth are the teachers themselves not raising holy hell? Instead, they defend the status quo and complain that we don't understand how hard their job is.

Expand full comment

Why? Because they can effortlessly pass the problem on to the next highest grade. This leads to the students that go to college wasting their first years learning that which they were supposed to learn in high school. For those that don't go to college, they get to learn what they need to get the job done through the normal newbie-at-work training that accompanies most jobs.

There is no accountability in our schools, and there will not be any unless the powers of the unions to protect the less-than-competent are curtailed.

Expand full comment

I live in an affluent suburb of Chicago where we spend approximately $17,000 per student per year to educate our grade school students. I recently looked up state statistics on reading and math and learned that 42% of the students are reading at grade level while 50% are proficient in math.

Let the money follow the child and allow parents to make decision as to where their child is educated. The public school system has failed our children.

Expand full comment

Susan, if you have not heard of it, Wirepoints.org does excellent work on the problems in public education in Illinois. Highly recommended.

Expand full comment

Is this article meant to be taken seriously?

There is not even a mention of the fucking teacher's unions. Fuck me!

This author might be from New York!...

The problems with public schools are really quite simple.

1. They exist. Public schooling was a stupid fucking idea and no one should ever send their kids to one.

2. They are union shitholes. Union teachers are worthless. Get rid of all union labor in all public institutions. Can anyone imagine a fucking soldiers union? Is there a union of FBI agents or a union for the CIA? The fucking teachers union is nothing more than an arm of the Democratic party. As long as the union exists, schools will suck.

3. Public schools suck. Abandon all public education.

Expand full comment

I spent several years on a local school board. It was quite an eye-opening experience. The boards are in reality governed by two factions: the "administration" and the unions. Most think that the two are in constant tension and keep each other in check; the reality is that nothing could be farther from the truth. The union's job is full employment for its members; that of the "administration" is to diffuse directed energy from the public they supposedly serve - to act as a giant pillow and absorb/redirect the public's justified ire at their poor performance.

The service personnel's union, for example, makes certain that there are enough bus drivers. In my rural area, for example, formerly filled to the gunwales, buses are now largely empty, but instead of one bus making the morning and afternoon runs, there are three: the "little kids' bus," the "big kids' bus," and the Short Bus for the special ed kids. "We don't want the big kids riding with the little kids or the retarded kids; they might bother them." Well, they never bothered them before. What's changed? Three times the number of drivers, for what is now less than 1/3 the number of students - that's what.

As for the administration? In my rural county - the same one where I attended primary and secondary school - administration originally consisted of four people: Superintendent, assistant superintendent, truant officer, secretary. A few short years ago, the same Board office, which had originally rented space in an office building, moved into its new digs: a $5 million dollar building, containing over 100 employees, a great number of whom spend their days making sure the local schools are in "compliance," whatever that is. For 1/3 the number of students as before. So what is their real job? Keeping angry parents at bay, telling them everything is all right - and at all costs, preventing them from going to the newspaper or media with their complaints.

Sometimes you just have to demolish an old building and start over. The government school system is precisely like any socialist enterprise where funding is divorced from performance: a bloated wasteland, unable to perform the simplest task. Can the government schools be fixed? Sure - and we are willing to try every alternative solution - except what it takes.

Expand full comment
Jun 19, 2023·edited Jun 19, 2023

You nailed it with the multiplying admins focused on "compliance". I think a lot of it is related to the rise in students determined to be in need of Individualized Education Plans (IEPS) - i.e. Special Education - and 504 Plans (for other "disabilities"). It seems very easy for parents and school staff to get a student classified this way - and this in turn creates the need for more staff: SPED teachers/case managers and a whole hierarchy of Central Office SPED compliance people. The drive to get kids on these plans is questionable: some good intentions, sure, but also some gaming of the system, as the plans come with "accommodations" such as reduced assignments, extended time, etc.

Expand full comment
Jun 16, 2023·edited Jun 16, 2023

It's much the same in our local, upper-middle class community. The teachers union has a PAC, and the PAC is the only organization that advertises in the support of specific school board candidates and to pass the school budgets/levies; always under the guise of "it's for the kids". Most residents have no idea that this relationship exists, or how the "step" system in teachers' contracts work. Our public school teachers are among the best-paid in the state. Remember that "the only good teachers are the best-paid teachers".

Ironically, one topic that's causing a split in the cozy relationship between the teachers union, school board members, and administrators is the lousy reading program that the district adopted. Some of the frustrated parents and teachers have begun to rebel against the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum (who's related to the school board president - how convenient!) who continues to support the non-phonics reading program that she endorses, which has caused the elementary school reading scores in the district to plummet. It's going to be interesting to see how the union-supported PAC handles this during the next school board election.

Expand full comment

I've been curious about how the administration/union dynamics work when dealing with school place violence, specifically against teachers. I live in an area where the recent "de-fund the police" movement resulted in the removal of school resources officers (aka police officers). This is done in the name of racial equality, or anti-racism, or something. Not surprisingly violence against teachers has risen, and in some cases sharply. Teachers report (anonymously) that they are afraid in the classroom and are not backed up by administrators. In the school district I'm thinking of the union has been surprisingly quiet. I've wondered what individual dues-paying teachers are thinking of their union and their administrators.

Expand full comment

When I was on the board, the teachers union was doing its regular song and dance about needing more salary "for the kids." I told the speaker, the local union president, that I would make her a bargain: for every percentage of increase of standardized test scores, I would go with her to the state capitol and speak in favor of an equal percent raise. However, I wanted her to pledge to a wage cut equal to any percentage DROP in scores.

She told me that was ridiculous, to which I replied, "So it's NOT for the kids; it's for you. Case closed."

Expand full comment