Everything Old Is New Again

Ken Gorrell

by Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

Last week, advocates for education who put children ahead of institutions were given a reason to smile: SB 193, establishing education freedom savings accounts, passed a critical vote in the House. If all goes well, new doors will open for parents seeking the right educational opportunities for their children.
When it becomes law, individual student accounts can be created using ninety-five percent of the state’s per-pupil adequate education grant designated for that specific child. The details are available on-line. Basically, education savings accounts (ESAs) will empower parents of modest means to take advantage of a wider variety of schooling options if they believe their local public school is not a good fit. Who could be against that?
The usual suspects are against it: The state’s elected Democrats; the public-sector unions NEA and AFT; the ACLU; and organizations that want school choice to extend only to those parents rich enough to be able to opt-out of the public system. I think of these people as modern-day Aztecs: Like priests of that Mesoamerican civilization, they have a penchant for human sacrifice. Opponents of ESAs are willing to sacrifice other people’s children on the altar of a public-school system they deify.
They are also hypocrites. I haven’t read anything from ESA opponents denouncing rich parents who fail to support their local public schools when they send their kids elsewhere (depriving their districts of that state adequacy grant). The same people who never miss an opportunity to denounce “tax cuts for the rich” refuse to denounce “education choice for the rich,” and oppose efforts to expand opportunity to all.
Why might more parents want that opportunity? Perhaps it has to do with public school’s track record. I read an article recently decrying “Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards.” The author, Paul Trout, an associate professor of English, began by stating that “It is bad enough that many students who enter college are underprepared, underskilled and generally dumbed down. What is worse is that more and more of them are entering college – according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute – ‘increasingly disengaged from the academic experience.’”
Students are spending less time studying, doing homework, and engaging in academic pursuits. Record numbers say they are frequently bored in class. Children are “sitting for hours in mental states that approach suspended animation,” learning to “get by with the least possible effort.”
The author places some blame for this on the “success model,” where “every student – regardless of talent, inclination, and attitude – must succeed.” Academic rigor is “jettisoned to preserve self-esteem.” And now, lowered standards, expectations, and preparation in K-12 is poisoning higher education. In a vicious circle, colleges lower their standards to meet the (in)abilities of “college ready” high school students, while also training and certifying the “earnest pedagogues who imposed the stultifying ‘success’ model on primary and secondary schools in the first place.”
Trout believes that the number of disengaged students “has reached some sort of critical mass at the primary, secondary, and now college levels.” He provides some possible remedial actions and….oh, did I mention that the article was written in 1997?
The problems Trout highlighted two decades ago are still with us today. Solutions have been proposed, tried, and failed – repeatedly – as that critical mass has grown. Yet the deifiers of public education refuse to question their dogma. Their faith in one system is unshaken, despite what the data show. They can look at drop-out rates, test scores proving large numbers of graduates aren’t proficient in core subjects, and higher public education spending per capita buying lower test scores than our economic competitors, while condemning as heretics those who seek a different path. For decades they’ve been burying their record of failure under a mound of edu-speak and arrogance.
This is what their failure looks like: In the Smarter Balanced tests, students are assessed as either being on-track to demonstrating the knowledge and skills necessary for college and career readiness (whatever that means, given decades of dumbed-down of standards), or not on-track. Last year, for all NH schools and all tested grades, more than 4 in 10 students were not on-track in reading. More than 5 in 10 were not on-track in math. More than 6 in 10 were not on-track in science.
There are real children attached to each of those statistics. Advocates for ESAs see them as individuals, worthy of the chance to go where they can succeed. Opponents treat them as just so much grist for the mill.
Education freedom savings accounts are part of a badly-needed education Reformation.