For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid."
We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.
The American boy who got the highest score told me: "I'm shocked, 'cause it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."
The Belgians did better because their schools are better. At age ten, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.
This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.
In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein. The new union contract offers slight relief, but it's still about 200 pages of bureaucracy. "We tolerate mediocrity," said Klein, because "people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years, "He hasn't taught, but we have had to pay him, because that's what's required under the contract."
They've paid him more than $300,000, and only after 6 years of litigation were they able to fire him. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence.
When I confronted Union president Randi Weingarten about that, she said, "they [the NYC school board] just don't want to do the work that's entailed." But the "work that's entailed" is so onerous that most principals just give up, or get bad teachers to transfer to another school. They even have a name for it: "the dance of the lemons."
The inability to fire the bad and reward the good is the biggest reason schools fail the kids. Lack of money is often cited the reason schools fail, but America doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years. Test scores and graduation rates stayed flat. New York City now spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. That's $220,000 for a classroom of twenty kids. Couldn't you hire two or three excellent teachers and do a better job with $220,000?
Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.
The U.S. Postal Service couldn't get it there overnight. But once others were allowed to compete, Federal Express, United Parcel, and others suddenly could get it there overnight. Now even the post office does it (sometimes). Competition inspires people to do what we didn't think we could do.
If people got to choose their kids' school, education options would be endless. There could soon be technology schools, cheap Wal-Mart-like schools, virtual schools where you learn at home on your computer, sports schools, music schools, schools that go all year, schools with uniforms, schools that open early and keep kids later, and, who knows? If there were competition, all kinds of new ideas would bloom.
This already happens overseas. In Belgium, for example, the government funds educationÂat any schoolÂbut if the school can't attract students, it goes out of business. Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents. "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, "You can't afford ten teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."
"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."
Last week, Florida's Supreme Court shut down "opportunity scholarships," Florida's small attempt at competition. Public money can't be spent on private schools, said the court, because the state constitution commands the funding only of "uniform, . . . high-quality" schools. But government schools are neither uniform nor high-quality, and without competition, no new teaching plan or No Child Left Behind law will get the monopoly to serve its customers well.
A Gallup Poll survey shows 76 percent of Americans are either completely or somewhat satisfied with their kids' public school, but that's only because they don't know what their kids are missing. Without competition, unlike Belgian parents, they don't know what their kids might have had.
Christian school suing UC over college credits By Martin Kasindorf, USA TODAY
Fri Jan 13, 6:50 AM ET
A Christian high school's lawsuit against the University of California is escalating the culture war over the role of religion in public education.
The Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, Calif., with 1,300 students, is suing UC for not giving credits for some courses with a "Christian viewpoint" when students apply for university admission. The lawsuit is about theological content in "every major area in high school except for mathematics," says Wendell Bird, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel.
Courses in dispute include history, English, social studies and science. In federal court here, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero could rule soon on the university system's motion to dismiss the high school's claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were infringed.
The school has also sued on other grounds, such as that UC has unconstitutionally treated Calvary students unequally compared to other students.
This clash over separation of church and state comes amid recent battles on whether religion can be incorporated into teaching evolution and science. Last year, the Kansas Board of Education rewrote science standards to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that the Dover, Pa., school board acted unconstitutionally in requiring science students to learn the "intelligent design" theory of life's origins along with evolution. Intelligent design is the idea that some forms of life are so complex that they must have been shaped by a designer who is left unspecified.
And this week, a group of parents in Lebec, Calif., sued to stop the high school from teaching intelligent design as a philosophy course.
Textbooks from Christian publishers
The civil rights lawsuit filed by Calvary Chapel alleges that the 10-campus University of California is trampling the freedom of "a religious school to be religious." UC rejected the content of courses such as "Christianity's Influence in American History" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature."
In court documents, UC says the free-speech clause of the First Amendment gives it the right to set admission standards. "What we're looking for is this: Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?" UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina says.
The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second."
UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.
Bird, Calvary Chapel's lawyer, says this is the first case of its kind because California is the only state that rejects giving credit for high school courses and textbooks on the grounds that they put religion over academics. Any decision in the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bird says.
Religious educators and public universities nationwide have stakes in the outcome, says Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.
The case "could have serious implications for religious schools all across the country if the university wins," Haynes says.
UC's policies are "likely to have a chilling effect on Christian schools," he says. "And what about Muslim schools? Are they next? They teach within a Koranic framework. That doesn't mean those kids aren't well-educated."
Parents who home school their children also should be watching the case, says John Green, senior fellow in religion and politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. "Home schoolers, including people on the left, do it because they feel that their values are not being taught."
Ken Smitherman, president of the 5,400-member Association of Christian Schools International, contends that the Constitution bars a state university from denying applicants credit for courses that cover "standard material" but add a religious viewpoint.
"We're not teaching that water boils at a different temperature, or that the periodic table of elements doesn't have some of (the elements)," he says.
The lawsuit against UC alleges that the university accepts courses from other schools taught from a particular viewpoint, such as feminist, African-American or countercultural, so the school can't discriminate against "a viewpoint of religious faith."
Six students also plaintiffs
Smitherman's group, based in Colorado Springs, has joined the lawsuit. Six Calvary Chapel students who say they want to attend UC, including the football team's quarterback, also are plaintiffs.
Smitherman says enrollment in Christian schools could suffer if parents believe it disqualifies their kids from attending UC, which has 208,000 students. The separate California State University system, with 405,000 students on 23 campuses, adopts UC's admission standards.
Robert Tyler, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel, says parents send children to private schools because "they want their kids to be taught from a particular perspective, and the United States Constitution specifically protects that right."
Christopher Patti, a lawyer for the university, says UC isn't stopping Calvary Chapel or its students "from teaching or studying anything." He says students are free to take courses uncertified by UC, and there are alternative paths to admission - including taking extra SAT tests in specific subjects.
UC has certified 43 Calvary Chapel courses and has admitted 24 of the 32 applicants from the high school in the past four years, Patti says.
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