Education's 5 Big Lies
By DOM GIORDANO
AFTER 30 years of teaching, and 20 of talk radio and participating in dozens of education forums, I've heard "theories" of education from all over the spectrum - from the innovative to the idiotic. I've concluded that there are five big lies about schools and education that are widespread and damaging.
THE MONEY LIE
The grandaddy of the big lies says our schools are woefully underfunded. If only other interests in society that get adequate funding could be stopped, our schools could get the resources to perform magnificently. This position is summarized by the famous bumper sticker, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."
In practical terms, this lie comes down to if only each kid had a laptop, each school an Olympic-size swimming pool and each cafeteria a five-star menu, then students would all be headed off to Princeton.
The truth is, we're spending more than ever. Jay P. Greene lays this out in his book, "Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe about Our Schools and Why It Isn't So." After adjusting for inflation, spending per pupil has more than doubled over the last 30 years. But scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress ("the nation's report card") have remained flat.
THE VOUCHER LIE
The lie that schools are under-funded is used to stop the idea that many public schools are failing students and an effective remedy would be to give parents a voucher to use to enroll their child in the private school of their choice. The defenders of the public-school monopoly roll out the lie that allowing vouchers would further drain the resources of the public schools.
They also unleash a type of hostage argument that says if you let parents who care have vouchers to escape the worst schools, all you'll have left will be the worst kids and their uncaring parents. Instead of offering solutions and instead of reversing academic decline, the only response edu-crats seem to have is to paint vouchers as the boogey man.
THE SMALL-IS-BETTER LIE
This lie says that class size is paramount in determining a child's ability to learn.
The National Education Association, the teachers' union, has often floated the notion that 15 students in a class is the highest effective number and having 30 is an impossible situation.
The Rand Corp. did one of the biggest studies of class size, analyzing the effects of California's spending $1 billion in the late '90s to cut class size in elementary schools. They found no link between the smaller classes and improvement in test scores.
THE ALL-TEACHERS-ARE-EQUAL LIE
My first three big lies all involve schools and education interests demanding more money to get better results.
My fourth big lie is one that rejects more pay for teachers. It's the lie that says the education process is so different from every other business and profession that couldn't possibly have a pay system for teachers based on merit rather than seniority.
It says there's no objective way to measure the all-star teacher versus the "pick up the paycheck" one. When the notion of objective testing of students is mentioned to measure progress, and possibly pay, the silly notion is advanced that if you start out with the worst students, how can you compete? The answer is that the measurement is to see how far you've taken students from their starting point.
I've shared my deep frustration over this lie on my show with Anita Summers, professor emeritus at the Wharton School.
She has devised a detailed system that can measure all aspects of teaching. My message to teachers: You will never truly have the public's confidence as long as you stifle the best teachers and defend the worst.
THE HOMEWORK LIE
The media is often fed the last lie: that U.S. kids have too much homework, and that it's destroying family time. The homework curtailers and abolitionists even have some legislators considering homework restriction.
The research says this is crazy.
According to the Brown Center on Education Policy, the majority of students in all grades spend less than an hour a day on homework and after-school study. The Third International Math and Science Study found that among the students in 20 nations canvassed, high school seniors in the U.S. were near the bottom in time spent on homework.
I hope this helps take apart some of the big lies that pollute education-reform possibilities. We'll further debunk these individual lies in future columns.
Teacher-turned-talk-show-host Dom Giordano is heard on WPHT/1210 AM.
Dom writes for the Philadelphia Daily News and hosts his own program on WPHT - Philadelphia.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.