Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Wading through the verbiage of educrats is like taking a bath in an ink-filled sandbox. That’s my take on the articles the North County Times recently published in its Sunday Perspective section (Dec. 2) about the achievement gap that separates white and minority students in California.

Most prominent were the pieces by state superintendent Jack O’Connell and Vista Unified superintendent Joyce Bales. Here’s a sample of edu-speak from Dr. Bales:

“Our challenge is that VUSD has the most schools on ‘Priority Improvement,’ the lowest NCLB [No Child Left Behind] ranking. Of the 31 schools in North County with that label, 11 are in VUSD . . . The expectation for the past five years has been for 25 percent of the students to achieve proficiency. Beginning in 2007, the goal was for 35% of the students to meet the NCLB goals.”

The superintendent moves from edu-jargon to nearly plain English with her next sentence: “Vista Unified’s goal is that 100 percent of its students achieve grade level requirements every year.” Yes, one would think so. But extrapolating from the rate of improvement previously noted, that common sense goal would be formalized around 2040.

Superintendent O’Connell’s proficiency in oblique-speak is illustrated by this sentence: “While arguments have been made that the range of poverty within the classification ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’ is broad and that white students tend to be at the higher end of that range, myriad data—from SAT scores to distribution of qualified teachers to dropout rates—lead to the unavoidable conclusion that the race of a student is likely to affect how that student is served by our educational system.”

Put succinctly, even minority students from more affluent and stable households don’t do as well, academically, as their white counterparts. I suspect the superintendent’s linguistic opaqueness stems from a reluctance to clearly articulate the observation made some time ago by John McWhorter, an African-American linguist and social commentator, that many black groups disparage academic achievement as “acting white.”

The clearest article was the one by state Board of Education president Ken Noonan, who advocated putting funds and responsibility squarely in the hands of principals and teachers in local schools. The former Oceanside superintendent also noted, however, that the state still lacks “a statewide database system for tracking the performance of every public school student.”

Such a database, I would think, might help determine exactly how many students have dropped out of the system altogether—a number that, incredibly, education bureaucrats can’t specify with confidence. But then again, based on the Byzantine Academic Performance Index that was constructed to bury true performance indicators (like the National Assessment of Educational Progress) under a blizzard of improvement indices, a clear presentation of the status quo doesn’t seem to be a high priority.

Other education critics have clearly noted that a major problem, as indicated by SAT and GRE scores, is the quality of the education work force—a problem exacerbated by tenure rules that make firing teachers almost impossible. I observe, more bluntly, that systems designed primarily for job security abhor competition and require obfuscation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


It seems that traditional service organizations now have perpetual bulls-eyes pasted on them. If it’s not the Boy Scouts being evicted from Balboa Park for defying the creed of political correctness, it’s the Salvation Army facing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit for requiring employees to speak English on the job.

The suit against the bell-ringing charity was filed in March of this year and concerns a thrift store in Framingham, Massachusetts that fired two employees for violating an English-only policy. The EEOC sued the organization even though the employees had been given a year’s notice and despite a ruling four years earlier by a federal judge in Boston that upheld the group’s English-only policy—a rule the court found promoted “workplace harmony.”

(North County business owners might like to know that the EEOC filed over 200 anti-English-only suits last year and that exemptions are granted based on the agency’s standard for “compelling business necessity.” Apparently, the ability to understand what employees are saying about their employer or other employees isn’t “compelling” in the eyes of EEOC mandarins.)

In order to save businesses from this innovative bureaucratic interpretation of “civil rights” law, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation that protects employers with English-only policies from EEOC lawsuits. The provision passed both the Senate (75-19) and the House (218-186) but was killed when the House Hispanic Caucus threatened to derail critical tax legislation if Speaker Pelosi allowed the Alexander amendment (which was attached to a huge appropriations bill) to survive in committee.

So as things now stand, thanks to Caucus Chair Joe Baca (D-Calif.), the EEOC can bring employers to court for their English-only policies, and those businesses will either have to kowtow to bureaucrat lawyers or face litigation costs.

Meanwhile, as a recent Rasmussen poll indicates, Americans overwhelming support (77% to 14%) an employer’s right to set English-only standards in the workplace. (Seventy-seven, by the way, is also the percentage of Americans that oppose giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants—an electoral consensus that recently turned the political heads of Sen. Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and that, in 2003, helped depose Gov. Gray Davis.)

Another Rasmussen poll found 87% of Americans agreeing that it is “very important” to speak English in the United States. Indeed, that sentiment is so widespread among Latinos that TV Azteca, Mexico’s second largest network, has scheduled a 60-hour series of English classes for its U.S. affiliates. Apparently the network doesn’t see English proficiency as a racist stalking horse but rather, as anchor Jose Samano asserts, a tool by which immigrants can increase their incomes by 50% or more.

Nevertheless, the EEOC, some Hispanic groups, and a persistent bi-lingual education lobby in California seem determined to undermine those cultural forces that have helped to integrate newcomers into American society. After all, for interest groups that profit from keeping Latinos in manageable barrios, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s advice to immigrants to immerse themselves in English amounts to political poison.