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.

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