Why is the burden of lousy K-12 education up to colleges to remedy?

There have been some slight improvements in the scores of younger children, but they don’t last. By the time students are preparing to enter higher education or the workforce, they are no better prepared academically than they were two generations ago–despite the fact that we have spent three times as much on their K-12 education as we did educating the class of 1970.

New NAEP Scores Extend Dismal Trend in U.S. Education Productivity


Nothing to see here, move along….

The modern American public school system is a product of the late 19th and early 20th century transformations of American society. An agricultural society based on small farmers became a manufacturing society in which most people lived in cities. And the great flood of immigration between 1880 and 1923 filled America’s burgeoning cities with tens of millions of people who didn’t speak English and didn’t know much about the country to which they had moved.

The educational system was a way of helping kids adjust to a world that was radically different than the world many parents understood or could prepare them for. Teachers were professionals with knowledge not available to the average person—and they were considerably better educated than the parents of most of their pupils.

That is no longer true; many parents these days have just as much education as teachers if not more. The progressive era model of a bureaucratic school organization staff by life-tenured employees is no longer a good fit for our increasingly entrepreneurial and job-hopping society; it prepares kids (badly) at great expense for a world that no longer exists.

Our society is becoming more diverse, and different families need very different things when it comes to educating the kids. Uneducated single moms in crime ridden inner city neighborhoods need one kind of help when it comes to helping their kids get a good start in life; families where both parents have been to college want something quite different.

The K-12 Implosion: Review

Justice Sotomayor’s emotions are shared by a generation of accomplished Latino and black professionals and public servants who went from humble roots to successful careers thanks to Catholic schools. But they fear that a springboard that has helped numerous poor and working-class minority students achieve rewarding lives is eroding as Catholic schools close their doors in the face of extraordinary financial challenges and demographic shifts.

Since 2011, the Archdiocese of New York has closed 56 schools, the vast majority of them elementary schools, including 13 in the Bronx. Now 219 schools remain in the education system. Blessed Sacrament is one of 26 schools closing this year throughout the archdiocese, which covers the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and seven counties north of New York City.
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Catholic high schools, which routinely boast of near 100 percent college admissions for their graduates, are worried that they will face harder times with fewer parochial schools to feed their ranks. And minority alumni are increasingly alarmed that New York will be deprived of a future generation of professionals — like lawyers, doctors and executives — to contribute economic and cultural vitality.

“The Catholic schools have been a pipeline to opportunity for generations,” said Justice Sotomayor, who was raised by her mother after her father, an alcoholic, died. “It gave people like me the chance to be successful. It provided me and my brother with an incredible environment of security. Not every school provides that.”

A Lifeline for Minorities, Catholic Schools Retrench

I’m tired of the suspicion that because I’m black, whatever I achieve is somehow suspect.
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This is the ugly side of racial preferences that gets little attention. No matter what one may think of the policy, the truth is that with it comes an undercurrent of implied inferiority. Even in instances when a black or Hispanic is the best qualified and well-matched for a particular career or academic opportunity, the perception of unfair favoritism follows the person, hovering in the ether. The same suspicion often follows women who succeed.

The “affirmative action” measures that were supposed to provide new opportunities for underrepresented groups also prematurely and unfairly burdened them with the presumption that they’re undeserving.

A Missed Opportunity on Racial Preferences

Moral Preener in Chief lecturing people in Northern Ireland.

Justice Thomas, in today’s opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, likening affirmative action to slavery and segregation.

“The worst forms of racial discrimination in this Nation have always been accompanied by straight-faced representations that discrimination helped minorities.”

Also see BookTV: Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, “Mismatch”

Some analysts say it is high time for the government to limit how much parents borrow. Federal PLUS loans to parents, they note, have a 7.9 percent interest rate, while rates on federal loans to undergraduate students range from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Parents also face higher borrowing fees than students and can borrow far more. Some, willing to sacrifice for their children, are vulnerable to taking on too much debt in order to cover ever-rising tuition.

“Having created a new class of student debtors, higher education is now reaching back in time to indenture the preceding generation,” Kevin Carey, an education analyst with the New America Foundation, wrote this month in the Chronicle of Higher Education in an essay headlined “The Federal Parent Rip-Off Loan.”

Tighter federal lending standards yield turmoil for historically black colleges

One of the oddest facts about college admissions is that everyone seems to be aware that colleges have imposed restrictive admissions quotas to keep Asians underrepresented in their student bodies, akin to the “Jewish quotas” which used to exist at Ivy League schools until the 1950s. But no one seems particularly bothered about systemic, institutionalized racial discrimination against a large group of Americans. I’m not even aware of any concerted effort by Asian community groups to shame universities into stopping this.
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I am personally sympathetic to Sander and Taylor’s thesis because I had the experience of struggling when I switched to a harder school. In sixth grade, my parents moved me from PS 166–which was, at the time, one of the best public primary schools in Manhattan–to a private school. My fifth grade class at PS 166 had been essentially taken over by two of my classmates, who could not be removed under the school district’s rules at the time. (They now have special schools where they send disruptive students, but at the time, in New York City, the de facto policy was no more than a 1-3 day suspension, no matter what the offense.) The boys would disrupt the class for a few days, get suspended for a few days, and then the cycle would start over. My class lost considerable time.

I’m not sure how much that contributed to the difficulties I had at my new school. Even if my class hadn’t lost half a year to obstreperous 10 year olds, Riverdale had smaller classes and a lot more resources, and disruptions weren’t tolerated. I was ahead in reading, but very far behind in everything else.

I didn’t realize at the time why I was struggling. It was only looking back over a few decades that I realized that all my classmates had much more preparation to handle the coursework than I did–including preparation on how to work hard. I was used to sailing through my classes with absolutely no effort. I’d say it took me until tenth grade to fully catch up.

Based on my own experience, it seems plausible to me that affirmative action might make things hard for people admitted with large preferences, even if they themselves don’t see affirmative as a source of problems. I can even see why the differentials might persist into graduate school.
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If Sander and Taylor are right, affirmative action may be a policy that hurts Asians and helps no one. But this is an uncomfortable thing to say.

Affirmative Action: Who Does it Help, Who Does it Hurt?

The crisis that is about to break out involves student debt and how we finance higher education. Like the housing crisis that preceded it, this crisis is intimately connected to America’s soaring inequality, and how, as Americans on the bottom rungs of the ladder strive to climb up, they are inevitably pulled down — some to a point even lower than where they began.

Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream

So we tolerate lousy reading and writing scores and achievement in K-12 while teacher unions fight change tooth and nail, and we refuse to give poor parents meaningful choices in schools for their children, and then expect colleges to somehow magically make up the difference. And discriminate against Chinese-American kids. Brilliant!

The state grows in both cases: well paid public school teacher union officials and higher ed subsidies, inflating the higher ed bubble while enriching more college administrators and increasingly relying on underpaid adjuncts to teach. Everyone (well, almost everyone) feels good about themselves. What’s not to love?

So tell me: Why is the burden of lousy K-12 education and the history of slavery up to colleges and Asian-Americans to remedy? Especially when the US had laws that forbade Chinese citizenship from the 1870s until WWII? See Chinese Exclusion Laws.


Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.

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