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Lies About School Performances By: Thomas Sowell
CapitalismMagazine.com | Tuesday, October 14, 2003


Many of the pronouncements coming from those who run our public schools range from fallacies to frauds. The new book "No Excuses" by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom exposes a number of these self-serving lies.

You may have heard how hard it is to find enough teachers -- and therefore how necessary it is to raise salaries, in order to attract more people into this field. One example can demonstrate what is wrong with this picture, though there are innumerable other examples.

A young man who graduated summa cum laude from elite Williams College decided that he wanted to be a teacher. He sent letters and resumes to eight different school districts. Not one gave him even the courtesy of a reply.

Does that sound like there is a teacher's shortage? Moreover, any number of other highly qualified people have had the same experience.

The joker in the deal is that, no matter how highly qualified you are, your desire to become a teacher is not likely to get off the ground unless you have jumped through the bureaucratic hoops that keep people out of this field -- thereby protecting the jobs of unionized incompetents who are already in our schools.

The most important of these hoops is taking unbelievably dreary and stupid courses in education. Using these costly and time-consuming courses as a barrier, those in the education establishment "maintain low standards and high barriers at the same time," as Secretary of Education Rod Paige has aptly put it.

Factual studies show no correlation between taking these courses and successful teaching. Private schools are able to get good teachers by hiring people who never took any such courses. That is where our Williams graduate finally found a job.

The very people in the education establishment who maintain barriers to keep out teachers are the ones constantly telling us what a shortage of teachers there is -- and how more money is needed. This is a scam that has worked for years and will probably work for more years to come.

Then there are the "studies prove" scams. According to the education establishment, studies prove that Head Start helps poor children's educational performance, small classes lead to higher test scores, and busing black children to white schools produces educational benefits due to "diversity."

The quality of many of these studies is as unbelievably bad as the quality of courses in education.

Here is a common pattern: If you do 20 studies comparing the effect that A has on B, you may find that in 18 of those studies there is no correlation between A and B. In one of the other two, you may find that more A is followed by more B. And in the other, more A is followed by less B. Overall, still no correlation.

Depending on what the education establishment wants, they can seize upon the one study out of 20 that showed more A leading to more B and burst into the media with it. If the conclusion of that one study fits in with the media vision of the world, then it may be trumpeted across the land as "proof."

The Head Start program is a classic example. Anyone who expresses any skepticism about claims that Head Start is a great success will be denounced as someone who doesn't "care" about the low-income and minority children that this program supposedly helps. One of the great propaganda tricks is to change questions of fact into questions of motives.

The Thernstroms show what feeble facts there are behind this program that has cost billions of dollars. Look for them to be denounced for being heartless, if not racist. But don't expect advocates of Head Start to engage in a serious discussion of facts.

It is much the same story when it comes to claims that "studies prove" that small classes lead to better education. The Thernstroms show cases where class sizes as small as 12 led to no better results when the students were tested.

Ordering students bussed from their own neighborhoods for the sake of racial balance has similarly failed to produce the much-trumpeted educational benefits.

The time is long overdue to start looking at facts instead of listening to rhetoric. Reading "No Excuses" is a start.


Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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