Monday, November 25, 2019

Another Education and Homeschooling Post

This will be a part II of an education post. In the last post, I offered the first part of my presentation, on  homeschooling, but making the point that, when you look at the entire 6000 years of the history of education, homeschooling is what has been traditional—because it works. And the public school experiment, using a factory model, has only been underway for about a century. And it’s a failing experiment.

On Saturday we had a presentation on the structure of education first. The presenter, Colleen Vera, a retired teacher, has spent years as a watchdog on school issues. One of her specialties is the HarrisCounty Department of Education (which we agree should not exist), and we count on her to attend their meetings, let us know what’s going on, and let us know when we need to take action.

She provided us with this flow chart of the parts of government that make decisions over education. Down at the bottom, with the least influence, are teachers in the classroom and their students.
The summary flowchart of Texas government in education,
from Colleen Vera's presentation
at Cypress Texas Tea Party, November 23, 2019

One fascinating example was her seating chart. Teachers have requirements for seating children based on various rules placed on them. Well under half of the seats are for regular kids. GT (gifted and talented) are used to help the teacher, not the GT student. They’re seated next to the struggling to help them out. Which means the gifted students are placed with the slowest, holding them back, rather than challenging them to move ahead at a rate suited for them.

assigned seating chart based on government requirements
from Colleen Vera's presentation 
at Cypress Texas Tea Party, November 23, 2019 

Note that in middle and high schools, this seating chart is set up for one period; the teacher has to sort through the students like this for every hour of the day. Why? To avoid lawsuits. Not to get better educational outcomes.

As Colleen went through the history of educational initiatives that—as she pointed out before I had a chance—the federal government was not empowered to do by the Constitution, I’m reminded that the federal Department of Education was non-existent until 1979. I went through my entire public school experience without any federal oversight. Somehow we muddled through better than we’ve done since its inception.

SAT scores under Department of Education, begun 1979
from Colleen Vera's presentation
at Cypress Texas Tea Party, November 23, 2019

Colleen offered this chart, showing average SAT scores over the years. The * in 1996 indicates the year they changed the way they scored—in other words, in order to cover the data that showed results were going steadily downward, they cheated. So you can’t measure apples to apples.

Still, there’s a downturn from the beginning of the Department of Education until 1996. And, depending on your state, nothing better than mixed improvement or standing still since 1996.
Why did they institute a federal Department of Education in the first place? Because there was a crisis in education. At first that excuse was for “national defense and social responsibility.” That’s kind of a stretch—past the point of elasticity—of the actual Constitution. But now it’s worse. The new excuse is, “to fix society’s ills.”

She ended her presentation with some suggestions of actions we citizens can take—along with the warning that you can’t single-handedly do it all, so you might want to figure out where your interests lie and focus there. So, here are the actions:

·         Volunteer in public schools (VIPs)
·         Join PTA/PTO
·         Volunteer for Texas Book Review
·         Apply to be on local committees (school growth, bonds, etc.)
·         Apply to local councils (ex: School Health Advisory Council)
·         Start local conservative education PAC
·         Educate yourself on ONE specific area of concern:
o   Research
o   Advocate local school board
o   Advocate State Board of Education
o   Advocate Texas Legislature
o   Advocate Congress
·         Become a Watch Dog
As citizens, we’re in a difficult place. We know the public schools are failing in their mission. We know the federal government has no business involved in education at all. But we’re up against a monopoly. You can’t get out of paying your tax dollars for public schools—even if they do not serve your children, and in fact you have to pay elsewhere for their actual education.

It’s like Canadian health care. You get what you get under the national system. Or you make financial sacrifices to come to America for care. 

We can go to private schools and homeschools—if we’re desperate enough and have the resources over and above what we pay toward schools with our taxes. Education is, by the way, 35% of the Texas budget for 2020.

So the question comes up—and isn’t often answered the way I would prefer—do we leave it alone and let the schools fail, or do we work tirelessly to change any little bit we can affect?

Maybe the answer is, first of all, meet our own children’s needs; then work to have education money spent more wisely. And, if there’s energy left, create a revolution toward free market + philanthrophy solutions.

That isn’t as outlandish as you might think. There’s a portion of my presentation where I compared costs. I toted up what I estimated that we spent. I’m sure I missed some things, but I got most of it. This was our cost breakdown for 3 students for 10 years (only our youngest was homeschooled for the full 10 years):

• Elementary Math: $350
• Secondary Math through Algebra 2 $450
• History and general: about $300
• Lonestar tuition: maybe $1000?
• Kaplan ACT prep (used for progress evaluation): $35
• Museum memberships: $80/year, 7 years = $600
• THSC and homeschool group memberships: $600?
• Driving to homeschool events/activities: unknown
• Books: Who knows? We’d have bought them anyway.
• Loss of income: unknown and unimportant

Estimated total for 10 years, entire family: $3,335
• Average per year: $333.50
Compare that to the average cost for the State of Texas to educate a child. Stats weren’t all consistent. According to the NEA, Texas spent $10,456 per student for the 2017-18 school year—about $2,300 below the national average. The Census Bureau puts the cost at $8,861 per student per year—still $2,531 under the national average. 

The contrast is significant. My results are anecdotal, but it worked out for us. A sacrifice we were willing to make.

It’s actually getting cheaper.

For example, the $350 elementary math we used, CSMP. Our boys had used it in the gifted magnet school they attended before we moved to Texas, so when I started homeschooling, I called up those teachers and got the information to get it. I got a teacher’s edition, which you only need one of per classroom. There’s also a set of consumable booklets for each student, of which I just got one. We’d been told that program was only used for gifted students, because it was so expensive. But you buy the teacher’s book one time per decade or so (math doesn’t really change). So you’re only buying the consumables. And maybe there’s a better way. But it didn't seem to me that costly per student.

Anyway, that whole thing, 3rd grade through 5th grade, cost me $350 in 2000. It’s now free online. The distributor decided not to continue printing and selling the program, so some enterprising parent asked permission to post everything online and combined with Buffalo State to preserve it. It’s all there now, for free—all years, not just those I had needed.

I compiled a list some years ago on free and very low cost online learning, which I’ve added to a bit here. I’m sure there are many opportunities I’m missing. You could easily accomplish a high school and possibly college education online, where the only thing you’re not getting is the social experience and the debt—oh, and the diploma. So, if we let go of the diploma and other locked doors into the middle and upper class, we’d have much cheaper—and often better by every measure—advanced education. Here’s the list:

       PragerU videos 
       MIT (MIT OpenCourseware)
       Harvard (Harvard@home)
       Berkeley (webcastBerkeley) 
       ITunes U 
       YouTube EDU
       BBC video language (about $100 per college level course)

One thing the free market does really well is bring more and better products and services at lower prices. In technology there’s a formula, called Moore’s Law, relevant mainly to transistor size and power, for how technology keeps getting better and cheaper. There’s something like that going on with information. It’s getting more widely available at less cost.

In short, when we’re dealing with the public school system, we need to stand firm on the knowledge that the system is not indispensable. There are alternatives. And when we truly want good educational outcomes for our children, we’ll do what it takes to use those alternatives. 

The more we go to the alternatives, the more the market will follow with even better—and less expensive—solutions.

We'll be doing another Tea Party meeting on education next month, hearing from a couple of conservative members of the State Board of Education. I expect we'll learn even more.

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