Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Time to Draw Line in Sand on Dysfunctional Schools

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

Remember the movie "Network"? I'll never forget that classic scene in which news anchorman Howard Beale decided he was mad as a hornet and just wasn't going to "take it" any more. Well, I'm there.

I'm a public school guy. I attended and graduated exclusively from public schools. My mother worked in a public school. My sons attend a fine public school that my wife and I are very happy with. I've got nothing against public schools. I am, however, opposed to dysfunctional public schooling, and that sadly widespread practice has just got on my last nerve.

The Arizona Daily Star has published the finest work of education journalism that I have seen in Arizona or anywhere else. The Daily Star conducted a ten-month investigation and found that one-third of Tucson middle and high school students failed a core academic class, but nonetheless, 90 percent were promoted to the next grade.

The series further finds that students promoted frequently ought not to be, thanks to grade inflation. At Naylor Middle School, for example, only nine percent of eighth graders failed English courses last year. Meanwhile, 59 percent failed the AIMS reading test, and 40 percent failed the writing component.

Seventy-nine percent of Tucson students attending community college must take remedial math; 48 percent take remedial writing, and 32 percent are placed in remedial reading.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand. We don't have to agree on all the solutions, but I want to know who in Arizona takes the sorry state of our public schools seriously? The Daily Star has stepped onto the right side of the line. They've invested serious time, money, and effort to reveal a horrible problem. So has the Arizona Community Foundation .

The fact that Arizona schools are socially promoting and warehousing children on a massive scale is your responsibility, too. School districts are doing this in your name, with your tax dollars. Forget about blaming politicians. They'll get serious about taking on the education bureaucracy only when the public compels them to do so.

We can either go on ostrich-like, pretending that we can spend our way out of this problem, or we can do something about it. It's time you choose your place on the line. Stepping over?

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Vice President of Research at the Goldwater Institute.

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