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Three Card Monte hucksters, magicians and politicians all know that “misdirection” is an essential part of their trades. In other words, get the rubes to look “over there” so they don’t notice what is happening right in front of them. Misdirecting attention is also a standard tactic employed by our highly trained education professionals, as demonstrated recently by West Virginia’s new state superintendent of schools and School Marm Maximus, Jorea Marple.
In an appearance before the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education, Miss Marple warned the Committee that West Virginia’s unusual level of educational attainment was imperiled by homeschooling because homeschoolers need “… more oversight, better standards, better evidence of progress.” Moreover, according to Miss Marple, “homeschoolers have too much flexibility.”
Miss Marple’s interest in manufacturing worry about homeschooling is understandable. Without a little misdirection, parents and legislators might start asking serious questions about what is being done to children in West Virginia’s government schools and about how much taxpayer money is being handed to West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals. What does Miss Marple have to hide? Well, just about everything.
In 2008, West Virginia’s government schools ranked 22nd in the United States in per pupil expenditures and were reported to have spent over $10,000 per student. This amount actually represents just the operating expenses for West Virginia schools. Other significant expenses, such as capital expenditures, are excluded. Consequently, as is also the case with other states, West Virginia’s reported per-pupil spending substantially understates the true spending per pupil.
States in which forensic audits have been done to determine how much is actually being spent per pupil in government schools suggest that West Virginia may be spending 20 percent to 50 percent more than the reported amount of over $10,000 per student per year. Bear in mind that over $10,000 per year, let alone $12,000 to $15,000, will pay the full tuition at many, many academically outstanding private schools.
And just what do West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals deliver in exchange for the vast amount of money they drain from taxpayers’ pockets? Here is some of the fruit from the tree of West Virginia’s government schools:
- The Department of Education’s 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress tells us that 74 percent of West Virginia fourth-graders can’t read at grade level, by eight grade 78 percent can’t read at grade level, and by 12th grade, after 23 percent percent of West Virginia’s least-promising students have dropped out, 71 percent still can’t read at grade level.
- The 2009 mathematics results are even more “impressive”: 72 percent of fourth-graders can’t do math at grade level. After four more years in the care of West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals, 81 percent can’t perform math at grade level. By 12th grade – and, again, remember all of the dropouts whose absence from the test improves the results – 87 percent cannot perform at grade level.
- West Virginia’s 2009 NAEP science results show that 72 percent of fourth-graders can’t do science at grade level, while another four years of West Virginia government school instruction results in 78 percent of eighth-graders not being able to do science at grade level.
So, not only do West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals produce ignorance, semi-literacy and illiteracy in normal children on an industrial scale, they manage to produce these results while spending more per pupil than 28 states. For those concerned about America’s ability to compete economically with China, perhaps the federal government should consider rounding up several thousand of Miss Marple’s colleagues and dropping them stealthily into China as an educational SEAL Team 6.
West Virginia’s parents, however, generally have no idea that West Virginia’s students’ level of academic achievement is well below the national average. Why? Because West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals have concocted state “accountability” tests designed to conceal the education establishment’s failure to educate. After all, if parents and legislators understood the depth of educational malpractice in West Virginia’s government schools, West Virginia’s education bureaucrats might find themselves having to answer some very difficult questions and having to update their resumes.
Of course, evidence of catastrophic educational failure is always dismissed by highly trained education professionals by alternately screeching “socio-economic status” and “demographics.” These phrases are the education establishment’s equivalent of squid’s ink: When cornered by inconvenient facts, shouts of “socio-economic status” and “demographics” usually allow highly trained education professionals to create confusion and slip away quietly from embarrassing revelations about what they have done to the children entrusted to them.
Unfortunately for West Virginia’s government school establishment, no matter how you look at the performance of West Virginia’s government schools, the results are dismal. Texas, for example, has the same poverty rate as West Virginia, spends nearly $2,000 per year less per student than West Virginia, and has far more “minority” students than West Virginia. Nevertheless, Texas’ students outperform West Virginia’s. Idaho, to take another example, spends over $3,000 per student per year less than West Virginia and has a much higher percentage of Hispanic students. Yet, Idaho’s students also outperform West Virginia’s students.
In fact, it’s apparent from looking at the data from the National Center for Educational Statistics that factors such as educational funding and demographics don’t contribute much, if anything, to explaining the well-below-average performance of West Virginia’s students. This, of course, indicates that the source of the problem might just be the highly trained educational professionals who control the government school system Miss Marple now superintends.
When the academic performance of West Virginia’s government schooled students is compared with that of homeschooled students, the situation becomes vastly more embarrassing for Miss Marple and West Virginia’s highly trained education professionals. Bear in mind that West Virginia’s students perform below the national average for government school students. Indeed, on the 2009 NAEP, West Virginia’s fourth-graders ranked 44th and 46th in reading and math, respectively, while West Virginia eighth-graders ranked 48th in reading and 49th in math. In contrast, in no large-scale study of homeschool academic performance have homeschooled students ever failed to outperform the government school averages by a substantial margin.
For example, in the most recent peer-reviewed, large-scale survey of the academic performance of homeschooled students, it was found that the average homeschooled student scored in the 89th percentile in reading, the 84th percentile in math, the 86th percentile in science, and the 84th percentile in social studies. These results are consistent with prior surveys.
Interestingly, “minorities” probably comprise a larger percentage of homeschool students than they do of the students in West Virginia government schools. In addition, surveys of homeschool academic achievement also reveal three interesting facts about homeschooling: 1) parental levels of education don’t much influence levels of academic achievement among homeschoolers, 2) children from families with incomes under $35,000 per year do nearly as well as children from families with higher incomes, and 3) homeschoolers in states with no regulation of homeschoolers perform as well academically as homeschool students in states with heavy regulation (yet another example of the education bureaucrats producing no “value-added”).
Which brings us back to Miss Marple. By attacking homeschool parents, Miss Marple is playing a familiar game. The goal is to distract the public’s attention from the abject failure of West Virginia’s public schools. After all, nearly no government school system so thoroughly fails to educate as Miss Marple’s schools. Nevertheless, Miss Marple wants the public to believe that the same bureaucrats who daily busy themselves producing massive illiteracy and semi-literacy in West Virginia’s public schools should have more power over homeschool parents, even though homeschooling parents are already doing a magnificent job with their children at no cost to taxpayers.
Even a little reflection indicates that Miss Marple’s expression of “concern” over homeschool academic standards is more than a little disingenuous. After all, if you really don’t want your children to be educated, the most effective strategy is to institutionalize them in one of Superintendent Marple’s government schools. That obviously requires much less effort than keeping children at home.
What Miss Marple is really advocating, however, is that government education bureaucrats with a shocking record of educational failure be allowed to regulate educationally successful homeschoolers. This is the kind of public-policy proposal that passes for deep thinking among the education establishment in West Virginia and elsewhere. For Americans outside of the education establishment, however, proposals like this seem like demanding that the front office of the Chicago Cubs take over management of the San Francisco Giants.
Nevertheless, perhaps we can all agree with Miss Marple in one respect. West Virginia does need more regulation of education. Consequently, as a public service, here is my modest proposal for reforming West Virginia’s public schools: Homeschooling parents should regulate Miss Marple and the West Virginia government school system until the students in the government schools for which she is responsible outperform homeschooled children academically.
Unfortunately, this recommendation is not likely to be accepted, which means that most state superintendents of education around the country will continue to be able to tell parents upset about the job their local schools are doing, “Well, at least we’re not West Virginia.” In the meantime, as far as homeschooling is concerned, Miss Marple needs to get a clue.
Bruce N. Shortt, Ph.D., is the author of “The Harsh Truth About Public Schools” and a number of articles on homeschooling and education that have been published by WND, Homeschooling Today, The Old Schoolhouse and other periodicals. Dr. Shortt has also co-sponsored several resolutions regarding Christian education within the Southern Baptist Convention as part of his work in connection with Exodus Mandate, a ministry that promotes Christian education.