If Johnny can’t do the math, can you?

by Yule Heibel on June 2, 2005

File this one under my favourite rant heading (“Work does not make you free”): interesting article, Too much homework can be counterproductive, which reports on a study by Penn State researchers, David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre, who published a book, National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. The claim I found most intriguing is that economic disparity in households actually leads to an exacerbation of educational disadvantage when homework is piled on as an educational panacea. It seems that given more homework, poorer kids or kids from more stressed homes will fall behind educationally, vs. “catching up” with economically better-off peers. I bet this will include kids from stressed out two-income households, too. These are increasingly strung out homes slipping into less secure middle-class status. As John Ralston Saul noted in this article (which I cited a couple of days ago),

Why did an unprecedented increase in money supply translate into a dearth of money for public services? And why did this growth in new moneys enrich mainly those who already had money? Why did it lead to a growth in the rich-versus-poor dichotomy and a squeezing of the middle class? Why did many privatisations of public utilities neither improve services nor lower costs for consumers but instead guarantee revenues to the new owners while leading to a collapse in infrastructure investment?

People noticed that the financial value of the great breakthroughs in female employment had somehow been inflated away. Abruptly, a middle class family required two incomes. [emphasis added] They noticed that in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times. Elsewhere the numbers were similar. [More…]

Some of the pushback to LeTendre & Baker’s interpretation of the data is directed at their contention that the US has more homework assigned than other high-test-score result countries like Japan. (See the Amazon link to the book, and the one comment so far to the article.) While there might be room for reviewing the data in terms of comparing the US to, say, Japan, I find it interesting that no one is commenting on Baker & LeTendre’s assertion that test results basically tell us something about class structure within a given society. That seems to be something not many Americans want to hear about — that class matters, or that, egads, it exists. Why? Because that p.o.v. is inimical to the American Dream, to an unquestioning belief in Bootstrap Philosophy? …Meanwhile, US CEO salaries have “gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times.” Hmm, makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


joseph duemer June 11, 2005 at 10:15 pm

Yeah, makes you wonder. I have spent a bit of time in American high schools (as a visitor) & I can tell you that the intellectual culture is driven by the worst aspects of collective bargaining–make work, work to rule, etc. Now I am a lefty supporter of unions, but as far as I can see the combination of schools of education that teach how-to to students who aren’t, on average, all that bright, with an employment contract that stifles innovation & protects incompetence, has led to a crisis in American education. (Sorry for that run-on sentence. I should have had better high school teachers.)

The system appears to be designed to assure a steady supply of workers at the bottom of the pyramid enough to make sure the CEOs get their mega-compensation.

Yule Heibel June 12, 2005 at 3:38 pm

I went to hear John Ralston Saul speak on Friday night, and he had these great stories about politicians who he calls “the castrati,” exemplified by the rise, at the start of the 70s, of Valerie Giscard d’Estaing. He was referring to technocrats and managers, specifically the type who say, “Wish, wish we could do more, but it’s just not poss, for there are currently forces beyond our control that determine the course of events.” I suppose that climate can dominate in education (and schools of education), too (this, even though one part of the technocratic mantra is that it’s possible to manage any- and everything). Just because someone has seniority doesn’t make them a good teacher or the best person to fill an upcoming principal’s position at a particular school. Something opens up at a school, and everyone in that community knows that so-and-so would be the perfect person for the job because s/he has been involved with the school at another level for half a dozen years, but another person from out-of-district, who has no knowledge of that school community’s culture, can come in and get the job because of the seniority rule. It’s tricky, I support collective bargaining/ unions, too, and I also know that if it were all “privatised” or whatever, you’d just end up with another kind of hugger-mugger (viz. the rush toward standardised testing).

Well, this is all beyond the scope of the entry, and way beyond the bloggish water cooler. Tricky stuff — nothing we can solve here ! 😉

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