Friday, December 19, 2008


I volunteer once a week as a writing mentor in an Omaha-area school with 80% low-income students. These are fourth-graders. They are darling, and I love working with them. But . . . I have to tell the truth about their academic skills. They stink.

Almost none of them can write a single declarative sentence without making an error. Most of them have trouble getting more than a few words down on paper even if you give them 20 or 30 minutes. Their handwriting is atrocious and they don't even form their letters correctly on paper. So no wonder their reading skills stink: they literally don't know what to look for, when it comes to decoding. They read aloud slowly, in a monotone, stumbling and stuttering, like drones.

These kids obviously have not been taught proper language skills, and boy, does it show. Meanwhile, they have been in the government school system now for five years, at an average cost per year of over $8,000. So for $40,000 invested so far, we get . . . THIS?!?

Consequently, I'm not surprised to learn statistics such as the latest one that's shocking honest citizens everywhere: Arne Duncan of Chicago, the education "guru" that President-Elect Obama has selected to be U.S. education secretary, has presided over massive school failure just like I'm seeing, and is likely to spread that misery even deeper in U.S. schools.

In 2007, only 17 percent of eighth graders tested at or above grade level in reading in Chicago Public Schools – the school system administered by Arne Duncan since 2001.

According to news reports, Duncan, whom Obama termed a "reformer," said he would like to take the lessons he learned in Chicago with him when he moves to Washington. “I'm also eager to apply some of the lessons we have learned here in Chicago to help school districts all across our country," Duncan said after Obama formally named him to the job in Chicago.

Well, here's some REFORM we should try:

Let's adjust our local, state and federal tax rates to the percentage of students who read at grade level. The more students who can read at grade level, the more taxes the government schools will collect. The FEWER students who are made academically competent, the LESS money the government schools will get.

Doesn't that make perfect sense?

Hey -- you get what you pay for. Do you like what we're getting under education "systems" such as the one that Arne Duncan will no doubt try to spread out all over the land?

I sure don't. It's just one more reason to support the development of private schools, especially for low-income kids who need good curriculum and instruction the most of all.

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No Child Left Behind proposed the "doomsday contingency" for schools on the needs improvement list for five years: shutting down the schools, changing most of the teachers and the administration, or placing the school under state control.The teacher's unions and liberals went wild over this reasonable proposal, calling it anti-education and just unacceptable and the like. So, I guess tying taxes to reading at grade level would be even more rondly denounced by Big Education than the quite moderate doomsday contingency of NCLB.Which isn't to say this isn't a fine idea. Most proposals, such as vouchers, which are denounced by Big Education ARE fine ideas.
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