Can America’s schools be saved? — with Albert Shanker (1994) | THINK TANK

Can America’s schools be saved? — with Albert Shanker (1994) | THINK TANK


Ben Wattenberg: Hello. I’m Ben Wattenberg. This fall our kids return to school. Do we need to set nationwide educational standards
to help them compete in the global economy? Joining us to sort through the conflict and
the consensus are Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and
a member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards; Denis Doyle, a senior
fellow at the Hudson Institute and coauthor of “Winning the Brain Race: A Bold Plan
to Make Our Schools Competitive”; Professor Kriner Cash, associate dean of the School
of Education at Howard University; and Myron Lieberman, senior research scholar, Center
for Social Philosophy and Policy, Bowling Green State University, and author of “Public
Education: An Autopsy.” The topic before this house: Can America’s
schools be saved? This week on “Think Tank.” American schoolchildren aren’t learning
what they should. At least, that is the consensus reached by
President Bush, President Clinton, most governors, many educators, and parents. And the numbers back them up. Since the 1960s, the average Scholastic Aptitude
Test scores — the so-called SAT test taken by most college-bound students — fell until
the 1980s, and since then have stagnated. Meanwhile, as SAT scores declined, public
school outlays soared. Average spending per pupil in real dollars
more than tripled, rising from $1,500 per year in the 1950s to more than $5,500 per
student today. So even though we’re spending more, American
students still do not apparently learn what they need to know. One prescribed remedy is Goals 2000, the Educate
America Act, signed into law by President Clinton in March of 1994. Bill Clinton (from videotape): What this Goals
2000 bill does, believe it or not for the first time in the entire history of the United
States of America, is to set world-class education standards for what every child in every American
school should know in order to win when he or she becomes an adult. We have never done it before; we are going
to do it now because of this bill. Ben Wattenberg: Now, Goals 2000 aims to create
nationwide education standards in English, in history, in geography, in math, in science,
and in foreign languages. Now, national standards are very controversial. Many experts argue that there must be testing
to ensure that the goals are met. If students fail the tests, then they will
suffer the consequences: They may not graduate or be promoted. But others say that it’s unfair to hold
students to nationwide standards if they haven’t an equal opportunity to learn. They worry that enforcing standards will penalize
minorities, who historically have scored lower on standardized tests, such as the SAT. This, they argue, would worsen the already
difficult road that minority students face. Mr. Shanker, first question, sir. Do we need national standards in America? Albert Shanker: Well, I think we need national
standards. We won’t get them out of Goals 2000. We’ll get state standards, and let’s hope
that some of the states will not want to duplicate each other and will work in consortia, so
you may get a number of groups of states. But essentially this legislation encourages
states to develop statewide standards, but world class — that is, looking at what other
countries do. And I think that we do need them because in
the absence of these standards, the kids basically negotiate with their teachers. When the teacher gives work, the kids say,
“This is too hard. It’s too difficult. I don’t want to spend all that time at home.” And before you know it, the teacher sort of
negotiates and says, “Well, if you can’t do all of it, do three-quarters of it, do
half of it, do a piece of it.” And before you know it, what our kids learn
compared to youngsters in other countries is very, very small. Whereas in other countries they say, “Look,
Johnny, don’t tell me it’s too hard. Every other kid in the fourth grade is doing
it. That’s what they require in this country. They did it last year and the year before.” So standards really are a way of raising achievement
for everybody. Ben Wattenberg: Kriner Cash, is what Al Shanker
said right? Kriner Cash: Well, I think we have to be very
careful about national standards. There is tremendous diversity and variability
across this country in schools, school districts, curricula, and a number of other variables
that talk about educational equity and excellence. So I have four cynicisms, basically — healthy
ones about the debate and the issue. One is: What will the standards be? I’m concerned about who will decide — that
a relative few, those who already can pass such standards, will be the ones making the
decisions about them. I’m concerned about the way in which we
will measure whether the standard has been met. We’ve seen since 1969 sort of a degeneration
in how we measure difficult objectives in learning. The NAEP used to be performance based. Ben Wattenberg: What is the NAEP? Kriner Cash: I’m sorry — the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, which is an effort similar to this, but now is mainly
a multiple-choice question testing format. And so we don’t get at very many important
things. And then — Ben Wattenberg: Let’s come back to that. Denis Doyle, could you give us a brief summation
of your view of this idea of national standards. Denis Doyle: We need the actual standards,
which are distinct from federal government standards, but we do in fact need national
standards. We need to pull together as a nation in the
same direction, hold all kids to high and rigorous standards. The biggest disservice we can perform for
the least amongst us, the disadvantaged minority youngsters in particular, is to have a separate
set of standards for them and to expect less of them. They alone need high standards — need them
more than almost anybody else because they have no old-boy networks to tie into and no
other access to prestige, to status, to jobs. Ben Wattenberg: Myron Lieberman. Myron Lieberman: On the question of standards,
I have a somewhat different question, which is: Well, what purpose would they serve? Al referred to an incentive, but unless you
set the standard at the very top, they’re going to be lower than what a lot of kids
could achieve. In other words, they’re going to be too
high for some and too low for others, so they’re going to wind up being disincentives for some
because they’ll make it easily. And they’ll be impossible — Ben Wattenberg: So we’re going to set up
standards, and they’re going to be, as Pat Moynihan says, “defining it down”? Myron Lieberman: Well, politically that’s
inevitable. And I would emphasize: Why should there be
state standards? There are going to be variations within the
states. If you come from, say, a community where you
have every reason to expect kids to do better than the average in the state, why should
they be held to a state standard? Ben Wattenberg: Myron Lieberman, I gather,
is not a fan of this Goals 2000 legislation. Al, you were instrumental in it. What — Albert Shanker: Well, how it plays out is
still a — there is a lot of looseness in this thing. It could play out the way Myron Lieberman
says, but it doesn’t have to, and I don’t think it should. I would agree with him that if you have a
single standard, it’s going to end up being a low standard. It’ll be a minimum standard, and it will
actually not serve any purpose. But other countries that have standards don’t
have single standards. They say, look, this is the standard you must
meet if you want to enter a college or university. The following standard is there if you want
to go to a two-year institution or get into some technical training program. But the purpose of these standards is essentially
to motivate all of your youngsters to work harder to reach whatever is the next higher
goals, which we don’t have now. Myron Lieberman: Al, we have 10 states which
by law admit every high school graduate to a public institution of higher education. So where then is the — the fact that some
agency, national or whatever, has said these are what you must reach is going to be meaningless
in those states. Those kids can get into a state institution
regardless. Albert Shanker: You’re assuming that nothing
else is going to change. I would agree with you. If nothing else changes, then it’s pointless
to have standards, because standards that have no consequences aren’t standards. They are just some sort of public relations
slogans. You have to attach these things. You basically have to say to mothers and fathers
and students and teachers, look, school counts, and if you meet this standard, you can get
into college. If you don’t, no scholarships, no federal
assistance, no this, no that. The same thing with — Ben Wattenberg: Is that fair to minorities,
Kriner? Kriner Cash: Standards alone will not make
us a more competitive nation and will not make our children learn. Ben Wattenberg: But he’s talking about standards
with consequences. Typically, what, at age — at fourth grade,
eighth grade, and to graduate, if you don’t hit these certain standards, you don’t proceed. Kriner Cash: Well, sure. Why would we have consequences for students,
though, alone? There are many dimensions to the educational
enterprise, and if we want to talk about standards, let’s have standards for all of the dimensions
of schooling. Let’s have standards for school organization
and grouping practices. Let’s have standards for staff development
and teacher preparation. Let’s have standards for the way we grade
and evaluate and measure students. Let’s have standards for the way we train
educational administrators. Let’s have standards for school financing
systems, which are vastly inequitable. Ben Wattenberg: So that the students can compete
equally. Albert Shanker: That comes later; that follows. A lot of states in this country — as a matter
of fact, if you look at the NAEP results, one of the most interesting changes in recent
years — Ben Wattenberg: Again, that is the National
— Albert Shanker: The National Assessment of
Educational. It’s basically a sampling of — they take
a large group of youngsters across the country at different grades and different subjects
to see how they’re doing this year compared to three years ago and six years ago, and
they do it in reading, writing, mathematics, other fields. And the interesting thing is that in the 1970s
and ’80s, the group of youngsters who made the greatest progress were black and Hispanic
youngsters. And if you look behind it, why was there all
this progress? They said, in the 1970s a bunch of states
— starting with Florida, said, from now on, no high school diploma unless you can
function at a certain level. It wasn’t a very high level, but the first
time they gave the test, the majority of these youngsters failed. The next year, fewer failed. The next year, fewer. By the way, there were new teacher training
programs. There were new tech — all these other things
followed, and right now within those states on these standards, which are admittedly very
low, there is practically no difference between minority youngsters and other youngsters. So you put something in place, attach some
consequences to it, and then these other things fall into place. Whereas if you wait for everything else to
happen before you put the standards in place, it’s not going to happen. Ben Wattenberg: Kriner, if we don’t have
consequences attached to the standards, aren’t we shortchanging those minority students? I mean, they will graduate, but they will
graduate with a funny-money diploma. Kriner Cash: We’re talking really about
at-risk children who also are poor. Poverty is the number one variable that hinders
educational attainment in this country, and that goes beyond just people of color. It’s children of all colors. If they’re poor, they have not as much opportunity. Myron Lieberman: Well, let me make just a
couple of points here. George Stigler, a Nobel Prize–winning economist,
estimated that 90 percent of what people know and use on the job does not come from formal
education. And somehow — and we know that a high school
diploma in this country is basically meaningless. And the Goals 2000 Act, for example, has a
goal: 90 percent of the kids must have a high school diploma. It means they must have a meaningless piece
of paper. So I think — I just wanted to make — the
other point I wanted to make is this, that when we look at consequences, we have to look
at all the consequences. The minute you begin to — and let’s take
in those 10 states that now admit everybody. If you now have standards, presumably a lot
of those kids won’t get into college. A lot of professors will be out of jobs. They will go to their union, and the union
will put pressure on the legislature. They will argue that you’re depriving minorities
of jobs, you’re shortchanging — Ben Wattenberg: We happen to have a union
president here with us. Myron Lieberman: And I’d like to find out
just in how many states are the teacher organizations putting a bigger priority on standards than
they are on the loss of jobs, which would be inevitable if we really had high standards. Albert Shanker: First of all, if it did result
in loss of jobs, that’s too bad. I mean if — but it doesn’t — I don’t
think it would result in loss of jobs. The fact is that you have very high standards
for entering into universities in, let’s say, France and Germany. They take a smaller percentage of students
in, but they have a higher percentage who actually graduate, because we allow lots of
youngsters in who can’t read, they can’t write, they can’t count. They spend a lot of money taking junior high
school and elementary school remedial courses in a university, and then they drop out. And society has paid for what? Has paid for practically nothing. Now, there is no reason why those youngsters
who can’t read, write, or count can’t have some form of ongoing adult education
which will help them pick up what they should have gotten, but not in a university. Ben Wattenberg: Kriner. Kriner Cash: It’s very important: Students
want to be successful. All children want to be successful. If in their learning they are successful,
then they’ll continue to want to learn. I have no doubt that each and every child
in this country can reach and attain and exceed any standard that we would set. The issue of setting the standard and having
the children — that’s really not a difficult challenge. We’ve seen that before. The issue is: Are we going to address and
adapt all of those other variables of schooling so that all the children can learn to their
potential? Our children are learning things every day. Look at the tremendous creativity and vitality
that they demonstrate in out-of-school hours and in other nonschool activities. They can learn, but we don’t have assessments
for that kind of thing. So I’m concerned about what the standards
will be, how we will measure it, and how we’ll use the results. Denis Doyle: Let me suggest this. The only good news on the American education
scene now is that there is so much slack in the system that we have nowhere to go but
up. The biggest slack, of course, is amongst youngsters
of whom too little is expected and as a consequence don’t deliver very much. Kids are not workers in most schools. They don’t work very hard as compared to
the international competition. They don’t study very long hours; they don’t
do much homework. In a perverse kind of way, that’s an opportunity
because they can do a lot more; a lot more can and should be expected of them. Similarly, school districts should expect
more of themselves. We are dominated by a culture of school boards
which micromanage, for example. Ben Wattenberg: There are some very good public
and private schools in America, aren’t there? Denis Doyle: Oh, there are some stunning ones. Al is a graduate of Peter Stuyvesant, maybe
the best public school in America. Ben Wattenberg: And I am a graduate of the
school that used to beat Stuyvesant in football every year, [name inaudible], and I will sing
the fight song, if you’d like. Albert Shanker: Well, I mean I think the interesting
thing about American education is not so much that youngsters who are disadvantaged aren’t
making it. That’s true and it’s deplorable and we
ought to do something about it. But I think what’s — and that’s also,
by the way, true in other countries where you take various minorities — they generally
don’t do as well. But I think what’s interesting about American
education is that youngsters who have no excuse, youngsters who come from upper- and middle-class
families, who go to Europe or Asia in the summer, who go to summer camps, who’ve got
books at home, whose parents went to college, that they aren’t learning how to read well
and that they can’t write. If you look at this — again, this National
Assessment of Educational Progress and ask what percentage of the youngsters who graduate
American high schools are able to write a decent essay after 12 years of education,
the answer is about 3 percent. Now, there is no country in the world — in
Germany, you have to sit for five days for an Abitur to get into a university. Thirty percent of the kids in Germany are
able to write essays for five days, or in France, the Bacque, or the A-levels in Great
Britain. Ben Wattenberg: Denis Doyle, aren’t you
going to get a situation skewed against minorities when you have these kinds of standards? Denis Doyle: No, I think we have just the
opposite. I think the situation now is very definitely
skewed against minorities. They don’t know what’s expected of them. They have no measures that they can hold up
to be proud of personally or to demonstrate to employers or to the military or to higher
education that they can make it. Indeed, the system now is really stacked against
them very badly. And to make matters worse, there is no uniformity
amongst schools. So a youngster from a poor, inner-city school
who gets straight A’s may think he’s done very well, but compared to a youngster who’s
gotten straight A’s from a prep school or a suburban school, he’s not done well at
all. So the youngsters are being deluded by the
adults around them who lead them to believe that they’re doing more than they are. It’s a cruel hoax on these kids. Myron Lieberman: We are skirting around a
very basic problem here, this use of the word “minority.” There are some minorities that are doing very
well in formal education afterwards — the Japanese, the Chinese, the Jews, the Armenians,
and so on. The minority problem is basically the black
— insofar as there is a problem of a minority that is not doing well — is primarily a
problem with the blacks and Hispanics. Kriner Cash: Again, that’s a gross overstatement
and oversimplification. There is a tremendous variability among African
Americans in this country, among other minority groups in this country, and they range in
their aptitudes and achievements just like any other group. You have to be clear and specific about what
group is not performing well. And these are typically groups of children
who are poor, who are in schooling conditions that are separate and unequal, who have poor-quality
instruction, who are not helped in after-school hours, and a whole range of other kinds of
things that we know contribute to high achievement. If students in other countries — or even
in this country — spend 15 to 20 hours a week on homework — and that might be your
child, it might be mine — and another child spends less than one hour a week on homework
and working after school hours, then there is going to be a disparity in achievement. Ben Wattenberg: Does spending more money on
education help? Kriner Cash: No, it’s not spending more. It’s how you use the money that we have. We already have a tremendous amount of money
in education. It’s tremendously wasted. So the issue is: How can we reallocate and
reemphasize and position resources to make the maximum difference on the group of learners
that we think we need to bring up? Denis Doyle: Let me second the motion. Chapter I, Title I of the federal program
for disadvantaged youngsters created by President Johnson, five or six billion dollars a year
now, a very large program by federal standards for education and a very well-intentioned
program. Most of it is run by taking kids out of the
regular classroom into a broom closet or an empty room someplace with a teacher for a
little tutorial or small-group work for an hour a day. In some districts, they are finally beginning
to experiment with a much more interesting and exciting idea, to offer Chapter I as an
after-school program or as a weekend program or as a summer program so the youngsters are
not denied their normal classroom contact. The money is already in the system; the books
and teachers are already there. It’s a beautiful example of how you can
redeploy existing resources to greater effect. Albert Shanker: In order to use the opportunity,
the learning standards really need two different things. One of them is that the kid actually get — there
was an effort to teach him that. I mean, if this is what you’re going to
test at the end of the program, was there an effort to actually teach what is going
to be tested? Can the youngster say, “Hey, look at these
15 questions here. None of these ever came up in the last three
years, so I’m being asked to answer questions which I’ve never dealt with before.” That’s one set of issues. The other set of issues has to do with the
fact that we are the only democratic industrial country in the world that has a locally based
system of education. Ben Wattenberg: I was going to get to that. Albert Shanker: It doesn’t make any sense
for one kid to have $15,000 a year in public money spent on him and in another place $4,000
a year because the local real estate taxes are different. Ben Wattenberg: But it’s coming from local
school taxes. I mean, most of the education money in America
comes from local sources — has nothing to do with federal sources. Albert Shanker: Yeah, but how can you justify
having a country or a state — how can you justify the notion of equality of educational
opportunity if you have a country where youngsters with the greatest needs in terms of poverty,
in terms of discrimination, in terms of family breakup, in terms of health conditions, they’re
the ones who have the smallest amount of money — or smaller amounts than those in neighboring
areas where they have all the advantages. How can one speak in general about equality
of opportunity if you actually are giving them less? There are certain points below which — if
you don’t have textbooks, if computers are going to be used by everybody tomorrow and
you have a school that absolutely doesn’t have any — there are certain points below
which you can really say you’re not giving these kids an education. So it’s not a question of being absolute
about it and saying every kid in the country has to have $5,300 spent. But there are points below, and there are
districts within this country that are below those points, where it’s the equivalent
of living in really dangerous substandard housing or living on a starvation level or
not having any access to health care. And that at least we — I mean those are
very shameful situations — and that at least we ought to — we’re not going to get total
equality, but at least we ought to eliminate these shamefully low situations. Ben Wattenberg: Let me ask a final question,
if I may. Looking at this argument that Goals 2000 has
engendered, this idea of standards, tests, and consequences, what would you say the panel
agrees upon, and what do you all disagree about? Myron Lieberman: My main point of agreement
would be with the last point that Al has just made. I think the problem is adequacy, not equality. We don’t worry about equality of gastronomic
opportunity or shelter or anything else, but we do say we won’t let people go below a
certain level. So if that’s Al’s point, I would agree
with it, and I think it’s a very important point to be made. My disagreement I think with all the others
is that I think the way we’ve achieved improvements in general is through a market-oriented system,
and all three of the other people on the panel are opposed to that. And I support it. Denis Doyle: I’m surely in favor of a market
system. I don’t have any illusions, though, that
a market system is going to occur overnight. It’ll take a decade or so, and I see some
hopeful signs on the horizon that market mechanisms are slowly coming into play. I think even the AFT and the NEA will buy
a public market so schools compete among themselves for — Ben Wattenberg: You are talking about school
choice, which we are going to do a separate show on. Denis Doyle: Okay, but I think markets are
very important, very beneficial, not because of cutthroat competition, but because we need
different kinds of suppliers, different niches, different opportunities for teachers and for
students both. And Al’s point on adequacy is clearly on
target. Ben Wattenberg: Kriner. Kriner Cash: I think we agree that standards
can be helpful and serve a useful function. They can nudge all educators and students
and families to reach higher standards and higher expectations for themselves. We’ve seen that in the past. But we disagree on the importance that setting
national standards will have on actually making us more competitive. It’s a small piece of a much larger puzzle,
and I want all the pieces to be improved. Ben Wattenberg: Al, one last brief shot. Albert Shanker: Well, there are a lot of good
systems around the world, and none of them are market, choice systems. They’re all run by governments. As a matter of fact, some of them by governments
that are national and much more bureaucratic than ours. And I think this movement of Goals 2000 is
an effort to develop an American version of the structure that these other democratic
industrial countries, and if done right and given enough time, it’s going to work. Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Thank you, Albert Shanker, Myron Lieberman,
Kriner Cash, and Denis Doyle. And thank you. As you know, we have enjoyed hearing from
our viewers. Please continue to send your comments and
questions to the address on the screen. For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Inc. in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

5 comments

  1. Yes , Remove liberal influence Remove any Democratic control kill the multi gender bullshit Remove PC shit go back to teaching and stop pandering to the little bastards All cell phones left in the office Or at home Take back control from the leftists who pander to these kids Until then No hope

  2. This debate left out race, and IQ…which is due to evolution, not racism.

    Blaming teachers for poor results, who are educating more and more lower IQ non-Whites, and demanding the same results…isn't scientific, fair, or intellectually honest.

    NYC: 1.1 million students …over $17,000 per student, per year
    Do union teachers under teach group X? ..especially with Media watching..
    Of course not
    Then why do non-Black immigrant students entering school speaking little to no English, perform better in school and on SAT tests than American Blacks? (ave 20% White DNA)

    IQ>>85 ave IQ of Black Americans vs 100 for White
    This fact, not racism, also explains why 40% of Blacks vs 15% of Whites fail the military's written entrance exam.

    IQ is 80% genetic.
    Education, diet, or well meaning programs can not change IQ, which is set at conception
    And although we wish it wasn't so…different races/sub-species have different average IQs

    Government sanctioned racism…aka Affirmative Action…is not a solution.

  3. They cant be saved with open borders, especially with kids and parents that don't speak English. Deal with it.

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