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Government Standards: Will They Save the Schools or Destroy Them

Even by the flabby standards unveiled by Governor Romer in 1995, the results from the recent statewide test of academic achievement indicate that government schools do a miserable job of educating children. Only 57% of fourth-graders met the reading standard; 31% met the writing one. Still more dismal were the puerile performances of public officials striving to make the rest of us view the results in a positive light. In truth, government standards are more likely to destroy the schools than save them.

Governor Romer said the test results were good news, likening them to a medical x-ray that diagnoses a problem and gives me eight years to cure my problem before the ultimate test comes and I am unemployable. Begging the question of why a school that hasn#39;t been able to bring fourth-graders up to standard in five years will be able to do so in eight more, the Governor had the gall to demand more money of Colorado taxpayers. Education, he said, not prisons, should be our top funding priority.

As the governor undoubtedly knows, education is Colorado#39;s top funding priority. In fiscal year 1997-98 the state appropriated $2,092,631,871 for education, $1,342,691,623 for higher education, and $337,175,714 for corrections.

Prisons often give citizens good value for their money. Harvard University economist Steven D. Levitt estimates that the average criminal does $53,900 worth of damage a year. Annual incarceration costs average about $30,000, leaving a net benefit of $23,900 per year per criminal behind bars. Increased school spending, to the tune of a 70% inflation-adjusted per pupil increase nationwide between 1970 and 1990, has had no effect on achievement.

More baloney came from State Commissioner of Education Bill Moloney, who said We are here for an occasion of celebration. Higher standards mean tougher tests, and tougher tests mean lower scores. Colorado has raised the bar. We are reaching for those world-class standards we have spoken of in the past.

We are supposed to believe that fourth-graders flunked the test because the standards were difficult. But were they The standards posted on the Colorado Department of Education website lt;http://www.cde.state.co.us/gt; are so vague that one cannot tell what the real standards were without seeing the test. Standard 1 for reading and writing requires that students read and understand a variety of materials. Grades K-4 should use a full range of strategies to comprehend materials such as directions, nonfiction material, rhymes and poems, and stories. But comprehend what, exactly Mother Goose or John Donne#39;s sonnets Charlotte#39;s Web or Moby Dick

Under Standard 4, predicting and drawing conclusions about stories, recognizing an author#39;s point of view, and differentiating between fact and opinion in written and spoken forms, are accomplishments for children in grades K-4. Those in grades 5-8 should be adept at recognizing an author#39;s or speaker#39;s point of view and purpose, separating fact from opinion, and making predictions, drawing conclusions, and analyzing what they read, hear, and view. Apart from the requirement that children in grades 5-8 must also analyze what they view, what is the difference Without a specific knowledge of the curriculum, it is impossible to tell.

Vague standards like this are worthless for evaluating student progress, and government entities typically generate the vaguest standards of all. Good scholarship demands a principled search for the truth. The political process places a premium on satisfying various interest groups with far less regard for principle. When politicians make policy, standards suffer. Just after the Federal government began enlarging its control of the schools in the 1960s, scores on privately produced national achievement tests, the Iowa Tests and the SAT among them, began declining in the 1960s. Rather than admitting that they have destroyed the schools with 30 years of failed experiments, the politicians and educrats want to kill the bearer of bad tidings by substituting government-made tests for the private ones. Standards will lose again.

To see the difference between government and private standards compare the Colorado Board of Education Standards with those produced by Mathematically Correct lt;http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/mathman/gt;, a private group in San Diego. Under the Mathematically Correct standard, fourth-graders must add and subtract with decimals through thousandths, add and subtract with fractions having like and unlike denominators of 12 or less, and read and write decimals as fractions. The Colorado standard merely requires using number sense to estimate and justify the reasonableness of solutions to problems involving whole numbers, and commonly-used fractions and decimals (for example 1/3, , 0.5, and 0.75).

The private group demands knowledge, the political one reasonableness. Which would you rather have educating your child

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Golden, Colorado. https://i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
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