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With thinking like this, no wonder we educationally underachieve

Today’s letters page of The Times provides us an acute demonstration of why there’s a long way to go with education in this state.

On the learner side, there appears a letter complaining about price differentials between different areas. The writer wonders why a product costs 35 cents more here than there and seems unable to grasp the simplest principles of economics, complaining, “I just know it doesn't cost 35 cents per bottle to get the syrup from Dallas to here.”

Has this guy never heard of the fluid, dynamic nature of the free market, supply and demand setting prices, and the idea of competition? Casting aside the notion that it may actually cost that much to get a product from its presumed production point to its imagined distribution point, and also assuming he chose exactly the same retailer from which to buy the product, the absolute easy answer is that market conditions at this moment are much tighter for the product (not as much supply to meet demand) that they are here.

The uneducated would imply that there’s some price fixing going on but that so rarely happens in the real world (something about which a majority of our Louisiana Legislators are ignorant), especially in the hypercompetitive world of groceries, that it is incredibly farfetched to accept. If left to itself, the market does a superb job correctly pricing everything, contingent on the characteristics of the markets themselves. Yet this very basic fact of life seems to have eluded this correspondent, which, if he votes, in part explains why we keep getting so many Democrats, liberals, populists, and good-old-boys elected to office.

But it takes complicity to produce this lack of education, and another letter by (presumably) a teacher shows why we allow it to fester. This woman first argues that “Teachers are not opposed to high standards” and then goes on to show why in fact some are:

They are simply aware that requiring all students to reach the same standards, regardless of their abilities, is more harmful than many realize. Indeed, since schools now are being held accountable through a system of standardized testing, the immediate reaction is to provide these students who are in danger of not performing at the required level with a set of tools designed to help them pass the test.

In other words, we are teaching these students to become better test takers at the expense of meaningful educational experiences.

This remarkable misunderstanding of education is tragic coming from somebody seemingly involved in it. Simply, in today’s world of ever-increasing complexity and escalating demands in knowledge and skills, there is a basic level that students must have in order to have any but the slimmest hopes of just getting by in life. The accountability standards now enforced by the state, as acknowledged by experts, do an excellent, although perhaps not perfect, job of elevating students to this level.

This person, however, despairs that such basic knowledge (mind you the current passing grade on the LEAP tests is 40 out of 100) can be learned by all non-developmentally disabled children. Instead, apparently she would get rid of the tests and teach “meaningful educational experiences.” Now what could these be exactly, because whatever they are they sure won’t equip a child to exist in all but the most menial fashion in today’s world. I wouldn’t call that “meaningful.”

Of course, one might expect this illogic if you can’t even come up with an appropriate syllogism in the first place:

Imagine if Major League Baseball players would all be arbitrarily expected to hit 20 homeruns each season to be able to play the following season. This would not make a lot of sense because there is much more to baseball than hitting homeruns.

First of all, this comparison equates “testing” with “homers.” Obviously, in baseball the overall worth of a player is judged on many factors. But, as mentioned above, it is absurd to think that testing does not capture very well knowledge that students should have learned. In other words, no other indicators really are needed to capture the worth of a student’s knowledge.

Not only does she fail conceptually here, but empirically as well. Now, let’s see, at any given time there are 780 major leaguers on rosters, or about .00027 percent of the entire American population (and about a quarter of these players are not even Americans). Last year, one of several recent homer-happy years, 93 managed to get 20 – or about .00003 percent of all Americans.

Accountability standards are not asking that everybody perform in the top 99.99997 percent of their class. The better baseball analogy to be used would be everybody would be expected to participate in T-ball, and be able to hit one off the tee 4 times out of 10.

With attitudes like this among educators, again it is little wonder why we lag so far behind in quality of education.

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