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Progressive and Racist Education is Destroying Public Education … and It Ain’t New

Progressive and Racist Education is Destroying Public Education … and It Ain’t New

For the record, the largest portion of my career was dealing with education – as senior consultant to the Chicago and Detroit Boards of Education, the Milton Friedman Foundation for School Choice, the Chicago Teachers’ Academy, Marva Collins’ Westside Prep for children trapped in the segregated ghetto … and many other client and voluntary involvements.  I derive my perspective and opinions from on-the-job experience – not from political narratives of the right or the left.

While the 1960s can be viewed as a positive pivot point for feminism, gay rights and civil rights, it was a disaster for patriotism, law enforcement, family values, work ethic … and education.  In fact, the realignment of the American public-school systems away from the so-called “basics” into laboratories of social and cultural indoctrination may have been the reasons for the other corrupting trends.

Education has a two-fold purpose; to provide the next generation with the intellectual skills to function in society and to achieve in the American opportunity society … and to provide an understanding and appreciation of the civics, history and values of the unique American culture.

After more than half century of evolving “liberalism,” we now have an American education system – from pre-school to advanced degrees – that is failing in both purposes.  The United States is far from the world leader in producing the best brains in the world – and basic American values have been supplanted with a leftwing culture based on arbitrary and faux progressive paradigms.

The shift in cultural values has become a front-burner issue, pitting parents against the current education industrial complex.  While that is a critical issue – and one I visit periodically – this commentary focuses on the failure of progressive education in terms of the basics.  That refers to the body of knowledge that the American people need to maintain world leadership in science, commerce and standard-of-living.

In the wake of the latest achievement report, there has been an uptick in political and media attention – and public concern.  And well there should be.  

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card — America has suffered a historic decline in student achievement in math, science and reading across grades and groups.  The NAEP reports that there has been no student improvement since the 1990s.  And this year, America suffered a major decline in student outcomes.

Many attribute this precipitous decline to the impact of the Covid Pandemic – using it as an excuse to gloss over the longer trend.  There is some truth to the impact of Covid, but the decline has been going on for decades.  Furthermore, the alleged impact of Covid is now recognized as the result of progressive and woke policies that shut down the American education system unnecessarily – for political reasons, not legitimate health or learning concerns.

The education industrial establishment often uses artificial evaluations of school quality that are designed to mask the results of achievement testing.  During my days as consultant to the Chicago Board of Education, the union published a report alleging ”improvement” in the quality of public school education.  It was based on the morale of teachers – not student test scores.  In fact, the latter were declining.

More recently (2022), US News and World Report – in cooperation with Wharton School – published an article claiming American higher education was number one in the world, followed by Britian, Germany, Canada and France.  The survey was based on the “perceptions” of respondents – mostly associated with the education establishment – not on student test scores.

We do have recent studies based on student achievement.  And what do they show?

According to the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) – which studies reading, math and science scores in 79 nations – the United States is 38th in math, 19th in science and 13th in reading.  In the all-important math category, the top seven nations are all Asian – China, Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.  You will note that China, Macao, Hong Kong (and arguably Taiwan) are ALL China.

(As a personal footnote:  I travelled to China on business often and the one thing I observed was the government’s and the parents’ devotion to their kids’ education.  The poorest villages had schools that would be the envy of any middle-class American suburb.  Fewer school holidays.  Hours of classroom teaching are almost double that of the United States. And there is a myopic focus on basic math and science … and mandatory English.  In terms of pure numbers China is becoming the most English-speaking nation in the world.  It is also important to understand that while lawyers are the ruling class in America, the ruling class of China are engineers.  But I digress.)

Is our main interest the satisfaction of those running the schools or the students’ education?  The education establishment – along with their unions – has long opposed student testing that indicates real academic outcomes in key disciplines.  They oppose teacher testing to ascertain competence.  They protect incompetent teachers from being replaced.  The unions and the leftwing education establishment have – from time to time – promoted Ebonics for black children, shortened workdays, shortened school years, social promotion, concealment of dropout rate, lowering standards and opposition to successful charter and choice school programs.  And much more.  Instead of improving student performance, the education establishment changes (dumbs down) the evaluation of process.

Progressives currently exert massive control over the education of American children – and the curriculum.  There has been a realignment of education from the “basics” to cultural controversies that have transformed schools from loci of education to laboratories of political and philosophic indoctrination based on the meaningless and divisiveness of identity politics, political correctness and wokeness.

Perhaps the greatest and most sinister failure of public school education is in the segregated minority communities in America’s major cities.  This is not a natural outcome, but the results of sinister institutional racism that only advantages the political, union and education establishment that run those generationally failed schools. 

The education establishment mostly blames lack of funding and classroom size for the declining educational quality in America – when not blaming the parents.  Those are canards.  There is no correlation between funding and classroom achievement.  Private, parochial and charter schools consistently outperform public schools despite lower costs and larger classroom sizes.  Students – even in highly acclaimed suburban public schools – generally trend lower than their international or private school counterparts.

America has a crisis in education.  It will not be corrected by an educational established that relies on the current system for power and profit.  The most promising reform is school choice – in which parents and students can use the taxpayer resources to select the best schools without being forced into inferior or misguided education by the education lobby — and the politicians it supports.  Through competition, public schools will either improve or die off on an individual basis.  And that is a good thing – unless you believe in supporting those who have been responsible for the dangerous decline in American education. 

In researching this commentary, I came across this quote. “The legacy of the 1960s is still evident in American education today, but so are its problems.”  It implies that the legacy of the 1960s was positive. I would contend that the legacy of the 1960s IS the problem – and we are seeing the tragic results today.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.

8 Comments

  1. mike f

    Larry, I agree with you on face value, but I think that you are overlooking some things. Much has been written lately about conservative’s attempts to restrict what is taught in schools. You and I both know that what they are focusing on is meant to drum up votes from the racists and homophobes rather than do anything to make education better. If Susie knows that Mr Smith has a male partner has absolutely no effect on what little Susie is learning. And if little Johnny feels bad because white people treated blacks badly in the past, that is little Johnny’s problem because white’s did treat blacks badly in the past. You mention the differences between Chinese and American schools, and how much better the Chinese schools are. I think the difference is more the parental support that the children receive than the schools themselves. Asians (and particularly the Chinese) value education to an extreme degree, and push their children to excel (some say too much). This is true of Asians that live in the US as well. In the US, Anglo parents are more concerned with coddling their children, and particularly in conservative areas, very concerned about not teaching their children anything that might cause them to feel that the US might not be (or has always been) the greatest country in the world. Students should be taught facts, and if those are unpleasant, so be it. You also rail about inner city schools, which are bad in many instances. However, it should be noted that schools are actually worse (the worst in the country) in much of the deep south, areas which can only be described as ‘very conservative’. So there tis, the rest of the story, which you so conveniently left out….

  2. frank stetson

    I am all for Charter Schools and just suggest it all ain’t roses. Parents should vet their schools very carefully. There’s a wide range of results. On average Charter Schools are better, but the most Charter Schools are equal or worse than the average Public School. That’s a good reason to nuke public schools quite yet. Course, you can say there’s a great range in Public School performance too.

    Larry touched on part part of the reason for differing student results in this via covid virtual learning failures, Asian student success, etc. —– most student successes have successful parent involvement attached. If parents somehow thought they could seamlessly enter virtual learning 0-60 in 2 seconds without additional parental guidance and support, they were smoking something. Successful students tend to have involved parents.

    Larry says: “I derive my perspective and opinions from on-the-job experience – not from political narratives of the right or the left.” I’m from NJ, wanna buy a bridge. I think when you are a senior consultant for “charter schools” that many decades ago, you are political. Or worse given you made a buck hawking charter schools. When you call it, “Marva Collins’ Westside Prep for children trapped in the segregated ghetto,” that sure seems political because we know who you blame for the ghetto. Across my family we have Tenured Professors (top college), Public School teachers, retired College Administrators and more, and therefore I have a objective viewpoint and will not be political. About that bridge?

    Yes, US education results are bad. IMO, downplaying the covid effect and tying it to progressive teaching, liberalism, inner city segregation, indoctrination, is missing the 800lb gorilla on the table.

    “While the 1960s can be viewed as a positive pivot point for feminism, gay rights and civil rights, it was a disaster for patriotism, law enforcement, family values, work ethic … and education. In fact, the realignment of the American public-school systems away from the so-called “basics” into laboratories of social and cultural indoctrination may have been the reasons for the other corrupting trends.” That’s your opinion.

    “laboratories of political and philosophic indoctrination based on the meaningless and divisiveness of identity politics, political correctness and wokeness,“ but that’s not political? “America has a crisis in education. It will not be corrected by an educational established that relies on the current system for power and profit. The most promising reform is school choice – in which parents and students can use the taxpayer resources to select the best schools without being forced into inferior or misguided education by the education lobby — and the politicians it supports. Through competition, public schools will either improve or die off on an individual basis. And that is a good thing – unless you believe in supporting those who have been responsible for the dangerous decline in American education.” Again, more opinion and more politics.

    We get it: results are down, you conclude public schools suck, liberal democrats at fault, they destroy the schools, you must move to free market education, aka school choice, public schools cannot be fixed by Republicans and Democrats won’t.

    I do not agree that public schools are a total loss that can not be repaired. IMO, we fixed em before, we can fix em again.
    Meanwhile, yes, after many years of failure, Charter School are FINALLY, on average, somewhat better than Public Schools. On average, Charter Schools are 10% or less better that the average Public School. While on average they are better, over 50% of Charter Schools score equal to or worse than the average public school. Clearly, you just can’t throw a dart at the charter school list and come up with a winner. While the average Charter School is better than the average Public School, most Charter Schools are equal to or worse than the Public School. Matter of fact, if you use a coin toss on a Charter School selection, chances are greater than 50% that you will lose. Then there’s the nuances: charter schools that are part of larger regional organizations have better results; rural single location charter schools fare the worst.

    Not quite ready to throw the baby out with the bath water and would rather focus on helping our community by making our public schools better. Oh wait —- NJ Public Schools number 1 —– mission accomplished!!!! Wanna bet using Larry’s school competition theory that our Charter Schools are better too. Class over, let’s move on :>)

  3. frank stetson

    Point is Larry’s opinion that Charter Schools are better has been his political stance for decades. You can probably see it in his mayoral policy statements way back then. Only recently have Charter Schools upped their average results beating the public-school average. However, consistency of results is not a Charter School standard. They have a very wide range of results from school to school. Most Charter Schools are equal to or worse than average public schools. White washing that and making all Charter Schools look better, or even a majority of Charter Schools being better is not what the report says.

    I find it funny when “experts” conclude public schools cannot produce results, therefore the fix is to go around them with Charter Schools. Instead of fixing the schools, many conclude you just need to do pretty much the same thing, over there, better. And now Larry’s team is pushing not so much the results but to gain freedom from liberal indoctrination as in “political and philosophic indoctrination based on the meaningless and divisiveness of identity politics, political correctness and wokeness.“ But Larry is not political about his reasons here. (sarcasm alert).

    Wonder if some day some people might get around to how it all can be done better across the board. Or, how can we throw in the towel and migrate everyone to Charter Schools ASAP. If nothing is done to make Public Schools perform better, everyone will migrate to Charter Schools and we can just sell the Public-School assets and move on.

  4. larry Horist

    Frank Stetson. … You are correct, I have been supportive of charter schools and school choice … not so much magnet schools, but they are better than the typical inner city public school. Virtually all independent studies show that charter, choice and magnet programs out achieve public schools. Generally private and parochial schools out perform public schools. From what you write, I am not sure you understand the difference between charter, choice and magnet programs.

    As I often noted, there are very good public schools, but there are too many awful schools in the public system. And those failed schools are failing millions of kids every year — limiting their potential and condemning them to grim futures. This is especially true of the those trapped in inner city segregated ghettoes. The Affirmative Action programs for colleges was necessitated by the failure of the feeder schools in the inner cities. It was either lower the standards for admission of inner city blacks and Hispanics or upgrade the feeder schools. Obviously,
    ‘there has been no effort to improve inner city education. Those schools have been failing for generations.

    You sarcastically say that so-called “experts” conclude that public schools cannot produce results. It is not a matter of “expert” opinion, but the established facts. Blacks have been denied equal education since the days of slaver. They are still not getting it in the major cities to this day. The facts, the studies and the outcomes are proof enough. It is not a matter of expert opinion.

    Charter and choice programs have two benefits. They immediately allow students to transfer to better schools. And … they create a competiton with the public schools in the area. They either improve of go out of business. Either way the students benefit.

  5. spaceman spiff

    I have a few ideas about how to improve our educational system. I think it all goes down to going back to a system like us old farts grew up in. I was raised and educated in a suburban school system outside of Toledo, OH. I got a great education there and it’s stood me in great stead for my collegiate and professional life.
    Here are some things I think need to happen to help:
    1. Reinstate true DISCIPLINE in schools. Make sure that the staff and not the students run the place. Remove disruptive students from mainline education and relocate them to a system made to deal with troublemakers. Make sure that the names of such students are made public.
    2. Disallow cell phones to students during the school day. They are in school to LEARN, not socialize. If a parent needs to contact a student do it through the school administration like we used to.
    3. Keep students on the campus from the time the opening bell rings until the end of the last period of classes. There is very little need for kids to “go out for lunch” or whatever. Even during my high school days we were allowed 30 minutes for lunch in the cafeteria. No problem if Mom packs you a lunch, but you remain on school grounds even during lunch.
    4. Teach the students what they need to know to compete in today’s world. Kindergarten to get them used to being away from home. Elementary school to teach basics such as Reading, Writing, and basic mathematics. By 5th or 6th grade, get into local and American history and some social things like CIVICS, which is a course desperately needed in public AND private schools. Junior High and High School are the times to encourage a choice of what sort of career to follow. STEM career? Technical career such as electronics or building trades? Or whatever.
    5. Leave all but the basic ethics and morals to parents. Teach things like the Golden Rule and basic decency to others. Leave teaching about gender discovery, unconventional lifestyles and other things of the sort once again to the PARENTS to teach their kids. The schools have no business trying to pass off some educator’s personal agenda rather than hard core basics.
    6. Unless it is a religious-based school, religion should be taught only in broad terms. Be it Christianity, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, or whatever, AGAIN this should be up to the PARENTS to guide their children through this most important life guide and choices.
    7. Disallow political contributions to elections by Teacher Unions and other such public work unions. And while we are at it, a good move would be to reduce the footprint of the Department of Education. It’s just another place where the Feds are sticking their noses in where they don’t belong. Another right that is supposed to be exercised by the States rather than the Fed intruding on it.

    Enough to burn me at the stake, Frank? Hope at least some of it makes some sense. We need to get schools back on the right track. Right now, the train of education is sitting at the station without a good engineer…

    • larry Horist

      Spaceman spiff … A lot of good ideas in your response. I also think we need to go back to positive civics. That does not mean we omit the negative portions of our history, but the great American experiment in democracy as produced one of the most productive and noble national cultures in history. The positives far out weigh the negative. I think the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem should be part of the school day. I like the disallowing of campaign contributions from the teachers unions … in fact, all public sector unions.

  6. frank stetson

    Why me? Larry says no one reads me……hmmmm….

    All ideas welcome, even these…. fyi: You probably can’t disallow Union contributions UNLESS you bring down all organizational contributions, which is a good idea. People elect public servants, lifeless organizations should not hold this level of power, if any at all. Same with anything Citizens United, one of the most politicized SCOTUS decisions ever that happened in 2010 (Obama argh).

    Regarding your ideas, let the pro’s come up with them. Try —– get the scores up or you’re fired and I bet they will find the way.

    Covid and virtual are one reason it’s bad and while I blame a lot on parents, the schools are to blame for not emphasizing to parents that a flash-cut to virtual had a high risk of failure so additional support, like from parents, would be necessary to monitor, test, and correct their kid’s educational process. To expect virtual to be perfect on day one, with little testing of this technique, at this scale, is ludicrous. We believe in education in my family, our kids did not miss a beat, nor their friends.

    In the face of your suggestions, my High School was not collegebound so after flunking every entrance exam to private schools, I was shuttled off to a “liberal” public school 20 miles away. Kavanaugh country, Cadillac’s, swimming pools….. Kids ran the school, we had a voice. Attendance was pretty much optional and you could just hang in the quad all day if you felt like it. Same with course selection, roll your own pretty much. We broke almost every rule you want to enforce. Today, out of 18,000 schools, they rank 100. They are number 1 in Maryland and number 4 in all DC area schools, public and private. Pretty sure they were in that ballpark then. I can’t explain it, but we were pretty much on our own and focused on getting where we wanted to be. I profess, I was not the most studious High School student, had other issues including this commuted, but even coasting along at this school provided pretty good results.

    So I don’t really know what’s wrong or what needs to be done. Larry indicates it’s Democrats and the inner city; I think it is indeed the inner city and since much school funding is based on local property taxes, the money makes it difficult to begin with unless there are “affirmative action” budgeting programs. And if you take the Democrats out of the equation, nothing changes without someone making a change — just don’t know what that change is.

    Think you’re unsinged :>)

    • larry Horist

      Frank Stetson … You just never get the facts strait in your head. Just for the record, I was never a “senior consultant to charter schools.” I was the “senior consultant to the Chicago and Detroit boards of education. I did consult with the Friedman Foundation on “school choice.” That is different than charter schools. I have been a “supporter” of charter school.

      You make two arguments that show your lack of knowledge.

      Parents can be important, but they are not the most significant factor in producing educated kids. We have endless examples of schools that take kids from the inner city — being raised by all the bad parents you blame — and give them great educations and access to college. We have examples in every other major city. In Chicago, you had Holy Angels, Westside Prep and Hales Franciscan High School, to name a few. In the public realm, you have the Whitney Young Magnet School. Your BUSTED on blaming the parents.”

      When you talk about funding from property tax, you again miss the nuances. Frist of all, much of public school funding comes from the states and the federal government, It is by far not all property tax. Michigan too school mostly off property tax funding. But you see the real problem within the major cities’ school districts in which the SAME founding levels apply to the white schools and those in the all-black segregated schools. The quality of the education is dramatically different. That is not funding. It is racism overseen almost exclusively by Democrats in city halls. Also, charter schools often produce far better results with less money. Your BUSTED on school funding.

      Both the parents and funding arguments are canards by the politicians and the school unions. Just cover ups for their politically motivated racist policies.