Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

Columns

July 26, 2011

Will America heed warning signs from public education?

Edmond, Oklahoma — According to tradition, King Louis XV knew France was sliding toward destruction. The vibrant empire handed down by previous kings was trembling on its foundations. When his advisers implored him to take corrective action, he is said to have replied, “Après moi, le deluge” — After me comes the flood.

Some interpret this to mean Louis was content to enjoy his inheritance during his lifetime. If his failure to act responsibly wound up ruining everything for his descendants, well, too bad for them.

Louis’ comment, along with the legend that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, represents history’s indictment of those who fully appreciate the gravity of looming catastrophe, but selfishly pursue their own pleasure knowing a future generation must necessarily bear the crushing weight of their incompetence.

This is on my mind as a couple of news items suggest that America’s educational system may be trembling on this foundation. We’ve been warned.

Item No. 1: Suspicions of widespread cheating in Atlanta’s schools led to an investigation that uncovered the most extensive overflowing of institutional corruption in the history of public education. Investigators discovered that teachers and administrators in almost half those districts were fraudulently changing students’ test scores to make it appear that schools were meeting educational targets.

The trail of dishonesty leads all the way to the office of Dr. Beverly Hall, Atlanta’s recently retired superintendent of schools.

We don’t know whether this institutional fraud infects other schools in other parts of the nation. But there is something monstrous about the idea that people who play such a pivotal role in the shaping of young lives are so willing to sell their professional souls for a bunch of phony test scores.

Item No. 2: The Council of State Governments recently released a report summarizing the results of a study following the progress of every seventh-grader entering the Texas public schools for three years. The study covered nearly 1 million students from seventh-grade through high school and in some cases, beyond. It found that 31 percent of Texas students were expelled or suspended from school at least once during their middle and high school years. One in seven of these would ultimately be subject to disciplinary measures at least 11 times. Minority students were more likely “than whites” to face serious discipline.

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