Category: Teresa Mull

Why Government Schools Are Unsustainable


I have a handful of friends who are teachers.  Gathering with them over the weekend and hearing about their experiences was eye-opening.

One of my friends teaches at a traditional public school in an impoverished area.  He makes a better than average salary but is completely disenchanted by the experience and plans to quit the profession altogether after this school year.  He has raised his students’ proficiency rate to 90 percent – a remarkable accomplishment made possible by his dedication and hard work.  Yet he receives little support from his principal and barely any backup from the students’ parents, and his day is so consumed by paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense that he’s overwhelmed, frazzled, and exhausted much of the time.

Another friend teaches at a private Catholic school.  Though he teaches almost twice as many classes as the public school teacher I know and earns about half his salary, the private school teacher enjoys his work much more.  His principal is supportive, his fellow teachers are enthusiastic, and the parents and students are engaged in the educational process.  It’s a positive, rewarding workplace environment.

Then there are the charter schools.  My Catholic schoolteacher friend told me many people he knows prefer to send their children to their local parochial schools for a religious education, but since quality charter schools are available in the area, they go with the free option instead.

The private school-charter school debate is complex, but it’s obvious that the traditional government school system is broken.  The very way it has been set up makes its demise inevitable.  Its doom is a matter of not “if,” but “when.”  How many students have to suffer and fail before its ultimate downfall becomes reality?

My friend who teaches at the public told me about a truly heartbreaking situation in his classroom.  A 13-year-old he instructs in the 5th grade (5th-graders are usually 10 or 11 years old) can’t read a single word.  He was held back one year, then passed out of protocol and on through to higher grades, despite having to sign his name with an “X” because he is almost completely illiterate.  My friend told me that failing a student once is all that’s allowed at his government-run school.  And as the boy’s teacher, he’ll have to give the student a 70 grade and pass him, even though the student does none of the class or homework assignments.

What will become of this student? I shudder to think.  His life, at best, will likely be made up of minimum-wage jobs.  At worst, homelessness and crime.  My teacher friend doesn’t know what to do about such an extreme case, and the school district doesn’t care.

This circumstance is just one of thousands of similar cases taking place all across the country every day.  The “pass ’em through” mentality of many education administrators who care more about getting funding for their own interest than they do about students results in illiterate 13-year-olds in the 5th grade, many of whom then end up perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime.  The disheartened, frustrated teachers see their efforts to make a difference fail at the hands of a defective system, and fewer qualified people are attracted to the profession.  What we’re left with is the dregs of the education community, who don’t care about teaching, do a poor job at it, and continue producing generations of uneducated children who often contribute little, if anything, to their communities.

It can’t continue.  Sooner or later, the public school teaching profession will be empty.  No one will be crazy enough to want to step into a classroom environment that is effectively set up for failure.  So few students will be armed with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the real world that the future taxpayer base will dry up, and there will be no one left to fund the welfare state on which they’ll all depend.  Or perhaps parents will become so fed up with the current dysfunctional system that lawmakers will have no choice but to hear and respond to families’ cries for education freedom.

I pray it’s the latter.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at the Heartland Institute.

I have a handful of friends who are teachers.  Gathering with them over the weekend and hearing about their experiences was eye-opening.

One of my friends teaches at a traditional public school in an impoverished area.  He makes a better than average salary but is completely disenchanted by the experience and plans to quit the profession altogether after this school year.  He has raised his students’ proficiency rate to 90 percent – a remarkable accomplishment made possible by his dedication and hard work.  Yet he receives little support from his principal and barely any backup from the students’ parents, and his day is so consumed by paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense that he’s overwhelmed, frazzled, and exhausted much of the time.

Another friend teaches at a private Catholic school.  Though he teaches almost twice as many classes as the public school teacher I know and earns about half his salary, the private school teacher enjoys his work much more.  His principal is supportive, his fellow teachers are enthusiastic, and the parents and students are engaged in the educational process.  It’s a positive, rewarding workplace environment.

Then there are the charter schools.  My Catholic schoolteacher friend told me many people he knows prefer to send their children to their local parochial schools for a religious education, but since quality charter schools are available in the area, they go with the free option instead.

The private school-charter school debate is complex, but it’s obvious that the traditional government school system is broken.  The very way it has been set up makes its demise inevitable.  Its doom is a matter of not “if,” but “when.”  How many students have to suffer and fail before its ultimate downfall becomes reality?

My friend who teaches at the public told me about a truly heartbreaking situation in his classroom.  A 13-year-old he instructs in the 5th grade (5th-graders are usually 10 or 11 years old) can’t read a single word.  He was held back one year, then passed out of protocol and on through to higher grades, despite having to sign his name with an “X” because he is almost completely illiterate.  My friend told me that failing a student once is all that’s allowed at his government-run school.  And as the boy’s teacher, he’ll have to give the student a 70 grade and pass him, even though the student does none of the class or homework assignments.

What will become of this student? I shudder to think.  His life, at best, will likely be made up of minimum-wage jobs.  At worst, homelessness and crime.  My teacher friend doesn’t know what to do about such an extreme case, and the school district doesn’t care.

This circumstance is just one of thousands of similar cases taking place all across the country every day.  The “pass ’em through” mentality of many education administrators who care more about getting funding for their own interest than they do about students results in illiterate 13-year-olds in the 5th grade, many of whom then end up perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime.  The disheartened, frustrated teachers see their efforts to make a difference fail at the hands of a defective system, and fewer qualified people are attracted to the profession.  What we’re left with is the dregs of the education community, who don’t care about teaching, do a poor job at it, and continue producing generations of uneducated children who often contribute little, if anything, to their communities.

It can’t continue.  Sooner or later, the public school teaching profession will be empty.  No one will be crazy enough to want to step into a classroom environment that is effectively set up for failure.  So few students will be armed with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the real world that the future taxpayer base will dry up, and there will be no one left to fund the welfare state on which they’ll all depend.  Or perhaps parents will become so fed up with the current dysfunctional system that lawmakers will have no choice but to hear and respond to families’ cries for education freedom.

I pray it’s the latter.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at the Heartland Institute.



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Why School Choice Will Continue to Grow in Popularity


National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual event that celebrates education choice, has been smashing attendance records year after year. This year’s NSCW is “estimating about 6.7 million people to participate in a record-breaking 32,240 celebrations,” Watchdog.org reported recently. “The organization said there have been more than 58,000 events planned across the U.S. and around the world since 2011.”

Families embrace school choice for many reasons. Our nation is composed of millions of diverse children with various needs, interests, and abilities, and our government school system works about as well as giving all Americans an ibuprofen tablet and expecting it to cure maladies ranging from cancer to diabetes to athlete’s foot.

Not only is the one-size-fits-all approach ineffective at teaching students with unique learning methods, it’s also inherently prone to corruption and waste, which hurts you, the hard-working taxpayer. When an institution is handed funding (and lots of it) year after year, as is the case with public schools, it has no reason to strive for improvement or use the money prudently.

The Chicago Tribune reported this week, for instance, that “Chicago Public Schools employees ‘stole or misappropriated’ thousands of dollars worth of school-purchased gift cards that were intended to be used as incentives for students and families, according to an annual report from the district’s inspector general.

“In one case, a principal of a school for vulnerable students stole presents of at least ‘$500 in gift cards that were donated to the students and were intended to help address their specialized needs,’ Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s office found,” reported the Tribune. “The same principal gave to an acquaintance 30 new backpacks filled with school supplies that had been donated, according to Schuler.”

Too many government school employees care too much about themselves and their own pocketbooks, and not enough about the children they’ve been hired to teach. Their self-interested attitudes are evident in the ever-decreasing academic achievements of U.S. students, who increasingly lag further behind their international peers.

Parents are fed up, and citizens are sick of seeing their tax dollars go toward funding a broken system employing greedy, incompetent bureaucrats. More people, as proven by the astounding growth of NSCW, are realizing that school choice works.

A 2016 EdChoice survey found, “A whopping 93 percent of parents who enroll their children in an Indiana private school through one of the state’s school choice programs were at least ‘somewhat satisfied’ with their private school, while 81 percent of school choice parents said they were ‘very satisfied.’”

The results are the same across the country, too. Families sign up on long waiting lists and make enormous sacrifices to have the chance to participate in school choice programs, because they know it provides opportunities the traditional government-run schools can’t.

Families shouldn’t have to back up their desire for education choice with data and research supporting them to gain access to educational freedom, but unfortunately, such is the political climate of the United States. The next time you hear an anti-choice advocate claiming ZIP-code mandated schools are the pinnacle of U.S. education, consider how idiotic (and awkward!) it would be if we expected everyone to get the same kind of haircut, wear the same style and brand of shoes or jeans, or drive the same car.

School choice will grow in popularity as government schools continue to fail to meet the unique needs of families as well as burden taxpayers. Families have spoken, and they will continue to make their demands for school choice heard, until their deafening cries for education freedom are too loud even for progressive politicians to ignore.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute. 

National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual event that celebrates education choice, has been smashing attendance records year after year. This year’s NSCW is “estimating about 6.7 million people to participate in a record-breaking 32,240 celebrations,” Watchdog.org reported recently. “The organization said there have been more than 58,000 events planned across the U.S. and around the world since 2011.”

Families embrace school choice for many reasons. Our nation is composed of millions of diverse children with various needs, interests, and abilities, and our government school system works about as well as giving all Americans an ibuprofen tablet and expecting it to cure maladies ranging from cancer to diabetes to athlete’s foot.

Not only is the one-size-fits-all approach ineffective at teaching students with unique learning methods, it’s also inherently prone to corruption and waste, which hurts you, the hard-working taxpayer. When an institution is handed funding (and lots of it) year after year, as is the case with public schools, it has no reason to strive for improvement or use the money prudently.

The Chicago Tribune reported this week, for instance, that “Chicago Public Schools employees ‘stole or misappropriated’ thousands of dollars worth of school-purchased gift cards that were intended to be used as incentives for students and families, according to an annual report from the district’s inspector general.

“In one case, a principal of a school for vulnerable students stole presents of at least ‘$500 in gift cards that were donated to the students and were intended to help address their specialized needs,’ Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s office found,” reported the Tribune. “The same principal gave to an acquaintance 30 new backpacks filled with school supplies that had been donated, according to Schuler.”

Too many government school employees care too much about themselves and their own pocketbooks, and not enough about the children they’ve been hired to teach. Their self-interested attitudes are evident in the ever-decreasing academic achievements of U.S. students, who increasingly lag further behind their international peers.

Parents are fed up, and citizens are sick of seeing their tax dollars go toward funding a broken system employing greedy, incompetent bureaucrats. More people, as proven by the astounding growth of NSCW, are realizing that school choice works.

A 2016 EdChoice survey found, “A whopping 93 percent of parents who enroll their children in an Indiana private school through one of the state’s school choice programs were at least ‘somewhat satisfied’ with their private school, while 81 percent of school choice parents said they were ‘very satisfied.’”

The results are the same across the country, too. Families sign up on long waiting lists and make enormous sacrifices to have the chance to participate in school choice programs, because they know it provides opportunities the traditional government-run schools can’t.

Families shouldn’t have to back up their desire for education choice with data and research supporting them to gain access to educational freedom, but unfortunately, such is the political climate of the United States. The next time you hear an anti-choice advocate claiming ZIP-code mandated schools are the pinnacle of U.S. education, consider how idiotic (and awkward!) it would be if we expected everyone to get the same kind of haircut, wear the same style and brand of shoes or jeans, or drive the same car.

School choice will grow in popularity as government schools continue to fail to meet the unique needs of families as well as burden taxpayers. Families have spoken, and they will continue to make their demands for school choice heard, until their deafening cries for education freedom are too loud even for progressive politicians to ignore.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute. 



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Let's Put an End to the Left's Myths about the Liberal Arts


The study of the liberal arts is increasingly becoming passé. Schools are encouraged by government grants to infiltrate the classrooms with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and computer science instruction, creating a generation of programmable techies who are proficient at clicking but not at thinking.

As a frequent cellphone and computer user, I certainly do appreciate technological advances. What bothers me, however, is that government is involved in persuading schools what to teach and telling students what to study. I’m also disturbed by the consistent naysayers who dismiss studying the humanities as some frivolous, artistic venture that contains about as much value as Kim Kardashian’s views on the Gulf War. As someone who majored in the liberal arts, I can say that’s absolutely not true.

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal just published a very interesting piece titled, “Liberal Arts Education Is Not (Necessarily) a Waste of Time.” In the article, George Leef points out, “The liberal arts can be a practical education, but at too many schools there isn’t much education going on in their programs.”

Leef retells a story of a student who was considering studying history at Harvard, but when the student’s parents found out, was told the liberal arts are “a house of pain.” Leef explains there is a prevailing perception that those students who study “history, literature, philosophy or anything else that doesn’t have a clear occupational path is just throwing away years of school time and a great deal of money. Focus instead,” people say, “on practical subjects that might at least lead to a job after college.”

My theory is that the “liberal arts is a waste of time” rumor was started by a bunch of progressive elites afraid of what might happen when people, especially young ones, started to develop their own conclusions instead of drinking the Kool-Aid served to them at government schools controlled by liberal, big-government types.

You may think such a claim is right-wing nonsense, or even silly, but before completely dismissing the idea, consider the following: First, liberals control the overwhelming majority of higher-education institutions in America, and yet many of them are the ones dismissing liberal arts and suggesting it’s useless. Second, liberals’ philosophy hinges on everyone working together like little cogs in a giant machine, an idea that fits well with advancing STEM, but doesn’t make much sense with the liberal arts. Third, liberal arts hinges on studying the classic thinkers of Western Civilization, most of whom the left has dismissed as racist, misogynistic, greedy, or homophobic.

In short, the liberal arts is a giant roadblock on the path to socialism, so why wouldn’t the left want to undermine it?

What about the claim there isn’t “much education going on” in most liberal arts programs anymore? What’s happened? I attended (shameless plug alert) the University of Dallas (UD), a small liberal arts Catholic college known for its core curriculum. At UD, for about two years students don’t choose any of their own classes. They’re required to complete pretty much all the same courses in literature, theology, philosophy, art, science, history, and language before they can begin to focus on higher-level classes specific to their majors.

“Our curriculum,” UD’s website says, “is based on a core that emphasizes the pursuit of truth and virtue in the classical Western tradition and the importance of academic rigor.”

How can the “pursuit of truth and virtue” have been diluted to such a point that those who make it their focus in college are, upon graduation, considered virtually unemployable? Philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” theology the study of God, yet these studies — once considered the purpose of human existence — are now looked at as mere frippery that’s not worth anyone’s time (unless you went to Stanford).

How can someone who has mastered the theories of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, as well as the history of Gaul, the nuances of Shakespeare, and other similar topics once considered to be essential, be worthless? Surely such a mind is capable of more than a narrow focus, yet such is the predominant and well-crafted misconception about liberal arts majors.

The truth is, liberal arts majors are not ill-equipped as employees and doomed to a life on food stamps. Wilson Peden wrote in Fortune magazine in 2015 (and backed his excellent article up with lots of data), “For the last time: No, earning a degree in English, philosophy, art history, name-your-humanities-discipline will not condemn you to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty… Persistent or not, the myth of the unemployed humanities major is just that: a myth, and an easily disproven one at that.”

A 2014 report from InsideHigherEd similarly reported, “Over the arc of a career, humanities and social science graduates earn as much or more than those in professional fields, new study shows, and are equally employed.”

The Wall Street Journal agreed. As did Time. And CNN. Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post in 2015, “America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous,” proclaiming, “This dismissal of broad-based learning… comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future.”

“Broad-based learning” is being dismissed because of an ever-deepening infiltration of left-wing radicals, who, like the public K–12 teachers unions folks, see academia as the perfect place to sink their teeth and finagle the future to their evil wills. Liberal professors outnumber conservative ones 12 to one. Even the straightforward, fact-based realm of engineering is not safe from these rabid manipulators.

The bottom line is this: The liberal arts are valuable. They’re beautiful and necessary. They have, however, at many colleges and universities, been perverted by people looking to advance their own ideological agenda — one that is nihilist at best and fascist at worst. But students drawn to the examination of truth, beauty, and goodness ought not to fear. You’ll enjoy college. You’ll find a job. You’ll make good money. You won’t be liberal. And you’ll be just fine.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute. 

The study of the liberal arts is increasingly becoming passé. Schools are encouraged by government grants to infiltrate the classrooms with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and computer science instruction, creating a generation of programmable techies who are proficient at clicking but not at thinking.

As a frequent cellphone and computer user, I certainly do appreciate technological advances. What bothers me, however, is that government is involved in persuading schools what to teach and telling students what to study. I’m also disturbed by the consistent naysayers who dismiss studying the humanities as some frivolous, artistic venture that contains about as much value as Kim Kardashian’s views on the Gulf War. As someone who majored in the liberal arts, I can say that’s absolutely not true.

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal just published a very interesting piece titled, “Liberal Arts Education Is Not (Necessarily) a Waste of Time.” In the article, George Leef points out, “The liberal arts can be a practical education, but at too many schools there isn’t much education going on in their programs.”

Leef retells a story of a student who was considering studying history at Harvard, but when the student’s parents found out, was told the liberal arts are “a house of pain.” Leef explains there is a prevailing perception that those students who study “history, literature, philosophy or anything else that doesn’t have a clear occupational path is just throwing away years of school time and a great deal of money. Focus instead,” people say, “on practical subjects that might at least lead to a job after college.”

My theory is that the “liberal arts is a waste of time” rumor was started by a bunch of progressive elites afraid of what might happen when people, especially young ones, started to develop their own conclusions instead of drinking the Kool-Aid served to them at government schools controlled by liberal, big-government types.

You may think such a claim is right-wing nonsense, or even silly, but before completely dismissing the idea, consider the following: First, liberals control the overwhelming majority of higher-education institutions in America, and yet many of them are the ones dismissing liberal arts and suggesting it’s useless. Second, liberals’ philosophy hinges on everyone working together like little cogs in a giant machine, an idea that fits well with advancing STEM, but doesn’t make much sense with the liberal arts. Third, liberal arts hinges on studying the classic thinkers of Western Civilization, most of whom the left has dismissed as racist, misogynistic, greedy, or homophobic.

In short, the liberal arts is a giant roadblock on the path to socialism, so why wouldn’t the left want to undermine it?

What about the claim there isn’t “much education going on” in most liberal arts programs anymore? What’s happened? I attended (shameless plug alert) the University of Dallas (UD), a small liberal arts Catholic college known for its core curriculum. At UD, for about two years students don’t choose any of their own classes. They’re required to complete pretty much all the same courses in literature, theology, philosophy, art, science, history, and language before they can begin to focus on higher-level classes specific to their majors.

“Our curriculum,” UD’s website says, “is based on a core that emphasizes the pursuit of truth and virtue in the classical Western tradition and the importance of academic rigor.”

How can the “pursuit of truth and virtue” have been diluted to such a point that those who make it their focus in college are, upon graduation, considered virtually unemployable? Philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” theology the study of God, yet these studies — once considered the purpose of human existence — are now looked at as mere frippery that’s not worth anyone’s time (unless you went to Stanford).

How can someone who has mastered the theories of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, as well as the history of Gaul, the nuances of Shakespeare, and other similar topics once considered to be essential, be worthless? Surely such a mind is capable of more than a narrow focus, yet such is the predominant and well-crafted misconception about liberal arts majors.

The truth is, liberal arts majors are not ill-equipped as employees and doomed to a life on food stamps. Wilson Peden wrote in Fortune magazine in 2015 (and backed his excellent article up with lots of data), “For the last time: No, earning a degree in English, philosophy, art history, name-your-humanities-discipline will not condemn you to a lifetime of unemployment and poverty… Persistent or not, the myth of the unemployed humanities major is just that: a myth, and an easily disproven one at that.”

A 2014 report from InsideHigherEd similarly reported, “Over the arc of a career, humanities and social science graduates earn as much or more than those in professional fields, new study shows, and are equally employed.”

The Wall Street Journal agreed. As did Time. And CNN. Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post in 2015, “America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous,” proclaiming, “This dismissal of broad-based learning… comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future.”

“Broad-based learning” is being dismissed because of an ever-deepening infiltration of left-wing radicals, who, like the public K–12 teachers unions folks, see academia as the perfect place to sink their teeth and finagle the future to their evil wills. Liberal professors outnumber conservative ones 12 to one. Even the straightforward, fact-based realm of engineering is not safe from these rabid manipulators.

The bottom line is this: The liberal arts are valuable. They’re beautiful and necessary. They have, however, at many colleges and universities, been perverted by people looking to advance their own ideological agenda — one that is nihilist at best and fascist at worst. But students drawn to the examination of truth, beauty, and goodness ought not to fear. You’ll enjoy college. You’ll find a job. You’ll make good money. You won’t be liberal. And you’ll be just fine.

Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute. 



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