From the Associated Press:

Apparently the truths in the Declaration of Independence aren't so self-evident.

When Rep. Roger Wicker asked high school seniors in his Mississippi district to name some unalienable rights, he got silence. So the Republican congressman gave the advancement-placement history students some help.

"Among these are life," Wicker said, "and...."

"Death?" one student said.

Wicker is sponsoring a bill to improve civics and U.S. history instruction.

I'm not hopeful. The AP story focuses on social studies teachers at the National Education Association convention in New Orleans. They're saying the same old stuff:

So teachers try to find a way to make history contemporary, to make a civics lesson out of a struggle students care about. Like fighting for a skateboard park or the right to wear hats in school. In short: any lesson they'll take with them.

"I always tell my students: If I see you in the grocery store five years from now, I will not measure my success on can you tell me Hamilton's financial plan, but can you tell me if you voted," Meredith Elliott, an American studies teacher in Utah, said during a round-table discussion at the NEA convention. "If you answer yes, then I've succeeded as a teacher."

The bar is set way too low. Why not aim for informed voters? Informed about more than how to agitate for privileges.

D>B

At one Nashville high school, 29 percent of students who earned a B in algebra flunked the state algebra test; at two magnet schools, 100 percent of D students passed. Grades aren't reliable indicators of performance, reports the Tennessean.

Writing from Nashville, Bill Hobbs critiques the coverage, pointing out that Tennessee now awards college scholarships to students with a B average (or a 19 on the ACT), encouraging teachers to inflate the grades of borderline students.

A second-day story reports that ACT scores don't match grades. (The ACT is an SAT alternative that's somewhat easier for students without strong verbal skills.) At one Nashville high school, C students average higher ACT scores than A and B students at five other schools.

A low ACT score can jeopardize a student's chance of making it through college.

While state figures show that students with an A average have up to a 75 percent chance of graduating from college, the companion ACT data are more alarming. Students with the state average of 20 have only a 40 percent chance of earning a college sheepskin, while it takes a 33 to boost the odds to 71 percent.

As Bill writes, low skills -- not low ACT scores -- hurt students' chances to make it through college. It's the education, stupid.

Easy In, Easy Out

Racial preferences -- overt or disguised as credit for overcoming adversity -- are creating an academic sham, writes John Perazzo in FrontPage Magazine. Blacks with below-average test scores get into colleges, but can't compete. Often they fail to graduate.

In the University of Washington’s (UW) 1995 freshman class, the raw admission rate for blacks was 96.6 percent, as compared to 78.5 percent for Asians and 74.4 percent for whites. These figures were in the precisely inverse order of the students’ actual academic qualifications. For instance, black freshmen had scored 80 points lower than whites on the verbal SAT exam, and 140 points lower on the math SAT. . . . the percentage of 1995 freshman who eventually graduated within six years was 70 percent for whites, 65 percent for Asians, and a mere 29 percent for blacks.

No doubt some of the blacks who didn't make it would have succeeded at less prestigious, less competitive campuses that attract less prepared students. It's awfully hard to start out so far behind.

Affirmative Action for Baathists

From a Christian Science Monitor story on the attempt to de-Baathify Iraqi university faculties:

Students whose parents were Baathists automatically received extra points on exam scores. Admission forms had a spot marked "Friends of Saddam," a bonus based on the family's position in the party hierarchy. It could determine entry into a good school.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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