Quality Control for Head Start

Does Head Start actually give poor children a head start in school? We don't know. Each local program evaluates itself based on its own criteria, often favoring social and emotional development over school readiness. Long-term follow-ups show no lasting benefit from Head Start.

The Bush administration is going to evaluate 4-year-olds in Head Start to see if they're learning language skills, which they'll need to develop reading skills. The data will let federal officials evaluate the effectiveness of local Head Start programs.

Here's a shock. Head Start directors hate the idea, reports The Washington Post. The experts claim it's impossible to test young children — or to teach pre-literacy skills to poor kids.

Last year, the administration began the early-childhood initiative by promoting literacy seminars for local Head Start officials, many of whom said they were pressured to learn and use techniques that they didn't want or need.

Critics say promoting literacy over other services that develop a child's social and emotional well-being is counterproductive because Head Start children are unable to focus on learning their ABC's if they are burdened by other troubles.

I think anybody who thinks their students can't improve their language skills in a year of pre-school should get out of the pre-school business.

Head Start serves children from very low-income families. If these kids can't learn till their family problems are solved, we might as well write them off from the start. Don't bother with Head Start. Don't bother sending them to school. They're always going to be burdened by other troubles. And they'll grow up to be a troublesome burden to others if teachers don't teach them the skills that other kids learn at home.

Some local directors, who asked not to be identified, said they feared that federal officials would use data from the new system to eliminate programs that don't do what they want.

God forbid that the federal government stops funding a program that doesn't do what it's supposed to do. What a horror!

The End of Social Studies?

Historians are struggling with social studies teachers over control of school curriculum, reports Education Week. And the historians seem to be winning.

"Everyone pays lip service to history, but the content has largely been ignored," said Theodore K. Rabb, a history professor at Princeton University and a founder of the National Council for History Education, based in Westlake, Ohio. Social studies proponents, he said, "have become about process, and we're about content. The way the curriculum has evolved, we learn about Indian cooking one week and Chinese cooking the next."

Education Week credits a Weekly Standard article, Anti-Social Studies with influencing the debate. In response, the National Council for the Social Studies has mounted a public relations campaign to sell the idea that social studies "creates effective citizens."

Berkeley Professor Disses Marxism!

Pretty much by accident, Mean Mr. Mustard ended up in a Berkeley political science class on Marxism and Fascism in the Far East. To his shock, the professor doesn't think Marxism is "errant humanism." Here's a quote from the course description:

In effect, the course will not be conducted in a politically correct manner — which means that some students may find the treatment offensive. If you are among those who cannot tolerate alternative opinion, who feel that any departure from the prevailing folk-wisdom of Ethnic Studies or left-wing posturing is objectionable — do not take this course.

This . . . is a course predicated on the conviction that students have not been trained to think coherently, rationally and empirically about the modern world. It conveys non-standard opinions, which you are not required to accept, but with which you must deal.

Political Science Professor A. James Gregor warns prospective students that the class may create "intrapsychic tensions among those who are irretrievably leftist."

Yes, this is Berkeley, California.

Poor Africans Choose Private Schools

In Africa and India, private schools are booming in villages and city slums, writes James Tooley in The Spectator. Poor parents scrape up the money for tuition, knowing private schoolmasters will show up every day and teach. The government system isn't accountable to anyone.


Hate math? Then skip it — with a note from the doctor. An Italian girl with mathphobia was allowed to pass to her senior year in high school, despite flunking math. The student does well in other subjects, and has no career plans that involve math or science. USA Today reports:

Her lawyers said she suffers from an "irreversible psychological pathology" — basically, math phobia — a condition the court said made it impossible for her to successfully study and master the subject.

Well, if Italian schools think understanding math isn't necessary for students who don't like it, fine. Make it optional. Otherwise, expect an epidemic of mathphobia.


Mary Jackson from Forth Worth, Texas, writes:

You hit the nail on the head in your column. As a veteran teacher in various classrooms from self-contained classes for emotionally disturbed to regular reading classes in a low-income, predominantly minority school, I can attest to this kind of burnout. I was the fifth teacher of an eighth grade reading class. I started in January. By week four, I completely understood what happened to the other four teachers. Fortunately, due to past experience with very difficult students, I was able to complete the term. Students, particularly at this inner-city, low-income African-American school, generally rule the roost and have very few consequences for any misbehavior in the classroom. It takes a person with absolutely no experience (therefore, they don't know students can act differently) or someone with an extreme gifting in fortitude to endure a teaching atmosphere such as this.

Kristy Dickens of Georgia writes:

Your article is the reason I do not teach in a public school environment. I have a passion for teaching. I feel it is one of the most important jobs in our society, however I feel that cases like this are all too common. Teachers are handcuffed by poor teacher education programs that teach plenty of ivory-tower theory and very few real classroom skills, administrations that enforce policies designed to keep lawsuits at bay rather than educate students and a political system that constantly vilifies teachers and schools in an effort to gain votes. Teachers who have a passion for teaching either find places where teaching is possible, or burn out and quit. The sad thing is that for all the trouble this causes teachers, just think what it is doing to our nation's children. It breaks my heart that it's their futures being flushed down the drain.

Janet Orf of Worrenton, Mo., writes:

I have experienced this lack of discipline in the schools as the parent of a child who was being singled out by a bully. The teachers simply stood by and watched as this child screamed profanity at my daughter and threw an eating utensil at her in front of a cafeteria full of students. They did nothing to intervene or to report the incident to the principal.  Perhaps they knew they would receive the same response from the principal that I did, which was to be told that his hands were tied. The child's parents were uncooperative. Eventually I took my child out of that school and home schooled her until high school. In retrospect, I think I should have filed charges against the child for assault, but that was before bullying was recognized by the law enforcement community as a serious threat. Perhaps if the parents of these unruly children faced potential charges against themselves or their children, instead of a possibly lucrative (and ludicrous) settlement, we could regain a safe and nurturing learning environment for the children whose parents know the value of education and discipline.  Our educators (both teachers and administrators) could do their job without the fear of unreasonable retribution. I agree that these problem children should be removed from the mainstream and that we should find a way to hold their parents accountable for their actions.

Dennis Moore writes:

In my part of the country, we have a small minority population — around zero in all but the largest schools. We also have a large low-income population. Trust me, "poor white trash" problem children are as unruly and combative as what you see in inner cities. The main difference is we don't have the population density amplifying the problem.

Gene Rossi writes:

I agree that teachers need to be able to be more effective and need to have control in their classrooms. By allowing bad behavior, we have created an atmosphere where kids who desire to learn cannot do so. About home-schooled kids, the research shows that they do develop good social skills and score higher on state testing.  Academically, they are more prepared for higher education. I wish I could home-school. I believe my child would get a well-rounded education.

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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