Earlier, I mentioned how the Quantitative Revolution isÂ destroying academia (both the Marxists and the intellectuals), replacing the “ivory tower” with a scientific-academic-industrial-complex. While there is much to miss in the old way, progress is clearly served by subjecting the universities to the discipline of the market and hard numbers.
Another kind of quantitative revolution is overthrowing the traditional American public school. Traditionally, American schools were a weird hybrid of cultural assimilation, industrial socialization, and leftish fads. The public schools achieved the implied ends well, normalizing immigrants to American standards (often withÂ disastrous results), preparing a large and young workforce for the intellectual laziness of large institutions (often with disastrous results), andÂ encouraging the most observant students to turn against our history, our country, and our values (often with disastrous results).
The man who did – and is doing – more than anyone else to change this is President George Walker Bush.
Given the weirdly Old Left hue of public schools (national culture, industrial employment, illiberal value) — cutting edge for the 1930s — it was wise not to try to save it in a recognizable form. The old rulers of schools — superintendents, unions, and elected local officials – had formed an “iron triangle” of bureaucrats, workers, and politicians who were all supportive of the status quo. Defeating them required depriving the iron triangle of most of its power, turning the rulers of the classroom into more executers of a higher will.
This is what was and is being accomplished by the No Child Left Behind Act. In place of every idea that these people ever had came quality control, numbers that could be measured. What qualities are observed this year? What about next year? Why should the national government support a school if it does not meet quality requirements?
Thus the school traditions of the past are crushed by the need for numbers, reliable numbers.
While the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has some drawbacks, these should even out. NCLB obviously makes education less enjoyable for teachers, driving away the brightest and most ambitious. However the point of quality control is that you can get away with a much duller labor force. Instead of low wages and hoping to get high-quality employees, with quality control you can get low wages and employees capable of performing mechanistic tasks, such teaching to tests. Likewise, NCLB takes away time from exploratory learning which could help the most gifted. However, primary and secondary education should provide the skills needed for life, not compete with other institutions of learning. A gifted high schooler is much better off studying for CLEP or AP tests, or attending (physically or online) an institution of higher education
More proof of the NCLB’s effectiveness keeps rolling in. Stories in the past month on science and reading scores show improvement, especially among the poor, blacks, and hispanics, in places as diverse as , Florida, New York State, New York City, Washington, DC — actually, all across the nation.
Like many conservatives, I was scared of No Child Left Behind when it began. It was an anti-democratic, federal powergrab.
Fortunately, it’s worked. And it’s working.
All that’s need now is continuous tuning, making the measures better, free education of the burden of an education and ambitious labor force, and the eventual establishing of national standards which will make public education a uniform and worthwhile experience for everyone.
Update: This post foreshadows my discussion of how academia works, how science works, and normal science.