Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Only “Bad People” Send Their Kids To Private School?

In Education on August 30, 2013 at 12:20 am

Ignorance is bliss if your name is Allison Benedikt.  Courtesy of a “terrible public school”, the Salon writer wrote:

I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all. [1]

True, a poor education doesn’t have to hold you back.  Ask Joe Biden.  

Her piece is aimed at the rich or upper-middle class person who sends their child to private schools to escape bad public education.  That means you, Matt Damon.  And you, Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton, et al.   Benedickt actually argues you should sacrifice your children’s future, because if no one sent their kids to public schools, you’ll, “freak out a little more than my parents did—enough to get involved.”  She says it may take a few generations (!), but eventually, public schools will have to improve.  You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!  Your children are not really your concern; sacrifice them for the greater good!

She misunderstands competition.  Communist countries offered horrific products and horrible service because the customer had nowhere else to go to.   What companies are better known for their service: monopolies like utilities or companies in highly competitive industries like restaurants?  As lousy as the Chicago Public Schools are, surely they are better for the pressure from the city’s Catholic schools, the handful of private secular schools, and even from nearby suburban public schools, which act as a magnet to draw concerned families out of the city.  If everyone abandoned all other options and settled for their local public schools, how would that make them better?  Would teachers’ unions become more responsive?  Thought experiment:  you hate the service at your local Unfriendly Groceries store.  Is the solution to take your business to the competing Friendly Grocer or to blindly stay with Unfriendly Groceries?  If you stick it out with Unfriendly, what possible incentive do it have to change? 

Would the American economy be more competitive without private schools?  Benedickt bemoans lousy public schools, like the one she attended, that don’t require students to read books, learn calculus or even offer AP classes.    Yet, her solution is to have all students attend the worst schools?  Will this help us compete in math against the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians?  Intellectual curiosity is a gift; a fine education is priceless and pays dividends throughout one’s life.  Why not foster creativity, critical thinking and intellectual passion?

Benedickt misses the important fact that students in private schooling benefit local public schools because they aren’t sitting in seats, but the funding stays.  If you put your child in, say, a Catholic school, you still pay the same property and other taxes that fund your local public schools.  But, your local public schools don’t pay a dime to educate your child.  You effectively pay twice for schooling your child.  That should be applauded, not attacked as “bad”.  Even more so, good for you for caring about your child, instead of being like Benedickt’s parents who “weren’t too worried about it.”  I would argue excellence matters.  In many instances, the local public schools are not only substandard in terms of teaching, but dangerous.  Public schools in Chicago often are violent places.  Is it wrong for a parent to want to put their children in a safer environment?  There are some very good public schools and many great private schools.  Those public schools that get it right should be commended and their dedicated teachers rewarded.   Bad public schools should be reformed or shut down, not rewarded with blind allegiance.

Lastly, Ms. Benedickt’s argument is irrational; she is both saying that lousy public schools don’t matter (“your child will probably do just fine”) and yet, she says it matters that public schools are lousy, therefore you should care.  She contradicts herself.  Do bad schools matter or not?  Which is it?  I’d say bad schools matter, unfortunately.  

With the wacky arguments you used against effective private schools, Ms. Benedickt, perhaps a woeful public education did hold you back!



How Much Should American Students Study? Ask China & India

In Education, Immigration on September 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Is the SAT test too tough?  Are American kids buried under too much homework?

We can look at American math and science secondary school educational attainment, which suggest a system-wide failure.  Another factor  we can consider is to compare ourselves to the two largest nations, India and China.  Their college entrance exams are taken far more seriously than most Americans take the SAT.  I share below anecdotal tales from actual Indian and Chinese MBA students I’ve known.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal includes a 1,200 word piece looking in detail at the difficulty of the Indian and Chinese university entrance exams. The article is free, there is no paywall barrier.  [1]   Statements like “Good luck finding a place in the [Peking University] library” should catch American attention.

India’s top engineering programs are world elite, the Chinese have committed to creating a “C9” League on par with the US Ivy League.

At the Indian Institute of Technology…we met Shriram, a 21-year-old man who ranked 19 out of 485,000 on the school’s very demanding entrance exam…

The exam—and the preparation for it—dominated his teenage years. He was singled out as a “big talent” at an early age, with an aptitude for mathematics and science. To get ready for the IIT entrance exam, he enrolled at a private coaching institute that prepares students with aggressive drilling in the major testing areas—physics, chemistry and math. Over those two years, Shriram estimates that he studied 90 hours every week.

When Shriram arrived at the IIT, he found a class filled with academic superstars. The faculty has high expectations. On the first math exam, his freshman class received an average grade of 30%. Shriram did poorly too but soon bounced back, sacrificing sleep so that he could study. “All my life I wanted to be here,” he says. “I knew that if I could go to IIT, major in engineering, work and study hard, my life would be perfect. I would marry a beautiful girl, start a company, help my country advance and deliver on my family’s hopes and dreams.”

My Master’s is from the University of Chicago and a number of classmates earned their undergraduate degrees from Chinese and Indian colleges.  In my time there, one of the largest feeders of Chicago MBA students were the campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology.  I was impressed with their talent for quickly grasping complex financial theorems and economic concepts, given their backgrounds in science.


At a ten-year graduation reunion last fall, I spoke with a number of alums.  The topic of American education came up.  One Indian-American first emphasized his appreciation of the American economic system and the freedom here.  But, he said, in a bit of an undertone, Americans don’t understood our position.  He and his wife, though living in a pleasant American suburb we would consider home to “good schools,” pulled their daughter out of the town’s public school.  The reason?  To home-school her, not for religious reasons, but because they believe American schools are too soft.  Since the alum graduated from a top Indian school before graduating from the University of Chicago and advancing into a very successful career, I think his opinion is worthy.

Other alums from China and India expressed similar feelings that native-born Americans simply do not work hard enough.  One alum, who manages people, said he believes many Americans hold these values not just in school but in the work world, where many  feel “entitled” to a job.  He expressed that there are many, many people worldwide who would be willing to work much harder than many of us, if they could enjoy our living standards.

The rejoinder to the assertion Americans should study more and complete additional hours of homework is that there is more than rote memorization to learning.  This is true.  The linked WSJ article points out the World Economic Forum rates 81% of American university graduates as (many of whom are actually students from other nation’s primary and secondary systems) being immediately “employable”, compared to 25% in India and only 10% in China. 

The argument against the Chinese system is that it is primarily focused on rote memorization of knowledge compared to original thought and innovation.  The Indian and, especially, the American universities are superior in original thought.  Thus, countless hours of memorizing chemistry tables may not create the next Silicon Valley inventor.  Still, is the Chinese focus on memorization actually worse than an American student’s after hours viewing Keeping Up With the Kardashians in lieu of homework?

This analysis also shows the obvious value of immigration.  Driven, gifted students graduate from high schools and top universities in India, China, Korea, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  They will go into engineering and science careers somewhere.  Why not allow them to bring their talents here, working for a Google or Apple, rather than having them living and working in Asia for HuaWei, Samsung or other competitors?

Comments are always welcome.  Do you agree?  Pictures of IIT campuses from Wikipedia Commons.