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One man’s opinion challenges U-46 practice
By Seth Hancock
Is School District U-46 putting too much emphasis on following educational dogmas?
L. Dean Hufsey, of Elgin, addressed the Board of Education during public comments at its meeting on Monday, July 23. Hufsey spoke on the education of minorities based on the work of Thomas Sowell who is an economist and senior fellow with the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank out of Stanford University.
In a policy paper titled “The Education of Minority Children,” Sowell wrote about his research of successful minority schools in Washington, D.C., New York and New Orleans. He researched extensively on Dunbar High School in D.C. with nearly a century worth of data studied.
“The common denominator among these successful schools studied was work and discipline,” Hufsey said. “Aside from this common denominator, these various schools had little else in common. Some were public, some were private, some were secular, some were religious.”
Hufsey added: “Some of the most successful schools with minority students, the parents role has been that of giving moral support to the school by letting their children know that they’re expected to behave and learn.”
There are no excuses for poor academic results according to Hufsey, but political motivations in the American educational system have incentivized failure.
“History shows what can be achieved in the face of adversity, and we have no excuses for achieving less in the present era of greater material abundance and greater social opportunities,” Hufsey said. “But today, within the politics of education, Dr. Sowell points out bluntly ‘failure attracts more money than success.’”
Sowell wrote: “Politically, failure becomes a reason to demand more money, smaller classes, and more trendy courses and programs, ranging from ‘black English’ to bilingualism and ‘self-esteem.’ Politicians who want to look compassionate and concerned know that voting money for such projects accomplishes that purpose for them and voting against such programs risks charges of mean-spiritedness, if not implications of racism.”
The percentage of minority students in U-46 is 72.3 percent according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) report card, and 61 percent have been labeled as low-income. Those numbers have been used as talking points by the district to argue for more state funding, but the ISBE’s data shows that more money has not equated to better results in U-46.
In nearly all ISBE metrics, numbers have gotten worse in U-46 with the number of freshmen deemed on track to graduate showing one of the largest drops from 96 percent in 2014 to 81 percent in 2017. The ISBE numbers show that per student spending has increased by $2,434 from 2012 to 2016, all the years available on the report card.
Sowell wrote that “fashions prevail and evidence is seldom asked or given” in today’s educational system.
Hufsey’s comments likely stemmed from recent conversations had in U-46, the most recent being a Student Code of Conduct update which changed nearly half of the 50-page document. That change was approved by a 5-2 vote, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no, in June.
Prior to that vote, Hufsey said: “The teacher responsibilities are to maintain orderly classroom behavior and then teach content in basic core subjects. Student responsibilities are simply to behave and learn. It doesn’t take 50 pages of type-written script of which 32 percent is a glossary to explain that.”
According to John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, the district has a “positive discipline philosophy” with a focus on “relationships and community above rules and regulations.” The district’s goal from the code changes is to produce equal outcomes rather than equally enforcing the policies.
Ward argued at the time that the code was full of “undefined, subjective terminology and unaccompanied by objective academic standards.” Members of the board majority who voted for it offered no justification for the changes.
Sowell said in a 1993 interview that what is being pushed today is affective education which is the idea that “you can somehow educate people’s feelings rather than to educate their intellect and the problem is that most public school teachers have no such qualifications, if anyone has such qualifications. But certainly they are not psychiatrists or psychologists. They have no idea of the emotional turmoil that may be stirring up in the students.”
The education establishment tries to “alienate the child from the parent” by undermining their values according to Sowell, and he thinks “that’s the most dangerous things they do.”
The educational dogmas Sowell describes in his policy paper mirror many of the same arguments that have been made by U-46’s administration and board majority such as a need for so-called “adequate funding” and a need for smaller class sizes. Sowell said the evidence does not support those dogmas, including at Dunbar.
“During its heyday, Dunbar was starved for funds and its average class size was in the 40s,” Sowell wrote. “Its lunchroom was so small that many of its students had to eat out on the streets. Its blackboards were cracked and it was 1950 before the school had a public address system. Yet, at that point, it had 80 years of achievement behind it-- and only 5 more in front of it.”
According to Sowell’s research, the successful majority black schools he studied did not have an “Afrocentric” curriculum and had rigorous classes that included Latin and Greek, and the schools included some that were all-black and some all-white staffs but its “whole focus was on expanding the students’ cultural horizons, not turning their minds inward.”
“The biggest secret is that there are no secrets, unless work is a secret,” Sowell wrote. “Work seems to be the only four-letter word that cannot be used in public today.”
Sowell added: “The point here is not to say that this is the only viable approach. The point is that the social visions of the day have not been essential ingredients in educational success.”