Kids Too Dumb To Learn?

Published June 27, 2010

For the second consecutive year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is hoisting a pinata stuffed with nearly $5 billion of stimulus funds above a crowd of blind and confused state legislators. The money is part of the 6.2 percent increase in federal funding to public education. Duncan feels the federal aid is still inadequate, and on May 13 he called for emergency monies to supplement the stimulus – a bailout for a bailout, if you will.

But while federal and state governments have been increasing per-student funding year after year, student achievement (measured by NAEP scores and graduation rates) has been virtually flat. By some measures, the “achievement gap” between white and minority students has grown over time. Big city schools are academic dead zones.

How can Duncan defend even more spending while student achievement is stagnant or even falling? There are only two plausible reasons: either government schools are becoming less and less efficient at educating children, or children are being born increasingly stupid, and therefore more difficult to educate.

One fact (among many) suggests the second reason can’t be true: Private schools and charter schools are doing a much better job educating children than public schools, even after controlling for the socio-economic status of parents. If kids today are just too dumb to learn, then schools of all kinds would be struggling.

Duncan won’t admit that the problem is in the public schools – their teacher contracts, bureaucracy, political manipulation, and resistance to parental input – because that means spending more won’t work. So let’s hear him say it: Kids today are too stupid to learn! It’s their fault!

And if we fall for that, well, then we’re the ones who are too stupid to learn.

Marc Oestreich ([email protected]) is the education legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute.