Public schools aren’t bad

Surprise, surprise, surprise—private schools aren’t better than public schools, and private schools run by conservative Christian organizations are the worst.

The federal Education Department reported Friday that, in reading and math, children attending public schools generally do as well as or better than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private-school children did better.

The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools in 2003, also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools when it came to eighth-grade math.

The report separated private schools by type, and found that among private-school students, those in Lutheran schools did best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst. For example, in eighth-grade reading, children in conservative Christian schools did no better than comparable children in public schools.

In eighth-grade math, children in Lutheran schools did significantly better than children in public schools, but those in conservative Christian schools fared worse.

I wouldn’t take this as an uncritical endorsement of the public school system, though—this report could also be interpreted as saying both public and private schools are doing just as poorly at educating kids, and all could use substantial improvement.

I am surprised a bit by the fact that more private schools weren’t getting better test scores for one specific reason: selective admission. Private schools do have one sneaky edge over public schools in that they have more power to reject problematic children, while the public schools are obligated to make an effort to educate everyone. Maybe what this shows is that if you try to use economic advantage as a filter, rich kids aren’t necessarily smarter than poor kids, and if you use ideology as your filter, Jesus-freaks aren’t smarter (and maybe dumber) than kids with a ho-hum attitude towards religion. It may also mean that private schools have a whole different set of problems than do the public schools.

Anyway, the key thing is that these data show that there is no gain to be had from privatizing education, or worse, moving to ‘faith-based’ education. We can be aware of problems in the public schools, but we have to realize that switching to vouchers or otherwise ripping more money from the schools to support private efforts won’t fix them.

(via Atheist Revolution)

Hmmm. No wonder the Religious Right are enemies of higher education

Look at this chart: it purports to show the percentage of ‘born-again’ Christians who abandon their faith after attending various categories of colleges. My first thought was, “Good, now how can we get those numbers higher?”; I’m sure that most fundies feel what the author of the chart intended, absolute horror at the idea that sending kids to college is the equivalent of shipping them off to an eternity of hellfire.


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I’m in the right lane, headed for work


Less than two weeks until classes begin again, and it’s time to juggle syllabi, attend meetings and workshops, and scoot the kids off to school. I’m making another airport run tomorrow to pick up Skatje, whose vacation is ending. Next week, I get to deposit Connlann back in Madison (I didn’t do the traditional knife fight last year, but I like Bérubé’s idea of just booting him out the car door during a rolling stop—could I catch up on tradition if I then throw a bunch of knives after him?) This week I’ve got a division meeting, various campus-wide events, and next week it’s the faculty retreat.

And then, classes. I’m teaching part of our introductory biology course again (syllabus is done, my lectures are all ready to go for that one, and developmental biology…which would be ready to go, except that I added a new supplemental book to the course this year, and need to work up how that’s going to be integrated into the lectures. It’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), by the way—I think it’s going to fit in perfectly.

Almost there

Georgetown College in Kentucky has ended its affiliation with the Southern Baptists after the Baptists tried to dictate that a new hire be a biblical literalist. The Baptists wanted nonsense like this:

“You ought to have some professor on your faculty who believes Adam and Eve were the first humans, that they actually existed,” Dr. York said.

They also refused to allow the college to hire more than 25% non-Baptist faculty, and what may have really been the deal-breaker is that the university’s enrollment is less than half Baptist…so insisting on strict adherence to the principles of a minority denomination was probably costing them students. I suspect money is more important than doctrine.

I was surprised and impressed by this comment:

David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory, put it more starkly. “The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education,” Professor Key said. “In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you’re searching for truths.”

He’s almost there. Now we just have to work towards the day the word “religion” is substituted for the too narrow “fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form”.

(via Socratic Gadfly)

Jerry wants you!

A reader sent along this tempting job offer.

Job Title General Education: Biology
Date 6/1/2006
Min Salary $2,100.00
Max Salary $3,500.00
Job Type Contract Part-Time
Job Description


Faculty compatible with a young-earth creationist philosophy to teach general education Biology courses.

It’s from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, of course. Doesn’t it make you want to jump up, drop whatever you’re doing, and enter the exciting world of academia?

Aside from the demand that you teach biology as if the world were 6000 years old and with complete neglect of any research and evidence acquired in the last two centuries, I should mention that the salary offer isn’t that absurd. This is fairly typical for non-tenure-track college instructors: a university will give you a few thousand bucks to teach one course for a term. It’s your job to accumulate a living wage by gathering multiple contracts, which may be from scattered universities. You won’t get any benefits, you typically have no say at all in faculty governance, you’re treated like a peon, and there’s absolutely no job security.

Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be adjunct professors.

Last call for DonorsChoose from Pharyngula (I promise!)

This is the very last time I’ll be haranguing you about the scienceblogs fundraiser for schools—I’ve reached my goal of $2000 and doubled it! Reaching that goal was not enough to fund all of the projects, though, and there are four remaining that could use additional donations.

If those projects don’t appeal to you, click on over to Evolgen (challenge),

Island of Doubt (challenge),

Neurotopia (challenge), or

The Questionable Authority (challenge), who all also have challenges that haven’t been met yet.

I won’t be pestering you again, so this is your last chance; I have to admit that the generous readers of Pharyngula dug deeper than expected, and I don’t want to impose further. Thanks again!

IMPORTANT ADDITION: I’m sorry to say that DonorsChoose only accepts donations from Americans, so if you’re Canadian or European or Australian or Brazilian, you (and by that I mean “we”) are out of luck. It seems to me that they’re missing out on a golden opportunity: if they advertised this as a chance to improve US education, the money would come pouring in from all over the world. People respond well to the need to help the less fortunate overcome calamity.

Good teachers don’t have it easy

Via Coturnix, here’s an extremely depressing resignation letter from a public school teacher. I’ve seen this kind of thing a few times now: our problem is that the public schools are being treated as little factories, where you push kindergarten kids in at one end, and a dozen years later an adult with an education pops out. A high school diploma is regarded as an entitlement rather than an earned acknowledgment of ability, and what that means is that administrators tend to lower their standards and be extremely lenient about the behavior and skills of both students and faculty. Even where there are great teachers and first-rate students, they are getting swamped in the rising tide of permitted nonsense.

After all, if all the voting public cares about is your graduation rate, it’s easy to keep that high: just hand out diplomas to kids for showing up.

DonorsChoose status report

I’m a bit stunned, people. I set up my DonorsChoose challenge to raise money for teachers with a goal of $2000, and we gave ourselves two weeks to raise that much. It’s the second day of the fundraiser, and my readers have contributed $3,967.80, and fully funded 7 of the 12 proposals. Seriously, I’m feeling a bit like Dr Evil; I put my pinkie finger to the corner of my mouth, asked for the huge sum of two thousand dollars, and laughed maniacally at my arrogance…and you people shrugged your shoulders and just came through with the cash. I am impressed.

Thank you all very much.

If anyone else wants to contribute, there are still underfunded proposals, and Janet has been our central coordinator, and has a list of other challenges through the Seed scienceblogs consortium.

Don’t delay, donate!

We have received most excellent news from Seed: notice that challenge bar to the left, where I (and many other science bloggers) are asking you to donate to public education? We’re doing great—my challenge has gathered over a thousand dollars so far, all to help out teachers and schoolkids—but now Seed has announced that they will match the total donations, up to $10,000. Double your money!

I’ve set a goal of raising $2000 for teachers, but I’ve got a dozen projects listed, and they’re going to need more than that if all are to be fully funded. If I hit the goal, don’t stop—you can keep contributing. Janet has a list of the other participants, too, so if you want to spread the joy around some more, check out the others.

Oh, and everyone should shout out, “Yay, Seed!” right now. It’s the right thing to do, even if it startles other people in the office or coffee shop.

Help teachers!

The scienceblogs crew is pushing a new charity for the next few weeks: an outfit called DonorsChoose, which collects funding requests from teachers and tries to match them up with people willing to pass along a few dollars. They have a long, long list of teachers looking for help in their classrooms; what we sciencebloggers have done is picked a subset of the requests that each of us like and grouped them into a challenge. My challenge contains a dozen science-related requests, and now my job is to beg you, the readers of Pharyngula, to take a look at them and if you can, kick in a few dollars to help them out.

If you look to the sidebar on the left, you’ll see a status bar showing how close we are to funding those requests. It’s at a pathetic 0% right now, but it would be nice to see it fill up.

I said that a lot of us here at scienceblogs are doing this; Janet has a complete list, so if you’d rather help out one of the other blogs meet their goal, please do. All that matters is that teachers get help, not which of us helps out.

Also, there will be a random drawing at the end of our efforts, and donors have a chance of winning various small tchotchkes. Again, Janet has the details, including the list of fabulous prizes.