Education

Saturday, Jan 28, 2012

As long ago as the first few years of the nineteenth century it was a subject for government complaint that the ordinary people had become literate... Far from subsidising literacy, the early nineteenth-century English governments placed severe taxes on paper in order to discourage the exercise of the public's reading and writing abilities. Yet despite this obstacle, by the time government came round to subsidising on a tiny scale in the 1830s, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the people (according to one modern specialist-- see p. 164) were already literate... Moreover, the effects of the subsidies to schools were probably more than offset, in the early years at least, by the continuation of the 'taxes on knowledge', i.e. the enormous taxes on paper, newspapers, and pamphlets which were not removed until the 1850s and 1860s... The notion held by many people that had it not been for the state they or at least most of their neighbours would never have become educated is a striking monument to the belief of the Victorian lawyer, Dicey, that people's opinions and convictions eventually become conditioned by the legislated institutions they make themselves.

In the more formal or statistical evidence of literacy in the nineteenth century, the first thing that stands out is the consistency of its testimony that the ability to read was always in advance of the ability to write... and this reflected the relative contemporary demand. Ordinary people wanted to read in order to enjoy... magazines and newspapers, whereas they did not have quite the same need for writing and writing materials were expensive because of taxes upon them.

[Of pauper children] in Suffolk and Norfolk [in 1838], 87 percent could already read to some extent... a smaller proportion of them could write but even this was 53 percent. It is interesting to compare this evidence with the extent of literacy as measured by UNESCO in some countries in 1950: Portagal 55-60 percent, Egypt 20-25 percent, Algeria 15-20 percent. The UNESCO figures are percentages of the adult population, whereas the English example refers only to pauper children between 9 and 16 years.

An estimate of literacy among miners in 1840 [in Northumberland and Durham]... show that 79 percent of these miners were already able to read; also more than half of them had learned to write... largely independent of state help which started in 1833.

The Reports from the Assistant Handloom Weavers' Commissioners in 1839 indicated that handloom weavers were even more advanced. For instance, according to one inspector only 15 of 195 adults in Gloucestershire could neither read nor write. A special survey of the reading and writing abilities of the people of Hull in 1839 found that of the 14,526 adults, 14,109 had attended day or evening school and that only 1,054 of them could not read; in other words over 92 percent could read.

The statistics of literacy... [showed] a remarkable consistency between all the various surveys in different parts of the country and by different types of investigators. Second, there is evidence that the education inspectors who made some of the tests were so demanding that their figures were, if anything, underestimates.

If at least two-thirds of the working classes were literate round about 1840, how far are we to attribute the improvement of the remaining third to government intervention from that time down to 1870? ... As late as 1869, two-thirds of school expenditure was still coming from voluntary sources, especially from the parents, directly or indirectly. Even the state subsidies were derived from a tax system which was largely repressive... three-fifths of taxation fell on food and tobacco... so it is not easy to demonstrate that had the state not raised the money through taxation to subsidise the schools the total expenditure on them would have been lower.

If most people were already literate in 1870, by what means was such a feat accomplished? ... The first comprehensive official statistic on schooling were provided by Henry Brougham's Select Committee in 1820. It stated that in 1818 about 1 in 14 or 15 of the population was being schooled... In 1828 Brougham... was astonished when his findings indicated that the number of children in schools had doubled in ten years.

Who then paid for the pre-state education? It is common to point to philanthropy and the Church. But to dwell on these sources is to conceal the part played by the ordinary people themselves. If we are to believe the evidence of Henry Brougham most parents bought education by modest fee-paying.

The evidence shows that the number of years of voluntary schooling was indeed growing with those gradual increases in incomes that came with the economic growth of the nineteenth century.

Professor George J. Sitgler, who measured the kind of education which leads to increases in income-earning power of the individual, concluded that in 1940 as much as two-thirds of it was acquired not in colleges or schools by but experience and instruction within the [workplace].

The case of food is interesting. Protection of a child against starvation or malnutrition is presumably just as important as protection against ignorance. It is difficult to envisage, however, that any government, in its anxiety to see that children have minimum standards of food and clothing, would pass laws for compulsory and universal eating, or that it should entertain measures which lead to increased taxes and rates in order to provide children's food 'free' at local authority kitchens or shops... Protection against the supply of adultered food to children (or to anybody else) is effected simply by a system of inspection, reinforced by regulations, breaches of which are punishable by law... It is still more difficult to imagine that most people would unquestionably accept this system, especially where it had developed to the stage that for 'administrative reasons' parents were allocated those shops which happened to be nearest their homes; or that any complaint or special desire to change their pre-selected shops should be dealt with by special and quasi-judicial enquiry after a formal appointment with the local 'Child Food Officer' or, failing this, by pressure upon their respective representatives on the local 'Child Food Committee' or upon their local M.P. Yet strange as such hypothetical measures may appear when applied to the provision of food and clothing, they are typical of English state education as it has evolved.

Presumably it is recognised that the ability in a free market to change one's food shop when it threatens to become, or has become, inefficient is an effective instrument whereby parents can protect their children from inferior service in a prompt and effective manner. If this is so, then one should expect that the same arguments of protection would in this respect point in the direction not of a free school system where it is normally difficult to change one's 'supplier' but in the direction of fee-paying where it is easier... Voting in the market... is a process whereby the wishes of the parent are immediately and more continually expressed, for the market mechanism is, in the words of Lord Robbins, 'a continuous general election on the principle of proportionate representation.' Second, the political process allows advantages to those who can organise themselves more readily into pressure groups; and because parents are less easily organisable in the political sense than others, much of their bargaining power is reduced. Third, voting through the ballot box is much less discriminating since it is less able to avoid the necessity of large 'package deals.' For instance, the selection of a local councillor involves voting not only for what he is expected to do in education but also for his policy in housing, roads, health, sewage, etc. In contrast, the fee-paying system... nicely discriminated not only between schools or schoolmasters but also between subjects.

Present-day statistical evidence... shows that crime has increased at the same time as state education has been growing. Certainly this does not deny that crime could have grown equally or even more in the absence of state education. But scientific objectivity demands that all things should be suspect, especially where there is a positive correlation... The Crowther Committee found... that the last year of compulsory education was also the heaviest year for juvenile delinquency and that the tendency to crime during school years was reversed when a boy went to work. Not only was this a long-standing phenomenon but also when in 1947 the school leaving age was raised from 14 to 15... there was an immediate change over in the delinquency record of the 13-year olds and the 14-year olds... [one] could argue, but with less certainty, that the evidence shows a prima facie relationship in the opposite direction, i.e. that state education involved adverse external effects and aggravated or even helped to cause the prevailing trend towards increased criminal behaviour.

[In nineteenth century America,] New York State was chosen for study... For instance, in 1830 parental fees contributes $346,807 toward the total sum for teachers' wages of $586,520... In the first half of the century figures of private schooling throughout the State were hard to come by. But it will be observed that the 1811 Commissioners observed that in thickly populated areas the means of education were already provided for... The Superintendant's Report of 1830... of the city of New York... showed that of the 24,952 children attending school in the city, the great majority, 18,945 were in private schools... In the report of 1821 it was stated that the whole number of children between the ages of five and sixteen residing in the State was 380,000; and the total number of all ages taught during the year was 342,479. Thus, according to this evidence, schooling in the early nineteenth century was already almost universal without being compulsory... The Superintendant of the State himself... conceded in his annual report dated 1871 that it was rarely the case that 'parents who provide for their children in other respects, wholly neglect their education."

I reached the conclusion that on a reasonable assessment of the evidence, the behaviour of most families in the nineteenth century seems to have been much more commendable than we have often been led to suspect. What is more, it seems to have been improving with experience and with the growth of private incomes. The exceptions to this rule are always in danger of receiving such a disproportionate amount of public attention that the unwary are constantly in danger of being blinded by them. The widely read Dickensian caricatures of some nineteenth-century families, for instance, may be rich in literary appeal but in them lies the danger that they may too easily be taken as dispassionate and representative social commentary.

Gladstone warned [in 1856]: "It appears to me clear that the day you sanction compulsory rating for the purpose of education you sign the death-warrant of voluntary exertions... are we preparing to undergo the risk of extinguishing that vast amount of voluntary effort which now exists throughout the country? Aid it you may, strengthen, and invigorate, and enlarge it you may; you may have done so to an extraordinary degree; you have every encouragement to persevere in the same course; but always recollect that you depend upon influences of which you get the benefit, but which are not at your command-- influences which you may, perchance, in an unhappy day, extinguish, but which you can never create."

One would like to know how [to] allocate the credit for the most striking of all English industrial advances in the late eighteenth century which occurred despite the complete indifference of English universities and the entire absence of state education... For McCulloch argued that the economic superiority of Britain over Prussia and France was precisely due to the relative failure of their education, and it was in these very countries that centrally administered school systems did exist. Britain, on the contrary, relied on a privately supplied education.

Education and the State, E. G. West, 1965, http://www.amazon.com/Education-State-G-West/dp/0865971358/.

Altogether, my teams tested 24,000 [of the poorest] children. We started in India and moved on to Nigeria, then Ghana, then back to India, then on to rural China... On all the indicators explored, government schools, in general, performed worse than both recognized and unrecognized private schools... Class sizes were smaller in both types of private schools than in public schools. Both types of private schools had a higher... percentage of teachers teaching when our researchers called unannounced. Only on one quality input -- the provision of playgrounds -- were government schools superior... Children in both types of private schools in general scored higher on standardized tests in key curriculum subjects than did children in government schools. This remained true even when we controlled for an array of background variables, to account for differences between children in public and private schools. The higher standards in private schools were usually maintained for a small fraction of the per-pupil teacher cost in government schools... No wealthy outside agencies were assisting them. Even so, often they do better... Government school teachers were paid considerably more than private school teachers-- up to seven times more.

I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished.

Mahatma Gandhi, Chatham House, London, October 20, 1931.

The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves, James Tooley, 2009, http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Tree-Personal-Educating-Themselves/dp/1933995920.

Homeschooling grew from nearly nonexistent in the 1970s to roughly two million students in grades K to 12 by 2009... Numerous studies by dozens of researchers have been completed during the past 25 years that examine the academic achievement of the home-educated (see reviews, e.g., Ray, 2000, 2005; 2009b). Examples of these studies range from a multi-year study in Washington State (Wartes, 1991), to other state-specific studies, to three nationwide studies across the United States (Ray, 1990, 1997, 2000; Rudner 1999), to two nationwide studies in Canada (Ray, 1994; Van Pelt, 2003). In most studies, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests, compared to the national school average of the 50th percentile (which is largely based on public schools). A few studies have found the home educated to be scoring about the same or a little better than public school students.

Researchers have examined relationships between several variables and homeschool students’ achievement (e.g., Ray, 2000; Ray & Eagleson, 2008; Rudner, 1999). Examples are parent educational attainment, family income, race or ethnicity, number of years the child had been home educated, time spent in formal instruction, and degree of regulation of homeschooling by the state. A few of these variables (e.g., parent education level) are consistently associated with homeschool students’ achievement, although the relationships are often relatively weak. Several variables studied to date show no or very little relationship to these students’ achievement; examples of such variables are the degree of regulation (control) of homeschooling by the state and whether the parents have ever been state-certified teachers.

Research shows that the large majority of home-educated students consistently interact with children of various ages and parents outside their immediate family (see, e.g., Medlin, 2000; Ray, 1997, 2009b).

The second part of the socialization question asks whether home-educated children will experience healthy social, emotional, and psychological development. Numerous studies, employing various psychological constructs and measures, show the home-educated are developing at least as well, and often better than, those who attend institutional schools (Medlin, 2000; Ray, 2009b). No research to date contravenes this general conclusion.

It appears that the home educated are engaged, at least as much as are others, in activities that predict leadership in adulthood (Montgomery, 1989), doing well on their college/university SAT tests (Barber, 2001, personal communication) and ACT tests (ACT, 2005), matriculating in college at a rate that is comparable or a bit higher than for the general public (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt 2003), performing well in college (Gray, 1998; Galloway & Sutton, 1995; Jenkins, 1998; Jones & Gloeckner, 2004; Mexcur, 1993; Oliveira, Watson, & Sutton, 1994), satisfied that they were home educated (Knowles & Muchmore, 1995; Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009), involved in community service at least as much as others (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009), and more civically engaged than the general public (Ray, 2004; Van Pelt, Neven, & Allison, 2009). There is no research evidence that having been home educated is associated with negative behaviors or ineptitudes in adulthood.

Academic Achievement and Demographic Traits of Homeschool Students: A Nationwide Study, Academic Leadership Journal, 2010, http://www.academicleadership.org/392/academicachievementanddemographictraitsofhomeschoolstudentsanationwidestudy/.

Census Bureau Reports Public School Systems Spend $10,499 Per Pupil in 2009

In the study, there was an only slight relationship between the yearly cost of education (including textbooks, other teaching materials, tutoring, enrichment services, counseling, testing, and evaluation) and homeschooled student test scores. The median amount spent per child each year was $400–599.

Homeschoolers’ median family income ($75,000–79,999) closely spanned the nationwide median (about $79,000) for families headed by a married couple and with one or more related children under 18.

Homeschool Progress Report 2009, Home School Legal Defense Association, http://www.hslda.org/docs/study/ray2009/2009RayStudyFINAL.pdf.