Sol Stern, a contributor to City Journal and author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice, has an excellent article in that journal that is based on his two decades of writing about public schools in New York City.

Stern became interested in education through watching his children, who attended a respected Upper West Side public school. Over the years, Stern has watched the quality of public education deteriorate, a phenomenon stemming in part from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) negotiating contracts that protect lousy teachers at the expense of kids and also in part because of progressive ideas that have changed the nature of education.

If you wonder why so many young people lack the basic skills and don't know much about history or literature, Stern's article will enlighten. The teachers who taught his sons were mostly graduates of Columbia University's Teachers College and the Bank Street College of Education, and, as such, were imbued with progressive ideas that eschewed teaching "mere facts." Stern writes:

The traditional, content-based instruction that had worked so well for my generation of immigrant children from poor and working-class families was now dismissed as “drill-and-kill” teaching that robbed kids of their imagination. Progressives also rejected the old-fashioned American idea, going back to the Founders, that the nation’s schools should follow a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum that not only included the three Rs but also introduced children to our civilizational inheritance.

My kids’ classrooms became a laboratory allowing me to observe the toxic effects of putting romantic theories of child development into practice. There was no common curriculum at P.S. 87, no essential texts that students were expected to master. Most teachers invented their own lessons as they went along. My older son was lucky to have a (rare) fourth-grade teacher who believed in offering students historical facts and demanded that they read books and write formal book reports. But other teachers meandered from one subject to another, preferring that children do “hands-on” projects.

Math was neglected though some teachers did believe that math could be "politically redeeming." For example one of his son's teachers had the class use math to calculate the exact percentage of Arawak Indians on the island of Hispaniola who died because of Christopher Columbus. When Stern asked the principal why the school's name–it was the William Tecumseh Sherman High School–hadn't been used to get into studying the Civil War, the principal replied that it was more important to learn how to learn about the Civil War than to actually learn about it.

Stern quotes Virginia professor E. D. Hirsch, Jr., who has shown that it is important for children to build a knowledge base. That was the theme of Hirsch's bestseller Cultural Literacy and other of his subsequent books. Stern had long been a proponent of mayoral (as opposed to state legislative) control over city schools, but when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg asserted more control over the city schools, education did not improve because the same progressive philosophies held sway. It was more of the same.

Stern writes:

Representatives of the deputy chancellor’s office fanned out through the schools to make sure that all teachers followed the new party line. One Department of Education manual gave classroom teachers their marching orders: “Your students must not be sitting in rows. You must not stand at the head of the class. You must not do ‘chalk and talk’ at the blackboard. Your students must be ‘active learners’ and they must work in groups.” DOE inspectors visited schools to ensure that every classroom in the early grades had rugs on the floor, which purportedly helped create the “natural” conditions necessary for young children to learn.

It is Stern's contention that progressive education theories continue to deny children the educations they need and that this will not be rectified under the de Blasio administration.

Kids from affluent families may have options but for poor kids it is the public schools or else–unless there is school choice.

I heartily recommend this article.