Bryan Caplan  

Where Is the School of the 3 R's?

Me at Northwood University... Gerson's Confusion about Inequ...
What is the most prominent K-12 U.S. school - public or private - that single-mindedly focuses on reading, writing, and math? 

Barring that, what is the most prominent K-12 U.S. school that single-mindedly focuses on academics - reading, writing, math, science, history, and foreign language, to the virtual exclusion art, music, athletics, "citizenship," and extracurricular activities?

Please include URLs with your nominations.

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COMMENTS (18 to date)
Yaakov writes:

That is a very tough question, because an educator can decide to spend a third of the curriculum an arts to build a happy atmosphere so that children love school and therefore do better on their studies. I am not saying that is the correct way to go about things, but it is a rational choice, which I am sure many schools make.

Amy Willis writes:

This gets my top nomination: You might look at the Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins, Colorado. Though I might quibble that art and music should also be included under your "academic" heading. In that case, I'd also suggest you look at Great Hearts schools and many of the International Schools. (BASIS is predominantly charter, now with some private offerings. Great Hearts is charter, and International Schools are typically private.)

James Hanley writes:

I have no idea, but I do quibble with the exclusion of art and music from academics. I'm not in any of those fields, but I do remember my music theory course from high school, and it was distinctly academic. Even my music appreciation course was, because it wasn't just about listening to nice music, but learning how to distinguish types of music by their structures and styles--at the very least one could consider it a course in musical taxonomy.

My wife is a graphic designer, and it's a very intellectual field, reliant on understanding spatial relationships and structure, how humans actually see field and ground, and how they take in and interact with visual information.

I would consider a school academically weaker--ceteris paribus, of course--if they lacked music and arts instruction.

Taimyoboi writes:

Perhaps North Hollywood in Los Angeles:

George writes:

I'll throw in:

Phillips Exeter Academy

It's a 9-12 elite prep school. Not sure if that's what you were looking for.

Tom West writes:

I suspect that Bryan is talking about a concentration on base employment skills. Anything else would only be relevant in as much as it impacts those base skills.

From his previous posts, Bryan does not seem to be a big believer in courses that teach "reasoning" skills that are not directly relevant to the job at hand (and has papers to back him up), so he's likely looking for data to back up the uselessness of non-core learning.

While I understand the idea of wasted resources, it feels a little too Brave New World-ish to me. "Gammas are happiest not being forced to use abstract reason. Forcing them to to take courses on it is both cruel to them and wasting their resources"

I could argue Bryan's case (if I haven't mischaracterized it), but I don't think I could believe it.

Njnnja writes:

As other commentators have pointed out, the exclusion of art and music seems a little arbitrary (especially when history is included). A little more explanation about why he puts the dividing line there would be interesting.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

But to the topic, I think the only school where you could just get the 3 r's in modern America is home-school.

James Hanley writes:

Re: Tom West. If Bryan is focusing on base employment skills (which is perfectly legitimate), then I'd shift my quibble to his use of the word "academic." ;)

Not trying to bash Bryan, of course. I'm a bit annoyed, in fact, that he's going to be speaking at a university near me this week but I'm going to have to miss it because I'll be out of town.

Jeff Kumail writes:

I believe the acton academy both elementary and middle school are raising the standard for reading writing and math by helping kids learn using the Socratic method

Acton is private school and has franchised it curriculum to other across the states and Guatemala

Jacob writes:

The KIPP schools and similar high-intensity elementary and middle charter schools are as close to the "school of the 3 Rs" as you can get, I'd imagine.

The K-8 system as a whole has become much more focused on the three Rs as a result of NCLB over the last decade, which attached large incentives for (aggregate and by subgroup improvement) in reading and math tests.

Upper income schools were slower to give up on science and social studies and art, although the insane difficulty and complexity of the new testing regimes (PARCC and Smarter Balanced, both in response to the Common Core) have put even the upper income schools on the spot to improve scores. For the very reason that these new tests emphasize "critical thinking and application" of math and reading concepts, they may not be what Bryan means, however.

Floccina writes:

Catholic schools have that rep:

We wish all those who are interested in the education of the young would read what the Hon. Thomas L. James said in the New York Sun about elementary education. " There is one serious defect in the education of a large proportion of those who make up the rising generation," he wrote. " I refer to the notoriously lax training so many receive in the elementary branches — the 'three R's.' I have explained my views on this subject before, and, judging from the many commendatory letters that I have received from all parts of the United States, there is a very general agreement with my contention that a large proportion of our elementary schools are inadequate. " Every employer of clerks will verify what I say on this point. The majority of applicants for situations in the banks, the officers in the big transportation companies, the mercantile houses and other business concerns are unable to write proper letters of application. " Their handwriting is bad ; often they can not spell. The old thoroughness of elementary training, the hard digging at the work of laying the foundation of education, in the mastery of English and arithmetic and the acquisition of a clear, legible handwriting have been abandoned in too many schools. " There are exceptions, for which the country should lie thankful, and a surprisingly large number of these exceptions are found among the elementary schools conducted under the auspices of the Catholic Church. In them the former thorough teaching of the ' three R's' seems to have persisted, and while no one can be more ensiblc of the great work that the public schools
are doing than myself, I must commend the elementary methods of the Catholic schools to the public school authorities in many cities."

And if you judge from my experience it makes their schools incredibly boring!

Peter H writes:

Stuyvesant High School in NYC seems to fit the bill pretty well. Their website gives a breakdown of staff by department, which is as good a metric as any I can think of for seeing where their focus is.

They have 154 staff in academic subjects, and 23 staff in non-academic. The bulk (14) of the non-academic staff are in phys ed, which is a state requirement.

Peter H writes:

Forgot to include the URL for Stuyvesant in my previous comment. It's

I would link to the specific page with the staff numbers, but it appears to not be linkable. It is accessed through the top bar by going to Academics > Departments > Main

Underwriterguy writes:

Fioccena quotes the New York Sun from 1905. The more things change...

Mark V Anderson writes:

I strongly disagree that arts and music are part of an academic education. They are about as necessary as sports. That is, not. It is true that all work and no play make one dull, but that just means students should have breaks to do their own thing. That could mean playing video games, gossiping with friends, or art, music or sports.

There is nothing wrong with teaching skills of the arts or sport, but no one should confuse it with academics.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Probably Bronx Science:

Sure, they have music classes and athletics. But make no mistake, this is the most important science academy in the nation.

From the wiki:

"Eight graduates have won Nobel Prizes—more than any other secondary education institution in the United States[21]—and six have won Pulitzer Prizes.[22][23] Of the eight Nobel Prizes earned by Bronx Science graduates, seven of them are in physics, which earned Bronx Science a designation by the American Physical Society as an "Historic Physics Site" in 2010.[24][25]"

PS. Bronx science (8) has more Nobels than my university (which has 5 or 6 in its history).

Fabio Rojas writes:

Correction: IU has 7 Nobels... but Bronx science has more!

Tom West writes:

I strongly disagree that arts and music are part of an academic education.

'Academic' is a wishy-washy word, used mostly for political purposes, that it's pretty much meaningless, except as a bludgeon to beat one's opponents with. After all, if you aren't studying rhetoric and theology, can you really call it academics :-).

Personally, I think the presence of arts and music leads to greater student engagement which leads to greater skills mastery overall. Admittedly, I didn't care for art or music myself, but I had a wide enough circle of friends to understand that they were necessary for some.

The challenge of education is not to convey information to the student, almost any knowledgeable person can do that. It's to get the student to be willing to spend the considerable effort to learn.

That's the challenge, and failing to address that challenge is pretty much failing education in modern society.

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