Who Schooled the Senate?

By Malbert Smith III, Ph.D. and Andrew Ashley

As in all elections, we tend to divide candidates up with binaries, such as Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Establishment/Outsider. Yet, another binary we could use is Publicly/Privately educated. As we sit mired in an election cycle where the nation’s public schools, the Department of Education, and the cost of college tuition come under scrutiny, we decided to examine how members of the U.S. Senate were educated in high school. We also looked at the education of the candidates for U.S senate races this cycle who hope to unseat the sitting senators.

Despite many reports on the profession, ethnicity, gender, military service, and age of the 114th Congress, a neglected variable has been how many members attended public or private schools during their K–12 education. In order to shed light on this, we decided to research where senators graduated from high school. In the aggregate we found that 74 senators attended public school and 26 attended private school. The number of senators who attended private school is considerably higher than the national average. According to the 2010 census, approximately 1.3 million students went to private high school out of the 16.16 million students attending high school across the nation. This means that about 8% of the country is going to private high schools, considerably lower than the Senate. And thirty years ago it was similar a trend. According to the 1980 census, 9% of high school students were in private schools. Of the 44 Democratic senators, 29 graduated from public high schools while 15 graduated from private ones. Republican senators have a higher concentration of public school graduates, as 43 Republican senators graduated from public high schools. Eleven Republican senators graduated from private schools.

Some senators even attended the same high school. Senator, and Democratic primary presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders (VT-I) and Senator Chuck Schumer (NY-D) both attended the James Madison High School, a public high school in Brooklyn, New York. Senator Patrick Toomey (PA-R) and Senator Jack Reed (RI-D) both attended the private La Salle Academy in Providence Rhode Island. Though neither set were in high school at the same time.

Of the 16 members on the Senate subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education we found that 12 attended public schools. Four attended private schools.

Perhaps more striking than whether senators graduated from public or private high school, however, is how many senators choose to send their children to private schools. Members of Congress are considerably more likely to send their children to private schools than the national average. The Heritage Foundation has monitored congressional children’s education for many years. According to the 2009 report (Burke, 2009), 55% of U.S. senators sent all their children to public school. However, 45% sent at least one child to private school. This is relatively similar among Democrats and Republicans as, in the 2009 survey, 43% of Democratic senators sent at least one child to private school while 47% of Republican senators did so. As Catherine Cushinberry states, as quoted in a recent article in the Atlantic, not being a public-school parent still amounts to a detachment from the laws regarding education one hopes to make.

We expanded our search to examine where the candidates for U.S. Senate in 2016 went to school. While we could not find information on every candidate, as many are newer to the public limelight and their high school education has not yet been reported (and some primaries have not finished at the writing of this article), we were able to glean the education of 24 of the 31 candidates (for 26 senate seats). Overwhelmingly, the candidates have public education backgrounds. Of the 24 candidates, only five candidates graduated from private schools. Of these, Evan Bayh (IN-D) graduated from the prestigious St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. while his father served in the senate for Indiana; Chris van Hollen (MD-D) graduated from the Middlesex School, a preparatory school in Massachusetts where his grandfather taught, while his father served as U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives; and  Katie McGinty (PA-D), Jason Kander (MO-D), and John Caroll (HI-R) all graduated from catholic schools in their hometowns..

During this quest, we discovered finding information on senators schooling can be cumbersome. Finding information on all 100 sitting senators was difficult and for this reason we did not look into the 435 members of the House of Representatives. We believe it shouldn’t be so arduous to track down this information. As members of the 115th Congress convene in January of 2017 and begin to debate and craft educational legislation, we would encourage them to disclose their K-12  educational experience. The public’s confidence in our elected members would only be enhanced by such transparency.

Math Circles Help Develop Students’ Problem Solving Skills

At MetaMetrics, we get excited when we see enthusiastic students and educators in our community! Just down the street from our offices is exactly what you can find on Saturday mornings: students, parents, and educators working together to solve challenging math problems as part of the Chapel Hill Math Circle headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is a math circle? A math circle is a group of students of any grade level coming together to share their passion for math through exploring challenging math problems or special topics. Math circles benefit students by providing the chance for them to solve unfamiliar problems in unique ways. In traditional math classrooms, students often learn a new skill and then immediately apply that skill to a set of practice problems. This process does not give students the opportunity to determine which mathematical concept or solution strategy should be applied to a given problem. In math circles, students see problems out of context from classroom instruction, which helps them develop the ability to solve problem, make arguments, critique others’ reasoning, and persevere through difficult tasks.

In the Chapel Hill Math Circle’s beginning group, students in first- through third-grade solve problems such as this one:

A male parrot and a female parrot are talking. The one with a yellow tail says, “I’m a boy.” The one with a blue tail says, “I’m a girl.” If at least one of them is lying, who is who? Explain your answer.

This is an example of the type of problems the advanced group of high school students would solve:

A polyhedron is made up of pentagons and hexagons. How many pentagons must there be? Prove that no other number of pentagons is possible.

These problems are designed to solicit deep thinking and require students to try multiple solution strategies, collaborate, propose and test conjectures, and communicate ideas using valid mathematical arguments. At the end of the school year, the math circle concludes with a Julia Robinson Math Festival, a full day of problem solving, games, and prizes, all related to math!

For more information about math circles, including how to find a math circle near you or how to start your own math circle, visit the National Association of Math Circles at https://www.mathcircles.org/. For more information specifically about the Chapel Hill Math Circle and the corresponding Triangle Math Teachers’ Circle that provides professional development for local teachers, visit https://chapelhillmathcircle.org/. For more information on the Julia Robinson Math Festival, visit http://jrmf.org/.


Photo Courtesy of the Chapel Hill Math Circle

Can Pigeons Read?

Reading as we know it comes from two important elements. One is the ability to decode, which is a trait known to humans and how we use language. While some studies have been used to see how well animals can learn this skill, like speaking (the most infamous maybe the work of the Communication Institute of St. Thomas founded by the illustrious anthropologist Gregory Bateson and neuroscientist John Lilly that attempted to teach dolphins to speak to humans), this is often considered a singularly human trait.

The other element is known as orthographic knowledge, or the ability to detect words. It turns out, this may be an ancient evolutionary trait, shared with species as distant as pigeons. A joint team of scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, determined that pigeons can be taught to recognize certain words. They also could learn to detect patterns to possibly identify words from non-words. Pigeons could learn to detect as many as 58 words. However, pigeons are far less adept at learning vocabulary as other primates, like baboons. Baboons could understand, on average, 139 words, to the average pigeons 43.

In short, to say that pigeons can read is a rather a truthful hyperbole. This amazing research, however, does demonstrate that pigeons and many other species quite separate from us have some of the essential building blocks that allowed our ancestors to create language. Hopefully, further research will illuminate what else such a connection may mean for the development of language.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.