Homer Nods—Lou Dobbs Drops Immigration Ball
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[Previously by Norm Matloff: Oakland's Bilingualism - No Americans Need Apply]

Lou Dobbs is the only major TV journalist to speak out forcefully on the offshoring issue, which I very highly appreciate. But boy, he REALLY missed the mark last week—in two different senses.

On February 16, he ran a segment on a California school which is, believe it or not, offshoring its tutoring to India. You'll see the details below, but what was really startling and profoundly disappointing was that he actually approved of this offshoring. His reasoning was, well, the schools are doing such a bad job that in this case the offshoring is justified.

  • Dobbs Blunder Number One:

Come ON, Lou! Do you REALLY think that the only people qualified to tutor these fifth-graders are in India?! What about all those laid-off American engineers you've correctly talked about in the past? They can't do fifth-grade math? They don't know the word "ocean"? And there are TONS of other Americans who could do the job.

The industry lobbyists have found again and again that all one has to do to turn the brains of journalists and members of Congress to mush is Push the Education Button. The lobbyists have the public believing the schools are in such bad shape that they'll believe anything the lobbyists tell them.

Well, it just ain't so. As I (and others) have explained before, the fact that American kids look only mediocre in international comparisons of math and science scores, relative to kids in Asia, is that the U.S. must deal with a large and neglected underclass. The test scores in states like Utah, Iowa and Nebraska, which don't (yet) have a large underclass population are similar to those of the top Asian countries.

And by the way, the biggest offshoring countries, India and China, refuse to participate in those international test comparisons.

  • Dobbs Error Number Two:

But here is the kicker: That Santa Barbara school profiled in Dobbs' piece is 96.3% Latino! One hundred percent of the kids participate in the Free/Reduced Price School Lunch Program. Some 66% are considered English Learners.

(See here and here).

Those kids are overwhelmingly from impoverished, non-English speaking immigrant families—many here illegally. In other words, those kids are probably almost all from the underclass.

Dobbs has railed against overly high levels of immigration. But he can't recognize the problem when he sees it.

So this school that Dobbs points to as being symptomatic of the problems of American schools is actually symptomatic of the problems we have with immigration.

What a sad irony.

The Dobbs team really dropped the ball on this one.


Aired February 16, 2005 - 18:00 ET


Kitty Pilgrim reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And one of those you can eliminate right away, right?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This fifth-grade class at Franklin School in Santa Barbara, California, gets extra help online—from India. It's a pilot program the school is testing out to help students meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

CAROLE COWAN, [send her mail] PRINCIPAL, FRANKLIN SCHOOL: Having to meet the federal No Child Left Behind requirements was definitely something—a reason why we considered taking advantage of this pilot. After receiving some dismal test results, we knew that we needed to emphasize science instruction more here at Franklin School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So please go ahead with Number 3 here.

PILGRIM: Instruction online from India is becoming more common for students in America and not only in the classroom. Indian company Career Launcher offers tutoring help via the Internet for U.S.-based students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well done. Perfect.

PILGRIM: Tutors in New Delhi work in the middle of the night to account for the time difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen this word before?

PILGRIM: Sylvan Learning Center has been helping students get through tough subjects with one-on-one instruction for 25 years.


PILGRIM: They're soon going to offer that extra attention online also with tutors based in the United States. The program starting in response to parents and students' requests for the convenience, but also because more students are asking for help.

WENDI THOMPSON, SYLVAN LEARNING CENTER: That increase in inquires has just been incredible because these kids have so much more pressure on them to perform better that they don't have the basic study skills they need. So it's just been—really all of our programs in general have gone up.

PILGRIM: Educators and tutoring companies are reporting an explosion in tutoring requests. They expect it to grow, partly because schools and students are trying to meet the new federal guidelines, partly to fill the void left by two working parents.

And now even the instructors can be out of the house, even thousands of miles away, in India.


PILGRIM: Now there are a few companies in India hoping to take advantage of opportunities created by the No Child Left Behind requirements. Many educators agree that there will be much greater demand for tutoring as children and parents try to meet those new standards—Lou.

DOBBS: I probably would shock some people by saying that, in this instance, I'm not sure this is outsourcing, and, if it is, I probably would approve of it because it gives an opportunity to lots of people to have an access to tutoring and to improve the education of the children. At the same time, it's a damn shame that our schools aren't doing the job for those students in the first place.

PILGRIM: I think you can say a plus and minus on it. Math is particularly applicable for this because math skills can be translated easily via computer. So it's very good for math, actually.

DOBBS: Fascinating story. Thank you very much, Kitty.

Norm Matloff (send him email) is a professor of computer science at the University of California at Davis, a Chinese speaker and remarkable one-man crusade against Silicon Valley's debauching of the high-tech labor market.

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