Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Cost of Education

I have recently been looking at the education system in America, and the picture is not a pretty one. I don't want to seem particularly negative here, but this is where I see the education system of the US today:
  • Government regulations at the state and federal level stifle discipline, creativity, competition, and prevent any real effort at improvement.
  • Taxation that creates funding levels that should provide plenty of financial support (my local school district in Toledo spends over $10,000.00 per pupil, per year); but never seem to provide enough (even with supplemental income provided through the state-organized gambling more commonly known as The Lottery).
  • Local governments that seem to be in bed with the Teacher's union. With the two of them feeding off of each other in a rather disgusting bit of symbiosis, resisting any change in the failed status quo of education.
  • Teacher's unions doing what unions do best, getting a better deal for their members, even if it at the expense of "the children".
  • Teachers' contracts with more twists and turns than the Monaco race track and rivaling the tax code for sheer bulk and complexity.
  • School boards that are handcuffed by the federal regulations on one side and the contracts that they have signed in the past on the other; who have become at best apathetic, and at worst corrupt.
  • Parents who won't or can't take enough time to find out what's actually happening in the schools that there children attend, but complain about their children's education and what they have to pay for it.
  • Kids who can't excel in the current system, either because we don't measure success or are unwilling to accept the achievement of the few as being unfair to the rest.
  • Kids who fail in the system and are knowingly passed along anyway as a self-esteem issue, allowing a small failure to snowball into a lifetime of ignorance and illiteracy.
  • The small part of the system that is working (privately funded education, either through religious based schools, home schooling, or charter schools) being written off or demonized in spite of their successes.
The sheer momentum that has been allowed to build up over the years is like a super tanker with a crazy, drunken captain (can we all say Exxon Valdez?). It can't slow down, stop, or even change direction without a huge amount of effort; and that effort will never be made because the one at the controls has lost his mind and is out of control himself.

Now I grew up in the dark ages, when all children were forced to walk to school in the snow year round, up hill, both ways. Actually I am a product of a mostly Catholic education. Eight years of Catholic grade school, three years of Catholic High School, and year of Catholic College (DePaul, for those interested). The interesting part of this personal process is that I spent my freshman year (9th grade) in a public high school. The lack of discipline, disinterest of the teachers, 'dumbing' down of the curriculum, and time wasted following federal mandates almost ended my ability to be educated right there and then. It took me three years of fairly intense effort, while being challenged at an unprecedented level, to bring my GPA back up to a respectable level. Even then, the damage done caused me to place 17th in my graduating class. (Of course this is when we competed for such things instead of simply patting every student on the fanny.)

It was only in the disciplined and rigorous environment of parochial schools that I found the framework necessary to excel at learning. It was only in an environment that separated students by their ability to learn that I was able to be exposed to a curriculum not designed for the lowest common denominator. It was only when I was able to be challenged by knowledge outside of the basics and allowed to stretch myself to the limits of my abilities that I was able to discover what they were and how much fun learning could be. Now my experience may not be typical, but I suspect that it could be. Likewise, I don't have all of the answers for the ills of the public education system; but it is obvious that as analogies go, this patient is hanging on by life support. Only drastic change will hold any hope of bringing it back from the deaths-edge coma that it is in.
So here are my solutions:
  • Abolish the NEA and every other federal bureaucracy that has to do with education. This is far too important to allow the government to experiment in more failed social dynamics. The only way to understand and serve the needs of a community is to put the process back in the hands of the community that the process serves.
  • We need to get the government bureaucracy, the constant regulation, and union restrictions out of education entirely. Too much of the money that could be spent on education is spent on administration instead. Eliminate the paperwork that shows compliance with government rules and regulations and the people required to fill it out and put the money spent back into true education, and you cannot help but make the process more efficient.
  • Take taxation of of school funding. It is unfair and tantamount to theft to charge people for services that they do not need or receive, even in the common good.
  • Give people back this tax money and let them purchase the education for their children that they want. Let public and private education compete on a level playing field and "the children" cannot help but be the winner.
  • We need to put parental choice back into the education process, choosing the amount and the type schools that they want for their children. Who knows better than they what the talents and abilities of those children are, and by what right do we choose to usurp it.
  • We need to bring back classroom discipline and competition. No one can learn to succeed without facing and overcoming challenges. They provide true self-esteem and life lessons that will serve them well in their future.
  • We need to separate children in school based on their ability to learn. As painful as it might be to their egos, we cannot hold all students back in the name of equality and fairness. Those who can learn more should be given the opportunity to do so. Such an opportunity is their right in a free society and that society will benefit from it.
  • We need to build schools to be run like businesses, which in fact they are. They are businesses that provide a valuable service, but need to be held accountable for the service that they provide like any other.
  • We need to hire and pay teachers well, but like the employees of any other business, hold them accountable for the job they do. Pay scales should be based on ability and performance, not the number of their degrees or their tenure in service. Let teachers compete for better pay like the rest of the world and they and their students will benefit.
The true cost of education is not that of the value of the money we spend on it, but the futures that we jeopardize by doing it improperly. We need to step up and take control of the ship before it's too late. In case you hadn't noticed, there are icebergs ahead.


1 comment:

theirishtwin said...

Surely you knew I would stick my two cents in where education is concerned!
The educational system in not broken irrevocably, but it is certainly battered and bruised. There are many parties involved in this "assault with intent to kill".
The federal government has long made promises that it never intended to keep. The federal government has long made mandates (requirements/services) on the educational system and agreed to pay the states 100% of the cost for providing these. Some of these, just to mention a few, are ELL (English Language Learners) classes and services for non-English speaking students, SPED (Special Education) services for handicapped, children with learning disabilities, tutoring, speech/language, etc.(also including gifted programs, which continue to be cut to fund the others), Free/Reduced Breakfast and Lunch programs, and on and on ad nauseum. After ordering these mandates, and agreeing to provide the funding to the states, they walked away and have never paid more than 17% of the bill any year since they began. This goes on year after year, and no one does anything about it. On the other hand, we have earmarks stuck on every bill that goes through Congress to fund more important things like the "Bridge to Nowhere" or building a museum to honor the inventing of Ketchup or some other stupid thing! (I love Ketchup, or Catsup, as much as the next person, but a museum?) Billions and billions of dollars in mandates every year! People talk about Social Security? Take a look at the education system if you want to see a crime!
Next we have teachers! Young and movtivated new teachers come out of college every year, and most are done teaching within three years! They are so burned out by the system, the lack of a decent wage, the behavior of students, the lack of backbone in the school districts, and the lack of parent support, that they end up going back to school to get an additional degree outside of the education field. The dedicated teachers who hang in their are reaching the retirement age and will soon be gone. Others who are left should have never been teachers to begin with. Not a bright outlook!
Next in the pecking order are students. Many students now come to school because they have to and will do as little as possible while there. They will text on their phones;speak disrepectfully to teachers and staff;start fights;steal other classmates cars, calculators, purses, bookbags, shoes, etc.;bully; threaten violence (and more often then not, follow through on that threat); and basically do anything but study. They don't do homework because "they're too tired", don't pay attention in class, don't sleep enough or eat properly. The kids who actually come to school to get an education are so limited by those around them, that they are forced to dumb down, shut down, and finally become one of the many. It's a tough roe to hoe!
Last, but most certainly not least, we have parents! Now I am a single parent and I worked as my kids went through school. I still found time to volunteer at the school, attend sporting events, get to know the teachers and my kid's friends-basically participate in the education system. Today, many parents want to send their kids to school and want them to come home when it's over and don't want to hear about it PERIOD! If their kid is failing academically or socially, it's the teachers fault, the school's fault, the School Board's fault, anyone but their child's fault, or God forgive, the fault of poor parenting. Some are afraid of "parenting" because if they do try to discipline thier child in any way, their child can pull the "children's services card" or someone else will. (It's a real threat. Parents who want to parent can't because other people keep interferring in what should be normal parenting practices!) Parents who do participate at the schools are so overwhelmed by the need and the lack of help that they burn out by the time their oldest child hits 4th grade.
The first step to fixing the educational system has to start with the home. Be a parent, don't be your child's friend. They have friends, they need a PARENT! Two, be a responsible parent and hold you child responsible. If he/she is failing, take away the TV and the game system and the car and the cell phone and everything else they hold dear. All you are required to provide is food, shelter, education, and love. The others are EARNED! Make your child do homework and study. Make them go to bed at a decent hour. Make them eat breakfast before they go to school, even if it's just cold pizza. Brains need fuel just like cars! Get involved and know what is going on in your school and your school district. Ask questions and get answers. Join your school's PTA, Site Council, Booster Club, etc. Know where your kids are and who they are with. Know their friend's parents.
These are just jumping off places, but they will make a difference. Hold everyone to a higher standard-your child, yourself, your child's teacher, your child's school and school district, your state educational system, your state legislators, the Congress and the President. Our educational system is becoming unaffordable at the same time it is being laughed at all around the world. We are supposed to be the only "Super Power" left. I guess that depends on how you look at it. If we have to go to Japan, Russia, and China to get our scientists, researchers, and mathematicians, and our own children come out of school unprepared to enter the workplace, what is so super and powerful about that? I quote the philiopher Earl Pitts, "Wake Up America!"