During the past week, the media in our part of the country were all over the Superintendent of a local school district for having a shower installed in his office over the summer, costing the school district $4,000.00. For more on this, take a look at the following video:
Although I’m not writing to join the chorus of those making obvious criticisms of this incident, at least, I think it’s safe to say that this stands as another example of those in charge of America’s schools having their priorities upside down. That is what I’m writing to address – i.e. the fact that these wasteful bureaucracies are failing our kids and in turn, failing our communities.
This failure is clearly evidenced by examples from Statistics About Education in America, made available by studentsfirst, including:
· Of all the Fourth Graders in the U.S.; only 1/3 of them are able to read proficiently at grade-level.
· In an assessment of 15-year-olds, the U.S. placed 25th out of 30 countries in math performance and 21st in science performance.
· Average math and reading scores for 17-year-olds in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests have remained stagnant since the 1970s.
In response to this studentsfirst was launched in 2010, with their stated Mission being:
“To build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.”
To succeed in its mission, studentsfirst‘s primary goals are “to ensure great teachers, access to great schools, and effective use of public dollars.” Additionally, they note that, “the quality of our schools has an impact on the entire community; we all must be engaged in the effort to improve our schools.” For the most part, I’m in agreement with the studentsfirst mission and their related goals. However, I believe the engagement of the “entire community” deserves more emphasis.
Ensuring great teachers and access to great schools, as well as the effective use of public dollars, are clearly worthy goals. I only differ with studentsfirst on the best path to achieve this goal. Before getting into this further, I want to take time to note that, in most discussions I hear on Education Reform, there is far too much implication that we don’t already have a significant population of Great Teachers. I say that based on my present experience with working in public schools. You see, at the end of successful careers in other fields, both my Wife and I took jobs in the very school district featured in the video at the beginning of this article, she for over six years and me for over three years. And, yes, if you think I didn’t go down the path of “(joining) the chorus of those making obvious criticisms of this incident” because, as Bush 41 would have said, “It wouldn’t be prudent”, I’d have to admit my guilt. Anyway, based on my experience, I’d say that staff at the level of individual schools is the wrong target to focus on for Education Reform. That’s not to say that there are no weak links in individual schools but our experience is that the percentage of these is no greater than in the private sector. Rather, our experience has found Teachers, Para-Educators, various specialists, Principals, admin staff, cafeteria workers, Custodians, Bus Drivers and even Subs knocking themselves out for the benefit of our kids, working long and hard hours at very low pay. I plan to write more on this separately. For now, if you’d like more evidence to support my point of view on this, I recommend reading a related article I wrote over two years ago, entitled “Train up a child in the way he should go …”.
With that said, let me get back to giving more emphasis to the engagement of the “entire community”, as the best path to achieving studentsfirst‘s goals. The name “studentsfirst” implies a philosophy I agree with – i.e. Decisions made regarding our schools, should always have what’s best for the students as the top priority. However, I believe we should go a step beyond that, in recognition of the true purpose behind the establishment of public education. It wasn’t, altruistically, to provide the best education possible to each person. It was, practically, to provide for each person to become a productive contributor to their community.
To get back to better serving this purpose, I think we should start moving towards privatized school districts that are much smaller. The model I suggest is bundling a high school with its associated middle schools and elementary schools and running the group as a business. Funding should come from residents and businesses in that district … the ones who benefit from the students in that area being educated and becoming productive contributors to that community.And, this business should be run by a board, consisting of individuals drawn from school employees, as well as residents and business owners (including churches and other nonprofits) in the district.
Of course, even if you agree that this model makes sense, it’s not practical to move to this model immediately and universally. My suggestion is for some courageous American school board members to find independent, state registered K-12 schools that are succeeding and use them as replacements in neighborhoods where the public schools are failing (along the lines of the Statistics About Education in America examples given earlier) with these organizations serving as the anchors for the privatized school districts described above.
Based on my familiarity with exceptional teachers in my school, I can easily see that one of the benefits of this model would be having the school districts compete for the best teachers. The money saved from the elimination of wasteful bureaucracy, through privatization, would be available for offering better pay to the better teachers, resulting in the better teachers being more appropriately rewarded, encouraging more teachers to become better and eliminating the poor teachers as the chaff they are.
In conclusion, let me say, though I’ve focused here on the need for reform in America’s K-12 schools, reform is clearly needed at other levels and in other ways. The need for reform in America’s Higher Ed is at least as urgent as the need in K-12. Furthermore, I believe we should look to eliminate the NEA and to reduce state education associations to only being centralized organizations, serving the needs of local school districts, providing services like purchasing TP in bulk for the benefit of economies of scale. Additionally, I believe union membership for school employees should be totally optional and union activity should be limited solely to representing employees to employers. Of course, it can’t all be done at once. However, I believe, step-by-step, we can accomplish the studentsfirst‘s mission of America having the best education system in the world. What are your thoughts on this? Please share them by making your related comments below.