I had a wonderful FB discussion last week regarding education, Christian values, and politics. I wish each of the people in the discussion were actually a part of the government so I might have hope that our politicians were serious minded and willing to hear the woes from the other side without slinging accusations and sound-bytes. Still, summer is perhaps not the best time to blog about education–I’ve gotten fewer reads on my most recent post, Wealth, Politics, and Education, than any of my less recent, recent posts. But Education is on my mind so here we go again.
One commenter on the thread I was on suggested, “what the unions could do to make themselves relevant would be to view themselves as suppliers of labor, do the policing, the training, determining salaries, etc. They would still negotiate with the employer, but they would be responsible for how it gets divided and who gets the raises and who doesn’t.” The obvious problem with such a proposal is financing it. Union dues would increase dramatically and sadly, unions have not proven they are any better at handling money than the government.
Personally I’d rather work with the devil I know so, I prefer to figure out how government can do away with unions, at least where teachers are concerned, and provide clear cut policies to regulate the labor force within education. We would need guarantees that highly qualified and therefore more expensive teachers would not simply be replaced with less qualified less expensive ones. We also need to figure out how to attract qualified teachers to less desirable districts. Then comes the task of figuring out a measure for an individual teacher’s success. Standardized testing measures little more than a child’s verbal linguistic skills (along with their test anxiety) and as it has been pointed out in numerous studies and articles standardized tests fail to measure both what children can apply and how effectively teachers teach. Yet, we continue to rely on these measures.
More and more we seem to buy into the single idea that the sole purpose of preschool is to prepare students to do well at the elementary level. The goal of elementary education is to prepare students to do well in middle school. Middle school is meant to get student ready for high school. High school’s job is to advance as many students as possible to college. And, college is obliged to prepare young people to work–to get good jobs so they can support families and start the whole cycle all over again. We tolerate (and if we’re honest with ourselves might admit that we need) a less well educated working force because someone has to pick up the garbage and pick fruit from our trees or vegetables from our fields. We want some people willing to work at WalMart or wait tables, or mop floors so the rest of us can be served.
We have reduced education to a process whereby we succeed when we reach the next rung of the ladder. But rather than admit defeat, we keep lowering the rungs. If the United States doesn’t pull its collective head out of the sand we as a nation will be left in the dust. Despite our wealth and advantages we are already significantly behind other developed countries when it comes to technology, healthcare, and education. The reason we lag behind is not because we haven’t the resources or expertise. The reason is we’re sadly lacking in vision. We have given too few too much control and the few are too afraid to take risks, to try new innovations especially when they are not the direct and immediate beneficiaries.
No doubt some will argue that school funding is a state’s rights issue and that states are the best equipped to know what their students need. Current methods to determine funding based on property values however leaves huge gaps between the haves and the have nots. This inequity puts poorer districts at an extreme disadvantage and contributes to an on going cycle of a poor education leading to lower paying jobs which lead to poverty which lead to a poor education… And, until this disparity is reconciled little can be done to bring innovation and change to HOW we educate.
The time has come. The federal government needs to step in and either take over the funding of public education or pressure states to find a more equitable means of distributing the wealth. It is unfair for one school to need to have bake sales in order to buy new books for the library while the biggest monetary concern their cross-town rivals face is what color to make the new uniforms. It is criminal that some school buildings are faced with leaking pipes, broken stairs, and falling down ceilings while others are building new football stadiums or putting in underground sprinkler systems. We may be looking at a state’s rights issue but it has civil rights written all over it. The federal government is charged with protecting our civil rights. And, the federal government must economically desegregate our schools.