I estimate there are basically two problems with education,
at all levels, and the current political climate including the basic guiding
proclivities of each side are blocking real reform, real progress.
- Lack of rigorous academic subject expectations and, most importantly, enforcement.
- Lack of support for the process of "educating" children, as opposed to support for educators.
We can all agree education policy, and the resulting
practice of educating children, needs reform. The problem is nobody seems to
agree on how that reform should come. But when your education policy and reform
ideas come from Out in Left Field, then nobody is being serious about educating
The bottom line - in the current politically charged climate where
the left attacks and denigrates every reform effort, and the right refuses to
support the people (teachers) they need to support for change, then nothing is
going to get done.
Take this classic statement from those on the left,
Smaller classroom sizes, especially in elementary
schools, are essential to a good education for all our kids, especially
students who struggle. Talk to some teachers - there is universal agreement on
this issue! They know a thing or two about how to help our kids and were able
to convey that when voters approved the law. Now reallocate some funds and get
it accomplished. Enough excuses.
Of course teachers want smaller class sizes. I wish I could
get paid to do less. It makes their job much easier to cope with, but class
size supposedly having an effect on educating the vast majority of children is
a complete myth. It has only been shown to help some minorities, namely the seriously
underprivileged and those students seriously behind in their studies. It has
zero effect on the vast majority of students either short term or long term.
This is a talking point propagated by the teachers and teachers unions with
scant, if any, supporting data. Targeted class size reduction can, and should
be, an option. But this current idea of mandating class reduction statewide is
complete lunacy and irresponsibility.
Secondly, take a look at some "failing"
schools. Are they overcrowded? Especially, are they overcrowded with
underprivileged (economically and intellectually) students? If so, then the
solution isn't to pull some kids out at taxpayer expense and to hell with the
rest. There are few students with parents who can place them in private schools
- with or without taxpayers' help.
a school is overcrowded and overcrowding leads to failure, then how can any
solution to reduce the number of students be discounted or discarded? Why are
vouchers, charter schools, home schooling or private education options not
viable alternatives to building more public schools? According to this argument
the problem isn't with the educational process or the abilities of educators,
the problem lies solely with the number of children per district, school or
class. Vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and private education provide
four solutions to the "number" problem but they are not acceptable.
They aren't being serious about reform. The only possible answer is because the debate on the left is not about
providing education - of which all these alternatives provide - but about
providing the education that produces the most jobs and funding for the
educational establishment. This, not coincidently, is the responsibility of a
So, I suspect most people are genuinely concerned about educating children and
most teachers have the best intentions. They are given their talking points and
they believe in the people who fight for them everyday. Sadly they are just
plain wrong most of the time. But does that mean those on the political right
have all the answers? Will vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and
private education solve our problems? I say no. Not for everybody. We need something different.
has a story when they were young about getting disciplined at school, only to
go home and get beat by mom... and then dad. It wasn't the
beatings that kept us in line, it was the knowledge that we were being beat
every step of the way. It was the knowledge that teachers, principals, parents
and communities were working together as agents, watching us, expecting of us, and
enforcing upon us the rigid codes of behavior we needed to conform to.
When I long for days past, I don't long for more beatings. I long for the
support, the team, the mutual expectation. I wish just once a school principal
would call and ask to beat my child. I can decline the offer, but at least
I know they are trying, that they expect something to happen, that they are
Of course, what I am talking about has nothing to do with the science of
educating children. When did it become a science anyway? Educating children is
a process that is more about process than discovery. But more importantly, it's an alternative.
In centuries past
education was the alternative to farming, working, sewing, cooking. There was a
price to pay for children leaving the home during daylight hours and they were
expected to progress in knowledge, ability and value to society. The same idea
should be returned to the educational process. We value our advanced and civilized society that discredits child labor and stay at home moms, but what price is there to pay for
children who fail in the class and have no life skills to fall back on? What value to society is an ignorant child, teenager or
Is failure harsh to think about?
Yes. But I believe our best efforts should be put towards expectations,
enforcement, and competition. I believe success rises with expectation, and failure follows without enforcement. Should public schools be closed down for other alternatives?
No. Should other alternatives be shut off because of public mandates? No.
right, me included, believes completely in self reliance, personal
responsibility, discipline and respect for authority, moral authority,
competition, traditional values and the free marketplace of ideas and policies.
We value data, and we seek results oriented change. We value success and
implicitly discredit failure.
Our values are both strength and a weakness in the education reform arena. We
know what works because we've seen it work - competition (among providers and
recipients), a focus on traditional liberal education (math, reading, history,
civics and science), respect for parents and respect for authority - all
contribute to better educated children, workers and researchers. But our
efforts to tie education reform to broader policy areas - like free markets and
government funding alternatives to taxes (bonds, lotteries, fees, tuition,
scholarship, vouchers, etc.) - often lead us into debates over bottom lines,
and education reform morphs into economic development. I think they should be
The left has separate and completely different problems. The good is they value
individuality, support for the underprivileged and depressed. They believe they
can do more and often they refuse to give up. But they believe the problem with
failing children and schools is with the system and not with the teachers, administrators,
children, family or parents. Their focus on the system leads them to overlook
the hard truths about their failures and their pursuit of funding, and
environmental reform (class size, busing, length of school year, teacher pay,
teacher credentials, etc.) over the past 50 years have not lead to the success they
On the contrary, learning gaps still exist, dropout rates have neither raised
nor dropped and the general reading, writing and mathematical skill of students
graduating high school are comparatively worse, to say nothing of the
abysmal ignorance of civics or history (American or otherwise). I think many of
these "reforms" championed by the left should be abandoned
I want to support teachers and educators. I want to pay them
above average salaries with bonuses and benefits comparable to those in
management. Teachers are good people. They sacrifice pay, and sometimes
alternative careers, to leave a mark in children’s lives. In many underserved
communities teachers are often the only good some students see in their daily
lives. But, self sacrificing well meaning teachers are not who I want teaching
my child. God love them, but they are the worst types of people to be in middle
and high schools teaching children with discipline, authority and legal
Sadly, teachers today need more of a drill sergeant mentality. You will
succeed because failure is not an option. You will learn because you can. You will
progress because you must. It's not what they are called to do, but in most
schools it is what is needed. Our country needs better educated students, smarter students, prepared students. It's not just a matter of personal survival, it's a matter of national survival.
Besides, good teachers are more than well educated, well trained or willing. A
good teacher is an amalgam of experience, not experts in their fields, but
experts with kids, one person tyrants with a mini fiefdom supported by parents
and neighborhoods, and they rule with the authority that comes from support
Teacher pay and targeted smaller class size is a start (particularly in super-failure
situations), but without expectations why bother? Without enforcement, how successful can they be?
I would prefer not to saddle the state with funding for
construction of mythical class size measurements that have absolutely no
empirical evidence of success. I would prefer not to reward existing teachers
who are failing students, and I would prefer not to recruit poor teachers with
the lure of higher pay to this state, my neighborhood or my school.
I would prefer to offer payouts to bad teachers to get rid
of them, using the salary money to double the salary of good teachers. I would
prefer to drop the certification requirements for most teaching and focus on
dedicated professionals, homemakers and disciplinarians that expect results.
Some background in subject matter would be nice, but what expert knowledge does
a teacher need to teach 7 year olds how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
It's not calculus for crying out loud.
With some exceptions we generally aren't in need of more teachers, more schools and more laptops. The expectations are what's lacking. It's ok to fail, because you aren't an
idiot. It's ok to be functionally illiterate if you come from a bad
neighborhood. It's ok to graduate without basic abilities, because if we deny
you a degree then you can't get a job. We will pass you on to the next grade,
because we don't want to be responsible for your failure. It’s too late. With
thinking like this educators are failing children before they even step into
Just this week in a Senate Committee on Education Senator
Frederica Wilson was trying to lay the blame for falling minority enrollment at
universities at the feet of FCAT testing. Her thinking was along these lines - If we weren’t so strict on FCAT testing more
minorities would graduate high school and enter universities. How sad is
this soft bigotry? How ignorant is it to deny opportunity in the name of
The FCAT is the bare minimum. A student who can’t pass the
FCAT should not be attending a university, they should be thinking of a trade
or alternative lifestyle that does not require education. They have already
been failed by the educational system, not by testing. They should be suing
their parents and their teachers for allowing them to get so far with so
I want to reform education, but the reformers keep getting in the way. Those on
the left should quit protecting failure in the face of good intentions and
those on the right should pay above average for above average results. If the left
would quit debating about how money flows from state coffers into
classrooms then the right would quit arguing about how much to give.
Educators should identify children who are truly in need and
find them dedicated help, but we must expect the remaining children to progress.
When they don't, they must fail. And the price paid must be on the parents, not
the state. This is why vouchers and school choice work so well, they are the
antithesis of paying the price - vouchers are reaping the rewards of responsibilities.
Parents want to be recognized for taking the responsibility and vouchers
provide that opportunity.
Parents will, and want to, take the responsibility of finding and providing
quality education for their children. They will seek out results and they will
imply your failure when they leave your school. We need to increase our expectations, increase our enforcement, and support the process in whatever form it takes be it through traditional schools, charter schools, homeschools, private schools or public competition through vouchers and scholarship.
Schools and unions should quit
denying their failures. They must go first because they have been steering the educational boat for more than half a century. They must accept we are on the shoals of failure and it wasn't the passengers who got us there.