Reforming American Public Education
In the middle of all the political tantrums and petulant partisan battles in Washington, one issue has been mutually agreed upon by all sides; improving our education system. President Obama, in last year’s State of the Union address illustrated perfectly the need for a better education system:“Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed…When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test.”
There are many ideas on how to give our children the educational power to hold their own destiny in their hands, but something must be done. The problem is not in higher education, where depending on the source, the united states is home to 30 of the world’s top 50, or 20 of the top 50 universities. The problem in America is in our general public education; where the most advanced nation on the globe only offers the 15th ranked public education.
President Bush wasted no time in implementing No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a federal education program aimed at creating accountability for schools. Many have believed this program to be a failure because the standards were too high, leading to many schools earning the label as “failing schools”. While the term may be harsh we must ask ourselves; is it a bad thing to aim to achieve high goals? NCLB has also been criticized for failing to bring minority test scores in line with white middle class students’ test scores. While the gap did close slightly, it was not nearly what the program had hoped for, leading to NCLB being viewed gain as a failure. Patriotslog believes this is the wrong perspective to use while measuring minority test scores. The test scores of minority students increased at the same rate those of white students rose, meaning that the NCLB program was successful in increasing all students’ performance equally. That should not be termed a failure; a program designed to help only minority students, and give them a better education than white students is by very definition segregation. We cannot call NCLB a failure for increasing test scores of all students, no matter their color, income, or background. The problem with NCLB and a major reason for the need to replace it is that life is not measured by standardized tests outside of public education, so putting emphasis on these tests does not prepare students to enter the work force in the best way. Life rarely, if ever offers s multiple choice questions. Teaching a child how to pass a test is not the same as helping a child learn. Standardized tests cannot help a child with problem solving, critical thinking, logic, and analytical reasoning the way a great teacher can. Requiring such standardized tests minimalizes the effects of a great teacher, who is then forced to teach their students to pass a test, rather than incorporating life skills into their teaching, in order to receive funding.
Many believe that NCLB has served its purpose, and the education system is ready for new innovation. Waivers from NCLB are now available for states who demonstrate the need, for which 11 states have applied. President Obama has started the Race to the Top program, a competition between states and school districts to inspire innovation in the education system. Race to the Top focuses on problem solving, critical thinking, and innovative use of knowledge in order to give students a more comprehensive education, better preparing them for advanced learning in universities, and for the work force. If school districts can demonstrate innovative and effective ways to meet these criteria, they are rewarded with federal grants in order to implement their ideas. Race to the Top also focuses on the teacher. We have heard on many occasions, President Obama say things such as, “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad one”; and“A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance…Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
The problem with Race to the Top is that it is exclusive; there can only be so many winners, and those who do not win the grant money are left with the same education system they had before, putting some schools and districts far ahead of those who do not win the grant, leaving them comparatively even farther behind than before.
Race to the Top is much more flexible than previous federal education plans, and give the states much more power in educating their students. Many believe the states need to do more in education; some political leaders such as Governor Rick Perry or Rep. Ron Paul believe the federal education system should not exist at all. The constitution never once mentions education. In fact, at the time it was written education was done almost entirely as home schooling, or private education. Because of this, many feel the federal government has no business dictating education, and that it should be a power reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment. This system does have advantages over federal education, which lacks real flexibility because they cannot make 50 individual plans. State and local government are closer to the people, and can therefore more accurately determine the needs of the people in areas such as education. This system does have advantages; this creates a more fair style of competition, where not only a select few can “win”. Each state can compete to develop the best possible education system for their individual needs. States do not compete for one prize, such as a grant like in Race to the Top, but for the best possible education system they can individually achieve. In this competition everyone has an opportunity to win. The states which develop the best education system will attract families which want that opportunity for their children; presumably families with more income. This will then lead to economic investment and growth in the spending power of that state. Every coin has two sides, and the tails in this system is that if a state cannot improve their education system they will lose these advantages. However, this does not necessarily mean the state would be stuck in a bad situation getting worse. A state with low education standards and low minority test scores which improves their education would have the most room to grow, both educationally and economically. Moreover, good economy, such as the natural gas booms could lead to more investment in education. The question with this system is the funding. Does the federal government continue funding education, or do we scrap the education department and leave it up to each individual state to raise the tax money to develop education? It is hard to imagine the federal government accepting having no influence in a system they fund; if that is the case it is also hard to foresee the taxes now funding education being cut. This would mean more taxes in the people.
Another education system being championed by some is to privatize education completely. This makes a lot of sense when we consider how much more efficient, productive and innovative the private sector has always been when compared to the government. In fact, children still in public education have grown up in a time where the federal government has not shown them the capability to successfully manage anything. We hear so much of charter schools, and private school vouchers, and for good reason. A private education is most often superior to a public education, and students would be much better off with private education. However, as beneficial as this system seems it may not be feasible. If there is one thing we can assume for certain about private education it is that as the system becomes more successful, tuition will increase at alarming rates. The government could subsidize tuition, but that would also require more taxes, and again, where the government gives their money they most often demand influence. This system may turn into an even greater separation between the haves and have-nots. Those who can afford expensive tuition will pay it, but if they are middle class they will be left with little money after tuition, or they will have to choose a substandard school; furthermore the poor will be left to the worst schools, while the upper class schools get better.
The best way to improve education is competition, in one form or another. Competition breeds innovation, and the desire to get ahead. Increasing the salary of public school teachers is a great way to bring competition. If the field paid more, more would want to join it, and the best would rise to the top, bringing the overall quality of teachers in our nation up. Teachers are very much underappreciated in our nation; they are the foundation for a child’s life and success. They deserve more money for their work, and that incentive will improve education more than any other.
Again, the problem with any education overhaul is taxes. All these plans require higher taxes, or drastic spending cuts; neither of which seems possible in the near future. If America is serious about creating the best education system in the world we must have a way to fund it. Polls show most Americans favor higher taxes, but Washington cannot agree on any such plan. We must first have some kind of compromise in Washington; everybody must give some and take some. If this happens we can begin to seriously consider a better education system, one that will be the best in the world.
4 February, 2011
Posted on February 6, 2012, in Education, Patriotslog Articles and tagged charter schools, Congress, no child left behind, President Bush, President Obama, private education, private school vouchers, public schools, race to the top, reforming education, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, State of the Union, taxes. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.