EDUCATION! WHY CAN’T WE GET THIS RIGHT?

My 4th Grade Class

The main mission to be accomplished with education issues is the concept of our children being our most valuable resource. My head just spins when I hear the politicians and pundits throwing terms around like vouchers, dollars per pupil, “leave no child behind”, bad teachers, bad schools, overpaid school staff, waste, class size, education funding, education spending, blaming the unions, private school choice, “race to the top”, and so many more. With all these factors comprising the mess and confusion regarding education, it’s no wonder so few people actually have a handle on this. What it boils down to is two factors; money, oh, the conservatives are squirming, and education management.

The money factor needs to be sorted out by first getting the powers that be to embrace the fact that educated children are our most valuable resource. I’m not going to comment on the present state of education, because it doesn’t really work too well and there’s no point in beating it into the ground. It takes proper funding to operate a fair and quality educational system. This is where it takes intelligent management. I believe a smart first step is setting priorities. The basics are early child and parent education. A system needs to be set up to involve, by law, if need be, parents in their childrens’ education. Not only do the kids need to understand the importance of education but, the parents need to be as well. It sounds rather hard-core, but it needs to be done. A child’s education process is actually a partnership between the child and parents. A lot of things in the trip from pre-school to high school graduation would be so much better and easier if parents were required to be involved. It saddens me greatly when I go to academic award ceremonies at my kid’s school and some of the kids receive their awards on stage and neither of their parents are there.

I don’t believe vouchers or bussing are fair solutions. I believe keeping kids in their neighborhood schools is more important. The funding of school needs to be dynamic and aimed at goals for every school. Some schools will require more than others, particularly early on in the process of change and improvement. Administrators need to be held to guidelines and goals. Failure to do this should result in consequences, along the line of suspensions or terminations. A valid and fair system of grading teachers needs to be put in place. Now, before the union apologists get their dander up, I did say a fair and valid judging process. This needs to include input from the union. A teacher evaluation should be based on student academic performance, parent’s teacher evaluation, teacher’s peer evaluation, and administration evaluation. Again, as with the administrators’ outcomes, if a teacher is bad, fire them. If they are borderline, make the effort to train them to improve their performance, and if they’re a really good teacher, reward them. I believe teaching is a very under-paid profession and the rewards must be available for the good teachers and to make teaching attractive to the top teaching candidates out of college.

There is a growing youth obesity problem in the country. The school systems can help this by offering better balanced and more nutritious meals. Again, this will cost more money. Why would we skimp on something this important? This is a matter of health care and factor in the quality of education our children receive. The other basic part of this point is the expansion of physical education classes. School systems cut here first and it’s the kids that suffer. They need or require that period of exercise daily to stay fit. Consider it an investment. If we can publically help curb obesity, that would make for healthier kids who in turn will be more attentive to their education needs and would have better attendance in school. This also has longer range benefits, ergo the investment angle. Obesity leads to diabetes and other health issues that we as a society may ultimately pay for and we will benefit from a better educated mass for the health of our future economy and society.

Extra-curricular activities and sports have also been hit with the budget axe. WRONG! This is such a huge mistake. I look at my own kids that have been very involved in sports and other activities associated with school. They and the kids that are involved with them all get better grades and are much less inclined to be a trouble maker at school. The kids get better grades because they are forced to be good at time management. They get in less trouble because they are always busy with these activities and getting in trouble would me expulsion from the team or activity. All positives. Why can’t we see this?

In my opinion private schools are not the answer. In some cases they are better academically when judged by grades the students achieve but, these kids generally have parents more involved in their education. They probably have an ethic for the importance of education imprinted on their brain from a very early age. The schools themselves are not any different. The teachers are no better than public school teachers, in fact, on average, they make lower incomes than their peers in public schools. Private schools foster a feeling of protection and isolation from the “real world”. Private schools can discriminate in choosing individuals that may attend. Apparently, many of the parents of these kids like this aspect, “keeps the riff-raff out”. Private school generally isn’t that hard to administrate or teach in. If a so-called “unsavory” kid does beat the odds and enrolls, once they cause a problem, a private school simply throws them out. Public schools can’t do that. It is tougher being a teacher or administrator in public schools. I believe the personal rewards are much higher though.

There are some aspects to private education that can be carried over to public school systems. I believe in very strict dress and conduct codes. In fact, I would go so far as to say I am in favor of uniforms to be worn. Uniforms take the clothing styles out of the societal equation. There is too much pressure on kids to be “accepted” by their peers as it is, then when you add the hundreds even thousands of dollars it takes to be “in” is not fair to the parents or kids. I believe it lends itself to better discipline in the school as well. Conduct codes need to be very strict, with dire consequences for violators. In school suspensions, community service, etc, should be those consequences. Parents must be held accountable for their children’s bad behavior. There should be penalties leveled at them as well. It sounds tough, but it works and it needs to be worked. Private schools simply give up and throw the kid out.

To review, education will be improved when the importance of it is finally pounded into the heads of the parents and politicians that evaluate everything based on taxes. An educated workforce is our country’s most valuable weapon when in competition with the rest of the developed world. The funding needs to be meted out in a prioritized manner to help the neediest schools first and to continue funding these schools heavier until a balance is met. Teachers and administrators need to be fairly evaluated and dealt with accordingly. Bad personnel needs to be rejected, bottom line. Moneys need to be earmarked for improved nutrition of school meals. Physical education courses need to be re-emphasized and restored. Sports and extra-curricular activities need to be mandated as part of the “school years experience”. They play a very important and yet not fully realized role in the education of our children. Vouchers and private schools are a poor and lazy alternative to our public school systems. Dress and conduct codes need to be tough and enforced, including parental participation.

It all sounds so simple, right? I know reforming our education system is going to be very difficult. But, I also believe if the politicians, school boards, schools, parents, and school children embraced this vision of the basics, it’s a start. It’s an attitude that must be accepted by all in order to move forward. The emphasis should be on the education of the children, not the funding, not the administrations, not the unions, and not the lazy alternatives. It’s going to be a tough job, but the country must pursue the goals blindly to be successful. Thanks for today’s read and as always, I look forward to reading your comments.

Cam Obert

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