K-12 education is absolutely critical to our children. I believe that no profession is more important and needed than teaching. Good teachers are invaluable. It is also a demanding profession requiring certain capabilities, talents and commitments to be able to effectively teach our children. Unfortunately, K-12 education in this country in its current state is not working for many of our children, despite the efforts of many dedicated teachers. Too many Americans reach age 18 unprepared for two- or four-year college, further vocational training, or work in the job-force.
Education has also become an extremely contentious issue dividing communities and neighbors. I believe this can be reduced. We need to take steps to achieve significantly greater parent satisfaction and educational achievement for all children, and to reach a place where teachers are highly valued and respected. We are currently failing as a nation at all of these goals. For this reason I will first outline my recommendations and then go into further detail about the evolution of my thinking. My views are based on my experience as the father of four who attended public school for about 80% of their K-12 education years and private schools for about 20%; as an organizer of parents dissatisfied with their children’s education in two separate settings, one suburban for six years and the other inner-city for two years; as a community center board president who helped establish and maintain supplemental after-school and summer education programs in Buffalo; and as a worker and/or volunteer in educational programs in schools that focus on serving lower income children, including those with disruptive behavioral issues.
National standards benchmarked to international standards. Over one-hundred university and college presidents have agreed that we need to establish consistent expectations for what our children need to achieve educationally.
Reasonable, effective, and limited standardized testing in all schools for parents and teachers to be able to evaluate their children’s and students’ progress. I would prefer no standardized tests however our country’s failure to adequately prepare many if not most students for decades leaves no choice.
Establishment of universal criteria for evaluating teacher performance and protocol in order to assist those not teaching effectively or for dismissal if unfortunately necessary for our children’s education. This includes eliminating tenure that no professional nor worker in any field should ever have with the exception of university professors. More than 500 performance measures exist for healthcare professional which unquestionably improve patient health outcomes when measured and applied. I believe a similar model should be applied in the education field.
Improved, rigorous teacher colleges modeled on those in nations where teachers are highly-valued professionals and that have the best education outcomes.
Parental choice when selecting which schools their children attend. In a country based on ideals of liberty and freedom, parents are the only ones who should have the power to decide which school is best for their child, be it a traditional public school, a charter school, private non-denominational or denominational school (using means-tested vouchers or tax-credits), or homeschooling This is a policy that liberal New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan believed in, and which Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine also supported via vouchers. This freedom for a parent to use their available education tax dollars to pay for the tuition at the schools they believe best meet their children needs would give parents a power they do not now have, to hold their children's schools directly accountable. This is how Medicare works, universal health care can work and food stamps work. Competition coupled with transparency has improved services and products in healthcare and other industries critical to our children’s health from farming to air and automotive travel. This will require our traditional public schools to do the same: look at themselves, listen to customers (parents), recognize where they need to make improvements, and provide an education of greater benefit to students.
Below are what I believe to be some of the major causes of the educational crisis America is currently experiencing.
- The United States has long undervalued teachers, especially when compared to other developed nations. I was shocked (and am still shocked) when I learned in Sociology 101 (in 1969) that a common American attitude is, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”.
- There are inadequate country-wide academic guidelines and expectations for every child. This in my personal experience was of great frustration to parents in suburban schools whose children had been “tracked” into the middle group of student performers where many students were falling through the cracks. It was an equally source of frustration and anger for some parents whose children in the top tier when accepted to college had to take remedial classes or end pursuing their chosen career due to poor grades.
- There is a lack of effective, understandable standards and tests for parents to know how their children are progressing relative to the rest of the world.
- There are too many examples of untested and ultimately rejected educational methods being tried on our children and forced on our teachers. Whole Language is a poster child of this practice. This includes one outstanding math teacher of my children who refused to use the “cutting, cutting edge” new math as there was no demonstrated proof it worked and was denied tenure and fired that was, practically unheard of at the time, because she stood with the children. It appears some new methods may be generated in competition for prestige in teaching colleges or universities, and detached from reality and accountability. They also appear to be supported by textbook publishers who turn out highly expensive books for the new teaching method.
- The high poverty rate in America has a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn.
- Poverty being used as an excuse for why children are not performing better. There are charter and private schools in Buffalo who accept students from the lower-performing pool of students left after the best performing students are skimmed off to City Honors and other criteria schools that graduate very significantly higher percentages in more demanding curriculums. The charters by law must accept students randomly and many private schools do as well.
- A lack of accountability to parents on the part of traditional public schools.
- Additional causes include inadequate investment in education in some states, concentrations of non-native students, and a concentration of power in the traditional education systems that is resistant to calls for changes.
- The United States lags behind other developed nations, ranking about 17th (and lower in some assessments) in education.
- The United States ranks 4th in spending per student behind Austria, Norway and Switzerland. Many states spend more than any other country.
- Some of the countries whose students perform higher than those in the U.S. have higher poverty rates than the U.S. including: The United Kingdom, Belgium, Israel, South Korea and Japan.
- African-American and Hispanic parents have consistently favored school choice (including vouchers or tax credits for private schools) for decades.
- Introducing universal school choice for parents in Australia and New Zealand resulted in the public-school population declining from about 85% to about 70 % and remaining there.
- Those who do not finish high school have higher unemployment rates, higher incarceration rates, require more social services, and pay less in taxes.
More on Education
There is clear evidence from other countries that have adopted universal school choice that doing so in the U.S. will not destroy our traditional public schools as some fear. Whether or not a particular school exists should be dependent on the decisions of parents made over their kitchen tables, and not be a political decision made in national or state legislative chambers, or corporate board rooms. I personally asked my suburban school to do better and was ignored, patronized, or ridiculed. The expectations for my three children in the middle track were dramatically less than in the private school I could fortunately afford.
Some believe it is a corporate conspiracy of the wealthy to privatize all schools. The key issue is that the entity providing education services is accountable to parents, that parents can freely choose the best school for their children regardless of whether it is provided by a not-for-profit organization, private entity (corporate or other), church or public entity. Corporations provide food and textbooks to our schools; and air transportation, health care and drugs to our families.
Some stories that should not exist
A factory in a lower income neighborhood in Buffalo taken over by new owners initially hired based on applicants having a high school degree only to find out the degree did not mean the hires knew fractions that were necessary to operate the machines. They now give a math test to applicants and some of our young people end up unemployed and on the street because they aren’t being taught basic math. This is why standardized tests are necessary.
A young man from a Buffalo suburb with a master’s degree in his area of science took a teaching job in the Buffalo Public Schools. The week before school started, some senior teachers were laughing at him and saying he would be eaten alive by the city kids he was to teach. The teachers went on strike that year and after the strike ended, the young teacher never returned due to the “hazing”.
A mother in a very good suburban school whose son’s high school grades had slipped into the 70’s and was beginning to get into trouble, like she had once done, met four times with teachers or counselors to try and address the problem. She was finally told “don’t worry about him , he will snap out of it.” The mother lost it and said she hoped her son came into the emergency room bleeding so she could tell her “don’t worry he will come out of it, we will just leave him here in waiting.” The family took out a loan, enrolled their son in a demanding private school where after year he was getting 90’s and a teacher told the Mom, “He is good kid, he just needed some direction.”