Education Reform

There are articles surfacing left and right about the idea that we live in a post-racial America.  I love the idea, that we could be in a world where race doesn’t play a factor in policy-making.  Maybe we do live in a world where race doesn’t affect policy making.  But that same distance of race not being a factor in policy making leaves a hands off approach to when that policy’s results directly (or indirectly) affect people on a racial line.

School Voucher Programs

I will not deny the need for education reform.  The end result should always be that the child is offered a better education.  The parents, guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, faculty, staff, educational supply companies, furniture vendors, et. al. of all educational systems are stakeholders in the process of providing a quality education to children.  But, the child is the pure and only recipient of the product, education.  As a business model, we try to find a cheaper way to provide the highest quality.  Somewhere along the line we’ve substituted the quality education for the quality of the educational system.  We’ve undervalued the teachers, limited the administrators on taking educational risk, devalued the staff, over-quantified the supplies, and most importantly – forgotten about the child.  A child in today’s system has turned into a test taking machine.  There seem to be a few types of students in today’s educationally flat-lined system.

  1. The over-achiever: who wakes up early after a minimum amount of sleep, eats a marginal breakfast, gets to an early class before the regular classes starts, takes as many AP/college level classes as possible, participates in sports, after school clubs, student government, etc, gets home 8 at night, does homework til 1am or later, and starts all over again.
  2. The test-taker: who after-school, crams for hours for the next test. Not understanding the value of the information, but rather the bare-minimum of its application. X+Y=Z.  I have to realize what X is, what Y is and when I add them together I get Z.  The question: “Will this be on the test?” is an important one.  The notes of this student are intensive.  And no where along the process does this student value the reason why they’re learning, just aiming for the perfect score.  No where along the process does the information crammed become a long-term value to the student.  This student will most likely forget that X+Y=Z exist after the test, unless it will make a visit on the next test.
  3. The average student: who even though they aren’t incompetent, they are forgotten about.  They do what a student is supposed to, learn at their pace.  Their homework, any activities they are interested in, enjoy their youth, and be burdened by the fact that they are now doing worse off as an average student to the students who have become test-takers and over-achievers.  This student is now a marginal student because they do not test well, even if they understand the material better than a test-taker.  This student is not a dollar sign to an educational system, does not compete with over-achievers for selective schools, and unlike 50 years ago does not seem to be average anymore.
  4. The passing student: who needs extra attention, takes a little longer to understand a concept.  This student was once necessary to ask the questions that lead to a room full of students understanding fully the product of education has now become a burden to a class.  This student is now classified…

Without even adding any learning disabilities, we’ve added a classification to the “top” of the system that has pushed everyone down a notch.  There are students who are without disabilities, who are being put in programs with students with dislexia, dispraxia, and disgraphia.  These students are not put in classes with learning disability children because they are disabled, but because they cannot compete with a student who is a test-taking machine or over-achiever.  The undervalued teacher is stressed with the pressure of the limited administrator who is trying to make sure that with No Child Left Behind, High School Proficiency Exams, Annual Progress Reports and every other litmus that is used to judge the quality of a school, their funding is continued.

And now, the new danger, school vouchers.  The newest form of voucher is one that is paid by offering direct tax relief to a company who gives a money to a fund for vouchers.  So, simply put, its not coming from the educational budget… until you dig deeper.  The educational budget comes from a township budget.  They are a portion of the tax rateable that your property tax covers.  Let’s make a hyptothetical easy to follow budget.

There are 100 people and 20 businesses in your town.  Your town has a budget of $150,000.  They set up the tax rate so that your property tax today is $1000.  You and all your neighbours have the same value house, so the 100 of you are paying $1000.  The 20 businesses have a higher tax rate of $1500.  Of that $150,000, we’ll say $50,000 is going to your school system.

Now we’re saying if a business gives money to a school voucher fund, they get tax relief.  If you give $500, you get $500 off your taxes. We still have 100 people in town, and 20 businesses, now getting a tax deduction.  Everyone is now paying $1000, the town is now short, $30,000. and that $30,000 is going to another set of private school so that a small number of your students can go to a “better school.”  If the town is down $30,000, which now is your problem, you’re paying $300 dollars more – but the school tax isn’t going down because 2 students left.

Now move that to a large district like Newark or Camden.  Those are districts where the every form of quality education reform is needed.  Every teacher should be given a chance to experiment with new forms of learning, new forms of educating.  And yet with school vouchers, they’ll either loose funding because the new increased taxes are unsustainable to the city or the best of their students will be “vouchered out” to private and parochial schools.

Of course there is the argument that a student should be able to be afforded every opportunity.  And if I had a child in a district that failed to provide the challenges that my child needed, I would want my child in the best of schools.  But, there is no reason that public education cannot be that best option.

If I could propose a set of solutions, one would be to do away with standardised test that dictate funding.  The use for standardised testing should be to rate the progress of a student in relation to what are minimums of where they should be.  The next area we need to observe carefully is passing a student.  Not all students learned what was needed to move on to the next grade.  If a kindergarten student cannot count, know their ABC’s, read a clock, then lets hold off on making them learn how to multiply in the first grade when they need a extra kindergarten.  If a high school junior cannot pass junior-class american history, that student needs to take the class over.  There should no longer be a stigma attached to being left behind a grade when material is necessary for the next step.  Something else that needs to be examined is the length of a school day.  I cannot speak fully to its merits, but I would believe that there are teachers who could probably do a little better if they had extra time with their students.  Next avenue to look at is the tenure process, first in-first out is not viable.

There is no reason, that in the wealthiest nation in the world, we cannot find a way to provide the highest quality of education.