For the greater part of this country’s history, the federal government was not involved in K-12 education. One can make a case that for the greater part of this country’s history, educational outcomes were better than that which exists today. Our Founders did understand the role of education in creating an informed citizenry since they carved out land for use for public education in the Northwest Ordinance. And that is where it stood until the Lyndon Johnson administration and the passage of ESEA in 1965.
It is no coincidence that once the federal government got involved in K-12 education financially and otherwise, educational outcomes stagnated or fell backwards. Although well-meaning- who wants any child to be “left behind?”- the result is a bureaucratic quagmire and series of unfunded mandates. NCLB- George W. Bush’s revision of ESEA- took ESEA and put it on steroids.
While cognizant of the fact that there must be some standard metric of student success and performance, one of the most unfortunate outgrowths of NCLB was the heavy emphasis on testing. Pre-NCLB, pep rallies were reserved for sports, not tests. There were no “math coaches” and “curriculum developers” in schools. The state established broad parameters with respect to curriculum and individual teachers were afforded wide latitude in how they taught and reached those state-mandated goals.
The first pillar of a good GOP educational policy is to extricate the Department of Education (DOE) from K-12 education EXCEPT in providing limited funding for ESL and special education programs. Considering that a mere 9% of any school district’s funding comes from Washington (and that only 70% of that actually reaches the classroom), it is not that great of a financial hit on public schools. The federal government cannot afford to continue throwing good money at failed outcomes.
While some argue for the outright elimination of the DOE, this writer sees a need provided it is restricted to the two programs noted above and for higher education. This would consolidate the many programs spread over many departments and agencies, eliminate some, and decrease the bureaucracy- the number one impediment to better school performance.
The second pillar is choice. Every family should be afforded the same opportunity that affluent white families often take for granted- a choice on where their child goes to school. Not every school district is failing. If it is good and your taxes are paying for it, then it makes no sense to add financial burden by sending your child to a private school. But, in many states families with children in failing schools are relegated there because they have no choice. What can be more racist than that? Yet it is the Left who points the finger of accusations of racism at the Right because we oppose increased funding for failing schools. If anything, fifty years of an expensive failed social experiment has proven that the Left’s solution is hollow.
I have found, working in public education, that the teacher unions embrace the Leftist solution. Yet when one talks honestly to actual teachers, their biggest gripes are (1) class size, (2) mandates, and (3) how they are supposed to teach something. First, let’s address class size. The Left and the NEA’s argument is that school choice programs, like vouchers, divert needed resources from public schools. This is a silly argument from the start. It takes about $10,000 per student per year to educate a child in public school. If it takes about $6,000 per year in a private school, you are not decreasing spending on public schools on a per pupil basis. In fact, you can take a part of that $4,000 in savings and divert it to increased funding on public schools on a per-pupil basis.
As an example, for simplicity a school has 100 students educated at $10,000 per pupil. The state offers a voucher based on family income up to $7,000/student. Assume 40 students take advantage of the voucher program. In the original scenario, the district is spending $1 million. With the voucher program, you are spending $280,000. If you take that $3,000 per student (times 40 students), it results in $120,000 which is reserved for the remaining students (60) in the public school. You effectively increase funding at the public school from $10,000/pupil to $14,000/pupil and decrease class size!
The second gripe is mandates which also involves their third gripe. Obviously, no school district should just teach willy-nilly with no guidance. But, states and local school districts are better at evaluating the needs of students than detached bureaucrats in Washington. One understands the need for some gauge of student performance, but standardized tests have so taken over the curriculum that it has skewed the entire process. It is estimated that approximately 28 school days of the standard 180 are dedicated to preparation for some standardized test. If teachers are teaching a curriculum that is well-rounded within the broad parameters set by the state or local district throughout the school year, there is no need for test preparation. I cannot recall how many times I have heard a teacher say, “Because it’s on the test,” or “You need to understand this because it is on the test.” Is this what public education has become?
And nowhere is this more obvious and evident than with Common Core. The Right originally opposed it as yet another one-size-fits-all mandate from Washington. They got it half correct. In fact, Common Core is a disaster and truthful teachers will tell you that. Suddenly time-proven ways of teaching something are no longer acceptable.
No group more than teachers want to get out from under the yoke of Common Core. Besides, it is nothing more than a disguised example of corporate welfare that enriches the coffers of the Pearson company. The standardized test of choice now is the PARCC and the “P” stands for Pearson. This educational conglomerate has its tentacles in all parts of education. Because of Common Core, textbooks used for years with success are now obsolete. As are methods of teaching. That is where Pearson swoops in with seminars paid for by school districts. They provide the software…at a cost. And they provide the Common Core textbooks.
Above all, I have found that teachers view themselves as dedicated professional educators who happen to belong to a union. In a previous article, I argued that the new GOP must be one that stresses the individual or family, not groups. Adopting policies that address the concerns of individual professional educators should be a must for the new GOP. Some of that may entail pay. Are teachers underpaid? In a certain sense, given the many hats they have to wear given the many mandates from on high, a case can be made for that argument. But, it insults the intelligence of every taxpayer who far outnumber teachers to suggest that every teacher is equal when it comes to performance and student achievement. In fact, that philosophy and belief DENIES the individuality of the teacher.
By empowering teachers to do what they are trained to do as they individually see fit within broad parameters set by the state or local district, the new GOP can drive a wedge between individual teachers and their unions. By adopting policies which enhance choice for parents, students and teachers, this country can put itself on a path of an educational renaissance.
In the second part of this topic, I will discuss higher education, student debt, and universal preschool.