Rethinking Education

Bill Neinast

How can a failing grade be promoted to head of the class?  That was the question here last week when the subject was the failing public education system.

Because of the multiple issues, there is no quick, easy solution.  Here, though, are a few thoughts from an outsider looking in.

First and foremost, get the federal and state governments out of the classrooms.

Uncle Sam and the state do provide substantial financial support for schools.  They are justified in checking to see that those funds are used efficiently for the purposes intended. This can be done without directing specific courses to be taught, how those courses are to be taught, and what tests will be given to insure that all students everywhere are meeting certain standards.

A more appropriate way to monitor the proper use of federal and state education funds would be to specify in broad terms what the funds could be used for and then conduct audits to see that the allocated funds are being used efficiently for the allowed purposes.  Any funds used improperly could be deducted from succeeding budgets.

The second step would be to do a little copying.  Sneaking a peak at someone else’s test paper, or copying, is strictly prohibited in the classroom.  Copying another country’s successful education system, however, should be encouraged.

As the U.S. is lagging behind other industrialized nations in the area of public education, maybe we should sneak a peak at some of those countries’ systems and philosophies.

The guiding principle in those countries is simply that the purpose of schools is to educate.  They have abandoned the practice, if there ever was one, of closing the schools for three summer months so the students can help harvest the cotton and other crops.  With an 11 month school year, there is no need to use the first month of each new year to refresh what had been forgotten in three months of vacation.

As the purpose of schools is to educate, teaching students should be the sole purpose of funds allocated for education.  The tens of millions of dollars used to build high school football and baseball stadiums at each American high school are used for science labs, computers, and such in our old enemies, Germany and Japan.

Those countries and others believe that it is illogical to control the wages of teachers of all the students so there can be funds to cater to a tiny proportion of the student body who want to win admiration and glory on the gridiron.

The argument or justification locally for glorifying a school’s quarterbacks instead of the school’s valedictorians is that sports are the only thing that keep some students in school.

Note the word “some” in the preceding sentence.  That “some” is even a tinier fraction of the student body than all of the athletes.  

There just is no logic in spending many millions of dollars to lure just a few boys and girls to classrooms in which they have no interest.  Pee Wee Leagues, Little Leagues, etc. are readily available as outlets for the “jocks.”

There is also a recognition in countries with superior education norms that not every student is headed for or interested in college.  Consequently, there is no need to have the same curriculum and tests for everyone.  At the sixth to eighth grade level, decisions are made whether students will follow an academic route toward college or a vocational route toward a lifetime career.

Fortunately, some American school districts are slowly beginning to adopt a watered down version of that system.  There is beginning to be acceptance of the facts that individuals are not born equal in either athletic or mental abilities.

Here we have APPs—Advanced Placement Programs—-, college credit courses in high school, and more and more vocational courses in high school and community colleges.  Would it be better to separate those programs into two separate school systems in each district?

Another step up might be to abolish any system of teacher tenure.  Teachers’ retention, promotion, and pay would be based solely on performance, not on the number of years in the classroom.  

That suggestion will cause more heartburn for teachers’ unions than the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

So here’s the perspective.

Wake up America.  Academically, we are lagging far behind other countries.

Maybe modeling our school systems after others that are producing superior results would improve our standing.

That’s worth a try.    


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