Friday, July 31, 2015

On Public Education....AGAIN!!!

Financing & Improving Public Education: Still an Issue of Legal & Moral Responsibility

By Peter Stern

    If the State does NOT want to assume its constitutional responsibility to provide and finance a quality education to every child, then legislators need to change the law.  Every 2 years lawmakers appear to look at doing just that.
Currently the State is guilty of violating its mandated responsibility to parents and their children.  Personally, I advocate a class-action lawsuit against the State by parents and educators.  Unfortunately, it seems like any effort to resolve an educational issue in this state results from the judicial and not the legislative system.
Roughly 8 years ago a court decision found the current financing system illegal.  Interestingly enough it was the court that originally determined the current financing method, which includes the “Robin Hood” clause — forcing “wealthy” districts to provide some of their tax dollars to “poor” districts.  Note that most districts these days are “poor” districts.
If legislators want to privatize education, that’s fine only if taxpayers don’t have to foot the additional bill for it.  Otherwise, legislators simply are looking to cover their own butts for not providing the appropriate and adequate financing during the past decade. Case in point: It is the legislature that has created the current emergency plight of public education by forcing the court to set up a financing system that ensures educational inequality among economic classes and is doomed to fail.
Furthermore, if privatization of public education is our next step, legislators had better put into place a regulated system of tuition and finance costs. We need only observe what has occurred under the recent deregulation of higher education tuition costs to note the critical nature of this issue.
Privatization of public education brings along a whole set of other issues and problems. Ongoing legislative inept short-term thinking is incapable of determining, implementing and maintaining an entirely new educational system.  In addition, operating two parallel educational systems under the state rubric, public and private, is doomed for failure.  If the state cannot successfully manage and monitor one system, how is it possible for it to maintain two separate education systems?
However, if the real concern is to educate every child equally (which, of course, it isn’t), then privatization is NOT the automatic educational road to recovery.  Privatizing education merely will ensure the inequality between the “haves” and the “have-nots” within our society.
What happened to improving the quality of education or providing teachers with a professional salary?
smaller class sizes = better student: teacher ratios = more successful learning environment
Eight years ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry self-appointed yet another Commission on Public Education, which he named “The Texas Tax Reform Commission”.   It was headed by Democrat John Sharp and a host of 23 of the governor’s major campaign contributors.  There were no average parents, educators, middle-class homeowners or students on the commission.  It’s hard to imagine this group of businessmen arriving at financing public education improvements that could benefit most schools and Texas families.
Privatizing education is another misguided special interest notion the governor and legislators have selected so they don’t have to assume the constitutional responsibility they have been diverting for the past decade and to ensure the highest quality education for every child.
Isn’t it clear yet to everyone that legislators and businessmen are NOT the group needed to develop a quality functional public school system with adequate financing?  During the past decade they have proven beyond a doubt that they are incapable of doing so or wanting to do it.
What we have consistently is an Endless Loop of Public Education. “Is Our Children Learning?”
In the U.S. our children remain on the back-burners for improving learning outcomes and developing successful lives. Most states remain “stuck” in their respective approaches to public education, much as the spinning wheels of a vehicle caught without any traction in 2 feet of mud after a rain storm.
Politics all too often corrupts public education.
For example, in Texas 7 years ago, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Cynthia Dunbar to head the State Board of Education (SBOE). Ms. Dunbar is not exactly known for her intelligent and open-minded approach to educating Texas children.  A significant point of her discipline is that she wanted public schools to teach the Bible and NOT to teach evolution.
Another example of politics in public education:  Five years ago, Texas State Education Commissioner Robert Scott decided that all high school students will take more electives and fewer required courses under a bill that lawmakers approved in May 2009.  Fortunately, the required courses he referred to are computer technology, health and physical education, NOT required subjects like math or science.
Students will no longer be required to take two semesters of computer technology and a semester of health education, while the physical education requirement has been reduced from three semesters to two. Instead, students will consider taking 6 credits of electives. Supposedly, the reason for this was to enable students to select topics that will aid them in develop skills for entering college. Did it work?  No one knows.
The ongoing changes in public education occur not only in Texas, but virtually in every state in the nation. What truly is amazing is that every few years schools are forced via legislative agendas to adapt to another “enlightened” approach to teaching public education.
Generally, these changes don’t amount “to a hill of beans” and it is the educational core requirements that children need to increase to better learning outcomes. Too many children still don’t learn the basics well.  Many do not read at an appropriate level, know how to spell [texting has added to that problem] or how to perform simple mathematics.  Many don’t know basic living skills either, e.g., how to keep a check book and pay bills, or how to write a simple letter or a job resume.  All too often our children do not have significant communication and people skills.
What we need to do is to teach our children the basics of how to succeed in life and in business.  Reading, writing and arithmetic still are the key to learning and unfortunately, teaching our children to enjoy learning is not a priority.  So, are we really helping our children to improve their learning outcomes?  Not really.
Here in Texas, as in other states, we continue to teach our children to pass certain exams as a guide to and validation of their success. Is it working? Hardly.  There is a lot of pressure placed on our children and teachers, without increasing their learning outcomes.
Several years ago the legislature approved incentives for teachers.  Much as in industrial labor, teachers were rewarded for piece-work quantity for every student who succeeded — success measured by passing standardized tests.  However, the program was marked for failure because our children are NOT industrial commodities and passing standardized tests are NOT a true indicator of future success in life.
Most public education programs provide scattered curriculum and inappropriate teaching methods that are boring and outdated.  Most children are not well-prepared for college, business or life; consequently, most of them fall through the cracks of the imagined success mold.
Mark Twain is credited with stating, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  How many American children are able to say the same?
How long will it take for lawmakers, educators, and parents to recognize that to improve learning outcomes we must reduce class sizes, promote a love of learning, and teach children that learning is the key to being successful in education, business and life?  Otherwise, we merely are passing along our children through the public education system much as in the manufacturing sector where various products move through an assembly line. Mark Twain might have stated that “Products don’t get to think much going through the assembly line.”
So, if we want to help our children become successful in education, business and life we must provide several basics:
o  Encourage children to love learning about all topics
o  Teach more of the basics — reading, writing, mathematics
o  Develop communication, business and life training skills
o  Reduce class sizes to promote real learning and interaction
o  While it’s nice to provide more electives as options, they are not needed to improve learning skills
o  Make classes more interesting by using various methods of learning, e.g., visuals, audio, kinesthetic applications; develop business collaborative in the community
o  Eliminate state exams or don’t make them the major measure of success
o  Reduce competition among children while promoting group inclusion and real learning
o  Evaluate children in a more holistic manner that includes long-term teacher assessment, tests, various learning skills, overall learning outcomes

o  Trim the cost of providing public education so that it is more affordable to taxpayers.
In conclusion, it is unfortunate that on the learning evolutionary timeline public education has remained in the Dark Ages. It is time we reach the Age of Educational Enlightenment by promoting student interest and an ongoing love of learning, strengthening the basic core of learning (reading, writing, mathematics), reducing oversized classes and providing interesting curriculum and teaching methods that will improve overall educational skills and learning outcomes of all children.

Peter Stern, a former director of information services, university professor and public school administrator, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Driftwood., TX.

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