Education in America Part II

by Roland S. Martin from CNN

(CNN) — When President Obama signs the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, there will be shouts of joy from both sides as Republicans and Democrats get their cherished earmarks.

Yet tucked into that bill is an amendment pushed by the president’s former colleague in the Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who used his influence to essentially kill the District of Columbia school vouchers program.

Oh sure, it will be portrayed that the Democrats aren’t killing the program, but the initiative calls for no new students to be allowed entry, unless approved by Congress and the District of Columbia City Council. And considering that the teachers union has such a death grip on both Democratic-controlled institutions, you can forget about that happening.

Democrats say they believe in school choice, but they don’t fully accept the gamut of choices. They will happily tout charter schools, also opposed by the national teachers unions, but stop at vouchers. Why? Because Republicans have consistently advocated for vouchers, and Democrats have convinced themselves that vouchers will somehow destroy the public school infrastructure.

Now, some believe the Obama administration is sending mixed signals because Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he doesn’t want to see kids thrown out of Washington schools who are already in the existing voucher program. Fine. But the reality is that after this year, no new kids will be allowed to enroll in the program, and that folks, is killing the program.

Obama and his party have never been fans of vouchers. Why? They contend that vouchers would hurt the public school system. Vouchers allow parents who can’t afford private school to remove their children from public schools in order to get a better education.

Well, isn’t that what the president and those in his party do themselves by sending their children to private school? Only they don’t need the government’s help. The standard fallback position of Democrats and the Obama administration is that the Washington program only helps 1,700 children a year, and those who don’t qualify are stuck in a sorry system, and they are largely poor and minority. They contend that since every student can’t be helped by vouchers, none should be helped. So parents and children are supposed to sit tight and wait on the promised reform to trickle down from Washington to the local school systems, and then all will be well?

To me, that’s sort of like saying that historically African-Americans are likely to have high rates of diabetes and hypertension, so instead of launching a program to save some from developing the disease, let’s wait for a comprehensive plan where all can be saved at one time. Sorry, folks. I believe you save as many as you can now, and continue to save the rest later. This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, but an and/both situation.

The other fundamental problem here is that we have a bunch of politicians deciding what’s best for education over the objections of actual educators! For instance, Democrats have had high praise for the superintendent of schools in Washington, Michelle Rhee. Just one problem: she supports vouchers. “I don’t think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids,” she told The New York Times. So if Rhee backs them, why not give her the vote of confidence to continue the program while she tries to fix the ailing school system?

The education reform outlined by President Obama on Tuesday is necessary. But we are a long way from seeing the kind of systemic changes that will fix our public schools. His plan goes far on personal and parental responsibility, yet relies on states to enact their own measures of change, and with 50 different state school plans, we know that is a disaster waiting to happen.

I would have more confidence if President Obama and members of Congress truly walked the walk and sent their kids to public schools. If they have so much faith in them turning around with reform, entrust their own children to public education. That’s the kind of confidence our system needs. If it’s good enough for yours, then surely it’s good enough for mine.

 But preaching to the rest of us about the virtues of a public education, then sending your own children to private school and denying the use of vouchers so others can do the same, is frankly hypocritical. I know the value of a public education, and went to such institutions for elementary, middle, high school and college. Yet looking at the sorry state public schools are in now, maybe seeing kids leave in droves via vouchers will force school administrators and teachers to stop thinking they have all the answers and allow for innovation and full accountability, from the classroom to the boardroom.

Education in America

As both a  parent and a advocate for children I am always concerned about the direction of our public education.  President Obama today in speaking to Teachers Unions rebuffed the Democratic party and touted among other things merit pay for successful teachers.  He also talked about removing teachers who are ineffective as well along with investing more in early childhood education. 

Obama said,

“Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.”

Obama also called for more charter schools and longer school hours.

I have some mixed feelings on all of these.  I am definitely for rewarding excellent teachers, I just don’t know how one will be able to measure that.  While good and bad teachers are often easy to spot, too often office politics, personalities and union mandates can prevent the better teachers from being rewarded.  I have seen successes in some charter schools.  My daughter attended one for 6 years before moving and having to go public again.  Her particular charter experience was wonderful.  She is further ahead than her current classmates.  At the same time, some charter schools are merely money making projects and I live in a town where the mayor is trying his very best to place all public education in private charter school creating hands.  He wants his political friends to get that steady stream of government education money. 

See that’s the thing.  If we look at this thing honestly, we’ll find that every education opportunity will not be the same for every child.  As much as I would like it to be, it’s just not a realistic thing to expect in a capitalist society.  If one can afford to pay for a high performing private school where that type of money invested more often than not assures the parental involvment and community support necessary to advance in the marketplace, more power to you!  Still we should value public education which means being innovative and trying new things.  Getting rid of bad teachers is an excellent idea.  School competition is a good thing as well.  Which is why the ideas of charter schools don’t particularly offend me.  The problem comes with excess of political pandering and bull$%#@ ways of doing things.  Ideas are great but the devil is always in the details.  I have been to enough school board meetings to see for myself.

I look at it like a double edge sword.  Back in the day big businesses used labor to generate profit but were reluctant to offer labor it’s fair share.  There is no question that there was a strong need for unions to bargain for workers.  Similarly, many unions have abuse bargaining ideas giving way to overpaid labor who don’t feel the urgency to put in a good days work since they have a level of protection.  For decades they have been steeped in their own level of corruption.  What are you going to do?  The powers that be on both sides are often inherently corrupt.  This is what we are dealing with when it comes to education in many ways.  And both sides are still fighting for majority and in some cases total control.

Because people take sides based on their affiliations, we usually get an either or approach instead of combining good ideas  to try to gain a viable solution.  And again if integrity is not at the center of the ideas and most of all injected into implementation of ideas, then far too many of our elementary and secondary educational facilities will remain inept.

What do you think?