Monday, February 27, 2006

Getting School Right

Defending the public school parents….yes that’s right! Me, a Homeschooling parent standing up for the rights of public school participants.

I was talking to my brother yesterday and schooling came up. He started telling me about all the cost of sending your kids to public school. They are required to have “branded” supplies, the top of the line crayons, scissors & such. They are required to bring enough candy for the whole class on a particular day, and the list goes on and on. If they choose to participate in sports, band, or some other activity, the parents have to dole out a pretty good amount of money.

Ok, now here’s my take on how public school works (or should work). First off I see it as Socialistic in structure and little more than a public welfare program, which by definition, it is. In this, and once again by my reasoning (flawed as it may be), a degree of equality should be experienced. All children should have equal access to all programs offered.

The way it is though, is very different. If ones parents can afford an instrument (either purchase or rent), can afford the extra supplies needed for sports, the cost of day trips and such, then their kids can participate in the “elective” classes. Through these classes, the children are trained in a special course, often go to extra practices or get outside tutorship, and if they show some advanced talent, become eligible and are offered specialized scholarships. To those kids who make the grade, I say good for them! Run with it.

Looking through the other lens, I see a great problem with this system. Remember our school systems are based on a specific philosophy. A philosophy that states: “It takes a village” to ensure that “no child is left behind.” My view would be one that all members of a particular village had equal opportunity to ALL activities, which is not the case. Not all families have the time or resources to see their children participate in any of the non-curriculum driven class of their choosing. Some families quite simply cannot afford the extra trips, clothing, instruments, equipment, or time required for their kids to be part of these programs. Some kids have much needed jobs, or have to help with the care of their younger siblings while the parents are at work, or a whole plethora of valid reasons that disallow their ability to be included in these programs.

In this, I would have to turn on myself and ask if it is fair to cause the children afforded the opportunity for advancement to forsake it because all are not able to pay the price required. I would have to say no. Would I want my child to give up something I can afford in order to ensure they have no advantage over another child whose parents cannot afford that same opportunity? I think not! I want all the advantages I can get for my children, as I am sure, all parents do.

I could simply stand on the old adage that states, “Life is not fair.” I could accept that mentality if the public school program was one that depended on participant support, but this is not the case. If we live in America then we are paying for the public schools through our taxes, thus we all own and support them without choice, and in this, we all should have equal opportunity for our children to fully participate in any program of their choice.

I once had a boss who would never entertain anyone bring him a problem. His response was always the same; “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” In this attitude I have some thoughts on how to make a public funded institution fully accessible for all paying (taxed) participants.

  • All school supplies would be provided at the expense of the school district.
These supplies would be bought wholesale (the Wal-Mart way) in bulk and distributed from a supply depot on the school grounds. The teacher would be required to give any student a voucher verifying that the student actually needs it. This approach would allow for all students to be equally equipped in their actual academic school needs.
  • No formal participation in competitive school activities (sports, music, etc.) played against other school teams, until the junior and senior years based upon academic achievement in the prior four years of study.
This one would really be a tough one on many people, especially the parents! In this, I would beg one to question the reason for school in the first place. I would say it is to better equip them to engage the world with the most advantage as possible. In this, reading, writing, mathematics, the languages, and history should be the basis, and nothing else. All other activities should be intramural in nature until the 11th grade. They should be arranged in a course nature. They should be more for exploration than grade, with the focus of finding one’s natural talents. Then after the child has explored their options they can then choose their course for the last two years in school, with entrance based solely upon academic performance. None of this coach leaning on teachers to bump a grade so a kid can be on the team because the coach would have no prior knowledge of the child until they are eligible for participation. If you flunk you junior classes, you are out, and likewise if you have to repeat your senior year, you are out. Only two years.
In terms of reducing cost, the uniforms/equipment needed for participation would be more uniform in only being needed for a more specific age range, as well as, having a fewer number of students to outfit. Along with this would be the realization of savings in reducing the need for so many coaches/directors etc... These savings could then go into paying for travel expenses and such without having to burden the family with added cost.
Also, these limitations would be a good incentive for students aspiring wanting to be involved in such activities. This might be a good way to raise our academic standing internationally.

  • Limit all school activity to school time.
All practices, performance, or any other activity would need to be performed during the normal school day. This would allow children with other familial responsibilities to equally participate in any or all activities they were academically qualified for.

  • Have teacher pay based on performance as set by the local school board.
While I have to agree that many good teachers are underpaid, I have to point my finger at the fact that many bad teachers ore overpaid. If we would set a pay scale based on performance it would inspire many to be better teachers while weeding out the bad ones. I am sorry to say that many of our teachers have chosen their field more for a reason of a default last option rather than anything else. Being somewhat involved with the collegiate industry, I see many students who really shouldn’t be in college, being directed into elementary education for reason of not being able to excel in other disciplines. I think this is wrong! Our teachers should be the top level of college graduates…not the leftovers. For those teachers who are true scholars, I do feel bad and would not want to live in the trap that their passion has placed them in. Some people are teachers and should never be anything else. To these people, I have to apologize for such a pathetic system of compensation for them.
Along these lines, I would also advise that the community take the school systems they are paying for back. Get the government and NEA (National Education Association) out of their schools. The NEA does little more than serve their own agenda, while collecting dues from teacher members who receive little compensation. They are more politically motivated than educationally inspired, and they have no place in our schools.
In regards to teacher pay, I think by letting the local districts set their own scale, they will be making the decision on how much they want for their community as well as their children. If a district decides to pay well, they will attract a larger pool of teachers to choose from, thus allowing the best to rise to the top. This will also be cause for allowing more revenues through existing taxes, by attracting people concerned with their children’s education. In turn this will have children who are better educated, being graduated into our community, which will result in attracting more “brainy” rather than “brawny” industries to that community. In the end, a more stable economic base would be realized. Life would be better for all.
I found out that our local superintendent of our small school makes over 150k while the teachers earn around 30k. While I agree with added responsibility being rewarded with added pay, there should not be such a great degree of separation. If the “higher-ups” were paid in the same manner as the teachers, I think we would see a vast improvement in our public education system. We are paying these guy’s how much money to graduate our children into a world when they can’t read? It’s not the kid’s at fault here…it goes something like this. Student-teacher-superintendent, and it should be more along the lines of student-parent-teacher-superintendent. We as parents need to be demanding our superintendent’s hire a teacher who can get the job done, and one way to insure this is to pay him well for doing a good job, and likewise, pay him poorly for doing a poor job.

In short, our public school system is broken and the method of repair that throws money on them is not working. We need to get involved and decide what WE want for OUR children and the schools WE are paying for! We need to stand up and take responsibility for our children. Right now our schools have left scholarship as they have moved into an industry. It is up to us, but we do need to remember one thing…WE ARE NOT GETTING WHAT WE HAVE PAID FOR!

Makes me want to homeschool my kids….Wait! I do…maybe I am yelling out on your behalf?