This is not an indictment of teachers. Nor is it an indictment of all public schools or school systems. In fact the school system in the county of my residence is one of the better systems. Now I am not falling into the syndrome that says that all other areas are bad and the area I am in is good. I have some quantifiable data to back this up.
The school system in my county had privatized food service, janitorial service, grounds keeping and bussing, saving the taxpayers a great deal of money. The entry-level salaries are at least comparable with other entry-level undergraduate professions. In my county, the salaries of teachers are on par with other professions requiring the minimum of an undergraduate degree. Tenured teachers here are earning comparable pay to other white-collar earners. According to these measurable data, I believe our school system is a good one.
There are also some less objective reasons why I consider that this is a good system. I would guess that at least half of the teachers and staff in our schools are Christian or at least tolerant of Christianity. There is very little religious discrimination in our school system. You are less likely to be censured for speaking about Christianity here than in other systems. Children are allowed to pray individually without fear of condemnation. Teachers may pray in lounges or areas away from the students without reprimand. We allow Bibles in our schools. I am not saying that there is an overt display of Christianity, but a greater degree of freedom exists in this area than in other districts of which I am aware.
Now, having explained why I believe our school system to be one of the better ones, Let me get on with my point. In the United States Federal Government, there is a Department of Education. This department does not educate anyone. It is the bureaucracy in charge of distributing the monies allotted by the Congress for education in this country. Those monies are substantial. The Federal education budget is more than $400 billion! This is in addition to what the states spend. To put that in perspective, we spend about $188 billion on military operations and personnel. The education budget is about double our military operations spending. That is quite a large amount of money for an education department that educates no one. It is too much for a program that is not in the purview of the U.S. Constitution. I cannot find any place in the Constitution that says the federal government will provide for the education of children. However, the military is a mandate of the Constitution (Preamble and Article I Section 8).
The media reports that on average, we spend from ten to fifteen thousand dollars per student per year nationally for education (many private and parochial schools provide quality education at a tenth of that cost). That is too much money considering that it comes from the feds with bureaucratic strings attached.
We spend record amounts of money on education. As a percentage of GNP, we spend more than any other country in the world on education. I suppose that means that our high school graduates are some of the best-educated students in the world, right? Not! In fact, our students are some of the poorest educated students in the world, especially in the hard sciences. But do not let that burden you, our students are also among the poorest educated in social studies, composition, reading, comprehension, arts, literature, etc. Many high school graduates are illiterate by world standards. It is so bad that colleges, universities, and industry must provide literacy training to their entrants in order to survive. So many high school graduates are functionally illiterate that there is not enough of a pool of literate students to fill the needs of industry or to fill our higher learning institutions. To survive, these institutions must provide remedial education to their entrants.
So, what is the problem? Of course, the answer to that question is a complicated one. Perhaps the newer ideas about learning (outcomes, new math, new reading programs, etc.) are simply not adequate. Perhaps we are spending too much time in our schools teaching social skills (because too many parents do not) and not enough time teaching academic basics. Perhaps too many latchkey children who do not have enough parental involvement in their lives is the problem. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
These are indeed problems, but they are not, in my estimation, The Problem. I truly believe that The Problem is the involvement of the Federal Government. Right here in my own county in our own local school system is a whole building staffed with educators (read teachers) whose sole responsibility is to write federal grants. I do not know the exact figure, but I would estimate that there at least twenty staff there. Most of them are teachers, taken out of the classroom to write federal grants.
The money allocated to the federal Department of Education is dealt out to the local and state school systems with multiple strings attached. Each grant is given to a school system with a specific end in mind. In order to meet the requirements of that goal, school districts must do certain things. (You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours-a prodigal quid pro quo). This money is squandered in a variety of ways. The major waste is the bureaucracy involved in the dispensation of this mammon. That takes a large percentage of the budget. A secondary waste is the requisites attached to the use of this money. A school district may receive this money but they must spend it only in the way that the federal bureaucracy dictates. Educators spend far too much time meeting the requirements of the federal bureaucracy, filling out forms, more forms, and even more forms and testing, testing, testing to prove to the bureaucrats that they have properly spent the money. Compliance with the bureaucracy's requirements is very costly in both time and money.
The lure of federal lucre has had a great impact on how we educate children. The monies available from the federal government are seemingly irresistible to school districts, notwithstanding all the attached requirements. Yet, it is precisely those requirements that have appropriated education leading to the mediocre performance of our students.
One of the best ways to help education in the USA is to end the federal Department of Education. Leave the money that the Department of Education spends in the hands of the local schools. Get federal mandates and their attendant bloated bureaucracies out of the way and allow the parents and educators in the local school districts to determine how to best educate our children.
I believe that states and local school districts should opt out of federal funding. That would leave less money to spend on each student, but it would cut out much of the compliance costs and would give the educators more time to educate because they spend less time filling out forms and testing the results of the federal mandate. I truly believe that we can get a quality education product at much more reasonable cost per student than we do currently. After all many private institutions spend much less money than the public schools while producing a better result.
Copyright © 2004, Mark Oaks. All rights reserved.