Friday, February 01, 2008

Then what would we do?

I've wasted the better part of a two days trying to articulate my views on education options, government schools and the unfair way that schools are funded. I would like to start a discussion but not start a fight.

My mother was a dedicated school teacher who went out of her way to help the children in her classroom. I had some wonderful experiences in school and received a reasonable education. However, I had a few bad teachers, many bad experiences, and came out ignorant of how things work in the "real" world.

Many of my friends send their children to public school. They are involved parents who are trying to do what they can to meet the needs of their children and make their schools better. Most are not entirely pleased by their experience, but don't believe the problems are bad enough to take action or that it would be futile to try. Many have never considered any other option.

When discussing education, the argument is frequently made that the support of public education (government schools) is a moral obligation and the duty to the poor. Many who opt out of government schools for their own family still have no objection to paying educational taxes to support the government schools.

While I believe we are our brother's keeper, I annoyed that every time the topic of public school is discussed, it is assumed that all students are destitute orphans or have parents who are idiots. Yes, some children do fall into that category, but it is wrong to structure educational programs that treat all children and families as if the parents are incompetents.

I find myself less and less happy with the current government educational system for a variety of reasons as I've explained here, here, here, here, here, and here, just to name a few. I'm disgusted by the waste and dependency on government aid that is fostered by the current system.

The way our current system works is analogous to flower shop where the person paying for the flowers has no choice on cost, style, size, the recipient or delivery time of the floral arrangement.

Through this system, some receive beautiful flower arrangements promptly delivered, others are forced to accept flowers they didn't order and don't want, and still others get a wilted mess. The florist is accountable to no one and the only remedy to correct the problem is to request yet more money from the one stuck paying the bill.

Since I have no faith that my tax dollars don't do long term good that couldn't have been done more efficiently some other way (and actually perpetuate a great deal of ill), I would like to have more options. For those who wish to work with in the current system, they are more than welcome to try, but I'm tired of being dragged along for the ride.

So back to my original question, if we made it easier to opt out of the current educational boondoggle, what would we do in its place? What would be a better way to raise the level of literacy among the disadvantaged while not getting in the way of those who can and should take care of themselves? Homeschooling is a great option for functioning families, but what about those who are failing in the current system and are not candidates for homeschooling?

So, even if you love your neighborhood school and think that the government school system is doing a great job, what would you change to make things better? Here are a few of my ideas.


In my ideal world, education programs would meet these criteria.

1) The responsibility to educate children falls first on the parents, second on the extended family, next upon the community, and lastly the government.

2) Educational opportunities (provided by parents, extended family, community, and/or government ) come with an obligation to repay (much like a student loan or work study program). No entitlement thinking. Whether wealthy or poor, students and their families are aware of the real "cost" of their education and feel a duty to repay the debt in some form or another.

3) Education is measured by skills and knowledge acquired, not time served. Students would not be tied to age segregated classes and could move along or spend extra time as needed on subject material. Gifted children would not be held back to accommodate slower learners.

4) The age to begin and end each stage of education (grade school, high school, trade school, college) would be flexible. Students could attend school as little or as much as their circumstances warrant.

5) Disadvantaged students could do volunteer work to earn points that could be exchanged for educational services greater than their family could provide. These services could include tutors, homeschool curriculum, private lessons, government school, private school, co-op school, etc. This system could also apply to children that require additional services because of a physical handicap or disability.

6) Families who provide for the education of their children or anyone else's through a homeschool, co-op, or private school could be exempted from all but minimal educational taxes. Educational taxes would be significantly lower for everyone because those receiving educational services would carry more of the responsibility for those services.

7) The primary function of schools would be to teach literacy, history, science, and math in a manner that would encourage independent learning. Schools would not act as parental substitutes or day care centers.

8) Students would be kicked out of school for any and all inappropriate, vulgar or illegal behavior. Students who are disruptive in class would find themselves picking up trash beside the highway and have to earn their way back to receiving community funded educational services.

9) Students who attend government schools would take care of the day to day cleaning of the school building. Things like sweeping, washing floors, windows, cleaning bathrooms, and so forth would be done on a daily basis the last 10-20 minutes of the school day. Lawn care would be handled by parents on the weekend. Parents and their children would need to work one clean up day at the beginning and ending of each school year. This would lower costs and deter vandalism.

10) Government school administrators could hire and fire teachers at will. Good teachers would get the respect and money they deserve and bad teachers would need to find themselves another job. Teaching credentials would be awarded by the candidate demonstrating subject mastery and classroom management (teaching) skill and NOT by the current academically weak, content-free teaching programs. School administrators could be hired and fired by a vote of the parents and school board.

11) All parents who send their children to school (any school) would need to support the school both financial and through volunteering. Families in extreme hardship situations would still need to make some good faith effort. There is no such thing as a "free" ride.

12) Scholarships, mentoring, and work study programs could be set up for the children of struggling parents.


I'm sure that there would be ideas that sound good but that don't work well and others that would need to be tweaked, but I don't think this plan would cost the 600 billion tax dollars that are currently spent.



----------
Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, public school, public education, education

18 comments:

CK Rock said...

It seems that your proposed ideas can be divided into three categories: Changes in the way education is preformed (3,4,7); changes in the way education is managed (8,9,10); and changes is the way education is paid for (1,2,5,6,11,12).

-Changes in the way education is preformed: I agree with these ideas, especially the one where student achievement is based on skills and knowledge. I believe turning the educational system into a meritocracy would be a stronger motivator for students. I also believe that segregation based on ability, rather than age would allow students and teachers to be more effective.

-Changes in the way education is managed: These ideas seem good enough. #9 (cleaning the school) is already implemented in Japan and it seems to work for them.

-Changes in the way education is paid for: The education of a child is a costly, time-intensive procedure, no matter how you do it. These ideas attempt to shift the burden of this cost from society in general (through taxes) to individual families. For many families this may not be a problem financially (however disruptive to the current status quo, which should probably not be ignored but for simplicity I will). However, we must still find ways to educate those children whose parents are (through choice or circumstance) unable to contribute themselves. If we don't it will cost us more in the long run (higher crime rate, welfare, medical aid, homeless shelters, etc.) Besides, we have a moral charge to help those less fortunate than ourselves. So it's questionable as to whether the pennies saved by not paying general educational taxes would outweigh the cost of educating these underprivileged students (which would assumably require a system similar to--and probably costing the same as--our current system).

Ideals aside, the current educational system (however flawed) is the only way we can currently contribute to the education of every citizen. Which is why I don't mind paying taxes, even though my son isn't even old enough to go to school. Even if we choose to homeschool him, I'll happily pay taxes knowing it's the best I can do for right now.

Which isn't to say that we shouldn't do everything we can to improve the system. However, I believe that overall, the educational system would be better served by improvement from within, rather than radical change from without. All of the ideas in the first two categories could apply to our current system and would probably improve it greatly.

Of course, pulling out all together and homeschooling is another option--if enough people did it, the system would have to reinvent itself and we would probably be left with an improvement either way.

Anonymous said...

I thought these suggestions were great- I have made many such comments myself in the past.

I also believe that education is the primary responsibility of parents, and not the gov't. When you say that, most folks start talking about all the kids whose lives will just spin down the drain, but if you think of all the disasters that have happened and the children who have terminal diseases for which Americans have banded together to raise money and give sacrificially of their own time and resources, I do not believe for a second that any child would be left behind.

IMO allowing education to be a completely private enterprise would be the best thing since sliced bread. Along with the ideas you have proposed, I think local businesses being involved with and supportive of the local schools would be tremendous. The experienced teachers (certification is a joke, and a bad one at that) and apprenticeship opportunities, sponsored scholarships and voluntary giving by people in the community.....

The roadblock to real reform is special interest groups and the NEA. They are not going to give up their power without a fight- which only proves in my mind that they are not the least bit concerned about the quality of education or the futures of our nation's children.

Alyssa said...

This is a really great discussion. Thanks, Janine for your wonderful suggestions and to the others who have made comments.

I'm really open to all the ideas that were presented here...

This is a side note, Sunnie, but I can see both good things and bad things about getting private businesses involved with school. Businesses do a lot of good, but they are ultimately self-serving at the end of the day. I worry about commercialism leaking into schools under the influence of businesses. ("This desk was paid for by Nike!") Those of us who were students and later teachers whose school television sets were paid for by Channel One know how frighteningly real the problem of direct teen advertising through schools can get.

Mrs. C said...

Under your plan...

My autistic 12-year-old would be in a class with five-year-olds. When he displays autistic behaviour like hiding under the desk when he's overwhelmed, he'd be kicked out of school immediately and I as the parent would have to take "responsibility" for his actions.

Under this system of meritocracy there would be absolutely no point sending the child to school. He'd never, or rarely, advance a grade. He would not receive specialized therapy because his mother is already busy with two infants, two homeschoolers and a high schooler and no way she has time to "volunteer" twice a week, or the money to buy the education he needs at bare minimum.

Guess the kid misses out, but as long as we save a big chunk o' money as a society it's ok, then.

I think I'd rather just plain old not have *any* system of education if we're going to be like that.

Actually I'd prefer it that way.

I pay maybe $2,000 per year to the district (not counting sales tax, cha ching!), but if I had that money in my pocket I could make a REAL IEP (Individualized Education Program) for my son. He might be in second or third grade academically, but he'd ALSO be able to work at the grocery store when he turns 15 or learn *something* that will be useful to him in the "real world" when he turns 18.

I wouldn't have the money for the speech, OT and social skills therapy or for his aide. But since we're preparing him to live in the "real world" I guess we do without and do the best we can.

The flower analogy you employed was very apt... but I can live with wilted flowers way better than the consequences of a crappy educational system. Right now (this year!) it's working well for G to be in public school. Next year, we may have a crummy case worker or whatever and it won't work well. We just don't know.

For this year, in any event, since I am obligated to pay taxes to the district, our older two children attend public schools. One is in the gifted program and G, as you know, is in special ed with a bunch of "accomodations" to help him. He can "integrate" for PE and that sort of thing, but is in his own class for reading and the like. I'm sure that my children cost the district much more than I pay in taxes... but... I would still rather not pay the taxes and have control over the money.

Make sense?

Anonymous said...

alyssa,

The good thing about commercialism is that it is customer driven. Parents would choose the schools that catered to their needs and desires, and schools that didn't respond to consumer concerns would go out of business.

I would not be sending my kids to school regardless of how the system is set up, but if I did I would not care if the desks had Nike emblems on them, or the lockers provided by a local sports store. I would want to support the businesses that supported my school, and that is what sponsorship is about, isn't it?

Mrs. C- I think that what would arise would be schools that specifically cater to families with special needs kids. You'd no longer worry about other 'normal' (and that definition is in the eye of the beholder) kids bullying your son, and the teachers would be trained to deal with these issues.

Janine Cate said...

Wow, thanks for the great response. There are so many good ideas, I don't know where to start first.

I will have to think a bit before I can respond.

CK Rock said...

Sunniemom -> I'm not sure that the privatization of public education is the answer. Market forces work well for weeding out weak businesses, but while the casualties of failed business is mostly lost money, the casualties of failed schools is represented by real children.

Privatizing commodities might work, but not public services. Can you imagine a privatized fire department or police department? You are safe if you have the funds when they show up with a credit card reader, but what if you don't have enough money?

A good parallel would be the affects privatization has had on the health care system. If you can afford insurance, you're (generally) okay, but if not, you can't receive the assistance you need. Now people are wondering if we shouldn't have a universal, government-funded health care system. I suspect that if education were to be privatized, it would deteriorate in a similar manner and we will have people calling for a return to our current system.

Henry Cate said...

CK Rock: "Privatizing commodities might work, but not public services. Can you imagine a privatized fire department or police department?"

Wikipedia reports that police really only started in 1800. To quote Wikipedia: "In the United States, the first organized police service was established in Boston in 1838, New York in 1844, and in Philadelphia in 1854."

Dr. Bruce Benson addresses this issue of do police have to be state supported in To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice and The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State.

Police really don't protect us so much as provide consequences after a crime has been committed. A typical town of 100,000 people might have 200 policemen. Normally only about a fourth of them are on duty at any one time. It is hard to create a system which stops people from committing a crime.

I'm not proposing that we get rid of police, but there have been systems which did fine without police.

Anonymous said...

To apply that philosophy, ck, one has to first assume that education and health care are the responsibility of gov't. And I do not believe that they should be considered 'public services'. Law enforcement is clearly within the Constitutional boundaries of gov't.

For a child to truly 'fail', the parent has to fail- fail to oversee and be involved with the child's education. Failure to seek remedies for problems, failure to get that child the help he/she needs. Failure to have two brain cells to rub together to make a spark. And the schools are already failing- if they were such a great success, we would not be having this discussion.

Again, do you really want to place the reponsibility for the success or failure of the nation's children on the shoulders of gov't?

CK Rock said...

Henry -> A world without police would be interesting. I think the thought experiment has parallels with the original suggestion of the extreme reform of public education. Namely, can a system be removed once it has been fully integrated into society without dramatic consequences?

I think that in both cases, it's not what the system is, but what it represents. Police represent authority and public education represents the ideal of education for all. In the minds of many, the destruction of the symbol would lead to the destruction of what it represents.
-------------
Sunniemom -> I agree that our school system is a mess; I just don't think that privatization is the answer. Success in business doesn't necessarily come from having the best product. It can also come from undercutting price and driving out the competition by cutting on quality and production costs, and any number of other underhanded business dealings. I don't think a public service that deals with children should be controlled by such methods.

I agree that most student failures can be attributed to irresponsible parents. The question is, do we help those students, or allow them to suffer the sins of their parents? However flawed, public education is the best system we have right now to help those children who's parents can't (through choice or circumstance). Homeschooling, private schools, and the complete reworking of the system proposed in the original post are great for those with the means to do so, but neglect those who need it the most. Students with strong, smart, supportive parents will be successful no matter which direction they go--to public schools or are homeschooled. The issue comes to this: What is to be done for those who don't have strong, smart, supportive parents? When the parents drop the ball, who's responsibility is it to pick it up? I feel that I can help the most by paying government-supported taxes that support the education of these students.

Anonymous said...

ck- again, we are speaking of responsibility. So if a man and woman bring children into the world, and then decide not to feed/clothe/educate them, the gov't should step in and do it for them, using the police power of the state to take money from the responsible parents and give it to the irresponsible? Oh wait- they already do that with welfare and public education.

Something about that really sucks.

People plan to purchase cars and homes and go on vacations, and you'd scream bloody murder if folks started proposing legislation to raise taxes to make sure that everyone had a car, a home, and a Disney vacation- after all, children deserve a home, transportation, and a picture with Mickey Mouse.

There are already laws on the books stating that parents are to provide the necessities of life to their children, including an education. So if parents aren't providing an eduation, enforce the existing laws and punish them accordingly.

Instead we have a gov't run monopoly that punishes the successful and productive citizens to cater to the clueless and lazy.

I also believe that the majority of businesses are run by honest, hard working men and women. Assuming that those who would go into the education business would be less honest than the federal gov't and the NEA (excuse me while I get up from the floor after laughing my butt off) is naive and IMO a faulty assumption.

Janine Cate said...

Can a person ethically say they are meeting their PERSONAL obligation to care for the poor by perpetuating a system that confiscate the property of their neighbors?


In the above mentioned scenario, hasn't the individual merely diluted their own personal responsibility by handing the accountability to the government?

Caring for the poor through taxation require no great personal sacrifice. In addition, the tax burden will also move more families who could have provided for their own children into a position of dependence upon government programs. That doesn't sound very charitable to me.

TammyT said...

I don't know if you've done this yet, but this post is worth submitting to the carnival of education, IMHO.
http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog/

Janine Cate said...

Tammy,

Thanks for the suggestion.

Mrs. C.,
I was debating how to handle the special education question. Right now, special education students take a disproportionate amount of funding. Some of these services are vital, yet they are draining resources away from equally deserving average and gifted students.

I think I would handle truly needy children through charitable organizations. I say "truly needy" because now days it doesn't take much to get the special ed label stuck on a child.

A psychology class I took in college required so many hours a week at the "exceptional child center." It was a good program. However, my time there was entirely wasted on a ridiculous IEP.

I would feed cheetos to a girl for repeating the word "tree" when I showed her a picture of a tree, and so forth. This kid didn't deal in abstract. A picture of a tree was meaningless to her, she just repeated what ever I said. For years afterwards, I couldn't smell cheetos without getting sick.

I agree with you that a really IEP that taught useful life skills would be a better.

Eli said...

Wow, there is so much wrong with this post I don't really know where to begin.

We could start at the basics, with ideas about free will vs. determinism, and what a 'meritocracy' actually means.

We could ponder the role of taxation in the economy, where wealth creation really comes from, and whether money is actually property to begin with, or what that even means.

We could agree to measure the best against the best, and worst against worst... and weigh the enormous benefits of having a universal education system that tries its best to guarantee a basic degree of service to everyone regardless of income level, special needs, familial involvement, race, gender, etc., against a more privatized, yet patchwork system that would necessarily allow some children even greater abandonment to the deadly churn of modern economics.

We could recognize that the great lamenting we hear in the media and in national discussion today largely ignores the elephant in the room, which is Class. The lousy test scores, the poorly managed districts, and the financial sucking sound all emanate from the basic fact that universal education is expected to perform the absurd task of taking taking the worst, most destitute and challenged citizenry and magically turning them all into college-bound beacons of human excellence.

We can discuss happy meals, janitorial services and assembly line workers.

Or, I suppose we could discuss my students, their broken homes, drug addicted parents, abuse, gangs, ignorance, etc., and some of the most amazingly devoted and self-sacrificing people I know who are held "accountable" when we are inevitably not up to the task, overcrowded and underfunded, of transporting them out of the ghettos and up into lily-white world of home-schooling soccer moms, mutual funds and... oh, I don't know, dentists?

I guess I like the idea of discussion, and am grateful for the forum. But with a chasm this large between the reality so many of us see, and the perspective of this post, one wonders if it's even worth it.

Janine Cate said...

>We could agree to measure the best against the best, and worst against worst... and weigh the enormous benefits of having a universal education system that tries its best to guarantee a basic degree of service to everyone regardless of income level, special needs, familial involvement, race, gender, etc., against a more privatized, yet patchwork system that would necessarily allow some children even greater abandonment to the deadly churn of modern economics.

Are there "enormous benefits" of our universal education system? How do you measure that? If we as a society pay $100,000 to educate a child who comes out the other side barely literate and unable to hold a entry level job at McDonalds, how have we as a society benefited? If we offered basic literacy services which cost far less than $100,000 and only invested further resources into children that showed a desire for more and a willingness to work for more, how could we be worse off? Right now, after $100,000 we have nothing to show for it.

Would some children be left behind? Current statistic show a high drop out rate and low performance for "at risk" segments of society now. I don't think a new system could do much worse and has the potential to do much better. The failure of the current system springs from the fact that it is based on many faulty assumption. You've mentioned quite a few such assumptions yourself. As long as the system doesn't recognize the reality that students experience in and out of school, we are wasting valuable resources and giving teachers an impossible job.


>We could recognize that the great lamenting we hear in the media and in national discussion today largely ignores the elephant in the room, which is Class. The lousy test scores, the poorly managed districts, and the financial sucking sound all emanate from the basic fact that universal education is expected to perform the absurd task of taking taking the worst, most destitute and challenged citizenry and magically turning them all into college-bound beacons of human excellence.

I agree. It is an absurd task and a poor investment. I have no desire to remove educational options from those who will take advantage of the opportunity. But, let's stop force feeding education. It does no measurable good. Unmotivated students hinder students who could benefit.

>Or, I suppose we could discuss my students, their broken homes, drug addicted parents, abuse, gangs, ignorance, etc., and some of the most amazingly devoted and self-sacrificing people I know who are held "accountable" when we are inevitably not up to the task, overcrowded and underfunded, of transporting them out of the ghettos and up into lily-white world of home-schooling soccer moms, mutual funds and... oh, I don't know, dentists?

Again, I agree. Teachers should not be held accountable for problems that start at home. There are some teachers who are literally miracle workers, but it is not fair to expect a teacher to single handedly turn around the life of a child who is in their class for only 9 months of one school year.

>I guess I like the idea of discussion, and am grateful for the forum. But with a chasm this large between the reality so many of us see, and the perspective of this post, one wonders if it's even worth it.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." To create a more efficient and successful education system, we need to be willing to let go of the old one.

There is a large chasm in perspectives. Different points of view can be a good thing. Insiders, like teachers, see things that are not obvious from the outside. But, as an "outsider," I have an advantage of not being limited to the old system. Combine the two, and we might come up with something useful.

loonyhiker said...

I love your analogy with using the florist! The people in power are so far removed from the classroom that they have no idea what they are doing. Education has just become a political game with no real interest in meeting the needs of the students. It's a shame that we have come this far and I foresee it taking a long time to correct.

Janine Cate said...

>Education has just become a political game with no real interest in meeting the needs of the students.

Sad, but true.