Thursday, March 13, 2008

Christine on the Issues: Education

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” FDR

Out of all the issues, education is the one where everyone agrees there needs to be improvement, yet there is no perfect answer on how to do that. There are a lot of really interesting ideas, many of which might bring solutions to problem areas, but no big fix.

I don't think our public education system will ever be perfect, because it's full of imperfect people and the ups and downs of children and families and tax payers. However, I think baby steps can make a vital impact ... one little tiptoe at a time.

Standardized testing had its moment to shine. It rusted out almost immediately and continues to suffocate the classroom. I've seen for myself how more time reading and listening and discussing and doing literally sling-shots learning and retention. Teachers have so many blanks to fill in, and test-taking skills to teach, and lists to fill-out, and papers to grade, and meetings to attend, and continued education to complete ... they don't get to sit for long periods of time and absorb books and information with their students, and listen and listen some more, and make the impact they want to make ... the reason they began teaching.

To do this, money has to be poured into teacher salaries. We need more teachers, and we need to value them and reward them. We need students to be well-rounded, but we shouldn't have our athletes in $200 shoes and shiny new uniforms, when some children never have access to a computer and some schools are falling apart.

Would competition help? In some ways it would. It would encourage administrators to seek out and hire the best. It would encourage teachers to always grow and improve. Yet, how do you determine what is a "good school"? Does every school accept students via a lottery?

The competition approach has good and bad. In America, would it turn out like standardized testing, or "Robin Hood?"

I do love charter schools. The reason I love them is because the only thing they have in common is how they are authorized. Other than that, they can educate uniquely. Some focus on arts, others on trade skills, while some only accept students with special needs. I love this, because every child is different, and they will all be gifted and give back to the world in different ways. I think it is wonderful that they could go to a school that is better suited to their specific abilities.

Yet, where does that leave all students ... like those living in rural areas ... where there are no charter schools ... and their public school still isn't measuring up?

We have a friend in Dallas that stays with the same students for four years throughout elementary school. It's an ingenious idea (has the feel and advantage of constant personal touch of homeschooling). Yet only one or two teachers are willing to do it. It takes more planning and preparation. You can't just regurgitate the same grade level material year after year. So, to get more teachers to do this, more money and incentives will have to be offered. My friend says that it is so amazing, because she starts every new year, knowing every child and they can just pick up where they left off. Her students move at a more advanced pace because of this (no need to rehash and review the first six weeks to make sure they're all on the same page!).

Our schools are full of kids who suffer educationally because they are not receiving enough at home. This is where many think that year-round school and longer school days will be very beneficial. Yet, you can already hear the outcries from those who like it just the way it is.

All of these ideas can be so great, but it comes down to one thing: how do we rate performance? When we try something, how do we know it's working? There are a lot of schools that are scoring really well on standardized tests, but the teachers say that there is less learning. Do good grades equal a great school? What about the fact that you may have amazing teachers who are helping their students to all meet their fullest potential, but that will never be reflected on a report card?

I've yet to find a candidate that can represent me on this issue, because there's no one out there saying, "Geez, I dunno?!?!" So, I love to see candidates that really care - not just about numbers and programs - but that break it down to the raw children and parents. If that is the base of their efforts, then they can move us through some positive baby steps. If they have a really strong stance on social justice, then their "big picture" will already be helping these children and families who need it most.

(photo by steph p)


Anonymous said...

It is sad that as a whole our country is lacking teachers, lacking quality educational material, and lacking funding/support from our government. The standardized tests are giving money to schools that are already doing well and keeping those that really need aid, well, in need of even more assistance.

As for answers or solutions, I have none. I think our lack of knowledge is going to bite us later. Maybe we should check into the education of other countries. See if some countries are doing well and what they are doing. In fact, there might be some other things we can learn from them too (health care, prison systems, etc.).

bauer zoo said...

what a great subject! i don't know if it is the same in all states, but i know that our state gives some money based on attendance. we had kids that never took a final exam because they had a policy that let kids not test if they missed 2 days or less. i know that we had students that graduate with limited reading and math skills. i am not sure what would help. i think that the idea of s. testing was a good. i don't know if it's working or not. how else do you find out whether the kids are learning what they need to suceed? if all parents were involved in their kids education, we wouldn't have these issues, but how do you force that? i don't know what else we can do as a country. i think most of this falls back on the parents. if they don't make education important in their kids eyes, the kids don't see it's importance.

Heather said...

I'm with you Christine. I love the idea of Charter schools. It's like homeschooling only in a more "structured" setting. Unfortunately, we do live in a rural area ourselves so this isn't available therefore, that led us to take education into our own hands and homeschool. I do however dread the standardized testing I still face as a homeschooler. For our state's regulations though it is the least intrusive and easiest method of evaulation so you find yourself going along with it. This however means my homeschooled children are being tested in the same format as public school kids. It's like comparing apples to oranges in what they're learning and how they learn it - and isn't the best assessment of how much they truly are learning -

I wish I had some great brainy ideas to share, but I find myself at a loss for solutions. The one big thing I think would help public education a TON is to get the emphases off of sports in schools and place it instead on education -what a novel idea, education in schools - isn't sports afterall just games? Maybe games have no place in education and instead should go back to organized venues in the community. I hear the outcries now...."off with her head!" HE!

It just really burns me to hear about all the athletes that are getting full scholarships to top universities and it's all about the sports, not the education. Iowa has had many of them arrested for numerous crimes, one top player recently was admitted back to the university & put back on the football team after serving jail time for a sexual crime. WHAT does that teach our children? And, what direction is that taking education? Scary stuff!

R. D. Bailey said...

#1-All systems of education will be flawed because of the fall of man. Homeschooling, charter, private, and government.
#2-Our measuring stick of success and God's are not even on the same planet. We measure by achievement, God measures by faithfulness.
#3-Whether the kids are in government, charter, private, or home schools; when parents have to answer to their maker, the responsibility of the child's training will be upon them.
#4-Basic presuppositional point of view-all these question can be answered from Scripture. Not from the wisdom of men.
#5-Democracy should not be the ultimate goal. Being reconciled to God should be the ultimate goal.
#6-Question-What part of scripture places as much importance on intellectual improvement as we do.
I'm not saying we want to raise dumb kids, but we do need to find some kind of Biblical balance.
#7-Democracy, or for that matter, any genre of government is mandated from scripture. We, as believers are mandated to obey whatever government we are under. Having traveled in many countries where democracy is not the form of government, I have seen stronger believers in countries where there are evil dictators. Democracy cannot mandate people to please God.

Homeschooler Online said...

BTW - here's some rough stats on the K12 population:
3% in charter schools. Growing 20% annually.
4% homeschooling. Growing 25% annually.
9% in private schools.
84% in public schools.

The fastest growing segment in the public sector are the virtual public schools.

These stats are estimates.

Kat said...

The reason schooling doesn't work is that it is based on a false premise. Education was started, directed, and still controlled (indirectly) by the labor department. That is why education cannot be "fixed" by any definition we as caring and concerned parents may have. The purpose of schooling is to create workers for the labor force. Now, this fact is not advertised and most people are unaware of the correlation. There are some references I could give you, but I would have to look them up, and I'm just too lazy to bother right now.

I am leaning more and more to the concept of unschooling (for all ages) and I just read a book (The Call to Brilliance) that really inspires and motivates me toward that direction.

Just my two cents here... Ultimately, you've got to do what you think is right.