We’re too selfish to lift the level of public education

opinions

September 28, 2010 - 12:00 AM

The idea of a longer school year makes sense, President Barack Obama said in a television interview Monday, adding that American youngsters attend classes, on average, about a month less than children in other advanced countries.
He also defended federal aid to public schools, but added that money alone wouldn’t lift America’s public schools to the level they need to be to compete on the world educational scene.
He said America’s worst performing teachers “have got to go” and that educational standards must be raised to give American students a better chance in the global labor market.

OLD STUFF, really. And the fact that these two prescriptions for raising the level of our public education have been made over and over again by educators and employers for decades with zero impact is a
crying shame.
In a little over a month, Kansans will go to the polls and elect or re-elect our representatives to Congress, four to the House, one to the Senate, a governor and dozens of state legislators.
So, are the candidates for those very important jobs talking to us about the need to make Kansas a leader in public school improvement? Are they saying, yes, Kansas should lengthen its school day and its school year so that Kansas students would learn, say, 15 percent more in their 12 years in the public schools? Are the candidates hammering home the message that high quality teachers are the key to high level learning, and asking for public support for the higher taxes that will be needed?
Not a bit of it.
Iola and the rest of the state will stick with the present school year, thank you. It was good enough for granddad — and many great-granddads, too — so it should be good enough for junior. Hey, the world hasn’t changed in the last 100 years, has it? Two plus two was four in every-year A.D., right? Who really needs to be able to gather facts, evaluate them and put them together to make a cogent presentation? They can get that stuff in college, can’t they? Laboratory science is a luxury, like two years of a foreign language or discussion classes in economics, history and social science.
Be warned. Lifting the level of our public schools will make coddled elitists of our kids. Can’t go there, can we? Better play it safe and
not teach them so much that they’ll want to learn more, achieve more, shake things up. Scary thoughts, aren’t they?

A MORE LIKELY explanation for our unwillingness to make our public schools better is just plan stinginess. Intellectually, we do understand that more time in the classroom with better teachers to meet higher educational standards would make America a better nation. But then we grab tight to our wallets: we just aren’t willing to pay the price that a higher level of public education costs.
We’re selfish, folks. We tell ourselves we want the best for our kids and then make sure that our governor, our legislature, our local shakers and movers, are all pledged to keep taxes low, to trim public spending everywhere, schools included. In other words, we make certain that our kids get an economy class education.
After the election, when the study club meets and the speaker tells the members that Kansas really must lift its public education level higher for the sake of the kids, heads will nod in vigorous agreement. But no one will rise to take their share of the blame.

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