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OP-ED | We Are Having the Wrong Conversation About Education

by Suzanne Bates | Feb 14, 2014 6:30am
(5) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion

When we lay blame for what’s wrong with education we talk about “failing schools” and “bad teachers,” but we have not paid enough attention to the actual children who are failing to pass classes and who are not getting an adequate education. How do we help them?

Our current batch of policy proposals in Connecticut — implementing the Common Core, teacher evaluations, universal pre-kindergarten — do not get at the root of the problem. 

Here in Connecticut we’re spending more than ever before — from 2003 to 2011 our spending went from $10,788 per child to $15,600 per child. But while our spending increased by 45 percent, student test scores only improved by 1 percent.

Even while funding increased, the number of school-aged children in Connecticut dropped from 577,403 to 530,132.

Now the governor is talking about universal pre-k as though that’s the answer to all of our problems. While advocates claim the research on the benefits of preschool are clear, that is not the case. For example, a government-led study on Head Start found no long-term or even short-term benefit for the low-income children enrolled in the program.

Spending more on education has always been a rallying cry for Democrats at election time, and Republicans seem afraid to argue back. Really, can’t you see the ominous political ad now showing a Republican candidate being branded a child-hater because they don’t think ever-increasing education budgets are the panacea for all our problems?

The problem with larger budgets is that the onerous tax burden and high cost of living in Connecticut are already drumming the middle class out of existence, sending families with children looking for another place to live.

(And if you’re thinking ‘Good! Fewer children means less spending on education!’ — just remember that those same children are the future workforce who will pay taxes to provide for your services when you retire.)

If spending millions on implementing the Common Core and universal pre-k was going to solve all our problems and pull all of our at-risk children out of poverty, then it would make absolute sense to do it, at least in part because it would save us money in the long run. But that is not the case.

Elizabeth Natale, who wrote an op-ed for the Hartford Courant on wanting to quit teaching, which quickly went viral, wrote another op-ed on what she believes will help children — parental involvement.

It is true that parental involvement is crucial to a child’s education. I have four children in school right now, and I spend hours helping them navigate academic and social stresses with the hope that it will help them succeed.

Not every child has a parent who is able to do that, for a variety of reasons. We should continue to encourage parental involvement, but there are children who will not have involved parents despite our best efforts, and we need to come up with plans to help them.

I have two family members who didn’t graduate from high school, and I asked them recently what would have helped them. They spoke about their own lack of direction during those years, social pressures, the (untrue) belief that they weren’t smart enough, and lack of parental and school involvement.

I was left with the following thoughts and questions:

  • How do we help teens take ownership of their high school educations? How do we help them better understand the long-term consequences of their choices?
  • Does “school choice” help teens feel more engaged? Do themed high schools help kids pick a career path?
  • Let’s stop telling teens that they are doomed economically. Even though there are some problems, the U.S. still has the strongest economy in the world. Fostering entrepreneurism and optimism among the rising generation should be our goal, not hopelessness.
  • How about making high school freshmen take a class called “How to Make Money.” It could focus on teaching them to monetize their talents and skills and to understand what career choices are available.
  • How do we help kids navigate all of the things pulling at their attention, like social media, video games, apps, texting, television, drugs and alcohol, and all of the other social pressures they face?
  • What do we do for children who are caught up in peer groups that do not value education?
  • I’d really like it if we stopped telling children their schools and teachers are failing them. Yes, problems exist, and let’s work to make things better. But let’s also tell our children that they are blessed to live in a country where their education is paid for, and that they are fortunate to have teachers who are willing to teach them, and that it is up to them to take advantage of the opportunities they’ve been given.

    Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, New Hampshire Union Leader and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute.

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    (5) Comments

    posted by: ASTANVET | February 17, 2014  8:05am

    Suzanne - there is no correlation between dollar per student and academic success - I would hazard to guess that when I went to school the cost per student was significantly less and yet generations were instructed without IPADS/TV’s/Computers - google was not my instructor.  We (as a society) are lazy - and don’t want to face that hard work both on the educator and student is much more effective than trinkets.  The cost per student is about corporatism - and it has infected the administration of EVERY school.

    posted by: justsayin | February 17, 2014  10:02am

    Schools use to be funded only for education. Today’s schools are funded for any number of other programs. Right or wrong? But the cost per pupil is no longer valid because the cost is not education based. There too many other cooks in the kitchen.

    posted by: Joebigjoe | February 17, 2014  10:50am

    I have said it before. My brain and that of my children is no different than that of a black child, hispanic child, asian child, etc. It is the culture outside of the 4 walls of the school that people are exposed to as the primary reason for kids not learning.

    Here is the 2nd reason as touched on by ASTANVET. When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s and I had math homework I didnt understand, I struggled to learn what was in the book, and I might call a friend who might be able to explain it to me over the phone IF I could get through to them because there was no call waiting or multiple phone lines in the house.

    Today if my son doesnt understand math he can call, email or text his friends who are usually available, he can email his teacher, his teacher does these mini online lessons with an online chalkboard so he can check that, or he can go on Khan Academy or Google to get the concept.

    We didnt have that and did quite well as a country so someone tell me what the issue is today.

    posted by: ASTANVET | February 17, 2014  6:14pm

    Joe - i think you’re on the same page as I am.  We wonder sometimes why society is breaking apart, and yet don’t pay attention as faith, family, frugality, hard work is eroded for the name of political correctness or ‘fundamental transformation’.  Morals, virtue, ethics are relics in todays classroom and in communities. Parents, working with kids, holding them to standards of performance -

    posted by: Joebigjoe | February 18, 2014  10:01am

    I caught a couple of minutes of O’Reilly last night (I usually can’t take him)and he was saying that the internet is the cause of many of the problems.

    In the few minutes he had I don’t think he did a good job of defending his position, but he was basically saying what I believe as well.

    There is much great about the internet when it comes to knowledge that is available, but the social aspects have overwhelmed the good with too many people out there, and they aren’t using the good parts enough.

    Looking at this web site, the good is the stories and the news that educates us. The good is also the banter that goes on in the discussions regardless of the tonality and name calling. The reason I say that is that we’re arguing, educating, presenting and defending our positions on important societal and government matters. Some times there are people who I can’t stomach because their view of the world and facts is out in left field, but I respect them because they are here, and not on Pinterest or othert useless sites.

    The waste of the internet are the people that have no clue and are playing games, posting stupid pictures, and all the other stuff that doesn’t advance society with this gift we have at our disposal. They’re the young people in this discussion that get poor grades in school yet if you look at wasted time they spend on the internet or texting vs. if they took just half of that time and improved their knowledge on things they dont understand in school, they would be great students.