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Education Reform 101

July 12, 2010

With health care finally stowed away, the Obama administration is looking to chalk up a plan to salvage America’s public schools.

Educational costs have placed an immense burden upon state and federal budgets. States like California, where education pension fund shortfalls are estimated to total hundreds of billions of dollars, simply cannot afford to provide quality education to children under the current processes of tenures, salaries, and pensions. The handcuffs that teachers unions have placed on rejuvenating failing schools, such as mandatory tenures and seniority rules, have served as significant obstacles to substantial reform as well.

While poor decision-making led to notable high-risk investments for these funds and the global economic downturn has substantially contributed to states’ fiscal tribulations, addressing the massive inefficiencies and waste of the education system itself appears to be the only means of producing a long-term solution. Families, teachers, and educators alike are seemingly waiting for something magical to happen even as schools are cutting back on hours of education and programming while others have simply closed.

The U.S. has long valued education as a means of promoting effective democratic participation and achieving “The American Dream.” America’s first movement towards a national public education system began in the early 19th century. Thomas Jefferson, its primary advocate, once wrote, “”I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” While America has maintained Jefferson’s support for public education, the “diffusion of knowledge” has been slow and uneven.

In recent years we have seen numerous drastic changes to the American education system: the desegregation of public schools under Eisenhower via Brown v. Board of Education, Reagan’s support of competition and voucher programs in response to the “A Nation At Risk” report (which projected a dismal outlook for American education), the rise of charter schools and outcome-based education under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and finally George W. Bush’s monumental No Child Left Behind Act. Nonetheless, as Newsweek notes, “In sharp contrast to many other enterprises, schooling isn’t significantly more efficient than it was a century ago.” Our education rankings haven’t drastically improved,we haven’t eliminated racial and socioeconomic educational achievement gaps, and a large portion of America still does not graduate from high school every year.

The key to education is not to merely throw money at the problem. Finland and Korea spend relatively little money per student yet have some of the best education systems in the world while America is tied with Switzerland for the most spending in the world on its students, yet ranks relatively low and even “below average” for its educational institutions. Most rankings systems place us well out-side of the top 10 and many outside of the top 15 education systems in the world.

The solution lies in the efficient and effective use of our tax dollars. This means using our money to combine teacher and student incentives (such as merit pay) with inter-school competition (perhaps via voucher programs) as well as setting achievable, progressive goals (such as the encouragement of STEM education or minority education) that promote an enlightened society capable of responsible, rationale decision-making. By no means are the aforementioned changes the absolute course of action, but innovation will be crucial to promote cost-effective education.

The very basis of the student-teacher relationship, accountability procedures, administrative structuring, teacher union regulations, and curriculum focus will need to change, lest America’s schools become a monetary black hole. President Obama has laid out some basic guidelines for education reform, such as the promotion of charter schools, and has provided incentives for educational innovation through the Race To the Top. Additionally, experiments are underway in Pittsburgh, where performance-based pay is scheduled to go into effect, and Washington D.C, where voucher and charter school programs may have helped more students graduate. Time will tell whether these efforts will be enough to right this sinking ship.

-Brett Gall

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 21, 2010 6:35 am

    Education has been greatly improved by having the public education system I believe the government should apply, in which education and to improve.

    History Essay

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