Although it is sometimes hard to keep in mind when we hear so much about teacher misconduct and malfeasance, the vast majority of public educators are remarkably hardworking and work to create daily miracles under the most difficult of circumstances. No one becomes a school teacher for the stock options, and the hours and professional demands would give most people pause if they could watch the daily life of an educator. Our teachers need our support more than ever, and everyone should recognize that their successes and failures affect us all.
Moreover, school funding continues to be a problem. Plans to create steady sources of revenue to support public education wax and wane in relation to the election cycle and the degree of public frustration with our educational outcomes. I’ve certainly heard the same sentiment more than once here in our community: “Why should we give more money to our schools when my child is not learning anything?” It’s not an inappropriate question to ask. Everyone prefers to see their tax money spent well, and few citizens are unaware of the problems many schools are having with meeting the mandates set by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that now drive much of what goes on in public education. Is more money the solution? No. Will more money help? Yes. We need to move forward on improving school funding if we expect the best from our public schools, and every citizen should consider contacting their elected representatives to voice their concerns.
In addition, schools throughout the country are now in the midst of a massive, some would say revolutionary, revamping of the traditional course offerings based on the need to improve test scores to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and the results are obviously not entirely encouraging. As many have noted, even if test scores creep up as we continue to pound students with the “test prep” curriculum that now drives much of what is taught in our public schools, the final outcome might not be the well-rounded education based on critical thinking and content learning we naturally expect as we prepare our students for further education and careers in our increasingly information-based workplaces.
When I was running for School Board this past spring, I spoke with a frustrated parent who was not very happy that his son was unable to place out of remedial courses his first year of college, despite receiving all A’s and B’s in high school. Did that parent have a legitimate concern? Absolutely. Would it have been a good idea for him to find out sooner that his son’s education may not have prepared him adequately for higher education? No doubt about it.
The only way to learn more about what is going on in our community’s schools is to ask questions and be actively involved. At this critical juncture in tax-payer supported public education, one of the cornerstones of our democracy, now is not the time to abandon our public schools; now is the time to engage with them in a spirit of civic partnership and goodwill. It is the duty of our citizens and community leaders to get involved and ask questions as never before.
Rather than read in the newspaper about the stubbornly low test scores in your local school and tune out, or read your neighborhood school made AYP this year and presume all is well, go into your local schools and learn more. Talk to the teachers, administrators, and staff. Volunteer. Sign up to be a mentor. Join the PTA. Review the curriculum guides. Find out how much reading and writing is done on a weekly basis. Go to School Board meetings. Ask questions about how the school day is organized and what content material is covered. Find out how the mandates of NCLB are affecting your schools and advocate for sensible changes.
Our system of public school management is based on the concept of local control. Exercise your power as a citizen to make positive changes and guarantee the continued economic and social health of our community. Our future and those of our children depends on what you do today.