Thursday, October 23, 2014

Factors Creating Failing Public (Government) Schools

For decades education reformers have attempted to 'restore' luster to the eroding results of government run schools that began in the 1960's with the first federal involvement in state and local education programs (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1964, Lyndon Johnson). Just as we've seen of late with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, individual programs have been instituted at various times over the years toward this end, yet all have resulted in lackluster or poor outcomes for the money, training and resources provided.

Why? Because none of the issues effecting government run schools today can be solved by a single initiative, or by throwing money at one or two issues like spaghetti at a wall.

Below, I've attempted to identify a number of items - some of which I've witnessed personally, as a former teacher and parent - that must be addressed in order to return to the pre-60's educational excellence seen here in America for hundreds of years.

Changes to schools and instruments of schooling must come from the local level.

  • Urban schools and rural schools aren't similar in socio-economic composition or community needs, yet laws created at the state or federal level force change on all schools.
  • Traditionally, school boards allow parents the ability to assist in directing their children’s educations – shifting the responsibility from parents to the state conditions parents to become further removed from the process of educating their children.
  • Parenting failures cannot be legislated as these tend to result from lack of values training best addressed by programs provided via churches and charities.

Laws created to address failing schools rarely address the fundamental issues behind the failures.

  • Systemic failure results as one ineffective/unproductive law is replaced or augmented by another and then another – in attempt to bring about results largely unattainable via legislative means.

Teacher/Superintendent/School Board organizations are used to draft public school legislation which favors the needs of the educational ‘system’ and not the student and/or parent.

Education legislation and programming features a paucity of education history and research, instead focusing on the newest ‘trends’/programs in education.

  • Integrating technology (computers/ipads, etc.) into elementary classrooms actually produce results antithetical to those desired, yet are utilized with consistency and touted as ‘cutting-edge’, which, also, ironically creates a nonexistent need for more funding.
  • Replacing veteran teachers with Teach for America teachers replaces tried and true teaching methodologies with unproven methods utilized by skimpily-trained young people.

Today’s education focus is completely wrong-headed.

  • Students should not be educated ‘for’ college or the ‘workforce’.
  • Classically-based education programs featuring broad-based studies in United States and world history, science, classical literature, the arts and music, have, historically, created students ready and able to take on any challenge presented them.

Though taxpayers should work to create accountability in government, education is not a government function; education is a function of the individual first and community second.
American public education was created from an ideal articulated by both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

  • Both men believed schools should be created to teach students unable to afford the private tutoring system primarily utilized in their day.
  • They believed schools should teach the Bible (the model upon which our Republican form of government was created), America’s very particular system of 3-branch government and free-market economy, and the history of America’s founding.
  • Schools were to be created by and through churches or individual community organizations – not as a function of government.

Government has assumed the role of educating its citizens, creating numerous problems.

  • Funding:  Each school receives the same amount of money for each student in a seat. This invalidates the principles of America’s free-market economy and creates a system in which mediocrity flourishes because excellence is neither expected nor demanded by those paying for its services.
  • Partisanship:  Once education becomes a function of government, it begins to utilize tenets ascribed to government by popular culture, such as “political correctness”.
  • This gives rise to a culture lacking in personal responsibility where administration and teachers refuse to make students responsible for their work and grades rather than deal with difficult parents.
  • This situation also produces a lack of willingness to hold students responsible for their behavior, creating school climates in which bullying of students and teachers is unchecked.
  • Usurpation of parental rights and responsibilities:
  • Moving the responsibility for education to the state (and often federal) level relieved parents of their duties to provide for the education of their children by replacing their authority with that of a government official.
  • State-empowered school officials necessarily had to create the notion that parents were inadequate to direct the education of their children in order to justify a government wage.
  • Parents quickly became trained to see public school as a babysitter rather than a partner in the education of their children as the authority of school officials grew with government funding.
  • Usurpation of student rights and responsibilities:
  • Once government became responsible for education, education became relegated to a series of hoops (tests) through which a student must jump in order to complete their next task: move to a next grade, graduate, get a job.
  • Students are never shown the value of obtaining an education for themselves so education becomes something a student does to please others, not to make their lives better.
  • Susceptibility to educational ‘trends’ including:
  • Common Core State Standards vs those tailored to meet the educational priorities of parents/students at the local/state level.
  • Whole word language assimilation vs reading taught by phonics and an understanding of English phonemes.
  • Reformist, community-inspired, explanatory math vs learning traditional, fact-based algorithms and skills.
  • World history vs American history
  • American history from 1877 to the Present vs American history from the Pilgrims and Founding, to present
  • Civics taught in high school vs developmental civics across each grade and stage

Federal government intervention has further usurped the influence of the state, local community and parents, and is now itself responsible for many of the ills plaguing public education today such as:

  • Lack of student privacy:
  • More and more personal student data must be collected by schools to satisfy the compacts of states with the federal government.
  • Digital records are nearly impossible to redact, leaving student records exposed to future employers and educational prospects.
  • A perceived need for increased funding:
  • The more federal initiatives for which states apply (or are foisted onto them) the more personnel are required to fill out the ever-increasing paperwork necessary to keep the initiative, leading to loss of funds for teachers and needed materials that directly affect the classroom.
  • Less flexibility to teach with proven methods and personnel:
  • The federal Civil Rights in Education initiative for Teacher Equity forced onto all public school districts for example, is coercing teachers to move among schools dependent upon a set of federal race guidelines set for teachers in relation to student populations, violating the Civil Rights of teachers/students and causing many older teachers to quit the teaching profession.


Private organizations in every city can help to create educational excellence by addressing the foundational pillars underlying education failure (as previously described) by devoting resources and funds toward any or all of the following ends:

  • Support the ideal that state/federal legislation is not the way to move the needle on educational excellence – that partnering with local charities, churches and non-profits can produce results one-size-must-fit-all legislation cannot
  • Community based adult and student English and financial literacy programs are an excellent example of successful business/community partnerships
  • Support legislation (or repealer legislation) that:
  • Stresses local control of education and prevents intrusion by the federal Department of Education at the state and district levels
  • Supports parental rights and responsibilities
  • Seeks to move accountability for education from the state/federal level back to the parent/local level 
  • Resists the urge to narrow curricula and standards – allowing for classical studies and schools to bloom
  • Creation of individual and/or community programs that:
  • Develop bridge relationships among schools and businesses to create mentoring/intern opportunities
  • Delivers business/vocational leaders who can speak to classes, or in assemblies and share their experiences with students on their level
  • Provide scholarship opportunities in areas such as engineering
  • Partner with job training programs to identify vocational skills gaps and educate students who desire the training, on how to attain these skills
  • Identify private programs that produce educational excellence and partner them with businesses willing to mentor/intern students
  • Empower parents to advocate for their children via tuition breaks or educational/job opportunities not available to the general population
Education for those who cannot afford private, individual education (or desire not to utilize a private system) should be provided in America. It should not be paid for in perpetuity via taxpayers, but by parents - whether they are allowed to keep their money for themselves (no earmarked taxes for education) or returned earmarked funds to spend in whatever manner is best for their child. Until parents are allowed (and returned) responsibility for the education of their children, status quo will remain and poor educational outcomes should be expected.