WHAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS REALLY NEED
March 11, 2007
It is hard to recall a day when our public schools were not in the midst of a funding crisis and desperate for more money. No matter how much money the taxpayers have shelled out “for the kids,” it has never been even close to enough. Schools today with their never ending proclamations of “crisis” are worse than the little boy who cried, “Wolf!”
What is most ironic about their incessant demands for more money is that more money would not improve the system in any meaningful way. In fact, if some benevolent billionaire dumped a truck load of $100 bills on the doorstep of every public school in town, most if not all of the real problems plaguing those schools would still be there a year later. Why? Because their problem is not a shortage of money.
I recall a ruling by a liberal judge some years ago, I believe it was in Kansas City, where the judge ordered that the failing local school district be given whatever amount of money was necessary to succeed. As I recall, spending per student skyrocketed to something in the neighborhood of $40,000 per student. Everything was first class. Everything money could buy a school was set before the kids.
The result: Grades dropped even lower and the drop out rate increased. Yet, in spite of this case, which proved once and for all that money is mot the answer, the education bureaucracy across America continues to demand more money “for the kids,” and naïve voters continue to shell out the dough. And all for naught.
Following are just a few suggestions of things schools could do to make the public education system work far better than it is today. Judge for yourself whether these suggestions make more sense than giving schools more money. And feel free to give me your feedback by writing to me at email@example.com.
Suggestion 1. Pay teachers based on their performance as teachers, not based on how long they have been there. Currently, approximately 95 percent of a teacher’s pay is based on their seniority. The other five percent or so is based on their educational credentials beyond their basic degree. Almost nowhere in America are public school teachers paid based on the quality of the service they provide as teachers.
Suggestion 2. Require that teachers be assigned only to subjects in which they have demonstrated expertise. Did you know that in most cases, when there is a reduction in teaching staff, schools keep the teachers with the most seniority and lay off the newer teachers, even if they are the best teachers in the school. Sometimes that results in the school laying off its Advanced Algebra teacher, because he or she has lacks seniority. The Algebra teacher is replaced by the English Literature teacher, who happened to have failed Algebra as a student, but will now teach Algebra because of seniority and n doing so waste an entire year in the education of hundreds of students.
This is not as uncommon a scenario as you might think and shows how seriously off-based the current system is, putting the seniority of teachers before the education of our children.
Suggestion 3. Authorize school administrators to pay higher salaries to high school math and science teachers than they do to first grade teachers, who teach kids to color and spell simple words like “cat.” Don’t get me wrong. First grade teachers are just as important as high school Trigonometry teachers. However, there are a lot more people with the skills to teach the first grade than there are those capable of teaching higher level high school math and science classes. Thus the salaries of those teaching the more technical subject ought to be high enough to attract people with those rarer skills to the teaching profession.
There is a reason why U.S. students are lagging behind much of the industrialized nations of the world in math and science scores. Regardless of what the teachers union wants, you can’t pay math and science teachers the same as P.E. instructors and attract enough highly qualified teachers to fill the positions. The teachers unions demand that all teachers of all subjects be paid essentially the same salaries, but continuing to do so is not only illogical, but in the end will destroy Americas ability to compete in a global economy.
Suggestion 4. Don’t allow a high school drop out to get a drivers license until age 18. Want to drive? Stay in school at least through the 12th grade. Drop out and you lose your license to drive a car, something most teenagers value greatly.
Suggestion 5. Immerse all immigrant students in English. Don’t teach them first to be proficient in their native language, as most districts do. First teach them to be proficient in English. Then teach them in English and only in English. It is common for non-English speaking students to be taught English one-half an hour per day and then be taught the rest of the day in English. This policy sidetracks immigrant students and prevents their being assimilated into society as Americans. Schools employ their current methods for various misguided reasons, one of which is the fact that they receive close to $3,000 in extra funding each year for each student they keep in their English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
Suggestion 6. Authorize schools to administer the level of discipline necessary to maintain order in the classroom and thus allow teachers to create a classroom environment where learning can take place. Students or outsiders who sell drugs or bring truly dangerous weapons to school, should go to jail. The state and local school districts should abolish any requirement that schools provide expensive, private tutoring to kids who are kicked out for any behavior that warrants dismissal or suspension.
Suggestion 7. Dismiss teachers who are incompetent. I have known many great teachers, who are worth their weight in gold. But I have also known many teachers who were a complete and utter joke. They became teachers because education is one of the easiest majors in college and the major a lot of people gravitate to when they are unable to cut it in tougher, higher paying fields. Until schools are willing to buck the teachers union and remove the dead wood, (the dead wood that everyone from the janitors to the students to fellow teachers to the superintendent knows is dead wood), they should have no credibility to ask for one more dime from the taxpayers than they receive already.
Suggestion 8. Give the principal or superintendent of every school complete authority to make the hiring and firing decisions he or she believes are necessary to make their school excel. Then hold those administrators accountable for the failure or success of their school. Give them bonuses for success or fire them, if they fail. Corporations figured this out a long time ago. The man or woman at the top sets the pace, and if given the authority can right a sinking ship. To be effective, a good administrator cannot be tied down by union contracts that are not designed to help the kids, but to protect teachers.
The current system is not about results. Results are rarely rewarded and failure is rarely penalized in our schools today. In fact, the current system exhibits all of the classic signs of a socialist system where everyone is paid the same and creativity and performance are not rewarded, which is exactly the way the teachers unions demand things remain.
Many have complained that schools spend too much on administration and not enough on teachers. That notion is true and not true. Administrators today are often paid high salaries to manage, but then not given the authority to manage. It would be better to pay good administrators well enough that we attract more of them, give them the authority to make the decisions necessary to turn their schools around, and then reward, dock their pay, or fire them based on the results they achieve.
The end result of teachers unions has been to hamstring and neuter school administrators, making no one ultimately responsible for the failure of our schools.
Suggestion 9. Based on my previous comments, you have probably been expecting this one: Get rid of the teachers unions. Even one of the foremost national leaders of the movement back in the fifties and sixties to unionize the teaching profession has repented and announced publicly that the experiment he helped promulgate has been a dismal failure.
Teachers unions do not improve the quality of teachers. They do not improve the quality of education. Instead, they dramatically increase the cost of public education and lower the quality by opposing any reform that holds teachers accountable or instills competition into the system. There can be no reform until teachers unions are eliminated.
Suggestion 10. If teachers unions are to remain, at least stop collecting their union dues and union political funds for them via the public payroll system. Make them collect their own money. If unions had to collect their dues and political “contributions” from teachers directly, eight to ninety percent of teachers would not pay up, electing rather to have nothing to do with their unions.
It should be obvious to even a casual observer that teachers unions are highly motivated to give campaign contributions to candidates for those public offices that control the purse strings of the schools. Those contributions have a very corrupting effect on public education, increasing the cost and eliminating accountability.
Suggestion 11. Do not allow teachers unions or any other union to donate money to the campaigns of any candidate running for an office that sets school policy, votes on collective bargaining agreements, or the budgets from which those contracts are funded. If a private sector union official was caught giving money to a member of management with which the union negotiates, that union official would likely end up in prison. Knowing that, we continue to allow teachers unions to “purchase” the other side of the bargaining table with their campaign contributions and then wonder why the cost of education is going up at the same time the quality is going down.
Suggestion 12. Let parents send their kids to any school they choose and let the money follow them. If we allow true school choice on an even playing field, competition between public schools and other public schools and competition between public schools and private schools would revolutionize public education within five to ten years, as schools compete for the kids and the dollars that follow them.
Nothing improves the quality of a product or service while lowering the cost like competition. Public schools are full of innovative people who would rise to the task in a truly competitive world, if we would just create that world.
My list of suggestions for turning our schools around could go on and on. Can you imagine what would happen to public education if just these twelve suggestions were put into place? Kids would learn from talented teachers in a safe environment. Schools would be staffed with the best employees. Taxpayers would get their money’s worth and be happy to shell out even more, if they knew the money was not going into a bottomless pit, but into quality schools that everyday are preparing America’s children to compete toe to toe in a global economy.
What I suggest here may seem like a pipedream to some, but I have little doubt that the fulfillment of what today seems like a mere dream would be right before us, if we simply had the courage to make a few critical, systemic changes in the way we approach public education. The system is not failing for lack of talent, but because the system itself is broken. It is designed to fail. Fix a few basic problems, make a few systemic changes, and the entire system would right itself.
In conclusion, public education today is about the following things in the following order: (1) Obtaining more money from the taxpayers; (2) Enhancing the salaries and benefits of school employees; and (3) Teaching kids. Until parents start demanding that school boards and state legislatures put the kids first, the system will continue its downward spiral and all of the money in the world can’t change that.
© 2007 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
Teachers unions do not improve the quality of teachers. They do not improve the quality of education. Instead, they dramatically increase the cost of public education and lower the quality by opposing any reform that holds teachers accountable or instills competition into the system.