Liddick: Our K-12 schools could be better (column)
May 1, 2017
Let's agree that our K-12 schools could be better. They could produce graduates who know who won our Civil War; can explain the three branches of government and understand we do not live in a "democracy;" can balance a checkbook without a calculator; and realize that "Moby Dick" is not really about hunting whales. At a minimum.
How do we get there from here? One approach is advocated by William Mathis in the 2016 National Education Policy Center's "Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking." According to Mathis sticks won't work; schools shouldn't be punished for low-performing students, and neither should instructors. Instead, states and accrediting bodies must "shift more to an assurance role" and "assure that students have adequate opportunities, funding and resources…" such to be provided "in an equitable manner." Neither will high-stakes testing, nor ability grouping serve, because they "deny marginalized students access to a high-quality education."
Instead, Mathis advocates a pastiche of platitudes about access to more and higher quality teachers, materials and facilities; evaluations incorporating "one or more non-academic measurement;" closer cooperation between social welfare agencies and the educational system; involving administrators, students, teachers, parents and "community leaders" in evaluation, and in general focusing schools more on social services than education.
And always, equity. As another official puts it, "we should consider the starting line, as well as the finish line…"
This is all eyewash. Faced with declining outcomes, elite educrats around the country have taken to excuses, jargon and smoke. Many point to the populations with which they are burdened: high percentages of "free school lunch" pupils — shorthand for "poor people," as if the poor are singularly unable to learn. Or "non-English speakers," as though this were a new educational problem, for the 21st century. Or low performers who come from a "chaotic family background," which is worth examining in detail.
While the number of parents who say they value education "highly" or "very highly" continues to rise in most polls, the number of parents who will do more than tick the culturally-appropriate box on a quiz continues to be woefully low — something educratic culture enables. Once upon a time a school board was asked how it justified free lunches for children who had smart phones, ATVs and the best sneakers in class, and whose parents drove new trucks; the short answer was, "We can't judge other people's lifestyles."
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Yes, you can, particularly when you're demanding that others subsidize aforesaid lifestyle. In the starkest terms, why must taxpayers fund your child's lunch, if you are unwilling to take the time and resources required to put a sandwich and an apple into a bag for him/her?
While we're at it, why must a majority of children in the classroom sit idle while the instructor deals with a habitually unruly classmate, one who will never face real sanction and who may be rewarded at home for misbehavior? Or one who persistently refuses to do homework — and is never made to do so by those who should understand that it is in the child's best interests to master classroom material?
Because that is what is involved: the long term interest of both student and country. Neither will be served by the business-as-usual-only-more-so-drizzled-with-a-mountain-of-cash approach of the NEPC, the National Education Association and their fellow-travelers. Nor by conjuror's tricks such as "Common Core" in which states trade control of their educational systems for a federal curriculum that in high school American history mentions "diversity" six times, "Progressive" four, "liberty" once, "freedom" once and "Conservative" not at all.
Instead, schools ought to look at what works — both academic and otherwise — will demand after high school, and educate their charges accordingly. They must be reminded that, while education can be fun, it is also difficult — and must be done well if a reward is to be received. Life offers no ribbons for participation. Parents, too, should be reminded as necessary that, although a school can legally act in loco parentis, only parents are parents — with all the responsibilities that entails.
It will serve no one if students arrive as they have been, unprepared for the shock of a workplace, unconcerned about one's background and feelings, but focused on one's abilities and output. Or an academy which, in some fields still, demands meticulously accurate work but is unconcerned about preferences in restrooms. If we do not accommodate education to these truths, we perpetrate a fraud on our children.
When they discover the truth, they will not be happy.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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