Four years ago today I was very amped up about politics and the upcoming presidential race. I had a blog, Peaceful Ponderings, that I updated nearly daily. Here’s what I wrote about on October 17, 2007:
If one were to ask you what the number one priority of the U.S. government should be, what would you say? Health care? War? Abortion rights? What about education? I’m not sure if you realize this, but the American education system is on the verge of collapse and not enough attention is being paid to an area that is of utmost importance in preparing the men and women of tomorrow for what’s to come.
I sat down with an old friend yesterday who is currently teaching at a school in New Mexico with Teach for America (TFA), an organization that places college graduates in high-need public schools across the country for a period of two years. Despite the fact that the program is effective and important, putting teachers where they are needed most, there are apparently some aspects of the program that need some tweaking. For instance, TFA tracks the progress of students in their teacher’s classrooms solely for the two years of the program. What happens to the students these teachers have taught beyond that short time span? Isn’t it more important to see where these students end up further down the line in order to determine how effective the teachers are?
Last month an article appeared in The New York Times Magazine entitled “Why Teach for America.” Within a principal at an inner-city school was interviewed about her experience with TFA teachers. “‘They are bloody young,’ she said, ‘and they have the excitement and the pathos […] The only problem is they leave,’ she added. ‘I have to retrain a new set of teachers each time and face the anxiety that they won’t come back.'” (Azimi, 30 Sept 2007).
Reading on, an interview with a TFA teacher himself reveals that the program does not attempt to retain their teaching staff. Once the two years are completed, TFA assumes you’ve paid your dues and you are off to get a real job. “In the six years with T.F.A., [Kilian Betlack] said, ‘I never was encouraged to stay on as a teacher. It’s almost as if the program perpetuates the idea that if you went to Harvard, a teaching career is below you. As soon as you join T.F.A., the focus is on being an amazing teacher. Then, all of a sudden, it stops. And you start getting e-mails from Goldman Sachs.'”
Don’t get me wrong, Teach for America is a brilliant idea that aims to do nothing but help the most struggling of American schools. Indeed, the problem is far deeper than this one non-profit. It goes back to the higher-ups in our government. The Times article ends with words of truth: “no matter how heroic the small acts of its teachers, the problems plaguing public education in America are not much closer to being solved.”
Another qualm I learned of yesterday that infuriated me was that with the No Child Left Behind Act, all public schools are mandated to receive textbooks for one subject each year. The government does not offer funds, but demands that all public school systems raise the money somehow to purchase the books.
On top of the economic pressure, many times the textbooks that are bought are of absolutely no use to the students and their teachers. For instance, my friend has about $30,000 worth of math books in storage because they do not go along with the computer program he is using to teach. Because these books are technically government property, they cannot be sold or even donated. They are fated to remain unused, boxed up, in a corner with no purpose whatsoever. When a school has next to no funds for extracurriculars and lacks a music program, it is beyond frustrating to know that the $30,000 spent on useless texts could be put to better use.
With the next presidential election a year away, education policy is extremely important to look at when choosing your candidate. Let’s take a look at the leading Democratic contenders and their stances.
On http://www.hillaryclinton.com, Hillary Clinton pledges to make the following a priority if she wins the presidency:
- Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are.
- Reforming the No Child Left Behind Act. This law represented a promise – more resources for schools in exchange for more accountability – and that promise has not been kept.
- Increasing access to high-quality early education and helping to create Early Head Start.
Then we have http://www.barackobama.com, boasting that candidate Barack Obama “is committed to strengthening our public schools to maximize our country’s greatest natural resource – the American people. However, right now, six million middle and high school students read at levels significantly below their grade level. A full third of high school graduates do not immediately go on to a community college or university. America now has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Obama believes that we must equip poor and struggling districts, both rural and urban, with the support and resources they need to provide disadvantaged students with an opportunity to reach their full potential. Too often, our leaders present this issue as an either-or debate, divided between giving our schools more funding, or demanding more accountability. Obama believes that we have to do both…”
Onto http://www.johnedwards.com (these site names are very creative) where John Edwards has a three principle vision to (1) Prepare Every Child to Succeed, (2) Put an Excellent Teacher in Every Classroom, and (3) Make Every School an Outstanding School. A bit vague, but his heart is in the right place.
Lastly, we have Al Gore who, although not officially running, is leaning more in that direction. According to http://www.ontheissues.org, Gore’s stance as of 2000 goes as follows: “‘I will ensure that there is a fully qualified, well-trained teacher in every single classroom, everywhere in this nation, by the end of four years.’ Time and again, studies have laid out the obstacles to providing better teachers: Pay is too low to attract and hold the best prospects. Many graduates of teaching colleges are not well prepared. A license to teach is too easy to obtain. To fulfill his promise, Gore would plunge the federal government into areas of education where it has not gone before, with an unprecedented multi-point plan to improve the pay and licensing of teachers. Historically, federal officials have stayed out of those matters, which have been the sole province of state and local leaders. Gore has cited record school enrollments and massive teacher retirements projected in the coming decade as reasons for a significant expansion of the federal role in education, backed by $16 billion in spending over 10 years.” Not bad, not bad.
Moving onto the other side of the political dichotomy, we have Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney representing the Republicans.
On http://www.joinrudy2008.com, the Issues section boasts, “As Mayor, Rudy Giuliani worked to reform the nation’s largest public schools system, with over 1 million school children. He increased school funding and hired new teachers, while insisting on reforms that ended social promotion, abolished principal tenure, and created a Charter School Fund. Rudy is also a strong supporter of school choice, believing that it is one of the great civil rights issues of our time.” I assume this means he plans to implement similar educational changes on the federal level?
John McCain on his site (what do you know!) http://www.johnmccain.com seems to have left education out of his issues altogether for some reason. That’s curious and off-putting, at least to me.
Fortunately, http://www.fred08.com does have Fred Thompson’s views on education reform. He boasts a commitment to the following:
- Giving parents more choices in education and schools less bureaucracy.
- Reviewing federal programs for cost-effectiveness, reducing federal mandates, returning education money to the states, and empowering parents by promoting voucher programs, charter schools, and other innovations that enhance education excellence through competition and choice.
- Encouraging students and teachers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math – fields that are crucial to our security, competitiveness, and prosperity.
- Promoting transparency to assess performance, promote accountability, and share innovations in education at all levels.
And last, but not least, we have Mitt Romney of, what do you know, http://www.mittromney.com: “Today’s schools are falling further and further behind world standards. It is time to raise the bar on education by making teaching a true profession, measuring progress, providing a focus on math and science, and involving parents from the beginning of a child’s school career.” Exactly how, though, Mr. Romney? It seems to me that you do not have a plan of action.
And those are the facts. This should be an interesting race, to be sure.