by David Safier
When Mike and I worked together blogging the election integrity trial last December, I asked if he would give me the opportunity to blog about education on this site once the trial was over. He grilled me during a lunch break to see if I had anything to say, and I guess he decided I did. So here I am.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I taught high school, mainly in Portland, Oregon, for over 30 years. My field was English -- I taught all grade levels and ability groups –- then I took a break for awhile to teach photography and advise the yearbook. I ended where I began, teaching English. When I retired a few years ago, I moved to Tucson.
I taught at three public high schools. Most students at the first school were at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The teachers were mediocre, the administration was mediocre, and the school’s budget was in such bad shape, we had to cut back from a seven to a five period day. The school didn’t do a very good job educating its students, and, to be honest, neither did I.
Read more about David's calling to the blog after the flip...
I fled after a year and landed in a school whose students were better off financially, though far from wealthy. The school was more successful than the first at educating its students. Teachers, administrators and the budget were all better than at the first school. I taught better as well.
The last school where I taught drew from an affluent area, and was by far the easiest place of the three to teach and the most successful by virtually any standard you might apply.
That’s really the story of today’s public education. Most schools with students from poor families are woefully inadequate, and the schools get better as their students climb the economic ladder, until we get to the top schools -- those serving the most privileged students -- which are probably as good as schools have ever been in this country and rival the best in the world.
It’s as ridiculous to lump all those schools together and talk about “public education” as it is to put me in a category with Bill Gates and talk about people’s income. Any conclusions you reach are nonsense. The distance between our worst schools and our best is so vast, they have to be discussed separately if we want to understand their strengths and weaknesses.
That said, here are some general statements I can make about the state of education in the U.S.
First, our public educational systems are too bureaucratic, too slow to change and too riddled with mediocre administrators, teachers and curriculum. There is plenty that needs to be improved.
Second, even with all it inadequacies, our system of public schooling is better than any alternative systems put forward to educate the majority of school-aged children. The conservative mantra of using vouchers and private schools to replace our public education system would create a nightmare of massive proportions.
Third, more money will not guarantee improved schools, but it's absolutely necessary if we want schools to improve. Less money is a sure guarantee of inferior education. We need to put more money into education, period. Lots more money. Obviously, we need to think about how the money is spent.
I’ll be blogging about school budgets on a regular basis. This year, unfortunately, with the economic downturn, schools will be fighting to stay even in their funding. I plan to take a close look at the legislature to see who the major players are on all sides of the issue.
I’ll also be looking at hot button issues as they come up in the news. Abstinence education and new rules for ELL have been big this week, and I’ll be looking at those shortly. The media often misses important aspects of the stories, because the reporters haven’t been in the trenches.
I also see myself waxing philosophical now and then about educational issues that are important to me.
But it’s time to stop writing about what I’m planning to do and start doing it. More soon.