We’ve been doing education pretty much the same way since Horace Mann institutionalized “common schools” in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Here are some other mid-nineteenth century innovations: the McCormick Reaper, metal diving helmets, steam hammers, typewriters, rotary printing presses, airships, the telegraph, linoleum and the Mason jar.
Other than public schools and the Mason jar, society has pretty much moved on.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently proposed a scholarship program, similar to the one funded by corporations in return for tax forgiveness, giving thousands of children access to private, charter and religious schools, saying “if the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education.”
I agree. The goal of universal, compulsory education is to nurture every child to his or her fullest potential; it just doesn’t have to take place at good old’ James Buchanan High. The idea that scholarships — or vouchers — will undermine public education is nonsense. Every kid in the state will still be educated, mostly at public expense, just like before. “Undermining public schools” is an argument public school champions may want to reconsider since essentially, they’re admitting their schools are so bad parents will be willing to shell out their own money over and above the scholarships to avoid them.
But that doesn’t let alternative schools off the hook. If they’re receiving your tax money they need to be as strictly monitored as public schools with the same transparency and scrutiny of teacher’ qualifications and performance, students’ academic achievement, financial recordkeeping and building safety standards.
Take charter schools for instance. As of the 2016-2017 academic year, some 284,000 students, or about 10 percent of Florida’s 2.8 million students, attended 654 charter schools, almost half of which, 294, were managed by for-profit corporations, nearly double 2010-11, where lax regulations can provide opportunities for profiteering, teacher and student underperformance and fiscal mismanagement. About 10 for-profits close every year, sometimes stranding kids in mid-semester, after a few years of sucking-up taxpayers’ investments.
Every school — traditional, private, charter, religious, for-profit, virtual — must be on notice: perform or the student, the scholarship and the tuition will go to ones that do. Good teachers will remain the center of good education and, contrary to fears, will become more empowered – and better compensated — as traditional as well as alternative schools compete for the best talent to attract students.
Which brings me to testing; yes, that bugaboo despised by teachers, feared by students and dreaded by administrators as a verdict on their performance. Much is made by teachers of having to “teach to the test,” claiming it diminishes students’ creativity and spontaneity. Sure, those are important attributes but without substance to back them up they’re nothing more than impulsive twaddle. Everyone agrees there’s specific stuff students should know, so what’s wrong with finding out if they know it? If standardized testing “gets in the way of learning,” it’s not the testing that’s wrong, it’s the wrong test.
I’d love to see education resources quadrupled, with teachers raking in salaries their noble profession deserves. But teacher unions need to remind themselves they’re not the carpenters or the service employees simply scrabbling for higher benefits and better working conditions. Our kids and grandkids; our country’s future. And policies, like scholarships and vouchers, can’t be based on teachers’ needs but on students.