Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Education: We Are All part of the Problem

I've been thinking about Race to Nowhere for days now. I certainly picked up some useful tips on how to better parent my children throughout the remainder of their scholastic career, but now I'm ready to rant.

I'm surprised that before seeing this movie, I never thought about the fact that test-taking companies (those that administer the state standardized tests, the AP tests, the SATs, etc.) are making billions of dollars. In the last 20 years, the tutoring industry has also become a billion dollar business. There are business owners literally banking on the fact that our students will not be able to perform at what is considered an acceptable level without outside help.

Before getting any deeper into the weeds, I want to address the question of whether or not education should be considered a right or a privilege. If parents can be penalized criminally if our children miss more than 3 days in a school year, then that argument is moot. Our citizens are actually required to be educated.

Moving beyond that into the argument of whether or not such requirement is an unfunded mandate; well, as things are these days, it is mostly an unfunded mandate.

However, the more important argument should be, at what cost?

Having an educated citizenry can only benefit our country. When we look at what makes us proud to be an American, we look first at our people and what we've accomplished. We look at landing on the moon first as one of our greatest achievements. That simply could not have happened without well-educated, creative thinkers able to see what could be possible.

We start to go off the rails when we assume that everyone needs to be good at everything. We lose credibility when we state unequivocally that everyone should go to college. There will always be a need for a working class. We rely heavily on service industries. That's fine. I have no issue with that. I believe that some people work to live, and some live to work, and that in the end, we mostly balance it all out.

However, when we criminalize parents for taking their children on vacation, something is very, very wrong. Many districts are beginning to do just that. In our district (and in others that I know of), children that have missed more than 3 days of school in the entire year are reported to a truancy officer, where both the children and the parents are held liable. 3 days out of 180 is simply absurd! And let's not forget that we've already de-valued education by adding furlough days. So, the families are held to a higher standard than our government?

It's criminal not because the state is quick to punish parents, but because of the money that the school loses for each absent pupil per day.

Unfortunately, there are other special interests that capitalize upon the education machine. Yes, I'm talking about teacher's unions, and a few educational associations that do not always have our students' best interests at heart. And of course, there are some parents groups and administrators that seem more interested in exercising power than quality education. In many ways, public education has already been privatized.

No one is free from fault, and no one person, sector, organization, or business is entirely to blame, either.

I recognize that I'm part of the problem, too. Sometimes, I allow the grading game to get the best of me. Sometimes, I've been guilty of putting too much emphasis on Riley's abilities in Math and Science, rather than on her qualities as a kind, thoughtful person. I have allowed my displeasure to make Sylvia feel bad about herself instead of recognizing a bad test score as a challenge to be overcome. I have fought some battles for them that probably should have been fought by them.

And to be fair, everyone involved most likely has just as good intentions as I do. I'm sure the test taking companies feel they are providing a valuable service and contributing in a meaningful way to the educational process. Teachers want to make a difference. But we all get paralyzed by our fears.

I fear that I will be perceived as an apathetic, or worse, bad parent. Teachers fear for their jobs. Administrators fear that District mandates will impede their process. And so on and so forth. I don't think very many good decisions are made based in fear.

So we need to move past those fears, recognize our own faults, and go back to our idealism a little bit. We need to believe that we can make a difference. We need to maintain a healthy perspective on the ultimate goals, and the ultimate prizes at stake. We all need to do better, and we need to do it now.

Image: Race to Nowhere


Natalie said...

THREE DAYS?! That is completely unreasonable and ridiculous! Alex can miss one to two days per semester and still get the "attendance award". We're talking about CHILDREN cooped up with other CHILDREN who may go to school with strep throat or worse because of ridiculous rules like that. Those rules are about funding, not about the kids.

BigLittleWolf said...

I hadn't really thought of the mountain of money being made by all the standardized testing. The prep courses? Absolutely. But the tests themselves? Good point - though I've shelled out many hundreds of dollars over the past 6 years for my kids for those standardized exams.

Part of the problem with our educational system - like health care - is how intricate and massive it is. Their are not-for-profit pieces mixed in with for-profit, and decades of "standards" we've come to not even question.

As a parent of public school children - purposely not taking the private route (and unable to afford it in the past 9 years in any event) - the outlay of monies required remains surprising, and in certain areas, supplies (and programs) are always wanting.

You raise important issues. Solutions? No easy path. But thank you for bringing this up. More to ponder, and pay attention to.

won said...

I watched Oprah yesterday because she had a great dialog going about the state of our schools and a new movie that is coming out this week.

You could probably check it out on her site. Much of what was said there was eye opening.

I'm reminded of the time that O, who was in special ed part of the day (not for math) brought home a math paper with 24 out of 25 wrong. I went to the teacher to ask him what we could do to help her. He told me not to worry, that O got graded on effort and not results.

Excuse me?? I wasn't talking about grades. I was talking about my daughter learning something.

Apathy is our enemy. We must be involved.

Vinomom said...

You are much more politically minded than I am, thats for sure. I completely get the point you are making, but I see that sort of a thing as a necessary evil.

But like most things, people have taken the common sense out of it. The truancy rule was originally made, like you said, with good intentions. To bring to attention parents that basically didn't care enough to get their children to school on time or at all. Now, as with most things, officials have taken it to an extreme without using good judgment. Everything is a No-Tolerance policy, as opposed to a Lets Use Common Sense policy.

I liked your point about the Service Industry or "Blue Collar" as I like to call it. I'm a firm believer that college isn't for anyone. Besides the experiences of sorority parties and the social aspect I don't regret not going to college at all. Of course, I fully expect my daughter to go and she knows it's an expectation.

As usual, very interesting points you bring up.