Our current public school system has become too “institutional.” We have gargantuan schools and massive taxpayer spending perpetuated by every administration since 1965 throwing money at the problem. We have the best teachers in the world hamstrung by poor representation from their monopolistic unions. And we have scarce, or no, competition between public schools giving parents limited, if any, free choice. There’s a better way and it involves better representation for teachers, more charter schools, more choices for parents, less federal spending and smaller neighborhood schools.
At both the federal and state levels, teachers are poorly represented by unions run by a handful of policy makers and administrators motivated by special interests or maintaining the status quo. At the federal level, the National Education Association (NEA), with 3.2 million members, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.4 million members, share almost 100% of the teacher representation market. Teachers trying to change the system run up against a gang of lawyers the NEA and AFT have on staff knowing teachers don’t have the funds or time required to affect much needed change.
An alternative for teacher freedom and school choice for parents are charter schools which are often founded by teachers, parents or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools. They receive public money and are freed from some of the rules, regulations and statutes that apply to public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school’s charter. In Boston there are at least 13,000 pro-charter taxpayers-the 5,000 families with children in charter schools and the 8,000 on waiting lists to enroll. Other cities across the country surely share Boston’s charter school supply/demand dilemma.
Our country’s first general aid program for elementary and secondary education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was signed on April 11, 1965. Its Title I section was aimed at improving education of the nation’s poorest students. Since its inception, it has cost taxpayers over $775 billion. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is the most recent version of the ESEA.
At a cost of $150 billion over the past six years, President George Bush attempted to bring accountability to the forefront with NCLB. The idea was to improve math and reading scores by holding schools responsible for adequate yearly progress (AYP). Teacher freedom was compromised since many were forced to “teach to the test.” States were able to take the teeth out of the act by dumbing down tests to all but guarantee AYP.
Newly appointed Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s new version of ESEA proposes a stimulus measure that includes $140 billion for education. I like his pro-charter school view saying that states that don’t have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application for some $5 billion in federal grant money. In a conference call with reporters Mr. Duncan said, “Simply put, they put themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the largest pool of discretionary dollars states have ever had access to.” As of now, 10 states lack laws that allow charter schools, and 26 others cap charter enrollment.
In Ohio, a sure battleground state in 2012, the Wall Street Journal writes, “The Obama Administration’s new rhetoric is certainly welcome, but the political reality is that every Member of Congress will want to see some of this money sent to his home state. So Mr. Duncan will be under intense pressure to soften or fudge his terms. A good test case will be Ohio, where Democratic Governor Ted Strickland’s budget would reduce charter funding by 20% and add regulations that could make their creation more difficult.” Obama has talked about people making sacrifices. Stay tuned to see if the unions give up any serious ground to charter schools in the state.
To say I’m concerned about the rest of the $135 billion would be a vast understatement. What unnecessary union salaries will taxpayers be funding?
I support public charter and advocate smaller neighborhood schools and the freedom of teachers. In the past, a single room school house served our country well. Children needn’t be moved around like cattle to a new teacher each year. The year is over by the time the teacher-student bond is cemented. Teaching to a child’s capabilities makes more sense too, it would reduce frustration, and therefore class room disturbances, exponentially.
The mentoring, nurturing and authoritative relationship between teacher and student has been around since our forefathers. Teachers know how to motivate their students to learn. They need the freedom to do so. Parents know which methods works best for their child, and they need the ability to choose. The billions spent, since 1965, supporting a broken system are not the answer. A shift away from unions and toward charter schools is a crucial part of the solution.
E.J. Smith is Managing Director of Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. an investment advisory firm managing portfolios for investors with over $1,000,000 in investable assets.
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