Issue Spotlight: Education

Lee Stranahan, a columnist for Breitbart, once said that “Human beings have an innate, natural drive to learn things. One thing can kill this: it’s called an ‘education system.’” We need education more now than ever. The problem is, our educational system ironically fails to teach students the knowledge and skills they need. Rather than teaching key subjects, life skills, critical thinking, and creativity, we’re teaching the student how to ace a test that the teacher and the school will be evaluated on. Worse, we’ve burdened the taxpayer down to the point that some parents are financially trapped and have no other option.

How do we begin to fix this?

Funding

If there was ever a sacred cow, it’s education. It seems that any waste is excusable if it is “for the children.” You, the taxpayer, are footing the bill and you deserve to get more bang for your buck.

We spend roughly $12,000 per child in Anderson School District 4, yet the most basic supplies (like paper) have at times been rationed. Neither teachers nor parents should be forced to furnish classroom supplies out of pocket.

We can fix this if we:

  • Fully fund teacher pay and classroom supplies in the education budget first. If cutbacks are made, they should be made in administration, not where teaching happens.
  • Eliminate unnecessary boards such as the State Education Oversight Committee and the Anderson County Board of Education.
  • Save money on school facilities by creating a set of efficient, pre-designed architectural plans that can grow with district needs. Abe Lincoln learned math with chalk on the back of a shovel - we don’t need Taj Mahals to teach students effectively. Simple strategies like building in a second unfinished story that can be expanded into, and using metal roofing, can save school districts millions of dollars in the long run.
  • Allow school districts to pool their buying power to purchase supplies at a discount.
  • Examine the SC Education Lottery to see if that money is being used as promised to improve education and lower costs.

Personal Responsibility

 Grades Cartoon

Grades Cartoon

What happened?

This country started going down the tubes when parents abdicated responsibility for raising their children to the public school system. Until parents realize that raising their children to be responsible members of society is their most important job, we will continue raising a generation with an entitlement mentality that expects everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.

That said, today we have a system that blames the teachers unfairly. We can fix this system and tilt responsibility back to the parents and students where it belongs.

We should:

  • Restore effective, prompt means of discipline in the classroom and provide whatever legal protections are needed to allow this to happen.
  • Reject merit pay and teacher evaluation schemes that operate according to student achievement, and instead create a work environment that attracts caring, self-motivated teachers and empowers them to do their job.
  • Teach students that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If the parents cannot or will not pay for school lunch, provide ways for students to earn the money to pay for their meal.

Red Tape

Excessive red tape is driving our better teachers to an early retirement. Why collect 20 years of records that no one will look at, only to have them trashed in the end? That paper, and more importantly, that teacher’s time, could have been used better elsewhere.

To the extent that the state is responsible, we need to drastically reduce the amount of paperwork teachers have to spend time on. If we can’t do that, maybe we should eliminate some of administration’s assistants and use that money to hire teacher assistants to handle the paperwork.

Local Control

Decentralized control provides better results - our nation’s history is proof of that fact. So why would we think that letting Washington, or even Columbia, micromanage our schools is a good thing?

We’ve put ourselves on the hook for so many Federal regulations simply by applying for Federal funding. Given that Federal funds comprise a mere 10% or less of the overall funding stream, I think the return in flexibility that we would get by giving up that funding would be worthwhile.

Furthermore, each region is different and I would much rather have South Carolina deciding what is taught in South Carolina’s schools than have Washington, California, or New York decide.

We need to:

  • Resist Federal experiments on our children like Common Core.
  • Reject proposals that consolidate school districts.
  • Support more community-based charter schools.
  • Support an historically honest and academically effective curriculum, including civics, economics, American history, phonics-based reading, traditional math (not Common Core math), and practical life skills.
  • Support the arts, logic, and speech and debate as key components in school curriculum.

Testing

Simply put, we test too much and we make too many important decisions on flawed test results.

Standardized tests are measuring tools designed to measure one specific thing: a student’s grasp of information relative to other students. To the extent that standardized tests reveal where a student’s needs are or where progress is being achieved, they are useful.

Attempting to measure educational quality through standardized tests is about as smart as trying to measure temperature with a spoon. When this becomes the axle which the school curriculum revolves around, standardized tests bring serious downsides to both teachers and students.

We have forced teachers to teach students how to pass a test or the teacher will pay a price. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have been guilty of pushing us down this road, first through No Child Left Behind and more recently through Race To The Top, Common Core, and NCLB waiver requirements.

Standardized testing recently drove a Boston teacher to retire prematurely in protest:

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We should:

Choice

The only thing worse than a failing educational system is a failing educational system that traps parents and students and leaves them no other choice.

If you are a wealthy parent, you have other options such as private schools. But many parents cannot afford any other option besides the public school in their district, regardless of whether that school is right for their children or not. That’s not ok.

We need to:

  • Allow public school choice. If you live in District 4 and want to send your child to a school in District 5, you should be able to do so without paying extra provided that there is room available.
  • Allow parents to opt-out of the portion of their taxes that they would pay into the school system if they choose a different educational system such as charter, private, homeschool, or online virtual schools.

Higher Education

Barton Swaim at the SC Policy Council stated that “the exploding costs of sending your kid to a public college has nothing to do with state budgets. It has everything to do with the university budgets.” I agree.

A college degree is now yesterday’s high school diploma, since many employers put more weight on real-world experience. Overcharging for an under-valued diploma is adding insult to injury. Just as the State of South Carolina must live within its means, we should hold our state universities accountable to live within their means.

We need to:

  • Accelerate college by CLEP testing high school students before they graduate. This can allow a student to skip the first two years of college and get to work on their major right away after they graduate high school.
  • Hold our universities accountable for tuition price gouging and wasteful spending.
  • Stop funding speculative, wasteful “research” projects such as Innovista - a set of empty buildings in Columbia that came with a $150 million price tag.
  • Encourage our universities to develop and expand into low-cost online and distance learning programs similar to MIT and Stanford.

Conclusion

Fixing our education system is a complex, long-term endeavour, but at the end of the day it is a question of priorities. Do we care more about the system, or about the students the system exists for? If we are willing to start putting our students first, we can have the best education system in the nation.

All it takes is a little common sense and responsibility.