There Are Ways To Improve Public Education While GOP Attacks On It Continue

by R. John Palozzi on February 28, 2012

There Are Ways To Improve Public Education While GOP Attacks On It ContinueI am a career educator and I share Dr. Elam’s (“Republican Approaches To Public Education Are A Threat To America’s Future”)  alarm about the threat many Republican elected officials pose to public education in America.

In addition, I, too, question the merits of legislative initiatives currently promulgated in a number of states that are designed to destroy high quality education and demoralize the nation’s professional educators.

This assault by the anti-intellectuals and out-of-touch country-clubbers in the GOP is unparalleled and we will become less as a nation as a result of it.

No one argues that the institution of public education in this country cannot be improved.  However, the logic behind sacrificing public education ostensibly as a debt reduction measure while concurrently granting huge tax breaks to corporations, is bewildering.  What we can, and must, do is invest in better facilities and better technology while redoubling our efforts to attract and retain the best of those who would invest in a career as educators.

I am also a realist.  Republicans, including several presidential aspirants, will continue this “war” on education because it is cheap and easy politics for them at both the state and national levels.  Meanwhile, what I and other educators can do is advance low-to-no-cost program and policy prescriptions in an attempt to mitigate some of the damage to the current system.

Our children will attend public schools.  Therefore, it is imperative that we insist upon full accountability from each community stakeholder (parents, students, teachers, and school administrators) if we are to offer the current generation a path to a better future.

There are ways to improve public education while the attacks on it continue. All of them are low budget solutions. Even those elected officials who want to cripple public education should consider the following strategies. Let’s first consider the situation before all these attacks on teachers and schools started.

If an observer considers the core family unit fifty years ago, one would see that most homes had a single wage earner to support the family. Seventy percent of mothers were housewives and only thirty percent worked. Today, this figure is reversed, and there are now many two-parent wage earners who might not be home when their child returns from school. As a consequence of this, that home’s ability to monitor that child’s progress in school is hindered as mom and dad can be too exhausted form the day’s drudgery and just not have the time to check on their child’s homework assignments and study habits. Now let’s be honest, most parents today attempt to do both – work and check on their child’s progress in school. But here’s a solution to compensate for any lack of parental attention.

When report cards are issued in a major school district, the local media ought to announce their issuance on the local nightly news broadcast. (“Today, report cards were issued in the Red Clay School District,” for example.) TV and radio public announcements would alert and remind  parents to check their child’s scorecard, so to speak.  Moreover, this would encourage parents to ask appropriate questions, particularly if a poor accounting is revealed. A follow up action of returning a parent signed report card to school would help to arrest irate parents assailing the school and teachers when they find out that their child cannot graduate or be promoted. They were warned and informed by the sequence of report cards. This simple strategy would encourage better grades by involving the home in monitoring the student’s progress. It is cheap to make public service announcements.

Another way to improve public education is to establish a strong connection between a student’s academic record and his or her getting a job or reinforcing the notion of getting into a better program or a college. Too many students today do not see the intrinsic value of an education. They do not realize that their performance in school can have serious consequences. Too often they regret their fooling around in school until much later.

Most professional people will admit to recognizing the connection between good grades and future endeavors. To force reality on wavering students, all future employers of a high school age student should be encouraged by the local school district to examine the student’s report card or transcript before hiring that student for a part-time school year job or summer employment. For example, how can a fast food restaurant hire a desiring person to work the higher paying cash register position when that person has failed math three quarter sessions in a row?  An applicant’s record may indicate that a lower paying grill or clean-up job may be more appropriate for the person according to his or record, or until the employee proves himself or herself for a better post. Also, how can a transit system hire someone for clean-up in the bus barn starting at 6:30am when the applicant was late to school sixty five times to a school that stated at 8:30 am? The point will be made. You are responsible for the consequences of your school record. (That’s how I got into college. My school record was checked.) It is not very expensive to review a student’s report card or transcript.

Another way to improve public education is for school districts to adopt a Reverse Voucher system. In this way only duly processed disruptive students would be removed from the local school and be sent to a special discipline school where errant students could receive closer structure and attention.

Here is how it works: Rather than their being attrition of the best and the brightest students and hurting a school’s performance ratings that current voucher systems do, students who are consistently tardy to school, late to class, cut class, are disruptive, or rude and profane in class (in the school yard or hallways) will be removed and required to enroll in an approved “reform school” for their education. The school’s principal or school district treasurer would be empowered to write a certified check equal to the per-capita yearly cost (say $10,000) to be cashed only at an approved accredited “reform school”.

Rationale: The current school district did its job to correct the miscreant student. It is now time for the parents to be responsible for their child’s education. With the truly trouble makers out of the school, the learning-willing students will progress and not be hindered by students who do not respond to a school’s normal disciplinary process. The program’s cost is near zero, for the per-capita cost would be a simple transfer payment.

Let’s try these simple, low cost fixes to improve public education. Then perhaps, possible solutions to improve learning, rather than caustic attacks, can be applied and student performance will likely improve.

R. John Palozzi

R. John Palozzi is a retired career educator, lecturer, and commentator, and holds a BS degree – West Chester University; a National Science Foundation Fellow, and M.ED – temple University; and Fellow, MA – St. John’s College.

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