A friend asked me, via email, what my thoughts were on Congress attempting to fix our education fiasco. This is my response.
Education is mentioned nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. Therefore it falls to the States and to the People. (Cf. Article 1, Section 8; and 10th Amendment) That is why the Dept of Ed has done nothing but burden our education system. It doesn't matter what they call the program: Head Start, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, whatever. Each successive program has had worse results. Many high schools in our area are on the federal watch list because they have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for the last two years.
Education is the only duty in the WA State Constitution that is 'of paramount importance.' And nearly half the state budget is education-related. But the state has usurped more and more control from parents and school districts, with the same result that the feds have had: lower test scores, higher dropouts, and students less prepared for the workforce. The State Legislature needs to realize that 'access' to a good education for all WA kids does not mean that a one-size-fits-all approach is needed. Instead, the focus should be (as with business/economy/jobs) CREATING THE ENVIRONMENT FOR PEOPLE TO SUCCEED. Government should trust the energy and creativity of the American people, and get out of the way.
The solution is clear:
1. Stop accepting federal funding for education, as it always comes with thick strings and poorer results. Federal funding is a minimal part of our education spending in the state, and the strings restrict our students' progress.
2. Attach the money to the student as tightly as possible, and allow parents to choose how to spend their education dollars, even if it is simply allowing parents to choose which public school their child would attend. Currently we in WA spend over 10K per year, per student, (I'm counting state-level spending only; this doesn't include levies or fed taxes) for a poor result. Many private schools educate children for half the cost...and much better results. Recent 2012 polls indicate that 60% of Washingtonians are ready for charter schools; I would sponsor legislation to give parents as many options as possible, because every child is different, even year to year, and every family is different.
Competition will provide the solution. The other day I passed a store that sells only Sea Salts. Will it survive? Only the invisible hand of the free market knows. Put that power to work with our schools. We have a 76.4% graduation rate in Snohomish County, 70.1% in Skagit. Say you have 100 kids in your class in Snohomish County. Twenty-four of them will quit school. Only six of those dropouts will finish later. The other 18 dropouts will be depending on YOU to pay for their rent, food, medical care, their share of taxes, or (worst-case scenario) jail.
3. Go back to the Iowa Test, and stop spending endless sums of money on reinventing the testing wheel. The Iowa offers state-specific addenda if we really want them; many states are taking that approach. Our WA approach? We tossed the Iowa because it showed how badly our students were failing; we spend millions on committees to redefine education; we spend a few more years coming up with science and math guidelines...Meanwhile our children are growing up unprepared to make a living. So they'll end up frustrated, depressed, and dependent. If we fixed education, prison costs would come down too.
4. Go back to teaching real math. You don't need to dictate the curriculum at the state level; if the money follows the student, and the principal and teachers can choose the curriculum that best meets the needs of their students, they WILL find the best curriculum, fast...because that's what competition does. It's pathetic when a kid can't make change at the drive-through. Embarrassing. And frightening.The multiplication table has become an historical relic. Bring it back.
5. Go back to teaching real reading. See comments for number 4. Real books, not Captain Underpants. Try Treasure Island. Robinson Crusoe.The Hobbit. Charlotte's Web. The Wind in the Willows. Dr. Seuss. Please do not 'reward' the students by showing the movie during class time after they've read the book. Let the book stand on its own merit, and stop treating the kids like idiots. Children rise to the level of expectations set for them by the adults who love them.
6. Stop complaining about class size; while studies have shown that school size does make a difference, class size does not, after the very early grades. (The exception is for students with special needs, who require more attention and should be provided adequate funding.) My grandmother's 5th grade class photo is about 45 students and 1 teacher. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. Just go back to what worked! Obviously I am not saying we should ignore the progress made in civil rights (this is usually the first red herring tossed out by opponents to true education reform). Attach the money to the child, and principals and teachers will use common sense. Good solid curricula exist...but (HINT) it's not the top 3 publishers currently being used by public schools. If the principal can control his curriculum and personnel decisions, trust me...he'll find the good curriculum. I reviewed 5 nationally-used K-12 curricula myself a few summers ago while working as a research analyst for Evergreen Freedom Foundation, and contrasted them with the WA State learning guidelines. Seeing the difference between our WA curriculum goals and the stated goals of successful curricula is what prompted me to seriously consider running for State Legislature.
The books exist. The principals will find them when they have the freedom and incentive to do so.
My 92-year-old Granddad, a retired Accounting Professor, says, "Read the problem."