“The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom.” Do you believe that?
Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called on 14 Senate Democrats, who fled the state instead of voting on a deficit-cutting anti-teacher union bill, to return and do their jobs. Senate Republicans hold a 19-14 majority there, but can’t vote on the bill unless at least one Democrat is present.
Does that sound like democracy at work to you? Do you think it’s just a coincidence that the two largest teachers’ unions, the NEA and AFT, are the largest campaign contributors in the nation – $55 million in just the past two years – that is more contributions than the Teamsters, NRA or any other organization, and that 90 percent of those contributions fund only Democrat candidates?
As I began to point out last week in my part 1, the U.S. public education system is flailing now more than ever, and teachers’ unions are aiding and abetting its demise. Some teachers unions may indeed be fighting for some of our teachers, but they are failing our students by protecting adults at the expense of not allowing the reformation of a crippled and dying system.
I became even further aware of that in a big way when I recently watched the movie, “Waiting for Superman,” a deeply personal look into the state of U.S. public education and how it is effecting our children. It is a movie my wife, Gena, and I encourage every American to watch. (It just came out on DVD and Blue Ray on Feb. 15.)
“Waiting for Superman” demonstrates how:
- Teachers unions are crippling the education of our children.
- Tenure and its guaranteed jobs are perpetuating educational dysfunction.
- Removing the worst 10 percent of teachers would help push American schools back to the top of the world rankings.
- Existing bureaucracies from the federal Department of Education to state level school boards are doing more harm than good.
- Many public schools have become “drop-out factories” (schools with a high drop-out rate).
- Many public school districts are engaged in “lemon dances” (sending their worst teachers to other schools and then in turn accepting failing teachers themselves).
- Many public school districts have “rubber rooms,” places where teachers placed on disciplinary leave are waiting for a hearing that could take three to four years to be heard. These teachers waste their time playing cards and other games while getting paid full salaries and benefits – to the wasted sum of $100 million a year of taxpayer monies.
- The “assembly-line one-size-fits-all” approach to educating our children isn’t working.
- Inadequate testing, insufficient funding or out-of-control spending and the fervent defense of adults’ rights over children’s education have all pushed the public-education system to the brink of irrelevance.
Think about it: If teachers know they can’t be fired, why should they work or care? What other profession, besides college professors, has that kind of contractual agreement? None.
Don’t misunderstand me: I fully know and believe that the majority of public-school teachers and principals are dedicated and highly qualified. I know some. But I also know that, more often than not, even their hands are being tied by bureaucratic red tape, federal and state regulations, and teachers unions’ special interests, agendas and contracts. By in large, teachers are good, but government regulation and teachers unions are a menace and impediment to real public-education reform.
The fact is, as “Waiting on Superman” also documented, the federal government has gone from spending $4,300 per student in 1971 to more than $9,000 today (and that’s adjusted for inflation and costs of living). In spending double, one would think we’re getting double the results, but most of our public schools are worse off now than they were in 1971. Reading and math scores have flat-lined since then:
In Alabama, only 18 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In Mississippi, only 14 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In New Jersey, only 40 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In Connecticut, only 35 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In New York, only 30 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In Arizona, only 26 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
In California, only 24 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
And when the nation’s eighth graders were tested in reading proficiency, most states scored between 20-35 percent of grade level, with the absolute lowest scores in reading in the U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C., where only 12 percent of eighth graders rank grade proficient. Do you think it is also only a coincidence that the bureaucratic nightmare of the nation produces the worst student scores in the nation?
I discussed in Part 1 how we all can fight to improve U.S. public education. But if our local schools aren’t imparting a quality education or reforming fast enough to do so for our child(ren), then we must seek educational alternatives. The minds, hearts and future of our children and nation are on the line.
But choice is something the feds and teachers’ unions are not exactly thrilled about offering. In fact, President Obama’s appointed secretary of education, Arne Duncan, explained in an NPR radio interview, “I’m a big believer in choice and competition, but I think we can do that within the public school framework.”
Our children deserve the best education we can give them. We can’t be satisfied by failed government-run schools that don’t provide the level of education we want. And there are alternatives – and I would encourage you to look into them: charter, parochial, private and home schooling co-ops are a few.
My wife, Gena, and I are very committed to homeschooling our 9-year-old twins. Once upon a time it was just a movement; now it’s a bona fide solution to the degrading, impersonal and progressive streams in our public schools. And those students graduating today from homeschooling are ranking among the top in every field of society.
When it comes to our children’s lives and education, we don’t have to wait on Superman, because that is exactly who every parent or guardian can become. Superman is not going to rise up in the ranks of the federal government or teachers’ unions. He or she is going to rise up from within our homes.
In this respect, “Superman” Christopher Reeve had it right: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
In my next two articles, I will discuss some possible solutions to this horrendous problem.
(For further ideas, please go to the “action” items on the official “Waiting on Superman” website, to see what you can do to join the educational reformation across the country and in your local community. Also, check out Kyle Olson and his Education Action Group Foundation’s website.)