Thursday, May 10, 2012

The State of Public Education in the US

"Out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation" - Mark Twain
Nothing is truer than that quote by Mark Twain. This country was founded on the principles of freedom and the ability to make something of yourself, no matter what your background in life is. Presidents Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln were born and raised in humble life styles before achieving their greatness and that same value continues today with President Obama, the son of a single mother, working his way through school, to one day become the first African-American president in this great country. One of the principles that have made this country great is the premise that every citizen, no matter the economic class or family history, has the right to a free and fair public education. The first public school in this country opened its doors before we were even an independent nation, the Syms-Eaton Academy in Virginia in 1634. Unfortunately though, the public education system is under attack currently by who else, the Republican Party.
Ever since President Carter established the Department of Education in 1979, Republicans have wanted to defund and/or dismantle it, saying it should be up to the states to regulate education. That notion is fine, but with fifty different states, there would be fifty different standards of education rather than one unifying standard across the country, as is the current dilemma the Department is trying to remedy. Creating a national standard of what should be taught will put our country back on the right path to being a dominating force the in the global economy, set us back on the track to exploring more of space, and make us the technology leader we used to be before the 1980s. The Republicans don’t see it that way though, they think deregulating schools will make them more competitive, which is a blatant falsehood.

The problem is though, while the Republicans in Washington want to pass the problem off to the states, Republicans in governor’s mansions and state assemblies also don’t want to deal with it. In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett has drastically cut the funding to public schools since he was elected in 2010. School districts have had to make draconian cuts in their budgets, layoff scores of teachers, and close down schools to make ends meet. Teachers in the bankrupt Chester Upland School District have been working for free since the first of the year after their district ran out of money and the state refused to step in and help. Last year the Erie School District laid off 200 teachers, 20% of the teachers in the district, in order to close a $26 million budget deficit.  This year the district is closing three elementary schools and evaluating other steps that can be taken in order to close the budget hole. Meanwhile, Governor Corbett also cut funding to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees fourteen universities in Pennsylvania. Consequently, tuition increases are likely at these schools, whose low rates attract lower and middle income students. These students will either go deeper into debt trying to get an education or else just drop out of college all together. Corbett has done this while continuing to refuse to tax the Marcellus Shale gas drilling, which could solve and funding issues.

We need to reinvest in education in this country. Our schools are crumbling, filled with outdated textbook, obsolete technology, and teachers lacking the resources needed to take their students to the next level. We need to not only pump up reading, writing and math, but also physical and social sciences and the arts. We currently rank #25 in the world for math and science scores. Since No Child Left Behind went into effect almost a decade ago, the arts have been gutted from public school because the funded was redirected into meeting the asinine standardized tests so school could meet Annual Yearly Progress. Thankfully NCLB is coming to an end as President Obama has authorized that states can opt out of the program and set their own process up. Once NCLB is completely scrapped, education can once again begin to blossom and our country can be the top of world again. Just remember this quote I found my student teaching advisor’s office door: “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, make laws about teaching.”