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Sun

04

Apr

2010

Ideas for improving the United States public education system
Sunday, 04 April 2010 05:01
by Peter Stern

Improving public education seems to be a never-ending battle.

For the majority of children and parents, who rely on it, public education continues to fail the needs and the learning outcomes of the children attempting to get a quality education. Believe me, I know first-hand. I almost dropped out of a public high school that had 6,000 kids enrolled. It was easy to get lost and to fall inside the cracks of the public education system. The sheer numbers [of students] make public education a difficult, if not impossible overwhelming effort.

However, I was luckier than most. After much “stumbling” I forced myself to continue my education and received my first Masters Degree from New York University, one of the top higher education facilities in the nation. I have two additional post graduate degrees. Against all odds, I became a public high school teacher and then a Middle School Principal. I then achieved the status of Program Director for the Alternative Education Division of the Board of Education in a major U.S. city. I also became a University Professor at several top universities and a community college. I was in significant overview of the entire scope of the educational process and I didn’t like what I saw.

Finally, after 10 years mixed of joy and frustration, it was a sad day when I finally left teaching because of politics and burnout, trying to teach in a system whose politics and lack of reality-based focus that fights teachers and good administrators every step of the way in providing a quality education for our children. I left public education to enter business as a Director of Information Services, upon which I achieved respect and made a lot of money, but I always missed working with children.

After so many years, public education still needs help, even more so in today's world. There have been many leaders who have tried to "fix" it, but all have failed for one reason or another. I have a simpler solution for success. It will save a ton of tax dollars and will achieve better learning outcomes. It will provide the public education the majority of our children need in order to succeed in life. It will be less complicated, more logical and it will work for all of them.

• Teach children the basic needs in learning and life: reading, writing, math along with some basic science and core history. Do it so learning is fun. Stop viewing success as passing state examinations and stop fiddling with textbooks riddled with inaccuracies and special interest judgments and commentaries

• Reduce class sizes in half

• Then give them one elective period where they can pursue whatever topic they, their parents and/or educators want

• Teach them better communication and life training skills that actually are important in daily living, e.g., like maintaining a checking account, writing a business letter, interview skills and job resume writing, and to learn the process before proceeding on any objective or endeavor.

• There is no need to teach religious thought, political philosophy or any of that other tripe that have little to do with REAL learning in public education

• Teach kids to learn for learning's sake, how to research any topic and to enjoy the learning process. Extend that focus on process because teaching kids to identify and learn the process of each and all things in life is the gateway to success. Once you see the process, you know the steps you need to take to succeed in that effort with hard work

• Increase teacher salaries and benefits, which will ensure a competitive, more professional and higher quality pedagogical staff.

 
Our schools have become just another business and a volatile political football field. Get politics out of the schools and classrooms. Our classrooms currently are labs for babysitting our children until 3 PM. Reduce class sizes. Instead of 30 or 40 kids to a class, make it 15 kids in a class. The quality of education and learning just doubled. It's a mathematical and commonsense fact.

If we provide the above solutions, our kids will get much more out of education and of life and we can stop trying to run public education like an industrial assembly-line plant. We have to modify education to fit our children, not force our children to fit into education.

"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

However, public education continues to fail children and parents. Public education is failing communities all across the nation.

It is why I have been home schooling my son since he was old enough for nursery school. It is hard enough to raise children these days, but those "educators" in the State Board of Education (SBOE) 'pie in the sky building', far removed from actual education, continue to determine policy and curriculum for all children in public education. They don't know what they are doing and they are doing it wrong. That's as honest as I can be about it.

It is enough that people like this exist in large numbers across the nation, but to subject ALL children to such beliefs and some obscure paths to falsely determined success should be illegal and is a wake-up call to all thinking people. I advocate that people contact their House and Senate representatives and inform them of their anger, disapproval and disappointment of how the SBOE is functioning and how it wants to impede providing honest, factual and appropriate knowledge for all children.

Perhaps as part of the wake-up call, people may need to start filing class action lawsuits against the SBOE in all states, maybe even against various school districts, but it is the SBOE that charts out the direction, courses and learning materials for all state public school districts, pushed by various wealthy and powerful special interests.

We need to change this overall process at the top soon, before we raise a group of misled, incompetent, information biased idiots and misfits who eventually will manage our nation's education and business sectors.

I believe the current trends of top-down school management will ensure that there will be larger numbers of thinking parents who will opt to home school their children, as I have done. It is not an easy job and fortunately I have the time, desire and experience in doing so.

I also believe that the SBOE hierarchy and its wealthy special interests will continue to push public education and knowledge base further into the Dark Ages.

Note that I am NOT advocating some ultra "liberal" education for children. I believe in moderation as well as common-sense orientation to life in general, but I also believe we need to provide factual data and true direction to our children with an open and creative mind. That's real education.

That simply does not occur in most states. I teach my son to love learning and how to get the REAL facts for anything he will need in his lifetime. I also teach him the necessary daily life knowledge he will need in the real world of living and business.

As a parent, former public school teacher, school administrator, university professor, business executive and a THINKING person, I am appalled by what has happened to our education system and the direction that it will have to endure as long as these narrow-minded, falsely opinionated, often delusional and irresponsible people manage education in this state. It may not be all of them, but it sure is most of them. The lack of success of public education proves it.

A lot of people are not going to like what I say in this commentary, but it's the truth.

These days it is almost everything people can do to get jobs, keep them and work at them most of their daily lives. Some unfortunate folks must work more than one job to survive. People don't have the "luxury" to sit down at a dinner table. It is often physically, energetically and emotionally impossible.

I know that my family does not "sit down" at the dinner table to eat together and discuss things. My wife and I don't really eat a dinner. We all eat very light meals often throughout the day. We do eat together formally at least once per week. But we are close in other ways every day and we take the time daily to communicate and interact.

It doesn't matter how families do it, but they do need to make the time for close interaction. It is desperately needed. We need to communicate with each other. It is an important part of living.

My son is 13 years old now and we have a very close relationship as father and son. We also are close in that I am his educator and mentor, although he continues to teach me a lot. In addition, we are each other's best friend and I would not trade that for anything in the world. But family is everything to me. I would give up everything I have or what I like to do for myself to keep close with my family. Other people may have other priorities but that is mine.

However, in this world that we have created of difficult everyday living, it is a very hard time for parents and children. Not everyone has the time or inclination to deal with raising a family in the ways that others are able to. I'm not defending it, just confirming the reality.

Education starts and continues with the parents, but it is very helpful for dedicated, honest, knowledgeable and sincere "other" people to help in that education. We hope it is found in the classroom, but that is not often the case. It is a hard time for educators.

Even dedicated qualified teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of students they have every day. Even if they put in all the hours of preparation to provide a quality education, they do so at the risk of not providing their own families with the same needs. In addition, they are underpaid and have inadequate health benefits and retirement packages. Teachers also are forced to be police officers in the class room, to maintain a peaceful environment to facilitate learning. Furthermore, teachers are not provided with the quality materials, textbooks, Xerox facilities, access to teaching methods, etc.

In addition, many top teachers leave the system due to burnout and/or they get better pay in the business sector. I know this for a fact, as I explained above. I left education to make more money in the business sector and because I felt as if I were on some sort of never-ending treadmill, spinning my wheels trying to educate and discipline children often without the active support from the school administrators and parents.

Teaching is a very difficult skill and profession. Not everyone who has a certain knowledge or skill can teach it well to others. Not every teacher is a good teacher. In fact, I will go further to say that most teachers are not top quality teachers, much the same as most parents are not top quality parents, or in the same parallel as most people who play golf are not top golfers.

It is a particular skill to be a great teacher. You cannot learn to be one because it is an innate skill and personality, but everyone can learn to be a better teacher.

We should be honoring great teachers as we do great football or basketball teams and players and we pay them accordingly. Unfortunately, teachers are seldom respected or honored. Once upon a time, the community viewed teachers differently. They were respected because of their importance to the community’s present and future goals and objectives. Frequently, teachers were invited into people’s homes for dinner and to chat.

Our society doesn't do that so we push top teachers out of the education system in search of better opportunities, more respect and better pay. State and school district politics often interfere with the process of educating our children. Every year or two, someone at the top of the ladder arrives at a new panacea that will save public education. It seldom helps.

Bottom-line is that the public education system needs a complete overhaul. That is not going to happen for many reasons.

Think about it.

If our leaders REALLY wanted to improve public education, they would have done so already. It seems they are being paid not to, in various ways.

Legislators and business leaders are not the ones to resolve the major educational issues and problems. They simply do not have the experience and background even if they truly wanted to. However, they still could get the right people to make the changes that public education needs to be successful. Our legislators tried to change public education with many committees, but they always fail. They fail because of political power-plays and special interest impedance.

Think about it further.

If public education became successful, everyone would want their kids to go to public schools. What would happen to private schools? They would not do as well or make as much profit. A lot of people also are invested in Charter Schools for that same reason.

In addition, quite a few of our legislators and business leaders sit on the Boards of private and charter schools. There is a reason why they sit there and why they want public education to fail. They may not want public education to fail completely, just enough so private and charter schools are more successful.

There are powerful and wealthy people out there that want public education to fail. But they don't want it to fail completely because they want a place to house young children during the week. They want big baby-sitting structures but they want the majority of kids to remain, perhaps not uneducated, but certainly less educated than the kids who attend private and/or charter schools.

There is a lot of politics at the national, state and local levels that interfere with providing a quality public education to the majority of children. Still, there are simple things that we could do to increase the teaching quality and learning outcomes we currently have available.

To reiterate, doing the following will improve public education:

• Teach children the basic needs in learning and life: reading, writing, math along with some basic science and core history. Do it so learning is fun. Stop viewing success as passing state examinations and stop fiddling with textbooks riddled with inaccuracies and special interest judgments and commentaries

• Reduce class sizes in half

• Then give them one elective period where they can pursue whatever topic they, their parents and/or educators want

• Teach them better communication and life training skills that actually are important in daily living, e.g., like maintaining a checking account, writing a business letter, interview skills and job resume writing, and to learn the complete process before proceeding on any objective or endeavor

• There is no need to teach religious thought, political philosophy or any of that other tripe that have little to do with REAL learning in public education

• Teach kids to learn for learning's sake, how to research any topic and to view and enjoy the learning process. Extend that focus on process because teaching kids to identify and learn the process of each and all things in life is the gateway to success. Once you see the process, you know the steps you need to take to succeed in that effort with hard work

• Increase teacher salaries and benefits, which will ensure a competitive, more professional and higher quality pedagogical staff.

In closing, we may never get public education on a par with private schools, but we can do a lot to improve them and it doesn't take a lot of effort or money to do so. In fact, doing what I describe above may actually save a lot of tax dollars, which may cut property taxes as an additional perk. It will also change the priorities and improve educational outcomes. However, we need the right people to create the change but as long as the powerful, wealthy special interests willingly hold back public education, it will remain difficult to achieve quality changes leading to more positive and better directed learning outcomes for our children.

If “it takes a community to raise a child” we are doing a very crummy job of it. We can and should do better.

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