Expect an Education

To the class of ’07 and the others new at Andover this fall: Welcome. You have probably heard this before, but, to reiterate it once more: You are extremely lucky to be attending this school. While the work may be demanding, and breaks seem few and far between, you will leave this school having acquired undoubtedly one of the top high school educations this country has to offer. Though that’s not saying a whole lot. Well, not enough, at least. In April of 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released “A Nation At Risk,” a study bringing to light the abomination public school education in America had become within the past decades. It declared: “The educational foundations of society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threaten our very future as a nation and a people …if an unfriendly foreign power has attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might have viewed it as an act of war.” Fifteen years later, in 1998, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett followed up the landmark study with his own “A Nation Still At Risk.” Again, the results were dismal: – 25 percent of 12th graders scored below “basic” in reading on the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress. – The literacy level of young adults ages 15-21 dropped more than 11 points from 1984 to 1992. – In 1995, nearly 30 percent of first-time college freshmen enrolled in at least one remedial course and 80 percent of all public four-year universities offered remedial courses. – According to the recently released TIMSS study, American 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized nations in mathematics achievement and 16th out of 21 countries in science. And this is at a time where America is spending more money than ever on our public school system. As Sean Hannity reveals in his book, “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism”: “Adjusted for inflation, we spend about 70 percent more on education today than when the ‘Nation at Risk’ report was issued. … During the 1999-2000 school year, combined federal, state and local spending on K-12th grade education hit $389 billion – about $100 billion more than we spent on defense.” Clearly, it is not money that is the issue. The number of tax dollars issued does not correlate with the quality of the school. We’ve seen that. Though some Democrats in Washington still insist it will, throwing more money at the problem will not save our public schools. So what will? For starters, public education and political special interests need to be entirely detached. The National Education Association (NEA) declares itself the “nation’s leading organization committed to advancing the cause of public education.” While “committing” itself to improving education (and oh, how its attempts have succeeded!), the NEA somehow manages to also commit themselves (with their time and money) to completely school un-related political issues, as they pass resolutions urging nuclear disarmament, military disarmament, and even the rejection of English as America’s official language. Furthermore, time (and money) that should be spent on the teaching of basics such as English, math, science, and history, is instead being taken up with ridiculous workshops such as a 2000 Massachusetts “What They Didn’t Tell You about Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class” workshop given to those as young as 14. Topics ranged from sexual position for homosexuals to instruction on oral sex (“I hear it’s sweeter if you eat celery beforehand,” Scott Whiteman of the Parents’ Rights Coalition recalls hearing from one of the public officials. If only math teachers could reach that depth with Algebra…). But it gets even more disturbing: all this paid was for by the government (our tax dollars), as part of the $1.5 million commission on gay and lesbian youth. Could they not have found another place for that money to go so that it would actually teach the kids something educational? What a concept. Secondly, accountability must be enforced in today’s public schools. As part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, students in grades 3-8 attending public schools are now being required to take annual tests, monitoring instruction in classrooms. The President of the NEA’s response? “It is illogical and impractical to expect every child to have the same skill and ability or be expected to learn and achieve at the same rate.” (read: It is too much to ask that all fourth graders read and write at the established proficiency. Standards are too high!) We are living at a time in which one-fifth of the adult population has only rudimentary reading and writing skills. Higher standards are exactly what we need. But accountability is just one step in improving public education. Parent choice in school selection is even more crucial. Currently, our public schools system is a monopoly. We pay money every year so that children can attend a school decided by the government according to our geographical location. If we are not satisfied with our education, we cannot refuse to pay. We cannot go elsewhere (unless of course, with that is a change in residence). There is no economic incentive for teachers to teach or school officials to deliver results, for no matter their performances, they still get their paychecks every month; the school continues to receive our tax dollars. But, by implementing a school choice system where the dollar follows the scholar, parents are able to choose which school their child can attend. If they do not like their choice, they can take their tax dollars and child elsewhere. Such a system forces schools to compete for the children, and thus the money that comes with them. If the only way teachers will get their paycheck is if their students are learning and the parents are satisfied, the effort will be made and our students will start learning. And finally, the tax dollars we spend on education will actually be used toward the educating of our nation’s youth. Now that’s an idea.