Understandable impulses


Everyone is all aflutter about the state of U.S. public edgimacation. As I’ve mentioned before, we homeschool but I don’t want to talk about that too much. Instead I want to talk about this NY Times editorial.

Now, I’ve always understood that people are alarmed about public education nationally, but most people think their school is an exception. (Do note that qualifier–I didn’t add it to up the word count of this post.) They (still refering to “most people”) believe their teachers are dedicated and want the best for their kids, even if the school struggles with funding and the like.

What to do what to do? Well, one thing the editorial writer above suggests would be to turn over control of the schools to the federal government.

Now, she admits that’s never going to happen. Not right away, at least. There’s a stronger impulse in this country to do away with the Dept. of Education than there is to give it more power. She knows this, and wraps up her editorial with some common sense advice on things the folks in Washington could do to ease some of the problems schools are facing.

One idea I liked was the voluntary curriculum guides put together by people with conflicting political interests. Schools could adapt them if they liked, and parents seeing their kids’ educations controlled by ideologically-elected non-experts (like the embarrassing Texas School Board folks) would have an opportunity to pressure for local reform. Or move, hopefully.

I also liked the idea that of improving teacher training. (But did she really have to use France as an example? She might as well have written “Conservatives, dismiss everything I say.”) However, I’m not sure we’re at a place yet where we know what training will work for teachers, and what skills should be taught.

I am, as I’ve said before, dubious about the idea that some people are good at what they do because of an inborn “talent.” Like writers, some teachers are a success because they use successful strategies, and I’m firmly of the opinion that these strategies can be taught. Maybe not to everyone, and certainly not to the degree that every teach becomes a superhuman expert, but yes to skills.

And I share her disdain for publicly-funded charter schools. The latest reports I’ve seen show that charter schools are no better, on average, that public schools. They only serve to skim off the children of wealthier families.

However, I wish there was a way to better control the way schools are funded. When a recession hits, adminstrations end up shutting buildings and loading classrooms. Payments from a federal tax structure–controlled for local conditions like cost of living and weather issues–would smooth out those dips and valleys.

But hey, my kid hates to be in crowds and doesn’t learn well in classes, so it’s all academic to me. Still, I love this country and would like to see it succeed. Federal control of the educational system might not be the best way to do it, but a federal funding system that let’s each district experiment with what works and what doesn’t–with a program to publicise those successes so other districts could learn from them–would be a good start.

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