Biden’s educational programs preclude sensible reforms
President Joe Biden’s educational proposals are not modest in terms of taxation. Two new years of free preschool with unionized teachers. Free community colleges for a year or two. Massive student debt relief.
In principle, they are not modest either. They include mandatory curricula, not free play, for toddlers; Reintroduction of racist “unequal effects” as a restriction on student discipline; politicized “political education”; directing work towards nonprofits through particularly generous lending programs; curbing due process for college students accused of wrongdoing; and renewed emphasis on standardized tests.
The enormous sums that must be spent will fall into the hands of unionized professionals; University graduates with above-average income prospects; and college faculties and staff whose student loan salaries have skyrocketed even though their workloads have sunk. The adult education centers to be expanded do a lot of good, but also have very high drop-out rates.
In the last 40 years of controversy over educational reform, the main focus has been on arguments from solid positions. Reformers have targeted the heart of the teachers’ union by trying to set up charter schools and voucher programs and watering down union safety and exam regulations; Relatively weak attacks have been made on the official and seniority practices of teachers.
However, these attempts were not without results: about 5 percent of K-12 students now attend charter schools. Despite their confirmation by the Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Vouchers and educational savings accounts benefit less than 1 percent of students. Reformed so-called “accountability” by promoting uniformity in teaching, reviewing, and “testing” – spoon-feeding information in bite-sized pieces at the expense of serious reading while neglecting history, geography, and foreign languages, art, and music as subjects of instruction – may actually have had perverse effects. The argument about the value of reform has focused almost entirely on test scores, without discussing whether reforms promote individual or family responsibility, instill better values in students, promote maturity, or align with what Judge Learned Hand once called “preservation of personality “denoted.”
Defenders of the status quo and those who wish to expand it to new spheres extol the district public schools as “community schools” necessary to maintain a decent minimum without checking whether they are actually community controlled or what is desired Reach a target. The argument is formulated as one between public interest and “privatization”, an easy dichotomy to maintain when the dispute takes place in brokerage suburbs that are happy with their schools or in rural areas where alternatives are difficult to find. The enthusiasm to build a parallel system to replace the one that already exists is limited. The neighborhood elementary school has its charm, even if such schools are almost inevitably less socially diversified than private or charter schools – and pride themselves on buildings, basketball teams and the like.
After all, public high schools cost parents nothing but their taxpayers’ money, taking teenagers out of the house when they are toughest, feeding them two or even three meals a day, transporting them, introducing them to the opposite sex, entertaining them heartwarming on weekends Hold graduation ceremonies and eventually give them credentials entitling them to college or employment in a not-too-demanding service company. What do you dislike? The fact that there are innumerable students in an international comparison and that they were illiterate 100 years ago by national standards is certainly secondary, as is the outsourcing of higher-paid jobs abroad with better education systems.
Yet reformers have all too often dropped all the eggs in the basket, to the detriment of proposals that would attract a wider electorate, divide defenders of the status quo, and undermine the strength of the unions and organizations it apologizes.
The following are some suggestions that address these purposes and that shatter the union’s preferred portrayal of educational controversies involving a choice between ‘community schools’ and ‘privatization’. Because it is not “privatization”, but a sensible model of a public school that the unions and their sympathizers reject.
What is such a school?
Such a school would allow teachers and principals to maintain control over student discipline without fear of “multi-impact” lawsuits, procedural obstacles, or ruinous attorney fees. A school in which disruptive students are removed from the classroom immediately so as not to delay or disrupt other students’ lessons. A school where teacher recruitment occurs at the building level without the ability of schools to assemble a team and select their teachers to be “driven” by seniority and other restrictions. A school where the headmaster is selected and accounted for by a building-level body, drawing on the energy of parents, teachers and community members with relevant expertise. A school that – like private schools – is free to recruit its teachers from the 90 percent of university graduates who are excluded from teaching under today’s certification rules. A school that, unlike most public schools today, can employ suitably qualified teachers in physics, chemistry, computer science, Arabic, Chinese and other critical languages, as well as teachers for the blind, deaf and physical, without being hampered by the unions’ uniform salary schedule to become.
This would be a school that can adjust its salary plans to recruit members from single-income families so as not to have almost exclusively female teachers. A school that includes teachers of different ages and backgrounds, including career changers, academics, housewives returning to work, and retired military, law enforcement, business, professional and government personnel. A school where inadequate teachers, as determined by a school principal and building-level board, can be fired without lengthy complaint procedures. A school where learning disabilities are identified early in a student’s career through school health assessments. A school that takes it seriously to discourage its students from drug use and does not take them to the criminal justice system en masse for fear of legal proceedings. A school where the quality of the teachers makes strict curricula superfluous; in which books are read, not bite-sized pieces of it; and in which “teaching to the test” is unknown. A school that treats the 11th and 12th grades like the growing adults and separates them from the young people.
This would be a school that does not shy away from teaching cultural and religious traditions and values and that respects the parents’ right to choose in this regard. A school where teachers are rewarded with reasonable salaries, not excessive fringe benefits that encourage simulating and playing the system, and where “burned out” teachers are not tied to their jobs by seniority and non-forfeiture requirements. A school with meaningful and internationally recognized final standards that are not waived because of supposed “disparate effects”. A school with meaningful connections to the resulting educational or industrial experiences of its graduates. A school where disabled students enjoy the services of specially qualified and appropriately paid teachers, where resources are not wasted on bureaucracies creating “individual treatment plans”. A school whose teachers can take advantage of new distance learning and digital technologies, free from government restrictions imposed by the trade unions
If more and more citizens become aware of how far the typical public school deviates from this model, the pressure to reform, possibly also competition and privatization, will increase. There may also be renewed interest in “industrial education”: short vocational training institutions such as the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes as originally conceived and strangled on the premise that trained physical labor was the maintenance of slavery. Massive subsidies to the ever-growing university bureaucracies will end. Teaching can again be a profession that is not organized like an association of floor sweepers in a meat factory. College students can be re-taught that solemn debts are repaid, not forgiven, and that work, earn and save are expected, not “play the system.”
George Liebmann is the author of several books on public policy, including Solving problems without big government (Präger: 2000), reprinted as Neighborhood futures (Transaction Books: 2004), which discusses educational issues.
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