The start of school is already on us and, like the weather, education is always a hot topic – both locally and nationally. And, the discussion usually centers around facilities, teachers and student performance. Before I go any farther, I will do the usual disclaimer and admit that I have certain biases when it comes to education.
They come from having several teachers in my family as well as the eight years I spent on various education committees in the Missouri House. But, just because I have biases doesn’t mean that I also have a blind eye. I understand that all is not rosy in education in America but I look at the problems from a different point of view than a lot of policy makers.
Many pundits across the country think that schools should be run more like businesses. And, I have to admit that I was once one of those. That was before I served as director of personnel services for the Joplin School District back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. That experience showed me that there is more to the business of schools than just business.
Yes, a lot of school districts need to take a more business like approach to the operations of the district but you cannot compare educating kids to making “things.” Students are not “things” and you can’t treat them the same way you would a product that you are manufacturing or selling. It just doesn’t work.
Now that doesn’t mean that schools can’t do things more efficient or that you can’t apply certain business and management principles to education. But, you cannot carte blanche take a business model and slap it onto public education – no matter how much some people might want to.
Should schools be held accountable for how they spend our tax dollars and how well they educate our kids? Absolutely! In fact, I can’t think of anything more critical to the future of our nation than a well-educated populace and with that responsibility comes accountability.
But, I wonder how people who have never taught a class in public school and maybe never even attended a public school, feel ultimately qualified to tell everyone else how the schools should be run? I don’t mean that only educators should make education policy – not at all. What I mean is that to make changes you have to have the input of people who actually do the job. Once you have that input, then work together to make the changes necessary to be better.
As you know from reading my column, I am usually distrustful of a lot of statistics. I subscribe to the theory that “figures don’t lie but liars do figure.” That doesn’t mean that every statistic you read is a lie, but it does mean that you can make statistics say basically whatever you want them to by inserting bias in the figuring.
The implication of this is that you have to always study statistics (any statistic) and not take them at their face value. The problem is that way too many people believe everything that they read and don’t take that next step to make sure it is correct. So, it is often hard to determine just what the problems are in education and it’s hard to fix something when you don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it.
I do know that there is a crisis in education in this country. I don’t have to read a poll or look at some “official” report to know that. All I have to do is be out in the community, listen to what people are saying and observe society in general. But here is where it’s going to get real personal so read carefully. The problems in our country’s education system are not all the teacher or the school’s fault.
As a society we cannot just drop our kids off at the door of the school, expect miracles to happen and then blame the school system when they don’t. Education is like a three legged stool. It is a shared responsibility between the parents, the schools and the community and if one of those is missing, guess what – it doesn’t work.
Are there bad teachers and bad schools in this country? You bet there are – the same as in any job or profession. But, what about the parents who place no value on education or don’t hold their kids accountable? And, what about communities that don’t stay involved and demand better from their school system? All of them are to blame for system in distress.
We know that we have problems in public education in this country but the time for finger pointing is over if we want to solve the problems. The way to fix them is to work together. Some communities do this better than others. We just have to make sure that we don’t let politicians or pundits with no expertise try to tell us how we “should” do things. Our kids are much too important for that to happen.
Kevin Wilson writes a weekly column for the Daily News.