Archive for March 18, 2010
Cedar Valley Voices: Iowa Communities Must Work Together To Fix Education
by Gerald Reese
Is there something really wrong with our educational system, or is it a matter of perception? Or is there something wrong with the way we administer our funding? Do we rely too much on tests to measure achievement, whether it is to pass a grade, or to hire a new teacher? Do we have too much top-heavy administration and too many associations trying to invent the better mousetrap? Do we concentrate too much on the better students and too little on the underachievers? Do we need to overhaul the education system every time we elect a new president?
Right now President Obama is calling for a massive overhaul of the system, and to throw billions of dollars at it, as if this is going to improve test scores. Here in Iowa our Association of School Boards is embroiled in controversy involving alleged misuse of funds, etc. While this association has many benefits, it lacks oversight. It seems like public money is too much temptation for some. We have 361 school districts that have their own set of administrators and staff. In years past, we had county (99) superintendents that worked well for us. Should we go back to this system simply to save money? We could hire, or retain more teachers with the money saved. Maybe in times of economic distress we would not have to layoff teachers, and increase class size.
When economic times are good we go all out for the arts (both preforming and visual) that many students enjoy. These are the classes where students learn who they are in our society, and form a sense of identity. For some, it is a way of making it through another boring day of feeling left out, of losing hope. This past week, students and teachers in Des Moines were protesting cuts in these same classes. And these students are right to expect the same level of educational opportunities as the predecessors. We need to plan ahead to maintain that same level of opportunity, and not overreact to each downward financial condition.
When we cut teachers, and increase class sizes, we are multiplying the number of students in each class that need extra help, and decreasing the amount of time the teacher has to help. Parents may have the means to hire a tutor for their student, which helps that student understand and learn a particular subject. What about those students whose parents or guardians cannot or will not provide the extra tutoring? Not all in our society place the same value on education as the majority. It then falls back onto the community to help those who desperately need help. And it does take the community pulling together to provide a quality education for all of its members.
What it boils down to, is that the better our society is educated, the healthier society is. Do we need national standards of educational goals, of funding our schools? Declining enrollment in our smaller communities exacerbate the problems inherent with funding per student policies. Less funding leads to cuts, and cuts lead to fewer opportunities for students. It can become a vicious cycle that catches our young people in the middle, and our communities at odds as to a viable solution.
Working together, we can, and will come up with answers.