Education reformers believe the public education system in America is broken. Despite having a long list of reasons for these failures, they have yet to find a way to turn their conjecture into successful reform. Charter schools, merit pay, ending tenure, fewer union teachers, teacher evaluations, and Teach for America are some of the more popular ideas that haven't actually improved outcomes.
The problem is that each of these ideas assumes teachers are the issue. They aren't properly motivated, censured, cultivated, or eliminated. Unfortunately for reformers, these tend to be fallacies based on the media's obsession with a few bad apples. For example, the bad-teachers meme has become so prevalent that even school districts are convinced it is an issue, yet when these districts made a concerted effort to identify educators who needed to be removed, they found that only 1.5 percent were actually ineffective.
If a 1.5-percent ineffective rate is an epidemic that requires a complete overhaul of the public education system, it should be noted that 5 percent of doctors accounted for 54 percent of malpractice payouts. From the beginning of the century, 23 percent of military veterans who were discharged received a less than honorable discharge. And according to the Harvard Business Review, 40 percent of CEOs fail in their first 18 months. Where is the public outrage and legislative action to correct these issues?
While it is certainly true that having good teachers is important, teachers are only part of the equation. The reform movement seems completely uninterested in legislation that makes parents and students more accountable for the child's performance. They aren't addressing the inequalities in resources or safety that impact a student's ability to learn. And they don't seem very concerned about data that show that, when adjusted for poverty, the U.S. already has the best education in the world at every level.
Reformers also tend to be very concerned about the amount of money being spent to educate children today. This too seems hypocritical, given that over the past two decades education spending has only increased by 25 percent more than inflation, which is far smaller than increases in spending on defense, health care, college tuition, and CEO wages. This suggests public education is hardly the biggest boondoggle in America, yet many of the people who act like education spending is out of control will be the first to defend the never-ending rise in funding for some of these other areas.
Given the concern for improving education and saving money, the latest fad for the reformers is very perplexing. Whether you call it virtual schools, online education or cyber schools, the next great thing in education reform is letting kids take classes over the Internet. While there are certainly benefits to children learning from home for both the child and the teacher, the process relies on self-directed learning, which studies have shown leads to lower educational outcomes in college students.
Based on these results, it comes as no surprise that the data from across the country show that children who take these online classes preform worse on standardized tests than students who attend traditional schools. It's possible that the issues are in execution, but it's also possible that this sort of self-directed learning only works for a small portion of students who are already motivated to learn.
Of course, the data also show that virtual schools cost less than traditional schools. This would seem to fit with reformers' concerns over ever-increasing education spending; however, currently taxpayers see none of the benefits of these savings, since these cyber schools receive the same per-pupil funding as their brick-and-mortar counterparts despite the fact that these schools cost less to operate.
Unfortunately, this is the real trend in education reform these days. Corporations are looking at ways to monetize America's children while simultaneously undercutting the power of their greatest potential adversaries.
Sure, charter schools were a good start to bilking the public out of millions of dollars under the guise of "education reform," but online schools are the golden goose of for-profit education. Of course, any good corporation knows that one of the fastest ways to boost profits is to lower the wages of employees. This means finding excuses to fire well-compensated teachers, offering lower starting salaries with the carrot of earning more for meeting unobtainable goals, and hiring under-qualified educators with only weeks of training who will work for less and only stick around for a few years should absolutely be part of any corporate takeover of education.
The only other obstacle to turning what used to be seen as a civic duty into a Fortune 500 company are teachers' unions. Having an organization that acts as a balance to corporate greed and works to make sure the needs of children and the people entrusted with their education are represented is clearly an issue for increasing profits. Luckily for these companies, there are enough people who have bought the education-reform message hook, line and sinker, and enough money to buy legislative compliance that changes have reached the top levels of government. And they have done this despite the fact that education reform has met neither goal of improving educational outcomes or saving money.
The thing voters need to ask themselves is: Who do they believe has the best interests of their child in mind more -- the person who interacts with them every day and is part of their local community, or the corporate CEO 500 miles away who answers to an unelected board and investors? Because right now, the only ones really benefiting from the litany of education reform sweeping the nation are the corporations.
It's time for reformers to take a page out of their own playbook and honestly evaluate the effectiveness of their ideas. If they did, they would realize that the only thing truly broken about public education is education reform. Unfortunately, too many of these people aren't educated enough to recognize they're being duped.
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