04/14/12 — Get serious: There's never been more urgent need for dialogue about our schools

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Get serious: There's never been more urgent need for dialogue about our schools

The schools are back in the news again -- this time because the threat of further cuts in education funding is forcing some state superintendents to speak out about what they will mean to the quality of education in the state.

School districts are easy targets. They often have big central offices and lots of personnel with fancy titles, all of whom seem to be very far-removed from the district's stated purpose: To educate children.

And to say that there is no waste in public education is just silly. There are inefficiencies in just about every government bureaucracy, usually caused by some decision made by another puffed up branch of government. In this case, those culprits are the state department of education and the U.S. Department of Education.

There is a basic problem in education: There are truly too many experts spouting out their solutions to increasing student test scores and boosting graduation rates who have little day-to-day interaction with students. They send edicts down from on-high and leave it to local districts to come up with the funds and personnel to make them happen.

Want to guess what happens when unfunded mandates clog an already bureaucratically challenged organization? That's right, less money for what really matters.

There are some bad teachers, poor administrators and lazy and incompetent staff in education, just like there are poor employees in any business or organization. But for every bad employee, there are literally dozens of school personnel who are in the business to help children, period. They push, they cajole, they spend their own money to meet the needs of those young people, often investing long hours and using their off time to supplement what really is a small income for a profession that requires so much.

And what they face is increased scrutiny from a country that often does not want to talk about what it is really like to run a classroom -- and what challenges teachers face as they try to impart information to a whole new generation of students and deal with increasingly disconnected parents.

And it is this other side of the classroom, the students without good role models, safe and secure homelifes and goals for the future who concern teachers the most.

Spending more money might not be the answer. But continuing to believe that we can float along with the same model as 1953 isn't the solution either.

If we want better schools, we have to talk, we have to face reality and we have to invest in education with new materials, new programs and a new respect for the people who dedicate their lives to preparing these young people for the next steps in theirs.

We are entrusting them with the future work force that will drive the future of this nation. That alone is reason to get serious.

Finger-pointing is not working, and neither is sticking our heads in the sand.

Perhaps now is the time to open up a real dialogue about not only what the schools want, but what will really work and to address the real issues behind low reading scores, poor graduation rates and students who graduate unprepared for college, for a job or for life.

Without it, we are just whistling "Dixie" -- again.

Published in Editorials on April 14, 2012 10:53 PM