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Ring the Bell: The Politics of Education Deserve a Failing Grade [OPINION]

FILE: Students

School is back in session, so the time is right to check the report card of our country’s educational system.

The education debate rages on, and despite decades worth of hullabaloo, it is pretty clear that our schooling doesn’t make the grade.

There are two basic ideas about the goal of education. There are those who believe that a well-rounded education serves the general interest because a better educated populace makes for better citizens. In opposition are those who believe the point of education is essentially to train people for the workforce.

Faced with years upon years of results that demonstrate that our students are being outperformed by their peers in other advanced economies, something had to be done. What we have chosen to do, i.e. blame teachers and their unions, institute more standardized testing and teach to the test, and encourage a shift toward private and charter schools that has defunded traditional public education, has not fixed the problem.

This is not to say that there are no instances of success. There are schools and students who have benefited from these “reforms”, but the point was never to create a few more examples of individual excellence, it was to raise the standards across the board.

The training that new teachers receive today has undergone nothing short of a revolution. It is steeped with theories of learning styles, objectives and competencies. There is recognition in the contemporary educational field that no one-size-fits-all approach will work, and that the overarching goal needs to be to teach students to be lifelong learners who can teach themselves.

Note that if successful, such an approach would meet the demands of both of the competing educational philosophies outlined above.

The problem is that the realities of the classroom don’t allow teachers the opportunity to put the theory into practice. Class size, behavior problems, and above all the omnipresent pressure to teach to the test, leave little time for the big picture lessons meant to sculpt students into critical thinkers and self-taught learners.

These issues can be fixed, if we want them to be. It is not our teachers that are failing our students, it is our politics that deserves a failing grade.

Being a teacher is an exhausting and sometimes fairly thankless occupation as there are pressures from all sides and sometimes, kids just aren’t motivated to learn (we have all seen it). In many states, credentialing is nearly equivalent to getting a Master’s degree, and the nature of certain subjects requires that teachers constantly keep up with changes in their field.

There are, of course, some teachers who are bad at their jobs, as there are in any occupation. However, the vast majority of teachers really do want to do their jobs well and see kids learn. It takes a special kind of personality to want to be a teacher, and therefore they deserve better.

Teachers deserve the equipment necessary to do the job, and class sizes that facilitate learning. They shouldn’t have to fear for their jobs in the case of occasional bad test results, but instead have additional training and support for teachers whose students show a pattern of not meeting expectations.

Most importantly, teachers deserve the pay and workplace protections commensurate with the level of expectations that are being placed on them.

We live in an era of pretend politics, where we make believe that there isn’t enough money around to pay for the things our society needs. The reality is that the only thing we are lacking is the political will to make those who can pay more actually do so.

We need to stop pretending that education is important and show that it is by raising the revenue to pay for it. As with so many other things, in education we get what we pay for.

Previous: A Plea to the Tea Party: Stand on Principle!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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