Hello and welcome to part two of three of my blog series, “Education is the Great Determinant.” For those of you who came to part two before part one, for some unknown reason, I will be referencing both research and subjects from that post as well as the response post from Nick Jacobson. Due to this, I would highly recommend you read both of those posts first. Both of them can be found on the Young Minds blog. I look forward to addressing some of Nick’s points from his response, which was extremely thoughtful and well-crafted. Now observe as I propose solutions to a fundamental problem that has confounded our greatest leaders. Please have patience with me.
There is no one solution to any one problem in education. To be honest, education is so intertwined with other issues that fixing our public schools will take more than changing education policy alone, but it is a place to begin. Let’s start with the teachers. Quality teachers are vital to a healthy education system. They wield incredible influence over the future of both our children and our nation. Unfortunately, as my last post discussed, teachers factor into the plight of our education system. Not only do teachers in low-income districts get paid less, but they also generally have less experience. Perpetuating that trend, there is a high turnover rate for teachers, especially among schools that serve low-income kids and kids of color. Turnover is normal, but due to the difficult and important work teachers do, turnover can damage a child’s education. Whether it be inexperience or a lack of time to build relationships, high attrition among teachers is devastating to students. The Learning Policy Institute study cited above found that turnover was lower in the Northeast where teachers are on average paid more, so a possible solution to the issue would be higher pay. However, that idea alone may be too simplistic as there is another solution that could be used to supplement higher pay. A federal loan forgiveness program for college students who commit to a certain number of years as a public educator. This policy could deal with a more subtle problem that gnaws on the supply of qualified teachers, those who are dissuaded from even entering the profession. With both higher pay and this program, many of the current barriers to becoming a teacher would be eliminated. Also, Nick, your question on whether a competitive job market for teachers would help the quality of our teachers is hard to answer. It seems to me that an increase in competition would increase the standards for teachers. However, competition is a double-edged sword as it could cause more inequality with teachers of higher quality becoming even more concentrated in schools with the ability to pay them more. Essentially, it could just exacerbate the existing problem. The only way to fix that issue would be to make a universal salary and benefits programs for public school teachers. Though, that fix once again comes with its own host of problems. Coming back from that little tangent, I reckon that the most effective first step that we can take to improving the quality of teachers in this country is increasing pay and instituting a policy to aid the education of our educators. (Quick Addition: There is something to be said for raising the prerequisites for becoming a teacher.)
One of the focal points of my previous post was the inequality of funding in education mainly due to property taxes. Addressing this problem will probably need to come in two major parts. First, the overturning of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of San Antonio Independent School District vs. Rodriguez. The plaintiffs, in this case, were suing the school district on the basis that the unequal distribution of education funding via the property tax, or an ad valorem tax, was a violation of equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. They lost the case in a 5-4 decision due to public education not being “a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution.” However, if that decision was reversed, it would pave the way for Congress to pass legislation that would equalize the funding of public education. Congress could look at how Canada funds its schools at the provincial level, which is pretty much the equivalent of state level. The provinces that have adopted this method still allow a lot of local control over the funding while increasing equality of funding. Nick, in your response, you questioned whether homogenizing and thereby centralizing education funding could mean that the funding is more vulnerable to cutting by administrations like our current one. I believe that there is truth to that. However, our current position is untenable. Changes must be made, and the constitutional delegation of education to the states prevents the federal government from meddling that much in education. If we keep major control of education funding to the states while requiring equity of funding through a reversal of the aforementioned Supreme Court case, we could prevent the expansion of centralized power while leveling the playing field.
For nearly all of these two posts, I have been referring to public institutions of education. However, I now feel I must address the issue of private schools. I will be honest. I have no love for private schools. Many of them are, to me, bastions of inequality, embodiments of the most toxic ideals of our education system. The average tuition of a private high school is 14,575 dollars. This cost is prohibiting by its very nature. Then, there is the fact that private school students are over-represented at our country’s most prestigious colleges. However, the solution to this inequality is just improving public education in every way we can. Unfortunately, due to the gap between the quality of private and public schools, equity between the two may never be achieved since the government apparently can’t be bothered to put more resources into education than rich parents do. Nick, on your question about alternatives to public schools, I think there are none. Relying on private schools would create a chasm between the education of the classes with those who can’t afford an elite school being forced into schools that have few resources and have intentions outside of the students’ best interest. A different problem arises with the use of charter schools. There is a huge lack of oversight. Embezzlement and mismanagement are far too common for charter schools to be relied upon as a solid alternative to public schools. Revolutionizing public schools are almost certainly the only way to bring some semblance of equity and fairness to education in our country.
While there is much more that could be and needs to be discussed about solutions to the crisis, I think this is where I will leave it for now. Next time, I will pick up with a discussion of why education needs to be a priority even when we are faced with countless crises of similar magnitude.