Throw Money At The Dragon?

I was interested to read today of Senator Obama’s speech about reforming the fire-breathing dragon educators call the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) act. Obama’s solution is to throw one billion big ones at the problem. In his proposal, this extra money would:

  • Double the federal cash given to charter schools
  • Provide $500 million for technology in matching funds
  • Design merit-pay based plans for teachers
  • Create an ‘innovative schools fund’ which would provide aid to school districts to allow them to close low performing schools and raise the number of successful ones
  • Obama praised the intentions of NCLB but criticized its execution in the Bush years. Many teachers (including this one) agree that the federal government attached lots of cumbersome, flaming strings to this legislation that put many districts under rules that they cannot afford to implement.

    I find it curious, though, that Obama’s speech told us nothing about how those billion dollars would actually be used to improve education. Apparently in Obama’s mind, it’s all about the money.

    And that’s where he is wrong. We will not slay the dragon of educational inequality by quenching its flames with money. More money without real change will just result in more expensive problems.

    In his speech, Obama criticized Senator McCain’s record on schools and said that if McCain is elected, he will take money away from schools.

    You don’t reform our schools by opposing efforts to fully fund No Child Left Behind. And you certainly don’t reform our education system by calling to close the Department of Education,” he said.

    On the contrary, shutting down the Department of Education would be a huge step in the right direction! For a candidate who is supposed to be all about change, he certainly likes to keep things the way they are. Our top heavy government needs a thorough examination — there are many departments that could be merged or eliminated all together. The Department of Education is certainly not above any examination on its effectiveness. If it doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to do (help the STATES), then cut it and give its duties and necessary funding to the states and local people who are actually out there in the trenches. Change, by its very nature, is messy and uncomfortable, but in today’s America with over a $400 billion dollar deficit, it’s necessary.

    One look at the Republican Party’s platform will show you some specific ideas McCain and Palin have on improving education in this country:

    • Belief that education is a parental right, a state and local responsibility, and a national strategic interest.
    • Accountability for student achievement
    • Transparency so parents and the general public know which schools best serve their students
    • Flexibility and freedom to innovate so schools can best meet the needs of their students
    • Building on the basics, especially phonics
    • Ending social promotion
    • Merit pay for good teachers (Obama agrees!)
    • Classroom discipline
    • Parental involvement
    • Support parental options, including home schooling
    • Insist that students be literate in English
    • Support family literacy
    • Create an adjunct teacher corp of experts to fill in teaching positions
    • Private-public partnerships and mentoring
    • Background checks of personnel
    • Choice in education, whether through charter schools, vouchers, tax credits for those who choose private schools or home schools
    • Block-grant funds to the states to allow local educators to end ineffective programs and reallocate resources

    A strict constitutionalist would argue that the federal government has no business meddling in education. The Constitution gives the federal government no role. Yet in less than a decade, annual federal funding with flaming strings attached has increased 41%. In order to get those funds, schools and states have had to use about 6.7 million HOURS to fulfill the requirements of those regulatory strings.

    If there’s one thing I know about education, it’s about hours and minutes and seconds. Every single minute that a teacher spends one-on-one with a child is a minute that counts. In its over-bearing effort to be all things to all people, the federal government has created a fire breathing monster that eats away at those precious minutes as teachers and administrators scramble to fill out the umpteenth form, in triplicate.

    Feeding the dragon a billion more dollars will require a billion more hours, minutes, and seconds of time-wasting regulations…time that could be better spent in a classroom, sitting on a cushion, listening to a child read.

    As Governor Sarah Palin said in an October 31, 2006 interview,

    It’s not always more money that will lead to more success in schools.”

    And again I completely agree with her on this:

    Every child, of every ability, is to be cherished and loved and taught. Every child provides this world hope. They are the most beautiful ingredient in our sometimes muddied up world. I am committed to our children and their education. Stepping through “the door” is about more than passing a standardized test. We need kids prepared to pass life’s tests–like getting a job and valuing a strong work ethic.

    It is so important as we struggle and debate the issue of civil rights in education that we remember the purpose of our efforts — to prepare kids, as Palin said, to pass life’s tests.

    2 thoughts on “Throw Money At The Dragon?

    1. If getting a job and valuing strong work ethics is what it’s all about, why not just put the kids to work? As a homeschool parent, I agree more money isn’t the answer. Parental involvement is key, and I believe Obama is uniquely positioned to take that challenge head-on with the families who have been traditionally lacking in that respect. He also wants to assist parents with the tools, training, and techniques they need to be better parents — being sure their kids are ready for school every day. This I support 100%, because there are definitely people out there unprepared to be good parents, with substandard educations of their own, that puts their own kids at a disadvantage. Helping to close that “parent gap” will accomplish much of what needs doing in our education system. Heck, even Bristol Palin falls into that category. 😉

    2. The point is that our public institutions are failing our kids because they are not graduating ready for college OR for jobs. Over half of Texas’ high school graduates have to take remedial courses in colleges, and many employers are frustrated at the lack of skilled help.

      McCain/Palin realize that not every child is destined for college. We need to erase the “status” that is applied to college. I went and got my teaching degree, but I learned so much more as an actual teacher than I ever would have in the classroom.

      As the focus in schools has been more and more on passing standardized tests, schools have been cutting vocational education programs right and left. This is a disservice to the millions of kids out there who could learn a great trade — for free — in public school and then turn around and be successful right out of high school.

      So what if they can’t pass Calculus? Maybe they are whiz kids at fixing cars or welding. Teach them to be plumbers, electricians, etc. Let them have work experience out in the real world.

      I agree that parental involvement is the key, and I think that Senator Obama is probably a great dad. I’ve seen him with his kids. I like the fact that he is calling for dads to step up and take responsibility for their families. This is something that McCain/Palin also advocate — personal responsibility.

      But how do you teach adults how to be good parents? What constitutes a good parent? I had parents of my students who were terrific, and I had parents who were not. Our school did offer classes, and guess which ones came? The ones who were already involved in their children’s education. The ones who really needed the help didn’t come.

      The real solutions come when schools start requiring parents to be responsible — our school stopped releasing report cards until parents came to the school for conferences. Mentoring programs, which McCain/Palin advocate, go a long way towards filling in the “parent gap.”

      Having a child at seventeen does not mean that Bristol Palin has or will have a ‘substandard education.’ Many moms work their way through college or are very happily stay-at-home moms. The part of this story that isn’t told much is that her fiance is marrying her. He is stepping up, as he should. It takes two to tango.

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