School board members across the land these days find themselves between the
proverbial rock and hard place regarding the long-term educational needs
of schoolchildren and the short-term financial concerns of politicians and
taxpayers who demand better-educated kids while refusing to provide the necessary
funding. This debate played out recently in my Texas school district when
53 percent of the voters rejected a $337 million bond proposal.
The Clear Creek Independent School District is the state's 28th largest,
with 32,000 students and an enrollment growth of 1,000 students a year, the
equivalent of one new middle school. The district this year faces a budget
deficit of $4.6 million.
The president of the board of trustees told one local newspaper the bond
issue failed because of the state's school funding system and the high tax
burden on property owners. She did not point fingers, however, at herself
and the other trustees who failed to plan a campaign that not only determined
what taxpayers considered important for the education of the district's schoolchildren,
but also had a reasonable chance to pass.
The bond package included plans for four new schools and a ninth grade center,
an agricultural facility, additions to two elementary schools, an academic
wing at one of the two existing high schools, updated technology, and land
for future campuses. Oh, yes. It also included $20.4 million for a football
stadium. Somehow, taxpayers did not want to pay more taxes during the next
five years to save the local football team from embarrassment when visiting
teams took the field.
What follows are some points the local school board, and maybe yours, can
use the next time they want parents and taxpayers to take part in the education
of their children.
Here in Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board wants to make
the Recommended High School Program a requirement for graduation. Among the
courses in the curriculum are those in sciences, social studies, economics,
fine arts, and languages other than English. This proposal is part of a plan
to put 500,000 additional students into Texas colleges and universities by
2015. This is a noble idea, except that before the Recommended High School
Program becomes the standard curriculum, school officials must address the
troubling issues of teacher shortages and retention.
Texas public schools will not produce the proposed increase in college-qualified
students without a full complement of well-trained, highly skilled, and certified
teachers for the required courses. Not many teachers work for a pat on the
back; school boards need money to attract and retain teachers. And those
teachers need the resources and materials that go along with high-quality
been said that parents are like backseat drivers when it comes to efforts
to improve public schools. They express a strong commitment to public education
and show deep concern about what is going wrong, but they don't take the
wheel because they don't have the time or they feel they lack the expertise.
According to a survey sponsored by the Public Education Network, only 22
percent of voters say people in their communities take a lot of responsibility
for ensuring quality public schools. Many want to help, but only in limited
ways. And sometimes, parents find motivation only after shootings at schools
or the threat of a state takeover of the schools.
Here is another interesting and disturbing survey finding: school overcrowding,
chronically low test scores, and the inability of young people to get jobs
would not motivate a majority of parents to become involved.
The poll also found nearly 90 percent of the public doesn't like that most
high school seniors score near the bottom in math and science compared to
students in other industrialized nations, while only 30 percent believe improving
teacher quality is the highest priority for improving public schools.
Let's put these two statistics into perspective. Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans
do not like it that our high school seniors are not as smart in math and
science as those in other countries, but 7 out of 10 don't think teacher
quality is a priority. Who do we think is teaching in the classroom? Or maybe
that is the problem. Maybe we don't know who is teaching in the classroom,
because we have not been to a classroom in a while.
Students don't learn on their own. They learn from teachers. In the words
of a university president, there is a tremendous difference between being
a teacher in a classroom and teaching in the classroom: One minds the room
while the other fills the minds in the room.
The transfer of knowledge and information is a dynamic and interactive process.
If our children are to become better students and are to be better educated,
they must have the professionals in the classrooms who continually work to
be better teachers. If parents become personally involved to make sure school
districts and schools have the funds to attract and retain the best qualified
teachers, and provide those teachers with the tools and resources they need,
then teaching and learning will improve.
Parents can set up college funds, plan career paths for their kids, and visit
university campuses until the cows come home, but if their children have
not received a solid, high-quality education from pre-kindergarten through
high school, then their sons and daughters may not make the grades to graduate,
much less get into the colleges of their choice.
David Powell is an award-winning writer and Internet columnist, professional
speechwriter, and contributor to the Christian Millennium History Project.
He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone. Published originally at www.EtherZone.com; republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.
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