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Parents Want Better Schools but No One Wants to Pay For Them
by John David Powell
13 May 2003

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?



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 classroom instruction. 

It has 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.

John 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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