"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, November 16, 2012

We All Benefit From a Healthy, Educated Citizenry

In the grand American tradition of pontificating about things you don't understand, movie critic Roger Ebert takes on American education. Since he's not rich like Bill Gates, or doesn't have billionaire friends like Arne Duncan, Ebert's comments will not be the basis for the next "reform" movement. However, he makes some sense and his article...a letter to President Obama telling him what we need to do to "fix" education...is worth reading.

Hello, Mr. President? It’s me, Roger Ebert

The first thing he says displays his lack of knowledge about the the current state of American public education.
I would ask the president for an emergency education program. Our students at every level are below American historical norms and global standards.
This is wrong. Our students "at every level" are not below American historical norms. American students today are achieving at or above where they were in the past. Diane Ravitch gives the data.
American students are at their highest point in history, as recorded on the only longitudinal measure of performance, the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Our students "at every level" are not below "global standards" -- if by global standards he means how we score on international tests. Stephen Krashen says,
Studies show that middle-class American students attending well-funded schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on these tests.
Like most people who get their information from the daily newspaper or the "reformers," Ebert either ignores, or doesn't know that there's a high correlation between achievement and poverty. And, since the US has the highest level of child poverty of all advanced nations, our average achievement is lower. What to do about this? Ebert's solution is to lower class sizes and pay teachers more.
What I think we need are smaller classrooms, better pay for teachers and an emphasis on fundamentals rather than frivolity. Although I am in favor of physical education, I believe most school sports foster a flawed culture. The news that Allen, Texas, has constructed a high school stadium costing $60 million filled me with incredulity. What does that have to do with education? I was much cheered by the new documentary “Brooklyn Castle,” about how a team from an inner-city junior high school won the national high school chess championship, and didn’t need a stadium at all. They were coached by a couple of great teachers.
Agreed! I believe that the public schools must keep sports programs for the "body smart" among our children. Some kids will only stay in school because the athletic program (or the arts program, or the music program) gives them something they can excel in. We can't, and shouldn't do away with those programs. They're essential to a complete education. He's right, however...$60 million for a new stadium for a high school shows seriously misplaced priorities...unless of course, millions for academic resources and the arts are also available.

So, I agree that we should spend money to support our public schools, but I think the basis for his opinion...that America's public schools are failing, is faulty. The "reformers" have done their job of convincing the American people, and Ebert specifically, of the big lie of failing schools. The failure is, in actual fact, a failure of the politicians, pundits and policy makers to come up with ways to reduce child poverty. Instead of supporting our struggling schools and the students within them, we reduce their funds, fire their staffs and close them down. The children who are living in poverty end up being shuffled somewhere else and the cycle repeats itself.

One of the comments to Ebert's article...by DMichael...struck me as being right on target. We need to focus on helping all students achieve.
...I don't know why people don't understand this: there are 2 things we could do, almost immediately, to dramatically improve both life in the US in general, and our ability to compete in the world at large. In both cases, we're falling behind.

Universal health care, universal education.

Note that I did not say *free* health care or education. Everybody who pays taxes pays into our health and education. And what do we get as a nation, in return?

We get healthy citizens. People whose income doesn't stop them from preventative treatment, which keeps them out of the emergency room for a headache. People who don't wander the streets shouting at their shoes, until they snap and pick up a semi-automatic.

We get a work force that is in excellent health, in better physical condition, and producing much healthier children in the process.

We get healthy citizens, who are able to be educated to the limits of their intelligence and ability. That might mean being a great mechanic, or the woman who grew up in poverty but who finds the universal cure for cancer—because she was smart enough not rich enough to attend the best schools.

We, as a society, benefit from a health[y], educated citizenry. We do NOT benefit when people are sick, or undereducated, or dying—just because they are not financially well off.

There is no way we do *not* benefit. Healthier people in general means insurance risks are lower, which lowers the cost of health care—even while covering more people.

Public education that is of the same high quality, whether you're living in the inner city or a gated community, benefits every single American in the long run, with a more educated work force, higher quality products, and much less reliance on foreign brain power.

[Other wealthy nations have] figured it out. It's time for us to join the 21st century.
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Readers from Indiana, did you vote for Glenda Ritz?

Let Governor-Elect Pence and the Indiana Legislature know that we voted for her because we rejected the top-down, corporate reform model imposed by the state. We embraced Ritz's platform and her research-backed proposals to support and improve our public schools.

Click here to sign the Petition!

1.3 million signatures by Thanksgiving!!

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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