"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

From the Heartland

What a way to launch a column! By Bill Horne, no relation, in the Times-Gazette of Hillsboro, Ohio:

Go, Bill!
Government tries to kill public education
Folks, I would like to share some thoughts with you on education. Probably each of the following problems or areas deserves its own attention, but let’s touch on a number of issues first.

Recently, “The Orchard Group,” did a poll of 4,000 teachers and school administrators. One of the results of the poll was that 75 percent of our educators believe that the Ohio Legislature is trying to dismantle public education.

I have felt that our government has been trying to kill public education for several years. One of the reasons that I agreed to write this weekly column was so that issues like this could be given open public debate.

Twice each week, I have the opportunity to teach a class that is comprised of mostly post-secondary students. Post-secondary students are students that have chosen to attend college classes before they have graduated from high school. This is a fun class to teach because, by and large, the students are intelligent and self-motivated.

Recently, I asked these students this question: “What do you think is wrong with public education?”

They came up with several issues; but the No. 1 issue, and there was consensus on this, is that teachers cannot have fun in the classroom anymore. Teachers are now required to teach the test.

We used to say that teachers were forced to teach “to the test” but now students tell me that teachers are actually teaching “the test.” So, my next question became, “If the teachers aren’t having fun, are the students still having fun?”

The answer is: No, they are not having fun. And, these students also stated that many things that were fun outside the classroom are being taken away. Fun things that taught these students social skills and teamwork skills like art, music, theater, and sports, are being eliminated one by one.

We need to take a new look at our state-testing program. The testing, as it is designed now, is not achieving the results that were originally expected. These state tests are framed to pass a certain number of students and to fail a certain number of students. Any teacher will tell you that tests can be designed that will pass most students or fail most students. Tests should be able to measure learning or predict success. The tests we are using now don’t accomplish either of the above.

Folks, when I was in the seventh and eighth grades, and yes I know that was some time ago, both grades were in the same room. Not only that but all subjects were taught by the same teacher. This teacher also performed the duties of the principal. The school, by the way, was Concord Local in Sugar Tree Ridge.

The point that I want to make is that the principal would go out of his way to stop at the Hillsboro Library and check out books for each of us to read. Each one of us was on our own learning program as well as the required learning program.

Today, the state seems to have placed all students on a one-size-fits-all education system. Is it really important that we all know exactly the same things? And worse yet, is it really important that all don’t know the exact same things?

The other topic that deserves immediate public attention is school funding. Our current funding system does not allow the children from low tax base districts to have the educational opportunities that children from high tax base districts have.

Some of our local school districts have recently had to lay off personnel. And several have had to go to a pay to play system for extracurricular activities such as sports. The area that is one of my major concerns is that when hiring new teachers many local schools have to look at only the teacher that they can hire the cheapest and not necessarily the best. Hiring the cheapest generally means they are new to teaching and may or may not be a good teacher.

The privately owned charter school system is another issue that needs the “light of day.” These private “for profit” schools are now sucking between $400 million and $500 million of tax money away from the public schools and much of this money, our tax money, finds its way into the owners’ pockets.

Except for a small handful, these private charter schools are doing a horrible job of educating. I believe that we cannot call what they are doing education. It is purely a money grab and it is our tax money that they are grabbing.

I understand, and this is strictly hearsay, that we, here in Ohio, did not get the new Toyota manufacturing plant because we don’t have an educated workforce.

The institution of public education began years ago. There are some philosophers who think an institution, like public education, should be rebuilt or restructured to fit the needs of each new generation.

Folks, it is time to rebuild our education systems to fit the needs of the next generation. Pouring money into the pockets of profiteers whose interest is in making money, not education, and adding more and more tests and testing, and taking the fun out of learning is not getting the job done.

We need to take a fresh look at public education and we need to do it quickly. I am seriously concerned that we are failing a whole generation of students with our greed imposed testing, and our real estate tax school system.

It is not a crime to have fun in the learning environment. The crime is not serving the needs of our newest generation.

Bill Horne is a professor of economics at Southern State Community College and a columnist for The Times-Gazette.

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