In this country, we have been gifted with a free education through the public school system. In theory, children across the US attend a public school of their choice. There are even other school options available for parents who do not want to opt into the public school system including private voucher and charter schools. Since 1954, the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, and helped to establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all. Public schools were integrated and have been guided ever since by a fundamental principle to provide the same high quality, standard education for all children regardless of race, income, religion, disabilities, or geographical region etc. After 66 years, the above mentioned promise has not been completely fulfilled. Depending on what school your child attends will still determine the quality of their education. Hence, conscious parents actively research and fight for entrance into elementary schools they believe will benefit their child the most. We have accepted this strategy as the norm without questioning our national and local school infrastructure systems, its leadership, and how and where the money is spent.
This is a mistake in judgment. Perhaps we should take a fresh look at how the money flows to fund our schools to determine why our educational system is ranked 27th in the world. This ranking represents a huge decline from 1990 when the US was once ranked 6th. Many still believe the United States is the best in the world due to our citizenries ability to self actualize through hard work, energy and effort but choose to place the blame on the decline of our public education system exclusively on the diversity of the student body and its challenges, or on teachers who dedicate countless hours each year. Both assumptions may have a role to play but the issue is far more complex, or at least my assessment says so.
I want to follow the $$$. Why you ask? First, education is BIG, BIG, BIG business. Anytime there is BIG money, there is a potential for fat and corruption. The US educational funding system is a complex NETWORK with money coming from a variety of sources depending on the level and type of school. Most are aware that children can receive a free education through public schools but parents also now have other options including private voucher and charter schools, Montessori schools, and home schooling, etc. Most public school funding comes from three different sources (federal, state, and local governments via sales & income taxes, lotteries, private contributions, and property taxes). Each state contributes on average 12,000 per student each year accounting for the needs of its vast, diverse student population. Our financial commitment ranks very high as compared to other modern nations around the world. Has this financial commitment positively affected the quality of education for ALL children? So far, the answer is NO. As stated previously, the US is now ranked 27th in the world, a decline since the 90’s. Our public schools lag behind in basic mathematics, reading and science despite such huge expenses on public education.
As mentioned previously, I have work experience in both the public and charter school systems. I am also a proud recipient and product of a stellar midwestern public education. At the time, I attended some of the best, high performing public schools available in my local community. My culturally diverse teachers were incredibly supportive and challenging. They were truly masterful in their ability to lead our diverse student body to strive and learn. Without my own parents involvement, many also became surrogate advisors and mentors who looked out for me by recognizing my talents and recommending me for opportunities to nurture my gifts. I can never repay them for their efforts. I also had no idea until recently just how difficult teaching was as a profession, and to truly appreciate their commitment and sacrifices. This is why I now must advocate for them all.
Here is where I also expose my limited background expertise, blind curiosity along with conspiracy theory tendencies. It is hard for me to understand why the financial commitment in today’s public education system has not produced consistent, high quality results. We can easily point to the diversity of our student population with ranging learning styles and needs as the core issue. Yes, this most definitely is a contributing factor. We can also point to the quality of teachers along with the training and resources needed to educate children. This too is an obvious reason for possible short falls in the current system. There is another possibility, however, that does not get discussed as often publicly. I have wondered how and why resources are acquired and distributed in school districts. There are just as many countless supplies as there are learning programs for every subject that cost millions of dollars from private corporate educational firms. Are all these programs equal in getting results? School districts like to affirm educational “best practices” and have the flexibility to acquire and invest in resources to help their student population. Even with the public funding, many school districts still fall short. So where is the vast majority of tax dollars going? Are tax payers getting the return on investment (ROI) expected? In education, ROI can be measured in terms of student academic achievement, productivity, and testing. The money is most definitely not going to teacher salaries and benefits which tend to be the lowest in comparison to other college educated professionals.
I obviously do not have the answers to many of my questions. Something has been said somewhere and perhaps there is simply a lack of accountability and oversight in the current public school system. There is not one private corporate entity that would allow year after year losses (poor test scores etc). Why is it tolerated in public education? Comparing public and private schools is vastly different. Private schools tend to provide an overall higher quality education for students whose parents can afford them. Even if the parental and student body have a stereotypically higher economic status, and presumably more enthusiasm for education, it still doesn’t totally explain the educational gap. Research has shown that private and charter schools have much more enrollment flexibility than public schools, and often select students who are academically gifted and above level (cherry picking the best and brightest students). National experts also continuously raise the alarm about the impact that poverty has on young children and families including the educational gap. Is anyone listening???
To unveil the unknowns in education, I would advocate that we start at the top of the $$$ food chain, its distribution, and monitor how the money flows and to whom. Who’s profiting the most and why? It is clearly not our children and teachers. We need to fix the public school system and demand measurable outcomes and results from EVERYONE connected to this food chain including corporate educational suppliers. We need to focus on poverty and incorporate strategies to increase parental self sufficiency, both financial and overall wellness, not just focus on temporary solutions. We should increase teacher compensation and benefits to recruit and retain the best and brightest to the profession commiserate with other college educated professionals. These servant leaders do not currently get the respect, prestige, and compensation warranted for the critical role they provide in our society. We should also have leadership who possess both an public education and business background (non-negotiable).
On a side note … A successful tech savvy business friend recently described his ongoing debate with a family member in public education. He advocates the need for educational theory to match the practical real world needs (boots on the ground not just idealism.) His belief is that the current system is like an electrical box that has has countless upgrades (best practices, education learning models and programs etc) but no one ever goes in to completely strip away the outdated and harmful connections to make sure the box is left in clear, working order. Where are the local and national inspectors who look inside to check the connections to ensure everything is working at the highest, performance level? Maybe his analogy is not quite comparable but the visual image definitely resonates.
Something’s been said in the educational system. Are you willing to follow the $$$ to learn more about what is happening in your community?