Can We Talk?, Politics

It’s Time to Stop Playing Politics with Our Children’s Futures

Can we talk?

When I heard the buzz about the “Waiting for Superman” documentary, I immediately jumped onto Netflix and put it in my queue.

Then the fiasco in Wisconsin happened. Now, it’s not even available until next year. (Okay, slight exaggeration, but still, a long time).

Impatient to watch it, I broke down and bought the disk. (Which, incidentally, I will be reselling in my Amazon book store very soon. I’ve disabled the store for the time being, but will be reinstating it shortly – watch my sidebar for the link).

Kevin and I watched the documentary Tuesday night.

As always, I will try and be fair to both sides of the issue in my analysis.

Ready?

I think we can all agree that our public school system has problems. As the documentary points out, we’re still using a 1950’s structure in a 2011 world. The tracking system is antiquated, there are too many governmental agencies involved, no one organization really knows what the other organization is doing, the school administrators are constantly bombarded with conflicting rules and regulations and then, of course, there are the problems with the teachers’ unions and their inflexible procedures when it comes to weeding out the terrible teachers.

Now hold on, cowboy. I’m NOT saying that all public schools are terrible. I’m NOT saying that all teachers are terrible. AT ALL. Teachers have my utmost respect. No. Seriously. Teachers are a special breed because MOST teachers are patient, talented, educated, intelligent and fantastic with children. I’m thankful for our teachers. I have personally dealt with some pretty AWESOME teachers (and principals!) over the years. And though the movie probably should have at least acknowledged that there are indeed great schools out there, great schools aren’t the problem. The poor schools are the issue. And there are more poor schools than should be accepted in our system. THOSE are the schools, THOSE teachers are the ones we’re addressing here. Let’s address the overall problem and make our school system work for everyone. Let’s overhaul our school system and reward those teachers that truly deserve recognition.

What I honestly don’t understand is when people yell and scream that we need to make some changes “for the children,” and then immediately renege on that “commitment” when hard suggestions are made to make those changes (like revamping government policies and involvement as well as restructuring teacher unions).

If people were truly serious about helping the children, then everyone involved in the convoluted “business” of educating our children would be willing to do something about it. Instead, I see way too much in-fighting and power struggles and not only is nothing being done to improve our education system, it’s actually making it worse.

When I found out that the director, Davis Guggenheim, of “An Inconvenient Truth” was the same man behind “Waiting for Superman,” I nearly passed on the opportunity to watch it. It’s no secret that I’m a conservative woman who DOES NOT believe, for one minute, that Global Warming is man-made. (Another post for another day, perhaps). But considering this documentary concerned a subject near and dear to my heart, I thought I owed the problem my attention.

So, I put my personal thoughts and opinions aside and watched the documentary with an objective eye. And regardless of how you feel about ASPECTS of our public school problem, I think we OWE OUR CHILDREN to at least examine the problem and talk about honest and realistic solutions to this serious problem.

This means checking our political views and self-righteous attitudes at the door. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, it’s not about public or private sector jobs, IT’S ABOUT OUR CHILDREN, and they need our help.

This is a grown up problem; I think it’s high time we all started acting like grown ups to try and find a better solution, don’t you? Because we can’t continue on with what we have now – it’s not working. Our children are not receiving the education they need and DESERVE to compete in a complex and competitive world.

And forgive me, but running away from the problem (i.e. homeschooling / private school) will not fix anything, either. Look. We’re all trying to do what is best for our children. I understand that. I GET IT. I’m a parent, I want what’s best for my children, too. And if our public schools aren’t giving our children what they need, then we, as parents, have the right, nay, the responsibility, to find alternatives.

But what about the hundreds of thousands of children and parents who don’t have that choice? They can’t homeschool because they have to work. They don’t make enough money to send their children to private schools. Public schools are their only option. Don’t THOSE children deserve to receive the best education that our tax dollars can give them?

These children get lost in the system because the rest of us would prefer to avoid the problem instead of fixing the problem.

And don’t you find it infuriating when people get on their podiums and preach about how we all need to pitch in and make this work, for the children, and yet they send their own children to private schools? That stuff drives me nuts. When does the problem get fixed? When do we stop pointing fingers at everyone else for the problem and start taking initiative to fix the damn problem?

And before you ask, my children go to public school. And I’m involved with their education. And my heart HURTS for these poor children who fall through the cracks and drop out of school their freshmen year in high school. These poor children have not been taught any skills to use to make their lives productive. It’s tragic to me that we can’t all get past ourselves and make the changes that need to be made so these innocent, helpless children are taught what is necessary to give them a strong start to the rest of their lives.

But enough preaching, let’s talk about what we can do to change this. Now. Today.

PARENTS

Get involved with your children’s education. I don’t know how else to say it. Schools are not babysitters. They do not exist to take your children off your hands for six hours a day. They exist to educate and prepare children for their (our) future.

Keep a positive attitude about school. Talk about the problems they may have with their teachers (I’ve had numerous conversations about “bad” teachers with my boys – it’s like real life, you have to deal with all sorts of personalities. This just means they will have to take the imitative and move forward on their own. I’d say, the bad teachers will get what’s coming to them eventually, but now I’m not so sure – more on that later).

School is a child’s “job.” It’s their “job” to go, learn, and follow up. School should be their main focus. It should be treated with respect and taken seriously. Parents can help instill the importance of school by taking school seriously. It’s not a daycare, it’s not a big playground, it’s an institution that deserves respect. If you respect school, your children will respect school.

GOVERNMENT

Let’s get rid of the duplicate programs, consolidate departments, restructure staffing and use the money that will inevitably be left over from these changes and pour it into the school districts so that they may build better buildings and provide a technological infrastructure that complements today’s high-tech needs.

Let’s stop playing politics with our children’s futures. No more special government favors. That just creates officials who feel obligated to vote a certain way in order to “pay” their special interest investors off. Hire an independent, private agency to make sure these monies are being distributed to the districts that desperately need the monetary/staffing help. We can’t rely on the government to do anything right – look how many programs it has screwed up. These programs begin with good intentions, but then you get government officials involved who are more interested in furthering his/her career and the original intent of the program is lost under greed and red tape.

Hire private agencies that follow up on these improvements to make sure that the districts are actively working on making them happen. If they discover these changes aren’t being made, then fire the people in charge and put in people who are willing, and able, to get the job done.

That’s how the private sector works. Why can’t these same principles apply with our government programs?

TEACHERS

Ah … the teachers. Again, let me reiterate, I THINK TEACHERS ARE GREAT! I also think there are some teachers who take advantage of their tenure status and sit around all day and don’t teach their class, too.

And my boys have had a few of those types of teachers over the years. And it’s terribly frustrating knowing that they probably won’t be reprimanded, or fired, at least, any time soon. And you saw in the movie, administrators have to go through 36, that’s THIRTY-SIX, steps in order for a teacher to even be considered for termination.

That’s crazy, folks. Can you imagine if the private sector had to go through something like that? They’d have to have a completely separate department just to start a termination process.

I’ve talked about unions before. And I’ll be honest, I’m not a big union supporter. Though I DO believe employees need to be protected, to some degree, I think unions have gone too far, have gotten too big and they now have a stranglehold on our system.

Teachers’ unions are great for teachers, not so great for children. And I honestly think they need to do away with tenure altogether and implement that tier system mentioned in the movie. Give teachers the INCENTIVE to out perform their peers thereby earning themselves more money AND becoming a great teacher, which benefits the children. When you take incentive away, and if they have tenure, there is absolutely no motivation to do anything other than show up. Granted, most teachers aren’t like that, but let’s be honest, there are some who are. It’s like they’re thumbing their noses at us because really, what can we do?

Nothing, short of restructuring how unions work and that requires lawmakers, who are often times paid for with union dues, to make changes.

You don’t normally bite the hand that feeds you.

And just like the man in the interview said, pay teachers more money and entice better teachers to enter the field. We could afford to pay these teachers more if we restructured the entire system, made some pretty deep and crucial cuts and reallocated those funds from money pits.

The question is, how badly do we want this reform? If people aren’t willing to make the tough choices, then to me, that tells me that all of this public school reform talk? Is just that, talk.

And if/when we give the teachers, and principals, the extra money we suddenly have because we’ve made these changes, let’s give them – the teachers and principals – the authority to spend that money where it needs to be spent. (Within reason, of course. And that might be monitored by the principal or a central school board at the school with the needs). They know, better than anyone, where improvements need to be made, not some bureaucrat sitting in an ivory tower.

I personally think the teachers unions needs to be one of the first things we change about our education system. As it stands now, our hands are tied. We are at the mercy of the union managers and nothing will change as long as they maintain the power.

MOVIE ASPECTS

Here are aspects of the movie, and this interview, I’d like to comment on:

(By the way, I can not STAND Katie Couric. But this is not about Katie Couric, it’s about our public school system, it’s about our children. See how this works? It doesn’t matter what I personally think about a person, or a political party, stay focused on the PROBLEM).

Tracking – I’m not sure I believe in the “tracking” system. That sounds so clinical and organized. I’m just not convinced that our system IS that organized. And the AP courses he talked about in the interview? Are accessible to all students – they have to take a test to see if they qualify for the class, but all students have the opportunity to get into AP classes, they just have to work hard and make the grades. Honors classes aren’t special clubs or for the elite, they’re for anyone willing to work their butts off to get into them.

Charter Schools – Again, I think people are missing the point of comparing public schools to charter schools in this movie. I think some people thought that Guggenheim was singing charter school praises – the charter schools were showcased in the movie to show people what sort of alternatives are, or can be, available. It was (is?) an experiment to find a better solution to our public school problem because if the government won’t fix this problem, what choice do we have? Our children need to be educated in some way – if not the public route, then some other route.

The Lemon Dance – This bothers me and serves to perfectly illustrate what is wrong with our system. Instead of getting rid of these lemon teachers and replacing them with better teachers, principals are forced to pawn them off on another poor school and guess who, once again, pays for this? The kids. If a teacher is under performing, then he/she should be fired, period. If a teacher wants to keep his/her job? Then earn the right to keep it.

The Rubber Room – This SERIOUSLY disturbs me. Even though they have been discontinued, the fact remains – teachers who are under investigation are in limbo. Only now, they aren’t confined to one room all day long, they can do whatever they want all day long while they wait to be “processed.” In essence, it’s paid vacation. And even when it’s finally their turn to be “processed,” what’s going to happen? A slap on the wrist and they’re sent right to the classroom. And WHO suffers from this insane policy? THE TAXPAYER.

Come on, people. Some of this stuff is just plan crazy and is nothing more than a power play, pure and simple.

Favorite quote from the interview: “We have to remove the status quo from the equation so that great teachers can do great work.”

Again, it’s not Charter Schools versus Public Schools – why must everything be black or white? It’s not about class or who has versus has not. Charter Schools are an alternative – they’re a choice, albeit a small choice, but a choice, nonetheless. That’s what our public school system needs – it can’t be public schools, all or nothing. That’s why so many people have chosen to homeschool or send their kids to private schools – these options have given people a CHOICE. Any situation is less frustrating when we’ve given a choice. Even bad options are still options – they’re better than no options at all.

Charter Schools, in this documentary, are meant to start the conversation on how we can do things differently. These Charter Schools are about taking their great ideas and improving them, even implementing them, into our public school system.

This movie is about opening dialogue, getting people to CARE, giving people HOPE, that change is possible if we MAKE it happen.

It’s high time that we, as people, as taxpayers, as PARENTS, all come together and honestly work together to fix our public school system. We’ve talked this issue to death, it’s time to ACT and make these hard decisions. It’s time to restructure old systems and give our kids a fighting chance to compete and give them the tools to follow their dreams.