It is well known that our future is in our children. It is every parents dream that the next generation will be more successful than the last and for centuries this dream has in general become reality. However, now I fear politicians, policy makers and the people that control were our tax money is spent are gambling with the future. I am talking about our nations educational system. I realize there are multiple sides to this story, so I will attempt to discuss all of them.
First, are the policy makers (politicians) in Washington DC and in our state capitals. It seems every year this education is an easy target that gets budget reductions first. To me that's like a demolition derby driver not paying for car insurance; your taking a gamble that the cuts won't affect anyone and in this case the local government will make up the difference. Plus the federal and state officials don't take any accountability for anything, they simply provide the local school boards with a number and say "next year you will loose federal and state funding by x% and you can't raise taxes" and the local school board is left to deal with the lack of funding. Some school boards take the matter seriously and cut unnecessary or nice-to-have projects and take the time to do what is good by the community. Others cut good programs like music, art and language and increase administrators salaries and clearly don't care about the impact to the community. What ever the case may be, it is clear that federal and state budget czars need to leave educational funding alone and look elsewhere for cuts. There is no way that the United States is going to have any "Sputnik moments", as President Obama put it in his State of the Union Address, if we don't invest in education. Were do you think the future scientist, doctors and engineers are going to come from? If we don't invest in our children, they will come from some other countries children.
Now lets switch gears to the local Boards of Education and the school administrators (in other words salary non-contract personnel). I know they have a tough job balancing a budget, trying not to raise school taxes, dealing with the demands of teachers, unions and parents. However, I think they could get more creative when it comes to massaging the budgets. I know they are bound by contracts and certain laws, but they always seem to go for the easy / quick fix places to cut rather than the more difficult long term deeper (and usually more painful) cuts. One place they might look is in their own pockets; perhaps a salary freeze for a year or two (other people have had to do it). Perhaps ask teacher to pay a little more for medical care (other people have to do it). Maybe skip a year on buying the maintenance crew a new truck or get them to shut the lights off when the school is empty. The fact that they cut budgets in places like music, art and language and continue to take raises is simply crazy. They need to and can do better than this. Protecting and nurturing our investment in the future should be the highest priority.
The Teachers also have a big stake in the budget issue. Some people think teachers have it rough and others think its pretty easy being a teacher. Personally, I wish we (in the USA) would honor these folks like they do in some other countries. I think the real issue with teaching in America is that its basically been the same for the past 100 years and two of the things that are ruining this profession is the unions and antiquated educational policies. I know the unions are suppose to protect the teachers, but I think the only thing they are protecting is themselves. Educational policies set by old men in offices that never set foot in schools to see what's really going on needs to change too. The American educational system needs reform and the two things that need to be done are put in place professional requirements (similar to a CPA or a Lawyer) requiring teachers to be re-certified every few years as well as review systems that rates and rewards teachers just like any other profession. You do a good job, meet objectives and your students excel, you are rewarded. You do a bad job, miss objectives and your students fail, you get fired. Both the teachers and the administrators need to work together and treat education as an evolving ecosystem and treat the profession of education as their own business with the students and parents as customers and investors.
The largest benefactor in this of course are the students. But the students need to also take on some of the responsibility. They need to treat school property and the teachers with respect and they need to put the effort forward to succeed. The problem is that our children take education for granted and they don't understand the long term consequences to not just themselves but to the country. The children in K - 12 today are the future of this country, but do they know what that means? Do they understand the burden placed on them? Do they care? In other countries, like China, children at a young age are taught the importance of education and what that means to the future of their country. They seek out a good education to make their country stronger. We need to do the same through educating them on the importance of education and investing in them so that they can succeed and move onward in life in support of the American Dream.
The last group in this puzzle are the Parents. Parents have a few roles, first they are the mentors and caregivers of our future. We need to be there for our children, to help them through the school maze and to support them whether it be help with school work, attending parent / teacher conferences or showing up to support their child's extra curricular activities. It baffles me when I attend Open House at our local High School and very few parents show up. It frustrates the teachers who want to talk to the parents and it demonstrates to our children that school is not that important to Mom and Dad. Yes I know we have to work and these events sometimes start early, but these events are not surprises, every effort should be made to attend. The other role parents have is of investor through taxes. Now everyone I know complains about their school taxes (I do), but how many of use bother to show up to a school board meeting to understand how the money is spent and voice our opinions (I should talk I have only been to a few of these meeting in 18 years)? If you were the investor of a company and had a sizable stake would you not read the annual report or possibly show up at an annual meeting. My point is we as tax payers need to invest in our future through tax dollars, but not spend the money blindly. Be involved in someway, other than simply voting No because your taxes are high. My final point for parents is be involved (you don't have to you the PTO to get involved). Go to the football game, support the bake sale, keep in touch with teachers ask your child how their school day went. If they see you are interested, then they will be interested also.
You've just bought the car of your dream. You spend time cleaning it, getting the oil changed regularly and putting new tires on when the old ones aren't good enough. Shouldn't we be investing just as eagerly in our future as well? Let's make education the highest priority, not the whipping post for budget cuts and union disputes. Lets treat education as a significant investment for the future of this country. Because if we don't invest in it today, it will be to late in the future to catch up to the rest of the world.
There is a lot of information available from your school board to state run websites on this subject. Please take the time to seek out this information.
Stay tuned for part 2 on the education subject where I will discuss my off the top of my head thoughts on college; the second largest expense after your house.