DICK BAYNTON: American School Daze

Dick Baynton

Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on November 3rd of this year, this article drew my attention, “We should all be concerned’: Virginia’s literacy rates fall to record low levels, federal data show.”

Many readers, not impressed went back to watching TV while other readers may have wondered about what is going on in our educational system in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. We should all be concerned why our state’s literacy scores have fallen to levels “not seen in more than 15 years.” The scores from NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reveal that by 8th grade 2/3rds of Virginia’s students are not proficient in reading. What is more fundamental than ‘reading?’

The article says the following, “State education leaders – who aren’t sure why the scores have dropped so much – are calling for $36 million to go toward new reading specialists. That sounds terribly inadequate, irresponsible and indeed bureaucratic in the extreme.

Their comments are so strikingly political that we should note two elements of the response from ‘state education leaders.’ First, they have no idea what is happening in our schools and as government officials and politicians the problem will be solved by throwing more money at it. Are our schools in a mire of enigmatic sophistry? Must we admit that our students entering tertiary (post high school education) knowledge pursuits are not fully prepared for the learning opportunity?

The Illinois State Board of Education says that Illinois school districts spent $20,826 per student (2016-2017) while Fairfax County, Virginia spent $14,498 and Montgomery County, Maryland spent $16,109 per student. Average spending for all 50 states is $12,756 per student. New York is second in spending at $19,697 while Utah spends the least at $7,635 and gets some of the best results in learning. The CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) is striking for higher pay, smaller classes, additional staff of counselors and paid leave to discuss union business for 800 CTU delegates. Chicago Mayor Lightfoot has agreed to smaller class sizes at a cost of $3 million.

Chicago teachers receive $79,000 on average – more than New York or Los Angeles after adjusting for local cost of living. Chicago teachers have been recruiting custodians, bus drivers and security guards to join their voracious effort of solidarity. It is revealing that Randi Weingarten, President of the ‘American Federation of Teachers’ mentioned that, “We’re about to teach the new mayor a lesson.”

Isn’t it about time that school boards, state and national education leaders, taxpayers and government officials gang up and grow spinal rigidity and explain to union leaders and members that their job is to educate our children and young adults, not to run our public school systems? Educators as fiduciaries of school children must operate our learning systems, not unions.

The problem is that government unions have usurped government standards, planning and classroom performance. It is way beyond the time that student learning outcomes gets linked to pay and benefits for all teachers and other school workers. Teachers and their union bosses constantly resist this requirement because the more teachers on union membership rolls equal more political donations to politicians.

The NEA (National Education Association), Pres. Lily Eskelsen Garciá, with almost 3 million members and the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), Pres. Randi Weingarten with 1.7 million members gave $20 million and $12 million respectively; more than 94% to Democrats.

In the most recent results from PISA (Program for Student Assessment) reported in 2016 that included 540,000 15-year-old students worldwide in 72 nations the U.S.A. came in 41st in math, 25th in science and 24th in reading. PISA is a unit of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

We must all pitch in to improve our public educational systems. For example, do we send our children to kindergarten expecting teachers to ‘teach’ manners and social conduct? As students progress through secondary education are we teaching civics, math and history in their true context or are we feeding the pablum of ‘political correctness’ as teachers revise history to their ‘modern’ interpretation? Why are high schools and colleges adding administrative staffs that have no effect on knowledge and learning but diversity, inclusion and equality is taught in lieu of inquiry, debate and academic freedom.

Educating future generations should be the foundation of our nation but political sophistry has eclipsed responsibility and accountability.

Dick Baynton