Vail Valley Voices: How do we improve American education?
Vail, CO, Colorado
The simple truth is that many families in this country don’t put a high priority on education. After all, it takes 13 years to finish high school and another four years to earn a college degree. That’s 17 years that parents must regularly cajole their children, and 17 years that they must feed, clothe and provide shelter without any return on their investment.
The problem with education in this country lies not with the children, but with the parents. If parents don’t continually emphasize the importance of education, only the most self-motivated students will ultimately become independent of their families and the state.
Currently, the vast majority of funds allocated to education are for tuition, scholarships, lunches and books. Only a miniscule amount of money is being used to help parents become better parents.
Does it come as any surprise that middle class and affluent children do better than lower income children in school at every level, generally score higher on standardized tests and attend more prestigious schools? After all, so many of upper income parents relentlessly badger their kids to do their homework and attend classes every day.
A relative of mine is a teacher and an administrator at a charter school. All of the students are from lower income families. On curriculum night, she tells me ,a very low percentage of the parents show up for these important meetings with the teachers. This compares to the 100 percent attendance at most private schools.
In fairness, children of needy families might not get the same parental support as more affluent children for a myriad of different reasons. In many cases, the children have only one parent, the parents work long hours on more than one job, etc. My comments are not intended to be critical of parents who are unable focus on their children because of their circumstances. Having said this, the deck is stacked against their kids.
The money being thrown at education in this country is not being used efficiently. Compounding the problem are the egregious long-term arrangements between municipalities and teachers unions. These ill-conceived deals have deprived our educational system of billions of dollars over the years. I will discuss this issue in a future column.
What can we do to improve our faltering educational system? Preschool programs, longer hours at school and the like aren’t enough to change the downward spiral of our schools. What we need to do is to convince all parents to encourage their children to learn, especially those in lower socioeconomic families.
At many charter schools, parents must contractually agree to stay involved (to gain acceptance for their children). And yet, how effective can this be? Many parents are not able to meet their commitments because of work or other time constraints. Nevertheless, it’s a creative approach and addresses a very important issue.
My proposal is to gradually transform schools into community affairs where children and parents go to learn and work together. Instead of hiring random people for clerical and other non-teaching positions, schools should hire parents of the students. Over the long run, a school might eventually have all of these positions filled with members of the community.
It’s likely that many people in depressed areas are either out of work or underpaid at this time. Why not bring them into the schools, even if it requires government assistance? In many cases, the cost of creating new jobs might even offset welfare costs. Of course, parent-workers would need to be vetted for security purposes like any other worker at the school.
Our leaders need to develop more creative ideas to stop the erosion of the American educational system. They must think outside the box and not be deterred by myth, tradition, bureaucracy or unions. Only then will we see improvements.
Sal Bommarito is a novelist and frequent visitor to Vail over the past 20 years.