July 2nd, 2022


How do we save education?

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose

Published Nov. 5, 2015

How do we save education?

Go back a bit and there was President Barack Obama promising us educational utopia. Then move forward some and what you have is a hugely expensive, bureaucratically dumbfounding mix of autocratic, divisive policies. Next up? Just this, fellow Americans: 2015 as the first time in a quarter of a century that student test results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have sunk overall across the nation.

Experts are right now reluctant to point fingers at some single cause of declining or stagnant math and reading scores, but we have some good ideas of what wonít get us back in the right direction. Thatís more of the same.

For instance, donít look to Common Core, a program planned by a number of states to come up with top-notch school standards that would be nationally adopted. It wasnít long before the Obama administration intruded, dishing out grants to get states to sign on at the same time critics were piling on.

Despite what has been mistakenly said, the critics werenít just uninformed masses or skeptical conservatives but highly respected experts of varied political leanings. One was Diane Ravitch, who said it was a dubious plan unproven in the field. Others argued that top systems overseas were going different directions, that the math portion was at the least inadequate and that student testing ambitions went overboard.

Now, five years later, we learn from a Wall Street Journal report, some of the original 45 states that signed on are dropping out while others are hardly on the same page regarding teaching techniques and subject matter. The logistical costs are proving overwhelming, and some are guessing that Common Core will continue to shrink as whatís left goes varied directions. Sticking to it in toto could do more harm than good, some fear.

Something else offering the opposite of help is the Obama administration policy telling schools to quit suspending or expelling minority students in greater percentages than white students. The administration believes itís discrimination and not disparate behaviors that account for the punishment differences. Thatís not at all clear, however, and a consequence of the policy in some districts has been a virtual surcease of disciplining with chaos taking its place.

All of us should want fairness and stand against hurting students with overly severe punishments. But a lack of discipline when needed can be a horrible hurt itself.

How do you acquire habits required for constructive, successful lives without it?

And this we know: Schools that keep students under control get far better academic results than those that donít.

What also helps is keeping teacher unions under control, which is what Mayor Rahm Emanuel aimed for in Chicago.

His administration agreed to salary hikes for teachers already averaging almost $75,000 a year, but wanted evaluations to be based on improved student performances and thought short work days should be expanded for the sake of academic enhancement. While he and 400,000 students endured a strike for his supposed presumptuousness, he would eventually have reason to beam. That was when Chicago results on these recent national tests of fourth and eighth graders stepped out of the scary national trend by actually going up.

Sometimes you canít beat the teacher unions, as was shown when the school board in Coloradoís Jefferson County instituted merit pay and ó as Emanuel did ó furthered the cause of education-improving charter schools that unions largely detest. There were other issues leading to a recall election for three member who did make bad moves they apologized for even as their opponents made misleading statements for which there was no apology, just victory at the polls.

The lesson isnít for reformers to run for the hills. It is to keep fighting and innovating, doing what they can to encourage parental involvement and to recruit, reward and further train top teachers while avoiding the kind of unflinching federal rule now threatening us in more ways than education.

Jay Ambrose

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.